Failure Is Always An Option

Failure is not an option.

attributed to Gene Kranz,
retired NASA Flight Director

I really wasn’t going to mention Derek’s latest blog post. What I had to say, I said there in my comments. But then something happened.

I am very encouraged by the overwhelming amount of support people are expressing toward Derek, with just a few, minor detractors chiming in.

We all have our problems, our failures, and our sins. They become much more public and more powerful when you happen to be a teacher and an organizational leader, especially in a movement as “intimate” as Messianic Judaism, where most folks involved have at least heard of each other if not personally know one another.

I suppose it’s one of the reasons why many of us should not be teachers (James 3:1).  Who wants that kind of pressure, especially if we should sin (and who doesn’t sin)?

I was reading the latest installment at the lyfta på jobbet blog this morning when I came across a link to the article Failure Is Always An Option.

That certainly flies in the face of American particularism, independence, and a “get-er-done” attitude, and it probably wouldn’t have sat very well with the above-quoted Gene Kranz as he dedicated his efforts to rescuing the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 13.

But let’s face it, we’re all human. Failure is one of our defining qualities. Not that we should revel in failure, but it’s arrogant to presume that you or I will never sin.

Yet, some of our sins are rather spectacular and some of our sins are astonishing and shocking when they come into the public light. Some of our sins hurt not only us, but every one we have ever loved.

Even with confession, repentance, and undeserved forgiveness, the guilt can still be crushing.

I’m grateful for Derek’s sake, for everyone’s sake, particularly for my sake, that God is more forgiving than most human beings…more forgiving than I certainly am toward myself.

In the Future Buzz article I cited above, author Adam Singer wrote:

Failure is a beautiful thing, and if you organize your business around it you can gain a serious advantage over competitors who think they’re infallible and spend inordinate amounts of time trying to be perfect versus trying lots of things, failing like crazy, and seeing what sticks. The truth is we all fail, every one of us, and when you really stop and remove the societal stigmas associated with it, you realize it’s not actually a negative.

Granted, this particular message is directed toward a business and marketing environment, and yet it has applications on the social, personal, and religious levels of our existence. If we allow our sin to crush us, to prevent us from repenting, to inhibit the idea that there can be a road back, not only to God, but to our family and friends, then we truly have been defeated.

Failure is not falling down, it is not getting up again.

―Mary Pickford

fallingThere’s a plethora of similar quotes available on the web. I just picked the first one that came up in a Google search.

No one, no sports hero, champion, competitor in any human endeavor, or any human being at all has failed until they allow their failure to result in giving up.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 (NASB)

Easier said than done as I imagine the Apostle Paul can attest.

And yet, it’s not the depth of sin we have fallen into that defines us but how we recover afterward.

Failure is always an option. It happens to us every day. Sometimes it happens with brutal intensity and swiftness, and when our failure is revealed for all to see, it’s easy to wonder how we’re going to survive the shame and humiliation. It’s easy to imagine the bridges have been burned and that our only option is, like Icarus, to fall out of the light and into the darkness.

Failure is always an option, but failure does not have to be permanent.

I can only imagine that it took a tremendous amount of courage for Derek to publicly confess his transgressions on his blog. He could have gone silent and stayed silent, containing the impact to those people directly involved.

No one likes to air their dirty laundry.

I wouldn’t recommend this method, but sometimes it may be possible to lead by starting at the bottom. If you have fallen and fallen far, and can pick yourself back up, by Hashem’s strength and grace, and start the long ascent, the rest of us who witness this, can come to realize there’s hope for us too, as we sit at the bottom of our wells and our caves, buried by the darkness and dreaming of the light.

Great Teshuva

My friend and I are having a disagreement about degrees of righteousness in God’s eyes. Who is greater: One who is virtuous by inclination, or one who is virtuous by choice – i.e. one who must struggle with his passions and transform vice into virtue?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud says: “In a place where a ba’al teshuva (spiritual returnee) stands, even a full tzaddik cannot stand” (Brachot 34b). The idea is that by having sunk to the lowest depths, and then genuinely turning one’s life around, the distance traveled in a positive direction is so great that it even exceeds those who have always been on the plus-side.

Shofar as sunrise(Of course, one would not want to deliberately get into a negative situation, because there is no guarantee of coming out. Further, it often leaves residual stains.)

-from the Ask the Rabbi column

That’s only part of the Aish Rabbi’s reply, but it’s the most relevant part. If a life of righteousness comes (relatively) easy to you, what have you really accomplished? However, if acts of righteousness, charity, and piety are difficult, if they go against your nature, if you have to struggle everyday to do good or to recover from some monumental failure, how much greater will your success be than your failure?

The Humble Desert

This is the second of two blog posts I wrote several weeks ago. I don’t know when or if I’ll write anymore.

Ohr HaChaim explains the first verse in Sefer Devarim in a novel way: He says that Moshe was alluding to nine attributes that are necessary for those who go in the path of the Torah.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.132
Sunday’s commentary for Parashas Devarim
A Daily Dose of Torah

Although this commentary was written for a Jewish audience, we non-Jews in Messiah who seek his Kingdom may glean some insights into the necessary attributes for us to turn to Hashem, God of Israel, in repentance and humility.

The following is a truncated version of this list of nine attributes. For the full text, go to pp. 132-133 of the aforementioned portion of A Daily Dose of Torah

  1. The word “on the other side,” is an allusion that one should acquire the trait of Avraham, as it says (Bereshis 14:13) “and told Abram, the Ivri…” [The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 42:13) says that our forefather Avraham was called the “Ivri” because he was on one side…of the world, and the rest of humanity was on the other. The Eitz Yosef (ad loc.) explains that this refers to Avraham’s recognition of his Creator, challenging the status quo of his time, when idolatry was the norm.]
  2. A person should constantly have self-reproof in mind, as the Gemara says (Berachos 7a): “One self-reproof in a person’s own heart is better (for his self-improvement) than 100 lashes.”
  3. One should be humble, as the Gemara says (Eruvin 54a): A person should conduct himself as if he were but a humble desert…
  4. One’s humility should follow the proper course as delineated in Rambam (Hilchos Dei’vos Ch. 5). [Rambam writes at length there about the proper conduct one should display, both in public and private.]
  5. The Mishnah (Avos 3:1) says that two of the things one should remember so as not to come to sin are that a person ends up buried in the ground, and that he will have to stand in judgment before Hashem for all his deeds. In Avos 2:10, the Mishnah tells us to repent every day, lest one die without repentance.
  6. The virtuous say (Chovos HaLevavo, Shaar HaPerishus 4) that one should be outwardly cheerful and inwardly mournful.
  7. One should have a pure and clean heart, as Dovid HaMelech prays in Tehillim (51:12), “A pure heart create for me, O God.” One should distance himself from hatred, jealousy, strife and bearing grudges.
  8. One should regularly learn Torah, as it is stated about our forefather Yaakov (Bereshis 25:27): “Yaakov was a wholesome man, dwelling in tents,” which refers to the study tents of Shem and Eiver (Rashi ad loc.).
  9. One should not passionately pursue things that seem valuable, meaning, the wealth of the physical world, because one who is following his heart’s desires is not doing God’s work.

How can this be applied to the non-Jew in Messiah? We can only look to those texts in our Bible, enshrined in the Apostolic Scriptures, that describe what is required of us through Messiah as a result of his humble birth, his life among Israel, his death at the hands of the goyim, his miraculous resurrection, and triumphant ascension.

MessiahThere are two general models by which we non-Jews may learn our proper behavior as disciples and perhaps look to the above-listed nine attributes: The behaviors of our Master, Rav Yeshua, that we find recorded in the Gospels, and what the Apostle Paul taught, as well as mitzvot we see the righteous Gentiles of that time performing, also chronicles in the Apostolic Scriptures.

Let’s take another list of those nine attributes and see if they make any sense when applied to a Gentile disciple of the Master.

  1. To be separate from the rest of mankind. Are we Christians “called out” from the mass of general humanity to be something special to God?
  2. To constantly reproof ourselves. Reproof is just a fancy word meaning rebuke, reprimand, reproach, or admonition. Applied to a believer who sins (and who doesn’t sin, even among the redeemed Gentiles?), we should be our own worst critics, for self-reproof is better than being “called out” because of our sins by others.
  3. To be humble. Looking at Eruvin 54, the relevant portion states: “If a person makes himself [humble] like a wilderness on which everyone tramples, [Torah is given to him like a Matanah (gift),] and his learning will endure. If not, it will not.”
  4. I don’t have access to Rambam’s lengthy discourse on humility, so no illumination will come from his insights, at least not in this small write-up.
  5. Avos 3:1 seems pretty self-explanatory. Once you fully realize that you are mortal, an end will come, and you will stand in judgment before a righteous and just God, should you continue to sin? And yet we do all the time. How wretched we are.
  6. Outwardly cheerful and inwardly mournful. Sounds like Matthew 6:16.
  7. In order to have a pure and clean heart, we would have to be in a constant state of repentance, which seems pretty consistent with what we’ve read so far.
  8. Regularly learn Torah. That fits in with what we generally assume about Acts 15:21 but, if we expand that idea to regularly studying the Bible, and all Bible learning could be considered “Torah” or “teaching” in a way, then why couldn’t we benefit from this?
  9. What is most important to us? A nice house? An expensive car? Watching the most recent superhero movies in the theaters? What did the Master teach in Matthew 22:36-40? What did he teach in Matthew 6:19-21?

The Jewish PaulAlthough the Master appointed the Pharisee Paul to be the emissary to the Gentiles, and tasked him to bring the Good News of Messiah to the people of the nations of the world, Paul was not commanded to convert those Gentiles into Jews. Although Paul brought many non-Jews into Jewish social and worship contexts to teach them to understand such foreign (to them in those days) concepts as a monotheistic view of One God, who and what “Messiah” is and what he means, and what the “good news” is to Israel and how it can be applied to the rest of the world, at some point, he had to realize based on the sheer number of Gentiles in the world in relation to the tiny number of Jews, that the Gentiles would quickly develop their own communities, congregations, and perhaps their own customs, halachah, and praxis, independent of direct (or even indirect) Jewish influence. The tiny Apostolic Council of Jerusalem couldn’t hope to administer a world wide population of Gentiles.

Two-thousand or so years later, Christianity and Judaism, having traveled along widely divergent paths, seem like an apple and an orange trying to find common ground and not doing a very good job of it. Judaism isn’t what links Jews and Gentiles in Messiah. Judaism is what links Jews to other Jews. It’s what links Jews to Torah. It’s what links Jews to Israel.

Judaism isn’t what teaches the apple and the orange that they are both fruit (assuming you’ve seen the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The promise of living in the Kingdom of Heaven, otherwise known as the Kingdom of God, or even the Messianic Era…this is what we have in common, all of us, all of humanity…all people everywhere, or at least those who make teshuvah, turn to God, and who answer the call to be redeemed.

But Jews are part of the Kingdom by covenant. The path for the rest of us is more complicated, at least once you set aside the notion we’ve been taught out of a truncated Gospel, the notion commonly taught in most Christian churches.

Although Messianic Judaism in its various modern incarnations is a very good place to learn about how God’s redemptive plan for Israel, and through Israel, the rest of the world, is really supposed to work, it can also (and certainly has in many cases) lead a lot, or many, or most non-Jews associated with Messianic Judaism to some very confusing conclusions.

Learning from within a Jewish context of one sort or another is valuable, but none of that means we non-Jews are supposed to consider Judaism a permanent destination. Our destination lies elsewhere.

Yeshua’s (Jesus’) central message was Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near, not “Believe in me and you’ll go to Heaven when you die.”

Sadly enough, Christianity widely teaches that Paul’s central message was “humans are saved from sin by believing in Jesus.” So either Paul completely turned the good news of Messiah on its head, so to speak, or Christianity totally misunderstands Paul.

For people like me, that is, non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah, it is vital to comprehend what the Master taught about the Kingdom and then see how Paul interpreted those teachings as applying to the people of the nations. Only understanding that gives me a clear picture of the actual context in which God expects people like me to operate and what I’m supposed to do with all this information.

Apostle Paul preachingI shouldn’t have to look far. Paul’s discourse to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch where he addressed Jews, proselytes, and non-Jewish God-fearers should tell the tale and show us what he taught that so excited the Gentiles.

As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us,

‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles,
That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).’”

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.

Acts 13:42-49 (NASB)

You should read all of Acts 13 for the full context, keeping in mind that Luke probably wrote down only a short summary of Paul’s complete address to the synagogue.

We do know that Paul advocated for redemption of the Gentiles through Israel’s redemption, and that the news among the Gentile God-fearers was so well received during Paul’s first Shabbat visit, that multitudes of non-Jews, most of whom were probably not God-fearers and in fact, most of whom were likely straight-up pagans, enthusiastically showed up on the next Shabbat, dismaying the synagogue leaders to the extreme, but attracting a lot of excited Gentiles to the “good news.”

That good news wasn’t Judaism. The local Gentiles always knew that they could undergo the proselyte rite to convert to Judaism (and some few of them actually did). Paul wasn’t preaching for all Gentiles to convert, he was preaching the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven, where all people could receive the Spirit of God, could be reconciled to the Creator of the Universe, and receive the promise of the resurrection and a place in the World to Come.

This was as open to the Gentiles as it was to any Jew.

Verse 38 of the same chapter says that Messiah proclaimed forgiveness of sins (through teshuvah or repentance) to even the Gentiles, something most of the Goyim (and probably most Jews) hadn’t even considered possible before, especially within their polytheistic family and social framework.

The synagogue was where Gentiles had to go, at least initially, because that was the only place in town where anyone taught anything about the God of Israel and the meaning of Messiah’s message. Like I said, Judaism isn’t the final destination for the Gentile. It was and perhaps sometimes still is the place we need to go in order to learn that our final destination is the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s where we need to focus our attention.

alone-desertIf we get too caught up in trying to “belong” to Judaism, we are either going to become frustrated when it doesn’t work out that way, or offended and angry when Jews in Messiah see we Gentiles as interlopers and poachers of their territory.

In some ways, that’s probably what caused a lot of the problems in Gentile integration into Jewish social and community circles that we find in Luke’s “Acts” and Paul’s epistles.

Rather than trying to bulldoze my way into Messianic Judaism, I’m determined to become a humble desert, to be the dust under everyone’s feet. In the siddur, it says “To those who curse me let my soul be silent, and let my soul be like dust to everyone.”

All I can do is to continually repent before the Throne of God, try to live my life in humility, and seek to behave in a manner pleasing to my Master so that one day I may enter the Kingdom…

…even if it is like dust seeping in through the doorway.

The Torah states, “You shall trust wholeheartedly in the Lord, Your God” (Deuteronomy 18:13).

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim, used to say, “The Torah obliges us to trust wholeheartedly in God … but not in man. A person must always be on the alert not to be cheated.”

The Chofetz Chaim devoted his life to spreading the principle of brotherly love, the prohibition against speaking against others, and the commandment to judge people favorably. Though he was not the least bit cynical, he was also not naive. He understood the world and human weaknesses.

In Mesichta Derech Eretz Rabba (chapter 5) it states that we should honor every person we meet as we would (the great sage) Rabbi Gamliel, but we should nevertheless be suspicious that he might be dishonest.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
as quoted at Aish.com

If I Can’t Talk About God…

How can I talk with anyone else about God when I can’t even talk about Him with my wife?

We were discussing this news story about how when Iran says “Death to America” it doesn’t really mean “Death to America”.

We were both equally outraged at such a sentiment, and I tried to express support for Israel and how when God came back…

Oops.

“Came back?” my wife queried.

I realized what I said and how she took it (and rightfully so) and tried to reorient the statement as best I could but the damage was done.

There are lots of reasons I don’t feel fit to occupy a space in the religious blogosphere, most of them having to do with my personal shortcomings, but some of them have to do with my apparent inability to talk with or about Messianic Jews and Messianic Judaism without stepping on some significant toes.

If I can’t talk about God and Israel in a positive, pro-Bible, pro-Israel, and pro-Judaism way with my wife without saying something stupid, how can I hope to talk with other Jews in Messianic Judaism without causing strife and offense?

I don’t enjoy getting emails saying that I said something wrong, objectionable, or whatever. I can’t live in the same home with a Jewish person without messing things up. How can I communicate with other Jewish people who don’t have that sort of emotional connection with me and get my point across without causing a mess?

This is my personal problem with being involved with Messianic Judaism. If I actually say what’s on my mind, even with the best intentions, it goes wrong. Some people might not care and just bulldoze their way through, but I don’t have that luxury, certainly not as a blogger, and definitely not as a husband and father.

I went out for coffee with my Christian friend last Sunday. He again strenuously encouraged me to join religious fellowship. I felt myself once again backed into a corner with no way out. If I go back to a church, I’ll be “sleeping with the enemy” as far as my wife is concerned. If I, even over the web, attempt to associate with some sort of Messianic community, sooner or later, I’m going to step all over someone’s priorities because either I have a mind of my own or because I make mistakes.

The problem is, just like in marriage, when you step on someone’s “sacred cow,” they take it personally.

That’s why I like writing about senior fitness. It may not have eternal consequences, but then again, no one gets bent all out of shape about my personal expressions on the topic either.

Yes, this is a rant.

This is why I believe my only option is to rely on Hashem alone. He’s got thousands of years of experience dealing with human stupidity. Fortunately, he doesn’t offended easily. If he did, I’d have been ashes ages ago.

If Hashem wants to take exception with me, He knows where to find me and if He choses to “consequence” me, it’s His privilege to do so, and I can’t say “boo” about it.

I realize now why so many people I know in the “Messianic” and “Hebrew Roots” space choose to be isolated in small family groups or home fellowships. A Messianic “luminary” once referred to these groups in an unflattering manner, but I think that at least some of them just don’t know who to trust, including whether or not to trust themselves.

We are supposed to trust in Hashem alone. That’s an answer that is not only appealing on a lot of levels, but one that may be the only remaining path for many of us. If we can’t trust God, we are undone anyway. If God is like people, then we have no hope.

The Torah states, “You shall trust wholeheartedly in the Lord, Your God” (Deuteronomy 18:13).

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim, used to say, “The Torah obliges us to trust wholeheartedly in God … but not in man. A person must always be on the alert not to be cheated.”

The Chofetz Chaim devoted his life to spreading the principle of brotherly love, the prohibition against speaking against others, and the commandment to judge people favorably. Though he was not the least bit cynical, he was also not naive. He understood the world and human weaknesses.

In Mesichta Derech Eretz Rabba (chapter 5) it states that we should honor every person we meet as we would (the great sage) Rabbi Gamliel, but we should nevertheless be suspicious that he might be dishonest.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
as quoted at Aish.com

My Humble Teacher

Note: This is one of two blog posts I wrote several weeks ago, before the more recent “What’s Yours is Yours”. I’m posting it publically because nothing is of any use when hidden under a bowl, so to speak. It represents my thoughts at an earlier stage of my current process.

“The unique quality of Mashiach is that he will be humble. Though he will be the ultimate in greatness, for he will teach Torah to the Patriarchs and to Moshe Rabeinu (alav hashalom), still he will be the ultimate in humility and self-nullification, for he will also teach simple folk.”

-from “Today’s Day” for Monday, Menachem Av 1, Rosh Chodesh, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

In seeking to re-invent my understanding of who I am in Messiah and what that means, I decided to step (somewhat) outside the traditional role of the “Messianic Gentile” (poor choice of words, I know) and attempt, however feebly, to engage my identity in Messiah on its own terms.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean stepping completely outside a Jewish educational framework as you can plainly see (although I am more outside now then when I originally wrote these words), but what if I attempt to understand Rav Yeshua as we see him in the Gospel record, as my own teacher? Is such a thing reasonable, given that every lesson he ever taught was almost exclusively to Jews?

Then Yeshua spoke to the crowd of people and to his disciples, saying…

The scholars and the Prushim sit in the seat of Mosheh, so whatever they tell you, observe and do it. Only be careful not to do as their deeds, for they say things but they do not do them. They bind heavy loads and burdens on the shoulders of people, while they themselves are unwilling even to lift a finger. They do all of their deeds for them to be seen by sons of men. For they widen their tefillin and lengthen their tzitziyot. They love to be seated first at meals and to sit first in synagogues, for others to ask of their shalom in the markets, and for sons of men to call them “rabbi, rabbi”. But as for you, do not be called “rabbi,” for you have one teacher, the Mashiach, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone of you on earth “father,” for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Also, do not be called “teacher,” because your one teacher is the Mashiach. The greatest among you shall be to you as a servant. Everyone who lifts himself up will be brought low, but everyone who lowers himself will be lifted up. But how terrible for you, hypocritical scholars and Prushim! For you shut up the kingdom of Heaven from before men.

Matthew 23:1-13 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

There’s a lot packed in those few verses, but it seems that Rav Yeshua was at once acknowledging that the Prushim (Pharisees) were not only teaching correctly but had the authority to make binding halachic rulings for their followers, while at the same time were all too human and sometimes (or in some cases often) behaved differently than how they taught.

PhariseesThis isn’t unlike the very human teachers and authorities we have today. Some behave consistently with their teachings and others do not. I wonder if this is how we should view many Christian Pastors and scholars, who uphold the honor and glory of Messiah (Christ) while at the same time, making the human error of dismissing Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people. Perhaps we should also consider the Rabbinic Sages similarly, since they uphold the centrality of Israel in God’s redemptive plan but (for most) remain unilluminated as to the revelation of Messiah.

How terrible for you, hypocritical scholars and Prushim! For you purify the cup and the bowl on the outside, while their insides are full of robbery and gluttony. Blind Parush! First purify the inside of the cup, so that the outside may also be purified!

-ibid, vv.25-26

I quote this not to indict the Pharisees but to indict me. Part of my absence from the religious blogosphere was and is an ongoing effort to purify the inside of my cup, so to speak, so that the cup, that is me, may be fully purified (although I can’t say if that purification will ever take place). How can we point fingers at “blind” teachers and scholars and while ignoring ourselves and our (my) own shortcomings? Isn’t that also hypocrisy?

For I say to you, from now on you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of HaShem!”

-ibid v.39

I know the Master’s words have a very specific meaning here, one directed at the Israelite generation to which he was speaking, but consider how many among the Gentiles, we Christians, have taken a rather lukewarm attitude toward Messiah, toward Christ. We put Christian doctrine or, in some cases, Jewish praxis in front of us as our highest priority, and neglect the one to whom we owe everything, for without him, we would have no reconciliation with God at all (Ephesians 2:13).

Is he not our worthy and humble teacher, who instructs not only the high, the mighty, the greatest among people, but also the downtrodden, the lowly, the unworthy?

While most Christians assume that just about everything the Master said has universal and timeless application, they would be surprised at just how much of his message is lost if we don’t consider the specific circumstances, context, and audience he was addressing. All that said, there are a few things that have more than one interpretation:

For one nation will rise against another nation, and one kingdom against another kingdom, and there will be famine, disease, and earthquakes here and there. But all these are only the beginning of birth pains.

Matthew 24:7-8

destruction of the templeBut every generation since the day the Master uttered these words has experienced wars, earthquakes, and famines. They must have all believed these were the “birth pains of Messiah,” the signs of his imminent return. Didn’t the devout of those generations repent believing Messiah’s return would happen at any moment? I know more than a few people who expect the Messiah’s return soon, based on the various social and political crises that are evident in our world, but the world has always had an abundance of social and political crises.

Maybe Messiah will return soon and maybe not, but the “timeless” nature of his warning is that each generation should behave as if Christ were coming back today. Too many parables have been told of those who waited until it was too late and didn’t heed the underlying notice that it isn’t just for Messiah’s sake we should be ready, but for our own.

Rabbi Eliezer said: “Repent one day before your death.” His disciples asked him, “Does then one know on what day he will die?”

“All the more reason he should repent today, lest he die tomorrow.”

-Shabbat 153a

But one who waits until the time of the end will be saved. This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the earth as testimony to all the nations, and afterward the end will come.

Matthew 24:13-14

Clearly, the message of the Kingdom was meant not just for Israel, but for all nations. If we should repent expecting Messiah and then die before he comes, what is the harm? But if we fail to repent and he comes and we are not prepared and waiting for him, whose fault is that?

Verse 30 in the same chapter states “All the families of the earth will mourn,” not just Israel. Then Messiah will gather all the Jews from exile and return them to Israel. Shouldn’t we Gentiles mourn for not only how we rejected Hashem, but how we have treated his Holy Ones, the Jewish people, particularly in the name of Christ?

Therefore, stay alert, for you do not know the day or the hour.

Matthew 25:13

Again, that must have made it seem as if Yeshua were speaking of his imminent return, but, as I said above, what if each generation was meant to behave such?

jewish charity
Photo: Reuters

Compare Matthew 25:14-25, the parable of the entrusted servants to vv31-46, those who fed and comforted the Messiah (the weak, poor, and needy) and those who didn’t. This is what it is to be entrusted, great or small, by God with an investment. Use His gifts to help others, particularly the needy among Israel.

The answer, explains R’ Moshe, lies in the reason that one who fulfills a command is considered greater than one who acts voluntarily. On the face of it, this would seem to be somewhat counterintuitive. Seemingly, a volunteer should be deserving of greater reward than one who fulfills his duty. The truth, however, is that this is not so. One who has a duty to fulfill must face the yetzer hara, which stands in his way and tries to prevent him from doing what he must. When he succeeds in overcoming the yetzer hara, the person who has been commanded has earned the greater reward.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.121
The Shabbos commentary for Parashas Masei
A Daily Dose of Torah

If you are naturally generous in giving to charity, if it never occurs to you to gamble or consume alcohol excessively, you may seem especially pious and virtuous, but then again, these aren’t your “demons,” these aren’t the struggles you face in your walk of faith. So if you give generously and are typically a sober person, and this is easy for you, you have overcome nothing. However, to someone who has to fight to remember that they will not starve if they give their money to charity, to someone who battles substance abuse or gaming problems, to someone who has a temper always on the verse of going off half-cocked, if they too appear generous, sober, and kind, to do so, they have had to face many difficult obstacles and have overcome them only with hardship and strife.

In my recent readings, I’ve come across a small commentary on Psalm 49 which states that man has his sojourn on earth to enhance his spiritual development and prepare for his place in the World to Come. Similarly, the underlying meaning of Psalm 111 is, while man praises God for providing for his every need so that man can do God’s will, nevertheless, man still must choose which path to follow. That’s the nature of free will.

God provides to the just and unjust alike. The only difference is how each person decides to spend the gifts of God.

If you have done wrong in the past, do an equal amount of good in the present.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Commentary on Parashas Matos, p.369
Growth Through Torah

Chofetz Chayim
Chofetz Chayim

Citing Chofetz Chayim al Hatorah, Rabbi Pliskin teaches that even one who is guilty of many sins may still perform many mitzvot. From my point of view, it’s not just the change in behavior that’s important, although change is certainly required, but true repentance, turning away from sin and back to Hashem, is critical. It is from teshuvah and resolving to permanently change and become the person Hashem made you (and me) to be, that the mitzvot spring forth.

The Chidushai Harim commented that if a member of Klal Yisroel killed someone, even though it was unintentional he will feel extremely broken and guilty. He will be so shattered that he has no place in the world to go or to hide. Then the Almighty tells him, “I will give you a place.”

-ibid, Commentary on Parashas Masai, p.375

A person living with habitual sin and who is far from God for many years becomes numb to the experience, and while he may intellectually acknowledge the existence and even the righteousness of God, on an experiential level, this means little. But once such a person truly repents and turns to God, it is as if he is an unintentional murderer who has suddenly become aware of his crime. He is devastated, distraught, inconsolable. He feels he has no place in this world among good and noble human beings, nowhere he could go to redeem himself and to start a new life afresh.

But then God tells him that he does have a place in the world, one that God prepared just for him. It can be difficult to accept such a gift, for often God is more forgiving of us than we are of ourselves. But as Rabbi Pliskin teaches:

We need a balance. Lack of guilt is even a worse problem than too much guilt. But excessive guilt is also a problem. The ideal is to feel regret when you harm someone. But then do what you can to make amends and do tshuvah. When your repentance is sincere, you can feel joy that you are fulfilling a mitzvah.

I believe there are many things Rav Yeshua can teach us that have a wider application than when they were first spoken to their original audience in their linguistic, cultural, national, and ethnic context. I believe that the teacher of Israel can also be the teacher of all mankind. I believe the teacher to the Jewish people, from her lowliest shepherd to her mightiest kings, can also be my teacher.

While I think that, for the Gentile disciple of Yeshua, Judaism and particularly Messianic Judaism, provides the best educational venue for understanding and learning from Messiah, it does not necessarily follow that Jewish praxis must also be incumbent upon the non-Jew. To paraphrase a friend of mine:

Do not seek Christianity and do not seek Judaism. Seek an encounter with the living God.

pathI know I have no place in a church based on long and painful experience, but given more recent transactions, it may also be true that I can never formally belong to anything called “Judaism” either, Messianic of otherwise, at least in terms of corporate praxis. I don’t seem to fit in any established context or mould. But if God has extended the blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven, even to the Gentile (to me), then maybe that’s where I belong. It’s on that path I am now looking for the person I am supposed to be.

From my father’s sichot: When Mashiach will come (speedily in our time, amein), then we shall really long for the days of the exile. Then we will truly feel distress at our having neglected working at avoda; then will we indeed feel the deep pain caused by our lack of avoda. These days of exile are the days of avoda, to prepare ourselves for the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our time, amein.

-from “Today’s Day” for Wednesday Menachem Av 3 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

I’m going to be writing about this for a while (or not…I’m not as hopeful now as I once was). I hope you’ll come along as I sit at the feet of my humble teacher and glean from him those lessons I am able to follow (however short that journey may be).

Between superior and nothing, I exist.

-from Riverton Mussar

What’s Yours is Yours

While every Jew is commanded to place a mezuzah on his doorway, the commentaries raise the question of whether a building that is owned in partnership by a Jew and a non-Jew also requires a mezuzah. [Of course, the Jewish partner would have to be the one who fulfills this obligation. Since non-Jews are in no way bound to follow the dictates of the overwhelming majority of the mitzvos of the Torah, no-obligation — financial or otherwise — can be placed on the non-Jewish partner to fulfill this mitzvah.]

Rashba (to Chullin 136a) observes that the answer to this question may be understood from a Gemara in Chullin (135b). The Gemara lists several mitzvos that, when the Torah commands them, it specifies that they must be done with an object that is “yours.” Some of the examples mentioned in the Gemara are obligations of giving terumah (the first portion of the crop) and reishis hageiz (the first shearing) to the Kohen [where the Torah tell us (Devarim 18:4): “The first of your grain, wine, and oil, and the first of the shearing of your flock shall you give to him”]…

…that these mitzvos are commanded only when dealing with an item that is totally yours…A field or animal that is partially owned by someone not obligated in these areas — a non-Jew — is not included in these directives.

-from A Taste of Lomdus
The Shabbos Commentary on Parashas Eikev, p. 60
A Daily Dose of Torah

I’ve had little motivation to write any of these “mediations” lately, but then someone contacted me via email and asked if I knew anything about this person.

If you click the link and read the article “My Long Road Home” authored by Yehudah Ilan (probably not his original name), you’ll discover the story of a person who grew up in a Christian home and after much Bible study, transitioned first into Messianic Judaism, and then shot completely out the other side, finally converting to Orthodox Judaism.

Over the years, I’ve appreciated the educational context Messianic Judaism and various ministries have provided for my elucidation into a better understanding of the Bible than the one I previously possessed. Of late though, many changes have been taking place in my life, and they’ve cast my role within any form of Judaism (and particularly Messianic) into question.

brain hack
Image credit: bebrainfit.com

First and foremost, I have a lot of personal “reinventing” to do, although I’ve come to think of my near-future tasks and goals as “rebooting and hacking”. But a singularly important aspect of how I plan to “hack” my life to make necessary changes and (hopefully) improvements, is what to do about my relationship with God.

While Messianic Judaism as a Judaism has afforded me certain intellectual and spiritual advantages over what I’ve experienced within the Church, I’ve come to realize there’s a difference between learning from within a Jewish perspective (as much as I can apprehend such a perspective, my not being Jewish) and actually having any real involvement “within” Judaism.

As I’ve been told time and again, Messianic Judaism is a movement by and for Jewish people who wish to experience and explore their discipleship under Messiah Yeshua as Jews.

I agree with that statement and support it.

But, and I’ve written about this many times, where does that leave Gentiles?

I’ve written about the answer many times, too. There are any number of Messianic congregations that welcome non-Jews as members, either primary or ancillary, and those non-Jews can have fulfilling roles within such a community.

If you, as a non-Jew, are interested or even fascinated with the benefits offered by a Messianic Jewish worship and learning experience, then I encourage you to seek such communities out, either in the physical sense or online. Just be careful about the doctrine and theology, and what sort of practices some of these groups are calling “Jewish”.

But even becoming involved in an authentic Messianic Jewish community, there’s a catch and a danger. There’s the risk of becoming confused and losing your way.

Since Jesus put on tefillin every day, I started putting on tefillin. Jesus did not eat shellfish, so I stopped eating shellfish. Jesus knew Hebrew and Aramaic, so I learned Hebrew and Aramaic. The more that I studied the New Testament from a historical perspective, especially the elements of the life of Jesus, the more Judaism I began to practice and the more Christianity I began to doubt or reject.

We were living in mid-central Minnesota in the boondocks, with no Jews for miles, and I would walk around town wearing a kippah and tzitzit. We built a kosher sukkah in our back lot and lit a Chanukah menorah in the front window.

coffee and studyLearning from Judaism isn’t the same as being required to practice Judaism.

Being devoted to Yeshua as the first fruits of the resurrection and the arbiter of the New Covenant and coming Messianic Kingdom is not the same as being devoted to the practice of Judaism for the sake of the Messiah being Jewish.

Yes, if you’re Jewish, then your devotion to God is expressed through the practice of Judaism.

But if you’re not Jewish, your devotion to God is to be focused on the coming Kingdom of God and whatever place the nations will have in such a Kingdom.

The recent Republican Presidential candidate debates, the various news stories (scandals) about Hillary Clinton, and many other political and social events are rapidly convincing me that this nation and our planet are not doing well, and they’re not going to get better any time soon.

Politics and political correctness are doing nothing to unite American citizens. In fact, they’re doing the opposite. People in this country are becoming more divided and more polarized every day. Whoever is elected the next President in our nation isn’t going to save us. He or she, in all likelihood, will just continue to travel on a path that will further divide us and result in an increase in hostility of American against American. There’s also our recent participation in events that have increased tension and threats of nuclear war in the Middle East.

There is only one Savior, one Messiah, one King. Our hope is in him, not just the hope for the Jewish people, although that’s his primary mission, but also for the world. Through saving Israel, Messiah will save the whole planet. He will rescue the devoted remnant of Jews and Gentiles, returning the Jews to their land, to Israel, and establishing peace and security for the rest of us as well, and for our nations.

But for that to happen, we, the devoted disciples among the nations, must not confuse Judaism with the worship of God. Judaism belongs to the Jewish people, not to the rest of us.

Some few Gentiles are called, for whatever reasons, to convert to Judaism (and who knows, maybe Yehudah Ilan was one of them), but that is not the path the rest of us are supposed to take.

I said there was a danger in a Gentile operating within Messianic Judaism, the danger of losing your balance. It exists, but I don’t want to overstate my point.

synagogueMany non-Jews have found a safe and secure place within Messianic Judaism and are firm in their identity as a “Messianic Gentile” (for lack of a better term).

But it’s not for everyone. I’ve determined it’s not for me for a few simple reasons. If my wife were Jewish and Messianic, there would be no dissonance in my particular “orientation” and my family would be united with me in how I understand God, Messiah, the Bible, and everything.

But they’re not. My wife is absolutely not Messianic, and she is definitely Jewish. She sees me as a Christian and, for the most part, we don’t speak of religion. When she talks about Judaism and what Jews believe, I don’t comment for the sake of peace in the family.

I’ve learned from difficult experience that for me to actively practice any form of Christianity or Messianic Judaism publicly and in community is not sustainable in my marriage. That’s not my wife’s fault…it’s the result of nearly twenty centuries of Christian-Jewish enmity, with the Jewish people usually getting the short end of the stick.

From her point of view, me going to Church or any sort of “Messianic” group is “sleeping with the enemy” (so to speak). No, she’s never said that, but we’ve been married for over thirty years. I think I know a few things about her by now.

But the other reason I’m pulling back from Messianic Judaism is that it’s just another system. Christianity is a system containing a lot of little subsystems…denominations and such. Judaism is system also containing subsystems, ways of orienting individual members toward God and community. The former system welcomes everyone as long as you comply with the requirements of the system. The latter system welcomes Jews and occasionally non-Jews (depending on which subsystems are involved), but it’s more closed because it’s serving a people and a nation, not just “believers”.

Messianic Judaism requires the non-Jew, at least at the level of the local community, to comply with the requirements of the system, but by definition, the requirements are heavily biased toward who really belongs in that system: Jews.

In quoting from A Taste of Lomdus above, I was hoping to illustrate the sense of belonging that Jews have within Judaism and relative to the Torah, even if Gentiles are somehow involved. In a joint Jewish-Gentile venture, only the Jews are obligated to what belongs to them: the Torah and the mitzvot.

I didn’t quote the part that said if a Jew and non-Jew lived in the same home, the Jew would still be obligated to put up mezuzah, even when a Jew would not be obligated to put up mezuzah if he/she owned an office building or other business with a non-Jew. I guess that means it is appropriate for my wife and I to have mezuzah on the doorposts of our home, not for my sake certainly, but for hers because she’s Jewish and the mitzvah belongs to her.

Becoming confused about what belongs to Jewish people exclusively and what belongs to the rest of us at least occasionally results in non-Jewish people making mistakes such as this one or even this one. You either decide the only solution to understanding the Bible and responding to God is to convert to Judaism or you can choose to deliberately seize Judaism and apply it to a non-Jewish life.

skyI can do neither. However,  there are still parts of the Bible that show God also accepting people of the nations into the coming Kingdom of Heaven (which isn’t Heaven in the sky but the Messianic Kingdom on Earth). We have a place, not as Jews nor as Gentiles practicing Judaism, but as people of the nations, just the way we are.

That’s all I can look forward to as a flawed and erroneous disciple of the Master, but I have a lot of work to do before I can even claim a toehold in that territory.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.

There are some people who sometimes read my blog and who only choose to contact me if I have offended them or, more to the point, if I’ve written something wrong, or something they object to, about their group or organization. I don’t want to harm anyone, but only “pinging” me to object to something isn’t a very good way to maintain a relationship.

Then there are some of you who have been very supportive of me, in spite of my obvious failings as a writer, a disciple, and a human being. Thank you.

There’s a quote attributed to multiple sources including Plato, Philo of Alexandria, Ian MacLaren, and John Watson:

Be Kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

I’d like to think that the appeal of this blog wasn’t that I was perfect (and I know I’m far, far from perfect) or some sort of “Mr Know-It-All.” I think the appeal was because I was and am fighting a hard battle, a battle that others could (and can) relate to, because all of you are fighting a hard battle, too.

In some ways, my task is both amazingly simple and incredibly difficult. The simple part is that all I really need to pay attention to is my relationship with God. That’s as easy as praying. That’s also as easy as reading the Bible and maybe paying a little extra attention to those passages of the Apostolic Scriptures regarding what the Master and Paul (and any others who may have written about it) that discussed what was expected of the non-Jew, both before the return of Messiah and following.

Granted, there’s not a lot of material to work from, but where else do I have to turn?

The hard part is changing on a fundamental level, rebooting the system and hacking my life to become different and more than what it’s been up until now.

meI’ve got a couple of “mediations” that are “in the can,” so to speak. I don’t know if I’ll publish them. I don’t want my writing to distract me from what I need to do, but on the other hand, I wrote them weeks ago.

I’ll think about it. There are just two of them, so they may show up by the by.

I may return here someday and resume or maybe even improve upon what I’ve been trying to do in the past…chronicle one life on a path of faith and trust.

I just need to have a better “me” with which to do that.

Christians and Tisha B’Av

James:

I originally posted this last year, and while I’m not actively writing new material for the time being, I thought it important that we Christians consider why it is appropriate to mourn, alongside the Jewish people, the loss of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This year. Tisha b’Av begins on Saturday at sunset and ends at sunset on Sunday.

Originally posted on Morning Meditations:

…Should I weep in the fifth month [Av], separating myself, as I have done these so many years?

Zechariah 7:3

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month …came Nebuzaradan … and he burnt the house of the L-RD…

II Kings 25:8-9

In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month… came Nebuzaradan … and he burnt the house of the L-RD…

Jeremiah 52:12-13

Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which have occurred on the ninth of Av. Tisha B’Av means “the ninth (day) of Av.” It occurs in July or August.

Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586…

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"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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