Monday, March 30, 2009

Blessings From God

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today, instead of a lesson from the land of the Bible, I'm going to give you a lesson about the people of the land of the Bible. This will start in a seemingly odd place, but I'll tie it together at the end.

In many of his diaries, Christopher Columbus wrote that he was compelled to sail west by the "inspiration from the Holy Spirit." He continued, "It was the Lord who put into my mind the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies."

You might ask what this has to do with the people of Israel? Well, although Christopher Columbus (Christoferens Colombo in Italian) was born in Geneo, Italy, there is evidence to suggest that his lineage was of Spanish-Jewish origin. Columbus' paternal grandfather was a converso who had changed his name from Colon to Columbo.

Conversos were Jews who had, by choice or necessity, converted to Christianity. Apparently, in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition, Columbus was raised a Christian, perhaps to survive Jewish annihilation. His use of Spanish forms of his name in his diaries and letters and certain oddities associated with his voyage to the New World, lend credence to the idea that he was Jewish.

In his letters to his son Diego, Columbus put a mark in the upper left corner of the paper that resembles the Hebrew letters bet and hei. These letters denote the Hebrew blessing b'ezrat haShem, meaning with the help of God. The use of bet hei is a blessing that Jews used in letters to loved ones.

This symbol appears only in letters to his son, and during the last years of his life, unusual symbols, as in the picture to the left, began to appear in his writings that suggest he was familiar with Jewish mysticism. He began to sign his name in this triangular fashion, asking that his descendants continue to use this signature. This is a cryptic substitute for the Kaddish, the mourner's prayer. Thus, Columbus supplied his sons with a signature that would allow his sons to say Kaddish for their father when he died.

On March 30, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella signed a decree to expel the jews from Spain. Until this time, Spain had been one of the few safe havens for Jews. On April 30, 1492, one month after the edit was signed, it was read publicly. That same day Columbus received the order to prepare for his expedition. On August 2, 1492, thousands of Jews departed from Spain. One of their ports of departure was Palos, the same port and the same day, from which Columbus had intended to depart. Faced with throngs of despairing, heartbroken people that day, Columbus delayed his voyage by one day.

I said all that to get to this:

Jews gathered at the ports, clutching whatever possessions they had been allowed to keep along with dirt from the earth. That day, the 9th of Av., in the Jewish calendar, also commemorated the destruction of both Temples. For centuries, this day had been observed as a day of mourning. On August 2, 1492, the 9th of Av took on a whole new meaning. According to Jewish tradition, to undertake any enterprise on the 9th of Av is considered bad.

Consider some of the following events that transpired in Hebrew history on the 9th of Av. (since the Hebrew calendar has more days than our modern one, this day never falls on the same date each year)"

-The twelve scouts sent out by Moses returned with a bad report.
-The Exodus generation was condemned to die.
-Nebuchadnezzar set fire to the first Temple.
-Romans destroyed the second Temple.
-Romans plowed up the Temple Mount to convert it to a Roman colony.
-The last independent outpost of the Bar Kokhba rebellion fell to the Romans (Mesada).
-King Edward of England expelled all Jews in 1290A.D.
-The last group of Jews left Vienna in 1670 after expulsion from Austria.
-The Turkish government banned the immigration of Russian and Romanian Jews into Palestine in 1882.
-World War I began, precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand.
-A decree to expel Jews from parts of Hungary was issued in 1941.

In the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 12:3, God tells Abram about his future generations, the people of God. He says, "I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you: And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

It is notable to reveal that all of these places that expelled the Jews, at the time of expulsions, were prominent powers. They all fell from grace with God.

The only place left today is America.

Friday, March 13, 2009

by Bonnie Calhoun

Jewish Year 5769 : sunset March 9, 2009 - nightfall March 10, 2009

In the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on its thirteenth day ... on the day that the enemies of the Jews were expected to prevail over them, it was turned about: the Jews prevailed over their adversaries. - Esther 9:1

And they gained relief on the fourteenth, making it a day of feasting and gladness. - Esther 9:17

[Mordecai instructed them] to observe them as days of feasting and gladness, and sending delicacies to one another, and gifts to the poor. - Esther 9:22

Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination.

The story of Purim is told in the biblical book of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem. King Ahasuerus loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her identity.

The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people. In a speech that is all too familiar to Jews, Haman told the king, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people's, and they do not observe the king's laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them." Esther 3:8.

The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased to them. Haman planned to exterminate all of the Jews.

Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into the king's presence without being summoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman's plot against her people. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.

The book of Esther is unusual in that it is the only book of the Bible that does not contain the name of God. In fact, it includes virtually no reference to God.

Mordecai makes a vague reference to the fact that the Jews will be saved by someone else, if not by Esther, but that is the closest the book comes to mentioning G-d. Thus, one important message that can be gained from the story is that G-d often works in ways that are not apparent, in ways that appear to be chance, coincidence or ordinary good luck.

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March. The 13th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews, and the day that the Jews battled their enemies for their lives. On the day afterwards, the 14th, they celebrated their survival. In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city), deliverance from the massacre was not complete until the next day. The 15th is referred to as Shushan Purim.

In leap years, when there are two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it is always one month before Passover. The 14th day of the first Adar in a leap year is celebrated as a minor holiday called Purim Katan, which means "little Purim." There are no specific observances for Purim Katan; however, a person should celebrate the holiday and should not mourn or fast. Some communities also observe a "Purim Katan" on the anniversary of any day when their community was saved from a catastrophe, destruction, evil or oppression.

The word "Purim" means "lots" and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre. The Purim holiday is preceded by a minor fast, the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther's three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king.

The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. The book of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah, which means scroll. Although there are five books of Jewish scripture that are properly referred to as megillahs (Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations), this is the one people usually mean when the speak of The Megillah. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle gragers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to "blot out the name of Haman."

Jews are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordecai," though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is. A person certainly should not become so drunk that he might violate other commandments or get seriously ill. In addition, recovering alcoholics or others who might suffer serious harm from alcohol are exempt from this obligation.

In addition, Jews are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as shalach manos (lit. sending out portions). Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (lit. Haman's pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman's three-cornered hat. I can supply the recipe for any who wish to make the cookies!

It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests. I have heard that the usual prohibitions against cross-dressing are lifted during this holiday, but I am not certain about that. Americans sometimes refer to Purim as the Jewish Mardi Gras.

Purim is not subject to the sabbath-like restrictions on work that some other holidays are; however, some sources indicate that we should not go about our ordinary business on Purim out of respect for the holiday.

PRAYER FOCUS for Christians
This is a wonderful opportunity to pray for the nation of Israel as Jews around the world remember God’s deliverance. God is calling out a generation of Esthers who will stand in the gap for Israel “for such a time as this.” Pray that God will continue to show Himself as Israel’s great Defender and that Israel will recognize that He is their only defense.

“But I will sing of Your power; yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning: for You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble. To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises; for God is my defense, my God of mercy” (Psalm 59:16–17)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

by Bonnie Calhoun