Friday, May 27, 2022

Omer's 40th Day

 It was a bright and beautiful spring morning with a hint of an impending heatwave. The olive trees dotting the landscape added silvery hues to the golden light.  But even more spectacular was the light that was reflecting from the Temple, commanding, in all its glory, Mount Moriah to the west. As the smoke was rising from the morning sacrifices, it was captured by the sunrays and appeared to be sending them back to the heavens from whence they came.   It was the 40th day of the Counting of the Omer.  

The little band of hopeful students had just arrived back in Jerusalem after being with their risen Master in Galilee.  There He spoke with them extensively about the Kingdom of Elohim and their calling to be fishers of men.  But this day seemed different. Yeshua was not the same as He had been in the past little while.  Something was in the air…  

As they began their ascent toward the summit of the Mount of Olives, one of the disciples whispered over to the other, “Do you recall what He said to us a few days before Passover, words we did not understand then?” “Yes,” replied the other, “He said, 'in a little while you will not see Me, and again a little while you we will see Me, because I go the Father.'” Another disciple, half-listening into the conversation, suddenly butted in, “that’s right, the Master told us that there would come an hour in which we would remember the things He had told us.” Walking just a few paces ahead, Yeshua was smiling as He overheard their conversation.

They nearly reached the summit, when a follower of the disciples who had been within earshot, asked them to fill him in on what Yeshua had told them.  All three began to respond to the inquirer at once, but two of them yielded to Yochanan (John). He then began to describe what had taken place just before the fateful day of their teacher’s arrest. Yochanan told the young man that had Yeshua not done among the people and the religious leaders the works which He had done, the latter would not have been guilty of sin; but now, after having witnessed His deeds, their response demonstrated their hatred for Him, and also for His Father. "This," Yochanan added, "happened that the word from Psalm 35:19 'they hated Me without a cause,' might be fulfilled." Continuing, Yeshua's beloved disciple proceeded to tell the young fellow that Yeshua had told them about a Helper whom He would send from the Father. “Yeshua said that this Spirit, which He called the Spirit of Truth, would come forth from the Father and that He would testify as to who Yeshua really was, and because of His presence we also, who have been with Yeshua from the beginning, would bear witness to the Truth.” 

The group was still climbing and Yochanan continued breathlessly: "Yeshua further said that we would be put out of the synagogues; yes, even that a time would come that whosoever kills us will think that he is doing Elohim a favorable service. They will do all this to us because they have not known the Father, or the Messiah. Our Master told us these things so that when the time comes, we would remember His words and be ready.  He did not tell us all this at first because He was with us, but now that He was going back to the One who sent Him, He wanted to warn us.  Amazingly none of us had asked Him where He was going, although His words were very troublesome to us and our hearts were filled with sorrow. But then He said something very strange. He told us that His going away would be to our advantage. That did not make sense to us at all. How could that be? Who is this Helper whom He was talking about, who will not come to us unless Yeshua was to go away?   Only if He departs, would He then send this Helper, and when the Helper comes He will convict the world of sin and of righteousness, and of judgment.”  

Yochanan's listener was very perplexed over these words, but before he could ask, “where is Yeshua going?” they had arrived at the summit.  A feeling of awe and deep reverence swept their hearts, as Yeshua turned to face them. His voice was stern and commanding when He told them not to leave Jerusalem before the Father’s promise is fulfilled.  They all looked at one another, expecting someone to ask the inevitable question, “Where are you going and when will you return?”  (to be continued)

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Bamidbar - Bamidbar (Numbers) 1 – 4:20


"And YHVH spoke to Moses in the wilderness…" (emphasis added), are the opening words of the Torah's fourth book, Bamidbar (Numbers). In this first verse YHVH is "speaking" – "va’ydaber" – “in the wilderness" - "ba-midbar" - both words originating from the same multifaceted root - d.v.r (dalet, bet/vet, resh).  Let us examine this root and follow it to a number of unexpected places.  


“In the beginning was the word (davar), and the word (davar) was with Elohim, and Elohim was the word (“davar”)… And the word (davar) became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:1,14). Davar is the spoken word, the all-powerful utterance that creates or generates everything, while “thing” is also "davar".  Thus, all "things" appear to be the results of that which has been "said" or "spoken".  In the Tanach many terms, such as lies, wisdom, falsehood, truth and more, are preceded by “d’var” – meaning “thing of….” indicating that the origin of all things is the ‘utterance’.  Davar is that which proceeds out of the mouth of Elohim, and is therefore "the Word of Elohim".  “Matters” or “business” are also “davar” (or “dvarim” in plural form), as we see for example in Shmot (Exodus) 5:13, 19: “Fulfill your works, your – dvarim - daily tasks" (emphasis added), and in Shoftim (Judges) 18:7, reference is made to the Danites who “… had no – dvarim - business with any man” (emphasis added).  Terms such as “deeds" (Jer. 5:28, speaking of "deeds of the wicked") are also “dvarim”. "Reason, motives, customs" (“the custom of the king” in Esther 1:13) also fall within the framework of “davar”.  The literal rendering for “after the order of Malchitzedek” (ref. Ps. 110:4), is “upon my divra, Malchitzedek”, that is, “upon my word”. The form “divra” illustrates the depth and scope of “davar”, which may be also rendered as an “order, pattern, type, or prototype". Hence, the “Ten Commandments” - “aseret ha-d’varim” - are “the ten words” or “things”, or “matters” (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13, 10:4. Notice, none of these terms are related to “commandments” or “laws”).


From this point let us venture further a-field to “dever”, which is "plague", or “pestilence”.  Although this abrupt transition may seem curious, it is consistent with many such disparities found in the Tanach.  If we remember that "davar" also means "cause", then the "plague", or "dever", illustrates the principle that “the curse causeless/without reason shall not come” (Prov. 26:2).  Indeed, time after time the plague is the result of rebellion against Elohim, as in the case of the plagues of Egypt. YHVH says to Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) about the people of Yisrael: “I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine and by the plague - dever” (Jer. 14:12 italics added). The following is what He speaks to the Land of Yisrael through the prophet Y’chezkel (Ezekiel): “The sword from without and the plague – dever - from within” (Ez. 7:15 italics added). Amos 4:10 records another warning by Elohim to send a plague upon His people.


"Subdue” or "destroy" stem, once again, from the root d.v.r, with its infinitive “le’hadbir”.  In T’hilim (Psalms) 18:47 we find, for example: “Elohim… subdues the people under me” (emphasis added). This verb also means “to expel or send away", such as sending off the flock to pasture, or to the desert.  Thus, in Mi’cha (Micah) 2:12 the flocks are seen in the midst of their “hidabar”, which is translated "fold" or "pasture".


The "subdued" enemy (or the sinner), therefore, is often “pursued", "sent away", or “driven” to the "wilderness" or "desert" - "midbar".  But just as the wilderness may turn out to be a place of “pasture” for the flocks, it may also become a place of repentance and spiritual refreshing to those who are fleeing (or are forced) there. In the “midbar’s” stillness there are many opportunities to hear the voice of YHVH sounding His Word. The Bible records an impressive list of those who can attest to this fact.


Another place where YHVH’s voice is heard is in the Holy of Holies (or “inner sanctuary”), which in Solomon’s Temple is called Dvir (ref. 1st Kings 6:16).  Dvir is the furthest and innermost place within the Temple.  Divine communication, therefore, is to be found in the furthest and remotest of places; sometimes even in a land of banishment and punishment, which may not only become a refreshing oasis but may even turn into a 'Holy of Holies'.


In summation, the Word, as epitomized by the Son of Elohim, is life-giving, but rejecting Him (the "Davar") may result in a plague (“dever”), which subdues and drives ("madbir") one to the desert ("midbar"), there to be spoken to ("daber") by the Living Word ("Davar") Who utters the Word of Truth ("dvar emet") in His inner sanctuary, or most holy place (dvir). “And I will woo her to Me in the wilderness…” we read in Hoshe’ah (Hosea) 2:14. D.v.r teaches us why it was essential for the Israelites, on their road to becoming a nation, to experience a wilderness journey.


Chapters 1 and 2 of Bamidbar describe the formation of the congregation of Yisrael’s encampment, for the purpose of a census (cf. Ex. 30:11-16). However, on the previous occasion (in Exodus) each of them had to “give a ransom for his soul to YHVH while numbering them” (which was of one-half shekel that was used for the Mishkan), here they are not required to do so.


"Lift the heads of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, by their skulls (literal translation, Num. 1:2 emphasis added). Notice that, the counting is referred to as “lifting of the heads”. "Nahmanides emphasizes that the census was personal and individual… impressing on us the value and sterling worth of each and every soul which is a unique specimen of divine creativity and a world of its own".  In the same vein, Isaac Arama says: "They were not just like animals or material objects, but each one had an importance of his own like a king or a priest.  Indeed Elohim had shown special love towards them and this is the significance of mentioning each one of them by name and status; for they were all equal and individual in status".[1][1] Yeshua’s death, for each and every man (ref. Heb. 2:9) on the Hill of "Golgota", which is Aramaic for "skull", lends even greater credence to the above statements. 


In Hebrew Insights into Parashat Shmot (Ex. 1-6:1) we noted that as soon as the Egyptians embarked on their program of subjugating the Hebrews they began treating them as a nameless mass (ref. Ex. 1:10-12), while also condemning to death the baby boys (Ex. 1:16). This is in striking contrast to what we encounter in Bamidbar chapter 1. In Verse 18 we read, “State their genealogies”, or “declare their pedigree”, or “register their ancestry” (depending on the translation), which is designated in Hebrew by one word - “hit’yaldu” - the root being y.l.d (yod, lamed, dalet) for “child” or “to give birth”, or “midwife” (this also brings to mind the two midwives who saved the lives of the baby boys). This verb is found nowhere else in Scripture, and literally means to “become a child”. Thus, restoring the nameless individuals and clans to their respective origins, with the various groupings and families being recognized, acknowledged, and brought to the fore, is part of the redemption process. This aspect of redemption will one day be experienced again when all the names of the families, clans, and tribes of Yisrael will be revealed, so as to make up the full Commonwealth of the Household of Yisrael.  


When the roll call was completed and the Levites' duties in the Mishkan were dispensed, "YHVH spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 'Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father's house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting'" (2:1, 2).  The organizational process, of turning the former slaves into a nation, is continuing. The Israelites were to array themselves according to their tribes in specified directions around the Mishkan. The “standard" mentioned here (and in 1:52) is "degel", of the root d.g.l (dalet, gimmel, lamed). In Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) 5:10 we read: "My Beloved is bright and ruddy, standing out among ten thousand". “Standing out" is "dagul", and shares its root with “degel”. "Dagul" may also be interpreted as "chosen" and "selected".  Again, in the same book, the betrothed says about her beloved, "And His banner ("diglo") over me is love" (2:4). The various banners, or standards (according to the respective tribes) with their emblems, were indicative of YHVH's favor and love toward His "select" people, and over each member of this chosen race. 


The "emblems", mentioned above in 2:2, are "otot" (plural, and "ot" singular). "Ot" (alef, vav, tav) is a widely used term, denoting "sign, token, pledge, assurance, miracle, omen" and more.  Although we do not know what the banners looked like, it appears that each of them had the "ot", or sign, of a particular "father's house", which rendered each tribe much like a family related to a single progenitor. 


Concerning the grouping around the Mishkan, which was in the midst of the camp, Nahmanides says in relation to this edifice: “It was a kind of Mount Sinai on which the Torah was given, accompanying them on all their journeying”. Benno Jacob follows up this idea: “The Lord transferred His presence from Sinai to the Tabernacle, from the sanctuary of the Lord which His hands had established to the sanctuary which Israel had made'"2 This may account for the strict orders of the camp's formation.


The above-mentioned orders, regarding the tribes and their placements, excluded the Levites who were to serve in the Mishkan, and were to be at YHVH's disposal. In the course of the detailed description of their duties and responsibilities for the various parts of the Mishkan, mention is made of the edifice’s sides (Num. 3:29, 35). The Hebrew word here for “side” is “yarech”, of the root (yod, resh, kaf/chaf), meaning “thigh, loin or base”. The thigh represents man’s strength and power (see Gen. 24:2; 47:29), both in terms of virility and force (being also the place upon which the sword was placed). That is why in order for Ya’acov to become Yisrael his he was so injured that he limped on it (Gen. 32:31), and likewise, the repentant one, who in order to demonstrate his true intentions smites this part of his body (e.g. Jer. 31:19, Ephraim’s repentance). Similar to the root d.v.r. in some of its uses, “yarech” also refers to the “furthermost point”, to the “backside” or to the “rear” (Jud. 19:1, Is. 14:15), and hence the application to “side”.


The vicarious role of the Levites as firstborn follows in Bamidbar 3:41, 45 with reference to their required conduct. It says there that, they were to be taken “instead” or “in place of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel”. “Instead” or “in place of”, here (and in numerous other places), is “tachat”, meaning “rear, under, or underneath”, thus underscoring the required attitude of humility and servitude congruent with the tasks assigned to YHVH’s ministers. On the same issue: In chapter 1 verse 49 it says regarding the Levites: "Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor take a census of them among the children of Israel”. However, the literal Hebrew says the following: “But the Tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you lift up their heads among the children of Israel”. Although, “lift up their heads” does imply census, as we saw above, let us not ignore the literal meaning of “not lifting up the heads [of the priesthood and their assistants] from among the [rest of] the children of Israel”!


Chapter 4 elucidates how the chosen family of K'hat (Kohath) was to dismantle the Mishkan, when it was time to move on.  During this awesome procedure, they had to restrain themselves and avert their gaze from the holy articles, with the help of A'haron and his sons (vs 19, 20). "They shall not go in to see the holy things as they are being covered, lest they die", is the Parasha's last verse, which literally says, "And they shall not go in to see, at the swallowing of the holy things [lest] they die". The usage here of "swallow" ("bela") for "covering" the Mishkan articles is very unusual. It may be alluding to the fact that an unwarranted gaze could bring upon the onlookers (that is, the members of the K'hat clan) the penalty of being swallowed alive (a form of punishment which was sometimes inflicted – supernaturally - upon offenders, such as in the case of Korah in Num. 16:30-34). Thus, A'haron’s family was being charged with responsibility for the lives of their brothers, the K'hats, whose "keepers" they were to be.


1 New Studies in Bamidbar, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh

Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and

Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N. 

2     Ibid


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat B'chukotai – Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:3 – 27

 The topic of the important place accorded to the Land, which we examined in Parashat B’har with its varied ramifications, continues in Parashat B’chu’kotai ("In My Statutes"), as seen in 26:3-13. Keeping YHVH's statutes is destined to be reflected in the natural conditions of the Land of Yisrael.  The correlation will be seen in the abundance of rain (and therefore of crops), the removal of dangerous carnivores, demographic expansion, abundance, and prosperity.  The other benefits resulting from faithfulness to YHVH and His Word will be peaceful conditions prevailing in the Land and its surroundings, the ability to defeat the enemy, and primarily the fulfillment of His promise to instate His Mishkan in the midst of His people, and to always walk among them (ref. 26:11, 12).

In 26:5 we read, “…and your threshing shall reach [or overtake] the vintage, and the vintage shall reach [or overtake] the sowing time, and you shall eat your bread to satisfaction, and live in your land securely”.  This is especially pertinent in light of Parashat B’har’s sh’mita-year promise: “Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years” (Lev. 25:21 italics added).  In a prophecy pertaining to a latter-day, the prophet Amos echoes this “overtaking”: "The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who draws along seed" (9:13). Moreover, 26:10: "And you shall eat very old provision, and clear away the old because of the new", reminds us of 25:22 (in the previous Parasha): “And [you] shall eat of the old crop… until the coming in of its crop; you shall eat of the old". In other words, not only will there be a long and lasting overabundance that will remain fresh and usable for the entire time period, but even before it is fully consumed there will be a fresh crop!

 Having examined above, in Parashat B’har, one of the words for "interest" - “marbit”, here is another word that shares the same root and needs to be pointed out - “r’vava” (which we also encountered in Parashat Cha’yey Sarah in Gen. 24:60). In 26:8 we read, "…and one hundred of you shall pursue ten thousand (“r’vava”)…" (emphasis added).  

These promises are sealed with the familiar: "I am YHVH your Elohim, who has brought you out of the land of the Egyptians, from being their slaves”. It then continues: “And I will break the bars of your yoke, and I will make you walk upright" (26:13). "Walking upright" is “ko'memi'yoot”, of the root k.o.m (kof, vav, mem), meaning to “rise or get up".  In Parashot Va'ye'tze (Gen. 28:10-32:2) and Vayishlach (Gen. 32:3-Ch. 36), we noticed the significance of Ya'acov's "rising up", as well as that of the special "place" - ma'kom (of the same root) - where he experienced some of his ‘rising’. Here the sons of this Patriarch are promised "an upright walk", providing they do so in Elohim's chosen paths. Additionally, in 26:37 we encounter the word “t’kuma”, translated as "power to stand" (“you shall have no power to stand before your enemies”), with its more modern usage being "resurrection" and "recovery."

 But if Yisrael chooses to “...despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break [invalidate] My covenant” (26:15 italics added), a long list of punitive measures follows. “Abhor” here is “tig’al” (root g.a.l gimmel, ayin, lamed), being the first time, this word is mentioned (26:11). Some may recognize the similarity of this verb to “ga’al” – redeem (gimmel, alef, lamed), a minor change in spelling and sound (ayin versus alef), and yet a world of difference!  Making void the covenant signifies removing one’s self from under the protective umbrella of redemption, rendering it no longer operational.  Further, in verse 18 we read: “if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins”. The chastisement of “seven times over” is also mentioned in verses 21, 24, and 28.  As part of YHVH’s covenant with His people, provision for national atonement for sin was made available by the high priest sprinkling seven times the blood of a goat on the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement (ref. Lev. 16:14).  Hence, nullifying the covenant would result in a similarly seven-fold outcome.

Thus, YHVH will not "make them walk uprightly" (as we saw above), but instead will inflict upon them a series of blows. Moreover, He will also "walk contrary" to them (ref. 26:24). The expression, "walking contrary" is used nowhere else except in this chapter, where it appears… seven times! The word used for "contrary" – keri - probably stems from the root k.r.h (kof, resh, hey), meaning "to happen". Rashi comments on this: “Our rabbis said: ‘This word signifies irregularity, by chance, something that happens only occasionally. Thus [meaning], 'if you will follow the commandments irregularly…’ Menahem explains it as an expression for refraining… ‘refrain (hoker) your foot from your neighbor's house’ (Prov. 25:17), or of a refraining (va'yikar) spirit…."1. “Keri”, therefore, may refer to avoidance of performing YHVH’s Word, along with a casual and nonchalant attitude which was also condemned by Yeshua in Revelation 3:15,16, where we read: "I wish you were cold or hot… So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot I will spew you out of my mouth" (italics added), leading us to the curse of eventually being spewed out of the Land (26:32 – 39, and also Lev. 20:22). Thus the “contrary walk” incurs a “seven-fold chastisement”.

The list of curses (26:14-46) is somewhat parallel to the list of the blessings, albeit much longer. It is divided up into several progressive categories: diseases, defeat, drought, carnivorous animals, and a combination of wars, plagues, and famines, which will cause parents to consume their own children's flesh.  Finally, after the destruction of the idols and pagan images, there will be a dispersion of the People of Yisrael among the nations. Under these conditions, and once the Land has been emptied of its inhabitants, its Shabbats will be repaid (as the Israelites would not keep the Sabbatical years that we read about in the last Parasha). These Shabbats will "appease" the land, with the word used here being “tirtzeh” (of the root “ratzon” - “will” or “acceptance”). Thus, the land "will be appeased" (v. 34, 35) and “accept” its inhabitants.  Accordingly, the "year of acceptance" is “sh'nat ratzon” (Is. 61:2).  The same word for “acceptance” appeared in Parashat Emor, where we read in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:11 about the Omer: "And he [the priest] shall wave the sheaf before YHVH, to be accepted [lirtzon'chem] for you…" (italics added).  As we saw above, negligence to observe the Shmita in the seventh year is what makes the figure ”seven” stand out, relative to sin and the penalties subsequently incurred. The usage of seven here reminds us of some of the commands which the Israelites will be transgressing, commands that are related to the figure seven, such as the seventh day of the week, the seventh year of rest, and the seven years multiplied by seven leading to the Jubilee, the 50th year of release of all debts and property.

The last part of Parashat B’chu’kotai deals with laws concerning vows of dedication to YHVH (27:2-29), while the final verses pertain to tithes. Verse 2 introduces the subject of the vows by not merely stating “if a man/person takes a vow…” (literal translation), but curiously qualifies the vow by the verb “yaflee”, rooted in “pele” - y.p/f.a (yod, pey/fey, alef), which means “wonder, wonderful”, such as in “Wonderful Counselor” (Is.9:6). This verb renders these vows very special.

As mentioned, verses 32-33 (ch. 27) deal with tithes: “And all the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, all that passes under the rod, a tenth shall be holy to YHVH.  He shall not search whether it is good or bad; neither shall he change it…” (italics added). Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) 20:37-38 echoes the terms we encounter here, applying them to YHVH’s sheep and to the land of their inheritance: “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.  And I will purge out from among you the rebels and those who sin against Me. I will bring them out from the land where they reside, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel” (italics added).  In the above Vayikra (Leviticus) text, we encountered, “He shall not search (also meaning “to inspect”)” – “lo ye’vaker (v. 33).  Y’chezkel 34:12 reiterates this phrase (as if in dialog with the present text), though this time with positive intent, and so we read: “For so says Adonai YHVH: Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out – uvikarteem, as the seeking out – kevakarat – of the shepherd of his flock in the day that he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out a’vaker - My sheep and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered …” (literal translation, italics added).

The final verse, which is similar to the opening verse of Parashat B’har (referring to Mount Sinai) seals off the Parasha, and indeed the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) with the words:  "These are the statutes which YHVH made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses" (v. 34 italics added).


1] New Studies in Vayikra, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.


Some of the word meanings were gleaned from:

The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980


Friday, May 13, 2022

The Leaven of Heaven

 Growing up in a Christian environment and religion, I was told that the "leaven of the Pharisees" is tantamount to "going under the law", with the following scripture being used as the proof text: “And Yeshua said to them, 'watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees''" (Matthew 16:6).  Paul, for his part, warns the believers that if they submit to the law of circumcision the Messiah will be of no benefit to them (see Galatians 5:2-3). He then adds to it by saying, “a little leaven will leaven the whole lump” (ref. Galatians 5:9).  Thus, as a new believer, unaware of the above scriptures' context, I was left with the impression that Elohim has eliminated the “Old Testament” that is, the “Law”.   Moreover, these interpretations had the potential of breeding an anti-Semitic attitude toward Judaism and the Jews. 

But if we go back to the beginning, that is to Genesis. we will notice that leavening really has nothing to do with the 'Law'. The real 'leaven' actually came as a result of believing and acting upon (eating) the fruit of Satan’s words. Adam and Eve were leavened with the agent of sin and rebellion and every evil thing, and that included the “good” of the Tree of Knowledge. This leaven always results in puffing up the pride and righteousness of one's self-life. Because of what took place in the Garden of Eden, all of humanity has been leavened with “Sin”.

As believers in the New Covenant, we are exhorted to, “clean out the old leaven, that you [we] may be a new lump, just as you [we] are in fact unleavened" (emphasis added). How did we become unleavened from sin? “For Messiah, our Passover also has been sacrificed.  Let us, therefore, celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).  How important is this for us to grasp by faith and act upon!

The Torah helps to understand this great mystery of our cleansing from all the leavening of sin. Notice that our forefathers had to leave Egypt immediately after the Lamb had been slain. With its blood on the doorposts, they left in a hurry before the new dough had a chance to leaven. “And they baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into cakes of unleavened bread. For it had not become leavened, since they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves” (Exodus 12:39 emphasis added).  Why the immediacy and how does it pertain to us?  Could it have to do with our being joined to Yeshua in His death, and as He was hurried to the grave, so must we be buried with Him without delay in our immersion?

Messiah’s blood has cleansed and continues to cleanse us, so that we as a new lump of new creation's unleavened dough may be leavened by the “Kingdom of Heaven.” The Israelites of old were told that "nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders…" This is how thoroughly we are to be cleansed by the blood of the Messiah.  Furthermore, “…And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, 'It is because of what YHVH did for me when I came out of Egypt'" (Exodus 13:7b-8).  How much more should we be telling the next generation of how YHVH took us out of the bondage of sin and death (at Passover) demonstrating to them that we have been cleansed of the old leaven and are now leavened with the Spirit, that is His Kingdom! “And again He [Yeshua] said, 'to what shall I compare the kingdom of Elohim?  It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of meal until it was all leavened" (Luke 13:20-21).  

We are coming to Shavuot and the time of the waving of two loaves of leavened bread, as it is written: "You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to YHVH” (Leviticus 23:17).  The grain for these loaves is taken from the new growth of wheat hence the leaven in them is not the leaven of sin but the leaven of heaven.  The reason being is that Yeshua was the "first- beginning wave offering that now allows us to partake of the new growth of His Kingdom. (See Acts 2)

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat B’har – Vayikra (Leviticus) 25 – 26:2

The first verse of Parashat B’har (meaning, "In Mount…") serves to remind us that YHVH’s words to the Children of Yisrael, via Moshe, were spoken in Mount Sinai.

The opening of the Parasha focuses on the seventh year suspension of all soil cultivation (known as “Shmita,” whose root sh.m.t is mentioned in Parashat Mishpatim Ex. 23:11. See Heb. Insights into Parashat Mishpatim - Ex. 21-24).  In spite of this edict regarding work cessation, it is stated, "the Sabbath of the land shall be to you for food" (25:6). This declaration contains the familiar and principal thought, similar to the one that accompanies the weekly Shabbat, that YHVH is the Provider and thus the members of the community are afforded an opportunity to exercise faith throughout that year. In fact, contrary to human logic, this very rest will result in an abundance. 

Secondly, every member of the community, as well as the livestock, is equally promised provision for that time period (25: 6, 7). Again, not unlike the weekly Shabbat, the benefits of YHVH's year of land-rest apply to one and all without regard to status and origin. However, this “Shabbat of Shabbats” (v. 4) year, together with the 50th year Jubilee, the "yovel" to which the rest of this Parasha is dedicated - apply only in the Land of Yisrael.

 In 25:3 we read: "You shall sow your field six years, and you shall prune your vineyard six years, and shall gather its produce". "Produce" or "provender" is “t'vua”, of the root b.o. (vet/bet, vav, alef), meaning “to come, come in or go in", but in another conjugation, it is “to bring”. Thus, the term "produce" conveys the idea of that which does not result merely from man's productivity or effort, but rather that which "comes" or is "brought" to him from an outside source.


As already mentioned, following YHVH's instructions guarantees that “…you shall live on the land securely. And the land shall give its fruit, and you shall eat to satisfaction, and you shall dwell securely on it" (25:18, 19). To this promise, there will be an extra and supernatural blessing added: "I have commanded My blessing on you in the sixth year. And it shall produce the increase for three years; and you shall sow the eighth year, and shall eat of the old crop until the ninth year, until the coming [bo] in of its produce [t'vua]; you shall eat of the old" (21-22, italics added). Here again we see the connection between “produce” and the verb "to come" (remember, both originate in the same root).

The un-gathered harvest (or “after growth”) is called “that which grows of itself” – “safee’ach”, of the root (samech, pey/fey, chet), literally “adding, attaching, joining (25:5, 11).  In light of verse 25:23, where the addressees (the Israelites) are called “strangers [gerim] and sojourners”, it is interesting to note how the verb s.p/ is used in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 14:1: “For YHVH will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose Israel, and settle them in their own land. The strangers (gerim) will be joined [nisfe’chu] with them, and they will cling to the house of Jacob” (Italics added). 

"Your unkempt grapes" (25: 5, 11) are termed here “ee'nvey (“grapes of”) nezir'cha”. This expression is rooted in the word “nazir” (Nazarite), whose restrictive vows include abstention from wine drinking or grape eating. Why are these grapes qualified by the term “nazir”? The connection is thought to be the Nazarite's hair, which was to be left uncut and unkempt, much like these grapevines. This is reinforced by the first part of verse 5 ("that which grows of itself", alluding to unkemptness).

As mentioned, the second part of the Parasha deals with the Year of the “Yovel” ("jubilee", which is a direct derivative of “yovel”). The primary meaning of yovel is thought to be the word for “horned animal” or for the "horn" itself, which was used for multiple purposes in the ancient Israelite community. Quite possibly the role of the “horned animal” (such as the bull or ox), in leading solemn processions has branched off into nouns and verbs that share the root y.v/b.l (yod, bet/vet, lamed) and are therefore connected to “leading”.  The verb “hovel” is to "lead", thus forming the noun for "stream" which is “yuval”, and for the "produce of the soil" – “y'vul” (‘issuing or proceeding out of the ground’).  Another interesting derivative of this root is “tevel”, meaning "world".  This renders the world and its elements (e.g. streams and produce) as mere ‘issues’, or results that proceed (or are ‘led’) from that which has originally formed or produced them, but which exists outside of them. Notice the conceptual (and etymological) similarity to our former observation of the term "provender" - t'vua.  “The earth is YHVH’s, and the fullness of it; the world (“tevel”), and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1), affirms this point.

Aside from letting the land lie fallow during the year of the “yovel”, that year was also to be “sanctified” (“vekidashtem”) for the purpose of "proclaiming liberty in the land to all its inhabitants…" (25:10). "Liberty" is “dror”, which is the same word for the bird known as "swallow" (e.g. Pr. 26:2), thus lending a graphic rendition to this term.  The yovel year signifies and stipulates that all property, or its calculated value in another form, is to be returned to its original owner. “Dror” for “liberty” is also mentioned in Yishayahu 61:1-2a, where we read: “The Spirit of Adonai YHVH is upon Me, because YHVH has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty [d’ror] to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of YHVH…” This “acceptable” year when “liberty” is proclaimed to the captives seems to be alluding to a (large scale and “grand”) Jubilee.

But above all the human benefits attached to the yovel, there is a greater significance to its proclamation; a significance that at the same time also forms a ‘Divine paradox’ so typical of Hebraic logic.  In 25:23 we read: “And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for you are aliens and tenants with Me". "Perpetuity" here is “tzmi'toot”, stemming from the root tz.m.t (tzadi, mem, tav) which is to “end, put an end to something" or “freeze assets”.  Thus, reverting property to its original owner demonstrates the fact that it actually belongs to… YHVH, as we just learned from the above-cited Psalm.  And as much as the Torah stresses ownership rights, it also reminds us, almost in the same breath, who the real Owner is and that “we have no permanent city here, but we seek the one to come" (Hebrews 13:14).

Another aspect of the yovel is redemption, “geula”, whose primary meaning is "kin" (denoted by “go’el”).  It is the next-of-kin's duty to buy back that which a member of the family has lost - or perhaps even the family member himself if he had been conscripted to slavery. In the case of a Hebrew slave, he is to be released on the yovel, “because they are My servants, whom I have brought out from the land of Egypt" (25:42 italics added). This verse is set in the context of the release of (other) slaves (25:44ff). Biblical Hebrew for "slave" and "servant" is one and the same - e'ved - from the root e.v.d (ayin, vet/bet, dalet), meaning "work" or "labor" (and also rendering service to, or worship of, YHVH).

Proper treatment of one's fellow citizen, defined as "brother", prohibits charging usury or interest (ref. 25:36,37). The two words used are “neshech” and “marbit”. The root of neshech (, noon, sheen, chaf) is also the root for the verb “to bite". "Those who bite" (e.g. Habbakuk 2:7) are therefore the oppressors and creditors. “Marbit” is from the root r.v/b.a (resh, vet/bet) which literally means "much, many, to add, to make greater, to increase". Hence “marbit” is a "monetary increment".

As part of taking care of one’s “brother”, if he has lost his assets and was sold to “a stranger who sojourns with you, or to a member of the stranger’s family” (25:47 literal translation), the recipient of this injunction is obliged to redeem the one sold. As to the “member of the stranger’s family”, here he is called “eker”, which is a most unusual term. The root a.k.r (ayin, kof, resh) basically means “to uproot”, and thus a “barren woman” is “akara”. But since this word can also mean a “shoot”, making the one plucked out from the parent plant also transplantable – albeit in different soil. Further, should misfortune be the lot of a native Israelite, he too would feel “plucked out” and “uprooted”, and hence this term may also be applied to, or at least infer to the latter. Selling one’s services this Israelite is termed “sachir” – a hired person, “servant” (as some of your translations would have it, but not appearing in the original text, 25:40, 50, 53).  

Aside from instructions on how to calculate the redemption payment (25:50-53), specifics are also given as to the possible next of kin who is eligible to redeem (vs. 48, 49) the one who has “become poor” (“mooch”, root of –  mem, vav, kaf – impoverish, become low).  Having once been others’ servants/slaves, the sons of Yisrael are now the servants/slaves of the One who redeemed them from their lowly state (ref. 25:55), hence YHVH requires that redemption be continually operative in accordance with the measures that He is providing for His people.      



Some of the word meanings were gleaned from:

The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown

Hendrickson.  Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.