Tag Archives: Ekev

Ekev: Christians Clinging to Torah

clinging_to_torahAnd if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the Lord your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers: He will favor you and bless you and multiply you; He will bless the issue of your womb and the produce of your soil, your new grain and wine and oil, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock, in the land that He swore to your fathers to assign to you. You shall be blessed above all other peoples…

Deuteronomy 7:12-14 (JPS Tanakh)

If, then, you faithfully keep all this Instruction that I command you, loving the Lord your God, walking in all His ways, and holding fast to Him…

Deuteronomy 11:22 (JPS Tanakh)

God made great promises to the Children of Israel in the Torah which were contingent upon the Israelites obeying “these rules”, “loving the Lord your God, walking in all His ways.” But it can become very confusing about how or if that has any sort of impact on Christians or what it even means for Jewish people today? What does it mean to “hold fast” or to “cleave” to God, and what does that have to do with Torah?

What does it mean “to cleave to the Almighty”? The Almighty has no body or corporeality to hold on to.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen comments that this verse is the commandment to trust in the Almighty. Cleaving, clinging to the Almighty means that we trust in him like a king’s son who relies on his father. His father loves him and, being a king, has the ability to supply him with all his needs. This is our relationship with the Almighty. He is our King and our Father. We must make our efforts, but understand that success is ultimately a gift from the Almighty.

Cleaving to the Almighty means living with this awareness. The immediate benefit to a person who internalizes this attribute is an inner feeling of peace and serenity.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Ekev
Based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
as adapted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz

According to the commentary by Rabbi Shlomo Katz at Torah.org, it would be impossible to literally cling to God, who is an all-consuming fire. The sages say one “clings” to the Almighty through Torah study and performance of the mitzvot. In the Siddur, the phrase “You who cling to HaShem, your G-d, you are all alive today” is part of the Torah service, thus clinging to God and the reading, studying and performance of Torah are associated if not equivalent acts.

This could sound very attractive to some Christians. After all, why wouldn’t we want to “cling” to God? What do we have to do? Read, study, and observe the Torah? Cool? How do we do that?

Several days ago on his blog, Derek Leman wrote an article called Torah and Non-Jews: A Practical Primer. It might have better been called “What Does Torah Mean to Jews and What Should Christians Do About It”. I’ve long since set aside my illusions that I have to look and act “pseudo-Jewish” in order to obey God’s will for my life, but over the past several months, I have been attempting to defend Jewish Torah observance, especially among Messianic Jews, in conversations with my Pastor. However, one of the sticking points is trying to define just what “Torah” is.

Of course I wrote a blog series on the purpose of Torah for Messianic Jews, but it never quite satisfied me as a unified and complete answer to Pastor’s query.

In Leman’s response to some Christian questions about the Torah, he disassembled the Torah commandments in what I thought was a useful way:

There are a lot of differences and categories we could note in the commandments in the Torah. First, there are positive (“remember the Sabbath,” “you shall love”) and negative (“you may not eat,” “you shall not”) commands. Second, since Torah is an actual constitution for people living in the Iron Age in the ancient Middle East, it has criminal and societal laws which cannot be applied directly. It assumes a theocracy with the actual Presence of God guiding the king and priests. Do not think that stoning people is part of Torah practice now! Third, it permits some things from ancient culture which are no longer permitted (owning a slave, taking a war bride, practicing blood vengeance). Fourth, it contains some things which are the highest expressions of love, justice, and faithfulness. The concern in Torah for the defenseless and needy, the insistence on truth in justice for the powerful and powerless, the provisions of generosity, these things are the height of Torah. This list is not as detailed as it could be, but the point is, Torah requires long, habitual, careful study.

torah-what-isThat isn’t exactly an “in a nutshell” lesson on Torah, but it does communicate the level of complexity for someone approaching Torah with the intension of becoming “Torah-compliant” or “Torah-observant” or “Torah-submissive.” However, the upshot of Leman’s article is that it takes a lifetime of study to approach and refine one’s understanding and observance of Torah. It is true that, for practical purposes, observant Jews operate in a set daily pattern relative to their responsibilities to the mitzvot, but it’s also true that with continuing study and understanding, that observance evolves and deepens, not only on the level of behavior and cognition, but particularly (ideally) in devotion to God. Remember, we are discussing the relationship between Torah and “cleaving” to God.

Most people would comprehend why an observant Jewish person would study the Torah in order to understand and perform the mitzvot in the appropriate manner, but Christians may not be aware that we need to study and understand Torah as well.

But, why? Even if you don’t believe that Christ’s grace replaced the Torah for the Jews, most Christians believe the Law has nothing to do with them.

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)

Most Christians believe that this is the pronouncement of James and the Council of Apostles replacing the Law with grace for the believers, Jewish and Gentile alike. Some believe that James and the rest of the Jewish disciples of Messiah continued to apply Torah observance to their lives but removed such obligations from the lives of the newly-minted Gentile disciples since, as Peter said, “why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”

Torah observance isn’t required for salvation for Gentile or Jew, but from a Jewish point of view, the Torah defines the identity and lifestyle of the descendants of those who stood at Sinai and “as one man” who agreed to do all that Hashem their God commanded.

But does this mean Gentile disciples (Christians) have no obligation to Torah at all? Certainly not. Leman continues:

If you are not Jewish, God was not speaking directly to you when he gave Torah. Read Exodus 19. You can learn about God, about holiness, about love and the ways of God for people to live in the Torah. But it requires translating and interpreting it from one context (Israel’s constitution) to another (how you, as a Messiah-follower, should live your life). Even for the Jewish people translation and interpretation is required from one context (Israel in the Iron Age when it was a theocracy with God present in the sanctuary) to another (Israel in the long exile without the direct Presence of God in the sanctuary). Look to Torah as a late arrival at the party. Israel is already there and you are a guest. What can you learn from God’s instructions to this people? What in these instructions and teachings apply to you as someone outside of the specific group? The truth is, most of what is here has meaning for you, but interpretation and integration of multiple ideas will be required.

torah_up_closeIn a very real way, the Torah is Israel’s story, even as the Gospel message of Messiah is the story of good news to Israel, but it doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t involved. I wrote extensively on this topic in a multi-part series called Return to Jerusalem, which is an analysis of Acts 15 based on the commentaries of D. Thomas Lancaster in the Torah Club, Vol. 6: Chronicles of the Apostles.

For Christians, Torah study is exceptionally important because Torah does apply to us, but it doesn’t apply in a manner identical to the Jewish people. We can’t simply put on a tallit gadol, avoid bacon and shellfish, and call ourselves “Torah-submissive kosher.” If it requires a lifetime of study for a Jewish person to live out the Torah and to draw closer and to cling to God, it should require the same for Christians.

As Leman states:

There is a community that has been studying Torah for millennia. Many Torah-keeping non-Jews retain from their church life a prejudice against things Jewish. The rabbis don’t believe in Jesus, so they must not know anything! Never mind that God promised his Spirit would never depart from Israel (Isa 59:21). Never mind that God established in Israel judges and priests to know the Torah and teach it (Deut 17:8-13) and that the rabbis have come to occupy that place during the two-thousand year exile. Studying what Judaism teaches about the Torah is not easy. FFOZ (First Fruits of Zion) makes it easy through their Torah Club volumes. If you really want to know Torah and how to practice it, Torah Club Volume 5 is for you. Meanwhile, you cannot keep Torah and ignore what Jewish tradition says about it.

Torah study for Christians is Bible study, but it’s Bible study from a perspective that rejects supersessionism, anti-Judaism, and anti-Israel mindsets. As Leman says, you cannot divorce the Torah (or the Bible as a whole) from Israel and Judaism since the Bible is specifically the story of God’s involvement with Israel (with applications for the rest of us). Gentile Christians have gotten all too comfortable thinking the Gospel message is “all about us because we have Jesus,” but “Jesus” is Yeshua, the Messiah God sent to redeem first and foremost Israel and also the nations of the world. We can no longer afford to be arrogant lest Messiah humble us severely upon his return.

We also can’t afford to ignore that Jewish people including Messianic Jewish people, have a special relationship with God, even above the Gentiles who are called by His Name, and a special relationship with Torah, whereby additional commandments apply to them that don’t apply to Gentile Christians. Beyond that, studying Torah and the rest of the Bible should reveal that the Torah never “expired” for the Jewish people and indeed, it tells the story of future restoration of Israel:

“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.

“Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. The Lord your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the Lord, and observe all His commandments which I command you today. Then the Lord your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

Deuteronomy 30:1-14 (NASB)

resources-studyI could do a study just on these verses as far as how the words of Moses apply to the restoration of future Israel, the New Covenant for Israel, and the accessibility of Torah for the Jewish people, including how God completely and honestly intended Israel to observe the commandments. He didn’t just give the Torah to Israel to prove a point about how hard it is to obey God and then pull a bait and switch, inserting Jesus and grace in its stead.

If God had annulled the Torah, then not only would He have eliminated everything that Jesus taught, but He would have destroyed any possible access to God for the Gentiles, since it is through the promises God made to Abraham about Messiah, which are contained in Torah, that the Gentiles are saved at all.

Yes, Christians. Study the Torah. Learn. Comprehend. Obey as the mitzvot apply to you. Live out the Word and Will of God. Just don’t assume that it’s easy. Please believe that it will take the rest of your life to even scratch the surface. Start one day at a time. Start now.

If you’re a Christian who is at all interested in the Torah and how it applies to a life of faith in Jesus (and believe me, a lot of it applies), you can also read Torah Study for Christians to get an introduction and find a starting point on your path.

Addendum: I know one of the complains against arguments like mine from some folks in Hebrew Roots (and for that matter, traditional Christianity) is that those of us who support a Messianic perspective don’t account for non-Jewish covenant connection with God. I used to wonder how we were connected to God through Messiah myself, but frankly, once you know where to look, it’s incredibly obvious: Abraham. Read Abraham, Jews, and Christians and Sharing with Abraham to put the covenant connection of believing Gentiles to God in proper perspective. I’ll be talking more on this subject in Sunday’s and Monday’s “morning meditation.”

Good Shabbos.

61 days.

Conversations With My Companion

Question: I spent quite a bit of time praying for someone who was very ill. Many people came together to pray for this person yet she unfortunately passed away. How can we say then that a prayer is never unanswered? Obviously in this case and in many others the prayers of so many people have not been answered. How can we have absolute faith in G-d if He doesn’t spare the life of someone who so many prayed for? I understand that belief in G-d is fundamental to our religion but I just wish to understand this. I have also heard many answers before. For example G-d does everything for a reason and one can’t see the whole picture. I was wondering if you had a different answer as this one doesn’t fully answer my question.

Answer: The first thing to understand is that prayer – no matter how sincere and intense – can never be guaranteed to produce results. Think about it: if all prayers were rewarded, wouldn’t that make us gods, and God nothing more than our slave? Think about this, too: are we really so sure that we know enough of the universe’s workings to be sure that what we’re asking for is really the very best thing for everyone? Isn’t it wiser to place ourselves in God’s gentle and powerful hands; to rely on His judgment?

This, in effect, is what King David’s general, Yoav, was saying on the eve of a very dangerous battle (II Samuel, 10:12) with the words: “Be strong and sure for our people and for the cities of the Lord our God, and the Lord will do what is best in His eyes.” So what then is the purpose of prayer?

-Rabbi Boruch Clinton
from “Belief in G-d and Unanswered Prayers”

Good question and one that doesn’t offer an easy answer. Some people don’t find an answer at all, and the result is that they leave the faith.

You pray. You pray with all your heart, with all your devotion, with all your love of God, and yet it seems as if your prayers are not answered. The illness is not healed. The loved one is not spared a painful death. Grief and disappointment enter your heart, your soul, your very being. Where is God?

I can’t peer behind the veil of Heaven and give you the answer. This is a question both the faithful and the faithless have been asking ever since man first became aware of a Holy God. Where is God during a flood that leaves millions homeless? Where is God when cancer ravages a once vital and robust person, reducing her to a faded skeleton with skin of parchment? Where is God when I need Him the most? I prayed that she would be healed and recover completely, but instead, she died.

There are any number of books written by Pastors and Rabbis, who are far more learned and wiser than I am, who try to answer these questions. I suppose that’s why I quote from the ancient sages and the modern clergy when I write my “meditations.” I find them just as inspiring and illuminating as the others in their audience. I draw strength and courage from their insights into God, and through what they teach, I try to gain a better understanding of the scriptures, of God, and of myself.

But where is God when disaster strikes the world, strikes communities, families, and individuals, and grips the human heart with terror? And not understanding the answer, why then do we continue to pray to a God who does not seem to answer us when we beg and plead for mercy?

The Talmud says that a Jew is obligated to pray, based upon Deuteronomy 11:13: “serve Him with all your thoughts — Livavchem — and with all your soul.” Livavchem is a form of the Hebrew word Leiv, which is most often translated as the heart. In the Torah, however, we find that the first appearance of Leiv is Genesis 6:5 “Machshavos Libo” — thoughts of his Leiv (see also Proverbs 19:21). We do the same thing in English, referring to a person with a “warm heart,” while in reality we know thoughts are in the head. Be that as it may, the service of G-d in Deuteronomy 11, service “with all your heart,” is found in our thoughts. The Sages of the Talmud say that this is prayer, Tefilah.

The word Tefila deserves further examination as well, because although we commonly translate it as prayer, the origin of the word is the root Palel, meaning to judge or decide (see Ex. 21:22). Jewish prayer, in fact, is a form of reflection and self-judgment. In the reflexive form, the verb L’hispalel, “to pray,” actually means to judge one’s self.

Prayer is better understood as a service of the Al-mighty that takes place in our thoughts, which involves judging ourselves, making decisions, before G-d. We make judgments and decisions many times each day. The obligation to pray asks us to involve G-d in our thoughts and in the decisions we make. Formal prayer remains necessary, for it trains us to turn to Him periodically throughout the day — but the training should lead us to turn to Him whenever we need clarity and help, far beyond the synagogue. (Heard from Rabbi Jonathan Rietti)

G-d loves us, and He asks us to love Him back. Sometimes more precious than hearing “I love you” is hearing “I was thinking about you.” The more He’s on our mind, the closer we come to Him. Also, let’s not forget that He’s the ultimate source of all goodness. He pulls the strings infinitely more effectively than any other resource in our network of friends or associates. Shouldn’t such a personal contact take priority over all others?

-Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
“Your Best Contact”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ekev

I don’t know if that’s a good enough answer for you. I don’t know that it’s a good enough answer for me. I do know, or at least believe, that prayer is not a simple ask and answer transaction. As Rabbi Clinton suggests, God is not the genie of the lamp and we are not Aladdin. It’s not a matter of rubbing an ancient illumination device, summoning the all-powerful being that resides within, and simply directing him to give us what we want, when we want it, in the way we want it. If this were so, then we all would be little “gods” running around commanding this all-powerful force to do our bidding, changing the world around us as our wants, needs, and desires saw fit.

Obviously, such is not the case. There is the will of God and as such, His will is not to be denied, even when we face our darkest hour. The Son of Man knew this most poignant and overarching lesson:

He parted from them a distance of slinging a stone and got down on his knees and prayed, saying, “My Father, if only you were willing to make this cup pass from me! Yet let it not be according to my will but according to your will.” An angel from Heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. Then the bonds of death came upon him and he continued to pray fervently. –Luke 22:41-44 (DHE Gospels)

Jesus prayed that God release him from the sentence of a painful, agonizing, humiliating, and ultimately unmerited death; a death in which the Son of Man would be separated from the Father in Heaven, perhaps for the first time since he was born to Miriam.

And yet he said, “let it not be according to my will but according to your will.” The result was that “the bonds of death came upon him.” I believe you know what series of events followed. Jesus prayed. He was comforted. He struggled with the “bonds of death.” He was unjustly tried. He was tortured. He was denied by one of his closest friends. He was humiliated. He was nailed to a tree. He suffered horribly. He was mocked while in agony. The Father (seemingly) abandoned him. And then finally, he died.

And not only he, but his disciples, his closest companions, were utterly disheartened and crushed.

Where was God?

The story has a “happy ending” which Christians celebrate every year at Easter but that “happy ending” is provisional, since we still live in a broken world where people pray, suffer, and die every day.

Where is God?

Why do we bother to pray?

Because, as Rabbi Dixler says, prayer is more about our relationship with God than what God will or won’t do for us. It’s about facing trials and suffering and knowing that the hurt may only end in death, but still knowing that God is our companion in all of that. Faith in God through Jesus Christ comes with a certain promise attached.

This is my mitzvah: that you love one another as I have loved you. There is no love greater than the love of one who gives his life on behalf of his companions. As for you, if you do what I command you, you are my companions. I will no longer call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master will do. But I said you are my companions because I have made it known to you all that I have heard from my Father. –John 15:12-15 (DHE Gospels)

In the past few weeks, I’ve written a great deal about love. Prayer is an act of self-sacrifice. In religious Judaism, prayer substitutes for the sacrifices Jews would make if the Holy Temple currently existed in Jerusalem. The Apostle Paul urged us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (see Romans 12:1) though not in the literal sense. He referred to himself at the end of his life as being poured out like a drink offering (see Philippians 2:17 and 2 Timothy 4:6). And he urged the church at Philippi:

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:5-7 (ESV)

Prayer is the act of self-judgment, service to our Master, and turning ourselves inside out to God. It’s totally and willingly revealing of ourselves to Him (not that He doesn’t know us). It’s inviting God into our lives, our hearts, our joys, and our suffering. God isn’t obligated to answer our prayers in the manner we desire, but He has promised to always accompany us on a journey through whatever territory, light or darkness, that we may find ourselves. David’s most famous psalm to the King of Kings included this:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. –Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

David didn’t pray to be spared a journey through “the valley of the shadow of death” (sometimes translated as “the valley of deep darkness”), only that God be his shepherd and that He comfort David.

Jesus promised that we would be more than servants, we would be his companions. The word “companions,” as I previously presented when quoting from John 15:13, is often translated as “friends.” Though we are sometimes in pain and torment, we are never alone, for God is with us. He comforts us, if we will only reach out to Him. We will not always be absolved of pain, but we will never be abandoned.

Rabbi Clinton finishes his answer with this:

The prayer book (Siddur), Psalms and the words various traditional formulations are bursting with valuable lessons about our relationship with God, His compassion and generosity and our own fragile existence. By thinking about these precious words, we are deeply enriching our own faith and expressing our dependence on God – who does, after all – care for us.

Do our prayers have any effect on our suffering friends? Undoubtedly. Perhaps the very act of growing in faith and sensitivity as a result of the prayer process can be considered a significant accomplishment for ones loved one. After all, it was your relationship to him/her which inspired this growth.

There is much more to this subject, but I hope that these words will be of some help to you.

May the God of Abraham always answer your prayers and mine by drawing us close to Him, today and forever. And may we continue to walk and talk with our Master as our traveling companion…and our friend.

Ekev: Do Not Forsake Your Father’s Torah

These concepts are related to this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Eikev. Eikev literally means “heel,” and refers to ikvesa diMeshicha, (Or HaTorah, the beginning of Parshas Eikev.) the time when Mashiach’s approaching footsteps can be heard. Moreover, the connection between this era and “heels” runs deeper. The human body is used as a metaphor (See Tanya, ch. 2.) to describe the Jewish nation as it has existed over the ages. In that context, our present generation can be compared to the heel the least sensitive limb in the body for we lack the intellectual and emotional sophistication of our forebears.

Other interpretations (Devarim Rabbah 3:1,3; Ibn Ezra and Ramban to Deuteronomy 7:12.) explain that the word eikev refers to “The End of Days” when the ultimate reward for observance of the Torah and its mitzvos will blossom. Indeed, the beginning of the Torah reading focuses on the reward we will receive for our Divine service.

The rewards of health, success, and material well-being mentioned by the Torah are merely catalysts, making possible our observance. For when a person commits himself to observe the Torah and its mitzvos, G-d shapes his environment to encourage that observance.

And yet, man should not strive for this era merely in order to partake of its blessings.

The Sages and the prophets did not yearn for the Era of Mashiach in order to rule over the entire world, nor in order to eat, drink, and celebrate. Rather their aspiration was to be free [to involve themselves] in the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress or disturb them. (Loc. cit. :4, see also Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2.)

It is the observance of the Torah and the connection to G-d which this engenders which should be the goal of all our endeavors.

The two interpretations of the word eikev are interrelated. For it is the intense commitment that characterizes our Divine service during ikvesa diMeshicha which will bring the dawning of the era when we will be able to express that commitment without external challenge. Heartfelt dedication to the Torah today will bear fruit, leading to an age in which the inner spark of G-dliness which inspires our observance will permeate every aspect of existence. “For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed.” (Isaiah 11:9, quoted by the Rambam, loc. cit.: 5)

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“When the Heel Becomes a Head”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ekev
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, p. 71ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 641ff

Certainly the meditations and interpretations of the Chassidim are esoteric and not easily understood. Also, there is a difference between midrash and the more plain meaning we can derive from scripture, so we can’t take any significant portion of Rabbi Touger’s commentary as “Gospel” from a Christian point of view. However, the lesson is not completely without merit, either.

In reviewing this commentary (you can read the complete text at the link I provided above) and also from reading the text from this week’s Torah Portion, we can see revealed before us as Moses continues his closing address to the Children of Israel, that the nation; the people of Israel are indeed unique among all of mankind. God chose them and set them apart as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) before Him and that they would always be a nation in His Presence.

Given what I’ve just said, it’s natural for Christians then to ask, “What about us?” The answer is that by the merit of the blood of our Master and Lord Jesus Christ, we Gentiles also have access to a covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Of course how the covenant is applied to the nations is not identical to God’s “choosing” of Israel from out of the nations, so we have never seen Gentiles turned into Jews without undergoing the full conversion process (which has changed significantly over time). Becoming a Christian is just that, becoming a disciple of the Jewish Messiah King and being covered by the “Messianic” covenant (I’ve said all this before).

I know we struggle with the idea of maintaining distinctions between the Jews and Gentile Christians relative to God and the Messiah. But what if those distinctions were to go away? What if Jews voluntarily decided to “unchoose” themselves?

Actually, it’s already happened:

I’ve often heard the Jews referred to as the “Chosen People.” Isn’t that possibly the source of much of the anti-Semitism in the world?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

If Jewish “choseness” is in fact the cause of anti-Semitism, then hatred against the Jews should disappear when Jews drop the claim that they are chosen.

Late in the 19th century, the Jews living in Germany and Austria collectively rejected their “choseness” and were assimilated by their host nation. In fact, they believed that the non-Jews among whom they lived were the true chosen people. “Berlin is our Jerusalem!” they loudly proclaimed. Gentile society was their social environment of choice, and Germany their beloved motherland.

Did anti-Semitism disappear? We all know the tragic answer to that question. The Jews in Germany and Austria experienced the most vicious outpouring of anti-Semitic hatred in history. Precisely when Jews rejected their claim to “chosenness,” they suffered the most virulent forms of anti-Semitism.

Another test of the Chosen People theory is to see how humanity responds to other peoples who claim to be “chosen.” If the claim that Jews are chosen gives rise to anti-Semitism, then all groups who make similar claims of having been “chosen” should also become targets of persecution and hatred.

Christianity and Islam represent two other major religious groups that claim to have been chosen. Christian theology accepts that God gave the Bible to the Jews and made the Jews His special messengers. However, it is the Christian belief that once the Jews rejected Jesus, the Christians became God’s new chosen people.

Muslims likewise believe that the Jewish Bible is the word of God. However, Muslim theology claims that when Mohammad appeared on the scene, God made the Muslims His chosen people. But why hasn’t this historically generated hatred against them?

Ask the Rabbi
“Chosen People – Source of Anti-Semitism?”

Even when all of the Jews in an entire nation voluntarily “surrendered” their status as “God’s chosen people,” there was no difference. The world still chose to treat them in exactly the same manner as when Jews stand firmly upon the foundation of the Torah and behave in accordance to their covenant status and perform the mitzvot. God will not permit the Jewish people to forget the promises He made to them and He will not permit them to relinquish their responsibilities to Him. If the Jewish people attempt to go back on their promises to God, there are powerful consequences that come into play.

Now let’s apply that to the Jewish people who have accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah and yet who insist on affirming the Torah covenant between them and God. Are they wrong for refusing to relinquish their “chosen” status that requires they perform the mitzvot of Sinai in response to the Mosaic covenant? Should we non-Jewish believers insist that the Jews give up the Torah mitzvot to the rest of the world, thereby diluting and ultimately dissolving anything resembling a distinct identity among the worldwide community of Jews. Except for a bit of DNA, the Jews would no longer be Jewish as God defines them.

Somehow, given the example of history, particularly within the past 80 or 90 years, it seems that would be a bad idea. I don’t believe God would permit the Jewish people who have come to faith in the Messiah to permanently and en masse, surrender the Torah to the nations of the world, particularly if their Judaism goes along with it. If the nation of Israel was supposed to be unique in the time of Moses, and it was the nation of Israel that sent forth Jewish emissaries carrying the good news of the Messiah to the nations, why would God subsequently desire to liquidate Israel and replace them with a more generic body comprised of Gentiles and (former) Jews?

Judah Gabriel Himango recently coined the term “supersessionoia” on his blog, and I’m probably guilty as charged. On the other hand, is it really a “phobia” to support the Jewish people as the Jewish people, as unique to God, as His treasured splendorous people, and at the same time, acknowledge, affirm, and support the special covenant relationship the rest of we disciples of the Master have as Christians?

In all clear conscious, and I admit that I’m hardly objective since my wife and three children are (non-Messianic) Jewish, as a Christian husband and father, I will continue to support them being Jewish and hope and pray they will turn their hearts to God and Torah and live as Jews from one generation to the next. I know that terrible consequences face the Jewish people for surrendering the authority of the Torah as given to them and them alone at Sinai.

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God and fail to keep His commandments, His rules, and His laws, which I enjoin upon you today. When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God — who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage; who led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its seraph serpents and scorpions, a parched land with no water in it, who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers had never known, in order to test you by hardships only to benefit you in the end — and you say to yourselves, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth, in fulfillment of the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers, as is still the case.

If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them, I warn you this day that you shall certainly perish; like the nations that the Lord will cause to perish before you, so shall you perish — because you did not heed the Lord your God. –Deuteronomy 8:11-20 (JPS Tanakh)

These are the Father’s loving instructions to His Jewish children:

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my Torah. –Proverbs 4:1-2

Good Shabbos.

Eikev: Blessing God

EikevIn this week’s reading (Eikev), the Torah warns us that after the people enter Israel, they may be prone to think only about their own accomplishments, and forget the source of all blessings: “and you become haughty, and forget HaShem your G-d who brought you out from Egypt, from the house of slavery… and you say in your heart, my own might and the strength of my hand have made me all of this wealth.” [Dev. 8:14, 17]

This is something that can affect all of us. Maimonides says that we should look for the middle ground, that even bad traits have their place (meaning, sometimes it is right to appear angry, for example), but that haughtiness is the exception. There is never a time to be “full of ourselves.”

This does not mean we should fail to appreciate our gifts. Moshe was the leader and teacher of the Jewish people, he spoke directly with G-d, and received the Torah and taught it to us. But the Torah also testifies that he was more humble than anyone — and the Torah doesn’t exaggerate!

Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Director, Project Genesis / Torah.org
Note from the Director
“Talent on Loan from G-d”
Project Genesis

It seems almost an impossibility to be able to lead millions of people on a journey across great distances for forty years and even be able to talk to God “face-to-face” and yet be considered “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). How is this possible, especially given some of our common dictionary definitions for this word?

  1. not proud or arrogant; modest: “to be humble although successful”.
  2. having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience, etc.: “In the presence of so many world-famous writers I felt very humble”.
  3. low in rank, importance, status, quality, etc.; “lowly: of humble origin; a humble home”.
  4. courteously respectful: “In my humble opinion you are wrong”.
  5. low in height, level, etc.; small in size: “a humble member of the galaxy”.

Yet, we don’t really think of Moses as arrogant, either. According to Rabbi Menken, he couldn’t have been:

Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch writes that arrogance is the first step towards forgetting G-d. Moshe never ignored his gifts, but he also recognized where they came from. What prevents us from becoming arrogant or haughty is the appreciation that everything we have is a gift.

How does that work for the rest of us, particularly when we’re not the leader of millions (most of us) and don’t talk to God the way Moses talked to God (I don’t know anyone who does that, although a few people claim to have this ability)? It seems like a lot of people either take no credit at all for what they do well or they take all the credit for everything that happens good in their lives and in the lives of others. Should we give total credit to God for everything at our expense or take credit for everything, leaving no room for God? Where is the balance? How does this “partnership” between people and God work?

We were all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Think of this as meaning that God created us with a certain configuration of wiring and programming. We “naturally” have certain personality traits, talents, and characteristics that are unique to us. Some give us the ability to easily accomplish particular tasks, like a person who just “naturally” draws well, sings well, or is a gifted carpenter. Other characteristics we find we must master and bring under our control, such as a quick temper or a tendency to like alcohol too much.

HamazonWhen things go well, sometimes because of our talents, we tend to credit ourselves and feel that we’re really great. When things go badly, sometimes because of our “evil inclination” or the character traits that we need to control, we tend to either blame God for how He made us, or to suddenly remember God and beg for His forgiveness and help. We see this in Rabbi Menken’s commentary about how Moses warned the Children of Israel against haughtiness. Ironically, the answer is in a very simple but unusual (from a Christian point of view) commandment:

And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall thank the Lord your God for the good land which he has given you. –Deuteronomy 8:10

In Judaism, this is one of the 613 commandments that define a Jew’s obligations to God and to other people. This has resulted in the blessing of Birkat Hamazon or “Grace After Meals” being said after eating, as opposed to the Christian tradition of blessing God (sometimes at length) before a meal.

There’s a reason for this as stated by Rabbi Menken:

The Ohr Gedalyahu, Rabbi Gedalyah Schorr zt”l, tells us that the holy Kabbalistic work, the Zohar, says that the Torah frequently relates the positive and the negative. Our reading, he says, is one example of this concept. The Torah goes on to warn us that after we are sated, we can make a tragic mistake.

“Guard yourselves lest you forget HaShem your G-d… lest you eat and be satisfied, and build good houses and dwell therein… and you instill pride in your hearts and forget HaShem your G-d who took you out from Egypt, from the house of slavery… and you say in your hearts, ‘my strength and the might of my hand made me all of this great wealth!'” [8:11-17] Say a blessing recognizing that it all comes from G-d, to avoid the false claim that your own abilities brought you wealth.

It’s when we are successful and satisfied that we most need to connect to God. It’s not a sin to ask for His help when we are hurt or scared or desperate, but He must be a part of everything in our lives, to good and the bad alike, or we will forget Him. We might also forget ourselves and who He made us to be.

There is a portion of the morning prayers called Birkat HaShachar that observant Jews say every day where the person thanks God for various attributes and circumstances (the full text in English and Hebrew is found on this site as a PDF). This includes thanking God for giving us (in this context, “us” are the Jews reciting these blessings) discernment, for making us free, for making us in His Image, and so on. This, like the Birkat Hamazon, is also a good model for Christians to consider because it illustrates the partnership between people and God.

Yes, God made us and all things come from God, but He made us to possess certain “innate” talents and abilities. How we choose to use those abilities is up to us, but that they are there is both a testament to God’s mastery over Creation and the fact that we have control of what we possess as human attributes. We are not puppets on God’s string. We can take pride in our achievements and thank God for having made us the way He did at the same time.

I think that’s how Moses approached his own life and in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves, I think that’s how we can approach life, too. We can do what Moses did, by never forgetting the God who created us.

Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our father Abraham; the disciples of our father Abraham have a good eye, a meek spirit and a humble soul. The disciples of our father Abraham benefit in this world and inherit the World To Come, and is stated, “To bequeath to those who love Me there is, and their treasures I shall fill.” –Pirkei Avot 5:19

Good Shabbos.

Eikev: Bringing the Moshiach

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.Genesis 3:15

Because (eikev) you listen to these laws and safeguard and keep them, G-d your L-rd will keep His covenant and kindness that He swore to your fathers.Deuteronomy 7:12

The Hebrew word eikev not only means “because,” but also “heel.” Thus Midrash Tanchuma explains that “these laws” refers to mitzvos that seemingly lack significance, so that people tend to “ignore them and cast them under their heels.”

-from “The Chassidic Dimension” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Eikev
“The Healing Effect of Heeling”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

This play on words would completely bypass anyone who doesn’t understand Biblical Hebrew or anyone who doesn’t read traditional or Chassidic Torah commentaries. But now that you know about it, what does it matter?

As it turns out, it matters a lot. Here’s more from the “Chassidic Dimension”:

Eikev alludes to the time just before the coming of Moshiach — “On the heels of Moshiach.” The verse is thus telling us that close to Mashiach’s coming Jews will surely obey G-d’s commands. This is in keeping with the Torah’s assurance that prior to Mashiach’s coming the Jews will return to G-d. (Or HaTorah beginning of Eikev ; ibid. p. 491; ibid. p. 504.)

Recall the quote from Genesis that starts this blog post. This is the first Messianic prophesy in the Bible, and here we see a clear association with the enmity between man and God that only the Messiah can heal, and the words of Moses as he is about to send the Children of Israel on their ordained mission to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and take possession of the Land.

Somehow, Christianity imagines that Jesus will return and then everyone will repent and turn their hearts, minds, and hands back to God, but this is exactly the opposite of what Judaism expects. In the last days, we will all turn to God and obey His commands and His desires and only then the Messiah will come.

This rather flies in the face of traditional Christian doctrine that says we are saved by grace and not by works, as if God’s grace and our behavior were mutually exclusive concepts. While it is true that we can’t work or buy our way into heaven, it is also true that once saved, we aren’t to sit idly by, read a magazine and wait for the bus to the clouds of glory.

We were given life for a reason. We’re supposed to be doing something with it and what we do or fail to do, will make a difference in the eyes of God.

I know I’ve talked about all this before, but since Moses brought it up, I felt I should go follow his lead, so to speak.

In Deuteronomy 10:20, Moses says, “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him…” Here, according to the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) commentary for this Torah Portion. “to cling to”:

is actually the same Hebrew word which is used of Adam in the garden when it says, “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

But how can we cling to God in the sense that one person can cling to another person with whom they have an intimate bond? In Judaism, the traditional way of interpreting the fulfillment of this command is for a person to cling to a tzadik (Holy person) or Torah teacher. It’s the act of a disciple learning from and following in the footsteps of their Master or Rebbe. The FFOZ commentary continues:

Chasidic Judaism believes that through clinging to one’s rebbe (spiritual leader), one is brought into union with his rebbe. Because the rebbe is in union with God, the disciple is also elevated into union with God by virtue of that connection. In the same way, our Rebbe, Yeshua, taught us that in order to cling to God we must cling to him (John 15:1-7) and by clinging to him, we cling to God. “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20)

Cleaving to a Rebbe, honoring him, and learning from him, and then passing what you’ve learned to others and particularly down to the next generation in response to the desire to cling to God. When we cling to our “Rebbe”, to Jesus, we are fulfilling God’s desire.

One of the most important parts of the Shema appears in this Torah Portion (Deut. 11:1): “Love, therefore, the Lord your God, and always keep His charge, His laws, His rules, and His commandments. Moses continues to comment on this theme thus:

Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, and teach them to your children — reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates — to the end that you and your children may endure, in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to assign to them, as long as there is a heaven over the earth. –Deuteronomy 11:18-21

For the Children of Israel, the concepts of God’s favor and the obedience of the nation are inexorably intertwined along with clinging to God and the promise of the Messiah’s coming. The fulfilling of the promise to give the Holy Land to the Children of Israel and the promise of the coming of the Messiah to bring universal peace to the world go hand-in-hand for the Jewish people, and obedience and living in Israel is a form of joining with the Creator for the Jewish people.

ShemaWhy don’t we have such a clear picture in Christianity?

It’s as if we’ve been told that it doesn’t matter what we do. We’re covered by the grace of Jesus Christ. We’re already saved; we’re already “clinging” to Jesus, so now all we have to do is sit on our thumbs and wait for him to come back and everything will be hunky dory.

Where did we get such a disconnect between the Torah and the Gospels? Who says we just get to sit around? Who says that the minute we were saved that our obligations to God were completed? Certainly not James, the brother of the Master:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. –James 2:14-24

I know I quote a lot from this passage too, but it says something that we aren’t told very often. It says that Jesus agreed with Moses (and you don’t hear that said in church very much) that a passive faith means nothing. The Children of Israel would draw closer to God and cling to God and they would succeed on their mission to take the Holy Land as long as they obeyed God and taught their children to do the same. We Christians, you and I, have a mission, too. Not just to spread the good news of Jesus and to live lives conformed to our Master, but we have individual missions based on who we are, where we live, and the opportunities God provides for us.

We have a road to walk. God set us upon a path. He has provided us with a light (Psalm 119:105) so we can see the path. Many times He has admonished us to turn neither left nor right, but to keep our eyes on the goal, not only the ultimate goal of existence as believers, but the immediate goals of helping others, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and performing whatever special mission and purpose God assigned to us from before the Creation of the world.

We can choose to stand still. We can choose to take God’s words and His purpose for us, throw them under our heels and walk all over them. Or we can choose to start walking and then see where the path leads. Along the way, we’ll meet people and encounter circumstances. How we manage them matters to God and to the people we interact with.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses is trying to prepare the Israelites for a journey of fresh challenges full of promise and perils. God is doing that with us every day starting when we wake up each morning. Because somewhere out there in what we do today, tomorrow, next week, and into the future, not only affects our lives and the lives of who knows how many others, but each step we take along the path brings the footsteps of the Messiah one step closer to us. To bring the Moshiach, we must cling to our Rebbe who is close to God.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. –John 14:15

“A Jew never gives up. We’re here to bring Mashiach, we will settle for nothing less.” -Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Later this afternoon, I’ll be posting another commentary on this week’s Torah Portion called “Eikev: Blessing God”, probably a few hours before Shabbat begins.