Tag Archives: Shavout

Gifts of the Spirit: Dancing at the King’s Wedding

king-davidThen he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”

2 Kings 5:15

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Mark 16:15-18

Curious combination of scriptures. What could they possibly have to do with one another? Oh sure. The quotes from Jesus seem to mesh, linking the Gospel message with the Kingdom of Heaven. But do they link in the way we think they do? Perhaps not.

Last Friday morning, Aaron Eby spoke at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) annual Shavuot conference on a topic called Turn of the Age. The message focused on what we see the Master saying in Matthew 4. It wasn’t the last time Yeshua would speak those words and those words also resonated throughout many different teachings at the conference.

The Kingdom of God is near. What does that mean?

Here’s a hint: it’s not Heaven.

On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

Zechariah 14:6-9

That’s not Heaven either. We see the prophet telling us of the events that will herald the coming Messianic Age, when the Messiah King will rule over all the earth from his throne in Holy Jerusalem.

But if this is what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of Heaven is near, how could it be near? Almost 2,000 years have passed since he spoke those words, and the Messianic Age is no more upon us now than it was when the Master taught his disciples in the Temple courts. What is “near?”

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:32-34

How could Jesus say that the scribe was not far from the kingdom of God? How could the scribe be “near” the Messianic Age when we know that the Messianic Age; the return of the King, has not yet occurred? We’ve been waiting for twenty centuries and we are continuing to wait.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17

What does repentance have to do with bringing the Messianic Age? For that matter, what is the “good news” of the Messiah?

According to Eby, it has nothing to do with personal salvation. But let me back up a second.

Yes, of course, personal salvation is important and even vital to us as individual believers. We cannot even know God to the slightest degree unless we repent of our sins, confess Christ as Lord, and accept the gift of salvation. I know that.

But that’s not the entire message or even the primary message of the Gospel.

up_to_jerusalemIn America and many other western nations, Christianity is taught as a religion of individuals. Oh sure, we have the expression “body of Christ,” but we don’t act much like a body. Judaism, by contrast, is much more community focused. The idea and lived expression of “Israel” has never been about the individual Jewish person, but about all Jews everywhere, inextricably tied together with all other Jews, regardless of where they live, what language they speak, their local customs, or anything else. Yes, it is true that not all of the different groups of Jewish people get along all the time and there can be much friction, but at the end of the day, so to speak, a Jew is a Jew. Just take a look at Shoah and you’ll understand. When they come for one Jew, they come for all Jews.

The Good News is not just the message of personal redemption but of national redemption for all of Israel; it’s the good news that the Messiah King has come and that Israel has been restored and brought back to God as a Holy People and as the head of the nations.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Acts 1:6

Clearly the apostles understood the message of the Good News of the Kingdom, not of going up to Heaven but of Heaven coming to earth, so to speak; of the restoration of Israel and the return of the King to the Throne of David. The question wasn’t inappropriate, it just came too soon.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 11:25-29

Christianity has been beating the Jews viciously with the “Gospel message” for many centuries, demanding that Jews stop being Jewish in order to be saved by the “Goyishe Jesus.” But we’ve terribly misunderstood what Moshiach has taught us. We’ve put the cart before the horse. We substituted the nations for Israel.

It is we in the church who must repent for the Kingdom of Messiah is at hand, and we don’t want him to discover us unprepared.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:1-13

Aaron didn’t quote all these scriptures, but in reviewing my notes of his teaching, these words are fairly dripping off the tips of my fingers and onto the keyboard. Imagine then, that the foolish virgins were those who did not know the King for they did not know Israel, but the wise virgins knew the King and the King knew them, for they waited for the rising of the Jewish nation and the return of Israel’s firstborn son from Heaven.

The Kingdom of Heaven is near whenever we do something to prepare ourselves, whenever we read the Bible, whenever we pray. The Kingdom is at hand whenever we give food to the hungry, whenever we visit the sick, whenever we comfort a person who is grieving. We summon the Kingdom every time we do the will of the Lord and Master who loves our souls. We bring the Kingdom just a little bit closer whenever we love God, whenever we love another human being, and especially whenever we love Israel.

wind-sky-spirit-ruachThe Good News is that we should repent, particularly of our sins against Israel, in order to bring the Kingdom of God. When we repent, we bring the Messianic Age one step closer to fruition. In Judaism, it is believed that human beings have some sort of control of the “timing” of the Master’s return. I don’t know if that’s really true or not (and certainly it’s not a belief in the church) but it does summon the idea that we are partners in creation with God. When we are saved, we are to live a spirit-filled life, one of patience, kindness, and love, a life that rejoices in truth, that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

The gifts of the Spirit are in an intricate dance with the Gospel of Christ and the Word of God, and we must be part of that dance as well, lest we be left out in the cold and the dark when the bridegroom comes. We can dance at the wedding of the King or march to a funeral dirge. Our choice.

This is only part of what Aaron had to say, but to say more would make this “meditation” far too long, at least for today. I haven’t even told you why Jesus did miracles. It’s not for the reason that you think, although Naaman the commander of the army of the king of Syria knew.

I’ll leave you with a question (which I’ll answer tomorrow).

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:26-29

Why was Jesus resurrected from the dead but his wounds were not healed?

127 days.

Gifts of the Spirit: Don’t Change a Thing

baal-shem-tov2“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Matthew 6:31-34 (NRSV)

Where do I begin? As I write this it’s Sunday afternoon. I’ve been back home for a few hours having returned from the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) annual Shavuot conference. This year’s theme was Gifts of the Spirit and the event, which was held in Hudson, Wisconsin from last Tuesday through last Saturday, was emotionally, spiritually, and educationally dense with content and meaning.

I’ve got enough material in my notes to blog for the next week or two, but not having gotten a lot of sleep last night, where do I begin so there’s a “morning mediation” for Monday? How about beginning at the end?

The very last presentation on Saturday, which was given by Boaz Michael, included a summary of the entire conference including an extensive question and answer series. We were all rather tired by that point, and I think it helped to generate some recall of the main points that were presented by all of the esteemed speakers. Here are just a few of the things that I recall at the moment. My notes are kind of “scribbly” and my thoughts are rather “fuzzy” right now, so I can’t promise that my quotes are exactly word for word.

One who focuses on and romanticizes Judaism is focusing on the hammer and not the house it is intended to build.

-Troy Mitchell as related by Boaz Michael

I’ll revisit Troy’s “midrash” in subsequent blog posts because there are so many applications for this piece of wisdom that could be useful. This connects to something Boaz presented about our faith in general, whether we call it Christianity, Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots or anything else. Most believing communities tend to focus primarily on one of three things, usually at the cost of the other two:

  1. The Gospel Message/Gospel of the Kingdom
  2. The Torah/Bible
  3. The Holy Spirit/Spiritual Gifts

I know that many churches emphasize the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which isn’t such a bad thing, but they usually miss what the Gospel really means (I’ll get to that in a later blog post). I know that my own church tends to be Bible-based, which again, isn’t such a bad thing, but then we tend to not rely so much on the movement of the Spirit of God. Also, both Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots have focused heavily on the Torah, sometimes all but ignoring the Messiah and certainly the Gospel message of the Kingdom and the Holy Spirit. Charismatic/Pentecostal churches (which were discussed at length, and often in a complimentary fashion…I’ll get to that too in another blog post) have a main emphasis on “gifts of the Spirit,” often at the expense of the Bible and much of what Jesus actually taught.

Now imagine these three elements are each a leg on a three-legged stool and they are all that is holding up your faith and your congregation. If you have only one or at best two legs, you’re not going to be “on the level,” so to speak. If you try to rest your faith (or your tuchas) on it, you’ll fall to the floor.

My good friend Tom once told me, “Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism, but seek an encounter with God.” He probably got the point of the conference long before the conference was ever held. We can all have our pet emphasis within the faith and be so involved in what we think is so important that we miss what God thinks is so important.

I want to tell a really long story. I’m doing this from memory and I don’t know the original source. This wasn’t even part of the “official” conference. It’s a story told by a guy named Yoshi one evening after one of the meals.

As it turns out, Shavuot is the yahrzeit of the Baal Shem Tov. There have been many “interesting” and inspiring Hasidic Tales about the Baal Shem Tov.

There was once a very simple but honorable and devout Jew who lived in a small town in central Europe. He desired to pray sincerely and fervently to God but did not know how to use his siddur. During prayers at his synagogue, he only knew how to pray starting at the front of the siddur and working his way, page by page, all the way to the back.

As you might imagine, this took a great deal of time.

He appealed to other Jews in his community but either they knew little more about the matter than he did or they didn’t seem to have the time to help him.

This left this devout Jewish man very frustrated.

Then one day, the Baal Shem Tov visited his community. The man thought to himself:

Surely the Baal Shem Tov can teach me to pray.

The man appealed to the Baal Shem Tov to help him understand how to pray using his siddur. Having pity on the man and seeing how sincere his desire to honor God was, the Baal Shem Tov placed many notes and bookmarks in the siddur, designed to guide the man on how to perform the different daily prayers as well as festival prayers and prayers for other occasions.

The man thanked the Baal Shem Tov profusely and began to daven to God with all his heart, using the sequence of prayer marked out in his siddur by the Baal Shem Tov.

A few months passed by and the simple and devout Jew was so happy that he was honoring God by properly praying from his siddur in a manner correct for each of the daily prayers and prayers for special occasions.

During one prayer service, the man accidentally dropped his siddur and all of the loose bookmarks and notes fell out.

The poor man was devastated. He had no idea how to arrange the notes and bookmarks back into their proper order. Sad but determined, the man did the only thing he knew how to do…start praying from the beginning of his siddur, and work his way, page by page, to the end of the siddur.

baal-shem-tov3As he was davening, he noticed that the Baal Shem Tov was visiting his shul again. Everyone else had finished praying, but he was still in the middle of his prayers and in the middle of his siddur. The man thought that as soon as he finished his prayers…and the siddur…he could ask the Baal Shem Tov to put all of the notes and bookmarks back into his siddur again.

But before he was finished praying, the Baal Shem Tov left the synagogue. The man was frantic, but he couldn’t go after the Baal Shem Tov until he finished praying.

He prayed and prayed and prayed as fast as he could and finally finished.

He rushed out of the synagogue, but the Baal Shem Tov was nowhere to be seen. He asked different people he encountered if they’d seen which way the Baal Shem Tov went. One man had seen him take the south road out of the town on foot. The man thought if he ran fast enough, he could catch up and ask the Baal Shem Tov to replace the notes and bookmarks into his siddur.

He ran and ran and finally saw the Baal Shem Tov in the distance at the edge of a river. There was no bridge at that place, so the man thought he could surely catch up to the Baal Shem Tov. But before this could happen, he saw the Baal Shem Tov take a handkerchief out of his pocket and spread it out on the river. The handkerchief grew and grew and grew until it became big enough to make a bridge across the river. The Baal Shem Tov walked across, then picked up his handkerchief, which shrank back to normal size, and then proceeded on his way.

The man got to the river and was frantic. He just had to find the Baal Shem Tov. Then he remembered that he too had a handkerchief. Taking it from his pocket he thought:

If it worked for the Baal Shem Tov, it should work for me.

The man opened the handkerchief, which immediately expanded across the river, just as the Baal Shem Tov’s handkerchief had done. The man walked across, picked up his handkerchief, and then continued to run after the Baal Shem Tov.

As the man was catching up to him, in the distance, he saw that the Baal Shem Tov had come to the edge of a large canyon. There was no bridge across the canyon at that spot, so the man thought he could surely catch up to the Baal Shem Tov this time.

But this was not to be. Once again, the Baal Shem Tov took his handkerchief, spread it out across the canyon, and walked across.

By the time the man got to the edge of the canyon, the Baal Shem Tov was gone again. Remembering his own handkerchief and his experience at the river, the man thought:

If it worked for the Baal Shem Tov, it should work for me.

He spread out his handkerchief, just as the Baal Shem Tov had done, and it expanded to form a bridge across the canyon. The man ran across, retrieved his handkerchief, and ran after the Baal Shem Tov once again.

He finally saw that the Baal Shem Tov was climbing a steep mountain trail. The Baal Shem Tov was no longer a young man and was proceeding rather slowly. This gave the heroic young Jewish man the time he needed to catch up to him.

Out of breath and barely able to speak, the man gasped out his story to the Baal Shem Tov about how he had dropped his siddur causing all of the notes and bookmarks placed there by the Baal Shem Tov to fall out. The man went to his knees and begged the Baal Shem Tov to replace them.

But the Baal Shem Tov was puzzled:

When you were following me, did you not see me at the river?

The man replied:

Yes, Baal Shem Tov.

The Sage asked:

Then how did you cross the river to follow me?

The man answered:

I did what you did, placing my handkerchief over the river so I could walk across.

The Baal Shem Tov pondered for a moment and then asked:

Did you not see me at the edge of the canyon?

The man replied in the affirmative, and the Baal Shem Tov asked how he managed to cross the canyon.

The man said:

I did what you did, placing my handkerchief over the canyon so I could walk across.

The man again pleaded with the Baal Shem Tov to teach him how to pray by replacing all of the notes and bookmarks he had originally created.

The Baal Shem Tov placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder and replied:

You do not need me to teach you how to pray. Just keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll be fine.

The Ba'al Shem TovI know that was a very lengthy tale, but it speaks to what you read earlier, both from Matthew 6 and from Troy’s “midrash.”

It matters less how you pray or what sort of rituals you use than the state of your heart when you are seeking God. Even the simplest of men can do great miracles and draw close to God if he seeks first to build the Kingdom of God by the Spirit rather than just focusing on and romanticizing the hammer.

I’ll present a more organized series of reports about the FFOZ Shavuot conference after a good night’s sleep and further reflection.

128 days.

Bamidbar and Shavuot: Souls in the Desert

“Numbers” may be the name by which the fourth of the Five Books of Moses is commonly called, but in the Hebrew original it is known as Bamidbar, or “In the Wilderness.” It is interesting to note that this parsha is always read immediately before the festival of Shavuot, “the season of the giving of the Torah.” What is the connection?

The Sages teach that it is not enough for G-d to give us the Torah, we have to be ready to receive the Torah. What makes us worthy recipients of this most precious and infinite gift from G-d? This is where the “wilderness” idea comes in. A wilderness is a no-man’s land. It is ownerless and barren. Just as a desert is empty and desolate, so does a student of Torah need to know that he is but an “empty vessel.” Humility is a vital prerequisite if we are to successfully absorb divine wisdom.

-Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“Wisdom from the Wilderness”
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar (Numbers)

When the day of Pentecost (that is, Shavuot) arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?”

Acts 2:1-8 (ESV)

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to write about. On my “morning meditation” for Fridays, I usually create a commentary on the weekly Torah Portion, which this week is the beginning of Numbers. However, we are also on the cusp of Shavuot and the two cannot be neatly divided and separated. In my quote from Rabbi Goldman, he even asks about the connection between the two. Fortunately, he also gives us an answer.

However, for those of us who are disciples of the Jewish Messiah and devoted to Jesus Christ, there is an added dimension to offering the Torah to the wilderness within all our souls. There is the giving of the Spirit and God. This isn’t to say that Jews do not have access to the Spirit of God. Far from it. But in accepting the Messiah into our hearts and recognizing that it is Jesus who is Lord of life and firstborn from the dead, we enter into a covenant that not only preserves us in the present world, but one that will endure beyond the next and into all eternity, even as Heaven and Earth pass away (Matthew 5:18).

But we are still here and we exist in what we call “now,” which is approaching Shabbat and a day later, Shavuot. We look to the past, to Mount Sinai and the Torah and to that room in Jerusalem and the Apostles being filled with the Spirit, and we rejoice. But it’s not all about the past.

Unlike Passover or Sukkos, or even the minor Rabbinic holiday of Purim, Shavuos comes with no special observances, no unique Mitzvos to be performed on that day. The “only” thing that sets Shavuos apart is that it is the day when G-d gave the Torah, His most precious gift, to the Jewish people.

Each year, we don’t merely revisit or even relive that experience. Kabbalistic sources teach that the unique spiritual powers of each holiday return to this world every year on that same day. On Shavuos, we have a special power to take our portion in Torah, each and every year.

Every year, many of us skip out on this unique opportunity. We deny ourselves the closeness to G-d which is within our grasp. And there is a fascinating Medrash concerning the giving of the Torah, which hints that this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken

Rabbi Menken doesn’t say this explicitly, but the reason we study Torah, observe the festivals, and remember the holy acts in the lives of the Apostles is to not just relive them today, but to experience them as new, fresh, living events that are happening to us for the very first time. Many Christians speak of a need for renewal in the church and yet Judaism has built into its calendar multiple times of renewing each and every year. Jews and Christians are at such a time now. Before our awareness of God, we existed as a wilderness, empty and barren in our soul. This is especially tragic for Jews since they are members of the Covenant and a chosen people, even if they acknowledge God not at all. We who are Gentiles, if we are without God, we are as Paul described us; far off and without hope (Ephesians 2:12).

The Jews were joined with God at the foot of Sinai in the desert, where the Torah was given to them. We who were once far off were offered the opportunity to also draw close to God at the foot of the cross and in that room in Jerusalem, when we were washed by blood and filled with Spirit. We were made alive and spiritually aware of God through Christ.

Rabbi Goldman concludes his commentary on Numbers and Shavuot by saying:

May we receive the Torah with joy and earnestness so that this important festival will be both memorable and meaningful.

Paul says in Ephesians 12:22 (ESV):

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Open your minds, your hearts, and your spirits to God. Today we become new again.

A Happy Shavuos and Good Shabbos.

(Shavuot begins Saturday evening right when Shabbat ends, so my next “morning meditation” will be posted online Monday morning. Blessings).