600px-Moses_Pleading_with_Israel_(crop)In this class, Ross covers what could arguable be considered, Moses’ greatest sermon. Torah reading Va’etchanan contains some of the greatest passages in all of Scripture. This reading has an account of the Ten Words, the Shema, and explains why YHVH chose Israel as His special people. Delivered in the land of Moab, across the Jordan, this sermon still speaks to us today. Ross works through some of the key points of the sermon, illustrating the importance of the words contained therein. Click here to listen to this class.

As sunset falls on this eighth day of the 5th lunar month, known in Judaism as the month of Av, Tisha b’Av–that is, the 9th of Av–is marked on the calendar. Last Sabbath (August 2nd or 6th of Av) began the reading of Deuteronomy and is called Shabbat Chazon, which means the “Sabbath of Vision,” taken from the first word (חזון) of Isaiah 1:1-27, which is the reading from the Prophets for this day. These opening words of Isaiah set the tone for remembering Israel’s sinfulness that brought about the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem.

Tisha b’Av is mentioned in Zechariah 7:3 and 8:19, as the “fast of the fifth month.” It is a 24 hour fast observed first and foremost to commemorate the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Temples of Jerusalem, in 586 BCE and 70 CE respectively–first by the Babylonians, the subsequently by the Romans. Josephus, the Jewish historian, who records the history of the latter, and lived through it, makes the connection between the strange coincidence of the Temple going up in flames on the same fateful day on the Jewish calendar (Wars, 6:249–50). ((The First Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. on the 10th of Av, according to Jeremiah 3:12, whereas in the corresponding record in II Kings 25:8–9, the date is given as the 7th of Av. The Tosefta Ta’anit 4:10 (also Ta’an. 29a) explains this discrepancy by stating that the destruction of the outer walls and of the courtyard started on the 7th of Av while the whole edifice was destroyed on the 10th of Av. R. Johanan declared that he would have fixed the fast on the 10th of Av because it was on that day that the greater part of the calamity happened. The rabbis however decided that it is more fitting to commemorate the “beginning of the calamity.” The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., on the 10th of Av, according to the historian Josephus (Wars, 6:249–50). This day is still observed as a day of mourning by the Karaites. The Talmud (Ta’an. 29a), however, gives the date as the 9th of Av, which became accepted as the anniversary of both destructions. The Jewish Virtual Library)) Those twin destructions marked the day as a time of sorrow and mourning forever after, marked by solemness and fasting without food or drink for 24 hours. The customs associated with Shiva, the Jewish mourning for the death of a close relative are followed, and the book of Lamentations is read in a special mournful chant. Ironically, according to some rabbinic tradition, the Messiah either was or will be born on Tisha b’Av, as a way of affirming that Light comes in the midst of the deepest Darkness and Despair. Those who take this literally, that he has already been born, believe he is hidden away waiting for the time of redemption (y. Berachot 2:4; Eichah Rabbah 1:51). Over the centuries this day has grown large in both history, legend, and tradition, remembered as a dark day of dire news and impending disaster. What follows below is a summary of some of that tradition, compiled by Yoram Etinger and based on many sources:

1. The 9th Day of (the 11th Jewish month) Av is the most calamitous day in Jewish history. Fasting on that day commemorates national catastrophes, in an attempt to benefit from history by learning from critical moral and strategic missteps, thus preventing future catastrophes. It was first mentioned in the book of Zechariah 7:3.

2.  The Passover holiday of liberty and the fast of the 9th Day of Av are commemorated on the same weekday.  The fast of the 9th day of Av is succeeded by the 15th day of Av – a holiday of love and rapprochement. The 9th Day of Av is treated simultaneously as a day of lamentation and holiday, thus highlighting a cardinal lesson: In order to fortify liberty and advance deliverance, one must commemorate calamities, avoid wishful-thinking and be mentally and physically prepared to face crises, and never lose optimism.  A day of destruction/oblivion is the first day of the path toward construction/deliverance. A problem is an opportunity in disguise. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 2:4), the Messiah is destined to be born on Tisha Be’Av.

3.  Major Jewish calamities occurred on the 9th Day of Av (Tisha B’Av in Hebrew):

*The failed “Ten Spies/tribal presidents” (VS. Joshua & Caleb) –slandered the Land of Israel, preferring immediate convenience and conventional “wisdom” over faith and long term vision, thus prolonging the wandering in the desert for 40 years.

*The destruction of the First Temple and Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586BC) produced a massacre of 100,000 and a national exile.

*The destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by Titus of Rome (70CE) was accompanied by a massacre of 1MN and a national exile.

*Bar Kochba (Great) Rebellion was crashed (135CE) with the fall of Beitar (in Judea & Samaria) and the plowing of Jerusalem by Quintus Tinius Rofus, the Roman Governor – 580,000 killed.

*First Crusade Pogroms (1096) – scores of thousands slaughtered.

*Jewish expulsion from Britain (1290).

*Jewish expulsion from Spain (1492).

*WW1 erupted (1914).

*The beginning of the 1942 deportation of Warsaw Ghetto Jews to Treblinka extermination camp.

4.  The centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish history is commemorated on the 9th day of Av.  It is highlighted by Psalm 137:5 – “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” According to the constructive/optimist spirit of Tisha’ Be’Av: “He who laments the destruction of Jerusalem will be privileged to witness its renewal” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 30).

5.  The Book of the five Lamentations (The Scroll of Eikhah which was composed by Jeremiah the Prophet, who prophesized destruction, exile and deliverance) is read during the first nine days of Av. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of Eikhah (איכה) is 36, which is equal to the traditional number of righteous Jewish persons. The Hebrew meaning of Eikhah could be construed as a reproaching “How Come?!”, as well as “Where are you?”  or “Why have you strayed away?”  The term Eikhah stars in the first chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Isaiah, which are annually studied in conjunction with the book of Lamentations on the 9th day of Av. Thus the 9th day of Av binds together the values of Moses, Jeremiah and Isaiah and three critical periods in the history of the Jewish People: deliverance, destruction, renewal.

6.  The 9th Day of Av concludes a series of three Torah readings of Jewish calamities (two by Jeremiah and one by Isaiah), and launches a series of seven Torah readings of consolations, renewal and ingathering (by Isaiah).

7.  Napoleon was walking at night in the streets of Paris, hearing sad voices emanating from a synagogue.  When told that the wailing/lamenting commemorated a 586BC catastrophe – the destruction of the First Temple – he stated: “People who solemnize ancient history are destined for a glorious future!”

8.  The commemoration of the 9th day of Av constitutes a critical feature of Judaism. It strengthens faith, roots, identity, moral clarity, cohesion and optimism by learning from past errors and immunizing oneself against the lethal disease of forgetfulness. Memory is Deliverance; forgetfulness is oblivion. The verb “to remember” (זכור) appears almost 200 times in the Bible, including the Ten Commandments. Judaism obligates parents to transfer tradition to the younger generation, thus enhancing realism and avoiding the curse of euphoric or fatalistic mood.

9.  The custom of house-cleaning on the 9th day of Av aims at welcoming deliverance. Fasting expresses the recognition of one’s limitations and fallibility and the constant pursuit of moral enhancement and humility.

10.  The 9th Day of Av is the central of the Four Jewish Days of Fast, commemorating the destruction of the First Temple:  the10th Day of Tevet (the onset of the siege that Nebuchadnezzar laid to Jerusalem), the 17th day of Tamuz (the walls of Jerusalem were breached), the 9th day of Av (destruction of both Temples) and the 3rd day of Tishrey (The murder of Governor Gedalyah, who maintained a level of post-destruction Jewish autonomy, which led to a murder rampage by the Babylonians and to exile).

11.  The 9thDay of Av culminates the Three Weeks of Predicament (ימי בין המצרים), starting on the 17th day of the month of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar (1st Temple) and by Titus (2nd Temple).

12.  The month of Av launches the transformation from Curse to Blessing.  The Hebrew spelling of Av (אב) consists of the first two letters of the Hebrew alpha-Beth.  These letters constitute the Hebrew word for “bud” and they are the first two letters of the Hebrew word for “spring” (אביב , which means the father of twelve month).  The first letter, א, stands for ארור (cursed) and the second letter, ,ב stands for ברוך (blessed). The Hebrew letters of Av constitute the letters of Father (אב) and the first two letters of אבל (mourning).  The numerical value of Av (Aleph=1 and Bet=2), which is three, the combination of the basic even and odd numbers (King Solomon: “A triangular string/knot cannot be broken”). The zodiac sign of Av is a lion, which represents the Lion of Judah, rising in the aftermath of destruction caused by Nebuchadnezzar, whose symbol was the lion. Moses’ brother, Aharon – the embodiment of human kindness – died on the 1st day of Av.

This incredible 13 x 17 foot zinc model of 19th century Jerusalem created was created by Hungarian Catholic Stephan Illes in the 1870s. It was first exhibited in 1873 at the Vienna International Exhibit, then lost and forgotten until the 1980s until tracked down by an enterprising Hebrew University instructor Rehav Rubin:

Rehav Rubin, an instructor of historical geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was researching ancient maps at the National Library in Jerusalem. Among the 300 maps of Jerusalem donated to the library by collector Eran Laor—rated by experts at the British Museum as one of the world’s most complete private collections of Levant and Holy Land maps—Rehav Rubin was struck by a fine black-and white illustration of the city, made around 1872 and identified only as “A Bird’s Eye View of Jerusalem by Stephan Illes.” Delving further into the archive, Rubin discovered that Illes had made a “relief plan,” or model, of the city for the Ottoman Pavilion at the Vienna International Exhibition in 1873. But of the model itself, there was no trace.

You can read the full story of its remarkable rediscovery story here.  It is now on display in the lower level of the Jerusalem Citadel. Unfortunately it is hard to find and many visitors to the Citadel, right inside Jaffa Gate, miss this important attraction.

Essentially this is “Mark Twain’s” Jerusalem, capturing the Old City as it was just after 1864 when Samuel Clemens made his historic visit chronicles in Innocents Abroad. It is fascinating to see how “lonely” and isolated the Old City sat with nothing of Western Jerusalem other than the Mishkenot near the Montefiore Windmill, the Mt of Olives virtually bare, and Silwan was a tiny village with both Yemenite Jews as well as Muslims living side by side together. Notice the “City of David” area is completely bare and desolate, despite claims of modern residents to have lived there for many hundreds of years. In fact, the Jewish population of the Old City exceeded that of the Arabs and the Christians in the late 19th century–despite much of the ahistorical political talk today about restoring “Arab East Jerusalem,” referring the the Old City.

Here is a representative gallery of the model looking at the Old City from all directions. You can click on the images for a larger view. They were all taken by Lori Woodall in March 2014. Thanks Lori!

440px-Sunset_in_the_Negev_Desert_near_Yeruham_Israel-300x224In today’s teaching, the final in the Wilderness series, Ross shares a message of relevance for the awakening tribes. He begins by calling people to stand with the Jewish people during this period of time known as Bein HaMetzarim. Citing examples of growing anti-Jewish sentiments around the globe, Ross declares that the proverbial line has been drawn in the sand. On one side of the line are those who bless Israel, and on the other are those who do not. Ross points his listeners to a promise declared to each of the patriarchs and then goes on to show that a Jewish presence in Israel in modern times is the beginning of a prophetic fulfillment. Carefully weaving ancient prophecies with modern realities, Ross suggests that we are living in exciting “biblical” times. What side are you on? Click here to listen to this class.

supportIsrael-224x300In this week’s class, Ross relates an ancient message from Torah reading Mattote with a modern reality between Hamas and the Jewish State. Ross points out that the present crisis faced by the Jewish people requires the involvement of those who support Israel in the face of her enemies. He compares a story contained in Numbers chapter 32 with the modern reality of certain Israelites who are fighting while others are not. What can we do to support Israel in the present situation? Ross shares with his listeners that we have entered a 3 week period known as Bein HaMetzarim. This period of time has proven to be a time of distress for the children of Israel historically and therefore Ross expresses a sense of caution, but encourages a biblical confidence at the same time. What should we avoid during this crisis? Do the words of Moses offer any guidance for us? Ross suggests that they do. Click here to listen to this teaching.

1000px-Nicolas_Poussin_068-300x215In this teaching, Ross shares a message of faith from Torah Reading Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1). This reading is the 6th in our study of the book of Numbers. The focus of the class is on chapter 20 and a situation that took place in the Wilderness of Zin, at Kadesh. Ross refers to this lesson as the Mistakes at Meribah. The mistakes made at Meribah led YHVH to tell Moses and Aaron that they would not lead Israel into the land sworn to the patriarchs. What was it that they did that led to such consequences? Ross shows that many great Torah commentators have entertained this problem. Carefully working through passages throughout the Tanakh, Ross shows that the problem is tied to a lack of faith and then sets out to define faith and prove the point. Given the mistakes at Meribah, how then should we live? How can we ensure that we do not make the same mistakes in our own walk? These and other questions are answered by this teaching. Click here to listen to this teaching.

Holman_Destruction_of_Korah_Dathan_and_Abiram-500x344This class is based upon the story of the infamous Korah; the Levite who led an insurrection against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The point of contention between the parties concerns a question about holiness. Korah puts forth a challenge to Moses and Aaron that the entire community of Israel is holy. Is this true? We know from the Torah that Israel was to be a holy nation, and YHVH commands His people to be holy, but is holiness inherited? Is the entire community of Israel holy simply by birthright? In this teaching, Ross directly addresses these questions from the Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible. He shows that holiness, while commanded, is learned and earned through obedience to the instructions of YHVH. He further shows that we can learn from the mistakes of our ancestors. This is certainly the case for the descendants of Korah. Who were they and how do we know that they finally learned their place? Listen to learn. Click here to listen to this teaching.

Dore_Return_of_the_Spies_From_the_Land_of_PromiseIn this class, Ross covers Torah reading Shelach and the story of the “spies” that were sent to search out the land of Israel. Ross shows that within this story, there are valuable lessons for people of faith today. The exploration of the land led to two totally different reports and Ross carefully works through each of these reports pointing out the relevance of the ancient story in a modern quest for properly placed faith and trust. He demonstrates from Scripture that the basis for true faith is a confidence that YHVH is able to bring about what he promised. Ross shows that the word commonly translated as spies is the Hebrew word pronounced “tour.” He concludes the class with an invitation to his listeners to take a tour of their heart. You will not want to miss this teaching.

Click here to listen to this teaching.

300px-Menora_TitusIn this class, Ross covers the third Torah reading from the book of Numbers. He begins by showing the importance of studying the 40 year journey of the wilderness generation as it was described by Moses, and recorded in the 8th chapter of Deuteronomy. The class shows the significance of the Spirit in living a Torah based life. Contrary to popular opinion, one seeking to live according to the Torah must be led by the Spirit. You will not want to miss this teaching.

Click here to listen to this teaching.

Today is the festival of Shavuot on the Jewish calendar, literally it means the festival of “weeks” or “sevens,” which refers to the seven weeks between Passover and what was originally a harvest celebration on the 50th day–also called the “feast of firstfruits” (Exodus 34:22). Christians know it as the feast of Pentecost–which literally means “Fifty,” as it is celebrated this coming Sunday, 50 days after Easter.

Shavuot has a long and controversial history. It is probably the least known day of the Jewish calendar to non-Jews, who are culturally familiar with Passover, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Hanukkah. Even many Jews, other than those who regularly attend synagogue, will pay it little mind though it is considered a Sabbath day in the Torah.

The controversy has to do with determining the proper date for Shavuot as well as the interpretation of its significance or meaning, which has shifted and evolved through the ages.

The texts in the Hebrew Bible about Shavuot are few and somewhat obscure, giving rise to some of the controversy. Unlike the other Jewish festivals that fell on a fixed date of the Jewish lunar month (e.g., Passover=15th day of the first month Nisan; Rosh HaShanah=1st day of the seventh month Tishri), there is no date specified for Shavuot or the “feast of weeks.” It had to be literally counted–falling seven weeks plus one day following the offering of the “sheaf of the firstfruits” (called the Omer) which represented the beginning of the grain harvest and was cut from the fields and symbolically “waved before YHVH” for acceptance during Passover week. Thus we read:

You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to YHVH (Leviticus 23:15-16).

If the term “Sabbath” was taken here to mean the normal weekly Sabbath, which fell on Saturday, then clearly Shavuot would always fall on a Sunday. It would be counted from the Sunday that fell during Passover week, fifty days, taking one to the “day after the Sabbath,” i.e., Sunday, seven weeks later. However, since Passover was also understood as a “Sabbath” or rest day, some understood the offering of the “sheaf of the firstfruits” to always be the day after Passover, or Nisan 16th of the lunar month, so that Shavuot would come 50 days thereafter, and could fall on any day of the week. Ironically, though, with this method a “count” is really not necessary since 50 days after Nisan 16th is always Sivan 6th–that is the 6th day of the 3rd lunar month–so Shavuot ends up having a “date” like all the other Jewish holy days.

In the late 2nd Temple period (1st century BCE through 70CE) this “counting of the omer” as it was called, was hotly contested–especially between the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and other sectarian groups such as those who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls (sometimes known as the “Essenes”). The Sadducees argued for the Sunday Shavuot, and the Qumran group agreed, but used a Solar rather than a lunar calendar, while the Pharisees pinned the 50 day count to the day after Passover–regardless of the day of the week. Most Jews today follow the practice of the Pharisees, which was the majority decision of the rabbis of the Mishnah in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. The Karaites are the only major group of Judaism, and they are a tiny minority, that still adheres to the Sadducean practice of a Sunday Shavuot. In that sense one might say that Christians, in calculating Pentecost, are closer to the Sadducees, since they adhere to the “always on a Sunday” practice as well. They are joined in this Sunday-Shavuot practice by countless Jewish-oriented Messianic groups, as well as various Sabbatarian Christian, and other Hebraic-oriented groups that are committed to a more literal reading of the biblical texts.

Even more obscure than the “counting” of Shavuot or Pentecost is the question of its meaning or significance. Passover is clearly tied to the Exodus from Egypt, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur to the ancient day of atonement for sins, and Sukkoth or Tabernacles to the 40 years of Israel’s desert wanderings. So what does Shavuot either commemorate or celebrate?

We know it was one of the three pilgrim festivals at which all males were commanded to go to the “place where God would choose,” which was understood as Jerusalem during the time of the 1st and 2nd Temples:

Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed (Deuteronomy 16:16).

But beyond that we are only told that it had something to do celebrating the beginning of the wheat or barley harvest:

You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end (Exodus 34:22).

Just as the festival of Sukkoth or “Tabernacles,” here called the “Feast of Ingathering” fell in the early Fall, to celebrate the end of the harvest, the “Feast of Weeks” appears to represent the beginning or inauguration of that harvest.

These kinds of celebrations, tied to the land and its agricultural seasons made sense in their original contexts but for Jews outside the Land of Israel, and subsequently throughout the history of Diaspora Judaism worldwide, not to mention the millions of Christians who also celebrate Pentecost–the original agricultural context of honoring God with the “firstfruits” of the wheat or barley harvest could have little direct application.

What the Jews and the Christians did in the face of this dilemma is quite fascinating. The rabbis noticed that in Exodus 19:1 the Israelites in the time of Moses arrived at Mt Sinai at the third new moon of the lunar year, having left Egypt on the 15th of Nisan–the 1st lunar month (Exodus 12:1). They realized this would work out to approximately seven weeks after Passover, especially since Moses is told that YHVH would descend upon Mt Sinai “on the third day” to deliver the “Ten Words” (literal translation), putting one into the first week of Sivan–the 3rd month of the year. That was close enough to make the claim that the “giving of the Torah” which came during that first week of the 3rd month, was surely on Shavuot–which they were convinced fell on Sivan 6th. This gave rise to the common notion today, so widespread in Judaism, that the celebration of Shavuot has to do with remembering the “giving of the Torah” at Mt Sinai:

“Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jews. The Talmud tells us that God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jews on the sixth night of the Hebrew month of Sivan. Shavuot always falls 50 days after the second night of Passover. The 49 days in between are known as the Omer.” About.com: Judaism

Christians took another route entirely. They picked up on the biblical notion of the firstfruits of the harvest and offered an allegorical interpretation, alluded to by Paul who makes “Christ” both the sacrificial Passover lamb and the “firstfuit” offering–as the one first raised from the dead–representing the greater “harvest” to come when he returns in the clouds of heaven and those who “belong to Christ” will be gathered like ripe fields of grain (1 Corinthians 5:7; 15:23-24). There are similar “harvest” motives in the gospels. God is like a master farmer who “when the grain is ripe, puts in the sickle because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:29). Jesus tells his disciples in the Sayings Source that scholars call Q: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). In the gospel of John, with a direct reference to the agricultural cycles, Jesus says to his disciples, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). When I was growing up in an conservative Christian church there were countless old “Gospel hymns” that we sung from “Bringing in the Sheaves” to “Lord of Harvest,” all tied to this evangelism theme.

Ironically, the it the seven day festival of Unleavened Bread, followed by the feast of Shavuot/Pentecost 50 days later that in my view offers the key to understanding the narratives regarding the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb and the traditions of the first visionary “sightings” of Jesus in the Galilee. See my article, “The Last Passover and the First Easter: When Apostles and Angels Wept.”

According to the account in the book of Acts, fifty days following the resurrection of Jesus, which fell on Sunday morning after Passover, takes one to Pentecost or Shavuot–and on that day the followers of Jesus were gathered in Jerusalem and the “great harvest” began with the Holy Spirit being “poured out,” the miracles of “speaking in tongues,” and over 3000 people being baptized as a result of Peter’s preaching that day (Acts 2). So for Christians, Pentecost came to mean the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (thus our term Pentecostal) and the inauguration of the New Covenant of Christ, whereas for Jews it represented the inauguration of the Sinai Covenant.

This mixing of allegory, historical imagination, and theological dogma, superimposed upon what was originally an festival of thanksgiving tied to the agricultural harvest that begin in the late Spring of the year is a great illustration of the creativity of religious traditions. Religious ritual and faith tends abhor any vacuum and in this case the simple words of the Torah: “You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest,” proved not to be enough for people far removed from an agricultural setting. In our modern age when our food industries have made the seasons and their cycles largely irrelevant, perhaps it bears remembering this day that a simple prayer of thanks “for daily bread” might be the most appropriate Shavuot/Pentecost observance–with perhaps a glass of good red wine thrown in as well (Psalm 104:15).

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