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I am a Medical Doctor and a lifetime student of Hebrew, Midrash and the Bible. I studied The Prophets (Neviim) at the Jewish Theological Seminary, NY. I have studied Hebrew, Torah and Midrash at the UFRGS, Nucleus of Jewish Studies. The goal of my theological research is to study the New Testament texts at the light of the original Jewish and Rabbinical texts.

Teshuvah

Teshuvah

“Rabbi Sussya once said: “There are five verses in the Bible that constitute the essence of the Torah. These verses begin in Hebrew with one of these letters: Tav (תּ), Shin (שׁ), Vav (ו), Bet (בּ), and Hey (ה), which form the word for repentance, “teshuvah” (תְּשׁובָה).

The five verses are:

1) Tamim tiheyeh (תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה): “Be wholehearted before God” (Deut. 18:13);

2) Shiviti Adonai (שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה): “I have set the LORD always before me” (Psalm 16:8);

3) Va’ahavta lere’akha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ): “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18);

4) Bekhol derakekha (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ): “In all your ways know Him” (Prov. 3:6);

and 5) Higid lekha (הִגִּיד לְךָ): “Walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

In other words, the way of teshuvah, of answering God’s call for you to return to Him, is to sincerely set the LORD before you, to love others, and to walk out your days in heartfelt gratitude.”

Or we can say, “teshuvah” (repentance) may be seen an acronym that stands for being wholehearted and sincere before God, living close to God, loving others, acknowledging God in all our ways, and walking in humility with Him… May God make this real for us all and bless us all.

A MIDRASH FROM LEVITICUS

A MIDRASH FROM LEVITICUS

“Rabbi Yehoshua from Sichnin, in the name of Rabbi Levy opened [introduced] concerning the verse (Mishlei 25:7), “For it’s good that he says to you ‘come up here’, than he humiliates you in front of the noble.’

Rabbi Akiva taught it in the name of Rabbi Shimeon ben Azzai: “Be far from your place two or three seats seated, and remain there till they say to you, ‘come up’, than on going there, they say to you, ‘go down’”.

“For it is better they say to you, ‘come up, come up’, and not to say, ‘go down, go down’”.

And so Hilel said, “My humbleness (humiliation) is my exaltation, and my exaltation is my humiliation”. What is the reason (for the statement)?

(Tehilim 113:5-6) “Who dwells on high and inclines himself to see”.

You find this when Hakadosh Baruch Hu revealed to Moshe his face from the midst of the bush, [his – Moshe] face was hidden from him, as it was said, (Shemot 3:6) – “And Moshe hid his face, etc.”

And said to him Hakadosh Baruch Hu (Shemot 3:10), “Go, I am sending you to Paro, etc.”

Rabbi Eleazar said, “To say, ‘If you will not redeem [deliver] them, no other will deliver them”.

By the sea [Moshe] stood to the side. Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to him (Shemot 14:16), “And you lift up your staff and split it”.

To say, “If you will not split it, no other will split it”.

At the Sinai he stood by the side. And [God] said to him (Shemot 24:1), “Come up to Adonai”. To say, “If you won’t come up, no other will come up.”

In the tent of meeting he stood up by the side. Said to him Hakadosh Baruch Hu, “How long will you humiliate yourself? No one is expected in this time but you”.

So know for yourself that from all of them no one the Word called but Moshe. (Vaiqra 1:1) “And Adonai [El] called Moshe”.

This is a beautiful Midrash text. I understand the aim here is to show why the Pentateuch is called the Torah of Moshe, the reason why Moshe was the one chosen by God to set His people free and to receive the commandments. In Numbers 12:3, it is said: “Moshe was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth”.

So the sages begin this passage by giving emphasis to the virtue of humbleness (meekness). The midrash they construct, in which one must place himself in a humble position even in worldly affairs in order to be exalted, reminds us of the teaching of Jesus, in Luke 14: 7-11: When you are invited to a feast, do not take the place of honor, in order that another guest more distinguished than you could show up and people say to you, “Give this man your seat”, and you would be humiliated in front of all guests.

Instead, when you are invited, take the lowest place, so when your host comes he will say to you, “Come up to a better place”, and you will be honored in front of everyone. “For anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”. Even the words used in both texts are similar:“come up” and “lowest place” (“eleh, eleh”, “red, red”). It’s amazing how both midrashim are related. And the sages also quote Hilel: “My humiliation is my exaltation, and my exaltation is my humiliation”.

It is a moving passage to me, for my father used to teach us the same behavior. He took it as a guideline for his own life. As a man who was usually invited to solemn meetings and receptions, because of his position as a Judge, he never sought the best positions. He learned to stand at the side waiting to be called, and tried to teach us the same.

I understand Moshe stood by the side in order to let God act, because we cannot rush God. Every time Moshe stood aside, God intervened in a wonderful way through him: by the sea, at the Sinai, when he went to Pharaoh, and so on. Moshe split the sea, and passed through it by foot. He went to Pharaoh, and performed the ten miracles. He stood at the Sinai, and went up to the mountain of God and received the Torah. (And also saw God face to face). But first he stood by the side, waiting for God.

The secret to be a great man, in God’s eyes, is to know how to incline oneself. This beautiful Midrash justifies the need of humbleness quoting Psalms 113: “Hamaguevihi leshavat hamishepilai leroot”. The Great God, Adonai Tzevaot, inclines himself, lowering himself, in order to look at us. There is no other way for truly exaltation, the honor no one can take away from us. It is through humbleness. Even God, who dwells in the highest exaltation, inclines himself in order to act in favor of man – in order to see the world.

Isaiah 57:15 says, “For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite”. So God can only dwell in two places: in the Highest and Holy place and in the heart of the humble one. The word barach, in Hebrew (blessed), is similar to berech (knee). Blessed is the man who stands on his knees before God.

When Myriam and Aaron did lashon harah (evil talk) toward Moshe, he did not need to defend himself. He stood by the side, and God defended him. God was his Lawyer and his Judge. And Myriam was a prophetess, and also a leader of the people. Micah 6:4 states: “And I sent Moshe, Aaron and Myriam to lead you”.

The same thing happened during the rebellion of Corach, when he tried to place the people against Moshe, and to take the leadership from Moshe and Aaron. God himself intervened against Corach, and he was killed. Moshe did not need to defend himself. What an awesome Lawyer and Judge we have for ourselves, when we learn to stand aside before Him.

I found also interesting the repetition of the word acher (other), in this midrash. When God chose Moshe he did not want to accept the call and return to Egypt. He thought he did not fit the task. At that time he was a shepherd, living in exile, he did not know how to speak well. How could he go to Pharaoh and rebuke him, when he flew there for his life? So he asks God to send another one. I believe that is the reason why the sages repeat, “no other will redeem them, no other will split it, no other will come up, no other was chosen by the Word of God, but you, Moshe”.

The Midrash also states that God said to Moshe not to humble too much and wait a long time before Him, for he was the one to be called. He did not need to wait for God to call him in order to be at His presence, he was called already. All of the appointments of God’s agenda were for him. There is no one else… It is very beautiful, as well.

In a world where men strive all the time, wearing out their lives and destroying other peoples’ lives for positions of honor and power, Moshe took the humble path, the “road less traveled by”. As Jesus states, “How can you believe? You are busy collecting praise from each other, instead of seeking praise that comes from God only”. (John 5:44).

In the Pentateuch, there is a very intriguing thing in this passage. The word Vaiqra, in Leviticus 1:1, is written with a small alef. The alef is the letter that represents the Ego. It is the first letter of the word ani (I). The rabbis said that when someone has a big ego, considers himself the great alef (chief), he wrongfully takes over the crown of the Most High. However, when someone sees himself very low, like that little alef, he gives place to the Shekinah (the Presence of God) to rest on him. Moshe was the humblest of all men. He knew there is just one Aleph in all creation, Adonai Echad (the Number One). For the reason Moshe lowered himself (his own alef), he merited to be the channel for the Matan Torah (the delivery of the commandments) to Israel.

It is in the same way that the rabbis explain why the Torah begins with the letter beit: “Bereshit bara” (Genesis 1:1). It is because the alef represents God. The Creation begins with the next letter, for God is not part of the Creation. The little alef is the image of God that resides in us.

The last part of the Midrash speaks about the Word of God (Hadibur), also called Memra. The Jewish Encyclopedia defines it as “the creative or directive word or speech of God manifesting His power in the world of matter or mind”. It is related to the ten divine utterances (ten “ma’amarot”) by which God created the world (also called the Ten Sefirot, in Jewish mysticism). In Song of Songs Rabbah i. 13, “The Word [“dibbur”] went forth from the right hand of God and made a circuit around the camp of Israel”.

The whole Midrash, as an introduction to Leviticus 1: 1, declares what is said in Deuteronomy 34:10-12, about Moshe: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moshe, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt (“Amar lo Hakadosh Baruch Hu, ‘Lechah, veashelichecha el Paro…’”) – to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no man has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel”

 

 

The Meaning of Life

The Meaning of Life

The Monty Python group has a movie called “The Meaning of Life”. What is the meaning of life?

Jesus said in his High Priestly Prayer: “I glorified You on the earth, completing (finishing) the work which You have given me to do.” (John 17:4).

At the cross, as he was dying, he said, “Everything is completed.”

The meaning of life is to finish, to complete the work God sent us here to do. When we go through the pain of losing a family member or a close friend, we think they went too soon out of this world. How much more they could have done here to help other people, or to enjoy life with their family, especially when they are a blessing to everyone around them. But in the omniscient view of our God, He called them to heaven because they had accomplished everything. They were complete.

The Hebrew word for “complete” is shalem. It also means “perfect, whole.” It comes from the same root of shalom, “peace”. God wants us to be complete, to be shalem.

According to the Jewish Talmud, the great second-century sage Rabbi Akiva once said: “When I die and come before the Almighty for judgement, God will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?, or ‘Why were you not Avraham?’ I will be asked: ‘Why were you not Akiva?’”

Let us pray that when our time to leave this world comes, and we get to the presence of Our Heavenly Father, we hear Him saying: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:23).

Sukat Shalom

Sukat Shalom

“Ufros aleinu sukat shelomecha.

Baruch ata Adonai hapores sukat shalom aleinu veal kol amo Yisrael veal Yerushalayim.

Amen” (Hashkiveinu Prayer)

 

” Spread over us the tent of your peace.

 Blessed are You, Lord, spreading the tent of peace over us, over your people Israel, and over Jerusalem.

Amen.”

 

Malach – “Shalom Aleichem”

“For He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.” (Psalms 91: 11).

Ki malachav yetzaveh lach
Lishmarecha bechol derachecha.

The word malach in Hebrew means angel, or messenger. It comes from the same root as melacha, work. Its plural is malachim or malachei. The word malachav has the vav in the end, as a suffix meaning “his”, functioning as a possessive adjective, 3rd person singular. Malachav means “his angels”. The text can be read: “For to his angels He will give a decree concerning you, to protect (or guard) you in all your ways.”

Malachi, the name of the last book of the Old Testament, means “my angel”, or “my messenger”.

There is a traditional melody sung by observant Jews every Shabbat, upon returning home from the shul (synagogue), named Shalom Aleichem, “Peace be upon you”, to welcome the angels who visit the Jewish homes at that night. It says:

Shalom alechem malachei hasharet, malachei Elyon; mimelech malche hamelachim HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”

“Peace upon you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.”

Malachei (or malachim) means angels. Melech is king, in Hebrew. Plural = melachim. The expression Shalom aleichem, or Shalom alec (singular form) is used many times in the New Testament. When Jesus says to his disciples “Peace be with you”, after the resurrection, in Luke 24:36 and John 20:19, 21 and 26, he is saying “Shalom aleichem.” It is a common Hebrew expression, with its Arabic counterpart, “Salam aleikam.”

There is an Israeli song that calls for peace among Arabs and Jews, named “Salam, Shalom”. It means “peace” in each language. The lyrics say, “Od yavo shalom aleinu, ve al kulam. Salam, shalom.” “Peace will come to us, yet, and to everyone. Peace, peace.”

 

 

 

The Four Kings

The Four Kings

There is a beautiful midrash text about the four Israelite kings, David, Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah, and their relationship with God. It shows four types of prayers, four types of work that God displays for His servants, when He fights for the ones He loves. “From of old no one has heard, or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4). “For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory” (Deut. 20:4). “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).

Eikah Rabbah – Petihta 30:

“There were four kings, each of whom asked for this but not for that, and these are they: David, Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah.

David said, ‘Let me pursue my enemies and overtake them’ (Ps. 18:38).

Said to him the Holy One, blessed be He (HaKadosh Baruch Hu), ‘I shall do it.’ ‘And David smote them from the twilight even to the evening of the next day’ (1 Sam. 30:17).

Asa went and said, ‘I do not have the strength to kill them, but I shall pursue them, and you do the killing.’ He said to him, ‘I shall do it.’ ‘And Asa pursued them’ (2 Chr. 14:12).

What is said is not, ‘And they were shattered before Asa,’ but ‘before the Lord and before his host.’

Jehoshaphat went and said, ‘I do not have the strength to slay or even to pursue, but I will sing a song, and you do the killing and pursuing.’

Said to him the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘I shall do it.’ ‘And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set an ambush’ (2 Chr. 20:22).

Hezekiah went and said, ‘I do not have the strength to kill, pursue, or even to sing a song. But I shall sleep on my bed and you do it all.’

Said the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘I shall do it.’ ‘And it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went forth and smote in the camp of the Assyrians’ (2 Kgs. 19:35).”

“The Lord provides for those he loves, even while they are sleeping.” (Ps. 127:2).

The Book of the Twelve

The Book of the Twelve

The Twelve Prophetic Books, or the Book of the Twelve, also called the Minor
Prophets in the Christian Bible, is a collection of twelve prophetic books, probably
written between the 8th and 5th century BC, inserted in the Jewish Bible, or Tanach, as part of the Neviim writings. A prophetic book is a biblical book associated with a prophetic personage of the Jewish past, presenting itself as the word of the Lord.

According to the Talmud, the Book of the Twelve was written by Ezra and the
Men of the Great Assembly, who established the books of the Hebrew canon, the Jewish Bible. Most scholars today believe these books were written after the fall of the Monarchy (586 BC) and during the Persian period.

The historical background shows relevant differences between the monarchic
period and the post-monarchic times. In the former, before the destruction of the temple, Judah was a prosperous kingdom, and Jerusalem was an important city with a population of 25,000 people, one third of the entire kingdom. However post-monarchic Judah was turned into a small and poor country, with Jerusalem displaying a population of about 1,500 inhabitants during the Persian period.

After the returning of the exiles and the restoration of the country, Judah was
still a Persian province, without sovereignty and political independence, with a
population of about 17,000 people. The prophetic writings display the
difference of speech according to the period they were written. With the destruction of Jerusalem, the city of God (Zion), the Dwelling (mishkan) of God, and the Davidic dynasty, all fell at the same time. (Eikah Rabbah Petihta Eight says, “But it is from the One who brings his Presence (Shekinah) to dwell (shakhan) in Zion”).

The writings during the post-monarchic times try to understand why this tragedy
happened, in the form of two messages: condemnation of the former kingdom of
Judah for sins that justified the destruction of Jerusalem, and messages of hope and restoration to show that the present situation was just a phase in God’s plan of victory and salvation for Israel.

It is very similar to the Rabbinic writings after the destruction of the Second
Temple in 70 CE. During the Middle Age, some people pointed out this catastrophe as a sign that God had rejected Israel and broke the covenant with the people. Therefore the Jewish rabbis tried to use the same prophetic books, and the same messages of hope and restoration, to prove that God one day would bring them back to their land, establish Medinat Israel as an independent country again, and give them another opportunity of repentance and salvation.

In Lamentations Rabbah, the Sages say, “’Because they sinned from alef to
tav, they were comforted from alef to tav.’ So you find that as to all the harsh prophecies that Jeremiah issued against the Israelites, Isaiah first of all anticipated each and pronounced healing for it. Jeremiah said, ‘She weeps bitterly in the night, tears on her cheeks’ (Lam.1:2). And Isaiah said, ‘You shall weep no more, he will surely be gracious to you’ (Isa 30:19).” (Eikah Rabbah Parashah One: Lamentations 1:2).

The same approach to find messages of comfort and intertextuality among the
Major Prophets books was applied to the final production of the book of the Twelve. While each of the major prophetic books was written in a separate scroll, the book of the Twelve Prophets was usually collected and written in a single scroll, as a collective work, to avoid that one of them could be lost in the final composition.

The book of Ben Sirach 49:10, written in the 2nd century BC, mentions the
twelve prophets as a whole. The oldest manuscripts of the Twelve were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating at the same time. In the Qumran scroll, the book of Jonah follows the book of Malachi, ending the Twelve Prophets. The order of the books was relatively fluid for a long period, as showed in the different sequences presented in the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text.

The last book of the Twelve, Malachi, has one of the last verses translated as
follows: “Remember the Torah of Moses, my servant, which I commanded him at
Horeb for all Israel – its decrees and statutes” (Malachi 3:22), thus making the connection between the Neviim and the Torah. In the Christian canon, Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, it is followed by the Psalms, and the Ketuvim (Writings). The first Psalm says, “Blessed is the man who does not follow the counsel of the wicked, (…) rather the Torah of the Lord is his delight.” (“Ki im b’Torat Adonai cheftzo” – Ps. 1:2a).

Ben Sirach says in the Ecclesiasticcus:
“And of the Twelve Prophets may the bones
Flourish again from their place
For they comforted Jacob
And redeemed them by the assurance of hope.”