Friday, May 27, 2016

Divisions Among You

Shalom Fellow Israelite,

In last week’s letter, “Drawing Close”, I mentioned that we would take a look at what Paul meant by his following plea: “…by the name of our Master Yeshua the Messiah, [I would] that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).  Since we obviously are not going to speak the same thing (all of the time), and divisions are almost inevitable, what would Paul have been referring to?  In this chapter the apostle is highlighting the centrality of Yeshua “and Him crucified” and the power and wisdom of the cross, as there was a need to address the brethren’s various allegiances that were causing strife and division. Some were calling themselves after Paul, others after Apollos or Cephas (v. 12), while today we could add a host of pastors, rabbis, teachers, prophets and leaders of organizations.  This is why we have 4 or 5 different dates for celebrating the same feast, the proponents of each claiming their ‘rightness’, while often judging others for not following their particular interpretation. But never mind… We are all vulnerable to thinking that we are right and others are wrong, as the power and nature of sin are still working in and through our flesh. 

Paul’s response to the Corinthians’ discord and disputation was very direct: “Has Messiah been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you immersed into the name of Paul?” (v. 13).  He then goes on to explain about Messiah and His crucifixion. Paul was most likely asking them to have the “same mind” and “speak the same thing” in relationship to what the Father did in and through Yeshua’s suffering and death.  Paul then uses the concept of immersion to explain an unseen judicial spiritual act, so that the cross of Messiah would not be made void, of non-effect or empty (v. 17) through different interpretations.  Thus, being immersed into Messiah is not referring to being water baptized by someone, but it is YHVH’s immersing of the defiled life of Adam’s humanity into the flesh of His Son while he hung, in a state of dying, on the execution stake. “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:21, emphasis mine. See also Romans 6:3-4Corinthians 5:14-16).  ”But of Him [Elohim] you are in Messiah Yeshua” (1 Corinthians 1:30a) “therefore no flesh may boast” (v. 29).  To reinforce this truth, Paul states, when writing to the Galatians: "I have been crucified with Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me” (2:20), and again to the Colossians: “For you died, and your life is hidden with Messiah in Elohim” (3:3).  We could not experience this reality had we not been partakers of that ‘mikva’ on the 14th day of Aviv (YHVH’s Pesach) two thousand years ago.  The work was done then, but it is only now that we have awakened, through faith, to this truth, by YHVH’s Spirit. 

We can actually conjecture at what moment in the dying of Yeshua this ‘mikva’ took place.  Because of the Father’s holiness, when the corrupted life of Adam was submerged into the flesh life of His Son, He (the Father) had to put a veil between Yeshua’s nefesh (body-soul) and His (the Father’s) indwelling Spirit: “Elohim was in Messiah reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). In His humanity, being in the flesh, Yeshua experienced this agonizing separation and cried out: “Eli, Eli, why have you forsaken me?!” (Mathew 27:46).

Yeshua’s blood flowing down His flesh body, from the top of his head to the bottom of His feet, was what YHVH required in order to cleanse and purge the life of Adam, so that he could be redeemed and brought back to a relationship with his Heavenly Father and Creator.  Because the life of Adam was put into Yeshua’s flesh body, the former went into death with Yeshua. In other words, when Yeshua died so did Adam. Therefore “our old man was crucified with Him that the body of sin might be done away with” (Romans 6:6).  Understanding this is of utmost importance, because it makes all the difference in our relationship to one another and to sin, as well as to Satan’s kingdom.  This is why the wisdom of Elohim is revealed in the word of the execution stake, as it says: “…but we preach Messiah crucified… to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Messiah the power of Elohim and the wisdom of Elohim” (1 Corinthians 1: 23-24).  This was the solution that Paul brought to the Corinthians and it is always the answer to strife, contention, and the taking of offence at the least of disagreements.

A precursor to this ‘mikva’ is found in Jeremiah 17:13, which says:  “O YHVH, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be ashamed. Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken YHVH, the fountain of living waters”. “Hope” here is not the usual “tikva”, but rather, “mikva”, as the root for the verb ‘gathering of water’ (see Gen. 1:9) is k.v.h. So we see that our immersion in YHVH is where our hope lies. This is confirmed by the second part of the verse which calls Him, “the fountain of living water”. And if we glance back to verses 7&8, the picture becomes even clearer: "Blessed is the man who trusts in YHVH, and whose trust is YHVH. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” 

The only way that we will bear the “fruit of the Spirit” is when our roots are in that mikva of the dying and death of Messiah Yeshua, because in Him is “the fountain of living water”.  Yeshua said that these living waters would flow forth from our innermost parts as well.  “…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:13-14).  

Shabbat Shalom,


Friday, May 20, 2016

Drawing Close

Shalom Fellow Israelite,

A few days before leaving on our 9 week trip to the States and Canada, as I was reading for the hundred plus time Ezekiel 37, I noticed that verse 17, which reads: "Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand,”  is not exactly that way in Hebrew. Examining the injunction “join” I found out that my previous understanding of that word, which was to “connect” them together and to make them one stick, was not the right or correct understanding of “karev” (kof-resh-veth), a verb that actually means to “draw near” or “approach”.  Picture the prophet holding one stick in one hand, and the other stick in the other hand, drawing them “one toward the other one”.   The verse continues: “so that they will be one in your hand”.  The last word translated “one” is a plural “one” – “achadim” (that is, “ones”). 

As the prophet continues to draw these two closer together, they eventually end up next to one another in only one of his hands.  However, they are still two sticks, each distinct and independent of the other, which is to say that they are still two nations and two kingdoms. The next verse actually confirms the idea of the two sticks (“achadim”) in the prophet’s hand, as it reads:  "And when the children of your people speak to you, saying, 'Will you not show us what you mean by these?'” (v. 18 emphasis mine). The reference there to the subject matter of the previous verse points, once again, to plural, “these”, thus telling us that the sons of the prophet’s people (which could refer to the Jews in Babylon) are still looking at two sticks.  The Hebrew word is “eleh” (alef - lamed – hey), meaning “these” (and not “this” – “zeh”, zayin- hey). 

Continuing in verse 19, YHVH says very clearly that He will take the two sticks/trees out of the prophet’s hand and make them “one” - “echad” - in His hand.  Thus, if they would have been one (echad) in the prophet’s hand, it would not have been necessary for YHVH to make them one in His hand.  The following verse takes us back to YHVH’s word to the prophet: "And the sticks [plural] on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes” (v.20). This statement allows us to envision the prophet with two sticks in one hand, as mentioned above, one next to the other.  For them to be in this position, or to get to the point of being drawn so close to one another, major effort or changes will have to take place in both camps, not to mention the need to resolve the disunity that already exists within each respective camp.

YHVH’s prophetic declaration and order of procedure are very important to understand:   "Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again” (Ezekiel 37:21-22 emphases mine).  Here we see the two becoming one stick/nation and kingdom, not only in YHVH’s hand but also in their land.
History proves that YHVH started fulfilling the prophecy by having gathered Judah, bringing them to their land.  But now what about the second nation?  Zechariah chapter 10 talks about the days when Judah would be back in the land, and also that YHVH would save Joseph (v. 6) and then gather him to become the other stick/nation in the hand of the prophet.  “I will whistle for them and gather them, for I will redeem them; and they shall increase as they once increased” (Zechariah 10:8)

According to the above scripture, the first stage for the house of Joseph/Ephraim was/is to be saved. I believe that that means to be “redeemed” and to be restored to their original identity as the sons of Israel, a phenomenon which has been accelerating from the time that the historic old city of Jerusalem came back into the hands of the nation of Judah in 1967.   Next YHVH says that He will gather (kuf-vet-tzadi) them (referring to the dry bones), using the verb “kavetz”, which is seen, for example, in 1 Kings 20:1 as to “gather, assemble or concentrate forces” (such as the dry bones in Ezekiel 37:10).  Employing the same verb, Isaiah 60:4 reads: "Lift up your eyes all around, and see: they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be nursed at your side”.

If the redeemed members of the house of Joseph are going to become a nation in the hand of the prophet, they will have to be gathered first and foremost unto Yeshua their redeemer. Yeshua will then unify them by the oneness of His indwelling Spirit, ultimately into family communities: “Elohim sets the solitary in families... And makes families like a flock” (Psalm 68:6a; 107:41b), and I might add, with seasoned mature recognized leadership/elders (see Jeremiah 23:4). This unity is not conformity to outward or external religious symbols and practices, but is based on the evidence of the life of Elohim’s Son. “And because you are sons, Elohim has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’" (Galatians 4:6).

The above verse indicates that the nation/stick of Joseph is made up of Elohim’s sons, who are governed by His Spirit.  It also points out that the king of this spiritual kingdom is residing in the hearts of His subjects.  The government of Elohim is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (see Romans 14:17).  We know that Satan will not stand by allowing this restoration to go forward. He will work through the power of sin, which is in our flesh, to bring forth the unloving nature of his kingdom of darkness.  When he gains a measure of success in these efforts, we may become what YHVH hates, that is, “a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16,19).  The power of sin is the next most powerful force to Elohim’s.  The only authority that has already defeated the nature and power of Satan’s is the wisdom of Elohim, which is the word of the execution stake. “For the message/word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of Elohim” (Corinthians 1:18).

“Elohim is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Yeshua the Messiah master and king.  Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Master Yeshua the Messiah, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (Corinthians 1:18).  This is not necessarily referring to what we do, but to what we believe to be true about the Father’s finished work through Yeshua’s death, burial and resurrection.  Next time, Yah willing, we will explore what that might look like.  In the meantime watch and pray, for the devil, with his wiles, is always looking to use us (our flesh) to abuse ourselves and others.  But the love of Elohim is in our hearts in order to encourage and build us up and others in faith, hope, and love. There are many parts to His body, and we all may have a different leading as to what He is doing to accomplish His purposes, but that is a matter of the heart, which only He knows.  Some may want to serve together in a framework of an organization, others feel to do it another way, again, according to the way they feel led.  But none has the right to judge what is in the heart of another.  We all have the privilege of forgiving one another when necessary.

Shabbat Shalom,


Friday, May 13, 2016

Our North America Journey

Shalom Fellow Israelite,

As mentioned in our earlier note this week, we are back in the land.  Jet lag seems to be over now and we are busy getting settled into daily routines (including yesterday’s celebration of Israel’s 68th Independence Day).  But before time slips away we want to share some of the amazing events we experienced in North America.  (These are the contour lines, as it were, of the trip and do not include the actual content and message that Abba has laid on our hearts to share). We have never had so much favor from Abba, in every area of the journey, as we did this time.  We left Israel on March 1st, were met by friends in Tampa, Florida and taken to their lovely home in Sarasota.   There we had a couple of days to recuperate and enjoy the blessings of love poured out by this couple.  On the 4th we jointed hundreds of Ephraimites at the B’ney Yosef North American summit in St Petersburg, which was like a family reunion. YHVH’s presence and anointing upon those 3 days were electrifying.  What was especially precious was meeting Batya Wooten, with her wonderful sense of humor that she has been maintaining in spite of several years of no minor difficulties.  We also were very impressed by the choice of elders for BYNA, as well as by those on the executive board, all of whom have taken up the task of organizing and moving forward with the vision of the reconstitution of our national aspirations.

After the summit we stopped by and shared at a congregation where we had been in 1997-98 when it was still a home group, but now has grown into a community, having their own building and a vision that has not waned for the restoration of all things.  We also had a few days with a very dear friend and his new wife before leaving for the B’ney Yosef National Shabbat in Northeast Georgia.  Here Abba arranged an additional divine and unexpected erev Shabbat appointment, along with a wonderful time of celebrating our Messiah Yeshua’s faithfulness in restoring us to our forefathers and national identity.  From there we drove to Ralph, Alabama, to be with friends who have been actively encouraging and supporting us over the years.  The following evening we shared with their congregation near Birmingham.  It was a very special and attentive group whom we had the privilege to address. The following morning we picked up a friend from Aqaba, Jordan at the airport and continued on to a home meeting in Houston, Texas being again another divine encounter with very precious brothers and sisters.  Sometime later our hosts sent us a video of a canoe passing by on the street where our car had been parked, as their area suffered from the floods which hit Texas.  From there the 3 of us drove to San Antonio, Texas for a couple of days of relaxing fellowship, a B’ney Yosef National Shabbat, and a professional tour of the Alamo. The level of commitment and dedication of our brothers and sisters amazed us, and what’s more we were very pleasantly surprised to meet a very good friend who drove a long way with his family just to be with us, as well as to bless all present with his gift of music.

Another surprise encounter awaited us in Western Texas, which was a last minute arrangement by friends who had heard we were in the vicinity. And so we had our inspiring sit-around-tables gathering in lovely Fort Davis, above a traditional ‘drug-store’, next to the beautifully renovated and quaint guest rooms. Driving through the magnificent countryside of Northern Georgia, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona left us in awe as to the Almighty’s creation.

Our next stop was in Carlsbad New Mexico, where we attended a gathering with a very enthusiastic group, energizing us for our long drive to Mesa Arizona along breath taking vistas.  A four day stay with very close friends was very revitalizing, not to mention the very intriguing Purim celebration on Friday and Shabbat at their congregation, the anointed music and the opportunity to address the lively group that gathered there, some of whom were friends whom we have not seen for many years.

Reno, Nevada was to be our next stop, but a couple of days break was in line as our traveling companion, who unfortunately had taken very sick along the way, had a close childhood friend in Las Vegas. Much to our dismay, she felt that she needed to recuperate and we left her there, to be well taken care of by her loving friends. Reno was a wonderful experience, where once more we met with some old time friends as well as making new ones, at a lovely Shabbat dinner that we all shared, and then in the Shabbat fellowship meeting that lasted through the afternoon.
Mount Shasta in California was ‘waiting’ for us on our way from Nevada to our next two appointments in Oregon. We spent the night at a horse ranch, with a view of the beautiful white capped mountain, but not before an evening of sharing with our hosts and their guests, whose interest in the homeland was very encouraging.  

A long drive through the pine forests of Northern California ushered us into the beautiful State of Oregon, where we had a delightful experience in Talent, both at the home of our Israeli-savvy hosts and with the group that gathered in a civic center. Having to leave far too quickly, we made our way to Salem, to meet with very dedicated individuals who are serving Abba and His purposes under all circumstances, and who greeted us with equal dedication and love. Our final stop on that leg of the journey was in central Washington, in Ellensburg, where we were hosted very generously by friends with whose group we have had years-old relationship. It was a wonderful experience to be with these special individuals, and to be joined by some others from the area and share from the depth of our hearts. The visit was concluded by a lovely and relaxing boat ride along the Columbia River, with our host as the ‘captain’.

The next day we turned in the car in Seattle and took a short flight to Calgary, Alberta where, once again, loving friends went out of their way to make our stay enjoyable to the utmost. They took us to some amazing sites where there was still evidence of snow, and to their fellowship where we met very devoted brothers and sisters with whom we spent the entire Shabbat in very meaningful sharing.

From our too short of a stay in Calgary we flew back to the States, landing in Chicago only to be greeted by friends from Israel who happened to be there at the same time.  After a couple hours visit at the airport we took a bus to Rockford, Illinois and spent a lovely evening with a dear friend and continued the next day to Wisconsin, where we were hugging, sharing and catching up with Ephraim’s family and more old time friends. It was so good to see them all!

After the week in the ‘home turf’ we flew back to Canada and prepared to conduct the Pesach seder and to share during the high holiday, an appointment which had been designated for Barrie, Ontario. After a day of relaxation at a lovely resort in the Blue Mountains (courtesy of a very special couple) we set forth to share the seder meal, and two more days of teachings with a versatile group of people with whom we were honored to spend that precious time. A special treat was to meet up with veteran friends who came a long way to see us and spend those days with the local congregation.

Much traveling was in store for us in our Ontario spell. A two hour drive brought us to Sudbury for an afternoon and evening gathering that was arranged by another very dedicated and loving couple, who were our hosts for the next three days. After that wonderful experience they drove us for another two hours to their Elliot Lake home, where we had an opportunity to get to know each other, and some of their close friends from the Ojibway tribe. We were grateful for the opportunity to meet and share with these very exceptional people, and to learn about the first nations of the area.

As our trip was coming to a close we had a seven hour ride, replete with beautiful sites of lakes and snow patches and lots of formidable inukshuks (stone piles set up by the first nation people to serve as landmarks to show the way), on the road to a Brad Scott seminar. Since we had a speaking engagement in that area (Hanover, Ontario) on the coming Shabbat, it allowed us to participate at least partially in this edifying seminar, and also gave another opportunity to meet again with old and newly made friends. The Shabbat gathering was a very encouraging finale to the two months long series of meetings and appointments, which Abba by His grace allowed us to have.

The cherry on the proverbial cake of this wonderful tour, were three days spent, once again, at the beautiful resort where we had been before, all thanks to the generosity and servants’ hearts of a very special couple, who day and night took care of us in every way. What’s more, they provided room so that some very close friends, who live seven hours away, in Up-state New York, could come and spend some precious time with us.

On the evening of May 5th we flew home from Toronto.

At Tel Aviv airport we were surprised and relieved to see our daughter waiting for us (as we had planned to travel home by train). The sun was shining all the way from the airport (as it has indeed done almost every single day of the trip). We arrived in time for an erev Shabbat meal that was shared in a warm and loving family setting. It was a perfect ending to a perfect trip that our Heavenly Abba arranged for His very grateful children.

A big “thank you” to all our hosts, who loved, wined and dined us (and so much more) through our 9 week journey. 

Ephraim and Rimona