Chapter Sixteen


       The period between Passover and Pentecost (SHAVUOT) is called in
Hebrew, SEFIRAH, literally, "Counting". It is an abreviated form of SEFIRAT
HA-OMER, "Counting of the Barley Sheaf" alluded to in Leviticus 23:15.
Originally it referred to the commandment to count 49 days from Passover,
and only after the 50th day were Jews allowed to eat of the grain of the
new harvest. By the time of Jesus however, the Counting had acquired an
additional significance. It now also symbolically refer red to the 49
degrees of ritual impurity in which the Israelites found themselves after
centuries of servitude and near assimilation in Eqypt. In order for Israel
to be found worthy of receiving the Torah, they had to elevate themselves,
after the Exodus, day by day, out of each succesive level of TUMAH until
reaching the 49th day, and completely freeing themsleves of impuity and
rising 49 degrees in purity, they were at last prepared on Pentecost to
meet G-d and receive His commandments. With each passing day, the Count
made them aware of their struggle to attain to the proper level of purity.
Generally the SEFIRAH has always been a time of self-introspection during
which certain activities are not engaged in so that the mind and the soul
can concentrate on the coming Pentecost. It is a time committed to a deeper
level of spiritual ity than other times of the year. Finally on the eve of
the 50th day, called SHAVUOT in Hebrew, and Pentecost in English, Jews go
to the synagogue, after having a light meal, and stay up all night,
"learning Torah". During Temple times, the learning was preceded by an
elaborate ritual in which the Jew brought the first fruits of his field and
presented them to the priest as a sacrifice to G-d.

       It was during the SEFIRAH period that the disciples returned to
Jerusalem fully expecting the imminent return of Jesus and the unfolding of
G-d's Kingdom. This believe in an IMMEDIATE parousa is reflected in the
visitation narrative of Acts 1, where Jesus appears to the assembled

     "When they therefore were come together, they asked of him,
      saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom
      to Israel?"
                      Acts 1:6

       The probability is that they expected the parousa before the end of
Passover. We have already seen that there is a strong Jewish tradition
that the messiah will come on the holiday of redemption. That is why, on
the first night of Passover, Jews open the door to their homes and sing the
song called, "Elijah the Prophet" the ending refrain of which is:

                 Oh Elijah the Gileadite!
                 Quickly, in our days,
                 May he come unto us,
                 Bringing with him,
                 Messiah ben David!

       There is also the alternative tradition among Jews that the mes-
siah will come on the first day of the week (either Saturday night or
Sunday). Therfore, "Elijah the Prophet" is also sung at the HAVDALAH
ceremony that marks the end of the Sabbath on Saturday night.

       When Passover was over, the hope shifted to the oncoming Sunday.
After all, Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a Sunday. The tradition was that
the Resurrection had occurred on a Sunday. Therefore, it would not be
unlikely that the master should return on the Sunday following Passover.
When this did not occur, the hope shifted to the next approaching holiday,
on which G-d had appeared to the Jewish people and given them His Torah,
Pentecost. The New Testament informs us that the disciples were daily in
the Temple during this period. We can picture them fevorishly preaching
the "good news" to their fellow Israelites in the Temple while the
emotional excitement mounted with each passing day of the Count. When they
had rid themselves of the last vestige of impurity on the 49th day, the
people would once again be prepared to meet their G-d, this time for the
final revelation in the ushering in of the Kingdom of Heaven and the
begining of the messianic age.

       Meanwhile, the disciples decided to again set their number to that
which Jesus had set them when he announced that they would sit on thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:30) And so they selected one
Matthias, who had accompanied them during the whole time of Jesus'
ministry, to take the place of Judas Iscariot who had killed himself after
the betrayal of Jesus. This incident is important to remember when we
encounter the claims of Paul to be an apostle. In Luke 6:13, Jesus had
called his disciples "apostles". This title, directly conferred on them by
the master, described someone who had personally known Jesus and had been
instructed by him. As such, Jesus had conferred upon them something
analagous to rabbinic SEMIKHAH or ordination, so that later, they and only
they, had the authority to define and designate other apostles. The
selection of Matthias demonstrates their first use of this authority.

       The use of the term "apostle" denotes an elevation from the status
of "discliple". In Hebrew, the terms TALMID (disciple) and SHLIACH
(apostle) are quite different in importance. A TALMID is merely the student
of his REBBE (religious and spiritual master). The SHLIACH is a
REPRESENTATIVE of the REBBE. To be sure, the SHLIACH is also a TALMID of
the REBBE. But the SHLIACH does more than merely learn what the REBBE has
to teach and his interpretations. The SHLIACH carries the message of the
REBBE and his teachings to the outside world. He is the REBBE's "proxy"
in the world, and as such, must be personally hand-picked by the REBBE or
by someone whom the REBBE personally commissions to appoint SHLUCHIM
(apostles). We shall later see that Paul neither was appointed by Jesus
nor was he considered a true apostle by those personally commissioned by
Jesus to teach and preach his message.

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