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If You Could Imagine

Imagine that King David encouraged you to recite his Psalms. Imagine that King Solomon encouraged you to learn from the wisdom of Mishlei (Proverbs). Imagine that Hillel and Rabbi Akiva encouraged you to study Torah. Imagine that the Baal Shem Tov encouraged you to pray with passion and fervor. Imagine that the Chofetz Chaim encouraged you to be careful with your power to speak, and to speak words of positive encouragement and never to speak negatively about others or to insult people. Imagine that Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev encouraged you to see the good in others and to find merit for them. Imagine that Rabbi Meir Shapiro encouraged you to learn Daf Yomi and to encourage others to do so. Imagine that Rabbi Noah Weinberg encouraged you to light the fire of Torah in every Jewish heart.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Chapter 37 of his new book
Encouragement: Formulas, Stories, and Insights

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

This is part of Rabbi Pliskin’s advice for how to use our imagination to encourage ourselves. Of course, he’s writing for a Jewish audience, so we may find ourselves limited in imagining that David might really encourage the Goyim to recite his Psalms, and certainly in envisioning the Baal Shem Tov encouraging us to pray with passion and fervor.

As much as I enjoy Rabbi Pliskin’s writing, I wonder if this one isn’t a bit of a stretch.

What would Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) encourage a non-Jewish disciple to do? What about Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul)? The answers to those questions might seem self-evident to a traditional evangelical Christian, but when you realize that the hearts of Yeshua and Paul were first and foremost turned to their Jewish brethren, what does that mean for the rest of us? Do we have the right to even imagine they would encourage us?

Of course, Paul’s epistles to the various Gentile communities he established were full of encouragement (as well as, in some cases, criticism and even condemnation). After all, he was the emissary to the Gentiles, specifically appointed by Rav Yeshua in a metaphysical vision.

So if we were to imagine Paul encouraging us, what would he say?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:9

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

The Jewish PaulThese are just quotes and don’t really address how we could imagine Paul encouraging each of us personally. Paul wrote these letters to a different audience, different of his “churches” nearly twenty centuries ago. How can we imagine what he might say to you or me today?

Let’s take a look at part of Rabbi Pliskin’s quote again:

Imagine that King David encouraged you to recite his Psalms. Imagine that King Solomon encouraged you to learn from the wisdom of Mishlei (Proverbs). Imagine that Hillel and Rabbi Akiva encouraged you to study Torah. Imagine that the Baal Shem Tov encouraged you to pray with passion and fervor.

Now, allow me the arrogance of rewording it.

Imagine Rav Yeshua encouraged you to review all that was written about him in the Gospels. Imagine that the Apostle Paul encouraged you to read everything he wrote to encourage the early Gentile disciples in his Epistles. Imagine that James and the Elders in Jerusalem encouraged you to read the Jerusalem letter as an invitation to stand alongside Jewish Messianic community.

Does that seem more reasonable to you? Can you imagine being encouraged in that way by those people?

I don’t know.

Jewish people can feel a kinship for David, Solomon, Rabbi Akiva, and all of the other ancient Jewish luminaries because they are all united, both by blood and by covenant. In a sense, they are all extended family.

Not so for the Gentiles. We have no direct covenant relationship with God, even through Christ (at least not as the Church teaches it). We are symbolically adopted, metaphorically grafted in. We belong only by the grace and mercy of the God of Israel. The only standing we have before our Maker is the one He decides we have.

That said, I’ve met Christians who truly believe the Apostle Paul would feel right at home in their Baptist churches, and that the “services” Paul led were pretty much the same as church services today (I kid you not), in fact, even with a language in common, Paul would find most or all church services totally alien to him.

He might not feel that much more comfortable in a modern synagogue service, but at least the Hebrew and some of the prayers would be familiar so he’d know he was in Jewish community.

I hate to over-generalize. It’s one of the failings of the Church, the belief that each and everything written in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation was specifically written for and to Christians.

Context tells us otherwise, or it should. Much if not most of the Bible is specifically written to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Unless you’re Jewish, that doesn’t include you or me.

So there is only a tiny handful of scripture that we can or should even imagine has anything to do with the rest of the world. Where does prayer stop and self-serving imagination begin?

Man aloneI haven’t been feeling myself lately. I’m doing a little bit better than I was, but recovery is slow. At least I can concentrate enough to write again.

If you can imagine any Biblical luminary speaking directly to you, oh I’m not suggesting self-serving wish-fulfillment, but what legitimately anyone in the Bible would have to say to you as an individual, who would it be and what would they say?

If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question?

-Joan Osborne
from the lyrics of “One of Us”

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4 thoughts on “If You Could Imagine”

  1. “The only standing we have before our Maker is the one He decides we have.”

    No. We have the same Promise that the Jews have…that all the world would be blessed in Abraham’s Seed. Plural or singular, I am fine with that, because all anyone ever had before Abraham was what G-d decided to give to them…before He ever began.

    And…if G-d decided that all the world would be blessed in Abraham, well, we are…by G-d’s fiat, even if we do not understand…even if the story G-d is telling us within the history of the Jews and the life, death and resurrection of Yeshua seems too good to be true.

    Like a child standing under the sprinkler held up by his dad, we are blessed…we simply have to accept the blessing, and let it fall as G-d directs…then, as our Rav instructed us, we take the blessing, and hold out our hands full of that blessing…for others.

    Is it supposed to be more complicated than that?

  2. Dear James,
    your post worries me a lot. I am aware what great harm the church has caused in reading the Jews out of the bible. I do regret deeply replacement theology and all evil done to the Jews at the hands of Christians. But please, do not read the gentiles out of the bible, this does not make it better!
    You wrote “Much if not most of the Bible is specifically written to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Unless you’re Jewish, that doesn’t include you or me. So there is only a tiny handful of scripture that we can or should even imagine has anything to do with the rest of the world. Where does prayer stop and self-serving imagination begin?”

    I think here you´re going too far, much more, I fear, words like these are able to damage the faith of weaker gentile believers! James, I appreciate your humble and kind heart, but I think this is an unnecessary insecurity. Agreed, the bible is a jewish book, jewish history, it´s good to remind us, but never limited and exclusive to Jews. The Torah will go forth from Zion and it has already spread from Zion to all nations through Yeshua – though some commandments are specific, this is not a problem for me. What about seeing the Torah as a book with multiple layers, one historical and particular to the jewish people and parallel, at the same time a wider inner meaning, one that points to Messiah, which is universal for all believers? The stories about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were always a source of inspiration and teaching for Christians – we are through faith children of Abraham, so why are you writing as if most of the bible has nothing to do with us? I guess you also know experiences where a word of the bible speaks directly to your heart. For example, some time ago one word of Jeremiah touched my heart in a time I wasn´t well, really thirsty for God– this was a verse from context clearly a promise to Israel, which I do not deny in any way, still at that time God spoke to me personell through this verse. I think we do not need to see this as either –or, Israel or all believers, it can be both, simply because these words reveal the character of God.
    I found this quote from Rabbi Pliskin really good. I can imagine David rejoicing to see that millions of people from all nations are praying his psalms, joining Israel in praise. I can imagine King Solomon rejoicing to see even gentiles learning wisdom from his (or better God´s) words. Rabbi Hillel, as far as I know the story, did not send the Gentile away and the Chofetz Chaim encouraged you to be careful with your power to speak, and to speak words of positive encouragement! O.k., you quoted some positive words, but the tone of your post as a whole leaves us Gentiles standing outside, all over saying “not for Gentiles”. Here I and I know many others have a problem. In my view all letters of Paul emphasize inclusion, belonging, unity of all believers in Christ, Jews and Gentiles equally loved and valued. This is not that I want to deny or envy a unique calling or unique way of life, I even understand the need that messianic synagogues are primary a home for jewish people. I know the jewish people are chosen and most dearly loved. But I think, to overemphasize distinction in such strong terms can harm jewish-christian relations and hurt people and that´s why I feel a need to protest. I am for a middle way, distinction without discrimination majoring on the majors: the love of Messiah and brotherly love!
    God bless you
    Angelika

  3. @Questor: In the Church, there’s this tendency to say “because I believe in Jesus, I’m super-duper special and don’t have to be humble or appreciative of God for anything.” It’s as if being a Christian makes one especially entitled or that we have special rights.

    I’m attempting to communicate that we are dependent upon God for everything, and anything good we have is from Him, not because we’re special, and not because we deserve it.

    @Angelika: The Gentiles aren’t read out of the Bible, it’s God who reads us into it. We are written into the Bible by God’s grace and mercy alone, not because we deserve it or have special rights.

    There is a difference between the Jewish relationship with God and the Gentile relationship with God. We cannot point directly to a covenant that names us as having certain rights and responsibilities as do the Jewish people.

    That said, in some ways we are more “special” just because God included us without covenant obligation. He loves us so much that He didn’t want to see us perish. Thus when we turn our hearts to Him through devotion in Rav Yeshua (Jesus), He allows us to participate in some of the New Covenant blessings without any further obligation on our parts, such as observance of the mitzvot.

    That’s pretty cool, but we must never lose sight of the fact that everything comes from God and when He is good to us, it is because He is good, not because we are deserving.

  4. Dear James,
    thank you for your kind reply. Perhaps I misread what you actually wanted to convey. If your intention was to humbly receive what God gives, I agree.
    “We must never lose sight of the fact that everything comes from God and when He is good to us, it is because He is good, not because we are deserving.” This is so true, though I think in this regard there is really no difference between Jews and Gentiles. If God would judge us according to what we deserve, we´d deserve death, it is indeed grace alone that we may live in His presence through the reconciliation Yeshua brings!
    What bothered me were your words that seemed to imply that most of the bible has nothing to do with the rest of the world and here I think this is not true. I ask , must we see Israel in particular and all believers in a wider sense as mutually exclusive?
    Derek Leman has written a good article on this topic “Is there anything in the bible for me?”(19.01.2009) and then the series 24.-27.5.2015 about Jews and Gentiles, I think he explains things very well.
    Blessings and peace
    Angelika

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