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 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?