The Lamb of God; Dayenu

March 24, 2018
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The Lamb of God; Dayenu

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At the each Passover Seder just prior to the second cup of wine we sing Dayenu (lit. It would have been enough) a song that recognizes each of God’s beneficent gifts to Israel. After the enumeration of each gift we respond by singing Dayenu! It would have been enough! But Hashem has provided another gift which is first for Israel but then extends to the entire world, an innocent lamb of His choosing, the Lamb of God.

A Lamb for the Individual

The first mention in scripture of God’s provision of a Lamb is in the 22nd chapter of Genesis, a portion that has come to be known as the Akeda, or the binding. It describes the binding of Isaac, Israel’s second patriarch. Abraham is commanded by God to take his “only son” and bring him to Mt. Moriah to be a burnt offering. As scandalous as this seems to us, Abraham responds without protestation and arises early the next morning. Read more »

Cleaning Our Homes and Hearts

March 22, 2018
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Cleaning Our Homes and Hearts

This Shabbat is Shabbat HaGadol or the Sabbath of “the Great One”. The Great One is Elijah the prophet, the one who according to tradition will herald the coming of the Messiah. So on this last Shabbat prior to Pesach we are alerted to prepare ourselves and our homes for this extraordinary event.  So let’s  consider the preparation of our homes and our hearts for Pesach.

To properly rid our homes of chametz ( leavened foods) we must begin the process early and plan carefully. For a month prior we try to plan our meals carefully avoiding the purchase of larger quantities of prepared foods that we will have to discard. A week before Pesach we begin to gather unopened chametz for donation to food pantries and we package up more valuable food and drink for “sale” to our non-Jewish neighbors. All of this preparation is necessary so that we might be able to complete a thorough cleaning of chametz a few days prior to Erev Pesach when we perform bedikat. The point is that only through a long and methodical process are we able to search for the last of the chametz and recite with conviction a nullification of chametz.

But there is a deeper meaning to the long, methodical and exhausting task of cleaning out chametz. According to the medieval commentator Rabbeinu Bachya, “ It is well known that the chametz prohibitions allude to the yetzer hara (evil inclination), for man is obligated to utilize his yetzer tov (good inclination) to subdue his yetzer hara.” Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam of Bobov adds, “Thus, the long and laborious task of making one’s home chametz-free is far more than mere “spring cleaning.” The scrubbing of cabinets and closets helps scrub the chambers of one’s heart and purge them of that which distances one from his Creator.” Finally as Messianic Jews we cannot ignore the impassioned exhortation of Rabbi Sha’ul of Tarsus, “ Since Messiah our Pesach Lamb has been sacrificed, let us keep the Holiday without the old chametz, the chametz of malice and wickedness, but with matzah without chametz, the bread of sincerity and truth.” Read more »

Tzav – Ear, Thumbs and Toes

March 17, 2018
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Tzav – Ear, Thumbs and Toes

The book of Vayikra is often referred to as the Torat Kohanim, The  Teachings of the Priests. It contains the exact prescriptions for the kohanim to minister in the Mishkan and later in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  Its topics refer to the sacrifices, the Temple rituals and the laws of purity. Israel, though,  is called to be a “Kingdom of Priests” and the kohanim therefore are meant to be exemplars of a life of purity and holiness that all of Israel is called to. The standards of the priesthood that were meant for the Beit HaMikdash, are then also to be reinterpreted as standards by which all Jews are meant to elevate our  spiritual and ritual status.

The same guidance that we receive for the service in the temple can ennoble, train and define the serious Jew today as well. So as we seek to fulfill our divinely appointed mission, we can turn to Hashem’s appointment of the original priestly order. The ordination of the kohanim for priestly service can serve as our marching orders as well.

In the eighth chapter of Vayikra we observe the elaborate ceremony that installs Aaron and his son’s into the service of Israel and Hashem.  The kohanim go through a ritual washing for purification, and following the teharot they don special clothing to demarcate their office, and are anointed with oil. They then sacrifice a burnt offering of a ram to atone for their own sins before interceding for the sins of the nation. Read more »

Vayakhel – Come Together

March 8, 2018
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Vayakhel – Come Together

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We have a highly practical society that prides itself on efficiency. As a result we have gadgets that save time and labor, facilitate communication and raise our standard of living. Therefore we can watch an assortment of Hollywood movies in our living rooms or while waiting for a plane, all the while munching on a pizza from a famous chef cooked in our microwave oven! But have we really elevated the quality of living, and are we truly more efficient?

Though we value all of our trinkets, we throw them out when they break or have outlived their usefulness. Then we are on to the next great thing. My phone now contains all of my mp3 music, and its expandable memory allows me to carry my entire extensive music library. As a result my 10 year old ipod, with its puny 1gig memory is lying in a desk drawer awaiting its ill fate. I have a box that becomes the holding station for dated technology that does not find a home. Then, unceremoniously, yesterday’s marvels become today’s recycled material. If my discarded iPod could speak I imagine it would exhibit the same histrionics as Woody and the other discarded Toys in Toy Story 3.

Both little kids and grown up kids “love” their toys, but such love is merely functional and conditional love. So long as they work and fill a niche we “love” them; the minute they stop we replace them or junk them. With some things like cars and computers we even plan for future obsolescence. If we are not careful we might just extend this planned obsolescence to the people and relationships in our lives! It is not surprising then that we often feel disconnected, rootless and adrift, alone without purpose. Read more »

Ki Tisa – A Perfect Fall

February 27, 2018
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Ki Tisa – A Perfect Fall

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“Look what your kids are doing! Go see what your kids are making so much commotion about.” Parents, have you noticed that when your children fail to perform at acceptable levels they cease to be your little angels and become your spouse’s out of control problem? Parashat Ki Tisa contains a very interesting dialogue between Moses and God, where the Holy One appears to have developed the kind of selective memory problems that we often do toward our own children. It shouldn’t shock us to hear Hashem say, “My children have gone astray,” or even something as extreme as “they have prostituted themselves before idols.” Or even “they are a stiff-necked” people, as he does happen to say in this parasha. But here, following building of Golden Calf, we see the kind of disclaimer reminiscent of “Mission Impossible” – “Should anything happen, we will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Read more »

Tetzaveh – The Sweet Aroma of Prayer

February 22, 2018
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Tetzaveh – The Sweet Aroma of Prayer

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I cannot recall ever smelling incense burning in shul. Such practices in my mind belonged categorically in Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches, or in Buddhist shrines. Most of my own experience of smelling burnt fragrances was in the dormitory during my college years when coeds would use them to cover over the smell of illicit cannabis. Clearly the use of incense is alien to my own religious experience, and yet Torah in both Tetzaveh, and Ki Tisa describes the burning of aromatic spices, or k’toret as important and normative to the activities of the cohanim in the Mishkan.

The incense was to be burnt by the cohanim on the golden altar in the Holy of Holies before the Ark of the Covenant both morning and evening of each day (Exodus 30:1-8). Apparently this fragrant offering was of such great importance, that to alter its formula or content in any way would cause estrangement from the entire community (30:37-38). Such an alteration of the divine prescription may have in fact been the cause of the death of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron the Cohen Gadol (Lev. 10:1-2), again elevating the importance of these burnt offerings of fragrant spices. Read more »