Dearly Beloved in Yeshua,
From Mourning to Joy
The Jewish feast of Purim comes early this year, but in 2019 it was at the end of March. While the ladies of Temple Aron HaKodesh were celebrating their annual Esther banquet—with the theme of “Heaven” or “The Father’s House” (HaBayit Shel Abba, הבית של אבא (ha-BAHYEET SHEL AH- bah)—I was in the Intensive Care Unit with my husband Neil who had just suffered a catastrophic cerebral hemorrhage and was on his way to heaven. He was promoted to glory on March 25, 2019.
Four years ago. It is still hard to believe that my soulmate and partner of 48 years is no longer with me, especially since he is mentioned so often in the sermons of my son Jonathan and Rabbi Joe Vitkus—as well as in conversations with many believers. This brings to mind a statement in Hebrews 11 about righteous Abel: ” … he being dead still speaks.” Each time one of Neil’s wise sayings is quoted, there is joy in the memory. On my 75th birthday I was even given a t-shirt on which one of those sayings is written: “…but God!” Neil always emphasized that we need to put our “but” in the right place. No matter how difficult our circumstances may be, after acknowledging them, we need to affirm that God is greater than any trial or tribulation.
This month, in Neil’s honor, I decided to share some of his teachings. I found a box containing over forty years of wisdom from God and consider myself blessed to have been the other half of such a gifted, godly man. The Lord has graciously turned my mourning into joy, as in Esther 9:22: “…as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.” I send Rabbi Neil Lash’s words as gifts to all of you this month, with his love and mine.
The Principles of God’s Word
September 29, 1977, 2:45 a.m.: Neil (believer of four years) was awakened by a word in his spirit, rolled out of bed, knelt to pray, and struggled with the exact words of scripture from memory. God assured him that it was PRINCIPLES OF THE WORD that counted. (From that time on, Neil’s teachings focused on the general principles of the Bible, rather than on details.)
3:00 a.m.: Neil saw the hands of the clock as if they were outstretched arms in supplication. He awakened again at 4:00 a.m., understanding the PRINCIPLE OF TIME: Spend time with God—praising, glorifying, and communing, rather than rebuking, casting out, etc. since “… all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). 5:00 a.m.: God was showing Neil truths to share. He said that He had multiplied Neil’s sleep and that he was rested. Neil said, “Thank You, Lord!”
Shortly thereafter, Neil gave a message in which he held up a set of keys and asked, “Who knows what will happen if I let them go? Who knows why?” He than explained that just as there are physical laws, like the law of gravity, there are spiritual laws that always work. These laws are called principles.
This was a major theme of Neil’s life and a spiritual principle that he emphasized often and lived continually. One of his favorite verses was Hebrews 13:5, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” Another favorite verse was, “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (I Tim. 6:8). I’m not sure if Neil would ever have bought himself new shirts if I had not insisted. When we began the Jewish Jewels television program, Neil wanted to wear the same red plaid shirt on every program. (I was mortified!) I will never forget the day we stepped off a boat after cruising the Sea of Galilee and a woman onshore recognized us. She said, “Oh, Neil, I see you’re wearing your TV shirt.” That did it! From that day forward, I chose what Neil wore on the program. It was easy to match colors since I happily discovered that thrift shops tend to organize clothing by color. Neil readily agreed to my plan. When my husband went to heaven, he left behind his one Seiko watch from Walmart, two suits, two sport jackets, ski boots from the 1970s, one set of golf clubs, lots of yarmulkes, books, and little else. Neil was a non-consumer—content with little—and strongly opposed storage units since he maintained that in our country we have way too much “stuff.”
Neil taught that discontent starts in the head with a natural progression of 1) discontent; 2) discouragement; 3) despair; and 4) hopelessness. Concerning Eve, he said that while her heart was filled with the love of God, she listened (with her head) to the accuser, HaSatan. Her contentment should have come from the knowledge of her heavenly Father and His love—from letting that have pre-eminence over her head and the lies of the enemy. Neil agreed with King David in Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (be content; I have everything I need). Finally, Neil would remind us (in the midst of a society that breeds discontent) of a truth from Philippians 4:11, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
Money and Giving
While Neil was frugal and spent little on himself in his 82 years, he loved to give to others. He tithed (10%), gave offerings (above the tithe), and also gave in secret. Even though we were together almost 24/7 for 48 years, Neil managed to give without my knowledge. I found things out after his death. For example, when he was director of our temple’s day school, he would give a little monetary gift to the daughter of a single mother for her needs at the beginning of each school year (the mother recently told me). One of Neil’s wise sayings was, “Do something for someone. Don’t tell anyone.” He believed and acted on Yeshua’s instructions concerning giving: “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3).
Neil believed that 100% of our money is God’s, and we are just stewards of it. His goal was to be a wise steward (Matt. 25:27). My husband reminded us that Yeshua said more about money and possessions than about heaven and hell combined. Sixteen of his thirty-eight parables dealt with money and possessions. 288 verses of the New Covenant (10%) deal directly with money. Neil’s conclusion: Yeshua said so much about money because it is an index of a man’s character. He once mentioned a statement by Martin Luther that he agreed with: “There are three conversions: conversion of the heart, of the mind, and of the purse.”
One of Neil’s favorite sayings was birthed as a result of an experience he had with money as a new believer. Neil had invested our $2,000 in savings in silver coins. As his investment increased in value, Neil became fearful and decided he needed to hide the coins. He cut out the sheetrock behind our clothes dryer and hid the bags of silver coins in the wall. One Sunday morning, after hearing a sermon on Matt. 6:19-21 which concluded with, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v.21), Neil tearfully said to me, “My heart is in the wall!” (I had no idea what he was talking about.) In Neil’s words: “My treasure was in the wall and so was my heart. That day I learned that WITH GOD, IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE HEART.”
Back to the Garden
Rabbi Neil liked to point us back to the Book of Genesis—B’reisheet—where it all began. He emphasized that while “original sin” is a primary focus of the first chapters of the Book, “original blessing” was an even greater focus. The Creator said that what He made was tov good (טוב TOHV) seven times in Genesis chapter 1. He blessed living creatures in Genesis 1:22, but his greatest blessing was on the man that He created in His own image (Gen. 1:27-28). Neil liked to say that God has a heart to bless. He promised multiple blessings of obedience to His people Israel in Deuteronomy 7:12-15, including “And He will love you and bless you and multiply you…” (Deut. 7:13).
God searched for Adam even after he sinned (Gen. 3:9). From the time that Adam was put out of the garden (Gen. 3:24), the Lord’s heart longed to restore him—to bring him back to the “garden” spiritually. That’s what Yeshua did when, as the Second Adam, He paid the price for our sin. The Messiah opened a way to bring man back to the Garden. To quote Neil: “If you haven’t experienced God’s love, you’re not in the Garden. If you don’t have an intimate relationship with God, you’re not in the Garden.”
In Neil’s words: “This is the Good News: Anyone who wants to have intimacy with God can!
God has made a way. The door is open. God loves you—enough to die for you so that you can be righteous. God has given us a sign to show that we can come back into the Garden. It’s not a secret handshake, or a password, or a PIN number…It’s His Spirit in us which He promised (Jer. 31:31-34). And His Spirit in us doesn’t just give us access to Him but access to His character—His nature. His Spirit enables us to change from the nature of those outside the Garden to the nature of the One whose Garden it is.”
Neil had the biblical gift of wisdom (I Cor. 12:8), which permeated his life and teaching, reminding me of Colossians 1:28, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Messiah Yeshua.” Neil had wisdom and taught wisdom. I really miss his wisdom and am one of many who ask, “What would Rabbi Neil say, do, think about this?”
Coupled with the ability to express truth succinctly, using few words, Neil communicated biblical truth in a profound, memorable way. For example: “The WORDS of the prophets became FLESH in Jesus. Then the FLESH of Jesus became the WORDS of the New Testament. Now the WORDS of the New Testament become FLESH in you.”
Neil exemplified the truth of Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” in his attitude toward AUTHORITY. He respected authority as evidenced by his joyful submission to both his successor Rabbi Joe Vitkus and his son Jonathan, leader of a congregation. Neil asked, “Who is the ultimate authority in the universe? Why?” Answer: the One challenged by the accuser. (See Gen. 3:1; Matt. 4:1-3). Neil’s conclusion on AUTHORITY: To have authority, you have to be under authority. Neil pointed out that the Messiah only complimented one person for their faith—a centurion who understood AUTHORITY (Matt. 8:5-10). He suggested that real wisdom is placing oneself under the authority of the Word of God and its Author.
I found so much about wisdom in Neil’s files but I want to share one final thought about the first mention of wisdom in the Bible: Exodus 28:3. God tells Moses that He has filled gifted artisans with the spirit of wisdom (ruach khakmah, חכמה רוח rue-AHK khakh-MAH). God is the source of wisdom—”wisdom from above that is pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). A good description of my wise husband.
Neil, like Rabbi Saul (Paul), might have had reason to boast (be proud). Circumcised on the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Levi, with a Doctorate in Educational Technology, a degree in Electrical Engineering, the head of an international television ministry, and the founder of one of the world’s oldest and largest messianic synagogues, Neil was never impressed with his credentials. He remained humble to the end. Humility was one of his core values.
In Neil’s words: “What does it mean to have the mind of Messiah Yeshua? To make oneself of no reputation, and to take on the role of a servant, to humble oneself, and to be obedient even to death (Phil. 2:5-8). This leads to ‘… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12).” Neil was intentional in making himself of no reputation, following his Teacher and Master, Yeshua. He insisted that we not use our last name on television so that we would never become “famous.” Neil was determined to remain small in his own eyes. He felt that notoriety in religious leaders was potentially a spiritual danger, feeding off pride—the chief of all sins.
Neil had his own “Rabbi Neil” apron which he used when helping in the temple kitchen or serving food to the temple mishpocha (family). (He also did the dishes at home.) One of Neil’s favorite sayings or three-word prayer was, “Lord, change me.” He never felt that he had arrived, and readily admitted that for many years he had a problem with sarcasm, not really aware when he was being sarcastic. Neil asked the Lord to deliver him, and God did.
Each week in Neil’s later years, on our way to temple services on Shabbat, Neil would turn on a local radio station to listen to the Children’s Bible Hour which was a half hour of music—little children (even toddlers) singing praises to the Lord. Neil would sing along. I used to say to him, “Neilie, no one would ever believe that this is what Rabbi Neil does on the way to temple.” He would smile and say, “I don’t care. I’m 80 years old and God is the only One I have to please. Besides, I enjoy it and can remember the lyrics.” (I listen to the Children’s Bible Hour now.) Yeshua said, “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4).
The pre-believing Jewish man, Neil Abraham Lash, who said to me two hours after meeting me: “I have to tell you something. You are the other half of me,” was speaking prophetically before he even heard of prophecy. He also demonstrated kindness, compassion, and love even before he learned that God is love. “…God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (I Jn. 4:16).
Neil taught that if we want to know what love is, we need to see what God is like. God is spirit… Biblical love begins in the spirit, John 4:24. Worldly love begins in the flesh. “For God so loved the world that He gave…” Biblical love gives, John 3:16. Worldly love gets, wants its needs met.
Biblical love is a commitment. We decide to love. It is an act of the will. It involves sacrifice and serving. Worldly love, on the other hand, is a feeling or emotion and focuses on self. It is often lust rather than love.
A final word from Rabbi Neil from January 11, 1981: “The only love in the entire universe which will not fail and will never disappoint is the love of God. Only as we allow God to perfect us, do we begin to approach the capability of love.”
Content and focused on following my beloved’s example,
P.S. The May 2019 Jewish Jewels newsletter, “A Life Well Lived,” contains a reprint of the letter that Neil wrote on his 40th born-again birthday. It can be found in the Jewish Jewels archives and has much more of Neil’s wisdom.
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