Moedim

Various articles related to the Feasts of the LORD (YHWH).

Off-Roading in the Second Month

I get very few Sundays off from work, so I was excited to learn I was “on call” this past Sunday. I thought it meant time for me to develop a message Adonai had been brewing all week on the new month. Instead, Abba had an entirely different lesson in mind. 

In the pics below, you can see that the day was for my husband. He was so happy that I didn’t have to go into work, as he had an off-road Jeep day planned. Though what I wanted to do was stay home and write, my husband was the priority. By putting him first, God blew me away with a living parable. I am still awe struck by the goodness of the LORD and how He can teach His truth in ways we never imagine. 

Climbing a Mountain 

In order to climb the rocky and muddy terrain of an east TN mountain off-road in a 4×4 (notice the 4’s CG students!), one has to AIR DOWN their tires. 


This sounds counterintuitive at first glance. Our great big tires with nearly 60 pounds of pressure needed to be deflated to about 15 pounds of pressure. Once released, they looked nearly flat, and much smaller than normal.

Who looks at that and thinks, “Now we are ready to climb a mountain!”

But, that RELEASE is exactly what enabled our Jeep to traverse through deep muddy ruts, climb boulders, and creep up rocky terrains as if they were nothing. Deflating the tires increased our traction and grip. It was like wearing slip resistant shoes with invisible cleats. 

I was amazed by how easy (and fun) it was! But, we also had an experienced guide leading us in his own Jeep. Truly, if we weren’t able to watch him climb over the boulders and navigate the deep ditches, we would have likely turned back in fear of not making it or damaging our vehicle. 

The driver leading us was named Clint. The next morning, Adonai had me look up the meaning of his name. It means a “rocky cliff, a hill.” What are the odds that our guide’s name would represent the very thing we were doing? And, that we needed to follow him in order to be successful? Several times he jumped out of his Jeep and acted as our “spotter,” telling us exactly which rock to place our tire on to climb up and out of precarious positions. (Can you see a reflection of Yeshua in this?!)

After reaching the top of the mountain and a real, smooth manmade road, we stopped to air the tires back up. (These guys carry air compressors for this purpose.) I couldn’t help but to think that we reach Shavuot the same way – deflated of self to gain an infilling of God’s Spirit. As we were driving home, I pondered about this process in light of the second month. 

Iyar is our climb up to the summit of Shavuot. While we tend to think that we can’t get anywhere with low or flat tires, God knows better. Now, I know better too. You can’t climb a mountain with full tires. If you try, all you’ll do is sit and spin in the mud or bounce off of rocks and likely topple your vehicle. 

Low tires (think humility – lack of ego – the thing we removed during Passover week) are the wheels that give one feet like a hind or mountain goat. They are the sure footing that can climb boulders with slippery mud without sliding or losing control. The views from this vantage point are amazing. With all our “hot air” released, we really can trek effortlessly over treacherous terrain that most stumble over. 

This links early fruit fruits (of barley) to the first fruits of wheat at Shavuot. Each day is marked and counted. Each is a step up the mountain. The more we release self, ego, pride, and anything that puffs us up, the easier the climb, the better the view, and the more the obstacles appear to be a fun adventure instead of an impossible pass. 

During this month, the sanctification process that began during the week of Matzah continues. If you find deep ruts, muddy waters, giant boulders, or even rocky walls in your path, and this invokes feelings of being overwhelmed, remember the hind. Remember how a 4×4 operates. All four tires are given power to turn and move, but not before releasing most of their own air. 

In life, especially at appointed seasons, we must do the same. We get to the Mount of Revelation nearly empty of self in order to receive and be filled with the life giving Spirit of Adonai. 

Jeep folks call getting a new set of tires, getting “new shoes.” In Ephesians 6, the armor of God includes one’s “shoes.” 

“…and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace..”

To shod is to bind under, to put on. Verse 15 says that one must put on these “new shoes” WITH the preparation of the gospel of peace. The two are bound together. The IVP Bible background Commentary says that these shoes enable one to “advance toward the enemy undistracted about what they might step on; this gear is essential to one’s ‘preparation’ for battle.” Now, I can add that these shoes also help one climb higher with sure footing to reach the summit, a figure of Adonai’s Throne. 

The LORD taught me this lesson in a profound way through my husband’s love of his Jeep, lol. Don’t you just love how Adonai speaks – all the time –  if we will just submit and listen? Shoes, even the ones that our Jeep wears, determines the outcome of our journey. 

I can spiritually see all of your beautiful feet and the lovely shoes in which Adonai covers each delicate toe. They are absolutely precious to Him. He desires that you climb every rock, boulder, and mountain with the ease of a hind’s feet. I believe most of you are wearing these shoes already. 

But there is only one way to perceive the climb without trepidation and fear. Release your own air. Let it all out, and you’ll find that the shoes He has fitted you with have far more protection and grip than you ever imagined. What once seemed impossible, will become an exhilarating off-road adventure through “a land not sown.”

Isaiah 52:7 (TLV) How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces shalom, who brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

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Purim Video: What the Darkness Reveals

This is the video of my message from the recent Purim 2021 conference. May it encourage you as we transition into the first Hebrew month, Aviv/Nisan this weekend.

 

 

The written message in written format can be found here.

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What the Darkness Reveals

Dear readers, this is a written form of my Purim message from this morning’s conference 5781 (2021). 

Isaiah 45:3, 6-7 (TLV) I will give you treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, so you may know that I am Adonai, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name… 6 so they may know, from the rising to the setting of the sun, that there is no one besides Me. I am Adonai—there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness. I make shalom and create calamity. I, Adonai, do all these things.

At first glance, it might seem odd to consider that darkness reveals anything. Typically, we associate darkness with covering, hiddenness, chaos, confusion, sin, judgment, evil, or even death. Most of the Biblical references to darkness agree with those associations. However, like light, darkness is a contranym. While light is most often a symbol of the Word, Spirit, commandments, goodness, wisdom, and Messiah, there is also a false light. The enemy masquerades as a messenger of light. There is a light that is, in reality, darkness. (Luke 11:35)

Just as light doesn’t always equate to something good, darkness doesn’t always equate to evil. Light can blind instead of expose, and darkness can reveal things that light conceals. While the opposite is what one witnesses most often, it is important to know how darkness can be beneficial in our relationship with Adonai. This will build a stronger faith in the One that dwells in thick darkness.

In the natural, this can be compared to the electromagnetic spectrum. The vast majority of the spectrum is invisible, hidden, or one could say “dark” to the eyes of man even though it is all light. These portions of the spectrum have wavelengths too large or too small for the physical limitations of man’s sight. The tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum that man can see with his eyes is called “visible light.” This is also true in the spiritual realm. God compares Himself with light, and yet man can only perceive a fraction of His light.

1 Timothy 6:15-16 (NASB) …He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

In this sense, there is light that appears “dark” or hidden from man. But, it is only dark from man’s perspective, not God’s. Thus, there are some (good) things that flourish in darkness. Consider a seed buried in the darkness of earth. It is in this place of seeming death that it germinates and sprouts to life. Or, think of a baby in the womb. It is in this dark, watery place that new life forms and grows, awaiting her day of birth.

Psalms 139:11-13 (NASB) If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” 12 Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. 13 For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.

While most flowers bloom with the light of day, there are some that only bloom at night to release their sweet perfume.[1] In Hebrew, the tzit-tziyot (fringes) figure the bloom of a flower and the commandments of God.[2]From those blooms, fruit will grow, mature, and become sweet. Just as some flowers bloom in the moonlight, some commandments are to be kept when it is dark, like Passover.

In Hebrew, there are two primary words for darkness. The first is choshek.[3] Like English, this word can imply physical darkness or an absence of light, but it is also used figuratively to represent something hidden, obscure, chaotic, or evil. The second term is araphel.[4] It is often translated as thick darkness or a dark cloud. Many Biblical verses describe the place where Adonai dwells with both Hebrew words for darkness. Here are a few:

Exodus 20:21 (NKJV) So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness (araphel) where God was.

Deuteronomy 4:11-12 (NASB) You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness (choshek), cloud and thick gloom (araphel). 12 Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice.

2 Samuel 22:10-12 (NKJV) He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness (araphel)under His feet. 11 He rode upon a cherub, and flew; and He was seen upon the wings of the wind. 12 He made darkness (choshek) canopies around Him, dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.

1 Kings 8:10-12 (NRSV) And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. 12 Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness (araphel).”

In light of this, what does darkness reveal? Consider the night sky. When the sun is shining brightly, the depths of the heavens are concealed from view. But when the sun sets below the horizon, and the beautiful blue sky fades to black, the multitude of stars, planets, and galaxies that exist far beyond the earth’s atmosphere become visible to the earth. The moon, which has no light in the daytime, becomes illuminated, shining her face upon the earth. Without darkness, one would never know that stars, planets, and galaxies dot the sky far beyond the blue heavens, nor would one know that the moon has any light at all.

In the natural, it is darkness that reveals the depths of the heavens. Do you suppose this is also true in the spiritual realm? Consider your life, your light in the earth. Is your light brighter in times of “light” or in times of “darkness?” Is the light of a lamp, candle, or flashlight easier to see in the daytime or at nighttime? Sometimes, we don’t know our potential, our lumens (light output), until we find ourselves surrounded by darkness or dark circumstances. That is what happened in the story of Esther. Facing the darkness of the shadow of death, she shined brilliantly and saved the Jewish nation living in the 127 provinces of Persia.

In Persian, Esther means “star.”[5] Stars shine in the darkness. Like all descendants of Abraham and Sarah, she was born to give light to a dark world.

Genesis 15:5-6 (NASB) And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

In Genesis 1:14, the stars and other luminaries are l’ohtot, for signs. Esther served as a sign to her people; and, she is still a sign, a shiny star to Believers today. It is likely that she drew strength by recalling Adonai’s promise to her father, Abraham. Before Adonai walked through the Covenant of Pieces as the smoking oven and flaming torch, Abraham felt terror and great darkness.[6]

Genesis 15:12-14 (NASB) Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness (chaskekah) fell upon him. 13 God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.”

God’s covenant with Abraham occurred when it was dark. In this frightful place, Adonai told him the fate of his descendants, the figurative stars. Abram experienced this as terror and great darkness. Based on this account, Jewish writings have long associated exile with darkness. Thus, the setting of Esther is darkness because the Jews in Persia were living outside the Land of Promise.

But, Esther is more than a “star.” Her name in Hebrew sounds like hester, which means hidden. In the light of day, the stars are hidden from man. In other words, when things appear good to us, lights like Esther are concealed. A scroll is megillah in Hebrew. It means to unveil or reveal what’s inside. The scroll of Esther means: Revealing the Hidden.

Just below the surface of the story, there is a hidden subtext with brilliant light for eyes that are searching for it. Without the darkness of exile, Mordecai and Esther would not have had their opportunity to shine. Without our personal times of darkness, we wouldn’t either. The darkness tests what’s in our hearts. It exposes what we really believe. And, it reveals the depths of the heavens and God’s hand in our lives in ways that cannot be perceived in times of “light.” In this way, darkness benefits our faith, and deepens our trust in Adonai.

Hebrews 11:1-2 (KJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.

Darkness Precedes Light

There is another important factor one should consider before examining the Scroll of Esther. Darkness precedes light. This pattern is first illustrated in the creation week, and then carried forth throughout the Word. It edifies one in times of struggle, turmoil, and even pending doom like Esther faced. In the beginning, there was darkness, and in that darkness, the Spirit of God hovered and fluttered over the faces of the waters.

Genesis 1:2-4 (NASB) The earth was formless and void, and darkness (choshek) was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

Darkness precedes light, just as exile precedes redemption. At creation, light came forth from the darkness. This is an important concept to grasp, because in all Biblical stories of redemption, darkness precedes light. This is also true for you and me. When we were lost in the darkness of our trespasses and sin, the Living Word of Adonai pierced our darkness with His light, the Messiah, and brought us redemption. Thus, the natural realm mirrors the spiritual.

Consider that in Hebraic thought, the “day” begins in the evening with darkness, then light emerges with the morning sun. “And there was evening and morning…” This is the model given from the first day of creation, and it has been followed faithfully by the Jewish people since that time. The seven day week also follows this pattern. The first six days of the week are mundane working days. One could say they are spiritually dark. But, the week ends with the holy Shabbat, a spiritual day, akin to “light” when man’s work ceases.

Similarly, new months begin when the moon is dark, often called the conjunction. In Hebrew, this period is called the molad, which means “birth.” However, it is not until the first sliver of light is witnessed emerging from the dark moon that it is sanctified and the new month begins.

On the larger, yearly cycle, the late fall and winter season can be likened to the “dark” part of the year, when there is literally less light. Whereas, the festival season that begins in the spring and extends to the first part of autumn, can be likened to the “light” part of the year. The feasts of Adonai occur when the days are longer and warmer. In every case above, darkness precedes light. That is the Biblical creation pattern. Thus, it is not surprising that new human life begins the same way, whether that life is physical or spiritual.

Isaiah 9:2 (NASB) The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.

Darkness of Exile and Captivity to the Light of Redemption

Now, let’s examine how the creation pattern of darkness preceding light is illustrated in stories of redemption. The exodus from Egypt is the archetype of redemption. All stories of redemption share aspects of this monumental event, which is forever commemorated by the first feast on Adonai’s yearly cycle: Pesach. Messiah’s persecution, death, and resurrection follows this model. Consider the archetypal pattern: the last three plagues involved darkness before the children of Israel went out from Egypt:

Locusts – Plague 8:

Exodus 10:4-5 (LITV) For if you refuse to send away My people, behold, I am going to bring locusts into your territory tomorrow. 5 And they will cover the eye of the land, and no one will be able to see the land. And they will eat the rest of that which escaped, that which is left to you from the hail. And they will eat every tree that sprouts to you from the field.

Darkness – Plague 9:

Exodus 10:21-23 (LITV) And Jehovah said to Moses, stretch out your hand to the heavens so that darkness (choshek) may be on the land of Egypt, and one may feel darkness (choshek). 22 And Moses stretched out his hand to the heavens, and darkness (choshek) of gloom was in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see each one his brother, and they did not rise up, each one from his place for three days. Yet to all the sons of Israel there was light in their dwellings.

Death of Firstborn – Plague 10:

Exodus 11:4-5 (NASB) Moses said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, 5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of the cattle as well.

There is a clear mandate for followers of the God of Israel to remember the exodus. Notice when one is to do so:

Exodus 12:42 (NASB) It is a night to be observed for the LORD for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for the LORD, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations.

Redemption (Passover) is to be commemorated at night, when it is dark. But, what was the mark that Israel’s redemption was complete?

Exodus 14:24, 27 (NASB) At the morning watch, the LORD looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion… So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it; then the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.

When day light pierced the darkness of night, Israel’s redemption was complete! Pharaoh and his army were defeated in the waters of the Reed Sea. Does Messiah’s Passion follow a similar pattern?

 Matthew 27:45 (NASB) Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.

When Messiah hung on the tree, darkness fell upon the land for three hours, mirroring the three last plagues of darkness before the redemption of Israel. From man’s perspective, that darkness remained (figuratively) for three days and nights while Yeshua was in the dark tomb. Even when the women went to the tomb, it was dark.

John 20:1 (TLV) Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it is still dark, Miriam from Magdala comes to the tomb. She sees that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb.

Matthew 28:1 (NASB) Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.

But with the morning light, Yeshua appeared to Mary and the others, a clear mark of a new dawn, a new day, and the evidence that He had overcame death and redeemed all those who believe. Once again, darkness preceded Light.

 

Purim to Passover

Based on all the above, why do you suppose that the rabbis ensured that Purim occurs one month before Passover in a leap year when there is an added 13th month or Adar 2?[7] They didn’t want us to miss the deep connections Purim has with Passover. Since both are stories of redemption, it is vital that we understand that whether God brings one out of darkness with a Mighty Hand and great miracles, or whether He works behind the scenes in life’s happenstances and coincidences, it is ALL Him. He is the Savior and Redeemer.

Purim occurs at the end of the cycle of months, and Passover occurs at the beginning. The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end. In nature, the season is transitioning from winter to spring – a type of darkness to light. In Esther and Exodus, the people were living in exile, or darkness. Their lives hang in the balance. Anytime one is in state of transition, there are many unknowns, things one can’t see. It is dark from man’s perspective.

But, that is the precise place where God works. David said, “Ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou are with me.” (Ps. 23) He is right there with you in your darkness. His Spirit is hovering over the dark waters of our chaos. When Yeshua walked on water, like the Spirit in the Beginning, it was DARK and the wind and waves were contrary. (Mt. 14) Likewise, He is hovering and fluttering over your darkness, your chaos, your foggy circumstances. Light will come forth from your darkness. It is like a birth, a new creation .

Now, let’s step back into the story of Esther. This young Jewish girl ended up in a foreign king’s harem. Her entire life would be dictated by this (ungodly) ruler. She had no control over her life or circumstances. Her life must’ve felt pointless, and subjected to the will of others. When Esther first met King Ahasuerus, it was in a dark month of winter, Tevet, the tenth month. In this dark place and time, God gave her favor with the king, and out of all the other women, she was chosen to be his new queen.

Esther 2:16-17 (NASB) So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus to his royal palace in the tenth month which is the month Tebeth (Tevet), in the seventh year of his reign. 17 The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

At this point in the story, Esther’s true identity is hidden from the king at Mordecai’s request. Meanwhile, it just so happened that while Mordecai sat at the king’s gate, he overheard two wicked officials discuss their plot to lay hands on the king. Mordecai reported the men to Esther, and she reported them to the king’s guard. The men were charged and executed. This incident turns out to be the key to the outcome of the whole story.

In the next chapter, Haman the Agagite is elevated to a position of authority. All pay homage to him except Mordecai, which infuriates Haman. His hatred extends to all of Mordecai’s people, the Jews. Three months after Esther is crowned queen, in the month of Nisan or the first Hebrew month, Haman casts purim (lots) to discover a favorable

Haman – May his name be Blotted Out!

month to destroy the Jewish people.

Esther 3:7 (NASB) In the first month, which is the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, Pur, that is the lot, was cast before Haman from day to day and from month to month, until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar.

This entire scene unfolds in the month of Nisan – the month of redemption on Adonai’s calendar. We don’t want to miss this connection. A great deal of this story occurs during the spring feasts. Once Haman divines that the month of Adar is best for destroying the Jews, he brings his plan to King Ahasuerus.

Esther 3:8-9 (NASB) Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not in the king’s interest to let them remain. 9 If it is pleasing to the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who carry on the king’s business, to put into the king’s treasuries.”

Haman was willing to put forth his own money to fund this campaign of death – 10,000 talents of silver, which is the equivalent of about 333 tons by weight or around $5.6 million dollars in today’s currency.[8] Haman was a man of great wealth, and he used it for evil. So, on the 13th of Nisan, the edict went out to all the provinces that nearly a year later, in the month of Adar, the people should prepare to annihilate the Jews. (Esther 3:11-15)

Esther 3:13 (NASB) Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces to destroy, to kill and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to seize their possessions as plunder.

Pause right there and think about God’s calendar. From Nisan 10th to the 14th, the Passover lambs are examined for blemishes, so they can be sacrificed to the LORD to commemorate Israel’s redemption from Egypt. Was a blemish found in the “lambs” of the Jews living in Persia?

Esther 4:14 (NASB) “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

Perhaps, Esther realized she and her fellow Jews did indeed have a blemish. Consider Haman’s accusation against the Jews. They were “scattered” and “dispersed,” and their laws were different that the King Ahasuerus’. While the latter is a good thing, being scattered and dispersed signals disunity among the people. Realizing this, Esther seeks to remedy the problem:

Esther 4:16 (NKJV) “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”

Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah, a myrtle branch. Her response to Mordecai was to gather or assemble ALL the Jews. As a true Sukkot branch, she calls for the scattered people to come together in unity, just as the various lulav branches are gathered and waved before the LORD at Sukkot. Instead of feasting during Passover and Unleavened Bread, they fasted for their lives. Esther was willing to risk death for her people, a beautiful foreshadowing of the work of Yeshua.

As a result, the king was more than favorable when Esther approached him unannounced, even offering her up to half of his kingdom. She requests that the king and Haman attend a wine banquet that she had prepared. They do so, but Esther keeps her identity and true request concealed, inviting them to a second banquet the next day. Meanwhile, Haman builds 50 cubit gallows in which he intends to hang Mordecai.

During that night, the turning point of the narrative occurs. (Take note of the dark/light symbolism.) The king can’t sleep, so he has the chronicles read to him and discovers that Mordecai saved his life. The king desires to honor Mordecai for saving him. The next morning, Haman entered the courtyard to ask the king if he could hang Mordecai on the gallows that he built. In a funny turn of events, Haman instead ends up parading Mordecai throughout the kingdom to honor him for saving the king.

This mortified Haman, so he covered his head in shame, and went home to complain to his wife and friends. But, he was quickly ushered off to Esther’s second wine banquet. There, she finally revealed her true intentions. She unmasked Haman as the wicked one set on destroying her people, and revealed her Jewish identity to the king. The furious king hung Haman on the gallows he built for Mordecai.

All the above occurred during the spring feasts of Adonai. In third month of Sivan, when Shavuot is celebrated, the king allowed Mordecai and Queen Esther to issue new edicts for the upcoming time of destruction set by Haman in Adar. The rest is history. The Jews defended themselves, fear of them grew in Persia, the tables were turned, and they destroyed the ones determined to destroy them. These days were marked as the festival of Purim, a remembrance of the time Adonai turned them “from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a yom tov.” (Esther 9:22)

 

Warring with Amalek

Haman was descendant of Amalek, the people that attacked the weak and weary Israelites in the wilderness. After this, the LORD said that He would war with Amalek from generation to generation. (Ex. 17:14-16; Dt. 25:17-19) Moses built an altar at that time, and called Adonai YHWH Nissi, the LORD is my Banner, in honor of Adonai’s declaration. A banner is a nes, which is a sign, standard, or ensign. It is also related to the Hebrew word for miracle, nes.

A nes is something lifted up like a flag that can be seen from far away. When the children of Israel warred with the Amalekites, Hur and Aaron held Moses’ tired arms up as an ensign. As long as his arms remained raised with the staff of God, Israel prevailed. In the yearly Torah cycle, we reread this account in Exodus on Purim, as we celebrate Haman’s (Amalek’s) defeat.[9]

Adonai is truly our Banner, the One lifted up as our ensign. We look to Him and the battle is won. Every year at this season, we remember Amalek. We recall his battle tactics. He seeks to attack the stranglers, the weak, and the frail – those that are experiencing darkness. Those that are struggling with exile and hard circumstances. This is the time to lift up a banner for the whole camp of Israel to see. On Adonai’s calendar, that flag or standard is the Scroll of Esther.

She shines like a bright star to those in darkness, giving gentle instruction to the weary. She calls for gathering and unity, even in exile. She reminds us of Haman’s (Amalek’s) defeat, and the hidden, yet Mighty Hand of Adonai. Esther connects one to the new cycle, and prepares us for Pesach. She transitions us from darkness to light.

The Orthodox Pesach Haggadah highlights this with a song that is read at the end of the Seder on the first night of Passover called, It Came to Pass at Midnight. As you read through the lyrics below, meditate on the timing of redemption. When it seems like the darkest moment, even in our own lives, that is when Adonai comes to rescue us. In Egypt, we were slaves one moment, and then, at the “stroke of midnight” we were free. (Ex. 12:29) How many times has Adonai came to your aid at a figurative “midnight”?

IT CAME TO PASS AT MIDNIGHT

You performed most wonders at night,
In the early watches of this night; You caused the righteous convert,
Abraham, to triumph at night;

It came to pass at midnight.

Gerar’s king Abimelech, You judged in a dream by night; You frightened the Aramean, Laban, in the dark of night;
Israel (Jacob) overcame an angel and won by night;

It came to pass at midnight.

You crushed Egypt’s firstborn at midnight;
They found no strength when they rose at night;
The army of the prince of Sisera, You swept away with stars of night;

It came to pass at midnight.

Senncherib, the blasphemer, You disgraced by night;
Babylon’s idol fell in the dark of night;
Daniel was shown the secret of the king’s dream at night;

It came to pass at midnight.

Belshazzar, who drank from the Temple’s vessel, was killed that same night;
Daniel who was saved from the lion’s den interpreted the writing on the wall at night; Hateful Haman the Agagite wrote letters in the night;

It came to pass at midnight.

You triumphed over Haman in the king’s sleepless night;
Trample the winepress and help those who ask the watchmen, “What of the long night?” The watchman responds: “Morning comes after night;”

It came to pass at midnight.

Hasten the day of Messiah, which is neither day nor night;
Most High, make known that Yours are day and night;
Appoint guards for Your city all day and night;
Brighten like the light of day the darkness of night;

It came to pass at midnight.

In your dark hour, have you asked the watchmen, “What of the long night?” A true watchman will respond, “Morning comes after the night.” Exile, affliction, trials, and sufferings are dark, but they are not the end; they signal the beginning. This is the nature of birth and birth pangs.

We can add another “midnight” to this Orthodox poem:

Mat. 25:5-7 (NASB) Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.

The pattern is consistent and trustworthy. When it is dark, one can trust that Adonai is at work. One can believe without wavering that Adonai will once again bring the LIGHT. Not even death, the thing most fear above else, cannot separate us from the love of Messiah. “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Ps. 30:5)

Rom. 8:35-39 (TLV) Who shall separate us from the love of Messiah? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.

Paul was convinced of this message. Are we?

Queen Esther knew the stakes. Her life was on the line for her people. We fear what lurks in the darkness of what we can’t see. But, Adonai is there with us, just as He was with the Jews in Persia. Darkness and light are alike to Adonai. (Psalm 139:12) And, we can trust that He is for us. He is good and works ALL things for the good. (Romans 8:28)

We, especially those that live in western nations like the United States, prefer teachings that focus on one’s safety and prosperity. We have developed entire theological systems that have the “church” escaping trials and tribulations. These doctrines are dangerous because they are rooted in fear of worldly poverty and death. The king’s palace, though luxurious and seemingly “safe,” could not protect Queen Esther. Mordecai told her not to even imagine that her high status would protect her. We serve the God Who gave His all for His people. He expects no less from those that follow His example.

If you find yourself lost in the dead of night at this season, seek wise watchmen, like the moedim or appointed times. They arrive in the year at the perfect time to remind one that though the enemy is always seeking your life, Adonai is still on the Throne. He redeems, He saves, He lives, and He is coming. Death will be swallowed up in victory!

So, every year we rehearse the blow to Amalek at Purim, exactly a month before Passover. On Adonai’s calendar, Purim is the (spiritual) preparation for Pesach. It dissolves the chametz of fear, doubt, and unbelief. These are lies that lurk in the dark, hidden corners of our hearts. They question God’s presence in the natural world and one’s everyday mundane existence. This type of darkness seeks to destroy one’s faith just before the first sliver of “light” pierces the night at Passover.

But, we have our own megillah, our own revealing, like Esther and Purim. This is our testimony of overcoming. It shines in the darkness like the stars and the moon. These sparks of light remind all that dwell in darkness and dark circumstances that we have a great hope. There is Good News! What is hidden now, will be revealed – unrolled like a heavenly scroll. And Messiah, our hope and glory, speaks to us in the thick darkness.

Matthew 10:26-27 (NASB) Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to look up when it is dark. There, far beyond the earth, the heavenlies utter their wordless speech. They remind all the Esther’s or stars of Abraham of Adonai’s Covenant Promises. He is faithful. Can you find the treasures of darkness? Look up!

Luke 21:25-28 (NKJV) “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;  26  men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  27  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  28  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”


[1] For example, check out the Moon Flower: https://www.thespruce.com/growing-moon-flower-in-containers-4125231

[2] Strong’s H6734 צִיצִת tsee-tseeth’ Feminine of H6731; a floral or wing like projection, that is, a fore lock of hair, a tassel: – fringe, lock.

H6731 BDB Definition: צץ / ציץ tsı̂yts / tsits 1) flower, bloom. 1a) flower, bloom. 1b) shining thing (of gold plate on high priest’s mitre) (metaphorically). 2) feather, wing.

[3] H2822 חשׁך chôshek BDB Definition: 1) darkness, obscurity. 1a) darkness. 1b) secret place. Part of Speech: noun masculine. A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: from H2821

[4] H6205 ערפל ‛ărâphel BDB Definition: 1) cloud, heavy or dark cloud, darkness, gross darkness, thick darkness. Part of Speech: noun masculine. A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: probably from H6201

[5] https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Esther.html

[6] From the same root as choshek: H2825 חשׁיכה / חשׁכה chăshêkâh / chăshêykâh BDB Definition: 1) darkness. Part of Speech: noun feminine. A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: from H2821

[7] In a leap year, the Hebrew year has thirteen months or a second Adar. (Learn more here and here.) Leaps years occur seven times in a nineteen year cycle. The 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years of the nineteen year Metonic cycle are leap years. 5781 is year number 5 of the cycle and is therefore not a leap year. The next leap year will be in 5782, year number 6 of the cycle. See New Moon posts on Adar for more: here and here.

[8] See the IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament and New Testament by John H. Walton; Mark W. Chavalas; Victor H. Matthews; Craig S. Keener on Esther 3:9

[9] See Warring with Amalek Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to understand Haman’s connection to Amalek.

Categories: Biblical Symbols, Moedim | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Tu B’Shevat: The Lesson of Akhnai’s Oven

We are in the eleventh month of Shevat. Shevat comes from an Akkadian word that means a shoot, rod, or lashing, with the latter being a reference to the heavy rains of winter that end at this season. The fifteenth of Shevat (Tu B’Shevat) is the New Year for Trees in Judaism. In Temple times, it was vital for Israel to have a set time to separate one growing season from another in order to properly tithe and bring one’s first fruits to the priests. That is the purpose of the New Year for Trees. Which year does your fruit belong to? This is important for tithing in the natural and spiritual realms.

Winter might seem like an odd time of the year to celebrate trees and fruit, but in Israel’s more temperate climate, the fruit trees are budding and beginning to blossom in this month. In a sense, you are a tree, a planting of the LORD. What’s budding in your life right now?

“People have trunks and limbs. They grow roots, have seeds, and produce fruit. Trees and people feel pain and bleed when wounded. Both breathe and sway (move) when the wind (ruach) blows upon them. The growth of trees and people are deeply affected by the type of soil, the volume of water, and the amount of sunlight that they receive. Even the House (Temple) of YHWH is built with both trees and people. (2 Chron. 2, 1 Cor. 6:19) Thus, it is no wonder that the Scriptures abound with analogies, metaphors, similes, and puns that compare mankind to the majestic trees of the forest.”[1]

In tradition, the first of Shevat is when Moses began to deliver the Mishneh Torah, the second Law or repetition of the Law, or the Book of Deuteronomy. He spoke to Israel for thirty-seven days, passing away on the seventh of Adar. Because Moses delivered a full summary of the Law at this time, Rosh Chodesh Shevat is compared to Shavuot (Pentecost), when Adonai gave His Torah to Israel. Thus, this month and the first seven days of Adar are considered an auspicious time to study the Torah, as it teaches one how to produce proper fruit.

I’ve written elsewhere about the specifics of Shevat and Tu B’Shevat. This year, I will elaborate on the spiritual aspect of this season, specifically in regard to producing spiritual fruit.

Luke 6:43-45 (NASB) “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. 44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. 45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

You are a tree, and the fruit that you produce is your words and actions. No one can escape this reality. If one wants to know what is really in their heart, examine your words. What is coming forth from your mouth or from your keyboard? Life or death? Edification or accusation? Hymns and praise or rants and derision? Good news or mockery? If rotten buds are sprouting, repent before the fruit comes into full bloom, earmarked for destruction.

Proverbs 4:23-24 (NASB) Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. 24 Put away from you a deceitful mouth and put devious speech far from you.

In Hebrew, the bolded words above are both about deception. Since the fall from the Garden, man struggles with the polarities of two natures. One must learn the difference between these two voices, and submit to the renewed man in Messiah, who is governed only by the Spirit of Adonai, not the old nature that is dying; and yet, continually trying to resurrect and rule. (Romans 7) Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, Adonai reminds man that he is like a tree:

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NKJV) “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD. 8 For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.”

But, in the very next verses, Adonai warns that one’s heart, from which the issues of life flow, can trick, deceive, and distort. Therefore, it is imperative that we examine our fruit.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NKJV) “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? 10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”

What are we producing? What words are we speaking (typing)? What actions result from these words? Have we received seed/fruit from a tree that we should not be consuming that is producing fear, suspicion, doubt, paranoia, anger, strife, and division? And, are we then spreading that sort of “news” to others instead of the Good News? You will know them by their fruit. You will know whose seed you have received into the soil of your heart by examining FRUIT.

King David, the man after God’s own heart, prayed:

Psalms 141:3-4 (NASB) Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. 4 Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness with men who do iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies.

Since the Garden, receiving words, whether they be of Adonai or from another, are likened to ingesting seed. Seed is found in fruit. Things and words that appeal to the flesh are “delicacies.” In Hebrew, these are man’ammiym. They refer to choice, luxurious portions of (spiritual) food. Above, David knows that receiving such morsels from the wicked and lawless might taste good to his flesh, but in the end, they lead to death. We must be careful of the fruit we partake of because it contains a seed that will grow into a full-grown tree. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil produces more of the same. Just because something seems good or even is good, doesn’t mean it produces Life.

This is true in every area of life: marriage, family, child rearing, community, relationships, fellowships, education, careers, governments, politics, medicine/health care, and even in theology. Two seeds. Two trees. Two worldviews. Two Kingdoms. We are either of one or the other. Thus, it is vital that we become expert fruit inspectors, beginning with our own hearts.

 

Difficulty in Discernment

Aside from leaving Egypt, rarely are the people of Adonai required to act in haste. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit. Thus, while inspecting fruit is paramount, so is discretion. Things are not always as they appear. We must not be quick to judge, because we are not omniscient.

Proverbs 15:28 (ESV) The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

One can listen to the voice of fear or other emotions, or even the voice of one’s own desires and be deceived. One can believe that they are full of light, and that light can, in reality, be darkness.

 Luke 11:35 (NASB) “Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness.”

This is just as true for the Believer as the unbeliever. The Hebrew worldview is not as black and white as western, Greek trained minds would prefer. Hebraic thought centers around the tension between opposites, and seeks to find balance. The Hebrew language reflects this. Most Hebrew words function as contranyms.[2] This is confusing for those trained in western logic. And yet, this is the mindset in which the Bible was written. It is also the mindset that produced Rabbinic Judaism and the Talmud.

Much of the Talmud is debate and argument, something westerners, particularly those of faith, do not wish to participate. If religious arguments become the norm in western faith circles, there is a strong likelihood that the group will choose sides and splinter into new groups. They do this to avoid debate, and to peacefully function in the echo chamber that agrees with one’s conviction.

While this isn’t an evil thing to do, and it certainly has some benefits, it is not spiritually healthy to never have one’s faith, beliefs, or doctrines challenged. The nature of growth, birth, and harvest is toil, pain, and struggle. This is how we learn. While hostile debate can be draining, or even damaging, especially for those young in the faith, having no challenge or debate is equally destructive. It’s akin to one dying on the vine. Hebraic thought challenges one to find the balance between these polarities.

“The nature of a man or doctrine or movement can be rightly estimated only when the results have had time to develop.” (F. B. Meyer)

Wait for the fruit. Do not be deceived. Many in religious (and secular) circles prey upon one’s ignorance of the “whole story” or all the facts. According to Scripture, ignorance leads to exile, separation, and destruction, not bliss.[3] The Talmudic story called “Akhnai’s Oven” has been used by detractors to speak evil about Jews, particularly those that adhere to Rabbinic Judaism.

Whether these accusers are ignorant, deceived, or willfully dishonest, I know not. What is obvious is their dependence upon the listener’s ignorance. By choosing to quote a small portion of the this aggadic story out of context, they build a vile strawman and attach it to Rabbinic Judaism. Their goal is to incite fear, doubt, suspicion, and hatred. And sadly, some will receive this seed and it will grow into a wicked tree of antisemitism in their hearts. The irony is that when one reads the entire story in context, it is a teaching about NOT disparaging others with words!

Akhnai’s oven is not a true story, rather it is a parable with great moral lessons about how brothers treat one another, especially in regard to speech. Like much of the Talmud, the rabbis are having an argument about halacha, rulings about “how” to properly keep or walk out the Torah. Hebraic Roots folks often do the same, so this little story has some pearls of wisdom if we have ears to hear, and can reserve judgment for a time.

I will warn you that this is NOT a simple story. It contains layers of moral truth that requires one to wrestle with what is “right.” But, isn’t that just like everyday life? Godly discernment often isn’t black and white. Consider Judah and Tamar. By Torah standards, she APPEARED to have played the harlot (and the irony is that she did), thus Judah wanted her to be burned alive.

When the accusations were brought to her, she said, “Discern, I pray thee, whose are these—the signet ring, cord, and the staff.” Tamar called for discernment. That is how she was vindicated, and that is how the line of Judah was secured. May we have that same discernment as we investigate Akhnai’s Oven.

 

Ahknai’s Oven

Proverbs 18:21 (NASB) Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

On the surface level of this story, the ancient rabbis are arguing about whether an earthenware oven that has come in contact with a corpse is clean or unclean (pure or impure/ kosher/nonkosher). In the Torah, an earthenware vessel or oven contaminated by death is impure, and must be shattered. (Lev. 11:33-35) But, the debate arises because of the way in which the oven was built; in this form, is it still considered such a vessel?

The placement of this argument is key to the context of the story. It is sandwiched between sections of where the rabbis made rulings about PROPER SPEECH. Words and how one uses them indicates the state of one’s heart. One is meant to consider that he/she is from the earth, an earthenware vessel.[4] What does an “oven” have to do with this? It is a symbol in this story. Ovens bake BREAD – and bread is a metaphor for The Word and one’s words. What are we cooking up or eating from the ovens of others? “Those who love it WILL EAT its fruit.”

Bava Metzia 59a and 59b (quoted from Sepharia.org)

Apropos the topic of verbal mistreatment, we learned in a mishna there (Kelim 5:10): If one cut an earthenware oven widthwise into segments, and placed sand between each and every segment, Rabbi Eliezer deems it ritually pure. Because of the sand, its legal status is not that of a complete vessel, and therefore it is not susceptible to ritual impurity. And the Rabbis deem it ritually impure, as it is functionally a complete oven. (59a)

That’s the opening argument. R. Eliezer thinks that the oven shouldn’t be considered a complete “vessel,” thus the commandment in Leviticus 11 doesn’t apply. Whereas, the majority of the rabbis see it differently. They think that since it functions as a complete oven, it is also a complete vessel, and subject to ritual impurity. The story begins:

And this is known as the oven of akhnai. The Gemara asks: What is the relevance of akhnai, a snake, in this context? Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: It is characterized in that manner due to the fact that the Rabbis surrounded it with their statements like this snake, which often forms a coil when at rest, and deemed it impure. The Sages taught: On that day, when they discussed this matter, Rabbi Eliezer answered all possible answers in the world to support his opinion, but the Rabbis did not accept his explanations from him. (59b)

Consider a couple of things before moving forward. First, the rabbis immediately associate the oven with WORDS. The tongue is likened to the oven, because words originate in the heart. So, based on their explanation, consider whether the tongue is an incomplete example of one’s heart (a separate or incomplete vessel), or if Yeshua is correct when He says it figures the entire heart of a man (a complete vessel).

Second, notice that the “owner” of the oven is called Akhnai, which means SNAKE. Immediately, one is faced with the real issue. Snakes are “hissers,” and are associated with deception and damaging words. The rabbis surrounded it (the argument) like a coiled snake. And, Rabbi Eliezer counter argued (literally translated), “All the words in the world,” to support his conclusion. Both sides use many WORDS. At this point, you might be wondering which group in this story is the actual snake (or in the wrong). Keep wrestling with that idea as the story builds.

After failing to convince the Rabbis logically, Rabbi Eliezer said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, this carob tree will prove it. The carob tree was uprooted from its place one hundred cubits, and some say four hundred cubits. The Rabbis said to him: One does not cite halakhic proof from the carob tree. Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the stream will prove it. The water in the stream turned backward and began flowing in the opposite direction. They said to him: One does not cite halakhic proof from a stream.

 Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the walls of the study hall will prove it. The walls of the study hall leaned inward and began to fall. Rabbi Yehoshua scolded the walls and said to them: If Torah scholars are contending with each other in matters of halakha, what is the nature of your involvement in this dispute? The Gemara relates: The walls did not fall because of the deference due Rabbi Yehoshua, but they did not straighten because of the deference due Rabbi Eliezer, and they still remain leaning.

 Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, Heaven will prove it. A Divine Voice emerged from Heaven and said: Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer, as the halakha is in accordance with his opinion in every place that he expresses an opinion?

This story is a type of Jewish literature called aggadah, which are parabolic stories meant to convey a moral lesson in support of halachic rulings. Rabbi Eliezer, a highly respected (and real historical) rabbi, stood alone in his opinion of the oven. This story exemplifies the tension between two schools of thought in first and second century Judaism, the struggle after the destruction of the Temple, a nation facing exile (again), and the necessity of unity to maintain Jewish identity. While all those issues can and should be explored, our focus is on the timeless issues of the tongue, and why WORDS will either justify or condemn us. (Mt. 12:37)

At first glance, it appears that Rabbi Eliezer is indeed correct. Miracle after miracle comes forth as a sign for him. But, the other rabbis are not persuaded by such signs. Then, R. Eliezer asks the walls of the house of study to prove that he is right. They began to fall inward and Rabbi Yehoshua rebukes them, so they stopped. It seems the walls decided to agree with both sides of the argument, which we will get to later. Finally, Rabbi Eliezer pulls out his ace card. He calls on heaven and a Divine Voice (Bat Kol) agrees with his ruling. You’d think that this would settle the dispute, but then:

Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: It is written: “It is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). The Gemara asks: What is the relevance of the phrase “It is not in heaven” in this context? Rabbi Yirmeya says: Since the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai, we do not regard a Divine Voice, as You already wrote at Mount Sinai, in the Torah: “After a majority to incline” (Exodus 23:2). Since the majority of Rabbis disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, the halakha is not ruled in accordance with his opinion. The Gemara relates: Years after, Rabbi Natan encountered Elijah the prophet and said to him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do at that time, when Rabbi Yehoshua issued his declaration? Elijah said to him: The Holy One, Blessed be He, smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me.

Yikes! That last bit sounds rather sacrilegious. Indeed, it is typically where one promoting antisemitism will stop quoting the story to say horrible things about Judaism or Jews. But, reserve judgment for a moment. There is much more going on than meets the eye, and the story is far from finished.

Rabbi Yehoshua and the other sages do not trust in signs and wonders, not even a heavenly voice, because the Torah warns them about such things. Instead, they stand on the firm foundation of “it is written.” The heavenly Torah was given to earth at Mt. Sinai. And, the Torah plainly states that a contaminated earthenware vessel must be broken. Since the majority agrees with this, the ruling is settled.

In the eyes of an inexperienced reader of the Talmud, controversy arises when it says, “My children have triumphed over me.” That sounds like man has defeated Adonai (God forbid), which is NOT the moral of this story. Nor does it imply that man’s word or judgment is higher than YHWH’s. Instead, the rabbis point to this section to support the fact that God has given His Word (from Heaven) and EXPECTS man to make judgments based on His revealed truth. They also see this is as a support for Rabbinic authority, with the majority ruling in halachic matters. You don’t have to agree with the latter, because if Akhnai’s oven teaches one anything, it is that we are free to disagree. What matters is how we treat one another, and how we speak about each other during and after the fact.

One is also faced with another conundrum. Were the miracles and the heavenly voice false signs and wonders? The text implies that they were the real deal, hence the controversial phrase at the end of the above passage. Or, were the majority rabbis correct by strictly sticking to “it is written?” Two polarities. Two schools of thought. Divine tension. Who is correct?

The truth is that we face similar tensions in our faith walk all the time. In many instances, one could argue for either side and be correct (at least to a degree). However, there is a test that can help with discernment. Yeshua said, “You will know them by their fruit.” The second half of Akhnai’s oven reveals the aftermath (fruit) of this argument. It quickly becomes apparent that both sides were correct… and incorrect. There is a much greater Torah principle being taught in this story for those that have ears to hear.

The Sages said: On that day, the Sages brought all the ritually pure items deemed pure by the ruling of Rabbi Eliezer with regard to the oven and burned them in fire, and the Sages reached a consensus in his regard and ostracized him. And the Sages said: Who will go and inform him of his ostracism? Rabbi Akiva, his beloved disciple, said to them: I will go, lest an unseemly person go and inform him in a callous and offensive manner, and he would thereby destroy the entire world.

What did Rabbi Akiva do? He wore black and wrapped himself in black, as an expression of mourning and pain, and sat before Rabbi Eliezer at a distance of four cubits, which is the distance that one must maintain from an ostracized individual. Rabbi Eliezer said to him: Akiva, what is different about today from other days, that you comport yourself in this manner? Rabbi Akiva said to him: My teacher, it appears to me that your colleagues are distancing themselves from you. He employed euphemism, as actually they distanced Rabbi Eliezer from them. Rabbi Eliezer too, rent his garments and removed his shoes, as is the custom of an ostracized person, and he dropped from his seat and sat upon the ground.

The sages burned Rabbi Eliezer’s previous work, and then excommunicated him. Can you imagine the pain this caused R. Eliezer, whether he was right or wrong? His work, devotion, and service to God, were all destroyed because of one argument. The rejection must have been unbearable. Elsewhere, the rabbis teach that humiliating another person in public is akin to murder, as is destroying their livelihood. His colleagues did both. Hence, Rabbi Akiva dressed as a mourner when he delivered the news to R. Eliezer. Something had indeed died: their relationship.

In a sense, the sages knew what they were doing because they feared that if the news reached Eliezer in an unsavory manner, “he would destroy the entire world.” What does this mean? Surely, Eliezer didn’t possess such power, did he? This is symbolic, of course. Think metaphorically as you read the following:

The Gemara relates: His eyes shed tears, and as a result the entire world was afflicted: One-third of its olives were afflicted, and one-third of its wheat, and one-third of its barley. And some say that even dough kneaded in a woman’s hands spoiled. The Sages taught: There was great anger on that day, as any place that Rabbi Eliezer fixed his gaze was burned.

 And even Rabban Gamliel, the Nasi of the Sanhedrin at Yavne, the head of the Sages who were responsible for the decision to ostracize Rabbi Eliezer, was coming on a boat at the time, and a large wave swelled over him and threatened to drown him. Rabban Gamliel said: It seems to me that this is only for the sake of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, as God punishes those who mistreat others. Rabban Gamliel stood on his feet and said: Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known before You that neither was it for my honor that I acted when ostracizing him, nor was it for the honor of the house of my father that I acted; rather, it was for Your honor, so that disputes will not proliferate in Israel. In response, the sea calmed from its raging.

 When we have suffered great pain, loss, betrayal, rejection, or injustice is it not like the “entire world is afflicted?” At least “our” entire world has been destroyed in that moment. Why do you think the crops of harvest are affected in “thirds?” Have we read about judgment occurring in thirds elsewhere? The Book of Revelation has many judgments in thirds, and it is indeed a judgment on the seven abominations that all deal with the tongue in some way.[5]

Dr. Alewine points out the good side of thirds, which are the chaggim, the three pilgrimage or foot festivals, where brethren gather in unity at Mt. Zion.[6] No one is left out or ostracized. Tongues are used to praise and worship the King of kings. Moreover, they occur at the harvest times of the aforementioned crops (barley, wheat, olives). The destruction in this story symbolizes the consequences of both parties’ actions. No longer will they gather as one at the appointed times of the LORD; hence, a third of the chaggim harvest is afflicted. Likewise, the Sabbath dough is spoiled before it is baked, insinuating that the gathering spirit of breaking bread on Shabbat has been tainted.

Rabbi Gamliel understands that they mistreated Rabbi Eliezer, and that this is the reason his life is threatened, so he prays to the Almighty. What he really did was “explain himself” to the Almighty. I wonder how many of us do the same when we’ve taken our judgment too far with others? Do we tell God all the “good” reasons for our poor actions? Our intentions might be good, but the subsequent fruit reveals the tree.

At this point, we should understand that we can be so right that we are wrong. No matter which side of the argument one is on, there is a right and a wrong way to say things. And, there is a right and a wrong way to cast judgment or bring correction. The last part of the story ends with a woman called Imma (mama) Shalom. She is connected to both men, and both sides of the argument.

The Gemara further relates: Imma Shalom, the wife of Rabbi Eliezer, was the sister of Rabban Gamliel. From that incident forward, she would not allow Rabbi Eliezer to lower his head and recite the taḥanun prayer, which includes supplication and entreaties. She feared that were her husband to bemoan his fate and pray at that moment, her brother would be punished. A certain day was around the day of the New Moon, and she inadvertently substituted a full thirty-day month for a deficient twenty-nine-day month, i.e., she thought that it was the New Moon, when one does not lower his head in supplication, but it was not. Some say that a pauper came and stood at the door, and she took bread out to him. The result was that she left her husband momentarily unsupervised.

 When she returned, she found him and saw that he had lowered his head in prayer. She said to him: Arise, you already killed my brother. Meanwhile, the sound of a shofar emerged from the house of Rabban Gamliel to announce that the Nasi had died. Rabbi Eliezer said to her: From where did you know that your brother would die? She said to him: This is the tradition that I received from the house of the father of my father: All the gates of Heaven are apt to be locked, except for the gates of prayer for victims of verbal mistreatment.

Imagine Imma Shalom as a figure of the Holy Spirit or Woman Wisdom. She is wife and sister to the men who argued. Now, consider Adonai. Is He not intimately connected to us AND our opponents? Like Imma Shalom, He loves both sides, both men. They are close family. While she is devastated for her husband, R. Eliezer, she is also deeply concerned for the consequences that her brother will face if her husband pours his broken heart out to God.

Imma Shalom diligently watches over her husband. One day, she believes it is the new moon, a time like other feast days and Shabbats when one (in Judaism) doesn’t make personal supplications to God; rather, those days are all about worshipping and praising the King. So, with her guard down, she leaves him alone, not realizing that it is a normal week day, a time when one does make supplication and entreaties to God. She walks in to find Eliezer on his face before God, and says, “Arise, you already killed my brother.”

Suddenly, they heard the voice of the shofar come from the house of Gamliel. He had, indeed, died. Eliezer asks her how she knew this would happen. She quotes a tradition passed down from her father’s father, “All the gates of Heaven are apt to be locked, except for the gates of prayer for victims of verbal mistreatment (ona’at devarim).”

Ona’at devarim are stealing words. Words that fraud, oppress, and damage. There are no winners in this little tale. Both sides made grave errors in words and deeds, even though both sides served the Most High God. Neither Eliezer nor the rabbis were 100% correct in their halachic ruling or in the way they spoke to and treated one another. Words brought death in each case, not life. “Those who love it WILL EAT its fruit.” – even great rabbis.

This is the Snake’s Oven. It brings forth poisonous bread that once consumed cannot be undone – just like one’s words.

Perhaps, we are like Eliezer, eagerly looking for a loophole to make the unclean, clean. Maybe we are arguing “all the words in the world” to convince others that our private interpretation is right, even though the more words we use, the closer we align with Ahknai, the snake. Or, perhaps the majority is on our side, and there is a sense of safety in those numbers, so we take this as confirmation that we are “right,” and search no further for balance and truth. Maybe our conviction is so strong that even a heavenly voice won’t change our mind. Will we coil like a snake around the minority and choke them out? Can you see the irony on both sides?

The walls of the “house of study” are still leaning to this very day. In the Book of Revelation, the foundation and “walls” of heavenly Jerusalem consist of people, living stones. The overcomers in the church of brotherly love are promised to become “pillars” in the Temple of Adonai. These walls do not lean, they are straight, strong, and true.

But, this side of the Olam Haba (World to Come) the walls in the house of study continue to lean. It is all so precarious, and so are our relationships. They are what matter most, because God desires that we be One with each other, and Him. Anything that seeks to divide brothers should be a bright orange caution sign for Believers. (Pr. 6:16-19)

Last year was the Hebrew year 5780. Eighty is the letter peh, which is also the word for mouth. We have entered a decade of 80’s or mouths. Do you think it is a coincidence that the whole world has had to cover their mouth since mid 5780? In Biblical understanding, one’s (evil) words cause leprosy, a spiritual condition that requires one to be separated (socially distanced) from the camp.

Leviticus 13:45 (TLV) “The one with tza’arat who has the plague-mark should wear torn clothes, the hair of his head is to hang loose, he is to cover his upper lip and cry, Unclean! Unclean!’”

Perhaps, we collectively represent R. Eliezer and the Sages. Everyone in the case of Ahknai’s oven was found to be unclean and contaminated, just like the snake’s oven. And it was all on account of disguised evil speech by those that should know better. We must stop defending and justifying our big, fat mouths.

Maybe God has allowed this plague to come upon us because our words have been found wanting. Maybe we’ve coiled around others like a snake with hissing taunts or we have murdered someone’s reputation or livelihood with our words. Perhaps, our entire ministry is devoted to accusing the other side of wrong doing, which makes one a “satan.”

We have poorly represented the King of the Universe, which makes us false witnesses, an unclean earthenware vessel that needs to be shattered. Yeshua tells the assembly in Thyatira that He searches the minds and hearts of man, no one can explain away or justify their rotten words or deeds. In the end, His rod of iron WILL shatter the unclean human clay pots.

Revelation 2:23-27 (TLV) Then all of Messiah’s communities will know that I am the One who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your deeds. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold to this teaching and have not learned the so-called ‘deep things’ of satan—I place on you no other burden. 25 Only hold firm to what you have until I come. 26 To the one who overcomes and guards My deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations 27 and he shall rule them with an iron rod, as when clay pots are broken into pieces.

We will give an account for every idle word that we speak. Did they produce life or were they contaminated with death? (Mt. 12:36-37) In Greek, it literally says we will PAY BACK with logos, words. Middah kenedgo middah – measure for measure.

Yeshua comforts the Philadelphians, those immersed in brotherly love, by making the synagogue of Satan (accusers) bow down and worship (use words) at their feet to make them know that Yeshua loved them. I wonder how many of us will do this at the feet of those we have disparaged, hated, and spoken poorly of in this life?

Perhaps, we will be required to cover our lips until we admit that we are unclean. I pray that we freely repent (the rightful use of one’s tongue) before we are forced to do so by further judgments.

Matthew 12:36-37 (NASB) “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

To learn more about Proper Speech click here.


[1] https://graceintorah.net/2017/01/28/tu-bshevat/

[2] A word with two opposite meanings, e.g. sanction (which can mean both ‘a penalty for disobeying a law’ and ‘official permission or approval for an action’).

[3] Isaiah 5:13 (NASB) Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst.

Hosea 4:6 (NASB) My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law (Torah) of your God, I also will forget your children.

[4] For example see: Is. 45:9, Jer. 19, Rom. 9:20-21, 2 Cor. 4:7-18, 2 Tim. 2:20,

[5] For more information, see The Creation Gospel: Workbook 1 and 2, by Dr. Hollisa Alewine. Also see Proverbs 6:16-19.

[6] See footnote 3.

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