gratitudeAs an exercise, make a list of the ideas you regularly espouse, along with the original sources you heard them from. Think of people who gave you wisdom for living. Did a friend set you straight on something? Your brother saved you from doing some stupid things? An employer gave you good career advice?

Acknowledge that you received the gift. If someone took the blinders off your eyes, it’s fantastic, it’s a different life. Say to yourself: “I am now aware of something very important that I wasn’t paying attention to.” Say it out loud. That alone will make you feel genuine appreciation.

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“Way #50: Rewards of Gratitude”

If you ask a Christian who they are grateful to more than anyone, you’ll probably hear “Jesus” nine times out of ten, and rightfully so. Without the grace of the Jewish Messiah and our faith in God through him, we people among the nations would have no connection to the Almighty and His mercy. But Jesus doesn’t exist in isolation. He’s the Jewish Messiah, which Christians sometimes miss. Even when we know that intellectually, we don’t always fully appreciate what it means that he is the Jewish Messiah, the promised Savior of Israel.

I’ve probably said all this before, but in reading Rabbi Weinberg’s commentary, the topic resurfaced for me. Some truths are best restated periodically just to make sure they stay fresh in everyone’s mind.

Make a list of society’s treasures – monotheism, justice for all, universal education, dignity of the individual, preciousness of life. These core values of the civilized world are all from the Torah.

Before the Torah was given, people built their lives on a subjective concept of right and wrong. Then at Mount Sinai, human history underwent a dynamic shift. People understood that there is one God who has moral expectations. You can’t just live as you please; there is a higher authority you are accountable to.

Despite the fact that Jews were never more than a tiny fraction of the world’s population, these ideas became the basis for the civilized world. For example, do you know the source of the idea “Love your neighbor as yourself”?

It’s in the Five Books of Moses – Leviticus 19:18.

The Jewish people are an eminent firm, 3,500 years old. We are no fly-by-night. The world uses our products under different brand names and takes it for granted. Consider what humanity owes to the Jewish people.

If you are living with Jewish wisdom, know it, quote it, and give credit.

There is nothing in the teachings of Jesus that isn’t “Jewish wisdom.” All of Christ’s “source material” was the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. It’s what he quoted from. It’s what he taught from. It resonated with his Jewish audience because they had been raised on that “source material” all their lives.

Paul taught from that source material too, when teaching Messiah to Jewish and Gentile God-fearing audiences. Acts 13:13-43 is a perfect example of Paul using Jewish history to explain why Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth was the promised Messiah and the Jewish people in the synagogue understood and agreed, at least to the point of inviting Paul and Barnabas back to their synagogue in Pisidian Antioch on the following Shabbat to speak more.

Apostle-PaulEven the Gentiles among the Jews understood because they had been exposed each Shabbat to the teachings from the Torah and so had the basic background that allowed them to follow Paul’s arguments. They understood so well in fact, that they invited practically the whole town (of Gentiles) to hear Paul the following week (which caused problems of their own, but that’s another story).

The only time when “Jewish wisdom” broke down was when Paul and Barnabas addressed a wholly pagan Gentile audience who had absolutely no clue about Judaism and Jewish history. In that case (Acts 14:8-18), Paul had to give the crowd a crash course in Judaism 101 just to keep them from worshiping him and Barnabas as Zeus and Hermes respectively.

I say all this as a reminder (in case anyone’s forgotten) that we would have no understanding of Jesus at all unless we at least minimally understood something about “Jewish wisdom” (and we reject this line of education at our own peril).

More than all, give credit to the Almighty. He gave us a brain to understand and appreciate wisdom. Other teachers enlighten us, but the original teacher is God. He implanted within us the intuition to discover all there is to know about living.

God is showering us with gifts all the time. Food, air, eyes, teeth. Life itself. He programmed us with an antenna for wisdom. Nothing is possible without God.

This should be a no brainer, but it’s more common in Jewish prayer to praise God than in Christian prayer. It’s just my opinion, but I think there’s a definite advantage to praying with a Siddur since the blessings within greatly praise God and thank Him for His mercy and bountifulness. It takes us just a little more concentration to praise God without a prayer book, since the human tendency is to ask for what we want and need (which isn’t bad, except if that’s all we do when we pray).

The problem is that we don’t want to be indebted to Him, so we deny the gifts. We refuse to believe that He loves us.

I know I’ll probably get some static for this, but in a nutshell, I think the Rabbi has given us the reason why many people don’t come to faith. We don’t want to be indebted to Him. We’re afraid of what that means for us, what we’ll have to change about us, how we won’t fit in to the culture, that we’ll realize we aren’t perfect as self-contained human beings.

It’s probably why even a lot of religious people don’t want to thank God, at least not anywhere near as much as He deserves (and face it, He deserves infinite thanks). That may also be why Christians don’t want to thank the Jewish people and Judaism for what we have. We’re afraid of what it will mean. We’re afraid that Jewish people are still part of God’s plan, that He still loves them, maybe more than the Gentile believers. We’re afraid that Israel will be placed at the head of the nations instead of America or Canada or whatever.

raining1We want to be special because we’re Christians, including our particular denomination, branch, or sect. If Jewish Israel was chosen first, they might still be first or at least very special in God’s eyes. What does that do to we Gentiles who are called by His Name (does that make us jealous and covetous of Jews)?

God loving Israel probably does nothing to us except make us just as loved by God as the Jewish people, but also different from them, like two brothers of a King, both loved but both different.

And God loves even those who reject Him and do not want to be called “sons.”

…your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:45 (NASB)

There is no way for the unjust and the unrighteous to acknowledge God and thank Him, but we who are disciples of the Jewish Messiah have no such excuse.

In order to connect with God, you have to learn to appreciate all the good He has done for you. That means giving up the illusion that you alone are responsible for your achievements. It’s all a gift from God. Just as every stroke of Picasso’s brush has his signature on it, everything in this world has God’s signature on it. We have to learn to appreciate it.

Everything in this world has God’s signature on it. Even those people who do not believe, since all human beings have been created in God’s image. We believers know God’s signature is on us. We agreed to that when we acknowledged Messiah and came to faith through the Jewish King.

They asked Rabbi Schneur Zalman:
“Which is greater: love of G‑d,
or love of your fellow man?”

“Love of your fellow man,” he replied.
“For then you are loving the one that your Beloved loves.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Which is Greater”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Rabbi Weinberg’s point is that we should publicly give credit to the source of our blessings. Christians usually have no trouble thanking Jesus for our blessings but as I mentioned, Jesus doesn’t exist apart from his connection to Israel. Messiah descended from Heaven for the lost sheep of Israel. When he returns, he will redeem all Israel and restore her at the head of the nations.

We should also give credit to Israel, to the Torah, to the Prophets, to all the instruments God blessed the Jewish people with, because without Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, without the twelve sons of Israel, without their descendants, without the Davidic Kings, without the Davidic King, Messiah, we would have nothing and be nothing.

Thank you.

3 thoughts on “Gratitude”

  1. Great post James. “The only time when “Jewish wisdom” broke down was when Paul and Barnabas addressed a wholly pagan Gentile audience who had absolutely no clue about Judaism and Jewish history”
    This is soooo missed, by sooo many! We have much to learn, thank God for His faithfulness and patience!

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