Shaddai

Learn Hebrew

Learn Torah

Hebrew for Christians
BS''D
Hebrew for Christians Site Updates

Mah Nishmah?

Hebrew4Christians.com Site Updates

More
Updates

 

Verse of the moment:


 

Can You Help?

Can you help?

  Search the Site

We're on Facebook

Online Forum

Calendar

Prayer Request (for site updates, see below)

I was laid off from my full-time job awhile ago. After a lot of prayer, soul searching, and discussions with my wife, we have decided to operate 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 Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah. The holiday of Chanukah occurs in late fall and carries over to the winter season:
 

Summer Holiday Calendar

The Fall Holidays:

Summer Holidays
 

The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD (יוֹם יְהוָה), the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.

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

  1. Month of Elul (Mon., Aug. 21st [eve] - Wed. Sept. 20th [day])
  2. Month of Tishri (Wed. Sept. 20th [eve]) - Thur. Oct. 19th [day]
    • Rosh Hashanah / Yom Teru'ah - Tishri 1 5778 (Wed. Sept. 20th) - Seder
    • The Ten Days of Teshuvah: Wed. Sept 20th - Fri. Sept. 29th
    • Shabbat Shuvah - the Shabbat that occurs during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Fri., Sept. 22)
    • Tzom Gedaliah - Sun. Sept. 24 (sunrise to sunset fast)
    • Yom Kippur - Fri. Sept. 29th, a Sabbath (the fast begins an hour before sunset and runs 25 hours until after sunset Sat. Sept. 30th).
    • Sukkot - Wed. Oct 4th at sundown through Wed. Oct. 11th at sundown.
    • Hoshana Rabba - Climactic last day of Sukkot, Wed. Oct. 11th.
    • Shemini Atzeret - The "eighth day" assembly after Sukkot. Thurs. Oct 12th.
    • Simchat Torah - Celebration of the conclusion of the completion of the yearly Torah Reading Cycle. Thurs. Oct 12th - Friday Oct. 13th.
    • Shabbat Bereshit - The beginning of the Torah Reading Cycle for the new year (Friday, Oct. 13th after sundown through the following Sabbath day).
       
  3. Month of Cheshvan (Thur. Oct. 19th [eve] - Sat. Nov. 18th [day])
    • Five Sabbaths: Noach, Lekh-Lekha, Vayera, Chayei Sarah, Toldot
    • Yom HaAliyah - a modern holiday established to acknowledge the contibution of olim (Jewish immigrants) to the Jewish state (Thur. Oct 26th; Cheshvan 7).
    • Sigd - 50th day after Yom Kippur; Ethiopian Jewish holiday (Fri., Nov. 17th)
       
  4. 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
         
  5. 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: Sun. Dec. 31st, 2018 (Tevet 14)
       


Note:  Some calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Chanukah begins Tuesday, Dec. 12th at sundown, some calendars may indicate that it occurs on the following day...

 

 


 

September 2017 Site Updates
 


Identifying with the Lamb...



 

[ During Rosh Hashanah we blow shofars to recall the lamb of God...  ]

09.21.17  (Tishri 1, 5778)   The near sacrifice of Isaac establishes that God does not want us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar, but rather to identify with the appointed sacrifice of the lamb given on our behalf... Isaac pictures the identification process. First he completely submitted himself to God's will by being bound as a sacrifice. Once that decision was made, God intervened by providing the ram caught in the thicket, which represented the "binding" or identification of God's sacrifice for him (Gen. 22:13). Just as the lamb was identified with Isaac, so Isaac was identified with the lamb. Likewise, Yeshua died in your place so you can identify with his death for you, trusting it as your atonement provided by your Heavenly Father. Your union with Yeshua means that his death was your death: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Messiah in God" (Col. 3:3). Likewise, his "life after death" (resurrection) is your eternal life: "When Messiah who is your life appears, you also will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:4). Baptism symbolizes your identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua as the Lamb of God sacrificed on your behalf (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4). Just as Isaac descended from the altar in newness of life, so we are made new creations because of the sacrifice of Messiah: "I have been crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the God the Son, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Rosh Hashanah, like all the Torah holidays, centers on the great Lamb of God.
 




Rosh Hashanah Prophecies...


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this evening at sundown... L'Shanah tovah chaverim! ]

09.20.17  (Elul 29, 5777)   The spring festivals (Passover, Firstfruits, and Shavuot) have been perfectly fulfilled in the first coming of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, and the fall festivals (Teruah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot) will be fulfilled in His second coming as Mashiach ben David. Since the first advent fulfilled all of the spring mo'edim to the smallest of details, we believe that His second advent portends similar fulfillment as revealed in the fall mo'edim.

After the summer of harvest (John 4:35), the very first fall festival on the Jewish calendar is Yom Teruah, which is a picture of the "catching away" of kallat Mashiach (the bride of Messiah) for the time of Sheva Berachot (the seven "days" of blessing that follows the traditional marriage ceremony). Then will come the Great Tribulation and Yom Adonai - the Day of the LORD (יוֹם יְהוָה). The heavenly shofar blasts heard at Sinai will be reissued from Zion.  First will be the gathering together of those who follow the Messiah (i.e., those declared tzaddikim because they trust in the merit of Yeshua's sacrifice), and then God's war against Satan and the world system will begin, culminating in the long-awaited coronation of the King of King of Kings - Melech Malchei Ha-Melachim (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים).

Rosh Hashanah (or better, Yom Teruah) is therefore a sacred time that has prophetic significance for the Messianic believer, since it commemorates both the creation of the mankind by Adonai as well as the "calling up" of the new creation at the behest of Yeshua, when the sound of the heavenly shofar inaugurates the anticipated End of Days (1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:15-18). Indeed, "teruah" (תְּרוּעָה) is a "calling up" signal for those who belong to Messiah, sounded during the opening of the "Gate to the Wedding" of the great Lamb of God. It also prefigures the coming Day of the LORD and Great Tribulation period that marks God's judgment on an unbelieving world...

 




Lift up your heads...


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this evening at sundown... ]

09.20.17  (Elul 29, 5777)   Rosh Hashanah literally means the "head of the year," and it traditionally marks the anniversary of the creation of mankind. The sages note that where it is written, "When you take a census of the children of Israel" (Exod. 30:12), the Hebrew reads, "When you lift up the heads (כִּי תִשָּׂא אֶת־ראשׁ) of the children of Israel," which implies that each person should be encouraged to understand that they "count" in the eyes of Heaven. The sages also not that the word "Israel" (יִשְׂרָאֵל) contains the letters that form the phrase li rosh (לִי ראשׁ), "there is to me a head," that is, a soul created in the image of God.
 

יְהוָה בְּהֵיכַל קָדְשׁוֹ יְהוָה בַּשָּׁמַיִם כִּסְאוֹ
עֵינָיו יֶחֱזוּ עַפְעַפָּיו יִבְחֲנוּ בְּנֵי אָדָם

Adonai · be·he·khal · kod·sho · Adonai · ba·sha·ma·yim · ki·so
ei·nav · ye·che·zu · af·a·pav · yiv·cha·nu · be·nei · a·dam

 

"The LORD is in his holy palace; the LORD's throne is in heaven.
His eyes watch; his eyes examine all people"
(Psalm 11:4)


 


During Rosh Hashanah we affirm our faith that the LORD our God is the great King over all the earth (מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ). The Hebrew word "king" is melekh (מֶלֶךְ), the value of which is 90, the same as the Hebrew letter Tzadi (צ), meaning "Righteous One." Indeed some of the sages say that the word "amen" (אמן) is an acronym for the phrase El Melekh Ne'eman (אֵל מֶלְךְ נֶאֱמָן) - "God is a Righteous King." The LORD is a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he (Deut. 32:4). The LORD God, the Righteous One has "ascended with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a shofar" (Psalm 47:5). This refers to the ascension and glorification of our Savior Yeshua, who ascended in triumph over sin and death our behalf. As is written: "Sing praises unto our King, sing praises!" (Psalm 47:6). L'Chayim b'Yeshua - to Life in Yeshua, friends!
 




Call to Life and Joy...


 

09.20.17  (Elul 29, 5777)   The call to teshuvah is a call to wonder, to the life of eternal verities and possibilities, to the way of love, joy, and peace that passes merely human understanding... "Who would wish to dwell among the nations and be numbered among them? The Lord would have His people follow a separate path. No, we walk the narrow way where all genuine pilgrims must go to follow the Lord" (Charles Spurgeon). Amen. "If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above, where Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Messiah in God" (Col. 3:1-3). We are kedoshim - a "set apart people" - awakened to the sacred nature of life, alive to God's great passion, and undergoing the divine process of our eternal healing. Let us press on!
 




The Narrow Door...


 

09.20.17  (Elul 29, 5777)   "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). The narrow door is the way of humility, assuming a low position, crawling, if you will, and making yourself small... It is the way of the cross of Messiah, confessing the truth of our condition and trusting in God alone for deliverance.. The narrow door is the way of faith - trusting in God's compassion and righteousness on your behalf. The large, wide-open door is designed for the crowd and its various idols. Beware of the world that seeks to assimilate the soul: beware of becoming part of the crowd! The individual is lost and overwhelmed in the midst of the crowd and its momentum. The crowd assimilates the soul, laughs at the notion of individual responsibility, and abandons itself to the gravity of purely natural forces... The life of faith, on the other hand, refuses to regard the individual human heart as a triviality. Faith is an individual struggle, a walk into unknowing; it is the way of the sojourner who feels uneasy in this world of shadows... God is always with us and helps us stay strong and resolute, even as we struggle through the darkness of this age. Press on, chaverim! Do not lose sight of your high calling in Yeshua. The day and the hour draw near!
 




Walk in the Spirit...


 

09.20.17  (Elul 29, 5777)   Our hashkafah (Torah outlook) teaches that God is "omnipresent," or always present everywhere (בְּכָּל מָקוֹם), but much of the time we seem disconnected and lose touch with spiritual Reality. After all, it's one thing to "know about" God, and quite another to experience the sacred in our daily experience... Perhaps we miss detecting the Divine Presence because we are not seeing correctly (2 Cor. 5:7). We tend to "objectify" the natural world and thereby distance ourselves from the atmosphere of the Spirit and the flow of grace (i.e., ruach: "wind," "spirit"). Instead of understanding that we "live, move, and have our being" in God (Acts 17:28), we regard God as "out there," far away, and inaccessible to our reach... The Hebrew word "teshuvah" (תְּשׁוּבָה), often translated as "repentance," really means accepting the heavenly invitation to turn away from ourselves to receive God's love and grace. The Greek word "metanoia" (μετάνοια) conveys a similar idea - going "beyond" (i.e., meta: μετά) our everyday thinking (i.e., nous: νοῦς) to apprehend the realm of miracle, wonder, and love (John 6:33). We then become attuned to the Divine Presence as we turn or elevate our thinking from the realm of "this world" (olam ha'zeh) and its objectivity to one of spiritual receptivity, wholeness, and blessing (olam ha'ba). Teshuvah therefore is an (ongoing) awakening to the Reality of God, and knowing ourselves through our connectedness to the Spirit rather than objectifying ourselves and experiencing alienation and distance.  Therefore הִתְהַלְּכוּ בָּרוּחַ - "walk in the Spirit" and you will be free (Gal. 5:16).
 




Cleaving to Hope...


 

09.20.17  (Elul 29, 5777)   "Love suffers long and is kind..." (1 Cor. 13:4). Have patience with all things, but most of all with yourself. We must "endure ourselves" along the way, often learning hard lessons about our own insufficiency. Have faith that despite all your imperfections, all your defects of character, and your overall weakness of heart, God is indeed at work in your darkness, molding and shaping you to bear witness of His glorious power to save the soul. The LORD holds your hand; his grace and love will help you persevere, giving you the will to press on in hope. Never give up, friends!
 

דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ

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

 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The concept of "cleaving" or "holding fast" to God is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) in Jewish tradition, a word that derives from the root davak (דבק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for glue comes from the same root). Davak is used to describe how a man cleaves to his wife so that they become basar echad – "one flesh" (see Gen. 2:24), and is related to the word for bodily joint (debek), the bond of our bones to our skin (Job 19:20). Some have described devakut as "God consciousness imbued with love." "To cleave to Him - that means the cleaving of the mind to Him, for there is no devakut except that of the mind and the meditation of the heart" (Sh'ar ha-ahavah). We are able to cling or cleave to God because He first clung to the cross in love for us (1 John 4:19). 
 




King of the Universe...


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this evening at sundown... ]

09.20.17  (Elul 29, 5777)   When Adam first opened his eyes and human consciousness was born, he immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever." God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased.  This was the "tov me'od" (טוֹב מְאד) moment of creation, when God saw all that He had made "and found it very good" (Gen. 1:31). The birthday of humanity is therefore the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe. According to Jewish tradition, this date represents Rosh Hashanah, or the "head of the year" for humanity, when God began to rule as King over the universe He created.

The implication that God is our Creator is enormous and pervades everything else in our lives. God's creative power is witnessed by all conscious life. The Divine Light that was created before the sun and the stars represents God's immanent presence that "lights up" all of creation - including our minds (Gen. 1:3). Since we were created b'tzelem Elohim, "in the image of God," the witness of God's truth is foundational to all of our thinking as well.  The revelation (not the invention) of logical first principles is part of God's "signature," if you will, of how the mind is wired to reality. Likewise we have intuitive awareness regarding the existence of moral truth (i.e., the standard of justice and moral law), aesthetic truth (i.e., ideals of beauty, goodness, worth, and love), and metaphysical truth (i.e., cause and effect relationships). "The heavens are recounting the glory of God, and the expanse is proclaiming his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). God's power and presence can be clearly inferred from the tremendous effect of the universe itself.  As Paul stated, "the invisible things of Him (τά ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ) from the creation of the world are clearly seen (καθορω), so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). It is the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יהוה) that is truly the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). The Hebrew word for fearing (ירא) and seeing (ראה) share the same root. We cannot truly see reality apart from reverencing God as the Lord and King of Creation.

It is important to emphasize that God is not some impersonal "First Cause" or "Unmoved Mover" of the universe. He is not some "cosmic big bang" that started the universe only to be indifferent to its functioning, nor is God a "Cosmic Egg" or "Self-Absorbed Mind" that contemplates the navel of reality... No, God is an entirely awake and morally perfect Being who created everything "very good" and who actively engages and sustains His creation. God is a personal Creator and Ruler of all that exists. In theological jargon, God is both "immanent" (sustaining and upholding creation) and "transcendent" (exalted over creation). This God has a Name (YHVH), a mind, and a moral, purposive will that imbues all of creation. God is LORD over all time and space, the King of Glory, who is Master of all possible worlds. He is therefore intimately concerned with the rule of His law, expressed both in the "natural" world (i.e., the laws of physics, chemistry, etc.), the mental world (i.e., the laws of logic, mathematics, etc.), the ethical world (i.e., the laws of morality, ethics, etc.), and the spiritual world (the laws of spirit and of spiritual beings).

For more on this see: "High Holidays and the Gospel."
 




Our Creator and Judge...


 

09.20.17  (Elul 29, 5777)   During Rosh Hashanah we remember that God is our Creator and Judge, and both of these attributes refer to Yeshua our Savior.  The New Testament identifies the Voice of the Creator as the all-powerful Word of God: בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר / "in the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1,14). Yeshua is the Source of all life in the universe: כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ / "All things were made by Him (John 1:3). The "Word made flesh" is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (John 1:14, Col. 1:15). All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3): "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 begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach... He is the Center of Creation - it's beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). Indeed, Yeshua is מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross... יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ / yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever (Psalm 113:2).
 




Teshuvah's Reason...


 

09.20.17  (Elul 29, 5777)   Abraham Heschel once wrote, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance," and while that is undoubtedly true, what is of supreme importance to God is the salvation of the lost sinner (John 3:16; Luke 19:10; 2 Pet. 3:9). But God has entrusted you and me to help others come into the Kingdom. He wants us to help bring in the great harvest (John 4:35)! God could use angels to issue the call to "repent and believe" the gospel, or He could put great signs in the heavens, but in His infinite wisdom He has chosen to use the "foolishness" of proclaiming the truth of the cross of Yeshua to save those who are lost. But note that the cross is the central focus.  As Paul wrote, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). This is of first importance to God (1 Cor. 15:3). The sacrificial death of Yeshua is a scandal to the proud, but it is the method God uses to save people from eternal death (1 Cor. 1:22-23). There is no gospel message apart from offense - first, the offense of the ego's deflation (i.e., being convicted as a rebel deserving of judgment), and second, the offense of the sross (i.e., that no human merit can effect the salvation given through Yeshua alone). The offense of the gospel is the proclamation that there is no other way to heaven than through the cross of Yeshua, and there is no other name than the Name of Yeshua for the salvation of human beings (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 1:23).

Our first duty as followers of Yeshua is to make much of His salvation... The Ruach HaKodesh always glorifies our Messiah, the Son of Man (John 16:13-14). But as Paul asked, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching (i.e., κηρύσσω, "publishing, or "proclaiming openly") the message (Rom. 10:14)? Likewise Yeshua commanded his followers to "go and make disciples (i.e., talmidim: students) from among all the nations, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:18-19). The proclamation of the gospel is one of your greatest responsibilities as a follower of the Lord.
 




Teshuvah and True Love...


 

[ The following discusses the nature of repentance. It's my hope that this will encourage you to "return to the LORD and listen to His Voice" (Deut. 30:2). ]

09.20.17  (Elul 29, 5777)   Repentance means changing how you understand yourself, and therefore it is intimately connected with how you understand God.  As A.W. Tozer once said, "What I believe about God is the most important thing about me." Understanding the goodness and glory of God leads to self-respect, a sense of dignity, and so on. This works the other way around, too. If you regard yourself as small, insignificant, and unworthy, you will tend to consider God that way, too. "According to your faith be it done unto you." As you see God, so you will see yourself; as you see yourself, so you will see God. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Mark 4:24).

Personal repentance implies encountering the revelation of God at "first hand." God does not love you at a distance, nor does he call you to embrace him at "second hand." This is a matter of existential encounter. Repentance, or teshuvah, is the "like for like" measure of God's love; it is your answer to God's question and call....

The message of the gospel requires that you regard yourself as worth dying for, that you are God's friend... "There is no greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). God demands that you regard yourself as worth the sacrifice of his beloved son Yeshua in your place; he demands that you understand how dear you are to his heart. God sees something of such great value in you that he was willing to suffer and die to redeem it from loss... Just as the kingdom of God is a "pearl of great price," so you are a pearl of great price to God. What grieves and angers God is the refusal to believe that you are someone of infinite importance to him... Only God can rightfully make such a demand because He knows that loving other things more than Him leads to "disordered love," darkness, and eventual madness. We were made for God's love, but substituting finite things for this infinite need will never suffice to bring lasting healing to our souls...

We must "choose life," and that means choosing to welcome God's love into your heart. The only sin that can keep you from God's everlasting love is the denial that his love is personally for you. You must forsake seeing yourself "in the flesh" and take hold of God's spirit, his passion, and his grace for your soul. You are worthy to be loved because God is worthy to make you so. For more on this topic see: "Teshuvah and God's Love."
 




Shanah Tovah, friends!


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, Sept. 20th at sundown... ]

09.19.17  (Elul 28, 5777)   God is both infinitely loving and infinitely just, and both of these "attributes" are inseparably a part of who he is. God is One. Nonetheless, the cross of Yeshua proves that "love is stronger than death, passion fiercer than the grave; its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame, the very flame of the Lord" (Song. 8:6). It is at the cross that "love and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). This implies that we must drop our defenses – even those supposed objections and pretenses voiced by our shame – and "accept that we are accepted." It is God's great love for you that leads you to turn to him. Allow yourself to be embraced by his "everlasting arms."
 

מֵרָחוֹק יְהוָה נִרְאָה לִי
וְאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ
עַל־כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד

me·ra·chok  Adonai  nir·ah  li
ve·a·ha·vat  o·lam  a·hav·tikh
al  ken  me·shakh·tikh  cha·sed
 

"The LORD appeared to me from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you."
(Jer. 31:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Genuine teshuvah (i.e., repentance) will entirely change you. It is an act of profound respect over what God has done on your behalf. You say, but I am a miserable wretch! Indeed that is so, but the consciousness of your wretched state is the heart's cry for love... God goes "outside the camp" to meet with you. He enters the leper colony to join you there, in your wretchedness, and even takes upon your fatal disease. He sees you in your desperate estate and joins you there. God enters into the dust of your death and says, "Live!"

Teshuvah means changing your thinking, turning around to face the truth, and returning to embrace God's love. It does not identify the whole person with sin, but rather regards all people as redeemable, worthy, and valuable to God. Conviction of sin is not the end, but rather the means to newness of life. God saved us so that we could be in a love relationship with Him. We must "choose life," and that means choosing to welcome God's love into your heart. The only sin that can keep you from God's everlasting love is the denial that his love is personally for you. You must forsake seeing yourself "in the flesh" and take hold of God's spirit, his passion, and his grace for your soul. You are worthy to be loved because God is worthy to make you so. Therefore as our wonderful Savior appealed, "Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:5). God is love, and that love is for you.

We sincerely wish you "shanah tovah u'metukah ba'Adoneinu Yeshua ha-Mashiach" - a good and sweet year in our Lord Jesus the Messiah! May the LORD God heal you, body and soul; may He ease your pain, increase your strength, and release you from all your fears... May blessing, love, joy, and true shalom surround you and fill you with ongoing wonder and thanks. In the Name above all Names we pray: Amen.
 




Teshuvah of Brokenness...


 

09.19.17  (Elul 28, 5777)   Regarding the call to repentance we read: "Rend your hearts and not your garments and return to the LORD your God (וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם), for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in love..." (Joel 2:13). Genuine teshuvah (repentance) is not about the "outer layers" of life, but engages the deepest depths of heart; it is not expressed in religious practices or rituals but in personal brokenness and utter desperation... As King David said, "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit (רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה); a broken and contrite heart (לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה), O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17). As is written in our Haftarah portion for Shabbat Shuvah: "Return O Israel (שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל), to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take with you words and return to the LORD (וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָה) and say to him, 'Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips'" (Hos. 14:1-2).

Note that the appeal to the LORD as "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love" (חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם הוּא אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד) recalls the meaning of YHVH (יהוה) revealed to Moses in his state of brokenness over the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7).
 




Teshuvah of Messiah...


 

09.18.17  (Elul 27, 5777)   "I have been crucified with Messiah..." (Gal. 2:20). During this "season of teshuvah," it is vital to understand exactly how we are to turn to God to find life. Some religious people understand "repentance" to mean focusing on themselves, lamenting their sins, and making resolutions to improve their behavior, though this is not the meaning of teshuvah as Yeshua taught, which is turning of the heart in trust of God's love.  "It is no longer 'I' who live but Messiah who lives in me" (ibid.), which means we find life and righteousness in the LORD and not in ourselves -- neither in our resolutions to change, nor our religious rituals, nor even our acts of repentance. We are "crucified with" Messiah, and that means the self-life comes to an end (Col. 3:3). Regarding yourself as separated from God's acceptance will inevitably lead you to the "works of the law" and therefore to the "wheel of sin and death" -- and to despair.  Rightly understood, teshuvah cannot be separated from the salvation of the LORD (יְשׁוּעַת יְהוָה), nor can we ignore God's righteousness in the vain attempt to establish our own.  Teshuvah receives the miracle of divine exchange: "For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). We do not "ignore the grace of God" (Οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ) by seeking justification apart from the truth and blessing of Messiah, for He is the one "who loves me and gave himself for me." The sickness of sin is lethal, and there is no remedy apart from turning to behold Yeshua, the "fiery serpent" lifted upon a stake, the One crucified for our deliverance (Num. 21:8; John 3:14; Gal. 3:13). The teshuvah of God is to turn away from yourself to behold the miracle of God's righteousness given for your sake, and therefore it is a matter of radical faith. "We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:9). "Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is briah chadashah (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה), a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17).

We are told that we must "receive" the life of Yeshua into our hearts, and that is certainly true, but we must also receive his death as well... This is the meaning of "taking up your cross." It is the death of Yeshua in your place that releases you from the curse of the law (מִקִּלְלַת הַתּוֹרָה), that is, spiritual death, as it says, "the Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal. 3:13).

The teshuvah of Yeshua is the miracle of new life; Messiah sets you free from the power of sin and death itself.  The repentance of Yeshua is to trust in God's remedy for your sin: "This is the work of God, to believe in the One whom God sent" (John 6:29). "He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him" (Isa. 59:16). We must turn away from the idea that God demands anything from us other than trust in his love. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Stop trying to measure up to his standards. You simply cannot give more than you have the love to give, so you must begin by getting your heart needs met by accepting God's unconditional love. It's not about what you do for God, after all, but about what he does for you. That's the message of the gospel. Trust that you are rightly related to God because of the salvation of Yeshua, not because of your own efforts at self-improvement. "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24).

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




Rosh Hashanah and the Lamb...


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this Wednesday, Sept. 20th at sundown... ]

09.18.17  (Elul 27, 5777)   In the Torah we find that the word "love" (i.e., ahavah) first appears regarding Abraham's passion for his son: "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love (אֲשֶׁר־אָהַבְתָּ), and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (Gen. 22:2). After journeying to the place, Abraham told his child that God would provide a lamb (אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה), and then bound Isaac, laid him upon an altar, and raised his knife to slay him (Gen. 22:8-10). At the very last moment, the Angel of the Lord called out: "Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son (בֵּן יָחִיד), from me" (Gen. 22:11-12). Abraham then "lifted up his eyes" and saw a ram "caught in a thicket" which he offered in place of his son. Abraham then named the place Adonai-Yireh (יהוה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD who provides" (Gen. 22:14). The sacrifice of the lamb for Isaac portrayed the coming sacrifice of Yeshua, the great "Lamb of God" (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would be offered in exchange for the trusting sinner (John 1:29). Indeed the story of how God provided the lamb at Moriah (and later during the Passover in Egypt) foreshadowed the greater redemption given in Messiah at the "Passover cross," and may be understood as the "Gospel according to Moses" (Luke 24:27; John 5:46). Therefore, during Rosh Hashanah, also called the Day of Judgment (יוֹם הַדִּין), we listen to the sound of the shofar (ram's horn) to remind us of the provision of Lamb of God given in place of Isaac.

Rosh Hashanah Torah Readings

The Torah portion for the first day of Rosh HaShanah is about the birth of Issac, and the portion for the second day is on the Akedah, or the sacrifice of Isaac at Moriah. The Musaf (additional service) includes extra benedictions added to the normal Amidah, emphasizing God's Kingship, the remembrance of our days, and the call of the shofar to usher in the Messianic Kingdom at the end of days.
 

Yom Tov

Torah Reading

Haftarah

Brit Chadashah

Rosh Hashanah
Day 1

Genesis 21:1-34;
Numbers 29:1-6

1 Samuel 1:1-2:10

1 Thess 4:13-18;
1 Cor 15:51-54

Rosh Hashanah
Day 2

Genesis 22:1-22:24; Numbers 29:1-6

Jeremiah 31:1-19

1 Thess 4:13-18;
1 Cor 15:51-54




 


 




Shabbat Shuvah - שַׁבַּת שׁוּבָה


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, Sept. 20th at sundown... ]

09.17.17  (Elul 26, 5777)   The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and the solemn fast of Yom Kippur is the very first of the new year, called Shabbat Shuvah (שַׁבַּת שׁוּבָה) - that is, "the Sabbath of Return."  It is called "shuvah" because the Haftarah (i.e., Hosea 14:1) begins, Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha (שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ): "Return, O Israel, unto the LORD your God!"  As the very first Shabbat of the new year, Shabbat Shuvah is intended to "set the tone" for the "Days of Awe" leading up to the great Day of Atonement.
 

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
 כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ

shu·vah · Yis·ra·el · ad · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha,
ki · kha·shal·ta · ba·a·vo·ne·kha

 

"Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity."
(Hosea 14:1)



Download Study Card
 

Note the Hebrew grammar in this verse: "Return (שׁוּבָה), O Israel, until (עַד) the LORD is your God" (Hos. 14:1). We are called to repent until the LORD becomes "your God," that is, until you completely surrender yourself to His presence and love. You return as you "set the Lord always before you" and know him in all your ways (Psalm 16:8; Prov. 3:6).

Shanah Tovah, and may you be inscribed in the Lamb's book of life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים אֲשֶׁר לַשֶּׂה) for good, friends! Shalom in Yeshua our Lord.
 




Parashat Ha'Azinu (האזינו)


 

[ Our Torah portion for this week (Ha'azinu) is always read during the High Holidays... ]

09.17.17  (Elul 26, 5777)   In last week's Torah reading (i.e., Nitzavim-Vayeleich), the LORD told Moses that after his death the Israelites would "go after foreign gods" and break covenant with Him. Because of this, God instructed Moses to teach the people a prophetic song (שיר נבואי) called the "Ha'azinu" that foretold Israel's history (past, present, and the future redemption) and warned the people not to stray from the path that the LORD had clearly instructed them (Deut. 31:19-22). Structured in the style of an "oracle," parashat Ha'azinu (הַאֲזִינוּ) contains Moses' final words of prophecy given to the Israelites before he ascended Mount Nebo to die...

We read the Ha'azinu every year during the High Holidays. In the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll), the song is written in a stylized two-column format with extra spaces. Each line of the shirah (song) is matched by a second, parallel unit (see picture, below).

haazinu. Aleppo Codex
 

The Ha'azinu reminds us that who we listen to ultimately decides our fate. It begins, "Give ear, O heavens (הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם), and I will speak, and let the earth hear (וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ) the words of my mouth" (Deut. 32:1). The word ha'azinu (הַאֲזִינוּ) comes from verb azan (אָזַנ), as does the Hebrew word for "ear" (i.e., ozen: אזֶן). The Midrash Rabbah says that the ear (אזֶן) gives life to all the organs of the body.  How so? By listening (שׁמע, shema) to the Torah. This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "Faith comes from listening to the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The Word of God (דְּבַר־אֱלהִים) is our very life, friends...
 




The Day of Creation...


 

[ Tonight at sundown marks Elul 25, the Day of Creation... ]

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   In Jewish tradition, Yom Teruah / Rosh Hashanah marks the creation of Adam and the birth of human consciousness in the universe, though the primordial yehi ohr (יְהִי אוֹר) of creation actually began six days earlier, on Elul 25th (the anniversary of which begins this evening at sunset). Nevertheless the Redemption and our teshuvah (return) was the plan of God before the world was conceived, as it says, "Before the mountains were born, or you brought the world into being, you were the Eternal One who says, "Return (שׁוּבוּ), O sons of man" (Psalm 90:2-3). The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world (καταβολῆς κόσμου), and God clothed humanity in divine sacrifice from the very beginning (Gen. 3:15,21; Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:20). The Waters of Life (מַיִם חַיִּים) flow from the original orchard of Eden to the world to come (Gen. 2:10; Rev. 22:1). God subjected creation "to vanity" to reveal his greatness as he descended into its depths to return and restore all things to himself (Rom. 8:20; Eph. 1:10). The LORD entered space-time as the Son of Man, the "Ultimate Adam" (ὁ ἔσχατος ᾽Αδὰμ) to become our Savior and Healer (1 Cor. 15:22, 1 Cor. 15:45-49). He came to reveal "the face of God" to us in Messiah (2 Cor. 4:6). God's first question to lost man is "ayeka" (אַיֶּכָּה), "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9). Yeshua "descended in order to ascend" so that we may find God's compassion, love and healing through his mesirat nefesh (מְסִירַת נֶפֵשׁ) – his total sacrifice of body and soul – for the sake of returning us to God.
 




About Hebrew for Christians...


 

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   Some people seem to be under the impression that Hebrew for Christians is a "large ministry" with a lot of resources and a staff of people. They might be surprised to discover, however, that it is a ministry of just one person (with a patient wife) who labors in infirmity and pain to freely share what he learns from God with others... The LORD has shown great mercy to me, friends, precisely because he delights to take the weak things of this world to overthrow the mighty, and he takes the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. Yea, God chooses the base things, things which are despised, the things that are regarded as nothing to this world, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no one may glory in his presence. Indeed, everything we have comes from God through Yeshua our Lord (1 Cor. 1:27-30). God's grace is more than enough; his power is revealed in weakness; therefore my pain leads me to the Comforter: "for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10). As the Apostle Paul said, "by the grace of God I am what I am (χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι): and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain..." (1 Cor. 15:10). Our sufficiency, brothers and sisters, is of God. He is both able and willing to keep us unto the very end. "For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Rom. 14:8).

"Let the people make me a sacred place (מִקְדָּשׁ) that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). But what is this place other than need of the heart? The materials of the sanctuary come from "freewill offerings" (נְדָבוֹת), which derive from the inner yearning of the soul... We offer our hearts up to God, and the Lord, in his great mercy, fills us with faith, hope, and love. Our spiritual need for God is his habitation with us; our hunger and thirst for healing and life is a gift from heaven (Matt. 5:6). Our blessed desperation impels us to pray because we cannot help praying.  At its deepest level, prayer is not about asking but receiving; it is not so much appealing to God as it is allowing God to appeal to us...

Do you have the "gift of holy desperation"? That's the special blessing of needing God so viscerally that you otherwise will fall apart or self-destruct apart from His daily intervention in your life... Do you sense your need for deliverance "in the kishkes," that is, in your gut? Do you pray because your very life depends on it? The Torah says that the fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free: As Job yearned: "All the days of my warfare I hope, until my change will come" (Job 14:14).

So what shall we do in the meantime, as we live in the "already-not-yet" realm of faith? In many ways we are of little faith.  We are anxious, wounded, and much within us awaits healing. So we turn to God again and again, up to 70 x 70 times, if necessary, and keep seeking, despite ourselves. We learn to "endure ourselves" and tolerate our own imperfections, forgiving ourselves, for as long as we pretend that we are not subject to the faults common to others, we are liable to be controlled by them. Above all believe in God's love; receive the truth that you are accepted despite your unacceptability because of Yeshua (Eph. 1:6). Therefore make it the refrain of your heart to affirm, "LORD, I am yours..."

Let me wish you all "Shabbat Shalom" and "L'Shanah Tovah b'shem Yeshua Adoneinu," dear friends. Please remember this ministry in your prayers, too, as I make every effort to keep you up to date with the prophetic calendar and the themes of Torah as they reveal our Savior and LORD Yeshua. Thank you so much.
 




Rosh Hashanah Home Celebration...


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wed. September 20th at sundown... ]

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   To prepare for a Rosh Hashanah home evening celebration, you will need a few basic things. Minimally you will need a couple holiday candles, a kiddush cup, some grape juice, challah (holiday bread), a few apples and honey, and a pomegranate... You will also need a shofar to sound at the end of the meal. For best results you should plan your meal, arrange your table, and decide which order things should go.... Here is a very general overview of the steps for our Rosh Hashanah Seder:
 

  1. Recite the blessing over the candles (usually 18 mins before sundown)
  2. Do kiddush over the wine/grape juice
  3. Recite the Shehecheyanu blessing
  4. Recite the Mo'edim blessing
  5. Recite the Hamotzi blessing over the (round) challah
  6. Recite the Shema (together, under a tallit)
  7. Recite Birkat Kohanim (blessing the children)
  8. Wish one another L'shanah tovah! Sing some holiday songs
  9. Sit at the table for the holiday meal
  10. Follow the simamin service (blessings over selected foods)
  11. Serve and eat the holiday meal together
  12. Recite (an abbreviated) Birkat Hamazon - giving thanks to God for the meal
  13. Recite blessings for the new year; taste apples and honey; pomegranate
  14. Recite the Shofar blessing and hear the shofar (at least 100 blasts for the evening)
    • Tekiah [1 blast]
    • Shevarim [3 wailing blasts]
    • Teruah [at least 9 staccato blasts]
    • Tekiah Gedolah [1 very long blast]

        Listen to the Shofar
       

We usually serve matzah ball soup or tzimmes, fresh salad, and a main course such as pomegranate chicken over rice with some green beans. During the holiday meal we also eat some "ceremonial foods" (i.e., simanim) and recite Hebrew blessings over these "first tastes" of the new year... For example we will eat a few almonds, some beets, a bite of fish, a nosh of star fruit, and of course apple and honey (tapu'ach udvash) for dessert. Please understand that you don't "have" to do any of this (though it is a blessing if it's done in the right spirit).  If you are new to all this or feeling anxious, my heartfelt advice is to follow the path of peace - our Lord doesn't lay heavy burdens on us but lightness and grace... Shalom.

For more information, see the Hebrew for Christians Rosh Hashanah Seder Guide.
 




High Holiday Mercies...


 

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   Rosh Hashanah is called Yom Ha-Din (יוֹם הַדִּין), the Day of Judgment, whereas Yom Kippur is called Yom Ha-Rachamim (יוֹם הָרַחֲמִים), or the Day of Mercies, which suggests that God is first revealed as our Creator and Judge before He is known as our merciful Savior. This is hinted in the two accounts of creation, where God is first revealed as Elohim (Gen. 1:1), but later is revealed as YHVH (יהוה) when He breathed life into man nishmat chayim, the breath of life (Gen. 2:4). As believers in Yeshua, we have all the more reason to rejoice on Rosh Hashanah, since at the cross Yeshua took upon Himself our judgment to give us everlasting mercy from God!

Note:  This is why we must hear the verdict of the law before we are able to understand God's mercy and grace... Without holiness and a sense of our own need for deliverance from sin, the message of salvation makes little traction in our lives. Therefore teachers like Charles Spurgeon said preach 90% law and 10% grace. The cross makes no sense apart from the law; blood was applied to the Kapporet on the Ark that held the Ten Commandments, etc.
 




Your Own Judgment Day...


 

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   The central theme of Rosh Hashanah is to recall that God is our Creator, our King, and therefore our righteous Judge. And since our souls were created by God, each of us has the duty to serve Him as our King and live before Him as our Judge. Since the LORD is the God of Truth (יהוה אֵל אֱמֶת) who cannot attest to a lie, every person who has ever lived will necessarily face judgment one day (Heb. 9:27).

There is a midrash about a dialog between Adam and God after Adam's banishment from the Garden of Eden. Adam feared that all humans would later blame him for their mortality, but God replied, "Don't worry about the others. From now on, each soul will be responsible for giving account of his or her life. Each person is required to write his or her own 'Book of Life.' On the Day of Judgment, I simply ratify what has been written."

Indeed, the Scriptures reveal that there are heavenly "books" that contain detailed records of all that we did (or did not do) during our time here on earth: "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים). And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done" (Rev. 20:12).

Today you are writing the "Book of your Life." Every action you make - every thought, every decision, every deed - is being "recorded" in the archives of Heaven itself. When your soul returns to account for itself before God one day, this "book" will be opened before the Judge of the Universe. As Yeshua said, "on the Day of Judgment (יוֹם הַדִּין) people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι, lit. "give back") every idle word they speak (Matt 12:36). The story of your life will be replayed before all of heaven itself...

Every one of us will give account of our lives. In Matthew 25:14-30, Yeshua used a parable to indicate what this reckoning will be like. After distributing "talents" to three different servants, a certain "employer" left on a long journey. When he finally returned, he wanted his servants to account for the use of their talents, so he called them to "settle accounts with them" (Matt. 25:19). This phrase "settle accounts" (συναίρει λόγον) means to compare things, to look closely at the records to determine profit or loss to a business, and is therefore similar to the idea of a financial audit.  In the parable, the employer considered the state of his business and then called each of his servants in to stand before him for a summary review.  Likewise, each of us will be called to stand before the Lord to give account for his or her life. Those who used their talent for the promotion of the Kingdom will be rewarded, but those who wasted their opportunities will not (1 Cor. 3:12-15).

Life is a serious business, friends, and it is also a test. It is "God who tests our hearts" (1 Thess. 2:4). Yeshua said, "I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds" (Rev. 2:23). We have one opportunity to live for Yeshua in this life, and the fact that we will each face a day of judgment before the LORD should sober us to sanctity. God holds us responsible for what we think and believe (Acts 17:30-31), and this implies that we have a moral and spiritual duty to think clearly and not abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). It is the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יהוה) that is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). "By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil" (Prov. 16:16). The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil (Prov. 8:13; Psalm 97:10). Sin always cheats us of the good. "Blessed is the man that endures testing: for when he has been approved (δόκιμος), he shall receive the crown of life (τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς) that the Lord has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12).

Are you living in conscious awareness that life is a test and that you will one day stand before Yeshua to give account for every detail of your life? Are you mindful of eternity and of the inevitability of your own personal judgement day?  If this causes you anxiety, what do you need to do differently in your life so that you may have confidence for that day?  "Therefore we labor... to be well pleasing to Him" (2 Cor. 5:9). We must strive to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us" in order to be unhindered in our walk with God (Heb. 12:1). May God bless you and help you, dear friend...

For more on this, see "Testing of Heart: Remembering your own Day of Judgment."
 




Why Celebrate Rosh Hashanah?


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wed. September 20th at sundown... ]

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   We celebrate Rosh Hashanah because the LORD God is the great King over all -- our Creator and Redeemer. As the psalmist puts it, God is Melech Gadol al-kol-ha'aretz, (מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ), a "great King over all the earth" (Psalm 47:2). Indeed Rosh Hashanah is a "sanctified reminder" of God's creative authority in our lives. Yeshua (Jesus) is called the Mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ), a term that denotes His Kingly dignity and royalty (this idea is unfortunately obscured by the Greek word "Christ"). Yeshua is also borei Olam - the Creator and Sustainer of all creation (Col. 1:16). He is coming to rule and reign from Jerusalem (Zion) in the near future. His followers will be judged according to their deeds of service (2 Cor. 5:10) and the world system (and Satan) will be judged during the Great Tribulation period that precedes the Second Coming. Just as the heavenly shofar was sounded from Sinai, so it will be one day sounded from Zion (Isa. 27:13).

As the only true King and Judge, God indeed has a Sefer HaChayim (Book of Life) as well as a Sefer Ha-Metim (Book of Death). The Scriptures clearly warn that on the Day of Judgment to come, anyone's name not found written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). The Kingship of our LORD should be of great interest to those who regard themselves as citizens of heaven, the dominion of our Savior and Lord (Phil. 3:20).

The New Testament links teshuvah with salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) itself.  Yeshua's first message was "Repent and believe the gospel (בְּשׂוֹרָה)" (Mark 1:15), and Paul linked teshuvah with confession and trust in the saving work of the Messiah on our behalf (Rom. 10:8-13). Teshuvah implies a response to the Person of Yeshua that is demonstrated through confession that He is none other than YHVH, the LORD of Compassion and grace. The sound of the shofar is meant to awaken our hearts and to prepare for coming judgment. 

As I've mentioned before, the Akedat Yitzchak ("Binding of Isaac") is a major theme of Rosh Hashanah. As he went to sacrifice his beloved son upon the altar at Moriah, Abraham prophetically said: "God will provide for himself the lamb" (אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה). After binding Isaac and raising the knife, however, the Angel of the LORD intervened and Abraham was given a ram as substitute. According to Jewish tradition, God told Abraham that the ram's horn (shofar) should be blown on Rosh Hashanah to remind the people of the substitutionary sacrifice provided by the LORD Himself -- an echo of the very First Sacrifice offered in Eden. How much more then should we remember the sacrifice of Yeshua the Great Lamb of God during this time? (For more information, see the article, "The Gospel in the Garden.")

Ultimately
we anticipate the prophetic fulfillment of the LORD's covenant faithfulness to Israel when we understand that Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Nora'im ("Days of Awe") foreshadow the future salvation of Israel in the days to come. This pictures the Great Tribulation and Yom Adonai - the great Day of the LORD - that arrives just before national Israel's ultimate shuvah (return). Yom Kippur is the Holiday that pictures the full restoration of Israel to all her covenant promises with Yeshua as the recognized Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the New Covenant. The new covenant will be embraced and Yeshua will be revealed as Israel's Savior and Redeemer.  Then "all Israel shall be saved" (Rom. 11:26).

 

For more on this subject, see Should Christians Celebrate Rosh Hashanah?
 




As Close as your Breath...


 

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

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   Teshuvah is our answer to God's invitation to be his beloved people... Were it not for this great gift, no one could ever withstand the force of the divine attribute of Justice. Our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Nitzvavim) describes the process of turning: "This commandment (i.e., of turning to the LORD) is not too hard for you, neither is it far off." Indeed, it is not a matter of striving to ascend to heaven, nor of fathoming the depths of the sea. No, "the word is very near to you" (כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאד) - as close as your mouth and heart so that you can do it.  If we confess the truth with our mouth and turn to God with all our heart, we find blessing and life:
 

כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם
 לא־נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלא רְחקָה הִוא
 כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאד
 בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשׂתוֹ

ki · ha·mitz·vah · haz·zot · a·sher · a·no·khi · me·tza·ve·kha · ha·yom
lo · nif·let · hi · mi·me·kha · ve·lo · re·cho·kah · hi
ki · ka·rov · e·le·kha · ha·da·var · me·od
be·fi·kha · u·vil·vav·kha · la·a·so·to
 

"For this commandment that I command you today
is not too hard for you, neither is it far off...
For the word is very near you -
it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it"
(Deut. 30:11,14)


 


It is interesting to consider how the Apostle Paul interprets Deut. 30:11-14 in Romans 10:5-8 and uses it to contrast the "righteousness which is from the law" with the "righteousness which is of faith." Paul first quotes Lev. 18:5 as a summary of the meaning of the law (you must keep the commandments in order "to live by them," i.e., you must entirely obey them to find life). He then contrasts the "righteousness which is from the law" with the "righteousness which is of faith." Only God can bridge the gap between heaven and earth. When Paul quotes Deut. 30:14, i.e., "But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart," he deliberately omits the last clause (i.e., "so that you can do it") precisely because we cannot "do it," i.e., keep the commandments. The "word of faith" is the message that God's righteousness now comes through Messiah's work for us, and the confession of faith ascribes salvation to be "of the LORD," not based on our own works of righteousness. "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim) because, if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Rom. 10:8-10).
 




Circumcision of Heart....


 

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

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (Nitzavim) says "the LORD your God will circumcise your heart (וּמָל יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ אֶת־לְבָבְךָ) and the heart of your offspring" (Deut. 30:6), and yet earlier Moses had admonished, "you shall circumcise the block of your heart" (Deut. 10:6). So which is it? Does God circumcise the heart or do we? The answer is of course both: you must make a beginning by opening your heart to God's word, though only God has the power to enable you to "love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." When you turn to God and open your heart to Him, God will remove the blockage of your heart so that your other relationships might be healed as well. Therefore "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13).

‎"It is enough to open your heart the smallest amount - even the width of a pin head - to repent, so that you feel a prick within your heart, like a piercing sting in living tissue, not like a needle thrust into dead flesh" (Menachem Mendel of Kotzk).
 




The Wisdom of Teshuvah...


 

Our Torah portion this week, parashat Nitzavim, is always read on the last Shabbat of the year, since it describes the process of repentance (i.e., teshuvah)... ]

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   It is written in Kohelet:  הֶחָכָם עֵינָיו בְּראשׁוֹ - "the wise person's eyes are in his head," וְהַכְּסִיל בַּחשֶׁךְ הוֹלֵךְ- "but the arrogant person walks in darkness" (Eccl. 2:14). The sages here comment that the wise one always looks to the Divine Presence, taking heed to "know what is above: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book" (Avot 2:1). The wise person keeps God in his thoughts and the light of Truth illuminates his understanding. This is the way of teshuvah – turning our affections and thoughts heavenward at all times. Our Torah portion this week (Nitzavim) says, "You are standing this day before the Lord your God" (Deut. 29:10), and therefore may we know before Whom we stand and may we be filled with the light of divine truth. Amen.
 

זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים
חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּיק

za·rach · ba·cho·shekh · ohr · lai·sha·rim
chan·nun · ve·ra·chum · ve·tzad·dik
 

"Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
He is gracious, merciful, and righteous."
(Psalm 112:4)



Hebrew Study Card

 




The Shepherd's Call...

SadaoWatanabe
 

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray" (Matt. 18:12-13). Though it involves sorrow, and the pain of being lost, repentance is ultimately about finding joy, and when we return to God, we have reason to rejoice. The Good Shepherd says, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:6-7). The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost: "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out... I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the banished, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the sick..." (Ezek. 34:11,15-16).

Despite the struggles we sometimes face, let me wish you the peace of God that passes all understanding, that inner peace that comes when we surrender ourselves to the love of God given in Yeshua our LORD. Shabbat Shalom, friends!
 




Love's Confession...


 

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

09.15.17  (Elul 24, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week we read: "The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" (Deut. 30: 14). What "word" is this other than the confession of faith in the LORD? Faith is the key, since it responds to God's voice and receives the message of hope within the heart... Faith is a matter of the will: of choosing to receive the blessing, accepting that you are accepted, and trusting God's passion for your life. "Consider Abraham; he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Gal. 3:6). Faith itself is the obedience of Torah, the necessary precondition for all that follows. "I am the LORD your God" (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) is the very First Commandment.  When we turn to the LORD, we esteem him as truthful, just, wise, compassionate, and worthy of our trust. "Let us then with confidence (μετὰ παρρησίας) draw near to the throne of grace (כִּסֵּא הֶחָסֶד), that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).

The students of the maggid of Zlotchov once asked him, "In the Torah we read that our father Abraham kept all the laws (Gen. 26:5), but how could this be, since they had not yet been given to him?" The maggid replied, "All that is needed is to love God. If you are about to do something and you think it might lessen your love, then you know it's a sin; but if you think it will increase your love, then you know it's in keeping with God's will. That's what Abraham did." Amen. Faith is the confession of God's love. Abraham was justified by faith because he trusted in God's love more than anything else, and that is the essence of Torah. "Now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13).
 




Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 20th at sundown... ]

09.14.17  (Elul 23, 5777)   Though the term "Rosh Hashanah" (lit., "the head of the year") does not occur in the written Torah, the first day of the 7th month (i.e., Tishri 1) is specifically to be set apart by special shofar blowing (see Lev. 23:24-25, Num. 29:1-2). Furthermore, the Torah calls the end of the harvest year (in the fall) tzeit ha'shanah (צֵאת הַשָּׁנָה), or the "end of the year" (see Exod. 23:16), which likewise suggests the start of a coming new year. Notice, then, the symmetry of the calendar: the fall festivals "mirror" the spring festivals and spiritually correspond to one another. Just as there is a "new year" in the spring, during the new moon of Nisan, so there is a "new year" in the fall, during the new moon of Tishri, the seventh month... In other words, on the calendar Rosh Chodashim corresponds with Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה). That is why we make teruot (תְּרוּעוֹת), or "shouts of thanks" to God in anticipation of the fulfillment of the final redemption during the End of Days.

It may be wondered why we focus so much on repentance (i.e., teshuvah) during this time of year, since repentance is an ongoing lifestyle for the follower of Messiah. Now while it is certainly true that confession of sin and teshuvah are commanded by God throughout the Scriptures (see Lam. 3:40; Haggai 1:5; Psalm 119:59; Matt. 7:3-5, Gal. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 11:28, 2 Cor. 13:5, James 5:16, 1 John 1:8-9, etc.), the custom of setting aside 40 days each year recalls how Moses ascended Sinai on Elul 1 and came down forty days later, on Tishri 10, a date later commemorated as "Yom Kippur" or the Day of Atonement. And since Moses ascended in brokenness and the covenant was renewed during this time, the forty days are considered an appointed time or season to likewise confess our sins and turn to God, especially if we understand all this in light of truth of the gospel message. Rosh Hashanah reminds us of the Kingship of God and how we will stand before the Throne of Judgment (kisei ha-din) to give account for our lives to God (see 2 Cor. 5:10), just as Yom Kippur reminds us of the Priesthood of God and how our atonement is eternally secured by Yeshua as the Kohen Gadol of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:12). The Akedat Yitzchak ("Binding of Isaac") is a major theme of the High Holidays. As he went to sacrifice his beloved son upon the altar at Moriah, Abraham prophetically said: "God will provide for himself the lamb" (אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה). After binding Isaac and raising the knife, however, the Angel of the LORD intervened and Abraham was given a ram as substitute. According to Jewish tradition, God told Abraham that the ram's horn (shofar) should be blown on Rosh Hashanah (and also on Yom Kippur) to remind the people of the substitutionary sacrifice provided by the LORD Himself at Moriah (i.e., the lamb offered Isaac's place), an event which would foretell the coming the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

For more on this subject, see Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?
 




Root of Bitterness...


 

09.14.17  (Elul 23, 5777)   From our Torah this week (Nitzavim) we read, "perhaps there is among you a root that bears poison and bitterness" (Deut. 29:18). The Kotzker rebbe commented here that much bitterness comes precisely from this "perhaps" (פֶּן־יֵשׁ). When you stand back from the word of Torah and question whether it is something you should heed, you are halfhearted and ambivalent, and this may lead to bitterness regarding serving God. On the other hand, when Israel was asked whether they would accept the Torah, they replied "na'aseh v'nishmah," we will do and (then) we will understand, recognizing that the act of will is central for understanding (Exod. 24:7). Carnal human nature wants to know the reason for obedience - the pragmatic payoff, if you will - but that is not the way of faith. It is written: הַנִּסְתָּרת לַיהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ - "the hidden things are for the LORD our God" (Deut. 29:29), meaning such are not disclosed by reasoning but are revealed to the heart. God sees in secret and knows the inner workings of our affections (Prov. 17:3; Psalm 66:10, etc.).
 

אֲנִי יְהוָה חקֵר לֵב בּחֵן כְּלָיוֹת
וְלָתֵת לְאִישׁ כִּדְרָכָיו כִּפְרִי מַעֲלָלָיו

a·ni · Adonai · cho·ker · lev · bo·chen · ke·la·yot
ve·la·tet · le·ish · kid·ra·khav · kif·ri · ma·a·la·lav
 

"I the LORD search the heart and test the mind,
to give every man as to his ways, as to the fruit of his deeds."
(Jer. 17:10)

 




A Stubborn Faith...



 

09.14.17  (Elul 23, 5777)   During the "Season of Repentance" we read from the Torah of how Moses appealed to God: "If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance" (Exod. 34:9). Note the "holy audacity" of Moses' request as he seems to say that because the people were "stiff-necked" (קְשֵׁה־ערֶף), God should draw close to them and forgive their sin. Of course stubborn rebellion against God is always wrong, but here Moses points to a different aspect of stubbornness – the solemn determination of the will that refuses to let go of hope in God. This the "strong hold" Jacob put upon the Angel of the LORD that moved God to impart to him the name "Israel" (Gen. 32:26-28). A persevering hope refuses to let go of God until it receives the blessing... Indeed, such earnest faith pleases God: it holds firmly to the conviction of things unseen and refuses to let go of the substance of hope (Heb. 11:1,6). As David, a man "after" God's heart once said: echat sha'alti me'at Adonai (אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יְהוָה) "one thing have I asked of the LORD," otah avakesh (אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ) that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4). Therefore make it the refrain of your heart to affirm, "LORD, I am yours..."
 




Kuma Na - Please arise!


 

09.14.17  (Elul 23, 5777)   It was an old custom that on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, just a few minutes before midnight, the town shamash would go through the neighborhood, rapping three times on each door shouting, Kuma na! - "Please arise to serve the Creator!"  And everyone would quickly assemble for selichot (i.e., penitential) prayers. The appeal to the revelation of the Name YHVH (יהוה) and the 13 attributes of God's mercy is the central theme of the midnight prayer service...

Contrary to what you might expect, the recitation of the traditional selichot (i.e., the 'A' to 'Z' confession of sins) is recited with joy, based on a passage from the Torah which says that we are punished "because we do not serve God with rejoicing and a full heart" (Deut. 28:47). The essence of joy is a sense of well-being and gratitude that comes from trusting in God's love. This is implied in the bikkurim (firstfruits) ceremony that we read about last week. We are commanded to take our "first fruits," go to the Temple, and express our thanks: ve'samachta bekhol ha-tov asher natan lekha (וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל־הַטּוֹב אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לְךָ) - "you will celebrate for all the good God has given you" (Deut. 26:11). Ultimately we find lasting joy when we trust that we are truly loved, forgiven, and accepted -- despite the long litany of our sins... Therefore we find consolation and joy in the salvation given in Yeshua our LORD, who gave up His life so that we could be accepted by God.
 




Teshuvah's Lament...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

09.14.17  (Elul 23, 5777)   While it's true that we express sorrow and regret for our sins - we mourn over our lives - this is part of the healing process, with the end result of obtaining comfort from God (Matt. 5:4). Mere regret over sin is not enough, however, since the motive may be from shame (pride) or disappointment over some selfish loss. Esau repented with tears, but his wasn't true repentance since he didn't lament the loss of his heart to God's love... True repentance leads to healing and life. When the woman from Magdala wept and washed Jesus' feet with her tears, he said to those present, "I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven -- for she loved much" (Luke 7:44-48). In other words, she was lavish in her love because she deeply regretted that she had missed what was most important, what she desperately needed all along... She saw her sin as blindness to God's love... After all, why would she weep over her sins unless she loved him? And how could she love him unless he first revealed his love to her? (1 John 4:19)

"For grief (λύπη) as intended by God produces a repentance (תְּשׁוּעָה) that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly grief produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10). Ultimately, however, there is great consolation to the sinner who turns to God in the truth: "A person reposes in the forgiveness of sins when the thought of God no longer reminds him of the sin, but of the fact that it is forgiven, so that what is past is not a recollection of how much he offended, but of how much he has been forgiven.... Eternal justice can and will forget in only one way - through forgiveness in Christ - but then, of course, the believer must not forget and must steadfastly recollect that it is forgiven him." (Kierkegaard, Journals)
 




Hashivenu Adonai...


 

[ Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 20th at sundown this year... ]

09.14.17  (Elul 23, 5777)   The Book of Lamentations is an "acrostic"(i.e., alphabetical) poem that begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph (א) in the word "eichah" (אֵיכָה), a word which also identifies the Hebrew name for the book. "How (eichah) lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (Lam. 1:1). The classical sages note that this word "how (i.e., eichah) could also be read as "where are you?" (i.e., ayeka: אַיֶּכָּה), God's first word spoken to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden of Eden. Our heart's problem centers on the failure to respond to God's question, that is, our failure to return to Him... The Hebrew word hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ) comes from the verb shuv (שׁוּב), "turn," from which the word teshuvah is derived. When the reader reaches the second to last verse of the scroll, "Hashivenu," he or she pauses and the congregation recites the verse in unison: Hashivenu Adonai, eleykha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu ke'kedem: "Return us to you, O LORD, and we shall return; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21). Amen, and may we turn our hearts this day...
 

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

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

"Return us to you, O LORD, and we shall return;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

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

    "Repentance specifically expresses that evil essentially belongs to me, and at the same time expresses that it does not essentially belong to me" (Kierkegaard: Either/Or)

 




Teshuvah and Humility...

Georges Rouault - Jesus
 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

09.14.17  (Elul 23, 5777)   Concerning the theme of teshuvah, or "repentance," we read: "For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever, whose Name is Holy (קָדוֹשׁ): "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly (i.e., ruach shefalim: רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים), and to revive the heart of the crushed" (i.e., lev nidka'im: לֵב נִדְכָּאִים) [Isa. 57:15]. Here we learn that God gives life (revives) to those who are "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on God for life... Indeed, the "heart of the crushed" (לֵב נִדכֶּה) refers to being crushed "to the dust" -- the same word (dakka: דַּכָּא) is used to describe how Yeshua was "crushed for our iniquities" (see Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life "Zerrissenheit," a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray... From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, "dakka" refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's unmerited favor and love for our souls.  We humbly identify with the death of Messiah offered on our behalf; we find healing and acceptance in the Presence of the One who was torn to pieces and made dust for our merit. Humility (עֲנָוָה) is essential to awareness of God in the truth. Shuvah Yisrael!
 

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

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

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



Download Study Card
 

Note: Thank you all so much for remembering this ministry in your prayers, for without your help, I couldn't do this work. May the LORD our God's blessing be upon you...
 




Sweeter than Honey...


 

09.13.17  (Elul 22, 5777)   The sages connect the joy of offering first fruits with the study of Torah (לימוד תורה), since the phrase "You shall take from the first" (i.e., וְלָקַחְתָּ מֵרֵאשִׁית, Deut. 26:2) alludes to the Torah, which is called "the first part" (רֵאשִׁית) of our wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7, Prov. 9:10). In the world to come, the first thing you will be asked is if you had learned the wisdom and truth of Torah, especially as it is revealed in Yeshua.... "Blessed ("happy") is the person who ... delights in the Torah of the LORD and meditates upon it day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2). If you find studying and living the truth of Scripture joyless, then be careful that you don't drift into spiritual exile. Rightly understanding Torah leads to joy: "Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts" (Jer. 15:16).
 

נִמְצְאוּ דְבָרֶיךָ וָאכְלֵם
וַיְהִי דְבָרֶיךָ לִי לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחַת לְבָבִי
כִּי־נִקְרָא שִׁמְךָ עָלַי יְהוָה אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת

nim·tze·u · de·va·re·kha · va·o·khe·lem
vai·hi · de·va·re·kha · li · le·sa·son · ul· sim·chat · le·va·vi
ki-nik·ra · shim·kha · a·lai · Adonai · Elohei · Tze·va·ot
 

"Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your Name, O LORD, God of hosts."
(Jer. 15:16)


Amen! Study to show yourself approved before God. As it is written in the Psalms: "The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:130).
 




In the Face of Yeshua...


 

09.13.17  (Elul 22, 5777)   There is an old legend (from Midrash Tanhuma) that the Torah was written with letters of "black fire on white fire" (i.e., "the flame alphabet"). According to some, this refers to the "two Torahs" -- the white fire is the "written Torah" (she-bikhtav) whereas the black fire is the "oral Torah" (she-b'al peh). A similar point could be made about the unvoweled text of the Hebrew script found in the Tanakh. God provides the consonants, but it is the Spirit that breathes life into the text (i.e., the vowels).  Likewise the Apostle Paul calls the Sinai covenant "the ministry of death (διακονία τοῦ θανάτου) carved in letters on stone" that came through the meditation of Moses (2 Cor. 3:7-8). It takes the gift of the Holy Spirit to breathe (רוּחַ) these words into our hearts (John 20:21-22). And though the Sinai covenant was indeed glorious (as evidenced by the Shekhinah glow upon Moses' face), compared with the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, it was a glory that was covered with a veil (מַסְוֶה) because it was fading away and "being brought to an end" (καταργέω). God's abiding provision for our need is revealed in the face of Jesus, not in the fading glory of the brit yashanah - the older covenant (2 Cor 3:4-18; Matt. 17:8). God now speaks from a different mountain "in Son" (ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ), that is, in the message of Yeshua the Savior of the world (Heb. 1:2). Unlike Moses -- who veiled his face to hide the fact that the glory of the former covenant of Sinai was indeed fading away - "we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:12-4:1). Each of us, like Moses, must ascend the mountain of Zion to behold the Glory of God: "And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Yeshua only" (Matt. 17:8).

 




The Law of Messiah...


 

09.13.17  (Elul 22, 5777)   Yeshua warned, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt. 7:21-23). Notice here that Yeshua did not rehearse the Ten Commandments or mention "halachic" aspects of the law of Moses, but instead focused on the deeds of those who claimed to be His followers. We are to be judged according to His word, His Torah, His law... The Greek word translated "lawlessness" is anomia (i.e., ἀνομία, lit. a=without; nomos=law) and refers to the condition of "freely" and consciously rejecting Gods' will.  These are people of whom King David said, "Let them be ashamed who are gratuitously faithless (הַבּוֹגְדִים רֵיקָם) (Psalm 25:3). In context, then, anomia refers to those who merely give lip service to obeying the Messiah but who are spiritual impostors. It is a category mistake to think that Yeshua here referred to those who disregarded the lawcode of Moses. Surely those who "do the will of the Father" are those who put their trust in Yeshua (John 6:40; Matt. 12:50; Gal. 1:4). Attempting to refer the idea of "lawlessness" (anomia) to refer to violating the lawcode of Moses is therefore absurd and fallacious. God's will is for people to repent and believe the message of His salvation given through His Son (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; 2 Pet. 3:9, etc.). Any "Torah" that denies this great truth is therefore a false torah that leads to death.... "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life" (1 John 5:12). "Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24).

The "law of Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) is to humbly love others in the truth (John 14:15; 15:12, Gal. 6:2, etc.). This is not some mawkish sentimentality that is devoid of practical obedience. No, as Bonhoeffer also wrote, "Only those who obey can believe, and only those who believe can obey" (Cost of Discipleship, 80).  Faith and works are really two sides of the same coin: the heart of the law is the law of the gospel.  Indeed, taking up the cross and truly following Yeshua sets a higher standard than what "Torah observance" demands and can produce (e.g., Matt. 5:20). The inner is not the outer. It is the love of Yeshua that fulfills the law and its demands (Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8; 1 Tim. 1:5). All the various civil, moral, and religious rules of Torah were intended to help us get someplace - to be in a loving relationship with God and others - but it takes the Holy Spirit to transform the human heart.  As Yeshua told us, "the kingdom of heaven is within you" (Luke 17:21). It is therefore a mistake to revert back to the lawcode of Moses since it was never intended to become an end in itself (Rom. 10:4; 1 Cor. 7:23; Col. 2:20-23). The goal of the law was to bring us into an authentic relationship with the LORD through the miracle of spiritual rebirth. Our destiny is to live as "priests and kings" before the Him forever (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). "For freedom Messiah has set us free; stand firm (στήκετε), therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1).
 




Walking in the Spirit...


 

09.12.17  (Elul 21, 5777)   It is the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) that gives us life and who breathes the true meaning of Torah into our hearts. "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18). That is, you are no longer to be constrained by either legalism or lawlessness, since "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is power" to please God.  The Spirit sets us free from the seduction of both legalism and debauchery (Gal. 3:1-2; Eph. 5:18). When we are led by the Spirit, we rely upon God's provision to walk in a way that pleases Him. On the other hand, when we rely on the "flesh," we are operating under the principle of our own (in)ability to please God, which invariably leads to pride (legalism) or profligacy (anti-legalism) - and sometimes to both. Therefore we see that role of the "law" is often connected with the "flesh," but the role of the Spirit is connected with life and power...

Walking in the Spirit (i.e., trusting in God's salvation) does not lead to lawlessness but rather fulfills the righteousness of the law in us through faith (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16). Christians live under the "law of liberty" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת), though this obviously does not mean the supposed "freedom" to become enslaved to sin again (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 2:16). On the contrary, the law of liberty implies that we are made free from the "law of sin and death" (i.e., the futile principle of self-justification) in order to serve God in newness of life. As the Apostle James uses this term, it is the power to act on the truth that has been given to you. We are to be "doers" of the Word, and not hearers only, since faith without works is dead and leads to self-deception (lit., "reasoning around" the truth, i.e., παραλογίζομαι, from παρά, "around, beside" and λογίζομαι, "to reason"). Only those who follow through and live their faith will be blessed in their actions (James 1:25). This mirrors Yeshua's statement, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17). This is the "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ). We are no longer enslaved to the power of sin but have a new principle of life that leads us to true freedom.  After all, true freedom doesn't mean doing whatever you want, but rather means the power to choose contrary to the demands of your lower nature. We "put off" the old self and "put on" the new (Eph. 4:22-24). It is the divinely imparted "new nature" that gives us the power to "put to death" the old self by reckoning it crucified with Messiah (Gal. 2:19-20). Obedience to this Torah leads to further revelation, just as disobedience to it leads to further darkness (Matt. 13:12). Yeshua is only the "Author of Eternal Salvation" for those who heed and obey Him (Heb. 5:9). "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25).
 




The Sickness of Death...


 

09.12.17  (Elul 21, 5777)   If we focus on the outer symptoms of sin, such as covetousness, lust, rage, pride, envy, gluttony, and so on, we may lose sight of the underlying or "root" problem, which is the lethal condition known as "spiritual death" (מָוֶת נִצחִי). Whenever I encounter someone who demands that I justify their sinful lifestyle, I don't argue the moral issues or appeal to personal righteousness as a better way to live. No, I consider all that a distraction from the real issue, namely, the question of whether the person has dealt with matters of eternity and made real his or her peace with God. After all, the thief on the cross had no time to attempt to reform his character, and all that was necessary was for him to abandon himself in trust, inwardly clinging to God's promise for life in Yeshua. The only significant issue is whether a person is reborn from above, regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, or whether they are still living in "samsara," the "wheel of sin and death." There are many people in churches today who refrain from outward signs of sin: they forswear smoking, drinking, cussing, and sexual immorality, and so on, yet they remain spiritually dead because they have never dealt with the radical issue of their own lethal spiritual condition. Faith in God's righteousness transcends the weakness of the law (caused by the sickness of the human condition) by imparting a new principle (or law) called the law of the Spirit of Life: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua Messiah (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ) has set you free from the law of sin and death (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת)" (Rom. 8:2).

Yeshua said that everyone who commits sin is a "slave" to their sin nature (the word translated "slave" is doulos (δοῦλός), from the verb δέω, "to bind"). If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36). This is the "exchanged life" principle. When you are spiritual free, you are no longer a slave to: 1) the eternal sickness of spiritual death itself; 2) uncontrollable lusts and the demands of the lower nature (Rom. 6:12-14; Eph. 4:22-23; Gal. 2:20), 3) untrue and harmful thoughts (John 8:32; 1 Cor. 2:16; Col. 2:8), 4) fear - even the fear of death itself (1 John 4:18; Heb. 2:15); 5) the vanity of the world system and its godless pressures (1 John 2:16-17; Col. 2:20; Rom. 12:1-2); 6) various forms of pride and cultural identity (Phil. 3:1-11; Gal. 3:28); 7) Satan's power (1 John 3:8; Luke 10:19); 8) the curse of the law and the just penalty for our sins (Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24), and so on.  Being set free by Yeshua does not imply that we will be sinless (James 5:16, 1 John 1:8-9), but it does imply that the root connection we have to sin has been irreparably severed. Often maturity means "catching up" with what God has already done for you in the Holy Spirit...
 




Teshuvah and Sin...


 

09.12.17  (Elul 21, 5777)   Many people minimize the idea of sin because they fail to recognize it as life-threatening, lethal, and spiritually disastrous.  Sin (and its justification in our lives) cuts us off from God, however, and that invariably leads to a sense of existential dread (Isa. 59:2; Ezek. 18:4). "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23), and that means those who practice sin are considered "dead" even while alive (Berachot 18a-b).  Tragically, sin can lead to the dreadful punishment of karet (כָּרֵת), being "cut off" from any awareness of the Truth. Regarding this the sages note that the Hebrew word for sin, chet (חַטְא), is written with a silent Aleph (א) because when we sin, the Master and LORD (אַלּוּף) is present, because without his power no one could lift his hand to do anything great or small. Here we note the terrible reality that our sin is witnessed by God himself, a pain that pierces his very heart.
 

נַחְפְּשָׂה דְרָכֵינוּ וְנַחְקרָה
וְנָשׁוּבָה עַד־יְהוָה

nach·pe·sah  de·ra·chey·nu  ve·nach·ko·rah
ve·na·shu·vah  ad  Adonai

Click to listen... 

"Let us search and examine our ways
and turn back to the LORD!"
(Lam. 3:40)



During Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays, we examine our lives and confess our sins (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ). Though God forgives us because of Yeshua's sacrifice, we nevertheless are called to turn away from sin and draw closer to the heart of the Father (1 John 1:9; James 4:8). The cross does not give us license to sin, of course, but should awaken within us a desire to live in godly reverence by the power of God's Spirit...
 

    "Remember that the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either." - C.S. Lewis
     

 




God's Sovereign Love...


09.12.17  (Elul 21, 5777)   The Scriptures teach that in Messiah "we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined (προορισθέντες) according to the purpose of the One who works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11), which is to say that salvation is a gift from God (יְשׁוּעָתָה לַיהוָה) and not the result of our own efforts (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5). The LORD said to Moses, vechanoti et-asher achon, verichamti et-asher arachem, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exod. 33:19), a phrase Paul quoted from Torah when he said: "So then it (i.e., salvation) depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom. 9:16, John 1:13). In light of these things, examine your heart. Does this offend you? Does it bother you to think that you are essentially helpless to draw near to God by your own best efforts? "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing" (John 6:63). Our Lord plainly said that no one can come to Him - and therefore to the truth of reality – apart from divine intervention: "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ) by the Father" (John 6:44; Matt. 16:17). How could it be any other way? Could we make a "stairway to heaven" to find God?  No, God's love reaches out to us, seizes us, takes us captive, and then leads us to the Savior. The LORD chooses each one who are his; they are called the "elect" (ἐκλεκτός), and their faith is always a response (i.e., "teshuvah") to God's intervention. Now this may seem offensive because it seems to suggest that God chooses some people but not others, but that misses the point. You are given the real choice to believe in Yeshua to find life, and you are promised that whoever believes in Messiah will never be put to shame (Rom. 9:33; John 6:37; John 5:24, etc.). "Whoever will believe" means just that, and all who are invited may indeed come (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; Ezek. 18:23). Therefore the Spirit of God cries out: "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:6-7). The Savior calls out to all who are willing to hear, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 10:28-30). Though it is a mystery, we are warned to "work out" (κατεργάζεσθε) our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who "works in you" (ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν) both "to will and to work" (τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν) his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13).

The gospel is "the power of God for salvation" (δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν) to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). It is a miracle of being in a right relationship with God. We are pursued by his love, and he haunts us until we surrender to his will... During the High Holidays we will again be reading the Book of Jonah, which is appropriate because like Jonah, we first must be "swallowed up" in the consciousness of our own helplessness before we realize we are undone, and that we are without remedy apart from God's gracious intervention and deliverance. We start there - in the "belly of the fish" - and later we are resurrected to go forth by God's mercy and grace. As we look to Yeshua, as we lean on him, God reveals more of himself to us. He gives us the grace and strength we need; he is always enough...
 




Teshuvah of Forgiveness...


 

09.11.17  (Elul 20, 5777)   Yeshua taught us to pray "forgive us as we forgive others," which implies that our forgiveness (of others) is the measure of our own forgiveness. "For if you forgive others their trespasses," he said, "your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15). This is the conclusion – and the main point – of the famous Avinu Shebashamayim that begins, "Our Father who art in heaven..." Notice that the culmination of the prayer presents a conditional of the will: if you forgive others then your heavenly Father will forgive you.  There is no qualification made here, no extenuating circumstance allowed, and indeed, we are forbidden to hold a grudge or offense toward others, and - mark this - to hold offense even toward others who have not directly harmed us... In short we are categorically required to forgive others – all people, our enemies as well as our friends - for their trespasses, for who are we to judge others?  Moreover, unforgiveness harms our souls, even to the point of exiling us from the presence of love itself. We see this most clearly in our close relationships. When we refuse to let go of hard feelings, our hardness of heart, then we bring judgment upon ourselves. We cannot experience the grace of forgiveness when we cling to ideas of judgment or revenge, since forgiveness means letting go of all that makes us sick inside... Forgiveness releases the hurt, the anger, and the disappointment so these feelings do not inwardly consume and exhaust our souls. And yet forgiveness must be self-directed, too, since refusing to forgive yourself denies or negates the forgiveness given from others. Forgiving yourself means admitting that you act just like other people, that you are human, and that you are in need of reconciliation too. Ultimately, forgiveness is both an act of self-acceptance and empathy -- we admit we are just like others, weak, flawed, in need of help, and so on. We can only forgive to the extent we recognize the truth about ourselves that we see in others. Yet we have to move on, past the shame, and to turn back to abiding hope. Before reaching out to God, then, affirm these powerful words found in the Gates of Repentance prayer book: "O Lord God, I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have wronged me, whether deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account. And as I forgive and pardon those who have wronged me, may those whom I have harmed forgive me, whether I acted deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. Amen."
 




Meaningful Prayer...


 

09.11.17  (Elul 20, 5777)   "Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8). Since God assuredly knows what we need before we ask him, some people question the meaning or purpose of prayer. Why should we ask God for anything since God already knows what is best and will only do the best for us anyway? And yet Yeshua continues his Torah saying, "therefore pray like this..." (Matt. 6:9), and he then begins reciting the famous "Avinu Shebashamayin" prayer ("Our Father, who art in heaven"). Note that the very first thing Yeshua says we should seek is for the revelation of the sacred. "Hallowed be Thy Name" refers to awareness of the holy, that is, the utterly unique wonder, glory, marvel, splendor, beauty, loveliness, radiance, brilliance, and mystery of God... This is the first step in genuine prayer: to become vibrantly conscious to the sacred reality of God as  our Heavenly Father, the One who loves and decrees all things for our ultimate blessing and good (Rom. 8:28; Jer. 29:11). As King David, prayed: "One thing have I desired of the LORD; that will I seek after..." (Psalm 27:4). We do not pray for God's sake, using "vain repetitions" to appease or flatter, but we pray for our own sake - to become awake and alive to the vision of Yeshua. Neither do we pray to "inform" God of anything He does not perfectly know already. Therefore our Master taught us not to be anxious for such things as our material needs, "for after all these things do the Gentiles seek, but your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things" (Matt. 6:33). Prayer is a blessed opportunity to confess the truth to ourselves – to lift up our soul before God's Presence to affirm who we are and how God alone is our helper. Mi-li vashamayim? ve'imekha lo-chafatzti va'aretz: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none I on earth I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:25-26). Therefore when we ask God for our needs to be met, we align ourselves with Reality by confessing that the LORD alone is the Father of our lives, the giver of the blessing of existence. Unlike pagans, we do not believe life is a random encounter with a universe formed by chance, but rather is under the direct supervisor and direction of the Almighty. Everything that exists -- from the enormous sweep of the cosmic motions to the subatomic particles of a slice of "our daily bread" -- comes from the hand of God. So why do we pray except to have our eyes opened to the truth, to become awake and conscious to the Divine Presence, and thereby to practice the Presence in our daily lives? This is the first step to recognizing the Kingship of God: "Thy Kingdom Come..." Therefore, as our Lord Yeshua said: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33).

Note:  Of course this does not mean we shouldn't ask God for specific needs to be met, etc., though we are to grow up in our faith and understand that God is our Provider and LORD, and we can therefore focus on the most important things: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). Shalom.
 




Teshuvah and Creation...

The Creator, William Blake
 

[ This coming Friday, Sept. 16th at sundown marks Elul 25, the "date of creation..." ]

09.11.17  (Elul 20, 5777)   After the LORD judged Adam and Eve, He compassionately gave them the skin of a sacrificial lamb as their covering (Gen. 3:21). This First Sacrifice, offered by the Hand of God Himself, foreshadowed the coming Sacrifice of the Lamb of God who was slain "from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20). At the very beginning of mankind's creation, then, the LORD initiated His plan of redemption and salvation through Yeshua (Jesus) as the Divine Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם).

The Akedat Yitzchak ("Binding of Isaac") is a major theme on Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, God told Abraham that the ram's horn (shofar) should be blown on Rosh Hashanah to remind the people of the substitutionary sacrifice provided by the LORD Himself -- an echo of that First Sacrifice offered in Eden. How much more should we as believers in the greater sacrifice of Yeshua as our Lamb of God celebrate this day?

For more on this, see "Teshuvah and Creation: Elul 25 on the Jewish Calendar."
 




The Selichot Service...

Selichot Siddur
 

[ Since this coming Shabbat is the last of the Jewish year, many congregations will hold a special late-night service to offer prayers for forgiveness (selichot) in anticipation of the High Holidays... ]

09.11.17  (Elul 20, 5777)   The Hebrew word selichah (סְלִיחָה) means "excuse me!" in modern Hebrew, but in the Scriptures it refers exclusively to God's offer of pardon and forgiveness of the repentant sinner. Therefore we read in the Scriptures, "But with you there is forgiveness (selichah), that you may be feared" (Psalm 130:4):
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא

ki  im·me·kha  ha-se·li·chah  le·ma'an  tiv·va·rei
 

"But with you there is the forgiveness,
that you may be held in awe."
(Psalm 130:4)



 

The plural form of the word selichah is selichot (סְלִיחוֹת), a term used in Jewish tradition to refer to additional penitential poems (פּיּוּטִים) and prayers recited throughout the "Forty Days Teshuvah" (many of these prayers may be found in a High Holiday Machzor or prayerbook). On the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, many congregations hold a late-night "Selichot Service" (called leil selichot, literally, "night of penitential prayers") to offer prayers for forgiveness in anticipation of the High Holidays. During this service, the chazzan (cantor) often dresses in a kittel (white burial shroud) and chants in a style similar to the liturgy for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
 




Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech...


 

[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: parashat Nitzavim ("You are standing") and parashat Vayeilech ("and he went"). ]

09.10.17  (Elul 19, 5777)   Parashat Nitzavim (with Vayeilech on leap years) is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, and therefore it is the last portion read for the current Jewish year. The portion begins: "You are standing here today, all of you, before the LORD your God (אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם) ... so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the LORD your God ... that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Deut. 29:10-13). After this Moses went on to review Israel's history and prophetic future -- i.e., the great prophecy of the worldwide Exile and Return of the Jewish people -- and then he solemnly appealed for us to turn to the LORD for life:
 

הַעִידתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ
הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה
וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ

ha·i·do·ti  va·khem  hai·yom  et  ha·sha·ma·yim  ve·et  ha·a·retz
ha·chai·yim  ve·ha·ma·vet  na·ta·ti  le·fa·ney·kha  ha·be·ra·khah  ve·ha·ke·la·lah
u·va·char·ta  ba·chai·yim,  le·ma·an  tich·yeh  at·tah  ve·zar·e·kha
 

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,
that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.
(Deut. 30:19)



 

The way of return (teshuvah) is always a matter of the heart and will: bacharta ba'chayim: "Choose Life!" "For this commandment (of teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven...nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. Rom. 10:8-13). In the end of days (acharit hayamin), the LORD will remove the "partial hardening" of the Jewish people so that they will turn to Him with all their heart and soul (Deut. 30:6, Rom. 11:25-26).

But why this seemingly topsy-turvy process of teshuvah? Why do the Jewish people have to go through this long period of suffering, tribulation, and scattering, only to be finally regathered one day in the future? Moses himself gives us the answer (as does the Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans): "The secret things (ha-nistarot) belong to the LORD our God (הַנִּסְתָּרת לַיהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ), but the things that are revealed (ha-niglot) belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29). Part of the "secret things" concerns the mystery the suffering of the Jewish people, since it is clear that God particularly afflicts those whom he loves through testing, and indeed part of the meaning of being am segulah (a "select people") implies dealing with God - by means of blessing or by curse (Heb. 10:31). In the end, however, God's plan for Israel will decisively demonstrate His wisdom, power, and glory, so much so that that Paul commented on ethnic Israel's future by exclaiming, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways" (Rom. 11:33).

Now more than ever, chaverim.  We must not put our trust in man or in this moribund world system (κοσμος). We are undoubtedly living close to the "end of days." God's judgment has begun in earnest.  It is time for us to choose whether we will be shaken or if we will walk in the trust of the LORD God of Israel. Choose this day.

 

 




Relentless Blessings...


 

09.10.17  (Elul 19, 5777)   "And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you hear (shema) the Voice of the LORD your God" (Deut. 28:2). The language here is unusual, as if these blessings would seize you like an army takes an enemy stronghold. The sages comment that God's blessings can "overtake" you in a way that may hide their true purpose for your good (Rom. 8:28). At such times we do not understand they are a concealed mercy (רַחֲמִים נִסְתָר) designed for our benefit.  Therefore king David affirmed his confidence despite being surrounded by trouble. Where it is written, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:6), the verb translated "shall follow me" (i.e., יִרְדְּפוּנִי) comes from a root word that means "to pursue," as a hunter chases after his prey. King David was sure that God's lovingkindness would "hound" him as he made his way through this world - even in the dark places, even in "the valley of the shadow of death" (בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת) - where God's rod and staff would there comfort him and shepherd his way (Psalm 23:4). Amen... And "may your love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in You."
 

יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
 כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ

ye·hi · chas·de·kha · Adonai · a·lei·nu
ka·a·sher · yi·chal·nu · lakh
 

"May your love, O LORD, be upon us,
 even as we hope in You"
(Psalm 33:22)



Hebrew Study Card
  


Whatever the heart genuinely seeks, it will find. We are constantly "asking, seeking, and knocking" (Matt. 7:7), even if we are often unaware of our heart's search. The one who pursues righteousness will find it, just as evil will come to the one who searches after it (see Prov. 11:27). As it is written, "Those who worship worthless idols forsake the love (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) that could be theirs" (Jonah 2:8). David understood that as he pursued God, God's love would pursue him; as we seek, so we are sought by God; as we draw near to God, so He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

The prophet Hosea expresses hope: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him be'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). And may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him.  Amen.
 




Firstfruits and Blessing...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo.... ]

09.08.17  (Elul 17, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week we read: "You shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there" (Deut. 26:2). This is called the mitzvah of "bikkurim" (בִּכּוּרִים), or "firstfruits," in which a thank offering (זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָה) was given to the priests in recognition of God's faithful love. In a special Shavuot ceremony, a basket filled with the first samples of the spring harvest was presented before the altar at the Temple as the worshiper recited a passage from Torah (Deut. 26:5-12) that retold the basic story of Exodus from Egypt and how the LORD had faithfully brought the people into the Promised Land, "a land flowing with milk and honey" (i.e., eretz zavat chalav u'devash). The point of the yearly bikkurim ritual was to instill a sense of gratitude, or "hakarat tovah" (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means "recognizing or being conscious of the good" (indeed, the word "Jew" (יְהוּדִי) comes from wordplay on the verb yadah (יָדָה), meaning to acknowledge and give thanks). Therefore, the firstfruits offering teaches us to use the "good eye" to appreciate God's kindness and love. Doing so will yield a harvest of blessing in our lives, as it says: "Honor the LORD with your substance and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine" (Prov. 3:9-10). "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name; Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits" (Psalm 103:1-2).
 

בָּרֲכִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת־יְהוָה
וְכָל־קְרָבַי אֶת־שֵׁם קָדְשׁוֹ

ba·ra·khi · naf·shi · et · Adonai
ve·khol · ke·ra·vai · et · shem · kod·sho
 

"Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name"
(Psalm 103:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 


The bikkurim ritual testifies that God has redeemed us so that we will produce fruit in our lives to His glory (John 15:7-8).
 




The LORD our Mashgiach...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

09.08.17  (Elul 17, 5777)   Avinu Malkeinu: "Our Father, Our King...." During the Season of Teshuvah we make extra effort to remind ourselves of the kingship of the LORD and of our responsibility to live before his Presence in the truth, as his royal children. We remember that we are responsible to God for the gift of our lives, and that we shall render account for all we have done (Matt. 12:36-37). The Scriptures declare that each of us passes before the gaze of the Eternal, one by one, as it says: "The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds."
 

מִשָּׁמַיִם הִבִּיט יְהוָה רָאָה אֶת־כָּל־בְּנֵי הָאָדָם
מִמְּכוֹן־שִׁבְתּוֹ הִשְׁגִּיחַ אֶל כָּל־ישְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ
הַיּצֵר יַחַד לִבָּם הַמֵּבִין אֶל־כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם

mi·sha·ma·yim · hib·bit · Adonai · ra·ah · et · kol · be·nei · ha·a·dam
mi·me·khon · shiv·to · hish·gi·ah · el · kol · yo·she·vei · ha·a·retz
hai·yotz·er · ya·chad · lib·bam · ha·me·vin · el · kol · ma·a·sey·hem
 

"The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds."
(Psalm 33:13-15)



  

The LORD "looks down from heaven," not in some general way, but He "beholds" each person individually – he looks directly and personally upon each soul. God discerns each person's actions and inner intentions with perfect clarity; He completely comprehends every outcome of every action in the entire universe, simultaneously and in all possible states. The LORD is the Mashgiach (מַשְׁגִּיחַ), the personal Supervisor and Overseer of each human soul. And though our God truly is the great King over all, the Master of the Universe and Sovereign on High, his greatness reaches down to the lowest of depths, humbly appealing for any who are willing to turn to him, to choose life, to receive his love and grace. Shabbat Shalom...
 




Find God or Die...


 

09.08.17  (Elul 17, 5777)   Those who evade the truth about reality – those who willingly suppress the truth and choose to ignore the ultimate existential pathos of the human condition – must "steal" meaning and a sense of value from the heart of faith. "If a human being did not have an eternal consciousness, if underlying everything there was only a wild, fermenting power that writhing in dark passions produced everything, be it significant or insignificant, if a vast, never appeased emptiness hid beneath everything, what would life be but despair?" (Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling). The hidden source of anxiety is to be lost to real meaning – to sense the dread of the inevitable and the unknown and to be utterly confounded and devoid of direction in the face of it.  The Torah of Yeshua is heeded by the "impoverished of spirit" who know they must "find God or die." It is first a word spoken to the shattered of heart and crushed of spirit.  As Augustine said, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." We all desperately need God, and it is a profound tragedy to be unresponsive to real hope. If you sense the invitation of the Spirit, which moves unseen as the wind, then draw near while there is still time! "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near" (Isa. 55:6).
 




Teshuvah of Vigilance...


 

09.08.17  (Elul 17, 5777)   We are living in perilous times, and therefore for all the more reason we must "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). We must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting occurs slowly and almost imperceptibly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy.  As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." The devil seeks to lull you to sleep...

Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't as easily seen. The danger today is to give up hope, to "go with the flow," to become numb, to drift off asleep, and to die inside... It is far more dangerous to tranquilly ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). As the Apostle Paul said, "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).

The great commandment is always "shema," listen -- listen to the voice of God's love for you; listen to the message of God's good will for you; listen to the call of the Spirit.  But to truly listen you must quiet yourself, you must "make space" within your heart, and you must consciously attend to God's Presence by "setting" the LORD before you...

Therefore we must be viligant to secure our high calling in Messiah: "Let us know; let us press on (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") to know the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hosea 6:3). The day is drawing near, and now - more than ever - we must remain steadfast. May God help you pursue him be'khol levavkha – "with all your heart" – because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). And may the love of the LORD be upon you, even as you put your hope in him (Psalm 33:22).
 




Evil and Ignorance...


 

09.08.17  (Elul 17, 5777)   There is the great danger of squandering and dissipating our lives... Examine yourself; consider what really moves you. Be careful not to deceive yourself by "reasoning around the truth" (i.e., παρα + λογίζομαι), as James the Righteous puts it (James 1:22). Many people fool themselves by assuming they know or understand what is good, but they confine this ideal to a matter of opinion rather than experiencing it as a matter of the will (or they confuse their opinion of the ideal with what is real). Some of the ancient Greek philosophers assumed that moral evil was the result of ignorance, and that simply knowing the good would lead to doing the good. For example Socrates states in the Protagoras that no one knowingly does the wrong thing, and therefore all evil is the result of ignorance. He argues this way because he assumes that doing wrong harms the soul, and since no one willingly acts against his own interests, wrongdoing must be result of ignorance. This optimistic view implies that the answer to the problem of moral evil is "education," or leading people out of the dark cave of their lower nature to experience the light of reason. If we just really understood why doing this or that sinful thing hurts us, we would change our ways and repent, or so the theory goes... Alas, human experience proves that such "head knowledge" often does not change the way we choose, and we all know people who have habits they realize are harmful but continue to indulge in them anyway.

There may be some truth to the idea that evil is a matter of ignorance however, since ignoring what is good, being indifferent, apathetic, and cynical is a defect of character (ἀκρασία), and learning to be honest, upright, courageous, unselfish, and so on, requires personal struggle to make the "ought" of moral reality an expression of the "is" of inner life. What is often most shocking about moral evil is that it expresses apathy or indifference toward the pangs of conscience. Moral evil is essentially heartless and devoid of empathy. According to the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, the lack of moral thought and reflection creates what she called the "banality of evil," that is, the unthinking acceptance of evil so that it is no longer regarded as outrageous or strange. People deaden their conscience by refusing to honestly engage questions such as: "What is goodness?" "Is there an obligation to observe moral truth?" "What is the good life?" "How should we live?" "Do our actions really matter?" "Will God judge my life?" and so on. We must be careful, however, not to become evil by despising what is evil. For instance, we may feel so outraged and threatened by the evil actions of others that we deny their humanity, thereby becoming the very thing we hate.

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9). "Oh there is nothing as deceitful and as cunning as a human heart, resourceful in seeking escapes and finding excuses; and there surely is nothing as difficult and as rare as genuine honesty before God." (Kierkegaard: Discourses). Therefore we pray: "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved.. Be not a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of evil" (Jer. 17:14, 17).

The spiritual danger here is being "pulled apart" in opposite directions, dissipated the soul so that it will not be unified, focused and directed. Both loving and hating the good is a state of painful inner conflict, ambivalence, and self-contradiction. "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? there is not one" (Job 14:4), yet this is our starting point: "I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand" (Rom. 7:21). We are often willing and unwilling, or neither willing nor unwilling, and this makes us inwardly divided, weak, fragmented, anxious, and "soulless." An honest faith that "wills one thing" binds the soul into a unity, or an authentic "self." As King David said, "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4).

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), which literally means having "two souls." A double-minded man is full of inner conflict and indecision; he's like the proverbial "divided house" that cannot stand. The way to be healed of a divided heart is to earnestly make a decision: "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). There are no conditions given here -- other than your raw need to connect with God for help. "Purify your hearts, you double-minded ones" (δίψυχοι, lit. "two-souled ones"); make up your mind and be unified within your heart: "How long will you go limping between two different opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21). You are invited to come; God has made the way; your place at the table has been set and prepared. "Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πίστεως), with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10-22-23).
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאו
קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב

dir·shu · Adonai · be·hi·matz·o
ke·ra·u·hu · bi·yo·to · ka·rov
 

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near."
(Isa. 55:6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

God responds to those who sincerely cry out to him (Psalm 145:18). He is "near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). Indeed, salvation is as close as your own mouth and heart (Rom. 10:8-13). But how many are the days of your life? How many opportunities for you to make up your mind? "How long will you go limping between two opinions?" Therefore choose this day whom you will serve. Make the first step; open your heart, and the LORD will then help you make the wholehearted decision to "seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near." Amen.
 




A Great Rebuke...



 

09.08.17  (Elul 17, 5777)   This week's Torah portion (parashat Ki Tavo) includes the second great "rebuke" (i.e., tochachah: תּוֹכָחָה) addressed to the community of Israel given in the Torah (the first rebuke was given earlier in parashat Bechukotai). In this sober and ominous section, the Lord promises the people great blessing if they would obey Him (Deut. 28:1-14), but forewarns that exile, persecution and other progressively worse punishments would befall them if they would break faith with Him (Deut. 28:15-68). The sages note that divine censure would come if the people "forgot their first love" for God and relaxed the observance of His laws due to indulgence: "Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore [all these curses will come upon you]..." (Deut. 28:47-48). Gratitude is prerequisite for serving the LORD, and gladness of heart is found in the grace He supplies us to do His will. Indeed, the Greek word for "joy" used in the New Testament (χαρα) is related to the word for "grace" (χαρις), so there is a profound connection between apprehending grace and experiencing joy (Phil. 4:4). When we say, "Blessed are You, LORD our God," we affirm the blessedness and joy that is part of God's essence and heart.

Sometimes, of course, it is difficult to express joy, especially when we feel oppressed, saddened, or wounded.  The Scriptures never disavow our emotional states (read Psalm 13 or Psalm 88, for example), but an underlying note of grace is always sounded, even in painful moments and times. This is our consolation in suffering.... "sorrowful yet ever rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10). And this works the other way, too.  Even in our most joyous occasions, such as the great simcha (happiness) of a wedding, the "glass is shattered" to remind ourselves that our eternal joy is not yet fulfilled... We live in an "already-not-yet" state of existence.  Our best moments are beset with shadows; our darkest are limned with hope of the new eternal day to come. As Paul said, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18). Nevertheless we are instructed to "serve the LORD with gladness" (Psalm 100:2), which moved the sages to say, "It is a great mitzvah to be happy always." We can experience joy even in the midst of our struggles because the love of God overcomes the darkness within us....

Regarding the first tochachah given earlier in the Book of Leviticus (i.e., Lev. 26:14-46), the sages point out that the phrase "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the great rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." Rashi notes that the verb karah (קָרָה) means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). Once the people would begin to regard the events of life as "random," then God would reciprocate by bringing senseless trouble into their lives...  For this reason an indifferent or careless attitude about God's will is often the very first step to eventual apostasy. In other words, regarding whatever happens in life as mere "coincidence" effectively denies God's Presence, and this attitude will eventually call for God's corrective intervention. People can be "hot or cold" regarding their relationship with Him, but God will never give the option of affecting indifference toward Him... Indeed, God often brings hardship into our lives to regain our attention and cause us to return to Him.  As C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

Blaise Pascal once wrote: "I can feel nothing but compassion for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business. But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end, I view differently. This negligence in the matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity: yea, it astounds and appalls me..." (Pensees, 427).

For more on this topic see the article, "Curses of the Law: Further thoughts on Ki Tavo."
 




The Hell of Apathy...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo.... ]

09.07.17  (Elul 16, 5777)   "Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this Torah to do them" (Deut. 27:26). This is because God is God, ultimate reality is non-negotiable, and we are entirely and eternally accountable for all that we do (Matt. 12:36; Heb. 4:13). "Each person's deeds will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of deeds each one has done" (1 Cor. 3:13). There is a Scroll that attests the reality of all truth, and the life of every soul created by God is recorded therein (Rev. 20:12). We are forbidden to add or subtract from Torah, since that is to refashion God's message into one of our own understanding. Reading the tochachah (i.e., rebuke) in our Torah portion is difficult and painful, though it serves as a bitter medicine to wake us up from our lethal coma. In that sense the tochechah is a great blessing, since it shocks us into experiencing the "gravity of God's grace." This is why Yeshua proclaimed grave warnings about the dangers of forfeiting life and thereby "receiving" hell... Sin is a lethal problem, and we must turn to God for healing or we will die. The Lord does not allow us to trifle with the truth, neither will he offer us a good that excludes Divine Reality since there simply is no such thing. God does not give us the option of affecting existential indifference toward Him, since apathy is as much a spiritual decision as is outright rebellion and apostasy. "If anyone thinks he has faith yet is indifferent toward this possession, is neither hot nor cold, he can be certain that he does not have faith. If anyone thinks he is a Christian and yet is indifferent toward being that, then he is not really one at all. Indeed what would we think of a person who gave assurances that he was in love and also that it was a matter of indifference to him?" (Kierkegaard: Works of Love). "Guard me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you" (Psalm 16:1-2).
 




My Light, My Yeshua...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

09.07.17  (Elul 16, 5777)   Psalm 27 (תְּהִלִּים כז) is the third psalm in which only David's name is mentioned, indicating that it is his personal prayer, asking God to strengthen his resolve in the face of battle. It begins, "The LORD is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear? The LORD is the Strength of my life, of whom should I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1). Here are a few brief notes about this opening verse. 1) "The LORD is my Light" (יְהוָה אוֹרִי), the Divine Light that overcomes the darkness and provides guidance and illumination (Gen 1:3; John 1:5,9). God's mysterious light is apprehended within, revealing where we are, delivering us from being lost, and enabling us to understand the way to go. David calls this light his own, since he trusts the LORD to provide the revelation he needs for this hour. 2) "The LORD is my Salvation" (יְהוָה יִשְׁעִי), that is, my yeshuah (יְשׁוּעָה), which refers to divine intervention and deliverance. Our Messiah is both the Light of the Eternal (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) who opens our eyes to experience the "light of the Living One" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים), and also the great Deliverer of Israel (מושיע ישראל) (Matt. 1:21; John 8:12). In the consciousness of God's salvation, then, David rhetorically asks, "Whom shall I fear?"(מִמִּי אִירָא), implying there is no greater power than the LORD, since there is salvation in no other, and nothing therefore can befall David apart from the Divine Supervision (Rom. 8:28). As the Song of Moses says, "The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation (עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה); this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him" (Exod. 15:2). Likewise Isaiah exclaimed, "Behold, God is my salvation (הִנֵּה אֵל יְשׁוּעָתִי); I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation" (Isa. 12:2). Therefore David affirms that "the LORD is the Strength of my life" (יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי), that is, the One who makes a refuge for me on all sides. Since God's Spirit is within him, there is no dread of phenomenal appearances or temporal outer circumstances. Here David refers to spiritual danger and takes comfort in the awareness that all the trials he might face were designed by God to help him reach higher goals.  The LORD is the Source of our enlightenment and happiness... He lifts us up from the "gates of death" (מִשַּׁעֲרֵי מָוֶת) so that we may recount all His praises and to rejoice in Yeshua, the Light of Life and our Salvation (Psalm 9:14).
 

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, whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the Strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)



Download Study Card
 


Note:  The Hebrew word for "fear" (i.e., yirah: יִרְאָה) and "be afraid (i.e., pachad: פַּחַד) are parallel in this passage, a usage also found in Deut. 2:25: "Today I will begin to put the dread and fear of you (פַּחְדְּךָ וְיִרְאָתְךָ) on the peoples who are under the whole heaven."
 




The Teshuvah of Seeing...


 

09.07.17  (Elul 16, 5777)   Love covers a multitude of sins (Prov. 10:12; 1 Pet. 4:8)... Love sees beyond the present moment to behold the redeemable, the made whole, the beloved. Such love "believes all things" and yet is never deceived. "Just as one by faith believes the unseen into what is seen, so the one who loves by forgiveness believes away what is seen. Both are faith. Blessed is the believer, he believes what he cannot see; blessed is the one who loves, he believes away that which he indeed can see" (Kierkegaard: Works of Love).

For more on this subject, see the Elul and High Holiday pages...
 




An Ever-Present Mercy...


 

09.06.17  (Elul 15, 5777)   Since Rosh Hashanah is known as the "Day of Judgment" (i.e., yom ha'din: יום הדין), it is customary to offer additional prayers of supplication (selichot) before the advent of the holiday. These prayers appeal to God's compassion and often include the recitation of "shelosh esrei middot rachamim," that is, the thirteen attributes of God's mercy (Exod. 34:6-7). The thirteen attributes reveal the inner meaning of God's Name YHVH (יהוה) that was disclosed to Moses after the people had committed the dreadful sin of the worshiping the golden calf at Sinai. God is not only our Judge and Lawgiver (Elohim), but our Savior and our Healer (Moshia).  In his great mercy He restores what we have broken; He overcomes our jugdment by means of his abounding love given to us in Yeshua (Psalm 85:10). We therefore appeal to YHVH as the Source of Compassion, the "breath of life" (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים) that was imparted to Adam on the day he was first created (Gen. 2:7).
 

יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
 אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
 נצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים
 נשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה וְנַקֵּה לא יְנַקֶּה
 פּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל־בָּנִים
 וְעַל־בְּנֵי בָנִים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִים

Adonai  Adonai  El  ra·chum  ve·chan·nun
e·rekh  ap·pa·yim  ve·rav  che·sed  ve·e·met
no·tzeir  che·sed  la·a·la·fim
no·sei  a·von  va·fesh·a  ve·cha·ta·ah  ve·nak·keh  lo  ye·nak·keh
po·keid  a·von  a·vot  al  ba·nim
ve·al  be·nei  va·nim  al  shil·le·shim  ve·al  rib·bei·im
 

"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
 keeping steadfast love for thousands,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children
and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation"
(Exod. 34:6-7)


 


The Torah teaches that the Name of the LORD (יהוה) means both ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה) "Presence" and rachum v'chanun (רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן), "Mercy and Grace" (Exod. 3:14; 34:6-7). Yeshua said, "I go to prepare a place for you," which means that his presence and love are waiting for you in whatever lies ahead (Rom. 8:35-39). We live and move and have our being in God's love. To worry is "practicing the absence" of God instead of practicing His Presence... Trust the word of the Holy Spirit: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for healing peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).
 




Birthpangs of Messiah...


 

09.06.17  (Elul 15, 5777)   Our world appears to be careening toward a crash... Most of us are troubled, if not frightened. Natural disasters; epic floods, tsunamis; hurricanes; a massive increase of seismic activity and earthquakes; widespread famine and plagues abound upon the earth, human wickedness that resembles the wholly depraved days of Noah. Indeed moral corruption and decay are all around us and nothing makes much sense any longer... We must stand firm in our faith and be ready, however. The period of time immediately before the Messiah's arrival is sometimes called ikvot meshicha (עִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחַ), the time when the "footsteps of the Messiah" can be heard. This is the time appointed by God for the final Messianic redemption and the close of the present age (olam ha-zeh). This accords with the teachings of Yeshua and His apostolic witnesses (Matt. 24:36-44; 1 Thess 5:1-3; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3). The condition of the world during acharit hayamim (the end of days) will be grossly evil (2 Pet. 3:3; 2 Thess. 2:3-4, 2 Tim. 3:1-5). The world will undergo various forms of tribulation, called chevlei Mashiach - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8).

The "birth pangs" are said to last for 70 years, with the last 7 years as the most intense period of tribulation -- the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). The first wave of trouble came from Edom (i.e., "Rome/Europe") in the form of the Holocaust; the second is coming from Ishamel (i.e., the Arab states) in the form of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This also accords with the teachings of Yeshua in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25).

Some of the "signs" of this benighted period include the rise of various false prophets, numerous wars and "rumors of wars" (including the rise of Magog), famines, earthquakes, worldwide apostasy from the faith, persecution, and a globalized sort of godlessness that is revealed in unbridled selfishness, greed, chutzpah (audacity), shamelessness, and a general lack of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude).  The greatest sign, however, will be that Israel will exist once again as a sovereign nation, despite the prophesied exile among the nations (Deut. 4:27-31; Jer. 30:1-3). According to some of the sages, the 9th century work Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer foretells that just before the coming of Messiah, "Ishmael" will rise in power to terrorize the world. According to Yalkut Shimoni, the king of Persia (Iran) is going to "have a weapon that is going to terrorize the world."  A coming "Messiah of evil" (code name Armilus) will soon appear on the world stage to offer a peace treaty for Israel and the Middle East, "but when they shall say, "peace and safety" (confirmed covenant) then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman (time of Jacob's Trouble), and they will not escape (1 Thess. 5:3). This is the significance of the extraordinary cataclysmic world events which we are witnessing this very day...

"For though the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end -- it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay" (Hab. 2:3)  For more on this topic, see "Birthpangs of Messiah and the End of Olam Hazeh."
 




Worldly Afflictions...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo.... ]

09.06.17  (Elul 15, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week says: "And the Egyptians mistreated and afflicted us..." (Deut. 26:6). The sages note that the word translated "they afflicted" (וַיָּרֵעוּ) could be translated either as "they made us bad (רַע)" or "they befriended us" (רֵעַ), though the two meanings may be related, since befriending the ideals and values of the world corrupts us so that we lose our identity and our spiritual sensitivity. As it is written, "whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Therefore we are admonished not to love this world and its rubbish: "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).
 




A Cursed Indifference...


 

09.06.17  (Elul 15, 5777)   From our Torah reading this week (Ki Tavo) it is written: "Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this Torah to do them" (Deut. 27:26). The sages here note that the word "uphold" (יָקִים) means accepting the truth and validity of Torah perspective (i.e., hashkafah), not necessarily perfectly fulfilling all of the commandments. It is the one who denies the legitimacy of God's word, or claims that the commandments are no longer relevant, that is under the curse. The righteous may struggle and sometimes stumble, but they are never at peace with their sin and always seek to repent. Those who are careless – who willfully disregard God's truth – sin in defiance, and this leads to a life of eternal loss. We do not add or subtract from Torah, since that is to refashion God's word into our own image. And even if we should stumble and fail 100 times a day, we affirm the validity of God's truth and cherish it within our hearts. We must never justify compromise, mediocrity, and apathy into a spiritual ideology (Rev. 3:16).

God does not want our relationship with him to be trivial. Our hearts must be tested in "desert places" until they cry out, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you" (Psalm 16:2; Deut. 8:16). As Abraham Heschel said, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance." There is simply no compromise on this point: We are to love the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength...
 

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
 

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and he favors his way.
Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the LORD upholds his hand."
(Psalm 37:23-24)



Note:  The post-modern, post-Christian west is reaping the whirlwind because of its apathy and indifference to moral truth. The rise of radicalism and jihad is a scourge meant to awaken people to the reality of moral consequences. For more see "Reaping the Whirlwind."
 




Focus of the Heart...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

09.06.17  (Elul 15, 5777)   Regarding the subject of teshuvah (returning to God) Yeshua taught: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), a word sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance through refining fire (the corresponding Hebrew word for the "pure of heart" (בַּר־לֵבָב), used in Psalm 24:4, comes from a root (בָּרַר) that likewise means to purify by fire).  Metaphorically, then, purity of heart refers to separation from the profane, that is,  singleness of vision, wholeheartedness, passion, wonder, and focused desire for the sacred.  As the Beatitudes reveal (Matt. 5:3-8), only those who are impoverished in spirit, who mourn over themselves and hunger for God's mercy, are refined by their struggle to see God (the Greek text implies these will see God now – with inward vision – as well as in the world to come). Because the pure in heart use ayin tovah, the good eye, they walk "in the light, as God is in the light" (Matt. 6:22). When we are undivided in heart, the Spirit imparts to us hidden wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-7) and we are able to discern hidden realities that others do not see (1 Cor. 2:14). As we center our affections on Yeshua, we become unified, made whole, and healed of our inner fragmentation. We see the Lord both in this world, through his effects, and then panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face," in the world to come. Our hope purifies us for that coming great day of full disclosure (1 John 3:2-3; Heb. 12:14).

If we are impure of heart, we will be inwardly divided, unfocused, fragmented, filled with destabilizing anxiety, envy, anger, and so on. More tragically, because we seek to escape ourselves, we will be devoid of a true center, without a focal point or abiding purpose, and therefore we will be lost to ourselves, wandering and without rest (God forbid).

It is the Spirit that gives life (John 6:63). The Holy Spirit imparts the "pulse" of the Divine Life, and we gain newness of life when we trust God for purification from our sins through Yeshua our LORD. As King David further attested: Lev tahor bara li Elohim – "Create in me a clean heart, O God" and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). Only the new heart (lev chadash) created by power of God's Spirit can possibly yield the life of the Spirit within us. The creation of a new heart represents the transformation of your whole inner nature - with the impartation of new appetites, new passions, new desires, and the rebirth of your will. If you struggle with being inwardly divided, ask God for the blessing of purity of heart...
 




Finding our Healing...


 

09.05.17  (Elul 14, 5777)   Just as our words reveal what is within our hearts (Luke 6:45), so do our eyes (Luke 11:34; Matt. 15:19). How we look upon others is a function of how we see ourselves; and therefore we all share in the face of our fellows.  The metzora (i.e., leprous person) shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' The sages interpret, "Unclean, unclean!" (Lev. 13:45) to mean that the one who is unclean calls others "unclean," which is to say, he projects his own defects onto others. Healing comes when we understand that we all are affected by sin and sickness, and when we criticize others, we condemn ourselves (Rom. 2:1). After all, there is much in all of us that remains broken, unclean, and in need of God's touch. Love uses a "good eye" (ayin tovah) to believe in the good, even if that good is yet unseen (Heb. 11:1). "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and that also refers to our deliverance and healing...

In this connection the sages note that the faults of others often reflect our own failures of character. As it says, "evil comes to those who seek for it" (Prov. 11:27). The seeker the LORD (וְדרְשֵׁי יְהוָה), on the other hand, "lacks no good thing," because they discover the good always enough to meet their needs.
 




Death Benefits of Messiah...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo and the various curses of the law enumerated in the "tochachah." Please read the portion to find your place here. ]

09.05.17  (Elul 14, 5777)   We are told that we must "receive" the life of Yeshua into our hearts, and that is certainly true, but we must also receive his death as well... This is the meaning of "taking up your cross." It is the death of Yeshua in your place that releases you from the curse of the law (מִקִּלְלַת הַתּוֹרָה), that is, spiritual death, as it says, "the Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal. 3:13). By faith we perform "semichah" -- we "lay hands" on him and "lean into" his death, confessing our guilt and sin and receiving his sacrifice as offered up for our sake.  Our sins are "transferred" to his account, and his righteousness is transferred to ours. This is the idea of our "justification," -- "just-if-i'd" never sinned, and "just-if-i'd" always obeyed... As it is written, "God made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we would become the righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ) in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). It is the righteousness of God, not our own. We receive the "death benefits" of Yeshua, who has bequeathed to us the great inheritance of everlasting life and heaven itself... Our identification with His death makes us "free from the law," not in the sense that we are free to sin, but rather free to live in a different order of relating to God, a new and a better covenant, whereby we are given power over sin and death. "I have been crucified with the Messiah: It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness came through the terms of the law, then Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:20-21). Trusting in Yeshua gives us "access by faith into grace" so that we are fully and forever accepted in God's Presence...

Note, however, that we are delivered from the curse of the law, but not from the law itself (Matt. 5:17-19). After all, the Torah, understood to refer to the will of the LORD our God, is written on our hearts by the power and agency of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, in accordance with the promise of the New Covenant of God (Jer. 31:33). For more on this important topic, see the Ki Tavo article, "Death with Messiah."
 




Teshuvah and Desire...


 

09.04.17  (Elul 13, 5777)   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 have strong desires, but rather that our desires are not strong enough... We settle for junk food when God spreads out his banqueting table before us. There is a "deeper hunger" for life, and I pray we are all touched by such hunger pangs; there is a "blessed hunger and thirst" that feeds our heart's cry for God (Matt. 5:6); there is a "divine discontent" that leads to a deeper sense of contentment for the heart...

In the end, if we cannot say we have lived well, then nothing else matters... Seeking God is a process, a "how" of life, not a recipe or formula, no matter how venerated. Seeking God is the goal of life, and in the world to come, I am afraid that most of us will regret that we did not pursue the Eternal with all our hearts while we had the opportunity to do so...
 




Jesus in Context...


 

09.03.17  (Elul 12, 5777)   An essential and basic principle of Bible interpretation is stated in the simple axiom: "a text without a context is a pretext," and therefore we must endeavor to understand the New Testament in light of the Torah, not the other way around... Without the context of Torah, the meaning and terms of the New Testament will be obscure and subject to misunderstanding.  Indeed, we must remember that the Messiah was "embedded" in the Jewish culture of his day (Gal. 4:4-5), and was fluent in Torah reading and study (Luke 4:16-21; John 4:22). Moreover, Yeshua plainly said that the Jewish Scriptures testify of Him: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27; John 5:39). We study Torah to know Yeshua, the "Living Torah" better, as he said: "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old" (Matt. 13:52).

When we begin to apply this principle of interpretation, the "red letter" text of the New Testament will become visible in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings as well... Yeshua is the Voice of God that speaks from the midst of the fire -- yesterday, today and forever!
 




A Select Treasure...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo... ]

09.03.17  (Elul 12, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Ki Tavo) we read: "You are a treasured possession ... a people holy to the LORD your God " (Deut. 26:18-19). Holiness, or kedushah (קְדוּשָׁה), represents transformation, being wholly set apart and turned toward the sacred, the Divine Presence. The LORD said to Moses from the midst of the shining flame: "Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy" (Exod. 3:5). The Chofetz Chaim comments: "By faith see that this place, right now, is holy ground, and awaits your response." Amen, and may we open our eyes to God's light:
 

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)


 
Download Study Card

 

Spiritually speaking, the very first step is to find hope... The Divine Light is seen by means of the eye of faith (עַיִן שֶׁל אֱמוּנָה), as it is written, "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Psalm 112:4). Therefore we find life by trusting in God's Presence, even as we learn to see the invisible (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7). "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. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil" (Prov. 3:5-7).
 




Parashat Ki Tavo - כי־תבוא


 

09.03.17  (Elul 12, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (parashat Ki Tavo) includes the commandment for the people to ratify the Sinai covenant in the promised land by means of a special ceremony performed in the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim (later fulfilled by Israel, see Josh. 8:30-35). During this ceremony the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience would be declared, and Moses warned the people by providing a seemingly endless description of terrible consequences that would befall the Jewish people if they disobeyed the terms of the Sinai covenant (Deut. 28:15-68). In Jewish tradition this litany of woe is called the "tochachah" (תּוֹכָחָה), a word that means "rebuke" or "reprimand." Reading the tochachah is difficult and painful, though it serves as a bitter medicine to wake us up and prevent us from falling into a lethal coma. In that sense the tochechah may be regarded as a great blessing, since it shocks us into experiencing the gravity of God's grace. This is similar to Yeshua's grave warnings about the dangers of hell. If we refuse to listen or rush past his words, we are missing the substance of God's lament given through the Hebrew prophets. Sin is a lethal problem, and we must turn to God for healing or we will die. As Blaise Pascal once wrote, "Between heaven and hell is only this life, which is the most fragile thing in the world." Therefore shuvah! -- turn to God and receive the blessing of life!
 

 




Why then the Law?


 

09.01.17  (Elul 10, 5777)   Our Torah reading for this week, Ki Teitzei, is notable because it contains the most commandments of all the other weekly Torah readings: 74 according to the count of Maimonides (over 12% of the 613 commandments). These various commandments cover a wide assortment of rules related to ethical warfare, family life, burial of the deceased, property laws, fair labor practices, proper economic transactions, and so on.  Even rules about a mother bird and her young are included (Deut. 22:6-7). Your Heavenly Father knows when the sparrow falls (Matt. 10:29).

In every aspect of human life - religious, moral, social, civil, environmental, agricultural, dietary, sexual, and so on - the Torah has its voice.  For example, Rabbi Pinchas ben Hama said, "Wherever you go and whatever you do, pious deeds will accompany you. When you build a new house, 'make a parapet for your roof' (Deut. 22:8). When you make a door, 'write the commandments upon your doorposts' (Deut. 6:9). When you put on new garments, 'do not wear cloth that combines wool and linen' (i.e., shaatnez; Deut. 22:11). When you cut your hair, 'do not round the corners of your head' (Lev. 19:27). When you plow your field, 'do not plow with an ox and an ass together' (Deut. 22:10). When you reap your harvest, and have forgotten a sheaf, do not pick it up. Leave it for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow (Deut. 24:19). And even if you are not engaged in any particular kind of work but are merely journeying on the road, the precepts accompany you. If a bird's nest is before you on the road, 'do not take the mother with her young' (Deut. 22:6-7)." We might add, whenever you eat or drink something we are to recall how God's Presence sustains us (1 Cor. 10:31).

The pervasive scope of God's commandments indicates that there is no "dividing line" between the sacred and the profane in the life of the tzaddik (saint). The world is not compartmentalized into the realms of the spiritual and the material. No, "the whole earth is filled with the glory of God," and it is only because of spiritual blindness that we do not discern this truth.  Simply put, all the various commandments found in the Scriptures were given because the spiritual realm is intended to permeate every aspect of our lives (1 Cor. 10:31). Just as reciting 100 blessings a day helps us be mindful of the source of our blessings, so studying the Torah's commandments helps us to "wake up" to divine Presence regarding every practical decision we make. 
 

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)


 
Hebrew Study Card
Hear it sung
 


So the Scriptures are filled with commandments intended to awaken us to the reality of God's immanent Presence. Da lifnei mi attah omed (דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד) - "Know before Whom you stand." There are 613 commandments given in the Torah of Moses, hundreds more found in the Writings and the Prophets, and over a thousand revealed in the New Testament. All of these imperatives are intended to give voice to the concern and love of God by pointing to the blessing of knowing the Divine Presence in the midst of our daily lives. That is the general idea, though the specifics are where we are apt to get confused....

For more on this see: "Why then the Law? Further thoughts on Ki Teitzei."
 




Shabbat Rani Akarah - רָנִּי עֲקָרָה


 

09.01.17  (Elul 10, 5777)   The haftarah for parashat Ki Teitzei (i.e., Isa. 54:1-10) is the fifth of seven readings from the prophets that are consecutively read before Rosh Hashanah. These "haftarot of comfort" foretell of the restoration of the Jewish people and of the coming of the Messianic Era.  In this week's reading, the LORD compares the children of Israel to a wife who has long been barren. According to the sages, God tells the "Wife of His youth" to sing out with joy, for soon she will have a hard time keeping track of all her children! Many will return by means of a mighty wave of repentance that will sweep over the world when Jerusalem is finally redeemed and the Mashiach reigns in Israel.

Though the LORD hardened Israel for a season (Rom. 11:25-29), His love for her is sure, and all His promises will be established. In the End of Days all Israel will be saved, in times "like the days of Noah." But just I God swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so He has sworn that Israel will be regathered and restored.
 

רָנִּי עֲקָרָה לא יָלָדָה פִּצְחִי רִנָּה וְצַהֲלִי לא־חָלָה
כִּי־רַבִּים בְּנֵי־שׁוֹמֵמָה מִבְּנֵי בְעוּלָה אָמַר יְהוָה

ran·ni · ak·a·rah · lo · ya·la·dah · pitz·chi · rin·nah · ve·tza·ha·li · lo · cha·lah
ki · rab·bim · be·nei · sho·me·mah · mi·be·nei · ve·o·lah · a·mar · Adonai

 

"Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one
will be more than the children of her who is married," says the LORD."
(Isa. 54:1)


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

Shabbat Shalom and may the Lord bless you, keep, you, and shine upon you, chaverim...
 




Fighting Spiritual Blindness...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei.... ]

09.01.17  (Elul 10, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (Ki Teitzei) commands us to remember what the Amalekites did to the Jewish people just after they left Egypt during the time of the Exodus (Exod. 17:8-16; Deut. 25:17-19). Paradoxically God commanded the Israelites to "blot out the remembrance" of Amalek while swearing to fight Amalek "from generation to generation" (Deut. 17:16). In this connection note that the name "Amalek" (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), the Hebrew word for doubt.  Amalek therefore symbolizes "the eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (the Hebrew verb מָלָק means "to chop" or "sever" in reference to the "eye" of Ayin). The power of Amalek therefore represents spiritual blindness as it acts in the world. We are never to forget that the light of God overcomes the darkness of this world, and that light is found in Yeshua our LORD....

Note:  For more on this important topic, see "Warfare with Amalek."
 




Teshuvah of Concern...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

09.01.17  (Elul 10, 5777)   Blaise Pascal wrote that faith in Yeshua is essentially a confession of irreparable human infirmity, and therefore its message is always directly there - to the place of our pain and desperation. Consequently it has no voice or message to mere triflers - to those who might patronize it as philosophically interesting, morally edifying, poetically beautiful, politically useful, and so on. No, no, never: the Spirit speaks to the heart in its anguish, in its lament over the suffering and agony of life in this world, and there breathes out the haunting question, "Do you want to be healed?"
 

 עָקב הַלֵּב מִכּל וְאָנֻשׁ הוּא
 מִי יֵדָעֶנּוּ

a·kov · ha·lev · mik·kol · ve·a·nush · hu
mi · ye·da·en·nu
 

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick;
 who can understand it?"
(Jer. 17:9)


 


Though our faith can be expressed in "theological" terms, it remains first of all a message to the individual in existential distress, shouting the way of escape to those on the edge of the everlasting abyss... The language of genuine teshuvah is one of ultimate concern, a message that appeals to matters of life and death itself.
 

    "A life of a human being begins with the illusion that a long, long time and a whole world lie before him in the distance, begins with the foolhardy delusion that he has such ample time for his many claims. The poet is the eloquent and enthusiastic confidant of this foolhardy but beautiful delusion. But when a person in the infinite transformation discovers the eternal itself so close to life that there is not the distance of one single claim, of one single evasion, of one single excuse, of one single moment of time from what he in this instant, in this second, in this holy moment shall do - then he is on the way..." (Kierkegaard: Works of Love)

 




Restoring what is Lost...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei.... ]

09.01.17  (Elul 10, 5777)   "Do not ignore the loss of your brother... you shall restore it to him" (Deut. 22:1-3). The Torah states that it is a moral duty to return lost items to others, and on a spiritual level that includes restoring honor and dignity to those who have lost sight of their value in the eyes of God... For even greater reason we must make restitution to those whom we have harmed. Making amends is part of the teshuvah process. We hurt ourselves when we hurt others, and we hurt others when we hurt ourselves. The way out of that circle is through making amends. As Yeshua taught: "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matt. 5:22-23). "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16). Ultimately, confession of the truth is not optional for anyone.

Indeed, regarding the duty to restore what is lost to our brother, the Torah adds, "and you are not to ignore it," which literally reads, "you are unable to hide it" (לא תוּכַל לְהִתְעַלֵּם). Rabbi Abraham Twerski notes that the Torah is not giving us a command as much as stating a fact: You are unable to hide from a wrongful act. In other words, the problem with "getting away with it" is that you get away with it, that is, you take it with you. Such self-deception sears your conscience, makes you numb inside, and deadens the heart. Making amends to others is life-giving, helping you let go of what you've done wrong to restore inner peace. We must be vigilant not to let our hearts die because of either shame or rationalization. May the LORD help us walk in the Spirit of Truth.
 




Come just as you are...


 

09.01.17  (Elul 10, 5777)   Some people seem to think that we first must repent and then we will encounter the Lord, but it's actually the other way around: we first encounter the Savior and then we learn the true meaning of repentance. Thus Paul's eyes were opened after he was first blinded by the light (Acts 9:3-6). Likewise, it is only after we have met the Lord that we begin to understand our own blindness of heart, but as learn to see more clearly, we encounter more and more of his love (Rom. 5:20; James 4:6). As Yeshua said, "My yoke is pleasant (χρηστὸς) and my burden is light (Matt. 11:30). Teshuvah, then, is a progressive and ongoing process of awakening, as we learn to love God and to accept ourselves, despite our struggle with sin. As St. Anselm once prayed: "O Lord, grant us grace to desire thee with all our hearts, that so desiring, we may seek and find thee, and so finding thee, may love thee, and loving thee may hate those things from which you have redeemed us." Amen.

We encounter the Lord "just as we are," by means of his gracious intervention in our lives, and so we continue to live by faith in God's grace (indeed, what we call "sanctification" is often just "catching up" with the miracle of his revelation to us). And we always come to God "just as we are," since we are never more than what we are in the truth: "by the grace of God I am what I am," as Paul said. "For all things come from You, and from your hand we give back to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). Therefore the Spirit of God says, "Come just as you are, or you may never come at all...."

A prayer to the One calling you to come: "I come to you just as I am - needy, sick within, weary, and broken... I come seeking your love; I come because you invited me to come: I open my heart, such as it is, to you; please join me here, in this place of my need, in this place of pain, and wrap me your comfort. I can only love you as I know your love, Lord Yeshua, so please help me to know your love in the truth.  Amen."
 




Turning to the Heart...


 

09.01.17  (Elul 10, 5777)   From our Torah we read, "But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose ... there you shall go" (Deut. 12:5). The sages note that the gematria for this verse (5150) is the same as "You shall therefore lay up these words of Mine in your heart and in your soul..." (Deut. 11:18), which therefore shows that the Divine Presence, Ha'makom (הַמָּקוֹם), the Holy Temple, was always meant to be manifested within your heart... As Yeshua said, "the kingdom of heaven is within you."

"Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven ...  there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Note that the phrase "lay it to your heart" is better translated as "return to your heart" (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), since again, the truth of the LORD is found there – within the heart that truly seeks him (Deut. 4:29). We encounter  truth in the heart's seeking for the LORD and His love. May we all know this truth today...
 



 

August 2017 Site Updates
 


The Battle for Reality...


 

08.31.17 (Elul 9, 5777)   As I've mentioned before, the great Apostle Paul foretold that the time before the "End of Days" would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of appalling human depravity (2 Tim. 3:1-5). This is our world today.  Because of the raging spiritual war going on all around us, then, the following needs to be emphatically restated: "The important thing is to not lose your mind..."

The mind is the "gateway" to your heart, and it is therefore essential to guard your thinking by immersing yourself in the truth... Fear is often the result of believing the lie that God is not in control or is unable/unwilling to help you... "Not losing your mind" therefore means being grounded in what is real, and it therefore means understanding your identity and provision as a child of God.  That is why the first piece of the "armor of God" is the "belt of truth," since truth is the foundation (יְסוֹד) of life with God (Eph. 6:14). "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), lit. a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under caring influence of the Spirit of God...
 




Teshvuah of Wisdom....


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.31.17 (Elul 9, 5777)   Moses 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 that will shine in the world to come... The sages say on the day of death, one considers one's life as if it had been a single day.  Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal Rosh Hashanah will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim – "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God in teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. 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)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Despite the frailty and brevity of our days, may it please 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, 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, chaverim. Amen.
 




Return us to You, O LORD...



 

08.31.17 (Elul 9, 5777)   Have you ever lost something very valuable only to later discover it "hiding in plain sight," in the most obvious place? And yet that is what tends to happen to each of us as time goes by: we lose sight of what is most important and get lost in trivialities... We forget the meaning and purpose of our existence, we begin to sleepwalk through our days, numb and in quiet despair... A key verse chanted in preparation for the new year (i.e., Rosh Hashanah) is: Hashivenu Adonai elekha ve'nashuvah: "Return us to you, O LORD, and we shall return," chadesh yamenu ke'kedem: "renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21). When we ask the LORD return us to Him, we are really asking him to help us wake up, to redirect our focus, and to enable us to engage in heartfelt self-examination by asking searching questions: "Who am I?" "How did I get here?" and so on. Teshuvah is a matter of "coming to yourself" and remembering the most important truths of life.
 

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

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

"Return us to you, O LORD, and we shall return;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)



Hebrew Study Card

 




Victory over Evil...


 

08.30.17 (Elul 8, 5777)   This week's Torah portion (Ki Teitzei) begins: "When you go out to war over your enemies" (i.e., כִּי־תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל־איְבֶיךָ), which would seem to make more grammatical sense were it to say, "When you go out to war against your enemies..."  The sages comment that the Torah is here saying that when we go out to war, we start out "over" our enemies, that is, in a state of victory by God's grace (Exod. 14:14). Now we do not engage in physical warfare to take possession of the promised land, and therefore we must understand our enemies to be the three enemies of the soul, namely, our own lower nature (yetzer ha'ra), the devices of Satan, and the godless philosophy of this present world of darkness (Eph. 2:2-3; 1 John 2:15-17; Eph. 6:10-11). Nevertheless we are assured victory over these by faith, understanding that "no good thing does the LORD withhold to those who are trusting in Him" (Psalm 84:11). In the midst of the battle, then, offer up praise (Psalm 18:3). God works all things together for your good (Rom. 8:28). "You are the God of my salvation (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי), and in You do I hope all the day (Psalm 25:5). Barukh attah Adonai, shomei'a tefillah: (בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה שׁוֹמֵעַ תְּפִלָּה) – "Blessed are You, O LORD, who listens to prayer." Because of the victory of Yeshua at the cross, we do not work toward a place of victory against our enemies, but rather from the place of His victory (1 Cor. 15:57).

Blessed is our LORD Yeshua, the Killer of death; the Slayer of the Serpent; the final Victory of God's awesome love for us! We are made more than conquerors (ὑπερνικῶμεν, lit. "hyper-conquerors," "overcomers") through Him that loved us (Rom. 8:38). Therefore "thanks be to God, who in our Messiah leads us in a perpetual victory parade" (2 Cor. 2:14).
 




Holy Introspection....


 

[ The unexamined life is not worth living, and indeed it is merely a facsimile of a worthwhile life... The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.30.17 (Elul 8, 5777)   We are all on a spiritual journey, writing the "Book of our Life." To help us in the "writing" process, the Jewish sages decided that the month of Elul should be set aside as a season for cheshbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) - "making an account of the soul." This means that we engage in honest self-examination about our behavior. After all, what is the essence of teshuvah if it is not honesty with yourself?  "For everyone who does wicked things (lit., ὁ φαῦλα, that which is "easy," "worthless," or "vain") hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed" (John 3:20). Therefore we make some time to reflect about our lives from the previous year. We ask searching questions like, "How did I get to this place in my life?" "Where am I now?" "Am I where I should be?"  We engage in this process of self-examination with an aim to grow -- to let go of the pain of the past and move forward. Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the word homologeo literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). We need to confess the truth if we are to be free from the pain of the past.  When King David wrote, "The LORD is my Light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1), he implied that he should even be free of fear of himself and of his past....
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

Adonai  o·ri  ve·yish·i,  mi·mi  i·ra?
Adonai  ma'oz-chay·yai,  mi·mi  ef·chad?
 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"



Hebrew Study Card
 

Being honest with ourselves is absolutely essential for any sort of authentic spiritual life... "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty" (Kierkegaard). Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our various sins, transgressions, and iniquities, but also affirming our new identity as the beloved children of God. Saying that God doesn't love you is a lie as damning as denying His very existence...
 




Strangers with Him...


 

08.29.17 (Elul 7, 5777)   "Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a stranger with you, a sojourner, like all my fathers" (Psalm 39:12). The righteous regard themselves as outsiders (i.e., gerim: גֵּרִים) in this world, temporary residents (i.e., toshavim: תּוֹשָׁבִים) on their way to the world to come (Heb. 13:14), while the wicked regard this world as the only (or all-consuming) reality, and therefore they cling, demand their place here, and live entirely for its momentary pleasures. In light of this, it has truly been said that God 'settles' among those who are strangers in this world, but makes himself "strange" to those who 'settle' here...  And may it please the LORD our God to give us the blessing of dissatisfaction with this world and its trinkets, and an abiding and all-consuming desire to be home with Him.  Amen.
 

שִׁמְעָה־תְפִלָּתִי יְהוָה וְשַׁוְעָתִי הַאֲזינָה
אֶל־דִּמְעָתִי אַל־תֶּחֱרַשׁ כִּי גֵר אָנכִי עִמָּךְ
תּוֹשָׁב כְּכָל־אֲבוֹתָי

shim·ah · te·fil·la·ti · Adonai · ve·shav·a·ti · ha·a·zi·nah
el · dim·a·ti · al · te·che·rash · ki · ger · a·no·khi · i·makh
to·shav · ke·khol · a·vo·tai
 

"Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears! For I am an outsider with you,
a temporary resident, like all my fathers."
(Psalm 39:12)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

Keep moving toward the Heavenly City, friends... Do not give up hope.  "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (ἐπιτελέω) at the Day of Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil 1:6). The LORD is able to guard you (φυλάξαι) from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 1:24). "He will preserve you (βεβαιόω) to the end, guiltless in the Day of our Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Cor. 1:8). He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it (1 Thess. 5:24). "The Lord is faithful (נֶאֱמָן הוּא): He will establish you and guard you against the evil one" (2 Thess. 3:3).
 




The Law of Faith...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei, which contains more commandments than any other Torah portion... ]

08.29.17 (Elul 7, 5777)   When asked how many commandments are in the Torah, most Jews will answer 613, based on Jewish tradition (the number 613 is sometimes called "taryag" (תריג), an abbreviation for the letters Tav (400) + Resh (200) + Yod (10) + Gimmel (3) = 613).  Despite several attempts made over the centuries, however, there has never been a definitive list of these commandments, and of those who tried to compile such, no two agree... Some say the number 613 comes from a fanciful midrash that teaches that since there are 365 days in a year (corresponding to the 365 negative commandments) and 248 "parts" of the body (corresponding to the positive commandments), each day we should use our body to serve God. Regardless of the exact count, however, the Talmud followed the Apostle Paul by understanding all the Torah's commandments to be derived from the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, the most basic of which is the very First Commandment, namely, "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This foundational commandment was later restated by the prophet Habbakuk as: וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה / "The righteous person will live by faith in God" (Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). Indeed, Yeshua taught us the law of faith in God's love, which preempts, overrules, and informs all the others...

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




Natural Evils and Faith...


 

[ Our prayers are offered for the hurricane victims in Houston and Southeast Texas tonight... ]

08.29.17 (Elul 7, 5777)   It has been said that there are two basic categories of evil in the world, moral evils and natural evils. Moral evils are usually defined as wicked and malicious actions freely inflicted upon humankind by humankind, cruel acts such as murder, theft, deception, and so on, whereas natural evils are disasters that occur as the result of natural processes that are beyond the realm of human control, "acts of God" such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, cataclysms, etc. The so-called "problem of natural evil" is thus the problem of understanding why the Creator might allow such natural disasters to occur...

Since we affirm that our Creator is entirely loving, completely righteous, and superlatively all-powerful (Deut. 32:4; Psalm 107:8; 147:5; 1 John 4:16, etc.), we might ask why God would allow natural evils to occur in this world.  Before we begin considering that, however, as a Torah-believing people, we must reject those false doctrines that claim that God is not all powerful (i.e., unable prevent natural evils), or that God is not morally perfect (i.e., indifferent to suffering), and we must likewise reject any doctrine that denies that evil really exists (or that claims it is an illusion), and therefore, because our theological commitments are obtained by revelation, we are left with the dilemma of whether we will resolve natural evil to be a type of moral evil (e.g., tracing it back to the consequence of the original transgression of Adam and Eve and/or to the activity of demonic influences), or whether we will simply confess that God permits natural evil for mysterious - though ultimately beneficial - purposes (Rom. 8:28; 1 Pet. 1:6-7). Notice, though, that if natural evil is said to come from moral evil, then it is often dubiously claimed to be divine retribution or punishment for sin of some kind. The problem with this crude view of vengeance, however, is that it assumes that God esteems justice above mercy, a view Yeshua particularly repudiated (Matt. 23:23). Moreover, the idea that natural disasters express "karma" for sin does not explain why many victims such as little children should suffer for the moral evil of others, or indeed why some wicked people seem immune from the consequences of their obvious wickedness (Jer. 12:1). "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" Abraham asked (Gen. 18:25). Others have claimed that because God created free moral agents, evil is "necessary" in order for certain types of good to exist. For example, since we are able to resist and oppose evil, moral virtues such as courage, compassion, selflessness, endurance, etc., are able to develop. The problem with this "soul building" theory, however, is that it would imply that evil is eternal, and that heaven itself "needs" evil in order for good to be known... On the contrary, evil is better understood as the perversion of the good, not an opposite yet complementary energy to the good. The problem of evil is not solved by appealing to "Yin and Yang" dualisms.

Despite the reality of both moral and natural evil, then, we must affirm that God is both morally perfect and all-powerful, and therefore we are bound to infer that all that happens is by divine design intended for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). Despite Voltaire's mockery of Dr. Pangloss (Candide), this indeed is the "best of all possible worlds," since all that exists is under the direct supervision of the LORD God Almighty, oseh shamayim va'aretz. All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of God's power (Heb. 1:3): "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). The Scriptures begin and end with the redemptive love of God. Yeshua is the Center of Creation - it's beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). Indeed, Yeshua is the LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest of celestial glories to the very dust of death upon a cross... Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2).

Suffering and testing are the means by which our faith is refined and perfected. "Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Yeshua the Messiah is revealed" (1 Pet. 1:7). " Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction" (Isa. 48:10). Endurance means that we continue to trust God even when we find no empirical reason to do so, as we abandon ourselves to God's care and believe in the reality of an unseen good.  Therefore the Spirit cries out: "Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Amen. "God is our refuge and strength, ezrah be'tzorot nimtza me'od -- a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah" (Psalm 46:1-3).

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)



Download Study Card
  

Note that the ancient Greek version of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) 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....
 




Prayer for just one thing...


 

08.28.17 (Elul 6, 5777)  King David says in Psalm 27:4, "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek" (אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יְהוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ). Notice immediately that David asked for just one thing – not many things. He did not come with a litany of requests. He was not "double minded." As Kierkegaard said, "purity of the heart is to will one thing." David asked for the gift of focus and the pursuit of truth. He desired the "pearl of great price." Note also that the verb translated "I will seek" (avakesh) comes from the verb bakash (בָּקַשׁ) meaning "to wish" or "to desire." The verse could therefore be read as, "The one thing I ask from the Lord is for godly desire – for the will to "behold the sweetness of the Lord, and to inquire in His Presence." This is a prayer for the highest we may attain. The "one thing" David asked for was a heart made alive to perceive the wonder of God.
 

אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יְהוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יְהוָה כָּל־יְמֵי חַיַּי
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנעַם־יְהוָה וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ

att·ah · sha·al·ti · me·et-Adonai · o·tah · a·vak·kesh
shiv·ti · be·vet-Adonai · kol-ye·mei · cha·yai
la·cha·zot · be·no·am-Adonai · u·le·va·ker · be·he·kha·lo

 

"One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his Presence."
(Psalm 27:4)



 

If we consciously delight ourselves in the Lord, He has promised to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). As Yeshua taught us: "seek first the Kingdom of God" (Matt. 6:33).
 




Spelling out "Teshuvah"


 

08.28.17 (Elul 6, 5777)  Rabbi Sussya once said: "There are five verses in the bible that constitute the essence of the Torah. These verses begin in Hebrew with one of these letters: Tav (תּ), Shin (שׁ), Vav (ו), Bet (בּ), and Hey (ה), which form the word for repentance, "teshuvah" (תְּשׁובָה). The five verses are 1) Tamim tiheyeh (תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה): "Be wholehearted with God" (Deut. 18:13); 2) Shiviti Adonai (שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה): "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8); 3) Va'ahavta lere'akha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ): "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18); 4) Bekhol derakekha (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ): "In all your ways know Him" (Prov. 3:6); and 5) Higid lekha (הִגִּיד לְךָ): "Walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). In other words, the way of teshuvah, of answering God's call for you to return to Him, is to sincerely set the LORD before you, to love others, and to walk out your days in heartfelt gratitude.
 

הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה־טּוֹב
 וּמָה־יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ
 כִּי אִם־עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד
 וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם־אֱלהֶיךָ

hig·gid · le·kha · a·dam · mah · tov
u'mah · Adonai · do·resh · mi·me·kha
ki · im · a·sot · mish·pat · ve·a·ha·vat · che·sed
ve·hatz·ne·a · le·chet · im · e·lo·hey·kha
 

"He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you:
 Only to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk modestly with your God"
(Micah 6:8)



Hebrew Study Card
 

In other words, "teshuvah" (repentance) is an acronym that stands for being whole, seeing God, loving others, knowing God in all your journey, and walking in humility...

Note:  Some have objected to me quoting Rabbi Sussya, saying that since he apparently was not a believer in Yeshua, we should have nothing to do with him. Oy. This objection is a classic example of the "genetic fallacy," that is, rejecting an idea based on who said it rather than whether or not it is true.  The honest approach is to ask whether these five essential Torah truths all indeed point to our need to do teshuvah or not... Moreover, since Yeshua is YHVH, all these verses point to Him anyway!  Please carefully read Luke 24:15-36.
 




Truth and Inner Healing...


 

08.28.17 (Elul 6, 5777)  "Truth is heavy, therefore few wear it" (Midrash Shmuel). This is about inner honesty, about "owning" who you are are being willing to endure yourself as you learn to walk with God. Where it is written "You shall love the stranger as yourself" (Lev. 19:34), understand that this also applies to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we hide, deny, or reject. Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we can't do that without trusting that love is somehow available to us, even with the hidden parts of ourselves we seek to escape. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul. The secret parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, confessed, healed, and reconciled.

Begin by asking God for courage and strength...  Ask for the grace to discover the truth about who you really are -- about what you've done, what you've thought, about who you've allowed yourself to become. Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the word homologeo literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). We need to confess the truth if we are to be free from the pain of the past. When King David wrote, "The LORD is my Light and my salvation (my yeshua; my "Jesus," my truth); whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1), he implied that he should even be free of fear of his secrets. Likewise focus on the truth and reality that extends beyond the pain of your past. Trust God for healing.
 

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, whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the refuge of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)



Download Study Card
 

See your sin only in relation to the cross of the Savior; know his heart despite your wretchedness. Accept that you are accepted despite your unacceptability...
 




Teshuvah of Mercy...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.28.17 (Elul 6, 5777)  It's been said that grace is getting what you don't deserve, whereas mercy is not getting what you do... Yeshua said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matt. 5:7). This is not a reciprocal law like karma, i.e., you get in return what you first give, since we cannot obtain God's mercy as reward for our own supposed merit (Rom. 4:4). No, we are able to extend mercy to others when we are made merciful ("full of mercy"), that is, when we first receive mercy from God. After all, you can't give away what you don't have, and if we have no mercy for others, it is likely that we have not received it ourselves, as the parable of the Good Samaritan reveals (Luke 10:25-8). Your forgiveness is your forgiveness: as you forgive, so you reveal your heart. What you do comes from what you are, not the other way around. We are first transformed by God's grace and then come works of love. We are able to judge others mercifully, with the "good eye," because we come to believe that we are beloved by God.

The pattern therefore abides: First you realize you are broken, impoverished of heart, and you therefore mourn over your sinful condition. Then you hunger and thirst for God's righteousness, for his healing and deliverance, and you learn to trust the mercy of God, that is, you come to accept that you are accepted despite your unacceptability. You begin to show yourself mercy; you learn to "suffer yourself" and forgive your own evil, and then you extend this mercy to others who are hurting around you... The failure to extend mercy, to demand your "rights" or hold on to grudges, implies that you are relating to God as Judge rather than as Savior (James 2:13). If we condemn what we see in others, we have yet to truly see what is within our own hearts; we have yet to see our desperate need for God's mercy for our lives. If you don't own your own sin, your sin will own you. Being merciful is a response to God's love and therefore is essential to genuine teshuvah... Ask the LORD to help you let go of the pain of the past by being full of mercy toward yourself and others.
 




Parashat Ki Teitzei - כי־תצא


 

[ This week's Torah reading (parashat Ki Teitzei) is always read during the month of Elul..]

08.27.17 (Elul 5, 5777)  In last week's Torah reading (Shoftim), Moses defined an extensive system of justice for the Israelites and pointed to the coming Messiah who would be the rightful King of Israel: "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers -- it is to him you shall listen" (Deut. 18:15). In this week's portion (i.e., Ki Teitzei: כי־תצא), Moses returns to the immediate concern of life in the promised land by providing additional laws to be enforced regarding civil life in Israel. In fact, Jewish tradition (following Maimonides) identifies no less than 74 of the Torah's 613 commandments in this portion (more than any other), covering a wide assortment of rules related to ethical warfare, family life, burial of the deceased, property laws, the humane treatment of animals, fair labor practices, and honest economic transactions.

Of particular interest to us is the statement that a man who was executed and "hanged on a tree" (עַל־עֵץ) is under the curse of God (Deut. 21:22-23). According to the Talmud (Nezakim: Sanhedrin 6:4:3), the Great Sanhedrin (סַנְהֶדְרִין גְדוֹלָה) decided that "a man must be hanged with his face towards the spectators" upon a wooden stake, with his arms slung over a horizontal beam. It should be noted that while this is technically not the same thing as the gruesome practice of Roman crucifixion, the reasoning based on this verse was apparently used to justify the execution of Yeshua (Mark 15:9-15; John 19:5-7; 15). The exposed body was required to be buried before sundown to keep the land from being defiled. Besides the shame and degradation of this manner of death, the one so executed would be unable to fall to their knees as a final act of repentance before God, thereby implying that they were under the irrevocable curse of God (קִלְלַת אֱלהִים).

In this connection, we should note that Yeshua was falsely charged with blasphemy before the corrupt Sanhedrin of His day (Matt. 26:65; Mark 14:64; John 10:33) - an offence that was punishable by stoning (Lev. 24:11-16). However, since the Imperial Roman government then exercised legal hegemony over the region of Palestine, all capital cases were required to be submitted to the Roman proconsul for adjudication, and therefore we understand why the Jewish court remanded Yeshua and brought him to be interrogated by Pontius Pilate. Because Roman law was indifferent to cases concerning Jewish religious practices (i.e., charges of blasphemy), however, the priests further slandered Yeshua by illegitimately switching the original charge of blasphemy to that of sedition against Rome. The Sanhedrin undoubtedly rationalized their duplicity because the Torah allowed for an offender to impaled or "hung on a tree" (Num. 25:4), and since they were unable to do carry out this judgment because of Roman rule in the area, they needed Pilate to condemn him to death by crucifixion (Matt. 27:31; Mark 15:13-4; Luke 23:21; John 19:6,15). Note that crucifixion is mentioned elsewhere in the Talmud (Nashim: Yevamot 120b) regarding whether a widow can remarry if her husband had been crucified, as well as by the Jewish historian Josephus. The Talmud furthermore alludes to the death of Yeshua where Yeshua is said to have been crucified on "eve of Passover" (Nezekin: Sanhedrin 43a).

For more on this week's Torah portion, please see the Ki Teitzei study pages.
 




Draw Near to Love...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shoftim. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

08.25.17 (Elul 3, 5777)  "You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). We approach God – for what? for personal blessing? for our needs to be met? And yet our greatest need is for communion with God, that is, for a real connection that is full of eternal significance. We cannot draw near to God with an insincere heart, however, since that implies distance between God and ourselves. Neither can we draw near and seek to defend ourselves, for it is God alone who justifies...  Relating to God halfheartedly creates anxiety and inner contradiction within us, revealing that we have not yet made up our minds to be entirely "with the LORD." A divided heart both wants God and does not want God at the same time. It is a state of being "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and therefore unstable in our way (James 1:8). To be made whole (i.e., tamim: תָּמִים) with God means surrendering your will to God's love, letting go of your hesitation, and becoming "filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19). Therefore when God asks you to be wholehearted with Him, understand this to mean that his desire is for you to draw near, to be made whole, and to be filled with passionate assurance of his love for you.

Shabbat Shalom and thank you for praying for this ministry, dear friends...
 




The High Holidays Psalm...


 

08.25.17 (Elul 3, 5777)   It is an old custom to read (or to sing) the Book of Psalms during the month of Elul. In the famous Song of Moses, it is written: וַיּאמְרוּ לֵאמר אָשִׁירָה לַיהוָה / "and they spoke, saying: 'I will sing to the LORD' (Exod. 15:1). This phrase can be formed into an acronym for Elul (אלול), and the sages therefore reasoned that hearing the Psalms were vital during the Season of Repentance and Days of Favor.

Of all the wonderful Psalms, however, Psalm 27 is considered the central one of the season of teshuvah. The midrash on the Psalms states that the word ori (אוֹרִי), "my light," refers to Rosh Hashanah (based on Psalm 37:6) whereas the word yishi (יִשְׁעִי), "my salvation" (lit. "my Jesus") refers to the atonement given on Yom Kippur.  King David also mentions that God would hide him in his sukkah (בְּסֻכּה) in the time of trouble, referring to the holiday of Sukkot (Psalm 27:5). Therefore since it alludes to all three of the fall holidays, Psalm 27 is regarded as the thematic Psalm for the High Holidays of the Jewish year.
 

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; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

Finally, Psalm 27:13 contains a textual oddity. It is often translated: "Unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." The word often translated "unless" is lulei (לוּלֵא), which read backwards spells Elul (אלול). This is said to suggest that salvation comes from faith that sees the goodness of the LORD. Repentance is only really possible if we believe in the goodness and love of the Lord "in the land of the living."
 




Made Whole with God...


 

08.25.17 (Elul 3, 5777)   In our Torah portion for this week (Shoftim) we read: "You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). Note that the word "wholehearted" in this verse (i.e., tamim: תָּמִים) is often translated as "perfect" or "blameless" in many Bible versions, though it is better to understand the word to connote being made "complete" or "whole." When God said to Abraham, "I am El Shaddai; walk before me and be tamim (Gen. 17:1), he was not saying "be perfect" or "don't ever make a mistake," but rather be fully engaged, that is, to walk before God passionately, sincerely, with all his heart, and by doing so to "walk out" the relationship with full assurance that he is accepted and beloved by God.  Likewise when Yeshua said "Be therefore perfect as your Father who is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48), he meant that we should be complete, finished, and "made whole" by knowing and receiving the overflowing love and light of God. Indeed being "wholehearted" is a mandate to know who you are, to know what is truly good as distinguished from what is evil, and to be united with God's passion to be healed from our ambivalence (δίψυχος).  We are made "whole" or "perfect" (i.e., complete) when we resolutely turn to God for healing of what divides our hearts, as it says: "The Torah of the LORD is perfect (תָּמִים), returning the soul" (Psalm 19:8). Understand the Torah's commandment, then: "You shall be tamim (i.e., whole and wholehearted) with the LORD your God," to be a prophecy of transformation for your life, friend... May you know "the love of Messiah that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19).
 




Prayers for Forgiveneness...


 

08.25.17 (Elul 3, 5777)   The Hebrew word selichah (סְלִיחָה) colloquially means "forgiveness," though in the Hebrew Scriptures it refers exclusively to God's offer of pardon and forgiveness of the repentant sinner. For instance, in Psalm 130:4 we read, "But with you there is forgiveness (selichah), that you may be feared" (כִּי־עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא). During the month of Elul it is customary to recite "selichot" (prayers for forgiveness) appealing to God's mercy. The core passage taken from the Torah is Exodus 34:6-7, called the "Thirteen Attributes of Mercy" in Jewish tradition, so-called because the LORD declares the meaning of his Name YHVH to Moses using thirteen characteristics or attributes. This second revelation of the meaning of the name YHVH represents the heart of God as he forgives our sins and provides atonement. As I've mentioned before, the additional revelation of the Name is given only after the confession of need for atonement which foretells of the New Covenant with God that is given to the broken of heart.  Just as the tablets were broken by the sin of the people, so God requires a broken heart - teshuvah - to behold his glory and understand the deeper meaning of his Name.
 





Note:  August 2017 updates continue here.

 





Follow the site's progress:

Site Updates for 2017

Site Updates for 2016

Site Updates for 2015

Site Updates for 2014

Site Updates for 2013

Site Updates for 2012

Site Updates for 2011

Site Updates for 2010

Site Updates for 2009

Site Updates for 2008

Site Updates for 2007

Site Updates for 2006

Site Updates for 2005

Site Updates for 2004

 


Hebrew4Christians Forum
 

Hebrew for Christians
Copyright © John J. Parsons
All rights reserved.