Lech Lecha: Did You Hear the One About the Jewish Student and the Priest?

strangers-in-israelThe Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you And curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”

Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the wealth that they had amassed, and the persons that they had acquired in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, at the terebinth of Moreh. The Canaanites were then in the land.

Genesis 12:1-6 (JPS Tanakh)

Thus Abraham took his first steps on a journey that would result in the vast and astonishing progression of the Jewish people across the grand panorama of human history. Abraham the Hebrew “crossed over” not just a geographical boundary, but a spiritual one.

I’ve said on a number of occasions that I thought one of the missions of the Christian church was to provoke zealousness among the Jewish people, to inspire Jews to return to Torah, return to Judaism, return to being who God made them to be.

Although I don’t believe God would allow it, there is a tremendous and ongoing concern, especially in America, that the Jewish population will continually assimilate, and ultimately vanish from our national landscape. And while many Christians believe that the only hope for the Jewish people is to convert to Christianity no matter what, there are some Jewish believers who insist that only when the Jewish people repent and return to Torah that the Messiah will finally return, and all of God’s promises to Israel and the people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12) will finally come to pass.

In this week’s Torah portion, Avraham (Abraham) makes his way to the land of Israel and begins the journey of the Jewish people through history. Along that path we have seen nations rise and fall and have survived them, even through massive persecution. There were 2 million Jews during the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. Demographers state that though there are approximately 14 million Jews identified worldwide, there are possibly 400 million halachic Jews (Jews whose mother’s were Jewish or converted according to Jewish law). Many Jews have fallen by the wayside of history. This week I share with you a story of one Jew who made his way back to identifying with the Almighty, the Jewish people and the Torah … albeit in a rather unusual way.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Lech Lecha

orthodox-talmud-studyRabbi Packouz goes on to tell the story of “Lance,” a young Jewish fellow who came from a family so assimilated that they sent him to a Catholic school to get the “best education.” One of Lance’s instructors, a Priest, found out that Lance was Jewish only by accident. Lance chose to write an essay about Rabbi Akiva for an assignment in the Priest’s class. Curious, the Priest asked Lance why he chose a great Jewish sage as the topic and Lance answered, “Because I’m Jewish.” This simple statement launched another journey into Judaism with some surprising twists:

The priest was surprised that he had a Jewish pupil and asked Lance if he had ever studied the Five Books of Moses with Rashi, the great commentator, or if he had ever learned the Mishna, part of the Talmud. When Lance told him “No,” the priest offered to teach him. For an hour a day after school, they learned together.

One day it occurred to Lance that Judaic studies were not the usual curriculum for the priesthood, so he asked his mentor, “How did you become so knowledgeable in Torah?”

The priest replied, “Before I entered the seminary, I traveled to Israel. While visiting the Western Wall a man asked me if I was Jewish. Curious as to why he asked, I answered ‘Yes.’ The man then asked me if I was interested in learning about my heritage. I figured it would be interesting, so I said, ‘Sure.’ He took me to a yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem and I was so impressed that I stayed for close to a year, never revealing that I wasn’t Jewish. I considered converting, but decided that it would be too difficult and too much of a shock to my family, so here I am.”

One Jewish young man who had grown up never knowing what it is to be Jewish and a Catholic priest who nearly converted to Judaism. What strange partners of God. A Priest encouraged his Jewish student, not to convert to Catholicism, but to become knowledgable in Torah and Mishnah. He encouraged “zealousness.”

Protestantism struggles with how to support the Jewish people but gets hung up on Jews who are not in the Church. They can’t always see that we can also “provoke zealousness” and that Messianic Judaism is the most likely vehicle for doing so. If Jesus is Jewish and the Messiah, then his Jewish followers will not abandon being Jewish and will not neglect Torah as his disciples.

Abraham took all that he had and, at the command of God, went to the Land of Promise in obedience. God put Lance and a Priest together and using a highly unlikely set of circumstances, sent one lost Jewish person on the correct path as well. According to Rabbi Packouz, Lance continued pursuing his Jewish studies and presumably became observant.

If you are a Christian, what does this tell you about what God wants you to do? If you are Jewish, where should you be going?

Good Shabbos.


11 thoughts on “Lech Lecha: Did You Hear the One About the Jewish Student and the Priest?”

  1. Addendum: I don’t know if this one will inspire any comments or require any of my attention, but I just want to let folks know that I’ll be offline for the majority of the day. Took the day off of work and I’ll be spending it with my grandson. Crafts for Kids at the library this morning, then lunch, then probably Legos. Just a couple of wild and crazy guys knocking about.

  2. James,

    So what exactly happened to the Jew, who became Torah observant, did he forsake his belief in the Messiah?

    I ask this question, because what I am taking away from your story, is that it is more important to remain Jewish than it is even to follow the Messiah.

    Also, the fact that the young man knew he was a Jew, means he was not very assimilated, it seems your definition of an assimilated Jew, is one who does not keep an Orthodox level of Torah observance, which comes across, as a large assumption.

    The other point is that of “provoking zealousness”, I read the other article you linked, but I am not sure how you came to this provoking of zealousness, I don’t see any scripture supporting this, however I do know of scripture that teaches of provoking jealousy?

  3. If you read the story, there’s no indication that the Lance ever had faith in Jesus or that he was a Catholic. He went to a Catholic school because his parents thought it would give him the best education. It isn’t unheard of for secular people to attend a religious school in their area if they think it has superior educational facilities. You’re making an assumption that Lance was Catholic when the story doesn’t rightly say so.

    There are plenty of people who know they’re Jewish but identify with their Judaism primarily through ethnic and cultural but not religious ways. This is actually recognized as a great difficulty by religious Judaism and Chabad has a primary purpose of reaching out to these assimilated, secular Jews and introduce them to the mitzvot. That said, Lance had the wherewithal to write about Rabbi Akiva, so he had some Jewish education, but apparently not enough to steer him away from a Catholic school. I don’t know the backstory for Lance, only what the Aish Rabbi wrote.

    As far as scripture supporting “provoking zealousness” (as opposed to jealousness), I provided a link to my write up on this in the body of the blog. I’ll put it in this comment for convenience: Provoking Zealousness.

    Is it more important for a Jew to remain a Jew or to convert to Christianity? Some of the darkest days in the history of the Church were when we forced Jews to abandon being Jewish and convert to Christianity, usually by threats, torture, and murder. The fact that a Catholic Priest was instrumental in reversing that process is very interesting. I’ll leave it to you to decide if the cost of making a Jew into a Catholic for the sake of Christ is worth it or not.

    As I said above, I’m about to go offline to spend the day with my grandson, so if you have further comments, I won’t be able to respond for quite some time.

    Good Shabbos.

  4. Thank you for clarifying the story.

    Is it more important for a Jew to remain a Jew or to convert to Christianity?

    That was my question to you, is it more important for a Jew to uphold his ethnic identity or to follow the Messiah? I would say, follow the Messiah should be the first and foremost, with obviously the best scenario being that a Jew also does not lost their identity. But this comes back down to an issue I see with this assimilation view point, identity in ethnicity over identity in the Messiah and I think Paul gave his opinion of this in (Phil 3). But the ultimate goal would be to have both within their correct priorities…

    However, your question focuses on Christianity, and based on what you said, being Jewish and Christian, do not mix. So who is at fault. Christianity or being Jewish or both. If you believe that Jews and can be disciples of Yeshua, without Christianity, than you are ultimately saying, Christianity has a different Jesus than that of the bible, which is safe for Jews, while Christianity is not safe.

    I can share my opinion, but I really want to understand your opinion on the matter. Based on what you said and please correct me if I have misunderstood you, you think it is better for a Jew to uphold his identity than to be a follower of a “gentile Messiah” Christianity, which from your point of view is incompatible anyway, leaving Christianity as a dangerous religion for Jews.

    Please understand, I am sincere in my questions, I am not trying to pick a fight, I really want to understand your viewpoint.

    I hope you have a blessed day with your grandson!

    1. @Zion — You asked if James was saying that “Christianity has a different Jesus than that of the bible…”. I would never presume to put such words into James’ mouth, but I will assert that it is exactly true that Imperial Roman Christianity invented a non-Jewish Greek-style demigod whom they called by the Greek name “Iesous”, which via Latinization and later German transliteration became “Jesus”. They did so by means of misinterpretations of the apostolic writings filtered through the lens of their inherent anti-Jewish prejudices. For a Jew to embrace this image as Messiah would be idolatry and apostasy, which is worse than unbelief. It’s not such a great image for non-Jews, either. This is why so many non-Jews left mainline denominations during the Jesus movement of the 1960s in the USA, seeking first-century religious authenticity. Many of them then gravitated toward the budding Messianic Jewish movement in the 1970s because it was exploring the characteristics of the genuine Rabbi Yeshua and the Jewish roots of that authentic first-century biblical faith that had been rejected and set aside by traditional Christianity so long ago. Some, like James, have acquired something of an authentic first-century biblically Jewish faith perspective and are trying to share that perspective with fellow non-Jewish Christians in traditional Christian venues. Jews, of course, should not emulate Christians, but rather should embrace a fuller expression of Jewish religious faith characteristics, as befits disciples of the Israeli rabbi Yeshua who taught that the validity of Torah applies as long as the heavens and earth endure and that performing and teaching its precepts leads to greatness in the kingdom of heaven.

  5. There was a time when that was the choice, and one could not follow the Jewish Messiah and live as a Jew. Of course, we may not be accepted by the current leaders of Judaism, but that should not be our goal. Evangelical Christians want to see Jesus return. But what did he say? You shall not look upon me until you say, “Baruch habah b’shem adonai.” Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Holy One. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, the Christians were all talking about Jesus returning. But scripture says it is the Jewish people who have to welcome him.

  6. Zion, what I’m saying is that a Jewish person should not have to give up everything that identifies them as Jewish and all of the mitzvot that God gave to the Jewish people in order to become disciples of the Jewish Messiah. Ultimately, what we call Messianic Judaism today will just be Judaism in the Messianic age. We non-Jews will be attached to the God of Israel through the Abrahamic covenant. If all Jews have to convert to Gentile Christianity in order to follow the Jewish Messiah, they will lose most of who they are in Messiah, ironically enough. It shouldn’t have to be that way, which is one of the reasons I’m trying, however imperfectly, to present another point of view to my little, local church.

    There are a few Jewish people in my church. Yes, they are Christians and yes they are saved, but they are still missing out on something.

    “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    Matthew 5:17-19

    If you read this review, or better yet, watched the 30 minute TV episode, you’ll see my point of view on Jews in Messiah and what Messiah expects of them. Anyone (Jewish person) who does not observe (abolishes) the Torah and teaches others (Jews) to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom. They’ll still be in the Kingdom, but will be least. Conversely, anyone (Jews) who fulfills (observes) the Torah and teaches others (Jews) to do the same will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. Since Yeshua flawlessly observed Torah and taught Torah in the correct interpretation, it stands to reason that he is the greatest in the Kingdom.

    You seem to be saying that Judaism is just an ethnicity, like being Hispanic or Asian. But no other people group on Earth has their ethnicity so totally fused with their relationship with God. Jewish people are the only ones who are born into a covenant (unless you count everyone born into the covenant God made with Noah). That is something you can’t simply set aside, at least as I see it.

    Had a blast with the little guy. His Dad picked him up after he got off of work. The missus and my daughter should be coming home in time for Shabbat.

    Peace. Out.

  7. PL,

    Thank you for your opinion and summary, but this makes Christianity not adequate for gentiles either, because you just painted Christianity in error.


    Thank you for the summary of your view, we agree on much… When it comes to bringing Jews to Yeshua, your argument is more concerning Christianity itself, your view seems more to say that giving Jesus to Jews from a Christian perspective is in error, so it would be better to not bring the Christian Jesus to Jews (which destroys Jews) and keeping Jews from the error of Christianity is ultimately better for Jews.

    1. @Zion — Thankfully, the errors carried along in traditional Christianity can still be addressed, even as the Reformation attempted to address some of them, and the Pentacostal/Charismatic movement attempted to address another. The “Jesus People” movement sought to address and correct still more. These examples illustrate that painting some version of traditional Christianity as being is error or somehow inadequate is nothing new; and the movements that arise as an attempt at self-correction are usually considered “radical”, which in the literal sense means that they attempt to address the “root” of some problem. Claiming, as I do, that the root of the problem is truly at the root of the “olive-tree” analogy of Rom.11, because of an Imperial Roman perspective that was foisted upon the Christian world, is merely being radical where it truly counts and finally may be effective.

  8. Actually, presenting the correct point of view on the Messiah (IMHO) would be the best way to reveal the Jewish Moshiach to the Jewish people.

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