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Yom Kippur | The Day of Atonement

By Julie Stahl

“Be careful to celebrate the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of that same month—nine days after the Festival of Trumpets. You must observe it as an official day for holy assembly, a day to deny yourselves and present special gifts to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:27).

Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish year—the “Day of Atonement.” 

The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the “Ten Days of Awe.” This is your chance, so to speak, to get your heart and relationships right before Yom Kippur. According to Jewish tradition, this is the time that one’s name is either inscribed or not in the Book of Life for another year.

“These are heavy, heavy days of repentance, reflection, and seeking God’s face as we prepare to go stand before Him, in a state of fasting, a state of humility on the day of Yom Kippur,” says Boaz Michael, founder of First Fruits of Zion.

In some traditions, worshippers pray Selichot or slichot (“forgiveness”) prayers as much as a month before Rosh Hashanah to make sure they are prepared for that day.

“The Bible speaks about Yom Kippur in terms of being a great day of judgment, of us standing before God. It’s traditionally, according to a Jewish perspective, a time in which we will literally be standing before the Father on that Day of Judgment,” says Michael.

Comments Rabbi Levi Welton, “On Yom Kippur there are five ways the Rabbis say one must ‘afflict the soul.’ The primary one is a 25-hour fast from all food and drink, including water. Others include not wearing leather shoes, not using lotions or creams, not washing or bathing, and no intimate relations.”

It’s customary to wear white on this day. In some traditions, men wear a white robe (kittel in Yiddish). That tradition comes from Isaiah 1:18, where God says, “Come now, let’s settle this. … Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”

Yom Kippur has five prayer services throughout the day, more than any other Jewish holiday.

“The Viddui is the central prayer of confession and forgiveness of the Jewish people on Yom Kippur. And it’s a prayer that they pray not only on behalf of themselves but on behalf of all the Jewish people around the world,” says Reverend David Pileggi, rector of Christ Church in Jerusalem’s Old City.

He says that the Viddui prayer recognizes the words of Jeremiah: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

“One thing we learn from the Jewish people about Yom Kippur is that it’s not enough to say you’re sorry. You have to confess, say you’re sorry, and then at the same time take practical steps to change your behavior,” says Pileggi.

He said there’s a parallel between Yom Kippur and the teachings of Jesus.

“We have a saying of Jesus, don’t we? It says, if you bring your gift to the altar and your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go and be reconciled with your brother. Jewish tradition says, ‘Go get your relationship right with your neighbor, with your brother, with your family member, forgive and be reconciled, and then on the Day of Atonement, when you begin to fast and pray and to confess, God will hear your prayer and forgive you as you have forgiven others,’” says Pileggi.

“It’s the teaching of Jesus and it’s also something that’s part and parcel of Jewish tradition, and here the two line up very nicely,” Pileggi adds.

In the synagogue, the Book of Jonah is read.

“Jonah is a symbol of repentance. He’s commanded by God to call the people of Nineveh to repent, but he himself was struggling through his own reflections about who receives God’s judgment and who receives God’s mercy,” says Michael.

“So, Jonah can so often symbolize our own actions—doubting God, disobeying God, and determining who’s worthy of His redemption. But, like Jonah, we’re invited to repent of our disobedience and prejudices so that we can rejoin God in building His kingdom,” adds Michael.

He affirms that Yom Kippur holds a deep meaning even for those who believe in Jesus.

“It’s through the work of Messiah that our sins are taken away. He is our great atonement. I think this is a beautiful biblical understanding for us to affirm and hold onto in the context of our daily lives, but at the same time, we also need to be reminded to live a life of repentance,” Michael concludes.

HOLIDAY GREETINGS: G’mar Chatimah Tovah (“May you be sealed for good in the Book of Life”) and Tzom Kal (used to wish others an “easy fast”).

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel full-time for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism at Regent University; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. She is also an integral part of CBN News’ award-winning show, Jerusalem Dateline, a weekly news program providing a biblical and prophetic perspective to what is happening in Israel and the Middle East.

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Jonah’s Mistake—and Ours?

By Mark Gerson

There is a magnificent term in boxing: “pound for pound.” It is a sophisticated concept acknowledging that talent and accomplishment cannot be measured by the simple fact that larger fighters could beat smaller opponents. By saying that one fighter is better than another “pound for pound,” the analyst is assessing who does the most with what he has. 

The same concept could be applied in literature, even sacred books. Indeed, it should be. The person of faith must confront a tragic irony: God gave us a world so full of remarkable people, places, ideas, and causes that we will die not having addressed even a fraction of the deeply worthy things that He made available to us. Consequently, if we can find something that is captivating, wise and concise—if we can identify something that is divinely efficient—we should rush to it. 

So, what is, word for word, the best book ever? What book inspires the most questions and supplies the most wisdom? What book, equalizing the time commitment, best guides us to a happier, better and more meaningful life? It does not really matter what the best is, as there is enough time in almost any life for a serious consideration of far more than one. Still, I’ll posit one that might be number one and should be on anyone’s short list: the Book of Jonah. 

The Book of Jonah, which is shorter than this column, has engrossed and entertained children and adults from all three Abrahamic faiths for almost 3,000 years. It has everything that we cherish in a story—conflict (in fact, several of them), transformation, humor, politics, and animals. The story has no real ending. In fact, as Pastor Dr. Paul Osteen notes, Jonah is the only biblical book to end with a question. A story with no ending that ends with a question makes Jonah, in my estimation, the quintessential Jewish story.    

And it has everything we cherish in wisdom literature. This story raises the deepest questions of truth, mercy, repentance, faith, obedience, judgment, partnership, possibility, mission, grace, imperfection, love, religion, prayer, gratitude, responsibility, the personality of God—and the complicated nature of everything meaningful. 

In short: Jonah is dispatched by God to go to Nineveh, the de facto capital of the eighth-century world in which the story takes place. Nineveh was a terror empire, where captives were often crucified, buried alive inside of walls, flayed (with the skin used as wallpaper), and had their noses, ears, fingers, and eyes gouged out. Jonah seems to sense (correctly) that God is going to ask him to tell the Ninevites to repent, and he does everything possible (fleeing, attempting suicide) to avoid that task. He eventually gets to Nineveh and half-heartedly tells the Ninevites to repent, which they do—completely, immediately, and thus entirely improbably. This makes Jonah even more depressed. God, by giving Jonah a plant that he loves and that appears miraculously only through God’s grace, shows His reluctant prophet the value of mercy.

The traditional Jewish and Christian understanding of the story is of God educating Jonah in the need to accept mercy along with truth. But there is a problem. The Ninevites, perhaps after changing for a short time, resumed their evil practices and destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel, possibly in Jonah’s lifetime. The repentance was too good to be true, and the result of Jonah’s prophecy is a catastrophic loss for his people to an evil kingdom and unthinkable suffering along the way. In fact, the Book of Nahum (written a century after Jonah) recounts God’s destruction of Nineveh for the same reasons that account for Jonah’s reluctance.

Was Jonah right to reject his mission? This is one of the many awesome questions raised by this eternal story. But the question for now is a different one. How did Jonah let the situation devolve to where this question could be asked? 

At the beginning of the story, Jonah has one position: God wants me to help extend his mercy too far and bestow it upon an evil empire that (no matter what they say) is not truly serious about repentance. God has another: I love all my children, and there is always a path for a sinner to return to Him. 

This is not the only such knot in the Bible. In Genesis, Rebecca knows that her and Isaac’s eldest child, Esau, is ill-equipped for the responsibility of transmitting the covenant to the next generation. She engineers a ruse to have her younger and qualified son Jacob trick his father into giving him the birthright blessings. The result: Jacob gets the birthright blessings, and the Jewish story can continue. Yet it comes at the cost of destroying the family. Does it have to end this way? Perhaps. But, as far as we are told or can ascertain from the story, Rebecca never discusses the problem with Isaac. When God makes man, he calls us a “speaking spirit”—but Rebecca never uses that capability to address the situation with Isaac. One wonders whether a marital discussion could have led to the same result without a catastrophic cost.

One might posit that Rebecca should have tried to convince Isaac, but convincing God is an entirely different matter. However, there are at least four examples in the Torah when people have a problem with God. Abraham wants God to save Sodom; Moses wants God to change His mind about destroying the Jewish people after the Golden Calf; the men in a state of ritual impurity want to be able to celebrate Pesach; and the daughters of Zelophehad want to be able to inherit in the land despite their gender. In each case, the person (or people) initiates the argument with God, telling God that His position does not cohere with His principle. And in each case, God delightfully changes His mind in accordance with the argument of His creation. In so doing, God is teaching us to believe in the rational facilities He gave us—and showing us that His notion of us being His partner in the world is completely genuine and very real. 

All these examples are available to Jonah, but he does not learn from any of them. He does not stand his ground and argue with God like each of the aforementioned do. Instead, Jonah attempts to flee to Tarshish—the furthest-known place from Nineveh in the ancient world—and keeps attempting to flee through his suicide attempts. 

The tragedy of Jonah could, perhaps, have been avoided if he had been what God wants from all of us and especially His prophets: a partner. What would have happened if Jonah told God, “I understand, from the 13 attributes of yourself that you revealed to Moses, that you are the God of mercy. And I appreciate that. But you also hate evil and cry when the powerful inflict suffering on the powerless. You know about the Ninevites, and you also know how hard it is to genuinely change anyone’s mind: The Pharaoh, when afflicted with plagues, often said that he would let the Jews go—only to change his mind every time. Moreover, you are God and I am a prophet—and so we both know what a future man of God, Dietrich Bonhoffer, will call ‘cheap grace.’ If we offer the Ninevites cheap grace, and they accept it—the result will be torture, mass murder, and irreparable destruction.”   

How would God have answered Jonah? We can only wonder—which is part of the challenge, imperative, and thrill of Torah study. But we are now in the “Ten Days of Repentance” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which is a Jewish season of focused self-reflection and commitment to change. Acknowledging this failure of Jonah, whose story is read in every synagogue on Yom Kippur, leads us to consider: Are we having the hard conversations that are necessary for us to live as God intended? 

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Website: therabbishusband.com
Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

 

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Palestinian Leadership Responds to the Abraham Accord 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Evangelical Christians have long venerated President Harry Truman for his boldness as the first world leader to recognize Israel’s statehood in the United Nations vote on May 14, 1948. Now, 72 years later, another momentous decision has taken place.

When President Trump and a trio of Middle East leaders signed the Abraham Accord last week, it signaled a shift in the region’s alignment. In fact, the two Arab Gulf nations—United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain—disproved a decades-old mantra regarding Arab Palestinians: that an Israeli-Palestinian peace had to occur before any agreements with other Arabs. Clearly, recent events proved that abandoning conventional wisdom forged new pathways in the Middle East. 

The increased willingness to normalize relations with Israel traces back to President Obama’s damaging Iran deal in 2015. In addition to Israel’s security concerns, the Arab Gulf nations also considered the Iran deal an affront since the Persian nation poses a security threat to them. They are further concerned that the Iranian Imams want to take control of the holiest sites in the Muslim world—Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The Arab states grew to realize that Israel was a friend worth having, because Israel can (and has proven it will) stand up to Iran’s relentless quest for a nuclear weapon. They also gained trust in President Trump when he canceled the defective Iran deal and reimposed sanctions. In his speech at the virtual meeting this week at the annual United Nations General Assembly, President Trump once again emphasized, “As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted. They will be tightened.” Israel and the Gulf states once again welcomed the good news.  

Yet with the Abraham Accord, here we are again—with Palestinian political and religious leaders still clinging to their victimhood narrative. Not surprisingly, Palestinian officials erupted in outrage, with accusations from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein. As the Muslim religious leader on the Temple Mount, Hussein issued a fatwa—a religious ruling—thundering, “I forbid UAE Muslims to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque!” (Normalization had opened the door for the Gulf state Muslims to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque.) The Palestinian Authority said the landmark Accord was a “betrayal,” calling the UAE Crown Prince a “tumor” and a “traitor” who had committed “political prostitution.” 

This, despite billions of dollars in aid from Arabs, Europeans, and Americans over the years. In addition, a frustrating succession of failed diplomatic deals since the 1993 Oslo Accords has been met with Palestinians’ broken agreements, insincerity, and/or terrorism. Impatience is growing among Arab nations and even the Palestinian population with President Abbas’s exasperating policy of “a thousand no’s.” Last week Wassem Yousef—a UAE Islamic religious leader—tweeted about Palestinian leadership and other Arabs: “Israel did not destroy Syria; Israel did not burn Libya; Israel did not displace the people of Egypt; Israel did not destroy Libya, and Israel did not tear up Lebanon. Before you Arabs blame Israel, take a look at yourselves in the mirror. The problem is in you.”

Indeed. Abbas’s intransigence results in the loss of opportunities and improvements for his people. He has refused direct negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu since 2009. He continues to mainline the drug of hatred into their textbooks and media, names streets after dead terrorists, and rewards their families with money. Abbas has not held an election since 2005, although his term “ended” in 2009. Meanwhile, the 84-year-old lives in his presidential palace worth more than $13 million.

Despite these obstructions, is there hope anywhere for the Palestinian man, woman, and child on the street? Is peace between Arab Palestinians and Jews possible? 

Pockets of hope do exist. Whether President Abbas changes his destructive policies or not,  Israelis welcome thousands of Palestinians who are acting on their hopes for peaceful coexistence in higher education, business, and medicine.

One hopeful example is what I call “business for peace.” Last year I attended the Israeli Government Press Office’s (GPO) Christian Media Summit. I was delighted that the Barkan Industrial Park in Samaria was on our agenda. While the evangelical Christian community embraces the biblical covenants that Judea and Samaria are Israel’s heartland, they want the Palestinians to have a better life, too. What an encouraging reality! Fourteen industrial zones dot Judea and Samaria and employ some 20,000 Palestinians and 40,000 Israelis. Barkan is the largest such zone with 164 factories. 

One of them, the Lipski Company, gave us a tour around their large factory where plastic and sanitization products are made. The factory pays a good Israeli salary—more than Palestinian Authority jobs. Managerial positions are held by both Palestinians and Jews. All employees receive benefits: pension, recreation, and vacations. CEO Yehuda Cohen described it as “one big family.” He went on to say, “The people want to live in peace. It seems that working together also brings the hearts closer, regardless of ethnic or political identity. I believe that peace will be obtained not through boycotts, but through living together.”

Other hopes find expression in the medical field. For example, Palestinian and Jewish transplant surgeons work together to save lives at Israel’s Hadassah Hospital. Nurses from Gaza are training in Israel. A Jerusalem Post article included this quote, “It’s different than I thought,” said one nurse. “The people are very nice. You have Jews and Palestinians working together. It minimizes the gaps between us.”

On the education front, Palestinians attend Haifa University, Hebrew University, and other Israeli institutions of higher learning. A Palestinian businessman who attended the famous Hebrew University now lectures there.

Thankfully, there are other pockets of hope. It’s reported that five to seven more Gulf Arab states may join the Abraham Accord. With more “sons of Abraham” joining, we pray that Palestinian Arab political and religious leaders will embrace hope instead of victimhood. They would do well to follow the examples of some in their own population to grasp another key—the key of peace that Israelis have long offered.

  • Pray with thanks that peace with several Gulf Arab nations is evolving. “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV). 
  • Pray with gratitude that God has a special love for His Chosen People. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jeremiah 31:3 NASB).
  • Pray that Palestinian leadership will change course on behalf of their population.
  • Pray with recognition that God has also kept His promise for the Arab nations: “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 17:20 NIV). 

We are living in a momentous season of change in the Middle East. Maintain prayers with CBN Israel that “God’s will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. By invitation, she has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit twice. She hosts her devotionals on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Single Mother | Hagra’s Story

She was out of options and out of time. Hagra had worked hard as a single mother to support herself and her 10-year-old son after her husband abandoned them. But she was suddenly stricken with acute renal failure and needed an urgent kidney transplant. Her brother proved to be a perfect match, but her problems didn’t end with a successful surgery. She could no longer work in her physically demanding job as a housekeeper, and Hagra wound up deep in debt.

Thankfully, she eventually met Arik, the head of CBN Israel’s family department, who provided the guidance she needed. He not only helped her sort out her debt; he saw that she was given the appropriate designation as a disabled person—who qualified for a full living allowance. Today, her life is back on track and she’s now able to encourage others.

Because of the generosity of our partners, we were also able to fix up her son’s room in their tiny Tel Aviv apartment, so he’d have a place to sleep and do his homework. Nahum prays daily that his strict non-believing Jewish father—who abandoned them because of his wife’s newfound Christian faith—will soon return. Hagra says, “I am so grateful for Arik and all CBN Israel workers and supporters. My life started over!”

You can be a blessing to so many single moms, like Hagra, providing them with groceries, housing, medical care, financial aid, and job training. You can also give these moms hope and encouragement as they seek to give their children a bright future.

Your special gift today will also provide help and hope to Holocaust survivors, relief to victims of terrorism, food and counseling to new immigrants, and so much more. People in Israel are depending on you. You can make the difference!

GIVE TODAY
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When God Rains on Your Parade

“Elijah the Tishbite, from the inhabitants of Gilad, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word’” (1 Kings 17:1 NKJV).

Nobody likes a prophet. Biblical prophets always communicated inconvenient truths, especially to the political and religious leaders. They saw the world differently. They saw the world the way God did. And their vision often contrasted with that of those around them. They made life uncomfortable because they did not allow abuses of power and people to be ignored or whitewashed. They reminded Israel that obeying God’s commands extended beyond mere cultic religious ritual.

Israel disobeyed God during the reign of King Ahab. Rather than serving God, the Israelites followed after Ba’al, the Phoenician storm god.

The book of Deuteronomy instructed the Israelites, “If you carefully obey my commands I am giving you today, to love the LORD your God and worship Him with all your heart and all your soul, I will provide rain for your land in the proper time, the autumn and spring rains, and you will harvest your grain, wine, and oil” (verses 11:13-14 HCSB). If, however, Israel decided not to obey, then the opposite would happen; namely, the rains would not come and the crops would not be there.

Archaeology of the kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahab and his father Omri suggests that Israel experienced a golden age of sorts during this period. Large building projects, growing wealth, Israel exploiting its strategic location within the region—life in Israel during Ahab’s reign was good. Prosperous. Things were going well.

Then Elijah showed up. He made Ahab’s life difficult. It wasn’t going to rain in Israel for several years except at Elijah’s word.

Kings within the ancient Near East provided a connection between the people and the gods, responsible for the people’s well-being. When Ahab’s wife Jezebel—a Phoenician princess—learned it wasn’t going to rain, she encouraged Israel to worship her god, the storm god Ba’al.

As modern readers of the Bible, we look at Elijah from the position of our comfort. He is God’s man. A hero of the faith. But to Ahab and Israel, he was a pain. His proclamation interrupted their prosperous comfort. No one living in the kingdom of Israel looking around at the prosperity of the kingdom would think anything was wrong. Life’s good. We’re prospering. Surely something is right. But not in the eyes of God, so He sent the prophet, the proclaimer of inconvenient truths.

Within the Bible, God’s pleasure is tied only to our obedience—not the prosperity we find ourselves in within the moment. In the same way, when we find ourselves in want, that is not the sign of His displeasure. God, however, will not tolerate our disobedience forever. He will rain on our parade. Or, in the case of Ahab’s Israel, not rain, which is actually worse.

Do we listen to those inconvenient voices in our lives that challenge us to see things from God’s viewpoint? Do we respond with repentance and obedience? That can make all the difference.

PRAYER

Father, thank You for sending inconvenient voices into our lives, voices that challenge us to see our actions the way You do. Lead us Lord to walk in Your ways, and in all things, to obey You. Amen.

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Rosh Hashanah | Feast of Trumpets

By Julie Stahl

“Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. On the first day of the appointed month in early autumn, you are to observe a day of complete rest. It will be an official day for holy assembly, a day commemorated with loud blasts of a trumpet. You must do no ordinary work on that day. Instead, you are to present special gifts to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:23-25 NLT).

Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year”—the new year. But biblically it’s much more than that. In the book of Leviticus in Hebrew it’s called Yom Hateruah—the day of the blowing of trumpets or ram’s horn (shofar)—the judgment day.

The piercing blast of the shofar is meant to remind the hearer to repent for his sins and make things right with his brothers and sisters. The rabbis say that reconciliation with God and man will confound the enemy.

“It’s something that people connect to their soul to hear the sound of the shofar,” says Eli Ribak, a third-generation shofar maker.

The ram’s horn is used as the traditional shofar because when Abraham showed his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, God provided a ram in the thicket to be used in his place. But the only animal horn that is actually forbidden for use as a shofar is the cow’s horn. That’s because the Jewish people don’t want to remind God of the time Israel worshipped the golden calf in the wilderness.

In some traditions, the shofar is blown in synagogues and at the Western Wall each morning for a month before the holiday to give plenty of time for repentance.

Traditionally, Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of creation, specifically the day God created Adam and Eve. As such, God the Creator is hailed and crowned as “our King” on that day.

Christians often blow the shofar throughout the year, but in Judaism it’s only blown during the month of Elul prior to Rosh Hashanah and at the holiday. It was also blown at the coronation of the kings of Israel, to announce the new king or the coming of the king.

Boaz Michael, founder of First Fruits of Zion, says that’s a foreshadow for those who believe in Jesus.

“And they tell us something, they’re speaking to us, they’re reminding us of something and one of the things they’re reminding us of is the creation of the world, the coming of the King, King Messiah one day at this time, the coronation of his kingdom here on earth,” says Michael. “This is what the shofar is to remind us of and it speaks to us every day when we hear that sound.”

For Christians, there are a number of references in the New Testament referring to the sounding of trumpets: “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31 NKJV). 

Paul also writes, “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed” (1 Corinthians 15:52 NLT). 

The seven trumpets in Revelation also make clear they play a part in the end-time calling.

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days and begins the autumn biblical holiday cycle.

A festive meal at the start of the holiday includes eating apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year; dates—that our enemies would be consumed; pomegranate seeds—that we would bear much fruit; eating round hallah, symbolizing the circle of life and the crown of God’s Kingship; and eating a fish or ram’s head, symbolic of being the head and not the tail in the year to come.

Another custom is called Tashlich, which literally means “to cast away” or “throw away.” This concept comes from Micah 7:19: “Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” 

This is a time of reflection to think about and repent for sins of the previous year and to determine how one could do better in the coming year. During this ceremony, Jewish people stand by a body of water and symbolically cast their sins into the water.

HOLIDAY GREETING: L’Shanah Tovah U’metuka (“May you have a good and sweet new year!”) and Chag Sameach (“Happy holiday!”). 

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel full-time for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism at Regent University; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. She is also an integral part of CBN News’ award-winning show, Jerusalem Dateline, a weekly news program providing a biblical and prophetic perspective to what is happening in Israel and the Middle East. 

 

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The Truth of Multiple Truths

By Mark Gerson

Every generation produces, in unplanned, organic, and ultimately mysterious ways, its own ways of describing the world. Sometimes the outcomes are of only mild curiosity. For instance, perhaps no one knows or cares why the term “groovy” came or went. Other times, it is knowable how expressions started—but not why they persist. We say, “Close, but no cigar,” but imagine a cigar being the prize at a carnival game in 2020! We still refer to projects as having “run out of steam” and tell people to “hold your horses” many generations after we have deployed better transportation solutions. Moreover, we still say that people are “worth their weight in salt” millennia after salt ceased being an important measure of value. 

Consequently, it would be as futile to predict which current expression will last as it would be to decide which new ones will “crop up” (irony noted, for this city dweller). But there is a curious expression that has become ubiquitous in the past couple of years—particularly, but not universally, among young people. It is “your truth”—sometimes offered with the encouragement to “speak your truth.”  

Understood one way, this expression is ridiculous. There is nothing personal about a truth. The truth is always something that exists outside of perception, which is why the experience of human yearning is one of “seeking” the truth. This yearning applies existentially (What is my life about?) and practically (Did the accused commit the crime? Who deserves the commission for the sale?).   

The idea that truth can be personal—that there can be “my truth” and “your truth”—just proclaims the omnipotence of opinion while making the idea of people searching together for truth completely futile. Given that the purpose of such interpersonal engagement is either to discover or to create truth, there is no point to doing so unless objective truth exists independently of individual perspectives and personal opinions. 

Understood another way—and this is not the way that the term “your truth” is customarily used—there can be a deeply profound purpose to conceiving of “my truth.” As Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, the founding CEO of Mechon Hadar, writes, “Understanding something as having multiple meanings is one of the deepest expressions of freedom.”

I participated in an example of Elie’s insight last week during a recording of my podcast, “The Rabbi’s Husband,” where I am in conversation with a guest about a biblical passage of his or her choosing. The guest was Tali Farhadian Weinstein, a brilliant, deeply thoughtful and learned attorney who is now a candidate for Manhattan District Attorney. We were discussing her chosen passage, Bava Metzia 30b, from the Babylonian Talmud. The question being discussed in that passage is why Jerusalem was destroyed. Rabbi Yohanan said that it was destroyed because the people “did not serve inside/beyond the line [letter] of the law.” 

The questions raised by this passage (and all others) are: What does it mean? and How can this passage help me live a better, happier, and more meaningful life today? 

In the course of the discussion, Tali and I realized that we had two very different perspectives. I immediately thought of the wisdom of Nachmanides, the 13th-century Spanish rabbi. Nachmanides talked about a “scoundrel with Torah license.” This is someone who abides by the law entirely and is still a scoundrel. An example: Chocolate cake is kosher and television viewing is permitted. Could, then, someone eat chocolate cake in front of the television all day in accordance with Jewish law? Yes. But the Torah also instructs us to be a “holy people” and to “walk in God’s ways.” Is eating chocolate cake in front of the television all day appropriate for someone who aspires to be holy and to walk in God’s ways? No. 

This is not, of course, to say that it is unbecoming of someone who aspires to be holy to ever eat chocolate cake while watching television. For instance, a United Hatzalah volunteer who spent the day doing seven lifesaving calls can certainly unwind in front of the television with cake! 

How much of the television/cake activity can one do and still act in accordance with the divine call to be holy and to walk in God’s ways? God gave us remarkable rational facilities, the Torah, plenty of wise counselors to help guide us—and a complicated world with no easy answers. Each of us must figure out what it means to serve “inside/beyond the law.” 

Tali had a different interpretation of why Jerusalem was destroyed as a result of people obeying the law, but not going “inside/beyond the line.” She said that it refers to lawgivers who bring cases or deliver sentences that are legally permissible but do not incorporate any notion of mercy, common sense, or comprehensible philosophy of punishment. The United States Supreme Court confirmed, in a 1985 decision, what everyone involved in the criminal justice system knows: that “the Government retains ‘broad discretion’ as to whom to prosecute.” The responsible exercise of this discretion, and its counterpart in sentencing, requires wisdom on the part of the prosecutor and the judge. It is the moral necessity of this wisdom, Tali taught, that the Talmud means when it says that the health of a society depends upon its legal professionals going “inside/beyond the law.” 

Which interpretation of this passage is right? Tali and I concluded that although the interpretations are different, both are true. Both interpretations help us to understand how to be better individually and socially, and in no way do they conflict with each other. Indeed, perhaps the greatness of a truth is measured by the number of other truths that can be learned from it.  

This is certainly the case with God—the ultimate truth, from which every other truth derives. And it is also the case with the Torah. The prevailing way to understand the Torah is reflected in the Jewish teaching: Shivim Panim la’Torah: “There are seventy faces to the Torah.” This means that every Torah passage, and sometimes every word, yields seventy different truths. Consequently, one can study the Torah over a long life and continually learn new lessons and derive new truths.  

One may find one truth to be more resonant, more meaningful, and more evocative at a moment in one’s life—and, in that sense, that can be “my truth.” In so doing, it allows and actually invites the arrival of other truths without sacrificing—and indeed demonstrating—how objective truth exists independently of any individual perspective.    

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Website: therabbishusband.com
Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

 

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Israel Launches Another Exodus of Ethiopian Jews

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Last week, the Israeli Knesset approved another round of immigration for 2,000 more Ethiopian Jews in 2021—an endeavor bearing a $51 million price tag. The decision represents decades of welcoming this branch of the African diaspora home—an effort that began in the 1980s and regained traction in the last several years. Israel holds the singular distinction among the nations for bringing black communities to freedom, not slavery. 

The Ethiopian journeys to Israel are fascinating. They read like a spy novel. Almost 40 years ago, mass immigration (Aliyah) of Ethiopian Jews literally took off when Israel sent large transport aircraft to rescue Ethiopians from their drought-ravaged lands. In 1984, 1985, and again in 1991, Israel launched Operations Moses, Joshua, and Solomon. 

These airlifts linked intrigue and ingenuity—relying on stealth, detailed plans, and courage. The 1984–85 rescues took place under cover of night when 7,500 Ethiopian Jews were flown out in clandestine operations. Ethiopians had walked for three to four weeks to refugee camps in Sudan that were operated by Israel’s Mossad and the Red Cross—a perilous journey over hundreds of miles that resulted in deaths from disease and starvation. They walked by night to hide from marauding soldiers. With 28 covert airlifts during this period, Israelis used Boeing 707s routed through Belgium to avoid any suspicions before landing in Israel. 

Due to Ethiopian famine, internal civil wars, and tough negotiations with Marxist/Leninist Ethiopian leaders, six years passed before the next airlift could take place. Finally, in 1991, the rescues resumed, once more like a spy movie and with the Israeli and the U.S. governments again working hand in hand.  

Named after the ancient King who was theoretically their ancestor, the 1991 Operation Solomon rescued more than 14,000 Jews from the Sudanese refugee camps and flew them to their homeland, Israel. The timing was critical—and miraculous. Thirty-four El Al jets and American C-130 military transport aircraft flew in and out during this grueling 36-hour mission. All passenger seats were removed from the C-130s to make room for the frightened, yet hopeful, Ethiopians. You can imagine their fearful reactions, especially from older people who had never seen an airplane—and those who thought these transports a wonder. As then-8-year-old Michal Samuel recalls: “One night we were told it was our time to go. I remember the darkness of the desert, walking through Sudan to the trucks that drove us to what I thought was the wings of an angel to take us to Jerusalem.” Today, 30 years later, Michal leads a large charity that helps her community.  

How did these Ethiopian Jews end up on big Israeli airplanes? Mentioned in the Bible by their other name, Cush, the Ethiopian Jews thought of themselves as Jewish even before Christianity became an official religion in the fourth century. The world knew little about them for centuries. They were extremely poor and isolated, yet practiced Judaism based on the Torah, the written law. They were persecuted by their neighbors, who called them falasha (“strangers”) due to their culture and customs. 

In the 1700s, Christian missionaries began going to Ethiopia, met the community, and called them the “exotic Jews of Ethiopia.” For several hundred years, more information emerged about “black Jews.” Interest deepened when Israel was established as a modern Jewish state in 1948. Israel’s Law of Return was created and enacted to welcome all Jews, no matter where they were scattered, whether in Iraq, Iran, China, India, Ethiopia, or beyond.  

Finally, Israeli rabbis began visiting the African nation to verify the Ethiopians’ Jewish ancestry. In 1975, Israel’s Inter-Ministerial Commission officially recognized them as Jews. The complicated rescue plans soon began.  

More than 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in their homeland today. Ninety percent graduate from high school, serve with distinction in the Israel Defense Forces and the Knesset, and attend college. They have made remarkable adjustments with the help of Israeli absorption centers for new immigrants, especially in the early days of Aliyah in the 1980s. Since these people had lived in huts in Africa—without electricity or running water—the absorption centers’ staff members had to start from scratch, teaching the immigrants how to use appliances, turn on water taps, and use can openers. Subsequent generations, born in Israel, have found the adjustment much easier. 

Since Operation Solomon in 1991, evangelical Christians worldwide have played a big part in sponsoring flights and helping settle Ethiopians in the Promised Land. Many have done so through International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (www.ICEJ.org). In the last five years alone, ICEJ has sponsored Aliyah flights for around 2,000 Ethiopian olim (immigrants). 

ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler observes, “Aliyah is clearly a biblical and historical mandate for our global organization, and many times it also is an urgent humanitarian mission, which is so obvious in the case of the Ethiopian Jewish remnant still living in transit camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar after all these years. We will maximize our efforts to now assist Israel with this accelerated plan for the Ethiopian return.” 

Israel’s government and the kindnesses of many individuals and charities have helped navigate the ongoing challenges that face any nation welcoming new citizens. One of the biggest, most effective charities is led by Sigal Kanotopsky. At the age of five, Sigal walked with her family for three months on a harrowing 1,500-mile journey before finally arriving in Israel. Now this outstanding leader walks into Israel’s many professional venues to elevate job opportunities for her community.

Clearly, Israel is singular in bringing its people home. What other country would go to such lengths to do so? These efforts were eloquently voiced on January 8, 1985, when then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres spoke to the Knesset and offered this inspiring explanation about Israel’s commitment and the Ethiopians’ age-old dream to live in Jerusalem:

“For 2,600 years, our brothers and sisters from ‘the land of the buzzing of wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia’ in Isaiah 18:1 have been waiting to attain this moment. … They have waited, and we have waited. They have arrived, and we are richer for it. This wonderful tribe gloriously and stubbornly upheld the banner of Jewish belief even from the days of Moses, and certainly after the oppressive Roman rule. 

“Neither mountain nor sword, nor decree nor foreign land could prevail over their Jewish devotion, their human nobility, and their Zionist hope. And we here have born within us the ongoing, never-ending hope of the unification of our people. …  [an] immigration effort enwrapped in ancient splendor and enveloped in secret heroism. We have seen them prostrating themselves and kissing the soil of our land. A light shone in their eyes, while tears welled up in ours.” 

Thankfully, there is no more need for secrecy. The new efforts underway will not take place under cover of darkness. And when the current relocation has been completed, it will add another chapter of welcome to the worldwide Jewish community.  

Pray along with us at CBN Israel that every Jewish community worldwide will come home:  

  • Pray that facts about Israel’s inclusivity will be made clear to all nations.
  • Pray with awe that God is fulfilling His word in Isaiah 49:22: “Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, and set up My standard for the peoples; they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.” 
  • Pray that the Ethiopian community will continue their achievements to grow and prosper using their talents and motivation with help from many sources. 
  • Pray that Ethiopian Jews still awaiting rescue from an unfriendly land will also experience Aliyah and reunification with their families.  

For Christians, it is a privilege to be part of praying and acting so that the worldwide Jewish community can return to their ancestral homeland. 

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. By invitation, she has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit twice. She hosts her devotionals on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

 

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Single Mother | Oksana’s Story

Life seemed ideal when their family moved to Israel from Russia. Oksana’s husband found an excellent job, and she was able to stay at home with their four children. Then her world came crashing down: She discovered her husband had a severe case of alcoholism.

For years he hid his drinking—running up big debts and taking expensive overseas trips he lied about. Secretly, he took out bank loans in both of their names to cover his spending. When Oksana found out, the couple separated, and his drinking got worse. He soon abandoned their family, leaving Oksana to support their four children. His massive debts took everything, forcing her to close her successful sewing business. Where could she turn?

And then, she heard about CBN Israel’s program for single mothers. Caring friends like you gave her a professional new sewing machine to restart her business. Through our course, Chazak Ve Ematz, which means “brave and courageous,” she found career guidance. We also granted her a scholarship to learn bridal and evening gown design. She was so grateful!

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit Israel’s economy, Oksana’s business stalled. Praying, she felt God redirecting her to sew quality facial masks to meet the high demand. Selling them at one of the best rates, she now has plenty of work from multiple companies!

You can extend a lifeline to people like Oksana, as well as aging Holocaust survivors, refugees, and others struggling to survive in the Holy Land. During this COVID-19 crisis, when the needs are so great, your continued support is crucial as CBN Israel offers food, shelter, financial assistance, and more to hurting families. Please let us hear from you today!

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A Fast that Pleases God

Have you ever noticed that we can approach God with seemingly the right intentions and desires, but in His eyes, our motivations and desires matter little in light of how we treat others?

The prophet Isaiah says the people “seek [God] daily, delight to know [His] ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God” (Isaiah 58:2 NKJV). They even delight in the “nearness of God.” Sounds like they’re doing everything right. Isn’t that what we tell people to do—seek God daily and delight in His nearness? Yet God calls upon Isaiah to announce to the house of Jacob their guilt and sin (58:1).

The people ask God why their fasts are ineffective. They fasted. They starved their bodies (58:3). That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Shouldn’t God answer us then?

God responds with a jolting message: On your fast day, you do what pleases you. You exploit your workers; you cause strife and contention (58:3-4). While they may have the proper desires towards God, and even carry out their fasts properly (see 58:5), their reprehensible behavior toward others causes their voices not to be heard on high.

God doesn’t care that they starve themselves, putting on sackcloth and lying in ashes. Such a fast does not move Him.

The prophet then offers the fast that God desires, “a day pleasing to the LORD,” the kind that moves Him to act on the people’s behalf “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free” and “break every yoke” (58:6). He calls upon the people “to share your bread with the hungry,” to bring to your house the poor who are cast out, to cover the naked, and “not hide yourself from your own flesh” (58:7).

Instead of starving themselves, donning sackcloth, and lying in ashes, they should treat others with care and compassion, which will then motivate God to act on their behalf. “Then shall your light burst forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily and … the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ (58:8-9).

Isaiah’s message: God is far more concerned with how you treat those around you, especially the poor and needy, than He is with your religious piety or even your desire to seek Him. The mark of true spirituality is not only our pursuit of God, but also our actions towards others. Our intentions and desires may seem spiritual, but if we do not treat others with care and compassion, then our desires for God matter little to Him.

What motivates God to answer our cries? How we treat those around us, especially those in need.

PRAYER

Father, forgive us for not seeing those around us as the true path to showing our desire and delight for You. May our actions be pleasing before You, O Lord. Amen.

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