Parashah Va-Ayra 2019 (And he appeared) Exodus 6:2 – 9

In this Parashah we continue with the story of God freeing the Israelites. Previously, Moses and Aaron were unsuccessful in getting Pharaoh to free the people, and in fact, made things worse. Now God tells Moses that he certainly will redeem the people, and the rest of this Parashah goes through the plagues sent against Pharaoh and Egypt, ending with the 7th plague: the hail that fell and burned on the ground.

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The lesson I want to talk about today deals with a very sensitive topic in the “Believing” world, which is the name of God, the Holy Name which is called the Tetragrammaton. The 4 letters that God uses to identify who and what he is, and was first used when Moses saw the burning bush.

I, personally, do not believe it is necessary to use or know exactly how to pronounce God’s name- he knows who he is and when I pray to him, he knows who I mean. The arguments I constantly see in Christian and Messianic discussion groups on Facebook are always, ALWAYS, a waste of time and energy and knowledge. However, I really like what the Chumash says, based on the great Rabbi, Rashi, as to how to understand these 4-letters, and I think this might be a good, meet-in-the-middle sort of teaching for all sides of the “Holy Namers” issue.

Up to this point in the Torah, God has been identified as the Lord or Adonai. In Exodus 6:3 he tells Moses that to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob he made himself known as God Almighty, but not by Y-H-V-H.  The scripture doesn’t say (I am taking this from the Soncino edition of the Chumash) ‘My name, Y-H-V-H, I did not make known to them’ but it says, ‘By my name, Y-H-V-H, I was not known to them.’

The difference here is significant. Rashi is saying that God is talking about the understanding of his nature and everlasting faithfulness to keep his promises. What they did not know was the eternal ability of God to perform what he said he would perform.

God told Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land, but Abraham never saw that happen. Abraham’s understanding of the name “Adonai” and “God, Almighty” was a finite understanding; he knew that God would do what he said he would do here and now. But to Moses, some 400 years later, God is announcing himself as not just trustworthy for the here and now, as the Patriarchs understood him to be, but forever. God is saying that his name meant God almighty, but now means God whose faithfulness and promises extend over centuries and millennia. What the Patriarchs understood was a promise to occur, but now God is telling Moses that this name, Y-H-V-H represents the fulfillment of that promise.

The Tetragrammaton is more than a name- it is an understanding, a significance and a manifestation of the promises God makes.

This is confirmed also by the many other references in the Bible to “God’s name”, which (most of the time) doesn’t mean the actual name, the letters that compose an identifying title or label, but his renown, his reputation, and the understanding of who he is.

The Tetragrammaton is not a label, it is a definition.

God is so far above us that even his name is beyond our ability to understand. The important thing is to know who God is, read and study his instructions to us so we can always please him, and accept that his Messiah is Yeshua, who sacrificed himself so that through him we can have eternal life. Those are the things that are necessary to know; how to pronounce a couple of letters is insignificant and will not affect your salvation at all. God sees the heart and has told us that numerous times through his Prophets- try to believe him on that and not believe the teaching of someone who tells you if you mispronounce God’s name you are praying to idols. They have no real understanding of what God’s name means.

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Shabbat shalom, and Baruch HaShem!

 

How Do We Discern What is Important to Know?

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As most of you who are reading this blog today already know, I am a member of half a dozen (or so) “Christian” or “Messianic” discussion groups. Constantly I see the same type of discussion being raised, and the main ones that generate the most passionate responses (which are often not very “Christian”, if you know what I mean) are ones dealing with the pronunciation of the name of God and the need to obey the Torah once you have accepted and asked forgiveness through the Messiah, which we call being “saved.”

The people who consider it paramount that we know and use the “proper” pronunciation for the name of God (and Messiah) are called “Holy Namers”, which is a somewhat derogatory epithet, but is accurate in that the names are holy. God’s holy name, which is made up of 4 Hebrew letters, is called the Tetragrammaton.

I, myself, do not use God’s holy name simply because I am Jewish and we don’t do that. It is our way of showing respect for God, as well as a “fence around the law” about not using his name in vain (which is Number 2 on God’s Top Ten Hit Parade of commandments.) I understand that there are those who use it often, and I have seen no less than 4 different pronunciations, each one being the only correct one.

When we talk about obedience to the Torah, well, we can go almost anywhere with that one. I mean, really- even within Judaism, there are 6 different sects that each have different ideas about how to obey the Torah. Not to mention the additional requirements under the Talmud! Oy! If we Jews can’t make up our own minds, how can we expect the Gentiles to make up their minds? Am I right?

Besides these two issues, there are other questions that come up: when does the day really start; how do we really know when the holy days begin (is it only when they see the moon in Jerusalem?); should we celebrate Hanukkah or any other traditional holiday if it isn’t specified in Leviticus 23?

These questions and many others are not invalid or unnecessary, but we need to ask ourselves: Are they important?  And to answer that, we need to know just what is important. And I don’t mean what is important to us, I mean what is important to God.

I think it is, first and foremost, important for you all to know this: I cannot tell you absolutely how to determine what is important. Sorry- I am raising an issue I do not have an absolutely correct answer for. The best answer I have is that we each have to determine what we believe God wants us to know. If you are absolutely certain that you need to know an answer to something that you read in the Bible but don’t understand, then ask God first (I think we can all agree that is the best place to start) then ask others, those you trust and know to be spiritually mature. I suggest you also keep an open mind because, at least for myself, I truly do not trust my own judgment, and what I may think I am “hearing from God” may really only be my own voice with an answer I want to hear.

Sidebar: when I think I am getting an answer from God and it goes against what I would like the answer to be, then I feel pretty certain that it is from God.

Discernment should start with learning, which comes from reading the Bible and listening to others who have shown they have both a high level of biblical knowledge and spiritual maturity. Also, pray to God to show you through the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) the truth he has for you and to place in your path through life those who God wants to teach you.

He definitely did that for me, and I am very grateful to him for that.

I always use an “Acid Test” question when trying to discern what is important to know and what isn’t: I ask myself, “How does this affect my salvation?”  To answer that question also takes a bit of discernment and spiritual guidance, simply because we humans want to know everything there is to know about everything, and God doesn’t work that way. He keeps those things secret that he wants to, and reveals those things that he will (Deut. 29:29), and I believe he will reveal different things to different people so what may be important to me may not be important to you, and vice-versa.

There is no end to learning about God and the Messiah. From this moment on, until you get to meet them face-to-face, be open-minded, be studious (a “Berean” of the Word), and be flexible and compassionate with others who may have different priorities than you do. If you know someone is on the wrong track, gently and lovingly advise them. If they refuse to listen, so be it. Maybe they really do have a valid reason to know what you consider to be nothing more than biblical minutia. Who knows?

Finally, trust in God that what he wants you to know he will make sure you do, and what you don’t know but want to, well….always ask yourself if it is really that important? Are we saved by knowing exactly when the moon rises on the 10th day of Tishri? Is God going to condemn you to hell forever if you mispronounce his name?  If you celebrate a holiday that is a traditional celebration of God or Messiah but has a history that dates back to a pagan holiday, will your worship and prayers be rejected because of what that day used to represent, even though you are earnestly praying to the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

I will end with something I do believe is important to know: I don’t think God is so thin-skinned to be upset by what something used to mean or how you pronounce whichever name you use when praying to him, so long as your prayers to and worship of God is from your heart and an attitude of faithful obedience and love for him.

 

Born-Again Christians and Legalism Born Again

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First and foremost let me say that I am ecstatic to see more and more Christians wanting to know their Messiah and who he really is, and what he really taught. They are realizing that the Jesus they have been told about is not the Yeshua who lived, preached and taught from the Torah. This is a wonderful and prophetic happening and will lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy that one day all knees will bow and all tongues confess that Yeshua is Messiah; on that day we will all be one in Messiah, worshiping God as he said we should.

That being said, let me go a little further and point out that with this new-found love for their Hebraic roots and for Hebrew, both Modern and Paleo, I see a really upsetting dark cloud on the horizon. That cloud is a new form of the legalistic mentality that was prominent in the First Century, which both Yeshua and Shaul (Paul) were totally against.

Let’s get something else clear before we go on: “Legalism” is the system under which faith is not important or needed to gain salvation. Under a legalistic system (which is what the Pharisee’s taught) you can be saved ONLY by strict and complete adherence to the Torah, as well as the rabbinic traditions that the Pharisee’s added to one’s activities and worship. Again, so no one misunderstands: under the system of legalism, faith is not needed to be saved. All we need to attain salvation is absolute obedience to everything we are supposed to do stated in the Torah, as well as strict and total adherence to Halacha (Talmudic, or Oral Torah) requirements.

Now, on to today’s message.

I have been blogging for over 5 years, and am a member of a number of different “Christian” or “Messianic” discussion groups, and one of the most prevalent arguments that constantly comes up is how to pronounce God’s Holy name (called the Tetragrammaton), how it is spelled, how to pronounce the name of the Messiah and how these things are absolutely necessary to prevent one from being fooled by the Enemy and (even worse) to not call out to false gods.

In a word, these concerns are ridiculous! A bunch of drek that no ones who really knows the Lord would be worried about. God isn’t going to condemn someone to Sheol (hell) because they call out to Jesus, or when praying to God use the name Jehovah or Yahushua, or if they call Yeshua Yahshua. If the person praying is praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in their mind and heart, and invoking the name of the Son of God, the Messiah God sent to earth to save mankind, it doesn’t matter what name they use. God knows the heart and the mind of everyone, as does Yeshua, so believe me when I tell you they know who you are talking to.

Not only is the name issue important to these people, but I see other ridiculous issues- we should pray after we eat and not before because it is a commandment to thank God for our food only after we have eaten it. As such, they imply (or even state) that praying to God and thanking him for the food on our table BEFORE we eat is a sin! Imagine! Thanking God is a sin! Who woudda evah tought’ it?

This need to be absolutely accurate using God’s name, or taking one single sentence from the Torah (specifically, Deuteronomy 8:10) and expanding it out of context, to indicate that we must perform some physical act correctly or we cannot be saved is Legalism.

They may not say this that way, i.e. if we don’t pronounce God’s name correctly we won’t be saved, but the indication is clear- not doing this is a sin, and since we all know sin prevents us from being in God’s presence, well…you can all add, I’m sure.

I am concerned that the zealousness I see from a number of people for this minutia, this useless straining of gnats while swallowing a camel, is going to choke the seeds that were sown and are starting to grow, just as it did to the new Gentile converts to Judaism in the First Century.  This is why I call it a new form of Legalism, the same thing that Yeshua, Shaul, and the Disciples fought against when Yeshua’s ministry was first growing.  Once the Council of Nicene got in the picture, then this issue of new converts to Judaism being taught the wrong message was totally overridden by the separation of Yeshua’s followers from mainstream Judaism. Essentially, after Constantine, obedience to the Torah as necessary for salvation was no longer a concern for Christians.

For those of you who are reading this and thinking that I am wrong, so be it. If you really believe God will condemn me to hell for calling him Adonai, or God (many even think the word “God” is pagan!) then I can tell you right now, absolutely, you have no idea who God is or what he is about. I pray that one day he will open your eyes and minds to the truth that he is a forgiving and compassionate God, and not as thin-skinned as you seem to think he is.

“Legalism” is a tool that the Enemy can use to cause dissension and confusion within the body of Messiah. It was used thousands of years ago to dissuade new Believers from the truth and tie them up in traditions and activities that didn’t lead to salvation, and today it is still being used to do the same thing. Those who are adamant that God’s name is spelled or pronounced a certain way are leading us away from the truth of who and what God is, and not edifying anyone. Those who take one sentence out of context and imply that praying to God to thank him for our food before we eat is a sin are just being silly, and misinterpreting the Torah (which is the real sin.)

PLEASE!!!  Stop worrying about how to pronounce the name of God; stop worrying about when you are supposed to thank God (I can tell you absolutely that God will never, ever be upset with you when you thank him for his blessings and provisions); stop worrying about ancient Hebrew; stop worrying about minutia and insignificant details. What you should be worrying about, if you must worry about something, is being led off the path of true faith in God. Too much emphasis on detail and performance is going to lead you into a hole, and when you make it necessary for others they will fall into that hole, with you. God is compassionate and understanding, God is looking for faithful obedience and not proper grammar or pronunciation, God wants you to obey him with a contrite and humble heart, not puffed up pride from the study of ancient scrolls and a Gnostic attitude towards salvation.

We do not need to understand God or even understand his word to be saved- we only need to be like little children, obeying as best we can out of love for our Father. Faithful obedience to Torah is an act of love, a response of thankfulness and trust that God knows what is best for us.

I am not saying be totally ignorant, but instead read the Torah, ask the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to guide your understanding, and don’t get all tied up in minutia and details. Yeshua told us to love God and love each other is all we need to do.

I believe that studying the Bible is a wonderful thing, and should be a life-long activity. But- when it becomes more important to do every little thing, know every little detail, study every ancient manuscript and tell others they must do what you think is right otherwise they are in sin, you have gone too far. Once you place “doing because it says to” over “doing out of faithful desire to please”, you are legalistic.

I can’t speak for God, but I am pretty sure that so long as what we do, we do to please him and try to be in obedience, he will be pleased.

Is God’s Name Really a Name?

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I will unquestionably be opening a can of worms with this post, so to all reading this (or watching the video) I ask that you please do not shout back at the monitor or bang your fist on the table shouting “NO! NO! NO!” until the end.

I think this will blow a lot of people’s minds. I know it did mine.

Let’s start with the simple question: What is a “name?”  When I searched on line for an answer, it said, “a word or set of words by which a person, animal, place, or thing is known, addressed, or referred to.”

In the ancient days, many names were more than just a means of identifying someone. Some of the names were almost prophetic in that they described who the person was. Jedidiah is someone beloved by God; Joshua is God’s salvation; Abraham is father of multitudes; Emmanuel means God is with us.  These names didn’t just identify the person but also indicated what we should expect from them during their lifetime.

What about God’s name? There are many names that are used to identify God: God (of course), El, Yah, Shadai, and the Holy Name that is called the Tetragrammaton (I will use the term ‘Tetra” in this discussion just to make it easier to type) which is Y-H-V-H, or also shown as Y-H-W-H.

Most people believe this is God’s Holy Name, the very one he told Moses to use when Moses asked to know what name to tell the people in Exodus 3:13-15. But they are wrong! This is what God told Moses:

Then Moses asked God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ What should I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also told Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.…  (Berean Study Bible) 

So God didn’t give a specific name, he gave a description of who he is when he told Moses to say “I am has sent me to you.”

I have looked in the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (one of the most respected interpretations of the Tanakh today), my Chumash (The Pentateuch and Haftorahs) edited by Dr. Hertz (Soncino Edition) and also my Tikkun.

NOTE: For those who may not be familiar with the Tikkun, it is a book of the Torah scroll with the Torah Hebrew (a very different font of Hebrew), the modern Hebrew with vowel points and the English translation with commentary of the scriptures. It is used for preparation of chanting the Torah when reading the weekly parashah.

In every one of these highly authentic Jewish volumes, the word used for God in this passage is Elohim (generally meaning is “God is judge”) and he doesn’t use the Y-H-V-H anywhere in this passage. What is used is: אה’ה אשר אה’ה, which means “I am who I am.”

So, nu?  What’s this mean? It means that the Tetra is not the name God gave to Moses to identify who he is to the children of Israel. So now we have to ask, “Where did the Tetra come from?”

It was first used in Genesis 2:4. The very first appearance of the Tetra in the Torah is right after God finished making the earth, in the second half of verse 2:4. The Hebrew says: ב’ומ עשות ‘הוה אלה’מ which in English is translated as ‘When the Lord God..”, which tells us the Tetra is translated from the Torah as “Lord.” The word we use for the Tetra in Judaism is “Adonai”, which means “Lord.”

The Tikkun explains what the Tetra means: it is really an acronym. Each of the letters represent a word, and those words are (I will transliterate): Hah-yah  Ho-veh  veh-yee-yeh, which means “He was, he is and he will be.”

So after all the hullabaloo about the correct spelling of God’s name and how it should be pronounced, we find out that what we have always thought to be God’s Holy Name isn’t really a name! It is an acronym for words that describe the eternal nature of God.

And that fits with God’s command to Moses in front of the burning bush that the name he gave to Moses is how he should be remembered in every generation.  God was not giving Moses a name we should use to call him but how we should remember and refer to him. Remember at the beginning the definition of a name can also mean how we refer to someone? God doesn’t want us to have a specific name for him, he wants us to refer to him for who and what he is. He is our eternal Lord. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And that is what he told Moses he wants us to call him.

People are given a name we can call them during their lifetime, but because God has no lifetime he is known only by his eternal nature.

He is and he was and he shall be: that is what the Tetra means. It is not a name as we define what a name is, it is a memorial to remind us that God is eternal.

And from the very first time we see the Tetra in the Torah it is interpreted as “Lord”, who are we to change it?

So where do we go from here? I suspect that those who absolutely must use the Tetra and pronounce it as they believe it should be pronounced will continue to do so. I hope at least some will reconsider their understanding and verify what I have said here. And there may be some who will start to use “Lord” or “Adonai” as we Jews have been doing forever.

Others may just wander around the house muttering to themselves, “What should I believe? What is right? Who can I trust?”

I can answer that last one: trust God and trust his word. Trust that the interpretation Jews have been using for thousands of years is more dependable (and probably more accurate) than the one many Gentile’s just now learning about God and Yeshua are using.

And always, always, ALWAYS go to the Jewish versions of the Torah and Tanakh (Old Covenant) to see what the Hebrew says. The Torah is absolutely dependable to be the exact same way it is today as it was when it was first written. If you knew all the different ways the Torah is verified when a new one is written you would be able to trust that it is absolutely dependable. The Hebrew, that is- the interpretations are subject to individual bios and predetermined understanding.

I have been reading and studying the bible for over 20 years and after all this time I just now learned that what I have always known to be the Holy Name of God isn’t a name at all. OY! I just love the exciting and new things we learn from God’s word when we really look at it.

What Constitutes Using God’s Name in Vain?

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Just about everyone who knows anything about God has heard it said that we must not use the name of the Lord in vain. This is the 3rd commandment given by God on Mount Sinai.

But what does it really mean, to not take the name of the Lord in vain?

I have looked through “Strong’s Concordance”, the “JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh”, my Soncino edition of the Chumash, and the “Complete Jewish Bible” to find an answer. What I found were, from these different sources, all different versions. And when this commandment is repeated later in Deuteronomy the Hebrew is identical but the English interpretation was a little bit different.

I “Googled” the term “in vain” and this is what I got:

Vain is from Latin vanus “empty,” and in English it originally meant “lacking value or effect, futile”; we still say “a vain attempt” using that sense, and the phrase “in vain” means “without success.” Normally, though, vain means “conceited, too proud of oneself.”

There is an additional part of this commandment which (apparently) doesn’t get as much attention; God further states that he will not hold anyone taking his name in vain guiltless. Clearly, God doesn’t take this lightly.

Lightly….that is the way the JPS Tanakh interpreted the commandment. In other words, don’t just throw God’s name around like it doesn’t mean anything. Don’t use it in an oath, don’t use it as a way to demonstrate importance and don;t use it flippantly.

The Chumash states that this commandment deals with oaths and vows, in that we shouldn’t use God’s name for vanity or falsehood. His name must not be used to testify to anything that is untrue or empty or in a manner that renders it useless by joining it with anything that is insincere or unimportant.

The rabbinical tradition states the name of the Lord is not to be used or uttered unnecessarily in common conversation. The only valid use of God’s name is when taking an oath in a court of law.

God’s name is the Tetragrammaton, the four letters that are printed in the Torah that God first gave to Moses. Those letters are Y-H-V-H (Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh) and Jews pronounce it as Adonai, which means “Lord.” There are no vowels in Hebrew so we don’t know how it was originally pronounced, but that is God’s Holy Name, his “first name” (if you will) and the one that definitely is the one he means when he gave the third commandment.

We use the term God, but that isn’t really a name- it is a descriptive label. Lord, HaShem, Adonai, Father, Creator…all these “names” for God are really labels, in a way- they are what he is and what he does, but they aren’t his name. If we use any of those in a false oath or a lie, we are still violating the third commandment.

I see all too often God’s Holy Name, the 4-letters, being used left and right, being plastered on someone’s Face Book page, and being pronounced in (at least) 5 different ways, each person adamant that they are saying it correctly. Not to sound bigoted, but the ones using God’s name are, overwhelmingly, Gentiles. And in my opinion people who constantly use God’s name are being disrespectful to God. No Jewish person would think of using the Tetragrammaton as a Face Book avatar, or in a banner for a discussion group, or in conversation.

I understand that Gentiles have grown up using God’s name and calling on Jesus constantly, in everything they do, in their prayers, as an expletive, and as a means of getting someone’s attention in a conversation. Since most of the Torah is ignored by the Christian world, this commandment is often known but not obeyed. I understand that is how they were brought up, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Not to God.

The name of the Lord is to be respected and used only when absolutely necessary, as in making a sincere oath or when swearing to a truth in a court of law. That is what Jews have done since God told us not to use it vainly.

Let’s not forget that using something vainly also infers a conceited attitude. I have seen, way too often, arguments by people who are using God’s holy name as a means of showing off how much they know. They argue that their years of study justify their pronunciation and they flagrantly announce God’s name every chance they get. They are using God’s name to show how much they know, with no respect for the name or who’s name it is. That is the ultimate “use in vain” as far as I’m concerned.

One of the great methods for preventing sin that the Rabbis have created is called placing fences around the law. To prevent trespassing (violating) the law they put a “fence” around it. For instance, to make sure we do not to boil a calf in its mother’s milk (Lev. 11) we will not boil any calf in milk at all (first fence.) But that may not be enough, so let’s not have meat and dairy together (second fence.) A fence around the fence around the fence around the law. It is a good way to prevent accidentally violating the commandments, but the downside is that it is also a snowball rolling downhill, and the good idea became a terrible burden on the people, which is the argument Yeshua had when he talked against the traditions of the Pharisees. Traditions are not bad, but the ones that add to God’s laws so much they become an additional burden, are.

To those that are thinking about Joel 2:32, or Romans 10:13, or 1 Cor.1:2, or whatever other verse you find that tells us we should “call on the name of the Lord” it doesn’t mean we are commanded to use the Tetragrammaton. To “call on the name of the Lord” does NOT mean that we are to use his actual name, the Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh: it means to ask him for something, to open our hearts to him and approach him with a humble and contrite spirit in repentance. It is more of a metaphor than a commandment, and it is not justification for using the holy name of God.

I will never try to pronounce the Tetragrammaton. I respect the Lord too much to try to get on a “first name” basis with him. The tradition not to use the holy name of God that Jews have followed for millennia is, for me, a really good one. It is not burdensome and is (in fact) an excellent way to avoid accidentally violating the Third Commandment. I think that if you also do not ever write, use or pronounce God’s holy name you will be blessed.

Try it- what could it hoit?