“Every human being on earth has a personal relationship with God – whether he knows it or not. The fact that he is alive or that he/she is breathing is God’s expression of love towards that individual. Some people accept it, acknowledge it, reciprocate, but some people don’t. The Jewish people, in addition to this personal relationship, stand in a communal relationship, in a national relationship. The Jewish people stand together as a community in a relationship with God. This is an inter-generational community that has a covenantal relationship with God. When the Torah says ‘you’ it addresses this national communal entity.”
–Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Blumenthal
The other day I wrote a blog post mentioning a community of Noahides in Texas (and elsewhere) called Netiv (Hebrew for “path” or so I’ve been told). I wrote the article to highlight the differences as well as the similarities between these Noahides and those “Judaicly-aware” non-Jews I sometimes call Talmidei Yeshua (which I think is a better name for them/us than “Messianic Gentiles”).
While I was on the Netiv website, I had a look around and found a short article written by someone named Ida Blom called Pursuing Righteousness in the Nations.
The quote from Rabbi Blumenthal at the top of today’s “meditation” was taken from the opening words of Ms. Blom’s missive. In the span of a few short paragraphs (most of which I quote below), I discovered more interesting parallels between the world of Noahides and ours.
I quoted the above, to make a clear distinction between individual people (in the nations) and Israel. The individuals in the second group are part of the first group by default, but the reverse is NOT true. Looking at the first group, and focusing on the section of people in the nations who do in fact reciprocate with a deep longing to grow in righteousness and pursue this relationship, let’s focus on the ones who have taken the steps to come closer to the second group, and who desire to learn from them in how to be righteous in God’s eyes in the way that they (Israel) have been instructed by God to be a light unto these nations.
Ah, more distinctions between Israel (the Jewish people and nation) and the people of the nations who have attached themselves to Israel (Isaiah 14:1; Isaiah 56:6). These distinctions are easier to understand in the context Ms. Blom presents because it is clear that the relationship between Israel and the Noahides is distinguished by the effect of different covenants. The whole world is part of the covenant God made with Noah (Genesis 9) but only Israel is a named participant in the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 19-20), or for that matter, the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:27).
Ms. Blom makes the point that the Jewish people are part of humanity, along with the people of the nations, but the people of the nations are not Israel. She goes on to say that we Gentiles look to Israel in order to learn the ways of righteousness. We must have a relationship with Israel to accomplish this.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’
–Zechariah 8:23 (NASB)
This verse is well-known among those people like me and it seems to be lived out in the relationship between the aforementioned group of Noahides and their Jewish mentors.
But it is a relationship that is also desired by the Talmidei Yeshua, those non-Jews who choose to learn about Hashem (God), the Bible, and Rav Yeshua (Jesus) through a Judaicly oriented, Israel central lens.
Sometimes that relationship works well and at other times it doesn’t.
Actually, in quoting this article, the relationship between Gentiles and Jews doesn’t always work very well either:
And when Noahides show up at Chabad houses or synagogues, saying they want to learn Torah, they’re frequently turned away at the door.
I suppose after thousands of years of enmity between the nations of the world and the Jewish people, things are bound to remain a bit tense, at least under certain circumstances.
This next part I found to be very telling:
Why do the people in the first group, after coming out of our past religions, almost try to reverse-engineer our relationships with God in our zeal to find some identity? Because nobody but us will understand from experience, how and to what degree and price we have lost any previous identity. We are prepared to let go because of our quest for truth. True, we have to re-learn and unlearn MANY things, but there are some foundations which remain. We want to start with a new, clean slate, but by doing that, we almost throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. We ourselves create the void and then grab onto labels like noahide or ger or alternatively remain in the non-Jewish pool, feeling rudderless.
After leaving our former identity and context within normative Christianity, these Noahides struggle to establish a new identity in somewhat foreign territory and yet sometimes they “remain in the non-Jewish pool, feeling rudderless” to dodge being lost in the “void” while scrambling for a name and a label to call their own.
This is exactly what many non-Jews experience in their attempt to establish a place of belonging within Messianic Judaism, particularly those communities that really do function as a Judaism for Jews first and only afterward, a place for non-Jews to learn and worship as well.
See? We’re not alone. Noahides go through this, too. I suspect the non-Jewish disciples of our Rav that Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) made may have felt like this. Not quite fitting in. Not really understanding all of the prayers, all of the ceremonies and the praxis involved in a Shabbat service.
This is probably one of the reasons it was good with the Jerusalem Council and with the Holy Spirit not to lay the “burden” of all of the 613 commandments upon the shoulders of newly minted Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua (Acts 15:24-29). It was enough for them to learn little by little, from one Shabbat to the next, hearing the Torah of Moses read and taught in the synagogues of the diaspora (Acts 15:21).
However, Ms. Blom has some good news for Noahides, and I believe for us as well:
Let’s forget the labels for a moment and try to ignore our desire for belonging and having an identity. Why work backwards? Don’t we belong already? Think bigger! See God’s hand in your life! He brought you this far! When reading the above quote, we fall perfectly into the first group AND have been drawn by Him to reciprocate. That is a huge blessing! Did we believe in the God of the Bible, the God of Israel? YES. Of course we deviated badly along the way, but did we ever deny His existence? Did we ever deny that He is our Father? NO.
She believes the way for them/us to solve their/our “identity crisis” is not to worry about identity or belonging. We already belong. Yes, but to what or who?
To God, of course. Blom obviously “dings” Christianity in this paragraph saying that these former Christians had “deviated badly.” On the other hand, even people in the Church do not deny the existence of the Almighty and that He is our Father, the Father to all.
All we needed was a bit of a course correction, so to speak, a clearer vision of the goal we were pursuing.
According to Blom, we were loved by God and He was by our side when we were in our churches, and, again according to her, God is by the side of the Noahides as they have determined a better way of pursuing righteousness for the nations.
That might be a good lesson for we Talmidei Yeshua to learn as well, rather than banging and pounding away at the door of our identity screaming at the top of our proverbial lungs, “Let us in!”
Blom says we’re already in.
The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.
If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.
4 thoughts on “Giving Up the Identity Crisis”
I am working on a theory: The religion of the Jewish people started out as a tribal religion. As their society developed and their contact with foreign nations and their beliefs grew, the Jewish religion began to develop a broader sense of Hashem’s relationship with the nations. The problem is that the Jewish people were repeatedly taken into exile and the tribal notion seems to have reasserted itself, probably as a survival mechanism for the people. Now that Israel is sovereign once more and has intimate contact with the nations, I suspect that the older, tribal aspects of the religion will be de-emphasized and the more universal ones will come to the fore.
My hiatus is going ok. I’ve been ploughing though Crito and Apologia and Melville. No better way of getting in touch with my pagan roots.
How are you?
@Steve: I hadn’t really thought of this in terms of its historical or developmental significance so much as a pointed to modern Noahides and Gentile “Talmidei Yeshua” as both groups relate (or attempt to relate) to their Jewish mentors and to Jewish community in general.
That said, my understanding of the overarching message of the Bible is that God has always intended to bring about the redemption of the world. He just is going to use Israel to accomplish that goal through His unique covenantal relationship with them and by redeeming them first.
@Drake: I’m fine, thanks for asking. Are you enjoying your hiatus?