Creation and the Hidden Light

Parashat Breishit

The Torah relates the story of the six days of creation in order to refute other theories that claim that the universe came into being through some cosmic accident or coincidence. As such, the story of creation speaks only in general terms to illustrate that nothing came into being except at G-d’s command. The Hebrew word, bara, emphasizes this. The word bara, used here for “create,” grammatically can only be used in connection to G-d (never for humans), and alludes to the creation of something from nothing.

The Torah’s narrative of creation is meant to directly establish G-d as the sovereign of the universe. Unlike other creation accounts circulating around the Ancient Near East, the Biblical account makes no attempt to explain the origins of G-d, or try to persuade the listener of G-d’s existence. The existence of God is an axiomatic fact. Therefore it immediately jumps to the explanation of G-d’s creation of heaven and earth.

In verse three, G-d says, “’Let there be light’: and there was light.” However, if one reads more carefully, the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day of creation (see 1:14-19). Therefore, what is the “light” that is being spoken of? Interestingly, there are two possible answers.

Within Jewish tradition there are, of course, a wide variety of perspectives regarding Messiah. Yet, the pre-existence of Messiah, and the presence of Messiah at creation, has been discussed among certain Jewish writers throughout history.

A medieval rabbinic anthology commenting on this verse states:

‘And G-d saw the light, that it was good.’ This is the light of the Messiah…to teach you that G-d saw the generation of Messiah and His works before He created the universe, and He hid the Messiah … under His throne of glory. Satan asked G-d, Master of the Universe: “For whom is this Light under your Throne of Glory?’ G-d answered him, ‘It is for … [the Messiah] who is to turn you backward and in who will put you to scorn with shamefacedness (Yalkut Shimoni on Isaiah 60).’

According to Midrash HaGadol, “The final goal of humanity is to attain the state of the days of Mashiach; therefore the name of Mashiach had to be formulated even before the world’s inception (Midrash HaGadol, 1:1).”

Another perspective in the Talmud relates:

It was taught that seven things were created before the world was created; they are the Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gey-Hinnom, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah … The name of the Messiah, as it is written: ‘May his name endure forever, may his name produce issue prior to the sun (Pesachim 54a, Nedarim 39a, also Midrash on Ps. 93:3).’

The light, which some rabbis speak of as alluding to the Messiah can also serve as a representation of the “Ein Sof,” the hidden/unexplainable aspect of G-d. There is a midrashic legend that teaches that this light was hidden until the time of the Messianic Age, after which it will be once more revealed. When this happens, it will be like in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21:22-23, 22:5, etc.), where there will no longer be any need of the sun, for G-d’s “Ein Sof,” His presence, will provide all needed light.

However, no where is the Messiah more clearly connected to the themes of light and creation than in the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d.

He was with G-d in the beginning.

All things came to be through him,

and without him nothing made had being.

In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not suppressed it

…The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,

and we saw his Sh’khinah,

the Sh’khinah of the father’s only Son,

full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5, 14).”

May our divine Messiah, Yeshua, who was present at creation, continue to work in each of our lives to dispel the darkness, and make each of us into a new creation!

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Yahrzeit of Rabbi Lichtenstein

Tonight begins Hoshanah Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot, and also marks the yahrzeit of Rabbi Ignácz (Isaac) Lichtenstein, one of our great Messianic Jewish forbearers.

Lichtenstein’s Early Life

Rav Lichtenstein was born in 1824, and became a rabbi before turning 20 years old. After officiating for several years in different communities in northern Hungary, he finally settled down as the Chief/District Rabbi in Tápiószele, where he remained for nearly 40 years.

Early in his career, one of his teachers in the communal school of the district casually showed him a German Bible. Turning the leaves, his eye fell on the name “Jesu Christi.” He became angry and reproved the teacher for having such a thing in his possession. Taking the book, he flung it across the room in a rage; it fell behind a shelf where, dusty and forgotten, it lay for some thirty-odd years.

Tisza Eslar Affair and Franz Delitzsch

In April of 1882 a fierce wave of anti-Semitism broke out in Hungary, culminating in the now historic “Tisza Eslar affair.”  As is often the case, the blood libel was ultimately demonstrated to be false and baseless – thanks largely to a number of prominent Christian leaders, most notably Dr. Franz Delitzsch, a Biblical scholar and Professor at Leipzig University, who rose to the occasion to defend the Jewish people against the outlandish blood libel.

This act of defense by Delitzsch, such a prominent Christian, played a key role in Rabbi Lichtenstein beginning to rethink his position on Yeshua and the Brit Chadashah:

“In articles written by [Delitzsch] in defense of the Jews of Hungary, I often met with passages where Jesus was spoken of as He Who brings joy to man, the Prince of peace, and the Redeemer; and His Gospel was extolled as a message of love and life to all people. I was surprised and scarcely trusted my eyes when I espied in a hidden corner the New Testament which some 30 years before I had in vexation taken from a Jewish teacher, and I began to turn over its leaves and read. How can I express the impression which I then received? Not the half had been told me of the greatness, power and glory of this Book, formerly a sealed book to me. All seemed so new, arid yet it did me good, like the sight of an old friend who has laid aside his dusty, travel-worn garments, and appears in in festive attire, like a bridegroom in wedding robes, or a bride adorned with her jewels.”

Lichtenstein’s New Boldness

Lichtenstein’s synagogue in Tápiószele.

For two or three years Rabbi Lichtenstein kept these convictions a secret. However, in time, he slowly began to teach some of these strange and new doctrines in his synagogue which both interested and astonished his hearers. At last he could contain himself no longer. On one Shabbat, while teaching on a parable of Yeshua, he openly proclaimed that his subject was taken from the New Testament and spoke of Yeshua as the true Messiah and Redeemer of Israel.

He ultimately embodied his ideas in three publications appearing in rapid succession which created a tremendous sensation within the Jewish community, not only in Hungary, but throughout Europe. Here was an old and respected Rabbi, still in office, calling upon his people in burning words to align themselves under the banner of the long-despised Yeshua of Nazareth, and to hail Him as their true Messiah and King.

Opposition and Persecution

A storm of persecution quickly broke out against him. From the Jewish pulpit and in the Press, insults were hurled against Lichtenstein, and he who but a few weeks before was considered among the noblest leaders and teachers was now described as a disgrace to his nation.  Falsehoods were spread against him and he was eventually cited to appear before the assembled rabbinate in Budapest.

On entering the hall he was greeted with the cry, “Retract! Retract!”

“Gentlemen,” said Rabbi Lichtenstein, “I shall most willingly retract if you convince me I am wrong.”

Chief Rabbi Kohn proposed a compromise. Rabbi Lichtenstein might believe whatever he liked in his heart, if he would only refrain from preaching about Yeshua publicly. The Synod of Rabbis would draw up a document stating that what Rabbi Lichtenstein wrote was done in a temporary fit of insanity and all he would have to do would be to add his name to this statement. Rabbi Lichtenstein answered calmly but indignantly that this was a strange proposal to make. When it was clear he would not sign the document, they demanded that Lichtenstein should resign his position and be formally baptized to indicate that he was leaving the Jewish people. But he replied that he had no intention of joining the church and had found in the New Testament the true Judaism, and would remain as before with his congregation, and teach it in the synagogue.

And he did so … in spite of tremendous persecution and reproaches. From his official position as the District Rabbi he continued to teach and preach from the New Testament. This was also a testimony to the strong commitment of his own community, which alone had the power to request his dismissal. In fact, much pressure was brought against members of his congregation, and relatives of his wife were completely ruined financially; but still they supported their esteemed rabbi.

Rabbi Lichtenstein and his writings become widely known across Europe and different church and missionary organizations sought his services with tempting offers – including the Pope.  However, to all Rav Lichtenstein had but one reply:

“I will remain among my own nation, I love Messiah, I believe in the New Testament; but I am not drawn to join Christendom. Just as the prophet Jeremiah, after the destruction of Jerusalem, in spite of the generous offers of Nebuchadnezzar and the captain of his host, chose rather to remain and lament among the ruins of the holy city, and with the despised remnant of his brethren, so will I remain among my own brethren, as a watchman from within and to plead with them to behold in Yeshua the true glory of Israel.”

Lichtenstein’s Resignation as Chief Rabbi of the District

Finally, after losing all his abilities to save the members of his congregation from total ruin, and with his health greatly deteriorating as a consequence of his bold stand, he voluntarily resigned his office as District Rabbi. He then settled in Budapest, but the opposition to him was relentless. He was shadowed and even physically attacked on the street. His barber was bribed to disfigure his beautiful beard. His landlord kept a close watch on everyone who visited him and reported to the rabbinical authorities. But, with all of this opposition also came interviews and discussions from fellow Jews from every walk of life.

The Final Years 

Rav Lichtenstein’s recently restored tombstone in the Central Jewish Cemetery in Budapest. Courtesy of Zsolt Marton.

Over the next twenty years Rabbi Lichtenstein traveled to many parts of Europe to speak about the truth as he saw it in Messiah. However, the storms of controversy, of misunderstanding and antagonism, began to take their tole on him. But his spirit remained undaunted. In his An Appeal to the Jewish People, Lichtenstein wrote:

“At the very outset I make my honest and public confession, the result of earnest thought and inward struggle, that it is my steadfast, unalterable conviction … Yes, as a Rabbi grown grey in office, as an old Jew faithful to the Law, I confess candidly, Jesus is the predicted Messiah of Israel … for whom we long, and for whose Advent our people have ever expected. He is come! This is now my shout of rejoicing, which my lips and pen, and, if God wills, my prolonged life shall serve to make known.”

Quite unexpectedly he became very ill. As he realized that his end was approaching, in the presence of his wife and the nurse, he said:

“Give my warmest thanks and greetings, to my brethren and friends; goodnight, my children; goodnight, my enemies, you can injure me no more. We have one God and one Father of all who are called children in heaven and on earth, and one Messiah who gave up His life on the cursed tree for the salvation of men. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”

On the morning of Hoshanah Rabbah, Friday, October 16, 1908, at the age of 85, Rabbi Lichtenstein entered into Paradise. On this Hoshanah Rabbah, a day of joy and celebration, we also remember Rabbi Lichtenstein.

A collection of his writings, The Everlasting Jew: Selected Writings of Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein, is now available through First Fruits of Zion.

Zichrono livracha … May his memory continue to bless and inspire us until Mashiach returns!

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Sukkot and Heavenly Ascent

Revelation 7:9-17

Sukkot is a joyous holiday packed with prophetic significance.  Our tradition teaches us that a time will come when all people will come up to Jerusalem to worship HaShem on Sukkot.  This is the climactic message of the Haftarah read on the first two days of Sukkot from Zechariah 14.

But the connection between the nations and Sukkot does not begin in the Messianic Age.  Rather, the connection between the two goes all the way back to Mt. Sinai.  The Jewish people are called throughout the Torah to be Or l’Goyim – a Light to the Nations.  From the beginning, God’s desire to reconcile humanity back to God’s self is mirrored most vividly in our Festival of Tabernacles.  After all, HaShem’s desire has always been macro – to reach all of humanity, beginning with the Jewish people.

Among the numerous offerings prescribed by the Torah during the Biblical seven days of Sukkot, seventy bulls were to be offered corresponding to each of the seventy nations of the world (see Gen. 10).  According to our rabbis, this was a prophetic act of intercession on behalf of the nations.  So even within the Torah, we get a small glimpse of God’s compassion and concern not just for Israel but for the nations as well.

Although the context of Revelation 7:9-17 may not specifically be related to Sukkot, it does contain many of the themes and imagery related to Sukkot, and echoes language from the Torah and Haftarah readings.

Within this vision from Revelation, a vast crowd of martyrs representing every nation, tribe, and language are gathered around the throne of heaven in front of the Lamb.  They are holding palm branches and singing psalms of praise and adoration:

“Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb … Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks, honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever!”

This imagery is right out of Zechariah 14 when all the nations of the world will come up to Jerusalem, carrying their Lulav and Etrog, singing Hallel, and dressed in their finest attire.

Sukkot is also known as Chag HaAsif, the Festival of Ingathering, because it is a prophetic allusion to a greater time to come.  One day, the Jewish people, alongside the nations of the world, will come together in Jerusalem to ascend the Temple Mount singing and waving the Lulav and Etrog together in praise and adoration of our LORD and King.  One day we will see the Lamb, our righteous Messiah, and will be caught-up together in heavenly ascent.

As we celebrate Sukkot this year, I pray we will all experience a taste of the World to Come.

Maranata – Come Adon Yeshua, speedily and in our day!

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Sukkot: A Festival of Joy, Gladness and Redemption

Tomorrow night begins the festival of Sukkot (Wednesday, October 8th).

Sukkot is one of the most joyous occasions on the Jewish calendar. It is deeply connected to the earlier High Holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and is the culmination of the Fall festival period.

But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei), when you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to observe a festival to HaShem for seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest. On the first day you are to take a choice fruit [an etrog], palm fronds, thick branches, and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of HaShem your G-d for seven days. You are to observe it as a feast to HaShem seven days in the year; it is a permanent regulation, generation after generation; keep it in the seventh month. You are to live in sukkot for seven days, every citizen of Israel is to live in a sukkah, so that generation after generation of you will know that I made the people of Israel live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am HaShem your G-d (Leviticus 23:39-43).

Sukkot is an agricultural festival, and recalls several themes:

  • Our wandering in the desert for forty years
  • Our dwelling in temporary shelters (sukkot)
  • Of G-d’s faithfulness in providing for us and our crops
  • Our regathering back to our Land
  • And of a future in-gathering of the Nations.

By dwelling in sukkot every year, we are faced with the reality of our human frailty and immortality. Just like the sukkah, our earthly bodies are but temporary dwelling places. When forced to dwell in a sukkah during the festival days, we find ourselves exposed to the elements, eating our meals without certain familiar comforts, and spending time in a shelter that at any moment could be brought down by weather.

So too it is with us. Our gufot, our bodies, are also fragile temporary dwelling places, where at any time, could be brought down. This reality forces us to recognize our dependence upon HaShem, who daily causes us to live. When we arise every morning, we say “Modeh ani … I am grateful unto you, O King who lives forever, for having once again, as I awaken, restored my soul unto me.” In this prayer, we acknowledge every morning that if G-d so willed, He could have chosen not to restore our souls unto us another day. So for giving us another opportunity to do His will, we give thanks to our Creator.

Sukkot is our ability to appreciate HaShem’s blessings. It is the recognition of our constant dependence upon G-d, and the culmination of the High Holiday season. Sukkot additionally marks the final conclusion of our pleas to G-d for a sweet new year, and for blessings in the seasons to come.

Sukkot also marks our ultimate messianic hope of salvation. For Sukkot is also known as Chag Ha’Asif, the Festival of Ingathering. For it is in this festival, we are taught, that a day will come when all nations will be gathered to Jerusalem and worship the one true G-d, the G-d of Israel. It is also the hope of the greatest Hoshanah Rabbah, when we will see Yeshua our Righteous Messiah return in all His Glory and regather the scattered remnant of His people.

Chag Sameach!

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Kol Nidrei: Tensions and Paradoxes of Yom Kippur

4991049347_74422fe281_m“All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas, whether called ‘ḳonam,’ ‘ḳonas,’ or by any other name, which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await), we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths.” -Kol Nidrei Prayer

Tomorrow night, Friday, October 3rd, begins Yom Kippur – the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. The holiday always begins with Kol Nidrei, one of the most well-known Jewish prayers. Yet, the mysterious question is … why do we begin Yom Kippur with this strange prayer? What seems more bizarre is that it is not even a prayer at all but rather a technical legal formula.

Throughout the centuries, great rabbinic and halachic minds have actually tried to get rid of this prayer. The first mention of it is in an 8th century responsum by Rav Natranai Gaon. Most of the gaonim and rishonim apposed this prayer. Rabbeinu Tam, the grandson of Rashi, thought it was scandalous and should not be recited. Even Samson Raphael Hirsch, the father of Modern Orthodoxy, tried to do away with it in his first congregation in Germany. Yet this prayer has outlived all of its critics. Despite the repeated attempts in every generation to exclude this prayer, it’s still there. And interestingly, instead of the rabbis, it has largely been the common people who have chosen to keep it.

So what is it about this beloved and quintessential Jewish prayer? In my opinion, Kol Nidrei, and the halachic declaration right before it, can serve as an illustration of what Yom Kippur is really about, for within them are hidden lessons of the mysterious nature of this special evening.

wvkc3356176Tension, Mystery, and Paradox

First of all, Kol Nidrei teaches us about the tension, mystery and paradox of Yom Kippur. It has already been mentioned that Kol Nidrei is not even a prayer at all. Rather, it is a halachic declaration for the annulment of vows. For example, with all the beautiful parts of a wedding, it’s like singing the Ketubah. And yet, we “pray” it. Furthermore, Kol Nidrei actually begins our holiest day of the year.

On this holiest day when we stand before HaShem, you would think we would literally hear the sound of angels wings, float on clouds, and be engulfed by an incredible aura of God’s manifest presence. Although a degree of that does exist, we rather celebrate our holiest day by praying through long lists of sins, repeating ancient words in a foreign language, and discussing at length the role of the High Priest and sacrifices.

There is a tension that exists between our participation in heavenly worship with the angels on Yom Kippur and the realities of the earthly world we inhabit, with all its limitations. On Yom Kippur when we enter the synagogue and hear the sound of Kol Nidrei, we sense that something is different … something special … something holy.

On this holiest night of the year we stand before HaShem and are confronted by the same tensions within ourselves. Between the part of us that is holy and yearns to be re-united with our Creator, and the other part of us in need of atonement. Within each one of us is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a tension … a war within ourselves.

A Perceived Paradox

What is even more jarring than Kol Nidrei itself is the halachic formula we recite just before hearing the actual prayer:

With the approval of the Heavenly court and with the approval of the congregation; in the convocation of the Omnipresent One and with the consent of this congregation, we declare it lawful to pray with sinners.

Right away you should be struck by the wording, “we declare it lawful to pray with sinners.” It makes you want to look around the room, hushed, and wondering who this is referring to … when you realize this prayer is about you. That each one of us is a transgressor and sinner in need of atonement.

This tension is summed up nicely in a great teaching by Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa: Every person should carry two slips of paper. In one pocket should be a slip of paper which reads, “I am but dust and ashes,” and in the other pocket, a slip of paper which reads “the world was created for me.”

Throughout most of the year we are, as Paul writes in Romans (8:37), “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” and we “can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).” But on Yom Kippur, as the opening phrase of our service reminds us, we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and redemption. On Yom Kippur we are confronted not by our strengths, but our weaknesses. And the plural language of our prayers reminds us that we are all in this together and that we are only as strong as our weakest link. Each one of us is responsible for one another … and the sin of one of us, affects all of us.

It says in the Talmud (b. Shavuot 39a):

כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה … All Israel is responsible for one another.

That is why when we stand and recite the sins in the Al Chet, Ashamnu or Avinu Malkeinu, it does not matter whether you personally committed each sin, because someone in the room did and we are now all responsible. On Yom Kippur we are confronted by the reality that each one of us, as individuals, sin, and are personally accountable. But we are also reminded that there is a corporate accountability as well.

Paul wrote in his letter to his young disciple, Timothy:

So here is a statement you can trust, one that fully deserves to be accepted: the Messiah came into the world to save sinners, and I’m the number one sinner! But this is precisely why I received mercy – so that in me, as the number one sinner, Yeshua the Messiah might demonstrate how very patient he is, as an example to those who would later come to trust in him and thereby have eternal life. So to the King – eternal, imperishable and invisible, the only God there is – let there be honor and glory for ever and ever! Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17)

On Yom Kippur, we are reminded of the tensions and competing themes of the day, and the tensions and perceived paradoxes within ourselves. As stated above, on Yom Kippur we are confronted by the reality that each one of us is a “Chief sinner.” Within each one of us there is an inner-struggle and a battle between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On Yom Kippur we must ask, which one are you?

On Erev Yom Kippur we recite Kol Nidrei, and the halachic declaration right before it that it is now lawful to pray with sinners. And by doing so we are reminded of what Yom Kippur is really about and the hidden lessons of the mysterious nature of this special day.

G’mar chatimah tovah … May you be sealed for a great new year!

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Awaken Your Soul: “The Cry of the Shofar”

“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. For it shall be for you a day for blowing the shofar. (Numbers 29:1)”

This Wednesday night, September 24th, begins Rosh HaShananah. The central and most visible component of Rosh HaShanah is the blowing of the shofar. Have you ever really thought about the significance of the shofar and the deeper meanings of each sound?

In the Torah, Rosh HaShanah is called Yom Teruah (literally, “the day of sounding”). The very sounds of the shofar hold the key to unlocking the hidden mysteries of Rosh HaShanah, for within its cries are the stories of creation, victory, and redemption.

The shofar is mentioned over 100 times throughout the Bible and it is actually the oldest known wind instrument. Traditionally it is made from a ram’s horn, recalling the Akedah and allusions to Mashiach (both alluded to in Rosh HaShanah readings). It also implies simplicity and humility and it’s shrill cry is meant to recall our primeval origins, and hearken us back to Gan Eden.

There are three types of shofar blasts on Rosh HaShanah. And each of these sounds contains themes revealing the deepest mysteries of the holiday. These primary themes are:

  • Judgment – (תקיעה – A call to action)
  • Teshuva (שברים/תרועה – The sound of stifled sobs and groans)
  • Coronation of G-d as King – Messianic Redemption (תקיעה גדולה)

-תקיעה “The Sound of Alert”

Tekiah is a call to action. In Biblical times it was sounded to assemble the people, sound an alarm, announce a message, raise awareness, or to announce judgment. Interestingly, in Biblical times, if you were looking to purchase a shofar, you would inquire at your “local arms dealer.” Quite the opposite of today, where we purchase shofars at Judaica stores selling “religious articles.”

According to the Talmud, the shofar blast confuses HaSatan and prevents him from bringing charges against G-d’s people, because he is made to believe that Messiah has arrived and his power and influence has come to an end.

On Rosh HaShanah the shofar calls us to together as a community to do Teshuva. It beckons us to repentance. According to the Rambam (Maimonides), the shofar pleads:

“Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Rouse yourselves, you slumberers, out of your slumber! Examine your deeds, and turn to G-d in repentance. Remember your Creator, you who are caught up in the daily round, losing sight of eternal truth; you are wasting your years in vain pursuits that neither profit nor save. Look closely at yourselves; improve your ways and your deeds. Abandon your evil ways, your unworthy schemes, every one of you! (Hilchot Teshuva 3.4).”

 

The first call of the shofar, Tekiah, is a call to action. Teshuva requires action. We cannot sit idly by when an alarm is sounded.

-שברים/תרועה “The Sound of Stifled Sobs and Groans – Sound of Crying”

The word Teshuva literally means “to turn.” Within the loud blasts of the Shofar is the instruction to listen. To listen not just with our ears, but with our neshamot! The Shofar calls our our souls to repentance.

The Machzor teaches us that the Gates of Repentance are always open to the prayers of the righteous. This is the central message of the readings during the Torah service on Rosh HaShanah – to pray without ceasing. To keep knocking until G-d answers.

While the High Holiday prayers are solemn and serious, they are also filled with joy and hope. Judaism teaches us that G-d is ready and very willing to forgive the transgressions of those who come in sincere repentance.

-תקיעה גדולה “Victory, Coronation, and Messianic Redemption”

Tekiah G’dola, the final long blast, is sounded to announce victory – the sound of triumph. It is the sound of Divine forgiveness (that is why it is blown at the end of Neilah, the concluding service of Yom Kippur). It is the sound of the coronation of the King. As such, Tekiah G’dolah will also be sounded to announce the coming of Mashiach.

“For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven and with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with Him in the air. And thus, we will always be with the Lord. So encourage each other with these words. (1 Thess. 4:16-18)”

 

 

So What? What’s the Big Deal???

The shofar is calling out and we cannot stand idly by! It’s Rosh HaShanah, and we have 10 days to make things right between ourselves and G-d, and with those around us. So we must ask ourselves, what is keeping us from hearing the cry of the shofar? What is keeping us from responding to its call?

Through Tekiah – G-d has sounded an alert to us. He has called us to action – something is not right, and we need to fix it!

Through the Teruah/Shevarim – We must understand that true repentance requires a full turning to G-d (there is no halfway). We must pour our hearts out in repentance, to turn from that which is evil, and do what is right. Like our Ancestors – we must never give up. We must continue to cry out until we get an answer.

Tekiah G’dolah reminds us – Victory is at hand! G-d has already given us the victory – but we must take hold of it.

On Rosh HaShanah we proclaim the coronation of our King. Mashiach is coming! Will we be ready?!?!

“L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu – May you be inscribed for a sweet New Year!”

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Preparation for the Promised Land

Parashat Ki Tavo

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with the words, “When you have come to the land HaShem your G-d is giving you…” What follows is an entire parashah emphasizing the observance of the mitzvot.

The question arises as to why G-d would emphasize the observance of the Torah before bringing Israel into to the Promised Land. Would it not make more sense to first bring them into the Land, and then give them the Torah?

We are currently in the Jewish month of Elul – a time of preparation leading up to Rosh HaShanah, and the following High Holidays. The reason we have the month of Elul is because G-d is concerned about order and protocol. The entire Torah is about the proper order and protocol of living out our lives in the presence of HaShem. As such, we cannot just come marching into the High Holidays and expect to just shout out, “Here I am!” We have an opportunity for a mo’ed, a divinely appointed and set-apart time when G-d chooses to meet with us. Such an opportunity requires preparation on our part.

One of the several themes of Rosh HaShanah is the coronation of G-d as King. If we were to be summoned before an earthly king or queen, wouldn’t we want to prepare ourselves and make sure we were at our best? Then how much more so should we be preparing to meet with the King of the Universe! We have been given an opportunity to meet with G-d. The month of Elul is our preparation period to ensure that when we stand before HaShem on Rosh HaShanah, that we are coming at our best, and have prepared ourselves to be in the presence of G-d. We must get ourselves right, so we can stand upright before HaShem.

That is the purpose in Ki Tavo. The Jewish people were given the Torah before coming into the Promised Land because coming into the Land meant coming before G-d. The land of Israel is interconnected with G-d in the deepest way. So coming into the land symbolizes coming into G-d’s presence. In this week’s portion it states:

You are to take the first-fruits of all the crops the ground yields, which you will harvest from your land that HaShem your G-d is giving you, put them in a basket and go to the place where HaShem your G-d will choose to have His Name live (Deut. 26:2).

G-d has chosen the land of Israel as the place where G-d’s presence resides on earth. By coming into the Land, Israel is coming into G-d’s presence. Therefore, G-d emphasizes Israel’s preparation and observance of the “How to’s” of being in the manifest presence of HaShem (i.e. the mitzvot). That is also why the section of blessings and curses in the parashah is so severe. Being in the presence of G-d requires greater accountability. As we the Jewish people had to prepare to come into the Promised Land (i.e. G-d’s presence), so should we be in preparation for the coming of Rosh Hashanah, and another opportunity to be in the presence of G-d.

L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu – May you be inscribed for a sweet new year!
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Two New Book Reviews!

Me and my first book

First time seeing my book finally in print.

Two more book reviews on my new book, Jude: On Faith and the Destructive Influence of Heresy.

The book has already received quite a bit of attention and the publisher just informed me that they are about to already do a second printing.

James Pyles (My Morning Meditations)

Fellow-blogger, James Pyles, from the popular Messianic blog, My Morning Meditations, last week posted a really nice review.

James writes:

Although fairly short (just 100 pages, reflecting the brevity of Judah’s letter), this book is packed with very useful interpretations and viewpoints on the imagery employed by the writer and its likely impact on the letter’s Jewish readers (and the objects of his criticism, the false teachers).

He then goes on to state:

… what I took away from this book was the clearing up of a lot of the mysterious and even “mystical” illustrations used by Judah. Once R. Josh pulled back the curtain and let me peek inside, I “got” what the letter writer was attempting to say.

He concludes his review with an endorsement of the book:

I highly recommend Rabbi Josh’s book Jude: Faith and the Destructive Influence of Heresy for anyone who wants a clear understanding of Judah’s (Jude’s) brief but complex epistle, and especially for those who are interested in seeing the Bible through a Messianic Jewish lens. R. Josh’s book is a fine addition to anyone’s library of Biblical commentary.

Thanks, James, for your review!

You can read the full review HERE.

unnamedThe Messianic Times (Book of the Month)

The Messianic Times also wrote a short online review (the full review will be released in the next issue) and even made it their book of the month for August. In their review (based largely on Rabbi Derek Leman’s review) they write:

This short, readable Messianic Jewish commentary by a well-known young Messianic rabbi … could add some energy to any Bible discussion.

You can read their online review in full HERE.

*Amazon has had a difficult time keeping them in stock, so if it is unavailable you can purchase the book directly through the publisher

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Pieces to a Scattered Puzzle

Parashat Ki Tetze

On the outset, this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetze, seems to be just a condensed list of random instructions. It also seems to leave out familiar content found in most of the other portions in the Torah.

Ki Tetze lacks the familiar phrases of G-d instructing Moses to speak to the people of Israel. Additionally, it never even mentions Moses or his brother Aaron. Another peculiarity is that most of the Torah portions contain stories that bring together the different commandments, giving it a sense of continuity. However, Ki Tetze seems to be a spattering of a bunch of different mitzvot, without any kind of intertwined story. There seems to be a complete lack of any apparent order or theme.

To understand the purpose of Ki Tetze, one has to think about it as a puzzle. When one examines the different commandments on a deeper level, the mitzvot begin to exemplify a common thread that intertwines each of the commandments with one another. This common unifying thread isrelationships and forbidden unions. When one understands this theme, the portion begins to take on new meaning. What is the purpose of these seemingly unrelated mitzvot? The purpose is to instruct us in the proper and improper way to conduct ourselves with others.

Ki Tetze begins with mitzvot concerning the relationship of an Israelite man who wishes to marry a captive woman. It goes on to mention the instructions for a wayward son, and the obligation to extend goodness toward a fellow person: “You are not to watch your brother’s ox or sheep straying and behave as if you hadn’t seen it (Deut. 22:1).” Additionally, “If you find something they lost, you must not ignore it (22:3).”

The entire portion discusses rules of unions, and serves as a reminder of the importance of making sure a relationship is not “mixed,” or impure. As such, there are mitzvot that also serve as reminders to avoid impure relationships and unions. These are the laws of shatnetz, the mixing of species and threads (22:6-11), and the wearing of tzitzit (22:12), which serve as a reminder to observe all the mitzvot.

The remainder of the portion continues with instructions regarding relationships, and who can and cannot enter into the assembly of Israel. These commandments are meant to keep the community of Israel’s relationship with HaShem pure. Ki Tetze also deals with the mitzvot concerning those who have violated the instructions regarding relationships (punishments), or to clarify what to do to end a phase of a relationship, as exemplified by the laws concerning the giving of a get, a written document of divorce (24:1-4).

The point of Ki Tetze is relationships, and specifically how to conduct ourselves in relation to one another. This is the essence of holiness. For G-d takes this matter seriously. The Torah repeatedly instructs us on our relationships – both with G-d, and to others.

May we, with G-d’s help, merit that level of unity with each other and with our Creator. “Barcheinu Avinu, kulano k’echad – Bless us, our Father, all of us as one.”

L’Shana Tova Tikateivu – May you be inscribed for a sweet new year!

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Parashat Shoftim, Doubt, and Commissioning Disciples

John 20:19-29

Commission, authority and lack of faith.  These are the three primary themes found in this week’s Besora reading.  The Book of John describes Yeshua’s appearance to his disciples immediately following his death and crucifixion.  Shocked at what they were witnessing, Yeshua showed them the wounds in his hands and his side.  Once they realized it was truly Yeshua and not a vision, they were overjoyed.

Yeshua, almost continuing a form of commissioning found in our Torah portion, Shoftim, commissions his followers to be sent out as emissaries to the world – “Just as the Father sent me, I myself am also sending you (John 20:21).” It says that Yeshua then “breathed on them,” they were filled with the Spirit, and given authority in deciding spiritual and halachic matters.

One of the followers, Thomas, doubted what the other disciples described.  Thomas vowed not to believe their story unless he was physically able to touch Yeshua’s wounds.

A week later Yeshua appeared again and specifically approached Thomas.  Allowing him to physically touch and witness the evidence of his crucifixion, Thomas believed that it truly was Yeshua.  Although Yeshua was moved, he declared, “how blessed are those who do not see and yet trust anyway.”

Although we may not be part of the original twelve, we are all followers of our Mashiach.  And we too have been commissioned as shlichim – as emissaries to a world in need of Light.  Reb Nachman of Breslov once taught, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, but above all, do not fear.”

That is the same message of our Rebbe and Mashiach!  As we carry out this assignment in preparing the world for the coming of Messiah we will face trials and hardships.  But above all, we must not fear or doubt.  Rather we must walk in the Spirit and authority given to us as followers of our risen Messiah, and carry out the task assigned to us.

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