humble desert

Loving Yourself: A High Holidays Primer for Non-Jews

There is a Midrash (a commentary on the Five Books of Moses in the form of a parable) about a successful businessman who meets a former colleague down on his luck. The colleague begs the successful business man for a substantial loan to turn around his circumstances. Eventually, the businessman agrees to a 6 month loan and gives his former colleague the money. At the end of the 6 months, the businessman goes to collect his loan. The former colleague gives him every last penny. However, the businessman notices that the money is the exact same coins he loaned the man. He was furious! “How dare you borrow such a huge amount and not even use it? I gave this to you to better your life!” The man was speechless.

Likewise, the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves, to enhance our souls by doing the mitzvot (613 commandments). It is up to us to sit down before Rosh Hashana and make a list of what we need to correct in our lives between us and our fellow beings, us and God and us and ourselves!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Nitzavimm (Deut. 29:9-30:20)

shofar-rosh-hashanahRosh Hashanah begins Sunday evening, October 2nd, which is only a few days away. This has pretty much zero meaning in normative Christianity and immense meaning in normative Judaism, as well as in Messianic Judaism and some corners of the Hebrew Roots movement.

One of my readers, ProclaimLiberty, who is a Messianic Jew living in Israel, has suggested that Sukkot might serve for Gentile Messianic believers as a better holiday to observe what Jews typically practice during the High Holidays. Perhaps he’s right. Certainly Zechariah 14:16-19 has much to say about this.

In my own circumstance, I don’t plan to commemorate the High Holidays. I don’t doubt my wife will attend synagogue, but for personal reasons, I choose to make those observances within myself.

I hadn’t planned to blog again on this topic. My previous blog post The Month of Elul and the Gentile Christian has gained a lot of traction and the conversation is up to 53 comments as of this writing. But then I saw the quote from Rabbi Packouz’s recent article and was reminded of the “Parable of the Talents” we find in Matthew 25:14-30. I’m certainly not suggesting a direct parallel. Rabbi Packouz would not have considered referencing the Apostolic Scriptures, and the classic Christian interpretation of the parable doesn’t touch upon the above-quoted midrash, but I want to play a game.

Specifically, I want to play a game of pretend. I want to pretend that the parable can have multiple, metaphorical meanings. Let’s just pretend that we can apply the commentary by Rabbi Packouz to the Parable of the Talents and say one of the things God does not want is for us to waste our very lives.

Let’s just say that one of the things that Yeshua wants us to make use of is God’s investment in our own personal value.

In the comments section of my blog post on Elul, it has come up multiple times that Gentiles in God’s economy have less value, perhaps much less value than Jews. I don’t necessarily believe this, but any non-Jew who has been around the Messianic Jewish community long enough can get the impression that, based on the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in all of the covenant promises of God, including the New Covenant, we don’t count for much.

So, to again quote R. Packouz, let’s just pretend that relative to being human, whether we are Jewish or Gentile, “the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves…”

Since the 613 commandments aren’t applicable to us, it becomes a bit if a head-scratcher as to what we are supposed to do to improve ourselves, but that’s only if we aren’t paying attention. Many of the things that Jews do to improve themselves are available to everyone.

tzedakahGive to charity, pray, volunteer your time at a local foodbank, and generally act toward others in a kind manner, even when you have to go out of your way to do it.

It is said that the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40) are to love the Lord your God with all of your resources and to love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments are just big containers that hold lots of other commandments, some having to do with your relationship with God and others with your relationship with human beings.

The point is, God gave each and every one of us our lives and He expects us to do something with those lives. Not just with specific talents or gifts, and not just with money, but with all that we are. Going out, we should be better people than we were when we came into this world.

We Gentiles who are in some manner associated with the Messianic movement or at least the Messianic perspective often complain about our status, as if the Jewish people have it all sewn up. I don’t think that’s the case. I think we get so busy being involved in our own angst, that we can’t see beyond it.

I read an article in the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish called Synagogue Dues: Pay to Pray? The Jewish person asking the question is upset that Jews should have to buy a ticket or a membership to a synagogue in order to enter and pray on the High Holidays. He’s so upset that he’s deliberately boycotting the holidays.

The Aish Rabbi responds in part with this:

I must say, however, I’m surprised by your reaction to this whole situation. Who are you ultimately hurting by boycotting the holidays? Instead of saying: “That blasted synagogue! I’ll teach them a lesson and defile my soul with some bacon!” Why not say: “I’ll start my own synagogue and the policy will be free seating on High Holidays for those who can’t afford tickets.”

It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive. Proactive means making your own reality happen. Reactive is allowing other people’s shortcomings to hurt you. Judaism is a religion of action. So let me know when you start that synagogue. It’ll be my honor to pray with you there!

There may be some difficulty in defining the roles and duties of Gentiles who have chosen to become part of a Messianic Jewish community, but make no mistake, no Messianic Jewish person, no matter what their position or education, can interfere with your relationship with God.

If you feel there’s something about Messianic Judaism or some Messianic Jews that devalues you as a creation of God and a devotee of Yeshua, that may be your problem and not their’s. Even if an individual Messianic Jew (or anyone else) attempted to persuade you that God thinks of you as sloppy left overs compared to Jewish people, that simply is not true.

awareness-of-godA friend of mine is fond of saying, “Do not seek out Christianity, and do not seek out Judaism. Seek out an encounter with the Living God.”

If you’re here, that means God wants you here, and he expects you to fulfill whatever roles and tasks He has assigned you. Your job, our job, all of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, is to seek out what we are supposed to do and then to do it.

I believe the first task is to truly embrace the fact that God loves us and wants us to appreciate that love, not only by loving God but by loving ourselves. How can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we don’t love and value our own existence first?

8 thoughts on “Loving Yourself: A High Holidays Primer for Non-Jews”

  1. For those of us that read the Scriptures, even as Messianic Gentiles, we have a lot of instruction to follow…moral laws, reverence and worship of G-d, the proper honor due to parent, and the keeping of Shabbat in some respect in honor of YHVH.

    Still, if you read the Scriptures carefully, nowhere is there a mandate for Gentiles to take on the observance of Judaism without also becoming by tribal adoption, a Jew. Instead, there seems to be a gentle leading by
    G-d to be like the Jew, in observance of Jewish matters if sojourning amongst the Jews in Israel, and to follow as disciples our Rav, Yeshua ben Yosef ben David ha Notsri.

    At most in Acts 15 are Messianic Gentiles abjured to come into table fellowship with Messianic Jews by avoiding all taint of Idolatry, and keeping Kosher, at least to the extent of not eating animals sacrificed to Idols, avoiding eating blood or flesh from a live animal, and eating only the clean foods that would not horrify their Messianic Jewish friends, but above all, to come to the Synagogue on Shabbat, and learn what is in Torah…not as it is claimed to study what G-d meant for Gentiles to do…since the Scriptures are mostly about Israel and the Jews, but rather to see what G-d expects of the Jews, and what we should thus emulate in our moral and social behavior.

    Nowadays, however, we do not need the Synagogue for the knowledge of the Scriptures…all of us having their own, or even multiple copies and translations for study. This is fortunate because there are so few synagogues of any variety within my landscape, and most other Jews, and the Jews involved are mostly not Messianic, and thus hard to come into a close, open relationship without offending them with one’s own beliefs. We can look at what is written, and what Judaism has made of it through the last 3500 years or so, and make up our own minds, once we realize that we are responsible to G-d for what we do…not to the Jews, or even other Gentiles. Certainly fellowship is nice, but I find it hard to locate someone who can hold a relevant conversation about these matters without coming into conflict with Orthodox Judaic, or Conservative Christian thought.

    These days, as a Messianic Gentile, I tend to practice Messianic Judaism in a Karaite manner…according to the actual commandments laid down in Torah, because although given in covenant to the Jews, I in Yeshua am trying to become a disciple of a Jew. I do not attempt the Orthodox halachah because I have no one to teach it to me, nor anyone to join with in practicing it. It is not that I feel any of this is forbidden to me, if learned appropriately under an Orthodox Rabbi’s guidance, just unnecessary for Messianic Gentiles. We do not have a covenant except by derivation from the Jewish Covenant through Yeshua. We are grafted into the rootstock of Israel (Yeshua). We don’t need to do more rituals and cultural demonstrations of Jewishness because we are not Jews.

    As for the High Holidays…I keep the Sabbaths, because they are Sabbaths, and G-d delights in our honoring and guarding the Sabbath. The rest of the celebrations and fasts of the fall Feast Days are not particularly for Gentiles, and do not relate to our history, but to our future with Yeshua. We have our own instructions in the Brit Chadashah…all based on Torah, and in many ways a stricter form observance of Torah than most people realize, but nowhere are described as something Gentiles, even Messianic ones, should do except in Israel, and perhaps not even there…I would imagine it depends on the Rabbi involved.

    YHVH wants all mankind to honor the Moedim, because they are rehearsals of things to come…half already fulfilled by Yeshua, and the others to be fulfilled rather sooner than later at his return, gauging the spread of lawlessness everywhere. Putting on Jewish clothing and rituals is nowhere stated in the Scriptures…either as forbidden or encouraged, but is not necessary, but the Torah is there, and good to follow…to honor G-d, and to become more like Yeshua. I don’t deliberately wear a four cornered piece of cloth, so I don’t worry about tsit tsit…I don’t don Tefillin, because I do not value ritualized prayer. I am not trying to be seen as Jewish…only to leave an impression that Yeshua is always a part of my day, and that the Ruach haKodesh is always with me, as I chat intermittently throughout the day with Abba.

    This is the religion I seek…a constant level of awareness about YHVH’s desires for mankind, and an increasing intimacy with my Creator…to learn how to love in all ways.

  2. Jews/Messianic Jews have a prophetic role. We move on to the next reality so to speak when a certain critical mass is reached (maybe not perfect words). It’s hard to see how this is upsetting except that definitions are probably warped; we have new meanings for “prophetic” coming from all kinds of churches and “roots” outfits. With better definition, I think there’d be less of a scrambling for identity, except that each individual does need to struggle and finally grasp real understanding. So, there’s an observable stage (or more than one) probably for most people (who seek); or process. Do you come out on the “other side” or give up or get and stay angry at God?

    I like your post, James — especially the part about not leaving your soul alone your whole life. I really like that idea that your soul, your entire being, is an investment or trust. Amen.

    Happy are those servants whom the Lord finds fulfilling their responsibilities when he returns.

    [Even if the fundamental responsibility is to see yourself. At the same time, it is noteworthy that we have to inspect the way our parents or forebears (literally or ideologically) have walked.]

  3. I just found something at which I find relevant to the current conversation. It’s a “This day in history” for Elul 25:

    This is the traditional day of the beginning of Creation, as recorded in the first chapter of Genesis. While other religions ‘start’ their calendar from the founding of the religion, the Jewish calendar begins with Creation. In Jewish consciousness, every nation is integral to humanity: Non-Jews were welcome to bring offerings to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which the prophet Isaiah referred to as the “house for all nations.” Technically, the Jewish calendar does not begin until day six of Creation (Rosh Hashana), which commemorates the birth of mankind. This is because human beings are the pinnacle of Creation, enjoined to protect the world and to utilize all its resources to bring the world to its spiritual completion.

  4. This is the traditional day of the beginning of creation, as recorded…[as it is written].”

    That is very relevant, James.

  5. “Technically, the Jewish calendar does not begin until day six of creation {1st of the month} … the birth of mankind.”

    [Just to be consistent, I didn’t capitalise “Creation” in the above second excerpt of the quote. I’ve noticed it was capitalised.]

  6. According to how I interpret the commentary at, Rosh Hashana should be relevant to all human beings, not just Jews, because it is the day that commemorates God creating the first humans.

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