Friday, December 26, 2014

The Bottom Line

Shalom Fellow Israelite,

As the plans progress toward the “B’ney Yosef National Congress,” with all the thoughts, actions, and discussion surrounding the preparations, we must keep in mind that this event is not about US.  In other words, this upcoming gathering is not intended to glorify man and his (our) achievements.  This letter, which is made up mostly of scripture, is for the purpose of adjusting our perspective regarding this future meeting and for putting it, and all of our efforts, in context. We must always keep in mind that, “’it is not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit’ says YHVH.”  When the Almighty One of our forefathers was about to bring the second generation of the Hebrew Israelite nation into the land, the first time, He said to them: "Hear, O Israel: You are to cross over the Jordan today, and go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourself, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the descendants of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you heard it said, 'Who can stand before the descendants of Anak?' Therefore understand today that YHVH your Elohim is He who goes over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and bring them down before you; so you shall drive them out and destroy them quickly, as YHVH has said to you. Do not think in your heart, after YHVH your Elohim has cast them out before you, saying, 'Because of my righteousness YHVH has brought me in to possess this land'; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that YHVH is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that YHVH your Elohim drives them out from before you that He may fulfill the word which YHVH swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore understand that YHVH your Elohim is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people”  (Deuteronomy 9:1, emphases added).

Generations later, YHVH sent the offspring of those who were addressed in the above quote, out of and away from their inheritance and into the desert of the nations where they/we experienced the blessings and the curses. He also did this in order to multiply the seed/life of our forefather Israel, and cause us to learn obedience through that which we suffer.  In spite of their/our rebellion against YHVH’s statutes, laws, and ordinances, He promised to bring them/us back from those dry places, to our inheritance. 

The Elohim of Israel said that He would put flesh on the dry bones and cause them/us to stand up as a mighty nation and army. He also declared that He would write the Torah on their/our hearts, as well as deposit His Spirit within. YHVH pledged that He would make a New Covenant with them/us.  Yet YHVH our Elohim, the Elohim of our forefathers, is reminding us once again of what He had said earlier (in Deuteronomy), this time through the prophet Ezekiel:   "Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds; to Me their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity.  Therefore I poured out My fury on them for the blood they had shed on the land, and for their idols with which they had defiled it.  So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries; I judged them according to their ways and their deeds.  When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name -- when they said of them, 'These are the people of YHVH, and yet they have gone out of His land.' But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went. Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says YHVH Elohim: "I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went.  And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am YHVH," says YHVH Elohim, ‘when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.  For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.  Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your Elohim…   Not for your sake do I do this,’ says YHVH Elohim, ‘let it be known to you (Ezekiel 36:17-28; 32 emphasis added).

This is ‘the bottom line,’ for “unless YHVH builds the house [nation], they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1a).  However, He does have workmen/laborers for the task. The requirements are skill and faithfulness, as it was in the days of King Jehoash and Jehoiada the priest (see 2 Kings 12).

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Phenomenon of Non-Jews Identifying Themselves with Israel

This is a report on a recently held workshop about the phenomenon of non- Jews affiliating with Israel and with the Jewish people, and on how some of the observations and conclusions reached may affect the future of the Restoration Movement.

In recent years the Jewish world has been forced to face unprecedented interest of many groups and individuals from many different backgrounds expressing a desire to either become Jewish, or to “return” to their Jewishness, or to be aligned to Judaism in some other way. A number of these parties are already converts to Judaism, while others are looking to pursue that path, hailing from a totally “foreign stock” or from the “seed of Israel” (to use rabbinic terminology), even though until conversion they cannot be recognized as bona fide Jews. Then there are those who are creating their own version of Judaism, which is not officially recognized by the mainline Jewish bodies (and its members are therefore not eligible for immigration, Aliyah, to Israel). The latter’s form of Jewishness is termed “alternative Judaism.”

There are many and varied explanations to this awakening; descendants of hidden Jews who were subject to the Inquisition’s forced conversions or to other forms of persecution, descendants of Nazis and their collaborators who have deep feelings of guilt, individuals in the now alienated and spirit-less western societies who are looking for identity and group belonging, Messianic aspirations on the part of some (primarily Christians) etc. In addition, there is a plethora of groups in Africa and Asia, being largely disadvantaged and hence propelled by a need to be liberated from an  inferior social and/or economic status, who for centuries have been creating their own narrative (of their association to Israel). Incidentally, this explanation for the latter’s perception of themselves is proposed by the Academia, whereas there may be an altogether different explanation/s for their choices. In years past missionaries were at times (unintentionally) the agents for this type of identity switch, and thus in many cases this phenomenon is defined as a “Christian construct.” Historically, different groups have affiliated themselves with Israel or with the Jews ever since the very first dispersions of the Israelites. For a brief overview of this phenomenon check?out:

Yet in spite of this phenomenon not being new (as is evidenced even in the New Covenant books), what is happening and coming to light in our day and age, mainly because of limitless communication possibilities and travel, seems to be of much greater proportions than ever before.

On November 4th of this year the Van Leer Institute of Jerusalem, described as “an intellectual center for the interdisciplinary study and discussion of issues related to philosophy, society, culture and education,” hosted a research study workshop titled: “Converts, Returnees, and Adherents: New Ways of Joining the Jewish People.” This topic certainly has some relevance to and a bearing upon the reemerging body of Beit Yoseph/Ephraim, who are making their way back to their ancient roots and “ethnicity.” Granted, the members of the “stick of Yoseph in the hand of Ephraim and all the tribes of Israel his companions” are not claiming or aspiring to integrate or assimilate within the Jewish Nation and/or religion, but yet should take an interest in other groups who have aspired to do so, or are viewing themselves as being “Jewish,” albeit of the ‘non conventional’ sort. Of special interest is the response and reaction of ‘mainline’ Jews and Israelis to this phenomenon.

The following is the introduction to the workshop that was posted on the Van Leer Institute’s site: In recent decades we have witnessed a new global phenomenon: Tens of thousands of individuals have chosen to become part of the Jewish people, most of them not through religious conversion of any kind. Some children of intermarried families in the United States are adopting the Jewish way of life of their families; in Eastern Europe, individuals of Jewish descent are returning to the roots they have hidden since World War II; in Asia there are groups that see themselves as the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes and are seeking a path to Judaism; in Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, thousands now openly express the formerly hidden traditions of families that were forced to convert to Catholicism (anusim); in Israel, immigrants who are not halakhic Jews are becoming part of Jewish society and gradually becoming Israeli Jews. This phenomenon marks a fascinating change in the history of the Jewish people. For thousands of years people who were not Jews had no interest in becoming part of the Jewish people, whereas since the end of the twentieth century the trend toward joining has increased. The aim of this research workshop is to examine the phenomenon in both global and local contexts.” End of quote.

Since this phenomenon has been so prevalent and is obviously not viewed as spiritually inspired, the current surfacing of the “Ephraimites/Israelites” will most likely be examined solely through sociological or anthropological lenses, and be relegated to a mere marginal “would-be” or “wanna-be” religious group, one out of many, whose alleged affiliation to the lost tribes is likely to be dismissed, for example by words such as were expressed by the most renowned expert on the topic of judaisation (as it is called) and groups’ affiliations with Israel, when referring to a certain group’s claims to be of the  “ten lost tribes”: “nonsense.”   

The head of the Van Leer Institute, Prof. Gavriel Motzkin, who opened up the workshop made some very remarkable statements in regards to the groups discussed, saying that “we could be on the eve of major changes in Jewish life, and a change in dialectics of the Jewish story,” adding that, “the new Jews upset our story of the Diaspora and Israel,” as they do not fit the traditional narrative. Those who are joining the Jewish people are affecting “a change in the fixed paradigms.” Prof. Motzkin was not the only one with a broader view on the topic. Some of the other, secular, speakers expressed similar positive approaches as far as the possible inclusion of “affiliates” into Jewish/Israeli society.

But even though such an approach may be paving the way to the eventual acceptance of members of the Restoration Movement, yet as cited above, the scholarly analyses may take a less favorable position toward a group such as the Ephraimites/Israelites and their demand to become a recognizable and viable people group with ‘rights to self determination’ and repatriation in the Land of Israel. Aside from the discussions at the workshops, generally in Israel the “ten lost tribes” issue is often viewed, especially in secular circles, as part of folklore. In fact, some years ago the renowned Diaspora Museum of Tel Aviv put on an exhibition on the “myth of the ten lost tribes.” As far as the religious speakers in the workshop were concerned, any connection to what they would term as “Christianity” (that is faith in Messiah Yeshua) bars any real connection to and with the people of “Judah,” while the more secular scholars would most likely require a “scientific” (cultural, historical, ethnic, sociological, perhaps DNA testing) connection in order to give legitimacy to such a group.

So where does all of this put the current Ephraim-Sons of Israel/Joseph movement, a movement whose members have no common culture or even a shared recent history? One major difference between this movement and all the other past and present groups on the one hand, and random individuals on the other, is its non affiliation with any particular and given ethnicity, but instead being a globally wide-spread spontaneous occurrence, while its adherents are usually in group settings (unlike the persons who are finding their way to Judaism individually for any number of reasons).

Secondly, the restored sons of Israel will certainly not have YHVH “on their side” if they try to reassert their identity without a renewed heart. We would all agree that if these “sons” are to be back in their inheritance, only establishing the “Kingdom of Elohim” will do. This, of course, at this point in time is not a communicable topic that can be presented to any of the worldly factors to whom we may want to introduce ourselves. What’s more, as already mentioned, without “worldly” cultural and historical commonality it would be even more difficult to convince anyone that such a body of people has any legitimacy, and will therefore be perceived as some kind of “religious fanaticism.” But these obstacles should not deter us, although we are stepping on a suspended bridge, or even a tight robe, between the natural world view and its processes (which should not be ignored), and a genuine Yah-led spiritual restoration. Only by His guidance and wisdom will we be able to cross this bridge without stumbling!

In light of the above short survey, it appears that this move of the Spirit, which hardly fits comfortably into any of the other affiliations described, could potentially face much opposition and animosity, and may not receive ready acceptability. The one “ally” that this movement does have is the Elohim of Israel, if we truly bind ourselves to His ways, Word, and also to each other! Differences of opinions and plurality He can handle easily, but not internal animosity and divisiveness. In order to move on we must present a strong united front of faith, hope and love, and readiness to act as He leads.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Shake the Heavens and the Earth

“This is the season to be jolly, fa-la la la la la la la la…”  Why?  Because of the “good news” (“b’sorah” in Hebrew).  But is it really time to be happy and celebrate?  The book of Haggai gives us reason to believe that this is a time to, “consider our ways,” humble ourselves in the “fear of YHVH” and “work for the restoration of YHVH’s house.”  Two significant dates are mentioned in Haggai’s writings: the 21st day of the 7th month (the last day of Succot), and the 24th of the 9th month (which is the start of Hanukah, although Haggai had obviously written hundreds of years before that feast actually came into being).

The returnees from Babylon had been given ample provisions by Cyrus and Darius for the building of the Temple, but those donations were used by the people to build their own houses.  While utilizing these precious gifts for their personal needs, they declared that, "The time has not come, the time that YHVH's house should be built" (Haggai 1:2).  But then “the word of YHVH came” (and here let us ask: Who is that Word that came?) saying: "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple is in ruins?  Now therefore,’ thus says YHVH of the Armies: Consider your ways!  You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.’  Thus says YHVH of the Armies: ‘Consider your ways!’” (Haggai 1:3-7 emphases added). When the Word of YHVH repeats ‘Himself,’ it is time to listen.

Thus, “Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people obeyed the voice of YHVH their Elohim…” (1: 12) and succeeded in building an altar, and so could celebrate Succot. It was only after that Feast that they began to lay the foundations for YHVH’s House.   
Who or what is the House of YHVH in our day and age?  Some contend that after the house of Judah gets rid of the abomination on the Mount and rebuilds the Temple, YHVH’s House will be established.  But let us consider what Yeshua’s mother was told before His conception: "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Yeshua…  And He will reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:31-33 emphasis added). Clearly Yeshua came to set up His Kingdom here on earth and rule in the house of Jacob, which is to become YHVH’s living dwelling place/Temple. Incidentally, the fact that these verses are read in all Christian circles at this time of year is quite ironic. 

Yet even though Yeshua came to restore the house of Jacob, so that He can return and rule in the midst of Jacob’s descendants, at this point in time most of the latter are in the grave of non-awareness as to their identity. But the remnant that has received His breath (His Spirit) may now arise and build. They form the Zerubabbel and Joshua company of today.  These are the ones that see the “two sticks” in the hand of the prophet.  They acknowledge that alongside the stick/house of Judah that has been restored as a nation, they too, the spirit filled saved non-Jews of the house of Joseph (see Zechariah 10) must also return as a people/nation.  Yeshua’s role, as He sits in His place in the heavens, is to fulfill all that has been spoken through the mouths of the holy prophets of old.  His Father will not send Him back until all that was spoken by these prophets comes to pass (ref. Acts 3:19-21).  

Yeshua told His disciples why He had to go to His Father:   " Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12).  What are the greater works?  I believe they are to raise an entire nation from the grave and restore the Kingdom to whom it belongs, that is, to the whole house of Israel under Yeshua’s rule.  The restoration of YHVH’s Kingdom to Israel is at the heart of the Father’s purposes for His Son and His sons.

On the last day of the Succot celebration (21st of the 7th month), YHVH made a promise and gave a word of encouragement to Zerubabbel and Joshua:  “'Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,' says YHVH; 'and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,' says YHVH, 'and work; for I am with you'”… (Haggai 2:4).  He then added words that may have taken them by surprise: “For thus says YHVH of the Armies: 'Once more in a little while I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come, and I will fill this temple/house with glory'” (Haggai 2:6-7 literal translation).  Immediately following this proclamation, YHVH stakes claim to all these riches that the nations desire and which He will cause them to bring to His restored House/Temple (see also Isaiah 60).  No other nation has been called or chosen to receive this honor.  What a privilege to be about the greater works that Yeshua and the Father are doing at this time!

Two months after the above cited promise, YHVH spoke again, this time setting His former words in a greater global context: “…the word of YHVH came to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month [present day first day of Hanukah], saying, it is the time about which YHVH of the Armies said: ‘I will shake heaven and earth.  I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow the chariots and those who ride in them; the horses and their riders shall come down, everyone by the sword of his brother’” (Haggai 2:21-22).  Certainly this became true at the time designated by YHVH for bringing Judah back to the land, using two world wars and a holocaust to accomplish His goal.  What about today? Are all the ethnic/religious wars in the nations surrounding Israel and beyond, happening in preparation for bringing the house of Joseph back to these very areas?  If so, then we need to be prepared just as the early Zionists did one hundred years or more before the Jewish state was established.

“Consider your ways!”  YHVH wants to restore His Temple/House and will shake heaven and earth in order to accomplish His purposes.  Will we be like our ancestors, and use the time and provision for our own purposes, or will we be counted among the remnant (mentioned in Haggai 1:14) who were obedient to the call to “work” to restore the House of YHVH?

 The ‘construction company’ will meet (Yah willing) for a congress the day after Shavuot 2015 to begin to strategize and plan the laying of the foundations.  Anyone who is longing for this house/nation of Joseph/Ephraim to be ‘constructed’ is invited to participate.   YHVH’s glory and the glory of the nations will not descend or come on a heap of rubble scattered all over the earth…  In fact, He promises that, “’The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the former,' says YHVH of the Armies. 'And in this place I will give peace…’" (Haggai 2:9).  

The 24th day of the ninth month (December 16th) is the first day of Hanukah. Let us dedicate ourselves to the work of the Father and Yeshua.
Shalom, and Hag Same’ach