Tag Archives: atonement

Where is God When We Need a Miracle?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the sovereignty of God lately. There’s always the classic question that if God is all-powerful and completely good, why does He allow pain and suffering in the world?

yom kippur katanMy traditional answer is that we live in a broken world. From a Christian point of view, the world is broken because of “original sin”. From that point on, not only was every single person born automatically with a “sin nature,” the natural tendency to do evil, but the world itself was flawed and out of synch with God’s original intent.

Further, people weren’t capable of fixing themselves, let alone Creation all by themselves. Only by coming to faith in Jesus could we as individuals be saved, and only by Christ’s second coming can the world be saved.

The Jewish point of view is a bit more nuanced, at least as I’m able to understand it. From that perspective, Adam and Havah (Eve) were created with a natural tendency to do good. They could still do evil if they chose (free will) but they naturally did good. When they chose to disobey God by eating of the Tree of Knowledge, their tendencies to do good and evil were balanced within them. In other words, it was just as likely for them to choose evil as to choose good (I’m sure I’m not getting this exactly right, and I expect helpful comments will be appearing by the by).

Jews also don’t believe they don’t need an intermediary to atone for them. In ancient days, when the Tabernacle, and then later the Temple stood, once a year on Yom Kippur, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to offer atonement for all Israel. There was also an offering for the atonement of the seventy nations (representing all humanity).

In modern Judaism, each individual provides for his own atonement by sincere teshuvah (repentance).

(You can read more about Judaism’s views on original sin at Jewish Virtual Library and Aish.com>)

Also, while the Messiah is expected to rise, redeem Israel, conquer all her enemies, and bring a time of peace and justice for the world, the concept of Tikkun Olam or “repairing the world,” states that each human being can repair just a small part of the world by doing good. Jews do this by performing the mitzvot (commandments), and Gentiles do this by also performing the mitzvot incumbent upon us (and we have a lot fewer commandments to perform compared to Israel).

But so what?

arguing with godGod is all-powerful and He is not bound by the laws of nature or subject to any limitations at all. If He so desired, couldn’t He fix everything right now?

I suppose He could.

We’re supposed to trust Him. We are supposed to bring all of our worries and woes to Him and accept the promise that He will take care of us.

But plenty of devout Christians and Jews die of cancer every day. Plenty of devout Christians and Jews have starved to death, have been persecuted, and you can’t tell me that of the six-million Jews who died in Hitler’s Holocaust, all of them were sinful and none of them were deeply devout and devoted to Hashem.

But if that’s true, how can we depend on God? Maybe He’ll arrange for someone’s cancer to go into remission and maybe He won’t. Maybe He’ll save our loved ones from suffering and death, and maybe He won’t. How can we know?

We can’t. That’s the faith part. And even when He doesn’t help, we are supposed to trust that whatever happens is for the best? It sure doesn’t feel like the best, does it?

On the other hand, maybe we’re missing the point.

Let’s take hunger and starvation as an example. According to Action Against Hunger, 1 in 8 people worldwide won’t get enough to eat today. The number of hungry people in the world exceeds the combined populations of the U.S., Canada, and the E.U. And about one million children will die this year from hunger-related causes.

Why does God allow this horrible suffering to go on, and on, and on?

If God didn’t create humanity as sentient, self-determining beings with free will, He probably wouldn’t. He probably wouldn’t have to. The world would most likely work the way He designed it to work.

But He did create us and we are here and we all make choices.

We could choose to make hungry and starving people a priority and help them, or we could choose to believe other things are more important.

Oh sure, most of us don’t have the skill sets to even attempt to cure cancer or establish world peace, and most of us as individuals can’t stop world-wide hunger, but each individual can choose to feed just one hungry person.

We can donate time, food, and money to our local food bank. We can give money to charities who send food to nations experiencing a famine, we can choose to do a lot of things to help those less advantaged than ourselves.

jewish charity
Photo: Reuters

We can choose to do good, and even doing a little bit of good makes the world a better place. I think God expects us to do that. I think that’s why God doesn’t just transform the world into a perfect place with a miracle.

We are supposed to be the miracle. We can’t save the world, but we can help fix a small piece of it. Imagine what the world would be like if we all fixed one small piece of the world. It still wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better.

Atonement, The Temple, and Tisha B’Av

Animal offerings aided the atonement process, as they drove home the point that really the person deserved to be slaughtered, but an animal was being used in his/her place. The offering also helped atonement in many mystical ways. But we should not mistake the animal offering for more than what it is. It was an aid to atonement; it did not cause atonement.

“Atonement Today”
from the Ask the Rabbi column

One of the questions Christians sometimes have about Judaism is how religious Jews expect to make atonement for sins without the Temple. The traditional narrative goes that God allowed the Temple to be destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE because He had annulled the system of animal sacrifices, the system of Levitical priests, and all of the promises and commands about them that God previously said were eternal.

Christians tend to believe that God sent Jesus to replace the Temple sacrifices and to be our permanent, once in a lifetime atonement, as opposed to having to make an animal sacrifice every time a Jew committed a sin.

I can only believe Christians imagine that there was a perpetual line of Jews in front of the Temple waiting their turn to make a sacrifice. If that were the case, if every time a Jew committed a sin of any kind they had to make the journey to the Temple, they wouldn’t be able to go anyplace else.

Praying ChildIn contrast, for a Christian, every time he or she sins, they can pray to God in Christ’s name where ever they are and whatever they’re doing, and it’s all good.

Well, that’s not how it worked.

First of all, not all sacrifices had to do with sin and even those that did were specifically for unintentional sins, that is, an act someone committed they didn’t know what a sin. When they discovered that they had sinned unintentionally, then they offered the appropriate sacrifices at the Temple.

That probably wasn’t all that common.

But the quote above speaks of the animal being a substitute for the person offering up the animal, that the person knew he or she should be the one to die instead. What about that?

The verse says: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (Psalms 51:19). This teaches us that a person who does teshuva is regarded as if he had ascended to Jerusalem, built the Temple, erected the Altar, and offered all the offerings upon it. (Midrash – Vayikra Rabba 7:2)

When a person transgresses a mitzvah in the Torah, he destroys some of his inner holiness. He cuts himself off from the Godliness that lies at the essence of his soul. When a person does teshuva — “spiritual return” — he renews and rebuilds the inner world that he has destroyed. On one level, he is rebuilding his personal “Temple” so that God’s presence (so to speak) will return there to dwell.


If we can understand not only the Psalmist David but the Rabbi correctly, it would seem that teshuvah, or sincere repentance is what draws us nearer to God on a spiritual level. That’s as true today as it was thousands of years ago when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, and further back still when the Mishkan or Tabernacle went with the Children of Israel through the wilderness.

So why make animal sacrifices at all if the true sacrifice is a broken spirit?

What inhabited the Tabernacle and later the Temple?

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

Exodus 40:34-35 (NASB)

It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

1 Kings 8:10-11

shekhinaThe Shekinah, often referred to in Christianity as the “Glory of God,” filled and inhabited the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and later Solomon’s Temple.

Prayer and true repentance brought any Jew, no matter where he or she was, spiritually closer to God. An animal sacrifice was required to allow the Jew to come nearer to where the Shekinah dwelt physically.

The Aish Rabbi doesn’t say that exactly, and I must admit the idea isn’t my own. I simply can’t remember where I learned it. If it was from anyone reading this, I’m not trying to rip you off, I really can’t recall the source of this information.

This year, Tisha B’Av or the Ninth day of the month of Av, the solemn commemoration of the many disasters that have befallen the Jewish people, begins this coming Saturday at sundown and continues through Sunday.

Jews all over the world will fast, and pray, and turn their hearts to God. I don’t mean to say that the Temple isn’t important, even vital to the lives of the Jewish people. Jews will weep over the destruction of the Temple on Tisha B’Av as well as for many other tragedies.

The Jewish people long for the coming of Messiah who will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and restore the sacrifices and the Priesthood.

So am I saying that Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ) is irrelevant to Jews, that they can pray to God and be forgiven of sins without acknowledging Yeshua?

That’s complicated.

For we non-Jews, our access to the God of Israel is the direct result of our faith in Yeshua and all he accomplished, but I don’t believe for a second that he replaced anything. We non-Jewish disciples of our Master require our Rav in order to benefit from any of the blessings of the New Covenant.

The advent of Messiah was the next logical extension of the all the promises of God to Israel we find in the Tanakh (Old Testament), and then to the rest of the world. Yeshua came the first time as the forerunner of how God would fulfill the New Covenant promises. That includes his being the forerunner of the total and permanent forgiveness of all Israel’s sins as it states in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:34; Romans 11:27) When he comes again, it won’t be as a preview but the main event.

I can’t believe that God out of hand rejects all Jewish people who didn’t convert to Christianity and believe in the Goyishe King. That would include the vast majority of Jews who have lived and died over the past two thousand years. God would never abandon His people Israel this way, nor expect them to violate the Torah mitzvot for the sake of eating a baked ham on Easter.

Tisha B'Av
photo credit: Alex Levin http://www.artlevin.com

I do believe that a Jew who acknowledges Yeshua as the sent Messiah, the Jewish King, Rav Yeshua, not to draw them away from Jewish praxis but to intensify it, crystallize it, bring that practice into sharper focus relative to the entry of the New Covenant into our world a bit at a time, is acknowledging Yeshua’s role as the mediator of that covenant, the living representation of the permanent forgiveness of sins, and the one who will rebuild the Temple at the end of these “birthpangs of Messiah” we currently experience.

Starting at sundown this Saturday, after the conclusion of Shabbat, there will be many tears shed by the Jewish people in their homes and their synagogues for all they have lost. But there will come a day when He shall wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4) and return joy and fulfillment to His people Israel through Messiah.

And when God has restored Israel, then the nations will be healed as well.

Afterword: I’m fully aware that I’m no expert on the Temple or the sacrifices, and I wrote this blog post on the fly rather than doing a lot of research (as I probably should have), so if you find any errors I’ve made, let me know. Thanks.

In the Matter of True Teshuvah

Chovos HaLevavos lists seven things of which a sinner must be cognizant if he is to attain true teshuvah.

  1. He must be regretful and ashamed of his evil behavior.
  2. He must know that the deed was wrong, and recognize the wickedness of his act.
  3. He must know that Hashem is aware of his misdeed and that punishment (without forgiveness) is inevitable.
  4. He must understand that teshuvah is the cure that he requires.
  5. He should make an accounting of all the good that Hashem has done for him.
  6. He must contrast this with his own disobedience, and use it as a spur to his resolve not to sin further.
  7. He must take concrete steps to avoid sinning again.

One who undertakes to satisfy these requirements can attain true teshuvah.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.192
Tuesday’s commentary on Parashas Vayechi
A Daily Dose of Torah

“One who undertakes to satisfy these requirements can attain true teshuvah.”

True teshuvah.

I’ve written a lot about repentance, both in the past and more recently. But it’s something that’s difficult to maintain and easy to neglect, thus my mind and heart have drifted off into other topics lately.

But it’s as if God were “programming” my study materials to remind me and bring me back on course:

No enslavement and no tyranny are as ruthless and as demanding as slavery to physical desires and passions. Someone who is unable to resist a craving, and who must, like a brute beast, do whatever the body demands, is more profoundly enslaved than someone subject to a human tyrant. Addicted people are an extreme example of those who have become slaves to their bodies.

Dignity comes from freedom, in the capacity to make free choices, and hence, in our ability to refuse to submit to physical desires when our judgment indicates that doing so is wrong. Freedom from domination by the body is the first step toward spiritual growth.”

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
from “Growing Each Day” for Tevet 8

PrisonAs Rabbi Twersky suggests, we each choose our own prison, but often, when attempting to make teshuvah and overcome a lifetime of error and disobedience, it seems as if you’re perpetually making a prison break. It can be very discouraging.

But then again…

In our Yom Kippur prayers, we say, “until the day of [a person’s] death, He waits for him; if he repents, He will accept him immediately.” This prayer reveals the tremendous mercy that Hashem shows toward his creations. A person may have been a sinner his entire life, doing evil constantly without regard for Hashem or His Torah. As his life is coming to an end, when he does not even have strength left to sin, he contemplates his future, and repents of his past. Surely this is a less than perfect teshuvah! Yet Hashem not only will accept it, He does so immediately, without reservation. As we say elsewhere in the Yom Kippur prayers, “we are filled with iniquity, but You are filled with mercy.”

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.195
Tuesday’s commentary on Parashas Vayechi
A Daily Dose of Torah

This isn’t an excuse to wait for the last moment to repent, but rather is it encouragement and hope that no matter how long you have been buried in habitual sin, and no matter how far you have fallen, and no matter how distant you are from God, you can return and He will accept true teshuvah immediately.

But as we saw above, “true teshuvah” is no small thing. As I’ve said previously, it is hardly a matter of just saying “I’m sorry” and then it’s all good. Teshuvah is a life-changing event, and well it should be. It is turning your life around completely and starting off in a brand new direction, the polar opposite of the path you previously trod.

But we can’t do it alone. Without God, no one of us has the will to completely subdue our evil inclination and to make true teshuvah.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12 (NASB)

I’m sure you recognize this as part of David’s sincere plea to God for forgiveness for the multiple and heinous willful sins he committed in the matter of Bathsheba. There is no sacrifice in the Temple for willful sin, and the only sacrifice that is acceptable before God for such sins is “a broken spirit and a broken and a contrite heart” (verse 17).

And this is exactly what God is waiting for from each of us:

As we pray each day, the knowledge that Hashem is not wrathful or vengeful, but is rather a merciful God Who desires our sincere repentance, should act as a powerful stimulant, giving us the fortitude to mend our ways and live our lives as servants of Hashem.

-“A Closer Look at the Siddur,” ibid

But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever.
I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it,
And I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.

Psalm 52:8-9

PrayerIn the Days of Awe surrounding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the shofar blast is meant to be something of a “wake up call” from God to the Jewish people to repent, for time is short. But actually we can repent at an moment, and God will listen and be merciful. However, this happens only if we’re diligent and serious about teshuvah, about turning around and returning to Him. We all must answer the call and answer today and everyday.


Does God Forgive Jewish Sins on Yom Kippur?

The Torah establishes no explicit association between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The former is briefly described as “a day of blowing the horn” (Num. 29:1), while Yom Kippur is more elaborately defined as “a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord…and ye shall afflict your souls” (Lev. 23:28; 32).

-Max Arzt
“The Fundamental Concepts in the Yom Kippur Liturgy: An Introduction,” p.191
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement

Note: I wrote this blog post a number of days before listening to and reviewing yesterday’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon by D. Thomas Lancaster, which also addresses issues related to Yom Kippur and atonement.

I know I’ve asked a strange question in the title of this blog post from a Christian’s point of view. The Church teaches that sins are not forgiven unless we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior over our lives and convert to Christianity. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or any other sort of person. There is one standard of righteousness and one path to salvation, and that is through Jesus.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

-John 14:6 (NASB)

Of course the Master also taught:

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John 6:44

Effectively, this is saying that to come to faith in Messiah is impossible unless God draws that person to such faith, so the ultimate onus is upon God for our salvation, or so it would seem. I think a Calvinist would see it that way, interpreting the verse further to mean that God only draws certain people to Jesus and not others. However, it could also mean that God extends a universal invitation to such faith but that invitation does not automatically override human free will, thus some accept while others reject.

But that doesn’t answer the question I asked in the title of this blog post.

Who, O God, is like You. Who pardons iniquity and overlooks transgression for the remnant of His heritage? Who has not retained His wrath eternally, for He desires kindness! He will again be merciful to us; He will suppress our iniquities. And cast into the depths of the sea all their sins. Grant truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham, as You swore to our forefathers from ancient times.

Micah 7:18-20 (Stone Edition Chumash)
from the Haftarah Portion of Torah Reading Haazinu
when Haazinu falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

This week’s Shabbat, coming as it does between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, bears the name Shabbat Shuvah, “the Sabbath of Returning.” The name derives from the opening words of the haftarah, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God…Say unto Him: give all guilt and accept what is good…Never again will we call our handiwork our god.” (Hosea 14:3-4) The passages from the prophets Hosea, Joel, and Micah, which are joined to make up our haftarah, breathe a worldview far less deterministic than the one that animates Ha’azinu. Without the possibility of righting our wrongs, who needs prophets? Their very mission is predicated on the promise of a second chance, if merited…

…By rejecting fatalism of any sort, Judaism gives us a measure of control over our lives. As we reach for self-improvement and not perfection during the High Holy Days, we find ourselves buoyed both by the prayers that envelop us and by the community that surrounds us. Our struggle ended, we leave the synagogue at peace, cleansed and transformed to start living afresh.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Teshuvah Makes Life Bearable,” pp.632-3
Commentary on Torah Portion Haazinu
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

yom kippurFar from what most Christians think about Yom Kippur, it is not a time of great tragedy among Jewish synagogues world-wide, but rather, a time of hope, when people can take hold of their responsibility to repent in the presence of God, and feel assured that they don’t have to be perfect in order for their sins to be atoned for, but rather dedicated to increased spiritual development, to owning up to their commitment to be better in the future than they have been in the past.

But does God honor that commitment year by year on Yom Kippur? Even if we believe that ultimate atonement and redemption is an effect of the New Covenant, since my understanding of the Sinai Covenant is that it was not designed to permanently redeem from sin, by faith in the accomplished work of the New Covenant mediator, Messiah, what about in the meantime? I firmly believe we continue to live in Old (Sinai) Covenant times, since the New Covenant only enters our world in full upon Messiah’s return and at the resurrection. Thus even though we are taught we must behave as if the New Covenant is completely present, even though it isn’t, then the Old Covenant for the Jewish people, even as many of us long for the New Covenant to be completed, remains fully applicable upon them, for if the New Covenant is not yet totally present, then the Old Covenant, by definition, must remain.

All that being true, and I believe it is, then it is not a vain thing for Jews, Messianic and otherwise, all over the world, to continue to uphold their covenant responsibilities to God under the Sinai Covenant.

For if it [the Torah] is not an empty thing. And if it is, the emptiness lies in you, because you have simply not exerted yourselves in the study of Torah.

-Yerushalmi Peah 1:1

To be counted as a Jew, one ought to have a link of some sort with the canon on which our covenant with God rests. it is a relationship, a measure of engagement that expresses membership. As long as the Torah draws us to explore its sacred contents, the possibility of God entering our lives still exists. A closed book signals the end of the relationship. That is why the Torah is chanted publicly in the synagogue each week, and when at Simhat Torah we have finished the final parasha, we hurry right back to the beginning without a break.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Survival Through Study,” p.635
Commentary on Torah Portion Haazinu
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

You might say to yourself that without the Temple, the Priesthood, the Sanhedrin, and the other institutions that makes Torah observance possible, including the commandments surrounding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, that there can be no atonement of sins for anyone, including the Jewish people, without faith in Christ. That would mean, for the past two-thousand years, all Jews who have not set aside their Jewish heritage and the Sinai Covenant along with it, and converted to Christianity (either voluntarily or by force), have died in their sins and are destined to burn for all eternity in Hell, regardless of their utter devotion to the God of their Fathers and their faithful attendance to the mitzvot as commanded by the Torah of Moses.

tallit-prayerYou see, from the point of view of these Jews, they don’t believe that God abrogated the promises of the past as found in the Torah and the Prophets, and replaced them with a Goyishe King who is to be worshiped and which for all the world feels like pagan idolatry and quite possibly polytheism.

Not that we Christians see it that way, but for the vast, vast majority of Church history, that’s exactly how we’ve been “selling” Christianity to the world, including and especially the Jewish world.

But without the Temple, how can Jews atone for sin? We forget that this isn’t the first time in Jewish history that there has been no Temple. Did God forsake the Jewish people and not forgive sin when they entered the Babylonian exile? Did the Prophets and the righteous among their generations, remain in their sins and die in iniquity? What of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the others among the righteous of Israel? Did the lack of a Temple and the absence of a Messiah result in their damnation?

If not, then why do we automatically throw all of the Jewish people who have lived and died as faithful to Hashem, the God of their Fathers, under the proverbial bus now?

Oh, because in the meantime, Jesus was born, lived, died, was resurrected, and ascended. Something new indeed has been added. But maybe not to the result you’ve been taught to believe.

With the destruction of the Second Temple, its awesome Yom Kippur ritual became a liturgical memory preserved by the synagogue. The theme of owning up to our misdeeds remained central to the tenor of the day as shaped by the synagogue, but it now fell upon Jews to confess their sins themselves. The synagogue eliminated the priestly intermediary.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Assuming Responsibility for Our Actions,” p.670
Commentary on Yom Kippur
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

How heartbroken God must be when He encounters this realization among His people Israel, and that, for a time, the majority of the Jewish people will miss the message provided by the writer of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews that even if they are (temporarily) without a Temple in Jerusalem and thus without an Aaronic priesthood, they still have access to the Heavenly Temple and a higher intermediary in Moshiach. But the day will come indeed when God will fulfill His promises and all Israel will be saved (Jeremiah 31:34; Romans 11:26-27).

What is striking about the confessions of Yom Kippur is that they are all formulated in the plural. By reciting them in unison as a faith community, we are spared individual humiliation. Yet for each of us, the words are highly personalized. In our private space, we confess to God alone. And what of the sins we did not commit? We assume a share of guilt, “for all Jews are responsible for each other.”

-Ismar Schorsch
“Assuming Responsibility for Our Actions,” p.671
Commentary on Yom Kippur
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

The Torah at SinaiAt Sinai, all of Israel answered God as one man (Exodus 19:8) that they would do everything God commanded in His Torah as their responsibility for upholding their covenant relationship with God. God (or Moses) didn’t approach each individual present at the foot of the mountain and ask for their personal acceptance or rejection of the covenant. God has always treated Israel as one, both in the blessings and the curses, regardless of the relative merits of each individual.

Thus if Israel, as a whole, the good and the bad among them, were all exiled, so will they all be redeemed, restored, and gathered back to their Land and their relationship to the Almighty.

How this will happen, I don’t know. I only know that if God doesn’t do it, then He violates His New Covenant promises to Israel that all of their sins will be forgiven.

But then there’s this:

Here, the efficacy of Yom Kippur is limited. Without seeking forgiveness from those we have hurt and without public confession, Yom Kippur offers us little relief or comfort. The ritual of fasting and praying on its own is not sufficient to remove the stain.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Assuming Responsibility for Our Actions,” p.672
Commentary on Yom Kippur
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Here we see there are individual variables involved, and that man’s free will does play a part in God’s redemption of Israel. Specific Jewish people are indeed responsible. In this rendition, they are responsible to appeal both to God and to their fellow human beings who they have injured, perhaps, at least from my point of view, in response to the Master’s understanding of the essential essence of Torah:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (NASB)

And keeping the individual Jew among all Israel in mind:

Who, O God, is like You. Who pardons iniquity and overlooks transgression for the remnant of His heritage?

Micah 7:18 (Stone Edition Chumash)

How are we to resolve the apparent conflict between the language of Jeremiah 31:34 and Romans 11:26-27 which promises salvation for corporate Israel and the “remnant” spoken of in Micah 7:18?

I don’t know. One theory is that after the great wars, all of the unbelieving Jews will be killed and all of the Jewish survivors will be believers. That doesn’t sound quite right to me although I guess it fits the criteria. Another theory is that upon Messiah’s return, all of Israel living at that time will see him and acknowledge him and in that confession, will be saved. But that doesn’t address all of the Jewish souls who lived and died before the advent of Messiah, nor the Jews who have not accepted the revelation of his identity from that advent until now.

But I’m just guessing, of course. All I know for sure is that based on the aforementioned scriptures, God promised that Israel will be saved in the last days so I know He will do it, even if I don’t know how.

But what about the annual event of Yom Kippur? Are Jewish sins of the past year atoned for on that date without faith in Messiah? Isn’t faith in God (the Father) enough?

Yom Kippur prayers
Yom Kippur Prayers

I can’t see from God’s point of view and the Bible doesn’t specifically address this circumstance, but not being God, I’m willing to be compassionate with merely a human heart and believe that yes, God hears the prayers of the Jewish people, all Jewish people when they pray, when they repent, when they seek the forgiveness of those they have wronged in sincerity, even if some of what they may believe isn’t correct, even if they have not yet come to the realization of the revelation of the identity of Messiah, that God does not callously discard their prayers of repentance and that He does forgive provisionally and annually in the spirit of His future ultimate and eternal forgiveness under the New Covenant promises.

No, I can’t prove that, I can only believe by faith that God will and has continued to keep His promises that He has made in the Bible, that Israel will always be a nation, His nation, and will always be before Him as His special and beloved people.

Thus says the Lord,

“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:37 (NASB)

Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger, in My wrath and in great indignation; and I will bring them back to this place and make them dwell in safety. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul.

Jeremiah 32:37-41 (NASB)

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘If you can break My covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levitical priests, My ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’”

Jeremiah 33:19-22 (NASB)

jewish-temple-messiahThus, on the basis of these “better promises,” I choose to believe that God still hears the voices of all of the Jewish people everywhere, as they pray, as they make teshuvah, as they call upon the Name of the Lord their God who made those promises. I choose to believe that their sins are forgiven for another year with the realization that a final judgment is yet to come. But even in that final judgment, God will still keep His Word that He gave in the Torah and the Prophets, and save Israel from her sins through the New Covenant He will make with them through its mediator Messiah, may he come soon and in our day.

If you want to believe I’m wrong, I understand. All I can do now is proceed with hope, for if God breaks His Word and His Covenants with Israel, then the rest of us are also utterly forsaken, and all humankind will perish forever.

One last question. If it is true that God forgives observant Jews of their sins on Yom Kippur based on the promises of the Sinai Covenant as the currently existing agreement between the Jewish people and God, will God forgive those Jews who we call “Hebrew Christians” who are in our churches and who have been taught to forsake the Sinai Covenant and set aside the Torah of Moses?

For another take on Yom Kippur, read the brief article Judgement Day presented by First Fruits of Zion.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Blood of Bulls and Goats

The writer of the book of Hebrews maintains that the animal sacrifices offered in the Temple cannot grant forgiveness for the world to come or the reward of eternal life. If so, why did God command the Israelites to offer sacrifices? What were the sacrifices supposed to accomplish?

This sermon marks one year in Beth Immanuel’s study of the epistle to the Hebrews, so it features a brief review of the first eight chapters of the book.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Five: The Blood of Bulls and Goats
Originally presented on December 21, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Since Lancaster delivered this sermon on the one year anniversary of starting this series on Hebrews, he spent the first fifteen minutes giving a summary of what he’d taught over the course of the past twelve months. I wish I could have taken notes fast enough to capture the review because it would have been a nice “in-a-nutshell” presentation to offer. You’ll just have to click the link I posted above and listen for yourself.

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time.

Hebrews 9:8-9 (NASB)

According to Lancaster, most Christians take away from the above-quoted verses the idea that the only way to get into the Holy Place, that is, the life in the world to come, is for the Temple (although the NASB translates the Greek as “tabernacle”) to be destroyed. This fits pretty well with traditional Church doctrine about the Temple in Jerusalem needing to be destroyed because the bodies of Christians are now the “Temple,” but Lancaster disagrees. Within the overall context, that interpretation makes no sense.

The way he sees it, what the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews is saying is that the Tabernacle or Temple, the outer holy place simply stands as a symbol for the present age, the Old Covenant age, since the New Covenant while inaugurated, has not actually come into our world yet. You’ll have to go over what last week’s sermon said about the symbolism involved in comparing the Holy Place with the Holy of Holies, that is, the present age and the age to come (or read my review to get the gist of Lancaster’s points) in order to make sense of what’s being communicated.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation… (emph. mine)

Hebrews 9:11 (NASB)

The NASB translates the words I emphasized in the above-quoted verse fairly accurately, but the NIV says “are now already here”, and the NLT and ESV (and a number of other translations) say “that have come,” seemingly indicating that when Christ appeared, the better promises of the New Covenant age arrived in their fullness. That’s not what the Greek actually says, and both the NASB and the KJV render that phrase correctly. They haven’t arrived yet.

As I’ve said before, interpretation begins at translation, and more than a few Bible translators have read their own theology and doctrine back into the Bible rather than letting the Bible in its original languages speak to them about how that theology is supposed to look.

What I Learned

The Sacrifice - detailThis next part was news to me but it makes a great deal of sense now, especially when compared to what Lancaster has previously taught in this series of lessons. He described the following scriptures as a Kal Vachomer or lighter to heavier argument. In this argument, you say something like, “if you think version 1 was fabulous, version 2 is even better”. The first statement about version 1 (or whatever) must be true in order for the statement about version 2 to be true.

…and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Hebrews 9:12-15

Christians don’t understand the meaning behind the sacrificial system initiated with the Tabernacle and continued with Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples. We’ve been taught that the Israelites had to make sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins and so they could get into Heaven when they died. Once Jesus came and made a single sacrifice on the cross once and for all, then there was no further need for the animal sacrifices or the Temple, since all we have to do is believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.

But what Lancaster said next is no less than revolutionary.

The sacrifices in the Tabernacle and the Temple were never designed to take away sins at all. They were designed to provide purification for an Israelite (actually, anyone since even the sacrifices of Gentiles were accepted) so that he or she could physically draw nearer to the specific, Holy precinct where the physical manifestation of the Divine Presence dwelt. The mikvah, the ashes of the Red Heifer and so on, were to provide the body of a person with ritual purification so that their physical, material self could enter a physical structure considered Holy ground because it contained the manifestation of the Divine Presence of the Almighty. This is an effect of the Sinai (Old) Covenant.

Compare and contrast that to the sacrifice of Yeshua (Jesus) who made total atonement for the sins of all humanity by bringing his blood, not to the Holy of Holies in the Earthly Temple, but to the Heavenly Holy of Holies, so our sins really could be permanently forgiven and that our spiritual selves could approach God in a realm outside the physical universe, and we can serve Him. This is an effect of the New Covenant.

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him.

Revelation 22:3

These two systems, two structures, two forms of sacrifice were made to operate like two sides of a coin, not for the latter to wholly replace the former, at least not until the end of the Messianic Era which will see us pass on through eternity when we’ll no longer need a Temple:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.

Revelation 21:22-24

But none of that will happen while the current Heaven and Earth exist, which they will throughout the present age and the age of the Messiah.

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (emph. mine)

Hebrews 9:13-14

PriestsYou can see the lighter and heavier ends of the argument on either side of the text I emphasized above. If the blood of goats and bulls and ashes of a heifer can purify your bodies to come within proximity of the physical manifestation of the Divine Presence in our material world, how much more will the blood of Messiah purify your eternal Spirit to cleanse you of dead works (that is, sin) so that you can serve the living God. Purifying your body vs. purifying your spirit. The Earthly sacrifices did one and the one Heavenly sacrifice did the other. The blood of Jesus didn’t replace the blood of animals. To believe it did would be like comparing proverbial apples and oranges.


What comes next is the letter writer’s conclusion of the current argument:

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Hebrews 9:15

So all that was written before is the reason why Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, because as you may recall, the New Covenant is all about replacing our stony hearts with hearts of flesh, and giving us a new Spirit, writing the Torah of God on our hearts, permanently atoning for all sins, and allowing us to know God in an unparalleled manner greater than the greatest prophets of old.

We committed sins that were defined and identified by the Sinai covenant and that covenant condemns unrepented sin. We will die if our sins are not atoned for because the wages of sin is death. But the New Covenant offers something the Old did not, a way to permanently atone for and be forgiven of all sins, so where the Old Covenant condemns, the New Covenant, which is already beginning to enter our world, sets free. They work together in the present age. We have access to this forgiveness through our faith in the work of the Messiah. This is how we receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Tisha B’Av, Lamentations, and Hope

How did Judaism manage to survive the destruction of its central sanctuary? According to the Book of Deuteronomy, which we always begin to read on the Shabbat before Tishah B’Av, it was to be the only link between heaven and earth. All sacrifices were to be offered there and no place else. The exclusive cult restricted to a single Temple seemed to reinforce the fragile belief in a single, omnipotent God…

…The destruction of his Temple in 586 B.C.E. could have ruptured the ties between God and Israel…

…I should like to suggest that the answer to this historical conundrum lies in the etymology of a single Hebrew word.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Transformation of Devir from Shrine to Book,” pg 583, August 1, 1998
Commentary on Torah Portion Devarim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Schorsch goes on to explain that the Hebrew word for the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and later the Temple is “devir”. He then traced a path from “devir” (Shrine) to “davar” (word), and across the ages to third century C.E. Babylonia and the founding of the rabbinic academy in Sura where the Persians used the proper noun “devir” for “book” (safra). For Judaism then, as Schorsch sees it, the survival mechanism employed once the Temple had been leveled by the Romans in 70 C.E. and the Jewish people were forcibly dispersed, was the investment in Talmud and Mishnah as the embodiment of the Holiness of the Temple; the conversion of the direct link between Jews and God from Shrine to Book.

This idea was also explored by the late Dr. Alan F. Segal in his book Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World. Dr. Segal suggested that with the destruction of the Temple and the elimination of a Judaism centered around the sacrifices and the Aaronic priesthood, two new religions emerged: Gentile Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.

In a way, it’s not as farfetched an idea as it might seem but fails to take into account God’s planning for the continuation of His people Israel as well as the people of the nations who are called by His Name. While Judaism and Christianity both have “morphed” considerably over the past nearly two-thousand years and have traced divergent trajectories across history, we must remember that our course through space and time are always in the control of God and a single destination awaits us both: Messiah and the Kingdom.

As we rapidly approach the fast of Tisha B’Av, sorrow piles upon sorrow at the severe losses suffered by the Jewish people and the nation of Israel which, even now, is in a state of war and viciously maligned by the worldwide news media, multiple world leaders and celebrities, and people in general simply for defending themselves against the thousands of missiles and other attacks the terrorist group Hamas has launched against them.

And how do these events color Tisha B’Av this year? Like any other year, as Schorsch says elsewhere in his commentary:

No other religion is quite so self-critical. The Bible goes out of its way to record the flaws and errors of our people’s loftiest leaders. (pg 589)

As most of us should be doing whenever something goes wrong in our lives, the first place Israel looks for a cause when tragedy strikes is in the mirror and their relationship with God.

If a person sees that suffering befalls him, let him examine his deeds.

-Berachos 5a

Yes, one day the Messiah will rebuild the Temple, but it’s been so long and who knows when he will suddenly return? Yet in spite of all the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people across the long centuries, God has always preserved them in many and varied ways, including, I believe, through what we refer to as Rabbinic Judaism and a devotion to studying Torah and Mishnah.

Most Christians believe that any legitimate connection between the Jewish people and God crumbled with the Temple and that their only hope is conversion to Christianity and worship of Jesus Christ. For most people in the Church, Rabbinic Judaism in all its expressions is a dry and vain effort, bereft of any presence of God; an invention of men who “missed the boat” of Messiah, so to speak, and now are continually bailing water out of a slowly sinking ship.

Tisha b'Av at the Kotel 2007But let us suppose, on the eve of one of the most grief-stricken observances on the Jewish religious calendar, that God didn’t abandon His people Israel after the advent of Messiah and the destruction of Jerusalem. Let us suppose that God chose to go into exile with His people, even as He maintained His presence among the devout ones of the Gentile disciples of Messiah. Is that so unreasonable an assumption? Does God have to abandon Sinai in order to occupy Calvary?

Hence when our sages read the story of Jacob and Esau as the tale of Israel and Rome in the time of the Christian emperors, as they did, they did not conceive that theirs was a reading distinct from the author’s original intention. And how could such a conception have taken root, when, after all, they knew that Torah, oral and written, came from God to Moses, or was the work of the Holy Spirit, or otherwise transcended the particularities of time, space, and circumstance?

-Jacob Neusner
from the Series Forward of (pg xii)
Israel After Calamity: The Book of Lamentations

Professor Neusner is attempting to explain to an audience with little knowledge of Mishnah how it is possible and even reasonable for the Sages to create interpretations of books of scripture that (apparently) couldn’t have been the author’s original intent, and yet have those interpretations be correct for the generation in which they were made (and later).

That requires believing that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit both encodes the Bible with messages that continually unfold with the passage of human history and believing that God really did infuse the Jewish sages with the authority, wisdom, and Spirit to create valid interpretations of the Bible after formal canonization was considered closed.

That’s a lot for most Christians to take in, since our general conceptual platform is founded on Greek thought and philosophy which is sort of a “connect the dots” way of thinking coupled with being “binary.” That is, things are either this way or that, left or right, up or down, and we continually move forward in time, leaving the past permanently preserved in amber, forever unchangeable, including by interpretation, as we progress step by step toward the return of Jesus. There is no room in our thinking for a God who can take both forks in a road simultaneously (with apologies to Yogi Berra).

If we accept that God is infinite, that God is Spirit, and believe all of the other supernatural and metaphysical things we’re supposed to believe, then it behooves us not to put God in a box (Schrödinger’s or any other kind), and make Him obey the rules we’ve created for the Bible and ourselves. If God is transcendent, then so is His Word and, for that matter, so is His relationship with His people Israel. God’s relationship with Israel survived the destruction of Solomon’s Temple. It can survive the destruction of Herod’s as well, plus such and thus many thousands of years hence.

Neusner’s book takes us through an analysis of Lamentations Rabbah, and in Parashah II Lamentations 2:3 (pp 95-6), we read:

But when the Israelites repent, the Holy One, blessed be he, will put the horns back in place: “All the horns of the wicked I will also cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up” (Ps. 75:11).

The horns which the Righteous One of the world had cut off [will be restored].

When will he restore them to their place?

When the Holy One, blessed be he, exalts the horn of his messiah: “And he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed” (1 Sam. 2:10).

grafted olivesEven in sorrow and mourning, Israel always has hope in the Promises of God for return and restoration, the promises of King Messiah and the New Covenant age.

This is purely poetic interpretation on my part, but when I read of the wicked horns being cut off and the righteous horns being restored by Messiah the Righteous One, I couldn’t help but think of this:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:17-24 (NASB)

As it says in Tsvi Sadan’s book The Concealed Light (pg 212):

To call Messiah Horn (keren) is supported by “There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for My anointed” (Psalm 132:17 ESV).

But as it also says in Sadan’s book (pg 156):

Using the name Branch (netzer) for Messiah comes from a clear messianic prophecy that says: “There shall come forth a Rod (choter) from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch (netzer) shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1 ESV).

Played back over Lamentations Rabbah and Neusner’s commentary, we can see some obvious parallels to Yeshua (Jesus), but as I said, the connections are poetic and shouldn’t be taken for more than that. Still, we are pointed back to a hope for the Jewish people and the rest of the world, that out of the ashes of the Temple will rise a King, and lifted from the lakes and oceans of Jewish tears shed over hundreds and thousands of years is lifted up the Moshiach.

…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4 (NASB)

But Israel has a part to play:

Israel is responsible for its own condition but also can so act to atone for what it has done and so regain God’s favor. A covenant governs Israel’s relationship to God, and therefore the condition of the holy people. When the covenant is broken, the result is God’s punishment; but then, when Israel atones, the covenant makes clear, Israel will repair its disastrous condition.

-Neusner, pg 104

But while the focus of disaster, repentance, and atonement is upon Israel, this also has applications on individual lives:

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter would utilize every opportunity to gain mussar insights and to motivate himself to further self-improvement. There were many occurrences when most people would think nothing of them, but Rav Yisroel would gain some lesson for growth. Rav Yisroel once was in the home of a shoemaker late at night and observed how he was doing his work by the light of the candle that was almost going out. “Why are you still working?” Rav Yisroel asked him. “It is very late and soon the candle will be extinguished.”

The shoemaker replied, “As long as the candle is still burning it is still possible to accomplish and to mend.”

Rabbi Salanter was very moved by this, and said, “If for our physical needs as long as the candle is burning one keeps mending, all the more so for our souls, as long as the light of the soul is still going we must make every effort to accomplish and mend.”

After this he would frequently repeat to himself, “As long as the candle is lit, accomplish and mend.” (Tnuas Hamussar, vol.1, p.315-6)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Utilize the hints of others for self-improvement,” pg 379
Commentary on Torah Portion Devarim
Growth Through Torah

From Tsvi Sadan’s book (pg 10) we learn:

Light (or) to describe Messiah comes from the well-known verse, “And God saw the light, that it was good” (Genesis 1:4). Puzzled by this good light that was created before the sun and moon, the sages were drawn to another unique light, which David talks about when he says, “In Your light we see light” (Psalm 36:9).

This light within a light, says one midrash, is the light created on the first day, which David recognizes as King Messiah.

Yeshua also made this plain about himself:

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

John 8:12 (NASB)

light-ohrThis year, Tisha B’Av begins the evening of Monday, August 4th and ends some forty minutes after sundown the following day. We enter our own darkness when we face Jewish grief, for although the sin of baseless hatred caused the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people, those acts of destruction were brought about by Gentiles. For the past twenty centuries, the Goyim, including the Christian Church, has been piling sorrow upon sorrow on the Jewish people and are at it to this very day.

The Jewish people fast, pray, and repent on Tisha B’Av but as the instruments of their suffering, we should fast, repent, and pray as well, entering our own darkness so we can recognize, through faith, the light of our hope.

The redemption of Israel and, through it, all the world, depends on how well man perceives and acts upon that faith.

-Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz