Prayer Request (for site updates, see below)
I was laid off from my full-time job awhile ago. After a lot of prayer, soul searching, and discussions with my wife, we have decided to operate this ministry entirely by faith in God's provision through the love and kindness of His people. I am not paid for doing this work, and therefore I ask you to consider supporting us. If you can help, please offer a donation or purchase some of the Hebrew study materials offered here. Encouraging other web sites to link here also helps us become more visible on the web. Above all, agree with us for the Lord's will to be done in our lives. Todah, chaverim.
Note: My wife and I have have three young children (Josiah, Judah, and Emanuel David - born Jan. 17, 2016). The LORD has graciously provided for us as Adonai Yireh (יְהוָה יִרְאֶה), "the One who sees [our need]." We are living one day at a time by the grace and mercy of God, and I want to publicly praise Yeshua and acknowledge His faithful love in caring for my family -- despite the trials during this time. The LORD God of Israel is faithful and true! And to those of you who have sent us a word of encouragement or donation during this difficult time, please accept our heartfelt appreciation! Your chesed truly help sustain us.
יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."
Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For site updates, please scroll past this entry....
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:
The 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:
Month of Av (Sun., July 23rd [eve] - Mon., Aug. 21st [day])
Month of Elul (Mon., Aug. 21st [eve] - Wed. Sept. 20th [day])
Month of Tishri (Wed. Sept. 20th [eve]) - Thur. Oct. 19th [day]
- Month of Tammuz (Fri., June 23rd [eve] - Sat., July 23rd [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...
July 2017 Site Updates
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).
07.23.17 (Tammuz 29, 5777) We are in the midst of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" that began with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with the solemn fast of Tishah B'Av. Spiritually, these three weeks are marked by a renewed called for teshuvah (repentance), and the weekly readings from the prophets all warn about imminent judgment from heaven. Among the Orthodox, the last nine days of the Three Weeks are very solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the doleful fast of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) will be plaintively chanted during the evening service. The Sabbath that immediately precedes the fast of Tishah B'Av is called Shabbat Chazon (the "Sabbath of Vision") because the Haftarah that is read (i.e., Isa. 1:1-25) describes the terrible vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the imminent destruction of the Temple:
"Hear, O heavens and give ear, O earth,
For the LORD has spoken;
Though I brought up and raised My children,
They have rebelled against me." (Isa. 1:2)
When it was first recorded, Isaiah's vision of the destruction was still future, and the Jews still had a chance to repent before the great tragedy befell them. However, since they refused to turn back to God, calamity overtook them. Today the Haftarah is traditionally chanted to the same haunting melody as Megilat Eichah (Lamentations), written by the prophet Jeremiah, who was an eyewitness to the destruction and fall of Jerusalem.
During the last nine days of the Three Weeks of Sorrow it is common to confess the sins in our lives that likewise contribute to the lack of God's Presence in our midst. Hashivenu Adonai, elecha 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).
Though Shabbat Chazon is a time of mourning, it is also a time for hope. The Torah reading for this Sabbath is always parashat Devarim, the first portion of the Book of Deuteronomy. In this reading, Moses details the victorious battles with Sihon the king of Amorites and Og the king of Bashan. Because it speaks of God's victory, the sages recommended envisioning the future Temple that will be built by the Messiah at this time. According to Jewish tradition, after the Messiah comes and restores Israel, Tishah B'Av will become one of the happiest days of the year (and may He arrive soon and in our days).
07.23.17 (Tammuz 29, 5777) Our Torah reading for this week is the very first portion from the Book of Deuteronomy (i.e., Devarim: דְּבָרִים), which is always read on the Sabbath that immediately precedes the doleful holiday of Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב). In Jewish tradition, this special Sabbath is called "Shabbat Chazon" (שַׁבַּת חַזוֹן), "the Sabbath of Vision," since the Haftarah that is read (i.e., Isa. 1:1-25) comes from the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In both Jewish tradition and liturgy, teshuvah (repentance) and viduy (confession of sin) are the themes of this preparatory Sabbath.
In our English Bibles, Devarim is known as Deuteronomy, a Greek word that means "repetition of the Torah," derived from the Hebrew phrase מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה, mishneh ha'Torah (Deut. 17:18). The Book of Devarim has 34 chapters divided into 11 weekly Torah readings.
Thank you for your prayers for this ministry, friends... Shavuah tov!
The Work of Faith...
07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777) You are invited to come before the Divine Presence - 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: learning to believe that Yeshua was given for your sake, because you are redeemable and have infinite value in the eyes of heaven. Faith finds courage to accept God's love, despite whatever tempts 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).
Shabbat Shalom ahuvim, love and peace to each one of you... I thank the LORD God for you and esteem you as part of my extended spiritual family. May you be strong in the LORD and the power of his might; may you be happy and blessed and know God's great peace; may you be filled to overflowing with God's healing love and grace and kindness and beauty and wonder... And may Yeshua, our Beloved One, come speedily, and in our days. Amen.
A Blessed Reverence...
07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777) The sages say the verse, "Blessed is the person who fears always" (Prov. 28:14), means that whenever you want to do something, you should first seriously consider the consequences... If you do not think clearly, you will not fear, and such carelessness invariably leads to sin. The sacred is bound up with care; it sets boundaries between the profane and the holy. The "fear of the LORD" is expressed as vigilance against the lusts of the lower nature (yetzer ha'ra)... We "tremble" before God when we are awake to His holiness and wonder (Phil. 2:12). The Temple was destroyed because of our forefathers did not think about their actions; they first exiled themselves from the Divine Presence and then they "caught up with" the pain of their exile for themselves.
אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם מְפַחֵד תָּמִיד
וּמַקְשֶׁה לִבּוֹ יִפּוֹל בְּרָעָה
ash·rei · a·dam · me·fa·ched · ta·mid
u·mak·sheh · lib·bo · yi·pol · be·ra·ah
"Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always,
but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity."
The Bond of Our Words...
[ Our Torah this week (Mattot) discusses various laws regarding vows and oaths... ]
07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777) "If a man vows a vow (i.e., neder: נֶדֶר) to the LORD, or swears an oath (i.e., shevuah: שְׁבוּעָה) to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth" (Num. 30:2). In effect, when an individual makes a vow, he subjects himself to a new Torah prohibition (איסור התורה). If he keeps the vow, all will be well; however, if he breaks the vow, he will be subject to punishment. The Kol Dodi notes that in Hebrew the word for "prohibition" is esar (אֱסָר), which uses the same Hebrew letters to spell the word eres (אֶרֶס), meaning "venom" or "poison." A self-inflicted prohibition can be a dangerous source of toxicity for the soul, and therefore we should abstain from making vows or oaths, as our Lord Yeshua clearly taught us: "Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matt. 5:34-37).
The Journey of journeys...
[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Masei... ]
07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Masei) we read: "These are the journeys of the people of Israel (מַסְעֵי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל) who went out of the land of Egypt..." (Num. 33:1). The sages ask why the word "journeys" (plural) was used here, since only the first journey – from Rameses to Sukkot – literally marked "yetziat mitzrayim," the going out of Egypt – and the other journeys were outside of Egypt, in the desert. They answer that the journey out of Egypt goes beyond the physical land to the spiritual realm - an exodus from captivity to the secular world itself. As has been said, it took the LORD 40 days to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel... The "journey out of Egypt" is therefore a journey of smaller journeys that leads to deliverance.
The Torah uses a repetitious expression, "Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (הִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים) (Lev. 11:44) because when we make an effort -- no matter how feeble at times -- to draw near to the LORD, He will draw near to us... Indeed the walk of faith is one of ascent and descent and ascent again: It's often "two steps forward, one step back..." It is a long road, a process, as we learn to obey and seek to grow closer to God. Authentic repentance doesn't imply that we will never sin or make any mistakes, of course, but rather means that the oscillating pattern of "up, then down, then up" is the basic way we walk. Our direction has changed for good; we have turned to God for life and hope. We now understand our sins in light of a greater love that bears them for us even as we draw ever closer to the One who calls us home...
Suffering and Healing...
07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777) I've written about the problem of suffering in more or less intellectual terms over the years, though I think the real problem, when reflected upon emotionally, is the fear of being lost, abandoned, and made an orphan forever and ever. It is the child's cry for his father's touch or his mother's warm embrace denied and left ungiven... Is that not something of the fear, after all? As the late Henri Nouwen once said: "Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived." The central message of the cross of Messiah is that God regards you as personally worth dying for, and indeed, that your life is worth the exchange of His own... You are treasured; you are loved. This is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5). The Word of Life is - above all else - an invitation, a cry of welcome, that sings out to you in your loneliness and shame. The core of the battle is here - whether you will decide to trust in God's love or shrink back into the places of darkness, isolation, and pain. Yeshua says, "Come to me; I love you, I accept you; I receive you; please, be welcome with me; I will take your hand, I will be with you..."
אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי אַל־תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי־אֲנִי אֱלהֶיךָ
אִמַּצְתִּיךָ אַף־עֲזַרְתִּיךָ אַף־תְּמַכְתִּיךָ בִּימִין צִדְקִי
al ti·ra ki im·me·kha a·ni; al tish·ta ki a·ni E·lo·he·kha
im·matz·ti·kha af a·zar·ti·kha, af te·makh·ti·kha bi·min tzid·ki
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
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The Way of Escape...
07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777) Where it is written, "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13), we note that the Greek text says that God will actively "make with the temptation the way of escape" (ποιήσει σὺν τῷ πειρασμῷ καὶ τὴν ἔκβασιν) so that you may be able to bear it.... When I was younger, I tended to think of temptation as the appeal to gratify my flesh, to impulsively seek hedonistic pleasure, and so on, but now I understand "temptation" (πειρασμό) to encompass far more than just that. For instance, whenever I am inclined to regard my experience in human or "natural" terms, apart from the consciousness of God's all-pervading and sustaining presence, then I am surely under temptation. This encouraging verse, then, assures us of the Divine Presence in every moment, at every turn of our journey, and in every circumstance. God is always present to help you as you turn to him in faith. The sages state in this regard: "God creates the cure before the plague," meaning that His love is the foundation of all things: עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "steadfast love built the world" (Psalm 89:2). Just as God created mankind only after He created the pathway of repentance (i.e., the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world": Eph. 1:4, Heb. 4:4, Rev 13:8), so the escape from temptation was likewise foreseen and provided. In all things, then, may we humble ourselves and seek God's face, understanding our radical dependence upon Him for our deliverance. Amen.
Every Jot and Tittle...
07.20.17 (Tammuz 26, 5777) The language of the Torah is sometimes called "lashon Ha'kodesh" (לשון הקודש), the holy language, or "lashon Adonai" (לשון יהוה), the language of the LORD, since it was revealed with the first divine utterance of creation, yehi ohr (יְהִי אוֹר) "let there be light" (Gen. 1:3). And when God created Adam (אָדָם) from the dust of the ground (i.e., adamah: אֲדָמָה), human consciousness was born, and Adam immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever" (Exod. 15:18). God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. This was the "tov me'od" (טוֹב מְאד) moment of creation, when God saw all that He had made "and found it very good" (Gen. 1:31). The Torah states that Adam was created be'tzelem Elohim (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים), in the "likeness" (or shadow) of God, with the divinely imparted ability to use language and logic. As it is written: "In the beginning was the Logic (᾽Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος)... and without Logos was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of humankind" (John 1:1,3-4).
Upon the creation of the first woman, created ezer kenegdo (עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ), a "help before him," Adam exclaimed, under divine inspiration, "This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman (i.e., isha: אִשָּׁה), for she was taken out of man" (i.e., ish: אישׁ). The original man understood himself as "ish," an "individual," and saw the woman as something sacred extracted from himself (the letter Hey (ה) was appended to signify the divine spirit). Later Adam called the woman "Eve" (i.e., chavah: חַוָּה), the "mother of all living" (אֵם כָּל־חָי) which again is wordplay on the Hebrew verb "to live" (i.e., chayah: חָיַה). Since the LORD spoke lashon ha'kodesh to create the world, it only makes sense that Adam, the pinnacle of divine creation, spoke Hebrew as well (Gen. 2:19-20). Likewise Yeshua, the Word of God (דְּבַר אֱלהִים), the One born the King of the Jews, assuredly spoke Hebrew (see Luke 2:39-42; 4:16; Matt. 5:17-19; Acts 26:14), and therefore it is no overstatement to say that Hebrew is the most important of all languages, both logically and spiritually understood.
Note: Some people claim Aramaic was the original language of Adam, though in the Torah a distinction is made between Hebrew and Aramaic throughout. Abraham's ancestors lived in Padan Aram, of course, and from there came the matriarchs Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah (Gen. 10:22; 11:27-28; Gen. 25:30; 28:2, etc.), so Abraham knew Aramaic as the language of the "old country." Nevertheless "Abram the Hebrew" (אַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי) understood the original lashon ha'kodesh that was passed down from Adam through the godly line of Seth, through Noah and his son Shem, and which he then taught to Isaac and Jacob. Indeed after Jacob fled Padan Aram and made a treaty with his evil uncle Laban the "Syrian" (הַאָרַמִּי), the Torah records, "Laban called it (i.e., the witness mound) Jegar-sahadutha (Aramaic), but Jacob called it (in Hebrew) Galed (גַּלְעֵד)" (Gen. 31:47). Upon successful entry to the promised land, Jacob changed the name of his last born son from Ben-oni (בֶּן־אוֹנִי), "son of my sorrow," to the Benyamin (בִּנְיָמִין), "son of my strength." The midrash says as she was dying Rachel reverted back to using Aramaic, her mother tongue, to name her child, but Jacob changed the name to refer to the land of Israel: Benjamin can also be read as "son of the right" or "son of the south," referring to the promised land. Other examples may be given in Scripture, and interested readers might want to see the article: "Did Jesus Speak Hebrew?"
Awake, O my soul...
07.20.17 (Tammuz 26, 5777) We are living in perilous times, and for all the more reason we must "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). Spiritually speaking, the greater danger is often not some spectacular sin but rather the imperceptible drifting away of the heart, a cooling of passion, a failure to tend the fire of our inner altar.... I would much prefer a heaven-sent affliction and chastisement than to fade away in deathly repose, a state of unconscious exile, comfortably numb... "Awake, my glory! Awake!" (עוּרָה כְבוֹדִי עוּרָה). Break the spell of lethal habit.
We must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting is often imperceptible, and occurs slowly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy. The grave danger today is to quietly and invisibly give up hope, to unconsciously "go with the flow," to become comfortably numb, to fall asleep, and therefore to die inside... It is far more dangerous to ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Messiah will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).
We must press on to secure our high calling in Messiah: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him be'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13).
Prophecy of Healing...
07.19.17 (Tammuz 25, 5777) Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad: "Listen, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one." Instead of thinking of the Shema (שְׁמַע) as a commandment to be externally obeyed, you can trust it as a prophecy about your inner life: "You shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart (בּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), and with all your soul (וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). Only God can quicken a dead heart, after all, and fill the soul with holy affections; only the LORD can impart to us strength needed to take hold of promises as He writes His Torah upon our heart. As it is written, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Rom. 11:36).
וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ
ve·a·hav·ta · et · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · be·khol · le·vav·kha
u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha · u·ve·khol · me·o·de·kha
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your might"
Hebrew Study Card
God will take away your stony heart and give you a new heart, along with a new spirit to be willing to know His love, as it is written, "I will give you a new heart (lev chadash), and a new spirit (ruach chadashah) I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). Your new heart will be like Yeshua's own: open, accessible, flexible, trusting, sharing, emotionally alive, able to feel, pulsating with God's energy and power...
The great promise is this: "you shall love," since love is what is most true about who you are... You shall love the LORD, since He is the Source and End of all real love. You will love the LORD more and more, as you grow ever closer to Him and one day will behold Him panim-el-panim, "face to face." You shall love the LORD with all your heart, which implies God has indeed given you a new heart to love Him with; and with all your soul, which implies that you are enabled to truly feel, and that your heart is made tender and sensitized; and with all your might - that is, with all your "muchness," your "substance," or that reality that makes you who you really are in the LORD... May the LORD fulfill this prophecy in you, friend.
Every thought Captive...
07.19.17 (Tammuz 25, 5777) "Speak to the children of Israel, and say unto them, 'When ye are passed over into the land of promise… drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you; destroy all their carved images, all their molten images, and demolish their high places'" (Num. 33:51-52). The Hebrew word for idolatry is "avodah zarah" (עֲבוֹדָה זַרָה), which literally means strange or "foreign" worship... The worship of anything other than the true God, whether it is pleasure, money, fame, control, security, self-improvement, health, religion, etc., is regarded as foreign, since it alienates us from the truth of reality. We were created to be in relationship with God but we lose sight of this truth whenever elevate 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. Since our greatest good is found in the eternal verities of the divine communion, the Lord cannot give us an absolute good apart from Him, since there literally is no such thing. "No one can serve two masters," Yeshua said, and "a divided house cannot stand." For our own good, then, God necessarily is the Ultimate Concern of our life, and he wants to spare us the pain, disappointment, and trauma of being double-minded, disintegrated, and full of inner conflict. Spiritual warfare therefore means taking every thought captive before the bar of God's truth, rooting out and destroying all our inner idols so that we can be delivered from the anguish of uncertainty and ambivalence.
What is at stake here is your inner life, or rather the threat of the disintegration of your deepest essence into a fragmented multiplicity without center... The soul must be grounded in Reality or it is lost, dissipated in existential dread and despair. Yeshua said that when your eye is "single" (ἁπλοῦς), your whole being will be full of light (Matt. 6:22), which means that being single-minded and wholehearted unifies and heals the soul.... Being pulled in opposite directions is both painful and debilitating, for there is no overarching reason to direct the will in its decisions. Hating and loving the good is the ambivalence of despair. Being both willing and unwilling weakens the soul, but seeking the good and making God your ultimate concern binds up the broken heart and centers the will. "Your faith has made you whole..."
"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (Prov. 4:23). The heart, that is, the willing and desiring center of the self, is to be proactively guarded, and for this sacred task God offers us heavenly comfort and resolve. Courage does not chase away or deny fear and despair, but instead gives us determination to persevere despite these feelings. "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope thou in God" (Psalm 42:11). Courage expresses hope in the midst of the struggle; it finds strength to confront pain, danger, or grief with God's help. Courage is grounded in the decision to trust that God is with us, despite our circumstances or feelings of abandonment. How you choose to guard your heart from the corruption and hardness of the world will determine the "road" of your life. If you do not care to keep your heart soft, you will become cynical, weary, and more and more selfish. Your way will be lonely, suspicious, and dangerous. If, however, you keep yourself from the hardness of unbelief, you will experience compassion, encouragement, and the joy of loving others.
May God help you guard your heart and walk in the way of true life...
Beware of False Prophets...
07.19.17 (Tammuz 25, 5777) "Beware of false prophets," Yeshua warned, "who come to you in sheep's clothing (literally, "the skins of sheep," ἐν ἐνδύμασι προβάτων), but who inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:15; cp. 2 Pet. 2:1). However, because they come in disguise, pretending to be "children of light," we must be all the more vigilant. On the one hand, we must beware of those who "wrap themselves in a tallit" (legalists) and teach that we should come under the yoke of the law (Matt. 23:15), and on the other, we must beware those who minimize words of the holy Torah, who falsely claim that the way to heaven is "broad," and that we therefore are "free" to walk after the desires of our own hearts (antinomianists). 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.).
The Matter of Words...
07.18.17 (Tammuz 24, 5777) People sometimes demand "freedom of speech" but they want nothing of the responsibility to speak truthfully. The Torah, however, states that we are accountable for every word we speak, and there is no license to use language to harm or to abuse others (Matt. 12:36-37). "If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not break his word (לא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ), but he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth" (Num. 30:2). We are not permitted to break the sanctity of our word. The Hebrew word translated "break" (i.e., yachel: יַחֵל) means to regard what is said as "chol" (חל), – that is, something common, insignificant, or "profane." "Dibbur emet" is the Torah value that says we have the duty to speak truth. Only true words can have significance, power, and real meaning; untrue words are consigned to the realm of the unintelligible, the "lost," and the meaningless. Our postmodern world equivocates at every turn, devaluing the significance of speech, using language as a political or social tool to manipulate others and manage appearances. As such it is utterly bromidic, narcissistic, and violent in its deepest linguistic structures, expressing a vacuum of the human spirit. True speech is "kadosh," holy, unique, sacred, pointing to the extraordinary, the wonderful, the hidden, the mysterious, the beautiful. True speech serves as the means of expressing love.
The targum Onkelos states that God breathed into Adam the ability to think and to speak. In other words, thought and speech are two primary characteristics of the image (tzelem) and likeness (demut) of God. Since our use of words is directly linked to the "breath of God" within us, lashon hara (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה) defaces God's image within us.... Using words to inflict pain therefore perverts the image of God, since God created man to use language to "build up" others in love. This is part of the reason the metzora (i.e., one afflicted with tzara'at) was regarded as "dead" and in need of rebirth.
Lashon hara (evil speech) is really a symptom of the "evil eye" (ayin hara). "Evil comes to one who searches (דָּרַשׁ) for it" (Prov. 11:27). We must train ourselves to use the "good eye" (ayin tovah) and extend kaf zechut - the "hand of merit" to others. Genuine faith is optimistic and involves hakarat tovah, that is, recognizing the good in others and in life's circumstances. Gam zu l'tovah: "This too is for the good" (Rom. 8:28). The Midrash states that God afflicted houses with tzara'at so that treasure hidden within the walls would be discovered. The good eye finds "hidden treasure" in every person and experience.
The words we say, whether good or bad, call for a response in the realm of spirit. This is hinted at by the Hebrew word for "thing," i.e., devar, which also means "word." King David said (Psalm 35:13): "May what I prayed for happen to me!" (literally, tefillati al-cheki tashuv - "may it return upon my own breast"). Some of our prayers are conscious words spoken to God, whereas others are unconscious expressions of our inner heart attitudes. When we harbor indifference, ill will, or unforgiveness toward others, we are only hurting ourselves. It is very sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God...Listen to the words of your heart and understand that they are devarim, "things" that are defining the course of your life right now. When we seek the good of others we find God's favor, healing and life. Yeshua spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions expressed in our words (Luke 6:45). A midrash states that if someone speaks well of another, the angels above will then speak well of him before the Holy One.
In light of the enigma of "spiritual impurity" (i.e., tumah) and its ultimate expression revealed in the corruption of death, it is all the more telling that we should heed the cry of the Spirit: "Choose Life!" (Deut. 30:19). Sin is a type of "spiritual suicide" that seduces us to exchange eternal good for the petty and the trivial. The nachash (serpent) in the garden was the first to speak lashon hara. He slandered God and lied to Eve about how to discern between good and evil. He is a murderer and the father of lies. Resist his wiles with the truth of God...
May it please the LORD to help each of us be entirely mindful of the power and sanctity of our words... May it please Him to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May God help us take every thought "captive" to the obedience of the Messiah, thereby enabling us to always behold and express the truth of God's unfailing love.
The Struggle of Faith...
07.18.17 (Tammuz 24, 5777) I know many of you are in pain, struggling to hang on to hope, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of your salvation in Yeshua. Keep the fire of your heart burning, friend... Rabbi Nachman once told a person who was struggling with his faith: "It is written that all creation was brought into being because of people like you. God saw there would be people who would cling to our holy faith, suffering greatly because confusion and doubt would plague them. God perceived that such would overcome these doubts and troubles of heart and remain strong in their belief. It was because of this that God brought forth all creation." Good words... Never yield to despair, since that leads to further darkness and fear. Press on and keep fighting the "good fight" of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). Remember that you infinitely matter to heaven; your life has great value; you are significant and you are truly loved by our Heavenly Father. There is a "future and a hope" reserved for you; there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). May "the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tested with fire, be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:7).
כִּי אָנכִי יָדַעְתִּי אֶת־הַמַּחֲשָׁבת
אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי חשֵׁב עֲלֵיכֶם נְאֻם־יְהוָה
מַחְשְׁבוֹת שָׁלוֹם וְלא לְרָעָה
לָתֵת לָכֶם אַחֲרִית וְתִקְוָה
ki · a·no·khi · ya·da·ti · et · ha·ma·cha·sha·vot
a·sher · a·no·khi · cho·shev · a·lei·khem · ne·um · Adonai
mach·she·vot · sha·lom · ve·lo · le·ra·ah
la·teit · la·khem · a·cha·rit · ve·tik·vah
"For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD,
plans for blessing and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
Hebrew Study Card
The heart of the cross of Messiah is that God regards you as personally worth dying for, and indeed, that your life is worth the exchange of His own... You are treasured; you are loved. This matter is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5). "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). We must begin here, first, always... Chazak chaverim.
Dialog of the Heart...
07.18.17 (Tammuz 24, 5777) During his lectures on Jewish values, Joseph Telushkin used to ask his audience if they could go 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody. Most people admitted that no, they couldn't. Rabbi Telushkin then commended them for their honesty, but then pointed out that if he had asked them if they could go 24 hours without drinking alcohol and they likewise said they couldn't, wouldn't that mean they have a serious drinking problem? (Words that Hurt). His point is that if you can't go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others, you have lost control of your tongue. As Yeshua explained, the tongue expresses the condition of the heart, since "from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). Therefore the root issue concerns the heart (לֵב), the "midst of the self" that wills, desires, and chooses how to interpret and describe the world. If we choose to see from a heart of fear, we will tend to use our words as a weapon; but if we see with a heart of faith, we will extend compassion and seek to build others up....
Since words represent thoughts, the use of our tongues has to do with how we choose to think... "Think on these things..." We are instructed to "take every thought captive" (αἰχμαλωτίζω, i.e., lead away as a prisoner) to the obedience of Messiah... It is wise to restrain our speech, because, after all, we often have no idea what we are talking about, and therefore our words can become unruly and even dangerous. Whenever we open our mouth to speak, Heaven is listening (Matt. 12:36-37).
The Fruit of our Words...
07.18.17 (Tammuz 24, 5777) Yeshua said that as a tree is to its fruit, so is a person's heart is to his speech. Our words arise from an underlying source and root: "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word (πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργὸν) they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). First note that the phrase translated "every careless word" can be understood as "every 'workless' word," that is, every vain or empty word spoken, every broken promise, every insincere utterance, and so on. Second, note that there is a relationship between naming and being in Hebrew thought, and indeed the Hebrew word davar (דּבר), usually translated as "word," can also mean "thing." This suggests that our words define reality - not in an absolute sense, of course - but in terms of our perspective and attitude, and for that we are held responsible before the LORD. Since our words express our thoughts, Yeshua wants us to make up our minds: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit."
And may it please our gracious and long-suffering LORD to answer the cry of our heart: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14). Amen...
Inner and the Outer...
07.18.17 (Tammuz 24, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (Mattot) begins with Moses instructing the leaders of the tribes, saying: "If a person makes a vow (נֶדֶר) ... he shall not break his word; but he shall do according to all he has said" (Num. 30:2). Notice that the phrase "break his word" literally means to profane (חָלַל) his word, which implies that breaking a promise is a type of spiritual defilement... If we do not honor and respect our words, we lose a sense of meaning, and the substance of what we say and think becomes unstable. Such double-mindedness leads to shame, since without inner conviction we become inwardly divided and fragmented, so that we no longer trust ourselves... Being honest (יָשָׁר) implies that what we say and what we mean are unified. An honest person doesn't play games with words but understands that communication is a sacred trust...
We must be careful with our words so that we do not mislead others. This is called shemirat ha'lashon (שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן), or "guarding of the tongue." Yeshua warned us not make formal oaths, but instead to be trustworthy in our words: let your "yes" mean yes, and your "no" mean no... The Talmud agrees by saying that 'no' is an oath and 'yes' is an oath." Our words are to be regarded as sacred, as an expression of truth. God has made us inviolable promises, and we are never to play games with that. Just as His word is sacred, so we should strive to be sacred in our speech, too....
The Torah states, "You shall not put a stumbling block (מִכְשׁוֹל) before the blind" (Lev. 19:14). In addition to its literal meaning, the word "blind" figuratively refers to a person unaware of all the facts and who is therefore made vulnerable. Someone who misdirects the blind deceives them, and this violates the 9th commandment not to bear false witness (Exod. 20:16; 23:1). Such deception is called genevat da'at (גְּנֵבַת דַעַת), or "stealing the mind," since it defrauds the other person's trust. For example, it is common practice for politicians to disclose only what they think others need to know, and therefore they offer incomplete versions of truth for the sake of their own self-serving interests. Lying to others is a violation, then, of both the commandment not to steal and the commandment not to bear false witness. "The righteous person hates lies" - דְּבַר־שֶׁקֶר יִשְׂנָא צַדִּיק (Prov. 13:5).
"Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue" (Psalm 120:2). The sages say that the virtue of eminut (אֲמִינוּת), or trustworthiness, begins with learning to trust others... Parents are therefore responsible to fulfill their commitments to their children. Rabbi Zera said, "One should not say to a child, 'I will give you something' and then not do so, since that teaches the child to lie" (Sukka 46b). People learn to lie from a sense of betrayal, from the mismatch between professed words and reality. The breakdown of trust leads to the evasive use of words to protect ourselves. We tell others what we think they want to hear or we mislead them to keep ourselves safe. Breaking promises wounds others, and children can learn to become hardhearted, untrusting, and fearful of intimacy as a result.
07.17.17 (Tammuz 23, 5777) "Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to vanity nor sworn deceitfully" (Psalm 24:3-4). Here King David likens spiritual elevation to ascending a mountain... To succeed we must be free of our heavy burdens, as it says, "my sins are too heavy for me" (Psalm 38:4). To successfully ascend the mountain of the LORD we must let go of those things that weigh us down by practicing moderation, by performing acts of righteousness and kindness, and by keeping our affections free from the pain and ambivalence of evil thoughts (2 Cor. 10:4-5). "Clean hands" is a metaphor for doing righteous deeds, and a "pure heart" symbolizes the will refined by suffering. "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). Doing these things will enable us to stand before the holy presence with confidence and joy (1 John 3:21-22). "For we are God's workmanship, created in Yeshua the Messiah for good works (לְמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים), which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). "If you know that he is righteous (צַדִּיק), you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him" (1 John 2:29).
וּמִי־יָקוּם בִּמְקוֹם קָדְשׁוֹ
נְקִי כַפַּיִם וּבַר־לֵבָב
אֲשֶׁר לא־נָשָׂא לַשָּׁוְא נַפְשִׁי
וְלא נִשְׁבַּע לְמִרְמָה
יִשָּׂא בְרָכָה מֵאֵת יְהוָה
וּצְדָקָה מֵאֱלהֵי יִשְׁעוֹ
"Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? – The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to vanity nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation" (Psalm 24:3-5). The one who knows that his soul belongs to God will not cleave to that which is transitory, empty, or vain (לַשָּׁוְא). The tzaddik understands that each person was created to honor God and to follow the paths of love and truth (חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת). Note that the Hebrew text for the phrase, "who has not lifted up his soul to vanity" is actually written as "who has not lifted My Soul to vanity" (לא־נָשָׂא לַשָּׁוְא נַפְשִׁי), referring to God, which means the righteous one recognizes God as his greatest Blessing and Ultimate Concern. The person of faith guards the covenant, flees from personal honors, nullifies his worldly aspirations, and seeks to magnify the glory of LORD God of Israel in all that he does..
Integrity of our Words...
[ Our Torah this week (Mattot) discusses various laws regarding vows and oaths... ]
07.17.17 (Tammuz 23, 5777) "If a man vows a vow (i.e., neder: נֶדֶר) to the LORD, or swears an oath (i.e., shevuah: שְׁבוּעָה) to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth" (Num. 30:2). The Hebrew expression "break his word" literally means "profane his word" (יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ), that is, to defile the soul by causing it to be inwardly divided, irresolute, and cowardly. After all, breaking your word means violating the integrity of who you are, showing that what you say and what you do are not unified, and this leads to feelings of shame. Your words confess your reality and bring it to life... If you cannot keep your word, your word becomes profane, empty, and lost -- you become a "stranger to yourself," unsure of what you intend. "Let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no; learn to say what you mean and mean what you say.
The Central Thing...
07.17.17 (Tammuz 23, 5777) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Mattot) we read: zeh ha'davar asher tzivah Adonai: "This is the thing the LORD has commanded" (Num. 30:1). The language here seems to suggest that there is only one matter that God has commanded, namely, to speak truth and to be faithful in our promises (Num. 30:2). This is because the sacredness of our word is the foundation for all our other responsibilities. After all, if our word is equivocal, it is unclear, unreliable, undecided, and therefore ultimately meaningless.... Insincere words are without genuine commitment, and the lack of decisiveness undermines all Torah. "This is the thing the LORD has commanded," namely, to accept your duty to honor the truth; to keep your faith in God's word; and to hold sacred your commitment before God. !זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה
כִּי־אֱמֶת יֶהְגֶּה חִכִּי
וְתוֹעֲבַת שְׂפָתַי רֶשַׁע
ke-e·met · ye·he·geh · chi·ki
ve·to·a·vat · se·fa·tai · re·sha
"For my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips"
Born of the Spirit...
07.16.17 (Tammuz 22, 5777) The word "spirit" points to wonder, to something extraordinary and beyond our expectation, that is, to the mysterious Divine Presence that pervades all things yet rises above all things. Yeshua likened the Ruach (רוּחַ) with the inscrutable motions of the wind: "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 with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). We can see the effect of the wind, but not the wind itself, which illustrates that the wind is ultimately beyond our grasp and control. To be "born of the Spirit" (נולד מן הרוח) therefore points to a mysteriously creative and regenerative event from heaven (John 1:13), just as being "led by the Spirit" implies living differently, that is, by sensing and encountering the Divine Presence in the mysterious motions of life.
אָנָה אֵלֵךְ מֵרוּחֶךָ
וְאָנָה מִפָּנֶיךָ אֶבְרָח
a·na · e·lekh · me·ru·che·kha
ve·a·na · mi·fa·ne·kha · ev·rach
"Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?"
"The wind blows where it will; you are aware of its soughing, but no one knows whence it comes or whither it goes. So also with longing, the longing for God and the eternal, the longing for our Savior and Redeemer. Comprehend it you cannot, nor should you; indeed, you dare not even want to attempt - but you are to use the longing. Would the merchant be responsible if he does not use the opportune moment; would the sailor be responsible if he does not use the favorable winds - how much more, then, is the one who does not use the occasion of longing when it is offered" (Kierkegaard: Discourses).
Double Portion of Torah...
07.16.17 (Tammuz 22, 5777) Shavuah Tov, chaverim! This week we have a "double portion" of Torah to read as we conclude Sefer Bamidbar, or "the Book of Numbers." Our first Torah portion, parashat Mattot (מַטּוֹת, "tribes"), begins with the LORD giving laws regarding the making of vows (nedarim). After this, the Israelites were commanded to wage war against the Midianites for seducing the people to sin at the incident of "Baal Peor." During the ensuing battle, the wicked sorcerer Balaam was killed, as well as five tribal kings of the land of Midian. Our second Torah portion, parashat Masei (מַסְעֵי, "journeys"), provides the boundaries of the land of Canaan that were to be initially occupied by the Israelites. Note that these borders are not the same as those described earlier to Abraham (see Gen. 15:18-21), since that area will be given to Israel only after our Messiah returns to establish Zion during the Millennial Kingdom (see Ezek. 47:15-48:35). During that coming time, Jerusalem (i.e., Zion) will be the center of the earth and renamed as "Adonai Shammah" (יְהוָה שָׁמָּה), "the LORD is there."
You can download the "Table Talk" for each of these portions here:
Since the Book of Deuteronomy is called "mishneh Torah" (מִשְׁנֶה תוֹרָה) - a sermon "retelling the Torah," it may be said that the Torah of Moses ends with these final portions from the Book of Numbers, and by extension, with the ongoing yearning for Zion... Therefore let us recite the three special words of encouragement: Chazak, chazak, ve'nitchazek, meaning "be strong, be strong, and we will get stronger." Shavuah tov, chaverim!
The Bread of God...
07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777) Our Master said: "For the bread of God (לֶחֶם אֱלהִים) is the One who comes down from heaven to give life to the world" (John 6:33). This is the Bread of Presence, literally, the "Bread of [his] Face" (לֶחֶם פָּנִים) that was prefigured in the manna that fell in the desert and in the rituals of the Tabernacle (Exod. 25:30). It was in the Holy Place, in the light of the Menorah, that the "bread of his face" was to be eaten... At his last Passover Seder with his students, Yeshua said "this is my body" (τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου), and made analogy between physical and the spiritual. We metaphorically "eat his flesh and drink his blood," by seeing Him as our altar, our bridge before the Father. Just as the heart is the means by which blood is distributed to the body, so with the love of God expressed in our Lord Yeshua. He is the Divine Center of all of life: the true Tabernacle, the Word made flesh. He is the true Bread of Life (לחֶם הַחַיִּים), and we receive spiritual strength when we abide in his Torah (תּוֹרָה) and his life (John 15:5).
May you always abide in Him, chaverim.... Shabbat Shalom and thank you for remembering the Hebrew for Christians ministry in your prayers.
Center of the Torah...
07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777) According to a fascinating midrash cited by Rabbi Yaakov ibn Chaviv, several of the sages of the Mishnah (i.e., Tannaim) attempted to choose the central verse that summarized the meaning of the entire Torah. Ben Zoma said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One'" (Deut. 6:4). Ben Nanas said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Lev. 19:18). Shimon ben Pazi said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight'" (Num. 28:4). Then one of the sages stood up and said, "It is ben Pazi who is correct," and the assembly concurred...
In other words, the key idea of the Torah centers on sacrifice, and in particular, the continual sacrifice of the lamb. According to the early sages, the daily sacrifice of the lamb is more important than either the Shema or even the duty to love others... The continual (i.e., tamid: תָּמִיד) sacrifice of the lamb is central to the meaning of the Torah. It is the Torah's most all-inclusive idea; it's the core idea of true Torah, and it reveals Yeshua!
For more on this, see "The Central Idea of Torah: Further thoughts on Parashat Pinchas."
07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777) Sometimes you may feel a bit like that lost dog whose owner posted a sign that said: "Lost Dog with three legs, blind in left eye, missing right ear, tail broken, and recently neutered. Breed unknown. Answers to the name of Lucky." Remember, friend, that afflictions make us "lucky," though most of us begin to understand this only in hindsight, after we've been humbled by our many failures in this life. Thank God that that he seeks and saves the lost, the broken, and the unruly... Thank God for Jesus, the one called "the friend of sinners" (Matt. 11:19). As Margary Williams wrote: "Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand" (Velveteen Rabbit). Amazing Grace. Thank God he makes us real, chaverim...
Love's Hope and Zeal...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777) The zeal of Pinchas reminds us that sometimes we must act decisively and fearlessly for the sake of the truth, even if our passion may be misunderstood... Indeed, the failure to honor our ideals leads to apathy, despair, and a state of inner contradiction. The sages ask: When the Beloved knocks, do we hesitate and say, "I have already taken off my robe – must I put it on again? I have already washed my feet – must I soil them again?" (Song 5:3). When she finally rouses herself to answer the door, alas! he is gone... With God all things are possible, but that includes the risk of loss, the real choice of betraying our heart's desire and losing the highest. May God help each of us set our affections above, eagerly awaiting the promised time of consummation. Amen.
Reaffirming the Appointed Times...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Pinchas) lists eight of the main mo'edim (מוֹעֲדִים), or the "appointed times" of the LORD, given in the Jewish Scriptures. Note that this is the second time that the Torah provides a description of the festivals of the year, including the following special times: 1) The daily offering of the Lamb of God (Num. 28:1-8); 2) the weekly Sabbath offering (Num. 28:9-10, Lev. 23:1-3); 3) the monthly or Rosh Chodesh offering (Num. 28:11-15); 4) the Passover and Unleavened Bread offering, including Shavuot (Num. 28:16-25; Lev 23:15-21); 5) the Firstfruits offering (Num. 28:26-31; Lev. 9:14); 6) the Yom Teru'ah or "Trumpets" offering (Num. 29:1-6; Lev. 23:23-25); 7) the Yom Kippur offering (Num. 29:7-11; Lev 23:26-32); and 8) the Sukkot (Tabernacles) offering (Num. 29:12-38; Lev. 23:33-43). These appointed times were given by God to help us turn away from the omnipresent urge within the human heart to embrace vanity: "Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father and guard (שָׁמַר) my Sabbaths (שַׁבְּתתַי)... Do not turn to worthlessness (i.e., אֱלִיל) or make for yourselves any molten gods" (Lev. 19:3-4). In other words, the Biblical holidays - including Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and so on - were intended to help us to sanctify ("set apart," "make holy") the times and seasons in order to remind us of God's Presence (Psalm 104:19). Therefore they are called mikra'ei kodesh (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ), "times in which holiness is proclaimed" (Lev. 23:2). The Torah's declaration that these days are holy implies that they are set apart for special activities, such as commemorating God as our daily Savior (the tamid offering), our Creator (Shabbat), our Redeemer (Passover), our Resurrection (Firstfruits), our Law Giver (Shavuot), our King (Rosh Hashanah), our High Priest (Yom Kippur), and so on. In this connection it should be noted that it is a mistake to assume that the divine calendar was somehow abrogated with the cross of Yeshua, since all of the Jewish holidays center on Him, and indeed the advent of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) occurred precisely after the prescribed 49 day countdown to Shavuot (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).
Finding True Riches...
07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777) The Torah appeals, in the Name of the Lord, that we should be charitable people, reflecting his heart of kindness. Indeed giving to others imparts the blessing of God: "Take for Me an offering" (וְיִקְחוּ־לִי תְּרוּמָה), the Scripture states, rather than "Give for Me an offering," since we receive more than we give through acts of charity (Exod. 25:1-2). The early sages explained that 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). Likewise he said, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40). "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed" (Prov. 19:17). The sages consider the act of giving to others as one of the greatest of the commandments, since it is the essence of God to give to His creation, and it is through analogous giving that we are enabled to see the Divine Presence, as it is written in the Scripture, אֲנִי בְּצֶדֶק אֶחֱזֶה פָנֶיךָ - "I will see your face in tzedakah" (Psalm 17:15).
It is written that "God loves a compassionate (ἵλεως) giver" (2 Cor. 9:7). Followers of the Messiah Yeshua are to be marked by goodness (טוֹבָה) expressed in generosity (נְדִיבוּת). The fruit of the Spirit (פְּרִי הָרוּחַ) listed in Galatians 5:22-23 fulfills the requirements of the Law, but they constitute the supernatural outgrowth of the grace and love of God in the heart of one who trusts in Yeshua as Messiah (see John 15:1-8). Our lives are sanctified in the manner in which they were initially justified: wholly by faith in the love and grace of God.
לא־יוֹעִילוּ אוֹצְרוֹת רֶשַׁע
וּצְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת
lo-yo·i·lu · otz·rot · re·sha'
utz·de·kah · tatz·zil · mi·ma·vet
"Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
but tzedakah delivers from death."
One of the middot ha-lev (qualities of heart) of the righteous soul is to be giving to others. This is simply part of the ethos of the Jewish soul. Rabbi Asi says, "Charity equals in importance to all other mitzvot combined." And Rabbi Yehudah likewise says, "Ten hard things have been created in the world. The rock is hard, but iron shatters it. Iron is hard, but fire softens it. Fire is powerful, but water extinguishes it. Water is heavy, but clouds carry it. Clouds are thick, but wind scatters them. Wind is strong, but a body resists it. The body is strong, but fear crushes it. Fear is powerful, but wine banishes it. Wine is strong, but sleep works it off. Death is stronger than all, yet tzedakah (charity) delivers from death, as is written, צְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת - "Charity delivers from death" (Prov. 10:2).
The Torah of Life...
07.13.17 (Tammuz 19, 5777) It is always good to review the message of the gospel of Messiah (בְּשׂוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ). The way of the carnal ego and its religion is to attempt to reform (or rationalize) its nature, to appear to follow the law, to create "good karma," to beautify itself, and so on, whereas God's way is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather to crucify the old nature and impart newness of life... Messiah "in me" abolishes the law (understood here as the principle of self-justification, not the Torah), condemns sin in the flesh (by dying on the cross), and kills the spiritual power of death itself (by means of the resurrection)... Like all sacrifices brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross. It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). But note that the Torah of the New Testament (תורת הברית החדשה) is spoken to the new nature given to us by God, and not to the old nature that is to be reckoned as crucified and done away. By faith we receive "lev chadash ve'ruach chadashah" (לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) - a new heart and spirit - that empowers us to live the truth of what God has done for us in our beloved Savior. You are a new creation; therefore be who you are in the Messiah!
The Torah says: "Look, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). The Hebrew grammar of this verse begins with the imperative singular "you look!" (רְאֵה) but shifts to the plural, "before you" (לִפְנֵיכֶם), which suggests that though the Word is freely given to everyone "who has ears to hear," it's our personal responsibility to "choose life" and wrestle its message out in our lives... In other words, God offers his blessing to all, but it must be personally received to be your own. "According to your faith, let it be for you" (Matt. 9:29). Yeshua died for your sins so that you can receive everlasting spiritual life, but that blessing has no effect unless and until you open your heart. What does it mean to say that Yeshua is "in you" except to say he lives within the heart of faith? "As long as Messiah remains outside of us we are separated from him."
Note: Someone wrote me to ask what it means to "open your heart." My answer is that this metaphorical phrase means choosing to feel again, surrendering your "difficulties" to God's care, and learning to see beyond the scope of your everyday selfishness....
The Courage of Pinchas...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.13.17 (Tammuz 19, 5777) Pinchas is sometimes (unjustly) regarded as a "fanatic" who took the law into his own hands, but it must be remembered that he acted in the midst of a terrible crisis – a mutiny of Israel's leaders who had abandoned God's authority – and he acted courageously, in accordance with God's will, and for the welfare of his people (see Num. 25:1-8). Superficially Pinchas' zeal may appear "dangerous" to those without moral conviction, and his action may seem outrageous to those who are faithless, but God rewarded him with a covenant of peace (בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם) and a covenant of eternal priesthood (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) for his courage (see Num. 25:10-13). Understood in context, Pinchas' actions were justified, and it would be a mistake to confuse his conviction with angry and unthinking "fanaticism." Indeed, the real danger of fanaticism in our world may be found in political movements led by those who lust after worldly power. In fact, political demagogues, in the name of their godless philosophies of communism, socialism, and fascism, have murdered more people in the last 100 years than all the religious conflicts in the history of the world combined... Tragically, the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, with over 260 million people murdered by political movements that suppressed the truth of Scripture and that regarded human beings as mere "animals" to be exploited. Contrary to the zeal of the fascists of today's world, the zeal of Pinchas was of an entirely different order. Where is says, Pinchas "was jealous with my jealousy among them" (Num. 25:11) the S'fat Emet noted that he instilled "among them," that is, the people, a sense of God's passion and truth, and for this he was commended by heaven...
Purity of Heart...
07.13.17 (Tammuz 19, 5777) "Who shall ascend to the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to vanity (לא־נָשָׂא לַשָּׁוְא) and who does not swear deceitfully" (Psalm 24:3-4). Yeshua expounded: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire (the corresponding Hebrew word for the "pure of heart" (בַּר־לֵבָב), used in Psalm 24:4, comes from a root (בָּרַר) that likewise means to purify by fire). Metaphorically, then, purity of heart refers to separation from the profane - singleness of vision, wholeheartedness, passion, and focused desire for the sacred. As the Beatitudes reveal (Matt. 5:3-8), only those who are impoverished in spirit, who mourn over themselves and hunger for God's mercy, are refined by their struggle to see God (the Greek text implies these will see God now – with inward vision – and in the world to come). Because the pure in heart use ayin tovah, the good eye, they walk "in the light, as He is in the light" (Matt. 6:22). When we are undivided in heart, the Spirit imparts to us a hidden wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-7) and we are able to discern hidden realities that others do not see (1 Cor. 2:14). As we center our affections on Yeshua, we become unified, made whole, and healed of our inner fragmentation. We see the Lord both in this world, through his effects, and then panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face," in the world to come. Our hope purifies us for that coming great day of full disclosure (1 John 3:2-3; Heb. 12:14).
The heart is a miracle, an "engine" that distributes life, and the heartbeat is a great mystery, inexplicably pulsing with energy, contracting the muscles. The pulse of the heart, then, is the "center of the center" of a person's physical life... If we are impure of heart, we will be inwardly divided, unfocused, fragmented, filled with destabilizing anxiety, envy, anger, and so on. More tragically, because we seek to escape ourselves, we will be devoid of a true center, without a focal point or abiding purpose, and therefore we will be lost to ourselves, wandering and without rest....
Some people tend to think of "purity of heart" in moral terms, such as not looking with lust on others, not coveting, etc., though these are symptoms of disordered love... Genuine purity is a matter of focus, of finding the "good portion" and the "one thing necessary" (Luke 10:42). Such purity heals you of ambivalence, settling the heart's inner decision. Purity of heart realizes that all that you've ever longed for is found in God alone. It is a great, great gift from heaven to know God as your heart's true desire - to fully understand that your relationship with Him is the ultimate concern and treasure of your existence.
As below, so above. It is the Spirit that gives life (John 6:63). The Holy Spirit imparts the "pulse" of the Divine Life, and we gain newness of life when we trust God for purification from our sins through Yeshua our LORD. As King David further attested: Lev tahor bara li Elohim – "Create in me a clean heart, O God" and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). Only the new heart (lev chadash) created by power of God's Spirit can possibly yield the life of the Spirit within us. The creation of a new heart represents the transformation of your whole inner nature - with the impartation of new appetites, new passions, new desires, and the rebirth of your will. If you struggle with being inwardly divided, fervently ask the LORD to give you the blessing of purity of heart...
Turning to the Real...
07.12.17 (Tammuz 18, 5777) "I the LORD search the heart, I test the affections, to give to every person according to their ways, and according to the fruit of their doings" (Jer. 17:10). Among other things, repentance (i.e., teshuvah: תְּשׁוּבָה) means unlearning the messages and propaganda of this fallen world by turning to receive the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). For this courage is needed, namely, the courage of honestly facing who and what we are, and therefore the refusal to repent amounts to a form of cowardice and a denial of reality... The world stridently proclaims its nonsense in order to quell the "still small voice" that is whispering over all of creation (Psalm 19:1-4). The constant clamor of this world is symptomatic of its disregard of the truth, and its "need" for noise is designed to keep the soul from confronting the ultimate questions of life.
הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ
וֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אמֶר וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה־דָּעַת
אֵין־אמֶר וְאֵין דְּבָרִים בְּלִי נִשְׁמָע קוֹלָם
בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ יָצָא קַוָּם וּבִקְצֵה תֵבֵל מִלֵּיהֶם
ha-shamayim · me'saperim · kevod · El, · u'ma'aseh · yadav · maggid · haraki'a
yom · le'yom · yabi'a · omer, · ve'laila · le'laila · yechaveh · da'at
ein · omer · v'ein · devarim · beli · nishma · kolam
bekhol · ha'aretz · yatza · kavam · uviktzel · tevel · mileihem
"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the canopy of the sky proclaims the artwork of His hands. Day after day it speaks forth; night after night reveals His knowledge. There is no speech, nor words that are heard, yet God's truth is manifest to the ends of the earth;
His glory is on display in all realms." (Psalm 19:1-4)
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Reality testifies to God's Presence. There is rational, intuitive, and empirical evidence to believe that the universe was created in time by a transcendental power that is the source of all value, meaning, purpose, and so on. To ask, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is not to ask about a possible cause for an observed effect, but to ask about the underlying cause or "ground" of any possible existence at all. The Scriptures reply: "For God's invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature from the creation of the world, have been clearly perceived, because they are understood through what has been made, so people are without excuse" (Rom 1:20).
Reality has a purpose, a goal, and is therefore "going someplace." And just as the LORD our God freely chose to create the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing," so He freely sustains it, keeping us alive to this hour: "For in Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Yeshua, the radiance of the glory of God, upholds all things by his power (Heb. 1:3); through Him all things are "arranged in order" (συνίστημι) and are bound together (Col. 1:17). God is in the world continually creating in and all around us; He is not a static "first cause" of the universe but rather the creative Power and reigning Source of all life... "The LORD owns the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live in it" (Psalm 24:1).
It is never too late to turn to God... The prophet Jeremiah spoke in the Name of the LORD: "Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am kind (כִּי־חָסִיד אֲנִי), declares the LORD" (Jer. 3:12). When the people drew back in shame, however, God encouraged them by saying "My children, if you return, will you not be returning to your Father? Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness. "Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God."
Rich Toward Heaven...
07.12.17 (Tammuz 18, 5777) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Pinchas) we read: "For the many you shall make much his inheritance, and for the few you shall make small his inheritance: each according to his number will be given his inheritance" (Num. 26:54). The sages comment this refers not only to the tribes and their allotment in the land, but also to one's individual share in the world to come (אִישׁ לְפִי פְקֻדָיו יֻתַּן נַחֲלָתוֹ). The "many" refers to one who attends to the Divine Presence and is rich toward heaven, whereas the "few" refers to those who cheat themselves out of their eternal future by making themselves poor toward heaven. Life in the world to come is therefore determined by the investment you are making here, today (1 Cor. 3:8-15; Col. 3:24). The fool lays up treasure for himself on earth and neglects his heavenly calling, but the wise one is "rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21). "Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward" (Heb. 10:35).
Inner to Outer Reality...
07.12.17 (Tammuz 18, 5777) In the Shema we recite: "these words that I command you this day shall be 'on your heart (עַל־לְבָבֶךָ),' and you shall repeat them diligently to your children (וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ)," which reveals the necessary order: When the words of Torah are made a part of your heart, your children will be taught in the truth. The same approach must be used regarding the message of the Messiah, too: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel, and sometimes use words."
Note: "And you shall repeat them" i.e., וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם comes from שָׁנָה, "repeat," do again, and from which the Hebrew word shanah, "year" also derives.. As we live our faith, observing the mo'edim year after year, the word is made more and more a part of our hearts.
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.12.17 (Tammuz 18, 5777) The Hebrew word for "beloved" is yedid (יְדִיד), which comes from the word dod (דּוֹד), as used in the verse ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me" (Song 6:3). The name "David" (דָוִד) likewise comes from this same root. It is interesting to see that the word yedid is formed by combining or joining the Hebrew word for "hand" (i.e., yad: יָד) together (i.e., יָד+יָד), which pictures two friends walking together while holding hands...
According to midrash, when Moses realized that his son Gershom would not be his successor, he asked God for a shepherd to lead the people, and the LORD told him ve'samakhta et yadkha alav - "put your hand on Joshua" (Num. 27:18). Moses, however, not only placed one hand on Joshua, but both hands (Num. 27:23), which suggests that he was wholehearted for the things of God, and to symbolically regard Joshua as yedid (יְדִיד), that is, "hand-in-hand" with Moses' heart for the welfare people...
The Hunger of God...
07.12.17 (Tammuz 18, 5777) It is written in our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Pinchas), "My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time" (Num. 28:2). Food for God? What need has the LORD for food? But by this is meant "as you have done it to least of these my brethren, you have done it unto Me" (Matt. 25:40). The offerings you make to tzedakah (giving charity, your time, your kindness, etc.) constitute food presented before the secret place of God's altar...
For more on this, see "Olam Katan - Small World."
Escaping the Legalism Trap...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777) The world is full of zealots. By default, everyone believes they are justified in their reasoning and in their passions. The "natural man" thus lives by this simple creed: I have a right to think or feel whatever I want. Morality is a matter of individual, subjective, and personal preference. There is no "objective standard" of moral truth in the universe: Values are relative to time and place... If it's true for me, that's all that suffices... In this way, the natural man assumes the posture of a self-styled "free agent" that is answerable only to himself. The zeal of the natural man says, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul" (Henley: Invictus).
Note that the only abiding "offense" to the "natural man" is that there is a moral law that pervades the universe, and therefore he is morally accountable to the Lawgiver for his life. The idea that our actions are "under divine examination" is threatening to the supposed liberty of the natural man, who gladly tolerates all manner of sin and willful ignorance but refuses to tolerate anger against sin... The natural man hates the very idea of the moral law of God and all that it implies. It's no wonder that the true prophets of God were often murdered for speaking the truth.
The encounter (or collision) with moral reality (i.e., conscience) leads the natural man to become impassioned and even zealous, though usually this is expressed in some form of self-justification. The world's religions are filled with untold millions of people who seek to assuage their consciences by practicing various rituals or pledging allegiance to some creedal formula. What's common in most of these religions is the centrality of the ego, or the need to "save face" by making excuses of some sort. The ego is either advised to become "elevated" through religious practices or rituals (i.e., legalism, including the justification for "jihad" found in Islam), or else is encouraged to practice various techniques for "escaping" the world (i.e., mysticism, divine unity, etc.). Hence we see the dialectic between legalism and mysticism in so many of the world's religions.
Yeshua, on the other hand, spoke plainly of man's hopeless condition and the need for spiritual regeneration, or "rebirth." The natural man is spiritually dead and without hope apart from a miracle imparted directly from God Himself. As Yeshua said, "Unless you are born again, it is impossible (οὐ δύναται) see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Rebirth comes by means of the Holy Spirit and leads to a new order of creation for the soul (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15). Yeshua did not come to extinguish our egos as much as He came to resurrect and recreate us in His image (Rom. 8:29). "For we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). Indeed, since the self is ultimately defined by relationship, it is only after we are reborn in the Spirit that we can be said to have a spiritually real "self" at all. God gives the gift of a true, resurrected self to those whom He regenerates.
But what about those who receive the message of the gospel? How do they please God? After coming to Yeshua for life, some people tragically revert to the concept of the law once again. They attempt to "try harder" to please God and saddle themselves with various religious obligations (prescribed prayers, church services, rituals, etc.). They seem to forget that the law is powerless to save. Their logic goes something like this. I was condemned by the law, but because of God's mercy revealed in Yeshua, I am now forgiven. Therefore I am enabled by God's Spirit to keep the law, and therefore I should strive to be kosher, to observe various rituals, etc. This reasoning assumes that the law (i.e., the legal aspects of the covenant made at Sinai) with its verdict against us was not really done away with at the Cross of Yeshua (Col. 2:13-15). The "New Covenant," in other words, is not really all that new, and should be regarded as a "renewed covenant" instead. The upshot of this thinking is that Yeshua died on the cross so that we could all become followers of Moses!
I have written about this subject before, but I'll say it again here. There is indeed a "Torah" for followers of Yeshua, but this is His teaching... Indeed, the word Torah (תּוֹרָה) simply means teaching. But what did Yeshua teach about doing the "works of God?" Here's his explicit answer: "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (John 6:29). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) since we are literally saved by hope, not by works of righteousness (Rom. 8:24, Titus 3:5). What God requires is authentic faith in His Son (אֱמוּנַת יֵשׁוּעַ). The single most important mitzvah is trusting in Yeshua for life... This is THE central commandment of Scripture. Legalism attempts to find the "key" to open the door into the Presence of God through various forms of self effort ("don't touch this," "don't eat that," etc. Col. 2:20-23). It's underlying hope is that if I do such and such (or abstain from such and so), God will be propitiated and I will be accepted. It is therefore a mode of relating to God based on His conditional acceptance and approval.... But faith is the key that opens the door to true freedom. It is the miracle that makes blind eyes see. When we truly "live in the Presence of the LORD" by faith, we are set free from the trap of legalism. We receive the love of God; we accept that we are accepted; and then we walk in God's zeal and care for our souls (in that order). We do not relate to God as Judge but as our Heavenly Father, our Abba, our loving Savior.
Guilt, shame, and spiritual death come from relating to God on the basis of our own zeal and supposed merits, but forgiveness, justification, and spiritual life come from trusting in God's zeal and passion for you.... Again, it's not so much a matter of finding the zeal within your heart, but rather receiving the zeal that comes from the LORD. We are sanctified by faith alone, just as we are justified by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 6:11). There is no "catch" in the contract, no loophole, and no exception to the "Torah of the Spirit of Life" (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים). If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. This is the scandal of grace. Trying to please God through self-effort leads to exhaustion and frustration. Accepting that you are accepted and loved leads to peace and joy. God's love for you is the end of the law for righteousness (Rom. 10:4). In all things Yeshua is preeminent.
"In those who rest on their unshakable faith, pharisaism and fanaticism are the unmistakable symptoms of doubt which has been repressed. Doubt is not overcome by repression but by courage. Courage does not deny that there is doubt, but it takes the doubt into itself as an expression of its own finitude and affirms the content of an ultimate concern. Courage does not need the safety of an unquestionable conviction. It includes the risk without which no creative life is possible." - Paul Tillich
In closing, there is man's zeal, and there is God's zeal. The zeal of the LORD (קִנְאַת יהוה) represents His passion and eagerness to help those who are trusting in Him. Man's zeal is always insufficient, since self-justification - of any sort - invariably leads to the "Torah of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת). This is precisely why legalism leads us to shame. As long as you think you can merit eternal life by means of your own efforts, you are relating to God as Judge (אֱלהִים) rather than as compassionate Savior (יהוה). You have yet to experience inner brokenness and therefore believe you can "justify yourself." It is the Spirit that gives us life - though always at the price of the death and resurrection of the ego. As Yeshua said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).
None of what I've shared here implies that we are to be passive in our affections and in the exercise of our will. No, but the principle that governs our passion is to be derived from the "Torah of the Spirit of Life" and no longer from the "Torah of Law and Death." Because of Yeshua, we are free to trust in the zealous, passionate, and irrepressible love of God for our lives. The same passion that led Yeshua to die upon the cross is present to you today, if you have faith enough to receive it... God is the beginning and the end of our salvation: Kinat Adonai Tzeva'ot ta'aseh zot: "The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this" (Isa. 9:7).
For more thoughts about this vital subject, please see God's Greater Zeal.
Feeding God's Heart...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777) As I've discussed elsewhere on the site over the years, the climax of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai was not the giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel but was instead the vision of the Altar of the sanctuary... However -- as our Torah portion this week makes clear -- the central sacrifice upon this altar was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD calls this "my offering" (קָרְבָּנִי) and "my bread" (לַחְמִי) [Num. 28:1-8]. In other words, the service and ministry of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) constantly foretold the coming of the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would be offered upon the altar of the cross to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).
The sacrifice of the lamb represents "God's food," a pleasing aroma (רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ), for it most satisfied the hunger of God's heart (Eph. 5:2). Indeed, Yeshua's offering upon the cross represents God's hunger for our atonement, our healing from the sickness of death, since it restored what was lost to Him through sin, namely, communion with his children. God could never be satisfied until He was able to let truth and love meet (Psalm 85:10).
Sometimes we say that we "hunger for God," but it is vital to remember that it is God who first hungers for us. God desires our love and fellowship. He comes to seek fruit among the trees - but does He find any? He walks in the cool of the day, calling out to us, but are we attuned to hear His voice? Do we accept the invitation to be in His Presence? When God "knocks on the door of your heart" to commune with you, what "food" will you be serving? (Rev. 3:20). Every day we are given an opportunity to "feed God" through expressing faith, hope, and love. Ultimately it is our obedience to the truth is what "feeds" Him: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22).
For more on this subject, see "The Hunger of God's Heart."
Keep on Trusting...
07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777) When Yeshua said, "Let not your heart be troubled... I go to prepare a place for you," he was assuring his friends that he had matters well under his control, and therefore they did not need to worry, since his passion rendered their salvation completely secure... The future is a "prepared place" for you, even if life in this world is often marked by testing and various refining fires. God has not promised to rescue us according to our own schedule, however, so if it appears that your prayers are not immediately answered, keep waiting in faith: "Rejoice, even if you have been grieved by various trials, because the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:6-7). God works "all things together for good," and since the exercise of faith is your good, he engineers all things to build your faith. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD" (Isa. 55:8).
Recall the words: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) doesn't mean that we are obligated to say this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing. Meanwhile, may the LORD our God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.
The very last promise of Scripture is "I come quickly" (אֲנִי בָא מַהֵר) and the last prayer is, "Amen, come, Lord Yeshua" (אָמֵן בּאָה־נָּא הָאָדוֹן יֵשׁוּעַ) [Rev. 22:20]. Meanwhile we "inwardly groan" for the fulfillment of our redemption; since presently we are suspended between worlds, walking in hope yet subject to the vanities that befall all flesh. And though God may tarry, He declares, "I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it" (Isa. 60:22). So we are made captives to hope, clinging to the promise of our ultimate healing and redemption. Our hearts therefore affirm that God is faithful "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). Amen. God will help us before He will help us, and may He come speedily, and in our day....
True and False Zeal...
[ The following entry concerns our Torah reading for this week, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777) You may be entirely sincere in your convictions, but you may be sincerely wrong... In the time of the Second Temple, for instance, the Zealots despised the rule of Rome. Their political hatred caused them to blindly regard anyone who didn't share their passion as a personal enemy. In one of the great tragedies of Jewish history, these Jewish zealots actually killed more Jews than did the Romans themselves! And how many Christians these days "kill" relationships with other believers because of their particular zeal regarding some doctrinal question? I am not suggesting that doctrine is unimportant, of course, but before you pick up that sword to do the business of Pinchas, you might do well to consider your heart's attitude...
"In this respect fundamentalism has demonic traits. It destroys the humble honesty of the search for truth, it splits the conscience of its thoughtful adherents, and it makes them fanatical because they are forced to suppress elements of truth of which they are dimly aware." - Paul Tillich
We need to be careful with our passions. There is a "false zeal" that leads to estrangement and confusion. Withholding love from others is ultimately grounded in an appeal to God as the administrator of Justice. It is an appeal to God as Elohim (אֱלהִים), not as YHVH (יהוה), the Compassionate Source of Life. If we insist on our rights, we appeal to principles of justice, i.e., to God as the Lawgiver. But if we intend to have God be the Judge of others, we must appeal to Him to be our own Judge as well. If we have an unforgiving spirit toward others, we will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:15); if we are judgmental toward them, we ourselves will be put on trial; if we are cruel and ungiving toward them, we will experience life as hellish, miserable and mean. This reciprocal principle of Kingdom life appears throughout Jesus' teaching. According to your faith, be it done unto you (Matt. 9:29).
Note: For more on this important topic, see "Parashat Pinchas: God's Greater Zeal."
Hold Fast to Truth...
07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777) One of the main strategies of the devil is to induce a sense of forgetfulness, apathy, and hopelessness... The devil wants you to ignore what is real and to forget who you really are. The truth is your weapon against the cascade of lies that pours forth from the world and its princes. The entire venture of teshuvah (repentance) presupposes that you are created "in the image of God," that you are related to him, and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua gave to reconcile your soul with God. Therefore hold fast to the truth, friends; da lifnei mi attah omed - "know before Whom you stand." Turn to what is real, refuse the lies and despair of this world, and review what will abide the test of Eternity.
כִּי־חַסְדְּךָ לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי
ki · chas·de·kha · le·ne·ged · ei·nai
ve·hit·hal·lakh·ti · ba·a·mi·te·kha
"For your steadfast love is before my eyes
and I walk in your truth."
Note that the verb "I walk" (הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי) is "hithpael," a verb pattern used to express reflexive, intensive action done to oneself. Therefore we could translate this as "I earnestly choose to walk" in the truth, indicating decisiveness of intent, focus, purpose... As King Shlomo said: בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ - "know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6).
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas....
07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777) From our Torah this week we read Moses' appeal for his successor: "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh (אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd" (Num. 27:16-17). The Koznitzer rebbe commented here that Moses asked God to appoint a leader "for all flesh," lekhol basar (לְכָל־בָּשָׂר). Rearranging the letters of basar (בָּשָׂר), he formed the word shavar (שָׁבָר), which means "to break in pieces," and concluded that a true leader should be one with a broken heart (לב שבור), that is, one who can sympathize and have pity on his people (Heb. 2:8; 4:15; 5:1-ff). He should not be proud or aristocratic, but like a shepherd, a plain and simple person, who guides his people to observe the ways of the LORD.
The Breath of God...
07.10.17 (Tammuz 16, 5777) After accepting that he would soon die and therefore be unable to lead the people into the promised land, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).
The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him.
Safe in God's Love...
07.10.17 (Tammuz 16, 5777) The Spirit of God says, Al tira ki imekha ani - "Fear not, for I am with you..." This is the way out of fear – to trust and understand that God is "with you," that he is drawing you near, and that he is as close as your next breath... Being "with" God is to bound up in his love, identified with his purposes, visions, and expectations. Knowing that God is "with you," (עִמָּנוּ אֵל) delivers you from disappointment, and you can then find courage "to be with yourself," regardless of the vexation of your past. You no longer need to defend yourself; you are free to forgive others (including yourself), you can show compassion to yourself, and even laugh at yourself. May the LORD God set you free from all your fears and grant you peace to accept who you are, and to abide in the comfort that God unconditionally loves and welcomes you in Yeshua...
אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי אַל־תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי־אֲנִי אֱלהֶיךָ
אִמַּצְתִּיךָ אַף־עֲזַרְתִּיךָ אַף־תְּמַכְתִּיךָ בִּימִין צִדְקִי
al ti·ra ki im·me·kha a·ni; al tish·ta ki a·ni E·lo·he·kha
im·matz·ti·kha af a·zar·ti·kha, af te·makh·ti·kha bi·min tzid·ki
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
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How do you think God regards you? Does he see your sin first? If you think he disapproves of you, it's likely you will attempt to earn his approval by doing certain things (and not doing others), which puts you "under the law," that is, the never-ending cycle of self-justification. But you will never feel safe as long as you regard God's acceptance of you as conditional, since you will only be as secure as your own best efforts, a project that will exhaust you in the end. Instead you must know yourself as truly loved by God, just as the "prodigal son" came to know his father's unconditional love and acceptance despite his many misdeeds (Luke 15:11-32). The incarnation of Yeshua means that God "runs to meet and embrace you," regardless of whatever happened in your life that made you run away from home. And whatever else it may be, sin is the separation from God's love, but Yeshua made the decision to die for your sins before you were born. Your sin cannot overrule God's surpassing and personal love for your soul, since God gave up his very life for you to find life.
The Lord is also called "the God of breath" (Gen. 2:7; Num. 16:22). The Hebrew word for breath is ruach (רוּחַ), a word that means both "spirit" and "wind." God is as close as your breath and surrounds you like the unseen yet encompassing air. Since God's name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" (Exod. 3:13-14), "Life" (Deut. 30:20), and "Love" (Exod. 34:6-7), he is the Beloved, the "I-am-with-you-always" lover of your soul. So fear not; you are never really alone. Yeshua breathes out to you and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).
Pinchas and Isaac...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.10.17 (Tammuz 16, 5777) The name "Phinehas" (i.e., Pinchas: פִּינְחָס) shares the same numeric value (gematria) as the name "Isaac" (i.e., Yitzchak: יִצְחָק), which suggests that just as Isaac was willing to be sacrificed in obedience to God (i.e., during the Akedah), so Pinchas was willing to die for his zeal. Note further that Pinchas' passion turned away the wrath of God and established a covenant of an "eternal priesthood" (כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם), a phrase that shares the letter value as the word be'acharit (בְּאַחֲרִית), a term that means at the "end of days" (Gen. 49:1; 1 John 2:18). To string this together, we see a connection between Isaac and Pinchas, both of whom picture Yeshua our Messiah. Isaac is a picture of the Lamb of God, of course, and Pinchas pictures the zeal that grafts the heart into the everlasting priesthood of God. The Hebrew gematria reveals that the priesthood of Yeshua that brings everlasting peace is the "end of days" priesthood for humanity, and there is no other. Just as Pinchas was "grafted in" to the priesthood of Israel, so those who belong to Messiah are "grafted in" priests for the end of days, chaverim...
כִּי־קִנְאַת בֵּיתְךָ אֲכָלָתְנִי
וְחֶרְפּוֹת חוֹרְפֶיךָ נָפְלוּ עָלָי
ki · ki·nat · be·te·kha ·a·cha·la·tni
ve·cher·pot · cho·re·fe·kha · na·fe·lu · a·lai
"For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
Parashat Pinchas - פינחס
07.09.17 (Tammuz 15, 5777) Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Balak) first introduced us to Phinehas (i.e., Pinchas), the son of Eleazar the priest (and grandson of Aaron), who, during the tragic rebellion at Baal Peor, zealously removed evil from Israel by driving a spear through a tribal prince who was brazenly cavorting with a Midianite princess in definace of God's law. On account of Pinchas' zeal for the truth of Torah, God stopped the plague and Israel was delivered from destruction...
This week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Pinchas) begins with the LORD rewarding Pinchas by granting him a "covenant of peace" (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) and officially promising to incorporate him into the priestly line of Israel. This promise was remarkable because Pinchas was technically not qualified to be a priest, since he had already been born when the original promise was given to Aaron and his sons, and since his father Eleazar was married to an "outsider" – namely, the daughter of Jethro (also called Putiel, Exod. 6:25).
After Pinchas was honored before the people of Israel, the LORD commanded Moses and Eleazar to conduct another census of the people (this was 39 years after the Exodus from Egypt), with the result of 601,730 men between the ages of twenty and sixty (1,820 less that the original census taken at the start of the journey). Moses was then instructed on how the land was to be divided by lottery among the tribes and families of Israel. The daughters of Zelophehad then petitioned Moses that they be granted the portion of the land belonging to their father, who died without sons, and God accepted their claim and incorporated it into the laws of inheritance.
The LORD then commanded Moses to climb mount Abarim to "see the land which I have given to the children of Israel," though he was forbidden to enter it because he struck the rock twice at Kadesh. God then told Moses to formally appoint Joshua bin Nun as his successor who would lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land.
Parashat Pinchas (like parashat Emor in the Book of Leviticus) also includes mention of all of the (sacrifices of the) mo'edim (holidays) given to Israel (Num. 28). These include the daily (tamid), weekly (Shabbat), monthly (Rosh Chodesh) sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices assigned to the special holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hoshannah (Terumah), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. Remembering the joys of the Temple and the special celebrations of the Jewish people are thought to add a contrast to the otherwise somber time of reflection during the Three Weeks of Sorrow.
Mourning for Zion...
07.09.17 (Tammuz 15, 5777) According to Jewish tradition Moses shattered the tablets on the 17th day of the 4th month, after he came down from Mount Sinai and found the people worshipping the Golden Calf. Today, this tragic date is commemorated as a fast day (i.e., the "Fast of Tammuz"), which marks the beginning of a three week period of mourning that culminates on the 9th of Av (i.e., "Tishah B'Av"), the date the Israelites were sent into exile from the promised land because they believed the evil report of the spies (Num. 14:20-35).
During this three week period of national mourning, the weekly readings from the prophets are all "Haftarahs of Rebuke" that warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven, and therefore the theme of most Jewish religious services is teshuvah (repentance). In addition, weddings or other joyous events are usually not held during this time of year. Indeed, among the very Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most rigorous and solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the most solemn fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.
Dates During the Three Weeks of Sorrow:
Our Needy Love...
07.07.17 (Tammuz 13, 5777) "By the grace of God I am what I am..." (1 Cor. 15:10), which means that lovingkindness is the power that ultimately shapes whatever we are or will be. This is how we find Reality – by turning to the truth and accepting its terms. But what terms are these other than that we are a broken people who, by the mercy of God, are accepted despite our own unacceptability? As we receive God's love, as we embrace it as our own, the truth of Messiah becomes inwardly visible. This comes from a place of surrender and acceptance. As Paul Tillich said, "Sometimes in a moment of weakness light breaks into darkness, and it is as though a voice says, 'You are accepted; you are accepted... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.' If that happens to you, then you experience grace, and everything will be transformed." Amen. The message of love is this: "Accept that you are accepted despite your own unacceptability..." We find this grace when we receive who we are in relation to the truth of who God really is. The center of Reality is the Heart of Messiah, who upholds all of creation "bidvar gevurato" (בִּדְבַר גְּבוּרָתוֹ), that is, by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). As it is written: "all things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua) and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17; Rom. 11:36). There is a great simplicity in all this – a childlikeness... A healthy child accepts whatever he or she is without agonizing introspection and uncertainty. Life is viewed as a spontaneous wonder, a joyful mystery which evokes gratitude. A child feels safe in the arms of love that are extended without condition or qualification. When we come to God as his little children we are able to see the truth of who we are; we begin to understand the reality of our Father and his great heart of love for us. The Torah of Humility says: "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Mark 10:15).
"The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself, in spite of being unacceptable." - Paul Tillich
Shabbat shalom, chaverim. Thank you for your prayers for this ministry to continue. God is good to us all, despite ourselves! Peace and blessings upon you in the Name above all names. Amen.
Findng your Forgiveness...
07.07.17 (Tammuz 13, 5777) Yeshua taught us to pray "forgive us as we forgive others," which implies that our forgiveness (of others) is the measure of our own forgiveness. "For if you forgive others their trespasses," he said, "your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15). This is the conclusion – and the main point – of the famous "Lord's Prayer" that begins, "Our Father who art in heaven..." Notice that the culmination of the prayer presents a conditional of the will: if you forgive others then your heavenly Father will forgive you. There is no qualification made here, no extenuating circumstance allowed, and indeed, we are forbidden to hold a grudge or offense toward others, and - mark this - to hold offense even toward others who have not directly harmed us... In short we are categorically required to forgive others – all people, our enemies as well as our friends - for their trespasses, for who are we to judge others? Moreover, unforgiveness harms our souls, even to the point of exiling us from the presence of love itself. We see this most clearly in our close relationships. When we refuse to let go of hard feelings, our hardness of heart, then we bring judgment upon ourselves. We cannot experience the grace of forgiveness when we cling to ideas of judgment or revenge, since forgiveness means letting go of all that makes us sick inside... Forgiveness releases the hurt, the anger, and the disappointment so these feelings do not inwardly consume and exhaust our souls. And yet forgiveness must be self-directed, too, since refusing to forgive yourself denies or negates the forgiveness given from others. Forgiving yourself means admitting that you act just like other people, that you are human, and that you are in need of reconciliation too. Ultimately, forgiveness is both an act of self-acceptance and empathy -- we admit we are just like others, weak, flawed, in need of help, and so on. We can only forgive to the extent we recognize the truth about ourselves that we see in others. Yet we have to move on, past the shame, and to turn back to abiding hope. Before reaching out to God, then, affirm these powerful words found in the Gates of Repentance prayer book: "O Lord God, I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have wronged me, whether deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account. And as I forgive and pardon those who have wronged me, may those whom I have harmed forgive me, whether I acted deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. Amen."
Uncovering of Eyes...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Balak... ]
07.07.17 (Tammuz 13, 5777) "Then the LORD uncovered Balaam's eyes and he saw..." (Num. 22:31). This implies that the great "seer" had been walking "sightlessly" – blind to reality, closed off, unable to get past his own narrow perspective... Indeed the Hebrew verb for "uncovered" (i.e., galah: גָּלָה) implies captivity and exile (i.e., galut: גָּלוּת). Seeing is essentially a spiritual act – a decision of the will - though to see the truth about reality requires the miracle from God... Just "as the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain," so we hide from view the mysteries and glories that surround our way. Like the man born blind who needed a miracle to see the world around him, so we are delivered from our blindness only when God reaches down and touches us so we can see (John 9). "Amazing grace... I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see."
אַל־תַּסְתֵּר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי
al · tas·teir · pa·ne·kha · mi·me·ni
"Do not hide your face from me" - Psalm 27:9
This is such an important appeal – to be enabled by the miracle to see God's face in all things, in every person we encounter, and in every experience we have... Amen.
Wounds of a Friend...
07.07.17 (Tammuz 13, 5777) "Surely he has taken up our sicknesses and has carried our sorrows; yet we regarded him as stricken, beaten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced (profaned) for our transgressions; he was crushed for our perversions; upon him was the correction that brought our peace, and by his blows we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5). In this famous passage that foretold the suffering of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, note that the word translated "blow" (i.e., chaburah: חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word for "friend" (i.e., chaver: חָבֵר), and therefore we can read "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As he later said regarding his sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, Yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
This Star Still Shines...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Balak... ]
07.06.17 (Tammuz 12, 5777) Darakh kokhav mi'Yaakov: "There shall come a star out of Jacob..." Amazingly, Balaam – who may have been the forebear of the "magi of the east" (Matt. 2:1-2) – foresaw the coming of the Messiah: "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob (כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקב), and a scepter shall rise out of Israel" (Num. 24:17). Balaam's prophecy described the coming of the Messiah and his reign in two distinct aspects: "A star from Jacob shall lead the way (i.e., דָּרַךְ)," this refers to Messiah's first coming as the way of life (John 14:6), "and a scepter shall ascend (וְקָם שֵׁבֶט) from Israel," this refers to Messiah's second coming to establish the kingdom after the final redemption. Here is the Hebrew prophecy for you to hear:
אֶרְאֶנּוּ וְלא עַתָּה
אֲשׁוּרֶנּוּ וְלא קָרוֹב
דָּרַךְ כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקב
וְקָם שֵׁבֶט מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל
er·e·nu · ve·lo · at·tah
a·shu·re·nu · ve·lo · ka·rov
da·rakh · ko·khav · mi·ya·a·kov
ve·kam · she·vet · mi·yis·ra·el
"I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a Star shall come out of Jacob,
and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel"
The Living Truth...
07.06.17 (Tammuz 12, 5777) Only the truth that is lived really matters. Students of the great sages would go to their master's home to see how he ate his soup, how he drank wine, how he treated his wife, how patient he was with his children, etc. God does not want "lip service" or your acknowledgment of the theology that others have worked to understand. As Kierkegaard once wrote: "Truth is not something you can appropriate easily and quickly. You certainly cannot sleep or dream yourself into the truth. No, you must be tried, do battle, and suffer if you are to acquire truth for yourself. It is a sheer illusion to think that in relation to truth there is an abridgment, a short cut that dispenses with the necessity of struggling for it. With respect to acquiring truth to live by, every generation and every individual essentially begin from the beginning."
Yeshua said, "For this reason was I born... to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). As his followers, this provides the reason for our lives as well. Why were you born into this world? Better, why were you reborn? Was it not to participate in the redemptive mission of the Savior? God chose you to be His messenger because he foresaw your heart of faith... It is the truth that sets people free. Freed from what? Freed from slavery to sin, from the darkness of fear, from the dread sting of death itself. This freedom is "ontological," meaning that it has real being, existence, energy, meaning, and purpose. But understand that freedom is inward, spiritual, hidden from the eyes of the world (Luke 17:21). It is Messiah "within you" that matters (Col. 1:27), a reality revealed by the Spirit through listening (shema) to the Voice of the LORD (Rom. 10:17). God's truth is immeasurably powerful enlightens the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), releasing the power of Spirit within your inner being (Eph. 3:16). We talk sometimes about kavanah (focus) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), but such things are only meaningful with regard to the true goal of creation itself. You are given the greatest task in all the universe: to live the message of the truth so that others can be set free of their slavery and find eternal life. Your life is likened to a "living letter" from the Messiah, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor. 3:3). May the LORD God Almighty help us to walk in His truth always. Amen.
Crucified with Messiah...
07.06.17 (Tammuz 12, 5777) "I have been crucified with the Messiah; it is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). We must be careful not to be scandalized by our own lower nature; the Scriptures teach that our "flesh" is defiantly hostile to the things of God (see Rom. 8:7). Spiritual regeneration is not reformation of the lower nature but rather the creation of something amazingly new, the gift of eternal life from above... You are given a "higher self" that is created by God after the image of Messiah; you are made new by the power and grace of God. The old "Adamic" nature draws strength from the "flesh" and is carnally-minded, whereas the higher nature of Messiah draws strength from the Spirit of God. We must "put off" the old nature by understanding that its place is death: "taking up the cross" means reckoning your former life is dead and now you are made alive to God. Practically speaking this is a matter of faith -- believing God for the miracle, even if you still are struggling with carnality. Whenever we sin and the old nature resurfaces, we need to remember the truth about who we really are; our grief over sin is a reminder of our higher identity in Yeshua. We must walk in hope -- trusting God for the miracle and turning away from the ego and its vain devices. "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:45-49).
Again, we have been "crucified with" Messiah, which teaches us that God's way of deliverance is radically different than man's way. Man's way is to attempt to reform his nature, to strive to follow the law, to resist the impulse to lust and sin, to create "good karma," and so on, whereas God's way is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather to make us weaker and weaker - by crucifying the old nature. According to the Scriptures, there is no other end for the flesh - the autonomous ego - than its repudiation and death upon the cross. The cross demonstrates that any attempt of the flesh to please God (i.e., "religion") is useless and needs to be laid to rest. The cross represents the instrumentality of the death of your religious aspirations: it is the surrender of all human effort whatsoever. Therefore the Greek verb used in Gal. 2:20 is a perfect passive, denoting action completed through the agency of another: "I have been crucified (συνεσταύρωμαι) with the Messiah." Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me."
Of course since human beings worship themselves and glory in the flesh, the doctrine of the cross seems like foolishness to the carnally minded. Thus Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: "Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life's nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in 'another' or 'better' life... The Christian faith is a sacrifice: a sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit; at the same time, enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation." To a "natural man" like Nietzsche, the message of the cross represents the call to resignation, passivity, and weakness, and the religion of the cross is therefore regarded as the cult of the victim, the slave, the weak, etc. Karl Marx similarly regarded religion as the "opium of the people," that is, a drug of consolation meant to assuage present suffering by escaping to another world... But such "wisdom of this world" is regarded as folly with God (1 Cor. 3:19), who traps the wise in their own conceits but reveals Himself to the humble of heart (Matt. 11:25). From the perspective of one who has truly encountered ultimate reality, the cross represents the very power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). As Paul wrote, "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Yeshua the Messiah our LORD, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14).
Yeshua didn't die a painful and bloody death on the cross to save sinful flesh but rather to become sinful flesh in exchange for the sinner who trusts in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). That's the essence of the gospel, the power of God's salvation. On some mysterious level, the exchange of our sin with Messiah's righteousness is "ontological," meaning that it has real being, existence, substance, energy, and reality. Our identification with Yeshua on the cross represents the death of our old sin nature, which is forever put away and replaced by a new nature (2 Cor. 5:17). We don't come to the cross to save face, to get "cleaned up," or to become religious, but rather to die and to be reborn to eternal life. By faith there is a divine exchange, whereby the natural life is crucified and buried and the spirit is miraculously given life from heaven. The resurrected life is given only after passing through death to life. It is Messiah in you that is the hope of glory.
The miracle is the exchanged life we have in Messiah. Take comfort in the words of our Scriptures. During his earthly ministry Yeshua foresaw the cross and understood that it was his mission to die upon it for the sins of the world. Still, even after he carefully (and repeatedly) explained all this to his disciples, "they understood none of these things... and did not grasp what was said" (Luke 18:31-34). The fact that Yeshua's message regarding the cross was hidden from them (i.e., κρύπτω, "made cryptic") shows us that unaided human reason cannot fathom its eternal significance. After all, reason wants to continue in the illusion that human life is redeemable by means of self-improvement (i.e., religion), and therefore God Himself must reveal the need for the cross by means of the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately the miracle of new life comes from the power of God's Spirit:
לא בְחַיִל וְלא בְכחַ כִּי אִם־בְּרוּחִי
אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת
lo · ve·cha·yil · ve·lo · be·kho·ach · ki · im · be·ru·chi
a·mar · Adonai · Tze·va·ot
"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says the LORD of the armies of heaven"
Hebrew Study Card
Our true identity, our spiritual life, our very reason for being is no longer found in this world and its vain philosophy. The cross brings these things to an end, as we "cross over" from the realm of the dead to the realm of life... "If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε), where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).
He is Faithful and True...
[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]
07.05.17 (Tammuz 11, 5777) It is encouraging to understand that despite the repeated failures of the Israelites in the desert, the LORD never let go of his people... Indeed, as the story of Balaam reveals, if a spiritual enemy would secretly arise to curse Israel, God would take the sorcerer "by the tongue" to evoke God's blessing instead (Deut. 23:4-5). As Balaam himself attested: "there is no sorcery (i.e., nachash: נַחַשׁ) against Jacob, no divination (i.e, kesem: קֶסֶם) against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Unlike scheming Balaam, who was willing to say whatever people wanted to gain temporal reward, God is "not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind" (Num. 23:19). What the LORD has promised he will invincibly perform: His word is full of integrity and truth: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). The God of Israel is forever faithful in his love, and no one can overrule his desire (Num. 23:20; Rom. 11:29).
The Enigma of Balaam...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Balak... ]
07.05.17 (Tammuz 11, 5777) What are we to make of the enigmatic character of Balaam? Was he a prophet or a puppet of God? Nehama Leibowitz (1906-1997) notes two essential differences between Balaam and the Hebrew prophets. First, Balaam sought special visitations and visions, building altars and performing rituals to "force" the prophetic spirit. The Hebrew prophets, on the other hand, never engaged in these sorts of activities to hear from the LORD, and many were reluctant messengers, convinced of their own nothingness. Second, the Hebrew prophets cautiously spoke in the name of the LORD ("thus saith the LORD...") to authenticate their message, but Balaam took credit for his visions, flamboyantly describing himself as a great "seer" with special powers. Based on Joshua 13:22 (which describes him as a sorcerer), it is likely that Balaam was given a temporary gift of prophecy, perhaps like the "witch of Endor" was allowed to temporarily communicate with the dead (1 Sam. 28:7-20). In other words, God raised up Balaam to demonstrate his authority over the powers of darkness and to reassure Israel of God's ongoing protection of his people....
In the New Testament, Balaam is regarded as one who desired to corrupt others for his own personal gain. The Apostle Peter does not call him the "son of Beor" but "son of Bosor" (τοῦ Βοσόρ), a play on the Hebrew word basar (בָּשָׂר), the flesh, implying that he was a "son of carnality" who enticed of Israel to sin at Baal Pe'or (see 2 Pet. 2:15; Num. 31:16). Peter further described him as a spiritual hireling who loved the "wages of unrighteousness" (μισθὸν ἀδικίας ἠγάπησεν), and who was willing to sell his spiritual "services" without regard for the truth (Num. 22:7, Deut. 23:4-5, 2 Pet. 2:15). He knew he should not prophecy about Israel, but he so loved the prospect of reward and the flattery of men that he justified his venture into darkness. "An evil eye, a haughty spirit, and a lusting soul - these are signs of disciples of the wicked Balaam" (Avot 5:22). For more on this topic, see "The Way of Balaam" in the parashah summary links.
Note: The Hebrew word melekh (מֶלֶךְ) means "king" and shares the same letter value as the word lemech (לֶמֶךְ), a name that means "powerful," but can also mean "fool." The sages reasoned that since the letter Mem represents the brain (מוֹחַ) or thought (מַחֲשָׁבָה), and the letters Lamed-Kaf refers to the kidneys (כליות), a king is one who uses right thinking to rule the heart (מ-לך), but a fool reverses the order and makes thinking a servant of the passions and the lower nature... Therefore Balaam was properly regarded as a fool.
Blessing of the Good Eye...
07.05.17 (Tammuz 11, 5777) "The one who utters a blessing is blessed; the one who utters a curse is cursed" (Ruth Rabbah). This expresses the great truth that as we are within, so we are without: as we forgive, so we are forgiven; as we give, so we receive... But we can't give to others what we have not received, and that means first of all learning (or remembering) to see how we are loved by God, despite ourselves. We must use ayin tovah (עין טובה), the "good eye," for the sake of our own inner peace. We must extend to ourselves "good will" and compassion before we can offer it to others. If you can't yet love yourself, ask the Lord to help you begin by not hating yourself, by turning away from the fear and pain that hides behind your anger. As the medieval sage Rashi wisely said, "hatred causes a person to forget his identity."
Blessing of Inner Peace...
[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]
07.05.17 (Tammuz 11, 5777) It is remarkable that the traditional morning blessing recited at synagogues around the world begins with words attributed to Balaam, the enigmatic and self-styled prophet: Mah Tovu: "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel!" (Num. 24:5). The sages say that the word "tent" (אהֶל) refers to the inner life – how we really feel inside – whereas the word "dwelling" (מִשְׁכָּן) refers to the outer life - our place or circumstances. Together, the inner and the outer mark the quality of our lives, but the inner is the starting point, since we must first learn to live in peace with ourselves. This is vital: we must first tolerate our shortcomings and practice compassion toward our frail humanity... This is sometimes called shalom ba'bayit, "peace in the home" (of the self). Such inner peace is the greatest of blessings, since without it we will cling to pain, fear, and anger, thereby making us unable to find our place at the table in God's kingdom of love.
מַה־טּבוּ אהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקב
mah · to·vu · o·ha·le·kha · Ya·a·kov
mish·ke·no·te·kha · Yis·ra·el
"How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwellings, O Israel"
Note: For more on this, see the Mah Tovu Blessing pages.
07.04.17 (Tammuz 10, 5777) Some people think that "freedom" means "licentiousness," or the ability to do what they want to do whenever they want to do it. However, simply doing whatever you want to do is not the Torah's idea of freedom. Yeshua told us "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin," and went on to say "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom (i.e., cherut: חרוּת) is therefore moral and spiritual rather than merely physical. Real freedom has to do with the power to choose what is right and good, not to simply get your own way or to practice your lusts... In other words, there is no freedom when people are enslaved to their own desires and ignorance. Our liberty is meant to clothe us with divine power to walk in righteousness and truth.
Many people, alas, clamor for "freedom" by which they mean want the approbation of others to engage in their own flavor of wickedness and depravity... There is no shortcut to the truth, however, and "freedom" to do wickedness is really a form of bondage. "The truth shall set ye free, but first it shall make ye miserable" (Søren Kierkegaard).
Happy Fourth of July, friends...
The Doctrine of Balaam...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Balak... ]
07.04.17 (Tammuz 10, 5777) The "doctrine of Balaam" (ἡ διδαχή Βαλαάμ) is the wicked strategy of enticing others to sin by encouraging them to "eat food offered to idols" and to engage in sexual immorality (Rev. 2:14). This was how Balaam was able finally to curse the Israelites at Baal Peor, after all (see Num. 25:1-10; 31:16). In short, Balaam's doctrine was one of "syncretism," advocating a mindless "tolerance" that arrogantly claimed that all religions are equally true, and therefore all are equally false... Such "tolerance" is a charade for moral and spiritual nihilism that lends itself well to political fascism. In ancient Rome, official "tolerance" led to the brutal intolerance of the "Imperial Cult" where the power of the State (represented by the Emperor) was worshiped. In our age, the doctrine of Balaam first entices people to "eat food offered to idols," that is, to partake of the irrational dogma of "absolute tolerance" and unthinking universalism. After opening the heart to accept such idolatry, sexual immorality is the natural expression, a consequence of debasing doctrinal promiscuity. God sets us free from the slavery of surrounding culture to become a witness of the truth. Assimilating with this world and its political ideals is spiritual adultery. Do not fool yourself: Whoever makes himself a friend of the world is an enemy of God (James 4:4).
Curses turned to Blessings...
[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]
07.03.17 (Tammuz 9, 5777) God can (and does) turn curses into blessings... For example, Joseph was blessed despite the ill-will of his brothers: "You devised evil against me, but God devised it for good" (Gen. 50:20). Note that the same verb for "devised" (i.e., chashav: חשׁב) is used to describe both the evil intent of the brothers and the good intent of the Lord. This teaches us that God overrules the malice of men to effect his own good purposes, and therefore we can rightfully affirm gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), "this too is for good" (Rom. 8:28). Underlying the surface appearance of life (chayei sha'ah) is a deeper reality (chayei olam) that is ultimately real, abiding, and designed for God's redemptive love to be fully expressed. Resist the temptation, therefore, to judge by mere appearances. Forbid your troubles (or the troubles of this world) to darken the eye of faith. Do not unjustly judge God's purposes or try to understand His ways. As the story of Balaam shows, God makes even the wrath of man praise Him (see Psalm 76:10). "Then God opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down..." (Num. 22:31). Indeed, every knee will bow to the LORD our God and Savior (Isa. 45:22-23; Phil. 2:10-11).
We find comfort that the schemes of the wicked are subject to the sovereign purposes of the LORD our God. Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - there is no power that can be exercised apart from God's consent and overarching will... Indeed all authority on heaven and earth belongs to Yeshua, the "the Ruler of the Kings of the earth" (עֶלְיוֹן לְמַלְכֵי־אָרֶץ). As it is written, "All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name" (Psalm 86:9).
Practice the Presence...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Balak... ]
07.03.17 (Tammuz 9, 5777) In our Torah portion we read: "I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me" (Num. 22:34). The sages comment that ignorance of the Divine Presence is not a legitimate excuse. The whole world is filled with God's glory, though this awareness is suppressed because of sin. Ignorance (literally the "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth) is a choice for which we are responsible (Rom. 1:18-20). Sin blinds us to our eternal responsibility. The antidote to ignorance is to become mindful, awake, and aware... We must choose to attend to God's Presence, as David said, "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8). King David knew, of course, that God was always present, all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful, yet he consciously turned to God in heartfelt humility. David "practiced the presence" of the LORD by realizing that all he said, did, and even thought was before the Presence of the Master of the Universe.
שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט
shiv·vi·ti · Adonai · le·neg·di · ta·mid
ki · mi·mi·ni · bal · e·mot
"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."
Hebrew Study Card
To repair the breach between "faith" and "practice," to unify his heart and its affections, David Ha'Melech determined to "set" the LORD before him. Note that the verb "set" here is piel, that is, intensive... We must intently focus our mind and heart to regard ourselves as in the Presence of God; we must sense His eye upon us and "know before Whom we stand." The sages say that when David wrote these words, he was referring to the scroll of Torah which he kept tied to his arm (shel yad). King David literally "set" the Word of the LORD upon his right hand to help him keep focused.
Deliverance from Slavery..
07.03.17 (Tammuz 9, 5777) No one can give reasons why reason is irrelevant to life; no one can say it's an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth... People are free to choose what to believe but they are not free to ignore reality with everlasting impunity. Life is not infinitely plastic; there is inevitability in the end; and every conscious life represents an expression of faith. Worldly culture invents innumerable ways to evade questions of truth, creating endless distractions designed to keep us enslaved and numb. Freedom implies that we are responsible for how we choose to live our lives. People cannot escape from themselves, and the decision to be distracted is an ultimate decision to become a slave... Agnosticism, or the viewpoint that you cannot know what to believe, implies that you don't care enough to make a conscious decision, and therefore it amounts to the "careful" decision to be indifferent. Since everyone has "ultimate concerns," agnosticism expresses the concern that there is no ultimate truth, and therefore it teaches that whatever a person believes is essentially unimportant. Our feckless age has abandoned the ideals of moral and spiritual truth and therefore lives in chosen ignorance of the most important questions of life, refusing to honestly seek answers to the most haunting questions of all.
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal
To disregard questions about reality – who we are, where we came from, why we are here, where we are going, what is real, etc. – amounts to an existential decision to become willfully blind, and to resign yourself to the darkness of fatalism... Human life is incomprehensible apart from God, since otherwise both our wretchedness (our sin) and our dignity (our hope) are inexplicable and vain. Natural science attempts to reduce human beings to the realm of animality, to define the human being in terms of natural processes and impersonal forces. Spirituality, on the other hand, is evidenced in various ways, including art, music, poetry, and other creative expressions, friendship, human and family love, the intuitive use of language, logic and rationality, the mystical experiences of sacred awe, the inner apprehension of moral and spiritual reality, the yearning to worship and to give thanks to the Creator for the gift of life, the need for deliverance from our guilt combined with the hunger for eternal connection, for undying love, and so on, all of which indicate the human being's transcendental nature, the person's consciousness of time and the ability to engage in introspective and refection... We are all on a journey that ultimately leads to death. Do you know yourself? Do you know what you really believe? Are you unaware of what you think about life in general or the world that surrounds you? Can you explain the reason for your existence? Why you were born? What gives your life direction and focus? γνῶθι σεαυτόν – "Know thyself!"
Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't easily seen. The real dangers of life are not vulnerability to crime, sickness or some accident, however, but rather susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, and the possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vanities; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your need for God.
Despite the depravity of our age, the LORD God rules and reigns over all, and therefore nothing is beyond heaven's supervision... All things work together for good (Rom. 8:28). "The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds" (William James). Faith sees beyond the madness of our world to behold the truth and glory of God -- an invincible reality and kingdom that is the Foundation Stone of truth. Reality centers on God's Presence and Love. "I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis). Faith sees the invisible and trusts in an unseen good; faith finds peace in the storms of life by abiding in the Divine Presence.
Abiding in Him...
07.02.17 (Tammuz 8, 5777) Yeshua used the allegory of a vine and its branches to illustrate how we are to be spiritually connected to Him: "I am the true Vine, and you are the branches," he said (John 15:1-6). The purpose of the branch is to be a conduit of the life of the vine. We derive our identity, life and strength from being made part of Yeshua's life, His vision, and His purposes... In Hebrew, this idea is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) which means "cleaving" to God bekhol-levavkha (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), "with all your heart," and bekhol-nafshekha (בְּכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), "with all your soul," and bekhol-me'odekha (בְּכָל־מְאדֶךָ), "with all your being..." Cleaving to God is the essence of the great commandment to love the Lord given in the Shema. We are able to so cleave to God in Yeshua because God does a miracle and gives us lev chadash, a new heart to serve Him. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Whether Yeshua is living in you (and you are living in Him) is the most important question of your life upon which everything else ultimately depends. He appeals to each heart of faith: "Live in me, and I will live in you" (John 15:4).
Shavuah Tov and thank you for being a part of Hebrew for Christians, friends...
Overruling the Wicked...
07.02.17 (Tammuz 8, 5777) Our Torah portion for this week (Balak) is named after a fretful Moabite king (בָּלָק) who sought to curse the Jewish people by hiring the services of a wicked Midianite "prophet" named Balaam (i.e., bil'am: בִּלְעָם). King Balak's plan was to employ Balaam's sorcery (i.e., kashafut: כַּשָׁפוּת) against the Israelites to prevent them from entering the Promised Land. Similar to the delicious irony that befell the villain Haman in the Book of Esther, however, King Balak's scheme was upended, and the curse he sought to put on the Jewish people was repeatedly pronounced as a blessing by Balaam instead. After several foiled attempts, Balak fretfully dismissed the prophet, but before departing from the dejected king, Balaam ironically prophesied the destruction of the Moabites and the victorious establishment of Israel. The shameful story of Balaam reveals that "there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - no weapon or scheme devised against God will ever prosper (Isa. 54:15-17).
But who was this mysterious prophet named Balaam? According to Jewish tradition, Jacob's wicked uncle Laban had a son named Beor (בְּעוֹר), who became the father of Balaam. In other words, the "cursing prophet" Balaam was none other than the grandson of Laban:
Note that the name "Beor" first appears in connection with a king of Edom (Gen. 36:32), which suggests that Balaam might have once been a king of the Edomites (i.e., the descendants of Esau). Further note the phonetic similarity to Peor. If Beor and Peor are the same, then Balaam was actually a prophet of Baal Peor, a local Semitic god.
Balaam was regarded as a great seer, magician and an adept in the occult. He had an "evil eye" and drew the spirit of demons to anything he gazed upon (Avot 5:22). His notoriety made him famous, and powerful people asked him to invoke curses on their enemies. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) states that Balaam became so famous as a magician that he later became a chief advisor to Pharaoh. It was Balaam who advised the new Pharaoh to enslave the Israelites and to afflict them with brutal taskmasters (Exod. 1:8-11). For more information about the identity of Balaam, see the entry entitled, "The Curses of Balaam."
June 2017 Site Updates
Shadow of Shaddai...
06.30.17 (Tammuz 6, 5777) One of the great Hebrew names of God is El Elyon (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן), often translated as "God Most High." The name first appears in the Torah regarding the mysterious figure of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), the timeless king and priest of Zion who served "bread and wine" to our father Abraham – alluding to the sacraments later used to commemorate our redemption (Gen. 14:18). As the timeless king and priest of God, Malki-Tzedek is a "theophany," or a revelation of the LORD our God Yeshua before He emptied Himself and made his descent to this world (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 7:3). Yeshua is our great King of Kings and High Priest of the New Covenant, a better covenant that restores the kingship and priesthood back to God Himself (Heb. 7:12).
Now the Hebrew term "Elyon" itself (עֶלְיוֹן) comes from a root word (עָלָה) that means "to ascend" or "to lift up." For instance, an "olah offering" (עלָה) is a whole burnt offering that ascends upward to heaven, and "aliyah" (עֲלִיָּה) means "going up" to the land of Israel. The word "Elyon," then, expresses the truth that the LORD is the Resurrected One who overcame all the powers of hell and utterly vanquished death's power. In other words, Elyon is a name for the LORD our God Yeshua.
ישֵׁב בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן
בְּצֵל שַׁדַּי יִתְלוֹנָן
אמַר לַיהוָה מַחְסִי וּמְצוּדָתִי
yo·shev · be·se·ter · El·yon
be·tzel · Shad·dai · yit·lo·nan
o·mar · ladonai · mach·si · u·me·tzu·da·ti
E·lo·hai · ev·tach · bo
"He who dwells in the secret of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
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The sages say that Moses wrote Psalm 91 as he dwelt in the secret place (סֵתֶר) of the Most High God, in the "midst of the dark cloud" (Exod. 24:18), a place of sacred and holy concealment. The thick clouds are a "hiding place" for him (Job 22:14). Notice that the one who "abides" in the secret of the Most High dwells in an ascended place of rest – being lifted up above the surrounding madness of this fallen world of flux and shadows. The Hebrew word means to lodge or to "sleep" (לִין), connecting it metaphorically with death and resurrection. By dwelling in the death and resurrection of Yeshua, God will shield you with His Presence and make evil powerless before you.
Since God hides Himself in this world (Isa. 45:15), we must humbly seek His face to enter into the place of His holy concealment in all things. God is Elyon – High above - but He dwells "with the lowly and the broken of heart" (Isa. 57:15). Therefore the LORD our God is called Shaddai (שַׁדַּי) – our Sustainer, Provider, Refuge, and Home. Just as we can be surrounded by the "shadow of death" (tzal mavet), so we can be surrounded by the "shadow of Shaddai" (tzal Shaddai). Like a powerful eagle brooding over her chicks, so Shaddai covers you with wings of protection (Psalm 91:4).
When you "abide" in the secret of Elyon - the Ascended One - you are concealed by the dark clouds of His Glory, and the Presence of Shaddai overshadows you... The LORD will save you from the ensnaring trap and from the devastating pestilence (Psalm 91:3). By abiding in the truth that God's Presence pervades all things at all times - you become a "stranger" (גֵּר) with the LORD in this world, a "sojourner" (תּוֹשָׁב) who awaits the recompense of the wicked and the healing of the world at the end of the age. "You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot" (Psalm 91:13).
Personal Note: Shabbat shalom friends. We have been enduing a lot of testing lately, and we deeply appreciate your prayers for this ministry to continue. Thank you so much. - John
Assured by Love's Promise...
06.30.17 (Tammuz 6, 5777) Regarding the assurance of our salvation Yeshua declared: "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes in the One who sent me has (i.e., present active indicative) eternal life and will not be condemned, but has passed over (literally, "crossed over") from death to life" (John 5:24). Note that the verb translated "has passed over" is "perfect active" that expresses completed action: "this one has already crossed over from death to life." In other words, the gift of eternal life is a "done deal," though it is only experienced as we truly surrender to the love and grace of God from a heart of faith. The "basis" of life is now radically new and of a different order. As the apostle Paul later summarized: "For it is by grace you have been saved (i.e., a perfect passive participle that denotes completed action done on your behalf with effects that continue to the present) through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:9-10). I'm so glad it's not the strength of my grip that keeps me holding on to God, but the strength of His.....
Our Lord does not want us uncertain or unsure of His great love for us. A fearful believer explained that he was anxious about his acceptance before heaven. When he was asked to define "salvation," he answered, "freedom, deliverance, rest, peace." So you think fear will help you do away with your fear? You are fearful of the idea of freedom from fear?
So "be strong and of good courage" – chazak ve'ematz! The Lord our God promises "never to leave you nor forsake you," and to be with you wherever you go (see Josh. 1:5,9; Heb. 13:5, Psalm 139; Matt. 28:20). In the Greek New Testament, the wording of Hebrews 13:5 is highly emphatic: οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ οὐδ᾽ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω: "Not ever will I give up on you; no, not ever will I leave you behind." May you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling you, and may He forever keep you under His watchful care. Amen.
Doing to Know...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.29.17 (Tammuz 5, 5777) The commandments of God are usually divided between the rational laws (i.e., mishpatim) and the divine decrees (i.e., chukkim), though this distinction is somewhat artificial, since all of the commandments of Torah (and that includes the Torah of the New Covenant) are grounded in the mystery of God's will, which is to say that we are to obey them simply because they derive from the Divine Authority itself... When the people gathered before Moses to receive the covenant at Mount Sinai, they said: "All the LORD has spoken we will do and we will hear" (na'aseh ve'nishmah: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע). Note the order: first comes the decision to obey (na'aseh), and then comes understanding (ve'nishmah). As Yeshua said, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will understand" (John 7:17). The heart of faith is willing to do what God asks before hearing what exactly is required. Many people operate the other way round, sitting in judgment of God's word, demanding to understand why they should obey. You cannot understand apart from faith, however, and that is categorically true of all forms of knowledge, which is usually defined as "justified true belief." We are to be "doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves" (James 1:22). The Greek verb used in this verse is emphatic: "Be doers!" (γίνεσθε) means "be born! come alive! do, live, exist before God! This is a call to creative action, to newness of life!
The Scriptures state that "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like" (James 1:23-24). If we just hear the truth but do not act upon it, we are comically likened to someone who carefully looks at his face in a mirror but then promptly forgets what he looks like after he steps away... Likewise those who only hear the word but do not "bring it to life" in their deeds forget who they are and why they were created (Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14; Col. 1:10). When we look into the mirror of truth we see our need for teshuvah and turn to God for the healing miracle he provides (Heb. 4:12). It's not about doing but being, though being is revealed in doing... If your actions do not align with your values, then back up and recover who you really are in Messiah, understand what your new nature truly is. That is what it means to "take up the yoke" of Messiah, for his yoke is easy (kal) and burden is light, and the task is to repeatedly practice allowing Him to carry your pain, shame, and sin far, far away from your heart.
There is a deeper law, however, a "mirror" that reveals something beyond our passing image. When we look intently into the "perfect law of liberty" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת וּמַחֲזִיק) - the law of faith, hope, and love for our Savior - we find blessing in our deeds (James 1:25). Note that the verb translated "look into" the law of liberty is the same used when John stooped down to "look inside" the empty tomb of Yeshua (John 20:5). The deeper law reveals the resurrection power of God's invincible love. The Torah of the New Covenant also has many mitzvot, though these are based on the love God gives to us in Yeshua: "This is my Torah: that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).
Cleansing from Death...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat, though the mysterious themes of purity and impurity were first described in parashat Tzav... ]
06.29.17 (Tammuz 5, 5777) Contact with the dead causes spiritual impurity (i.e., tumah) because death, as the separation from life, is the ultimate expression and consequence of sin. People routinely deny the meaning of death, explaining it away as the result of some cause from which one might escape ("he worked too hard," "she got sick," "it was an accident," etc.). People rationalize death because they refuse to see it as the effect of sin, the consequence of the original transgression of Adam and Eve that humanity as a whole has "inherited" (Gen. 2:17; 3:19; Rom. 5:12). Therefore the Torah states that the birth of a child results in impurity (Lev. 12:2,7). Full atonement comes from "digging up the root of sin" by being purified from its source, namely, the curse of death itself. The Red Heifer alludes to the sin of the Golden Calf, which finds its source in the original idolatry of Adam and Eve. Even the blood of the sacrifice was burned to ash "outside the camp," putting a complete end to the "life of death" and its power to corrupt. The Red Heifer is therefore a special sort of "sin offering" (chatat) that cleanses from contact with death itself (Num. 19:9).
Note: The "fall" of man implies that we have contact with death - both inwardly and outwardly. The sacrifice of Yeshua as our "Red Heifer" cleanses us from all tumah and lovingly makes us clean (tahor) before the Father. The "water and the blood" is part of the "olah sacrifice" of Yeshua for our redemption and purification before God offered at Calvary (John 19:34, 1 John 5:6). The water and blood flowing from His wounds are the means by which we are purified from sin and death... All this comes from the love (chesed) of God given in our Messiah and Savior. Just as the sacrifice of the Red Heifer cleansed from the effects of physical death, so the sacrifice of Yeshua cleanses us from the effects of spiritual death. For more on this subject, see the "Gospel of the Red Cow."
Life Worth Living...
[ The following is a topic for seekers, chaverim. If it confuses you, please ignore it... ]
06.28.17 (Tammuz 4, 5777) It is common to encounter people today who refuse to believe that God exists, not because there are compelling reasons to do so, but simply because they do not want God to exist, and therefore they willfully suppress the intuitions of logic, the apprehension of value, the awareness of glory in creation, and the sentiments of conscience, since all these experiences point to the realm of moral and spiritual reality. As it is stated in our Scriptures: "For that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has revealed it to them. For the invisible attributes of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and divinity; so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). Indeed, atheists and agnostics dogmatically pontificate that there is no transcendental "moral law" or Moral Lawgiver before whom all moral agents will give account, again, not because reason indicates that this is so, but on the contrary, merely because they wish to be "free" to do whatever they want and to pursue their own selfish desires. In this regard the atheist merely chooses to close his mind because he does not want to see. As the Baal Shem Tov once said, "The world is full of wonders and miracles but man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing." Indeed the deification of the self makes the soul a stranger to God and blind to moral and spiritual reality. The modern man will split hairs and fastidiously object to questions of truth and meaning all for the sake of living life as he pleases, on his own terms, without recognizing any moral authority beyond himself....
Socrates famously said that "the unexamined life is not worth living," which of course implies that a life worth living is discovered by asking questions, searching for meaning, pursuing truth, celebrating wonder, and living with integrity. "Seek the LORD while He may be found..." Contrary to the ideals of worldly culture, the meaning of life is not found in the pursuit of personal happiness (or pleasure) but rather in the pursuit of truth and meaning. Apathy about such matters is a symptom of lifelessness: it is to be spiritually dead while seemingly "alive." Indifferent people are likened to those who go through the outward motions of life without ever making inner traction with it... The righteous, even in death, are called "living"; the wicked, even while alive, are called "dead" (Berachot 18a).
"Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it." - Bliase Pascal
Why is there something rather than nothing at all? Such a fundamental question strikes at the heart of our assumptions and habitual ways of thinking, jolting us from our sleepy "cave-like" consciousness to face the glaring light of the sun... The natural instinct is to turn away, to pull the covers over our head, and try to go back to sleep. However if pressed, the simple question "why" irresistibly leads to a concatenation of explanations and a regress of causes that quickly points to metaphysical properties and realities. For instance, if a child asks her parent, "Why do people die?" the parent might answer, "Because people get sick or injured or they might grow very old." "But why do people have to grow old?" the child continues. "Because they are born, live for awhile, and eventually pass away... All things change, and that means they come into being, exist for a while, and then pass away. Look around you; everything you see – the people, the animals, the plants, rocks, mountains and seas, the earth and sky, the stars and galaxies, and indeed the whole universe – is constantly changing, coming into being, existing for awhile, and then passing away..." "But why does everything have to pass away?" the child persists... In this imaginary dialog we see how quickly "why questions" begin pointing to deep metaphysical mysteries such as the nature of being, the phenomenon of time, the ubiquity of change and its existential relationship to human consciousness. The dialectic of asking and answering questions helps us detect the assumptions that underlie our everyday thinking, often revealing wonders that pervade our lives. The failure to seriously ask the "big questions" of life, for instance, "What am I?" "Where did I come from?" "Why am I here?" "Where am I going?" and "What does it all mean?" is to abandon what makes life itself worth living... It is to give up the quest to find meaning, purpose, hope, and a sense of destiny.
"How did I get into the world? Why was I not asked about it and why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought by a peddling shanghaier of human beings? How did I get involved in this big enterprise called actuality? Why should I be involved? Isn't it a matter of choice? And if I am compelled to be involved, where is the manager—I have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint?"- Søren Kierkegaard
The Sin of Moses...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.28.17 (Tammuz 4, 5777) And God said, "Speak to the rock..." but Moses struck the rock twice with his staff" (Num. 20:8,11). This was apparently Moses' sin for which his punishment was exile from the Promised Land. The punishment might seem severe, but in light of God's Redemptive Plan given in Messiah, Moses' actions were intended to be prophetic (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4). When the people first demanded water at Rephidim, Moses was told to strike the rock with his staff (Exod. 17:6). The Hebrew word used to describe how Moses "struck" the rock is the same used to describe how Yeshua was "smitten by God" (Isa. 53:4). The Rock symbolized the Messiah, the One stricken for His people to give them waters of life (Isa 55:1; 1 Cor. 10:4). Moses' act of disobedience implied that rock needed to be stricken again to give life, instead of speaking to it as the "Living Rock." In his frustration, Moses lost sight of the LORD by suggesting that he and Aaron were responsible for the miracle of the water ("listen, you rebels, shall we bring forth water for you?"[Num. 20:10]), and God could not leave those words unanswered before the people. That is why God told Moses that his exile from the land was the result of his sin not sanctifying (i.e., honoring) the LORD before the people of Israel (Num. 20:12).
"The Rock is Messiah" - הַצּוּר הַהוּא הַמָּשִׁיחַ... the Source of the waters of life (1 Cor.10:4).
Mother of the Golden Calf...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.28.17 (Tammuz 4, 5777) Some of the sages have said that the elaborate ritual of the Red Heifer (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה) was originally intended to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf (egel ha-zahav). The Golden Calf represents seeking for life in this finite world, losing sight of the invisible, unnamable, and mysterious Creator and Redeemer. Idolatry expresses our fear of being abandoned in the desert, and impels us to seek for security and comfort in the immediacy of the moment. The ritual of the Red Heifer brings us face to face with our contact with death and offers us purification and healing. The cow itself symbolizes our impulse to idolatry, which must be turned entirely to dust and ash in the fires of God's truth. To this are added cedar, representing our pride, and hyssop, representing our lowliness. A crimson string is added that symbolizes our blood connection and lower nature (דּם). All these are burned together and the ashes mixed with living water to create a holy admixture that heals us from the perversity of death. Ironically, we are cleansed from the "dust and ashes" of death by being sacrificially covered with God's "dust and ashes" given in our place.
The Meaning of Life...
[ You can't die "in him" if you have never lived in him; and if you live in him, nothing can separate you from his love and life... ]
06.28.17 (Tammuz 4, 5777) The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), which is written in the plural to imply that life cannot be lived alone... Embedded within the word itself are two consecutive Yods (יי), representing unity in plurality (Yod-Yod is also a Name of God). Therefore the LORD is called Elohim Chayim (אֱלהִים חַיִּים), "the Living God," and we only come to life through our union with Him. Chayim may be formed from the word chai (חי), "alive" combined with the particle im (אם), "if," suggesting that being alive is conditional on our union with God in the truth. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם); whoever refuses the Son shall not see life, but the separation of God remains" (John 3:36). Life and peace are therefore inextricably connected, and those who refuse Yeshua, the Prince of Peace (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם), therefore separate themselves from unity with God. Yeshua alone is the means of receiving the divine life: "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).
God has "made us alive together with Messiah" (Eph. 2:5). The two Yods in the word "life" (חַיִּים) can also be seen as the two outstretched arms of Yeshua, or one Yod can represent our spirit and the other the Spirit of God. God's life is such that it is never diminished as it shared but instead grows in miraculous ways. This is alluded to by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared with another it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 - the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). The love of God given in Yeshua is the very life of the universe...
[ The following is a topic for seekers, chaverim. If it confuses you, please ignore it... ]
06.27.17 (Tammuz 3, 5777) Our postmodern age exhibits a devout faith in the values of "tolerance" and "open-mindedness," though the way these words are used barely conceals a cynical indifference and even hostility to the view that objective truth – that is, a metaphysical, moral and spiritual order to reality – is transcendentally knowable and logically necessary. Many intellectual poseurs of our time claim that all worldviews and religious perspectives "should be" deconstructed, qualified, minimized, homogenized, and reduced to equal (in)significance; and, since there is no impartial way to arbitrate such pluralistic convictions about reality, all respective truth claims "should be" understood as relative, subjective, and a form of political exploitation or manipulation. Of course this epistemologically skeptical view is "magically" immune from its own criticism, since to know that skepticism is true is to transcendentally claim to know something true about reality, and yet this reductio ad absurdum doesn't seem to bother the "intellectuals" of our day. Indeed, postmodern thought often extols "tolerance" as the preeminent intellectual value, which essentially means it commends apathy and cowardice as the guiding intellectual virtues of thinking. The so-called "tolerant" person is functionally a person without conviction, that is, a coward who is more afraid of being wrong than risking commitment for his or her beliefs. It is intuitively obvious, however, that the human mind is "hard-wired" to make logical inferences and to draw conclusions, and the desire to "suspend" the use of reason (by ironically arguing that reason itself is a tool of oppression) really amounts to opting out of serious thought altogether. Despite its squawking rhetoric and empty bluster, postmodern thinking is on the wrong side of truth and reality, just as the its parasitical use of words such as "justice," "human rights," "bias," "entitlement," and so on, tacitly appeal to transcendental moral categories that provide the semantic and logical ground for the idea of truth itself.
"Those who do not love truth excuse themselves on the grounds that it is disputed and that very many people deny it. Thus their error is solely die to the fact that they neither love truth nor charity, and so they have no excuse" (Blaise Pascal, Pensees). Many people today opt out of the mandate to search for (and to live by) the truth, because, they claim, not everybody agrees on what the truth is, and therefore they are "excused" from the duty... Such people want to be "innocent" of taking sides in the issue, pretending to be "neutral" parties in the debate, and thereby they suppress their judgment rather than risk making a commitment. Of course this amounts to the decision not to decide and therefore expresses evasion and indifference to moral and spiritual reality.
"There are only three types of people; those who have found God and serve him; those who have not found God and seek him, and those who live not seeking, or finding him. The first are rational and happy; the second unhappy and rational, and the third foolish and unhappy." - Blaise Pascal
A Perfected Strength...
06.27.17 (Tammuz 3, 5777) "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Eternal One, the LORD, is the Creator of the ends of the earth (בּוֹרֵא קְצוֹת הָאָרֶץ). He does not faint nor grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength" (Isa. 40:28-29). Human reason has no objection that God can impart strength, but it objects that strength is found in those who are broken and weary – that is, to those mortally wounded in the battle against evil. The principle of the self-life, the ego, religious observance, "doing the law," etc., is a spiritual dead-end. The word is this: God gives strength to the weary, to the faint, to those who are without potency or power. But this means that we first must be emptied, broken, and stripped of our self-sufficiency before the strength of God is manifest in us: "My power is made perfect (τελειοῦται) in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). God's way is first to break us, to make us weaker and weaker, so that he can then fill us with the miraculous divine nature. Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me." There is indeed strength, power, and victory – but such comes after the cross, after we reckon carnal energy as useless. Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says Adonai Tzeva'ot.
נתֵן לַיָּעֵף כּחַ
וּלְאֵין אוֹנִים עָצְמָה יַרְבֶּה
no·tein · la·ya·ef · ko·ach
u·le·ein · o·nim · otz·mah · yar·beh
"He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength"
Righteousness of God...
06.27.17 (Tammuz 3, 5777) "For many walk (πολλοὶ γὰρ περιπατοῦσιν) ... as the enemies of the cross of Messiah (τοὺς ἐχθροὺς τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῦ χριστοῦ)." Paul's statement is directed to those who profess faith in Yeshua. Those who minimize the need for the cross invariably stress the importance of "religion," of good works, and even of the supposed virtue of faith... The cross, however, scandalizes the aspirations of human pride by presenting the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים), not the righteousness of men. The message of deliverance is not about how good you are, but about how good God is. Test yourself: In what are you trusting for eternal life? Salvation is "of the LORD," which means that it is His work done for the glory of the Name above all Names. As Jonah the prophet testified: "Those who cling to empty vanities forsake their own mercy..."
מְשַׁמְּרִים הַבְלֵי־שָׁוְא חַסְדָּם יַעֲזבוּ
וַאֲנִי בְּקוֹל תּוֹדָה אֶזְבְּחָה־לָּךְ
אֲשֶׁר נָדַרְתִּי אֲשַׁלֵּמָה יְשׁוּעָתָה לַיהוָה
me·sha·me·rim · hav·lei · shav' · chas·dam · ya·a·zo·vu
va·a·ni · be·kol · to·dah · ez·be·chah-lakh
a·sher · ne·dar·ti · a·sha·lei·mah · ye·shu·a·tah · la·do·nai
"Those who cling to empty vanities forsake their own mercy;
but I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay: Salvation belongs to the LORD!"
Like Jonah we first must be "swallowed up" in consciousness of our own rebellion before we realize we are undone, that we are without remedy apart from God's direct intervention and deliverance. We start there - in the "belly of the fish" - and later are resurrected to go forth by God's mercy and grace. Likewise we first see ourselves as undone and go to the cross, finding pardon and given the power of the ruach HaKodesh to live unto God according to the truth. But note that the imperatives of the New Testament are directed to the new nature given to us by God, and not to the old nature that has been crucified and done away. We are admonished to live in accordance with the truth of what God has done for us through the Moshia', the Savior. You are a new creation, therefore be who you are in the Messiah!
Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit" (Jer. 17:5-8).
"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" (Matt. 7:21). And what is the will of the Father but to trust in Messiah for life (John 6:40)? "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Yeshua answers: "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom he has sent" (John 6:28-29). The Torah of God centers on Messiah. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not ... do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I say to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness' (Matt. 7:22-23). From this we see that works - even those done in the name of Messiah - are insufficient for life, and that something more is needed. And how you understand what that "something more" is makes all the difference....
Purge me with hyssop....
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) It is noteworthy that cedarwood, hyssop, and scarlet thread were used not only for cleansing the leper (Lev. 14) and for cleansing from contact with death (Num. 19), but also during the ratification of the covenant at Sinai (Exod. 24:8; Heb. 9:19-20) and indeed during the crucifixion of our Lord. Of course hyssop (אֵזוֹב) is first mentioned regarding the application of the blood of the lamb upon the doorposts during the Passover (Exod. 12:22), and King David later appealed to God for cleansing saying, "purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean" (Psalm 51:7). A hyssop branch was also used to offer vinegar to Messiah during the time of his crucifixion (John 19:29). Likewise the wood from a cedar tree (עֵץ אֶרֶז) was used to purify both the leper and those contaminated with death, and it is likely the type of wood used for the cross of Messiah. Finally, scarlet (שָׁנִי) thread symbolizes both blood and royalty, and appears in the birth of Judah's children Zerach and Peretz (Gen. 38:28), in the coverings of the Tabernacle, as a sign of Rahab's faith (Josh 2:8,21), and as the color of the robe of Messiah during his crucifixion (Matt. 27:28).
Beauty for Ashes...
[ The following entry also concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) The ashes of the red heifer represented the death and sacrifice of something extremely rare, valuable, and precious. The ashes were mixed with "living water" (מַיִם חַיִּים) to reveal the truth that though the end of all flesh is but dust and ashes, the Spirit gives cleansing and life. Indeed the word ashes (אֵפֶר) may be rearranged to spell both cure (רַפֵא) and beauty (פְאֵר). The author of the book of Hebrews argues from the lesser to the greater: If the sprinkling of water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer purify the flesh from contamination with physical death, how much more does the blood of Messiah purify the soul from the deeds that cause spiritual death? (Heb. 9:13-14). Indeed, because of Yeshua's sacrifice we are given "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness," that we may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified (Isa. 61:3).
Personal Note: Keep me in your prayers, friends... I have received some more hate mail from various people recently, slandering this ministry, accusing me of misleading people, etc. God knows. Please offer a prayer of protection as I continue to press forward, sharing the truth of the Scriptures to all who are willing to hear. Shalom and thank you.
Paradox and Faith...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat (i.e., Num. 19:1-22:1). ]
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) The paradox of the red heifer sacrifice is precisely this: it purified those defiled by contact with death, yet it defiled all those who were connected in any way with its preparation... And though it was a prescribed sacrifice, it was offered "outside the camp," that is, on an altar that was not part of the Temple.... Likewise Yeshua suffered outside the gate to sanctify the people through his own blood.
Commandments (mitzvot) that defy reason are called "chok" (חק). The Jewish sages tend to focus on the Red Heifer as the "mother of all mystery mitzvas," but surely we must go back to the Akedah - that is, to the sacrifice of Isaac at the hand of his father Abraham - as the greatest of God's decrees that defy human reason. The willingness of both Abraham and Isaac to obey - despite their inability to understand - was a direct result of their unwavering faith in God's love and promises. Therefore the sacrifice of the ram caught in the thicket represented the "ashes of Isaac" that foretold of the great Lamb of God to come...
The heart of our faith says simply: "Jesus saves." His sacrifice saves us from sin and death, yet this also is "chok" - a matter of faith - since like the decree of the red heifer or the offering of Isaac, it does not make rational sense. We are not able to logically understand how or why this is needed, yet we believe anyway; we may seek reasons or explanations, but ultimately it is a matter of divine mystery, just as the darkness covered the earth while the Savior suffered for us on the cross at Calvary (Mark 15:22). "Jesus saves" is the mystery of our confession. We are cleansed by our contact with sin and death through him, just as he bears our sin and defilement on our behalf: "God made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).
"But when Messiah appeared as a High Priest (כּהֵן גָּדוֹל) of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he alone entered once for all into the Holy Places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (גְּאוּלַּת עוֹלָם). For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer (אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה), sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Messiah (דַּם הַמָּשִׁיחַ), who through the eternal Spirit (בְּרוּחַ עוֹלָם) offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (אֱלהִים חַיִּים)?" – Heb. 9:11-14
The Torah of the new covenant is inner, deeper, and eternal, whereas the Torah of the older covenant is outer, limited, and subject to obsolescence (Heb. 7:12; 8:13). The older covenant foretold of the coming Substance by means of the "ashes that purify the impure yet make the pure, impure." Only after we have been "sprinkled with the ashes" are we made clean from death; only when we make contact with the "ashes of Yeshua" offered on our behalf are we cleansed from sin and death (1 Pet. 1:2; Heb. 10:22).
Saved from Death's Sting...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Chukat), which discusses the central decree of the Torah, we read: "Everyone who is bitten (by the serpent), when he sees it (the slain serpent upon the stake), shall live" (Num. 21:8). The fiery serpent – the very sting of which brings death – is what must be looked upon, confronted, and confessed. We must look at that which kills us, and by seeing it, we can then see God's miracle (נֵּס) that delivers us... Therefore we look to the cross – the place where Yeshua clothed himself with our sickness and sin – to realize God's remedy for our eternal healing. As Yeshua explained to Nicodemus, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its lethal venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world. In Yeshua the miraculous exchange takes place: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - Blessed is the Name forever!
אֵלֶיךָ נָשָׂאתִי אֶת־עֵינַי הַיּשְׁבִי בַּשָּׁמָיִם
e·le·kha · na·sa·ti · et · ei·nai · hai-yo·she·vi · ba·sha·ma·yim
"To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned [for me] in the heavens!"
Notice in the verse above the spelling for ha-yoshevi (הַיּשְׁבִי), "the one enthroned," is unusual, since it contains a Yod (י) suffix. The normal spelling would be simply ha-yoshev (הַיּשֵׁב) meaning "the Enthroned One." The sages say that the Yod (י), the smallest of letters, represents the heart of prayer, the inner realm of spirit. God is enthroned "for me," that is, within my heart; O LORD, put your Spirit (י) within me as I look to you in prayer!
The psalm continues with an appeal for God's merciful deliverance: "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us (חָנֵּנוּ יְהוָה חָנֵּנוּ): for we are exceedingly filled with contempt" (Psalm 123:2-3). As we lift up our eyes to behold God's miracle – his nes gadol (נֵס גָדוֹל) given in Yeshua our Messiah – we overcome by the power of God.
It is said that "God creates the cure before the plague." Yeshua is the Lamb slain "from the foundation of the world." He is the promised "Serpent Slayer" who would redeem humanity from the curse of death. The serpent that had deceived Eve in the paradise of Eden has been overcome (Gen. 3:15). The sacrificial death of the Savior upon the cross is the Tree of Life for those who take hold of Him. For more on this, see "The Gospel in the Garden."
Faith and Reason...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) The divine decrees, that is, the "chukkim" (חֻקִּים), test how we understand our faith, since they are not based on rational criteria. By way of contrast, the commandment that we should not steal, for example, makes logical sense, since if no one observed it, society itself would be impossible. Therefore this commandment, like many others, does not test how we comprehend our faith as much as it tests our obedience. The divine decrees, however, require bittachon - that is, abandoning our need to understand so that we can completely cling to God's wisdom: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding."
בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ
be·tach · el-Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha
ve·el · bi·na·te·kha · tish·a·ein
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding"
Hebrew Study Card
Bittachon requires that we renounce reliance upon ourselves, upon our ego's ability to understand reality, and instead trust the LORD be'khol levavkha, "with all our heart." Any other supposed source of security than that from the LORD God Almighty is sheer folly. The Greek Septuagint never translates batach (בָּטָח) with the idea of "believing in," but rather as "to hope" or to be persuaded (πείθω) that God alone is your real security and help...
Exercising bittachon does not imply that we should abandon reason or the pursuit of wisdom, of course, but it does require that we keep in mind that all thinking is to be conditioned upon the truth that God is the Sovereign Power that orders and defines all substance and reality... We still form our plans, but we add the thought: im yirtzeh HaShem, "if it pleases God may this come to pass" (James 4:15). We have to keep our balance between "blind faith" and faithful rationalizations: We trust in God, even when it doesn't make sense, and we trust in God, even when it does...
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD (Jer. 9:23-24).
Letting Go of Anger...
[ The chasidic rebbes would argue with heaven and pull their beards out in lamentation over the exile... They would wail and fight and complain to heaven that they could not be happy apart from God's promises being fulfilled. Today, alas, many laugh at such an idea, to their shame... ]
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) Why are we so angry? Does some of our anger arise from the conflict between the ideal and the real we experience? We seek the eternal, for perfection, and for the manifestation of love and grace for our lives, yet we encounter brokenness and depravity – both within our own hearts and in the world at large. We hunger to be transformed, to walk in the light of truth, yet we find ourselves weighed down in our "fallenness," battling selfishness, fear, and pride. What can we do? Shall we scorn the inner condition of our hearts or rail against the world? How do we reconcile the rift between our present reality and all that we pray will be true of us? Shall we deny the real for the sake of the ideal? Shall we seek solace in heaven, far away from the traction of our daily struggles? If so, how are we to share the message of hope with a lost and dying world? A better approach, it seems to me, is to first of all accept that which cannot be changed, that is, to let go and surrender both the "is" and the "ought" of our lives, both the past and the future of our reality, to God's care. Whenever we attempt to "play God" we become frustrated and bitter people; but when we let go and trust God for our lives – for both what we are and what we ought to be – we find the blessing of inner peace. "Thy will be done" is not an expression of resignation as much as it is an affirmation that God is working all things together for our good, and therefore we can relax and be carried by the Spirit, sanctified by the truth of God's love.
יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ תִּצּר שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם כִּי בְךָ בָּטוּחַ
בִּטְחוּ בַיהוָה עֲדֵי־עַד כִּי בְּיָהּ יְהוָה צוּר עוֹלָמִים
ye·tzer · sa·mukh · titz·tzor · sha·lom · sha·lom · ki · ve·kha · ba·tu·ach
bit·chu · vadonai · a·di-ad · ki · be·Yah · Adonai · tzur · o·la·mim
You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, for he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever, for Yah the LORD is an everlasting rock.
Hebrew Study Card
The Decree of Torah...
[ The following entry concerns our Torah reading for this week, parashat Chukat... ]
06.25.17 (Tammuz 1, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (Chukat) begins, zot chukat ha-Torah (זאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה), "this is the decree of Torah" (Num. 19:2). The language here is both striking and unique, suggesting that what follows, namely, the ritual of the parah adumah or "red heifer," is nothing less than "the seminal decree" of the entire Torah... If we think about the meaning of the mysterious decree of the red heifer, however, we will realize that its ashes were used to create the "waters of separation" (i.e., mei niddah: מֵי נִדָּה) to cleanse people from contact with death (i.e., separation). To fulfill God's vital decree, however, required sacrificial love, since the priest who offered this service would become defiled (separated) for the sake of the healing of others... The Hebrew word for love is ahavah (אַהֲבָה), from a root verb (יָהַב) that means "to give." Love means giving of yourself to benefit another person (John 15:13). The central decree of Torah, then, beyond our ability to rationally understand, is that God's love is so great that it is willing to become dust and ashes on our behalf so that we might find blessing and life...
The mitzvah of parah adamah (i.e., the red heifer) represents the suspension of logic in deference to the Divine Will. This attitude is not restricted to this mitzvah. Scripture introduces the mitzvah of the parah adamah with the words "this is the law of the Torah." Surrendering one's own reasoning and accepting the superior reasoning of Hashem is the law of the entire Torah... To the extent that we let go of our own will, we can understand the Divine will. Our ancestors at Sinai understood this ideal when they proclaimed, "we will do and then we will understand." Torah is not beyond our understanding, but we must be willing to make the sacrifices that true Torah understanding demands. - Living Each Day, Rabbi Abraham Twerski
Yeshua willingly became unclean on our behalf - through contact with our sin and death - so that we could become clean (Isa. 53:4, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:3, Eph. 5:2, Titus 2:14). The pure became impure through His sacrificial offering. Because of Him, we have been cleansed from our sins "by a better sprinkling" than that which the Tabernacle of Moses could afford (Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:14, 12:24, Eph. 1:7, 1 Pet. 1:2,18-19, Rom. 5:9; Col. 1:14, 1 John 1:7, etc.).
Note: The Hebrew word "chok" means a "divine decree," related to a verb meaning "to engrave" (חָקַק). The sages say that the word is directed to a desire to do God's will that is "engraved" upon the heart rather than simply understood with the intellect (2 Cor. 3:3). The first time "chok" (חוֹק) appears in the Torah concerns Abraham's obedience of faith as demonstrated by the sacrifice of his beloved son (Gen. 26:5), and the second time concerns the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb of God: "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as an eternal decree (חֻקַּת עוֹלָם), you shall keep it as a feast (Exod. 12:12-13). Because both the Akedah and the sacrifice of the Passover lamb reveal God's yeshuah, his salvation, we are to engrave the significance of our deliverance by the Lamb of God within our hearts forever... Amen, just as God Himself has so engraved us upon his own heart, it is written, "behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (הֵן עַל־כַּפַּיִם חַקּתִיךְ) - Isa. 49:16a.
Lamentation and Loneliness...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) Ah Lord, you have given me an incurable wound, a pain that refuses to leave my heart; for mi li va'shamayim? "Whom have I in heaven but you?" And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Psalm 73:25). I whisper to Thy heart, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you," and yet I am bound in this place of lonely exile, pining away in grief... My heart cries, ad-anah Adonai, "How long, O Lord, forever?" Nevertheless I affirm: "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." There is nothing I seek apart from your "with me" Presence, O beloved Savior; therefore be true to your love and bear my way through these hours...
וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ
mi · li · va·sha·ma·yim
ve·im·me·kha · lo · cha·fatz·ti · va·a·retz
"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."
The Berditchever rebbe was asked if his ongoing debate with heaven - protesting that God was not dealing correctly with his people - was a sin of lashon hara (evil speech), to which he replied that the spies slandered God when they said, "We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than us (Num. 13:31), yet his burden was rather, ad-anah Adonai, "How long, O Lord, will you forget us, forever?" (Psalm 13:1), and, "You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth" (Isa. 62:6-7).
"For we know that the whole creation groans (συστενάζει) and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved" (Rom. 8:22-24).
The Warning of Korah...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Korach) centers on the rebellion of Korach, a man who questioned God's authority and arrogantly sought to "intrude" into the office of the priesthood. It is noteworthy that his rebellion is explicitly mentioned only once in the New Testament - in the Book of Jude - as an example of the fate that awaits those false teachers who likewise despise God's law. Unfortunately, Jude's warning is often neglected today, probably because people feel uncomfortable over the prospect of God's judgment. After all, in our "politically correct" age, people have been indoctrinated to regard "tolerance" as the greatest of virtues and "intolerance" (even of evil) as the greatest of vices.... Most unbelievers don't mind hearing the "good news" of God's love, but they take exception when they are confronted with their personal duty to live according to the moral truth revealed in the Torah. False teachers within the church are dangerous because they feed on this sense of discomfort and attempt to rationalize it away. Jude identifies them as spiritual impostors who "work from the inside" to confound or obscure the truth of God. Such charlatans may appear to be "true believers," but their hidden agenda is to sow confusion and sin among God's children. They are proverbial "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15). Jude's warning is especially important for us to heed in this present hour, because in the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah, spiritual deception and unbridled godlessness will greatly increase (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Note: For more on this very important subject, see "The Message of Jude." Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, chaverim. Thank you for being part of Hebrew for Christians!
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) Those who deny that objective truth exists (or those who deny that something may be known about reality) are themselves making a truth claim, namely the claim that there is no such thing as objective truth (or that knowledge of the world is not possible). This self-inflicted incoherence is a sign of irrationalism, of course, the abandonment of reason, which perhaps is the ulterior motive for such manner of thinking, after all. The person who denies truth does so to escape the demands of truth – to flee from personal responsibility before moral and spiritual Reality. It is a form of "wish-fulfillment" to deny that people are not responsible for what they believe and how they live their lives. Hence our culture's obsessive "busyness," its craving for ongoing diversion, entertainment, fantasy, escapism, and so on. Our generation finds evil in "boredom" and finds nothing of lasting interest because it has forsaken the big questions of life and the pursuit of truth. Popular culture encourages apathy, indifference, and seeks to enslave people to thrills and titillations of the moment... The ancient pagan world at least esteemed honor and believed in the pursuit of virtue and truth, but today's post-Christian world is nihilistic, anarchist, and therefore marks a return to barbarism.
The absurd claim that truth does not exist is not unlike the the absurd claim that there is no God, no Supreme Being, and no Primordial Intelligent Cause for all that exists. For an atheist to seriously claim there is no being in any possible world that fits the description of "God," he or she would have to be omniscient, omnipotent, and indeed exercise the very attributes of the Being which is denied to anywhere exist...
The Seeming Way...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Prov. 14:12). Our postmodern culture celebrates "relativism," or the spurious notion that that there is no such thing as objectively knowable truth... Apart from the self-contradiction that arises by saying that it is (objectively) true that there is no objective truth, the unthinking acceptance of this sophistical perspective leads to mindlessness, the lack of creativity, moral stupidity and apathy, and delusional thinking. Popular culture inculcates and preaches there are no moral absolutes and therefore terms like "right" and "wrong," "just" and "unjust," "true" and "untrue" should (ahem) be translated as expressions of preference without any reference to moral categories or structures that extend beyond the individual (or sometimes collective) will. According to this dimwitted view, Mother Theresa was no better a person than was Adolf Hitler; and therefore genocide, slavery, murder, and so on, are "lifestyle choices" that express individual or collective preference, but nothing else. Indeed such a viewpoint claims there is no way to infer an "ought" from an "is" (no "prescription" from "description") and therefore assigning moral praise, blame or responsibility is ultimately meaningless. Understand, then, that the uncritical acceptance of this sort of relativism stifles the life of the mind by implying that there is no difference between truth and error, between good and evil, between beauty and ugliness, between logical and illogical thinking, and so on. However, since language and meaning are necessarily grounded in logic, naive relativism is ultimately unintelligible and incommunicable, since logic assumes that meaning and rules of inference serve as the conditions of any expression of thought. I share this to point out that the thinking of our culture is not based on careful reflection or reasoning but is essentially a matter of brute force, and therefore it is rightly to be regarded as irrationalism, an implied appeal to violence, and depraved thinking. Of course this sort of relativism is a very useful indoctrination technique regularly used by political agitators, the mass media, by government propagandists, con artists, and by all those who rely on dimwitted people to manipulate and control. Therefore the thoughtful person of truth, that is, the person of genuine moral conviction derived from intuitive axioms of reasoning, will always be regarded as an enemy to those who live and practice the lie.
יֵשׁ דֶּרֶךְ יָשָׁר לִפְנֵי־אִיש
yesh · de·rekh · ya·shar · lif·nei-ish
ve·a·char·i·tah · dar·khei-ma·vet
"There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death"
Martin Buber once said, "What is accomplished through lies can assume the mask of truth; what is accomplished through violence can go in the guise of justice, and for a while the hoax may be successful. But soon people realize that lies are lies at bottom, that violence is violence - and that both lies and violence will suffer the destiny history has in store for all that is false." As Yeshua himself said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). "Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are all those who love and practice the lie..." (Rev. 22:14-15).
The Faces of Life...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) The Hebrew word for "face" is panim (פָּנִים), a term that is grammatically plural, which suggests that there is no single "face" or appearance that can fully define or express the essence of a person. Just as your soul (נְשָׁמָה) is a unity that contains a multiplicity of changes yet remains a distinct identity, so there is an "inward face" that abides the outer expressions. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "inside" is penim (פְּנִים), which is spelled exactly the same as the word for "face."
The word panim itself comes from panah (פָּנָה), a verb meaning "to turn." The Hebrew preposition "before" is lifnei (לִפְנֵי), from the same root, which literally means "turning toward" or "facing" something. This suggests that we have to consider different angles or perspectives and be careful not to jump to conclusions or to make superficial judgments about others. We have to turn in empathy toward others. The Torah says we are to judge be'tzedek (בְּצֶדֶק), that is, with righteousness, by using a "good eye," by giving the benefit of the doubt to others, and by exercising kindness (Lev. 19:15). As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
"Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but you don't notice the log in your own?" (Matt. 7:4). The Baal Shem Tov is reported to have said, "It is not good to be alone, for one cannot know one's own defects. Other people are mirrors, in which you can discover your own flaws by observing the acts you dislike in them. In fact, it is only because you share them yourself in some degree that you are able to see another person's flaws." May it be Thy will, Lord and God of our fathers, to remove all barriers between us, and endow us with the vision to see the good in all people, and overlook their defects. Amen.
In the great "three-in-one blessing" known as birkat kohanim (Num. 6:24-26), the LORD is asked to shine the light of His face upon us (פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ), and to lift up His face to behold us in love... The two "faces" here represent the loving countenance of the Divine Presence and our own face turned toward His loving gaze. Therefore the most intimate connection with the LORD is described as being panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), being "face to face" with God. The LORD is the One who sees the "face beneath the face" in our hearts, and that face ultimately is that of Yeshua Himself: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). Let us therefore come boldly (i.e., without pretense) before the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
Echoes from the Future...
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) Yeshua forewarned of the alienation and moral sickness that would pervade mankind just before the time of his return: "Because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, from -α ('not') + νομος, 'torah') will be increased," he said, "the love of many will grow cold (i.e., ψύχομαι, 'be extinguished')" (Matt. 24:12). Note the link between Torah and love: true love requires respect for God's authority, for without that the divine image is disfigured and desecrated. Likewise the Apostle Paul foresaw that the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) would be a time of peril (καιροὶ χαλεποί) because people would become increasingly narcissistic, self-absorbed, infatuated with their own sense of self-importance, abusive toward others, disrespectful to elders, ungrateful, heartless, unforgiving, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, and so on (2 Tim. 3:1-4). Therefore, in light of the spiritual war that rages all around us, it is vital that we remain firmly rooted in what is real by taking hold of our identity and provision as children of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), i.e., a "delivered" mind -- centered and "healed" from inner chaos (2 Tim. 1:7). The name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence," and in Him "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). He is as close as our heart and our very breath (Rom. 10:8). We are not to be troubled like the world that lives in terror of man, nor are we to crave security from the vain devices of mere men. No - we must look to God Almighty, the Master of the Universe. He alone is our Refuge and Defense, the One who gives us steadfast love in the midst of these storms. "Let not your heart be troubled" - God is in control of the whirlwind, friends...
According to orthodox Jewish eschatological tradition, the period of time immediately before the Messiah's arrival is sometimes called ikvot meshicha (עִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחַ), the time when the "footsteps of the Messiah" can be heard. Some of the "signs" of this period include the rise of various false prophets, numerous wars and "rumors of wars" (including the rise of Magog), famines, earthquakes, worldwide apostasy from the faith, persecution, and a globalized sort of godlessness that is revealed in unbridled selfishness, greed, chutzpah (audacity), shamelessness, and a general lack of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude). The greatest sign, however, will be that Israel will exist once again as a sovereign nation, despite the prophesied exile among the nations (Deut. 4:27-31; Jer. 30:1-3). For more on this fascinating subect, see the article "Birthpangs of Messiah."
Redeeming the Time...
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) Our life in this world will end far sooner than we expect, and then what will become of us? I am not here thinking of the end of "the" world, but rather the end of your world - when you will die and face the light of eternity. Today, this moment, you are on the way, going someplace; your "latter days" are already come... If you are not prepared today, how will you be better prepared tomorrow? Today is the day of salvation, the hour that matters most (Psalm 95:7; Heb. 3:13). Learn to die to the world now, to let go of what presently holds you captive, so that you are free to meet that which forever shall come. Don't put off genuine teshuvah: turn while there is still time (Eph. 5:15-16). And may God give us mercy to say from the heart: "For me to live is Messiah, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21).
"Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light is throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so." - Blaise Pascal
Our Daily Teshuvah...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) Teshuvah ("repentance") is described as "turning" to God, though practically speaking it is a repeated turning, that is, a turning to God in moments of ambiguity, pain, distress, as well as in moments of happiness, elation, celebration... It is in the midst of the ego's clamor, before the parade of worldly desire or pressure, in the crucible of "everydayness" that we must "come to ourselves" and find true wonder. In that sense, teshuvah is a sort of focus, a direction, a seeking, and a center of life -- the place of constant repair for the inner breach we constantly feel. Therefore our LORD directed us to pray, ten-lanu ha'yom lechem chukeinu: תֶּן־לָנוּ הַיּוֹם לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ - "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11), which is to say, give to our hearts the nourishment we truly need, namely, the ongoing willingness to see "the LORD who is always before us" (Psalm 16:8).
Making the Dead Alive...
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) We must be careful not to confuse cause and effect in the realm of the spiritual. After the original transgression of Adam and Eve, death became the root problem of the human condition, so to speak, with indwelling sin as its fruit (i.e., the "works of the flesh"). It is this inherited "spiritual death" that causes sin. To focus on outward behavior without first of all dealing with the underlying problem of spiritual death is therefore a misstep. It is to clean the outside of the cup or to wash the outside of a tomb in a vain attempt to disguise the truth about our unclean and dead condition. The good news is not that God wants to make bad people good, but rather wants to make dead people alive... The cure for spiritual death is to be reborn and to partake of the resurrected life of Yeshua.
Following Yeshua is not a sort of "moral reformation" or self-improvement program to make us acceptable to God. Yeshua did not die on the cross so that we would become entangled in the old ways of being... No! He is Lord and Master and we find new life in His acts of deliverance done on our behalf and for our benefit. The temptation is always to go back to the law of sin and death (i.e., the principle of self-justification), but as Luther once said: "The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands."
"LORD, I need Thee every hour..." There never will be a time when we "get past" the need for God's grace given in Yeshua, since the only antidote to power of indwelling sin is the greater power of God's redeeming love within our hearts (1 John 3:8). The gospel is - not was - "the power of God for salvation (δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν) for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16); it is an ongoing source of power for our lives... Our identity is made secure in the finished work of the Messiah - we trust in His strength, not our own; it is "Messiah in you" that is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Just as we are given a new life entirely by means of God's grace, so we are also sanctified as we walk in that newness of life... "As you received Yeshua the Messiah the LORD, so walk in Him" (Col. 2:6). The focus is always on Yeshua and His righteousness and obedience... Every step of the way is a miracle and a wonder when we walk "in Messiah."
We walk "in Him," that is, in His strength, in His power, in His love... we don't walk "to" Him or attempt to climb the "stairway to heaven." Yeshua is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Bridge - sha'ar hashamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) and the Divine Ladder upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend. We look to Him, not to ourselves for life. Because of the life of Yeshua within us, we are now able to bear fruit of the Holy Spirit as the Torah is written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31). We are enabled to keep the Torah of Yeshua (תּוֹרָה יֵשׁוּעַ) because the life of Yeshua empowers us to do so...
Beware False Prophets...
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 5777) "Beware of false prophets," Yeshua warned, "who come to you in sheep's clothing (literally, "the skins of sheep," ἐν ἐνδύμασι προβάτων), but who inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:15; cp. 2 Pet. 2:1). However, because they come in disguise, pretending to be "children of light," we must be all the more vigilant. On the one hand, we must beware of those who "wrap themselves in a tallit" (legalists) and teach that we should come under the yoke of the law (Matt. 23:15), and on the other hand, we must beware those who deny or minimize words of the Torah, and who falsely claim that the way to heaven is "broad," and that we therefore have licence to walk after the desires of our own hearts (antinomianists). We must use discernment, chaverim. The LORD allows false teachers in our midst to test our hearts: "For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1 Cor. 11:19). Therefore we must "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 Ruach HaKodesh always centers the heart on the glory of God revealed in Yeshua (John 16:14; 1 Cor. 2:2, etc.).
So many people want to argue about law vs. grace; faith vs. works, and so on. These are "antinomies" of reason; they serve as another test for you to surrender to the tension of unknowing, paradox, and therefore they will make you vulnerable to misunderstanding (and even slander) from others... False teachers like to appeal to what "makes sense" or that which flatters the ego (pride); false teaching often stresses one side of the paradox at the expense of the other... Hence we see legalism and libertinism in various churches.... Please understand that I am not anti-Torah and indeed I have written more about the value and meaning of Torah than any other Christian ministry of which I am aware. I use the word "Torah" correctly, however, understanding it to be in harmony with the idea of God's grace, and I do not make the common mistake of understanding it as "law." To the legalist I will stress grace, unconditional love, etc.; to the grace-based I will stress personal responsibility, the need to do works of righteousness, etc. The heart of the law is the law of the gospel; God is One and Torah is One. Do not confuse the idea of "brit" or covenant with the deeper idea of Torah, which refers to direction, vision, focus, kavanah, purpose, passion, and so on.
For more see the role of Torah pages.
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 5777) It is written in our Scriptures: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God' (אָמַר נָבָל בְּלִבּוֹ אֵין אֱלהִים). Indeed Psalm 14 teaches us that the willful denial of reality is an affront to heaven, contempt shown for the gift of life, and sacrilege of all that is worthy. It is sheer folly to regard life apart from the fear of the LORD, for that is reishit chokhmah - the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10). The existence of God is the First Principle of all sound reasoning regarding reality. The so-called "postmodern world" is notorious for failing to explain anything of substantive meaning. Everything is left unexplained; no narrative is permitted (except the narrative that there is no narrative, of course); no logical connections to a "real world" are sound; there is no "story" to our lives, and therefore postmodernism fatuously misses the essential point of everything. King David asked, "Who shall abide before the Presence of the LORD?" and the Spirit replied: "the one who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart" (Psalm 15:2). It is the one who is honest – "the one who speaks truth within his heart" (דבֵר אֱמֶת בִּלְבָבוֹ) that dwells in the "tent of the LORD," for God is called the God of Truth (אֵל אֱמֶת), the Faithful God (אֵל אֱמוּנָה). In heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. The "pure in heart" – that is, those who accept the truth of their inner condition, who acknowledge their lost condition, mourning over their lives, and who humbly find themselves starving for God's deliverance – these are the ones who shall behold God (Matt. 5:2-6). Blaise Pascal once wrote: "I can feel nothing but compassion for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business. But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end, I view differently. This negligence in the matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity: yea, it astounds and appalls me..." (Pascal: Pensees).
The Projection of Korah...
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 5777) In our Torah reading this week (Korach), Moses' cousin Korah accused Moses of self-aggrandizement and superiority by saying, "Why do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the LORD? ... Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you also make yourself a prince over us?" (Num. 16:3,13). The Talmud comments: "One who seeks to disqualify another projects his own defects upon him." Korah's own self-exaltation and vanity led him to suppose that Moses was likewise proud and vain. His envy so twisted his perspective that he saw good as bad and bad as good. For him Egypt was the land "flowing with milk and honey" and Moses - not Pharaoh - was the real tyrant! In this connection the Baal Shem Tov said that other people serve as mirrors, and the defects we see in them reflect our own. Korah needed to see that his envy of Moses was rooted in fear, and that healing would come if he would let go and trust that God was in control of his life.
We can learn from the madness of Korah -- as well as his terrible end... "As you judge another you condemn yourself, for you that judge do the same things" (Rom. 2:1). How you react to another person reveals what is within your own heart, and this provides the opportunity to find healing by doing teshuvah and extending compassion to yourself. When you condemn another you are hurting yourself, after all. It is not a matter of factual truth as much as it is of the truth of hope and love. As we forgive others, so we find our own forgiveness (Luke 6:37), but if we insist on our rights, we find ourselves in hell... Fire offered falsely will be answered by the fire of God's judgment.
For much more on this subject, see "The Madness of Korah."
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