In 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.
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In 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.
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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).
Long shut out of the country’s story, Middle Eastern Jews now make up half of Israel’s population, influencing its culture and its life in surprising new ways. Who are they?
By Matti Friedman
The story of Israel, as most people know it, is well trod—perhaps even tiresome by now. It begins with anti-Semitism in Europe and passes through Theodor Herzl, the Zionist pioneers, the kibbutz, socialism, the Holocaust, and the 1948 War of Independence. In the early decades of the return to Zion and the new state, the image of the Israeli was of a blond pioneer tilling the fields shirtless, or of an audience listening to Haydn in one of the new concert halls. Israel might have been located, for historical reasons, in the Middle East, but the new country was an outpost of Europe. Its story was a story about Europe.
Read the rest of this remarkable essay by Matti Friedman in Mosaic’s monthly June essay here. Matti Friedman is the author of The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books, which won the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize, the ALA’s Sophie Brody Medal, and the Canadian Jewish Book Award for history. He has been reporting on Israel since 1997.
In this class, the second in his “In the Wilderness” series, Ross takes a close look at the words of the Priestly Blessing. This ancient blessing was to be spoken by the priests over the children of Israel, thus putting the Name of God upon the children of Israel. But what precisely does the blessing mean? The blessing consists of 15 words in Hebrew that are well known, or are they? By working through the Hebrew Bible, and looking at other occurrences of the words and phrases found within the blessing, Ross seeks to provide insight into the meaning of this ancient and cherished blessing of the children of Israel.
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Iyar 28th on the Jewish calendar marks the day that Jerusalem was re-united and the Jewish people regained control of the Old City in June of 1967. Could it be that the miraculous events of June 7, 1967 were foretold by the ancient prophet Daniel? In his book, Restoring Abrahamic Faith, Dr. James Tabor (2008) presents a compelling argument that the “completely unanticipated capture of the Old City of Jerusalem by Israeli forces during the Six Day War…appears to provide a rather remarkable ‘benchmark’ of prophetic fulfillment” (p. 92).
Tabor shows that the capture of Jerusalem on June 7, 1967 / Iyar 28, 5727 happens to coincide precisely with an ancient event that took place 2300 years earlier. Tabor (2008) stated, “the Persian defeat by Alexander the Great, on June 7, 334 B.C.E. (Artemisius 28th on the Olympiad Calendar), began 2300 years of hostile Gentile domination of Jerusalem” (p.93). As Tabor (2008) puts it, “the fact that the entire Temple Mount, including the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, came under Jewish control on that very day, in that very year, June 7, 1967, is rather uncanny” (p.93). Uncanny indeed. Why so?
The Hebrew prophet Daniel spoke of a he-goat that would defeat a ram. This would be followed by a trampling of Jerusalem by Gentiles, but then after the 2300 days are over there would be a “vindication” (Daniel Chapter 8). Scholars agree that the “he-goat” represents Greece and the “ram” represents Persia. Students of prophecy have often interpreted the “days” of Daniel’s prophecy as “years.” Tabor (2008) shows that Methodist minister, Adam Clarke, in 1825 predicted with close accuracy the restoration of Jerusalem. He missed by one year, presumably because he, “made a mistake in math moving from B.C.E. to C.E., neglecting to add the extra year required (there is no year zero)” (Tabor, p. 92-92).
On this day, as you reflect on the miracle of Jerusalem Day, consider that the events of that day in the summer of 1967, may very well have been seen by an ancient Jewish prophet.
References & Additional Reading
Six Day War. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sixdaywar.co.uk/news_articles-three-soldiers.htm
Tabor, J.D. (2008). Restoring Abrahamic Faith (3rd ed.). Charlotte, NC: Genesis 2000.
Tabor, J.D. (2013). TaborBlog. Retrieved from http://jamestabor.com/2013/05/08/jerusalem-day-june-7-1967/
This week, Ross begins his ten-week series on the biblical book of Numbers, known in Hebrew as BeMidbar, which means, in the wilderness. He begins with an overview of of the contents of the Torah’s fourth book and then points out two distinct views of the wilderness: one, a stark desert and hostile environment, and another view, which presents the wilderness as an ideal place where the miraculous is commonplace. Ross then shows that both views are presented in the weekly prophet reading from Hosea. Using the prophet reading from Hosea, Ross begins to lay out a comparison between the exodus generation and present day Israel. The message establishes that studying the wilderness generation is key to understanding the coming redemption. A key component to this teaching is an oft repeated phrase that is frequently found throughout the Hebrew Bible in covenant language. You will not want to miss this teaching.
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This week, Ross concludes his teaching series on the book of Leviticus. He focuses on the inherited lie that is associated with idolatry throughout Scripture. Carefully working through passages in Jeremiah and Isaiah, Ross points out the futility of idolatry and plainly declares that this sin has been written upon many hearts. He then contrasts two ways: a way of life and blessing and a life of death and cursing. He shows that the consequences for obedience and disobedience to the Torah and to the One True God are a matter of life and death. Finally, he points the way back to a restored faith; a way that begins with a confession. He also shows that a circumcision of heart is and always been a requirement for a faithful life of blessing.
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In this week’s teaching from Torah reading BeHar, Ross focuses on a phrase from the final verse, which says, “My Sabbaths you shall guard.” Ross continues his training in holiness in this class. He points out that Shabbat was the first “thing” designated as holy in the Scriptures. Building on this idea, he covers several biblical texts that explain the true purpose of Shabbat. What are we to do, or not do so that we properly guard the Sabbaths? Central to this teaching is the idea that Sabbath observance should be a blessing to all of creation. Ross also discusses the term Shabbaton and explains the ancient seventh-year Shmittah. The primary lesson contained in this teaching is that failure to guard the Sabbaths led to exile and therefore a return to Sabbath observance is a sign of the return.
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This week, Ross teaches from Torah reading Metsora. The teaching in this reading describes the progressive steps to to bring one who was once “unclean” back into the fellowship of the community of the holy. Ross spends a good deal of time discussing the Hebrew term, “tamei,” translated as unclean. The reading begins, this is “the torah of the leper, on the day of his cleansing” (Leviticus 14:1-2). Ross shows how this phrase is used in a prophetic text to describe the bringing back of scattered Israel and their ultimate restoration into fellowship of the community of the holy. This class also covers a teaching prevalent in Judaism known as “lashon hara.” Throughout the teaching, Ross connects the literal texts with an implied allegorical interpretation supplied by the ancient prophets of Israel. You will not want to miss this teaching.
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