Understanding Torah

What is Torah? Does it still apply to our lives? Can we come to know the mystery and wisdom that is contained in these books? If you have wanted to know answers, listen to the many experienced teachers on Hebrew Nation who will help guide you in coming to know the Creator of the Universe.

Latest Podcasts in Understanding Torah

Now Is The Time with Rabbi Steve Berkson | Are You Covenanted? Part 41

Now Is The Time with Rabbi Steve Berkson | Are You Covenanted? Part 41

In one of his letters to the Corinthians Paul talks about the cup that Yeshua gave to his disciples and said, this is my blood of the renewed covenant. (1 Cor 11:25) Why was Paul talking about this cup? What does it have to do with the covenant? What was the issue in...

Dr Hollisa Alewine – Footsteps of Messiah 106 (Getting Stoned)

Dr Hollisa Alewine – Footsteps of Messiah 106 (Getting Stoned)

Getting Stoned

Biblically, that is.

Torah contains many commandments. Some of those are positive, “you shalls,” and some are negative, “you shall nots.” Most frequently, the negative commandments carry tangible punishments such as restitution, whiplashes, hanging, or even stoning. Sometimes no punishment is prescribed, or a vague phrase, “he shall be cut off from his people.” It has been speculated to be banishment or shunning, and some sources say this is a Divine punishment, not a human one.

Let’s take a closer look at stoneable offenses, which will help us to understand a Divine punishment in John’s Revelation.

“You shall also say to the sons of Israel: ‘Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones.’” (Le 20:2)
“Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.” (Le 20:27)
“Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death….Then Moses spoke to the sons of Israel, and they brought the one who had cursed outside the camp and stoned him with stones. Thus the sons of Israel did, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.” (Le 24:16, 23)
“Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day…Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.” (Nu 15:32-36)

Idolatry, dark arts, blasphemy, and desecration of the Shabbat are the most explicit of the commandments that carry a death penalty of stoning. An additional commandment against adultery is linked to idolatry:

Thus they went in to Oholah and to Oholibah, the lewd women. But they, righteous men, will judge them with the judgment of adulteresses and with the judgment of women who shed blood, because they are adulteresses and blood is on their hands. ‘For thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Bring up a company against them and give them over to terror and plunder. The company will stone them with stones and cut them down with their swords; they will slay their sons and their daughters and burn their houses with fire. Thus I will make lewdness cease from the land, that all women may be admonished and not commit lewdness as you have done. Your lewdness will be requited upon you, and you will bear the penalty of worshiping your idols; thus you will know that I am the Lord GOD.’” (Ezekiel 23:44-49)

The Ezekiel passage is addressed to two nations in their state of apostasy, Oholah (Northern tribes of Israel) and Oholibah (Judah). They are also called mystically “Babylon” and “Egypt” because they carried with them the adulteries/idolatries of Egypt and Babylon and continued to practice them. Their example was a message to other “women,” or nations.

The vital transition in Revelation is that first Israel is warned through the “moedic memos” to the Seven Assemblies of Revelation. Next, those nations from which they carried the adulterous idolatries are judged. The smaller to greater pattern may also be seen in Zechariah 14:17 when he prophesies that the commandment that initially was specific to Israel of going up to Jerusalem for the foot festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot will extend to the other nations in the millennium.

It then explains why John prophesies in the Revelation to the world that they will suffer the same sentences applied to Israel for the “stoning” offenses. As those nations transition to King Yeshua’s rule over the earth, they, like Pharaoh, will suffer stoning for stubborness concerning control of Israel and the commandments of Adonai.

To understand how stoning was performed, we have to erase our memories of high school reading assignments such as “The Lottery” or news images of men stoning women in Afghanistan. While throwing stones at someone until they are dead is one way of stoning, the Biblical method is rarely explained outside of Judaism.

The Jewish understanding of how to perform stoning is rooted in Moses’ warning at Sinai to protect the people from the hailstones by which they would be stoned if they approached the mountain:

“And you shall set bounds around it for the people, saying, ‘Guard yourself from ascending the mountain or touching its edge; whoever touches the mountain shall surely die. A hand shall not touch it, for he shall be stoned or he shall be cast down; whether animal or person he shall not live; when the blast of the ram’s horn is drawing out, they will ascend the mountain.” (Ex 19:12-13)

Judicial orders of stoning in ancient times consisted of first, pushing the guilty one off a high place, such as a cliff. This was the “casting down.” If the person were to somehow survive the fall, then he or she would be stoned, sometimes placing a heavy rock on the chest to prevent breathing. First the fall, second the stones.

Exodus 9:25 was a plague of hail in Egypt which affected unbelieving man and beast: “Now therefore send, bring your livestock and whatever you have in the field to safety. Every man and beast that is found in the field and is not brought home, when the hail comes down on them, will die.”’” (v. 19)

This is just after a pestilence upon the beasts of Egypt (but not of the prepared Hebrews) which knocked them off their feet (Re 2:22-23). Likewise, those following the idolatrous teaching in Thyatira, which corresponds to the fourth feast of Shavuot, will be thrown on a sickbed and afflicted with pestilence for eating things offered to idols. Egypt and Babylon. Fallen, fallen. The unprepared “believers” and the rebellious world: fallen, fallen.

This equivalency sounds very familiar from the Revelation of John, which describes those who conform themselves to the image of the beast.

The nations are judged at the blowing of the shofar at Yom Teruah in the fall, whereas Shavuot, the conclusion of Pesach, is the warning to the righteous among all nations to prepare. If prepared by “holiness and washing” (Ex 19:14), they will be prepared to cross the boundary and ascend the mountain at Yom Teruah without fear of stoning or being cast down.

Put that in the context of ascending into the cloud, “going up” as the resurrection, then it makes sense why Israel could not ascend until a specific shofar was heard, the Great Shofar of Yom Teruah that accompanies Yeshua’s return.

It is the plague of the Seventh Angel, corresponding to Shabbat and Sukkot, that stones the nations of the earth. If we read the context of Revelation 16, it references Babylon, recalling the Tower of Bavel when mankind agreed to challenge the boundary of heaven to achieve eternal life. Their attempt to approach the mountain without holiness and washing results in this:

“And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.” (Re 16:21)

Egypt and Babylon were the sources of the idolatry-adultery of Israel and Judah. Egypt handed off the authority of the serpent to the first beast kingdom, Babylon. Israel and Judah will be judged first. The righteous among them will wash themselves and their “clothes” (garment of salvation, robes of righteous deeds) and be prepared to go up to the mountain at Shavuot (not saying they will).

The nations and the lukewarm among Israel and Judah will hear the Great Shofar at Yom Teruah, yet not be prepared to ascend. If they try, they will be “stoned.” What would keep them from ascending, or worse yet, being “stoned”?

Adultery/idolatry, dark arts, blaspheming, and profaning Shabbat are all associated with the punishment of stoning.

Warn, judge, cast down, stone.

Yeshua uses the language of Yom Teruah, when he comes like a thief in the night, to warn the world to be “awake” on Judgment Day. Yom Teruah is the opening of the books, and Yom HaKippurim is the closing ten days later, a period known at the Terrible Days, the Great and Terrible Day of Adonai:

“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.” (Re 16:15)

The preparation for Shavuot at Sinai to receive the Torah included washing one’s clothes. This warning was given through Moses. The Torah.

The clothes must then be “kept,” or guarded, shamar. This guards the person’s body. Likewise, the preparation for Yom Teruah is to stay awake: “Awake you sleeper, arise from the dead…”  The warning is to “keep” one’s clothes, which were washed to prepare for Shavuot, all the way to the Great Shofar, the Resurrection of the Dead at Yom Teruah.

Discerning the Body of the Bride on Shabbat is to guard the first of the moedim, to guard one’s clothes. Guarding one’s clothes from Re 16:15 has a Hebrew cognate, shamar, which is also used in the “wedding ring” of Shabbat as shamor et yom ha-shabbat:

“Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you.” (Dt 5:12)

??????? ???????? ????????? ??????????? ????????? ??????? ?????? ?????????

It is because of this warning of stoning at Shavuot that Jewish scholars scrupulously read guidelines concerning stoning offenses in the Torah. “He shall be stoned or he shall be cast down” (Ex 19:13 Artscroll) explains how the death sentence is executed. 

If a person is observed committing a stonable offense, he should be warned, just as the Israelites were warned to wash and keep themselves and their garments until the Presence was revealed on the mountain.

The beast will try to “ascend” in rebellion, not obedience, with the stonable offense of blasphemy:

There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. (Re 13:5-6)

Adultery/idolatry, dark arts, blasphemy, Sabbath-breaking.

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts. (Re 9:20-21)

The offender is warned first. If he does not repent (stop), then he is judged. When he is found guilty, he is stoned. The very presence of believers who obey the Word of Adonai and proclaim Yeshua’s testimony serves as a warning to the nations. Those “lukewarm” believers who are a little like obedient Israel and a little like the rebellious world will be assigned a place with unbelievers, at least for a time. (Lk 12:46)

They failed to warn the idolators, magic-workers, blasphemers, and Sabbath-breakers. Maybe they’ve even engaged in it themselves like the Thyatirans. What we do, how we walk before others is the testimony of Yeshua that can warn the world and protect them from falling down and from the hailstones of judgment. Why wouldn’t the Master be angry when He returns if His own witnesses have treated His Shabbat casually?

Those sentenced by the court to be stoned are

First pushed down from a high stoning place. The fall may kill them.
Should he survive the fall, he will be stoned with stones.

Yes, as Israel is judged, so will the nations follow quickly:

“The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell…” (Re 16:19)

First they will be warned like Pharaoh with plagues. Then they will fall. Then they will be stoned.

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,

Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,

Which I have reserved for the time of distress,

For the day of war and battle? (Job 38:22-23)

The message to Laodicea, the Seventh Assembly, is to not think that being “lukewarm” concerning the Shabbat would adequate covering to survive the Presence that is encountered at the resurrection of the dead in the cloud on the Mountain.

It isn’t.

It wasn’t in the wilderness, and it won’t be when we hear the Great Shofar. Yeshua gives the warning:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” (Re 3:15-19)

Every Shabbat could be the most important Shabbat of your life. We’ve been warned. Don’t get stoned. Why else would the most important number in Revelation be seven? We’ve seen the Words. We’ll hear the sound. Soon, we will see the sounds.

Mark Call – Parsha “Tazria” teaching from Shabbat Shalom Mesa

Mark Call – Parsha “Tazria” teaching from Shabbat Shalom Mesa

Here's another one of those paraschot that just seems to be SO "old testament," and that has perhpas even been used as a poster child for "done away with." After all, it's a 'disease' that hasn't been seen for centuries, except in a few Bible movies, and isn't really...

Now Is The Time with Rabbi Steve Berkson | Are You Covenanted? Part 40

Now Is The Time with Rabbi Steve Berkson | Are You Covenanted? Part 40

On what issue do Christians and those who are Messianic Torah Observant agree? How did Abraham obey Torah before Mt. Sinai? (Genesis 26:4-5) What is the whole point of Torah observance? When Yeshua gave his disciples the bread and wine, saying this is the new covenant...

Dr Hollisa Alewine – Footsteps of Messiah 105 (One Size Fits All)

Dr Hollisa Alewine – Footsteps of Messiah 105 (One Size Fits All)

One Size Fits All


“One Size Fits All!”

We’ve probably all been duped by that assurance! Sure it fits, as long as you don’t mind sleeves so long you could make it into a straitjacket!

One size definitely doesn’t fit all. Do we trust the ad enough to order it online? Do we hire a personal shopper who knows our taste, our height, our weight, body shape, even arm length?

How about prayer? Does one size fit all?

That’s a common question even though it is not usually worded that way.

Frequently I hear objections to Jewish prayer as vain repetition. It’s an uninformed way of looking at it, but we often simply repeat what someone who we respected told us. As we allow the Ruach HaKodesh to turn our spiritual life upside down repeatedly, that may be one area that turns.

To help coach new-to-Torah believers in the basics of Jewish prayer, I’ve written books such as Standing With Israel: A House of Prayer for All Nations, Messianic Shabbat Service, and Creation Gospel Workbook Six: Hebrew Prayer and Worship Traditions. Rather than cover that ground again, I thought I would reiterate one of the principles of Hebrew prayer.

Although the basic daily, feast, and Shabbat prayers are fixed and do not change, they do not need to. The Temple service was the same. Fixed. As the daily prayers took the place of the Temple services after its destruction, they too, were fixed.

There is room in the Amidah prayers for spontaneous, personal conversation with Adonai. The point of Hebrew prayer is that the person is transformed with each prayer. When I pray the Amidah in the evening, I am not the same person who prayed it that morning. The conversation with Adonai changed me. As immersion into Messiah Yeshua makes me a new person, so does the fire of the Ruach burn me on the altar each day.

This is why it is so difficult to advise someone on which siddur (prayer book) to purchase. It’s kind of like picking out someone else’s clothes, especially if you don’t know them personally. I’d need to know several things:

1. Do you want Hebrew text, English, or both?

2. Do you want an English transliteration?

3. Do you need a daily siddur, Shabbat siddur, or a combination of both?

4. Do you want a Messianic siddur?

5. Large print, or are you good with a font the size of a gnat’s tattoo in the pocket size?

You get the gist.

This week’s Ulpan-Or newsletter on the Torah portion is an excellent illustration of the personal relationship with prayer. The ashes from altar that burn down from the previous day are symbolically placed beside it. Today’s sacrifice will be a new one. Today’s prayers will be new because we are new, re-born of fire and water. With their permission to reproduce, I’ve included Ulpan-Or’s lesson below:


This Shabbat we will read Torah Portion “Tzav”.

In our Torah Portion Tzav, G?d instructs Moses to command Aaron and his sons regarding their duties who offer the offerings on the altar in the Sanctuary.

The fire on the altar had to be kept burning at all times.

It is interesting to notice that each and every morning, the first order of the day in the Holy Temple was for the priest to remove a small portion of the ashes from the altar and place it on the floor just next to the altar.

Why particularly the priest had to start each day with removing ashes from the previous day?

What was the purpose of this ritual?

The purpose of this ritual was not merely to tidy up the ashes left over from the fire that had burned all night. The priest only had to remove a very small symbolic amount of ash.

And, in fact, after the first priest would remove a small portion of the ashes, the other priests would place the remainder of the ashes in a large heap in the center of the altar.

Why is it so important that it’s the first ritual performed in the Temple, – the first step in the service of G?d?

What is the significance of lifting and removing the symbolic amount of ashes?

Let us think. What are ashes?

These are what is left over from the previous day’s service.

Your yesterday, may have been perfect.

Yesterday, you may have achieved a lot with your talents and strengths.

But, …. That was yesterday.

However, if you do the same thing today, you do not grow spiritually.

If you repeat what you did yesterday – then you are merely stuck in the past.

You remain the “Old You”.

So, the ashes that represent “the old me” must be removed, in order to clear the way for “the new me,” that today will actualize today’s greater potential.

That’s why the first step in serving G?d each morning is the realization that that the ashes that represent “the old me” must be removed, in order to clear the way for “the new me,”

One must tell himself – Tomorrow will be totally different – not just “a bit different,” The next day’s potential would be so much greater.

Unlike in the Beatles’ song “Yesterday”, one should not long for yesterday, but rather look onward for a better tomorrow.

Remembering the exodus from Egypt is so central to Judaism.

Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim – ?????, and it means “constraints.”

So, if today you are in the same spiritual space that you were in yesterday, you are in Egypt – you are constrained.

The verse in the Torah insists that you “remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life.”

Each morning when we wake up, we need to remember to symbolically remove the ashes of yesterday and not limit ourselves to the person we were yesterday.

As Dr. Joe Dispenza says in his book: “Breaking the Habit of being yourself: “If you want a new outcome, you will have to break the habit of being yourself, and reinvent a new self.”

Mark Call – Parsha “Shmini” teaching from Shabbat Shalom Mesa

Mark Call – Parsha “Shmini” teaching from Shabbat Shalom Mesa

Parsha "Shmini" (Leviticus chapters 9 through 11) appears to be an unusual combination. It begins on the 'eighth day,' with the climax of the consecration of the priests, Aaron and his sons, and only appears to end when "there came forth fire from before YHVH." Those...

Torah Teachers’ Round Table – Tanakh Edition – Isaiah chapter 29 concl

Torah Teachers’ Round Table – Tanakh Edition – Isaiah chapter 29 concl

The teachers complete the study of Isaiah chapter 29, and this week that includes the warning from Yahushua in Mark chapter 7, "well did Isaiah prophesy of you..." ...because most of the 'sun-god-day' churches STILL just pay "lip service" to Him, but then "make the...

Now Is The Time with Rabbi Steve Berkson | Are You Covenanted? Part 39

Now Is The Time with Rabbi Steve Berkson | Are You Covenanted? Part 39

What are the “shepherds” spoken about in Jeremiah 23? Why were they given a scathing rebuke? What’s the difference between esteeming self and self-esteem? How does discouragement, worry and stress relate to the covenant? Ezekiel chapter 37 talks about the prophet...

Dr Hollisa Alewine – Footsteps of Messiah 104 (Whiplash)

Dr Hollisa Alewine – Footsteps of Messiah 104 (Whiplash)

Violence in Eden: Whiplash

Although its connection to Yom HaKippurim (A Day like Purim) is more easily heard, the story of Purim in the scroll of Esther holds references to all the feasts. In fact, Purim holds a key to Passover that is very practical. It has to do with how the danger started: evil words. Chametz. Leaven. When Queen Esther calls the Jews to fast with her against the evil, it is during the days of matzah! The antidote to the violence of evil words is holy words, words spoken in prayer and fasting. By fasting and praying with unleavened tongues, the power of evil was broken.

In our “Benjamin Will Not Bow” newsletter, we searched back to Eden to find the source of slander, gossip, and separating brothers in conflict. Ezekiel describes the Edenic violation as a kind of violence. Indeed, today, when people profess hatred toward others, it often leads to actual violence. It “spreads out” two human beings made in the image of Elohim that were not created to be apart.

Ezekiel 28:12 “Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,“You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the ruby, the topaz and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared.14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there.You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire.15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you.16 By the abundance of your trade (rakal) you were internally filled with violence (malu chamas), and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God and I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.17 Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you.

It is rather odd that “trade” led to “violence,” or chamas. Perhaps there is more to the word than is translated. What is “trade” in Hebrew?

Rakhal- “…go about, from one to another”

There is much debate on the identity of the “King of Tyre.”

In this type of prophecy, the “villain” may be an archetype of a certain sinner. The tip-off is that it is anachronistic, completely out of the time period. Just as often it will work on the positive side, such as a later person coming “in the spirit of Elijah,” for instance.

This violent violator walked among ”fiery stones” until he was cast out because of his “trade,” rakhal. The same accusation is made against Babylon in Revelation. The Adversary, the serpent, goes back and forth between Adonai and His People to accuse.

The trafficker has two connotations: go about for spice trading and slandering. A High Priest is to go about with spices for atonement, not leverage to accuse Israel.

On the other hand, false witness was trafficked to convict Yeshua.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (1 Co 5:6-13)

If only Adam and Eve hadn’t associated with an immoral “person,” the slanderer! Why are we so hesitant to confront a slanderer? We’re not supposed to even eat with one…it’s quite a sour fruit even though it looks juicy.

A “reviler” as Paul describes is G3060 ???????? loídoros

The KJV translates Strong’s G3060 in the following manner: railer (1x), reviler (1x).

Its Hebrew cognate is from din, judgment:

madon ??????

?????? H4066 from H1777; a contest or quarrel:—brawling, contention(-ous), discord, strife.

One who quarrels is one who is both arrogant and “leavened,” prone to distort the truth. The serpent in the Garden was a trafficker of falsely twisted information.

Slander is a reviling truth to separate humans from Elohim and one another. It’s probably not the whole story, just enough to deceive. We must remove these things before Passover. It is chametz!

During the search for leaven, and especially the seven days of Matzah, beware of slander, gossip, and lies. If you have to tape your mouth shut and wear noise-canceling headphones, do it!

Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil,

who spreads strife. H4066 (Pr 6:14)


A perverse man spreads ?????? strife, H4066

And a slanderer separates intimate friends. (Pr 16:28)


Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,

So is a contentious H4066 man to kindle strife. (Pr 26:21)


An arrogant man stirs up strife, H4066

But he who trusts in the LORD will prosper. (Pr 28:25)

Stirring up strife is evidence we don’t trust Adonai in the situation. It is “tongue-leaven”:

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? (Ja 3:5-11)

It is so clear from James’ warning that pride is what sets the stage for the evil tongue and all the abominations that follow. Is Passover just about finding leavened products in our homes, or is it about finding the arrogance that leavens us?

15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.
16 You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD.
17 ‘You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor but shall not incur sin because of him.
18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Le 19:15-18)

Are there any other commandments in Scripture that we so predictably apply to other people?

You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people…[Sefer HaChinnuch to Le 19:16]

The Jewish sages explain:

“This means that if we hear a person telling something bad about his fellow, we should not go and tell him, ‘So and so is saying this-and-this about you’ unless it is our intention to remove or avoid injury or to stop a quarrel. Our Sages of blessed memory said of the word rakkil (talebearer, slanderer): rakh, soft (kind), to one, and harsh to another. Another meaning: do not be as a Rokhel (peddler), loading up with words and going to peddle them…evil gossip and its partner, slander…bring death to the one who says it, the one who receives it, and the one about whom it is told-but most of all to the one who receives it…he is as one who violates a royal command…”

This explains the violence done by the serpent. He “peddled” words to Eve. To this day, he “peddles” words back and forth from human beings to the Throne, most regrettably, even back and forth from the people of Adonai to His Throne. He accuses us because we continue to load up his peddler’s cart with our word-poisons against one another.

The same tongues that could make peace instead create distance, killing relationships. Just as Adam and Even were separated from the Presence in the Garden, so we continually hide our faces from one another. One day, the Adversary will have no more words from our lips to peddle, and he will be cast down to earth.

This is our goal in preparing for Passover. Make peace. It will not make itself, for peace must be made. Peace is not a spontaneous miracle, but humility in two parties who build it together. Adonai makes peace in the Heavens; it is our job to make peace on earth.

What is the Torah’s punishment for a slanderer? It requires no whiplashes from the beit din, but instead, Adonai Himself is thought to send agents of judgment with “whiplashes.”

Whiplashes are frequently the punishment for violations of the mishpatim, mostly for violation of a negative commandment. Whiplashes can be both literal by human hands or through Divine judgment:

If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. He may beat him forty times but no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes. (Dt 25:1-3)

In the case above, the dispute has a clear innocent person and guilty person. Righteous and innocent. Even the punishment must not be degrading, a mercy the wicked did not extend to the righteous. Slander, however, incurs Divine whiplashes. Consider this slander committed by the ten evil spies concerning the Land itself. By using the truth about the Land of Israel, they turned the hearts of the people against it!

According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. (Nu 13:4)

Moses didn’t give anyone a whipping over the slander and the peddling of malicious talk. Yet, just as in Eden, the sentence was death. The slanderers would die off in forty years, a year for a day. These were Divine “whiplashes.” It is as if Adonai knew the degree of malice each man arrogantly kindled with his tongue, and He set the forty-year death time-table accordingly. Some were executed sooner, some later in the journey. In the graphic below, you can see that whiplashes are sometimes seen in Scripture as the words of a malicious tongue, yet also the judgment of Adonai Himself.

Yeshua describes it this way:

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (Lk 12:42-48)

When is it okay to be a tattletale? Mordechai demonstrates: When the truth will save a life. By telling of the plot to assassinate the king, he saved his life. Queen Esther does it more boldly: she accuses wicked Haman in his very presence and saves the lives of all the Jews in Persia!

The assassins and wicked Haman both set out to do the same thing with their tongues: kill. Given time, they would have completed the killing task that their tongues began. They arrogantly decided who had a right to live. So it is with slander. We arrogantly decide who has a right to live and begin to flog our enemies with gossip and slander to kill their reputations.

In Vayigash, Judah atoned for Benjamin, not knowing he was innocent of the charge. In Esther, Benjamin (Mordechai and Esther are Benjaminites) atones for Judah. Atonement can be a painful thing because peacemaking carries a risk of personal loss.

So when we see a peddler’s cartful of words rolling our way, we know what to do. Even though the king was an unwitting receiver of the slander against the Jews, he did receive some lashes. The trouble it started resulted in a number of deaths when he granted the Jews the authority to defend themselves against attackers. The king is supposed to protect his people, not set them up for harm. He received the words, and death happened.

How much more will those suffer who know better than to receive the words, yet they purchase the juicy fruit of slanderous lips. Like Yeshua said, it’s violence, beating up fellow-servants. And they thought it cost them nothing. Free fruit juice.

Whiplash is coming when that cart skids to a stop before the King and Judge of all the earth. May we unload any apples of our own in that cart before Passover.

Mark Call – Parsha “Tzav” teaching from Shabbat Shalom Mesa

Mark Call – Parsha “Tzav” teaching from Shabbat Shalom Mesa

Parsha "Tzav" (Leviticus chapters 6 through 8) begins with the word 'command,' but this time specifically Aaron and his sons, having to do with some more detail of the offerings that they are going to make. And, again, there is something for us to learn here, too, but...

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