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Posted November 21, 2016 - 9:43am

Note: This Dust of the Master is a revised and updated version of an article from 2013.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins. (Mark 2:21-22) 

In Mark 2, Yeshua tells the double parable consisting of the Parable of the Torn Garments and the Parable of the Wine Skins. In this passage we hear the words of Yeshua speaking about things that are foreign to us today. It is no longer common practice to patch clothes or make wine in wineskins. However, in the days of the Master, everyone would have been familiar with these analogies. Patching garments and adding wine to wineskins were simply a part of daily life. Up until recent times clothing was a precious commodity and the common family did not have the means to purchase new clothes once the old ones became tattered. Rather than running down to the local clothing store, garments that had developed holes were routinely patched. The patches, however, could not be from a new cloth, but had to be made from “preshrunk” material. This would ensure that the patch would not shrink and therefore tear the garment.

Wine and winemaking were also a part of daily life. Wine was a staple of almost every home because it provided a safe alternative to water that had the potential of being contaminated. It was also a flavorful beverage highly praised for its medicinal value. Paul tells Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23).

Posted November 18, 2016 - 2:10pm

The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:17–19)

Many people are familiar with the children’s song, Father Abraham. It begins, “Father Abraham had many sons and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you. So, let’s just praise the Lord.” Through repetition and a series of choreographed movements this song engrains the concept into a child that this week’s Torah portion is indeed true. Abraham did become the father of many nations and is affectionately called Avraham Avinu, Our Father Abraham. Paul says that Abraham is “the father of all who believe” (Romans 4:12). We who have put our trust in Yeshua have become the spiritual offspring of Abraham, the father of our faith. He is our father as well.

According to our Torah portion, the LORD chose Abraham as the father of many nations in order “that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness (tzedakah) and justice (mishpat).” In Hebrew, doing righteousness is a synonym for taking care of those in need. And when native Hebrew speakers use the word tzedakah, righteousness, most often they mean charity. By Yeshua’s day this concept was in full force. In Matthew 6 Yeshua uses the word in this manner when he says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people” (Matthew 6:1). Justice, mishpat, on the other hand, often connotes strictness. Therefore, the midrash tells a story to explain one way that Abraham did righteousness and justice.

Posted November 14, 2016 - 7:22am

On two different accounts Yeshua makes the statement that he is “the light of the world.” John records these two accounts just one chapter apart from each other. The first time, Yeshua tells us:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

His second statement is in a different context, but has the same implication as the previous one:

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (John 9:4–5)

What does Yeshua mean by these statements? What is he trying to say? Many times turning to other Jewish writings can help us uncover the deeper meaning behind the Apostolic record, especially Yeshua’s teachings. In this instance, the midrash helps to illuminate the implications behind Yeshua’s words. 

First, the Midrash Rabbah comments on a passage in Daniel that says, “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:22). It records an interpretation of this passage that connects it with the Messiah: 

R. Abba of Serungayya said: “And the light dwells with him” alludes to the royal Messiah. (B’reisheet Rabbah 1:6)

Even more telling is a passage from another midrash that connects the light of Isaiah 60 with the primordial light of Creation, and then links the two passages together as a reference to the Messiah:

Posted November 11, 2016 - 7:19am

Partnering With God

In Parashat Lech Lecha we begin learning about a character by the name of Abram. As we know, his name will eventually be changed to Abraham, and our knowledge of his life is pivotal to our understanding of God’s plan for humanity. In fact, the entire Scripture hinges around this one person. When we read this week’s portion, Abraham’s courageous faith immediately becomes apparent when we read of him leaving everything behind in order to obey God’s command and move to the land of Canaan. This is the first of several of Abraham’s trials we read about in this small section of Genesis. 

The next trial we learn about is his encounter with Pharaoh and how he attempts to protect his family from the Egyptians. Then we read of the dispute between his nephew Lot’s shepherds and his own, and the trial of dividing the land between his nephew and himself. We also read about his trial of rescuing Lot when he and his household were captured in a by invading armies. The next trial is overcoming the pain of being childless and results in the taking of his wife’s servant Hagar as an additional wife through which his son Ishmael is born. The last trial in this portion is the commandment for Abraham to circumcise himself and all the males of his household. But there is something unique about how this trial is introduced.

When the LORD began instructing Abraham in regard to circumcision, He began by saying, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be perfect, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Genesis 17:1–2). When God made His covenant of circumcision with Abraham, it was with the intention of making Abraham something greater than what he was. Somehow this act of obedience through altering his physical nature would produce in Abraham a partnership with God that could not be achieved otherwise. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, but one that is deserving of our attention.

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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