This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded, saying…
Rashi explains that the unusual introduction of “this is the decree of the Torah” (rather than an introduction specific to the subject of parah adumah), is a response to Satan and the nations, who tauntingly ask, “What is the purpose of this commandment?,” to which the Torah answers that it is a decree from Hashem, and it is not for anyone to question it.
-from “A Torah Thought for the Day,” p.62
Sunday’s commentary on Parashas Chukas
A Daily Dose of Torah
Chana Sara in her blog post from a few years back asks Where Do I Fit? It’s certainly a question I keep asking myself, both in relation to my decision to study the Bible through the lens of Judaism and particularly Messianic Judaism, and the larger existential question of where do I fit in my relationship to God.
Once you accept that any sort of connection to God must go through Israel, the Jewish people, and especially through the exceedingly Jewish Messianic King, then you must come to the realization that in order to relate to God you must enter into a completely alien world, that is, alien for the non-Jew. You must enter a Jewish world or at least a worldview.
Even many secular Jews feel, when attempting to observe a mitzvah or when attending a synagogue prayer service, that they are also “strangers in a strange land.” True, they are Jews in the midst of Jewish community, but the traditions, the customs, the halachah, the Hebrew, if you haven’t been raised in an observant home nor had the benefit of a traditional Jewish education, can seem even to the ethnic Jew, like a trip down the rabbit hole to “wonderland.”
And most people become uncomfortable when faced with the unfamiliar and the unknown. People become defensive and even hostile when thrown abruptly into an alien environment. We prefer what we’re used to.
Chana Sara wrote in the aforementioned blog post:
As a ba’alat teshuva, I have a lot of questions when it comes to where I “fit” within Judaism. I was born into a conservative Judaism family, meaning that my mother can’t part from the egalitarian idea of the conservative movement, but keeps conservative standards of kosher and Shabbat.
As soon as I had my bat mitzvah I don’t remember going back to shul for any reason. Possibly the high holidays, but possibly not even then.
This is a commentary on a Jewish journey into Yiddishkeit, which is also a journey my wife embarked upon a number of years ago. I remember the struggles she faced in her first attempts to connect to Jewish community and Jewish observant praxis. How much more difficult is it for the non-Jew, with no direct connection to Jewish community and lifestyle, to face the challenge of entering the Jewish world in order to comprehend and obey the Jewish Messiah?
I understand that God is not just the God of Israel but also the God of the nations, but every shred of Biblical content that we have with us today was produced by Jews, and, for the most part, for Jews. Only certain sections of the Bible directly address the nations, and not all of those references relate to us kindly. Amalek comes to mind.
The commentary I quoted from at the top of the page, specifies those commandments in the Torah that have no discernible reason or purpose, but nevertheless must be followed because they are God’s will for the Jewish people. Rashi’s interpretation of the above-quoted verse from Numbers supposes that HaSatan, the adversary, and the Goyim, the Gentiles, would criticize the Israelites for observing such commands or would actually bring into question the Torah as the Word of God based on what appears to be a collection of meaningless decrees.
And therein lies the root of my question, “Why Do Christians Hate Judaism?” I know “hate” is a strong word and I use it in part for dramatic emphasis as opposed to literal meaning. Most Christians don’t actually hate the Jewish religion or form of worship, but they do believe that it is merely a religion of works which exists in opposition to Christ and the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace.
I also don’t mean to indicate that Christians hate the Jewish people or the state of Israel. Many Evangelical churches say they love the Jewish people, and no doubt, they are sincere. Of course, that love for Jews and national Israel is predicated on a very Christian understanding of the eschatological meaning of the existence of Jews and Israel relative to the second coming of Christ.
This brings us back to those Christians who have come to realize that what they’ve learned from the pulpit or in Sunday school isn’t, strictly speaking, the exact Gospel message Messiah and his apostles taught in the late Second Temple period. Once we have learned that the Church’s current theology and doctrine is all based on a two-thousand year old mistake and is the result of a violent divorce between the early Jewish and Gentile Yeshua disciples, then we’re faced with a horrible reality.
In an ekklesia that is wholly Jewish and that can be only understood and communicated with through a wholly Jewish process, a process alien to anything we were formerly taught as Christians in our churches, who are we, what do we do, and where do we go to pursue our faith given this totally Jewish contextual reality?
Do you see why Christianity was invented in the first place, as an alternative to this crisis, as a means to take control over worship of God and devotion to Christ by redefining it as Gentile and not Jewish?
Although my father’s recent illness is the primary reason I chose to abandon plans to be in Israel right now, another reason was the idea that, as a Gentile (and a flawed, imperfect human being) who is oriented toward but can never be a part of Israel, who am I to set foot in the Holy Land?
However, there are other responses to this crisis. There are some Christians who have walked away from the Church but who still do not feel comfortable surrendering their identity to Jewish interpretation. They have invented a world of their own which states that while they are not ethnically Jewish, nevertheless, they are Israel as much as the Jewish people are, and thus they are as obligated to the Torah of Moses as any observant Jew.
But there’s a caveat.
They still reject Judaism, or at least Judaism as it has evolved over the past nearly twenty centuries. They reject, for the most part, that entity we know as Rabbinic Judaism, the “traditions of the elders,” the so-called “made up” laws that add on to or perhaps even defy the plain meaning of the written Torah.
Now here’s the trick.
If we Messianic Gentiles accept Messianic Judaism as a Judaism, and accept the validity of the teachings of the Jewish Sages, teachings which, for the most part, have nothing to do with us, then what does that mean for us? For understandable reasons, as much as Christianity has rejected Judaism, Judaism has rejected Christianity. They aren’t on speaking terms and can barely stand being in the same room with each other.
Once we Gentile believers come to a Messianic Jewish understanding of the Bible, the Messiah, and God, once we see how much God loves Israel, how special Israel is to God, and how we people of the nations are only saved through Israel and not because the nations have any sort of direct covenant connection with God, what is our most likely initial response?
The Torah states, “And Korach, the son of Yitzhor, the son of Kehas, the son of Levy, took …” Why does the Torah take the time to tell us his lineage?
Rashi, the great French commentator, explains that the key reason for Korach’s rebellion was his envy of his cousin, Elizaphan the son of Uziel, who was appointed prince of the tribe of Levy. Moshe’s father was the first of four brothers and his sons were the leader of the Jewish people and the High Priest; Korach figured that since he himself was the firstborn of the second son, that he should have been appointed the Prince of the Tribe of Levy.
Envy is destructive. It prevents a person from enjoying life. If ones focus is on other’s success and possessions, it will cause pain and lead to highly counterproductive behavior. No wonder that Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers 4:28, lists envy as one of three things which destroy a person (the other two are lust and desire for honor).
To overcome envy, focus on what you have and what you can accomplish in this world. The ultimate that anyone can have in this world is happiness. The secret to happiness is focusing on what you have. And if you are happy, you won’t envy others!
Especially in our modern western egalitarian culture, the idea that any one group might be special and especially privileged is abhorrent to most of us. When encountering certain Biblical realities, we attempt to refactor them by applying our modern worldview, thus reinterpreting the Bible beyond all reasonable credibility. We make statements to the Jewish people in Messiah that are the moral equivalent of the politically correct comment to check your privilege:
“Check Your Privilege” is an online expression used mainly by social justice bloggers to remind others that the body and life they are born into comes with specific privileges that do not apply to all arguments or situations. The phrase also suggests that when considering another person’s plight, one must acknowledge one’s own inherent privileges and put them aside in order to gain a better understanding of his or her situation.
While the concept of “check your privilege” is, in my opinion, somewhat questionable, or at least has the potential to be grossly misused, applying it to the relationship between Messianic Gentiles and Messianic Jews (or any group of Jews) is Biblically unsustainable.
So where does that leave us?
I don’t have an answer, at least not a whole one. I do have a clue, also written by Chana Sara in her recent blog post My Experience with the Rebbe:
But he was more than just a rebel. He was a person with a fervor for life, for Yiddishkeit and for people. Everyone was important, Jew or non-Jew, male or female, child or adult. Every person was important and he wanted to do good for all mankind. The U.S. has dedicated Education and Sharing Day as a tribute to the Rebbe and steps he took toward the betterment of education for all U.S. children. He stressed the importance of the Noahide laws. He wanted to make sure that all of mankind was healthy and well and ready to take on the world in the way Hashem desires them to. He was really into everyone being the best that they can be and being able to help them realize their potential. The world isn’t finished being built, and the Rebbe wanted to make sure we were aware of that and are putting on our best faces to be able to finish making this world a dira b’tachtonim, a dwelling place for Hashem.
While there are voices within Messianic Judaism who advocate for a strict bilateral relationship between Jews and Gentiles, it is also part of the process of tikkun olam for Jewish and non-Jewish scholars and teachers within Messianic Judaism to make their lessons available to the Messianic Goyim so that we may learn and understand the teachings of the Master within his own context and turn our praxis and our devotion to God accordingly.
While there are plenty of resources available including those authored by Christian Pastors writing from within a Messianic context, as far as my experience goes, there are still no real answers.
If we acknowledge that Christian tradition does not adequately or accurately reflect the Jewish context of the Bible, and if we admit that Jewish praxis is not Gentile praxis in any form, including one that adopts the appearance of Judaism while rejecting the last eighteen hundred years or so of Jewish teaching and writing, what do we have left?
A mystery and no answers.
In previous comments on other blog posts I’ve written on this topic, it has been suggested that Gentile identity within Jewish space will have to evolve over a long period of time, decades if not centuries (barring the timing of King Messiah’s return, of course).
But courageous Jewish leaders such as the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory, indeed, had a heart not just for the Jewish people but for all people. Although his special mission and devotion was for Yiddishkeit, he understood that Messiah’s coming would herald the redemption of all of humanity in an unparalleled era of peace.
That’s the heritage of not just Israel but of all mankind, of you and me, all of us.
The twenty-first yahrzeit of the Rebbe has just passed and perhaps, if I may be so bold, in his merit, we can remind ourselves that somewhere, somehow, the people of the nations have a place in God’s redemptive plan, too. However, that plan and how we figure into it, isn’t very clear when viewed through a Jewish lens, since that lens was designed to reveal God’s relationship with the Jewish people and with Israel.
But it is the only lens we have that most accurately reveals the true reality of God’s message to the world, one that doesn’t diminish or destroy Jewish people, the nation of Israel, or the traditions, writings, and praxis of Judaism.
However uncomfortable or disorienting it may be to live life as a Gentile poised on the edge of our understanding of the God of Israel, the Jewish Messiah, and the Jewish scriptures, our best response should never be envy, supersessionism, or disdain. Instead, let us don the garments of humility, wonder, and awe, and then begin walking our path, one that is uncharted and unknown, toward the undiscovered country of who we are, which isn’t really defined by Judaism or even Christianity but rather by God.
I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.
-Revelation 21:22-22:5 (NASB)
Notice that it’s not just Israel who exists in the presence of God and of the Lamb. The nations are there…we are there, too, and we will be healed.
The tzadik is one with G-d.
We recognize him because within each of us is also a tzadik who is one with G-d.
Inside each of us is a spark of Moses.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory
Within each of us is a spark of the Messiah. Have faith and courage.