During this last year of historic global shaking, we are pausing to reflect more during the biblical holidays because we understand this important reality: significant biblical events and holidays have an “in-time” component as well as a future, end-time prophetic component. The events described in the book of Esther and the holiday of Purim are no exception.
Purim is rich with lessons and morals to reflect upon, and this year’s Purim is imbued with added significance: exactly one year ago, Purim was the moment that the covid-19 pandemic blasted into Israel, sending the nation into a draconian lockdown. I have felt the somber significance of this date as the starting point for a very challenging year, and I have been asking God to speak to us about what He wants us to learn from this. I believe there is an important lesson here and, ultimately, a message of hope.
The 2020 Purim Effect – the holiday’s problematic side
Looking back over the past year, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Israel’s covid-19 crisis was jump-started by Purim celebrations which turned into mass infection events. At a recent press conference, Prime Minster Netanyahu went so far as to say:
“Last year Purim caused an outbreak that forced us to close the country.”
Since then, we have observed all our holidays in a subdued and even mournful way: each holiday the government ordered everyone to stay home to observe the holiday with only the nuclear family.
Ad lo yada – not knowing the difference between good and evil
Considering that Israel entered the new covid-19 reality on Purim, what could possibly be an “in time” lesson from this moment? It is important to point out the fact that Purim is the one biblical holiday that Jews, both orthodox and secular, observe in an unholy manner. Anyone who has been to a traditional Purim celebration will know that there is lots of food and alcohol, and things can get wild. In orthodox Judaism, the Purim principal of celebrating ad lo yada (until you don’t know), a statement from the Talmud, means you should get inebriated to the point that you don’t know the difference between evil Haman and righteous Mordechai.
In my younger days, I remember vodka shots served at the entrance of an orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem where we were going to hear a traditional reading of the Esther scroll. To be fair, every year rabbis try to reign in excessive Purim revelry and encourage temperance. However, with a green light from the Talmud, reckless abandon reigns even at many religious Purim parties. Purim is a high point for the party culture among secular Israelis who join the holiday revelry with raucous costume parties.
A Reflection Point
As I reflected on what God might want to tell us about the biblical timing of this pandemic with Purim, the principle of ad lo yada –being in a state of not knowing good from evil—struck me. Blindness to sin in the world should not surprise or shock us. What should disturb us is compromise with sin in our own lives. Personally (and for many others) this has been a terribly painful and confusing year, and, in reaction, my flesh has been crying out in frustration, depression, anger, confusion—just wanting to have the world back to the way it was. It has felt like a spiritual boot camp, and God has been showing me things about myself I was ignorant of or making allowances for.
As we approach the one-year Purim anniversary of when covid sent us into lockdown, I feel God in His grace lovingly reminding us to ask Him to search our hearts (Ps. 139:23-24). This year Purim’s dark side (ad lo yada) prompts us to ask ourselves challenging questions: in what ways have we been blind or made allowances for sin in ourselves? In what ways have we been in a spiritual stupor and lost sight of our basic calling to be light to a dark world? In what ways do we look just like the world? These are hard questions I have been asking myself. When it comes to questions like these, I always ask God to do the leading because He does it with love, grace and mercy. And we have the promise that He is faithful to complete the good work that He started in us. (Phil. 1:6)
2021 – Hope for a Purim Reversal (v’nahafoch hu)
One of the central themes of Purim for Jews is what we call in Hebrew v’nahafoch hu which literally means “it is turned upside down”. Purim is a story of dramatic reversals, of events being radically turned around and reordered in a moment by divine intervention, of death turned into life, of sorrow turned into joy. The book of Esther describes the Hebrew month of Adar, the last month in the biblical Hebrew calendar, this way:
…the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them,
and from mourning to a holiday.
The fast of Esther (Ta’anit Esther), which we observe the day before Purim, highlights the holiday’s opposites and reversals – from fasting and mourning one day, to extreme joy and celebration the next. While Purim 2020 marked the beginning of Israel’s entrance into the covid-19 nightmare, we have hope that Purim 2021 will be a v’nahafoch hu moment, turning the direction of events to come out of this pandemic with the lessons that God wants us to learn and with the fruit that He wants to produce in us. As we come to the end of the biblical calendar year, we have something to look forward to: a new year and Passover, the holiday of redemption, are waiting for us right around the corner with a promise of hope and a new beginning!
by Tamar Afriat
By Moti Cohen
In Israel, in the middle of the winter, we have a special holiday called Tu Bishvat which is the New Year of the Trees or the Birthday of the Trees. Tu Bishvat means literally the 15th of the Hebrew month Shevat: it comes at a time in Israel’s climate when it is ideal for planting trees. Eight years ago I took this picture of my oldest son, David, when he was just one year old. We went together as a congregation to plant trees in the south of Israel in honor of the holiday of Tu Bishvat.
The presence of forestland in Israel is, in my view, a miracle: little more than a hundred years ago when the first Jewish pioneers started arriving, this land was bare and barren. The absence of trees in the Land during that time was pronounced. The Turks who then controlled the area taxed land according to the number of trees on it, which was an incentive to remove trees. What Jewish pioneers found when they got here was a land of deserts, swamps and diseases. The first groups of Jewish settlers who tried to make in the Land failed because hardly anything grew, and many of them died from malaria and yellow fever.
When the pioneers who eventually established one of the first settlements (Petach Tikvah, or Door of Hope) were surveying the land, one of them famously remarked that there was no birdsong to be heard, something he considered a bad sign. But the pioneers of the First Aliah (the first immigration) refused to give up. They dried up the swamps though various methods, including planting huge Eucalyptus tree groves (the Arabs started to call them Jewish Trees) which require large amounts of water.
Today, the large areas of what were once swampland have become some of the most fertile and productive agricultural lands in Israel, including the great Jezreel and Hulda valleys. The areas that were once swampland were so disease-infested that hardly any animals were able to live there. After the swamps were drained and the land rehabilitated from all the salts, animals—especially birds—began populating those areas, bringing with them the sound of birdsong—something that wasn’t heard in these areas for centuries!
Therefore, when we went to plant trees together as a congregation in an area that would become a forest, I was excited. I took my young son along because it was important for me to plant a tree together with him. Our connection to the Land is something of great importance, and I wanted my young son to begin connecting with the land that our forefathers prayed for generations to see but were unable. In our generation, it is a great honor to work the Land of Israel and to be able to cause the desolate places to thrive. Just planting a tree that will be part of a forest in Israel is one of the ways we can be active participants in this miracle called “The Establishment of the Jewish State”.
These trees are a living memorial to God’s faithfulness to His promises and a fulfillment of prophecy before our eyes:
“‘But you, mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown, and I will cause many people to live on you—yes, all of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. I will increase the number of people and animals living on you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”
Happy Tu Bishvat!
Rosh Hashanah Holiday Outreach
Jewish holidays are important part of our lives here in Israel; they’re a time for connecting with family and friends around elaborate holiday meals and, for many Israelis who don’t consider themselves religious, the holidays are a cultural touchstone connecting them thousands-year old ceremonies which inform their history and identity as Jews. For believers of Yeshua, the biblical holidays take on even more meaning because we understand the deep spiritual and prophetic meanings of our cherished biblical holidays and how they point to Messiah Yeshua and God’s plan for redemption.
As much as we love our holidays, they can be a financial burden: hosting elaborate traditional meals, bringing gifts and hosting friends and family during the holiday season can cost too much for many families, and no small number end up going into debt over holiday expenses.
Every year at Tiferet Yeshua we host specially subsidized holiday meals for our congregation members who can’t afford to host their own, for those who don’t have close family or friends to celebrate with (as is the case for many of the foreign students fellowshipping with us), and for those who simply want to celebrate the holiday meal with their spiritual family. There are always many non-believing family members and friends who attend our holiday meals which are an awesome opportunity for them to hear the gospel in the context of a familiar Jewish holiday and connect with believers!
This year Tiferet elder David Trubeck organized and led our Rosh Hashanah seder meal. It was a special time that coincided with the dedication of our new sanctuary. Many of our congregation members attended and their non-believing family and friends had a witness of Yeshua the Messiah in a traditionally Jewish forum.
We can’t host these holiday meals without your support and, as our general budget has taken a hit with the massive renovation project we’ve just completed, we ask that you prayerfully consider supporting this important outreach!