Prayer Request (for site updates, see below)
I was laid off from my full-time job awhile ago. After a lot of prayer, soul searching, and discussions with my wife, we have decided to operate this ministry entirely by faith in God's provision through the love and kindness of His people. I am not paid for doing this work, and therefore I ask you to consider supporting us. If you can help, please offer a donation or purchase some of the Hebrew study materials offered here. Encouraging other web sites to link here also helps us become more visible on the web. Above all, agree with us for the Lord's will to be done in our lives. Todah, chaverim.
Note: My wife and I have have three young children (Josiah, Judah, and Emanuel David - born Jan. 17, 2016). The LORD has graciously provided for us as Adonai Yireh (יְהוָה יִרְאֶה), "the One who sees [our need]." We are living one day at a time by the grace and mercy of God, and I want to publicly praise Yeshua and acknowledge His faithful love in caring for my family -- despite the trials during this time. The LORD God of Israel is faithful and true! And to those of you who have sent us a word of encouragement or donation during this difficult time, please accept our heartfelt appreciation! Your chesed truly help sustain us.
יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."
Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For site updates, please scroll past this entry....
In the summer there occurs a three week period of mourning that begins with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with Tishah B'Av. The last nine days of this three week period (i.e., from Av 1 until Av 9th) are days of increased mourning. However, after this somber time, the romantic holiday of Tu B'Av, the 15th of Av occurs. Summer ends with the 30 days of the month of Elul, a yearly season of teshuvah (repentance) that anticipates Rosh Hashanah and the fall holidays. The 30 days of Elul are combined with the first 10 days of the month of Tishri to create the "Forty Days of Teshuvah" that culminate with Yom Kippur.
Because they occur between the spring and fall holidays, the summer holidays help us prepare for the second coming of the Messiah:
The Summer Holidays:
Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:
Month of Av (Sun., July 23rd [eve] - Mon., Aug. 21st [day])
Month of Elul (Mon., Aug. 21st [eve] - Wed. Sept. 20th [day])
Month of Tishri (Wed. Sept. 20th [eve]) - Thur. Oct. 19th [day]
- Month of Tammuz (Fri., June 23rd [eve] - Sat., July 23rd [day])
Note: Some calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Tishah B'Av begins Monday, July 31st at sundown, some calendars will indicate it occurs on Tuesday, August 1st...
June 2017 Site Updates
The Decree of Torah...
[ The following entry concerns our Torah reading for this week, parashat Chukat... ]
06.25.17 (Tamuz 2, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (Chukat) begins, zot chukat ha-Torah (זאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה), "this is the decree of Torah" (Num. 19:2). The language here is both striking and unique, suggesting that what follows, namely, the ritual of the parah adumah or "red heifer," is nothing less than "the seminal decree" of the entire Torah... If we think about the meaning of the mysterious decree of the red heifer, however, we will realize that its ashes were used to create the "waters of separation" (i.e., mei niddah: מֵי נִדָּה) to cleanse people from contact with death (i.e., separation). To fulfill God's vital decree, however, required sacrificial love, since the priest who offered this service would become defiled (separated) for the sake of the healing of others... The Hebrew word for love is ahavah (אַהֲבָה), from a root verb (יָהַב) that means "to give." Love means giving of yourself to benefit another person (John 15:13). The central decree of Torah, then, beyond our ability to rationally understand, is that God's love is so great that it is willing to become dust and ashes on our behalf so that we might find blessing and life...
The mitzvah of parah adamah (i.e., the red heifer) represents the suspension of logic in deference to the Divine Will. This attitude is not restricted to this mitzvah. Scripture introduces the mitzvah of the parah adamah with the words "this is the law of the Torah." Surrendering one's own reasoning and accepting the superior reasoning of Hashem is the law of the entire Torah... To the extent that we let go of our own will, we can understand the Divine will. Our ancestors at Sinai understood this ideal when they proclaimed, "we will do and then we will understand." Torah is not beyond our understanding, but we must be willing to make the sacrifices that true Torah understanding demands. - Living Each Day, Rabbi Abraham Twerski
Yeshua willingly became unclean on our behalf - through contact with our sin and death - so that we could become clean (Isa. 53:4, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:3, Eph. 5:2, Titus 2:14). The pure became impure through His sacrificial offering. Because of Him, we have been cleansed from our sins "by a better sprinkling" than that which the Tabernacle of Moses could afford (Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:14, 12:24, Eph. 1:7, 1 Pet. 1:2,18-19, Rom. 5:9; Col. 1:14, 1 John 1:7, etc.).
Lamentation and Loneliness...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) Ah Lord, you have given me an incurable wound, a pain that refuses to leave my heart; for mi li va'shamayim? "Whom have I in heaven but you?" And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Psalm 73:25). I whisper to Thy heart, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you," and yet I am bound in this place of lonely exile, pining away in grief... My heart cries, ad-anah Adonai, "How long, O Lord, forever?" Nevertheless I affirm: "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." There is nothing I seek apart from your "with me" Presence, O beloved Savior; therefore be true to your love and bear my way through these hours...
וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ
mi · li · va·sha·ma·yim
ve·im·me·kha · lo · cha·fatz·ti · va·a·retz
"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."
The Berditchever rebbe was asked if his ongoing debate with heaven - protesting that God was not dealing correctly with his people - was a sin of lashon hara (evil speech), to which he replied that the spies slandered God when they said, "We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than us (Num. 13:31), yet his burden was rather, ad-anah Adonai, "How long, O Lord, will you forget us, forever?" (Psalm 13:1), and, "You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth" (Isa. 62:6-7).
"For we know that the whole creation groans (συστενάζει) and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved" (Rom. 8:22-24).
The Warning of Korah...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Korach) centers on the rebellion of Korach, a man who questioned God's authority and arrogantly sought to "intrude" into the office of the priesthood. It is noteworthy that his rebellion is explicitly mentioned only once in the New Testament - in the Book of Jude - as an example of the fate that awaits those false teachers who likewise despise God's law. Unfortunately, Jude's warning is often neglected today, probably because people feel uncomfortable over the prospect of God's judgment. After all, in our "politically correct" age, people have been indoctrinated to regard "tolerance" as the greatest of virtues and "intolerance" (even of evil) as the greatest of vices.... Most unbelievers don't mind hearing the "good news" of God's love, but they take exception when they are confronted with their personal duty to live according to the moral truth revealed in the Torah. False teachers within the church are dangerous because they feed on this sense of discomfort and attempt to rationalize it away. Jude identifies them as spiritual impostors who "work from the inside" to confound or obscure the truth of God. Such charlatans may appear to be "true believers," but their hidden agenda is to sow confusion and sin among God's children. They are proverbial "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15). Jude's warning is especially important for us to heed in this present hour, because in the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah, spiritual deception and unbridled godlessness will greatly increase (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Note: For more on this very important subject, see "The Message of Jude." Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, chaverim. Thank you for being part of Hebrew for Christians!
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) Those who deny that objective truth exists (or those who deny that something may be known about reality) are themselves making a truth claim, namely the claim that there is no such thing as objective truth (or that knowledge of the world is not possible). This self-inflicted incoherence is a sign of irrationalism, of course, the abandonment of reason, which perhaps is the ulterior motive for such manner of thinking, after all. The person who denies truth does so to escape the demands of truth – to flee from personal responsibility before moral and spiritual Reality. It is a form of "wish-fulfillment" to deny that people are not responsible for what they believe and how they live their lives. Hence our culture's obsessive "busyness," its craving for ongoing diversion, entertainment, fantasy, escapism, and so on. Our generation finds evil in "boredom" and finds nothing of lasting interest because it has forsaken the big questions of life and the pursuit of truth. Popular culture encourages apathy, indifference, and seeks to enslave people to thrills and titillations of the moment... The ancient pagan world at least esteemed honor and believed in the pursuit of virtue and truth, but today's post-Christian world is nihilistic, anarchist, and therefore marks a return to barbarism.
The absurd claim that truth does not exist is not unlike the the absurd claim that there is no God, no Supreme Being, and no Primordial Intelligent Cause for all that exists. For an atheist to seriously claim there is no being in any possible world that fits the description of "God," he or she would have to be omniscient, omnipotent, and indeed exercise the very attributes of the Being which is denied to anywhere exist...
The Seeming Way...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Prov. 14:12). Our postmodern culture celebrates "relativism," or the spurious notion that that there is no such thing as objectively knowable truth... Apart from the self-contradiction that arises by saying that it is (objectively) true that there is no objective truth, the unthinking acceptance of this sophistical perspective leads to mindlessness, the lack of creativity, moral stupidity and apathy, and delusional thinking. Popular culture inculcates and preaches there are no moral absolutes and therefore terms like "right" and "wrong," "just" and "unjust," "true" and "untrue" should (ahem) be translated as expressions of preference without any reference to moral categories or structures that extend beyond the individual (or sometimes collective) will. According to this dimwitted view, Mother Theresa was no better a person than was Adolf Hitler; and therefore genocide, slavery, murder, and so on, are "lifestyle choices" that express individual or collective preference, but nothing else. Indeed such a viewpoint claims there is no way to infer an "ought" from an "is" (no "prescription" from "description") and therefore assigning moral praise, blame or responsibility is ultimately meaningless. Understand, then, that the uncritical acceptance of this sort of relativism stifles the life of the mind by implying that there is no difference between truth and error, between good and evil, between beauty and ugliness, between logical and illogical thinking, and so on. However, since language and meaning are necessarily grounded in logic, naive relativism is ultimately unintelligible and incommunicable, since logic assumes that meaning and rules of inference serve as the conditions of any expression of thought. I share this to point out that the thinking of our culture is not based on careful reflection or reasoning but is essentially a matter of brute force, and therefore it is rightly to be regarded as irrationalism, an implied appeal to violence, and depraved thinking. Of course this sort of relativism is a very useful indoctrination technique regularly used by political agitators, the mass media, by government propagandists, con artists, and by all those who rely on dimwitted people to manipulate and control. Therefore the thoughtful person of truth, that is, the person of genuine moral conviction derived from intuitive axioms of reasoning, will always be regarded as an enemy to those who live and practice the lie.
יֵשׁ דֶּרֶךְ יָשָׁר לִפְנֵי־אִיש
yesh · de·rekh · ya·shar · lif·nei-ish
ve·a·char·i·tah · dar·khei-ma·vet
"There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death"
Yes indeed "there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Prov. 14:12). Martin Buber once said, "What is accomplished through lies can assume the mask of truth; what is accomplished through violence can go in the guise of justice, and for a while the hoax may be successful. But soon people realize that lies are lies at bottom, that violence is violence - and that both lies and violence will suffer the destiny history has in store for all that is false." As Yeshua himself said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). "Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are all those who love and practice the lie..." (Rev. 22:14-15).
The Faces of Life...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) The Hebrew word for "face" is panim (פָּנִים), a term that is grammatically plural, which suggests that there is no single "face" or appearance that can fully define or express the essence of a person. Just as your soul (נְשָׁמָה) is a unity that contains a multiplicity of changes yet remains a distinct identity, so there is an "inward face" that abides the outer expressions. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "inside" is penim (פְּנִים), which is spelled exactly the same as the word for "face."
The word panim itself comes from panah (פָּנָה), a verb meaning "to turn." The Hebrew preposition "before" is lifnei (לִפְנֵי), from the same root, which literally means "turning toward" or "facing" something. This suggests that we have to consider different angles or perspectives and be careful not to jump to conclusions or to make superficial judgments about others. We have to turn in empathy toward others. The Torah says we are to judge be'tzedek (בְּצֶדֶק), that is, with righteousness, by using a "good eye," by giving the benefit of the doubt to others, and by exercising kindness (Lev. 19:15). As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
"Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but you don't notice the log in your own?" (Matt. 7:4). The Baal Shem Tov is reported to have said, "It is not good to be alone, for one cannot know one's own defects. Other people are mirrors, in which you can discover your own flaws by observing the acts you dislike in them. In fact, it is only because you share them yourself in some degree that you are able to see another person's flaws." May it be Thy will, Lord and God of our fathers, to remove all barriers between us, and endow us with the vision to see the good in all people, and overlook their defects. Amen.
In the great "three-in-one blessing" known as birkat kohanim (Num. 6:24-26), the LORD is asked to shine the light of His face upon us (פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ), and to lift up His face to behold us in love... The two "faces" here represent the loving countenance of the Divine Presence and our own face turned toward His loving gaze. Therefore the most intimate connection with the LORD is described as being panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), being "face to face" with God. The LORD is the One who sees the "face beneath the face" in our hearts, and that face ultimately is that of Yeshua Himself: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). Let us therefore come boldly (i.e., without pretense) before the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
Echoes from the Future...
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) Yeshua forewarned of the alienation and moral sickness that would pervade mankind just before the time of his return: "Because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, from -α ('not') + νομος, 'torah') will be increased," he said, "the love of many will grow cold (i.e., ψύχομαι, 'be extinguished')" (Matt. 24:12). Note the link between Torah and love: true love requires respect for God's authority, for without that the divine image is disfigured and desecrated. Likewise the Apostle Paul foresaw that the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) would be a time of peril (καιροὶ χαλεποί) because people would become increasingly narcissistic, self-absorbed, infatuated with their own sense of self-importance, abusive toward others, disrespectful to elders, ungrateful, heartless, unforgiving, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, and so on (2 Tim. 3:1-4). Therefore, in light of the spiritual war that rages all around us, it is vital that we remain firmly rooted in what is real by taking hold of our identity and provision as children of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), i.e., a "delivered" mind -- centered and "healed" from inner chaos (2 Tim. 1:7). The name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence," and in Him "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). He is as close as our heart and our very breath (Rom. 10:8). We are not to be troubled like the world that lives in terror of man, nor are we to crave security from the vain devices of mere men. No - we must look to God Almighty, the Master of the Universe. He alone is our Refuge and Defense, the One who gives us steadfast love in the midst of these storms. "Let not your heart be troubled" - God is in control of the whirlwind, friends...
According to orthodox Jewish eschatological tradition, the period of time immediately before the Messiah's arrival is sometimes called ikvot meshicha (עִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחַ), the time when the "footsteps of the Messiah" can be heard. Some of the "signs" of this period include the rise of various false prophets, numerous wars and "rumors of wars" (including the rise of Magog), famines, earthquakes, worldwide apostasy from the faith, persecution, and a globalized sort of godlessness that is revealed in unbridled selfishness, greed, chutzpah (audacity), shamelessness, and a general lack of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude). The greatest sign, however, will be that Israel will exist once again as a sovereign nation, despite the prophesied exile among the nations (Deut. 4:27-31; Jer. 30:1-3). For more on this fascinating subect, see the article "Birthpangs of Messiah."
Redeeming the Time...
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) Our life in this world will end far sooner than we expect, and then what will become of us? I am not here thinking of the end of "the" world, but rather the end of your world - when you will die and face the light of eternity. Today, this moment, you are on the way, going someplace; your "latter days" are already come... If you are not prepared today, how will you be better prepared tomorrow? Today is the day of salvation, the hour that matters most (Psalm 95:7; Heb. 3:13). Learn to die to the world now, to let go of what presently holds you captive, so that you are free to meet that which forever shall come. Don't put off genuine teshuvah: turn while there is still time (Eph. 5:15-16). And may God give us mercy to say from the heart: "For me to live is Messiah, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21).
Our Daily Teshuvah...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) Teshuvah ("repentance") is described as "turning" to God, though practically speaking it is a repeated turning, that is, a turning to God in moments of ambiguity, pain, distress, as well as in moments of happiness, elation, celebration... It is in the midst of the ego's clamor, before the parade of worldly desire or pressure, in the crucible of "everydayness" that we must "come to ourselves" and find true wonder. In that sense, teshuvah is a sort of focus, a direction, a seeking, and a center of life -- the place of constant repair for the inner breach we constantly feel. Therefore our LORD directed us to pray, ten-lanu ha'yom lechem chukeinu: תֶּן־לָנוּ הַיּוֹם לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ - "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11), which is to say, give to our hearts the nourishment we truly need, namely, the ongoing willingness to see "the LORD who is always before us" (Psalm 16:8).
Making the Dead Alive...
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) We must be careful not to confuse cause and effect in the realm of the spiritual. After the original transgression of Adam and Eve, death became the root problem of the human condition, so to speak, with indwelling sin as its fruit (i.e., the "works of the flesh"). It is this inherited "spiritual death" that causes sin. To focus on outward behavior without first of all dealing with the underlying problem of spiritual death is therefore a misstep. It is to clean the outside of the cup or to wash the outside of a tomb in a vain attempt to disguise the truth about our unclean and dead condition. The good news is not that God wants to make bad people good, but rather wants to make dead people alive... The cure for spiritual death is to be reborn and to partake of the resurrected life of Yeshua.
Following Yeshua is not a sort of "moral reformation" or self-improvement program to make us acceptable to God. Yeshua did not die on the cross so that we would become entangled in the old ways of being... No! He is Lord and Master and we find new life in His acts of deliverance done on our behalf and for our benefit. The temptation is always to go back to the law of sin and death (i.e., the principle of self-justification), but as Luther once said: "The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands."
"LORD, I need Thee every hour..." There never will be a time when we "get past" the need for God's grace given in Yeshua, since the only antidote to power of indwelling sin is the greater power of God's redeeming love within our hearts (1 John 3:8). The gospel is - not was - "the power of God for salvation (δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν) for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16); it is an ongoing source of power for our lives... Our identity is made secure in the finished work of the Messiah - we trust in His strength, not our own; it is "Messiah in you" that is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Just as we are given a new life entirely by means of God's grace, so we are also sanctified as we walk in that newness of life... "As you received Yeshua the Messiah the LORD, so walk in Him" (Col. 2:6). The focus is always on Yeshua and His righteousness and obedience... Every step of the way is a miracle and a wonder when we walk "in Messiah."
We walk "in Him," that is, in His strength, in His power, in His love... we don't walk "to" Him or attempt to climb the "stairway to heaven." Yeshua is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Bridge - sha'ar hashamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) and the Divine Ladder upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend. We look to Him, not to ourselves for life. Because of the life of Yeshua within us, we are now able to bear fruit of the Holy Spirit as the Torah is written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31). We are enabled to keep the Torah of Yeshua (תּוֹרָה יֵשׁוּעַ) because the life of Yeshua empowers us to do so...
Beware False Prophets...
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 5777) "Beware of false prophets," Yeshua warned, "who come to you in sheep's clothing (literally, "the skins of sheep," ἐν ἐνδύμασι προβάτων), but who inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:15; cp. 2 Pet. 2:1). However, because they come in disguise, pretending to be "children of light," we must be all the more vigilant. On the one hand, we must beware of those who "wrap themselves in a tallit" (legalists) and teach that we should come under the yoke of the law (Matt. 23:15), and on the other hand, we must beware those who deny or minimize words of the Torah, and who falsely claim that the way to heaven is "broad," and that we therefore have licence to walk after the desires of our own hearts (antinomianists). We must use discernment, chaverim. The LORD allows false teachers in our midst to test our hearts: "For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1 Cor. 11:19). Therefore we must "test the spirits" to see if they are "of God," that is, whether they focus on the righteousness of God given exclusively through Yeshua, the "narrow way that leads to life" - or whether they focus on something else. The Ruach HaKodesh always centers the heart on the glory of God revealed in Yeshua (John 16:14; 1 Cor. 2:2, etc.).
So many people want to argue about law vs. grace; faith vs. works, and so on. These are "antinomies" of reason; they serve as another test for you to surrender to the tension of unknowing, paradox, and therefore they will make you vulnerable to misunderstanding (and even slander) from others... False teachers like to appeal to what "makes sense" or that which flatters the ego (pride); false teaching often stresses one side of the paradox at the expense of the other... Hence we see legalism and libertinism in various churches.... Please understand that I am not anti-Torah and indeed I have written more about the value and meaning of Torah than any other Christian ministry of which I am aware. I use the word "Torah" correctly, however, understanding it to be in harmony with the idea of God's grace, and I do not make the common mistake of understanding it as "law." To the legalist I will stress grace, unconditional love, etc.; to the grace-based I will stress personal responsibility, the need to do works of righteousness, etc. The heart of the law is the law of the gospel; God is One and Torah is One. Do not confuse the idea of "brit" or covenant with the deeper idea of Torah, which refers to direction, vision, focus, kavanah, purpose, passion, and so on.
For more see the role of Torah pages.
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 5777) It is written in our Scriptures: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God' (אָמַר נָבָל בְּלִבּוֹ אֵין אֱלהִים). Indeed Psalm 14 teaches us that the willful denial of reality is an affront to heaven, contempt shown for the gift of life, and sacrilege of all that is worthy. It is sheer folly to regard life apart from the fear of the LORD, for that is reishit chokhmah - the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10). The existence of God is the First Principle of all sound reasoning regarding reality. The so-called "postmodern world" is notorious for failing to explain anything of substantive meaning. Everything is left unexplained; no narrative is permitted (except the narrative that there is no narrative, of course); no logical connections to a "real world" are sound; there is no "story" to our lives, and therefore postmodernism fatuously misses the essential point of everything. King David asked, "Who shall abide before the Presence of the LORD?" and the Spirit replied: "the one who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart" (Psalm 15:2). It is the one who is honest – "the one who speaks truth within his heart" (דבֵר אֱמֶת בִּלְבָבוֹ) that dwells in the "tent of the LORD," for God is called the God of Truth (אֵל אֱמֶת), the Faithful God (אֵל אֱמוּנָה). In heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. The "pure in heart" – that is, those who accept the truth of their inner condition, who acknowledge their lost condition, mourning over their lives, and who humbly find themselves starving for God's deliverance – these are the ones who shall behold God (Matt. 5:2-6). Blaise Pascal once wrote: "I can feel nothing but compassion for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business. But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end, I view differently. This negligence in the matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity: yea, it astounds and appalls me..." (Pascal: Pensees).
The Projection of Korah...
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 5777) In our Torah reading this week (Korach), Moses' cousin Korah accused Moses of self-aggrandizement and superiority by saying, "Why do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the LORD? ... Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you also make yourself a prince over us?" (Num. 16:3,13). The Talmud comments: "One who seeks to disqualify another projects his own defects upon him." Korah's own self-exaltation and vanity led him to suppose that Moses was likewise proud and vain. His envy so twisted his perspective that he saw good as bad and bad as good. For him Egypt was the land "flowing with milk and honey" and Moses - not Pharaoh - was the real tyrant! In this connection the Baal Shem Tov said that other people serve as mirrors, and the defects we see in them reflect our own. Korah needed to see that his envy of Moses was rooted in fear, and that healing would come if he would let go and trust that God was in control of his life.
We can learn from the madness of Korah -- as well as his terrible end... "As you judge another you condemn yourself, for you that judge do the same things" (Rom. 2:1). How you react to another person reveals what is within your own heart, and this provides the opportunity to find healing by doing teshuvah and extending compassion to yourself. When you condemn another you are hurting yourself, after all. It is not a matter of factual truth as much as it is of the truth of hope and love. As we forgive others, so we find our own forgiveness (Luke 6:37), but if we insist on our rights, we find ourselves in hell... Fire offered falsely will be answered by the fire of God's judgment.
For much more on this subject, see "The Madness of Korah."
Marks of False Teachers...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 5777) False teachers tend to be "people pleasers." They desire the esteem of the crowd, the praises of men, and therefore appeal to the murmurings of the unregenerate heart: "Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isa. 30:10). They flatter people by "tickling their ears"; they offer either platitudes or "new revelation" based on their own imagination. Consequently, they tend to be grandiose and quick to disparage God's faithful servants. Thus Korah accused Moses of wanting to exalt himself, when this only disclosed the evil lurking within his own heart (Num. 16:3). False teachers speak in their own name and presume to be something when they are nothing (Gal. 6:3). "The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not... they are prophesying to you a lying vision, the deceit of their own minds" (Jer. 14:14). They secretly deny that Yeshua is LORD (יהוה), though they may offer "lip service" about his importance (2 Pet. 2:1). Instead of focusing on the message of the gospel and the greatness of salvation found in Messiah, they "major in minors," passing over the weightier matters for the sake of various divisive doctrines (Matt. 23:23). They desire to be teachers of the law, but they have no idea what they are talking about (1 Tim. 1:7). Often such deceivers have natural charisma, charm, "good hair," and an ability to bewitch people through buttery oratory or clever presentation (Col. 2:4,8). Often they focus on the truth of the head rather than the truth of the heart; they are more concerned with being vindicated than healing broken hearts. Finally, they tend to exploit people to promote their own self-serving agenda (1 Pet. 2:1-3). They make "merchandise" out of the gullible, regarding them as the means to support their "ministry" rather than as precious souls in need of God's love and care...
False teachers inevitably "twist the Scriptures" by offering unsound interpretations contrary to the ruach, or spirit of the Hebrew prophets, and by evading the commandment to "rightly divide" the word of Truth according to basic logic and clear thinking (2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 3:16). In Christian circles, they often come in the name of the law (legalism) or in the name of grace (licentiousness), but rarely do they take the trouble to carefully (and equitably) work through the paradoxical tensions. False teachers are uncomfortable humbly confessing they don't know something, and therefore they are quick to style themselves as an infallible prophet or source of authoritative wisdom...
There is no substitute for taking the time and energy to humbly study Torah, friends, and we should be suspicious of those who claim special insight when it is evident that they have not really labored working through the Scriptures... All disciples of Yeshua are called "students," or talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים), a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn" (the study of Scripture is called talmud Torah (תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה) from the same root). Among other things, then, following Yeshua means becoming a student of the Jewish Scriptures that he both loved and perfectly fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45). Only after learning the truth of the Scriptures will you be equipped to "go to all the nations and teach" others (Matt. 28:19). This is accomplished not merely by explaining (propositional) doctrine but by kiddush HaShem -- sanctifying the LORD in our lives (1 Pet. 1:15-16). "You shall know them by their fruits..."
Yeshua brings the kingdom of God "at hand," that is, into the realm of this fallen world. False teachers are emissaries of evil, commissioned by the devil to seduce, deceive, and ensnare souls; they disguise themselves as an "angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). God allows false teachers to justify the desires of the unregenerated heart, for such teachers find their audience among those who want to be deceived (Matt. 13:24-30; 15:14). In other words, there can be no false teachers apart from false believers who go along with the ruse. In light of this possibility, we should be careful to honestly examine our hearts. What are your motives for faith? What draws you to Yeshua? Do you accept the message of the gospel or are you trusting in something else? Are you really one of his "sheep"? Do you hear his voice, or are you heeding something contrary to the truth of the Holy Spirit?
Just as the easiest way to spot a counterfeit dollar bill is to know the various details of the original, so our best defence against false teaching is to know the details of doctrine and to use discernment as the LORD helps us "test the spirits" (1 John 4:1). This implies that we "build ourselves up in the most holy faith" by carefully (i.e., humbly) studying the word of God - especially the Torah, since the Torah is the foundation of all that follows (Jude 1:20). In this way we will be able to accurately wield the Sword of the Spirit (2 Tim. 2:15-16, 2 Pet. 1:19-20). In order to grow, we must have "good soil" for the seed of the word to take root. We "get rooted by knowing the roots" of our faith! Studying the Scriptures and praying in the Spirit of Truth keeps us securely in the love of God as we wait for the mercy of Yeshua who gives us eternal life (Jude 1:21).
Breath of Life...
06.20.17 (Sivan 26, 5777) A verse from this week's Torah (Korach) reveals another great Name of God: Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). The LORD is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as the glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the breath (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (i.e., ruach: רוּחַ) that forms and fills the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). Note that the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in this connection (Gen. 2:7), a Name that means "God is Present" (Exod. 3:14) and "God is Mercy" (Exod. 34:6-7). Note also that each letter of the Name YHVH represents a vowel sound (i.e., breath), suggesting that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).
The special Name Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar appears only one other place in the Torah. After accepting the fact that he would soon die and therefore be unable to finally lead the people into the promised land, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).
The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him.
Cleaving to the Unseen...
06.20.17 (Sivan 26, 5777) There is an inherent dualism in our spiritual consciousness wherein we are seeking an eternal happiness and ultimate good that transcends anything that may be found in this temporal world. Our faith confesses that reality itself is "two-tiered," corresponding to two different realms of existence, namely, an "upper realm" of the immaterial and spiritual (i.e., heaven) and a "lower realm" of the material and physical (i.e., the natural universe). Upon reflection we may feel lost in this duality, not knowing where we belong or who we really are. Ancient Greek philosophy regarded the soul (i.e., consciousness) as "imprisoned" within the body, and therefore it advised meditating on intellectual ideals, "forms," and "essences," to transcend the chaos of fate and our natural passions. Philosophy is a sort of "recollection" whereby we return to the original Good that has been lost and is presently concealed by the illusion of mere appearances.
Now ancient Greek philosophy understood the dualistic nature of reality (as far it goes), though of course the Torah had implied these matters long before the advent of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle... This present world is fading away, and finitude, dissolution, and the "dust of death" seem omnipresent. Nevertheless our hearts yearn for eternity, for life, and for the ideal of everlasting significance. We long for meaning, wonder, greatness, and the peace and peace of unconditional love, yet we find ourselves trapped within a diseased and moribund world that is filled with thwarted dreams, painful losses, harrowing vexations, and death... We hunger and thirst for real life, for salvation from our misery, but the cosmological visions of mechanistic science reveal an immense emptiness that has no goal or end, no explanation for its existence, and therefore no meaning or genuine hope.
"Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light is throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so." - Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
The experience of dualism and ambiguity is by divine design, of course... Upon earnest reflection, the human heart begins to cry out for something more (Eccl. 3:11). Though we understand that we are creatures formed of the dust of the earth, we sense something of the divine within us; we inwardly hear an "echo from Eden" that reminds us of paradise lost... We shrink before our own powerlessness and insignificance yet we dare to believe in the eternal glories of love, beauty, justice, and everlasting life. We simultaneously see ourselves as both physical beings, restricted by time, history, and culture, as well as spiritual beings, transcending the fate of the natural by visions and dreams of the ideal, thereby sensing the glorious and the sacred. Neither of these "polarities" of the soul can be blended or synthesized, however, which leaves us in a state of existential tension wherein we cling to the vision of the Eternal in the midst of the fleeting shadows of this present realm (Rom. 8:4, Gal. 5:16-17). Faith refuses to "reduce" the significance, value, worth, and aspirations of the human heart into purely natural categories and terms, and therefore spiritual life constitutes a "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence. Life in olam hazeh (this world) is corridor leading to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying "natural" phenomena is a deeper and higher reality that is ultimately real and abiding. There is an end or "telos" (goal) that sets the direction or Torah of our dualistic existence. Faith "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). The heart of faith looks beyond this realm to behold a city whose designer and builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
It has been said that God "hides" so that we may learn to seek Him. This seeking involves all our hearts, since we will not seek God until we understand the inner crisis. It is not enough to know right words of theology, since we must learn to think the right way, and this comes at the cost of struggle, wrestling, and testing. We cannot rely on reason alone to guide us, for that relegates beauty, mystery, and hope into oblivion; nor can we dismiss reason, for then faith becomes absurd and ridiculous. We must find a delicate balance: "faith seeking understanding," knowing when it is right to question, to doubt, and to analyze, and when it is right to affirm, to submit, and to surrender. Reason is a servant of something more fundamental, namely the heart or the will; it is activated at the stir of the soul's desire.
The dualism of life shows up within our hearts as well, as we wrestle with our own faith and with "double-mindedness," that is, the ambivalence that results from not having our minds made up. On the one hand, we need to confess the truth of our radical sinfulness, our depravity, our brokenness, and so on, while on the other we must endure ourselves and find faith that God's blessing nevertheless belongs to us, and that Yeshua gave his life for us and loves us -- despite ourselves. We have to be willing to take God's new name for us and believe that God has transformed our deepest nature for eternal good. We have to be renamed from Jacob to Israel, and yet we know ourselves as both... In other words, we must learn to "put on" the new nature and to "put off" the carnal reasoning of our former life. The answer for us is found in the word "miracle," as God in great mercy and compassion regenerates us, comforts us, and then guides our way back to the truth of his salvation.
הֵן־אֱמֶת חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת
וּבְסָתֻם חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי
hen · e·met · cha·fatz·ta · va·tu·chot
uv·sa·tum · chokh·mah · to·di·ei·ni
"Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you will teach me wisdom in the secret heart"
Honesty and Faith..
06.19.17 (Sivan 25, 5777) In the Torah we read that the LORD said to Moses, "Send for yourself (שְׁלַח־לְךָ) men to spy out the land" (Num. 13:2), which the sages traditionally interpreted to mean that it was not God's decision to send the spies, and indeed later we learn that it was the people who had persuaded Moses to send the scouts ahead: "Then all of you came near me and said, 'Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.' The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe" (see Deut. 1:22-23). Moses consented with the people's request because he (mistakenly) believed they were sincere in their desire to discover the best way to ascend to the land. The people were dishonest with themselves, however, and merely pretended to be concerned about logistics and strategy. Their real motive was not to discover the way of ascent, but rather to discover whether God could be trusted... Had the people been honest with themselves, confessing their fear, they might have found opportunity to repent, but because they denied the truth and hid it from themselves, they were unable to go forward. Without honesty faith is impossible. We must trust, but if we cannot do that, then we need to confess our brokenness there - in the midst of our fears... God is so good that he runs to us, as the prodigal's father in the story, to meet us in our weakness...
"Those who do not love truth excuse themselves on the grounds that it is disputed and that very many people deny it. Thus their error is solely die to the fact that they neither love truth nor charity, and so they have no excuse." - Blaise Pascal (Pensees)
Madness and Envy...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach... ]
06.19.17 (Sivan 25, 5777) The sages asked how it was possible that Korach could have seriously questioned Moses' role as God's appointed leader, and they answered that he became jealous because his cousin was chosen to be the chief of the Levites instead of him. Korach's envy so possessed him that he impugned Moses' leadership, even though he directly witnessed how Moses had miraculously delivered the Israelites from Egypt by the power of the LORD. Such is the terrible, blinding power of envy, a force that is said to "remove a person from the world" (Avot 4:28) into a realm of grandiosity, delusional thinking, and even insanity. Envy derives from the secret fear that you are inadequate, invisible, and unworthy of love, and therefore it often "overcompensates" as preening grandiosity. This explains the psychological "need" to be better than others – making comparisons that alienate and cause suffering. Everyone wants to feel chosen, special, and unique, though God's love is never expressed at the expense of others... "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). When you begin to understand that God loves you with an everlasting love (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם), you will no longer want to compare yourself to others...
Yes, by all means run the race to win the prize, but understand the prize to mean profound humility, service to others, renunciation of the ego, the loss of all that carnal reason and this senseless world esteems as valuable...
"There is nothing everyone is so afraid of as being told how vastly much he is capable of. You are capable of - do you want to know? - you are capable of living in poverty; you are capable of standing almost any kind of maltreatment, abuse, etc. But you do not wish to know about it, isn't that so? You would be furious with him who told you so, and only call that person your friend who bolsters you in saying: 'No, this I cannot bear, this is beyond my strength, etc." (Kierkegaard: Journals).
Chief Seats at Synagogue...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.19.17 (Sivan 25, 5777) Our Torah this week begins, "And Korach took" (וַיִּקַּח קרַח), which immediately suggests something about the character of the man. Though he was wealthy, esteemed among his tribe, and honored with the task of caring for the Ark of the Covenant, none of this was enough for Korach... There was an insatiable hunger, a "black hole" in his soul, an unrelenting envy, that drove him to madness and self-destruction. Korach was imprisoned by his own jealousy, arrogance, and spite. When he compared himself to Moses and Aaron, he felt overlooked, deprived, and therefore he rationalized and justified his desire to be honored. As an archetypal figure, Korach warns us against being swallowed up with egotistical envy or seeking the praises of men (Matt. 23:6-7). In the Kingdom of heaven, worldly success is sheer delusion. There are open and hidden riches. There is a pearl of great price, a treasure "hidden in a field." These riches are regarded as "fool's gold" to those who love this world and trust only in the realm of the phenomenal, but to those who trust in the LORD, they represent all that the heart needs...
The son of Zoma said: "Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: 'From all those who taught me I gained understanding' (Psalm 119:99). Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination, as it is said: 'Better is one slow to anger than a strong man, and one who rules over his spirit than a conqueror of a city' (Prov. 16:32). Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot, as it is said: 'When you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you' (Psalm 128:2). 'You are fortunate' - in this world; 'and it is good for you' - in the World to Come. Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is said: 'For those who honor Me will I honor, and those who scorn Me will be degraded'" (1 Sam. 2:30). – Avot 4:1
Note: For more on this topic, see the article, "The Madness of Korah."
The Rebellion of Korah...
[ Our Torah reading this week, parashat Korach, which falls on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz... ]
06.18.17 (Sivan 24, 5777) Last week's Torah portion (Shelach Lekha) told the tragic story about the "sin of the spies" and the divine decree that the generation rescued from Egypt was sentenced to die in the exile of the desert. In this week's portion (Korach), the hard truth of their condition began to sink in, and the people bemoaned their fate and rebelled further by attempting to overthrow God's designated leadership and return to Egypt. This rebellion was instigated and organized by Moses' cousin Korach, who – along with a band of co-conspirators – was swiftly judged and put to death, thereby vindicating the Aaronic priesthood and Moses' leadership of Israel.
Korach was the cousin of Moses and a well-respected Kohathite who was honored to be one of the carriers of the Holy Ark. He was a wealthy man of influence - a nassi (prince) of the people. Despite all this privilege, however, Korach rationalized that he should be the head of the Kohathite clan (instead of his cousin Elzaphan), since he was the firstborn of Kohath's second son, whereas Elzaphan was not even a firstborn son. Indeed, because he felt slighted by Moses' choice, Korach went even further and brazenly questioned whether the office of the High Priest should not have been given to him – rather than to Aaron.
Korach's co-conspirators were two brothers named Dathan and Abiram from the tribe of Reuben, Israel's firstborn son. Together, they put together a force of 250 men to confront Moses and to challenge his exclusive claim to leadership: "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?"
In response to their challenge, Moses proposed that Korach and his followers bring firepans to offer incense at the Tabernacle to determine whether they were indeed chosen to serve as priests. The following morning, when Korach and his 250 followers assembled at the gate of the Tabernacle to offer incense, God threatened to destroy them all instantly. Moses begged God not to destroy all the people, but only the rebels. He then warned the congregation to stand clear of the dwellings of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram. The earth then opened up and swallowed them alive, and a fire consumed the 250 men who illegitimately offered the incense...
Korach's rebellion introduced outright mutiny and chaos within the leadership of the camp that brought swift and terrible rebuke from the LORD. Nevertheless, the very next day the entire congregation of Israel audaciously began to accuse Moses and Aaron, saying: "You have killed the people of the Lord." When the people looked toward the Tabernacle, however, the Glory of the LORD appeared, where God descended to tell Moses and Aaron that he was going to destroy the Israelites for their treason. Despite Moses and Aaron's fervent intercession, however, a deadly plague broke out among the people. Moses then instructed Aaron to take his firepan with incense and to bring it in the midst of the congregation to make atonement for them. Aaron did so, "and he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed." The Torah tells us that 14,700 Israelites died because of the plague, not including the deaths of those involved in the rebellion of Korach.
As a final test to vindicate Aaron as God's chosen priest, each of the twelve tribal heads of Israel, as well as Aaron himself, were instructed to bring their staffs to Moses. Moses then inscribed their names on each staff and brought them into the sanctuary before the ark of the testimony. "And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you." The following day Moses went into the Tabernacle and "behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds." He then brought out all the staffs and gave them back to each of the tribal leaders. God then told Moses to return Aaron's staff to the Tabernacle as a testimony for generations to come.
After all this transpired, the people began to dread the Presence of the LORD and the Tabernacle. To allay their fears, Moses gave them assurance that the sons of Aaron (i.e., the priests) and the Levites alone would bear responsibility for the sanctuary. But since the Levites and priests would receive no portion in the Promised Land, the people were instructed to generously support them by means of various gifts that are listed at the end of the Torah reading.
Finding Real Treasure...
06.16.17 (Sivan 22, 5777) For what do you hope? What are your dreams? Your deepest desires? Where is your treasure? Yeshua cautioned those who sought their happiness in this world: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures upon earth... be rich toward God" (Matt. 6:19-20; Luke 12:21). When we treasure God, our focus is directed toward the eternal reality, and our interest in this world is minimal. We trust God to meet our daily needs and surrender our future to His care. The only worry we face concerns our own deficiencies in our obligations to the Savior. Our duty is to love God in the truth - bekhol levavkha - with all our heart, having no thought of ourselves. Indeed, self-denial means to quit thinking about yourself (from α-, "not," + ῥέω, "to speak") by accepting what God has done for you. "It is not my business to think about myself. My business is to think about God. It is for God to think about me" (Simone Weil).
וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ
mi · li · va·sha·ma·yim
ve·im·me·kha · lo · cha·fatz·ti · va·a·retz
"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."
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[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha... ]
06.16.17 (Sivan 22, 5777) The spies said, "we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them" (Num. 13:33). Here the sages note the subtle - yet profound - connection between how we see ourselves and how we imagine that others see us... This sort of "projection" is common enough in everyday life. However, while it may be valid for you to sometimes feel small, inadequate, and even "grasshoppery," it is not valid to claim that this is how you are regarded by others. After all, how do you know how you appear to others? And, moreover, what difference does that make in light of who God says you are? Who or what defines you? Do you need the approval of men to exist, or the approval of God? Worrying about how others see you, seeking your self worth among the fickle passions of men, is simply carnal and self-centered. When the spies said that "the land devours it inhabitants" (Num. 13:32), they projected their own hidden fears. Instead of seeing God at work, preparing the way for the Israelites to more easily conquer the land, the spies saw only themselves, and that led to their sin of unbelief...
Small in our Eyes...
06.16.17 (Sivan 22, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (Shelach) is a "heavy one" since it focuses on the Sin of the Spies and the subsequent failure of the people to trust that God would care for them. The people's lack of bittachon in God is the most serious sin recorded in all the Torah, even more serious than the sin of the Golden Calf. This is confirmed by the testimony of the New Testament, which presents the fate of the Exodus generation as the dire warning of apostasy for those who claim to follow the Messiah (Heb. 3:7-4:2).
Notice, however, that in order to trust God, you must believe that you are valuable to Him and that He genuinely desires relationship with you. God redeemed you so you could know and love Him. In this connection it is important to notice that the spies said, "we were in our eyes like grasshoppers" (Num. 13:33). They felt small because they had forgotten the reason for their redemption - they had forgotten how much they meant to God. Their lack of self-respect made them feel unworthy of the inheritance. The sin of the spies was not just that they doubted they could overcome the "giants in the land," but rather that they were worthy people in God's eyes... Sadly the spies view of themselves was more real to them than God's view of them, and that is why they added, "and so we were (like grasshoppers) in their eyes." From a spiritual point of view, this was profoundly tragic...
One lesson we can learn from the unbelief of the spies is that we must be careful to esteem ourselves properly. We are created b'tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), and that is the starting point for everything else revealed in the Torah. This foundational idea may be expressed as "respect precedes Torah." Self-esteem and self-worth are very important characteristics because they enable the soul to receive the Word of God. This isn't a selfish, narcissistic type of love. If you have no self-worth, then it is likely you will believe the promises of Scripture are for other people, but not for you. You will regard yourself as an "outsider" or "alien" who is without promise of inheritance. So we have to begin there, with the fact that God created you in His image and therefore you are of infinite value. You matter to God - and therefore you must respect yourself. It is no mark of holiness to shame or belittle yourself - notwithstanding your sinful nature - since you have a duty to honor yourself as one of God's created children. Dishonoring yourself violates the central ethical commandment of the Torah: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). How can you respect others if you don't respect yourself? You will regard yourself as "insect like" and will tend to view others as "gigantic" threats; you will act defensively and walk in fear of other people.... This is the path of a person living in a prison of fear, and it is a type of hell. Trusting in God's personal love for you presupposes that you are worthy to be loved and that there is a divine inheritance for you. This gives you real courage to go take possession of the land as its rightful heir. Trusting in God means regarding God's view of you as more real than your own. It means allowing yourself to be elevated to honor so that you can be in a genuine love relationship with your Heavenly Father. "From now on, therefore, we regard no one (including ourselves) according to the flesh..." (2 Cor. 5:16).
We "walk by faith, not by sight," which means we must take hold of the promise of God, even in a world that "devours its inhabitants" and that is filled of seemingly invincible giants... Faith believes the possible, even in moments of testing and struggle. As Yeshua said, "All things are possible for the one who believes" (Mark 9:23).
"Lord, I believe: help thou my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). "God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may overflow in every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8). May it please God our Heavenly Father to help us esteem ourselves properly so that we can receive, abide in, and walk in the reality and presence of His overflowing love. And may the LORD keep us all from the terrible sin of unbelief by always remembering that we infinitely matter to Him. Amen.
Thank you for praying for us, friends, since we have encountered several tribulations recently. Of course God is faithful, though we ask you to pray for this ministry to continue.
Gift of your Life...
06.16.17 (Sivan 22, 5777) "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly discerned, being understood by the things that are made…" (Rom. 1:20). The very first kindness that God bestows upon you is the miracle of your existence itself, namely, that he "wove you together" in your mother's womb (תְּסֻכֵּנִי בְּבֶטֶן אִמִּי) and brought you into being from nonexistence (Psalm 139:13). This is the gift of life (מַתַּת הַחַיִּים מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם). In Him you "live and move and have your being" (Acts 17:28). You were personally created b'ahavat olam (בְּאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם), in everlasting love, and indeed God knew you before you were born (בְּטֶרֶם אֶצּוֹרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ) (Jer. 1:5; 31:3). You are "fearfully and wonderfully made," a unique soul that bears the handiwork of heaven itself. God's love and mercy sustains your days; the LORD compasses you "behind and before" and lays his hand upon you; He knows all your ways (Psalm 139:1-5). Indeed, God prepares a place for you and calls you to join him at the celebration of his love given in Yeshua.
בְּטֶרֶם אֶצּוֹרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ
וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ
נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיךָ
be·te·rem · e·tzor·kha · va·be·ten · ye·da·ti·kha
u·ve·te·rem · tei·tzei · me·re·chem · hik·dash·ti·kha
na·vi · la·goy·im · ne·ta·ti·kha
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Shepherd in Darkness....
06.15.17 (Sivan 21, 5777) "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil..." (Psalm 23:4). O God of Light, Light of the world, surely You know my need for light as I look to You, especially when darkness tries to extinguish my hope. Despite my inability to see you now, help me to know that you are with me; let "thy rod and thy staff comfort me" and lead me closer to you. Lord, when I am afraid, quicken the faith you have put within my heart. Be Thou my Shepherd in my darkness, O Lord my God...
גַּם כִּי־אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת
לא־אִירָא רָע כִּי־אַתָּה עִמָּדִי
שִׁבְטְךָ וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי
gam · ki · e·lekh · be·gei · tzal·ma·vet
lo · i·ra · ra, · ki · at·tah · im·ma·di
shiv·te·kha · u·mish·an·te·kha · hem·mah · ye·na·cha·mu·ni
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me"
"Be not afraid." Over and over again in the Scriptures we hear the LORD saying to those who trust in Him, al-tirah, "be not afraid." Nachman of Breslov is reported to have once said, "All the earth is a very narrow bridge (כָּל־הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ גֶּשֶׁר צַר מְאד), and the point of life is never to be afraid." Likewise we trust Yeshua to be the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to everlasting life. He calls out to us in the storms of this world, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). The heart of faith senses the LORD's presence, even in the darkness, and hears the Spirit saying, "I am with you..."
"I do not see the road ahead of me, I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for your are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone." - Thomas Merton
In times of testing, how desperately we need a sense of companionship and intimacy with the Lord! When you feel abandoned, ashamed, or alone; or when you are afraid and unsure of yourself; or when pain distances you from others, nudging you to isolation or loneliness, then may God's Spirit brood over you, whispering your name, reminding you that you are never alone, and that God Himself is forever for you, despite yourself. Therefore "fear no evil," because God is with you in the midst of your present darkness. As it is written: "Surely goodness and love shall pursue you all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psalm 23:6). Come alive, O heart of faith!
Logic and Seeing...
06.15.17 (Sivan 21, 5777) Our faith says human beings are created b'tzelem Elohim - in the image of God. "In the beginning was the Logos" (John 1:1). Logic itself is "hard-wired" into us and any attempt to deny its validity presupposes its existence. Logic also presupposes any form of experience, since we cannot even identify something without its categories at work. Similarly, the sense of value is hard-wired into us. We cannot know anything without valuing (and willing) knowledge itself, and therefore our sense of value (and goodness) precedes all experience. So both empirical and moral truth is inescapable for self-conscious individuals. Now since faith is always faith in something, it is evident that it points to something "outside" of itself, namely, to reality. In matters of fact (rather than tautological statements such as a=a), the "belief that p" is an existential statement that "p exists." A particular belief can be mistaken, of course, but if it is a true belief then (by definition) it must proximally correspond to reality. In other words, our beliefs (and the inferences made from our beliefs) are nothing less than confessions of faith concerning what is ultimately real.
For more on this subject, see "Faith and Collision."
The Purpose of Tzitzit...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha and the commandment of tzitzit fringes. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.15.17 (Sivan 21, 5777) After the people rebelled by heeding the report of the spies and were forbidden to enter the Promised Land, the LORD commanded that tzitzit, or "tassels," were to be put on the "corners" (כנפים) of their garments to warn them of the danger of unbelief: "Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels (צִיצִת) on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue (תְּכֵלֶת) on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after" (Num. 15:38-39). In other words, the tzitzit were intended to remind the people of the terrible sin of unbelief that prevented them from obtaining their inheritance. Note that there is Hebrew wordplay used in this passage of Torah, since the verb translated not to "follow after" your own heart and your own eyes (i.e., תּוּר) is the same verb used to describe "spying out" the land of Canaan (Num. 13:2).
Note that donning tzitzit is traditionally performed daily (during morning prayers) by Orthodox Jews as a visual reminder of the duty to keep the commandments of God and to warn of the tragic consequences of unbelief. In a sense, tzitzit serve as a "confession" of weakness since they acknowledge we are prone to be carnally minded and people of little faith...
Spying the Unseen Good...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.14.17 (Sivan 20, 5777) In our Torah portion this week, the people had trekked across the desert of Paran for several days, with their camps ordered in military precision. The Ark of the Covenant was in their midst and the Shekhinah Glory filled the desert skies. Now the people were at Kadesh Barnea (קָדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ), about 11 days out from Sinai and about three days to the border of the promised land... The great promise of Zion was finally within reach! But then a dark misgiving arose within the heart of the people... fear ... the old whisper of the enemy was heard in the desert wind: "has God really said...?" (Gen. 3:1). In light of the events of the great Exodus, the mistrust of the people demonstrates that miracles are insufficient to sustain our faith. "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign." Seeing isn't believing, but rather the other way around. Yeshua made this point in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Even if a person should encounter someone literally risen from the dead it wouldn't suffice to impart true faith (Luke 16:31). The great sin that so angered God to declare: "I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest..." was not that of the Golden Calf, as dreadful as that was, but rather the sin of unbelief.... "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us, therefore, fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it" (Heb. 3:7-4:2).
So which will you choose to believe - the "spying eyes" of the flesh, or the Word and promise of the LORD God Almighty? The choice is yours... The "eyes of the flesh" focus on this world and its possibilities (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה) and are therefore unable to discern beyond mere surface appearances. They are easily seduced by superficialities and glitter of this world and its vanities (עוֹלָם הַשֶּׁקֶר). The eyes of faith, on the other hand, "look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). Faith sees the realm of the invisible (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם): For we "walk by faith, not by sight." We are "saved by hope," but hope that is seen is not hope (Rom. 8:24-25). Faith is the foundation (ὑπόστασις) of things hoped for, the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things (πρᾶγμα) not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
Note: As I've mentioned before, the Hebrew word for "seeing" (ra'ah) is related to the word for "fear" (yirah), suggesting that when we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. It is in this sense that we are to serve the LORD with "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv), that is, with an inner awareness of the sanctity and sacredness of life itself (Phil. 2:12-13). Da lifnei mi atah omed. Sin puts us to sleep, numbs our minds and hearts, and blinds us to the radiance of divine revelation. When we see life as it is, with the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be unified within our hearts...
For more on this topic, see "Spying Eyes: Further Thoughts on Shelach."
The Fear of the LORD...
06.14.17 (Sivan 20, 5777) When the people heard the Voice of the LORD (קוֹל יְהוָה) thunder at Sinai, they drew back in fear and appealed to Moses to be their mediator: "You speak with us and we will listen, but let not God speak with us, for we might die" (Exod. 20:19). Moses paradoxically replied, "Do not fear, for God came in this way to test you and in order that His fear should remain before you, so that you do not sin" (Exod. 20:20). The point of fearing God, then, is to keep us from what separates us from the love of God. The Kotzker Rebbe astutely commented: "When Moses exhorted the people not to be afraid, he meant that the fear "for we might die" was not what God wants from us. Rather, God desires that the fear of Him should remain before you so that you do not sin. That is the only true fear of heaven." The "fear of the LORD" is that we might lose sight of what we really need for life... Sin entices us to fear the "lesser gods"; it seduces us to live in arrogance, pride, anger, envy, lust, despair, and so on. A sinful attitude expresses the opposite of godly reverence and seeks to justify its lesser fears so that soul begins to "love" and defend what enslaves it... Indeed, this is what the "fear of the LORD" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה) most radically means: God's own passion that we would not lose sight of our great need for his healing love.
יִרְאַת יְהוָה שְׂנאת רָע
גֵּאָה וְגָאוֹן וְדֶרֶךְ רָע
וּפִי תַהְפֻּכוֹת שָׂנֵאתִי
yir·at · Adonai · se·not · ra'
ge'ah · ve'ga·on · ve'de·rech · ra'
u'fi · tach·fu·chot · sa·ne·ti
"The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evi
and perverted speech I hate" (Prov. 8:13)
Joshua and Jesus...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha... ]
06.13.17 (Sivan 19, 5777) Before sending out the leaders of the tribes to spy out the land, Moses renamed his trusted servant Hoshea (הוֹשֵׁעַ) to Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ), appending the letter Yod (י) to make his name begin with a divine prefixive (יָהּ־). The Talmud (Sotah 34b) states that Moses foresaw the treachery and faithlessness of the spies and appended the Yod to remind Hoshea that YHVH (יהוה) must come first. This renaming of Hoshea, however, was certainly prophetic, since Joshua was chosen to be the successor of Moses who would finally lead the people into the promised land. Notice that the name Yehoshua (i.e., Joshua) and Yeshua (i.e., Jesus) come from the same root (i.e., yasha: ישׁע) meaning "salvation" or deliverance (in the Greek LXX, Joshua is spelled Ιησους, the same spelling for Jesus in the New Testament). Indeed, in the Book of Nehemiah, Yehoshua is explicitly called Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ), the name often transliterated as "Jesus" (Neh. 8:17).
Note: There are a number of prophetic similarities between Joshua and Jesus revealed in the Torah. For more information see, "Joshua and Jesus: Further thoughts on Shelach..."
Faith and Fate...
06.13.17 (Sivan 19, 5777) Faith is only as real as the corresponding object of faith... Although everyone in this world has faith of some kind or another (including atheists and agnostics), that faith may be grounded in delusion, and therefore it may prove powerless to save their soul from spiritual death and the loss of the Eternal... Sincerity of conviction is not a measure of veracity, of course, since a person may be sincere in their convictions, yet sincerely wrong. This applies to the truth claims (both explicit and implicit) embraced by any of the faith systems of this world, including secular humanism, atheism, agnosticism, paganism, and nihilism, communitarianism, anarchism, pantheistic philosophy, theosophy, kabbalah, magic, nature worship, and animism, as well as more "traditional" religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism. Everyone who adheres to a belief system of any kind is existentially responsible for what they believe, and their choice is of eternal significance. In light of this, the essentially meaningful question is what do you believe and why? In what or in whom do you put your hope? Where do you find life? What are you loving? Where are you going?
For more on this see, "Emunah- Believing in / Believing that..."
The Eyes of Science...
06.13.17 (Sivan 19, 5777) The knowledge of God is not like the knowledge obtained by laboratory science. Empirical data is based on the reliability of what is called "logical induction," that is, phenomenological impressions of repeatability, continuity, and perpetuity which assume that metaphysical cause and effect event/relationships hold in "space-time." However, the intellectual act of logical induction assumes several more basic things, for instance, the instinctive faith that the future will resemble the past; the unreflective assurance that sensory experience is reliable and that measurement is possible; the mystical expectation that mathematical concepts refer to (or correspond with) "external" reality; the metaphysical supposition that causal connections exist and are valid; the quasi-religious conviction that experiences (i.e., data) can be universalized and generalized into "laws," and so on. Moreover, scientific methodology further assumes certain "intellectual virtues" and non-empirical values, for instance, the assumption that truth is important; that insistence that data should be verifiable and not deliberately falsified (or politicized); the moral axiom that it is better to know than not to know, etc. Indeed science even expresses "artistic sentiment" by poetically arguing that some scientific theories (i.e., "narratives") or models ("metaphors") are more "coherent" or "elegant" than others, that symmetry and order are important to doing research, and so on. I say all this to demonstrate that science is a faith system that depends on logical, metaphysical, philosophical, spiritual, and axiological assumptions that are not derived from nor grounded in the practice of science itself... The foundations of science are based on concepts and ideas "pilfered" from the Torah and the truth of God. Far from discovering the means of doing science through the paradigm of the "scientific method" itself, understand then that the first principles of logic, the exercise of faith, and an objective sense of transcendental value are all presupposed in order to inductively identify and infer whatever is defined as "real." The knowledge of God, on the other hand, is based on moral intuition (conscience, a sense of justice, etc.), logical reflection (e.g., why there is something rather than nothing at all), mystical awareness and a sense of the numinous, direct revelation (i.e., spiritual encounter), the veridical experiences and testimonies of others, the perpetuity of the confession of believers, and so on. For those who have encountered the Divine Presence in Yeshua, the risen and ascended Savior, God further gives witness by means of "argumentum spiritus sancti," the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the inner revelation that is imparted to comfort and assure the heart of faith.
Every belief system requires a choice, or the "will to believe," as William James put it, and that applies equally to the religion of science as it does to any other religious faith. In other words, how we see is a spiritual decision since it necessarily involves metaphysical presuppositions... The eyes see more from the heart than from the head. From our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Shelach Lekha) we read: "See the land, what it is ... whether it be good or bad ... and strengthen yourselves" (Num. 13:18-20). Here note that right seeing – even the negative aspects of the land such as the presence of "giants" – can only be achieved by the courage derived from faith. When you see things that appear bad, you are to "strengthen yourselves," a Hebrew verb (i.e., וְהִתְחַזַּקְתֶּם) that means to intently decide to see the good despite the present veil of appearances. When we encounter things that are bad, we must refuse to be overwhelmed by carnal reasoning and fear by looking beyond the moment to behold a promised good (2 Cor. 4:18).
Note: Science, when honestly done, is not bad, of course, and can be a blessing; but when science pretends to do "philosophy" (or worse, theology), incoherent thinking and fallacies inevitably follow. My experience has been that whenever scientists attempt to philosophize, they are overstepping their training and authority, so to speak, and it would be better for them to abide by the epistemological constraints imposed by the scientific method itself...
Faith and Testing....
06.12.17 (Sivan 18, 5777) From our Torah this week (Shelach Lekha) we read about the report of the spies: "They (the spies) returned... and brought word and showed them the land's bounty. And they said, "We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey (זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ), and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who inhabit the land are powerful; the cities are greatly fortified, and we also saw the (giant) people of Anak there... We are unable to go up against the people there, for they are stronger than we are ... and moreover the land itself consumes its inhabitants" (Num. 13:25-32). The Kotzer rebbe asked, "Did the spies lie? Did they invent words that were untrue? Behold, they spoke as they saw it, so how did they sin?" Yet not everything that is not a lie is truth: you may have all the facts "correct" and yet still speak untruth. Truth is therefore something more than the description of appearances (correspondence) since what appears is constrained by what is ultimately real. Our Torah portion this weel again illustrates the responsibility we have to trust in the good, regardless of phenomenological appearances....
So what about the trouble, testing, pain, hardship in our lives? How do we deal with these without losing heart? Only God can help us, friend... In this life, where our "outer man perishes" we will experience the "existential pathos" of the life of faith. That is the test. We may feel abandoned by God, or forgotten, or of complete insignificance, or sinful, vile, hopeless confused, and so on, and yet the heart of faith cries out: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15). Faith is able to see beyond the temporal to the eternal... It finds comfort in God's blessing to endure the ambiguities of this world. May the LORD God Israel, Yeshua our Messiah, strengthen us all. Amen.
Seeing with Heart...
06.12.17 (Sivan 18, 5777) "We walk by faith, not by sight." This is true for all people, since every soul lives by faith of some kind or another. Our Torah portion this week (Shelach lekha) begins with the episode of the spies and concludes with the warning not to "spy after your heart and after your eyes" (Num. 15:39). The Torah mentions the heart first and then the eyes to indicate that the eyes follow the heart. We see as we believe with our heart: "According to your faith be it done unto you." When the spies said, "We are not able to go up (לא נוּכַל לַעֲלוֹת)... for they are stronger than us" (Num. 13:31), they revealed their unwillingness to believe in God's promise, or, to put it another way, they revealed their faith in God's inability to deliver on his word.... Indeed, the Hebrew word for "than us" (מִמֶּנּוּ) can also mean "than Him," suggesting that the spies believed that even God would be unable to uproot the Canaanites. According to their faith, so it was done; by believing that it was impossible, they lost the possibility of God's promise...
Faith sees what is possible and refuses to yield to the artificiality of mere appearance. Indeed, appearances are often a test of our courage. We may never know how often a test was given and - just before victory was manifest - the heart grew faint and was lost to fear. "According to your faith be it done to you" is a spiritual principle that applies to everyone. In that sense, it is not that we have faith that matters (since we all do), but whether our faith is grounded in the promises and power of the LORD God of Israel, or something else....
אָמַרְתְּ לַיהוָה אֲדנָי אָתָּה
a·mart · la·do·nai: · A·do·nai · at·tah
tov·va·ti · bal - a·ley·kha
"I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."
Hebrew Study Card
The Great Warning...
06.11.17 (Sivan 17, 5777) Our Torah reading for this week, Shelach Lekha (שלח־לך), recounts how Moses sent twelve spies from the region of Kadesh into the land of Canaan to search it out and give a report of its condition. The spies returned 40 days later extolling the land, saying that was indeed fruitful and zevat chalav u'devash (זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ), "flowing with milk and honey." However, ten of the spies also gave a discouraging report, indicating their lack of confidence that the people could conquer the land. Only Joshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) and Caleb (כָּלֵב) kept faith in God's promise. Upon hearing the report of the ten spies, however, the people rebelled and cried out to return to Egypt. Angered by their lack of faith, God sought to destroy the people, but Moses interceded on their behalf. The LORD then decreed to lengthen the Israelites' wandering in the desert to 40 years -- one year for each day the spies were in the land -- until all of the faithless over the age of 20 would die in the desert, except for Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who kept faith with the LORD. After hearing the judgment of God, a group of remorseful Israelites decided to "repent" by taking matters into their own hands. Without either the "Ark of the Covenant of the LORD" or Moses' leadership, they presumptuously decided to storm a mountain on the border of land but were decisively routed by the Amalekites and Canaanites.
If last week's Torah might be called "sefer kvetch" (the book of complaint), this week's Torah reveals the fateful outcome... The people's lapse of faith in God's power serves as a profound and very sober warning, and indeed is a primary warning regarding the dreadful sin of unbelief in the New Testament (see Heb. 3:7-4:11). Indeed, Jewish tradition states that the decree that "none of the men who had seen my glorious Presence and my signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert will see the land that I swore to give to their fathers" (Num. 14:22-23) was given on the Ninth of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av), and was prophetic of the destruction of the Temple and the worldwide exile of the people from the Promised Land. The sin of unbelief may rightly be regarded as the "unpardonable sin" of the Torah...
The tragedy of the sin at Kadesh ultimately has a happy resolution, however, since the LORD is never thwarted by man's sin and weaknesses. After the 38 years of exile were complete, Moses' successor Joshua sent a second spying expedition to the promised land, though this time God led the spies to a prostitute named Rahab (רָחָב), a direct ancestor of Yeshua the Messiah, who later identified her faith in the LORD's victory by displaying the scarlet cord (חוּט הַשָּׁנִי) during the fall of Jericho (Joshua 2). Rahab was the (grand)mother of Boaz, who later married Ruth, the great grandmother of King David. May God likewise give us courage to walk in the power of His promises, even if our present circumstances seem daunting. May the LORD clothe each of us with the "spirit of David" to stand before all the giants of the land who defy the LORD and His power.
Bread of Healing...
06.09.17 (Sivan 15, 5777) Just as God humbled Israel with manna in the desert, so He humbles us. "Give us this day our daily bread and deliver us..." The purpose of affliction is ultimately good and healing: God humbles us with manna, the "bread of affliction, so "that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:3). In other words, God uses tzuris (trouble, suffering, etc.) to lead us to do teshuvah and accept the truth about our great need. We often pray that our problems be taken away, but God sometimes ordains these very problems so that we will turn and draw near to Him... We are being weaned from this present age to be readied for heavenly glory, for things unimaginably wonderful, soon to be revealed to you. Stay strong in the Lord, friends. Shabbat shalom and love to you.
Note: Please remember Hebrew for Christians in your prayers, friends, as we have been experiencing several challenges lately. Thank you so much.
Reason and Suffering...
06.09.17 (Sivan 15, 5777) "For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my Name" (Acts 9:16). Far from offering wealth, prosperity, and a life of happy ease, following Yeshua is the way of suffering and struggle in this world. As it is attested in our Scriptures: "We must suffer many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:23). Indeed suffering is the way of the prophets, the psalmists, and especially the way of the Lord our Savior, who endured the agony of death upon the cross to redeem us to eternal hope (Heb. 2:10). Persecution – being ostracized, "despised and rejected of men," and experiencing the pain of rejection - is inextricably bound to the truth of the gospel (2 Tim. 3:12). The message of the cross is an offense to the world's pride and therefore the devices of the carnal ego will always seek to silence it. Indeed, even our own inner struggle with evil is a suffering wherein we learn despair over ourselves, teaching that only God can truly save us from ourselves. Nevertheless "in all these things" we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us (Rom. 8:37). But what things are these except tribulation, distress, persecution, suffering, and inner struggle? Suffering is part of God's plan – the "loss of all things" so that we may come to know the power of the resurrection (Phil. 3:10). There is a "shared cup" of suffering for those who will walk in the redemptive mission of Yeshua (Col. 1:24).
The tests and struggles of faith remind us of the principle: gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), "this too is for the best" (cp. Rom. 8:28). Notice, however, that the principle is not stated, gam zu tovah - "this is the best," but rather gam zu l'tovah - "this, too, is for the best." The little preposition here (-ל) is crucial. The heart of faith does not affirm that "whatever happens, happens" and therefore we should passively accept the injustices and pain of life without any form of protest. Unlike some religions, the LORD God of Israel does not demand slavish "submission" to His will, much less does He desire "karma-like" indifference to the suffering we see in the world (Phil. 2:4; 1 Pet. 5:7; Heb. 4:16, James 4:9, etc.). Having faith that God will one day "wipe away every tear" does not deny the existence of evil nor does it suppress real tears from being shed; however, genuine faith affirms that real (existential) comfort is coming, and that sadness, pain, and suffering will not be given the last word....
Faith (i.e., emunah) is a "double movement" of the heart. It both "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). Faith rests in God's providential hand over the chaos and flux of creation. The eye of faith beholds the Presence of God and His reign over all the mundane affairs of this world. Indeed, it is only by fixing our hope upon the eternal that we are enabled to rightly apprehend the nature of the temporal world itself. In fact, the word emunah (אֱמוּנָה) shares the same root as the Hebrew word for truth (אֱמֶת). In that sense, "seeing what is invisible" (τὰ μὴ βλεπόμενα) is a more fundamental type of "seeing," since the truth of hope ultimately interprets all other ways of seeing...
Emunah therefore understands temporal suffering as part of the greater purposes of God in the world. It sees beyond the painful moment and trusts that God is "busy putting all the pieces together." Everything has a reason, and that includes the seemingly trivial as well as the obviously tragic. The life of emunah calls us to live as toshavim (תוֹשָׁבִים) - sojourners - who are put at a "distance" from the world of appearances. Faith leads to a form of divine "homesickness," a cry of protest over the state of this world and its evils, and a gnawing hunger for love and truth to prevail in the world. By itself, emunah would die of intolerable heartache were it not for the gift of God's comfort.
Yes, we are given consolation and comfort from heaven, since the Scriptures describe God as Av Ha-Rachamim (the Father of mercies) and the God of all comfort: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Note that Paul links our present suffering (πάθος, pathos) with a divinely imparted comfort (παράκλησις, "paraklesis"), which he regards as a state of blessedness. God Himself "calls us to His side" (from παρά + καλέω) in the midst of our afflictions and pain.... The Greek text reads, ὁ παρακαλῶν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ θλίψει ἡμῶν, and might be better rendered as, "The one calling to us [to His side] in all our tribulations" (2 Cor. 1:4). God doesn't want us to go through pain by ourselves, all alone. He invites us to come to His side for comfort... Yesh ohev davek me'ach: "There is a lover who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24b).
The purpose of our afflictions is to learn to let go of what we value in the world in order to attain to a better hope. טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ / "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71). God calls out to us in our tribulations so that we may turn away from our illusions and seek refuge in His Presence. Suffering is a tool that only God has the wisdom to use as a means of blessing in our lives.
There is an "eschatological" aspect to suffering for the person of genuine faith. Present suffering will ultimately be redeemed and transformed as "soul-building," but this does not mean that we should act Stoically or admonish others to suppress their heartache. If one of us hurts, so does the rest of the body (1 Cor. 12:26). This isn't sanctimonious humbug; there's no "double talk" going on here. The most succinct verse in the New Testament on this subject is but two words: "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Nonetheless, we can find great comfort by heeding the voice of pain as a disguised message from God. God calls to us in all our tribulations so that we might make our refuge in Him.
Abide in the Light...
06.09.17 (Sivan 15, 5777) Most of our negative emotions come from fear, including anger, frustration, and rage. On a spiritual level, fear and worry can cause people to question God's love, to doubt His promises, and to succumb to despair. The devil knows that frightening people causes them to be unsettled, off-balance, and vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation and deception. Indeed logicians call illegitimate appeals to fear the "appeal to the stick" (argumentum ad baculum). When someone plays on your fears, it's wise to discern whether there's any basis in Reality for the supposed threat, or if the appeal is simply a rhetorical "scare tactic" intended to persuade you to accept some sort of conclusion. Unscrupulous people (such as advertisers and especially politicians) regularly use fear to manipulate public opinion, of course, and they're only too glad to tell you exactly what you should fear. They are delighted to prey upon your anxieties and then offer you a supposed "remedy."
Living in fear is a form of slavery (Heb. 2:15), but where the Spirit of the LORD is there is liberty and peace (2 Cor. 3:17). Therefore "fear no evil," for God is with you (Psalm 23:4). There is no fear in God's love, but perfect love (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה) throws out fear (1 John 4:18). The LORD repeatedly tells us not to be afraid – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, one of the most frequent commandments in Scripture is simply al-tirah (אַל־תִּירָא), "Be not afraid."
יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ תִּצּר שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם כִּי בְךָ בָּטוּחַ
בִּטְחוּ בַיהוָה עֲדֵי־עַד כִּי בְּיָהּ יְהוָה צוּר עוֹלָמִים
ye·tzer · sa·mukh · titz·tzor · sha·lom · sha·lom · ki · ve·kha · ba·tu·ach
bit·chu · vadonai · a·di-ad · ki · be·Yah · Adonai · tzur · o·la·mim
You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, for he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever, for Yah the LORD is an everlasting rock.
Hebrew Study Card
Trials and tribulations - the "squeezing of grapes" - are part of the walk of faith, but we are invited to come "boldly" before the Throne of Grace (παρρησίας τῷ θρόνῳ τῆς χάριτος) to find help for our lives (Heb. 4:16). Note that the Greek word translated "boldly" in this verse (i.e., παρρησίας) means that we can speak honestly and freely to God from the center of the chaos of our hearts -- without fear or shame. We don't need to conceal ourselves from the Divine Light, since this is the very Light that overcomes the hidden darkness within us. Those who accept that God is in complete control of their lives are set free from the terrible burdens of fear and overmastering anger. Abiding in the truth of ahavah shlemah (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה, God's "perfect love") means that you can let go.. Dear LORD make this real in us!
06.09.17 (Sivan 15, 5777) Our moral and spiritual convictions are weakened whenever we passively accept or tolerate the thought patterns and values of a culture that denies the truth of spiritual reality. The process is subtle and often subliminal as we read or listen to the "news" advertised by mass media, because we rarely stop to consider the godless and profane assumptions and implications being made. The same thing can happen when we partake of the world's entertainment and attend to its fads, fashions, and idolatry. We must be careful to challenge and resist the world's spurious values and to renounce its godless perspectives lest we lose ourselves and forfeit our minds and affections to utter vanity (2 Cor. 10:5). The danger of "losing ourselves" by surrendering our thinking to a group may also be found in religious communities, where peer pressure to exhibit a particular set of "virtues" is required in order to feel a sense of belonging (e.g., manner of dress, favorite doctrinal biases, preferred rituals of "worship," etc.). We must be vigilant not to engage in hypocrisy to gain the group's approval. The risk of being dishonest for the sake of pleasing others can even affect our most intimate relationships. As the Kotzker Rebbe once said, "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you; but if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you." To escape such entanglement, we must find courage to embrace our existential aloneness and to find our value in God's love and blessing. Only after we are grounded in our identity as a child of God will we be free from the slavish need to be approved by others.
Our faith constitutes both a type of "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence, and constitutes a heavenward cry for the place where we truly belong.... If you feel crazy in an insane situation, then you are really quite sane... The world will feel oppressive and strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd... Life in olam hazeh (this world) is a place of passing that leads to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31).
The Apostle Paul (רבי פאולוס השליח) taught that we are not to be "conformed" (συσχηματίζω) to the pattern of this fallen world but rather be "transformed" (μεταμορφόω) by renewing our minds, so that by testing we may discern what is the will of God (Rom. 12:2). Note that the word translated "conformed" in this verse means to accept the world's scheme (σχῆμα) of understanding things, that is, to passively go along with the world's matrix of lies, wishful thinking, propaganda, etc. The word translated as "transformed," on the other hand, means to be metamorphosed or radically changed into a different kind of nature with a different source of being itself. Such transformation comes from having our minds "renewed" -- the word used in this verse (i.e., ἀνακαινόω) means being "made new on the inside," and therefore renewal is the gift of teshuvah (turning to God). Understand, then, that the foundation of all transformation of inner character and outward conduct comes from the miracle of having a renewed mind. I use the word "miracle" quite intentionally, since by itself "right thinking" is powerless to help the sinner truly change his ways, and therefore something more - new life and healing power from heaven, is needed. Indeed "the beginning of transformation of character is the renovation in the very centre of the being, and the communication of a new impulse and power to the inward self" (Alexander Maclaren).
The Divine Light...
06.08.17 (Sivan 14, 5777) "If I say, surely darkness covers me ... the night shines as the day; nothing hides from your radiance" (Psalm 139:11-12). We have to trust that God is in our darkness, in the silence, in the unknown... You come out of the shadows when you admit that you act just like other people, that you are human, in need of reconciliation yourself... Above all you need God. You need help. You need a miracle to help you to truly love. You may find excuses for many things, but you cannot escape the "wretched man that I am" reality that is grounded in your fears. As our verse attests, the LORD sees in the darkness and is present there, too. When you feel alone, like an unbridgeable gulf lay between you and all that is good; when you feel like you want to scream but are afraid that even then no one would hear, may the LORD our God shine His light upon you...
גַּם־חשֶׁךְ לא־יַחְשִׁיךְ מִמֶּךָ
וְלַיְלָה כַּיּוֹם יָאִיר
gam · cho·shekh · lo · yach·shikh · mi·me·ka
ve·lai·lah · ka·yom · ya·ir
ka·cha·she·khah · ka·o·rah
"The darkness is not made dark to you;
but the night shines as the day:
as the darkness so is the light...
Take heart, friends; the LORD our God outshines our darkness (Psalm 18:28).
Humility and Healing...
06.07.17 (Sivan 13, 5777) Why is humility (עֲנָוָה) so vital for spiritual life? Because it is integrally connected with honesty about our condition, that is, with the admission of our common brokenness and our difficulty as tragic and fallen human beings. There is no other way to genuinely connect with others other than through sharing our need for forgiveness, love, comfort, and for real hope. As we feel sorrow over the losses in our lives, we (re-)encounter our need for God; we begin to look away from ourselves and to seek healing from heaven. There is no way to justify our existence apart from the miracle of God's grace. Humility understands this and trusts that only God is able to help those who are undone, shattered, and mortally wounded.
Faith in Unseen Good...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Beha'alotekha... ]
06.07.17 (Sivan 13, 5777) From our Torah portion this week we read: "At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out" (Num. 9:23). This teaches us that God's Name is to be heeded every step of the way. Whenever we journey someplace, near or far, we say, "be'ezrat Hashem ('with God's help') I am going to this place, and I will stay for so long, im yirtzeh Hashem ('if it pleases God')." As James the Righteous reminds us, "You do not know what tomorrow will bring. For what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14-15). "Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow" (Psalm 144:4). We share exile with the LORD in this age, as strangers and sojourners with Him; indeed, our lives are hidden with Him, waiting to be revealed (Col. 3:1-4). "The present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31), and the heart of faith looks for a city whose designer and builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
The Armor of Light...
06.06.17 (Sivan 12, 5777) At the risk of repeating myself, let me remind you that we are in the midst of a great spiritual war -- the war for the truth. This has been the battle from the beginning. The very first recorded words of the nachash (הַנָּחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). In the end there will be found two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie; these are children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר) and children of darkness (בְּנֵי הַחשֶׁךְ), respectively. Followers of Yeshua the Messiah are told to "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8). Children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Yes, we hate sin, because it separates people from healing; we hate sin because we love others. We are to walk in the peace and love of God; to do acts of justice and lovingkindness (Psalm 97:10). "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."
Surely our great need is to have heart, to find strength, resolution, and steadfast determination to walk boldly during these heartless and depraved days (2 Tim. 3:1-5). We are not without God's help, of course. Yeshua told us that the Ruach HaKodesh (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) would be "called alongside" (παράκλητος) to comfort us on the journey. The English verb "comfort" literally means "to give strength" (from com- ["with"] and fortis ["strong"]), an idea similarly expressed by the verb "encourage," that is, to "put heart [i.e., 'core'] within the soul." In Hebrew, the word courage is expressed by the phrase ometz lev (אמֶץ לֵב), meaning "strong of heart," denoting an inner quality of the will rather than of the intellect. Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 4:4, 5:4).
May we always focus on Yeshua, the Light of Torah and the true Wisdom of God: "Whoever has My commandments (מִצְוֹתַי) and keeps them, that is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest (lit., "shine within" from ἐν, "in" + φαίνω, "shine") myself to him" (John 14:21). There it is - the Source of the Light that overcomes all darkness; the Power that is behind the armor of God... Yeshua is the Beginning, the Center, and the End of all true meaning from God.
Teshuvah and Healing...
06.06.17 (Sivan 12, 5777) Repentance is an ongoing disposition of life in Messiah, since it rightly relates us to God. First we encounter our incurable sickness - the inner contradiction and bondage of soul that both loves and hates sin - and then we seek God's saving power in Yeshua. As the Apostle Paul said: "Who can save me from the misery of myself? – God alone, through Jesus (Rom. 7:18-25). This is the first step, to know the "miserable creature that I am," that is, the slavery of your will to sin, and the second is to be willing to give this sickness of your soul to God's care in Yeshua. As he said, "Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the 'righteous,' but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32). Yeshua regarded forgiveness of your sins as essential to finding inner healing, even more important than health, prosperity, or religious observance.
"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39). From the perspective of the natural life, we "descend in order to ascend," we must die to find life... From the perspective of the spiritual life, however, teshuvah (i.e. repentance) means finding healing by returning to the truth of love and recovering your heart's desire in God. As Yeshua said, "Repent, for you have lost your first love..." (Rev. 2:4-5). Turn around: Look at what is missing within! He appeals to you like a lover standing outside in the cold, calling out your name, and knocking for you to open the door to let him inside (Rev. 3:19-20). Open the door of your heart! Return to him now! "Lord, help me turn to receive your love..."
Seeking what Matters...
06.06.17 (Sivan 12, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (Beha'alotekha) recounts the rebellion of the people during the desert sojourn... Instead of joyfully anticipating the promise of their inheritance, the people grew dissatisfied and bored. The Sefat Emet noted that just after we read how the people complained bitterly to the LORD, they had a "strong craving" (הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה), which in Hebrew literally means they "craved a craving." Moses could tolerate the people's desire for food and water, but when they began to actively cultivate their cravings, lusting after the imaginary "free fish" they enjoyed in Egypt, he began to realize that the problem was deeper, a matter of the heart... Moses understood that what the people really wanted was impossible, since it involved denying who they were as God's redeemed people. The issue was not about wanting "meat" to eat, after all, but rather hungering after the forbidden, desiring to desire, etc. Creating desires, fomenting a sense of deprivation, and choosing to see yourself as a victim, is a lethal sickness of spirit, a disease of the soul. It is a "burning" (i.e., Taberah: תַּבְעֵרָה) that destroys inner peace. May God help us understand and seek what truly matters; may he deliver us from self-destruction; and may he help us to be satisfied with the manna he provides! Amen.
Note: For more on this see: "Graves of Craving: Further thoughts on Beha'alotekha."
06.06.17 (Sivan 12, 5777) "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He purges (καθαίρει), that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2). If you bear fruit you will experience the "purging process," and that means suffering affliction... This might seem to you backward: Why does the fruitful branch need to be cut back? Indeed, the promise of suffering is not meant for an evil person, but for the righteous soul who trusts in God. Purging is painful but it is also purifying, yielding new growth within our hearts. Yeshua taught, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire. We "rejoice" in testing because that is the way of real growth, sustained hope, and the revelation of God's deep love (Rom. 5:3-4). In our afflictions we are given heavenly consolation that helps us to persevere (2 Cor. 1:3-5). We are being weaned from this present age to be made ready for heavenly glory, for things unimaginably wonderful, soon to be revealed to you. Stay tuned, friends: the best is yet to come!
טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיך
tov li khi-u·nei·ti, le·ma·an el·mad chu·ke·kha
"It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your decrees." (Psalm 119:71)
Judgment of God...
06.05.17 (Sivan 11, 5777) The late Abraham Heschel once said, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance," which is to say that if God is not our "ultimate concern," then God is of no genuine existential importance to us, regardless of whatever else we may profess or say otherwise. In other words, God can only be related to by means of passionate desire and the struggle of hope, and therefore fecklessness, indifference, and apathy are among the greatest enemies of the spiritual life. Being indifferent to your ultimate end is a form of willful blindness, a refusal to acknowledge the truth about the way of your life. Indeed a sign of spiritual life is hunger, thirst, and desire for the things of God, whereas the absence of these drives indicates apathy and spiritual death... The great "tochechah" of Torah – the warning of judgment to come – is grounded in God's response to our indifference and apathy (see Lev. 26:14-46). The sages point out that the refrain "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." Rashi notes that the verb קָרָה means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). If the people regarded the events of life as "random," then God would reciprocate by bringing senseless trouble into their lives... For this reason the sages regard a careless attitude about God's will as the very first step to inevitable apostasy. In other words, regarding whatever happens in life as mere "coincidence" essentially denies God's Presence (hashgachah pratit), and this attitude will eventually call for God's corrective intervention. People may 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.
The western world is at a crossroad today because it has confused "tolerance" with open-mindedness... Radical Islam is a problem for the "liberal" Christianized nations of the west because most of the mainline denominations have become apostate and lost a sense of conviction and spiritual strength. Western "enlightened" views regarding spirituality have inexorably led to a head-on collision with the theocratic fascism of Islam, forcing the values of west to be exposed and tested like never before. European postmodern deconstructionism, those cynical approaches to language that claims it to be little more that a linguistic "will to power," the devious political games of victimization, the propaganda of "political correctness," and so on, are all symptoms of the judgment of God upon an indifferent and apathetic world. "Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies" (Elie Weisel).
Light of the Shamash...
[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Beha'alotekha... ]
06.05.17 (Sivan 11, 5777) Our Torah portion this week begins with the LORD instructing Aaron to kindle the seven lamps of the menorah (מְנוֹרָה) so that the light from each would be "turned" toward its central shaft (Exod. 25:37; Num. 8:4). The entire menorah was formed mik'shah (מִקְשָׁה), that is, beaten from a single piece of pure gold (זָהָב טָהוֹר), and its base, shaft, branches, cups, fruits, and flowers were all "one" with its substance (Exod. 25:31). The central shaft upheld the light of the Shamash (servant or helper lamp) which also served as the trunk for the other branches. The radiance of the menorah symbolized the Divine light (shamash can also be read shemesh, "sun"), which is the radiance of Yeshua, the Tree of Light and the great Servant of the LORD (John 8:12; 1 John 1:5). Yeshua is the light that gives light to every person created in the image of God (John 1:9). Our spiritual life stems from our connection with Him, since he provides us with support, sustenance, and illumination from the oil of the Holy Spirit (John 15:1-5)..
Yeshua is the Light of the LORD (אוֹר יי). As it is written, "God is our light and our yeshuah, our salvation" (Psalm 27:1; 1 John 1:5). He alone is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם), the Shamash (שַׁמָּשׁ) who descends to ignite the "light of life" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים) within all who will believe. Our Savior is the Radiance (זוֹהַר) of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3), the Fire of God's holy countenance. The one who has the Son has life, but the one who refuses this life is spiritually dead. May we all walk in the Light of His countenance; "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD" (Isa. 2:5).
בֵּית יַעֲקב לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה בְּאוֹר יְהוָה
bet · Ya·a·kov · le·khu · ve·nel·khah · be·or · Adonai
"O house of Jacob, come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD"
Note: For more on this topic, see "The Menorah and the Tree of Life."
Blessing of Humility...
06.05.17 (Sivan 11, 5777) "Let your tongue acquire the habit of saying, 'I do not know,' so that you are not led to lie" (Berachot 4a). We have to learn that we don't always know the answer, and that often enough we don't even know the meaning of the question being asked... Accepting our limitations enables us to humbly ask God for help as we walk by faith. "The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know (οὐκ οἴδαμεν) what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). We groan in hope... It is a blessedness to be free from the need to be seen, to be approved by others, to feel like we always have to be "right," to manage appearances, and so on. God opposes the proud, but his Spirit (רוּחַ) rests upon the lowly, the humble of heart. Therefore humility (עֲנָוָה) is considered one of the greatest of middot ha-lev (heart qualities). As it is written, the high and lifted up One dwells with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed:
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."
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"It is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand..." (Kierkegaard).
Parashat Beha'alotekha - בהעלתך
[ The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is parashat Beha'alotekha... ]
06.04.17 (Sivan 10, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Beha'alotekha) begins with God giving instructions about how Aaron was to service the lamps of the Menorah within the Holy Place of the Tabernacle (Num. 8:1-4). Each day Aaron was to clean each of the seven lamps and to refill them with the very purest olive oil. The wicks were then to be bent so that the six outer lamps shined toward the seventh (and central) shaft. The lamps were to be lit daily, "from evening until morning," in a specific sequence - starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21). According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), while all the lamps received the same amount of olive oil, the central lamp miraculously never ran out of oil, even though it was kindled first in the sequence. This miracle is also reported to have occurred during the Temple period, though it abruptly ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 30 AD), after the death of Yeshua the Messiah, the true Servant and Branch of the LORD. As it is attested in the Talmud: "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the centermost light shine" (Yoma 39a).
Our portion then describes how the Levites were to be set apart for service at the Mishkan or "Tabernacle" (Num. 8:5-12). In a ritual ceremony that signified a sort of "rebirth," the Levites were first sprinkled with mei hachatat (מֵי חַטָּאת), literally, "the waters of sin" (Num. 8:7), that is, holy water mixed with the ashes of the red heifer that was used to purify from contamination with death (Num. 19:13). Next they shaved off all their hair and were completely immersed in a mikveh (i.e., a bath containing flowing or "living" water). Notice that the steps of being sprinkled with purifying water, shaving off of all the hair, and being completely immersed in a mikveh were similar to the ritual for the cleansing of the metzora, or "leper" (Lev. 14:2-32). Rashi notes that each member of the community was then required to place their hands on the Levites' heads, just as the hands were placed on the head of a sacrificial animal as it was slaughtered before the altar (Num. 8:10; Lev. 1:4, 3:2). The "waving" of the Levites by the High Priest likewise simulated the ritual of "tenufah" (תְּנוּפָה), that is, the waving of the guilt sacrifice (asham) offered by the leper after his cleansing (Lev. 14:12). Finally, the Levites themselves laid their hands on the sin and whole burnt offerings for atonement before the LORD (Num. 8:12).
For more on this Torah reading, see the Beha'alotekha study pages and the related links. You can download the Shabbat Table talk for this week's reading here:
Agreeing with Reality...
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) The moment you sense pride or fear taking hold of your heart, stop and turn to God. Even if you must turn 70 x 7 times, there is hope, since even the desire of "being willing to do God's will" refines the heart. It is far better to be repeatedly turning to God in brokenness than it is to live under the pretense that you have no need for ongoing deliverance. It has been wisely said that "you cannot widen the narrow way of surrender." Religious people are perhaps most at risk here, since often enough they fool themselves into believing that passionate commitment requires they know everything about God, or that they are walking in joy and victory, when the truth is that they are often lonely, hurting, and sometimes unsure of themselves... God surely understands your need, and He wants all your heart, not just the parts you might think he wants.
יְהוָה עֻזִּי וּמָגִנִּי בּוֹ בָטַח לִבִּי
וְנֶעֱזָרְתִּי וַיַּעֲלז לִבִּי וּמִשִּׁירִי אֲהוֹדֶנּוּ
Adonai · uz·zi · u·ma·gin·ni · bo · va·tach · lib·bi
ve·ne·e·zar·ti · vai·ya·a·loz · lib·bi · u·mi·shir·i · a·ho·dei·nu
"The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts,
I am helped and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him."
"By the grace of God I am what I am" (χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι). "Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are" (Kierkegaard). And only until you can hear, "Never change! I love you just the way you are," will you be free to face who you are. "Now, with God's help, I shall become myself." The miracle belongs to God...
Shabbat Shalom and please remember this ministry in your prayers, friends. The warfare has been intense lately, and the enemy of our souls wants me to grow weary and to give up... Please pray for God's provision and strength. Thank you.
Bearers of Peace...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) Our Torah reading for this week gives us the ancient priestly blessing, the great expression of hope and grace that transforms us into "name bearers" of God. The blessing of the LORD guards us from illusion, directing our hearts to focus on what matters most. God's radiance changes us, revealing the miracle of grace. As God "lifts up his face," he discloses his Presence within all things, and imparts to us his healing peace. God's Name is "put upon" us so that we become vessels that carry redemptive love and healing to the world. We are endowed with divine energy to be made fruitful; we are empowered to serve God in the truth. The consciousness of our blessedness touches every moment, and we begin to see all of life as sanctified, sacred, full of wonder and meaning.
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
ye·va·re·khe·kha Adonai ve·yish·me·re·kha;
ya·eir Adonai pa·nav e·ley·kha vi·chun·ne·ka;
yis·sa Adonai panav e·ley·kha ve·ya·sem le·kha sha·lom
"The LORD bless you and guard you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
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Note that each of the three blessings that make up the "three-in-one" blessing of the priests (i.e., birkat kohanim) begins with the Hebrew letter Yod (י), suggesting the threefold hand of YHVH (יהוה) that touches you: the Father blesses you (יְבָרֶכְךָ); the Word of God shines upon you (יָאֵר), and the Spirit of God lifts you up and carries you in the way of life (יִשָּׂא). The threefold blessing is One, of course, just as Adonai echad: יְהוָה אֶחָד, the LORD is One (Deut. 6:4), and the essence of the blessing is to partake of healing and wholeness as expressed in the Hebrew word shalom (שָׁלוֹם). Amen. Without oseh shalom, without peace made within our hearts, any other blessings are only apparent and without substance...
Shabbat Shalom and may God's Name rest upon you, friend... Amen.
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) The fact that God knows the number of hairs on your head means that he knows you better than you know yourself... Your heavenly Father "sees in secret," and that also means that he can and will save you from whatever is hidden within you that still resists his love and touch... We have to trust in God's power to heal us, even when it seems that healing is not forthcoming, even when we still find ourselves divided, troubled, and anxious. We have to believe that God's help is always present. "Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who hope for the LORD."
God sees what He does within us, His "it-is-finished" work, the effect of His great salvation within our hearts, even if at this present hour this may be hidden from our eyes... There is appearance, and there is reality; and only God sees what is ultimately real. We have to trust in His promise to be transformed into the divine nature, even if today we find ourselves sinful, needy, and in disrepair... By God's grace we are what we are. So don't give up. We are saved by hope (ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν, Rom. 8:24), a hope for you today.
What You Really Need...
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) We don't pray to attempt to change God's mind, but rather to change our own: "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8). Prayer is not a means of getting your Father's attention, but rather of getting your attention fixed on reality. It is a confession of your great need to find out who you really are. And while it is indeed true that "God knows everything," He does not know anything apart from his love. God does not "know" you in some "abstract" sense, like a computer that stores data and information, but rather as a parent who loves and cares for you (Psalm 103:13). Your heavenly Father knows the number of hairs on your head; he knows the word on your tongue before you utter it, and he perfectly sees your beginning and end. He has intimate understanding of who you are and what you really need.
Hope, despite ourselves...
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) We must give our secret pain to God, even if we don't understand it, and even if it refuses to go away... Our hearts are often vexed; we are a mess of mixed motives; we are strong to be made weak, weak to be made strong. We bless and curse from the same mouth... And yet, despite all this, despite our inner contradictions, the dance between the "old man" and "new," the divided house of our lives - our present sorrows, our troubles, our fears – we must endure ourselves, we must press on, and we must never let go of hope in God's love. Therefore we must not hide ourselves from God's presence, nor pretend to be what we are not. We are invited to come boldly before the Lord to help in our hour of need (Heb. 4:16). O Lord my God, be Thou my healer, the One who makes me whole... Refa'eini Adonai, ve'eiafei: "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed."
רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה
re·fa·ei·ni · Adonai · ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni · ve·iv·va·shei·ah, · ki · te·hil·la·ti · at·tah
"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
Hebrew Study Card
New Book on Torah Healing
If you are interested in exploring some wisdom from the Torah regarding healing from various medical conditions, you might want to purchase Dr. Chris Greene's new book:"God's Healing Code," available on this page.
The Seal of God is Truth...
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) The sages state "the seal of God is truth," by which they mean that truth bears its own witness to reality. Spiritual truth is ultimately personal, since it is "lived truth," and therefore it is part of the inner will of the person. A true person's life will agree with his or her words; the inner and the outer will correspond and align. The apostle Paul wrote that God's firm foundation (i.e., yesod: יְסוֹד) bears this distinctive seal: on one side is imprinted, "The LORD knows those who are his" (יוֹדֵעַ יְהוָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ) and on the other side is imprinted, "Let everyone who names the Name of the LORD depart from iniquity" (כּל־הַקּוֹרֵא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה יָסוּר מֵעָוֶל). People can say one thing and believe another, but ultimately no one can "fake" the truth: God bears witness to what is real, as it says, "All are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). The LORD knows who are really his own, and who are impostors. As Yeshua said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them (וַאֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ אתָן), and they follow me" (John 10:27).
We can test whether our faith is genuine by first asking whether we are trusting Yeshua to be our only means of salvation (and sanctification) -- believing that he alone is our means of finding the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים), -- and then honestly examining our actions to see whether we evidence the love of God (John 14:1; 15:9-10; 1 John 4:7-8). "Whoever says he lives in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:6). May the LORD help each of us to evidence in the power the "seal of truth..."
The Hebrew word for truth is emet (אֱמֶת), a word that consists of the first, middle, and last letter of the Hebrew Aleph-bet, indicating that truth encompasses all things and endures from the beginning (א) to the end (ת). But notice that if we remove the letter Aleph from the word, we are left with מֵת, (dead), the opposite of חַיִּים (life). The letter Aleph is the ineffable letter that represents oneness and God's preeminent glory. Therefore, if we attempt to ignore or suppress God in our understanding of truth, we end up with death...
Yeshua our Messiah is called the Aleph and the Tav (הָאָלֶף וְהַתָּו), "the first and the last" (הָרִאשׁוֹן וְהָאַחֲרוֹן). These are divine titles that belong exclusively to YHVH (Isa. 41:4, 44:6, 48:12; Rev. 1:1,17-18; 22:13). Pilate's famous question, "What is truth?" is a category mistake, since truth is not about "what" but about "Who." That is, truth is not something objective and static, a thing to be known and studied from a distance. No. Truth is up-close and personal.... You don't judge the truth, but the truth will reveal what is within you...
Note: For more on this subject, see the article, "What is Truth?"
The Breath of Life....
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) Torah without Spirit is like a body without soul... As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, the Name YHVH (יְהוָה) is connected with life-giving Spirit. Before man first came alive, the LORD breathed into him nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" (Gen. 2:7; Job 12:10). Later, Moses called the LORD Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). Indeed, the name YHVH is unutterable apart from breath, from ruach (רוּח), since each letter represents a vowel or breathing sound. Yeshua breathes out to his followers and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). It is the breath of God that breathes into us to make us truly alive. When we open our hearts to receive the life-giving Spirit, we find comfort and help. God's spirit breathes out prayers within us (Rom. 8:26), reveals the truth about Yeshua (John 15:26), transforms our inner character (Gal. 5:22-23), imparts spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12), and gives us the life from heaven (John 3:8). Bo ru'ach Yeshua (בּא רוּח ישׁוּע), "Come, spirit of Yeshua!"
Before his death, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation ... who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18). The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11).
The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who would put their trust in Him...
Ruth and the Redeemer...
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) During Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth, which tells the story about redeeming love and the advent of King David. Recall that King David was a direct descendant of Ruth, who as a Moabitess was an outsider and "stranger" to the promises of God (Ruth 4:17; Eph. 2:12). Despite being part of an despised and rejected group of people (see Deut. 23:3), Ruth overcame the law's demand by believing in the love and acceptance of a redeemer of Israel (Ruth 3:9). Ruth's great grandson was named David (דָוִד), meaning "beloved," which has the same numerical value as the word "hand" (יָד). It is no wonder that the LORD chose David to represent God's extended hand of love for the stranger, for the convert, for the outsider, the leper, and the lost, since his descendant Yeshua the Messiah came to love and redeem the entire world by means of His outstretched hands.
Now while the narrative of the Book of Ruth is straightforward, to fully understand its spiritual implications we need to be familiar with several laws from the Torah, including the laws of redemption (Lev. 25:32-55), the laws of Shemittah and Jubilee years (Lev. 25:4, 10, 23), the laws of family inheritance (Num. 27:8-11), the laws of yibbum or "levirate marriage" (Deut. 25:5-10), and various farming laws regarding leaving food for the poor and the stranger (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19). In addition, we need to understand the laws of warfare for taking possession of the land, and God's repeatedly stated commandment that Israel must be holy and not assimilate with surrounding cultures (Exod. 34:12; Deut. 7:1-6; 14:2, etc.). This restriction applied not only to the seven Canaanite nations (Deut. 7:1; 20:17-18), but also to the descendants of Lot (i.e., Amnonites and the Moabites), since they showed enmity to Israel when they first came to the land (Deut. 23:4-6). Indirectly, then, the story of Ruth provides a strong message to Christians: to follow the story of redemption, you must understand the Torah and its commandments!
The Kingdom Within You...
[ We are observing the great holiday of Shavuot, the climax of Passover... ]
06.01.17 (Sivan 7, 5777) Shavuot is the culmination of Passover in another sense. Passover represents "God with us" (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), as the Word made flesh, and "God for us" (אֱלהִים לָנוּ), as the sacrificial Lamb of God, but Shavuot adds another dimension by representing "God within us" (אֱלהִים בְּתוֹכֵנוּ), the indwelling Presence, the "breath of God" that forever abides in our hearts. Yeshua was eager for us to partake of this miracle: "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper (i.e., ὁ παράκλητος, one "called alongside to help") will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). As it is written, "By this we know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit" (1 John 4:13). Or don't you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ בְּתוֹכֵנוּ), whom you have from God? "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God" (Rom. 8:14).
True Prophet like Moses...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]
06.01.17 (Sivan 7, 5777) "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). So who was this "prophet like Moses"? Islam claims it was "Muhammad," though that is certainly false, since the true prophet to come would be a Jew who would be from the people Israel, not from another nation, and particularly not from the descendants of Ishmael. So what characteristics were to mark this extraordinary Jewish prophet to come? To answer that question intelligently, we must first consider the life of Moses so that we might detect the foreshadowing of the one who would be "like" him, that is, a prophet who would serve as an analog to his mission and life. Consider, then that after being chosen by God to deliver Israel from bondage during the time of the Exodus, Moses became 1) the mediator (priest) of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, 2) the legislator the various commandments of the Torah, and 3) the prophet who received the vision of the Mishkan (the Altar), the future exile, and the ultimate destiny and glory of Zion. Moses was extraordinary because as the mediator of Israel, he instituted various sacrificial rites before the laws of sacrifice were enacted. For example, he instituted the Passover sacrifice in Egypt (Exod. 12:1-11), and when the people later reached Mount Sinai, he offered blood sacrifices to ratify the terms of the covenant (Exod. 24:8). As the great legislator of Israel, Moses declared the terms of the covenant, serving as its voice of authority. And finally, Moses ascended the mountain and received the prophetic vision of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) before the priesthood had been instituted in Israel (Exod. 25:8-9). And even after the laws of the priests were proclaimed and the Mishkan was set up, Moses went before the very Holy of Holies to hear the Voice of the LORD, even though technically speaking this was forbidden, since he was not a kohen (i.e., descendant of Aaron). Indeed our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Naso) concludes, "And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat (i.e., kapporet: כַּפּרֶת) that was on the Ark of the Testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him" (Num. 7:89).
"A prophet like unto me..." (Deut. 18:15). I mention all this because some people stumble over the fact that Yeshua, who was from the tribe of Judah, served as Israel's High Priest of the New Covenant. Of course this issue is addressed in the Book of Hebrews, where the role of the Malki-Tzedek priesthood is ascribed to King Yeshua (Heb. 5:6-11; 7:1-19), but it is important to realize that Moses himself foresaw the coming of the Messiah as Israel's great prophet, priest and King (Deut. 18:15-19; John 5:36). Indeed, just as Moses himself was "outside" the law by serving as Israel's priest but nevertheless was commissioned by God Himself, so also with Yeshua, who instituted the sacrifice of His blood as the Lamb of God and who went directly before God's Throne to intercede on our behalf.
For more on this subject, see "Moses' Prophecy of the Messiah."
Note: As for Islam, please use logic and understand that compared with the faith of father Abraham and the founding of the Jewish people, it is a young religion, since it arose some 2,600 years after the time of the Jewish patriarchs. Moreover, Muhammad came on the scene some 600+ years after the time of the LORD Yeshua, and the teaching of the Koran is completely contradictory to the teachings of the Messiah. Logically speaking, Christianity and Islam cannot come from the same source, and either the claims of Yeshua are true or the Koran is true, but not both... Indeed a case can be made that the author of the Koran singled out the claims of Yeshua to be God as the primary sin of a Muslim (shirk), contradicting again the claims of the Master that were made centuries before Muhammad was even born. After all, if Yeshua is who the New Testament says he is, then there is absolutely no need for another prophet or another revelation...
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The Spirit of Truth...
05.31.17 (Sivan 6, 5777) "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" (Isa. 61:1). The Spirit of the Lord GOD (רוּחַ אֲדנָי יְהוִה) heralds "good news" and therefore centers on the glory of the Messiah (see John 15:26; John 16:13-14). The root meaning of the Hebrew verb basar (בָּשַׂר) is "to bring tidings, especially pertaining to military encounters," and hence both the Septuagint (and the New Testament) renders it as "εὐαγγελίσασθαι" - "to proclaim the victory [of God's redemption]." Interestingly, the word basar can also mean "meat" or "flesh," whereas besorah means "good tidings." Perhaps the connection between the two words has to do with the proclamation of a feast during times of "good news" after a significant military victory. In the New Testament, the connection between the flesh of Messiah offered in sacrifice for our sins should also be noted, especially since the "good news" concerns deliverance from the devil and the sickness of spiritual (i.e., eternal) death.
Something radically changed with the advent of the Holy Spirit, friends. Something inward, as the Torah was written upon the tablets of the heart, as it was written: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will give my Torah within them (נָתַתִּי אֶת־תּוֹרָתִי בְּקִרְבָּם) and I will write it on their hearts (וְעַל־לִבָּם אֶכְתֲּבֶנָּה). And I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:31-33). Note especially that this covenant would not be "like the covenant I made with the fathers" during the time of the Exodus from Egypt (i.e., Sinai), but it would be something far greater, regenerating human nature, when the truth of Torah would become part of the inner life and passion of the heart. Amen. The LORD is not only "God-with-us" but "God-within-us."
Revelation of the Torah...
05.31.17 (Sivan 6, 5777) Jewish tradition often refers to Shavuot as "mattan Torah," the time of the revelation of Torah, and while that is indeed true, I would argue that the meaning of "Torah" should not be limited to simply refer to the law code given at Sinai (i.e., the Ten Commandments and the various mishpatim (rules), chukkim (decrees), and so on), but includes the great vision of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and with it, the sacrificial Altar, the blood of which was sprinkled over the tablets of the law located within the very heart of the Mishkan itself (i.e., the cover of the Ark of the Covenant within the "Holy of Holies"). In addition to the prescribed daily sacrifice of the lamb of God (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבָּן תָּמִיד), the central ritual of atonement given in the Torah is that of the anointed High Priest sprinkling sacrificial blood over the tablets of the law upon the kapporet (the "mercy seat") of the Ark of the Covenant - the Place where "Love and truth meet, where righteousness and peace kiss" (Psalm 85:10). It was from the midst of the surrounding cloud in the Holy of Holies that the Voice of the LORD was heard, just as it was in the midst of the surrounding cloud of darkness upon the cross that Yeshua cried out in intercession for our sins...
The Messiah and Sinai...
05.31.17 (Sivan 6, 5777) Regarding the revelation of Torah at Sinai, notice that God began uttering the Ten Commandments by saying, "I AM the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2), rather than saying, "I AM the LORD your God, Creator of heaven and earth" (Gen. 1:1). The LORD refers to himself as our Savior first, since creation is designed to demonstrate His redemptive love given through Yeshua, the One called the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Messiah, the great Lamb of God... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
[ Today is the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., "Pentecost"); Chag Shavuot Sameach! ]
05.31.17 (Sivan 6, 5777) The sages have asked, "Why is Shavuot ("Pentecost") called 'zman mattan torateinu,' the time of the giving of our Torah, rather than 'zman kabbalat torateinu,' the time of the receiving of our Torah? The reason is that on that momentous day at Sinai, only the giving of the Torah occurred, whereas the receiving of the Torah must take place each and every day, as it says, "Trust in the LORD 'bekhol libbekha' (בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ) - with all your heart; and know Him 'bekol derakhekha' (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ), in all your ways" (Prov. 3:5-6). The giving of the Torah is described as a "loud and never-ending voice" (Deut. 5:19), though it is our constant responsibility to shema – to receive the invitation of God's heart.
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart... know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:5-6). The Hebrew word for trust is "bittachon" (בִּטָחוֹן), from a root word (בָּטָח) that means "to lean upon," to feel safe and secure.... Bittachon describes emotional acceptance of the goodness of the LORD. Some of the sages have said that while emunah (אֱמוּנָה), or "faith," represents a state of cognitive or intellectual understanding (בִּינָה) that God is involved in all the events of the universe, bittachon means emotionally trusting that the Lord is present in every situation for your good.... Rabbi Bechaya put the distinction this way: "Everyone with bittachon has emunah, but not everyone with emunah has bittachon." Bittachon is an intuitive awareness of the personal love of God for your life, coupled with complete trust that He deeply cares for you (Rom. 8:28). It is an expectation that the love of God is "I-AM-always-with-you," too.
"Know Him In all your ways," and that means whatever way you find yourself in, which of course includes the way of your struggles, your transgressions, and your heartaches, as well as the way of your deepest longing and hope...
Ten Matters of Heart...
[ The great holiday of Shavuot ("Pentecost") begins this evening at sundown... ]
05.30.17 (Sivan 5, 5777) During the holiday of Shavuot it is customary to reaffirm God's covenant with us and to renew our identity as God's children. Toward that end, and in the light of the inner meaning of Torah revealed by Yeshua our Messiah, we may summarize the Ten Commandments of Torah (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִבְּרוֹת) this way: 1) "I AM your only Deliverer, the One who loves and chooses you; 2) love me passionately and exclusively; 3) regard my love as sacred; 4) rest in me; 5) honor your life and its history; do no harm to others: 6) forsake anger, 7) abandon lust, 8) renounce greed, and 9) abhor lying, and 10) refuse envy. Know that you belong to me and that you are accepted. Love others as you are also loved..."
Rabbi Levi said, "When the Holy One spoke to the people of Israel, each one felt personally spoken to by God, and thus it says in the singular, 'I am the Eternal One, your God.'" Indeed the very first commandment given at Sinai was to accept the reality of our personal deliverance by the LORD: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). In fact, God used the second person singular (not plural) for all the verbs throughout the Ten Commandments: "you (singular) shall have no other gods beside me"; "you (singular) shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain," and so on. The very first commandment, however, is the starting point for all that follows. Until you accept the LORD as your God and to trust Him as your own Deliverer, the rest of the commandments are not likely to be heeded.
"Now the goal of the commandment is love (τὸ δὲ τέλος τῆς παραγγελίας ἐστὶν ἀγάπη) from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith, though some people, having strayed away, have turned instead to vain talk, desiring to be teachers of the Torah but without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions" (1 Tim. 1:5-7). If your understanding of Torah and the meaning of the Ten Commandments (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִבְּרוֹת) doesn't lead you directly to God's love, you have made a seriously wrong turn... For more on this subject, click here.
Heart of Goodness...
[ The great holiday of Shavuot ("Pentecost") begins this evening at sundown... ]
05.30.17 (Sivan 5, 5777) In the Ethics of the Fathers (Avot 2), the sages debated what was the most important attribute to become a suitable bearer of God's message on earth. One sage answered, having a good eye (ayin tovah); another said being a good neighbor, and another said being wise in one's deeds. Rabbi Elazar, however, said having a "good heart" was most important, which was agreed to be the best answer. Having a good heart is the foundation for spiritual life, but it is impossible to have such a heart apart from the miracle of the Holy Spirit. Note that the gematria of a "good heart," or lev tov (לֵב טוֹב), is 49, the number of days between Passover and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. May God pour out His Spirit upon us so that we have the heart of Yeshua within us!
Chag Shavuot same'ach, chaverim!
Receiving the Blessing...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]
05.30.17 (Sivan 5, 5777) The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, 'Thus you shall bless the people of Israel, saying: "May Adonai bless you and keep you from illusions; may Adonai shine divine light upon you; may Adonai reveal his faces to you.' So shall they set my Name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them" (Num. 6:22-27). The question is asked why the priests were needed to confer God's blessing, and what is meant by the idea of God "setting his Name" upon the people. The sages reply that the blessing is bestowed by a mediator to show that all things flow from the Holy One, and there is no one who can rightly say, "by my strength and my power alone has this come to pass" (Deut. 8:17). Therefore the blessing is graciously given to those who simply open their hearts to receive it: "May Adonai bless you; may Adonai shine divine light upon you; may Adonai reveal his faces to you..." Everything that comes to us comes in God's Name, as it is written: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights (אֲבִי הָאוֹרוֹת) with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17). The blessing of God (בִּרְכַּת יָהּ) is to "bear His Name" by being filled with the strength of His Presence, walking in the flow of His power, completely in union with His will...
Note: For more on this subject, see "The Hebrew Priestly Blessing."
Insanity and Sin...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]
05.30.17 (Sivan 5, 5777) From our Torah reading this week (i.e., parashat Naso) we read, "If any... goes astray and breaks faith..." (Num. 5:12). The sages comment that the Hebrew for "goes astray" (i.e., tisteh: תִשְׂטֶה) is written so it may also be read as "goes insane" (i.e., tishteh: תִשְׁטֶה), and concludes that sin is a form of insanity, that is, a denial of what is real, and therefore a state of delusion. We are required, of course, to believe that God is knowable (Rom. 1:19-20), that we are always in His presence (Prov. 15:3; Psalm 94:9; 139), that He knows all things (Psalm 147:5), and nothing can be hidden from Him (Isa. 40:28; Jer. 23:24; Heb. 4:13), but when we sin, we "break from" this reality and deny the divine Presence by a perverse act of self-exaltation. Whenever we imagine that we are unseen by God or whenever we "forget" that we live, move, and have our being in His presence, we are denying reality. Our sin causes us lose sight of what's real: we forget who God is; we forget who we are; and we exile ourselves from the Source of life... Surely sin is a form of insanity, and therefore we have a moral and spiritual obligation to think clearly and to value truth.
Heeding the Father's Voice...
[ It was on Shavuot (i.e., "Pentecost"), after the resurrection of our Lord, when the followers of Yeshua received the comfort from the Spirit of God (see Acts 1:7-8; 2:1-4). ]
05.30.17 (Sivan 5, 5777) "Dear child of mine, do not forget my Torah (תּוֹרָתִי), but let your heart keep my commandments (מִצְוֹתַי). Doing so will add to you length of days, (ארֶךְ יָמִים), long life, and peace (שָׁלוֹם). Do not abandon the heart of Your Father by losing sight of mercy and truth (חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת); no! Tie them around your neck; inscribe them upon the table of your heart (לוּחַ לִבֶּךָ), that is, make them part of your inner being and will. Doing so will reveal my grace (חֵן) and good understanding (שֵׂכֶל־טוֹב) before the eyes of God and others. Trust in your heavenly Father with all your heart (בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ) and don't seek to be in control, trying to figure everything out on your own (וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן). Listen for your Father's voice in everything you do; in all your ways know His heart (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ), and then your ways will be directed in the truth. Don't assume that you know it all; abandon your self-conceit: Revere your heavenly Father (יְרָא יְהוָה) and flee from what you know is self-destructive and evil! Doing so will impart healing (רִפְאוּת) to you: your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor your Heavenly Father with everything you own; give him your first and the best of what you have (מֵרֵאשִׁית כָּל־תְּבוּאָתֶךָ); then your barns will burst with plenty, and your wine vats will be overflowing" (Prov. 3:1-10).
Receiving what you give...
05.30.17 (Sivan 5, 5777) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Naso) we read: "Each one shall keep his holy donations (אִישׁ אֶת־קֳדָשָׁיו לוֹ יִהְיוּ): whatever anyone gives to the priest shall be his" (Num. 5:10). This is the spiritual principle that what we give away is what we possess, and as we measure, so will be measured back to us again (Luke 6:38). The sages comment that being selfish, acquisitive, and power-hungry are drives common among the animals, but what makes a man unique is his ability to sacrifice himself for others. Giving tzedakah, then, is an inherently spiritual act, and ultimately only that which we give to others in love will be kept as holy. As our Lord Yeshua taught us, "Be rich toward heaven," "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:21; Matt. 6:21).
מַלְוֵה יְהוָה חוֹנֵן דָּל
mal·veh · Adonai · cho·nein · dal
u·ge·mu·lo · ye·sha·lem · lo
"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD,
and He will repay him for his kindness."
Hebrew Study Card
Parashat Naso - נשא
05.29.17 (Sivan 4, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Naso) includes the famous blessing that Aaron and his sons (i.e., the priests) were instructed to recite over the people of Israel. The Hebrew text of the blessing (Num. 6:24-26) begins with three words, is comprised of three parts, invokes the divine Name three times, and is therefore appropriately called "the three-in-one blessing." Notice that the words are spoken in the grammatical singular rather than plural because they are meant to have personal application, not to be a general benediction over a crowd of people. The phrase, "The LORD lift up His face toward you..." (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ) pictures the beaming face of a parent as he lifts up his beloved child in joy... The repetitive construction of God "lifting up His face" (יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיך) suggests that God's compassion now flows outward to the child in superabundant grace. Undoubtedly Yeshua recited this very blessing over his disciples when he ascended back to heaven, though of course He would have spoken it in the grammatical first person: "I will bless you and keep you (אני אברך אותך ואשמור לך); I will shine upon you and will be gracious to you; I will lift up my countenance upon you, and give you my shalom" (Luke 24:50-51).
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
ye·va·re·khe·kha · Adonai · ve·yish·me·re·kha
ya·eir · Adonai · pa·nav · e·ley·kha · vi·chun·ne·ka
yis·sa · Adonai · pa·nav · e·ley·kha · ve·ya·sem · le·kha · sha·lom
"The LORD bless you and guard you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
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Note: To learn more about this wonderful blessing, click here (you can also listen to it chanted by clicking here).
The Holiday of Shavuot...
05.29.17 (Sivan 4, 5777) Tuesday, May 30th (at sundown) marks the end of the 49 days of counting the omer, and therefore the following day is the "Jubilee" of Shavuot (i.e., "Weeks" or "Pentecost"). Recall that the Torah instructed (Lev. 23:15-16) that we count from the day following the Sabbath of Passover (i.e., Nisan 16) for exactly seven weeks, until Sivan 5 (i.e., from April 11th until May 29th this year). On the 50th day a celebration was to be observed. This annual "countdown period" recalls both the time from the Passover until the revelation at Sinai and the advent of the Spirit among Yeshua's disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-4).
According to the sages, the festival of Shavuot marks the culmination of the experience of redemption, sometimes called Atzeret Pesach (עֲצֶרֶת פֶּסַח), or the "conclusion" of Passover. Since the Exodus from Egypt was intended to lead to the revelation given at Sinai, the goal of Passover was the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. In other words, the LORD took the Israelites out of Egypt so that they would be His own treasured people, holy and separated from the pagan cultures around them, living in the light of his great revelation. Indeed, all of the holidays of the biblical calendar are connected with this event, including the fall festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
During this time, it is customary for young adults to recommit themselves to Talmud Torah (the study of Torah) and to renew their decision to live as Jews. In addition to formal "confirmation ceremonies" observed at synagogues, some other Shavuot customs include decorating the home and synagogue with greenery, eating dairy foods and sweets (as samples of the "milk and honey" of the promised land), and staying up the entire night of Shavuot to read selections from the Torah (this custom is called tikkun leil shavu'ot: תִּקּוּן לֵיל שָׁבוּעוֹת, "Rectification for Shavuot Night"). For the Messianic Jew, Shavuot is the time of celebrating the birth of kallat Mashiach - the "Bride of the Messiah" (i.e., the new covenant assembly), since the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) was poured out to the believers in Yeshua during this festival (Acts 2:1-4). Let's spiritually "show up" for this time by asking God to help us walk according to the Spirit of Truth. Amen.
05.29.17 (Sivan 4, 5777) In the United States, "Memorial Day" is a national holiday observed on the last Monday of the month of May, that commemorates the sacrifice of those men and women who died in military service for their country. For those who have lost a loved one during their military service, please accept our heartfelt condolences... And may the LORD God Almighty have mercy upon all the nations of the world by imparting the revelation of His Living Torah, Yeshua, as it says, "Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps Torah is made happy" (Prov. 29:18). If there is no vision, there is no direction, and this leads to moral and spiritual disorder, chaos, and bondage...
Resurrection and the Life...
05.26.17 (Sivan 2, 5777) Despite this shadowy world of constant change, decay, heartache, and physical death, Yeshua our Master speaks in compassion: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
אֲנִי הַתְּחִיָּה וְהַחַיִּים
הַמַּאֲמִין בִּי יִחְיֶה גַּם אִם יָמוּת
וְכָל מִי שֶׁחַי וּמַאֲמִין בִּי לא־יָמוּת לְעוֹלָם
הַאִם מַאֲמִינָה אַתְּ בָּזֶה
a·ni · ha'te·chi·yah · ve'ha·chai·yim
ha·ma·a·mim · bi · yich·yeh · gam · im · ya·mut
ve'khol · mi · she'chai · u·ma·a·min · bi · lo · ya·mut · le'olam
ha·im · ma·a·mi·nah · at · ba·zeh?
"I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)
This, of course, is the ultimate question - who (or what) are you trusting for life - even in the face of physical death... You do understand that you will live forever, right? But perpetuity of conscious existence does not mean chayei olam, or everlasting life, since that is only found in relationship with the Eternal, with the Person of God... So, what are you hoping for when your hour comes? Are you looking to your own merit to secure favor in heaven? Are you hoping for a good verdict on the day of judgment? Are you looking to Moses or some other prophet to mediate on your behalf? Who are you trusting to be there for you on the other side of the veil? Who do you say that Yeshua is? (Luke 9:20)?
I am amazed that people risk the possibility of eternal life because they are afraid of venturing out in faith... But such fear is costly indeed, since to deny God is to deny yourself as a spiritual being, and the denial of the reality of the Spirit is the abandonment of your own inner life... I would rather become a fool for the hope of love than to find some cold satisfaction that love itself is nothing more than a fantasy. Better to be wrong in love than right apart from love -- for even if I am wrong in my hope, love itself needs no further vindication... Indeed every person alive makes the choice and in the end their choice will be manifest. What choice? Whether to believe the miracle of the divine love, to believe that God's power is manifest not only in the high and lofty, but in the lowly and broken, and to choose to receive God's eternal remedy given through the "foolishness" of the cross....
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Beatitudes of Humility...
05.26.17 (Sivan 1, 5777) "Blessed are those who weep while the world goes on laughing, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are the meek, for they shall overcome; blessed are those who realize they know little, for they shall find treasure; blessed are those who realize they are unrighteous, for they shall find healing; blessed are the misfits who are disowned by the world as fools, for they shall find mansions in heaven; blessed are the weak, for they shall be made strong; blessed are those who weep, for they shall obtain eternal consolation; blessed are those who refuse to assimilate into this world and its idols, for they shall be called victors in the world to come..."
God turns everything "upside down," for what is esteemed in this world is regarded as vanity in the world to come, and vice-versa. Indeed, the wisdom of this world is based on what I have called the "devil's logic," that is, the cynical notion that "truth" is nothing more than a political tool used to exploit others. The devil's logic is devoid of transcendental reality and therefore relies on compromise and "tolerance" to define truth as a form of "consensus" and "group think." Invariably this approach leads to ambiguity, confusion, cowardice, violence, absurdism, madness, and cruelty...
The Scriptures teach, "Light is sown for the righteous (tzaddikim), and joy for the upright (yashar) in heart" (Psalm 97:11). May it please the LORD God to renew our courage to live wholeheartedly according to His truth, and to resist the pressure to conform to the idolatry of this world. Amen. Chodesh tov and Shabbat Shalom to you all!
The Center of our Journey...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Bamidbar... The formation of the twelve tribes around the central miskhan in "cruciform" is amazing.... Chodesh Tov! ]
05.26.17 (Sivan 1, 5777) Just as the Israelites encamped in the desert around the holy Ark of the Covenant, which held the word of God and was sprinkled with sacrificial blood for atonement, so we sojourn our days focused on the Living Word of God, who offered up his own blood upon the heavenly kapporet for our eternal atonement. "For by a single offering (קָרְבָּן אֶחָד) he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14). The sacrificial love of God is the central truth of reality: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).
Lessons in Waste Places...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Bamidbar... ]
05.25.17 (Iyyar 29, 5777) How much energy is wasted going backward, returning to the same empty places? Yet we are creatures of habit; we tend to be lazy and we avoid examining our convictions and underlying assumptions; we are apt to ignore or explain way evidence that might challenge us, or - if we can no longer avoid the truth - we procrastinate and later "forget" the resolve to turn our heart to God in the truth. This way we can "hear" a commandment and yet postpone our action until later; we can agree to follow Messiah, but only in our own terms. Like Augustine, we pray: "Grant me chastity and continence -- only not yet..." And so we are turned back to emptiness because we refuse to go forward.
"We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do." - James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936)
Between bondage and the promised land lies the desert - a transitional place where we learn to depend on God's sustenance alone to bring us through... The "desert experience" can help liberate the soul from its past slavery, or it can reveal that the soul really does not want to be free. Hardship and testing reveal to us what we really believe, after all. It's one thing to be set free from what has once enslaved you, but it is quite another thing to live as a free person, conscious of your own liberty and dignity as a beloved child of God. And yet we are warned that if we don't turn away from what has enslaved us in the first place, if we don't learn to truly see ourselves as a new creation (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה), it is likely we will be led back to a place of slavery once again.
Be encouraged, friends. If you feel lost in the desert, remember that it was there that God revealed himself to broken Moses... As it is written, "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). Yeshua is our Good Shepherd who promises to guide our way to the high country of Zion (Psalm 23; John 10:14-16).
The Month of Sivan...
[ Today marks the start of the month of Sivan, which means that Shavuot begins in six days... ]
05.25.17 (Iyyar 29, 5777) Today is Rosh Chodesh Sivan, which means that the countdown from Passover to the climactic 50th day of Shavuot is nearly complete. The great Torah sage Moses Maimonides once wrote: "The counting from Passover to Shavuot is carried out as one who waits for the coming of the human being he loves best, counting the days and hours." If the Passover redemption is incomplete without the giving of the Torah at Sinai, how much more is redemption given by the Messiah, the true Lamb of God, incomplete without the advent of the Spirit? The cross leads to the revelation of "deeper Torah," imbued by the inward power of the Holy Spirit that quickens our hearts to long for the coming of our Beloved Savior and the establishment of his kingdom over all the earth...
Just as the giving of the Torah happened at one specified time, but the receiving of it happens all the time, "in every generation," the same may be said regarding the ruach, the Spirit: every day we must open our hearts to the Divine Presence... "I need Thee every hour." The study of Torah never ends, since we are never without need for the Teacher.
The commandment to sanctify the new moon of Sivan reveals that it is our responsibility to sanctify (i.e., observe) Biblical time in general. In other words, when we observe the month in which the Torah was revealed to Israel, we are acknowledging that time itself is rooted in the Biblical calendar with its divinely inspired cycle of festivals (i.e., the moedim). Since Rosh Chodesh Sivan historically marks the beginning of a month of great revelation, we humbly ask the LORD to help us prepare for the coming season of Shavuot:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֵיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ חדֶשׁ טוֹב בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אָמֵן
ye·hi · ra·tzon · mil·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · ve·lo·hei · a·vo·tei·nu
she·te·cha·desh · a·lei·nu · cho·desh · tov · ba·a·do·nei·nu · Ye·shu·a · ha·ma·shi·ach · A·men
"May it be Your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good month in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Amen."
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Awakening to Revelation...
05.24.17 (Iyyar 28, 5777) After making kiddush and enjoying the holiday meal on the evening of Shavuot, it is customary to stay up all night reciting various selections from Torah until sunrise. This custom is called tikkun leil shavu'ot: תִּקּוּן לֵיל שָׁבוּעוֹת, the "Rectification for Shavuot Night," and the vigil was instituted by the sages as a "remedy" for Israel's failure to be awake on the morning of the revelation (the midrash scolds the people who overslept on the morning of the revelation and who needed to be roused to salute the King). Philosophically, the theme of "wakefulness" is central to revelation, for without it we lose our consciousness as God's people. We must understand our history to order our lives according to the truth. The God of our Salvation, the Redeemer of our people, the LORD YHVH, must be distinguished from the gods of the nations; the covenant we have with God must retain its sanctity; there is a real testimony and direction to our lives. Salvation does not mean being "absorbed" into some sort of nirvana or unconsciousness, but instead focuses on concreteness, historical events, our heritage, our future, and the story of our lives…
It is important to understand that the Torah is received in words, which require a sequence of time and logic to form intelligible connections and unity of understanding. Faith comes by hearing the message of God (Rom. 10:17), not by seeing the miraculous or experiencing the "numinous." As Moses later said of the Sinai revelation, "You saw no matter of form" (Deut. 4:15) indicating priority of the inner witness of truth over outer appearance. Even the visions of the prophets held no authority until God revealed the meaning.
Shavuot is about mattan Torah, the "giving of the Torah," and therefore reminds us of our duty to "stay awake" to receive its message. Torah, as of course you know, does not mean "law" but rather "direction" or "teaching," and studying Torah therefore involves personal response, commitment, and intense focus. It is not "book learning" more than it is a type of "holy listening," heeding the story of our redemption and discovering its application and goal for our lives. Hearing the "Song" of God's Truth, is more important than the intellectual "seeing" of classical Greek tradition. Hearing is connected with time and not to timeless forms or Ideas of reality; it is dynamic and "intrudes" upon the moment to be witnessed. That is part of the reason the Sinai revelation was attended with shofar blasts and thunder: to awaken the heart to arise and the mind to hear... Torah study, then, implies a complex dialog or discourse ranging over the centuries, stretching back to the time of Moses (and through him, to Adam), through the establishment of the network of judges (Exod. 18:13-26), through the words of the prophets of Israel, all leading to the life of Yeshua the Messiah and the message he gave to his disciples... Our faith, then, is rooted and bound up with history, with the fathers and mothers who went before us, with the lives of scribes, the sages, the prophets, the apostles, inclusing the ongoing dialog of the people of God over the millennia.
Shavuot has no specific ritual observance for us today other than to be awake to revelation, consciously remembering the truth of our heritage and holding steadfast to the promises of our ultimate healing. The very first commandment of the Ten Commandments begins: anochi Adonai Elohekha (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), "I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt" (Exod. 20:2). The very first commandment, then, is faith in the message of God's love and blessing. Torah study (understood in its broadest sense) is therefore of primary importance, because faith in its truth is the precondition of all that follows. The basic commandment of Shavuot, then, is the mitzvah that precedes all the other mitzvot.
In light of this, ask yourself whether you need to understand before you will believe... The midrash says that God offered the Torah to each of the 70 nations, but each nation first asked to understand what was required of them, and then rejected the offer... Finally God approached Israel and asked: "Will you accept my Torah?" And they replied, kol asher dibber Adonai na'aseh (כּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה), "all that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exod. 19:8). In other words, Israel was willing to accept the Torah even before they understood what was required of them. Later they reaffirmed their simplicity of heart by saying na'aseh ve'nishma: "We will do and then we will understand" (Exod. 24:7). Praise the LORD God of Israel: You don't have to work to receive the light - it comes to you as you are, requiring only that you open your eyes to behold it... God is the inner radiance of reality; by his light we are able to see light (1 John 1:5; Psalm 36:9).
Anger and Idolatry...
05.24.17 (Iyyar 28, 5777) It is written in our Scriptures: "Do not be disturbed in your spirit to become angry (אַל־תְּבַהֵל בְּרוּחֲךָ לִכְעוֹס), for anger lodges in the heart of fools" (Eccl. 7:9). Even righteous zeal may be sinful, since "the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). Indeed, being filled with anger or rage is a form of idolatry: "MY will be done..." It is a common struggle to let go of our need to be "right" all the time, but turn to God for the precious blessing of true humility... The Hebrew word for sin (i.e., chet: חֵטְא) means "missing the mark," though that essentially means missing the revelation of God's glory because anger and lesser fears consume the heart and obscure passion of the truth.
אַל־תְּבַהֵל בְּרוּחֲךָ לִכְעוֹס
כִּי כַעַס בְּחֵיק כְּסִילִים יָנוּחַ
al · te·va·hel · be·ru·cha·kha · likh·os
ki · kha·as · be·chek · ke·si·lim · ya·nu·ach
"Be not disturbed in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools"
The sages consider sins of speech to be indicative, first of all, of the condition of the heart that marks evil and unbelief (see Luke 6:45; Matt. 12:37). Unreflective, impulsive talk is profoundly revelatory. Complaining against God's providential care of your life is a serious issue, and if left uncorrected, can lead to outright apostasy. Indeed refusing to accept life on God's terms – including your shortcomings, problems, tests, hang-ups, and other things -- is idolatry that elevates your will as supremely important. We must be very careful here. Inordinate anger is always a problem, though if it surfaces you may use it as an opportunity to examine the lies you are believing and the false assumptions you hold to be true.
A simple (and effective) antidote to anger is gratitude... Understand the sheer gratuity of your life and its manifold blessings. Meditate on Psalm 103 and contemplate on how life itself is a tremendous gift and that every day you are given is a sacred opportunity... Pray to be delivered of your anger, too. By all means do not allow it to become a settled disposition within you -- a scowl of the heart, a cynical and suspicious way of seeing everything! Ask God to soften your heart and to awaken you to his heart expressed in all things.
"There is much to drag us back, O Lord: empty pursuits, trivial pleasures, unworthy cares. There is much to frighten us away: pride that makes us reluctant to accept help; cowardice that recoils from sharing your suffering; anguish at the prospect of confessing our sins. But You are stronger than all these forces. We call you our Redeemer and Savior because you redeem us from our empty, trivial existence, you save us from our foolish fears. This is your work which you have completed and will continue to complete in us every moment." - Kierkegaard
The Promise of Zion...
[ Today is "Jerusalem Day," a time set apart to remember the great vision of Zion... ]
05.24.17 (Iyyar 28, 5777) Jerusalem is central to the Jewish heart. When religious Jews pray three times a day, they always turn toward Jerusalem (they also keep a small section of an eastern wall in their house unplastered and unpainted (mizrach) as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple). The midrash says, "As the navel is set in the center of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world; as Jerusalem is in the center of the land of Israel, so is the sanctuary in the center of Jerusalem; as the holy place is in the center of the sanctuary, and the ark is in the center of the holy place, and the foundation stone is before the holy place, so from it the world was founded" (Tanchuma, Kedoshim).
Yeshua called Jerusalem the "City of the great King" (Psalm 48:2; Matt 5:35). It is the place where He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and from whence He ascended to heaven. It is also the birthplace of kehilat Mashiach (i.e., the "church") and the focal point of humanity's eschatological future. One day (soon) Yeshua will physically return to Jerusalem as Mashiach ben David to restore the throne of King David. At that time, all the New Covenant promises given to ethnic Israel will be literally fulfilled as the Kingdom of God is manifest upon the earth. The great vision of Zion will not fail! For more, see the Yom Yerushalayim pages...
Hope and Consolation...
05.24.17 (Iyyar 28, 5777) When we consider our brief lives in this world, it is important to embrace who we are right now, to celebrate our temporary existence, for that is all we have, and to cherish the gift of others whose lives intersect with our own... We are on a journey that leads to what is eternally true and abiding: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). God is the only enduring Reality in a constantly changing world, and He has designed it this way to cause our hearts to search for him. "All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field" - such is the condition of this ephemeral world with its flux and fortunes. The flesh fades because the breath of the LORD blows upon it (Isa. 40:7). God Himself has ordained human life to be a vapor....
הוֹדִיעֵנִי יְהוָה קִצִּי
וּמִדַּת יָמַי מַה־הִיא
אֵדְעָה מֶה־חָדֵל אָנִי
ho·di·e·ni · Adonai · kitz·tzi,
u·mid·dat · ya·mai · mah · hi,
ed·'ah · meh · cha·del · a·ni
"O LORD, make me to know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how quickly my life will pass"
This world is not our home; we are "strangers" here. It is an affliction to wait for the LORD, a sort of "homesickness" of heart... The apostle Paul says our loneliness and alienation prepare for us an "eternal weight of glory" beyond all comparison, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. "For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Just as the "two-souled" man is unstable in all his ways, so the process of being "educated for eternity" means learning to focus our heart's passion and hope on the glory of heaven. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
God is our "Rock," a metaphor that implies that He is the immovable foundation and cornerstone of all reality. God is our strong refuge in the stormy changes we all face in this world. His Presence both grounds us and sustains our way. Nonetheless we walk by faith, not by sight, and often the sojourner in this world faces testing and even tribulation. In his despair, Job once asked, "If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my warfare I will wait until my change comes" (Job 14:14).
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Now more than ever: Choose to fight (ἀγωνίζομαι - "agonize," "struggle") another day. Do not yield to despair or give place to anxiety. Press on and keep fighting the "good fight" of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). You infinitely matter to heaven; your life has great value; you are significant and you are truly loved by our Heavenly Father... There is a "future and a hope" reserved for you (Jer. 29:11); there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). This promise is given to the "one who conquers" (Τῷ νικῶντι) because of the love and grace of our God. Indeed, by faith we are made "more than conquerors" (lit. "hyper conquerors," ὑπερνικῶμεν) through the Messiah and his love for us (Rom. 8:37).
In our struggle against the darkness, there is an end coming, so don't let your heart grow numb. Never give up hope. God has promised: "I will give you a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ), and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). Receive God's promise for your soul, since His healing love is what you really need...
Giving of the Torah...
[ The following is related to holiday of Shavuot ("Pentecost"), which begins May 30th... ]
05.24.17 (Iyyar 28, 5777) Though it is not explicitly mentioned in the five books of the Torah, the early sages have long associated the giving of the Torah with the holiday of Shavuot. This comes from a sensible study of the chronology of the exodus itself, calculating the time of the Passover from Egypt (Nisan 15) to the arrival of the Israelites at Sinai in Sivan 1 (Exod 19:1). The earliest extrabiblical source that explicitly links Shavuot with the revelation of the Torah at Sinai is the Book of Jubilees (i.e., Sefer haYovelim: ספר היובלים), dating from the 2nd century BC. Extant manuscripts of this book were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, indicating that the Shavuot-Sinai connection was made before the advent of Yeshua. The (non-canonical) book is a parallel account of Genesis and parts of Exodus, and includes the observance of Shavuot by Noah before the time of the Flood. In the Book of Jubilees, Noah is told to observe the festival of Weeks and to offer Firstfruits every year as a commemoration of God's covenant to renew the earth (Jubilees 6:15;22). Likewise Abraham and the original patriarchs were said to observe it, though it was forgotten by the Jews in Egypt until Moses reinstated it at Sinai. Shavuot is also mentioned in the apocryphal Book of Tobit (טוביה) and the Book of Maccabees, c. 2nd century BC.
The Talmud (i.e., traditional oral teaching) also attests to the connection between Shavuot and the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The earliest Talmudic statement on the date of the revelation at Sinai is found in Tractate Shabbat 86b. According to these sages, the Israelites left Egypt on Friday, Nisan 15, and the Torah was given exactly 50 days later on Saturday, Sivan 6th. This corresponds exactly with God's instructions to count 50 days from the day after Passover (Lev. 23:15-16). This date later became fixed in the Jewish calendar, and was further supported by reference to Exodus 19:1: "On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai." (For details about the exact timing for this event, see the main Shavuot article here.) The Midrash Rabbah also explicitly makes the Shavuot-Sinai connection as well. The later rabbis refer to Shavuot as "Atzeret" (עֲצֶרֶת), a word that means "withdrawal" (i.e., to the desert to receive the law) and "conclusion" (or the goal of the Passover redemption). Today Jewish tradition regards Shavuot as Zman Mattan Torateinu (זְמָן מַתָּן תּוֹרָתֵנוּ) - "the anniversary of the giving of the Torah." Shavuot is also called Yom HaKahal (יוֹם הַקָּהָל) - the "Day of Assembly" (Deut. 18:16).
At the synagogue, it is customary to start the evening Shavuot service later than usual, to ensure that the 50th day has arrived. Many people remain awake for the entire first night of Shavuot reading a special book (tikkun leil Shavuot) that includes the first and last verses of each Torah portion, the first and last passages of each tractate of the Mishnah, and various passages from the Zohar. This book is read to "repair" the night of Shavuot from the error of sleeping so soundly before the Torah was given at Sinai that God had to awaken the Jews with shofar blasts, thunder, and lightning the following morning.
Jewish tradition states that in every generation each person should consider himself as having personally received the Torah at Sinai. The climax of the Shavuot morning service is the recitation of the famous Akdamut poem followed by the reading of Ten Commandments, when all the congregation stands to "relive" the experience at Sinai. A second Torah scroll is then taken out of the ark and the portion is read (Num. 28:26-31) that describes the sacrificial offerings made at the Temple during Shavuot, and the Haftarah (Ezek. 1:1-28; 3:12) concerns the amazing revelation of God in the form of the Throne/Chariot.
For more on this topic, see: "The Law of Liberty: Empowered to live for God."
The Chesed of Ruth...
[ The Book of Ruth is traditionally read during the holiday of Shavuot ("Pentecost")... ]
05.23.17 (Iyyar 27, 5777) The Book of Ruth (מְגִלַּת רוּת) tells a marvelous story of redemptive love and devotion (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) dating back to the dark period of Jewish history known as the "time of the Judges" (c. 12th century BC). The story is traditionally read during Shavuot, both because the events recounted took place during the time of the spring harvest (linking it to the agricultural aspect of holiday), and Ruth herself is a picture of willing acceptance of a Jewish lifestyle (linking it to the religious aspect of the holiday). Just as Israel willingly accepted the Torah at Sinai without knowing its content (kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh v'nishmah), so Ruth gave up everything she knew to accept the Torah. Like the people of Israel, Ruth believed in order to understand, not the other way around...
Ultimately the story of Ruth illustrates that the law by itself is unable to redeem us (as illustrated by the unnamed 'redeemer' who did not wish to "mar" his inheritance), and therefore something more is needed. A true go'el (גאֵל), or "kinsman redeemer," is marked by love and compassion, just as the law of the Spirit of life (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים) is what sets us free from the law of sin and death (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת). Ruth overcame the "letter of the law" by faith in God's redemptive love, just as Yeshua overcame the judgment of the law by means of God's greater love... Therefore like Ruth, we have to "go to the threshing floor" as a forbidden outsider to lay claim to the redeeming love of God; we have to say to the LORD, "Spread your wings over your servant, for you are my Redeemer" (Ruth 3:9). Indeed, by faith we have to push past the enmity required by the Torah with its commandments and ordinances to receive our healing - and to find our place within the family of God...
כִּי אֶל־אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ
וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין
עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי וֵאלהַיִךְ אֱלהָי
ki · el · a·sher · tel·khi · e·lekh
u·va·a·sher · ta·li·ni · a·lin
a·mekh · am·mi · ve·lo·ha·yikh · E·lo·hai
"For where you go I will go
and where you lodge, I will lodge
your people shall be my people, and your God my God."
Again, by faith we have to push past the enmity required by the Torah with its commandments and ordinances to receive our healing - and to find our place within the family of God... In this connection it is interesting to see that King David's genealogy not only included the noble line of Abraham/Sarah, Isaac/Rebakah and Jacob/Leah, but it also included Judah/Tamar, Boaz/Ruth, and Salmon/Rahab. Moreover, in the genealogy of Yeshua the Messiah given in Matthew (1:1-16), only four women (besides Mary) are explicitly named: Tamar (who seduced her father-in-law), Rahab (a prostitute), Ruth (a Moabitess), and "the wife of Uriah" (i.e., Bathsheba, an adulteress). Each of these women of faith illustrate that God's love and grace overcomes His judgment. Here is a (very simplified) diagram I made to indicate some of the relationships:
Ultimately, Ruth's teshuvah was accepted, even though she was an outcast - a Moabite of whom the Torah stated: "none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever" (Deut. 23:3). Ruth's great faith was not unlike that of the Canaanite woman who was accepted by Yeshua (Matt. 15:22-28). Both women overcome even the law of the Torah by faith in God's chesed and grace... In the case of Ruth, her faith enabled the House of David to come - and from this, the line of Yeshua our Messiah and Savior...
Note: For more on this subject, see "The Chesed of Ruth."
Shavuot and Unity...
[ The following is related to holiday of Shavuot ("Pentecost"), which begins May 30th... ]
05.23.17 (Iyyar 27, 5777) The holiday of Shavuot (i.e., "Weeks" or "Pentecost") stands in contrast to Passover that requires unleavened bread (matzah), since the two loaves of bread made from the first fruit of the wheat harvest (shtei ha-lechem) were baked with chametz (yeast) before being "waved before the LORD" (Lev. 23:15-20). There is some uncertainty among Jewish sages regarding the meaning of the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven (Lev. 2:11), though prophetically it pictures the "one new man" (composed of both Jew and Gentile) before the altar of the LORD (Eph. 2:14). The waving of the "two loaves" of leavened bread therefore prophesied the firstfruits creation of the "one new man," both Jew and Gentile, that would "firstfruits" of the Kingdom of God. As Yeshua plainly taught, ultimately there will be one flock, and one Shepherd (John 10:16).
Each of us - and this is especially true and vital for those who belong to Yeshua the Mashiach - are connected to one another as ish-echad chadash (אישׁ־אחד חדשׁ) "one new man" (Eph. 2:15). Our welfare, blessing, and ultimate salvation is bound up with one another. Just as the midrash says that each soul is linked to a letter of the Torah, so each of us is linked to the LORD Yeshua who gave Himself up for us in order to reconcile us to God. Each child of God is part of the message of Yeshua's life and love in this world.
Effective Spiritual Warfare...
05.23.17 (Iyyar 27, 5777) There are two basic approaches to "spiritual warfare." The first is to discern the presence of evil and then pray for God's intervention, deliverance, protection, and so on. The second is to use ha'ayin ha'tovah (i.e., the good eye) and focus on the truth and Reality of God instead - to "set your thoughts on things above" (Phil. 4:8). Whereas the former approach may at times seem necessary to dissipate encroaching darkness to find inner peace, the latter approach has the decided advantage of trusting in the Divine Presence that pervades and overrules all things (Psalm 16:8). When David was surrounded by the enemy, he kept focused on the glory of the LORD. David knew that God would shelter him and elevate him above the powers of darkness (Psalm 27:1-6). The highest form of spiritual warfare, then, is to consciously turn away from fear by choosing to praise the LORD God, magnifying His Name, and walking before Him in awe...
Sound of Silence...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Bamidbar... ]
05.22.17 (Iyyar 26, 5777) The Hebrew word midbar ("desert") shares the same root as davar (דּבר) which means "word." We often need to be alone to hear God speaking kol demamah dakkah (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) - "the sound of a low whisper" (1 Kings. 19:12), and the journey into the desert was God's way of separating His people to speak with them "privately," so to speak (Jer. 2:2). But to hear the word we must humble ourselves, and the desert (i.e., "word") of Sinai is therefore first of all the word of humility (עֲנָוָה). When God spoke Torah to Israel, it was from a nondescript mountain - a place of emptiness, brokenness and need. Indeed, another word for Sinai is "chorev" (חרֵב), a word that means dryness and desolation. That is the starting point -- not the lush places of a future paradise. We receive Torah "bamidbar" because we can only hear God's davar in a place of lowliness and inner quiet. God brings us to an arid place -- inhospitable, and dangerous -- to reveal our need for Him, to show Himself as our Sustainer. The way to Sinai is a necessary excursion to prepare us to look for the greater hope of Zion. May God help us heed the whisper of His Spirit...
A Spirit of 'Yes'...
05.22.17 (Iyyar 26, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Bamidbar) begins: "The LORD spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai, in the tent of meeting (ohel mo'ed), on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt" (Num. 1:1). Note again that the LORD spoke in the desert (ba-midbar) of Sinai, and that the Hebrew word for "desert" (i.e., midbar: מִדְבָּר) shares the same root as the "word" (i.e., davar: דָּבָר), which suggests that we hear the Word of God in a place of emptiness, brokenness and ongoing need. But note further that the LORD spoke in the "tent of meeting" (אהֶל מוֹעֵד), which may be read as the tent of "mo'ed" (מוֹעֵד), or "holiday." We celebrate our need for God's healing and turn to him in a state of gratitude, even despite our sinful condition (Psalm 119:71). We take courage and draw near, renewed in trust. That is why the verse says it was "the first day of the second month" (חדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה) -- the word "month" (chodesh) can be read as "new" (chadash), suggesting it was a time of renewal, a time to celebrate a new beginning (Acts 2:1-4). When David prayed in his need: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10), the Hebrew may be read: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew within me ruach nachon (רוּחַ נָכוֹן) - a spirit of "Yes!" As Paul said of Messiah our Healer: "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him" (2 Cor. 1:20).
Remembering our Roots...
05.22.17 (Iyyar 26, 5777) It has been a common experience of mine over the years to encounter certain people who believe they are somehow immune from the influence of "tradition" in their lives, and that they are therefore able to transcend its effect and provide unbiased interpretations of the Scriptures... Well, on the contrary, it's important to be humble regarding this matter and to understand how radically we are influenced by the past. After all, we are historical creatures rooted in a particular culture, endowed with a specific heredity and unique genetic code. We subconsciously inherit norms, customs, ceremonies, decorum, routines, patterns of speech (e.g., accents), right "from our mother's knee." In short, our use of language itself -- the way we describe seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, etc. -- is based on customary forms of conventional usage. The bottom line seems to be that we are products of our culture from the moment we take our first breath in this world... Tradition -- of some kind or another -- is simply an inescapable and omnipresent fact of our existence.
In light of this, it is evident that we could not understand even the first word of the Scriptures without the aid of custom and tradition... There is a story that illustrates this point. A pagan came to Hillel seeking to convert but was troubled with the idea of tradition, though he accepted the idea of the written Scriptures. Since the man did not know how to read Hebrew, however, Hillel began pointing to the letters in the written Torah to teach him the alphabet: "This is Aleph... this is Bet... this is Gimmel," and so on, until the man began to understand the letters of the Aleph-Bet. "Now come tomorrow, and I will teach you more." The next day, Hillel pointed to the exact same letters but reversed their names, "This is Gimmel... this is Aleph... this is Bet," and so on. The convert was confused: "But yesterday you said just the opposite!" Hillel replied, "Now you have had your first lesson. You see that the written word alone is insufficient, and we need the tradition to explain God's Word." Another way to make this point is to say that the Torah was not revealed along with a dictionary that defines the meaning of its words....
All this is said to remind us that the transmission of Torah from generation to generation demands that we trust. Indeed the very concept of "Torah" (or Scripture) is bound up with trust and community... This is true of the written word (i.e., trusting in scribal traditions that preserved the Scriptures for us), as well as the oral word (i.e., the customs, interpretations, translations, and wisdom that explain the meaning of the words themselves). Knowledge has been defined as "justified true belief," which implies that there can never be knowledge without trust. It is ludicrous to think that we can translate the Scriptures in a vacuum - all by ourselves without any help from others... We must humble ourselves and become "like little children" to learn from those who have gone before us, and this is why the Jewish value of Talmud Torah - teaching children the words and values of Torah - is regarded as so important. As the Talmud puts it, "The world exists because of the breath of the schoolchildren who study Torah" (Shabbat 119b).
But what about the words of the Holy Scriptures? Don't they transcend cultural factors? Are they not timelessly true and exempt from culturally conditioned ways of reading them? Hardly. Both Christianity and Judaism (as opposed to some other religions) do not worship a "book" that "floated down" from heaven complete with chapters and verses. Nor do we believe in a "divine dictation" theory that claims the Scriptures are "Xerox" duplicates of the words spoken by an angel or other divine being. No, the Scriptures are regarded as the products of history -- sacred history, of course -- but history nonetheless. Therefore we have the same problems trying to discern the meaning of the Scriptures as we do for any other type of literature: Who was the original author and the intended audience? What were the cultural circumstances? Why was this written? What kind of writing is it? Is it a poem (like a psalm), or perhaps an instructional maxim (like a proverb)? Am I reading an historical account, a description of a religious ritual, or something else? First we must know what we are reading - and to understand its historical context. Ignoring this simple rule leads to all sorts of errors in our reasoning and makes us unwitting victims of our own cultural biases. We will find ourselves "reading into" the Scriptures things that just aren't there, chaverim!
Regarding the literal words of the Scriptures, it's important to remember that the decisions made regarding which scrolls were "canonical" (and therefore to be included in our modern Bibles) came from the decisions made by earlier faith communities -- just as such decisions likewise preserved the sanctity of the sacred texts themselves. For instance, without the Jewish scribal transmission known as the masorah (מָסוֹרָה), it's unlikely we would know how to read and interpret many passages of Scripture today (Christianity also has its own scribal traditions that preserved the transmission of the Greek New Testament). Original Hebrew did not include vowel markings or other punctuation. Neither did the Greek of the New Testament, for that matter. Indeed, we can only understand the message of our faith through the medium of historical continuity, tradition, and ongoing dialog.... This was true even in the days of Yeshua, who endorsed the traditional tri-fold division of the Jewish Scriptures (the Law, Writings, and Prophets - Luke 22:44) and relied on Jewish tradition to teach great truths about his message (e.g., he associated the Passover seder with the "Last Supper" rituals of the New Covenant; he called himself Living Water and the Light of the world during Sukkot, and so on.) Yeshua placed high value on the "jots and tittles" of the texts of Scripture that were part of the spiritual heritage of his day (Matt. 5:18).
But didn't Yeshua condemn the "traditions of men" in His day? Didn't he reject the traditions of the elders of Israel (Mark 7:5-13)? Didn't he rhetorically ask the religionists of his day, "Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition" (Matt. 15:2-10)? Yes he did, but it's important to understand the historical context of these sorts of statements. First, he was certainly not condemning "true traditions" that are outlined in the Scriptures themselves. Yeshua's entire ministry was predicated on the "appointed times" of the LORD and their fulfillment in him. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt. 5:17). No, what Yeshua appeared to take issue with was the dogmatic interpretation of various aspects of ritual law and with the practice of "building of fences" around the original intent of the Scriptures. These man-made "fences" (gezerot) actually created a gilded cage around the Scriptures and effectively relocated the source of authority to the self-styled religious interpreters of the day... This was the crux of the disagreement between Yeshua and the Pharisees. (For more about this, see "The Heart of the Law; the Law of the Gospel".)
We all live by hours of the day, days of the week, seasons of the year, and God has revealed cycles and patterns of community life for Israel. Indeed, the mo'edim (festivals and appointed times) of the LORD are rooted in history and have prophetic implication for our lives. The "traditions of the elders" which Yeshua condemned had more to do with hidebound interpretations of the Scriptures (later embodied in the "Oral Law") than with the idea of tradition itself. The Greek word for "tradition" (παράδοσις) is a neutral term, simply meaning "handing down" (from παρά (down, from) + δίδωμι (to give)) what was given before. Both Judaism and Christianity hold to an "oral tradition" following the ministries of Moses and Yeshua, respectively. Because of the imminent expectancy of the return of Yeshua after His resurrection, the gospels were not committed to formal writing until the prospect of the death of the eyewitnesses loomed large. Moreover, there were numerous Gospel accounts which were eventually compiled into a standardized retelling of the story (Luke 1:1-4). In Jewish tradition, Moses received the written law at Sinai, but this cannot be understood in a vacuum. For instance, the details about how to construct the furnishings of the Tabernacle are not given, and the written law even endorsed the establishment of "judges" to interpret case law and establish precedent. Likewise the Apostle Paul admonished, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions (παράδοσις) which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Cor. 11:2). Indeed, in a New Testament sense, "tradition" refers to the Apostolic teaching in general, as well as the valid inferences from the Tanakh that are thereby implied (2 Tim. 3:16, Matt. 13:52).
There is legalism -- i.e., the idea that we are duty bound to perform certain rituals, behave a certain way, follow a set of rules, etc., and there is the liberty we enjoy as the heirs of God. There is a higher way of understanding the same thing -- namely understanding as an adult rather than as a child. Apprehending your identity as a son (or daughter) of the LORD God of Israel makes you no longer an outsider, a "child," an "outcast," etc., to the covenantal obligations and promises given to the Jewish people. As a co-heir and fellow member through adoption into the household of God, you are a new creation. Being a Jew is a matter of having a new heart, chaverim (Rom. 2:28-29).
For more on this topic see: "The Role of Tradition" and "Remembering our Roots."
Revelation of the Torah...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins May 30th at sundown... ]
05.22.17 (Iyyar 26, 5777) During the holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks" or "Pentecost") we remember how the LORD graciously condescended to meet with the Jewish people at Sinai, and how all the people heard the Voice of God (קוֹל אֱלהִים) speaking from the midst of the fire (Deut. 4:33). This awesome event foreshadowed the great advent of the King and Lawgiver Himself, when the Eternal Word (דְבַר־יְהוָה) became flesh to dwell with us (Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1,14), and it further foreshadowed the advent of the Spirit of Truth given to the disciples of Messiah (Acts 2:1-4). Any theology that regards God as entirely transcendent will have a problem with divine immanence, since the highness, holiness, and perfection of God will make him seem distant, outside of us, far away, and even unknown... Incarnational theology, on the other hand, manifests the nearness of God to disclose the divine empathy. Indeed, the LORD became Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "one with us," to share our mortal condition, to know our pain, and to experience what it means to be wounded by sin, to be abandoned, alienated, forsaken. The "Eternal made flesh" bridges the gap between the realm of Ein Sof (אין סוף), the Infinitely transcendent One, and the finite world of people lost within their sinful frailty. Of course we believe Adonai Echad (יְהוָה אֶחָד) - that the "LORD is One" - both in the sense of being exalted over all things but also in the sense of being compassionately involved in all things (Rom. 11:36). During Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah both at Sinai, the ratification of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) in Jerusalem (Acts 2), and the truth revealed within our hearts at this very hour. We celebrate that God is indeed the King and Ruler over all, and we further affirm that God's authority and rule extends to all possible worlds - including the realm of finitude and even death itself.
כִּי יְהוָה שׁפְטֵנוּ יְהוָה מְחקְקֵנוּ
יְהוָה מַלְכֵּנוּ הוּא יוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ
ki · Adonai · sho·fe·tei·nu · Adonai · me·cho·ke·kei·nu
Adonai · mal·kei·nu · hu · yo·shi·ei·nu
"For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver;
the LORD is our king; He will save us."
Hebrew Study Card
The Righteousness of God...
05.22.17 (Iyyar 26, 5777) It is not "I obey, therefore I am accepted," but rather, "I am accepted, and that is the obedience of faith." Accepting that you are accepted – despite your unacceptability – is the first (and last) step of faith, and there is no point beyond we must go. It is not your wisdom or cleverness that enlightens your way in the truth, however, but the miracle of disclosure from heaven. It is all a gift: you need God to even see that you need God! Right thinking is indeed a path to God, but it is the givenness of truth that enables the seeker to seek; it is the reality of the Teacher (the Savior) that is all-important. By themselves, true beliefs do not conjure divine favor, and indeed they may hide the deeper truth that the heart exists in untruth despite the head's "true" doctrine. Likewise, while goodness is indeed a path to God, true goodness is that which is found in God's righteousness, for that makes the way right for the trusting heart...
"Not by works of righteousness (מַעֲשֵׂי הַצְּדָקָה) which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Yeshua our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." – Titus 3:5-7
The Great Vision of Zion...
05.21.17 (Iyyar 25, 5777) In Israel, "Jerusalem Day" (i.e., Yom Yerushalayim: יום ירושלים) commemorates the re-unification of old city of Jerusalem on June 7th, 1967 during the miraculous Six Day War. In 1968 the Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared Iyyar 28 to be a holiday thanking God for answering the 2,000-year-old prayer לשנה הבאה בירושלים, "Next Year in Jerusalem." Later, on March 23, 1998, the Israeli Knesset passed the "Jerusalem Day Law" (חוק יום ירושלים), marking Iyar 28th to be a national holiday. This year, Jerusalem Day runs from May 23rd (after sundown) through May 24th (until sundown). Let us remember the great vision of Zion, dear friends!
Click here to learn 25 reasons why Jerusalem matters...
Counted by God...
05.21.17 (Iyyar 25, 5777) Our Torah for this week (i.e., parashat Bamidbar) is always read immediately before the great holiday of Shavuot (i.e., "Pentecost"), which is the time we celebrate "mattan Torah" -- the giving of the Torah of the LORD exactly 50 days after Israel first left Egypt during the great Passover redemption. Central to the message of Bamidbar is the counting of the person, identifying his "place" within Israel (Num. 1:52), and therefore the sages link "being counted" with the revelation of God itself. In other words, as we come to know who we are as God's redeemed people, as we learn to count ourselves as among his beloved, so we will receive Torah and will be accounted among his people. Our heads will be "lifted up," and we will receive the first blessing of Torah, namely: anokhi Adonai Elohekha (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), "I AM the LORD your (singular) God" (Exod. 20:2).
"The LORD spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai... saying שְׂאוּ אֶת־ראשׁ- 'Lift up the head' (i.e., count) of the children of Israel" (Num. 1:1-2). The Torah commentator Rashi noted that as we are counted, so we are lifted up and beheld by God. In other words your life matters to heaven, and you are counted worthy because of God's great redeeming love. The sages say that each of us is as a letter of Torah (אוֹת הַתּוֹרָה); each of us counts in God's book. Indeed our Savior Yeshua said, "Even the hairs on your head are numbered" (Matt. 10:30).
Countdown to Revelation...
05.21.17 (Iyyar 25, 5777) Tuesday, May 30th (at sundown) marks the end of the 49 days of counting the omer, and therefore the following day is the "Jubilee" of Shavuot (i.e., "Weeks" or "Pentecost"). Recall that the Torah instructed (Lev. 23:15-16) that we count from the day following the Passover (i.e., Nisan 16) for exactly seven weeks, until Sivan 5 (i.e., from April 11th through May 29th this year). On the 50th day (i.e., Sivan 6, May 30th), a special celebration was to be observed marked by jubilation and thanksgiving. This annual "countdown period" recalls both the time from the Passover until the revelation at Mount Sinai, and the advent of the Holy Spirit among Yeshua's disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-4).
Note: I am aware that some people insist that Shavuot must occur on a Sunday, following the Sadducee's interpretation that "the day after the Sabbath" (Lev. 23:15) refers to the first day of the week, rather than to the day following the Sabbath of Passover. This has been the historical position of most "mainline" Christian churches... Everyone can (and should) follow their own earnest conviction on this subject (Rom. 14:5). I follow the traditional Jewish interpretation to identify with the worldwide Jewish community, whereas others might begin the omer count starting on the first Sunday after Passover. I would urge everyone to exercise humility here, because there are genuine differences of opinion among people of good will on this subject. As it is written: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by God" (1 Cor. 8:1-3).
Feeding on Faithfulness...
05.19.17 (Iyyar 23, 5777) In our Torah for this week (i.e., Bechukotai) we read: "You shall eat your bread to the full and be satisfied" (Lev. 26:5). The gift of contentment is a great blessing, since it means being free from the pain produced by unrelenting and imperious desire... Indeed, a perpetual, insatiable craving is a sign of slavery to inner emptiness, and no amount of food, drugs, romance, etc., can ever fill this spiritual void. This is why we need true bread, the bread that gives life (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים), and this bread is the spiritual nourishment Yeshua gives to our hearts (John 6:35). When we taste his bread, when we commune with him, we soon learn that our desires for other things are hallow, futile, and empty. The more we feed on his love, the more we will find ourselves free the tyranny of lesser desires.
תּוֹדִיעֵנִי ארַח חַיִּים
שׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ
נְעִמוֹת בִּימִינְךָ נֶצַח
to·di·ei·ni · o·rach · cha·yim
so·va' · se·ma·chot · et · pa·ne·kha
ne·i·mot · bi·min·kha · ne·tzach
"You will cause me to know the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."
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The blessing we traditionally regularly recite over bread (hamotzi lechem) is a prophecy of sorts: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, who will bring bread up from the earth." This applies first of all to the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead, but it also applies to Yeshua as lechem ha-chayim (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים), the Bread of Life, who meets our heart's needs (John 6:35). As we feed on God's faithfulness, we shall be satisfied... May we all partake of the blessing!
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