Passover Arrived But Not The Seder

Moses called to all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Draw forth or buy for yourselves one of the flock for your families, and slaughter the pesach-offering.”

“It shall be that when you come to the land that Hashem will give you, as He has spoken, you shall observe this service. And it shall be that when your children say to you, ‘What is this service to you?’ You shall say, ‘It is a pesach feast-offering to Hashem, Who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but He saved our households,'” and the people bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. The Children of Israel went and did as Hashem commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they do.

Exodus 12:21, 25-28 Stone Edition Tanakh

PassoverToday is the first full day of Passover. Jews and a good number of Christians all over the world held their home and community seders last night.

My home wasn’t one of them.

For some months, my wife has been planning on visiting our daughter in California. She left early Sunday morning and won’t be back until midday on Thursday. My grandchildren are with their Mom for the next two weeks, so it’s really only my two sons and I at home. They weren’t exactly clamoring for their old man to dust off our haggadahs and start a lot of cooking.

Passover just sort of crept up on me and suddenly it’s here.

Pesach hasn’t felt this chaotic since the Uninspired Seder of 2012 or the Unanticipated Seder the following year.

And given my comments in my previous blog post, initiating any sort of response to Pesach as a Gentile believer is beyond the scope of my obligations or my rights.

It’s been a difficult time. My Dad is slowly dying of cancer. My Mom’s cognitive abilities continue to dwindle. And as the old time actors used to say, “I am between engagements,” and have been since last Friday. One of my sons had his car engine blow up on him, and the other is buying a house, which sounds wonderful (and in many ways it is), but also introduces different stressors.

I decided to at least do the readings for Pesach I, but when I couldn’t remember where to find my Tanakh on my bookshelf, I realized it has been a really long time since I’ve read the Bible.

That can’t be good.

A friend found a piece of furniture for my son’s new home (since his ex took most of their stuff), so driving over to the gentleman’s house to pick it up, I saw a number of “Jesus loves you” bumper stickers and messages of a similar nature. I figure everything that’s happening to me now is God’s way of getting my attention.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

“This too is for the good.”

Or as Rabbi Zelig Pliskin put it:

No person can know what is really good for him in the long run.

We lack peace of mind because we feel anxious and worried about what has happened to us in the past, or what might happen to us in the future. But the reality is we can never know in advance the ultimate consequences of events. Being fired from your job, or being forced to find a new home could likely lead to events that will be beneficial for you.

Today, try to recall a time when a “bad” event turned out for the “good.”

I can remember when bad events ultimately resulted in a good outcome, but I also remember the pain involved in dealing with the bad part, and the lengthy time period between bad event and good outcome.

It can be a lonely road from the bad starting line to the good finish line.

But then as long as we live, there never really is a finish. We’re never done contending with life, with other people, disappointment, loss, anxiety, desperation, the works.

I suppose that’s why I’m writing this. I need to gain perspective and to get a handle of everything that’s happening to me right now. I probably should be doing more constructive things, such as cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, scouring job boards and the like, but I’m not.

On Friday, I initiated a flurry of activity post my “between engagements” experience earlier that morning, but over the weekend, the shock had worn off. I had my grandchildren with me, and since they require a lot of attention, that provided a distraction.

But then they left to return to their Mom Sunday afternoon, and I realized just how empty I felt inside.

Okay, God. You got my attention. Now I just need to find a way to change my focus, to even have a focus. A seder last night would have been good timing, which is why I’m puzzled that Hashem arranged for it not to happen.

My wife and my daughter are together, so I hope they had the opportunity to attend a community seder, perhaps at the Chabad.

jumpstart
Found at racingjunk.com

The quiet finally got to be too much for me, so I started listening to “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” by the Bill Evans Trio. It was recorded live in New York City on June 25, 1961 (my daughter’s birthday, though she wasn’t born until decades later).

Over a month or so ago, I wrote about trying to jump start my faith, and as you can see, things haven’t gone so well up.

The prodigal son is still struggling on the path that leads to home.

At the end of each seder, the last words uttered are, “Next year in Jerusalem.” For me, I’d settle for “Next year at home with my family.”

Okay, God, you’ve got my attention. Now what?

In Response to Evangelicals Embracing Passover

For example, (Paula) White hosted a controversial Messianic-styled teacher named Ralph Messer, on her television program in 2009 to explain the meaning of Passover. Messer is the founder of Simchat Torah Beit Midrash, a school and congregation that teaches the “Hebrew Roots of the Christian Faith” and is perhaps best known for performing ceremonies during which he will wrap church leaders in a Torah scroll.

In the segment on White’s television program, Messer offered his own explanations to White about “Passover’s meaning to Christians.”

from “Evangelicals Are Falling in Love with Passover – Is There Anything Wrong with That?”
written by Sam Kestenbaum for
Forward.com

messer
Ralph Messer – Found at STMB.org

Is there anything wrong with that? Depends. Paula White and Ralph Messer aren’t, in my opinion, particularly credible representatives of Christianity and Messianic Judaism respectively, so I would tend to discount their input.

Of course, “Forward” would be likely to pick such poor examples of those two traditions in order to re-enforce the exclusive Jewishness of Passover.

I kind of don’t blame them, actually. Here’s another example of why:

And in 2013, American televangelist Jim Bakker hosted a lavish televised Passover Seder alongside Messianic author and teacher Jonathan Cahn.

Bakker, who sat alongside Cahn at the head of the stage, added enthusiastically: “It’s not a Jewish holiday, it is a fantastic Christian time,” he said. “I mean, every detail of Jesus is in the Passover.”

Cahn sought to clarify. “It’s both. It’s Jewish and Christian, because it’s all one.” Jesus, Cahn said, “is the center of the church and Israel, really we’re supposed to be one.”

-ibid

Well, that was horrible. I know that in the future Messianic Age there may well be aspects of the Passover that can be applied to the Gentile (certainly not partaking of the Pascal meal however), and maybe there can be some takeaways for the Gentile believer in the present age, but we’d better watch our step.

Bakker’s statement about Passover being a Christian rather than a Jewish holiday is outrageous. Sure, Cahn backpedaled for him and said it’s both Christian and Jewish, but who was the original Passover directed at? Certainly not Christians who didn’t even exist yet.

christian at kotelThere are times when I get a little tired of churches seeing “types and shadows” of Christ in every little detail of the Tanakh (what Christians call the “Old Testament”), as if Passover and many other sacred events had no intrinsic meaning to Israel in and of themselves.

Christianity just can’t stand being left out of the party, so it has to rewrite the invitations to exclude the Jews and bring in the Evangelicals.

But then there’s this:

“As Messianics, we see ourselves as a bridge,” said Mitch Glaser, head of Chosen People Ministries, another major Messianic organization. “With anti-Semitism on the rise, we want more evangelicals to be pro-Jewish and pro-Israel. Helping evangelicals see the Jewish roots of their faith is a way to open that door.”

-ibid

Yes, the flip side says that by encouraging Christians to embrace the Passover, it could actually reduce anti-Semitism in the Church. Maybe, but it seems to be re-enforcing supersessionism | replacement theology, which is hardly desirable.

The article does cite both Christian and Jewish objections to Christians holding their own seders:

A 2014 article on the website Religion Dispatches — written by a Christian and titled “Why Christians Should Not Host Their Own Passover Seders” — the author decried Christian Seders as theologically dangerous and culturally insensitive. “One of the privileges that comes with being part of the majority culture is that nobody is likely to call you out on your cultural appropriation,” the post read. “So, call yourself out. Don’t host a seder.”

And Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, previously denounced Christian Seders as “distorting the meaning” of the Seder by introducing Jesus into the ceremony — imposing a Christian reading onto what Rudin sees as the true Jewish narrative.

-ibid

And of course, Christians who choose to hold their own seders often aren’t really attempting to observe all the traditions of Passover:

This evangelical fascination with Passover also appears mainly focused on the Seder, just one part of the traditional Jewish observances of the holiday. Jews also abstain from eating any leavened foods for the eight days of Passover. For the most observant, the first and last two days of the holiday are spent in synagogue in prayer.

-ibid

That’s actually a good thing since there’s no actual attempt to “observe” Pesach in the Church in the manner of the Jewish people.

I’m a Gentile believer in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Jewish Messiah King, and I’m married to a Jewish wife who is not a believer.

Every year, we have our small family seder, and even though I’m not Jewish, because my wife and children are, I attend the seder and lead in the readings.

If I have my own personal interpretation of what the seder and the Passover season means to me, it is kept within the privacy of my own mind and heart.

I know there are “Messianic Gentiles” who have a more liberal view on this issue, but my perspective is born out of painful experience, both within the family and in more congregational venues.

PassoverUltimately, people will approach Passover based on their identity, beliefs, and often on their desires. I only represent my personal point of view. It’s a wonderful thing for a Gentile to be invited by a Jew to join their seder (and depending on the branch of Judaism involved, it might be forbidden to invite a non-Jew), but just remember, it’s their seder, not ours.

If we are invited now or in the age to come, it is an act of graciousness. It’s not our right to be there.

Faith on a Desert Island

clouds
© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Every time I see something about being a Christian in community, or a Jew in community, or especially a non-Jew in (Messianic) Jewish community, I start thinking about those of us who, for one reason or another, aren’t in community.

Many years ago, I listened to a “Messianic Jewish luminary” denigrate Gentiles who were isolated from community, and he had a point. A lot of non-Jews who have left the traditional Church for one reason or another, possess rather “fringy” theologies, and often are considered “religious nuts”. These are the kinds of people who believe faith can cure any ill, and who wouldn’t take their kid to a doctor even if he were having a heart attack. People who think taking an aspirin is a mortal sin.

But there are plenty of reasons to be disenfranchised or unaffiliated besides being mentally ill or having cult leanings.

For anyone with a “Messianic” perspective, it may be a matter of not having an appropriate venue within driving distance. In my case, it’s a little more complicated, being a Gentile believer married to a (non-Messianic) Jew.

But the most common reason we experience is that we’ve been burned, not just by the Church, but by Messianic Judaism as well.

Not to overstate the point, but Gentiles in Messianic Jewish space have traditionally been a problem, and some of us, who don’t want to be a problem, solve it by simply not showing up.

So what happens then?

Over the past few months, I’ve been satisfying my more “creative writing” desires by becoming involved in “flash fiction challenges” of various sorts. The idea is that someone posts a photo online and authors use it as an inspiration to write a very short story, anything between about 100 and 250 words. We then share our work with one another and comment.

In response to one of those challenges, I wrote The Listener.

As I finished writing it and was editing, I realized the message I was communicating was literally true of me. Various difficulties in my personal life, as well as just plain “busyness,” had resulted in my leaving the vast majority of my “religious practice” behind.

The result, among other things, was a massive piling up of anxiety and hopelessness. If God lets little kids starve all over the world, why should He care if my grandchildren are having problems? What’s the use of praying? God either knows they’re hurting and will have compassion or He won’t.

As many pundits have previously warned me, it’s hard maintaining faith outside of community, and there’s the rub.

Technically, all I should need is God, but in the history of Judaism and Christianity, at least relative to the Bible, faith has always been communal. Okay, Paul spent plenty of time alone, but he always came back (at least until he was shipped off to Rome).

I’m alone because my attending Church or anything “church-like” (such as a Messianic community) hurts my wife.

I’m alone because I’ve been burned, and more than once.

I’m alone because even if there were an appropriate community, and even if my wife didn’t mind, I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut, and 100% of the time, opening my mouth eventually ends up with me offending someone.

The religious blogosphere has been pretty peaceful lately, and I suspect that’s because the trolls and nudniks have moved on to something else, but real life is a wild west show.

We may wander away from each other, but while we can keep God at a distance, He’s always close enough to touch. He doesn’t fail. He doesn’t burn you.

Sure, He’s also incredibly hard to understand and, if you have trust issues, it’s still hard to believe everything will work out in the end, especially when kids all over the world are starved, beaten, raped, burned, and otherwise assaulted and abused on a daily basis.

I’ve got to get back. Not sure how, since a lot of my praxis is based on time I no longer have.

I feel more connected when I read/study the Bible. I feel more connected when I pray. I feel more connected when I take a deep breath and reach out to His Presence.

I feel more connected when I write here.

A lot of “religious people” can and probably will be critical of me. Fortunately, God isn’t a person. He’s always ready to welcome the prodigal son home.

Where is God When We Need a Miracle?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the sovereignty of God lately. There’s always the classic question that if God is all-powerful and completely good, why does He allow pain and suffering in the world?

yom kippur katanMy traditional answer is that we live in a broken world. From a Christian point of view, the world is broken because of “original sin”. From that point on, not only was every single person born automatically with a “sin nature,” the natural tendency to do evil, but the world itself was flawed and out of synch with God’s original intent.

Further, people weren’t capable of fixing themselves, let alone Creation all by themselves. Only by coming to faith in Jesus could we as individuals be saved, and only by Christ’s second coming can the world be saved.

The Jewish point of view is a bit more nuanced, at least as I’m able to understand it. From that perspective, Adam and Havah (Eve) were created with a natural tendency to do good. They could still do evil if they chose (free will) but they naturally did good. When they chose to disobey God by eating of the Tree of Knowledge, their tendencies to do good and evil were balanced within them. In other words, it was just as likely for them to choose evil as to choose good (I’m sure I’m not getting this exactly right, and I expect helpful comments will be appearing by the by).

Jews also don’t believe they don’t need an intermediary to atone for them. In ancient days, when the Tabernacle, and then later the Temple stood, once a year on Yom Kippur, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to offer atonement for all Israel. There was also an offering for the atonement of the seventy nations (representing all humanity).

In modern Judaism, each individual provides for his own atonement by sincere teshuvah (repentance).

(You can read more about Judaism’s views on original sin at Jewish Virtual Library and Aish.com>)

Also, while the Messiah is expected to rise, redeem Israel, conquer all her enemies, and bring a time of peace and justice for the world, the concept of Tikkun Olam or “repairing the world,” states that each human being can repair just a small part of the world by doing good. Jews do this by performing the mitzvot (commandments), and Gentiles do this by also performing the mitzvot incumbent upon us (and we have a lot fewer commandments to perform compared to Israel).

But so what?

arguing with godGod is all-powerful and He is not bound by the laws of nature or subject to any limitations at all. If He so desired, couldn’t He fix everything right now?

I suppose He could.

We’re supposed to trust Him. We are supposed to bring all of our worries and woes to Him and accept the promise that He will take care of us.

But plenty of devout Christians and Jews die of cancer every day. Plenty of devout Christians and Jews have starved to death, have been persecuted, and you can’t tell me that of the six-million Jews who died in Hitler’s Holocaust, all of them were sinful and none of them were deeply devout and devoted to Hashem.

But if that’s true, how can we depend on God? Maybe He’ll arrange for someone’s cancer to go into remission and maybe He won’t. Maybe He’ll save our loved ones from suffering and death, and maybe He won’t. How can we know?

We can’t. That’s the faith part. And even when He doesn’t help, we are supposed to trust that whatever happens is for the best? It sure doesn’t feel like the best, does it?

On the other hand, maybe we’re missing the point.

Let’s take hunger and starvation as an example. According to Action Against Hunger, 1 in 8 people worldwide won’t get enough to eat today. The number of hungry people in the world exceeds the combined populations of the U.S., Canada, and the E.U. And about one million children will die this year from hunger-related causes.

Why does God allow this horrible suffering to go on, and on, and on?

If God didn’t create humanity as sentient, self-determining beings with free will, He probably wouldn’t. He probably wouldn’t have to. The world would most likely work the way He designed it to work.

But He did create us and we are here and we all make choices.

We could choose to make hungry and starving people a priority and help them, or we could choose to believe other things are more important.

Oh sure, most of us don’t have the skill sets to even attempt to cure cancer or establish world peace, and most of us as individuals can’t stop world-wide hunger, but each individual can choose to feed just one hungry person.

We can donate time, food, and money to our local food bank. We can give money to charities who send food to nations experiencing a famine, we can choose to do a lot of things to help those less advantaged than ourselves.

jewish charity
Photo: Reuters

We can choose to do good, and even doing a little bit of good makes the world a better place. I think God expects us to do that. I think that’s why God doesn’t just transform the world into a perfect place with a miracle.

We are supposed to be the miracle. We can’t save the world, but we can help fix a small piece of it. Imagine what the world would be like if we all fixed one small piece of the world. It still wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better.

The Ger Toshav Certificate Within Messianic Jewish Community

I found something interesting, or rather, a link to something interesting, on a closed Facebook group for Messianic Gentiles: a Ger Toshav Certificate. It seems to be something a non-Jew would attest to and sign within the confines of a Jewish community in which he/she is participating. It refers to formalizing their relationship as Ger Toshav/Giyoret Toshevet, an “Affiliate of the Tribe.

gerI checked, and on the site’s About Us page, they state their site is housed at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, PA.

I know the Messianic Gentiles group where I found this, often uses the Ger Toshav model to define the relationship we Gentiles have (potentially) with the larger Messianic Jewish community (although there’s no one, clear definition of “Messianic Gentiles,” “Messianic Jews,” or how they’re supposed to deal with each other.

Someone else in the group posted a link to Shechinah.com and a rather lengthy commentary on the Ger Toshav.

I checked this too, and found the site owner is Rabbi Rayzel Raphael who, among other things, was ordained as a Rabbi within Reconstructionist Judaism, is a singer and songwriter, and has an affinity for pastel colors.

The information sources seem pretty liberal regarding Jewish/Gentile relationships, but I’m not sure that will work out well within the Messianic Jewish movement.

One of the apparent goals within some expressions of Messianic Judaism is to define it as primarily to exclusively Jewish, created for and administered by Jews living under Conservative or Orthodox praxis.

Since historically, the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements have been associated with Evangelical Christianity, it is seen as important not to give the appearance of Messianic Jews being just “Christians in Kippahs.”

Thus the goals of at least some Messianic Jewish groups, and probably a large number of Messianic Gentiles, are at odds with one another.

How can a Jewish community be said to be primarily or exclusively Jewish if it has a majority membership of Gentiles, and particularly if they are given official status within that community based on public declarations of participation, and perhaps even serving on their administrative board?

On the other hand, many, many Messianic Gentiles desperately seek to belong as equal members of Messianic congregations.

I used to be like that, but those ideas slowly began to unravel and ultimately, for many reasons, not the least of which is being married to a non-Yeshua believing Jewish wife, I ceased my personal association with both Messianic Jewish worship and attending a Christian church.

raphael
Rabbi Rayzel Raphel – Found on her twitter page.

It’s left me somewhat in limbo (you should pardon the expression), but for me, there doesn’t seem to be a viable option for community, barring this blogspot.

My question is, for those non-Jews who do want to belong and be recognized within Messianic Judaism, do these ideas culled from Reconstructionist Judaism make any sort of sense, or are they just wishful thinking?

I know non-Jews can participate widely within the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, but within their own religious branches, these Jews have nothing to prove.

Within Messianic Judaism, it’s quite the different story. Any hint of “Christianity” within their midst, and every other branch of Judaism, as well as secular Jews, would drop MJ Jews like a hot rock (or that’s the perception at least).

What about it? Are non-Jews doing the Messianic Jewish movement any favors by clamoring to be let in? Maybe we should be content to be accepted within whatever religious group that will have us and that we can tolerate, or even find a home in, and call it good.

Hurtado on the “Conversion” of Paul

The Jewish PaulI finally got around to reading Larry Hurtado’s blog post The “Conversion” of Paul and found it illuminating. Here are the two most telling paragraphs:

But it’s a genuine question among scholars whether Paul understood himself as having undergone a “conversion,” at least in the sense that the word typically has. He didn’t move from irreligion to a religious life, from being a sinful man to virtue. And he didn’t change his God, or denounce his ancestral religious tradition. Instead, he expresses the strong conviction that the God he had always sought to serve showed him his blindness in opposing the Jesus-movement, revealed (Paul’s word) Jesus’ high/unique status, and summoned Paul to a special mission that he believed would usher in (or at least promote markedly) the consummation of the divine plan of world-redemption.

So, some scholars prefer to characterize Paul’s shift in religious orientation as a prophet-like “calling” rather than a “conversion” (as influentially proposed by Krister Stendahl). Others, such as Alan Segal, contended that “conversion” was appropriate, as the term can include a change from one version of a religious tradition to another, such as a Roman Catholic becoming a Baptist. So, Segal urged, Paul shifted from one understanding of what his God required to another very different one, and from opposition to the Jesus-movement to aligning himself with it.

Anyone who has read this blogspot for very long knows I don’t consider Paul (or Rav Shaul if you prefer) a convert, but rather someone who received a “Prophet-like” calling (to use Hurtado’s phrase) to become Rav Yeshua’s (Jesus Christ’s) emissary to the Gentiles.

What’s really cool though, is Hurtado, a well-known and respected New Testament scholar, holds a view of Paul that you would hardly find preached in most normative Christian churches.

I still find it surprising that what the Church teaches (and I’m using the word “Church” in the broadest possible sense) is so at odds with the continuing research being done on the New Testament in general and on Paul specifically.

I suppose one explanation could be that, Christian (and Jewish) tradition about Paul being what it is, the average Christian sitting in the pew on Sunday wouldn’t tolerate a radical update to his/her doctrine. In order to make supersessionist/replacement theology work, Paul had to convert from the Judaism of his day to early Christianity. Most Jews and probably even some Christians believe that Paul even founded Christianity, converting it from a branch of ancient Judaism to a wholly Gentile religion.

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

Hurtado’s reply to one of his readers continues to establish his views on the Apostle, complete with Biblical citations:

Well, Michael, to go by his own testimony, Paul/Saul remained a devoted Jew, even in his ministry as “apostle to the nations” (e.g., Philip 3:4ff; 2 Cor 11:21ff.). But you put your finger on the historical phenomenon that I’ve worked on for over 30 yrs now, offering the best answers that I can find to the various component questions. Paul’s own statement (Gal 1:13ff) is that he shifted from opponent of the Jesus-movement to proponent when “God revealed his Son to me”. So, he accepted the exalted status of Jesus as thoroughly compatible with his commitment to the uniqueness of the God of Israel precisely because he was convinced (by a “revelation”) that this one God had himself exalted Jesus and now required him to be acknowledged and reverenced. In short, if God approved, who was he to withstand it?

In 2 Cor 3:7–4:6, Paul’s description of fellow members of Israel who don’t perceive/accept Jesus as “Lord” pictures them as having a veil over their minds. But “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16).

We have to form our notions of what “Jewish traditions and biblical monotheism” could include based on the evidence, not preconceptions. And, as I showed in my 1988 book, One God, One Lord (3rd ed., 2015), “ancient Jewish Monotheism” could accommodate some amazing things.

Moreover, Paul was and remained a Jew, and so even the remarkable view of Jesus that he accepted must be included as one of the developments initially within 2nd temple Jewish tradition.

Coffee and BibleI’m probably just recycling things I’ve written in the past, but frankly, I learn more about what the Bible is actually saying by studying scholarly works rather than listening to a Pastor’s sermon or going to Sunday School.

I wish I could make blogs like Hurtado’s  “required reading” for all churches everywhere, but, in my  opinion, many or most Christians don’t want to actually learn anything new. They are quite content to have their theology “settled”.

"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman