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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise specified are taken from The Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright ©1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD  21029.
If you haven't yet done so, now is the time to get your copy of "As It Is Written: Ancient Torah Lessons for the Modern-day Believer." If you have a copy, get some copies for your friends and loved ones. Whether you've been studying Torah for years or are just beginning, you're sure to find pearls of wisdom and insight in this book. To get your copy, please click here: http://bnottziyon.com/christina_oakes

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Most sincerely in our Messiah Yeshua,
Christina Oakes/Hadassah

 Please note, for the 5775/2015 Year, Hadassah is considering the idea of writing another book. While we will miss her missives, we invite you to visit the archives of her past works. In these archives you will find selections on the parshiyot, haftarah and Tehillim (Psalms) according to the annual cycle of Torah readings, going back a few years. Todah!

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Entries for December 2013


Bo Exodus 10:1-13:16
Psalm 77

Only a handful of Psalms are as somber as Psalm 77. Though it does include praise to HaShem, it is not the exultant, jubilant praise characteristic of most of the other Psalms. The psalmist chooses to praise despite his anguish of spirit, but it comes from a heavy heart. As if that isn’t sobering enough, a look into the Hebrew of this song reveals more of the suffering our Messiah Yeshua endured to redeem us from the pharaoh of pharaohs and take us as His own people.

Like Psalm 22, Psalm 77 hints at how Messiah Yeshua would die and what anguish He would suffer. Specifically, verses 3-5 portray His agony: "On the day of my distress I am seeking [Adonai] (Lit. "My Master, my Lord"); my hands are lifted up; my tears flow all night without ceasing; my heart refuses comfort. When remembering God, I moan; when I ponder, my spirit fails. ([Selah]) You hold my eyelids []and keep me from sleeping[]; I am too troubled to speak." Unfortunately, the English does not reflect the fullness of the Hebrew. A better rendering, especially of verses 3-4, might be something like this: "In the day of my trouble, my Master I sought; my hand (or) wrist ("yadi") spilled (or) poured out, and was benumbed; and my soul refused comfort. (verse 4) I will remember G-d and murmur, roar, be disturbed; I will complain, and my spirit faints." If one is only superficially aware of the effects of crucifixion, these verses take on new significance. In studying these things, hind sight is always 20/20. It is nevertheless important that we remember the price Messiah paid so that we might have eternal life. By way of review, to remember something in Hebraic thought is far more than simply thinking about it. It is a call to action. In this light, how do we remember Messiah’s suffering?

In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, rav Sha’ul declares that as often as we partake of the Nizkor (Lit. "We will remember" L-rd’s Supper), we proclaim His death until He comes. Furthermore, when we go through the Mikvah, our immersion under the water is our identification with our L-rd’s death and burial, and our coming up out of the water is our identifying with His resurrection. Another way we remember is to let His suffering influence our decisions. When we are tempted to sin, for instance, it wouldn’t hurt to ask whether that sin is the kind of reward our Messiah Yeshua deserves for what He endured. Still a third way to remember is to speak of His death, burial, and resurrection. Admittedly, this is going back to the basics, but our Torah portion for this week admonishes us to tell our children and our grandchildren how HaShem redeemed us from slavery in Egypt, and Psalm 77 pleads with us through vivid imagery of the Lamb of G-d, slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).

In a day when speaking of the shed blood of our L-rd Yeshua isn’t popular, we, His followers, should shout it from the housetops. After all, this is the way of salvation, not whatever supposed faith we muster up, feelings we may experience, or even our keeping of Torah, which was never a means of salvation anyway. Psalm 16:8 instructs: "I always set [ADONAI] before me; with him at my right hand, I can never be moved;" As we set Messiah Yeshua before us, remembering how He has accomplished our redemption, and let that memory pervade every aspect of our lives, we will find our feet staying on His straight and narrow path. As it is written: ""I have been crucified with [Messiah]; and it is no longer I who live, but [Messiah] lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of G-d, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20 NASB modified) Our L-rd Yeshua died so that we might live, and He lives so that we might be saved (1 Corinthians 15:13-20).

Shalom uvracha,

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Va’era Exodus 6:2-9:35
Psalm 46

Famous for its assurance that G-d is our Refuge, Psalm 46 reminds us both what it looks like for G-d to be our Refuge, and why we need Him to be so. Written for the sons of Korach, the musical instructions for this Psalm is that it should be performed on "Alamot," Remember from our introduction that "Alamot" could refer either to high-pitched musical instrumentation or to soprano voices. When we combine the possibility that this Psalm may have been sung by children with the imagery of G-d, the Masculine Helper in times of trouble, the Refuge, and Fortress, Who comes to the defense of His city, which is referred to in feminine terms (see verse 6), we are presented with a very touching picture. (Note: The CJB doesn’t reflect the feminine pronouns in verse 6, but older versions, like the KJV, do.) The high-pitched voices remind us that we are as helpless as children, and how we desperately need our Refuge. They also remind us that HaShem calls us to have the trust and faith of little children (Matthew 18:3). How is G-d our Refuge?

Verses 2, 8, and 12 of Psalm 46 proclaim G-d as our Refuge. Though mentioned three times, the composer of this Psalm uses two different words. Verse 2 says: "G-d is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." The word for "refuge" in this verse is "machaseh." It carries the connotation of being a protection, having more the idea of being a shelter. Verses 8 and 12 both proclaim: "[ADONAI-Tzva'ot] is with us, our fortress, the G-d of Ya'akov. ([Selah])" (verse 8) In other versions of Scripture, the word "refuge" is used instead of "fortress." This word, "misgav," is a high place of security that is inaccessible to capture. When we put these two words together, we begin to see the nuances of what it means that G-d is our Refuge.

Whoever composed the Gospel hymn "A Shelter in the Time of Storm" must have been familiar with the word "machaseh" as "refuge." In the Torah portion for this week, we see how HaShem is the "Machaseh" for Yisrael as He shelters them from the majority of plagues suffered by Egypt (Exodus 8:18-19). Later, we will see how HaShem is "Misgav" for Yisrael when He brings them out of the land of Egypt and drowns Pharaoh’s armies in the Sea of Reeds. HaShem is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is still the Machaseh and the Misgav to all who call upon Him. All we need to do is run to Him and stay in Him. As it is written: "The name of [ADONAI] is a strong tower; a righteous person runs to it and is raised high []above danger[] ["misgav"]." (Proverbs 18:10 word in brackets and italicized mine) "That is why they are before G-d's throne. "Day and night they serve him in his Temple; and the One who sits on the throne will put his [Sh'khinah] upon them [Machaseh]. They will never again be hungry, they will never again be thirsty, the sun will not beat down on them, nor will any burning heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will shepherd them, will lead them to springs of living water, and G-d will wipe every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:15-17, word and emphasis in brackets mine) Sheltering us and being our high place of security, HaShem is our Refuge in every conceivable way.

Shalom uv'racha,

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Shemot Exodus 1:1-6:1
Psalm 99

With this week’s Torah portion containing such sorrow and suffering, the majestic anthem of praise contained in Psalm 99 is a striking contrast. Furthermore, verse 8 foreshadows the atonement Messiah Yeshua would accomplish.

Psalm 99:8 says: "[ADONAI] our G-d, you answered them. To them you were a forgiving G-d, although you took vengeance on their wrongdoings." More literally, this verse could be rendered, "HaShem our G-d, you answered them. You were the G-d Who bears their sins and avenges their wrongdoings." (Note: I apologize to the grammarians among us, but good Hebrew makes for bad English.) How can HaShem bear sin and yet still avenge wrongdoing? It is only in the perfect work of the Lamb of G-d Who takes away the sin of the world that such a mighty feat is accomplished. This Psalm presents another principle to us the importance of which will become more evident as we continue through the Torah cycle, coming across technicalities and things hard to understand.

Verses 6-7 declare: "Moshe and Aharon among his [cohanim] and Sh'mu'el among those who call on his name called on [ADONAI], and he answered them. He spoke to them in the column of cloud; they kept his instructions and the law that he gave them." The word used for "law" is "chok," or "statute." Hebrew contains a plethora of words relating to G-d’s instructions. According to Genesis 26:5, Torah contains four categories of instructions which Avraham kept: HaShem’s charge (mishmeret), commandments (mitzvot), statutes (chukot), and laws (torot). Chukot or statutes are instructions HaShem gives us for which we don’t know the reason. These can include the dietary laws, purity laws, and any other command that leaves us scratching our heads. Strange as these may seem to be, they often address what it looks like to be a holy people before HaShem. That being said, Psalm 99 gives us a third and crucially important lesson.

The examples of Moshe, Aharon, Sh’mu’el,, and those calling on the Name of HaShem show us that the holy ones of ancient days obeyed the Scriptures whether they understood them or not. In our modern day, we tend to accept the Scripture passages we understand, but if we can’t see the whys and wherefores behind those we don’t comprehend, we tend to dismiss them as antiquated or even misguided. When discussing kashrut, for instance, how many of us have heard the line, "Well, pork was forbidden because people back then didn’t have refrigeration, they didn’t know how to cook it properly, the pigs of today are raised healthier," etc. If we dare to bring up the sensitive subject of purity laws, we hear all sorts of excuses for not keeping them, "They didn’t have soap back then, their hygiene wasn’t all that great, they didn’t know about germs and contagion," and so on. The truth of the matter is that HaShem is smarter than we are. When He commands something, He knows what He’s talking about, and it would behoove us to listen to and obey His Voice. If we wish to be like our Biblical heroes, Moshe, Aharon, Sh’mu’el, David, and so many others, we must realize, as they did, that human understanding is not the ultimate arbiter of halachah. Besides, if we choose to walk in HaShem’s ways, whether we understand their purpose or not, who knows but that He just might decide to give us insight. As it is written: "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me, and the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him." (John 14:21, emphasis mine.) Obey now, understand later.

Shalom uvracha

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Vayechi Genesis 47:28:50:26
Psalm 41

Composed by King David, Psalm 41 contains prophetic foreshadowings of Messiah Yeshua’s betrayal by Y’hudah from Q’riot (Judas Iscariot). (See Psalm 41:10.) Even as this week’s Torah portion opens with Ya’akov’s failing health, so the main theme in this Psalm is how one should and should not treat the poor and the ill. Specifically, the beginning of the Psalm holds some amazing promises for anyone who chooses to care for the poor and ill.

Psalm 41:2-4 says: "How blessed are those who care for the poor! When calamity comes, [ADONAI] will save them. [ADONAI] will preserve them, keep them alive, and make them happy in the land. You will not hand them over to the whims of their enemies. [ADONAI] sustains them on their sickbed; when they lie ill, you make them recover." The Hebrew word for "cares for" is "maskil," which has the idea of giving wise and prudent instruction, or being unusually insightful. The word for "poor" is "dahl," which could also mean "weak, thin, or lowly." The consequent promises of what HaShem will do for the one who cares enough about the poor to relieve their distress are telling. We find seven promises: When calamity (literally "the evil day") comes, HaShem will save the one who relieves the poor, preserve him, keep him alive, make him happy in the land, not give him over to his enemies, sustain and comfort him on his sickbed, and make him recover. Why does HaShem promise all these things? It is because this is what the one caring for the poor has done for them.

We have all heard harrowing stories of people risking their lives to protect other people. We often stand in awe of humble, ordinary believers hiding Jewish people during the Holocaust, or ordinary women giving those who would otherwise die on the streets of Calcutta, India, a safe, clean place to die in dignity. Though we pray we might have such courage should we be called upon to stand in the gap in the same manner, we can make a world of difference right now. Perhaps there is a neighbor struggling to make ends meet, or maybe there is a brother or sister bearing a heavy burden and could use someone who would take the time and lend a listening ear. Maybe there is a boy or girl who doesn’t have both parents, and a good, g-dly mentor could mean the difference between a life of hopelessness and crime, or one of hope and learning to walk in the ways of HaShem. Perhaps someone in our neighborhood is ill and needs our care. This is caring for the poor, the weak, the lowly. Whatever opportunities HaShem brings our way, let us care for those poor ones as though we were caring for our Messiah Yeshua Himself. As it is written: ""Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you made me your guest, I needed clothes and you provided them, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the people who have done what G-d wants will reply, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you our guest, or needing clothes and provide them? When did we see you sick or in prison, and visit you?' The King will say to them, 'Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!'"" Our L-rd Yeshua often comes to us in disguise.

Shalom uvracha,

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Vayigash Genesis 44:18-47:28
Psalm 48

Once again, we come to a Psalm for the sons of Korach (Korah). Prophetic in nature, it praises Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), foretelling its future beauty, peace, and greatness. How do we know this pertains to the future? A cursory glimpse at history shows us that Yerushalayim has all too often been viewed as something for kings and nations to tread underfoot or pluck for their possession at will. The day is coming soon when this will no longer be the case. That being said, we are left wondering: How does this connect with the Torah portion?

Verses 13-15 of Psalm 48 instruct us: "Walk through Tziyon, go all around it; count how many towers it has. Note its ramparts, pass through its citadels, so that you can tell generations to come that such is God, our God forever; he will guide us eternally." Specifically, verse 15 harkens back to Genesis 46:4, where HaShem promises Ya’akov: ""Not only will I go down with you to Egypt; but I will also bring you back here again, after Yosef has closed your eyes."" Tenuous as this connection may be, it nevertheless reminds us that HaShem has chosen to link His Glory with His covenantal love as displayed in the lives of His people. Within Psalm 48:13-15 as quoted above, we also see a number of commands and the reason for obeying them.

Containing five commands, Psalm 48:13-15 tells us to walk through Tziyon, go around it, count its towers, note (lit. "put in your hearts") its ramparts, and pass through its citadels. Why should we conduct such a thorough exploration of Yerushalayim? The answer lies in the end of verse 14: So we can tell the next generation about the greatness and faithfulness of our G-d. Notice the Psalm doesn’t tell us to parrot what someone else has told us. It commands us to experience Yerushalayim for ourselves. This is comparable to our walk with HaShem.

It is not enough to go on what someone says to us about HaShem. Though our journey most often starts out with someone proclaiming the Good News of Redemption to us, that is only the very beginning. In order to have a convincing testimony, we must experience Him as thoroughly as humanly possible for ourselves. Believe me, the generation following will see through any falsehood or insincerity in our words and lives. Besides, HaShem, in His Grace, allows each of us to experience Him in our own unique way within the bounds of His Word. Like multiple facets of a diamond, He chooses to display different aspects of His Character through each of us.

In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis puts it this way, "What can be more a man’s own than this new name which even in eternity remains a secret between G-d and him? [See Revelation 2:17.] And what shall we take this secrecy to mean? Surely, that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that G-d, loving all infinitely, should love each differently?" As we consider the testimony G-d has so graciously begun to write upon the tablets of each of our hearts, let us celebrate the myriad different ways He chooses to reveal Himself in us. He does this not for our benefit alone, but for those who are looking to see the reality of HaShem in our lives today. As it is written: "Why do I persevere through it all? For the sake of those who have been chosen, so that they too may obtain the deliverance that comes through the Messiah Yeshua, with eternal glory." (2 Timothy 2:10) Let us each meditate on how HaShem has shown His Love to us personally (Psalm 48:10-11) so we can confidently share our unique story with the generation to come.

Shalom uvracha

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