Being Holy Being Whole – CHESHVAN – 8th Hebrew Month


CHESHVAN – The 8th Hebrew Month

THEME: BREATH, FRAGRANCE, PATIENCE

BODY:  NOSE 

QUOTE: May our lives emit the fragrance of His Presence. 

Psalm 33:6 tells us: “With the Word of God the heavens were made; with the breath of His mouth, all their hosts.” 

From the very beginning we realize the importance and power of breath. All that is was created by the breath of God, and His Divine breath is the constant sustainer of life.When God created man we are told: “God breathed into Adam’s nostrils” (Genesis 2:7). We know that the nose is the main passageway for air. Also, it contains membranes and fine hairs called cilia, which filter and purify the air when we inhale. Thus, the nose plays a vital part in the process of respiration. Through our noses we draw in air and oxygen which descends to our lungs. There life-sustaining oxygen is absorbed and channeled to the heart, which distributes it into our blood. There the oxygen is absorbed and the waste of carbon-dioxide is brought back to the lungs from where it is exhaled. There we have the fairly simple process of breathing, which helps to sustain our lives. It is a process we mostly take for granted until, G-d forbid, something goes wrong!

A Hebrew word intimately connected with respiration is ruach ((רוח. Ruach has many meanings; for example, it can refer to the wind that blows outdoors. Metaphysically, it can mean spirit or soul. A person’s ruach is the basic essence of one’s personality, one’s character, which is affected by one’s mind, thoughts, attitudes. Psychologically, too, e.g., one can speak of a ruach or spirit of despair, or a deep, quiet spirit. The Ruach HaKodesh (רוח הקודש) is the Spirit of Holiness – the Spirit of God that can fill, inspire, and anoint one. The prophets, for example, were inspired (or in-spirited), to speak words from God to the people. The prophet Isaiah describes how Messiah is blessed with six qualities of the Spirit of God:- 

A ruach of wisdom and understanding, a ruach of counsel and might, a ruach of knowledge and of fear of God.” (11:2)

The Ruach is a gift from the Father to HIs beloved children. Yeshua instructed his talmidim to remain in Jerusalem after he ascended to the Father until Shavuot when they would receive the promise of the Father of a special anointing of the Holy Spirit  in power (Acts 1:4-5). In the face of the ever-increasing Godlessness in the world today, we can trust the Spirit of Holiness to cleanse our hearts of any impediments that would hinder us from growing in knowledge of the One true God and, as a result, would prevent us from growing in a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. Proverbs 20:27 tells us: “The spirit of man is the lamp, or candle, of the Lord.” We are encouraged by Matthew, in chapter 12:21-22, who quotes the prophet Isaiah in saying, regarding the Messiah who would be “…a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out from prison those who sit in darkness,” that “…a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning – or smoldering,  wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:1-4). No matter how faint a person’s faith is, the Spirit of God can fan it into a brightly burning flame!

We know that physical and spiritual realities are intertwined. In a lovely metaphor, the Breslover Rabbi Nachman compares the lungs to two wings whose gentle movement constantly fans and cools the heart in its demanding work of pumping blood, thus regulating its temperature and enabling it to operate smoothly without overheating. To live, physically, we need a constant supply of air and water. Spiritually, the Torah, or Word of God, is often compared to both of these life-sustaining elements. In connection with breathing, we inhale the moisture-laden air of Torah, which fills our being with life. Interestingly, the five books of Torah can be compared to the five lobes of the lungs. When we breathe in the truth and holiness of His Word, our response should be to exhale prayer – words of thanksgiving and praise to the Giver of Life, as well as words that carry truth, kindness, and holiness. 

The enemies of God and His people “…breathe out cruelty, or violence” (Psalm 27:12). This indicates that what they are breathing in – their very life source and essence of being is cruelty, hatred, violence, and lies.  The words we breathe out have power, and either elevate or deplete us spiritually. In addition, they have the power to influence and affect those around us. Let us speak life-giving words and be careful to not be a source of Air pollution!

Happily, when Messiah is reigning as King of kings over all the earth, and all mankind turns to God, then speech will be perfected, as the prophet Zephaniah foretells: “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord” (3:9).

The Hebrew word for nose is af, which also can mean anger. In II Samuel 22:9, anger is compared to smoke “…escaping through the nostrils.” If one becomes angry, impatient, or anxious, one tends to breathe short, shallow breaths. Being aware of this and regulating one’s breathing by taking deep, long and slow breaths, helps control the negative emotions. In Exodus 34:6, a characteristic of God is erech apayim – literally of ‘extended nose’ but meaning “long of breath, slow to anger, patient!”

We presently are moving from the intense and Feast-filled month of Tishrei into the quieter month of Cheshvan, which is sometimes called Mar-Cheshvan, (Mar means bitter), because it has no festivals. This also indicates a move, or shift, of awareness from an intense focus on our relationship with God, when we affirm His Kingship over our lives, and the universe in general, and rededicate ourselves in His service, to our relationship with and service to others. Cheshvan is the first Rosh Chodesh of the new calendar year that is celebrated after Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei. This initiates the start of our walk once again in connection with the others in our lives. We can employ what we learned during the intense month of Tishrei, when we purposed to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart,”  to now “…love your neighbour as yourself.”

FRAGRANCE.   May our lives emit the fragrance of His Presence.

The Hebrew words for spirit – ru’ach and smell – rei’ach are closely related, and for good reason. The sense of smell is mysterious and powerful. The Sages say that: “Mashiach will be able to ‘smell’ deceit and judge by his sense of smell.” (Sanhedrin 93b) In English, when something is “off” and does not seem right, we have the expression” “I smell a rat!”

In Exodus 20:13, the commandment “Do not commit adultery,” in Hebrew is, Lo tin’af, which literally would be translated as, “Do not give in to the nose!” The Sages comment that this can mean, “Do not even seek to smell the perfume of another woman for this leads to adultery.” 

Anatomically, the physical sense of smell is associated with the limbic lobe of the brain, which is considered to be the link between the cognitive and emotional processes, that is, between thoughts and feelings. Since the sexual urge is undoubtedly one of man’s strongest passions, which impacts his mind as well as his emotions, physiologically the sense of smell and sexual desire are interconnected. Quoting Rebbe Nachman again: “A spiritually pure  sense of smell can be attained only through sexual purity. Where sexual purity is lacking, spiritual energy inevitably wanes.”

In ancient biblical times perfumes were very costly and only used by royalty. We see in the book of Esther how the young women who were to be presented to the king underwent a treatment of “…six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women” (2:12). *

Of course, the Song of Songs is the most fragrance-laden of books in the Bible, and speaks of the king as “…perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant spices of a merchant” (3:6). We can make the connection with the gifts brought by the wise men from the East to the babe in Bethlehem, who is destined to become the King of kings, all of which indicate royalty: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In a striking example, it’s interesting to note that God filled His house with fragrance. The special incense burnt constantly on the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place filled the Temple and also all the surrounds of Jerusalem; so much so, that the women didn’t need to wear perfume. How wonderful to realize that as travellers, and pilgrims during the Feasts, approached Jerusalem they were informed of the presence of the King of the universe by the fragrance in the air. 

Stirred by the Spirit of Holiness, may we be filled with the beautiful fragrance of the presence of Messiah and may our homes and lives, too, emit a fragrance pleasing to our Father God.

 

CHESHVAN – The Eighth Hebrew month

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Blessing of the New Month – Birkat Ha’Chodesh

May it be Your will, O Lord, our God and the God of our forefathers, that You inaugurate this month of Cheshvan upon us for goodness and for blessing.

May You give us long life,

a life of peace – Shalom,

a life of goodness – Tovah

a life of blessing – Bracha

a life of sustenance – Parnassa

a life of physical health – Hilutz Atzamot

a life in which there is a fear of heaven and fear of sin – Yirat Shamayim ve’ Yirat Chet

a life in which there is no humiliation – Ein Busha u’Chlimah

a life of wealth and honor – Osher ve’Kavod

a life in which we will have love of Torah and awe and reverence of God

Ahavat Torah ve’Yirat HaShem

a life in which Adonai, the Lord, fulfills our heartfelt requests for good.

Amen. Selah.

The cycle of the moon, with its waxing and waning, is symbolic of renewal. It is a constant illustration of the fact that, as we journey through life, we too continually experience phases of growth and decline, prominence and hiddenness. Every day, week, month and year are opportunities for new beginnings. Biblically, the number 7 indicates completion – the Shabbat crowns and completes the week. The number 8, as in the eigth day, indicates a new beginning in a special way and is seen by the Sages as representing Olam HaBa,  (the World to Come or Eternity) once Olam HaZeh, this world, has reached its completion.

It is also worthy of note that the observance of Rosh Chodesh was the first commandment given to Israel as a newly formed nation (Exodus 12:2). Israel thus has a special, God ordained, identification with the moon. It serves as a reminder that Israel’s glory may fade and seemingly disappear but the nation will always re-emerge and grow to fullness, as does the moon.  For Israel, and those who stand with her – particularly at this time of God’s restoration of the nation and the violent attempts of the enemy to prevent it –  the blessing of the New Moon is an event of inspiration and importance.

After the Exodus from Egypt, the verse that references the first month set in place by God to mark the deliverance from Egypt reads,

“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.”

Notice that He says it is for you! The months are set in place for our benefit. It is as though our Father has stored a gift for us at the start of each new month – a fresh opportunity of renewal –  to strengthen ourselves in our relationship with Him and in our service to Him.

A connection is made between Rosh Chodesh and the festivals in all three sections of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings [the TanakhTorah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim].

1. Numbers 29:1 

“On the first day [New Moon] of the seventh month [TishreiRosh HaShanah] you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. It is a day for you to blow the trumpets…”

2. Isaiah 66:23 

“From New Moon to New Moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me”, says the Lord.

3. 2 Chronicles 2:3

“I am now about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God and dedicate it to him for offering fragrant incense before him, and for the regular offering of the rows of bread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the New Moons and the Appointed Festivals of the Lord our God, as ordained forever for Israel.”

The main differences between Rosh Chodesh and the Festivals are:

  1. On Rosh Chodesh work is permitted as if it was an ordinary workday; unless, of course, it falls on a Shabbat or a Festival. However, due to the particular identification of women with the moon (for many reasons, e.g., the menstrual cycle) it was long a tradition that women refrained from working to whatever extent possible. Today women are again discovering Rosh Chodesh and are creating ways to celebrate it together.
  2. It is commanded in the Torah that we be joyful on the Festivals and celebrate with festive meals, but this is not the case with Rosh Chodesh. It is, nevertheless, considered a day of gladness.
  3. A significant difference is that the Festivals are celebrated in a physically overt fashion. They are obviously different from ordinary week days; there is a transformation, an aura of holiness that encompasses these “holy” days. Rosh Chodesh, on the other hand, appears to be a regular weekday, with no special meals, dress or concrete actions taken. Like the shy moon, it quietly and softly comes and goes. This reticence, however, does not diminish its value and holiness.  A renowned Torah teacher of this generation, Rabbi Yosef Dov Solovetichik, explains that Rosh Chodesh was celebrated more visibly in the times of the Temple. The Levites would sing and conduct the same ceremony as they did on the Festivals. Without the Temple, that external stimulus is lacking.

The Tribe of Menashe.

“According to the order of the encampments, Tishrei corresponds to Ephraim and Marcheshvan [Cheshvan] to Menashe [Manasseh]…”

(Bnei Yissachar: Maamarei Chodesh Tishrei 1:2)

In his writings, Rabbi Soloveitchik also describes the character of a person, whom he calls an Ish Rosh Chodesh – one who embodies the nature of Rosh Chodesh; one who knows how to combine holiness, especially hidden holiness, with the outwardly mundane. He notes that the first person to embody this synthesis was Yosef Ha’Tzaddik – the Righteous Joseph.

Joseph was a ruler in Egypt, adept in worldly matters of government, and he was holy and upright, imbued with knowledge of the God of Israel and His ways. Joseph’s inner purpose was to do the will of God in every circumstance, whether he was in a prison or a palace. As a result, all his actions were holy and to the glory of God.

Joseph loved his sons, Manasseh the firstborn and Ephraim the younger. He was surprised when his father Jacob, as he was bestowing his final blessing upon them, placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left on Manasseh.

Yad ha’Yamin, the right hand, is of great significance in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Why did Jacob favor Ephraim over Manasseh? Jewish sages comment that both sons were of sterling character and were great leaders. However, Ephraim, like his grandfather Jacob in his youth, was more inclined to “remain in the tents” and study the teachings of God, while Manasseh (who, as firstborn, no doubt accompanied his father and learnt of matters of governance) excelled in worldly, communal matters. Jacob was indicating that spiritual service to God came before material service to one’s fellow man.

The ideal is to combine the two, as did their father Joseph. No doubt, as they grew older and more experienced in the leadership they were given over a tribe of Israel, each young man would become an Ish Rosh Chodesh like Joseph. To this end, parents bless their sons on Shabbat to be like Ephraim, one who excels in the study of the Word of God and walks in His ways, and also like Manasseh, one who enjoys success in business and worldly matters.

In many ways, the Righteous Joseph is a forerunner of the Messiah, the Anointed one to come – Yeshua, the fully righteous one, in whom was found no sin and who lived only to do the will of his Father in Heaven.

“Let Your hand be upon the one at Your right hand, the one whom You made strong for Yourself” (Psalm 80:17).

Yeshua is the Son, seated at the right hand of the Father, where there is fullness of joy forever (Psalm 16:11; 110:1; Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62;16:19; Luke 22:69).
He is glorious in power (Exodus 15:6), the “right hand” extended to save; our help and the place of refuge from one’s enemies (Psalm 17:7).
In him is the victory (Psalm 98:1-2; Isaiah 41:10).
God exalted him at His right hand as Leader and Savior, that He might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31).
As High Priest, Yeshua intercedes for us before the Throne (Romans 8:34) and he pours upon us the gift of the Holy Spirit from the Father (Acts 2:33).

He is the Lamb who was slain, who is worthy to receive the scroll with its seven seals from the right hand of the Father (Revelation 5). And the myriads around the Throne sing,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

The author of Revelation, Yochanan (John), concludes:

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the One seated on the Throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and might, forever and ever!” (5:11-12)

Amen and HalleluYah!

 

  •  Artwork – Matt Doll 

VIP PRAYER FOR THE PROTECTION AND DEFENCE OF ISRAEL

VIP PRAYER FOR ISRAEL’S PROTECTION AND DEFENCE*

Let Israel say, if the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us….they would have swallowed us alive…Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth….Our help is in the name of the Lord

(Psalm 124:1-8). 

Please, God, our Father in Heaven, keep Israel as “…the apple of Your eye; hide her under the shadow of Your wings from … her deadly enemies who surround her” (Psalm 17:8-9). 

Along all Israel’s borders, dispatch angelic guardians and warrior hosts. 

Protect Your Land from division by the nations.

 “Hide [Israel] in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of men…keep [her] secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues” (Ps. 31:20). 

Bring the counsel of ungodly nations to nothing, and their plans against Israel to no effect. (Psalm 33:10) 

Please, Abba, protect Your people from terror in the streets.. Guard Israel’s borders from attack by land, air or sea. Expose and overturn schemes of evil destruction against Your people. Keep us from ungodly alliances with nations seeking to entrap us. May Israel trust in You for deliverance, not in her own strength, skill, military might or in the favor of other nations.

NORTHERN ISRAEL:

Please protect Israel’s mountains and northern borders from foreign invasion, for Your Word says her fiercest enemies come from the north. If enemies do invade from the north, “…show [Your] greatness and [Your] holiness, and make [Yourself] known in the sight of many nations” (Ezekiel 38:23).

Give those in the North the strength and faith to trust in You at all times.

COASTAL AND CENTRAL REGIONS:

Guard and defend Israel’s Mediterranean coast from foreign invasion. Rule over the sea coast according to Your Word: 

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters…the Lord thunders over the mighty waters…the Lord sits enthroned over the flood…the Lord blesses His people with peace.”
(Psalm 29:10)

Bless with peace the Mediterranean coast to be enjoyed with thanksgiving and used for good as shipping harbors, as a media center and hi-tech hub. Prosper the center of Israel as a region of farming, agriculture and industry. Protect, strengthen and embolden those in the coastal and central regions with Your truth.

SOUTHERN ISRAEL:

Please be a shield to Israel’s south, the desert You have enabled to bloom. Send Your heavenly hosts to guard our southern borders from infiltration, terror, war or other forms of attack. Thank you for intercepting and miraculously re-directing rockets and missiles shot from Gaza into southern Israeli civilian centers. 

Enhance peaceable cooperation with the Bedouin in the Negev, many of whom have blessed the Jewish people. Sustain cooperative relations with Egypt and Jordan over shared borders and interests. Expose and shake enemy hideouts and tunnels in desert lands, for “the voice of the Lord shakes the desert” (Psalm 29:8). 

Make a way where there seems to be none for the Negev to grow as an agricultural, industrial, hi-tech and military center (Isaiah 43:19). 

“Provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland to give drink to … the people [You] formed for [Yourself] that they may proclaim [Your] praise” (Isaiah 43:20-21).

JUDEA AND SAMARIA  (THE WEST BANK) :

Shield of Abraham, would you protect the Jews living in settlements from terror and other forms of military invasion. Expose and dismantle violent conspiracies and  attack. 

Expose the lies condemning Israeli settlements as illegal. Implement true and righteous justice between the Arabs and Israel. Expose the errors and evils of Palestinian Christian theologies that teach God’s covenant with Israel has expired. Protect, strengthen and embolden the Arab remnant following You in Spirit and in truth. 

Please do not allow Israel’s land to be wrongly divided, for we “know You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Graciously thwart invasion of the West Bank by terrorist groups seeking to destroy the Jewish state. Mercifully spare Israel from a false peace treaty. Protect, strengthen and embolden those living in Judea and Samaria.

G-d’s promise:

* Based on Sandra Teplisky’s Prayers for Israel

TISHREI – VIDEO – TOUCH AND RELATIONSHIP

 Hands are the part of the body we are focussing on during the month of Tishrei. Our hands enable us to touch and feel.

The importance of touch in the field of relationships cannot be overemphasized. It is one of the stronger physical expressions of love and relationship. Babies who are not held and touched by their mother and father and/or other caring human beings, after birth and beyond, suffer deep emotional scars. The caring touch of a hand can bring comfort, encouragement, and joy to another. The same applies to hugs. People need to be hugged, often!

We have the sensation of touch through our skin, and therefore have feeling throughout our bodies. Through our sense of touch we also experience pain. It is an awful and negative thing when one person deliberately inflicts pain on another. A sensitivity to pain, however, is necessary for survival because it warns us of injury, such as a cut or burn, and, hopefully, helps prevent further injury.

This sense of physical touch has parallels on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level. The protective “skin” that covers us in these areas is the Word of God, The more sensitive we are to His Word and, as a result, walk in His ways, the more healing we can receive and the healthier, and stronger, and less susceptible to pain and injury we become.

This month HIS-ISRAEL friend KAREN FREEMAN WORSTELL shares about the importance of touch. Reach out!

Narration: Karen Freeman Worstell
Videography: Tikvah Lightner

TISHREI – The 7th Hebrew Month – Being Holy Being Whole

  TISHREI

THEME: GOODNESS, TOUCH, BLESSING

BODY:  HANDS 

QUOTE: Gam zu le’tovah! This, too, is for the good.

PSALM 77: Almighty God-Who-Does-Wonders

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

 

ALMIGHTY GOD-WHO-DOES-WONDERS

THE ECHO OF YOUR PROMISE  – Based on Psalm 77 – by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis 

When I cry my voice trembles with fear   When I call out it cracks with anger.

How can I greet the dawn with song when darkness eclipses the rising sun

To whom shall I turn when the clouds of the present eclipse the rays of tomorrow

Turn me around to yesterday that I may be consoled by its memories.

Were not the seas split asunder  

Did we not once walk together through the waters to the dry side

Did we not bless the bread that came forth from the heavens

Did your voice not reach my ears and direct my wanderings

The waters, the lightning, the thunder remind me of yesterday’s triumphs

Let the past offer proof of tomorrow, let it be my comforter and guarantor.

I have been here before, known the fright and found your companionship.

I enter the sanctuary again to await the echo of your promise.

THE DAYS OF AWE

Rosh HaShanah (or Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets as it is called in Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1), is celebrated on the first two days of Tishrei. It ushers in the ten days until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, considered the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar. Yom Kippur marks the conclusion of the forty days of cheshbon nefesh (introspection) and teshuvah (repentance) that began on the first of Elul. After hearing the one hundred blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the ‘Ten Days’ are a final time of spiritual preparation before we stand, as it were, before the Throne of G-d’s Presence and an accounting is made on Yom Kippur. While it is not intended to induce fear, the solemnity of the season should engender yirat HaShem – a reverential awe of our Almighty G-d and a deep gratitude towards the One who is good and performs wonders on our behalf.

The cry of the shofar initially is intended to announce the presence of the King, who is drawing closer to us at this season, and to wake us up to any area of sin that needs attention. Another purpose we may contemplate is that it is a call to us to reconnect with God’s Divine calling on our lives.The seventh month of Tishrei is considered by the Sages to be humanity’s birthday – the day G-d created Adam and Eve. Thus, it also is a fitting time for us to re-examine our lives; to affirm our identity as His child and to re-evaluate the purpose He has given us in the work of tikkun olam, bringing healing to a hurting and broken world,. This must begin, of course, with healing ourselves – to address and repair any ‘brokenness’ and to realign our lives where necessary with our Father’s will and Kingdom purposes. 

Perhaps at this threshold of the new Hebrew year of 5779, so filled with major appointed times with Him, He is wanting to redirect our steps or enlarge our tents. Now is the time, as the shofar reminds us, to be awake and aware; to draw near and hear His voice. 

After all the preparation of Elul, while the King had left His palace and was with us in the field, we now, on Rosh HaShanah, enter the palace to which He has returned. During the ten days, the shofar is silent as we make our way through the palace courts and the Holy Place, as it were. On Yom Kippur, when we put aside as much of our physical, material existence as possible, we enter the Holy of Holies to stand in awe before His Throne and worship in the beauty of the holiness of His Presence.

If we have accepted His gifts of grace and repentance, we can stand before Him with deepest gratitude, assured and resting in His love. Then, after the last, long, unbroken blast of the shofar sounds to mark the end of Yom Kippur and the closing of the heavenly gates, we can enter into the week of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles, with the assurance of His love and protection, sheltered by His clouds of glory, and we can draw from the source of Joy that will sustain us through the year ahead.

I grew up in a Western culture where the Gregorian calendar ‘New Year’ is celebrated. Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple  formerly a rabbi in Australia and now retired in Jerusalem, said the Western New Year season could be described as “Ten Days of Living it Up.” He concocted a list, in alphabetical order, of ten characteristics of the secular celebration: amusement, banality, consumption, drinking, eating, frivolity, gambling, hedonism, idleness, and jabber. I comprised my own list, instead, of the attributes characterising the Ten Days of Awe: ahavah (love), binah (understanding), [OK, I cheated a bit using Hebrew words here, but I had to include love and understanding!], charity, dignity (of every person), empathy, faith, goodness, holiness, justice..all leading to JOY!  

As we progress through the seventh, holy month of Tishrei may we think on these things.

5779 – A YEAR OF GOODNESS

The number 9 is represented by the Hebrew letter tet – ט. The first tet in the Bible begins the word good – טוב, tov. 

The first thing God spoke into being was light, and God saw that the light was good, tov! (Gen.1:4). When He surveyed the work of Creation every day, He saw that it was good. After He created man, bringing full meaning and purpose to Creation, He proclaimed it was all very good! (Gen. 1:31).

The prophet Jeremiah reminds us: Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, For the Lord is GOOD, for his steadfast love endures forever! (33:11) 

It is easy to thank G-d for good things and when all is going well, but the verse doesn’t say that. It says to thank Him – no matter what, because HE is good. Naturally, we tend to evaluate things and happenings in our lives subjectively, and consider what is good for us. Only our Father in Heaven sees all and knows, objectively, what truly is good for us in the light of eternity.  When we understand that whatever happens according to His will is good, because, like a perfect parent, His will for His children is only based on grace and loving-kindness, then – even when it’s beyond our natural understanding, we can thank Him for everything. The quote this month – Gam zu le’tovah! Also this is for the good, comes from the story in the Talmud of a man, Nachum, who was given the nickname Gamzu, because he had full trust and faith in HaShem and always said, no matter what the circumstances, “Gam zuh le’tovah!” And, usually, as far as possible in this life, he was proved right. So, dear ones, let us ask for “good” understanding this year, to enable us to make the right decisions in whatever comes our way and, no matter what, to always be grateful for our Father’s goodness.

BODY: HANDS

In Psalm 77 we see a theme of hands. Verse 2: “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.”

The psalmist dreads being forsaken by G-d and verse 9 cries: “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” He then recalls, in verse 15:You, with your outstretched arm, redeemed your people…” And, finally, in the last verse, he proclaims: “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” The Good Shepherd is always there, watching, caring, and guiding His people through every circumstance, no matter how difficult and challenging. We can rest knowing that our lives  are in His hands.

Taking a closer look at our hands. There are 14 bones in the fingers of each hand.
The Hebrew word for hand is yad – יד , which has a numerical value of 14. Thus the number for both hands is 28. Interestingly, there are 28 Hebrew letters in the first verse of the Bible, which describes G-d as creating the heavens and the earth. The prophet Isaiah records that, of the earth, it is G-d: “ Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand”…and “who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in” (40:12, 22). As we know, hands are vital instruments for creation and expression, whether in art, music, dance, poetry, writing.  Just as our Creator did in the beginning, bringing His concepts and ideas into physicality, so de we, as those created in His image, bring our ideas, concepts and inspirations into physical reality. 

Despite his many troubles, King David in the Psalms always concludes: “My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” (63:8) “Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand.” (73:23). The Right Hand of G-d is referenced many times in the Bible, which indicates He also has a left hand. Indeed, we find in Scripture that His right hand usually is associated with His chessed – love and kindness, whereas His left hand represents gevurah – judgment and restraint.  These four basic attributes are influenced by one’s mind – one’s thoughts and attitudes, which influence the decisions we make and how we act and react. Our thoughts and emotions often are reflected in the gestures of our hands. For example, clenched fists usually indicate anger; drumming fingers express impatience; one can give a thumbs up, or down; a friendly wave…or, hopefully not, signal rude signs! 

PRAYER

While our hands are vital in accomplishing our practical everyday tasks, they also are very significant spiritually. There are many biblical examples, one being Moses stretching out his hand and God parting the Reed Sea for His people to make a way of escape from the Egyptian army. We also see Moses raising his hands in supplication during the Israelites’ battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:12). The Hebrew word says his hands were faithful. Raised hands expressed his faith as he, in trust, reached out his hands toward God. When his arms fell, the Israelites weakened, but when they remained raised with the help of Aaron and Hur, they triumphed. Using one’s hands, raised in prayer or clapping in praise, as well as one’s feet in dance and celebration, gives freedom in expressing one’s emotions before God. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov goes so far as to say that an “inability to bring and express heartfelt emotion into one’s prayer demonstrates a shortcoming in one’s faith.”  

He also points out that what “blemishes” or adversely affects the hands is pride and greed, as illustrated in Deuteronomy 8:17, where the proud person proclaims, “My power and might of my hand have brought me this wealth!” Rabbi Nachman says, “An obsessive pursuit of wealth shows he lacks faith in God’s ability to give him his sustenance.” He stresses that idolatry [the opposite of faith in God] is basically found in the worship of money. Without faith people are eager to “get their hands on” as much money as possible. We do need to work to provide for our livelihood but we also need to have faith that, at the end of the day, it is God who is providing all we need. We know, as described in Psalm 145:115-6 that, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” God opens His hand and “satisfies the desire of all living things.” So, we need to raise our open hands to Heaven in faith in order to receive the bounty and blessing our faithful Father wants to bestow on us, His children. 

BLESSING AND HEALING

As we see throughout Scriptures, hands are basic to bestow blessing and healing. One command in the Torah is that the kohanim (priests) bless the nation of Israel every day (Numbers 6:22-27) and in Leviticus 9:22 we are told that Aaron, as High Priest, raised his hands and blessed the people. When the priests are faithful to do that God says that it is He Himself who bestows the blessing. As a “kingdom of priests” we too can extend our hands to others, in the authority of our High Priest Yeshua, and trust our Father to give the blessing. 

In the medical profession, hands, of course, are vital.  Doctors and nurses engage in procedures and administer treatment that, hopefully, will bring healing to the patients.  Scripture tells us, on the other hand, “My son, attend to My words, incline your ear to my utterances… for they are life to those who find them and healing to all their flesh” (Proverbs 4:21-22). His “words” and “utterances” are God’s Torah, or Teaching – His Word. As described in Deuteronomy 8:3, God fed the Israelites with manna in the desert so that “…He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” And as Yeshua also declared in Matthew 4:4,  when the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”…“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Often, when Yeshua healed the sick, he would physically touch the person, such as when he took Jairus’ daughter’s hand and raised her to life (Mark 5:39-42). Also, when Peter and John were on their way to the Temple and a man lame from birth begged for alms, Peter said “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Yeshua the Messiah of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”and he “…took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:1ff). After the event, where thousands had witnessed the healing, heard Peter’s testimony and believed, Peter gave God the glory and prayed, “Lord, …grant to your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness, while You stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name [authority] of your holy servant Yeshua.”(Acts 4:29)

On other occasions only Yeshua’s words were needed to bring healing, such as with the Roman centurion’s daughter (Luke 7). Also, the woman with the issue of blood had faith that if she only touched the hem of his garment she would be healed.  

To conclude… during this special month of Tishrei, may we be aware of what our Father has put in our hands to do in the extension of HIs Kingdom on earth. 

Interestingly, Science shows, as illustrated in the famous  sketch by Leonardo Da Vinci, that when a person extends his or her arms out to the side the span is equal to their height. One’s arms and hands therefore correspond to the outer range of one’s potential. 

May we all, throughout this year of God’s goodness, reach out and embrace all the opportunities our Father brings to learn and grow spiritually, and to more fully give expression to all the potential He has deposited within us, for His glory! 

Amen.

~Keren Hannah

 

 

 

 

 

TISHREI – The Seventh Hebrew Month

The holiday of Rosh HaShanah, the New Year of the Hebrew calendar, is celebrated on the first two days of Tishrei. Due to the significance of the start of a new calendar year, Tishrei is not regarded as an ordinary month and thus the Birkat HaChodesh, the Blessing of the Month, is not recited. Rosh Chodesh – the new month – is overshadowed by Rosh HaShanah – the New Year and its blessings.

5779 ~ SHANA TOVAH VE’TIKATEVU!  

May you be inscribed [in the Book of Life] for a good and healthy year! 

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At Rosh HaSahanah we acknowledge our Creator as the Source of all life and light. This festival, therefore, is more a reflection of the light of the sun, which eclipses that of the moon. As the moon is hidden in the sunlight, so Rosh Chodesh is hidden at Rosh HaShanah.

Time can be seen chronologically and historically as a linear sequence of events; yet, in a natural and spiritual sense, time really moves forward in reoccurring cycles (picture a circle in a spiral – a pulled out Slinky). This dual nature of time is echoed in the Hebrew word for year – shanah which is a derivative of shoneh – change. Time repeats itself but in a new form. We pass through the same set appointments in time each year, yet each year offers a new experience. Our journey from Egypt toward Mt. Sinai happened, is happening and will happen again in a constant ebb and flow of darkness and light, resting and growing.

In general, the focus of every new month, and every new year, is one of community; we celebrate that the Lord has brought us through the past month/year and together we now can go forward with hope and trust into the one before us.

images-10At this season, with the intense reflective nature of the preceding month of Elul, of Rosh HaShanah and the subsequent ten Days of Awe culminating on Yom Kippur, each individual is engaged in a deep and thorough accounting of one’s life before God. This causes the emphasis to shift to the individual and the start of the new year is a more deeply personal beginning.

The letters of the month, Tishrei, can be rearranged as Reishit, meaning ‘beginning’ as in the first word of the Bible, B’reishit – In the beginning. Therefore, we focus again on the Creation of the world and the dawning of life, and God’s creation of the first man and woman. We celebrate the birthday of Adam and Eve and the year which is numbered from Creation – this new year being 5779.

Another name for Rosh HaShanah is Yom HaKeseh, “the day of the hiding.” Unlike the happy hester panim (hiding of the face – presence of God) on Purim, when we realize God’s hidden provision for the people of Israel, the hester panim of the Days of Awe has to do with Divine absence and teshuvah. If we hide our face from God, he hides his face from us.

To quote Abraham Joshua Heschel  from God in Search of Man, 

The extreme hiddenness of God is a fact of constant awareness…God is a mystery, but the mystery is not God. He is a revealer of mysteries.

“He reveals deep and mysterious things; He knows what is in the darkness and the light dwells with Him”

(Daniel 2:22).

 

In the words of the liturgy of the Days of Awe:

“Thou knowest eternal mysteries and the ultimate secrets of all living.” The certainty that there is meaning beyond the mystery is the reason for rejoicing.

THE TRIBE OF EPHRAIM

Tishrei is the seventh Hebrew month, therefore Tishrei corresponds to Ephraim, the seventh tribe to travel when moving camp in the wilderness. The singular characteristics of a tribe are often reflected in an outstanding leader who represented the tribe during the course of biblical history.

The first, and foremost, leader who emerged from Ephraim was Yehoshua ben Nun. Joshua – the servant and closest disciple of Moses. He was a beautiful example of a moon to Moses’ sun. The Sages of Israel describe how “Moshe’s countenance was like the sun, and Yehoshua’s was like the moon… he only reflected what he received from Moshe” (Bava Batra 75a).

This also is a beautiful description of Yeshua the Messiah. Jesus reflected the Father’s glory and he shared the Word of truth and life given him by the Father, as we read in these verses from the gospel of John:

“… the One who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what  I have heard from Him.” (8:26).

Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me…”  (8:54).

In turn, as we lift our lives before the Throne of Mercy on Rosh HaShanah, we remember that we are to reflect the light of the Son. He has brought us from darkness into the light of the Kingdom of God, and we now are enabled to carry that light into the darkness… for the Father’s glory.

~Keren Hannah Pryor

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ELUL – The 6th Hebrew Month – Being Holy Being Whole

ELUL– אלול

THEME:  ACTION, RECTIFICATION – TIKKUN

BODY:  BRAIN

QUOTE:  “Time is reversible, the past can be undone, a wasted life can be restored.”

PSALM 27:  G-d-Who-is my-Light

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

God-Who-is-my-Light

PSALM 27

Psalm 27 is read every day during Elul. Orthodox Jews recite it morning and evening through both Elul and Tishrei, until the close of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). In your journal, write it out in your own hand, also in Hebrew if you are able, and keep it available for easy access. 

The psalm reminds us that the Lord is our Light. When we repent, His light dispels any darkness in our lives and the light of His Truth guides our feet into and through the coming year. King David never claims that he is not afraid. Fear is a normal emotional reaction, which could, for example, follow a cancer scare, the loss of a job, a lost child, fear of our own hearts… but when this natural fear is wrapped in the absolute knowledge, da’at, of our God who is good, we are enabled rather to fear [in awe and reverence] the only One who is to be feared. When we do, then Fear becomes a fortress and refuge for us. David feared God and lived in the fortress of His love all the days of his life.

ACTION: REPENTANCE AND RECTIFICATION – TIKKUN

There are forty days between the first day of Elul and Yom Kippur. These correspond biblically with the forty days between 1st Elul, the day Moses saw the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf and broke the first set of tablets carrying the Ten Words or Commandments of God and, after ascending Mount Sinai to intercede and plead for God’s Divine pardon, the day (10th Tishrei) he returned with the second set of tablets. 

In response to Moses’ heartbroken and persistent intercession, God forgave the sin of idolatry and the gift of His Word was evidence of His forgiveness. This clear manifestation of Divine pardon has marked these forty days as a time for  self-examination and repentance, and for giving and receiving forgiveness.

“The first tangible symbols of justice, the Holy Law of God, are the two stone tablets that bore the words inscribed by “the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18). We only can imagine the depth of emotion Moses experienced when, after being immersed in the wonder of the glory of the Presence of God for forty days and returning with the gift of His precious Word, he was confronted with the ‘carnival’ spectacle of the people idolizing the Golden Calf. He smashed the tablets in all-too-human despair. However, the holiness of the fragments did not disappear when the tablets were broken; they still carried the letters written by God.  Although not stated in the text of Deuteronomy 10, Rabbinic literature supposes that they were gathered and placed in honor in the Ark of the Covenant together with the rewritten tablets. 

That compelling supposition is a great encouragement. Sometimes we can despair at the brokenness of the sinful world, often evident in our own lives as in that of others, and yet each broken piece is holy. It was created and written on, as it were, by the finger of God and is precious in His sight.  Our Father, through the work of His Son and the power of His Spirit of holiness, is actively restoring, regathering and redeeming all the scattered pieces. In all we do, we have the honor and sacred calling to participate with Him in that healing work.”

~ Keren Hannah Pryor, (unpublished series) Ethics Now and Then 7, Avot 1:8

The month of Elul is considered a particular time for repentance and reconciliation with God. The name of the month is a reminder that this season of repentance (teshuvah) and spiritual reflection is not to be a time of morbid introspection or conducted with heaviness. E,l,u,l (aleph, lamed, vav, lamed) is an acronym for the Hebrew verse, Song of Songs 6:3, 

Ani le’dodi ve‘dodi li.   I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

The month therefore affords us a special opportunity to turn our hearts to God in love. We are reminded that teshuvah, repentance, is a loving gift from our faithful Father. It is, in fact, a supernatural gift – a process that is above the forces of nature. The Creator set the laws of nature in place, day follows night, time marches on, death follows life and penalty follows sin. Teshuvah/repentance, however, demonstrates that the same Creator is able to counteract His laws of nature. As Jewish author Avraham Finkel, in our quote for the month,[1] describes:

Time is reversible, the past can be undone, a wasted life can be restored; “God is close to all who call to Him – to all who call Him with sincerity” (Psalm 145:18). 

Teshuvah enables the the Presence of God-Who is-our-Light to enter any areas of darkness in our hearts, to allow purification and illumination – bringing rectification. The Baal Shem Tov [2] uses a beautiful analogy to explain the concept of repentance:

When you enter a dark room carrying a burning lamp, the darkness vanishes without leaving a trace. So too a baal teshuvah [one who repents and turns to God and His Word] even though until now he lived in the total darkness of sin, when the light of Torah begins to shine in his soul, all the darkness is gone.

Teshuvah takes courage! It requires 5 elements, which, in accord with Maimonides’ view of repentance, I like to call “The Five Fingers of the Hand of Repentance” that we reach out to God.

FAITH – Belief /  RECOGNITION – Determination  / CONFESSION – Humility /  

RESTITUTION – Honesty / RESOLUTION – Resolve

  1. First one needs FAITH – emunah – even as a mustard seed – to believe that His voice is calling us  closer and to have hearts prepared to respond. 

2. Then it requires a RECOGNITION of our weaknesses, which takes determination to push aside our natural tendency to justify our every action and to recognize those that are out of line with God’s will. 

3. Next, we need to CONFESS the sin or wrongdoing before God and, before the person or persons we have wronged. This requires much swallowing of pride and walking in humility, before God and especially before man. 

4. Then we need to make RESTITUTION in whichever way possible for any wrongdoing towards our fellow man. God forgives the sins against Himself but, with honesty, we need to seek forgiveness from and extend forgiveness to one another.

5. Finally, to achieve full RESOLUTION, requires having the resolve to not repeat the sin or wrongdoing when one is in a similar situation or faces the same temptation. When one can achieve this, one has reached wholehearted repentance of the sin. 

The physical symbol of this season of Repentance is the Shofar. The first mighty blasts of the Divine Shofar were heard at Mount Sinai, announcing the revelation of the Presence of God to His chosen and redeemed nation. Its call has echoed through the generations ever since, echoing sounds of a shepherd calling his flock home. The Torah portion Nitzavim, which always is read during Elul,  carries a Divine promise of the joyful time when the hearts of all Israel will return to God and will yield to His will in loving obedience: 

“You will do everything that I am commanding you today; you and your children will repent with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deureronomy 30:2).

On that day the great Shofar of God will sound with a triumphant blast to announce the arrival of the King of kings before whom every individual will stand to give an account of his or her life. The shofar is thus sounded at the morning and evening services every day through Elul in the hope that its stirring blasts will awaken those who are “asleep” in the stupor of sin. The clarion call moves us to repent and turn again to the Almighty, the Shepherd of our souls, to receive the power to break any negative patterns of the past and walk forward in new hope and inspiration.

As we extend forgiveness to others who may have hurt us, and (i) in faith in the love and mercy of our Father God, (ii) recognise the areas in our lives that are not in accord with His will, and (iii) confess any sins and weaknesses, and (iv) make restitution where possible, and (v) resolve to not succumb to the same sin, we can rejoice and rest in the knowledge that we are forgiven and can stand confidently before the “Judge of all flesh” when the shofar resounds on Rosh haShanah, the Day of Trumpets, and on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:24;27). We then can eagerly anticipate another year of devoted service in joyful worship of our God and King, and in partnering with Him in His great work of healing and rectification – Tikkun Olam.

Every individual is a product of his or her past experiences; all of one’s ‘yesterdays.’ 
One of the greatest gifts of God to His children, along with free will, is the ability to change 
– to learn and to grow in character – and to step forward into tomorrow reflecting His image a little more brightly.                        

~Keren Hannah Pryor,  Ethics Now and Then

POEM FOR THE MONTH

You and I

Leonard Nimoy

I am not immortal.
Whatever I put off for later
May never be.
Whoever doesn’t know now
That I love them
May never know.
I have killed time.
I have squandered it.
I have lost days…weeks…
As a man of unlimited wealth
Might drop coins on the street
And never look back.

I know now,
that there will be an end,
A limit.
But there is time
Valuable and precious time
To walk,
talk,
breathe.
Time to touch,
taste,
care.
To warm the child
Who is cold and lonely.
There is time to love.

I promise myself…
I will.
I am
I am ready
I am ready to give
I am ready to give and to receive
I am ready to give and to receive love.

The poem was published after Leonard Nimoy’s death in the Blog of a friend, Rabbi John Rosove.

PART OF THE BODY:  BRAIN

All my limbs shall declare, “G-d! Who is like You?” (Psalm 35:10)

There is a profound connection between a person’s physical body, one’s outer being, and the spirit, one’s inner being. In reality, as someone described, we are spiritual beings encased in physical bodies. However, how we physically “…live, and move, and have our being,” as Paul mentions in Acts 17:28, and whether it is “in God” or not, has a powerful effect, either positively or negatively, on our spirits and inner being. 

The brain, which is the most complex organ in the human body, is what connects the two. The brain is the center of our thought processes and our physical coordination and actions. Together with the spinal cord, it comprises the central nervous system. As the location of one’s mind, we can compare the brain to the central processing unit of an ultra-sophisticated computer. Everything that happens to the body at some point has been processed through the brain. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught, “The mind is the commander-in-chief of the body.” (Likutey Moharan 1.29:7) 

While we must never stop learning and growing, we also should have a clear understanding that we will always be Beginners in this life, no matter how much we learn and think we know. We should always yearn and long for further revelation of our great God and His ways and strive for greater spiritual growth and fulfilment. As a result, the body and spirit begin to work together in harmony and we become more conformed to the Image of God in which we were created. As one’s everyday actions become more imbued with holiness, the light of one’s spirit is more reflected in one’s personal life and the glory of God’s presence can shine more brightly in all we do.

[3]

How is it possible even to aim for this? We know that it is impossible. As Rebbe Nachman also taught:

Know! There is a light which is higher than [the spirit and soul of man]. This is the Light of the Infinite One. And though the intellect cannot grasp this Light, the racing of the mind nevertheless constantly pursues it. …And know that it is impossible to grasp this Light…except by performing the mitzvoth with joy. (Likutey Moharan 1, 24:12)

To enable us to even to make the attempt, God Himself has provided the tools we need – the revelation of Himself and the teaching in His Word. We need to first know and love Him and then, in faith, learn His ways as expressed in His Word and then walk in obedience to His commandments (mitzvot). Yeshua, who was the Word enfleshed, and whose life illustrated the perfect harmony of spirit and flesh in accord with the Father’s will, was tempted to satisfy his hunger supernaturally after forty days of fasting in the wilderness. He responded: “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4) His Word is the source of true Life; our response is joyful, loving obedience to His commands/mitzvoth.

The Hebrew word mitzvoth, plural of mitzvah, has the root meaning le’tzavot – to command, or to bind. When we perform a mitzvah with joy it binds us closer to our Father in Heaven. 

This is our essential mission in life – to overcome the ever-present conflict between the needs and wants of the body and the yearnings of the soul to grow and become the true spiritual being we were created to be. Adam and Eve exchanged what was truly good; life in the garden of Eden – a place of eternal delight in the Presence of God, for the temporal, material life we now endure. We must, b’ezrat HaShem, with our faithful God’s help, aim and purpose to grow spiritually, to better discern between good and evil, and to end our personal exile and return to the Garden and the Presence of God….for that isn His will and the longing of His heart.

~ Keren Hannah

 

 

[1]Avraham Yaakov Finkel, The Essence of the Holy Days, Insights from the Jewish Sages, Jason Aronson Inc., New Jersey, London, 1993;

[2] Israel Baal Shem Tov (1700 – 1760), founder of the Hassidic movement in Eastern Europe.

[3] Artwork: Orit Martin

ELUL: VIDEO and SET FREE to DANCE!

This month of ELUL, with its focus on Action and Restoration, may we be SET FREE TO DANCE!

Children instinctively love to dance; unselfconsciously – freely, openly. Our bodies are created to move and flow, to respond to rhythm. By the time most of us reach adulthood, unless we are professional dancers, we usually have stopped dancing altogether. We likely aren’t even aware of the loss. We may, however, be reminded of it when our feet start tapping to lively tune. Or, maybe, something stirs deep within our souls when we hear a particularly beautiful piece of music. A stirring that invites our bodies to move, to celebrate the life we enjoy, to worship our Creator – to dance with joyous abandons as King David did when he restored the precious Ark of God’s Presence to its rightful place in Jerusalem.

*

Most cultures have a history of dance as a means of expression and celebration of life. To this day, echoing back to the joyous dance of redemption on the shore of the Reed Sea, Israel values and encourages participation in the nation’s folk dancing. If not doing so already, we need to rediscover the healing, happy enjoyment of listening and actively responding to music – even the singing of our own song. We need to set ourselves free to dance!

Dancer and choreographer, Anna Halprin, often invites people with no dance experience to participate in her dances, which have no audience but are intended to transform the dancers themselves. In this regard, she says: 

“I used to be discouraged that people in the dance world would just slough this work off as therapy and say that I wasn’t doing Art. But I could see how important this work was and how limiting it is to say that there is only one way to dance!”

**

If it is not possible, whatever the reason, for you to participate in a public setting – such as dance classes or groups, do it at home. If you have a willing partner all the better. If not, simply choose some music you love, feel it in your soul, and allow your body to respond and move. Don’t be concerned about what you look like. Don’t limit yourself. Your body will remember the joy it has in moving and flowing to rhythm and melody. And, while you do, give grateful praise to the One who has blessed us with these wonderful gifts!

~ Keren Hannah

  • * Photo credit: Aleksandra Brzeska
  • ** Shutter-stock

We feature two videos this month with Jerusalem based couple MICHA’EL BEN DAVID and his wife ASHLEIGH (who is the daughter of our dear ‘Being Holy, Being Whole’ friend Kathryn Cox) on flute, in the second video. They present a beautiful rendition of the traditional Shabbat song ADON OLAM – Master of the Universe, accompanied by a lovely young ballet dancer. Enjoy and worship.

In the first video, Micha’el, with friends in his home island of Haiti, joyfully Sings to the Lord a New Song! 

 

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.