HOPE and HARPS – The Promise

HOPE – Tikvah

THE PROMISE OF HOPE

The greatest miracle of history in our times, in all likelihood, is the restoration of God’s Promised Land to His people, the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The implications of that miracle, while rousing considerable and violent animosity in the enemies of the God of Israel, should stir great faith and hope in those who believe in the Bible and the promises of God. Faith in His Word and hope for the future are inextricably linked, as we see illustrated in the powerful “faith chapter” in the book of Hebrews:

“By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar…” (v. 11:11-14).

“By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his burial” (11:22). Joseph had received the revelation and promise that his people would return and he trusted the hope that eventually he would be buried in his homeland.

The chapter continues to enumerate great exploits performed in faith by the people of God. Many were victorious and overcame great odds but some endured suffering and trial and did not see earthly success. All, however, persisted because they had hope in the One who promised and they all were secure in the knowledge that the true and lasting reward awaited in the eternal Kingdom of God.

In his very relevant book Future Tense, Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of England, quotes economist Alan Greenspan’s observation that we are entering an age of turbulence, which can engender fear. However, as Rabbi Sacks describes, “The antidote to fear is faith, a faith that knows the dangers but never loses hope.”* He connects this hope to the Jewish people and says: “The Jewish people are ancient but still young; a suffering people still suffused with moral energy; a people who have known the worst fate can throw at them, and can still rejoice. They remain a living symbol of hope.” Significantly, the stirring and beautiful national anthem of Israel is simply entitled HaTikvah, “The Hope.”

 

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In Jewish literature, the nation and people of Israel are compared to the moon, which continually wanes then waxes full. Forces of hate throughout history have conspired to obliterate Israel and she seems to fade from sight, but then, according to the Almighty’s will and design, she proceeds to grow strong and bright once more until the Day that she will remain forever radiant in all her fullness. This truth can be applied on a personal level in the life of each child of God. The greatest aim of the enemy of God and His people, the enemy of our souls, is to rob one of hope. To be rendered ‘hopeless’ can be likened to being ‘lifeless’. There is indeed truth in the axiom, “Where there is life there is hope” and vice versa.

Central aims of the perpetrators of terror and violence in the world today are to instill fear and to extinguish hope. We know, however, that the One who promised is faithful; He who said, “I know the plans I have for you… plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). God’s love and truth cast out all fear.

It is through our trials and challenges that we are strengthened and grow in character. In turn, this growth strengthens our resolve and our hope. As Paul writes:
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Ruach HaKodesh – the Holy Spirit of Messiah – which has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Yes, our heart is glad in Him,
because we trust in his holy Name.
Let Thy steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in Thee.
(Psalm 33:22-23)

Dear brothers and sisters, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)

HARPS OF GOD

King David is described as “the sweet singer of Israel.” [3] No doubt, when he was a boy guarding his father’s sheep, he would play the shepherd’s harp and also a simple, melodious flute. When David was a young man in the court of Saul, the first king of Israel, the Scriptures relate that he would be summoned to play his harp and sing to Saul whenever the king was troubled by an evil spirit. The music would soothe and bring healing to Saul’s troubled soul.

Irish author and poet, John O’Donohue (obm), gives testimony to the healing qualities of music:

I have a friend who is a music therapist. I have seen her work with a man who had had a stroke; he could no longer speak. I saw her in her last session with him where she sang and played in an attentive and accompanying improvised style. …He began to hum the music with her and ended up actually speaking. It was such a touching experience to see this person unexpectedly freed. Music is often the only language which can find those banished to the nameless interior of illness. [4]

 

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When the prophet Samuel anointed David as God’s chosen king, we are told that “the Spirit of God came upon David from that day onwards” (1 Samuel 16:13). We may conclude, therefore, that the songs, the psalms of David, were written with Divine inspiration and can understand how they have the power to inspire and to heal to this very day. In a unique way the Psalms are, as it were, “harps of God” – God-given instruments that, if we but grasp them and give them voice, become His tools that have the power to cut through and render powerless the chains of the enemy that tie and bind and control.

Revelation means “to lift the veil” in order that we might see something that is already there. In the apostle John’s record of his revelation on the island of Patmos we again behold a sea and hear a song!

“And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire.” On the shores of the sea stood those who had overcome the enemy, “… with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!’” (Rev. 15:2-4).

The Hebrew letters of the word Mashiachmem-shin-yod-chet, can be rearranged to form the word yismach – to rejoice! The Song of Messiah is a full and glorious crescendo in the Symphony of God – the song that will burst forth at the Final Redemption, when all will be brought into one, whole, free and joyful Psalm of Praise!

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes!
…He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with his truth.
The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
(Psalm 96:11-13; 97:1)

 

HalleluYah!

~Keren Hannah Pryor

 

Footnotes:

1. Johnathan Sacks, Future Tense, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2009, 10.
2. Tamid 3:8
3. 2 Samuel 23:11
4. John O’Donohue, Beauty – The Invisible Embrace, Harper-Collins, NY, 2004, 71.

WAS PAUL A CHRISTIAN? ~ Keren Hannah

 

*

In answer to my question, Pamela Eisenbaum, of the Hebrew University and now a professor of biblical studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, boldly states on the cover of her book (excerpted above): Paul was not a Christian. 

While my husband of blessed memory, Dwight A. Pryor,  had a strong affinity with Paul, I wrestled with the apparent contradictions I found in the apostle’s letters. In particular, those that carried a strong Anti-Jewish and Anti-law, or Torah, slant. I simply decided to disregard any such problematic verses and appreciate the positive life and Torah affirming statements made by Paul. Then came the challenge!  I recently attended a four-part lecture series by Ryan Lambert,** entitled Paul Within Judaism – Rethinking the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles. Ryan made a passionate appeal for the need to clarify our understanding of Paul in his Jewish identity and context and to gain greater clarity on the verses I was happy to dismiss. He also emphasized that we need to grasp WHY this was necessary, indeed vital in the continuing restoration and the unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes.

From Ryan’s introduction:

“WHY take the time to examine Paul in the context of Judaism? Because it is a critical component of the restoration of the Hebraic heritage. It’s the important paradigm shift for the multidirectional hermeneutic needed to gain a clearer perspective of the basis of Paul’s important mission and message. Christianity needs to be restored to its Jewish Roots and the Torah. This is not to say that the Church is ‘bad.’ It has done, and is doing, great good in the world, and it preserved the teachings of Yeshua. [However, at this point in history] the Church needs to be lovingly and respectfully challenged in regard to the Jewish identity of Paul.”

I believe, by now, that a good portion of the Church has woken up to the Jewish identity of Jesus and the Hebraic roots of the faith. Christians can embrace the Jewish Rabbi Jesus. However, the anti-Judaism roots run deep.  

In the 2nd Century, Church father Ignatius said, among other Anti-Semitic diatribe: 
“If we go on observing Judaism we admit we never received grace. It is monstrous to think of Jesus living as a Jew!”  Christian scholar and author, John Gager, comments: “In the rhetoric of Christian triumphalism there was no space for Judaism. Jews no longer had anything to offer.”
Martin Luther accused the Jewish people of being enemies of God – and he therefore made them his own enemies. In fact, Anti-Judaism can be traced throughout Church history…from Marcion, to Luther, to modern Christian scholars such as F.C. Bauer and Bultmann. Even the renowned and respected Bible teacher John MacArthur proclaims: “Judaism, in God’s eyes, is a dead issue, but the burial took a long time. It was a very difficult thing for the Jews (Paul, Peter, etc.) to sever their relations with Judaism.”
Pamela Eisenbaum comments: “The misreading of Paul was inexorably linked to the degraded conception of Judaism that so often led to the worst manifestations of Anti-Semitism.”

In the 1960’s a new interpretation arose, coined the ‘New Perspective’ on Jesus, Paul, and Judaism, through scholars such as J.D.G. Dunn, E.P. Saunders, Krister Stendahl, etc.. Their big contribution was to offer a different perspective on Judaism in Jesus’ time.

E.P.Saunders described a pattern of Jewish thinking he termed “covenantal nomism,” and pointed out that Jews did not keep the Torah and do mitzvoth in order to earn salvation and to see themselves as ‘righteous’, but rather because it was the way [given by God] to live in affirmation of their covenantal relationship with God. 

SO, how do we relocate Paul within Judaism? Here are salient points made by Ryan Lambert, with my comments at times interjected [in square brackets]:

  1. Re-examine the Damascus Road event, seen as Paul’s “Conversion” experience.

Stendahl points out that rather than being converted to a new religion, Paul was called to apostleship to the Gentiles. 
Galatians 1:15-16  “But when He [God] who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles,…”.

It was a Calling not a Conversion! Paul remained faithful to the God of Israel and to Judaism, and assumed other Jews would too. Objectors can point to Galatians 1:13, which references Paul’s “former manner of life” as a Jew,and see it as indicating he no longer lived that life. Scholar Dr. Mark Nanos responds: “Paul here refers to a certain way of living in Judaism that no longer characterises the way he lives Judaism now.” Previously, he persecuted Jews who followed Yeshua as being traitors to the faith. Now, with the revealing of Messiah, and the inclusion of gentiles into the Kingdom, he realized a great change had occurred – one that ushered in the ‘end of Days.’

2.   Paul’s so-called negative comments on Torah issues should not be universalized. They are highly situational in nature. E.g., Why did he seem to oppose circumcision?

Galatians 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

[He expresses his concern regarding a situation that had arisen. Strict Jews had approached the new gentile believers and were forcing them to undergo circumcision as a sign of inclusion into the Jewish community. Paul, understandably, was angry and said: “…you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4b). And added: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12).

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul says: “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19). He points out how strict, self-righteous Jews (the ‘circumcision party’) can make a show of keeping the commandments but their hearts are far from God. On the other hand the new gentile believers (the ‘uncircumcised party’) who have come into knowledge of their loving Father God through Yeshua, and now are learning and keeping the commandments in love, are those in true “new creation” covenant relationship with God. See also Romans 2:26-29). ]

Paula Fredrikson: “[Paul’s audience] were ex-pagan pagans – ex-pagan Gentiles. Like God-Fearers they would worship the God of Israel but preserve their own ethnicities and would not assume the bulk of the Jewish ancestral customs such as circumcision.”

Circumcision was not the end goal!  [New believers could not be coerced into the multi-faceted stream of Jewish life. Learning and understanding would come slowly.] Paul’s universal view of circumcision is expressed in Romans 3:1-2: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?Much in every way.”

3.   We can ask the question: Was Paul a Liar for the Gospel?

We need to examine Paul’s “missionary strategy” on the basis of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, which impacts how one understands Paul.

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”

The standard Christian understanding is that “chameleon-like” activity is justifiable in missionizing. [Ryan related a story of how a Christian disguised himself as an Orthodox Jew and infiltrated a local Jewish community. He eventually ‘witnessed’ to some; then was hosted by a large Christian Church where he boasted about his hypocritical accomplishments and bad-mouthed the Jewish community. As awful as the behavior of the individual was, Ryan felt the justification, even applauding of his actions by the Christian congregation was worse.]

A Christian view is that Paul defines himself as Christ’s slave and is set free from the bonds of Judaism and can be a Jew to the Jews and a gentile to the gentiles. His inconsistent behaviour is justifiable. According to the traditional Jewish viewpoint, there is no way a Torah-observant, Judaism following person could do such things. He would be considered a “shmuck”!

From the Christian viewpoint one can understand that Paul is identified as not Jewish, not Gentile, but part of a third Christian race that is neither Jew nor Gentile. This seems delineated in: “Give no offense to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:32). Author Christian Soulen: “The Church sees itself as a special fellowship outside of the carnal categories of Jew or Gentile.” D.A. Carson, considered one of the leading Christian scholars at present, proclaims: “Paul occupied a third group and so, as far as law is concerned, he is prepared to move from that ground to be either a Jew or a Gentile, because his relationship to Torah is neither one nor the other.” 

The prevailing viewpoint, therefore, is that a Jewish believer’s relationship to God is not based on the Torah covenant or Mosaic Law. We may ask, then, what about the texts, for example, in Acts 21 and 28 and in his letters, that point to Paul as Torah-observant? 

[We may also recall the fact that Yeshua  himself remained Torah observant and lived according to the will of the Father.]

Paul’s adaptability was only in relation to his rhetoric, not his lifestyle. He emphasises in 1 Thessalonians 2:3 – “Nor are we trying to trick you!” Porphery, in the 3rd Century, said that if Paul was justified to ‘trick’ people then it was useless for him to proclaim: “I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie!” (Romans 9:1).

Dr. David Rudolph, of King’s University, points out that to back the Christian claim that Paul did not remain Jewish, 1 Corinthians 19 is used as a hermeneutical starting point; “problem” texts are expected to come into line with it. If Paul only kept ‘the law’ as a means to an end, then it was fine to be a “cunning deceiver” for the sake of the gospel. Rudolph suggests that, rather, Paul’s flexibility in addressing his audience reflects Yeshua’s accommodation of different strata of people. He would dine with regular Jews, strict Jews, and tax collectors and sinners. So Paul exercised flexibility in relation to the strictness of Pharasaical halacha.

4. ‘Time’ played an important part in the urgency of Paul’s mission.

Another important consideration is what scholar and author Mark Nanos describes as a “chronometric” view of Paul. Paul believed that the End of the Age had broken in and that time was short! Paul believed that the entry of gentiles into God’s Kingdom proved that the God of Israel was the God of all people, not only those ethnically Jewish. It was therefore better for them to stay, culturally, where they were because Messiah would soon return and establish the Kingdom of God over all the earth. [This eschatological view was an essential element in Paul’s thinking.]

5. The problematic Romans 14 passage. Who is “weak” and who is “strong”?

Romans 14:1-2  “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.”

[In reference to this passage a friend and Christian pastor once remarked to Ryan, who also pastors a Messianic Jewish congregation, “This proves that Jewish and Torah ways were a less mature expression of spirituality and I hope all you Jewish believers will move to a New Testament Church.”] According to this Christian view, Jewish life, which is motivated by covenant responsibility and divine commandment, is portrayed as a sign of spiritual immaturity.

Dr. Mark Kinzer, in his book Post Mission Messianic Judaism holds that the Jewish believers were “weak” because they believed certain foods were ontologically (intrinsically) impure and therefore were impure for all. If non-kosher food is impure ontologically, then it’s impure for non-Jews too. Mark Nanos counters, however, that purity is not intrinsic, it’s imputed. God has spoken and it is so. Counter to the common assumption that both groups [the weak and the strong] are Christians, in his book The Mystery of Romans, Nanos understands the “weak” to be the non-Messianic Jews. The weak are ‘weak in faith’ because they do not yet realize that the promises of God have been fulfilled in Yeshua the Messiah. 

Romans, chapters  9 – 11, talks much about the dynamics between the non-Messianic Jews and the ‘new in faith’ Messianic Gentiles. Paul’s use of the word “brothers” does not require the Jews to be believers in Yeshua; they are “kinsmen in the flesh.” Nanos underscores the fact that Jews remained the historical community of the One God, whether they recognized Jesus Christ as the Messiah or not. The relationship between them, therefore, should be strong – as “brothers” [in worship of the One God]. Paul is pursuing the establishing of the Kingdom of God spoken of by the prophets. The inclusion of Gentiles was an indication of this coming to pass. Paul, therefore urges the Gentiles to have humility and selflessness in relation to the Jewish people in general.

Conclusion: What are the Practical Implications of this Rethinking of Paul?

The implications touch the heart of God’s Redemptive agenda. Rethinking Paul is the ‘tip of the spear’ to its advancement. Some apply to Jews and some to non-Jews.

1. Traditional Judaism.

  1. The real Paul belongs to Judaism. Jews, in general, if they think about Paul at all, usually consider him as the “real bad guy” who started Christianity and took Jews away from Judaism. Today, Jesus, at least, is considered a devout Jew who upheld Torah but Paul is seen as Anti-Torah. The real Paul , however, was on a mission to spread the heart and principles of Judaism to the nations. 
  2. Paul, within Judaism, is a Paul a Jew could have a family discussion with. He was monotheistic and looked to the Shemah as the basis of the One God for both Jews and Gentiles believers. They were now equals and could practice Judaism under the Messianic King.

2.  Christianity

  1. Christians should not try to convert Jews to Christianity. 
  2. The Church should encourage Jews, and Messianic Jews, to more deeply be Jews and follow Torah as our God-given constitution.
  3. The Church needs to acknowledge that Judaism has not been replaced by Christianity. The Torah-based structure of life is essential for the ongoing movement of the Redemption process.

3. Messianic Judaism

1. Messianic Judaism should not see itself as a ‘missionary’ enterprise. Historically, until now, Jews were “saved” and “Christianized” rather than remaining Jewish and Messianic – [“Father focussed, Yeshua centered, and Spirit inspired,” as Dwight used to say!]
2. Torah and Judaism still represent God’s “marching orders” for the Jewish people.

Note of interest: Pamela Eisenbaum points out that,”…it is virtually a historical certainty that people produced and promulgated texts using Paul’s name pseudonymously. …some of the letters attributed to Paul are ‘disputed’ and of dubious origin.”
The seven undisputed letters are: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. (Paul was not a Christian, p. 22)

  • Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul was not a Christian – The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle, Harper Collins, 2009
  • Ryan Lambert is a Messianic Jew based in Atlanta who is associated with the ministry of FFOZ. He is busy working on a book to be published on this topic.

Courage, Loving-kindness, and Truth – America?

When I see the drama unfolding around the election results in the USA my reaction is a mixture of disbelief, disgust and concern. Who would have thought that in a cultured, educated society, in a country that has become one of the greatest in history given its relatively short existence, one would witness the kind of behavior that is being exhibited by some of whose party lost the election?

Concern is understandable. ThIngs around us are changing at an unprecedented and rapid pace and there are many real issues that threaten to affect the norm and balance that we are accustomed to. Upheaval, terror, financial uncertainty, and more, are realities that suddenly are looming like dark clouds in our once clear, blue sky. People generally deeply dislike change; anything that rocks one’s comfortable boat. Rethinking, reevaluating, doing what in Hebrew is called cheshbon nefesh – an accounting of the soul, doesn’t come naturally, nor is it easy.

A story is told about William James, who was a Professor of Psychology at Harvard almost a century ago. At the end of one of James’s public lectures, a man from the audience approached him.

“Professor James,” the man began. “I was a student of yours ten years ago, and I heard you lecture on the exact same subject. But what you said tonight totally contradicted what you said then.”

“My good man,” James replied. “Do you think I’ve been standing still?”

Growing requires the courage to re-examine our assumptions and values, to admit that who we are today is not the best that we can be, and sometimes to expose ourselves to the challenge of reassessing and maybe even contradicting our own positions and tenets. As George Bernard Shaw said, “False consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Perhaps a large portion of the American population has woken up to the fact that some radical change is needed in what has become the status quo and are ready to face the nitty-gritty of what is real, honest, and true, no matter the challenge that entails.

We always must continue to grow, change, and push ourselves to become a better person and to reflect a better image of God. In these difficult times, we can afford to be only one kind of person – the kind who is moving forward in courage, hope, and trust in the Creator of all whose character is chesed ve’emet – Lovingkindness and Truth. 

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~ Keren Hannah

PESACH and TIKKUN OLAM – Healing of the World Begins with Healing of Ourselves

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~ Keren Hannah Pryor

The goal of all efforts is to bring about the restitution
of the unity of God and the world.
The restoration of unity is a constant process and its accomplishment will be the
essence of Messianic Redemption. ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

When we are redeemed by the grace of God from slavery to the Pharaohs of the world, and choose to worship God and to walk in His ways, our individual journey through life becomes a constant effort to align our wills with our Creator’s. The challenge we face is to subdue our natural urges and often negative inclinations in order to meld our character in harmony with His and to better reflect the beauty of His image in which we were created. 

The four basic negative traits that played a key role in the Fall of the first Adam, as described by Israeli Rabbi, Ezra Jacobs, are:

1. ta’avah, passion (the desire for pleasure)
2. kavod, honor-seeking (the desire for power and control)
3. kinah, jealousy (covetousness, or resentment of another; the basis for murder)
4. sinat chinam, baseless hatred (that results in lashon ha’ra – evil speech)

When the first Adam sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, both the physical and spiritual worlds were affected and underwent fundamental damage and changes. For Adam and Eve, their wondrous relationship with God, as well as the wholeness of body, soul and spirit they had enjoyed, was tragically shattered and broken. Ever since, the desire of both our Father in Heaven and of mankind has been to restore the relationship and to heal what was broken. In Jewish thought and expression, the aim and effort to do this is termed tikkun olam – the healing, or rectification, of the world (including man himself).

The face (panim in Hebrew) reflects man’s internal world, and the head [ rosh – meaning ‘first’] is considered to be the king [the ruling factor] over his entire personality.*

The four primary senses are expressed in a person’s face. The eyes – sight, the ears – hearing, the nose – smell, the mouth – taste and speech. These important faculties play a role in the healing of the four negative traits of brokenness listed above. How so?

  1. Ta’avah pertains to raw, unregulated passion that results in immorality. In the Garden of Eden the snake lured Eve with the promise that if she ate of the fruit, “Then your eyes will be opened” (Genesis 3:5-6). She was tempted by the desire to see and know more. The fire of passion is not a bad thing in and of itself and it can be healed by its transformation into something spiritual and beautiful. To accomplish this, the eyes need to be directed to the truth and beauty of the Torah – the teachings of the Word of God – whereby the mind will gain wisdom (chochma). This is connected to the right brain and the intellect, which is associated with the masculine personality. In general, men tend to find greater temptation by way of their eyes.
    As the saying goes, “The eyes are the window of the soul.” When the soul is filled with the truth and wisdom of God the eyes will shine His warm and welcoming light.

2.  Kavod pertains to one’s ego and results in idolatry. The  pride and honor-seeking of the ego needs to be broken down and rectified by the trait of humility (anavah), which is a component of love (ahavah). The ears play a role in this because their function is to hear. To truly listen and to hear the ‘heart’ of the other, whether it be a fellow human being, one’s spouse, or God Himself, needs the care and sensitivity afforded by humility. This quality is connected to the left-brain, which is the seat, as it were, of the heart and emotions and is associated with the feminine personality. The true hearing of the ears results in the gaining of binah, deeper heartfelt understanding. 

3. Kinah pertains to the negative trait of jealousy that breeds anger and ultimately leads to murder. The first example of this was Cain and Abel. The structure  of the nose, with two nostrils encased in one organ reflects the balance and unity there should be between the right and left brain, the mind and the heart, the masculine and feminine, man and God. Physiologically, it is compared to the head and the spinal column. When the wisdom of the mind and the understanding of the heart are in harmony, one gains da’at – intimate knowledge and perception – that results in the true performance of God’s will. One is able to do the commandments/mitzvot in loving obedience and to consistently hurry to carry out physical deeds of kindness. 

4. Sinat chinam pertains to baseless hatred that leads to lashon ha’ra – the evil speech of slander, lies, gossip, and mockery and belittling of others. The snake in the Garden, in effect, slandered God by intimating, “Did God really say…?” and planted doubt as to God’s character in Eve’s mind. The harmony of will between man and God was torn apart as a result. The healing of this disconnect lies in the mouth with its faculty of speech – the physical gift that sets man apart from the animals and enables relationship with others and with God.
The mouth is connected with keter (crown) – the head of a person, which represents his or her all-encompassing will and being, and which enables a person to make decisions and to express thoughts in speech. Using this gift for evil is considered one of the greatest sins and the healing of it requires the mercy, grace and redemption of God. Which fact links together with the celebration of Pesach, Passover, and needs a separate paragraph in order to explore the concept! 

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Pesach and the Exodus

PESACH – the very name connects it with the mouth. Peh, in Hebrew is ‘mouth’ and sach is ‘speaks’. The mouth speaks! Before the redemption from Egypt the people of Israel suffered slavery and the complete annihilation of their individuality,  the subjugation of their will and they lost the freedom to speak. Egypt was the national embodiment of the Snake in Eden, even displayed in Pharaoh’s head dress, and it literally robbed, crushed and destroyed the lives and will of the Israelites. Only then were they rebuilt into a new and united nation set apart unto God. Paradoxically, Egypt was the volatile womb that gave birth to the nation of Israel. Through their common experience of suffering, they could build on a foundation of genuine love and empathy with one another. To this day we are exhorted, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.” Never dishonor or dehumanize another human being by forgetting to honor the image of God in which they are created.

In Egypt, the Hebrews witnessed the Ten Plagues, which, as they would realize at Mount Sinai, corresponded with the Ten Words He spoke and to the Ten Sayings He used at Creation to create the world. These, together with His miracles of redemption and provision, demonstrated without a doubt His existence, power and sovereignty over all creation. Now, the people of Israel were ready to be His witnesses, a light to the nations, and to express the reality of His Presence in the physical world by simply fulfilling His will, now delineated for them in His Torah given to Moses.

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The Final Redemption

Hatred and lashon ha’ra, we may understand, are healed by the full acceptance and expression of God’s will in the world. Sadly, we know from history that the lesson was not fully learned by Israel and the Second Temple was destroyed due to sinat chinam, baseless hatred. Rome literally plowed under the City of God, Jerusalem, and the majority of the Jewish People were scattered to the four corners of the earth. The Sages believe that the full healing of the mouth will occur at the Final Redemption. Pesach relives the Exodus from Egypt and the first redemption and Sukkot will celebrate the final redemption, which will be permanent and eternal. 

In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul refers to those who “do not know God” (4:8) and are slaves under the law of sin and death, “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (4:3). “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law [Torah of life], to redeem those who were under the law [of sin and death], so that they might receive adoption as sons…and be no longer a slave but a son and heir of God, our Father in Heaven.

For the whole Torah is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (5:14-15)

No matter how one interprets the rest of chapter 4, the basic issue rests on love and the healing of the mouth and not “devouring” one another through baseless hatred and evil speech. That’s why God sent forth His uniquely begotten Son, and Yeshua came to demonstrate the full acceptance and perfect expression of God’s will to the world, that all may come and drink of the water of the Word and Life that he embodied. His unconditional loving-kindness, sacrificial death, and resurrection into new life can reverse the curse and bring healing to the hatred and evil speech that damage the relationships between man and man and man and God. The restoration of the mouth as a wellspring, speaking only words of goodness, praise, encouragement and goodwill, can happen with those who are surrendered to the love and will of God.

Yeshua, Mashiach ben Yosef, came as the Paschal Lamb to set slaves free from the domination of “Pharaoh” and He will return to Jerusalem as Mashiach ben David and King of kings, to usher in the Final Redemption and to reign over His Father’s Kingdom on earth. Then all God’s people will be fully restored and Jerusalem will be established on a solid foundation of Peace.  This blessing will come about, as the Psalmist proclaims, when the Lord sits enthroned as king,

“May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!”**

 The exhortation, ” Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” is, at heart, a prayer for the restoration of the unity and wholeness of the nation of Israel and for all the people of God to be healed and restored and established on the bedrock of His chesed, lovingkindness, and His perfect justice.

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May it be soon and in our time!

 

Footnotes:

* Rabbi Ezra Jacobs, Coming Full Circle, 251

** Psalm 29:11

THE QUEST FOR REDEMPTION – The Biblical Journey, Stage 1

THE QUEST FOR REDEMPTION

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

The First Stage of the Biblical Journey: Passover – Shavuot

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God spread out the heavens and sprinkled the night with sparkling stars. He placed in it the large, glowing orb of sun to set the rhythm of the day. He placed the small, gentle luminary of moon to set the rhythm of the month, and He placed Earth in perfect position to set the rhythm of the year with its color-filled adventures of the seasons.

When all was done, He formed a being in His likeness called Adam, man, from a lump of clay, adamah, and breathed life into it. From the side of this being, He created a living, perfect counterpart called Chava, Eve, woman. The two halves were designed to live in harmony and balance and to reflect His own Being – the Source of Life and Love. They were placed in the center of His beautiful Garden of Creation and given the joyful task of overseeing it together with Him. With the abilities and talents God had given them, the two were free to choose, to make decisions. All was very good. Then came a deception, a temptation, a fall and an expulsion from the Garden; a separation from the Presence of God. And all changed.

Ever since, man has been searching for the way back to the Garden; back to the wonder and fullness of the Presence of God. Just as we do, He longs for the reunion and the restitution of the glory and beauty of Creation as it was intended to be. The good news is that we humans are not alone on our search; we are not abandoned in this Continuing Quest. God has been guiding us along the path of this Redemption, century after century. Generation after generation, He calls and encourages and places signposts along the way to guide us in our search for what was lost; for that for which our spirits yearn. When we search for Him, we slowly realize that we already are found. He has faithfully been waiting while He gently wooed us out of the darkness of our understanding.

All of History is the story of His wooing. The cycles of His Word are the rhythm of His unfolding redemptive courtship of us, the blueprint of His plan of reconciliation. All we need do is to take hold of it with all our hearts and minds and strength, in love for Him, and to walk in its pleasant paths (Proverbs 3: 17,18).

At the set time, He sent His uniquely begotten Son to show us how to do this, and, in suffering the pain himself, to break the lies and bonds of sin and death. Then, the knowledge of God, the Father of all, spread to the four corners of the earth and the way was opened for all to return to the Source of His Life and Love.

This is the central story of the season we enter with  Pesach/Passover – the 49 days of the Omer – Shavuot/ Pentecost.

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The eight day holiday of Passover / Pesach, celebrates the deliverance of the people of God, the Israelites, who were enslaved under the dominion of the rich and powerful Empire of Egypt. In a mighty display of God’s power, Pharaoh and his kingdom were crushed and God drew back to Himself the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and those who had joined them. He founded a treasured people for Himself, an Am Segullah, who were to be a “light to the nations.”

We relive this Exodus and deliverance, and the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb slain on our behalf, at the Seder meal on the first night of Passover. We then walk through the following 49 days, or seven weeks, shavuot, with intentionality in preparation for the Jubilee feast that crowns the redemption of the Exodus – the revelation at the time of Shavuot / Pentecost.

At Shavuot, God poured out the gifts of the revelation of His Presence, the sound of His voice, the speaking of His commandments – the Ten Words; words to live by in the illumination of His Torah. Into the world of suffering, idolatry and the treading down of the weak and helpless, came the teaching of love and morality, of kindness to the poor, the orphan, the widow and the stranger. God again offered us, in the establishing of His Kingdom and by the power and grace of His Spirit of Holiness, the means to become who He created us to be and to partner with Him in His world and to participate in His plan of Restoration. The gift of His Word, of new life and the opportunity to once again “walk and talk” in His  Presence are celebrated at Shavuot.

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Each year we walk through this biblical Festival cycle and, if we have had eyes to see and hearts of awareness, we have made another spiral upwards and have gained deeper knowledge of and , as a result, are closer in relationship with, our awesome Father and wondrous Creator, the One God of the Universe. Through His Word of truth and commandments of love; through His forming of “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” and in the light of His Messiah and King – our High Priest, “— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom.8:34), He has laid out a clear path upon which to walk in order to enter and draw closer to His loving Presence once again.

~Keren Hannah Pryor

 

 

JESUS AND THE JUBILEE VISION

Jesus and the Jubilee Vision ~ Keren Hannah Pryor

We read In Luke 4:16-22 how, in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus stood, read from the scroll and proclaimed the Jubilee vision of Isaiah: “The Spirit of Adonai, the Lord, has anointed me to announce good news to the meek …to proclaim liberty to the captives …to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” (Isaiah 61:1-2a).

The time of this declaration might well have been on Yom Kippur, when every fiftieth year of Jubilee is announced and the Great Shofar sounded to “proclaim freedom throughout the Land” (Lev.25:10). In Temple times, slaves were set free and each could “return to his family.” Jubilee, Yovel, is a year of returning things to their place;  an intentional restoration of God’s intended freedom, order and harmony for His people and even the Land itself, which, as on every seventh shmittah year, is to be allowed to rest.

Yeshua (Jesus) was, as it were, sounding a clear shofar call at this beginning of his ministry of restoration. He was calling sinners to return to the fold of the Father. His “good tidings,” as Messiah and Lord, the anointed of God, are the foretaste of the final sounding of the Great Shofar at the end of days, which will announce, “…the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2b).

The Lord revealed to the prophet Daniel, while he interceded for the restoration of Israel after her 70 year exile in Babylon, that there would be a future cycle of 70 ‘sevens’ and the time would come “…to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the vision and prophecy, to anoint the Most Holy” (Daniel 9:24). We still await the fullness of that prophecy.

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Yeshua came humbly as a helpless babe into the world, not wth judgment but bearing the chessed, the lovingkindness, of God in person to ailing humanity. His was, and is, the continuing shofar cry of the faithful Shepherd; calling those of the house of Israel who had strayed to return to the Father’s fold and also welcoming those who were far off who did not know His Father. “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd”  (Jn.10:16).

We are presently experiencing an awesome anticipation; the ‘birth pangs’ of the final Jubilee, a climactic physical as well as spiritual restoration that began with the Shofar that sounded the Return of Israel after her exile to the four corners of the earth, “ I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob; I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture…” (Micah 2:12). It will conclude with the majestic Great Shofar announcing the arrival of the Shepherd – King Messiah, Melech HaMashiach.

May we keep our eyes focused on Him and lifted to Heaven in order to recognize the signs of His Coming. Let us have our ears tuned intently to His voice as we hear His footsteps approaching ever more closely.

Baruch Ha’Ba b’Shem Adonai!

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

THE CROWN, BLUEPRINT AND LIFE CONTRACT OF TORAH?

TORAH AS A CROWN

~Keren Hannah Pryor

In the ‘Ethics Now & Then‘ post of Avot 4:17 (published 16 June, 2014) Rabbi Shimon describes three ‘crowns’ one can acquire [in the Kingdom of God] – namely, those of Torah, priesthood and kingship. Rashi comments that, of the three, the Torah is the one openly available to all, for all can study God’s Word and learn and live thereby.

Immediately the subject of Torah is addressed, however, Christian defences rise up in certain quarters with the standard refrains, for example, of…”We are set free from the bondage of the Law!” “We are saved by grace alone.” “Jesus came to do away with the Law!” and the clincher: “The Torah/Law is only for the Jews!” (which, by the way, can carry the sorry implication: ‘Poor suckers, even if they have been “saved,” they have to do it all or die! Not like we Gentile believers who have all our sins automatically forgiven and can do as we please.’ That doesn’t quite ‘gel’.)

In the Ethics Now & Then post, I comment on how, in speaking a blessing toward or over another, we virtually are placing a beautiful ‘crown of words’ on their head. Each time we bless our Father God, for example, and thank Him for His provision of food to eat, or for the new day and the potential it holds, or for bringing us safely to a particular season, we are presenting Him with a crown of blessing. When we praise and thank God for sending His Salvation for the world in Messiah Yeshua, and for his faithfulness unto death and his exaltation to the right hand of the Throne of God, where he now intercedes for us as our High Priest and prepares to return as the Lion of the tribe of Judah to rule and reign as Mashiach ben David, Messiah the son of David, we are indeed ‘casting many crowns’!

An interesting thought struck me in pondering the Torah as a crown… in considering it as a blessing and not a bondage. This is the crown of blessings – His eternal Word – that He spoke over and presented to His people at Sinai; a crown representing His Kingship. It is a mark of His ownership to receive and wear proudly – and not to consider as a shackle to be cast aside in the name of ‘freedom’.

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Picture: John and Lucy Talbot

 TORAH AS A BLUEPRINT  

“Build it and He will come.”

Rabbi David Foreman expresses a concept, quoted here, which I find a refreshing challenge of the traditional “Law as bondage” opinion.

“I think the Torah conceptualizes our purpose here in the world not so much in terms of “being nice to everyone” or even as “doing God’s Will”, but in somewhat different terms entirely. I think the Torah thinks of it in terms of making a place in your world for someone you love.”

As in the blueprints given for the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and Beit HaMikdash ( the Holy House of the Temple) – we live and build our lives with reference to His Word and as we build it He comes and dwells in us.

TORAH AS A LIFE CONTRACT

Skip Moen, in ‘It’s Not All Grace‘ on his blog, offers a happy thought!

“The Torah/Law is a contract for enjoying life, not a set of rules for controlling behavior. That is why God can expect His children to keep His commandments, joyfully! Is the Law [Torah – teaching of God] for me? You bet!  God asks me to observe it, empowers me to observe it and delights in me when I observe it. Keeping the Law because I am devoted to Him is my way of saying, “Thank You, Father, for rescuing me.”

I keep it because I love Him. It is not a [heavy and burdensome] yoke around my neck.
It is liberty in my heart.”

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 TO REFLECT UPON

King David in all his songs of the Psalms certainly sees the Torah, the Word and wisdom of the God of Israel, as his joy and delight – as a Tree of Life to desire and cling to – and as his soul’s  Source of Living Water.  The question arises then, why do those who have found the gracious gift of Salvation in Jesus, who was sent by God that all nations might be saved from idolatry and come into relationship with and knowledge of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, disregard the very Word that Yeshua enfleshed and that bears witness of himself and of his Father?

Our answers lead to further questions as to our identity as those in the Kingdom and family of God and how, depending on how we respond, this should then affect our daily lives. Can we ignore the will of our Father –  as inspired by the Ruach HaKodesh, the Spirit of Holiness, and set down in the Hebrew Scriptures – whose will Yeshua came to perform in his every word, thought and deed? As Yeshua himself said: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me” (Jn 14:23-24). God does not change and He is not a man that He should lie; as is written, His Word stands forever.

Tough stuff… but vitally important to think upon.

 

PASSOVER – The Clash of Cultures

PASSOVER – THE CLASH OF CULTURES

The story of Passover, which recounts the Exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt, offers the opportunity to relive the struggle between two opposing perspectives of reality – that of the Egyptian empire on the one hand and that of the Hebrews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, on the other.

Egypt, at the time of the Exodus, ruled the world with its advanced science, strong system of religion, and mighty army. Weaker nations and cultures were swallowed up and subjugated. This historic form of slavery effectively silenced any voice that spoke in opposition to the prevailing and powerful Egyptian reality. Then God did the unexpected. He broke in and interfered with the laws of nature and history. A humble shepherd, born to the family of Israel yet raised in the Egyptian palace, walked into Pharaoh’s court carrying the rod of authority of the One true God of Israel and history changed
forever.

* * *

As the Exodus account unfolds we see that Pharaoh, the god-king of Egypt, refuses to heed Moses’ directive from God, “Let My people go, that they might worship Me.” *
In so doing, Pharaoh not only is denying the freedom of the Hebrew slaves, he also is rejecting the historical reality they represent – a process of Redemption, set in place and being evolved by the God of all Creation. The Almighty is working out His vision and goal for this world and is not limited by the natural laws that He established. He can choose to “pass over” the set, natural order of things.

Despite the succession of plagues that befall the Egyptians, Pharaoh stubbornly refuses to relent and God declares:

“I will pass through Egypt on that night, and I will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, man and beast. And against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am God!”

“That night” becomes the turning point of the narrative of history. The Israelites are prepared, the chosen and set apart lamb is slain, the blood is applied to the doorposts of their homes, and the meal with matza is eaten. As God passes through He sees the blood and “passes over” their homes, while He visits death upon the Egyptians. A breach is opened and the slaves are ready to pour through into freedom from Pharaoh’s bondage.

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The constant remembrance of the Exodus is commanded by the Lord through Moses: “Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place…”  The Haggadah, the story of the Exodus read at the annual Passover Seder meal, recounts:

“… in every generation a person is obligated to consider themselves as if they themselves had gone out of Egypt this very day.”

In addition to this vivid annual reminder, observant Jews recite the Shema twice daily, during the morning and evening prayers, which includes the pronouncement:
“I am the Lord, your God, Who has removed you from the land of Egypt to be a God to you. I am the Lord, your God…”** This is followed by the declaration:

“The Helper of our forefathers are You alone, forever, Shield and Saviour… From Egypt you redeemed us, O Lord, our God, and from the house of slavery you liberated us.”***

Why the necessity to remember the Exodus daily? The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, which means limitations or boundries, is derived from the root tzarrar (tzaddi, resh, resh) that means: shut in, restrain, limit, border. Other words from this root are metzar, meaning: distress, confined place,  tzar (narrow) and tzarah (sorrow, anguish). The scroll of Jonah describes his entrapment in the dark depths of the belly of the big fish and how: “In my distress (mitzara) I called to the Lord.” In Psalm 118:5, King David writes:

“From my distress (metzar) I called upon the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a free, wide place.”

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In this regard, we can appreciate Victor Frankl’s description in Man’s Search for Meaning of his liberation from a Nazi concentration camp. He relates how a few days after the liberation (while the inmates were awaiting transportation) he found the courage to leave the confines of the camp and he walked for miles and miles. There was no one in sight – just wide-open spaces of earth and sky. Suddenly he stopped, looked up, and fell to his knees. He recalls how he had only one sentence in mind, which he repeated over and over:

“I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space.”

* * *

The same mighty God who delivered and redeemed us from Egypt is able to daily deliver and redeem us from our distresses! In the sacrifice made and the salvation of Yeshua, the gate has been opened to all for the redemption from the bondage of sin and death. Each one can be brought from the present Mitzrayim – the idol-worshipping, enslaving culture of death that surrounds and attempts to subjugate us – into the freedom of glorious eternal life intended by our Creator. We are invited out of the darkness into the light of the Kingdom of God and the embrace of its culture of life.

As we grow in knowledge of our Father and our King, so our trust and confidence grows and we can more effectively work with Him in not staying trapped in our bondages, our mitzarim. In the strength of the Lord, and by the Spirit of holiness God gives us, we are enabled to break through imposed boundaries and natural limitations. Our lives then can reflect in greater measure the truths of His Kingdom and we can more clearly see all through His perspective of reality.

Passover teaches us that Redemption is not a ‘one time’ event but an ongoing process, both on the national, historical level and in our personal, individual lives. To those whom His hand ‘passes over’ His steadfast love is new every morning, and we can say every day:

“I thank You Lord that You have answered me and have become my Salvation… This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in Him!”****

 

~Keren Hannah Pryor

 

 ‘Family Passover Seder’    Lynn Feldman  
Mixed Media Applique

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Marc Chagall‘s interesting depiction of the Exodus

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Footnotes:

* Exo. 9:1

**Exo. 12:12

***Exo. 13:3; also Num. 9:1-3, Deut. 7:18-19

**** Psalm 118:21, 23

REPENTANCE

A SONG OF TESHUVAH – REPENTANCE

Teshuvah [te’shoo’vah]  – generally translated in English as ‘repentance’ – derives from the Hebrew root shuv, which means to return; to retore something to its rightful place.

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Our Father-Creator calls to all His children who wander in the darkness and emptiness of the world’s brokenness, with its facade of materialism, humanism, glitter and bright neon lights, to return to Him; to discover and express one’s true being and to live the life for which He created us.

When we forget who we are, or maybe never have been taught, and neglect the inner life of our soul, we are left with doubt, confusion and darkness of understanding that result in waves of bitterness and pain. Our spirits long to be set free in order to become who we truly were created to be. When our hearts longingly turn to God, immediately the light of teshuvah shines in our souls and the darkness is joyfully illuminated.

In his profound work, Orot HaTeshuvah ( Lights of Repentance), Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook teaches that the deep spiritual gloom of worldly existence is due to its failure to align itself with the light of teshuvah. He writes:

“What is the source of the anger of the wicked? What is the meaning of their rage against the entire world? What is the basis for their bitter depression, which consumes their spirit and flesh, and poisons their experience of life? …Those people who are righteous, who are people of goodness and of kindness, people who possess gladness of life, call out to the wicked, who are wretched: “Come and live; return!” *

Teshuvah restores man to a state of true well-being and joy. Rav Kook, or simply HaRav, – the Rav, as he is affectionately referred to, describes it as “…the healthiest feeling of the spirit.” He lived in Eretz Yisrael from 1906 to the year of his death,1935, and served as Chief Rabbi during pre-State years. He had a deep love for the Land and the people of Israel and was distressed at the spiritual darkness that had descended even among some religious groups. These often represented  repentance and a godly life as somber and joyless – a life of deprivation and legalistic bondage. To the contrary he proclaimed,

“Teshuvah does not come to embitter life but to sweeten it.”

He concludes Orot HaTeshuvah with a prayer and a petition that:

“…a singer of teshuvah will surely come for us who will be a sign of life, …a sign of the national soul [of the people of Israel] that is on the journey of Redemption.” **

In fact, today, many harpists and singers with a song of Redemption are being raised up in Eretz Israel and in the nations.

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Harp sculpture and olive tree at Mamilla Mall steps 
outside Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem

HaRav summons all searching souls to listen to the “Whispers of Holy Existence”.

All existence whispers to me a secret
“I have a life to offer, take it, take it –
…If every gentle sound,
Every living beauty
Stir you not to a holy song,
But to some alien thought
Then leave me, leave. I am forbidden to you.”

A generation will yet arise
And sing to beauty and to life
And draw delight unending
From the dew of Heaven
And a people returned to life will hear
The welath of Life’s secrets
From the vistas of the Carmel and the Sharon
And from the delight of song and life’s beauty
A holy light will abound
And all existence will whisper,
“My beloved, I am permitted to you.” ***

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Young musician playing a song of praise
on Ben Yehudah Street in Jerusalem.

In our Father’s great grace, faithfulness and mercy, this generation could well be the generation who, with spirits yearning for the fullness of the light of truth and the reality of God’s Word and Presence, are finding the chords of David’s harp and singing a new song. A song of teshuvah, a song of return to the Source of Light and Life in joy, restoration, hope and praise. A song that offers a healing of all that is broken and lost in the world of increasing evil and darkness.

Selah and Amen.

 

Singer of Teshuvah

When Messiah descended
He played a Shepherd’s harp
With strings of chesed ve’emet – lovingkindness and truth
A gentle song
Wooing, healing, restoring.
“I have not come to judge the world but to bring life.”
Life as a mustard seed
To be sown in all the nations
To grow like a tree 
Which draws sap from its roots
And offers a home
A shelter to all
Who would gather in its branches
And find life in its fruit.

When Messiah descends once more
On clouds of glory, to Jerusalem
His Father’s dwelling place
He will play the King’s harp
As David his earthly ancestor did
First as a shepherd, then as a king
With strings of rulership, power and authority
A song of peace and justice and truth
To establish our Father’s Kingdom
In all its fullness and beauty
And all peoples and kings and nations
Will gather to their true Source
And find life in His Word
And delight in His Presence.

Selah and Amen

~Keren Hannah Pryor

 

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Shepherd’s Harp

* Orot HaTeshuvah 8:4, quoted in the Introduction of the two-volume set ‘Song of Teshuvah‘ by Moshe Weinberger. ** Ibid., 17:5  *** Orot HaTeshuvah, Ohr Etzion edition, 157-158. English translation by Yaacov Dovid Shulman.

TORAH – the Bread of Life

TORAH – the BREAD OF LIFE

In his unique teaching, my late husband, Dwight A. Pryor (obm), always empasized the value and beauty of the Torah, as well as the relevance of the Torah for all believers in the God of Israel.  As he said: ”The more Torah, the more Life!”  and he wrote these words once…

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“Give me Liberty or give me death”
vs
“Give me Law (Torah) or give me death.”

I would like to add a perspective from my personal experience. Living in Israel for many years, and with my experience of things Jewish, it was a natural reaction for me, once I came to know Yeshua as Messiah, to study the Torah with the understanding that through its timeless words of truth I would come to a deeper knowledge of Yeshua himself.

Before we continue, in regard to Yeshua and Torah, please consider which 2 answers to the question you think most closely represent your own perception.

How would you describe Yeshua’s relationship to Torah?

  • No connection
  • He taught truth from it but changed it
  • He fulfilled its prophecies and promises
  • He is the Living Torah – the Word made flesh

The first one I consider 100% false, and the second is suspect, but the ideas are worth keeping in mind for further consideration as we continue.

From a Jewish perspective, one of the passages of the Brit Chadasha, the NT, that impacted me and caused my eyes to open to the possibility of Yeshua’s identity as Messiah and Lord was the well-known beginning of the gospel of John (1:1-4),

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Torah, or the first revelation of the Word of God in a communal form, was given by God at Sinai. John’s verses, supported by Genesis, tell us that a form of the Word was in existence at the very beginning of Creation.  This Word was with God so intimately that, in fact, it was part of God; just as the words you speak emanate from you and give a representation of who you are and what you are thinking. As God is perfect, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow – all truth, justice and love –  so will His Word be.

Verses 2 – 3 of John 1 read: “He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”

Ahh, now we are told that the Word is a He! He has a personality – and is one who was an agent with God in the act of Creation. In Genesis we are told that God spoke all things into being. The Sages of Israel interpret this to mean that the very letters of the Hebrew Aleph-bet that God used to form the words of Creation carry God’s creative power. Regarding God’s Word that was an agent of Creation, verse 4 of John concludes:
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  This ‘someone’, this Word, carried life – a life that would be light to mankind.  To my mind, these are all awesome concepts.

In accord with the Hebraic mindset, I already knew indisputably that:

1. The Torah is the foundation of the Word of God – given to us His people, as a revelation of Himself and His Kingdom, by God through Moses, at Mount Sinai.

2. The truth it contains is absolute, unchanging, unshakeable and eternal and it is Life to those who choose to take hold of it!

3. It is the record of God’s Wisdom and instruction to His people – and a guide as to the way we should live.

In a startling moment of revelation from the Father, which is another story, I understood that Yeshua was the Incarnation of that Word and had come to ‘tabernacle’ amongst us for the purpose of the Redemption of all the earth. Through further study of the Word, I came to understand more fully that Yeshua was indeed, as He claimed, the embodiment of  “…the way, and the truth, and the life.”  He came to demonstrate, illustrate and fill full of meaning the truth of God, for He was, as John describes, with God before the beginning and mysteriously and, in essence, beyond mortal uderstanding, He was one [of one mind and spirit] with God.

Consider for a moment, in connection with that which sustains life, that the Torah also is referred to  as bread.

We all are familiar with the occasion of Yeshua’s temptation in the wilderness by Satan, when, after a forty day fast, Satan tempts him to show his supernatural power as Messiah and turn the stones into bread. Yeshua quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Luke 4:4).

As already mentioned: at Creation God spoke all things into being. This reality actually is illustrated in the first Hebrew word of Torah, B’reishit – meaning ‘In the beginning’… In fact, we can focus in on the very first letter of this first word –  Bet.

Hebrew letter ‘Bet’

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First, notice the shape of the letter: closed on three sides and open on one side. Jewish commentary records, among other interpretations, that this teaches us that we should not be overly concerned with what is above us, in the heavens, or below us, in the netherworld – nor look back unduly at what is in the past behind us, but our focus should always be forward – pressing on in hope and faith according to the direction of the Word of God.

Secondly… the sages of Israel, as well as placing great value on the Hebrew letters of the Torah, say that there are important things to be learnt from even the gaps between words and the spaces around letters. So, let us consider the space around the letter bet… and… what do we find? A large invisible letter Peh!

 Hebrew letter ‘Peh’

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The name of the letter, peh, is also the Hebrew word for mouth. So what we find is a large invisible mouth – which we can undertand to be the very mouth of God from which the Torah proceeds as His spoken word, and goes forth in all its creative power, carrying the breath of life and all wisdom and knowledge, from before the beginning of Creation until the present day… and will continue to go forward through all eternity. Baruch HaShem! Blessed be His Name.

Let us again consider that Word as the Bread of Life.  We find a description of the bread of God in John chapter 6, v.33:  Yeshua is saying, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven…”  This is a reference to the manna that was miraculously provided to His people, the Israelites and which sustained them and gave them life during their long wilderness journey. Once they entered the Promised Land, to settle and live there, it stopped. However, the verse continues: “…and gives life to the world.” It appears it’s not only the Israelites but the whole world that God intends to receive life. In the next verse Yeshua makes the startling declaration: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” He came, annointed of God, to bring spiritual sustenance to “whosoever” in the nations would come to him.

In its Jewish context this verse immediately brings to mind the bread and wine that are central elements of Shabbat and the Festivals. The main celebratory forms of bread are the beautiful challot of Shabbat and the unleavened, pierced matzah of Pesach, Passover; which also is called Lechem Ani – the bread of our affliction – as it is a reminder of the slavery and bondage of Egypt.

 Matzah*

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How wonderfully Yeshua fills this bread with added meaning: without yeast – sinless, and yet pierced, striped and bruised, and broken for us that we might be set free from the bondage of sin and the fear of death.

And the challah**

Sabbath How To 3 The fragrant, specially braided and delicious loaves that adorn our Shabbat tables – the Bread of our Fullness and Rest!  Since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, one’s table in the home is now the altar, as it were, of the Mikdash Me’at – the small Sanctuary of one’s home, and the challah bread on Shabbat is a reminder of the perfect Showbread in the Holy Place.

I recently learned an interesting detail in connection with the Showbread [ Lechem Panim – Bread of the Face or Presence – because it stood for a week in the Presence of God ].
We need to bear in mind that whenever Yeshua was in Jerusalem he would daily teach and meet with his disciples and worship God in the Temple.  The inspiring structure of the Father’s Holy House was very present and real to them. And, undoubtedly, they were intimately familiar with all the rituals and their meanings.

Personally, I love the beautiful golden menorah in the Holy Place with its rich symbolism of the Word of God , likewise the adjacent Altar of Incense with its permeating fragrance. However, of the furniture of the Holy Place, the Table of Showbread is the first piece listed in both Exodus 35:3 and 40:22, which indicates its importance.

Two miracles are recorded regarding this special bread… firstly, it stayed fresh all week and each Shabbat, after they replaced the bread with new loaves, it was shared among the priests. The second miracle is that each priest only received a piece the size of a bean and yet it completely satisfied him. This struck me as a perfect illustration of how when we break bread together, as ‘priests in the kingdom of God,’ and share the Shabbat challah and the Passover matzah, we partake, symbolically, of Yeshua’s body as the Bread of Life that is saturated with the Presence of God – and how it fills and spiritually satisfies us.

To refer again to John 6:33: “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world”, and verse 34, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” Yeshua was identifying Himself with the ‘bread that came down from Heaven/from God’ …the bread of His Word, the bread of life.  We may consider that if we truly desire to “know” –  to grow in intimate knowledge of – the Beloved of our soul we need to study and become deeply intimate with the Word to which he gave substance and added meaning. When one does, one discovers that the longer one studies, it remains just as fresh and ever-expanding and inspiring as when one first started – and, I would say, becomes even more so.

Proverbs. 3:17-18   Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy.

How I love your Torah!

Soldier with Torah

In Israel, and synagogues worldwide, once a year – on Simchat Torah – all the Torah scrolls are removed from the Ark and are lovingly passed from person to person as the congregation sing joyfully and dance seven times around the central bima. The scrolls are dressed in beautifully embroidered robes, and crowned with ornately designed gold or silver crowns – they truly represent the living Word who became flesh and for whom we all longingly wait…who will return as the King of kings and establish the Kingdom of God from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

To conclude, an open-ended question:  If one understands that Yeshua is the Living Torah, the Word of God in the flesh, how does this affect one’s attitude and approach to the Torah?

~Keren Hannah Pryor

 

  • *Cf. Mashiach ben Yosef
  • ** Cf. Mashiach ben David.

TEFILLIN / Phylacteries

TEFILLIN / PHYLACTERIES

Anyone who does not know the meaning of these ritual items and has seen an observant Jew wearing tefillin when he prays – a small black box strapped to his forehead and shiny black leather straps wound around his arm – might well be perplexed as to what on earth they are.

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In an article published on the Shorashim Shop website –  site of the well known and happily frequented shop off the Hurvah Square in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, run by brothers Dov and Moshe Kempinski – Rabbi Chanan Morrison  [Gold from the Land of Israel ]* offers a meaningful description of tefillin and makes an interesting connection with the Exodus from Egypt.

THE EXODUS AND TEFILLIN

The Torah commands us to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt by wearing tefillin (phylacteries) on the arm and head. “These words will be for a sign on your arm and a reminder between your eyes, so that God’s Torah will be in your mouth; for God brought you out of Egypt with a strong arm.” (Ex. 13:9)

What is the connection between tefillin and the Exodus? How does wearing tefillin ensure that the Torah will be ‘in our mouths’? 

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An Outstretched Arm

Superficially, the redemption from Egypt was a one-time historical event, forging a potent memory in the collective consciousness of the Jewish people and all of humanity. But if we listen carefully to our inner soul [our spirit], we will recognize that the Exodus is truly a continuous, ongoing act. The Divine miracles and signs that took place in Egypt launched the continual revelation of the hand of God, openly and publicly, on the stage of world history.

Before wrapping tefillin on the arm, we reflect that this mitzvah commemorates God’s “zero’a netuya,” His “outstretched arm” with which the Israelites were extracted from Egypt. What does this metaphor mean? The word ‘arm’ (zero’a) comes from the root zera, meaning ‘seed.’ The Divine redemption of Israel in Egypt was a holy seed, planted at that point in time. That wondrous event initiated the dissemination of its message, unhindered and uninterrupted, over the generations. As we bind the tefillin to our arms, we are reminded of God’s “outstretched arm,” …that continually develops and perfects the world, until it elevates its treasures of life to the pinnacle of Divine fulfillment.

A Strong Arm

The Torah uses a second metaphor to describe the Exodus – the “yad chazakah,” God’s “strong arm.” This phrase indicates a second, deeper connection between the mitzvah of tefillin and the Exodus. The liberation from Egyptian bondage served to combat the debasement of life, which threatened to drown humanity in the depths of its crassness and vulgarity. Since the materialistic side of life is so compelling, it was necessary for God to reveal a “strong arm” to overcome man’s base nature, and allow the light of our inner holiness to shine from within.  The holy act of fastening the tefillin to the arm and head helps us transform the coarse and profane aspects of life into godly strength and vitality,revealing an inner life beautiful in its holiness. To triumph over humanity’s coarseness, then at its peak in the contaminated culture of Egypt, required God’s “strong arm.”

A Strong Mind

Tefillin Box

 

We similarly need to make a strong effort so that the Torah will remain in our minds and hearts. Tefillin are called a ‘sign’ and a ‘reminder,’ for they evoke the wondrous signs and powerful miracles of our release from Egyptian slavery. We must engrave the legacy of those miracles on all aspects of life: deed, emotion, and thought.

Thus we bind these memories to our hand, heart, and mind, and transform our coarse nature to a holy one. Then the Torah will naturally be “in your mouth,” in the thoughts and reflections of the heart. Through this powerful mitzvah, engaging both the arm (our actions) and the eye (our outlook and thoughts), we continue the Divine process that God initiated in Egypt with a “strong arm.”

~Keren Hannah Pryor

* Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 118-120. Compiled and inspired by Olat Re’iyah, the writings of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, well loved first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Eretz Yisrael.

Light, Hanukkah and Redemption

Hanukkah is the only feast that originated in the land of Israel. Pesach was in Egypt, Purim in Persia, Shavuot and Sukkot in the desert. Hanukkah happened here. The Holy Temple was cleansed and rededicated and the miracle of the menorah lights occurred. Light broke in and overcame the darkness.

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The details of the menorah are significant, e.g., the almond decoration. Almonds depict eyes and the light of the menorah enables us to see. The main purpose of lighting the Hanukkah lights is to see them, and not to use them for any practical purpose besides enjoying and sharing their radiance with others, which is why we place them by a window or in the front doorway when possible. We see the lovely dancing lights and enjoy their beauty and remember; “He Who watches Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”  As the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (z”l) said, “HaShem’s eyes are glued to this Land – and ours should be too.”

He also said something I had not considered before: “The downfall of the world is, ‘And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating’ (Gen. 3:6). The way Chava (Eve) looked at the tree was the beginning of all darkness.” Hanukkah is about seeing the light and the redemption of Hanukkah is “…when we fix the way we look at anything in the world.”

The golden menorah in the Holy Place stood for the light of God’s Word – His Torah – His teachings for mankind. When we study the Scriptures throughout the year we should be asking ourselves, for example: “What am I learning from this Word? Is it making me more holy? Am I walking in its ways to the best of my ability?”

But at Hanukkah, as Shlomo Carlebach also reminds us, we are simply seeing the lights and being. “No calculations, no expectations; I’m just looking at the light and I’m so glad it’s there.”

~Keren Hannah