Shavuos all Over Again

May 17, 2018
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Shavuos all Over Again

Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra was renown for his unique and often comical manner of turning a phrase. One phrase that has become part of the American lexical tradition is “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Déjà vu of course is that sensation we sometimes get that we’ve been here before – that what we are experiencing in some mysterious way has already happened.  If only we could experience the reality of the Scriptures in that way – but we can’t – or can we? People who think they were with Moses at Sinai, the event that is celebrated at Shavuos, are generally not allowed to walk the streets unattended. Still as we open Torah each week we do so in a manner that would suggest that we are receiving the Holy One’s instruction and gift anew on Mt. Sinai. On Shavuos this feeling should only be intensified.

There are many believers in Yeshua who understand their own experiences to be precisely the same as what his original followers experienced, complete with all the miraculous outworking.  They will often call this experience Pentecostal after the events that are described in Acts 2 of the Besorah. But to fully understand this phenomenon, I think it would be best for us to first understand the nature of the event in question. Read more »

Bamidbar – Wildfire, Water and the Wilderness

May 14, 2018
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Bamidbar – Wildfire, Water and the Wilderness

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This week we embarked upon our annual reading of Bamidbar.  The fourth book of the Torah is so named since it begins “Vay’daber Adonai el-Mosheh b’midbar Sinai (And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai).” Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar both asks and answers, “Why does Hashem gift the Torah in the Wilderness?”  It goes on to explain that Torah is given in fire, water and wilderness. This is to teach us that just as each of these are free, so the learning of Torah is given freely.

Another approach to the Midrash is to understand fire, water and the wilderness as forces within man. Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, for example, in his Shem MiShmuel, writes that fire refers to man’s heart, the inner fire that aspires to reach God, water refers to his mind, which adds an element of patience and reason in approaching the divine, and the wilderness refers to the renunciation of worldly pleasures which interfere with one’s spiritual pursuits. All three elements, he writes, are necessary for the study of Torah. I would like to extend this metaphor to both examine the potential hindrances to our growth and more importantly our capacity to endure and overcome these obstacles. Read more »

Bechukotai – Peace Within and Without

May 10, 2018
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Bechukotai – Peace Within and Without

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“…you will dwell securely in your land. I will provide peace in the land…” (Vayikra 26:5-6)

 

After the Torah guarantees that we will dwell in our land safely if we observe the mitzvot, it states redundantly, “I will provide peace in the land.” Some commentators explain that the second reference is intended to draw our attention to the internal state of peace that should exist within the nation of Israel. The sages have told us that where there is dissention and strife among the Jews then the Satan can ply his evil trade among us. In fact according to our tradition the First Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C.E. due to widespread idolatry, but God allowed the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. because of divisiveness, contempt among Jews and failure to provide for the most needy and helpless within the Israel’s society. But as part of our covenant with HaShem, it is understood that if we maintain peace within the community then we can be assured of peace and security from without as well. Read more »

Emor – Kiddush Hashem

May 3, 2018
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Emor – Kiddush Hashem

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It is no wonder that Americans grow ever more cynical regarding organized religion. I think few people are totally surprised by the recently exposed sexual abuses that have been going on within Catholic parishes, since the rumors have flown around for years. But I believe that which appalls most people is the high degree of cover-up that was perpetrated by those in high authority within the Church. But despite the recent falling from grace by Catholic clergy, we cannot place the entire responsibility of soiling the name of the Creator upon their collective backs. Decades cannot erase the memory of Jim Bakker and Jim Swaggart. And from Jim to Jim there was none like Jim Jones, who was willing to subsume the souls and eventually the lives of thousands to feed his hydra-like megalomania. In recent years the fall of Ted Haggard and the allegations of financial impropriety brought by the board of Oral Roberts University against some of its highest level administration serve as a reminder that the problems surrounding institutionalized religion are not all in the distant past.

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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 »