Pondering the Birth Pangs of Mashiach

Update: I was going to publish this last Friday morning but as you all know by now, certain events have resulted in me making a rather drastic change in my comments policy as well as my writing schedule. I decided to go ahead and let this blog post publish since I already had it ready to go. What happens after this, I really don’t know.

I’ve received a lot of emails that were very encouraging and I want to thank everyone who took the time to reach out to me with such kind remarks. I have other projects that I can pursue and who knows what the future may bring. Blessings.

In these days especially, when by G-d’s kindness we stand at the threshold of redemption, we must make every conceivable effort to strengthen every facet of our religion. Mitzvot must be observed b’hidur, with “beauty,” beyond minimal requirements. Customs must be kept scrupulously, nothing compromised. It is a Mitzva and duty of every Rabbi in Israel to inform his congregation that the current tribulations and agonies are the “birth-pangs of Mashiach.” G-d is demanding that we return to Torah and mitzvot, that we not hinder the imminent coming of our righteous Mashiach.

“Today’s Day”
for Tuesday, Sh’vat 8, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

This is exactly what I was trying to say yesterday. This is the idea communicated in Ezekiel 36:27:

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

This is a direct link between the New Covenant promises God made “to the house of Judah and the House of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:31), Israel’s observance of Torah, and Israel’s apprehension of the Divine Spirit.

And as we see, this also illustrates a link to the “current tribulations and agonies” of our times, which are defined as the “birth-pangs of Mashiach.”

But those words should also be familiar to most Christians:

And Yeshua (Jesus) answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Mashiach,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.”

-Matthew 24:4-8 (NASB -adapted)

Seems to be a close parallel to what you read in the quote at the top of this blog post. Here’s something more:

Rab said: The son of David will not come until the [Roman] power enfolds Israel [2] for nine months, as it is written, Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. [3]

‘Ulla said; Let him [The Messiah] come, but let me not see him. [4]

Rabbah said likewise: Let him come, but let me not see him. R. Joseph said: Let him come, and may I be worthy of sitting in the shadow of his ass’s saddle. [5] Abaye enquired of Rabbah: ‘What is your reason [for not wishing to see him]? Shall we say, because of the birth pangs [preceding the advent] of the Messiah? [6] But it has been taught, R. Eleazar’s disciples asked him: ‘What must a man do to be spared the pangs of the Messiah?’ [He answered,] ‘Let him engage in study and benevolence; and you Master do both.’

-Sanhedrin 98b (emph. mine)

Talmud Study by LamplightI’m periodically accused of misusing Jewish writings and I can see how some folks may see me playing fast and loose with ancient and modern Rabbinic commentary. On the other hand, I don’t see any other valid lens by which to view and comprehend my faith. Chances are I’m getting at least something wrong, and perhaps a good many things in the details. But it’s the only way for me to read the Bible and understand the plan of God as a single unit rather than a “Plan A” shifting to “Plan B” some time around Acts 2, or worse, as the Almighty pulling the world’s biggest “bait and switch” with His people Israel.

The New Covenant promises and prophesies (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36) God made with Israel must come true, otherwise, not only does Israel have no hope but the rest of the nations of the world (i.e, Gentiles and particularly Christians) are hopeless as well.

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

-John 4:22 (NASB)

That’s the Master speaking to a Samaritan woman and he might as well have been speaking to all the Gentile nations, that is, to us.

For nearly two-thousand years, Gentile Christianity and devout Judaism have charted divergent paths through history, pulling apart starting in the late first century and extending into the second, and traveling many light years away from each other ever since.

But I think that’s changing, at least a little. One of the “birth pangs” I see happening (and this is just my personal opinion), is the dialog and debate occurring between Judaism and Christianity or more specifically between mainstream/normative Judaism and Messianic Judaism, including with those of us who identify as “Messianic Gentiles.”

It almost seems like a (well-mannered) battle at times.

But at least we’re talking.

I mentioned before that Jewish Torah observance is a requirement for the return of the Messiah and particularly for Jewish disciples of Yeshua. We have historical records of individuals and small communities of Jews who were Yeshua disciples and who lived wholly religious and observant Jewish lives. This is also beginning to happen today, although such communities are small and far apart.

There are accusations that the number of Jews in the Messianic movement is actually decreasing. I can’t speak to that except to say if true, this is also part of the birth pangs as I understand them. It’s supposed to get darker, more bleak, and look more hopeless as the “birth pangs” continue. The gate is supposed to be narrow.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

-Matthew 7:13-14

Of course that’s less than an opinion. It’s just a belief that God will call as many as who will listen to Him. I’ve been reminded recently that how God calls people, particularly Jewish people to Him, can be seen in at least a couple of different ways. I think I know just a tiny bit how a Jew might feel being proselytized by a Christian when just about everything I write is challenged from an Orthodox Jewish point of view (Hi, Gene).

pregnantBut I truly believe what I’ve written. I believe that supporting Jewish Torah observance is part of the requirement for the return of Messiah and the establishment of the Messianic age. I just don’t know how to get that point across without both Christians and Jews more or less quarreling with me, forging an unwilling partnership for the sake of my personal growth (as Rabbi Zelig Pliskin would put it).

I guess you could say this is part of the personal “birth pangs” we go through when different individuals and factions are involved and presenting their particular theologies and doctrines. Somehow, I think it’s important to survive with my relationship with God intact, for in the end, I won’t be judged in the religious blogosphere, but in the court of the God of Heaven, in spite of (or maybe because of) the “current tribulations and agonies.” So will we all.

There are questions to which G-d says to be quiet, to be still, to cease to ask.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Be Quiet”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Sounds like good advice and maybe I’ll take it for awhile. We’ll see.

Oh, if you are looking for me, I’ll be over here. No “religious” comments allowed.


2. I.e., the whole world in which Israel is scattered.
3. Micah V, 2: ‘therefore will he give them up’ is interpreted as meaning to a foreign — viz., the Roman — power, and the duration of their servitude is fixed by ‘until the time etc.’ i.e., nine months, the period of pregnancy.
4. V. n. 7.
5. [Following the reading in Yalkut (v. Levy,) [H]. Our texts read: [H], ‘dung’.]
6. These troubles are generally referred to as birth pangs, being the travail which precedes the birth of a new era.

See You in the Funny Papers

As for people not playing on your blog as you want… quit writing a blog if you want to keep things neat and tidy and simply how “you” feel. Publish a newsletter and ignore the private responses which you disagree with. I have to be honest, I believe you think and write wonderfully. I like the discourse here. However your premises bring with them a perspective that is often open to question. If you do not like the questions, it seems odd you would post things which are so open to critical analyses. In all love, it is like going to the South Pole and questioning why it is cold.

-from Rockey in his January 29, 2015 at 12:24 p.m. comment

Okay. I take the hint. I could use the break.

By the way, that was a pretty diplomatic way to get your point across, Tim.

Thanks. I revisit this idea every now and again and then the comments back off, I receive some encouragement, and I’m writing again.

But not this time.

I’m sure it’s me. I’m sure I’m just being an unreasonable blogger, especially given I’m writing in the religious blogging space. D. Thomas Lancaster mentioned in one of his recorded sermons that he doesn’t maintain a personal blog, and I think for some of the reasons I’m encountering.

As I face various matters in my personal life (in spite of what many of you may think, I really don’t share everything that’s going on with me on this blog) as well as issues of continuing in my faith, I realize I don’t want the additional “drama” that sometimes happens in the comments section of my blog. I rarely comment on the blogs of others (at least compared to a few years ago) for the same reason.

So I’m closing comments on my blog. I was going to publish this blog on Friday morning and later on close comments, but that could seem like I’m just trolling for sympathy or whatever. It makes more sense to come to a clean stopping point this evening. Close comments and publish this blog post at the same time.

I may still write as Tim suggests without providing a venue for feedback. That may be frustrating to some, but not all blogs allow comments so there’s no rule that says I have to. There’s a process that lets anyone who really, really needs to say something to me to email me from within the blog, but that takes a few more steps than writing a comment and I don’t anticipate much of a response.

After some time, I may open the place up for comments again, but I’ll have to see what the experience is like with comments disabled for a while. For all I know, I may get used to the peace and quiet, and even to not having to write about everything that pops into my head.

I’ve actually been toying with the idea of doing a completely different blog, something not involved with religion at all (I do have a couple of other interests). I feel like a Don Quixote who has decided he doesn’t have to tilt at windmills any longer. I want to stop fighting “religious wars” for a while. I’d just like to spend some time enjoying being in the presence of God. There’s a certain freedom in that.

“See you in the funny papers.”

-attributed to Walt Kelly
Creator of the Pogo comic strip

Viewing the Truth Through a Dirty Window

Truth is simple, it has no clothes, no neat little box to contain it.

But we cannot grasp the something that has no box. We cannot perceive truth without clothing.

So Truth dresses up for us, in a story, in sage advice, in a blueprint of the cosmos—in clothes woven from the fabric of truth itself.

And then, before we can imagine that we have grasped Truth, it switches clothes. It tells us another story—entirely at odds with the first. It tells us new advice—to go in a different direction. It provides another model of how things are—in which each thing has changed its place.

The fool is confused. He exclaims, “Truth has lied!”

The wise person sees within and finds harmony between all the stories, all the advice, every model we are told.

For the Torah is a simple, pure light, a truth no box can contain.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Raw Truth”
Based on the Letters and Talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson

Depending on our philosophical or theological orientation, we like to think we have a pretty good grasp of “the truth.” This includes the truth of who we are as human beings and, if we’re religious, the truth about the nature of God, Creation, and everything.

But as Rabbi Freeman points out, human beings cannot apprehend “raw truth”. If we could, if we could see truth the way we see the color “red” or hear a particular musical note, maybe we would all perceive “truth” (more or less) in the same way. Humanity wouldn’t be so conflicted. We would all “know truth”.

But we aren’t there, not yet. We don’t perceive raw truth anymore than we can see X-rays with the unaided eye.

So we “clothe” truth with interpretation and tradition. A number of recent conversations have re-enforced the fact (as opposed to truth) that all human beings, and particularly human beings who believe the Bible is the source of truth, are oriented by specific traditional methods of interpretation to believe the Bible says certain things. The problem comes in when we encounter people who have different traditions that tell them different things about the Bible than what our traditions tell us.

While I agree that there is probably a supernal Torah in Heaven that no box can contain, in order to “package” the Torah, or for that matter, the entire Bible in order to deliver it to humanity, it gets put in a box. It has to be clothed. It is a book written (originally) in several languages over thousands of years. The completed “product” is now many thousands of years old and has been translated into innumerable languages. Just in English, there are hundreds if not thousands of translations of the Bible.

And over those thousands of years, both in Christianity (in all its forms) and in Judaism (in all its forms), many traditions have sprung up to tell many different variant religious populations what the Bible is saying. When a tradition persists long enough, it ceases to be perceived as a tradition and it is commonly understood to be the truth…

…whether it is from God’s point of view or not.

suitThey say “the clothes don’t make the man” and “never judge a book by its cover,” but quite frankly, we have no other way of understanding the Bible. We can’t access its “raw truth” and so we have interpretation by tradition. This is stated rather plainly in (especially) Orthodox Judaism. The local Chabad Rabbi told my wife that the Torah can only be understood through tradition. My experiences studying in various churches over the years tells me that Christians interpret the Bible based on traditions too. We just don’t talk about it. We like to think we can read the plain meaning of the text, especially in English, and know just what it is saying. However, the reality of the situation is that we understand, for instance, the letters of the Apostle Paul based on the traditional interpretation of those letters, not necessarily what Paul was actually trying to communicate.

“Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.”

-Dr. Leo Buscaglia

I’ve been told I’m a competent writer, talented, occasionally brilliant. I guess I better be since it’s my “day job”. It’s also a joy for me to write. I really get a lot of pleasure crafting a message in text. I usually enjoy talking about what I write, but periodically the joy gets sucked right out of the experience when all people seem to want to do is argue about what I write.

The point of my writing isn’t for me to tell you what the truth is necessarily. I write this blog to chronicle my process in the pursuit of truth. If you read all of my blog posts chronologically, I would hope you’d see a development or evolution in my comprehension of the Bible from a particular point of view (which may not be your point of view). It’s the progression of my traditional interpretive matrix. I’m tailoring the clothing in which to dress the truth of the Bible.

You probably dress the Bible in different clothing and then we argue about what sort of suit “truth” is dressed in this morning. The “Emperor” always wears clothes, and our debate is only over which sort of clothing he’s put on (or rather, what we’ve put on him).

Only God sees the Emperor without clothes.

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord…

-Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)

We aren’t there yet. This is a prophesy about the coming Messianic age. From my point of view, Yeshua (Jesus) initiated the very beginning of this age into our world, but it will not reach fruition until his return when each of us will have such a filling of the Spirit of God, that we will apprehend Hashem in a manner greater than the prophets of old. We will literally “know God”. We will see the truth unclothed, the raw truth…

…but only then.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

-1 Corinthians 13:12

This is how we see the truth right now, just as a dim reflection, a faint image, hardly perceptible, open to interpretation as to what is really being viewed. Paul knew this truth and preserved it for us but we don’t believe him. We don’t want to believe him, because believing we can know the truth in absolute terms now gives us emotional security. We don’t like a world that is suspended in dynamic tension between seemingly inconsistent and opposing thoughts, beliefs, and faiths. It’s unsettling.

But like it or not, that’s where we are. I’m sure I’ve got a lot of things wrong. I don’t always answer the questions posed to me because I don’t always have even an opinion on the answers. I’m not “the Bible Answer Man.” I don’t always know.

I wrote a completely different “morning meditation” that I had planned to publish today at the usual time (4 a.m. Mountain Time), but I pulled it out of the queue because it was more of the same and I anticipated more of the same comments and responses.

Who wants more of that?

MirrorI used to actually learn a lot from the comments and the insights of the people conversing with me and each other, but now I’m not sure I’m learning so much. Now I feel like we’re just going around and around in circles and the expectation is that I must change my mind and either think and believe like a more traditional Christian, or think and believe like how an Orthodox Jew views a Noahide.

But I’m not those types of people and that’s not how I experience the Bible’s “clothing,” so to speak.

I also feel like there might not always be an interest in me and what I think but rather, that my blog is being used as a pulpit for someone else’s idea, as a platform to convince my readers to take on a different theological point of view. Certainly some people reading my blog could be undecided about Christianity or Judaism. Did I create this blog to promote viewpoints I don’t endorse?

There’s a fine line as to just how much debate and disagreement to tolerate for the sake of learning. How much of it should I allow and where’s the cut off line? How “fair” should I be before exercising my administrative control as the blog owner? I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been pretty liberal in my policy on comments compared to some others. I rarely edit or delete comments (although I did delete a comment just yesterday).

You don’t have to agree with me and I don’t have to agree with you. That doesn’t make any of us either right or wrong. It just means we’re attempting to discuss what clothes the Emperor might be wearing today. It’s like viewing the truth through a dirty window. None of us see it very well. The problem is when we believe we see truth all too clearly.

Jews, Gentiles, and the Divine Spirit

My father wrote that he heard in the name of the Alter Rebbe that all rabbinic authors until and including the Taz [1] and Shach, [2] composed their works with ruach hakodesh, the Divine Spirit. An individual’s ruach hakodesh, as explained by Korban Ha’eida in Tractate Sh’kalim (Talmud Yerushalmi), end of ch. 3, means that the mysteries of Torah are revealed to him. This comes from the aspect of chochma in its pre-revelation state. [3]

“Today’s Day”
for Tuesday, Sh’vat 6, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

The sacred Zohar teaches that God, the nation Israel, and the Torah, are one. This suggests that God may be experienced through those phenomena that are also perceived to be eternal. Since Israel is eternal [by Divine oath, Genesis 15] and since the Torah is eternal, God/Israel/Torah are inextricably linked by common eternity.

-Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
in his commentary on Parashat Behar-Bechukotai
for May 15, 2012,
published at The Jewish Week

I know today’s “morning meditation” may be a little esoteric for some of you, and I’ve been debating whether or not to even write it. However, I think there’s a certain benefit in visiting the relationship between God, the Torah, and the people and nation of Israel at a more mystic or metaphysical level. God, after all, is not human, so we shouldn’t expect His methods to correspond to human limitations. After all, if God created the Torah, what is it?

It is true that the Zohar writes, “G-d looked into the Torah and created the World”.

Of course, the Torah, in its written form, only briefly describes the process and sequence of Creation. However, we should not think that because of its deceptively brief and general description that the Torah does not contain within the text the plan for the entire multitude of Creation.

-Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman
“Torah Blueprint”
Ohr Somayach

The idea is that there is a Heavenly Torah possessed by God that, when given to the nation of Israel at Sinai, was “clothed” so that it could exist in the material world and be comprehended by human beings. That makes all written Torah scrolls, though immeasurably precious, mere shadows of the supernal Torah of God. Alternately, all earthly scrolls are “encoded” with the information in the Heavenly Torah, and we could read it if we just knew how.

It is said that the world was created for the sake of Torah, but the world would have ceased to exist of the Israelites had refused the Torah at Sinai. Fortunately, this did not take place.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Many of you are not going to be willing to take the Zohar as an authoritative source of information, and many of you don’t believe there is a supernatural equivalent of the Torah in Heaven that corresponds to the Torah on Earth.

But we know through the Epistle to the Hebrews that there is a Heavenly court that corresponds to the Temple in Jerusalem (when it exists) and God commanded Moses to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle) according to a model he was shown on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 25:40), indicating that there is a perfect Heavenly version of the Tabernacle Moses was to have constructed in the desert.

Tree of LifeIf the Tabernacle and every single object in it has Heavenly equivalents, including priests, and including a High Priest, why not the Torah?

This would make Israel, that is, the Jewish people and the inheritors of the Torah and the covenant at Sinai particularly unique among all the nations of the Earth. Even the Master said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) illustrating that apart from Israel, no other person or nation can be redeemed and reconciled with God. The means into eternity for the people of the nations is the eternity of Israel.

The Land of Israel shares in this eternity. The earth’s perennial cycle of birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth, express a movement of regeneration and renaissance. There are intimations of immortality: The trees shed their leaves and fruits onto the earth, and when they decompose and merge with the earth, that very earth provides the necessary nutrients for the tree to bear fruit in the future. Plants leave their seeds in the ground, these continue to sprout plant life from the earth after the mother herb has been taken and eaten.

Further, the Land of Israel is invested with a special metaphysical quality which is inextricably linked to Knesset Yisrael, historic Israel. The first Hebrew, Abraham, entered into the “Covenant between the Pieces,” that God’s promise of world peace and messianic redemption will be realized in the City of Jerusalem. Hebron’s Cave of the Couples — Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah — was the very first acquisition by a Jew of land in Israel, purchased as the earthly resting place for the founders of our faith. At the very same time, it is also the womb of our future, a future informed by the ideas and ideals of our revered ancestors. “Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children” [Proverbs 17:6].

-Rabbi Riskin, “The Unity of God, Torah And Israel”

In the quote from “Today’s Day” above, it is said that the Sages of the Talmud were inspired to write by the Holy Spirit. Since Christians believe that only Christians have the indwelling of the Spirit, this is going to seem at least confusing if not outright unbelievable. On the other hand, there’s another covenant to consider:

Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…

-Jeremiah 31:31 (NASB)

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

-Ezekiel 36:27

Given Acts 2:1-4, you’d think that only Jews who are disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) would receive the Holy Spirit, but what if we’re wrong? What if the Sinai Covenant and the fact that the New Covenant being made only with Israel and Judah have a direct impact on both Jewish disciples of Yeshua and the rest of the Jewish people, because God, the Torah, and Israel are one?

I do not agree that mainstream Jews are apostates. I think that is far too strong. In fact, I’ll go one step further, I believe a parallel outpouring of the Spirit has happened among traditional Jews, not unlike the one happening to the congregation of Messiah. Isaiah 59:21, “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.””

-Derek Leman
from his comment of
24 January, 2015 at 6:55 am
on his blog post
Double Opposition to Messianic Judaism

I know this stands outside of most of what I consider traditional Christian doctrine, but if God doesn’t abandon His covenants and His people and He always keeps His promises, then we Gentile Christians can hardly dismiss Israel out of hand. In fact, if the redemption of the nations, of we Christians, is solely dependent upon the “oneness” Israel has with the Torah and with God, and if God, according to the New Covenant, will redeem all of Israel (Romans 11:26-27; Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34), then maybe one of the things we Gentile believers better get busy at is supporting Jewish observance of the Torah and stop working so hard at trying to convert Jews to Christianity. After all, Ezekiel 36:27 directly links Jewish observance of Torah with God’s Spirit being placed within them.

There is a different way to understand no one comes to the Father except through the Son.

Divine TorahGod will provide the revelation of Messiah to Israel and indeed, this has already begun as evidenced by the modern Messianic Jewish movement. But Messianic Jews are also to be Torah observant Jews. Maybe the main issue at hand isn’t non-Messianic but otherwise observant Jews, but those who are secular, assimilated, and yes, even “Hebrew Christians” who have set aside the Torah for the “promise” of a Gentile version of grace (not that grace and Torah are mutually exclusive…far from it).

God is with His people Israel, all of them. God is also with the Gentile disciples of the Master. None of us has the perfect apprehension of how to best serve God, though often we convince ourselves we possess such a thing. In the end, God will open all our eyes and show us what we saw correctly and what we were blind to. Then God will forgive, and all of the drama and trauma we experience in the world of religion today will just fade to black.

The Spirit is with us. Let us listen to what He is saying.

I know this blog post is probably theologically “sketchy” so I expect some pushback. On the other hand, this is something I felt needed to be said, no matter how imperfectly I said it.


1. Acronym of Turei Zahav on Torah law by R. David Halevi, d. 1667.
2. Acronym of Siftei Kohein on Torah law by R. Shabtai Hacohen, 1622-1663.
3. See “On Learning Chassidus,” Kehot, p. 18.

The Mussar of Patience

Patience is a means not only to inner peace but outer peace. It is the ability to endure situations of all kinds and to remain level-headed. Patience out of balance can appear two ways. One extreme displays frustration, rage, and aggravation, while the other extreme displays apathy and indifference. Patience displayed in balance helps relationships and situations through rough spots and promotes healthy growth.

-from the middot page on patience
Riverton Mussar

Rabbi Michael Schiffman really got me where I live, so to speak, with his article on the middah of patience called What We Admire in Others. Here’s an excerpt:

I learned patience years later when I lived in Chicago in the 1970s. I was still driving like a New Yorker, which fared well for me in the Windy City. The bad part was that such driving, at best, is extremely rude. If someone was in my way, I tended to ride their bumper, honk my horn, and do whatever it took to get them out of my way. I’m sure my blood pressure was going through the roof. Usually, people got out of my way, and I got to go where I wanted to go the eight seconds sooner than I would have if I had been patient.

Fortunately, I’ve never driven in the way Rabbi Schiffman describes above, but I used to be a lot more aggressive behind the wheel when I lived in California. Idaho is a bit slower and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve slowed down too. But not to the traditional Idaho standard of driving. To me, most folks in the cars around me as I commute to and from work during the week drive about five to ten miles slower than I’d like.

And so I get impatient. I don’t ride people’s bumpers and rarely honk (if I do, it’s just a short “beep” to get the driver ahead of me to stop texting and notice the light has changed from red to green), but I still manage to mutter under my breath a few unkind words and drive just a little closer to the car ahead of me than I should.

When traffic goes slow, I have to tell myself things like, “It’s a truck, not a Ferrari” to remind myself that the world of cars and traffic wasn’t created just to annoy me. It helps, but I manage this bit of self-correction only after I’ve started to lose my cool.

But there’s another side of needing to be patient. My wife tends to process information by talking about it. Unfortunately (at least for me) she often repeats her main points over and over again after I’ve assimilated the basic message. Intellectually, I know this is a coping mechanism for her and all she needs me to do is to sit there and listen. But from my point of view, once she starts repeating information, I feel like the conversation should end, especially if the topic is at all uncomfortable.

listeningThis is another time when I need to tell myself that this is what she needs from me as a husband right now. No muttering, no inappropriate facial expressions, no “Oh, gosh! Look at the time! I’ve gotta run!”

You can click the link I provided to find out how Rabbi Schiffman learned patience in traffic, but here’s the ultimate point of developing this character trait:

Our attitudes are not just what comes out when we feel strongly about something. We have the ability to control how we react to situations around us. You don’t have to behave badly when you get mad. You don’t have to lose control. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. If we are really living a life that is sacrificial to God, a life of Torah, self-control should be evident in us. The real question is not simply sitting on our emotions until we eventually explode. The real question is how do we wait with a good attitude? The more you consider that your life is in God’s hands, and that what you have is not based on your ability to grab, but in the kindness and sovereignty of God, the less anxiety you will have about getting where you want and what you want before someone else grabs it. You are then free to act in kindness, and let others go first.

It’s more important to me that I treat people well, than to grab what I want at the expense of others. Who’s life are you living out? Your’s or Yeshua’s?

I mentioned getting older earlier in this blog post, which brings me to another quote:

“When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.”

-Abraham Joshua Heschel

And there’s also the Apostle Paul:

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

-Ephesians 4:2

As well as proverbial wisdom:

“Slowness to anger [shows] much understanding, but a short-spirited person elevates foolishness.”

-Proverbs 14:29 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Patience isn’t just about being polite. It’s not just about learning to keep your cool in hot situations. It’s not even just about lowering your personal stress, blood pressure, and improving your disposition. As Rabbi Schiffman said above, it’s about “living a life that is sacrificial to God.”

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

-Romans 12:1-2 (NASB)

A disciple’s life is supposed to reflect the life of his or her Master. Our Master also said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.”

-John 13:16

We are not greater than our Master Yeshua (Jesus). We are to look up to his example and by the power of the Spirit, strive to do as he taught us as best we can. That’s why I study and practice mussar (though I’ve obviously got a long way to go).

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

In Acts 15:21, James the Just, the brother of the Master and head of the Council of Apostles and Elders, commanded (seemingly) the Gentile disciples to study Torah in the synagogue on every Shabbat. Some believe the rationale was that James and the Council expected that the Gentiles would take up all of the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, but I think there are other reasons.

One reason is that we Gentiles have no hope of understanding the life and teachings of our Master unless we can apprehend such things through the “lens” of Torah. The teachings of our Master are Jewish teachings, and most of the time, he was speaking to a Jewish audience who had a completely different interpretive matrix for comprehending his words than the uninitiated first-century Gentiles, let alone we uninitiated twenty-first century Gentile disciples.

The other reason is that we learn mussar from the Torah. I’m not talking about the proper method of donning tzitzit or laying tefillin (which interestingly enough, you won’t learn from studying the plain meaning of the written Torah). I’m talking about understanding the humanity and holiness of the men and women who encountered God in the Torah as well as the teachings from the Prophets and the Writings.

Torah is not simply a path by which you gradually arrive at truth.

When you are immersed in Torah, even while pondering the question, even while struggling to make sense of it all, you are at truth already.

Torah is about being truth. And then, the questions will have true answers, the struggle a true resolution. By being truth, your​destiny is yet a higher truth.

(Tanya, Chapter 5. See also Hayom Yom for the 20th of Adar I.)

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Process”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

studying mussarStudying mussar is like studying Torah. You don’t have to wait to become proficient before you benefit from your efforts. Even while struggling with developing patience or any of the other middot, you are already immersed in living a life that is sacrificial to God, a life of Torah and self-control. A life of Torah for a Gentile disciple of Yeshua doesn’t mean externally imitating Jewish ritual and sign behavior. It means imitating our Master who taught us that loving God and loving our neighbor are more important than anything else. I study mussar so that I can learn to love as the Master would have me love.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

-John 13:34


Dealing with the Heresy Hunters

Saul understood the disciples of Yeshua as a dangerous sect of Judaism that needed to be silenced before it spread any further. In Saul’s day Judaism contained a variety of sectarian movements. The word “sect” translates the Greek word “hairesis.” It is the same word for “choice,” or “opinion.” Over time, as Christianity battled against the deviant hairesis of Gnosticism, the meaning of the word evolved into the new concept of “heresy.” In the days of the apostles, however, the word primarily referred to a faction of thought and practice within a larger group. For example, the book of Acts refers to the “sect of the Sadducees” (Acts 5:17) and the “sect of the Pharisees” (Acts 15:5), which was “the strictest sect of [the Jews’] religion” (Acts 26:5 NASB). It also refers to the disciples of Yeshua as the “sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus used the word hairesis to describe “schools of thought” within the Jewish people: Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. In Josephus’ writings the word hairesis only means a faction within the broader religion of Judaism. It does not imply heresy.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
from “Damascus Road Encounter,” pp.15-16
Messiah Magazine issue 8, Winter 2015/5775

I find I can’t read Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles” anymore without thinking about the church I used to attend and the reasons I left. The head Pastor during the two years I attended, was working his way through the Book of Acts in his sermon series, preaching on it verse by verse.

During the first year I was at this church, I was studying Lancaster’s Torah Club Volume 6: “Chronicles of the Apostles,” which is a detailed analysis of Acts from a Messianic Jewish point of view (based on the theology and doctrine espoused by First Fruits of Zion). Between Pastor’s weekly sermons and my Torah Club studies, I became very familiar with Acts, perhaps more so than any other single book in the Bible. So now, when I read Acts, I think both of Pastor’s sermons and of Lancaster’s teachings.

FFOZ’s Messiah Magazine is a less “scholarly” publication compared to Messiah Journal and is written, in my opinion, for people with a more traditional Christian mindset who are interested in what I call “Messianic Judaism 101.”

That’s not a bad thing. When encountering Messianic Judaism for the first time, it’s helpful to have an elementary point of entry that speaks to someone not familiar with that perspective. I guess I’ve been studying too long to be challenged by entry-level material.

But I found myself wishing this (Sunday) morning that I could share Lancaster’s article with the folks at the Sunday School class I used to attend. It’s a vain hope. For two years, I tried to make a positive impression on the class regarding Messianic Jewish thought and perspective on the Bible, and while some people found some of what I said compelling, ultimately, for two years, I was spinning my wheels. Paradigms are not easily shifted, and sometimes they are so cemented into place, that it becomes all but impossible (at least for human beings) to shift them perceptibly. Any doctrine outside of what is taught by the local church is considered heresy.

Which brings me to the quote from Lancaster’s article.

We experience now, as did the Jewish people in the days of Saul/Paul, a number of different “sects,” both within Christianity and Judaism. If we take all this within the context of the original meaning of the word “hairesis,” then we can consider the different denominations of Christianity and the different branches of Judaism as different factions, or schools of thought and practice, within their broader respective religions.

But where does that leave modern Messianic Judaism and her (somewhat) parallel sister movement Hebrew Roots? Can we consider them two different “sects,” and valid “schools of thought and practice” within a larger religious context?

I’ve been following a number of different blogs over the past week or so and monitoring a series of “differences of opinion” (to put it mildly in some cases) that would seem to belie that thought.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

For instance, on Derek Leman’s Messianic Jewish Musings, there is a lively debate between Messianic Jews (and Gentiles) and an Orthodox Jewish person about the validity of Christianity as a religion, including Messianic Judaism, which this fellow (Hi, Gene) believes to be a subset of Christianity rather than a “school of thought” within Judaism.

Pete Rambo issued a rather provocative challenge on his blog by “offering a $10,000 reward to the person who can prove unequivocally, from Scripture alone, that God changed the Sabbath day from Saturday, the seventh day, to Sunday the first day.” Naturally, a “spirited debate” ensued, although there only seems to be one person attempting to “collect the reward.”

And then, on Peter Vest’s blog, he proposes the interesting idea that the later Rabbis of the Talmud rejected what Peter believes was the “One Law” teachings of the Second Temple era Rabbis. There’s no particular argument going on in the comments section of that blog (yet), but it nevertheless presents another variant opinion on what the Bible teaches us about Jewish and Gentile interactions in the first-century Jewish “stream of thought” of “the Way.”

I must say that adherents to these various “sects,” in these blog discussions, can express quite a bit of “passion” in defending their particular opinions, but sometimes it (seemingly) goes beyond that.

I haven’t watched the YouTube video yet (and I probably never will), but according to Peter on his blog, a couple of gentlemen in some sort of One Law radio talk show outright said that Peter was a “liar” relative to his statements about Judaism and the validity of the Oral Torah.

Now I can’t state strongly enough that I haven’t watched the video and so I don’t directly know what was or wasn’t said. I do know that it’s not unheard of to misinterpret someone’s opinion of you, especially if that opinion is at all critical. I don’t know what the people Peter mentions said or didn’t say, so what I’m writing here isn’t a matter of taking sides or calling anyone out.

However, if we, for the moment, accept Peter’s allegations at face value, then we have encountered a problem. All of us in our various “sects” of Christianity, Judaism, or whatever, actually have the same core goal: drawing nearer to God. However, each of us within our own specific “streams of thought” imagine the details of just how to accomplish that task rather differently. And yet, in spite of the fact that we know there have been multiple differing “streams of thought and practice” about the Bible and God for well over two-thousand years, significantly predating the existence of anything called “Christianity,” we still insist that whatever religious stream in which we find ourselves is the only one with “the truth.”

Everyone else is wrong and we have a duty and obligation to go online and, by golly, prove it.

It is one thing to disagree with someone else, to believe their particular interpretation of the Bible is in error, that the person is (Heaven forbid) wrong, mislead, or even deluded. It’s another thing entirely to believe another person’s difference of opinion indicates that the individual is a willful liar. I hope that’s not what’s going on here, because it would be a sad commentary on two people who are professed disciples of Yeshua (Jesus),  but as I said, I don’t really know.

And that brings us back to Lancaster’s article and “Saul, the Heresy Hunter” (I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek).

Christian teaching emphasizes the story of the conversion of Saul the Jew, a persecutor of the early church, into Paul the Christian, as a pattern for Jewish believers to follow. Just as Saul renounced Judaism and even changed his name to Paul, so too, Jewish believers should renounce their old allegiances and embrace their new identity in Christ. A careful reading of the story of Saul’s Damascus road encounter, however, does not indicate a conversion from Judaism to Christianity, nor does it indicate a change in name from Saul to Paul.

-Lancaster, p.15

You’ll have to read Lancaster’s full article (only four pages long) to see how he defends his opinion (successfully from my point of view), but it indicates a couple of things. First, that Saul was wrong about his persecution of the Jewish members of “the Way,” and that he was rather dramatically forced to face his mistakes by an encounter with the Master of that movement, Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. Second, we discover that (in my opinion and Lancaster’s) Christian interpretive tradition is wrong about what happened to Saul, what sort of “conversion” he underwent, and why he had two names.

Saul did undergo a radical transformation of the heart, soul, and mind. One might say that he experienced a spiritual conversion — something the Master called being “born again.” His life would never be the same. Compared with the “surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua,” Saul counted all his prestigious heritage and achievements in Judaism as mere rubbish (Philippians 3:8 NASB). Yet that change in priority did not indicate a change in religious affiliation. Saul encountered the Messiah on the way to Damascus, but he did not abandon his Jewish identity or his loyalty to the Torah, the Jewish people, or Jewish practice.

-ibid, p.18

The Jewish PaulIf I said something like that in at least some churches, I would likely encounter strong and passionate counter arguments that anything “Jewish” did not survive in Paul after his Acts 9 encounter with Jesus. Nevertheless, that’s how I (and Lancaster, and many others) read the life of Paul in the Apostolic Scriptures.

So as we’ve seen, there have been multiple sects of Judaism that predated the earthly ministry of Jesus by quite a bit, and there have been multiple sects of Christianity from pretty much the point when the term was first used.

What do we do about that, especially in the volatile environment of the religious blogosphere?

View people you are likely to quarrel with as your partners in personal growth. They are likely to make you more aware of your vulnerabilities, limitations, and mistakes. Don’t let this get you down. Rather, let it serve as your coach. You now have more awareness of what you need to strengthen, fix, and keep on developing.

(from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book: Harmony with Others, p.36, http://www.artscroll.com)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Daily Lift #236: “My Partner in Personal Growth”

If you’re religious in any sense of the word (I know that some Christians say their faith is a “relationship, not a religion” but go with me on this one) then other people are going to disagree with you. Get used to it. If you are going to discuss your religious beliefs on a blog and allow others to comment on your blog, people will comment and some will disagree with you. Others will write their own blog posts disagreeing with you, sometimes in the most caustic and “unChristian” like manner.

If we are to believe what Rabbi Pliskin says, all of our opponents are our partners in personal growth. Without them, we might never discover weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and limitations in our own character as well as our knowledge. They force us to constantly stretch ourselves so that we will be more aware of our strengths and deficits tomorrow than we are today. As one motivational statement I’ve seen at my gym says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

-James 1:2-4 (NASB)

It seems that Rav Shaul (otherwise known as Paul the Apostle) and Rabbi Pliskin agree on something.

"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


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