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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Book Review!

A Review of Robin Luton’s new book,

Valor: A Messianic Journey Through Proverbs 31

 

Before I finished the last chapters of Valor: A Messianic Journey Through Proverbs 31, I knew it would be the next book that our local women’s group studied. I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Robin R. Luton, in the fall of 2017 at a women’s retreat at her congregation in Ohio called Beth Tikkun. There, she serves along side her husband, Grant Luton. I was immensely impressed with the entire assembly. Grant and Robin have fostered a thriving Torah keeping, Messiah rooted, people loving community. I often frequent their website’s audio section to hear good, sound teaching.

So, when Robin told me she was publishing a book, I couldn’t wait to read it. I was not disappointed! In Hebrew, the Woman of Valor, or the Proverbs 31 Woman, is written in acrostic form with all twenty-two Hebrew letters. Robin’s twenty-two chapters follows this beautiful example. She also exemplifies a particular woman from the Bible in each chapter. These women express the verses being elucidated perfectly.

I found myself wanting to slow down and let her words linger on my tongue like a fine wine or a decadent piece of dark chocolate. Rather than being intimidated by this “perfect woman,” Mrs. Luton inspired, encouraged, and challenged me to become “acquainted” with the Woman of Valor. As she brought forth the rich and meaty Hebraic concepts in each verse, I realized that Robin truly points one to the problem AND the solution. It’s actually the first thing King Solomon asks the reader:

“A Woman of Valor, who can find?”

I think most of us miss this question that demands an answer. Mrs. Luton invites one to find or search for this “woman.” And the discovery is glorious! I’ve read many works about the Eshet Chayil. I’ve even written and taught about her myself. But, no resource I have consulted has packed as much wisdom on the Virtuous Woman in one volume as Valor. I will be referencing it often, as it has inspired a great deal of musings that you will find here in the future. I practically desecrated my copy with underlines and margin notes.

My favorite chapter is five where the verse, “She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from afar” is examined. That is a perfect summation of what Robin has done for us. She has traveled deep into the spiritual realm and has brought delicacies for us to enjoy for years to come. If you have ever felt like you will never measure up to this “perfect woman,” or if you’ve secretly thought that God expects too much from women after reading Proverbs 31 or hearing a poorly informed sermon about her, this book is for you.

Let Mrs. Luton uncover the real Woman of Valor by cutting through poor translation, and misguided assumptions. The Eshet Chayil isn’t just a role model for women, she is “the image of perfected human potential.” We must seek her out and let her inspire us. There is no condemnation here. No matter who you are, this book will help you to better emulate the Messiah as His Bride.

Get your copy here.

 

 

 

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Shebrews Conference 2021

This one is for the ladies!

 

Join me in a virtual women’s conference on the evenings of January 25-28 starting at 7pm EST. This conference is hosted by the wonderful women of The Rooted Kafe, which is an online fellowship of women where you can find community, livestreams, discussion, networking, Torah classes, courses in Hebraic thought and language all centered in Yeshua. It’s a great place for learning and growing in the Word.

Conference teachers include Dr. Hollisa Alewine, 
Dr. Robin Gould, Min. Onleilove Alston, 
Deborah Flanagan, and me - Kisha Gallagher.

If you can join live, the conference is free. Just register here. Or, watch and learn at your convenience by getting an all access pass, here.

 

 

Categories: News Flash, Women | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Haftarah Miketz: Cutting the Baby in Half

Miketz (At the End) Genesis 41:1-44:17, I Kings 3:15-4:1

In some years, this prophetic portion coincides with Chanukah in which case the reading is Zechariah 2:13–4:7. This year (2020), Chanukah concluded before Shabbat (parsha Miketz).

In the Torah and Haftarah portion, Pharaoh and Solomon awake, yayiykatz, from a dream. In Hebrew, a dream is chalom; spelled like shalom, but with a chet rather than a shin. Chalom, much like shalom, refers to being strengthened and restored to health. Indeed, God used the dreams of both men to impart His wisdom for proper ruling and justice, the latter given through Joseph’s interpretation. (For more on dreams click here.)

The above is an oversimplification of the relationship of the two narratives. However, the word yayiykatz caught my attention regarding current events. One of the buzz words in modern culture is being “woke.” If you haven’t researched the origin from which this term was coined, I highly suggest investigating Critical Theory (CT). This paradigm or ideology is the primary message being taught in our universities and has spread to every area of government and business, and is now replacing the Biblical worldview in some churches.

Wearing this lens distorts Biblical justice while purporting to be the epitome of justice itself. CT proposes to unify various groups and bring about equality and equity, which sounds wonderful, especially to those that have been marginalized. Yet, the whole ideology segregates people into categories based on group identity in the areas of race, class, sexuality, and gender identity. (Notice that none of these are about inward morality.) One is taught to judge a person based on the “box” in which CT places them. They are either an oppressor or one of the oppressed. This is NOT how the Bible deals with issues of judgment, justice, or equity.

Worst of all, proponents are conditioned to base truth on lived experience and feelings rather than logic, critical thinking, and facts. At its core, the worldview of CT has its own versions of original sin (they call it oppression) and morality (which is anything but godly). CT’s plan of salvation is not the shed blood of Messiah and faith in God, but activism and overthrowing power structures that oppress the aforementioned groups in various ways. They call this “social justice,” which will be dealt with below. Once one accepts the tenets of CT, and “sees” the oppression he has suffered and desires to remedy it, he is considered a “woke” person.

Biblical justice, righteous justice, is akin to “wisdom from above.” The Torah and Haftarah both use the terms discerning (navon) and wisdom (kamoka/chakham) to describe King Solomon and Joseph. This is what being AWAKE, not woke, refers to in our portion. The case of the two women in 1 Kings drives this point completely home. These two women can be likened to the dichotomy between the spirit and the flesh, the good and evil inclination, or the righteous woman and the harlot (wicked woman). If one is discerning and wise in the Biblical sense, they will allow the Word to rule or master (mashal) their thoughts, mind, and heart, not earthly social dogma. In doing so, they are awake, not woke.

James 3:13-18 (NASB) Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the

Does this message align with “wisdom from above?”

wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

I chose to quote James because not only does he teach the twelve tribes of Israel about godly wisdom and understanding (discernment), but he specifically addresses the trials of poverty and oppression experienced by the poor in his letter. (Jas. 1:9-11; 5:1-6; 2:5-6) These trials are championed by CT proponents and their solutions are diametrically opposed to James’ message. First, consider the case brought before the wise king:

1 Kings 3:16-24 (NASB) Then two women who were harlots came to the king and stood before him. 17 The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. 18 It happened on the third day after I gave birth, that this woman also gave birth to a child, and we were together. There was no stranger with us in the house, only the two of us in the house. 19 This woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on it. 20 So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead son in my bosom. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, behold, he was dead; but when I looked at him carefully in the morning, behold, he was not my son, whom I had borne.” 22 Then the other woman said, “No! For the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.” But the first woman said, “No! For the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.” Thus they spoke before the king. 23 Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son who is living, and your son is the dead one’; and the other says, ‘No! For your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.'” 24 The king said, “Get me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king.

The king asks for a sword. It is by the Sword of the Word, righteous judgment, that he will rule in this matter. Both women are referred to as a zanah, usually a harlot. But, there are many cases where a harlot ends up proving herself to be the righteous woman. For example, consider Tamar or Rahab. This case is once again challenging one to discover which woman is which. Sometimes, we must challenge our own hearts, inclinations, motives, and desires to discover the same. James’ wisdom from above and wisdom from below teaches one the difference. (Also see the Book of Proverbs.)

I cannot help but to feel great compassion for the woman that accidently smothered her newborn in the night. What a horrible tragedy, regardless if one is wicked or righteous! Any mother that has lost a child can relate to the unbearable agony and seeming unfairness of this great loss. In desperation, such a one would do just about anything to remedy her pain. And, that’s exactly what she did. She saw an opportunity and took it. Though it was rooted in bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, pride, and lack of concern for her neighbor, she stood by her choice and ended up before the highest judge in the Land.

For onlookers, the case was not clear. Which woman did the child belong to? Who was telling the truth? How would the king rule? King Solomon, grasping his sword, proclaimed:

“Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” 1 Kings 3:25 (NASB)

That’s equality. And, this decision satisfied the woman that lost the child. She felt this was justice. Why should the other woman get to enjoy raising a son when she was robbed of this pleasure? It’s not fair. If I can’t have a child, why should she have this privilege?

1 Kings 3:26 (NASB) Then the woman whose child was the living one spoke to the king, for she was deeply stirred over her son and said, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him!

King Solomon’s sword cut through to the heart of the matter without ever taking a swing. The woman whose child was living had great racham, tender mercies, like the womb (rechem) for her son. She was willing to give the wicked woman her son if only he could live. She was more concerned about the life of another person than for the great injustice the other woman was exercising against her. She was willing to endure jealousy, robbery, and great loss than to see her son perish. This is humility, the opposite of the arrogant spirit operating in the other woman.

That’s how Solomon’s sword divided between wisdom from above and wisdom from below. Earthy, fleshy wisdom seats SELF on the Throne. It abhors God’s sovereignty, especially in tragedy and “unfairness.” Like a toddler, it views the trials, hardships, and unfairness of life as an affront to her wellbeing and happiness. She is too immature to consider that God uses such situations as goads to grow and mature one into the image of Messiah. It’s a painful and humbling process to be sure. Being threshed like wheat against a stone “feels” bad to the flesh and to the sensibilities of the earthy man.

In a similar way, CT cannot deal with the sovereignty of God. It just doesn’t fit into their worldview. The God of the Bible would be considered the greatest oppressor of all, since He and He alone allows people to be hurt, oppressed, injured, rejected, and marginalized. Indeed, this IS the problem that most atheists have with God. They cannot fathom His goodness in this fallen, broken world. They accuse Him of being a tyrant, when in reality, it is the free will of man and sin that brings chaos, division, oppression, and evil into our world.

Consider the woman with the dead child again. Her answer to unfairness and pain was to cause another woman to suffer. In her mind, this was justice. It evened the playing field, something critical theorists champion. If I can’t have it, no one can. That is the heart of social justice today. It is saturated in covetousness, the tenth of the Ten Words (Commandments). If everyone is the same, then maybe I won’t be jealous or yearn for something they have. This is greed, which Yeshua calls the “evil eye.” (Matthew 6:19-34)

Mark 7:21-23 (NKJV) “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Matthew 20:14-16 (NKJV) Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good? 16 So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.

Adonai desires that we wake up or be awake and sober, not woke. To be spiritually sober, one cannot mix another spirit or worldview with His truth of “it is written.” The earthly waters of man’s wisdom will never mix with the heavenly oil of the Holy Spirit. Dreams from God (and righteous justice) are restorative for every person involved, despite worldly “social” statuses. But, restoration often requires painful soul correction. It is deeply personal, not social. Righteous correction is healing and brings shalom, not condemnation. (The latter being a primary fruit of CT.)

Justice of the People

The seventh assembly in the Book of Revelation is called Laodicea. Interestingly, the name Laodicea is mentioned seven times in Scripture. If you recall, she was the most wicked of the bunch even though she bore the perfect number seven. Her completeness was in wickedness, not righteousness. And, her name only exemplifies her character. Laodicea means, “Justice of the People” or “Place of People of Common Fairness.”[1] It is a compound of laos (people, group, tribe) and dike (justice). Dike was the goddess of avenging justice in Greek mythology. She is often called “Lady Justice.”

Dike judged “based on socially enforced norms and conventional rules, human justice.”[2] This is easily compared to “wisdom from below.” She is often depicted as a young woman holding a balance scale, while her Roman counterpart is also blindfolded, figuring impartiality in justice. The irony is that Yeshua called the Laodicean’s blind and in need of eye salve. Apparently, the social justice they championed was anything but righteous justice.

Revelation 3:14-22 (NASB) To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The pride of the Laodiceans is so thick that it is easy to choke on it. Perhaps, that is why Yeshua says He will vomit them from His mouth. Imagine an entire community that believes their justice for the people has made them ALL wealthy, rich, and in need of nothing. Perhaps, they redistributed all their wealth equally or based the shares upon one’s social identity. They smugly believe that they have solved the world’s great injustices – all those things that are visible on the outside. (Cutting the baby in half is never the right answer!)

Over and over again, Yeshua is concerned about the inner man, not the outside of the cup or outward appearances or social groups/identities. The latter focus makes one wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, like Dike.  Jewish wisdom stresses that those who respect God should not show partiality toward people – for any reason. Literally, this means not to, “accept the face of people.” Outward appearances and identities are wisdom from below, earthy of man, not God.

The refined gold, white garments, and eye salve cannot be purchased with worldly goods or morals. They are spiritual, and very costly to the ego and flesh nature. They involve great self-sacrifice. In the natural, earthy realm James and godly wisdom challenges one to endure tests and trials of the flesh, hardships, and even sufferings, because we CAN trust in the sovereignty and goodness of Adonai. He promises great rewards for overcoming this “momentary affliction.”

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NASB) For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

In James’ day, the zealots and revolutionaries promoted a paradigm of violent retaliation, which they claimed to be religious and wise, but James urged the poor and oppressed to respond by waiting on God. (James 5:7-11) Godly wisdom isn’t violent or threatening or riotous. (Acts 19:21-41) It doesn’t lash out or slay with words or deeds.

At the end, miketz, despite their debauchery and hypocrisy, Yeshua loves the Laodiceans. He reminds them that He rebukes, corrects, admonishes, and educates/disciplines those whom He loves. By repenting of their false sense of justice, there is great reward. For those that overcome, there is a place at His table and on His Throne. Suffering isn’t a message that anyone’s flesh wants to hear, but it is the very thing that produces oil for one’s lamp.

While we should certainly stand in the gap for the marginalized people of the earth, feed the poor, tend to the sick, and champion liberty for all captives, we must ensure that bitterness over injustices hasn’t mingled or leavened our dough. (Pro. 31:8-9) Fruit reveals the seed, and the tree. The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Don’t fall for the false gospel of CT. Man’s problem isn’t oppression; it’s SIN. The tree of knowledge of good and evil offered hidden “wisdom” that Chavah (Eve) thought she was lacking. The fruit was “pleasing to her eyes.” CT offers to enlighten and open one’s eyes by viewing the world through the lens of the oppressor or the oppressed. It allows one to relish in their judgment of other people and justify their hatred. Once you partake of the fruit, you become “woke” – just like Adam and Chavah.

Genesis 3:7 (NASB) Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

Like Laodicea, their wokeness only revealed that they were naked. The wisdom the tree offered was earthy, natural, demonic. The first Adam (man and woman) tried to make their own coverings of sown fig leaves. They basically covered themselves in the leaves of the tree of wisdom from below. In other words, they trusted it more than God. Hence, their fear of Him in the next few verses.

The Torah of Adonai is called a “tree of life” and its parchment sections are called leaves. When one covers their person with its wisdom, it produces clean, white linen garments of righteousness. In the Book of Revelation, it is THIS tree whose leaves will bring healing to the nations. God’s Way is the Only Way. His Truth is the only thing that will lead one to Life, Restoration, and Wholeness. No wisdom of man, no matter how clever or cunning, can do that. Look at the fruit – seeing some good doesn’t mean that there isn’t also evil present. Do not be deceived.

Meanwhile, when faced with a decision in righteous justice, ask yourself, “Which woman am I? What am I fighting for? Am I speaking and fighting from a place of pain and loss? Will me receiving the justice I think I deserve cause an injustice for someone else?” Don’t cut the baby in half.

James 4:1-12 (NASB) What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil (diablos – false accuser/slanderer) and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. 11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?


[1] Thayer Definition: Laodicea = “justice of the people.” 1) a city of Phrygia, situated on the river Lycus not far from Colosse. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 66 A.D. and rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius. It was the seat of the Christian church. Part of Speech: noun proper locative. A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from a compound of G2992 and G1349

More on Laodicea: https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Laodicea.html#.X90WoC2cZN0  “Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott’s A Greek-English Lexicon lists what appears to be a variant or at least a related term: Λαοδικος (laodikos), meaning tried by the people.” Indeed, people love to be the judge. May we NOT be like Laodicea.

[2] https://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/Minor_Gods/Dike/dike.html

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