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April 22, 2009 by  
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March 07

The Cup of Elijah

April 9, 2009 by  
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By Rabbi Barney Kasdan

I have to admit that Passover is my favorite holiday. There is no other celebration that has so much symbolism (even a banquet) associated with it. And all these symbolic elements teach us an incredible amount about our relationship to God and His love for us. Of special interest is the rather esoteric “kos Eliyahu” (cup of Elijah). This cup actually goes back to a debate in the Talmud about how many cups should be a part of the seder meal. Some said four cups to symbolize the four promises of the Torah: “I will bring you, I will deliver you, I will redeem you, I will make you my people” (Exodus 6:6-7). Others said it is to be five cups. The issue was settled in a traditional rabbinic manner when they decided that this will only be solved when Elijah comes to announce the arrival of Messiah. So the fifth cup was designated for him, not to be sipped from until Eliyahu joins us at our seder.

Why is it that Elijah has such a special place in Jewish tradition? It seems his claim to fame was guaranteed when he escaped death by being caught up into the heavens by a whirlwind (II Kings 2). Ever since, the hope has been that Elijah will reappear to assist the helpless. The prophet Malachi speaks to this truth in a rather unusual way when he says the Elijah will come in the latter days just before “the great and terrible day of the Lord”. In fact, this is the last promise of the prophets at about 400 BCE (Mal.4:5 English). The first coming of Eliyahu was at a time of turmoil and spiritual confusion. This was when much of Israel had fallen into the worship of the false god Baal. Elijah’s barbeque on Mount Carmel took care of that problem! It seems appropriate that Elijah is designated to come back in the latter times which will also be a time of turmoil and spiritual confusion. Although Baal is not a direct problem for our people today, we battle the other false gods of this age like post-modernism, relativism and good old, plain agnosticism. It would be an opportune time for Eliyahu to intervene in human history once again.

Which brings us back to kos Eliyahu. This year, once again, we will set a place and cup for Elijah with hopes that he will come to announce the kingdom is finally here. At one dramatic point of the seder, we open the door and sing the famous song as a prayer “Come Elijah, with Messiah son of David.” For some 3000 years we have been disappointed but we will hope nonetheless. But I am thinking of a radical question: What if Eliyahu already returned at some point to announce Mashiach? When I first starting reading the New Testament for myself in the early 1970’s, I was totally amazed by one particular passage. There seems to have been a tough prophet who was preaching in the wilderness of Israel in the first century. This guy even looked the part of Elijah; wool robe, strange diet, along with a message of repentance and restoration. To top it all off, Yeshua himself affirmed that this man (Yochanan/John the Baptizer) was potentially fulfilling the ministry of Eliyahu when he said “If you care to accept it, he himself is Eliyahu, who was to come” (see Matthew 11:7-15). I say potentially because Yochanan’s message was not accepted by the establishment of his day. In fact, he was executed by Herod and the Romans. Since he was not “accepted” as the promised precursor of Messiah, Yochanan obviously could not fulfill the complete mission of the futuristic Elijah. And if the messenger was not accepted by all, it should not surprise us that the Messiah would not be accepted by all at his first coming as well. So, in a strange way, we Messianic Jews still wait for another Elijah to come to announce the return of Yeshua. This will evidently take place at the end of the last war predicted for the Middle East when the Scriptures say that there will be two witnesses to come to Israel. One even calls down fire from heaven, a clear reference to the life of Elijah (Revelation 11:1-6).

So what does all this mean for our Passover this year 5767? As usual, we will set the cup of Elijah and hope for his appearance. As believers in the New Testament, we might also ask the question, “what if he already came and we did not receive him?” Every seder, I believe God gives us a golden opportunity to reflect not only on the redemption from Egypt, but also about the future redemption of Messiah. As the song says, “bimhera v’yamenu yavo eleinu”; may he come in our days! May the cup of Elijah be a special reminder for us all this upcoming seder. Chag sameyach!

4 Cups of Passover and the Cup of Redemption

April 8, 2009 by  
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by Barney Kasdan, Messianic Rabbi

Our G-d, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, loves symbolism. Perhaps it is because He realizes that we mortals have a difficult time comprehending the things of the Spirit. Yet G-d wants us to understand Him, indeed to know Him in a very personal way. Nowhere does the use of symbolism shine forth more strongly than in the Biblical Holy Day of Pesach, Passover. Through the course of the Seder meal, we make use of a rather strange variety of elements such as parsley, horseradish, and matzah. Yet, all of this is vital for believers to understand not only because it is based on Biblical commandments, but also because the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus of Nazareth) celebrated this beautiful Feast. In fact He chose Pesach to teach His followers many lessons about the work that He could accomplish as Messiah.

For generations Israel has celebrated the 4 Cups of Passover. These were to symbolize the 4 promises which G-d made to our people in Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring you out…I will deliver you…I will redeem you…then I will take you for my people.” What promises these are to celebrate! For Messianic believers the third cup is especially significant.

The Cup of Redemption, as it is called, was of course to remind the Jew of our physical redemption. It is a rich word (ga alti) that G-d uses to describe a slave being bought out of the slave market. And if anyone could understand the concept of redemption it was that generation that was delivered from Egypt! For over 400 years our people had been literal slaves but suddenly they were set free. In a most dramatic way G-d illustrated this redemption through the slaying of the Passover Lamb:
“for the L-rd will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the L-rd will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to smite you.” (Exodus 12:33)

Even after that first Passover, Jews continued to remember the redemption; not with the literal blood on the doorposts, but with the third cup of the Passover Seder called the Cup of Redemption. We were slaves, but now we are free! How? By the death of that innocent Passover lamb. To many modern Jews this might sound like outdated superstition. But I can’t think of a more practical way to test the true faith of a person; afterall, faith is merely submitting to what G-d says we should do. G-d was showing us that redemption would be realized only as we trusted in His way. We must be brought out of slavery by the purchase made by G-d Himself.

In light of this history of the Cup of Redemption, it is fascinating to take a look at the Passover Seder that Yeshua celebrated with His disciples. He had already proclaimed time and again that He was in fact the Messiah sent from G-d. He had performed many attesting miracles to back up those claims to our people. But what symbol could illustrate to the Jewish disciples the reality of Messiah’s redemption?
“And He took a cup (the third cup) and gave thanks and gave it to them saying ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant which is to be shed on behalf of many for forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28)

Imagine the impact this must have had on those disciples! They had celebrated Passover for many years. Every year they drank the third cup, the Cup of Redemption, to commemorate the physical deliverance from the bondage of Egypt; a deliverance that was symbolically paid for by the death of an innocent lamb. Yeshua of course joyfully celebrated this historical deliverance as well. It was a miracle of G-d! But what is amazing about that last Passover Seder is that Yeshua expanded the meaning of many of the symbols. For Messianic believers the third cup would now also commemorate the spiritual redemption from the bondage of sin and death. This redemption would likewise be purchased by the death of an innocent sacrifice. Not that lamb of Passover, but of the greater fulfillment; the Lamb of G-d, the Messiah Himself! As the disciples raised that Cup of Redemption, they were to remember the blood of the lamb in Egypt. Now this spiritual message would be fulfilled, as Yeshua said “this (cup) is My blood of the Covenant!”

Today most Christians recognize this symbolism in what is called the “Eucharist,” “Communion,” or “The L-rds Supper.” But with proper understanding of Bible history, I think we can see that it is really the spiritual reality behind Passover. It was not something new that Yeshua created, but rather the fulfillment of something very old.

For this reason, the Passover Seder does not become less important for believers in Yeshua (contrary to what some may say). But indeed it becomes all the more important as G-d’s teaching tool of our redemption! For us it is a great privilege to gather at the Passover table, to lift the Cup of Redemption and to celebrate the redemption paid for by our Messiah. As Rabbi Saul of Tarsus reminded the early believers:
“For Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the Feast! ” (1 Cor. 5:8)

To this the Messianic believers of today respond with a heartfelt “Amen.”


April 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Drafts, High Holidays, Uncategorized

Purim G-d Remembers Israel
By Rabbi Barney Kasdan
In the late winter, we come to one of the most unusual holidays on the Jewish calendar called Purim. Even the name itself reminds us of some of the strange details of this ancient observance. Purim, translated lots or dice, commemorates the day of deliverance in ancient Iran. You remember the story it was at this time of year that a wicked tyrant by the name of Haman (boo!) cast the lots to appoint the day of destruction for the Jews. You see, this guy had a problem with Jews. There was a certain Jew by the name of Mordechai (yea!) who refused to bow before this pagan government ruler. What started as a personal offense against one Jew soon turned into a national vendetta as Haman vented against all Jews in the land. For his argument, Haman used some classic anti-Semitic sentiments as he tries to persuade the King:
There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people, and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not in the king’s interest to let them remain (Esther 3:8).

Not exactly a time of pluralism and tolerance in Shushan. Haman figured if he didn’t anger the King by pointing out the religious differences of Judaism, he could get to the Jews by accusing them of being unpatriotic. He seemed to be getting the ear of King Ahasuerus when something amazing happened. A plot was uncovered where some rebels were going to overthrow the King. Curiously, the person who overheard the plot and exposed it turned out to be the unpatriotic Jew named Mordechai! Obviously, events had turned in favor of the Jewish community just as it all seemed so dark. Some would call this a coincidence, but to any Bible believer, there is no such thing as that. It has been said that a coincidence is where G-d does a miracle but chooses to remain anonymous. That saying would be a good theme statement for the entire holiday of Purim. The Book of Esther is the one scroll of the entire Bible where the name G-d is not even in the text. Yet, the presence of our Heavenly Father is seen clearly to those who have eyes to see. Even in those dark days of ancient Shushan, G-d arranges for Mordechai to be at the right place at the right time. But that was not enough. How could Mordechai get the attention of the pagan King? We could also look at the coincidence of a Jewish girl winning the Miss Shushan Beauty Contest to become part of the King’s court. This girl by the name of Esther also happens to be the niece of Mordechai. The coincidences are beginning to add up! The Scroll of Esther retells the story of the ultimate deliverance of all the Jewish community in those days.
Every year at this time we are reminded of some of these vital lessons of Purim. We celebrate by joyously retelling the events of our deliverance from ancient tyrants. Yet, the same G-d of our fathers, the G-d of Mordechai and Esther, lives today as well. Purim is more than just a fun costume party and hamentashen. All of these customs are to remind us of our Father who still keeps His covenant today. This is great news for our people Israel! At a time when our people in the Land are going through an incredible trial, Purim should speak to us loud and clear. There are still the Hamans of the world seeking the destruction of the covenant people. How it must irk Satan (yes he exists according to the Bible!) to have the people of the covenant back in the land of our forefathers! The adversary surely knows that when Israel is blessed with the fullness of the promises, he is on the eve of destruction. Little wonder that Satan (Hebrew for adversary) is kicking and fighting with all that he has, including evil political powers who would gladly cooperate in the destruction of the Jews. Purim is a time of joy as we recount the deliverance of that past generation. How timely it is that Purim 5763 comes even as many are standing against modern Israel. Yet, that is the very point of the holy day. It is the same G-d who remembers His covenant and will complete His promise of Israel’s ultimate redemption.
So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city; and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants [Esther 9:28]. This year, lets remember because G-d remembers.
Chag sameyach! Happy Purim!