Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Customs and Traditions of the Festival of Hanukkah

This year Hanukkah begins at local sunset on December 8th.  Hanukkah is a minor festival, not one of the Feast days mentioned in the Torah.  The events surrounding the establishment of Hanukkah happened in the 2nd century BCE, well after the canon of Hebrew scripture was closed and therefore it is not mentioned in all of the Hebrew Bible. It is a kind of National Festival for the nation of Israel and the Jewish people commemorating an important event in their national history.  For those of us who are grafted into believing Israel, it carries the same meaning.

The festival of Hanukkah (it can also be spelled Chanukah) was established to commemorate the Jewish Maccabees' military victory over the Greek-Syrians and the rededication of the Second Temple, which had been desecrated by the Greek-Syrians, to the worship of God. Thus, Hanukkah is a celebration of Jewish national survival and religious freedom.

National Survival

The story of the Maccabees' military feats has been preserved in The First Book of Maccabees. In short, in response to religious persecution and oppression, Judah Maccabee and his four brothers organized a group of resistance fighters known as the Maccabees. The Maccabees, using guerilla warfare, miraculously succeeded to drive the far larger Greek-Syrian army out of Judea. The Hanukkah story proclaims the message of the prophet Zachariah: "Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit."

Religious Freedom

The purification of the Temple began on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the year 165 BCE. According to the Talmud, the single-days-worth of pure oil found in the Temple miraculously burnt for eight days until more pure oil could be brought.

Celebrating Hanukkah

(The following is taken from Jewish history and various traditional practices.  There really is no “right or wrong” way to celebrate the Festival of Hanukkah.  The suggestion is to start with this and make modifications to suit your own family and situation.)

In commemoration of these miracles, a Hanukkah Menorah (also called a Hanukkiah) is lit during each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah is the central observance of the festival. One candle is lit the first night, and an additional candle is lit each successive night. Thus, on the last night of Hanukkah, all eight candles of the Hanukkiah are lit. The candles should be lit by a window or door in order to fulfill the commandment to "publicize the miracle." While lighting the candles, blessings are recited and the ancient chant Hanerot Hallalu is traditionally sung. After lighting the candles, it is a tradition to sing Maoz Tzur.

Hanukkah is a fun festival, especially for children. After lighting the Hanukkah candles together, families (and often invited guests) will eat and play games. Traditional Hanukkah food is oil-rich in commemoration of the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. Potato pancakes (Latkas in Yiddish, Livivot in Hebrew) are a Hanukkah favorite. Israelis eat Hanukkah doughnuts called soofganiot. Dreidel (sivovon in Hebrew) is a traditional Hanukkah game, with game rules so simple that the whole family, from toddlers to grandparents can play together. The custom of giving Hanukkah gelt (money) to children has evolved into a gift-giving tradition in many Jewish families today.

Kindling Hanukkah lights is the most important Hanukkah custom. Jews light Hanukkah candles to remember the miracle of the Maccabees' victory and the miracle of the oil that burnt for eight days in the holy Temple. It is a mitzvah (commandment from God) that Jews "publicize the miracle" by lighting a Hanukkah Menorah each night during the eight days of Hanukkah.

Here's How:

1. What to Light

Buy or make a Hanukkah Menorah. The Menorah should have eight candle holders in a row and a separate candle holder for the "Shamash." The Shamash candle is used to light the other eight candles since it is forbidden to use the Hanukkah lights for any purpose other than viewing.

2. Where to Light

To best publicize the miracle, the Hanukkah Menorah is ideally lit outside the doorway of your house, on the left side when entering. If this is not practical, then the Menorah should be lit in a window facing the public thoroughfare. If the Menorah cannot be lit by the window, it may be lit inside the house on a table, which at least fulfills the mitzvah of "publicizing the miracle" for members of the household.

3. When to Light

The Menorah should preferably be lit immediately at nightfall. If necessary, however, the Menorah can be lit late into the night. It is best to wait until all members of the household are present to light the Menorah. The Menorah should remain lit for at least 30 minutes after nightfall. On Friday afternoon, the Menorah should be lit before sundown.

4. How to Light on the First Night

On the first night, place one candle in the Menorah's far right (as you face the Menorah) candle holder. Another candle is placed for the Shamash (helper candle). Say the below blessings and then light the candle using the Shamash candle.

5. First Blessing to Recite

Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam Asher Kiddeshanu Be-mitsvotav Ve-tsivanu Lehadlik Ner Shel khanuka
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.

6. Second Blessing to Recite

Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-asa Nissim La-avoteynu Ba-yyamim Ha-hem Ba-zzman Ha-zze
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

7. Third Blessing to Recite (only on the first night of Hanukkah)

Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-hekheyanu Ve-kiymanu Ve-higgi'anu La-zzman Ha-zze
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

8. How to Light on the Second through Eighth Night

The second night, place two candles in the Menorah's far right (as you face the Menorah) candle holders. Another candle is placed for the Shamash (helper candle). Say the first two blessings above and then light the candles using the Shamash candle. Light the left-most candle first and then light in order, from left to right. Follow this procedure for each night of Hanukkah.

9. Recited After the Blessings

We kindle these lights to commemorate the miracles and wonders and saving acts that You have performed for our forefathers, in those days at this time, by Your Holy Name. And all throughout the eight days of Hanukkah, these lights are holy, and we behold them in order to offer thanks and praise to you O Lord for Your miracles, for your wonders and your salvation. In John 8:12 You said, “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

Displaying the Hanukkiah

It is an old custom to display the hanukkiah where its light will be visable from the outside. Note that if you place the hanukkiah near a window, the candles should appear lit right to left from the point of view of the one seeing them from the outside.

What You Need:

Hanukkah Menorah , candles or oil candles with olive oil and matches or a lighter.

Suggested Nightly Scripture Readings for Hanukkah

First night: Scripture: Is 51:1-4;Prov6:23;Matt 25:1-4;Prov 13:9;Lam 2:9;Prov 29:18
Discuss: The importance of a new understanding of what Torah really means
Question: What was the light Messiah brought to the nations?
Prayer: That God would bring His light into any darkness in our own lives

Second night: Scripture: Ps 119:1-24
Discuss: How living out the Torah is what makes us light in this dark world.
Question: What does Ps 119:18 mean to you?
Prayer: That God would open our eyes to see wonderful things in His Torah!

Third night: Scripture: 119:25-48
Discuss: Having borders or fences to protect us is good not bad.
Question: What is the significance of Ps 119:44,45?
Prayer: That we may see Torah as what God has given us to protect us.

Fourth Night: Scripture: Ps 119:49-72
Discuss: What do we value more: riches or Torah
Question: What does Ps 119:53 mean to you?
Prayer: That we may learn to put a higher value on what God says

Fifth Night: Scripture: Ps 119:73-96
Discuss: The faithfulness and longevity of God’s Word.
Question: What does Ps 119:89-91 mean to you?
Prayer: That God would settle His Word in each of our lives.

Sixth Night: Scripture: Ps 119:97-120
Discuss: How God’s Word is what lights our path so we won’t fall.
Question: What does Ps 119:103-105 mean to you?
Prayer: That the anointing of the Messiah would fuel the flames of our faith, illuminating the Kingdom of God to those around us so they won’t fall.

Seventh Night: Scripture: Ps 119:121-144
Discuss: Why does God’s servant want God to go to work
Question: What does Ps 119:125,126,135,136 mean to you?
Prayer: That we can comprehend our new identity, respond to the call to be lights and recognize our servant-hood to the King.

Eighth Night: Scripture: Ps 119:145-176
Discuss: Peace comes from Torah
Question: What does Ps 119:165-167 mean to you?
Prayer: Pray the Lord help you be a shining light in Yeshua.

Shalom and have a very happy Hanukkah
Dan & Brenda Cathcart

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Monday, December 3, 2012

The Mind of Christ (Yeshua): Phil. 2:6-11

The Philippian believers were probably mostly Gentiles. There is no reference of a synagogue present in Philippi when Paul first visited them, nor is there mention of a Jewish presence. We can assume then that these believers had little background with the Tanakh (Old Testament). When Paul writes to them, he doesn’t directly quote any Old Testament scriptures. This is the only epistle of which this is the case. Instead, Paul cites examples of how they are to live. He begins with the example of Yeshua from 1:27 to 2:18, continues with the examples of Timothy in 2:19-24, Epaphroditus in 2:25-30, and concludes citing his own example in 3:1-16. Even though Paul does not quote the Old Testament, the epistle has the flavor of its Hebrew roots and Jewish author.

One place in particular that shows the Hebraic “flavor” is in the example of Yeshua. Paul exhorts the Philippians to be like minded with one another going on to describe that like-mindedness as having the mind of Christ.

Philippians 2:2-5 NKJV 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,

Paul, then, breaks in Hebraic poetry in describing the mind of Christ. Hebraic poetry has the quality of “parallelism.” Each phrase is repeated using slightly different words but conveying the same meaning. A good example of this is Psalm 2 which begins with the stanza:

Psalms 2:1-2 NKJV 1 Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,

In this stanza, we see the following equivalences:
·         The nations rage = The people plot a vain thing
·         The kings of the earth set themselves = The rulers take counsel together
·         Against the LORD = Against His anointed

The passage in Philippians has this same quality of parallelism. Not only does this passage exhibit Hebraic parallelism, it exhibits the trait of chiasm (Ky’-az-um) a symmetric writing pattern in which the ideas are presented in reverse order around a central theme. While not unique to the Bible, this structure is pervasive in the Torah.

What, then, is this mind of Christ that Paul communicates through this piece of Hebraic poetry? We quote it here from Young’s Literal translation so we more readily see the form of the original writing.

Philippians 2:6-11 YLT 6 who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God, 7 but did empty himself, the form of a servant having taken, in the likeness of men having been made, 8 and in fashion having been found as a man, he humbled himself, having become obedient unto death--death even of a cross, 9 wherefore, also, God did highly exalt him, and gave to him a name that is above every name, 10 that in the name of Jesus every knee may bow--of heavenlies, and earthlies, and what are under the earth-- 11 and every tongue may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Breaking this down to its chiastic structure and parallel phrases, the passage looks like this:

A: Being in the form of God = Not robbery to be equal with God
B: Emptied himself = Took the form of a servant
C: Made in the Likeness of men = Fashion as a man
D: Humbled Himself = Obedient unto death: death on the cross
C: God has highly exalted him = God has given him a name above every name
B: At the name of Jesus every knee should bow = Every tongue should confess
A: Jesus Christ is Lord = Glory of God the Father

Paul begins and ends by clearly stating the deity of Yeshua. His natural state is equal with God and His lordship is the glory of the Father. Yeshua then emptied Himself. Note that this is a voluntary choice. He is the one who empties Himself. Emptying oneself is to take on the form of a servant! Take a moment and just ponder this concept.

Yeshua then came in the likeness of men; He was fashioned as a man. The Greek words for “likeness” and “fashion” mean, respectively, “to resemble” and “the outward appearance.” This presents that mystery that Yeshua is both fully divine and fully human. He is like us but not entirely; He is much more!

Yeshua, who is much more than we are, demonstrates true humility to us. To be humble is to be obedient! In this era in which we emphasize God’s grace, we lose sight of God calling us to a life of holiness—a life of obedience. This word translated obedient is #5255.  hoop-ay'-ko-os from 5219; attentively listening, i.e. (by implication) submissive:--obedient. It is formed from two words, hupa meaning under and akouo meaning to hear.

#5219. hoop-ak-oo'-o from 5259 and 191; to hear under (as a subordinate), i.e. to listen attentively; by implication, to heed or conform to a command or authority:--hearken, be obedient to, obey.

The root word akouo is the Greek word used in the Septuagint to translate sh’ma, which means to hear and obey! Yeshua, who is equal to God, humbles Himself to hear and obey even to obedience on the cross! This is the central theme of this piece of poetry! This is the mind of Christ! This is the mind Paul exhorts us to have in us!

The result of Yeshua’s obedience, of emptying Himself and humbling Himself to death on the cross, is exaltation. God the Father has exalted Him and given Him a name to which everyone bows and confesses that He is Lord. This is the glory of God the Father!

Yeshua tells His disciples that those who want to be great in God’s kingdom will be those who humble themselves, emptying themselves of “self” and taking the form of a servant.

Mark 9:33-35 NKJV 33 Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, "What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?" 34 But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. 35 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."

In our flesh, we resist this injunction. Surely, we don’t really need to empty ourselves; we don’t need to really become the servant. We think we can practice righteousness by following the rules; by outward appearance. But this only leads to weariness and resentment. Yeshua tells all who are burdened and weary to come to Him.

Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV 28 "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

This passage, like the one in Philippians, is Hebrew poetry in a chiastic structure.

A: All who labor = all who are heavy laden
            B: I will give you rest
                        C: Take my yoke upon you = Learn from Me
                        C: I am gentle = I am lowly in heart
            B: You will find rest
A: My yoke is easy = My burden is light

The central theme of this passage, like that of Philippians 2:6-11, is Yeshua’s humble nature. He is gentle and lowly in heart. But equal with that in the central position is our obedience, our total surrender to Him as we take on His yoke and learn from Him.

Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus

Shalom and be blessed,
Dan and Brenda Cathcart

Please visit our web site at

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Torah Portion Vayera: The Eight Miraculous Mothers

Genesis 18:1 – 22:24; II Kings 4:1-37; Matthew 7-8

In this portion we find the story of the birth of Isaac to Sarah and Abraham.

Genesis 21:1-7 NKJV 1 And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken. 2 For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 3 And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him-whom Sarah bore to him-Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 And Sarah said, "God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me." 7 She also said, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age."

Sarah is the first of eight woman in the Bible often referred to as mothers, who were once barren and whom God had later opened their wombs and caused them to miraculously conceive a child.  The number eight, in the Bible, represents new beginnings and reflects the Hebrew concept of cycles.  There are seven days in a week, but the eighth day is the beginning of a new week; a new beginning.  

In the next generation, Rebekah became Isaac’s wife, but she was barren as well

Genesis 25:20-21 NKJV 20 Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. 21 Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

Then we have Isaac’s son Jacob who was tricked by Laban into taking his eldest daughter Leah as his wife when all along Jacob desired to have Rachel.

Genesis 29:21-25 NKJV 21 Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her." 22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast. 23 Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24 And Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. 25 So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?"

Even though Leah was not loved by Jacob, the LORD opened her womb and she conceived.

Genesis 29:31-32 NKJV 31 When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. 32 So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, "The LORD has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me."

In this passage we see that Rachel is also barren whom Jacob took as a wife in return for serving Laban another seven years.

Genesis 29:26-28 NKJV 26 And Laban said, "It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. 27 "Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years." 28 Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also.

Rachel remained barren for quite some time but eventually God opened her womb and she gave birth to Joseph.

Genesis 30:25a NKJV  And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph…

Next we come across a man by the name of Manoah whose wife was barren.  Again the LORD opened her womb and she conceived a son.

Judges 13:2-3 NKJV 2 Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. 3 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.

This son is none other than Samson.  It is interesting to note that the name of the mother of Samson is not recorded in scripture.  She is, in a way, hidden from us.  Her son Samson’s name means sunlight, but the source of “sunlight” is hidden.

#8123.  Shimshown,  shim-shone' from #8121; sunlight; Shimshon, an Israelite:--Samson.  #8121 shemesh,  sheh'-mesh from an unused root meaning to be brilliant; the sun.

The next barren woman we find in the Bible is Hannah

1 Samuel 1:5-6 NKJV 5 But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb. 6 And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the LORD had closed her womb.

Year by year Hannah called out to God for the gift of a son.

1 Samuel 1:7-21 NKJV 7 So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat. 8 Then Elkanah her husband said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?" 9 So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD. 10 And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish. 11 Then she made a vow and said, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head."

Hannah made a vow and the LORD opened her womb and she conceived a son; a special son in Samuel.

The next time we see the mention of a barren woman is in the Gospels with Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias the priest and cousin of Mary the mother of Yeshua.

Luke 1:5-7 NKJV 5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

Again the LORD opened the womb of Elizabeth and she conceived a son whose name was Yochanan or John.

Luke 1:23-24 NKJV 23 And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months…

Yochanan is the seventh son to be born to a previously barren woman, and as such represents Spiritual Perfection and a complete cycle.  Just as the seventh day is the culmination of the week and being the Sabbath, brings a promise of rest, refreshment and renewal, so too the son of Elizabeth and Zacharias would be destined to point to rest, refreshment and renewal in the eighth Son to be born of a barren woman.  But in this case, it would be a different kind of barren, a virgin, and a different kind of son, the Son of God!  Mary, Elizabeth’s first cousin, who is betrothed to a man named Joseph from Nazareth, comes to Elisabeth’s home to reveal the news of her pregnancy.

Luke 1:26-33 NKJV 26 Now in the sixth month (of Elizabeth’s pregnancy) the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" 29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. (Hebrew = Yeshua) 32 "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."

Yeshua is the light from God, the promised messiah, born of a virgin, a son of David, bringing to mankind a new beginning.  He is the light of the world, hidden from view in his first coming because of spiritual darkness and man’s separation from God.   Elizabeth’s son Yochanan reveals Yeshua as the Son of God to a darkened world.  In the seventh millennium, Yeshua will permanently occupy the Throne of David in Jerusalem and be a light for all nations to see. After this, the prophet Isaiah and John in Revelation record a new beginning for creation and mankind where Yeshua is the only light necessary.

Isaiah 65:17-18 NKJV 17 "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, And her people a joy.

Revelation 21:1-2, 23 NKJV 1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… 23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.

Shalom and be blessed
Dan & Brenda Cathcart

Volume 4 of our Bible study series “Shadows of the Messiah in the Torah” is now available.  See our website for details at