O Lord of Legions, God of Israel, you created the world by your word, and you separated the Sabbath as a memorial; for on it you ceased from your work in order to meditate on the words of your Torah. For the Sabbath is a rest from creation, a completion of the world, a seeking of words of Torah, an expression of praise to God, to thank him for what he has given to mankind. Blessed are you O Lord, who sanctifies the Sabbath.
Kiddush for Shabbat, p.17
from The Sabbath Table Prayer Book
If you’re familiar with the kiddush blessings, then you probably noticed this is a deviation from what is normally said. This particular blessing is the alternate wording recommended for Messianic Gentiles in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shabbat siddur and was part of my Erev Shabbat devotions last Friday evening.
But as the hours of my preparations finally reached fruition and I lit the Shabbos candles and offered the traditional blessings and praises to Hashem and welcomed the Shabbat Queen into my home, I was also undergoing an educational and hopefully a transformational experience.
But why would a Gentile believer observe the Shabbat and in fact, why should a Gentile believer observe Shabbos? After all, it’s the sign of the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. What does that have to do with us, the rest of humanity, when the covenant specifically set Israel apart as Holy from all the other nations of the world?
And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you. You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.
–Exodus 31:12-17 (JPS Tanakh)
As the sign of the Sinai covenant, it would seem that only Israel, that is the Jewish people, should partake in observing the Shabbat, but there’s also acknowledgement of God as Creator in a seventh day rest. Even Hashem, Master of Creation, rested on the Sabbath day, according to midrash to contemplate His Torah. Since all of Creation, every living thing, was produced by the Word of God, and since all mankind was and is created in the Image of God, then there is sufficient precedence, in my opinion, to at least allow if not obligate “all flesh” to cease in our labors and on the seventh day, to bring honor, majesty, and glory to our Creator.
But there’s more. According to Kabbalistic tradition (see Zohar, Vayera 119a), each of the seven days of the week maps to the seven days of creation and they map to the seven millennia of creation. The Shabbat day then, corresponds to the seventh millennium which is thought of as the universal age of rest, the Messianic Era.
As part of my review of the latter sermon, I said:
The Sages liken the Shabbat to the Kingdom of Heaven and the World to Come. It’s as if the days of the week and Shabbat represent the different ages of creation with the seventh day, the end of time, being a grand, millennial Shabbat, an age of great rest, and our weekly Sabbaths are merely a periodic reminder, down payment, or foretaste of that ultimate rest in Moshiach.
This seems to resolve Lancaster’s mystery or cliffhanger, but in fact, he states that it was a trick question. Since the Messianic Age is future oriented, then Hebrews 3 and 4 are not only a rendition of history but prophetic. It may surprise you to realize that all of the prophesies in the Bible have to do with Israel and Jerusalem and for all prophesies to be fulfilled, there must be an Israel and Jerusalem. No Israel, no fulfillment of prophesy.
So a literal Sabbath, a literal Land of Israel, and the Messianic Age to Come all figure into God’s rest and the object of Lancaster’s sermon for the past couple of weeks.
So not only in Jewish mystical tradition but from the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Apostolic Scriptures, we see that there is direct linkage between the seventh day Shabbat and the prophesy of the Messianic Kingdom to come, a Kingdom upon which we all put our hope.
So we Gentiles in Messiah have two reasons for looking to Shabbat as also something we can participate in: to acknowledge God as Creator and as a foretaste of the Messianic Era to come, when our King Messiah, Yeshua our Master, will usher in an age of unparalleled peace, justice, and mercy, the age of the resurrection, and a bringing to completion of the New Covenant promises when we will all know God!
But the era of Messiah is yet to come although he has already opened the door a crack, so to speak.
It was a lonely Erev Shabbat. I skipped over the blessings for the children and the Woman of Valor for obvious reasons. It seemed like an interminable wait until 5:01 p.m. (candle lighting for my little corner of the world) on Friday, but once it arrived, everything went much too quickly. Even after the blessings and the meal, I think there was still some last moments of light in the sky. If this had been a meal in community or among family, there’d have been a lot more activity and sharing, but in the end, there was only me and God. But it was sufficient.
On Saturday, I did what I always do, well, sort of. I studied from A Daily Dose of Torah for Shabbos, read the Torah portion, Haftarah, and the associated readings from the Psalms and the Gospels. Then I studied the commentary for the Torah portion from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Growth Through Torah.
And I learned why Gentiles benefit from observing a Shabbat rest and from Torah study.
The quality of one’s life is not dependent on external situations. There are people whose lives seem to run quite smoothly. Nevertheless, they tend to evaluate minor frustrations as tragedies and therefore view their lives in negative terms. The Torah ideal is to be aware that the purpose of your life is to perfect your character and every life situation is an opportunity for growth.
This lesson is most important for us to internalize. See the growth possible in every life event. In each difficult situation ask yourself, “How can I become a better person because of what happened?”
Commentary for Chayai Sarah
“See the good in every life situation,” p.52-3
I periodically encounter people (mostly online these days) who believe that only they obey God’s Torah perfectly as they completely reject the so-called “traditions of men,” or the Rabbinic commentary on and interpretation of the mitzvot. Unfortunately, this reduces the commandments of God to a lengthy but simple list of “do this” and “don’t do that” with no colors, nuances, or wonder. It’s like a child doing what his or her father commands, let’s say not running into the street, not because the child comprehends the intrinsic danger involved and perceives the value of life, but simply because they were told to.
The study of Torah is an exploration into the self, a journey of discovery and wonder as we investigate what it is, as an individual human being, to be a creation of God and indeed, to be made in His unique and marvelous Image. The Torah tells a story that involves each one of us, but not in identical ways. What I discover about myself in the light of Torah will be different from what another person discovers. What a Gentile finds revealed in his or her soul by Torah study and the Shabbat rest will be different from what a Jew unveils about his or her character.
Like it or not, God created each of us as individual and unique persons. No two of us are alike but that hardly means that, as individuals, we are excluded from community. Even though we are individuals and are distinct from one another, we also have commonality and based on that, we form groups and collective associations; assemblies, if you will.
For a non-Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah to observe the Shabbat in some fashion, and to study the Torah of Moses, the Writings, the Prophets, and the Apostolic Scriptures, unites us with our Jewish counterparts in the ekklesia of our Master, Messiah Yeshua. It doesn’t make us “cookie-cutter clones” of one another, but lacking absolute uniformity doesn’t automatically lead to division and isolation, anymore than my being a man and my wife being a woman means we have nothing in common and cannot be a family together.
In my own case, the fact that I’m a non-Jewish man married to a Jewish woman and the father of three Jewish children adds a dimension in Torah study and the Shabbat that only increases my understanding of both the commonality and distinctiveness between Gentile and Jew. The irony here is, in terms of the Shabbat, I could only make that discovery while spending a week apart from my Jewish family.
I said the Shacharit for Shabbat for the first time in a long time, and even donned my old kippah for the occasion, davening from my aging Artscroll Sefard Siddur (making some minor wording adjustments as necessary). I was reminded of the beauty of the prayers, particularly on Shabbat, including the blessings recited just before the Shema:
Our Father, merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us, instill understanding in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform, and fulfill all the words of your Torah’s teaching with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and revere Your Name, so that we may not feel inner shame nor be humiliated, nor stumble for all eternity. Because we have trusted in Your great, mighty and awesome Holy Name, may we exult and rejoice in Your salvation.
I believe those words can apply equally well when said by a Gentile as by a Jew with the understanding that what we are to understand, what we are to hear, to learn, to teach, to safeguard, to perform, to fulfill, is what has been set before each of us as our portion.
When a Gentile observes the Shabbat, when a Gentile studies Torah, it’s not a matter of rote imitation of Jewish tradition and ritual or worse, it’s not with the idea that Gentiles can “do it better” than Jews because only we know how to obey scripture without the “interference” of the Jewish sages and their “man-made laws,” arrogantly setting ourselves up as having superior knowledge of Torah and the commandments.
The Shabbat and the Torah provides a fourfold blessing for everyone but particularly for the Gentile believer. In these practices, we join with God in praising Him as our Creator. We also experience a foretaste of the future Age of Messiah in which we will have blessings and peace in abundance, as if every day was a Shabbat. Even studying alone or observing Shabbat individually, in praising God and saying the blessings, we are joined in Spirit with all those Jews and Gentiles who also adore Hashem and cleave to the hope of Messiah. Finally, the Shabbat and Torah reveals who we are as individuals, our unique identity that God assigned each and every one of us, and our individual and special role as servants of Messiah, may he come soon and in our day.