Tag Archives: Canon without Closure

The Challies Chronicles: Interlude Courtesy of the Rabbis

Ismar SchorschA third-century Palestinian amora, Rabbi Hanina bar Yitzhak, posited that three common experiences are merely unripened fruit (novelet) of phenomena unknown to us: sleep (foreshadowed death), dreaming (prophecy), and Shabbat (the world to come). Hence to dream is but a faint reflection of the intensity of a direct communication from God. The Talmud speaks of the ratio of these relationships as being one-sixtieth. Together, these views of Rabbi Yonatan, Rava, Rav Hanina, and the Talmud add up to a consistent effort to limit the potency of dreams as recorded throughout the Tanakh, without fully denying the possibility of fleeting contact with the Divine.

The shift away from revelatory dreams mirrors what Rabbis had done with prophecy itself. They declared it to have ended with the destruction of the Second Temple, to be found henceforth only among “fools and children.” In a culture reconstituted around the centrality of a sacred book rather than a sacred space, the scholar outranked the prophet. Exegesis replaced prophecy as the key to determining God’s will.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Living in Two Worlds,” pg 157
Commentary on Torah Portion Miketz
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

This is another brief interruption in my Challies Chronicles series which seeks to take the live blogging of Pastor Tim Challies on John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, and use it as a platform for analysis and critique.

As I was reading Schorsch’s commentary on last week’s Torah reading, the above-quoted text jumped out at me. The essence of what Schorsch writes, that the Rabbis shifted away from certain “gifts of the Spirit” and toward a more “Bible-based” platform for understanding the revelation of God, seemed like it should be something MacArthur would agree with. Of course, the framework of Judaism would probably result in MacArthur immediately rejecting this information, since it comes from an “alien” (i.e. “Jewish”) source.

But since I stand outside of MacArthur’s own framework, I am at liberty to see the parallels. Evangelical Christianity didn’t invent this shift in perspective nor is it the sole owner of the material. It is true that Ismar Schorsch is only one author and represents the Conservative branch of Judaism, nevertheless, he is mining a rich field of Rabbinic knowledge and wisdom.

But I like what he writes next:

But neither the rupture nor disparagement were total. How could they be? The reality of God’s presence permeated every aspect of the Rabbi’s discourse, piety, and daily lives. In their religious quest, they crafted a Judaism that enabled one to live in two worlds — the material and the spiritual, the transitory and the eternal, the here-and-now and the here-after — simultaneously and harmoniously.

-Schorsch pp 157-8

Tom Pennington at Strange FireWhile Tom Pennington in my recent Strange Fire commentary acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the current world, restricting its activity only in the areas of such direct spiritual gifts as prophecy, miraculous healings, and “tongues,” I wonder if he’s saying something similar? I’m sure he didn’t mean to sound like the Rabbinic sages, and after all, much of what the Rabbis taught were in the form of midrash or commentary, not directly pulled from scripture. On the other hand, while the Strange Fire speakers present their arguments as based only on scripture, the reality of what they produced at the conference was all inferred information, so both “camps” can be accused of standing on less than absolutely solid ground.

In other words, the Strange Fire speakers have a theory that just happens to fit words in the Bible.

At the heart of their arguments, “Cessationists” exist in a world of polarity. Either you believe this or you believe that. Either the Holy Spirit always enables prophecy in human beings or it never does.

While I myself am a skeptic of many of the strange claims regarding holy vomiting (though I don’t think the practice is mainstream Pentecostalism) and other highly dramatic experiences where the Spirit of God seems to perform on command (tonight and tonight only, on this very stage…), I’m not willing to say that God is quite so rigid as to be subject to such terms as “always” or “never,” at least not as defined by mortal human beings.

I suppose that’s one reason why I’m attracted to Jewish thought. It allows God a little “wiggle room” should He decide to supernaturally act in our world in a way our doctrine doesn’t always anticipate.

Schorsch wrote, “But neither the rupture nor disparagement were total. How could they be?” How could they be, indeed. God is an ethereal substance that, once we are open to Him, we soak up like a sponge. If the Holy Spirit really in-dwells within all believers, then we are each a nexus point for a simultaneous connection of physical and spiritual reality. This doesn’t make us spiritual super-people, capable of “leaping tall buildings in a single bound,” but it does expose us to realities that a mere secular individual would be blind to.

But you have to be willing to see beyond the visible light of the universe into a spectrum that exists only in the realm of God. That’s a place we enter when we pray, a sort of doorway that leads from one room of existence to another. We can’t really enter into that other room in this life, but once we gain awareness of it, we can no longer afford to ignore it, either.

torah-tree-of-lifeWe stand in two worlds if we’re willing to see it. My beef with MacArthur’s perspective is that he seeks to define that other world in concrete and quantifiable terms when, from my perspective, the vastness of God extends far, far beyond what can be crammed into our understanding of the Bible.

If I can paraphrase the bard (Hamlet to Horatio), “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I suppose MacArthur and party could say the same of me relative to demonology, but my orientation tends to naturally seek the positive aspects of the “spiritual plane,” which in this case, is the Spirit of God.

While I always will remain a devotee of Jesus of Nazareth, I think Judaism, or certain areas of Jewish thought, does a better job of allowing God to be God, than certain areas of Christianity.

Schorach said that the Rabbis crafted a Judaism post-second Temple, that could exist in two worlds. That makes it sound like the Judaism of the Rabbis is “man-made,” a common criticism of Judaism by the Church. But did the Christian Reformation start and Fundamentalism continue to craft a different kind of Christianity than what existed at the end of the first century of the common era?

Maybe both Christianity and Judaism are products constructed as much by their “revered sages” as molded by the hand of God.

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The Unchanging Changing God

Leah and RachelSo Jacob did so and he completed the week for her; and he gave him Rachel his daughter to him as a wife. And Laban gave Rachel his daughter Bilhah his maidservant — to her as a maidservant. He consorted also with Rachel and loved Rachel even more than Leah; and he worked for him another seven years.

Jacob’s anger flared up at Rachel, and he said, “Am I instead of God Who has withheld from you fruit of the womb?” She said, “Here is my maid Bilhah, consort with her, that she may bear upon my knees and I too may be built up through her.”

When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “It is to me that you must come for I have clearly hired you with my son’s dudaim.” So he lay with her that night.

Genesis 29:28-30, 30:2-3, 16 (Stone Edition Chumash)

So Jacob marries two women, and sisters no less, and “consorts,” not only with his two wives, but with both of their maidservants as well. By today’s standards, even in progressive, secular society, this is beyond scandalous. And yet, in the ancient near east, what Jacob was going and how he was building up a family was considered perfectly acceptable.

But we don’t consider that acceptable today, and certainly not in the Christian church. Did Jacob deviate from God’s plan? Did he commit some horrible sin, some dire mistake as did his grandfather Abraham when Abraham “consorted” with Sarah’s slave Hagar (Genesis 16:1-4)? Ishmael went on to father the Arab nations, who have been a thorn in Israel’s side across history and into the present day. Did Jacob’s actions with his wives and concubines represent the same error?

Apparently not, since without the children produced by all four of these women, there would be no twelve tribes of Israel and their descendants, the Jewish people.

But how is this possible? If God is eternal and His morality is eternal and unchanging, then how can the relationship Jacob had with two wives and two concubines be approved of by God and yet be considered morally wrong and sinful today?

He answered them, Have you not read that from the beginning the Maker “created them male and female,” and it says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? If so, they are not two any longer, but one flesh. Thus, what God has joined, man must not divide.

Matthew 19:4-6 (DHE Gospels)

One FleshJesus quotes from an even older story in the Bible to define what is marriage (and what is divorce) to the questioning Pharisees, but conspicuous in his answer is the absence of Jacob, his two wives, and his two concubines. Certainly, every Jewish person hearing the words of the Master and even Jesus himself, owed their very existence to Jacob and his offspring who he sired with four women, only two of whom he had formally married. But what about “two becoming one flesh?”

And what about this?

And it was when about three months had passed, that Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has committed harlotry, and moreover, she has conceived by harlotry.”

Judah said, “Take her out and let her be burned.”

As she was taken out, she sent word to her father-in-law, saying, “By the man to whom these belong I am with child.” And she said, “Identify, if you please, whose are this signet, this wrap, and this staff.”

Judah recognized; and he said, “She is right; it is from me, inasmuch as I did not give her to Shelah my son,” and he was not intimate with her anymore.

Genesis 38:24-26 (Stone Edition Chumash)

If not for this rather scandalous act on both the part of Tamar and Judah, she would not have given birth to the twins Perez and Zerah, and Perez is an ancestor of the Messiah.

How ironic that the one son of Jacob who found his wife among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land was none other than Judah, whose name would eventually denote the progeny of Jacob that survives. In the phrase “About that time Judah left his brothers,” the verb “left” suggests not only a physical departure, but also a violation of family mores (see Genesis 38:1-2).

-Ismar Schorsch
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayetze
“Setting Aside Our Abhorrence of Canaanites,” pg 105
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

All of this suggests, even if we agree God’s morality and ethics are eternal and unchanging, that He is willing to “work with” our current traditions and customs as a means of accomplishing His plan. Otherwise, how can we explain such apparently outrageous behavior by some of the greatest men in the Bible?

Later in the same commentary, Schorsch goes on to say:

The language implies an expansion of the notion of excluded nations. It is not ethnicity that defines the seven original settler nations of Israel, but cultural mores.

-ibid, pg 106

abraham1This makes a great deal of sense, especially in the case of Abraham, who was distinguished from even his close relatives in his homeland, not by ethnicity or genetics, but by a moral and ethical code received from God as the result of “faith counted as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

As the family of Abraham progressed forward in time, it began to be distinguished and then defined by families, clans, and tribes descended from the twelve sons of Israel. Who Israel was to each other and to God was set against the national backdrop of the people groups surrounding them. But then, time continues to pass and circumstances radically change.

By the time the Pharisees and Rabbis, Ezra’s spiritual heirs, came to power after the destruction of the Second Temple, Judaism had become a missionizing world religion, constituting as much as one-tenth of the population of the Roman Empire. To maintain the deuteronomic legacy, especially in Palestine, would have severely impeded access to Judaism for prospective converts in a world turned cosmopolitan. Who could be sure that an interested gentile was not a descendant of one of the proscribed nations?

-ibid

I know people in the community of Jesus faith who discount the validity of conversion to Judaism because it is not presupposed in the Torah, as if closure of Torah canon constitutes closure of the will of God. My recent commentaries on Pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference have shown me (not that I was unsure of MacArthur’s opinions before this) that he closes Biblical canon with a bang at the end of the Book of Revelation and declares that the Holy Spirit isn’t in the business of working miracles or even talking to people anymore.

And yet, even within the Biblical canon, we see time and time again how God, unchanging and eternal God, seems willing to adapt how He interacts with human beings across the varied mosaic of history in order to accomplish His ultimate goal of reconciling man to Himself and ushering in the Messianic age.

I’ve been struggling more than a little with trying to reconcile the Jewish Torah, Prophets, and Writings, which Christians call collectively, the “Old Testament,” with the later Christian scriptures or the “New Testament.” Even though the books of the Tanakh represent a widely diverse set of writing styles and writers, it yet preserves an overall Jewish “flow” of prophesy aimed at the national redemption of Israel, and the restoration of God’s physical rule on Earth and among all the nations. The Christian interpretation of the later writings shifts the focus away from national Israel and the Jewishness of Yeshua faith, and makes it all a story about God’s plan for personal salvation of all people in a single, homogenized group called “the Church.”

But “the Church” is never mentioned in the Tanakh. If the Bible is supposed to be a unified document, Torah, Prophets, Writings, Gospels, Epistles, Apocrypha, then I would expect that overarching Jewish flow of prophesy to be seamless and unbroken across the “Testaments.”

But it isn’t.

DHE Gospel of MarkHowever, is the fault the document we have that we call the Bible, or is it how different groups interpret it? Certainly Christians see the “Old Testament” in a radically different light than Jews see the Tanakh.

Is my search for Biblical reconciliation and the face of the One, Living God across all history doomed to failure? Is there no way to understand an adaptive God and yet find Him eternal and unchanging in all of the pages of the Bible?

Frankly, one of the only places I’ve been gaining traction so far in my quest is by watching and reviewing the different episodes of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) television series (available for free viewing online) A Promise of What is to Come. That’s because this program is written and formatted to present familiar concepts in Christianity, such as the Gospel Message, the meaning of the title “Messiah,” repentance, and the parables of Jesus, all from an exclusively Jewish perspective.

The key to understanding the Bible, all of it, is to put yourself in the place of the original writers and especially of the original audience. What were the first century Jewish readers of Matthew’s Gospel supposed to take away from his message? What is “the Good News” from an ancient Jewish point of view? Is the Jesus Christ of the Christian Church really the Jewish Messiah, Son of David we see prophesied by Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah? Is there some way to make sense of how God seems to change His methods and motives based on changes in ancient (and modern?) cultural mores, and still to recognize that He is One God, a single, unified, creative, entity?

In an ultimate sense, the great Ein Sof God of the Universe is entirely unknowable. How can the small and finite know the limitless infinity?

And yet, God gave us a Bible written in human languages by inspired human beings to other human beings in need of inspiration so that we can know Him. God wants us to know Him and to draw close to Him. We read how Abraham drew close to God. We read how the God of his father became the “Dread” of Isaac. We can see how God turned the fugitive son Jacob into Israel, the father of an empire.

And we can read how one, lone, itinerant teacher changed the course of the world through his teachings, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension to the right hand of Glory.

walkingThe search for God is not a search for an ultimate answer that once we possess it, we may rest in our knowledge and sit assured in our complacency. It is a never-ending process, a trail winding through the mountains, a sea without a shore, a lifelong journey of ever greater discoveries and an ever closer walk with our God.

There is an answer, just as there is a final peace, where each man will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one will make him afraid (Micah 4:4). But that time has yet to come. And until he comes again, we remain a traveler without a home, a bird without a nest, eternally walking, eternally in flight, until home comes to us in the Kingdom of God.

May Messiah come soon and in our day.

Without Faith and Grace

leaving_edenJudaism and Christianity parted company over how to read these few spare chapters in universal history. For the Church, the Garden of Eden became the soil for the doctrine of original sin. In their waywardness, Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, fell hostage to the domain of the devil. The narrative bespoke the immutably depraved condition of human nature. To know the Torah was not sufficient to do it. In the words of Paul, “In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive that there is in my bodily members a different law, fighting against the law that my reason approves and making me a prisoner under the law that is in my members, the law of sin.” (Romans 7:22-23) Not human willpower then but divine grace alone in the person of God’s own Son who had died on the cross could hope to break this vicious cycle of human malice.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Teshuvah in Place of Original Sin,” pp 34-35 (October 16, 1999)
Commentary on Torah Portion Noah
from the book Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

I know we’ve already read Torah portion Noah this year, but as I’ve been working through the commentaries in Schorsch’s book each week, I’ve been taking notes of the more compelling articles. For each Torah Portion, there is a small but powerful collection of Schorsch’s writings which he composed over a number of different years. Going over this collection is like opening his mind and listening to Schorsch musing on how he encountered each Parashat across each annual reading cycle over time.

I’m also grateful that this book includes his thoughts on Christianity and comparisons to Judaism, not because I’m trying to “shoot down” Christianity (or necessarily Judaism), but it’s helpful to have an intelligent mind discuss my faith from the “outside.” Like my conversations with my Pastor, it hones my ability to look at my own beliefs, especially when they’re challenged, and discover if I truly know and can explain why I have the faith I possess in Jesus as Messiah.

It’s a steep learning curve sometimes and I can hardly claim to have all of my ducks in a row, so to speak. However, I can say that the ducks are lining up in a somewhat more orderly fashion than they have in past years.

Original sin vs. the Jewish understanding of “the Fall” makes for interesting reading. Judaism in all its different modern streams, is not going to consider the need for a spiritual savior (though Moshiach is considered the redeemer of national Israel in Jewish thought, generally speaking). The Torah is accepted as sufficient, and always has been, to negotiate the Jewish relationship with a perfect God.

That’s hard for me to believe since no man can obey the commandments perfectly, and the Tanakh is a blatant record of that fact. The New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 starting in verse 27 promises that the covenant once written on stone tablets and scrolls made of animal skin will, in future times, be written on the heart, thus the “disconnect” between the desire for Holiness in man and the imperfection of living out that Holiness will cease to exist. Man and God will have a far more intimate relationship in those days than we enjoy in the present, or at any point in the past.

Gateway to EdenBut for Christianity, Jesus is the arbiter of that covenant, the gatekeeper, the doorway, and only by a profession of faith in him and the resultant transformed life, can man access the New Covenant of God. After that perfect writing of the Torah on a circumcised and human heart of flesh, can man perform the mitzvot with complete fidelity and with true justice and righteousness. Prior to that event, Christian or Jew, no man obeys God in the manner God desires, or for that manner, even in the manner we ourselves would wish.

In my own approach to a closer walk with God, I find myself slowly moving in a direction, but then, the tether that binds me to the habits of the past snaps me back like a rubber band that has been stretched just a little too far…and it stings.

It is not until we come to the late and marginal Book of Jonah that we first confront in full view the idea of teshuvah, repentance, as efficacious. Nor is it an accident that we read all of it in the synagogue on Yom Kippur afternoon, for Jonah encapsulates the essence of the day: that atonement, resolve, and initiative can get us beyond the impediments of our past and ourselves.

-Schorsch, pg 35

For all of the prophets of Israel we see in the Tanakh (Old Testament) who implored that nation of God to abandon her sin (which she regularly failed to do), only the Gentile city of Nineveh heeded a reluctant prophet and turned away God’s “evil decree.” It wasn’t permanent, of course, and later down history’s road, Nineveh sinned and fell, but consider how many times (if you can) that Israel too listened to the words of the prophets and averted disaster.

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

Matthew 23:37-39 (NASB)

The Master’s commentary on the matter is plain and dismaying. And yet, I heard one person tell me that if Israel had turned away from their sins and returned to Torah and God in the days that Jesus walked the earth, the Messianic Age would have come and flourished even in that very instant.

The world is waiting for Israel’s national repentance, without it, Messiah will not come and both Israel and the nations continue to suffer from our own folly.

Schorsch would say that the story of Jonah and Nineveh tells us that human beings can, in and of ourselves, hear the warnings of God, repent in sincerity, and the result is that God’s promise of destruction will be averted. But without Messiah, how were Nineveh’s sins forgiven? They certainly weren’t Israelites. History doesn’t record that they sent representatives to Jerusalem to offer the appropriate sacrifices for guilt and sin (and we know that the sacrifices of Gentiles were accepted in the Temple, even in the days of Jesus).

Jonah's KikayonOnly God’s grace can explain why Nineveh survived when they repented. God is an “either-or” engine or sorts. “Either you repent and I will spare you, or you keep sinning and I will destroy you.”

This may also explain why, when they were faithful, when they did obey God, when they did perform the mitzvot, however imperfectly, and offered the required sacrifices, that is required by God, in the Temple in atonement for that imperfection, God chose to respond to sacrifices and the blood of goats and bulls, by sparing Israel, forgiving the apple of His eye, cherishing His often wayward bride.

On the basis of this small book, the Rabbis softened their understanding of the divine-human relationship with a large dose of compassion. God stood ready to forgive and humans had the capacity to grow. Thus Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus in the early second century proclaimed:

“Repent one day before your death.” When his students asked him how one might know that day, he replied: “Then repent today for you might die tomorrow.” (Avot DeRabbi Natan, ed. Schechter, page 62)

In other words, each and every day, and not just Yom Kippur, was suitable for repairing one’s ties to God.

-Schorsch, pp 35-36

Such is true of the Christian as well, and more so, since we do not have a traditional day in our religious calendar set aside specifically for repentance and “repairing one’s ties to God.” If anything, we are rather casual about the whole affair, for we are taught that once we were saved at some altar call or camp meeting, our place in Heaven is assured. We can never again fall from God’s hand.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

John 10:27-30 (NASB)

That’s quite a promise, but I still say we should not rest on our laurels so comfortably, for the Master also said this:

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

Matthew 24:9-13 (NASB)

FallingTo “fall away” means we must have some place to fall from, in this case, from our faith in God (and I didn’t fail to notice that those “falling away” did so during the great tribulation). This does not seem to be the illusion of faith or describing those people who are not among the elect (for the Calvinists among you), but those who were in the Father’s hand at one point, who will fall away because lawlessness increased, their love grew cold, and they listened to false prophets.

We must always be alert and cautious. Like Nineveh, when we see the warning signs and hear the voice of God calling to us to beware lest we perish, we should respond immediately and “don sackcloth and ashes,” so to speak, declare a time of fasting and mourning, even if it is only with our own individual soul, and turn back to God, rather than risk falling from His hand down to the depths of despair.

In short, the rabbinic concept of teshuvah rested on deeds rather than on faith, on the discipline of Torah rather than on divine grace. Its implicit optimism about the correctability of human nature tempered the near fatalism that darkened the original meaning of Genesis.

-Schorsch, pg 36

I couldn’t disagree more.

First of all, Nineveh was redeemed for a specific time, but we have no indication whatsoever that it never returned to sin (and knowing the nature of human beings, I believe it must have returned to that dark place) and was forever redeemed as a city before God. Repentance, teshuvah, is not a single act that once accomplished, is accomplished forever. We have Christ’s warning that we can fall away. True, no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hands, but that doesn’t mean we can’t “bail out” on our own accord. We cannot be dragged unwillingly from the presence of God, but we can wantonly walk out of our own free will, thumbing our nose at the Divine in a suicidal gesture right before our final exit.

Schorsch says that human beings have pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and effectively refrain from sin, but again, the Tanakh is the witness against him (and against us all). Also, if the Covenant of Moses was sufficient forever in an unratified form, why does God promise a New Covenant, with the Torah not written externally, but inscribed internally across the fabric of our hearts (and please keep in mind that the content of the previous covenant remains unchanged, only the “material” upon which it is written does)?

I don’t know if I completely buy the classic Christian interpretation of the events in Eden, but I do believe that no amount of human effort, all by itself, will ever pay the debt we owe to God for our willful rebellion. From Adam in the beginning and down across each generation, we have failed God, and laughed at God, and denied God again and again. Even the best among us falls short, as Paul said (referencing Psalms 14 and 53), there is no one righteous, not even one of us…ever (Romans 3:10-12), apart from the Master himself.

dust-and-ashesWith much respect to Schorsch and his commentaries, which I enjoy very much, we cannot possibly walk the walk without both faith of the heart, and the grace of a most merciful God. Without both faith and grace, our repentance would be a faint and temporary glimmer in the dark, and we would all meet the ultimate fate of historical Nineveh well passed Jonah’s intervention, and the fate of all the “great cities” that have risen and crumbled to dust across the vast corridors of time.

Divine grace is certainly necessary, and no human being can even come close to “meeting God halfway,” so to speak. But we are still required to change directions, to face away from our sin and to turn toward God. Once that’s accomplished, often with God’s insistent “prodding,” then and only then do we have life, and the will to live it in obedience.

Sukkot: From Sticks and Leaves

Under the sukkahYou won’t find any intimacy with G-d by keeping the so-called “Noahide laws”. If all you need is to be ethical then you don’t need the Bible. Everyone has a conscience and already knows how to be ethical.

But the Tanak says that G-d wants more than ethical followers–He wants INTIMACY with us. The prophets all say that the Gentiles will be joined to G-d and joined to His People (Israel), that they will flock to Jerusalem/Zion to learn the Torah, they will keep Shabbat, Sukkot, etc. Have you read Isaiah 56, Isaiah 2, Micah 4, Joel 2, Amos 9, etc, etc?

Here’s something else: you will FAIL to keep the Noahide laws, which means you NEED atonement. As it happens, tonight is Yom Kippur so it’s a good time to consider how you have no atonement unless you accept Yeshua. Your Orthodox friends have deceived you but you need to realize that Yeshua is G-d. Thus, to deny Yeshua is to deny HaShem. That’s it! There’s no way around it!

Shalom,

Peter

-from a comment on
orthodoxmessianic.blogspot.com

The High Holy Days don’t play to our strength. The extended services put a premium on prayer, an activity at which we are no longer very adept. Yom Kippur asks of us to spend an entire day in the synagogue immersed in prayer. But we find it easier to believe in God than to pray to God.

-Ismar Schorsch
Commentary on Yom Kippur
“Why Pray? To Help Us Hold Up the Heavens,” pg 660
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Why am I starting a blog post about Sukkot by quoting people talking about Yom Kippur? Patience. The answers are coming.

I don’t often engage Peter, especially by referencing his home ground (his blog). There is a great deal about which we disagree and endless rounds of “head butting” have produced nothing but bruises and headaches. I can do without both.

Occasionally, however, he makes a good point, such as saying that simply engaging in ethical behavior for its own sake or imagining that it is only what we do that pleases God misses the point. As Professor Schorsch points out, in the end, it’s our engagement of God on God’s own terms, in prayer, devotion, supplication, and “brokenness” that forges a relationship and helps to deepen the bonds between mankind and our Creator.

But Peter also misses the point in imagining that a Gentile going beyond the Noahide laws and attempting to keep the full 613 mitzvot as the Jewish people are commanded somehow will make the difference. Does keeping the Torah mitzvot (a much longer list of activities than the Noahide laws), in and of itself, foster intimacy with God and spiritual growth within our souls? Didn’t Peter say something about atonement and a believer’s relationship with God?

Dependence is part of the human condition, of which we are also reminded by the fragile nature of the sukkah itself. Our feelings of thanksgiving and anxiety, of uplift and unease, are united by the inescapable sense of how subordinate we humans actually are to God’s will.

-Schorsch
Commentary on Sukkot
“An Undertone of Angst,” pg 674

Not all sages agreed, however, that sukkot were huts. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus early in the second century contended that the protection came in the form of a divinely provided cloud cover (ananei kavod). That is, for the duration of their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Israelites were fed by manna and sheltered by clouds, beneficiaries of a caring God.

-ibid, “Huts of Clouds?” pg 683

rainningWhile Judaism richly interweaves faith, prayer, and mitzvah performance, it is still less what we do than who we depend upon in our weakness as human beings, as if a Christian (non-Jewish believer in Jesus), by either wearing or not wearing tzitzit periodically during prayer, or even continually during waking hours by donning a tallit katan, will cause God to grant or withhold favor, blessings, and intimacy. If I fail to wear tallit and tefillin in prayer or refrain from building a sukkah in my backyard this year, will God frown upon my Christian soul if I choose to approach God in earnest prayer, with supplication, with a wounded spirit, and a broken and contrite heart? Is it only prayer, devotion, and tzitzit and sukkah construction efforts that create the “magic” combination and gets God’s attention?

This year, as in past years, I have built my little sukkah (it’s a kosher sukkah kit my wife and I ordered from Israel some years ago), but I didn’t build it because I thought that not doing so would result in my being sent to Hell without so much as a pitcher of ice water and an electric fan. I didn’t even do so because I thought God would withdraw his lovingkindness from me if I didn’t. I didn’t even do so because there’s a commandment in the Torah to build and live in a sukkah for eight days.

That’s not the point.

But I didn’t say that Christians are to totally refrain from all of the Torah mitzvot either. In fact, Christians who show true fruits of the spirit and authentically transformed lives actually do observe many, perhaps most of the Torah mitzvot, which in part, was the intent of the Jerusalem Council’s letter to the Gentiles we see recorded by Luke in Acts 15. We just don’t adopt those practices that have been given specifically to Israel, the Jewish people, because being people of the nations who are called by God’s Name (Amos 9:11-12) doesn’t make us Jewish or Israel.

I build a sukkah every year for two simple reasons. One, because my wife and children are Jewish and as the head of my family, it is my responsibility to build a sukkah for them, supporting and encouraging their Jewish Torah observance. Two, because, as Professor Schorsch says, building a sukkah illustrates the vulnerability all human beings experience in a universe created by God, and how we very much depend on Him for shelter from the elements and even for every single morsel of food we need to sustain our lives.

You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 145:16 (NASB)

It may have been huts or tents and not literally clouds that spared the Children of Israel from wind, and rain, and harsh desert heat for those forty years in the desert, but the handiwork of man only goes so far. After that, only God can protect and nurture.

In short, grace in Judaism is not undeserved. If we take the first step, God will meet us more than halfway.

-ibid, “Creating Settings of Holiness,” pg 682

rain_on_meI agree, we (not just Jewish people, but everyone in relationship with God) cannot be inactive in God’s grace, and in fact, God expects us to actually do something in participation with Him, but it’s God who does the heavy lifting and in the end, even if we fail completely in our attempts to interact with His Holiness, He is more than gracious enough to meet us, not only more than halfway, but all the way, as we crawl and bleed into the desert sand, in order to lift us up, hold us lovingly, and shelter us from harm.

For it is obvious and known that nothing we can do in and of itself can “force” God to draw nearer if it is against His Will. Our deeds are not righteous, and though He greatly desires obedience, it is not obedience that “makes” God become intimate with us or shelter us from the storm. It’s the fact that in the eyes of God, we are more helpless than newborn babies, unable to do anything for ourselves, as measured by an infinitely powerful and Holy God. It is only out of grace, mercy, and even pity that God takes the fragile sticks and leaves we build from our lives and makes them capable of withstanding even the mightiest of hurricanes.

This year, Sukkot begins tonight at sundown.

Chag Sameach Sukkot!