Repairing the Turbulent Suffix

A certain sofer wrote a sefer Torah and was checking it over carefully for any possible errors, when he finally found one…Although with most errors he would only have to erase the problem and rewrite, he was unsure whether he could do so in this case. As is well known, it is forbidden to erase the Name of Hashem. In this case, the problem was not the name per se, but the suffix… Since he did not want to rewrite the entire amud, he wanted to fix the error but only if this was permitted by the halachah.

When this question reached the Taz, he ruled that the sofer could not erase the suffix…It is obvious to me that it is forbidden to erase a suffix to one of the Divine Names. Here is the proof: although we find in Maseches Sofrim that if a drop of ink fell on one of the Divine Names it is permitted to erase the ink in order to correct the blot, the Mordechai explains that this may only be permitted if letter wasn’t yet formed properly. However, if ink fell on a complete Name it would be forbidden to erase the ink. Similarly, if the letter were accidentally connected this would also be forbidden and the same is true regarding a suffix.”

When the Chut Hameshulash saw this response, he presented a different view, however. “In my opinion, although the Beis Yosef brings this Mordechai and it is l’halachah, there is room for leniency regarding a suffix. The proof to this is from Menachos 48. There we find that Rav Yochanan asks if we may do a sin in order to gain something with regard to sacrifices. From the Rambam there it is clear that we hold like the opinion of Rav Yochanan.

He concluded, “Since rectifying the shem Hashem is like saving a sacrifice, it is clear that in this case we may erase to rectify, especially since erasing a suffix is only a rabbinic prohibition.”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“Erasing to Rectify”
Siman 143 Seif 4(a)

I know that the information imparted in the quote above won’t make a great deal of sense to most Christians and probably even to a good many non-Jews in the “Messianic” movement. However the halacha that relates to the creation of a sefer Torah or Torah scroll is extremely specific if, for no other reason, than to avoid violating the commandment not to take the Name of God lightly or in vain (Exodus 20:7). I’m not going to attempt to provide a commentary on the ruling in this Daf, but I do want to use it as a metaphor.

A few days ago, I created a blog post called Debating Fulfillment Theology for the purpose of inviting polite debate regarding the pros and cons of the Christian theology that states the grace of Christ has wholly replaced the law of Moses. Even under the best of circumstances (and the debate is continuing as I write this “mediation,” so you are free to join it if you haven’t done so already), such dialogues rarely arrive at a unified conclusion. That is, I don’t expect that those who support fulfillment or replacement theology will “repent” and agree that it is a dangerous and unsupportable position, nor to I expect that those who disagree with replacement theology will eventually agree that the Jews must surrender their dedication to Torah and God and submit to the grace of Jesus Christ in a manner that completely denies Jews and Judaism (and I’m sure you can detect my bias based on how I worded that last sentence).

My goal for the debate is to engage in and encourage open, honest discourse with the hope of not resolving this conflict, but presenting alternate points of view. I am disturbed that the church sees replacement theology or supersessionism (though sometimes more politely cloaked as “fulfillment theology”) as concrete fact and the only possible way that the New Testament scriptures can be understood. After all, New Testament scholars have been debating for centuries (and continue to debate today) over the meaning of many portions of Paul’s letters and some of the more “difficult sayings of Jesus.” If a certain amount of scholarly disagreement remains in these interpretations, how can Christianity as a whole believe that replacement theology is such a “done deal?”

In quoting part of the Daf for Siman 143 Seif 4(a), I want to introduce an idea. I’ll use myself as an example (and I’ll try to keep this as short as possible and still form a complete picture). I was an agnostic/atheist until my early 40s as was my Jewish wife. Then I came to faith in Christ in a local Nazarene church (long story). My family and I attended for some time, but we found that many of our questions about God and Jesus weren’t being answered, especially as they related to the Jewish people.

My wife came into contact with a “Messianic/One Law” group in our community and she was immediately “hooked” (it took me a little longer to warm up to this sudden change in perspective). She strongly suggested that I attend with her and eventually, my family and I shifted our worship context from the Nazarene church to the One Law congregation. Years passed and many transitions took place. Eventually, we left the One Law congregation, and then my wife went back while the children and I attended the local Reform synagogue (another long story). Then my wife left One Law and joined the Reform shul, while I eventually went back to One Law and stayed for a number of years, proceeding from attendee to board member and teacher.

I was happy there for a time but my wife continued to explore her Judaism with the Reform synagogue and later with the Chabad and for the first time in almost 20 years of being together, we became a “mixed marriage”. My wife now identifies with the traditional Jewish community and is not “Christian” or “Messianic” in any sense.

As I watched my wife explore what it was and is for her to be a Jew within a cultural, ethnic and religious Jewish context, the basic tenants of the One Law movement seemed so discordant with what I was discovering (through my wife’s eyes) is actually Judaism (most One Law groups refer to themselves corporately as “Messianic Judaism” thus identifying themselves as a “Judaism”, even if the majority of their leaders and members are not Jews). Questions about assumptions I had made years before started coming to me and I entered into a year long investigation of who I was and what I was doing in my walk of faith (if you like reading a lot, that entire year is chronicled on my now defunct blog, Searching for Light on the Path).

Finally, I did what most religious people (or even what most people in general) don’t do. I changed my perspective, my theology, and my approach to being a disciple of the Master. In essence, I repaired what I saw as a damaged “suffix” in my understanding of God. That required great sacrifices on my part and I entered into more than one serious “crisis of faith” which resulted in quite of bit of emotional distress. These crises resolved into a new framework, the one from which I am now operating on this blog. I still take “heck” occasionally from people who don’t agree with my decision, however it’s a decision I found necessary to make for me and my relationship with God.

Why am I telling you all this and why should you care?

People can change. It’s not easy and it’s not common, but it’s possible. People can make significant and even extraordinary shifts in their theological perspectives if presented with enough evidence, but evidence is not enough. It takes the ability to admit that you can be wrong (not that God can be wrong, which would amount to actually erasing the Name of Hashem) and the courage to make changes (fix the suffix) once that admission has occurred.

No one likes change which is why a couple who is planning their wedding is stressed to the max, even though getting married is what they want to do more than anything. Any change creates stress and crisis, especially if it involves making major alterations to fundamental emotional, cognitive, and spiritual structures such as how you comprehend your trust and faith in God.

That means it is possible, however unlikely, that someone might really change as a result of this conversation. OK, I’m not holding my breath, but I am making a suggestion. As we see from the Daf above, change and correction of perceived flaws is not easy and there are times when it is necessary and times when it isn’t. Changes should be made with the utmost care and only after a great deal of deliberation, prayer, and consultation with trusted advisers.

But if change weren’t possible, no one would become a Christian in the first place, since no one is born into that state, not even people who are raised in a Christian family.

Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman recently made a comment on the aforementioned blog post that speaks to what I’m trying to express:

Scripture is scripture, but quoting a verse in or out of context says what the scripture says, but doesn’t tell us what you think it means. If you are going to quote scripture you have not achieved your goal until you tell us what YOU think it means. What you think it means is actually what you are basing your argument upon, so just say what you think it means or you have proven nothing.

Scripture is Scripture and the Bible is the Bible. It exists. It says what it says. But what does it mean? That depends on how we interpret it and what that interpretation means in our lives. Not everyone relates to the Bible and to God in the same way based on how we interpret the scriptures and how we interpret who we are. When presented with the challenges and crises in our life of faith and understanding, we need to keep going, no matter what the obstacles and no matter what the cost, even if the cost is that we must change or be forced to admit that we will always live a life at odds with God and in conflict with His Word.

On their exodus from Egypt, towards Mount Sinai, the Jewish people arrived at an obstacle – the Red Sea.

They divided into four parties.

One advocated mass suicide.

One said to surrender and return.

One prepared to fight.

One began to pray.

G-d spoke to Moses and said, “Why are you crying out to Me? I told you to travel straight ahead. Keep going and you will see there is no obstacle!”

The Jewish people kept going
and the obstacle became a miracle.

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

Keep going. Like Nachshon, plunge into the turbulent seas. When you find them, you can fix mistakes. Miracles are possible.

My God, guard my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking deceitfully. And to those who curse me, let my soul be silent and let my soul be like dust to everyone. Open my heart to Your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments.

-from the Elohai N’tzor

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