The Jewish people have no monopoly on G-d and spirituality. In fact, Judaism’s core desire is that the world perceive G-d’s presence in their lives, and grow spiritually. What’s curious then is the wording of what is arguably Judaism’s most famous expression: “Shema Yisrael… Listen Israel, G-d is our Master, G-d is One (Deut 6:4).” If this eternal message relates to all mankind, why is it addressed only to Israel? Would not the One who created and sustains all mankind, by definition, be the Master of all?
Rashi’s classic commentary solves the puzzle: G-d might appear to be the Master of only the Jewish people, those who received and accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The nation of Israel got direct instructions on how to live from the Master Himself — “Israel, G-d is our Master.” However, “G-d is One” — we wish and hope for the day when every soul universally recognizes the Al-mighty’s intimate involvement with all, when the spirituality hidden beneath every surface becomes abundantly clear.
Perhaps this is a perspective that has been overlooked, but it’s crucial that our practice and interaction with people reflect this hope. It increases our concern and our love for others, and helps us appreciate everyone’s efforts to grow and live meaningful lives. Is this not a recipe for unity?
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org
The Rabbi’s message was originally posted on August 12, 2011 but I periodically revisit it because I took the rather bold step of asking Rabbi Dixler a question. I’ve blogged about it before but in re-reading the Rabbi’s blog post and particularly the comments that have accumulated, I decided it was time to write about the message again.
I must say at this point that trying to “retrofit” modern or any post-Biblical Rabbinic commentary and insights into the original Messianic faith of “the Way” and thus into Christianity is a dubious prospect at best (not that I haven’t been guilty of doing so time and again), but it’s a way of creating dialog and raising awareness among the different “fragments” of the people of God about how God really, really is One and that He is the God of all of Creation, not just of one people group or one religious group. No, I’m not saying that the God of the Bible talks through all religions and their stuff such as Taoism, Buddhism, or Hinduism. I’m saying that regardless of the “systems” and “theologies” and “philosophies” that we human beings manufacture in order to organize ourselves and make “us” feel better and superior to “them,” God is God, a complete and objective unity, in spite of what we believe about Him or even if we believe He exists.
But remember I said that I asked Rabbi Dixler a question. Here it is:
Greetings, Rabbi Dixler.
Thank you for your insightful message, but I must admit to not quite seeing how Rashi’s commentary, as presented in your letter, solves the puzzle. G-d did indeed give direct instructions to the nation of Israel on how to live, but I don’t see where the rest of humanity receives the information that G-d is One.
I’m aware of the Noahide Laws as recorded in Genesis 9, but they don’t resonate from Noah to the rest of the nations in the same sense as the unbroken chain of Torah does from Moses and Sinai to the Jews of today. There’s a unified link between G-d, Moses, and the Israelites who stood at Sinai that can be traced from 3500 years in the past all the way to the present-day Jewish people. When you say that “we wish and hope for the day when every soul universally recognizes the Al-mighty’s intimate involvement with all”, how do you believe this will happen? Will we only become aware of the “spirituality hidden beneath every surface” when the Messiah comes?
Forgive me for asking you this question. I’m a Gentile married to a Jewish wife and we frequently have discussions like this. Since you asked for comments, I thought I’d take this opportunity to ask for your viewpoint.
Thanks and Good Shabbos.
And here is the Rabbi’s response:
James, You make a great point. He did give instructions to the rest of the world, but not to the level He gave to the Jewish people. It would seem that the discrepancy would give the appearance of Him acting as Master over the Jews, while exhibiting less mastery over the non-Jews. The point of the message was to say that He has as much a desire to have that relationship with the non-Jews, if they reach the required level of recognition of Him. While Jews may not always act at that level of recognition, they are the descendants of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs which gives them an advantage.
The recognition of the non-Jews has been happening throughout history and it will certainly reach it’s zenith at the time of the Messiah. The spread of the belief in monotheism to most of the civilized world was likely the greatest manifestation of this that we’ve seen so far.
Now remember that I said it wasn’t so good an idea to try to fit what normative modern Judaism says into normative modern Christianity. From my point of view, Rabbi Dixler doesn’t present a full picture because, from his perspective, he can’t present a full picture. He is (understandably) unwilling or unable to recognize that the Messiah has already come and will come again and that, in his first coming, he did something remarkable for all of humanity. He gave us the ability to get a lot closer to God than we ever could previously. He gave the non-Jewish people of our world the ability to connect to God in a way that is much more intimate and fulfilling than Rabbi Dixler has described on his blog.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
–John 3:16 (ESV)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
–Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
–Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.
–Acts 15:19-21, 30-31 (ESV)
The beat goes on, but you get the idea.
But while God is God and God is “universal,” human beings are scattered and shattered and fragmented all over the place in terms of who we think we are, who we think God is (if we have a concept of God) and what we think that means about ourselves and everybody else (and I’ve talked about this before). I’m not just talking about Jewish identity vs. Christian identity, but we can’t ignore that aspect of our connection to God either. As I said just yesterday, we need to heal the broken pieces of humanity, not tear ourselves more and more apart.
But as I’ve also said, unity is not the same as uniformity. I’m not talking about coming together in one, anonymous, doughy, blob with no distinctive features or identifying marks. Don’t worry though. As one of the people commenting on Rabbi Dixler’s blog said, we are nowhere near any form of unity:
I’m a Chab Jew and I have experienced the desdain of other Orthodox jews, some Chassidim. If we cannot be one how can we expect to have the goyim in the boat?
After quite a number of questions and comments, Rabbi Dixler sent out a general reply:
An issue that has been raised by a few is that this message somehow dilutes the idea of the Chosen Nation and that the commandment to love is only towards others Jews. To be clear, the Jews were chosen by G-d to be the recipients of His Torah since they are the children of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs – those who discovered G-d’s presence for themselves, devoted every ounce of their being to Him, and introduced the pagan world to what it means to have one G-d. At the same time, the mission of Jews that they’ve been chosen for is to spread the knowledge of G-d’s presence to all of humanity, by acting as a light to the nations. Built into this mission is the concern that all of humanity appreciate G-d and the spiritual relationship we have with Him.
The supreme irony is that Israel is a light to the world in a way that much of Judaism must deliberately reject due to the historic nature of the relationship between Christians and Jews.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
–John 8:12 (ESV)
As Israel’s first-born son, the Messiah embodied Israel’s mission to be a light to the nations. He was and is the living, breathing expression of God’s intention to live among, not just the Jewish people, but among all people and to bring us all close to Him and close to each other. Rabbi Dixler’s comments come so very close but still miss the target, at least as I see it.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
–Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)
Israel is the light of the world and that light is transmitted in its most perfect form from the body of the first-born son of Israel, the Messiah, Son of David. But as his disciples, we too are called to be a light to the world, to send forth the light that originates from God to a dark and desperate humanity. One of the Jewish commentators I quoted above lamented that if Judaism isn’t united, how can they expect the goyim to get into the boat? If the disciples of Messiah aren’t united in love and purpose, how can we expect to ignite a spark, let alone shine a light that illuminates the power and glory of Christ in a fallen Creation?
After examining my finances, I think I’m one step closer to being able to attend the Shavuot Conference being hosted by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) in Wisconsin this May (there are still a few more details to work out). But based on my experience with the conference last year, I realize that “for every ascent, there is a descent,” for every uplifting event of fellowship, there is an inevitable let down when it’s over. That’s why, as much as I’m looking forward to going again this year, it’s not the focus of my faith or my “mission” (if I can be so bold as to say that I even have a “mission”).
The goal, the focus, and purpose of our lives and our very beings is not to count on periodic events of fellowship, sharing, and worship, but to live out each day with purpose, seeking an encounter with God, promoting healing between the damaged and torn parts of Messiah’s body. The Messiah isn’t just the Christ who belongs to the goyim and he’s not just Yeshua who belongs to a tiny population of modern Messianic Jews. Messiah belongs to all Jews everywhere and he belongs to any and all people from among the nations who hear his voice, who are called out, and who recognize the shepherd.
We don’t all do “light to the world” in the same way, so it appears as if we are working at cross purposes relative to all of the different “Judaisms” and “Christianities” that exist in the world today. But if we believe that God is One and His Name is One, then we must also believe that whatever man has put asunder, God will one day join back together, not as an anonymous, gooey, doughy mass of bland, “wonder bread,” cookie cutter cut up humanity, but as who He made each of us to be and each of our people groups to be; those chosen at Sinai and those who joined him at the cross.
We don’t “get it” now. None of us really “get it” now. But if we keep striving for our encounters with God, if we continue to seek His will, if we keep striking our little stones against our little bits of flint, maybe we’ll one day create a spark, ignite a flame, and then the light to the nations and the light of the nations will illuminate the world.
And we will be illuminated, too. I just hope my tiny candle doesn’t burn out first.