Mussar

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.

Categories: Moedim, Mussar | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tevet: Be Angry, and Sin Not

Eph. 4:26-27 (NASB) BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity.

This year, I’ve been concentrating on the sense of anger for the upcoming month of Tevet. Tevet is the tenth Hebrew month, which denotes a completion of sorts or a representation of the whole, like a tithe. For example, see number ten in this post, or consider how ten men make a minyan for prayer, or that Abraham negotiated with YHWH down to ten righteous souls to save Sodom (Gen. 18). In what way does Tevet express aspects of ten? The answer to that question has partially eluded me until this year. As it turns out, anger is the key.

First, consider that every year Tevet begins at the end of Chanukah. One’s lamp should be full of candles or light when the tenth month arrives. This is in stark contrast to what is happening in the natural. Outside, the days are short and cold. There is less “light,” physically and spiritually. And yet, followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are meant to be the light to those in darkness.

The spiritual darkness at this season is recorded in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees:

1 Mac. 1:44-50 (KJVA) For the king had sent letters by messengers unto Jerusalem and the cities of Juda that they should follow the strange laws of the land, 45 And forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days:  46  And pollute the sanctuary and holy people: 47 Set up altars, and groves, and chapels of idols, and sacrifice swine’s flesh, and unclean beasts: 48 That they should also leave their children uncircumcised, and make their souls abominable with all manner of uncleanness and profanation: 49 To the end they might forget the law (Torah), and change all the ordinances. 50 And whosoever would not do according to the commandment of the king, he said, he should die.

Denying proper sacrifices, profaning the Shabbat and Feast days of Adonai, polluting the holy altar with swine’s flesh, and forbidding circumcision, all served to make the people forget the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (These things are still true of the anti-messiah spirit.) The end goal of the anti-christ spirit is for God’s people to forget His Torah, His Word. So, what is one actually “forgetting” if this spirit is successful?

Pro. 6:23 (TLV) For the mitzvah is a lamp, Torah a light, and corrective discipline (mussar) the way of life.

The Torah or instructions of Adonai provide spiritual light to those that follow HaShem. They are a light unto one’s path. (Ps. 119:105) They train and teach one in the Way of Life. Chanukah comes from the same root as the Hebrew word for education. (Chet, nun, chaf) Chanak means to train, to dedicate. At the time of the Maccabees, the Greeks were determined to force Hellenism upon the Jewish people, and sadly, they were mostly successful. This necessitated the reeducation of the larger Jewish population with Adonai’s Torah. Celebrating Chanukah reminds one that we are always at war with false ideologies, paradigms, and mindsets.

Interestingly, the Maccabees urged the people to celebrate “the feast of Tabernacles in the month of Kislev” as a commemoration of their victory.

2 Mac. 1:1-9 (KJVA) The brethren, the Jews that be at Jerusalem and in the land of Judea, wish unto the brethren, the Jews that are throughout Egypt health and peace: 2 God be gracious unto you, and remember his covenant that he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, his faithful servants; 3 And give you all an heart to serve him, and to do his will, with a good courage and a willing mind; 4 And open your hearts in his law and commandments, and send you peace, 5 And hear your prayers, and be at one with you, and never forsake you in time of trouble. 6 And now we be here praying for you. 7 What time as Demetrius reigned, in the hundred threescore and ninth year, we the Jews wrote unto you in the extremity of trouble that came upon us in those years, from the time that Jason and his company revolted from the holy land and kingdom, 8 And burned the porch, and shed innocent blood: then we prayed unto the Lord, and were heard; we offered also sacrifices and fine flour, and lighted the lamps, and set forth the loaves. 9 And now see that ye keep the feast of tabernacles in the month Casleu (Kislev).

Chanukah literally means dedication; the Maccabees cleansed and rededicated the Temple or House unto Adonai. Like in English, dedicate (chanak) in Hebrew means to devote or set apart for a special purpose. In this case, the Temple was rededicated and devoted solely for the purpose of worshipping YHWH and Him alone. But, dedicate can also mean to devote oneself completely unto someone or something. In this sense, it is related to training. A student devotes or dedicates himself to his studies.

Pro. 22:6 (NASB) Train up (chanak) a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Chanukah reminds one to rededicate their house or Temple for the purposes of Adonai, and to live a life devoted to learning His Word. This conforms and molds one into His image in the earth. In this way, we become vessels of His Light, shining brighter each year. All other ideologies fail and fall as truth is etched onto one’s heart.

2 Tim. 2:15 (KJV) Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Therefore, it is with this knowledge fresh on one’s mind that we enter the tenth month of Tevet.

The Head of Tevet

The new moon is the “head” of each month. As such, the first of each month figuratively contains all the raw material and spiritual light for that particular season. In other words, the head (of the month) directs the body (of the month). The head of Tevet begins with the last and brightest lights of the Chanukiah. Thus, Chanukah points the way through Tevet. It trains one how to war against spiritual darkness.

Although we’ve been celebrating the victory of the Maccabees, the rededication of the Temple, and overcoming the enemy despite great odds, Tevet immediately casts one into the throws of seeming peril. It is so great that Zechariah reminds the forlorn people that one day, four traditional fast days WILL become a time of joy. One of those fasts occurs in the tenth month:

Zec. 8:19 (NASB) Thus says the LORD of hosts, “The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth months will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace.”

The fast on the tenth of the tenth month (Asarah B’Tevet) recalls the siege on the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The fast is from just before sun up until nightfall.

2 Ki 25:1 (NASB) Now in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, camped against it and built a siege wall all around it. (see also Jer. 52:4)

Wait! You mean right after celebrating a victory of overcoming the enemy and rededicating the House to YHWH, we are supposed to recall yet another attack on the Temple? Yes. A better question to ask is, “Why?”

The Temple or House is a physical picture of the Body and the heart of mankind. Just as your physical body and your spiritual body are both essential to life, Adonai’s earthly Temple AND spiritual Temple each serve the God of the Living. In the natural, there is an ongoing war for the place that Adonai placed His name.[1] Likewise, there is an ongoing war for the temple of your body and your heart, where Adonai dwells.

Nebuchadnezzar’s army pitched their tents around the city, and then built siege weapons (dayek) like towers, mounds, and bulwarks, in which they could shoot their arrows and cast their stones.

  • The enemy SURROUNDS the city.
  • They pitch tents.
  • They build siege works to cast arrows and stones past the city walls.

Spiritually or figuratively, at this season has the enemy surrounded you, set up a camp, and began building siege works? Casting arrows or stones can metaphorically refer to words that cut, pierce, or crush another person. We need to not only be on the defensive for such tactics; but even more importantly, we need to ensure that we guard our own tongue and lips! We don’t want to be found with an unruly member.Like Yeshua, it is often best to be silent before one’s accusers.

The story and commemoration of Chanukah and Nebuchadnezzar’s siege on the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the 1stTemple, inform the warfare of the tenth month. There is judgment regarding the “House” at this season. Do you recall another month on Adonai’s calendar where this is the case?

In many ways, Tevet mirrors the fourth month of Tammuz. On Tammuz the 17th, the fast of the fourth month marks another siege on the walls of Jerusalem, this time though, it is a breach of the 2ndTemple.[2] Compare the following account from the Mishnah about the 17thof Tammuz with 1 Maccabees 1:44-50 above.

There were five events that happened to our ancestors on the seventeenth of Tammuz and five on the ninth of Av. On the seventeenth of Tammuz: The tablets were shattered; The tamid (daily) offering was cancelled; The [walls] of the city were breached; And Apostomos burned the Torah, and placed an idol in the Temple. On the ninth of Av It was decreed that our ancestors should not enter the land, The Temple was destroyed the first And the second time, Betar was captured, And the city was plowed up. When Av enters, they limit their rejoicing.[3](Taanit 4:6)

Look at the clock face below. Rather than thinking of hours and minutes, allow each number to represent one of the twelve months. Adonai’s calendar is cyclical like the clock face.

Now, look at number one and number seven. Do you see how they are directly opposite one another on the clock/calendar face? How are month one and month seven alike? The first and seventh months contain all but one of the sacred moedim or appointed times in Leviticus 23. Together they envelop the entire harvest season and the “light” part of the year. Just as Pesach mirrors Sukkot, month one mirrors month seven.

Look at the clock face again. Trace each number to find it’s opposite in the year. (1-7, 2-8, 3-9, 4-10, 5-11, 6- 12.) We can learn much by studying opposites. Connections that one would otherwise miss are revealed through opposite counterparts. This is how male and female are meant to function, they are alike and yet opposite. (To understand this better, see The Biblical Role of Women.)

By looking at each month’s counterpart on the calendar, one can learn a great deal about what is happening (spiritually) at that season. For example, month 6 (Elul) and month twelve (Adar) are both months of spiritual preparation. Yom Hakippurim is a day (yom) like Purim if one takes the time to investigate it. The forty days of repentance begins on the first of Elul and concludes on Yom Kippur. Besides repentance, this forty day period of examination includes renouncing and annulling careless words, promises, and vows made in the previous year. Just before Yom Kippur, the Kol Nidre service serves to finalize this process.

Queen Esther nullified the vows of her husband at Mordecai’s suggestion, which was a topsy turvy play on Numbers 30. Pur doesn’t just mean “lots,” but also annulments. Purim commemorates much more than Haman’s wicked “lots.” It also celebrates the “pur” or annulments of Queen Esther![4] Ideally, one repents, prepares, and annuls impulsive vows before Yom Kippur in Elul, the mirror of Adar.  Thus, by examining each month’s counterpart, one gains a deeper understanding and appreciation of the rhythm of the Creator’s calendar.

The tenth month (Tevet) mirrors month four (Tammuz). The theme of each month is centered on the siege of the walls of Jerusalem, and the eventual destruction of Adonai’s House. According to tradition, the House or Temple was destroyed because of:

1stTemple – idolatry

2ndTemple – baseless hatred against brothers

The rabbis teach that, in reality, both sins were present at each destruction. Besides being a direct infraction of the two greatest commandments (love Adonai, love neighbor), what else do these destructions have in common? Meditating on this, I had a realization about the sense of anger. The Bible says to, “BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity.”

Anger Brings Destruction

According to psychology, anger is a secondary emotion; meaning, it is rooted in the more primary emotion of fear. Anger is the “fight” side of the “fight or flight (or freeze)” instinct that one has when faced with danger or a threat. With fear and anger, one’s heart rate accelerates, blood pressure rises, and adrenaline increases blood circulation to the muscles. These physical responses enable one to run quickly, or to stand and fight the enemy or threat one is facing.

These physical responses can save your life if you meet a bear in the woods. But, while they enable the physical body to perform with increased speed and strength, they simultaneously decrease one’s executive brain. In other words, anger (and fear) reduces one’s ability to perform risk assessment. One’s actions are managed without forethought about how they will affect the future. These emotions are pinpointed on the moment of threat with survival being the only goal in sight. The sad part, is that what we perceive as a threat can simply be someone else’s opinion. This is especially true in the age of lightning fast global communication.

The Talmud equates anger with the sin of idol worship, which is an affront to the first and greatest commandment, and one of the reasons YHWH allowed the Temple to be destroyed. Why do you suppose the rabbis consider anger to be on the level of idolatry?

When one is enraged, who is on the throne? It can be fear, but it can also be self, a form of pride. Think about this for a moment. Imagine a time when you were infuriated. Did you not have a strong sense of righteousness at that time? Couldn’t you list off a litany of reasons why you had the “right” to be furious? Whether you were right or wrong at that moment in time, you became the judge. Likely, you were also the executioner spewing out reprimands, insults, and judgments. In this way, anger, became a false god. Or more accurately, anger ruled your heart, not Adonai.

The Jewish sages have some profound messages on anger. In Pesachim 66b, it says, “Whosoever yields to anger, if he be a wise man his wisdom leaves him, and if he be a prophet his prophecy leaves him.” Nedarim 22a says, “The angry person is overcome by all forms of hell.” The sages realize that an angry person doesn’t think straight. They have a one track mind that the Bible equates to foolery.

Ecc. 7:9 (NASB) Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools.

I don’t know one person that has not said or done something that they regret when they were angry. There is a reason that in Hebrew anger is expressed with words like boiling, seething, and burning. It is the emotion most akin to hell, because if acted on, fists of fury and injurious words of death blast out like a machine gun bent on destruction. These actions are never righteous, though many believe they are justified if the other person is in error or wicked or _________ – you pick an excuse. It behooves us to stick with the wisdom of James:

James 1:19-21 (NASB) This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

Man’s anger does NOT achieve the righteousness of God. This doesn’t mean that it is a sin to get angry, especially over sin and injustice. Knowing this, many people use the coined term “righteous anger” to differentiate between sinful anger and non-sinful anger. The problem is that I have witnessed many people use the term “righteous anger” to say (or type) horrible, hurtful things to others. Their actions produce anything but “righteousness.”

If you are a Believer and are truly seeking after the righteousness of God, then you know how easy it is to deceive yourself. Anger comes from a place of fear, which only the perfect love of Adonai can cast out. If not from fear, it comes from pride, which is superiority – a form of idolatry. Thus, the emotion of anger is not the problem; rather, it’s what one does with that anger.

When we are angry, we cannot achieve the righteousness of God. In the heat of the moment, it is imperative to ask yourself whether the anger is coming from fear or pride. (These are actually two sides of the same coin.) Ask yourself: What am I afraid of? Why do I feel superior in this situation? How can I turn my anger into an action that will be restorative for the other person, myself, and perhaps others? These are some of the questions that can cool off one’s hot head. They also remind one to LOVE their neighbor, the second failure of Israel that caused the Temple to be destroyed.

Pro. 12:15-16 (KJV) The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise. 16 A fool’s wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame.

Even if the other person is wrong, a wise man or woman will cover the shame of the other. Rather than go on a tirade exposing the flesh of their neighbor, a wise person has learned to REACT differently. This is incredibly difficult, a test I’ve failed many times. Mussar teacher Alan Morinis put it this way:

“The issue is not anger; the issue is how we act in response to that trigger. And what we learn from Jewish wisdom is that we should strive never to lose our mastery over our emotional lives. We see that in the liturgy that has us praise God’s quality of being slow to anger. On festival days and especially on Yom Kippur, we intone, ‘Adonai, Adonai! Compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness .…’ Notice that being “slow to anger” is high on the list of characteristics we ascribe to God.”[5]

If you are reading this post, I believe, like me, you desire to be like Adonai. This includes being long nosed, the Hebrew idiom for being “slow to anger.” A long nose takes a long time for air to travel in and out. It is akin to taking a deep breath and slowly releasing it. This is a scientifically proven method to help one to calm down. Before reacting, pause, and practice some deep breathing.

Pro. 16:32 (NASB) He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.

Be Angry, and Sin Not

This Tevet, consider once again the siege on the walls of Jerusalem, and the eventual destruction of the Temple. Be angry about what brought Israel to this devastating predicament, which was idolatry and baseless hatred. Search your heart for hidden idols and hate. Get angry about those things. Use this time as an opportunity to root out darkness in your own heart. Don’t take the bait in the MANY traps and siege works of the enemy. They are there to incite anger and to get you to react in an unrighteousness manner.

Adonai’s clock is pointed at the ten and the four. Four is about authority, and ten is a tithe representing the whole. How we handle anger will reveal whether destruction or restoration occurs. It also reveals who sits on the throne of one’s heart. If it’s anger instead of our compassionate, slow to anger God, the siege works will continue. But, even that is His mercy. Getting to the root of anger is one of the keys to spiritual wholeness.

If you know you’re angry, get alone with Adonai and let it out. Read the Psalms. David poured it all out to Adonai, anger and all. Allow Adonai to show you the root behind your rage. Let Him cast out your fears one by one. If pride is the issue, find ways to humble yourself before Adonai and others. Seek to honor people, especially those you think don’t deserve it.

The political climate in America is ripe with tensions meant to make you seethe like a beast in the field. Choose differently. Religious spirits, likewise, have set crafty traps to do the same. Instead of becoming burning mad, exploding like a nuclear bomb, or blasting others with the flame torch of your tongue (or keyboard), be a simple flame of light, like the candles on the Chanukiah. Shine brightly and humbly. Bring warmth, hope, forgiveness, and honor to those in darkness.

Luke 11:33-36 (NASB) “No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.  34 “The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness.  35 “Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness.  36 “If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.”

Happy Chanukah and may your tenth month of Tevet be blessed! Learn more about Tevet here.


[1]Dt. 12, 1 Kings 11:36

[2]Learn more about Tammuz and The Three Weeks here.

[3]https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Taanit.4.6?lang=en&with=all&lang2=en retrieved 12/26/19

[4]For a deeper look at this truth, see: The Queen You Thought You Knew by Rabbi David Fohrman. See also Esther’s Mystery Behind the Mask by Dr. Hollisa Alewine.

[5]https://mussarinstitute.org/Yashar/2016-03/mussar_lens.phpretrieved 12/26/19

Categories: Moedim, Mussar, new moon | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Perfect Bond of Unity HNR

In preparation for Elul and the Women of Valor conference last weekend, I delivered a message called “The Perfect Bond of Unity.” That message was both audio and video recorded, and I will share them soon on Grace in Torah. But today, I had the pleasure of joining Dr. Deb Wiley Gold and Miriam Stalsworth on their Hebrew Nation Radio program: Faith in Focus. We discussed the month of Elul and the perfect bond of unity and had a lively discussion.

You can listen here:

Categories: Moedim, Mussar, new moon | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Inspiration Through Torah in 5776: Mikeitz

I loved this post by my friend Sarah at Sewnolivette on this week’s Torah Portion, Mikeitz. She included some great links and a fantastic video on “trust” by Brene Brown. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Be sure to click on the source link below.

Happy Chanukah! –K

Happy Chanukah


 

My youngest son’s birthday is during the festival of Chanukah. This is his Torah portion and it holds a special place in my heart, because my husband read it to me when I was in labor with my…

Source: Inspiration Through Torah in 5776: Mikeitz

Categories: Mussar, Torah Portions | Leave a comment

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