Parahat B’Shalach Commentary

I’m experimenting with podcasting, and this is my first podcast. I have to admit, learning the technical aspects has been an adventure. I’m still in the learning-a-new-thing fog. I have plenty to learn.

Input from experienced podcasters would be appreciated.

Music credit: “Music for Manatees” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Parashat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26)

The Stone Chumash makes the following observation regarding offerings to Hashem (God):

Throughout the Torah, only this Four Letter Name of God — the Name representing his Attribute of mercy — is used in connection with offerings, never the name Elohim, which represents His Attribute of judgement (Sifra). Ancient idolaters believed that animal offerings were needed to assuage the anger of a judgmental, bloodthirsty god. This is totally foreign to Jewish belief. The Torah teaches us that offerings are a means to draw closer to HASHEM — the Merciful God (R’ Hirsch).

“[T]o assuage the anger of a judgmental, bloodthirsty god,” versus “to draw closer to HASHEM.”

The former scenario sounds very much like I have heard sacrifice characterized in Christian circles: God was mad, and heads were going to roll, so the Israelites could keep him at bay by whacking a few lambs. Finally Jesus stepped into the picture and gave God what he really wanted, so now we can all live in peace.

For example, the MacArthur Study Bible has this to say about Lev. 1:9, which speaks of “a sweet aroma to the LORD” (NKJV): “[T]he costly ritual recognized God’s anger for sin committed (cf, 1:13,17).” Nowhere in the verse, or its cross-references, is any mention made of “God’s anger.”

How much different is the notion of sacrifice as a means to draw closer to God! And is that view so much removed from New Testament theology?

[R]emember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12,13).

Christian theology sometimes suffers from an underdeveloped understanding of the role that the Temple service played in the worship of the God of Israel. This is perhaps why the Apostle Paul’s intention to offer sacrifice in Acts 21, and mention of sacrifices being offered during the Messianic Era (i.e., the Millenium) in Ezekiel 43-46 has the potential to generate much discussion among Christians. Jesus did it all for us so we don’t need none of that, presents a simplistic understanding of Jesus’s fulfillment of the Laws of God in general, and the Temple service, in particular.

I would challenge Christians who might be stuck in fire-insurance soteriology to move beyond this and ask themselves how they might be “brought near [to God] by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

Does anyone really believe in Purgatory?

Does anyone really believe in Purgatory?

I am speaking specifically of the notion the people enter a tormentuous purging prior to entrance into the Divine Presence. It’s further asserted that this torment can be alleviated by the petitions and good works of loved ones on Earth.

Now, consider how it would be if you had a loved one kidnapped and tortured by some foreign government. Wouldn’t your every waking hour be consumed with petitioning your own government for the rescue of this loved one?

Yet, with Purgatory, we may have a Mass said or a rosary recited. We may do these things regularly. But we also continue with our daily lives. There are no visits by the Heavenly Red Cross, to report on the well-being of our loved ones. Have they achieved the Beatific Vision? Or is more effort needed on our part?

There are those who say they subscribe to this doctrine, but do they live their daily lives as if they constantly believe it? Or is it an idea which intrudes upon them during prayer time and Sundays only, if at all?

Could the Christian Jesus be the Messiah?

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I thought I would take my tongue out of my cheek this morning and speak a little more plainly. Could the Christian Jesus be the Messiah? The Jesus portrayed in other articles of this blog is a parody of that Jesus — the blond-haired blue-eyed pork-eating Gentile. This Jesus is so ridiculous that readers know (I hope) there’s something amiss. But what about Jesus as he’s genuinely understood by Christians today? Satire aside, does he qualify to be the Messiah?

This isn’t going to be a scholarly article. If I start to footnote it and reference it properly, it will never see the light of day. So, we’ll keep it a work in progress, and an interaction with readers. If there are comments, questions or challenges, then I can flesh out issues at that time.

So, with that in mind, let’s roll.

Christians generally like to apply Deut. 18:5 to Jesus, claiming he is the “prophet like me” spoken of by Moses. Specifically, I think the passage is applied to Joshua, Moses’s immediate successor. If there is a New Testament passage which unequivicably links this passage to Jesus, I’d like to know what it is. Certainly the New Testament presents Jesus as the Prophet of prophets, but when, for example, Deut. 18 is alluded to in Acts 3:22, it seems that the speaker is referring to the prophetic tradition itself, and himself in particular. Read the passage, and see if you agree.

Still, Deut. 18 gives a very important guideline for identifying a prophet: the word which he speaks must be 100% accurate. Since Christians would overwhelmingly agree that Jesus passed this test, they do present him as qualifying for prophethood (and by extension, Messiahdom) in the regard. Where many of them shoot down their own argument is in jumping on this dispensationalist bandwagon that says that prophets can now mess up and it’s okay. No longer is it such a Bad Thing to say that God says X and have X turn out not to be true. These prophets are still learning to hear God and to exercise their prophetic gift, it is said.

So Jesus qualifies as a true prophet under obsolete criteria. There goes that testimony out the window.

Another prophet test, not often quoted, is Deut. 13. Here the prophet comes with all the bells and whistles, but is disqualified by his message. He says, “Let us go after other gods… and serve them” (vs. 2).  This is the Jesus present so often by Christians. No, this Jesus doesn’t say, “Let’s go after the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” But he does “entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk” (vs. 5).

How does he do this? By (apparently) freeing us from the Law of Moses. I can find no New Testament passage to support this notion, and plenty to oppose it.

I posed this question some time ago to an online forum: “Why do Christians eat pork when Isaiah 66 expressly forbids it?” One of the answers I received, presumably from someone who didn’t even look up Isaiah 66 to see what my point could possibly have been, was “We don’t follow Isaiah; we follow Jesus.”

This pitting of Jesus against the so-called “Old” Testament was a strategy of Jesus’s detractors, as depicted in the Gospels. Time and again, they attempt to get him to contradict or oppose the Law of Moses, only to have him turn the tables and show that they — not he — are the ones who are being unfaithful. When the time came for his trial, the Gospels state that the testimonies against him were contradictory. They couldn’t pin anything on him. Yet today, many of Jesus’s so-called followers are quick to do just that. They state that Jesus — and if not him, his apostle, Paul — taught his followers that they are free from the commandments of God given to Moses. This, according to Jesus’s words in Matt 5:19, is the fast-track to least-in-the-kingdom-of-heaven status.

A champion of this lawless Jesus, according to Christian interpreters, is the already-mentioned apostle Paul. A favourite passage to contort in favour of the Gentile Jesus is Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Now, this could mean that Christ did away with the law. After all, what would “end of the law” mean other than that? Well, it could mean “goal or purpose of the law” as well. We use “end” like that all the time in English. To what end does Paul use the word “end” here?

The great irony is that the following passage is a midrash on Deut. 30. (A midrash is illustrative use of Scripture.)

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven that you should say, ‘who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.”

Paul brilliantly uses this passage to illustrate the incarnation, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. He then punctuates his argument with the bold statement that the “word” referenced above is “the word of faith which we preach” (Rom. 10:8). He equates the “word in you mouth and in your heart” with confessing Jesus “with your mouth” and believing “in your heart that God has raised him from the dead” (v.9).

In that Paul so eloquently equates the “word” preached by Moses with the “word” preached by the apostles, it should be clear here that “end” in v.4 refers to “goal or purpose.”

Since Paul identifies the word preached by Moses with the word preached by the apostles, it should be no surprise that 1 John 3:4 calls sin “lawlessness.” The subject of 2 Thess 2:1-12 is commonly referred to in Evangelical circles as the Antichrist. Verse 3 calls him the “man of sin” or “man of lawlessness” (depending on your version — there is a textual variant here). Verse 8 says he is the “lawless one.”

It seems to me that Jesus, as presented by Christians today, is certainly a “lawless one.” They say that he is the Christ, but in telling the world that he frees them from the law of God, they present him more in line with Antichrist.

Is it any wonder that Christians find their mission to Jews to frustrating? Even the Christian Scriptures warn against the Jesus whom they present.

It is certainly true that when the Messiah sets foot in Jerusalem, there are those who will look up on the one they have pierced (Zech 12), and come to terms with the fact that he has been there before. As well, there will be those who will have to come to terms with the Messiah’s mission:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days

That the mountain of the LORD’s house

Shall be established on the top of the mountains,

And shall be exalted above the hills;

And all nations shall flow to it.

Many people shall come and say,

“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

To the house of the God of Jacob;

He will teach us His ways,

And we shall walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth the law,

And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

— (Isaiah 1:1-3)

(All references from NKJV)

A Short Comparison of the Rabbinical and Karaite Hebrew Calendars

Figure 1: Chloe the Wiener Dog has cotton applied to her ears to treat a brain hemorrhage brought on by trying to calculate the date of the Rapture.

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The purpose of this study is to briefly compare the Rabbinical and Karaite Hebrew calendars while resulting in minimal damage to the reader’s brain. If, while reading, blood begins to flow from your ears, discontinue reading and apply cotton as in Figure 1. If bleeding is profuse, see a professional immediately to see whether you have popped a brain gasket.

The difference between the two Hebrew calendars boils down to how they answer these two questions:

1. How do we determine the beginning of a new year?

2. How do we determine the beginning of a new month?

Once you understand those two questions, and how each calendar answers them, you will understand the meat and potatoes of both calendars.

The Gregorian Calendar

Let’s begin by reviewing the Gregorian calendar, which is the one we are all familiar with. The Gregorian calendar is entirely concerned with the passage of the Earth around the Sun. Since it takes about 365 1/4 days for the Earth to go around the Sun, most Gregorian years are 365 days long. However, those 1/4 days do add up after a time, so an extra day is added, usually every 4 years, and we a year with 366 days. The year 2010 has 365 days, as will 2011. The year 2012, if we get through it without being deluged by really bad movies, will have 366 days. This extra day every few years keeps the Gregorian year in sync with the seasons. Otherwise, after several centuries, December 25 would fall in the middle of summer, and that, apparently, would be bad. At least in the northern hemisphere.

Lunar Calendars

Both the rabbinical and karaite calendars are lunar calendars. The months are based on the phases of the moon. It takes about 29 or 30 days for the moon to go around the earth. (The period of time varies throughout the year.) The average lunar month is 29 1/2 days, so 12 lunar months — one lunar year — is 354 days long. That’s 11 days less than a solar year, so the lunar year quickly becomes out of phase with the solar year. This presents a problem if you want to keep your spring festivals in the spring and your autumn festivals in the autumn. The Islamic calendar is completely lunar, so the Islamic festivals roam through the seasons. However the Hebrew festivals have an agricultural element, at least historically. During the Passover season, the priest used to present the first sheaves of the barley harvest to God in the Temple. The barley harvest is the spring, so a barley festival in the winter just won’t do.

Rabbinical vs. Karaite Solutions

Remember that the lunar year is 354 days long while the solar year is 365 days long. So each year, Passover comes 11 days earlier than the year before. After 3 years, Passover — and the barley festival — would be 33 days earlier. The solution for both the Rabbinical and Karaite calendars is to add a 13th month now and then to eat up those 33 days.

Now we are ready to look at the first distinction between the two calendars. Remember the first question:

1. How do we determine the beginning of a new year?

Both calendars keep their years in sync with the seasons by adding an extra month just before Passover. So, as Passover drifts earlier, in pops a 13th month to whack it back into place. The calendars differ based on how they determine when to add that month. The Rabbinical calendar follows a set routine based on a 19-year cycle.  In years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 19 of the cycle, a 13th month is added. This keeps the Hebrew calendar nicely in sync with the seasons. It also helps us to plan Passover picnics, because we know a year ahead of time — in fact, 100 years ahead of time — when Passover will be because we have all those 13th months planned out ahead of time.

The Karaite calendar, however, hearkens back to the agriculture era when the festivals were closely tied to the harvests. Therefore, each year, toward the end of the 12th Hebrew month, there are people who actually tromp through the grain fields in Israel. They investigate the maturity of the barley they find growing and if it is ripe, they judge that spring has arrived, and that Passover can be celebrated the following month. If the barley is not ripe, they report that Passover will be delayed, and Karaites around the world — as well as their followers — add an extra month to their calendars. The result for everyone is that Passover stays in the spring, although you have some people in some years celebrating a month later than others.

The second question, you will recall, has to do with determining the beginning of each month:

2. How do we determine the beginning of a new month?

The solution, for both the Rabbinical and Karaite calendars is the calculate the months based on knowledge of the position of the moon in relation to the sun. The first of the month in each case corresponds to the beginning of the lunar cycle, or new moon. The difference for each is how they define the new moon. In the Rabbinical month, the new moon corresponds to that time when the moon and the sun are together in the sky so that you can’t actually see the moon. In the Karaite month, the new moon is a couple of  days later, when the crescent moon can be seen in the west, just above the sun after it sets. The Karaites calculate this astronomical event ahead of time, so like their Rabbinical friends, know ahead of time when their months will begin. There are occasions, however, when the Karaite calculations are inconclusive, and the new month needs to be confirmed by a sighting in Israel. Some Messianics prefer to confirm all new months with a sighting. The result is that the Karaites usually celebrate their holidays a day or two after the corresponding Rabbinical holiday.

The following summarizes the differences between the two calendars:

13th Month:

Rabbinical:  Calculated ahead of time

Karaite: Based on the observation of barley

New Month:             

Rabbinical: Calculated ahead of time, when moon is not visible

Karaite: Calculated, sometimes confirmed by observation of crescent moon

One final difference worth mentioning pertains the the celebration of Shavuot. Since the date of Shavuot is based on “the day after the Sabbath” of Passover week, there is some ambiguity. The Rabbinical calendar takes “Sabbath” to refer to the first day of Passover, which is a high Sabbath. The Karaites take this to mean the weekly Sabbath during Passover week. The result is two separate days for the celebration of Shavuot.