Tag Archives: charity

Vayikra: Drawing Closer

eph-2-10-potter-clayThe Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.

Leviticus 1:1-2 (JPS Tanakh)

The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) primarily deals with what are commonly called “sacrifices” or “offerings.” According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: a “sacrifice” implies giving up something that is of value to oneself for the benefit of another. An “offering” implies a gift which satisfies the receiver. The Almighty does not need our gifts. He has no needs or desires. The Hebrew word is korban, which is best translated as a means of bringing oneself into a closer relationship with the Almighty. The offering of korbanot was only for our benefit to come close to the Almighty.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayikra
Aish.com

Leviticus is one of the books of the Bible that many Christians can’t stand. It’s so boring. “Anyway,” we say to ourselves, “aren’t we done with all of those icky, bloody sacrifices?”

According to blogger and author Derek Leman, the sacrifices teach us a good many things about Jesus or Yeshua Our Atonement, as he titles his new book. No, I’ve not laid eyes on it yet but at some point, I’ll probably need to get a hold of a copy so I can review it. In the meantime, I’ll just have to offer what meager insights I have on this week’s Torah Portion and what it means for Christians.

The clue is in what Rabbi Packouz says about the nature of sacrifices or “korbanot” which has the meaning not so much of slaying an animal to appease God, but to bring an offering to God in order to draw closer to Him. Where else do we see this imagery?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:4-5 (ESV)

Paul calls us to be living sacrifices and Peter says to offer God spiritual sacrifices. Obviously, in neither case are they suggesting that we bring animal sacrifices to the Temple or to offer (gulp) our own bodies as physical sacrifices on the pyre, though as I once mentioned, every soul can be considered to be on the altar of God.

Peasants-Carrying-Straw-MontfoucaultWhen we connect our lives to making a “sacrifice for God,” we usually think of depriving ourselves of something, doing without, even suffering pain and torture. I can’t say that’s not what God will ask of us. After all, in China and elsewhere in the world, Brother Yun and many others like him have suffered greatly and sacrificed much for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But regardless of what God may ask of you or me, whatever it is, it’s not a matter of what we are doing without but what immeasurable treasures we gain, the greatest of which is the drawing closer to God.

Sometimes it’s not a matter of waiting around to see what God will ask. Sometimes it’s a matter of looking around and seeing what needs to be done.

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov once came to the marketplace in Yaroslav. He was passing among the vendors, checking the quality of the straw and hay for sale, when he met his friend Rabbi Shimon of Yaroslav.

“Rebbe, what are you doing here?” R. Shimon asked in surprise.

“Leave out my ‘rebbe’ and your ‘rebbe,’ and come with me to carry a bale of hay to a poor widow who had no hay or straw upon which to lay her broken body,” the Sassover replied pungently.

The two holy leaders went together, hauling a bale of hay on their shoulders. Astonished bystanders stared in wonder and moved aside to make room for them to pass.

As they went, Rabbi Moshe Leib remarked, “Were the Holy Temple standing today, we would be bringing sacrifices and libations. Now we bring straw, and it is as though we have all the kavanot (spiritual intentions) that come with offering the minchah sacrifice.”

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov’s father, R. Yaakov, would take a job before Passover grinding wheat at the mill—not for himself, though he was also a poor man, but for a widow and orphan who lived in his neighborhood. And he did this despite his great and abiding love for the Torah, which he learned constantly.

Moshe Leib, his son, followed in his father’s footsteps. Despite his greatness in Torah, he did not worry about his honor when it came to performing acts of kindness for his fellow Jew with his own hands, even if they were beneath his status in the eyes of others.

-Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles
“In Place of a Temple Offering”
from Stories My Grandfather Told Me
quoted from Chabad.org

practicing_loveWe are the closest to God when we are the closest to other human beings, especially those who have needs far greater than our own. Here we see that two men, two Rebbes who normally did not carry their own straw much less carry straw for a poor widow drew closer to God by looking around, seeing a need, and responding unreservedly. Or as the Master taught:

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12 (ESV)

Drawing closer to God is inconsistent with claiming self-righteousness, self-exaltation, and self-privilege. Servitude, humility, kindness, and a spirit willing to help with no expectation of return draws Creator and creation into close proximity. Seeking who we are in God brings us closer to God. Seeking who and what somebody else is in God as if it were our own will only bring trouble.

This is the way of Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water by measure, and sleep on the earth.

-Ethics of the Fathers 6:4

Does observance of Torah require living a life of poverty and depriving ourselves of all the niceties of the world.

Certainly not. The Talmud is elaborating upon another Talmudic statement: “Who is wealthy? One who is content with his portion” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).

People who can be happy with the basics of life – food, clothing, and shelter – can truly enjoy the luxuries of life, because they can be happy even without them. Those whose happiness depends upon having luxuries are likely to be perennially dissatisfied, in constant need of more, and consequently unhappy, even if they have everything they desire.

A wise man once observed a display of various items in a store window. “I never knew there were so many things I can get along without,” he said.

If bread and water can satisfy us, then we can enjoy a steak. If we are not satisfied unless we have caviar, we will discover that even caviar is not enough.

Today I shall…

…try to be content with the essentials of life and consider everything else as optional.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Nisan 2”
Aish.com

open-your-handAs Rabbi Twerski says, this isn’t an invitation to pursue self-deprivation, to give all our belongings to the poor, and then move to India to work with lepers. It’s not even an invitation to abandon motivation and striving to better ourselves, our incomes, and our positions in life. It is, however, an invitation to consider that after we’ve done all we can in taking care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, to look around, take stock of our environment, and to realize that we should be satisfied with the gifts of God’s providence. It is from those gifts that we give back to others and give back to God, for everything belongs to Him anyway, and who we are and what we have only exists so that we may serve Him.

And by serving God and serving others, we serve ourselves, for what we then achieve is union and belonging and closeness to who and where we came from in the first place.

Good Shabbos.

Advertisements

Weight

weightBehold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

Deuteronomy 10:14-16 (ESV)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”

Matthew 23:23 (ESV)

I’ve been reminded lately that blogging isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. No, don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere (I hear a few disappointed sighs in the background). But I agree with one of my recent critics that we need to focus on more than just words and in particular, more than just certain, oft-repeated conversations.

Usually we think of negativity – the tendency to criticize, blame, hate, fear, or be depressed – as a psychological disposition. “Some people are just upbeat; I’m not.”

It sounds as neutral as saying, “Some people are blonde; some are brunette.”

But what if you viewed negativity as a spiritual disease?

-Sara Yoheved Rigler
“The Danger in Your Head”
Aish.com

This isn’t the only message I’ve received on this theme lately.

We live in an age of addictions. I grew up hearing about drug addicts, and had a brother-in-law who died from an overdose. Other people are addicted to food, and others to alcohol. The reason for some addictions is physical, as in the case of drugs or cigarettes. Other addictions are psychological, as people seek to escape the more painful aspects of their lives. I have noticed over many years, that some people are addicted to negativity.

Like most addictions, people who are addicted to negativity mask it with the notion that they are doing something noble, or filled with righteous indignation. Indeed, there are people who are noble, and are filled with righteous indignation who seek to challenge the status quo and change society for good, like the people who fought for civil rights for various groups.

-Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman
“Addiction to Negativity”
Drschiffman’s Blog

Yeah, that describes me. It also describes some of the people who criticize me. To be fair, once we get on our white chargers and lift up our lances, we start tilting at windmills with a ferocity and obsessive determination that would make Don Quixote look like a paragon of calm and reason.

Dr. Schiffman ends his blog post by saying, “In the end, if you let them drag you down, you can’t be of help to anyone else.” When he says “them,” he means addictions, but he could just as well mean “negative conversations” or “negative people.” What he really could have said is “when you let yourself drag you down…”

Sometimes negative people come unbidden to my blog but often I really am asking for it. I’ve seen a nice, juicy windmill in the distance and it seems to just call to me, like a pint of Guinness calls to an alcoholic. So I slap on my armor, hoist myself up on my big, noble steed (no doubt with the help of an imaginary Pancho Sanza), grab my weapons, and it’s off I go to joust with ethereal foes on the fields of honor. Then I tick someone off and they come to my blog and complain at me.

So what have I accomplished?

Or more to the point, Oh duh!

Judaism always strives to make the mundane sacred. If we elevate physical acts like eating by making a blessing, then why not cleaning?

When we do ‘bedikat chametz,’ the traditional search for bread that is performed with a candle and feather, we are searching our inner selves. The wick of the candle represents our body, while the flame that always strives to aim upward is our soul. The bread (the chametz) is our own puffed up ego. It is our sense of self-importance that often blocks the soul.

So when we look in those deep, dark places for bread, we are searching our inner selves for our ego. When we find the chametz, we then burn it with the flame, symbolically purging ourselves of our ego and liberating our soul.

-Nicole Bem
“Spiritual Scrubbing”
Aish.com

cleaning-for-passoverJudaism schedules numerous events on the calendar for “spiritual scrubbing” but that schedule isn’t written very well on the Christian soul. More’s the pity.

Even having participated in Judaism and “psuedo-Judaism” over the years, I haven’t really gotten used to it. It is said that we should repent one day before we die, but since we never know when we’ll die, we should repent constantly. Christians know this but it is part of human nature to put off what we need to do until the last second. Problem is, as I’ve already said, we never know when the last second is going to tick away and expire.

What were those “weightier matters of the Law?”

  • Justice
  • Mercy
  • Faithfulness

I recently complained that bloggers representing a certain minority variant of Christianity fail to actually talk about these “weightier matters.” I’ve been told that the “ideals, theologies, and doctrines of an infant and growing movement” are more important or at least more interesting to the audience on the web than the aforementioned justice, mercy, and faithfulness. I hope that’s not true because if it is, then it’s a sad and pathetic commentary on that movement, and people consuming such material have lost their focus far more than I ever could.

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged about losing my focus that I can’t even find my previous write-up in a search. I guess that means it’s long overdue.

What are the weightier matters of Torah? Justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Many of the final exhortations of Paul’s letters also focus on these matters.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

As both Passover and Easter approach, I think it’s a good time to clean out my head, my heart, and my spirit. It’s a good time to rejuvenate myself and to focus my attention on what really matters. I can give out all the advice in the world about what I think others in the religious blogosphere should do, but that’s really meaningless. If they don’t know what God wants of them by now, nothing I can say will make any difference. However, I can make a lot of difference in what I say and do.

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

Titus 3:9 (ESV)

I really need to take this piece of advice on board, because the adherence to these “foolish controversies” just consumes the web. I think there’s a better note to write for my virtual “message in a bottle.”

In his article Love Humanity, Rabbi Noah Weinberg provides a list as a way to answer the question, Why is “Loving Humanity” a Way to Wisdom?

  • In order to realize your own potential, you have to love humanity. Their success is your success, too.
  • The more you have love in your life, the more happy and efficient you’ll be.
  • If you don’t appreciate the phenomenon of human beings, you’re missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures.
  • Loving others connects you to the world, to all facets of creation.
  • Love helps you get out of the confines of “me” and into the expansive “we.”
  • Prioritize your love. Appreciate the relative value of each virtue.
  • Realize that all human beings are God’s children.

looking-upIf I write more like this in my “morning meditations,” I probably won’t attract very many readers and probably most people won’t comment or reply (although you are certainly encouraged to…hint, hint). People usually respond when they’re upset, not when they’re encouraged (though I’m trying to change that in myself for the better). I understand the need to write blogs and papers on theology, doctrine, and dogma. I know we need to provide clarification and solid Biblical research and teaching on what we understand the Bible to be saying to us.

But beyond that, what we really need is a guide to the simple way of living and doing the Word and Will of God. Dismissing people in favor of “things” and “mechanics” isn’t doing that. After all, how much theology do you really need to understand to volunteer to play with the little ones in the church’s nursery on Sunday morning, or to visit one of the older church members who is sick and in the hospital?

Some laws are heavier than others. They require more “strength” to lift. But the reward is that when you perform the “weightier matters of Torah” on a regular basis, they become very light…and this also lightens the heaviness of your soul…and of my soul.

Terumah: Why Do You Do Good?

menorah“Take for Me an offering from everyone whose heart impels him to give.”

Exodus 25:2

Rashi, the great commentator, tells us that “Take for Me” means that all donations for the Tabernacle should be given for the sake of the Almighty. The question: What difference does it make what a person’s intentions are as long as he does a good deed?

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman clarifies the role of intentions with an illustration. Suppose there is a man who wants to ensure that every child in the community has wholesome milk for breakfast. Rain or shine he delivers milk every morning. What would you say about that man? Likely you would count him amongst the great tzadikim, righteous people, a person of great kindness.

However, what would be your opinion of the man if you knew he delivered the milk only because he was getting paid? No longer is he a great tzadik, now he is just a plain milkman.

Similarly, in everything we do. If we keep in mind that we are fulfilling the Almighty’s command to do kindness, even the mundane interactions at work can be elevated to a higher spiritual level. The bus driver is no longer just driving the bus, he is helping people get to work or to shop for their families. The deed may be a good deed with or without one’s intention, but our growth in character and spirituality depend on our intentions!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Terumah
Aish.com

I suppose you could link this back to commentary on last week’s last week’s Torah portion. In the Aish.com commentary for that week, we looked at the story of a young Jewish woman who was seeking spirituality and felt actually insulted that her Jewish teachers suggested she could find it in “the (Torah) laws regarding returning a lost item.” She abandoned her pursuit of spirituality within the context of Torah and Judaism and proceeded to India. But she found that the behavior of her guru in response to his finding a lost wallet containing a large sum of money showed her that spirituality, responsibility, justice, and mercy must all go together.

In this week’s commentary, we see that even doing what is good may not be enough if the motivation of the person performing the action is less than stellar.

But let’s take two people performing an identical mitzvah. Say both of our hypothetical people are donating food to a local food bank. They both give abundantly in money and goods and many people are fed through their efforts. The first man is primarily motivated by the desire to do good to the people of his community and to serve God. The second man is primarily motivated by the tax break he’ll receive and the recognition he’ll get from his friends and family as a “good guy.”

Which one would you say is the more “spiritual” man? Obviously the first one. But regardless of motivation, people are still fed. Even the man whose motivation is only for his self-interest is doing better to serve others than the person who has “nice, warm, fuzzy” spiritual feelings toward his neighbor but donates not even a single hour, dollar, or can of chicken soup to the food bank (or any other mitzvah).

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James 2:12-26 (ESV)

charity-tzedakahJesus said that you shall know a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:20) and every tree that does not bear good fruits will be cut down and thrown in a fire (v19). James, the brother of the Master, connects faith with actions, the latter arising from the former. Jesus tells us that our very nature is revealed by our behavior. In this week’s Torah reading, God commands Moses to “accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him,” (Exodus 25:2) connecting the nature and amount of the gift with the nature of the giver. Rabbi Packouz says that regardless of motivation, an act that helps others is still of value to those being helped, “but our growth in character and spirituality depend on our intentions!”

If all we want is a tax break and to look good to others, we can perform acts of charity and help many people…as long as we are unconcerned about our relationship with God and growing within that relationship spiritually. On the other hand, if we are trying to take our relationship with God seriously, it’s not just what we do but why we do it that matters. Human beings can only see our behavior but God sees the heart.

This should be a no-brainer, but I find that in the community of faith, we are just as vulnerable to bad motivations, bad attitudes, the desire for self-righteousness rather than God’s righteousness, and the need to “be right,” as anyone operating in the secular world. Just look at the various religious blogs and discussion boards on the web and you’ll see what I mean.

Even a casual reading of the New Testament should tell any Christian who is having trouble with this concept of what to do and why to do it. It really isn’t hard to pick a mitzvah representing “the weightier matters of the Torah,” such as donating a couple of cans of soup of chili to the food bank, shoveling snow off your neighbor’s driveway and sidewalk, or holding the door open for someone who is entering the same place right behind you because it’s what Jesus has commanded us to do.

If you find yourself paying more attention to a belief that certain “ceremonial” mitzvot are your “right” while neglecting matters of “justice and mercy and faithfulness,” (Matthew 23:23), or worse, performing no acts of charity and kindness at all thinking your “faith” is all the covering you’ll need, then you might earn the same ire from the Master as did the scribes and Pharisees Jesus was originally addressing.

There is much in the Torah of Moses for everyone and it acts as the rock upon which the Prophets, the Writings, and the Apostolic Scriptures firmly rest. However, as we see, application isn’t meaningful in a spiritual sense unless we are actually using what we know to do good to others and for the right reasons.

The words of Torah should be as fresh to you as if you first heard them today.

-Rashi, Deuteronomy 11:13

Excitement often comes from novelty, but novelty is exciting only as long as it is new. Someone who buys a car fully loaded with options may feel an emotional high, but after several weeks, the novelty wears off and it is just another vehicle.

Spirituality, too, suffers from routine. Human beings may do all that is required of them as moral people and observe all the Torah’s demands in terms of the performance of commandments, yet their lives may be insipid and unexciting because their actions have become rote, simply a matter of habit. The prophet Isaiah criticizes this when he says, “Their reverence of Me has become a matter of routine” (Isaiah 29:13). Reverence must be an emotional experience. A reverence that is routine and devoid of emotion is really no reverence at all.

Path of TorahThus, the excitement that is essential for true observance of Torah depends upon novelty, upon having both an understanding of Torah today that we did not have yesterday and a perception of our relationship to God that is deeper than the one we had yesterday. Only through constantly learning and increasing our knowledge and awareness of Torah and Godliness can we achieve this excitement. Life is growth. Since stagnation is the antithesis of growth, it is also the antithesis of life. We can exist without growth, but such an existence lacks true life.

Today I shall…

…try to discover new things in the Torah and in my relationship to God.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Adar 4”
Aish.com

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

-Lennon/McCartney
The End (from the Abbey Road album)

Good Shabbos.

Remembering Jerusalem

poor-israel…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Galatians 2:9-10 (ESV)

James, Peter, and John gave Saul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship.” They commissioned them to go to the Gentiles while they themselves continued to witness Messiah to the Jewish people. Saul says, “They only asked us to remember the poor – the very thing I also was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). How should this single caveat be understood?

It does not mean the apostles laid upon the Gentile believers no greater obligation to Torah than the commandment of giving charity generously to the poor. Saul did not say, “Only they asked the Gentiles to give charity to the poor.” He said, “Only they asked us to remember the poor.” In this context, “us” must be Saul and Barnabas.

In his commentary on Galatians, Richard Longenecker identifies “the Poor” in Galatians 2:10 as a shorthand abbreviation for the longer title that Paul gives them in Romans 15:26, where he refers to them as “the poor among the saints at Jerusalem…” Saul and Barnabas were to remember the Poor Ones of the apostolic assembly of believers in Jerusalem: the pillars, the elders, the assembly of James and the apostles.

D. Thomas Lancaster
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Va’era (“and I appeared”) (pp 362-3)
Commentary on Galatians 2:1-18, Acts 12:25

I’ve talked about charity very recently. It was less than two months ago that I discovered that some folks at the church I attend believe that Christians have a special duty to support the poor of Israel based on the following:

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:37-40 (ESV)

I was trying to describe this to my (Jewish) wife just the other day, but I’m not sure she believed me. It’s not typical behavior from many churches. On the other hand, as we see from Lancaster’s teaching on Galatians 2, there is a rather clear Biblical precedent for the Gentile believers to “remember” the poor of Israel.

OK, I know that according to Lancaster, James and the Apostolic council was telling Saul (Paul) and Barnabas to remember the poor of Israel, but look at the context. On the very heels of the council validating Paul’s mission to the Gentiles to bring them to covenant relationship with God through Messiah without requiring that the Gentiles convert to Judaism, and sending Paul and Barnabas back to the Goyim with their good graces, James, Peter (Cephas), and John added the caveat to remember the poor. How could that message then not be transmitted by Paul from the Apostolic council to the Gentiles in the diaspora?

Still don’t believe me?

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.

1 Corinthians 16:1-3 (ESV)

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints…

2 Corinthians 8:1-4 (ESV)

Which “saints” do you think Paul was taking about?

It sure looks like Paul was imploring, directing, even commanding the Gentile churches in the diaspora to take up a collection to be used as a donation to the poor among the Apostolic community in Jerusalem, even from the poor among the Gentile churches.

poor-israel2I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, I’m trying to inspire some life in the one we have, but the one we often ignore, most likely through ignorance. I said just yesterday that we translate and interpret the Bible based on our traditions and theologies. The obligation of the Christian church to support the poor among Israel has fallen through the cracks of our creaky theology for nearly twenty centuries. It’s time to fix the floorboards, firm up the foundation, and take back the responsibility that we were given by the first Apostles and the men who walked with Christ.

This does not absolve us of our responsibility to the poor of the nations, the poor of our country, our city, within our neighborhoods and our own churches. But it opens the door in our lives and in our spirits to remember Jerusalem, to remember Israel, and God’s special covenant people, our mentors, and the root of our salvation.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

Psalm 137:5-6 (ESV)

If you’re hard pressed to know where to begin, then consider visiting meirpanim.net, colelchabad.org, or chevrahumanitarian.org. That’s just for starters.

Bless Someone Today

ancient_journeyAnd there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

Acts 8:1-8

As I mentioned in yesterday’s extra meditation, the theme of last Sunday’s sermon and Sunday school teaching, based on the above-quoted scripture, was evangelism; the declaring of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world around us. This is a significant mission among most churches and is carried out to one degree or another by Christians around the world. Not every Christian stands on a street corner with a Bible in one hand and a bunch of leaflets in another preaching to everyone who passes by, but based on the Master’s initial directive in Matthew 28:18-20, all believers understand that we have a mandate to, in one way or another, announce the Gospel to people in our world.

As I mentioned, this is a significant mission among the church, but there are bodies of believers where this mission isn’t apparently being enacted.

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know I separate Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots (One Law, Two House, Sacred Name) as distinctly different religious traditions, although they have some superficial areas of overlap. And yet, these two movements seem to talk to each other quite a lot, if the blogosphere is any evidence, while all but ignoring (with certain exceptions I’ll explain in a moment) the much larger body of believers that exist on the earth today: Christians.

Beyond this, (although there may also be exceptions) there is another large population of human beings both of these movements fail to engage: everybody else.

I’ve mentioned in prior blog posts an article written by Tsvi Sadan for Messiah Journal called “You Have Not Obeyed Me in Proclaiming Liberty.” In his write up, Sadan provides a small history of how Israeli Jews have come to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah through the Evangelical church. That process is changing and more recently, other Messianic Jews are spreading the message of the Messiah to their fellow Jews in the Land, but these Jews continue to operate largely from an “evangelical” mindset. This has resulted in what we see described in a recent news article for the Atlantic as “Messianic Jews…assiduously attempting to, essentially, redeem Israel from its Jewishness.”

The “good news” of Jesus Christ is being preached to the Jews but with the Jewishness of their faith omitted or significantly watered down.

Fortunately, Sadan offers an alternative as I recently mentioned but that doesn’t address the issue of Gentiles. Then again, in today’s age, are Messianic Jews obligated to spread the “good news” to the nations as a duty with which they were charged in ancient days?

I asked that question, perhaps as long as two years ago, and received an answer that, in terms of the dynamics of the different believing communities today, the most reasonable response is “no.” Given Sadan’s article, I can see that it might be a better idea to allow actual Messianic Jews who live a completely halakhic, ethnic, and religious Jewish lifestyle to employ keruv as the method of bringing Jews near to the Moshiach. Does that mean only the church speaks to the Gentile unbelievers?

jewsI mentioned Hebrew Roots before, which is primarily a Christian/Gentile owned and operated movement within larger Christianity (although many Hebrew Roots congregations refuse to claim the church as their own and prefer to bill themselves as “Messianic Judaism,” though most of their groups cannot be defined as “Jewish” by any reasonable halakhic standard). Who do they talk to? Besides the inevitable debates between Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots rarely if ever engages in what we would typically think of as “evangelism.”

This was a source of frustration to me when I was involved in the One Law movement, but the whole system of One Law seems to be designed to approach people who are already Christians and who are, in one way or another, disillusioned with their churches. Once accessed, One Law proceeds to convince these Christians that they must take on board the total mitzvot of Torah and redefine themselves as “Messianic.” If anything, One Law, Two House, Sacred Name, and so on, are dedicated to “evangelizing” Christians to “convert” to their particular variation of “Christianity,” rather than performing the task Jesus commissioned his Jewish disciples with in Matthew 28:18-20 and doing what the Jewish disciples were doing in Acts 8:4-8.

It’s not like this hasn’t occurred to me before and it’s not like this topic hasn’t been discussed in the blogosphere before, so why am I bringing it up now?

In my Sunday school class, we talked about the general reluctance of Christians to fulfill the evangelical mission in their (our) personal lives. Sure, not all of us are going to go into the “foreign mission field” and preach the Gospel in places like the Congo, but we all live in the world, and the world is filled with people who, while they’ve heard of Jesus Christ, do not honor God and have no real awareness of His Presence. A traditional Christian might say, the world is full of “unsaved” people, but to me, salvation is just the beginning of the journey, not the whole point of existence.

If I can accept that Messianic Jews have a specific mission to address Jewish people and not the general population, and if I can accept that the church has a specific mission to address the general population, what mission does Hebrew Roots have? Do they just “feed” their own internal desires and consume their own theology and doctrine, or should they be reaching out as well? I don’t mean necessarily reaching out to take traditional Christians and recreate them in their own image, but to actually try to communicate the core message of the Gospel (Torah or non-Torah observance aside), and to “make souls for the Kingdom,” so to speak (if you can excuse the “churchy” language here).

As much as many Hebrew Roots groups denigrate and disdain the church, they seem to have left it to the church to do the “heavy lifting” of spreading the Gospel message. After all, how many One Law or Two House groups send missionaries into the Congo, to Tonga, to the Philippines, or anywhere else? How many Hebrew Roots congregations and organizations sent relief teams to Haiti after their devastating earthquake?

OK, I understand that Hebrew Roots groups are rather small and resources are limited. For that matter, the same can be said for Messianic Jewish groups. The traditional church as a whole is much larger, more organized, and better designed to render the sorts of assistance I’m talking about. I’m sure you must also be aware that Israel traditionally renders aid to other nations when disasters occur and Jewish groups provide tzedakah as a matter of course.

making_ripplesBut rather than pick on any one religious group (as I have been up until now), I’d like to suggest that whoever you are reading this and whatever sort of context you worship in, what are you actually doing for people, both in the area of giving aid and charity, and in sharing your faith with those who have no faith and hope in the world? The church sends the members of its body to visit the sick, provide clothing, medical supplies, and food to the needy and the suffering, and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the four corners of the earth. Are your groups and your people doing that too? If not, why not?

Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel of Slobodka would sometimes sit near the window of his house and quietly bestow blessings and prayers on all those who passed by.

Once when Rabbi Finkel was walking down the street, he turned toward a house and said, “Good morning.” Rabbi Finkel explained: “Most people only wish someone a good morning when they see them face to face. But even when we do not see them, we should still develop good will toward them.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #663, Bless Others”
Aish.com

I’ve mentioned many times before that I believe we Christians have a specific responsibility to bless the Jewish people. However, I also believe that all of us are duty and honor bound to bless the world.

Bless others. Bless someone today.

The Tzedakah Life

tzedakah-to-lifeThe Code of Jewish Law (YD 248) states: “Every person is obligated to give tzedakah, even the poor who themselves are recipients thereof.” Maimonides writes that nobody ever became poor from giving tzedakah. In fact, the Talmud (Ta’anit 9a) states that when you give Ma’aser properly, it actually earns you additional wealth. “Which Charities to Give to?”

-From the Ask the Rabbi series
Aish.com

The Tzemach Tzedek writes: The love expressed in “Beside You I wish for nothing,” (Tehillim 73:25) means that one should desire nothing other than G-d, not even “Heaven” or “earth” i.e. Higher Gan Eden and Lower Gan Eden, for these were created with a mere yud…. The love is to be directed to Him alone, to His very Being and Essence. This was actually expressed by my master and teacher (the Alter Rebbe) when he was in a state of d’veikut and he exclaimed as follows: I want nothing at all! I don’t want Your gan eden, I don’t want Your olam haba… I want nothing but You alone.

“Today’s Day” Wednesday, Kislev 18, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

In yesterday’s morning meditation I mentioned that Christian financial adviser James W. Rickard was a special guest speaker last Sunday at the church I attend. As I was listening to what he was saying (the vast majority of which I was quite familiar with), I couldn’t help but think of how “Jewish” it sounded. For instance, he talked about being content with what one has and quoted New Testament scripture to back it up (I don’t have my notes handy, so I can’t tell you the exact verses). And yet, how much does that echo the sages?

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated: “If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you” ; “fortunate are you” in this world, “and good is to you”—in the World to Come. -Pirkei Avot 4:1

Of course, Rickard’s “source material” is all Jewish (though he probably doesn’t think of it in those terms) so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that his financial advice and comments on charity should sound Jewish as well. For instance, he also said that the Bible does support God providing for us when we give to charity, but unlike those folks who preach a prosperity theology, he didn’t say that God would automatically return material goods and money to us in exchange for our generous giving to the church. He said that God could provide many spiritual gifts such as the ability to show abundant grace, mercy, compassion, courage, and so forth. In fact, Rickard didn’t have many nice things to say about some “Preachers” who urge their audiences to send in their “seed money” with the promise that those folks who do will become wealthy materially. In that scenario, usually the only one to become rich is the Preacher collecting the money.

But you can see that giving is a value that is shared by both Jews and Christians and that even those people who have very little can still provide something to those who have even less. It’s so hard to even think about giving when we’re in the middle of tough financial times. It seems this “recession” or whatever it is, has lasted longer than other, similar recessions of the past 20 or 30 or 40 years or so. When times are tough, the natural tendency is to reduce spending and to try to save up. kindnessOK, Americans are addicted to credit card debt, but imagine instead of being able to use a credit card, you have to hand over cold, hard cash. Now, you’ll see the reluctance to part with money that is “real” and not just a bunch of digital information traveling over a network. If all you had was cash, you’d want to save.

The simple reason I believe all people should give charity is that we are put here to serve God. Even an atheist may serve God unknowingly by giving to charity or providing some kindness to the poor and disadvantaged. If we wait for someone else to do it or for God to provide some sort of miracle to help the needy, we may miss out on the fact that God created you and me to be “the miracle.”

Lead a supernatural life and G‑d will provide the miracles. -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman “Be a Miracle” Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org

What is a supernatural life? Perhaps one composed not only of “practical” or “common sense” but one that also utilizes faith and trust in God as its tools. It’s expecting God to be more faithful to us than we are to Him, and if we’re faithful, even within the bounds of human limitation, He is certain to be abundantly faithful. This doesn’t mean spending ourselves into debt, even for the sake of charity, but it does mean trusting that investing in another human being is not a waste of resources, nor will it cause us to suffer loss. No, you can’t give five bucks to every panhandler you encounter, nor can you write five dollar cheques to each and every charity that mails or emails you a request, but you can find a particular need and choose to satisfy it.

Many people will spend themselves into debt to satisfy the “requirement” of Christmas, with all of its gift giving, social obligations, and so forth. If instead, you took a sizeable sum of the money you would otherwise spend on gifts that people probably don’t need (still gift them if you must, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant) and bought food for the local food bank, purchased and donated clothing and blankets to a homeless shelter, or donated funds to a worthy cause in the name of a loved one, how much more would your giving really mean?

acts-of-kindnessIf you are a person of faith and trust, then God will allow you to do what He considers good, but have a care. If you’re giving in order to cause God to give back to you, then your motives are shot through with holes. True, the needy will still be provided for, but you may be cheating yourself out of drawing nearer to God if what you want from Him is dollars and cents. If December seems too much like the stereotypic month to give for the sake of the Christian holiday, there’s no law that says you can’t give in January or in some other month. People get hungry and need shelter every day of the week, fifty-two weeks out of the year. And God is always there.

To a fool, that which cannot be explained cannot exist. The wise man knows that existence itself cannot be explained. -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman “The Inexplicable” Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org