Posts Tagged ‘jewish holidays

27
Mar
10

Passover Journey

I am writing this post as I wait for a connecting flight from Newark to Columbus. I am returning from officiating at my aunt’s funeral and visiting family. My aunt was 100 years old and died very peacefully. It was my first visit to my hometown without having a home in the town. A little over a year ago my parents sold their home and moved to Columbus to be near me and my family. With no siblings it was a little different staying in a hotel in the city where my parents have always lived and where I always have had a home. I still have several cousins and an aunt and uncle whom I am in close contact but it is still a little strange.  My father is in his 90’s and my mother is in her late 80’s and neither is in good health. With Passover so close, my mind has been preoccupied with the thought of the “journey of life.”  Passover is about the journey. Every year it reminds us of the long journey of the history of the Jewish people as well as our own personal journey of life.  There are sweet times like the charoses and there are bitter times like the maror.  But when does the journey end? What is the final destination? Are we always waiting for a connecting flight as I am here in Newark? Will there always be celebrations and difficulties – the ups and downs of life? Are we forever on the journey?   The answer depends on how much weight you put on the truthfulness of the Scriptures and in the reality of God.

The prophet Isaiah wrote these encouraging words to Israel during a time of great turmoil and disappointment.

Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. (Is. 40:30-31)

Isaiah says it is not about being young or strong or vigorous –it is about waiting; hoping in the Lord. So no matter what happens in life, God will never abandon us; he will comfort us; he will sustain us. This is true for us as individual Jews and Gentiles who are followers of the Messiah   as it is true for us as the Jewish people.  In the Brit Chadashah, Paul writes about the trials and tribulations of being a follower of the Messiah.

we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;
 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
 always carrying about in the body the dying of Yeshua, so that the life of Yeshua also may be manifested in our body. 2 Cor. 4:8-10
He is saying that there is great difficulty but he endures. He is not forsaken; he is not destroyed; he is not lost.  He can say that because he trusts in the Lord. He knows that the Messiah has come. He know that the Messiah has risen from the dead, assuring his own resurrection.   The sufferings of the Messiah gives meaning to his own suffering.   The sufferings of Yeshua displayed the power of God. Paul is saying that his own sufferings display the power of God in the fact that he can endure and therefore “defeat” the suffering like the Messiah did. He knows that there will be a resurrection of the dead. We can also say that our own suffering has meaning in the suffering of the Messiah.  By enduring the difficulties of life, we display the power of God as we endure and remain faithful to God and to his promise of resurrection.  This does not mean that we should suffer; it means that when we suffer there is meaning  just as there was meaning in the sufferings of the Messiah. This is our personal hope and it the hope of Israel. The sufferings of the Jewish people also display the power of God. Historians will tell you that given the history of the Jews, there really should not be a Jewish people today. Our survival is a testament to the power of God and to his faithfulness to his covenant promises. From a human perspective, the survival of Israel is a testimony to the hope that has sustained our people for thousands of years. Even though most of our people do not yet accept Yeshua as the Messiah, many still hope in the promises of God.   The suffering of Yeshua give meaning to our people’s sufferings in that Yeshua is the personification of the history and destiny of Israel. He suffered and died and rose from the dead.  This is a powerful statement that   sustains us on the journey. It is prophesied in the 37th chapter of Ezekiel which describes dry bones which enter a process of coming together and rising from the dead – the sufferings, death and resurrection of Israel. There will be a day when our people will indeed recognize Yeshua.

This leads us to   the destiny of the journey. I have spoken here mostly of the journey itself but the Scriptures are clear that there is a destination.  As I wrote above there is a resurrection of the dead. This is our hope. Daniel writes about the destiny of individuals – that those who follow the Lord will arise to everlasting life and the rest to everlasting contempt.  The destiny to those who arise to everlasting life is described as a place called a “New Heaven and a New Earth.” We read this is Isaiah ch. 65 and in Rev. 21. It is described in glorious terms. It is important that we read these passages often and remember that the journey does indeed have a destination. It is a wondrous place in which there is not more death, or crying, or disappointment or misunderstanding or persecution or war or suffering of any kind. It will be a place in which there will be world peace and security.  When life gets us down let us remember that the Messiah came in order to prepare us and to prepare this place for us.  At his last Passover Seder he taught his disciples:   

In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. Jn. 14:2-3.

This is the hope of Israel. The day will come when our people will recognize that Yeshua is the Messiah. Israel as a people will reach the destination. The journey for Israel will end with a glorious arrival.  But for individual Jewish people as well as all people our personal journey ends when we die. That is why it is so important to repent of our sins and turn to God and believe in the Messiah who takes away our sins. In this way we assure our own future destiny in the New Heaven and New Earth. This is my hope and I trust it is yours as well.  Yeshua is our Passover!  Chag Sameach!

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12
May
09

Happy Lag B’Omer!

Beginning on the second day of Passover the Torah tells us to count fifty days to Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks.  Each day we are commanded to bring an omer of grain to the Temple. Since there is no Temple today, the tradition is to count off each day with specific blessings. The counting of the days are called “counting the omer. ”  During this fifty day period there are to be no weddings, parties or other happy occassions in rememberance  of a plague that killed 24,000 people during the counting of the omer in the days of Rabbi Akiva. However on the 33rd day of counting the omer there is a reprieve because it is  believed that on the 33rd day no one died of the plague.   In addition it is believed that on the 33rd day of the omer,  Shimon Bar Yochai died. Shimon Bar Yochai was a disciple of Akiva and   a Jewish mystic who revealed secrets of the Torah and who was the author of the Zohar, a kabbalisitic writing.   The tradition is  that on the day of his death much secret knowledge of Torah was revealed. To celebrate the life of Shimon Bar Yochai and the reprieve of the plague, the 33rd day of the omer is a day of celebration. There are weddings, festivals, bonfires, parades and other celebratory events. The biggest event of all is the pilgrimage that thousands of people make to the grave of Shimon Bar Yochai. This year, about 400,000 people are expected to make the journey. The day is called Lag b’Omer because in Hebrew the letters “lamed” and gimel” make the number 33 – hence l-g b’Omer.  This year, Lag b’Omer is on May 12th. 

What is striking about Lag b’Omer is the  the stature and veneration of the ancient Sages of Israel. Akiva and Yochai are just two great Sages whose lives are remembered and who embody the love of the Jewish people and the love of Torah. If you visit Israel you can visit the tombs of many Sages. You will find people always present, from young children to aged men and women. They are singing and  praying and willing to tell anyone who will listen about the wonders  of the Sage.  The fervent devotion to these Sages who died many years ago comes from the understanding that  they were like living Torah scrolls – they embodied the meaning of Torah.   Jacob Neusner describes the ancient Sage as a scroll of the Torah. Neusner writes, “…what the Sages did had the status of law; the Sage was a model of the law…enjoyed the standing of the embodiment of the Torah. Since the Sage excercised supernatural power as a kind of living Torah, his very deeds served to reveal law as much as his words expressed revelation. that is…another way of saying that the Torah was incarnated in the person of the Sage.” (The Talmud: What it is and what it Says, by Jacob Neusner, published by Rowman and Littlefield, 2006 p. 121)

A Sage was a man of wisdom. In fact the hebrew word for Sage is Chocham – a wise man.   Yeshua functioned as a Sage of Israel. The difference between the Messiah and the other Sages is that while the other Sages are depicted as the incarnation of Torah, Yeshua truly is the incarnation of Torah. He is the wisdom of God. It was not only his teachings but it was his very life that revealed the wisdom of God. For example, Yeshua demonstrated the meaning of Shabbat by the way he lived on Shabbat. Yeshua spoke in parables because his life was a parable. Yeshua did not only tell the truth – he is the truth.  As the Bible says, For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Yeshua the Messiah. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (Jn. 1:17-18).  While people such as Akiva and Yochai gave forth teaching, only Yeshua was the true realization of Torah in the flesh.  The above text uses two words that show the unique nature of Yeshua. He realized the grace and truth of God and he has expained him. The word “realize” means “to come into being” or to “happen” and the word “explained” means to “to interpret” or to “make known”.  Yeshua is the incarnation of truth. He brings the truth to life. In his life, Yeshua explains and interprets God for us. Yeshua is the incarnation or enfleshment of God – the greatest Sage of all. He is the true living Torah. He not only gave the message – he was in himself the message of salvation. He not only preached about salvation he became salvation. In his own death and resurrection he gives life to all who believe.  How fortunate we are to be talmidim of Yeshua. May we be zealous to show him glory and magnify his name and make Talmidim for Yeshua. We do not need to go to his grave to be close to him. He is alive, the first fruits of the resurrection. On this Lag b’omer may we make much of Yeshua  and tell someone about the greatest Sage of all.