Shemot: Jewish Survival and the Promise of the Torah

The death of Pharaoh's sonThen the Lord said to Moses, “You shall soon see what I will do to Pharaoh: he shall let them go because of a greater might; indeed, because of a greater might he shall drive them from his land.”

Exodus 6:1 (JPS Tanakh)

No other people have ever gone into exile and survived for thousands of years to come back to re-establish a national homeland. The return of the Jews from exile to the Land of Israel was nothing short of a miracle!

What does it all mean?

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemot (Exodus)

If you follow the annual Torah readings as I do, you might be tempted to just blow past all of the miracles of God in the land of Egypt and the liberation of millions of Jewish slaves. After all, you know the story. Even Christians who only occasionally read the “Old Testament” are familiar, at least in general, with Moses and Aaron confronting Pharaoh, King of Egypt to demand the release of the Israelites so they may worship Hashem their God. But Shemot (Exodus) tells a very important story that is highly relevant to all of Jewish history and a story important to every Jew alive today.

It’s a story of survival against all odds, survival in the face of hardship, slavery, and even certain destruction. It’s a story of God’s extraordinary love for the Jewish people and the lengths to which the Almighty will go to rescue them from every type of harm. This doesn’t mean that individual Jewish people won’t have hardships or even that large numbers of Jews won’t suffer, but the Jewish people, Israel will survive and ultimately thrive.

The Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath…

Deuteronomy 28:13 (NASB)

This doesn’t mean that Israel will be the head and not the tail just within their own nation, and it doesn’t just mean Israel will be the head in their general region of the earth, it means, in the Messianic Era, when Moshiach returns all the exiles to their land and restores Israel with honor and power, the nation of Israel and the Jewish people will be ascendant over all the other nations of our planet, and Messiah will be King of all.

But what stands in the way of that accomplishment? After all, amazingly, there are Jewish people after thousands of years of concerted effort expended by various nations to exterminate them. Not only do Jewish people survive, but identifiably Jewish culture, religion, literature, art, music, and the Torah have all survived, continuing to set the descendants of the ancient Israelites apart from all the other nations and people groups in our world. God has always preserved them and He will always preserve them.

The Torah tells us, “And Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that entire generation” (Exodus 1:6). Why is it important for us to know that the whole generation has passed on?

The Ohr HaChaim explains that the enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians occurred in three stages: First, Joseph died and the Israelites lost their power. Second, the bothers (sic) died. As long as even one of the brothers was alive, the Egyptians still honored them. Third, everyone from that generation died. Until that happened — as long as the members of the first generation were alive — the Egyptians considered them important and were not able to treat them as slaves.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the Mirrer Rosh Hayeshiva, commented that there are two aspects here. One is on the side of the Egyptians. They were unable to treat the Jewish people as slaves as long as they considered them important. The other aspect is on the side of the Jewish people themselves. As long as they were considered important and worthy of respect by themselves, the Egyptians were not able to treat them in an inferior manner. Only when they personally considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Based on Growth Through Torah

ShoahThis commentary on this week’s Torah portion also speaks to both Jewish and non-Jewish people in the present. Jewish survival is dependent upon how the Jewish people regard themselves and how the rest of the world regards them. Like Joseph and his brothers and their entire generation, as long as the rest of us understand the relationship between Israel and God and treat the Jewish people accordingly, they will continue to survive, because we can not bear to make “slaves” of such a people who have been lifted high by God. But when we denigrate the Jewish people, as we often have done across history, then we get Shoah, The Holocaust.

It takes great courage to come back and stand out after six million of your people have been starved, tortured, and exterminated. The natural tendency would be to hide, to go underground, to blend in, disappear, fade from history as a people, just in order to not be in a position where you, your children, or your grandchildren will ever again be taken from their homes and put in the camps. As Rabbi Pliskin’s commentary states, it’s not just how the rest of the world treats you, it’s how you consider yourself.

If the Jewish people don’t stand up for themselves as proudly Jewish, the rest of the world won’t respect them, and again, we get Shoah.

Am I contradicting myself? Earlier, I said that Jewish survival is dependent upon God’s great acts, and so this is true. But the Jewish people had to cry out to God, a leader had to be willing to rise up from the people to shepherd them, as Moses did. The Jewish people had to, and still have to willingly accept God, accept the fact that God chose them, that they are still chosen, and to “hear and obey” the Word of God that uniquely signifies their called out status.

When we look at Jewish history, we see a history where the Jewish people have defied the laws of nature and the laws of history! We have survived and impacted this world though we have been thrown out of our land not once, but twice! We have impacted the world perhaps more than any other people in history — the concepts of the value of human life, universal education, justice and equality, the importance of and goal of world peace (as opposed to glorifying war), the importance of a strong stable family as a basis for a moral foundation for society, individual and national responsibility for the world — though we were beaten, killed and exiled from one nation to the next. Though few in number and spread to the four corners of the earth, we survived as a people, never assimilating into anonymity. Even our land, the Land of Israel, defied the laws of nature, only fertile when the Jewish people inhabited it.

Coincidence? Good luck? A roll of the dice? Perhaps — except that each and every phenomenon was prophesied and predicted in the Torah hundreds and thousands of years before the events. Does it make you think that perhaps something is going on here? That perhaps there is a special relationship between the Almighty and the Jewish people?

The Almighty, the Jewish people and the Torah are intertwined. In the past 3,300 years there has been effort after effort — from within as well as from without — to redefine and redirect our people. Each and every one has failed. If you wonder why, then perhaps the time has come to read the Torah and find out. The Torah is not only our heritage, it is the game plan for the Jewish people and the world!

-Rabbi Packouz

rabbi_child_and_sefer_torahPeriodically, my Pastor asks what I think the role of Jewish obedience to Torah is in today’s world (although I think Rabbi Packouz answered that question very well in the above-quoted statement), especially in light of Christ and the Church. Why would a believing Jew continue to observe the mitzvot when (from his point of view) they were clearly eliminated by Jesus and they, like the rest of us, now live by the grace of Christ?

Being “Messianic” doesn’t make a Jew not a Jew. All of the conditions for survival I outlined above still apply to them, just like they apply to any other Jewish person alive today. For a Jewish person to find, recognize, and acknowledge the Messiah is the answer to a prayer and the culmination of a dream.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Moshiach, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Yonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 16:15-17 (NASB – adjusted)

I made a few minor changes to the translation above to make it clearer that Simon Bar Yonah was a Jew realizing that his Master, the Rabbi he has been following, is indeed the Moshiach, “the Son of the living God.” Peter didn’t stop being Jewish, immediately start munching on a ham sandwich, burn a Torah scroll, and join the local Baptist church because he became a Christian. He didn’t change into something else besides being Jewish, he received a revelation that at the core, all Jewish people want and need to receive. The revelation of the arrival and presence of Messiah, Son of David, King of Israel, who will save his people, not just from their sins and certainly not from the Torah, but from the centuries and centuries of persecution, pogroms, inquisitions, and genocidal efforts of a hateful and disbelieving world.

Peter recognized Jesus as who he was and is without a New Testament in hand and especially without the last two-thousand years of Christian theology, doctrine, dogma, and history, including the reformation, muddying up the waters to the degree that neither Jew nor Gentile can recognize Jesus as Moshiach any longer.

Peter recognized the Moshiach because he was there, he knew what to look for, not in spite of the Torah but because of it.

It has been prophesied in the Torah that Jews would be exiled from the land and that they would return to the land: “And it shall come to pass when these things shall come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have placed before you, you will take it to heart amongst all of the nations where God has scattered you; you will return to the Lord your God and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you today, you and your children with all of your heart and with all of your soul. Then the Almighty will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you; and He will return and gather you from among all of the nations where he has dispersed you. If your dispersed ones will be even at the ends of the heavens — from there God Almighty will gather you and from there He will take you. And God your Lord will bring you to the land that your fathers inherited and you shall inherit it and He will do good for you and make you more numerous than your forefathers” (Deuteronomy 30:1-5).

-Rabbi Packouz

For a Jew, particularly a Jew in Messiah, the Torah is inescapable. When Paul called the Torah a “tutor” or “child conductor” (Galatians 3:24), we can consider the Torah as a protector, a defender, a preserver of the Jewish people pointing toward the ultimate expression of the Torah. Yes, it “points to Christ” but once a Jewish person has recognized Moshiach and turned to him, it doesn’t mean the “tutor” is useless and tossed aside. It only means that the capstone has been added to the structure to make it solid and permanent. The structure still needs all the pieces. There are many other purposes the Torah fulfills for the Jewish person besides illuminating the image of Messiah. Without the Torah, the Jewish people lose everything it is to be Jewish, to be called out, to be unique among all of God’s Creations.

Rabbi Isaac LichtensteinThis is our mistake in the Church. We demand that when a Jewish person becomes a disciple of Moshiach, they consider Paul’s words as meaning that all of the purposes of Torah have been extinguished and that the Torah is not only useless, but actually a detriment to the believing Jew. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jewish people such as Paul Philip Levertoff and Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein did not stop being Jewish when they discovered the identity of the Messiah. Especially in Rabbi Lichtenstein’s case, the Torah became more important, more enlightening, not less. Performing each mitzvah was given a new dimension in Messiah.

This is something the rest of us don’t understand. This is something we were not only taught to disregard, but to actually disdain. We’ve been taught to shun and even fear the Law of Moses, but we fail to understand the joy and fulfillment that an observant life can be for a Jew. For a Jew in Messiah, the meaning of a Torah observant life is amplified. Torah and Messiah are complementary, not oxymoronic.

Messiah and Torah preserve and sustain the Jewish people, for both will be present in the age to come. If they didn’t, then how could the gospel of Messiah be good news for the Jews?

Good Shabbos.

13 thoughts on “Shemot: Jewish Survival and the Promise of the Torah”

  1. Up until 12 years ago, having been a Christian (teacher, deacon) for over 30 years, I agreed with your pastor’s statement, “Why would a believing Jew continue to observe the mitzvot when (from his point of view) they were clearly eliminated by Jesus and they, like the rest of us, now live by the grace of Christ?”

    It wasn’t until I discovered & started studying the works of Young, Stern, Heschel, Nanos, et al, that I realized how far off base we goyim are in regards to what Torah and the covenants really are (what is it about “eternal” that we don’t believe is “eternal?”). Fortunately God has placed my wife & I in a position where we teach a department of 30-somethings who have grown up in church and are able to share scripture with them through an eastern lens. They are loving it!

    Hopefully your pastor will expand his circle of Biblical authors/commentators and have his own view of Torah and the Jew enriched.

  2. Very nice article, and I agree with it all. The preservation of Israel, as foretold in the Torah is indeed one of the strongest testimonies to the existence of God, as Rabbi Packouz explained so well.

    Now, I do hold to the belief that the salvation of Jews is not tied to the observance of the law. I think Galatians 3 isn’t throwing away the law. It’s just saying that one’s peace with God doesn’t depend on it — whether for Jew or Gentile. Peace with God is based on faith in God’s promises. The law embodies those promises.

    For example, if a completely non-religious Jewish man were to become a Christian, would he, because he is Jewish, have some obligation to adhere to the law in a manner different from his Gentile friends? I would say no.

    However, if a Torah-observing Jew should come to Christ, I would not compel or advise him to discontinue observing the Torah (even though I think he could), for the reasons you state here.

    1. Well, Jerry, should we pursue that thought a little farther? If the Torah remains as valid in all its finest details as Rav Yeshua described it in Matt.5:18, and obeying and teaching it makes one great in the kingdom of heaven, as he said in the immediately following verse 19, and the Torah is to be written on the heart of a Jewish disciple of the Messiah in accordance with the covenantal description in Jer.31:33 (see vs.31 for the specific application to Jews), and non-Jews are not legally required to keep the entire Torah as described in Acts 15, then clearly a Jewish disciple has Torah obligations that a non-Jewish disciple does not have. Does the Torah itself demand that Jews must obey it in accordance with the Jewish authorities who are designated in each generation to interpret and apply it? Didn’t Rav Yeshua command his Jewish disciples to do so in Matt.23:3?

      Now, you might wish to draw a distinction between the minimum requirements for forensic Jewish “salvation” and some more extensive Jewish obligations for the pursuit of “sanctification”; but wouldn’t the “completely non-religious Jewish man” of your example have to come to grips with these obligations at some stage, if he is to follow Rav Shaul’s advice to the Philippians to “work out the results of [his] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil.2:12)? Wouldn’t Rav Shaul’s comment to the Galatians (Gal.5:3) that those who are circumcised (i.e., Jews and circumcised converts to Judaism) must keep the entire Torah, while non-Jews are exempted from such legal obligation, suggest that the Jewish disciple does in fact “have some obligation to adhere to the [Torah] in a manner different from his Gentile friends”? I suggest you should reconsider your previous negative opinion, that the answer should be clearly “yes” rather than “no”.

  3. Hello . Possibly you misunderstood my point?

    I do not say that the Torah has become invalid. I am saying that our righteous standing before God (what I called “Peace with God”) is not dependent on adherence to the law — whether Jewish or not. Our standing before God is a matter of faith in the promises of God, as it was with Abraham long before there was a Torah.

    Again, the law is righteousness, and it isn’t going away or being annulled. In the kingdom, the Torah will not be an external document that we struggle to obey, it will be written in our hearts, meaning that we will gladly obey it as an act of love toward God — the greatest commandment of all.

    As for the passage in Matthew 5:

    17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish

    but to fulfill.
    18 “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.
    19 “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.
    20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and

    Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Is Christ saying that our righteousness comes by *our* adherence to the law, or by His? I think by His. Isn’t our righteousness is described, in verses 3-6? Isn’t he saying that anyone who seeks to be saved by the law must obey every bit of it?

    3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
    5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
    6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

    I think this describes people who are promised righteousness by virtue of humbly admitting that they utterly lack righteousness in themselves.

    You cited Gal 5:3 as a requirement to keep the Torah. But look at the broader context:

    1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
    2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
    3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.
    4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
    5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.
    6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

    The point of verse 3 is that *if* you seek to be saved from through the law, then you must keep all of it. However, verse 4 says that seeking to be saved by keeping the law severs you from grace. Verse 5 says true righteousness comes by faith, and verse 6 says that it’s the same for Jews and non-Jews. Or that’s how I read it.

    1. @Jerry — We seem to be mostly in agreement, though perhaps approaching a couple of points differently. One is the definition of the “salvation” that Rav Shaul was addressing in his Galatians letter.

      Jews, who are circumcised before any opportunity to consider their own potential for righteous actions, do not obey Torah because they seek to obtain salvation by doing so. Nor are they (we) severed from grace because of being circumcised or because of seeking to obey the Torah; and they (we) are most certainly required by Torah to keep it as an essential aspect of their (our) identity. Now, the non-Jewish followers of Rav Yeshua, whom Rav Shaul was addressing as the audience of his Galatians letter, were in a different situation. Those who had already converted and had been circumcised had accepted the same responsibility as any other Jew to obey the entire Torah. That is what Rav Shaul was reminding his non-Jewish audience, because they were under societal political pressure to behave just like all the other idolatrous pagans since they were not recognized as exempt from these practices as Jews were exempted. Becoming circumcised Jews would “save” them from this pressure, but at the price of losing their non-Jewish freedom (grace) as voluntary servants of HaShem (authorized by the Messiah’s sacrifice on their behalf). That is why Rav Shaul considered it a false salvation that would sever them from “grace”, and why he was so harsh in his reference to those who were trying to push them into it. It is essential to recognize that he was not referring to some later Christian notion of their “eternal salvation”; he was trying to safeguard their freedom to live as non-idolatrous gentiles.

      As for your notion of “peace with G-d”, which is based on the righteousness of trusting HaShem’s promises of acceptance and blessing, of course this is not dependent on specific performance; it is based on faith/trust. Further, Matt.5:3 emphasizes the humility that characterizes those who possess (perhaps we may say that they have “grasped” or apprehended) the kingdom of heaven. Nonetheless, Rav Yeshua’s reference to the Pharisees’ righteousness in Matt.5:20 makes an undeniable statement that our individual behavior does affect our “greatness” within that kingdom. James, in his letter, elaborates on this theme with his discussion of the actions that demonstrate and give substance to faith. Note also that a place within the kingdom of heaven is not equivalent to the notion of “eternal salvation” (though of course they are not altogether unrelated). The aorist Greek tense used in Matt.5:20 to describe this continual entering into the kingdom of heaven indicates that it describes a present ongoing existential reality and not a characteristic of personal status vis-à-vis HaShem.

      I hope this clarifies matters.

  4. Hopefully your pastor will expand his circle of Biblical authors/commentators and have his own view of Torah and the Jew enriched.

    Hi, Jim. Thanks for reading my blog and commenting. I have given my Pastor some books, including Introduction to Messianic Judaism (which I thoroughly enjoyed), but he remains very well “established” within his particular framework. I have to keep reminding myself that people don’t change people. That’s God’s job. All I can do is put inmy two cents.

    Hi, Jerry. Actually, if you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know I’ll disagree with that statement. I believe that the Jewish people, believing or non-believing, are not absolved of their responsibilities to God in the Torah, nor the blessings Torah contains. I do believe that when the Gentiles were grafted in to the Jewish root of “the Way,” the Acts 15 decision did not require that we also convert to Judaism and become obligated to the full yoke of Torah. I do believe we can adopt additional mitzvot as we desire, but it’s voluntary. The Torah fulfills many functions, not the least of which is to identify and preserve the Jewish people, the descendents of the Israelites at Sinai.

    Of course, ProclaimLiberty articulates this point far better than I. I do agree, as you said subsequently, that no one is justified before God (saved) though performance of the mitzvot. Only faith justifies man before God, whether Jew or Gentile.

    That said, beyond justification, a Jewish person has a special relationship with God and special responsibilities above and beyond the community of Gentile believers.

    As far as Notepad goes, maybe you had wordwrap format turned on when you composed your missive and forgot to turn it off before copying and pasting. Strange things can result.

    No worries. Shavuah Tov.

    1. Speaking of strange things, James — I’m not sure if the corrected version of my latest post was received. It’s not visible for review while awaiting moderation, as recent ones have been; and yet attempting to re-submit it prompts WordPress to present a duplicate-submission message.

  5. “It takes great courage to come back and stand out after six million of your people have been starved, tortured, and exterminated. The natural tendency would be to hide, to go underground, to blend in, disappear, fade from history as a people, just in order to not be in a position where you, your children, or your grandchildren will ever again be taken from their homes and put in the camps. As Rabbi Pliskin’s commentary states, it’s not just how the rest of the world treats you, it’s how you consider yourself.”

    As if a coincidence, I, just tonight, actually heard Elie Wiesel SING, at the 92nd St. Y in NYC (on TV). The concert took place on December 18, 2010. I was instantly moved to ears at the sound of the first note, as soon as my brain interpreted that he was actually singing, accompanied by an orchestra and choir behind him. I have heard him speak in person twice and read at least a half dozen of his books, but never knew of him to sing. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, I read the captioned words in English appearing across the bottom of the screen as he sang in Hebrew and realized it was the poem “Ani Maamin” which closes the last chapter of my book on the Holocaust.

    To hear this courageous man, who bore so much pain and agony and loss in Auschwitz-Buchenwald and has bore witness so faithfully since then, stand with an orchestra, before and audience, and SING songs of his childhood, some in Hebrew and some in Yiddish, is an expression of some human strength that I cannot adequately describe or explain. It’s as if the deep-seated joy of his Jewish humanity still remaining inside of him could not be expressed well enough as a Nobel laureate in the written and spoken words he has so beautifully composed, but had to also be expressed in words put to song.

    It was, to me, a stunning, powerful glimpse of the human spirit rising up and triumphing over the worst that the human race could dish out, of the light conquering the darkness. And not just the human spirit, but a decidedly Jewish human spirit transcending decidedly anti-Jewish horror.

    The DVD, “Memories and Melodies of my Childhood” can be found at the concert website: There is a very brief you tube promo of it here: From there you can purchase it.

    Just the 1:28-long preview is powerful.

    I highly recommend it, think you would appreciate it, James. It is something I think we all need to hear.

    1. Thanks, James — The version appearing above seems to be the one in which I had corrected a few typos, so all is well. But I was struck by your choice of phrasing, that you had “approved everything in moderation”, which sounds generally like sage advice (though meaning something rather different from the technical usage that applies to the blog moderator’s context). [:)]

  6. Thanks to all for the interesting discussion. I love the different perspectives gained from people seeking the truth while coming from such different directions. Peace to all.

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