We Are Bereans

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
Acts 17:10-11

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Bein Hametzarim

This week we enter the three weeks of Bein Hametzarim [between the troubles].

Bein Hametzarim is the season of sin and redemption. Bein Hametzarim is the period of three weeks that begins on the 17 Tamuz and ends on 9 Av (Tisha b'Av). As we have seen that the Mo'adim of HaShem [appointments, or feasts of HaShem] are prophetic time markers, so we see a cycle of sin (and mercy) in the life of nation of Israel in this time called between the troubles.

When one examines the history of the Nation of Israel in regard to this three week period between the troubles it is a remarkable recounting of sin and its consequences. It is also a period which points to a yet-future time of joy. You see, beloved, it is this period of time that Zechariah alludes to in Zechariah 8:18-19 where the mention of the fast of the fourth month [17 Tamuz] and the fast of the fifth month is [9 Av] are bookends for this period.

Then the word of HaShem of hosts came to me, saying, "Thus says HaShem 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.'"
Zechariah 8:18-19

Remember this promise as we remember the sin and the calamity of these three weeks between the troubles. These two dates of 17 Tamuz and 9 Av are bookends in time. It is these three weeks that are alluded to in Jeremiah 1:11 when he is shown a almond tree as symbolic of the calamity coming upon Judah during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. It takes twenty-one days for an almond to go from blossom to fully ripened. The Mishnah recounts five events took place on 17 Tamuz:

  1. The sin of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the First Tablets.
  2. The tamid [daily sacrifices] in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusalem, because of the lack of sacrificial animals.
  3. Jerusalem's walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
  4. Prior to the Great Revolt, the Roman general Apostamos burned a Torah scroll.
  5. An idolatrous image was placed in the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple.

The Mishnah also records that five events took place on the day at the end of this period (9 Av):

  1. The bad report of the spies sent to spy out the Land - and the subsequent punishment of wandering for forty years was decreed.
  2. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. 100,000 Jews were killed and most of the rest exiled to Babylon.
  3. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Over two million Jews were killed and one million exiled.
  4. The Temple Mount is plowed under and salted in 71 CE.
  5. The second revolt was ended when the Roman Emperor Hadrian captured city of Betar, the last stand for the Jews with over 100,000 killed in 135 CE.

m.Ta'anit 26b

A look at history will also show a remarkable number of calamities befell Israel on these two dates.

17 Tamuz:

  • In 1239, Pope Gregory IX orders destruction of all manuscripts of the Talmud.
  • In 1391, over 4,000 Jews killed in Spain.
  • In 1559, the Jewish quarter of Prague is burned.
  • In 1944, the entire population of the Jewish ghetto in Kovno were sent to death camps. 

9 Av (Tisha b'Av):

  • In 1095, the First Crusade begins by decree of Pope Urban II. In the first month, over 10,000 Jews were killed.
  • In 1290, expulsion was ordered for all Jews in England.
  • In 1492, the Spanish Inquisition begins - with the decree by King Ferdinand that after midnight not a single Jew was to remain on Spanish soil. Christopher Columbus, boarded his ships that night to set sail in the morning. He, and some of his sailors were Jewish.
  • In 1914, the First World War begins on this date.

You can see the cycle that began on that calamitous day with the Golden Calf (17 Tamuz), and then a year later is marked with the Israelites accepting the bad report of the spies (9 Av). These are indeed sad days in the history of all mankind. But what is often missed is the hope buried within the very words of Scripture. These are to be days of joy in the future as Jeremiah predicted - but even within the sadness of these days now, there is hope. You see, the first thing ever mentioned about this time between the troubles is found Genesis 8:9. Beloved, in the midst of calamity, there is always hope. If you do the math, you will discover that 17 Tamuz was the day that Noah send out the dove from the Ark following the punishment of the Flood.

Also, if you remember, following the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d revealed His attributes to Moses on Sinai. We see His awesome mercy as He tells Moses,

HaShem, HaShem G-d, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
Exodus 34:6b-7

We see a similar Numbers, after Israel has wickedly accepted the bad report from the ten spies. In this case, Moses pleads for Israel, remembering the merciful character of G-d.

"And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my HaShem be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, 'HaShem is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.' Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now." And HaShem said, "I have pardoned according to thy word: But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of HaShem."
Numbers 14:17-21

Ironically, this same mercy is seen later in our portion when G-d gives further instructions about "when you have come into the land" (15:2). After decreeing the forty years of wandering, G-d immediately tells them that they (their children) will still enter the land.

As you pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, and watch with anxiety the events unfolding in the Middle East... remember that this is Bein Hametzarim [between the troubles]. This is a season of pain, and redemption - of consequence, and mercy.


Rumination #39: If G-d has cutoff "unbelieving" Israel, what hope has anyone?

Christianity has a popular myth that says that G-d gave Israel one last chance when Jesus presented himself as the Messiah, and through the statement, "His blood be on us and on our children," they forever removed themselves from the choice seat of G-d's favor. Of course, this heresy became the starting point of Christianity's long and ugly history of anti-Semitism.

To be sure, many Evangelical Christians reject this foundational theology of the early church fathers. However, that theology continues to openly burst to the surface even among the most Zionist of Christians when discussions of the continuity of the Law or Jewish identity are promoted.

The question is, what is "unbelieving Israel" anyway? In the three weeks of Bein Hametzraim [between the narrows, or troubles] we are reminded of the pervasiveness of unbelief in all the descendants of Adam. In these three weeks we are mourning our sins - the bookend sins of the Golden Calf and the Ten Spies speak forebodingly of the sin of unbelief. It is a sin that we mourn of during these three weeks. It is a sin we mourn for all of our lives.

The truly humble remember that without HaShem's favor, we would all remain eternally in unbelief. What our ancestors did in the Wilderness does not set them apart from us today. Their sin, was and is, our sin.

Spiritual arrogance is a frightful thing. It is the source of curses. It led early church fathers to deride the Jew as a "Christ-killer" and "unbeliever." It continues to lead otherwise gracious people to annul the Torah for too many reasons; instead of revering it for the very reason which speaks to the issue of humility in combating spiritual arrogance: we are simply HaShem's people, redeemed by His outstretched arm… and we simply obey every word that comes from His mouth, because we love Him.

To those that speak of "unbelieving Israel" and seem to think that their spiritual arrogance is endorsed by Paul in their selective reading of Romans 11, we remind them of the rest of the story…

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins." Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of G-d are irrevocable.
Romans 11:25-29

There are not two peoples of G-d. There is only one: Israel. There is no such thing as "the church" that can conveniently distance herself from "unbelieving" Israel. The only people of G-d are joined to the Olive Tree of Israel. If the root is dead, then so are the branches. If there are branches at all, it means that there is still a root. There is One King, One People, One Family, and there is One Standard of Righteousness for us all.


We Are Messianic Disciples

And Yeshua came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

Matthew 28:18-20 tells us what a faithful disciple of Messiah Yeshua is: someone who makes more disciples of Messiah. Someone who teaches others to do all that Messiah commanded, immersing them into Messiah Yeshua, as His disciples. We recognize that as faithful Jews, Yeshua and His first disciples were blameless in obedience to all of Scripture – even that which later variations of Christianity rejected as the “Old Testament.”

With regard to historical Christianity’s practical abandonment of three fourths of the Bible, we “Messianics” might immediately say that we are not therefore disciples of Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, or any other Christian sect.

However, there is another concern with whom some “Messianics” align themselves. We are not disciples of Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Chasidic, Talmudic, or Mishnaic Judaism either.

We are disciples of Yeshua.

We recognize from Matthew 16:19 that Messiah’s first disciples are our Sages. We are not disciples of Hillel, Shammai, Akiva, Meir, Judah the Prince, RASHI, RAMBAN, RAMBAM, the Ba’al Shem Tov, Nachman of Breslov, or Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

We are not Baptists, Catholics, or Lutherans. Nor are we Breslovers, or Lubavitchers.

We are disciples of Yeshua.

While we may admire and even study men and women from various backgrounds, and attempt to emulate them, we are not their disciples.

Read more....


The First Slip

Over the years some have complained that I am too “rabbinic” in my teaching. Perhaps some of that is because I have often cited Jewish teachers – many of them, from Hillel to Heschel.

The sages of Israel add deep understanding and context to the Bible - especially the Apostolic Scriptures [New Testament]. The writings of the sages provide an insider’s look into the language and culture of the first disciples of Yeshua. While the Oral Torah contained in the Mishnah, Talmud, Tosefta, and Midrashim do not control me, they most certainly inform me. Even later works such as the Zohar, and commentaries from Rashi and Ramban add better understanding to not only the words of the Apostles, but even the Master, Yeshua Himself.

However, to doubt or to ignore the Apostolic Scriptures is the first slip on a slippery slope.

It is actually quite predictable. Read more....

When Fences Become Walls

And HASHEM said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to HASHEM to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to HASHEM consecrate themselves, lest HASHEM break out against them.” And Moses said to HASHEM, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.”
Exodus 19:21-23

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for G-d has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the L-rd is able to make him stand.
Romans 14:1-4

“Children want boundaries.” You have heard that, or perhaps you have said it yourself. It is true of course. Human beings seem to almost crave limits to our behavior. No doubt this part of our G-d-given conscience – our sense of “right and wrong.”

Let’s be honest though, our conscience is not the same thing as right and wrong – it simply is our sense of what we think is right and wrong. Sadly, some people seem to have no conscience at all, and it is equally sad when some think everything is wrong.

When Conscience Becomes a Choice

In order for our conscience to be a positive tool in our relationship with HaShem, we need to be careful what choices we make in establishing new (or new to us) “fences” (boundaries put up to protect particular commandments) and how we maintain a distinction between those fences and the written commandments of HaShem. Once a standard is a part of our conscience, it is difficult to undo that without damaging our conscience.

It is common in newly observant communities for individuals to grab hold of standards that are new to them. This can be very good. The danger is when individuals make these fences matters of conscience. This is a matter of choice if the fences are not clearly distinguished from the actual commandments of HaShem. “So, if the standard is upheld, and the individual conscience is not offended, what is the downside?” you might ask. The dangers are:

  • An ever-increasing more-observant-than-thou attitude
  • Adding to your personal “I will be offended if…” list
  • Your children as they grow older may have difficulty distinguishing between HaShem’s commandments and your newly established fence
  • By choice, becoming the “weaker brother”

Safely Embracing Fences

In the case of neighbors with literal fences along a property line, it is easy to understand that one neighbor cannot move the fence without affecting the other. This is also the case of “fences around the Torah.” To best understand how to safely embrace fences, we must remind ourselves what fences are and how they might affect others. A fence is a standard that is beyond of the literal words of HaShem. Notice, that man did not initiate the fence around Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 to keep the people safe. HaShem commanded that it be built. So the Exodus 19 model does not apply to “fences around the Torah” – that is, unless you are also willing to disregard the very sober words in Deuteronomy 4:2:

You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of HaShem your G-d that I command you.
Deuteronomy 4:2

Yeshua alludes to this in His admonition:

And why do you break the commandment of G-d for the sake of your tradition?
Matthew 15:3b

I am very encouraging to people who want to embrace Jewish tradition, making the lifestyle of Judaism, their own. I offer this personal caution however: as you adopt traditional halacha and make it your own, do not make the traditional halacha a matter of conscience. That is truly your choice. Distinguish between the literal commandment, and the traditional “how to” in walking out that commandment. Here are my personal recommendations:

  • Context. Do your best to mirror the community in which you find yourself. If your community does not adhere to your newfound fence, be careful to not promote it as a community standard. Do not broadcast your fence. It is personal, or for your family only. On the other hand, be careful to reflect the community in which you are currently a part. Do not offend your brothers and sisters by what you permit or by what you forbid.
  • If you have children, as they get older, make it clear that your “family rules” are not “more right” than any other families' rules.
  • Be gracious. Recognize that everyone errs in some way. Make sure you do not begin to look down on those who do not share the same fences that you do.
  • Remember Romans 14:4:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the L-rd is able to make him (and you) stand.
Romans 14:1-4

Don’t let your fences become walls. Walls that keep out the blessing of a healthy relationship with HaShem, or walls that make your circle of brothers and sisters ever more small.

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The Mideast Update News Site

In 2007, my eldest son moved to Jerusalem working as a journalist and writer. Since then he has done interviews with government officials, academics, and "the man on the street." Joshua maintains a news web site that draws from his contacts in the middle east: the Israeli government, middle eastern universities, and public relations outlets. His reporting, analysis, and insights are unique in reporting on Israel and the middle east.

Check it out: www.themideastupdate.com

Daily Aliyah App for iPhone/iPad

My friend Brock Wright has written an iPhone/iPad app called "Daily Aliyah" that displays the Torah and haftarah portion for the current week, as well as the daily aliyah for the day of the week. Get it for free in the iTunes App Store.

Wise Messages App for iPhone

  • This little app will use your iPhone's notifications to remind you of Scripture, wise sayings, and quotes at set intervals or random times
  • Chose from different sources such as Proverbs, Pirkei Avot, Letter for the Ages, etc.
  • Import your own list of encouraging reminders to display
  • Customizable





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