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Posted September 27, 2016 - 7:11am

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. (Matthew 13:10–13)

Why did Yeshua teach in parables? Why didn’t he just use plain language to explain what he wanted to say? Why did he have to so many stories that seem so cryptic and puzzling? Did he want his listeners to understand his message, or was masking his teachings with layers of coded symbolism that he only explained to his closest disciples? Was he hiding secret truths from the masses as the Gnostics believed? For example, the Gnostic work called the Apocryphon of John opens with the claim to be “The teaching of the savior, and the revelation of the mysteries and the things hidden in silence, even these things which he taught John, his disciple.” Did Yeshua teach Gnosticism?

As opposed to the biblical concept of faith—trust combined with faithfulness—the primary tenet of Gnosticism is belief or knowledge (gnosis). At times, the Gospels seem to support this perspective. Matthew records Yeshua telling his disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” Just a few verses further Matthew says the reason Yeshua speaks in parables is to fulfill the prophecy which says, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world” (v.35). But is this the proper way to understand Yeshua’s teachings?

Posted September 23, 2016 - 9:38am

Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. (Deuteronomy 28:6)

When the Torah says things in an unusual way, it’s usually to teach us an important lesson. Normally, when we think of a person’s comings and goings, it is from the perspective of first leaving a place and then returning to it. The Torah, however, has a different frame of reference. A person first enters and then departs. Rabbi Yochanan interprets this to mean that our coming in and going out are the points by which we enter and depart from this world:

“Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out” — that thine exit from the world shall be as thine entry therein: just as thou enterest it without sin, so mayest thou leave it without! (b.Bava Metzia 107a)

The point at which man comes into this world is his birth; his going out is his death. The thing we call life is that short span between these two points. We are merely sojourners during the course of our life here in this world.

Rabbi Yochanan connects these two points of entrance and departure with the common theme of blessing. He says that just as a person enters this world without sin, a person is truly blessed if he is also able to leave this world without sin. But how do we do this? Is it even possible? Evidently, Paul thought it was. His hope was to deliver his disciples into the hands of Yeshua “pure and blameless”:

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11)

Posted September 19, 2016 - 11:43am

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)

If you grew up anything like I did, then this teaching of Yeshua is forever engrained into your psyche. When you grow up singing, “This Little Light of Mine,” and doing all of the hand motions associated with it, passages like these quickly embed themselves into your longterm memory. But as a child, I never fully understood what this passage meant. What is the light I am supposed to be shining, and how do I let other people see it?

Of course the standard explanation was, “Let ‘em see Jesus!” But what does this mean? In all practicality, how do we “shine Jesus”? For some it meant inviting as many people to church with you as you can. For others it meant pointing out the sins in everyone else but themselves. Is this really what Yeshua meant when he taught his disciples?

When referencing this passage we often forget one of its major components. We are quick to say we must shine our light, but we neglect to teach the reason for doing so. Yeshua says it is “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” How should we understand this? The Hebrew Scriptures—the Scriptures Yeshua would have studied and taught—give us the key to unlocking this teaching of Yeshua. Proverbs teaches us:

For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light (Proverbs 6:23)

Posted September 16, 2016 - 8:43am

The Least of the Commandments

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

What is the “least of the commandments” that Yeshua speaks of in Matthew 5? According to our sages the least commandment is found in this week’s Torah portion:

If you come across a bird's nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long. (Deuteronomy 12:6-7)

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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