Thursday, April 3, 2014

RE-POSTED: getting the leaven out... one room at a time: INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES

[Note: This is a series I wrote four Passovers ago, so the timing is definitely off and our family has grown by one. Nevertheless, it is time to prepare for Passover, so I wanted to re-post it anyway!]
This year my Passover preparations must be completed early, as I am planning to travel and be away from home for the two weeks prior to the beginning of Pesach. In hopes of completing this task, I will be writing a series on "getting the leaven out... one room at a time" that will touch slightly on the physical removal of leaven from our homes, but much more so on the spiritual and lifestyle applications that have come to my mind during the past few days. You can go to any Jewish or messianic website and probably find oodles of information on preparing your home for Passover, "Spring" cleaning, recipes for using up the leaven in your pantry, etc. That's not what I will be primarily focusing on here, however, because if we fail to prepare our spiritual home, the heart, for Pesach, then all of our preparations have been in vain... so join me as I get my hands dirty in preparing the rooms of my heart for this very special feast of the L-rd...

Please scroll down to read all posts in this series.

RE-POSTED: getting the leaven out: THE HEART/the leaven is out, but is it out?

Note: This post is part of a series. Please scroll down for other posts and introduction.

"Any leaven that may still be in the house, which I have not seen or have not removed, shall be as if it does not exist, and as the dust of the earth"... from the Haggadah

"It is a positive commandment of the Torah to remove the leaven before the time when it is forbidden to eat it, as it is said: 'the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses' (Exodus 12:15)... What is this removal of which the Torah speaks? It is that one should annul the leaven in his heart and consider it as dust; and he should take to heart that there is no leaven at all in his possession and that all the leaven in his possession is as dust, and as something of which there is no need whatsoever..." -Moses ben Maimon

Now in the middle of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, I am nearing the end of this series of posts. As we consider the words above, if we have indeed thoroughly cleansed our homes and neglected to cleanse our hearts in preparation for Passover, we have prepared in vain. Fortunately, it is never too late nor too time-consuming to cleanse your heart before a loving G-d. This Passover season, as we remember and celebrate our own redemption from slavery and bondage to sin, let us also use this ever-appropriate time to get our hearts right with the Master who granted us our freedom. Although we are saints who still sin, He is always waiting, willing, and able to forgive us for our sins. Take some time over these remaining days of this Feast to confess, and ask for forgiveness for, your transgressions... and I plan to do the same.
Here are some Scriptural verses on the benefits of confession of sin: Proverbs 28:13, Psalm 32:3,5, Isaiah 1:18, Psalm 103:12, 2 Chronicles 30:9, 1 John 1:6-7, Romans 8:1, and Hebrews 10:19, 22.
For those of us who celebrating Passover, eating unleavened bread (matzah) and have tasted the bitterness of the herbs (horseradish) on the seder plate, these are excellent physical representations of the heart of Pesach for believers. Our Messiah, our Passover Lamb, died because of our sins, so sometimes remembering that can truly give us the strength we need to continue striving with a sinful nature and living for Him in a sinful world. While recalling our past sins and confessing our current ones, our gratitude to G-d for His deliverance is multiplied. As Philo of Alexandria wrote so many years ago, "and so, we who desire repentance eat the unleavened bread with bitter herbs, that is, we first eat bitterness over our old and unendurable life, and then [we eat] the opposite of overboastful arrogance through meditation on humility, which is called reverence. For the memory of former sins causes fear, and by restraining it through recollection brings no little profit to the mind..."
With that said, I wish you a bitter and sweet... solemn and joyous... tearful and freeing... Feast of Unleavened Bread! Let's celebrate our beautiful redemption and our wonderful Savior! Chag Sameach!

RE-POSTED: getting the leaven out: BATHROOM: the beauty of separation

Note: This post is part of a series. Please scroll down for other posts and introduction. Also, this post is NOT intended to be read by men... read at your own risk...

The reason that this subject has fallen under the 'bathroom' label in this series is because it will be about a 'potty talk' subject for women and something that men do not normally like to talk about: menstrual cycles. The reason that I would prefer that men not read it (other than my husband of course) is because I feel that menstruation is something that they should discuss with their own wives or read about it in medical texts.

The heart of this entry will be focused less on the actual menstrual cycle (there are many other places to find that information) and more on what orthodox Judaism calls "family purity" or "the laws of niddah" ...simply stated, abstaining from sex with your husband during your period.

First, let me say that menstruation is a monthly miracle (as hard as that it to believe for us sometimes!) Without it, we are unable to conceive children. Although many would view the laws of "family purity" as archaic or outdated, they really are more a celebration of life and the importance of intimacy within marriage. In Biblical times, a menstruating woman was considered "unclean" and "impure"... and if you really think about it, she was! Before the invention of maxi pads and tampons, what would she use to keep herself clean besides rags or pieces of cloth? That's all there was! So I imagine that she was probably hindered from her usual activities (much more so than modern women) and she had to stay close to home. The label "unclean" didn't mean that she had done something wrong, it simply meant that she was in a state of temporary vulnerability. When the menstrual cycle begins, a woman understands that the possibility for life in her womb at that time has ended, so in essence, there is a whisper of death. The uterus must shed its lining, cleaning itself out for the next opportunity to cradle a child... it is preparing to start over. Quoting again from the book, Jewish Women Speak about Jewish Matters, "when stripped to its essence, a woman's menses signals the death of potential life. Each month a woman's body prepares for the possibility of conception. The uterine lining is built up-- rich and replete, ready to serve as a cradle for life-- in anticipation of a fertilized ovum. Menstruation is the shedding of the lining, the end of this possibility. The presence of potential life within fills a woman's body with holiness and purity. With the departure of this potential, impurity sets in, conferring upon the woman a state of impurity or, even more specifically, niddut. Impurity is neither evil nor dangerous, and it is not something tangible. Impurity is a spiritual state of being, the absence of purity, much as darkness is the absence of light." (p.77)

Impurity is very a hard concept for the modern mind to grasp, because we don't tend to have a very holistic view of how the world and our bodies work. Therefore, science develops birth control pills that manipulate our bodies into having only four periods a year! Obviously, this is not what G-d intended, and I am glad that people cannot stop the cycles of the moon or seasons, because G-d's cycles are meant to teach us about the cycle of life. Even believers have difficulty with this concept, especially since there is no physical Temple standing in Jerusalem. I am not claiming to fully understand it either, but perhaps the impure were restricted from the Temple because they were reminders of death.... menstruating women, diseased or injured people, abnormal or physically "imperfect" people... the only thing that these people would have in common is that they make people ponder death and suffering. The Temple was to be a place of life and worship. Since G-d created the menstrual cycle (and also created some people blind, lame, etc.), these impurities were not punishment for sin.

When a woman of child-bearing age (a.k.a. woman who menstruates) becomes one with a man through marriage, that is when the issue of family purity comes along. There is no physical Temple, so how do we apply this mitzvah (commandment) to our lives? Although I don't believe that menstruating women should be restricted from houses of worship (how embarrassing that would be!), I feel that there is something to be applied here. At the very least, I don't think
G-d intends married women to have sexual intimacy with their husbands when they are menstruating. This is something that my husband and I discussed before we got married, and we do abstain from intercourse during this time of the month. In orthodox Judaism, married couples also wait for seven more days after the end of the menstrual cycle and after the woman has gone through a mikveh (ritual bath for immersion). The mikveh is to show that the woman has become pure again and that her status has changed. Afterwards, she is intimately reunited with her husband. Although I don't have access to a mikveh at this time, I think that this is a beautiful practice, and there are messianic believers who build mikveot for this purpose. Perhaps someday I will also have access to a mikveh, and until then I will apply this mitzvah to my life as much as possible.

If you are new to this concept, perhaps it sounds restrictive. The aforementioned book gives a wonderful perspective that will help us to focus on the benefits (blessings) of applying family purity to our lives: "At first glance, the mikveh system speaks of limitations and constraints-- a loss of freedom. In truth, emancipation is born of restriction. Secure, confident, well-adjusted children (and adults) are disciplined children; they understand restraint and ultimately learn self-control. The drawing of parameters creates terra firma amid chaos and confusion and allows for traversing the plain we call life in a progressive and productive manner. And in no area of life is this more necessary than in our most intimate relationships. Over time, open-ended sexual availability leads to a waning of excitement and even interest. Mikveh's monthly hiatus teaches couples to treasure the time they have together. They count the days until they can be together, and each time there is a new quality to their reunion. In this regard, the Talmud states, "So that she will be as beloved as on the day of her marriage." In this way, they are constantly involved in an ongoing process of becoming 'one flesh.'" (pp.79-80) In other words, family purity not only will prove to be beneficial to marriage if practiced, it can also prove to be detrimental if not put into practice.

Family purity not only benefits the married couple, it benefits us as married women. It offers us a "measure of solitude and introspection. There is additionally, an empowering feeling of autonomy over our bodies, and indeed, over the sexual relationship we share with our spouses... (let me clarify: this 'empowering' should not lead us to try to dominate our husbands or use withholding sex as a weapon for getting them to do what we want. That is not Biblical. It should have more of the effect of raising our self-esteem and causing us to feel good about our bodies, which is always rewarding to our husbands as well)... There is strength and comfort in the knowledge that human beings can neither have their every whim nor be had at whim." (Jewish Women Speak... p. 80)

Because the mitzvot concerning the laws of niddah are Temple-dependent, married couples need to come to an understanding of how they will observe them and to what extent. The important thing is that it is consensual, and both the husband and wife are in full agreement. As messianic believers, we hold Rabbi Sha'ul of Tarsus in high regard and he tells the Corinthians this: "The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But this I say by way of concession, not of command." 1 Corinthians 7:3-6

I like to think of my menstruating self as a closed flower, still beautiful to my husband, but temporarily unavailable... until that day that I bloom once again. Let us strive to view menstruation as the miracle that it is (not The Curse, or the unwanted monthly 'visitor"), and seek G-d's face in understanding the importance of cycles and seasons in His creation, including us. During this Passover season, may we rejoice that He has given us a picture of renewal and 'starting over' even in our own bodies. Indeed, we are wonderfully and fearfully made...

RE-POSTED: getting the leaven out one room at a time... KITCHEN/the mitzvah of moderation

The kitchen seems like an appropriate place to begin because even though I just successfully finished washing (all of) the dirty dishes and wiping up the splattered stove and counter top, my kitchen is still basically a disgrace to housewives everywhere! It's small, cluttered with mail and recipes (and who knows what else), and the floor is always dirty even a few minutes after I mop it. But as Brooklyn apartments go, my kitchen is big and in good working condition, and for this I am grateful. (By the way, the kitchen to your left is NOT my kitchen.)

In preparing for Passover, the kitchen is probably the room in which most of the hard work has to be done. It's time to start going through the pantry, searching the labels for yeast and leavening agents, using up those items as soon as possible, etc. Last year around this time, I was asking my Rabbi (in FL) Ben, what exactly I had to 'throw out,' and he took the time to graciously explain to me that I needed to be careful not to miss the point of the Biblical commands concerning removing the leaven from your homes. While it is perfectly okay to physically get rid of the leaven in our homes, we also have to understand that in the Scriptures, leaven represents sin. What Passover is essentially about is starting anew, (the women who saved a portion of the leaven from their challah bread to make next week's challah rise would throw it away and start over after Passover) and purging the sin (leaven) from our lives. As a physical picture of this spiritual renewal, we are also commanded to abstain from eating leaven during the Feast of Unleavened Bread as well. (I will try to write more later about why believers should celebrate Passover and how it is celebrated.)

As I explained in my introduction, this series is less about cleaning our houses (although important) and more about renewing our hearts and lifestyles, so this above paragraph is most likely all I will mention about removing physical leaven. As the title suggests, the heart of this post is moderation, specifically moderation in eating. Perfectly timed, I received my March issue of Parenting magazine only to find an article that began like this: Raise your hand if you've ever been asked, "So, when are you due?"... after you've given birth (like, way after).
(read the article by going to: and just a few weeks earlier a dear man (at least he was in his 70s!) asked me if I was expecting another baby, and I had to say 'no' and we were both slightly embarrassed. It's been over 15 months since I delivered my daughter, over a month of her being weaned from breastfeeding, and I am all out of excuses for being unable to control my appetite! I believe the statement that "diets don't work," but I think that changes in lifestyle certainly do! So as I prepare for Passover, there are items that needs to be removed from the "kitchen" of my heart and many others in need of moderation.

Upon first arriving in Brooklyn and admiring my new kitchen, I was initially comforted by the fact that I was utilizing someone else's kitchen. I thought to myself, "I will have to keep it tidy and take good care of it because it's not mine. If the landlord ever stops by, his kitchen will be clean!" It was like built-in accountability, but regardless, there have many times when I didn't feel like washing the dishes (I thought it was difficult to keep up when I actually had a dishwasher), or sweeping the floor, because it was easier to just leave the mess until tomorrow... or the next day. Unfortunately, sometimes this is how we treat our own bodies, which do not belong to us either. Our bodies are the temple of the Spirit of the Living G-d, and should be treated as such. Therefore, there are really no excuses for not trying to eat healthy or get some kind of regular exercise. I am well aware that this journey will be a long one for me, but I hope to be sharing stories of success in the future. During this season of renewal, it's a wonderful time to begin taking better care of our bodies... to better worship the Spirit that dwells within...

RE-POSTED: getting the leaven out: BEDROOM/shomer negiah

Note: this post in part of a series. Please scroll down for other posts and introduction.

"Imagine yourself at a checkout counter. You have never liked shopping at this store because of its less-than-wonderful service. Today is no exception-- you have been waiting to pay for what seems like an eternity. Finally your turn comes. You hand the slow-moving cashier your money. Usually you have to pick up your change off the counter, but today the cashier places it in your hand, and for a brief moment you can feel the warmth of his or her hand on yours. Outside, afterward, you sense something strange. For some reason, you're feeling more warmly toward this store than before. .."

The above quote was taken from "Jewish Women Speak About Jewish Matters," a composition of short articles by Jewish (but not messianic) women. This essay was about the power of touch, the topic of this post. Although there is no direct correlation between this subject and Passover, this series will be concerning topics that I have been pondering in my preparations for this Feast of renewal.
In Judaism, to be cautious with this powerful form of affection is known as "Shomer Negiah," or "guardian of touching." As the book states, "this strikes some people as extreme. But the truth is that for anyone who's serious about getting the most out of a relationship-- and avoiding the pain of failed ones-- being shomer negiah makes eminent sense" for the fact that the power of human touch "can be harnessed constructively or destructively. Touch can be used to comfort-- or to manipulate... and can create illusory feelings of intimacy and make you feel close to a person even when you are not really so close after all, creating many serious problems." (pp.60-61)

The best metaphor to use concerning the power of touch that I have found is electricity. I came to this understanding on an El Al plane returning from one of my trips to Israel. If you've ever made this flight, you know that the plane is scattered with orthodox Jewish people. The men will often make their way to the back of the plane during prayer times, and it is an incredible experience to be a part of. Something that I had been pondering while in Israel was (what I thought to be) a lack of affection between orthodox Jewish couples. Now I understand it much more. On that plane, I begin to think that if the couple in front of me did happen to touch, even unknowingly, I would see sparks fly or something! why? Because this couple did not treat touch as something common or to be shared with just anyone, anywhere, at anytime. To them, touch was sacred. There's an electricity that exists between husband and wife, whether they choose to make sparks fly in public or not. Honestly, most people are uncomfortable in the presence of a couple that shows too much affection in public, right? Well, that day I decided that my husband and I (I was yet to be married at this point) would be shomer negiah, guardians of touch. This can be applied to your life, whether you are married or single.

During our courtship, my husband and I did not kiss, but we did hold hands and hug one another (but if I could go back, perhaps I would change that). There is appropriate touch for an engaged couple. In fact, during our pre-marital coaching, we learned that affirmation is very important for a man, while affection is very important for a woman. While meaningful, non-sexual touch is one way to show affection, there are many other ways as well. This is why in orthodox Judaism, married men and women do not even touch each other during the woman's menstrual cycle (and the seven days following it. I will be writing more about this later). They do this not only so that there is less temptation for sexual contact, but also to learn how to communicate and show affection to one another without touching. They also do not touch people of the opposite sex who are not their spouse or relatives. I think we have much to learn from this principle.

Since I have become a married woman, shomer negiah has become much more important to me. In applying it to my own life, I rarely hug men other than my husband or my relatives. If a man (who is a dear friend of course) approaches me to hug, I don't deny him but i don't get close to him either. I also don't offer my hand to a man to shake, but if he holds out his hand, then I will shake it. Of course, I take into account that there are many cultures who are more openly affectionate than others, and I have never rejected a hug or kiss on the cheek from them, and it's not a huge deal for me in those cases. I am just mindful (cautious) of who, why, and how I am touching, because my body belongs to G-d first and my husband second. Without being rude or making people uncomfortable, I feel that being shomer negiah is healthy... for single people and married couples. Why? Because it is a meaningful way to show G-d that we respect and revere this powerful force that he created, touch. It also shows our spouse (or future spouse) that we honor them enough to preserve even our sense of touch for them and them only. Think about it: the fact that we cannot touch G-d proves that other (perhaps deeper, soul connecting) ways exist to show affection. Let's search our own hearts to learn what those ways are so that we can extend them to those who are made in His image.

RE-POSTED: getting the leaven out: LIVING ROOM/redeeming the time

Note: This post is part of a series. Please scroll down for other posts and introduction.

One of my family's biggest obstacles to keeping a clean house is not putting things away after we use them. Instead of taking the few seconds then to put the item away, I end up spending hours on it after things have piled up for a while! This is something I am really trying to work on. I think the reason that I struggle to keep up with organization is my lack of time management. One key culprit that has to be included in this calculation is the biggest time waster ever invented: the television! I have friends who have given up on cable TV and gotten rid of it, which is kind of the direction that I am possibly headed in the near future.

I can't help but remember the days when I was a college student, living with my mom, working part-time, and planning my wedding... there was no time for TV! I never even turned the power switch on. My life was full, busy, and rewarding... which it still is, but somehow I have made time to watch television... too much of it in my opinion. I also remember even earlier days when I imagined what my life would be like when I had children of my own... they would be extremely intelligent and they would not watch TV. My, how things change when your dreams become a reality! I am now grateful for the few minutes that my 16 month old actually spends in front of the television, because then maybe I can use the bathroom alone or wash dishes while she is occupied! However, I remain wholeheartedly against using TV as a babysitter for hours during the day. Any TV that my child does watch should also be educational and age-appropriate. As she gets older, I know there will be many more activities she can do alone as well, and I won't have to use the TV as a "crutch" to keep her engaged in something.

I have really realized the power of turning the television off. Even now as I write this, the window is cracked and I can hear the birds singing outside.... which is an even more precious sound to my ears now that I live in the city. In today's society, silence is something to avoid because then you are forced to deal with yourself, your mind, your heart, your existence... so there is always noise. I am convinced that most New Yorkers have probably never experienced true silence.

As my family decides whether to get rid of cable altogether or at least put serious limits on how much and what we watch on TV, we will enjoy the joyous sounds of our daughter, meaningful conversations, and silence (or as close as we get to it). Preparing for Passover takes a lot of time, and so it is a very appropriate season to improve our time management. We are all given the same number of hours each day, so we are responsible for how we choose to spend those hours. Let's redeem our time.

"So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom..."
Psalm 90:12

RE-POST: getting the leaven out: THE MIND/keep it simple, stupid

Note: This post is part of a series.

In thinking about dealing with issues of the mind two nights ago, the one conclusion that I was able to come to was to keep it simple. In all of the preparations for Pesach, the reading and researching, exploring others' blogs and having conversations to discover how they view and live a "messianic" life, searching my own mind to try to understand how I view and live a "messianic" life..... it seems to have gotten too complicated. So this is my attempt to simplify (at least for now...) what I have been processing in my mind.

I have come to accept the fact that perhaps there are not a huge amount of messianic believers like myself and my husband, who strive to find the balance of living for Yeshua, keeping Torah as He did, and respecting and embracing those Jewish traditions that neither contradict the Scriptures nor compromise our testimony. There are "messianic believers" from all different walks of life, different levels of Torah observance or non-observance, different cultures, different nuances.... from those who attend churches and have little regard for anything "Jewish" to those who have gone so far in their rabbinical observances of Torah that they end up converting to Judaism and renouncing their faith in Yeshua. We are somewhere in the middle of that wide, wide spectrum labeled "messianic" because we choose to follow the Messiah and His teachings. We may not always find those who walk, talk, or dress like we do... we are who we are, and we rejoice in the fact that G-d created us the way that He did... from non-Jewish (non-Hebrew) families, brought together on similar journeys for a similar purpose in ministry and similar lifestyle.

Nevertheless, living a messianic life is pretty simple. In essence, we need to simply strive and live like Yeshua lived in the first century... in the twenty-first century... which isn't always easy, but it is always simple. Love G-d, Love His Torah, Love His people... and show others how to do the same... simple, right?

During this Passover season, we celebrate and remember our freedom from bondage... from oppression... from sin... but sometimes we forget to set our minds free once again. I am reminded of what Rabbi Shaul wrote in Romans 12:2 ... "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of G-d is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." Sometimes our minds become so cluttered and convoluted with everyday life, concerns, and worldliness that we become unable to think clearly about G-d, His Word, and His will for our lives. So what better time could there be to renew our minds than during this season of renewal? The trees are beginning to bloom and blossom, the birds are singing happily, and the winter is turning to spring... let us also follow nature's pattern, changing what needs to be changed, resurrecting what needs to be resurrected, and renewing what needs to be renewed, namely our minds.

"The conclusion, when all has been heard, is fear G-d and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person"

Ecclesiastes 12:13