Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Genealogy is Worth a Thousand Words - Part II

About a week or so ago my friend Res Ipsa commented in a post he had entitled Jot and Tittle:

" . . . arriving at a correct understanding of how to interpret those jots, tittles and spaces between the letters isn't an easy task.  For about 4,000 years the Levites and rabbis have been preserving a tradition of interpretation and study that maintains that there is nothing insignificant in scripture."

His comment prompted me to illustrate the concept with an example from Genesis 5.

This is the book of the generations (toledot) of Adam.  In the English there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the word 'generations', but in the original Hebrew it is a different story all together.  The word toledot is usually spelled with two vavsVav is the sixth letter in the Hebrew alphabet and its numerical equivalent is 'six'.  This detail will be important later. 

There are only two places in all of the Scriptures where toledot is spelled with two vavs: Genesis 2:4 and Ruth 4:18.  So, beginning with the first verse of Genesis 5 right up to Ruth 4:18, there are seven more occurrences of the word toledot and all of them are spelled defectively with only one vav.  It is not until we reach Ruth 4:18 that toledot is once again spelled fully with two vavs.  There is a fascinating tradition recorded in the ancient rabbinic literature known as the Midrash Rabbah which will help shed some interesting light on our discussion:

Genesis Rabbah 12:6  All toledot found in Scripture are defective, except two, viz. These are the toledot (generations) of Perez (Ruth IV, 18), and the present instance. And why are they defective? R. Judan said in R. Abun's name: The six[which they lack corresponds to the six things which were taken away from Adam, viz., his luster, his immortality [lit. ‘life’], his height, the fruit of the earth, the fruit of trees, and the luminaries  . . . Though these things were created in their fullness, yet when Adam sinned they were spoiled, and they will not again return to their perfection until the son of Perez [viz. the Messiah] comes; [for in the verse] ’These are the toledot (generations) of Perez ‘, toledot is spelled fully, with a vav.

Exodus Rabbah 30:3  . . .  But you will find, with the exception of two places-’ These are the generations of the heaven and the earth’  (Gen. II, 4) and Now these are the generations of Perez  (Ruth IV, 18)- the word ’toledot' whenever it occurs in the Bible is spelt defectively, and for a very significant reason. Thus the word is spelt fully [with a vav] in the case of ’These are the generations of the heaven and the earth’, because when HaShem created His world, there was no Angel of Death in the world, and on this account is it spelt fully; but as soon as Adam and Eve sinned, HaShem made defective all the ’toledot’ mentioned in the Bible.  But when Perez arose, his ’generations’ were spelt fully again, because from him Messiah would arise, and in his days God would cause death to be swallowed up, as it says, He will swallow up death for ever (Isa.XXV, 8); on this account is the ‘toledot’ of ’ The heaven and the earth’ and of Perez spelt fully.

Ruth 4:18 identifies and pinpoints the lineage of the Messiah, Son of David. It is my contention that the Son of Perez, the Messiah, has indeed come and that through Him, G-d has most assuredly caused death to be swallowed up in life. How was this accomplished and what was His name? For, truly, not one yod or tittle shall by any means pass away from the book of the Law.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Genealogy is Worth a Thousand Words - Part I

Recorded in the fifth chapter of Genesis is a genealogy containing the generations of Adam delineated by a list of Hebrew names that have little meaning for most and are easy to gloss over without too much thought.  Ten names, ten generations.  But what if we were to translate the Hebrew names into 'real' English?  What might we discover?

A close study of the root system of these Hebrew names reveals a list of remarkable words and phrasings that reveals an even more remarkable message.  The Hebrew names with their meanings in the order that they appear in Genesis 5 are detailed below:

Adam: 'Man'

Seth: 'Appointed'

Enosh: 'Mortal'

Keinan: 'Sorrow'

Mahalalel: 'The Blessed G-d'

Yared: 'Shall come down'

Enoch: 'Teaching'

M'tushelach: '(His) Death Shall Bring'

Lamech: 'The  Despairing'

No'ach: 'Comfort/Rest'

May He open our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of His Law!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Who is the Jewish Messiah?

The majority of Jewish people fail to realize that the prevalent 21st century view of the Messiah has been long-divorced from the more traditional (ancient) Jewish view.  The 21st century view, that the Messiah will establish His kingdom and peace here on the earth right now, tends to overlook the vital role of the Messiah as Servant, more specifically, as Suffering Servant.

Shortly after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. and in the wake of anti-Jewish sentiment, one of the ways in which the Jewish leadership sought to ensure the unity of the Diaspora Jews was to reinforce the belief that Yeshua (Jesus) was the Christian Messiah and not the Jewish one and to diminish or suppress all together the atoning role of the Suffering Servant. 

Regrettably, the role and work of the Messiah as described in the Torah, the Prophets, and much of the rabbinic literature such as the Talmud and Midrash, was distorted to such a degree as to make Him virtually unrecognizable to the Jewish people.  The upshot of all of this is that many of our sages and rabbis have actually done a tremendous disservice to the very people whom they were seeking to unify and preserve. 

By deliberately suppressing the role of the Messiah as the Suffering Servant, the vast majority of our people have fallen prey to the lure of secularism and have become disillusioned and otherwise alienated from the very spiritual beliefs to which Israel had held fast for millennia.  Consequently, the Jewish people remain blind to the hope and immune to the peace that is found in the Messiah Yeshua.

Although traditional Judaism has taught and emphasized that the Messiah's lineage will be a fundamental criterion for His identification, it is critical to note that most modern Jewish rabbinical studies place little emphasis on the importance of genealogy.  Rabbis who still maintain a belief in the Biblical concept of the Messiah, will try to argue that genealogical proof is unnecessary, since the Messiah will be identified in other ways.

However, genealogical evidence is necessary if we are to trace the Messiah's lineage and understand the significant roles assigned to Him by G-d throughout the Scriptures.  By doing so, it soon becomes evident that Yeshua satisfied at least two key Messianic criteria: He originated from the correct "kingly roots" and He fulfilled the role of the Suffering and Atoning Servant.    

"You are the minority!"

The observance of Chanukah commemorates the victory of the minority over the majority.  Those  who are committed to walking in His ways and dedicated to the promulgation of the truth, will inevitably find themselves in the minority.

Under what circumstances must the minority yield to the majority?  Only when both the minority and the majority are committed to standing firmly together on the same foundational principles of what is  true and right.  However, the majority frequently refuses to stand with us upon the same foundation and seems more committed to undermining those foundations at every opportunity, thereby forcing us to heed the Biblical injunction: "Do not follow the majority to commit evil!"

It is often the case that a victorious majority is more likely to be the first to become unfaithful to its own cause, as it is easier for the majority to imagine that its victories are due solely to the numerical superiority of its supporters.  By contrast, it is the spiritual and moral value of the cause which compensates the minority for what it lacks in numbers.

And so, we can expect the majority to relentlessly and tirelessly assault and browbeat the minority into submission.  However, we should never despair and never give in, but rather view and use these attacks as opportunities to strengthen our resolve and redouble our commitment to the truth over and over again, until we are no longer intimidated or seduced by the siren call of the masses with their superior numbers, power, and material advantages.

The minority also understands that the triumph of the truth is not dependent upon the number of its faithful adherents.  So what if our dogged adherence to the truth means that we become objects of derision and scorn?  So what if faithful adherence to the truth means hardship, sacrifice, and isolation?  It may mean that only a minority will persevere, but this minority will eventually receive the reward due those who are determined to champion and to adhere steadfastly to the truth with every fiber of their being.  

No matter how treacherous the times become for the minority in the days ahead, no matter how numerous and difficult the trials, no matter how precipitous the mountains which lay before us, we will prevail as we recall and take to heart the words which are traditionally read at this season: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit" (Zech. 4:6), words which serve to remind us of the triumph of the minority over a seemingly invincible majority, a majority who foolishly imagined that  victory was inevitable due to their power, influence, and sheer numbers. History repeatedly demonstrates otherwise.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chanukah is a Threatening Holiday

There are things that are worse than death and slavery:

The Maccabees rose up not only against physical oppression, Israel had and would face that over and over again, they rose up against an assault on their religious and cultural  identity.  The lighting of the Menorah is the perpetuation of that cultural resistance and when it is performed properly then it reminds us that cultural oppression, like physical oppression, is ubiquitous, and that just as the forms of cultural oppression can often go unnoticed, so too the resistance to it can go unnoticed as well.

Every year that we celebrate Chanukah, the left makes another attempt to "desecrate the temple" by destroying its meaning and replacing it with the usual grab bag of social justice issues under the union label of "Tikkun Olam". And each time we push back against their ruthless assault on Jewish history and tradition the same way that the Maccabees did, by reclaiming our sacred places, cleaning away the filth left behind by the occupiers, and lighting the Menorah to remind us of who we are.

Chanukah marks the culmination of the Maccabee campaign for the liberation of Jerusalem. It is the time when we remember the men and women who refused to submit to the perversion of their values and the theft of their land. It reminds us that we must not allow our land to be stolen under any guise or allow our religion, history and culture to be perverted on any pretext. The light of the Menorah reminds us that the sacredness of a nation is in its spirit and that preserving that spirit is an eternal struggle against the conquerors of land and the tyrants of souls.

Chanukah is a Holiday of Resistance. It commemorates the physical and spiritual resistance that is required of us sooner or later in all times. Chanukah takes us back to the armed resistance and the moral awakening that liberated Jerusalem and connected the Jewish people with their G-d once again. And that reminds us to never give up, not in the face of an assault on our bodies or on our culture. The lights go out, but they are lit again, each day, for thousands of years, reminding us to hold on to our traditions and our faith, rather than trade them in for the trendy trinkets and cheap jewelery of progressive liberalism.

A war to the death was declared on G-d and His law in the days of the Hasmoneans.  It was a war imbued with the spirit of Greek Hellenism, a spirit which animated a culture that ostensibly vaunted itself as a protector of rights and freedom.

More devastating than Alexander's military victory was the triumph of Greek morals and culture which engulfed and enchanted so much of the Orient, a culture that was committed to training the intellect and flattering the senses.  

The Maccabees, however, were animated and inspired by a much different Spirit and ideology, a Spirit and ideology which served to steel them against the sensuality of Hellenism, compelled them to reject as degenerate what all others around them considered beautiful and attractive, and caused them to regard as illusory what all others considered to be true. 

The war is not waged against the Jews alone, but against anyone who is committed to forging an iron phalanx around G-d's sanctuary while refusing to be duped by the Hellenistic progressive spirit of our age, a spirit which bids us to worship ourselves, which deifies humanist ideals, and champions the dubious claim that 'social justice' is the the sole metric by which duty and morality are measured.  The ideology of the Hellenists left drags all that is true, all that is noble, all that is praiseworthy, all that is Divine down into the abyss of sophisticated sensualism and solipsism.

Are we blind to the dangers of Antiochus in the present hour?  Then, may He open our eyes and give us the courage to wage the war to restore the purity of His Sanctuary once again.

Of Wives and Horses

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one yod or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. "  (Matthew 5:17-19).

"But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the L-RD has said to you, 'You shall not return that way again.'  "Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself"  (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).

At first glance, what could possibly be the connection, if any, between the two passages of Scripture quoted above?  It may be helpful to consider a discussion that has been preserved in ancient Rabbinic literature:

When G-d gave the Torah to Israel, He inserted positive and negative commandments and gave some commands for a king, as it is written: Only he shall not multiply (yarbeh) horses to himself . . . Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart not turn away . . . (Deut. 17:16-17).  But Solomon arose and studied the reason of G-d's decree and declared that he would multiply and yet his heart would not turn away . . .  

Our sages said: At that time the letter yod of the word yarbeh (he shall not multiply) went up on high and prostrated itself before G-d and said: 'Master of the universe, have You not said that no letter shall ever be abolished from the Torah?  Behold, Solomon has now arisen and abolished one.  Who knows?  Today he has abolished one letter, tomorrow he may abolish another until the entire Torah is nullified!  G-d replied: "Solomon and a thousand like him will pass away, but the smallest tittle will not be erased from you.'  (Exodus Rabbah 6:1, emphases mine).

The idea is that in all his great wisdom, Solomon supposed that he understood the reasoning behind the commandment thinking that "If I keep my heart from going astray then I am free to multiply wives!"  In other words, he reasoned that since he understood the principle of the law he did not need to obey the literal meaning of it.   A line of thinking that is all too prevalent today.  

There are some who may object to the exegetical method of midrash as exemplified above.  After all, where did the Sages get the silly notion that the letter yod ascended to heaven and prostrated itself before G-d?  Preposterous!  But that is to miss the point.  

Midrash is an exegetical method which faithfully mirrors the world of ideas in which the Jews lived during the great formative period from the third century B.C.E. to the end of the fifth century C.E.   Therefore, the midrashic exegesis above provides us with valuable insight into the thinking of the rabbis and sages, while highlighting, illustrating, and emphasizing the truth of the eternal nature of the Torah, a truth with which Yeshua agreed and was reaffirming in Matthew 5.

Yeshua's audience would have been very familiar with this midrash, from the common fisherman to the most erudite Torah scholar.  In other words, Yeshua was teaching the people about the nature of the Torah (and Himself, for that matter) from within a framework and context with which His contemporaries would have been most familiar

Combined with Yeshua's words in Matthew 5, this midrash about the greatest and wisest king of Israel who thought he was above the Torah would have not only served to remind His audience that they too were not exempt from breaking the least of these commandments, but also would have testified to the reality that the promised Messiah for Whom they had been waiting was now walking in their midst.