Faith and Hope Without Torah

How can we find and hold onto joy in this world without it slipping out of our hands? The holiday of Simchat Torah provides an answer. As we dance with the Torah, we bask in the unique, eternal happiness that only Torah can bring into our lives. “It is a tree of life for those who grasp it” (Proverbs 3:18).

-from “Holding onto Joy: Celebrating Simchat Torah”
Sara Debbie Gutfreund

Simchat TorahI don’t suppose this will be much different from many other posts I’ve authored before, but every so often, I just need to say something here.

I’ve spent this season pretty much ignoring the High Holy Days. I didn’t even build our Sukkah this year. My wife (who is Jewish) didn’t seem to have any interest, and since I’m not Jewish, it seemed at least a bit presumptuous for me, a Goy, to construct a Sukkah when my Jewish wife was unconcerned. In fact, she left town last Monday and will be coming home tonight, so she would have missed out on much of the festival anyway.

Now that the holidays are over including Sukkot, I experience a sort of relief. I don’t have to concern myself with what I should or shouldn’t do as a “Judaically-aware Gentile believer” or whatever you want to call me.

Well, they’re not quite over yet. Simchat Torah begins at sundown tonight and ends on Erev Shabbat. Oy.

Depending on who you talk to, Gentiles and especially Christians have no part in the Torah. Oh sure, I’ve heard some “Messianic Gentiles” discuss an application of Torah or some small subset that applies to us, but really the key to understanding what’s supposed to apply to us can be found in Acts 15. Maybe the Didache has applications for us and maybe it doesn’t, but it doesn’t give us a share in the Sinai Covenant.

So what do we have?

According to Gutfreund’s article, there are five ways the Torah brings joy to the Jewish person:

  1. It gives then higher goals
  2. It shows them how to be grateful
  3. It teaches them hope
  4. It connects them
  5. It gives them flow

As I said above, it’s my opinion that Gentile believers can’t claim the Sinai Covenant and thus we can’t claim the Torah, so what do we have?

To paraphrase Paul in one of his epistles (Romans 3:2) “Much in every way.”

Though we have no direct covenant relationship with God, He has determined that He will love us anyway and, through His mercy and grace, has allowed us to partake in the blessings of the New Covenant through our faithfulness and devotion to Rav Yeshua (and conversely by the merit of Rav Yeshua’s faithfulness to Hashem).

I know it’s been said that before Abraham, there were no Jews, so the Gentiles must always have been part of God’s plan for redemption. It’s not that simple. Before Abraham, there was no distinction between a covenant and non-covenant people. Once there was Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses, the whole playing field changed. God made a decision (well, He’d always has made, is making, and will always make that decision). He chose a people unto Himself, a special people separated to Him from the nations of the Earth.

Sucks to be the nations, huh?

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

This could be interpreted as including the Gentile and thus expressing God’s desire that we should not perish either.

So if we don’t have the Torah, do we have higher goals, the ability to be grateful, hope, connection, and “flow?”

Let’s take that last one first. What is “flow?”

Our happiest moments occur when we are in the “flow,” completely engaged and absorbed by an activity we are doing. We transcend our physical and emotional limitations by immersing ourselves in the energy of the moment. Torah gives us this sense of flow when we are doing a mitzvah that is challenging for us but within our grasps. We visit the sick even when hospitals make us nervous. We invite the widow from across the street to Shabbos dinner even though we aren’t in the mood for guests. We give tzedakah even though we are anxious about our finances. We choose to overcome a limitation inside of us and move forward even when we have to push ourselves to do so.

-Gutfreund (ibid)

It’s not like a Gentile believer can’t perform mitzvot, it’s just many to most of the Torah mitzvot don’t apply to us. However, I would argue, generally doing good certainly does apply to us. We can visit the sick, comfort the widow, show kindness to the orphan, give to charity, and many other things that would give us a “flow.”

Certainly, faith in God through Rav Yeshua can give us higher goals. After all, believers, Jewish and Gentile, ideally live transformed lives, lives where we are not the same people we were before becoming devoted to Hashem.

Even more than the Jews, we Gentiles should be grateful. After all, every single Jew on Earth is born automatically into a covenant relationship with God. We’re not. We have to become aware of Hashem, of Yeshua, and we have to make and then implement a choice. However, it is an avenue that Hashem has specifically created for us so that even the nations can serve Him. If you’re not grateful for that, you’ve got a problem.

That leads to hope. Without Rav Yeshua we were without hope. In fact, we didn’t even know we were without hope.

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2:11-13 (NASB)

King DavidOur hope is in him, hope in being reconciled with God, hope in the resurrection and a life in the world to come, hope in being better human beings, in being servants to the one true God.

Connection. Oh well, there always has to be a fly in the ointment, at least for me. Belonging and connection implies community. Actually, community is possible and likely for most religious Jews and believing Christians, but as my conversation with my co-worker earlier today illustrated for me again, I don’t belong in the Christian world.

He’s a nice guy. I like him. He’s a self-admitted “redneck,” and an Evangelical. I’ve tried and tried to avoid religious conversations with him, but he sent me a poem he wrote, and then a prayer he wrote, so finally I decided to lay my cards on the table and emailed him the link to Hurtado on the “Conversion” of Paul (and he’s lucky I didn’t send him Christianity Drives Me Crazy).

He actually laughed while reading it. He said that he was only interested in what the Bible said and laughed again when I told him the Bible was interpretable. He actually believes you can read the KJV Bible and that’s all you need to have a perfect understanding of the full and complete message of God (or at least enough of it to merit personal salvation).

We went back and forth for a while. He finally said that not everyone is called to be a theologian. I explained that I wasn’t a theologian or at best, I’m an interested amateur.

I was sort of hoping he’d let it go, but he sent me an essay he wrote on the nature of love (though it was critical of Barack Obama and political and social liberals).

To his credit, he did read through my commentary on Hurtado and is still occasionally peppering his dialogue with statements on some “testimony” he recently heard.

Yeah. I have about as much connection with all that as a cat at a dog convention.

Oh well, you can’t have everything, and four out of five ain’t bad.

Besides, while we Gentiles may have no claim to the Torah, we do still have the benefits Gutfreund outlined through our devotion to our Rav, and by his merit we have our hope.

For more on Sukkot and Simchat Torah, see Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’s commentary on Genesis 1:1-6:8, The Faith of God.

9 thoughts on “Faith and Hope Without Torah”

  1. I perceive once again an instance of your letting your wife limit your own pursuit of HaShem’s ways. I realize that it can be discouraging when the household’s covenantally-responsible partner fails to pursue fulfillment of those responsibilities; but the Sukkot festival, including its conclusion with Simhat Torah, is precisely a time when those responsibilities include interaction between Jews and gentiles. It was, in ancient times, a time when sacrifices were offered for all the nations of earth. In the future described by the prophet Zachariyah it will be a time when gentiles will be required to send representatives to Jerusalem for this festival if they expect to receive the blessing of rain on their lands. I suggest that this offers a justification for gentiles also to enter temporary dwellings (i.e., sukkot), to remember that they (or at least some of them) will be required to leave their homes, travel to Jerusalem, and live there for the duration of the festival. Their reason for dwelling in a sukkah is different from the Jewish commemoration of ancient desert wanderings, but still they have a reason to do so. It is in some ways like the alternative honoring of Shabbat by gentiles in Is.56, by not treating it as an ordinary day, for which they will be highly commended by HaShem — though still they are not required to sanctify the day as do Jews.

    This brings me to the invocation of Rav Shaul’s challenge to the gentile disciples in Rome, that they should provoke Jews to jealousy or zeal by means of their enthusiasm to pursue the blessings of affiliation with HaShem’s covenant with Jews (cif: Rom.10:19; Deut.32:21). The question is whether you can take up that challenge to provoke zeal in your wife without merely provoking her to some other, undesirable emotional response. A related question would consider what impact on behalf of the Torah covenant you may have on your Jewish grandchildren, by means of your enjoyment of, and encouragement of, Sukkot practices for the whole family.

    It may be a bit late in the day, so to speak, for you to be able to reverse the assimilation that your immediate family has suffered; but ought that to discourage you from even trying? Sukkot is recognized in Jewish prayers as a time when Jews are commanded to rejoice. Gentiles are not “commanded” to do likewise, because they are not obligated by the Torah covenant; but that does not mean they cannot be happy about the benefits that are implicitly offered to them in this festival, nor that they are prohibited from encouraging Jews to rejoice appropriately.

    1. Actually, I have no Jewish grandchildren PL, and probably won’t have them. Only one of my sons married (now divorced) and had children, and his wife was Gentile. My daughter says if she marries, she has no intention of having children, and even if my other son marries, it’s not likely to be to a Jewish woman, so there goes that.

      As far as the Jewish / Gentile interface at Sukkot, I get mixed messages from the Messianic “luminaries” if you will, with some suggesting it might be okay for Gentile only communities to put up Sukkahs while others see it as an infringement on Jewish religious and covenant space.

      Of course in my own little corner of Idaho, that still wouldn’t stop me from putting up a sukkah, but at least for now, for the sake of peace in the family, I’m choosing to low key about the whole thing.

      1. Oh, sorry, James — I must have missed a step in remembering your various mentions of family identities. So, any future redemption of the Jewish strain in your family will have to follow the path of other casualties of the Holocaust, or of the expulsion from Spain. In both cases, subsequent descendants who are no longer halachically Jewish, who feel HaShem tugging at the strings of their soul, will have to seek conversion in order to return. Many descendants of Anusim in South America are facing exactly this challenge, and there are some in Israel who seek to help them. There are, of course, numerous cases of families that were scattered, hidden, converted to Catholicism or otherwise intermarried, that can be traced in some degree to the aftermath of the Holocaust. Others became distanced from Judaism due to Christian missionary activity and forms of Jewish Christianity that fostered intermarriage and loss of Jewish connection and identity, so that their descendants are not halachically Jewish. Their future is in their own hands, without any help from the worldwide community of Jews. But HaShem is faithful, and quite capable of calling to Himself those who are willing to respond.

        As for your mixed messages about Sukkot for gentiles: your mixed family would not be subject to challenge for sending a false message contrary to Jewish distinctiveness. An entirely gentile family would face a greater challenge to distinguish their use of a sukkah from that of Jews. It might be likened to the confusion faced by the Polish rabbi in the film “The Frisco Kid”, who found himself in an Amish community and mistakenly believed them to be “landsman”, fellow Jews, because of their appearance which derived from a cultural background similar to that of many Jews in Europe. It wasn’t until he saw their crosses and bibles that he realized his mistake; but their dedication to biblical values did provide him with the help he needed. One might draw from such a parable the notion that a gentile sukkah need not be contrary to Jewish identity — it just might need to be decorated differently so as to minimize any conflation with its Jewish counterparts.

        Greater effort would need to be expended to emphasize the texts that I cited from Deuteronomy and Zecharyah; and there would be no waving of 4 species or inviting of the traditional biblical Jewish guests. One might, however, emphasize that Rav Yeshua was born in a sukkah in Beit-Lechem, due to circumstances of Roman tax collection law that required his mother and father to travel thence at that time, so that they would arrive on the eve of the festival when the city was overcrowded and the only place available was a sukkah that had been erected in an open courtyard where stone animal feeding troughs were a central feature. I believe you are familiar with the calculation of that timing from the related timing of his aunt Elisheva’s pregnancy with his cousin Yohanan as it corresponded with his uncle Zacharyah’s Levitical service in the Abiyah priestly cohort (not to forget the correspondence with shepherds out in the fields at night with their flocks, which is not a wintertime activity but does fit well with Sukkot celebration at the end of summertime weather). Since travel would have been forbidden on the festival itself, one must presume that Yosef and Miriam arrived on the eve of the festival, when the inns were already filled and the sukkot had been already erected. Consequently, the celebration of the eighth day Shmini Atzeret would correspond with baby Yeshua’s circumcision on the eighth day of his life as Torah requires of all Jews.

        Now, it is possible that they arrived during the intermediate days of the festival, when travel was permissible, but that would have been poor planning on their part relative to their celebrating the festival like all other Jews. It is much more reasonable to project that they planned to arrive at the beginning of the festival, since they had to be in town anyway to register for the tax.

        I suspect that a sukkah which resembles a Nativity scene, or which contains a miniature model of such a scene, would not likely be confused with a traditional Jewish sukkah, except perhaps from outside its walls or from a distance — much like the Frisco Kid’s initial view of the Amish farmers he encountered. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that your wife would be particularly pleased with that sort of sukkah decoration, either. [:)] However, with a bit of goodwill and determination, I’m sure some workable compromise might be reached.

  2. @James
    In your perplexity at this time, James, I wonder if our careful differentiation from each other is any longer necessary?

    Jew and Gentile seem to be very much the same to me these days, at least as people. ‘Their ways are not our ways’ is really more a statement about G-d’s ways, and how closely do any of us get to that?

    To be Jewish or to be Gerim, or to be an Evangelical Christian just beginning the search for meaning seems not to be any of the people that I am. Why do we have to differentiate ourselves from one another?

    Why can your wife not openly negotiate what she wants to do religiously while allowing you to do what you want religiously? \

    And are your grandchildren the less for not being Jewish according to someone else’s rules? They carry the bloodline of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as do I to a specifically proven percentage, although not in the concentrations delighted in by your wife, and PL.

    “In the future described by the prophet Zachariyah it will be a time when Gentiles will be required to send representatives to Jerusalem for this festival if they expect to receive the blessing of rain on their lands”

    I am grateful that you see representatives in that quote rather than all the Gentiles having to crowd into Jerusalem in the Messianic Kingdom during Sukkot. I cannot even contemplate the modes of transportation being used or even the level of technology that will survive the Day of Jacob’s trouble without wishing that Yeshua will bring with him a few handy portals for all of the Gentiles to travel through. We being in new bodies will be able to simply be there, and then elsewhere as the need occasions, and I wlll enjoy that thoroughly, as I will enjoy having a body that actually works properly.

    I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I now feel wrong for not wanting to honor the High Holy days in my own Gentilish fashion, and thus do prevent myself from deliberately dishonoring the day, even though it matters less than nothing what day I do anything to anyone around me. No one notices, so far as I can see. And yet I feel I am doing what is right to avoid what is directly forbidden in the Tanakh on each Shabbat…when I actually manage it.

    But I do look forward to the time when even Gentiles will find themselves in Jerusalem as a matter of course on Simchat Torah, and you and I and James will be able to meet for a glass of wine and laugh about these days.

  3. @Q — Especially given the aid of technology, and specifically internet video streaming, I fully expect gentile participation in future temple celebrations of the Sukkot water-pouring ceremony to consist of appointed representatives and camera crews — not to exclude many, many voluntary tourists who come for the fun of it all, just as they do now under the auspices of the Christian Embassy celebrations of Sukkot. I read this in the Hebrew phrasing of Zech.14:17 “me-et mishpa’hot ha aretz” (reading it as “from [among] the families of the earth”).

    From other comments in your last post I feel I should remind you that distinctive Jewish identity and praxis were HaShem’s idea, and recognized as well by the Jerusalem Council of Rav Yeshua’s emissaries in Acts 15. This is not, however, determined solely by physical parameters of genetics or percentages or concentrations. It has firm legal boundaries and represents a culmination of culture and custom across millennia of Jewish generations. The burning question for some, however, is how Isaiah-56-style gentiles may embrace the benefits of clinging to the covenant from outside its legal boundaries, without blurring or distorting those boundaries. These folks are, of course, the ones who care most about pursuing HaShem’s desires as expressed in the Tenach and the apostolic writings. The others that worry me are those who do not consider well the consequences of their actions, who would place their own desires ahead of HaShem’s.

  4. @PL
    My difficulty is that I no longer feel separate, even though I carefully maintain outward differences to please my Jewish Messianic brothers…although I don’t think it a difficulty, exactly.

    Having been separate from Jews all my life, I am still separate…indeed, separate from all people, seeing as there are few Messianics in my part of the world. I was not speaking as to practice, or halacha when mixing with Messianics of Jewish identity, but more to feeling, particularly when I tend to be Karaite in my practice, and thus obedient to only the minimums of observance of the Moedim, Shabbat, and other Covenant rules.

    Because, when it comes down to it, YHVH gives me access to the New Covenant through Yeshua alone, unless I convert, and I don’t see any reason to do so. If Abba wanted my soul to be placed among the Jews officially, he would have done so. As it is, I have so many hidden Jewish representatives in my family I am content to simply be an unacknowledged connection. It will be enough when we are in the Kingdom, and these things will not matter, because we will all be Tsaddikim, and no longer of a specific bloodline…unless it is Yeshua’s.

    1. @Q – You raise an interesting question about the “bloodline” of raptured or resurrected “righteous gentiles” who are Rav Yeshua’s disciples. So far as I can infer from the relevant scriptures, these processes will restore individuals to their prior state with improvements that prevent “corruption”/decay. It may be expected that lost limbs will be restored, just as an entire body might need to be reconstructed from basic atoms if its original atoms are not available due to the body having been already decayed or destroyed or consumed and assimilated into the tissues of other animals or humans or incorporated into other aggregate materials and objects. However, we ought to wonder: Will formerly circumcised individuals need to be circumcised again, or will their glorified form reflect their prior state just as Rav Yeshua still had wounds left from his crucifixion (viz: Jn.20:25-27)? Perhaps the pattern of reconstruction will accommodate both DNA patterning and historical patterning.

      Now, as I stated before, Jewish identity is not solely a matter of “bloodline”. Converts are fully and permanently incorporated into the peoplehood of Israel, with full covenantal responsibilities, in perpetuity, regardless of genetic origin or composition. Moreover, Mt.5:18 cites the continuing validity of Torah as long as heaven and earth endure. Since the new heavens and earth do not appear until after the second resurrection, after a thousand years of the messiah’s reign, we must recognize that all of existing Torah, including its definitions and distinctions of Jew and gentile, remain in effect throughout that messianic era and in that kingdom. Likewise, HaShem does not forget where He has placed His children, especially Jews — whether by birth or by conversion that He drew them into. Consequently, “Q”, you might want to reconsider a few of your statements.

      You also cited the idea that if HaShem had wanted to make you a Jew, He would have done so. The consideration missing from such a view is that of “Tikun Ha’Olam”. HaShem has left the world in a less-than-complete state, in order that His children should have opportunities to repair its faults and to improve it wherever possible. Among the repairs that need to be made in our own era are included the restoration of Jews to Israel and the restoration of estranged descendants of Jews to the Jewish community. The latter requires the halachic process of conversion in order to accomplish the needed re-training and internal commitment and confirmation that constitute a Jewish sense of identity and acceptance. You have cited familial connections in addition to a personal eluctation toward Judaism. These are excellent precursors and justifications for a conversion as a repair of an imperfect world. Jewish tradition views each person as an entire world within himself; and even *that* microcosmic world is eligible to be repaired.

      You mentioned a tendency toward Karaite praxis. I do hope you realize that no disciple of Rav Yeshua can be a proper Karaite, just as he could not be a Sadducee, because these do not believe in resurrection, nor in a myriad of concepts that are derived (by Pharisaic processes) from the Tenach but which are not expressed literally therein, including the notions od messiah ben-Yosef and messiah ben-David that are foundational to understanding the time-bifurcated ministry of Rav Yeshua.

  5. @Questor: Jews are still covenant members and Goyim are not. That said, we each have free will to obey (or not obey) Hashem as we believe we should. I’m sure if I decided to put up the sukkah, the missus wouldn’t have complained as such. In fact, she was visiting burning northern California for the latter part of Sukkot. Still, I want to register at least some respect in the sense that it is Israel that is commanded to live in “tents” for seven days (eight in the diaspora), not the nations.

    My grandchildren certainly aren’t “less” for not being Jewish but first of all, my granddaughter is only two and wouldn’t grasp the significance, and I’m not even sure what to tell my grandson, since I suppose he gets different messages on religion at his Dad’s house and then at his Mom’s.

    A good question to ponder, though.

  6. I can’t read all of this at this time…but I will like to, my computer time is about to expire at the library and my stomach is about to start growling…so Shabbot Shalom (early) and praying the Aaronic blessing over you (if I could remember it) because I still have to learn it, my brother.

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