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I celebrated my birthday with my entire family yesterday. It was delightful! Now we’re back at it, studying to show ourselves approved unto G-d, accurately handling the word of G-d. We’re studying to teach our wives. We’re studying to teach our children. We study, because He gave us His word to study. We mine the riches of His wisdom.

We’re pulling into the last chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. This is good stuff. We’re seeing how Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, directed those Gentiles. We’re seeing the passion he had for his kinsmen. We’re seeing the commitment he had to finishing the race, to the endurance necessary to run well. He’s a great example to us all.

I’m praying, literally, for each of you studying with us. I pray you have the diligence, the endurance, the faith – to finish the course… to say, “I studied the Apostolic Scriptures, from one end to the other – and I can say with confidence…” (Far be it from me to put words in your mouth. 🙂

The next several lessons will roll by quickly, and Paul will be gone. There will be several letters to communities, and we’ll review those. Then we’ll get some other authors who have a different focus… It will be a great study. It will finish with John. We will review his visions and the revelation he received of Our Master. Once completed, we will take a few weeks off, to give your hearts and minds some time to reflect. Then we’ll jump back in with a study of eschatology, the study of the last days.

May your days be filled with laughter, with mitzvot, with love, and with many birthdays.

This past month the world lost a great man. He was committed to the L-rd. He was a patriot, a veteran, a servant. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather – and a nice guy. We should feel loss. He is with His Master. What we do now is emulate his faithfulness, and strive to be better than him. Tall order. Buckle up! We can do this, unless we get distracted…

The latest study guide has been posted. See you all tomorrow night.

Shalom Aleichem,

Yosef ben Yosef

 

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Dennis Prager has an excellent article on Truth Revolt that is worth sharing.

Prager: Conservatives in America – Like Marranos in Medieval Spain

Many fear that coming out as conservative or pro-Trump is not worth the persecution.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Marranos was the name given to Jews in medieval Spain, especially in the fifteenth century during the Spanish Inquisition, who secretly maintained their Judaism while living as Catholics in public.

There is, of course, no Spanish Inquisition in America today – no one is being tortured into confessing what they really believe, and no one is being burned at the stake. But there are millions of Marrano-like Americans: Americans who hold conservative views – especially those who hold to conservative positions on social issues and those who voted for Donald Trump for president.

Millions of Americans who hold conservative and/or pro-Trump views rationally fear being ostracized by their peers, public humiliation, ruined reputations, broken families, losing their job, and being unable to work in their field. Under these circumstances, they have decided that coming out as conservative or pro-Trump is not worth the persecution they would face.

In terms of the percentage of the population affected, there is no parallel in American history. Coming out as a homosexual prior to the 1960s-70s, or publicly announcing that one was member of the Communist Party in the 1950s would have often led to similar dire consequences in one’s social, work and family life. But gays and Communist Party members comprised a tiny percentage of the American population. And one of them, Communists, supported true evil.

I wish I could share all the emails sent to me from professional musicians who play in some of the premier orchestras of America. They wrote to me following the nationally publicized attempts by left-wing members of the orchestra and of the Santa Monica city government to prevent me from conducting: they publicly called on members of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra to refuse to play, and members of the public to refuse to attend, when I conducted a Haydn symphony at the Walt Disney Concert Hall three weeks ago.

These emails were written to encourage me, and to tell me how they are compelled to hide their conservative views – how they live, in effect, as Marranos.

A violist with one of the most prestigious orchestras in the country (I figured out which orchestra using the Internet; she was afraid to tell even me) wrote to me last week about how quiet she is about her conservatism. While she could not be fired for it, she said, she would be socially ostracized within the orchestra with which she has played for decades.

Another middle-aged professional musician told me that he wears his hair very long in order to appear hippie-like as a decoy to camouflage his conservative politics. He is no more likely to tell fellow musicians that he supports President Trump than a Marrano in medieval Spain would have gone public with his Jewish beliefs.

And here’s part of an email to me from a musician in Minnesota: “I was a professional musician from the age of 17. I wanted you to know that I, too, lost my career because of my views. My choice, actually; I just could no longer take the abuse.”

I’m fortunate. As a radio talk-show host and columnist, I’m paid to express my opinions. And as to my avocation of conducting orchestras, I’m lucky there, too. Because the permanent conductor of the Santa Monica Symphony and the orchestra’s board remained principled, and because so many people support me and my values, the efforts to thwart me failed. Disney Hall, all 2,000-plus seats, was sold out – a first for a community orchestra in that venue.

Of course, American conservative Marranos don’t only live in the world of music. They are in every profession. We know about the high-profile cases, the conservatives whose careers have been ruined by saying the “wrong” thing or supporting the “wrong” candidate or ballot proposition; we know about the conservative speakers who have been physically attacked and prevented from speaking on college campuses. But we don’t know about the millions who are just afraid to speak up, who remain silent in a business meeting or at a dinner party when someone casually expresses a view that they strongly disagree with. These Americans live in fear, legitimately so in many cases, that if they do speak out, there will be severe consequences – a job lost, a promotion not given, even a child who will no longer speak to them.

This is all new in our country.

Had anyone ever predicted that in America – the land renowned more than any other for liberty and free speech – the word “Marrano” would ever accurately characterize any of its citizens, let alone close to half the voting population, that individual would have been regarded as a charlatan.

But, given the intolerance and hatred on the left and its dominance over almost every area of American life, such an individual would have been a prophet.

Just in time for you to shine like Torah scholars tomorrow night at Joshua Spurlock’s house, Lesson Thirty-One is ready for you.

I was behind in publishing… again. I shall endeavor to do better. In the spirit of the month of Elul, please forgive me.

Shalom,

Yosef

Corrected: The night before the #babyspurlock brit milah this Wednesday, all of his cousins will gather to have a traditional festive meal together this Tuesday night. Afterwards, the Men of Torah class will start at its normal time (7:30pm) at the Spurlock residence.

The men are invited to stay late after class (Joshua is hoping for midnight!) to study Torah with Joshua (who greatly desires your attendance and participation!).

Once again, HaShem has provided a wonderful opportunity to bless Him through the normal steps of our life together. I pray your families will participate, and enhance the Spurlock’s simchah on Tuesday night for additional Torah study after class and at the brit milah on the eighth day of #babyspurlock’s life.

Men of Torah class this Tuesday is at Joshua Spurlock’s house, 1002 Ridgefield Circle, Indian Trail, NC 28079.

See you all tomorrow for Shabbos prayers.

Good Shabbos!

Yosef Ben Yosef

Lesson 30 of What About Me? has been posted. The diagram of the various peoples, based on the now famous coaster placements of Lesson 22 has been updated per our last class discussion.

See everyone tomorrow night! It’s Rosh Chodesh Elul. The King is in the field!!

Chodesh tov,

Yosef

Reprinted from Fox News. A great perspective for everyone… especially the skeptic.

Eric Metaxas

On Monday something will happen in the U.S. that should startle — or at least perplex — anyone who gives it any thought. I am referring to the full solar eclipse you may already be anticipating. To be clear, thinking about what is about to happen has little to do with the sheer visceral experience of being amazed by it, as we must be. Before thinking about it, we should perhaps first simply goggle at it, at the monumental majesty of these monstrously large heavenly orbs, both of which we typically take mostly for granted.

Is it not remarkable that these ever-present objects — though separated by nearly one hundred million miles — should once in a very great while perform this curiously perfect dance? But to what end?

So this sort of thing doesn’t happen anywhere else in our solar system. But our planet has just one moon that happens to be just the right size and just the right distance from Earth.

But what might make us start to think a bit about this event is that this celestial pas de deux is being performed only for us.  Anywhere but here on this planet on Monday, the view of these two objects is nothing special. It is only what we see from our terrestrial vantage point that is special. It’s almost as though what we will marvel at was artfully arranged specifically for our benefit. Which brings us to the curious and startling part of the story.

About fifteen years ago an odd idea popped into my head.  Google was just a gurgling infant. But I happened to have a sturdy Brittanica nearby and I pulled out a dusty volume and quickly discovered the diameter of the sun. It is precisely 864,576 miles. The diameter of the moon was listed at 2,159 miles. I then looked up the distance from Earth to the sun, which varies slightly, but is generally given as 93 million miles. And then I found the distance from Earth to the moon. That varies slightly too, so the average is given as 239,000 miles.

Armed with these four figures, I did some simple math. I divided the sun’s diameter (864,576) by the moon’s (2,159) and got 400.452. If my strange hunch was correct, dividing the distance from the Earth to the sun (93,000,000) by the distance from the Earth to the moon (239,000) should give me something similar. It certainly did. My calculations yielded 389.121. And there it was. I stared at the numbers, amazed. Was the correlation in these ratios mere coincidence?

Of course what this all meant was simply that these immemorially ancient and vast objects, though as different in size as a single BB and a super gigantic beach ball — one that was over six feet in diameter — would from our perspective here on Earth seem almost precisely the same size.  So if they ever just happened to align in the sky, they would match up perfectly. Not almost perfectly. But perfectly, and bizarrely so. 

What might be the odds of this just happening randomly? Almost all the planets in our solar system have no moons or many moons (Jupiter has 60) of incredibly varying sizes. So this sort of thing doesn’t happen anywhere else in our solar system. But our planet has just one moon that happens to be just the right size and just the right distance from Earth.

I found the precision necessary for all of this unbelievable. The more I thought about it, the more I knew that there was no way this could be a mere coincidence. It seemed almost planned. In fact, it seemed utterly planned, as all things of such precision must be.

To bring this closer to home, imagine holding a BB twelve inches from our face and then asking a friend to carry the six-foot diameter beach ball as far down the beach as necessary — until it appeared precisely the same size from our perspective as the tiny BB. Keep in mind our beach ball is six-feet in diameter while a normal large beach ball is less than two feet in diameter. Our friend would have to hike 400 feet before the giant beach ball and the tiny BB matched up in size. That’s about the distance from home plate to the centerfield fence in most major league baseball stadiums.

So can the sun’s and moon’s diameters — and distances from Earth — be merely coincidentally matched up this perfectly? Everything about it makes that seem ridiculous. But of course you can decide for yourself.

Three thousand years ago a man in Israel wrote:  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” That man didn’t have a telescope or a Brittanica, but he saw something many of us today still do not see. He saw a God behind it all. It may be true that seeing a Grand Designer behind these breath-taking events requires what we call a leap of faith; but it may also be true that seeing mere coincidence behind them requires an even greater leap of faith. In my mind, much greater. But on Monday, you may be the judge.

Eric Metaxas is the author of several bestselling books, including “Bonhoeffer” and “Amazing Grace.” His latest book is “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty” (Viking, June 14, 2016).

The study guide for “What About Me? – Part 3” has been updated. The discussion at the end of lesson 22 has received a great deal of feedback. This was when Scott decided to use the coasters to describe the various people in the world and how they relate (or don’t relate) to the Almighty.

I have added a diagram of that discussion to the end of Lesson 28 in the study guide. Before reviewing the material in Lesson 29, which we will discuss this Tuesday, please review the end of Lesson 28 and bring your thoughts with you to class. This includes all of you distance learners who may chat online during class using the MixLR app.

Today is the first day of the Sabbath. May HaShem grant you a blessed shavuah tov.

Shalom,

Ben Yosef

“Who is ha’ish so chochmah that he can binah this?
To whom has the mouth of HaShem spoken, that he may declare it?

Why is ha’eretz ruined and laid waste like a midbar, so that no one passes through?

And HaShem says: “Because they have forsaken my Torah that I set before them, and did not sh’mah my voice or had this halachah, but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them.

Therefore thus says HaShem Tzeva’otElohim Yis’rael: Behold, I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink. I will scatter them among the goyim whom neither they nor their fathers have da’at, and I will sh’lichah the cherev after them, until I have consumed them.””

(Jeremiah 9:12–16 ESV, Hebrew and emphasis mine)

If you know any Hebrew at all, you will recognize that I haven’t conjugated or perhaps even spelled these words correctly. My point is to demonstrate how many words in this short, mournful passage, read on Tisha B’Av, are familiar to our community.

Here are a few thoughts to ponder during your fast today. Nothing spectacular or earth shattering, just thoughts…

  1. Forsaking G-d’s Torah is the specific reason given by the prophet for the destruction of the Temple and ultimately the exile from the Land.
  2. Sh’mah is something I need to focus on more each hour. Do I really listen and obey His commands? Or do I rationalize that they somehow don’t apply to me, at this time, or in this place? The mention of halachah means that their actions were a regular routine, perhaps something that becomes thought-less. Hmmm…
  3. The green words above, chochmah, binah, da’at, are the words which make up the acronym, CHaBaD, the chasidic sect started by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I find it curious that all three appear here.

Traditionally we only practice the mitzvah of tefillin once each day, during the morning prayers. On Tisha B’Av, since the tefillin are called our glory, we skip the mitzvah until the afternoon prayers. I’m always taken aback by the seriousness of the prayers that precede the donning of tefillin.

Behold, in putting on tefillin I intend to fulfill the commandment of my Creator, Who has commanded us to put on tefillin, as is written in His Torah: “Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be tefillin between your eyes.” These four portions, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, Exodus 13:1-10 and 11-16, contain His Oneness and Unity, may His Name be blessed, in the universe; so that we will remember the miracles and wonders that He did wth us when He took us from Egypt; and that He has the strength and dominion over those above and those below to do with them as He wishes.

He has commanded us to put tefillin upon the arm to recall the “outstretched arm” of the Exodus and that it be opposite the heart so that it will subjugate the desires and thoughts of our heart to His service, may His Name be blessed; and upon the head opposite the brain, so that the soul that is in the brain, together with my other senses and potentials, may all be subjugated to His service, may His Name be blessed.

May some of the spiritual influence of the commandment of tefillin be extended upon me so that I have a long life, a flow of holiness, and holy thoughts, without even an inkling of sin or iniquity; and that the Evil Inclination will not secure us nor incite against us, and that it permit us to serve HaShem as is our heart’s desire.

May it be Your will, HaShem, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, that the commandment of putting on tefillin be considered as worthy before the Holy One, blessed is He, as if I had fulfilled it in all its details, implications, and intentions, as well as the six hundred thirteen commandments that are dependent upon it. Amen, Selah.

(The Expanded ArtScroll Siddur, Wasserman Edition, Page 7)

My sins are no different than those of His people which caused the Temple to be destroyed, and they were spewed from the Land He had promised to the Patriarchs. My work of teshuvah can bring about the redemption, and Mashiach will come. His people will be gathered to Him, He will reign in Jerusalem, and the Torah will go forth from Zion.

Tzom kal,

Yosef b. Yosef

 

The traditional fast times are normally overlooked or scoffed at by the Christian community. I used to do the same thing. Then I noticed a few things from the Scripture…

First of all, the Master seems to imply that He expects His followers to fast periodically.

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. wAnd your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18 ESV)

And Yeshua said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (Matthew 9:15 ESV)

Second, the traditional days of fasting by the Jewish community was not simply habitual, but actually recognized by HaShem and used as a reference to the changes caused by the coming of Mashiach.

Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? (Zechariah 7:5 ESV)

Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace. (Zechariah 8:19 ESV)

This is astonishing to me. That G-d would use the traditions of His people to teach them about the Messianic Age means that the traditions of men, while not to be put above the Scriptures, are important – and should be understood.

Three weeks ago, we commemorated the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem on Tzom Tammuz. Tonight we begin to fast and mourn for our sins, those sins which caused G-d to disperse His people, as foretold to Moshe Rabbeinu. The Temple was destroyed and our offerings could no longer be the animals, grain and wine He prescribed, but merely the fruit of our lips.

So, as my friend Jonathan has said, “May our fast be easy, but thorough; filled with deep reflections and insights” not only for ourselves, but our community, and all of G-d’s chosen people around the world and in The Promised Land. May the Holy One, blessed is He, send Mashiach now, soon in our days.

We will resume our “What About Me?” series next Tuesday night, with the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians.

Shalom and tzom kal,

Yosef ben Yosef

As we near the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, you can experience history on the big screen with IN OUR HANDS: The Battle For Jerusalem. In select theaters Tuesday, May 23 only, you can get tickets NOW for this powerful retelling of how Israel’s history changed forever over the course of six days in June, 1967.

In order to take advantage of this one night showing, we will cancel class and meet at the theater. Right now it looks like that will be the Phillips Place theater…

Shalom!

Yosef ben Yosef

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