The Convert and the Disciple: A Shavuot Lesson

Question:

I attended synagogue services on the holiday of Shavuot morning, and we spent a half-hour reading the Book of Ruth. Is there any special connection between Ruth and Shavuot?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah and prophetic reading on Yom Tov always relate to a deeper theme of the day.

In this case, Ruth is the ancestor of King David, who was born on Shavuot, and died on Shavuot.

Another reason is because Ruth is the quintessential Jewish convert, and on the very first Shavuot – when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai – each Israelite essentially became a “Jew by Choice.” That’s why the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law use the Sinai experience as a basis for determining the requirements of all future converts:

1) Mikveh – All converts must immerse in a Mikveh (ritual bath), as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:14, 24:8).

2) Milah – Male converts must undergo circumcision, as the Israelites did before leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:48 and Joshua 5:5).

3) Mitzvot – All converts must accept to observe all 613 mitzvot of the Torah, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:3).

Interestingly, the Torah intimates that the souls of eventual converts were also present at Sinai, as the verse says: “I am making [the covenant] both with those here today before the Lord our God, and also with those not here today.” (Deut. 29:13)

From “Ruth and Shavuot”
the Aish Ask the Rabbi column
Aish.com

In my recent review of the Mark Nanos essay “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates” as found in the book Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition), citing Nanos, I commented that the Apostle Paul was very much against the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) converting to Judaism, frankly, because it was unnecessary. In Messiah, Gentiles have an equal communal status with the Jewish disciples, the same indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the same promise of the resurrection.

mikvahThe other major reason that Paul discouraged Gentiles from converting is that it would undermine God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father to many nations. If we all converted to Judaism as a means of accessing a covenant relationship with God, then God’s promise that not just the Jewish people but all peoples would bow to Him, would be null and void. And as I hope you realize, it’s impossible to thwart the plans and promises of Hashem, God of Israel.

So is there any good reason for a Gentile in Messiah to convert to Judaism? There must be, because some few such converts exist (I have no statistics as to exactly how many there are or where they can be found and only personally know of one such person).

I also know that some critics of Messianic Judaism in the Hebrew Roots space believe that the practice of conversion is not presupposed in the Torah and thus is unbiblical, not to be recognized by those Gentiles who believe the Torah applies equally to all, Jew and Gentile alike.

However, as we see above, the Jewish people certainly do believe there is a precedent in the Torah that allows for ritual conversion of Gentiles, bringing them into Israel as (Jewish) children of Abraham.

Neither Christianity nor any branch of Judaism believes that Gentiles must convert to Judaism and indeed, Christianity sees converting non-believers to themselves is the desirable outcome, not becoming a member of the tribes, so to speak.

I also mentioned before that both in the late Second Temple period and today, those of us, that is, non-Jews who have some sort of connection with Judaism in general and Messianic Judaism in particular, often suffer from an identity crisis. More than once, the dissonance of who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do given my rather unique outlook on the Bible, has stirred a great desire in me to “throw in the towel” and stop associating with religious people altogether, both face-to-face and over the web.

It’s not an easy life.

Orthodox JewsSome non-Jews entering Messianic community have shot out the other end, so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism as a way to end that dissonance and secure a religiously and socially acceptable identity within Judaism. To do so however, they had to surrender all fealty to Yeshua as Messiah and King, thus, from Christianity’s point of view, becoming apostates.

I believe, both in ancient and modern times, that God gave the Jewish people the ability to be “gatekeepers” into their realm. Nanos spoke of a “chronometrical gospel”, that is, a time-related good news event or set of events, a good news that entered our world heralding the advent of the New Covenant promises with the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Master, the Messiah.

Prior to Yeshua, there was a mechanism in place whereby Gentiles who were drawn to the God of Israel could undergo a ritual allowing them to join Israel and thereafter be considered indistinguishable from the born Israelite. It was the only real option for such Gentiles, apart from the status of God-Fearers who had no covenant status relative to God (unless you count the Noahide covenant).

The process of conversion seemed to morph over time and was likely different in some manner to the process we see Ruth undergoing to convert to Judaism and become the eventual ancestor to King David and ultimately, Yeshua.

No one should question the authenticity of David’s let alone Yeshua’s Judaism because a convert was their ancestor.

But as I said before, if converting to Judaism were the only way for Gentiles to apprehend the blessings of the New Covenant (let alone Sinai), then as I said above, God’s promise to Abraham would fail.

two pathsSo through Messiah, another avenue was created, one that does not require we convert and become Israel. We are permitted now to come alongside Israel, not being them but being at the same table with them, partaking in the same blessings without being responsible for the same obligations. This makes it possible for the whole world to come to God, to be blessed by God, to attain the companionship of the Holy Spirit of God, and to receive the promise of a life in the world to come, all without conversion and all while remaining fully Gentile citizens of the nations.

In another Aish Ask the Rabbi column, the Rabbi states in part:

Being culturally Jewish, without belief in God, is compared to a cut flower. While it still retains much of its vitality, the flower has been cut off from its source of nutrition, and within a short time will wither and die. The ideals which have kept the Jewish people alive and thriving over the millennia – despite all odds – can only be transmitted with the framework that the Torah provides.

I’ve mentioned in this blog post and several others including this one, that we “Messianic Gentiles” actually have a very specific duty, that of encouraging and supporting Jews in Messiah (any Jew we may encounter, actually) to return to Torah and to more fully observe the mitzvot.

Without Jewish devotion to Torah, as the Aish Rabbi states, what God has preserved in the Jewish people will eventually fade…and without Israel, we Gentiles have no hope, because 100% of the promised blessings we receive God made with Israel, not us!

That’s why Yeshua is the King to the Jews first and only after, the King of the nations of the world. Whether the realization is comfortable or not, Israel is the gatekeeper, it guards all the doors, it holds all the keys, all through God’s covenants with Israel, and all through the person of Israel’s King, King Messiah, Son of David.

There may well be some valid reasons for Gentiles converting to Judaism, but they are all minimized within the Messianic Jewish realm simply because, as Paul pointed out repeatedly, it’s not necessary in order for a Gentile to have an authentic relationship with God. Particularly for the Gentile but also for the Jewish people, the cornerstone, the lynchpin to that relationship is Messiah. He opened the door that let the Gentiles into a full relationship with God, and he brought the very beginnings of what will someday be the completion of God’s New Covenant promises to Israel, and only through Israel, to the world.

aloneWe non-Jews should not dismiss or denigrate converts to Judaism, regardless of which branch they convert into, but we should rest assured that it is not a requirement either. This may be confusing relative to Gentile identity in Messianic community (which is why I suspect such Gentiles either covert to Judaism, return to the Gentile Church, or just give up on religion completely), but what Jews and Gentiles don’t yet understand about the non-Jew’s role and function among Israel, is well understood by God.

If I, as a non-Jew who studies within a Messianic Jewish framework, am never accepted as who I am, either by Gentiles or Jews, I can take comfort that in the privacy of my prayers and studies, I am still accepted by God. I can be a disciple and a Goy. I can be who I am. I don’t have to become someone else or pretend to possess another’s responsibilities to stand in the presence of the Almighty.

Chag Shavuot Sameach!

Book Review of Paul within Judaism, “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates”

Jews practicing Judaism in the first century observed the rite of circumcision, so it may seem natural enough to conclude that Paul’s arguments depreciating, when not opposing, circumcision undermine the very idea that Paul should be interpreted as a representative of Judaism. But Paul’s position is much more nuanced than the readings on which the interpretive tradition’s conclusions depend; so too is the practice of the right within Judaism.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the beginning of his essay:
“The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates”
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition)

So begins this rather lengthy article of Dr. Nanos’ on why, contrary to what is typically believed within Christianity today, Paul actually was a very good representative of the Judaism of his day, and why, again contrary to Christian tradition, Paul did support ritual circumcision of Jewish boys on the eighth day of life, though this was not required of non-Jewish boys, even among those families who were devoted disciples of Yeshua (Jesus).

Even if I were just to quote those passages in Nanos’ paper I highlighted as significant, this blog post might become almost as long as the original article. I will try to be brief and also to capture the essential points being made in this fourth submission to the “Paul Within Judaism” book (and yes, I realize it’s been quite some time since I’ve offered a review of this material).

Paul within JudaismIn real estate, the predominant credo is “location, location, location.” In Biblical exegesis, it’s “context, context, context”. Our traditional view of Paul relative to Judaism and circumcision (and most other things) tends to disregard that context, that is, the first century Jewish context in which the Apostle wrote, taught, and lived.

According to Nanos, viewed and read within that context, alongside “similarly qualified statements made by other Jews,” Paul always remained properly observant to the Torah of Moses and upheld circumcision of Jewish males as a continued sign of the Abrahamic covenant between the Jewish people and God.

If Paul opposed circumcision, it was specifically regarding the proselyte ritual to convert a non-Jew to Judaism, as was the tradition of his day (and ours).

I should make clear that, as Nanos writes, Paul did not object to non-Jewish practicing Judaism alongside ethnic Jews and converts, or at least he didn’t object to them behaving “Jewishly” within a Jewish social and community context. This did not require these Gentile disciples to become obligated to the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jewish people. Rather, for the sake of social discourse with their Jewish mentors as well as elevating the non-Jews’ spirituality and moral/ethical behavior to the level Hashem expects of those who were created in His Image, they behaved, as I have just said, “Jewishly,” or in a way that an outside observer might believe is “Jewish”.

Nanos slowly builds his arguments (which are too long to cite in detail here) regarding how we can read Paul and how the Apostle uses the term “circumcision,” “circumcised” (for a Jew), and “foreskinned” (for Gentiles including Gentile Yeshua disciples) to show that Paul supported (male) Jewish disciples being circumcised but not so the Gentile believers. Paul only was against circumcising Gentile Yeshua-disciples and fully supported the circumcision only of Jewish Yeshua disciples along with all other Jewish males.

The gospel’s chronometrical claim creates the basis for Paul’s resistance to circumcision of Christ-following non-Jews. He believes that now they must represent those from the other nations turning to the One God of Israel, and thus, that they must not become Israelites…

Nanos turns to a story related by Josephus, the narrative about the circumcision of the non-Jew Izates, King of Adiabene. Rather than attempt to familiarize you with that story from Nanos’s full rendition, you can find a summary of the life and significant experiences of Izates, specifically his familiarity with and eventual conversion to Judaism, at Wikipedia (not the best of sources, but it will get you started…feel free to Google Izates for more).

In short, Izates, who was a contemporary of Paul, encountered a Jewish advisor named Ananias, who familiarized the young King with Judaism, so much so, that even without converting, Izates took on a number of “Jewish” behaviors and, to a casual observer, could have been mistaken for acting “Jewishly” if not being “Jewish”.

Ancient Rabbi teachingAnother advisor, Eleazar, told Izates that it was improper for him to study Torah without converting. Izates greatly desired to convert, but Ananias believed the King’s subjects would not accept the rule of a Jewish King (how ironic, since one day, the whole world will be ruled by a Jewish King, King Messiah).

Even uncircumcised, that is, as a Gentile, Izates (as well as his mother) were practicing a form of Judaism without being Jewish. And while the advice of Eleazar won out and the King did indeed convert, Nanos makes the point that both Paul and Ananias held quite similar points of view, that it was unnecessary for a non-Jew to convert in order to worship “[sebein; literally , ‘honor,’ ‘respect,’ or ‘fear’] God without circumcision…”

Here’s an important point Nanos made:

…Izates had not yet given up his desire to become circumcised: thus Eleazar “urged him [Izates] to accomplish ‘the work’ [or ‘the rite,’ ton ergon].” Eleazar is a Jew from the Galilee, and likely a Pharisee…

Terms such as “the act,” “deed,” or “work” as we find in Paul’s writings on “the works of the law” (see Galatians 3:2 for example) specifically refer to the Apostle’s disapproval of Gentiles undergoing ritual circumcision for the purpose of conversion in order to be justified before God. Again, Paul’s “works of the law” had nothing to do with forbidding Jewish Yeshua-disciples from being circumcised nor was Paul preaching against Torah observance for the Jewish followers of Messiah.

Nanos quotes Josephus (quoting Eleazar) as outright stating that one must be a Jew in order to be obligated to the commandments of the Torah of Moses. In Eleazar’s case, the only way to resolve the conflict of a non-Jew even voluntarily observing some of the mitzvot was for him to “complete the act,” “rite,” “work” of conversion through circumcision.

Ananias, on the other hand, like Paul, saw devotion to God and observing a life of moral and ethical excellence as a Gentile was Izates’ proper response “apart from becoming a Jew, and thus, apart from becoming under Torah on the same terms as a Jew (a distinction that people of his [Itazes] kingdom are represented as grasping…).”

Nanos dovetails off of Josephus to re-engage Paul, stating:

Moreover, this raises interesting comparisons with Paul’s insistence that faith(fullness) for Christ-following non-Jews requires abstaining from becoming Jews through circumcision, while at the same time insisting that they turn away from cults associated with familial and civic gods, which would be expected to apply to themselves in most Jewish groups…

synagogueSo Paul expected that Gentiles as Gentiles behave “Jewishly” but not become Jewish. However behaving “Jewishly” does not mean they became Jews without a bris and were in any manner obligated to the 613 commandments as were/are the Jewish people, either born or converted.

Further:

Such unorthodox behavior creates for them [Yeshua-believing Gentiles] an anomalous identity leading to sociopolitical marginalization, both from Jews, who do not share their chronometrical gospel claim to be neither guests nor proselytes but full members alongside of Jews, and, for different reasons, from their non-Jewish families and neighbors. If even those who become proselytes may be regarded with suspicion as atheists and traitors, then likely all the more threatening would be those who remained non-Jews if they simultaneously claimed the right to abstain from honoring their fellow non-Jewish people’s gods and lords.

I suppose a brief explanation of the term “chronometrical gospel” is in order. As I understand it, the term refers to a time-based event in the overarching salvational plan of God for Israel and the nations, whereby with the first advent of Messiah ben Joseph, Gentiles were granted, for the first time in human history, the opportunity to be equal partakers in the blessings of the New Covenant (Jer. 31, Ezek. 36) without becoming Gerim as was required in the time of Moses, and having the third generation of their offspring being accepted as an Israelites (thus partaking in the Sinai covenant), or in first century (and later) times by undergoing the rite of the proselyte and converting to Judaism.

From the life, death, resurrection, and ascension onward, non-Jews were provided a new and better path by which we can swear fealty to God through the faithfulness of the Jewish Messiah King.

We also see from the above-quoted passage, that Yeshua-believing Gentiles were accepted as social equals and sharers of the New Covenant blessings of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection, not only without being required to first convert, but without the identical obligation to perform the Torah mitzvot, an obligation that remains exclusive to born-Jews and proselytes.

Nanos brings up something especially relevant to the role of the “Messianic Gentile” today, the matter of identity ambiguity. Just like our first century counterparts, we modern Gentiles in Messiah, when within (Messianic) Jewish communal space, are not Jews but are also not allied with our former identities as non-believers. We are expected to take the moral high road, so to speak, and particularly in Jewish space, we say Jewish prayers (although our prayers are sometimes adapted due to us not being Israel), attend prayer services with Jews, attend the Torah service with Jews, eat kosher food when we dine with Jews, cover our heads when davening with Jews, and committing many other acts that look pretty “Jewish,” even though we are not Jews.

identityIn many ways, we are neither fish nor fowl, and the question of just what Messianic Gentile behavior actually is supposed to look like is often a matter of spirited debate.

Changing the discourse about Paul by adding a contextual tag to virtually every statement made about his standing on Jewish matters, such as the circumcision of non-Jews, is a good place to begin for those who are attempting to conceptualize Paul within Judaism…

It would be nice if our Bibles contained such “tags” to make Paul appear more within his own context to those of us reading him thousands of years later in a religious, cultural, and conceptual environment definitely outside of his original context.

Sadly, no such Bible exists (to the best of my knowledge), but Nanos does attempt to give us examples:

In the shortest sense, this could consist of no more than adding the phrase “…for Christ-following non-Jews” to statements made about them in order to avoid universalizing the matter under discussion.

And…

…such as, “for non-Christ-following Jews”

And again…

…by adding “for Christ-following non-Jews who are participating in Jewish communal life”

Or even…

“…who practice Judaism according to the teachings of Paul”

Or even better…

policy changes toward these non-Jews, hence… “for Christ-following non-Jews who practice Judaism according to the chronometrical claim of the gospel proclaimed by Paul and the other apostolic leaders of this Judaism.”

messianic judaism for the nationsYou get the idea. What would have been understood as a matter of course by the original readers of Paul’s epistles almost completely eludes lay-person, clergy, and Christian scholar (or most of them) twenty centuries later in our American churches, seminaries, and universities.

Getting back to the role of the ancient Messianic Gentile who was not expected to observe many/most of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, what God did (and does) expect of them (us)…?

…and Paul regarding what signifies faith(fulness) alone for non-Jews is striking…

Or in more detail:

This reasoning parallels Paul’s argument about Abraham’s becoming circumcised as a “sign” of his faithfulness (based upon Gen. 17:11); yet Abraham for Paul illustrates why faith(fulness) for Christ-following non-Jews is shown [specifically] by their [our] not becoming circumcised (Rom. 3:27-4:25; Gal. 3:1-4:7; passim). Paul insists that these non-Jews represent the children promised to Abraham from the other nations before he was circumcised…

…they [we] must remain non-Jews, that is, must not become members of Israel.

That, in a nutshell, so to speak, is the particular path of the ancient and modern Messianic Gentile. The evidence of our faith is to deliberately not become circumcised, that is, to avoid converting to Judaism, within the Messianic community or otherwise, and to fulfill our destiny as the children from the nations called by His Name, thus fulfilling the promise God made to Abraham about his gaining (faithful) children from the nations…that is, us.

By either converting, or unjustly claiming full obligation to the Torah as if we were converts without a bris, we are making a mockery of God’s promise to Abraham, and denying our own role as non-Jews in Messiah, further throwing God’s prophetic word back in His Face (as it were).

In contrast, Paul argues for faith(fulness) alone exclusive of circumcision as the decisive action for the Christ-following non-Jews he addressed, even though it came at the price of marginalization.

In other words, if you’re a Messianic Gentile and you at least sometimes feel marginalized, both in the Messianic Jewish world and in the Church among more traditional Christians (and I know what that feels like), that’s normal.

The Jewish PaulBut Nanos believes Paul was not seeking to bifurcate faith for the Gentile vs. actions/deeds for the Jews. Both Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith(fulness), but what is required by the faithfulness of the Gentiles does not include an identity transformation by becoming Jews and/or Israel. That identity is reserved and the faithful Jews are assigned obligations and duties not incumbent upon the Gentiles in Messiah.

Or as Nanos puts it…

Paul appeals to principle, not expedience. He defines the principle as faith(fulness) according to what is appropriate for them as non-Jews, which can be different in specific ways from that faith(fulness) might consist of for those who are Jews.

Bingo.

Hopefully, I’ve captured the essence of Nanos’ arguments. He tends to approach his core points from numerous different directions, and adding a great deal of detail that sometimes defies my ability to succinctly review him. Nevertheless, there are two major takeaways from this essay as I see it:

  1. Any statements made by Paul that appear to devalue or require the elimination of Torah observance and circumcision by all Yeshua-believers, when read within Paul’s original first century Jewish context, only apply to his non-Jewish audience, the Yeshua-believing non-Jews in the Messianic ekkelsia.
  2. Any statements made by Paul that appear to require full observance of the Torah commandments and circumcision by all Yeshua-believers, when read within Paul’s original first century Jewish context, only apply to his Jewish audience, the Yeshua believing Jews in the Messianic ekkelsia (although they would also apply to Jews who were not Yeshua-believers since all Jews have Jewish identity, being Israel, and obligation to the Torah of Moses at the core of their being Jews).

I’ll continue with my reviews as time allows.

Note: Edited at Portland International Airport using PDX’s free wifi and free electrical power in their business courtesy room.

A Schlub Contemplating Intrinsic Greatness

A person is obligated to say:

“The world was created for me” (Talmud – Sanhedrin 37a), and
“When will my deeds reach the level of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?”

The Torah attitude is that we are obligated to be aware of our greatness. Feel proud that you are created in the image of the Almighty. Pride in the elevation of your soul is not only proper, but is actually an obligation to recognize your virtues and to live with this awareness.

(Toras Avraham, p.49; Gateway to Happiness, p.119)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Recognize Your Greatness”
Aish.com

I sometimes wonder when reading quotes from Orthodox Jewish sources if the author meant for a Gentile to take any of that advice. After all, I can only assume that the primary audience of Aish.com are Jews. Did Rabbi Pliskin mean “greatness as a Jew” when he wrote “greatness as a human being?”

Then again, Rabbi Pliskin is a noted psychologist as well as a Rabbi, author, and lecturer, so perhaps he really does mean that all human beings have the capacity of being great because we were all created in the image of Hashem.

Along the same lines, Rabbi Pliskin also wrote:

Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin used to say:

“The worst fault a person can have is to forget his intrinsic greatness as a human being.”

(Dor Daiah, vol. 1, p.172; Rabbi Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, p.131)

AbrahamI’m used to thinking that certain people are great and the rest of us are “Okay”. Abraham was great. Moses was great as well as exceeding humble (Numbers 12:3). Given the Biblical record as well as the long chronicle of human history, it’s difficult to imagine that the majority of the people across time possess “intrinsic greatness”. Frankly, it’s easier to imagine that most people have a talent for being an “intrinsic pain-in-the-neck”, myself included.

But then again, some people are more optimistic than others:

Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.

–William James

Believe you can and you’re halfway there.

–Theodore Roosevelt

Of course, William James, Theodore Roosevelt, or even Rabbi Pliskin aren’t quoting directly from scripture, so perhaps they aren’t seeing human beings the way God sees us.

Or maybe I’m being cynical. I can see, at least in theory, that God most likely wants us all to live up to our highest potential, to be the very best people we can be, the people He created us to be. It’s just that none of us seem to live up to our very highest potential, at least most of the time.

Someone wrote to the Aish Ask the Rabbi column asking about certain Orthodox Rabbis who are caught committing illegal and immoral acts, such as bribing public officials. The Aish Rabbi responded in part:

First things first: The Torah is the guidebook for ethical perfection. All the values that the Western world takes for granted – education, equal rights, sanctity of life – are from the Torah. That is an inarguable fact of history.

Being orthodox does not guarantee that a person has succeeded in internalizing what he has been taught.

I would say that all Jews – religious and not – do not follow the Torah 100%. Everyone does the best he can, some making more of an effort than others. But no one is perfect.

But I would also say that almost without exception, an individual will be more kind, charitable and moral because he learns Torah and follows it.

The question is not: Why do some religious Jews behave badly? The better question – and this is what I ask myself whenever I see an Orthodox person doing something wrong – is: Would the same individual behave worse, or behave better, if he was not religious?

Talmud StudyThis feels a little bit like a “dodge” to me. It sounds like the Rabbi is saying that as bad as some religious Jewish people may be in terms of how they behave immorally and unethically, if they didn’t have their training in Torah, they would be so much worse.

Would they? I don’t know.

I do agree that, although we Gentile believers are not called upon Biblically to replicate a Jew’s observance of the mitzvot, we do have our own Torah for the nations which assigns all humanity with valuing the underlying principles, the very foundation of Torah.

We are all called upon to do good and, as the Aish Rabbi says (I’ll extrapolate his sentence beyond its context and apply it to all humanity), no one obeys the Torah principles and mitzvot as they/we are called to obey with anywhere near 100% fidelity.

The Aish Rabbi says that because one Orthodox Rabbi committed immoral acts does not mean that the Torah failed, just that one human being has failed. Rather than throwing the Torah and a religious life out the window because people don’t and can’t live up to God’s standards perfectly, we should strive to be better tomorrow than we are today. Obedience is a journey, not a mountain top where you sit sagely because you are always right.

On the other hand, the journey of obedience isn’t a pit or a cave where you are trapped forever because you are always wrong and can never succeed either.

Or so intimates the Aish Rabbi.

The Rabbi finishes his answer by saying:

I would also argue that if you are looking for a role model of righteousness, you are far more likely to find it in a great religious person than in the secular world. The act of purifying oneself through prayer, study, mitzvah performance, and devotion to helping others to reach the heights of Godliness.

True, the observant community does not exist in a hermetically-sealed bubble protected from all negative influences. But given a choice of one or the other, I think the choice is clear.

I suppose if we could receive an unfiltered and unedited view of the life of any person we might think of as a “role model of righteousness,” we’d be disappointed in them, at least in some sense. If no one is perfect, then all people have failed; they’ve failed other people, and they’ve failed God.

I once was at an event where a highly esteemed gentleman had just finished speaking to an audience, and many members of that audience heaped praises upon him. I was a little surprised at what I perceived as his lack of humility. I got the opportunity to speak to him about it, and he responded, “People need heroes.”

schlub
Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer on the TV show “Parks and Recreation.” The guy’s a definite schlub.

I think I understand what he was saying, but it still bothers me a little. I know Moses had this one down pat, but how can you connect to your “intrinsic greatness” while also knowing what a schlub you are inside?

I don’t mean “you” or any other specific human being. I don’t have an unfiltered, unedited view into anyone else’s life except my own. That’s why this whole concept of “greatness” is difficult for me to understand.

I almost said that if I could talk to Moses for five minutes (assuming we had a common language), he could explain it to me, but our lives are absolutely incomparable. After all, who can live up to a man like Moses, who talked with God “face-to-face” as it were? Not me.

Even Moses had his faults, some of them as large as the life of greatness he led. But that being said, where does that leave the rest of us?

How Can Any Gentile Survive Without the Sabbath?

Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: The appointed times of Hashem, that you are to designate as holy convocations; these are My appointed times.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:2

The Sabbath is a special, Divine gift, given to us so we elevate ourselves above the physicality of the days of the workweek. Indeed, the fact that it comes every week is part of its special nature: Who among us has not wondered how the non-Jews can survive without the Sabbath! We must strive to treat the Sabbath with the same delight and anticipation that we do any of the festivals. (emph. mine)

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.140
Tuesday’s commentary for Parashas Emor
A Daily Dose of Torah

That is the $64,000 question, isn’t it. There certainly isn’t one, straightforward reply. The author of the above quoted mussar proposes the question but not the answer. Apparently, there is no Rabbinic response to God’s provision for the Goyim (or lack thereof) relative to Shabbat or any sort of occasion whereby a non-Jew can elevate him or herself and draw nearer to God. Perhaps it’s one of the many reasons why the ancient Gentile disciples of Messiah divorced themselves from the Jewish communities originally created by Paul and founded their (our) own Gentile-based religion called “Christianity”.

Actually, the “Mussar Thought for the Day” does have a response to Gentiles and the Sabbath:

A non-Jew is forbidden to observe the Sabbath; the Torah describes the Sabbath as: “…between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever (Shemos 31:17).”

-ibid, p.141

The Church solved this problem by creating their own weekly Holy Day on Sunday, and until relatively recently in history, treated Sunday in a manner similar to how Jews observe a Saturday Sabbath.

However, the past 50 years or so has seen, particularly in the Western nations, a diluting of Sunday “Sabbath” observance whereby Christians go to church Sunday morning and then go out to lunch just prior to playing a few rounds of golf. The day is only special for the few hours they are in church, and even then, social encounters and conversations can largely be made up of secular material.

I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of Jewish people who only marginally observe a Shabbat or observe it not at all. My daughter goes to work on Saturday and my wife, while she does attend shul in the mornings and into the early afternoon, will resume her regular weekday behaviors upon returning home.

I’m not speaking ill of my spouse, of any other Jew, or for that matter, any Christian. It’s just that how we see the Sabbath and our relation to this day as well as to God is highly variable.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

Is the answer to how a Gentile should, at least in an ideal sense, respond to the Jewish Shabbat to be found in Messianic Judaism? What makes you think that among the various “Messianic Judaisms” currently in existence, there is a unified response?

In his blog post Reading the Bible Realistically, or rather, in the blog post’s comments section, Derek made a few relevant statements when responding to one of his readers:

Your view that God is supremely upset about which day people choose to worship on is very un-Jewish. Shabbat is about rest and is not a prescribed day of worship. This is an error lying at the root of your entire theory. It is also an erroneous view of God, as if one of the great sins has to do with which day of the week people hold worship services on. I strongly encourage you to reexamine your views which come up short in terms of biblical interpretation and which sound a lot more like they are influenced by Ellen G. White than Torah and Gospel.

-from 05/05/2015 at 9:26 am

And…

non-Jews were never commanded to observe Shabbat (Exod 31:13, it is between Israel and God and Romans 10 agrees). And the majority of Christians keep no Sabbath (Sunday is not a Sabbath for most).

-from 05/05/2015 at 9:57 am

As well as…

I do not think any of the Ten Commandments were addressed to non-Jews.

05/05/2015 at 2:56 pm

So although Derek is the Rabbi of a Messianic Jewish congregation which presumably has a significant number of non-Jewish attendees, and also that he has spoken at many Christian churches and similar non-Jewish venues on topics related to Messianic Judaism and its relationship to believing Gentiles, he also seems to hold a point of view quite similar to the Orthodox Jewish authorities. He doesn’t say that Gentiles are forbidden to observe Shabbat, just that, as a Torah commandment, it doesn’t apply to us in the slightest.

Now let’s contrast that with the following:

It is not uncommon to hear people refer to the appointed times as the Jewish festivals. This is true in that God gave His appointed times to the people of Israel. He told the Israelites, “The LORD’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these” (Leviticus 23:2). The Jewish people are the wardens of God’s calendar.

However, God does not refer to them as Jewish festivals. He refers to them as “my appointed times.” They are God’s holy days. Paul asks, “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also” (Romans 3:29). The Bible never offered Gentile Christians any alternative festival days. To say that Gentile believers are not expected to keep God’s appointed times is the same thing as saying that Gentile believers are not supposed to have any holy days or days of worship. Neither the Gospels nor the Epistles grant the Gentile believers their own special festivals.

In the days of the Apostles, both Jewish and Gentile believers observed God’s appointed times together. They met in the synagogues and in the Temple on the Sabbath and festival days to celebrate and observe God’s holy days. When Gentile Christianity left the cradle of Judaism, the Gentile Christians began to neglect the appointed times. The Sabbath day was replaced with Sunday observance. The timing of Passover was changed. The other festivals fell into disuse. Is this what God intended for believers?

-from “The LORD’s Appointed Times”
Commentary on Torah Portion Emor
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

D. Thomas Lancaster
D. Thomas Lancaster

Since this is taken from the Torah Club subdomain of FFOZ, I have to assume it was written (though I could be wrong) by D. Thomas Lancaster, the spiritual leader at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship which touts itself as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations.” Mr. Lancaster is also the primary contributor to FFOZ’s Torah Club content.

I’ve written a fair amount on Gentiles (and particularly me) and their (our/my) relationship with Shabbat, such as in The Shabbat Project for the Gentiles, Messianic Jewish Shabbat Observance and the Gentile, My Shabbat that Wasn’t, and The Shabbat that Was.

The last three blog posts were not only part of my review of Aaron Eby’s book/siddur First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer (also an FFOZ publication) which was written by Eby specifically for a non-Jewish Messianic and Christian audience, but my chronicle outlining my own efforts to truly (or as truly as is possible for me) observe Shabbos using Eby’s book as a guide.

I can’t say I did a very good job of it, but part of that has to do with a lack of practice. One properly observes Shabbat by having many months or years (or a lifetime) of practice observing Shabbat, ideally in the company of people who know what they’re doing.

So we have the Orthodox Jewish perspective that Gentiles are actually forbidden from observing the Shabbat accompanied by astonishment in how we Gentiles manage to survive without it.

Then we have Rabbi Leman’s viewpoint that the Shabbat simply isn’t relevant to non-Jews, even those within the Messianic community, and further, that “Shabbat is about rest and is not a prescribed day of worship.”

We also have FFOZ’s opinion that God is not just a God of the Jews but of the nations as well, and that at least Gentiles are allowed to observe the Moadim, presumably including the Shabbat.

The previously quoted FFOZ blog post ends with:

It is true that the Apostles never commanded the Gentile believers to keep the appointed times, but neither did they tell them not to. They were silent on the matter. In those days, the idea of not keeping the appointed times simply had not occurred to anyone.

pathsPerhaps if there had been no schism between the Jews and Gentiles nearly twenty centuries ago, the issue would be moot. Halachah would have been developed regarding “Messianic Gentile” observance of Shabbat, the Appointed Festivals, and a great many other things we call “Jewish,” and then the halachah would have been refined over the centuries so that today’s expressions of Messianic Judaism would each have their own traditions and practices defined for Gentile members.

But such is not the case.

However, maybe the issue isn’t all that important, at least on a global scale. The churches have their answer to “The Lord’s Day,” and each Messianic community that includes Gentile members or attendees has their official policies regarding non-Jews and Sabbath.

Ultimately, lacking a clear Biblical directive, each of us has to negotiate his or her relationship with God, and each non-Jew has to decide how he or she (or if he or she) should address the puzzling issue of a Shabbat for the Nations.

I wrote quite recently that if it came down to a choice, it’s more important for Jews to observe Shabbos than for Gentiles. In the microcosm of my family, that’s how it works today (however imperfectly).

Of course there are those who want to have their cake and eat it too, but I’m not convinced you can solve knotty problems such as these by saying “the (Torah) rules are all the same for everyone, end of story,” and this narrative can appear a little unusual from time to time (I like comic books too, but this comparison caught me by surprise).

Even setting aside larger, normative Christianity’s opinion on the matter, authorities within Messianic Judaism let alone the wider realm of Jewish thought differ in how or if Shabbat applies to the Gentile, whether a disciple of the Master or not.

I decided to write this “meditation,” even though it may seem that I’m beating a well and truly dead horse, because of the simple statement I quoted at the top of this blog post:

Who among us has not wondered how the non-Jews can survive without the Sabbath!

So, given all of the benefits of Shabbat observance for the Jewish people, how do the rest of us survive?

Each Sabbath refreshes anew the special bond that Hashem has with His people, and affords every Jew the chance to turn away from the weekday world and bask in the radiance of the Shechinah. Thus, every Sabbath is a festival; but rather than commemorating a single event, it serves to strengthen and nurture the connection between the Jews and their Father in Heaven.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.141

Oh, as far as the Shabbat being primarily about rest rather than worship:

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of regarding the Sabbath simply as a day of rest, and to use it only as a chance to catch one’s breath before heading back into the grind of the following week. The folly of this approach, too, is highlighted by the location of the Sabbath among the festivals. Nobody makes the mistake of looking at Pesach or Succos as times of rest! These festivals are clearly identified as times to celebrate the closeness and special care that Hashem has demonstrated toward His people.

-ibid

shabbaton
Aaron Eby

So if we accept Derek’s assertion that Shabbat is not specifically a day of worship, we can also say that, at least in Orthodox Judaism, it’s not primarily just a rest day either. Like the Appointed Festivals, it’s a time of celebration, a day to rejoice in drawing nearer to God, at least for the Jewish people.

But among the varying and madding opinions of the relevant pundits, how do we non-Jews survive without a Sabbath or, like our First Century counterparts, the Gentile disciples Paul made in the diaspora, can we too somehow join Jewish community and simply enjoy the blessings of their Shabbat observance even if, as a matter of covenant, it is not also ours?

I know someone is going to bring up Isaiah 56 as “proof” that everyone everywhere is commanded to keep the Shabbat in the current age, but are we to behave like partisans, freedom fighters representing a (sort of) “King in Exile,” obeying the laws he will establish once he returns as if they are already in effect? Remember, in Messianic Days, King Messiah will not only rule over Israel, but the Gentile countries as well, as we will be vassal nations under the authority and protection of Israel’s Monarch. In those days, the will of the Master will be unequivocal.

Today however, Biblical hermeneutics being what it is, there is room for doubt and multiple conflicting learned opinions, and as I said above, that leaves it up to each of us, our conscience, and our relationship with God, to decide how to navigate the rather murky waters of Gentiles and Shabbat. How can we presume to observe it? How can we survive without it?

Mussar: The Cost of a Cup of Coffee

A person is happy when he knows something worthwhile belongs to him. A person is very happy when he feels he is small and yet he owns something very great.

We are all finite owners of the Infinite.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Grateful”
Based on the letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I tend to get a lot more traffic and dialog on those blog posts that are in some way “controversial.” Generally, uplifting missives or my writing about some moral principle or matter of devotion to God doesn’t draw a lot of attention. Maybe these are things everyone already knows about and don’t feel it necessary to discuss.

Anyway, I write what I’m inspired to write, and it seems no coincidence that I should read the above-quoted statement of Rabbi Freeman’s on the day that I read the Riverton Mussar’s weekly middah in my email inbox, also addressing gratitude:

Let life’s bounty cause you to whisper thanks with each breath.

Gratitude is about expressing thanks and appreciation for all that happens and is given in life: planned or unplanned. Gratitude out of whack can manifest itself in two ways. Either we placate or puff up unnecessarily those who have given to us, or we fail to demonstrate gratefulness in any capacity. Gratitude in check is when we respond appropriately with thanks for the gifts and benefits we receive and do so in the proper capacity.

If you pray with a Siddur, you most likely offer many prayers of gratitude to Hashem if, for no other reason, then they are part of the structured daily prayers as well as the prayers for Shabbat. If you pray from your heart, I can only hope that amid petitions for healing and pleas for mercy, that you (and I) also praise God and give thanks for His tender mercies.

kahve coffeeEvery other Sunday, I have afternoon coffee with a friend at a rather unique establishment called Kahve Coffee, housed in the Boise International Market. It’s the first thing that came to mind when reading more than a cupful:

Rabbi Salanter once noticed that a fancy restaurant was charging a huge price for a cup of coffee. He approached the owner and asked why the coffee was so expensive. After all, some hot water, a few coffee beans and a spoonful of sugar could not amount to more than a few cents.

The owner replied: “It is correct that for a few cents you could have coffee in your own home. But here in the restaurant, we provide exquisite decor, soft background music, professional waiters, and the finest china to serve your cup of coffee.”

Rabbi Salanter’s face lit up. “Oh, thank you very much! I now understand the blessing of Shehakol — ‘All was created by His word’ — which we recite before drinking water. You see, until now, when I recited this blessing, I had in mind only that I am thanking the Creator for the water that He created. Now I understand the blessing much better. ‘All’ includes not merely the water, but also the fresh air that we breathe while drinking the water, the beautiful world around us, the music of the birds that entertain us and exalt our spirits, each with its different voice, the charming flowers with their splendid colors and marvelous hues, the fresh breeze — for all this we have to thank God when drinking our water!”

I know someone who is chronically ill, quite ill, in fact. Nevertheless, he is grateful for many things in spite of how he suffers. I cannot presume to understand his gratitude to God given his current and future circumstances, but his faith allows him to see life in a way that escapes most of us.

israel_prayingIf you have trouble breathing unassisted, you might tend to be grateful to God for each and every breath you take. If you cannot walk well, you might tend to be grateful to God for each and every step you take without falling. Finally, each and every single beat of your heart might be precious to you, so you might be thankful to God that it still contracts sixty or so beats each and every minute out of each and every day.

For most of us, we take the majority of what happens during our daily routine pretty much for granted. Only when actively concentrating on God in prayer, in reading the Bible, or in study, will it occur to us to take an inventory of not only all that God has done for us, but the fabulous world He has created for our benefit.

Of course, the world exists for everyone’s benefit, all human beings who have ever lived, who are alive now, and who will ever be born, but it also exists just for you and just for me.

If you’re reading this, you’re either sitting at a computer, a desktop or laptop, or viewing it on a tablet or smartphone. Take a moment to look away from the screen after you finish this paragraph. Look around you. Maybe you’re inside your home or where you work. Maybe you’re relaxing in your backyard. Who knows? Take a moment to look around you and notice everything you are grateful to God for.

You may be grateful for a drink of water or a cup of coffee, but as we saw above, it’s not just the coffee or a particular moment of time, it’s the entire backdrop of existence, the entire universe and everything in it, that God has created to serve us in not only that moment, but in all of the moments of our lives, from our first breath at birth to our last at death.

gratitudeSo what should we do with that gratitude.

I don’t believe that our relationship with God exists in isolation from the rest of humanity. I think if we should express gratitude to God, we should also express gratitude to people around us, friends, family, co-workers, even to strangers, such as the person serving you your cup of coffee. At Riverton Mussar, this middah comes with some suggested exercises:

  • Think of some positive aspects of your life today and express your gratitude and appreciation.
  • Send a card to someone you know and express your gratitude and appreciation.
  • Express your gratitude to a stranger who is serving you in some capacity today.
  • After every meal this week, say a prayer of gratitude. This can either be a traditional blessing from the siddur or perhaps a heartfelt spontaneous prayer.

The possibilities are limitless. But while you are (or should be) grateful to God for the whole world, it’s hard to relate to the whole world. It’s a very big place full of lots of people. How about focusing on something closer to home:

If one brings peace to one’s own household, it is as though one brought peace to all of Israel.

-Avos De R’ Nosson 28:3

Since we Gentiles aren’t Israel, perhaps I would be allowed the small conceit of rephrasing that to say “If one brings peace to one’s own household, it is as though one brought peace to all the world.”

If we express gratitude in the home, we teach our family, particularly our children, how to be grateful. If you can teach a child to be grateful to their Mother and Father for all they provide, you can teach the child to be grateful to God for all He provides. You can teach the proper scope of gratitude, not just for the blessings of the moment, but those of the home, the family, and community in which the child lives.

TrustChildren often express feelings without the social filters we adults use to mask our emotions. If you are having trouble expressing gratitude to God or to other people, watch how a child is grateful to their family for the blessings of food, being read to, having playtime, and being loved.

Once you come to an awareness of just how much God has done for you, even before you were aware of Him, then gratitude should be the natural response.

Happiness is more precious than wealth. Commit your total self to master it. What will it take to make a strong commitment? Be aware of all the benefits of living a joyous life. Beyond all emotional, health, and material benefits, when you experience happiness and joy, you will be able to attain profound spiritual awareness and love for the Creator.

As the revered Chazon Ish wrote, “When a person merits becoming aware of the reality of the Almighty’s existence, he will experience limitless joy. All of the pleasures of this world are as nothing compared to the intense pleasure of a person cleaving to his Creator.” (Emunah U’bitochon 1:9)

(From Rabbi Pliskin’s “Happiness”,p.17)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“The Benefits of Happiness”
Aish.com

So not only will having an awareness of God result in becoming grateful, but with the merit of that awareness comes boundless joy.

Now you have to ask yourself one question: if you do not experience joy in the Presence of the Almighty, what can you do to commit your total self to master” feeling joy when encountering God?

The Torah for the Nations of the World

Question:

Why is Judaism so intolerant of idolatry? I don’t mean massive temples with human sacrifices. What about a civilized idolater, in the privacy of his own home. With a job, a family, a mortgage, donates to the World Hunger Fund and Greenpeace — and instead of one G-d, he just happens to have two or three or even several dozen, all lined up on the dashboard of his car. Why does Judaism make a cardinal sin of it, demanding total eradication of idolatry in every corner the world? As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, what’s so terrible?

Answer:

There are many ways to answer this, but let’s take a historical perspective. Historians agree that our current standard of ethics stems from the Jewish ethic. Yes, the Greeks gave us the natural sciences, philosophy and art; the Romans gave us governmental structure and engineering; from the Persians we have poetry and astronomy; from the Chinese, paper, printing, gunpowder, acupuncture and more philosophy, and so on. But the historical fact is that all those cultures (and all the other unmentioned cultures) sustained and even glorified attitudes and behaviors that today we universally find abhorrent. Today, if you dispose of your unwanted infants, practice pederasty, set humans to kill each other for sport, ignore the rights of those lower than you on the social ladder and refuse to acknowledge any social responsibility to the poor and the unhealthy, and can’t wait to run to war against the nation next door, you are a barbarian. You may have made a wonderful citizen of Athens or Rome, but today, no club will take you.

Where did those values come from? There’s only one source historians can point to: Torah.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“What’s So Terrible About Idolatry?”
Commentary on Parshah Acharei-Kedoshim.
Chabad.org

Sorry to be such a “Chatty Cathy” and post two missives in one day, but when I read the paragraphs above, they seemed to spell out something a lot of non-Jewish believers operating in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots spaces have been puzzling over if not actively struggling with. Is there some sort of “universalism” to the Torah? That is, does the Torah apply to everyone and not just to the Jewish people?

The answer to that question is enormously complex, even though some people seem to believe the answer is an incredibly simple “yes.”

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

I’ve written on this topic at length including in my original review of Toby Janicki’s article The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses as well as my revisiting that material sometime later. I’ve also written of the Torah and Gentiles in my “in a nutshell” explanation of Torah and Christians and in Torah and the Gentile Believer. Hopefully, I’ve rendered a consistent message across those different blog posts that studying the Torah is appropriate for a non-Jewish believer for a wide variety of reasons, but stating that we share an identical obligation to observe the mitzvot with the Jewish people in a manner identical to theirs, and claiming that the Torah and being “grafted in” also makes Gentiles “Israel” is way over the top.

That’s not to say that we “Messianic Gentiles,” and arguably the mainstream Christian Church don’t have special obligations and duties. It’s just that the duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians isn’t to observe the mitzvot but to encourage and support Jews to observe the mitzvot.

That said, I do think there is a universal aspect to the Torah, one that applies to every man, woman, and child who has lived throughout history and one that applies to all of us across the world today.

It’s spelled out in Rabbi Freeman’s answer to the question about idolatry.

We tend to think of application of Torah as an either/or sort of thing. Either it applies in exactly the same way to everyone, or it applies to no one at all. There’s no such thing in the minds of certain people as differentiation of application, or the idea that Torah is received by the Jews in one way and by the Gentiles in a different manner.

How the Torah applies to the world, even the world of people belonging to different religions or no religion at all, is in how it has shaped our world ethically and morally. American criminal and civil law, as well as many of our social mores, is based on the Torah.

This isn’t a religious application. Heck, you don’t even have to believe in God. You can be an atheist and still live in a world where the basic moral and ethical structure is based on the “blueprint” of the Torah.

Torah at SinaiRabbi Freeman in his somewhat lengthy answer says that while many peoples, nations, and civilizations have come and gone across the vast corridor of time, only the Jewish people have remained.

Why is that? For one thing, for the entire existence of the people of Israel, since Hashem gave the Torah at Sinai, the Jewish people have kept and preserved the Torah. If Israel had been wiped out by some ancient enemy and the Torah lost forever, upon what would the world have built its ethics and morals? As Freeman states, in ancient times (and maybe in modern ones), if you didn’t like the ethics of a particular “god,” you simply worshiped another one. After all, without the knowledge of a single, all-powerful, all-encompassing, creative God, morals and ethics are relative and impermanent.

The single greatest gift the Jewish people have given the world is the Torah. No, not the obligation to obey Torah on the level of the individual commandments in a way identical to the Jews, but as the broader basis of civilization. According to Freeman, what we think of as civilization wouldn’t exist without the Torah.

Today, we are witnessing the most dramatic results of Abraham’s strategy in action: Our progress in the last 500 years, to the point of the current empowerment of the consumer with technology and information, only became possible through the rise of this ethic. In a polytheistic world, this could never have occurred. It was only once the people of Europe began actually reading the Bible and discussing what it had to say to them, that the concepts of human rights, social responsibility, the value of life, and eventually the ideal of world peace took a front seat in civilization’s progress. And it is only such a world that could have developed public education and health care, old age pension, telephones, fax machines, personal computers, the Internet, environmental design and nuclear disarmament.

I’ve read other articles from Jewish sources stating that the Torah has applications for the whole world, but I never quite grasped what they meant. I guess it was because of the continuing debates we have on the web between Messianic Judaism(s) and various aspects of the Hebrew Roots movement regarding the question of how much of the mitzvot a Gentile should take upon himself or herself that blinded me to a wider perspective.

It’s about the people of the nations creating and then living in “a world that values life, world peace, individual rights, freedom of expression, literacy, knowledge and compassion for those who have less…” That’s the universal quality of the Torah. That’s the Torah for the nations.

The moral and ethical principles are identical for the Jews as they are for the rest of us. The only difference is that there are many additional instructions that only have to do with the Jewish people.

the crowdYou and I as non-Jews participate and “observe” the Torah every day, at least if we’re reasonably ethical, moral, and are law-abiding citizens. For those of us who are believers, this evidence of Torah in our lives becomes all the more apparent, but the larger reality is that untold millions of people everyday also live out the Torah just by committing acts of compassion, by sending their children to school, by obeying the highway speed laws, by upholding the rights of the disadvantaged, and in a thousand other ways.

The answer of how the Torah can be universal seems so elusive until you look at it from the perspective Rabbi Freeman brings in his online article. Once seen from that viewpoint however, everything becomes clear.

"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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