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Torah Reading Commentary: Joseph the Missionary

By Mark Gerson

We Jews have a concept of the lamed vavnik—that there are 36 people in every generation upon whom the world rests. My family has been deeply fortunate to know many of them. These are the Christian missionary doctors whom we know through the foundation we established 10 years ago, African Mission Healthcare, which partners with them to provide clinical care, infrastructure, and training in support of the African poor. These doctors live and work in conditions most people in the U.S. would consider impossible—making sacrifices that would otherwise be unimaginable—in order to live their Christian faith by bringing care to those who need it most. The Christian Broadcasting Network has been an extraordinary partner and friend in this work. 

Whether at the end of a day observing their work in Africa or conversing in the dining room of our Manhattan apartment when they are visiting the United States, my wife (a rabbi) and I always ask each missionary the same question. We have spent the day (or the evening) with you, we say, but we have not heard anything that most people would consider the “missionary” aspect of your work. You sacrifice everything to serve the poor in the name of Jesus Christ—but we have not heard you try to convince anyone to adopt your faith. How, then, do you conceive of the missionary aspect of your work? 

One missionary told me something I’ll always remember—he said one can only have that conversation with someone who asks you: “Why do you care so much?” This question only comes after the kind of deep and sustained engagement that leads one to ask that question. 

Similarly, other missionaries told us they are doing what Jesus would want them to or they are trying to imitate Christ, and by doing so, people sometimes ask them questions about what is leading them to such a life of productive sacrifice. 

One thing no missionary has ever said is that a successful missionary opens a conversation or begins a relationship by trying to share the Good News. That conversation can happen, but only after a relationship that begins in admiration and gratitude has already started. 

I was recalling these conversations today while studying the upcoming parsha (i.e. Torah reading)—Miketz. The Pharaoh had a disturbing set of dreams in which seven healthy cows get swallowed by seven sickly ones and then seven healthy sheaves of wheat get swallowed by seven sickly sheaves. He knew these dreams were significant and called in the magicians of Egypt to interpret them for him. We are not told what these interpretations were, but none satisfied him. 

The Pharaoh’s cupbearer told his boss he had been in prison with a “young Hebrew” who was a remarkable dream interpreter. The Pharaoh summoned this young Hebrew who, unlike the Egyptians, understood the concept of time (as physician and educator Leon Kass points out). The young Hebrew told the Pharaoh that Egypt was about to experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, suggested that the Pharaoh appoint a “discerning and wise man” to administer the situation, and produced a plan the administrator could execute. 

The young Hebrew—the young Jew—is, of course, Joseph.

There are many interesting and instructive lessons within Joseph’s interpretation. Rabbi Efrem Goldberg shows how Joseph, in his interpretation, “name drops” God several times. The Pharaoh does not ask about God; there is no reason to think that the Pharaoh even knew God. Joseph, as Rabbi Goldberg shows, is educating the Pharaoh about God—not by telling him directly—but by showing how God, working through Joseph, can solve the Pharaoh’s problem. And it works. The Pharaoh, upon hearing Joseph’s interpretation, announces to his servants: “Could we find another like this—a man in whom there is the spirit of God?” 

We Jews do not have missionaries like our Christian brethren do. We welcome converts, but it is not our mission to convert anyone to Judaism—and so we never try. But we are missionaries in a different sense. As Rabbi Shlomo Riskin says, Abraham was “the consummate missionary practicing ethical monotheism wherever he went.” We are called to be missionaries for God and His message of ethical monotheism, which people can seek in any number of ways and faiths. 

However one conceives of missionary responsibility, Joseph shows us how it is done. It is by learning the needs of the other, understanding the problems of the other—and working to fulfill those needs and solve those problems—that enables the larger conversation to be welcome. It is also by interpreting one’s dreams and giving helpful advice, helping others find their passion and mission in life, and giving advice as to how to live out that dream. It is through admirable action that others become inspired, and it is through the curiosity that accompanies such inspiration that opens the missionary conversation—one that started with Joseph and continues with the lamed vavnik we have come to know through our work with African Mission Healthcare.

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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The Miracle of the Abraham Accords Shining Brightly During Hanukkah

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Although the eight days of Hanukkah festivities are ending, seasonal miracles are continuing to spread light across the Middle East. When Israeli children play dreidel games, the Hebrew phrase, “A great miracle happened here” is ever-present. Each dreidel (spinning top) is stamped with Hebrew letters that stand for “A great miracle happened here” (in Hebrew, Nes Gadol Haya Sham).  It signifies the outnumbered Maccabees’ stunning victory over King Antiochus IV’s tyranny in 164 B.C., followed by the Festival of Dedication or Lights. The Hebrew name Maccabees, meaning “hammer,” can describe reshaping or forging something new. Unlike the heroic Maccabees’ ancient war against pagan oppression—fought to preserve their people and their religious freedom—today’s eight-day tradition of Hanukkah gift-giving is forging the wide-ranging gift of peace.

Today, the great miracle happening in the Middle East began under the visionary leadership of President Donald Trump. On August 13, 2020, he announced the momentous Abraham Accords, a peace agreement designed to forge normal relations between Israel and Arab nations.  The name of the agreement honors Abraham, the recognized patriarch of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

On September 15, President Trump hosted a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, with leaders from Israel, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain signing the first historic accord. Since then, Sudan and Morocco have also committed to the Abraham Accords, with more nations expected to join in. A modern miracle, indeed.

The opening paragraph of the Abraham Accords declaration states, “We, the undersigned, recognize the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence, as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom.” Since August, the miracles are manifesting themselves in the key phrases of the declaration already extending into Hanukkah 2020. 

One sign of the rapidly growing ties between Israel and UAE is the construction of a 12-foot public menorah at Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.  Hanukkah lights have filled the skies each night as celebrants enjoy food and parties. Another positive sign: 28 commercial and 10 cargo flights scheduled weekly between the two nations. These flights are a significant indication that the UAE has abandoned its Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) policies—which amounted to longstanding economic warfare against Israel. By joining the Abraham Accords, Arab nations indicate they are no longer economically boycotting Israel. 

In October, UAE officials and Prime Minister Netanyahu held a signing ceremony at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport where Netanyahu announced, “We are exempting our nationals from visas and this will offer a huge boost to business, tourism, and people-to-people contacts.  The mutual trade and exchange of goods, services, technology, and knowledge will benefit immeasurably not only our two countries but the Middle East as a whole.” 

Both nations have set up direct telephone services. Intelligence and security discussions began quickly between Mossad’s Director Yossi Cohen and Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, the UAE’s National Security Advisor. At a recent Israel-Dubai conference in UAE, Emirates Economy Minister Abdullah ben Tuk Al-Ameri remarked, “I am sure the agreement is a turning point for the entire Middle East.” He added that Israel and UAE will prosper through investments and trade amounting to billions of dollars in the future. 

Since Bahrain, another Gulf nation, joined UAE at the momentous September 15 signing ceremony at the White House, Israel and Bahrain are set to open embassies in both nations. In addition, electronic visas began to be issued on December 1 and air travel will take off in 2021. 

The Gulf kingdom’s foreign minister, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, described the agreement as “a warm peace that will deliver clear benefits to our peoples.” A Bahraini-Israeli trade council is being set up, along with academic ties between Bahraini and Israeli universities. In early December, Bahrain reached out to Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to attend the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Manama Dialogue. Manama is Bahrain’s capital. 

The prestigious IISS describes itself as “an international Research Institute that provides objective information on military geopolitical and geo-economic developments that could lead to conflict.” Israel’s participation is a solid sign of cooperation, since Israel is a global leader in defense and security. Both Israel and the Middle East Arab nations stay acutely alarmed about the Iranian threat.

Despite such momentous achievements, it’s important to note that forging and implementing new agreements among nations is not a perfect process. Sudan’s entry into the Abraham Accords on October 23 posed convoluted issues. The nation of Sudan is trying to rebuild after suffering under former President Omar al-Bashir’s 20-year reign of terror. In April 2019, the Sudanese people finally overthrew him. Yet several dilemmas may cause Sudan to withdraw from the Accords. 

First, Bashir’s terrorism drove 6,200 Sudanese refugees to flee to Israel. Complications have arisen over whether Israel will try to repatriate the Sudanese back to their homeland, but the refugees claim parts of their country remain dangerous.  Because that nation is economically desperate, an Israeli delegation visited Sudan in November and held lengthy discussions with officials about agriculture and water. Israel and the UAE sent $5 million of wheat as a goodwill gesture. 

Also at issue is whether the U.S. Congress will approve delisting Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) designation. The United States agreed to do so in its negotiations, but if Congress reneges, Sudan has threated to withdraw from the Abraham Accords. The removal of the SST designation would open doors for foreign investments to help the nation stabilize and recover from the appalling reign of their deposed dictator.

Morocco is the latest member of the Middle East miracle. On December 10—the first day of Hanukkah—President Trump announced that Morocco was joining the Abraham Accords, making it the fourth Arab nation to do so since September 2020. 

Morocco and its large Jewish community had enjoyed centuries of relative harmony, including decades of interaction with the modern state of Israel. In 1956 Morocco declared its independence from France. Then in 1963, upwards of 100,000 Moroccan Jews began immigrating to Israel while keeping their genial cultural identity with Morocco. In 2000, though, Morocco suspended most of its ties with Israel when the Palestinians’ Second Intifada (uprising) erupted. Morocco sided with the Palestinians. However, the Abraham Accords have opened the channels again and Morocco is redeveloping its ties with the Jewish state.  

Last week, during the traditional menorah lighting at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Prime Minister Netanyahu again thanked President Trump for his outstanding leadership in his Hanukkah announcement about Morocco. Accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Freidman, Mr. Netanyahu recalled, “Everybody knows the tremendous friendship shown by the kings of Morocco and the people of Morocco to the Jewish community there. … These Moroccan Jews came to Israel and they form a human bridge between our two countries and our two peoples—of sympathy, of respect, of fondness and love.” Mr. Netanyahu also remarked, “This will be a very warm peace. On this Hanukkah, the light of peace has never shone brighter than today in the Middle East.”

An unnamed Israeli diplomat commented to the Arab Al-Monitor news, “Friends of mine in Morocco told me yesterday they cried in happiness when they heard the news.” 

Here’s a tiny sample of the Abraham Accords’ version of bilateral Hanukkah gift-giving already taking place: 

  • Israel will maintain Gulf State airplanes at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. 
  • Dubai and Israel diamond exchanges are setting up offices in each nation. 
  • Cooperation is rapidly increasing in tourism, sports, culture, science, and technology between UAE and Bahrain—the first signers—and Israel. 
  • Israeli agricultural technology will help the Gulf States overcome their water and crop shortages. (UAE currently imports 80 percent of its food.) 
  • For the first time in an Arab nation, Bahrain’s schools will teach Jewish history and culture. 

Last week, President and Mrs. Trump hosted their annual Hanukkah party in the East Room at the White House. Among his comments, President Trump spoke of “the miracle that kept the flames of the menorah burning in the Second Temple for eight nights.” He further observed, “The candle-lighting tradition … is rooted in perseverance and faith—two virtues that are indicative of the Jewish culture and the Jewish faith.” 

Well said, Mr. President. Happy Hanukkah to you and your administration for giving Israel and the Middle East the gifts of peace and hope that are reshaping the lives of millions. Hanukkah might transition into a years-long Middle East festival where great miracles will continue to happen there! 

Join CBN Israel in the waning days of Hanukkah 2020 recalling Genesis 18:18 (NIV): “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”

  • Pray with thankfulness that we live at a time in world history to witness the Abraham Accords. 
  • Pray that God would bless President Trump and his administration for working toward unprecedented peace through the Abraham Accords.
  • Pray that God would give Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli government wisdom as they continue to strive for peace in the region.
  • Pray for the citizens of Sudan who have suffered terrible traumas. Pray for God’s mercy upon them and that the Abraham Accords will go forward on their behalf. 
  • Pray for additional Arab nations to join the Abraham Accords to forge deeper ties across the Middle East. 

Let’s reflect together on the words of Psalm 22:27 (NASB): “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You.” 

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. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited by Artist Pat Mercer Hutchens and sits on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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COVID-19 Food Distribution

With the outbreak of COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn, a new threat arose all throughout Israel: the threat of hunger. Large segments of the population have struggled with having enough to eat, and CBN Israel’s food distribution programs have seen the needs firsthand. 

Many Israeli seniors, including Holocaust survivors, live below the poverty line, and can hardly afford basic necessities. Often, they don’t have family or anyone to care for them. Added to that, they are isolated and alone from the lockdowns and restrictions and left to fend for themselves. 

Plus, thousands of families have been hurt severely by the pandemic—with great numbers laid off from work or needing to stay home with their children due to school closures. Families already grappling with poverty suffered even worse effects, while others suddenly couldn’t make ends meet for the very first time. How would they survive this crisis? 

Thanks to friends like you, CBN Israel has been there for seniors and families across the nation—providing food packages, food vouchers, and other vital aid. In fact, since the outbreak began, CBN Israel has distributed record amounts of groceries and basic relief to the hurting. 

We are also helping Israel’s vulnerable with financial aid, housing, and much more—both now and beyond the pandemic. Your support can be a critical lifeline in giving compassionate relief to those who are living week to week in the Holy Land. 

Arik, the head of CBN Israel’s family department, has witnessed how much a bag of groceries can mean to those in need, and says, “Together, we can make such a difference in people’s lives. Please join us in blessing Israel and her people during this season.” 

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Biblical Israel: Beersheva 

By Marc Turnage

The site of Beersheva figures prominently within the Patriarchal stories of the Old Testament, particularly with Abraham. It also became the defining limit of the southern extent of the kingdom of Israel, from Dan to Beersheva (1 Samuel 3:20; 17:11; 24:2; 1 Kings 4:25). According to Genesis (21:31), the name of the place derived from an oath between Abraham and Abimelech; the name Beersheva means “the well of the oath.” 

The ancient tel (mound) of Beersheva sits in the Beersheva Valley, east of the modern city of Beersheva in the western part of the biblical Negev. When the Bible refers to the Negev, it means the valley that runs east-west across the southern Hill Country. This valley is known as the Arad-Beersheva valley. The lands south of this valley, the wilderness of Zin (Numbers 20) and the wilderness of Paran (Numbers 10:12; 12:16; 13:3, 26), lay outside of biblical Israel. This can confuse modern travelers to Israel because the land from the Beersheva Valley south to the Gulf of Elat is identified as the Negev today, and it resides within the modern State of Israel, yet the land south of the Beersheva Valley, the biblical Negev, lay outside the biblical land of Israel. 

Beersheva functioned as an important hub between Egypt and the Judean Hill Country. It also served as a juncture for east-west trade routes. Its important location, along major roadways, underscores its importance within the biblical stories, especially the Patriarchal stories, since, as nomadic herdsmen, the Patriarchs moved between the Judean Hill Country, the Negev, and Egypt.

From Beersheva, Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness of Beersheva, after the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:8-20). God revealed himself to the Patriarchs at Beersheva (Genesis 26:24-25; 46:1-2); it continued to function as a place of religious activity, even into the periods of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The prophet Amos condemned the pagan rites held at Beersheva, along with those at Dan, Bethel, and Gilgal (Amos 5:5; 8:14). Archaeological excavations uncovered a four-horn altar at Beersheva made of hewn stone, which God forbade in the Torah. This altar had been dismantled in antiquity, most likely due to the religious-political reforms of King Hezekiah. 

Abraham and Isaac both struggled with Abimelech, king of Gerar, over water rights in the region (Genesis 21:22-34; 26:15-33). Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah, judged Israel from Beersheva (1 Samuel 8:1-2). The city belonged in the tribal territory of Judah and Simeon (Joshua 15:28; 19:2; 1 Chronicles 4:28). The prophet Elijah passed through Beersheva on his journey to Mount Horeb when he fled from Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19:3). Upon the return of the Judean exiles from Babylonian captivity, Beersheva served as the southernmost point of settlement by the Judeans who returned to the land, “from Beersheva to the valley of Hinnom [which is in Jerusalem]” (Nehemiah 11:30). 

The current ancient site of Beersheva preserves a city from the mid-twelfth century to the end of the eighth century B.C. This time period coincides with the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Nothing at the site dates to the period of the Patriarchs. The city served as an administrative center; the houses of the city, built one next to the other, formed the city wall by the back wall of the houses. Large storehouses, for the storing of grain, were uncovered attesting to the region’s agricultural potential, as well as a land for grazing flocks of sheep and goats. The water-system proves rather ingenious as rain was captured and funneled into the large water cistern, which provided water for the city year-round. Outside the ancient gate complex sits a well, which remembers the name of the site and the story of Abraham and Abimelech’s oath.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com   
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Raising Up the Humble

“And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:50-55 NKJV).

We tend to focus on the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ coming and overlook that within the New Testament, including the Gospels, His coming—which was connected to God’s redemption—had spiritual, political, and social consequences. The Magnificat, Mary’s song, articulates her excitement and expectations: God is showing His mercy to those who fear Him, He scatters the proud, He brings the mighty low and raises up the humble, and He fulfills His promises to Israel’s fathers. The coming of God’s redemption meant a reversal of the current order of things, especially for those of low state.

This same message echoes in the teaching of Mary’s son, who saw His movement as bringing about God’s redemption and the dawning of God’s reign. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. … But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6:20-21, 24-25 NIV). 

Jesus’ message embodied the hopes of His birth. God’s redemption and His reign dawns. God draws near, especially to the poor, hungry, and those who mourn. And, because of their downtrodden status, Jesus viewed them as blessed. Moreover, He called upon those who would follow Him to care for and be mindful of the weak (see Matthew 19:16-22; 25:34-46). The obedience of His followers to caring for the hurting, poor, hungry, and suffering visibly demonstrates the breaking forth of God’s redemptive reign. 

God’s message of hope in the advent of Jesus is that He is near, especially to the poor, the hungry, the weak, and those who mourn. How do we embody this reality in our daily lives? Celebrating Christmas is not only about Nativity scenes or pageants, or choir cantatas, or even Handel’s Messiah. Christmas means the realization and incarnation of Mary’s song and her son’s message: God is near, especially to the poor, hungry, and weak. 

PRAYER

O, Lord, You are King. You raise up and bring low. You rule the universe, and yet You are near to the poor, the hurting, and the suffering. And so was Your Son. Father, in this season when we remember His coming, may we proclaim Your kingship by being near to those who are near to You. Amen.  

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Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights

By Julie Stahl

“It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade” (John 10:22-23).

For eight days Jewish people around the world celebrate Hanukkah, a holiday marking a great victory over 2,000 years ago.

“This is a holiday about spirituality; this is a holiday about values, this is a holiday about connecting to God,” says Rebecca Spiro, a Jerusalem Old City resident.

Also known as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah is a not mentioned in the Old Testament, but it is in the New Testament.  

“It’s a holiday that celebrates religious freedom and our victory against oppression and our ability to rededicate the Temple,” says Spiro.

In the second century B.C., the Jewish people in Judea revolted against the Syrian-Greek (Seleucid) conquerors. 

The Syrian-Greek King Antiochus IV ruled over Israel in 174 B.C. He began to unify his kingdom by imposing pagan religion and culture on the Jews—forcing them to eat pork and forbidding Sabbath observance, Bible (Torah) study, and circumcision. Worse still, the Seleucids defiled the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to the Greek God Zeus.

Mattathias, a sage from the village of Modiin, and his five sons took a stand against the prohibitions and idolatry and fled to the hills of Judea. There they raised a small army and engaged in guerilla warfare against the Seleucid Empire. 

Before his death, Mattathias appointed his son Judah the Strong as their leader. Judah was called “Maccabee,” a word composed of the initial letters of the four Hebrew words, Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Adonai, which means, “Who is like You, O God.”

King Antiochus sent his General Apollonius to wipe out Judah and his followers, but he was defeated. So, he sent tens of thousands of more soldiers to fight. The Maccabees responded by declaring, “Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple!” They assembled in Mitzpah, where Samuel, the prophet, had prayed to God. 

Although they were greatly outnumbered, the Maccabees won and returned to Jerusalem to liberate and cleanse the Holy Temple from the idols that Antiochus had placed inside. 

On the 25th day of the month of Kislev, in the year 139 B.C., the Maccabees rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. The legend says that there was only enough sacred oil for the menorah (“candelabrum” with seven branches used in the Temple in Jerusalem) to burn for one day but when they lit it, it miraculously burned for eight days—enough time to purify more oil. That’s why Hanukkah lasts for eight days.  

The Maccabees were also important in early Christianity. Recently, archaeologists uncovered tombs believed to be those of the Hasmoneans about a mile from the modern Israeli city of Modiin and about 20 miles from Jerusalem in the area where the Maccabees would have lived.  

At the site, there was a mosaic floor with a cross on it. Archaeologists suggest that Byzantine Christians found the original tomb and decorated it with the mosaic.

“The Maccabees were Jewish leaders, Jewish rebels. They removed the Greek empire and Greek presence from what is now modern Israel and they established an independent Jewish state, which makes it significant to both Judaism and Christianity,” says archaeologist Dan Shachar.

Another indication of their importance to early Christians is that the books of the Maccabees are part of the Apocryphal books, canonized as part of the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles, but they are not part of the Jewish or other Christian Bibles.   

Today, Jewish people light a special Hanukkah menorah, called a Hanukkiah with nine branches—one for each of the eight days and an additional one called the shamash or “servant candle” used to light the others. Each day an additional candle is lit so that by the eighth day they are all ablaze.

Because of the oil, eating delicious fried foods like latkes (“potato pancakes”) and soufganiot (“jelly donuts”) is another Hanukkah tradition. 

Hanukkah falls around and sometimes coincides with Christmas time. Children are often given presents each day of the holiday.

Spiro says there’s a message in the holiday for today.

“The world’s coming up against Israel. The wolves are circling the sheep. This is nothing new, and the message for Hanukkah is no matter what happens our candles burn bright,” she says. “Civilizations have come and gone, but the Jewish people are still here.”

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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Torah Reading Commentary: Deborah – Rebekah’s Nurse

By Mark Gerson

This week’s Torah reading, Parsha Vayishlach, is packed with several notable events, including Jacob wrestling with an angel, Jacob marrying Rachel and Leah, Jacob and Esau reuniting, and the rape of Dinah and its aftermath. Each of these, and others, is extraordinary. Yet there is another important—but often overlooked—verse tucked away in this parsha. We are told, in Genesis 35:8, “Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth [Oak of Weeping].” 

This is remarkable because it adds, seemingly, nothing to the progression of the story. If Deborah were a major character—if she were Noah, Abraham, Sarah, or Rebekah—it would be more comprehensible. A great and defining person dies, everyone stops to mourn her—and so of course the story pauses. But this is the first time we are introduced to Deborah, aside from an elliptical reference 11 verses earlier that does not even mention her name. 

The significance of Deborah is suggested by more than the placement in the text of the description of her funeral. There are thousands of people mentioned in the Torah, but the funerals of only a few are recorded. There are four funerals where we are told that people wept. These are of Sarah, Moses, Aaron, and Deborah. So, Deborah is considered—at least by this rather significant indication—to be as valued as three of the people who would be in anyone’s top 10. 

Moreover, Deborah is buried under an oak tree. This is consistent with how ancient Jews would have buried a great person while on a journey. We Jews bury our dead immediately; in Jerusalem today, people are usually buried within hours of their death. When Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel dies, he is far from the family burial plot in Hebron—and so he buries her on the way to Efrat, which is Bethlehem. Of all trees to have selected as Deborah’s burial site, it is both intentional and instructive that an oak tree was chosen. An oak tree, the ever-dependable Wikipedia tells us, “is a common symbol of strength and endurance and has been chosen as the national tree of many countries.” 

So, who is this Deborah? In the biblical imagination, a person’s name is always a window into their character. Deborah means “bee.” Bees are known for their constant productive activity—hence our expression “busy as a bee.” Specifically, as my friend Yaron Carni points out, the activity that bees are best at is pollination—a capability that they use to bring life to everything they touch. And as the sociobiologist E.O. Wilson wrote in a very different context, bees are particularly gifted when it comes to “caring cooperatively for the young.” 

Deborah, therefore, seems to have gone well beyond her role as the wet nurse. This analysis suggests she was the unheralded, even unnamed organizer of the household of Rebekah—which we know from the Bible tended toward (and self-inflicted) tragedy. Indeed, translations and interpretations—and these can be the same thing—of wet nurses often incorporate concepts as broad as bringing up, tutoring, and here, organizing. 

Deborah was, the Torah tells us, Rebekah’s wet nurse. Does this mean that Deborah suckled Rebekah when she was a baby or Rebekah’s children when they were babies? The text leaves that question open, but she would have been at least a generation older than Jacob—who was well into his senior years. In a 2010 sermon, Rabbi David Wolpe brings up a characteristically brilliant insight. Whatever Deborah’s precise function, she died at a very old age, long after any service a wet nurse could even broadly perform. Indeed, there is nothing to indicate that she was performing any services for an adult Jacob—including organizing his household, which was the most chaotic in the Torah. 

So, this remarkable funeral tells us a lot about Deborah and also about Jacob. Jacob, Rabbi Wolpe points out, evidently always remembered a person who had been good to him as a child—long after her professional value had been exhausted. And Jacob remembered in the only way the Torah acknowledges: through action. 

We are discussing the Torah, which means guidebook—as in a guidebook to help us live better lives. So, the story is not really about Deborah or Jacob. It is about each of us. We probably all have people who we can recall were good to us as children—it might be a babysitter or a teacher, a nurse or a housekeeper, an older friend or a neighbor, a delivery person or the cashier at the corner store. 

How many of us even approximate, in our relationship with them, being a Jacob? Jacob, and the Torah, show us how we can consider such people to be like Sarah, Moses, and Aaron in our lives. Even if we cannot get to that point, there is so much we can do in the spirit of this guidance. An email or a letter, a call or a visit (particularly with our children)—there are so many ways to acknowledge and appreciate the humanity in those who were so good to us years before. In so doing, we can honor them—and Jacob and Deborah.  

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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The Menorah: Israel’s National Symbol is a Hanukkah Inspiration

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

The imposing 15-foot-high bronze menorah that stands like a sentinel outside Israel’s Knesset Building has long been a tourist favorite. A photo op in front of this extraordinary candelabrum offers a lasting memory for groups or lone visitors who pose before Israel’s official national symbol. The magnificent seven-branch Knesset Menorah reminds us of the survival of the Jewish people, the Jewish faith, and the return to their ancient homeland.

In Exodus 25:31-40, God gave the instructions and detailed design to Moses at Mount Sinai for the seven-branch “lampstand” that made up the exquisite menorah. The most skilled craftsman was chosen to make it, hammering it out of a single piece of gold. It weighed perhaps a hundred pounds. These golden lampstands graced The Tabernacle in Shiloh and the First and Second Temples, providing continuous light in the Holy Place. Only the High Priest tended the wick and replenished the pure olive oil. The light served as a constant reminder to the ancient Jews that God was with them every moment in their wilderness sojourn. Over time, opinions have differed about the seven menorah branches, but some think it symbolizes the seven days of creation. It is the oldest continuously used religious symbol in Western civilization.

Over the centuries, the menorah developed into a nine-branched candelabrum called, in Hebrew, a Hanukkiah or a “Hanukkah menorah.” Lexicographer Ben Yehuda (1858-1922) is credited with reviving the Hebrew language but his wife Hemda, herself an author, created the word, Hanukkiah. The eight candles were said to refer to the number of days the oil burned in the Temple after the Maccabees recaptured it in 168 B.C. The ninth candle in the center, set just a little higher, is called the “shamash,” or helper/servant candle, which is used to light the others. 

Thus, the Menorah and the Hanukkiah are emblematic cousins existing in two different eras, both symbols of religious liberty, restoration, light, and victory

In 1948, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion rechristened the ancient symbol as Israel’s official emblem, its coat of arms. On either side of the coat of arms menorah, olive branches stand for Israel’s longing for peace. In 1956 the British Parliament donated to Israel the famous Knesset Menorah mentioned earlier. It was fashioned by Benno Elkan, who had escaped Nazi Germany in 1933 and settled in England, where he became a gifted sculptor. Elkan included intricate bronze reliefs and engravings on his menorah, which some have called a “visual textbook of Jewish history.”

That Jewish history includes the desecration of the Second Temple in 167 B.C. by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifested”) and his army. The Syrian empire’s tyrant proclaimed himself a deity, demanding that the Jews abandon God and their faith. Realizing that their religious liberty was at stake, the outnumbered but valiant Jewish Maccabees rose up as an elite fighting force to stop the despot’s genocidal goal of destroying God’s chosen people and their faith. 

The Maccabees fought for three years, at the end of which they recaptured the Temple and cleansed it of Antiochus’ paganism. The story about finding only a day’s supply of oil—which burned for eight days while more oil was purified—is not mentioned in the Bible. Whether that story is a legend or not, the Festival of Dedication (“Hanukkah”) was born. It is celebrated for eight days, supposedly because the sacred oil miraculously burned for that length of time. While the light’s symbolism is important, another reality runs deeper and is sometimes obscured: the Maccabees’ victory over Antiochus guaranteed the survival of the Jews and Judaism, as well as the birth of the future Messiah, Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem just a few miles from Jerusalem. In John 10:22–23, the only verse in the Bible that mentions the event, Jesus is described as celebrating the Festival of Lights, also called Feast of Dedication. At that time, Jesus declared His deity, saying, “I and the Father are one.” 

It’s important to note that the Feast of Dedication goes beyond candles and oil. This was a landmark victory where God enabled a remnant of dedicated fighters to preserve His people. The ancient Maccabean triumph has endured as a symbol of eternity, survival, and sacrifice to keep religious freedom. For Christians, the fact that our Lord celebrated the festival verifies the significance of restoration, dedication, and overcoming against all odds. The Festival of Dedication is a way to remember “Persumei Nisa,” Aramaic for “publicizing the miracle.” The miracle was the Maccabean victory. 

Let’s fast forward from the Maccabees and the Second Temple frequented by Jesus to the last 90 years of history, which are filled with stories about Hanukkah menorahs and celebrations. One of the most treasured stories began in 1931 when Rabbi Akiva Posner and his family lived in Kiel, Germany. On the last night of Hanukkah on December 11, 1931, Posner’s wife, Rachel, snapped a picture of their lit hanukkiah sitting on the ledge of their window. The picture also captured a Nazi flag in the background across the street at a Nazi headquarters building. After she received the developed picture, Mrs. Posner wrote this caption in German on the back of her photo: 

Chanukah 5692 (1932)Death to Judah,” so the flag says. “Judah will live forever,” so the light answers.” Her simple yet profound words still capture the meaning of the Festival of Dedication today. In 1934, the Posner family mercifully fled Germany, escaping to British Mandate Palestine and settling in beautiful Haifa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. 

Wonderfully, that wasn’t the end of the story. In 2005 one of the Posners’ grandsons, Yehuda Mansbach, donated the family hanukkiah to Yad Vashem, Israel’s World Holocaust Remembrance Center. He made one request to Yad Vashem, which agreed that the Mansbach family could annually take it to their home in Beit Shemesh, Israel, and light it for Hanukkah following the tradition of his parents and grandparents. Yehuda recalled, “The menorah and the photo were part of the family’s history, but nobody ever made a big deal about it.” 

Four years later, the Posners’ great-grandson, Akiva Mansbach, took the hanukkiah menorah to his Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) army base so he and his unit could use it to celebrate. Dressed in his IDF uniform, he saluted the family hanukkiah menorah. Akiva remarked, “The same light that my great-grandparents lit in the exile in Germany is the light that so many light today in Israel. It demonstrates the continuity of Jewish history.”

Yad Vashem has now amassed archives of multi-topic testimonials from Holocaust survivors. Among the topics shared are ways that the Jewish communities tried to maintain their identity and their Hanukkah traditions. In Nazi-occupied countries, the Nazis forced the Jews into a thousand walled-in ghettos in cities like Minsk, Riga, and Warsaw, where many died in the appalling conditions. 

Despite the inhumane suffering, the Jews found ways to celebrate Hanukkah not only as an expression of their faith but to keep their sense of community seeking light in the darkness. Those who survived the ghettos found themselves transported to the concentration camps where the horrors increased. Yet even in the depths of the Nazi darkness of the camps, Jews invented ways to observe Hanukkah. A Jewish-Hungarian survivor imprisoned at a German labor camp describes taking threads from a blanket to make Hanukkah “candles.” One family made a menorah from foraged wood, aluminum, and battery parts. They used grease and cotton wicks for candles. Another testimonial described an inmate’s shoe, a wooden clog, which they turned into a hanukkiah, using strings from a concentration camp uniform for a wick and black shoe polish for the “oil.” The Holocaust survivors’ stories are a legacy for both the Jewish and Christian communities—a legacy of devotion to faith, religious liberty, and the will to live. 

Depictions of menorahs have been found all over Israel—in mosaics, on ancient coins, and engraved into Jerusalem stone. I’ve had the privilege of seeing one of the most beautiful Jerusalem stones; it was discovered in 2009 when a first-century synagogue was uncovered in Magdala on the Sea of Galilee near Tiberius. Archeologists identified it as a Torah reading table with a seven-branched menorah beautifully chiseled into it.

Since Nazis confiscated most of the menorahs to melt them down for silver, few pre-World War II menorahs still exist. When European menorahs from the 18th and 19th centuries are discovered and sometimes sold at auction, they can fetch up to $100,000 apiece.  

Modern day menorahs are also scattered all over the globe in public places. In fact, the world’s tallest menorah rivals Israel’s majestic Knesset Menorah. The 32-foot-high structure is located in Manhattan near Central Park. At annual Hanukkah celebrations, cherry pickers help with the lighting of real oil lamps on the 4,000-pound steel structure. Our National Menorah in Washington, D.C., has been erected and lighted annually since 1979. It stands 30 feet high and is located near The White House on the Ellipse. 

Opinions vary as to whether Jesus declared, “I am the Light of the world” at the ancient Festival of Lights in Jerusalem. Yet, while the location of His words is shrouded in speculation, one magnificent truth prevails: Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.

In ancient times, the Jews were God’s vessels for our Scripture and our Savior. Jesus’ earthly homeland, with its innovations and acts of mercy for nations in need, still carries out God’s purpose for Israel as described in Isaiah 49:6—“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

May the Menorah of the Holy Spirit light our hearts and minds as we share Jesus’ light with others and remain dedicated to our Judeo-Christian faith. 

Join CBN Israel in praying for the Jewish community as they celebrate Hanukkah: 

  • Pray for Israelis celebrating Hanukkah (December 10-18) during the COVID-19. pandemic.
  • Pray especially for those who are alone in Israel at a time when Hanukkah is usually a joyous occasion.
  • Pray with thankfulness that God has preserved remnants of His chosen people to ensure religious liberty. 
  • Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and its modern-day Maccabees who guarantee Israel’s security and freedom. 

And may we reflect on Jesus’ revelation in John 10:22-23: “Then came the Festival of Dedication [Lights] at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.” There, He revealed His own deity, declaring, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

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 frequently traveled to Israel. By invitation, she has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times. She hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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World War II Veteran: Arkadi’s Story

It was December 1942, and Arkadi was enjoying a relaxing visit with relatives in Minsk, Belarus. Suddenly, the Nazis raided the city overnight. His loved ones were taken away to the ghetto, as he witnessed a massacre—with the dead piled up in the streets. He recalled, “I wish I could erase this horrible memory…I still see and hear the cries of the people.” 

Arkadi went into hiding, and joined a group of partisans. They organized attacks on the Nazis—bombing their weapon storages, cars, and military bases. More brave Jewish and non-Jewish men and women joined them in fighting back against the horrors of the Third Reich. Arkadi was given an award for his valor by the USSR after World War II ended.  

Today, Arkadi is a 97-year-old veteran and Holocaust survivor, living in Israel. But he can barely walk and needed a walker to help him move around the house. Who could help him? 

Thankfully, friends like you were there. CBN Israel provided him with a new walker, so he can be more mobile and independent. He is thrilled by all we are doing to support elderly Israelis and Holocaust survivors, even during a pandemic, saying, “I am beyond grateful!” 

And CBN Israel is also offering much-needed help at this critical time to single mothers, immigrant families, terror victims, lone soldiers, and more. We are delivering food and vital necessities and bringing hope to the hurting. 

So many people across the Holy Land need help. Your generous support can bring groceries, housing, medicine, and financial aid to those who struggle—while also broadcasting Israel’s important stories through CBN News.

Please help us bless this special land and her people in need!

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Biblical Israel: Nazareth

By Marc Turnage

Nazareth—the boyhood home of Jesus—sits on a limestone ridge (the Nazareth Ridge) in the Lower Galilee that separates the Jezreel Valley to the south from the Beit Netofa Valley to the north. Nazareth first appears in ancient literary sources in the New Testament (Matthew 2:23; Luke 1:26; Luke 2:4, 39, and 51). According to Luke, Jesus’ mother, Mary, came from Nazareth (1:26). Matthew relates how the Holy Family, after returning from Egypt, relocated to Nazareth (2:19–23). Jesus taught in Nazareth’s synagogue (Luke 4:16-30), and as His popularity grew, He became known as “Jesus from Nazareth” (Matthew 21:11).

Although Nazareth is not mentioned in ancient sources prior to the New Testament, archaeologists have uncovered remains from the Middle Bronze Age (time of the Patriarchs), Iron Age II (time of kingdoms of Israel and Judah), and the late Hellenistic eras. The discovery of tombs from the early Roman period (first century B.C. to second century A.D.) indicates the limit of the village, as Jews do not bury their dead inside of cities or villages. The site in the first century covered an area of about sixty 60 acres, with a population of maybe perhaps 500 people. 

Ancient Nazareth sits 3.8 miles (about an hour-and-fifteen-minute walk) to the south of Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee when Jesus was a boy. Its proximity indicates its dependency upon Sepphoris; moreover, its location between the Jezreel and Beit Netofa Valleys, both of which contained international travel routes, suggests that Jesus was anything but “a hick from the sticks.”

Archaeologists uncovered what they tentatively identify as a Jewish ritual immersion bath from the early Roman period. If they are correct, it may point to the location of the synagogue of Nazareth (see Luke 4:16-30). This, as well as early Christian structures, are now enclosed inside the modern compound of the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, built in the 1960s. 

Later Jewish tradition identifies Nazareth as the location where the priestly course of Hapizez settled after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70; an inscription discovered in the coastal city of Caesarea, from the Byzantine period, repeats this. The church fathers Eusebius and Epiphanius indicate that the population of Nazareth was Jewish into the sixth century A.D. 

By the fourth century A.D., Christian pilgrims began to journey to Nazareth and were shown a cave identified as the home of Mary. It remains a place for pilgrims to this day. It has housed churches since the Byzantine period. Today, Nazareth contains two main pilgrim churches: the Catholic Church of the Annunciation and the Orthodox church built over the spring of Nazareth. 

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com  
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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