Vayeishev: Understanding, Living, and Courage

walking-side-by-side Recognize, please, to whom these belong…

Genesis 38:25

The arrival of a letter, adorned with official-looking stamps and seals, was quite an event at the small wayside tavern somewhere in the backwoods of White Russia. The simple tavern-keeper, who had never quite mastered the written word, ran to find the melamed he kept to teach his children.

As the teacher read the letter, the tavern-keeper turned white, uttered a small cry, and collapsed in a dead faint. For the letter contained most shocking and tragic news for this simple, good-hearted Jew: his beloved father had passed away.

Said the mashpiah Reb Michael of Aptask:

An outside observer witnessing the events described above may wonder: why does the tavern-keeper react so dramatically to the letter while the teacher is relatively unmoved? Who among the two better grasps and comprehends its contents if not the learned teacher? The other cannot even read and write!

Obviously, this is a ridiculous question. What if the teacher has a better appreciation of the vocabulary, sentence structure, and artful calligraphy with which the letter is composed? What if he better understands the background, the circumstances, the nuances of the event described? It is not his father who died!

True, Reb Michael would concluded, it is important to learn, to study, to comprehend. And the more one understands, the deeper one delves into the nature of his own existence, the world about him, and his relationship with his Creator, the better equipped he is to fulfill his mission in life. But objective knowledge alone is worthless. Unless one sees himself in the picture, the most profound of theories will yield no meaningful results. Unless one sees the subject matter as ‘his father’, a lifetime of study and discovery will have little bearing on life itself.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Theory and the Father”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayeishev

Apparently, I’m a hypocrite. I don’t believe that I’m a hypocrite, but two individuals have called me one in the past few days. Here are a couple of examples from recent comments on my blog. The first one I present is pretty benign:

…since you are a gentile, dabbling in Messianic Judaism, “which is for Jews”, is a bit of a contradiction, technically you are muddying the waters, so to speak. Would you not agree?

The second example, on the other hand…

I will tell you that you are a hypocrite in your face. I don’t play nicely nicely with the truth. I have to chastise one who does not play with a full deck…You fell for false teaching and with your blog you are causing people to stumble…Go home……

Supposedly, because I advocate for the Jews having a unique covenant relationship with God and that they have a special role beyond any other people or religious group, including Gentile Christians, I have a problem. Actually, the problem is supposed to stem from the fact that I advocate for the above and yet I also involve myself, as a Christian, in the affairs of Messianic Judaism by writing commentaries on the movement. I suppose the fact that I very often quote from Jewish religious and educational sources just adds to my “problem.”

But does that make me a hypocrite?

Just a few days ago I said:

We serve One God and we have one Messiah King who will return to rule over all of Creation. As servants and sons, we each have our roles and duties. We can’t afford to let our limitations, biases, and human ambitions restrict who we are and who God created us to be…both the Jew and the Gentile. Christian support of Israel does not mean taking control of the process of defining Israel. It’s allowing the Jewish people and nation the space to define themselves, and supporting them in this effort through whatever means are at our disposal. That is a Christian’s unique role and purpose in life. It’s time we start living it.

jewish-christianI tried to the best of my ability in the paragraph above to synthesize Christian and Jewish interactions and roles relative to mutual discipleship under the Messiah. Apparently, I failed, at least with the two people who objected to my blog post. I know most of you must be wondering why I’m even writing this. After all, only a few people (publicly) object to me while a much larger number seem to be more encouraging. Why express angst over just a couple of people who question my motives?

I’ve said time and again on this blog that I want to be fair. I want to consider other people’s viewpoints. If someone has a grudge or a beef with me, I have to ask myself if there is anything I’ve done to contribute to it. If there is, then there’s something within me that I need to change. If not, then at least I’ve looked in the mirror and asked myself a few hard questions before moving on.

It’s not that I expect everyone to agree with me all of the time, but it’s difficult for me to comprehend how even my critics can miss what I’m trying to say. It’s one thing to understand my message and to say, “I disagree,” and another thing entirely to misunderstand me to the point what I’m considered to be advocating one position while living out the opposite. Saying that I support Jewish covenant and identity uniqueness is not the same as saying that Jews must be walled up inside their compounds and have nothing to do with the Christians, particularly those of us who are involved with Jews and Jewish community. In my case, I’m married to a Jew. Are we supposed to divorce and live separately? Does my involvement with my Jewish spouse make me a hypocrite? The criticism doesn’t make sense.

I quoted Rabbi Tauber’s story above because it illustrates the relationship and the differences between knowing and understanding; between information and lived experience. The teacher understood the letters, words, and sentences contained in the message but the tavern-keeper experienced the true meaning and impact of what the letter actually said, including the importance of relationship and context. The teacher “knew” the letter while the tavern-keeper “lived” out the meaning and consequences.

I can “know” the “letters, words, and sentences” of the Torah, the mitzvot, and something of the Jewish writings to the limits of my education, but I can never “live” out the experiences, the meaning, the fabric of what it is to be Jewish, whether it is within the context of Messianic discipleship or otherwise. In saying, Recognize, please, to whom these belong, Tamar was calling Judah to acknowledge his unique identity as the father of her children (she was pregnant with twins) and (without realizing it) as the forefather of the Messiah.

I don’t believe that we Christians who stand alongside our Jewish brothers and sisters in the Messiah are hypocrites, either for actually standing by them or by discussing our relationship with each other. If such were the case, a great many writers and teachers, far more knowledgable and talented than I, would have to suffer the same accusation of “hypocrite” and, to serve the honor of Messiah, adjust our behavior accordingly.

contemplating-jumpingBut that would be psychotic.

Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master are still united by one Messiah and one God. While Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman may say that Messianic Judaism and Christianity are two different and separate religions, he also said this:

I also believe Yeshua will bless those gentiles who truly love him. We acknowledge that the gentiles in Yeshua have a place in God’s heart. It makes them our brethren, just as our fellow Jews are our brethren. We are related to other Yeshua followers, just as we are related to other Jews. Nevertheless, Messianic Judaism and Christianity remain two separate religions, yet we have the same Messiah, Yeshua. That being the case, rather than beating each other up with statements of faith we require each other to affirm, it would be good if we just began by treating each other as brethren, loving and supporting one another. I have always been more happy affirming people than doctrinal statements.

That certainly doesn’t sound like he’s requiring isolation between Christians and Messianic Jews. How could he advocate for a complete separatist philosophy and still say that Christians and Jews should “began by treating each other as brethren, loving and supporting one another?” That seems to go along with a “Daily Lift” of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin:

When you build up your own courage, you will be able to serve as a coach to others. Some of the best courage coaches are those who had to struggle to attain the courage they now have. Since it didn’t come easy to them, they know what it’s like to lack the courage to do what others consider easy.

If you don’t yet have the courage you would like, let the knowledge that you will inevitably be able to help others serve as a further motivation to increase your own courage.

Recently, I’ve been encouraged and reminded that in writing this series of “morning meditations,” I’m encouraging others. These are words and actions we are supposed to live by.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)

Good Shabbos.

2 thoughts on “Vayeishev: Understanding, Living, and Courage”

  1. Please don’t let yourself be dragged down by people who are judgmental and self-righteous. The voice you bring to the Messianic and Christian community is too important to be muted by someone who hasn’t yet been humbled.

  2. Thanks, Michele.

    I write what I do to process the various “dragging down” events rather than just sit and stew with them. I suspect that many of the “grumpy” folks out there need to do some “processing” of their own, hopefully not at the expense of others.

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