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Water

The synagogues in my neighborhood have been filled with dance and singing this past week. The celebration culminates tonight and tomorrow. Women, children and passers by gather outside the entrances of the tiny synagogues all over this area. I find myself astonished: such joy! The men dance around with Torah scrolls in their arms, but they don’t even realize they are carrying the true manna, the living Word. Yet I, that believe wholeheartedly that the Word had put on flesh and came to dwell within me, that when I call to Him He answers – how joyous do I become whenever I hold the Word of God in my hands?

Rejoicing over the Torah scroll. This is what synagogues throughout Israel and the world will look like tonight and tomorrow as the cycle of reading through the Torah comes to an end, and a new reading cycle begins. Taken from the Ramat Gan Yeshiva youtube page.

While the Temple still stood in Jerusalem, a special ceremony was conducted: wine was poured on the brazen altar regularly, alongside the sacrifices. But during the feast of Sukkot, water was added to the wine. This was carried with much joy and celebration, and was called Simchat Beit Hashoeva (lit. “Rejoicing over Water-Drawing”). The celebration lasted throughout the night and ended with drawing of water from the pool of Siloam (Briechat Hashiloach).

This tradition has much to do with the rain season at hand. Therefore a unique blessing, uttered only during this feast, is declared in synagogues all over the world, called “He makes the wind to blow and the rain to fall”. Rain, after all, is the main source of water for our desert-like land. Here is one of the versions of this prayer:

You, O Lord, are mighty forever, You quicken the dead back to life; You are mighty to save. You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall. You sustain the living with lovingkindess, quicken the dead with great mercy, support the falling, heal the sick, loose the bound, and keep Your faithfulness to them that sleep in the dust.

Who is like You, Lord of mighty acts, and who resembles You, O King, who kills and raises from the dead, and causes salvation to spring forth? Who is like You, Father of mercy, who in mercy remember Your creatures unto life? Yea, faithful are You to quicken the dead. Blessed are You, O Lord, who quickens the dead. 

So in the synagogues today, Torah scrolls were taken out of the Torah Ark and passed from one man to another. The crowd circled it and danced with much joy for the fact that a cycle of the reading of the Torah has come to its end, and a new one is now beginning. Along side this cyclic reading, the people of Israel ask their Maker to bless them with the blessed cycle of rain and water.

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What Is In the Water?

From the first verses of Genesis, it almost seems like water were always there. Even in our mothers’ wombs we grow in a sac of water. All in all, every living cell needs a certain amount of water in order to exist. Without which, it will wither and die.

Yesterday I was introduced to a term I’ve never heard before: “the anomaly of water”. Almost all substance in nature shrinks in cold temperatures and thus subside in volume. Not so with water. Turns out that water, when frozen and turn into ice, actually grow in volume and girth. This has to do with the special structure of its molecules. That is why ice, which is lighter, floats upon water and does not sink. If it were to sink, the upper layer would also freeze, leading to the freezing of the entire water reservoir, and thus life would cease to exist in the deeper layers.

Paul, Peter, James… and Water

Peter has something quite interesting to say about water. “…by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water” (2 Pet. 3:5). The second part of this verse can be much fodder for evolutionists, but one must not ignore how it begins. The verse sets out clearly creating a correlation between water and the Word of God.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says that Yeshua cleanses and purifies His Body by washing with water through His Word, thus presenting it without stain or wrinkle or any blemish (Eph. 5:26-27). And James describes the Word of God as a mirror (1:23).

If we want to look like Him, we must check ourselves with in mirror on a regular basis, and whenever we recognize a stain, blemish or defect, we are to wash it with His Word.

I find it interesting that the Laver in the Tabernacle combines exactly these two things together. It was made of the bronze mirrors the women brought to the gate of the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 38:8), and of course – contained water. The priests approached it after ministering to the people at the gate and by the altar, and examined to see if a piece of meet, or a splatter of blood, or the dust of the wilderness had clung to them – all symbolizing the things that cling to us when we use the gifts God has gifted us with, as we serve Him and others.

How can we go through the veil and enter the Holy Place, the most intimate place within us where we can commune with God, unless we first wash all that has clung to us? How can we exist and grow in holiness without water – weather natural or spiritual? Obviously we cannot.


Our Abba in heaven, the people of Israel celebrates Your Word today and prays for water. Stir within them a hunger and thirst to your true Word. Bring them to the point in which the regulations and wisdom of men will not satisfy them any more. Lead them to the only Well that can provide them with living water, and cause rivers of living water to flow from within them.

 

Betrayal, Shame, and Forgiving Both Fathers

In my previous post (Selichot) I promised some more testimonies to the power of forgiveness. Here are a few more:

Tess’s Walk Through the Tabernacle

In her quest for freedom from emotional pain, Tess studied through the years various models of inner healing. At some point she realized that in order to walk in this desired freedom, she must identify the lies she believes in. She knew that the Tabernacle is the pattern God gave us in order to maintain a close relationship with Him. So, she figured there had to be more to it than the symbolism of the materials. While talking to a friend about the Tabernacle pattern being the way to God, she discovered my website. Tess tells: “I was touched to find an Israeli Messianic believer who had a revelation on the pattern from heaven, and who combined it with the journey of the human heart from the Outer Court to the Holiest Place. I wanted to learn more.”

By the time she registered for the Seminar, she was very angry about a series of recent betrayals. But once we started, Tess realized that God had a plan behind this betrayal. That He wanted to use the very “thorns” she had been carrying in her heart from her own “Egypt” to in order build inside her a place full of His glory, a Tabernacle. So, she started inviting Yeshua to be Lord over the details: over her struggle to forgive those involved and over her shame that her vulnerabilities were exposed.

There, at the Bronze Altar, she tasted the relief that comes with forgiveness. She realized that tormenting thoughts stem from unforgiveness, and that whenever something does not feel comfortable inside her, there is someone she first needs to forgive. Tess was relieved to find out that she does not need to figure things out. Rather, she can invite Yeshua into the situation, into each feeling, each thought and each reaction attached to it, and that He will sort it out.

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Tess at the Bronze Altar, inviting Yeshua into the details

All of a sudden, she was surprised to learn that God is not moody. “It may sound silly”, she says, “but I always felt like I did not know which face of God I would find when I met with Him.  Tess had a big “wow” moment, when she realized that God is not unstable or inconsistent. Rather, He is so large and deep and consistent that He holds all these emotions simultaneously in perfect unity. That Holiness and love and justice are all wholly and thoroughly true and thoroughly Him all the time. Until then, she somehow perceived God as compartmentalized or fragmented. Tess repented of the mindset that kept her from drawing near to Him, and no longer wonders or worries which face she will encounter!

At the Basin Tess washed her understanding by studying what the Scriptures teach about shame. First, she gave her own definition, so that she could later compare it to God’s definition. Up to that point she defined shame as “being pervasively flawed, helpless to do anything about it; therefore the flaws must be covered up”. At the Basin, she found the Hebrew word that corresponds to shame in English. By looking it up in its context, she realized how far her understanding of the term was from what God says about it. She learned that it is others who put shame on us. She also learned that exposing someone’s “nakedness”, meaning their vulnerabilities, brings shame on the exposer. And that shame intends to destroy. It enters our hearts when someone exposes our vulnerability, it confuses us, scatters, breaks boundaries and ruins people’s safe places.

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Tess washing at the Basin

As Tess was putting together these various pieces of “polished mirrors” (Ex. 38:8) from the Word, she eventually encountered a core lie she believed, and perceived to be truth up to that point. This lie says: “Shame is true. Shame speaks truth. The harshness of shame is to be expected. It is normal.”

This is when she passed through a mental Screen inside herself, into a Holier Place, as God’s light was exposing this dark lie. This was her Lampstand moment.

Once the lie of unnecessary harshness was exposed, Tess longed for tender mercy. The tenderness of the Hebrew word Ra-Ham spoke to her. It means mercy, a tender womb, compassion. She approached the Table and looked up some of the verses that contain this root. The trustworthiness of Isaiah 54:4-8 ministered to her, especially in light of its current literal fulfillment for Israel. She wrote verses 7 & 8 on cards and started chewing on them, feeding her hungry innermost being:

“For a small moment have I forsaken you, but with great mercies will I gather you… I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you.”

After a while, when these verses settled well inside her, she started eating Ps. 103:13: “As a father has compassion on His children…”

And then Lamentations 3:22: “…His compassions never cease.”

And again, Nehemiah 9:19: “Yet You in Your many mercies forsook them not…”

And after a while, Isaiah 49:10: “…for He who has compassion on them will lead them and guide them to springs of water…”

Tess ate these verses regularly, but especially when she felt the harshness of shame towards herself (“…with great mercies…”), when she felt scattered (“…I will gather you…”), when she needed compassion but not indulgence (“…his compassions never cease…”), and when she needed tenderness. Prior to building this Tabernacle, she would be filled with anger when these feelings popped up. But gradually, these specific Truths started corresponding with her painful feelings, becoming a part of her immediate reaction. A part of His Word became a part of who she is, and God’s glory took over her shame. What a wonderful Tabernacle, what a glorious testimony to who He is.

As a result, the friendship which was destroyed is now restored and healed. This is a Holiest Place situation, where God’s glory dwells on what used to be a source of pain. Since then Tess has built several more Tabernacles. Each time she found Him faithful to manifest His glory in her life in various ways. She knows He is always with her, that He is trustworthy, firm and reliable; that He instructs her; that He holds on to her without slackening or letting go, and strengthens her; that she can hold on to Him; that His glory is in how He stoops down to us in kindness, without falseness, and with dignity.

She now says, along with the Queen of Sheba: “The report was true that I heard in my own country about You, but I did not believe the reports until I came and saw with my own eyes. Behold, the half was not told me… you have far exceeded the report I heard.”


Ben’s Story – the Impact of Forgiving Both Fathers

I met Ben a couple of years ago, in Norway, and was impressed with his honesty and thirst for healing. Here is his story: 

One late evening, my wife decided it was time to tell me something she had been waiting to say for a while. She felt I was finally ready to hear it. It had to do with forgiving my father.

I had recently come to know that the father figure in one’s life is extremely important, as it impacts how we see ourselves, as well as God. There was something I had longed to hear from my father since I was a child – comforting and encouraging words that would confirm who I am and how he sees me. Words that would tell me that I am valuable and good.

I grew up in a good and healthy Christian home. My father has always been very loving and kind, but did not express it so much in words. Since my love language is good words, I really needed to hear it from him, especially growing up.

In my youth I played soccer. The way my teammates and team leaders had been speaking during the games had a tremendous impact on the way I saw myself. I have always been very scared of making any mistakes. And since I was an extremely sensitive boy, I didn’t have the self-confidence to withstand what they were saying to me. That is where I would have needed my fathers words.

So that night I started talking with Jesus about what I had been longing for. I heard Orna’s teaching, and found it very natural. It flows with how we feel and think and react. That evening I felt the unforgiveness in my heart or in my solar plexus – I don’t quite remember, and I think I felt a lot of anger. But when I said: “In Jesus’ name, I forgive my father!” I could slowly feel the tension loosening, and in came a deep breath of fresh air.

Later I read in Orna’s book that when we forgive, Jesus’ blood comes into the painful area, into the prison cells, where we hold captive the person who had hurt us, and cleanses them.

The following day my wife and I went to my parents for dinner. I did not say anything about the night before, but I was thinking about it the whole meal. And then… after dinner, my father suddenly said the most encouraging words he ever told me, without him even knowing I had forgiven him.

He simply said: “What me and your mother have always longed for is for you to really be who you are”.

This may sound simple, but that was the most beautiful thing he could ever have said, and it meant so much! He acknowledged who I am. I truly believe that circumstances change after we forgive, just as Orna taught me. I gave my father a big hug, and both of us moved to the living room. It created such a natural opportunity to tell him that I had forgiven him. We had an open and honest conversation, knowing that this is a milestone for me.

Now, when I recall some of my past memories, I can sense that Jesus is Lord in and over them. It is so very special. Thank you Jesus!


The last four years I have gone through a gradual but radical recovery from mental illness, where Jesus has slowly healed me from a long line of problems: clinical depression, psychoses, suicidal thoughts and attempts, obsessive thoughts and emotions, massively lost memories, deep rooted anxieties and fears, unhealthy beliefs and views on God and his Word. I was so ill, I don’t even remember how it was. When I hit rock bottom, I went into a mental hospital and really got saved by Jesus, the same day.

It has now been two years since I came out of the hospital. I got married and we moved into our own house. Jesus is now saying that I am ready to finish the chapter of illness in my life, that it has been a triumphant one, and that I am ready to continue into work and ministry, taking the lead in my marriage, and making true my dream to help, comfort and counsel people who struggle with similar issues.

Orna and Dana visited our small town and taught the Tabernacle and forgiveness. Towards the end Orna started talking about blaming God and carrying unforgiveness towards Him. I felt strongly that it was speaking to me.

I realized I had been angry with God for having to go through all this. When the session was over, I didn’t even say goodbye, just walked home quickly to be with God.

I laid in bed, and began to invite Jesus in as Lord. I started speaking to God about everything I had to go through, and how angry I was with Him. It was a precious time, and I kind of felt there was a good answer, a solution, right around the corner. I forgave God with all my heart, after I acknowledged all the feelings and thoughts I carried against Him. The answer I got was surprising, yet extremely comforting. When I had forgiven God, it was like I could hear a voice saying: “It was not Me”.

All of a sudden I saw Him only as the Helper. In everything. The Supporter, the One who has enabled me to go through all this. Only good. Only comforting.

I also recalled something my therapist has told me: “All the phases of the illness have been necessary stages of the recovery”. That changed my perception of God immediately, and in the weeks after I saw more areas where I had blamed God.

And once I had “forgiven” God, I was able to hear Him say: “I forgive you”. It was really Him forgiving me for carrying that unforgiveness towards Him – after all, God never sins against us. This has healed my perception of God, and made me understand a verse from 1st John more deeply: “God is light, and there is no darkness in him!

Selichot

A Sepharadic Orchard

It’s 3 am in the morning. The Shamash (acting manager) of the synagogue walks around the neighborhood, knocking on the tin windows of various homes with his cane, waking up the sleeping residents to rush them to the tiny synagogue, so they can say their “Selichot”.

“Selichot! Selichot!”, he exclaims with a heavy accent, as he calls them to these special prayers, said each morning throughout the month of Elul.

These are the opening words of an amusing act of the Israeli musical “Bustan Sepharadi”.* The play shows the life in a Sephardic neighborhood in Jerusalem, during the 1930s. This is the same neighborhood I moved to just a few weeks ago (more on that – maybe – in a future series of posts about life in this colorful neighborhood).

O, Mordechai, rise up and come to the synagogue, come on now. Man, his stomach must still be bloated from the food he ate last night… Rabi Surnaga, wake up, rise up as a lion to do your Maker’s will.

“Selichot! Senior Yehoshua! Open your eye, for all it takes is one moment and you can be gone. For we are all but vapor, with a noose over our head! Rabi Kastel, respectfully I ask you to rise, Selichot!”

The old version of the musical, for those of you who can enjoy the Hebrew.
The Selichot act is from 11:25 to 16:46

The tradition has not ceased. Even today, in the early morning hours, the observant residents of this neighborhood arrive to either of the old synagogues scattered all around, place their prayer books on the little stands, and make ready their Shofars.

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The daily view from my window this month, as men gather
at the synagogue right next door to pray and sing their “Selichot”

“Selichot” is a general name for the liturgy that focuses on the goodness of God, who forgives His creation for their sins. Thousands of poems and odes have been written over the centuries, with the intent of awakening hearts unto repentance. Many of the poems have long been forgotten. Others have been granted more modern compositions, and time and again invoke sacred solemnity in the listener, stirring a longing to our original destiny as a nation, perhaps even a regret for our spiritual poverty.

Ben Adam

One of these poems is called, Ben Adam:

Son of Man! Why do you slumber?
Arise and call out in supplication; 
Pour out words of prayer;
Seek forgiveness from the Master of Masters. 
Wash and purify yourself;
Do not delay before the days depart.

The poem is designed to address the sinner whose conscience slumbers, and remind him or her of the story of Jonah. In the midst of the storm, the captain of the ship found the prophet soundly asleep below deck, and cried out to him in what combines complaint with deep disappointment, born out of Jonah’s ability to ignore the great disaster that has come upon the ship (Jonah 1:6).

Adon Hasselichot

The most famous of these liturgical prayer is “Adon Haselichot” (Master of forgiveness).

Master of Forgiveness, Examiner of hearts,
Revealer of depths, Speaker of justice…
We have sinned before You; have mercy upon us!

You perform salvations, You see future events,
You call the future generations,
You ride in the highest heavens.
You hear our prayers, perfect in knowledge…
We have sinned before You; have mercy upon us!

Chanting “Adon Hasselichot” at the Kotel, September 2, 2019

“Master of forgiveness – we have sinned before you, have mercy upon us” – the prayer rises up from the open windows, and at times wakes me up. At the culmination of the prayer, the Shofar is blown loudly.

But not only in this neighborhood. Everywhere in the world, observant Jews cry out wholeheartedly this month, seeking God’s pardon of their sins. The common belief is that the gates of heaven, that are locked during the year, cannot stay indifferent to an entire nation asking permission to enter in.

My Prayer

Master and Lord, the Lord who forgives, we know that You see and hear and know. Multitudes are asking this month that you forgive and atone their sins, not realizing You have already answered this prayer. Hundreds of years ago. So sad.

Abba, we also know that You desire to reveal to them this aspect of your face, the face of Your Son who paid the full price for each sin they lay before you with a tortured conscience. Draw them after you please, lead them into the banquet hall, and cover them with Yeshua’s banner of love and blood.

Forgiving, not just being forgiven

Judaism in general is not very strong when it comes to forgiveness. We lack the understanding that the New Testament carries. Yeshua taught forgiveness in a way that was uncommon to the culture back then, and today as well. He taught that forgiveness is not only something God does, but that we need to do it ourselves, or else God will be angry with us and even go as far as handing us over to the hands of tormentors (Matt. 18: 32-34).

I want to share with you some examples of the power that forgiveness carries. Stories I witnessed myself. These are testimonies of some of the participants of our Tabernacle Seminars for English speakers. Here is on of them.

Ieva’s Walk Through the Tabernacle

Ieva, a beautiful Latvian girl who lives in Paris, joined our February 2019 Seminar, planning to work on her fears.

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She was so ready to do what we call “Spring Cleaning” of her heart, and to invite Yeshua to be the master of specific areas of her life. Later she shared that even though she has been a follower of Yeshua for many years, she never fully submitted various parts of her soul to Him. So at the beginning of the Seminar she invited Him into her ambitions, expectations, plans, dreams, her past, various relationships, her feelings – especially the feeling that she is not good enough, and of course into her fears and anxiety attacks.

As she was doing it in details, she was surprised to realize the depth of the unforgiveness she carried in her heart. When we taught the five practical steps of forgiveness and the liberation it brings, she embraced it. Ieva describes it as “the best part of the Seminar”, mostly because she realized that no matter what will happen or what will hurt her, she can always apply these steps and handle it. “For me this was life changing”, she explains.

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Ieva washing her hands at the Laver, as a symbol of her
agreement with what she just learned about fear in the Word of God

After focusing on this for a few days at the Bronze Altar, Ieva was ready for the Laver. There she studied what the Bible teaches regarding fear. As she was doing that, she was practically washing her understanding. At one point in this process she broke down, realizing how big is the gap between her own perception and what God says about fear. But this was also a Holy Spirit moment for her, as God used it to move her from the Outer Court behind the Curtain, and into the Holy Place.

Ieva stood by the Lampstand and allowed the Holy Spirit to shed His light into her darkness and expose a major lie. She realized that deep inside, she believed that “God is good to others, but not to me”. That was a sobering moment, a painful one, yet a good one, as it led her to repent and to move on to the Table of Shewbread, where she looked for a specific verse that will overthrow that lie.

Psalm 23:6 turned into her nourishing loaf: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Ieva’s innermost being was so hungry for this truth, to own it, to let it be her sword when fears pop up again.

When the Seminar ended, all these steps became a part of her daily routine. “I love the simplicity of it and the fact that I don’t need to find the time or be in a good place spiritually to apply it. I can apply it wherever I find myself or however I feel – I just invite Yeshua into the details of the situation and declare Him the Lord. And He immediately takes care of it”, she says.

The change in Ieva is evident enough for people around her to comment on the peace and joy she carries, and that were not there before.

I will share a few more stories in my next post. In the meantime, I wish you all a Good Jewish New Year, and a clear conscious before the Master of Selichot.


* Bustan Sepharadi means a “Sepharadic Orchard”. The musical was written by Yizhak Navon, the fifth president of Israel. 

 

Will You Let Him Tabernacle Within You?

What is causing you so much pain, tormenting you and pushing your buttons, so to speak? We all have our battlegrounds – problems, sins or bad habits we seem to never get rid of. For a while we may manage to defeat or control them, but then they rear up their ugly heads all over again. The root is still there.

Over the years we have developed a special and powerful course, designed to help the believer live life in a manner in which God’s glory replaces the shame, the guilt and the fear – a tool that is designed exactly for this purpose of gaining victory over these battlegrounds. This course is based on the pattern of the Tabernacle built by Moses.

For years this teaching was only available fully in Hebrew, but these past couple of years we have developed an English program, taught over a span of 10 intensive, yet liberating days. Our next course will be held in March of 2020 (the 22nd-31st). Registration is now open. If you are interested in more details, please contact us at otoomofet@gmail.com

To read more about our previous course offered last year and some of the testimonies, click here.

The half scaled model of the Tabernacle we use as we teach about each of the furnishings and tools found in it and how they apply to us today. 

Tisha B’Av and the Aaronic Blessing

Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av) will be marked this weekend, August 10th. This is the annual commemoration of the destruction of the first Temple by Babylon, and that of the second Temple by Rome (more about it in my post: One Day She Will Remember Her Shame No More).

The destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC was a critical step in hiding God’s Faces from His people. From that point on we started perceiving our relationship with Him, for the most part, as that of a nation subject to punishment: destruction, exile and the severing of direct communication with our Father. During Tisha B’Av, prayers of lamentation and mourning are carried throughout synagogues worldwide. In most of them, people will sit on the floor and read the book of Lamentation, which describes the horrors of Jerusalem’s destruction.

The Aaronic Blessing 

The common perception is that salvation and redemption will only come fully to Israel with the coming of the Messiah, and for that to happen the Temple has to be rebuilt, the renewed and the ministry of the priests restored.

The Aaronic Blessing is the most ancient Biblical text found so far. Silver plates dated to the end of first Temple period, which apparently served as amulets, were found in a burial cave in Jerusalem. One of them is adorned with the verses of the blessing, in a format much like that one found in Numbers 6.

The plates are kept today at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Every morning, the Blessing is pronounced in synagogues. And since 1970, twice a year (during Pesach and Sukkot) it turns into a mass event. Hundreds of kohanim (priests), who can trace their lineage back to Aaron’s family, arrive at the Western Wall, raise their hands in worship and proclaim the prayer in front of thousands of Jews who wish to receive the blessing.

Multitudes at the Wall during the annual proclamation of the Aaronic Blessing

The blessing is proclaimed while the priest stretches up his hands, spreading his fingers in a unique gesture. Some claim that only Aaron’s descendants can spread their fingers in such fashion. I’m not sure there is scientific ground for this claim, but various rules and prohibitions have developed throughout history surrounding this arm raising and finger spreading.

During the filming of Star Trek, the producer wanted Dr. Spock to accompany his Vulcan blessing of “live long and prosper” with some hand gesture. Leonard Nimoy, the Jewish actor playing Spock, grew up in an orthodox family and was familiar with the priestly finger spreading. He suggested it to the producer, who gladly accepted the idea and turned it into the “Vulcan Salute”, which have become one of the symbols most identified with the series.

Koolulam

“Koolulam” is a social-musical initiative, centered around mass singing events. Large groups of non-professionals come together to form a powerful musical creation. The first Orthodox song recorded in such fashion is that of the Aaronic Blessing (Koolulam – Aaronic Blessing. You may need to wait a few minutes until the add is over).

What Does the Blessing Actually Say?

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His Faces shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His Faces (not ‘countenance’) towards you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).

In the various translations, for some reason, the same Hebrew word that appears in both verse 25 and 26 is translated in different ways. The Hebrew speaks about Faces (yes, in the plural), not about countenance or presence. The original Hebrew text does not use the word presence”, not even once. When the root of this word does appear, it is never in the sense of presence. Those verses that we all quote when we speak about being in His presence, always speak about God’s Faces in the original Hebrew.

Does It Matter?

O, yes! There is a difference between presence and face. I can be in someone’s presence, yet with my back turned towards him. Being in someone’s presence does not require looking up to his face, or into his eyes. Moses wasn’t just in God’s presence, he saw Him Faces to faces.

What are God’s Faces? Or better yet, who is His Faces? And why is it that such a significant part of it is hidden from the Jewish people, from the whole world in fact, so much so that even the word itself is mistranslated? (I elaborate about it in my book “His Faces” and my post Faces or a Mask?).

This coming weekend, many in our nation will lament, but will they remember why that punishment came upon us? Will they truly seek His Faces? We can pray that as they daily proclaim the Aaronic Blessing, something ancient will stir deep down in their dull spirit, and wake up. That we will desire to see His Jewish Faces, until this fast of the ninth of Av will turn into joy and gladness and a cheerful feast for the house of Judah, because we will love truth and peace (Zec. 8:19).

I would like to conclude with paraphrasing the following two verses of Zecaraiah, so you can see the original meaning:

“The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us continue to go and seek the Faces of YHWA Lord of hosts. I myself will go also. Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the YHWA of hosts in Jerusalem and to seek the Faces of YHWA” (v. 21-22). 

Faces or a Mask? (A Midrash for Shavu’ot)

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I Want to See Your Faces

I would like to present a different reading, somewhat unusual, to the the most important command in Scripture. After all, according to a somewhat twisted Jewish tradition, Shavu’ot (Pentecost) is when this command was first given.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, God commands in Exodus 20:3. The linguistic and thematic depth of “before me” in Hebrew, does not translate well into other languages. The Hebrew original speaks of “Faces” – in itself a highly important concept we need to understand. And yes, it’s in the plural. The literal translation would be, “Thou shalt have no other gods over my Faces” – do not cover who I really am with a false or a partial image of Me.

The “Faces” of God are not just a part of Him, they are Someone. And this Someone is gradually told of in the OT, than hidden and finally revealed in the NT. The common terms “presence” or “countenance” do not appear even once in the OT in the sense we so often ascribe to them. David never longed to be in the presence of God and Moses never asked for God’s presence to guide him in the wilderness. It was always God’s Faces that were mentioned and sought, and there are dozens of references to it throughout the OT. We all say and sing of how much we would love to be in His presence, but it would be much more accurate and Biblical to pray, “O, I long to see Your Faces.”

What Do God’s Faces Look Like?

Scripture does not give us enough details, so I have no idea. I do know that whoever dares to draw near to God so much so that they can look straight into His eyes and see His pupils, must also see Israel there (Zec. 2:8; Deut. 32:10). That is one of the criteria to measure the level of intimacy a believer has with God. Of course, that is not the only proof of intimacy and maturity of one’s walk with God, but it is an essential component.

Each of our senses, other than touch, has something to do with our face. Through our face we taste and smell and hear and see. And so much can be learned from someone’s face, just by glancing at it, even before they utter a single word.

God’s Faces have been hidden from us by faulty translations to such an extent, that they have turned into other terms (in most cases it has been translated as “presence”, but there are other terms as well). It’s part of a punishment proclaimed as early as exodus, but I won’t get into it here. I wrote about it in earlier posts.

“You Shall Not Make Any Statue”

In that same commandment God is instructing us to not erect any image or likeness, or more accurately: no picture and no statue. It means of course that we should never worship anything other than Him, but I dare to add another layer to this prohibition: we should not cover or capture just one aspect of God’s multi faces and fixate on it alone. This commandment is an expressive invitation to a living, dynamic, growing relationship with God. “Look at Me, draw near, taste and see how good I Am, lift your eyes up to Me, not just to what my hands can do for you. Look far above and into my eyes.”

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A Mask

Then, as Moses climbs up that mountain again (have you ever counted how many times he did that?), to behold God face to face once more, the nation demanded Aaron to produce a god for them. The result is what we call “the Golden Calf”, but the OT calls it a “mask of a calf” or a “calf mask” (Ex. 32:4). A mask maybe because it was created by fire (it makes sense in Hebrew), but also because it attempts to freeze God into one form and image, an emotionless, thoughtless object.

The Angel of His Faces

So many are the Faces of God. At some, even angels dare not look. The Seraphs in Isaiah 6 cover their eyes when they encounter His holiness, and the Cherubs on the Ark of the Covenant look down and raise their wings in light of His glory. Moses too, who beheld God face to face, was not able to see all the sides and aspects of His character, all of His Faces. Throughout history, only One was able to proclaim amazing statements such as, “He who sees me sees Him who sent me” (Jn. 12:45), or “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father” (Jn. 6:46; 1:18).

Chapter 63 in Isaiah describes the Savior and Redeemer, and names Him “the Angel of His Faces” (v. 9). He is the One who carried us from before the days of old and has bestowed love and compassion upon us. Yet we have done exactly what God forbade us of doing in Exodus 23:20-23. We rebelled and grieved Him. And as a result He has become our enemy.

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Woe to us! He who was supposed to reveal God’s Faces to our nation is hiding from us. His true face has been blurred in so many ways and have become an image and a form, a frozen mask made of wood or plastic, etched into our national consciousness as our worst enemy, instead of the Lover of our souls. How bitter we are towards Him. We have rebelled (in Hebrew, the root is MRR) against Him and are now filled with bitterness (derived from the same root) towards Him.

Pleasant Turning Into Bitter and Vice Versa

I want to use this short and bitter key word to bring us into the story of Naomi, also known as Marah (MRR again – bitter), as for the next two days the book of Ruth will be read, well into the night, in all synagogues worldwide during the coming feast.

For years I have been digging deeper and deeper into the book of Ruth, finding more gems that surprise me time and again. How much depth can be found in four short chapters, written in such a simple and clear language?

Naomi, to me, represents modern Israel. Like Israel, she too went into exile, where she lost all that was dear to her, and now she is returning to her homeland, to Beth Lehem – the House of Bread. When the town’s people see pleasant Naomi (this is the meaning of her name) from afar, and wonder if it is really her, Naomi refuses to be called by that name anymore. By that point, after loosing both her sons who were literally called Sickness and Annihilation, she already learned a lesson or two about the power of first names. So she makes it clear, “Pleasant I am not.”

She adds, “I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:21).

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“Call me Marah – the Bitter one. That is the essence of who I am right now, and therefore, that is what from here on my name will also be.”

The Hidden Redeemer

Throughout the entire book, Boaz (who symbolizes the redeemer) knows Naomi is back in town. She also knows he is there. But there is no direct communication between them. When he wants to send her something, he does it through the gentile. When she needs something from him, she also sends Ruth.

Why? I wonder. Naomi could have gone directly to him, and ask him to attend to her affairs. Moreover, she didn’t even need his help. She could have approached the elders at the gate and ask them to speak on her behalf to that other relative. Why didn’t she do that? What is it in Boaz’s character that was hidden from Naomi? What was withholding the process of her redemption from coming to completion?

Only when she saw Ruth going and coming back well and whole with her hands full of sustenance, her bitterness began to soften and dissipate, until she was able to see Boaz for who he truly was.

Why can’t the nation of Israel see the Redeemer for who He really is? Why is it that so many aspects of His character, so many of His Faces, are hidden from us? Why have we frozen His true character and prefer to worship only a partial picture and image of He fully is? Now that we are back in the land, we go through a similar process, just like Naomi did. When we see gentiles drawing near to the Redeemer, speaking to Him, receiving clear answers, gleaning provision in His fields, lay at His feet even in the wee hours of the night and come out healthy and whole, only then does some of our bitterness towards Him begins to dissipate. We dare to tear down the mask that is hiding the true Faces of the Jewish Messiah, and bit by bit start to understand what is hidden behind it.

How shocked I was 36 years ago when I met gentiles who told me they have a relationship with the God of Israel. That they ask, and He answers. Full of cynical suspicion I watched them, and was touched to find it was truly so. My “Ruths” gradually melted the “Marah” inside me and brought me eventually to the arms of the Redeemer.

The Icing On the Cake

I find it quite amusing that the neighboring women were the ones to name Obed. Can you see them, sitting there in the yard, doing their laundry or fishing tiny, barely seen stones from a pile of grains resting on gigantic brass platters, and prattle about the upcoming birth of Ruth’s child?

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“What are we to do?” they ask. “You know that this child will be born to Naomi (Ruth 4:17). Boaz will not be the one to name him, but her. And we all know that this is one area she cannot be trusted with.”

“We’ll name him!” another one offers.

And so, contrary to what was accustomed at the time and in that culture, these neighbors were the ones who proclaimed the destiny of the child. He will be Obed – a worshiper, the one who serves God.

As Shavuot starts, I reach out to each of the “Ruths” who read this post. Thank you that you no longer try to turn us into a Ruth and insist that we assimilate; Thank you that you are faithful to your part in this unfolding story, and for not trying to become a Naomi; And thank you for partnering with us. This cooperation is what makes us into one new man that can dwell in the house of the Redeemer, as each side contributes its unique part to His return. It happened in the days of Ruth and Naomi in the physical realm. It is happening now, right before our eyes, in the spiritual realm.

Ha Sameach!

The Answer to Terror

Grief. A short word, that goes a long way. You are instantaneously flooded with feelings, thoughts, memories, attempting to take over the coastline you somehow created within yourself – your inner boundaries, even your sanity. A smell that brings back a memory from the past, then another sweet thought, followed by a painful one. “We were here together, played in this playground, he pulled my hair, and then we wrestled on the ground. Mom was upset at the sight of mud on our clothes, but dad just smiled and wrapped his arms around us.”

ARTFINDER: Sea Tide by Alison Johnson - Oil on canvas

And then the wave washes back to the sea. Surprisingly. Just like it showed up.

A Day Of Mourning

Memorial Day of the Fallen Soldiers and Terror Victims starts tonight. At 8 pm Israel time, a siren will be heard throughout the country for a full minute, and we will all stand at attention in their memory and honor, keeping our minds set on those we know: the neighbor that was killed in one of the wars; the childhood friend whose plane was shot down in another battle; the officer from our home town who was captured by Hamas and whose parents mourn over a grave that only holds his dog tags.

Solidarity

Tomorrow morning, ceremonies will be held in all the military cemeteries, and many of us will wear black, carry wreaths and share in our collective pain.

Does national solidarity help a mourning family? Does it ease the pain? I don’t fully understand its mechanism. Though Israel has suffered many battles, I, personally have never lost a loved one in war. My insights are second hand, based on what I hear from those who eloquently express with broken words the small moments, the lack, the amazing ability to move on even when a huge part of you is stuck somewhere behind.

Yoram Tahar Lev, a popular Israeli songwriter, expressed it well in two short lines:

“You are a land lost to me forever,
But your roots are already so deep inside me.”

This year I also find myself wondering: What is going on on the other side, across the border? How do bereaved families deal with it there? Again I am reminded of the image I saw (exactly a year ago), of the broken rift between us and our neighbors.

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An image I saw about the Jordan Valley Rift, being a wound in God’s heart.
For more see Crossing Over – A Hebrewism (1)

New streams of blood were added this week to this rift, following the rockets barrage from Gaza and the Israeli strike in response. I remind myself that this bleeding rift is inside God’s heart, not outside of it. And that we are called to heal, not to deepen the wound, or scratch it so it bleeds even more.

How Can That Be Done?

By lifting our eyes above the sights flowing through the media, beyond what one side says and the other does in response. By lifting our eyes to Him. And listening to His heart on the matter.

What does He say? Scripture is full of great and precious promises in regard to our region. For every rocket shot, every missile launched on both sides, we can shoot with our own mouths arrows of precious promises, that will not return void and that no weapon can intercept.

The Root Issue

Following our recent elections in early April, I started praying mostly for justice and righteousness among our leaders. I pray that the priority of the Israeli authorities will be justice and righteousness. The unsettling conditions in our borders are not Israel’s root problem. They are simply one way in which God is drawing our attention to Him.

The warnings Isaiah sounded to the rulers and legislators of his time are still valid today:

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?” (Is. 10:1-3).

God has warned us time and again that disasters will be the result of neglecting to act justly and righteously, and of worshiping others besides Him. We continue to turn a deaf ear, so He turns His face and His protective Hand away from us.

What do you think?

But He also promises that if we act justly, that if our measuring lines will be based on justice, the fruit will be peace, and quietness and confidence forever. That we will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes and in undisturbed places of rest (see Is. 32:17-18). O, how we long for that.

The Rock of Israel

When David Ben Gurion, our first prime minister, foresaw the state of Israel (prior to 1948), he said that our fate depends on two main things: our strength and our righteousness. Being an atheist, God’s plan and promises were not a part of his vision. Which makes even more interesting his strong conviction that our existence depends on building a just nation and society. Not knowing The Rock of Israel, he still preached our destiny as a light to the nations, by building on that solid moral rock.

Dear Israel, it is time to forget the reproach of your widowhood, to let go of the garments of mourning and the shame of your youth, and to align your standards with those of your Husband and Redeemer, who bestows everlasting mercies upon you (see Is. 54:4-5, 8). As you prepare for your 71st birthday tomorrow, my blessing to you is that you will become a leader of the nations, that the light shining from us, from you, will spread righteousness throughout the globe, and will provoke jealousy in other nations, as they see the fruit we harvest due to these standards.

Abba, we long for the day in which all our sons will be taught of the Lord, and their peace will be great (v. 13). We declare by faith that as a part of the wonderful restoration of our people, your desire is to establish us on the foundation of justice and righteousness. You promise that if we steer away from injustice, we will not fear or be terrorized, and that tyranny and terror will not come near us (v. 13-14).

Moreover, Abba, I pray that by this foundation, the nations of the world will know us; let this be one of the strongest characteristics of Israel’s identity, something that the nations of the world will look up to and envy. Open the eyes of our leaders at all levels, and especially the new government, and stir a hunger and thirst in their hearts for justice, righteousness and truth to be the basis of each and every decision about to be made.