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Bein Hametzarim

This week we enter the three weeks of Bein Hametzarim [between the troubles].

Bein Hametzarim is the season of sin and redemption. Bein Hametzarim is the period of three weeks that begins on the 17 Tamuz and ends on 9 Av (Tisha b'Av). As we have seen that the Mo'adim of HaShem [appointments, or feasts of HaShem] are prophetic time markers, so we see a cycle of sin (and mercy) in the life of nation of Israel in this time called between the troubles.

When one examines the history of the Nation of Israel in regard to this three week period between the troubles it is a remarkable recounting of sin and its consequences. It is also a period which points to a yet-future time of joy. You see, beloved, it is this period of time that Zechariah alludes to in Zechariah 8:18-19 where the mention of the fast of the fourth month [17 Tamuz] and the fast of the fifth month is [9 Av] are bookends for this period.

Then the word of HaShem of hosts came to me, saying, "Thus says HaShem of hosts: 'The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.'"
Zechariah 8:18-19

Remember this promise as we remember the sin and the calamity of these three weeks between the troubles. These two dates of 17 Tamuz and 9 Av are bookends in time. It is these three weeks that are alluded to in Jeremiah 1:11 when he is shown a almond tree as symbolic of the calamity coming upon Judah during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. It takes twenty-one days for an almond to go from blossom to fully ripened. The Mishnah recounts five events took place on 17 Tamuz:

  1. The sin of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the First Tablets.
  2. The tamid [daily sacrifices] in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusalem, because of the lack of sacrificial animals.
  3. Jerusalem's walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
  4. Prior to the Great Revolt, the Roman general Apostamos burned a Torah scroll.
  5. An idolatrous image was placed in the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple.

The Mishnah also records that five events took place on the day at the end of this period (9 Av):

  1. The bad report of the spies sent to spy out the Land - and the subsequent punishment of wandering for forty years was decreed.
  2. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. 100,000 Jews were killed and most of the rest exiled to Babylon.
  3. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Over two million Jews were killed and one million exiled.
  4. The Temple Mount is plowed under and salted in 71 CE.
  5. The second revolt was ended when the Roman Emperor Hadrian captured city of Betar, the last stand for the Jews with over 100,000 killed in 135 CE.

m.Ta'anit 26b

A look at history will also show a remarkable number of calamities befell Israel on these two dates.

17 Tamuz:

9 Av (Tisha b'Av):

You can see the cycle that began on that calamitous day with the Golden Calf (17 Tamuz), and then a year later is marked with the Israelites accepting the bad report of the spies (9 Av). These are indeed sad days in the history of all mankind. But what is often missed is the hope buried within the very words of Scripture. These are to be days of joy in the future as Jeremiah predicted - but even within the sadness of these days now, there is hope. You see, the first thing ever mentioned about this time between the troubles is found Genesis 8:9. Beloved, in the midst of calamity, there is always hope. If you do the math, you will discover that 17 Tamuz was the day that Noah send out the dove from the Ark following the punishment of the Flood.

Also, if you remember, following the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d revealed His attributes to Moses on Sinai. We see His awesome mercy as He tells Moses,

HaShem, HaShem G-d, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
Exodus 34:6b-7

We see a similar Numbers, after Israel has wickedly accepted the bad report from the ten spies. In this case, Moses pleads for Israel, remembering the merciful character of G-d.

"And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my HaShem be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, 'HaShem is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.' Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now." And HaShem said, "I have pardoned according to thy word: But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of HaShem."
Numbers 14:17-21

Ironically, this same mercy is seen later in our portion when G-d gives further instructions about "when you have come into the land" (15:2). After decreeing the forty years of wandering, G-d immediately tells them that they (their children) will still enter the land.

As you pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, and watch with anxiety the events unfolding in the Middle East... remember that this is Bein Hametzarim [between the troubles]. This is a season of pain, and redemption - of consequence, and mercy.


Rumination #39: If G-d has cutoff "unbelieving" Israel, what hope has anyone?

Christianity has a popular myth that says that G-d gave Israel one last chance when Jesus presented himself as the Messiah, and through the statement, "His blood be on us and on our children," they forever removed themselves from the choice seat of G-d's favor. Of course, this heresy became the starting point of Christianity's long and ugly history of anti-Semitism.

To be sure, many Evangelical Christians reject this foundational theology of the early church fathers. However, that theology continues to openly burst to the surface even among the most Zionist of Christians when discussions of the continuity of the Law or Jewish identity are promoted.

The question is, what is "unbelieving Israel" anyway? In the three weeks of Bein Hametzraim [between the narrows, or troubles] we are reminded of the pervasiveness of unbelief in all the descendants of Adam. In these three weeks we are mourning our sins - the bookend sins of the Golden Calf and the Ten Spies speak forebodingly of the sin of unbelief. It is a sin that we mourn of during these three weeks. It is a sin we mourn for all of our lives.

The truly humble remember that without HaShem's favor, we would all remain eternally in unbelief. What our ancestors did in the Wilderness does not set them apart from us today. Their sin, was and is, our sin.

Spiritual arrogance is a frightful thing. It is the source of curses. It led early church fathers to deride the Jew as a "Christ-killer" and "unbeliever." It continues to lead otherwise gracious people to annul the Torah for too many reasons; instead of revering it for the very reason which speaks to the issue of humility in combating spiritual arrogance: we are simply HaShem's people, redeemed by His outstretched arm… and we simply obey every word that comes from His mouth, because we love Him.

To those that speak of "unbelieving Israel" and seem to think that their spiritual arrogance is endorsed by Paul in their selective reading of Romans 11, we remind them of the rest of the story…

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins." Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of G-d are irrevocable.
Romans 11:25-29

There are not two peoples of G-d. There is only one: Israel. There is no such thing as "the church" that can conveniently distance herself from "unbelieving" Israel. The only people of G-d are joined to the Olive Tree of Israel. If the root is dead, then so are the branches. If there are branches at all, it means that there is still a root. There is One King, One People, One Family, and there is One Standard of Righteousness for us all.

Parashat Pinchas  - 'Phinehas' (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

Parashat Pinchas is named for Aaron's grandson Pinchas [Phinehas]. It comes from the second verse of the Scripture portion:

Vaydabber HaShem, el-Mosheh lemor:
Pin'chas ben-el'azar ben-Aharon hakkohen, heshiv et-chamati me'al b'nei-Yisra'el, b'kan'o et-kin'ati, b'tocham; v'lo-chilliti et-b'nei-Yisra'el, b'kin'ati.

Then HaShem spoke to Moses, saying:
Pinchas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal.

Numbers 25:10-11

In the previous parasha we read how Balaam was unsuccessful at cursing Israel. However next week we will read in Numbers 31 how he devised a way for Israel to in effect bring curses upon herself - by sinning in such a way that G-d would judge her. Here is the way the Torah hints as to what happened after Balaam's unsuccessful mission against Israel.

Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against HaShem in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of HaShem.
Numbers 31:16

Apparently, Balaam counseled Balak to send the young women of Midian to entice the Israelite men into immorality and idolatry. They were successful and a plague broke out in the camp of Israel. Before it was over 24,000 Israelites were dead because of the results of this sin. This is where Pinchas comes in. Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, turned back the wrath of the Holy One, blessed is He.

Right at the door of the Mish'kan [Tabernacle] Zimri, from the tribe of Sh'mon, was fornicating with Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite tribal leader. The congregation of Israel watched and wept at the sight. But when Pinchas saw it, he was filled with zeal and picked up a javelin and killed them both. The plague was stopped. Israel was saved from destruction. Listen to the words of HaShem when He speaks to Moses about Pinchas.

"Pinchas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. Therefore say, 'Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his G-d, and made atonement for the children of Israel.'"
Numbers 25:11-13

Now, the world looks at the word "zeal" and thinks rather ugly things. Honestly, many believers are worried if someone is described as "zealous." After all, extremism is always wrong, right? Wrong. We need more men and women like Pinchas. Notice the zeal, which G-d uses in answering Pinchas' act:

Apparently, zeal is a good thing when displayed like this. The word for "zealous" is kana. It can also be translated "jealous." Notice that Pinchas was zealous for G-d's sake. In this way, Pinchas displayed an attribute of G-d Himself. You see, G-d too is zealous.

But that is not the end of "zeal" in this week's parasha. We are also introduced to the five daughters of Tz'laf'chad in Numbers 27. These are the five women who go to Moses and ask why they do not get an inheritance for when they enter the Land. Their father had died in the wilderness without a son. In the Ancient Near East, an inheritance went to sons. When Moses inquires of G-d, the Almighty responds,

The daughters of Tz'laf'chad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father's brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter.'"
Numbers 27:7-8

The zeal you read in these five women is the zeal for the inheritance. Remember, we are not talking about an inheritance of a bank account, or a house - we are reading about the inheritance that the Almighty promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and now these, their descendants. This is an inheritance that cannot be treated disdainfully. The Land of Israel is the inheritance of the descendants of Jacob. There is no abrogating of this inheritance either by the recipients or any other person. No international commission, or legislative body can take it away. No political leaders can abrogate the inheritance of the sons and daughters of Israel. The Almighty has spoken.

There may be pragmatic "Middle East" policies that aim for "fairness" in dealing between Israel and the so-called Palestinians.  They may make "practical sense." But it is not zealous for the promises of the Almighty. Therein lies the problem... zeal is seen as a bad thing by most - and even among many who call themselves believers these days.

I am reminded of another Bible person who had zeal - Yeshua Himself. After He cleaned out the Temple of money-changers, His disciples remembered the passage from Psalms 69:9,

Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.
Psalms 69:9

In another place, David writes about zeal this way,

Rivers of water run down from my eyes, because men do not keep Your Torah. Righteous are You, O HaShem, and upright are Your judgments. Your testimonies, which You have commanded, are righteous and very faithful. My zeal has consumed me, because my enemies have forgotten Your words. Your word is very pure; Therefore Your servant loves it. I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts. Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your Torah is truth.
Psalms 119:136-142

Zeal for G-d's Word, zeal for His Torah is something frowned up today as well. And yet, Yeshua's own words in Matthew 5:17-19 affirm the rightness of zeal for G-d's eternal and unchanging Word. That is sadly missing from many people's lives today.

In the Apostolic Scriptures, we read that the early believers were not like many of us in this manner. No one had showed up from a seminary yet to explain to them that zeal for G-d's Torah was extreme and "cult like." No "scholars" had yet explained away the Scriptures by saying that the "Old Testament" (i.e. G-d's Word) was best understood in a metaphysical, theological, and philosophical way. To those early believers, if G-d said it, that settled it. They were zealous for G-d's Word.

And they said to him [Paul], "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Torah."
Acts 21:20

The elders in Jerusalem wanted Paul to know that the tens of thousands of believers in Jerusalem were Torah observant Jews, and although the elders knew that Paul was as well, the rumors and accusations against Paul (based on misunderstandings of things he had written) had convinced some that Paul was not zealous for G-d's Word. If you read further in Acts, you read that these were false rumors. Paul too is zealous for the Torah.

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city and trained at the feet of Gamliel in every detail of the Torah of our forefathers. I am a zealot for G-d, as all of you are today.
Acts 22:3

We have seen that zeal for G-d, for His inheritance, for His Word, for His House, and for righteous living is a good thing. G-d is looking for men, women, and children who, like Pinchas, the daughters of Tz'laf'chad, David, Paul, the early believers in Jerusalem, and Yeshua Himself were all zealous. I am afraid that many today are zealous for something... but not for the things of G-d.

How about you? Are you zealous for the Kingdom of Messiah?

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty G-d, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of HaShem of hosts will perform this.
Isaiah 9:6-7

Even so, come HaShem Yeshua, come... and establish Your Kingdom, on Your Holy Hill, in Your Holy City Jerusalem. Amein.

Haftarat Pinchas 'Phineas' 1Kings 18:46-19:21)

This week's Torah portion is named for Pinchas, the grandson of the High Priest Aaron. The Sages say that Pinchas had the "spirit of Eliyahu [Elijah]" in that his zeal struck down idolatry and the plagues associated with it. It is for that reason that this week's reading from the Prophets is about Elijah the Prophet, immediately after doing his part in destroying the priests of Ba'al.

This week's haftarah is not about the zeal of the Prophet as he struck the priests of Ba'al, as one might expect. Rather, it is about the account of Elijah's run into the wilderness. Elijah's zeal had destroyed the priests of Ba'al, and now that same zeal was calling out Israel's sin against the covenant.

Jewish tradition says that Elijah fled to Sinai, to the Mountain of HaShem, Horeb. He hid in the very cave, the cleft, that Moses had gone to when he pleaded for Israel after the Golden Calf sin. From that cave, Moses had seen the passing Presence of HaShem. From that very mountain, all Israel had seen Fire, heard the Voice, had the ground shake. Now, once again a prophet of HaShem sought cover in the cave on Mount Sinai. This time it would be different. This time, the prophet did not plead Israel's case.

And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of HaShem came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" So he said, "I have been very zealous for HaShem G-d of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."
1Kings 19:9-10

Contrast that to Moses' pleading before the Presence of the Holy One, blessed is He.

"Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people." And He said, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." Then he said to Him, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth." So HaShem said to Moses, "I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name." And he said, "Please, show me Your glory." Then He said, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of HaShem before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." But He said, "You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live." And HaShem said, "Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen."
Exodus 33:13-23

The Hebrew of 1Kings 19:9 indicates this cave was the same place. From that same place, HaShem calls Elijah out and shows Him what zeal really is.

Then He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before HaShem." And behold, HaShem passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before HaShem, but HaShem was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but HaShem was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but HaShem was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  And he said, "I have been very zealous for HaShem G-d of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."
1Kings 19:11-14

Beloved, do you see the difference in Moses and Elijah's approach? Elijah had acted zealously to destroy the false prophets of Ba'al. In the same way, Pinchas had acted zealously to stop the plague sweeping through the camp of Israel. Moses also acted zealously, to declare the covenant faithfulness of HaShem - whereas Elijah thought that he was acting zealously to speak of the faithlessness of Israel. G-d did not agree. Zeal for HaShem, zeal for His commandments, does not translate into a desire for G-d to remove His blessings from Israel. Elijah's call for the punishment of Israel was met with a display of three instruments of punishment: fire, earthquake, and wind. HaShem's desire was not to punish Israel, but to redeem her. G-d was still honoring the prophet Moses' plea for mercy. Elijah got the point. Notice, as he steps out of the cave, he covers his head with his talit. In the same manner that Moses' was covered from the consuming glory of HaShem, Elijah too understands G-d's mercy and wraps himself in the symbolic cover.

Zeal is not only about taking up the sword. Zeal is also about extending mercy to the Redeemed of HaShem. Be careful who you speak against. HaShem speaks in the still small Voice of mercy...

This week's parasha and haftarah are always read during the beginning of the "Three Weeks of Mourning." Demarked by the 17 Tammuz and 9 Av, these are the saddest days in the History of G-d's people. These are the dates of the Sin of the Golden Calf, the Ten Spies bad report, and the destruction of the First and Second Temple. These are days of repentance. These are the days of trouble. These are the days... of mercy. We plead for His mercy during these three weeks.

It is not by accident then to learn that Parashat Pinchas and Haftarat Pinchas are about Messiah. The Sages not only saw the similarity between Pinchas and Elijah - they also say that these two point to the Messiah. It on the merit of Pinchas' zeal that we can hope for a Final Redemption. It is on the merit of Elijah's zeal that he will announce the coming of Messiah. These days of trouble are the days of Messiah. Watch and wait.

As you pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, and watch with anxiety the events unfolding in the Middle East... remember that this is Bein Hametzarim [between the troubles]. This is a season of pain, and redemption - of consequence, and mercy.

Prayer Focus for Pinchas -  "Y'Hu Rachum" [He, the Merciful One]

Several places in the Siddur you will find Y'hu Rachum. It is prayed every night, at the beginning of evening prayers. We are most certainly, and desperately, in need of His compassion, His mercy:

He, the Merciful One, is forgiving of iniquity and does not destroy. Frequently He withdraws His anger, not arousing His entire rage.
HaShem, save!
May the King answer us on the day we call.

-- ArtScroll Translation

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