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God, Bad, and Imperfect

joseph-and-pharaohOn today’s daf we find that when Rabbi Akiva heard a compelling argument, he changed his opinion and began to teach in accordance with Rabbi Yehudah’s view.

The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, explains the great importance of admitting one’s errors. “We find in Maseches Avos that there are seven attributes of the wise, one which is to admit the truth. Who was more evil than Pharaoh? Yet when he heard Yosef’s interpretation of his dreams, he was amazed…The Ramban explains that Pharaoh was very wise and could discern broad inferences from minor hints. From this one episode, he understood the great wisdom of Yosef and nullified his own understanding to that of Yosef. He saw that Yosef was the fittest person to rule the land, not him.

“We see that the nature of a true chacham is to admit to the truth. Nothing held him back from treating Yosef as was fitting…despite the Egyptian law that one who had been a prisoner was forbidden to rule. He didn’t even check why Yosef had been placed in prison. Instead, he understood what so few with his vested interests would have grasped: that Yosef is exceedingly wise. And that it would be fitting to learn from him as a young child learns from his father. It was clear to Pharaoh that Yosef deserved to rule.”

The Alter concluded: “I have written just a little of what is in my heart on this matter, but it is enough for a wise man to understand that failure to admit the truth reveals a lack of understanding.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“There is None as Wise as You”
Chullin 128

They were not perfect men. Abraham twice called Sarah his sister rather than rely on God for protection. He married Hagar rather than wait for God’s promise through Sarah. Isaac proved his fallibility by turning a blind eye to the wickedness of Esau. Jacob is remembered for his cunning and trickery. The consistent story of Scripture is not one of exceptional men, but an exceptional God. The Torah tells us their stories so honestly that we are convinced. We feel we know these men personally. We learn that even the greatest men of faith were human. We may take comfort in that, but we must not forget the unique, spiritual greatness of the Fathers.

-from “The Greatness of Our Fathers”
Torah Portion Lech Lecha commentary
FFOZ.org

No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. If we are truly wise, when we discover that we’re wrong, we’ll admit it and turn to what is right.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that a recurring theme here is the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. Sometimes I lament of our inability to get along with each other, and sometimes I marvel at how amazingly similar the message of the Rabbinic sages is to that very special “Sage from Netzeret”. You really can’t understand Jesus unless you have some idea about Judaism, even post-Biblical Judaism.

However, there are a few pitfalls involved in “combining” Christianity and Judaism and they lead in opposite directions. Some non-Jews become so enamored with the beauty of Jewish prayer and worship, that they in effect, start worshiping Jews and Judaism rather than the God of Israel. The extreme opposite happens, too. Sometimes even intelligent and otherwise well-meaning people feel threatened by the “choseness” of the Jews and develop and deep and abiding “dislike”…OK, hatred for anything Jewish. I’m going to focus on this latter group today.

I was on Amazon a little earlier looking at a book written by Pastor Barry Horner called Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged. Here’s a bit of what the book is about:

Author Barry E. Horner writes to persuade readers concerning the divine validity of the Jew today (based on Romans 11:28), as well as the nation of Israel and the land of Palestine, in the midst of this much debated issue within Christendom at various levels. He examines the Bible’s consistent pro-Judaic direction, namely a Judeo-centric eschatology that is a unifying feature throughout Scripture.

I noticed that the book received some excellent reviews, but I also saw a significant number of rather “bad” reviews. I’m always curious when what otherwise seems like an excellent book is panned by some folks, so I took a look at the various “1-star” comments. Here’s a sample (I’ve represented the names of each reviewer with initials):

I want to be saved and how better to do that than by swearing my allegiance to the state of Israel, say shalom! While I’m at it I also promise to say nasty things about God’s natural enemies, those A-Rabs (obviously). Kudos to the author and also shout outs to Sharon, Dershowitz et al! At last I can be secure in my Christianity. –SR

Just another attempt to put together a piece of work that defends Christian Zionism. God has never been finished with Israel (His Church), no where in scripture does it speak of two different plans for the Jew and Gentiles, Christ died once for all, Jew and Gentile alike and the Church consist of both. Jesus Christ also has one bride, not two! He is married to His church, not to the physical land of Israel. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church which is the Body of believers all throughout history which are Jew and Gentile alike. –SMP

The following reviewer seems the most “intense”:

This is another wicked deception which the Judeo-Churchian system puts out in favor of the saved-by-race thesis of the Talmud of the Pharisees as reflected in Churchianity.

It is most unfortunate that John MacArthur endorsed this propaganda, but in dealing with this please keep in mind the words of Scripture and be at peace: “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thessalonians 2: 9-12.

If you refuse to love the truth, and if you take pleasure in unrighteousness, “Future Israel” is the book for you.

Jew-worship is poisonous to Judaics as well as everyone else. They are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ. Their supposed racial patrimony availeth them not, especially in light of recent scholarship which shows that the vast majority of contemporary so-called “Jews” are not descended of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but of the Khazars (cf. Prof. Shlomo Sand of Tel Aviv University, “The Invention of the Jewish People,” and Paul Wexler’s “The Ashkenazic Jews”). Hence, the concept of salvation through supposed sacred status as carnal Israel is a double dead-end and a form of Jew-hate since it gives false hope to those who fantasize that they are Jews, but are not (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). –MH

Oh my!

WalkingIt’s one thing to disagree with the position Horner takes but it’s another thing entirely to make it “personal” and to engage in sarcasm and blatant hostility. However, there has always been a lot of passion involved in the classic Christian vs. Jewish interplay across history. Although we like to think that, post-Holocaust, the church has been mending the damage and hurt in the relationship, we see that at least some individuals are continuing to nurse a heart-felt anger against Jews and Judaism, and continuing to use the New Testament as a blunt instrument in beating down the Jewish people.

Small wonder many Jews feel threatened by Christianity and, worst case scenario, see Christian outreach to the Jews as merely a disguised extension of “the final solution”. I can only hope and pray these “reviewers” don’t represent the majority of believers. They’re another reason why attending a church isn’t exactly appealing to me. I’m afraid I might actually run into one of them.

I commented on one of my recent blog posts that “Christians and Jews may be different relative to their covenant relationship with God but there are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom”, but that doesn’t mean some people can’t feel alienated or even oppressed by Jewish “choseness”. Yesterday, Derek Leman blogged on Gentile response to Jewish people based on such a sense of alienation, and while this feeling doesn’t always manifest as active hostility, it can breed an attitude of “theoretical” love for Israel while harboring suspicion and distrust of actual Jewish individuals.

It probably doesn’t help that Christians and Jews conceive of God and their duty to Him in fundamentally different ways. I’ve been reading The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, which is a collection of scholarly essays on the “historical-interpretive and culture-critical issues” relative to the rabbinic texts. I can assure you that the spiritual and intellectual foundation for a Jew’s understanding of God and the mitzvot is dramatically different from anything a Christian will learn about in Sunday school.

We tend to be suspicious of, or even fear, what we don’t understand. Christians sometimes imagine that Jews are just like Christians, except they don’t believe in Jesus (yet). They become confused and disappointed when they discover that Jews actually think about things from a different direction than Christians, at least when it comes to God, the Bible, and particularly, the Messiah. When Christians enter into what we think of as “Messianic Judaism”, they can encounter a wide variety of experiences, ranging from a group of “Christians with Kippahs”, hardly distinguishable from any church, to (in some instances) a congregation that differs little from an Orthodox shul (and admittedly, this end of the spectrum is extremely rare).

If we could distill a “perfect” environment for believing Jews who were born, raised, and educated in a traditionally ethnic Jewish world and construct a religious and worship context where they could give honor to Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah; the “Maggid” who presented as a fully Jewish, Second Temple period, Rabbinic teacher, that environment would look very, very different from anything the church has ever offered Christian worshipers. It might, in some small sense, be reminiscent of a synagogue experience Paul or Peter may have had in worshiping with fellow disciples of the Master. Most Christians, if they could go back in time, walk into such a synagogue, and pray alongside Paul, Peter, and even James, would be rather put off. It would be “too Jewish”. It would “feel” wrong”. The modern Gentile Christians in a truly “Messianic” synagogue might even say that they don’t experience the “presence of the Spirit” among the Jewish worshipers.

So what do we do? Does the church continue to hammer away at the synagogue because they’re “too Jewish” and refuse to accept Jesus? Do Christians continue to reject even those Jews who are disciples of the “Netzeret Maggid” because they won’t toss “the Law” in the nearest trash can and live like “good Christians?”

Or do we take a good, hard look at what we’re doing and compare it to who Jesus really was and is, who Paul really was and is (God is a God of the living, not the dead), and realize that by disdaining and reviling the Jew, we are doing the same to Jesus Christ.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” –Matthew 25:41-46

You may say that my quote does not fit the context but I think it does. If an Orthodox Jew, fully versed in the intricacies of the Talmud, and who had not the slightest desire to love Jesus as Messiah or God were sick or hungry or naked, would you visit him, feed him, or clothe him? If you are indeed a Christian, then you probably would. On the other hand, if you had a choice to feed a “good Christian” or a “good Jew”, then what would you do? Would you choose the starving atheist over the starving Jew because the non-Jewish atheist would be more likely to hear your witness about Christ?

Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic but I am trying to get a point across. We cannot judge modern Judaism on the basis of modern Christianity. Sure, Christianity was born out of First Century Judaism, but a lot has changed since then. Both religions have undergone a significant evolution over the past 2,000 years and trying to trace all of the various theological “morphings” would cross just about anybody’s eyes. I can’t keep up with it all.

judgingAs I was trying to say at the start of this morning’s blog, the people of God aren’t perfect. There are no perfect Jews and there are no perfect Christians. We all have our blind spots, our flaws, our personality quirks. We need to first acknowledge this in ourselves (Matthew 7:3) so we can stop being arrogant (Romans 11:22-24). Both Judaism and Islam have a proverb that says “before criticizing a man, you should walk a mile in his shoes.” This is something we don’t do nearly enough, mostly because the shoes don’t always fit and walking in them is uncomfortable.

I read a quote today that is attributed to Albert Einstein. Given the amount of misinformation available on the web, I don’t know if this is true or not, but I like the quote:

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.

We cannot judge a person, Jew or Christian, on who they are not, but only on who they are. The problem is, we need to understand who they are before we can render an intelligent opinion and especially before we can offer a compassionate response.

For every power for good in your soul, a counter-force crouches within to oppose it.

There is only one place that stands beyond assault, as it also stands beyond reason or need. It is the simple power to choose good and not bad, and it is the place where the soul meets G-d and there they are one.

In that place, where that resolute decision is made, the counterforce dissolves and dissipates. Indeed, it was created from that place, with the purpose of returning you to there.

And you have returned.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Force and Counter-Force”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

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