Tag Archives: blessing

How Is The World Blessed By The Offspring of Abraham?

I was sitting in the airport in Dallas reading my daily page of the Talmud when an elderly priest, readily identifiable by his collar, stopped by my seat and asked me a question. “I hope you don’t mind my interrupting you. I see you are reading a Hebrew book and you are wearing a hat. Are you by any chance a Rabbi?”

When I responded that indeed I am, he continued, “I hope you don’t think I’m out of place but all my life I’ve been hoping that someday I might meet a Rabbi. You see, although I’m a priest I’ve always felt that Jews are the people of The Book and enjoy an especially close relationship with God. You are God’s chosen people and as a Rabbi you are one of their spiritual leaders. I’ve always wanted to ask a Rabbi for a blessing. Would it be possible now for me to ask that you honor me with that favor?”

I cannot convey in words how moved I was by that request. I gave him the priestly benediction from the Torah and recited it to him in the original Hebrew. He was moved to tears. In all humility, I understood that for him I was the link to the original Torah. Whatever theological beliefs might separate us – and there are surely many – he clearly recognized the unique role of Judaism, in the words of Isaiah, to serve as “a light unto the nations.” Jews are the direct descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the nation that stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and received the Torah to transmit from generation to generation. Jews were “chosen” not to claim superiority but to accept the responsibility to convey God’s messages to the rest of mankind.

-Rabbi Benjamin Blech
“5 Greatest Gifts of Being a Jew”
Aish.com

birchas-kohanimThere may be some of you when reading the paragraphs above who will be taken aback by a Catholic Priest (or any Christian clergy) asking a Rabbi for a blessing. There may be others among you who will cringe at the idea that Rabbi Blech not only responded to the request by conferring a blessing, but that he used the Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing.

Historically, Judaism and Christianity have had a somewhat “uncomfortable” relationship (I say that using tremendous understatement) and at least vestiges of that remain in the modern era.

But I found the transaction between R. Blech and the Priest to be rather heartwarming. Nearly twenty centuries of enmity between Christians and Jews was simply swept aside, a Christian (a Catholic Priest no less) openly recognized the special and unique relationship a Jew has with God, and a Jew (a Rabbi no less) blessed not just a Goy, and not just a Christian, but a Catholic Priest, and was happy to do so.

In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.

Genesis 22:18 (NASB)

Indeed, the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are to be a blessing to the people of the nations, and in R. Blech’s case, it became both fact and truth.

But then again, we have this:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Galatians 3:16

From a Christian point of view, that blessing from the offspring (“seed”) of Abraham could be considered specifically issuing from one Jew, our Rav Yeshua (Jesus), as opposed to Jewish people in general. However, I don’t have a problem assigning multiple meanings and applications to the aforementioned blessing.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Drilling down into R. Blech’s quote, let’s take a look at the following:

Whatever theological beliefs might separate us – and there are surely many – he clearly recognized the unique role of Judaism, in the words of Isaiah, to serve as “a light unto the nations.” (emph mine)

A Catholic Priest, who, by definition, believes that Jesus Christ is the Jewish Messiah King who will redeem the world, also recognized that modern Jewish people, including and especially Rabbis, have a unique role to play relative to God and to humanity.

How much more should we “Judaicly-aware” disciples of our Rav also recognize that unique role of Jews in general and Jews who share our understanding of the revelation of Rav Yeshua in particular, whether we choose to call ourselves members of Hebrew Roots, “Messianic Gentiles,” or anything else?

In his article, R. Blech listed the 5 greatest gifts of being a Jew as:

  1. Our Unique Mission
  2. The Torah
  3. Progress
  4. Optimism
  5. The Gift of Others

Although the Torah does not apply to the rest of mankind, even the Gentile disciples of our Rav, in the same way it applies to Jewish people, it does define a general pattern of ethical and moral behavior along with the establishment of monotheism, the realization of One God, Hashem, Creator of Existence. Without the Jewish people and the Torah, there would not be such revelations, and certainly, there would be no plan of redemption for our world.

JerusalemUnder “Progress,” R. Blech cites Irishman Thomas Cahill’s book The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels to illustrate the impact of Jews and Judaism on the entire planet.

In it he credits the Jews not only for monotheism and the idea of a personal relationship with God; it is these concepts, he reminds us, that led us to the understanding that we have a personal responsibility for ourselves and our relations with our neighbors, as well as to our respect for history itself.

While the Church likes to think history began with the birth of Christ, in fact, while the coming of Rav Yeshua certainly was and is an apex in human history, everything in the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings had to occur to set the stage for our Rav’s entry, including the existence of Israel and the Jewish people.

Under “Optimism,” Blech states:

To be a Jew is to know that the world has not yet reached its divinely ordained end. God has a plan for us and eventually it will be fulfilled. No matter how long it takes, Jews remain the eternal optimists.

Golda Meir put it this way: “Jews cannot afford the luxury of pessimism.” Ben Gurion reminded us that in Israel “In order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” And Maimonides included the belief in messianic redemption at the end of days as one of the thirteen Cardinal principles of our faith.

jerusalem dayWe non-Jewish devotees also wait for the Messiah, though some of us have a radically different idea of what that means than most Jews. Social media has made it easy to complain about practically everything, and conservative Christians complain about everything from A to Z, which is why it would be helpful if we would learn optimism as Blech describes it.

Finally, under “The Gift of Others,” while R. Blech is describing the relationship Jews have with each other, we “Judaicly-aware” Goyim might want to set aside any “Torah-envy” we may experience ,and approach our Jewish brethren in Yeshua (as well as Jewish people in general) in the same manner as the Priest who approached Rabbi Blech in a Dallas airport as described at the top of this article.

At the very start of his write-up, R. Blech said:

Albert Einstein once startled an audience when he announced, “I’m sorry I was born a Jew.” The people were shocked. How could this great man make such an outlandish statement? With a smile, Einstein then impishly continued, “Because it deprived me of the privilege of choosing to be a Jew.”

As a tenth generation Rabbi, I did not choose to become a Jew; it was my natural birthright. But with the wisdom of age and the perspective of worldly experience I have come to recognize that my identity conferred precious divine gifts that we should never take for granted.

MessiahJews, whether religious or secular, are the only people who are born into a covenant relationship with God. The rest of us have to choose to become associated with God and arguably, we have no covenant relationship (long story…start reading this five-part review for the answer, or if you’re pressed for time, this short summary) apart from the Noahide Covenant God made with all living things in Genesis 9.

But we are allowed and even encouraged to choose God. We just need to remember that it was through the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and the (Jewish) Moshiach that we are redeemed, not through the power of our choosing alone.

“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

John 4:22

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Vayishlach: The Good Fight

wrestlingIn this week’s parsha, our father Yaakov, fresh from his successful escape from Lavan, prepares to encounter his brother and sworn enemy, Eisav. He sends malachim to deal with Eisav before he will actually meet with him face to face. The word malachim signifies two different meanings. One is that it means agents, messengers, human beings who were sent on a particular mission to do Yaakov’s bidding. The other meaning is that the world malachim signifies angels, supernatural messengers of God who were sent to Yaakov to help him in his fateful encounter with his brother.

Rashi cites both possible interpretations in his commentary. When Rashi does so, he is teaching us that both interpretations are correct at differing levels of understanding the verse involved.

-Rabbi Berel Wein
“Human Effort and Supernatural Help”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayishlach
Torah.org

A plain reading of the text suggests (at least to me) that Jacob sent human beings as messengers to his brother Esau rather than supernatural angels. It makes the most sense given the context. However, there is another encounter Jacob has with the supernatural that bears scrutiny.

Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.” Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” Jacob asked, “Pray tell me your name.” But he said, “You must not ask my name!” And he took leave of him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, “I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping on his hip. That is why the children of Israel to this day do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip, since Jacob’s hip socket was wrenched at the thigh muscle.

Genesis 32:25-33 (JPS Tanakh)

A man comes out of nowhere in the middle of the night, encounters Jacob and starts wrestling with him. Amazingly, both fighters have the strength and stamina to sustain their combat for many hours until dawn nears. The intruder then pleads with Jacob to release him because the sun is coming up, but rather than demanding who the person is and why he attacked him, Jacob asks his fellow combatant to bless him.

At least from this translation, we only learn that the “person” who attacked Jacob was supernatural when we arrive at verse 31:

So Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, “I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

It is commonly believed that Jacob wrestled with an angel of God, but some believe is was some form of incarnate God Himself, while others believe it may have been a “pre-incarnate Jesus.”

Who knows?

But from Rabbi Wein’s commentary, we can assume, at least on the surface, that the mysterious fellow could either have been human or an angel.

Who was Jacob wrestling with? If it was an angel, why couldn’t the angel defeat a mere moral? When the attacker couldn’t defeat Jacob, why did he injure Jacob’s hip? Why did the “angel” attack Jacob in the first place?

Our problem is that if Jacob is truly alone, who can be wrestling with him? One possible answer is — no one! Jacob is actually wrestling with himself. This would explain the ambiguity in the passage. However, by solving the textual problem (if indeed we are correct), we have raised an even greater problem: Why would a sane man wrestle with himself? A careful reading of the text may give us some insight.

The “man” is referred to in Hebrew as an ish. And we find another verse — a great deal less enigmatic — in which it is apparent that the ish is clearly Jacob.

-Rabbi Ari Kahn
“Vayishlach: The Struggle of Jacob”
from M’oray Ha’Aish: Advanced-level Commentaries on the Weekly Parasha
Aish.com

OK, you’re probably not buying that, but I think the interpretation has merit, even as a metaphor. However, this isn’t the only way to look at this encounter:

Who is this man with whom Jacob wrestled? According to the Sages, he is the “angel of Esau,” and their struggle, which “raised dust up to the Supernal Throne,” is the cosmic struggle between two nations and two worlds — the spirituality of Israel and the materiality of Edom (Rome). The night through which they wrestled is the long and dark galut (“exile”), in the course of which Jacob’s descendants suffer bodily harm and spiritual anguish, but emerge victorious.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Wrestling with Angels”
Chabad.org

shoahSo, in this interpretation, the guardian angel of Esau attacks Jacob but is unable to defeat him, presumably because of the blessings of God that rest upon Jacob but not Esau.

I suppose it makes more sense, especially when considering that Jacob realized he had been wrestling with a divine being. This operates as another metaphor and even on a prophetic level. The descendants of Jacob will be attacked by the descendants of Esau and although the Children of Israel, the Jewish people, will be injured, sometimes terribly, and carry the marks of their injury forward through history, they will ultimately prevail.

But let’s get back to the immediate situation Jacob was facing:

The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau; he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Jacob was greatly frightened; in his anxiety, he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps

Genesis 32:7-8 (JPS Tanakh)

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.

-Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

Fictional heroes may face danger and death without fear, but real men and women are afraid all the time. Jacob had a lot of good reasons to be afraid. In fact, fear was one of his primary motivations for leaving his home in Canaan and seeking refuge, such as it was, in the home of his kinsman Laban.

For twenty years, Jacob labored under extremely difficult conditions, married, raised a family, went from being in poverty to becoming very wealthy. He, his family, his servants, and his livestock had all just survived the pursuit and threat of destruction represented by Laban, but now Jacob must face his oldest foe and his greatest adversary: his brother Esau.

Jacob's-Ladder1Jacob had done everything he could think of, everything humanly possible to appease Esau and to create a circumstance between them that wouldn’t immediately result in armed conflict when they finally met, but Jacob had a bigger enemy than Esau: this own fear and perhaps even guilt.

No matter which way you look at it, Jacob not only removed Esau’s birthright and blessing from him, on both occasions, he had done so by guile and trickery, even to the point of deceiving his own father Isaac. Such a thing for the grandson of the sage and tzaddik Abraham to do. One dream about angels at his exit from Canaan, and he’s gone.

What results from Jacob’s fight with the stranger in the dark?

  • Jacob is permanently disabled, walking with a limp for the rest of his days.
  • Jacob is blessed with the name “Israel” because he combatted with the divine and was victorious.
  • Jacob not only survived the encounter with Esau, but was welcomed by his brother back into Canaan.

And [Esau] said, “Let us start on our journey, and I will proceed at your pace.” But he said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; if they are driven hard a single day, all the flocks will die. Let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I travel slowly, at the pace of the cattle before me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

Then Esau said, “Let me assign to you some of the men who are with me.” But he said, “Oh no, my lord is too kind to me!” So Esau started back that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed on to Succoth, and built a house for himself and made stalls for his cattle; that is why the place was called Succoth.

Genesis 33:12-17 (JPS Tanakh)

Alright, Jacob also didn’t trust his brother Esau as far as he could throw him, so he lied. Instead of following Esau at a slower pace, he detoured to Succoth, avoiding any future meeting with his brother.

All night long, Jacob struggles with his success. His spiritual self and his physical self collide as he tries to determine his true identity. But Jacob is unable to resolve this conflict.

In the resolution that is finally achieved, the physical realm is forced to yield. Laws, like that of the hip tendon, Gid HaNashe, will create spiritual boundaries within physical experience, making possible the elevation of the physical world to a spiritual plane.

-Rabbi Ari Kahn

Rabbi Kahn sees the struggle as the conflict between the physical and spiritual forces within Jacob. Would he join with his brother Esau and combine wealth, denying his spiritual destiny as the inheritor of Abraham and Isaac, or would he defeat his baser self, and become the true father of Israel?

Kahn says the outcome is obvious and reflected in Jacob’s refusal to accompany Esau and rather, to pursue a higher destiny.

Rabbi Tauber sees the victory a little bit differently:

It is a long and difficult struggle till dawn. But in the end we triumph over men and prevail over the divine as well. For this is the essence of Israel.

Rabbi Tauber sees Jacob defeating both the forces of evil that Esau’s angel represents and the divine itself, illustrating that it will always be Israel’s destiny to contend, even with God. This may sound like a bad thing, but it has merits.

A relationship with God always involves struggle. The worst thing a person of faith can do, even worse than becoming an apostate, is to take faith for granted and become apathetic.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.

Revelation 3:15-18 (NASB)

coastSometimes it takes a crisis to shake us out of apathy. Like the church at Laodicea, Jacob had become rich. He was in danger of taking God’s blessings for granted. The angel of Jacob delivered the same message as the angel to the church in Laodicea (although the message of the Master may have been delivered by a human messenger rather than an angelic being). Do not be lukewarm. It would be better if you were cold than lukewarm. Do not let your material wealth fool you. You are miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Only through God can you be rich with true riches.

So what was the ultimate achievement attained by Israel’s struggle with God?

God appeared again to Jacob on his arrival from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. God said to him, “You whose name is Jacob, you shall be called Jacob no more, but Israel shall be your name.”

Thus He named him Israel.

And God said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Be fertile and increase; a nation, yea an assembly of nations, shall descend from you. Kings shall issue from your loins. The land that I assigned to Abraham and Isaac I assign to you; and to your offspring to come will I assign the land.”

Genesis 35:9-12 (JPS Tanakh)

It may seem disrespectful and even dangerous to struggle against or contend with God, but remember, in the example we have with Jacob, God started it. Jacob was alone in the dark. He was afraid. He was uncertain. He did everything humanly possible to deal with his fears and to protect his family, but he didn’t know what was going to happen.

God knew all of this and challenged Jacob. It doesn’t look like Jacob had much of a choice. He could either fight off his attacker or surrender. Jacob chose to fight. He couldn’t afford to be “lukewarm” in this situation. He fought back and he won, not because he literally defeated God, but he defeated the challenge God set before him, the one Jacob had to defeat in order to overcome his fears; in order to become Israel, father of a nation, patriarch of an empire.

poured_outMost of us aren’t going to be the father or mother of a nation, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have challenges we must overcome in order to advance God’s plan and to grow spiritually. We can take from Jacob’s example that our challenges aren’t always easy. We can also see that God doesn’t always step in and overwhelm our challenges for us and in fact, sometimes He is the challenge, and we must contend against Him.

Even when we don’t escape such struggles unscathed, in the end, if we persevere, the injuries are worth the blessing.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NASB)

Good Shabbos.

V’Zot HaBerachah: Hanging on a Peg

Sukkot In The Synagogue. Leopold Pilichowski (1869-1933). Oil On Canvas.“And this is to Yehudah, and he (Moshe) said, ‘Listen Almighty to the voice of Yehudah”

Deuteronomy 33:7

What does this verse refer to?

Rashi teaches us that Moshe is referring to the prayers of the kings of Yehudah: David, Asa, Yehoshofot and Chizkiyah.

The Midrash elaborates: There were four kings and each one asked the Almighty for different things. King David asked that he should be able to pursue his enemies and vanquish them. King Asa said, “I don’t have the ability to kill my enemies. Rather, I will pursue them and You Almighty should vanquish them.” King Yehoshofot stood up and said, “I don’t have the ability to vanquish my enemies or even to pursue them. Rather, I will pray and You Almighty should vanquish them.” Chizkiyah stood up and said, “I do not have the ability to vanquish, to pursue or to pray. Rather, I will stay home and sleep and You Almighty should vanquish my enemies.”

What is the meaning of not being able to pursue or pray? Why should anyone find this difficult since the Almighty will be involved? Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz used to explain: Regardless of what we ourselves do to be successful in any area, we must be aware that ultimately it is the Almighty Who causes the victory. Everything is dependent on His will, but we must do our share.

Dvar Torah based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot and Torah Portion V’Zot HaBerachah
Aish.com

But our share of what? In the above midrash, we are taught that regardless of how much or how little we are able to do in our lives, it is actually God who is the source of everything. There are some people who don’t like that idea, especially well accomplished people who have worked very hard to achieve a measure of success. Imagine a renowned classical pianist being told, “God was so good to you to have given you such talent,” and then hearing the pianist reply something like, “God, nothing. Where was God when I spent endless hours over the past forty years practicing and learning? Thanking God for my talent totally invalidates all of the hard work I did to achieve my current musical skill.”

From an atheist’s point of view, I can see how a Christian saying such a thing would be very insulting. It’s difficult to see the interplay between God’s sovereignty and His expectation of our participation. On the other hand, there’s also a very real danger that by giving God all the glory and then some (not that we shouldn’t give all the glory), we believe we have no responsibility to produce any of the effort God expects of us.

But as I said before, what effort is expected of us? Well, that depends.

… in order that his (the king’s) should not be lifted above his brethren, and that he should not deviate from the commandment to the right or to the left.

Deuteronomy 17:20

The Torah requires that even one who is in a position of leadership and prominence must retain his humility. Moses and David are outstanding examples of leaders who were extremely humble.

How can one remain humble when one exercises great authority and is the recipient of homage and adulation? “Simple,” said Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin. “If a king hangs his crown on a peg in the wall, would the peg boast that its extreme beauty drew the king’s attention to it?”

While an organized society needs leaders, and in Judaism there is a need for Kohanim and Levites who have special functions, an intelligent person should never allow a particular status to turn his head and make him think that he is better than others. Nor should men consider themselves superior to women because they have certain mitzvos from which women are exempt, and women should not think that they must attain equality by rejecting these exemptions and performing these mitzvos. There is no need to attain something that one already has. Men and women, Kohanim and Levites, leaders and kings – we are all “pegs in the wall” which the King uses for His purposes as He sees fit.

True, we should always strive for that which is above us, but this means striving for greater wisdom and spirituality, and not for positions of superiority. The latter are not at all “above” us; one peg may be higher on the wall than another, but that does not make it a better peg.

Today I shall…

…try to realize that I, like all other people in the world, am but an instrument of God, wherewith He wishes to achieve the Divine will.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 13”
Aish.com

hat-on-a-pegOur share or what is expected of us depends on which peg we are. No one, not even the King or the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) is more important than anyone else, but they still have special functions. The local village water carrier could not step in and fulfill the functions of either. For instance, in the days of the Temple, you wouldn’t see the King entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to offer atonement for the nation. Only the Kohen Gadol could do that. Not that the Priest was more important or more exalted than the King, only that his function was highly specialized.

What we do as servants of God’s Divine will depend on who we are. No one person is more important than another but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same, either.

Which brings me to this:

It is not with us, it is with Israel, and by accepting Israel’s Messiah we get to partake in Israel’s blessings. As an example, if my husband receives a family inheritance, then as his wife I would obviously partake in it too. However, it isn’t “MY” inheritance, and my receiving any benefit from HIS inheritance requires connection to him.

I don’t see God covenanting with Gentiles in the Bible, rather, we receive blessings of Israel as we draw near to them.

That was a comment made on one of my recent blog posts.

That revelation is actually very humbling. It hardly contributes to the feeling of significance of a Christian (or any non-Jewish believer) in relation to God. I have written on multiple occasions about how it is only through Israel that we have a doorway at all into any blessings from God. Without the covenant relationship that Israel, the Jewish people, have with God, we people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12), cannot be called by His Name. In fact, only three verses in the Bible create the link that allows anyone but the physical descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to have a covenant relationship with God at all:

Now the Lord said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (NASB)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but only that last sentence at the end of verse 3 creates the link. Paul’s commentary on this part of God’s covenant with Abraham brings forth some illumination:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Galatians 3:16 (NASB)

You have to read that whole chapter in Galatians and then interpret it carefully to realize that Paul was not invalidating the Torah (Law) for Jewish people, but then again, he wasn’t applying the Abrahamic covenant (or any other covenant God made with Israel) as a total unit to his Gentile audience either. He was only applying the blessing from a single condition of the Abrahamic covenant to the non-Jewish believers, as recorded in a tiny slice of Genesis 12:1-3. Misinterpretation of this part of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia has led to generations of Christians believing that they would physically have an inheritance in the Land of Israel, either replacing or at least crowding out the Jewish people.

Square Peg in a Round HoleOther misinterpretations have led many people in recent years to believe they inherit not only all of the blessings that result from God’s covenant with Abraham, but all of the covenants (and their blessings) God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Children of Israel, effectively deleting any distinction between Gentile believers and Jewish people everywhere.

Just because the Jewish pegs aren’t more important or better loved by God than the Gentile pegs doesn’t mean that just anyone can take the crown from the King’s peg and put it on their own head. Only the King is King. Only the High Priest is the High Priest. Only the Jewish people are Jewish and bear the Jewish responsibilities assigned to them by God. Only the people of the nations who are called by God’s Name are who we are and only we have the special responsibility to encourage, support, and nurture Jewish return to God and to Torah in order to facilitate the return of Messiah.

I know that by just saying such a thing, I’ve become a square peg in the world of round holes. I don’t fit in either the Christian church by having such an opinion, nor do I reasonably fit in any traditionally Jewish realm. Even Messianic Judaism doesn’t know what to do with me because I go to church, and Hebrew Roots can’t tolerate me because of the idea of not being equal sharers in, or owners of, all blessings and all covenants across the board (but isn’t equal access to God’s love, mercy, grace, and salvation enough?).

Equality but not homogeneity is an extremely difficult concept to grasp, and it’s even more difficult to live out. Believe me, I know. I strive to live it out every day. There’s a horrible temptation to see myself not only as not equal to other believers (Jewish or Gentile), but not even significant to God.

But it becomes easier when I realize that it’s not human relationships, human priorities, or human judgments that are the key, but a relationship with God.

It is better to take refuge in the LORD Than to trust in man.

Psalm 118:8

Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.

Psalm 146:3-7

Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; For why should he be esteemed?

Isaiah 2:22

That said, there are people I admire and esteem for their holiness and their knowledge, but it is hardly wise to base one’s relationship with God on what some other human being says you should or shouldn’t do. Not that there aren’t good teachers and good books to help along the way. But the buck does not stop with such good teachers and good books, and it most assuredly doesn’t stop with most of the silliness we find in most of the religious blogosphere.

Recently, Rabbi Carl Kinbar said to me:

You asked, “But if God is our teacher and perhaps ultimately, our only teacher, where can we go to learn from Him without having to endure endless layers of human filters?” Our Teacher has placed us in complex relationships with these “human filters” who sometimes have to be “endured” (as they have to endure us) but at other times inspire us (as we hope to inspire them. Not to mention our traditions, which are also marked by joy and pain.

Hopefully, we also experience those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself – moments of simplicity that do not transcend life but help direct us in the midst of its complexities and uncertainties.

love-in-lights…those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself… As Rabbi Kinbar said, we have been placed as pegs among many other pegs to sometimes “endure” each other, but also, we pegs have been placed among each other to inspire each other. True, we also sometimes discourage each other, which is often the place from which I write. That is why, as much as we pegs need to be with each other, whether I am a square peg or a round one, it is not only important, but it is vital that I seek out, that we all seek out, those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself – moments of simplicity that do not transcend life but help direct us in the midst of its complexities and uncertainties.

Everything is dependent on His will, but we must do our share. Even understanding who we are and what “share” we must do can be terribly complex. For some people it may be easy, but for many others, it only seems that way, because uncertainty and dissonance is extremely uncomfortable. Saying, “God wants me to do this” (whether He really does or not) is a lot easier than saying (and feeling) “I’m not sure what God wants so I turn to Him in my uncertainty and let His will guide me, not my own.”

I’m glad we are in the days of Sukkot. What better place to be than sitting in my sukkah, looking dimly up at the sky and the clouds, listening to the fabric of the sukkah fluttering in the breeze, seeking a very rare moment of utter love and holiness with God himself.

Good Shabbos.

5 days.

Re’eh: Choosing to Love

These concepts are relevant with regard to this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Re’eh, which begins: (Deuteronomy 11:26.) “See that I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse.” The portion continues to allude to free choice, reward and punishment: (Ibid.: 27-28.) “The blessing [will come] if you obey the commandments… and the curse [will come] if you do not heed… and go astray from the path which I have commanded.”

Moshe is telling the people that their observance of G-d’s commandments will not be a spontaneous response. Instead, they will constantly be required to make conscious choices.

Why does G-d grant man choice? To elevate him to a higher plane of Divine service. Were man’s choice between good and evil to come naturally, he would not have any sense of accomplishment. What would he have earned?

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“The Power of Sight”
from the “In the Garden of Torah” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Reeh
Chabad.org

But wouldn’t it be easier and a lot less hazardous to our souls if God didn’t give us a choice? After all, look at how badly we messed up the first choice we were ever given.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. –Genesis 3:1-7 (ESV)

Were we elevated “to a higher plane of Divine service” on that particular occasion?

On the other hand, consider this.

You are raising a young child and trying to teach him good work habits as well as basic moral and ethical principles. On top of that, like all parents, you want your child to love and respect you. You can teach your child in a couple of different ways. You can threaten to punish your child if he doesn’t do what you ask of him, or you can offer rewards if he does what you want.

This is more or less how we tend to parent children. We put them in “time out” or take some other punitive action when they make “bad choices,” and we give them treats or allowances (money) for achieving certain goals.

But what we really want more than anything else, is for our children to do what we ask of them because they love us.

I mean, what Mom’s heart hasn’t melted when their little boy gives her a card made with construction paper, glitter, and colored with crayons saying “I love you” and it’s not even her birthday or Mother’s day? He did it just because he loves her.

Even the toughest Dad, if he has a heart at all, will turn to mush when his little girl jumps into his lap, gives him a big hug and says, “I love you, Daddy.”

You’re not alive if that doesn’t get to you.

What does God want?

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 first commandment. –Matthew 22:37-38 (ESV)

God loves people and He blesses us. He desired to bless the children of Israel, not because they were the best or the brightest or the most humble of all the peoples of the earth, but because He loved them (and He loves them still). The words “bless” and “blessed” are all over this week’s Torah portion. We also see from the often quoted John 3:16 that it wasn’t just the Israelites that God loved (and loves), but it’s the whole world. God loves all of His creations. He loves all of us who have been created in His image.

Naturally, He wants us to love Him back. He provides us with blessings and curses in order to do what we do as parents for our children. To discipline us. To teach us lessons in ethics and morals. To help us understand the difference between right and wrong. But most of all, He doesn’t want us to obey him just because of the blessings and curses. He wants us to obey Him because we love Him.

Be aware of the positive attributes and behaviors of the people with whom you come into contact and help them build upon their strengths. Encouragement is a much more powerful tool for change and growth than blaming and condemning. You can bring about miracles in people’s lives if you believe in their potential.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Bring about Miracles in People’s Lives”
from the “Today’s Daily Lift” series
Aish.com

In Matthew 22:39, Jesus tells us that we can show our love to God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. We should show love to our neighbor, not because we want a reward or we fear a punishment, but because we love God and frankly, because it’s the right thing to do. Nevertheless, love brings blessings. Rabbi Touger finishes his commentary this way:

The ultimate expression of the potential of sight will be in the Era of the Redemption, with the fulfillment of the prophecy: (Isaiah 40:9) “The glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see.” In contrast to the present era, when we can see only material entities and G-dliness is perceived as an external force, in that future time, we will see directly how G-dliness is the truth of all existence.

Nor is this merely a promise for the distant future. The Redemption is an imminent reality, so close that a foretaste of its revelations is possible today. Indeed, it is already possible to see manifestations of the blessings of Redemption in the events which have occurred to the Jewish people in the recent past.

Whenever we love God by acting out that love toward others, we see not only a vision of the ultimate redemption of the world that will occur when Jesus returns, but we summon something of that Messianic redemption in the very act of being loving. This applies not only to the Jewish people but to anyone who is learning to know and love God. This is also one of the values of the Shabbat, which is a foretaste of the Messianic Age wrapped up in a single twenty-four hour period.

Love God and love others, not because you want something or are afraid of something. Love because you know what it feels like to be loved. Love because you are loved. Just love.

Good Shabbos.

 

Blessing the Nudnik

:‫גדולה שמושה של תורה יותר מלמודה – ז‬
The service of Torah is greater than its study. – 7b

After R’ Reuven Grozovsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Beis Medrash Elyon, had a stroke he was left paralyzed on the right side of his body. The bochrim in the Yeshiva had a rotation to help the Rosh Yeshiva wash negel vasser, hold his siddur and wrap the Rosh Yeshiva’s tefilin around his arm and head. To make the task an even greater challenge, the Rosh Yeshiva’s left hand would occasionally shake uncontrollably.

On one particular occasion, a new bachur was assigned the task of helping R’ Reuven, and the bochur was very nervous. He had never really spoken with the Rosh Yeshiva before. When he heard R’ Reuven wake up, the nervous young man quickly walked over to help the Rosh Yeshiva wash negel vasser. Unfortunately, R’ Reuven’s hand suddenly shook and the water missed the Rosh Yeshiva’s hand entirely. The embarrassed bochur tried a second time, but this time he was so nervous that he ended up pouring the water all over the Rosh Yeshiva’s bed and clothing. The bochur now wanted to run, but R’ Reuven was relying upon him. The third time he carefully poured the water over R Grozovsky’s hands, held the siddur while R’ Reuven said birchos hashachar and helped put tefilin on the Rosh Yeshiva. As the bochur was ready to leave, R’ Reuven called him over and chatted with him for a few moments. The bochur left a few minutes later much calmer than before after this pleasant conversation with the Rosh Yeshiva.

When the bochur retold the story to his friends in the Beis Midrash they couldn’t believe it. As far as anyone knew no one could ever remember the Rosh Yeshiva speaking while he was wearing tefilin. It became clear to everyone that R’ Reuven had made an exception to the rule in order to be able to put the mind of this young bochur at ease.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Lessons learned when attending to Gedolim”
Berachos 7

This may be a little difficult to understand, but imagine that the esteemed Rosh Yeshiva, a man who had suffered a stroke and who struggled to perform his daily prayers, who never spoke with another person while wearing tefilin, actually took the time to make an exception for this extremely anxiety-ridden young person. Usually, we think of performing acts of kindness for the sick and the infirm, but here, the infirm R’ Reuven Grozovsky extended himself to perform an act of kindness for this new bachur.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think that this is the center of what it is to be a person of faith. We simply must put forth our efforts to help others in any way that we can when we see a need.

It certainly would have been within the Rosh Yeshiva’s rights to complain and to chastise the bochur for his numerous blunders. He didn’t have to speak to him at all and he could have told others afterwards what a blockhead this young fellow was. He could have shredded this person’s already (obviously) fragile ego and everyone in that community would have probably supported R’ Grozovsky in doing so.

But the Rosh Yeshiva was a true tzaddik and for such a man, performing a cruelty would have been unthinkable.

How do we treat people?

I know, we shouldn’t treat others with disrespect and insult them since, as people who are disciples of our Master, we have been taught to “turn the other cheek” when maligned and mistreated. But what about if the other person deserves a good (metaphorically speaking) slap in the face?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:38-48 (ESV)

Jesus isn’t directing us to be doormats or to let someone beat us to a pulp, but if we’re to err, it seems as if we should err on the side of compassion and humility, even if there’s a chance we could be cheated or misused in some other way. Loving your enemy isn’t giving a flower to the guy who’s trying to shoot you. It’s showing kindness to someone who is a nudnik (pest) or other annoying or unreliable person for their own sake and for God’s.

Hard as it is for us to imagine sometimes, God loves the person who annoys us the most just as much as He loves us.

Given that I’m a blogger and that I comment on the blogs of others, I occasionally run into such individuals and the temptation is to tell them what I really think of them and feel perfectly justified in doing so.

But as you can see, that would be wrong. Sometimes it’s important to forgive others, even if reconciliation isn’t going to work out between the two of you. No, forgiving doesn’t always mean it’s wise or practical to continue a relationship, particularly if the other person is unrepentant and unlikely to stop being abusive, verbally or otherwise. But God still loves that person a great deal. How can we return hostility for hostility knowing this?

The blessing of an ordinary man should not be considered lightly in your eyes.- 7a

Tur Shulchan Aruch rules (‫ )הל‘ נשיאת כפים‬that every Kohen has a mitzvah to participate in the blessing of the people. We do not discourage a person who is known to be a rasha from joining, for this would be causing him to add evil to his already tarnished reputation. Rather, we allow him to bless the people with the other Kohanim, and we look upon his involvement no less than “the blessings of a simpleton”, which we are not to treat lightly. Tur then adds: “The blessings are not dependent upon the Kohanim, but they are rather in the hands of God.”

This final comment of the Tur needs to be understood. He already justified including the Kohen rasha in the mitzvah, for even the blessing of a simpleton is important. What additional factor is provided by concluding that everything is in the hands of God? Tur apparently understood the Gemara as did the Rashba. A ‫ הדיוט‬is not referring to an evil person. Rather, it refers to someone who is at a lesser level or stature than the one being blessed. Even Dovid HaMelech was a ‫ הדיוט‬vis-à-vis the service which the Kohanim performed in the Beis HaMikdash, and all Kohanim were ‫ הדיוטות‬vis-à-vis the Kohen Gadol.

Gemara Gem
“The blessing of a ‫הדיוט‬”
Berachos 7

A rasha is considered someone who is wicked and even criminal. Nevertheless, there are provisions for a “rasha” Kohen to say the blessings so that they do not make their evil deeds even worse.

I’m not going to try to suggest that we make ourselves or our communities completely open to people who are prone to physical, sexual, or psychological violence, but within the confines of practicality and common sense, we can at least avoid verbally bashing and slandering people we don’t like, even if they’ve mistreated us and seem unable to realize their own faults and misbehaviors in how they treat others.

It’s called “taking the moral high road.”

Yes, it was an encounter with such a person (hardly a rasha but certainly a nudnik) that has inspired this “extra meditation” today, but it was also a “backchannel” discussion about how God loves even nudniks that sealed my decision to write it. Once the sting of having my “tail stepped on” dulled, I realized it’s the right thing to do because it’s what God does for us. Even though in God’s eyes, I’m sure we are often “nudniks,” too.

Yes, I think it’s possible to love someone you don’t always like. It’s even possible to love someone you know you may never be able to speak to again. God doesn’t need to be protected from our bad moods, attitudes, and unkind words and so, if we are willing, He not only forgives us but provides for reconciliation between us. On the human level, it isn’t so easy because we are vulnerable to harmful people and even to people who have not a clue that they are a toxic element in every conversation in which they participate.

But we must remember this:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

If God can allow a rasha Kohen to participate in the blessings, then we can try to remember to bless the occasional nudnik who crosses our path. May we be blessed even as we bless others.

Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.

-Maya Angelou

Speed

Our generation has changed an amazing amount from earlier generations. In earlier times the only people who ate quickly were bandits or people in an unusual rush for one reason or another. Nowadays, we are in the era of “fast” foods. Mealtime is not nearly as formal as it once was for the vast majority of people.

Not surprisingly, when someone first learns the halachos on today’s amud he gets a big surprise. “One who leaves one domain needs to recite a new blessing?” he wonders. “What if I have something in my mouth and as I am running I leave the first domain? Do I have to remove it from my mouth and make a new blessing?”

When someone asked a similar question to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, he ruled decisively. “Even a child who has a candy in his mouth and rushes out of the domain where he made the blessing must take it out of his mouth and make another.”

On a different occasion, Rav Chaim confided that such a case had actually happened to him. “When I was a child the Chazon Ish once noticed that I rushed out of the house with a candy in my mouth. When I came back in—with the candy still ensconced in my mouth—the Chazon Ish called me over to him. He explained the halachah of changing domain. ‘You need to take the candy out of your mouth and make a new berachah every time you leave a domain,’ the Chazon Ish explained.”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“Fast Foods”
Siman 178 Seif 1

First of all, I don’t do this. Secondly, I’m not telling you to do this. That’s not my point. My point is the speed at which time or rather, the events of our lives rush past us. It’s like standing on a commuter platform waiting for the train that will take you to work to stop, only to watch is pass by just inches from your nose at 70 miles per hour.

What the heck just happened?

Yes, we live in a streaming video, microwave dinner, high-speed Internet world where everything we want and need (or think we do) is delivered super-duper fast, and if it isn’t we want to know why.

I’ll try to keep this short since I’m sure this has all been said many times before and I’ll just sound like some old duffer longing for “the good ol’ days.”

Did God design us to run at such a high-speed? Are we supposed to rush around from this event to that from birth to death, never stopping to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing in-between?

I’m just like you. I wake up too early, hit the gym for an hour, wolf breakfast down my throat, speed off to work, often working through lunch, hit the road for the evening commute, grab dinner while reading the news on the web, write or edit something, pick up or drop off someone somewhere, maybe watch a little mindless entertainment, flop in bed, get too little sleep, start all over again.

The Digging with Darren blog just retweeted (on twitter) an older topic called Daily Disciples of a Disciple which in which the “tweet” contained the words, “Does your schedule make room for discipleship?”

What’s important to you? What will you slow down for so you can take your time, pay attention, and truly experience the moment?

I mean besides TV, video, gaming, or similar activities.

While the various Rabbinic rulings and judgments take a lot of harsh abuse in Christianity and sometimes in Messianic Judaism, in some cases, I can see the point of the Sages. It may seem rather tedious and unnecessary to recite a new blessing when you leave one domain for another, but even if you choose not to do so, it teaches a lesson. If you had to slow down between point A and point B, what would you pay attention to? Would slowing down for a few seconds carry its own value? Would you have a few moments to remember God and maybe even talk to Him?