Tag Archives: alone

Why We Are Never Alone

Gather together and I will tell you what will befall you at the end of days.

Genesis 49:1

Prior to his death, the Patriarch Jacob wished to disclose to his children the future of the Jewish nation. We know only too well what those prophecies were, and Jacob knew that revealing the enormous suffering that the Jews were destined to experience would be devastating to his children. The only way they could hear these things was if they “gathered together” and, by virtue of their unity, could share their strengths.

What was true for our ancestors holds true for us. Our strength and our ability to withstand the repeated onslaughts that mark our history lie in our joining together.

Jacob knew this lesson well. The Torah tells us that “Jacob remained alone, and a man wrestled with him” (Genesis 32:25). Jacob discovered that he was vulnerable only when he remained alone.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from the “Growing Each Day” column

DaveningSomeone recently commented in one of my blog posts wondering why I said that “Messianic Gentiles” had no active spiritual life.

I replied that it wasn’t that we didn’t have an active spiritual life, but that our praxis is ill-defined when in relation to Jewish community.

I’d actually read Rabbi Twerski’s commentary before the blog comment, but once I read and responded to the comment, my thoughts turned back to R. Twerski’s statements about Jewish community. Here’s some more about what he said from the same source (see the link above):

Some people feel that they must be completely independent. They see reliance on someone else, be it others or God, as an indication of weakness. This destructive pride emanates from an unhealthy ego. In my book Let Us Make Man (CIS 1987), I address the apparent paradox that a humble person is one who is actually aware of his strengths, and that feelings of inadequacy give rise to egocentricity and false pride.

Not only are we all mutually interdependent, the Torah further states that when we join together, our strengths are not only additive, but increase exponentially (Rashi, Leviticus 26:8). Together, we can overcome formidable challenges.

Of course, R. Twerski is writing to Jews about Jews, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the principles he is highlighting apply to the rest of us as well.

However, the “rest of us,” or at least that subset who identify as “Messianic Gentiles,” “Talmidei Yeshua,” or something similar, are really only who we are in relation to (Messianic) Jewish community, or at least (Messianic) Jewish religious thought and teaching. Otherwise, who are we?

The Jewish PaulWe are non-Jews who have chosen to understand and explore our faith by returning said-faith back (as best we can) to its original Jewish context rather than accept the Christian refactoring of the teachings of Rav Yeshua (Jesus) and his emissary to the Gentiles, Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul), or for that matter, just about anything else in the Bible.

Granted, some writers and teachers within the Messianic Jewish religious and educational space are non-Jews, and they are very helpful in assisting us in understanding ourselves. However, by definition, we Gentiles cannot set aside the “Jewishness” of the context that defines us (although that definition isn’t clearly understood). That context is a large portion of who we are.

And that’s part of the problem.

Another part is that because we are so few in number, it’s pretty hard for a bunch of us to get together and “hobnob,” at least on a regular basis.

Every other Sunday afternoon, I get together with a friend of mine for several hours of coffee and conversation, however not everything we talk about has to specifically do with our common understanding of our faith and praxis.

Yet another part of the “community” difficulty is that although we all may share certain things in common, we are also divided by what we don’t have in common. I’ve probably met or at least know of most or all of the “Messianic Gentiles” in the greater southwestern Idaho area, and in the past, I would meet with a few of them periodically, but we weren’t and aren’t the same, and that lack of “sameness”  (and sometimes a radical “differentness”) makes our “community” highly fragmented.

While Rabbi Twerski can reasonably expect to regularly gather with a large or at least significant number of Jews to worship with, study with, and to be in community with (not just religious community, but social, cultural, and national community), the same cannot be said of “Messianic Gentiles”.

It’s one of the things we have in common with Noahides, since there aren’t to many of them around either, and even if they can gather in community with other “righteous Gentiles,” they don’t always live near a significant number of Jews.

I’ve been reminded that Messianic Jews have the same problem, often swimming in a vast sea of secular and religious Gentiles, but without another Jew in sight.

MessiahOne day, we will all find unity and “ekkelsia” in the Messianic Kingdom, but that day has yet to arrive.

Until then, we must focus on the hub that unites us all through the spokes of the wheel, so to speak, that is, Rav Yeshua. If we have no immediate community, although geographically (and often theologically) apart, we are spiritually united. Although our traditions and doctrine may not always line up with each other, the Messiah has one mind and one heart and after all, God is One.

We may not always see Him or each other in the same way, but He is One and when our Rav returns, our King will correct all of our misunderstandings about Messiah, God, ourselves, and each other.

Faith and trust means being patient, even in isolation, and holding onto the fact that this current world is not forever. The Bible states that all the Jewish people will be returned to their Land, national Israel. It’s one of the tasks of Messiah, and one in which the people of the nations will take part.

Those Jews who find themselves apart from their people and their Land will have unity as the covenant people of Hashem.

We Gentiles, though we live in many different lands and in Messianic Days we will continue to live in our nations, will have one King and one God, and we will also be brought to a place of unity and peace.

WaitingRabbi Twerski ended his column by stating:

Today I shall…

…try to join with others in strengthening Judaism and in resisting those forces that threaten spirituality.

We should try to do the same thing in relation to our faith in God and in trusting our Rav, and if we can’t join with others in this mission, then at least we can do this within ourselves.

We are vulnerable when alone, but if we don’t have a body with which we can join, then as long as we turn to God, we can never be alone, and in Spirit, we are also with each other.

What I Learned in Church Today: God Suffers Our Pain With Us

Today in church (as I write this), Pastor preached on Acts 27:1-12 and Paul’s rather “stormy” trip toward his final destination (in more ways than one) Rome. What I found most useful in today’s sermon were the notes at the conclusion. Normally, this part of the sermon doesn’t “float my boat” since these notes are usually an attempt to take ancient events, spiritualize them, and anachronistically apply them to everyday life in 21st century America.

But this time, I decided to see if these notes could be applied to my life. There are three of them.

Do you believe that God is sovereign over all the storms in your life?

As opposed to what? No, really. As an abstract concept believing what I believe about God, my immediate answer has to be “yes,” but it’s more complicated than that. It’s one thing to say that “God is in control” and that “we win in the end,” and another thing entirely to receive a diagnosis of cancer (no, I don’t have cancer) or that your child was in a serious car accident and is in ICU (don’t worry, my kids are all fine).

Then, no matter how much you “think” God is sovereign over every single detail of your existence, suddenly the pit of your stomach drops out and at least momentarily, panic sets in with the vengeance of a really angry Grizzly Bear. Sure, given enough time, you can regain your emotional equilibrium and refocus on God, but for those first few seconds or minutes (or longer), unless you are a terrifically spiritual person and always totally in tune with God, you’re going to lose it.

Here’s the first thing I wrote down in my notes when Pastor asked the question:

Yes, but that doesn’t mean I still won’t drown.

Here’s the second thing I wrote down.

We don’t have an absolute view into God’s plans for us as individuals.

God can be absolutely sovereign over the storms in our lives and we can still lose a leg in a car crash. We can still end up with a child in intensive care. We can still die a long, lingering, painful death.

God’s sovereignty contains no guarantee at all that our lives won’t be painful and end tragically. When we think of God being “in control,” we really mean that God would never let anything bad happen to us. But just look at Paul’s life. God let everything bad happen to Paul.

But the key is, no matter what happened, Paul still served God faithfully, with an almost supernatural focus (I’m being slightly tongue-in-cheek here) on Yeshua (Jesus) as the author of his faith and the “perfecter” of his existence, both in this world and the one beyond.

Which brings us to Pastor’s second question:

What are you doing to learn to trust God in the storms of life?

I remember a scene from the film Finding Nemo (2003). Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) and Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) are inside of a whale, basically hitching a ride to Sydney, Australia. The water inside the whale starts to drain. As usual, Marlin senses disaster while Dory is willing to trust. Marlin is hanging onto some part of the whale’s insides to keep from falling back into the throat. Dory translates the message from the whale.

It’s time to let go.

praying at the kotelI think that’s what trusting God is about, but it’s best to learn to trust him before your life turns to dog poop. While you still have the time, pray with an especially focused Kavanah for an encounter with God. Strive to draw nearer to Him and plead that He reveals Himself to you before you need Him. I promise that if you don’t do this now, you will be doing it once you need God’s help more than anything you’ve ever needed in your life.

Last question:

Do you realize that God is able to use the storms in your life to give guidance to others?

As first, I didn’t read the to give guidance to others part and just saw the question as asking if I realized God could use the storms in my life. Then I realized what was really going on.

Had they trusted in God and followed Moshe, the entire nation would have gone into Eretz Israel led by him. The Holy Temple would have been built, never to be destroyed; the people would have sat, every man under his grape vine and under his fig tree, never to be exiled; and the still longed for, final redemption under God’s chosen anointed would have come. But they didn’t trust and they didn’t obey. So the exodus from Egypt remained eternal, but the entry into the Land was to be transitory.

-Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz
Megillas Eichach (Lamentations), pg 34

If all of the twelve spies Moses sent into Canaan (Numbers 13, 14) had given a positive report instead of just two, obeyed Moses, and obeyed God, the history of Israel would have been written quite differently.

But they didn’t and history unfolded as it did.

The same is true of Israel in the days of Jesus:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Matthew 23:17-39 (NASB)

If Israel had repented in the days of Herod’s Temple, Yeshua would have initiated the Messianic Kingdom immediately, the Romans would have been defeated, the Temple would have been preserved, there would have been no exile, and King Messiah’s reign of peace, mercy, and justice over all of the world would have started and be with us to this very day.

But they didn’t, and untold suffering has resulted.

In the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) gave this sage piece of advice to Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley):

How you face death is at least as important as how you face life.

Regardless of how God provides and what God allows and how God disciplines, your circumstances are less important than how you respond to them. Consider how Israel is responding, not to just all of the rockets Hamas keeps throwing at her, but how the rest of the world is mistreating Israel, believing she is disproportionately responding to these terrorist acts simply by defending herself.

The whole world is watching Israel and waiting for her to blink. So it is true when anyone who professes faith in Christ, especially when we are under duress.

Fortunately, Pastor said that he’s hardly perfect in this area and that there have been plenty of occasions when he’s been stressed and yet taken it out on his family rather than having greater trust in God. There’s a sort of myth, both inside the Church and outside of it, that says when a Christian is having a particularly tough time of it, he or she should be completely calm if their faith in Jesus is solid. Only a failure of faith results in a Christian who cries or yells or begs.

Like I said, it’s a myth.

Father, if you’re willing, take this cup from me…

Luke 22:42 (NASB)

This is Jesus at Gethsemane pleading with God the Father to take away the cup of his crucifixion, his agony, his desperate suffering from him.

This is Jesus saying this. This is Jesus not wanting to suffer. This is Jesus acting just like the rest of us. But the second half of the sentence tells the tale.

…yet not my will but Yours be done.

But he still begged. Flesh and blood, human right down to his DNA Jesus still begged that the cup be taken from him.

There’s no shame in anguish as long as there’s also trust.

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NASB)

If Jesus wasn’t immune, certainly Paul wasn’t either. How many of his Psalms did David dedicate to his own pain and suffering, withering before a Holy God with his flesh melting and his bones turning to dust?

Save me, O God,
For the waters have threatened my life.
I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.
Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head;
Those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my enemies;
What I did not steal, I then have to restore.

Psalm 69:1-4 (NASB)

We struggle all our lives between our faith and our humanity, between Divine glory and human weakness. The spirit is willing but flesh…oh the flesh is very weak. Even the best of us, when put to the test, are like a snow cone in a blast furnace.

anguishTo know that God is sovereign and to trust in Him in adversity doesn’t mean you have to be superhuman and it doesn’t mean you don’t get scared. It means when 99% of you is in full panic mode, some tiny voice in the back of your consciousness is still crying out to God, not in terror but in faith, that even if you should drown or be incinerated in the next half-second, if you are not supposed to live (in this life) with God, then you will certainly die in His Presence and live with Him in the resurrection.

Living with God in suffering is like being a terminally ill child. You know you are going to die and you know your Mom and Dad love you very much. But you also know they can’t save your life. You’re still scared and you still don’t want to be away from them, but you know as long as they love you, you’re not alone.

God’s sovereignty in our lives when we suffer doesn’t (necessarily) mean God will stop the suffering. It means He will never abandon us as we are suffering and in some sense, He suffers, too.

The night when hope was enveloped in darkness was about to begin, so God came to Jacob ‘in the visions of the night’ to show him that Jews might be exiled from their land, but they could never be exiled from their God.

-R. Zlotowitz, pp 46-7

When they were exiled to Babylon, the Divine Presence was with them.

-Megillah 29a

And so He is with us.

Nobody Ought to be Alone on Christmas

aloneThings are different since you’ve been here last, Childhood dreaming is a thing of the past

Maybe you can bring us some hope this year, Visions of sugar plums have disappeared

I’m all grown up but I’m the same you’ll see, I’m writing you this letter ’cause I still believe

Dear Santa, I’ve been good this year, Can’t you stay alittle while, with me right here?

Nobody ought to be alone on Christmas

-from the song All Alone on Christmas (1992)
Written and arranged by Steve Van Zandt
Recorded by Darlene Love with members of
the E Street Band and the Miami Horns

This song is one of my guilty pleasures. I love it. I didn’t particularly like the film Home Alone 2 (1992) in which the song is featured, but it has a killer sax solo. No, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I still like the song.

But I can’t listen to the song this year without tears welling up in my eyes (particularly embarrassing, since I’m at work as I write this). I can’t remember which news story I read it in, but I keep remembering something a reporter wrote about how some children’s Christmas presents will never be opened this year in Newtown, Connecticut because the light of those children’s lives was removed from the world last week. Because someone found it necessary to kill 26 children in Newtown, there will be parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and friends who will feel all alone this Christmas.

Imagine anticipating the “thumping” sound of little feet coming down the stairs before dawn on December 25th to see if Santa had brought the presents and then never hearing that sound. Imagine having wrapped each gift for your little boy or girl with care, decorating the package, and writing something loving and special on the Christmas card…but now there’s no one to rip open the wrapping paper and scatter it all over the living room in glee. As a parent, could you bear to unwrap the new toys and donate them to Toys for Tots? What would you do with them?

What would you do with “Christmas?” As a parent and a grandparent, the deaths of these 26 children tears me apart. In my imagination, I’d pull down the Christmas tree and burn it, rip all of the lights from my home and shatter them, eliminate any trace of this “festive season” from my environment, and perform the modern, moral equivalent of putting on sackcloth and ashes (whatever that might be).

But what if your small missing child has brothers and sisters? What do you say to them? How can you “celebrate” with them, or can you? Do you destroy their Christmas because of your grief? What about their grief? How can you comfort your other little ones and your spouse when pain and anguish crowd out everything else in your heart?

I’m normally pretty neutral about Christmas these days but this year, I hate it. I hate all of the expectations people have for “the season to be jolly.” In retrospect, I probably should always have hated it. Who is happy and cheerful now? Doesn’t every home know death? Don’t thousands of children die all over the world every day? Aren’t their tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of hearts in the world right now who feel alone and empty for so many reasons? This “season” tells you that you must be happy and joyful and festive.

Eat heaping plates of turkey or ham on Christmas this year if you so choose. I’ll be dining on ashes.

No, that’s too cruel.

I don’t celebrate Christmas but maybe you do. Maybe you have many reasons to be happy and grateful (I’m grateful that my family is alive and safe this year). I have no right to take that away from you. I have no right to believe that the victims and mourners in Newtown haven’t come together to comfort and console each other. I have no right to believe that anyone will be alone this Christmas in Newtown, though I know without a single doubt that there will be an emptiness in each of those homes.

Today, we observed a moment of silence for the victims. Also, bells tolled 26 times, once for each child who died. On Christmas, if you celebrate Christmas, I don’t want to take away from your joy, but in the midst of your joy, take a moment, or two, or twenty-six, or twenty-eight.

And remember them.

Charlotte Bacon, age 6, Daniel Barden, age 7, Rachel D’Avino, age 29, Olivia Engel, age 6, Josephine Gay, age 7, Dylan Hockley, age 6, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, age 47, Madeleine Hsu, age 6, Catherine Hubbard, age 6, Chase Kowalski, age 7, Jesse Lewis, age 6, Ana Marquez-Greene, age 6, James Mattioli, age 6, Grace McDonnell, age 7, Anne Marie Murphy, age 52, Emilie Parker, age 6, Jack Pinto, age 6, Noah Pozner, age 6, Caroline Previdi, age 6, Jessica Rekos, age 6, Lauren Rousseau, age 30, Mary Sherlach, age 56, Victoria Soto, age 27, Benjamin Wheeler, age 6, Allison Wyatt, age 6.

You can find out more about each of them at wptv.com.

Not everyone on that list celebrated Christmas but that’s not really the point. The point is that each of them had the right to live. The point is that each of them was someone’s son or daughter and that each one of them was loved. The point is that there are people left behind to grieve and to mourn and to cry. And the point is that, in spite of all the multi-colored lights that sparkle on homes and businesses and trees right now, the little more darkness has entered our world and a little more light has been taken away from each of us.


And nobody ought to be alone.


Once in a while, He seems to be peeking through the latticework of our world, filling the day with light.

But then there are times He hides His face behind a thick wall, and we are confused.

We cry out to Him, loudly, for He must be far away.

He is not far away. For the latticework is His holy hand, and the walls themselves are sustained by His word.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Hiding Behind His Hand”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

In Torah-study the person is devoted to the subject that he wishes to understand and comes to understand. In davening the devotion is directed to what surpasses understanding. In learning Torah the Jew feels like a pupil with his master; in davening – like a child with his father.

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tamuz 26, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

I have to keep reminding myself that there is something bigger than humanity. If I ever stop, my faith in just about everything would completely collapse, especially in human beings. It seems like every time I turn about (virtually), someone else is saying that all religious people everywhere are fanatics. I have to keep reminding myself that, for some people, all they know about a life of faith is from those people and groups who only pretend to honor the God of the Bible. I have to remind myself that the only “Christians” some folks are aware of are those who use their religion as an excuse to spew out their vile, personal hate.

No wonder other religious people as well as agnostics and atheists hate Christians.

But it makes me wonder.

If all Christians everywhere are judged by the behaviors of a few, fringe fanatics, doesn’t that make the people doing the judging prejudiced and bigoted?

I know that even the best among the body of faith take heat for evangelizing to the “unsaved”. From the Christian’s point of view, he or she is fulfilling the mandate from Christ (Matthew 28:18-20) and sincerely trying to keep another living human being from “eternal damnation” (I put these terms in quotes because they are very “Christian-centric” and not easily understood outside the church).

I know that although we are not of the world, we are supposed to be in it (John 15:19, Romans 12:2), if only to live the lives we are created for, to do our part in repairing the world, and to prepare our environment for the Master’s return (“and even though he may delay, nevertheless every day I anticipate that he will come”…from the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith).

But most of the rest of the world still thinks I’m a schmuck.

Trying to convince them that not all people of faith are “the enemy” seems hopeless. The secular “haters” outnumber me by quite a bit, and as I’ve said before, I guess I should have expected this. I guess it’s especially difficult to take when people who I like and otherwise get along with continually bombard me with “religion is evil” messages day in and day out.

Judaism’s answer, according to Rabbi Freeman’s interpretation of the Rebbe is:

The first thing needed to fix this world is that Jews should love each other and be united.

And this can begin even without a planning committee and without funding.

It can begin with you.

That can work for the church too, but this strategy often involves defining yourself by who or what you oppose. How can you oppose the world and not expect it (and them) to oppose you? Doesn’t that make it difficult to have conversations? Does that mean the church becomes a self-contained box and only talks inside of itself? How do you spread the Gospel of Christ that way, or do you only “spread” it inside the church?

All that said, maybe the only way to survive with faith intact is to withdraw periodically. I think that’s what prayer is like sometimes. It’s what Shabbat would be like for Christians if Shabbat were permitted to the non-Jew.

It’s almost a shame that my primary template for understanding Christianity is traditional Judaism, because the vast majority of Jews are completely opposed to everything I stand for. Somehow, I manage to fit a square peg into a round hole, but perhaps only in my own imagination.

Alone in silenceI’ve always thought that Christian hymns like just you and me, Jesus were terribly self-centered and driven by the desire to contain the King of the World within a single, human relationship, but I also see the appeal. It’s easy, when you don’t feel as if human beings are friendly, approachable, or even trustworthy, to want to withdraw from humanity all and only trust the Divine.

Of course, that strategy presupposes you have the ability to trust God, but then, that’s one of the interesting things about people who oppose religion. Sometimes people like them and people like me have a thing or two in common.

But I learned long ago that you have to trust someone. If God can’t be trusted, then life is hopeless.

Rabbi Freeman’s solution goes something like this:

Do kindness beyond reason.

Defy terror with beauty.

Combat darkness with infinite light.

I could spread light throughout the world from today until the day I die and most people would continually refactor and redefine the light as darkness, just in order to keep fitting me into how they define religion. In the end, I have to hide some tiny spark of His infinite light  deep inside of me and somehow manage keep it kindled. The horrible alternative is to surrender to terror and a perpetual descent into the abyss, watching both people and God dwindle in the increasing distance between us.

As opposed to people, God is supposed to be the ultimate inclusionist. I certainly hope so.

The Tenth Man

“Our world is a banquet,” proclaims the Talmud. “Grab and eat, grab and drink.”

Those who arrived during the early hours of the banquet, went about the business of feasting and dinning in a most professional and methodical manner. First, they sampled the appetizers just enough, mind you, to properly whet their appetites. Then, they proceeded up the ladder of courses and wines, carefully negotiating their way to gastronomic satisfaction par excellence.

But what of the group who arrived a few scant minutes before midnight, the hour when the tables were cleared, the chairs stacked and the doors bolted shut? For them to attempt to follow the course outlined by the intricate rules of dinner etiquette would only guarantee that the doors would will slam on their empty stomachs. “Just grab!” we tell them. Grab meat, salads, soup, wine and fish never mind the order and proportion. It’s a race against the clock: Grab and eat, grab and drink….

In earlier generations, there was a well-defined “Standard Operating Procedure” for those who consulted the Torah’s spiritual menu for the banquet of life. No one, for example, would have ventured to sample the esoteric wine of creation’s secrets before filling his belly with the “meat and potatoes” of Talmud and halacha. No one would have been so presumptuous as to believe that he could refine his nature and character before he had perfected his behavior and made his every act, word and thought to utterly conform to Torah’s directives.

All this, however, was a luxury of generations bygone. Today, we are rapidly approaching the climax of history, the day when Moshiach will herald a new era of goodness and perfection, yet will also bring down the curtain on the struggles and attainments that stem of our currently imperfect state. So grab! Grab another mitzvah, master another, yet deeper, facet of Torah. Never mind the “Standard Operating Procedure” – strive for the ultimate, now.

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
Tammuz 21, 5772 * July 11, 2012

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

Luke 14:12-24 (ESV)

At our local Reform/Conservative synagogue in years gone by, they had an annual event called Feast of Torah which, as you can see if you click the link, is a multi-day affair combining food, social gathering, art, and study.

I’m rather taken by the picture of sitting at God’s table; at His banquet, feeding off of His teachings, joining with the other hungry students, consuming the Word, and drinking in wisdom. Of course, that’s all rather poetic and, as I’ve said before, the reality of a life of faith is that it can be rather punishing and even diminishing.

The Talmud refers to the world as our banquet, but Jesus teaches that such is the Kingdom of God. While I would hardly ever be invited to a Talmud study, according to the Master, the Banquet of the King is available to everyone. Don’t think you’re too good for it just because some of the guests are poor, crippled, blind and lame. Remember, the wealthy and powerful; the princes and kings have also been invited. It’s just a matter of who is willing to come and feast and who will decline and end up being locked out.

Inclusion, as it’s used on progressive social and political circles, refers to the concept that all people and groups, especially those who have been marginalized or abused in the past by the larger society, should be mainstreamed with the greater populace so that everyone carries equal value and dignity within the cultural context. That has been applied to all people of color, the LGBT community, and anyone else who has experienced discrimination by the primarily rich, white, male “ruling class” of the western world.

Now let’s take one really giant step backward and try to see the big, big picture.

From this point of view, we are looking at the panorama of the “Grand Canyon” of all eternity and we see that God is the ultimate inclusionist. As least according to this teaching in the Christian Bible, God invites and welcomes absolutely everyone who is willing to come to Him. In fact, He probably welcomes those folks who even the staunchest political leftists would hesitate to invite to their table. Politics and social standing are irrelevant. Wealth or lack thereof is irrelevant. Age, sex, color, nationality, and everything else is irrelevant at this level. All that is required to enter the banquet hall is a willingness to be sensitive and to respond to the voice of God.

While this is something we all should aspire to, most of the world-wide human population currently disdains God and ridicules His people as they represent archaic reminders of a simple, primitive past, and who inappropriately try to apply ancient Jewish tribal customs (in the case of religious Jews and Christians) to the Information Age.

And yet, it should be for us like it is for the recent bar mitzvah, who now finds that nine Jewish men are waiting for him to arrive so they can have a minyan and begin to daven.

Today’s daf continues discussing the halachos of determining when a child attains majority. The Otzar HaYir’ah, zt”l, points out that we see the greatness of being a Jewish man from his ability to combine with nine others and form a minyan. “Imagine nine outstanding tzaddikim who join together to daven. These tzaddikim may be the greatest the world has ever known, yet without a tenth man they may not do anything more than any other nine Jews. They may not recite kaddish or kedushah. Nor can they conduct the repetition of the amidah or read publicly from the Torah. But if the simplest Jew who has emunah joins their group, he makes a minyan. Now they can do all the aforementioned and give God special pleasure— all thanks to that simple Jew!” It is fairly common to find a minyan composed of exactly ten people. It is also all too common to have exactly nine and wait a while for a tenth man.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Taking His Word for It”
Niddah 52

I can only imagine what it must be like, to be a boy of barely thirteen, inexperienced and insecure, being the indispensible man who must arrive before nine august tzaddikim can recite kaddish. Christianity has no such rite of passage that allows the new initiate to be included with such elevated company and to be valued as an integral part of the minyan and ultimately, the community.

Imagine if all God’s children were given such an opportunity.

In Yisroel Cotlar’s article Honor a Holocaust Victim by Tattooing Her Number?, he responds to the question about a Jewish teenager wanting to tattoo her grandmother’s concentration camp number on her arm to honor her. Cotlar states that this may seem a sort of appropriate memorial to some, but also reminds us that inclusiveness can be a memorial, too.

This story…demonstrates that children need to get the message that Judaism is alive and well, and that it is a life of joy (not only a life of oy). Museums and memorials are incredibly important, but children should also be taught to be excited about the future of Judaism; they should feel a sense of purpose and pride as Jews.

A few years after the Holocaust, an influential Jewish leader made a request of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory: “We need your help and cooperation to perpetuate the memory of the millions tragically killed in the Holocaust. We decided it would be most fitting for each family to set aside one empty chair at their Passover festive Seder meal. The chair will commemorate the millions who sadly cannot attend. Rabbi, would you encourage your followers to join in this campaign?”

The Rebbe responded (paraphrased), “Your idea is a nice one, but with all due respect, instead of leaving the chair empty, let us fill that chair with an extra guest. Invite a Jew who would otherwise not participate in a Seder. This would be a true living legacy and a victory for the Jewish nation.”

While in a certain sense, I will always be alone in this life, the fact that I am also invited to the “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11 ESV) means that it won’t be so forever.

Gene Shlomovich just posted the blog article How many people will be present on the Judgment Day as a reminder that there will be an incredibly vast multitude who will one day stand before the Throne of God.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” –Revelation 7:9 (ESV)

A life of faith can be very isolating. Most of the “cool kids” don’t want to have anything to do with you. Sometimes that’s even true within the confines of the church. But according to the teachings of the Master, a day will come when not only will each of us will be invited into the banquet, we will be valued as who we are when we get there. We won’t simply lost in the crowd.

And we won’t be alone anymore.

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” –Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)

But until then…

Walking in the Shadow of God

Our sages tell us that one who mourns the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash will see its comfort. The Maharal, zt”l, was asked why this should be so. “What difference does it make if one mourns the destruction or not? If one is present in the ultimate future isn’t it obvious that he will experience the nechamah?”

The Maharal explained the need to mourn to attain the nechamah. “Before something comes to a new level, it first must decompose. In the creation of the world, God first made tohu va’vohu; only then could the world come into being. When a seed is planted in the ground, it decomposes. Only then can a tree sprout. The same is true with the gestation of a man or an animal. The seed must decompose before the embryo begins to grow. The same is true regarding an egg, as we find in Temurah 31. First the egg must decompose; then it can become a chick. The reason for this phenomenon is that there must be a lack for more perfection to fill. If there is nothing missing, it is impossible to come to a new level. Similarly, one who does not mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash feels complete. He has no space for the nechamah, since he never experienced the lack in the first place!”

The Shem MiShmuel, zt”l, learns a practical lesson from this same statement. “One who wishes to start again and that his earlier sins should not be considered should make himself like dirt. He must completely nullify all of his senses and desires to God. In this way, he will become a completely new creation. The proof to this is from the case of a ger. Although a ger comes from a distant spiritual place, he is like a newborn baby by making just such a new start. He immerses in a mikveh to symbolize this, and if he is male he does a bris. Why should a Jew who makes a new start be any less?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Destruction before the Renewal”
Termurah 31

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated 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 once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.Ephesians 2:11-13 (ESV)

Maybe the story off the Daf and Paul’s message to the Ephesians aren’t telling the exact same story, but they seem to be related, at least to me. We have two groups, Jews who have been distant from God and who need to “make themselves like dirt” in order to “become a completely new creation”, and Gentiles who were once far off from God but who have been brought near “by the blood of Christ.” The Shem MiShmuel even invokes the imagery of the convert to Judaism, a Gentile who goes down into the mikvah a goy and who rises out of the water “like a newborn baby…making a new start.”

That’s not much different than what I was describing in my previous meditation. As a new creation, we stumble and fall a lot, trying to get used to the new person we are trying to become. Sometimes we fall back and have to relearn skills and sometimes we are trying to advance spiritually and come to a point where we feel like infants again, rather than mature in the faith. Amazingly, having once felt secure in our relationship with God, we might find that we are no longer sure who we are in Him and how we are to serve Him.

I know that description fits me pretty well these days.

Despite the fact that human beings have free will and angels do not, we can still learn a great deal from their behavior. Like the angels, it’s important to acknowledge that there is more than one way to serve God. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, teacher or rabbi, businessman or stay-at-home mom, there is a place for all of us among the Jewish people. For example, each one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel carried out different tasks. Some engaged in commerce or working the fields, others in religious study, and yet others in military or temple service – and all were essential to the survival of the nation as a whole. Quite frankly, we’re not all supposed to be doing the same kind of work or serving God the exact same way.

The Chofetz Chaim was once approached by a successful businessman who decided to scale down his business so that he could dedicate himself to Torah study. The Chofetz Chaim explained why his decision was wrong by way of a parable. During wartime, if a soldier unilaterally decides to leave his current post to fight in a different capacity, he will be court-martialed. A soldier must obey orders and man the position to which he was assigned. The Chofetz Chaim went on to say that this businessman’s responsibility was to support Jewish institutions and the poor. If he decided to go through with ending his business success, he would be jeopardizing the position God gave him within the Jewish community.

We have to give fellow Jews the space to become the individuals God intended them to be. Otherwise, we will be contributing to unnecessary tension and divisiveness.

“Living Like the Angels”
Lev Echad

Blog writer Asher is addressing a primarily Jewish audience and is encouraging them to try not to “turn everyone into replicas” of each other. As much as Judaism is a unique kahal, like Christianity or any other faith or people group, it is made up of individuals, each with a unique purpose in life and over time, that purpose can even change. Asher continues:

Remember, those differences ultimately constitute the entirety of our people. Our strength can be found via our uniqueness as individuals.

Assuming I can apply all that to me, what does it mean for my life as a Christian? Who am I and who does God intend me to be? One thing is for certain…I don’t seem to be like any other Christian I’ve ever met. On the other hand, I have things in common with everyone else in the church.

Yet in some sense, because I claim the name “Christian,” I, like all other believers, have a lot to make up for in how we have treated the Jewish people.

For the one whom You smote they persecuted and they tell about the pain of Your mortally wounded. Add iniquity to their iniquity, and let them not have access to Your righteousness. May they be erased from the Book of Life, and let them not be inscribed with the righteous. –Psalm 69:27-29 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

While David isn’t writing about Christians as such, he is writing about those who have persecuted Israel, and the church has done this in abundance. Only through making ourselves (myself) like dirt and in sincere repentance, can we have any hope, through Christ, of being written in the Book of Life with the righteous.

I bet, as a Christian, you never thought that part of professing your faith and repenting of your sins would be repenting of Christian mistreatment of the Jewish people. If you want to learn more about this, I encourage you to read a post written by my friend Gene Shlomovich called A story of one Christian’s after-death regret about Israel and Judaism. A sobering and mystic tale of just how much we need to turn our hearts.

For God shall save Zion and build the cities of Judah, and they shall settle there and possess it. The offspring of His servants shall inherit it, and those who love His Name shall dwell in it. –Psalm 69:36-37 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.” –Romans 11:25-27 (ESV)

The prophesies regarding Israel are clear but what if we who, even calling ourselves Christian, have disdained God’s chosen and holy ones? Can it be that without repentance of our sins against Israel, we will ultimately be rejected by her King?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ –Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

I’m probably stretching the interpretation of this verse out of its context, but it does illustrate that many of those who feel secure in their salvation have already been lost, even as they call themselves “Christian.” If this is their fate, then what of mine?

O God, You know my folly, and my guilty acts are not hidden from You. Let those who wait for You not be shamed through me, O Lord Hashem/Elohim, Master of Legions; let those who seek You not be humiliated through me, O God of Israel. –Psalm 69:6-7 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Let not my mistakes, my errors, my sins, prevent another from turning to God through Jesus Christ, or to taint the name and reputation of the Messiah. For I know that…

The peoples will acknowledge You, O God; the peoples will acknowledge You – all of them. Regimes will be glad and sing for joy, because You will judge the peoples fairly and guide with fairness the regimes of the earth, Selah. –Psalm 67:4-5 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

But in verse 8 of that Psalm, when David says, “May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear Him,” will only Israel be blessed, or will “the peoples;” the nations of the earth, including we non-Jewish Christians, have a blessing too?

Do not cast me off in time of old age; when my strength fails, forsake me not. –Psalm 71:9 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Our hope is in Jesus Christ but we must never forget that part of that hope is attached to Israel, and Jesus is her first born son and King. He would never betray his own and would never tolerate those who do. In Romans 11, Paul was very clear about how we “grafted in” branches can be easily detached from the root should be become arrogant and self-serving, and should we consider ourselves superior to the natural branches, who after all, have only been removed temporarily.

I’ve been trying to write about my own condition, but I keep coming back to the church; her flaws, her scars, and her needs. I keep wanting to write “I” but I continue to stray into writing “we”. I wonder if God is trying to tell me something. As much as I feel detached from wider Christianity, I cannot divorce it entirely, for the body of Gentile disciples in the Messiah is part of who I am. Yet, I am also this.

Yochanan answered and said to him, “Rabbi, we saw a man driving out demons in your name, but he does not follow us, so we stopped him, on account of the fact that he did not follow us.”

Yeshua said, “Do not stop him, because no one who does an act of power in my name can quickly speak evil of me. For whoever is not for our foes is for us. For all who let you drink a cup of water in my name, because you belong to the Mashiach, amen, I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” –Mark (Markos) 9:38-41 (DHE Gospels)

I’ve never read this statement of the Master before as one that would allow someone not directly attached to the larger body of Christ as still belonging to him, but maybe I can hope that it represents me. Unfortunately, I think the following is also speaking of me.

Yeshua answered and said, “Amen, I say to you that there is no one who has left behind his home or his brothers or his sisters or his father or his mother or his wife or his children or his fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not receive now at this time, with all the persecutions, a hundred times as many houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, and in the age to come, eternal life. However, many of the first will be last, and the last will be first.” –Mark (Markos) 10:29-31 (DHE Gospels)

As much of a reward as there is in following the Messiah as his disciple, it is still a bitter thing to be separated from those whom you love. One day, Jesus cursed a fig tree (Matthew 21:18-19, Mark 11:12-14) as a lesson in lacking faith. We see in both Matthew 21:20-22 and Mark 11:20-21 that the fig tree subsequently withered from its roots. Jesus commented on the withered tree and perhaps on many a withered soul thus:

Yeshua answered and said to them, “Let the faith of God be in you. For amen, I say to you, any one who says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and moved into the middle of the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, bu trather believes that what he says will be done, so it will be for him as he has said. Therefore I say to you, all that you aks in your prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be so for you. And when you stand to pray, pardon everyone for what is in your heart against them, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions. But as for you, if you do not pardon, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” –Mark (Markos) 11:22-26 (DHE Gospels)

So, to return to the beginning of this meditation, I have made myself like dirt and humble myself before God and man. I turn away from my sins and ask forgiveness from all I have offended. May God wash me and clean me whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7). Then though I may walk alone among humanity and even be set apart from family and the larger community of Christ because of my faith, I ask that I be allowed to humbly walk in the shadow of God. May I never desecrate what is holy, even if the holy one happens to be me.