About the Author

Rev Aaron Eime is the deacon of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, the first Protestant Church in the Middle East. Aaron studied at the Hebrew University in the Masters Program with the focus towards Early Jewish and Christian Interpretation of Bible. Aaron also studied Psychology and Sociology at Queensland University in Australia in the Social Work Program. He is a dedicated Bible teacher exploring the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith. He has taught Internationally in many countries including Europe, North America, Hong Kong and China. Aaron is the Director of Research and Education at Christ Church. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and 3 children.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Vanity in a Sukkah?

The holidays are coming thick and fast in Jerusalem these days. Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, the first and eighth day of Sukkot as well as the regular weekly Sabbaths have made it feel like every second day is a Sabbath. We are currently in the 3rd of the Great Pilgrimage Festivals, the Feast of Tabernacles. Jews and Christians from the nations have gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate with joy the last of the Appointed times of the Lord. Sukkah’s have appeared all over the city in a myriad of colours, sizes and materials. There are many traditions and interpretations to the meaning of the command ‘Dwell in Booths for seven days’ (Lev 23vs42). Sephardi Jews traditionally eat and sleep in the Sukkah, as they tended to hail from warmer Middle Eastern countries, and Ashkenazis traditionally only take their meals in the Sukkah, as they tended to hail from the colder European countries. 

What is written in the text of the Bible and what is actually done in practice today are often different. And Sukkot is no exception. In Leviticus, the text instructs us in the gathering of 4 species of produce from the Land. What Jewish People carry today and call the Lulav לולב and the Etrog אתרוג are not what you find in the Bible. Leviticus says to gather fruit from splendid trees עֵץ הָדָר branches of palm trees תְּמָרִים and leafy trees עֵץ־עָבֹת and willows of the brook עַרְבֵי נַחַל. It is a later Talmudic tradition that identifies those today as the fruit of a citrus plant אתרוג (Etrog), a frond of a date palm לולב (Lulav), leaves of the myrtle tree הדס (Hadas) and the branch of a willow ערבה (Arbah). The palm, myrtle and willow are tied together and collectively called the Lulav. 

Its been said before in this blog that the Bible is Divine Language. Every word is Holy and has meaning, the sounds of the words are Holy and have meaning, and the words that are not in the Biblical text are just as important as those that are there. We gather the 4 species without explanation for their meaning or why, and then we are told to ‘Rejoice before the Lord’ (Lev 23vs40) but are promptly not told how. This gives great scope to search for meaning in the 4 species and there are many traditions and explanations for these items. 

One tradition revolves around the aspects of taste and scent in the 4 species. According to Jewish tradition there are 4 types of disciples in the world. 4 is a prominent number in Judaism. There are 4 points to a compass, 4 corners of the earth, 4 winds in the heavens, 4 cups of wine at the passover, various angels have 4 faces guarding the Throne of God, 4 soils in the parable of the Sower, there are 4 types of disciples and 4 gospels. The fact that there are 4 gospels demonstrates the Jewishness of the New Testament. 

The Hadas (myrtle) has a scent but no taste, the Lulav (date palm) has taste but no scent, the Arbah (willow) has neither taste nor scent and the Etrog (citrus) has both taste and scent. Taste and Scent are synonymous with Heart/Faith and Actions/Deeds. And both are needed to be the right type of disciple of the Lord. If you have good deeds and great actions but no Faith it profits you nothing. Similarly when we say we believe in God and do nothing it likewise profits us nothing, for even the demons believe (James 2vs19). We need both Faith and Actions. During Sukkot, the Lulav (the three plants) is held in the right hand and the Etrog in the left. When our children ask us what we are doing holding onto a lemon all the time, we can use this explanation that we are trying to be like the Etrog, trying to be the good disciple by putting our Faith into Action. 

Sukkot is a 7 day Festival. From Exodus 34vs22 it is also known as the Feast of Ingathering, revealing its agrarian origins as a harvest festival. The harvests of the year have been collected. The storehouses are full. We have the most abundance we have ever had through the year, from here on in its winter and the supplies only diminish until we can harvest again. But at this point in time we have the most we will ever have for this year. So its time to celebrate, be joyful and to share and be generous. Leviticus notes several offerings and sacrifices we return to God in gratitude. 

On the 8th day the Jewish People celebrate Simchat Torah שִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה “Joy of the Torah”. This marks the end and beginning of the yearly reading cycle of Bible in the Synagogue. The annual cycle of reading the Torah became predominant in the Middle Ages. The Jewish People held to a triennial cycle in the Second Temple Period. During Sukkot the Scroll of Ecclesiastes is read in the Synagogue. What is the connection? Sukkot is a festival of Joy, yet the book assigned to be read this holiday appears on the surface to be rather depressing and lacking a sense of Joy. 

Ecclesiastes 1vs2 trumpets an almost infamous verse, ‘Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless’. Most certainly the Hebrew can be read in that direct way, that the Preacher is declaring all things to have no meaning, that all is indeed vanity. There are however, no punctuation marks in Biblical Hebrew. Thus we can also read the verse as a question. ‘Meaningless, meaningless is everything meaningless?’. Perhaps Solomon is asking ‘Are you sure that everything is meaningless?’ Which now changes the direction of the whole book. 

Ecclesiastes 1vs14 declares that man’s labour below the sun has no value or ultimate benefit, it is a chasing after the wind. Recall though that what is not there in the text is just as important as what is there in the text. Hence if what man does under the sun is meaningless, then by extension what man does above the sun must have infinite potential and full meaning. Things we build on this world will fade, our efforts eventually grow old and decay. However treasures stored in Heaven remain forever. 
Taken in context of the Sukkoth holiday with its traditions, we have the concept of material abundance, blessings and full supply. Yet it is in our abundance, when we have everything we are reminded that that is all vanity and meaningless. We are commanded to leave our homes, our security and material comforts to go to the Sukkah and there to rejoice at what is truly meaningful. Such as being the right type of disciple. Thus just like an Etrog with both Taste and Scent, we should couple both our labour below and above the Sun together. Pondering as we look up into the stars of Heaven through the roof of the Sukkah knowing that service to the King of Heaven has infinite value and is anything but Vanity and Meaningless.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur 5777, the most sacred of days in the Jewish Calendar has begun. Stores have closed, the roads are silent of moving vehicles, even the traffic lights have stopped working and flash intermittently in orange as they themselves rest from directing cars. Israeli television ceases broadcasting with Netflix joining in the solemness of the day by withholding all program streaming. Surprisingly for such a Most Holy Day the Bible provides few details on how Israel is to conduct herself on this day. In Leviticus 16vs29-30 we read, In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work … For on that day He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord.

Yom Kippur is a Sabbath (Lev 23vs32) and no work is done. Like all weekly Sabbaths the day is 25 hours long. The regular weekly Sabbath is such a good day that we steal an extra hour from Sunday. Sunday, the first day of the week is thus only 23 hours long. On Yom Kippur the Bible records that we are instructed to gather in Assembly and Afflict the Soul. Despite God’s seriousness of destroying people who perform work on this day, or do not afflict themselves (Lev23vs30) there is little information on what to actually do when we Assemble and exactly how to effectively Afflict the Soul. Traditionally, no food or drink is taken, no bathing is allowed, white clothes are worn to reflect on the verse in Isaiah that our sins will be as white a wool (Isaiah 1vs18) and married couples refrain from intimacy. There are three prescribed daily prayers in Jewish tradition, a fourth is added during Shabbat, and on Yom Kippur there is a fifth prayer. The liturgy during Yom Kippur is more extensive than usual, requiring a special prayer book to collate the prayers together. One of the special prayers for Yom Kippur is called Al Chet meaning “All Sins”. It is a confession of 44 sins, a large portion of them having to do with the Tongue. 

Leviticus 23vs26 notes that the day is actually called יום הכיפורים Yom HaKippurim. It’s plural. Literally the Day of Atonements. Leviticus 16 provides some more details on this plurality. The first person to be atoned for is the Priest (Lev 16vs6). Once the Priest is atoned then the community is atoned through the goat of the sin offering (Lev 16vs9-10), and lastly the Temple itself is atoned for (Lev 16vs20). The Day of Atonement provides for the Priest, the People and the Temple. In that order. But how did it work? Which sins are forgiven? Was repentance required, which is not mentioned in the text or did the ritual cover everything? According to the Rabbis in the Mishnah (a collection of 2nd Temple Period Jewish commentary), a contrite and repentant heart was of utmost importance. No one could intentionally sin and expect the ritual act to make everything right. Rituals assist in directing thoughts, confessions and prayers.  They promote boundaries. But without the Intention of the Heart, a ritual is devoid of meaning. We should remember that it is God Himself who institutes ritual and also Commands that the Torah be written on our hearts (Deut 6vs6). 

The Book of Jonah is read and studied during Yom Kippur in the synagogue. Serving to remind people that repentance can be done on any day, not just Yom Kippur. And also that salvation belongs to the Gentiles too. God is the King of the Universe, not just the King of Israel.

Yom Kippur is for making atonement with Heaven. For the sins committed between Man and God. But what about the sins committed between Man and Man? Good question. Yom Kippur falls on the 10th of Tishri. Tishri is named after the Babylonian god of creation/beginnings. The Hebrew Bible records the name of the month as being the Seventh month. Just as days of the week were simply named Day One, Day Two, so too were the months. During the Babylonian captivity the Jewish community integrated elements of the Babylonian calendar including the names for months. They also changed the New Year from being Aviv (modern day Nisan) in the Spring to being in the Fall. Thus Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year now occurs in the Fall whereas the Hebrew Bible records the year to begin in the Spring (Exodus 12vs2). According to tradition; Adam and Eve were created on the 1st of Tishri. 

The 10 day period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is known as the 10 days of Awe. Getting right between Man and Man is conducted with urgency in the Days of Awe, asking forgiveness from the sins we have done to our fellow Man. Interestingly we spend one day getting right with God and 10 days getting right with Man. Similarly in the New Testament we can note the emphasis on forgiving our fellow man in the Lord’s Prayer, Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And also in Jesus’ urging to make right with our brothers before coming to the Altar of God (Matthew 5vs23). Getting right with God is incredibly important. God said that this Yom Kippur was to be a lasting ordinance that is to be celebrated for all generations. However, the Lord doesn't want that at the expense of broken human relationships.