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April 2016


We Are All Firstborn Sons

By GARY ALLEY

“According to the understanding of the son his father instructs him (m.Pesahim 10.4)”
לְפִי דַעְתּוֹ שֶׁלַבֵּן אָבִיו מְלַמְּדוֹ

Pharaoh said kill them all—every newborn Hebrew son.  This was either an eventual genocidal plot or a temporary population control measure for Pharaoh’s Hebrew slaves.  Either way, those that survived in that generation of Hebrew boys would be forever marked in their society as exceptional, their lives precious, and their future choices held to a higher standard. 

Moses was one of those fortunate sons, ironically spared by the daughter of his would-be executioner.  He must have lived with that near-death experience for the rest of his life.  Later, when he had sons and faced with the possibility of one of their premature deaths,[1] he would have been reminded again how fragile a gift is one’s life.      

When Moses returned to Egypt to lead his people, a new generation of sons would hear the death knell.  This time, however, the sons were Egyptian.  Every family which had not coated the entrance ways to their homes with blood, watched their firstborn sons die.  Passover’s name[2] was derived from the sons who were spared:

“I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will attack all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals…The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, so that when I see the blood I will pass over you…” (Ex 12:12a,13a)

The sons of the Hebrews were as close to death as the sons of the Egyptians.  Only the visible display of blood separated their fates.  Only an earnest demonstration of each family’s faith, saved their eldest son’s life.

It should not be surprising then that the Passover Seder, the annual ritual meal where Jewish families gather to read, sing, and remember their nation’s deliverance from Egypt, contains a lesson on four sons who ask questions based on their understanding of Passover.

The first son is wise because he wants to understand Passover in a deeper and more thorough way.[3]  He seeks to apply all of the principles found in Passover to his life.  His wisdom is his obvious and sincere desire to obey.

The wicked son on the other hand excludes himself from the question and asks, rather, how Passover applies to you (not me).[4]  He removes himself from his historical community.  Because he does not identify himself with the deliverance of Passover, he has, in effect, annulled his own redemption.

The third type is the simple son who asks the most basic question, “What is Passover?”[5] Even though the question is simple, its answer is foundational; the redemption of the firstborn son is the basis for Passover.

“…you are to tell him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the land of slavery.  When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to release us, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of people to the firstborn of animals. That is why I am sacrificing to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb, but all my firstborn sons I redeem.  It will be for a sign…’” (Ex 13:14b-16a)

This answer explains why Passover will always be relevant for every generation.  It is a perpetual sign that reminds all future sons of their own necessary redemption—every firstborn son from every generation is held accountable. 

Finally, the fourth son is silent, because he is not able to ask a question.  Perhaps, he is a baby or a toddler.  The point is this son is a blank slate without prior instruction.  Therefore, it is even more important that the parent teach this son as he grows up about his association to Passover.

“You are to tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” (Ex 13:8)

This son learns that Passover’s generational power is found in personal testimony—“It is because of what the LORD did for me.”  In order to truly understand the depths of Passover’s foundation—the redemption of the firstborn son—we must identify ourselves as firstborn sons.  In order to identify, there must be a personal experience.

As followers of Jesus, like those firstborn sons of Passover, we have been saved from the clutches of death and bondage.  We have been called to a higher standard.  A father can only answer his son according to the quality of question asked.  Attitude, awareness, and thought are often signs of one’s level of maturity.   These daily decisions we make—how we treat others, how we respond to hardship, how we humble ourselves—are often predicated on whether we believe that God’s redemptive act was necessary for us.  If we believe, then the quality of our lives is a perpetual sign of that sacrifice.


[1] Ex 4:24-26’s account of an angel of the Lord coming to attack Moses’ family is a strange story in the Hebrew Bible.  While many translations have that the angel was going to kill Moses, the Hebrew text in fact does not specify which of the three males of the traveling party, Moses, or his sons, Gershom and Eliezer (Ex 4:20), was targeted.

[2] The Hebrew word is pesah (פֶּסַח) whose meaning is not clear.  The translation as “pass over” is derived from the context of its use in the chapter (Ex 12:13,23,27).  The Greek Septuagint also translates pesah as passing by/over (παρελεύσεται).  Besides Exodus 12, the only other usage of this verbal form (פָּסַח) in the Hebrew Bible is found in Isa 31:5 where its context seems to imply that God will “save” or “spare” Jerusalem.

[3] “When your son asks you later on, ‘What are the stipulations, statutes, and ordinances that the LORD our God commanded you?’” Dt 6:20

[4] “When your sons ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’” Ex 12:26

[5] “In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is this?’”  Ex 13:14

Charity Report: Your Gifts Helped these Families during February and March2016

Chelsea is an Israeli divorcee with no family. As a child she was neglected and abused.  She suffers from depression and personality disorders.  JCF helped cover her electricity and water debts ($262).

JCF helped fund a Fair Day for lower income families in Jerusalem for the holiday of Purim ($526).

Sheri is a Christian Arab living in the old city of Jerusalem with financial difficulties. JCF helped cover some of her family’s expenses ($262).

Anton is an Israeli who grew up with a single parent in an unstable home and did not graduate from high school. After a car accident he became addicted to pain killers and alcohol. A year ago, he started a rehabilitation process and found a steady job. Last month, after an argument with his wife, he now needs help finding temporary lodging for the month.  JCF contributed to his lodging ($530).

Joanna is an Israeli single mother with four children who takes care of her father who suffers from PTSD.  The family lives from her father’s disability benefits and the alimony she receives from her ex-husband.  Joanna is working on clearing her debts. JCF is helping pay off one of her debts ($426).  Once that is done she can continue working with the banks to pay off further debts.  This will be the first time in 15 years that she won’t be living under threat of repossession.

JCF helped 20 needy families in Jerusalem with food vouchers for the Passover holidays ($1,067).

JCF helped pay school tuition for four Christian Arab children living in Jericho ($996).

News in Israel and the Middle East

  • Passover begins this Friday evening, April 22nd and ends on the evening of April 30th.
  • Jerusalem brewery has produced a craft beer with a taste it says dates back to the time of Jesus.  A sip of the concoction may help explain why wine was the preferred sacred drink of the Bible. More.
  • A new Tel Aviv University suggests widespread literacy in biblical timesMore.
  • New discovery indicates that the Holy Land was one of the foremost centers for glass production in the ancient worldMore.
  • Oldest sourdough in the world was recently found during excavations in the eastern Galilee.  Experts believe that the sourdough, found with traces of lactic acid and spelt flour, survived more than 2,000 years.  More.
  • Star of David found engraved on an ancient Temple in Egypt.  The Roman Temple, which dates back to the 3rd century B.C., is located on the Elephantine Island in Aswan where a Jewish contingency of mercenaries lived for hundreds of years as attested by the Elephantine Papyri.  More on the new discovery and its resulting tumult in Egypt, here.
  • Jerusalem’s open air market, “the Shuk” of Mahane Yehuda, has become a gallery for more than a hundred of portraits of historical figures.  For the video, here.
  • Israeli company Cellebrite believed to have helped FBI crack San Bernadino Terrorist’s iPhone.  More.
  • Israel Defense Forces discover new Hamas tunnel dug from Gaza into Israel after massive investment in world’s first tunnel-detection system.  More.
  • Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called “smelly” by Harvard Law School student at panel discussion on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. More.
  • First Jerusalem bus bombing since 2005 happened this Monday.  Twenty one were injured during southern Jerusalem rush hour traffic and one teenage girl was terribly burnedHamas has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack by 19-year-old Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour.  More.
  • The shocking abduction and grisly murder of 16 year old Palestinian Muhammad Abu Khdeir in July 2014 by three Jewish males, Yosef Chaim Ben David and two minors, is approaching a judicial end.  Ben David has been convicted of murder and is awaiting sentencing.  The two minors have been convicted and sentenced as well, one given a life sentence and the other, 21 years.
  • The likewise appalling Duma arson attack against the Palestinian Dawabsheh family in July 2015, where three of the four family members died from burns, has finally seen the announcement of an attacker.  Amiram Ben-Uliel, a member of the Jewish extremist Hilltop Youth, has been indicted for murder as well as a Jewish minor in helping to plan the attack.
  • IDF sergeant, Elor Azaria, 19 years old, has been indicted this week for manslaughter after a video was posted of him shooting an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist lying on the ground last month in Hebron.  More.  Video here.

JCF News: Chuck Kopp Stepping Down as Senior Pastor of Narkis St. Congregation

JCF Chairman, Chuck Kopp, will be officially stepping down as Senior Pastor of Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem at the end May. The congregation will be holding a special Shabbat service on June 4th in recognition of Chuck’s 24 years of leadership and faithful service.  For more information, please write [email protected]

 

 

Come See the Land of the Bible in 2016 with JCF Biblical Study Tours 

Join a special JCF tour this November 7-22, 2016  when Yoni Gerrish leads "Israel: Through the Wilderness to Restoration" with Dr. Larry Ehrlich  For more information, here.  You can also call inside the United States (920)-267-5330 for more information.

 

It's Not Too Late! Come Learn Biblical Hebrew in Jerusalem this Summer

You can still sign up for the beginner four week biblical Hebrew course taught by the Biblical Language Center (BLC).  Classes will run July 3-29, 2016 at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute for those who want to learn to read their Bible in its original language.  The class is designed specifically for students with little or no background in Biblical Hebrew.  BLC's classroom is a fun and interactive environment with instruction and activities all conducted in Hebrew.  For more information, here.

Prayer Requests

  • JCF's Mary Ehrlich

    who is recovering from unexpected back surgery.

  • Peace and Security in Israel and the West Bank

  • Iraqi and Syrian refugees who are seeking safety and refuge
 
There are approximately twelve needy and very lonely Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem who have been receiving loving care and companionship from an aid organization with whom we partner.   These Survivors receive monthly checks to support them economically and receive regular volunteer visitors, which is also very important to them.  A very nice program was begun to link boys from a local institution for disadvantaged children and youth, to some of these Holocaust Survivors.  This has greatly benefited both the teenage boys and the elderly survivors.
 
Loneliness is a huge problem to people who have lost all their family and often their spouse.  Visiting some of these Jerusalem Survivors regularly ourselves, we know how important this program is which supplies both financial and emotional support.  
 
The donations of JCF have been used in part with help to maintain the ongoing expense of supporting these survivors in Jerusalem with monthly help in form of coupons for food items.  The other part has been used to cover maintenance problems in their homes. For example, when our staff visited a 90 year old Survivor, her small, modest apartment was quite dark owing to a broken slatted shutter which could not be raised and had been like this for more than a week.   Having received the gift from JCF, we were in a position to immediately arrange its replacement.  One of hermost  terrible memories is from her home town of Yasi in Romania where she suffered terribly from violence and terror.  She lost most of her family and witnessed people being pulled out of their homes and killed.  She finds it very difficult to talk about those memories. She is suffering from many health problems, does not have children, and lost her husband many years ago.  Visits from Christians like us mean the world to her.