Tag Archives: Toldos

Where Will We Find the Root of David?

lion-of-judahThere is another familiar case in which adjectives may cause more confusion than clarification: the misleading labels of “Orthodox”, “Conservative”, “Reform”, “Reconstructionist”, “Unaffiliated”, “Ashkenazic”, “Sephardic”, etc. It’s important to ask whether or not these words have anything to do with who we are in our kishkas (insides)! If we were able to perform a Litmus Test on our souls – or perhaps a “Litmus Configuration” on our souls, for “Midnight Run” fans who are more familiar with the Grodin/DeNiro technique for counterfeit money inspection – would we actually expect to find any trace of these labels? Do we really think that just as there are various blood types, a litmus test would reveal various “soul types”, such as AJ (Ashkenazic Jew), OJ (Orthodox Jew), UJ (Unaffiliated Jew), etc.? Do these labels somehow exist as “spiritual-chemical” elements on some kind of “Spiriodic Table”?

It’s crucial to keep in mind that the essential soul of a Jew has no such adjectives! A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. And the more we learn to focus on our shared essence, the more we can appreciate the splendor of our true unity! May G-d grant us the wisdom to continually discern the differences between external adjectives and essential nouns!

-Jon Erlbaum
“Birthright Battles & Material Worlds”
Insights from Torah Portion Toldos
Torah.org

It’s unfair to characterize a uniform Jewish view on just about any topic. As soon as you start talking about different periods [in history], it’s almost impossible to answer any question unless you specify what Jews, where and when. Essentially, uniformity of Jewish thought is impossible to find.

-Alan Cooper
Provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York
as quoted by jweekly.com

Seems confusing, doesn’t it? We have Erlbaum saying that regardless of the various differences between Jews, in fact, a “Jew is a Jew is a Jew.” We also have Cooper saying that it’s “unfair to characterize a uniform Jewish view on just about any topic.” Which view of Jewish people is correct? Probably both. Is this a problem?

Nope. Well, maybe.

A large part of this blog is devoted to trying to gather some sort of understanding about the Jewish classic religious texts and, in my case, attempting to apply that knowledge and insight to the faith of one, lone Christian. Me. If anyone else finds something of value here, then I am honored to have recorded it. But given Erlbaum and Cooper, it seems as if my search for knowledge will not be an easy one. There is not one “Judaism” that exists immutable and unchangeable across time from Moses and Sinai to the twenty-first century that we can point to and say, “that’s what it means to be Jewish” or “that’s the sum of the Torah.” If that’s the case, then what am I looking for?

Hillel told a would-be convert this:

“A gentile once came to convert to Judaism, on the condition that he could learn the whole Torah while standing on one foot. He approached Shammai, who rejected him, so he went to Hillel, who taught him: “’That which you dislike don’t do to your fellow: That’s the basis of Torah. The rest is commentary; go learn!” -Shabbos 31

A generation later, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Jesus said something similar:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:36-40

This past week on my blog, I’ve been drawing a sharp contrast between religion and faith as well as between Judaism and Christianity. It seems as if these two poles at each end of the religious spectrum keep getting in each other’s way. It’s easy to see why most Jews don’t want to even touch the New Testament and why most Christians are relieved when their Pastors tell them that the Law is dead. It’s much less confusing to believe that one religion has nothing to do with the other and that Jews and Christians can remain self-contained within their own “silos” and not wonder or worry about what’s going on elsewhere.

Of course, to do this, Jews must come to the final conclusion that Jesus could never have been the person he claimed to be and that even if he was a good Jewish teacher, Paul twisted those teachings into a very Torah-bereft religion for the Gentiles. Christians, for their part, must believe that Jesus, born of a Jewish mother and of the line of David, did a very “unJewish” thing. They must believe that he lived a life in complete contradiction to everyone around him, somehow managing to gain a large following of Jewish disciples by preaching the Gospel of freedom from the Law and nailing the Torah to the cross. That last part is especially hard to believe. It would be like Joel Osteen visiting the biggest Orthodox synagogue in Houston, Texas during a Shabbat service and expecting to gain a large following of the Jews by taking their Torah scroll and lighting it on fire.

the-teacherYou can only believe all of that if you choose to remain in your silos, both in community and in mind, and refuse to consider the alternative. You also will be unable to explain men like Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein, Chief Rabbi in the Northern District of Hungry, Rabbi Daniel Zion, Chief Rabbi of Bulgaria, Rabbi Israel Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Rome, and scores of other Jewish people (see Rabbi Joshua Brumbach’s Yinon blog for more information) who amazingly found the Jewish Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ, the man, prophet, and Messiah who neither denied the Torah nor abandoned his people, the Jews. They found that there is no inconsistency between being Jewish and discovering their Moshiach in the pages of the New Testament.

But these people are exceedingly rare among both Jews and Christians. 2,000 years of heinous persecution of the Jewish people by Christians explains why the vast majority of Jews are extremely hesitant (to put it mildly) to consider the validity of Christianity, but what makes Christians so adamant about rejecting the Judaism of Jesus?

To be perfectly blunt: I must say the Christians have robbed the Jews! And perhaps what is worse is that this thievery has been encouraged by theologians, pastors, and even Sunday School teachers, where small children are taught to sing the song, “Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line.”

Every promise in Scripture in some way benefits Christians, but it is not all promised to Christians. Sometimes the thievery has been inadvertent and unintentional. It’s like thinking that the raincoat hanging in the office closet is yours for wearing home because of unexpected showers. Hopefully, you will discover the raincoat belongs to a fellow worker and you will restore it. It is not as if Christians do not have the greatest promise of God, which is 1 John 2:25: “And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”

-Moishe Rosen
as quoted from the Foreword of Pastor Barry E. Horner’s book
Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged

This isn’t happening in just the traditional church setting, either.

One of the consequences is that many Jews are starting to feel like the “other” in what we thought was a Jewish movement. IMO, limitations on Gentile involvement – some of which are legitimate, in my view – arise in large part from a sense of that a majority of our movement no longer feels that it is essential or even important for us to remain demographically Jewish. This isn’t just a feeling on my part: it comes from numerous conversations with Gentiles and Jews in our movement. I routinely ask, “Do you think we need a majority of Jews in the movement to legitimately call ourselves ‘Jewish’?” Apart from obnoxious Jews like myself (and a smaller number of Gentiles), the answer is almost universally “no.” The discomfort increases when the percentage is lowered: 40%? 25%? 10% – “Ten percent – a tithe. That sounds right!” How about less 5%?” It turns out that it’s very difficult for these otherwise reasonable folks to assign any bottom limit to the percentage of Jews necessary to call our movement, or a congregation, Jewish.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council
as quoted in the comments section of
Morning Meditations

Sometimes I say to myself as a kind of joke that, “if God hadn’t replaced the Jews with the Christians, then the Christians would have done it themselves.” It’s a personal “joke”, though a very sad one, because that’s exactly what Christianity did: decide to replace the Jews in the covenant promises of God, all of them, with Christians. Small wonder that Jews don’t want to anything to do with Christianity and that attempting to convert a Jew to become a Christian is considered deeply insulting by Jews. Christians believe that in order for a Jew to come to faith in the “Jewish” (I put the word in quotes because from the church’s point of view, the “Jewishness” of Jesus was undone on the cross) Messiah, he or she must completely deconstruct their own Jewish identity and remake themselves as a Christian goy. Yeah, like Jesus, Peter, and Paul did that to themselves, right?

Supersessionism isn’t just an artifact of the past but a lived reality of the present. Many churches still comfortably believe that Judaism is a “dead religion”, that Jesus did away with the law, that God changed His infinite mind about choosing Israel, played a game of bait and switch with the Israelites, ripped the covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob away from the Jews, and devoted His love, compassion, and mercy exclusively to Christianity.

Ironically, as Rabbi Kinbar points out, a form of supersessionism also seems to have invaded the one religious movement that exists to allow a Jew to live and worship as a Jew and yet be a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah and Savior. It’s like Gentile Christians just can’t stand the idea that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). We know from examples we read about in Acts 10 and Acts 15 that the Jewish disciples were responsible for carrying the Word of salvation to the Gentiles and administering how it was to be interpreted, but at the point where Gentiles began to outnumber Jews in the “Nazerene” faith, we also began to rewrite the rules and scriptural interpretations. We stacked the deck in our favor and loaded the dice so the Jews didn’t even have a chance. We invented a system whereby the Jews lost all control and involvement in their own Messiah and we would only let them back in if they agreed to stop being Jewish and to turn into us.

Fat chance. Why should they?

Tree of LifeWe’ve gotten it all backward. We’ve put the cart before the horse. We’ve elevated ourselves to place God never intended us to be. Romans 11:17-20 is Paul’s cautionary tale to the Gentiles about becoming arrogant with being grafted in at the expense of the natural branches. The Tanakh is replete with examples of God restoring those branches and when He does, what will become of us and our so-called “replacement” of the Jews? How will the grafted in answer for the insult to the natural branch of the vine?

More than anything, as frustrating and aggravating as it can be sometimes to struggle with the Jewish perspective on Torah and Talmud, we must look to ancient and modern Judaism if we ever expect to understand our Savior and our faith. We Gentile Christians embrace our comforting supersessionist “teddy bears” at great peril. I know Christianity is afraid of Christ’s Jewishness because we’re afraid of having to play “second fiddle” to the Jewish people and we hate the idea that not all of the promises belong to us. We hate the idea that our easy-going lives of faith and grace, with virtually no behavioral expectations of us by God, are somehow in contrast to the rich and beautiful morning prayers of Judaism, the holiness of the Shema, the Psalms of the Priests in the Temple, the night blessings at bedtime. It all seems so alien, so…Jewish.

But so is Jesus. Not “was”; “is”:

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” -Revelation 5:5

“The Lion of the Tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David”. Verse 13 of the same chapter of Revelation says “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” Why do Gentile Christians have such a difficult time giving honor and glory to the Jewish “the Root of David”, or have I already answered that question?

Almost a month ago, I wrote another small article called In Search of the Jewish Voice of Jesus. If you’re a Christian who wants to find out about the Jesus no one talks about in church, you can discover him in that blog post.

Toldot: The Servant and the Coachman

studying-talmudIt was a hot July day during the summer of 1866. The children of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, five-year-old Sholom DovBer and his brother Zalman Aharon, had just come home from cheder and were playing in the garden which adjoined their home.

In the garden stood a trellis overgrown with vines and greenery which offered protection from the heat of the sun. It was set up as a study, with a place for books etc., and Rabbi Shmuel would sit there on the hot summer days.

The children were debating the difference between a Jew and a non-Jew. Zalman Aharon, the elder by a year and four months, argued that the Jews are a “wise and understanding people”who could, and do, study lots of Torah, both its ‘revealed part’ and its mystical secrets, and pray with devotion and ‘d’vaikus’, attachment to G-d.

Said the young Sholom DovBer: But this is true only of those Jews who learn and pray. What of Jews who are unable to study and who do not pray with d’vaikus? What is their specialness over a non-Jew?

Zalman Aharon did not know what to reply.

The children’s sister, Devorah Leah, ran to tell their father of their argument. Rabbi Shmuel called them to the trellis, and sent the young Sholom DovBer to summon Ben-Zion, a servant in the Rebbe’s home.

Ben-Zion was a simple Jew who read Hebrew with many mispronunciations and barely understood the easy words of the prayers. Every day he would recite the entire book of Psalms, pray with the congregation, and make sure to be present in the synagogue when Ein Yaakov was studied.

When the servant arrived, the Rebbe asked him: “Ben-Zion, did you eat?”

Ben-Zion: “Yes”.

The Rebbe: “Did you eat well?”

Ben-Zion: “What’s well? Thank G-d, I was sated.”

The Rebbe: “And why do you eat?”

Ben-Zion: “So that I may live”

The Rebbe: “But why live?”

Ben-Zion: “To be a Jew and do what G-d wants.” The servant sighed.

The Rebbe: “You may go. Send me Ivan the coachman.”

Ivan was a gentile who had grown up among Jews from early childhood and spoke a perfect Yiddish.

When the coachman arrived, the Rebbe asked him: “Did you eat today?”

“Yes”.

“Did you eat well?”

“Yes”

“And why do you eat?”

“So that I may live”

“But why live?”

“To take a swig of vodka and have a bite to eat,” replied the coachman.

“You may go,” said the Rebbe.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Difference”
Commentary on Torah Portion Toldot
Chabad.org

Not a very flattering comparison between Jews and Gentiles, is it? Of course, the coachman, though he had “grown up among Jews from early childhood” obviously had not spent any time considering how the teachings of the Jewish people could apply to him. More’s the pity. He didn’t consider the example of Abraham and his household and how Abraham taught his non-Hebrew servants of the One God.

We know from last week’s Torah Portion that Abraham sent his most trusted servant to find a bride for Isaac from the land of Abraham’s father. We know that this non-Hebrew servant had learned the lessons of Abraham’s God well, as evidenced by his impassioned prayer.

And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’-let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.” -Genesis 24:12-14

The result of the servant’s life of faith depended on Abraham teaching him, and all of the non-Hebrew household, of the God who created us all in His image. Rabbi Eli Touger also speaks to this point in his Torah commentary for Toldot.

Our Sages relate (Shabbos 89b) that in the Era of the Redemption, Jews will praise Yitzchak, telling him: “You are our Patriarch.” For in that era, the inward thrust of Yitzchak will permeate all existence. “The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d. The Jews will be great sages and will know the hidden matters, attaining an understanding of their Creator to the [full] extent of mortal expression.”(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5).

Although all Jews will then live in Eretz Yisrael, they will as their ancestor Yitzchak did influence mankind as a whole, motivating all to seek G-dly knowledge. “And it shall come to pass in the end of days that the mountain of G-d’s house will be established on the top of the mountains…. and all the nations shall flow unto it. Many people shall say: ‘Come let us ascend the mountain of G-d… and He will teach us of His ways.’ ” (Isaiah 2:2-3) May this take place in the immediate future.

So what happened to Ivan the coachman? Did the Rebbe fail to teach him the same lessons or to live out the same holy life as an example to Ivan as he did to Ben-Zion? Is Rabbi Tauber simply telling us that Jews “naturally” seek the things of God while Gentiles only seek the temporal pleasures of the world? I can’t speak to Rabbi Tauber’s intent, but let’s compare Ivan to Eliezer (assuming Eliezer is “the servant” in the tale of Rivkah). What is the difference between these two men? They both spent many years in the household of a man of God. Did the Rebbe fail where Abraham succeeded or did Eliezer see and hear something in Abraham and in what he taught that Ivan chose to ignore in the Rebbe’s household?

Regardless of opportunity, the path of faith is walked by the individual. We are not old-fashioned wind up toy soldiers that are primed, set on the floor, pointed in a direction, and then set off to march. We make choices. We cannot blame others if our faith is weak or even if it’s non-existent. Ivan chose to consider the purpose of life as taking a “swig of vodka and having a bite to eat” while Eliezer chose to drink deep from the wells of salvation (John 4:13-14).

The path has been set before us. All we need to do is choose to face it, set our foot upon it, and take the first step…or to turn away and follow another trail through the wilderness. Our choice. But like the Samaritan woman at the well, we have already been talking to the one we seek.

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” -John 4:21-26

Who are the sons of God? Israel is the obvious heir based on the promises of the Almighty to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but then why were the Jewish people expected to teach the rest of the world about God? If we are not heirs, who are we and what do we matter except maybe as “slaves” or “dogs”? Paul offers us hope. Paul said that we can be grafted in (Romans 11) to “sonship” through faith such as what Abraham had (Romans 4). He also wrote something else encouraging.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. -Galatians 3:26-28

The Jews are the sons of the Mosaic promise yet we Gentiles, through faith in the Messianic promises, will also be sitting with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 8:11). God be willing and merciful to us all.