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No king, No Ephod

A heart wrenching sight caught my attention a few days ago. A young man entered the alley beneath  my window, a helmet on his head, a mask covering his beard, and stopped by the side door to the little synagogue in the alley. He bowed his head, caressed the door with pale fingers, trying to remove some dust, kissed the mezuzah, and than caressed the door yet again.

“My God,” I thought, “such longing. I’m not quite sure what it is he is missing so: praying as a quorum, communal life, perhaps You? Oh, how I hope it is You they are longing for.”

A Sector In Crisis

Corona regulations have caused a unique crisis for the religious Jew. Some of the pillars upon which orthodox Judaism is built have failed in this difficult time. Ever since the destruction of the Second Temple on 70 AD, the Rabbis have devised various rulings to provide an alternative to the blood sacrifices, which atoned for sin and guilt. For hundreds of years they taught that prayer and head covering atone,  keep safe and save those who practice them. So much so that the orthodox Jew believes that if he engulfed himself in the “tents of Torah” (meaning: the writing of the Sages, not the Old Testament), he will actually protect Israel much better than the soldiers serving in the IDF.

They also taught that the writings of the Sages are to be studied together, in a group. Therefore, in the early days of Corona outbreak, they still continued to gather in the yeshivas and crowded synagogues, even after large gatherings were prohibited. But soon it became clear that the rate of mortality among the orthodox Jews far exceeded that among the secular population. The conclusion: the communal studying in groups does not necessarily provide protection. For all intents and purposes it was actually the cause of their death.

On March, images of orthodox coffins in Brooklyn began to stream through the media, and these hastened the wake up call. The Rabbis realized they were endangering their flocks, and reluctantly agreed that staying at home is the way to go. That praying in quorum is not necessary. That one can pray and study on his own.

That, however, led to another question, just as interesting: can the orthodox Jew, so dependent on the rulings of his Rabbi even on minor details, trust those rulings? For years he was taught one thing, and now, all of a sudden, the rulings are almost the opposite.

King and Ephod

The words of Hosea (3:4) well describe the state of the leadership in Israel up to a couple of weeks ago. Israel was “without king or prince (political leadership), without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods (spiritual leadership)”. The Israeli government was paralyzed due to repeated elections. And although an agreement was signed recently between the two largest parties, it is hard to believe how such a government can survive long.

The ephod and household gods symbolize spiritual guidance, some form of priesthood. Hosea says that even these are nowhere to be found. His statement is somehow echoed in our days, as the things that are considered to be pillars of worship for the religious Jew, such as studying Talmud and the prayers in the synagogues, have lost their primary place of activity due to the crisis.

Women and Public Prayer

As the strict instructions begun to soften somewhat about three weeks ago, meetings for prayer were finally allowed. At first a maximum of 9 (later on 19) people could gather in one place, yet even that had to be done outside the synagogue, in the open, while staying 2 meters apart.

אם היו דואגים לדתיים לא היו מאשרים מניינים פתוחים" - מקור ראשון

I heard on the radio one woman tell just how much she will miss their prayers when the crisis is all over. “I will never attend a synagogue”, she made it clear, “but I will definitely miss hearing your prayers outside my window. You have awakened a longing in my heart”.

Women cannot pray with men in orthodox synagogues, but the Rabbis cannot forbid women living above these open spaces, or passing on the street, from hearing the prayers and even taking part in them. Thus, many around the country are exposed to daily prayers that used to take place only inside thick walls, women included. And if they so desire, they can even participate. So long as they keep 2 meters apart. This is some sort of a revolution.

התו הסגול" לבתי הכנסת: "גבאי קורונה" ומתפללים קבועים בלבד

An Open Window

A couple of days later I saw a young man, covered in a prayer shawl, approaching the synagogue next door. The gate was locked. Corona, you know. Two religious men happened by, one of which is that synagogue’s treasurer.

“What time is your meeting?” the lad asked. “I’m looking for a place to pray. I want to become more religious.”

To my astonishment the treasurer turned his back and started walking away, mumbling something along the lines of “doesn’t he know everything is closed right now?”

“Why didn’t he show any interest, draw him closer to religion?” I wondered. And than realized: there is a spiritual vacuum worldwide, as well as among the Jewish people, a vacuum that enables the Body of Yeshua to enter in, not with religion, but with Truth.

Please, Lord, strengthen the Israeli Body, the holy remnant (Is. 6:13). Fill us with the courage and inspiration we need. Show us how to draw with strings of love those who are starting to seek the face of their Messiah, whose fat surrounding their hearts starts to dissolve and ears are opening (v. 10).

A Ruth-Naomi Kind of Prayer

In OT days, the judges and spiritual leaders usually sat at the city gates. I am going to use the language of Ruth and Naomi (whose story is usually read in synagogues during the coming Feast of Shavuot), as I pray for these leaders:

God of Israel, come up to the gate (Ruth 4:1), and change our national mindset, that leads us to believe that there is another path to redemption. We were taught that You are unapproachable, and that we need mediators to plead our cause before You. But now, Abba, for long weeks now, hundreds of thousands of devout Jews were unable to reach the elders at the gates as they were used to.

I am asking for more favor. Yeshua, You are the Redeemer in The Story! Please stand at The Gate and reveal Your true Face to us. Let us see who You truly are. Come and fight on behalf of the bitter widow who has been returning from exile to Beit Lehem, to The House of Bread. She doesn’t really know You, and therefor unable, or perhaps just scared, to enter Your dwelling place on her own.

Thank You, Lord, for the Ruths You have trained for centuries, and who have so faithfully shown us who you really are. That it is safe to glean in your fields, and even lay at your feet at the middle of the night. That you are not going to abuse us or ruin our reputation. That you will provide our needs and send us back with a double portion and dignity. Open our eyes to see how you have woven a precious story, that is about to reach its peak, as both the gentile and the Jew walk into your House and usher in the second coming  of the Son. Pour over Your Body an unprecedented measure of your spirit. We are longing for that, Lord.

A Prayer for Me

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a shofar. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins (Is. 58:1).

For a while now God has been calling me to shout aloud, not hold back, raise my voice like a shofar and declare a message to my people (He also used Hos. 8:1 to get my attention on this matter). A major part of my teaching so far focused on the ears of various “Ruths” – gentiles desiring to see and take their part in the restoration of modern “Naomi”.

I believe He is now calling me to focus more on Hebrew speakers. So I need your prayers. What message exactly does He want me to declare in their ears? How? Who to? What is my part in the current state of affairs of modern “Naomi”, as she turns from a bitter widow into a mother, a teacher and nurturer, destined to lead others unto Him?

Thank you for being there, some of you literally as my very own “Ruths”.

Adom, Dam, Adama, Adam

Red, blood, soil, Adam – the play on word is clear in Hebrew. Since Red is “Adom” and Soil (Dust, Earth) is “Adama”, some scholars believe that in the beginning the color of the earth was red, due to its richness and fertility. Hence “Dam” (blood), and of course “Adam”, who was created from this red earth.

In Leviticus 17:11, Moses makes an interesting declaration:

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement. (CSB)

Apparently, our very soul is in the blood. What a mystery! After all, blood is tangible, while the soul is abstract. The word “soul” is not always accurately translated in English. For some reason it sometimes appears as “life”, or “a person”. I went through my entire Bible and marked all the verbs attached to this noun: the soul is the part in our being that sins, hurts, loves, being poured out in prayer, grieves, vexes, wills, and much more.

But this mystery, i.e. that the soul is in the blood, actually does make sense. After all, it was perfect blood that had to be shed in order to cover our brokenness, our sins and our hurts. It was not enough to just sacrifice a heart, or kidneys or some other organ that is usually considered to be the seat of the human soul. No, blood had to be poured out.

The Voice of Blood

Let’s go back to the very first sin. Why did God curse the earth, the soil, and not just the sinners? Adam was created from the earth, and was destined to cultivate and maintain it. After the fall, that earth brought up useless plants, and Adam had to invest much work to bring forth enough harvest to sustain his household.

The second sin in human history resulted in an unusual declaration God makes: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10. NIV), He said to Cain.

The first sin brought a curse upon the earth and the destruction of harmony between it and man. The second sin, that of Cain and Abel, made things even worse, as it contaminated the soil with blood, and uprooted Cain from the soil he was born to cultivate. No more continual dwelling. Cain switched into a lifestyle of a nomad. What a punishment for a farmer, that was now compelled to change his vocation. The Bible doesn’t tell us, but perhaps he became a shepherd, and started keeping the flock of the brother he did not keep? Just a thought. Much like most of this blog; different thoughts about blood, humanity, and land.

Later on Cain builds a city (Gen. 4:17). This was another step furthering the disconnect between man and land, as building a city means surrounding oneself with a wall and structures, instead of nature. The disconnect just deepened  from one generation to the other, to the point that nine generations after Adam, in the days of Lamech, the earth was considered cursed (Gen. 5:28). Then came the Flood, which not only destroyed all of mankind save Noah and his family, but also demolished everything man has built and cultivated upon it.

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A Soil Defiled by Bloodshed

Why is it that God cannot bear blood being shed over soil without covering it? I wonder if its the same with any type of soil around the globe, or only when it comes to the soil of the Promised Land…

He commanded Israel to let its soil rest every seven years. No other nation was commanded to do so with their land. And when we were not careful to observe this commandment, He had uprooted us, so that it can rest (Lev. 26:34-35).

So, why does a soil need to rest anyhow?

Blood Vengeance  

Than there is the whole set of regulations concerning blood vengeance. How does the shedding of more blood, of another soul, cover for blood that was already shed?

Blood vengeance was not designed to remove the violent person from society in order to prevent the next murder, as is done by the modern prison systems. It was designed to take care of the murder that had already taken place, which goes against everything we esteem in our western minds.

The OT provides a solution in case the identity of the murderer was unknown. The closest town to the place where the body was found was to be determined. Then, the elders of that town were to take a heifer that has never been worked, bring it down to a flowing stream and to a field that has never been plowed or planted, and there break its neck (Deut. 21:1-9). Oy vey!

Why was it so important that the heifer’s life be taken in a field that has never been plowed or planted? According to the Mishna, once the heifer’s blood was shed, that soil was forever forbidden to be cultivated and used for agricultural needs.

A Destiny Connected To a Soil 

So why does the earth itself need to be redeemed?

Rejoice, you nations, with His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants; He will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for His land and people (Deut. 32:43).

What is the connection between the soil of Israel and the destiny of the Israeli people? Could we have realized this destiny and fulfilled it apart from this piece of Land, without living on it? Or can that eternal destiny be awaken in us only when we walk the Land through and through, cultivate and protect it? Is that why God first brought us back here and now He is bringing us back to Him?

Toiling, Worship and Fruition

In Genesis 2, where the word Adama is first mentioned, we are commanded to work and toil it. The Hebrew word used here is the same one used to worship and serve God. The root is AVD – עב”ד.

The Bible uses the same terms to describe fertility of the earth and that of a woman. Both have a belly – a womb. A seed is sown in both of them, sprouts and grows. In Deuteronomy 28:4 and 30:9 the fruit of the earth and the fruit of the womb are mentioned side by side.

The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock – the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks (NIV).

Memorial Days

This week Israel commemorates two major events in our modern history: the Holocaust, and the casualties of wars and terror attacks. All throughout Israel, flags will be lowered to half mast, the siren will be sound and we will all stop what we are doing and focus on our national mourning. So much blood has been shed on this soil, it is saturated in blood.

As Memorial Day will end, the flags will be raised up high. We will all find a technological way to celebrate the birth of the kingdom of Israel for the third time, 72 years ago, through the bloody price of death toll.

Does Israel Have a Soul?

The Bible often refers to Israel as “she” – a woman whom God had found, washed, cleansed, than betrothed and as her dowry gave her a piece of Land for an inheritance. She later betrayed Him, and was punished. And now she is a widow, not because she does not have a Husband, but because she does not recognize Him as such.

God of course promises to restore her from her widowhood (Is. 54:4), not just spiritually but also physically, back in her land (“Adama”). This process requires so much repentance and cleansing.

The Blood of The Innocent

Since the establishment of Israel as a nation, we have killed more babies than Nazi Germany did. Can you believe it? We have so much blood on our hands, and have defiled this land with so much blood. The Corona season has led many in the local body into repentance, especially regarding abortions. For the first time, to the best of my knowledge, Arab and Jewish women met together (via zoom, of course) to address this issue.

"They Just Stood There," 36x36, Acrylic and Combined Media on Stretched Canvas

As we cleanse our hearts and stand in the gap for our people’s groups, we find the faith to see this land open her belly once more, this time not in order to swallow more blood, but to bring forth a harvest that will stem out of purity and will not thirst for more bloodshed.

I like the way my friend Briskilla describes it: “The Lover of our souls had shed His Soul into the soil. His sound echoes through it and starts replacing the cry of the other bloods that were shed. It brings forth from the belly of the soil a completely different kind of harvest – a Bread of love and obedience”.

Hermann Nitsch, 2016 Acrylic on Canvas (with painted Shirt) 78.7 x 118 inches (200 x 300cm) - Marc Straus Gallery


* To find our previous posts on Holocaust and Soldiers and Terror Victims Memorial Days, check out our posts index

 

Orthodox Jews and the Corona Passover

Passover started tonight. Since most Israeli Jews celebrate it with their loved ones, our government decided to block passage on all roads throughout the country, as of last night. The concern is that this will cause another outburst of Corona.

The shut down raises up questions, mostly for the Orthodox community. Due to the new regulations they are not allowed to perform many of their Passover rituals: Hag-Aa-Lah (a process of making utensils and dishes kosher and pure by immersing them in boiling water in the synagogue’s court); Bi-Oor Cha-Metz (the burning of unleavened bread); immersing in the Mikveh; praying at the wailing wall, etc.

Many such rituals have been ruled by the Rabbis since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. With no ability to sacrifice and shed blood, the nation needed a way of cleansing and purification.

On top of that, they cannot meet together, not even the minimal required number of 10 to form the Minyan (quorum), that enables them to say certain prayers.

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(Olivier Fitoussi, HaAretz)

The Rabbis have taught for centuries that prayer and study of the writings of the Sages is what preserves our nation, protects us, cleanses us. Now they find themselves at a strange junction, forced by circumstances. The majority of corona infected patients in Israel are from the Orthodox community, mostly because of their crowded lifestyle and struggle to adhere to the new regulations.

One example: every year, on the morning of Passover eve, they collect the unleavened products they still have at home and burn them in a special community waste bin. Actually, they ensure their homes are rid of any leaven a few days earlier, and they leave a few crumbs in a hidden place in order to perform a ceremony. The crumbs are collected on Passover morning, taken to the bin, and burned by a special man, appointed for the task. But this year it was forbidden, so the Rabbis declared that the crumbs can be flushed down the toilet.

I like this solution, but that raises up new questions. If this solution works, than who needs the complicated and expensive provisions they declared as necessary all these years?

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Burning of the leaven
(Photo credit: JDN)

An exceptional picture caught my eyes last week:

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Spraying and disinfection for Corona at the Western Wall
(Photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS, HaAretz)

They are spraying the Western Wall, The center of Jewish prayers for centuries. If prayer is indeed the mean to achieve cleansing, than no spraying should be needed here. This should be the safest place on earth these days. And yet…

A few decades before the Temple was destroyed God had provided a solution, His ultimate mean of cleansing. But the majority among the Jews could not see it because of a severe punishment Israel was under back than, and is still under. It is called “Hidden Faces” (see Faces or a Mask? (A Midrash for Shavu’ot)

The neighborhood I live in, in the center of Jerusalem, has many community synagogues. They are all shut and inactive. I see some of their regular members walking around, keeping distance from one another, longing to go back to routine. And it stirs up in me a prayer that I never really prayed for them:

Abba, what an amazing plan you got into action when you sent your son as our Passover Lamb. You have granted me such a measure of grace when you chose to reveal Him to me as my Jewish savior; when you softened my heart so that I could bring Him into my heart, into my home. I am praying for the same grace over the Orthodox community.

I am not asking that you will help the observant Jewish community find peace where they are disturbed and restless. On the contrary, I am asking that you will use this unique time to stir within them a deep awareness, a sobering understanding that there must be a different mean of cleansing than those they relied on all these years. If the Western Wall needs to be cleansed and the other rituals can be replaced by simpler actions, than shake some of their foundations, and cause them to lift their eyes higher, above the rulings of their Rabbis, and to seek the God that does not change His mind and does not depend on circumstances. I ask it in the name of The Lamb, who paid the price in full.

Communion and Two Altars (2)

(Altar Series   |   part 2)

Egypt, Second Millennia BC

After more than 400 years, the ability of the Hebrews to control their lives was so limited. Maybe they could choose what their lunch would consist of – be it fish, melons or cucumbers (Num. 11:5), but from sunrise to sunset there were guards whipping them, telling them where to go and what to do. After centuries of enduring this routine – they were slaves not just circumstantially, but mentally as well.

One miraculous day God answers their cries, and leads them to a promised land. These broken hearts, with a limited ability to make decisions, initiate, make any kind of change, turn within a short span of time to a nation, children of God, priests and warriors. How did this transformation transpire?

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The answer is the Tabernacle. God commanded them to erect a structure in their midst, and then set each of its instruments in its destined place. As chaos made room for order, an amazing thing we all long for happened – God filled that structure with His glory.

Here and Now, These End of Days 

In some ways we too are enslaved, longing to put an end to our wanderings. Our menu may include more than fish, melons and cucumbers, and on more sane days we can even choose which restaurant to go to. But there are still these vicious guards within us, who keep a watchful eye, decide how we act and what we do and have an amazingly loud voice within us.

Oh, how we yearn that whoever looks our way will not see our shortfalls and sins, but only the glory of God filling us. Not shame and guilt, but a thick cloud of glory.

For God’s glory to tabernacle in us we have to get to the Holy of Holies. Which means we need to do what the priests did in the Old Testament. They did it externally, on behalf of the nation. We are called to do it internally, as we are all priests unto Him. How do we do that?

“The Pattern Which I Show You”

“Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I show you” (Ex. 25:9).

On mount Sinai God provided Moses an explicitly detailed list of materials, shapes, measurements and colors. He also showed him an actual Tabernacle, a large and perfect one that was not created by man, and that exists still today (see Heb. 8:2, 5; 9:11).

The English uses various alternatives when it translates the verb “to tabernacle”. Sometimes it is translated into dwell, make a home, abide. But in Hebrew it is almost always about Tabernacling. For exmple:

“Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will tabernacle among you,” declares the Lord.“Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will tabernacle among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you”  (Zec. 2:10-11).

The pattern God used back then is still valid. We first need to present before God the materials we have in our personal wilderness. For the Israelites these were mostly the bent, lean and thorny acacia woods. These are most likely a carpenter’s nightmare, but that was the only building material available where they were. For God that was certainly sufficient. After all, the goal is His glory to be seen, not our abilities.

He does not expect us to produce cedar trees we do not have, or import them from elsewhere. That’s what David did in order to erect a magnificent temple, but this was not God’s original format for worship.

So How Do We Do that?

Communion sums it up well. It did not start when Yeshua commanded His disciples to remember Him. It started millenniums earlier, when God turned these slaves into priests and warriors.

Moses sprinkled blood on everything, even on the priests’ ears and thumbs; So it always starts with blood (even the 10 plagues, interestingly, started with blood). And it ends with a torn flesh, that made a way for His Glory to be seen.

So when we take the Wine and the Bread, we should sprinkle blood on a certain piece of flesh inside us that needs to be torn. That will make a way for the King of Glory to enter in and tabernacle within us.

Let me connect this post to my previous one and say at this point: Communion runs between both altars – the Bronze and the Golden one.

The Brazen Altar of Blood 

Moses’ words are echoed in what Yeshua said to His disciples shortly before Passover (Matt. 26:28):

“Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you” (Ex. 24:8).

Moses said it after taking blood from that Brazen altar, which atoned for those who regretted their sins. That was then. How do we do it today?

Here is a very short explanation of what needs to take place within us as we apply each instrument found in the Tabernacle.

We build an Altar of bronze within us when instead of accusing and isolating ourselves in face of insult and pain, we take responsibility of our reactions to what other people’s actions stir within us. Simply put, we sprinkle His blood on our wounds by choosing to respond with repentance and forgiveness.

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When we take communion, we remind ourselves the price Yeshua paid so that we do not have to repeatedly slaughter and sprinkle blood by the altar; that His blood is readily available.

All we have to do is remember and internalize. All of the Jewish calendar and the various Biblical ceremonies are an appointed opportunity to remember what has already been achieved, or what will be done. Communion is no exception.

The Laver

This is where the Word should wash our understanding (Eph. 5:25-27b), until gradually our thoughts align with His.

The Screen

When we regularly sprinkle Yeshua’s blood over our thorns (by repentance and forgiveness), and wash in the Laver (through study of Scripture), at some point the screen inside us between the court and the Holy Place is pushed aside. This is when we enter into a more intimate place with God.

The Menorah

Every day, at dusk, the priest would light the Menorah, and every morning he replaced burned wicks and cleaned the candlesticks (Ex. 30:7-8). We too must face it regularly and allow the Holy Spirit to shed His light on our hearts. That is when we start recognizing lies and wrong perceptions that make us tick (lies such as: God loves everyone, but not me; He is faithful… but not to His promises to me).

The Table of Showbread

12 loaves of bread were put on the table and replaced once a week (Lev. 24:5-9). The Table also represents the Word, but in the form of bread. At this point we need to replace what was exposed by the Menorah with God’s truth.

However, it is not enough only to recognize what Truth stands in contrast to these lies. We must also consume that Truth, take it in to deep places within us, that are hidden from sight.

“You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom” (Ps. 51:6).

Yes, God wants His truth to reside in the innermost parts. In another psalm David phrases it even better:

I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my intestines (Ps. 40:8).

The Hebrew does not speak here of the heart, but of David’s digestive system. When God’s truth is chewed and swallowed, it becomes an inherent part of us, it changes us from within. Our struggles and pain are the way our loving Father rebukes His children to bring them to repentance (Rev. 3:19). He uses hardships to remind us how hungry our intestines are to the true Bread that comes from heaven.

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When I build a Tabernacle within me (as I deal with one problematic issue or another), I literally set a table at this stage: I prepare a stack of cards with verses that declare the exact opposite of the lie that was exposed by the Menorah.

I love the way Jeremiah phrased it:

Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (15:16).

The Golden Altar of Sweet Aroma

This is the peak of the process. Here the priests burned incense that ascended as a sweet aroma. Today it happens when we give thanks and intercede, but only if it stems out of a place that was once hidden and sealed, and is now full of Truth. At this point I usually thank God for the way He used some of my thorny areas to expose rotten roots that lied in my innermost being, and for the Truth I found at the Table.

As I chew this Truth, it gradually becomes a part of me. Thus, in a very practical way, a part of God’s Word, the Word that had put on flesh and came to this world to tabernacle among us (Jn. 1:14a), becomes a part of me.

The Veil

An unusual thing happened when Yeshua’s flesh was torn on the cross. The veil in the Temple was torn as well (Mt. 27:51). There was no more use for it, as the path to our destination, to the Holy of Holies, was opened wide at that very moment. From then on, whoever enters the Narrow Gate, can continue the process with full confidence all the way to the Holy of Holies.

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The rituals and the process of worship that took place in the Tabernacle found their culmination on the cross. There – everything happened all at once. The Entrance Gate was provided, blood was shed, flesh was torn, and all the in between became available to us.

Which is why we can now enter boldly the Holiest in a new and living way which Yeshua consecrated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh. Yes, we can draw near with a true heart and in full assurance of faith because by our faith in Him our hearts are sprinkled from an evil conscience at the Brazen Altar and our bodies washed with pure water at the Laver (see Heb. 10:19-20, 22). Hallehu Yah!

Glory

Father of glory, give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation that we might know You (Eph. 1:17). What a privilege it is to know that Your glory can fill the very places in our lives that cause us so much shame.

We want to live our lives between the two Altars, with the assurance that Your blood purifies us and Your Word washes our understanding. That your torn body, when it tabernacles within us, gradually fills us with Your Glory, grace and truth (Jn. 1:14).

Blessed are You, our God, King of the universe, for satisfying the desire of every living thing (Ps. 145:16), for bringing forth the true Bread of life from the earth, and the true Vine; for setting a banquet Table within us every time we invite You into our innermost being.

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From altar to throne
By SigneSandelin, DevianArt

Lift up your heads, all these locked gates within us, so that the King of Glory will come in. 

Between Two Altars (1)

(Altar Series   |   part 1)

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.

ear

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.

A Historic Hour

In light of all the diplomatic developments and the great historical hour, as it is being dubbed, what do Netanyahu and Gantz have left to do, except band together and advance this Deal of the Century?

Did Trump, knowingly or not, created a situation in which Netanyahu and Gantz can unwind themselves from the choke hold of the party association they have created for themselves from the left and right of the political map in Israel, and actually unite? Have Trump and Kushner managed to accomplish what two surreal elections, with a third one coming up, have not been able to? That is – uniting the two central blocks in both the left and the right wings of the political map in Israel, and launch the 2020 version of the Oslo accord?

Truth is I am not that familiar with all the details – neither of the Oslo accord, nor any of its offspring, whatever their names are, including this latest one, the Deal of the Century. In its most basic form, I see no significant differences between all these deals. Except for the color of the maps, that is. I guess that’s a matter of style – after all, I used to like pink once too.

מפה תוכנית המאה הסכם אוסלו ()

Right map – the map of Israel according to Oslo (the pink areas were supposed to become the Palestinian state)

On the Left – Trump’s version (green areas are the Palestinian presumed state)

Are the differences between the Deal of the Century and its precedings (going all the way back to the very first Plan of Partition the UN came up with in 1947) really that significant? As a business man, Trump addresses the issue from a business perspective and is focusing on the financial gain of both sides. He keeps saying that Jerusalem will not be divided, yet the details clearly show that it will. They’re just not going to call it division or partition, but rather use some other phraseology, and create big parts of it underground, so that it will look as connecting roads and not as a division. Brilliant!

I did not start this blog to focus on politics or trivia, but on the brokenness of Israel and its transformation from a Widow and bereaved nation into a Mother-nation, on her way to become a Bride; and also on the recruiting of “Ruths” alongside “Naomi”. This is my passion and my calling, until that day when we shall see this nation dwelling in peace and tranquility under the vines and fig trees of “Boaz”, as she returns to her pre-destined purpose – to be a teacher, a light, and salt to the nations.

Fill Up Your Quivers

So… precious readers, let me ask: what is it that normally lights a fire in your hearts when you hear about events concerning Israel and the nations? Is it the End of Times? The division of the Land that God has promised His people? Righteousness versus corruption in the Israeli society, affecting even our top leaders? Perhaps the next elections? Or maybe it’s humanitarian issues: our treatment of the Arab population and foreigners who live among us, holocaust survivors, orphans, widows, the believers in Yeshua?

It is time to arm ourselves with sharp arrows from the Word of God – with verses that clarify what God has to say regarding any of these subjects, and start shooting them at the target through faith-filled proclamations. For these arrows of truth will not be put aside until someone comes up with another version, adorned with just the right colors and shades. They will not return void, but will do what they were designed for in the mind of the God of Israel.

fishing archery #archeryfishingtips

Here are a few examples of the arrows found in my quiver. Feel free to borrow these, or come up with your own:

God’s policy in regards to the Middle East: 

This is what the Lord says: “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them.  But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country. And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’ – even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal – then they will be established among my people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 12:14-17).

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls (Joel 2:28-32).

Holocaust survivors:

But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me – how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the Lord; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out ‘Alas!’ because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the people of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague. One who is far away will die of the plague, and one who is near will fall by the sword, and anyone who survives and is spared will die of famine. So will I pour out my wrath on them. And they will know that I am the Lord, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak – places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah – wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 6:8-14).

And free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:15).

Restoring Israel from her widowhood:

The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.  In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer. “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:6-10).

Restoring Israel’s relationship with God:

Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive (1 Kings 8:30, ff).

Acting and living righteously:

In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you (Isaiah 54:14).