I wrote this blog post some months ago wondering if I’d ever publish it. Given recent events, now seems like a good time.
The final verse of this parashah uses the words…[which] literally [mean]: “This is the Torah,” in reference to the laws of tzaraas. Sifsei Kohen understands this to be teaching us an important remedy: if one has brought down upon himself the Divine punishment of tzarras, he must cleanse himself through the study of Torah. The Torah is a fire of ruchniyus, spirituality, and fire has the capacity to purge impurity (as we see in Bamidbar 31:23). However, simply learning the Torah is not sufficient; one must absorb the Torah into his very being…Even if one learns the Torah, his task is not yet complete. If he internalizes what he has learned, he will come to purity; but if he does not, the potential for tumah still lurks.
-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.177
for the Shabbos study of Parashas Tazria
A Daily Dose of Torah
I realize this was written with a Jewish audience in mind and the concept of elevating oneself by the study and internalization of Torah isn’t meant to be applied to me, a non-Jew. Nevertheless, I think I can take a wider principle out of this lesson. Please bear with me.
I think what I quoted above is what separates me from the friend I have coffee with on alternate Sundays. He has been urging me to push myself further in my relationship with Messiah. But when he describes his own experiences, the spiritual depths he explores, and even the periodic visitation by the presence of Hashem, I’m flabbergasted.
I’d make a very poor Pentecostal. It’s difficult for me to process statements such as “…and then God talked to me and told me…”
Over eighteen months ago, I wrote a blog post called Standing on the Jewish Foundation of the Bible. I wrote it in response to some of the conversations I was having back then with the head Pastor of the church I used to attend. He was also pushing me, but in his case, to adopt a more classic Christian identity and understanding of the Bible.
As it turns out, I make a very poor Fundamentalist or Evangelical too. It’s not where my head and my heart lie. In my reviews of the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul Within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle, I’ve been reminded of how a more Judaically-oriented view of the scriptures makes a great deal more sense to me than what Christianity has to offer.
This is why I study the Torah and the rest of the Bible from the perspective of the “Messianic Gentile,” or at least I have been up until now.
But as the above-quoted passage and my friend attest, studying is not enough. Knowing but not doing is probably a bigger sin than mere ignorance or even being on the wrong track.
In the review I mentioned above, I hope I’ve shown that the traditional way the Church understands Paul represents the “wrong track.” Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve rendered this option. But at least many people within the Church are behaving from their convictions, performing acts of charity, feeding the hungry, giving comfort to the grieving, all the “weightier matters of Torah” the Master valued so highly.
Even if you (or I) believe we possess “the truth,” or at least a more historically and culturally accurate and factual interpretation of Paul and the writers of the rest of the Bible, what good is it if you (or I) don’t do something about it, and don’t allow our personalities, our very souls to absorb, integrate, and radiate the lived experience of Torah?
I think a life like that looks like this:
The Torah gives us an important rule in relationships: Even though you are suffering, you have no right to cause suffering to others. Whatever your distress, you still need to speak and act with respect. If you are ever in a bad mood, be especially careful not to speak or act to others in a way that will be distressful for them.
(see Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler – Michtav MaiEliyahu, vol.4, 246; Rabbi Pliskin’s “Consulting the Wise”)
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Be Respectful, No Matter What”
Daily Lift #320
It must also look like this.
I think the litmus test for whether or not you (or I) have integrated Torah principles into our identity and lived experience is stress. Even the morning commute into work can be abundantly revealing (I know it is of me). A person who has internalized Torah principles; internalized the teachings of the Master, will react to various stresses in a different way than one who studies but has not absorbed that study.
James (Ya’akov), the brother of the Master, said it well:
But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
–James 1:6-8 (NASB)
Does faith have something to do with whether or not one internalizes what he or she has learned of Torah? I think so. Think of it more like faithfulness or especially trust. I think we all encounter circumstances where we find it’s hard to let go. Like the character Marlin in the film Finding Nemo (2003), our fears overwhelm our ability to trust, even Hashem, and to let our God open His hand and provide for our every need. If we don’t trust completely, then we can still study Torah and be illuminated, but we will never become the illumination.
The Master said to his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16), but our light will not shine if we cover it over with doubt and distrust. On some level, I must not be letting go. I’m comfortable with the study but not with what comes after it. I like my spiritual plateau, but I will never be who Hashem wants me to be unless or until I let go, trust my Master’s teachings, and let them truly transform every area of my life.
Study is supposed to lead to transformation, but not unless I first break down the wall. I know that wall is mine to break down and not God’s. The next move in this little chess game is mine, not His. But just like the Knight in Ingmar Bergman’s classic 1957 film The Seventh Seal, I find myself at the losing end of that game and the inevitable consequence is my extinction. However, unlike the Knight in the film who, like many of the other players, dies in a plague and goes off into eternity dancing with a personified death, my end is not the end of life, but the end of any attempt at community and belonging.
There is no going back. What I think is one thing, but what I feel is something beyond my abilities to grasp. I will post a general reivew of the Nanos/Zetterholm volume on Amazon rather than finish writing my essay-by-essay reviews here.
Frankly, given the last few blog posts and especially this one, I think it’s best for me to take some sort of hiatus, at least from blogging if not from any sort of involvement in Messianic Judaism as a social venue online or otherwise. While I still think it’s the most Biblically sustainable method of study, as far as me, an individual human personality goes, I don’t think I belong here anymore than I belong in a church.
If God still wants anything from me, He knows where to find me. I seem to be making a mess of finding him, at least through any method I’ve attempted thus far.
For any individual or group I have upset or offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness, though I don’t expect I deserve it. I wish you well in your endeavors, but I seem to need to travel a different path than yours.
It’s time for me to reduce my search to simply me, the Bible, and prayer. After that, let God make his judgment.