Tag Archives: Redemption

How Is The World Blessed By The Offspring of Abraham?

I was sitting in the airport in Dallas reading my daily page of the Talmud when an elderly priest, readily identifiable by his collar, stopped by my seat and asked me a question. “I hope you don’t mind my interrupting you. I see you are reading a Hebrew book and you are wearing a hat. Are you by any chance a Rabbi?”

When I responded that indeed I am, he continued, “I hope you don’t think I’m out of place but all my life I’ve been hoping that someday I might meet a Rabbi. You see, although I’m a priest I’ve always felt that Jews are the people of The Book and enjoy an especially close relationship with God. You are God’s chosen people and as a Rabbi you are one of their spiritual leaders. I’ve always wanted to ask a Rabbi for a blessing. Would it be possible now for me to ask that you honor me with that favor?”

I cannot convey in words how moved I was by that request. I gave him the priestly benediction from the Torah and recited it to him in the original Hebrew. He was moved to tears. In all humility, I understood that for him I was the link to the original Torah. Whatever theological beliefs might separate us – and there are surely many – he clearly recognized the unique role of Judaism, in the words of Isaiah, to serve as “a light unto the nations.” Jews are the direct descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the nation that stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and received the Torah to transmit from generation to generation. Jews were “chosen” not to claim superiority but to accept the responsibility to convey God’s messages to the rest of mankind.

-Rabbi Benjamin Blech
“5 Greatest Gifts of Being a Jew”

birchas-kohanimThere may be some of you when reading the paragraphs above who will be taken aback by a Catholic Priest (or any Christian clergy) asking a Rabbi for a blessing. There may be others among you who will cringe at the idea that Rabbi Blech not only responded to the request by conferring a blessing, but that he used the Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing.

Historically, Judaism and Christianity have had a somewhat “uncomfortable” relationship (I say that using tremendous understatement) and at least vestiges of that remain in the modern era.

But I found the transaction between R. Blech and the Priest to be rather heartwarming. Nearly twenty centuries of enmity between Christians and Jews was simply swept aside, a Christian (a Catholic Priest no less) openly recognized the special and unique relationship a Jew has with God, and a Jew (a Rabbi no less) blessed not just a Goy, and not just a Christian, but a Catholic Priest, and was happy to do so.

In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.

Genesis 22:18 (NASB)

Indeed, the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are to be a blessing to the people of the nations, and in R. Blech’s case, it became both fact and truth.

But then again, we have this:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Galatians 3:16

From a Christian point of view, that blessing from the offspring (“seed”) of Abraham could be considered specifically issuing from one Jew, our Rav Yeshua (Jesus), as opposed to Jewish people in general. However, I don’t have a problem assigning multiple meanings and applications to the aforementioned blessing.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Drilling down into R. Blech’s quote, let’s take a look at the following:

Whatever theological beliefs might separate us – and there are surely many – he clearly recognized the unique role of Judaism, in the words of Isaiah, to serve as “a light unto the nations.” (emph mine)

A Catholic Priest, who, by definition, believes that Jesus Christ is the Jewish Messiah King who will redeem the world, also recognized that modern Jewish people, including and especially Rabbis, have a unique role to play relative to God and to humanity.

How much more should we “Judaicly-aware” disciples of our Rav also recognize that unique role of Jews in general and Jews who share our understanding of the revelation of Rav Yeshua in particular, whether we choose to call ourselves members of Hebrew Roots, “Messianic Gentiles,” or anything else?

In his article, R. Blech listed the 5 greatest gifts of being a Jew as:

  1. Our Unique Mission
  2. The Torah
  3. Progress
  4. Optimism
  5. The Gift of Others

Although the Torah does not apply to the rest of mankind, even the Gentile disciples of our Rav, in the same way it applies to Jewish people, it does define a general pattern of ethical and moral behavior along with the establishment of monotheism, the realization of One God, Hashem, Creator of Existence. Without the Jewish people and the Torah, there would not be such revelations, and certainly, there would be no plan of redemption for our world.

JerusalemUnder “Progress,” R. Blech cites Irishman Thomas Cahill’s book The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels to illustrate the impact of Jews and Judaism on the entire planet.

In it he credits the Jews not only for monotheism and the idea of a personal relationship with God; it is these concepts, he reminds us, that led us to the understanding that we have a personal responsibility for ourselves and our relations with our neighbors, as well as to our respect for history itself.

While the Church likes to think history began with the birth of Christ, in fact, while the coming of Rav Yeshua certainly was and is an apex in human history, everything in the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings had to occur to set the stage for our Rav’s entry, including the existence of Israel and the Jewish people.

Under “Optimism,” Blech states:

To be a Jew is to know that the world has not yet reached its divinely ordained end. God has a plan for us and eventually it will be fulfilled. No matter how long it takes, Jews remain the eternal optimists.

Golda Meir put it this way: “Jews cannot afford the luxury of pessimism.” Ben Gurion reminded us that in Israel “In order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” And Maimonides included the belief in messianic redemption at the end of days as one of the thirteen Cardinal principles of our faith.

jerusalem dayWe non-Jewish devotees also wait for the Messiah, though some of us have a radically different idea of what that means than most Jews. Social media has made it easy to complain about practically everything, and conservative Christians complain about everything from A to Z, which is why it would be helpful if we would learn optimism as Blech describes it.

Finally, under “The Gift of Others,” while R. Blech is describing the relationship Jews have with each other, we “Judaicly-aware” Goyim might want to set aside any “Torah-envy” we may experience ,and approach our Jewish brethren in Yeshua (as well as Jewish people in general) in the same manner as the Priest who approached Rabbi Blech in a Dallas airport as described at the top of this article.

At the very start of his write-up, R. Blech said:

Albert Einstein once startled an audience when he announced, “I’m sorry I was born a Jew.” The people were shocked. How could this great man make such an outlandish statement? With a smile, Einstein then impishly continued, “Because it deprived me of the privilege of choosing to be a Jew.”

As a tenth generation Rabbi, I did not choose to become a Jew; it was my natural birthright. But with the wisdom of age and the perspective of worldly experience I have come to recognize that my identity conferred precious divine gifts that we should never take for granted.

MessiahJews, whether religious or secular, are the only people who are born into a covenant relationship with God. The rest of us have to choose to become associated with God and arguably, we have no covenant relationship (long story…start reading this five-part review for the answer, or if you’re pressed for time, this short summary) apart from the Noahide Covenant God made with all living things in Genesis 9.

But we are allowed and even encouraged to choose God. We just need to remember that it was through the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and the (Jewish) Moshiach that we are redeemed, not through the power of our choosing alone.

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

John 4:22

After the Meal of the Messiah has Ended

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the ekklesia, in filling up what is lacking in Messiah’s afflictions. Of this ekklesia I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Messiah in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Messiah. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Messiah Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Messiah.

Therefore as you have received Messiah Yeshua the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

Colossians 1:24-2:7 (NASB – adj)

I’m temporarily interrupting my reviews of the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle in order to address a conversation I had with my friend over coffee last Sunday. Yes, this is the same friend who previously issued the pesky challenge (I say that tongue-in-cheek) of considering a return to church or some such congregation for the sake of fellowship.

Last Sunday, the challenge was to consider all that Messiah has done for me.

No, it’s not like I don’t have a sense of gratitude, but the way he put it, it’s like I am to consider only two beings in existence: Messiah and me.

The Death of the MasterSo often in the Church, over and over again, I’d hear “It’s just me and Jesus” like the rest of the human population of this planet didn’t matter. It also sounds like God’s overarching redemptive plan for Israel, and through Israel, the world, wasn’t important. All that’s important is the individual Christian and Jesus.

I look at Messiah through the lens of the entire Biblical narrative and what his death and resurrection means in terms of that narrative. I think of Messiah less as dying for me the individual, and more as dying and being resurrected as a definitive confirmation of God’s New Covenant promise to Israel; His promise of Israel’s personal and national resurrection and the life in the world to come. Messiah’s resurrection is definite proof of the resurrection for the rest of us. It certainly was to the direct witnesses of “the risen Christ,” and by their testimony, was accepted as evidence by many other Jews and Gentiles who through faith, became disciples of the Master.

I have a problem pulling Messiah out of that context, isolating his death and resurrection from God’s global redemptive plan, and making it all about “saving” me. When Paul wrote about “salvation,” he was talking about reconciling humanity with the God of Israel, not saving my one little soul so I could go to Heaven and live with Jesus when I die. Paul was “preaching” the New Covenant promises and their blessings to the Gentiles, who needed to do considerable catch-up work not having the benefit of even a basic Jewish education.

I think that’s what he’s saying in the above-quoted block of scripture. He’s writing to Gentiles. They/we who were once far off (Ephesians 2:13) and who had/have been brought near to the promises of God through the faithfulness of Messiah.

There’s no denying that without Messiah, the Gentiles are totally cut off from the God of Israel. The Jews were already near based on being born into the Sinai covenant. Yes, even they could be cut off (Romans 11:20) due to unbelief, but since they are natural branches, think of how much more easily can they be reattached to the root.

My friend said that those who deny Messiah, Jew and Gentile alike, are cut off from God. This at least suggests if not outright demands that God’s presence be manifest only with those Jews and Gentiles who have become disciples of Yeshua and He is apart from everyone else.

working handsI don’t believe that. For the Jews, I believe there’s close and closer. No, it’s not like there is no benefit for Jewish faith in Messiah. I outlined how unbelieving Jews can still be close to God and how believing Jews have a great benefit in being disciples of the Master in my review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Faith Toward God. Mark D. Nanos characterizes the text of Romans 11:25 as unbelieving Jews being temporarily “callused” against Messiah. But the text continues:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 11:25-29

Paul, in part, is referring to this irrevocable promise of God to Israel:

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

So how do I understand my friend’s statement that all people, Jews and Gentiles, are alienated from God if they do not have faith in Messiah? Am I to believe that God abandoned the Jewish people at the cross?

I can’t do that.

I can believe, based on God’s faithful promises to His people Israel, that although many Jews temporarily do not see Yeshua for who he truly is as Messiah, one day everything will be revealed, and then they will all receive the promise of forgiveness of sins and thus “all of Israel will be saved.”

I have no problem believing that all means ALL! In fact, I’m counting on it.

However, God made no such promise to the Gentile nations of the world. We don’t directly benefit from those promises, though as Paul tells us, we do benefit from their blessings through faithfulness. In His mercy, God allows not just Israel, but also the Gentiles to receive the blessings of the resurrection, the indwelling of the Spirit of God, and the promise of life in the Messianic Age and beyond as members of the Master’s ekklesia and vassal subjects of the King.

But in my struggle to reframe the traditional Christian narrative into one that takes into greater account the first century Jewish context of Paul’s letters as they relate back to the promises God, I’ve gotten “stuck” with my panoramic view of the Messiah’s role in Biblical and human history.

Photo: First Fruits of Zion

My fight has always been to communicate this Judaic view of ALL scripture, including the Apostolic Writings, as Jewish and centered on national redemption of Israel, and then through Israel, the nations.

Admittedly, I’m having a tough time changing my focus and allowing myself the “conceit” of realizing that there is (or could be) a personal relationship between me and the Master. Frankly, I don’t see why that shouldn’t intimidate the living daylights out of anyone, especially me. How can the King of the future Messianic Era also be, as many Christians might say, my “best friend?”

The presence of Mashiach is revealed on Acharon Shel Pesach, and this revelation has relevance to all Israel: Pesach is medaleg,1 “skipping over” (rather than orderly progress), and leil shimurim,2 the “protected night.” In general the mood of Pesach is one of liberty. Then Pesach ends, and we find ourselves tumbling headlong into the outside world. This is where Mashiach’s revealed presence comes into play – imbuing us with a powerful resoluteness that enables us to maintain ourselves in the world.

-Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

I too find myself “tumbling headlong” into unprotected territory. It’s become very easy for me to relate to Yeshua as a lowly subject relates to a King. But how can (or should) this “Messianic Gentile” gain an apprehension of a one-on-one relationship with my Master Yeshua?

1. Shir HaShirim 2:8. Midrash Raba on that verse describes the Exodus as medaleg, “skipping over” calculations and rationales for redemption, bringing Israel out of exile regardless of their merit, regardless of the length of the exile. Later in that section the Midrash applies the verse to Mashiach.

2. Sh’mot 12:42, as Rashi notes, the night destined for redemption.

The Cost of Serving the King: Lessons in Discipleship

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Luke 14:28-33 (NASB)

The twin parables of the Tower Builder and the King Going to War (Luke 14:28-33) focus on the self-examination necessary to make a decision for surrendering to the call of Jesus. The ultimate commitment is demanded of every disciple. No one should make such a decision rashly. Just as cost estimation is needed to build a tower in a field and intense strategic planning is required to wage war, the one considering discipleship must weigh the cost. To complete the task successfully, one must consider each demand in Jesus’ teachings concerning the kingdom of heaven. Only after intensive self-testing should the decision be made to follow Jesus in his call to radical discipleship.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 12: The Decision: The Tower Builder and the King Going to War,” pg 222
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I can’t believe the day after I published this blog post discussing, in part, what it is to truly surrender our lives to Messiah and acknowledge him as Lord, that I should read the opening words of this chapter which address the same thing.

Many Evangelicals consider their work done when they inspire a person to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord by making some sort of initial statement. That person is “saved.” Move on to the next poor, lost soul.

Except I think the process of “salvation” may be more than a point event. I think it’s a process, sometimes a long process, before anyone actually arrives at the place where they recognize the very real cost of becoming a disciple of the Master and what it will really take to “surrender all” and to follow him. We are told to count the cost of becoming a disciple, making what, for all intents and purposes, is an irrevocable vow, and then binding ourselves in servitude to him, following our Master in all he desires from us.

D. Thomas Lancaster in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, addressed the ancient practice of teaching initiates into Messianic discipleship in two messages: Instructions About Washings and The Initiation. By comparison, what do we do today in the Christian Church to prepare those we have brought to the beginning knowledge of Christ to count the cost, leave their former lives behind them, pick up their cross and to follow him?

Not darn much, for the most part.

No disciple should begin training in the kingdom of God unless he or she has recognized fully the insistent demands of total commitment and has determined to shoulder the responsibilities with unrelenting resolve.


How many of us, as believers, possess “unrelenting resolve,” especially in America where we are pretty much fat and happy? And if we are not prepared for the challenges of being a disciple, will be face the same consequences as one who starts building a tower and cannot finish or a King who goes into war and has his army smashed?

An ignominious defeat will ruin a king, destroy his kingdom, and cost him everything. The disciple’s defeat can be just as devastating.

-ibid, pg 223

FallingIn response to a “leap-before-you-look” kind of religious zeal that leads many people to “accept Christ” before knowing anything about him and what he requires, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his book Growth Through Torah (pg 358) responds with this advice:

“A Torah scholar should be consulted whenever questions arise.”

In the case of Christianity, the very people who are out evangelizing should be the ones urging each potential initiate to be cautious. Do not be premature. Learn. Study. Discover who this Jesus Christ is and what you must truly pay in order to follow him on his path.

For Luke these parables form a complex of teachings focusing on radical discipleship. Hating one’s parents or dying for one’s beliefs are concepts that perplex and challenge.

-Young, pg 223

Unfortunately, potential disciples are not told the truth of Messiah upfront. Often they (we) take months, years, or even decades to discover (if we are fortunate ever to do so) the cost of following the King of the Jews.

For Christianity, the cross has become more a symbol of salvation than a call to radical discipleship.

-ibid, pg 224

We tell people about salvation, forgiveness of sins as a free gift of Christ, an eternal life of bliss up in Heaven with Jesus, and all the really attractive stuff. We never tell them what they have to do once they “sign on the dotted line.”

But the danger of diluting Jesus’ radical call to action by spiritualizing his practical teachings is never very far removed from the preaching of salvation through the cross. In the teachings of Jesus, in contrast, the image of the cross was a call to radical discipleship. One must hear and obey. The stress was not on salvation but on obedience. The fear of God is rooted in the wisdom obtained through Torah learning and active involvement in fulfilling wisdom’s teaching.


By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is strong,
And a man of knowledge increases power.
For by wise guidance you will wage war,
And in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 24:3-6 (NASB)

Knowledge and wisdom are absolute requirements before beginning to design and build a structure, whether it be a tower or a house. If you go in blind, depending on taking someone else’s word that everything will work out fine if you just “accept Jesus into your heart,” the walls could end up falling down around your ears.

Young ponders whether or not Jesus had Proverbs 24 in mind as he crafted his parables and believes it is likely. I suppose it’s possible Paul also was thinking in that direction:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

In my previous commentary on these verses, I mentioned that information was not lacking among the Jewish devout, but specific knowledge about how Jesus was and is the goal, the aim, the focusing crystal and makes the meaning of the Torah so much more clear was lacking in some, just as the basic, elemental principles of Christian faith are often lacking, not just in new converts to the faith today, but people who have been in the Church for years.

It is true that works without faith is dead, but what about an uninformed faith? Can you consent to give your life to something you don’t understand? Are you held accountable to words you cannot fathom? Actually, I believe you can.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

awareness-of-godJesus connects lawlessness with those who bear no fruit, that is, they do not lead lives transformed by their faith, and there is no evidence of the Spirit in their daily lives and no obedience to God. How can this be unless they have not actually, truly surrendered all of who they are (we are) to the demands of a very demanding King and Master. If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, then he may command anything and we must obey.

For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

Luke 7:8 (NASB)

The Roman Centurion “got it,” but that’s what we can expect of a man who served in a brutal military hierarchy under the reign of an unrelenting Emperor.

Like I said, in America, in the church as well as anywhere else, we’re too “fat and happy”. We think discipline is going to the gym three or four days a week.

R. Samuel bar Nahman said in the name of R. Jonathan: By what parable may the verse just above be explained? By that of a king who lived in a certain principality. When the people of the principality provoked him, the king was angered [and would not abide in their midst]. He removed himself some ten miles from the city before he stopped. A man who saw him went to the people in the city and said: Know that the king is angry at you and may well send legions against the city to destroy it. Go out and appease him before he removes himself still further away from you. Thereupon a wise man who was standing by said to the people: Fools, while he was in your midst, you did not seek him. Now, before he moves further away, seek him out. He may receive you. Hence it is said “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6)…

See Pesik. Rab Kab., suppl. 7:3 (Pesikta Derav Kahana, ed. Mandelbaum, 2:472; English trans., Braude and Kapstein, Kahana, 491). Cf. the discussion of McArthur and Johnson, Parables, 194, as quoted by Young pg 227

But it is also said:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

And yet in verse 13, Paul states, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But you can’t call on someone you do not know. And you cannot know someone unless you learn of them, spend time with them, discover the desire of their heart. You cannot commit unless you are willing. You cannot commit unless you understand and agree to the price of commitment. We’re all taught about the “free gift of salvation” but never about the “real cost of discipleship.”

Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a teacher…

-Pirkei Avot 1:6

It’s ironic that in considering the cost, some might believe it is too high and then choose not to follow. However in the end, the cost of refusing to become indentured servants of the great King is higher still.

Vayigash: Will the King Show Us Mercy?

king-davidAnd Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph!”

Genesis 45:3

The Chofetz Chaim comments that from the time the brothers first came to Egypt to get food — when Joseph spoke with them roughly and accused them of being spies — they were puzzled about what exactly was happening and why it was happening. In both encounters with Joseph they had many questions about their experiences. As soon as they heard the words, “I am Joseph” all their questions were answered. The difficulties they had in understanding the underlying meaning of the events — why Joseph accused them of being spies, yet treated them well, accused them of lying and stealing, but gave them a banquet, insisted on bringing the younger brother to Egypt, etc. — were now completely clarified.

Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, when the entire world will hear the words “I am the Almighty” at the final redemption of the Jewish people, all the questions and difficulties that people had about the history of the world with all of its suffering will be answered. The entire matter will be clarified and understood. Everyone will see how the hand of the Almighty caused everything ultimately for our benefit.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Vayigash based on
Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Referenced by Rabbi Kalman Packouz
at Aish.com

The brothers of Joseph discover a startling reality. The ruler of the Egyptians who has been treating them harshly all of this time is really their brother Joseph. In an instant, all the cruelty they showed him, including trying to murder him, must have come to the forefront of their conscience.

Before this, the Egyptian ruler had the power to do anything to them, imprison them, make them slaves, even kill them, but “it wasn’t personal.” That is, the sons of Jacob were no more or less significant to an Egyptian ruler than anyone else.

Now they not only discover that this man has the power of life and death over them, but that he is their brother, who they left for dead, who almost surely has a personal motive for seeking revenge. The brothers knew they had no right to appeal to Joseph for mercy, for they had not showed him mercy. They could only hope that in the years he ascended from slavery and imprisonment to being a viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh in power and authority, that he had learned wisdom and compassion and would be willing to offer them something they did not deserve: mercy and the continuation of their very lives.

Now look at what Rabbi Pliskin had to say from the above-quoted text:

Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, when the entire world will hear the words “I am the Almighty” at the final redemption of the Jewish people, all the questions and difficulties that people had about the history of the world with all of its suffering will be answered.

How much of the non-Jewish world will tremble at the feet of God when they realize the Almighty has appeared at the final redemption and that He is not at all pleased with how His people Israel have been treated?

Over the long march of centuries since Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, since Joseph confronted his brothers, since Moses, Aaron, and Miriam liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and set them before God at Sinai, and on and on across history, every people, tribe, and tongue throughout the Earth has been seeking to kill the Jewish people, God’s splendorous treasure, the apple of His eye.

This includes the Church of Jesus Christ. How confusing it will be in those days to be a Christian who has harbored hatred toward Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel, and to be confronted by an angry Jewish King. How strange it will seem to many Christians who have loved Israel but continued to deny the validity of the Torah, the Temple, and the adherence of Jewish people to a Jewish way of life for those Gentile believers to be faced with a Jewish King who upholds the “Jewishness” of his people Israel.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46 (NASB)

Woman in the darkI used to think this was an injunction for believers to show kindness and compassion for all of the needy people around us (and I still think we should), but almost a year ago, I heard a good and kind Christian man in a Sunday school class interpret this statement as the duty we Gentile believers have to take care of all the needy of Israel.

And if that statement is true, then woe be to the many, many Christians past and present who have utterly failed to do so because those needy people were “just Jews.”

In the case of the brothers of Joseph, their kinsman who was also ruler and King over them was merciful after all:

Now do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure Your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.

Genesis 45:5-8 (JPS Tanakh)

But was it for Jacob’s sake that Joseph spared his brothers? And for whose sake shall the King of Israel spare those among the nations and particularly those among the Church who have treated his little ones poorly?

…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:6 (NASB)

Mark Nanos in his book The Mystery of Romans defines the “weak” and “stumbling,” relative to Paul’s letter to the Romans, as the Jews in the synagogues of Rome who had not yet come to faith in Messiah. I’ll write a detailed “meditation” on this topic in a few days, but Nanos understands Paul’s admonition to the “strong,” the Gentile believers, as failing to uphold their responsibility to encourage the stumbling Jewish people, resulting in them stumbling even further away from faith. Paul never gave up on the stumbling, and he would have sacrificed everything for them.

For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:3-5 (NASB)

It was the Master himself who called his people Israel “lost sheep” (Matthew 10:6, 15:24) and who are we to disdain those “sheep,” for it is obvious that even in their unbelief, God loves them with a great intensity and will violently protect them, even from those of us who are so arrogant as to believe their Father has cut them off from His care and compassion.

bk_kotelPaul says that all of Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26), though we in the Church cannot fathom this. But though the Jews have always been few in number (Deuteronomy 4:27) and suffered exile and dispersion (Leviticus 26:33), yet they shall be redeemed and live in peace (Micah 4:1-4), for God has declared that Israel shall eternally be a nation before Him (Genesis 17:7, Leviticus 26:43, Deuteronomy 4:26-27, 28:63-64).

It is within the power of the Jewish Messiah King, Yeshua, Jesus, to judge his Gentile Church and to cast out those of us who have failed in our duty to his people Israel in opposition to the prophesies and the commandments. The patriarchs were terrified of their powerful and very human brother for the vengeance he could exact upon them. How much more should we be terrified of an infinitely powerful and eternal King?

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:31 (NASB)

Tremble and sin not, reflect in your hearts while on your beds, and be utterly silent. Selah.

Psalm 4:4 (from the Siddur, nighttime blessings)

Let the world that has always hated the Jewish people learn to repent before it’s too late, and let each Christian who has hated or dismissed the Jewish people lie in his or her bed and tremble and be utterly silent before their King whose hand will always uplift Israel and whose greatest desire is to save his precious nation and redeem her as he has promised.

Good Shabbos.


Yom-KippurThese were the days before Yom Kippur. I was lonely and couldn’t figure out why. The loneliness had been there for months.

Things were good with my wife and kids. I’d been on the phone with my sisters and in close contact with my friends.

So, what was the source of this loneliness?

I was missing G-d.

-Jay Litvin
Commentary on Yom Kippur

We all miss God sometimes, if we choose to have an awareness of God at all. We’re all afraid of God sometimes, if we choose to be aware that God is a righteous judge. For many religious Jewish people at this special time of year, emotions can run high. Minds and hearts are turned toward God in a way that doesn’t have any sort of comparison in the Christian world.

Most Christians have little regard for Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. We’ve been taught that Jesus Christ atoned for our sins and we are free from sin and death through his grace.

Does that mean Christians never get lonely and miss God? Does that means Christians can’t get angry at God?

As Yom Kippur drew close, I continued to wonder what was taking place between G-d and me. I worried that this day of prayer and fasting would be void of the usual connection that Yom Kippur brings.

And then in a flash I realized that I was angry at G-d. And had been for some time. I was angry about my disease and I was angry that I was not yet healed. I was angry about my pain. And I was angry at the disruption to my life, the fear, the worry and anxiety that my disease was causing my family and those who loved and cared about me. I was angry about the whole thing, and He, being the boss of everything that happens in the world, was responsible and to blame.

And so, I entered Yom Kippur angry at G-d.

Actually, Jay Litvin had a lot of reasons, at least from a human perspective, to be angry at God. I won’t reveal more until the end of this missive, but think about it. Have you ever been angry at God? Have you ever thought God treated you unfairly?

Nevermind that you know God is perfect, and righteous, and without sin, and cannot make a mistake, and cannot be unfair. Even the best of Fathers sometimes seems unfair to his children. So it is between us and God.

I once knew an elderly Jewish gentleman who was angry at God. He blamed God for the Holocaust. He blamed God for the execution of six-million Jews and the incredible torture of so many more who had survived. He was already in his 90s when I knew him and he said that when he died, he was going to confront God and give God a piece of his mind.

I know. It sounds ridiculous. But it also sounds very human. If you felt as if God had done you some wrong, could you learn to forgive God?

Forgive God?

I prayed for G-d’s forgiveness, and in my prayer book I read the words that promised His forgiveness. He would forgive me, I read, because that was His nature. He is a forgiver. He loves me. He wants me to be close to Him. And so He forgives me not for any reason, not because I deserve it, but simply because that is who He is. He is merciful and forgives and wipes the slate clean so that we — He and I — can be close again for the coming year.

I read these words, nice words, yet my anger remained.

Then I again remembered the email. In his cynicism, my friend had hit the mark: I needed to forgive G-d. I needed to rid myself of my anger and blame for the sickness He had given me. I needed to wipe the slate clean so that He and I could be close once again.

But how? On what basis should I forgive Him? If He was human, I could forgive Him for His imperfections, His fallibility, His pettiness, His upbringing, His fragility and vulnerability. I could try to put myself in His shoes, to understand His position. But He is G-d, perfect and complete! Acting with wisdom and intention. How could I forgive Him?!

ForgivenessBut wouldn’t it be an affront to God to even consider that He needed our forgiveness, regardless of the circumstances of our lives, regardless of our hardships, regardless of how we have suffered and how those we love have suffered? Isn’t God, regardless of what has ever happened to us, immune from being forgiven because He is perfect and His will is perfect?

But maybe none of that really matters to those of us “on the ground,” so to speak. God certainly understands how faulty we are and how screwed up our thoughts and feelings can be, especially when we’re under a lot of stress, a lot of pain, a lot of anguish, and a lot of grief.

In the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is expected that Jewish people will pay tremendous attention to how they’ve lived during the past year, recount any incident where they may have injured or offended someone, and then make every effort to make amends to those people, if at all possible.

Sometimes the human need in us to forgive means when we feel hurt and there’s no one else to be angry at, we get angry at God, and in that anger, we need to forgive Him. Even though God doesn’t really need our forgiveness. Even though on a cosmic scale, we understand that He hasn’t done anything wrong and, being God, that He can’t do anything wrong.

It helps us to forgive. It helps us to heal inside. It helps to heal our relationship with God. And out of that, our relationships with everyone else heal, too.

And in the last minutes of Yom Kippur, out of my unbearable loneliness and separation from G-d, I found my ability to forgive. I forgave simply so that we — G-d and I — could be close again. So that we would return to the unity that is meant to be between us. Out my love for Him, my need of Him, my inability to carry on without Him I found the capacity somewhere in me. I reached out to Him in forgiveness and in that moment the pain and blame began to recede.

For me, Yom Kippur has not ended. This forgiveness business is not so easy as to be learned and actualized in a day. My anger and resentment, frustration and intolerance still flare, still cause damage. On my bad days it is hard for me to accept all that is happening, changing, challenging my life. But some new dynamic has entered the process. A softening. An acceptance. A letting go. A…. forgiveness.

For, you see, the last thing I want during the fragility of this time in my life is to be separate from G-d or from those whom I love or from the rising sun or a star-filled night.

Yom Kippur is a gift. It’s God giving us the opportunity to repair the gaps in our lives that stand between us and the people we love. Through forgiveness and asking for forgiveness, we can repair what we have broken in the past year (or anytime in the past). We don’t have to be alone. If we feel alone, much of the time, no one is to blame except us. If we feel the absence of God, it is definitely because we have separated ourselves from Him.

candleGod gave Jay Litvin the gift of forgiveness on Yom Kippur. He forgave God and he repaired the rift between them. God came close to Jay again. Love makes people unforgettable. Love makes God unforgettable. But until we forgive, we remember not the love, but its absence and the pain it causes. Yom Kippur is a reminder. We can forgive at any time. We can stop the loneliness and isolation at any time.

Thankfully, G-d has provided me with the capacity to forgive and, now, in these days since Yom Kippur, he has provided me with the opportunity to reveal that forgiveness. He knows that both He and I, and all those that He and I love, will eventually, continuously do unforgivable things to each other. And despite the pain we will cause each other, we will need to forgive each other.

To not forgive would be an unbearable breach of the unity of creation.

Jay’s article, like Yom Kippur, is a gift. I didn’t realize how dear and precious a gift until I read the very end.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children.

This year, Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Friday, September the 13th, and ends at sundown on Saturday the 14th. As the sun descends toward the western horizon late Saturday evening, will you know that you have been forgiven and that you have forgiven all others, especially God, with all your heart?

FFOZ TV Review: Exile and Redemption

tv_ffoz6_oneEpisode 06: Exile and redemption are two of the most significant Biblical concepts and in episode six viewers will learn that these two concepts play a major role in the job description of Messiah. It was the job of Messiah to bring redemption to Israel by ending their exile and gather them back to the land of Israel. While Messiah did bring a spiritual redemption at his first coming, he has some unfinished business to take care of upon his second return in the way of bringing a physical redemption to not only Israel but the entire world.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
episode 6: Exile and Redemption

The Lesson: What Does It Mean To Be Redeemed?

This lesson summoned a lot of material I recently read about and described in this blog. Toby Janicki explores what he called “The Mystery of Redemption”, which is far more than just what Scot McKnight in his book The King Jesus Gospel called “a plan for salvation.”

Toby, who was raised as a Christian, describes his own early understanding of terms such as “being saved” and “being redeemed.” Traditionally in the church, we are taught that Jesus died for our sins and that we have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb. But redeemed from what exactly? Typically, the answer is that we are saved or redeemed from the power of sin and any punishment in the afterlife.

But as McKnight says in his book, which I reviewed last month, and as Founder and President of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Boaz Michael stated in his presentation “Moses in Matthew,” there’s a lot more going on in the gospel message of redemption than we get in the common Christian viewpoint. The gospel message is a message directed at the Jewish people, and only through the redemption of national Israel and the return of the Jews from exile to their Land, will be people of the nations who are called by His Name, that is, we Christians, also be fully redeemed.

One of them whos name was Kleyofas answered. He said to him, “Are you the only one residing in Yerusalayim that does not know what has happened within it in these days?” He said to them, “What is it?” They told him, the incident of Yeshua the Notzri, who was a prophet mighty in works and in speech before God and before all the people. “But our high priests and elders arrested him for a death sentence and crucified him. We had hoped that he would ultimately redeem Yisrael, but today it has been three days since these things happened.”

Luke 24:18-21 (DHE Gospels)

Here we see two Jewish men who were disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) and whose hopes of redemption for Israel had been dashed to the ground. They believed Yeshua was the Messiah, but the fact that he died and was buried meant for them that he couldn’t be, because he had not lived to redeem the nation of Israel. I should note here that most Jewish people today deny that Jesus could be the Messiah for exactly the same reasons. These are people who deny the resurrection, the ascension, and that one day, Jesus will return to finish the Messianic mission.

But I’m getting ahead of myself or rather the program. Toby teaches that this scripture gives us our first clue in solving today’s mystery:

Clue 1: Messiah will redeem Israel from exile.

This is not only what Jewish people believed in the late Second Temple period but what religious Jews believe today. Messiah must come to redeem the Jewish people and to restore Israel. But exactly what does that mean? Most Christians don’t know, which is the importance of this TV episode. Where did the Jewish people get the idea that Messiah as redeemer was more than just about redemption from personal sin and what will that teach Christians in the church?

Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.”‘

Ezekiel 37:21-22, 26 (NASB)

The prophet Ezekiel is speaking of King Messiah who will return all of the Jewish people in exile to their Land, the Land of Israel. In addition, God will make a covenant of peace with Israel, which will last forever, and God will establish His sanctuary, the Temple, among the Jewish people in their nation forever.

This last part threw me a bit. Revelation 21:22 describes New Jerusalem as having no Temple in the sense of a structure, since God and the Lamb are the Temple. I suppose there’s another mystery we could explore here, but it’s not contained in this television episode, so it’ll have to wait for another time.

tv_ffoz6_threeWe know that God exiled the Jewish people and Israel at the end of the Second Temple period. Jewish sages believe this was because of the sin of baseless hatred among the Jewish people. But religious Jews also believe that God will one day redeem them by sending Messiah.

But there is a modern state of Israel. Jews can make aliyah at any time. Isn’t the exile over? Not according to Toby’s teaching. Israel may exist nationally but the restoration is not complete. There is no Davidic King on the Throne, there is no Sanhedrin court system, and there certainly is no Temple in Holy Jerusalem. The state of Israel has not been set right again and established as the head of the nations. The Temple is to be a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7), but not one stone of the Temple stands upon another, so there is no “house of prayer” for anyone right now.

Shocking as this may seem to many Christians, Messiah’s work was not finished at the cross, not by a long shot.

Toby uses 1 Peter 1:17-19 to illustrate that not only are the Jewish people in exile, but as long as our King, Jesus the Messiah, is not sitting on his throne is Jerusalem, all of his disciples, Jewish and Gentile, are also in exile. In effect, Messiah himself went into exile when Jerusalem was destroyed nearly two-thousand years ago, much as God went down into Egypt and ultimately into slavery with Jacob and the seventy members of his family (Genesis 46:3-4).

Although Toby didn’t mention this at all, I should say that as long as the current Israeli government negotiates with the Arab “Palestinian” people to carve up Israel including Jerusalem, and give it away in exchange for the Arabs ceasing all acts of terrorism, then Israel can hardly be said to be “redeemed” and even Jews in the Land may as well consider themselves in exile. In fact, Israel itself is still in a sort of exile. I imagine the Jewish people trying desperately to hold onto their homes in the so-called “territories” feel that way, too.

Toby also didn’t say this explicitly, but we must consider it to be the drive and desire of all Christians everywhere to see King Messiah restored to his throne in Jerusalem because until this happens, redemption is not complete. Yes, we are still “saved” from sin and condemnation, but being personally “saved” is only the beginning. The greatest works of Messiah are yet to come.

The scene shifts to Israel and to teacher and translator Aaron Eby who discusses what the word “redeemer” means in Hebrew and what it means to “redeem” a person or property.

Thus for every piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land.

‘If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.’

Leviticus 25:24-25

This portion of the Torah explains that the concept of redemption is a buying back or re-acquiring of property or even a person who has been a slave. The principle and meaning of ancestral property is well-defined in the Torah and if it is lost, there is a strong expectation that the original owner or his heirs will buy it back; will redeem it.

tv_ffoz6_aaron2Aaron brought up a question (sort of) I have recently explored. What if the owner dies and has no heirs? The answer lies in the concept of the leverite marriage. Aaron draws examples from scripture including Ruth and Boaz. Ruth the Moabitess was married to a Jewish man who died. Boaz was a relative, a kinsman redeemer, and by marrying Boaz and having a son with him, she restored her former husband’s lost family line.

Aaron also says that, when God liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He was acting as a redeemer and indeed, as God’s agent in this matter, Moses was also a redeemer. But another redeemer is to come after Moses.

Returning to Toby, we reach our second clue:

Clue 2: Redemption means buying back, re-acquiring, and setting things right.

That’s the function of Messiah in terms of the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and through redeeming them, he also redeems the rest of us who continue to have faith. Toby cites Paul in Romans 6:17-18 where Paul metaphorically uses the laws related to redeeming slaves in describing how believers in Jesus are redeemed from slavery to sin, which is also part of the Messianic mission.

Toby referred to another scripture as a way to get to the third clue, a passage that I also commented on less than a week ago.

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.

Deuteronomy 18:15

Toby identifies Jesus as “the prophet” and directs his viewers to Peter in Acts 3 and Stephen in Acts 7 as evidence that the Jewish believers also saw Jesus as “the prophet” spoken of by Moses. Thus we have the third clue.

Clue 3: Prophesy says that Messiah will be the prophet like Moses. Moses was the first redeemer and Messiah will be the ultimate redeemer.

Part of this third clue is dependent on another portion of scripture and I’ll get to that momentarily.

What Did I Learn?

Actually, some interesting stuff.

“Therefore behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.

Jeremiah 16:14-15 (NASB)

passover-artIt never occurred to me to consider the return of the Jewish people to their Land from the current exile as a sort of second Exodus, one that makes the first Exodus from Egypt pale by comparison. I started to think, especially in light of how most Christians have to see Jesus in all of the moedim as their only application, if a new meaning will be assigned to Passover in the Messianic Age, one that reminds the Jewish people not only of their redemption from Egypt, but their ultimate redemption from exile and the restoration of Israel as a united people and a sovereign nation. If the absence of our King on his throne means that even the Gentile disciples are in exile, along with the Jewish people, and along with Israel itself, then we should be crying out to Heaven, “How long, God? How long?”

The other thing I learned, and I’m not sure what to make of it, is that when Jerusalem is redeemed by Messiah taking up his throne, that Jews and Christians will see Jerusalem as their (our) city. Of course, Jerusalem is the Jewish city, the City of David, but how can we Christians lay claim to it in any sense?

I suppose because our King will be sitting on the Throne and the Temple in Jerusalem will finally be a house of prayer for all peoples. I don’t think that means we Gentiles get to live there, but if God is willing, may I see Messiah on his throne in Holy Jerusalem in those days, and may my sacrifices and burnt offerings be a sweet aroma to him.

I’ll review the next episode very soon.