To be honest, my first significant, personal connection with the land of Israel did not come in Jerusalem, but in Caesarea. That was in May 2015, when I stood in the Hippodrome, a place where Rome’s dominance of the Holy Land was on full display in the form of chariot races, gladiatorial contests, and other spectacles. As I surveyed the excavated remains of this ancient arena, my mind wasn’t on the spectacles, but on the significance of the city of Caesarea to me, a Christian born in the nations. At that moment, I realized my connection to the Living God of Israel can be traced directly to that ancient city, the Roman capitol of Judea. It was there that the centurion Cornelius received the testimony of Peter the apostle and became the first Gentile follower of Jesus Christ (Acts 10). There Paul was imprisoned before he was taken to Rome to stand trial before Caesar, having opportunity to testify before two governors and a king (Acts 23:12-27:2). There also the last Herod died, vainly receiving the praise of the people shortly after he authorized the execution of James, brother of John, and the persecution of the Jerusalem Messianic community (Acts 12). The realization of all these things at once not only made the city come alive, but established within me an enduring bond with the land God cares for (Deuteronomy 11:10-12).
But Caesarea is not the Holy City. It was once the center of power in Israel – the regional center of a foreign occupying power, a beastly conqueror that prefigured the final occupying power destined to enslave all the world for a season. There is historical and spiritual significance to Caesarea, and the spiritually astute can sense it. However, it is not the place of God’s throne. That is in Jerusalem – in Zion, the Mountain of the Lord (Micah 4:1-5). There that God revealed Himself to Abraham, confirming the covenant when the Patriarch obeyed even to the point of offering his promised son and heir Isaac to the Lord in faithful, expectant obedience (Genesis 22). There the Lord established His Name, promising to David, the king He had chosen, that the Redeemer of Israel and the world would come through his line (2 Samuel 7:8-17; 2 Chronicles 6:5-6). Jews and Christians alike know this, and both expectantly await Messiah’s coming to Jerusalem to sit on David’s throne and rule the nations in an era of true peace (Zechariah 14:1-9).
These things I have known for a long time. Long before my first visit to the Holy City, I learned and believed these truths born of the Almighty’s firm promises. Yet until now they have flitted through my consciousness as background noise to the constant churning of an inquisitive mind. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Jerusalem added substance to the impressions and images of my book learning. The beautiful people I have encountered there – Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others – bring the city to life and establish for me a connection with antiquity. Jerusalem has always been the place where nations rub shoulders, where holy intersects with common, and where heaven meets earth. How could it be otherwise? It is the center of the world, and has been ever since, according to one Jewish tradition, the Creator formed the first human from its soil. Why? The Midrash says:
He took his dust from that spot on which the Holy Temple with the altar of atonement was in later times to be built of which it is said, (Exodus 20:24) “An altar of earth thou shalt make for Me” saying, “Would that this sacred earth may be an expiation for him so that he may be able to endure.” (Genesis Rabbah 14:8)
As I write, Jerusalem is once again a battle ground. The long, complicated series of events that has led to the restoration of the Holy City to Israel, with the exception of the holiest place of all, is in this very moment enduring a new season of turmoil. Jerusalem, and especially the Har Habayit – the Temple Mount – really is the center of the world. It is the place of mankind’s creation, atonement, redemption, and final restoration. Why should we be surprised that empires and peoples have wrestled over it since time immemorial? That is why Arabs and Jews, Muslims and Christians cannot let the status quo continue. Jerusalem is the crucible in which God holds the fate of the world. Those who strive to wrest it from His hands suffer mightily in the attempt. He alone determines who shall be its custodian, and scripture tells me He has designated the seed of Abraham as the stewards of His Holy City. Until it is firmly and irrevocably in their hands, then the world shall remain in endless turmoil.
Hence the reason we pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
May it come soon, and in our day.
This article was written and originally published for the Nations 9th of Av on May 13, 2021.
[Editor’s note: Did you ever consider the connection between mercy and sacrifice? Messiah Yeshua did, as we know from this exchange with the spiritual leaders of His day:
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why does this Teacher of yours eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when He heard this, Yeshua said, “Those who are healthy have no need for a doctor, but those who are sick do. Now go and learn what this means: ‘Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice.’ For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but the sinful.” (Matthew 9:11-13 TLV)
This is an interesting and complex contrast between two very different concepts. When Angus and Batya Wootten wrote this article in 1995, they provided a piercing observation about that contrast, saying, “those who concentrate on ‘sacrifice’ are looking to ‘the letter of the Law.’ . . . However, the man who makes ‘mercy’ his focus, that man is directing himself – and others – toward ‘life.” They came to that beautiful conclusion through a series of encounters with Jewish families in Jerusalem. That is the background of the wise counsel they present here.]
An Havdallah Experience
By Angus and Batya Wootten – July 1995
We want to share an experience with you. It took place in Jerusalem years ago, and it changed our lives. It is a story about Believers, a Jewish family, a Jewish tradition, and a hope.It begins as we are on our way to Israel, to finalize plans for an upcoming House of David tour to the Land. We had been to Israel several times, taking small groups that joined with other tour groups, but now we wanted to host our own tour. And so there we were, ﬂying on El Al Airlines, going back to our “homeland.”
Batya: “Father, I ask that You please lead and guide us on this trip,” I was praying silently. “With all my heart I want You to do a work in and through us. And while we have a lot of ideas about our tour itinerary, we have no set plan for this ‘planning’ visit. . . . ”
The prayer in my heart trailed off. I felt a little anxious, a little foolish. We had no real itinerary, we were just going to Israel, our primary purpose being, so we thought, to work out a tour that would be “different.” So I went back to my prayer, to almost pleading, “Please Father, I really want You to do a work in us. I really want You to guide us. . . . ”
I had plenty of time to get lost in my quiet time with the Father because Angus, who was sitting next to me, was totally engrossed in conversation with the man seated next to him. And so I sat there praying, and rejoicing in the fact that we were having the opportunity to return to Israel.
After a bit, Angus introduced the man to me, “Sweetheart, this is Uzi Wexler,” he said, “He lives in Jerusalem.”
“Hi,” Uzi said, “Let me be the first to officially welcome you to Jerusalem.”
“Thank you,” I replied. I also commented on his exquisite gold lapel pin, a lion poised on hind feet, as if taking a stand, ready to defend if necessary. My comment about his “lion” led him to explain that it was an “official logo” and that he was the Treasurer of the City of Jerusalem.
“Well, Angus certainly got an interesting seat mate,” I thought. However, it was hard for me to enter into their conversation because of the noise on the plane, and so l just tried to keep my excitement at getting closer to Israel at a reasonable level, and watched the Orthodox men as they gathered together on the eastern side of the plane to pray.
When we arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport, Uzi invited Angus and me to join his family in a few days, in what he called, their “little family Havdallah celebration.” We readily accepted the invitation.
Uzi also said he Wanted to help us to see a bit of Israel, so he arranged for us to join a brief tour that was being hosted by none other than the Israeli Minister of Tourism.
So it is that the next day we joined a private group of very wealthy Jewish people who were helping to fund the State, and, among other things, were being given a private showing of some new excavations in Jerusalem, such as the Tower of David. They also were meeting with the current Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir.
“Wow! Talk about getting a Tour Guide.” I said to Angus after we left the group. “This sure is the way to see the City!”
The short tour had had been both inspiring and lots of fun with nice people. “And,” I thought, poster tube in hand, “The Tourism Minister gave each of us some decorative posters as mementos.”
The next day, Uzi arranged for us to meet one of the leading artists in Israel, Yossi Stern, a man who had been painting pictures in Jerusalem for more than a quarter of a century. As Yossi said, he painted portraits of the Prophets, and of “The people of the Book.”
“I cannot escape a constant recognition of the great heritage of this place and our people. It cries out from every corner of this City of David and the Prophets,” he told us.
Yossi really liked Angus, joking that he looked like one of the Prophets, or like a great Angel that had come to make an announcement from on high. Jokingly, he nicknamed Angus “Gabriel.” In addition, Yossi also painted as he said, “With the people of Israel.” Meaning, at his art shows he would have an individual unknowingly scribble on a piece of paper, then he would amaze them as he turned their scribbling into a caricature of the individual. And, he graciously did caricatures of both of us, after he told us to, “Just scribble something on a piece of paper.”
That day, Yossi also blessed us with complimentary autographed gift copies of books of his artwork, some black and white prints, and that night he even had an employee hand deliver autographed prints of two of his pictures of Jerusalem, with a little note to “Gabriel and Mrs. Gabriel.” Since we had shared briefly with him about the “two houses of Israel” and about how “Ephraim also needed to come home,” Yossi encouraged us to “Come and be his neighbor” and to, “Make Israel your permanent home.”
That particular trip to Israel was filled with unusual experiences and wonderful encounters, but the most moving experience was celebrating Havdallah with the Wexler family.
In Jewish tradition, both the beginning and the end of the Sabbath day is celebrated. Havdallah is an end of Sabbath ritual that consists of a brief ceremony wherein blessings are recited over a cup of wine (to be shared), over a braided candle (to be lit) and aromatic spices (to be passed and sniffed). In Hebrew, Havdallah, means, “division, distinction.” Used as a rite of separation, it serves to separate the holy from the mundane, marking the end of the holy Sabbath and the beginning of the commonplace workweek.
During the service, some fill the wine cup to overflowing, to symbolize their hope of a coming week that is overflowing with blessings. For this reason, goblets that are especially designed for Havdallah usually come with a small saucer.
The Havdallah candle is a braided candle, having more than one wick, to correspond with the plural “lights” in the proscribed benediction. Woven in colorful strands, the most popular color combination is blue and white.
The spicebox (hadas) used in the ceremony is often an object of decoration, some being very ornate, and crafted in silver, brass, ceramic, wood, etc. Frequently, these spice boxes are family heirlooms. Whether passed down from generation to generation, or brand new, these boxes usually are filled with a mixture of cloves, nutmeg, and bayleaf.
According to the Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, by Isaacson and Gross, “Spices were used extensively in ancient times,” and, “It was customary to burn spices after a meal and recite a blessing before smelling them,” which they say, “Is the probable origin for sniffing spices at the Havdallah service” (page 153).
Also, in The Jewish Book of Why, by Alfred J. Kolatch, we are told that, “The origin of this ceremony is attributed to the fourth and fifth century B.C.E. Men of the Great Assembly (Berachot 33a)” (page 178).
To this ancient tradition, some add their own touches. Such as, during the celebration the wife may utter a farewell to the Sabbath in the form of an old Yiddish hymn:
Dear Sabbath Day doth now depart-
May the coming week be blessed
With good fortune and good deeds.
And, since our particular Sabbath in Jerusalem was quickly departing, Angus and I hurried to Uzi’s, or rather, to what we later learned was the Wexler family compound.
You see, Uzi’s father had commanded the Israeli Army forces in Jerusalem during the War of Independence in 1948. And the majority of his family lived on the very hill that he had battled for, and taken. There, Mr. Wexler and family had built their family compound. Further, the elder Mr. Wexler, who, along with his wife, also was present for the Havdallah celebration, had since become one of the leading publishers of Judaica in the State of Israel.
Uzi’s wife, too, was present, she being a Supreme Court Justice for the State. His sister likewise was there, minus her husband, a Texas oil developer who had to be away on business. Also present was Uzi’s youngest brother, who was being groomed to take over the family publishing business. And then, there was Uzi’s other brother. The one who greeted us at the door. He was one of the leading brain surgeons of the world – and also a painter – one who specialized in stark, telling, painful, black and white Holocaust paintings.
This week, Havdallah would take place at Dr. Wexler’s place, and it seemed that almost immediately we were in his lower level studio. There, he was showing me his brutally frank Holocaust paintings.
Looking around, I could feel both his anger, and his desire to be polite, even hospitable, to one whom he regarded to be a “Christian.”
“How would you explain the Holocaust?” he asked me after viewing some of his lithographs.
I could feel his inner turmoil. I also felt as though he were almost “baiting” me. “I believe words fail when one tries to explain the Holocaust.”
I answered quietly. I really wanted this man to know that I felt I did not have a right to speak in this matter. I had not been there. I had not lost family members. I did not have a favorite aunt that had been forced to be a “field whore,” and then to be hung when drunken, pawing men tired of her. I did not have little cousins that had been forced to help dig a mass grave, only to be shot and thrown in with hundreds of others. None of my family had been forced to wear the “yellow star” that marked millions for incarceration and death.
Dr. Wexler watched me go through the fifteen piece set several times, each time being no less shocking, no less telling, than before.
“Would you like to have a set of the prints?” he asked me.
It touched me that this man who had experienced so much grief seemed to be reaching out to me. “I would be very honored to have them,” I said.
He put the prints in their printed packet and handed them to me. “Let’s go up for Havdallah,” the Doctor said, pointing up the steps.
I could feel his change in demeanor, and followed him up to the living room, carrying a package that spoke volumes under my arm.
There, we all chatted for a while, getting acquainted. Everyone was asking us questions, about our faith, and our family.
Since Angus and I had years before put our two families together, I told them, “We came home from our honeymoon to a house full of seven children, and the fireworks started.”
“Yes. But so far, we’ve survived.” Angus chimed in.
Everyone laughed as we told story after story about our children.
After a time, Uzi called the grandchildren in from their play for Havdallah. Excitedly, they all gathered around their Grandfather, each one vying for a spot closer to him. Shotglass size servings of wine were poured for all, including the children. The senior Wexler lifted his glass and said the Barucha. Again, he said a blessing and lit the candle. Another blessing and he passed the spices for all to smell.
I watched as this beautiful, lively, family blessed the God of Israel, thanking Him for giving them the blessing that is the Sabbath. Then, at the Grandfather’s leading, everyone lifted their glasses, drank, and then shouted, “Shavu’a Tov!”
“Yes,” I thought, “This fine family will have a ‘Good Week!’”
I was truly moved by their “family faith.” I knew that, while they did not know Messiah, they were praying to the same Father God to whom I prayed. And I could feel His pleasure in the closeness of their family.
After their brief “ceremony,” in true Orthodox fashion, all the men began to gather around the dining room table, and the women to moved toward the living room.
As we were taking our seats, everyone was talking at once. The men were asking Angus questions, and the ladies wanted me to tell them more about Angus’ third daughter, Linda.
“Linda is our ‘miracle child,’” I said, taking a seat on the sofa. Then I told them how she who had so little hope – in having to face the many battles that came with her very premature birth and resultant cerebral palsy – had experienced many answers to prayers that so many had been made in her behalf to the God of Israel.
For one thing, Linda had met Marsden, a big, good looking guy, who happened to work in the hospital she stayed in when she had to have yet another of her more than twenty operations. Though the need for another operation appeared to be a curse, the Father used the opportunity for Marsden and Linda to meet.
“Linda always had to wear leg braces and a lift on her shoe,” I said “And she was asking God to heal her so that she wouldn’t have to wear them any longer. And, at her wedding to Marsden, the pastor tried to get her to come in the back door, by the altar. ‘So she won’t have very far to walk,’ the pastor said.”
“But Linda said ‘No. All my life I’ve dreamed of walking down the aisle on my Father’s arm,’ she told the pastor. ‘And nothing is going to steal that dream from me.’”
“Believe me,” I told the Wexler ladies, “When Linda walked down that long aisle, holding onto her Father’s arm, there was not a dry eye in the place. Because they all knew her story.”
Now I must admit that while I was very happy to be able to share about all the wonderful things that had happened to Linda, truthfully, I must say that I have never been so double-minded in my life:
I found that I wanted to both talk and listen at the same time! Because, when I began to talk about Linda, at the same time, I could hear Mr. Wexler saying to Angus, “Now Angus, tell us. . . .”
Angus: “Angus, tell us what the House of David is all about.”
This is the question put before me by the Patriarch of the Wexler clan. Personally, as a retired Army Colonel, I appreciated this man who, in the 1948 War of Independence, had commanded the forces of Israel that had battled to keep a portion of the City of David in Jewish hands, and, at the end of the ’67 war, had seen the entire city once again in the hands of the descendants of David.
As I searched for an answer to give this orthodox Jew, and his sons, a multitude of thoughts raced through my mind. To begin with, I felt presumptuous even being in this place and talking to these men about restoring David’s fallen tent. I was well aware of the deep division between Christians and Jews, and here, in the City of David, I, a son of Joseph, he being the son who had received the birthright and the double portion, I was talking to sons of Judah, the son who had received the promise of the “scepter,” the son who became the progenitor of David, the king, from whom came Yeshua, the Messiah. I also knew of the chasm that was created when Yahveh divided Israel into the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel. Almost three thousand years had passed since that fateful division, and over twenty-seven hundred years had passed since the last vestige of Israel, or the Lost Ten Tribes as they are popularly known, had been absorbed into the Gentile nations, in fulfillment of the punishment of which the Prophet Hosea had forewarned: “You will become a people who are not a people.”
While the punishment of Israel, meaning of not knowing who they were, and of not understanding their roots, had been extremely effective over these long centuries, it was obviously coming to a close. We knew first-hand that there were now people around the world who were having the blindness removed from their eyes: They were beginning to see and understand their own heritage as part of the people of Israel, and to experience a “knowing” like the “knowing” one has of their personal relationship with the God of Israel.
And so now, here, a son of Joseph, through his son Ephraim, an Ephraimite, one who knew who he was, had just finished celebrating the close of the Scriptural Sabbath with men of Judah, men who knew very well who they were as sons of Judah. And, this had taken place in the City of David.
I thought back to the time when all Israel had gathered at Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul over to David, in fulfilment of the word of the Lord. I remembered that of the 300,000 plus men of Israel who gathered at Hebron to make David king of all Israel, only 6,800 were from Judah. So I was confident that in the restoration of David’s kingdom and the return of His Greater Son, the other tribes (other than Judah) would once again play a significant role. And, I perceived that the playing out of that role had commenced.
I also knew that even though my Grandmother was Jewish, because I believed in Yeshua, the Wexlers saw me as a Christian, though not the run-of-the-mill tract distributor whose mission was to convert Jews to their particular denomination. Further, on the plane, in my conversation with Uzi, I had made it clear that we were not missionaries, at least not in the usual sense. “Our mission is not to convert Jews,” I told him, “Our mission is to restore relationships between the two houses of Israel. Not by having one house convert to one of the many doctrines of the other house, but rather, by reestablishing the fact that we are ‘family.’ And, as a united family it will be much easier to have a united belief in the Holy One of Israel as He is revealed in the fulness of His Glory.”
Uzi had seemed to receive what I said on the plane, but now, I wondered, “How do I convey all of my thoughts in my answer?” The elder Wexler’s question, “What is the House of David all about?” hung in the air. Drawing a deep breath, and asking the Holy Spirit to speak through me, I answered: “We believe that Scripture clearly shows that there were and still are two houses of Israel, Ephraim and Judah. Further, remnants of these two houses exist today not only among the Jewish people, but also among those who are called Christians. The mission of House of David is to identify that remnant, especially among Christians, and to encourage them to return to their Hebraic roots, which we believe is a prelude to the reunion of all Israel into one united house. Last, but certainly not least, we seek to encourage members of both houses to have the personal relationship with the God of Israel that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had.”
The smiles on their faces, and comments like, “We certainly agree with that” told me the Wexler men had no problem with my answer. They also were in agreement that many from the Northern Tribes of Israel had been scattered among the nations, and would, one day, in fulfillment of Scripture, be regathered. They applauded the goal of modern-day Israelites having the same relationship with the God of Israel as did the Patriarchs. Additionally, they appreciated our interest in, and participation in, the Havdallah celebration that closed out the Sabbath day.
“It seems that, rather than man-ordained feast days that once honored pagan gods, the members of the family of Israel should keep the feasts of Israel. Especially since they are the feasts given them by the God of Israel,” I told them.
The bottom line of how they felt was that House of David had a “more challenging” job in trying to present its message to the Christian community, than it did to the Jewish people.
After a while, Batya and I thanked the Wexler family for an enjoyable evening and began to make our way to the front door.
Uzi followed us. “Feel free to call on me if ever you need me for anything,” he told us as we were leaving. “I’m not just saying this to be polite, I really mean it. Call me if I can ever help you.”
“Thanks, Uzi. Thank you very much. We’ll be in touch.”
“Wonderful evening,” I told Batya as we made our way down the walkway.
“Wonderful people,” Batya replied.
Batya: “I felt the Spirit of God there when we were praying,” I told Angus, as we were driving back to our hotel.
“It was encouraging,” I continued, “Their whole family gathered together and thanked the God of Israel for the gift of the Sabbath.”
“What we experienced is very precious to me. So precious that I hardly want to talk about it. Because sometimes, words fall short,” I said softly. Deep in thought, I almost mumbled, “Right now it’s hard to describe what’s in my heart.”
“I know what you mean,” Angus said. But he was really trying to concentrate, since he was driving in a strange country.
“Slow down, sweetheart, this is where we turn for the hotel. . . .”
Havdallah Celebrations: A Treasured Time of Fellowship
Our visit with the Wexler family is something we cherish to this day. It left a precious, lasting impression on our beings. However, we also cherish our present-day Havdallah celebrations. They are special to us because they are times that we spend with very special friends.
On most Saturday evenings we gather with friends for a “pot-luck” supper, and for a short Havdallah celebration. We use our own Havdallah Hagaddah, or a shortened, or sometimes a lengthened, version thereof. Or we use the Hagaddah of a friend, or a shortened or lengthened version of his Hagaddah, or a combination of both, or . . . (this list goes on ad infinitum). The point is, we are not ritualistic at our Havdallah gatherings.
When we gather with our friends, we do not gather because of the Havdallah ceremony. Rather, our celebration is an outgrowth of the most important thing that is happening, and that is our fellowship. True fellowship is the ingredient that makes Havdallah special, and for that matter, all “religious” celebrations a treasure. Without true fellowship our gatherings become dead tradition. This remains true whether the origins of the celebration are Christian or Jewish.
And, speaking of the origins of celebrations. . . .
A Philosophical Mistake
In one of our Newsletters, entitled, “Who Told You?” Angus points out how, in his book Ten Philosophical Mistakes, Mortimer J. Adler, America’s foremost philosopher, explores ten major errors in the development of modern thought.Adler also examines the serious consequences these errors have on our everyday lives.
The bottom line of Adler’s conclusion is that the most common, disastrous mistake of modern man is that he invents new kinds of wisdom, only to use that wisdom to continue building on a faulty foundation! In other words, he fails to go back to ground zero and to begin to build on ancient and original truths!
Armed with this truth, as Messianic Israelites who truly desire to put an end to all our “religious” mistakes, and to begin building on ancient and original truths, we ask an all-important question:
How then, should we celebrate?
To answer this vital query, we look to the Early Believers, to see how they celebrated.
The Meaning of “The First Day of The Week”
We know the Early Believers got together at the end of the Sabbath day because in Acts 20:7 we read that: “On thefirst day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he kept on talking until midnight.”
To fully understand this verse we must remember that, according to Hebrew reckoning, the day begins at evening: “Elohim called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Genesis l:5). In Hebrew thought, the day begins in the evening. Thus, when the Early Believers gathered together “on the first day of the week,” they were gathering on what Westerners would call “Saturday night.”
Why did they choose this time to get together?
The Word speaks of “Peter and John” going “up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.” And of an angel of the Lord who told the Apostles to, “Go and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” Also, the Apostle “Paul took men, and . . . purifying himself along with them, went into the temple, giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them” (Acts 3:1-8; 5:18-25, 42; 21:26).
In all probability, the Apostles were busy during the Sabbath, “going to the Temple,” that they might be witnesses to those who had not yet heard the “good news of the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel.” To be “recharged” in their efforts, they got together with other Believers at the end of the day, in the evening, at what technically was called, “the first day of the week.”
Also, at that time, they “gathered together to break bread.” This means they were literally sharing a meal, and/or, they were “breaking bread” even as Yeshua “broke bread,” meaning, partaking in some fashion of what has come to be known as “communion.”
There, the Apostle Paul was “talking to them,” and he “kept on with” his “speech,” or “logos” until midnight (he talked for so long that some poor fellow, apparently overcome with fumes from the “many lamps” (Havdallah?) burning in the room, fell out the window, dying from the fall – but was raised from the dead (Acts 20:8-10).
However, the Greek word used to describe Paul’s “talking,” is dialegomai, which means, to discuss, as in argument or exhortation, to dispute, to preach, and to reason with. It also is said that Paul was delivering a “logos,” which can mean he was giving a speech, preaching, teaching about a doctrine (or any combination thereof), or that he was reasoning, questioning, or, just plain “talking.”
These words well describe that which took place, and still takes place, when disciples gather[ed] around their rabbi. It describes the animated, “everyone speaks his opinion,” Jewish Yeshiva.
A System That Prevents Growth
In contradistinction to this ancient “discussion” format for hundreds of years the organized “Church” has functioned in a “one man speaks and all the others listen” format. Sadly, this system has led to a Church that is filled with weak little sheep that have never learned how to flex their spiritual muscles. For the most part, they have not had the opportunity to argue, nor to exhort, nor to dispute, nor to be able to reason with, the “leadership.” In most Church Services they do not dare question what is being taught from the pulpit.
Certainly there must be a place in the Body of Messiah for leadership to teach. And, disciples must “appreciate those who diligently labor among” them, “and have charge over them in the Lord” and “give them instruction” (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
However, there also must be a place for disciples to grow. Somehow, disciples must be allowed to fulfill their Divine command to, “Speak the truth in love,” and thus “to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Messiah” (Ephesians 4:15). Somewhere, they must be allowed to follow the Biblical command: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from Yahveh; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). They must be encouraged to “put to the test those who call themselves apostles, but are not.” They must learn to discern between real and false apostles (Revelation 2:2). This is especially true as we enter into these latter days, when “false Messiahs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). In this latter-day, all Believers need to have their spiritual senses sharpened. And this will happen only when they are allowed to exercise their spiritual muscles in the ancient pattern of Godly, growth-inspiring, Yeshiva-type discussions.
The solution is for us to go back to ground zero and to begin building on ancient, original truths. And, if we hope to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, then the most appropriate time for us to gather together is, Saturday night And, the most appropriate program is the “talking, debating, Yeshiva” approach portrayed in Scripture.
For those who do choose to gather on Saturday night, and do desire to see the reunion of the two houses, and full restoration of the fallen booth of David, the Havdallah celebration – which can serve as a “bridge” between two warring peoples – can be especially meaningful, and that, for several reasons:
An Opportunity to Grow Up In Messiah
To begin meeting at the end of the Sabbath gives us time during the day to spend with our family. And, all Believers need to concentrate on “being a family,” because the unspoken testimony of a healthy family is one Of the most powerful testimonies known to man.
Also, meeting late in the day gives us time to rest, and when we truly rest, desisting from all labor, the truth that our Provider is caring for us in all things becomes self-evident, in that we do not have to work. It is an amazing principle: The Father teaches us about His love and provision for us, by allowing us to rest – as is defined in Isaiah: “If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of Yahveh honorable, and shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in Yahveh, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of Yahveh has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13-14).
When we gather, and, like the Bereans of old (Acts 17:10-12), discuss the Word, many things can happen: We can both exhort others, and if necessary, be exhorted. When we hear something that we feel opposes the full truth of Scripture, we can dispute it. However, what we say also can be disputed. In other words, we can, and should, question one another. Further, we should learn how to reason with one another and not be quick to discard someone because they do not believe exactly as we do. In fact, if we force ourselves to reason with the individual, it causes us to hone and sharpen the truth of what we believe (or, we may be honed). Additionally, if a point in Scripture becomes alive to an individual, they have an opportunity to teach and/or preach about it to their group.
In essence, when we get together without an emphasis on structure, and pursue a Yeshiva-type, question and answer format, we give the Spirit the opportunity to use each of us in marvelous ways. If we will but trust the Ruach haKodesh (Holy Spirit), He will see that all get to use their spiritual muscles, regardless of size. And the marvelous result is: spiritual growth in all!
Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Messiah, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
The Trouble With Tradition. . . .
Regarding any “traditions” that we follow at our Havdallah celebrations, or for that matter, at all our Messianic Israel celebrations, we note that it has been our experience that (all of?) man’s religious traditions are tainted. For example: Yeshua’s name was not Jesus, and He was not born on December 25th. Nor is Rosh Hashanah, the “head of the year,” as is claimed. For Yahveh declared that “Abib” shall be the head of the months for us. Further, to celebrate the “Exodus” Passover, is not equivalent to celebrating Messiah’s Resurrection. Therefore, it is not accurate to have a “Passover versus Easter” war. Passover is a celebration of both our “deliverance,” and of Messiah’s “death.” To celebrate His Resurrection, however, one would celebrate the “day of First-fruits.” So it is that the “Christian versus Jewish war of traditions” is full of such untruths and misunderstandings.
It also has been our experience over the years that Believers very often go “tilt,” when they become enamored with Jewish people, and Judaism. Needless to say, many “Christians” also go “tilt” when it comes to “Israel.” Not understanding how they fit into the plan – and the Father’s plan, according to Isaiah 8:14, includes “both the houses of Israel” – they enter into the sin of Replacement Theology.
On the other hand, those who are infatuated with “Jewishness” often declare that “The Church has nothing to offer” Jewish people. (But, what they offer is the fact that, between the two houses, they alone have been declaring that “Jesus” is the “Christ” for the past two thousand years – and even though their message is distorted, still, Yeshua is the most important “offering” of all time.) Further, these Believers seem to think all “Jewish” traditions are Biblically acceptable.
The heart motivation of these “pro-Jewish” Believers may be to try to right a terrible wrong the Church has perpetrated against the Jewish people. However, these too must realize that the Father has declared that “both the houses of Israel, stumble over the Sanctuary.” Both stumble over the “Sanctuary,” for, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Isaiah 8:14; John 2:22; Romans 3:23).
Havdallah: An Ancient Tradition
Because it is the desire of those of Messianic Israel to return to ground zero, and to build on original truths, we point out the following regarding the traditional Jewish Havdallah celebration:
Again, according to The Jewish Book of Why, by Alfred J. Kolatch, “The origin of this ceremony is attributed to the fourth and fifth century B.C.E. Men of the Great Assembly (Berachot 33a)” (page 178). Thus, the Havdallah tradition began several hundred years before the time of the Apostles. And, it very well may be that that is what the apostles were celebrating the night the gentleman fell out the window.
This is not to say that everything about the traditional Havdallah celebration is untainted, for, Kolatch, when he answers the question, “Why is the Havdala cup of wine filled to overflowing?” says, “Filling the cup to overflowing is considered a good omen, an expression of hope that the week to follow will bring with it goodness in abundance. The origin of the custom is rooted in the belief, common in early societies, that the spilling of wine is a safeguard against evil spirits. These spirits, it was believed, could be bribed with a bit of wine (Eruvin 65a)” (pg 178).
We agree, such superstitious beliefs were “common in early societies.” This is confirmed in the book, The Star of David: “Superstition flourished in both circles [Jewish and Christian], because people simply did not have the same access to the Scriptures that we have today. Therefore, their understanding was darkened.”
Since man’s traditions are just that, “man’s traditions,” and since we are seeking for the truth of the matter, we again ask the question: How then, do we celebrate?
The following may not at first appear to be the answer, but it is:
Once, when Messiah was chastening some Pharisees, He said to them: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, more than sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13)
The point behind Messiah’s declaration: “I desire mercy, more than sacrifice” (note the correct translation: “more than,” and not, instead of), is that, those who concentrate on “sacrifice” are looking to “the letter of the Law.” And that “kills” (2 Corinthians 3:6). However, the man who makes “mercy” his focus, that man is directing himself – and others – toward “life.”
As those of Messianic Israel, as those who seek to be delivered from all “religious” bondage, we will have to walk where no man has walked before. To get there, we must travel a road that is paved with “mercy.” To find our way there, we must focus on “life.”
“Mercy,” and not the fine details of “sacrifice,” is the answer to our “how do we” quest: For Yahveh’s mercies are new every morning. He is always doing a new thing. And, in this latter day, if we will walk aright, He will do a new thing in and through us. But first, a golden road of mercy must be made to run through our hearts.
While we are not called to ignore, nor be oblivious to the kind of “sacrifice” being made, we are called to focus on “mercy.” We must remember that is Yahveh’s “kindness” that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Thus, we must ask of ourselves: Do we parade ourselves as a (self-)righteous “sacrifice,” as one who is “sacrificing” their life to God by doing everything “right”? Or, do we simply try to do “justly,” and thus to issue a humble call to the sinner? The latter must be our intent, because: “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does Yahveh require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your Elohim” (Micah 6:8).
Restated, all who hope to enroll in and graduate from, the School of Reunion of The Two Houses of Israel, will have to “major” in mercy.
The solution is for us to go back to ground zero and to begin to build on the faith of the Apostles. And that means that, like them, the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel will be of utmost importance to us (Acts l:6). Further, to reunite two peoples, who for so long have been so bitterly divided, then, rather than the letter of “sacrifice,” we will have to be more concerned with living a life of “mercy.”
A Prophetic Declaration
Again, we gather every week with friends to celebrate Havdallah. But our celebration is different. It varies in that, before the meal, we relight the Sabbath candles and we have one person to represent “Ephraim” and one to represent “Judah.” Then, they each use their candle to light the braided Havdallah candle. Afterward, they extinguish their individual candles, symbolizing the end of their “separateness,” and, together, they lift high the one, braided, and brightly lit, Havdallah candle, while declaring their unity in Messiah.
We celebrate this way because, for all of us, the braided Havdallah candle represents our hope in the full reunion of the two houses of Israel. To us, it represents Ephraim and Judah as they become “one stick” in the Father’s hand (Ezekiel 37:15-28).
Additionally, we added “two sticks” of cinnamon to our spice box, praying a two-fold prayer as we pass it: that our lives be as “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to our God” (Philippians 4: l8), and that He might use us in the coming week to help make the “two sticks” one in His hand.”
For us, Havdallah is a very prophetic, hope-filled celebration. In our hearts we are declaring to the spirit realm, and to all the world, that we believe the Father’s glorious promises: We believe that we all truly will grow up in Messiah, and that our God will keep the promise He made in Ezekiel 37:
He will yet make us “one” people on the mountains of Israel.
There, we all will live an unending, Shavu’a Tov!
 See Angus and Batya Wootten, “Who Told You?,” House of David Herald 5-10, October 1993.
 See Batya Wootten, “Restoring the Fallen Booth of David: The Tabernacles Celebration,” “Yaveh’s Calendar Versus Compromise With Babylon and Rome,” “The Father’s End-Time Passover Plan for Ephraim,” and “Shavuot and the Two Leavened Loaves,” House of David Herald 5-9 (September 1993), 6-8 (August 1994), 9-2 (February 1997), and 9-5 (May 1997)
 Batya Ruth Wootten, The Star of David, House of David, 1965.
Plagues have always been part of our human story. In fact, medical disorders that inflict large parts of a population have been known since ancient times, and even enter into the biblical narrative. Is there any significance to these periodic occurrences? Does God ever use them to get our attention?
Rabbi Chaim Eisen of Zion Biblical Studies has some thoughts on that subject in connection with the current pandemic. In this video teaching, he weaves together some fascinating data points from the accounts of 1 and 2 Samuel, Lamentations, and the present day. Is it possible that God is trying to get our attention, saying that His Temple in Jerusalem is much more important than we thought?
Counting the Omer is keeping the commandment to count 50 days (seven Sabbaths plus one day) between the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest (often called First Fruits) until the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) (Leviticus 23:15-21). This year The Barking Fox is counting the omer with modern pictures of places named in the Bible.
Counting the Omer is keeping the commandment to count 50 days (seven Sabbaths plus one day) between the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest (often called First Fruits) until the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) (Leviticus 23:15-21). This year The Barking Fox is counting the omer with modern pictures of places named in the Bible.