Tag Archives: covenant

Loving Yourself: A High Holidays Primer for Non-Jews

There is a Midrash (a commentary on the Five Books of Moses in the form of a parable) about a successful businessman who meets a former colleague down on his luck. The colleague begs the successful business man for a substantial loan to turn around his circumstances. Eventually, the businessman agrees to a 6 month loan and gives his former colleague the money. At the end of the 6 months, the businessman goes to collect his loan. The former colleague gives him every last penny. However, the businessman notices that the money is the exact same coins he loaned the man. He was furious! “How dare you borrow such a huge amount and not even use it? I gave this to you to better your life!” The man was speechless.

Likewise, the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves, to enhance our souls by doing the mitzvot (613 commandments). It is up to us to sit down before Rosh Hashana and make a list of what we need to correct in our lives between us and our fellow beings, us and God and us and ourselves!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Nitzavimm (Deut. 29:9-30:20)
Aish.com

shofar-rosh-hashanahRosh Hashanah begins Sunday evening, October 2nd, which is only a few days away. This has pretty much zero meaning in normative Christianity and immense meaning in normative Judaism, as well as in Messianic Judaism and some corners of the Hebrew Roots movement.

One of my readers, ProclaimLiberty, who is a Messianic Jew living in Israel, has suggested that Sukkot might serve for Gentile Messianic believers as a better holiday to observe what Jews typically practice during the High Holidays. Perhaps he’s right. Certainly Zechariah 14:16-19 has much to say about this.

In my own circumstance, I don’t plan to commemorate the High Holidays. I don’t doubt my wife will attend synagogue, but for personal reasons, I choose to make those observances within myself.

I hadn’t planned to blog again on this topic. My previous blog post The Month of Elul and the Gentile Christian has gained a lot of traction and the conversation is up to 53 comments as of this writing. But then I saw the quote from Rabbi Packouz’s recent article and was reminded of the “Parable of the Talents” we find in Matthew 25:14-30. I’m certainly not suggesting a direct parallel. Rabbi Packouz would not have considered referencing the Apostolic Scriptures, and the classic Christian interpretation of the parable doesn’t touch upon the above-quoted midrash, but I want to play a game.

Specifically, I want to play a game of pretend. I want to pretend that the parable can have multiple, metaphorical meanings. Let’s just pretend that we can apply the commentary by Rabbi Packouz to the Parable of the Talents and say one of the things God does not want is for us to waste our very lives.

Let’s just say that one of the things that Yeshua wants us to make use of is God’s investment in our own personal value.

In the comments section of my blog post on Elul, it has come up multiple times that Gentiles in God’s economy have less value, perhaps much less value than Jews. I don’t necessarily believe this, but any non-Jew who has been around the Messianic Jewish community long enough can get the impression that, based on the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in all of the covenant promises of God, including the New Covenant, we don’t count for much.

So, to again quote R. Packouz, let’s just pretend that relative to being human, whether we are Jewish or Gentile, “the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves…”

Since the 613 commandments aren’t applicable to us, it becomes a bit if a head-scratcher as to what we are supposed to do to improve ourselves, but that’s only if we aren’t paying attention. Many of the things that Jews do to improve themselves are available to everyone.

tzedakahGive to charity, pray, volunteer your time at a local foodbank, and generally act toward others in a kind manner, even when you have to go out of your way to do it.

It is said that the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40) are to love the Lord your God with all of your resources and to love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments are just big containers that hold lots of other commandments, some having to do with your relationship with God and others with your relationship with human beings.

The point is, God gave each and every one of us our lives and He expects us to do something with those lives. Not just with specific talents or gifts, and not just with money, but with all that we are. Going out, we should be better people than we were when we came into this world.

We Gentiles who are in some manner associated with the Messianic movement or at least the Messianic perspective often complain about our status, as if the Jewish people have it all sewn up. I don’t think that’s the case. I think we get so busy being involved in our own angst, that we can’t see beyond it.

I read an article in the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish called Synagogue Dues: Pay to Pray? The Jewish person asking the question is upset that Jews should have to buy a ticket or a membership to a synagogue in order to enter and pray on the High Holidays. He’s so upset that he’s deliberately boycotting the holidays.

The Aish Rabbi responds in part with this:

I must say, however, I’m surprised by your reaction to this whole situation. Who are you ultimately hurting by boycotting the holidays? Instead of saying: “That blasted synagogue! I’ll teach them a lesson and defile my soul with some bacon!” Why not say: “I’ll start my own synagogue and the policy will be free seating on High Holidays for those who can’t afford tickets.”

It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive. Proactive means making your own reality happen. Reactive is allowing other people’s shortcomings to hurt you. Judaism is a religion of action. So let me know when you start that synagogue. It’ll be my honor to pray with you there!

There may be some difficulty in defining the roles and duties of Gentiles who have chosen to become part of a Messianic Jewish community, but make no mistake, no Messianic Jewish person, no matter what their position or education, can interfere with your relationship with God.

If you feel there’s something about Messianic Judaism or some Messianic Jews that devalues you as a creation of God and a devotee of Yeshua, that may be your problem and not their’s. Even if an individual Messianic Jew (or anyone else) attempted to persuade you that God thinks of you as sloppy left overs compared to Jewish people, that simply is not true.

awareness-of-godA friend of mine is fond of saying, “Do not seek out Christianity, and do not seek out Judaism. Seek out an encounter with the Living God.”

If you’re here, that means God wants you here, and he expects you to fulfill whatever roles and tasks He has assigned you. Your job, our job, all of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, is to seek out what we are supposed to do and then to do it.

I believe the first task is to truly embrace the fact that God loves us and wants us to appreciate that love, not only by loving God but by loving ourselves. How can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we don’t love and value our own existence first?

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The Non-Covenant Relationship with God

One of the difficulties…that Christian theologies have not really grasped, is that Rav Yeshua’s gentile disciples don’t actually participate in any covenant whatsoever. Perhaps that is why they invent fictitious covenants. What they have instead of a covenant is an individually-based responsibility to rely on HaShem’s unchanging character and graciousness. They must trust HaShem Who wishes all humanity to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, as Rav Shaul wrote to Timothy in 1 Tim. 2:3-4. They, and their children, and their children’s children, each must approach HaShem as trusting individuals. They may pass to their children a heritage of knowledge about how to trust HaShem, but each must choose to embrace and employ that knowledge afresh in their own lives. They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant with HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

-ProclaimLiberty
from one of his recent comments

I’ve written about the “connection” (or lack thereof) between Gentile believers and the New Covenant many times before, and I agree with ProclaimLiberty (PL) that we non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) are not named participants in the New Covenant (see Jer. 31, Ezek. 36), and thus we have no stake in those covenant promises.

That might come as a shock to some of you.

MessiahBut through Hashem’s grace and mercy for the human race, He has allowed any of us who attach ourselves to Israel through our Rav to benefit from some of the blessings of that covenant.

We know that Hashem wants all human beings, not just Israel, to come to a knowledge of Him, to become His servants, to worship Him alone as the God of Israel:

That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Isaiah 45:23 (NASB)

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Romans 14:11

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:3-4

These are just a few scriptural examples illustrating God’s desire for all people, both Israel and the nations, to be devoted to Him.

But what PL wrote made me think. The Jewish people are collectively Israel, and the covenants apply to all Israel. Yes, each individual Jew has his or her own responsibilities to fulfill under covenant, but ultimately, God doesn’t covenant with each individual Jew, but with all of them, past, present, and future.

A Jew is the only person to be born into a covenant relationship with God whether he or she wants to.

Not so with the rest of us.

NoahExcept for the Noahide covenant, which Hashem made with all living things, we are born into no relationship with God at all. If we want a relationship with Him, we have to choose that for ourselves and then act on it (not that the Spirit of God can’t send us certain “prompts”).

Good thing we have free will to make that choice.

But then I thought about the “Church,” which is something of an artificial construct, so I dug back into the concept of the “ekklesia”.

Nearly two years ago, in a fit of insomnia, I started exploring the meaning of ekklesia:

noun, plural ec·cle·si·ae [ih-klee-zhee-ee, -zee-ee] Show IPA .

1. an assembly, especially the popular assembly of ancient Athens.

2. a congregation; church.

Origin: 1570–80; < Latin < Greek ekklēsía assembly, equivalent to ékklēt ( os ) summoned ( ek- ec- + klē-, variant of kal-, stem of kaleîn to call, + -tos past participle suffix) + -ia -ia

Also:

— n , pl -siae
1. (in formal Church usage) a congregation
2. the assembly of citizens of an ancient Greek state

[C16: from Medieval Latin, from Late Greek ekklēsia assembly, from ekklētos called, from ekkalein to call out, from kalein to call]

the crowdI tend to think of the ekklesia in its broadest sense, as that world-wide body of people, Jews and Gentiles, who have answered the call of Rav Yeshua to follow his teachings and draw nearer to Hashem. For Jews, this is the next “evolutionary” step or the next logical extension of their covenant relationship with Hashem, since Rav Yeshua is the mediator of the New Covenant.

For non-Jews, we are allowed to draw near to Israel and be “grafted in” (and being grafted in to the promises doesn’t make us Israel) to stand alongside Israel within the body of the ekklesia so that we can benefit from many of the blessings of the New Covenant.

Here’s where things get blurry.

PL describes we non-Jews as coming to Hashem through Rav Yeshua individually. It is true that in the Church it’s said that “God doesn’t have grandchildren.” This means that even if you are a Yeshua-disciple, your kids may not be. They don’t inherit a relationship with God  just because you have one.

This is the exact reverse of a Jew’s covenant relationship with Hashem. When Jewish parents have a child, that child does inherit a covenant relationship with Hashem by virtue of the fact that he or she has Jewish parents (or a Jewish mother in the case of my children).

As non-Jews, one-by-one, we come to faith and trust in Rav Yeshua and it is our custom to gather together with other individual non-Jewish believers in a congregation to worship and fellowship. In and of itself, a “church” is an expression of part of the world-wide ekklesia, the larger body of Jewish and Gentile believers.

PL said of we non-Jewish disciples:

They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant with HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

synagogueI believe this is true, but it’s still difficult to reconcile with emotionally. Reading this statement, makes me feel disconnected and unattached.

I know my attachment is symbolic and metaphorical, even though it has real, tangible results, but it draws a sharp distinction of what happens when Jews gather together in a synagogue on Shabbos, and what happens when Christians come together in church on Sunday.

The former are bound not only to each other but to Hashem by covenant, a formal, specified, and direct relationship between Israel and their God. We “Christians” voluntarily covenant with each other and are beneficiaries of the kindness of the God of Israel, though we have no formal relationship with Him.

It made me realize just how fragile that relationship is.

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:22-24

I believe being born into a covenant relationship with Hashem has a cost. If you are Jewish and choose to disregard the covenants and your responsibilities relative to them (Shabbat, kosher, davening, tzedakah, and so on), I believe that at the judgment, there will be consequences. None of my children are even slightly religious and my wife’s observance is “so-so” and I worry about that.

As far as being “natural branches,” I don’t know their state at present. But I do know that even as they are, they are still members of the covenants simply because they’re Jewish.

ShabbatI’ve heard it said that Judaism isn’t an all or nothing religion, so every time my wife does go to shul, davens, lights the Shabbos candles, or observes other mitzvot, I’m pleased. But there’s always more to do.

Even a secular Jew is a Jew, and even being non-observant, has a relationship with Hashem (even if they’re totally unaware of it).

We non-Jews, on the other hand, though we don’t have a formal relationship with Hashem, also don’t have as many rights and responsibilities. We get a lot of the same benefits (the Holy Spirit, the promise of the resurrection in the world to come, the love of Hashem, prayer) without the obligations shouldered by collective Israel (and there’s no other way to think of Israel except “collective”).

But our “attachment” to that metaphorical olive tree isn’t as secure as is Israel’s. The covenants are a lock. They don’t go away just because Israel as a whole or any individual Jew is not observant. The only thing that changes are the consequences, one set for obedience, and another set for disobedience.

For the rest of us, we need to watch our “Ps and Qs” so to speak. As Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) wrote (Romans 11:18), if we are arrogant and put “the Church” ahead of Israel, we can easily be knocked off the root. The root (and I believe one way to look at the root is as Israel’s covenant relationship with God) supports us, not the other way around.

The root belongs to Israel by covenant right, and we Gentiles are merely “resident aliens” among Israel (metaphorically speaking). We have no rights. We are granted guest status just because God’s a “nice guy,” so to speak. Not that God would do it, but if any one of us gets out of line, God could blow us off the root with a (metaphorical) sneeze.

That should make you feel a little insecure. I feel a little insecure.

But that’s not the end of it. PL finished his comment this way:

Curiously enough, because HaShem is faithful to those who place their trust in Him, and because He values the voluntary commitment of people who cling to His precepts without the demands of a covenant (as described of the foreigners in Is. 56), gentile disciples may benefit practically in a manner that is very similar to the benefits promised to Jews under the covenant. The advantages possessed by Jews, which Rav Shaul described to the Romans in the third chapter of his letter, are still very much valid and effective, and “grafted-in” wild gentile olive branches have no reason to boast of their position relative to native acculturated Jewish branches on his metaphorical olive tree of faith, but the wild branches are no longer merely fodder to be fed into a fire. One does not require a covenant to accept HaShem’s benefits, but one should not be jealous merely because someone else (namely the Jewish people) does have one. In fact, one may be grateful that HaShem’s covenantal faithfulness toward Jews demonstrates that He may be trusted even without a covenant. And this enables gentile disciples also to pursue faithfulness in response to HaShem’s gracious provision of all manner of blessings.

interfaith prayerWe non-Jewish disciples are living proof that God can be trusted beyond the covenant promises to Israel. Covenants are highly formal and specific agreements between two parties, but every word the comes from the mouth of the living God is trustworthy, carved in stone, immutable, unchangeable, and utterly reliable.

We may only come to God one-by-one as non-Jews outside of the covenants, but we are more than just individuals. We are part of something greater. We voluntarily come to Hashem, and we may voluntarily covenant with each other when we gather together, but we are more than just a group of individuals. We are members of the ekklesia and we make up a huge portion of the ekklesia alongside of Israel. We are different from the sum of our parts because the grace of God has made us children and family of the Most High.

Non-Jews and the Mitzvot: A Brief Commentary On One Orthodox Jewish Perspective

Moshe also does not need me to clarify for him. Nonetheless, I think his point is unexpected and worth considering, in that he is saying that many mitzvot aren’t inherently valuable, they’re only valuable as part of a particular relationship with Hashem. It’s not that he objects or is bothered by non-Jews doing them, he’s saying that in these areas, the differences between Jews and non-Jews are such that these actions are literally meaningless for them.

-Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein
“Do Non-Jews Get Reward for Mitzvot?”
Torah Musings

Now before anyone flips out, I want to say that I found a link to this article on Facebook, and that “Torah Musings” is an Orthodox Jewish venue, so please take that perspective into consideration. In fact, their About states in part:

Torah Musings is a window into the Orthodox Jewish intellectual’s world, providing sophisticated but popular textual studies, important news stories and associated commentary from the perspective of an Orthodox Judaism that is intellectually open and halakhically conservative.

rothstein
Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein

Further, the disclaimer at the very bottom of Rabbi Rothstein’s article says:

The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.

Again, please keep in mind that the contents of this write-up, including the portions quoted here on my blog, are crafted within the conceptual and intellectual confines of Orthodox Judaism and are the educated opinions of R. Rothstein specifically.

So don’t lynch me or hang me in effigy just for reporting something I find interesting and, I believe, relevant.

Almost three months ago, in an effort to distance myself from some of the angst we find in certain corners of Messianic Judaism regarding Gentiles, identity, and mitzvot, I wrote and published What’s Yours is Yours. Really, if a Gentile in Jewish space is a problem, I’ll bow out.

Among other related articles, I also subsequently published Should Non-Jews Study the Torah and I concluded “yes,” with the proviso that studying Torah did not make one automatically obligated to perform each and every possible mitzvah described therein.

But having, to the best of my understanding and ability, examined the Messianic Jewish viewpoints (yes, there are more than one) as well as Hebrew Roots’ and Christianity’s opinions on the topic, how can I resist investigating how this Orthodox Jewish Rabbi answers the question he has asked?

As you can see from the above-quoted paragraph, R. Rothstein, in examining the “original responsum, Iggerot Moshe Orach Chayyim 6;2,” states that Moshe’s opinion would be that while we are not forbidden from performing the mitzvot, because many or most of them are directly linked to the (Sinai) covenant relationship Hashem has with the Jewish people, laying tefillin, wearing tzitzit, or building and living in a sukkah are simply meaningless to us relative to actually fulfilling these mitzvot, because non-Jews, even those living as Noahides, are not part of that covenant.

solomon's templeIs that the final word?

R. Rothstein reviewed the opinions of multiple authorities and they all differ somewhat in how strict they rule in this area.

1. Schepansky had noted that Rambam, in his Mishnah Commentary to Terumot 3;9, explained that even though non-Jews are not obligated in giving terumah, they still get reward for doing so, which is why the terumah they designate qualifies as actual terumah.

2. Moshe labels it one of the exceptions, donations to hekdesh (anything having to do with the Temple) and charity, examples he proves from the Talmudic assumption that Balak is rewarded for his sacrifices and Baba Batra 4a’s view that Nevuchadnezzar’s giving charity was effective. Non-Jews are also rewarded for appropriate speech, as Rashi says on Bereshit 19;39, where Lot’s younger daughter was more circumspect about her son’s paternity. Nevuchadnezzar also gets rewarded for the three steps he takes to hear the word of Hashem.

Those are all examples of non-Jews taking intuitively decent and good actions. When it comes to that which the Torah nonintuitively legislates for Jews, such as Shabbat, holidays, tefillin, tzitzit, sukkah, lulav, shofar, kosher, shatnez and anything like that, R. Moshe reverts to his view that these mitzvot only have value as a Jewish response to Hashem’s command.

This suggests that certain mitzvot might actually have meaning when performed by non-Jews, such as making an offering at or donations to the Temple (which currently does not exist), or other actions that any reasonable person would intuitively understand are morally good or right. On the other hand, those mitzvot that we would not intuitively realize are good, such and laying tefillin or donning a tallit gadol when praying, actions that are specifically associated with the Jewish people and their (Sinai) covenant relationship with Hashem, simply mean nothing to Hashem when we perform them, because we non-Jews stand outside the (Sinai) covenant.

Orthodox JewsI know pretty much who is going to object to all this, but please remember that these opinions are coming from an Orthodox Jewish source, so you can’t necessarily hang blame either on me or on any authorities existing within Messianic Judaism.

You’ll need to click the link I provided above to get the full gist of what R. Rothstein has composed, but he does cite other authorities who believe a non-Jew may receive a reward for performing mitzvot voluntarily, although this probably doesn’t include the previously mentioned observances specifically associated with Judaism. Some have even suggested that the non-Jew may receive a greater reward, but this is a minority opinion and possibly considered erroneous by the majority of authorities.

The article concludes:

In that sense, R. Moshe is actually being more lenient towards non-Jews, in that in his view they are not missing out on a good. For R. Moshe, a non-Jew who keeps the Noahides is doing all s/he should do, not just all the Torah happened to let him or her know about. It’s not that they are too benighted to know the wonders of our mitzvot, it’s that those mitzvot don’t apply to them, unless and until they decide to convert.

In other words, it is understood that Gentiles may recognize the beauty of all of the mitzvot once we study Torah and become aware of them, however that recognition goes not make us obligated unless we choose to convert to Judaism.

This is more or less what I’d expect given an Orthodox Jewish perspective, and is actually more liberal than I would have previously imagined.

Now the question is, from the viewpoint of disciples of Rav Yeshua and my understanding of our graciously being allowed to partake in some of the blessings of the New Covenant by Hashem’s mercy and through the symbolic sacrifice of our Rav, does this change anything as far as non-Jewish disciples, the mitzvot, and their significance?

That’s the $64,000 question.

And it’s one that A) I’ve answered before, and B), that I don’t intend to hash out again in this blog post.

rainbowI am writing this “mediation” and providing links to the source material because I find it fascinating that Orthodox Judaism would even pose the question for serious, scholarly debate. If it’s a question that Orthodox Jewish authorities find necessary to ask, given that they see non-Jews as subject only to the covenant Hashem made with Noah (see Genesis 9), how much more so should it be a question within Messianic Judaism, given that Hashem has allowed even the non-Jew to become a disciple of Yeshua by mercy and grace?

You can read other articles Rabbi Rothstein has written for Torah Musings as well as at the Orthodox Union (OU) and The Times of Israel to gain greater insights into his perspectives.

I know this will probably ruffle someone’s feathers, but really, I’m just publishing this as a matter of interest as to how wider Judaism considers a matter that is, from my point of view, highly relevant to non-Jews who are “Judaicly aware” and who are or have been involved in either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities.

Isaiah 56 and the Gentile

Thus says the Lord,
“Preserve justice and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.
“How blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who takes hold of it;
Who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from His people.”
Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

For thus says the Lord,

“To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
“Also the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath and holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
“Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:1-8 (NASB)

I made a comment in one of my recent blog posts that having rendered a simple, basic definition for living a life of holiness, what else should I write about? After all, once the path is before me, my only job is to walk the path, not write endless commentaries about it.

But somewhere in my comments, I also mentioned the need to address, among other things, certain sections of Isaiah 56, from which I quoted above. I have largely defined a life of holiness for a non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) apart from the vast majority of Jewish lifestyle and religious observance practices. To live a life of holiness and devotion to God, it is my opinion that we non-Jews have no obligation observe the traditional mitzvot associated with religious Jewish people.

But we encounter a few “problems” in the above-quoted passage from Isaiah. Even leaving out the sections that relate to “eunuchs,” “the foreigner” is not to consider himself (or herself) as being separated from His people (presumably Israel). Further, foreigners who join themselves to the Lord do so, in part, by not “profaning the sabbath” (otherwise translated as “guarding” the sabbath) and by holding fast to “My [God’s] covenant.”

House of PrayerIn addition, the foreigner will be joyful in Hashem’s house of prayer (the Temple) and it will be called “a house of prayer for all peoples,” which seems to indicate the people of every nation.

In doing some research for today’s “meditation,” I discovered I’ve written about the Book of Isaiah before.

That was a sweeping panorama of the entire book (click the link to read it all), but of Isaiah 56, I wrote only this:

Isaiah 56 is the first time in the entire sixty-six chapter book that says anything specifically about how the nations will serve God. I was wondering if the word “foreigner” in verse 3 might indicate “resident alien” and somehow distinguish between Gentile disciples of the Messiah and the rest of the nations, which could bolster the claim of some that these “foreigners” merge with national Israel, but these foreigners, also mentioned as such in verse 6, are contrasted with “the dispersed of Israel” referenced in verse 8.

And…

And the foreigners who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Sabbath against desecration, and grasp my covenant tightly…

Isaiah 56:6

This is the main indication that foreigners among Israel will also observe or at least “guard” the Sabbath (some Jewish sages draw a distinction between how Israel “keeps” and the nations “guard”), and the question then becomes, grasp what covenant tightly? Is this a reference to some of the “one law” sections of the Torah that laid out a limited requirement of observance of some of the mitzvot for resident aliens which includes Shabbat?

I won’t attempt to answer that now since I want to continue with a panoramic view of Isaiah in terms of the relationship between Israel and the nations (and since it requires a great deal more study and attention).

I’m reminded that in very ancient times, the “resident alien,” a Gentile who intended for his/her descendants in the third generation and beyond, to assimilate into Israel, losing all association with their non-Israelite ancestors, had a limited duty to obey just certain portions of the Torah mitzvot in the same way as a native Israelite.

reading-torahThe “one law” didn’t cover all of the mitzvot, but only a small subsection, such as a limited guarding of the Shabbat, which I mentioned above.

Also, my understanding of the legal and scriptural mechanics behind the Acts 15 Jerusalem letter edict, is that the non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua was to be considered, in some manner, a “resident alien” within the Jewish religious community of “the Way,” Jewish Yeshua-believers.

Putting all this together, we may infer some limited form of Torah observance for the non-Jew in Messiah, but beyond what we have before us so far, exactly what that entails may not be entirely clear.

Although the statement in Isaiah 56 saying that the foreigner was to “hold fast My covenant” seems general, there are only two specific areas mentioned: sabbath and prayer.

Regarding the Shabbat and Isaiah 56, I’ve written twice. The first mention is from My Personal Shabbos Project:

Of course, as I said before, I think there’s a certain amount of justification for non-Jews observing the Shabbat in some fashion based both on Genesis 2 in honoring God as Creator, and Isaiah 56 which predicts world-wide Shabbat observance in the Messianic Kingdom.

The second mention was from a companion blog post called Messianic Jewish Shabbat Observance and the Gentile where I mention using a particular Shabbat “siddur” that was specifically prepared for “Messianic Gentiles,” and this references Isaiah 56:7

This seems to bridge between the first specific item, Shabbat, and the second, which is prayer. I wrote of prayer and Isaiah 56 almost a year ago in this review of a sermon series:

Judaism makes a distinction between corporate and personal prayer, and man was meant to engage in both. Participation in the Jewish prayer services, at least in some small manner, is as if you have participated in the Temple services, which as Lancaster mentioned, is quite a privilege for a Messianic Gentile. It also summons the prophesy that God’s Temple will be a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7, Matthew 21:13).

solomon
King Solomon supervises construction of his Temple

In addition to all of the above, we have this statement made by King Solomon as part of his dedication to the newly built Temple:

“Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.”

I Kings 8:41-43

This doesn’t seem to be limited to the resident alien temporarily or even permanently dwelling among Israel, but includes any non-Jewish visitor who, for the sake of God’s great Name, comes to Jerusalem and prays toward (facing) the Temple.

Of all the commandments incumbent upon both the Jew and the Gentile believer, it seems that prayer is to be shared among all peoples.

But what about Shabbat or, for that matter, any of the other commandments?

I want to limit myself (mostly) to Isaiah 56 since it seems to be a sticking spot for many non-Jews who believe it acts as a “smoking gun” pointing toward the universal application of all of the Torah commandments to everyone, effectively obliterating everything God promised about Jewish distinctiveness.

Since non-Jews are so prominently mentioned in this chapter, I decided to see what (non-Messianic) Jews thought of this.

The easiest (though highly limited) way to do so was to look up this portion of scripture online at Chabad.org see read Rashi’s commentary on the matter.

Here’s verse 3:

Now let not the foreigner who joined the Lord, say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people,” and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

rashi
Rashi

Here’s Rashi’s commentary on the verse:

“The Lord will surely separate me from His people,”: Why should I become converted? Will not the Holy One, blessed be He, separate me from His people when He pays their reward.

My best guess at the meaning of this statement is that the Gentile should not convert to Judaism since, when Hashem gives Israel its reward, won’t the convert be set apart from His people?

But I’m almost certainly reading that statement wrong. It makes no sense to me, since converts, according to the Torah, are to be considered as identical to the native-born. I don’t have an answer for this one.

The other relevant verses are 6 through 8, and here’s Rashi’s only commentary on them:

for all peoples: Not only for Israel, but also for the proselytes.

I will yet gather: of the heathens ([Mss. and K’li Paz:] of the nations) who will convert and join them.

together with his gathered ones: In addition to the gathered ones of Israel.

All the beasts of the field: All the proselytes of the heathens ([Mss. and K’li Paz:] All the nations) come and draw near to Me, and you shall devour all the beasts in the forest, the mighty of the heathens ([Mss. and K’li Paz:] the mighty of the nations) who hardened their heart and refrained from converting.

Referring to “foreigners” as proselytes or non-Jewish converts to Judaism is rather predictable and an easy way to avoid the thorny problem of Gentile observance of Shabbos or some other sort of association with Israel.

The last commentary seems to make some mention of “heathens,” possibly meaning that, in the end, Jews and non-Jews will turn to God, but ultimately, it seems, Rashi expects all non-Jews to convert to Judaism as their only means to become reconciled with Hashem.

My general knowledge of Jewish belief (and I suspect I’ll be corrected here) indicates that non-Jews will exist in Messianic days and those devoted to Hashem will be Noahides or God-fearers, just as we have those populations in synagogues today. They will have repented of their devotion to “foreign gods,” which from a more traditional Jewish perspective, will include (former) Christians.

interfaith prayerSo without further convincing proofs, I’m at an impasse. I can definitively state that part of a life of holiness for both a Jew and Gentile is prayer to the Most High God. Of course, that should be a no-brainer.

The Shabbat is a bit more up in the air. While I can’t see any real objection to a non-Jew observing a Shabbat in some manner, there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut commandment. In Messianic Days, Shabbat may well be observed in a more universal manner, though the exact praxis between Jews and Gentiles likely won’t be identical.

As the discussion in How Will We Live in the Bilateral Messianic Kingdom indicated, while the vast majority of the Earth’s Jewish population may reside in the nation of Israel in Messianic Days, there may be some ambassadors assigned to each of the nations, and thus, there may be an application of the Shabbat in the nations for their sake and for the sake of Jews traveling abroad for business or leisure reasons.

I also can’t rule out a wider application of Shabbat observance for the Gentile in acknowledgement of God as the Creator of the Universe, which we see in Genesis 2:3:

Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

That’s supposition on my part, but it’s not entirely out of the ballpark.

In any event, Isaiah 56 doesn’t give us as much detail about non-Jews in relation to the Torah as some folks might think. Pray? Yes. Pray toward the Temple in Jerusalem, even if you are outside Israel? Maybe. Couldn’t hurt.

ShabbatObserve the Shabbat? Maybe in some fashion. I think this part will become more clear once Messiah returns as King, establishes himself on his throne in Jerusalem, and then illuminates the world.

In terms of what I’ve written before, prayer should already be part of a simple life of holiness, so Isaiah 56 doesn’t add to this. Some form of Shabbat observance is allowable but may not be absolutely required for the Gentile in the present age. Isaiah 56 doesn’t make it clear that a Gentile “guarding”  or not “profaning” the Shabbat is also “observing” it, and even if we do observe, there’s still not an indication that such observance would be identical to current Jewish praxis.

Bottom line: when in doubt stick to the basics.

She Goes to Synagogue and He Does the Lawn Work

The Jewish people in the land of Egypt had sunk to the lowest possible level of impurity — so much so that it was nearly impossible to distinguish between Jew and gentile. And then, suddenly, Hashem pulled them out from beneath all their impurity, and they were free — ready for a new beginning and spiritual greatness.

One must remember that no matter how far he has sunk, and as hopeless as his situation may seem, he has still not descended to the level of his forefathers in Egypt. His spiritual predicament cannot be worse than theirs. He must remind himself of the Exodus and internalize its meaning. He can then look toward the time when Hashem, in His mercy and in His kindness, will simply lift him up, freeing him from his seemingly hopeless state, and allowing him to begin his spiritual ascent anew.

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.43
Thursday’s Commentary on Parashas Acharei
A Daily Dose of Torah

I know I’ve said this before, but I really enjoy studying from the Jewish texts, at least those I’m capable of comprehending. In reading the studies contained in “A Daily Dose of Torah” I find myself again drawn toward Judaism as a method of study, a way of understanding God, and even as a lifestyle. In Judaism, there seems to be such a great richness of tradition and apprehension of faith, trust, and obedience that much of Evangelical Christianity lacks.

I live with a Jew. Actually, right now, I live with three of them, but only my wife is the least bit religious. Only she regularly worships at synagogue on Shabbat, and this is as it should be because, after all, she’s Jewish. It’s a commandment from Sinai given to Israel, and as a Jew, she is part of Israel.

I, on the other hand, have great difficulty being obedient even to those commandments I know unequivocally apply to all people of the nations as well as to the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua. How could I ever hope to attain the level of obedience and devotion expected of a Jew?

No, it’s not that Jewish people are perfectly obedient and devoted, but any Gentile aspiring to any sort of Jewish “lifestyle” might want to take stock of how they’re doing as a Gentile first before having the chutzpah to believe he or she can voluntarily take on board the much greater responsibilities and duties God requires of the Jewish people.

A Jew is born into the covenant whether he or she wants to be or not. They’re not given a choice. Any Gentile considering conversion certainly is making a choice and, like deciding to get married, cannot possibly see the long-term results and consequences of such a monumental decision.

The same goes for Gentiles who remain Gentiles but, through one thought process or another, come to believe they can or should either voluntarily take on board some, most, or all of the Torah mitzvot, or who have decided for themselves that they are (somehow) equally obligated to the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews.

Helping the HomelessReally, are you doing so well at a lesser level of obligation and obedience that you need the additional challenge in your life? Has doing charity, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, abstaining from even the hint of lashon hara (evil speech, gossip, denigrating another human being through words) become so humdrum and boring that you require adopting the higher standards of Torah in order to keep your life from becoming mundane?

When I take stock of my life, day by day, I realize how limited I am and how even those requirements Hashem has placed upon the people of the nations sometimes seem far beyond my abilitites. Why do I think I’d do any better in davening three times a day with a minyan, donning tzitzit, laying tefillin, observing Shabbos, keeping glatt kosher, and many of the other mitzvot of Torah?

He explains that both Shabbos and Mikdash (the Sanctuary) represent a dimension of love between Hashem and His nation, the former in time and the latter in space. On Shabbos, Hashem, as it were, invites every Jew to spend the day in His House, to live in the holiness of Hashem’s embrace and bask in his radiance. The Mikdash, too, represents this loving relationship, as symbolized by the two Cherubim that faced each other in the Sanctuary’s innermost chamber, the kodesh hakodashim.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.99
Thursday’s Commentary on Parashas Kedoshim
A Daily Dose of Torah

I have to recognize that, while God loves the whole world and while the Gentile disciples of Messiah are also loved and cherished by Hashem, it is Israel who receives a special love and relationship with the Almighty, and without Israel’s “chosenness,” we Gentiles would have no hope at all. Thus, God has given His people Israel, the Jewish people, special gifts as well as special obligations, in this case, Shabbat and the Holy Temple.

It’s not that we Gentile believers won’t have a role or a place in either in future Messianic Days, it’s just that we shouldn’t forget where they came from or to whom they were given.

This date marks the death of Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884), an American-Jewish statesman. Benjamin was the second Jew to serve in the U.S. Senate, representing Louisiana. When another senator accused him of being an “Israelite in Egyptian clothing,” Benjamin, who had married into a prominent Roman Catholic family, replied: “It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amidst the thundering and lightnings of Mount Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain.”

-from “This Day in Jewish History,” Iyar 11
Aish.com

Judah Benjamin’s reply to his fellow senator is as relevant today as when he first spoke those words.

I suppose in some sense, this is why my wife goes to shul on Shabbos and I stay home, mow the yard, and try to fix the broken sprinkler system so that I can water our lawn. It’s not that I’m necessarily forbidden from worshiping with my wife. After all, there are plenty of intermarried couples, both at the Chabad, and at our local Conservative/Reform synagogue. It’s just that it’s more important for her to observe the mitzvot associated with Shabbos than it is for me, because she is a Jew and I’m not.

ShabbatEven if I somehow believed that the Shabbat is also incumbent upon me as a Gentile, the Jewish people kept and preserved the Shabbat for thousands of years, while the ancestors of every non-Jew alive today were worshiping pagan gods, consorting with heathen temple prostitutes, and in some cases, feeding their children to sacrificial fires in obscene fertility rites.

We have no worthiness or honor of our own not did our forefathers. It is only through God’s abundant mercy and kindness that He provided any way at all for the Gentile to even approach His Throne in the most humble and penitent manner.

Let us strive to improve ourselves and to become obedient to those few things God requires of the Gentile disciples. If we can master our yetzer hara and if there are more requirements and more gifts Hashem wishes to assign to us, we will receive them from the hand of Messiah in all due time.

If Israel is the Light of the World, What Happens to the Church, Part One?

After the exiles are gathered and Israel’s enemies destroyed, those who are left from the nations will not only dwell peacefully with the nation of Israel, but all peoples will come to recognize the one God of Israel and will serve him. It will be a worldwide revival such as we have never seen before. While it is Messiah’s job to bring this global repentance about, it will be accomplished through the agency of the Jewish people and will come about when they dwell securely within the land. Indeed, this awakening can only happen when the children of Israel are connected with the land of Israel.

-Toby Janicki
“Light to the Nations,” p.43
Messiah Journal issue 118/Winter 2014

I think most Christians would agree that Messiah (Christ) will inaugurate an era of worldwide peace and tranquility upon his return, but they might be puzzled as to what the Jewish people and the land of Israel have to do with it. Isn’t the Church supposed to rule and reign with Jesus? Aren’t the Jews supposed to convert to Christians and effectively eliminate any and all Jewish presence on Earth for the first time since Abraham?

One of the reasons I don’t share a theological perspective with most of my Christian brothers and sisters is because, even though there may be those who recognize that the Jews have “some part” in God’s future plans to redeem the Earth, couldn’t possibly imagine that it is national Israel and the Jewish people, not “the Church,” which is the principal mechanism by which we will all be saved, even as the Master said, “salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22).

However, Toby Janicki in his article makes the argument that the children of Israel was and is God’s chosen people and nation for a very good reason, and that reason stretches all the way back to Sinai.

To fully understand how the Jewish people will bring the nations to the knowledge of HaShem, we need to understand why God singled out and chose Israel in the first place. We need to examine the Jewish people’s role as a light to the nations. This begins with HaShem designating Israel as his chosen people.

-ibid

Toby cites Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 14:2, Deuteronomy 32:9-10, and Romans 3:1-2 to define and support Israel’s continued election from among the nations. But the “choseness” of Israel has always been a bit of a problem to the rest of us.

In today’s modern society the idea of this kind of election can be troubling. The premonition of God choosing one nation out of all the others does not sit well with our Western sense of egalitarianism. But before jumping to conclusions, we must ask the question, what does it mean that Israel is chosen?

-ibid, p.44

Christianity has attempted to respond to Israel’s chosen status in a couple of ways. The traditional response of the Church was to establish a binding tradition declaring the Christianity and the community of (Gentile) saints as having replaced Israel’s special status with God as an act of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.

Of course this makes Messiah a traitor to his own people and the nation he loves. Can Yeshua turn away from God’s treasured, splendorous people, HaShem’s Am Segulah (Deuteronomy 14:2), wholly decoupling himself from the Jews, the Jewish land, and his very identity as a Jew, and cleave only to a foreign people, making himself, in essence, a foreign god?

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “no”.

There is another competing opinion that sadly treats the Jewish people no better. What if Jewish election is meaningless? What if the work of Messiah was simply to take all the Gentiles who become his disciples and make them “Israel” too? That would mean in the Messianic Kingdom, there would only be two people groups, Jewish and non-Jewish Israel, and the unbelieving Gentile nations. Since the former group, by definition, are resurrected and immortal, and the latter group is not, after the latter group dies, only “Israel” made up of Jews and non-Jews remains and there are no nations of the earth. Being Jewish would mean nothing since the Gentiles in “Israel” would be every bit as “chosen” (although much later in the game) as the Jews.

This violates more prophesies than I have room to cite and both of these misguided theories eliminate God’s original choosing of the children of Israel as His chosen people and nation, either by removing that status from the Jews or making to totally meaningless.

It seems people have to rewrite God’s original work to fit their own needs and requirements, more’s the pity.

But if Yeshua is the light of the world (John 8:12), why does he need Israel and the Jewish people to fulfill his mission to be a light to the world? Why does he need anyone at all?

But what if he and Israel are inseparable components within that light?

Toby quotes Rabbi Levi Welton to answer the question he asked above.

In other words, one separates something to do something, not just to be something. So the Jewish people were separated for a purpose, not to carry a higher rank or be a “favorite.” This purpose is to tell the world that they are also “chosen to do good,” as Isaiah says it, “to be a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6).

-ibid

This suggests that the Jewish people had and still has a special mission to bring knowledge of monotheism and the One true God of Creation to the rest of the nations. But how were they supposed to do that, especially since post-Biblical times, most Jews do not acknowledge Yeshua as the Messiah?Up to Jerusalem

According to Toby:

In the minds of the sages the Jewish people’s exile (galut) from the land of Israel was not only punishment for Israel’s sin but also served a redemptive purpose for all mankind?

-ibid, p.46

That’s bound to bend the minds of some Christians since it means that the Jewish people as a whole were still being used by God in post-Biblical times as exiles among the nations, and that non-Jesus believing Jews are fulfilling God’s purposes to this very day.

According to one source:

Eleazar also said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, did not exile Israel among the nations save in order that proselytes might join them, for it is said: ‘And I will sow her unto Me in the land’ (Hosea 2:23); surely a man sows a se’eh in order to harvest many kor!” (b.Pesachim 87b)

-ibid

Toby continues:

…and therefore this saying is a metaphor for the knowledge of HaShem being spread among the nations of the world through the exile of Israel.

-ibid

This would seem to create some problems. First, it puts Judaism and Christianity in direct competition to make proselytes (converts) as part of spreading the knowledge of HaShem in the former case, and the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ in the latter case.

It also means that, from a Jewish perspective, if spreading the knowledge of HaShem requires making proselytes, then no Gentile person could benefit unless they converted to Judaism, which is also against many of the prophesies in the Tanakh (Old Testament).

But there’s a catch:

Although we have seen some fulfillment of Israel enlightening mankind throughout history, and although the nation’s exile has served a redemptive purpose, Israel’s call to be a light to the nations can be fully fulfilled only when they dwell securely within their land with their own sovereign monarchy.

-ibid

So here we have a connection between Israel as a light to the nations and Messiah, since one of Messiah’s critical tasks is to re-establish the sovereignty of Israel and to return all of the Jewish exiles to their Land. If Israel can’t be a light to the nations until those events have occurred, then Messiah is absolutely required in order to allow Israel to complete her mission.

This brings up a question about the role and function of Gentile Christianity. If everything hinges upon Israel having complete rule over her nation, all the Jews returning to Israel, and King Messiah being established on his throne, what happens to us? Toby writes all this as future events, but we are here now, aren’t we? What are we, chopped liver?

Toby doesn’t address this question and he seems to indicate that only Israel will participate in the worldwide revival and return to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I can see those non-Jews who identify as “Messianic Gentiles” within some recognized form of Messianic Judaism participating in a supporting role, but with no mention of the Church in this scenario, I can imagine many Christians feeling left out in the cold.

lightAnd yet, I know of many Christians who live holy lives, who do good, and who are devoted to God, and yet they do not have a “Messianic Jewish” perspective on the scriptures, nor do they anticipate Israel having such a “stellar” role in God’s redemptive plan. They fully expect that it will be the Christian Church who will step in and be “the light of the world” alongside Jesus Christ.

I wonder what happens to them?

Since Toby’s article is rather packed with information and meaning, and since I want to cite another author in the current issue of Messiah Journal, I’m going to stop here. See you in Part 2 of this article.