Dancing with God on Yom Kippur

Dancing with GodThe Chazon Ish, zt”l, would say that one cannot learn how to learn Torah on his own. “You need to speak to those who know how to learn to get a feel for it.”

Rav Chaim Chaikel of Hamdurah, zt”l, expended great efforts to fix his soul before finally becoming a student of the Maggid of Mezritch, zt”l. He fasted many days, did various self-mortifications and even stayed up one thousand nights in a row learning Torah diligently. Nevertheless, he felt that his soul lacked completion until he met the Maggid.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Absorbing the Flavor”
Chullin 99

As a mother and the baby she holds in her arms, as a father and child, as two in courtship or in marriage, so we are with Him. One chases, the other runs away. One runs away, the other chases. One initiates, the other responds. The other initiates, the one responds. It is a dance, a game, a duet that plays as surely as the pulse of life.

Until one falls away and becomes estranged. Then the other looks and says, “This is not an other. We are one and the same.” And so, they return to each other’s arms once again.

It is a great mystery, but in estrangement, there is found the deepest bond.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Dance with the Other”
Yom Kippur Meditations
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I’m about four months into my current “experiment”; my expressions and self-discoveries in my “morning meditations”. I have been attempting to explore my Christianity through the lens of Judaism and have recently hit something of a speed bump. In pursuing the Journey of the Ger Toshav (you’ll have to read all three blog posts to get the full picture), I came to the realization (with some help, of course), that Christianity and Judaism are fully incompatible. I mean that in the sense that Jews consider Christians to be idol worshipers and polytheists in that (from a Jewish perspective) worship a man as “god” and worship three “gods”. Christians, for their part, see Jews as lost in a “dead, works-based, religion”, who have been abandoned by God and replaced with the church.

That’s a mess.

For my part, I see great beauty in the practices and teachings of Judaism, but all of that isn’t brought into focus without keeping Jesus as Savior, Messiah, and Lord at the heart of faith and trust.

I have been on a journey to discover two things. The first is obvious; a deeper and continuing relationship with God. The second may not have been readily apparent and is a form of community and fellowship. I left my previous community for a variety of reasons, including the desire to worship and study with my wife within her own faith context. So far that hasn’t worked out. I am, or I thought I was, positioned to enter into her realm, but if being a Christian makes my presence unacceptable in the Jewish world, then my desire will never work out.

Fog alleyOf course, I’m only four months into this journey and I have promised myself to wait a full year (barring an encounter with a complete show-stopper) before pursuing a different course in my faith. Still, sometimes the journey is dark and the fog starts to hide the path.

The Days of Awe are just made for intense self-reflection and sometimes self-doubt, it seems. As Rabbi Freeman says above, there’s this “push-pull” engagement with God that is especially acute right now, but it spills over into human relationships, too. But if I have no union with a community, can I still seek a union with God?

The desire to return is innate, but it must be awakened. The soul must first realize she is distant. Return in all its strength and passion is found, therefore, in the soul who has wandered far from her true self and then awakened to recognize she is lost. We are like the child being pushed on a swing by her father — the further our souls are thrust away, the greater the force of our return.

Rabbi Freeman
“G-d’s Fishing Net”
Yom Kippur Meditations

But is the effort to “swing back” to God a dance or a fight?

As we find on today’s daf, gid hanasheh was prohibited since the time of Yaakov Avinu. It is surely interesting that the angel chose to fight specifically with Yaakov. Why don’t we find that Avraham or Yitzchak had an altercation with a heavenly representative of evil?

The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, learns a very powerful lesson from this. “Avraham Avinu was especially involved in kindness. And Yitzchak was very focused on avodas Hashem, on prayer and meditation. The first two avos were not attacked by an angel since focusing on doing good deeds or praying is not so threatening to the yetzer hara. As our sages revealed, Hashem said, ‘I created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah to temper it.’ Yaakov focused on learning Torah. It is clear that this is why he was attacked. The yetzer hara can tolerate anything else. But when it comes to learning Torah he puts up a much greater fight since only Torah is an assault upon its very existence.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Fighting Against the Angel”
Chillun 100

GiftThat’s midrash of course, but makes a point. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, especially a relationship with God. Our human natures and human beings around us will always resist devotion to God and walking in His ways, instead taking us down into the abyss. Yet the part of us made in God’s own image creates an irresistible need to rise from the depths. It’s like taking a beach ball and pushing it underwater in a swimming pool; the further under the surface you push it, the greater the ball’s push to return to the air.

There’s a well known idiom in Hebrew that says, “Yeridah Letzorech Aliyah” meaning “descent for the sake of ascent”. With the approach of Yom Kippur and at this moment in my life, the trail has taken a downward turn. The shadows are lengthening and the air contains a freezing fog. Yet, the path must eventually turn upward again toward the sun. Perhaps then, in my pursuit of holiness and community, I’ll find myself dancing with God on Yom Kippur.

In the end, hope is the only tool that works when all other tools fail, but even hope can be a slender thread.

7 thoughts on “Dancing with God on Yom Kippur”

  1. Let me throw a rock in this pond. What happens if, when a Christian, new creation, is following the Holy Spirit and suddenly discovers that he/she is also following the law? What really happens in a Spirit led life?

    Our messiah had no trouble reconciling the fact that he was Jewish, and he led a life that perfectly fulfilled the law. But he was rejected by many religious Jews of his day. Isn’t that sort of what you’re dealing with?

    I’ve heard Jewish people say that we are trying to wipe out the Jewish people through conversion, but how can that be? Couldn’t we rather say that the Father is the one who determines who is, and is not Jewish. And the promises are for the Jewish people, and will never be retracted or denied by the One who created the Universe. It’s not possible for any human endeavor to succeed that would wipe out the Jewish people. Including “conversion”. But what if “conversion”–that is becoming a new creation in Messiah, really makes a Jewish person truly “Jewish” from G0d’s perspective?

    …and now, let me duck and run…


  2. Let me throw a rock in this pond.

    Please do. Part of the reason I write these “meditations” is to shake the tree so I can see what drops out.

    To defend traditional Judaism, if they don’t believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and relative to Christianity’s rather abysmal history of pogroms, inquisitions, forced conversions, and down right massacres of the Jews, it makes sense that there would continue to be a trust issue between Judaism and Christianity. All a Jew has to do is point out the fact that God didn’t prevent the murder of six-million Jews during Hitler’s holocaust to support their deep concerns that a fear of total Jewish extinction is reasonable.

    You are correct that at the ultimate level, God determines who is Jewish, who isn’t, and what that means. You are also correct in that Jesus ran afoul of the various religious authorities in his day, but that isn’t to say that he rejected either Torah or first century halachah. It meant that he was able to separate the wheat from the chaff as far as interpreting the intent of Torah. Also, Jews didn’t convert to Christianity in the first century. Messianism was a completely acceptable Judaism of the day, so those Jews who called themselves Nazarites and who followed Jesus as Messiah weren’t really much different from Jews who have followed other (would-be) Messiahs across the centuries, including the Lubavitchers who believe that the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, will be resurrected as the Moshiach.

    All that said, there are a number of Jewish people who have come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah and who also live fully Jewish religious lives, study Talmud, accept Jewish halachah, culture, and tradition, and who otherwise are indistinguishable from their more mainstream Jewish brothers and sisters. As long as they “fly below the radar”, worship in Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform synagogues, and don’t breathe a word about “Yeshua”, they are completely accepted by other Jews. Unfortunately, once they “out” themselves, then it becomes problematic as far as how the larger Jewish community will treat them, with the extreme consequence that mainstream Jews will consider their Messianic brother or sister to have converted to Christianity (Jews for Jesus in their eyes).

    I’ve heard some stories of more encouraging interactions between Messianic and more traditional Jews, but I haven’t seen anything tangible. On the other hand, who knows what sorts of conversations go on behind closed doors and in private between one Jew and another about the “Maggid of Nazaret”.

    2000 years ago, many Gentiles were attracted to and even fascinated with the teachings of a little known Rabbi from a rural area in Roman Judea, whose Jewish disciples lit a fire not only in their native land but in the Roman and Greek diaspora, as far as “civilization” extended during that period in history. Today, we see a similar dynamic of Gentile attraction to a form of Judaism, but we have those 2000 years of conflict and strife to confront, recalling what became a split faith, when the Gentiles took the Judaism out of Christianity and removed the Jews along with it.

    Today, although polite to each other on the surface, there is still a deeply rooted distrust between Jews and Christians and each group does not claim association with the other. God knows the truth, but Messiah will have to come before the rift is repaired and the healing begins.

    …and now, let me duck and run…

    That’s hardly necessary. As always, you are welcome here.

  3. James,http://www.aprayertoourfather.com/
    Hello, Have you heard of, Nehemia Gordon? He is an Author and a Karaite Jew, who has written a book, with a Christian pastor. I have listened to Nehemia speak on the internet, and he seems to be able to connect with those who have accepted Yeshua as their Messiah. He also has a web site,http://www.karaite-korner.org/ . I think he’s an amazing person, with amazing insight to the grace and mercy of God our Father. Just wanted to share, have a blessed day 🙂

  4. Hi Michelle and thanks. Yes, I’ve heard of him off and on for a number of years, but I don’t find myself gravitating toward Gordon or Karaite Judaism.

    Blessings to you as well.

  5. James, you wrote that, “Jews consider Christians to be idol worshipers and polytheists . . ” It’s more accurate to write, “Some Jews consider . . .” I’m speaking specifically about great Jewish figures of the past and present.

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