Have a Happy Shavuot

We began the holiday of Shavuot last night (5/30/17), which is also called Pentecost (50 days) and is celebrated by both Jews and Christians. I think this is the only holiday that Jews and Christians celebrate together, although for different reasons.

You know…even within Judaism Shavuot is celebrated for a different reason than it was originally created. In Leviticus 23:15-21 God decreed we celebrate this day:

 “‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks.  Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.  From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord.  Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.  Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering[c] and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering.  The priest is to wave the two lambs before the Lord as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. They are a sacred offering to the Lord for the priest.  On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.”

We have been counting the Omer ( a unit of weight) until the 50th day after the first Shabbat after Passover. In other words, we have the Passover Seder, then the Festival of Firstfruits (Habikurim), and then we start to count the 50 days until Shavuot (which is the Hebrew word for “weeks”) when we perform both a sin and a fellowship sacrifice.

The Holy Day (meaning God decreed) of Shavuot was an agricultural celebration, but this has been replaced by a spiritual celebration. The Rabbinical holiday (meaning man-made) celebrates the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Torah, itself, doesn’t mention this as part of the festival; neither is it mentioned as the reason for this festival in the writings of either of the accepted historians of this time period, Josephus and Philo.  From what I could find, it is believed that Maimonides (also called the RaMBaM, an acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), who lived in the twelfth century, is the Rabbi that associated Shavuot with the giving of the Law.  This means that the Holy Day of Shavuot was celebrated as God told us to do so for about 2600 years after Moses, then it became a holiday created by Maimonides. In fact, the Torah could not have been given on Shavuot. Here’s why: we read in Exodus 19:1 the following statement:

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.

They left Egypt on the 15th of Aviv, and we are told in Exodus that this day (the very day they left Egypt) is to be the first day of their year. It took 90 days for them to get to Sinai, which is already more than 50 days after Habikurim. Even if we try to fit the time line in by using some convoluted counting based on which Shabbat is really the first Shabbat after Passover, we still have to add that God decreed all the men should prepare themselves for 3 days before approaching the mountain (Exodus 19:10):

 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.

So, it was no less than 93 days after the Israelites left Egypt that they even came to the mountain. Then, we have Moses up there for 40 days and nights, so the law was being given to Moses, but hadn’t been received by all of Israel yet. As you probably already know, the law took even longer than that, since Moses destroyed those first tablets and it was about 1 1/2 to 2 months later that he came down with the tablets that (finally) were saved in the Ark of the Covenant.

Likewise, even though the Christian celebration of Pentecost is to commemorate the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), Pentecost is a Greek word meaning “50 Days”, so the Christian celebration of Pentecost is celebrating a holiday whose name represents a totally different event.  Yeshua (Jesus) never mentioned that He would send the Comforter on any specific day, just that they were to wait until it arrived. I contend that because Yeshua made no direct reference to receiving the Spirit on Pentecost, that Pentecost is a uniquely Jewish Holy Day and Christianity should have given their celebration a different name. I am guessing that because the early Believers were still mostly Jewish, and this spiritual indwelling occurred on a Jewish Holy Day (at that time Shavuot was celebrated as God said it should be), that is how the name Pentecost was forever associated with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

So what we have is this: Shavuot (weeks) and Pentecost (50 days- this name came from the Septuagint) are the same Holy Day, which has been turned into a holiday by both Jews and Christians, who each celebrate it for a different reason than what God created it to be.

If you have read my book (Back to Basics: God’s Word vs. Religion) you would know that I do not appreciate Holy Days being turned into holidays. However, I do make an exception for Shavuot because the relationship between the giving of the Torah, which set us apart as holy and represented freedom from slavery to men, and the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), which set us apart as holy and helped to free us from slavery to sin, is a really good thing. It helps to bring together Jews and Christians, even if not for the same reason. It is (at least) some form of common celebration from which we can come closer together in our worship of God.

What we have today is this: The Holy Day God decreed is still being celebrated by both Jews and Christians. From the Jewish side, we have changed the reason for the celebration to one that (by all means) does deserve celebration: the giving of the Torah to Moses. On the Christian side, they celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit, which is the Comforter and giver of Truth to help us stay on the road of righteousness.

Torah tells us what God expects of us and defines sin so that we can avoid it; the Ruach HaKodesh helps us to recognize sin, and when we surrender to it, will also direct us to stay on the path of righteousness. Both Jews and Christians have this in common with their celebration of this day: we are thankful to God for His direction and for the gifts He gives us in order to help us have eternal life.

Shavuot is a very joyous celebration, and whether you celebrate the gift of the Torah, or the gift of the Ruach, or (as Messianic and Hebraic Roots congregations do) celebrate them both, have a very happy and blessed Shavuot.

 

L’Shanah Tovah! (Happy New Year)

It’s 5777.

I had someone tell me, just yesterday, that this should be a very good year. The number ‘5’ reminds us of the 5 books of Moses (Torah) and of the 5 divisions to the Psalms. The number ‘7’ is probably the MOST powerful number in the bible. It represents completeness, as the world was completed in seven days; the 7th day is the Sabbath, the word for luck, Mazel, is equal to the number 77, and when the bible wants to emphasize something, it says it three times.

So, if you’re into numerology, 5-7-7-7 should be a very good year.

Of course, the entire celebration is not really a new year celebration according to God. In Leviticus 23, the chapter that gives us the Festivals of the Lord, this is Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets (also Yom Ha-Zikaron, Day of Remembrance.) It begins the 10 Days of Awe, a period of somber and humble introspection as we approach Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement. During this time we are to review our past year with emphasis on how well, or how poorly (in most cases) we did with regards to doing that which pleases God.

The new year celebration is actually a holiday, not a Holy Day, as I define them: Holy Days are what God told us we must celebrate to Him, and a holiday is what men have created to be a day of celebration. Therefore, Yom HaZikaron is a Holy Day, a day of remembrance (as defined by God), but Rosh Hashanah is a holiday, a Rabbinic ordinance that tells us to celebrate the beginning of the year. It is a civil new year. The religious, or spiritual, new year is when God told us it is to be, which is the first day of Nisan: the first day of our freedom from slavery in Egypt.

Exodus 12:1-2 “ Now the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.” 

So, since the holiday of Rosh Hashanah is not decreed by God- in fact, it is in conflict with the Holy Day God said we should celebrate- should we ignore it?

Good question. I wish I had a good answer!

My book goes into this in the chapter regarding Holy Days vs. Holidays. All I can talk about is what I do- I worship God as He said we should (well, I do not do a very good job of it, but I keep getting better) and when there is a conflict, if we can call it that, I try to do what would please God. Since God said this is a day of remembrance, I think we should look inside ourselves and try to determine how to be better next year. And when we celebrate the American (worldly) new year in January, don’t we do that as part of it? Don’t we sing, “Auld Lang Syne”? Don’t we look forward to a better year?  Don’t we wish each other better success as we move into the future? Don’t we make resolutions (just to break them) to improve ourselves?

I do not see a real conflict between celebrating the day of remembrance as a new year, so long as we do the things I described above. Instead of a conflict, I see it more as just a different spin on the idea of remembrance.

For me, I want to hear the trumpets call me to remember, call me to look inside, call me to gather myself together to work towards being a better “me”, a more Godly “me”, a “me” that will please the Lord more in the coming year. And a “me” that is thankful, humbly and respectfully, for the forgiveness I already have though Messiah Yeshua. I will not abuse that forgiveness by taking advantage of His promises; I will not trample the blood of Messiah into the dirt by using His sacrifice to allow me to half-way atone.

As I prepare for Yom Kippur, and celebrate these Days of Awe, this time of holy introspection and review, I do ask God to move from the Throne of Judgment to the Throne of Mercy- not for myself, because Yeshua has covered my sins, but for my people, for all people, so that they may look inside and see the spirit of God we all have and recognize their sinfulness.

Only when we are willing to “own” our sin can we truly begin to give it away.

Enjoy this new year; may we see the return of Israel to her land and the coming of Messiah Yeshua on clouds in majesty and power! Hallelujah!!

L’shanah tovah tiketavu!

Yom Kippur Midrash

The Day of Atonement. The day when Jews all over the world congregate and corporately ask God for forgiveness. One of the holiest days of the Jewish year, if not the holiest.

And how many of the millions of Jews that are celebrating, solemnly, this holy day are doing so waiting for the Messiah who has already come for them, but whom they do not not know?

I celebrate this day with fasting and solemn introspection, reflection and requests for forgiveness for myself and all my people. That is what this day is really about- not forgiveness just for my sins, but forgiveness for our sins.

The prophets all asked forgiveness for the people, Moses stood before God and asked forgiveness for the people, Yeshua asked forgiveness for the ones that crucified Him. Those who are godly and worship God ask forgiveness not just for themselves, but for their people and for others. And more than that- they forgive them, too.

We are not commanded to ask for forgiveness, we are commanded to be forgiving. When we ask God to forgive our people of the sins that we read in the Ashamnu and Al Chet prayers, are we also forgiving them?

When you pray to God for forgiveness of your sins, are you also praying that you forgive the sins of those that have done evil to you? That’s right, I didn’t get it backwards: do you pray for God to help you forgive them?

I think that’s what we should do- pray for God to forgive us, and for Him to help us to forgive them, too. That’s the hard part, isn’t it? After all, even Jonah knew that God is not just willing to forgive, but that God desires to forgive: it is paramount in His heart to forgive the sinner. Maybe that’s why we read the book of Jonah on this day; it’s about forgiveness, and not just from God.  Jonah ran away from God’s calling and we know exactly why (Jonah 4:2.) He told God he knew God was compassionate and gracious, and that if Nineveh did repent God would forgive them. Jonah, on the other hand, was clearly not in a forgiving mood. Jonah did not want to pray for Nineveh, he wanted them destroyed. But, after some slight additional motivation, he followed God’s command to warn them.  And then, when God forgave them, Jonah was angry.

We need to be less like Jonah and more like God. We need, also, to pray to God for the strength, compassion and humility that will help us to be more forgiving of others. Humility, forgiveness, meekness and compassion all require great strength. A fool is easily angered, talks without thinking, and is more interested in his or her own opinion than listening to others (there’s a lot more about what a fool is like in Proverbs.)  Being loud, self-absorbed, discompassionate and unforgiving is easy for us. It is all part of our sin nature, our inherent iniquity.

The Ruach ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit) is the only thing that can help us to overcome the natural tendencies we have to be sinful and ungodly.

That brings us back to the earlier statement I made about so many Jews asking for forgiveness, waiting for the Messiah and not knowing or acknowledging that He already has come. It’s really sad: Jewish culture is founded on the belief of a Messiah to come and bring us back to God, to overcome our sins and reconcile us to the Holy One of Israel, and yet the historical teachings have been totally against the idea that Yeshua/Jesus is that Messiah. The Tanakh is full of references and descriptions, and Yeshua fulfilled them, yet He is still ignored and rejected by “mainstream” Judaism. Only the Messianic Jews, and many Christians who are seeking their Hebraic roots, really understand and know the true Messiah of Israel (and the world) and worship God as God said to do in the Torah. Which is exactly how Yeshua/Jesus said to worship God, as well.

Today is a day to ask forgiveness, so I ask God to forgive those of His people who have been taught, wrongfully, that Yeshua is not His Messiah. I also pray, O Lord, you forgive those that have taught and continue to teach others to reject Yeshua, for (as Yeshua said) they know not what they are doing. And, finally, O Lord, I ask that you help me and everyone reading this to forgive them, as well, for leading so many from righteousness directly to Sheol. Please forgive them, and show Your forgiveness by opening their eyes, their ears, and their hearts to the truth about Yeshua Ha Meshiach.

Thank you, Father God, for the forgiveness that You give to us, the forgiveness you provided to us through Yeshua, and for helping us to be able to forgive others.

May You Have an Easy Fast

Tomorrow night is Erev Yom Kippur- the evening that begins the Holy Day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is one of the holiest days of the Jewish year.  It is a commanded day of gathering together (although this is not one of the “Big Three” where you need to go to the Temple)  and “afflicting one’s soul”, which has been interpreted as fasting. No food, no water, nothing from sundown tomorrow until sundown Wednesday.

You may be thinking, “But Steve- you’re already saved. Your sins are forgiven. Why bother?” and the question is not unwarranted: I am saved. My sins are forgiven and will continue to be forgiven because I belong to Yeshua. So long as I am trying harder and harder to be what God wants, to obey His laws and do T’Shuvah (turn from sin), I will be forgiven whenever I call on God and ask forgiveness in the name of Yeshua Ha Mashiach.

And that is the very reason I fast and worship as all the “unsaved” Jews do- because I do belong to Yeshua, and Yeshua did not do away with Torah, and the Torah says I should fast.

How many of you out there can say you are without sin at any given time? Do you really think that once forgiven never held responsible again? If so, you’ve got a really nasty surprise coming. Sin separates us from God, and every time that we sin, we are that much more separated from God. Forgiveness is available but it isn’t shoved down our throat. God will not automatically forgive you just because in 1993 at 10 AM on a Tuesday you “found Jesus.” That’s great that you did, and once forgiven, all those prior sins are not going to be held against you. They were paid for. And the sins you commit afterwards, well, you have to ask forgiveness of them, too. You still need to confess and ask forgiveness. This isn’t revolving credit where you make a payment, run a debt, then make a payment. We sin every day and every day we need to ask forgiveness.

Yom Kippur is a day when we don’t ask just for individual forgiveness, but for corporate forgiveness. Read the prayers in the Machzor (the special prayer book for High Holy Days); read the books of the Prophets, who always asked forgiveness for the people; this is not just a day of asking for personal forgiveness. That’s why we are commanded to have a communal day of prayer, to gather together and confess to God our failure to meet our end of the Covenant He made with our Fathers. It is a communal request to forgive all of us, therefore, everyone who is saved should be even more willing to obey this commandment because we need to show the unsaved our desire for them to be forgiven and reconciled to God (through Messiah.)

Oh, by the way, did you catch that part about “we are commanded”? The best reason to do what God says is because He said to do it! How many times do you hear people say ( or maybe you’ve said it yourself), “Oh Lord, oh Yeshua, oh Jesus- I love you!”  Do you love Yeshua? Do you love Jesus? Are you one of His flock?

Then read John 14:15 (“If you love me, keep my commands.“)  And what commands did Yeshua give? The same ones that His Daddy gave to Moshe. John knew this and the Gospel he wrote began making sure that the very first truth of the Good News that he told us was this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

There is nothing “new” in the New Covenant writings- it is all the same stuff as in the Torah and the Prophets. That is what Yeshua taught from, that is what Yeshua taught about, and that is what Yeshua told us to obey. When Yeshua told us to prove our love for Him by obeying His commands, He was talking about the Torah. Yeshua/Jesus IS the living Torah!

That is why I fast and worship on Yom Kippur. For the same reason I do so on every Holy Day God has commanded us to celebrate- because He has commanded it. That is all the reason any one needs. Because I love and worship God, and because I belong to Yeshua, I do as my Master tells me to do. And I do so willingly, happily and faithfully, to the very best of my abilities, which are incompetence and failure. In truth, as much as I try, the best I can hope for and the best I can do, is better than what I have already done.

And that is good enough. Don’t try to be perfect- it ain’t gonna happen. I just want to be better than I was, I want to wake up and sin at least one less sin each day. I will walk three steps forward, but backslide two steps because it is my very nature to do so, yet as long as I net out one step closer, I am performing T’Shuvah. I am getting better, I am sinning less, I am becoming more spiritually mature and growing closer to God.

Tomorrow night I will fast. By Wednesday around, oh, let’s say 1130 or 1200, I will have a killer caffeine headache. My stomach will be grumbling and I may become a little testy. But I will be worshiping. Although the place where I worship cannot hold services because of a special needs school it runs during the day (services would be disruptive and disturbing to the children) I will worship in my home. I will read the Machzor, I will sit on my porch and enjoy the Sabbath rest that this day has for me, and I will commune with the Lord. I will recite the Ashamnu and the Al Chet, prayers listing the many sins we have committed against God and prayers asking forgiveness.

And I will demonstrate my love for Yeshua and for God by being faithfully obedient, and I will demonstrate my solidarity with my people by joining them in corporate prayer, even if I am not with them physically, as our prayers reach up to heaven and are presented to God on a golden patter held by Yeshua, Himself.

And I will do as every Jew should do on this day; actually, as everyone who says they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob should do on this day.

Because God said we should.

Jesus and the Torah

Chag Semeach to all my friends out there. That is the Hebrew greeting that translates, roughly, to Joyous Festival.

We just celebrated Shavuot, the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. This is one of the three Big Ones, the festivals that God commanded us to celebrate only at the Temple in Yerushalayim. The other two being Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles.)

This Holy Day is also called by the Greek term for 50 days, Pentecost. I have always heard people refer to Pentecost as a Gentile celebration, but it is a Jewish holy day. The 50 days comes directly from the counting of the Omer, which God decreed we should do starting with the first Shabbat after Pesach. The Gentile celebration is from Acts, where the Disciples receive the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, from God while celebrating Shavuot.

This year Shavuot also falls right at the end of the readings from Leviticus, which is the book in the Torah that has the most laws and regulations, especially referring to the priestly duties. The past week or so I have found myself writing more and more about how Torah is still a necessary and valid book of laws that all Believers, not just Jews but all Believers, should be trying to follow.

The historical teachings of the Christian world are that the Torah is for Jews and Jesus is for Christians; the God of the Old Covenant is an angry and punishing God and the God of the New Covenant is loving and compassionate (funny- I always thought He was the same guy!); the Jews are living under the law and the Christians are under the blood, so the law doesn’t apply to them.

That last one is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. The law doesn’t apply because we are under the blood of Christ? So what, then? Messiah said to ignore the Torah? To quote one of the disciples, Shaul (Paul), who wrote about ignoring the Torah in his letter to the Romans, “Heaven forbid!” The Torah is what Jesus, Yeshua, taught from, and it is what He lived, and it is what He said we should obey.

Yeshua did NOT do away with the Torah. One of the verses from the Gospels that people love to trespass against (meaning, as in Yeshua’s day, to misinterpret) is Matthew 5:17. They say that since Yeshua fulfilled the law, by doing so He completed it and thereby, it is not longer applicable. By completing it fully He did away with it.

Horse Apples!!  If that is a valid statement, then if someone comes to a complete stop at a stop sign, looks left, right, then left, and only then continues to drive they lived that law completely, so no one else ever has to stop at a stop sign.

Oh, yes- and if someone lived their entire life without committing murder, it’s OK for you to go kill someone. And let’s not forget the person who never had sex- that’s the one for me! Thank goodness for that someone who never fornicated during their entire life so that now we all can do it. I’m going back to college!!

Ridiculous, isn’t it? Just because someone obeyed a law, that did away with it? Absurd, stupid, and very, very wrong.

Yeshua did live the Torah to it’s fulfillment, He lived it completely and correctly but not to do away with it (which He confirms in Matthew 5:17.) No, He lived it fully to show us how we are to live it! When He said He came to fulfill the law He meant that He came to interpret it correctly: in the First Century , to “fulfill the law” meant to interpret it correctly, whereas to misinterpret the law was to “trespass the law.” That’s why the “Lord’s Prayer” says we should forgive those who trespass against us- meaning those that sin against us, since misinterpreting the law is a sin.

I have gone over this many times: John says the Word was first, then that Word became flesh. The only “word” John had was the Torah. The flesh that Torah became is clearly Yeshua. As such, that also is hemeneutically accurate since Joel and Jeremiah tell us that in the end days we will have Torah written on our hearts, meaning we will be living, breathing Torahs, ourselves. We won’t ask our brother if they know the Lord because all will know Him. Yeshua says that if we know Him, we know the Father, so it all comes down to Yeshua is the living Torah.

Now, if He is the living Torah, how can He teach anything but what He is? Did you ever read Yeshua telling anyone that they should not do as He does? Didn’t He say a house divided against itself cannot survive, yet His kingdom will never be torn down? If He is the Torah, as we have shown, then to teach or even suggest that those who follow Him do anything except what the Torah says is to teach against Himself, dividing His house and thereby, His kingdom will not stand.

Doesn’t He say that if we love Him we will obey Him? If so, then show me where He said ignore the Torah. Show me where He said Torah doesn’t matter. Show me where He said the heck with God and His rules and regulations, I want you to follow me, instead.

Oh, wait- someone else says that, doesn’t he? That is the one who wants to usurp God and calls Him a liar. Is that who you want to follow? If you follow anyone telling you the Torah is not valid and you can ignore it, you are not following God. That leaves just one other.

The Torah is who God is. He tells us about Himself, he tells us about ourselves, He shows us how to live and how to treat each other. It is what God says we should do, it is what Yeshua did perfectly (in order that He could be the sacrifice He was meant to be) and what He taught from, and it is just as valid today as when Moshe brought it down from the mountain some 3500 years ago.

The Torah is the ultimate User Manual for life. In fact, it is the User Manual for Eternal life! If you ignore it, you will miss out on much that God has for you.

Here’s the part that confuses people: when we live Torah perfectly, we will be saved. The problem is this: we cannot live the Torah perfectly. That is why God sent Messiah Yeshua, to provide the means for us to have a single, once and for all sacrifice that will take away our sins as the Torah’s sacrificial system was designed to do. And Yeshua will take them away not just once, but again, and again, and again until everyone can have their sins forgiven, not once a year at Yom Kippur, but every second of their life. Yeshua came to Earth to live as a human, perfectly in accordance with Torah so that He could then act as our ultimate sacrifice (as it is pointed out in Hebrews) once and for all.

The difference between Torah being lived correctly and incorrectly is what Shaul pointed out, over and over, in his letters to the Messianic Kehilot (communities): if we think we can be saved by living according to the Torah we are dead: not because the Torah is not the way to salvation, but because we have no chance of living the Torah perfectly. If we use Torah as the only means of our salvation we lose before we even start. Yeshua is the only way we can be saved. He did not replace the Torah, He made salvation through it attainable by giving us a “handicap”, so to speak. His sacrifice is our salvation, His death is our life, and His teachings are to live Torah as best we can and to trust in Him to do the rest.

We will all stand before God at the final judgement, and Yeshua will be at the right hand of God. When we, who have given ourselves to Yeshua and who accept and trust Him to be our Messiah and Savior, fall short of Gods commands and are faced with our own sinful lives, Yeshua will stand forth and say, “Father, this one is mine.”

That’s all it will take. Yeshua will stand between us and God, between our sinfulness and His righteousness; God will see us through the righteousness of Yeshua, and as such, we will be acceptable. His blood will cover us, encapsulate us like a cocoon, and we will emerge clean and righteous, forever. We will be transformed from sinful flesh into righteous spirit.

The Torah is the road map to salvation, but there is a great chasm we need to cross that Torah cannot get us across. The only way to span that chasm is to use Yeshua as our bridge between death and salvation. The Torah is what we need to live by, as best we can, and Yeshua is who we need to accept as our guide, our Messiah and our Savior to get us across the chasm between our sinful nature and God’s complete holiness.

The truth is this: Torah is valid and God expects us to live according to it’s rules, regulations, laws, commandments and ordinances. Yeshua is the Messiah, and He also expects us to live in accordance to the Torah. It is what He taught, what He used to explain Himself, and what He is: He is the Torah, in the flesh. Why, oh why, would He teach us to do anything else but live as He did?

Following Torah will not save you, following Yeshua will, but Yeshua said to obey Him and what He taught was the Torah. God promised us (in the Torah) that when we obey we will receive blessings, so don’t follow Torah to be saved- that is a waste and the wrong reason to follow Torah. Follow Torah to receive blessings, to hold God to His promises, and to do as Yeshua did to show Him how much you really love Him.

When it comes to following the Torah, you have to make up your own mind. Read Deuteronomy 28 to see what blessings God has in store for those that obey Torah. And what He has for those that reject it.

Torah won’t get you saved, but it will make life on Earth soooooo much better.

Parashah Pesach (Exodus 12:21 – 12:51)

Weren’t we in the book of Leviticus last week? How’d we get back to Exodus?

Today, actually tonight, begins Passover (‘Pesach’, in Hebrew.) As such, this being one of the most important and happiest of all the Holy Days God gave us, we read this portion of the Torah and then get back to Vayikra next week.

Passover is a Holy Day that is somewhat misunderstood, by both Jews and Christians. If you ask most any Jewish person how long Passover lasts, I’ll bet the answer you get is “7 days”, but that’s wrong. “Passover” only lasts from evening until midnight, when the angel of death passed over Egypt. The 7 days that we fast (no leavened products, i.e.. nothing with yeast) is called Hag Ha Matzot. It is the Feast of Unleavened Bread that lasts 7 days. Another thing that is misunderstood is that Passover is when God said we should celebrate the new year; God never said that Rosh HaShannah is the Jewish new year. In Exodus God tells Moshe that this day (the day the Jews left Egypt) is to be the first day of your year. Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year, is a Rabbinical holiday and not a God ordered Holy Day. The day that it is celebrated on is a God-ordered Holy Day, but that day is called (by God) Yom Teruah, or Day of Trumpets. It is a memorial day.

From the Christian viewpoint, because of the undeniable association of the sacrificial death of Yeshua (Jesus) on the day after Passover, leading to His resurrection on the third day (Sunday, the beginning of the Jewish week, as we are told in the Bible) the sacrifice of the Passover lamb is considered to be what Yeshua underwent, which was a sacrifice to absolve us of our sin. Especially since He is often referred to as the Lamb of God. Even the Jewish people, for the most part, believe that the Pesach lamb was a sin sacrifice.

Oh, oh…not so, oh no. The Passover lamb was sacrificed, yes, but it was a thanksgiving sacrifice, a peace offering, not a sin or guilt offering.

Go back and read the first chapters of Leviticus we just went through- it describes how the different sacrifices are to be administered by the Kohen. There is only one type where the person offering the sacrifice also partakes in the eating of the sacrifice, and that is the peace offering. God demands that the Passover lamb be roasted and eaten by those offering it, so that makes the Passover sacrifice a peace offering, not a sin offering.

But didn’t Yeshua offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin? Yes, He did. Well, when do the Jewish people offer their sin sacrifice? That’s on Yom Kippur.

You see, Yeshua is both sides of the coin, so to speak: His sacrifice to overcome our sin was on Passover, and the Passover sacrifice is a peace offering to God. When we think about it, isn’t the Messiah supposed to bring us all back into relationship with God?  So when He sacrificed Himself as a sin offering, didn’t that also allow us to come into relationship with God? Wasn’t the curtain torn from the top down? From God to us? When Yeshua died on that execution tree, His sacrifice was both the sin sacrifice that comes at Yom Kippur (the final one that will be at the End of Days) and the peace offering that brings us back into relationship with God. His sacrifice counted then as two- the sin sacrifice to cleanse us before God and the peace offering that will bring us into relationship with God. They may be a little backwards to us, since our time is linear, but God’s time is different. What Yeshua did back then was for then, and for now, and for the rest of time; one sacrifice to accomplish two things, from then until forever.

Isn’t God just amazing?!? It gives you goose-bumps. Now do you see the real association between Passover and Yom Kippur? We usually associate Passover with freedom from physical slavery and follow it up with Shavuot, the giving of the Law on Sinai as a “one-two punch” against sin. For those that accept Yeshua’s Messianic calling as true, these two Holy Days also represent the freedom from spiritual slavery and the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, which only because of Yeshua’s sacrifice can now indwell forever. Prior to Yeshua the Ruach fell on the person, but was lifted up later. Only because of Yeshua can that Ruach now indwell and remain.

And there’s another misunderstanding- as nicely as this all fits, Passover is not really associated with Shavuot, but with Yom Kippur. Passover and Yom Kippur are the two sides of the same coin, sacrifice for sin to cleanse us and peace offering to bring us back into relationship with God. Again I ask, isn’t that what the Messiah is supposed to do?

I also do two things at once to my Christian friends at this time of the year: I teach them by kidding with them and rebuking them at the same time. I ask them if they ever considered that as they are celebrating and honoring the resurrection of Yeshua, they are eating something that He would find to be an abomination and an insult on His table?

Think about it before you buy that Easter ham. Also think about it when you have bread and cake all next week. Yeshua told his Talmudim (Disciples) to beware the Hametz (yeast) of the Pharisees;  Yeshua and all His followers fasted from yeast during the celebration of Hag ha Matzot. Do you want to do as Yeshua did? Do you really want to please God?

If you do not normally fast during the 7 days after passover, try it. I am sure there are many who fast from something for a day or a week to get closer to God. Don’t you think that fasting as God says you should would bring you that much closer to pleasing Him? To being in communion with Him?

Forget the ham- do a turkey or a chicken. No lamb- that is not allowed because the lamb is the demanded sacrifice and it must be done at the Temple, but the Temple doesn’t exist anymore so we don’t do lamb on Passover. Chicken, turkey, maybe a nice brisket, no bread- only matzah for the next week. No cakes, no nothing with any yeast in it at all.

Try it. Do what God says and He promises to bless you (read Deuteronomy 28.) Don’t get all caught up in that drek about obeying Torah means you aren’t under the blood- that’s nothing but a bunch of fertilizer taught by those who don’t understand and don’t want to obey God to those who don’t want to make their own decision about how to worship God.

Here are my two most favorite ways to eat matzah: spread butter lightly over it with salt (warm the butter a bit first or it will crack the matzah)- YUM!!! And for breakfast eat Matzah Brei: soak matzah in warm water, when it’s soft wring out the water (carefully) and then drench the matzah is an egg wash with a little milk (and cinnamon), then fry in a frying pan greased with butter. Serve hot with syrup or sugar. It’s sort of a Jewish french toast, and I cannot believe you won’t LOVE it!

Chag  Sameach!!

Holy Day or Holiday?

I would like to start this Drash with an excerpt from the chapter in my book (see link at bottom right of page) dealing with this topic:

“Two men talking…,”…so I came to the conclusion that I’m agnostic, but when I realized they don’t have any holidays I thought it best to just stick with my reform synagogue.”

    Why is it important to know the difference between a holiday and a Holy Day? After all, don’t they both mean the same thing? Probably so, to most people. But I think there is a difference between the two, and I also think it is important to know what that difference is. And, since it’s my book, I get to write about what I want to.

   Seriously, it is important to know the difference, and in that light I will ask you to accept (for the purposes of this book) the following definitions: a Holy Day is a celebration, or festival, which God has commanded to be observed. A holiday is a celebration, or festival, which has been created by humans and is a traditional, not biblical, observance. 

   Please understand that I have absolutely nothing against man-made celebrations. I also have nothing against traditions, EXCEPT when a tradition is given more importance than the actual word of God. Traditions are fine, but He comes first.”

We are just about at the end of the High Holy Days in Judaism. Tomorrow is Simchat Torah (that means the Joy of Torah) when we read the last part of Deuteronomy and then, while we sing and dance, roll back the scrolls to the very beginning and read the first few lines in Genesis. Often this holiday (note: holiday, not holy day) is also celebrated by parading the Torah through the streets (And the Word shall go out from Yerushalayim…) with Shofar blowing and joyous singing. It is truly a wonderful thing to start reading the Torah all over again. Ya gotta love the Bible!

But it is not a festival that God told us to celebrate. It is a holiday– a man-made event that is a traditional celebration, just like the netilat yadayim (hand washing) ceremony that we read about in Mark. Just like promising a Korban (again, see Mark) or any of the many, many other Rabbinic traditions and ceremonies that are Talmudic but not Biblical. And if you really want pomp and ceremony, check out some of the Gentile holidays and traditions. You’d think they would have learned from the Jews, but it was not to be.

Why care about the difference? Maybe it doesn’t matter. I guess you could make an argument that every religious holiday (I am not talking about anything in Leviticus 23) is meant to honor God, and how can that be wrong? I think that would be a good argument, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that, except that today most of these holidays do not honor God: they only create more retail sales. They honor the economy more than they honor God.

I mean, it’s not even Halloween (clearly, no one can think that Halloween honors the Lord!) and already I see Christmas commercials on TV, stores are putting up Christmas decorations, and I haven’t even partaken of my November tryptophan yet!  Oy! If we keep going at this rate, we will “lap” Christmas and by April of 2016 they will be running Christmas 2017 sales!

The traditions of our people (Jews and Gentiles, alike) are not bad, in and of themselves. Traditions help create solidarity, a common foundation, and can often help one to get closer to God, so long as they do not interfere or overrule what God has commanded of us. This was the point that Yeshua was making during His ministry. He didn’t have an issue with the traditions, He had an issue with the Pharisees forcing the people to perform traditions at the expense of what God said they should do. There are plenty of examples of this throughout the Good News books.

We need to be careful about this, i.e., knowing the difference between what God has told us to do and what our religious leaders tell us we should do. And we need to know the difference, especially now, as we see prophecy coming to fruition all around us.

I believe the Enemy will make Himself known slowly, and we will not know what he is doing to us until it is already done, unless we keep our spiritual eyes open and trust no one. Not the Rabbi, not the Priest, not the Minister or Chaplin…not no one, not no how, not no way.

What we need to do is trust in the Word of God. You need to read it and thereby learn the difference between what is man-made and what is God-commanded. Like I said, I believe the Enemy will take charge slowly, and the best way to do that is through what we are all comfortable with. He isn’t going to jump out of a cake and say, “Hiya!! I’m the Son of Perdition and I am here to destroy you. Line up and take the mark- be the first on your block to suffer in hell for  all Eternity. Order your very own mark now…operators are standing by.”

Uh-uh…not going to happen that way. He will appear, at first, to be somewhat powerless. A nobody that came up with a popular notion or fad. Then the fad will become a tradition, just like the other traditions we all find comfortable and easily follow (like sheep) and practice. Eventually, once we are suckered into the traditional practices, the tradition will become a regular part of our life, and he will introduce activities that are God-less and satanic, but it will be so subtle, it will fit so easily into what we are doing already, that before we know it we will be lining up for the mark and not even realize what we are doing.

OK, maybe I am getting a little too apocalyptic, thinking that celebrating Simchat Torah will lead me to satanic worship. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a concern. But human stupidity, ignorance and pride is a concern, and it is as much a part of us as breathing and eating. If we aren’t watching with spiritual eyes, and discerning using the Ruach, we are doomed. The Enemy is much more devious than we are, and he knows how to get in our brains, in our daily lives, and how easily we can be led (or misled, for that matter.) And he has no fear of God. He knows he’s lost, he just doesn’t want to admit it to himself, so he is going to take as many down with him as he can. Remember this: in Revelations it says that “most” will be apostatised. Not a few, not a lot, but most- that means a lot more than just half . That means more like 70-80% of all Believers will reject God and throw away their salvation.

Worship God as He said to worship Him- celebrate the Holy Days that God has commanded we should celebrate. And I mean everyone- these are not “Jewish” holy days, these are the festivals that God (your God and mine) said that those who worship Him are to celebrate. Everyone! Start there, and slowly, carefully review and scrutinize every non-Biblical holiday you have ever enjoyed. If it seems “correct” according to the Manual, celebrate it as it should be celebrated- in a way that honors God. Leave K-Mart, Target, Amazon, et.al. out of it.

As the old saying goes, “Keep the Christ in Christmas.” And be careful to celebrate only those celebrations, and only in those ways, that give glory to God.

Parashah Chol HaMo’ed Sukkot (Intermediate Reading for Sukkot: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26)

Sukkot is one of the Holy Days which we are commanded to celebrate in Leviticus 23. It is one of the three Holy Days when we are to go to the Temple in Yerushalayim (Pesach and Shavuot being the other ones.)

At this time we build a Sukkah, which is essentially an open roofed tabernacle or tent, and we are to live in it for the next 7 days. This is a reminder of how our fathers lived in the desert.

This festival is more than just a memorial to our ancestors; it is a celebration of our relationship, our close relationship, with God. And not just as a people, but individually.

This parashah relates how Moshe asked God to go with the people- it comes after the people rebelled against God while Moshe was on the mountain, when Moshe destroyed the first set of tablets God gave him. Moshe is back on the mountain, and begging God to continue to live with the people as they travel through the desert. In fact, Moshe asks God to just  leave them there if He won’t go with them because it is not the people that matter, it is God’s presence with them that demonstrates who they are.

When God is with us, it proves we are His people. His presence is what separates us from the rest of the world, and for those who accept Messiah Yeshua as being the Messiah, the Anointed One of God and the promised salvation, and who have received the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit), they have God’s presence with them, just as the children of Israel had His presence in the desert.

In the desert, He traveled as a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night, but today as we walk through this desert we call “life”, God is with us always by means of the indwelling Ruach. That means that our bodies are, in a way, the ultimate Sukkah. This correlates to what Shaul said when he told us that our bodies are the temple housing the spirit of God. I have heard Christian teachings that allude to this, too, calling our bodies the Church.

As a Jewish man, I am not, and probably never will be, comfortable with the idea that I go to “church”, let alone that I am a “church.” I know it’s just a word, but words have power and the image and memories that the word “church” bring forth are not pleasant to me.

On the other hand, I like considering myself a Sukkah, where God and I congregate. Add to that how joyful it is to tabernacle with the Lord God, and that is an image I can live with!

Sukkot lasts seven days, but we celebrate for 8 days. The eighth day is called Sh’Mini Atzeret, and that is also called the holiday of Simchat Torah (note: holiday, not Holy Day.) This is a Rabbinical day of celebration, not a biblical one. The Rabbinical explanation is that God was so happy being with His people during those seven days that He extended it an additional day. Again, not in the bible as a God-declared festival, but a nice thought and a joyful way to celebrate the Torah, which is also God’s presence with us, is it not?

See: I’m not against everything that is traditional, just those that go against what God wants or says.

Final thought for today: in the desert, God’s presence was shown through His manifestation as a cloud and as fire. Moshe wrote the Torah, and after they came into the Land, God’s physical presence no longer went with them. But they had the Torah, which is not just God’s laws, regulations, and (overall) teachings, but it is, in a way, God, Himself. He tells us who He is (this portion also contains the 13 Attributes of God, which He announces as he passes by Moshe) and who we are, in relation to Him. Therefore, in my thinking, the Torah is God; not a manifestation, but it is who and what He is. Yochanan says that first there was the Word, then the Word became flesh. Do you think the “Word” he refers to is the Torah? I do. That’s why I feel comfortable believing that the Torah is God- not a manifestation of Him, but His essence and (thereby) His presence.  In the same way that our bodies are a Sukkah, the Torah is God; it is a spiritual relationship expressed by a tangible thing.

So, the Torah is with the people always, representing God’s presence. And the ultimate demonstration of God’s presence with His people is the Ruach HaKodesh. Unlike the cloud or fire, which appeared visible to all, and unlike the Torah, which is  tangible thing, the Ruach is His presence living inside of us. Every breath, every heartbeat, every thought…He is here sharing our life, living every moment of it in total communion.

Sukkot is one of the more joyful Holy Days we have, and for those who have accepted the Grace of the Almighty, we get to celebrate Sukkot every single day, and for the rest of our life.

Sweet!