Tag Archives: Jesus

Jews Defining Their Own Relationship With God and the Torah

As the discussion that follows will demonstrate, I would not argue on behalf of all that Rabbinic authorities have asserted about Oral Torah. For example, I would not advocate the view that the teaching now found in the vast Rabbinic corpus was revealed to Moses at Sinai. Still, I would contend that the term is useful, for it rivets our attention on the central issues we must confront: Does the Written Torah require an ongoing tradition of interpretation and application in order to become a concrete reality in daily Jewish life? Does the tradition of interpretation and application of the Written Torah developed and transmitted by the Sages have any kind of divine sanction?

-Mark S. Kinzer
from “the 2003 Hashivenu Forum Messianic Judaism and Jewish Tradition in the 21st Century: A Biblical Defense of “Oral Torah,” pp.1-2
found at OurRabbis.org (PDF)

I assume that at least some of you who read my previous blog post about the “Oral Law” also clicked in the link I provided and read Dr. Kinzer’s paper. After I read it, I found myself pondering certain matters brought up by Kinzer, namely whether or not whatever we consider to be “Oral Torah” is at all authoritatively binding on the Jewish people as a whole or conversely, specific local communities of Jews.

Of course, why should I care? I’m not Jewish. Nothing we could consider a “Rabbinic ruling” was ever intended (perhaps with rare exception) to apply to a Gentile and particularly a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus).

But as I’ve mentioned before, Christians have used the Talmud and the wider concept of the Oral Law as one of their (our) clubs or blunt instruments with which we’ve battered, bruised, and bloodied (both literally and figuratively) the Jewish people across the history of the Church. If nothing else, it behooves us to take a closer look at our own behavior and whether or not we are actually opposing God in opposing Jewish traditions.

I know the concepts of “Oral Law,” “Jewish Tradition,” “Talmud,” and other similar labels are not exactly synonyms but they all point to the central question of whether or not the Torah contains all that a Jew needs to know to obey God and live a proper Jewish life. I’m not even arguing for the idea that the traditions as we find them today in Judaism were delivered whole to Moses on Sinai. I began this blog post quoting Kinzer who also does not believe such a thing.

What I want to explore is whether, both in ancient and modern times, those who lead or rule the Jewish people have the right, as appointed by God, to interpret the Torah and then to have those interpretive rulings be binding for general or local populations of Jews.

This idea probably seems a little ridiculous to many Christians, but I think Kinzer made a good point that it is at least possible that leaders in Israel have had and do have the divine right to issue halachah and expect that halachah to be adhered to, with penalties for non-compliance.

According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again.

Deuteronomy 17:11-13 (NASB)

This is one of the foundational scriptures that establishes a divinely appointed right of the Priests in Israel to issue authoritative rulings with consequences if their rulings are disregarded.

However, authority was not limited to the Priests:

The Lord therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.

Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25

PhariseesIt’s important to note that, as was established earlier (Exodus 18:17-26) these judges were to hear the common disputes among the individual tribes and clans of the people and issue binding rulings, and only the most difficult cases were to be brought to Moses. This means there were many local judges who had the authority to make legal decisions and establish binding procedures, resolving disputes, including any over how a particular mitzvah (commandment) was to be carried out.

It’s critical to realize that these seventy elders or judges were not relying only on their human wisdom, nor were they only appointed by Moses. We saw in the Numbers 11 passage these elders being appointed and approved of by God as evidenced by the Holy Spirit resting upon each of them.

Now that’s authority.

The importance of this central judiciary and its role as the latter day expression of the Mosaic office becomes clearer with a careful study of the pericope. The passage begins by directing that certain types of cases should be brought from the local courts to the central court. These are cases that are “too difficult for you (yipalay mi-mecha),” and that involve homicide (beyn dam le-dam), personal injury (nega), or disputes over the appropriate law (din) to apply (Deuteronomy 17:8). The meaning of this last type of case (beyn din le-din) will become clear in a moment. The central court shall hear the case, and render a decision. The persons involved are not free to disregard this decision, but “must carefully observe all that they instruct you to do” (ve-shamarta la’asot ke-chol asher yorucha) (Deuteronomy 17:10). The words “carefully observe” (shamarta la’asot) appear frequently in various forms in Deuteronomy, always enjoining obedience to the words of the Torah itself. Here they enjoin obedience to the high court.

-Kinzer, pp.6-7

Thus the Priests and Judges were divinely empowered to interpret the Torah and to issue what amounts to extra-Biblical halachah as to how to perform the mitzvot, and these rulings were legally binding for the immediate situation and across time.

We can certainly see where the later Rabbis get the idea that God authorizes all leaders and teachers of the Jewish people to be able to issue binding halachah.

But you are probably saying that in the Apostolic Scriptures, we only see the Holy Spirit being granted to disciples of Yeshua (Jesus). Doesn’t this mean that, even if this authority continues to exist, it is only available and effective within the Church?

If the answer to that question is “yes,” then God has abandoned the Jewish people, national Israel, and every single promise He made as part of the Sinai Covenant. But as you know, I don’t believe that the Sinai Covenant was rendered void because Yeshua inaugurated the very beginnings of the New Covenant, nor to I believe one covenant ever replaces another.

So if the Sinai Covenant remains in effect, then God’s relationship with all Israel remains in effect, both with Messianic and all other branches of Judaism. I’ve also said before that a Jew is the only person automatically born into a covenant relationship with God, whether he or she wants to be or not. You don’t have to be a religious Jew to be a part of the covenant, you just have to be a Jew.

So if under the Sinai Covenant, God established that Judges and Priests have the authority to issue binding rulings upon the Israelites, we can at least suggest that authority moved forward in time and across ancient and modern Jewish history.

But does having authority automatically make you right?

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

Matthew 23:1-3

I’ve previously referenced Noel S. Rabbinowitz’s paper (PDF) as evidence that Yeshua, though he had specific disagreements with the Pharisees, recognized that they had the authority to issue binding rulings on the Pharisaic community (and Yeshua’s teachings were very much in keeping with the Pharisees generally). If the Master acknowledged Pharisaic authority, this suggests that what once rested upon the Priests and Judges of ancient Israel was passed down to later authorities, and these authorities would eventually evolve into what we now call Rabbinic Judaism.

Yeshua didn’t always consider the rulings of the Pharisees correct, and even when he did, he recognized that they didn’t always obey their own decisions, so they could have authority and yet wield it imperfectly…but they did have authority

We even see Yeshua granting his own apostles that same authority; the ability to issue binding rulings upon the Jewish and Gentile disciples in “the Way”.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18

FFOZ Bind and LooseThe concept of binding and loosing isn’t always well understood among some Christians. For an excellent treatment of what these legal terms mean in Judaism, please see the First Fruit of Zion (FFOZ) video teaching on binding and loosing which I reviewed some time ago. The video is only about thirty minutes long and well worth your time in helping you understand this important concept and how it applies to the current conversation (the image above isn’t “clickable” but the links in this paragraph are).

As far as how the ancient Messianic community applied this authority, the most famous example can be found in Acts 15.

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:19-21

Here we have James the Just, head of the Jerusalem Council of Apostles and Elders, issuing a legal ruling after the Council had heard testimony, deliberated, and cited Biblical proof text. This ruling established the requirements and limitations regarding the entry of Gentiles within Messianic Jewish community, specifically exempting them (us) from having to undergo the proselyte rite and convert to Judaism as a requirement of admission.

The importance of this text for our purpose cannot be underestimated. Yeshua here employs the same verse to justify the halakhic legitimacy of the Pharisaic teachers as is later used in Rabbinic tradition to justify the halakhic legitimacy of the Rabbis. As we have seen, such a reading of Deuteronomy 17:10 suits well its original function within the Pentateuch. Though Matthew 23 proceeds to castigate those very same Pharisees for their unworthy conduct, this fact only throws the initial verses into bolder relief. In effect, the Pharisaic teachers have authority to bind and loose – even as the students of Yeshua have authority to bind and loose.

-Kinzer, p.27

Kinzer draws a line from the ancient Priests and Judges to the Pharisees and to Yeshua’s apostles as all having the authority from God to bind and loose, that is, to establish local interpretations that were not mere suggestions but had the force of law, even if those rulings were not explicitly stated within the written Biblical text. In fact, the purpose of “Oral Law” requires that it not be written or “hard-coded” into the mitzvot:

This view of the Oral Torah does not see it as a solidified code, given once for all to Moses on Sinai, and differing from the Written Torah only in its mode of transmission. Instead, it sees the Oral Torah as the divinely guided process by which the Jewish people seeks to make the Written Torah a living reality, in continuity with the accumulated wisdom of generations past and in creative encounter with the challenges and opportunities of the present. It thus presumes that the covenantal promises of Sinai – both God’s promise to Israel and Israel’s promise in return –remain eternally valid, and that the God of the covenant will ever protect that covenant by guiding His people in its historical journey through the wilderness.

-ibid, pp.18-19

I’ve heard the Torah compared to the United States Constitution. If the only Constitution we had was the original document from almost two-and-a-half centuries ago, it would be hopelessly archaic and incapable of dealing with many legal and social issues that exist in modern times but could never have been dreamed of by America’s Founding Fathers. If we didn’t have the ability to periodically amend the Constitution, we’d probably have to write new constitutions every so many years, just to keep the basis for our Government relevant.

So too with the Torah. Many of the issues facing modern Jews today could not have been taken into account when it was originally established. Even between the days of Moses and the days of Yeshua, hundreds, thousands, or more legal decisions and interpretations probably had to be made to address the shifting circumstances facing the Jewish people. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Herod’s Temple, with the Jewish people facing a seemingly endless exile, the Torah had to continue to be interpreted and legal rulings issued to ensure Jewish survival in a hostile world and across the changing landscape of history.

But you may disagree with my assessment and feel I haven’t proven my case. I really am not trying to provide definitive proof but rather, to open the doors to possibility. For many more details on this topic than I can provide here, I refer you to Dr. Kinzer’s original paper. All I’m saying is that, given the “paper trail” I’ve attempted to lay down and my faith that God has not abandoned the Sinai Covenant or His people Israel, I don’t think that what He once gave them, a method of continually evolving Biblical interpretation, died on the cross with Jesus.

I don’t think that God gave Moses what amounts to our modern understanding of the Talmud on Sinai 3500 years ago. I do think, at best, God gave Moses some general principles by which to interpret the written Law and gave other Priests and Judges (not just Moses) the authority to establish traditional methods of observing the mitzvot that aren’t explicit or even existent in the written Biblical text.

If that authority extends to the present, then we have to take another look at Rabbinic authority within the different streams of Judaism and the large and complicated body of work we collectively refer to as Talmud.

Talmudic RabbisA final note. Are all of the rulings of the Rabbis absolutely correct and is Talmud perfectly internally consistent? Probably not. To the degree that the Sages were human, then they were driven by human as well as divine priorities making them, like all men of authority (and all men everywhere) capable of all kinds of error. Yeshua, while he agreed (in my opinion) that the Pharisees had the authority to issue binding halachah, didn’t universally agree with their rulings (see Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23 for example).

Even less often noticed is the fact that the ritual norms that Yeshua upholds in this text are not found in the Written Torah, but instead derive from Pharisaic tradition! The tithing of small herbs such as mint, dill, and cummin was a Pharisaic extension of the Written Torah. Yet, according to Matthew, Yeshua not only urges compliance with this practice – he treats it as a matter of the Torah (though of lesser weight than the injunctions to love, justice, and faithfulness). This supports our earlier inference that Yeshua’s teaching and practice encourage the Pharisees to think of him as one of their own. His criticism of the Pharisees (or, to be more precise, some of the Pharisees) is a prophetic critique offered by one whose commitments and convictions position him as an insider rather than an outsider.

-ibid, p.23

Assuming I’m right about all this, I suspect when Yeshua returns, he will perform a similar function among his modern Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and encourage corrections and improvements on existing halachah and the traditions of Torah interpretation. I believe he will do so as a matter of his love for the Jewish people, not as a matter of criticism or censure. I believe we Christians, or whatever we call ourselves, dismiss God’s love for the Jewish people and His presence among them and their Rabbis at our extreme peril. Our redemption comes from the Jews (John 4:22) not the other way around.

He Who Fashions Our Hearts

Rambam cites the verse in Tehillim (33:15) as proof of this principle: “He who fashions all their hearts together, Who comprehends all their deeds.” According to Radak (Tehillim ibid.), this verse is explaining why Hashem has the power to see into men’s hearts; because He alone fashioned them, He alone has the ability to truly understand them.

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.15
Monday’s Commentary for Parashas Shemos
A Daily Dose of Torah

I’ve always wondered just how much of human behavior God understands. After all, people can be afraid, but God is never afraid. People can be selfish, but God is never selfish. People can be weak, but God is never weak. How can God understand all of our faults and foibles when He has none of His own?

Of course, I always thought this was the answer:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:15-16 (NASB)

That covers Yeshua (Jesus) understanding what it’s like to be tempted. The Master may not have sinned, but he did know what it was to be weak, put upon, exhausted, in need of help and comfort:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.

Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

Matthew 4:1-2, 10-11

The Master even said this:

And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.

Luke 22:41-43

These are very human words uttered by our Master in prayer to the Father. I wonder if he was afraid? I wouldn’t blame him if he were. Here too he needed help, and again, an angel come to comfort or “strengthen” him.

We always assume it was physically impossible for Jesus to sin but strictly speaking is that true? I mean, it’s not really a temptation unless there’s the possibility of giving in. It’s not a true victory unless you have overcome failure. I think the Master endured these things in part to show us that we can be tempted and overcome as well, even though we are broken down, faulty, lame, miserable human flesh.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

This was one of the first verses I was encouraged to learn when I professed my faith many years ago, and I thought Paul was being rather smug and arrogant. Sure, it’s easy for him to say that God will provide a way of escape so we can endure temptation and not sin, but it certainly didn’t (and often still doesn’t) seem obvious to me which way led out of temptation.

father and sonBut going back to the first quote above, it never occurred to me before that God understands us completely because God made us, even though He is perfect and we are imperfect, even though He is immortal and we are passing away like grass in a blast furnace. I wonder if that’s why there are so many human-like metaphors for describing God in the Bible, not because He has a face, or arms, or hands, or breath, but so that we can, on some shallow level, relate to Him, even as He completely and totally understands us.

A person is constantly beset by warring impulses. Sometimes, he will succeed and triumph over his evil impulses; other times he may fail and succumb to his baser urges. To the human observer, this behavior may seem random and inconsistent. But Hashem “fashions all their hearts together;” He alone knows of the many components that make up a person’s mind and heart. Thus, it is possible for Him to “comprehend all of their deeds.”

I don’t think this means that God approves of all of our deeds, but He does understand, and hopefully, feels compassion for all of His children, including you and me.

Moreover, we must not overlook one of the profound principles of Judaism. There is something which is far greater than my desire to pray, namely, God’s desire that I pray. There is something which is far greater than my will to believe, namely, God’s will that I believe. How insignificant is the outpouring of my soul in the midst of this great universe! Unless it is the will of God that I pray, unless God desires prayer (See Exodus Rabba, 21, 5; Midrash Tehillim, 5, 7.), how ludicrous is all my praying.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
“The Separation of Church and God,” p.58
Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism

On the following page, Heschel wrote, “To live without prayer is to live without God, to live without a soul.”

At the heart of doing teshuvah, of repenting and returning to God, is prayer. While the seven points of doing teshuvah I posted at the top of this blog post make it seem as if teshuvah is largely a matter of exercising intellect and will, in fact even our ability to make the first step, to regret and be ashamed of our sins, is because God created us with an awareness of Him; we are made in His likeness.

Prayer is a requirement of repentance, for without God how can man repent at all, how can he turn away from evil and turn toward God and make a life-altering, permanent decision to abandon the way he previously walked?

But in the agony of teshuvah, being torn away from one life and struggling to achieve another, it’s easy to drown in prayers of petition to the point of begging.

But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

Mark 9:22-24

From God we need all of the building blocks necessary to make teshuvah, then we need help putting them together, and then we need help doing everything else we are responsible for doing to return to Hashem.

In the middle of all that, where do we find the will and the strength to praise Him?

For to Thee Lord our God, God of our fathers, are due songs and praise, hymn and psalm, power and dominion, victory, grandeur, might, homage, beauty, holiness, kingship, blessings, thanksgiving

-from the daily liturgy
quoted in Heschel, p.64

prayerWe can’t “flatter” God into responding to our requests and He certainly doesn’t need us to praise Him because He lacks anything, but as Heschel said before, we pray not because our prayers are powerful or worthy, but because God desires that we pray, and I might add, for our own sakes. For we need God more than He needs us, if He needs anything at all. God is waiting only for us to whisper our tiny prayers to Him so He can call out and draw us to Him.

As much as the human soul yearns to rise up and merge within the light of its Creator, so much more so does the Infinite Creator yearn to be found within the human soul.

If so, what force could stand between them? What could hold back the Creator’s infinite light?

Only His desire that this union occur with our consent, that we be the ones to crack open the door.

“Open for me just as wide as a pinhole,” G‑d pleads with us, “and I will open for you a vast, unbounded portal to My very core of being.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Open for Me”
Chabad.org

I know I’ve quoted this before but it’s a good quote. A number of people commented on these words (click the link above to read the comments) including someone named Harley A:

And 12-Step groups call this “Willingness.”
Wow – I keep seeing how the 12-step recovery coincides with Judaism, it is beautiful.

Someone named Ezra commented:

When G-d created the world he did it with the attributes of Mercy and Justice (female and male qualities). And if you look in Genesis 1:27 you see again that G-d created us in His image (male and female).

G-d made everything with its opposite, up down , left right front back, day night. We can not have one without the other, that’s just how G-d made everything.

We need the Shechina simple because without her, our lives would not only be incomplete but also out of balance. We would only know G-d as a god of vengeance and never have that opportunity to repent. That would be frightening. When G-d remembered our frailty He even gave us cities of refuge. HE IS SO GOOD!!

Enjoy His Sabbath and rest a while with Her.

Life is difficult. We are all fighting a hard battle every single day. God does not desire that we fight this battle alone. If we cry out to Him, if we repent, if we pray for the strength to repent and the endurance to see it through, He will respond in an instant, whether we’re always aware of it or not, and rescue us, and even if we aren’t aware of that either, we will merit a place in the resurrection in the Kingdom of Heaven where our sure reward is waiting:

“…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

Yes, Lord come. Maranatha.

Why Do the Jews Hate Jesus?

I know this is a rather controversial title for today’s “morning meditation,” but it came to me as I was reading through the Gospel of John and I thought I’d share what I’ve been pondering.

And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

Matthew 12:11-14 (NASB)

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

John 15:18-19

So why did the Jews hate Jesus (Yeshua)? Actually, that’s a misleading question since not all Jewish people hated Jesus. In fact, a lot of Jewish people during the “earthly ministry” of Jesus really liked him and thought he was a prophet and some even believed he was the Messiah.

When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:10-11

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.

Matthew 21:45-46

Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” Others were saying, “This is the Christ [Messiah].” Still others were saying, “Surely the Christ [Messiah] is not going to come from Galilee, is He? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ [Messiah] comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him.

John 7:40-44

As you can see, particularly from the last quote, opinions about who Jesus was were mixed, but clearly a lot of Jewish people thought well of Jesus and thought he was a prophet, a Holy Man from God. So not all the Jews hated Jesus. In fact, probably relatively few Jewish people actually hated Jesus, and most of those were invalid priests and corrupt Pharisees and scribes (though not all Pharisees and scribes were corrupt) who experienced the Master’s teachings as upsetting their own apple cart, so to speak.

ancient-rabbi-teachingThere were also probably a number of well-meaning Pharisees who opposed Jesus because they authentically disagreed with how Jesus interpreted the mitzvot, particularly the laws about Shabbat (see Matthew 12:1-7 for example). On the other hand, there were also Pharisees who were at least intrigued by if not devoted to Jesus (John 3:1-21, John 19:38-42).

But if this was true during the first earthly ministry of Jesus, what about after his death, resurrection, and ascension?

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. But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.

Acts 13:48-51

This is only one small example of how some Jewish populations, particularly synagogue leaders, opposed Paul’s teachings of Jesus being the Messiah. But remember earlier in this scenario, the born Jews and righteous converts couldn’t get enough of Paul’s teaching:

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.

Acts 13:42-43

However…

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.

Acts 13:44-45

What happened? Well, crowds and crowds of Gentiles were consuming space within Jewish community, and unlike the Gentile God-fearers and converts, these Gentiles were straight up pagans who might well walk all over Jewish customs relative to kosher and ritual purity…and this guy Paul was the cause of it all.

So, get rid of Paul, get rid of the Gentiles, and the Jewish leadership once again retains control over their communal space. Of course eventually the teachings of Jesus as Messiah and the influx of Gentiles into Jewish community became so linked that many Jewish communities in the diaspora learned to reject both Jesus and the Gentiles out of hand.

Magnus Zetterholm
Magnus Zetterholm

In fact, according to my review of the works of Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm, even within the early Messianic movement, there was quite a bit of confusion and disagreement about how or even if the Gentiles should be integrated into Jewish communal and social life. This ultimately led to a rather messy divorce between Jesus-believing Jews and Gentiles, and for a time, there were two parallel religions: Pharisaic Messianic Judaism and Gentile Christianity. Eventually the former dissolved and the latter attained prominence, first in the Roman Empire and then eventually throughout the world.

And the Church, for most of its history, never learned to “share and play nice” with the Jewish people and religious Judaism:

I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that these miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them. I would not have believed that a Christian could be duped by the Jews into taking their exile and wretchedness upon himself. However, the devil is the god of the world, and wherever God’s word is absent he has an easy task, not only with the weak but also with the strong. May God help us. Amen.

-Martin Luther
Excerpt from Luther’s work entitled “The Jews & their Lies”
quoted at Jewish Virtual Library

Even mentioning a partial inventory of the history of enmity between Christianity and Judaism far exceeds the scope of this one, small article. To get the full flavor of how at least one Jewish source sees this history, visit the page on “Christianity” at Jewish Virtual Library. Also see the website for the “anti-missionary” group Jews for Judaism.

So do Jews hate Jesus? It might be more accurate to say that Jews resent the long history of abuse they’ve historically had to suffer at the hands of the Christian Church and various Christian nations. They also resent any attempt to convert Jews to Christianity because of the threat of the destruction of the Jewish people, not by violence in the modern era so much as by assimilation.

It’s never been as simple as “the Jews hate Jesus” or “the Jews killed Jesus”. The Bible tells a story of how certain groups within Judaism, corrupt groups or corrupt individuals, opposed Jesus either on religious, political, or financial grounds. On the other hand, much of the common populace in ancient Israel and not a few religious leaders supported him and believed him to be a prophet, with some few recognizing him as Messiah.

After the ascension and into Paul’s mission, the reasons for opposing Jesus changed and were largely based on the liberal inclusion of unconverted Gentiles into Jewish space as equal co-participants of religious and social community. This was something not easily accepted because of a misunderstanding as to just how a Gentile could participate in the New Covenant blessings as well as the general feeling that close association with Gentiles might render a Jew “unclean” in some sense (although there was little actually basis for this in Torah).

Unfortunately, this spilled back onto anything Paul had to say and teach about Jesus, so it took some dedication for Jewish audiences to overcome their concerns and accept what Paul taught, then accept discipleship under Jesus as Messiah.

The Gentiles, for their part, ate it up with a spoon, so to speak, at least at first, but as I mentioned above, eventually the attempt to meld the two communities became unsustainable and the “experiment” flew apart like autumn leaves in a strong wind.

Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein
Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein

But it’s not all bad. The 19th century saw many Jewish luminaries who discovered the identity of the Messiah in Jesus, and more recently in history, the modern Messianic Jewish movement, represented by groups such as the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) and the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) have become increasingly active, attracting Jewish people to the Messiah within a wholly Jewish ethnic and religious context.

So it’s pretty unfair to say that “the Jews hate Jesus” when after all, Jesus loved and loves his people, the sheep of his pasture.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”

John 10:11-16

As you can see, in addition to his Jewish “sheep,” the Master has “other sheep” in another fold that he intends to bring to himself.

The situation appears to have been reversed, at least temporarily, since the shepherd’s flock seems to have a whole lot more Gentile sheep than Jewish at the moment. But that will change:

He will also restore the royal dynasty to the descendants of David. He will oversee the rebuilding of Jerusalem, including the Third Temple. He will gather the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.

-Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
“All About the Messiah”
Aish.com

I don’t doubt there will be skeptics among both Jews and Christians as to the authenticity of Jesus as Messiah upon his return, but at least for the Jews, as they see him fulfilling prophesies such as the ones listed above, they will believe.

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”

Zechariah 12:10

Ultimately, as the Jewish exiles are all returned to their land and as their hearts are turned in teshuvah, the sins of the entire nation of Israel will be forgiven, and through their forgiveness, so too the rest of the people of the nations who have believed and remained faithful:

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34

That last part I wrote about the Gentiles is a bit of a stretch, since the text regarding the New Covenant only mentioned the House of Judah and the House of Israel, but my rather exhaustive research into this covenant assures me that we sheep from another fold will also benefit from the blessings of redemption and the resurrection to come.

tallit-prayerSo the Jews don’t “hate” Jesus. They may be hesitant or even fear some of his disciples based on the history between Judaism and the Church, and they may mistakenly blame Jesus as well as Paul for that history, but Christians have taught Jews to read the Apostolic Scriptures in the same distorted and flawed manner for centuries, an interpretation so anti-semitic and so supersessionistic that it can no longer be separated from the real meaning of the text in most Christian minds.

If we want the Jews to stop “hating Jesus,” then we have to live lives that say we do truly love the people and nation that Jesus loves. That’s one of the roles of the Messianic Gentile, and I hope it will be a mission that the mainstream Church one day adopts.

Gentiles Studying Torah for the Sake of Doing

Although the word “chassid” is generally translated to mean exceedingly pious or devout, conjuring up visions of fasting, prayer, and religious zeal, its origin is in the concept of “chesed,” giving freely of oneself for the benefit of others. It is a quality practiced by Hashem, as described in many verses, and which we are encouraged to emulate as part of the obligation to follow in Hashem’s ways.

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.158
Friday’s commentary on Parashas Vayigash
A Daily Dose of Torah

“Serve the Almighty with joy, come before Him with singing” (Psalms 100:2).

The verse is recited daily in the morning prayers. But we have to internalize its message. Repeat this verse as often as possible, while thinking about what it means and how you can apply it.

This is especially important for a person with a tendency towards sadness. A sad person mentally repeats hundreds of sad messages a day. Repeating a verse with a positive, joyous message will serve as a good counter-balance.

(see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Happiness,” p.110)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Daily Lift #207 “Worth Repeating”
Aish.com

I sometimes envy devout Jewish people. At least in my studying Torah and the Jewish writings, their lives of devotion to God through the prayers and the mitzvot seem so ordered and unambiguous. Although living according to the requirements of Orthodox or Conservative Judaism has great complexity, it seems as if a Jewish person’s path is predictable and comprehensible with no gray areas within which they struggle.

Of course, that’s an illusion and I have no doubt that observant Jews struggle with their faith as much as anyone, even me. Still, there is such purpose in studying Torah, not for the sake of studying or acquiring knowledge, but to learn what God expects of us and then to do it.

However, that understanding isn’t limited to the Jewish people. All of us who are considered disciples of the Master, whether we’re called “Christians” or “Messianic Gentiles” have a duty to God and arguably to the Jewish people. We study the Bible, not just to learn the Word of God, but to put that Word into action in the world around us and in our everyday lives.

This point can be lost for many who are associated with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots. For decades, the emphasis for Gentiles exiting “the Church” and entering Messianic synagogues or Hebrew Roots congregations has been Torah, Torah, Torah. We have gotten into the bad habit of getting hung up on how to properly tie tzitzit, lay tefillin, and styles of kippot to place on our heads that we’ve forgotten about the weightier matters of Torah:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness…”

Matthew 23:23 (NASB)

PhariseesThe verse goes on with the Master instructing his Pharisaic audience to perform the weightier matters without neglecting the others (tithing mint, dill, and cumin), but then, he was speaking to Jewish Pharisees, not Gentile disciples.

Still, it’s a lesson that applies to us. Messianic Gentiles and Hebrew Roots Christians revel in their/our Torah knowledge but what do we do with it? If “knowing” is the full extent of our studies, then we know nothing. Only in doing, and I don’t mean tying tzitzit, are we fulfilling the mission to which God has assigned us.

But what is that mission?

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

I sometimes say there’s more than a bit of overlap in the mitzvot that apply to both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master and I would say that doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly before God definitely qualifies as part of that overlap.

I was reminded of this during my visit with my parents this week. My Dad had cancer treatments (thanks, he’s doing much better) in Salt Lake City just before Christmas (it’s not a dirty word) but because his vision was compromised by the treatments and my Mom’s vision is not so good, my folks asked me to fly down to SLC and drive them back home to their place about five or six hours away.

Of course I did and I’m staying with them for a week to make sure they’re doing OK.

So I’m away from home and my regular routine and doing what I can to be of service to my parents, both of whom are still quite independent minded though in their early eighties.

Putting the needs and desires of others ahead of our own is what God wants above all else. Though my “observance” is rather minimal these days, I still maintain a particular level of dietary and other practices that aren’t exactly compatible with how my parents live. But whose needs am I here to meet though, mine or theirs?

I know some people will pop off and respond that the requirements of God (Shabbat observance, dietary laws) trump even the needs of one’s parents, but I respectfully disagree:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”

Exodus 20:12

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

Ephesians 6:1-3

ShabbatThe commandment in Torah directed toward the Israelites and coupled with their living long in the Land of Promise is interpreted by Paul to be applied to the Gentiles as a condition of having long lives, or so it seems from the dual quotes above.

If given a choice between honoring my parents and the rote lighting of candles or what “work” one does on Shabbos, I’ll accept doing love and kindness to my folks as the higher commandment; the weightier matter of the Law. I don’t believe God will condemn me for honoring them.

But that leads to the larger mission for Messianic Gentiles which has a very particular focus. Although I can’t find the exact quote, a Messianic Jew mentioned in a Facebook discussion (in a closed group, so I can’t pass on the link) that one of the roles of the Messianic Gentile is to serve in supporting Messianic Jews in greater observance of Torah.

Actually, I’ve written before on the duty of Messianic Gentiles to the Jewish people, as well as why I’m a Messianic Gentile (Part One and Part Two). I believe we have a duty to preserve the Jewish people as Jewish and to assist in any way to support their covenant fidelity to God. This is a duty routinely abandoned by the Church and we Messianic Gentiles must take it back and uphold it:

The problem of Jews assimilating with the nations while in exile is an existential danger that is discussed by many commentators throughout Tanach. Meshech Chochmah, commenting on the verse: “God spoke to Yisrael in night visions…and said…have no fear of descending to Egypt, for I shall establish you as a great nation there (Bereishis 46:2,3), notes that only with respect to Yaakov do we find the description of a prophecy as “night vision.”

-from “Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.165
Commentary on Shabbos for Parashas Vayigash
A Daily Dose of Torah

The Christian Church in well-meaning but mistaken efforts, has believed that the only way to “save the Jews” was to have them convert to (Goyishe) Christianity, effectively destroying the Jewish people as Jews, decoupling them from the covenants, and assimilating them into the Gentile world as “Hebrew Christians”.

Messianic Gentiles, in my opinion, are specifically assigned by God with the duty to serve the Jewish people in maintaining and increasing their level of observance to the mitzvot. Gentiles acting like Jews does nothing. Gentiles encouraging and supporting Jews in greater covenant fidelity does much and may even hasten the return of Moshiach.

The Church, in attempting to separate Jews from the covenants, has been destroying Christian salvation, because only through the promises God made to Israel can God’s redemptive plan for Israel, as mediated by Messiah, be extended to the nations of the Earth.

Also, those who assume that there is “One Law for the Jew and the Gentile” inhibit or even fail the Gentile mission to the Jews by usurping Jewish covenant uniqueness (I’ve said this many times before in numerous ways, so I’m sure this message is familiar to my regular readers). If I, as a Gentile, were to don a tallit gadol and lay tefillin, it might make me feel good but it accomplishes nothing. If I encourage a “Hebrew Christian” to return to the mitzvot (or take them up for the first time) and thus don a tallit and lay tefillin, I have done much:

He said, “I have come to realize that as a Jew, I am called to live out the Torah.” Goldberg explained that the prophetic-kingdom promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 had revealed to him that the Torah is part of the new covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Moreover, he had come to realize that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 which exempted Gentiles from circumcision and obligation to the Torah’s Jewish identity markers said nothing at all about exempting Jews from any aspect of the Torah. Since the Jerusalem Council did not address Jews in their ruling, he deduced that they intended Jewish believers to remain faithful to Torah.

-Boaz Michael
from The Director’s Letter: “Four Different Views on Messianic Judaism,” p.10
Messiah Journal, issue 118/Winter 2014/5775

prayer-hitbodedutI’ve quoted the words of Alec Goldberg before and I guess you can say this current “meditation” is an extension of the previous one, because it addresses somewhat the definition of Messianic Judaism and particularly the role of the Gentile within such a Jewish framework.

I quoted the “Daily Lift” above because it speaks of internalizing what we study and the message of the morning prayers. So too must we internalize what the Bible teaches us about a Gentile’s duty to Jewish Israel and the needs of individual Jewish people:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40

I learned a new interpretation of these verses from a wise Sunday School teacher in church about two years ago. I used to think this was a description of our general duty as believers to attend to the needy in general, but he pointed out that he understands this scripture to describe the duty of Christians to the needy among Israel.

Do you see how all this is playing out? Our duty speaks of subduing our personal needs for the greater good of, in this case, Jewish Israel and specifically Messianic Jews. If Messianic Gentiles have any role in the Messianic Jewish synagogue, it is to facilitate and encourage Torah observance of the Jewish disciples of the Master. This means setting our own wants, needs, and desires to one side and doing the “Torah” that is applied to we non-Jewish disciples.

I’ve known this for some time, but was reminded of it again in my visit with my aging parents. We do kindness out of love and we learn love from Torah (Bible) study. The Torah teaches us to honor our fathers and mothers, but I also believe Messiah teaches we Gentiles to honor Israel for only through her comes salvation for the world (John 4:22).

MessiahNo one comes to the Father except through the Son and only Messiah Yeshua is the keystone of our faith. If we wish to serve our Master, we must continually set aside ourselves and serve the least of his brothers, the Jewish people.

This is who we are as Gentile disciples and this is why we study Torah. So we can do.

For more on the duty of Gentiles to the Jewish people and the relationship this is supposed to forge, please read Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann’s article Everlasting Love: The Continuing Election of The Jewish People.

The Mussar of Withdrawing

Rabbi Isaac Luria proposed that man’s existence and independence became possible when God “contracted” (tzimtzum) in order to allow for the creation of the material universe and all that would exist within it. This also allowed human beings the “space” to exist, to think, and to act — in other words, it enabled free will rather than a will that is controlled or constrained by God’s very existence.

I prefer to express this thought with the language of restraint rather than contraction. God limited his power so that the material creation could exist and restrained his middah of judgment so that humans would not be destroyed upon the first sin. Within that space of God’s self-limitation, humans can choose to draw near to God or distance themselves.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
“Relational Adaptability”
Commentary on the middah of adaptability
Riverton Mussar

I was thrilled to discover this commentary on adaptability was written by one of my favorite people both within the Messianic Jewish movement and in general. I’ve often wished I could access more of his writing than I’ve done in the past.

I’d read before about God and the (supposed) act of tzimtzum but hadn’t seen it expressed within the current context. God restrained Himself to give humanity not only room to exist, but room to have autonomy and free will.

“Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven.”

-Berachot 33b

Looking back over my life, both distant events and recent ones, I sometimes wish God didn’t restrain Himself and that His thoughts automatically became my thoughts. No free will, just the will of God. Life would be so much easier, but would this then be paradise or enslavement? Without free will, we cannot sin against God but then neither can we choose Him. There’s no merit in good deeds if we follow God only because His Presence makes it impossible to reject Him.

Free will makes victory over the self sweet but the defeat is all too bitter. But while free will gives us something in common with God, we, like God, can also exercise tzimtzum, as Rabbi Kinbar states:

Professor Mordechai Rotenberg of the Rotenberg Center for Jewish Psychology applies the concept of tzimtzum to his therapeutic practice. According to Rotenberg, tzimtzum (or self-limitation) applies to all interpersonal relationships, which are based on either an “I and Thou” pattern or an “I or thou” pattern.” In the “I or thou” pattern, there are hostile relations between the “I” and the “you”. They are constantly contending for the same space at the expense of the other. In the “I and thou” pattern, “I” and the “other” act in co-existence. They demonstrate the middah of adaptability when “I” evacuates space for “thou” and “thou” is willing to expand into the evacuated space.

When one person chooses to limit himself so that the other can thrive, the other can feel free to expand into the vacated space. Thus the process of self-limitation and self-expansion exist in a dynamic process that is expressed differently in different relationships, different situations, and different times of life.

The blogosphere can be very “I” oriented, with various bloggers jockeying for position to take the upper hand in some sort of theological or other argument. I saw it just the other day in a debate on Facebook, and it’s a very familiar dynamic.

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

-Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving)
from the film The Matrix (1999)

DivorceIt seems we people have great difficulty in limiting our presence both as individuals and, if Agent Smith is correct, as a species. Given human history, frankly, I’m inclined to agree with him.

But as we see, we are designed by God to have a choice. We don’t have to possess and consume everything within our sphere of influence. We don’t have to control and dominate every situation or person we encounter. We can withdraw so that others can advance:

The middah of adaptability expresses itself in both self-limitation and self-expansion. It does not require that we limit ourselves when this is not appropriate for a healthy relationship; neither does it require us to expand simply because the other person limits himself. Instead, it requires individuals to work together in their relationships, both expressing the middah of adaptability.

I think our relationships, both face-to-face and online, would be a lot more healthy if we practiced this middah more consistently and effectively. But it’s not just between two or more people where this middah is appropriate and necessary:

We need to follow the rules, but that alone doesn’t produce virtue, which is the goal of mussar. To arrive at virtue we’ll have to adapt, to grow, to change. It occurs to me during this month of Elul (which is traditionally a time of spiritual preparation leading up to the High Holy Days) that teshuvah or repentance is the height of adaptability. It means not just adapting to this or that circumstance, but rending our hearts, not our garments, and returning to the Lord (Joel 2:13).

-Rabbi Russ Resnik
“Adaptability and Teshuvah”
Commentary on the middah of adaptability
Riverton Mussar

Teshuvah or repentance is an act of adaptability because it requires sometimes radical change to completely turn around and return to God. But it also requires that we limit ourselves and withdraw to allow more of God to advance in our lives.

You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.

John 3:28-30 (NASB)

Like John (Yochanan) the Baptist (Immerser), we must decrease to let God increase in our lives. This is necessary to accomplish the goal of Mussar which R. Resnik defines as producing virtue in our lives.

God is infinite and all-powerful and it took an act of His Will to withdraw or restrict Himself so He didn’t simply overwhelm us with everything that He is. He made a choice and thus allows us to make choices as well. To the best of my knowledge, we are unique in all of God’s Creation because He chooses not to barge into our lives. We have to invite Him in.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Revelation 3:19-21

RabbiMany Christian Pastors and teachers often take verse twenty from this letter to the community in Laodicea out of context to make it say (probably) what it doesn’t actually say. I’m doing the same thing here, but first of all, I admit it, and secondly, I’m doing so to make a point. God, like the Kingdom of Heaven, is always present and “standing” just on the other side of the door, so to speak. God (and the Kingdom of Heaven) can enter at any moment, but we are in control of when (or if) that moment will occur.

Obviously, I’m speaking (writing) metaphorically, but as difficult as it may seem, all we really have to do is open the door and invite Him into our living room, or, speaking of eating, kitchen. It’s Chanukah. Maybe He likes latkes.

I’m at a point in life, though, in which radical change looks difficult. The pathways are worn deep and it’s hard to break out. But the prophets that we read during this season remind us that adaptability – even in its most radical form, teshuvah – is a gift, like all the middot. Hashem says “Return to me and I’ll return to you” (Zech. 1:3, Mal. 3:7) and in response we can say “Turn us back to you and we shall return” (Lam. 5:21).

-R. Resnik

OK, so maybe it’s not all that easy, even if change, by inviting God to occupy more of our lives, seems simple at its core. But as Rabbi Resnik says, change and teshuvah are a gift from God. If we return to God, He will return to us, if we invite Him in, He will enter.

The Talmud says, “The righteous are considered alive even after their death, whereas the wicked are considered dead even when they live” (Berachos 18a). The Torah considers the essence of human life to be spirituality rather than biology. Animals, too, breathe, look for food, seek shelter, reproduce and care for their young. Some show a degree of intelligence. Man is more than just an animal with greater intelligence. Man is a creature that can be master of his biology rather than a slave to it. A human being without spirituality is nothing more than an animal with intellect. He lives biologically, but is spiritually dead.

Dvar Torah based on Twerski on Chumash
written by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
quoted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Aish.com

Chanukah and the Light of Love

“Rav Avraham Pam (former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas) teaches us that we see this special love of God for the whole Jewish people even though many had defected to Hellenism and then returned to Torah observance with the triumph of the Macabees. When a couple reconciles after a separation, the relationship often becomes one of peaceful coexistence, but the quality of love that they initially had for each other is rarely restored.

“Not so when Jews do teshuvah (repentance — returning to the Almighty and to ways of the Torah). Rambam says that although a sinful person distances himself from God, once he does teshuvah he is near, beloved and dear to God. It is not that God “tolerates” the baal teshuvah (returnee), but rather that He loves him as He would the greatest tzaddik (righteous person). As the prophet says, “I will remember for you the loving-kindness of your youth, when you followed Me into the desert, into a barren land” (Jeremiah 2:2). The love of yore is fully restored.

“This is the significance of the miracle of the oil. It teaches us that with proper teshuvah our relationship with God is restored, as if we had never sinned.

“This is also the message of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph did not simply forgive them and suppress his resentment for their abuse of him. Rather, he loved them and cared for them as if nothing had happened, telling them that he feels toward them as he does to Benjamin, who was not involved in his kidnapping (Rashi, Genesis 45:12).

“The celebration of Chanukah is, therefore, more than the commemoration of a miracle. We are to emulate the Divine attributes (Talmud, Shabbos 133b). Just as when God forgives, His love for us is completely restored — so must we be able to restore the love for one another when we mend our differences.

“As we watch the Chanukah candles, let us think about the light they represent: the bright light of a love that is completely restored!”

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from Shabbat Shalom Weekly for
Torah Portion Mikeitz
Aish.com

I apologize for the rather lengthy quote from Rabbi Packouz’s article, but it very much speaks to my continuing theme of sin, repentance, and return and also happens to be appropriate as a missive for this third day of Chanukah (as you read this).

One of the great difficulties in making lasting teshuvah (repentance or return to God) is the feeling of being “damaged goods”. Assuming everything R. Packouz wrote in the above-quoted passage is true about God, we still have to face, on a human level, how other people often find it difficult to receive the repentant sinner as if he or she had never sinned. Also, you or I can still feel “dirty” in our sins as we sincerely strive to repent, even though, according to the prophet, our “…sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NASB).

Yes, the good Rabbi is talking about Jewish repentance in his write-up, but by the merit of our Rav, Messiah Yeshua, we also are allowed to repent, turn away from our sins, and return to our God. In this I believe we too will be treated as if we had never sinned. Otherwise, we have no hope.

love-in-lightsAlthough Chanukah commemorates a specific event and miracle exclusive to the Jewish people, it has applications for the rest of us. If the lights of the Chanukah candles can represent “the bright light of a love that is completely restored” between a Jew and his God, it can have the same meaning for all of the non-Jewish disciples of the Master.

The Apostle Paul was quite clear that repentance, atonement, and forgiveness were accessible to Jew and Gentile alike through trust in the accomplished works of Messiah.

Concerning Paul’s declaration of the blessings of Messiah at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch:

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 13:48-49

And our Master himself said:

“I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 8:11

My family lights the Chanukah menorah for eight nights in our home because my wife and children are Jewish. But if, Heaven forbid, something should happen and I found myself living alone, I could certainly see a continued application in my kindling the Chanukah lights for the sake of the Light of the World (John 8:12).

Chag Sameach Chanukah.