THE CALL TO VIP PRAYER

“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand,  I shall not be shaken” (Psalms 16:8).

CONSIDER THIS A CALL TO VIP PRAYER!

What is that exactly? I coined the acronym to carry the meaning of  Valuable, Important and Powerful Prayer. Indeed, every genuine prayer from the heart is of great value and importance, and is extremely powerful in our battle against the forces of the enemy. 

During the month of ADAR we celebrate the festival of PURIM – instituted by Queen Esther and Mordechai, as described in the biblical book of Esther.  Purim commemorates the great victory over the enemies of God, who had devised a plan to kill and get rid of His people! This is a great encouragement to pray, for, as well as the courage of Esther, who approached the king at risk to her life, the key element of procuring the victory was the united effort of the Jewish people to fast and pray together with her for three days.

God’s face is hidden throughout the book of Esther, although one is very aware of his hand at work behind the scenes. A reason for his ‘hiddeness’ could well be that he desires to impress upon us the value, importance, and power of the prayer of his people. When we turn to him in faith, and call to him in prayer, He responds supernaturally. We need to enter into VIP Prayer! But what does this look and sound like? There are many different forms of prayer – all of which become VIP Prayer when issuing from a pure and sincere heart.

I believe that when we have no words, every thought, sigh, tear, and cry directed to our Father in Heaven, is a form of prayer. More usually, as He has given us the gift of words and communication, our personal from-the-heart prayers can be raised verbally anywhere, and at any time. And all are precious. Also, as they are today, we know that in Yeshua’s time and that of the Early Church, prescribed prayers were already in place and recited, either individually or communally in the synagogues. The daily morning and evening prayers, as well as those for Shabbat and the Festivals, are collected in the Siddur – the Jewish Daily Prayer Book.*  Siddur is from the root word  seder – order.

When these prayers are read and prayed with kavanah – concentrated focus and sincere devotion – they are powerful indeed. This is true also of the Psalms – another form of prayer. Just as Esther knew the importance of having all the people pray with her, wherever they were physically, we know that strength, unity, and reassurance ensue when many hearts are lifting the same prayers before the Throne of Grace. Particularly at the time of history we find ourselves in now, this prayer from the Siddur, which was  composed centuries before and would have been familiar to Yeshua and his disciples, is valuable to pray with a resounding Amen! 

May the time not be distant O God, when Thy Name shall be worshipped in all the earth; when unbelief shall disappear and error shall be no more. Fervently we pray that the day may come when all men may invoke Thy Name, when corruption and evil shall give way to purity and goodness, and when superstition shall no longer enslave the mind and idolatry blind the eye – when all who dwell on earth shall know that to Thee alone every knee must bend and every tongue give homage. 

O may all created in Thine image recognize that they are brothers, so that, one in spirit and one in fellowship, they may be forever united before Thee. Then shall Thy kingdom be established on earth, and the words of Thine ancient prophets be fulfilled. Adonai yimloch le’olam va’ed. The Lord will reign forever and ever!

May we daily be encouraged to focus our hearts on VIP Prayer – “for such a time as this!” 

With every blessing and encouragement in Messiah,

Keren Hannah

* An inspirational Hebrew-English Siddur we recommend is The Koren Siddur, (Ashkenaz),  with commentary by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. 

AV – 5th Biblical Month – Being Holy, Being Whole

AV – אב

THEME:  HEARING, MUSIC, BALANCE

BODY:  EARS

QUOTE:  Through prayer, our needs and wants become the source of our greatest blessing – closeness to God.” ~ Heshy Kleinman (Praying with Fire)

PSALM 59: God-my-Tower-of-Strength

CREATIVE EXPRESSION: Find ways to illustrate and express the theme and what you are learning and experiencing this month. 

God-my-Tower-of-Strength

PSALM 59

At the start of Psalm 59, we see that young David is in a life-threatening situation. As he flees the murderous rage of King Saul, he cries out to God for help. From this place of terror we see how, in the mere 18 lines of the Psalm, he moves to a place of serenity. His cry of despair transitions into a song of grateful praise! How does this happen?

When a person finds herself in an overwhelming situation, feeling time constraints, stressed by overpowering demands, feeling totally out of control and not able to manage, the first step to a transition is to recognise what is happening and to name it. Then she can cry out for help, knowing with full assurance that our Father hears our cries! 

The enemy is described as howling, ravenous dogs that are intent on causing disturbance and to maul their victims. David knows, however, that our G-d is mightier than they and He scorns the evil among the nations. In verses 10 and 11, David uses personal adjectives to describe God. Ozi – my Strength; Misgavi – my Haven; Chasdi – my Lovingly-faithful One. Such is He to all His children and we can happily run into His Presence as into a Strong Tower.  Then, like David we can take a deep breath of relief and rest. Selah! 

CE: Write out the verses that resonate with you and express your responses to the Psalm. 

PARTS OF THE BODY – EARS

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
And after the fire the sound of a low whisper – a still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:12)

The volume of noise in the world, on many levels, is overwhelming. Together with the physical din, there is constant mental chatter going on in the surface of our minds from TVs, radios, cell phones, etc., etc. Imagine you are in a noisy, crowded room – maybe at a wedding, or party, or convention, and you want to speak to someone and to hear what they are saying. What would you do? Our immediate reaction is to raise our voices and to yell over the noise. It is proven, rather – in order to protect your vocal chords and to be heard more successfully, it is far better to lean in close to the person and whisper! We may consider the “still, small voice” God uses to speak to us in the midst of the cacophony of the world. When things seem out of control, as they did to Elijah in the account recorded in the first book of Kings, God did not yell at him in the whirlwind, or earthquake. Rather, He spoke in a whisper and brought calm and enabled Elijah to voice his fears, upon which He was able to reassure him.  However, we need to be able to attune ourselves to His whisper, His still, small voice – to know how to hear it, to recognise it, and then we will be able to respond to it. 

The noisy clatter in our own heads may be loud, demanding voices that deliver messages that make us feel afraid, or defensive, or negative and fill us with doubt of our own ability to cope. It’s likely that the prophet Elijah was being plagued by some of these voices when he was on the run from Jezebel! The messages may be ones we internalised from childhood experiences, from society and the culture we grew up in, and they may contain half-truths which confuse us. We should, logically, be able to refute and ignore them, but their strident, distracting urging claims our attention. God’s voice of truth, on the other hand, whispers reassurance and its message instils  quiet confidence. Once our ears tune in and hear it, a sense of peace and calm will settle over us like a warm tallit (prayer shawl) and the other voices simply fade away.

The more we become adept at listening for and recognising our Father’s voice, we will discover the beauty and power it conveys and then we will be able to walk in the peace, reassurance, and confidence it imparts. As we align ourselves with it more and more, we we will be able to share His soft whisper, like a gentle rustling in the leaves of a tree, and create more moments of peace, comfort, and confidence, amid the raucous clatter of the world. May it be so!

POEM:  A PRAYER FOR PRAYER by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman

O my God
My soul’s companion
My heart’s precious friend
I turn to You.

I need to close out the noise
To rise above the noise
The noise that interrupts—
The noise that separates—
The noise that isolates.
I need to hear You again.

In the silence of my innermost being,
In the fragments of my yearned-for wholeness,
I hear whispers of Your Presence—
Echoes of the past when You were with me
When I felt Your nearness
When together we walked—
When You held me close, embraced me in Your love,
Laughed with me in my joy.
I yearn to hear You again.

In Your oneness, I find healing.
In the promise of Your love, I am soothed.
In Your wholeness, I too can become whole again.

Please listen to my call—
       help me to find the words
       help me find the strength within
       help me shape my mouth, my voice, my heart
so that I can direct my spirit and find You in prayer
In words only my heart can speak
In songs only my soul can sing
Lifting my eyes and heart to You.

Adonai S’fatai Tiftach— open my lips, precious God,
So that I can speak with You again.

1.

MUSIC AND RECEPTIVITY

What is the extraordinary power in the gift of music that God has given us? In some ways, music and song are more effective than speech  in expressing our thoughts and emotions. Medical science has proven that even a baby in the womb responds to both instrumental music and the sounds of voices, particularly that of its father. It has also been observed how, with patients suffering the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s, their musical gifts and abilities are what endure the longest. Children love to be sung to and to learn to sing childhood songs. In Israel there is a popular song, Lo Nafsik La’Shir! – Don’t Stop Singing! It is a joy to hear someone singing or whistling as they work or simply humming a happy tune as they walk. It is the sign of a happy heart.  Doctors say that singing is good for one’s health, so keep singing, even if it’s in the shower!

The Bible emphasises the power of music. Young David would play his harp and sing to quieten King Saul’s spirit when he was disturbed. It soothes the soul to hear pleasant music. It also is inspiring to the spirit. When the HolyTemple was standing in Jerusalem, the Levitical choir would be singing God’s praises day and night in the form of the Psalms and melodies composed by King David. We read in Isaiah 51:3 how, when the Lord redeems and restores the result is thanksgiving and joyous song.

For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.

To appreciate the constant song of the spirit one’s ears must be awake and listening in order to receive it. Hearing is stressed in Judaism’s most important and most often recited prayer – Shemah Yisrael – Hear O Israel. 

In every Hebrew Torah scroll the ayin, the last letter of the word Shema – שמע, is enlarged, as is the last letter of the word One – echad – אחד, at the end of the sentence. Together they spell the word  עד ed, meaning ‘witness’. This illustrates that when we hear fully, i.e., hear, are receptive, and understand in our hearts, we become witnesses to the presence of God and to the truth of His Word.

Another interesting fact is that when the two enlarged letters are removed, the four letters that remain can be arranged to spell esmach  אשמח, which is the first word found in Psalm 104:34, and means, ‘I will rejoice!’ Those who Shema – hear, and give thanks and proclaim the unity and presence of God daily, will be filled with joy. This indicates that our faith in God strengthens our joy and, when we are joyful, our faith is strengthened. There are 248 words in the full Shemah – the same number of positive mitzvoth, or commandments. There are also 248 parts to our skeletal frame, indicating that when we use our body to serve God positively, we will be able to serve Him joyfully. Indeed, as His people, songs of joy and praise should be constantly on our lips. An inspirational illustration is found in the fact that the Hebrew letters of Israel – ישראל can be rearranged to spell the words Shir El  שיר אל – the Song of God. God wants to sing His song through us to the world! 

Finally, another amazing aspect of music is the fact that not only humans are affected by it but so too are animals and plants. Greenhouse experiments have shown the effect of music on plants. When classical, jazz, or folk music is played in their environment, plants  grow and thrive but those exposed to heavy metal or hard rock music wither and die! Many people have noted a spurt in growth in their garden plants when they speak encouragingly to them! 

The common element in people and other living things, apart from breathing, is water. You may have heard of the Japanese researcher and author Masaru Emoto who wrote the bestselling book The Hidden Messages in Water, and also The Secret Life of Water. His fascinating studies and experiments have recorded the pronounced effects speech and music have on water.  The effect of loving, positive words and a happy, pleasant environment produced beautiful, balanced crystals in the water, while hateful, negative words and a stressful atmosphere caused chaotic forms and distorted shapes. A great lesson to be learned as a result, is that, as our bodies are comprised mostly of water, we are also powerfully affected – either for good or ill, by the words we hear and speak and the environment surrounding us. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see the illustration of happiness as reflected in water. 

 2.

As a teacher I know how important this is in regard to how one speaks to children. Parents, too, should be extra vigilant in their words and in being aware of the speech and atmosphere children are exposed to on TV and in movies and video games.

We may understand that all of Creation has a song, and is waiting for the full redemption of all things, when – as we are told in Romans 8:20 ff:  “…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Just as we sometimes do, all Creation can groan but it also can sing when it is valued and cared for and hears the harmony and balance of words and songs of love.

1. Photo – Shutterstock

2. Photo credit – Masaru Emoto – The Secret Life of Water.

THE TEN SONGS

The Sages of Israel describe ten archetypal songs that, beginning  with Adam, are echoed and sung throughout history. 

  1. The first song of ADAM was one of teshuvah, repentance. All restoration and healing begins with repentance. Through revelation of God and true repentance we can sing the song of Shabbat, which is the sign and gift of restored relationship with God.
  2. The second song is the Song of MOSES, MIRIAM, and all Israel when they were redeemed and set free from slavery upon crossing the Reed Sea.
  3. The third song was sung by ISRAEL when they miraculously received water in the wilderness when “…the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together, so that I may give them water.” Then Israel sang this song, “Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!” (Numbers 21:16-17).
  4. The fourth song, HA’AZINU – GIVE EAR, was sung by MOSES at the end of his life when he gave a review of mankind and Israel’s history and gives prophecies of the future. Nachmanides (the Ramban) and other Bible commentators consider that this song connects the days of Moses with the time of Messiah. (Deut. 32:1-43)
  5. The fifth song was sung by JOSHUA after God gave him the victory by miraculously stopping the sun and moon. (Joshua 10:12-14)
  6. The sixth song, recorded in the book of Judges, chapter 5, was sung by the judge and prophetess DEBORAH and her general BARAK after they enjoyed a great victory over Jabin, the king of Canaan, which resulted in forty years of peace in the Land.
  7. The seventh song, sung by HANNAH, the mother of the prophet Samuel, is a beautiful song of praise and thanksgiving to God. (Samuel 12:1-10)
  8. The eighth song, also a powerful song of thanksgiving, was sung by KING DAVID on the day He finally delivered him from King Saul and from all his enemies.  (II Samuel 22:1-51)
  9. The ninth song is the SONG OF SONGS – Shir HaShirim, written by King Solomon. It is believed that he composed it at the time he inaugurated the First Temple after being inspired by the awesome presence of God and was overwhelmed by his love for Him.
  10. The tenth song is the SONG OF MESSIAH, Shir HaMashiach, which will be sung at the full and final Redemption of Israel and the world. We will “sing a new song” to God. This song of deep joy will express a totally new understanding of life in all its completion, purpose, wholeness, and holiness. It will express the beauty and harmony of the holy gift of music itself; the music that  crosses boundaries and reaches hearts and brings healing and unity. The song of eternity.

~ Keren Hannah

MUSIC ON A JERUSALEM ROOFTOP
This was such a sweet experience… friends from the UK were spontaneously singing on a rooftop in the Old City of Jerusalem. A few lovely young Jewish people sang along and a Rabbi and Orthodox Jewish family came along to listen.

THE THREE WEEKS? Video and Notes

THE THREE WEEKS? 

Some may already be familiar with the seven weeks of counting the Omer between Pesach/Passover and the fiftieth day of Shavuot/Pentecost but…what are the “Three Weeks’? In Hebrew this period also is called Bein HaMetzarim, which means ‘In the Narrow Straits.’  Usually straits are rather dire, so that designation informs us that, basically, it is not a joyous time. To add confirmation to this, the three weeks are couched between two fast days. The first being the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz (this year, 2018, it falls on the 1st July). The second is the fast of the 9th AvTisha B’Av (21st July). Both are challenging in the northern hemisphere as they fall during the heat of midsummer. The second, Tisha B’Av,  is the ‘heavier’ fast day as it memorializes the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem as well as all the tragedies of Jewish history, many of which occurred during this timeframe. 

An understanding is conveyed in the Hebrew calendar that, while the people of God must remember and look back at the past with awe and respect and, yes, sadness at the tragedies, we must also look back with a sense of gratitude. Knowing the narrative of biblical history grounds us and gives a bedrock of God’s values upon which we can stand. It also points to the future and provides us with a clear sense of direction. So, while in the present, we take the opportunity to look back at the past in order to get a clearer understanding of the direction for the future. There also are specific lessons to be learned during this time.

For example, as we remember the sufferings of the past during the three weeks, we are reminded that suffering is a natural part of life. Ignoring suffering can desensitize and even dehumanize a person. Being aware of, and sensitive to, the suffering of others makes us more compassionate and enables us to reach through any barriers that may separate us. The simple realization that all human beings experience the same happinesses and endure the same sufferings is actually a powerful means of enabling us to reach out in compassion and to build unity. The unity where God commands a blessing! Psalm 133: 

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE THREE WEEKS?

Probably more so in traditional or Orthodox Jewish communities, external actions of mourning are practiced. Essentially these are limitations of outward expressions of happiness. For example, no parties or concerts are held, weddings are not celebrated, large purchases are not made – such as a house, pieces of furniture, or a car, and major home renovations are not undertaken. Then, in addition, during the last nine days, which are the first nine days of the month of Av, music is not played, clothes are not laundered or ironed, people don’t have haircuts and men don’t shave their beards. Some people choose to not eat meat or rich foods.  As the concentration on the physical elements of life become less, the focus on the internal and spiritual becomes more intense. The Sages of Israel point out the even as we are enjoined to increase our joy on the first day of the month Adar, leading up to the festival of Purim, so we are to minimize our happiness when the month of Av begins, leading up to the fast of Tisha B’Av. 

The prophet Jeremiah by Rembrandt *

On Tisha B’Av the book of Lamentations, Eikah, is read while sitting on the ground or a low stool in an attitude of mourning. As a reminder that fasting is to bring us to repentance, and is not an end in itself, we read in chapter 3: 40-41,

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! 

Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.

So, altogether, it is a time of examining our lives, and when we turn our hearts to our Father in Heaven in humility and honesty, we can with faith confront any problem, suffering or adversity, learn from it and go forward even stronger than before. We can open our hearts wide with hope to the promise of the future. 

Acclaimed Jewish author and teacher,  Erica Brown, in her book In the Narrow Places, [please see a review and excerpts from the book on the His-Israel website!] comments: 

“It is this persistent sense of hope that gives us the strength to remember and to transform memory into action; misery into repentance; and destruction into redemption.”

EXILE!

After the destruction of the Temples the Jewish people suffered times of exile. One of the greatest lessons learned in exile from Jerusalem and the Land of Israel was the pain of separation and isolation – a sense that you are different and you don’t really fit or belong in the society around you. Psychologists say that a sense of belonging is one of our primary needs and not having the security of “belonging” somewhere is deeply painful. 

We can praise our Father God for His love and the unity to be found in His family and Kingdom. And, even while in exile, the Jewish people had His Word to hold onto no matter where they were scattered and could believe in His promises that the day would come when we would return to the Land He had given as an inheritance – the Land which is forever His and where He has placed His Name forever. 

However, now that His people are back in His Land and the desert is again blooming like a rose, does that mean that everything is perfect and we all live in blissful unity? NO! The full restoration and redemption is not yet accomplished. History is still unfolding and we still have much learning and growing to do – as individuals, and as the nation and family of God.

In our day and age it was thought that, with all the modern technology and internet and advanced means of communication it would bring about much closer connection between people. Instead it has been found that people get more isolated individually, or into groups that think alike. In and of itself this might not be bad – people at least find a place to “belong.” The problem arises when a dislike, and even hatred, emerges towards others who are not ‘like-minded,’ who don’t “belong with us.” That is the clear indication that it is not a godly place and not a healthy place of belonging! 

WILDERNESS JOURNEY

Author Bren`e Brown, who suffered rejection from family and peers while growing up and learned, with the help of a loving husband, to work through it and overcome the pain of not belonging, defines true belonging in her book, Braving the Wilderness:

“True belonging is about breaking down the walls; abandoning our idealogical bunkers, and living for our wild [and deepest] heart rather than from our [hurt and] weary heart!”

As the title implies, these wilderness experiences we suffer and the lessons to be learned  push us out of our “Comfort Zone” and we are forced to confront our fears, uncertainties, and vulnerabilities.  We can try and ignore, avoid, or escape them but, in so doing, we will not move forward and learn and grow. By facing and ‘braving’ them and summoning up the courage to take the next step, we go forward and grow in becoming the person our loving Father created and purposed us to be. 

This is the aim and purpose of the Three Weeks – to look back at what History has taught us, as people of God, and, with His love and guidance, to closely become aware of what still needs attention and repentance, and healing in our own lives. Rather than letting fear and defensiveness control our decisions and actions we can place our trust in our Good Shepherd, the One who is faithful to guide and teach us, and toWho strengthens and enables us to go forward with a heart filled with gratitude and joy! Then our wilderness journey through life, rather than being a lonely, sad, and pointless wandering, becomes a creative, joyous, and purposeful adventure!

~ Keren Hannah

  • Photo – Shutterstock

THE ‘PLOT’OF HISTORY

By and large it seems that this present generation is an ahistorical generation. What has gone before is ignored and of little interest. Have we lost the plot? During the Three Weeks – and at any time of reflection and remembrance – we do well to consider why History is, in fact, important and what is lost when we do not deem it so.

~ Keren Hannah

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Hashiveinu!  Turn us to You, O Lord, and we shall be turned; Renew our days as of old.” (Lamentations 5:21)

I am not sure if it is there anymore but, before the recent major renovations, a quote attributed to the Baal Shem Tov was inscribed above the exit of the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It read: 

       “Forgetfulness leads to exile, while remembrance is the secret of redemption.”

The Feast days and the fast days are special periods of reflection in the Biblical calendar. They help us delve intentionally into God’s purposes in history; to plumb the depths of meaning both of the joys and of the tragedies and suffering of the past. As we do, we can marvel at how the ancient voices speak directly into our present reality and shine a light of understanding on today’s circumstances of confusion and pain. History, as God’s story, is the cord that binds us together. It is the crucible of the past that unites us and, as we learn from it, we can be transformed and propelled into the future with a clearer vision of His redemptive purposes.

Holocaust survivor, and renowned author and teacher, the late Eli Wiesel (z”l), endured memories of great suffering and he said: “Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.” If we forget or choose to ignore the suffering and lessons of the past because, maybe, that would disturb our comfort and interfere with our “happiness,” we will lose the plot of our existence. Without the lessons of history, that provide an anchor of core values and deeper meaning, we will be drifting in a shallow, aimless sea of meaninglessness.

Western culture presents us with a perfect example. With its emphasis on youth and pressing forward without regard for, or understanding of, the roots of history there is no awe, respect, or gratitude for what went before. Thus, as Erica Brown describes, “Memorial Day [in the United States] is not observed as a mourning period for the loss of soldiers; it is a day of barbecues, sales, and public pool openings.” We may notice, too, that Thanksgiving has lost its historic and spiritual meaning and has become a day of lavish and excessive turkey dinners and football.  The values have been lost along with the remembrance and there is a shallowness about it all. This also can be applied to Christianity that has cut itself off from the history of its Jewish Roots and in many cases the celebrations of Christmas and Easter can be viewed in the same light. The plot has been lost.

God’s timeframe for history is only found in the biblical calendar. At present we are anticipating the Three Weeks of reflection and repentance, which fall between the fast days of 17 Tammuz (1st July) and Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av (22nd July). On the 17th Tammuz, the walls of Jerusalem were breached and, after great suffering and the murder of her inhabitants, on Tisha b’Av the Holy Temple, the House of God, was destroyed.
As tragic as it was, the loss of the building itself was not the deepest sorrow. One can compare the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on 11th September, 2001. The deeper tragedy was the loss of thousands of lives – each of which impacted further ripples of families and friends, as well as all of us who cared with aching hearts. The reasons for mourning on Tisha b’Av are predominantly the loss of the visible reminder of the Presence of God; the loss of His city, a capital that stood as a spiritual heart for His people; the exile from the Land. Another cause is the pain of the baseless hatred – of the enemy and among the people themselves – that were the cause of the destruction. 

While we certainly can rejoice today at the restoration of the land of Israel and her people to it, and the reclamation of Jerusalem as the capital city, the story is not yet over. The warfare and pain continue and we teeter on the brink as a result of man’s forgetfulness and rejection of the ways and purposes of God. And so we mourn and repent, and pray and trust, and our hope is anchored in the mercy, compassion, and power of the God of Israel. We must simply determine to continue to serve Him in faith, and trust that He steadily will accomplish the ultimate goal of His great Redemption for all the earth.

“God is not a man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, 
that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
(Numbers 23:19)

The Liminal Space of ALIYAH   –  Debra Elfassy

“The relationship between G-d and man changes when man ascends
to the Land of Israel.” (Martin Buber)

During the latter part of the 19th Century there began a rustling in the tops of the mulberry trees; the gentle winds of Aliyah began stirring. Man and nature knew that something momentous was about to happen. The long, dark chapter of Jewish exile was about to end as G-d looked down on his people and said, “It is time.” During the two thousand years of persecution and horror in the nations where they’d been scattered, the House of Israel had been reduced to a valley of dry bones. Now the Spirit of G-d was hovering over the valley as it had hovered over the waters of Creation.

Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live. (Ezekiel 37:5,6)

The world looked on, an astonished witness to the ascending of the Jewish people from their graves in the nations as the words of Ezekiel became a reality:

There was a noise and a shaking as bone joined to bone, as sinews and flesh clung to them and skin covered them, but there was as yet no strength in them. Come from the four winds O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. (Ezekiel 37:7-9)

The Spirit of G-d filled them, and they stood upon their feet, a great army.

It was as if a nation clapped its hands and a door swung open. These Jews, so used to ‘crossing over,’ now crossed over from wandering to belonging; from exile to inheriting. But the Land that welcomed them lay as desolate and orphaned as the people; the land was a graveyard of rocks and stones, “a land not sown.”

~ Early Pioneers

The words of the Prophets echoed across the barren landscape:  Fear not, O land: be glad and rejoice; for the Lord will do great things.” (Joel 2:21) … “‘They shall build the waste places; and they shall plant vineyards…they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land…which I have given them,’ saith the Lord thy G-d.” (Amos 9:14,15)

 ALIYAH

The first of the Aliyot began in the late 1800s when some 30 families left Yemen. In addition, some seven thousand Jews left eastern Europe for Palestine during a wave of pogroms. They called themselves ‘BILU’ – ביל״ו, from the Bible verse Isaiah 2:5: Beit Ya’akov Lekhu v’nelikha b’ohr HaShem. “House of Jacob, come let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

What began as a trickle soon became a stream as Jews heard and responded to the shofar call to return to Zion. Only two years after Independence, every third person who walked the streets of the newborn State had returned after May 14, 1948. They came – the young and the old; the strong and the sick; pregnant women, and children nearly blinded by trachoma. Together with the traumatized masses who had survived the ravages of the Shoah and displaced persons’ camps of Europe, came Jews from the ghetto gutters of North Africa who had been uprooted from the ancient Jewish communities of the Maghreb. Some came on foot across the blistering sands of the Yemen and Arabian deserts; others came on the ‘wings of eagles’ like Operation Magic Carpet that carried some 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Eretz Israel. Still others others came in rusty, barely seaworthy vessels, carrying their ‘illegal’ human cargo to the shores of Zion under the threat of the British blockade. Had there ever been such a stream of people returning to their ancient homeland in so short a time?

YOSEPH

One of these new olim was a young boy, not yet fourteen, named Yoseph from Fes, Morocco.

He found himself, one day, standing on the platform of the train station; one of a crowd of bewildered children bidding farewell to not only his family, but also his past. Another Abram. Amid the jostling and commotion and tearful goodbyes, Yoseph’s Savta pressed a sandwich and a tiny wrapped parcel into his hands. The train whistle blew, the locomotive billowed clouds of smoke as it pulled out of the station, and Yoseph found himself, too abruptly, a boy alone. Close to tears, and with no appetite, he unfurled the wrapping of Savta’s love-gift. He saw a beautiful silver fork, knife and spoon set that , in the years to come, would always remind him of his childhood home in Fes. Many years later, that young boy was to become my husband, and that little cutlery set my treasure.

The steam locomotive chugged along with its precious human cargo, heading for the port of Casablanca where the bewildered children would be met by a Jewish Agency emissary from the Aliyat Hanoar Department( Youth Aliyah) who would accompany them on a ship headed for Marseilles, France. When the ship docked in Marseilles, they would be accompanied to temporary transit locations; ‘collection points’, so to speak, while they awaited the arrival of the ship that would carry them to their final destination, Eretz Yisrael. The children soon made friends, knit together by the trauma and excitement of their journey; friendships that would last a lifetime. Yoseph’s sojourn in France was spent at an orphanage in Montpelier.

THE NEGBA

One fine day a rather rickety ship, the ‘Negba,’ docked in Marseilles and the dream became a reality. The family of children set sail for Naples, Italy and then for Piraeus, Cyprus where other children joined their ranks on the holy adventure. The ‘Negba’ was now carrying three hundred and three children from the lands of Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, France, Brazil, Algeria, America and Holland to their beckoning ancient land, now pregnant with future promise.

On the 8th April,1952, a beautiful spring day, the Negba approached the harbor of Haifa, a stone-stepped city huddling against the biblical Mount Carmel. For Yoseph it was love at first sight; and the realization of G-d’s promise to His people: “Rise up my love, and come away…the winter is past…the flowers appear on the earth…the time of the singing of birds is come…the fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give their fragrance.” (Song of Songs 2:10-13) After completing the required customs and quarantine inspections, Yoseph and his companions spent their first night in the Promised Land in an immigrant house high on Mount Carmel.

~ Yossi’s Teudat Zeut – Oleh identity card

THE KIBBUTZ

The following day the youths were met by emissaries representing the new farming communities in Israel, called kibbutzim, who then accompanied each respective group to a ma’abarah or transit camp. Yoseph’s group was selected to go to Kfar Giladi, a kibbutz high up in the north of Israel overlooking the Hula Valley, which straddled the Lebanese border. On their arrival they were greeted with songs and spartan wooden tables bursting with the crops of the Land; a mini-wedding between the Land and her returnees. They were like dreamers, their mouths filled with laughter and their tongues with songs of joy.

~ At Kfar Giladi – Yossi on the left wearing a hat.

They soon learned, however, that this newfound freedom did not come without price. These northern settlements faced constant attacks by Arab marauders and armed gangs who stole their produce and set their fields on fire. They learned that for the Jew in Israel, land meant life and no land meant death; and that Israel was a Jewish island in the midst of a hostile Arab sea. The kibbutz transformed its new halutzim (pioneers) into a new type of man: tillers of the soil in peace and fighters in war.

The dream and aims of the kibbutz movement were to reclaim the Land, restore it to its previous fertility and, also, to restore to the Jewish people its national life, language and culture. Its principles of freedom and equality united all of Israel into one big family. Members ate their meals together in the communal dining room; their children slept together in childrens’ houses. By day Yoseph and his friends joined the seasoned kibbutzniks and toiled the fields, drained the malarial marshes and lifted boulders with their bare hands.  In the evenings they would gather for lectures and poetry recitations, or join in the communal singing and dancing of the hora beneath the stars.

Hebrew, the Language of the Book, used in the Diaspora only for studying the Sacred Scriptures, now became the daily language of the People of the Book. The tongue of Solomon’s love songs and Moses’ Torah became the language of the new State – of bus drivers and street sweepers and statesmen. It was the language now used to buy bread and sugar and shoes.

A NEW HOME

After a suitable period of adjustment, Yoseph, now affectionately called Yossi, and his fellows were sent to the Mikveh Yisrael agricultural institution in Holon, near Tel Aviv, where young Jewish olim were schooled in all fields of Zionist activity, agriculture, and defence. Founded in 1870, its name was taken from two passages in Jeremiah, 14:8 and 17:13. The goal of Mikveh Yisrael was to equip these young boys and girls to establish villages and settlements all over Israel and to help the desert to blossom as a rose.

~ Mikveh Yisrael Agricultural Institution

From Mikveh Yisrael Yossi was absorbed into his new permanent home, Kibbutz Ein-Gev on the yonder shore of Lake Kinneret. Located at the foot of ancient Susita, and nestling in the shadow of the towering Golan Heights, Kibbutz Ein- Gev came under constant Syrian bombardment. Yossi was ‘adopted’ into a kibbutz family and it was not long after that he, together with other boys in his kvutza, became Bar Mitzva. These were the days of tsenna (austerity) when strict rationing was a way of life and all that each young man was given as a Bar Mitzvah gift were a lollipop and a Sefer Torah.

~ Early photograph of Ein Gev

~ Looking across the Kinneret towards Ein Gev from Tiberias

These young pioneers were idealistic men and women of the soil and cared not for material things; even the clothes they wore were shared. They owned nothing, yet lacked nothing. How good and pleasant it was back then when brethren dwelt together in unity. When Yossi wasn’t toiling in the banana and date plantations or milking cows in the reffet, he was baking bread and braided challot for Shabbat in the communal kitchen. He remembers the singing of the songs of Zion around the bonfires of an evening and the long hours of keeping guard under possible sniper fire in the dead of night. He also remembers the endless wars; losing his friends; captaining the boat that would carry wounded IDF soldiers from the Golan across the Kinneret to the hospital in Tiberias. He remembers his long conversations with David Ben Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon. The honey and the thorn; the bitter and the sweet. But most of all he remembers celebrating Chaim – Life.

God’s great gift to Israel is the Land and the firstfruits of His increase. (Jeremiah 2:3)  Zion is the centre of His world-plan, and the goal of its fruitfulness is the salvation of the whole world. The fruit will come when the Jews come home.                                        (Martin Buber)

 

~ Debra and Yossi

~ Yossi, 2017, lighting the hannukiah lights

 

GLOSSARY

Aliyah (plural Aliyot)

Bar Mitzva – literally ‘a son of the commandment.’  When a Jewish boy turns 13 a ceremony is held in celebration of his “taking on the yoke of the Torah.” He comes of age to take responsibility for continued study and obedience to G-d’s Word.

challah (plural – challot) special braided bread for Shabbat

Diaspora – lands of exile outside of Israel

Eretz Yisrael – The Land of Israel

hora – a circle folk dance

kibbutz (plural – kibbutzim) – a collective farming community

Kinneret – Sea of Galilee

kvutza – group

oleh (plural – olim) – immigrant who has made Aliyah to Israel

reffet – cowshed

Sefer Torah – A Tanach – the Hebrew Scriptures

Shoah – the Holocaust

Savta – grandmother

PSALM for DAY 7 – SHABBAT / Saturday

Day 7 – SHABBAT – Saturday

Psalm 92

A Song for Shabbat

It is good to give thanks to the Lord
to sing praises to Your Name, O Most High;
to declare Your steadfast love in the morning,
and Your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For You, O Lord, have made me glad by Your work;
at the work of Your hands I sing for joy.

How great are Your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep.
The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:
that though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever;
but You, O Lord are high forever.

For behold Your enemies, O Lord,
for behold Your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered.

But You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
You have poured over me fresh oil.
My eyes have seen the downfall of all my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the House of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;

He is my Rock,
and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Artwork credit: Yoram Raanan, Israel.

PSALM for DAY 6 – Yom Shishi / Friday

Day 6 – Yom Shishi – Friday

Psalm 93

The Lord reigns;
He is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed;
He has put on strength as His belt.
Yes, the world is established;
it shall never be moved.

Your throne is established from of old;
You are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunder of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!

Your decrees are very trustworthy;
holiness befits Your house,
O Lord forevermore.

Artwork credit: Shimon Nachshon, Israel.

PSALM for Day 5 – Yom Chamishi / Thursday

Yom Chamishi – Day 5 – Thursday

Psalm 81

To Him who grants victory – by Asaph

Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the shofar at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.
For it is a statute for Israel, a judgment of the God of Jacob.
He made it a decree in Joseph when he went out over the land of Egypt.

I hear a language I had not known:
“I have removed his shoulder from the burden,
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called and I delivered you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.”  Selah.

“Hear O my people, while I admonish you.
O Israel, if you would but listen to Me.
There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”

But My people would not listen to My voice,
and Israel would not submit to Me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
Oh, that My people would listen to Me,
that Israel would walk in My ways.
I would soon subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward Him,
and their fate would last forever.

But He would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.

Artwork credit: Matt Doll

 

 

 

 

 

Hebrew Exercises – Self-correct ANSWERS

EXERCISE 1. Vocab.

 In the paragraph below, find the correct word or phrase that matches the  Hebrew words in the list.  Fill them in or write out both lists for practice!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light day and the darkness He called night. He separated the dry land from the waterof the seas.

     the earth      הארץ.      sea        ים          in the beginning    בראשית

the heavens       השמים           good  טוב                          created  ברה                                                            

darkness       חוֹשֶך                   night        לאילה                    light  אור

   God          אלֹהים           and there was      וְהַיהַ             water    מיים    

      

 

EXERCISE 2 . Vocab.

The root word rosh –  ראש  – means the beginning, or the head of;  something important.

Match the Hebrew words with the meanings:

ראש השנה  /  ראש בית ספר   /  ראש חודש   /  ראש הממשלה    /   הראש שלי

1. Beginning of a new month – ראש חודש

2. School principal / head of a school – ראש בית ספר

3. My head! –  הראש שלי

4. The Prime Minister –  ראש הממשלה

5. New Year / the beginning of the year – ראש השנה

 

 

EXERCISE 3.   Nouns – masculine and feminine

A. Copy the columns and fill in the missing nouns from the list:

בַנַמַה, יַלְדָה, בת, אוֹטוֹבוס, אַבָה, יַרֵאַח, בָיִתת , תמונה

boy  – yeled – יֵלֵד                           girl – yaldah – יַלְדָה,

father – abbaאַבָה                       mother – imah – אִימָא

son – ben –  בֵן                              daughter – bat – בת

book – sefer –  סֵפֶר                        picture – temunahתמונה

house – bayitבָיִת                      candle – ner –  נֵר

bus – ohtobus – אוֹטוֹבוס                 ship – ohniah – אֱנִייָה

orange – tappuz – תַפוז                  banana – bananahבַנַמַה

 

B. The Definite Article – ‘ha’ – 

By adding the definite article hey –  – as a prefix before the noun, you form a defining noun. E.g., a boy, yeled,  יֵלֵד   becomes the boy – ha‘yeled –  הָיֵלֵד

Do the same with the other nouns in the lists above.

C. Singular and Plural

Generally, masculine nouns in the plural form are given the suffix – im – יִם and feminine plurals are given  – ot – וֹת. E.g., boy – boys, yeled – yeladim – יֵלַדִים; girl – girls, yaldah – yeladot – יְלַדוֹת

These change the form of the word somewhat, as do: sons – banim and daughters – banot.

Fathers also are exceptions – avot , while mothers simply add an ‘ot’ –  ima’ot.

Write the plural forms of the remaining nouns in A.,
which simply receive the general endings im and ot.

סֵפֶר  – ספרים

תמונה  –  תמונות

בית   – בתים

נר – נרות

אותובוס – אוטובוסים    

אנייה – אונייות

תפוז – תפוזים

בננה – בננות

 

EXERCISE 4 – Nouns and Adjectives

Match the Hebrew word or phrase with the phrases below.

יוֹם אַרוֹך , הָבַיִת הָקַטַן , סֵפֶר טוֹב , בתִים גְדוֹלִים ,  המִִיכְתַב , הָיַלְדָה הָיַפָה , הָאַח שֵלוֹ , גַן יְלַדִים

ספר טוב , הָכֶלֶב שֵלִי , סוסים גדולים , השבוע

1. a good book     –   ספר טוב

2. the small house  –    הָבַיִת הָקַטַן

3. a children’s kindergarten –   גַן יְלַדִים

4. the letter –   המִִיכְתַב

5. his brother –  הָאַח שֵלוֹ

6. the pretty girl – הָיַלְדָה הָיַפָה

9. my dog – הָכֶלֶב שֵלִי

10. this week – השבוע

Homework Exercise 5 – La’Jiraf Yesh Tsavar Aroch – A Giraffe Has A Long Neck

VOCAB. EXERCISE 2 : Fill in the words of the song in English.

The giraffe has a long neck. He can see a bus before it leaves (goes out). And the sun before it dawns.

All that we can see, the giraffe sees before us (we do). He also gets remarks from those who see him:
“How good to be a tall animal!

The giraffe has a long neck.
He sees people at the edge of the world
and he predicts:
“Friends, in two months there will be rain!”

From the height of the giraffe we all look short. And the biggest problems we have
all look like small dots to the giraffe!

PSALM for DAY 4 – Yom Revi’i / Wednesday

Yom Revi’i  – Day 4 – Wednesday

PSALM  94

God of retribution. Lord, God of retribution, appear!
Rise up, Judge of the earth. Repay to the arrogant what they deserve.
How long shall the wicked, Lord, how long shall the wicked triumph?
They pour out insolent words. All the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush Your people, Lord, and oppress Your inheritance.
They kill the widow and stranger. They murder the orphaned.
They say, “The Lord does not see. The God of Jacob pays no heed.”
Take heed, you most brutish people. You fools, when will you grow wise?
Will He who implants the ear not hear? Will He who formed the eye not see?
Will He who disciplines nations – He who teaches man knowledge – not punish?

The Lord knows that the thoughts of man are a mere fleeting breath.
Happy is the man who You discipline, Lord, the one You instruct in Your Torah,
giving him tranquillity in days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked.
For the Lord will not forsake His people, nor abandon His heritage.
Judgment shall again accord with justice, and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will stand up for me against wrongdoers?
Had the Lord not been my help, I would soon have dwelt in death’s silence.
When I thought my foot was slipping, Your loving-kindness Lord gave me support.
When I was filled with anxiety, Your consolations soothed my soul.
Can a corrupt throne be allied with You? Can injustice be framed into law?
They join forces against the life of the righteous, and condemn the innocent to death.
But the Lord is my stronghold, my God is the Rock of my refuge.
He will bring back on them their wickedness, and destroy them for their evil deeds.
The Lord our God will destroy them.

Come let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout aloud to the God of our Salvation.
Let us greet Him with songs of praise.
For the Lord is the great God, the King great above all powers.

Photo credit: Sarah Showalter

TAMMUZ – 4th Biblical Month – Being Holy, Being Whole

TAMMUZ

THEME:  VISION AND PERCEPTION

BODY:  EYES

QUOTE:  When you place your life in the hand of God, you begin to see His hand in everything.

PSALM : 42 G-d-my-Ever-Present-Help

CREATIVE EXPRESSION: Find pictures; draw your own; sketch; write down any other Scripture verses and/or quotes that will illustrate and express the theme and what you are
learning and experiencing this month. 

G-d-my-Ever-Present-Help 

Psalm 42 is a maskil – a song of instruction. Its words carry a spiritual lesson. It could well have been written by David while he was fleeing from King Saul, who was intending to kill him, and David was hiding in a cave at Ein Gedi. There he would have observed the deer and mountain goats and heard their panting for water as they approached the Ein Gedi oasis from the surrounding desert. The psalm vividly describes the pain of perceiving that, while separated from home, family and friends, one is separated from G-d Himself. As a deer pants for water, the source of life in a dry land, so one’s soul becomes dry and thirsty for the life-giving water of the presence of G-d.

It is, however, a false perception – a result of the scorn and reviling of those who jealously mocked him, saying, in effect,  “You are nothing but a fugitive. Where is your God now?” This same scorn followed Israel throughout her exile and has brought much pain and many tears. The psalmist, however, expresses the truth that G-d’s Word is the Hope they can cling to and rejoice in. His people are never alone. They can say: “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love [over me], and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” (v.8). His hand always is there when we reach out for it. Our hearts always can sing to Him in response to His constant, unshakeable love. 

CE: Write out the verses that resonate with you and express your responses to the Psalm. 

PARTS OF THE BODY – EYES

Last month we saw how the Name of G-d was embedded in our skeletal frame. This month we will begin to examine the head, which would link with the first letter in the Name of G-d – the yod. The head is the head, the ‘manager’ as it were, of the body. As well as the brain, it carries the four sensory organs of the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. This month we will focus on the eyes. The eyes are considered the most important of the four and often are compared to wisdom – the seeing and understanding the essence of something. 

The Hebrew word for eye – ayin / עיןhas the numerical value of 70; an important number in the Bible. Abraham was 70 when God cut the Covenant of the Pieces with him. There were 70 souls of the house of Jacob who went down to Egypt (Genesis 46). There are 70 archetypal nations of the world, for whom 70 bulls were offered as sacrifices during the week of the Festival of Sukkot. These correspond to 70 evil characteristics that epitomise the worldly nations, of which the trait of sexual immorality is considered the most widespread and damaging.  The Torah is considered to have 70 facets that counteract these evil characteristics.

The Shemah prayer, the first learned by Jewish children and prayed at least twice a day, is prayed with the right hand covering the eyes to impress the importance of sight and how we “see” things. The verse Numbers 15:39 is included in the Shemah: “…remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after.” The verse refers to the tzitzit – the tassles on the corners of a man’s tallit, prayer shawl and tallit katan, a vest-like undergarment. By constantly seeing the tassles, a man is reminded to obey God’s will and to be “holy to your God.” Yeshua emphasised the importance of not “straying after one’s eyes” in Matthew 5:28, when he said:”…I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

Another important aspect of seeing is included in the portion. The account of ‘The Sin of the Ten Spies.’ The Israelites are camped on the border of the Promised Land and twelve leaders, one from every tribe, were sent by Moses to scout out the Land, to “see” what it was like, and to bring back a report. After 40 days they returned and, according to their report, ten saw one thing and two saw another. What happened? The ten described ‘reality’ as they saw it, from a fear-filled perspective, and gave a negative report of the ‘giants’ the inhabited the Land and made them feel like grasshoppers. The two – Joshua and Caleb, assured the now terrified people of the goodness of the Land and they would be able to conquer the giants because G-d had promised and was with them. Which perspective won out? Sadly, the faithless fear-based one… and, as a result, that generation continued to wander for 40 years and died in the wilderness. What was their sin, which is considered to be worse than the Sin of the Golden Calf? They did not see with eyes of faith and they turned their backs on the Land G-d had promised them for generations as their sacred inheritance.

We could argue that the two were facing reality and were only sharing what they had seen with their own eyes. Joshua and Caleb, by the way, did not argue with them about the challenge posed by the warlike inhabitants but emphasised how the reality we see with our physical eyes is not necessarily the truth of the matter. In a wonderful commentary by David Ebenbach, called The Artist’s Torah, he describes how, when a person is in pursuit of truth – about life, about meaning, about the universe, the Divine, often the things we discover may seem completely unrealistic! We need to see beyond the seemingly ‘real.’ Ebenbach quotes from scholar Earle Colman’s book, Creativity and Spirituality, how famous Jewish artist Marc Chagall called spiritual reality unreality. To see the spiritual view, which G-d was asking the Israelites to do, means seeing and grasping the truth that is beyond the mundane reality which we see around us. In his autobiography, Marc Chagall wrote of his search for truth and G-d’s unique purpose for him: 

I roamed the streets, I searched, I prayed. “G-d, Thou who hides in the clouds or behind the shoemaker’s house, grant that my soul may be revealed, the sorrowful soul of a stammering boy. Show me my way. I do not want to be like all the others. I want to see a new world.

Stained glass window – Marc Chagall

Interestingly, I believe that art and creativity are gifts, tools, we have been given to better envision the reality of the spiritual realm. It began in the wilderness with the creation of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) with all its beauty and design, color and pattern, as a vision of this “new world” – the world as G-d created it to be, with His Presence dwelling among us. In fact, the Hebrew words for art – ohmanut –  אמנות, and faith –  אמונה, both have the same root אמנ, amen, which is an acronym for El Melech Ne’eman,  which means G-d Faithful King. The truth of which is the basis of our faith! 

Ebenbach also quotes the well-known poet and author Saul Bellow (whose novel Seize the Day popularised the Carpe Diem saying, and whose novel Henderson the Rain King is a perennial favorite) who said, in his 1976 Nobel Prize winning acceptance speech:

Only art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and habit erect on la sides – the seeming reality of this world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality [Chagall’s new word?] is always sending us hints which, without art, we can’t receive. 

We need to be visionaries. What does that mean? To be a visionary means, not ignoring the reality of what we see around us, but perceiving things that are not there – yet! It means standing with Caleb and Joshua against the fear and pessimistic proclamations and rather to proclaim the truth of what we can envision – that which is written and promised in the Word of our Creator.

HOW DO WE SEE? 

There are many idioms associated with seeing, for example, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” There is a danger in choosing to see only that which we want to see, as opposed to the reality of what actually is there. Our perception of things can be distorted by, for example, the desire to be right and to not admit to ignorance, or a mistaken understanding of the facts. The Torah also underscores in the case of making a judgment, “And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right” (Exodus 23:8).  There are many forms of ‘bribery’ – peer pressure, desire to be popular and accepted, or to be seen as important. If we succumb to these we can make unfair and unsound judgments and end up calling bad good and good bad.

The Sages of Israel describe the reality of a Good Eye – ayin tov (עין טוב), and an Evil Eye – ayin rah (עין רע).  Proverbs 22:9 tells us,  “Whoever has a good eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.” Abraham is the prime example of one with a good eye for he intently watched out for those whom he could help and always tried to see the good in others. Balaam is an example of one with an evil eye – someone who always looks for fault, is willing to accept bribes, and is jealous of another’s goods or status. One with a good eye gives, while one with an evil eye takes and the latter is never satisfied with what he has; he is driven by greed.

In order to combat the presence of the ‘evil eye’ – from evil thoughts about others, from jealousy and covetousness, and all forms of negative thinking, our focus must be on God’s Word, which is Truth. We need to shift our gaze from the materialism and influence of the ‘kingdom of the world’ – Olam HaZeh around us and remain focussed on the Kingdom of God and Olam HaBa – the World to Come. That doesn’t mean, as the popular saying goes, that one must be so heavenly minded that one is no earthly good! It means that we need to train our eyes to see the Presence of God and the signs of His provision in this world, even while we know that this is but an all too brief transition to the eternal world to come. 

The eyes of our Father in Heaven always are upon His children; and upon those who are searching for Him. “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God” (Psalm 14:2). Psalm 145:15-16 also tells us how, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” He is the prime Giver, the perfect Ayin Tov, Good Eye.We need to see and understand that all our provision comes from God. When we do we will have an attitude of complete trust in Him for all our daily needs. We will learn to see His hand clearly and will be able to respond in heartfelt gratitude without ever taking it for granted. Then we will be able to work more in harmony with Him in this world. We will be able to taste and see that God is good! (Psalm 34:9)

The prophet Isaiah gives a beautiful, joyful promise to those who are watchmen and women, watching for God, in 52:8, “The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.” Seeing ‘eye to eye’ means being in perfect agreement. Coming to an intimate knowledge of God through His Word, and having one’s will in harmony with His; being ‘one’ with, just as Yeshua was with the Father. As he prayed to the Father for his disciples before his arrest in John 17: 17-24, 

Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth. As You sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world….The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and You in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent me and loved them even as You loved me. 

The prophet Habakkuk tells us that after Messiah is enthroned in Zion, ruling over God’s Kingdom, “…the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). Until then, let us pray…

Abba, Father, our desire is to “see eye to eye” with You. Help us to surrender our lives more fully into Your Hand and to begin to see Your hand more clearly in all things. Thank You for Your faithful provision. We pray that you will continue to sustain us and strengthen us in all You call us to do. May we continue to grow in knowledge of You, and to become more and more the people You created us to be; each one unique and in Your image. 

Help us to study and gain deeper knowledge of Your Word that we may stand securely on it and proclaim is Truth without worry of being led astray. Our trust is in You Abba. Thank You that You hear us when we call to You.You see our hearts and know our love for You and for Your son and Messiah. Let us keep our gaze upon You and Your amazing wonders even in this world; and may our inner focus be on the glory and reality of the World to Come. For Your Holy Name’s sake! 

                                    May we constantly…

~ Keren Hannah

Thanks to Geneva Seeds for the photograph!


 

We are blessed and honored this month to have TERRY MASON, a dear friend, share with us his perspectives on the value of eyes and sight, both physical and spiritual, and his experiences of birdwatching in Jerusalem. 

 

PSALM for DAY 3 – Yom Shlishi /Tuesday

Yom Shlishi – Day 3 – Tuesday

PSALM  82

A psalm of Asaph.

God stands in the Divine assembly. Among the judges He delivers judgment.
How long will you judge unjustly, showing favor to th wicked? Selah.
Do justice to the weak and the orphaned. Vindicate the poor and destitute.
Rescue the weak and needy. Save them from the hand of the wicked.
They do not know nor do they understand.
They walk about in darkness while all the earth’s foundations shake.
I once said, “You are like gods, all of you are sons of the Most High.”
But you shall die like mere men, you will fall like any prince.

Arise O Lord, judge the earth. for all the nations are Your possession.

“A judge who delivers a true judgment becomes a partner of thre Most Holy One,
blessed be He, in the work of Creation.” (Shabbat 103)

 

PSALM for DAY 2 – Yom Sheni / Monday

Yom Sheni – Day 2 – Monday

PSALM  48

A song. A psalm to the sons of Korach.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of God, in His holy montain – beautiful in its heights,the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion on its northern side,
the City of the Great King.
In its citadels God is known as a stronghold.
See how the kings joined forces, advancing together.
They saw, they were astounded, they panicked, they fled.
There fear seized them, like the pains of a woman giving birth,
like ships of Tarshish wrecked by an eastern wind.
What we had heard, now we have seen, in the city of the God of hosts,
in the City of our God.
May God preserve it forever, Selah!

In the midst of Your Temple O God, we meditate on Your love.
As is Your Name, God, so is Your praise: it reaches to the end of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with righteousness.
Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the towns of Judah be glad, because of Your judgments.
Walk around Zion and encircle it. Count its towers, note its strong walls, view its citadels,
so that you may tell a future generation that this is God, our God, for ever and ever.
He will guide us forevermore.

Photo credit: Kenneth Berg

 

HOPE and HARPS – The Promise

HOPE – Tikvah

THE PROMISE OF HOPE

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

HARPS OF GOD

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

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

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

 

esther-lamandier

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

HalleluYah!

~Keren Hannah Pryor

 

Footnotes:

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

Art of REVELATION by Yoram Raanan

“Few artists in the Jewish world capture the beauty of holiness, and avodah [worship]…than Yoram Raanan.”

~ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Raanan’s paintings add a dimension of renewal, revival and hope. His paintings create a bridge between past and future, the individual and community and between physical and spiritual.

~ Nurit Siris Bank –  Curator, Researcher, Lecturer

Art of REVELATION – A Visual Encounter with the Jewish Bible

Paintings by Yoram Raanan \ Commentary and Explorations by Meira Raanan

Review by Keren Hannah 

 

Yoram Raanan and his wife Meira live on  moshav Beit Meir, a type of communal village, in the Judean hills outside Jerusalem. I remember well the horror of the wave of arson attacks by PLO terrorists during November of 2016. I experienced deep shock and sadness on hearing that the Raanans’ moshav was one of those targeted and part of the destruction suffered was the burning of Yoram’s art studio. Forty years of his life’s work, about 2000 works of art, were consumed in the flames of the enemy’s hatred.
His collection included canvases being saved for their children and grandchildren’s inheritance as well as many intended for a worldwide exhibition and for inclusion in a museum of Jewish Art.

Yoram recalls how, as he and his wife were escaping their still burning village, he had a revelation: “I realized that this was surely the work of G-d, and only good would come of it.”  He understood that what the enemy meant for evil, G-d could turn around for good and for blessing. This book, indeed, as a vessel for sharing much of his art with the world, is a major source of goodness and blessing.

He and Meira had for many years been capturing the inner depths of the weekly Torah portions. Yoram depicted the parasha in a painting and Meira researched and wrote about the biblical understanding and the artistic nuances that these visual representations of the parshiot conveyed. Baruch HaShem – thank G-d, their work was recorded digitally and can now be shared and kept alive in the pages of this book.

Meira describes the spiritual essence of Yoram’s art beautifully when she says:

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once said: “Real art does not reproduce the visible, but rather reveals the invisible.” Raanan’s art strives to make… the transcendent moments in Torah visible – to reveal the inner dimension and essence of the events, the people, the laws, and stories of the biblical narrative. …We experience vibrations of light and color, and an energy that affects our hearts and emotions.

~ The Seventh Day of Creation

~ The Banquet of Joseph and his Brothers

~ The Lion of Judah

My personal encounter with Art of REVELATION was like entering the Holy Place of the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). As I perused the pages, I was aware of many key recent Bible studies and spiritual points of focus somehow converging together in unity. It was as if, suddenly, in the words and pictures before me, layers of meaning were surfacing and blending together in a burst of revelation, beauty and color. Threads of previous inspiration and understanding of G-d’s Word were being pulled together in a glowing tapestry.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacke well expressed in his Introduction: 

Art is supremely the language of the spirit. God wants us to see beauty and create beauty.

This unique book, dear readers, will be an investment for your own continual enjoyment, as well as an opportunity to share its wonder with family and friends.

~ The Peace Offering

~ The Cherubim above the Ark

Available at Pomeranz Bookstore in Jerusalem – www.pomeranzbooks.com  – 011-972-6235559 / 1-800-SFORIM / pomeranz@netmedia.net.il

Or via the Raanan Art website. www.YoramRaanan.com/new-release