The Choice, a Hanukkah Story

The Festival of Dedication, often called the Festival of Lights, is NOT one of the Appointed Times. There is no command to keep it. Yet I still think it’s worth the time to remember. This story has never, in my lifetime, seemed more needed.

Hanukkah is an amazing and timeless story. Even though it happened thousands of years ago, it still resonates across cultures, societies, families, and faith communities because we all love the story of an underdog who wins.  

In this story, the Jews have been conquered by the Greeks, oppressed and they rise up, See, conquered people are often compelled, and many times brutalized into abandoning history, culture, even spiritual identity. The conquerors have a mandate to homogenize their fresh territory and eliminate opposition. It’s important to make sure you can hold on to the land that you have gained. Very few cultures, to be fair, have been peacefully assimilated into another culture. Regardless of scale, whether it is tribal, national, or international, conflict is very unlikely to be resolved peacefully. No matter how good it looks at the beginning. At one point there will come a time where you have to make a choice to stand for what is right and good in the face of what seems comfortable, expedient, or even peaceful.  

Historically, In a revolution, when people have stood and said, “No More!” and it ends well, we do notice. Hanukkah is one of those times that is noticed and remembered . But only if you know the story.  

So, the story is this.  

It has been over a century since the Greeks conquered Israel. A nation of tribes now reduced primarily to Judah and a fraction of the nation David ruled. The year is approximately 167 BCE. and Mathias the Hasmonean Jew has been watching his people systematically decimated by cultural infusion, spiritual compromise, and finally outright idolatry and physical abuse. There is no record he was personally taking a stand other than moving into the hills perhaps? We do know he is away from populated areas and city centers.  

For generations, the Greeks had been gradually imposing their faith, religious practices, and morality. Under Alexander the Great and Ptolemy it was mostly a benevolent and gradual imposition of Greek thoughts and philosophies. This insinuation, the subtle insinuation of ideals and express prompted a more gradual insinuation of ideals and expression prompted the transition from a more Torah observant community and toward a modern and socially acceptable Hellenistic way of living. Progress! 

Eventually, however, as is the case with clashing world views, there came leaders who were far more antagonistic toward things that did not line up with their practices. And these kings went as far as to infiltrate the priesthood, further confusing the Jews. These kings defiled the temple, forbade circumcision and other spiritual and religious practices, and even set up altars to their own gods. Anyone who stood against them was persecuted. Even executed. Some graphic, brutal and horrific things were done.  

Now on that scale I cannot relate to Matthias. I have not personally witnessed that. I know there is persecution happening throughout the world. But even on a small scale it is not hard for me to imagine their frustration with the gradual decline of their society. It’s not hard for me to imagine that world because many of the values I hold regarding family and faith, morality and society are challenged right now. It is not hard to imagine how fed up they might have been. In fact, for us it is a daily struggle. Social media, our inbox, our screens, even our grocery stores. It happens all the time. And we know the pressure to be drawn to and assimilated into a worldly identity. We feel the urge to compromise what we believe because we want to belong. We want to be safe. We want to succeed. 
What’s harder to imagine, in that world, is the moment during the assimilation process when we say, “Hey! This far, no further.” When we do take a stand to reject a final encroachment. We make a choice that shocks us out of complacency.  

With his five sons, Matthias had watched family, friends, and generations over the years embrace and adopt ways contrary to the regulations and practices established in Scripture.  

Finally, they had to choose a side. And that time was ripe for revolution. 

For the Maccabees that moment came when the Greek soldier asked Matthias and his sons to sacrifice to an idol. Their neighbor stepped forward to do that and Matthias stopped him. They had a choice to make and they could not sit in their house and shake their heads at the Hellenized Jews around them. They could not compare their own righteousness to failures witnessed on the streets or in their places of worship. This was not happening to the people around them now. It was happening to them. To him. To Matthias. In their village. At their front doorstep.  

And he said no. He rejected the call to idolatry and led his family and other jews in a revolt that achieved the impossible.  

A single moment of defiance against a worldview eager to destroy their faith was enough to spark a revolution that resulted in shocking victory.  

The revolt lasted about 7 years, and many died. Matthias did. He did not see the temple restored. In fact, his son Judah, “The Hammer”, finished the fight. How many did not see the end of it? I do not know. But I do know they did reclaim the temple. I do know they purified the altar and instituted a celebration so meaningful we still celebrate today all over the world. I do know it was even remembered by Messiah Yeshua in John 10 and those of us who want to be like Him,to live like Him? We can identify with Him through this celebration as well.  

22 Then came Hanukkah{Feast of Dedication}; it was winter in Jerusalem. 23 Yeshua was walking in the Temple around Solomon’s Colonnade.” John 10:22-23 TLV 

It’s right there. He did it. So can we.  


There are a lot of stories about Hanukkah regarding oil and various aspects of the revolt. Many traditions have resulted because of those stories. Miracles stated that this happened.  

One of those is that many foods are cooked in oil. So, obviously Hanukkah means donuts and latkes. Latkes are potato pancakes, and they are delicious!  

Now, I do not know if the story of the oil being miraculously replenished until new oil could be purified is true. I do know that a lit menorah is part of the maintenance and function of the temple and It seems to have been extinguished at some point. Eight days to process new oil for the menorah is an accurate reading of the text so an eight-day celebration to remember isn’t a stretch. Not too far-fetched.  

I just do not know if that miracle is true. As interesting as it might be.  

The miracle of the oil is a remarkable idea that captivates our hearts and many sermons have been preached about it. To tell us that God can sustain us when we feel inadequate, and empty is true and shown to be true throughout Scripture. From the Israelites in the wilderness to the widow woman and her sons… Yeshua as he fed the crowds. The idea that God can make enough from a little is absolutely true. So, no, I have no need to argue with that or fight about whether or not the miracle happened.   

I am sure the allusions to the Hanukkah story are meaningful with or without that dramatic element. But here is something I do know. Something that is undeniable and absolutely true.  

The Maccabees did not give in to the pressure to deny the Lord. They did not give in and let their culture, their faith, and their identity be destroyed and overwritten by the secular and idolatrous conquerors. They did not become like the world around them. 

Why do we remember Hanukkah? Because donuts. Obviously. Just kidding! 

Because we have been given a testimony of a people who were given victory in the face of overwhelming odds.  

They were not given victory so they could say they won. They were not given success because the Jews were now to dominate the Greeks and take their place on the international stage. They were given this moment; they were delivered because they dared to live and fight for the very thing, they were willing to die for. And that thing was obedience to Yahweh. To God. Honoring YHWH. Keeping His commands. Living in the ways He established in Scripture.  

Hanukkah is important and worth remembering and worth celebrating. Then AND now. Because we will never be in a world that does not wish to assimilate us to look more like them and less like Yeshua. We will always be faced with a choice to compromise or to fight for truth and righteousness.  

So this is a story worth repeating at least once a year and one we should be sharing with our children and with each other as well.  

A Yom Kippur Journey

This year, as we prepare our hearts for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we have walked through Elul and, hopefully, have made ourselves available for repentance before men and our YHWH.  For some insight into the process and practice of teshuva, read this article HERE about the month of Elul and the process of repentance.

“At its most basic point, according to the 13th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, teshuvah is “returning” to where we have previously failed and doing what we can to ensure we are not making the same mistake a second time.” 

After shouting in the Feast of Trumpets with our shofars, we spend 10 days of contemplation and preparation for meeting with YHWH on this solemn, holy day.  You can find a discussion about the commands and the observances in  What’s A Yom Kippur?

this is to be a permanent regulation for you that on the tenth day of the seventh month you are to deny yourselves and not do any kind of work, both the citizen and the foreigner living with you. 30 For on this day, atonement will be made for you to purify you; you will be clean before Adonai from all your sins. 31It is a Shabbat of complete rest for you, and you are to deny yourselves. This is a permanent regulation.” Leviticus 16:29-31

Yom (Yohm) meaning “day” in Hebrew and Kippur (Ki-poor)from the root word “atone” brings us to what is arguably the holiest day of the Biblical year.  With the observance of this festival come the two conjoined fundamentals of repentance and atonement.

Jay Carper, of American Torah, has a few thoughts on the importance of making ourselves “right” during this season.  Read More “A Yom Kippur Journey”

ELUL – A Time To Return

The month of Elul, the time period before the Fall Feasts, is known as a time of returning.  Of teshuvah, or returning.  Since the 14th century, ELUL has been referred to as the acronym:

As we prepare our lives, families, and homes to celebrate the exuberance of Yom Teruah, the solemnity of Yom Kippur, and the jubilant joy of Sukkot, I don’t want to forget to prepare my heart as well.  I don’t want to forget who I serve, honor, and obey.  Or the One I am intended to reflect to the world.

What does it mean to engage in teshuvah? What does this word mean? Why does it matter?

At its most basic point, according to the 13th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, teshuvah is “returning” to where we have previously failed and doing what we can to ensure we are not making the same mistake a second time.

Here are some guidelines for biblical repentance and returning to YHWH and to our fellow man. 

“Tell the people of Isra’el, ‘When a man or woman commits any kind of sin against another person and thus breaks faith with Adonai, he incurs guilt. He must confess the sin which he has committed; and he must make full restitution for his guilt, add twenty percent and give it to the victim of his sin.”  Numbers 5:6-7 CJB

(All Scripture references  from the Complete Jewish Bible unless noted otherwise)

Repentance should be out loud. 

“A person guilty of any of these things is to confess in what manner he sinned.” Leviticus 5:5

James wasn’t making a new rule for the body of Messiah. He was referring to the commands of the Torah.

Therefore, openly acknowledge your sins to one another, and pray for each other, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

Does this mean we yell our sins to each other in some sort of bizarre exhibitionism?  No. 

If we have sinned against man, and I promise you that we know when we have, we should go to this man and speak to him.  Have we sinned corporately? Confess publicly. We don’t have to make up offenses. We all stumble as we walk.  And we know it.

What if we have sinned against YHWH? Again, we know.  Confess to Him.

Even though He knows our inward being better than we do, we should speak to Him.  We should always speak for there is no way to atonement without confession. There is no understanding of our need for redemption if we do not recognize and verbalize where we have fallen. 

Even the High Priest, as he put his hands on the azazel, the scapegoat, had to proclaim over it, confess if you will, the sins of Israel upon its head before releasing it to the wilderness if it is to be a shadow of atonement Yeshua gave for us with His life. (Leviticus 16:21)

Repentance should cost us.

There is a price for sin. There is a price for an offense. We shouldn’t be satisfied with an “I’m sorry” shrug and handshake.  If and when we have wronged others we should be diligent to make things right with them.  Plus extra.  If we have stolen, return what we stole plus 20%.  If we have wronged someone on other levels we should work diligently to serve them, at our expense, above and beyond what seems fair.

Repentance is not about equity. It is about grace and restitution. 

If we have harmed someone we shouldn’t be satisfied with words only but should serve them with actions, as unto the Lord, without compensation.   It is in our selfishness that we sin and, in His strength, we receive the opportunities to walk in generosity.  Our rights to hold to our pride are often the very things keeping us from recognizing that we have even sinned in the first place.

But what is repentance?

“Let the wicked person abandon his way and the evil person his thoughts; let him return to Adonai, and he will have mercy on him;
let him return to our God, for he will freely forgive.”
Isaiah 55:7

Repentance is turning away completely from both the action and the thoughts and returning completely to YHWH.

Moshe went back to Adonai and said, “Please! These people have committed a terrible sin: they have made themselves a god out of gold. Exodus 32:31

He who conceals his sins will not succeed; he who confesses and abandons them will gain mercy. Proverbs 28:13

Repentance is having the courage or even the desperation to speak specifically about your sin, whether before man or YHWH, because your desire for mercy is greater than your passion for your sin.

How do you express repentance?

  1. Grief.  Often we are emotionally moved to tears or other expressions as we realize the depth of our own depravity and weakness. That moment of revelation when we see how far we have removed ourselves from openness and unity with YHWH.
  2. Give gifts, donations, or other acts of service. Make restitution to those we have wronged. Don’t know how? Find a way. Do not cease the effort until you do.
  3. Distance ourselves from the thing or area in which we have sinned. 

John the Baptist, Yochanan the Immerser, tells us there should always be proof of our repentance. 

If you have really turned from your sins, produce fruit that will prove it!!” Luke 3:8a

In reference to true repentance, Maimonides says the repentant is one who has had. “…his identity changed as if saying, ‘I am now another person, and not that person who perpetrated those misdeeds,’ to completely change his conduct for the good and straight path, and to exile himself… because it leads him to submissiveness and to be meek and humble-spirited.

What leads us to sin? What gives us permission to give in to temptation? Pride. Fear. Anxiety. Lack of trust. Selfishness.  Our fallen nature.  None of these are excuses to remain in sin.  We have a way out. 

What are the benefits of repentance?

How blessed are those whose offense is forgiven,
those whose sin is covered!
Psalm 32:1

He who conceals his sins will not succeed;  he who confesses and abandons them will gain mercy. Proverbs 28:13

Mercy and blessing.  Future. Hope. Restored relationships with others.  Restored relationship with Yeshua.  Anointed ministry.  Clear communication with the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. 

What are you waiting for?  

Any time of the year, but especially during this season, return to your beloved.  Remember who you are.  Remove those things which stand in the way of your worship, your ministry, your relationships with YHWH, and the people in your life.  It is work. It should be. But I challenge you to stop being satisfied with your status quo and seek the Lord while He is near. Prepare your hearts to meet Him on His appointed days.

Seek Adonai while he is available, call on him while he is still nearby. Isaiah 55:6

A Passover For All Generations

In the spring, on the 14th of Nisan, two weeks after the beginning of the spiritual New Year, the meal begins at dusk.  Candles lit, table set, the story laid out one more time.  We gather friends and family close.

More than likely we’ve spent the week before this day furiously cleaning out cupboards and wiping down shelves in an attempt to keep the command of “removing all the leaven” from our homes.  We made the food, some custom and some ceremonial, set the table, made sure all was in order for this most wonderful of the feasts.

The temptation to fall exhausted into our chairs before rushing through the story is real.  Believe me, I’ve done it.  

Haggadah, the telling, takes focus and intention.  We have a command to tell the story to our children and our children’s children. It takes effort.

Our story starts before creation by a faithful God who knew we’d need Him and continues in Egypt many years after Joseph has died. Burdened by the slave master’s demands the Hebrew children toil and labor in despair. Moses and Aaron come to save the day and challenge the authority of Pharaoh through a series of impossible miracles until finally we find the Israelites at the tail end of an ecological apocalypse and the Egyptians hanging by a ragged thread to what remained of their livestock, their health, and for many, the religious traditions they had relied on for generations.

The fearsome Hebrew God wreaked havoc on them and, apparently, He wasn’t quite done.

“Then Moshe called for all the leaders of Isra’el and said, “Select and take lambs for your families, and slaughter the Pesach lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop leaves and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and smear it on the two sides and top of the door-frame. Then, none of you is to go out the door of his house until morning. 23 For Adonai will pass through to kill the Egyptians; but when he sees the blood on the top and on the two sides, Adonai will pass over the door and will not allow the Slaughterer to enter your houses and kill you. 24 You are to observe this as a law, you and your descendants forever.” Exodus 12:21-24 CJB

While many did obey, there were definitely many who did not for “there was horrendous wailing in Egypt”. 

But for all that loss and grief the celebration of Pesach, Passover, is not told for those who did not obey but for those who did. The obedient were delivered from oppression and released into an adventure grander than they could have ever imagined. 

The former slaves walked by faith behind a leader they knew marginally and trusted even less, they walked through towering walls of water, under the pillar of fire turning sand to glass beneath it, and rested overshadowed by the cloud that led them continued offering shelter from the sweltering wilderness heat. 

Manna from heaven, and water from stones, the shofar of YHVH resounding off the mountain, fire on the peaks, building a place of worship. The luminous glory of God on the face of their leader. 

Discipline and delight as they were transformed from a ragtag group of slaves into a people called by His Name.


Passover is the beginning of the story and the only way a story of redemption can start. This is why it must be told. So we do not forget we were once slaves but have been set free for a higher purpose.  

We who were once in bondage have been released into destiny.  Though the enemy pursues us, still, our God is faithful to keep us. He is the only One who can. Why would we not tell the story?

Yes, we fall and we fail.  We resent the change. We remember the comfort of living in chains and our rebellious hearts lead us to disobey the very thing we agreed to just the day before. 

Still He is faithful.

Long before we ever experience the joy of the Promised Land we must reconcile with the incomprehensible love of a God who seeks us when we are lost and finds us worth delivering when we would have settled for more slavery.

As the story continues and the night deepens, we breathe deep and settle into the cushions of our chair. The freedom to rest in this moment cascades over us and the cups of sanctification, plagues, redemption, lead us to the natural expression of our faith, praise.

The meal concludes with a song. We praise a God who has delivered us.  Our infinite Creator has seen our weakness and has declared us worth saving.

The candles gutter out, the wine glasses smudged and empty, linens and crumbs litter the table. Flushed cheeks, soft eyes, loved ones drawn near, the reality of our deliverance is more real, more tangible, than possibly any other time of the year. 

Velvet darkness draws us into rest. We have begun the Feast of Unleavened Bread, looking toward First Fruits and the exhuberant supernatural redeeming life of the Risen Messiah, Yeshua, is woven through it all.  

Shabbat Basics

There might be some of you coming to get a primer on how to practically observe Shabbat and when you find a philosophical conversation about the heart of it you are more than a little overwhelmed.

This is for you. 

Firstly.  What does the Word of God say about Shabbat and how does He wish for us to honor Him during this time?

He gave us an example in Genesis 2:1-3 where he “ceased from His labors and rested”.  It’s that simple.

But you have toddlers and critters who get hungry!  The dishes pile up and you want to pull your hair out because the mess causes such anxiety you can’t rest.

How then?

Exodus 20:6 has an outline.  “Six days shall you labor and do all your work.”

All of it?

Why not?

If you had a special day planned for your family and you knew, beyond all doubt, that you needed to get it done by a certain time so you could enjoy the day with them, wouldn’t you do all your work ahead of time? 

We must not only learn but commit to reorient our lives around the Biblical timeline and not be slaves to the calendar that is dictated by our urgency and our anxiety.

Shabbat starts at sundown on the sixth day so check your weather app to find out when that is.  Then plan your week and days accordingly. Sabbath is NOT a burden but rearranging your life to be different from what has been always your practice CAN be hard.

Don’t confuse the two truths. Sabbath is not hard. Turning the ship around is.

So, now you know when it starts.

Secondly.  You’ve organized yourself and you are as ready as you can be.  The sunsets and NOW WHAT?!?!

Many families will make a special dinner, light candles, bake a twisted/braided egg bread, drink wine or grape juice, and give thanks to YHVH as they pray over one another.  There are ancient Hebrew blessings that offer thanks to the Father for His guidance and provision of the light, the wine, and the bread. All of these actions set the day apart as they begin to celebrate. And it can be lovely. And it can be overwhelming. And it can easily become rote and religious.

What do you HAVE to do?

The command is that the Sabbath, the seventh day, is “a Sabbath unto the Lord” (Exdus 20:10). So it’s not just a day off from toil it is a day that belongs not solely to us but also to Him and He has a specific plan for it.

“You are to remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Adonai your God brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore Adonai your God has ordered you to keep the day of Shabbat.” Deuteronomy 5:15

Remember your freedom from bondage and accept your privilege to set this day aside for God’s purposes.

A few ideas are as follows:

  • Make the time to study the Word together. 
    • Families and congregations all over the world study the Torah portions on this day.  This is a great resource to help you know what those Scriptures are.
  • Listen to worship music and read inspiring stories/books
  • Slow down and take time to fellowship and engage with one another
  • As YHVH did in the Garden, take the day to enjoy creation

What about all the things? The bread. The wine. The candles. The sayings in Hebrew. 

Are they necessary?

To me, they can be a beautiful and elegant tradition loosely based on some aspect of Temple worship but they are NOT required for the honest observation of Shabbat. That being said, they can be a wonderful way of setting the time apart within the context of the humdrum of the week.

Seated in my clean house around a beautiful table setting, a lovely home-cooked meal steaming, my sparkling glass, and a ruby wine refracting candlelight is a balm to my soul.  Beauty speaks to us and the effort to make our Shabbat time as special as we can is a way we can choose to honor the Father.

However, these things do not make it a more valuable and godly Sabbath than the ones where we crawl to the finish line, crash on the couch, and cry “UNCLE!” from the week that was. 

Our heart’s desire is to honor God and hold His timetable sacred.  Special.  An unmoving cornerstone in our life. 

What is prohibited? What CAN’T you do on Shabbat?  

That is not an easy question to answer in our current world and, as those who do not live in the Land of Israel, it seems there are varying conversations.

The teachings about how to be observant can be fairly lax in a modern reformed synagogue or more western church type environment. And that laxness can be a stark contrast with the extreme legality of orthodoxy that can be as rigid as portioning out your toilet paper ahead of time.

How do I prepare for Shabbat?

In a perfect week, I begin preparing myself for cleaning/food preparation/spiritual insights by Wednesday at the latest.  I do grocery shopping, prepare meals ahead of time, clean the house, and plan the menu for Friday evening.  In an imperfect week, some but not all of those things get done and I am deeply grateful for His grace that can carry me beyond my lack and weakness.

What doesn’t change is whether or not we stop our regular work when the sun goes down. We do. Unless a crisis presents itself.

The purpose of Shabbat is life and you can read about in this article, “Freedom to Rest – Permission to Live“.

On Shabbat, our personal observance is reflective of doing no “ordinary work”.  I don’t clean house, fold clothing, garden, or spend time on secular entertainments.  We will study the Torah portion, perhaps watch or listen to teaching when we aren’t meeting with our community, and rest.  Often lengthy conversations about all kinds of things will organically evolve over coffee because there is no other pressing matter to keep us preoccupied. 

Another aspect of our Sabbath-keeping is to refrain from commerce on Sabbath unless there is an urgent need.  This is, for us, a desire not only to prevent engaging in selfish pursuit but to also not ask someone else to work FOR me on the Sabbath. To not CREATE work for others during our day offered to the Lord.

We have grown, through the years, in our observance and understanding of the Father’s heart in the keeping of His special day.  Things that have become standard for us were once awkward and clunky, painful and overwhelming.  But Abba has been faithful to us.

He will guide you too as you seek to honor Him in His Shabbat.

Shabbat – Freedom to Rest, Permission to Live

Sabbath, Shabbat, is so much more than just a mandated period of time set aside for people to stress over things they can’t do while forcing themselves to sit still and “honor the Lord”. 

People who don’t have time to Sabbath often find themselves overworked, exhausted, anxious, and filled with resentment over all the things that demand their time.  That is who I was before I was given the opportunity to set aside the Sabbath as an immovable object in the way I live and function here on earth.

Free men get to self-determine. Slaves are bound to the will of their master.  Free men can take a day off.  Slaves never do. 

If you can’t take a day off?  You aren’t as free as you think you are.

The Seventh Day of Rest, Shabbat, is a reflection of the heart of YHVH.  In the beginning, He took a pause from His creative work to enjoy what His hands had created.  Specifically, He looked at mankind and was pleased with us.  We are very good to Him.

The longer I study Torah, seeking to examine Scripture with an open heart, the more I am reminded how relational our heavenly Father is. His purpose in creating and seating us in the midst of a beautiful, luscious garden was to provide us with the atmosphere to be enjoyed while we grow and enjoy His fellowship.  Adam and Eve, the first of humanity, were placed in perfection and their only requirements were to have dominion over His creation and walk with each other and with Him.

It was literally their occupation to manage His creation and to be available for communion with God.

We all know the story. They chose otherwise and that perfect world was plunged into chaos and anguish. The fall of man led to pain and death, separation and isolation, fear, and darkness. Cast from the garden into hard work, sacrifice, and, most profoundly, alienation from the Creator, it seemed as though all was lost.

But God… 

The most profound statement in all of human history.

God was not willing for us to remain in isolation and distress.  He immediately began implementing His plan for redemption. An eternally hopeful divine way of reconciling his now fallen creation with Himself in holiness and relationship. This plan had been in the works from the beginning.

The idea of Sabbath rest permeates Scripture. From the creation account to Hebrews we are consistently reminded that peace and rest are His design for us and striving and pain are aspects of the will of man in tangible practice.

Sabbath is where life begins. Quietly, peacefully, intentionally walking with Him in the moments He set aside.  Sabbath was made for us.

In Matthew 12 Yeshua is found walking through fields as His disciples, the cohanim, began eating of the grain because they were hungry.  Predictably, the leading religious leaders soundly rebuked Him and tried to find fault with Him. 

His reply?
“If you knew what ‘I want compassion rather than animal-sacrifice’ meant, you would not condemn the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Shabbat!” (Matthew 12:7-8)

They were “harvesting” on the Sabbath!!!!  How could they be innocent? And what does compassion, animal sacrifice, picking a few grains on Saturday, and Yeshua have in common anyway?


The cohanim were hungry so they ate. He had compassion on them to preserve their life.  He didn’t require more effort, more loss, more blood.  More works.  He chose to have compassion on them.

Who has the authority to define the Sabbath?

Only the One who set this day apart, the Creator of the Sabbath, Himself, can define this day and make declarations about it.

Of all the things we often try to make Sabbath mean when explaining ourselves to people who have no revelation of this truth, do we share the life our Messiah chose to focus on?  He chose Life.  Because it’s all about life.  It’s always been about life.

The animal sacrifice, the very first one, was at the time of Adam and Eve’s fall.  The animal’s blood, a foreshadowing of Messiah’s sacrifice and redeeming blood, covered their sin, the furs covered their shame, and, as they were cast out, their lives began to count down.

Only the Lord of the Sabbath could say otherwise. Only the One who would redeem them could possibly intervene and transform their bleak new normal into a glimpse of the Garden.

As centuries progressed and the observance of Torah went from story to myth to legend in the minds and hearts of men the importance placed on rote symbology took the place of the original relationship.  Mankind chose to forget the time when a grieving Father covered His children both figuratively and literally, and began the work of tirelessly pursuing them to restore relationship with Him and the hope of life everlasting. 

Yeshua staked His claim on Shabbat.  It wasn’t the 3rd day or the 6th day or the 2nd.  It was the 7th day and it mattered to Him.  It mattered enough for him to take that moment of admonition and move from the field to the synagogue where they sat in pious observance.  In His authority He healed the man with the shriveled hand and once more affirmed the importance God places on human life. 

“Looking for a reason to accuse him of something, they asked him, “Is healing permitted on Shabbat?” But he answered, “If you have a sheep that falls in a pit on Shabbat, which of you won’t take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore, what is permitted on Shabbat is to do good.”  (Matthew 12: 10b-12)

This day matters to Him and, its original intent, to reflect upon His creation and enjoy His company, to bring life, had been perverted into a wall of text and more rules than one would think possible for a single 24 hour period.  This was the heavy sacrifice that brought death to relationship and judgment instead of compassion.  

The elevation of man’s ideals over the significance of humanity’s relationship with their Faithful Creator desecrated the covenant He was devoted to restoring. 

This hopeless idealism manifests in our brokenness, our spiral toward death. We have spent millennia wandering away from the Garden of His care and His fellowship.

Hosea 6:6 is a difficult passage. The Lord clearly and precisely reveals the waywardness and rebellion of His people.  They had broken the covenant. Murder, greed, faithlessness, immorality… Struck down, cut to pieces by the Lord, they were a grotesque shadow of their promised identity if they had only obeyed. Their sins led them to atrocities but His heart remained the same and He was faithful enough to keep them from continuing beyond their ability to return.

He wants relationship through the intangibles of mercy, compassion, love and the touch-stones of conscious obedience as we commit ourselves to the knowledge of YHVH through his Torah and the rest of Scripture. 

Both of those elements, Spirit and Truth, come from an intentional pursuit of being restored to relationship with the Creator.  All that is necessary for abundant life.

And since the whole point of our faith is to LIVE, then it seems a simple transition that truly living starts with making time for Him and meeting Him when He is ready to be found.

“Seek Adonai while he is available,
call on him while he is still nearby.”

Isaiah 55:6

He is found by those who seek Him. He is found within His appointed times.  Sabbath, the New Moon, His Feasts. 

“For in six days, Adonai made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why Adonai blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.” Exodus 20:8

We don’t make it holy. To think that we, as we are, can be invited to participate with Him is amazing.  We don’t deserve it.  But we desperately need it.

We have been invited to enter into a holy space in time to be renewed and refreshed. To find life again in a culture, a sinful world, steeped in death. Our Creator knows we need rest and communion and, for those who walk in it, the benefits cannot be overstated. 

We don’t reconcile ourselves to God, we couldn’t possibly.  He took that on and redeems us through His blood. This is unchangeable truth.  Yet we tend to lose direction, wander, find other things that fill our minds and lives. The observance and keeping of a weekly, physical, practical Shabbat reorients our lives to a posture that keeps our focus on Him, the bringer of life, and the One who has never given up on our redemption. 

He is our Salvation. Our Shalom. Our Rest. Our Hope.

Our Sabbath peace.

Shabbat Shalom.

What’s A Yom Kippur?

The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

“It is to be a permanent regulation for you that on the tenth day of the seventh month you are to deny yourselves and not do any kind of work, both the citizen and the foreigner living with you. 30 For on this day, atonement will be made for you to purify you; you will be clean before Adonai from all your sins. 31It is a Shabbat of complete rest for you, and you are to deny yourselves. This is a permanent regulation.” Leviticus 16:29-31

Yom (Yohm) meaning “day” in Hebrew and Kippur (Ki-poor)from the root word “atone” bring us to what is arguably the holiest day of the Biblical year.  With the observance of this festival come the two conjoined fundamentals of repentance and atonement. This day falls in autumn following Rosh Hoshanah/Yom Teruah or the Feast of Trumpets and is directly preceded by the 10 Days of Awe. 

By now we have spent the month of Elul preparing our hearts. We have repented of wrongdoing, bitterness, seeking to distance ourselves from anything which damages relationships with others and especially those elements which could be a barrier in our relationship with Yahweh Elohim. With the gift of forgiveness and grace we have joyfully cast our sins on Him knowing He longs for us to return to Him with greater fervor than we could ever return. During the 10 Days we have spent time considering and evaluating all that remains within us.

All the soul searching and seeking, praying and thoughtful contemplation culminate on Tishrei 10 (September 28th, 2020) with a 24 hour period of concentrated prayer, fasting (in whichever method you believe is appropriate), and, as believers in Yeshua Ha Maschiach, the Messiah Yeshua, we express our profound gratitude for His grace and redemption.  Forever.  A “permanent regulation”.

So what happened, during ancient Biblical times, on this sacred day?  The first action of the High Priest was to mikveh, wash, and put on clean linen clothes.

Two goats were brought to the tabernacle or temple and the High Priest would cast lots over which of the two would be sacrificed. A tongue-shaped piece of scarlet cloth was tied to the horn of the Azazel or scapegoat and that goat was set before the people to wait until all their sins were laid upon him by the priest. As the goat waited, the offering of the sacrifice of a bullock would take place and only then could the High Priest step into the Holy of Holies, the Kadosh Kodashim.

The first time the High Priest enters to burn incense, representing the prayers of the priests. He enters a second time with the blood of the bullock and the third time to sprinkle the blood of the goat on the mercy seat.

When sprinkling the blood, he also casts it toward (but not on) the veil, the altar of incense, and the burnt-offering. It is now time for the High Priest to lay the personal sins and guilt of all the people on the scapegoat, make confession over it, and the goat is led away to die, Sometimes the goat pushed over a precipice to ensure its death as it was important that it did not come back to camp as the people perceived it as carrying the sins of the people.

Then the High Priest would mikveh, wash, a second time, put on his other clothes, enter the Holy of Holies one last time and offer the burnt offering and other sacrifices.

This command, given to Moses, has been observed for millennia and, naturally, various traditions and methods of observance have come from those times. Some based on clear biblical directions and some, in the post-Temple era, are naturally based on rabbinic interpretation and even simple expediency. 

To be sure, it is not easy to understand, in modern times, what we are to do about the Azazel (scapegoat) and the command to release one goat to the desert and one goat to be sacrificed for the sins of the people.  It is not easy for us to understand and not needful for our sanctification and redemption. 

“But when the Messiah appeared as Cohen haGadol (High Priest) of the good things that are happening already, then, through the greater and more perfect Tent which is not man-made (that is, it is not of this created world), He entered the Holiest Place once and for all.” Hebrews 9:11-14

He entered not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, thus setting people free forever. If sprinkling ceremonially unclean persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer was capable of restoring their outward purity; then how much more powerful is the blood of the Messiah, who, through the eternal Holy Spirit, offered Himself to God as a sacrifice. A holy sacrifice without blemish that will purify our conscience from works that lead to death so that we can serve the living God in unity and restored relationship.

“24 “For the Messiah has entered a Holiest Place which is not man-made and merely a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, in order to appear now on our behalf in the very presence of God.25 Further, he did not enter heaven to offer himself over and over again, like the cohen hagadol who enters the Holiest Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer death many times — from the founding of the universe on. But as it is, he has appeared once at the end of the ages in order to do away with sin through the sacrifice of himself.”Hebrews 9:24-26

The parallels of the ancient command and our Messiah’s shed blood and the transference of our sin to His shoulders are stunningly precise. Obviously our Messiah’s sacrifice was the plan all along and the hope of all the ages. As believers, we walk in confidence since we have been covered by His blood and our sins are washed away. We can boldly approach the throne of grace is our birthright because of Messiah’s perfect sacrifice.

“God made this sinless man to be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with Him we might fully share in God’s righteousness.”  2 Corinthians 5:21

Animal sacrifices were never intended to be enough. The plan for our atonement was always the blood of Messiah, His perfect sacrifice, and His willingness to carry our sin.  He “…entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Hebrews 9:24.  Not over and over again, annually, but once and for all.

Recognizing this incredible gift, we gather together on Yom Kippur, this Day of Atonement, solemnly reflecting on our great need for a Savior and His great love for us, and worship.  For we have been redeemed. We have been made clean. And it is our Yom Kippur.

A Feast of Shouting!

Yom Teruah – A Day of Shouting?

As we often do, this year we celebrated with a feast of food, friends, fellowship, worship, and, of course, the blowing of shofars. 

This ancient instrument, formed from the discarded or removed horn of a ram or goat, is the favorite worship instrument of many messianic and Hebrew roots believers.  The window rattling blasts resonate off the walls and, in our outside country venue, probably terrified more than a few coyotes and neighbor dogs. 

T’kiah!  Shevarim! Teruah! 

The long blast, the three wailing blasts, the nine staccato blasts all represent the calls both spiritual and physical echoing around the world on Tishrei 1 and 2 of the new year 5781. 

We call Yom Teruah the Feast of Trumpets but it is more honestly called “The Feast of Shouting”.

Teruah תְּרוּעָה is an interesting word.

It is a blast of warning, of war, of getting your attention. But it is also a shout of joy as per a religious impulse and, just a simple shout of joy. It is a clamor of joy or a battle-cry. 

In addition to the command to blow the trumpet, to shout, this feast is a memorial.  It exists to give an opportunity to remember. (Leviticus 23:24 “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.”)

What are we to remember?

Well, the word “memorial” isn’t just what we understand in modern terms. It is zik-ron זִכָּרוֹן and it also means “reminder”.

Exodus 13 uses this same word when Moses addresses the children of Israel and reminds them of their deliverance from Egypt and the purpose of Passover (Pesach) as a time of remembrance.

In truth all the feasts have an element of both reminder and remembrance in them.

Before the time of Yeshua, the Spring feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Shavuot) were an annual reminder of His promised arrival as well as a remembrance of the way He had delivered them, provided for them, and made them His own people.

After Yeshua fulfilled those holy days they became a time to remember His redemption and deliverance, the outpouring of His Spirit, and the purpose and directives for His Body in the world.

The Fall Feasts, pointing to the arrival of a King, the White Throne Judgment, and His dwelling with us on earth, are now accomplishing that role. In much the same way as our ancient forefathers once looked toward Yeshua, we now look for His return and all He has promised us as He establishes His kingdom on earth.

If that isn’t a reason to shout for joy?  I don’t think I know what is.

This IS a Feast of SHOUTING and of rejoicing.  A Feast of Trumpets calling us to battle, to worship, to awaken, to remember, and to be reminded of our Great King and Messiah, Yeshua.


The Beauty of Searching

Elul is similar to the word “Search” in Aramaic and is the perfect way to describe the season of Teshuvah leading us to Tashlich and Mikveh.

But what does that even mean?

Traditionally, people all over the world prepare for the New Year on Yom Teruah with the blasting of the shofar filling the air every day and the cacophony of blasts during the feast. This explosion of sound is then followed by the solemnity of the 10 Days of Awe leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Elul is marked by a focus on righting wrongs and resolving elements of relationship distresses caused or experienced in the previous year or years. It is a time of returning to the Lord and to each other.  In a sense, it is an emotional and spiritual reset. 

Everyone knows we can’t repent of things of which we are ignorant and, in those areas, our hope is for the Ruach HaKodesh to lead us and for the blood of Yeshua to cover our lack of insight or knowledge. 

However, if you are a fellow human, we are aware we all have plenty of ways we have fallen short.  Teshuvah is taking the initiative to create a focused time to take those records of wrong and wipe the slate clean on both personal and spiritual levels.

As a Hebrew word that has come to mean repentance, teshuvah literally means “return”.  In Judaism, this means it has become an element in the atoning for sin.  As believers in Yeshua, we know there is only One who atones for our sin, so this repentance and returning isn’t about earning or achieving something we have already been freely given. 

As believers seeking deeper relationship with each other and our God, repentance for the times we’ve missed the mark is integral to that growth. It is also a reflection of His love for us and of our love for Him.  Taking this time during Elul (the month prior to Yom Teruah, which falls on Rosh Chodesh Tishrei) to evaluate ourselves while we spiritually clean house is not only a good idea it’s a biblical idea. 

Yeshua, in Matthew 5, speaks clearly to the idea of reconciling and restoring relationships broken by disagreement, anger, bitterness, and judgment within His people.  Matthew 5:23, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

When did people bring gifts to the altar? 

Offerings and gifts were for the head of the month, Rosh Chodesh, at the beginning and culmination of vows, in gratitude for God’s provision and intervention, and, very specifically, on the High Holy Days, the biblical feasts.

The very core of Teshuvah through the actions of repenting or returning to those we love and those we are to be in community or fellowship with is integral to approaching God and prepares our hearts to follow Him in closer and deeper ways as we mature in our faith.

More than any other time of the year, as Yom Teruah brings in the Days of Awe and leads us toward Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, this is the season we eagerly prepare to be a beautiful bride, without spot or wrinkle, dressed in pure white, ready for our Bridegroom.  The practice of Yom Kippur on an annual basis is a time of practicing for the wedding day to come. We want to be completely ready for Him without the hindrance of failed promises, regrets over poor behavior, or the hidden sins keeping us from boldly approaching Him with gratitude and confidence.

Now, we know we cannot make our selves righteous. However, we can be part of making ourselves ready. 

Elul gives us time to examine and contemplate our condition. Seeking the Ruach and trusting Him to speak to us about how we should live and if there are those we have offended, those who have offended us, things which need to be made right so we can look ahead to the Days of Awe with joy and anticipation are a measure of Adonai’s grace and compassion as well as His unending patience with our fumbling faith.  

So what are the Days of Awe?  Dating back to 3rd venture BCE the recognition of this time period is attributed to Rabbi Yohanan and would have been part of Yeshua’s expression of the season as He celebrated within the community in Israel.

A famous poem, in Judaism, says there is a period between Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur where we can “avert the severe decree” through repentance, prayer, and charity.  The requirements for repentance include a change of mind, a feeling of regret, and a determination to change, along with an effort to repair the effects of one’s misdeed(s).

10 is the biblical number of completion and has also come to symbolize responsibility and, as it correlates to the 10 Words (Commandments), is seen as a symbol of obedience and responsibility of God’s people toward His law.

Those 10 days, beyond Yom Teruah and aided by the deepening the focus and intensity of Teshuvah, give us a chance to prepare our to receive His blessing and walk with clear conscience as we step, more fully than ever before, into the beauty of His atonement for our sins and the hope of our eternal future with Him.

“The Ten Days of Repentance are seen as an opportunity for change. And since the extremes of complete righteousness and complete wickedness are few and far between, Rosh Hashanah functions, for the majority of people, as the opening of a trial that extends until Yom Kippur. It is an unusual trial. Most trials are intended to determine responsibility for past deeds. This one, however, has an added dimension: determining what can be done about future deeds. The Ten Days of Repentance are crucial to the outcome of the trial, since our verdict is determined both by our attitude toward our misdeeds and by our attempts to rectify them by changing ourselves.” ‘Rabbi Reuven Hammer.

Which leads us back to tashlich. An action directly related to Teshuvah and a symbolic gesture of casting bread as a representation of sins into a moving body of water. This tradition is reflective of Micah 7:19.  As the prophet says,  “He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”

Tashlich is not a biblical mandate but rather a practice that could have been done during the time of Yeshua.

 Josephus refers to a decree the Halicarnassians made to permit the Jews to “Perform their holy rites according to the Jewish laws and have their places of prayer by the sea, according to the customs of their forefathers.” Some believe that this refers to the practice of tashlich. It is up for debate. 

Here’s what we do know for sure. This did become a common practice in the 13th century so it’s at least been around that long.

Personally, I love the deliberate thoughtfulness of taking a piece of bread and, with each piece I tear off, taking the time to contemplate my heart, repent of the things the Ruach reveals to me, and cast those things physically away from me. 

The cycle of Teshuvah and tashlich is one of repentance followed by a symbolic gesture of release while speaking a prayer of repentance and acknowledgment of YHVH’s compassion and kindness.

Which leads us to Mikveh. An action, when put in the right context, becomes a natural outflow of both repentance and prayer.

Mikveh is the forefather of what we know as baptism.  It is a full immersion or “T’vilah” in water by an individual alone under the supervision of another but without any “help” except for accountability to insure total immersion. Mikveh is a noun which has become a verb through use.  We “t’vilah” in a “mikveh”.  But now we call the whole experience mikveh and I’ll keep that going for easier communication.

Why mikveh? When mikveh?

Basically the first rule of thumb is to mikveh anytime there is a change of status. 

Moses was told to “consecrate the sons of Aaron into the service of the priesthood” and these men, when their status changed, were required to be immersed. 

Leviticus 16:1-4, as Moses is given the parameters of how to approach YHVH in the tabernacle. In verse 4, the priest is told to dress in linen and to bathe his body in water before wearing them.

In particular, the priest would mikveh before Yom Kippur.  According to tradition, he would immerse and change clothes five times beginning and ending with the golden garments.

Mikveh is also used for “Niddah” or ritual purification.  There are actions or behaviors as well as body functions specified in Torah which would cause a person to become ritually unclean (Tumah) and then actions which can be taken to become ritually clean (Tahor). Those commandments are directly related to when or how someone is allowed to enter the temple or not based on their level of spiritual cleanliness.  The temple no longer exists and these commands do not apply to gatherings or synagogues.  In one area, however, they speak specifically to personal hygiene for women. Leviticus 15:9

The third reason for mikveh is for conversion and by that, I mean all those who turn from sin, who come out of idolatry and polytheism to the embrace of the One and only true Elohim.  This is not a process of turning non-jews into jews or attaining a special status. 

Biblically, all nations and peoples, including Israel, are to demonstrate “conversion” through mikveh.  Yeshua said for us to “repent and be baptized” and following that mandate has become integral to the expression of conversion universally in the Body of Messiah.

In Deuteronomy 29:10-17 God tells the people who they are, who is expected to stand before Him, and what they have been saved from.  In Exodus 19:10 he says they should wash their clothing which also implies in the original text that they should wash their bodies as well. 

In relation to conversion, mikveh is also often used as a symbol of the rededication of one’s life to Adonai and a reflection of a renewed commitment to follow Him.

Symbolically, mikveh can be related to the crossing of the Red Sea. In the B’rit Hadashah (New Testament) I Corinthians 10:1 reminds us of the crossing through the sea and how they “immersed” themselves into Moses. Which of course, refers to their transformation into a people of the Torah.

The final area where the term mikveh is used is in regards to pots and dishes in relation to their use in Jewish community.  It has largely lost its biblically intended purpose for temple vessels and is mainly used in Orthodox households.  Numbers 31:21 speaks to the purification of those temple utensils and vessels and the following purification and washing of those who were in charge of that task so that they might participate in tabernacle worship.

In addition to the very physical aspect of clean dishes, I can’t help but also think about 2 Corinthians 4:7 and how we are “earthen vessels” holding the treasures of the Lord. The New Living Translation says it beautifully “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

We wouldn’t only wash a plate once and consider it always clean, would we? Why would we have any different need for short accounts and maintaining a continual posture of cleanliness manifested by an external expression such as mikveh? Not for salvation, not for redemption, not for sanctification. As a reminder of our need to be continually washed and renewed by our Heavenly Father.

As a believer and follower of Yeshua, mikveh is a symbol of our submission to Messiah and our commitment to love and obey Him.  It is a beautiful public demonstration of a change in status, a desire to be purified, and a fresh start.   The initial moment of declaration when we made a public profession of our rejection of the ways of the world and have embraced Yeshua and His ways, whenever that occurred in our walk of faith, is not the only time we can take advantage of being washed, of making a public declaration, and of making ourselves ready to approach our Abba with joy and confidence.

Teshuvah.  Returning to our Father and repenting of the ways of sin and brokenness that the Ruach reveals to us.

Tashlich.  Casting our sin away from us and declaring His mercy and goodness.

Mikveh.  Being washed clean, made ready for service, publicly rededicating ourselves to Him and to His service.

Two strong biblically supported practices and one simple tradition that bring us to the Days of Awe leading us to the Holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Our wedding day.  The day of At One Ment.