Walking in the Shadow of God

Our sages tell us that one who mourns the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash will see its comfort. The Maharal, zt”l, was asked why this should be so. “What difference does it make if one mourns the destruction or not? If one is present in the ultimate future isn’t it obvious that he will experience the nechamah?”

The Maharal explained the need to mourn to attain the nechamah. “Before something comes to a new level, it first must decompose. In the creation of the world, God first made tohu va’vohu; only then could the world come into being. When a seed is planted in the ground, it decomposes. Only then can a tree sprout. The same is true with the gestation of a man or an animal. The seed must decompose before the embryo begins to grow. The same is true regarding an egg, as we find in Temurah 31. First the egg must decompose; then it can become a chick. The reason for this phenomenon is that there must be a lack for more perfection to fill. If there is nothing missing, it is impossible to come to a new level. Similarly, one who does not mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash feels complete. He has no space for the nechamah, since he never experienced the lack in the first place!”

The Shem MiShmuel, zt”l, learns a practical lesson from this same statement. “One who wishes to start again and that his earlier sins should not be considered should make himself like dirt. He must completely nullify all of his senses and desires to God. In this way, he will become a completely new creation. The proof to this is from the case of a ger. Although a ger comes from a distant spiritual place, he is like a newborn baby by making just such a new start. He immerses in a mikveh to symbolize this, and if he is male he does a bris. Why should a Jew who makes a new start be any less?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Destruction before the Renewal”
Termurah 31

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.Ephesians 2:11-13 (ESV)

Maybe the story off the Daf and Paul’s message to the Ephesians aren’t telling the exact same story, but they seem to be related, at least to me. We have two groups, Jews who have been distant from God and who need to “make themselves like dirt” in order to “become a completely new creation”, and Gentiles who were once far off from God but who have been brought near “by the blood of Christ.” The Shem MiShmuel even invokes the imagery of the convert to Judaism, a Gentile who goes down into the mikvah a goy and who rises out of the water “like a newborn baby…making a new start.”

That’s not much different than what I was describing in my previous meditation. As a new creation, we stumble and fall a lot, trying to get used to the new person we are trying to become. Sometimes we fall back and have to relearn skills and sometimes we are trying to advance spiritually and come to a point where we feel like infants again, rather than mature in the faith. Amazingly, having once felt secure in our relationship with God, we might find that we are no longer sure who we are in Him and how we are to serve Him.

I know that description fits me pretty well these days.

Despite the fact that human beings have free will and angels do not, we can still learn a great deal from their behavior. Like the angels, it’s important to acknowledge that there is more than one way to serve God. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, teacher or rabbi, businessman or stay-at-home mom, there is a place for all of us among the Jewish people. For example, each one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel carried out different tasks. Some engaged in commerce or working the fields, others in religious study, and yet others in military or temple service – and all were essential to the survival of the nation as a whole. Quite frankly, we’re not all supposed to be doing the same kind of work or serving God the exact same way.

The Chofetz Chaim was once approached by a successful businessman who decided to scale down his business so that he could dedicate himself to Torah study. The Chofetz Chaim explained why his decision was wrong by way of a parable. During wartime, if a soldier unilaterally decides to leave his current post to fight in a different capacity, he will be court-martialed. A soldier must obey orders and man the position to which he was assigned. The Chofetz Chaim went on to say that this businessman’s responsibility was to support Jewish institutions and the poor. If he decided to go through with ending his business success, he would be jeopardizing the position God gave him within the Jewish community.

We have to give fellow Jews the space to become the individuals God intended them to be. Otherwise, we will be contributing to unnecessary tension and divisiveness.

-Asher
“Living Like the Angels”
Lev Echad

Blog writer Asher is addressing a primarily Jewish audience and is encouraging them to try not to “turn everyone into replicas” of each other. As much as Judaism is a unique kahal, like Christianity or any other faith or people group, it is made up of individuals, each with a unique purpose in life and over time, that purpose can even change. Asher continues:

Remember, those differences ultimately constitute the entirety of our people. Our strength can be found via our uniqueness as individuals.

Assuming I can apply all that to me, what does it mean for my life as a Christian? Who am I and who does God intend me to be? One thing is for certain…I don’t seem to be like any other Christian I’ve ever met. On the other hand, I have things in common with everyone else in the church.

Yet in some sense, because I claim the name “Christian,” I, like all other believers, have a lot to make up for in how we have treated the Jewish people.

For the one whom You smote they persecuted and they tell about the pain of Your mortally wounded. Add iniquity to their iniquity, and let them not have access to Your righteousness. May they be erased from the Book of Life, and let them not be inscribed with the righteous. –Psalm 69:27-29 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

While David isn’t writing about Christians as such, he is writing about those who have persecuted Israel, and the church has done this in abundance. Only through making ourselves (myself) like dirt and in sincere repentance, can we have any hope, through Christ, of being written in the Book of Life with the righteous.

I bet, as a Christian, you never thought that part of professing your faith and repenting of your sins would be repenting of Christian mistreatment of the Jewish people. If you want to learn more about this, I encourage you to read a post written by my friend Gene Shlomovich called A story of one Christian’s after-death regret about Israel and Judaism. A sobering and mystic tale of just how much we need to turn our hearts.

For God shall save Zion and build the cities of Judah, and they shall settle there and possess it. The offspring of His servants shall inherit it, and those who love His Name shall dwell in it. –Psalm 69:36-37 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.” –Romans 11:25-27 (ESV)

The prophesies regarding Israel are clear but what if we who, even calling ourselves Christian, have disdained God’s chosen and holy ones? Can it be that without repentance of our sins against Israel, we will ultimately be rejected by her King?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ –Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

I’m probably stretching the interpretation of this verse out of its context, but it does illustrate that many of those who feel secure in their salvation have already been lost, even as they call themselves “Christian.” If this is their fate, then what of mine?

O God, You know my folly, and my guilty acts are not hidden from You. Let those who wait for You not be shamed through me, O Lord Hashem/Elohim, Master of Legions; let those who seek You not be humiliated through me, O God of Israel. –Psalm 69:6-7 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Let not my mistakes, my errors, my sins, prevent another from turning to God through Jesus Christ, or to taint the name and reputation of the Messiah. For I know that…

The peoples will acknowledge You, O God; the peoples will acknowledge You – all of them. Regimes will be glad and sing for joy, because You will judge the peoples fairly and guide with fairness the regimes of the earth, Selah. –Psalm 67:4-5 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

But in verse 8 of that Psalm, when David says, “May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear Him,” will only Israel be blessed, or will “the peoples;” the nations of the earth, including we non-Jewish Christians, have a blessing too?

Do not cast me off in time of old age; when my strength fails, forsake me not. –Psalm 71:9 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Our hope is in Jesus Christ but we must never forget that part of that hope is attached to Israel, and Jesus is her first born son and King. He would never betray his own and would never tolerate those who do. In Romans 11, Paul was very clear about how we “grafted in” branches can be easily detached from the root should be become arrogant and self-serving, and should we consider ourselves superior to the natural branches, who after all, have only been removed temporarily.

I’ve been trying to write about my own condition, but I keep coming back to the church; her flaws, her scars, and her needs. I keep wanting to write “I” but I continue to stray into writing “we”. I wonder if God is trying to tell me something. As much as I feel detached from wider Christianity, I cannot divorce it entirely, for the body of Gentile disciples in the Messiah is part of who I am. Yet, I am also this.

Yochanan answered and said to him, “Rabbi, we saw a man driving out demons in your name, but he does not follow us, so we stopped him, on account of the fact that he did not follow us.”

Yeshua said, “Do not stop him, because no one who does an act of power in my name can quickly speak evil of me. For whoever is not for our foes is for us. For all who let you drink a cup of water in my name, because you belong to the Mashiach, amen, I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” –Mark (Markos) 9:38-41 (DHE Gospels)

I’ve never read this statement of the Master before as one that would allow someone not directly attached to the larger body of Christ as still belonging to him, but maybe I can hope that it represents me. Unfortunately, I think the following is also speaking of me.

Yeshua answered and said, “Amen, I say to you that there is no one who has left behind his home or his brothers or his sisters or his father or his mother or his wife or his children or his fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not receive now at this time, with all the persecutions, a hundred times as many houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, and in the age to come, eternal life. However, many of the first will be last, and the last will be first.” –Mark (Markos) 10:29-31 (DHE Gospels)

As much of a reward as there is in following the Messiah as his disciple, it is still a bitter thing to be separated from those whom you love. One day, Jesus cursed a fig tree (Matthew 21:18-19, Mark 11:12-14) as a lesson in lacking faith. We see in both Matthew 21:20-22 and Mark 11:20-21 that the fig tree subsequently withered from its roots. Jesus commented on the withered tree and perhaps on many a withered soul thus:

Yeshua answered and said to them, “Let the faith of God be in you. For amen, I say to you, any one who says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and moved into the middle of the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, bu trather believes that what he says will be done, so it will be for him as he has said. Therefore I say to you, all that you aks in your prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be so for you. And when you stand to pray, pardon everyone for what is in your heart against them, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions. But as for you, if you do not pardon, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” –Mark (Markos) 11:22-26 (DHE Gospels)

So, to return to the beginning of this meditation, I have made myself like dirt and humble myself before God and man. I turn away from my sins and ask forgiveness from all I have offended. May God wash me and clean me whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7). Then though I may walk alone among humanity and even be set apart from family and the larger community of Christ because of my faith, I ask that I be allowed to humbly walk in the shadow of God. May I never desecrate what is holy, even if the holy one happens to be me.

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