V’Zot HaBerachah: Hanging on a Peg

Sukkot In The Synagogue. Leopold Pilichowski (1869-1933). Oil On Canvas.“And this is to Yehudah, and he (Moshe) said, ‘Listen Almighty to the voice of Yehudah”

Deuteronomy 33:7

What does this verse refer to?

Rashi teaches us that Moshe is referring to the prayers of the kings of Yehudah: David, Asa, Yehoshofot and Chizkiyah.

The Midrash elaborates: There were four kings and each one asked the Almighty for different things. King David asked that he should be able to pursue his enemies and vanquish them. King Asa said, “I don’t have the ability to kill my enemies. Rather, I will pursue them and You Almighty should vanquish them.” King Yehoshofot stood up and said, “I don’t have the ability to vanquish my enemies or even to pursue them. Rather, I will pray and You Almighty should vanquish them.” Chizkiyah stood up and said, “I do not have the ability to vanquish, to pursue or to pray. Rather, I will stay home and sleep and You Almighty should vanquish my enemies.”

What is the meaning of not being able to pursue or pray? Why should anyone find this difficult since the Almighty will be involved? Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz used to explain: Regardless of what we ourselves do to be successful in any area, we must be aware that ultimately it is the Almighty Who causes the victory. Everything is dependent on His will, but we must do our share.

Dvar Torah based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot and Torah Portion V’Zot HaBerachah

But our share of what? In the above midrash, we are taught that regardless of how much or how little we are able to do in our lives, it is actually God who is the source of everything. There are some people who don’t like that idea, especially well accomplished people who have worked very hard to achieve a measure of success. Imagine a renowned classical pianist being told, “God was so good to you to have given you such talent,” and then hearing the pianist reply something like, “God, nothing. Where was God when I spent endless hours over the past forty years practicing and learning? Thanking God for my talent totally invalidates all of the hard work I did to achieve my current musical skill.”

From an atheist’s point of view, I can see how a Christian saying such a thing would be very insulting. It’s difficult to see the interplay between God’s sovereignty and His expectation of our participation. On the other hand, there’s also a very real danger that by giving God all the glory and then some (not that we shouldn’t give all the glory), we believe we have no responsibility to produce any of the effort God expects of us.

But as I said before, what effort is expected of us? Well, that depends.

… in order that his (the king’s) should not be lifted above his brethren, and that he should not deviate from the commandment to the right or to the left.

Deuteronomy 17:20

The Torah requires that even one who is in a position of leadership and prominence must retain his humility. Moses and David are outstanding examples of leaders who were extremely humble.

How can one remain humble when one exercises great authority and is the recipient of homage and adulation? “Simple,” said Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin. “If a king hangs his crown on a peg in the wall, would the peg boast that its extreme beauty drew the king’s attention to it?”

While an organized society needs leaders, and in Judaism there is a need for Kohanim and Levites who have special functions, an intelligent person should never allow a particular status to turn his head and make him think that he is better than others. Nor should men consider themselves superior to women because they have certain mitzvos from which women are exempt, and women should not think that they must attain equality by rejecting these exemptions and performing these mitzvos. There is no need to attain something that one already has. Men and women, Kohanim and Levites, leaders and kings – we are all “pegs in the wall” which the King uses for His purposes as He sees fit.

True, we should always strive for that which is above us, but this means striving for greater wisdom and spirituality, and not for positions of superiority. The latter are not at all “above” us; one peg may be higher on the wall than another, but that does not make it a better peg.

Today I shall…

…try to realize that I, like all other people in the world, am but an instrument of God, wherewith He wishes to achieve the Divine will.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 13”

hat-on-a-pegOur share or what is expected of us depends on which peg we are. No one, not even the King or the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) is more important than anyone else, but they still have special functions. The local village water carrier could not step in and fulfill the functions of either. For instance, in the days of the Temple, you wouldn’t see the King entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to offer atonement for the nation. Only the Kohen Gadol could do that. Not that the Priest was more important or more exalted than the King, only that his function was highly specialized.

What we do as servants of God’s Divine will depend on who we are. No one person is more important than another but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same, either.

Which brings me to this:

It is not with us, it is with Israel, and by accepting Israel’s Messiah we get to partake in Israel’s blessings. As an example, if my husband receives a family inheritance, then as his wife I would obviously partake in it too. However, it isn’t “MY” inheritance, and my receiving any benefit from HIS inheritance requires connection to him.

I don’t see God covenanting with Gentiles in the Bible, rather, we receive blessings of Israel as we draw near to them.

That was a comment made on one of my recent blog posts.

That revelation is actually very humbling. It hardly contributes to the feeling of significance of a Christian (or any non-Jewish believer) in relation to God. I have written on multiple occasions about how it is only through Israel that we have a doorway at all into any blessings from God. Without the covenant relationship that Israel, the Jewish people, have with God, we people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12), cannot be called by His Name. In fact, only three verses in the Bible create the link that allows anyone but the physical descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to have a covenant relationship with God at all:

Now the Lord said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (NASB)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but only that last sentence at the end of verse 3 creates the link. Paul’s commentary on this part of God’s covenant with Abraham brings forth some illumination:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Galatians 3:16 (NASB)

You have to read that whole chapter in Galatians and then interpret it carefully to realize that Paul was not invalidating the Torah (Law) for Jewish people, but then again, he wasn’t applying the Abrahamic covenant (or any other covenant God made with Israel) as a total unit to his Gentile audience either. He was only applying the blessing from a single condition of the Abrahamic covenant to the non-Jewish believers, as recorded in a tiny slice of Genesis 12:1-3. Misinterpretation of this part of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia has led to generations of Christians believing that they would physically have an inheritance in the Land of Israel, either replacing or at least crowding out the Jewish people.

Square Peg in a Round HoleOther misinterpretations have led many people in recent years to believe they inherit not only all of the blessings that result from God’s covenant with Abraham, but all of the covenants (and their blessings) God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Children of Israel, effectively deleting any distinction between Gentile believers and Jewish people everywhere.

Just because the Jewish pegs aren’t more important or better loved by God than the Gentile pegs doesn’t mean that just anyone can take the crown from the King’s peg and put it on their own head. Only the King is King. Only the High Priest is the High Priest. Only the Jewish people are Jewish and bear the Jewish responsibilities assigned to them by God. Only the people of the nations who are called by God’s Name are who we are and only we have the special responsibility to encourage, support, and nurture Jewish return to God and to Torah in order to facilitate the return of Messiah.

I know that by just saying such a thing, I’ve become a square peg in the world of round holes. I don’t fit in either the Christian church by having such an opinion, nor do I reasonably fit in any traditionally Jewish realm. Even Messianic Judaism doesn’t know what to do with me because I go to church, and Hebrew Roots can’t tolerate me because of the idea of not being equal sharers in, or owners of, all blessings and all covenants across the board (but isn’t equal access to God’s love, mercy, grace, and salvation enough?).

Equality but not homogeneity is an extremely difficult concept to grasp, and it’s even more difficult to live out. Believe me, I know. I strive to live it out every day. There’s a horrible temptation to see myself not only as not equal to other believers (Jewish or Gentile), but not even significant to God.

But it becomes easier when I realize that it’s not human relationships, human priorities, or human judgments that are the key, but a relationship with God.

It is better to take refuge in the LORD Than to trust in man.

Psalm 118:8

Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.

Psalm 146:3-7

Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; For why should he be esteemed?

Isaiah 2:22

That said, there are people I admire and esteem for their holiness and their knowledge, but it is hardly wise to base one’s relationship with God on what some other human being says you should or shouldn’t do. Not that there aren’t good teachers and good books to help along the way. But the buck does not stop with such good teachers and good books, and it most assuredly doesn’t stop with most of the silliness we find in most of the religious blogosphere.

Recently, Rabbi Carl Kinbar said to me:

You asked, “But if God is our teacher and perhaps ultimately, our only teacher, where can we go to learn from Him without having to endure endless layers of human filters?” Our Teacher has placed us in complex relationships with these “human filters” who sometimes have to be “endured” (as they have to endure us) but at other times inspire us (as we hope to inspire them. Not to mention our traditions, which are also marked by joy and pain.

Hopefully, we also experience those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself – moments of simplicity that do not transcend life but help direct us in the midst of its complexities and uncertainties.

love-in-lights…those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself… As Rabbi Kinbar said, we have been placed as pegs among many other pegs to sometimes “endure” each other, but also, we pegs have been placed among each other to inspire each other. True, we also sometimes discourage each other, which is often the place from which I write. That is why, as much as we pegs need to be with each other, whether I am a square peg or a round one, it is not only important, but it is vital that I seek out, that we all seek out, those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself – moments of simplicity that do not transcend life but help direct us in the midst of its complexities and uncertainties.

Everything is dependent on His will, but we must do our share. Even understanding who we are and what “share” we must do can be terribly complex. For some people it may be easy, but for many others, it only seems that way, because uncertainty and dissonance is extremely uncomfortable. Saying, “God wants me to do this” (whether He really does or not) is a lot easier than saying (and feeling) “I’m not sure what God wants so I turn to Him in my uncertainty and let His will guide me, not my own.”

I’m glad we are in the days of Sukkot. What better place to be than sitting in my sukkah, looking dimly up at the sky and the clouds, listening to the fabric of the sukkah fluttering in the breeze, seeking a very rare moment of utter love and holiness with God himself.

Good Shabbos.

5 days.

6 thoughts on “V’Zot HaBerachah: Hanging on a Peg”

  1. “Our share or what is expected of us depends on which peg we are. No one, not even the King or the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) is more important than anyone else, but they still have special functions.”

    A great point that is lost on most in Christianity. Curiously though, the concept is used by some controlling clergy (a music minister at my former church comes to mind) to keep the congregants in check by saying “God puts leaders in place, therefore if you question my authority, you question God” or the like.

    “That revelation [Christian blessings come from attachment to Israel] is actually very humbling. It hardly contributes to the feeling of significance of a Christian (or any non-Jewish believer) in relation to God.”

    Christian humility regarding the Jews has been scarce, and it’s jarring to absorb this idea. But I disagree about the insignificance part. Can we say Jews are more important because God specifically selected and cultivated them? Or are “we” more important because of the sheer number of us who call upon a “foreign” God (of course the one and only true God, nonetheless, not the god of “our” ancestors.) I think is’t “yes, and yes” or “no and no.” lol We all have a vital role to play, as some young lady once said: “Gentiles are the crowning jewels of the nations”.

    In keeping with this theme and reflecting on a parable, who’s more blessed, the worker who’s been on the job all day, or the one who comes in at the end of the day yet still gets his wages?
    I can make a strong case for both.

    Thanks James, and keep your chin up, you have been chosen to play a vital role. 😉

  2. I fixed your tags. With the tags you’re using, remember whatever you open, you have to close. 😉

    I agree with what you’re saying, but imagine how most Christians might feel when colliding with this information. As I said, Christianity has been taught that it’s the lead dog in the pack and that anyone who wants to come to God must go through the church. Once we Gentiles realize what a slender thread attaches us to our Creator, it becomes rather daunting.

  3. “Christianity has been taught that it’s the lead dog in the pack and that anyone who wants to come to God must go through the church. ”

    Well put James. Yes, it is daunting, and takes trust, like Abraham’s!

    Thanks for the “fix.”

  4. James, I think what you are doing is just what we are asked to do. We are called to go outside the camp (the place of safety, community, consistency and succor) bearing his shame. Yeshua said, “Come, follow me.” They follow the lamb wherever he goes. The round holes are man-made, and no, you won’t find a square hole, because we are warned, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” If you get tired enough, and lay your head somewhere for too long, you will regret it.

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