Spiraling Up! NISSAN 2020

Being Holy Being Whole – NISSAN 2020 

THEME:  SEA / BIRTH and REBIRTH

CORE QUESTION: How does our theme this month affect your relationship with God, with yourself, and with others?

VERSE: “Be strong, be courageous! Do not be afraid or downhearted, because Adonai your G-d is with you wherever you go [or stay!]”. (Joshua 1:9)

Shalom dear fellow students on this sacred journey of life,

It is both interesting and disappointing to think that today, together with one of my sisters and her husband, I would have been setting sail from the beautiful city of Cape Town, in South Africa, into the Indian Ocean on the lovely liner Queen Mary 2. We had booked our 17 day “once in a lifetime” cruise many months ago, little knowing we would find ourselves in the global crisis we all are now experiencing. They were able to get home to America before the airports were closed here in South Africa, but I presently am on lockdown in Cape Town, gratefully with kind, caring friends. Now, rather than perusing the beautiful, physical ocean ‘landscape,’ I have time to contemplate my own inner personal ‘landscape.’

Our inner landscapes are, in fact, very similar to that of the ocean. Both are constantly changing, often unpredictable. They contain much life and beauty below the surface. When calm and undulating the ocean reflects the sapphire blue of the sky; much like when our souls are at rest, we can reflect the goodness and peace of our Father in Heaven. The glory and radiance of the sunrise and sunset glow from its surface, and the gentle lapping and rhythm of its waves are soothing and pleasant.

However, when a storm blows in, its power is unleashed – the waters churn and become steely gray. The waves crash and become dangerous to enter. Yet, when one views it from a place of safety, there also is a unique beauty in the power of a stormy sea. Life always presents us with different types of storm. They can be brief, such as an emotionally upsetting encounter with another, or one on a larger scale such as loss of a loved one, or severe illness; or even on an unprecedented scale such as the global CoVid 19 pandemic we now are experiencing. In whatever storm we encounter the only factor we have any control over is how we react and respond – how we allow it to affect our inner ‘landscape.’

Will we exhibit calm and strength, reflecting trust in the One who said, “Peace, be still!” And who enables us to calm the storm? Or do we churn and crash in fear and panic and block out the Shalom of His presence?

This is the year, and decade, of Peh – the new Hebrew year is 5780, tav-shin-peh. The word ‘peh’ means mouth. It is of great importance to note, not only what goes into our mouths but also, particularly, what comes out of them – the words we speak. Our focus needs to be on Prayer, Praise, Positive speech (as opposed to negative words of criticism, gossip, slander, judgmentalism, anything false, etc.) and Proclamation of truth and the Word of God.

ACTION STEPS

1. Ponder upon how you can increase and enhance these 4 P’s in your daily life.

2. Write down and speak out daily affirmations about who you are as a beloved child of God, redeemed by the Lamb, and a radiant soul deserving of honor.

In case you don’t receive the monthly HIs-Israel newsletter, here are 3 daily proclamations you may consider:

1. By your Spirit, Father, I have the strength I need for today. (Zechariah 4:6)

2. I take every negative, fearful thought captive and align it in accord with Your Word. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

3. I am grateful for every day and every breath You give me. I will breathe deeply and speak words of praise, hope, and kindness.

And, dear ones, remember to pray for family, friends, the nations, and pray for the Peace of Jerusalem and all Israel.

In Him who loves us with an eternal love,

Keren Hannah

PS: REMINDER – you will find the Journal Prompts for Nissan and other material in the Being Holy Being Whole Group on the His-Israel FB Page. Please join us there if  you have not yet already done so.

LEARNING TO EXPRESS YOUR SOUL – Raynna Meyers

For those of us who are unsure of what we have to offer this world, I see a bud curled within itself, aching to unfurl, drawing from roots nourished deep. We are, with all of creation, eagerly, bound up, longing to be revealed.

As a woman with child, and as a child within a womb, we are growing full and complete within. The apostle Paul spoke of watching and waiting for Messiah to form within his students, He said that Messiah, in you, was the hope of glory! What was this reality he spoke of and how do we live into it?

One of the most extravagantly kind and gentle passages of Scripture issues a call to clear and “make way” for the Lord; to make way through the wilderness, the desert, and the mountainous terrains and that in so doing the glory of the Lord would be revealed…

There is a ripeness in time when a plow comes across a field, when that land gets broken up, when what was hidden beneath comes to light, rich soil where tender shoots grow. The seeds below rightly die but are also tended to, in order for the life inside to live. God first revealed Himself as a gardener, He knows how to make way for life. He knows how to write stories—in the earth, in all of creation, in you and me. And, I get the feeling He delights to do so.

He tends to us, chooses us. How will we choose to respond? Will we miss Messiah’s redemption story, not see His death as an invitation to our own? Will we boast only of His wonders and not His cross. If we miss those things, we will never truly be able to embrace His life nor learn how to express the one our Father has given us. His way costs, cuts, burns, but only what is not needed, to show us, to make way for, what is truly needed, when it is needed.

We are called to live from “from faith to faith”, or rather, “from faithfulness to faithfulness”. So how do we live into this reality, His ways? How do we become like Him, our Creator who expresses Himself around us continually, from the rising of the sun, to the place where it sets?

Learning to express our soul will flower from faithfulness to faithfulness, slowly, steadily, simply. We need not be in a hurry but we do need diligence. We do not have to have the whole picture, yet we do need to lean into the next step.

Upon speaking through His servant-prophet-poet, Isaiah, to clear the way, He invited His children to believe Him again, and to add to their belief, voice. He invited them in their faith, to faithfully call out what they had heard in the hidden places, unfurl the breath that had sustained them—the Lord Who had always been with them.

These words were spoken to His people Israel, but through Yeshua even non-Jews are invited to be adopted into His family. We too have been invited to be like the Warrior-King of the Universe who delivers slaves with a strong arm beneath a banner of love and the proclamation that His name is YHWH. He has expressed Himself, so that we, like Him, will express Him too.

 

 

 Way-making is revelation, a tearing away, to see what is true. We are His image, He desires that His glory be revealed in and through us! Some days this is as simple as being thankful out loud.

Other days we will feel the fire of His presence burn within us. We often feel this but we do not understand it, we quench it, and push it down concluding there is something wrong with us — we reel from the stress of it. We need wisdom to understand that the sparks and fire of Messiah in us desire to rise, to be unified with the holy fire from which it came, our Maker, our origin, our completeness. The ache we feel in our soul is our invitation to bloom the gifts He wants to adorn the world with, through us. 

How do we know what those gifts are? One way is to ask ourselves what have we been blessed with, knowing deeply that we are blessed in order to bless. 

Another way to know, is to ask ourselves what we most fear. The truth is, the fear—awe and respect—of the Lord is what leads to wisdom, but also in truth: what we often most fear is the counterfeit to this most holy design within us. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

For those of us who are unsure of what we have to offer this world, I see you there, a miracle on the verge of a miracle. You are ready to learn how to be like Yeshua the Messiah who came here to teach us how to live in our own skin. For joy He endured the cross, entrusted himself to no man, yet laid down his life so that others could be free—showing His Warrior-King-Lover-Priest heart like a seal on His arm all the way—and the seal is us, inscribed, known.

We are buds longing to open, because that is what we’re designed to do. Yet, I can hardly imagine anything more vulnerable than a flower opening itself up to the world, to be beheld so publicly, to give fragrance so unreservedly, for such a precious, impermanent time, for such a time as this.

So, how do we express our souls? It will take nothing less than audacious courage. It takes courage to hear our own heart beat, to slow enough to listen, and be honest with ourselves about what we hear. We all come to this work with a world of experiences that have informed us that we are not welcome to be that honest out-loud. We are taught to flaunt our strength and hide our weaknesses, but the way of God is to bring transformational wholeness to the wholeness of us—strengths and weaknesses. These are our potential-in-waiting, not our curses.

How do we grab hold of courage in the midst of an often unkind world? Our ground and garden of our hearts must be immersed with truth. The truth is that we are equipped and designed to bloom, flourish, and give life and beauty abundantly and that just as a seed must shed its outer layers to fulfil its design, so must we. 

Truth and honesty with ourselves may come with a rush, or a sting, but both are life entering in and flowing through us and it is vital that we nurture one another to grow in that recognition and confidence. We can do that by openly sharing our growing experiences, both the enjoyable parts and the more challenging parts together, in safe places. We can do that by being a safe place, by becoming better listeners—a community of friends.

This accomplishes a simple but nonnegotiable ingredient in learning how to express our souls—we must know that we are not alone. We must know that there are friends for our souls with whom we will not live to our full potential without both giving ourselves to and receiving from.

When we offer expression of our inner world, whether through words, music, art, gardening, or anything else, we create the opportunity for another to say, “me too”. This is crucial, because we all need to know that we are not alone as we learn over and over again that we must first die to live, it gives us the valor to do so. As we share with one another, we are fertilizing the ground of others souls as well as our own. Illumination occurs, light upon places within us that need pruned, light upon places that are valuable and need to be brought forth, but we never knew it, never could see it for ourselves. 

Most importantly, light calls to light, flame to flame. As we have each been made in the image of God, sparks of eternity dwell within us and respond to His image in others. Together we are more of Him and therefore more whole. His radiance longs to expand and fill all the earth, His way of doing that is through us. This may feel too big of a task but there is another story that He has been sure to write here and that is a story of joy in the seeing of the small. Little Bethlehem was not too small, little Miriam, Yeshua’s mother, was not too small. Israel, was not too small, to be filled with the glory of the Lord. We are not too small. The ancient words of the prophet Hosea call to us, 

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lordthat he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”

May you be filled with knowing that you belong here, no matter how much you’ll never fully belong here because that’s not the bad news, that’s the good news—that’s the good news from a far off country whose unimaginable colors bleed starlight when we hear its ancient tongue. 

We are flowers in bloom from that country, flowers that will fade, but who have a message to cry out while we still have today—there is a King in that country who longs to come into His kingdom, from exile into His garden. He has shown us how to be like Him. 

“What is clear is, Adam and Eve were created very good. God Himself is good.
The world is good.” -Dwight Pryor

Our Creator has expressed Himself. Now, what are we waiting for?

 

Practical Questions & Prompts
 …to come alongside you, wherever you are,
in taking the next steps in expressing your soul:

The life we feel surging within sometimes hurts when we don’t know what to call it, but we will never rightly account for it without knowing His Presence fills all of creation and calls to His image within us to meet Him there. We can understand this longing in us when we experience it from lover to beloved, this too is but a glimmering reflection of the same. It is a call to oneness and deep companionship. How do we express this, our soul’s desire, unafraid?

Slowly, Steadily, Simply:

1) UPON WAKING, grow in awareness that it is the mercies of our Creator that we have breath filling our lungs and connections in our mind and body once again this new day. Thank Him and ask Him to bring to mind someone with whom you can share an expression of this gratitude with?

Maybe this is with some life-giving words, a Scripture, a piece of artwork, a smile, or a long hug.

2) WHEN YOUR FEET TOUCH THE GROUND, and you feel the weight of your body begin to be supported by the frame you have been gifted to dwell in this one wild and precious life, praise the Lord and consider what “body” have you been given to support? Are you fulfilling your part to the best of your ability right now? What needs strengthening? 

Meditate on the truth that no matter how “small” you feel your place in the world is, His presence can enter it through your presence, this is His way. 

Perhaps this includes the gift of touch, your own unique special touch to some area in your life that you have doubted even mattered. Do not count out your own physical body.

3) WHEN YOU SIT down to a meal today, or stand preparing it, offer thanks, and consider this nurturing that you need everyday. Where can you too nurture and sustain? Do not doubt the first thing that comes to mind!

Beauty should not be discounted here. Our world needs beauty and it is how the Invisible has always made Himself known. 

4) AS YOU WALK through your day, practice knowing that Messiah Yeshua lived among humanity, in a daily, walk-alongside-others way. He was with us. We can do this too. How can we be with another today? Who has been a soul friend to me? How can I show my gratitude to them? How can I pass that on?

Listening is a miracle. To be heard, truly heard, listened to, seen, is to give an incalculable gift. This is what we are all hungering for. How can you give that today? Read a note closer or be more attentive in a conversation? At a cash register or in a meeting? To a young one or to an old one, or maybe one you’ve never given much thought?

In our closest relationships, do we know what is the most important need in their lives at present? 

Do we know what they would say, if we asked them what was most important to them for us to know about them?

5) AT THE END of your day, give wonder to the opportunity that was today. Did you drink in the scent of life around you? Did you do what you can to give off the fragrance of life to those surrounding you? Did you lift up the incense of prayer, a mighty and effective means of communication with the Eternal and with the body of the Beloved Bride, He says, we are one with? 

A prayer can be as simple as a breath. It is a song that we are invited into listening. It is a fragrance that will emerge from our life when we know we belong. 

“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”

― Abraham Joshua Heschel

6) WHEN TROUBLES COME, remember His ways through circumcision, fire, and death on a cross. Ask to enter in His joy, through the mystery revealed of Messiah in us, holding and remembering this is not the end. Practice resurrection, slowly, steadily, simply—hopefully.

Ask yourself, how can I imitate Him in this situation, sit quietly with the question and prepare to be surprised. 

7) LOVE THE Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, resources, all of us. This is what we are commanded to do with our souls. Ask, how can I do that today? 

A prayer, 

Our Father in Heaven, may Your kingdom come more fully as You teach me how to express my soul as an expression of love for You. Teach me how to connect with others in Your wisdom and truth so that I can do my part in this life You have gifted me, in the healing of this world, that Your will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I look to You today for my daily bread, knowing my soul has not given if not first received and revived in You, connected to You. Lead me not into temptation. I look to You to deliver me from the evil one as well as my own evil inclinations. Yours in the kingdom I want to be about the work of, Yours is the power that is waiting to be fully revealed, and Yours is the glory that I seek and want my life to sing for all eternity. In Yeshua may I live and breath this amen. 

Amen.

8) EXAMPLES OF WAYS to love God with our souls by sharing with others: 

To ask myself: Is there a person or place that comes to mind that I can share what I am learning, as a way of giving what I am given, blessing as I am blessed? Listen for the still small voice. 

 

Ways this could express itself:  Sharing, “This is what I read in the Scriptures, or book I am reading, or an image that came to me while I was in the shower today…”

…it made me wonder about ________, 

or it brought up a question of __________, 

or this part_____________ brought up a prayer in my heart, 

or, this part made a connection in my mind to _____________.

 Ask others, What did you read today? 

Or,

What has most been on your mind?

What struck you differently than it has in the past?

 

Listen well and see how their answers intersect with what you are learning or invites you into a new direction that you have not yet been brought into.  Expressing our souls means paying attention to ourselves and to the world around us with eyes of wonder and hope, that this is not the end, rather, we’ve barely just begun and there’s so much further to go. 

9) ABOVE ALL REMEMBER this: Expressing our souls in health could only ever first come from guarding valiantly…

“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”-Proverbs 4:23

10) A REFINING QUESTION, to bring clarity and vision: “What’s holding you back, from going (all the way) into the direction that you already believe God has sent you?” ~Ray Hill 

What do you most fear? Pray for discernment to reveal where holy fear would lead you past counterfeit fears.

11) GO GROW GENTLY by considering:

What have I been blessed with in order to bless? We do not have to go searching for this, what is already here? What have I labeled as a curse about myself and never received (and therefore never given) as the gift it was intended to be? What has been given into my hands, or my being, that I can bring out of my storehouse and into the Lord’s house—this beautiful world He has given us to inhabit and to bring more beauty to, to heal? Now, go grow, gently.

“The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and beside our doors are all choice fruits,
new as well as old,which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.”
~Song of Songs 7:13

Scripture references: 

Romans 8:18-25

Isaiah 40

Romans 1:16-17

Deuteronomy 30:6

Colossians 1:26-29

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Raynna Myers is an author and photographer who lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States with her husband and six children. The illustrations in this writing are by her husband, Jay Myers, and two of their children, River and Selah Myers. Download the whole booklet, that this article is based on at www.raynnamyers.com.

 

 

Keep Climbing! LIVE – ADAR (12th Hebrew Month)

SEE VIDEO BELOW NOTES

ADAR

GRATITUDE  AND  GIVING

Verse:

“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”
(Galatians 6:9)

Quote:

 “The mental, emotional [and spiritual] muscles required to write a letter, clean the  garage/home, or pay our bills on time, are the very same ‘muscles’ involved in running a company or managing a department [or to do whatever He has called  you to do]. 

                                                                                                                 ~ Jim Rohn

GRATITUDE AND GIVING

Life is filled with laws that affect our behavior; a classic one being the law of gravity. Entwined in the actions of “well doing,” of which giving is one, we find another majorly significant law, that of sowing and reaping. Every positive action we take, and effort we make, will bring multiple rewards in its wake. They may appear to be insignificant efforts or actions, in response to the small opportunities that life constantly brings our way, however, when done with care in a disciplined way they become like “seeds” we sow that will blossom into greater opportunities, blessings, and fulfilment. 

Our aim this year, in the “Keep Climbing!” Series, has been to sharpen our awareness of our inner self, our spirit or soul, and to recognize where our positive strengths can be enhanced and where any negative weaknesses can be transformed and strengthened. We understood that all personal growth happens through taking “small steps.” Growth and transformation begin by mastering the small details of our lives. 

The everyday, seemingly small things are like the nails that hold a ship together. We are familiar with  the saying: “For the sake of a nail the ship was lost!” By neglecting one or more of the “small” areas we risk being robbed of future health, quality of life, and strong, healthy relationships.  Discipline is the challenge!  And, to maintain discipline requires the right attitude and motivation. How does this understanding affect our focus this month on the attribute of gratitude and the mitzvah , or ‘well doing’ of giving?

STONE SOUP

In response, I would like to share a story. It’s more like a folk-tale but it conveys a deep truth. It takes place in a village that is located in an area suffering a severe famine. A traveler arrives in town, and the villagers try to discourage him from staying as they fear he might want them to give him food. They loudly proclaim there is no food to be had in the village. To their surprise, the traveller assures them that he doesn’t want their food, in fact, he was planning to make a huge pot of soup to share with them all. 

He asks them to bring the largest pot they can find and they watch, with a certain degree of suspicion, as he proceeds to make a fire and to fill the large pot with water. Next, with a great flourish, he pulls a stone from his bag and ceremoniously drops it into the pot of water. After a minute or two, he sniffs the brew and exclaims how delicious this stone soup is.  By now the villagers are showing more interest, and he proclaims how really good the soup would be if just a little cabbage was added to it. A villager runs home and returns with  a cabbage to add to the pot. He repeats the ‘advice’ until the soup has the addition of carrots, onions, beets, salt and herbs. In the end, the stone soup is indeed a substantial, tasty soup – and enough to feed all the village! 

Being human, we all tend to hoard when times are difficult. We pull back, shut others out, and focus on self-preservation. In doing so, as we see illustrated in the story, we actually deprive ourselves and others of a delicious soup-feast! We can also extend this concept beyond food and material goods and also apply it to areas such as love, ideas, energy,  creativity – in sharing the skills and talents our Creator, the Great Giver, has gifted us with. We deprive ourselves, those close to us, and in fact the whole world, when we withhold any good we can give to others. The traveler was able to discern that the villagers were holding back selfishly but he had the wisdom and the skill to inspire them to give, which resulted in a nourishing meal that none of them could have created on their own. 

The story also makes me think of the restoration and building up of Israel! When the first waves of Aliyah started, during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Jews were coming home to join the small population of Jews who had always remained in the Land, and many of them came with only what they were wearing or with very meagre possessions. What did they do? They pooled together whatever they had in belongings, and also in their skills and resolve, and established kibbutzim where everything was shared. They had to work the desolate land and build from scratch – draining inhospitable swampland and bringing water to the desert, planting trees and flowers in land that had been denuded and neglected through the centuries by the previous Greek, Roman, Arab and Turkish occupiers. Largely thanks to these kibbutzim, we all have seen, with our own eyes, the miracle of restoration that has taken place, with God’s help. Even in the face of constant attacks of the enemy on every front, today, Israel is a thriving nation, and even is exporting flowers to the nations! Baruch HaShem!

Speaking of trees, You may have heard or seen my His-Israel post for Tu Be’Shevat (The New Year for Trees) called “Trees of the Bible.”  Here is the link if you missed it:

https://his-israel.com/2016/01/23/trees-in-the-bible-18-19-mins

In the post I mention the interesting fact that the tree God chose to decorate the beautiful curtains in the Holy Place was the palm tree – Tamar in Hebrew. During their forty year sojourn through the wilderness, it is likely that palm trees were the most welcome sight to the Israelites. The tall trees could be seen from afar,  and their wide branches, waving in the breeze, beckoned them to an oasis, where they would find water, shade, rest, and sustenance. Likewise the Presence of God is our only true oasis in our sojourn on earth. In that Holy Place we find rest for our souls, and are strengthened and sustained by the bread and the living water of His Word. 

Psalm 92:12-13 tells us: Tzaddik k’tamar nivrach. “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree.” The palm is the most giving of trees. Apart from offering shade from the sun, every part of the tree is useful. Its dates are among the healthiest of foods, the pits are used for animal fodder, its branches are used for weaving mats and baskets, and even its trunk can be used for furnishings or firewood. In like manner, the righteous are those who willingly and naturally give and share all they can of themselves with others. In our self-centred, materialistic world this is not an easy level of righteousness to attain; but, again, it’s the small steps of generosity we take that eventually enable us to bloom like the palm tree.

GRATITUDE

Let us now consider the related attribute of gratitude. There is much truth in the well-known phrase encouraging one to have “an attitude of gratitude.” The mitzvah of giving also includes receiving. The emphasis on, and pride in, self-sufficiency in Western culture often makes it a difficult challenge to rely on someone else for help. In extreme cases, like severe illness or injury, it is unavoidable; however, even in natural situations like a house move or the birth of a new baby, or the death of a loved one, we should not feel that we need to prove how strong we are and do it all ourselves. We can make things worse by pushing ourselves to do more than we should or, on the other extreme, lapse into a depressed feeling of uselessness; neither of which are healthy. Once we can face the reality of the situation and realize our own real needs, we can be vulnerable and open ourselves to others who may be in a position to help. In doing so, we will not lose the valuable opportunity to practice acceptance and humility. We prove to ourselves and others that none of us is alone in the world. As we do so, a deep feeling of gratitude can be experienced. An added benefit is that we, in turn, are enabled to be more wise and compassionate in our service to others. 

Only when our hearts are open to love can we both happily give and be grateful to receive. Our Great Giver is also our Great Lover. I read a lovely article in the Jerusalem Post this past month, written by Dvorah Waysman, a wonderfully gifted and gracious author already well into her eighties, entitled The great lover. She quotes from a poem of the same name, written by a British poet named Rupert Brooke, who tragically was killed at the age of 28 in the First World War. In the poem, she writes, he details all the things that were most dear to him – from “the strong crusts of friendly bread, the cool kindliness of sheets” to “the benison [blessing] of hot water.” 

She was inspired by the poem “…to make a list of the things I take for granted in Jerusalem, but which nevertheless enrich my life.  These I have loved: 

The sound of the siren that ushers in the Sabbath, knowing that for the next 24 hours my life will be peaceful and elevated above the mundane. The wind sighing in the pine trees outside my window and the birds that nest there so that each morning I awaken to birdsong. Dawn shyly creeping on my balcony when Jerusalem is bathed in pearl as the city still sleeps. The special quality of light in Jerusalem, especially the sunset when indigo shadows lengthen and the sky is strewn with stars. I love the quiet street where I live, the feeling “I am coming home” as I turn the corner.

“ The things we love the most surround each of us every day, waiting to be acknowledged and appreciated. If we can take a few moments to pause and saver them, then like the dead young poet, we can say they were lovely and – we loved!”

BARUCH HASHEM!

Here in Israel, and in many Jewish communities worldwide, you often hear the expression, “Baruch HaShem!” In English it means Thank God, Praise be to God, or literally, Bless God! It is the common response when one asks a person, “How are you?” Because, no matter if you are feeling wonderfully fine or not feeling that well, there still is reason to praise and thank God; even if only for the fact that you are still alive and breathing!

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks records how the renowned Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic movement in the 18th century, used to travel around to all the towns and villages in Eastern Europe teaching, and would specifically ask every Jew he met how they were. He was genuinely interested in each one but also anticipated the inevitable response of “Baruch HaShem.” The reason he gave for doing this was the verse: “You [God] are enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:4). So, any time one proclaims “Baruch HaShem!” we are helping to build a throne here on earth for His Holy Presence.

Another verse in Isaiah tells us: “The whole world is filled with His glory!” (6:13). God is everywhere and in everything, which the Hassidim believe is reason to be joyful in all things. Our Creator showers us with blessings every day through the wonders of Creation, and we can enjoy them and appreciate their beauty because they bring us back to their source – God Himself. Therefore, as the Rabbis point out, we can find cause to bless and thank God at least 100 times a day in acknowledgement that, as our loving, faithful Father, He cares for us and provides for our needs.

One blessing I try to remember, as well as the lovely one said on waking every morning before getting out of bed, is one said before drinking a glass of water or a cup of coffee (which takes care of quite a few of the 100!). Most blessings begin with the words: Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam… Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe… For coffee or water, etc., it continues: …She’hakol ne’hiyeh b’dvaro. …by whose word all things came into being.” Abraham Joshua Heschel describes how”[With this simple blessing] we remind ourselves of the eternal mystery of Creation.” A trivial everyday act reminds us of a supreme miracle! 

We have so many occasions for blessing our Father, the Source of all good things. Most blessings are for food, such as those on Shabbat over the wine and the bread, and the Birkat HaMazon said after a meal, which begins: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who feeds all living things.” There are many more, some of which Rabbi Joseph Telushkin describes in his book Jewish Literacy: “…on seeing beautiful trees and animals (Blessed are You …who has such as these in His world); on meeting a great Torah scholar (Blessed are You…. Who has given of His wisdom to those who revere You); on hearing bad news (Blessed are You …the true Judge); and on hearing good news (Blessed are You …who are good and benificent).” 

One of the best known blessings is the She’heh’chi’yanu.  “Blessed be You O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who grants us life and sustenance and has permitted us to reach this [festive] occasion.” It is said when lighting the candles at the beginning of every Festival and on many other happy occasions, including tasting a fruit for the first time in a season, when moving into a new home, or wearing new clothes. 

So, dear friends, we can indeed say a heartfelt She’heh’chi’yanu that He has sustained us through our “Keep Climbing!” series and has brought us to the threshold of a new Rosh Chodesh cycle, during which we aim to keep learning and growing spiritually and to continue “Spiraling Up!”  All for His glory. Baruch HaShem!

Tu Be’Shevat – and a Seder – 10th Feb, 2020 (Apologies for the repeat!)

 Tu B’Shevat  – The 15th of Shevat 

Thanking God for the Fruit of the Trees and for Redemption

Tu B’Shevat is not listed among the Biblical Feast Days but is in accord with the Scripture,     “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed, which comes from the field year by year” (Deuteronomy 14:22). As this is the time the sap rises in trees to nourish new life and cause the buds of new fruit to develop, the 15th of Shevat was allocated as the New Year for trees, which means that, for farmers in Israel, it serves to determine which fruit needs to be tithed for that particular year.

The three central themes of Tu B’Shevat are:
(a) giving thanks and praise to God for His creation of the trees and fruit, with a special focus on those grown in Israel.
(b) recalling our beginning in the Garden of Eden, with the Tree of Life in the center, and the relationship we enjoyed there with our Father, and
(c) creating greater awareness of our task of restoring the ‘Garden’ and of how we can actively participate in God’s unfolding plan of Redemption by caring for our environment, both physically and spiritually. These themes can be explored and expressed in a Tu B’Shevat seder/meal.

There is no fixed order or content for a Tu B’Shevat seder. Below you will find an outline of one suitable for believers in Messiah Yeshua, but there is much flexibility and opportunity for you to add your own creative ideas. There are many possibilities for children to add their contributions.

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 An example of a simple Tu B’Shevat Seder with bowls (still to be filled!)
of fruit, nuts and salads,  bread and wine.

 Ensure that each participant has the opportunity to read a section, say a blessing, or contribute a song or poem, a piece of decorative artwork, etc. There are many poems, stories, songs and analogies connected with trees and fruit, as well as inspiring and relevant Scripture verses. It is an adventure to find and collect a meaningful selection that can be shared during the seder.

Note: Hear the short children’s story ‘Behold the Trees’ recorded by Keren – In Audio Books section. [Link below]

One example, in accord with the metaphor of an “upside-down Kingdom”:
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (18th century Jewish writer and scholar), in his work, “The Way of God”, describes the Tree of Life as an upside-down tree, with its roots in the higher spiritual realms. The Tree draws nourishment and life from the heavens and passes it to the branches, leaves and fruit on earth. The wisdom of God expressed in the Torah – the teaching and revelation of God through His Word – is associated with the Tree of Life.    We read in Proverbs 3:18, “She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy”. Also, “The fruit of the righteous [who live according to God’s Word] is a tree of life, but lawlessness [‘Torah’lessness] takes away lives” (Proverbs 11:30).
In this regard, we can compare Yeshua’s description of himself: “I am the Vine…” (John 15:5). He came down from the heavenly realm and remained firmly rooted in the Father, the Source, the Life Giver. And “… you are the branches.” When we allow his life to flow through us, we will bear much fruit for the Father’s Kingdom here on earth.

Plant and Sing

I Will Sing unto the Lord!    The importance of song in the praise of God is emphasized at Tu B’Shevat.   Shabbat Shirah (Sabbath of Song) occurs around the time of Tu B’Shevat. The Torah portion BeShallach is read, which contains the mighty Shirat haYam, the Song at the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18). This Shabbat falls in the middle of winter and it is customary to put out extra breadcrumbs or birdseed to feed the birds on this day. The eye of the Great King is also on the sparrow, and we can be His open hand in feeding them at a time when finding food is difficult. The song of the birds is lifted to the heavens in constant praise to their Creator, and they remind us to do the same.

Plant Something!    You can plant a tree in Israel via JNF the  Jewish National Fund  or with 365 Israel. You can also tend to the trees in your yard and maybe plant something new, or plant something indoors.  This is an interesting project for children as it instills an awareness of the natural growth cycle. Different seeds can be planted, for example parsley, which can then be ‘harvested’ for use at the Passover Seder.

 

CELEBRATE A TU B’SHEVAT SEDER

The celebration of a Tu B’Shevat seder meal can be as large and ornate or as small and simple as you wish. The ideal ingredients are as follows:

  • A collection of fruit and nuts, fresh and/or dried of Israel’s seven species, i.e. figs, dates, olives, grapes, pomegranates.
  • Wheat and barley can be added in the form of bread (Shabbat challah can be used), cake, cookies or cereal.
  • Various nuts, some with the shells (pistachios are easiest).
  • Fruit with peels (e.g. bananas, oranges, avocadoes); fruit with edible seeds (e.g. blueberries, strawberries, grapes), fruit with inedible pits (e.g. apricots, peaches, plums, dates)
  • Wine or grape juice, white and red if possible.
  • A “pushka” – a box, or container, to collect a donation for planting trees or for a designated charity.

You can have fun creating a “Seven Species” tree! 

 

A Suggested Order for the Seder Celebration

1. Giving

Before we begin, let us pause to consider the many who are poor and needy, who suffer hunger and do not enjoy the good things we do. Much poverty of body and spirit is a result of war and man’s inhumanity to man. We see the effects among people and on land itself, which becomes dry and desert-like, without trees and fruit and flowers. As we pass around the ‘box’ for a donation towards helping where we can, let us read a promise of the Lord for the End of days:

…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Adonai Tze’vaot, the Lord of hosts, has spoken. (Micha 4:3-4)

Prayer for Israel:  We offer praise and thanks, Father, for the miracle of restoration the You have brought about in the land of Israel even in our days. We rejoice that the “desert is blooming as a rose” and that we have seen fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:8, “And you, mountains of Israel, you shall give forth your branches and you shall bear your fruit for My people Israel, for they shall soon come.” We pray for the safety and the peace of Jerusalem, and of all Israel. Amen.

 

2. Blessing for Bread

We no longer can bring the first fruits of our labor to the Temple in Jerusalem as a praise and thanks offering , instead we offer the fruit of our lips to our Father in Heaven for His provision of trees and fruit. He is the provider of all good things and we offer Him our grateful thanks and joyful praise.

[Say blessing over bread or challah]

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haOlam,
ha motzi lechem min ha’aretz.
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
Who brings forth bread from the earth.

[If eating cake, crackers or cookies etc.say]

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haOlam,
Borei minei mezonot.
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
Who creates species of nourishment.

3. Blessing for Fruit of the Vine

During the Tu B’Shevat seder it is customary to drink four cups of wine, or grape juice, similar to the Passover seder. A tradition has arisen that reflects the blooming of trees and flora in Israel that takes place during the two Month period between the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, on the fifteenth of Shevat (Jan/Feb), and the Festival of Passover on the fifteenth of Nissan (March/April).

The first cup one drinks is white wine or grape juice, reflecting the pure white array of almond blossoms that first cover the landscape at the end of winter. The second cup is pale pink (white with drops of red added), reflecting the white and red anemones and the white, broom bushes that adorn the land during the months of Shevat and Adar.

The third is darker pink, illustrating the growing number of red and darker hued tulips and flora that begin to balance the decreasing amount of white.

The fourth is all red, reflecting the carpets of bright red poppies glistening on hill and field by Passover, in the month of Nissan. They resemble countless droplets of blood freely scattered throughout the Land; indeed reminiscent of the Blood of the Lamb shed at just this season.

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The white represents inherent potential and the red, the potential fulfilled – the promise in full bloom. We can also recall the first miracle performed by Yeshua, at the wedding in Cana, when he took clear water and turned it into red wine. He illustrated that all the potential and promise of the Word finds its fulfillment in Him, the Living Word – the Water of Life. Water can therefore also be used for the first cup, and water with wine/grape juice added for the subsequent cups until the fourth cup which can be all wine. We rejoice that “as wine makes glad the hearts of men” so the Word of God brings hope and joy to the spirit!

First Cup  (Blessing)

[Proclaim the blessing over the first cup that includes wine/grape juice]

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haOlam,
Borei pri hagaffen.
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
Who creates the fruit of the vine.

And Blessing for Fruit

Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit forbidden to them, causing man’s exile from the Garden. May our lives bear the fruit of righteousness in love, for the sake of His Name.

We first eat fruit with inedible shells or peels – for example, nuts, pomegranates, bananas, oranges, avocados.

[All select one or two. Before eating the first fruit proclaim the blessing]

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haOlam,
Borei pri ha’etz.
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
Who creates the fruit of the tree.

Consider that the edible part can be compared to purity and perfection, and the inedible part with impurity and deficiency. They correspond with the realm of assiyah (action) the earthly level of existence – the physical, material world. The pressures of materialism can restrict and enslave us, and we need to remove the ‘shells’ to allow the goodness within to be released and given expression. On the other hand, exposure to the ways of the world can defile us and we need a “shell” to protect our inner, spiritual holiness. Wisdom lies in knowing when to discard the confining shells and when to retain a shell of protection.

Tu B'Shevat 3

As we eat this fruit, we express our trust in God that He will enable us to withstand the negative effects of undue materialism and that our inner holiness will mature and grow and come forth in fruitful profusion like the seeds of the pomegranate!

Second Cup and Fruit  (Growing in Holiness)

We lift this second cup, white with drops of red, in thanks and praise for the potential that our Creator has planted in each of our lives, and that He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it! (Phil. 1:6)

 

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Now we eat the second type of fruit, those with inedible pits, e.g. dates, olives, peaches, cherries. These are connected with the realm of yetzira, formation. The edible fruit represents holiness and the pits impurities that have penetrated the holiness and are buried in our souls. As we grow in holiness and move forward from potential to realization, the inedible pit is not wasted. Once we bring it into the light of truth, it is a seed with the potential to grow new life. Ask Abba to reveal a sinful trait in your life, a pit buried in your heart, such as anger, impatience, greed, pride. Really “see” it and ask that it will no longer hold you back but that, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, it will become an asset in your life.

Third Cup and Fruit  (Fullness of Potential)

Now we drink the third cup (half white, half red).

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The third type of fruits is comprised of those that are completely edible, such as grapes, figs, blueberries. These are compared to the realm of beriyah, creation, the highest level in the created world. Things are coming to their full potential – you can even eat the seeds! Truly see yourself as a new creation in Messiah; as the beautiful, unique person that God created you to be, fulfilling all the potential He has placed within you for His glory in the earth. Praise His holy and wonderful Name!
We can rejoice that He makes all things beautiful in His time! (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Fourth Cup and Fruit  (Beauty and Fragrance)

Finally, we drink the fourth cup (all red). We thank our Father that He has placed eternity in our hearts, and that He has made the way for all to come into the fullness of knowledge of Him and to experience the joy of His Presence through our Savior-Messiah Yeshua. The shedding of His blood and resurrection to glory has brought life where there was death, healing where there was brokenness, and hope where there was despair.
HalleluYah! Le’chayim – to Life Eternal!

There is no fruit that can fully correspond with the pure heavenly realm of atzilut, God’s perfect holiness. Thus, it is customary to partake of the fruit with the best fragrance! Fragrance is intangible and yet powerfully intimates a presence. The Song of Songs is replete with beautiful imagery of fragrance and fruit, for example:

Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden; let its fragrance be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits (4:16).

The fruit generally used here is the etrog, citron, the fruit of the Four Species used in the lulav at Sukkot. Its shape is that of a pure, golden heart and it has the sweetest of fragrances. It is referred to as pri etz hadar, “fruit of the majestic tree” (Leviticus 23:40).

[If an etrog is not available a lemon or orange, which are of the same family and also have sweet fragrances, can be substituted.]

As we partake of this fruit by enjoying its fragrance, we express our trust in God that He will purify our hearts and enable us to carry the fragrance of His Presence in our lives and to spread it wherever He takes us. Amen!

But thanks be to God, who in Messiah always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

 

May we be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

May we be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9-12)

 

~Keren Hannah Pryor

Footnotes:

1. Nogah Hareuveni, Nature in our Biblical Heritage, Neot Kedumim, Israel, 1981; 115

Blue Man

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Behold The Trees – read by Keren
11th Hebrew month – SHEVAT and the blessings of Trees

A SIMPLE TU’BE’SHEVAT SEDER TO ENJOY!

A SIMPLE TU’BE’SHEVAT SEDER 

 

A note to the participant:

In ancient Israel, the 15th of Shevat — in Hebrew, Tu B’Shevat — was the day on which agricultural taxes were levied Crops and fruit grown before this date would be taxed for that year and those grown thereafter would be taxed the following year. 

After the Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE, Jews scattered across the globe yearned to link themselves in meaningful and spiritual ways to their lost homeland.

Celebrating fruits and nuts that grew in Eretz Yisrael, particularly the Seven Species, served for many centuries as a physical connection to the land.

It is easy to understand how this age-old celebration of the trees has become, today, a time for planting new trees in Israel.

THE SEDER

1. Light Candles with the Blessing

As these candles give light and warmth to all who see them, so may we — by the lives that we live — give light and warmth to all who see us.

2. First Cup — White

 

Say blessing: 

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech HaOlam, Borei Pri Hagaffen. Amen.Blessed are you O Lord, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Amen 

 

As in a Pesach Seder, here too we drink four cups of wine or juice. On Tu B’Shevat, however, we begin with a cup whose contents are white, reminding us of the snows of winter.

With each additional cup, we will add more and more color. As the color grows deeper and richer, we will be reminded that although nature is now asleep, it will awaken in the spring and return to us the beauty and the gifts for which we give thanks.

3. Eat Grains 

(Remembering the first two of the Seven Species – wheat and barley)

Say ‘HaMotzi’ blessing [after handwashing] 

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech HaOlam, Ha’motzt lechem mon ha’aretz.. Amen.

Blessed are you O Lord, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen 

Now eat some form of bread/grains. E.g., challah, different breads, crackers

Dips and cheese can be provided to accompany the grains.

4. Second Cup — Pink

In early Spring, the earth becomes warmer. The snow melts, and the ground begins to thaw.

We add a little red to our white cup as the earth changes its winter clothing, and spring flowers begin to appear. 

We praise You, God, Creator of the universe, who causes juicy grapes to grow.

  Say blessing: 

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech HaOlam, Borei Pri Hagaffen. Amen.

Blessed are you O Lord, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Amen 

Drink Second Cup

 

5. Fruits of Israel and the Earth

Three kinds of fruit grow:  Fruit with shells, fruit with pits, and those fruits we can entirely eat.

(i) Israeli fruit with shells, or rind, from the Seven Species are pomegranates; also included are nuts, oranges, grapefruit and etrogim.

We know that God is present in all Creation; but like the outer shell which hides the sweet fruit inside, sometimes it can be difficult for us to see God in our world. Fruit with shells remind us that there is sweetness in everything, including people, even if it is hidden.

 

 

Say blessing for fruit: 

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech HaOlam, Borei Pri Ha’etz. Amen.

Blessed are you O Lord, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the tree. Amen 

Eat one or two different fruit with shells.

(ii) Israeli fruit with pits from the Seven Species are dates and olives; also included are apricots, peaches and plums.

Fruit with pits are sweet and delicious on the outside, because of the strong, nurturing seed which hides deep within. 

We too are like the pitted fruit — our lives are filled with happiness and creative spirit, but inside, we must keep our bodies healthy, so they can give us strength and energy.

Say blessing for fruit: 

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech HaOlam, Borei Pri Ha’etz. Amen.

Blessed are you O Lord, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the tree. Amen 

Eat one or two different fruit with pits.

6. Third Cup — Light Red

As early spring becomes late spring, the first fruits of Israel are ripening. Strawberries, melons and apricots are picked, while red flowers blanket the now-warmed earth.

Our third cup contains more red than white. As spring moves to summer, the ground is soft and the farmer plants seeds. Water, sunshine, and time will work in harmony to create new life. 

We praise You, God, Creator of the universe, who causes juicy grapes to grow.

    Say blessing: 

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech HaOlam, Borei Pri Hagaffen. Amen.

Blessed are you O Lord, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Amen 

Drink Third Cup 

7. Fruits of Israel and the Earth

Israeli fruit from the Seven Species we can entirely eat are figs and grapes, also included are strawberries and pears.

With fruit we can entirely eat, there is no shell to hide the sweetness. There is no pit concealed within. The entire fruit is for us to enjoy. 

May the time not be distant … when all the world will become like the fig or the grape, when it will be completely filled with the sweetness of human kindness, and its blessings will truly be available for all to enjoy.

 Say blessing: 

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech HaOlam, Borei Pri Ha’etz. Amen.

Blessed are you O Lord, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the tree. Amen 

Enjoy a few of these fruit.

8. Fourth Cup — Dark Red

Summer arrives, and with it, the full color of an entire world in bloom!

Our fourth cup is completely red, reminding us of the deep, rich beauty of the world God created and has given to us to care for. 

For blossoming flowers, for leaf-covered trees, and fields that are covered with crops which will become the food on our tables — we praise You, God, Creator of the universe, who causes juicy grapes — and all Creation! — to grow.

 Say blessing: 

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech HaOlam, Borei Pri Hagaffen. Amen.

Blessed are you O Lord, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Amen 

Drink Fourth Cup

 

If a further dish is to be enjoyed, serve now… or finish with giving thanks!

9. Final thoughts and Giving Thanks

Fueled by a million man-made wings of fire —
The rocket tore a tunnel through the sky —
And everyone cheered. 

Fueled only by a thought from God —
The seedling urged its way through the thickness of black.
And as it pierced the heavy ceiling of the soil —
Up into outer space —
No one even clapped.

In the Talmud, a story is told of Honi, who once saw an old man planting a carob tree. Honi asked him how long it would take the tree to bear fruit. The man answered, “Seventy years.” Honi then said to him, “Are you certain you will live another seventy years?”

The man said to Honi, “As my ancestors planted for me, I will plant for my children.” 

As there are hope and life when we enter this world, there will be hope and life when we leave it.

May it be your will, O God, that all earth’s trees be filled with beautiful buds and blossoms.

May they be renewed each year, to grow and to give the fruits of sweetness and goodness.

May we all take good care of Your world.

So we can share and enjoy the fruit of Your earth.

And may we each do what we can to secure our children’s future — especially including, on Tu B’Shevat, the planting of new trees — a gift from us, to the children of the future.

[Add your personal thanks and blessings!]

~ Keren Hannah

Keep Climbing! FB LIVE – SHEVAT (11th Hebrew Month)

SHEVAT

RELATIONSHIP  AND  TRANSFORMATION

Verse:

“A three-stranded cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4;12)

Quote:

“We are all addicted to the habits and behaviors in our lives. Whatever we do over and over becomes hardwired  in the brain and becomes our neural network – your default program – your automatic way of believing, thinking, feeling and acting.”                          

                                                                                ~ Wendyne Limber

RELATIONSHIP

During the month of Shevat our attention is drawn to different aspects of relationship. In accord with our verse for the month, at the Tu B’Shevat (15th Shevat)  Seder we celebrate the three-stranded cord of G-d, His Land and His people.

Another pattern of three we can consider, at this season of new life beginning to bud, is that of Redemption – personal, national, and universal. In the bigger picture of God’s plan of Redemption, each person’s personal salvation, and redemption from slavery into the Kingdom of God, widens into that of the nations and the universe.

We see this pattern reflected in the three central themes of the Tu B’Shevat Seder:

  1. Giving thanks and praise to God for His creation of the trees and fruit, with a special      focus on the Seven Species grown in Israel. 
  1. Recalling our beginning in the Garden of Eden, with the Tree of Life in the  center, and the relationship we enjoyed there with our Father, and… 
  1. Creating greater awareness of our task of restoring the ‘Garden’ and of how we can actively participate in God’s unfolding plan of Redemption by caring for our environment, both physically and spiritually.

We also focus on our three central relationships – with G-d, with ourself, and with others.

In every relationship, if it is to enjoy the depths for which it is designed in love and truth, the central cord of the three is G-d, who is the Source of both love and truth. A relationship is indeed like a three-legged stool. The “legs”, which enable it to stand strong,  are God, Love, and Truth. If any one of these is missing it becomes very shaky and, in fact, in its deepest essence, is unable to stand and endure for any length of time. This is true for the most intimate relationship of marriage, as well as those with our children, our siblings, and friends, and even our business colleagues.

A link for access to the Tu’B’Shvat Seder : https://his-israel.com/2014/02/27/a-tu-bshevat-seder/

GOD, SELF, OTHERS

A key element in our relationship with G-d, and subsequently within other relationships is faith.  Emunah, the Hebrew word generally translated as faith, does not have the same meaning as the English word faith. ‘Faith’ usually carries the meanings of belief, a set of principles, or a body of dogma. Rather, as illustrated in the lives of the patriarchs in Genesis, the Hebrew word emunah is mainly associated with faithfulness and relationship. It includes loyalty, commitment, trust, and acting with integrity – which all are part of the concept of covenant in relationship.

From the very beginning, in the book of Genesis, the central element highlighted is marriage, and the holiness of sex in the context of marriage. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his commentary ‘Covenant and Conversation,’  explains how it is marriage that:

 “…comes closest to the deep resonances of the biblical idea of covenant. A covenant is a mutual act of commitment in which two persons, honoring their differences, each respecting the dignity of the other, come together in a bond of love to join their destinies and chart a future together. When the prophets want to speak of a covenantal relationship between God and His people, they constantly use the metaphor of marriage.” 

As I see it, the major difference between the God of Abraham and other worldly gods – whether they be the Greek gods, Allah, the pantheon of Hindu gods, or the secular god of Self, is that He is a God of truth, love and faithfulness. He does not impose His will upon us by force or violence, but gently pursues us and draws us to Himself. He woos us by His Spirit of holiness. Why? because His heart desires a relationship of love and trust; not one of fear, domination, and subservience. This surely is a shining example for us in connection with our own relationships.

SHADOW SELF – Positive or Negative?

The most important relationship we have, after that with God, is that with ourselves. Why? Because the more we are rightly related and in tune with our souls, our deepest true Self, the more genuinely and intimately we will be able to relate and interact, in love and in truth, with others. What hinders us from walking fully in the light of who we truly are and were created to be – a radiant soul – has been termed by some as our “Shadow Self.”  We also have considered an aspect of this, in Hebrew, as the Yetzer HaRa, or Evil Inclination, in contrast to our Yetzer HaTov, or Good Inclination, which is our positive pro-active side in harmony with the will of God, as opposed to our negative reactive side, that constantly reacts to situations in ways that are against God’s will for good.  

Usually the negatively reactive, ‘Shadow Self’ carries some form of shame and low self worth. It represents any parts that we may dislike about ourselves, that usually are connected to feelings of pain, fear, and shame that we have buried and  disowned. Painful emotions we have repressed, that now are buried in our subconscious and, as a result, in the core of our being we may feel unlovable. The illusion is that if we keep parts of ourselves hidden we will be loved. The Shadow Self is viewed as a saboteur who may expose our imperfections and get us in trouble or ruin our relationships. 

It begins in childhood, when we so desperately want our parents to love us and be proud of us; so, anything that displeases them is hidden and repressed. Little children need the  love, protection, approval, touch, and security of parents; who, essentially, represent God’s presence in the relationship. As a growing child experiences the many traumas possible in being human, the negative Shadow Self grows. And, as its hallmark is fear and shame, it keeps hidden very well. Shame tells you that you are not worthy, something is wrong with you, you are not as good as other people. It inflicts a sense of guilt.

So…what can be done to transform one’s Shadow Self from negative to positive? One must be willing, in faith and trust in the power and light of God’s Spirit of Holiness, to look inward, discover and befriend, and forgive this part of the Self. In so doing healing begins and hidden fear and shame are released. It also is a great blessing to have a loving friend or trusted mentor with whom to share this inner journey of discovery and transformation.  And to remember the truth:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua. 

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”   (Romans 8:1-2)

Considering both relationship and our quest for transformation, photographer and writer Raynna Meyers, one of our precious fellow-climbers, expressed on her blog: 

“ The most challenging place for fears to become uncovered for me has been in the most intimate relationship of my life, with my husband. It is not fear of him that I’m speaking of, it’s fears about me – my questions, and doubts abut myself and the baggage I carry, that speaks the loudest. In the most camouflaged ways.

It is the truest place I am learning faithfulness. It is the place I am learning covenant language, and it continues to wake and resuscitate me in the process. Because, what can be brought to life but that which is dead? Not the death that destroys, but rather the seeds that fall to the ground “dead’ – equipped-and-designed-for-their-purpose-which-is-to-die-in-order-to-live “dead”. That’s us.

These words and ideas can be scary and bring confusion or conflict to our souls. They do mine, until I am reminded abut resurrection again.”

The hope of resurrection brings contentment, a place where we do not have to try to control everything. We do not have to hold on so tight in our fears, we get to dance with hope. …

If we’re going to give a faithful fight, for life, and love, and all that is truly dear, let us turn our eyes and hands and feet toward a world that will one day be made new, understanding we have a place in that healing — today, here, now.

Love, real love, raucous as it is, is at the core a humble thing that gives of itself. Love denies itself rights and entitlements because that’s what Love incarnate did.

Love enters another’s world, with humility and vulnerability.”

A link to full article: Faithful Fight https://www.raynnamyers.com

TRANSFORMATION

In the light of understanding the “Shadow Self’ we may further consider that any transformation, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, begins with knowledge, intention, and commitment. 

Initially, one needs to gain knowledge of what exactly needs attention in order to bring about change and effect transformation. In this life, no matter how deeply we may long to, not many people can claim to have reached perfect holiness and wholeness. That, in actuality however, is the aim we are working towards – to learn and grow and to become, as far as we are able, the person our Father G-d created us to be. 

However, being human, as well as having inherent strengths, we also are beset by certain weaknesses, both elements being unique to each individual. The challenge we face is to gain knowledge of, to recognize, our particular strengths and weaknesses. Then, as a result, we can utilize and build up our strengths and we can intentionally commit to bring healing and transformation to our weaknesses. Of course, there are any number of ‘weaknesses’ – some minor, some major. 

Key factors to remember when we set out to tackle these and bring about their transformation are: 

  1. We must not feel condemned or ashamed at the weakness and, as a result, avoid facing it. The enemy of our souls is the accuser who brings negative judgment and condemnation. (Romans 8:1) The Spirit of G-d is 100% behind us to help us accomplish any righteous decision we make. 

2.  We need to face and express our deepest emotions. Usually a weakness or addiction, whether physical or emotional, is a result of inhibited feelings and emotions. Negative behavior patterns are formed, as we saw with the ‘Shadow Self,’ in order to survive childhood or other life traumas. These negative patterns serve to repress the pain and overwhelming feelings of powerlessness; but they do remain part of one’s psyche and behavior until they are recognized, expressed, and released.

Relatively minor traits, such as procrastination, laziness, clutter, with the correct intention , a plan of action, and commitment, can be recognized, addressed, and transformed fairly easily. More serious behavior patterns, such as co-dependancy – which at root is a dysfunctional relationship with oneself and can include victimization, anxiety in relationships, and trying to “fix” others; or substance or medication abuse, eating disorders, love or sex addiction, work addiction, compulsive gambling, or even exercising, Internet or shopping addiction, etc., etc., need deeper understanding and stronger intention and commitment. 

As we have mentioned before in the “Keep Climbing!” Series: “Every problem is mental, every solution is spiritual.” Negative patterns of thought and behavior are hardwired in the brain. They are a state of mind. Sadly, they are obstacles that hinder us in partnering with G-d to co-create and to fulfil, to our utmost, the reason He has for giving us our life here on earth. Paradoxically, these “addictions” usually are an attempt to fill a spiritual void and yet they actively obstruct our aims for achieving wholeness,  for feeling the true depths of love, and for achieving a deeper sense of peace and unity with others, with humankind as a whole, and with G-d Himself. 

When we realize the great importance of recognising, understanding, and intentionally committing to work with G-d in bringing transformation in any area of weakness we begin to experience a sense of relief, release, and freedom. As we are willing to open up any “dark places” in our subconscious Shadow Self to the Spirit of Holiness, G-d’s healing light shines in. He is more than able, as we co-operate with Him, to heal, “rewire,” restore, and raise us up to be the extra-ordinary person He created each of us to be. We are assured: 

“…after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Messiah, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. “ (1 Peter 5:10)  

Rather than turning away from His light, and allowing our Shadow Self to remain trapped and hidden in the darkness of lies and shame, we can choose to turn and reach out to our Abba Father, allowing His truth and love to flood into our deepest hearts. Then we can, as the movie title describes, ‘Cast a Giant Shadow’- one that is positive and a reflection of our true Self. We can stand tall and shine His light and truth into the world – for His glory!

~ Keren Hannah

GENESIS – A Bird’s Eye View

GENESIS – In the Beginning

More and more people are beginning to understand the value of the regular study of the weekly Torah portion. Many older folk have said to me “Isn’t it too late for me to begin now?” My response is: “Better late than never!” That, also, is my response to learning Hebrew and exploring the Hebraic heritage. Why? In each case every effort you invest is rewarded many times over. 

In ‘A Bird’s Eye View,’ we examine an overview of each book as a whole, in order to lay a foundation for the study of the weekly portion. We will examine important themes and highlight  topics and aspects to look out for as you go through the book. It helps to see the bigger picture!

My hope, too, is that we approach the study of God’s Word with love, as a form of worship of Him. It’s how we read it that causes it to become a Torah of love. When we read it with an expectancy, with an ear to hear, we begin to identify God’s voice speaking to us as a loving Father longing to make His love and will known. We realize how relevant and applicable His Word is to what is happening in the world and in our personal lives.

So, let’s begin at the beginning, with the amazing book of GENESIS.

The Hebrew name of the book  of Genesis is the first word of the Bible – Breisheet, which means 

In the beginning…

The first seven chapters of the book are devoted to God’s creation of the universe. This includes the earth with all its vegetation, fish, birds and animals, which He declared to be good. All this was  crowned with the creation of man and woman in His image, to whom, unlike the animals, He gave the freedom of choice and moral responsibility. We then find the account of their fall from the Garden of Eden, and the first generation. Chapters 8 and 9 describe how God made a covenant with Noah and all mankind; chapters 10 and 11 contain the infamous story of the Tower of Babel and the genealogies of the sons of Noah.

The remainder of the book, from chapter 12, where God calls Abraham, to chapter 50, that tells of  the death of Joseph in Egypt, is the story of a family chosen by God to be His kingdom of priests and holy nation.  They would become the people through whom He would bring about the Redemption of all mankind.

The remaining 4 books of the Torah, from Exodus to Deuteronomy are about the further revelation of God, the proclamation of His Kingdom, and the revelation of His plan for this Redemption of the fallen world. 

Looking at the big picture of Genesis, it is clear that the account of the Creation of the natural world is not the main issue. It is rather an expansion of the concept of covenant and of sanctified and loving relationships.

We know that God is the God of all mankind, so what is so special about the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel and their descendants, the twelve tribes of Israel? They did not perform great miracles like Moses; they did not deliver great prophecies like Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other biblical prophets. They did not rule in Israel like David and Solomon. What we can derive from the text is the central reality of the eternal covenants God established with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

  1. They would have many descendants. )15:5; 17:1-8( 
  1. They would inherit the land of Canaan, the land God chose for Himself, to place His Name there, and promised to them as an eternal inheritance. As God promises Jacob, “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you.”  (35:12)

The vital connection between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel is set and confirmed three times in this the foundation of His Word.

 FAITH AND LIFE

Is there anything else of importance we can learn from the family of God in Genesis?

Yes! There are significant lessons of faith and life we can learn from the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their families. For example, the great themes of sibling rivalry, of God’s direction and provision, of faith and prayer, justice and morality.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his commentary on the parashah, Vayashev, in Covenant & Conversation, 5777, points out that we also discover a continuing theme of the comparison between the people of the Abrahamic covenant and their pagan neighbors. It is not primarily about idolatry, but rather about adultery, promiscuity, rape, and sexually motivated violence. 

This factor, he says, gives us an entirely new way of thinking about the Abrahamic faith. Emunah, the Hebrew word generally translated as faith, does not have the same meaning as the English word faith. ‘Faith’ usually carries the meanings of belief, a set of principles, or a body of dogma. Rather, as illustrated in the lives of the patriarchs in Genesis, the Hebrew word emunah is mainly associated with faithfulness and relationship. It includes loyalty, commitment, trust, and acting with integrity. 

The central element highlighted in Genesis is marriage, and the holiness of sex in the context of marriage. Rabbi Sacks explains how it is marriage that:

 “…comes closest to the deep resonances of the biblical idea of covenant. A covenant is a mutual act of commitment in which two persons, honoring their differences, each respecting the dignity of the other, come together in a bond of love to join their destinies and chart a future together. When the prophets want to speak of a covenantal relationship between God and His people, they constantly use the metaphor of marriage.” 

As I see it, the major difference between the God of Abraham and other worldly gods – whether they be the Greek gods, Allah, the pantheon of Hindu gods, or the secular god of Self, is that He is a God of truth, love and faithfulness. He does not impose His will upon us by force or violence, but gently pursues us and draws us to Himself. He woos us by His Spirit of holiness. Why? because His heart desires a relationship of love and trust; not one of fear, domination, and subservience. 

For those in relationship with the God of Israel, our Father in Heaven, idolatry – the “putting first” or worship of anything other than God Himself – is a form of adultery, a breaking of the covenant of love and commitment. When the foundational truths of the Covenant revealed in His Word are disregarded, so is moral self restraint. Man’s physical and intellectual strength and power are worshipped instead, which always results in excesses, violence and abuse. This can apply in the context of a family or community, or on a wider national and international scale.

Genesis reminds us that faithfulness to God, and faithfulness to one another, means love, loyalty, and commitment to His revelation and vision as presented to us in His Word and demonstrated to us by Messiah Yeshua. This faithfulness then results, as we see in the lives of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in our participation with God in His unfolding plan of Redemption for all mankind. 

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

EXODUS / SHEMOT  – A Bird’s Eye View

Let us take a quick look back – the book of GENESIS described the beginning of Creation, the account of Adam and Eve and their exile from the Garden of Eden and the Presence of God. The biblical narrative then followed the generations, through until Noah. Then, from Abraham and Sarah, the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs were predominant. Genesis records God’s dealings with individuals and a family. Now, in EXODUS, a larger shift takes place and we read about God’s dealings  with a people; a nation. 

The book begins with the description of the slavery of the people of Israel.  The family of Jacob has multiplied exceedingly during their exile in Egypt and have grown to be a people. We realize that this, in fact,  is the reason they were enslaved. A new Pharaoh, who had not known Joseph and Jacob, pronounced, “Behold, the people of Israel are too numerous and strong for us!” (1:9)  He feared their growth and strength and the oppression and subjugation began. 

The account then proceeds with God’s intervention in effecting their salvation from the bitter bondage through His mighty outstretched arm and great miracles.

The one who now steps into the spotlight of this great biblical narrative is Moses; whom God calls to lead His people out of Egypt. 

What is the ultimate purpose of the Exodus? Is it simply to set the slaves free to go their own way and do as they please? No, we are told in chapter 4, verse 22:

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”

And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped. (4: 31)

“I WILL”

In chapter 6, verses 6-8, we find seven “I wills”  promised by God. The number seven in Scripture always carries the meaning of completion and perfection. God says:

 I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, 

and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 

I will take you to be My people, 

and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 

I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 

I will give it to you for a possession. 

I am the Lord.’”

 

WHY THE DELIVERANCE?

What is the reason we may deduce for the deliverance of HIs people?

The purpose is Relationship on two levels. One between a King-Redeemer and His people and the other between a Loving Father and His children.

The slaves, who only knew a Ruler as a cruel tyrant, now needed to learn the reality of God as a just, faithful King. Even further, to know Him as a Father and come to understand and to experience His  love. In this spacious and generous love they would come to find peace, healing, and rest; and, in addition, the truth that His children do not need to struggle to earn His love, nor fear to lose it, for nothing can separate us from His love. 

Our hearts were created for love, to receive it and to give it; to respond to His abundant and unconditional love with hearts filled with love, and worship. Worship is simply loving Him back – as totally and completely as we can! It’s from hearts of gratitude and love for Him that all true acts of goodness flow. 

Verse 3, in chapter 19, tells us: “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.”

God doesn’t only set us free from whatever bondage we were in, He wants us to soar like eagles – to reach spiritual heights far above the level of the world and not to stay waddling around on the ground like turkeys! That’s one of the reasons that He tells us, in effect, 

“Always remember Yetziat Mitzraim – the Exodus from Egypt, that once you were slaves and weighed down in bondage but now you are set free to soar like an eagle!”

THE WILDERNESS AND MORE MIRACLES

 With God’s great miracles, the Israelites are redeemed and the long journey through the wilderness begins. In a deeper spiritual sense, it is a search for Truth and the way back from the universal exile to the Garden and God’s Presence. It is a return to the place of intimate relationship where one can walk and talk with Him again – and also to learn and grow into the fulness of who He created each one to be.

The physical contrast between the wilderness and the Garden of Eden is stark.

The Garden of Eden was a beautiful setting for [man] this beloved creation of God. It was a place traversed by flowing, sparkling waters and filled with lush foliage and flora of dazzling color – pleasing to all the senses. …Man and beast lived in tranquil unity and the Spirit of God permeated the entire expanse. It was ideal. It was paradise.

The desert wilderness…appears as the very antithesis of the Garden of Eden. All its elements seem in opposition to man.It is desolate, seemingly empty and barren of life.  The desert in which the Israelites find themselves is described as , “a great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty ground where there was no water. (Deuteronomy 8:15)

~ A Taste of Torah, Keren Hannah Pryor, 165

And yet, the wilderness is the place of Revelation where God chooses to give the revelation of Himself and His Kingdom; and there, too, He presents His gift to them of His Word – His Torah, or the teachings of how to live in His Kingdom.

We saw in Genesis how God met with Adam and Eve – a couple, two individuals, in the Garden; then how He met and spoke with individuals, for example: Cain, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Jacob. Now, for the first time, He is coming down to meet with a whole people – the people He has chosen to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  It is another new beginning; stemming from the lowest place a person can sink – a slave with no recognized personal identity and no right to speak and act for oneself. The precious gift of “free will,” specifically given by God to human beings, had been removed by man. 

Now, the Israelites have been set free but we learn that the transition and transformation from an oppressed and enslaved people to a holy, kingdom of priests serving a loving God is not instantaneous, nor is it smooth – there is a lot of murmuring and complaining! However, with God’s help, it is sure and progressive, which is a great encouragement to each of us on our own spiritual journey.

The two major themes found in Exodus:  REDEMPTION and REVELATION.

REDEMPTION

By His great salvation and redemption of the Israelites out of Egypt, God proved He was the Master of the world and could accomplish anything, even outside HIs own established, natural order. The people of Israel were too weak and helpless to stand up and fight for themselves. Pharaoh, in similar manner to the great Caesars and dictatorial rulers throughout history, exalted himself as a god. To stand against the pride and arrogance of Pharaoh, God chose Moses, who is described as “…the most humble man who ever lived.”

It was a battle of wills between Pharaoh and God, and God demonstrated His power to effect salvation through the supernatural miracles of the plagues and the parting of the Reed Sea. However, in the continuing story of the Exodus, God wanted to convey to His people that true Redemption is not about what He can do. Miracles don’t last! For example, consider the manna in the wilderness. This was an amazing miracle – bread falling from the sky to feed you every day. As time went on, however, it was taken for granted and some people even complained that it was boring! 

God offers Salvation as a free and miraculous gift but, as the Israelites needed to learn, full Redemption is not passive. It requires our participation and effort – our working with God in the context of a personal and intimate relationship with Him. And, even if the situation is not resolved immediately, you know you are progressing towards it and, with His help, you can persevere and keep going. We can apply this concept on a personal level, and even on a national level, but God’s Full and Final Redemption will happen on a universal level. The overarching idea to grasp and understand is that our loving relationship with Him, and our partnering with God in the work He is doing, are both needed for the unfolding of His plan of Redemption.

God did not miraculously clear the promised land of the enemies and then supernaturally transport the people of Israel from Egypt to the Land and plant them there. No! They had to learn of Him, grow in His ways, outgrow their slave mentality and, in faith and faithfulness, press on towards the goal themselves. That’s how full Redemption comes. We do our part with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and then God does His part. Even in Egypt, the Israelites needed to act in obedience to God’s instructions through Moses. They had to choose a lamb, slaughter it, and dab its blood on their doorposts. Then, on a specific night, they had to cook and eat it and be prepared to travel. They didn’t understand why, or know how God was going to do it, but they acted and then, in accord, He acted.

The world is in chaos right now. People are being enslaved by hatred and terrorism. And also by worldly excess on one hand, and extreme poverty on the other. God’s people should be crying and interceding – crying out in prayer to God for Israel and for His purposes and plan of Redemption to go forward. There can be no order and balance and true harmony without God’s peace and Presence. Baruch HaShem – Bless His Name, we still see evidence of it where Truth and Love are in operation. We can rejoice in knowing that He loves us and strengthens us to keep caring and growing and building and allowing the light of His Truth – of His Word and Mashiach, Messiah, to shine and break through where there is darkness in the world.

REVELATION

The important element God was providing HIs people with at Sinai was VISION.

A vision of Himself – not as a hard, unforgiving judge but as a faithful, loving Father.

A vision for themselves – not as slaves, bound, helpless, worthless, but as beloved children, holy partners with God in His Kingdom.

A vision of the Land He promised – that, although now distant and difficult to inhabit, would one day become again the Garden of Eden.

When we receive and understand this vision from God as two-fold – initially for our personal lives and also as a vision for His wider Kingdom and universal purposes – then this vision becomes our spirit’s home and we can grow in every way, spiritually and physically, in peace and joy.

 Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps God’s law,
happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18)

Without the greater vision of God our spiritual “homes” can become limiting prisons of negative thoughts and frustrated emotions. We end up, as the Israelites often did – losing faith, not trusting God with gratitude, but simply murmuring and complaining.

When faced with the inevitable challenges and disappointments of life, we can ask ourselves the tough questions, for example “Why is it so hard?” “Why am I not there yet?” “Why don’t I understand God’s ways?” We can find an answer at Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush! 

God says to him: “FIRST remove your sandals (na’alaim in Hebrew) from your feet (reglaiim).”
The Hebrew words can also be read: First remove the na’alim (locks) from your regalim (habits).

Unlock yourself from the negative habits that chain you down and limit you. Then you can walk in My ways and worship me more fully.

Our Abba Father tells us: “You were created to be beautiful, in a beautiful setting, enjoying great beauty!” But, because this is a broken world that needs tikkun – repair, we are not seeing the fullness of that yet. Thankfully, by His grace, we do get tastes and glimpses of that beauty; however, we need to keep the central vision alive in our souls and know that the full and final Redemption will come to pass at its appointed time. Messiah will return to Jerusalem as Mashiach ben David to establish and rule as King over His Father’s Kingdom.

We need to keep the eternal perspective, the bird’s eye view, of Redemption and hold onto the vision of the World to Come – Olam HaBa. At the same time, however, to quote Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest:

“We look for visions and …the thunder of God’s power, and all the time He is in the commonplace things and people around us!” 

It is our “hands on” task on this earth, to participate in tikkun olam – the healing of the world, in every little thing that our Father gives into our hands to do. The whole world is in exile from the Garden of God and our constant aim and effort must be working with Him towards the full and final Redemption. The way to do that is always in the everyday little things done in love for His glory.

~ Keren Hannah

Artwork: Yoram Raanan, Israel

Keep Climbing! LIVE – TEVET (10th Hebrew Month)

TEVET

JUDGMENT  AND  DARKNESS

Verse:

For the commandment [mitzvah] is a lamp and the teaching [Torah] a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.

~  Proverbs 6:23

Quote:

There always were two ways to live in a world that is often dark and full of tears. We can curse the darkness or we can light a light.   

~ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The wisdom of Proverbs 6:23 is connected with the well known verse of Psalm 119:105, “Your Word [Torah – teaching] is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”The context of the verse from Proverbs is a warning against the seductive, tempting call of the ‘adulteress’ that will attempt to lure the unsuspecting into her web of darkness. The Sages of Israel compare this to the call of the nations of the world, enticing Israel to turn away from their God and His path and to join with their belief systems and cultures.
God spoke through the words of Balaam, the prophet from the nations who instead of cursing Israel as he intended spoke blessing:
“Behold [Israel] is a people that dwells alone; and shall not reckon itself among the nations.”  (Numbers 23:9)

This truth is greatly highlighted in the Festival of Hanukkah. Words that share the same root as Hanukkah are ‘dedication,’ as in chanukat bayit – the dedication of a house to the presence of God, and chinuch – education or learning. At the time of the Maccabees – the small band of Jewish hero-priests that overcame the then greatest army on earth, that of the Greek empire – Israel was facing the great temptation of Hellenism. After the occupation of Israel, the emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes, had defiled the Temple in Jerusalem and set up a giant statue of Zeus in the Holy Place. Antiochus also ruled that any obedience to the central commandments of God’s Word, such as circumcision, the observance of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, and the teaching of Torah, was forbidden on pain of death. The alternative message of Hellenism was the beauty and strength of the physical body, the capriciousness of the distant gods, and the grandeur of man’s philosophical thought. 

Many Jews succumbed to the seduction, but the call of the Maccabees was two-fold: 1.  Mi l’HaShem alai!” which echoed the cry of Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf – “Whoever is for HaShem, the God of Israel, come and stand with me.” And 2 – the acrostic for the name Maccabee, Mi Camocha B’elim Adonai? “Who is like Thee among the gods, YHVH, O Lord?” (Exodus 15:11). Those who would resist the temptation of the “gold” of the world and would exalt and cleave to the God of Israel would together become a force that would miraculously overcome the impossible natural odds and enable the victory of light over darkness. 

MIRACLES

One of the blessings we recite when lighting the Hanukkah candles is:
“Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who wrought miracles for our forefathers in those days at this season.” 

The hidden and obvious miracles and wonders of God are always at work. Passover reveals how the supernatural and public miracles of God brought redemption and deliverance for His people. With the miracles of Hanukkah, He remains ‘hidden’ and  requires the participation of those whose unwavering faith was in Him and who were determined to fight against the enemies of God and Israel. 

Even while the Maccabees, a family of priests, rose up against the impossible odds of the world’s strongest army they knew that victory could only come through the help and power of God on their behalf. They saw that where they were weak He was strong. They refused to see the negatives stacked up against them and persevered in faith, for Kiddush HaShem – the sanctification of the Name of God.  Just as the poet-warrior, King David, when he was victorious over his enemies, proclaimed: “YOU have girded me with strength for the battle; You have subdued my adversaries beneath me” (Psalm 18:40).

While recognzing the miracle of the military victory, the main focus of Hanukkah is the miracle of the oil, which occurred in the hidden-from-public sanctuary of the Holy Place and was witnessed  by the faithful warrior-priests themselves.

LIGHT AND DARKNESS

It is interesting to note that Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the start of this the darkest of months,  always falls during the final days of Hanukkah. The name Tevet shares a root with ha’Tavat ha’Nerot – the preparation of the candles, and with the word tov – good!  The commentary Sfat Emet (The Language of Truth) says: “HaShem prepared the cure before the illness, so that the kindling of the Hanukkah lights will illuminate not only the eight days of Hanukkah but also all the darker days of Tevet.” The meaning of the Hanukkah candles lies in our “seeing” their light.

Another important “seeing” occurred in Tevet. During times when the world seems to be submerged in a flood of darkness and evil, the story of Noah reminds us that it was “…in the the tenth month, on the first day of the month (Rosh Chodesh Tevet), the tops of the mountains became visible” (Genesis 8:5). Hope was restored. Together with God’s covenant promise in the shining colors of the rainbow, a brighter future was in sight. Darkness and lies must give way to the power of light and truth. The lights of Hanukkah convey the message of the eternal glory of God, the victory of redemption, the remembrance of Olam HaBa, the eternal World to Come, and the heights of joy.  Today we have the assurance of the promise that God is “watching over His word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12). We can keep our eyes on the “mountain top” and keep climbing!

GOOD AND EVIL – TOV VE’RAH

Other pairs of opposites that correspond to light and darkness are Ayin haTov ve’Ayin ha’Rah – the good eye and the evil eye, and Yetzer ha’Tov ve’Yetzer Ha’Rah – the good and evil inclinations. These concepts also tie in with our focus of the month on Judgment. How we see and perceive something will affect the judgment we make in connection with it. We can view it with an ayin tovah, a good and positive eye, or with an ayin rah, a bad and negative eye. Two people can interpret a situation in totally opposite ways. 

“Two men looked through prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars.”

The hope inherent in the month, however, is that transformation can take place. In the light and power of God, blind eyes can be opened, prisoners can be set free, and hearts of stone can become hearts of flesh.  Negative vision can be healed and transformed. Good can triumph over evil. Another Torah commentary, Ohr Yitzchak, The Light of Isaac, points out that the only body parts that can be adversely affected by a grain of sand are the eyes. The eyes are the windows of the soul. Our God-breathed soul is so pure and holy that, unless it has been totally numbed, it suffers pain and distress from the slightest interference of evil from the material world.

This understanding affects how we see and judge ourselves and others. How we see things and the judgments we make as a result, are influenced by our Good and Evil inclinations. We all have these and a constant tug-of-war goes on in our minds between the two. The yetzer ha’rah, evil inclination, can be summed up in one word – Ego – or selfishness. The yetzer ha’tov, good inclination, is expressed in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The sage Hillel captures the nuances of this well in his teaching: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself what am I?” (Pirkei Avot). Our good intentions towards others must be based on a healthy self-esteem, which does not result in pride, but is acquired only through genuine humility. 

JUDGMENT 

JUDGMENT  IN  BALANCE

         Lack of compassion <————  Judgment —————>   Excess of sentiment

              No mercy                                Fairness                                 No wisdom

               Cruelty                                      Love                                     Foolishness

The large or small decisions we make every day are based on our judgment and analysis of each situation we face. Humans are the only created beings that can, to some extent, anticipate the results of our actions and foresee possible consequences. Therefore we are responsible for the consequences of our actions; whether voluntary or involuntary, deliberate or inadvertent. We are called to be responsible, as far as is possible, for what we do now that will affect what will happen later. An important factor involved is our grasp of the reality of Olam Ha’Zeh, this world, and Olam HaBa, the world to come. 

Do we understand that our actions here, in this physical, material world, based on our thoughts and inclinations, affect what happens in the spiritual, eternal World to Come?

Central to this understanding is our relationship with, and judgment of, other people. Everything taught to us in the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, as Yeshua clarified, has the basic premise of, firstly, to love our Father in Heaven and then to love those He places in our path. The latter is not in an abstract sense but in every day practical ways. Our personal, spiritual growth takes place in the context of how we relate to those close to us or with whom we are in some way connected. We should always be asking questions such as: How do I act so as not to cause harm to another? How can I fix things if I do cause damage? Do I always consider the other person’s point of view? 

Of course the question arises, “What if the other has deliberately done me harm?” 

It is very difficult to try and understand the perspective of an enemy, and to forgive any harm done. Interestingly, in line with the mercy and compassion of God, Mussar teacher Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler comments:

No one is held accountable for the evil to which he is accustomed to from birth and as a result of his environment, never having learned any better. In this respect he is: “A child taken captive and brought up among idolaters.” He will be held responsible only for that which he could have and should have learnt.

In our judgment of others, how are we able to discern that? Only God knows the heart and is the only one to make judgment on any person. In any relationship situation we can remember the first brothers. In the first sin against “loving your neighbor,” Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Rather than confessing and repenting of his sin of jealousy and murder, he was condemned to suffer the punishment he incurred. 

COMPETITION

Cain’s problem lay in viewing the sacrifices he and Abel made to God as a competition. Abel won and he lost. The dictionary describes competition as :
1. The act of competing, rivalry.
2. A contest in which a winner is selected from any two or more entrants. 

There is only one winner; one “first place.” Good parents or coaches may assure us: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” This carries some truth and can generate a sense of healthy and enjoyable competition. We soon discover, however, that in the material world that is rarely the case. The general worldly aim in the fields of sports, school, business, whatever, is to vanquish one’s rivals and come out “top of the heap!” This culturally inbred attitude of unhealthy competition can have a direct bearing on our judgment, both of ourselves and of others.

The lights of Hanukkah carry a different and precious truth. Jewish author, Shimon Apisdorf, describes it well:

To be a star, a brilliant source of light, you don’t have to be brighter than the other stars. To be good does not mean that you have to be better than anyone else. To be wise does not mean that you have to be the wisest of all people. To be kind does not mean that you have to be the kindest person anyone has ever met, and to be holy – to soar spiritually, does not mean that you have to be the holiest person of all.

Our Father sees each of His children as a beloved source of light. We need not evaluate our worth in term of anyone else’s light but our own. Happily, the more we learn to value ourselves the more we will value others.  As Apisdorf concludes: “In the realm of spirituality and true human accomplishment, there is no room for competition, yet there is room for a world full of winners.”

This is a world sparkling with a myriad shining little flames. Let us make it our business this Tevet to recognise and encourage the other precious lights around us.

~ Keren Hannah

Keep Climbing! LIVE – KISLEV (9th Hebrew Month)

 

KISLEV

UNITY  AND  VISION

Verse:   

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! 

           …For there the Lord has commanded the blessing; life forevermore.”        

~  Psalm 133:1; 3

Quote: 

“If one pursues honor it will elude him., but if one flees from honor, it will pursue him.” 

    ~ Talmud, Eruvin 13b

As a reminder, the focus of this Rosh Chodesh series “Keep Climbing!” Is the practice of Mussar. The word mussar in modern Hebrew is simply translated as ‘ethics.’ However, current Mussar teacher, Alan Morinis, in his book Everyday Holiness, describes it more fully as “…a way of life. It shines light on the causes of suffering and shows us how to realize our highest potential, including an everyday experience infused with happiness, trust, and love.”  The practice of Mussar is basically an introspective one, undertaken by an individual seeking for more meaning, depth and vision in life. However, an early master of the revival of Mussar during the 1800’s, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, perceived that it could in fact be a very unifying practice among the Jewish communities in Europe who were being torn apart physically, mentally, and spiritually by the conflicting social tensions at the time. For example, the oppression of the Czar, the attraction of communism and socialism, the materialistic thrust of the ‘Enlightenment,’ etc. Morinis explains how Salanter taught that what could reconnect the fabric of the people that was being ripped asunder was to learn, through Mussar, how to “…strengthen the final and most important bulwark for the defense of spiritual life: the solitary human heart [and soul].” 

The basis for the strengthening and reinforcing of true unity and one-ness is the need for a “pure heart” and a soul that is growing ever brighter in the expression of its inherent holiness. This awareness and strengthening of the heart and soul are just as important in our confusing and fractured world today! External circumstances and pressures may have changed but our essential, deepest beings remain the same.

UNITY – ECHAD – ONE-NESS

The base of unity, and achieving of one-ness, is the giving of honor and respect to the other. This respect is based on the recognition of the key factor that each of us, every person, is given life by the Source of Life –  our Creator and Father in Heaven. In fact, respecting one’s fellow man, and especially those with whom our lives are bound up with one way or another, is considered such a central Biblical ethic that the Sages say that when the twelve thousand pairs of students of Rabbi Akiva started dying in a plague, during the thirty-two days between Passover and Shavuot, it was because they did not show respect toward each other! (Yevamot 62b)

Lack of respect undermines and destroys the potential unity, and the peace and harmony, in every form of relationship. A chief cause of not showing respect or honor to another is a critical and judgmental spirit. I would hate to think I was guilty of this, but recently a clear case arose when I misjudged someone simply by their appearance. It was nothing more than a slight remark that he looked “a bit  odd.” Later I discovered he was, although admittedly ‘colorful’, the owner of a unique and successful business, with a wonderful family, and was extremely gifted and creative. What a lesson I learnt! Even a  seemingly light, passing remark, is in fact making a negative judgment and not showing respect for the other.

This negative, judgmental attitude is called in Hebrew ayin ra’ah, an evil eye. One with a ‘good eye’ – ayin tovah, is one who sees others kindly and is quick to give the benefit of the doubt. We will be exploring this trait more deeply next month, but I would like to point out, in this context, that a major component in harboring a critical spirit is the Ego! An unhealthy ego constantly craves honour and attention for itself. It therefore resents any honor given to another under the mistaken impression that it is detracting from the honor due to itself. It thus operates with a critical mindset and can resort to shaming others in order to elevate itself. 

To the contrary, the sage Ben Zoma, to the question, “Who is worthy of honor? answers, “The one who treats others with honor.” (Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers 4:1)

UNITY  IN  BALANCE

                    Division      <——————— Unity ———————>       Forced conformity 

                 Lack of respect           Harmony in relationships                   Stifling of self

                   Strife                                  One-ness                                Superficiality

 

SELF RESPECT

Last month we learned that we need to develop self-compassion before we can extend true, healthy compassion to others. Similarly, in the pursuit of unity, we need to develop a healthy self-respect before we truly can respect others. We need to know and believe that we each are: “A radiant soul deserving of honor!” Not because we have no imperfections, and are perfect saints. No! But because we are, each one, an amazingly unique being, lovingly created in the image of God, and we have, at our very essence, a soul of incomparable beauty and majesty. When we truly grasp that truth, and pursue the means of allowing that soul to more and more reflect the light and holiness of its Creator, then we gradually attain the one-ness of Echad,  not only with our Source, but also with the other beautiful souls He has placed in our lives. 

BUILDING UNITY

Building unity is both a state of awareness and of action. There are many, almost uncountable, ways we can show honor and respect to others. Alan Morinis stresses that unity is built “…when we look beneath the surface differences to see the shared ground upon which all beings stand.” Also, “…honoring others requires that we make an effort to elevate people in our eyes.” We can always begin with the smaller, seemingly insignificant actions such as greeting others with a friendly smile. In Pirkei Avot, the sages urge us to “…take the initiative  in greeting every person you meet” (4:20). 

In reality, extending honor and respect to others is a form of  chessed – loving-kindness. When Yeshua was asked which was the greatest commandment in the Torah, he quoted Leviticus 19:18, and said, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). Our attitude and actions towards others are a reflection of our attitude and actions towards God. 

The fundamental, essential bond of unity is the relationship between a person and God – to discover the ‘one-ness’ we can share with Him as our loving Father in Heaven. Next, is the unity within ourselves – to bring a wholeness and harmony between the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of our being; which is the aim of Mussar and is a daily, life-long endeavor. As the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, said: “Everything we do must be directed toward discovering the underlying unity within.” 

Finally, then, comes the unity with others and all of Creation.

UNITY AND VISION

Lack of unity brings chaos and confusion, which often results in pain and suffering. There is a natural inclination and longing within a person for unity – for connection, order, and meaning. Everything is created by the one God and when we seek we can find His fingerprints, as it were, in every person, creature, and object.

Unity, or the lack of it, is seen most clearly in human relationships but it is reflected in other areas as well. Simon Jacobson makes a great observation:

 “Life itself is really a search for unity. A scientist searches to discover the unifying laws that govern the seemingly diverse forces of nature. A psychologist tries to trace the myriad elements of external human behavior back to a few underlying needs in the human psyche. An engineer combines thousands of individual parts to form one machine. But all these forms of searching for unity are actually a means to a higher end: the search for G-d and the ultimate unity.”

Once we receive the vision and awareness that all of life is comprised of innumerable threads that can be woven into one beautiful tapestry that is a reflection of the Source of Life, we can understand how our every day, and every thought and action, is deeply meaningful. Gaining this perspective provides the motivation to deepen our awareness and to strengthen our faith – to aim higher, and to keep climbing!  To quote Simon Jacobson again: “Leading a unified life means leading a life of harmony; a life in which we have brought God into our every moment.”

Unity is not sameness. We may think that if everyone looked the same, and thought and acted the same, that would result in unity and harmony. Wrong! That error was proven by the Communist ideology, when outward sameness was enforced. Rather, true unity is the harmony within diversity. We see this reflected, for example, in a marriage. First you have the independent, single person. Then, two people meet – two distinctly different entities, a man and a woman – and form a duality. Next, a third dimension is created that joins and combines the two, which, while recognizing and enjoying the unique qualities of each, produces a strong and dynamic whole that is greater than the individual parts. 

QUESTION?

The question we are left with, as finite and limited beings, is how do we actually become united with an infinite, transcendent and almighty God? Our Creator is not a dictator or tyrant that subjugates His people and demands unity. He is a loving Father that longs for us to love Him in return and to become intimately united with Him. Our souls, our spirits, also constantly yearn for this union and are the means whereby we can see His light and gain a vision of who He is and who we are, and how the formation of the third dimension of relationship between us is possible. 

We may make the comparison of God as a teacher: “Behold, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him?”  and see ourselves as His students. The teacher has a far greater intellect and understanding than the students. He, or she, therefore, simplifies the concepts in his, or her, mind and communicates them in a language that the students will comprehend. Such is the Word God gave us. It has a simple, surface meaning, but as we learn He guides us and teaches us the more profound and esoteric meanings of its multi-dimensional layers. Gradually, we receive deeper understanding and a clearer perspective of God Himself and we can draw closer and closer to Him. Similarly, when two people take the time and make the effort to get to know each other more intimately, so their love and unity will grow and deepen. 

As we grow in our relationship and unity with our Father in Heaven we realize that our purpose, as His beloved children, is to emulate Him and to reflect His light into the world. We are to love, be gracious and kind, as He is loving and gracious and kind. Our minds and words can share His wisdom and truth. All we do to “our neighbor” is a means to reveal His light and truth. We cannot afford to be cynical and selfish, and complacent in our own little world. Our thoughts and actions really matter, and other people really matter! Every life is vital and important in the eyes of God.  With that vision in mind we can discover true unity between body and soul, between one person and anther, and between ourselves and our Creator God. 

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

Keep Climbing! LIVE – CHESHVAN (8th Hebrew month)

CHESHVAN

COMPASSION AND  FLEXIBILITY

Verse:   “When he cries out to Me, I will hear for I am compassionate.” ~ Exodus 22:26

Quote:  

“It’s easy to judge. It’s more difficult to understand. Understanding requires compassion, patience, and a willingness to believe that good hearts sometimes choose poor methods. Through judging we separate.  Through understanding we grow.”

 ~ Doe Zantamata

The greatness and goodness of God are made evident in that He hears even the unheard cries and responds in compassion – rachamim. This is illustrated in how He heard the cry of the Israelite slaves in Egypt, which resulted in their deliverance. Also, in Genesis 21:17, we read how Hagar and Ishmael had been driven out into the wilderness. They had run out of water and the boy, Ishmael, cried as he was dying of thirst. Suddenly an angel messenger appeared and told Hagar, ‘Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying” and he then revealed a well of water to her.

In his commentary on this passage, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that hearing is the basis of both justice and compassion. When King Solomon was asked regarding the gift he would like to receive from God he answered: “Grant Your servant a listening heart to govern Your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (1 Kings 3:19).

Rabbi Sacks quotes a Hassidic leader of the 1800’s, Rabbi Jacob Leiner, who wrote: “Hearing has a greater power than seeing. Sight discloses the external aspect of things, but hearing reveals their inwardness.” 

On my first visit to Israel, in a group of five women friends, I remember our meeting with a woman in Jerusalem who was blind from birth. As we spent time with her, I was astounded at how she was able to discern inner aspects of each of us without any of us actually sharing any personal information! I understood that she didn’t need to work through the facade of the external layers of personality we all have. She could “see” straight into the inner person, simply by being able to discern so much more of the subtleties in what she heard.

The central prayer in Judaism is the Shema. We are told in Deuteronomy 27:9, “Be silent, Israel, and listen!” We traditionally cover our eyes when we say the Shema to restrict the sense of sight in order to Shema – hear more intently. In the West we gain “insight” and usually say, “I see!” to denote understanding. In Hebrew we say, “Ani shome’a!”  – “I hear you!”

Rabbi Sacks also points out that the word Shema occurs 92 times in the book of Deuteronomy alone and how there is no word in Hebrew for ‘obey.’ God is not a tyrant over His people but rather a loving Father and teacher of those who respond to His will because they love Him. The people of God are simply enjoined to “Shema” – to listen intently, to understand, to internalize, and to respond to His Word and will in thought, word, and deed. God does not want “blind” fear-based obedience but rather our voluntary love-based partnership and cooperation. In love we are called to imitate Him – to reflect His light of truth, love, and compassion into the world, as did our Master and Messiah Yeshua.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Messiah —by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Messiah Yeshua.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)

COMPASSION IN BALANCE

         Disinterest   <——————— Compassion ———————>      Sentimentality

          Injustice                         Healthy benevolence                            Unwise tolerance

          Cruelty                          Chessed / loving-kindness                          Suffering

    As we see, healthy compassion brings more fairness and flexibility to justice.

JONAH – An Illustration of Justice and Compassion

In her book Return – Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe, Erica Brown highlights how the true struggle in the book of Jonah, which is read on Yom Kippur, is “the battle between justice and compassion.” Jonah clearly depicts the one who has turned away from God’s command and is running from the calling on his life. In the Hebrew text the word yored – to ‘descend,’ is used repeatedly as Jonah sinks lower and lower in his attempt to run from God. First he leaves his home in the hills around Nazareth and goes down to the coastal port of Jaffa. There he boards a ship and descends to the lowest area where he falls into a deep sleep. A raging storm arises and even this does not wake the sleeping prophet. The captain wakes him and in amazement asks: “How can you be sleeping so soundly?” This sleep reflects the spiritual state of one who is far from God; one whom the blasts of the shofar during Elul and Rosh HaShana attempt to awaken.

As we know Jonah’s next descent is into the billows of the sea when he suggest the sailors throw him overboard and they reluctantly comply. Immediately the storm subsides and Erica Brown points out: “The sailors then offered sacrifices to Jonah’s God, fearing Him in a way that Jonah [absorbed in his self-pity] did not!”  Only now, facing the certainty of death as he sinks to the depths of the sea, does Jonah cry out to God, “Will I never gaze again upon Your Holy Temple?” (2:5). God exhibits His mercy and compassion and Jonah is swallowed by a “big fish” that spits him up on the shore in the vicinity of Nineveh! Jonah finally understands, albeit with great reluctance, that he must complete his mission and be the first prophet to prophesy outside of Israel, and to a nation that historically was and would be an enemy to Israel.

On hearing Jonah’s message of the impending destruction of Nineveh, the king expresses a hope in the compassion of God and declares a city-wide fast saying: “Who knows but that God may turn and relent?” (3:9). Jonah, on the other and, remains trapped in a black-and-white mindset of strict justice. He hopes that justice will prevail and that destruction will come! He sets ups a booth outside the city where he waits and watches. God causes a kikayon plant to spring up next to the booth that provides welcome shade for Jonah. For the first time he expresses happiness! To him it’s a sign of God’s care and provision for him. When it suddenly dies he is so distraught he wants to die. God, however, is wanting to teach him a vital lesson. 

And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (4:10-11)

Erica Brown concludes: “Jonah wanted pity, mercy, nurturing and protection – all aspects of the love and care we receive from others. Yet he could not extend that gift of mercy to others.” God wanted to show Jonah that true authority lies in balancing justice and compassion. The ideal prophet – one who speaks for the Lord, wants to care for and encourage  people more than to criticize them. 

The book ends with a question and we are left to surmise whether Jonah would learn and repent, or not. The question challenges us too!
Do we doubt God’s call on our lives and hesitate to do what we know we should?
* Do we judge and criticize others when we should be extending care and compassion?
* Are we filled with self-pity when facing tough challenges?
Jonah shows how there is no room for repentance – teshuvah – turning back to God, and to experience constructive, pro-active change, when we feel sorry for ourselves. 

As we press forward on our spiritual climb, and in an attempt to imitate our faithful and loving Father God and to reflect His image in the world, we need to have a deep well of compassion in our hearts. The Torah constantly emphasizes the importance of being compassionate to the poor, to widows and orphans, and to others in need. The Sages of Israel consider compassion for others as so vital that they say that anyone who is not compassionate is certainly not a descendant of our father Abraham!

FLEXIBILITY

Another lesson we can learn from Jonah is that compassion helps one remain flexible and adaptable. Healthy adaptability is the ability to accept change and unpredictability, while also knowing when to remain constant. It requires finding the balance between being unstable and too changeable, what Alan Mornings calls a “dizzy chameleon” and being rigid, unbending and frustrated. A healthy balance will help us deal with any situation requiring change positively and will lead to success. 

Five steps that help provide adaptability:

  1. Be flexible and realize that “My way is not the only way!”
  2. Focus on the big picture. Don’t get bogged down in the details.
  3. Keep a positive attitude.
  4. Pray for strength and wisdom. “Abba, please either lighten the load or strengthen my shoulders.”
  5. Ask for help! Don’t feel you need to “go it alone” if there are those who are in a position to give assistance.

ACTS OF COMPASSION

Exodus 34:6- lists the attributes of God, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness – rav chessed – ‘abundant in lovingkindness’ and truth.” In our desire to imitate His goodness, we can learn from this that God generously showers goodness on all, even those who may not deserve it. We need to aim to extend compassion and kindness even if we know we will receive nothing in return. 

Alan Morinis, in Everyday Holiness, describes true acts of compassionate kindness.

 * Don’t worry about loving the poor; your job is to feed and clothe them.

 * If people you know are ailing in any way, don’t only think about them or pray for   them – take your time to go and visit them [if possible. Or send them a tangible token of your care].

* Offer your comfort to the bereaved in a house of mourning.

He also points out that burying the dead is the greatest example of true chessed as a corpse is unable to do anything for itself and cannot reciprocate the kindness.

The best acts of kindness and compassion are done when we expect nothing in return. 

********************************

MAY WE…                        BE the person who cares
                                        BE the person who makes an effort,
                                        who loves without hesitation
                                        BE the person who makes others feel seen and heard.

              There is nothing stronger than someone who continues to stay soft
                                        in a hard and uncaring world.
 

Keep Climbing! LIVE – TISHREI (7th Hebrew Month)

TISHREI

ENTHUSIASM AND  CONFIDENCE

Verse:

“I hurried – did not delay – to keep your commandments.” 

~ King David, Psalm 119:60

Quote:

The fact that one is not lazy does not mean that he has acquired enthusiasm. 

          ~ Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky (1911 – 2000)

A characteristic of the trait of enthusiasm is energy – in Ezekiel’s vision the angels “darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning” (1:14) so quick were they to do the will of God. This is echoed in Psalm 103:20, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do His word, obeying the voice of His word!” Other characteristics are: positive action, a sense of urgency, zealousness, motivation, a passion fuelled by inspiration.  It can be described as an inspired zeal to take positive action for the purposes of doing the will of our Father in Heaven. 

In studying the lives of those who have been an inspiration in my life, mostly authors and artists, I have come across a consistent factor woven like a sparkling thread in the accounts of their lives. The common denominator is how their confidence, motivation, and enthusiasm to pursue their goals, was fuelled by encouragement. Whether it was from parents, teachers, peers, or a significant mentor, all express the influence that words of encouragement played in building their confidence and pressing them to persevere and make progress in their particular field and purpose. For example, prolific Jewish author and teacher, Chana Weisberg, expresses in the Acknowledgements of her great book on women, Tending the Garden: 

 “To the readers of my columns…to my students, and the participants at my lectures – for all your feedback, encouragement, questions, and challenges, which undoubtedly helped me to clarify these ideas and insights.  To my beloved father…for your constant encouragement through all of life’s ups and downs.”

This does not mean one must depend on this encouragement from others. Indeed, many artists faced much rejection from their audiences. We can think of the renowned Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, who struggled with acceptance by the public all his life. Yet his brother stood with him and never failed to give encouragement and support. Even one voice of sincere and well-intentioned encouragement helps fan the flame of enthusiasm and can boost one’s confidence to keep persevering.

ENTHUSIASTIC POSITIVE ACTION

The Hebrew word for enthusiasm, zerizut, usually is translated in the Scriptures as “alacrity.” The prime example of this is our forefather Abraham. We read how even when he faced his most difficult test of faith, when God told him to take his beloved son, Isaac, to “one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” and to offer him there as a sacrifice, Abraham, as always, hurried to obey – no questions asked. He responded with alacrity to make preparations, and then, “…Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac” (Genesis 22:2-3).  Abraham knew God had spoken and his faith in His character enabled him to bypass his natural thoughts and fears and to act with alacrity to obey. After Abraham passed the test, God reaffirms His promise to him: “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (22:18).

This account highlights the fact that one’s enthusiasm does not need to be fuelled by happy, pleasant feelings. At times “enthusiastic action” must be taken even if it’s a challenge and not comfortable to do so. It may entail moving out from one’s “comfort zone”! 

We may consider a further occasion in the story of Abraham. He has sent his servant Eliezer to his family’s home in Haran to find a wife for Isaac. When he stops with his camels at a well on the outskirts of town, Eliezer prays fervently that God will help him in this important task and to show favor and chessed  to Abraham after the death of his wife Sarah. No sooner had he stopped praying than Rebecca appeared with her water jar on her shoulder. But, he had prayed for a sign that she was of the character of Abraham. Sure enough, as he hurries to meet her with a request for water, she is quick to serve. She serves him water and hurries to water the camels too – she quickly lowers the jar, and quickly empties it and runs back to the well. She later offers accommodation and reveals that she is one of Abraham’s family. All Eliezer can do is to “…bow down and worship the Lord” (24:26).

THE DAY IS SHORT…

A well known verse from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) accredited to Rabbi Tarphon, says: “The day is short, the work formidable, the workers lazy, and the Boss impatient” (2:15). Mussar teacher, Alan Morinis, in his book Everyday Holiness, explains that there is a fire deep within us that powers our desire to take action. When the fire [enthusiasm] rages strong, we are productive, confident, bold, even zealous in living. But there are times when the flame can be dampened by confusion, exhaustion, or laziness. When we take time to reflect and and repent and clarify our goals and priorities and dedicate them to good, this will stoke the fire of enthusiasm in our hearts.

A danger however is hinted at in our quote for the month. “The fact that one is not lazy does not mean that he has acquired enthusiasm.”  A person can be very energetic but all his activity can be stirred by negative motivations and he can rush ahead in the wrong direction. Alan Morinis describes the “modern curse of frantic rushing” as a kind of “headless enthusiasm.” Proverbs 21:5 tells us, “The thoughts of the [mindlessly] zealous are superfluous and those who are [unduly] hasty reap only loss.” Frantic busyness and rash actions are just as detrimental to true productive enthusiasm as slothful laziness is. As Morinis sums up, “Proper, positive, balanced enthusiasm is action done with a full throttle once review, consideration, and decision have set you on the right course.”

ENTHUSIASM IN BALANCE

      Laziness <———————- Enthusiasm ———————->  Frantic busyness

      Disinterest                            Healthy Energy                               Recklessness

      Sluggishness                          Passion                                        Unhealthy zeal

      Inertia                                    Godly Motivation                            Heedlessness            

All we do is enhanced when done with awareness, liveliness, and enthusiasm. This applies in all facets of life and particularly in one’s spiritual walk. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe points out that a mitzvah – a good deed done in obedience to God’s commandments – “if delayed or done unenthusiastically is not a mitzvah that might go wrong, but one that has already gone wrong.” Of course we don’t please our Father’s heart by lazily drifting through life with no passion for living, but neither do we please Him by obeying His will and purposes unwillingly or half-heartedly, or by doing something just by rote with an attitude of boredom.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his classic work The Path of the Just agrees that the direct opposite of enthusiasm is laziness. Laziness deflates enthusiasm and keeps us stuck in circumstances like a bud with all its potential remaining frozen on a limb. Laziness makes us “heavy.”  He attributes an inclination to laziness to the fact that if we were pure, spiritual beings, we’d naturally be light and active, but because we live in bodies, we are tied to the physical world and the force of gravity pulls us down. He points out, however, that it is up to us to succumb to heaviness or not, “If you abandon yourself to this ‘heaviness’ you will not succeed in your quest.”

OTHER DANGERS!

Rationalization is a powerful deterrent to positive, enthusiastic action. The Alter Rabbi of Novaradok wrote a list of ambitions a person could have, followed by if only!    

I’d give so much to charity, if only I were wealthy.
I’d study and learn so much, if only I were smarter.
I’d be so helpful to my friends, if only I were stronger.

We can devise brilliant excuses for not accomplishing some task and doing some good! We can always find endless rationales that will prevent us from from making a final decision to take action. Then the opportunity passes by and, due to one’s hesitation and procrastination, the benefits are lost. 

Rabbi Moshe Luzzatto also makes a point that our lives and godly enthusiasm can become “dulled by the world.”  A flood of material goods, comforts and pleasures  is available to one today that could only have been dreamed about in years past. Luzzatto describes the danger: “The relentless, almost addictive, pursuit of nifty things, comfort, and relaxation is a mainstay of our civilisation [and cannot provide] a satisfying spiritual life.” Alan Morinis adds: “The pursuit of comforts and pleasures depletes spiritual energy simply because we have only so much energy in our lives.” 

A final danger listed by Rabbi Luzzatto is Anxiety. Worry and fretting also deplete spiritual energy. He says that, in fact, anxiety is often what underlies other things we do that sap our enthusiasm. There are, of course, certain issues we need to be concerned about, like the conditions in the world, and things we have responsibility for and have control over. Often, however, we can suffer from a generalized state of anxiety that can fill us with apprehension over things that we cannot control. It can be the weather, one’s general health, possible accidents, always asking “what if?” To one with a “worried mind” there is no shortage of real or imagined things to fret over! This way of seeing the world keeps us from the truth and freedom of faith and trust in the higher power of our Creator. 

GRATITUDE!

The answer to a state of anxiety or fear is gratitude! Recognizing God’s loving role in our lives helps us counter any anxiety and enables us to shelter under His Wings of protection and find true Shalom. With faith, and the help of God and the power of the Ruach HaKodesh to strengthen and encourage us in every righteous choice we make, we can be encouraged and filled with holy enthusiasm and go forward in full confidence! 

To conclude: Once again we are encouraged by Rabbi Luzzatto that the one soul trait that will deliver up more energy and fewer hindrances to our enthusiasm and moving in the direction of holiness is “…waking up to the the very many good things that the Holy One, Blessed be He does for you moment by moment” – in other words, to be constantly practicing gratitude.

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and HIs lovingkindness endures forever! “
(Psalm 16:34)

~ Keren Hannah

Keep Climbing! LIVE – ELUL (6th Hebrew Month)

ELUL

REPENTANCE AND SILENCE

Verse:

A person’s wisdom makes their face shine, and the hardness of their face is                  changed.  (Ecclesiastes 8:1b)

Quote:

Every sin obstructs the presence of mind required to attain illumination. Teshuvah opens the doorways of understanding, just as teshuvah comes about by means of understanding. 

~ Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook

Elul is a month of teshuvah – commonly translated as ‘repentance’ but the root of the word shuv means ‘return.’ So, I like to think of it as a month of ‘returning’ – a returning of our focus in greater awareness to the truth and promise of the Word of God; a returning of our hearts to a closer relationship with our Father in Heaven; a returning of our minds to the path of our Messiah Yeshua; a returning of our souls to a deeper understanding of our identity and purpose as sons and daughters in the family of God. 

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, as Chief Rabbi, witnessed the birthing of pre-state Israel and understood that the restoration of the Land, and of His people to it, was the work of God in unfolding His plan of Redemption both for Israel and for the whole world. A central theme of Rav Kook’s teaching was that of teshuvah. 

He emphasized that repentance was a major theme in the Torah and in life, and highlighted the paradox that, on one hand, repentance is very easy because, as the Sages say, “Even a fleeting thought of teshuvah is already considered teshuvah.” Even a flicker of genuine desire to repent of a sin or weakness is already a step of teshuvah. A turn in the right direction. On the other hand, repentance is very difficult because “…it is never completely materialized in this world.” No human being can reach the pinnacle of perfection and claim to be one-hundred-per-cent holy while still living in Olam HaZeh – this present and imperfect world. And yet, it is something we must constantly be aspiring towards. We need to be aware of the need and have a true desire to purify our character traits, our thoughts, and our actions.

This should not, however, be undertaken in a negative and self-critical way, but with a sincere longing to please and delight our Creator – our loving Father in Heaven. In fact, the more one understands and practices true teshuvah, the more one’s inner life becomes refined and reflects His light. One’s emunah, faith, becomes strengthened and a deeper level of joy and Shalom – true inner peace, is enjoyed.

As a result, all we do in our work, in creative endeavors, and in our relationships, can be approached, as Rav Kook beautifully describes, “…from one’s pure and powerful soul that is filled with a holy song.”  A song of gratitude and wonder at the splendid glory of God.

TIKKUN NEFESH AND TIKKUN OLAM

“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:6-8)

All our beliefs and actions lead us to a particular path and destination. God has laid out His holy and pleasant path in His Word. He has given us the directions, the living expression and example in His Son and Messiah, and the constant guidance of the Ruach HaKodesh – the Spirit of Holiness. It is only as we learn, through the the “washing of the Word,” that we gain a clearer and more enlightened understanding of the character fo God Himself and a greater knowledge of His ways. And, thereby, we begin to achieve spiritual purification – clarity of mind, ethical enlightenment, and purity of soul.

This purification of self is called Tikkun Nefesh – healing of the soul, and it is vital in order for us to partner with God in His great purpose of the healing of the world – Tikkun Olam. Full perfection in these areas, both personal and universal, will not be achieved in one’s lifetime or historically, until Messiah returns as King of kings and fully establishes the Father’s Kingdom on earth. This does not mean, however, that we should not be doing our part here and now in working towards the final goal. The essence of both – our selves and the universe, is the great potential of never-ending growth and becoming. If there was no imperfection, there would be no possibility of constant growth and increased blessing. Only the Creator of all Himself is infinite perfection and we and all Creation will need eternity, and the magnificent power of unfolding potential, to become more and more of who He created us to be as His those created in His image.

That is a glorious goal, but how does it affect our “here and now” daily life, while we are on the journey towards the goal? Sometimes we may get frustrated and feel we are not getting anywhere and will try to speed things up! A word of advice from the sages: “A person should not take rushed steps!” (Brachot 59a).”Baby steps” are important, and each and every small step has a profound effect in bringing us to a greater level of holiness and wholeness. 

The journey itself, of Tikkun Nefesh – the healing of our souls, is sacred and should be valued and treasured. With that understanding we can find satisfaction in each step we take. Then, even our physical movements will become relaxed and unrushed as we slowly but surely become a little more of our true self – the one our Abba Father created us to be.

TRUE SELF VS FALSE SELF

Only what is good and holy, on an individual and universal basis, has a connection with one’s soul, one’s inner spiritual being, and the source of true life. The unholy, particularly what is evil and impure, is only propelled by external means that prompt one to react physically or spiritually. The “true self” of the spirit is constantly yearning to connect with its Creator, and to taste the light of Love and Truth. Even immoral actions and bad habits are motivated by this desire. A case of “looking for love in all the wrong places!” When these means do not satisfy the thirst of the soul, it can cause anger and an increase in unhealthy behavior patterns in an attempt to numb the pain in one’s heart. How blessed is the one who, in seeking God, finds the true path and can lay down the heavy load of the “false self” and quench his/her spiritual thirst at the Source of living water!

Because we live in an imperfect world, as long as we’re alive we will endure an ongoing battle between our Good and Evil inclinations – called in Hebrew the Yetzer HaTov and Yetzer HaRa. The Yetzer HaRa attracts the eye to the attractions and distractions of the material world and fills the mind with negative thoughts and responses. For example, even after one turns to God and has a sincere desire to walk in His ways, discouraging thoughts can flood in of how far one has strayed from the path of holiness, causing one to feel ashamed and depressed. Condemnation and depression are not connected to the “true self” of the spirt and are an indication that the “false self” is being motivated to rise up. To counter the evil inclination one must set one’s heart on immersing oneself in the truth of God’s Word and in small actions of improvement. When we are passionate about growing little by little, while setting our face towards greater heights of holiness, the power of the Spirit will ignite a holy courage within – a light that will cause the evil inclination to flee, and will enable us to keep climbing to greater spiritual heights.

The ”ascent” is made surrounded by the Father’s love, following in the footsteps of our Shepherd-Messiah, and being constantly uplifted by the encouragement and enabling of the Ruach HaKodesh. It should be filled with times of quiet rest, allowing one’s soul to grow at its own pace on its sacred inner journey. When we fail and make mistakes we can understand that these are opportunities for learning and greater growth. Even being aware of our mistakes means we are growing. In fact, one can experience great joy in knowing that by doing teshuvah, which brings healing and transformation, one finds value and purpose in one’s mistakes, both present and past.

THE ROLE OF SILENCE

We pray that God may accept our call for help.

But we also pray that God, who knows what is hidden, 

may hear the silent cries of our souls.

~ Rabbi Uri of Strelisk (from In Speech and in Silence, by David J. Wolpe)

The ability to communicate through speech is the great gift that defines humans from animals and which reflects our being created in the image of God, who spoke the universe into being. Words, however, can be used to create and build up or to wound and break down.  David J. Wolpe describes the positive aspect of words:

There are words that soothe hurt, that help us understand loss. 

There are words to stir souls, capture and quicken imagination, 

words that give us wings.

Most words in everyday speech impart information. They can create empathy and closeness and they can also engender misunderstanding and distance. In many cases the wiser option is silence – a restraining of words. While silence cannot replace speech, it is the place from which speech emerges and to which it returns. Silence is the place of pondering and the formation of thoughts and concepts and the formulation of words in which to express them. After we exhaust ourselves with words, the silence abides, waiting for us to return to it; to still the cacophony of speech and sound in order to attune our ears to “the still small voice” of the spirit.

Once we appreciate the power of speech we can understand equally the power of silence. As with everything, the solution is in the balance, the golden paths of silence and of words when joined together in harmony will take us to the place of reflecting God’s Love and Truth in our words and in our silences.

~ Keren Hannah

DEUTERONOMY – A Bird’s Eye View

 

Enjoy an overview of the amazing final book of the Torah – Deuteronomy / Devarim – Words.

DEUTERONOMY – A BIRD’S EYE VIEW

Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Torah. It is a compilation of the last discourses given by Moses to the nation of Israel before his death, when they had reached the border of the Land of Israel.  The original Hebrew name of the book was Mishnei Torah, or Repetition of the Torah. Greek speaking Jews, in the Septuagint, translated it as Deuteronomian (literally meaning The Second Law), which then was adopted in Latin as Deuteronomium and into English as Deuteronomy. 

Later, the Hebrew name of a book, or Torah portion, was taken from words in the opening sentence of the book or parashah. In this case, the book begins, “Eleh ha’devarim”… These are the words.”

Moses’ first discourse summarizes the history of the nation during their 40 year journey through the wilderness on the way from Egypt to the Land G-d had promised their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the following two discourses, Moses predominantly presents the Israelites with guidance and instructions on how to live as the people of G-d after they were settled in the Land. Moshe knew, both rationally and through his wisdom and experience,  the many physical, cultural, and spiritual challenges the Israelites would be faced with while dwelling among the surrounding pagan nations. He also knew, prophetically, that they would be drawn into idolatry and fall away from God and His ways.

We can appreciate Moshe’s wisdom as a teacher. Repetition and revision are important tools in helping us to retain what we have learned. He also emphasizes the fact that the great, multi-dimensional truths of G-d’s Word constantly need to be learned anew, and that they always would yield deeper and richer insights. On closer inspection, while it is very practical and instructional for the daily life of the nation, we find that Devarim is the most prophetic of the 5 books of Torah. Much of Moses’ discourse is a distillation and a review of the previous teachings but 70% is new, because it applies to their future in the Land and highlights the bond between the people and the Land.  Interestingly, Devarim is the book most quoted by Yeshua.

JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

“First mention” is an important element in exegesis of the biblical text. The first subject Moses reviews is the appointment of judges. He explains the importance of instituting a legal system and the role of judges. He tells them, “And I commanded your judges at that time saying, ‘Hear disputes between your brothers and judge justly between a man and his brother…’ (1:16). The literal meaning of the word ‘justly’ is to make sure that the judgment is fair and honest.

In an article in the Jerusalem Post, entitled Compassion and Justice, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites in Jerusalem, points out an added interpretation of the word is “by compromise.” This added nuance is significant. It reveals that the judges should not base their decisions on absolute strict justice – the letter of the law set in stone, as it were. They should temper the argument, the case being presented, with rachamim – mercy, and attempt to encourage the litigants on both sides to give in a little – to soften their hearts and to compromise their demands.

Interestingly, particularly in the light of Tisha B’Av (9th Av), which is the fast day marking the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem, the Sages in the Talmud say that: “Jerusalem was destroyed because people there insisted on their rights based on the full letter of the law, and were not willing to be lenient.” (Tractate Baba Metzria, daf 30). Rabbi Rabinowitz highlights the fact that a person should rise above the natural position of demanding what he thinks he deserves. One’s attitude should be softer, more inclusive and compassionate. This trait of mercy is woven through the Word of G-d, because this is the correct way to live – the way that reflects our Father’s character and heart.  Justice is balanced with mercy. Thus we find the great themes of Devarim, just as through the whole Word of G-d, are justice, righteousness, and mercy. This is highlighted in the first haftarah (prophetic portion ) of Devarim. Isaiah 1:27, “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitent through righteousness.”

FINAL DAYS

Moses, at the time of  this delivery of his final series of teachings, was 120 years old. It took 36 days (from 1 Shevat to 6 Adar, the day of his death). The teachings and iteration of the Covenants G-d had made with His people fill the bulk of the book – chapters 1 – 30. The remainder of the book, chapters 31 -33, describe the last days of Moses, and his farewell address to the children of Israel. We are told that Moses’ “eyes were not dim” and his natural natural strength was unabated., but he says, “I am no longer able to go out and to come in” ( 31:32). He could no longer accompany them on their journey and enter the Land of Promise with them; but he encourages them and says; “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear nor be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your G-d who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you!” (31:6).

We hear a beautiful echo of this in the gospel of John (14:7) when Yeshua was addressing his disciples before going to his death, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. … Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” He was preparing them to go out into the gentile, pagan world to share his message of the Kingdom of G-d and the way of repentance and into relationship with the Father of all. He also adds, “I will never leave you nor forsake you but will be with you until the end of the age!” 

FAREWELL SONG OF PRAISE

Finally, in Devarim , the Lord exhorts Moses to write his farewell song and to teach it to the children of Israel. The song would be a testimony to the everlasting Presence and goodness of G-d and, when they went astray, it would remind them of His merciful gift of teshuvah – repentance, . They would always have the opportunity to repent of their ways and to return to their Father,  the G-d of Israel. In the penultimate parashah, Ha’azinu – Give Ear, (Ch. 32), Moses delivers his song to the Israelites on the last day of his life. It is an inspired poem of stirring beauty. His prophetic words describe the future destiny of G-d’s people. We realize that all history is the revelation and expression of our Father G-d’s love and care. The song opens with the appointment of heaven and earth as witnesses and guarantees of G-d’s everlasting covenant with Israel. “Give ear –ha’azinu, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear – tish’mah the word of my mouth.”

Next comes a glorious outburst of praise, describing the true character of G-d and His justice, faithfulness and pure righteousness.

“Ascribe greatness to our G-d the Rock; His work is perfect for all His ways are just. A   G-d of faithfulness, without iniquity; righteous and upright is He.” (32:3-4).

Sadly, the song also proclaims that the people would grow “fat and prosperous” and forsake and even scoff at G-d. They would become spiritually bent and corrupt and forsake the righteous ways of His Word. G-d, however, would remain faithful and the unchanging Rock of their Salvation. If they will return to Him in true repentance, He will always be there to lift them up and to straighten their crooked ways.  This truth of G-d’s unfailing love for His people is echoed by the prophet Hosea (14:1-2): “Return, O Israel, unto the Lord your G-d, for you have been stubborn because of your iniquity. Take with you WORDS (DEVARIM) and return to the Lord.”

Hosea points out that G-d does not want animal sacrifices, but longs to hear words of confession and repentance offered from sincere hearts. The prophet emphasizes the unbreakable 3-cord strand, the indelible connection, between the G-d of Israel and His Word, the children of Israel, and the land of Israel. Hosea confirms that when they turn from the idolatry of the work of their hands, the Lord promises to heal and restore the children of Israel. Then they will flourish in His love, and their Land will be healed. Once again it will produce grain and “blossom as the vine”. And Israel will become convinced that : “The ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them.” (14:9)

MOSES’ BLESSING

After the song, the Torah concludes in Ch. 33 with Moses’ blessing – in the final parashah Ve’zot Ha’bracha, which begins, “And this is the blessing with which Moses, the man of  G-d, blessed the people of Israel before his death.” Moses is about to set out on his final ascent. He goes alone to meet with his G-d, just as he did on Mount Sinai. He passes through the camp as a father taking leave of his children, and he blesses the various tribes. Finally, he raise his hands over the whole multitude for his last general blessing, one of great beauty, encouragement, and comfort. 

“There is none like G-d, O Israel, Who reads through the heavens to your help. The eternal G-d is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

As we conclude the Torah Cycle with the Festival of Simchat Torah, “The Joy of Torah,” we can celebrate Messiah Yeshua’s life as the Torah made flesh. The one who fulfilled all the just requirements of the Torah and was obedient to the Father’s will even unto the cursed death on a tree, so that all peoples of all the nations, through his, could have access to eternal and abundant life as children of the Father in the Kingdom of G-d. In his letter to believers in Rome, the apostle Paul highlights the mission of Yeshua to the world. In Romans 15:8-10, he describes how, Yeshua came as a suffering servant to Israel, those already in the covenant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: “To show G-d’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, AND in order that the gentiles might glorify G-d for His mercy.

As it is written: ‘Therefore I will praise You among the gentiles, and sing to Your Name.’ And again as it is said, ‘Rejoice, O gentiles, together with His people!” Amen! 

At the close of every book of Torah we proclaim: 

Chazak, Chazak, veNitchazek!

Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another!   

If you would like to  explore more in-depth commentary of Deuteronomy/Devarim,  you can order a copy of  A TASTE OF TORAH   at http://www.ffoz.org