Tag Archives: Tikkun Olam

Fish Out Of Water

FishOutofWaterA true master of life never leaves this world—he transcends it, but he is still within it.

He is still there to assist those who are bonded with him with blessing and advice, just as before, and even more so.

Even those who did not know him in his corporeal lifetime can still create with him an essential bond.

The only difference is in us: Now we must work harder to connect.

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

“The Son of David will not come till a fish is sought for an invalid and cannot be found.”

-Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a

The Son of David is a diminutive reference to the Messiah, who will be a descendent of the royal house of David, King of Israel. The diminutive reference is strange in itself, but even more strange is the contention that the coming of the Messiah is dependent on an invalid in search of an unfound fish. What did Rabbi Menachem Mendel see in this passage that could reflect on his present situation?

-Rabbi Eli Rubin
“Lisbon 1941: The Messiah, the Invalid, and the Fish:
The private journal of the Lubavitcher Rebbe reveals a dual vision for the future of humanity”
Chabad.org

My wife sent me the email version of Rabbi Rubin’s article about the Rebbe, the Messiah, the Invalid, and the Fish and I still can’t figure out why. Maybe she just thought I’d find it intellectually stimulating or maybe she was sending me a message about my faith in Jesus as Messiah.

I do find it stimulating, which is why I’m writing about it, but more than that, I think the Rebbe’s message about Messiah tells us something about ourselves.

But I’ll get to that in a moment. One of the things I found in the article and learned at some previous point in time is that at least within some streams of Judaism, there is no single scenario that is thought to bring the Messiah. As far as what the Rebbe was teaching he said that there were two different generations that could possibly see the Messiah come: one that was entirely worthy or one that was entirely unworthy.

Seems contradictory and unnecessarily complicated from a Christian point of view. We tend to think that the Messiah will come when he comes. It’s up to God, not us. We can’t do anything about it and we certainly can’t be “worthy” of his coming.

…as it is written:

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.”

Romans 3:10-11 (NRSV)

But then, as my wife has told me before, Christians and Jews think in fundamentally different ways. As I previously said, in certain areas of Judaism, it is thought that people have the ability to change the timing of Messiah’s arrival based on our collective behavior. That then lends itself to multiple circumstances by which Messiah could appear (or “return” from the Christian perspective):

Rabbi Menachem Mendel offers two explanations of the earlier passage, corresponding to these alternative scenarios. In the first, the redemption is well deserved due to the lofty station at which society has arrived; in the second, redemption is bestowed because the alternative is utter deterioration.

This brings us back to our invalid: The diminutive designation “Son of David” indicates that the redeemer is worthy of his messianic status only due to his lineage. Likewise, the generation to be redeemed is also deficient, suffering from the spiritual maladies of sin and moral degeneration.

At a time when the world was ailing, and the Holocaust was already underway, Rabbi Menachem Mendel confronted the paradoxical possibility of evil in the presence of G‑d. The cause of such spiritual illness, he wrote, is human forgetfulness. We can do evil only if we forget that we are in the presence of G‑d.

lisbon-to-new-yorkThe Rebbe’s commentary didn’t come out of a vacuum. The backdrop for all this was the Holocaust, World War Two, when the Rebbe and his wife were trying to leave Lisbon for the United States to escape Nazis in 1941. The time when the world went mad or as mad as anyone thought we could get up to that point.

“We can do evil only if we forget that we are in the presence of G‑d.”

Well, yes and no.

“Yes,” in the sense that when we believe we are doing “evil” or anything wrong, we cannot simultaneously be acutely conscious of the fact that God is watching over our shoulder, so to speak. It would be like a man cheating on his wife while his wife was in the same room. If we choose to sin, we must temporarily pretend that God isn’t watching in order not to be immediately seized with horrible guilt (of course if we are wired correctly in a moral and spiritual sense, we should experience guilt anyway, even without a direct awareness of the presence of God).

But it is also “no” in the sense that we do “evil” and do not recognize what we are doing is evil. People who operate within the bounds of what you might call “self-righteousness” are quite guilty of this and also quite unaware of their guilt. In fact, they might feel completely justified and even believe that God approves of their evil acts, calling their evil “good.”

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

2 Timothy 4:3-4

The Westboro Baptist Church is the most extreme example I can think of within “Christianity,” though I don’t count them as disciples of Christ. They perform heinous acts against grieving families of American military personnel who have died in the service of our country and believe it is somehow all for the glory of Jesus.

Of course, most believers commit such “evil” in far less spectacular ways but they are no more conscious of their wrongdoing than the aforementioned Westboro folks. Confront them if you will, but they’ll turn every argument you make against you (and that’s happened to me more than once) as if you, in attempting to uphold the Biblical principles of forgiveness, kindness, and compassion are making terrible Biblical errors and their own fire-breathing doctrine is the only way to please God.

That makes the following statement all the more ironic.

This is where the Talmudic fish comes in. Fish are a metaphor for the knowledge that we are ever submerged in the presence of G‑d. Just as a fish cannot live out of water, so the spiritual health of humanity can be preserved only if we are consciously aware of G‑d’s all-encompassing presence. It is at a moment that G‑d’s presence is utterly hidden—when no fish can be found for the invalid—that the redemption must arrive.

Ironic and true.

We live in a world where no fish can be found, when it seems as if the presence of God has completely left our world. Good literally is being called evil and evil is literally being called good in terms of the various social priorities and journalistic pronouncements we find daily in the popular media.

I keep expecting Jesus to come around the corner at any second, given what the Rebbe has said.

“Just as a fish cannot live out of water, so the spiritual health of humanity can be preserved only if we are consciously aware of G‑d’s all-encompassing presence.”

We are one sick and dying fish.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s second interpretation lays out the flip side of this vision. So long as the hand of G‑d has not yet been forced, and the redemption has not yet arrived, the burden of responsibility still lies on the shoulders of humanity. We can repair the world, so we must repair the world, ultimately bringing it to an era that is “entirely worthy” and ripe for redemption. In an era of human perfection, man will strive to lose all sense of ego, desiring to become utterly submerged within the divine self.

But maybe not completely dead (though I wouldn’t say we can possibly be “worthy”).

feeding_the_hungryAt least from a Jewish point of view, we can do something to help. Maybe we can’t actually summon the Messiah, which is what a Christian believes, but we can still be more “Messiah-like.” Some Christians used to wear those “WWJD” or “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets, but we can go one better and just do what Jesus would do in the world. What did he teach? Is the answer going to come as a big surprise?

Feed the hungry, visit the sick, comfort the grieving, help anyone hurting in whatever way they need help. Change someone’s flat tire. Volunteer to take “meals on wheels” to the elderly and the infirm. Pick a need and fulfill it. I don’t care which one. Just quit being a “sick fish” by going out of your way to hurt other people because that is your special or only way of “serving” God.

According to the Rebbe’s metaphor, the fish is “sick” for the love of God but as immersed as the fish is, the fish and the water aren’t ever going to be the same thing:

Similarly, the worthy invalid is “sick” with love for G‑d, desiring utter submergence but unable to cross the infinite divide separating man from G‑d.

The best we can do, and that’s only by the grace of God, is to imitate our Master in how we do good to others. Maybe that will bring the Messiah back sooner and maybe it won’t but it sure couldn’t hurt. In fact, it probably will do some good, if not in a cosmic sense, then at least in a down-to-earth human sense.

Four decades later, Rabbi Menachem Mendel delivered a public talk in which he explained that at every moment we face two very different visions of the future. On the one hand, we anticipate the imminent revelation of a new era of eternal good; on the other hand, we invest long-term commitment and energy into a more gradual transformational process, changing the world from the bottom up.

I don’t believe the world and the people in it are anywhere near “the imminent revelation of a new era of eternal good.” Looking at the news headlines for five minutes will tell you that humanity is no better now than at any time in the past, and some might argue that we’re getting worse all the time. That leaves the Rebbe’s “Plan B:” investing in a long-term commitment to gradually transform the world from the bottom up, one act of kindness at a time.

Multiple sources have been attributed to the famous quote, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” Whoever first said it knew what they were talking about. Sitting on your bottom and doing nothing isn’t actively “evil” but it does nothing to produce “good.”

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

-Edmund Burke

That’s pretty much it. How many “good men” did nothing while six-million Jews died? How many good men have done nothing while countless men, women, and children starved, or died in wars, or died in riots, or died due to political indifference to human rights?

Doing nothing won’t keep you safe and doing evil in the name of good is just as bad or worse.

If we are truly connected to God and truly love Him, then we have no choice but to also love human beings. God loves human beings…all of us, regardless of race, creed, color, nationality, language, and (gasp) religion. Like it or not, God loves the Muslim, the Taoist, the Buddhist, as well as God loves the Christian and the Jew. God loves us even though we screw up pretty much all the time, even the best of us.

If we restrict our love, then we are hardly being “Christ-like” and thus we’ve already tainted our response to God and our ability to do good in the world.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

Matthew 5:46

rocket-scienceThis isn’t rocket science. This isn’t esoteric and arcane knowledge hidden within the murky depths of some obscure part of the Bible. This is the “easy stuff.” Well, it’s easy in that it’s pretty easy to comprehend. Obviously given the state of certain areas of the religious blogosphere and various believing congregations, home groups, and families scattered across the landscape, it’s not really that easy to do, otherwise there’d be a power surge of constantly doing good in the world.

Take a look at the last time you talked to another person. Was it in kindness, indifference, or anger? If you’re a blogger (or you comment on blogs), what was the last topic you wrote or commented on? Were you encouraging and supportive? Were you insulting and accusatory? Given everything I’ve written so far, you should be able to quickly figure out if you’re doing the will of the Master in the world or the opposite.

Do not bring us into the power of error, nor the power of transgression and sin, nor into the power of challenge, nor into the power of scorn. Let not the Evil Inclination dominate us. Distance us from an evil person and an evil companion. Attach us to the Good Inclination and to good deeds and compel our Evil Inclination to be subservient to You. Grant us today and every day grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us.

-from the Siddur

You’re either a fish in the water immersed into the reality of God or you’re a fish out of water (Marco Polo). If you’re out, then you’re dying and you don’t even know it. You think you’re in a vast ocean when in fact, your tiny little puddle is evaporating like a raindrop in the Arizona desert sun in August. You don’t have much time.

I don’t believe people will ever be “worthy” enough for the age of Messiah to come. I think our world and the people in it will continue to degrade until he either comes or we destroy ourselves, eating each other alive. But those of us who are disciples of the Master can continue to strive to be a little more like him every day. In that way, maybe he will find at least a few people who have faith when he finally returns, may it be soon and in our day.

 

How Will Christians Perfect The World?

mikdoshIn “Laws of Kings”, chapter 11, topic 4, Rambam explains that the true Messiah (Mashiach) will bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zephaniah 3:9. In the words of Rambam: “He [the true Messiah] will perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G-d together, as it is written, ‘For I [G-d] shall then make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all call upon the Name of G-d and serve Him with one purpose.’”

-from “What is the role of Gentiles in bringing the world to perfection?
AskNoah.org

With respect, the point is, I think, that although Christianity and Islam are not true, they have played a part in the Divine scheme for the redemption of the whole of humanity by spreading some sort of ethical monotheism involving an albeit incorrect idea of Messiah, Torah and Mitzvot. Although Islam and Christianity are part of the overall process leading to the redemption their imperfect ethical monotheism will be rectified through the adoption of the seven laws.

-quoted from mesora.org

This “meditation” bridges my recent blog posts Provoking Zealousness and Practicing Messianic What? Now that I think about it, I’m sure Distinctions and Messiah and the Temple of God also factor in.

It’s an interesting question. “What is the role of Gentiles in bringing the world to perfection?” It’s asked from an Orthodox Judaism perspective and particularly from the viewpoint of the Chabad as addressing Noahides (rather than Christians). I’m sure the answer is different when addressing Christianity, but let’s see what the Chabad has to say about Noahides perfecting the world.

“He [the true Messiah] will perfect the entire world”

From this we see that the culmination of Mashiach’s tasks (after he has become confirmed as “definitely Mashiach”) is his activity toward the rectification of the world and of the Gentile nations, not his activity for the perfection of Israel’s avodah [Divine service] through the observance of the Torah in tranquility. Why should specifically this be his main innovation?

In earlier eras, such as in the time of [Kings] Shlomo [Solomon] and Chizkiyahu [Hezekiah], Israel had already experienced the observance of the Torah in tranquility, even if not as completely as will be the case in the era of Mashiach. A state of perfection in the life of the Gentile nations, however, has never [yet] existed. (Source: Sefer HaSichos 5748 / 1988)

From the title of the original article, it seems as if we Gentiles have a role to play in the perfection of the world. The question actually reminded me of Jordan Levy’s recent article, “The Crowning Jewels of the Nations” (published in Messiah Journal, Issue 112) which discusses the Gentile Christian’s role in the redemption of Israel. However the Chabad responds by indicating that the Messiah will come to perfect the world (not just Israel). But there’s more.

This statement has halachic [Torah Law] implications, because (a) Jews should believe that Mashiach will perfect the entire world, and (b) Jews should endeavor to influence the nations of the world to observe the Seven [Noahide] Commandments which they have been given – as a foretaste and preparation for the perfection of the world by Mashiach. (Source: Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIII)

rainbow-forestWhile Levy suggests that Christians have a vital and unique role is supporting Jewish return to Torah and God to thus “summon” the Messiah’s return, which will then lead to perfection of the world, Chabad reverses the order and says that Judaism and the Messiah will lead the Gentiles to perfection through the Noahide Laws.

In other words, from the Chabad’s perspective, Gentiles have no active role in perfecting the world either before or after the Messiah comes. We are just here to be acted upon by the Messiah and the Jewish people, and to be encouraged to comply with the Noahide laws as part of how Messiah will draw us all to the ways of peace. This, according to the article, is the result:

…[motivating all the nations] to serve G-d together…and serve Him with one purpose

Similarly, before the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, the Jews first had to be “like one man, with one heart” [as explained by Rashi on Exodus 19:2]. (Source: Likkutei Sichos, Shavuos, 5747 [1987])

“To serve Him” signifies prayer. This phrase thus echoes the prophetic promise [Isaiah 56:7], “…for My House [the Holy Temple] shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” (Source: Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX)

I was hoping there might be some common ground between how some factions in Messianic Judaism and some factions within Orthodox Judaism see the role of Gentiles, but I guess that was too much to ask for. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Orthodox Judaism, as do all Judaisms, has a good reason to back away from the idea that non-Jews could contribute anything positive to the world pre-Messiah. Messianic Judaism, by definition, must engage the “Messianic Gentile” and all other Christians, as co-heirs of “the Kingdom of Heaven,” and because of that, they see the Bible and Talmud through different eyes that allow some flexibility when defining the Gentile role.

While all of the traditional Judaisms define Jews as different but not superior to Gentiles, in my previous interactions with the folks at AskNoah.org (we’ve exchanged a few emails in the past), it seems important for the Jewish administration of the site to remain in control of when, where, and how Noahides understand their role and operate within the Noahide framework. On the other hand, how different is that from when James and the Jerusalem Council were debating and establishing “halachah” in relation to the non-Jewish disciples of the Master as they entered “the Way” in droves? You certainly wouldn’t want a bunch of recently pagan Gentiles starting to make rules and decisions about a wholly Jewish religious movement that uniquely allowed Gentile membership, would you (please detect the note of irony)?

But times have changed. Judaism and Christianity are now completely different religious movements. Only through Messianism (and arguably Hebrew/Jewish Roots) is there any degree of overlap and as we’ve seen in an endless stream of blogosphere debates, the overlap can be a sort of “demilitarized zone” where just about anything can happen.

In the days of James, Peter, John, and Paul, the Jerusalem Council was the final authority and the representatives of Messiah on Earth. Although Paul and James sometimes didn’t agree, Paul deferred to the Council since he was under authority, just as the Apostles were. That authority governed not only the Jewish disciples but the Gentiles as well. But no more.

up_to_jerusalemToday, Chabad (at least as far as AskNoah.org is concerned) administers this area governing the Noahides and those Gentiles who claim that status are under their authority.

In Messianic Judaism and/or Hebrew/Jewish Roots, there is no single, central authority. Yes, there are some governing bodies in Messianic Judaism (to the best of my knowledge, they don’t exist in Hebrew Roots), but their influence is localized and different congregations/worship groups adhere to different “umbrella” authorities.

In (Protestant) Christianity we say our “authority” is Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but that lacks a certain “concreteness” that is normally provided by human beings. Those of us who attend a church or other congregation, submit to the authority of the Pastor and board of directors or elders or deacons, but again, that’s pretty local. Of course, some denominations have a overseeing body that sets standards for their churches.

Who are we as non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah? What is our role relative to tikkun olam and as it is applied to the Jewish people, and in preparing the world for the Messiah’s return? Jordan Levy’s article has a pretty good answer but that answer might not “fit” everyone.

What do you think?

Provoking Zealousness

zealous-torah-studyWhen Gentile Christians come into a more Jewish understanding of their faith, the initial response is excitement at the clarity it brings to the Scriptures and the person of Messiah. After a period of time, however, questions of identity arise as they are immersed in a heavily Israel and Judeo-centric environment where everything, including the synagogue liturgy, speaks almost exclusively of the Jewish people and their relationship to God. Understandably this would cause certain insecurities to arise, and perhaps even a feeling of: “What am I? Chopped liver?”

-Jordan Levy
“The Crowning Jewels of the Nations”
from Messiah Journal, issue 112 (Winter 2013/5773), pg 14
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

I had the opportunity to meet and get to know Jordan at FFOZ’s 2012 Shavuot Conference last Spring, so whenever I read something she’s written, I can “hear” her voice in my head, as if she’s reciting everything to me. I guess that makes reading “The Crowning Jewels of the Nations” (I commented on the first time I heard her say that phrase in this meditation) seem more personal.

Just yesterday, I published a morning meditation on distinctions (which I wrote before reading Jordan’s article) and now I can see how I can better build up what I’ve been trying to say by borrowing from Jordan’s perspective on the same matter. To be fair, I’ve been pondering all this since the last time I saw her and the other FFOZ writers and scholars, and the portrait that they have been painting before my eyes over the past eight months or so has become continually more clear and meaningful. In speaking of tikkun olam, I can also hear my own voice as I read Jordan’s words.

One thing we must clarify from the start in this movement, which contains within it a mixed multitude, is the healthy distinction between Jew and Gentile. But why is there a distinction at all? And why should we be so zealous and stalwart in trying to maintain it? Because if we do not, then the Gentiles will not be able to participate in the redemption of Israel and the redemption of the world at all!

-Levy, pg 14

What? Jordan is saying that we Gentile believers must maintain a specific and distinct identity from the believing Jews in the Messianic community in order to fulfill our unique role in performing tikkun olam. In other words, by some Gentiles mimicking Jewish identity, they are excluding themselves from the very purpose God designed them (us) to fulfill.

Most Christians in most churches don’t have any sort of problem in maintaining an identity distinction separate from the Jews but neither do most of them (us) believe that they have any special duty to the Jews because of that distinction. Interestingly enough, I wrote about such a Christian duty just a few days ago, but Jordan points to something even bigger.

Then the sons of foreigners will build your walls and their kings will serve you. Though I struck you in My indignation, in My favor have I been compassionate to you.

Isaiah 60:10 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

In Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet, saying: “Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.” The natural and honest conclusion that is reached from this verse is that the Gentile task is rebuilding the fallen walls of Israel, creating fortification and security in order that Israel might complete their task, which is, according to the same prophet, to rebuild the ancient ruins, to raise up the foundations of many generations, and to repair the breach (Isaiah 58:12). Jews cannot do this if the Gentiles do not first build the protective walls.

-Levy, pg 15

Given the context, I don’t imagine we’re talking about groups of Christians rebuilding literal walls around Jerusalem, so what are we rebuilding?

Gentiles have the unique opportunity to provide comfort for the aching Jewish heart and soul. With a long, brutal history of persecution – inquisitions, blood libels, pogroms, holocausts – from the non-Jewish world, believing Gentiles are provided with the mission, as non-Jews themselves, of rectifying past wrongs and fulfilling the words spoken by HaShem: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed;” or by King David: “You made me the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.” (Psalm 18:43)

-Levy, pg 16

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAChristians cannot play out our role in history and in the economy of God’s plan for us of repairing our damaged relationship with the Jews if we insist on fusing our identity with the Jewish people. In doing so, we would not only prevent the Jews from accomplishing their Holy tasks, we would be undermining our own. Often Jews in the Messianic movement (and Christians like me) complain that Christianity, even within Hebrew Roots, has a long history of attempting to supersede the unique Jewish role and identity, but the door swings both ways according to Jordan.

However, in just this same manner, Jews cannot replace or supersede Gentiles within God’s master plan either. Jews do not possess the sole power of bringing about God’s will and kingdom; this is a joint effort that requires each distinct group to play their own distinct role.

-ibid

Not that Jews really desire to “supersede” the Christian role in “God’s master plan” but it does add some perspective in terms of just how important our role is and how so much hinges upon the Gentile Christian maintaining his/her identity in order to fulfill God’s will in summoning the Kingdom of Heaven within our midst.

That may require more than a little sacrifice on our part. I used to entertain the fantasy of making aliyah to Israel (this was quite a number of years ago and I have since abandoned that ambition). After all, my wife is Jewish and if she made aliyah, as her spouse, naturally, I would be allowed to live in Israel with her. For those of us who, for whatever reason, are drawn to Judaism, Jewish thought and philosophy, and a love of the Land of Israel, there is a desire to not only walk her hills and explore her springs and deserts, but to actually live there and be part of supporting the Land.

Alas, for most of us, it is not to be, for that is not our place.

I desperately wish to make clear that, according to Scripture, the Gentile calling is not to try to get to the land of Israel for themselves, their call is to bring the Jewish people to the land! As the prophesy states: “Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.” (Isaiah 49:22)

-Levy, pg 17

Jordan calls the Gentile Christians to be like “wall builders surrounding the Jewish people like a fortress,” evoking images of Christian protector over the people and nation of Israel. Given current political realities, at least in the United States, it seems difficult to imagine how we could make that come true unless we could somehow override the present direction of our Government toward Israel and Middle East policy.

However, there may be another road available.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Romans 11:11 (ESV)

Many non-Jews have quoted the Romans 11:11 clause to “making the Jews jealous” as their main mandate as Gentile believers, and many have attempted to do this through various different methods; few have been successful. Understandably, living a life with the purpose of making people turn green with envy is not a covetous calling for someone who loves the LORD and loves his people. This word from Paul, let’s be honest, seems somewhat unethical when we read it in this English translation. However, the Greek word “zelos” is translated into Hebrew as “kin’ah,” which means “zealousness.” So actually, Paul’s words should really be understood as bringing Jews to zealousness. This is a mission that is a lot easier to comprehend and enact.

-Levy, pg 18

Zealousness? Zealousness about what? I can’t speak to Jordan’s comparison of the Greek and Hebrew words, but given the context, I’d have to say, zealousness toward Torah, toward Israel, and toward God. When I first heard Jordan talk about this last May, as I indicated above, I took it personally. I’m a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife, so if I’m supposed to inspire a zealousness for Torah in the Jewish people, where better to start than my Jewish family?

Easier said than done, since as you probably know, there are often more available avenues to inspiring strangers than members of your own family or even your own hometown.

And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.

Mark 6:4-5 (ESV)

long-distance-runnerIf even Jesus found that a prophet has little honor in his own hometown, then how much more difficult will the “ordinary Christian” find it to provoke zealousness within his family?

And yet our witness to the Jewish people is not without its rewards, even if we see no appreciable fruit in this lifetime, we know we have served God as He desired and “run the race” as He has commanded. We have served and obeyed the voice of our Master.

Those who work to live in their identity yet who provide and support a Jewish space for Jews to enter and learn about and worship their Messiah, I put in the classification of “the crowning jewels of the nations.” These are people who are a blessing and are repairers of the world. Their humility makes them great heroes of faith that are an inspiration to all who know them. They are tzaddikei hagoyim (the righteous of the nations) who will be honored not only in this life, but in the life to come.

May HaShem bless and keep you as you continue to bless and work alongside your fellow laborers in rebuilding the walls of the fallen tent of David, the house of Jacob.

-Levy, pp 20-21

I know it probably seems like I just copied and pasted all of Jordan’s article into this blog post, but actually I quoted from just a small fraction of her missive. I encourage you to read everything she wrote, as well as peruse the writings of the many other fine authors and scholars who have contributed to the current issue of Messiah Journal

May you find illumination within its pages, just as I have.

Read another of my reviews of Jordan’s writing in the “meditation,” In the Name of the Lord…Yehoshua?

Inspiring Hope

moshiach-ben-yosefThe Jewish people believe in what’s called the End of Days. This isn’t the final end of the world – but merely the end of history as we know it. After the End of Days the world will continue as usual, with the big exception that there will be world peace.

As the End of the Days approach, there are two paths that the world could take. The first is filled with kindness and miracles, with the Messiah “given dominion, honor and kinship so that all peoples, nations and languages would serve him; his dominion would be an everlasting dominion that would never pass, and his kingship would never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14) This scenario could be brought at any moment, if we’d just get our act together!

The other path is described as Messiah coming “humble and riding upon a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). In this scenario, nature will take its course, and society will undergo a slow painful deterioration, with much suffering. God’s presence will be hidden, and his guidance will not be perceivable.

According to this second path, there will be a valueless society in which religion will not only be chided, it will be used to promote immorality. Young people will not respect the old, and governments will become godless. This is why the Midrash says, “One third of the world’s woes will come in the generation preceding the Messiah.” (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Handbook of Jewish Thought”)

“End of Days”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series
Aish.com

This probably sounds a little different than how Christians understand the “end times,” particularly the interpretation of Zechariah 9:9, but if you click the link I provided and continue to read, you’ll see there are a lot of similarities between the Jewish and Christian “end times scenario.” One thing I’m particularly interested in is that, from the Jewish perspective, the “End of Days” isn’t the end of the world. Some Christians I’ve talked to believe that when Jesus comes, and after all of the stuff that happens in the Book of Revelation, the Earth will be destroyed, all the Christians will go to Heaven, and everyone else will burn eternally in Hell.

But the Jewish point of view reads more like how I understand John’s revelation. The people of God don’t go to Heaven, “Heaven” comes down to them (us).

Another interesting thing (for me, anyway) is how we seem to have a choice as to which road to take. A world filled with kind and just people who give Messiah “dominion, honor, and kinship” and with “all peoples, nations and languages” serving him, will merit a world of everlasting dominion by the Messiah, but only “if we’d just get our act together!”

That doesn’t seem very likely. The alternate choice seems to be the one we see unfolding before us at the moment:

According to this second path, there will be a valueless society in which religion will not only be chided, it will be used to promote immorality. Young people will not respect the old, and governments will become godless. This is why the Midrash says, “One third of the world’s woes will come in the generation preceding the Messiah.”

That is a very good description of the world we live in today…and it is also the world that we merit by our action or rather, our lack of action. However, the Aish Rabbi also provides a message of hope.

Despite the gloom, the world does seem headed toward redemption. One apparent sign is that the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel and made it bloom again. Additionally, a major movement is afoot of young Jews returning to Torah tradition.

By the way, Maimonides states that the popularity of Christianity and Islam is part of God’s plan to spread the ideals of Torah throughout the world. This moves society closer to a perfected state of morality and toward a greater understanding of God. All this is in preparation for the Messianic age.

The Messiah can come at any moment, and it all depends on our actions. God is ready when we are. For as King David says: “Redemption will come today – if you hearken to His voice.”

We have hope for the redemption yes, but what will rouse us out of our world of darkness and despair into that light and hope?

Just as when the world was created — it was first dark, followed by light.

-Shabbos 77b

Reb Tzadok HaKohen (.‫ (צדקת הצדיק – קע‬elaborates upon the theme of this Gemara. When Hashem wants to shower a person with goodness and blessings, He waits for the person to daven and to ask for this benefit. In order to motivate the person to call out in prayer, Hashem will direct a certain element of distress or some sort of fear in his direction in order for the person to call out to Him.

light-ohrDaf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
Commentary on Shabbos 77b

It would certainly seem as if Hashem, as if God were directing elements of distress or fear into our world and waiting for us to daven, to pray, to call out to Him. How can we, as people of faith, conclude otherwise?

But a word of caution.

what does pres mean Gd has called the children home. their place is w/ their parents not at the heavenly throne. we must object 2 suffering

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
on twitter

Some Christians have given in to the temptation to use tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings to say some hurtful things. They say these children were murdered to punish our nation for various sins, including some states allowing gay people to marry, that God “isn’t allowed in our schools,” and because abortion is legal in our country.

On the other hand, Rabbi Boteach is telling us that the death of innocent children makes no sense, is not desired by God, and must be resisted and objected to with every last bit of our strength, will, and compassion.

Frankly, given the choice, I’d rather go with Rabbi Boteach’s interpretation than what some of these Christians have said (including our President).

I was thrilled yesterday to get an email from my reclusive friend, Daniel Lancaster. Many of you know him from his books and especially as the author of the massively popular Torah Club volumes. He is a great writer and leader. His congregation, Beth Immanuel in Hudson, Wisconsin, has launched a new initiative acting with tangible love for Messiah to repair one broken place and assist in the lives of some people whose world is splintered and needs mending.

Beth Immanuel has adopted a worker, a Messianic Jewish woman who is putting her life on the line and her love into action in Uganda: Emily Dwyer.

They have launched a website and a plan to raise support to sustain Emily’s work in Uganda. They are baking challah bread, with Emily’s own recipe, as an ongoing fundraiser.

Recently, Emily spoke at Beth Immanuel and two of her messages are posted online. You can hear Emily Dwyer speak at this link (and be inspired — she is a speaker worth listening to).

You can see more about “Acts for Messiah,” the partnership between Beth Immanuel, some other affiliate congregations, and Emily Dwyer’s community in Uganda at ActsForMessiah.org.

-Derek Leman
“An MJ Congregation Acts for Messiah”
Messianic Jewish Musings

We can resist. We can fight back. We can strive for goodness in our world and promote hope in the people around us, regardless of where we may find ourselves. This message is also reflected in the commentary of the Aish Rabbi.

In many ways, the world is a depressing place. But life is like medicine. Imagine a person with a serious internal disease. Taking the right medication will detoxify the body by pushing all the impurities to the surface of the skin. The patient may look deathly ill – all covered in sores. But in truth, those surface sores are a positive sign of deeper healing.

The key is to maintain the hope of redemption.

How can we hasten the coming of the Messiah? The best way is to love all humanity generously, to keep the mitzvot of the Torah (as best we can), and to encourage others to do so as well.

HopeTo promote hope, we must have hope. To inspire the will to do good, we must possess that will and we must do good. This is the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity. God has allowed a world of darkness and we are responsible for lighting it up.

“Know the G-d of your fathers and serve Him with a whole heart.” (Divrei Hayamim I, 28:9) Every sort of Torah knowledge and comprehension, even the most profound, must be expressed in avoda. I.e. the intellectual attainment must bring about an actual refinement and improvement of character traits, and must be translated into a deep-rooted inward attachment (to G-d) – all of which is what the Chassidic lexicon calls”avoda”.

“Today’s Day”
Monday, Tevet 6, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

I can’t tell you why bad things happen. Sure, sometimes God may be trying to get our attention, but my radar into God’s motivations isn’t particularly accurate or insightful. I also don’t think it’s particularly helpful to point fingers and place blame upon political parties, advocacy groups, or any other folks. Yes, I’ll probably still complain about politics and people from time to time, but when I actually want to do the will of my Father who is in Heaven, then I must actually do for other people.

James, the brother of the Master, famously said that faith without works is dead. If that’s true, then complaining about the inequities, hardships, and tragedies of life, with or without faith, is also deader than a doornail.

Choose doing. Choose life. Inspire hope. If we continue to help repair the world, the “end of days” and coming of Messiah will take care of themselves.

Rosh Hashanah: Are We Ready To Approach God?

The words we say are spoken in the heavens. And yet higher. For they are His words, bouncing back to Him.

On Rosh Hashanah, we say His words from His Torah recalling His affection for our world; He speaks them too, turning His attention back towards our earthly plane.

We cry out with all our essence in the sound of the shofar; He echos back, throwing all His essence inward towards His creation. Together, man and G‑d rebuild creation.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Cosmic Mirror”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

The process of Tikkun Olam or “Repairing the World” is well understood in Jewish thought and I’ve blogged on this topic many times before. I think it is a perfect way for both Jews and Christians to understand our relationship with God, especially as Rosh Hashanah is nearly upon us, and God has His “cosmic finger” poised over the universal “Reset button,” so to speak.

And yet, during the most holy time on the Jewish religious calendar, the world is a very troubled place. The U.S. Consulate in Libya was recently attacked and Egyptian protesters mounted an assault on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. And while the nuclear threat Iran poses against Israel seems terribly imminent, the U.S. citizens and government largely oppose intervening to defend Israel.

Even within the community of faith in Christ, there are many different voices who actively oppose one another and malign fellow believers, even as God urges us to establish peace with our brother and the Messiah’s law requires that we love one another.

How can we say that we are “partnering” with God in repairing His Creation when we can’t even resolve simple disagreements between ourselves?

The person who is truly fortunate in this world is the one who has authentic trust in the Almighty. He is able to sustain a feeling of well-being when things go well as well as when things are challenging. He experiences a sense of well-being whether he has a lot or a little. He experiences this well-being whether people meet his expectations or whether they don’t. His well-being is constant, because his trust in the Almighty gives him the awareness that his life has a plan that is specially designed for his welfare. The nature of that plan becomes clearer all the time. The reality of what occurs in his life is what Hashem in His infinite wisdom knows is ultimately best for his unique spiritual needs.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Being Truly Fortunate, Daily Lift #575″
Aish.com

I’ve talked about trusting God before, but it’s a lesson that needs to be repeated since, after all, we human beings don’t trust each other very well, let alone an infinite and invisible God. How can we trust Him to provide us our every need when millions go hungry every day; when millions don’t even have access to clean drinking water; when millions are sick, starving, suffering under terrible oppression, raped, tortured, and murdered?

ForgivenessYet we people of faith who live comfortably in the United States or other well-fed Western nations, argue about our rights and our theologies and our doctrines while our stomachs are full, our homes are adequately warmed or cooled, we drive to and from our jobs in cars, and no one threatens to kill us because of the God we claim as our own.

Rabbi Freeman describes God and Heaven as a sort of “mirror” which reflects the holiness of the words of Torah back upon the faithful ones who utter them in the synagogues during these special “Days of Awe.” I’d like to suggest that God is also a mirror, not just of our holiness, but for everything else that we are, including the ugliness of our greed, selfishness, narcissism, envy, and hypocrisy. Dream not of today and your comforts, pleasures, and desires, but instead stare into that mirror and realize, like the beautiful and self-indulgent Dorian Gray, there is a consequence for every unkind word we speak, for every vengeful thought we allow to be expressed within us, for every time we seek our needs at the expense of another.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:15-19 (ESV)

If I were to reword the last set of statements from the Master and address them toward all of us, I might say, “Disciples of the Jewish Messiah, do you love me more than your own theological baloney and self-serving doctrines?”

I wonder what we would answer if he caught us in one of the recent blogosphere “debates” arguing over which theology of ours is the “greatest” and he chastised us all for our unloving attitudes and lack of respect for one another?

For many Christians, Rosh Hashanah is just another day in the life and it does not register on the calendars of most churches and believers in Jesus. But for those of us among the nations who feel somehow connected to the “Jewishness” of Jesus and seek an affinity with the origins of our faith, we should be paying attention to God and our own frailty, not to our rights and our wants. We should be intensely aware that Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown this coming Sunday, and an accounting will be asked of us by God. God will ask us to explain why we failed Him so many times over the course of the year. He will not ask us our opinion of why we believe someone else we don’t like may have failed God. Pay attention to your own eyes and let God take care of the splinter in your brother’s eye.

With such an awesome and majestic encounter before us, how should we be preparing our spirits to enter the Presence of the King? We’ve had an entire month to soften our hearts toward God and our fellow human being. Are we ready or have we been wasting our time on futile pursuits?

God is waiting for us. How shall we approach Him?

Finding My Metaphor

Ten times a day repeat these dynamic words, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) (Stop reading and repeat them NOW slowly and confidently.)

Ten times each day, practice the following affirmation, repeating it out loud if possible. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13) Repeat those words NOW. That magic statement is the most powerful antidote on earth to inferiority thoughts.

Put yourself in God’s hands. To do that simply state, “I am in God’s hands.” Then believe you are NOW receiving all the power you need. “Feel” it flowing into you. Affirm that you are in God’s hands that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) in the form of adequate power to meet life’s demands.

Remind yourself that God is with you and nothing can defeat you. Believe that you now RECEIVE power from him.

-Norman Vincent Peale
from his book The Power of Positive Thinking
Chapter 1 “Believe in Yourself” (pp 13-14)

This is a continuation of the themes introduced in my blog posts Learning Acceptance and Practicing Stillness. It has been suggested to me recently that I need to learn the difference between what’s important and what’s not important, and then let go of what doesn’t warrant my time, energy, and worry. I tend to make myself busy and then keep myself that way. I even look at relaxing as sort of a “task” and assign it a certain amount of time. Often, when I finally get to bed, I’m exhausted. Then I don’t get enough sleep, get up early, and start all over again.

Something’s got to give.

As part of this “suggestion,” I’ve been given a bit of “homework” (another task) to do. I’m supposed to read Norman Vincent Peale’s classic tome from which I quoted a few moments ago. Naturally, I’ll see this assignment through as I do all my obligations (sounds grim, doesn’t it?) but I have a problem. I hate inspirational books.

Reading Peale’s book isn’t much different than reading other material of a similar vein. There are no end of inspirational blogs on the web, such as morningcoach.com and Dumb Little Man and although I read them from time to time, they don’t do very much for me. I find them just too “fluffy” and “phony” sounding.

More to the point, I don’t find them very practical. Inspirational material almost never meets the person where they are starting from but rather, paints a sort of idealized picture of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” just as “easy as pie.” Regardless of whether you’re trying to learn a sport or recovering from a horrible plane crash, these little “sound bytes” of enthusiasm approach the audience’s conflicts in fundamentally the same way. Worse, the comments written in response are almost always stuff (fluff) like, “this helped me so much” or “I tried your suggestion and it was amazing.” No one writes anything like, “I tried what you said and fell flat on my face, ending up a thousand times worse off than I was before.”

Am I being cynical?

Although Peale’s work has been criticized on a number of levels, the vast majority of reviews on “Positive Thinking” are…positive. But although I’ve only read chapter 1 so far, I have a problem with Peale’s approach, especially his use of scripture. Take a look at the quote from the beginning of this blog post again. Do you see my problem? What about the context of what’s being said in those passages from the Bible?

One of the issues I have with some Bible studies is that they tend to take one or two lines from the Bible and build an entire theology around them. It’s as if the words weren’t part of a conversation or an overall Biblical background, but instead, the cornerstone of a complete way of thinking and behaving. Did Paul intend for one sentence in his letter to the Romans to be the focus of his entire message? Was Philippians 4:13 supposed to be a Christian mantra? And when Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21 [ESV]), was he really saying that all Christians “are NOW receiving all the power” they need to accomplish their goals?

And yet, I can’t deny that a lot of people say that reading and studying his book has helped them. I also can’t deny (though I find it hard to grasp) that lots of people find inspirational blogs, books, tapes, and videos helpful in improving their day-to-day lives. There really is nothing new in this material from one source to another. It all seems to say the same things but in different ways (I feel that way about many of the blogs I write, too). It’s no secret that “you are what you think” and this philosophy is the basis for the “positive affirmations” you’ll find in Peale’s book as well as in many other inspirational materials. It all seems so easy, but for me, it’s also so hard to swallow.

Shifting scenes for a moment, most of you may not know that my Mom (Hi, Mom) is a periodic reader of this blog (no pressure). Having perused some recent posts that have expressed my usual angst, she responded in part, like this:

I have read quite a few of your blogs, but not nearly all of them. Although I enjoy reading them you make religion so hard.

Here is what I think not about what you write but about what I believe.

Re read John 3/16 and beyond. It says it all for me.

The church we belong to is like a family, Not to say we haven’t had our ups and downs like families do. Maybe were like a family because most of us are from somewhere else with no relatives near. When Dad had both knees done and I had my surgery. lots of our friends showed up and just sat in the waiting room. We have a prayer chain that prays for the persons who are having difficulties. Of course we know God answers prayers, but maybe not the way we want him too. I love the fellowship that I have with other Christians. It didn’t happen like a fire cracker going off. It came slowly like most good things do.

I send this e-mail with much love. Just wanted to get my two cents in, but do keep writing there are people you are helping. I’m one of them.

Love Mom.

Thanks, Mom.

Naturally, I was captured by the words, “you make religion so hard.” In a later email, Mom told me that:

My faith is so easy, I only have to trust and believe. Because of my faith I will try to do good, which at times I fail miserly and I’m happy that I have more. But I’m a firm believer in everyone has to do what they have to do.

I can’t argue against what Mom says, but as most of you know, it’s hard for me to view religion as easy. But then, is it religion or faith we’re talking about? Is faith easy?

Faith, in terms of accepting the existence of God and the Messiahship of Jesus, isn’t exactly “easy” but it’s quite a bit more approachable than some of the other issues I grapple with such as trust, which isn’t the same as faith, fellowship, and reconciling my Christianity within the context of intermarriage. Digging down into this mud-pie, I find that what I’m really afraid of is getting too comfortable. There are too many Christians (and I suppose too many people in other religious traditions) who just accept what they’re told, never question it, and set their spiritual journey on cruise control. When you take your hands off the wheel, you have no part in where you end up. I suppose letting God take control and “giving it all to Him” is a common refrain in many churches, but did God create us to be little Christian robots with no will of our own and no participation in our relationship with Him? Aren’t we supposed to struggle?

Maybe I don’t like inspirational books and blogs because they suggest that everything is easy and struggle free and that all problems have perfect solutions. If there’s no struggle with life and no struggle with God, where is the spark in that life? Yes, I want peace, and I want to let go of needless worries, but I don’t want to be in a coma. How am I supposed to approach the “peace beyond all understanding” without feeling as if I’ve completely dumbed down my life into a series of Biblical platitudes?

There is only one thing that can put you further ahead than success, and that is surviving failure.

When you are successful, you are whole and complete. That is wonderful, but you cannot break out beyond your own universe.

When you fail, you are broken. You look at the pieces of yourself lying on the ground and say, “This is worthless.”

Now you can escape. The shell is broken, the shell of a created being. Now you can grow to join the Infinite.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Getting Ahead with Failure”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I’m not all that keen on being broken up in order to find freedom, but is Rabbi Freeman’s rendition of the teachings of the Rebbe really so different than the words of their Christian counterparts? It seems so to be, but I bet if I looked hard enough, I’d find a Pastor or Christian author who has said more or less the same thing. I just like how Rabbi Freeman frames his statements better.

One of the “secrets” to being a successful teacher (or salesperson or entertainer or…) is understanding your students (or audience). Once you get inside their heads, comprehend their language, and grasp the meaning of their internal metaphors, all you have to do is take your message and craft it in a compatible style. Maybe what I’ve been kvetching about isn’t the inappropriateness of the Peale’s message but the style in which it’s presented. He’s writing to an audience of which I do not belong. It’s not that I’m not a Christian, but how I conceptualize my Christianity is very different than most church goers. If I can set style aside or refactor his words into a style that fits me better, will I be able to listen to what he is trying to say?

The concept of tikkun olam or “repairing the world” requires that each person be able to see himself or herself as a junior partner in the task of making the world a better place in which to live. In that manner, Jews believe that every act of kindness and charity brings the Messiah just one step closer to arriving. We don’t have total control, but we have a part to play and without each of us, the Messiah will be delayed, perhaps indefinitely. However, in order for a person to participate in tikkun olam, they must first understand and acknowledge that they actually have a role with God, and then find out what that role is. The role in their partnership with God also has to “fit” who the person is and their relative skill sets, and they have to be able to really see themselves as being able to hold up their end of the bargain, so to speak.

How can you convince a mere mortal human being that they have a meaningful and even indispensable role to play in the plan of God? How do I define my relationship, as an individual, with the unimaginably infinite Creator of the Universe? In trying to make my own peace with God and finding out how to live out my indispensable role in tikkun olam, I need to find the message written in the right language…or be able to write it myself.