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

        

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

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




 

Jewish Holiday Calendar

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

The winter holidays (חגי החורף) remember special times when God acted on behalf of His people so that they would triumph over their enemies, and therefore they prophetically picture the final victory in the world to come.
 

Winter Holiday Calendar

The Winter Holidays:

Chagall Menorah - stained glass detail
 

Note that in accordance with tradition, the following holiday dates begin at sundown:

  1. Month of Kislev Sat. Nov. 18th [eve] - Sun. Dec. 17th [day])
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz 
    • Dates for Chanukah 2017 (5778):
      • 1st Chanukah candle - Tues. Dec. 12th [i.e., Kislev 25]
      • 2nd Chanukah candle - Wed. Dec. 13th
      • 3rd Chanukah candle: Thur. Dec. 14th
      • 4th Chanukah candle: Fri. Dec. 15th
      • 5th Chanukah candle: Sat. Dec. 16th
         
  2. Month of Tevet (Sun., Dec. 17th [eve] - Tues. Jan. 16th [day])
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayigash, Vayechi, Shemot, Vaera
    • Dates for Chanukah (continued):
      • 6th Chanukah candle: Sun. Dec. 17th (Rosh Chodesh Chanukah)
      • 7th Chanukah candle: Mon. Dec. 18th
      • 8th Chanukah candle: Tues. Dec. 19th [Zot Chanukah]
    • Winter Solstice: Wed. Dec. 20th (Kislev 20)
    • Christmas: Sunday, Dec. 24th at sundown (Tevet 7)
    • Tenth of Tevet - Thur. Dec. 28th; daytime fast over the seige of Jerusalem
    • Secular New Year: Mon. Jan. 1st, 2018 (Tevet 15)
       
  3. Month of Shevat (Tues., Jan. 16th [eve] - Wed. Feb. 14th [day])
  4. Month of Adar  (Wed., Feb. 14th [eve] - Fri. March 16th [day])
  5. Month of Nisan (Fri., March 16th [eve] - Sat. April 14th [day])


Note:  Some Jewish calendars list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Purim begins Wednesday, February 28th at sundown, some calendars may indicate that it occurs on Thursday, February 29th...
 

 


 

January 2018 Site Updates
 


The Eye of Faith...


 

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

Ayin Tovah
 

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

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

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

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

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

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



Download Study Card
 

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

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




Ceasing from Anger...


 

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

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

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




New Beginnings...


 

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

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

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




Walking by Faith....


 

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

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


Happy 2nd Birthday, Emanuel David!
 




Sufficiency from God...


 

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

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

יְהוָה תִּשְׁפּת שָׁלוֹם לָנוּ
 כִּי גַּם כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂינוּ פָּעַלְתָּ לָּנוּ

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

 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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

וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם
 וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה הַשְׁקֵט וָבֶטַח עַד־עוֹלָם

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

 

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



 

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




Keeping Focused...


 

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

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
 כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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

Chagall  Exodus (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 

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

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

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

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

    - Jacob Boehme (1575-1624)
      


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




The Shema Prophecy...


 

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

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

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

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



 

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

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

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




Retelling the Story...


 

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

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

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

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

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

"And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand
and for a memorial between your eyes,
that the Torah of the LORD may be in your mouth.
For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt."
(Exod. 13:9)


 


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




The Life of the Blood


 

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

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




The Great Lamb of God...


 

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

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card

 




The Torah of Passover...


 

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

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




Exodus and Freedom...


 

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

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



 




Exodus and the Lamb...


 

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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




The Exodus Parable...


 

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




Hope and Deliverance...


 

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

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

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

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

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

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




Prisoners of Hope...


 

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

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

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

 

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


Hebrew Study Card

 

"Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be found on the vines, though the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, and though the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:17-18). The targum translates "I will rejoice in the LORD" as "I will rejoice in the Word of the LORD." The Source of such joy comes to the heart of faith that sees Elohei Yishi (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי), the "God of my salvation," namely, the One who was and is and is to come (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) – the LORD our God Yeshua (Rev. 1:4;8; Isa 41:4). Augustine rendered Elohei Yishi as "God my Jesus," since "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) means YHVH saves. Yeshua is the One who breathed life into the first Adam just as He is the One who breathes eternal life into those who are descended from Him, the great "second Adam." He is the Source of our hope.

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

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

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

 

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

 




Knowing your Exodus...


 

01.12.18 (Tevet 25, 5778)   What was the reason for Abraham's dark vision (Gen. 15:12-15) and the subsequent exile of his children in Egypt – their persecution and suffering – were it not to experience redemption and receive the sacred duty to redeem others from bondage to evil?  The deliverance from Egypt led directly to the revelation at Sinai. Therefore each of us is given shem ivri (עִבְרִישֵׁם), a "Hebrew name," when we cross over into the freedom we have in Yeshua. Indeed the New Testament says that the "Torah of Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) is to bear one's another's burdens (Gal. 6:2).

With regard to the deeper question of why the tribulation of the exodus was spiritually necessary, the classical sages discussed whether or not it was possible to experience new revelation apart from the withdrawal (or transcendence) of a former revelation, and they suggested that God "withdrew" from the children of Israel in Egypt so that they could come to know him as YHVH – the Compassionate and Faithful One.  In other words, God had to "locate" the people in Egypt – "be'mitzrayim" – a place of inescapable bondage – in order to remove them from it. That is why God began his message to Moses saying. "I AM YHVH" (אֲנִי יהוה), I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as El Shaddai (בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי), but by my name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:2-3). God "appeared" to the fathers as the source of their promises, but the children of the Exodus generation were to be given new revelation of God's faithful love and deliverance...

The statement: "I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians" (Exod. 6:7) plainly states the goal of the redemption is to be brought into relationship with God as your personal Savior... This is the "love story" of the Exodus.
 




The Power of Truth...


 

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

01.12.18 (Tevet 25, 5778)   In this week's Torah reading (Va'era), the LORD sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh with the timeless message: shelach et ami (שׁלַּח אֶת־עַמִּי), "let my people go!" Because of Pharaoh's hardness of heart, however, God began the sequence of plagues that would demonstrate his sovereignty over all the powers and so-called "gods" of Egypt (Exod. 12:12). The ten plagues (i.e, eser ha'makot: עֶשֶׂר הַמָּכּוֹת) were given not just to vanquish the pride of Pharaoh, however, but to awaken the people of Israel. After hundreds of years of slavery, the people had forgotten who they really were and had passively accepted that all real power was vested in humans. Among other things, God's intervention was meant to deliver the people from the fallacy of ascribing greatness to worldly powers. Ultimately the people of Israel - and indeed the entire world - would come to understand ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו), "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35).
 




I will be with you always...



 

01.12.18 (Tevet 25, 5778)   The great Name of the LORD is "I-WILL-BE-WITH-YOU-ALWAYS" (אֲנִי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ תָמִיד), which implies that we always live within God's Presence and care, even if we are often unaware of this truth.  The Name YHVH (יהוה) signifies God's indomitable  love and unfailing compassion. The LORD says to the trusting heart, hen al kapayim hachotikh: "Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (הֵן עַל־כַּפַּיִם חַקּתִיךְ; Isa. 49:16). Remember the One who stretched out his hands and died for your healing; remember that he said, "Don't be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." Again, "do not be anxious for any reason, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God (שְׁלוֹם אֱלהִים), which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 4:6-7). God keeps in perfect peace those whose mind is stayed on Him (Isa. 26:3).
 

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 the Rock of Ages.
(Isa. 26:3-4)
 



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Breath Prayers...


 

01.11.18 (Tevet 24, 5778)   In times of severe testing people often do not need further teaching, but rather "endurance," or what the New Testament calls hupomone (ὑπομονή), a word that means "remaining [μένω] under [ὑπο]" the Divine Presence while being tested. Suffering people do not need moral platitudes from others, but only the will to believe, the resolution to stay constant, and to ability breathe out simple prayers for help to the LORD: "God have mercy..." "Help me, O God..." "I need Thee, O Lord..." When we receive grace to faithfully suffer, we hear the Spirit whispering back to us: "Be not afraid..." "Live in me..." "Walk in the light..." "I am with you always..." "You are loved..."
 

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

 re·fa·ei·ni · Adonai · ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni · ve·iv·va·shei·ah, · ki · te·hil·la·ti · at·tah

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"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
(Jer. 17:14)



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Faith in Suffering...


 

01.11.18 (Tevet 24, 5778)   When I feel hopeless, I seek hope; when in pain, I cry for comfort; when in despair over besetting sins, I yearn again for a place I can call home... In the midst of these things, my heart wonders whether my suffering has come because I deserve it or somehow "need" it. I reason that it may make sense that God extends special care for his godly ones, for those who are righteous and who seem free from the vexation of despair, but does it make sense for me, one who is undone, broken, alone, and unworthy? My heart protests that this is not the whole story of my life, and that more to be said. I need God and I know that he cares for me. I recall his promises to heal us, to bind up the broken of heart, and extend his comfort for our afflictions. Might pain herald the advent of something new to come? Might there be a deeper beauty and surpassing good as we go "through the wound" instead of objecting to it? Deep within I discover that I can bless the Lord, losing sight of myself as I affirm my deepest purpose and heritage: "My (boundary) lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, my inheritance is beautiful to me" (Psalm 16:6). Though I might have felt bereft and even tempted to curse my estate, by God's grace I am made able to give thanks and to bless, even in the midst of my troubles and pain: "I will bless the LORD who has counseled me; my conscience disciplines me in the night" (Psalm 16:7). Therefore שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד   - "I have set the Lord always before me" – especially in desperate moments when I can barely endure – and I have learned that "because he is at my right hand, I shall not come undone" (Psalm 16:8). God gives me strength to renew my hope: "my heart rejoices, my whole being rejoices, and my body rests in trust" (Psalm 16:9).
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
 כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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



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The verb translated "I have set" in this verse 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.
 




Spiritual Cardiopathy...


 

01.11.18 (Tevet 24, 5778)   One symptom of "sklerocardia," that is, the condition of having a "hard heart," is unwillingness to be grateful for the gift of life and its various blessings. Such inner hardness desensitizes the soul, making us feel numb inside... People today tend to be thankless, intolerant, self-willed, and so "full of themselves" that they suppose they are doing God a big favor just by being alive. They proudly assume they are always right, and therefore they convince themselves that life "owes" them something. Such thinking resembles the arrogant character of Pharaoh, who took for granted all that he had as if it somehow was his "by right." In Hebrew, gratitude is called hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), or the "recognition of the good." It is an openhearted attitude that appreciates each moment of life as a gift to be valued. Hardness of heart can make us "forget" to see, understand, hear, and remember the truth of God in our lives (Mark 8:17-19). When we are filled with anxiety or fear, for example, we are forgetting the truth and risk hardening our hearts.

Of course it is often a struggle to be a "joyful sojourner" in this dark and tragic world, and the temptation is to make ourselves numb inside. We must first of all be honest with ourselves. If we wrestle with our own hardness of heart, we must be careful to refuse despair, since despair hardens the heart even further...  Instead, we must consciously recall that the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 103:8; 116:3-5). Keep faith that God alone can (and will) change our hearts to more resemble the inner life and character of Yeshua. Let's keep trusting for that and ask God to do this miracle for each of us, for the sake of the glory of His Name.
 




Pride's Hard Lessons...


 

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

01.11.18 (Tevet 24, 5778)   The tragic story of Pharaoh reminds us how pride can blind the heart. As Abraham Heschel said, "In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for truth and have begun striving for ourselves." The truth needs no defense. If we find ourselves getting defensive or hostile, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we really believe... If we seek to use truth as a weapon, or as a means to rationalize our self-will, then we are not "in the truth," even if our facts in the matter may be correct. We must be careful not to find ourselves using the truth for our own agenda. Yeshua's words haunt the heart: "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Kierkegaard notes: "The proud person always wants to do the right thing, the great thing. But because he wants to do it in his own strength, he is fighting not with man, but with God." Indeed, how many people seek visions, dreams, and private prophecies while they forsake the Spirit as it broods over the hearts of those around him or her?  How many seek to "know God" as a matter of the pride of heart?
 

לִפְנֵי־שֶׁבֶר גָּאוֹן
וְלִפְנֵי כִשָּׁלוֹן גּבַהּ רוּחַ

lif·nei · she·ver · ga'on
ve·lif·nei · khi·sha·lon · go·vah · ru·ach
 

"Before destruction there is pride;
and before stumbling there is a haughty spirit."
(Prov. 16:18)



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The Koretzer Rebbe was asked for instruction how to avoid sin. He replied, "Were you able to avoid offences, I fear you would fall into a still greater sin - that of pride" (Hasidic). The antidote to pride is the "fall of the soul," that is, those besetting sins and painful failures that (hopefully) bring us back to reality - namely, to the place of brokenness and our need for divine intervention... When we get "sick of our sickness" we enter into holy despair, and then the cry of the heart for lasting deliverance can be truly offered.
 




First things First...


 

01.11.18 (Tevet 24, 5778)   Why did the Eternal One create a solitary man upon the earth, and not a group of people? To teach that each of us is esteemed by our Creator as "olam malei" (עוֹלָם מָלֵא), an entire world, just as every hair on your head is indeed numbered (Luke 12:7). In other words, we must first find our identity and presence in relationship with God before we can truly relate to others in the world (Matt. 6:33).

And this explains why God Himself must take our place for the alienation we have caused by our sin. The cross is God's means of "turning back" to the sinner. Only God can save us because God created us b'tzelem Elohim, to be like Him, with the significance of "an entire world."  The Love of God doesn't deny pain, brokenness, or evil but finds its remedy...
 




The Madness of Pharaoh...


 

01.11.18 (Tevet 24, 5778)   In parashat Va'era, Moses confronts Pharaoh and repeatedly demands that the Israelites be set free to serve the LORD. Over and over Pharaoh refuses, with the Torah commenting "vayechezak lev" (וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב), that he "hardened his heart." Note, however, that this phrase contains the word chazak (חָזָק), "strong," which indicates that Pharaoh "strengthened" his heart, or steeled his resolve not to question his convictions -- a decision that led him to increasingly deny reality. We can learn from Pharaoh here. Sometimes our habitual decisions and self-assured opinions can blind us to what is really happening, and the momentum of such repeated decisions can begin to enslave our thinking. After each of the first five plagues, Pharaoh "hardened his heart," but thereafter the Torah states that the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh (וַיְחַזֵּק יְהוָה אֶת־לֵב פַּרְעה). In other words, God "gave him up" by ratifying his arrogant decisions, and Pharaoh then lost control of his own fate. In the end he destroyed himself because he was unwilling to humble himself by honestly questioning the assumptions he used to justify his life...

Personal Update: I have been feeling really sick the last few days with severe stomach cramps and nausea, perhaps from some sort of food poisoning.  Your prayers are appreciated.
 




Halfhearted Turning...


 

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

01.10.18 (Tevet 23, 5778)   How many people want God to "save them" so that they can continue to live life on their own terms? How many try to bargain with God, offering conditional surrender and half-measures? When Moses' prayer was answered [regarding the end of the plague of frogs], Pharaoh initially changed his mind but then hardened his heart once again (see Exod. 8:12-15). The Midrash Rabbah comments: "That is the way of the wicked: when they are in trouble they cry out to God; when they have respite, they return to their evil ways." The example of the Pharaoh reminds us to cry out to God at all times, lest we likewise return to our evil ways. It also teaches us to be grateful for our afflictions, for they remind us of how much we need God's help... Carnal human nature is never reformed but is rather crucified, buried and forever left behind (Gal. 5:24).
 




Hardness of Heart...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Parashat Va'era) and the theme of freedom. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.09.18 (Tevet 22, 5778)   "I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, he will not heed..." (Exod. 7:3-4). A hardened heart is unfeeling, numb, and therefore unable to spiritually hear or see (Isa. 44:18). Pharaoh's pride and anger made him cruel, oblivious to the suffering of others, both deaf and blind to the pain even of his own obstructed heart. He became his own worst enemy, a prisoner of his own making, a slave to his own pretense and fearful delusions. And so it is with unregenerated human nature that demands to be the center of attention and that stubbornly refuses to submit to God's authority over the bounds of the selfish ego. "God leads men along a path which they themselves choose. If a man wants to be good, God leads him toward goodness; if he wants to travel an evil road, God helps him do that, too." As it says, "The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps."
 

לֵב אָדָם יְחַשֵּׁב דַּרְכּוֹ
וַיהוָה יָכִין צַעֲדוֹ

lev · a·dam · ye·cha·shev · dar·ko
va'Adonai · ya·khin · tza·a·do
 

"The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD directs his steps."
(Prov. 16:9)



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Proverbs 28:14 says, "Happy is the man who fears always, but the one who hardens his heart will fall into evil."  If we find ourselves opposing God, our punishment might be prolonged through the process of hardening, though with God's mercy this hardening may lead to a genuine sense of brokenness and despair -- i.e., the realization that the strength of own self-sufficiency is proven to be of no avail.  Turning to the LORD in despair of ourselves is a mark of humility. When we are emancipated from ourselves, we are delivered from pride and thereby enabled to confess our need for God's help... This is a miracle, since the "little Pharaoh inside" always clamors to be the center of attention and refuses to submit to the Presence and authority of the LORD.

Note:  The Torah teaches that the universe was not caused but created, and therefore creativity, freedom, and personhood are at its essence. We are not victims of an impersonal machine; God did not "wind up" the universe and to let it run unsupervised. And even if we should undergo tribulation in this world we are made "more than conquerors" (ὑπερνικῶμεν, lit. "hyper conquerors) through the power of the Eternal One that loves us (Rom. 8:37). For some further thoughts on the paradox of "free will" and the divine decrees, see the related article, "Hardening of Heart."
 




The Name of God...


 

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

01.09.18 (Tevet 22, 5778)   While the Name of God, YHVH (יהוה), means "Presence" (Exod. 3:13-14), "Breath" (Gen. 2:7; Num. 16:22), "Life" (Deut. 30:20), and "Love" (Exod. 34:6-7), it also means "Faithfulness," the One who keeps His promises. YHVH means that "He was (i.e., hayah: היה), He is (i.e., hoveh: הוֶה), and He always will be (i.e., veyihyeh: וְיִהְיֶה)," which means He is ever present and not restricted by time or space. Moreover, God is called havayah (הֲוָיָה) which means He is continually sustaining creation by the Word of His power: "In Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3). Unlike mortal men who are limited by time and may be unable to keep their promises because of weakness, infirmity, or death, the LORD is the Eternal One and no power can ever prevent Him from keeping His promises to you. Therefore do we say, בָּרוּךְ הוּא וּבָרוּךְ שְׁמוֹ - Barukh hu u'varukh shemo, "Blessed be God and blessed be His Name."

Note:  A word the Torah sometimes uses for "desire" or "will" is avah (אָבָה), which becomes the word "love," i.e., ahavah (אַהֲבָה), only when God's Spirit (ה) is made part of the will. Rambam therefore explains אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ehyeh asher ehyeh, "I shall be as I shall be" (Exod. 3:14) to mean, "I shall be with those who desire that I shall be with them." In other words, though the LORD is always present, He awaits for us to express our desire for Him, to make a decision to let him in, so to speak (Rev. 3:20).
 




Slavery of Passivity...


 

01.09.18 (Tevet 22, 5778)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Va'era) we read, "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians" (Exod. 6:6). The sages say the Hebrew word for "burdens" (סִבְלת) used in this verse can also be read as passivity (סְבִילוּת): "I will deliver you from passivity toward your slavery...."  So long as the people regarded their enslavement as tolerable, they could excuse it, rationalize it, and even defend it. Therefore God allowed tribulation to progressively increase so that the people would understand their great need. Likewise we cannot even begin to understand our need for deliverance as long as we are comfortable, numb, and dead inside... Indeed the very worst kind of slavery is to be unaware that you are, indeed, in bondage. The first step toward moral freedom, then, is to be set free from our denial, to wake up, to resist evil, and to find faith that God desires something better for our lives.
 




Inevitability of Tradition...


 

01.08.18 (Tevet 21, 5778)   It has been a common experience of mine over the years to encounter certain people who believe they are somehow immune from the influence of "tradition" in their lives, and that they are therefore able to transcend its effect and provide unbiased interpretations of the Scriptures... Well, on the contrary, it's important to be humble regarding this matter and to understand how radically we are influenced by the past. After all, we are historical creatures rooted in a particular culture, endowed with a specific heredity and unique genetic code. We subconsciously inherit norms, customs, ceremonies, decorum, routines, patterns of speech (e.g., accents), right "from our mother's knee."  In short, our use of language itself -- the way we describe seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, etc. -- is based on customary forms of conventional usage. The bottom line seems to be that we are products of our culture from the moment we take our first breath in this world... Tradition -- of some kind or another -- is simply an inescapable and omnipresent fact of our existence.

Whenever I mention "midrash" or quote something noteworthy from the Talmud, some misguided people get into a frenzy, accusing me of teaching "traditions of men" and so on. To them I reply, "Not so fast; Have you seriously understood that "tradition" - rightly understood - is essential to our lives, because without it we would be unable to understand even the first word (or even letter) of the Scriptures? There is a story that illustrates this point. A pagan came to Hillel seeking to convert to the faith in the LORD but was troubled with the idea of tradition, though he accepted the idea of the written Scriptures. Since the man did not know how to read Hebrew, however, Hillel began pointing to the letters in the written Torah to teach him the alphabet: "This is Aleph... this is Bet... this is Gimmel," and so on, until the man began to understand the letters of the Aleph-Bet. "Now come tomorrow, and I will teach you more." The next day, Hillel pointed to the exact same letters but reversed their names, "This is Gimmel... this is Aleph... this is Bet," and so on. The convert was confused: "But yesterday you said just the opposite!" Hillel replied, "Now you have had your first lesson. You see that the written word alone is insufficient, and we need the tradition to explain God's Word." Another way to make this point is to say that the Torah was not revealed along with a dictionary that defines the meaning of its words...

All this is said to remind us that the transmission of Torah from generation to generation demands that we trust. Indeed the very concept of "Torah" (or Scripture) is bound up with trust and community... This is true of the written word (i.e., trusting in scribal traditions that preserved the Scriptures for us), as well as the oral word (i.e., the customs, interpretations, translations, and wisdom that explain the meaning of the words themselves). Knowledge has been defined as "justified true belief," which implies that there can never be knowledge without trust. It is ludicrous to think that we can translate the Scriptures in a vacuum - all by ourselves without any help from others... We must humble ourselves and become "like little children" to learn from those who have gone before us, and this is why the Jewish value of Talmud Torah - teaching children the words and values of Torah - is regarded as so important. As the Talmud puts it, "The world exists because of the breath of the schoolchildren who study Torah" (Shabbat 119b).

But what about the words of the Holy Scriptures? Don't they transcend cultural factors? Are they not timelessly true and exempt from culturally conditioned ways of reading them?  Hardly. Both Christianity and Judaism (as opposed to some other religions) do not worship a "book" that "floated down" from heaven complete with chapters and verses. Nor do we believe in a "divine dictation" theory that claims the Scriptures are "Xerox" duplicates of the words spoken by an angel or other divine being.  No, the Scriptures are regarded as the products of history -- sacred history, of course -- but history nonetheless. Therefore we have the same problems trying to discern the meaning of the Scriptures as we do for any other type of literature: Who was the original author and the intended audience? What were the cultural circumstances?  Why was this written? What kind of writing is it?  Is it a poem (like a psalm), or perhaps an instructional maxim (like a proverb)? Am I reading an historical account, a description of a religious ritual, or something else?  First we must know what we are reading - and to understand its historical context.  Ignoring this simple rule leads to all sorts of errors in our reasoning and makes us unwitting victims of our own cultural biases. We will find ourselves "reading into" the Scriptures things that just aren't there, chaverim!

Regarding the literal words of the Scriptures, it's important to remember that the decisions made regarding which scrolls were "canonical" (and therefore to be included in our modern Bibles) came from the decisions made by earlier faith communities -- just as such decisions likewise preserved the sanctity of the sacred texts themselves.  For instance, without the Jewish scribal transmission known as the masorah (מָסוֹרָה), it's unlikely we would know how to read and interpret many passages of Scripture today (Christianity also has its own scribal traditions that preserved the transmission of the Greek New Testament). Original Hebrew did not include vowel markings or other punctuation. Neither did the Greek of the New Testament, for that matter.  Indeed, we can only understand the message of our faith through the medium of historical continuity, tradition, and ongoing dialog.... This was true even in the days of Yeshua, who endorsed the traditional tri-fold division of the Jewish Scriptures (the Law, Writings, and Prophets - Luke 22:44) and relied on Jewish tradition to teach great truths about his message (e.g., he associated the Passover seder with the "Last Supper" rituals of the New Covenant; he called himself Living Water and the Light of the world during Sukkot, and so on.) Yeshua placed high value on the "jots and tittles" of the texts of Scripture that were part of the spiritual heritage of his day (Matt. 5:18).

But didn't Yeshua condemn the "traditions of men" in His day?  Didn't he reject the traditions of the elders of Israel (Mark 7:5-13)? Didn't he rhetorically ask the religionists of his day, "Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition" (Matt. 15:2-10)? Yes he did, but it's important to understand the historical context of these sorts of statements. First, he was certainly not condemning "true traditions" that are outlined in the Scriptures themselves. Yeshua's entire ministry was predicated on the "appointed times" of the LORD and their fulfillment in him. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt. 5:17). No, what Yeshua appeared to take issue with was the dogmatic interpretation of various aspects of ritual law and with the practice of "building of fences" around the original intent of the Scriptures. These man-made "fences" (gezerot) actually created a gilded cage around the Scriptures and effectively relocated the source of authority to the self-styled religious interpreters of the day... This was the crux of the disagreement between Yeshua and the Pharisees. (For more about this, see "The Heart of the Law; the Law of the Gospel".)

We all live by hours of the day, days of the week, seasons of the year, and God has revealed cycles and patterns of community life for Israel.  Indeed, the mo'edim (festivals and appointed times) of the LORD are rooted in history and have prophetic implication for our lives. The "traditions of the elders" which Yeshua condemned had more to do with hidebound interpretations of the Scriptures (later embodied in the "Oral Law") than with the idea of tradition itself.  The Greek word for "tradition" (παράδοσις) is a neutral term, simply meaning "handing down" (from παρά (down, from) + δίδωμι (to give)) what was given before.  Both Judaism and Christianity hold to an "oral tradition" following the ministries of Moses and Yeshua, respectively. Because of the imminent expectancy of the return of Yeshua after His resurrection, the gospels were not committed to formal writing until the prospect of the death of the eyewitnesses loomed large. Moreover, there were numerous Gospel accounts which were eventually compiled into a standardized retelling of the story (Luke 1:1-4). In Jewish tradition, Moses received the written law at Sinai, but this cannot be understood in a vacuum. For instance, the details about how to construct the furnishings of the Tabernacle are not given, and the written law even endorsed the establishment of "judges" to interpret case law and establish precedent. Likewise the Apostle Paul admonished, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions (παράδοσις) which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Cor. 11:2). Indeed, in a New Testament sense, "tradition" refers to the Apostolic teaching in general, as well as the valid inferences from the Tanakh that are thereby implied (2 Tim. 3:16, Matt. 13:52).

There is legalism -- i.e., the idea that we are duty bound to perform certain rituals, behave a certain way, follow a set of rules, etc., and there is the liberty we enjoy as the heirs of God. There is a higher way of understanding the same thing -- namely understanding as an adult rather than as a child.  Apprehending your identity as a son (or daughter) of the LORD God of Israel makes you no longer an outsider, a "child," an "outcast," etc., to the covenantal obligations and promises given to the Jewish people. As a co-heir and fellow member through adoption into the household of God, you are a new creation. Being a Jew is a matter of having a new heart, chaverim (Rom. 2:28-29).

Note:  Please don't let any of this shake your faith, friends. We believe in the providential hand of God who so moved the prophets and teachers by the Ruach HaKodesh to preserve the truth handed down to us... There is empirical evidence for the historicity and veracity of our faith, though ultimately we rely on revelation from God to give us the light we need to see... For more on this topic see: "The Role of Tradition" and "Remembering our Roots."
 




Knowing the Name...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

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

01.08.18 (Tevet 21, 5778)   From our Torah portion this week we read that God said to Moses: "I appeared (וָאֵרָא) to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדָּי), but by my name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:3). Here we are faced with a puzzle, since the Torah clearly states that God revealed Himself as YHVH to the patriarchs. For example, to Abraham God said, "I am the LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה) who brought you out of Ur of Kasdim" (Gen. 15:7), and to Jacob he said: "I am the LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה), the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac (Gen. 28:13). In light of this, how then do we make sense of God's statement that He was not known as YHVH to the patriarchs?

The traditional explanation is that God was stating that the patriarchs had not directly experienced His mastery over creation through the signs and wonders He would perform as Israel's Savior and Redeemer. The patriarchs understood God as El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי), the all-sufficient One who nurtured the fledgling nation and who foretold Israel's future (Gen. 17:1-2; 28:3; 35:11), but Moses (and the Israelites) would now know God's attributes of covenantal faithfulness (chesed) as the "Promise Keeper" by directly witnessing his saving acts. Indeed, the Name YHVH implies that God is the Faithful One, since the name is formed by permutating the letters of the Hebrew root "to be": hayah (was), hoveh (is), and yihey (will be), which implies there is no power that can prevent God from fulfilling His promises. YHVH is Lord of lords and King of kings whose word can never fail (Deut. 10:17; Dan. 2:47). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו): "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35,9).

The name "ehyeh asher ehyeh" (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה) means "I shall be as I shall be," that is, "I shall be with those who desire that I shall be with them. I reveal myself to those who seek for me, and as I am sought, so I will be found. According to your faith be it done unto you: Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled..."

For more on this subject, see the article: Yeshua and YHVH.

Note:  The question of the Name of God is raised both in last week's Torah portion (Shemot), where Moses asked God's Name to validate his mission to Israel, and again in this week's portion (Va'era), where God made the puzzling statement that the patriarchs did not know God's Name as YHVH (יהוה). The entire question of God's name resolves to be a question about our ability to understand the very heart of God more than anything else (it's a matter of Who, not What). This is demonstrated by the fact that the name YHVH (יהוה) was revealed yet again to Israel only after the sin of the Golden Calf, when Moses learned that it meant Compassion and Grace (see Exod. 34:6-7). This second revelation of the Name foreshadowed the New Covenant to come.  Indeed the full meaning of God's name was revealed in the last gasp of Yeshua as He died upon the cross for our atonement: ἐξέπνευσεν - "he breathed out," the great exhalation of all that he came to be for us... (Mark 15:37).
 

 




From the Midst of the Thorns...


 

01.08.18 (Tevet 21, 5778)   Why did the LORD, the Holy One, reveal Himself to Moses out of the midst of a lowly thorn bush, and not some grand tree? God lowered himself to speak from within the bush, as it is written: "For though the LORD be high, he regards the lowly" (Psalm 138:6); and "I will be with him in trouble" (Psalm 91:15). The midrash imagines God saying to Moses: "Don't you feel that I suffer anguish whenever Israel does? Know, therefore, from the character of the place from which I speak, out of the thorn bush, that I, as it were share their suffering" (Shemot Rabbah 2:7). God speaks to us from the place of thorns – even those about his own head – words of great comfort and deliverance. From the midst of the fire (בְּלַבַּת־אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה), within the lowliest of places, covered in the thorns of our sin and shame, Yeshua speaks words of healing love.  Bless his name forever!
 




New Pharaoh's Dream...


 

01.08.18 (Tevet 21, 5778)   According to midrash, just as the Pharaoh during the time of Joseph was troubled by his dreams (Gen. 41:1-7), so was the "new king" that arose during the time of Moses. In the new Pharaoh's dream, an old man was standing before him as he sat on his throne, holding a balance in his hand. The old man placed all the nobles and governors of Egypt on one side of the balance, and on the other side, he placed one small lamb. To Pharaoh's astonishment, however, the lamb outweighed all the leaders of Egypt! When the king asked his advisors to interpret the dream, they said it foretold of a coming king who would overthrow the kingdom of Egypt and set the Israelites free. This coming one would excel in wisdom and his name would be remembered forever as the Savior of Israel.

Of course the rest of the Book of Exodus is essentially God's interpretation of the new Pharaoh's dream, as the great events of the Exodus would reveal. The LORD God of Israel forewarned this king that Egypt would come into judgment by the Lamb of God... Indeed, the only way to escape this judgment and the wrath of God was by being covered by the sacrificial blood of the lamb... The Lamb of God is central to Israel's deliverance and becomes the focal point of the revelation of the sanctuary later given at Sinai.

Israel was redeemed from Egypt by trusting in the promise of their deliverance, as it is written, "and the people believed" (וַיַּאֲמֵן הָעָם) ... and bowed their heads and worshiped" (Exod. 4:31). Recall that the blood of the korban Pesach - the Passover lamb - was to be smeared on the two sides and top of the doorway, resembling the shape of the letter Chet (ח). This letter, signifying the number 8, is connected with the word חי (chai), short for chayim (life). The blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) not only saves from the judgment of death, but it also is the means of imparting divine life and power...
 




Removing your Shoes...


 

01.08.18 (Tevet 21, 5778)   We live in the midst of a mysterious universe filled with astounding wonder and vast complexity, from the smallest of subatomic particles to the largest of cosmic events... If we could really see, if our eyes were truly open, we would understand that the universe and everything in it is filled with God's glory (Psalm 19:1). Where it is written, "Remove your shoes, for the place you are standing is holy" (Exod. 3:5) means we are to remove the deadness of our unreflective habits, those routine ways of "sightless seeing" that insulate us and hide us from the astonishment of reality. "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
 

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

ka·dosh · ka·dosh · ka·dosh · Adonai · Tze·va·ot,
me·lo · khol · ha·a·retz · ke·vo·do
 

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
(Isa. 6:3)


 
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The LORD is the Source of all existence. This is implied in the Name YHVH (יהוה) itself, which comes from the Hebrew verb "to be" (hayah), and therefore God is called ha-hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). God first defined His essential Name to Moses as ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM," abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). This "threefold" Name of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, so that of the LORD alone it is said, melo kol ha-aretz kevodo: "the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa. 6:3).
 

    "Out of all this world, take this forest; out of all the forest, take this tree. Out of all the tree, take this branch. Out of all the branch, take this leaf. And on this leaf that is like no other, observe this drop of rain that is like no other. And on this single drop observe the reflection of leaves and branches, of the entire tree, of the forest and of all the world - then only will you see the stars beyond the light of day." - James Kirkup
     


Again, why did God choose to reveal himself to Moses in the midst of a common thornbush (הַסְּנֶה)? To teach us that there is no place devoid of the Divine Radiance, not even the lowly thornbush. Indeed the midrash asks, 'Where is God?' and then cites where Torah says, 'I will stand before you there' (Exod. 17:6), which is to say, in every place where you find a trace of footsteps, there I AM. As Elizabeth Browning wrote, "Earth is crammed with heaven; and every bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes." May the LORD open our eyes and help us not be sightless among His miracles...
 




Parashat Va'era - וארא


 

[ A new audio summary of the Torah portion can be downloaded using the links below. ]

01.07.18 (Tevet 20, 5778)   Last week's Torah portion (Shemot) told how Moses and Aaron were commissioned to go before Pharaoh and deliver the God's message: "Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the desert." Not only did Pharaoh dismiss the request, but he imposed even harsher decrees against the Israelites and caused them to suffer miserably. Moses then appealed to the LORD, who reassured him that Pharaoh would eventually relent because of "the greater might" of God's power to deliver His people.

In this week's portion (Va'era), the LORD told Moses that He was now going to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by giving the Israelites the land of Canaan, and that he had heard the "groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians held as slaves" (Exod. 6:5). The showdown between the LORD (יהוה) and the so-called gods of Egypt was imminent, and God therefore encouraged the people with precious promises: "I AM the LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה) and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgment; and I will take you to me for a people and I will be to you a God" (these are the "four expressions of redemption" we recite during the Passover Seder every year).

Despite these wonderful promises, however, the people were unable to listen because of their "shortness of breath" (מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) on account of their harsh slavery. The LORD then told Moses: "Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land," and the great showdown between the LORD and the gods of Egypt began. However, even after repeatedly witnessing the series of miraculous plagues issued in the Name of the LORD, the despot remained proud and unmoved, thereby setting the stage for the final devastating plagues upon the land of Egypt and the great Passover redemption of Israel.
 

Shalom and good upon you... Shanah tovah and may we all have great joy and strength as we continue reading a Sefer Shemot for this week. Shavuah tov!
 




The Way of Faith...


 

01.05.18 (Tevet 18, 5778)   An implication of genuine faith in the LORD is the realization that your life is a sacred trust and therefore everything matters... Nothing is trivial; nothing is inconsequential. In the world to come you will be shocked to understand that everything you thought, everything you said, and everything you did was given to you from above, and therefore has tremendous significance (Matt. 12:36-37). Indeed, your entire life is on loan from heaven itself. Therefore "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness..." (Matt. 6:33). Faith invests all of the heart to the journey at hand; it seeks God's presence in all things and trusts God in all its ways (Prov. 3:5-6). "The present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31), and the heart of faith looks for a city whose designer and builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

"Know Him in all your ways," that is, in all that you put your hand to do look for the Divine Presence and guidance (1 Cor. 10:31). As King David stated, "I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8). The very first step of the journey is to find hope, and every subsequent step is marked by hope's comfort. Therefore keep moving forward and don't look back. Yeshua warned us that the person who puts his hand to the plow and then turns back is not fit for the kingdom of heaven (Luke 9:62). Keep focused on what is most essential; guard yourself from the world and its varied distractions. Make a place within your heart for the Divine Presence; find a quiet moment to listen for God's comfort. Trust that God is on the road ahead for you; believe that God foresees your way and prepares a place for you. Ask for guidance from the Lord: "Cause me to know the way I should go, for I lift up my soul to you..." (Psalm 143:8).

King David prayerfully wrote, "You have said, 'Seek my face,' and my heart says to you, 'Your face, LORD, do I seek'" (Psalm 27:8). This is the "antiphon" of the great Shema: God calls us to hear His Voice, so we are right to earnestly ask Him to be divinely enabled to hear what the Spirit is saying.  Shabbat Shalom and love to you all, chaverim. May the Spirit of the LORD rest upon you and give you God's healing peace. Amen.
 




The Message of Loneliness...


 

01.05.18 (Tevet 18, 5778)   Instead of regarding loneliness as an insufferable wound that deprives us of intimacy from others, we must learn to find our sense of belonging and place within the heart of God. Striving to dispel loneliness can entice us to lose ourselves in "olam ha'sheker" (עוֹלם השׁקר) -- the world of falsehood with its superficial satisfactions. Indeed, if we impatiently attempt to overcome the pain of loneliness by means of false connections with others (including religious connections), we suffer further loss and our despair grows deeper still, since our hunger for belonging is an inner cry for an unconditional love that only God can truly provide. God created Adam alone as "olam malei" (עוֹלָם מָלֵא), an entire world, to teach him that his need for connection must first be met in the Divine Life. Each soul is created with a radical sense of "aloneness," since - despite our closest relationships with other people - each of us comes into this world alone and will die alone... This sense of aloneness is a built in "hunger" for connection with God's presence. On the other hand, when we look to others to meet our need for God, we invariably fall into the chaos and destruction of idolatry. To be healed from our counterfeit need we must "go through the wound" of our inner emptiness to find the divine consolation, and from there we will be given the heart to give of ourselves freely and without ambiguity.  May the comfort and consolation of God so move our hearts to cry out: mi li vashamayim (מִי־לִי בַשָּׁמָיִם), "Whom have I in heaven but you?" ve'imekha lo chaftzti va'aretz (וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ) - "but with you I desire nothing on the earth."
 

מִי־לִי בַשָּׁמָיִם
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."
(Psalm 73:25)



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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 trying hours... Amen.
 




The End of Fear...



 

01.04.18 (Tevet 17, 5778)   The fear of death is not the kind of fear God wants from his children; on the contrary, God wants you to fear His remoteness, to fear being lost to His loving Presence, to fear falling into sin that removes you from true life. Fearing God doesn't mean fearing His punishment for sin as much as fearing that which breaches the relationship He desires to have with you. That is the right "end" or "goal" of fear - to reverently marvel over the great love God has for your soul....
 

כִּי כִגְבהַּ שָׁמַיִם עַל־הָאָרֶץ
גָּבַר חַסְדּוֹ עַל־יְרֵאָיו

ki · khig·vo·ah · sha·ma·yim · al · ha·a·retz
ga·var · chas·do · al · ye·re·av
 

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear Him"
(Psalm 103:11)


  

Those who cling to physical life -- who seek survival at all costs -- are liable to lose sight of the deeper meaning of death, and therefore of life itself. If we worship life here on this earth, we risk losing our own souls (Matt. 16:25).
 




Teshuvah and Waste Places...


 

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

01.04.18 (Tevet 17, 5778)   Forty years before encountering the LORD in the burning bush, Moses was full of himself, a prince of Egypt "mighty in word and deed" who self-consciously regarded himself as Israel's deliverer (Acts 7:22-25). But Moses' "Egyptian-styled" ego led him to regard murder and human uprising as the means of deliverance, and consequently God sent him into exile to think things through... It was there, in the waste places of the desert, that God's education began - the school of brokenness, teshuvah, and heart-listening... Only after this did the LORD appear to him, calling out to the man who had lost all confidence in the flesh. Moses' humility mirrored the emptiness of the desert: "Who am I?" he protested, "I can't do this thing..." (Exod. 3:11). Exactly! Now he understood. Similarly, we must be careful not to regard ourselves as "strong," since the power of the flesh is useless for the purposes of heaven (Zech. 4:6). As it is written, "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 desert, in an uninhabited salt land" (Jer. 17:5-6). It was only after Moses' question, "Who am I?" was answered by God's "I AM who I AM," that the "useless shrub" became aflame with God's power... 

Moses' rod, which he had relied upon for years in the desert as a shepherd, was transformed to be used as an instrument of Divine Power (Exod. 4:1-5). God entrusts the rod of His authority only in the hands of a truly broken man.... Similarly, though Moses was described as a man "mighty in word and deed," these were attributes of the flesh unrefined by the Spirit of God. Therefore, after being humbled in the desert, Moses confessed that he was kevad peh - "heavy of mouth" and kevad lashon, "heavy of tongue," and unable to speak on behalf of the LORD. God then told him that He would "be with his mouth" to teach him what to say (Exod. 4:10-12). This likewise teaches that God entrusts the utterance of his word to the tongue of a genuinely broken man...
 




Beloved Wretch...


 

01.04.18 (Tevet 17, 5778)   There are days that I 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."

Afflictions make us "lucky," though most of us begin to understand this only after we've been humbled by our failures. Thank God that that he seeks and saves the lost, the broken, and the unruly...  Thank God for Yeshua, "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). You might sometimes feel like a wretch, but you are beloved wretch, after all. Take heart that God is not finished working on you, that your change will come, and there is a transformed future and everlasting consolation reserved for you.
 




Casting your care upon him...


 

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

01.03.18 (Tevet 16, 5778)   "And when she (Yocheved) could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of reeds (תֵּבַת גּמֶא) and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank" (Exod. 2:3). The sages note that what distinguishes this makeshift "ark" (i.e., teivah: תֵּבָה) from a boat is the absence of a sail or rudder: There is no way to control its direction or outcome... Like Noah's ark, it is a vehicle completely surrendered to God's care.  Likewise we must cast ourselves upon the waters of God's mercy and trust that he will guide our way (1 Pet. 5:7).
 




The Greatness of Empathy...


 

01.02.18 (Tevet 15, 5778)   In our Torah for this week we read: "when Moses grew up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens" (Exod. 2:11). The sages say, "do not read, 'grew up,' but rather 'became great'" (וַיִּגְדַּל), since Moses chose to experience the exile for himself by opening his eyes to his people's suffering. Indeed Moses was made great as he emptied himself of his royal privilege and identified with the pain and misfortunes of others (Phil. 2:7). As is written: "By faith Moses was made great (μέγας γενόμενος) by refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin" (Heb. 11:24-25).

Concerning this the great Torah commentator Rashi wrote, "Moses set his eyes and heart to feel their anguish." The midrash says that when Moses saw the hard labor of the people, he took their yoke upon him. Indeed some of the earlier sages said that sharing the burden of another is the essence of Torah, the very foundation of all heavenly obligation (Avot 6:6). Therefore the Apostle Paul wrote (Gal. 6:2): "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the Torah of the Messiah (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ)." Expressing empathy by identifying with the pains of others requires what is called bittul hayesh (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ), or the setting aside of the ego, which is also the essential requirement for revelation from heaven. Hence Moses was given direct encounter with the Divine Presence because of his great humility.

In order to say, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" you must let go of your own agenda; your ego must be deposed from its petty little kingdom... Likewise, you can't say, "Come, Lord Jesus" by putting your fear first, or by otherwise demanding that your life should center on your own personal "advent." No, you must consciously choose to live in exile to this world (Gal. 6:14). How can we ever expect the LORD to live out His life through us if we do not genuinely offer our lives to Him?  And yet this is exactly the problem of the ego...

A principle of spiritual life is that we descend in order to ascend, or the "the way up is the way down." As Yeshua said, "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:44). Becoming nothing (i.e., ayin) in this world is the condition for seeing something in the world to come. But we become nothing by trusting in the miracle, not by trying to efface ourselves... This is not another venture of the ego. Life in the Spirit means trusting that God will do within you what you cannot do for yourself... We can only take hold of what God has done for us by "letting go" of our own devices (Phil. 2:13). When we really let go and trust, we will become nothing (i.e., klume: כְּלוּם), carried by the Torah of the Spirit of life. The way is not trying but trusting; not struggling but resting; not of clinging to life, but of letting go...
 

    "So-called pious people are unfree. They too lack the authentic certitude of inwardness. That is why they are so pious! And the world is surely justified in laughing at them. If, for example, a bowlegged man wants to be a dancing master but is not able to execute a single step, he is comical. So it is also with the multitudes who are so religious. Often you can hear the pious beating time, as it were, exactly like one who cannot dance but nevertheless knows enough to beat time, yet who are never fortunate enough to get in step. In order to reassure themselves, the pious seize upon grandiose ideas that the world hates. They battle ideas, but not with their lives. Such is the life of those who lack inwardness." - Soren Kierkegaard (Journals)

     

This is another example of the difficulty of truly trusting God for the miracle, of genuinely receiving the miracle... Some people scorn the idea of "easy believism," though of course there is nothing at all "easy" about exercising true faith in the LORD and living the truth in our lives. We need the miracle; we need grace from heaven to impart real passion for us to walk according to God's heart.
 




Man of Sorrows...


 

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

01.02.18 (Tevet 15, 5778)   The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry... I know their sorrows" (Exod. 3:7). The grammar here is intense: "seeing I have seen" (רָאה רָאִיתִי). Understand, then, that God surely sees your struggles, friend.  Second, know that God heeds the outcry (צְעָקָה) of your heart, and indeed, he interprets your groaning as if it were for the sake of serving him. Your heart's cry is transformed by grace to be the cry for God himself, for relationship with Him. "The cry of the people has come to me," he told Moses (Exod 3:9), which means all the sufferings, the wrongs, the hopes, the fears, the groans, the despair, the prayers, were present before him, as if he counted every word and sigh. Third, realize that God knows your sorrows; he gathers all your tears into his bottle (Psalm 56:8). The word translated "sorrows" (מַכְאב) is the same used to describe the "Man of sorrows" (ish makhovot: אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), Yeshua our Suffering Servant, who gave up his life to deliver you from darkness, sorrow, and fear (Isa. 53:3-5).
 

    "If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown - that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love. Between God and the soul there is ultimately no between." - Julian of Norwich

 




Source of Breath...


 

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

01.02.18 (Tevet 15, 5778)   Though the meaning of God's Name (YHVH) was initially revealed to Moses as simply ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM," or "I WILL BE" (Exod. 3:14), it is wonderful to realize that His Name was also revealed as ehyeh imakh (אהְיֶה עִמָּךְ), "I WILL BE WITH YOU" (Josh. 1:5,9; Isa. 41:10,13; John 10:28; Matt. 28:20, etc.). Just as the LORD is called Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), so He is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). Indeed the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in the Torah in regarding imparting the breath of life to Adam (Gen. 2:7). Note further that each of the letters of the Name YHVH represent vowel sounds (i.e., breath), suggesting again that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).
 




Numbering our Days...


 

01.01.18 (Tevet 14, 5778)   Many people live as if God doesn't exist and that death does not occur. Instead of soberly acknowledging that their days are numbered in this world, they deny the reality of death, living as if the present moment will last forever, steadfastly ignoring any idea of judgment to come. Yeshua warned us, however, that "nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light" (Mark 4:22). We should tremble before such words. Each of us will give account for what we have done with the time given us (Heb. 9:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 12:36). Moses therefore prayed to God: "teach us to number our days," that is, help us understand how to make our days count for eternity, to have a "weight of glory" (βάρος δόξης) that will shine in the world to come...

"As for man, his days are as grass. . . the wind passes over him and he is gone" (Psalm 103:15-16). Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal "Rosh Hashanah" will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).

Think of today, this immediate hour... Now is the time we have to turn to God for life. Do not delay until the next day; do not say, "Tomorrow I will turn..."  We only have this day, this hour to make our stand: tomorrow is a different world. As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand, today -- if we hear his voice and do not harden our hearts" (Psalm 95:7-9). We are warned not to "harden our hearts," that is, not to lose sight of real hope by refusing to trust in the promises of God's love.
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

lim·not · ya·me·nu · ken · ho·da
ve·na·vi · le·vav · chokh·mah
 

"Teach us to number our days
 that we may get a heart of wisdom."
(Psalm 90:12)



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Mystery and God's Name...


 

[ Happy New Year! The following is related to our Torah for this week, Parashat Shemot... ]

01.01.18 (Tevet 14, 5778)   When Moses asked why he was chosen to be God's emissary, the LORD did not explain His choice in natural terms; nor did not appeal to Moses' past experiences, his potential, or even his great humility... Instead God simply said that whatever inadequacies Moses might have, being in relationship "with Him" was sufficient: ki ehyeh imakh: "for I will be with you" (Exod. 3:12). That is all that Moses would need...

When Moses further sought to justify his calling as a true prophet sent from God, however, he asked to know God's "name" (see Exod. 3:13). God's response to the request was enigmatic: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה - ehyeh asher ehyeh: "I will be what I will be" (or I am what I am), which may be understood as, "It doesn't matter what my Name is - I will be what I will be - all that matters is that I will be with you (ehyeh imakh), and that is enough! Indeed, God's name is nifla (נִפלָא) - "wonderful and incomprehensible" (Judges 13:18; Psalm 139:6), since the LORD is infinite and beyond comparison to finite things (Psalm 147:5). God is the great "I AM" that pervades all of Reality (אָנכִי), the glorious Eternal Personal Presence (i.e., hayah, hoveh, ve'yihyeh) whose power constantly sustains all things. Most of all, He is declared and expressed as our Savior, the One who reveals the face of God to us all (2 Cor. 4:6).
 

וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים אֶל־משֶׁה אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
וַיּאמֶר כּה תאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
אֶהְיֶה שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם

va·yo·mer · E·lo·him · el · Mo·she · eh·yeh · a·sher · eh·yeh
va·yo·mer · koh · to·mar · liv·nei · Yis·ra·el
eh·yeh · she·la·cha·ni · a·le·khem
 

"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."
And he said, "Say this to the sons of Israel,
'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exod. 3:14)


 
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Regarding the question of whether we can fully apprehend the inner meaning of the Name of God, we read the following vision from the New Testament: "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called 'Faithful and True' (נֶאֱמָן וְיָשָׁר), and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a Name written that no one knows but himself (שֵׁם כָּתוּב אֲשֶׁר לא־יָדַע אִישׁ כִּי אִם־הוּא לְבַדּוֹ). He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the Name by which he is called is 'the Word of God' (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He will tread the winepress of the fierce fury of the wrath of God, the Ruler over All, the LORD God Almighty (יְהוָה אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת). On his robe and on his thigh he has a Name written, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords (אֲדנֵי הָאֲדנִים). And with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked" (Rev. 19:11-16).

Notice that in this passage the LORD both has a Name that no one knows but Himself and also that is He is called 'Faithful and True,' 'the Word of God,' and so on... In other words, within Himself God's Name is something that only He can truly understand, though we can know what He is called based on the revelation and analogical language of the Scriptures.
 



 

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Parashat Shemot - שמות


 

12.31.17 (Tevet 13, 5778)   Our Torah reading for this week is the very first of the Book of Exodus, called parashat Shemot (שְׁמוֹת). This portion begins directly where the Book of Genesis left off, namely by listing the various "names" (shemot) of the descendants of Jacob who came to Egypt to live in the land of Goshen. Over time Jacob's family flourished and multiplied so greatly that the new king of Egypt – who did not "remember" Joseph - regarded them as a political threat and decided to enslave them. When the king's oppression did not curb their growth, however, he cruelly commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn Jewish boys. When the midwives bravely refused to obey, however, the Pharaoh commanded that all newborn boys were to be drowned in the Nile river (the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim (מִצְרַיִם), can be rearranged to form the phrase tzar mayim (צַר מַיִם), meaning "torture through water," which was the plan of the nefarious Pharaoh).

During this time of terrible and appalling oppression, a prominent family from the tribe of Levi bore a son and hid him for three months. When the baby could no longer be concealed, however, his mother Yocheved (יוֹכֶבֶד) set him afloat in the Nile River inside a basket, praying that he might somehow escape death. Miriam (מִרְיָם), the baby's sister, watched what would happen, and soon the basket was discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh, who decided to save the baby and adopt him as her own son. Miriam then cleverly offered to have her mother become the baby's wet-nurse for the princess. After the child was duly weaned, he was brought to Pharaoh's palace to live as the princess' son. The princess named him "Moses" (משֶׁה), meaning "drawn out" (מָשָׁה) of the water.

Later, when Moses was a full-grown man, he "went out to his people and looked on their burdens." When he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. The following day he tried to reconcile two Israelites who were fighting, but the one in the wrong prophetically objected: "And who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" Upon hearing this Moses decided to flee from Egypt to Midian. There he rescued Zipporah (צִפּרָה), the daughter of Jethro (יִתְרוֹ), a Midianite priest. Soon afterward, Moses decided to work for Jethro and married Zipporah. They had a son named Gershom (גֵּרְשׁם).

After nearly 40 years living in Midian as a shepherd, God called out to Moses from the midst of a burning bush (סְנֶה בּוֹעֵר) to commission him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt back to the land He promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Moses protested that he was inadequate for this task, God gave him three "signs" to authenticate his message. God also appointed his brother Aaron to be his spokesperson. Moses and Aaron then went to the Pharaoh and demanded that the Israelites be permitted to leave Egypt to worship the LORD in the wilderness.  The Pharaoh, however, dismissed Moses and his God, and increased the workload of the slaves by forcing them to make bricks without straw.
 

Shalom and good upon you... Shanah tovah and may we all have great joy and strength as we begin reading a new book of Torah this week. Shavuah tov!
 




The Book of Exodus...


 

12.31.17 (Tevet 13, 5778)   Over the next several weeks (until the middle of March) we will be reading and studying the Book of Exodus (סֵפֶר שְׁמוֹת) and considering its message particularly in light of revelation of Yeshua our Messiah (there are forty chapters in this book that are traditionally divided into eleven weekly Torah readings). Some of the greatest narratives of all the Scriptures are found in this amazing book, including the Israelites' enslavement and subsequent deliverance with the ten plagues by the hand of the LORD. After the great Passover, Moses led the people out of the land Egypt, crossing the Sea of Reeds, and arriving at Sinai to receive the Torah exactly 49 day later.  While Moses was on the mountain, however, the people worshipped a Golden Calf, and a long period of repentance occurred until the covenant was reestablished. The remainder of the book describes the vision and construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) -- the great Altar upon which a defect-free lamb was offered every day and every night...

In English the word "Exodus" ("going out") comes from the title of the ancient Greek translation of the phrase Sefer Yetziat Mitzraim ("the book of the going out from Egypt"). Hence the Greek word ἔξοδος became "Exodus" in Latin which later was adopted into English. In the Hebrew Bible this book is called Shemot ("names"), following the custom of naming a book according to its first significant word.
 




New Year Assumptions...


 

12.29.17 (Tevet 11, 5778)   Often we don't realize what is not being said because of what is being said. In other words, hidden or unspoken assumptions are always at work in communication, though we rarely take the time to examine these assumptions for ourselves.  Advertisers, politicians, and others who wish to control your thinking implicitly understand this and therefore regularly employ various techniques to distract you from examining their assumptions. They understand that the louder (or more frequently or more threateningly) something is said, the less likely you will question its truth status or engage in reasonable thinking of your own.... In other words, "truth" for such pragmatists is little more than persuasion. Get the crowd to believe you and you've got the "truth."

For example, in most countries of the world, "New Year's Day" is usually celebrated (usually as a "carnival" or revelry) on January 1st, though this date comes from the arbitrary decree of the consuls of ancient (and pagan) Rome -- certainly not from anything taught in the Torah and the Hebrew Scriptures. According to Torah, however, there are two mirroring "New Years" observed during the year. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (Nisan 1) and the second occurs ten days before Yom Kippur (Tishri 1). The first is called Rosh Chodashim (see Exod. 12:2), which commemorates the month of the redemption of the Jewish people (i.e., the month Yeshua was sacrificed for our sins), whereas the second is called Yom Teru'ah that is associated with the "Feast of Ingathering" at the "end of the year" (Exod. 23:16, 34:22). Later Yom Terua'h became known as Rosh Hashanah ("the head of the year") which began a ten-day "trial" of humanity climaxing on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

The two "new years" of the Jewish calendar mirror each other and reveal the two advents of Messiah. For more on the secular New Year and its relationship to the calendar of Torah, see the page, "The Gregorian Calendar and Pagan Assumptions."
 




The Way of your Life...


 

12.29.17 (Tevet 11, 5778)   The Hebrew word derekh (דֶּרֶךְ) can refer to a physical road or pathway, but metaphorically it often refers to the journey, manner, or course of one's life.  Everyone who is alive and conscious is "on the road," and every day presents us with choices about how we will walk down that road.  If you are reading these words, you are presently on the way, and there is no escape from this journey you are on...

Walking a road implies decisions. You simply cannot walk anywhere without having a "where" or destination in mind (even the decision to be aimless is itself a decision). When we make decisions, consciously or not we are choosing what we believe will bring us nearer the goal or end or our journey. Along the way we will always encounter "forks in the road" – junctions where we must decide whether to turn to the left or the right, or to go backward in our journey. Such decisions are unavoidable, though many will choose to become victims of their own unreflective consciousness by choosing the path of "least resistance." People choose this path because they do not know "the end thereof" they walk…

So there is a way, or road, that you are walking, comprised of a (finite) series of choices you have made, are making, and will make, which are leading you somewhere. You cannot get off this road, and no one can walk it for you. Since this road represents the way of your life, you are ultimately responsible for how you choose to walk it.  You are not free to choose the "what" of your journey (which is a brute fact), but you are free to choose its "how."

For more on this topic see: "Derekh HaYashar: Finding the Straight Way."
 




Righteousness of God...


 

12.29.17 (Tevet 11, 5778)   "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 lying 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 lying 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!"
(Jonah 2:8-9)



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. עָקב הַלֵּב מִכּל וְאָנֻשׁ הוּא מִי יֵדָעֶנּוּ (Jer. 17:9). 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 various 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 (Gal. 2:20). We are admonished to live in accordance with the truth of what God has done for us through the Moshia', the Savior. Understand, then, that you are a new creation, therefore be who you are in the Messiah!

As it is written in our Scriptures: 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 confidence is the LORD (בָּרוּךְ הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בַּיהוָה וְהָיָה יְהוָה מִבְטַחוֹ). 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).

We are soberly admonished by Yeshua: "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....
 




Appearance and Reality...


 

12.28.17 (Tevet 10, 5778)   The Hebrew word for "world" or "age" is olam (עוֹלָם), which is derived from a root verb (עָלַם) that means "to conceal" or "to hide." God "hides" His face from us so that we will seek Him, and that means we must press through ambiguity to earnestly take hold of divine truth. Centuries before the time of the philosopher Plato, King David proclaimed that there was a "divided line" between the realm of the temporal world and realm of the hidden and eternal world. The temporal world is finite, subject to change, yet pointed beyond itself to an eternal world, which was the source of real significance, meaning, and life itself (2 Cor. 4:18). Therefore King David said, בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד/ bakeshu fanav tamid: "Seek His face continually" (Psalm 105:4). Note that the numerical value for the word "fanav" (i.e., "His face") is the same as that for the word "olam." When we truly seek God's face (i.e., His Presence) we are able to discern the underlying purpose for our lives.
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה וְעֻזּוֹ
 בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד

dir·shu · Adonai · ve·u·zo
ba·ke·shu · fa·nav · ta·mid
 

"Seek the LORD and his strength;
 seek his presence continually."
(Psalm 105:4)

ζητήσατε τὸν κύριον καὶ κραταιώθητε
ζητήσατε τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ διὰ παντός



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The ancient Greek version of the Torah (i.e., the "Septuagint" or LXX) translates this verse as, "Seek the LORD and be strengthened; seek His face through everything (διὰ παντός)." Unlike Plato, however, who "saw through" the temporal world and regarded it as less than real, King David understood that how we live within the intersection of these two realms revealed our inner character of faith -- and therefore our ultimate destiny....

Note: The sages point out that the word for "forever," "le'olam," is spelled so that it can be read "to conceal" (in Hebrew, "le'aleim"), meaning that the Name of God is "hidden," too. "This is my name - forever!" meaning, my Name YHVH is forever a mystery...
 




Staying Focused...


 

12.28.17 (Tevet 10, 5778)   The essential thing is to remain focused on what is ultimately real...  We do this by praying "without ceasing," which means intentionally centering our thoughts and desires in light of the Divine Presence. King David said that he always "set" the LORD before him and therefore he was unmoved in times of testing (Psalm 16:8). To know the truth means choosing before the audience of God's reality, before the holy witnesses of heaven and the sacredness that inheres in all things. We know this truth as we do - as we trust - as we "live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Most especially we must learn the truth of God's love for our souls in Yeshua, for he is the one who has promises never to leave nor forsake us:
 

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."
(Isa. 41:10)



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Here is an encouraging quote from Julian of Norwich I read recently: "Every soul who has willingly served God in any degree on earth, shall possess three degrees of happiness in heaven. First, our Lord will honor and thank them; Second, all the creatures in Heaven will see this honor and thanks; and Third, this will last forever...."
 




Love's Great Humility...


 

12.28.17 (Tevet 10, 5778)   "Unless you turn (shuv) and become like children, you will never (οὐ μὴ) enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Such is the importance of simple trust in God... Indeed Yeshua repeatedly taught us to trust God as "Abba," our Father (אַבָּא אָבִינוּ). He taught that we are warmly accepted as part of his family; that we are under his constant care; and that we live within his household as beloved children... And even though God is utterly transcendent, the Infinite One (אין סוף) and Creator of all worlds, he humbles himself to feed the birds of the air, to water lilies of the field, and to count the number of hairs on your head (Psalm 113:5-6). He is as close as your next breath; he leans upon your bosom at the table; he anticipates what you need before you ask him... The "fear of the Lord" is that you might fail knowing his great love for you -- that you will forget your true identity in lesser things. Therefore affirm the truth that you are loved with an unending and everlasting love, that you are safe, that you are surely accepted, and that nothing can ever separate you from the power of love. God your Father hears you, he knows you, and he loves you bekhol levavo (בְּכָל־לְבָבוֹ) - "with all his heart."

May we know God as our beloved Abba. "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah - even if we may suffer together with him to the end that we may also be glorified together with him" (Rom. 8:15-17).
 




Yom Kippur and Messiah's Birth...


 

12.27.17 (Tevet 9, 5778)  If the priest Zechariah was performing the Yom Kippur avodah when he was visited by the angel Gabriel (as seems to be the case given the context, see Luke 1:8-23), and his wife Elizabeth conceived about that time (see Luke 1:24, that is, sometime in the middle of the month of Tishri), and her cousin Mary was then told of the incarnation six months later, during Passover season (Luke 1:26, 36), then the birth of Yeshua would have been sometime during the middle of the month of Tevet, which is indeed close to the traditional December 25th date observed by the majority of Christians (the Jewish historian Alfred Edersheim said that Yeshua was born on the 9th of Tevet). Indeed, one implication of this interpretation is that the Lamb of God (שׂה הָאֱלהִים) was conceived during Passover, which seems appropriate as the time of the Incarnation...

ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν -- "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) -- which of course is the essence of the gospel message. As it is written concerning the birth of Messiah: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6).

Of course the exact date of Yeshua's birth is existentially irrelevant, apart from the fact that he indeed was born into this world as our Savior, and indeed, the New Testament stresses the significance of his death more than his birth (1 Cor. 2:2; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Nevertheless, we use the "good eye" to regard our Christian friends who honor this time to remember the birth of Yeshua, even if we have convictions that may lead us to think Messiah was born during Sukkot. For some hopefully peaceful discussion about the birth date of the Messiah Yeshua, see the article, "Christmas: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?"

Note:  The point of this entry was to explore the traditional date as a possibility, not to be dogmatic and intolerant. You certainly do not have to agree with the traditional date, though if you disagree, then you should at least address the pertinent question of what Zechariah was doing in his service when the prophecy of the birth of John was made. Above all, follow your own convictions and walk in peace toward all people (Heb. 12:14). Shalom.
 




Blessings of Israel...


 

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

12.27.17 (Tevet 9, 5778)  "Then Jacob called his sons and said, "Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the end of days (בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים). Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob (בְּנֵי יַעֲקב), listen to Israel your father (יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיכֶם)" (Gen. 49:1-2). Here Jacob used both his names before blessing his sons. His name "Jacob" represented his natural life – his birth as the "heel-holder" of Esau; his hunger for his earthly father's blessing; and his self-doubt as he pretended to be someone other than himself... His name "Israel," on the other hand, was given to him after he grappled with the mysterious Angel, refusing to relent until he found his blessing despite the pain of his past. "Israel" represents Jacob's rebirth, his God-given ability to father his children, and the grace to impart the appropriate blessing to each child as needed (Gen. 49:28).
 




The Shiloh Prophecy...



 

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

12.26.17 (Tevet 8, 5778)  When the time came for Jacob (i.e., Israel) to die, he called all his sons together to bless them (Gen. 49:1-28). According to midrash, Jacob wanted to tell his sons about the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) when the Messiah would come, but was prevented by the Holy Spirit. According to Rashi, God prevented Jacob because He does not want anyone to know the "day or the hour" when the great King of Israel would appear. Jacob did, however, foretell that from the tribe of Judah (יְהוּדָה) would come the Messiah: "The scepter (שֵׁבֶט) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh (שִׁילוֹ) comes, and to him shall be the obedience (יקְהָה) of the people" (Gen. 49:10). Interestingly, the name "Judah" (יְהוּדָה) is spelled using all the letters of the Name YHVH (יהוה), with the addition of the letter Dalet (ד). Just as the tribe of Judah later was directly stationed in the front of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the camp formation in the wilderness, so the Holy Temple (i.e., Moriah) would later become part of Judah's territory in the promised land. Likewise, Yeshua Himself - a descendant of King David - was crucified and resurrected in the land of Judah. Truly the promised "Seed of Judah" represents the "doorway of the LORD" and is rightly named "the One whom his brethren would praise."

Like most prophecies in Scripture, the prophecy of Shiloh has a "dual aspect" or "double fulfillment."  Shiloh, or the "King of the Jews" (a synonym for the Messiah, called "Christ" by Gentile Christendom) had indeed come "before the scepter departed from Judah," but he went unrecognized since he came to fulfill the role of the Suffering Servant (Mashiach ben Yosef). The second part of the prophecy, "and to him shall be the obedience of the people," is yet to be fulfilled. It will become a visible reality only after his Second Coming, at the end of olam ha-zeh (this present age), when Yeshua comes to judge the nations (the "sheep and the goats") and establish the Kingdom of God from David's throne in Jerusalem.

For more on this topic, see: "The Promise of Shiloh: Further thoughts on Vayechi."
 




Vayechi - "And He Lived"


 

[ Our Torah for this Christmas holiday week is Parashat Vayechi, the final portion from the Book of Genesis, which includes Jacob's great prophecy of the coming Messiah... Happy Holidays! ]

12.24.17 (Tevet 6, 5778)  Our Torah reading for this holiday week, parashat Vayechi (ויחי), recounts how the great patriarch Jacob adopted Joseph's two sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) as his own children. When Jacob blessed the boys, however, he intentionally reversed the birth order by putting the younger before the older, signifying that the old struggle he had faced as a child was over, and he now understood things differently. And note Ephraim and Manasseh's reaction: the older did not envy the younger, nor did the younger boast over the older. The family had apparently learned that blessing from God is for the good of all, and that there is no real blessing apart from genuine humility that esteems the welfare of others. Jacob was now ready to summon his family to hear his final words.  Among other things, he foretold how the Messiah would come from the line of Judah and then instructed his sons to bury him only in the promised land, and not in Egypt.

After his death, Joseph and his brothers, with various dignitaries of Egypt, formed a funeral procession and returned to Canaan to bury Jacob in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. After the funeral, they returned to Egypt, but Joseph's brothers feared that he would now repay them for their former betrayal and threw themselves on his mercy. Joseph reassured them that they had no reason to fear him and reminded them that God had overruled their earlier intent by intending him to be a blessing to the whole world.

The portion ends with the account of the death of Joseph, who made the sons of Israel promise to take his bones with them when the LORD would bring them back to the land of Canaan (alluding to the great Exodus to come). Joseph's faith in the Jewish people's return to the Promised Land is summarized by his statement: "God will surely remember you." He died at age 110, was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt, full of faith that he would be raised from the dead in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
 


Note:  This Shabbat we will finish reading the Book of Genesis (סֵפֶר בְּרֵאשִׁית) for the current Jewish year... This inestimably great book begins with an account of the creation of the universe by the LORD and ends with Joseph being put into a coffin in Egypt. Note that the word translated "coffin" is the Hebrew word aron (אֲרוֹן), a word used elsewhere in the Torah to refer exclusively to the Ark of the Covenant (the ark that Noah built and the ark that Moses was placed in are both called "teivah"). Throughout their desert wanderings after the Sinai revelation, the Israelites actually carried two special arks - one holding the bones of Joseph and the other holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
 




The Humility of Messiah...


 

The following message recalls the birth of our beloved Messiah... ]

12.22.17 (Tevet 4, 5778)  Though the world system corrupts the message of the birth of Messiah for the sake of avarice and greed, take a moment to reflect on its ongoing spiritual significance, namely, that God empties Himself of His regal glory and power to become your High Priest, able to fully sympathize with your weakness, frailty, shame, and chronic sinfulness (Heb. 4:15-16; Phil 2:7-8). Almighty God, the Presence of Love, the Heart of God, clothed himself in human flesh and bone to become Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל) - "one with us" - so that we could be touched by Him, healed by Him, and forever saved by Him... Therefore let's join the refrain of heavenly host: "Glory to God in the highest, and upon earth peace, among men - good will." Yeshua is the Eternal Sign and Wonder of the LORD God Almighty...
 

כָּבוֹד לֵאלהִים בַּמְּרוֹמִים
וְשָׁלוֹם עֲלֵי אֲדָמוֹת בְּקֵרֵב אַנְשֵׁי רְצוֹנוֹ

ka·vod · le·lo·him · ba·me·ro·mim
ve·sha·lom · a·lei · a·da·mot · be·ke·rev · an·shei · re·tzo·no
 

"Glory to God in the highest,
and upon earth peace, among men - good will."
(Luke 2:14)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Consider the absolute humility of God as He chose to enter into this world as "baby Jesus." Meditate on the glory and sheer paradox of God's love! "Baby Jesus" is the perfect disguise to hide the truth from the proud eyes of the flesh, though the humble of heart can see... What would do without the gift of God, friends? What hope would we have? Regardless of the exact date of his birth of His birth, let's thank God that our Moshia (Savior) was willing to be born into this dark world to offer Himself as our sacrificial Redeemer! "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen."

What do you do, then, if you sincerely seek to follow the Torah's calendar in light of entrenched Christian customs? Well, we certainly may commemorate the birth of Messiah during the holiday of Sukkot (or Shavuot, etc.), though we must be careful to show charity and use the "good eye" toward those who may adhere to the traditional date for "Christmas." Likewise we commemorate the death and resurrection of Messiah during Passover and Firstfruits, respectively, though we do not begrudge those of good faith who honor these great events of salvation during what they call the "Pascha" or even the "Easter" season. Often we are tested in exactly this way, chaverim! We must not miss the "weightier matters" of extending love to others, as Yeshua clearly taught (Matt. 23:23). Moreover it is written, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16). Friends, we must test the spirits -- and that includes our own! How do we treat the "stranger" among us? How do we regard the "weaker brother?" Do we demand that our doctrine be esteemed, or do we allow room for others to seek the Lord and his wisdom? Ask yourself: Does this person (or group) honor Yeshua as God the Son, the Redeemer of Humanity who died for our sins and rose from the dead? If so, then keep your heart warm and soft toward him or her, even if he or she has yet to discover the Jewish roots of their faith. "Strive for peace with everyone" (Heb. 12:14). "Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you" (Phil. 3:15). Though we desire unity with one another (John 17:11), we cannot reasonably insist on doctrinal uniformity, especially in light of the frailty of our shared human condition... The truth of God is known in humility and love.
 




The Sacred Name...


 

12.22.17 (Tevet 4, 5778)  God's Name means "Amen" and "faithfulness." The "Name above all other names" is Yeshua, the embodiment of God's great attributes of chesed (love) and tzedek (justice). In the cross of Yeshua is fulfilled the prophecy: "Love and truth meet; righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10), and at the cross God is revealed as both "just and the justifier" of the ungodly who trust in Messiah for righteousness (Rom. 3:25). God first revealed the meaning of His Name to Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf, when Israel was in a state of brokenness and teshuvah: YHVH (יהוה) means "merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in love and truth" (Exod. 34:6). Where it says, "you have made great upon all your Name your Word" (Psalm 138:2), we see that Yeshua the Messiah, the Utterance and the Breath of God made flesh, is the highest revelation of the Name of God (Phil. 2:9-11, Isa. 45:23). Indeed, Yeshua is the Central Miracle of Life itself!
 

אֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶה אֶל־הֵיכַל קָדְשְׁךָ
וְאוֹדֶה אֶת־שְׁמֶךָ
עַל־חַסְדְּךָ וְעַל־אֲמִתֶּךָ
כִּי־הִגְדַּלְתָּ עַל־כָּל־שִׁמְךָ אִמְרָתֶךָ

esh·ta·cha·veh · el · hei·khal · kod·she·kha
ve·o·deh · et · she·me·kha
al · chas·de·kha · ve·al · a·mi·te·kha
ki · hig·dal·ta · al · kol · shim·kha · im·ra·te·kha
 

"I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your Name
for your love and your truth,
for you have made great upon all your Name your Word."
(Psalm 138:2)


 
  

In this verse note that the "holy temple" (הֵיכַל) refers to the Mishkan, not the Temple in Jerusalem, since it had not yet been built, and therefore it rightly refers to the Divine Presence that dwells among man, i.e., to the Messiah himself (John 1:1;14).
 




Good Eye of Faith...


 

12.21.17 (Tevet 3, 5778)  Among other things, the story of Joseph reveals how God's hidden hand moves for good in our lives. Despite the terrible betrayal of the pit, and the unjust suffering of the prison house, there was light, exaltation, and joy to come forth. God knows how to take our emptiness to yield "storehouses in Egypt..." As Joseph later told his brothers, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). Resist the temptation to judge by mere appearances. Forbid your sorrow to blind the eyes of faith.  Do not unjustly judge God's purposes or try to understand His ways; accept that He works all things together (συνεργέω) for good -- making even the very wrath of man to praise Him...

Faith "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" for purposes that are good (1 Cor. 7:31). It affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life (chayei sha'ah) is a deeper reality (chayei olam) that is ultimately real, abiding, and ultimately designed for God's redemptive love to be fully expressed. In this world we must "see through" a mirror (i.e., indirectly) to begin to see the dawn of our eternal home; but one day we will behold God panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12). In the meantime, faith beholds the invisible light, the truth of God's love that overcomes all the powers of darkness, hate, and fear.... "I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis).
 

    "Faith in divine providence is the faith that nothing can prevent us from fulfilling the meaning of our existence. Providence does not mean a divine plan by which everything is predetermined, as in an efficient machine. Rather, providence means that there is a creative and saving possibility implied in every situation, which cannot be destroyed by any event. Providence means that the demonic and destructive forces within ourselves and our world can never have an unbreakable grasp upon us, and that the bind which connects us with the fulfilling love can never be disrupted." - Paul Tillich


For more on this important topic, see "Joseph and the Good Eye."

Chanukah Sameach!

 




God's Providential Passion...


 

12.20.17 (Tevet 2, 5778)  "The LORD will perfect that which concerns me: your love, O LORD, endures for ever: forsake not the works of your own hands" (Psalm 138:8). Here is the confession that all that we are or ever hope to be comes entirely from God, and therefore we can take heart.  The LORD will finish the work he has begun in you: "Fear thou not, for I AM with you; be not dismayed, for I AM thy God; I will help you; yea, I will strengthen you, yea, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness" (Isa. 40:10). Understand that the LORD's purposes are sure and his promises will invincibly be fulfilled, "for his lovingkindness is infinite" (כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּו). God will never forsake you nor abandon the work of his hands, but will providentially preserve his handiwork and consummate his vision of love (John 17:22; Eph. 1:10). Amen, "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion for the Day of Yeshua the Messiah" (יוֹם יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ, Phil. 1:6). "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only wise God our Savior (μόνῳ σοφῷ θεῷ σωτῆρι ἡμῶν), be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 1:24-25).
 

יְהוָה יִגְמר בַּעֲדִי
יְהוָה חַסְדְּךָ לְעוֹלָם
מַעֲשֵׂי יָדֶיךָ אַל־תֶּרֶף

Adonai · yig·mor · ba'adi
Adonai · chas·de·kha · le'olam
ma'a·sei · ya·de·kha · al-te·ref
 

"The LORD will perfect that which concerns me:
Your love, O LORD, endures forever:
forsake not the works of thine own hands"
(Psalm 138:8)


 


From our Torah portion this week we read: "God sent me before you to preserve you..."  (Gen. 45:7). The mercy of God goes ahead of you to prepare a place for you (John 14:2). We may not know the details of our journey, but the "how" and the "way" is promised to us, as is our ultimate destination – the heavenly place of God, the Presence of our Beloved...

Chanukah 5778

Chanukah Sameach!

 




Turning to See...


 

12.19.17 (Tevet 1, 5778)  During the holiday of Chanukah we kindle lights, but we do not to use these lights for profane purposes: We are simply to behold them, to see something amazing, and to be touched by the light... There is no place where God is not present, and indeed the name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" (הָיָה וְהוֶה וְיָבוֹא). God showed himself in the midst of a common thornbush as a fire that does not burn. Moses "turned aside" to see the bush, which means he looked past the layer of the common, the profane, and the ordinary, to see the uncommon, the sacred, and the extraordinary. We light our menorah; we see the flames rise upward - like thorns on a thornbush - and we may catch a glimpse of God's radiance, if we "turn aside" to see... When we slow down, when we make room within our hearts for God - a sanctuary within - we will often see what is commonly overlooked.

When we look at something, we often do not see it because we are looking somewhere else – looking past the present moment by reliving the past or by anticipating the future. This is why we must learn to sanctify the moments of our lives by offering blessings and prayers, observing the mo'edim, and so on, because doing so helps us "pause" to see what is right before us, right now...  May God help us turn and see, chaverim. Happy Chanukah!

Some Chanukah Pictures (click for larger):
 
Chanukah 5778 Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. Judah with tops; 2. John with Judah; 3. Josiah and Judah;
4. Vadim and Irina; 5. Peter and Yasha light the menorah
(bottom): 1. electric menorah in our window; 2. Judah lights menorah; 3. Josiah and Judah;
4. Olga with Josiah, Judah, and Emanuel David; 5. festival of lights.
 

 




From Darkness to Light...


 

12.19.17 (Tevet 1, 5778)  It is written in our Scriptures that the very purpose and goal of salvation is for us "to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18). Hashivenu, Adonai... When the darkness seems to enshroud your way, pray for God's light to be rekindled within your soul.  Keep faith that your gloom will soon pass, and that darkness and despair will not be your final end. Your mourning will find its comfort, your tears will be wiped away, and your grief will find its solace... Ask God to transform your heartache into the holy resolve to live and die for the truth of His great love.
 




Yeshua our Light...


 

[  This evening after sundown is called "Zot Chanukah," the last night of the festival when we will light all nine of the candles in the Chanukah menorah. ]

12.19.17 (Tevet 1, 5778)  In the Gospel of John it is recorded that Yeshua said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). The Greek word translated "truth" in this verse is aletheia (ἀλήθεια), a compound formed from an alpha prefix (α-) meaning "not," and lethei (λήθη), meaning "forgetfulness." Truth is therefore a kind of "remembering" of something forgotten; a recollecting of what is essentially real. Etymologically, the word aletheia suggests that truth is also "unforgettable" (i.e., not lethei), that is, it has its own irresistible "witness" to reality. People may lie to themselves, but ultimately the truth has the final word. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

Greek scholars have noted that the word lethei itself is derived from the verb lanthano (λανθάνω), which means "to be hidden," so the general idea is that a-letheia (i.e., truth) is non-concealment, non-hiddenness, or to put it positively, revelation or evident disclosure.  Thus the word of Yeshua - His message, logos (λόγος), revelation, and presence - is both "unforgettable" and irrepressible. Yeshua is the Unforgettable One that has been manifest as the express Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). He is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) and the one who gives us the "light of life" (John 8:12). Though God's message may be suppressed by willful ignorance and darkened thinking, the truth is regarded as self-evident and full of intuitive validation (see Rom. 1:18-21).

The Hebrew word for truth (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) comes from a verb (aman) that means to "support" or "make firm."  There are a number of derived nouns that connote the sense of reliability or assurance (e.g., pillars of support). The noun emunah (i.e, אֱמוּנָה, "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness") comes from this root, as does the word for the "faithful ones" (אֱמוּנִים) who are "established" in God's way (Psalm 12:1). A play on words regarding truth occurs in the prophet Isaiah: אִם לא תַאֲמִינוּ כִּי לא תֵאָמֵנוּ / im lo ta'aminu, ki lo tei'amenu: "If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all" (Isa. 7:9; see Faith Establishes the Sign). Without trust in the LORD, there is no stability... Truth is something trustworthy, reliable, firm, or sure. In colloquial English, for example, this idea is conveyed when we say, "He's a true friend...", indicating that the loyalty and love of the person is certain. The familiar word "amen" likewise comes from this root.  Speaking the truth (dibbur emet) is considered foundational to moral life: "Speak the truth (דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת) to one another; render true and perfect justice in your gates" (Zech. 8:16). Yeshua repeatedly said, "Amen, Amen I say to you...." throughout his teaching ministry to stress the reliability of God's truth (Matt. 5:18, 26, etc.). Indeed, Yeshua is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14).

The relationship between the Hebrew and the Greek ideas seems to be that the revelation of God - the aletheia - is reliable and strong. The source for all truth is found in the Person and character of the LORD God of Israel, blessed be He... The self-disclosure of the LORD is both unforgettable - both in the factual and moral sense - as well as entirely trustworthy. Aletheia implies that truth is something that should never be forgotten. Hence we are regularly commanded and encouraged not to "forget" the LORD (Deut. 8:11, Psalm 103:2, etc.), to "remember" his covenants, to "keep" his ways, to "guard" His precepts, and so on.

So, do you have ohr ha-chayim (אוֹר הַחַיִּים), "the light of Life," shining within your heart? For this Chanukah season - and always - may we find courage and remember what is written: "The LORD is my light and my salvation (i.e., my Yeshua); whom shall I fear? The LORD is the refuge of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

Adonai · o·ri · ve·yish·i · mi·mi · i·ra?
Adonai · ma·oz · chai·yai · mi·mi · ef·chad?
 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation (i.e., my Yeshua), whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the refuge of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)



Download Study Card
 

Note: Tertullian asked: "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" Chanukah is about the age-old conflict between darkness and light, the struggle between a "worldview" that worships humanity and a worldview that worships transcendental, moral, purposive Reality that is revealed as the LORD, the Source, Savior, and Redeemer of the world. The ancient Greeks defined the good in terms of the humanly beautiful, whereas the Hebrews understood the humanly beautiful in terms of God's revealed good. 
 




Prophecy and Providence...


 

[ Our Torah reading for this week is parashat Vayigash... ]

12.18.17 (Kislev 30, 5778)  Though Jacob's son Joseph was given great prophetic wisdom to interpret Pharaoh's dreams and to serve as Egypt's regent, his foresight did not prevent the famine from coming in the first place, and the testing that came was part of God's hidden plan. The role of the true prophet is to bear witness to God's truth and to shepherd God's people through the unfolding vision. Joseph could not control the outcome, though he worked within the context of revelation to bring about deliverance. In both the "fat times and the lean" we look to God for comfort and strength: We "show up" every day to ready ourselves for what is coming, even if we currently find ourselves in darkness. We refuse fear because we trust that the LORD our God is guiding our way...

The term hashgachah pratit (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) refers to God's personal supervision of our lives (hashgachah means "supervision," and pratit means "individual" or "particular"). Since He is the Master of the Universe, God's supervision and providence reaches to the smallest of details of creation - from subatomic particles to the great motions of the cosmos. God not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular wildflower and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Each person created in the likeness of God is also under the personal supervision of God, and even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30). The God of Israel is also called אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר / Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol-basar: "The God of the spirits of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), and that means that he has providential purposes for every human being brought into this world (John 1:4).



 

 




The Revelation of Joseph...


 

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

12.18.17 (Kislev 30, 5778)  According to midrash (i.e., ancient Jewish commentary), just before Joseph revealed his true identity he turned to his brothers and said, "You told me that your brother Joseph died. Are you sure?" "Yes, we are sure; he's dead," the brothers replied.  Joseph then became angry and said, "How can you lie? You sold him as a slave. I bought him myself and can call him right now." Joseph then turned and called out, "Joseph, son of Jacob, come here right now to speak to your brothers." Terrified, the brothers turned to see if Joseph was coming....  When Joseph then overheard his brothers contritely preparing to meet their forsaken brother and to humbly ask for his forgiveness, he then looked at them and said in a loud and solemn voice: "Who are you looking for? אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי - ani Yosef! ha'od avi chai? I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" (Notice that Joseph revealed himself to his brothers using Hebrew speech as the token of his identity.) When he saw his brothers draw back in fear at his shocking disclosure, Joseph reassured them by saying, גְּשׁוּ־נָא אֵלַי - ge'shu na elai - "Please come near to me; come and see..."

On a p'shat level (i.e., literal sense), when Joseph revealed his identity he was asking his brothers if his father Jacob was still physically alive (ani Yosef - ha'od avi chai: "I am Joseph; is my father still alive?"). This is puzzling, since in earlier encounters the brothers attested that Jacob was very much alive... On a sod level (i.e., in a mysterious sense), since Joseph is a picture of Yeshua (Mashiach ben Yosef), the question can be phrased, "I am Yeshua - is My father alive?," that is, do you now understand the righteousness of God the Father in raising me from the dead and promoting me to His right hand? Yeshua therefore evokes the confession of faith from the beloved Jewish people: "I am your brother Yeshua: do you now understand that My Father is alive?"

Note:  For more on this fascinating topic, see "The Disguised Egyptian." Also consider the Purim pages and the relationship between "hiding" and "revealing" in our lives.
 




Torah for Chanukah...


 

[ Our Torah reading for this week is parashat Vayigash... ]

12.17.17 (Kislev 29, 5778)  In our Torah portion this week, Benjamin stood before Joseph accused of the theft of a chalice, while Judah "drew near" (vayigash) and vicariously offered to bear the penalty for his brother, pleading with Joseph to spare his father the loss of yet another son. Joseph was so moved by Judah's act of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) that he decided the time had finally come for him to reveal his identity to his brothers. After clearing the room, he began speaking in Hebrew and said, אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי, "I am Joseph, is my father still alive?" When the brothers drew back in shock and dismay, Joseph said, "Draw near to me, please" (from the same verb nagash) and then explained how God providentially brought him to Egypt to save the family's life....

The revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of the acharit hayamim (end of days) when the Jewish people will come to understand that Yeshua is indeed the One seated at the right hand of the majesty on high as Israel's Deliverer. At that time Yeshua will speak comforting words to His long lost brothers and restore their place of blessing upon the earth.  Indeed, the entire story of Joseph is rich in prophetic insight regarding our Lord and Savior. Vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) means "and he drew near," referring first to Judah's intercession for the sins of his brothers, and then to Joseph's reciprocal desire for the brothers to draw near to him (Gen. 44:18, 45:4). Joseph initiated the reconciliation by saying, גְּשׁוּ־נָא אֵלַי / g'shu na elai - "Please draw near to me," and indeed there is a play on the verb nagash (נָגַשׁ), "draw near," throughout this story. Yeshua is depicted both in Judah's intercession (as the greater Son of Judah who interceded on behalf of the sins of Israel) and in Joseph's role as the exalted Savior of the Jewish people in time of tribulation.  When Joseph disclosed himself and asked, "Is my father alive," we hear Yeshua evoking the confession of faith from the Jewish people: "I am Yeshua: do you now understand that My Father is alive?" Upon His coming revelation, all Israel will confess that indeed God the Father is "alive" and has vindicated the glory of His Son.
 



Rosh Chodesh Tevet...

Today is Rosh Chodesh Tevet, which marks the 10th month of the Torah's calendar (counting from the first month of Nisan). This was the fateful month that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:1; Jer. 39:1; Ezek. 24:1-2). The name of the tenth month is explicitly called Tevet (טֵבֵת) in the Scriptures (see Esther 2:16). Rosh Chodesh Tevet is sometimes observed as one day and sometimes as two, because the preceding month (Kislev) is sometimes "full" (consisting of 30 days) and sometimes deficient (consisting of only 29 days). With a two-day Rosh Chodesh, the first day is the 30th day of the preceding month (i.e., Kislev 30th), and its second day is the first day of the following month. Chodesh Tov, chaverim!

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

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

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

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

Hebrew Study Card
 


 

Note:  Regarding the traditional date for the Christmas Holiday, click here.
 




Coming to yourself...


 

12.15.17 (Kislev 27, 5778)  "And when he came to himself, he said, 'I will arise and go to my father'..." (Luke 15:17-18), yet behold! the father had remained all the while with his heart yearning for his lost child, eager to celebrate his homecoming when that day should come. His "address" (המקום) had not changed... But what if, then, the "prodigal" had left yet a second time? Would the heart of the father change toward his child? Would the father's heart turn cold? No, never! Every time the child would "come to himself" he would be welcomed back into the arms of his waiting father, unto "seventy times seven times" (Matt. 18:21-22). And therefore every time we remember the truth of who we are we rediscover the truth of God's love -- that God is ready to embrace us, to restore us, to robe us in splendor and celebrate the miracle of our lives... "Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28), and that means we keep coming, despite the lonely wanderings we sometimes make into the darkness of our pain, our anger, our fear, and our sin... The heart of heaven beckons us to keep coming back; the Spirit invites us to turn again to face the light, to accept who we really are as God's child, and to receive the blessing of our place in God's heart. Therefore may you "come to yourself" and return to your father today.

Shabbat Shalom and happy Chanukah, friends.  May you "return to yourself" by remembering and celebrating who you really are in the heart of Yeshua, the Light of the World. Please do me a kindness by remembering me in your prayers, too. The warfare has been intense and sometimes I feel oppressed and weary in the battle.  Thank you so much.
 




Outshine our Darkness...


 

12.15.17 (Kislev 27, 5778)  "We walk by faith, not by sight" – as if the invisible is indeed visible. We must stay strong and keep hope, for through hope we are saved (Rom. 8:24). Faith is the conviction of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). Do not be seduced by mere appearances; do not allow yourself to be bewitched into thinking that this world should ever be your home.  No, we are strangers and pilgrims here; we are on the journey to the reach "the City of Living God, to heavenly Jerusalem, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23). Therefore do not lose heart. Keep to the narrow path. Set your affections on things above since your real life is "hidden with God" (Col. 3:1-4). Do not yield to the temptation of despair. Look beyond the "giants of the land" and reckon them as already fallen. Keep pressing on. Chazak, chazak, ve-nit chazek - "Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!" Fight the good fight of the faith. May the LORD our God help you take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (1 Tim. 6:12).
 

כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
 יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי

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

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


Hebrew Study Card
 




Blessing for Darkness...


 

12.15.17 (Kislev 27, 5778)  "If I say, surely darkness covers me ... the night shines as the day; nothing hides from your radiance" (Psalm 139:11-12). We have to trust that God is in our darkness, in the silence, in the unknown... God sees in your darkness and is present there, too. When you feel alone, when you feel abandoned, like an unbridgeable gulf lay between you and all that is good; when you feel like you want to scream but are afraid that even then no one would hear, may the LORD shine His light upon you...
 

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

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

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


 

Through the slough of despond and daily trials are forged for us insight and a greater grace still. Thank you for your prayers, friends...
 




Eyes of the Heart...


 

12.15.17 (Kislev 27, 5778)  The Hebrew word for "seeing" (ra'ah) is related to the word for "fear" (yirah), suggesting that when we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all.  Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. It is in this sense that we are to serve the LORD with "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv), that is, with an inner awareness of the sanctity and sacredness of life itself (Phil. 2:12-13). Da lifnei mi atah omed. Sin puts us to sleep, numbs our minds and hearts, and blinds us to the radiance of divine revelation. When we see life as it is, with the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be linked and unified.
 




Teshuvah's Like-for-Like...


 

[ Our Torah reading for the Shabbat of Chanukah is parashat Miketz, i.e., Gen. 41:1-44:17. ]

12.15.17 (Kislev 27, 5778)  It is said that genuine teshuvah (repentance) is evident when a person is confronted with the same temptation to which he previously succumbed, but successfully withstands the test and resists.  Joseph's brothers demonstrated teshuvah when they refused to abandon their father's favorite son to the "pit" of an Egyptian prison cell (Gen. 44:16-17). Once the brothers offered to suffer the same fate as falsely accused Benjamin, Joseph knew they had repented and were no longer the same people who had betrayed him when he was a young man...

Note that next week we will read how Judah offered to sacrifice his life for his brother, and this act led to the revelation of Joseph... Shabbat Shalom, chaverim!
 




Lonesome Visions...


 

12.15.17 (Kislev 27, 5778)  People often resist when they are asked to face reality, and therefore a true prophet is often misunderstood... We see this, for instance, in the case of Joseph, the family's prophet, who, after he related his visions, found the contempt of his brothers and the incredulity of his father (Gen. 37:10-11). This is the heartache of the prophet who is so impassioned about truth that it may lead him to lonely places, set apart from others, yet burdened to share his vision with those who are willing to hear. What good is prophecy, after all, apart from love? Or what good is knowledge, and even faith? (1 Cor. 13:2). The prophet "crosses over" and then is burdened with his vision. Rarely does he gain acceptance, since he asks us to see differently; unsettling our convictions, challenging our certainties. To a culture immersed in its delusions (including religious delusions) the prophet will always be marginalized, since the "world" constantly seeks to escape from reality and therefore cannot tolerate voices of real conviction.

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident" (Arthur Shopenhauer).
 




That which God fears...


 

12.15.17 (Kislev 27, 5778)  From our holy Torah we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God..." (Deut. 10:12). Notice that "fear of the LORD," yirat Adonai (יִרְאַת יהוה), comes first and is what is required of you. The sages say that to fear the LORD means that your fear should be like God's fear. But what could God possibly fear, you ask? Only this: that you will turn away from his love. To fear God doesn't mean fearing his punishment as much as it means fearing that which breaches the relationship He desires with you. That is the wound of God's heart, and that is what God "fears." One of the greatest of sins is to forget who you really are: a beloved child of God. To fear the LORD means you understand how dear you are to His heart...

It is written that the fear of the LORD is "the beginning of wisdom (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה)," but it also the beginning of the inner experience of God's love... Without the fear of the LORD, you will walk in darkness and be unable to turn away from evil (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27, 15:33; 16:6); you will find yourself alone, in a place of sadness and vexation, of despair and inner pain. The Spirit of God's love plainly declares that "the fear of the LORD leads to life (יִרְאַת יְהוָה לְחַיִּים, lit. "is for life"), indicating that it is a healing passion:
 

יִרְאַת יהוה לְחַיִּים וְשָׂבֵעַ יָלִין בַּל־יִפָּקֶד רָע

yi·rat · Adonai · le·cha·yim, · ve·sa·ve·'a · ya·lin · bal · yip·pa·ked · ra
 

"The fear of the LORD leads to life, and the one who has it rests satisfied
and is untouched by evil" (Prov. 19:23)


 


Some people tend to get this backwards, or they may underestimate the seriousness of the issue. The problem is not that people sometimes sin and therefore risk being sent to hell, but rather that people are incorrigible sinners that presently exist in state of hell... Human nature is incurably sick; the wound of our mortality is indeed fatal (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-23). As Yeshua taught, the way out of bondage to sinful human nature is through the miracle of spiritual rebirth (John 3:3-8; 8:44). When we accept God's love we are delivered from the guilt that justly condemns our souls (Col. 1:13). As it is says "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18). In other words, unless you truly repent by accepting God's love, you risk an eternally loveless existence...  It must be remembered that God does not want any one to perish but for all to be in loving relationship with Him (2 Peter 3:9). "God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). However, "hell is a room locked from the inside," and if you steadfastly refuse to be loved, God Himself will respect your decision...

All this resolves to a sober question about your spiritual identity... Do you believe you are a redeemed child of God? Are you spiritually reborn? Do you accept His love and deliverance, or do you make it conditional, based on your performance? This is not about mere ethics, friends - the world is filled with various kinds of ethical philosophy, after all. No, this is a question about ontology - about who you really are; it's a question about what you are trusting, and it centers on the presence of the miracle within your heart.

We are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24). May you fall before the cross in fear of your sins, but may you be raised up by the reality of God's love for your soul... May you then walk in the awe of God's glorious mercy, "to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Amen.
 




Inner Light of Love...

Photography by John J Parsons
 

12.14.17 (Kislev 26, 5778)  "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, such is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). Note that the Greek word translated "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Presence of Messiah himself (Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης, Col. 1:27). As we receive God's love, as we embrace it as our own, the love of Messiah will become inwardly visible to you. This comes from a place of surrender and acceptance.  As Paul Tillich said, "Sometimes in a moment of weakness light breaks into darkness, and it is as though a voice says, 'You are accepted; you are accepted... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.' If that happens to you, then you experience grace, and everything will be transformed." Ultimately Chanukah is about salvation and transformation - beauty from ashes - and the love of God...
 




The Source of Light...


 

12.14.17 (Kislev 26, 5778)  "God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Yeshua said: "I AM come a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness" (John 12:46). The ultimate message of Chanukah is eschatological and full of hope. This world is passing away and the Kingdom of Heaven will one day be established upon the earth. We live in light of this blessed hope (Titus 2:11-13). The world's rulers are "on notice" from God Almighty: their days are numbered and they will surely face the judgment of the LORD God of Israel (Psalm 2). We must stand against evil by refusing to conform to the world around us (Eph. 6:11-18). Now is the time. "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Followers of Yeshua are made part of His Dwelling - extensions of His Presence in this dark world - and during this season may we remember the call to rededicate our lives to Him!  May your light shine!

Some Chanukah Pictures (click for larger):
 
Chanukah 5777 Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. Window decorations; 2. Judah lights the menorah; 3. Judah and Emanuel;
4. menorah in the window; 5. window photography art
(bottom): 1. Emanuel David is 23 months; 2. our Chanukah cookies; 3. Yeshua is the true Light;
4. Josiah and Judah; 5. Judah loves Chanukah!

 




Signs of the Time...


 

12.13.17 (Kislev 25, 5778)  Despite the evident and manifold increase in the various prophetic "signs" that herald the return of Messiah, many people today seem apathetic and functionally agnostic regarding the imminence of the "End of Days..." Ironically, this indifference itself indicates the nearness of the hour, since Yeshua noted that just before the time of his return many would fall away because of a chosen ignorance of the truth and pervasive numbness of heart (Matt. 24:12). Therefore he rhetorically asked his followers, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8). We are repeatedly urged to watch, to be vigilant, and to be ready: "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matt. 24:44).
 

יָקוּם אֱלהִים יָפוּצוּ אוֹיְבָיו
וְיָנוּסוּ מְשַׂנְאָיו מִפָּנָיו

ya·kum · E·lo·him · ya·fu·tzu · o·ye·vav
ve·ya·nu·su · me·sa·nav · mi·pa·nav
 

"God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
and those who hate him shall flee before him."
(Psalm 68:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

What does Chanukah mean if not resisting the darkness of the world's ignorance -- the matrix that seeks to coddle the flesh and pretend that there is no need for God's intervention and miracle? This is the victory that has overcome the world-- our faith.
 




Receiving the Light...



 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins tonight! Happy holidays to you, friend... ]

12.12.17 (Kislev 24, 5778)  The essence of Chanukah is simply to receive the light, to bear witness of the radiance of God's victory. We celebrate the work of God, his salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), and the triumph of his love. Therefore its message is "wake up, open your eyes, and believe" the good news: darkness and despair will not prevail; your mourning will find comfort, your grief its solace. Your heart's deepest longing shines brightly, even now, if you will but believe... With God's help, we will overcome the darkness of fear...
 

קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ
 וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח

ku·mi  o·ri  ki  va  or·rekh
ukh·vod  Adonai  a·la·yikh  za·rach
 

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you."
(Isa. 60:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 




A Great Miracle Happened Here...


 

[ This evening at sunset begins the eight-day holiday of Chanukah. Chag Chanuah Sameach! ]

12.12.17 (Kislev 24, 5778)  Each side of a dreidel (a four-sided spinning top used for Chanukah) has a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Nun (נ), Gimmel (ג), Hey (ה), and Shin (שׁ), which together form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה שָׁם) – "a great miracle happened there," referring to the victory of the Macabees. In Israel, however, the letter Shin is replaced with the letter Pey (פּ) to form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Poh (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה פּה), meaning "a great miracle happened here," referring to Temple and the land of Israel.  Because Chanukah represents Yeshua, the true Light of the World, we likewise can say: Nes Gadol Hayah Poh, "a great miracle happened here," referring to the Temple of our hearts, when the Light of the LORD overcame our darkness and gave us everlasting hope and consolation...

Thank God that after Yeshua was crucified and died for our transgressions, the parochet in the Temple (i.e, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple) was torn from top to bottom, thereby opening the way of access to the Divine Presence for all who are willing to come in faith...  The light of God's love now shines for us all!
 




The Word Made Flesh...


 

[ The following celebrates the miracle and wonder that God takes on human flesh in Yeshua... An audio message link is given below that amplifies this entry. Shalom chaverim! ]

12.11.17 (Kislev 23, 5778)  At Sinai we heard the Voice of God (קוֹל אֱלהִים) speaking from the midst of the Fire (Deut. 4:33), an event that foreshadowed the great advent of the King and Lawgiver Himself, when the Eternal Word (דְבַר־יְהוָה) became flesh and dwelt with us (Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1,14). Any theology that regards God as entirely transcendent (i.e., God is beyond any analogy with the finite) will have a problem with divine immanence (i.e., God is inherent within the finite), since the highness, holiness, and perfection of God will make Him seem distant, outside of us, far away, and unknown... Incarnational theology, on the other hand, manifests the nearness of God to disclose the divine empathy. Indeed, the LORD became Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "one with us," to share our mortal condition, to know our pain, and to experience what it means to be wounded by sin, to be abandoned, alienated, forsaken. It is God's own bittul hayesh (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ) - his self-nullification for the sake of love and truth. The "Eternal made flesh" bridges the gap between the realm of Ein Sof (אין סוף), the infinitely transcendent One, and the finite world of people lost within their sinful frailty. Of course we believe Adonai Echad (יְהוָה אֶחָד) - that the "LORD is One" - both in the sense of being exalted over all things but also in the sense of being compassionately involved in all things (Rom. 11:36). We therefore celebrate the giving of the Torah both at Sinai and especially at Bethlehem with the birth of Messiah. We celebrate that God is indeed the King and Ruler over all, but we further affirm that God's authority and rule extends to all worlds - including the realm of our finitude and need...

As I've mentioned elsewhere, the climax of Sinai was the revelation of the Sanctuary. The two tablets of the law, summarizing the Ten Commandments, were stored inside the famous Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָה), a sacred "three-in-one" box placed in the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). As such, the Ark served as kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory itself. Upon the cover (or crown) of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). It was here that God's Voice would be heard during the Yom Kippur service, when sacrificial blood was sprinkled upon the crown to symbolize the atonement of sin secured through Messiah, the Word that became flesh for us... In the very heart of the Sanctuary, then, we see the Word of God and the sacrificial blood.

God Himself was clothed with human skin: our flesh, our bones... The incarnation is the "Absolute Paradox," as the philosopher Soren Aabye Kierkegaard once said, wherein the Infinite and the Finite meet in mystery of the Divine Presence. Here God "touches a leper," eats with sinners and prostitutes, sheds human tears, and suffers heartache like all other men... The gloriously great God, the very Creator of the cosmos, has "emptied Himself" to come in the form of a lowly servant  (δοῦλος) - disguised to the eyes of the proud and hardhearted, but is revealed as High Priest to those who are genuinely broken and in profound need. The LORD God is God over all possible worlds, and that includes both the celestial realms of the heavens but also the world of the fallen, the ashamed, the alienated, and the lost... God's infinite condescension reveals and augments the majesty of His infinite transcendence. There is no world - nor ever shall there be such - where the LORD God Almighty does not reign and have preeminence. "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

Do not suppose for a moment that the Torah of Moses does not teach "incarnational" theology. Since God created human beings in his image and likeness, the "anthropomorphic language" of Scripture is meaningful. The LORD reveals himself in human terms - using human language, expressing human emotions, and so on, as it says: Moses spoke to God panim el panim - "face to face" (Deut. 34:10). The Torah always has to take on human form - the Word made flesh - for the sake of human beings who live in flesh and blood reality...

The greatest expression of God's word is found in the Presence of Yeshua. This is the Word of God that "tabernacles" with us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Yeshua is the "Living Torah," Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "God with us," who enters our world to rescue us from death. Our Scriptures state that "in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed the Heir of all things, through whom also He created the worlds" (Heb 1:2). Note that the Greek construction for the phrase translated, "by his son" is ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, which literally means "he spoke to us in Son" -- that is, in the language or voice of the Son of God Himself... God speaks the language "of Son" from the midst of the fire revealed at Zion. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ εὐλαβείας) - for our God is Esh Okhelah - a Consuming Fire" (Heb. 12:28-29).
 


Note:  It is one thing to speculate on the anniversary of the birth date of Messiah, and quite another to submit to His rule in your heart at this present hour...  We must be careful. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, nor is he able to know them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). Note that the "natural person" mentioned here is not carnal or bodily-focused (σαρκικός), but is soul-focused (ψυχικὸς), emphasizing the life of the intellect and rationality. The "soulish" person may find the idea of God or matters of religion "interesting," but not as a matter of life and death. The Spirit of God must first awaken a person to reveal their need for a healing so radical that everything will be transformed, and a new "spiritual person" (πνευματικός) will be quickened to receive the truth of God. The Scripture says we are to ask in order to receive, but we do not know enough to truly ask until we accept the reality about our condition. When we ask according to God's will, however, God sets in motion the miracle and the answer to our heart's cry.
 




Why Observe Chanukah?


 

12.11.17 (Kislev 23, 5778)  The word chanukah (חֲנֻכָּה) means "dedication," a word that shares the same root as the Hebrew word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ), meaning "education." Just as the Maccabees fought and died for the sake of Torah truth, so we must wage war within ourselves and break the stronghold of apathy and indifference that the present world system engenders (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 6:11-18). We must take time to educate ourselves by studying the Torah and New Testament, for by so doing we will be rededicated to the service of the truth and enabled to resist assimilation into the corrupt world. As it is written: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world..." (1 John 2:15).

During this time of year -- and especially during this dark hour of history near the prophesied "end of days" -- it is imperative to remember that we are in the midst of the great "war of the ages," where people's souls and destinies are at stake... This world is likened to the "Valley of Decision," the corridor to the world to come... We cannot afford to be indifferent to the darkness that continues to blind the eyes of so many people. We must take a stand for God's truth and be fully equipped to give an account for the hope we have in Yeshua. Ultimately the "cleansing of the Temple" is a matter of the heart, friends...

We are all called to "fight the good fight of faith" and to take hold of the eternal life given to us in Yeshua our LORD (1 Tim. 6:12). Among other things this means refusing to assimilate with the corrupt world system (Κόσμος) and forfeiting our identity in Yeshua.... Chanukah is a "fighting holiday" -- a call to resist the oppression of this world and to rededicate our lives entirely to God and his truth....  Indeed, of all the people in the world, Christians who love Yeshua should should understand the true meaning of Chanukah and to rejoice that the Yeshua our Messiah overcame this world.

For those who want some additional information about why Chanukah is so important, please see the article, "Let your light shine - Why Christians should celebrate Chanukah." I hope you will find it encouraging, chaverim.
 

כָּךְ יָאֵר נָא אוֹרְכֶם לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי אָדָם
 לְמַעַן יִרְאוּ אֶת מַעֲשֵׂיכֶם הַטּוֹבִים
 וִיכַבְּדוּ אֶת־אֲבִיכֶם שֶׁבַּשָׁמָיִם

kakh · ya·er · na · o·re·khem · lif·nei · be·nei · a·dam
le·ma·an · yir·u · et · ma·a·se·khem · hat·to·vim
vi·kha·be·du · et · a·vi·khem · she·ba·sha·ma·yim
 

"Let your light so shine before men,
that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father in heaven"
(Matt. 5:16)

Οὕτως λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων,
ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα,
καὶ δοξάσωσιν τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς



 

During this holiday season and forever: "May the God of hope (אלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה) fill you with all joy and peace in believing (שִׂמְחָה וְשָׁלוֹם בָּאֱמוּנָה), so that by the power of the Holy Spirit (עז רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) you may abound in hope" (Rom. 15:13). May you be filled with the light of hope. Chag Urim Same'ach - "Happy Festival of Lights!"

Note:  It is somewhat ironic that the only Scriptural reference to the Festival of Chanukah occurs in the New Testament, not in the Tanakh or the intertestamental literature (i.e., the Jewish Apocrypha). In the Gospel of John we read that Yeshua was at the Temple in Jerusalem during the "Feast of Dedication" (חַג חֲנוּכָּה), that is, Chanukah (John 10:22). During a season of remembering miracles (nissim), Yeshua pointed out that the works that He did attested to His claim to be the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people (John 10:37-38). His works and character clearly displayed the true Light of who He was, and these works still shine to us today. Again, for more on this topic see: "Let your Light Shine: Why Christians Should Celebrate Chanukah."
 




Some Chanukah Resources...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins at sundown on Tuesday, Dec. 12th this year... ]

12.11.17 (Kislev 23, 5778)  The Chanukah Blessings page includes some free "Hebrew Study Cards" you can use for your Chanukah celebrations. Each card includes the Hebrew text, phonetic transliteration, and English translation for the blessing. In addition I have recorded Hebrew audio clips for the Chanukah blessings as well, so you can listen to the Hebrew as your learn to recite the blessings... I have also created a handy one page summary of the Hebrew blessings you can download here. I hope you find this material helpful, chaverim! Chag Chanukah Sameach (חַג חֲנֻכָּה שָׂמֵחַ)!
 

 




The Miketz Prophecies...


 

[ Our Torah reading for the Shabbat of Chanukah is parashat Miketz, i.e., Gen. 41:1-44:17. ]

12.11.17 (Kislev 23, 5778)  Our Torah portion this week is "Miketz" (מקץ), a word that means "at the end," and therefore it points to the prophetic future (i.e., the "end of days" or acharit ha-yamim). Just as Joseph was a "dreamer" who was betrayed by his brothers but was promoted to a place of glory by the hidden hand of God, so Yeshua was betrayed by his people yet was exalted over all the nations (מֶלֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם). And just as Joseph later disguised himself as a "stranger" and an "Egyptian" to his brothers but was finally revealed to be their savior, so will the Jewish people eventually come to see that Yeshua is the true Savior of Israel. Then will come true the hope of Rav Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) who wrote, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, 'There shall come out of Zion the Redeemer (גּוֹאֵל) who shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob'" (Rom. 11:26).

Note: For more on this important topic, see "Joseph and his brothers."
 




Truth, Reality and God...


 

12.11.17 (Kislev 23, 5778)  Can people really know that God exists and what God is like by means of reason? The Scriptures emphatically declare that indeed they can: "For the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even the Eternal Power and Divinity; so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20). The unseen is seen - discerned by the "eye" of logical inference  - so that the phenomenal effect of the universe itself reveals intelligent design and divine agency. Moreover, since it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of causal connections to arrive at a present effect, people may rationally know that the universe itself is not eternal but has a determinate beginning as well. However, an even greater witness to the reality of God is found within the intuitions of the human heart. Intuitively we have an impression or idea of the "Supreme Being," that is, a being than which no greater can be conceived (Eccl. 3:11). Now if this idea were merely a fantasy, however, it would be possible to conceive of something greater, namely the reality of the Supreme Being, and therefore, since something that exists is greater than something merely imaginary, the Supreme Being necessarily exists. This "ontological" argument turns on the question of whether the idea of existence should be regarded as a "predicate" or "quality" that can be ascribed to something, though it seems clear it can, since we regularly distinguish between the real verses the illusory, between truth and fiction, and so on. Are such everyday distinctions valid when applied to the concept of God, however? Yes of course. Those who knowingly trifle with the meaning of what the word "is" is are prevaricators who seek to undermine meaningful linguistic and logical connections that allow us to navigate and interpret our experiences. In light of the foregoing, then, it is evident that we indeed know the universe had a beginning and that the Source of the universe is the Supreme Being who is One (there can only be one "supreme" being, after all), who is also all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, morally perfect, personal and fully conscious, entirely holy (i.e., one of a kind and unique), and so on. These superlative attributes (or "predicates") logically follow and are maximally present from the logical realization of what a "Supreme Being" must be like. For instance, a Supreme Being must logically be present (i.e., "exist") in all possible worlds, since there can be no logically possible world where there is no source or agency that does not provide the conditions for that world to exist. Likewise, a Supreme Being must be all-knowing, since any deficiency in knowledge would designate a being less than the Supreme Being, that is, the One than which no greater may be conceived...

The secular "world" has its own religious mythologies, of course. For instance, the paradigms of western science have gone through various refining transformations or "shifts" over the centuries, and today the prevailing myth is that the universe is the effect of a cosmologically unknown (though supposedly) transcendental event called the "big bang" -- "from which, and through which, and to which are all things..." If you dare to question this dogma today, or to inquire about the "first cause" of this inexplicably and primordially determinative beginning, however, contemporary agnostic cosmology is essentially silent, though its proponents often find their voice denying that a personal God is the Creator of all things. In light of this intolerance, then, the "world" offers nothing but the present moment and must despair over both the beginning and end for anything that exists – from the realm of subatomic particles to the motions of great heavenly bodies. There is no existentially relevant "telos" or goal for anything other than the sheer immediacy of the moment (i.e., "survival"), and any thought of transcendental beauty or goodness is regarded as an illusion. Nevertheless, if the universe is the effect of a power greater than itself, that power is the answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing, and the next step is to inquire about the possibility of knowing anything about this transcendental power itself.

God created us so that we could discern truth about reality. The mind functions according to intuitive logical laws because it is made in the image and likeness of God Himself... God Himself is the Source of all logic, since He created reality and structured the world to be intelligible according to its laws. As it is written: "In the beginning was the Word (i.e., ὁ λόγος - the Logic), and the λόγος was with God, and the λόγος was God... All things were made by Him (כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ); and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:1-3). The LORD created a world that exhibits order and great beauty. And since human beings were created b'tzelem Elohim (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים), in the image of God, our thoughts (and the words used to formulate our thoughts) as well as our actions are likewise intended to exhibit order and beauty.  As it is written in our Scriptures: "For the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true" (Eph. 5:9).

As a matter of perception and the interpretation of experience, it is important to remember that we do not directly see light but by means of the light; the light is the medium by which we receive revelation... The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we choose to see is a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we behold the radiance of God shining within us, even in the midst of our everyday affairs.  A grateful heart is awake to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us.
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים
בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה־אוֹר

ki · im·me·kha · me·kor · chai·yim
be·or·kha · nir·eh · ohr
 

"For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light."
(Psalm 36:9)



Hebrew Study Card
  
 

"In Your light we see light..." When you enter a dark room with a lamp, the darkness flees and is overcome by the light. So also with prayer (i.e., teshuvah): When we turn to the Lord, spiritual darkness is overcome by the Divine Radiance. In Yeshua is life, who is the light of the world; all those who receive Him behold ohr ha'chayim (אוֹר הַחַיִּים) - the "light of life."
 




Parashat Miketz - מקץ

Tzofnat Pane'ach -
 

[ The eight days of Chanukah run from Tues. Dec. 12th (i.e., Kislev 25) through Wed. Dec. 20th this year. The weekly Torah reading is not suspended for Chanukah (as it is for Passover and Sukkot), though additional Torah readings are read for each of the eight days of the holiday... ]

12.10.17 (Kislev 22, 5778)  In our Torah portion for Chanukah week, we will read how Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh's dreams and rose to power in Egypt. Because of a famine in the land of Canaan, however, his brothers came to Egypt in search of food. A disguised Joseph then tested his brothers to see whether they were the same people who had callously sold him into slavery, or whether they had undergone teshuvah (repentance).

The eventual revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of acharit ha-yamim (the "End of Days") when Israel, in Great Tribulation, will come to accept Yeshua as Israel's true deliverer.  Presently, the veil is still over the eyes of the Jewish people and they collectively regard Yeshua as an "Egyptian" of sorts.  In this connection, I list some of the ways that Joseph is a "type" or foreshadowing of the coming Yeshua as the Suffering Servant (see "Mashiach ben Yosef").
 

Note:  This year the eight days of Chanukah begin on Tuesday, December 12th at sundown (1st candle) and will run through Wed., Dec. 20th until sundown. The tradition is that on the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit. In this way we remember the 'growth' of the miracle.  We also read a small section of Torah for each of the days of Chanukah. See the Parashat hashavu'ah page for more information.

 




Hearing the Call of Hope...

Tochelet - by J Parsons
 

12.08.17 (Kislev 20, 5778)  The only way out of the painful ambiguity of life is to hear a message from the higher world, the Heavenly Voice, that brings hope to our aching and troubled hearts: "Faith comes by hearing the word of Messiah - ῥῆμα Χριστοῦ" (Rom. 10:17). And yet what is the meaning of this message if it is not that all shall be made well by heaven's hand? There is hope, there is hope, and all your fears will one day be cast into outer darkness, swallowed up by God's unending comfort... "Go into all the world and make students (תַּלְמִידִים) of all nations" (Matt 28:19), and that means sharing the hope that what makes us sick - our depravity and despair - has been healed by Yeshua, and that we escape the gravity of our own fallenness if we accept his invitation to receive life in him. "For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
 

כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
 יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי

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

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


Hebrew Study Card
 

Exercising faith means actively listening to the Eternal Voice, the Word of the LORD that calls out in love in search of your heart's trust... To have faith means justifying God's faith in you, that is, understanding that you are worthy of salvation, that you truly matter to God, and that the Voice calls out your name, too.... Living in faith means consciously accepting that you are accepted by God's love and grace. Trusting God means that you bear ambiguity, heartache, and darkness, yet you still allow hope to enlighten your way.

The Rizhiner Rebbe once said, "Let your light penetrate the darkness until the darkness itself becomes the light and there is no longer a division between the two. As it is written, "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." Yea, the darkness and the light are both alike unto Thee, O LORD, as it is written: "If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you" (Psalm 139:11-12).
 

    "To have faith is to perceive the wonder that is here, and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of being. Faith does not spring out of nothing. It comes with the discovery of the holy dimension of our existence. Faith means to hold small things great, to take light matters seriously, to distinguish between the common and the passing from the aspect of the lasting. It is from faith from which we draw the sweetness of life, the taste of the sacred, the joy of the imperishably dear. It is faith that offers us a share in eternity." - Abraham Heschel
     

We walk by faith, not by sight - by hearing the Word of God, heeding what the Spirit of God is saying to the heart....  In light of the obscurity of life in this temporary age, we must not to lose heart, since though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being "raised into newness" (ἀνακαινόω) day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). "For our light and transient troubles are achieving for us an everlasting glory whose weight is beyond description, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17).

Note:  Happy holidays, friends. Please pray for this ministry... Things have been difficult for me lately, so please ask our Lord for his favor and grace for this work to continue. Shabbat shalom!
 




Numbering our Days...


 

12.08.17 (Kislev 20, 5778)  Perhaps the most common stratagem of the devil is to distract people from the truth about reality, or to convince them to believe a lie... Indeed many people live as if God doesn't exist and that death does not occur. Instead of soberly acknowledging that their days are numbered in this world, they deny the reality of death, living as if the present moment will last forever, steadfastly ignoring any idea of judgment to come. Yeshua warned us, however, that "nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light" (Mark 4:22). We should tremble before such words. Each of us will give account for what we have done with the time given us (Heb. 9:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 12:36). Moses therefore prayed to God: "teach us to number our days," that is, help us understand how to make our days count for eternity, to have a "weight of glory" (βάρος δόξης) that will shine in the world to come...

"As for man, his days are as grass. . . the wind passes over him and he is gone" (Psalm 103:15-16). Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal "Rosh Hashanah" will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

lim·not · ya·me·nu · ken · ho·da
ve·na·vi · le·vav · chokh·mah
 

"Teach us to number our days
 that we may get a heart of wisdom."
(Psalm 90:12)



Download Study Card
 

Despite the frailty and tenuous brevity of our days, may it please the LORD God to shine the power of His radiance upon us, and to establish our works for His praise. May He help us to "number our days" so that we may obtain levav chokhmah (לְבַב חָכְמָה) - a heart of wisdom to live according to His will (James 1:5). Above all else, may the "God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of Glory (אֲבִי הַכָּבוֹד), impart to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him (רוּחַ הַחָכְמָה וְהֶחָזוֹן לָדַעַת אתוֹ), having the "eyes of your hearts" (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you" (Eph. 1:17-18). May you be strong, resolute, and fully focused on our LORD, and may God make this real for us: Amen.
 




What are you seeking?


 

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

12.08.17 (Kislev 20, 5778)  From our Torah this week we read: "And a man found him [Joseph] wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, "What are you seeking?" (Gen. 37:15). The sages say this was not an ordinary man but rather an angel sent to encourage Joseph to keep focused despite his forthcoming trials. Note that the Hebrew text literally says the man asked Joseph "to say (i.e., lemor: לֵאמר), 'What will you seek?'" (i.e., mah-tevakesh: מַה־תְּבַקֵּשׁ). In other words, the man asked Joseph to discover what motivated him by asking himself, "What do I seek? What am I looking for?" Indeed, we are often unconscious of what really matters to us. What does your heart seek first of all? Yeshua said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). Because Joseph never lost sight of what mattered, he was able to withstand temptation and tribulation for the sake of God's greater blessing.

So what are you seeking today? (John 1:38) The Spirit of the Living God calls out, "Seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4). If you are feeling empty today, ask God to feed you with His life-giving food.  Ask Him for energy, power, and strength... Seek the LORD and His goodness. He is faithful and true and will surely answer the sincere cry of the heart: "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."
 

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם אתִי וּמְצָאתֶם
 כִּי תִדְרְשֻׁנִי בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶם

u'vik·kash·tem · o·ti · u·metz·a·tem
ki · tid·re·shu·ni · be·khol · le·vav·khem
 

"You will seek me and find me
 if you search for me with all your heart"
(Jer. 29:13



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

Note that this verse includes the implication that we will discover that the LORD is the answer to our heart's cry for love, significance, purpose, etc., when we search for Him bekhol levavkhem - with all our hearts (but not the other way around). In other words, if we do not search for God authentically - with the full passion of our hearts - then we will not find Him, since God only reveals Himself in the truth of reality.  Some things in life are only known in the passion of faith... things like love, beauty, honor, and so on. As Pascal once said, "The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of..."

The problem with many of us is not that we are so hungry, but rather that we are not hungry enough... We settle for junk food when God spreads out his banqueting table before us; we hanker after cheap thrills instead of experiencing the very love of God... There is a "deeper hunger" for life, a more urgent desire, and I pray we are all touched by such yearning; there is a "blessed need" that expresses our soul's cry for God - a "divine discontent" that leads us to a deeper sense of contentment for the heart (Matt. 5:6).

"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (בַּקְּשׁוּ רִאשֹׁנָה מַלְכוּת אֱלהִים), and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). In the end, if we cannot say we have lived well, then nothing else matters... Seeking God is an ongoing journey, a "how" of life, not a recipe or formula, no matter how venerated. Seeking God is the very aim of life, and in the world to come, I am afraid that most of us will regret that we did not pursue the Lord with all our hearts while we had the opportunity to do so. May God help each of us wake up and put first things first in our lives. Amen.
 




Chanukah and Humanism...


 

12.08.17 (Kislev 20, 5778)  The holiday of Chanukah reminds us that we must remain committed to Torah truth in a godless, and therefore insane, world. After all, since reality is the "handiwork" (i.e., conscious design) of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, morally perfect, purposive, personal, and spiritual Agency who has been revealed in the Jewish Scriptures, those who deny this reality are living in a state of ongoing delusion. In a sense, the history of humanity - especially as it has been expressed philosophically and politically -- has been nothing less than the conscious design to redefine reality as something that it isn't. "The kings of the earth station themselves, and the dignitaries take counsel together against the LORD and His Messiah" (Psalm 2:1-3). Spiritual warfare is therefore the fight for sanity and truth in a world that prefers madness and self-deception.

In a prophetic sense the story of "Epihpanes" foreshadows the coming time of the "Messiah of Evil" (antichrist) who will one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.). At first he will appear to be a "world savior" who will broker peace for Israel and the Mideast, but after awhile, like his archetype Epiphanes, he will savagely betray the Jewish people and set up a "desolating sacrilege" in the Holy Place of the Temple (Matt. 24:15). His satanic rise will occur during acharit hayamim - the "End of Days" - otherwise called the period of the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24). The Final Victory of God will be established when Yeshua returns to destroy this Messiah of Evil at His Second Coming. The Holy Temple will then be rebuilt and dedicated by the hand of the true Mashiach of Israel.

The Gemara says that Javan, the descendant of Noah's son Japheth (Gen. 10:2), became the founding father of ancient Greece who inherited Japheth's blessing: "May God give beauty to Japheth (יַפְתְּ אֱלהִים לְיֶפֶת) and let him dwell in the tents of Shem" (Gen. 9:27). This blessing gave him the special ability to found the arts, philosophy, and science, though if these were exercised apart from the influence of Shem, that is, apart from a Torah perspective, such pursuits would ultimately become vain and even dangerous. In other words, even though "all truth is God's truth," human learning must be contextualized in light of the divine revelation. The humanistic mindset deifies knowledge and technique; it understands to believe, instead of believing to understand.  For this reason, among others, the spiritual war between Zion and the secular world rages to this hour...

Note:  For more on this, please see "Chanukah and Spiritual Warfare."
 




Power to the Faint..


 

12.07.17 (Kislev 19, 5778)  "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"
(Isa. 40:29)



 

Where we read, "Messiah who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20), we emphasize the object of God's redeeming love; we stress that this word is being spoken to "me," and that Messiah's love is poured out "for me." But how can we justify doing so, in light of the innumerable souls that have been brought forth in the world? The Mishnah asks, "Why was man created alone?" and answers so that each person must say the world was created for me. "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world; and whoever saves a soul, it is considered as if he saved an entire world..."

Personal Update:  Please keep this ministry in prayer, friends. The warfare has been intense lately, and I have been in the midst of the battle. The enemy of our souls wants me to grow weary and to give up... Please pray for God's provision and strength. Thank you so much!
 




True and False Zeal...


 

12.07.17 (Kislev 19, 5778)  There are many people who are entirely sincere in their convictions, but they are sincerely wrong... In the time of the Second Temple, for instance, the Zealots despised the rule of Rome. Their political hatred was so extreme that they blindly regarded anyone who didn't share their passion as a personal enemy. In one of the great tragedies of Jewish history, these zealots killed far 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 act as God's "executioner," you might do well to consider your heart's attitude...

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).
 




Sensing the Sacred...


 

12.06.17 (Kislev 18, 5778)  The Torah records God's first act of creation with the imperative utterance: "Let there be light" (i.e., yehi or: יְהִי אוֹר), and then goes on to say that "God separated (וַיַּבְדֵּל) the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). It is this "separation," or distinction, that is foundational to the concept of kedushah (קְדֻשָּׁה), or "holiness." Holiness is also expressed in the distinction between ordinary and sacred time: "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (יְקַדֵּשׁ) because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation" (Gen. 2:3). Therefore we are repeatedly told to "distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:10). Note that the word translated "distinguish" (וּלֲהַבְדִּיל) comes from the same verb used to describe how God separated the light from the darkness. In order to do this, we need understanding (i.e., binah: בִּינָה), or the ability to distinguish between (בֵּין) realms of reality. As it is written, "You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and I have separated you (וָאַבְדִּל) from other people that you should be mine" (Lev. 20:26).
 

וִהְיִיתֶם לִי קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יְהוָה
וָאַבְדִּל אֶתְכֶם מִן־הָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת לִי

vi·yi·tem · li · ke·do·shim · ki · ka·dosh · a·ni · Adonai
va·av·dil · et·khem · min-ha·a·mim · li·he·yot · li

 

"You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy
and I have separated you from the peoples to be mine"
(
Lev. 20:26)



 

There is no other way to approach the Holy One apart from consciousness of His infinite glory and unsurpassable worth. "I will lift up my eyes to the hills" (Psalm 121:1). As the Holy One (i.e., ha-kadosh: הַקָּדוֹשׁ), the LORD (יהוה) is utterly unique, distinct, sacred, and set apart as the only One of its kind. He alone is worthy of true worship and adoration, since He alone is utterly peerless, without rival, and stands in relation to the world as Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. To affirm the LORD is holy is to be conscious that He is utterly sacred.

Note: Being "holy" does not mean being sanctimonious or having a sour face about the world and its carnal pleasures. It has nothing at all to do with affected spirituality, angry pride, or the fear of becoming unclean... Indeed, some of the most holy moments are those of love, joy, peace, as well as times of struggle, sorrow, affliction, and fiery temptation. Holiness is ultimately "ontological," which means it has to do with reality... A person can be holy and yet sinful; he can be holy and yet feel lost or abandoned. On the other hand, a person can be seemingly sinless, morally upright, and yet be completely unholy.
 




That Light Still Shines...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins at sundown on Tuesday, Dec. 12th this year... ]

12.06.17 (Kislev 18, 5778)  Chanukah is important because it stands in opposition to the propaganda of humanism and its ongoing attempt to deny the reality of the Divine Presence in our lives... It makes bold the statement that reality is not reducible to merely natural categories, and it repudiates the "Hellenistic" conceit that all religions are true, and it especially rejects the arrogant notion that the LORD God of Israel is just "one more member" of some globalist pantheon... Chanukah adamantly denies the politically correct dogma that despair is the universal condition of humanity and that darkness will finally extinguish the light. Like the gospel message, Chanukah scandalizes human rationalism and the solipsism that affirms that "man is the measure of all things." "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον); and this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith" (1 John 5:4).

The darkness of this world is forever swept back before the overmastering radiance and power of Yeshua, the King of Glory, the Root and Descendant of David, and the Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). Those who believe in Him are given the "light of life" that overcomes the darkness of this world (John 8:12).
 




Chanukah and Vigilance...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins at sundown on Tuesday, Dec. 12th this year... ]

12.06.17 (Kislev 18, 5778)  The message of Chanukah is to resist being "assimilated" into this dark world and its benighted culture. As it says in our Scriptures, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (i.e., transfigured by the light) through the renewal (ἀνακαίνωσις) of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Notice that the Greek word translated "conformed" is a passive verb (συσχηματίζω, derived from σύν, "with," + σχῆμα, "matrix") which means that we must consciously resist being lulled into accepting this world's various ideologies (matrix) that are crafted to ignore Divine the Presence and Truth. In the realm of the spiritual, there is simply no place of neutrality, and if we are not going forward, then it's likely we are going backward... Therefore we are repeatedly commanded to test the spirits and to examine truth claims. We ask God for wisdom and use the discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit.
 

הַשְׁלִיכוּ מֵעֲלֵיכֶם אֶת־כָּל־פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם
אֲשֶׁר פְּשַׁעְתֶּם בָּם
וַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה

hash·li·khu · me·a·le·khem · et · kol · pish·e·khem
a·sher · pe·sha·e·tem · bam
va·a·su · la·khem · lev · cha·dash · ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah
 

"Cast away from you all the transgressions
 that you have committed,
and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit."
(Ezek. 18:31)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 


We must exercise diligence to ensure we are not taken captive by the world and its seductive deceptions.  Both Passover and Chanukah celebrate spiritual freedom, and indeed the very first word given at Sinai was "I AM the LORD thy God who brought you out (הוֹצֵאתִיךָ)... of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). God's first concern is to be known as your Deliverer, the God of your freedom. Therefore the Spirit of God says, "Thou shalt be free" (2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1). Set your focus, then, on the Divine Presence and refuse to live in fear of mere men and their political schemes. God has an appointment scheduled with the princes of this world, though we trust he is our Good Shepherd who will keep us from the wrath to come...
 





Note:  December 2017 updates continue here.

 





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