THEME: GOODNESS, TOUCH, BLESSING
QUOTE: Gam zu le’tovah! This, too, is for the good.
PSALM 77: Almighty God-Who-Does-Wonders
CREATIVE EXPRESSION: Find ways to illustrate and express in your journal the theme and what you are learning and experiencing this month.
THE ECHO OF YOUR PROMISE – Based on Psalm 77 – by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis
When I cry my voice trembles with fear When I call out it cracks with anger.
How can I greet the dawn with song when darkness eclipses the rising sun
To whom shall I turn when the clouds of the present eclipse the rays of tomorrow
Turn me around to yesterday that I may be consoled by its memories.
Were not the seas split asunder
Did we not once walk together through the waters to the dry side
Did we not bless the bread that came forth from the heavens
Did your voice not reach my ears and direct my wanderings
The waters, the lightning, the thunder remind me of yesterday’s triumphs
Let the past offer proof of tomorrow, let it be my comforter and guarantor.
I have been here before, known the fright and found your companionship.
I enter the sanctuary again to await the echo of your promise.
THE DAYS OF AWE
Rosh HaShanah (or Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets as it is called in Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1), is celebrated on the first two days of Tishrei. It ushers in the ten days until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, considered the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar. Yom Kippur marks the conclusion of the forty days of cheshbon nefesh (introspection) and teshuvah (repentance) that began on the first of Elul. After hearing the one hundred blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the ‘Ten Days’ are a final time of spiritual preparation before we stand, as it were, before the Throne of G-d’s Presence and an accounting is made on Yom Kippur. While it is not intended to induce fear, the solemnity of the season should engender yirat HaShem – a reverential awe of our Almighty G-d and a deep gratitude towards the One who is good and performs wonders on our behalf.
The cry of the shofar initially is intended to announce the presence of the King, who is drawing closer to us at this season, and to wake us up to any area of sin that needs attention. Another purpose we may contemplate is that it is a call to us to reconnect with God’s Divine calling on our lives.The seventh month of Tishrei is considered by the Sages to be humanity’s birthday – the day G-d created Adam and Eve. Thus, it also is a fitting time for us to re-examine our lives; to affirm our identity as His child and to re-evaluate the purpose He has given us in the work of tikkun olam, bringing healing to a hurting and broken world,. This must begin, of course, with healing ourselves – to address and repair any ‘brokenness’ and to realign our lives where necessary with our Father’s will and Kingdom purposes.
Perhaps at this threshold of the new Hebrew year of 5779, so filled with major appointed times with Him, He is wanting to redirect our steps or enlarge our tents. Now is the time, as the shofar reminds us, to be awake and aware; to draw near and hear His voice.
After all the preparation of Elul, while the King had left His palace and was with us in the field, we now, on Rosh HaShanah, enter the palace to which He has returned. During the ten days, the shofar is silent as we make our way through the palace courts and the Holy Place, as it were. On Yom Kippur, when we put aside as much of our physical, material existence as possible, we enter the Holy of Holies to stand in awe before His Throne and worship in the beauty of the holiness of His Presence.
If we have accepted His gifts of grace and repentance, we can stand before Him with deepest gratitude, assured and resting in His love. Then, after the last, long, unbroken blast of the shofar sounds to mark the end of Yom Kippur and the closing of the heavenly gates, we can enter into the week of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles, with the assurance of His love and protection, sheltered by His clouds of glory, and we can draw from the source of Joy that will sustain us through the year ahead.
I grew up in a Western culture where the Gregorian calendar ‘New Year’ is celebrated. Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple formerly a rabbi in Australia and now retired in Jerusalem, said the Western New Year season could be described as “Ten Days of Living it Up.” He concocted a list, in alphabetical order, of ten characteristics of the secular celebration: amusement, banality, consumption, drinking, eating, frivolity, gambling, hedonism, idleness, and jabber. I comprised my own list, instead, of the attributes characterising the Ten Days of Awe: ahavah (love), binah (understanding), [OK, I cheated a bit using Hebrew words here, but I had to include love and understanding!], charity, dignity (of every person), empathy, faith, goodness, holiness, justice..all leading to JOY!
As we progress through the seventh, holy month of Tishrei may we think on these things.
5779 – A YEAR OF GOODNESS
The number 9 is represented by the Hebrew letter tet – ט. The first tet in the Bible begins the word good – טוב, tov.
The first thing God spoke into being was light, and God saw that the light was good, tov! (Gen.1:4). When He surveyed the work of Creation every day, He saw that it was good. After He created man, bringing full meaning and purpose to Creation, He proclaimed it was all very good! (Gen. 1:31).
The prophet Jeremiah reminds us: Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, For the Lord is GOOD, for his steadfast love endures forever! (33:11)
It is easy to thank G-d for good things and when all is going well, but the verse doesn’t say that. It says to thank Him – no matter what, because HE is good. Naturally, we tend to evaluate things and happenings in our lives subjectively, and consider what is good for us. Only our Father in Heaven sees all and knows, objectively, what truly is good for us in the light of eternity. When we understand that whatever happens according to His will is good, because, like a perfect parent, His will for His children is only based on grace and loving-kindness, then – even when it’s beyond our natural understanding, we can thank Him for everything. The quote this month – Gam zu le’tovah! Also this is for the good, comes from the story in the Talmud of a man, Nachum, who was given the nickname Gamzu, because he had full trust and faith in HaShem and always said, no matter what the circumstances, “Gam zuh le’tovah!” And, usually, as far as possible in this life, he was proved right. So, dear ones, let us ask for “good” understanding this year, to enable us to make the right decisions in whatever comes our way and, no matter what, to always be grateful for our Father’s goodness.
In Psalm 77 we see a theme of hands. Verse 2: “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.”
The psalmist dreads being forsaken by G-d and verse 9 cries: “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” He then recalls, in verse 15:You, with your outstretched arm, redeemed your people…” And, finally, in the last verse, he proclaims: “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” The Good Shepherd is always there, watching, caring, and guiding His people through every circumstance, no matter how difficult and challenging. We can rest knowing that our lives are in His hands.
Taking a closer look at our hands. There are 14 bones in the fingers of each hand.
The Hebrew word for hand is yad – יד , which has a numerical value of 14. Thus the number for both hands is 28. Interestingly, there are 28 Hebrew letters in the first verse of the Bible, which describes G-d as creating the heavens and the earth. The prophet Isaiah records that, of the earth, it is G-d: “ Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand”…and “who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in” (40:12, 22). As we know, hands are vital instruments for creation and expression, whether in art, music, dance, poetry, writing. Just as our Creator did in the beginning, bringing His concepts and ideas into physicality, so de we, as those created in His image, bring our ideas, concepts and inspirations into physical reality.
Despite his many troubles, King David in the Psalms always concludes: “My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” (63:8) “Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand.” (73:23). The Right Hand of G-d is referenced many times in the Bible, which indicates He also has a left hand. Indeed, we find in Scripture that His right hand usually is associated with His chessed – love and kindness, whereas His left hand represents gevurah – judgment and restraint. These four basic attributes are influenced by one’s mind – one’s thoughts and attitudes, which influence the decisions we make and how we act and react. Our thoughts and emotions often are reflected in the gestures of our hands. For example, clenched fists usually indicate anger; drumming fingers express impatience; one can give a thumbs up, or down; a friendly wave…or, hopefully not, signal rude signs!
While our hands are vital in accomplishing our practical everyday tasks, they also are very significant spiritually. There are many biblical examples, one being Moses stretching out his hand and God parting the Reed Sea for His people to make a way of escape from the Egyptian army. We also see Moses raising his hands in supplication during the Israelites’ battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:12). The Hebrew word says his hands were faithful. Raised hands expressed his faith as he, in trust, reached out his hands toward God. When his arms fell, the Israelites weakened, but when they remained raised with the help of Aaron and Hur, they triumphed. Using one’s hands, raised in prayer or clapping in praise, as well as one’s feet in dance and celebration, gives freedom in expressing one’s emotions before God. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov goes so far as to say that an “inability to bring and express heartfelt emotion into one’s prayer demonstrates a shortcoming in one’s faith.”
He also points out that what “blemishes” or adversely affects the hands is pride and greed, as illustrated in Deuteronomy 8:17, where the proud person proclaims, “My power and might of my hand have brought me this wealth!” Rabbi Nachman says, “An obsessive pursuit of wealth shows he lacks faith in God’s ability to give him his sustenance.” He stresses that idolatry [the opposite of faith in God] is basically found in the worship of money. Without faith people are eager to “get their hands on” as much money as possible. We do need to work to provide for our livelihood but we also need to have faith that, at the end of the day, it is God who is providing all we need. We know, as described in Psalm 145:115-6 that, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” God opens His hand and “satisfies the desire of all living things.” So, we need to raise our open hands to Heaven in faith in order to receive the bounty and blessing our faithful Father wants to bestow on us, His children.
BLESSING AND HEALING
As we see throughout Scriptures, hands are basic to bestow blessing and healing. One command in the Torah is that the kohanim (priests) bless the nation of Israel every day (Numbers 6:22-27) and in Leviticus 9:22 we are told that Aaron, as High Priest, raised his hands and blessed the people. When the priests are faithful to do that God says that it is He Himself who bestows the blessing. As a “kingdom of priests” we too can extend our hands to others, in the authority of our High Priest Yeshua, and trust our Father to give the blessing.
In the medical profession, hands, of course, are vital. Doctors and nurses engage in procedures and administer treatment that, hopefully, will bring healing to the patients. Scripture tells us, on the other hand, “My son, attend to My words, incline your ear to my utterances… for they are life to those who find them and healing to all their flesh” (Proverbs 4:21-22). His “words” and “utterances” are God’s Torah, or Teaching – His Word. As described in Deuteronomy 8:3, God fed the Israelites with manna in the desert so that “…He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” And as Yeshua also declared in Matthew 4:4, when the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”…“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Often, when Yeshua healed the sick, he would physically touch the person, such as when he took Jairus’ daughter’s hand and raised her to life (Mark 5:39-42). Also, when Peter and John were on their way to the Temple and a man lame from birth begged for alms, Peter said “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Yeshua the Messiah of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”and he “…took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:1ff). After the event, where thousands had witnessed the healing, heard Peter’s testimony and believed, Peter gave God the glory and prayed, “Lord, …grant to your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness, while You stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name [authority] of your holy servant Yeshua.”(Acts 4:29)
On other occasions only Yeshua’s words were needed to bring healing, such as with the Roman centurion’s daughter (Luke 7). Also, the woman with the issue of blood had faith that if she only touched the hem of his garment she would be healed.
To conclude… during this special month of Tishrei, may we be aware of what our Father has put in our hands to do in the extension of HIs Kingdom on earth.
Interestingly, Science shows, as illustrated in the famous sketch by Leonardo Da Vinci, that when a person extends his or her arms out to the side the span is equal to their height. One’s arms and hands therefore correspond to the outer range of one’s potential.
May we all, throughout this year of God’s goodness, reach out and embrace all the opportunities our Father brings to learn and grow spiritually, and to more fully give expression to all the potential He has deposited within us, for His glory!