Passover: Redemption Draws Nigh

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:21 AM

While living in Budapest, Hungary, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a Passover Seder with a large group of Holocaust survivors. This special group opened my eyes to a deeper message of freedom and redemption.

Sitting with Jewish people who experienced one of the worst atrocities in history, and to see how excited they were to be at that Seder was encouraging. For most, it was their first Seder since they were children, and for a few of them, it might also have been their last. Yet to experience and celebrate with them not only our liberation from Egypt, but their deliverance from the Holocaust, made the message of redemption during this season very real.

Pesach (Hebrew for Passover), recounts G-d’s deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt approximately 3,300 years ago. The Passover week actually includes three separate, yet connected holidays – Pesach (only the first night), Chag HaMatzot (the Feast of Unleavened Bread), and Yom HaBikkurim (the Feast of First Fruits and Resurrection). Passover has remained a distinct identity marker of the Jewish people throughout years of dispersion and turmoil, and remains one of the most widely observed Jewish practices.

Pesach, as did all the Biblical festivals, played an enormous role within the life of Yeshua and his followers. There are over 28 references to the observance of Passover within the New Testament alone. By the time of Yeshua, a whole order of service had been developed surrounding the covenant meal, called a Seder, where, according to the Biblical text, lamb is commanded to be eaten along with matzah and maror (bitter herbs). As many of us are already aware, the Seder is the context for Yeshua’s last covenant meal (often called the Last Supper) shared with his disciples before his death.

The Biblical text is clear that we can never atone for ourselves. Only a blood covering can provide atonement for sin. That was the role of the sacrificial system – to make atonement for our shortcomings. The blood of the Passover lamb was placed on the door-posts, which caused death to "passed over" the homes of the Israelites. Through the sacrifice of Yeshua, death in our lives is “passed over” once and for all.

Our sages teach us that in every generation we should celebrate Passover as though we ourselves are personally being delivered from Egypt. For within Jewish understanding, “Egypt” represents more than just a geographical place on a map. The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which is related to the word maytzorim, meaning boundaries and limitations. As such, to be “redeemed from Egypt” is to overcome and be redeemed from those natural limitations that impede the realization of our fullest potential. Passover is our opportunity for redemption!

This “Festival of Freedom” is one all of us can benefit from – Jews and non-Jews alike. And I pray that it should be so for all of us. Freedom to think beyond ourselves … to not take who we are, and what we have for granted. Freedom to think on a larger scale and have a bigger vision for what G-d wants to do in our lives and in our congregations. G-d is only as limited as we make Him in our lives. Be encouraged in this Passover season, for redemption draws nigh!

Chag Pesach Sameach - Have a wonderful and Happy Passover!

Welcoming Elijah

Mar 26, 2010 at 9:51 AM

Parashat Tzav – Shabbat Hagadol

Our Torah portion this week, Parashat Tzav, describes the order for offerings and the process for consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests of Israel. The portion concludes with Moses sprinkling Aaron and his sons with a mixture of blood and oil, and of the requirement to stay within the Tabernacle for seven days – thus completing their consecration before HaShem.

This week is also Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat that occurs at the beginning of the week in which Passover will be observed (Passover begins Monday evening). There are five special shabbatot leading up to Passover. Each special Shabbat has special readings that are read in addition to the weekly portion. The exception is Shabbat HaGadol. Instead of an additional reading from the Torah, Shabbat HaGadol is highlighted by only a special Haftarah reading from Malachi which concludes with the words:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and awesome day of HaShem” (Mal. 3:23).

Jewish tradition teaches us that Elijah is a messianic figure who will usher in Mashiach and the Messianic Age. This is purposely fitting at this season because Passover is our reliving and retelling of our redemption from Egypt. Both Jewish tradition and the New Testament portray Elijah as representing the coming of messianic redemption. That is why the figure of Elijah is so connected with Passover. Passover today commemorates our connection with not only our physical redemption from slavery, but our spiritual redemption as well.

The Besorah of Luke associates the personification of Elijah with John the Immerser:

“And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the L-rd" (Luke 1:17).

So John the Immerser was a fulfillment of this week’s special Haftarah reading from Malachi 3:23 in preparation for the incarnation and revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. Yet, the role of Elijah is still not complete, for there is an expectation that Elijah himself will yet return ahead of our glorious Mashiach. This is the reason Elijah is referenced so often in Jewish tradition, especially during Passover. During the Seder there is a whole place setting (or in some homes, simply a cup) that is specifically set aside. It is left untouched in the messianic hope that each year we will open the door during our Passover festivities, and welcome in Elijah, who will in turn usher in the return of our Messiah.

This Shabbat we recall the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests before G-d. We will also read about the return of Elijah who will usher in an even greater consecration and priesthood. Next week during the Seder, we will proclaim, “Eliyahu HaNavi … Come quickly and speedily with Messiah the Son of David.”

As we sing those words this Passover, let us also remember the words associated with Shabbat HaGadol - “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the HaShem.” May we all merit the return of Mashiach and see that day fulfilled speedily and soon!

Quote of the Day

Mar 25, 2010 at 9:28 PM

"Our world history is inordinately affected by the history and thought of one people, the Jewish people. Though small in number, a surprising number of human institutions operate on Jewish principles (the calendar is the best example). Over half of the world’s population accept a Jewish idea which was once a rarity: monotheism. We might wonder if there is something about Israel’s story that is a key to understanding our story.
Our world history is also inordinately affected by the life and ideas of one [Jewish] man, Jesus, or Yeshua as he was known in his time and place. Though he died young and did not do anything on a world scale in his lifetime, Yeshua sent out a small group of ironically powerless followers whose ideas changed the world.
In order to write off or dismiss the notion that Israel and Yeshua are somehow central to the human story, you have to decide that the story of humanity is meaningless. That is possibly true. But it is not certainly true.
What if you open yourself to the idea that the Jewish people and the one Jewish man, Yeshua, are central to the meaning of life?"

Quote of the Day

at 10:46 AM

"Science is powerful, wonderful and limited. It is not antagonistic to spirit. Science is the investigation and explanation of the material world. Religion is the ordering of our lives, the perception of intangible networks of connection, and an intuition of greater mysteries.

There is more than what we can see, or measure, or touch. To expand the message to four words, stuff is not enough."

-Rabbi David Wolpe, from his weekly Off the Pulpit

New Vine of David Haggadot

Mar 17, 2010 at 8:46 AM

Vine of David, a publishing arm of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) has recently published two different Haggadot in time for Pesach. (However, I just heard that they have already sold-out of all the Pesach Haggadahs).

FFOZ has an excellent reputation in regard to the quality of their materials. They have consistently put out quality publications, and continue to increase the quality with every new product.

Derek Leman, a friend, colleague, and fellow-blogger just spent an afternoon with the guys from FFOZ and was able to visit their headquarters and beautiful Beit Midrash. You can read about Derek's experience on his blog.

I have been quite impressed with these two new Haggadot and believe FFOZ has made a contribution to how Messianic Jews will observe Pesach in the future.

The Passover Haggadah

Vine of David's new Passover Haggadah is sure to change the face of all Messianic Haggadot. It is very well laid out, with Hebrew on the right side of the page, and English and essential transliterations on the left. The Hebrew font is easy to read and large.

It is also a complete Haggadah, retaining all the traditional elements of the Seder, while adding Messianic elements. I even applaud FFOZ for retaining some traditional songs in the back like Chad Gadya.

One of the strengths of this Haggadah is also one of its weaknesses. Because it is a complete Haggadah retaining the traditional elements and Messianic supplements, it is a little long. As such, it will be interesting to see how many congregations will adopt it for their communal Seders.

The illustrations accompanying the text are another nice touch. However, a couple of the illustrations I found a little out of place in a Messianic Jewish Haggadah. For example, on p.16 there is an illustration of a family sitting around the seder table. One figure on the left is wearing a large felt yarmulke, a beard, and peyos. The rest of the family looks more Modern-Orthodox. What I found a little disconnecting is that the family hardly resembles 90% of American Jews.

If this were a Haggadah published by Chabad or Artscroll I would not even bat an eye. But for a Haggadah aimed at a wider Jewish community, Jewish people will need to see themselves reflected in the pages. It would be more helpful if the illustrations reflected the diversity of the American Jewish community today.

However, this is really a minor detail, and overall the new Vine of David Haggadah is definitely a positive contribution to Messianic Haggadot and I would not be surprised if it becomes a staple of Messianic households in the future.

I highly recommend this Haggadah for your Seder table.

The Seudat Mashiach Haggadah

Vine of David's second Haggadah is probably the most innovative of the two new Haggadot. It is a Haggadah for Seudat Mashiach - the Meal of Messiah. For those unfamiliar with this practice, there is a custom among many Chasidim to observe another Seder on the last night of Pesach. This special Seder, called Seudat Mashiach - the Meal of Messiah, is observed in anticipation of the Messianic banquet that will happen when Mashiach returns. The custom was implemented by the Baal Shem Tov, and recalls not just the themes of our redemption from Egypt, but heavily draws on our future redemption and the regathering of Israel.

A Seudat Mashiach is very loose. It is based on the themes and four cups of a regular Seder, but traditionally there has not been a set Haggadah for this in the wider Jewish community. Some households and communities do have certain customs during their meal, but these practices will vary widely. Most of the Seudot Mashiach I have attended in Chasidic communities have mostly centered around telling stories and singing niggunim. There was no set reading or a real set order.

Several of us have observed the practice of Seudat Mashiach for nearly ten years, and a few Messianic Jewish communities have even hosted a Seudat Mashiach in their congregations. As a Messianic Jew, I have always found this custom deeply meaningful and another way to express my Messianic hashkafa within a Jewish context.

Vine of David's new Haggadah for the Meal of Messiah introduces this practice to a wider audience in the Messianic Jewish community and creates a set order and text for this sacred meal. It also uses the same nice, clean layout and format of their Passover Haggadah.

I am interested to see if this practice will continue to catch on in the wider Messianic Jewish community, and how Vine of David's Haggadah for this special meal will be adopted.

I again applaud Vine of David for these two new contributions to the Messianic Jewish community and would greatly encourage you to get a copy of each of these Haggadot and consider using them in your home and congregation in the future.

Yasher koach to my friends over at FFOZ/Vine of David!

New Blog: MIDRASH, etc.

Mar 16, 2010 at 10:16 PM

Rabbi Carl Kinbar, Provost of MJTI and Director of its School of Jewish Studies has a new blog. The blog, MIDRASH, etc. focuses on Midrash and other topics related to Jewish texts.

There is a great need for more blogs on the topics of Midrash and Jewish texts, and I am excited about Rabbi Kinbar's unique ability to contribute to the conversation.

I cannot recommend his blog more highly and we have added it to our Yinon blog roll.

So check it out!

God Needs YOU!

Mar 11, 2010 at 11:00 PM

Parashiot Vayakhel - Pekudei

“G-d spoke unto Moshe, saying: ‘On the first day of the first month, you are to set up the Tabernacle, the tent of meeting (Exodus 40:1-2).’”

Judaism teaches that G-d has a unique purpose for each and every one of us, and that G-d partners with us in bringing redemption into the world. We have a specific role to play in the cosmos. It is not enough to simply tell of G-d’s message, but we must be doers of G-d’s message as well. As James writes, we must not be merely hearers of what Torah says, but doers of what Torah teaches (James 1:22). And this is not just the position for leaders; it is what each and every one of us is required to do.

How is this supported in this week’s Torah portions? The answer is that G-d calls on Moshe to be personally involved in the building and erecting of the Tabernacle. In verse 40:2, G-d tells Moshe, “YOU are to set up the Tabernacle …” It was not enough for Moshe to merely hear the instructions from G-d; he was required to do it as well. Moshe himself was not only to be a leader, but also a servant.

Speaking on this verse (Ex. 40:2), the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, stated:

This teaches that a person cannot only busy himself with his own spiritual development and Torah study. He needs to also be involved in helping others, just like G-d who wanted Moshe to be involved with the Tabernacle, not just as a spiritual leader and mentor, but also, “with his hands."

This follows the leadership model described by Yeshua that the greatest shall be least, and the least shall be the greatest (Mat 20:16). And that the greatest leader is to be the servant of all (Mark 9:35). Each of us has an opportunity to partner with G-d in bringing redemption into the world. G-d has a role for each of us to play. The question is are we willing to do it? For it is not enough to be only hearers of what Torah says, but we must be doers as well!

Quote of the Day

Mar 9, 2010 at 10:31 PM

We should shift from envisioning a hierarchy of Jewishness to validating different ways for people to be Jewish. All Jews should be pictured on progressive stages of their own personal journeys.

-Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman from ReThinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life, pg. 67.

Top Ten Ways to be a Great Rabbi

Mar 7, 2010 at 8:04 PM

In honor of my husband, who's a pretty great rabbi, I offer Synablog's Letterman-style "Top Ten Ways to be a Great Rabbi."

Number 10: Know your stuff. Be a student of Jewish texts, of Jewish history, of Jewish peoplehood.

Number 9. Be a teacher. Open up the vast sea of Jewish tradition and knowledge for your students – young and adult.

Number 8. Craft your sermons to inspire your people. Say something on Shabbos and Yom Tov that people can use in their lives every day.

Number 7. Create a synagogue – a kehillah kedoshah - a sacred community of meaning and purpose. Build a “congregation of priests,” of people who see themselves as God’s partners on earth.

Number 6. Stand for social justice. Do not be afraid to speak out against injustice – of any kind.

Number 5. Love the State of Israel. Take your people there. Show them the vitality of the Jewish homeland.

Number 4. Love your family, especially your devoted partner in building sacred community.

Number 3. When you first retire, move to a mountaintop and build yourself a house! Show it off proudly to your visitors…in excruciating detail…down to every nail that you yourself hammered into the structure.

Number 2. Never retire….be there for those who need you.

And, the Number One thing you can do to be a great rabbi is cherish the relationships you create with your congregants and your colleagues.

One Cow, Two Cow, Red Cow, Gold Cow

Mar 4, 2010 at 12:34 PM

Parashat Ki Tissa -
Shabbat Parah

This week is a special Shabbat called Shabbat Parah. It is named after the special maftir reading from Numbers 19 that describes the process for sacrificing the Red Heifer. This portion is always read before the beginning of the Jewish month of Nissan.

In biblical times, every person was required to bring a Korban Pesach, a Passover Sacrifice on the eve of Passover that was to be eaten during the Seder. However, only people who were ritually pure were able to partake of it. Therefore, right before the month of Nissan (the month in which Passover falls) a public announcement would be made that every person who had become impure must purify themselves, and be extremely careful not to become impure before Passover.

The parah aduma (red heifer) represents the quintessential chok (divine decree without any seeming rationale). The ashes of the Red Heifer were used for purification. Through the death of a calf, the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and those who served were purified and ritually cleansed to serve in the presence of G-d. The ashes were also used to purify someone who became ritually impure through contact with a dead body.

Interestingly, this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, also describes a calf, the egel massekha (the golden calf). The Jewish people grew restless after many days had passed since they last heard from Moses. So they took matters into their own hands, and Aaron and the people built a golden calf. This calf, however, was unlike the red heifer. Rather than bringing purification from ritual impurity it brought about defilement, sin, and eventually death.

In Likutei Halachot, Rebbe Nachman explains why this special portion on Shabbat Parah is read after Purim. In the course of our victory over Haman-Amalek, we become defiled through contact with death and evil, and need to be purified. The Sfat Emet further explains (and makes the connection to Ki Tissa) that tumat met (impurity from the dead) is a function of mortality, which entered the world as a result of the primordial sin of Adam who ate from the tree of knowledge. According to Rabbi Zvi Leshem, man’s desire to be all knowing like G-d, placing the value of knowledge over that of faith, led to his downfall, bringing death and impurity into the world. Ritual purity comes through the willingness to serve HaShem even in a reality permeated by doubts and confusion.

On this Shabbat Parah we are confronted with two different scenarios involving the offspring of a cow – one that leads to life and another that leads to death. Although this does not seem to make any sense to our rational minds, there are significant reasons. It is not about us but about HaShem. The purpose of the red heifer is to remember the need to atone for the sin of the golden calf, and to bring forth purification and life where there seems only death.