stand with israel

Writing Letters from Outside of Israel

GOOD MORNING! Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul will be August 26th and 27th. This means that there is one month and counting to Rosh Hashanah (Wednesday evening, September 24th). Many people might ask, “So, what?” or might think, “Thanks for the reminder to buy a brisket!” However, the answer to “So, what?” is that we have one month to prepare for Rosh Hashanah … and Yom Kippur.

Why would one want to prepare for Rosh Hashanah? Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment when the Almighty decides “Life or death, sickness or health, poverty or wealth.” Does it make sense to prepare for a day of judgment? You bet! However, for many it has the same emotional impact as their cardiologist telling them that they need to lose weight to avoid heart attacks and strokes… a wonderful idea between meals!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly,” Commentary on Re’eh 5774
Aish.com

I’m depressed. Well, maybe not depressed but discouraged, or something like that. I’m not really sure what I’m feeling. A bunch of people are trying to convince me that I’m a citizen of Israel and so is every other Christian on Earth.

I have two problems with this. The first is that everything in my intellect, beliefs, and passions tells me it’s wrong. The second is that some of the folks (particularly one of them) are people I respect for their intellectual prowess and spiritual integrity.

I mean, it’s not like it’s a secret that I’m attracted to Jewish learning and study, at least after a fashion (I’m hardly a Talmudic or any other kind of scholar). So why are people hammering away at me (it feels like that) trying to get me to, what in effect for me feels like, commit a home invasion or rip off someone’s birthday present or family heirloom?

I don’t get it.

To me, my interest in Jewish studies and Torah are more like how Rabbi Packouz describes preparing for the High Holy Days:

Why is living in a hurricane zone a benefit? It teaches you a very important lesson: Be real with life! Usually, the weather bureau (N.O.A.A. — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) gives a week’s heads up. You know that in 7 days a Force 3 or 4 or 5 hurricane will hit. You generally know for sure whether it will hit land, you just don’t know whether for sure it will hit YOU until perhaps a day or a few hours before landfall.

What happens during that week? The hardware store sells out all of its plywood (used for covering windows) and batteries. They have to make special shipments from neighboring states! The grocery stores shelves are cleared out or seriously diminished of canned goods and water. People are scrambling to buy generators to provide electricity needed to keep the lights on, fans going and the refrigerator and freezer working. There is a mad dash for last minute preparations because the STORM IS COMING!

What’s the difference between a hurricane and Rosh Hashanah? The hurricane MAY hit your area; Rosh Hashanah DEFINITELY will touch you!

So, if one believes in a God who has set a standard for behavior and observance in the Torah and who will judge us, does it make sense to make some preparations? It would be reasonable to think so.

How can one prepare for the Day of Judgment?

shofar-rosh-hashanahPreparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is like living in Florida and stocking up on needed supplies for the coming hurricane season. Doesn’t seem very “spiritual,” does it? On the other hand, it sounds incredibly practical. It also doesn’t worry about boundaries, barriers, and why I can’t wear the tzitzit behind door number one (game show reference). It “worries” about preparing for an encounter with God.

Why can’t we focus on that too in our little corner of the blogosphere?

How do you prepare for Rosh Hashanah? Rabbi Packouz has ten suggestions:

  1. Take a spiritual accounting. Each day take at least 5 minutes to review your last year — a) your behavior with family, friends, associates and people you’ve interacted with, and b) your level of mitzvah observance.
  2. Attend a class or classes at a synagogue, Aish center, a yeshiva on how to prepare. Read articles on aish.com and listen to world-class speakers on aishaudio.com .
  3. Study the Machzor (Rosh Hashanah prayer book) to know the order of the service and the meaning of the words and prayers. You can buy a copy of the The Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Survival Kit, by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf (possibly available at your local Jewish bookstore or at Amazon.com — about 50 left).
  4. Make sure that you have given enough tzedakah (charity) and have paid your pledges (One is supposed to give 10% of his net income). It says in the Machzor that three things break an evil decree — Teshuva (repentance), Tefilla (prayer) and Tzedakah (charity). Why not maximize your chance for a good decree?
  5. Think of (at least) one person you have wronged or feel badly towards — and correct the situation.
  6. Make a list of your goals for yourself and your family — what you want to work towards and pray for.
  7. Limit your pleasures — the amount of television, movies, music, food — do something different so that you take this preparation time seriously.
  8. Do an extra act of kindness — who needs your help? To whom can you make a difference?
  9. Read a book on character development — anything written by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin would be great!
  10. Ask a friend to tell you what you need to improve. A real friend will tell you … but in a nice way!

Not all of these would apply to me, but then R. Packouz is writing to a Jewish audience, not a Christian with a Messianic twist.

Certainly taking a spiritual accounting makes sense and any person of faith should engage in such an activity. Attending a class relative to Judaism isn’t an option for me unless it’s online such as at Aish Audio. Even then, because the classes are geared to a Jewish audience, there’s a limit to their ability to apply to me.

Study the Machzor? I could. But I won’t be attending Rosh Hashanah services, so if the intent is to familiarize me with said-services, this also doesn’t apply.

I believe in tzedakah but I don’t think how much or how little I give will affect how God judges me, at least all by itself, particularly at a certain time of year. People are hungry every day of the week, so we should try to contribute as often as we can, not just around Rosh Hashanah.

blind-loveIt’s good to right the wrongs we’ve done to others, so I can certainly agree with this one. It’s also good to make goals, to dedicate yourself to becoming a better person and help the family draw closer to God (although in my family, we are so spread out about spiritual perspectives, that we virtually live in our own separate bubbles).

I don’t know that limiting pleasures makes much difference, but every opportunity to act with kindness should be observed.

Read a book? I’m reading all the time, trying to learn more, hoping it’ll make a difference…and Rabbi Pliskin is a wonderful author.

Ask a friend what I need to do to improve? Here we are back at people trying to make me believe that I’m a citizen of Israel again. That’s what I’ve been hearing lately about how I need to improve.

Part of the Rabbi’s commentary on Re’eh states:

One of the indications of the existence and necessity of the Oral Torah — an explanation and clarification (later redacted as the Talmud) of the written Torah (The Five Books of Moses) — comes from verse 12:21 “You will slaughter animals … according to the manner I (God) have prescribed.” Nowhere in the Torah are we instructed in the manner of shechita, ritual slaughter. One might conclude that there was a very sloppy editor. Or — one might conclude that there are additional teachings (the Oral Law/Talmud) clarifying and amplifying the written Word.

There are some people who believe that there is only “Biblical Judaism” and not “Rabbinic Judaism” and that the Bible tells you everything you need to know about observing the mitzvoth.

Except that R. Packouz just demonstrated that it doesn’t. That’s one of the assumptions of some of the people who want me to have citizenship in Israel along with the natural citizens, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…the Jewish people.

My friend Tom sent me a link to a website he said would explain what he’s been trying to tell me. I went there and read through it. I felt like telling the site owner, “1998 called. They want their website back” (I have this “thing” about archaic web design).

Anyway, this is part of what struck me besides having to scan completely from one side of my monitor to another just to read a single sentence:

I am very encouraging to people who want to embrace Jewish tradition, making the lifestyle of Judaism, their own. I offer this personal caution however: as you adopt traditional halacha and make it your own, do not make the traditional halacha a matter of conscience. That is truly your choice. Distinguish between the literal commandment, and the traditional “how to” in walking out that commandment.

Don’t let your fences become walls. Walls that keep out the blessing of a healthy relationship with HaShem, or walls that make your circle of brothers and sisters ever more small.

Like I said, “Biblical” Judaism” vs. “Rabbinic” Judaism. It’s like listening to someone say they love Israel but not Jewish Rabbis, Sages, and Tzadikim. How would the website owner observe the commandment of shechita given that he embraces the “literal commandment” (which is not described at all in the Torah) but not the “traditional ‘how to'”?

How can I reconcile sentences such as:

Jew and Gentile, One in Messiah. We have One King, we are One People, and we have been given One Torah…

…with statements like:

Standing in Prayer with all Israel

How? It doesn’t make sense.

The bottom line is that I’m not going to tell me wife that I have as much right as she does (she’s Jewish) to the Land of Israel and that I intend on davening with a Jewish minyan (because if I’m under the same obligation as observant Jews, I should have the right to become part of a minyan), keeping Glatt Kosher (actually, if my wife made that choice, I’d do so as well because we live together), wearing a kippah and talit katan during my waking hours, and keeping “Biblical” Torah whilst ignoring thousands of years of Jewish interpretation on just how to do that.

Not only would it be bad for family life, I don’t see that being said in the Bible.

I also have no intention of using this as another platform for getting into another “he said/she said” debate over One Law vs. distinctive application of Law. If it comes up again as part of my reading and studying, so be it. I’m certainly going to continue reading and studying. But these debates are not the focus of my life, They can’t be.

They are a spiritual dead-end.

praying-aloneLook at what Rabbi Packouz was paying attention to. He was advising anyone reading his words (well, any Jewish person) to prepare themselves physically and spiritually for the upcoming High Holidays. While not all of us observe those events, it might not be a bad idea to take the portions of his advice that apply more universally to us…to me.

What do all these arguments have to do with a relationship with God? If God, for some strange reason, chooses to give me an inheritance in Israel, I will be totally shocked and probably overjoyed. On the other hand, if He doesn’t (and I hardly expect such a thing), it won’t come as a surprise and frankly, we are all fortunate to get what God gifts us with. I’ll take what He gives me out of His abundant graciousness which includes every day He allows me to live.

You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

Psalm 145:16

What’s wrong with just accepting what God gives us, whatever that may be? Sure, as Rabbi Packouz says, there are plenty of things we all can do, Jew and Gentile alike, to help improve our situation, to learn more, to help others more. These are the things of God. Therefore, these are the things I choose to make important to me.

If I’m putting up fences, then the only thing they keep in or out is me. If I choose to put a fence around Israel to protect her from me, then that’s a choice I make and it affects no one but me. If God chooses to discipline me for that choice, as the Righteous Judge, that’s His right.

But I can’t imagine that He would punish loving and protecting Israel or His Chosen People. If I’m going to err, I’ll err on that side of the debate and let God treat me as He will.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…

1 Corinthians 4:7-9 (NASB)

Addendum: Revisiting a blog post written by Derek Leman over two years ago called We’re Not All the Same. The reader comments along with Derek’s article makes for good reading and reminds me that this argument has been around for awhile and will probably be around when Messiah comes to teach us how to be better disciples.

Another Addendum: Consider this Part 2.

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10 thoughts on “Writing Letters from Outside of Israel”

  1. Just remember, Paul did not call it a mystery for no reason at all. If nothing has changed in Messiah, then there is no mystery to solve. 😛

  2. I don’t know if this comment is at all related to your next blog essay, James, but the operations of the Messiah ben-Yosef, as distinct from the ben-David, have always been a mystery, without any sort of change being required. The rabbis did not even identify them by distinctive names to reflect their distinctive roles until the Talmudic era. Hence Zion’s reference to Rav Shaul’s description of it as a mystery has nothing to do with resolving that mystery by envisioning a change in HaShem’s interactions with His covenanted Jewish people or with gentiles either.

    Even now, the rabbinic focus is on the ben-David, so much so that they virtually ignore the ben-Yosef. Of course, it could be a little embarrassing to focus on the ben-Yosef, because this role looks a little too much like what is written about Rav Yeshua in the apostolic writings, and it has always been dangerous for Jews to acknowledge him in any messianic role because the Christian community has traditionally misinterpreted its meaning and placed pressure and false expectations upon the Jewish community as a result.

    Moreover, it is still a mystery why the redemptive ministrations of ben-Yosef have been decoupled from those of ben-David, such that Rav Yeshua needs to return after a significant lapse of time between them.

  3. James, I am also feeling something strange because of these conversations. I can’t quite explain it, but my heart is heavy over the different viewpoints.

    While I love that we can share our understanding and perspective respectfully, there is something sad about us all being so distanced from each other because of our understanding of God’s Word.

    It’s times like these that I long for King Messiah to come and make us all of one mind and one spirit.

    I happen to live in south Florida and have experienced several hurricanes, the worst of which was Andrew in 1992.

    I remember a friend of mine (a native Floridian) who said (right before Andrew) that we needed a good hurricane. I thought she was nuts, (putting those two words in the same sentence) especially after digging out from Andrew, but I realized she was right.

    This string of conversations has felt a bit like Hurricane Andrew all over again. You see, when he blew through Homestead, he tore us down to bare minimum, wiping away all the junk that we accumulated.

    In the same way, this string of conversations has been wiping away some of the junk that we accumulated in our walk through Messianic Judaism.

    While it’s a good thing in the end, it doesn’t feel good going through it. But it’s nice to be able to push through the pain together, still as one body in Messiah, no matter what part of the body we are, or think we are.

    Thank you for posting!

  4. @James. You ask, rhetorically, “What’s wrong with just accepting what God gives us, whatever that may be?” Nothing at all.

    I have a question, too: “What’s wrong with making the weightier matters of the Torah (you know, justice, mercy, and faithfulness) the focus of our attention and practice every day?”

  5. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a focus on these weightier matters, there remain some nagging questions about how to do them (which takes us back to the currently open can ‘o worms about differences between Jewish and non-Jewish methods and techniques). Since this particular blog is largely aimed at helping non-Jews to identify how to conduct themselves as non-Jews who are nonetheless devoted to the Jewish Messiah, one might conclude that it should not be necessary to discuss the other matters (including Oral Torah halakhot) which Jewish Rav-Yeshua messianists are to do without neglecting the weighty ones. Nonetheless, these things always seem to draw the greatest curiosity, and hence discussion. However, there is a lot to be said for a recommendation about discussing the positive perspective of how to do all manner of good that there is to do, in contradistinction to any negative focus on what should not be done.

  6. @PL “Moreover, it is still a mystery why the redemptive ministrations of ben-Yosef have been decoupled from those of ben-David, such that Rav Yeshua needs to return after a significant lapse of time between them.”

    “While there is certainly nothing wrong with a focus on these weightier matters, there remain some nagging questions about how to do them (which takes us back to the currently open can ‘o worms about differences between Jewish and non-Jewish methods and techniques)…
    one might conclude that it should not be necessary to discuss the other matters (including Oral Torah halakhot) which Jewish Rav-Yeshua messianists are to do without neglecting the weighty ones.”

    The “weighty matters” are those that every Believer can recognise, and work on. The later you begin learning Torah in life, the harder it is to wipe away all the habits and bad teaching you have already acquired.

    The significant lapse of time is to allow for all those that are the Inheritance of Yehoshua to be reached…I guess if you are going to die in excruciating pain, and suffer the world’s curse for three days you would want to get every chip on the table…not just the $1000 markers.

    As for the Oral Torah…it should be used gently and tenetively, not being the commandments of G-d as written in Scripture. Those of us Believers that have rejected all of the Christian Rules and Regs in an effort to get to the heart of truth are understandably reluctant to add on to our lives an Oral Torah when we haven’t even got the written Torah down yet.

    Not being brought up and trained to any halakhot except the secular and pagan, it’s a hard 180 degree turn for me to make at all. This is the necessity for Grace for Gentiles, as well as Jews who have never been able to keep the Torah in full, particularly the Oral Laws which mutate from Rabbi to Rabbi, and age to age.

    Our requirement to rely on Grace is to get us through this life until the Torah in all of it’s specific requirements are written on our hearts, and thus enabled within us.

  7. Just a couple of clarifications, Questor — Grace is just as much part of the process of Oral Torah as it is of the written Torah, and the adaptive process of Oral Torah is also commanded within the written Torah. Further, Rav Yeshua ratified the authority of Oral Torah in Mt.23:23 where he included herb tithing, which is derived only via Oral Torah, as one of the less-weighty matters that was not to be neglected by his Jewish disciples, nor by any of the Pharisees to whom he was speaking, while they were attending to the weightier matters. Moreover, it doesn’t mutate arbitrarily from rabbi to rabbi or from age to age, nor even from sage to sage, but its adjustments from time to time are not at all unlike the process by which the US Constitution may be amended from time to time in order to ensure its continued relevance. In the case of Torah, such adjustments were required to accommodate the loss of the Temple and the second exile from which we are only now beginning to recover. We are, therefore, one might expect, due to exercise that process yet again as we pursue the current restoration, especially when we rebuild the Temple and restore Levitical operations along with other aspects of Torah that were on hold during the exile.

    However, unless you happen to be Jewish, you needn’t concern yourself much with Oral Torah, the purpose of which is to interpret and apply Torah to the Jewish community that is under covenantal obligation to Torah. The interpretive process by which non-Jews may align themselves with the mores that are derived from Torah for humanity in general is a separate operation, though perhaps it may be said to operate quite similarly.

    Your attempt to explain the mystery of the long delay by an analogy of collecting all the chips on the table (you’re not perchance from Las Vegas, are you?) is clever, but it doesn’t quite explain why the long wait while more and more chips were added to the pot, rather than a shorter delay that collected all the chips currently on the table. After all, a sooner entry into the millennial kingdom could have collected even more chips in a much less cut-throat game. I’ve heard another hypothesis that it was necessary for the non-Jewish “chips” to have a chance to demonstrate to themselves over a similar period of centuries that they couldn’t do any better with their alternative to Torah observance than Jews had done by trying to adhere to that covenant — that they should not “boast against the natural branches”.

    I suspect we’ll also find that grace is a characteristic that will be just as much relied upon even when the Torah is entirely internalized in human hearts. In fact, its operation may be even much more obviously visible under such circumstances.

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