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What Brings Us Near to the Kingdom of God?

Did you ever wish you could change someone’s negative feelings toward you into positive ones? Consider the following story:

In the days of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, it occurred that a butcher was angry at the Rabbi of his city for rendering a decision that the meat of a cow he wanted to sell was not kosher. In his anger, he devised a scheme to murder the Rabbi. On a pretext, he had the Rabbi travel with him on a lonely road. Along the way, the butcher took out his sharp knife and wanted to kill the Rabbi.

At first the Rabbi pleaded with the butcher to have compassion on him. But this was to no avail. When the Rabbi saw that nothing he could say would make a difference, he started to mentally focus on all of the positive qualities and attributes of the butcher. Suddenly there was an amazing transformation. The butcher began to cry, kissed the Rabbi, and begged his forgiveness.

The lesson: Love others and they can’t help but to love you!

(see Rabbi Chaim Zaitchyk – Maayanai Hachaim, vol.3, p.191; Rabbi Pliskin’s “Consulting the Wise”)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Radiate Love”

A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.

-The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) to the Tin Man (Jack Haley)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)

This morning, in a comment I made in response to Rabbi Carl Kinbar, I said in part:

The Internet is a very judgmental place where often the rules of civil social discourse do not apply. People are accused of all sorts of things on little or no evidence. When terms like “Bilateral Ecclesiology” start getting thrown around, people don’t see complex individuals, they just see “types”. To be fair, we make “types” out of people behind labels such as “One Law” and a lot of other names as well. Even though we are bound to disagree with each other on a number of issues in the religious blogosphere, if we tried to recognize each other as not only real people but as fellow disciples of Messiah, maybe we’d treat each other a little better. What would it be like if instead of dialoguing via the Internet, we suddenly all found ourselves in a coffee shop somewhere having this discussion over cups of hot java? I suspect the conversation would be different.

I periodically make such pleas on my blog, trying to encourage civility in the midst of disagreement. They are usually my least popular blog posts and attract little attention and fewer replies.

And yet all of our protestations and arguing make us liars if we call ourselves disciples of the Messiah or just plain “Christians”.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20 (ESV)

maskThe Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, is replete with passages about loving one’s brother and neighbor, and yet how much love do we see in these dialogues about our various theological perspectives? Almost none. But I would be a liar myself if I said they didn’t exist at all:

I would have to respectfully disagree. McKee’s research is precisely what we need to peel back the layers of this onion and find the original intent of the Author in His unchanging, everlasting Word. Then, we can understand what it truly means to return to the ancient paths and walk in the ways that demonstrate our love for God.

-Pete Rambo
“The ‘ger,’ the Chumash and Anachronism”

This is part of Pete’s rebuttal to comments I made in Part 2 of my review of J.K. McKee’s book (and boy is he getting a lot of free publicity from me) One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit. I’m not going to write a detailed rebuttal to Pete’s rebuttal of my review, because then he’d write a rebuttal and I’d write a rebuttal, and there’s a limit to how much time and energy I have available for a this sort of thing.

But it’s the way Pete responded that’s virtually unique to these transactions. Generally people on both sides of the aisle get pretty worked up when labels like “Bilateral Ecclesiology” or “One Law” are inserted into the mix. We tend to respond with our emotions first and our intellect second or more accurately, we respond with anger, hurt and outrage first and never consider applying compassion, empathy, and understanding to the other person’s point of view at all.

If we were the Rabbi in Rabbi Pliskin’s midrash facing an angry butcher with a sharp knife, we’d all end up sliced and diced and buried in a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere.

For a people will dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem. You will not have to weep; He will surely show you grace at the sound of your outcry, when He hears, He will answer you. The Lord will give you meager bread and scant water; your Teacher will no longer be hidden behind his garment, and your eyes will behold your Teacher.

Isaiah 30:19-20 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Next Wednesday, my review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Inner Torah, part of his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series, includes this portion of scripture and something of Lancaster’s commentary about it.

It is said by some of the Jewish sages that one of the things Messiah will do when he comes (returns) is to teach Torah correctly, including the hidden things of Torah. It is also said that the Torah we have now, the actual physical object and its textual contents, is a “copy and shadow” of the heavenly, supernal Torah, the literal will and wisdom of God that resides in the Heavenly Court. The Torah we have was “clothed,” so to speak, when it was given at Sinai so it could exist in the physical realm and be understood and consumed by human beings.

They will no longer teach — each man his fellow, each man his brother — saying ‘Know Hashem!’ For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest — the word of Hashem — when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.

Jeremiah 31:33 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

dear_godThe New Covenant promises that the Word of God will be written on our hearts and we will all ‘Know Hashem,’ from the least of us to the greatest, in a manner that can only be compared with the great prophets of old. There will no longer be a need for one person to teach another because our Teacher will be inside of us, no longer hiding His face; no, we shall see Him and know Him.

But not now, not yet.

Until then, we don’t know, hence we disagree, and sadly, hence we personalize conflict and get mad at people who don’t agree with us.

Disagreement isn’t the problem. Failure to love is. But if we fail to love people then we are failing to love God. How can we say we follow God and not love Him? Yes, one believer can disagree with another and yet they can love each other and they can love God. The traditional model of learning in Yeshiva is based on debate and yet it is not based on hate but love and the desire for learning.

It is said that Herod’s Temple was leveled, Jerusalem razed, and the Jewish people exiled from their Land, not because of lack of observance of the mitzvot, not because the Torah was not being studied (and certainly not because the “Jews rejected Jesus”), but because of baseless hatred of one Jew for another.

It doesn’t look like we Gentile disciples of the Master (i.e. “Christians”) have learned very much from that lesson.

Our Sages gathered these sections in an order … according to the requisite steps (Introduction to Path of the Just).

While character refinement is an important and desirable goal, we must be careful to stride toward it in a reasonable and orderly manner. Overreaching ourselves may be counterproductive.

Physical growth is a gradual process. In fact, it is not even uniform; the first two decades are a sequence of growth spurts and latency periods. Generally, the body does not adjust well to sudden changes, even when they are favorable. For instance, obese people who lose weight too rapidly may experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Although the weight loss is certainly in the interest of health, the body needs time to adjust to the change.

If we are convinced, as we should be, that spirituality is desirable, we might be tempted to make radical changes in our lives. We may drop everything and set out on a crash course that we think will lead to rapid attainment of the goal. This plan is most unwise, because psychologically as well as physically, our systems need time to consume new information, digest it, and prepare ourselves for the next level.

Luzzato’s monumental work on ethics, The Path of the Just, is based on a Talmudic passage which lists ten consecutive steps toward spirituality. Luzzato cautions: “A person should not desire to leap to the opposite extreme in one moment, because this will simply not succeed, but should continue bit by bit” (Chapter 15).

Today I shall…

…resolve to work on my spirituality gradually and be patient in its attainment.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Av 21”

And so it goes with us, at least ideally, slow and steady growth and gaining in understanding.

It’s not just in areas of learning and knowledge we strive to grow, but we must also nurture advancements in wisdom, compassion, spirituality, and Godliness. Without such, we can be as intelligent as Einstein and as learned as the Rambam and still know and be nothing.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (NASB)

Standing before GodEven if you “win” the argument but you fail to love, you have won nothing. Of all of the mitzvot we strive to perform, if we fulfill them all flawlessly but we fail to love, we have failed to observe all of the Torah and we have desecrated the Name of God.

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord;  and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:28-34 (NASB)

How near or far from the Kingdom of God are you?

12 thoughts on “What Brings Us Near to the Kingdom of God?”

  1. I’m sure you realize a large part of the problem is the, “names,” who have created these various divisions and theologies, usually for financial, career path or social benefit for themselves. This drawing off disciples after oneself is nothing new.

    We don’t take the bait with the hook unless there is something inside ourselves that is attracted to the bait, and so swallows the hook. “Authorities,” require a market and followers. The great unwashed masses need to belong and seek someone to lead them and tell them what to think and do. Maybe they deserve each other?

  2. You cited Mark 12:28-34 for its invocation of the notion of a particular scribe’s nearness to the kingdom of G-d (aka “the kingdom of heaven”). But, on the other hand, Rav Yeshua preached regularly: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (viz: Mt.4:17). In other words, it was very near to the Jews who constituted his audiences. And, perhaps more importantly, we see Mt.5:19-20, in which doing and teaching Torah makes one great in this kingdom, while even to be entering into it requires a diligence greater than the well-recognized devotion of the scribes and Pharisees. Nonetheless, it seems that this kingdom is designed for the humble, as noted in Mt.5:3 and indicated also in Mt.18:3. And in Mt.7:21 — “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” It would seem that entering this kingdom requires continual childlike humble devotion to the Torah that indicates HaShem’s intentions for Jewish behavior (and by extension for all humans insofar as indicated in Torah).

    So what is this kingdom that is so near, and how is it related to the messiah’s kingdom that will be established when he returns to rule for a thousand years? The answer may be summarized to say that what is so immediately accessible is an outlook, a psycho-spiritual perception that recognizes HaShem’s Presence all around us, and honors Him rightfully as King and Father, to whom wholehearted obedience is offered from a sense of unconstrained love. This has a secondary consequence in extending love to those around us (“thy neighbor as thyself”). Such an attitude and behavior, among a community of people, produces an environment at any time and place that resembles the cultural environment that will be established in the physical millennial kingdom. This is the essence of ‘Hasidut.

    Now this is fine as a conceptual starting point. What remains is the matter that has filled this blog for quite some time, which is what does any given individual do in response to such an attitude and outlook. What behaviors are prescribed for Jews under the Torah covenant? What behaviors are prescribed for non-Jews without any covenant except the one made with all humanity through Noa’h the ark-builder? (Remember that the “new” covenant is also only for Jews, and is an extension or fulfillment of the Torah covenant.) Does Avraham-like faith augment the Noa’hide responsibilities for gentiles? Does Isaiah’s vision of gentiles observing Shabbatot and clinging in some manner to Jews and the Jewish covenant add to their responsibilities; or does it merely compliment them for good behavior above and beyond their assigned responsibilities and aligned with Jewish covenantal responsibilities? It would appear that kingdom ‘Hasidut among gentiles includes a motivation to repair the effects of millennia of damage done by other gentiles to the Jewish people (e.g., helping return them to the land of Israel, providing political support and charitable financial contributions, even helping MJs to recover their cultural identity and apostolic insights), and a motivation of gratitude for Jewish contributions throughout the millennia to the arts and sciences (e.g., Nobel Prize winners in medicine and many other fields) as well as to their more obvious contributions of spiritual and moral insight.

    1. PL said:

      It would appear that kingdom ‘Hasidut among gentiles includes a motivation to repair the effects of millennia of damage done by other gentiles to the Jewish people (e.g., helping return them to the land of Israel, providing political support and charitable financial contributions, even helping MJs to recover their cultural identity and apostolic insights), and a motivation of gratitude for Jewish contributions throughout the millennia to the arts and sciences (e.g., Nobel Prize winners in medicine and many other fields) as well as to their more obvious contributions of spiritual and moral insight.

      I just finished reading the Book of Isaiah this morning (yes, all of it in one sitting) and am convinced that in Messianic Days, the faithful people of the nations, that is to say, Gentile disciples of the Master and their countries of residence, will be subservient to Israel and King Messiah. The text never says that the nations clinging to Israel actually become part of Israel, and the prophet speaks of Israel consuming the wealth of the nations. He also speaks of all mankind bowing to God on every New Moon and Sabbath (presumably that includes the festivals), so there’s an indication that as part of our submissiveness to the God of Israel and his chosen ones, we will also be observing the moadim in some fashion.

      And I believe the tone of this blog post fit what you said about the role of Gentiles relative to Messianic Jews (and/or Jewish people/Israel in general).

  3. James,

    Blessings and thanks for the kind words.

    My post wasn’t so much a rebuttal, though it was a prime recent quote about anachronism, as a general addressing of how we look at the Torah. What lens? Coming out of (I don’t particularly care for that phrase, but it explains…) Christendom, I am keenly aware of errors within the Christian paradigm that lead to wrong understanding. It was just really interesting, in the wake of our discussions on ‘ger’ (as part of the ‘one law’ debate) to run into such a clear example of a translation/theology filter that pertains exactly to our recent topic.

    I have enjoyed the exchanges and, like you, value the cool-headed approach where iron can sharpen iron without inflicting wounds.

    Shavua tov!

  4. I do not think that there are many who are Torah Observant Messianic Gentiles that wish to be Jewish, nor take on the Covenant Obligations. I certainly do not, and those I know that do wish it are full proselytes to Messianic Judaism.

    The Kingdom of G-d will be all that it should be…the Jewish Believers in Yehoshua, whether from looking forward to Mashiach before the death of Yehoshua, or from accepting Yehoshua as Savior after Yehoshua’s death, in their own Kingdom amongst all the Kingdoms of the Earth, and in the pre-eminent position in the full extent of Israel from the Mediteranean Sea to the Euphrates, changed and made into productive land at Yehoshua’s coming.

    And the Nations will have their place after Israel, and so it should be, but Yehoshua will be King of Kings to those of us whether resurrected or alive during the Millenium. Gentiles, however intimate with Yehoshua will not be in Israel unless Yehoshua so chooses to honor them, and there will be a few, no doubt…perhaps the emissaries and ambassadors to Israel.

    The Nations will flow to Jerusalem at the Pilgrimage Feasts, but others will come to the Temple to learn, and take back their learning to the nations. And Yehoshua rules the entire planet with a rod of Iron…no kindly forgiving man, but G-d incarnate on the Throne. And so it should be.

    Those of us that actually practice the weightier matters of the Torah as well as those mitzvoth that we can assume, being neither Jewish, nor in Israel, nor under a Temple are already attempting to do the love required of us, however badly we may succeed. It is after all a process.

    2 Peter 1:3-11 (KJV)
    3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
    4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
    5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
    6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
    7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
    8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
    10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
    11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

    Name calling of people comes from their hearts, and do our passionate opinions, for “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

    All of us get nearer to the Kingdom of G-d bit by bit, and task by task, ever trying to come up higher spiritually and in our actions to Yehoshua.

    Those that name names in criticism should stop, for we are not to judge, but the passion of our desire to connect with others should not be scorned, even if it is not diplomatic and soothing at all times.

  5. @James — You mentioned something called the Book of Israel. I found a web link to something of this name, that associates it with the book of Isaiah but which also seems to reflect a strange set of notions that has been dubbed “British Israelism”. Is this the article to which you referred? If so, I’m curious about how you stumbled onto it. Are you considering material for a new thread?

    1. PL said: You mentioned something called the Book of Israel.

      I did? My failing memory doesn’t recall. Can you point me to where I said that?

      1. @James — It was just above, in your reply of 17Aug@11:58am, in the 2nd paragraph immediately following your excerpt of one of my recent posts.

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