Abraham

We Are Students of Abraham Communing with God

We find that G-d’s love for our father Avraham was mainly because “…he will command (yetzaveh) his children and his household.”[1] Yetzaveh here connotes “bring into a communion (with G-d).” All of Avraham’s towering avoda in the tests to which he was subjected,[2] cannot be compared to his commanding others and bringing them into communion, i.e. to his bringing merit to others.

“Today’s Day” for Sunday, Tammuz 8, 5703/1943
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943) from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.
Chabad.org

This is a follow up to yesterday’s morning meditation, and although it, and my previous missive, may seem a bit schmaltzy for some of you, I feel it’s necessary to add some spiritual “ascent” to counter balance some of the “descent” we’ve been discussing lately.

I know that the phrase from Genesis 18:19 where God references Abraham saying “so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice,” has been taken by some to mean that, as spiritual children of Abraham, we should be obligated to the Torah mitzvot in the same manner as the descendants of Abraham’s offspring Isaac and Jacob, that is, the Jewish people.

This would make things deceptively easy (not that they’d actually be easy) in terms of defining the role of the non-Jew within Messianic Jewish space. We’d just have the same role as the Jewish participants and thus we’d all be one big, happy family (not really, but that’s wish, anyway).

But the commentary about the aforementioned portion of scripture is very interesting. It states “…he will command (yetzaveh) his children and his household,” as meaning he [Abraham] will “bring [his children and his household] into a communion (with G-d).”

Except, because of our Abraham-like faith in Hashem through Yeshua, we can and are brought into communion with God. Having a halachic path identical to the Jewish people is completely unnecessary. How complicated does coming into communion with God have to be?

abrahams visitorsAlthough the Jewish Sages believe that Abraham kept all of the Torah mitzvot in the manner later commanded at Sinai, I don’t think we have to go that far in considering what Abraham may have taught, based on a reading of the plain meaning of the relevant texts.

At a very, very basic level, Abraham talked to God and God talked back. Their relationship was founded on Abraham’s unbounded trust in God, a trust that allowed Abraham to do the unthinkable; to trust God enough to place Isaac on the altar and risk losing his “child of promise.”

While I think most of us as parents have a terrifically difficult time imagining how Abraham was able to do this and what he was thinking (not to mention what Isaac was thinking when he allowed it) at the Akedah, we have to believe that Abraham trusted God and His promises enough to know that Isaac would not die or that, if he did, God would resurrect him.

After all, if Isaac was the sole source of Abraham’s future legacy, how could that be fulfilled if Isaac died, particularly by his father’s hand, before having children?

So to be in communion with God, to follow Abraham’s teachings may be as straightforward as continually talking with God and continually developing our trust in God so that we too may face our life difficulties with the same calm and grace as Avinu Avraham.

A lot of the issues we discuss among ourselves as “Messianics” have to do with how Jews and Gentiles are supposed to interact, particularly within a Jewish social and worship environment, but the question we seem to avoid is how are each of us as individuals (regardless of being Jewish or Gentile) supposed to relate to God?

Abraham and the starsIf following Abraham’s teaching for both his biological descendants and those of us who are counted as children of Abraham by our trust in God is the key, then the door we’re trying to open is the one that leads us into the presence of Hashem.

G‑d desires to have a presence in this world, and in each mitzvah we do, however it is done, He is there.

G‑d desires that His light shine in this world, and in every word of divine wisdom and every heartfelt prayer, His light shines.

G‑d desires yet more—that He be found here in all His essence, that which can neither be spoken nor kept silent, neither of heaven nor of earth, neither of being nor of not-being—that which transcends all of these and from which all extends.

And that is how He is found in a simple, physical deed that shines brightly with divine light.

Torat Menachem, vol. 34 (Likkutei Sichot, vol. 4), Parshat Korach; Maamar Hasam Ragleinu 5718.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Acts of Light”
Chabad.org

Everything we do in the service of God brings a little bit more of His presence into our reality. That’s the meaning of Tikkun Olam or repairing the world.

In that, anything we do to elevate ourselves spiritually, and that delivers charitable, righteous, and just acts to our fellow human beings, is part of bringing light into the world and are the behaviors that result from our communion with God.

We are students of Abraham it seems, Jew and Gentile alike. We all just have our own unique ways of acting out what we’ve learned.

Touching on the Keb’ Mo’ YouTube video of his chart “I’m Amazing” which I posted yesterday, I’m inserting this link to Rabbi Freeman’s short article You Are the World (and so am I).

I encourage you to read it all (it’s not very long), but he ends his missive by saying:

As another ancient Jewish teaching goes, “Every person has to say, ‘The whole world was created with me in mind.’” Meaning, for me to tip the scales. For me to make the entire world the way it was meant to be.

Because you are the world.

Inner lightWhether you understand it or not, you (and I) were created to fulfill a specific purpose in life (and maybe more than one). As you are doing it, you may not even be aware of what or how you are part of God’s plan in the world. You may only realize it in the world to come when it is revealed.

Half the time, I have no idea what God wants out of me, either.

That’s where trust in God, the kind of trust Abraham had at the Akedah, comes in. We have to believe and live out our trust that the universe and our individual lives are unfolding as God intends them to.

Good Shabbos.

Footnotes

1. Bereishit 18:19.

2. Pirkei Avot 5:3.

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16 thoughts on “We Are Students of Abraham Communing with God”

  1. James,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Genesis 18:19 say that Abraham would teach his household the singular “way” of the L-rd (“derech Adonai”)? If Jews and Gentiles who believe in Yeshua both belong to the household of Abraham and are meant to follow DIFFERENT ways of life then shouldn’t the Torah have said that Abraham would teach his household the PLURAL “ways” of the L-rd (“derechim Adonai”)?

  2. Dear Peter — Whatever Avraham taught his children, several centuries before Torah was given to clarify the covenant inherited by the descendants of only one of those children, had to accommodate HaShem’s sovereign choice to differentiate between peoples. The Torah represents what may be called the Jewish pursuit of the “way” in accord with a unique distinctive covenant. Any others of Avraham’s children wishing to pursue that “way” must have pursued those principles in some other manner (and there are ancient historical hints that some, like those who ultimately taught Jethro of Midian, may have done so).

    Shabbat Shalom

  3. Peter, to expand on what PL said, while the Rabbinic sages may have believed that Abraham had the entire Torah at his disposal and kept kosher, donned tzitzit, and laid tefillin, I would consider it highly anachronistic that he should have done so.

    I do believe that even back in the time of Noah, certain aspects of Torah were known, such as the distinctions between a clean and unclean animal for the purposes of ritual sacrifice. But that doesn’t mean that I believe all the midrashic opinions such as Abraham’s full knowledge of Torah or Jacob, when initially fleeing Canaan and Esau’s wrath, that he stopped by the tents of Shem to study Torah.

    So what would Abraham have taught his family and household. I elaborated upon that in the above blog post, but simply put, he would have taught them what he knew about ethical monotheism (which was, I’m sure, a revolutionary concept at the time), faith, trust, and devotion to Hashem.

    Keep in mind that Abraham had a diverse family and household, but only his son Isaac was to inherit the promises of the Land from him, and only Isaac’s son Jacob was to inherit, and then Jacob’s twelve sons who became the twelve tribes.

    While we, as non-Jews, can consider ourselves spiritual offspring of Abraham, the linkage stops at Abraham and does not follow his lineage down through Isaac and Jacob, thus we do not “receive the Torah” at Sinai in the manner of the tribes descended from Jacob’s twelve sons.

    We have inherited a way that is founded on the immense faith and trust Abraham had in God, and that faith serves to connect us to Messiah and thus, the blessings of the New Covenant such as the promise of the resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

    It does not make us “Jews without a bris,” so to speak. It makes us part of a larger world of Gentiles who are called by Hashem’s Name in accordance with the promises. We are a big milestone, a flashing neon sign in the sky, that if Gentiles can turn to the God of Israel, surely the Messiah is on the way back to redeem Israel, and through Israel, the rest of us.

  4. Oh, one more thing, Peter. I’m aware that you are continuing your pattern of making a single “hit and run” comment here on my blog, creating a new post on your own blogspot, quoting our dialog here, and then discussing the matter among your own readers.

    I suppose that’s OK, but it seems an ineffective way to engage the original source material.

  5. PL & James,

    The “Way of the Lord” refers to Torah. Abraham didn’t have all the Torah like Moshe but He had a revelation of SOME of it because it says “Ekev asher-shama Avraham bekoli vayishmor mishmarti mitsvotay chukotay vetorotay,” Gen. 26:5. Moshe gave the FULL Torah because it says “BECHOL-haderech asher tsivah Adonay Eloheychem etchem telechu…” Deut. 5:30.

    The point is that the “Way of the Lord” is the Torah, HaShem’s Wisdom, as much of it as has been revealed in a given age. Thus, preparing the way of the L-rd is taken to refer to keeping the Torah (see for example IQS 8:11-15).

    So, to return to Gen. 18:19, “derech Adonai” means that everyone in Abraham’s family is meant to keep the Torah–in Abraham’s day, that amount of Torah that had been revealed, and in the Post-Sinaitic Era, the full Torah (Bechol haderech).

    Bottom line: It’s laughable the suggestion that “Way of the Lord” means anything other than Torah.

  6. @Peter — No one here has suggested that the way of HaShem is contrary to Torah or anything other than compatible with the Torah that was revealed to Moshe Rabbeinu. However, you have already clearly differentiated between an incomplete amount of Torah that you infer was taught by Avraham and the whole of Torah that was taught only to Jews by Moshe. The four principles that were cited in Acts 15 as the sole binding requirements for gentile disciples are also a portion of Torah. What is not clearly distinguished in Avraham’s time is how much of Torah he taught as suitable to represent the way of HaShem to the children he sent away, because only Yitzhak would inherit the covenant, and what additional aspects of Torah he may have taught to Yitzhak as the one responsible for maintaining that inheritance. Clearly, by the time of the Jerusalem Council’s halakhic ruling, the way of HaShem reflected in the way for Rav Yeshua’s disciples, also meant different things for Jewish disciples than what it meant for gentile disciples. Becoming Rav Yeshua’s disciples did not make them all the same, except that all of them could obtain atonement and access to HaShem and the kingdom of heaven and the ultimate resurrection of the righteous. One cannot proceed to honor the Torah, nor to honor HaShem’s promises to Avraham, if one refuses to honor this distinction — which means that some of the Torah is not to be enacted by non-Jewish disciples. If these disciples were to learn Torah thoroughly, in accordance with Acts 15:21, they would then learn this as well.

  7. James and PL – I’ve been wrestling with the thought of circumcision for a few years now and it is likely we can’t fully address it here. But I keep coming back to this: if we are spiritual children of Abraham, not in the line of Isaac, it seems to me that we should still be circumcised. (I know, easy for me – a woman – to say.) Wasn’t everyone in Abraham’s house circumcised, including Ishmael and all servants?

    I’ve read Shaul and had a few brief conversations with my rabbi, but the matter isn’t settled in my spirit.

    FFOZ (I think in HaYesod) points out that the argument in Shaul’s day was whether or not Gentiles had to convert to Judaism in order to be saved. I get that.

    However, that still leaves Abraham, Ishmael, and all Abraham’s household.

    I’ve read some rabbinic writings saying that Gentiles are not part of that covenant, others say spiritual children are and should be circumcised.

    And then I read 1 Cor 7:19 “Being circumcised means nothing, and being uncircumcised means nothing; what does mean something is keeping God’s commandments” and I feel like screaming, “Circumcision IS one of the commandments!”

  8. @Peter: You use the term “Torah” as if it were only one, static, concrete document along with its modern Rabbinic interpretations and cannot be viewed or applied in any other manner. If your conclusion is correct, then the Acts 15 legal proceeding to decide the halachic status of the Gentiles in the Messianic movement would have been unnecessary.

    However, since masses of Gentiles making teshuvah and turning to the God of Israel was both unprecedented and an undeniable sign of the blossoming of the Messianic Era and New Covenant blessings into our world, the Jerusalem Council, as the guiding body of the ekklesia of Messiah, needed to make “policy”, so to speak.

    In the broadest possible sense, the Torah is for the nations but not in the specific manner the Torah is applied to the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.

    As was suggested in Acts 15:21, there is merit Gentiles studying Torah and Torah does have meaning for the Gentile believer, but the merit of Jewish Torah observance is highly specific and unique as Jewish response to Israel’s covenant relationship with Hashem.

    This isn’t to say that we non-Jews are an afterthought. Once Gentiles come to understand the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in God’s redemptive plan for the world, it can be a really humbling experience. In the Church, we were taught that it’s all about us, that is, all about Christians and Christianity. Discovering the actual, Biblical reality about Israel, Torah and the Jewish people being the central prime movers of worldwide redemption through Messiah, the mediator of the New Covenant, can actually inspire Gentile resentment of Judaism if not the Jewish people.

    We need to get past the idea that either the Church is the key to Messianic redemption or, conversely, that Gentiles must become identical to Jews and merge with Israel, rather than coming alongside, in order to discover our true role and potential. We don’t have to co-opt the Jewish role or their observance in Torah to realize that in God’s plan Gentiles are also unique and amazing.

    Even just dealing with my own emotional experiences to such a realization, I understand that at least some of what drives the “zeal” behind the One Law/One Torah movement is that sense of differentiation between Jew and Gentile in Messiah, and we attempt to force an egalitarian interpretation out of the Torah and the whole Bible to avoid our own misguided feelings of inadequacy or inequality.

    God created us all and the roles each of us possess. If you want to say God is being unfair to the Gentiles by elevating Israel above them, you have a right to your opinion, but that won’t change the outcome. If we accept who and what we are relative to Israel now, we’ll be in a much better position to also accept how the Messianic Kingdom will unfold upon Moshiach’s return.

  9. @Ro: I think the response to the question of circumcision for us is that Abraham came to a redemptive faith and trust in Hashem before he was circumcised. That’s the position we non-Jews in Messiah occupy, thus circumcision is unnecessary and, if we take our cue also from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, it is even something to be avoided, especially if we see circumcision as somehow providing for our greater acceptance by God.

  10. PL,

    First, the precedent we have in Abraham is that we must keep all of the Way of the Lord as it is progressively revealed–culminating in its complete revelation at Har Sinai. There is no precedent in Torah that commands people to follow a retrograded version of Torah.

    Second, Acts 15 settled that Gentiles belong to Israel (i.e. the People Called by His Name–by the way, I don’t need to remind you that Torah says ONLY Israel is called by His Name). Thus, the precedent of “One Law for the Community” applies. By the way, the Fourfold Decree is a prohibition against idolatry. You’ll also note what follows the fourfold decree: an assumption that Gentiles who are “returning” will be attending synagogue each Shabbat in order to hear the Torah of Moses.

    So we see that there are 2 ways. There is the way which leads to life (i.e. the Way of the Lord) and the way which leads to death. The Torah is a Tree of Life provided for mankind (see Rabbah XXXV:VI:1f) and the “Way of the Tree of Life” (“et-derech ets hachayim” Gen. 3:24) is the Way of the Torah. There are 2 groups, the righteous who follow the Way of the Tree of Life (which is the Torah) and the idolaters who walk in the way of sinners:

    “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood,” Revelation 22:14,15

  11. @Peter: I know you’re specifically responding to PL, but since it’s my blog, I figured I could toss my two cents worth in.

    You say there’s no application of Torah other than that which leads in a direct line between Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob culminating at Sinai (thus it’s assumed Sinai is the *only* application of Torah). However, Abraham didn’t teach his household the Torah of Sinai since, on a human level, that particular revelation didn’t exist yet.

    Also, Abraham has other children besides Isaac, thus what they learned, particularly Ishmael, was not the teachings that would eventually be inherited by the descendants of Isaac and Jacob. Even Esau didn’t follow that particular path, and so the lessons of Isaac to his other son would not mirror what Jacob learned.

    Remember, the path leading to Sinai was only for Isaac and Jacob and not for the other children and grandchildren of Abraham. We see his in the Arab people and how Islam shares some of the characteristics of Jewish observance while radically diverging in other areas.

    I also disagree that only Israel is called by God’s Name as we see God stating “And all the [e]nations who are called by My name” in Amos 9:12. If the nations cannot follow God as the nations and only Israel is called by God’s Name, then God’s New Covenant prophecies never come to past and that part of the Bible must be wrong.

    Since that can’t be true, your assumption on this matter is incorrect.

  12. You still don’t get it, Peter — Acts 15 does not transform gentiles into members of Israel, nor do the words of the prophet Amos (9:11) quoted therein. Look at 1Kings8:43 (also 2Chr.6:33), and note that HaShem’s house is called by His Name, and that Shlomo envisions there the foreign gentiles who will know and revere HaShem’s Name. In Dan.9:18&19, we see reference to the city (Jerusalem) that is called by His Name. Your biggest problem may be that you do not understand the Hebrew idiom employed in all these passages. To be called by HaShem’s Name is to be dedicated to pursue or represent His Purpose (or some aspect of His purposes). Now a temple, a sanctuary, a city, and one or more peoples do not all have the same function, hence each has its own manner of representing HaShem. Jews continue to have one way, outlined in Torah to distinguish them from all the other families of the earth, while gentiles have another, also outlined in general terms in Torah. That is not some sort of “retrograde” Torah; it is the full expectation of HaShem for human behavior in general. The existence of additional demands for the Jewish people does not apply those demands to anyone else. Simply referring to the fact of being called in accordance with His Name does not erase these distinctions, just as the existence of other benefits of faith that are shared with faith-filled gentiles, and no longer reserved solely unto Jews, does not make those gentiles into Jews nor into any other kind of members of “Israel” (as if there were any other kinds, which there are not).

    If you wish to be a “son of Avraham” in the manner cited by Rav Shaul in his letter to the Galatian gentile assemblies, well and good. To do so you must reflect the quality of faith that he did before he received the promises and circumcision, and you may thus become an heir according to the promise of gentile blessing given to Avraham in Gen.22 that is referenced in Gal.3 along with the son-ship analogy. You do not become a son of Yitzhak, nor Yakov, nor anyone else in the line that inherits the covenant which was later elaborated in Torah as revealed to Moshe and as continually elaborated throughout the history of Jewish civilization.

  13. James,

    RE: “Remember, the path leading to Sinai was only for Isaac and Jacob and not for the other children and grandchildren of Abraham.”

    That’s the opposite of what the text says.

    RE: “I also disagree that only Israel is called by God’s Name as we see God stating “And all the [e]nations who are called by My name” in Amos 9:12. If the nations cannot follow God as the nations and only Israel is called by God’s Name, then God’s New Covenant prophecies never come to past and that part of the Bible must be wrong.”

    Several quick points:

    (1) only the People called by His Name (i.e. Israel) is obligated to keep the Torah:

    “We are yours from of old; but you have not ruled over them, they [i.e. the Gentiles] have not been called by your name,” Isaiah 63:19

    The Targum identifies this “People Called By His Name” as Israel, the People to whom G-d gave the Torah:

    “We are Thy people that were of old: not unto the Gentiles hast Thou given the doctrine of Thy law, neither is Thy name invoked upon them; not unto them hast Thou inclined the heavens and revealed Thyself; the mountains quaked before Thee,” Targum Isaiah 63:19

    (2) Am Yisrael (the People of Israel) is composed of different ethnicities (nations) because it says:

    “Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you,” Zechariah 2:11

    This proves that Israel includes nations which join to the L-rd and excludes nations which practice idolatry. Thus, humanity is divided into Israel and the idolatrous nations.

    (3) G-d’s People are the Ekklesia (Hebrew: Kahal, a.k.a. “The Church”). The Kahal is a community. And there is One Law for the community because it says: “hakahal chukah achat” (Numbers 15:15).

  14. James, I would implore you not to use the Arabs and Islam concept as proof or at all helpful. It is, among other things, inconsistent with your illustration that Abraham didn’t have the Torah revealed to him.

  15. I know it’s an unfavorable comparison Marleen, but Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are considered the world’s three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions. You might want to read Yossi Klein Halevi’s book At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. Halevi illustrates how, as a Jew living in Israel, in some ways, he has more in common with Muslim’s in the Holy Land than with Christians. It’s an illuminating tale.

  16. I will probably read it. My concern is not so much — well, I’m not sure what you mean by an unfavorable comparison… comparing Christianity and Islam, comparing Judaism and Islam, comparing God’s guidance of Abraham to Islam — but my concern isn’t that anyone should never respect Muslim people. But Islam didn’t happen until many, many moons after Abraham and even after Christianity; likewise, Torah came long (not as long) after Abraham. And the rest of Abraham’s children don’t get slotted into/as Islam.

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