Tisha B’Av: A Reenactment of Tragedy, a Glimpse of Hope

Tisha B’Av

Saturday night and Sunday is Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av).

The day itself can be summed up in one word: Tragedy. On this day we remember many of the most tragic events in the history of the Jewish people which all took place on Tisha B’Av (or within just a few days of it).

Judaism is a religion of sacred drama. We don’t just remember, we relive, re-experience, and reenact events of the past. This is also true of Tisha B’Av. In going through the four associated fast days, and their accompanying customs, we relive the stages of destruction of the First and Second Temples and the loss of Jewish sovereignty.

The primary focus of Tisha B’Av is mourning. As such, the Halachah of the day draws heavily on the imagery of the death of a family member, walking through the stages of grief and sorrow.

Some events associated with Tisha B’Av include:

  • The 10 Spies return with a bad report after spying out the land.
  • Destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. About 100,000 Jews were killed during the invasion of Jerusalem, culminating in the Babylonian exile sending many from the remaining tribes in the southern kingdom to Babylon and Persia.
  • Destruction of Second Temple by Romans the Roman in 70 CE, under Titus. Over 2,500,000 Jews were killed as a result of war, famine and disease. Over 1,000,000 Jews were exiled to all parts of the Roman Empire. Over 100,000 Jews were sold as slaves by the Romans, and Jews were killed and tortured in gladiatorial “games” and pagan celebrations.
  • In 132 CE the Second Jewish Revolt of Bar Kochba was crushed, and over 100,000 Jews were killed.
  • In 133 CE, Turnus Rufus ploughs the site of the Temple mount and builds the pagan city ofAelia Capitolina.
  • In 1095, the First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II. In the first month alone, over 10,000 Jews were killed. The Crusades brought death and destruction to thousands of Jews, totally obliterating many communities in the Rhineland and France.
  • In 1290, Expulsion of Jews from England, accompanied by pogroms and confiscation of books and property.
  • As a result of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, in 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain issue an edict expelling all Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. Families separated, many died by drowning, and there was a massive loss of property. What was once a major hub of Jewish civilization was decimated and scattered throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.
  • In 1914, Britain and Russia declared war on Germany, beginning the First World War. Issues left unresolved eventually lead to the Second World War and the Holocaust. 75% of all Jews were in war zones. Jews served in armies on all sides – 120,000 Jewish casualties. Over 400 pogroms immediately followed the war in Hungary, Ukraine, Poland and Russia.
  • In 1942, the first of the Deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camp begin.
  • In 1994, the deadly bombing of the AMIA, the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires,Argentina, which killed 86 people and wounded some 300 others.

On Tisha B’Av it is traditional to fast, observe the customs of mourning, and hear the book of Lamentations and other mournful passages read in synagogue. The service is also accompanied by special liturgical readings known as Kinnot.

Although in our day, Tisha B’Av is associated with mourning and tragedy, according to the rabbis, when Mashiach comes the day will become of day of rejoicing. As followers of Mashiach, it seems appropriate that Yeshua applies the imagery of the Temple to himself:

“Yeshua answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” -John 2:19

Tisha B’Av carries that hint of redemption. For out of the ashes of tragedy our redemption will sprout forth, and we will see the return of our Messiah.

May that day come speedily and soon! Until then … we wait, mourn, yearn, and prepare for that day to finally arrive.

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Words to a New Generation

Parashat Devarim

Deuteronomy is unique. Firstly, the book is a retelling of the entire Torah.

Second, as the Vilna Gaon notes, the first four books of the Torah were heard directly from the mouth of HaShem. Whereas Deuteronomy is Moshe’s recounting of the events at a later date. In the first four books of the Torah, HaShem is the primary speaker. In Deuteronomy, Moshe is the primary speaker.

Lastly, the book involves a different generation than the rest of the Torah. Meaning, the whole reason Moshe is pleading with the people at the beginning of this parasha is because it is a new generation about to go into the Promised Land. This is not the generation who wandered in the dessert for forty years. This is not the generation that left Egypt and was involved in the sin of the golden calf. Many of these people were not even born when the Torah was originally given, and if they were, they may not have been old enough to fully comprehend the impact of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. This was a new generation.

Many of us represent this new generation. There is a new land we are about to enter. As many voices in the Jewish world are declaring the demise of Judaism in America, we stand at the threshold of opportunity. We can either listen to the calls of those who only see the end of the Jewish community as we know it, or we can take hold of the vision cast by HaShem.

Deuteronomy is a voice to a new generation. It is a voice to us. You and I may not have physically stood at Mt. Sinai, but we did receive the Torah (Dt. 5:3). It is time to take hold of the Torah once again and step forward into a new land.

The generation of our Torah portion experienced the dying out of the pervious generation. We also do not have to look far to see Judaism diminishing among our parents’ generation. But it does not have to end here. If we are willing to look closely, there is a Promised Land ahead.

The great Jewish believer, Paul Phillip Levertoff once wrote:

It is the business of the Chasid to live now for the realization of this Messianic Age.

It is our destiny, as devoted Chasidim of our Messiah, to prepare the world for the coming of Mashiach.

We need to create communities that are focused on relationships, where people are valued for being created b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of G-d. We need communities where people are empowered to lead and to follow, and where leaders serve as guides, rather than as lone-rangers. We need to embody a vision of Jewish life that is infused with the power of Yeshua, and filled with the Spirit. We need to reclaim our identities as Israel declaring a corporate witness to the world of G-d’s continued unfolding plan for the Jewish people and the Nations.

There is yet a Promised Land ahead. Are you able to see it? And if you’re able to catch a glimpse of it, are you ready to help build it?

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Organized Religion and a Zeal for God

decline_272870998Parashat Pinchas

According to a recent Gallup poll, the number of Americans who have faith in organized religion is at an all-time low. Only 44% of Americans today have “a lot of confidence in organized religion,” compared to 66% in 1973, when organized religion or church was the highest rated institution in Gallup’s confidence in institutions measure.

Did you know that organized religion continued to rank first in most years through 1985, outranking the military and the U.S. Supreme Court?

The confidence of Americans in organized religion began to change in the mid to late 80’s, when it fell below 60% for the first time. It has been in a consistent decline ever since.

One can also note the rise of large scandals and crimes associated with religious figures and institutions during this same time period, brought into a more public light through popular media.

A Healthy Dose of Skepticism

This may come as a surprise to some of you … but I am also sort of a skeptic of organized religion. I know … SHOCK … HORROR … And yet I am a rabbi. I am a bit of a skeptic because I know exactly how easy it is to use religion as a crutch … or to manipulate people … and how it can be used to take advantage of people in their most vulnerable times instead of being a positive force for change and assisting them on their spiritual journeys.

But it is also some of that skepticism that convinced me to become a rabbi. Because (a bit naively) I wanted to try to make a difference … and because I still believe that religion can have a positive role in our lives. My desire is to help re-infuse religion with the awe of the sacred … to renew that sense of “Wonder.” But to do so, we need to get our priorities back in order.

Spirituality vs. Religion

In many ways “spirituality” and “religion” got separated. We have all heard (possibly over and over again) the all too common response, “I’m just spiritual, not religious.” What people are implying is that “I feel connected to God, but not to all that binding legalism, manipulation, and control. “I’m a free thinker … and just want to seek out God in my own way.”

In my humble opinion, religion, and particularly Judaism, is failing our people … and failing the world. Although there are some great leaders and communities out there … we have largely lost our zeal.

Parashat Pinchas gives us a taste of that zeal.

י  וַיְדַבֵּר יְיְ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.

10 And HaShem spoke unto Moshe, saying:

יא  פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן, הֵשִׁיב אֶת-חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת-קִנְאָתִי, בְּתוֹכָם; וְלֹא-כִלִּיתִי אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקִנְאָתִי.

11 ‘Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the cohen, has deflected my anger away from the people of Israel by being as zealous as I am, so that I so that I didn’t destroy them in my own zeal.

יב  לָכֵן, אֱמֹר:  הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, שָׁלוֹם.

12 Therefore say: Behold, I am giving him My covenant of shalom;

יג  וְהָיְתָה לּוֹ וּלְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו, בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם–תַּחַת, אֲשֶׁר קִנֵּא לֵאלֹהָיו, וַיְכַפֵּר, עַל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

13 making a covenant with him and his descendants after him that the office of cohen will be theirs forever.’ This is because he was zealous on behalf of his G-d and made atonement for the people of Israel.”

Pinchas had a zeal both for HaShem and his people … a zeal which we must have as well. But how do we do that?

What is normally our Haftarah this week (1 Kings 19:9-21) provides an answer. Elijah, who was running to escape the wrath of Jezebel, flees to a cave where He has a powerful encounter with God, and God sends him back to confront his fear and to realize he is not alone.

Lessons from the Haftarah

From the Haftarah we learn three very important lessons:

  1. Rather than run in fear, we must confront what we fear the most
  2. We cannot do it alone … when we are convinced, like Elijah, that we’re the only ones left … God reminds us there are others as well who will stand with us.
  3. We need encounters with God

Often we are like Elijah, and desire to run away from our problems. However, the lesson we learn over and over again from our Scriptures is that we must face and confront our fears! Like Elijah, if you try to run, don’t be surprised if God tells you to go back and face your fears.

Religion today has taken on a modern vs. an ancient approach to faith  – it largely focuses on emotion and does everything to “make you feel good” (it is soothing), verses actually enabling you to deal with the difficult tasks at hand. True faith is a faith that demands something of you!

Moses was also asked to go back to where he was exiled from. Yeshua said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” In other words, pick up your tool of execution … and carry it … let it become your symbol of faith. You cannot be victorious when running in fear … and then make all kinds of excuses for doing so.

Each difficult task we face in life can lead to either victory or defeat. It is how we deal with life’s circumstances when they are thrown at us that will determine the outcome.

Another important message from 1 Kings is that you cannot do it alone. An important element of faith is to teach us how to get through the difficult bumps of life. We need support from one another … you are not supposed to do it alone.

When Elijah thought he was the only one left, HaShem reminded him that He had preserved 7,000 others who in their zeal for God have also refused to worship Ba’al.

God’s Pursuit of Us

We were created to be in relationship with our Creator. This is the essence of Judaism, according to Abraham Joshua Heschel. We need to rediscover that sense of awe and wonder in our lives. Because it is that relationship with God that gets us through life’s difficult circumstances.

When we think that we can exist apart from God we are only fooling ourselves. Our souls are longing to be fed, and yet we often ignore the hunger pains, and instead try to soothe them through other temporal means.

We are constantly bombarded on the path of life … we need others … we need a vehicle for HOW TO confront our fears … how to learn to face what scares us and hurts us the most. When we feel a desire to pursue our spiritual journeys alone, Judaism teaches us that we actually need each other, and that we need to be interconnected to each other for support.

Renewing Our Zeal

Although we can encounter God anywhere, and at anytime, religion is is the vehicle for encountering God – in and through each other. This is what religion has largely lost. It has lost its zeal which Pinchas and Elijah are praised for … a zealous pursuit of God and the well-being of each other. Organized religion has largely become a soothing mechanism to make you feel good about yourself rather than equipping you to face life’s difficult challenges. It has become a faith which no longer demands anything. Therefore, it has also largely lost its ability to become a conduit for a radical, life-changing encounter with God.

Is it any wonder why so many Americans have lost faith in organized religion?

Parashat Pinchas teaches us that it is time to once again be zealous. Especially in a world that no longer think it needs God anymore. It is time to rise up and be zealous, but with a zeal that comes from love, rather than false pride or judgmentalism. True love. For as Yeshua stated, they will recognize us by our love.

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A Talking Donkey?

Parashat Balak

Parashat Balak tells the story of a non-Jewish prophet (Bilaam) who was hired to curse the people of Israel. Multiple times Bilaam attempted to curse Israel, and each time G-d caused him to speak a blessing instead of a curse.

In the middle of the parasha, Bilaam sets off on his donkey in another attempt to curse Israel. However, a strange thing happened. G-d sent an angel to bar the way of Bilaam. Upon seeing the Malach HaShem, the Angel of HaShem blocking its path, three times the donkey refrained from continuing and each time Bilaam beat the donkey. After the third time, G-d enabledthe donkey to speak, responding, “What is it I have done to you that you beat me these three times? (Num. 22:28)” It was not until G-d enabled Bilaam to see the Malach HaShem that Bilaam truly realized what was happening.

So what can we learn from this? Often many of us are like Bilaam. For one reason or another we become caught up in our own desires, blind to G-d’s purposes, and to the needs of the community around us. And when anyone or anything attempts to keep us from doing something in pursuit of those desires, we beat them too. So in the end, we are hurting not only ourselves, but those around us without any consideration.

And yet, other times in life we feel like the donkey. We are working so hard to do the right thing, and to avoid the entrapments along life’s path. However, it seems life just keeps beating us and beating us despite our best attempts. Like the donkey in the parasha, many of us often feel like screaming out, “Why do you continue to beat me?”

In either situation, we are letting our circumstances get the best of us. When we lose faith, lose hope, and lose sight of where HaShem is leading us, we end up getting beaten down by the world around us. We need to be people of clear vision. After all, the book of Mishlei (Proverbs) states, “Trust in HaShem with all of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge G-d, and G-d will make your path straight (3:5-6).”

May all of us be blessed to truly listen and follow G-d’s path for our lives. May we be followers of HaShem’s Torah, and heralds of the message of Messianic redemption. May we no longer kick against the goads, lost and beaten down by our own misguided desires. Rather, may each of us merit a prophetic vision for our unique purpose, and may we all witness the fullness of Israel in Messiah Yeshua.

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The Rock of … What?

Parashat Chukat

Without water, the community began grumbling against Moses and Aaron. Leaving the community, they went to the entrance of the Tabernacle and fell on their faces in the presence of HaShem. Moshe was commanded to take his staff and speak to the rock, which would produce water in response to the cries of the children of Israel.

However, leaving the Tabernacle Moshe went before the people. “You rebels,” he shouted, “Are we supposed to bring you water from this rock?” Moshe raised his staff and struck the rock twice, and water flowed in abundance.

Displeased, G-d said to Moshe and Aharon, “Because you did not trust in Me, so as to cause Me to be regarded as holy by the people of Israel, you will not bring this community into the land I have given them (Num. 20:7-12).”

So what’s the big deal?

G-d’s Name is intimately linked to the people of Israel. So much so that G-d has chosen to associate His Name with the Jewish people – i.e. “the G-d of Israel.” As HaShem’s remnant, the Jewish people have a specific role to play in the cosmos. This role is something called Kiddush HaShem – the Sanctification of the Name of G-d.

We are to be Or L’Goyim – a Light to the Nations. As Israel, we are partners with G-d in bringing redemption into the world. We are the harbingers of a cosmic message with cosmic ramifications.

The real issue is not that Moshe struck the rock. This is supported by Rashi, and other rabbinic commentators. The issue is that Moshe did not sanctify the Name of G-d in the presence of the people. Moshe’s actions were more than an “oops … I was supposed to speak to the rock, not hit it.” This was so serious that Moshe was forbidden to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. In some way, HaShem was dishonored in front of the entire people. Rather than Kiddush HaShem, Moshe performed a Chilul HaShem (a desecration of the Name of G-d).

The task of the Sanctification of G-d’s Name has been handed down to us. Our job in this world is to bring about glory to HaShem, and prepare the way for the coming of Mashiach. May we truly recognize the implications of what is at hand. G-d has chosen each one of us to partner with Him in bringing redemption into the world. We need to rise up, take our staffs in hand, and not only bring water to a parched people and land – but prepare the way for the coming of Mashiach. And may our righteous Messiah (who we eagerly await) lead us out of exile and into the Promised Land speedily and soon!

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Rebellion and Selfishness … or a Message of Hope?

Parashat Korach

This week’s parasha begins with an outright rebellion against Moses and Aaron. So what do we learn from this?

Korach, a first cousin of Moses (and also a Levite), and those with him are presented in the parasha as having selfish motivations for their rebellion, as exemplified in their accusation:

“You take too much upon yourselves! After all, the entire community is holy … So why do you exalt yourselves above HaShem’s community?” (Numbers 16:3)

It seems Korach felt he could do a better job leading the people of Israel than Moses and Aaron. So he set out to overthrow them, and usurp their authority by assembling a group of people to follow him.

Pirkei Avot teaches:

“Any dispute that is for the sake of heaven will have a constructive outcome; but one that is not for the sake of heaven will not have a constructive outcome … And what sort of dispute was not for the sake of heaven? – The dispute of Korach and his entire community (Avot 5:20).”

In the end, Korach and his family were swallowed up by the earth, and the 250 people with him were consumed by fire. What is even more unbelievable is that the very next day the people started grumbling against Moses again – after just having witnessed the fate of Korach and those with him. So G-d sent a plague that ended up killing another 14,700 people in addition to those who died along with Korach.

We learn from Parashat Korach that G-d takes selfishness very seriously. Because whenever we think we can “do it better,” we need to be careful. There are times when it is true – maybe we can do it better. But the real question is our motivation. Is our motivation to do a great job? Or, is it a matter of a selfish ambition based on jealousy, insecurity, or rebelliousness?

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that G-d has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)

We are supposed to be confident in our abilities. But a mature confidence is not arrogance. Paul warns that we should never take ourselves too seriously. For if we do, and begin grumbling against those around us, we risk the fate of Korach.

To be clear, the message of Korach is not one of utter hopelessness. For interwoven in the story is also a message of redemption. Although Korach himself chose to rebel against G-d, Moses, and Aaron; his descendants chose to follow in the ways of HaShem. How do we know this? There are eleven Psalms all written by “the Sons of Korach.” As G-d so often does, He took a negative experience and turned it into a story of hope.

The descendants of Korach deliberately chose not to walk in the ways of their ancestor. Rather, they took upon themselves the burden to walk in the ways of HaShem. We are instructed elsewhere in the Torah to be holy just as G-d is holy. Holiness is a choice. We can either choose our own selfish ambitions, or we can be like the sons of Korach, and (despite any negative reputation and associations) choose righteousness, holiness, and the way of our Messiah. I hope we choose wisely.

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Lift Up Your Head

Parashat Bamidbar

What is the purpose of the census at the beginning of the book of Numbers, and why is so much detail placed on the encampment of the tribes of Israel around the Tabernacle?

This week’s Torah portion begins the biblical book of Numbers, named after the census taken at the beginning of the parasha.  The act of counting individuals seems quite trivial and without meaning.  In addition, the census seems to appear out of nowhere.  As such, what is the purpose of the census?  The Hebrew of the text provides an answer.  The literal translation of the phrase, “take a census – se’u et rosh” is “lift up the head.”  According to Chasidic thought, the purpose of the census was to reach out to the core of the Jewish soul.  When each person is counted, everyone is equal.  Each person counts as only one count.  No one is counted twice and nobody is skipped.  The census was meant to even the playing field and show equality and value of every single individual.  One life is not worth more than another.  Each person has purpose.

This idea of holiness is emphasized in the encampment of Israel around the Tabernacle.  The 13th Century Jewish sage, Ramban (Nachmanides), noticed clear parallels between the mitzvot surrounding the Tabernacle and the Revelation at Sinai.  As Sinai represented the place of God’s manifest presence, so too the Tabernacle represented God’s presence on earth.  And just as the people camped around the base of Mt. Sinai, so too did the tribes camp around the Tabernacle, symbolizing the centrality of God’s presence among the people of Israel.  During the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, the Jewish people entered into a profound covenant with God.  The symbolism between a Jewish wedding and the giving of the Torah further solidifies this understanding.

By making the Tabernacle central to the people of Israel, geographically and conceptually, it solidified the Jewish commitment to the centrality of Torah.  The centrality of Torah underscored the emphasis for the need of the Living Torah, dwelling in, through, and among the nation of Israel.  May we too recognize that same obligation to make God’s presence central to our lives, and may each of us never lose sight of our ultimate purpose.

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Mother’s Day: Giving Honor Where it’s Due

Dancing with my mom at our wedding in 2009.

Dancing with my mom at our wedding in 2009.

Today we recognizes moms …

Mother’s Day is obviously a day set aside to recognize and honor those who gave birth to us, nourished us, guided us, loved us, wiped our noses, and rubbed our backs when we were sick … it is “Yom HaEm”- the day we remember and honor our moms.

I realize some of you may not have a good relationship with your mothers, or may no longer have your mothers with you anymore (alayhen ha-shalom), but biblically, and ideally, the role of a mother is a vital and cherished role.

Judaism affords tremendous respect for the role of mothers and honoring one’s parents. For example, the Talmud teaches:

When Rabbi Yosef heard his mother enter the room he would say, “I must stand up, for the glory of God enters [with her] (Kiddushin 31a).

In another passage it states:

Rabbi Tarfon used to help his mother get in and out of bed by bending down and allowing her to use his back as a step ladder. R. Tarfon came and bragged about the honor he showed his mother at the Beit Midrash – the house of study. They said to him: ‘You have not yet reached half of the honor [that one should show his parents]’” (Kiddushin 31a)

(Nowadays, most people prefer to tell their mothers to get OFF their backs)

Not only does our tradition teach us about the honor we’re supposed to afford our mothers, but it also gives us a glimpse into the many roles a mother must play in the care of her family. I am not sure if anyone has ever noticed – but the women of the bible were hardly pushovers, or silent, dainty wallflowers – and many fundamentalists might be a little shocked at the roles women actually played in the Biblical text. The best example of this is the Woman of Valor – described in Proverbs 31, which we recite every Friday night at our Shabbat tables.

The Proverbs 31 women aptly describes the many roles mothers must perform on a daily basis – mother, wife, caretaker, investor, the one responsible for the household finances … this is a regular balebuste!

Again, according to the Talmud:

Rabbi Chelbo said:  ‘Always a man should be careful [regarding] the honor of his wife, because blessing is found in his house only because of his wife.’ (Bava Metzia 59a)

In the Bible, the imagery of mothers as nurturing providers whose sacrificial love for their children is so great is often applied to HaShem.

In Deuteronomy 32:18, for example, God chastises Israel, saying: “You have neglected the Rock who begot you, And forgot the God who gave birth to you.” This feminine imagery is even used in some of the names attributed to G0d, or concepts used in describing God, for example – El Shaddai, Shechinah, etc.

Yeshua also applies this motherly imagery to himself when beckoning to the Jewish people, calling out, “Jerusalem, Jerusale … how I have longed to gather you, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings …”

This motherly imagery is not meant to say anything about the gender of God, but rather about the character of God. That it is God who is the One who nourishes us, sustains us, comforts us, gives life to us, and loves us. And if we are supposed to be followers of HaShem, then this language should speak volumes about how we should also conduct our lives … as those who nurture, love, and comfort others. We must be those who give and speak life.

Zoo Carousel - June '13

Monique with our son.

Becoming a parent has taught me a lot about how difficult it is to be a parent, and how much honor our mothers really deserve. Not only has becoming a father given me a greater appreciation for my own mother, but it has given me a new appreciation for my wife … and what it took for her to become a mother … and how great of a mother she is to our son.

Mother’s Day is really about appreciating all the work and sacrifices the mothers in our lives make, and have made, on our behalf.

Therefore, do something special today for your mother, or for the mother of your children. Give her a call and send her flowers or a card. If your mother is no longer with us (may she rest in peace), then take a moment today to recite kaddish in her memory. You might even want to visit one of her favorite spots to recite kaddish there. If her gravesite is local, you might even want to drop by for a visit.

Lastly, consider the lessons your mother taught you. Was your mom an example of love? If so, how might you extend that love toward others? Was she an Eishet Chayil, a Woman of Valor? Then what lessons did she teach you to make you into a better YOU? Furthermore, how has your mother taught you to be self-sacrificial? There are so many lessons our mothers have taught us that we need to put into practice.

WHEN YOU CALL YOUR MOTHER TODAY (if you are able), tell her something specific that you appreciate about her, or a specific lesson you learned from her. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today! The Torah tells us to honor our fathers and mothers … and it all starts with picking up the phone.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful moms out there … we appreciate all you do!

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The Leper Scholar

Parashiot Tazria – Metzora

Our Torah portions this week discuss the malady of tzara’atI have previously discussed how tzara’at is not what we often think it is. Although it is common to understand these passages as dealing with an actual skin disease, Jewish tradition teaches that tzara’at is not leprosy at all, but a serious spiritual malady caused by Sinat Chinam – hatred without a reason.

Interestingly, there is a wealth of Jewish tradition that makes a connection between tzara’at and the Messiah.After all, the rabbis teach us that everything in the Torah concerns Mashiach. Therefore, the rabbis recognized that even within the spiritual malady of tzara’at were hidden signs of Mashiach:

This tradition of connecting tzara’at and Mashiach begins with a particular verse from last week’s parasha, in Leviticus 13:12-13:

יב וְאִם-פָּרוֹחַ תִּפְרַח הַצָּרַעַת בָּעוֹר וְכִסְּתָה הַצָּרַעַת אֵת כָּל-עוֹר הַנֶּגַע מֵרֹאשׁוֹ וְעַד-רַגְלָיו–לְכָל-מַרְאֵה עֵינֵי הַכֹּהֵן.

12 If the tzara’at breaks out all over the skin, so that, as far as the cohen can see, the person with tzara’at has sores everywhere on his body, from his head to his feet;

יג וְרָאָה הַכֹּהֵן וְהִנֵּה כִסְּתָה הַצָּרַעַת אֶת-כָּל-בְּשָׂרוֹ–וְטִהַר אֶת-הַנָּגַע: כֻּלּוֹ הָפַךְ לָבָן טָהוֹר הוּא.

13 then the cohen is to examine him, and if he sees that the tzara’at has covered his entire body, he is to pronounce the person with the sores as ritually pure – it has all turned white and he is clean.

Referring particularly to verse 13, the Talmud States (b. Sanhedrin 97a):

“The Son of David (Mashiach) will only come when every government becomes heretical.Rabah said, ‘Where do we see this in Scripture? From the verse “He has turned completely white, he is ritually pure.’”

Rashi further expands on this verse and notes, “Just as when the affliction has spread throughout the entire skin and the person is ritually pure, so too, when all the governments have become heretical, the redemption will come.”

Recognizing that the Messiah must be afflicted, and familiar with suffering, the rabbis went even further – and one of the ways they identified Mashiach in the Talmud is with the title, The Leper Scholar:

“The Rabbanan (rabbis) say that Mashiach’s name is The Leper Scholar of the House of Rabbi, for it is written, ‘Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten and afflicted by G-d (b. Sanhedrin 98b).’”

The rabbis obviously recognized that this does not mean that Mashiach would literally be afflicted with tzara’at but that this was a metaphor.This connection between tzara’at and Mashiach is not unique to rabbinic literature. Rather, Yeshua himself is described in the Besorah as having compassion for the metzora (the person with tzara’at), and healing them:

“And it happened when he was in a certain city, a man covered with tzara’at saw Yeshua, and he fell on his face and implored him, saying, ‘L-rd, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’Then Yeshua put out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing, be healed.’And he commanded him to tell no one, ‘But go to the cohen and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moshe commanded (Luke 5:12-14).”

Those with tzara’at were healed, and their healings were part of the sign of his being the Mashiach. Yeshua taught that we must forgive, and not let Sinat Chinam eat away within us:

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

According to the sages, tzara’at is the physical effect of sin. It is a spiritual disease that must be kept in check. To specifically avoid tzara’at, we must avoid slander and baseless hatred. All of us have spiritual sores and wounds, which if left untreated, can fester into something much worse. That is why we must learn to forgive and let go of any kind of judgment and hatred we might have against another person. Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred will destroy us, but forgiveness and healing can set us free!

We must learn how to go before our great High Priest, Yeshua our Messiah (Hebrews 5), and let him inspect us.For through him, not only will we find healing and wholeness, but redemption as well.

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Passover, Elijah, and Shabbat HaGadol

Shabbat HaGadol

This week is Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat that occurs at the beginning of the week in which Passover will be observed (Passover begins Monday evening). There are five special shabbatot leading up to Passover. Each special Shabbat has special readings that are read in addition to the weekly portion. The exception is Shabbat HaGadol. Instead of an additional reading from the Torah, Shabbat HaGadol is highlighted by only a special Haftarah reading from Malachi which concludes with the words:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and awesome day of HaShem” (Mal. 3:23).

Jewish tradition teaches us that Elijah is a messianic figure who will usher in Mashiach and the Messianic Age. This is purposely fitting at this season because Passover is our reliving and retelling of our redemption from Egypt. Both Jewish tradition and the New Testament portray Elijah as representing the coming of messianic redemption. That is why the figure of Elijah is so connected with Passover. Passover today commemorates our connection with not only our physical redemption from slavery, but our spiritual redemption as well.

The Besorah of Luke associates the personification of Elijah with John the Immerser:

“And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the L-rd” (Luke 1:17).

So John the Immerser was a partial fulfillment of this week’s special Haftarah reading from Malachi 3:23 in preparation for the incarnation and revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. Yet, the role of Elijah is still not complete, for there is an expectation that Elijah himself will yet return ahead of our glorious Mashiach. This is the reason Elijah is referenced so often in Jewish tradition, especially during Passover. During the Seder there is a whole place setting (or in some homes, simply a cup) that is specifically set aside. It is left untouched in the messianic hope that each year we will open the door during our Passover festivities, and welcome in Elijah, who will in turn usher in the return of our Messiah.

Next week during the Seder, we will proclaim, “Eliyahu HaNavi … Come quickly and speedily with Messiah the Son of David.” As we sing those words this Passover, let us also remember the words associated with Shabbat HaGadol – “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the HaShem.”

May we all merit the return of Mashiach and see that day fulfilled speedily and soon!

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