I was sitting in the airport in Dallas reading my daily page of the Talmud when an elderly priest, readily identifiable by his collar, stopped by my seat and asked me a question. “I hope you don’t mind my interrupting you. I see you are reading a Hebrew book and you are wearing a hat. Are you by any chance a Rabbi?”
When I responded that indeed I am, he continued, “I hope you don’t think I’m out of place but all my life I’ve been hoping that someday I might meet a Rabbi. You see, although I’m a priest I’ve always felt that Jews are the people of The Book and enjoy an especially close relationship with God. You are God’s chosen people and as a Rabbi you are one of their spiritual leaders. I’ve always wanted to ask a Rabbi for a blessing. Would it be possible now for me to ask that you honor me with that favor?”
I cannot convey in words how moved I was by that request. I gave him the priestly benediction from the Torah and recited it to him in the original Hebrew. He was moved to tears. In all humility, I understood that for him I was the link to the original Torah. Whatever theological beliefs might separate us – and there are surely many – he clearly recognized the unique role of Judaism, in the words of Isaiah, to serve as “a light unto the nations.” Jews are the direct descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the nation that stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and received the Torah to transmit from generation to generation. Jews were “chosen” not to claim superiority but to accept the responsibility to convey God’s messages to the rest of mankind.
-Rabbi Benjamin Blech
“5 Greatest Gifts of Being a Jew”
There may be some of you when reading the paragraphs above who will be taken aback by a Catholic Priest (or any Christian clergy) asking a Rabbi for a blessing. There may be others among you who will cringe at the idea that Rabbi Blech not only responded to the request by conferring a blessing, but that he used the Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing.
Historically, Judaism and Christianity have had a somewhat “uncomfortable” relationship (I say that using tremendous understatement) and at least vestiges of that remain in the modern era.
But I found the transaction between R. Blech and the Priest to be rather heartwarming. Nearly twenty centuries of enmity between Christians and Jews was simply swept aside, a Christian (a Catholic Priest no less) openly recognized the special and unique relationship a Jew has with God, and a Jew (a Rabbi no less) blessed not just a Goy, and not just a Christian, but a Catholic Priest, and was happy to do so.
In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.
–Genesis 22:18 (NASB)
Indeed, the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are to be a blessing to the people of the nations, and in R. Blech’s case, it became both fact and truth.
But then again, we have this:
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
From a Christian point of view, that blessing from the offspring (“seed”) of Abraham could be considered specifically issuing from one Jew, our Rav Yeshua (Jesus), as opposed to Jewish people in general. However, I don’t have a problem assigning multiple meanings and applications to the aforementioned blessing.
Drilling down into R. Blech’s quote, let’s take a look at the following:
Whatever theological beliefs might separate us – and there are surely many – he clearly recognized the unique role of Judaism, in the words of Isaiah, to serve as “a light unto the nations.” (emph mine)
A Catholic Priest, who, by definition, believes that Jesus Christ is the Jewish Messiah King who will redeem the world, also recognized that modern Jewish people, including and especially Rabbis, have a unique role to play relative to God and to humanity.
How much more should we “Judaicly-aware” disciples of our Rav also recognize that unique role of Jews in general and Jews who share our understanding of the revelation of Rav Yeshua in particular, whether we choose to call ourselves members of Hebrew Roots, “Messianic Gentiles,” or anything else?
In his article, R. Blech listed the 5 greatest gifts of being a Jew as:
- Our Unique Mission
- The Torah
- The Gift of Others
Although the Torah does not apply to the rest of mankind, even the Gentile disciples of our Rav, in the same way it applies to Jewish people, it does define a general pattern of ethical and moral behavior along with the establishment of monotheism, the realization of One God, Hashem, Creator of Existence. Without the Jewish people and the Torah, there would not be such revelations, and certainly, there would be no plan of redemption for our world.
Under “Progress,” R. Blech cites Irishman Thomas Cahill’s book The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels to illustrate the impact of Jews and Judaism on the entire planet.
In it he credits the Jews not only for monotheism and the idea of a personal relationship with God; it is these concepts, he reminds us, that led us to the understanding that we have a personal responsibility for ourselves and our relations with our neighbors, as well as to our respect for history itself.
While the Church likes to think history began with the birth of Christ, in fact, while the coming of Rav Yeshua certainly was and is an apex in human history, everything in the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings had to occur to set the stage for our Rav’s entry, including the existence of Israel and the Jewish people.
Under “Optimism,” Blech states:
To be a Jew is to know that the world has not yet reached its divinely ordained end. God has a plan for us and eventually it will be fulfilled. No matter how long it takes, Jews remain the eternal optimists.
Golda Meir put it this way: “Jews cannot afford the luxury of pessimism.” Ben Gurion reminded us that in Israel “In order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” And Maimonides included the belief in messianic redemption at the end of days as one of the thirteen Cardinal principles of our faith.
We non-Jewish devotees also wait for the Messiah, though some of us have a radically different idea of what that means than most Jews. Social media has made it easy to complain about practically everything, and conservative Christians complain about everything from A to Z, which is why it would be helpful if we would learn optimism as Blech describes it.
Finally, under “The Gift of Others,” while R. Blech is describing the relationship Jews have with each other, we “Judaicly-aware” Goyim might want to set aside any “Torah-envy” we may experience ,and approach our Jewish brethren in Yeshua (as well as Jewish people in general) in the same manner as the Priest who approached Rabbi Blech in a Dallas airport as described at the top of this article.
At the very start of his write-up, R. Blech said:
Albert Einstein once startled an audience when he announced, “I’m sorry I was born a Jew.” The people were shocked. How could this great man make such an outlandish statement? With a smile, Einstein then impishly continued, “Because it deprived me of the privilege of choosing to be a Jew.”
As a tenth generation Rabbi, I did not choose to become a Jew; it was my natural birthright. But with the wisdom of age and the perspective of worldly experience I have come to recognize that my identity conferred precious divine gifts that we should never take for granted.
Jews, whether religious or secular, are the only people who are born into a covenant relationship with God. The rest of us have to choose to become associated with God and arguably, we have no covenant relationship (long story…start reading this five-part review for the answer, or if you’re pressed for time, this short summary) apart from the Noahide Covenant God made with all living things in Genesis 9.
But we are allowed and even encouraged to choose God. We just need to remember that it was through the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and the (Jewish) Moshiach that we are redeemed, not through the power of our choosing alone.
“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”