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.
–Exodus 31:12-13 (JPS Tanakh)
The Talmud (Shabbos 10b) describes Shabbos as a special gift the Almighty gave to the Jewish people.
My wife is continuing to renew her relationship with Hashem. Today (Shabbos, as I write this), she went to the Chabad for Shabbat services. I couldn’t be more delighted.
Why? Let me explain.
I’ve mentioned before that I believe the duty of non-Jews in Messiah and particularly those of us who identify as Messianic Gentiles, is to support, and if possible, inspire a return to greater Torah observance for Jewish people, and frankly, whether they’re disciples of Yeshua or not.
But without me doing a thing, something remarkable happened this morning. My wife (who is not Messianic in the slightest) went to Shabbat services. As I said above, I couldn’t be more delighted. She’s been lighting the Shabbos candle in our home somewhat intermittently over the past few months, but this is the first time in a long time when I’ve found her all dressed up and heading out the door to go to the Chabad to worship.
I’ve tried my hand at personal Shabbat observance and let’s say the results weren’t spectacular. Shabbat observance for anyone requires a great deal of discipline and preparation and really, I think it can only be done when it is fully integrated into your lifestyle. It would probably be best if you grew up in an observant home, but short of that, practicing and striving to observe Shabbos over the course of months, ideally with a knowledgable Jewish person guiding you, would certainly be effective.
But after my own “experiment,” and especially knowing my wife would not support me observing Shabbat (my “honey do” list has certain duties I must perform on Saturday), I decided that if it’s more important for her to observe Shabbat than it is for me, then my observing Shabbat, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t really matter all that much. I think Rabbi Pliskin would probably agree:
The Chofetz Chayim gave two parables to illustrate how Shabbos serves as a sign of the relationship between the Jewish people and the Almighty. When two people are engaged to be married they send each other gifts. Even if difficulties arise between them, as long as they keep the gifts that they received from each other we know they still plan to get married. But if we see that they have returned the gifts, then we know that the relationship between them is over. Similarly, as long as a person observes Shabbos we see that he still has a relationship with the Almighty.
Granted, she drove to services and it’s possible she will perform other melachah today, but this is still a powerful leap forward.
The effect of observing the Sabbath properly has another dimension. The Midrash (Shemos 25) states: R’ Levi said, “If the Jews will observe Shabbos properly, even one day, the son of David will arrive (i.e. we will return to Eretz Yisrael).” Why? For it is considered the equivalent of all the mitzvos, as the verse states (Tehillim 95:7): “For He is our God and we are the flock He pastures and the sheep in His charge — even today, if we but heed His call!”
Yes, this is midrash so we might not be able to take it literally, but I believe there is a certain truth involved in Jews performing the mitzvot with Kavanah, the return of Messiah, and the New Covenant promises of God to Israel, the Jewish people, being realized.
Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, that you may become cleansed; I will cleanse you from all your contamination and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow My decrees and guard My ordinances and fulfill them. You will dwell in the land that I gave to your forefathers; you will be a people to Me, and I will be a God to you.
–Ezekiel 36:25-28 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
No, I’m not discounting the Messiah, and I know that no one comes to the Father except through the Son:
I am the bread of life. Anyone who comes to me will not be hungry, and one who believes in me will not thirst again.
–John 6:35 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)
I don’t believe that Yeshua-devotion and the New Covenant promises of God to Israel are mutually exclusive. In fact, they are inexorably tied to one another, since Messiah is the mediator of the New Covenant and he came the first time to lay the foundation and to make the first down payment of the New Covenant.
This may be for some of you as was said in the synagogue in Kefar Nachum (John 6:59-60), “This word is difficult. Who is able to hear it?”
Rabbi Derek Leman has been spending the past several weeks on his blog laying out his theological perspective on a Jewish understanding of the Bible including the Apostolic Scriptures, as it describes Hashem’s relationship with the ancient and modern Jewish people. One of the things he said, and I agree with him, is that God didn’t abandon the Jewish people, and switch to the Christian Church at the end of the Biblical narrative. He can be found just as commonly in the Synagogue as in the Church (and having worshiped in a synagogue setting in years past, I can attest that His Presence was there).
So I don’t believe that God has abandoned my Jewish wife anymore than He has abandoned me for being a Christian (or Messianic Gentile if you prefer). I do believe that God expects my wife, as a Jew, to observe the mitzvot, including the Shabbat, since they were given specifically to the Children of Israel (as opposed to all mankind) at Sinai. The existence of a large number of “grafted in” Gentiles does not take away uniquely Jewish obligations and duties to God, and if my being a disciple of Yeshua means anything at all, then it should mean that I will do everything in my power to support and encourage my wife to observe the mitzvot associated with Shabbos.
The first of the zemiros that many people sing on Friday night begins with the words: “Whoever hallows Shabbos as befits it, whoever safeguards Shabbos according to the law [and refrains] from desecrating it, his reward is exceedingly great, in accordance with his deed.”
So even if she didn’t light the Shabbos candles last night but she davened at shul (today) on Shabbos, then in accordance with her deeds, may Hashem reward her.
Of course, this should only be the beginning:
Rashi comments on this that rest on Shabbos should be a permanent rest and not merely a temporary rest. I heard from Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz the following explanation: A temporary rest means that a person has not really changed his inner traits, but he merely controls them on Shabbos. He still has a bad temper and has a tendency to engage in quarrels, but because of the elevation of Shabbos he has self-discipline and these traits are not manifest. But the ultimate in Shabbos observance is that a person should uproot those negative traits which are contradictory to peace of mind on Shabbos. One needs to uproot such traits as anger and the tendency to quarrel with others. Only then is your rest on Shabbos a complete rest.
I’m choosing to interpret this a bit differently than I think Rashi and Rabbi Pliskin have in mind. I think that when a Jewish person observes some portion of Shabbos but not others, they are achieving a sort of temporary rest. Only when a Jewish person observes all of the aspects of Shabbos do they achieve the permanent rest they find in the complete acceptance of Hashem’s gift to Israel.
I’m keenly aware that my wife very likely sees me as an obstruction to her Shabbos observance since, after all, not only am I not a Jewish husband, I am in fact, a Christian husband, and like most Jews, she sees Christian theology, doctrine, and practice as the antithesis to religious Judaism and Torah observance.
More’s the pity.
I probably embarrassed her this morning, though I didn’t mean to. I spent about an hour and a half at the gym and when I got home covered in sweat, she was just coming out of our bedroom dressed quite nicely. I was startled and although I thought I knew the answer, I asked where she was going.
“Where do you think?” she responded.
I was thrilled she was going to services but she said I was “acting weird about it.” I guess I didn’t get my actual emotions across, but then I know she doesn’t want me to comment too much about her observance or relationship with Jewish community.
In the end, if my staying home and doing chores on Shabbat somehow frees her to go to synagogue, daven with Jewish community, and to observe more of the mitzvot, then I am content to be in that role. This is the role, at least from my tiny viewpoint, that I believe God has assigned me as a Messianic Gentile. The rest is in Hashem’s hands.