Between Two Altars

If the present pandemic would have erupted in the days of Exodus, they would have created some kind of a quarantined section outside the camp. The priests would have examined the state of the patients every few days, and when the symptoms would disappear – they would be sent to the Tabernacle with a suitable sacrifice.

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Would the Courtyard be under quarantine restrictions? Hmmmm….

There were two altars in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple). One made of bronze, the other of gold. The Brazen altar was the biggest instrument found in the Tabernacle. And it was located in the courtyard. Which means everyone could see who was coming in and going out, and based on the type of sacrifice they were bringing, assume just what kind of sin they were repenting of. Quite embarrassing.

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If it were up to me, I would have switched between the two. Why does everyone need to know what exactly I did wrong, and see me repent publicly? Not to mention the strong smells and scary sights found by that altar: particles of flesh, blood, fire, death and smoke. I’d much rather be seen by the Golden altar, while I burn incense of prayer, praise and worship before my Beloved; where the aroma is sweet and the sights aesthetic.

Does Everyone Need To Know?

But that is the nature of sin, and that is how the Corona Virus works too. It incubates in an unseen realm, its symptoms are not always immediate, yet it spreads rapidly. One little sneeze, and the entire surrounding is affected. One little word I’ve misspoken; one nugget of gossip that may be entertaining those who share it, but is infecting others with shrapnel; and that addiction I think affects only me, but in the spiritual and unseen world causes damage to a spiritual Body.

The treatment for both also runs in parallels: quarantine, or sent outside the camp. And of course, everyone around is notified. Humiliating? Yes, to a degree! But that is the only way to bring an end to it.

When I truly repent of something, when I get to that place inside me that is so ready to change direction and set my eyes – not on others who are ministering in the Court, not on my usual diversions and indulgences outside the Gate – only towards the Holy of Hollies, then I don’t even care if others hear or watch or know. I so much want to see a lasting change, and to stop affecting others by my wrongdoings, that I don’t really mind if others see it. On the contrary, I want people to know that something had changed.

Shaking

When this present situation will be all over, will everything go back to the way it was before? I am asking God to help me make the most out of this unique situation. I do not want to regret not using this down time to go deeper, or untie some ancient bonds, or develop a new habit that I know is good for me but “who ever has time for that…”

Social media is full of theories concerning what the Corona is meant to achieve in the kingdoms of darkness and conspiracy. Some of these theories are scary and intriguing and certainly possible. But they take over my time and mind. I would prefer to know what is God planning to achieve through that. The enemy may try to shake us in order to establish his order, but God has a way to use these shakings. He shakes us every once in a while, not so that we lose our faith, but in order to build and edify it (Mark. 14:31).

Nearly 37 years ago I chose to enter His Courts through the one and only Gate that leads to the Holy of Hollies. Since then I need to make a repeated choice: to stand by the Brazen altar. There I leave various feelings, thoughts, memories and reactions that have no place in God’s kingdom. I love seeing how He conquers every such territory with His weighty glory.

Incense Prayer – The “Pitum Haketoret”

Since the destruction of the Temple on 70 AD, the daily commandment to burn incense on the Golden altar is no longer applicable. The Pharisees found creative solutions to bypass the blood and sacrifice requirements. Various prayers were put together to replace the different ceremonies taken place in the Temple, in an attempt to provide what both altars were meant to provide: atonement, forgiveness, repentance and a sweet aroma.

God’s commandment to burn incense daily on the Golden altar, as the sun was setting (Ex. 30:1-10), was substituted by a special prayer, called “Pitum Haketoret” (The Compounding of the Incense). It’s a combination of various psalms that refer to the different ingredients of the incense. This prayer is said until this very day in synagogues.

Kabbalah literature (the ancient Jewish mystical interpretation of the Bible) teaches that declaring the “Pitum Haketoret” can put an end to a plague. The claim is based on Numbers 17:47-48. But this is one more case where Rabbinical Judaism is bypassing the importance of blood. Most of its rules and regulations are based on parts of stories in the Bible, at times even parts of verses, taking things out of context.

Look at v. 46: “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started”.

Moses commands Aaron to take the censer and put fire in it. Where did he get the fire? There was only one source of fire in the Tabernacle: the Brazen altar. Which means that the fire was saturated with the blood of sacrifices. It was not the incense that provided atonement and put an end to the plague, it was the combination of coals sprinkled with innocent blood and sweet aroma.

Just a few short words are used to describe Aaron’s running to and fro between the two altars, in a scene that conveys much courage and stress. With every second that passed more people were killed by the plague. Aaron was interceding for the people with his own body, knowing he himself can contract it, yet he knew that the censer in his hands was purified.

The Challenge

We all want to be seen when we are at our best. We prefer that people hear our carefully crafted prayers, the ones that carry a sweet aroma of perfumed incense, and our worship and praise. We are happy to share the altar of gold found within us, but let us not forget you don’t start there. You have to go through the bigger altar for your prayers to produce that desired sweetness. The Golden altar is smaller, located in an intimate section of the Tabernacle, far from sight.

When a plague erupts, whether it looks like a miniature ball with a crown of strange arms, or be it some hidden sin that is spreading unseen through us, God is calling us to come to the outer altar, the one saturated in blood and exposed to the public. There He commands us to burn the sin and let go of any foreign fire we hold on to. To confess, forgive, change direction.

Humiliating? Yes. But that’s the only way leading to His Glory, the only way Aaron had put an end to a plague.

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Running between two altars, and among a dying nation
(Illustrated by Michal Ben Hamo)

Abba, how privileged we are to have a High Priest who runs on our behalf between both ends – stopping plagues with His own blood, and receiving our sweet praises when they ascend to His throne. There is an appropriate time for each of these, please teach us to not confuse the two or neglect one of them.

 

 

 

 

An Ear

This is somewhat of an awkward post. But since it sits deep in my heart, I think I should give it its right to exist outside of me.

Something special happened to me last weekend, during a women’s retreat in Israel. At some point, while we were worshiping, I felt a new place opening within me. A deep and bottomless well, covered with an ear. A beautiful, gigantic, baby-like human ear, lying horizontally, and covering the opening of the well. It is an attentive ear, absorbent and able to contain and hold everything.

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My natural ears are limited in their ability to absorb impressions and stimulation. They sift the noise and voices around me, and transfer information to my brain, which is so quick to categorize and store whatever it can take. Everything else is thrown away. These limitations do not apply to my inner ear. This one can gather an abundance, for it sits on an enormous well.

One of the first things God said to me when He invited me to join His kingdom was based on Proverbs 3:5-7: “Trust in the LORD with ALL your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and He will make your path straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.”

At first, He spoke it gently: “Please, Orna, do not lean on your own understanding. Let me guide you in all your ways.” But with the years, the statement became more forceful, for I tend to lean on my own understanding and abilities before I look unto Him. I sift, categorize, try to figure things out before I say “yes” or recognize that it was the Beloved of my soul who was speaking.

Now I am in the process of learning to listen through this new huge baby ear. The realization that its there was sudden, but it is in fact a culmination of a long process, in which I have learned to invite God to sit on the throne of my heart, and understanding, and ways, and wisdom and my limited level of fear of the LORD.

When the retreat was over, I recalled a lovely portion from Isaiah: The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away (Is. 50:4-5).

Over the years God has indeed led me in learning how to study and teach His Word. He equipped me to counsel the weary and the broken hearted, to open my ears in the morning and heed His teaching. And now, to paraphrase V. 5, He has opened within me another kind of ear.

It’s challenging, I have to admit. Especially when I read the rest of this portion in Isaiah. It is challenging to not rebel or move backwards, veer off to the usual ways in which I attempt to figure out how He works, what He is saying to me, where is He right now…

Purim’s Ears

Purim is here, and one of the symbols of this feast are a treat dubbed Ozney Haman (Haman’s Ears). It’s a somewhat repulsive name for a cookie that is supposed to be so delectable. The name is a distortion of its Yiddish name. MOHN is poppy seeds, and TASCHE means pocket. Hamantaschen are pockets of dough filled with poppy seeds. Yep, they have nothing to do with the same Haman mentioned in the book of Esther. But the shape of the cookie, the Yiddish name that resembles Haman, and the traditional filling of poppy seeds… well, I don’t want to spoil your appetite.

Some historians believe that the custom of eating Hamantaschen is a result of the ancient practice to cut off criminals’ ears. After all, who knows? Maybe Haman’s ears were cut off before he was hung? At least that’s what the Talmud claims (Megillah, page 16).

Others say the custom has its roots with another Haman, a different enemy of the Jews who lived in Frankfurt, Germany. This one was a baker who dubbed himself as the “new Haman”. In 1615 he headed a pogrom against the Jews of Frankfurt, which led to their exile from the city. They wandered in great poverty for six month, until he was arrested and they were allowed to return. The baker was executed in the town square, and apparently, before he was beheaded – his ears were cut off.

Other surprising explanations have to do with the triangulated officers’ cap, much like the one worn by Napoleon, and the possibility that Haman the Agagite wore a similar hat.

Another explanation states that the custom of eating these cookies is borrowed from the Christians, who used to eat stuffed triangle shaped cookies on the Friday before Easter. These cookies were called Judas’ Ear, and were shaped like a mushroom. The story behind was that on the tree upon which Judas Iscariot hung himself, grew a mushroom shaped like an ear. It is possible that the Jews in exile decided to turn the custom around, and due to its proximity to Easter, they chose to ascribe the triangulated cookies to one of the greatest enemies of our people, and make it abundantly clear who’s the real victim here.

One way or another, it is a delectable treat with appetite-destroying stories associated with it. We have turned the custom of eating these cookies into tradition, though they have nothing to do with the story of the book of Esther. Like that should stop us from kneading dough and fixing fillings, or making a quick trip to the nearest counter and filling our mouths with sweet dough? I counted: there are 166 steps from my house to the nearest bakery!

Shema, O Israel, Open Your Inner Ear

This blog is not about folklore, but about the restoration of Israel from her blindness, deafness, the fat around her heart. In line with this post, I’d like to recruit you to pray for our ability to listen and hear as a nation. God spoke to us with voices and lightning on Mount Sinai, and even though Jews believe that since the prophet Malachi, His voice has not been heard from heaven, He still speaks in many ways to this very day.

The abundance of blessings He bestows upon us does not necessarily open our ears and direct us to Him. Sadly, in many ways it only strengthens our leaning on our own understanding, on our military force, on our own abilities and wisdom.

As the Corona virus spreads worldwide, it becomes harder to travel and gather together. One of the immediate effects is on congregational worship. Should we avoid large meetings, or continue with our routine? We should not act out of fear, but where does the fine line between fear and caution lie? There are many aspects to the Corona frenzy. But it can also have some good sides, if you choose to use this challenge as a training season. Here is an opportunity to collectively practice our “SHEMA” skills and sharpen our ability to hear the Lord. We have an opportunity to adhere to His guidance in a way that will breathe life and courage into our surrounding, in the midst of paralyzing fear at times. I have a feeling that this is a skill we will all need at some point.

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Please, Oh Lord, have mercy on our nation. Awaken our ears individually and nationally and give us a heart that is able to receive instruction, listen and learn. Soften our hearts so that we will recognize your voice. Give us an ear that yearns for your voice through the night, and hungers for it in the morning, so that we may fulfill our calling to bring your Word forth, shine your light and advise the weary.

You have paid the full price for this ear to open, but we were deaf enough to not recognize you. Your Faces have been hidden from us for centuries, to the point that even when you walked in our midst, we did not realize who you are.

Father, you are so hidden in the book of Esther, not even mentioned once. Yet it is so clear that it is your mighty hand pulling the strings behind the scene. Yeshua, reveal your Jewish Face to us. Our ears have been dull, and our eyes closed for centuries (Is. 6:9-10). But we ask you to turn things around and help us sober up and utilize our listening ability to the fullest.