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, July 28, 2015

The Compassionate Father and the Two Lost Sons - Part 2

The Younger Son

The younger son is clearly disobedient, stubborn, rebellious, and seeks to get as far away from his father as possible.  After implying that his father should die, he takes his assets and quickly converts them into cash, and travels to a country that is as far away from home as possible. 

For the original audience hearing this parable, the son's behavior would have been viewed as reprehensible and perhaps even unthinkable.  A severe punishment or a complete rejection of the ungrateful son would be understandable.  But this is not what the father does in Y'shua's story.  Instead, the audience is going to be overwhelmed by the compassion of the father. 

The father divides the inheritance between his two sons.  The elder son quietly, without protest, receives his share while the younger liquidates his portion.  The younger takes his money and wastes his inheritance, determined to go his own way.  He lives the fast life of a playboy until the money runs out and a famine sweeps across the land.  Far from home, the son soon begins to realize his mistake and to feel the weight of his broken relationship with his father.  He is soon reduced to abject poverty.

The boy ingratiates himself to a wealthy landowner in hopes of receiving food in return.  The landowner sends him to feed pigs, possibly understanding how offensive that would be to a Jew, and so the formerly privileged son of a landowner is reduced to feeding swine.  The text tells us that no one gave the young man anything, and that the landowner begrudges the boy even one morsel of food.  It is more important to insure that the pigs are fed and the boy soon longs to fill his belly with the pigs' fodder. 

This fodder is usually identified as the pods of a carob tree which are sometimes described as the food of the poor.  It is interesting to note that in Jewish literature the Sages made a play on words between the Hebrew terms for sword, choreb, in Isaiah 1:21 and carob pod charob, the food of the poor.  When times are prosperous, it is easy to forget G-d, however, when people are in need and lack food, they repent and seek Him.  When the people become desperate, they will even seek a carob to survive.

Leviticus Rabbah 35:6

This may be deduced from the Bible text, "If you be willing and obedient you shall eat of the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword" [or eat carob].  R' Acha said Israel needs carob [i.e. poverty] to be forced to repentance [i.e. only when Israel are reduced to such a state of poverty that they must eat carob do they repent of their evil ways].

So, in the minds of the Sages, it was possible that poverty could lead a man to recognize their need for G-d and to seek Him.  The younger son, when he finally comes to his senses, begins to realize his responsibility for his wrongdoing and even desires to make matters right and pay back what has been lost.  It is not a theological epiphany or revelation, but a desire born out his own personal need.  It's just the beginning, but a very necessary one.  The way back begins with this realization and a sense of shame for the wrongs he has committed against G-d and His father.

A critical element in our understanding is the expression "he came to himself."  In Hebrew and Aramaic, this term was often used to describe repentance and refers to a "coming home."  In fact, numerous rabbinic parables use much of the same imagery and expression when describing repentance.  The young man repents of his wrong and is ready to come home. 

In the parable, the younger boy declares that he has "sinned against heaven" i.e. G-d Himself.  "Heaven" is a common Jewish circumlocution for "G-d" and is recognized widely in Jewish literature and so is indicative of the Jewish background of the boy.  He is ashamed of his wrongs and his sense of shame makes him feel that he is no longer worthy to be treated as his father's son.  In a Hebrew setting of first century Israel, the boy's action presents a vivid picture of repentance against the backdrop of a dramatic family crisis. 

He had committed a serious wrong against his father.  His father even referred to him as "dead" and "lost."  His greatest sin was his broken relationship with his father, the root of all the wrongdoing and rebellion in his life.   It is imperative that he go back and make matters right with his father.

The Elder Son 

This son is no less lost to his father than the rebellious and profligate younger son.  Both boys are lost to their father, but in different ways.  The older son the is the picture of obedience and doing good.  His conduct is right and proper, and yet his relationship with both his father and his younger brother is fractured, and this is evident from the very beginning of the parable.  The elder brother's silence in the face of his younger brother's "request" is deafening and would not have been lost on Y'shua's audience.  The elder brother seems to care very little for his father, let alone his father's honor.   

The elder brother's view of his father was wrong.  He viewed his father as an employer who must simply be obeyed rather than a father who must be loved as well.  The elder son boasts about his faithful service to his father and declares that he deserves a reward for all his labor and years of loyal service.  Note his reaction when he discovers that his brother has returned home: "Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command" (v. 29).  Both sons had the same problem, but their problems just manifested themselves in different ways.

The broken relationships become clear in the older son's speech to his father in the courtyard.  He does not address his father with a title of honor nor does he acknowledge any family ties with his brother, referring to him as "this son of yours."  He laments the fact that he has never been honored by a feast with his friends.  All the while, the community is rejoicing with the father, but all the older son can manage to do is insult his father and the guests by his refusal to join in the festivities. 

There is a profound theological idea present in the story that has deep roots in Judaism: the idea that one does not serve G-d merely for the sake of personal benefit or the possibility of receiving a reward or avoiding punishment.  Antigonus of Socho (2nd century BCE) said: "Be not like slaves that serve the master for the sake of receiving a reward, but be like slaves that serve the master not for the sake of receiving a reward and let the fear of Heaven (i.e. G-d) be upon you" (Avot 1:3).  G-d is not an employer who pays a wage but a father who desires a proper relationship with His children and Who should be served out of love.

The parable contrasts two seemingly different sons who are very much the same: both are in desperate need of a meaningful relationship with their father.  

(To be continued . . .)

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Compassionate Father and Two Lost Sons

Luke 15:11 - 15:32 

Then He said: "A certain man had two sons.  "And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood.  "And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.  "But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.  

"Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  "And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.  "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!   'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, "and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants." '  

"And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.  "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  "But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  'And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 'for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry.  "Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  

"So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  "And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.'  "But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.  "So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.  

'But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.'  "And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  'It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.' "

The Setting

When viewed through the lens of Jewish tradition the parable deals with two types of people and in many ways reinforces the teachings of the P'rushim (Pharisees).  The theme of the parable is not (as a number of prominent theologians argue) a polemic against the Pharisees, but is a beautiful story which demonstrates the nature of G-d's love for two types of sinners.  The profound message of the parable is closely related to a Jewish understanding of G-d and humanity and expresses a worldview that is one of the legacies of Pharisaic thought.

While examining this parable through "Jewish eyes" so to speak, we will consider a number of parallel rabbinic parables that contain similar theological concepts which will hopefully serve to enhance our understanding of the Jewish thought of the Second Temple period, as well as the parable itself. The parable describes a family in crisis where there are three principle actors: the father, the younger son, and the elder son.  The parable is the classic story that sharply contrasts the actions of the two sons.

We are probably all familiar with stories of how families fall apart or fight amongst themselves after the will of a deceased relative is read.  Well, the shock of this story recorded in Luke would have struck the listener right at the very beginning, when the younger son ask for his father's inheritance before the death of his father.  It is important to understand that the son's request is tantamount to seeking his father's death.

According to Jewish law (cf. Mishnah) a father could execute a will before his death, which is what takes place in this parable.  Nevertheless, it would be quite presumptuous on part of the son to initiate the execution of his father's will while his father was still alive and the request in the story would have shocked the original audience of this parable.  (The younger son's actions were reprehensible and may have even brought to mind Deuteronomy 21:18-21).  So, in response to the request of the younger son, this is what the father does: he divides his estate between his two sons, the older son receiving a double portion. 

According to the provisions of the Mishnah, the father would retain usufruct rights even if he divided his estate before his death.  This allowed him to retain a certain amount of control over the sons' property and assets after the execution of the will and served to protect an aging parent from any irresponsibility on the part of the heirs.  This would explain why the father was still able to give orders to the servants of the estate (vv. 22-24) after he had divided his estate between his two sons (v. 12).

In the mishnaic tractate, Bava Batra, we read:

If a man assigned his goods to his sons he must write, "From today and after my death."  So R' Judah Jose says: He need not do so.  If a man assigned his goods to his son to be his after his death, the father cannot sell them since they are assigned to his son, and the son cannot sell them because they are in the father's control.  If his father sold them, they are sold [only] until he dies; if the son sold them, the buyer has no claim on them until the father dies.  The father may pluck up [the crop of a field which he has so assigned] and give to eat to whom he will, and if he left anything already plucked up, it belongs to all his heirs.  If he left elder sons and younger sons, the elder sons may not care for themselves out of common inheritance at the cost of the younger sons, nor may the younger sons claim maintenance at the cost of the elder sons, but they all share alike [Bava Batra 8:7; 136a and Bava Metzia 75b].

David Daube observes that this facet of Jewish law is described in the talmudic literature:

"The father at the same time as he paid off his younger son, made a gift of the rest to the elder, keeping back for himself the usufruct and the running of it for life.  This transaction, fully recognized in the Talmud, may be alluded to by the phrase 'he divided unto them the goods,' which, on this premise, would not be inexact at all.  The younger son obtained absolute control and enjoyment of his share at once.  The elder was also given his share - so that on the father's death there would be nothing for the younger to inherit." (Inheritance, 330, D. Daube)

After the father divides his estate, the younger son sells his portion and travels to a land far away, although the buyer could not take possession of what he had purchased until the death of  the father.  The parable that Y'shua tells portrays the legal setting with remarkable precision and illustrates the laws of family inheritance with exactitude.  The laws of inheritance would have been familiar and well known to His audience, as the assignment of family possessions would have been a major concern that affected the every day life of the people.  It would have also been a shocker to hear a story about a son who essentially said to his father: "Drop dead, so I can have the money!"

(To be continued . . .) 


Sunday, July 26, 2015

If You Will not Hearken - Stage 7

John 1:1-3  

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d.  He was in the beginning with G-d.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 

Let us assume G-d exists and let us assume that G-d is G-d, the independent Creator, Lawgiver, Ruler, and Supreme Judge in history.  Let us also assume that creation is the result of His will, and that it is is His G-d's will that men should serve Him by freely obeying and fulfilling His commands. 

Then suppose that someone were to argue that G-d's power and will do not extend beyond certain limits or boundaries and that the Revelation of His will, therefore, was an impossibility.  Such a man argues that G-d does not express His will to man because He cannot speak to man by any means other than through the medium of His creation and His deeds; and that the Scriptural statements which say that "G-d spoke to Moses" and "G-d spoke to your entire nation, you heard words, you saw no form - " are therefore mere myths and fairy tales.   Such is the mindset of the man who has "progressed" to the sixth stage of apostasy. 

If the assumptions we made were correct, a person who is reckless enough to live his entire life in contradiction to His Divine Word must at the very least admit to himself the possibility that the Word was revealed by G-d.  "What if it is actually G-d's Word and will after all?"  How does a person rid himself of this bothersome uncertainty?  Only by eradicating any idea of G-d, or by reducing this critical idea to a dead idol that is so unreal and powerless that it can no longer annoy him.  

This weekend we observed the 9th of Av, a day of fasting and mourning when we remember the destruction of the Temple and various other tragedies throughout our history:

Lamentations 1:1;8

How lonely sits the city That was full of people! How like a widow is she, Who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces Has become a slave . . . Jerusalem has sinned gravely, Therefore she has become vile. All who honored her despise her Because they have seen her nakedness; Yes, she sighs and turns away.

However, the cardinal sin was not neglect of the Temple, its services, or its sacrifices.  The cardinal transgression was neglecting the study of G-d's Word.  The destructive ignorance of G-d's Word and willful suppression of the Truth of G-d's Word, the corrosive ignorance which corrupts the mind and the heart and which causes it to fall prey to error and delusion, to recklessness and unrestrained passion. 

This was the destructive ignorance through which we allowed our minds and hearts to become preoccupied, preoccupied with every aspect of living, other than obedience and the fulfillment of G-d's will as revealed to us in that Divine Word which we no longer thought was worthy of study. 

Jeremiah 9:11-14  

"I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a den of jackals. I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant."  Who is the wise man who may understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of the L-RD has spoken, that he may declare it? 

Why does the land perish and burn up like a wilderness, so that no one can pass through?  

And the L-RD said, "Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice, nor walked according to it, but they have walked according to the dictates of their own hearts . . . ."

Those of us who insist on walking to the dictates of our own hearts, while neglecting the study of His Word, would do well to remember that the heart is deceitfully wicked and not to be trusted.  We would do well to remember that we are no match for the Adversary and we are no match for sin which so easily entangles us.  How do we keep our way pure?  By meditating upon and hiding His Word in our hearts. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

If You Will not Hearken - Stages 5 and 6

1 Kings 12:27-30  

"If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the L-RD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah."  

Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!"  And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.  Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.

Beginning with stage five, fanaticism develops.  Loyalty to the Word of G-d and its observance is considered criminal.  When the apostate is beginning to sever ties with those who are determined to remain loyal to G-d's Word, he often tries to argue that a man is responsible only to G-d for his relationship to Him, and he demands the right, usually in the name of tolerance and freedom, to live according to his so-called personal "convictions."

He is particularly irritated and incensed when the people who don't share his convictions are specifically the ones who have decided to remain loyal to the convictions he so happily and wisely abandoned.  For the apostate who initially championed and touted "tolerance" of his convictions and the freedom to do as he wanted, the freedom of others to remain devoted and committed to the truth of their convictions soon becomes intolerable. 

It is not long before he is waging a fanatical war against them and accusing the faithful of being "intolerant" and "fanatical" in their devotion and obeisance to G-d's Word.  The apostate frequently use the words "tolerance" and "freedom of conscience."  He is now no longer content just to live according to his "convictions."  He is distraught and upset as soon as he realizes that his convictions are not universally recognized as the only ones which are correct and valid.

The apostate no longer understands or fathoms how people can remain so devoted to the Word of G-d  and the sacrifices it demands of people.  Intoxicated by the "truth" of his own convictions, he is no longer capable of recognizing principles that are pure, deep, and firmly rooted in the truth of G-d's Word.  What he had previously only pitied and lamented, he must now vehemently condemn to justify his choices.  From his warped perspective, devotion to and faithful observance of G-d's Word is hypocrisy which must be exposed, and since he is the most enlightened man in the room, who better to expose the charade.

Up to this stage, the apostate has abandoned the study of G-d's Word and the fulfillment of it, he has scorned those who remain loyal to it, he hates the Sages and those who teach it, and now he is ready to openly persecute those who continue in their observance of it.  He argues that our only obligation to the Word of G-d is to the spirit, but certainly not the letter and that each person can construe the spirit as he sees fit in his own eyes.

The apostate is convinced that the Word of G-d must adjust itself to the demands of our era in order to be relevant and up-to-date, as it were.  The apostate becomes adept at taking the Scriptures out of context and assigning meanings to the Word of G-d which harmonize with the desires of his heart and principles he has forged for himself.  The apostate soon begins to find fault with the Word of G-d, and attempts to use the Word of G-d against itself, hoping to demonstrate that its origins are anything but Divine.  The apostate is moving in inexorably to stage six.

The logic is undeniable and falsehood is no match for the Truth: if the account of the Divine origin of G-d's Word is no fairy tale, then G-d's Word remains binding today.  If G-d has truly spoken to us by His Word, which is eternal, then all human thought, opinions, and sophistry are meaningless:

2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is given by inspiration of G-d, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of G-d may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Therefore, His irrevocable Will and the eternally binding nature of His Word leaves no room for, as one of our Sages put it, "the idea of some implicit, self-exempting authority, conferred upon an era."  If the Word of G-d is truly G-d breathed and Divine, then it is impossible for it to ever become obsolete or overcome by the mere passage of time.

Therefore, the apostate, who is determined to abrogate every vestige of G-d's Word will inevitably, on account of his own twisted and perverted imagination, deny that the Word was ever revealed to us by G-d.   

And yet, the apostate has yet to reach the final stage. 

(To be continued . . .) 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

If You Will not Hearken - Stages 2, 3, and 4

James 2:14-19  

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one G-d. You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble! 

When one breaks with the Word of G-d and ceases to study it, it is not too long before the observance of it is of little to no concern to him either.  If the Biblical worldview was merely a matter of opinion and beliefs, dogma and theology, a so-called confession of faith, it would not be necessary to demonstrate this faith outside our houses of worship.  If this were the case, we would need do nothing more than keep our beliefs and our religion tucked safely away within the confines of our respective houses of worship, effacing any "religious differences" there might be if we dared to practice our religion outside the four walls of our churches and synagogues.

But a Biblical worldview that is truly relevant in this world will manifest itself in our deeds and in the way we live.  The way we we live and conduct our everyday lives is not hidden from view nor disguised.  G-d's Word does not call us to a monastic way of life where we are constantly meditating in solitude before G-d alone.  The man who grew into the habit of neglecting the study of G-d's Word and who now begins to find little of value in observing G-d's Word, must now begin the process of convincing himself that his own special wisdom, insight, and discernment will somehow work to set free him from the restrictions placed upon him by G-d's Word.

In his haughtiness he will convince himself that he is "rational" and "enlightened" and he will begin to stigmatize those who still insist on living in "darkness and superstition."  He is no longer a slave to dog-like obedience to his master and he pities those who have not been similarly "enlightened," but who are instead languishing in their enslavement i.e. observance of G-d's Word.  This "enlightened" individual rejoices that he is no longer counted among the miserable, blind, and prejudiced ones who are only wasting their time in vain submission to an archaic, oppressive worldview that, in his "enlightened" estimation, is of no use to men who want to be truly free.

The "enlightened" man does not remain long at this stage, a stage which flows so seamlessly and effortlessly to the next: scorn for those who are and remain observant.  Since he really cannot criticize or condemn the strength which manifests itself in the sincerity and faithfulness of those who are truly committed to observing the Word of G-d and who are practicing the Word of G-d, he is compelled to justify himself in his own eyes and so works to achieve for himself a position where he sets himself above the faithful.  From this position, he is contented to look down upon his unfortunate and ignorant brothers with all of the scorn and contempt he is certain they deserve.

Well, if his poor brethren remain groping around in the dark, surely there is someone to blame for this.  Therefore, it is not long before he comes to hate the ones who he feels are responsible for keeping people chained to the antiquated and oppressive Word of G-d.  In his estimation, their teaching only serves to deepen and darken the abyss from which his poor brethren cannot escape.

The very oracles of G-d were committed to our Sages, men who understood quite clearly that their main function was to maintain and protect the Word of G-d and to disseminate it to others so that the Word of G-d would be observed and practiced from generation to generation.

Sages like Ezra:

Nehemiah 8:1-3;8

Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the L-RD had commanded Israel.  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.  

Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law . . . So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of G-d; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.

Men like Paul and Timothy:

2 Timothy 2:1-2; 15 

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in the Messiah Y'shua.  And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also . . . Do your best to present yourself to G-d as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of Truth.

These righteous men sought to saturate people's entire foundation of life with the Word of G-d.  No one is exempt, everyone was expected to conduct themselves as soldiers fighting on behalf of and in the service of G-d's Word.  It is only a matter of time then, that the person who began by neglecting the study of G-d's Word, who has ceased to observe G-d's Word, who has scorned the ignorant devotees to G-d's Word, will now turn his full fury and hatred upon those men who faithfully disseminate and teach G-d's Word and the observance thereof.

Such men are determined and will go to incredible lengths to malign the character of the Sages, their deeds, their teachings, and their wisdom, hoping to snuff out G-d's Word.  Ironically, however, it is this very hatred and contempt that testifies most splendidly to the genuine greatness of the Sages and the faithful teachers of G-d's Word.

Luke 6:22-23

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.

(To be continued . . .)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

If You Will not Hearken - Stage 1

2 Thessalonians 2:9-10  

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of the Adversary, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 

Apostasy always begins with neglecting the study of G-d's Word.  The seed which will eventually blossom into apostasy is sown in theory, not in practice.  This seed of corruption is sown when a man fails to nourish his soul and forgets that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of G-d.  It is foolish to imagine that one can merely practice the Divine Word and dispense with the study of it.  To do so is like tending the vine while neglecting the root, whereby we run the danger of losing the vine along with the root.

When we fall into the habit of failing to study, we will inevitably grow indifferent to the Word.  As we grow indifferent, we will consider it unnecessary to renew our awareness of all that is contained in His Word.  When we cease studying, we have broken with His Word and we slowly become unfamiliar with His will for our lives and we begin to open our hearts and our minds to fraudulent teachings, stupidity masquerading as wisdom, thoughtlessness under the guise of sincerity, and lies dressed up in the parlance of Truth.  Where our minds and hearts have now become vacant and void of His Word, these other principles take up residence and occupy the space where the Word once richly dwelt.

Give us this day our daily bread.  It is only a daily association with His Divine Word and Teachings which will serve to protect us from associating with falsehood and that which will corrupt and eventually destroy our souls.  I don't believe we set out consciously to live contrary to G-dly principles, but once we take even the slightest step on to the erring path, we are wont to travel there more regularly.  Therefore, it is critical to daily strengthen ourselves in the fountain of the Divine Word and root ourselves in its teachings.  If we begin by neglecting our study of the Divine Word, it won't be long before we are no longer interested in fulfilling it.

Psalm 119:9-11  

How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.  With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!  Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!

We must take every precaution in these most treacherous of times to guard our paths in accordance with the Word of G-d.  Only by way of diligent study of the Divine Word will we acquire the understanding and the life required to conscientiously fulfill all that we have learned.

1 John 2:3-5  

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of G-d is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 

(To be continued . . .)

If You Will not Hearken

But if you will not hearken unto Me and will not do all of these commands and if you will scorn My laws, and if your soul will spurn My judgments so that all of My commandments are not carried out, and so that you renounce My covenant . . . (Leviticus 26:14-15).

This warning is commented upon by our Sages as follows:

"Many do not study the Word, but they fulfill it.  Concerning these men, this Scriptural quotation says: 'You will not hearken and you will not do.'  From this we learn that one who does not study will also not continue to fulfill the Word.  Many neither study nor fulfill; but they do not scorn those who do fulfill it.  Referring to these men, these Scriptural verses say: 'If you will scorn My laws.'  We learn from this that one who neither studies nor fulfills will eventually scorn those who fulfill it.

"Many neither study nor fulfill, and scorn others who fulfill it; but they do not hate the Sages who teach it.  Concerning them, these verses say: 'and if you will spurn My judgments.'  Here we learn that one who neither studies nor fulfills and scorns those who fulfill it, will also come to hate the Sages who teach it. Many neither study nor fulfill, scorn those who fulfill it, and hate the Sages who teach it; but they do not oppose the observance of it by others.  Concerning them the Scriptural verses say: 'so that all of My commandments are not carried out.'  From this we learn that one who neither studies nor fulfills, scorns those who fulfill it, and hates the Sages who teach it, will eventually oppose its observance by others.

"There are many who neither study nor fulfill, scorn those who fulfill, hate the Sages, and oppose the observance of others; but they nevertheless still acknowledge that it was revealed on Mount Sinai.  Concerning this category of people, the Scriptural passage says: 'all of My commandments.'  This is to teach that one who neither studies nor fulfills, who scorns those who fulfill, who hates those who teach it, who opposes the observance of it by others, will eventually deny the Divine revelation of it at Sinai.

"A man can have fallen into all of these errors, but so far he might not have denied the existence of G-d.  Concerning this, the Scriptural passage concludes with: 'so that you renounce My covenant.'  This teaches that one who has fallen into all of these errors will also ultimately deny the existence of G-d entirely!"  [The Sifra, a Halachic Midrash to Leviticus]

As explained in the Sifra above, this development of apostasy passes through the following seven stages: 1) the study of G-d's Word is abandoned; 2) G-d's Word is no longer fulfilled; 3) those who live according to G-d's Word are scorned; 4) the Sages, who teach G-d's Word, are hated; 5) observance of G-d's Word by others is opposed; 6) the Divine revelation of G-d's Word is denied; 7) the existence of G-d is denied.

(To be continued . . .)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pinchas and the Covenant of Peace

Numbers 25:6-8  

And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.  Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel.

G-d's response?

Numbers 25:10-13 

Then the L-RD spoke to Moses, saying: "Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal.  "Therefore say, 'Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; 'and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his G-d, and made atonement for the children of Israel.' "

Covenant of Peace, B'rit Shalom in Hebrew.  In the Torah scroll, the spelling of shalom in the phrase b'rit shalom is very suggestive, to say the least.  It is spelled with a broken vav.  The letter vav is the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  According to the majority of commentators, where the zeal of a Pinchas is required is where shalom, peace, has been broken; and the main objective of Pinchas is restoring that peace between man and G-d.

Rabbi S.R. Hirsch comments:

The realization of the supreme harmony of peace is entrusted by G-d precisely to that spirit and to that activism which thoughtless people  - anxious to mask their passivity and neglect of duty as "love of peace" - like to brand and condemn as "disturbances of the peace."   [However] one may never sacrifice for [peace] the rights of others  . . . or what G-d has declared to be good and true.  There can be true peace among men only if they are all at peace with G-d . . .

He concludes . . .

What saved the people was not the apathy of the masses, nor even the tears of sorrow shed by those who stood idly at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.  It was the brave act of Pinchas that saved the people and restored to them peace with G-d and His truth, thereby restoring the basis for true peace.

In other words, as our Sages relate, G-d did not forge His covenant of peace with the  feeble and the complacent, nor with those who are wont to advocate for a moderate and middling philosophy, to johnny-come-latelies who decide to take up a good cause only after it has gained a sufficient number of adherents that the cause no longer requires any defenders.  

G-d promised His covenant of peace to men who, in word and in deed, demonstrate the spirit of Pinchas (Phineas).  These are precisely the individuals who are so often mocked and condemned as troublers and disturbers of the peace (remember Ahab and Elijah), individuals who are are not afraid to speak up and speak out in the name of G-d against every form of opposition to what is true and what is right.   Peace will only be realized when the truth, to which and to Whom all men will someday bow, reigns supreme; and it is these men who are deeply committed to championing the truth to whom we owe an incalculable debt of gratitude for promoting and increasing true peace in this world.

If there remains but only one man, like Pinchas, one man among myriads of ten thousand upon ten thousand, who is bold and courageous enough to speak up for the truth and defend it with all his heart, soul, and strength, then all the more powerful and penetrating will be his words and that much more significant and meaningful will be his deeds.  In fact, the greater number his opponents, the more will he act as a champion and savior of the very ones not only against whom, but also for whom he is fighting. 

Has not such a man accomplished that which all others should have striven to achieve themselves?  Even if all men will be against him and he were to remain all alone in this world, the covenant of peace, as far as G-d is concerned, is a promise that is absolute; and G-d will not permit the words of such a man to fade into obscurity or let his actions be forgotten.  An eternal priesthood was promised as a direct reward for Pinchas' decisive actions on behalf of truth and righteousness, an act which G-d declared had served to atone for all those around him who only stood by silently, paralyzed by fear and apathy.  And the plague was stopped.

This episode speaks of Another Who was to come, One Who proclaimed Himself to be the embodiment of truth, the very truth itself no less.  This One would take the most decisive action the world has ever known, an action which opened another way and offered life and peace to everyone languishing under the weight of their sin.

The letter vav is also the number six in Hebrew and the number of man, for on the sixth day G-d created man.  To say humanity is broken is an understatement, and we are certainly guilty of breaking our peace with the Creator of the universe.  But One greater than Pinchas has come, and in that same spirit of zeal and with that one decisive act has restored forever that which was lost.  The very One who reassured our hearts with these words:

"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid," and reminded us that "these things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."  (cf. John 14 and 16)  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Truth, Peace, and Love

Zechariah 8:16-19  

These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,' Says the L-RD."  Then the word of the L-RD of hosts came to me, saying, "Thus says the L-RD of hosts: 'The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.

Our Sages teach us that the First Temple was destroyed because the people of that era loved peace and not truth; the Second Sanctuary was destroyed because the people of that era loved truth and not peace; and that the Third Sanctuary will arise and remain permanent only on the condition that we love both truth and peace.

During the era of the First Temple, peace meant not being disturbed in the midst of one's endeavors and living in a manner that was not distinct from the surrounding nations.  In other words, peace meant assimilating and adopting the ways of the surrounding nations in the vain hope of winning their admiration, understanding, and friendship.  It was during this era that men criminalized the truth and exalted falsehood as a virtue, while lulling a people who were on the brink of destruction into a false sense of security by means of an empty slogan: "Peace, peace!"

During this period of our history, men who were valiant defenders of the truth were considered the real troublemakers worthy only of a blow upon the cheek when they failed to "prophecy anything good" concerning the powers-that-be.  This was a time when it was vital to "sin and deny the living G-d;" "to rebel against our G-d;" it was necessary to "preach disloyalty and rebellion, to produce and utter from the heart words of falsehood;" it was important to insure that "justice was turned back and that duty stood afar off; for truth stumbled in the streets and uprightness dared not enter anywhere."

The nation had become a place where truth was a true anomaly and anyone who dared stand against injustice was summarily dismissed as a madman.  But, "G-d saw it, and it was wicked in His eyes that justice no longer had an agent."  And so, G-d Himself would become truth's agent, an agent Who would establish the truth and destroy the imposing edifices of lies and so-called peace.  (cf. Isaiah 59).

First truth, and only then peace.  So long as peace does not deny the truth, does not endanger the truth, is not gained at the expense of truth, such peace is truly a treasured possession and a pearl of great price.  No struggle in the defense of truth is ever unwarranted and it's defenders have nothing to fear, even if the entire world stands against them.  This value of peace was lost to our leaders during the era of the Second Temple and a divisive spirit, which sowed hatred and dissension among families, prevailed.  So, peace at the cost of truth destroyed the First Commonwealth, while truth masquerading as a cover for power-seeking interests of the more influential circles undermined the Second Commonwealth.

Where do we stand in relation to truth and peace in our day?  How do we relate to the truth today?  Is truth the most precious commodity that we know?  Do we take to heart the admonition of Solomon to buy the truth and never sell it?  Is the truth so near and dear to your heart that you desire only that peace which is not predicated upon the demise and ruins of the truth?

Or is peace so important to you that the only truth you desire is that which is compatible with with everything else in your life?  As one Sage put it: Would you bow only before that truth which has first bowed before you?

Today, the truth is something that is "spun" and "reframed."  We have grown accustomed to "white lies" and "half-truths."  Today, we are told that truth must be "accommodating" if it is to remain relevant, that the truth is found in the so-called "middle-course."  I have news for you, it is falsehood that is found in the middle-course, simply because the truth is precise and the truth is unequivocal and the truth is too sacred to be bargained with or compromised.

We are admonished by those who advocate a middle course that it is important to remain "impartial" which simply means the truth is of no real concern of ours and that we must never object to anything.  We must try to be neutral on all questions and express only words of approval for everything and everyone: for those on the right, those on the left; for the true and for the false.  We must be sure to select only that kernel of truth which we know is acceptable to everyone, specifically that kernel of truth which we know will bother and disturb no one.  In short, truth must be sifted through the filter of peace, so-called.

As we consider the bedrock of any society - family life, marriage, the home, education etc. - is it the truth which governs these institutions, institutions which determine our present and future well-being, is it the truth that dictates everything, questions everything, and decides everything?  Or is it peace borne from political correctness and social acceptability that whispers in our ears that we must "go along to get along?"

For the sake of peace, parents compromise with their children and utter nary a word as they watch their children, especially grown sons and daughters, reject all that is true, noble, admirable and praiseworthy; children who reject the G-dly values the parents worked so hard to instill in them from the cradle.  For the sake of peace, parents consent to marriages where their children have chosen un-G-dly and irreligious spouses, or even worse yet, forbidden unions or a permissive and promiscuous lifestyle of "hooking up."  For the sake of peace, parents tolerate the pernicious and un-G-dly influences of worldly uncles, cousins, and friends.  The schools, universities, seminaries, and yeshivas repudiate the truth so as not to offend the sensibilities of the parents or of whomever else they fear might disapprove.  These and like compromises "for the sake of peace" are legion today.

And what about our love of the truth?  Is our love of the truth so great, deep and pure that it includes, in equal measure, the sincerest and deepest love of peace?  Are all of the struggles and battles we wage for the cause of truth untainted by personal interests?  Is the truth ever in danger of being brought into disrepute by those who claim to be struggling so valiantly on its behalf?  Is the cause of truth truly more important to us than our image, prestige, or social standing?  Can we put ourselves and our personal interests dead last when the cause of truth demands of us such a sacrifice?

Psalm 85:8-13  

I will hear what G-d the L-RD will speak, for He will speak peace to His people and to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.  Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.  Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed.  Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.  Yes, the L-RD will give what is good; and our land will yield its increase.  Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway.

According to the interpretation of our sages:

"First truth which has been grounded into dust, must spring forth from the earth again.  At the present time . . he who practices loving-kindness is esteemed and sought after, while he who champions the truth in word and in deed is persecuted and shunned.  For men desire to base their affairs on everything except the one incorruptible truth which has been set down before us by G-d, and therefore these affairs have no permanent value . . . only when love and truth meet together, only when men come to understand that the highest act of loving-kindness is to bring men to know and practice the truth, only then will the marriage of love and truth produce that condition on earth in which everyone and everything will occupy the place which has been assigned to it by the will of G-d."

[Sources: Bereshit Rabbah; Hirsch Tehillim, Collected Writings, R' S.R. Hirsch]     

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Seventy Weeks of Daniel (continued)

The Seventieth Week

 Daniel 9:27  

Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering.  And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate.

This "week" constitutes the seven of the 490 years, which were still left to be accounted for after the arrival of "Messiah, the Prince."  It is clear that an indefinite interval interrupts the continuance of Israel as a nation after the Messiah's rejection.  Verse 26 indicated that, before the true Messiah appears again, another prince, the anti-Messiah, shall lord it over them and stage a war of utmost devastation against them until he is utterly and decisively defeated.

The next words of verse 27 tells us that: "In the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease."  This last half of the seven years is the same as the years designated in verse 25: "And they shall be given into his hand until a time, and times, and the dividing of time" - 3 1/2 times, or years.   In 7:21 Daniel speaks of the war which he saw the horn waging against the saints and prevailing, while 7:25 describes in further detail the defiance and sacrilege of this king.

This description agrees with that  in 9:27 of the awful scourging of the Jewish people after the sacrifice and oblation are taken away: "For the overspreading of abomination, he shall make it desolate" - city, sanctuary, people - "even until the consummation, and that determined [by G-d's retributive decree] shall be poured upon the desolate" - i.e. Israel. 

In 8:11, the horn's act of taking away the daily sacrifice and casting down the sanctuary was witnessed by Daniel.  Now we learn that that is to be done by the anti-Messiah "in the midst of the week."  For the first 3 1/2 years the Jewish people we enjoy worshiping unmolested under some form of a treaty with the anti-Messiah; shortly thereafter the anti-Messiah will do away with every vestige of religious liberty and for the 3 1/2 years that remain, will mercilessly, ruthlessly, and defiantly devastate them.  (The conditions of the first half of the last 7 years are depicted in more detail in Revelation 11:1-13 and those of the last half in Revelation 13:5-8). 

According to Daniel 8:13-14 there are to be 2300 days from the time of the giving over of the sanctuary and the people to be trodden underfoot until the "sanctuary be cleansed," or "justified."  The vindication, then, for the desecration of the sanctuary will overlap the last 3 1/2 years of the anti-Messiah's reign by two years, ten months, and twenty days. 

I might suggest that this may be the length of time required to build and consecrate the Millennial Temple in accordance with Ezekiel 40-44.  This certainly  would be royal vindication of that indignity.  According to Thessalonians 2:4, the "Man of Sin" will take his seat in the pre-millennial temple in Jerusalem and show himself "that he is God."  What a contrast to the scene that we will one day behold and which is so poignantly described for us in Ezekiel 43:1-7:

Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east.  And behold, the glory of the G-d of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory.  It was like the appearance of the vision which I saw -- like the vision which I saw when I came to destroy the city. 

The visions were like the vision which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face.  And the glory of the L-RD came into the temple by way of the gate which faces toward the east.  The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the L-RD filled the temple.  Then I heard Him speaking to me from the temple, while a man stood beside me.  

And He said to me, "Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Seventy Weeks of Daniel (continued)

The Seven Weeks, and the Sixty and Two Weeks

In verse 25 a continuous stretch of 69 of the 70 sevens of years is marked off, amounting to 483 years.  A division of 7 plus 62 sevens of years is indicated.  It is significant that 49 years (360 days to the year - i.e. the lunar year) will span the time exactly from 445 BCE, when the decree was issued, to the close of Jewish prophecy in Malachi. 

The further 62 weeks of years terminate upon the first advent of the Messiah.  The terms "Messiah, the Prince" bears no other reasonable possibility.  These two titles belong to Him in His specific relationship to Israel.  The term "Mashiach" of course means Anointed; the term "Prince" the King.  As the anointed king, He is the objective of the 483 years (69 weeks of years).

It is not a difficult exercise to look back and identify the very day which fulfills the description of the terminus of the 483 years.  There was one day, and one day only when He offered Himself to Israel as the promised Messiah and Prince.  The day when He rode into Jerusalem as King according to the exact manner spoken of according to the prophets:

Matthew 21:1-11  

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Y'shua sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me.  "And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The L-rd has need of them,' and immediately he will send them."  

All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:  "Tell the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.' "  So the disciples went and did as Y'shua commanded them.  hey brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.  

And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the L-RD!' Hosanna in the highest!"  And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, "Who is this?"  So the multitudes said, "This is Y'shua, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee."

Now it was in the evening beginning the tenth day of Nisan that Y'shua was selected as the Lamb of G-d and by Miriam's act of anointing Him, consecrating Him unto burial.  On the morning of the tenth day He rode into Jerusalem as King; but He was rejected as such by the authorities, who determined His death as the Lamb of G-d to be slain for their sins.

Can the exact terminus of the 483 years be fixed?  Can we be certain?  I think with reasonable certainty, yes.  We have already established that Artaxerxes gave Nehemiah the critical political decree in 445 BCE., the twentieth year of Artaxerxes' reign.  From Nehemiah 2:1 we learn that the date was the month Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year, though the day of the month is not stated.  (We will assume the first day of the month, which is not a bad assumption).

Now, starting with this date, it is found that 483 years, of 360 days to the year, terminate precisely, to the day on the tenth of Nisan, in the year 32 CE - the very day when Y'shua challenges the nation of Israel to receive Him as "Messiah, the Prince."  Let us consider the verse in Daniel again:

Daniel 9:26  

"And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, And till the end of the war, desolations are determined. 

It should be clear that, while this verse takes up the thread of events directly after the close of the 483 years, yet the remaining week of the seventy is not addressed until verse 27.  Therefore, verse 26 marks a parenthesis in the history of the nation of Israel.  The four Gospels are unanimous and all indicate that Y'shua, appeared in Jerusalem, offered Himself as Israel's king, and cleansed the Temple of the money-changers.

Two critical events are assigned in verse 26 to this parenthetical period in Israel's history: 1) the crucifixion and death of Y'shua, which occurred immediately, and 2) the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.  Until 1948, Jerusalem had never since been a Jewish city.  (Even today, it remains in dispute).

The Prince that Shall Come

It is important to understand that verse 25 represents that the city and the sanctuary were to be destroyed by the people of a coming prince.  Of course, this is not "Messiah, the Prince."  And yet it speaks of a coming prince over the Jews.  The prince himself would not destroy the city and the temple, but the people of the prince yet to come was to do this.  The revelation, then, is that, of the people who should destroy Jerusalem and the Temple - a coming head shall be the prince of Israel in the place of the rejected Prince of the Jews i.e. the Messiah.

The upshot is that, Israel, was by the Messiah's authority suspended from further existence until it shall be reconstituted by the anti-Messiah.  It is at first somewhat challenging and difficult to trace the thought of the third and last section of verse 26, beginning with "And the end thereof shall be with a flood."  The opening words of verse 27, "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week," must refer back to "the prince that shall come."

But, using here the pronoun "he," instead of repeating the noun "the prince," implies that no principle subject of mention has intervened.  We may therefore connect the adverb "thereof" with "the prince", and understand that the sentence means that the end of this coming anti-Messiah will be with a flood, or as some render it, "a violent overthrow."

The next words, "And even unto the end shall be war," would then mean "unto the end" of this prince.  That is, the end of this prince is to culminate in a catastrophe that subdues him in the midst of a war upon Israel.  It is added, "desolations are determined."  This would seem to indicate the unparalleled effects of the war upon Israel.

We will consider the seventieth week and the renewal of the nation of Israel in the next post.

(To be continued . . .)


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Seventy Weeks of Daniel

Res Ipsa posed a question concerning the seventy weeks of Daniel a while back:

"I have been reading some in Daniel.  What is your and/or the Rabbinic perspective on the 70 weeks prophecy found in Daniel?"

Rabbinic Perspective:

All of the commentators, especially Ibn Ezra, interpret the expression to mean 490 years: seventy weeks of years.  The Sages hold that these 490 years commenced with the destruction of the First Temple in the year 3338 from Creation.  The beginning of the restoration of the Temple in the second year of Darius the Persian took place 70 years later in 3408.  The Second Temple stood 420 years (cf. Yoma 9a, Avodah Zarah 9a, Arachin 12b).  This adds up to  total of 490 years with the destruction of the Second Temple taking place in the year 3828.

It follows that this decree had been promulgated not later than the date of the First Temple's destruction and that it preceded Daniel's vision by 51 years.  This interpretation is followed by the consensus of commentators.  Abarbanel and Malbim understand the angel's reference to seventy weeks as an additional interpretation of the seventy years of Jeremiah.  These seventy years were meant as seventy weeks of years.  Malbim adds to this that Jeremiah's prophecy had a dual meaning.   The seventy years of exile had been in punishment for the destruction of the seventy sabbatical years.  In Leviticus 26, G-d warned Israel that if they would sin, desolation would be visited upon their land and, then the land will rest and it will atone for its sabbaths.

Thus the sin of desecrating the sabbatical years had been atoned for by the seventy-year exile in Babylon.  But in addition to the sin of desecrating the sabbatical years, the Jews had committed other sins throughout the period occupied by these sabbatical periods (490 years).  For this, seventy years
of exile would not suffice, and the full period of 490 was needed as atonement.  However, because the period of the Second Temple was not a period of complete redemption, it could conclude this period of atonement.  Had the Jews not sinned again during this period, the complete redemption would have occurred upon its completion.

According to Abarbanel, that Daniel's consternation was caused by his realization that the total redemption was still far off, and would not be coming at the end of seventy years, this verse starts the angel's reply to Daniel's request.  The redemption will come as promised, but it is not a true redemption.  It is part of the process of exile and atonement.  The real redemption is still far off in history.

Ibn Ezra takes a completely different view of this vision.  He finds it incongruous that the seventy years of exile should be bunched together with the 420 years of redemption.  The 490 years start from the time of Daniel's prayer.  This is the meaning of at the beginning of your supplications a word went forth (v. 23).  Needless to say, this interpretation contradicts the tradition of the Sages which gives 490 years as the total number of years between the destruction of the First Temple and that of the Second Temple.  Furthermore, this interpretation leads Ibn Ezra to attribute more years to the Second Temple (and to the rule of the Persians over eretz Israel) then are assumed by the sages according to their tradition.  [Daniel, Translation and Commentary by Rabbi Hersh Goldwurm, Talmudic, Midrsashic, and Rabbinic Sources]

In short, the approach is similar to the (mis)interpretation of Isaiah 53.  Daniel's prophecy is so precise not only in the timing of the arrival of the Messiah, but in its description of the One Who would bring an end to transgression, that the consensus of Jewish commentators are sure to offer interpretations that obscure any possibility that this prophecy was fulfilled in Y'shua of Natzeret.  Once again, they protest too much and I find the general consensus untenable.  

My Perspective - Outline of the Seventy Weeks

To Daniel the "going forth of the commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" (v. 23) was a matter for future identification, when the event itself should occur.  The decree itself was a commandment and the object of the edict was "to restore and rebuild Jerusalem."  This is strictly a material and political objective, with no religious feature indicated.  The last part of verse 25 clearly relaates to this rebuilding: "The street shall be built again, and the wall."  It indicates the restoration of Jerusalem to the condition of an independent national and political capital.  The final expression, "even in troublous times," implies that such a restoration of Jerusalem will meet with bitter opposition from enemies.

The Edict of Cyrus

In the year 536 BCE, Cyrus the Persian issued a decree of liberation to all Jews within his empire, that they might return to Jerusalem (cf. Ezra 1:1-3)This decree was confined to the building of "the house of the L-rd G-d of Israel."  Cyrus authorized nothing more, and the subsequent record demonstrates that the returning exiles attempted nothing more (cf. Ezra 6:15).

The First Decree of Artaxerxes

The next historical decree authorized Ezra to go up to Jerusalem on important business (cf. Ezra 7).  It was given to Ezra in "the seventh year of the king," Artaxerxes who reigned over the Persian Empire from 465 to 424 BCE, just 78 years from the time when the first immigration of exiles came to Jerusalem.  Is this the decree we are looking for?

This decree pertained altogether to the  perfecting of the religious system, that of worship and of jurisprudence, at Jerusalem.  And Ezra's words of thanksgiving to G-d for prospering his undertaking clearly confirm this: "Blessed be the L-rd G-d of our fathers, which has put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the House of the L-rd, which is in Jerusalem" (v. 27).

The Second Decree of Artaxerxes

This decree is given to Nehemiah by Artaxerxes in the twentieth year of his reign, which would be the year 445 BCE (cf. Nehemiah 1-2).

Nehemiah 2:4-8  

Then the king said to me, "What do you request?" So I prayed to the G-d of heaven.  And I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it."  Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), "How long will your journey be? And when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.  

Furthermore I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah, "and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy." And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my G-d upon me.

There is nothing in this decree that is of a religious nature, but is exclusively of an engineering and political character, which is absent in the previous decrees.   The entire story of the building of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah agrees with the character of this decree.  Nehemiah's journey to Jerusalem was of a political purpose, not a religious one.  Nehemiah himself was a very high official of the empire, the king's cup bearer, a position of closest intimacy with the king and of the king's highest trust.

Upon arriving at Jerusalem, after privately viewing the situation under the cover of darkness, Nehemiah assembled the priests, nobles, and rulers and laid before them the proposition, "Let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach" (v. 17).  It wasn't long before the political enemies inquired of the project and sought to hinder further building by armed force.  The entire enterprise was clearly of a political and not religious nature.  Nehemiah took twelve years away from the Persian court to establish and govern Jerusalem as a city of political autonomy.

It is also important to mention and understand the situation which existed at Jerusalem during this period:

Nehemiah 1:1-4  

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.  And they said to me, "The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire."  So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the G-d of heaven.

Nehemiah is inquiring for news, not for an old story: "I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped."  Escaped what, and when?  In Nehemiah 2:6 occur the words "the queen also sitting beside him."  Who was this queen?  Strong evidence suggests that the king of the book of Esther was this Artaxerxes, and the queen was, of course, Esther. A severe civil conflict occurred throughout the Persian realm of 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. 

It is not unreasonable to comprehend, evidenced by the deplorable condition of Jerusalem, described in Nehemiah 1:1-3, the result of the struggle in that city - the one place of all where such enemies as Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem would make their most violent assault.  That any Jews were left at all, was due to a successful, although, desperate resistance.  No wonder then, that Nehemiah was stirred to his noble effort to bring Jerusalem into an adequate state of defense and acknowledged political autonomy.

After nearly 150 years, the Jews were once again granted by imperial decree the right of self-government and self-defense.  Although not permitted to become an independent kingdom per se,  they were officially recognized as a Jewish State, and it is just this Jewish State, the character of which is outlined by the vision of the Seventy Weeks.  In short, we have identified our starting point for the Seventy Weeks of Years.  We will examine the "seven weeks, and the sixty-two weeks" in the next post.   

(To be continued  . . .)