It's normal to look to the spiritual world for answers. Uncertainty about the future, difficulty rendering an important decision, apprehension over an unpredictable circumstance, or even simple curiosity inspires people to seek information from the supernatural.
The Torah warns us not to seek spiritual direction from the occult. God forbids us to consult soothsayers, palm readers, fortune-tellers, mediums, psychics, and the like. Horoscopes, séances, Ouija boards, divination, spell-casting, and all other forms of occult arts are utterly forbidden. The Torah says that whoever practices occult arts is “detestable to the LORD” (Deuteronomy 18:12).
For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so. (Deuteronomy 18:14)
The Didache, a compendium of instructions to Gentile believers composed sometime in the late first century or early second century, states that occultism is a form of idolatry:
Thou shalt not practice magic, thou shalt not practice witchcraft. … My child, be not an observer of omens, since it leads the way to idolatry; neither an enchanter, nor an astrologer, nor a purifier, nor be willing to took at these things; for out of all these idolatry is engendered. (Didache 2:2; 3:4)
The occult is the realm of the demonic. Playing with the occult is an invitation to bring demonic activity into our lives. Rather than turn to the occult for contact with the supernatural, Israel is to turn to God's prophets.
Wouldn't it be nice if there were reliable prophets like Moses today? Imagine having the ability to seek counsel directly from God. Suppose you were trying to decide whether a certain person was right for you to marry. Few decisions in life are so momentous. If there was ever a time to seek spiritual direction, it would be at that moment. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to go to a reliable and true prophet of God and ask the question? The prophet could consult the LORD on your behalf, and you would receive a direct answer.
On rare occasions, the gift of prophecy did function like that, but the prophet of God was not a kosher fortune-teller. The true prophet could only speak what God gave him to speak. He could not force an answer from God. Ordinarily it was God who initiated a prophecy by sending a prophet out to deliver a message.
In today's world, true prophets are sparse. “Word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent” (1 Samuel 3:1). But we are not left without spiritual direction. We have the written Word of God, which was spoken and recorded by the prophets. Our Bible is the written transcript of God's conversations with the prophets. The books of the prophets preserve the living voice of God, offer concrete spiritual direction, and reveal the future. When we are in need of spiritual direction, the first place we should look is inside our Bibles.
We have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).
Remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets (2 Peter 3:2)
Shoftim – שֹׁפְטִים : “Judges” Torah : Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 Haftarah : Isaiah 51:12-52:12 Gospel : Matthew 26:47-27:10
Before God can entrust us with great things, we must prove faithful with the little things. Yeshua says, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10). God tested the children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness before bringing them into the Promised Land to humble them and to see if they would remain faithful to His Torah.
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
During the forty years that the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, God provided for their every need. He fed them manna from heaven and water from a rock. He miraculously preserved their clothing and shoes so that they would not wear out. Through these daily miracles, the children of Israel learned to trust in God for all their physical needs. They learned that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
All of that was about to change. The children of Israel were about to enter the land of promise and enjoy its produce and bounty. They would no longer need to depend on the daily bread from heaven.
God brought Israel through the hardships and trials of the wilderness years in order to train them. “Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son” (Deuteronomy 8:5), Moses told them.
This can be compared to a wealthy man who bequeathed a large inheritance to his son. However, he knew that if he simply gave the money to his son, the young man would forfeit many important life lessons. So the man put the money into a trust and did not tell his son about it. He let his son get a job, acquire a skill, struggle to raise a family, juggle bills, learn to budget and to handle his resources with thrift. When his son asked for financial assistance, the father would give him only a small sum sufficient for the day. When the father was satisfied that the young man had learned to conduct his affairs responsibly, he gave him the inheritance. He said, “Well done, good and faithful son. You were faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Only do not forget the lessons you have learned.”
For forty years in the wilderness, Israel learned to rely on God as the source of their provision and sustenance. They were then ready to enter the land of milk and honey. But Moses warned them not to forget the lessons they learned in the wilderness.
Ekev – ×¢×§×‘ : “Because” Torah : Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 Haftarah : Isaiah 49:14-51:3 Gospels : John 13:31-15:27
Religion is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, faith in God, trust in Messiah and obedience to God's commandments is the narrow path that leads to life. It brings peace, joy and purpose to existence. On the other hand, religious convictions can become a source of strife, enmity and hatred between people and nations.
Parashat Pinchas is named for Pinchas (Phinehas), the zealous grandson of Aaron the priest who turned aside the LORD’s wrath by publicly skewering two flagrant transgressors. The LORD rewarded Phinehas with a “covenant of peace.” He became the progenitor of the priestly line.
The LORD said, “He was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy” (Numbers 25:11). The Hebrew word kin’ah (קנאה), which we ordinarily translate as “jealousy,” also means “zeal,” a better translation in this context.
This explains why the Master had a disciple named “Simon the Canaanite” in the King James Version of the Bible. The Greek text of Matthew and Mark introduce one of Yeshua’s disciples as “Simon the Canaanean (Καναναῖος).” Translators and scribes stumbled over the unusual word. Some scribes mistakenly tried to correct it as “Simon man of Cana.” The King James translators chose to translate it as “Simon the Canaanite.” Thanks to the error, Simon has the embarrassing honor of being the only Gentile disciple among the twelve—and a Canaanite at that!
Actually, the mysterious Greek word attempts to transliterate of the Semitic kanana (קנאנא), which means “the Zealot.” The anti-Roman, Jewish revolutionaries of first-century Judea called themselves Zealots. Luke recognized the word and translated it as “Simon the Zealot.” In modern vernacular, we would call him Simon the Terrorist.
Judea and Galilee were filled with political and religious zealots who regularly resorted to violence to advance their purposes. They emulated Phinehas, and used his story to justify terrorism.
Terrorists like the Zealots prove that zeal can be misplaced. Paul is another example of misplaced zeal. Prior to his Damascus road encounter, Paul pursued the believers with a Phinehas-like zeal. In his epistle to the Philippians, he mentioned his history as a persecutor of the believers as evidence of his “zeal” for God.
Rather than imitating Phinehas, we do far better to emulate the Master who was zealous for His Father’s house (John 2:17) and for His Father’s will. We should imitate the first-century Jewish believers who were “zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20). We should be “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14), and zealous for Messiah and the kingdom. This means ruthlessly rooting out from of our lives those things that lead us to sin and cause us to stray.
Pinchas – פינחס : “Phineas” Torah : Numbers 25:10-30:1 Haftarah : 1 Kings 18:46-19:21 Gospel : Mark 11:27-12:37
When Yeshua says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14), He was hinting about the kind of death He was going to die, but there is a second meaning to these words as well. He was speaking not only of His death, but also of His ascension forty days after the resurrection.
God told Moses to “make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard.” (Numbers 21:8) A standard is a pole atop which an emblem is displayed. The Hebrew word nes may also be translated as “miracle.” God told Moses to “make a bronze serpent, and set it on a nes …” The sages wanted to know the particular “miracle” Moses was to set the serpent upon. By reading nes as “miracle” instead of “pole,” they explained that Moses set the serpent on a miracle by tossing it into the air where it remained hovering above the ground so that all Israel could look upon it:
“Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a miracle (nes)” (Numbers 21:9). That means he cast it into the air and it stayed there.” (Numbers Rabbah 19:23)
This fanciful explanation of the Hebrew also fits the context of John 3. Yeshua was explaining to Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be “lifted up.” He had just told Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man” (John 3:13). In a similar passage, He told the Galileans that He had descended from heaven. When they objected, He replied, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” (John 6:61-62).
In John 3, He told Nicodemus that no one has ascended to heaven, but He will be lifted up because He descended from heaven. Then He explains, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). In this context, His words seem to point toward His ascension. It is the ascension of Yeshua—His return to His former station of glory with the Father—that holds the promise of salvation for everyone who believes.
How will this ascension be accomplished? Just as Moses tossed the serpent into the air and there it remained for all to look unto for salvation, so too, the Son of Man will ascend and remain “lifted up” for the salvation of all who will look to Him.
Yeshua’s words to Nicodemus imply both His cross and His ascension. The lifting of the Son of Man upon the pole (nes) will bring about the lifting of the Son of Man through the miracle (nes) of His ascension.
Chukat – ×—×§×ª : “Statute” Torah : Numbers 19:1-22:1 Haftarah : Judges 11:1-33 Gospel : Matthew 21:1-17
Korah had a gripe against Moses and Aaron. Like Moses and Aaron, Korah was a Levite. He resented Moses for appointing Aaron and his sons to the priesthood and making the rest of the Levites their servants. He felt that Moses was abusing his position of leadership and indulging in nepotism by favoring his brother Aaron. Korah insisted that all Levites should enjoy the privileges and rewards of the priesthood, and that the entire assembly of Israel was holy enough to serve in the Tabernacle.
Korah's attitude is common among Protestant believers today who feel that they are accountable only to God. Many believers view ecclesiastical authorities with suspicion and distrust and refuse to submit themselves to congregational leaders.
Korah spread his spirit of dissent among his fellow tribesmen. The 250 men of renown who followed Korah were also from the tribe of Levi. However, Korah was also joined by three unlikely nobles: Dathan, Abiram and On of the tribe of Reuben. Why would the Reubenites join Korah and the Levites? What did the Levitical dispute have to do with them?
Korah and the Reubenites were next-door neighbors. Korah was from the Levitical family of Kohath. According to the arrangements for the tribal encampments, the Kohathites and the Reubenites both encamped on the south side of the Tabernacle (Numbers 2:10; 3:29).
The sages explain that this next-door-neighbor relationship led the Reubenites into participation in the insurrection. Korah's initial grievances against Moses and Aaron had nothing to do with the Reubenites, but through frequent conversation and the subtle manipulation of ideas, Korah was able to draw his neighbors into his plan.
A proverb says, “Woe to the wicked, and woe to his neighbor.” This applies to Dathan and Abiram, the neighbors of Korah. Dathan and Abiram were neighbors with a contentious man. That is why they were punished with him and were swept from the world. (Numbers Rabbah17:5)
Contention against leadership is contagious, and contentious people work hard to convince their companions to join their cause. Congregational rebellions often start in small study groups, special project committees, or volunteer crews where a single, discontent laymen can publish his gripe against the leadership and raise sympathizers.
As disciples of Yeshua, we need to be wary not to fall into the trap of sedition. Paul warns us not to even listen to accusations against congregational leaders “except on the basis of two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19). Peter tells the younger men in congregations to “be subject to your elders” (1 Peter 5:5). The writer of the book of Hebrews says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Congregational insurrection usually begins with one or two disenfranchised people who have a grievance (real or imagined) against the leadership. They share their grievance with others who will listen. Be careful about granting a listening ear lest you find yourself doing more than just listening.
Korach – ×§×¨×— : “Korach” Torah : Numbers 16:1-18:32 Haftarah : 1 Samuel 11:14-12:22 Gospel : John 9-10
The spies returned from Canaan with a giant cluster of grapes. The grapes should have encouraged the Israelites. The land was indeed a good land full of bounty, just as God had promised. The ten spies, however, interpreted the giant grapes differently. They used them as evidence that the land was inhabited by unconquerable giants. “What would you expect from the vineyards of giants?” Isn't it strange how two people can look at the same thing—such as a cluster of grapes—and come to opposite conclusions? To Joshua and Caleb, giant grapes were a good thing. To the other spies, the giant grapes were a sign of despair.
God said He heard the grumbling and the complaints of the children of Israel. He hears our complaints too. The sin of grumbling is related to the sin of gossip. Both are forms of evil speech; both result from a critical spirit.
Gossip destroys others, breaks up friendships and severs relationships. Grumbling destroys your quality of life and that of those around you.
Imagine going to the zoo with a cranky and undisciplined five-year-old. You take the child to see the lions, but he is sulking because you did not buy him candy. You take him to see the zebras, but he is angry because he does not want to hold your hand in the crowd. You take him to see the monkeys, but he is having a fit because he wanted French fries. You buy him French fries, but he leaves them uneaten because he complains that they are soggy. At the end of the day, he did not see lions, zebras, and monkeys, nor did he eat French fries. He has had a miserable day, and so have you. The child transformed what could have been a wonderful experience into a horrible one for no good reason.
As an adult, it is easy to look at a situation like that and realize how foolish the unruly child is being. It's harder to realize that our own complaints, grumbling and murmuring is just as petty. Adults are usually sophisticated enough to disguise their childish tantrums and inner discontentment. We disguise them as serious adult issues, concerns and complaints. On closer investigation, many of those issues tend to be no more than sulking over soggy French fries. The worst part is that this is not a trip to the zoo. This is your life. If you spend it fussing and sulking, you will never enjoy the good things God is continually doing for you. You will never even notice them.
The Torah teaches that God hears all of our complaints and negativity. That's why the sages teach that the complainer is tantamount to an atheist. His complaints deny the existence of God as if there is no God to hear his bitter words.
Shelach – ×©×œ×— : “Send thou” Torah : Numbers 13:1-15:41 Haftarah : Joshua 2:1-24 Gospel : John 7, 8
The husband of the woman suspected of adultery is brought to the Tabernacle. The priest officiating the ritual prepares a cocktail of water and dust from the Tabernacle floor. He makes the woman swear an oath that will bring an imprecation upon herself if she is guilty. Then the priest wrote out the words of the oath on a scroll, washed the ink from the scroll into the water and gave the water to the woman.
The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. (Numbers 5:23)
The woman drank the water, symbolizing the ingesting of the curse to prove her guilt or innocence. If she was guilty, the water would harm her. If she was innocent, the water would have no malignant effect on her. Instead, it would increase her fertility.
The procedure raises a difficulty, though. Ordinarily in Judaism it is forbidden to erase God's holy Name. For example, when a scribe is copying the Scriptures in Hebrew, he can erase any mistake he makes unless it contains God's Name. If he errs while writing a line of text with God's Name in it, he can erase the rest of the line, but not the Name of God.
For this reason, observant Jews do not write the Name of God in Hebrew on a chalkboard or white board that might be erased. Documents containing the written Hebrew Name of God take on a more precious status. They are not carelessly dropped or destroyed or irreverently tossed in the garbage. Holy books containing God's Name are not even left face down on a table or placed beneath other, less sacred books. Holy books are never taken into bathrooms. Even photocopies containing God's Name take on a holy status. When a scroll or book or piece of paper containing God's Name is ready for disposal, the item is accorded a proper “burial” of sorts in a repository for sacred writings. These traditions teach us to respect and revere God's Name.
Given the respect accorded to God's Name and the strong tradition against erasing God's Name, why does the Torah command the priest to erase the curse from the scroll into the water? God's holy Name appears twice in the curse. The sages teach that God is so concerned for peace between a husband and wife that He is even willing for His own Name to be erased to bring it about (Sifre 17).
In Judaism, peace between husband and wife is referred to as shalom bayit (שלום בית), a term that literally means “peace of the house.” Peace between a husband and wife takes precedence even over the sanctity of God's Name. If that is the case, we need to be careful about allowing religion to disrupt marriage. God is more interested in the success of your marriage than He is in your particular religious choices. He is so committed to the sanctity of marriage that He is even willing for his Name to be erased to preserve peace in the home. How much more should we make every effort to bring peace into our homes.
The Talmud says “One must always be careful of wronging his wife, for her tears are frequent and she is quickly hurt.” The Talmudic passage goes on to say that God is quick to respond to a wife's tears and that her tears are more efficacious than his prayers. God takes the tears of a woman very seriously. The passage concludes by saying, “One must always be respectful towards his wife because blessings rest on a man's home only for the sake of his wife.” (b.Baba Metzia 59a)
Nasso – × ×©× : “Make an accounting” Torah : Numbers 4:21-7:89 Haftarah : Judges 13:2-25 Gospel : John 11:1-54
The Bible refers to the Tabernacle as the Ohel Mo'ed (אהל מעד), a term that our English Bibles translate as “Tent of Meeting.” The word mo'ed can refer to an appointed time or place. The Tabernacle was God's appointed place to meet with man at His appointed times. Leviticus 23 presents a list of God's appointed times (mo'adim, מעדים). They are the holy days which He appointed to meet with His people Israel.
The Master tells the story of how a certain king was giving a wedding feast for his son. He sent out his servants to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast. The servants had two critical pieces of information. They were to declare the appointed time and the appointed place of the banquet. As God summoned Israel to appear before Him, He decreed an appointed place and appointed times. The appointed place was the Tabernacle (and in later years, the Temple in Jerusalem.) The appointed times are the biblical festivals.
Since the destruction of the Temple, the appointed place has been removed, but the appointed times continue. God explains that the appointed times are to be “a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places” (Leviticus 23:14). That means that they are never to be cancelled. They are never obsolete or done away with. They are to be celebrated and observed wherever we live.
The appointed times are part of the biblical calendar. The biblical calendar is a lunar calendar. It is based on the phases of the moon. The waxing and waning of the moon determines the day of the biblical month. The tiny sliver of the new moon always appears on the first day of the month; the full moon indicates the middle of the month; the disappearance of the moon indicates the end of the month.
In Leviticus 23 God declares certain days on the biblical calendar to be mo'adim, that is, “appointed times.” They include the weekly Sabbath, the Feasts of Passover and Pentecost, Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths.
It is not uncommon to hear people refer to the appointed times as the Jewish festivals. This is true in that God gave His appointed times to the people of Israel. He told the Israelites, “The LORD's appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these” (Leviticus 23:2). The Jewish people are the wardens of God's calendar.
However, God does not refer to them as Jewish festivals. He refers to them as “my appointed times.” They are God's holy days. Paul asks, “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also” (Romans 3:29). The Bible never offered Gentile Christians any alternative festival days. To say that Gentile believers are not expected to keep God's appointed times is the same thing as saying that Gentile believers are not supposed to have any holy days or days of worship. Neither the Gospels nor the Epistles grant the Gentile believers their own special festivals.
In the days of the Apostles, both Jewish and Gentile believers observed God's appointed times together. They met in the synagogues and in the Temple on the Sabbath and festival days to celebrate and observe God's holy days. When Gentile Christianity left the cradle of Judaism, the Gentile Christians began to neglect the appointed times. The Sabbath day was replaced with Sunday observance. The timing of Passover was changed. The other festivals fell into disuse. Is this what God intended for believers?
It is true that the Apostles never commanded the Gentile believers to keep the appointed times, but neither did they tell them not to. They were silent on the matter. In those days, the idea of not keeping the appointed times simply had not occurred to anyone.
Emor – ××ž×•×¨ : “Say” Torah : Leviticus 21:1-24:23 Haftarah : Ezekiel 44:15-31 Gospel : Luke 18-20
The Torah gives specific commandments for farmers practicing agriculture in the land of Israel. God tells the farmer not to harvest the grain from the corners of his field. He tells the harvesters not to go over the crop a second time to capture produce they might have missed on the first pass. He tells husbandmen not to gather the fruit that falls from their vineyards and orchards on its own accord. Instead, they are to leave all of the secondary produce for the poor, the needy and the stranger to collect.
The businessman who conducts his operation in keeping with these biblical principles is not concerned only about his own personal success; he is concerned about the success of others as well.
It's not easy to leave the corner of a field unharvested, especially when you might be having trouble making ends meet yourself. How did the farmer find the resolve to follow this instruction? He had only to remember that the land did not really belong to him. He was only a sharecropper, so to speak, working the soil on God's land.
These laws provide the background for the story of Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David. Ruth was a destitute widow, living alone with her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. When the wheat was ready for harvest around Bethlehem, Ruth went out with other poor women of the community to glean in the fields. She followed after the harvesters, picking up dropped sheaves and gathering the remnants that had been left behind. Gleaning is still permitted by law in modern Israel. Poor people are helped by it because they are permitted to pick as much fruit off the trees or from the ground as is needed when they walk through a field or an orchard.
These laws have application outside of agriculture. We all have fields that we work in. The idea is to leave a generous margin for the needs of others.
The sages point out that the Torah does not mandate how large the corners of the field have to be. A generous man might leave large corners standing for the gleaners while a stingy man might decide that a single stalk or two at the corner of each field is sufficient. In both cases, the man's field made a statement about his heart.
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim – ××—×¨×™ ×ž×•×ª-×§×“×•×©×™× : “After the death-Holy” Torah : Leviticus 16:1-18:30 Haftarah : Ezekiel 22:1-19 Gospel : Luke 14-17
The New Testament tells several stories about people being baptized, but the stories do not spell out the details of how the baptism was accomplished. The apostolic writers thought that the method and procedure of baptism was so well known that they felt no compulsion to record any of the details of the ritual. Because the apostles were all Jews, they considered baptism to be a basic part of daily life which required no description.
Baptism was originally a Levitical purification rite. Most purification ceremonies, such as the purification after leprosy, require immersion into a mikvah. The Greek New Testament expresses immersion into the mikvah with the term baptizo (βαπτίζω), the word from which we derive the English term baptism. Leviticus 15 prescribes baptism as the mode of purification for a variety of ritual contaminations.
Baptism means different things to different forms of Christianity. Disagreements about the mode and meaning of baptism can be blamed, in part, on the New Testament’s scanty descriptions of the ritual. The apostles say very little about the mode, never explaining exactly how a person is to be baptized. They say a bit more about the symbolism, but they leave most of that as if it is already taken for granted.
A person needs to be ritually pure before he or she can enter the Sanctuary or eat of the sacrifices. At a minimum, purification from ritual uncleanness required a full-body immersion into mayim chayim (מים חיים): Living water, that is water collected from a natural source like a spring, a river, or rainwater, but not drawn from a cistern or well. A pool of living water is called a mikvah.
A person undergoing immersion descends into the mikvah (or river, or lake, or ocean, or whatever the case may be). The person immerses himself or herself by wading into chest-deep water and bending the knees to completely submerge himself or herself. The dunking is repeated two more times for a total of three consecutive dunks. A person who immersed himself in this manner washed away his ritual uncleanness.
All worshipers going up to the Temple underwent immersion before entering the holy place. Archaeology has unearthed the remains of many apostolic-era immersion facilities near the entrance to the Temple. These are the same immersion baths that Yeshua and His disciples used as they went up to the Temple when in Jerusalem. Archaeologists have found remains of apostolic-era immersion baths all over the land of Israel, and they consider the presence of a mikvah in an excavation as key evidence of a Jewish population.
All of this indicates that baptism was not a Christian invention or even an apostolic innovation. From the days of Moses, Jews regularly practiced ritual immersion. Anyone who became ritually unclean needed to undergo a baptism before he or she could enter the Temple or eat from the sacrifices. The priests immersed every day. After a woman completed her monthly cycle, she needed to immerse herself before she could rejoin her husband. Some pious Pharisees went beyond the letter of the law and attempted to maintain a constant state of ritual purity which necessitated regular, daily immersion.
The immersion ritual symbolizes death and resurrection. When a proselyte converts to Judaism to become legally Jewish, he passes through an immersion in the mikvah. His legal identity as a Gentile dies in the water of the mikvah, and the proselyte emerges from the mikvah reborn as a Jew. Likewise, John the Immerser employed immersion as the physical token of repentance. The penitent entering the water of the Jordan died to sin and emerged from the water reborn to a life of repentance and righteousness. Paul attached similar symbolism to the immersion in Messiah:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Messiah Yeshua have been baptized into His death? … Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)
Tazria-Metzora / תזריע – מצרע : “Conceived” “Leper” Torah : Leviticus 12:1-15:33 Haftarah : 2 Kings 7:3-20 Gospel :Mark 9:14-50/Luke 9:51-10:42
Leviticus 10:16 says, “Moses searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it had been burned up!” The words “searched carefully” translate the repeated Hebrew verb darash. Darash means “to search.” In Hebrew, the verse repeats the verb darash to indicate a diligent search. It says, “darosh darash,” literally, “searching, he searched.”
The same word applies to the study of Torah. For example, a short teaching on Torah is sometimes called a derashah, and a traditional interpretation of Torah is called a midrash. Midrash comes from the same word—“to search.” Studying Torah requires searching the Scriptures.
The Torah actually commands us to study the Torah. Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “You shall teach the commandments of the Torah diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” The sages explain that this commands us to study Torah because to teach the Torah one must study it first. A person should search the Torah, study it, and discuss it, at home and on the way, evening and morning.
The Master repeats this commandment to search the Torah when He rebukes the Pharisees in John 5:39, saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.” The Greek of John 5:39 can also be read in the imperative sense: “Search the Scriptures diligently. In them you have eternal life because it is these that testify about Me.” As we diligently search the Torah, we encounter Messiah.
Most printed editions of the Torah contain a masoretic note on Leviticus 10:16 stating that these two Hebrew words—darosh, darash–are the exact halfway mark of all the words of the Torah. That is to say that if one person started with the last Hebrew word of the Torah and started counting backward, one word at a time, and another person simultaneously started with the first Hebrew word and started counting forward, they would meet at the exact center, in Leviticus 10:16, where it says, “darosh, darash.” Right at the very center of the Torah are the words “Search, search!” The same words can be understood to mean, “Study, study!”
These two words are the exact halfway mark of the words of the Torah. This is to teach us that the entire Torah revolves around constant inquiry. One must never stop studying and seeking ever deeper and broader understanding of the Torah. (Degel Machaneh Ephraim)
Shemini – ×©×ž×™× ×™ : “Eighth” Torah : Leviticus 9:1-11:47 Haftarah : 2 Samuel 6:1-7:17 Gospel : Mark 9:1-13
The Hebrew term “Chol HaMo'ed (חול המועד)” refers to the intermediate, non-holy days of a biblical festival. Only the festival of Unleavened Bread and the festival of Sukkot contain such days. The feast of Unleavened Bread is a seven day festival. The Torah designates the first day and the seventh day as days of holy convocation on which work is prohibited. The intervening five days are chol HaMo'ed, intermediate days. They are not festival Sabbaths or holy convocations, but they are still part of the festival.
The term chol HaMo'ed (חול המועד) means “non-sacred [days] of the appointed time.” The intermediate days are “non-sacred” only when contrasted against the days of holy convocation on which work is prohibited. Intermediate festival days still retain the sanctity of the festival season and the special commandments of the festival. For example, the Torah forbids leaven through all seven days of Passover, and it requires the native-born Israelite to live in a sukkah for all seven days of the festival of Sukkot. Nevertheless, the intermediate days of those festivals are less sacred than the days of holy convocation because the Torah permits us to work on them
Outside of the land of Israel, traditional Judaism doubles the festival Sabbaths—a vestige from an era of calendar uncertainties. The doubling of the holy days reduces the number of intermediate days by one. Many Messianic believers, however, do not follow the Diaspora custom of doubling holy days.
A regular seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath that falls on a day of chol HaMo'ed is called Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed. Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed is not really chol (non-sacred); instead, the holiness of the Sabbath sanctifies it. We regard it as non-sacred only in respect to the appointed time, but the holiness of the weekly Sabbath is greater than the holiness of the festivals.
For Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed Pesach, the sages assigned the Torah portion of Exodus 33:12-34:26. The Maftir is Numbers 28:19-25, and the haftarah is Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones:
“On the Sabbath which falls in the intermediate days of the festival [of Passover], the passage we read from the Torah [is the one that begins in Exodus 33:12], “See, You say to me …” and the haftarah is the “dry bones.” (b.Megillah 31a)
In addition, synagogue custom includes a public reading of Solomon's Song of Songs on Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed.
In the haftarah portion, Ezekiel describes his vision of a valley filled with dry bones. The LORD asks him if the bones can live again? Ezekiel does not know. The LORD tells him to prophesy to the bones and to the wind, telling the bones to grow bodies and the wind to return breath to the bodies. Ezekiel does, and the bones come back to life. The LORD tells Ezekiel that, in the future, He will unlock the graves of His people and bring them back to life and return them to the land of Israel. Then they will know that God is the LORD.
Why did the sages assign Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones for Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed? Rashi cites a rabbinic folk tale about a failed exodus from Egypt that the tribe of Ephraim attempted thirty years before Moses returned from Midian. All the Ephraimites that tried to leave Egypt early died in the attempt, and the valley of dry bones that Ezekiel saw was a repository of their remains. On some occasions, the sages did choose haftarah portions on the basis of folk tale and legendary associations. Another rabbinic opinion cites a tradition that the resurrection of the dead will take place in the month of Nisan. Therefore, the synagogue reads the classic resurrection text as a rehearsal for the event.
From an apostolic perspective, the reading cannot be separated from the historical recollection of our Master's resurrection. Depending on how one reckons the chronology of Yeshua's passion week, the Saturday after his crucifixion coincided with either the first day of Unleavened Bread or Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed. In either case, the first Sabbath to fall within the seven days of Unleavened Bread is the anniversary of our Master's sojourn in the grave. According to Matthew 28:1, He rose from the grave that Saturday night, as the Sabbath concluded and the first day of the week began.
Is it possible that the annual recitation of Ezekiel 37:1-14 is yet another footprint the early believers left behind in Jewish tradition? Perhaps they adopted the dry bones passage for Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed Pesach to honor the Master's resurrection and the custom spread into broader Judaism.
Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed Pesach : ×©×‘×ª ×—×•×œ ×”×ž×•×¢×“ ×¤×¡×— “Intermediate Sabbath of Passover”
Torah : Exodus 33:12-34:26 Maftir : Numbers 28:19-25 Haftarah : Ezekiel 37:1-14