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Comfort and Assurance
“I have said: my strength is lost and my hope from the Lord… “The Lord is my portion”, says my soul, therefore I will hope to Him.” (Lamentations 3:18:24)
There are times when all seems lost. Sometimes we wonder; what assurance do we have that we are on a path that ultimately leads to goodness and to light? How can we, the people of Israel, be comforted while we are still in exile from our land and our Temple lies in ruins?
The prophet took comfort in the fact that God is his portion, that was his hope and assurance. The comfort and the assurance of the Jewish people is the fact that their portion is God.
What does this mean? How is God our “portion” and our “lot”?
We tend to think of our faith and belief in God as something that is coming from us towards…
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Mourners of Zion
The three weeks; from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av, were designated by the spiritual leadership of Eternal Israel as a time of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. The fact is that a Jew who walks in the ways of his or her ancestors will carry the heartache of the destruction all the time. The “Three Weeks” are unique only in that they are a time for a more explicit outward expression of this steady mourning.
In the book of Isaiah we learn that the attitude of mourning for Zion is not a peripheral aspect of our relationship with God. In Isaiah 61:3 we find that the term: “Mourners of Zion” is synonymous with Israel as the servant of God. The promise to the mourners of Zion in this verse (61:3) directly parallels the promise to Israel in verse 60:21. The fact…
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Tom and Joe were partners in a business. As they walked up the path to the office one day they encountered a man exiting the door that they were about to enter. The man asked them what they were doing here and where did they think they were going. They responded by explaining that this was their office and that they were going to work. The man then informed them that he had just bought the business from the lady behind the desk and that they no longer had the right to enter the building. They informed him that the “lady behind the desk” was simply their secretary and that she had no right to sell the business and that he had just been the victim of a scam.
In this parable, we are in the position of the “lady behind the desk”. The business does not belong to us…
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From Diminishing References to Increased Intensity to the Rhythm Argument
In our video debate you presented the argument that chapters 40-48 focus
on Israel while 49 -52 focus on the individual servant. When I pointed
out that this is not the case, and in fact 49-52 still focus on Israel
more than they focus on the individual servant you switched to the
“increased intensity” argument. You argued that the increase of focus on
the individual rises at a steeper rate (in 49-52 over 40-48) than does
the increase in intensity of focus on the nation and that this factor should determine the identity of the unnamed servant of 53.
Now that I have pointed out that the last two chapters before 53 are
intensely focused on the righteousness of Israel’s remnant with no
mention of the individual servant, you switched your argument yet again
and now you want us to accept the “rhythm argument.” You want us to see
some sort of “back and forth” pattern where the fact that one chapter
focuses on one subject is evidence that the next chapter needs to shift
focus to another subject.
You realize that the premise of your original argument was that the flow
of the prophetic word is consistent and that one chapter leads directly
into the next. Now you want us to accept the very opposite premise; that
the chapters swing from one subject to the next. You have switched the
underlying premise of your original argument.
What made you switch the premise? What was the basis of your shift from
seeing the chapters flow consistently from one into another to the idea
that they keep on moving back and forth from one subject to another? Is
there any other basis for this shift in your understanding of Scripture
aside from the desire to bend the prophetic word so that it can agree
with your theology?
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal
There are many ways to describe David’s career, to encapsulate the accomplishments of his life but let us see how the Bible describes David’s life. Toward the end of the book of 2Samuel (23:1) David is described as the man who was raised to be the anointed one of the God of Jacob and the sweet singer of Israel (perhaps a more accurate translation of the Hebrew would be; “the one who gave pleasantness to the songs of Israel.”) David executes his duty as Israel’s king through his songs, the book of Psalms.
Again, the responsibility of a king is to lead his nation to its destiny. How did David do this through his songs?
In David’s own day he exerted himself to build the Temple. Although David did not build the Temple himself, he still prepared the materials for the Temple, he received the prophecy about the architectural details of the Temple and David found the place upon which the Temple was built. But the Temple is not merely a building built on a geographical location. It is a building built with love for God and obedience to God, and David inspired that love and obedience in the heart of Israel through his Psalms.
But David’s role as king of Israel did not end with David’s death. David’s role as king of Israel extends to this very day. Throughout Israel’s long exile it is in the songs of David that Israel finds inspiration and hope. It is through the songs of David that we maintain our loyalty to God’s message. The Psalms of David inspire us to keep sight of our destiny, to hold on to God’s truth and to hope for God’s salvation. And the Psalms of David actually give voice, expression and articulation to our message.
David experienced a colorful life. He suffered humility and shame, and he enjoyed honor and fame. He felt guilt and he experienced forgiveness. He struggled, as we all do, and experienced both failure and success. David’s life covers the full gamut of the human experience and in each situation David gives expression to a heart that trusts in God. In sin and in righteousness, in joy and pain, in humility and in honor in victory and in defeat. And in each of these situations we have expression of a heart that yearns for God. These songs lead us in each situation that we find ourselves, they guide us and they direct our hearts to God and to God alone.
David is the king after God’s heart. He is the man that God chose to lead us years ago and he still leads us to our destiny today.
When the Messiah comes he will not come with a different message. The Messiah will not oppose the message of Israel, he will confirm it. The Messiah, like David before him will teach that God is close to everyone who calls out to God with sincerity. He will sing about the perfection of God’s holy law. He will speak of the blessing of obedience to God’s law. He will sing of the joy that is inherent in recognizing God’s love in every detail of existence. The Messiah will stand as a continuum of the message and the leadership of his ancestor David. Like his ancestor before him, the Messiah will inspire Israel to obedience and love of God. And like his ancestor before him, the Messiah will see to it that a Temple is built for God in Jerusalem.
In the footsteps of David, the Messiah will do all of the above without diverting attention to himself. The Messiah will set the example of a heart that yearns for God as did David before him. And the heart of the Messiah will draw the hearts of Israel and the hearts of all mankind to love and to obey God.
And when the Messiah continues the work of his ancestor, David the nations of the world will experience the blessing that God promised to the world through the children of Abraham. For that blessing does not come to the nations through the Messiah alone. That blessing flows to the nations through the people of Israel, through the Temple in Jerusalem and through the Messiah who sits on David’s throne.
So to recap; what does the Bible teach us about the Messiah? That he will be king of Israel and that he will sit on the throne of David. This means that he will lead Israel to its destiny, to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth, and he will do so as a continuation of David’s legacy. In short we can say that the Messiah will pick up the tune where his ancestor David left off.
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V. 65. Page 238
Here Brown devotes one paragraph to one of the major Jewish objections against Christianity (- note: one paragraph out of a five volume series that spans almost 1500 pages! And this paragraph is not even placed in the section that purportedly deals with the Jewish objections of this category (- theological objections; idolatry)).
“I am aware, of-course, that traditional Jews point to God’s revelation at Sinai, as recounted by Moses in Deuteronomy 4:14-34, emphasizing that the people of Israel saw no form on Sinai – including that of a man or woman – and that they should not make an idol in any shape or form. Therefore, it is argued, we are violating the Sinai covenant by worshiping Yeshua as god, as if we were making a man into a god (or vice versa).”
Again, before getting to Brown’s response; a question is in order: Why when quoting Deuteronomy 4 does Brown stop at verse 34? Does he not realize the critical nature of verse 35 and its central place in this discussion? Verse 35 reads: “Unto you it was SHOWN in order that you know, that the Lord is God, THERE IS NONE ELSE BESIDE HIM.” In other words: whatever it si that we are to worship was shown to us at Sinai, and we are to worship NOTHING ELSE.
Now to Brown’s response. “But that is a crass misunderstanding of our faith. We do not worship a human form. The New Testament plainly states that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18a) describing Him as the One “who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (I Tim. 6:16). In Yeshua, however, we recognize the fullness of God revealed, not in physical form or shape – how absurd! – but in spiritual reality, clothed in human flesh.”
A crass misunderstanding of Sinai and a mockery too. As if a nifty word-game can get around the prohibition against idolatry. This is actually the third lesson of Sinai that seems to have completely escaped Brown. Brown missed the idea that Sinai sealed a covenant between two living parties, Brown missed the idea theme that Sinai is the yardstick against which subsequent claims for prophecy are judged, and here Brown misses the idea that Sinai serves as the definitive teaching on the subject of idolatry (Exodus 20:19, Deuteronomy 4:15). Brown also has completely missed the concept of the Oral Law because it is here that the Scripture most explicitly testifies to the concept of the Oral Law.
Allow me to reiterate what we mean when we say Oral Law. When we say that we believe in the Oral Law we are saying that there is more to the commandments than what is written in the Five Books of Moses. The concept of the Oral Law maintains that the full scope of the commandment can only be grasped through the living testimony of Israel. Those, such as Brown, who dispute the authenticity of the Oral Law contend that everything that Israel needs to know about the Law is completely contained in the Five books of Moses.
When it comes to the Law that prohibits idolatry, the Torah clearly and unequivocally authenticates the position of the believers in the Oral Law. God chose to teach the prohibition against idolatry to the nation of Israel in a direct fashion. As opposed to the other commandments, where God taught them to Moses who then went and taught them to Israel, God Himself taught the nation of Israel the injunction against worshiping idols.
Now, according to Brown and his fellow deniers of the validity of the Oral Law, God should have recited some words or handed Israel a book – and nothing more. After all, if there is no Oral Law then everything must be contained in written words. But that is not what God did. He certainly did recite words and He also gave Israel a written record of those words in the form of the two tablets, but He did not stop there. In order to teach Israel who it is that they are to worship and who it is that they are not to worship God put Israel through a fiery experience which goes far beyond words. And the written words itself point to this fiery experience as the touchstone for the prohibition against idolatry (Exodus 20:19, Deuteronomy 4:15). Subsequent passages identify idols with the simple term: “that which I have not commanded” (Deuteronomy 17:3), or: “that which your fathers did not know” (Deuteronomy 13:7); implying that if we did not hear about it from our ancestors from Sinai, then it is an idol that is not deserving of our worship. If there is anywhere in scripture that we are taught that words alone do not adequately convey the underlying message of a commandment; it is here. And it is precisely here, in the realm of idolatry, that Christianity most emphatically rejects the living testimony of Israel.
How does the living testimony of Israel negate the claims of Christianity concerning the alleged divinity of Jesus? Simple! At Sinai we were shown towards whom it is that we are to direct our devotion. Anyone or anything that was not revealed to our ancestors at Sinai, is not deserving of our worship. No one ever claimed that our ancestors saw Jesus at Sinai. If God wanted us to direct our devotion to Jesus, He would have shown Jesus to us at Sinai. Since Jesus was not there at Sinai, worship of him is idolatry.
But what about those nifty word-games? What about the claim that Jesus is somehow one and the same as the God we encountered at Sinai?
The basic response is that if “a” is not equal to “b” then “b” cannot be equal to “a”. In other words, if worship of the God who revealed Himself to our ancestors at Sinai is not worship of Jesus, then worship of Jesus is not worship of the God who revealed Himself at Sinai. Its as simple as that.
To illuminate the matter from a different angle let us focus on the sin of idolatry. The sin of idolatry is not a philosophical abstract, it is a sin of the heart. The sin of idolatry is not committed when you use the wrong phrase – for example, according to Brown; the phrase: “the fullness of God revealed in physical form” would be “absurd” and presumably idolatrous, while the phrase: “the fullness of God revealed in spiritual reality clothed in human flesh” is perfectly fine. These word games have nothing to do with the sin of idolatry.
The sin of idolatry is perpetrated when one’s heart is committed in devotion to an entity other than the God of Israel. In order for one to commit their heart in devotion to someone or to something, there has to be a basis for that devotion, a motivation and a stimulus for that devotion. In the case of the God of Israel, the stimulus for the devotion is the awe one feels in the presence of the Master of all creation, who holds the existence of every being in His hand. Devotion to God is rooted in the understanding that every fiber of our existence belongs to Him because it was He who brought us into existence to begin with. Worship of God is inspired by the sense of gratitude that we feel for all of the kindness that He is constantly pouring upon us with love and mercy. Israel’s devotion to her God is rooted in the very fact that God is God. It is impossible to separate between Israel’s devotion and the concept of Creator, Master, and Sustainer of all existence – because Israel’s devotion is rooted in those very truths.
The Christian’s devotion to Jesus on the other hand is rooted in the admiration of a human character portrayed in the pages of the Gospels. It is rooted in an awe for his alleged righteousness, in a reverence towards his teachings, and in an appreciation for his sacrifice and suffering – all of which took place in a human body. All of this devotion has nothing to do with the claim that he is somehow divine. All of the feelings that a Christian bears in his or her heart towards Jesus are entirely possible without believing that Jesus is divine. The argument that Jesus is somehow one and the same as the God of Israel is not the root or the stimulus for the Christian’s devotion – rather it is the result of the Christian’s devotion. The words: “Jesus is the same as the God of Israel”, are simply a set of words that is appended to the Christian’s devotion to Jesus as a justification for the devotion, but in no way is this set of words an intrinsic and inseparable part of the devotion itself.
The awe that one experiences when contemplating the reality of the Master of all existence, the gratitude that one feels for the kindness of existence, and the submission that we feel towards the One who created us out of nothing – has nothing to do with the admiration that Christians feel towards the human character portrayed in the four Gospels. These are two different devotions rooted in two different sets of human emotions. One is the service of God and the other is idolatry.
Written by Harav Hagaon R. Aaron Lopiansky Shlita,
Rosh HaYeshiva “Yeshiva of Greater Washington”
This amazing letter (printed in his book “Time Pieces”) is too good to
be kept just for yourself. Please share it with others.
My dear child, It is now a quiet moment late at night. After an exhausting day of Passover cleaning, you have sunk into the sweetest of sleeps, and I am sitting here with a pile of haggadas, preparing for Seder night. Somehow the words never come out the way I want them to, and the Seder evening is always unpredictable. But so many thoughts and feelings are welling up in my mind and I want to share them with you.
These are the words I mean to say at the Seder. When you will see me at the Seder dressed in Kittell, the same plain white garment worn on Yom Kippur, your first question will be, “Why are you dressed like this?” Because it is Yom Kippur, a day of reckoning. You see, each one of us has a double role. First and foremost we are human beings, creatures in the image of God, and on Yom Kippur, we are examined if indeed we are worthy of that title.
But we are also components of Klal Yisrael, the Jewish People, links in a chain that started over 3,000 years ago and will make it to the finish line of the end of times. It is a relay race where a torch is passed on through all the ages, and it is our charge, to take it from the one before and pass it on to the one after.
Tonight we are being judged as to how well we have received our tradition and how well we are passing it on.
It is now 3,300 years since we received that freedom in Egypt. If we imagine the average age of having a child to be about 25 years of age, there are four generations each century. That means there is a total of 132 people stretching from our forefathers in Egypt to us today. 132 people had to pass on this heritage flawlessly, with a devotion and single-mindedness that could not falter.
Who were these 133 fathers of mine? One had been in the Nazi death camps; one had been whipped unconscious by Cossacks. One had children stolen by the Czar, and one was the laughing stock of his “enlightened” brethren. One lived in a basement in Warsaw with many days passing with no food to his mouth; the other ran a stupendous mansion in France. One had been burned at stake for refusing to believe in the divinity of a flesh and blood, and one had been frozen to death in Siberia for continuing to believe in the divinity of the Eternal God. One had been hounded by a mob for living in Europe rather than Palestine, and one had been blown up by Palestinians for not living in Europe. One had been a genius who could not enter medical school because he was not Christian, and one was fed to the lions by the Romans…
132 fathers, each with his own story. Each with his own test of faith. And each with one overriding and burning desire: that this legacy be passed unscathed to me. And one request of me: that I pass this on to you, my sweet child.
What is this treasure that they have given their lives for? What is in this precious packet that 132 generations have given up everything for? It is a great secret: That man is capable of being a lot more than an intelligent primate. That the truth of an Almighty God does not depend on public approval, and no matter how many people jeer at you, truth never changes. That the quality of life is not measured by goods but by the good. That one can be powerfully hungry, and yet one can forgo eating if it is not kosher. That a penny that is not mine is not mine, no matter the temptation or rationalization. That family bonding is a lot more than birthday parties; it is a commitment of loyalty that does not buckle in a moment of craving or lust. And so much more.
This is our precious secret, and it is our charge to live it and to become a shining display of “This is what it means to live with God.” 132 people have sat Seder night after Seder night, year after year, and with every fiber of their heart and soul have made sure that this treasure would become mine and yours.
Doubters have risen who are busy sifting the sands of the Sinai trying to find some dried out bones as residues of my great-great-grandfather. They are looking in the wrong place. The residue is in the soul of every one of these 132 grandfathers whose entirety of life was wrapped up in the preservation of this memory and treasure. It is unthinkable that a message borne with such fervor and intensity, against such challenges and odds, is the result of a vague legend or the fantasy of an idle mind. I am the 133rd person in this holy chain.
At times I doubt if I am passing it on well enough. I try hard, but it is hard not to quiver when you are on the vertical shoulders of 132 people, begging you not to disappoint them by toppling everyone with you swaying in the wind.
My dear child, may God grant us many long and happy years together. But one day, in the distant future, I’ll be dressed in a kittel again as they prepare me for my burial. Try to remember that this is the treasure that I have passed on to you. And then it will be your turn, you will be the 134th with the sacred duty to pass on our legacy to number 135.
Passover – Genesis 17:7
The commandment to partake of the Passover offering is unique in that circumcision is a necessary prerequisite for participation in this observance (Exodus 12:48). The Scriptural narratives that describe the observance of Passover in the generations of Hezekiah and Josiah shed light on the connection between Passover and circumcision.
In the book of Second Chronicles we read about the observance of Passover in the times of Hezekiah. The passage describes how Hezekiah’s messengers gathered the people and encouraged them to come to Jerusalem to observe the Passover (2Chronicles 30:1-13). The passage goes on to describe how the people celebrated this holiday with great joy (verses 15-27). The verse that joins the two parts of the narratives seems out of place. This verse reads: “They got up and removed the altars that were in Jerusalem, they also removed all of the incense altars and threw them into…
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In Exodus 35, Moses relays God’s commandment to build the tabernacle to Israel. Before Moses actually tells the people about the tabernacle he tells them about the Sabbath. He tells them that work is not to be done on Sabbath and that they cannot kindle fire on that holy day. Only then does Moses tell them about the building of the tabernacle.
Why is this introduction necessary? Why does Israel need to hear about the importance of Sabbath before they hear about the command to build the tabernacle? And why is the prohibition against making a fire singled out from amongst all the prohibited forms of work?
Perhaps we can understand these introductory commandments when we consider the purpose of the tabernacle.
The tabernacle was to be a sanctuary in the realm of space. Israel was going to close off a certain area, fill it with their expression…
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