Although the word “chassid” is generally translated to mean exceedingly pious or devout, conjuring up visions of fasting, prayer, and religious zeal, its origin is in the concept of “chesed,” giving freely of oneself for the benefit of others. It is a quality practiced by Hashem, as described in many verses, and which we are encouraged to emulate as part of the obligation to follow in Hashem’s ways.
-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.158
Friday’s commentary on Parashas Vayigash
A Daily Dose of Torah
“Serve the Almighty with joy, come before Him with singing” (Psalms 100:2).
The verse is recited daily in the morning prayers. But we have to internalize its message. Repeat this verse as often as possible, while thinking about what it means and how you can apply it.
This is especially important for a person with a tendency towards sadness. A sad person mentally repeats hundreds of sad messages a day. Repeating a verse with a positive, joyous message will serve as a good counter-balance.
(see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Happiness,” p.110)
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Daily Lift #207 “Worth Repeating”
I sometimes envy devout Jewish people. At least in my studying Torah and the Jewish writings, their lives of devotion to God through the prayers and the mitzvot seem so ordered and unambiguous. Although living according to the requirements of Orthodox or Conservative Judaism has great complexity, it seems as if a Jewish person’s path is predictable and comprehensible with no gray areas within which they struggle.
Of course, that’s an illusion and I have no doubt that observant Jews struggle with their faith as much as anyone, even me. Still, there is such purpose in studying Torah, not for the sake of studying or acquiring knowledge, but to learn what God expects of us and then to do it.
However, that understanding isn’t limited to the Jewish people. All of us who are considered disciples of the Master, whether we’re called “Christians” or “Messianic Gentiles” have a duty to God and arguably to the Jewish people. We study the Bible, not just to learn the Word of God, but to put that Word into action in the world around us and in our everyday lives.
This point can be lost for many who are associated with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots. For decades, the emphasis for Gentiles exiting “the Church” and entering Messianic synagogues or Hebrew Roots congregations has been Torah, Torah, Torah. We have gotten into the bad habit of getting hung up on how to properly tie tzitzit, lay tefillin, and styles of kippot to place on our heads that we’ve forgotten about the weightier matters of Torah:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness…”
–Matthew 23:23 (NASB)
The verse goes on with the Master instructing his Pharisaic audience to perform the weightier matters without neglecting the others (tithing mint, dill, and cumin), but then, he was speaking to Jewish Pharisees, not Gentile disciples.
Still, it’s a lesson that applies to us. Messianic Gentiles and Hebrew Roots Christians revel in their/our Torah knowledge but what do we do with it? If “knowing” is the full extent of our studies, then we know nothing. Only in doing, and I don’t mean tying tzitzit, are we fulfilling the mission to which God has assigned us.
But what is that mission?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
I sometimes say there’s more than a bit of overlap in the mitzvot that apply to both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master and I would say that doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly before God definitely qualifies as part of that overlap.
I was reminded of this during my visit with my parents this week. My Dad had cancer treatments (thanks, he’s doing much better) in Salt Lake City just before Christmas (it’s not a dirty word) but because his vision was compromised by the treatments and my Mom’s vision is not so good, my folks asked me to fly down to SLC and drive them back home to their place about five or six hours away.
Of course I did and I’m staying with them for a week to make sure they’re doing OK.
So I’m away from home and my regular routine and doing what I can to be of service to my parents, both of whom are still quite independent minded though in their early eighties.
Putting the needs and desires of others ahead of our own is what God wants above all else. Though my “observance” is rather minimal these days, I still maintain a particular level of dietary and other practices that aren’t exactly compatible with how my parents live. But whose needs am I here to meet though, mine or theirs?
I know some people will pop off and respond that the requirements of God (Shabbat observance, dietary laws) trump even the needs of one’s parents, but I respectfully disagree:
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
The commandment in Torah directed toward the Israelites and coupled with their living long in the Land of Promise is interpreted by Paul to be applied to the Gentiles as a condition of having long lives, or so it seems from the dual quotes above.
If given a choice between honoring my parents and the rote lighting of candles or what “work” one does on Shabbos, I’ll accept doing love and kindness to my folks as the higher commandment; the weightier matter of the Law. I don’t believe God will condemn me for honoring them.
But that leads to the larger mission for Messianic Gentiles which has a very particular focus. Although I can’t find the exact quote, a Messianic Jew mentioned in a Facebook discussion (in a closed group, so I can’t pass on the link) that one of the roles of the Messianic Gentile is to serve in supporting Messianic Jews in greater observance of Torah.
Actually, I’ve written before on the duty of Messianic Gentiles to the Jewish people, as well as why I’m a Messianic Gentile (Part One and Part Two). I believe we have a duty to preserve the Jewish people as Jewish and to assist in any way to support their covenant fidelity to God. This is a duty routinely abandoned by the Church and we Messianic Gentiles must take it back and uphold it:
The problem of Jews assimilating with the nations while in exile is an existential danger that is discussed by many commentators throughout Tanach. Meshech Chochmah, commenting on the verse: “God spoke to Yisrael in night visions…and said…have no fear of descending to Egypt, for I shall establish you as a great nation there (Bereishis 46:2,3), notes that only with respect to Yaakov do we find the description of a prophecy as “night vision.”
-from “Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.165
Commentary on Shabbos for Parashas Vayigash
A Daily Dose of Torah
The Christian Church in well-meaning but mistaken efforts, has believed that the only way to “save the Jews” was to have them convert to (Goyishe) Christianity, effectively destroying the Jewish people as Jews, decoupling them from the covenants, and assimilating them into the Gentile world as “Hebrew Christians”.
Messianic Gentiles, in my opinion, are specifically assigned by God with the duty to serve the Jewish people in maintaining and increasing their level of observance to the mitzvot. Gentiles acting like Jews does nothing. Gentiles encouraging and supporting Jews in greater covenant fidelity does much and may even hasten the return of Moshiach.
The Church, in attempting to separate Jews from the covenants, has been destroying Christian salvation, because only through the promises God made to Israel can God’s redemptive plan for Israel, as mediated by Messiah, be extended to the nations of the Earth.
Also, those who assume that there is “One Law for the Jew and the Gentile” inhibit or even fail the Gentile mission to the Jews by usurping Jewish covenant uniqueness (I’ve said this many times before in numerous ways, so I’m sure this message is familiar to my regular readers). If I, as a Gentile, were to don a tallit gadol and lay tefillin, it might make me feel good but it accomplishes nothing. If I encourage a “Hebrew Christian” to return to the mitzvot (or take them up for the first time) and thus don a tallit and lay tefillin, I have done much:
He said, “I have come to realize that as a Jew, I am called to live out the Torah.” Goldberg explained that the prophetic-kingdom promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 had revealed to him that the Torah is part of the new covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Moreover, he had come to realize that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 which exempted Gentiles from circumcision and obligation to the Torah’s Jewish identity markers said nothing at all about exempting Jews from any aspect of the Torah. Since the Jerusalem Council did not address Jews in their ruling, he deduced that they intended Jewish believers to remain faithful to Torah.
from The Director’s Letter: “Four Different Views on Messianic Judaism,” p.10
Messiah Journal, issue 118/Winter 2014/5775
I’ve quoted the words of Alec Goldberg before and I guess you can say this current “meditation” is an extension of the previous one, because it addresses somewhat the definition of Messianic Judaism and particularly the role of the Gentile within such a Jewish framework.
I quoted the “Daily Lift” above because it speaks of internalizing what we study and the message of the morning prayers. So too must we internalize what the Bible teaches us about a Gentile’s duty to Jewish Israel and the needs of individual Jewish people:
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”
I learned a new interpretation of these verses from a wise Sunday School teacher in church about two years ago. I used to think this was a description of our general duty as believers to attend to the needy in general, but he pointed out that he understands this scripture to describe the duty of Christians to the needy among Israel.
Do you see how all this is playing out? Our duty speaks of subduing our personal needs for the greater good of, in this case, Jewish Israel and specifically Messianic Jews. If Messianic Gentiles have any role in the Messianic Jewish synagogue, it is to facilitate and encourage Torah observance of the Jewish disciples of the Master. This means setting our own wants, needs, and desires to one side and doing the “Torah” that is applied to we non-Jewish disciples.
I’ve known this for some time, but was reminded of it again in my visit with my aging parents. We do kindness out of love and we learn love from Torah (Bible) study. The Torah teaches us to honor our fathers and mothers, but I also believe Messiah teaches we Gentiles to honor Israel for only through her comes salvation for the world (John 4:22).
No one comes to the Father except through the Son and only Messiah Yeshua is the keystone of our faith. If we wish to serve our Master, we must continually set aside ourselves and serve the least of his brothers, the Jewish people.
This is who we are as Gentile disciples and this is why we study Torah. So we can do.
For more on the duty of Gentiles to the Jewish people and the relationship this is supposed to forge, please read Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann’s article Everlasting Love: The Continuing Election of The Jewish People.