Tag Archives: exile

Christians and Tisha B’Av

I originally posted this last year, and while I’m not actively writing new material for the time being, I thought it important that we Christians consider why it is appropriate to mourn, alongside the Jewish people, the loss of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This year. Tisha b’Av begins on Saturday at sunset and ends at sunset on Sunday.

Morning Meditations

…Should I weep in the fifth month [Av], separating myself, as I have done these so many years?

Zechariah 7:3

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month …came Nebuzaradan … and he burnt the house of the L-RD…

II Kings 25:8-9

In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month… came Nebuzaradan … and he burnt the house of the L-RD…

Jeremiah 52:12-13

Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which have occurred on the ninth of Av. Tisha B’Av means “the ninth (day) of Av.” It occurs in July or August.

Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586…

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What I Learned in Church Today: God Suffers Our Pain With Us

Today in church (as I write this), Pastor preached on Acts 27:1-12 and Paul’s rather “stormy” trip toward his final destination (in more ways than one) Rome. What I found most useful in today’s sermon were the notes at the conclusion. Normally, this part of the sermon doesn’t “float my boat” since these notes are usually an attempt to take ancient events, spiritualize them, and anachronistically apply them to everyday life in 21st century America.

But this time, I decided to see if these notes could be applied to my life. There are three of them.

Do you believe that God is sovereign over all the storms in your life?

As opposed to what? No, really. As an abstract concept believing what I believe about God, my immediate answer has to be “yes,” but it’s more complicated than that. It’s one thing to say that “God is in control” and that “we win in the end,” and another thing entirely to receive a diagnosis of cancer (no, I don’t have cancer) or that your child was in a serious car accident and is in ICU (don’t worry, my kids are all fine).

Then, no matter how much you “think” God is sovereign over every single detail of your existence, suddenly the pit of your stomach drops out and at least momentarily, panic sets in with the vengeance of a really angry Grizzly Bear. Sure, given enough time, you can regain your emotional equilibrium and refocus on God, but for those first few seconds or minutes (or longer), unless you are a terrifically spiritual person and always totally in tune with God, you’re going to lose it.

Here’s the first thing I wrote down in my notes when Pastor asked the question:

Yes, but that doesn’t mean I still won’t drown.

Here’s the second thing I wrote down.

We don’t have an absolute view into God’s plans for us as individuals.

God can be absolutely sovereign over the storms in our lives and we can still lose a leg in a car crash. We can still end up with a child in intensive care. We can still die a long, lingering, painful death.

God’s sovereignty contains no guarantee at all that our lives won’t be painful and end tragically. When we think of God being “in control,” we really mean that God would never let anything bad happen to us. But just look at Paul’s life. God let everything bad happen to Paul.

But the key is, no matter what happened, Paul still served God faithfully, with an almost supernatural focus (I’m being slightly tongue-in-cheek here) on Yeshua (Jesus) as the author of his faith and the “perfecter” of his existence, both in this world and the one beyond.

Which brings us to Pastor’s second question:

What are you doing to learn to trust God in the storms of life?

I remember a scene from the film Finding Nemo (2003). Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) and Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) are inside of a whale, basically hitching a ride to Sydney, Australia. The water inside the whale starts to drain. As usual, Marlin senses disaster while Dory is willing to trust. Marlin is hanging onto some part of the whale’s insides to keep from falling back into the throat. Dory translates the message from the whale.

It’s time to let go.

praying at the kotelI think that’s what trusting God is about, but it’s best to learn to trust him before your life turns to dog poop. While you still have the time, pray with an especially focused Kavanah for an encounter with God. Strive to draw nearer to Him and plead that He reveals Himself to you before you need Him. I promise that if you don’t do this now, you will be doing it once you need God’s help more than anything you’ve ever needed in your life.

Last question:

Do you realize that God is able to use the storms in your life to give guidance to others?

As first, I didn’t read the to give guidance to others part and just saw the question as asking if I realized God could use the storms in my life. Then I realized what was really going on.

Had they trusted in God and followed Moshe, the entire nation would have gone into Eretz Israel led by him. The Holy Temple would have been built, never to be destroyed; the people would have sat, every man under his grape vine and under his fig tree, never to be exiled; and the still longed for, final redemption under God’s chosen anointed would have come. But they didn’t trust and they didn’t obey. So the exodus from Egypt remained eternal, but the entry into the Land was to be transitory.

-Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz
Megillas Eichach (Lamentations), pg 34

If all of the twelve spies Moses sent into Canaan (Numbers 13, 14) had given a positive report instead of just two, obeyed Moses, and obeyed God, the history of Israel would have been written quite differently.

But they didn’t and history unfolded as it did.

The same is true of Israel in the days of Jesus:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Matthew 23:17-39 (NASB)

If Israel had repented in the days of Herod’s Temple, Yeshua would have initiated the Messianic Kingdom immediately, the Romans would have been defeated, the Temple would have been preserved, there would have been no exile, and King Messiah’s reign of peace, mercy, and justice over all of the world would have started and be with us to this very day.

But they didn’t, and untold suffering has resulted.

In the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) gave this sage piece of advice to Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley):

How you face death is at least as important as how you face life.

Regardless of how God provides and what God allows and how God disciplines, your circumstances are less important than how you respond to them. Consider how Israel is responding, not to just all of the rockets Hamas keeps throwing at her, but how the rest of the world is mistreating Israel, believing she is disproportionately responding to these terrorist acts simply by defending herself.

The whole world is watching Israel and waiting for her to blink. So it is true when anyone who professes faith in Christ, especially when we are under duress.

Fortunately, Pastor said that he’s hardly perfect in this area and that there have been plenty of occasions when he’s been stressed and yet taken it out on his family rather than having greater trust in God. There’s a sort of myth, both inside the Church and outside of it, that says when a Christian is having a particularly tough time of it, he or she should be completely calm if their faith in Jesus is solid. Only a failure of faith results in a Christian who cries or yells or begs.

Like I said, it’s a myth.

Father, if you’re willing, take this cup from me…

Luke 22:42 (NASB)

This is Jesus at Gethsemane pleading with God the Father to take away the cup of his crucifixion, his agony, his desperate suffering from him.

This is Jesus saying this. This is Jesus not wanting to suffer. This is Jesus acting just like the rest of us. But the second half of the sentence tells the tale.

…yet not my will but Yours be done.

But he still begged. Flesh and blood, human right down to his DNA Jesus still begged that the cup be taken from him.

There’s no shame in anguish as long as there’s also trust.

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NASB)

If Jesus wasn’t immune, certainly Paul wasn’t either. How many of his Psalms did David dedicate to his own pain and suffering, withering before a Holy God with his flesh melting and his bones turning to dust?

Save me, O God,
For the waters have threatened my life.
I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.
Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head;
Those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my enemies;
What I did not steal, I then have to restore.

Psalm 69:1-4 (NASB)

We struggle all our lives between our faith and our humanity, between Divine glory and human weakness. The spirit is willing but flesh…oh the flesh is very weak. Even the best of us, when put to the test, are like a snow cone in a blast furnace.

anguishTo know that God is sovereign and to trust in Him in adversity doesn’t mean you have to be superhuman and it doesn’t mean you don’t get scared. It means when 99% of you is in full panic mode, some tiny voice in the back of your consciousness is still crying out to God, not in terror but in faith, that even if you should drown or be incinerated in the next half-second, if you are not supposed to live (in this life) with God, then you will certainly die in His Presence and live with Him in the resurrection.

Living with God in suffering is like being a terminally ill child. You know you are going to die and you know your Mom and Dad love you very much. But you also know they can’t save your life. You’re still scared and you still don’t want to be away from them, but you know as long as they love you, you’re not alone.

God’s sovereignty in our lives when we suffer doesn’t (necessarily) mean God will stop the suffering. It means He will never abandon us as we are suffering and in some sense, He suffers, too.

The night when hope was enveloped in darkness was about to begin, so God came to Jacob ‘in the visions of the night’ to show him that Jews might be exiled from their land, but they could never be exiled from their God.

-R. Zlotowitz, pp 46-7

When they were exiled to Babylon, the Divine Presence was with them.

-Megillah 29a

And so He is with us.

FFOZ TV Review: Exile and Redemption

tv_ffoz6_oneEpisode 06: Exile and redemption are two of the most significant Biblical concepts and in episode six viewers will learn that these two concepts play a major role in the job description of Messiah. It was the job of Messiah to bring redemption to Israel by ending their exile and gather them back to the land of Israel. While Messiah did bring a spiritual redemption at his first coming, he has some unfinished business to take care of upon his second return in the way of bringing a physical redemption to not only Israel but the entire world.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
episode 6: Exile and Redemption

The Lesson: What Does It Mean To Be Redeemed?

This lesson summoned a lot of material I recently read about and described in this blog. Toby Janicki explores what he called “The Mystery of Redemption”, which is far more than just what Scot McKnight in his book The King Jesus Gospel called “a plan for salvation.”

Toby, who was raised as a Christian, describes his own early understanding of terms such as “being saved” and “being redeemed.” Traditionally in the church, we are taught that Jesus died for our sins and that we have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb. But redeemed from what exactly? Typically, the answer is that we are saved or redeemed from the power of sin and any punishment in the afterlife.

But as McKnight says in his book, which I reviewed last month, and as Founder and President of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Boaz Michael stated in his presentation “Moses in Matthew,” there’s a lot more going on in the gospel message of redemption than we get in the common Christian viewpoint. The gospel message is a message directed at the Jewish people, and only through the redemption of national Israel and the return of the Jews from exile to their Land, will be people of the nations who are called by His Name, that is, we Christians, also be fully redeemed.

One of them whos name was Kleyofas answered. He said to him, “Are you the only one residing in Yerusalayim that does not know what has happened within it in these days?” He said to them, “What is it?” They told him, the incident of Yeshua the Notzri, who was a prophet mighty in works and in speech before God and before all the people. “But our high priests and elders arrested him for a death sentence and crucified him. We had hoped that he would ultimately redeem Yisrael, but today it has been three days since these things happened.”

Luke 24:18-21 (DHE Gospels)

Here we see two Jewish men who were disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) and whose hopes of redemption for Israel had been dashed to the ground. They believed Yeshua was the Messiah, but the fact that he died and was buried meant for them that he couldn’t be, because he had not lived to redeem the nation of Israel. I should note here that most Jewish people today deny that Jesus could be the Messiah for exactly the same reasons. These are people who deny the resurrection, the ascension, and that one day, Jesus will return to finish the Messianic mission.

But I’m getting ahead of myself or rather the program. Toby teaches that this scripture gives us our first clue in solving today’s mystery:

Clue 1: Messiah will redeem Israel from exile.

This is not only what Jewish people believed in the late Second Temple period but what religious Jews believe today. Messiah must come to redeem the Jewish people and to restore Israel. But exactly what does that mean? Most Christians don’t know, which is the importance of this TV episode. Where did the Jewish people get the idea that Messiah as redeemer was more than just about redemption from personal sin and what will that teach Christians in the church?

Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.”‘

Ezekiel 37:21-22, 26 (NASB)

The prophet Ezekiel is speaking of King Messiah who will return all of the Jewish people in exile to their Land, the Land of Israel. In addition, God will make a covenant of peace with Israel, which will last forever, and God will establish His sanctuary, the Temple, among the Jewish people in their nation forever.

This last part threw me a bit. Revelation 21:22 describes New Jerusalem as having no Temple in the sense of a structure, since God and the Lamb are the Temple. I suppose there’s another mystery we could explore here, but it’s not contained in this television episode, so it’ll have to wait for another time.

tv_ffoz6_threeWe know that God exiled the Jewish people and Israel at the end of the Second Temple period. Jewish sages believe this was because of the sin of baseless hatred among the Jewish people. But religious Jews also believe that God will one day redeem them by sending Messiah.

But there is a modern state of Israel. Jews can make aliyah at any time. Isn’t the exile over? Not according to Toby’s teaching. Israel may exist nationally but the restoration is not complete. There is no Davidic King on the Throne, there is no Sanhedrin court system, and there certainly is no Temple in Holy Jerusalem. The state of Israel has not been set right again and established as the head of the nations. The Temple is to be a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7), but not one stone of the Temple stands upon another, so there is no “house of prayer” for anyone right now.

Shocking as this may seem to many Christians, Messiah’s work was not finished at the cross, not by a long shot.

Toby uses 1 Peter 1:17-19 to illustrate that not only are the Jewish people in exile, but as long as our King, Jesus the Messiah, is not sitting on his throne is Jerusalem, all of his disciples, Jewish and Gentile, are also in exile. In effect, Messiah himself went into exile when Jerusalem was destroyed nearly two-thousand years ago, much as God went down into Egypt and ultimately into slavery with Jacob and the seventy members of his family (Genesis 46:3-4).

Although Toby didn’t mention this at all, I should say that as long as the current Israeli government negotiates with the Arab “Palestinian” people to carve up Israel including Jerusalem, and give it away in exchange for the Arabs ceasing all acts of terrorism, then Israel can hardly be said to be “redeemed” and even Jews in the Land may as well consider themselves in exile. In fact, Israel itself is still in a sort of exile. I imagine the Jewish people trying desperately to hold onto their homes in the so-called “territories” feel that way, too.

Toby also didn’t say this explicitly, but we must consider it to be the drive and desire of all Christians everywhere to see King Messiah restored to his throne in Jerusalem because until this happens, redemption is not complete. Yes, we are still “saved” from sin and condemnation, but being personally “saved” is only the beginning. The greatest works of Messiah are yet to come.

The scene shifts to Israel and to teacher and translator Aaron Eby who discusses what the word “redeemer” means in Hebrew and what it means to “redeem” a person or property.

Thus for every piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land.

‘If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.’

Leviticus 25:24-25

This portion of the Torah explains that the concept of redemption is a buying back or re-acquiring of property or even a person who has been a slave. The principle and meaning of ancestral property is well-defined in the Torah and if it is lost, there is a strong expectation that the original owner or his heirs will buy it back; will redeem it.

tv_ffoz6_aaron2Aaron brought up a question (sort of) I have recently explored. What if the owner dies and has no heirs? The answer lies in the concept of the leverite marriage. Aaron draws examples from scripture including Ruth and Boaz. Ruth the Moabitess was married to a Jewish man who died. Boaz was a relative, a kinsman redeemer, and by marrying Boaz and having a son with him, she restored her former husband’s lost family line.

Aaron also says that, when God liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He was acting as a redeemer and indeed, as God’s agent in this matter, Moses was also a redeemer. But another redeemer is to come after Moses.

Returning to Toby, we reach our second clue:

Clue 2: Redemption means buying back, re-acquiring, and setting things right.

That’s the function of Messiah in terms of the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and through redeeming them, he also redeems the rest of us who continue to have faith. Toby cites Paul in Romans 6:17-18 where Paul metaphorically uses the laws related to redeeming slaves in describing how believers in Jesus are redeemed from slavery to sin, which is also part of the Messianic mission.

Toby referred to another scripture as a way to get to the third clue, a passage that I also commented on less than a week ago.

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.

Deuteronomy 18:15

Toby identifies Jesus as “the prophet” and directs his viewers to Peter in Acts 3 and Stephen in Acts 7 as evidence that the Jewish believers also saw Jesus as “the prophet” spoken of by Moses. Thus we have the third clue.

Clue 3: Prophesy says that Messiah will be the prophet like Moses. Moses was the first redeemer and Messiah will be the ultimate redeemer.

Part of this third clue is dependent on another portion of scripture and I’ll get to that momentarily.

What Did I Learn?

Actually, some interesting stuff.

“Therefore behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.

Jeremiah 16:14-15 (NASB)

passover-artIt never occurred to me to consider the return of the Jewish people to their Land from the current exile as a sort of second Exodus, one that makes the first Exodus from Egypt pale by comparison. I started to think, especially in light of how most Christians have to see Jesus in all of the moedim as their only application, if a new meaning will be assigned to Passover in the Messianic Age, one that reminds the Jewish people not only of their redemption from Egypt, but their ultimate redemption from exile and the restoration of Israel as a united people and a sovereign nation. If the absence of our King on his throne means that even the Gentile disciples are in exile, along with the Jewish people, and along with Israel itself, then we should be crying out to Heaven, “How long, God? How long?”

The other thing I learned, and I’m not sure what to make of it, is that when Jerusalem is redeemed by Messiah taking up his throne, that Jews and Christians will see Jerusalem as their (our) city. Of course, Jerusalem is the Jewish city, the City of David, but how can we Christians lay claim to it in any sense?

I suppose because our King will be sitting on the Throne and the Temple in Jerusalem will finally be a house of prayer for all peoples. I don’t think that means we Gentiles get to live there, but if God is willing, may I see Messiah on his throne in Holy Jerusalem in those days, and may my sacrifices and burnt offerings be a sweet aroma to him.

I’ll review the next episode very soon.

A Line as the Unending Horizon

horizon-at-nightWe live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.

As he sent Adam and Eve into exile, God promised redemption and offered protection. But toil, pain, relational struggle, sin and death went with them as well, marking them and their descendants as refugees from Eden. Consider the ways in which your everyday life is not at all like the perfect paradise of that Garden. Take a few moments to list the markers of your existence as an exile by naming the broken things in your world, the brokenness in you.

The sorrow or anger that you may have felt as you named those broken things? The sinking recognition that things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be?

Those are marks of the exile experience, but they also contain a clue, a compass of sorts. Deep in our DNA, beyond rational thought or extravagant imagination, is a longing for home. Adam and Eve had it or it wouldn’t have taken sword and cherubim to protect Eden. We have it, too. This longing contains our invitation into the new identity and life direction God longs to give to his beloved exiles. This longing is designed to transform us into pilgrims.

Which word resonates with your life experience more: exile or pilgrim? Why do you say so?

-Michelle Van Loon
“Pilgrim’s Road Trip #1”
MichelleVanLoon.com

Since becoming aware of the reality of God, my existence has been one of searching, traveling on a journey, walking along a path, striving toward a destination…God doesn’t promise that we’ll always be well or even safe, just that regardless of what happens to us, he will be with us, as he was with Jacob when Jacob and his family descended into Egypt. Sometimes we’re slaves. And we wait until God lifts us up again. Even if he doesn’t, blessed be the name of the Lord. I’m still walking as a pilgrim on the trail.

my (edited) response

I’ve admitted before feeling abandoned by God, an exile in the desert, but I suppose in reality, I was the one pushing God away and not the opposite. Frankly, encountering God is scary and there have been long periods of time when I thought I’d rather not hear from Him. Ultimately though, once a person has become aware of God’s presence, avoiding such encounters is impossible. God has ways to get our…my attention and He calls us…me out of exile and into relationship.

O God before Whom my forefathers Abraham and Isaac walked – God Who shepherds me from my inception until this day…

Genesis 48:15 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Although Jacob suffered greatly over his lifetime, and before Pharaoh, King of Egypt, Jacob said of his life that “few and bad have been the days of the years of my life,” (Genesis 47:9) yet he calls God his “shepherd” who has guided the steps of Jacob “from my inception until this day.”

We Christians have a shepherd, the same shepherd actually, though we access God through the “good shepherd” who once walked among men and who will walk among us again.

I am the good shepherd, and I know what is mine, and I am known to those who are mine, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father and I give my life for the flock. I have other flocks that are not from this sheepfold, and I must lead them as well. They will hear my voice, and there will be one herd and one shepherd.

John 10:14-16 (DHE Gospels)

While Jesus admittedly came for the “lost sheep of Israel,” (Matthew 15:24), the “good shepherd” verses are widely believed to express his desire to also bring in the people from the nations, that is non-Jews, into his “flock,” though this wouldn’t begin to occur until some years after his death, resurrection, and ascension. While Israel has many covenants with God that establish their relationship with Him, it is only through Israel’s first-born son, the Moshiach, the “Notzri,” Jesus that we who are from outside Israel have been brought near to Israel and to God.

I don’t mean to imply that there are two roads to salvation, one for the Jewish pilgrim and one for the Gentile, and in fact, as he was dying, Jacob explained everything to his sons about the centrality of Messiah, and because of the Torah, we hear his voice, too.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a scholar from among his descendants until Shiloh arrives and his will be an assemblage of nations.

Genesis 49:10 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Perhaps a slightly different translation will be more illuminating.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the lawgiver from his descendants, until the Moshiach comes . . .

king-davidThese words are widely believed in Judaism to be the primary source indicating that the Messiah will come to restore justice and that even the nations will pay homage to him with gifts. As the midrash states:

…the word Shiloh is a composite of the words “a gift to him” (in Hebrew), a reference to the King Messiah, to whom all nations will bring gifts. This verse is the primary Torah source for the belief that the Messiah will come, and the rabbis always referred to it in the Middle Ages…

…the sense of the verse is that once Messiah begins to reign, Judah’s blessing of kingship will become fully realized and go to an even higher plateau (Sh’lah). At that time, all the nations will assemble to acknowledge his greatness and pay homage to him.

This is quite similar to how Christians believe that Jesus will return and establish his Sovereign rule over all the earth. Remarkable how none of this paints a portrait of the faithful in exile but rather a people who are following a King.

They led the boat to the land, and they left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:11 (DHE Gospels)

Our existence is one of searching, traveling on a journey, walking along a path, striving toward a destination. Although most of us don’t literally leave everything behind, home, family, job, to follow him, when we commit our lives to pursuing holiness by walking in the footsteps our Master left in the dust, who we are and how we live are never the same again. Our every sin is illuminated by a stark, white light, our imperfections are covered in dripping scarlet, we are always aware of our faults and our shortcomings, and maybe it is out of that awareness we sometimes feel exiled from God’s presence, for how can the pure and the impure co-exist?

But through repentance, we are offered a way out of the darkness, through teshuvah we are once more made clean. God offers us a path that we may journey from the mundane to the magnificent. Each day we have the opportunity to travel with a companion. He is only far off when we push him away, and he draws near the instant we call with sincerity.

…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24 (ESV)

…the LORD is near to all who call upon Him; to all who call upon Him with sincerity.

Psalm 145:18 (from the siddur; weekday morning and afternoon prayers)

Although many times when we desire God the most, we don’t get a sense of His presence. But putting the limitations of our perceptions aside, God is as near to us or as far from us as we want Him to be. If what we want most in our lives is God, He is there. If we have other more pressing priorities, God will stand aside. If we are in exile, it is one of our own making. God has already made the path for us to be with Him. All we have to do is decide to walk on it.

Days of Mourning

MourningDuring the 3 weeks from 17 Tammuz leading up to Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the Jewish people mourn the loss of the Holy Temple. The Talmud attributes this loss to the prevalence of Sinas Chinam, baseless hatred, among the Jewish people. While hatred towards others is a serious offense, how does it explain the loss of the Temple, and sending the Jewish people into a bitter, arduous exile for nearly 2000 years? Surely there are much greater crimes!

Recall that our relationship with the Al-mighty is not simply servant to master — it’s much deeper. He’s not only Malkeinu, our King, but Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King. A mere servant follows orders, but a child does what he knows his father wants most. While G-d did not record baseless hatred in His Torah as a punishable crime, we know that the deep pain it causes the Al-mighty, as it were, far exceeds even the most cardinal of sins. (Nesivos Shalom, Bamidbar 146)

I encourage you to read the words offered in eulogy (pgs 1 & 16) by Rabbi Binyomin Eisenberg , spiritual leader of the synagogue attended by Leiby Kletzky’s family, and one who had a close personal relationship with the pure, innocent Neshama (soul) summoned back to heaven last week. While one can only speculate what G-d’s message is to us, and undoubtedly there are many amidst such a profound tragedy, Rabbi Eisenberg noted the outpouring of assistance, thousands of volunteers, who helped in the search for Leiby and eventually helped lay his body to its final rest. He then asked a painful question: “Why do we need a tragedy to provide water in the streets for strangers?” “Let’s help each other – always,” he said. “If you pick up the phone, it stops ringing. If we Daven (pray) and help each other, we hopefully won’t need tragedies.”

Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org

The three weeks of mourning, which started on Tammuz 17, began on July 19th this year, and will culminate on August 9th; Tisha b’av. The 9th day of the month of Av observes a series of tragic events that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. It is said that both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av. The Bar Kochba revolt (133 CE) was ended with the slaughter of the Jewish rebels by the Romans on the 9th of Av. On this same date in 1290 CE, the Jews were expelled from England and Spain banished Jews from their land in 1492 on the 9th of Av. Chabad.org has more facts on this day, which holds so many harsh events for the Jewish people.

Why continue to mourn? What purpose could continuing to commemorate the three weeks serve except as a depressing reminder of so much suffering, pain, and death? Why would the Jewish people want to make this a permanent part of their religious calendar and to relive such terrible times?

What did Rabbi Dixler say?

The reminder isn’t what the world has done to the Jews. The reminder is how they failed God, defining the failure as “the prevalence of Sinas Chinam, baseless hatred, among the Jewish people”.

I don’t say this to insult or denigrate the Jewish people. In fact, we all fail God, each and every one of us, and on a rather frequent basis. What lessons can Christians take from the three weeks of mourning and the fast days of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av? Christianity often focuses on how we are saved from sin and death, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we have a tendency to gloss over our own faults, mistakes, and errors, all because we are “saved”. In fact, our salvation seems to make some Christians a little cocky and even arrogant. For them, being “saved” means if you mess up, all you have to do is shoot a quick prayer of “I’m sorry, God” up to heaven and you’re good to go.

Really?

MourningI think not, but sadly, I do think a lot of Christians proceed on this rather self-satisfied and self-serving assumption. If Christians would take their failures a little more seriously, consider displaying a more contrite attitude toward God and other people they have failed, and humble themselves (ourselves) before God and those people, wouldn’t we be better servants of God and better disciples of Jesus? Jesus emptied himself of all glory and honor and humbly accepted an unjust and undeserved death on a stake as a criminal. Where is our fasting, our mourning, our prayers of sorrow for the failures of our lives?

Rabbi Yehudah Prero offers a description of what observant Jews practice during these three weeks:

We are now in the final days of the Three Weeks, the period of time between the fasts of the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. These three weeks are spent in a state of mourning. We do not conduct weddings, we do not cut our hair, and we refrain from enjoying music. During the last nine days, we do not eat meat, drink wine, nor do we bathe. The sorrow of our exile surrounds us at every moment during this time of the year. While we are to mourn the loss of the Holy Temple, the Bais HaMikdosh and the destruction of Jerusalem, and pray for the end of this lengthy exile, we must remember that Hashem is with us, watching us, ready to lift the burden of exile from upon us at the proper time.

Granted, this type of observance is more common among Orthodox Jews, but it does set a standard of behavior that includes solumn reflection and prayer among the Jewish people as well as the reassurance that God is with them and, at the right time, that He will rescue them. It commemorates the “incompleteness” of the redemption of the Jewish people from exile and the desire for the coming of the Messiah to accomplish the final return of the Jews to Israel and to God:

We have been in exile for a long time. Our families have been subject to spiritual and physical persecution. During the Three Weeks, our behavior reflects the sadness of this time period, the recognition of the great suffering which we still endure. Although we mourn and lament, we must still keep in mind that Hashem is watching over us. He has already put in place the mechanisms for our redemption. We cannot allow that spark of hope within us to be extinguished. We must recognize that the exile will end. That end has been planned for and provided for by G-d. With our striving to be better people, with our repenting, our studying of the Torah, the redemption, our light at the end of the tunnel, is clearly within sight.

Christians don’t consider themselves in exile, but perhaps we should. Although Christianity doesn’t have the same relationship to Land of Israel as the Jewish people, there is definitely something we are missing. We still live in a broken world. We still live in a world where sin and immorality reign and where the values of God and truth are treated with contempt. When will we be “returned” to our “homeland”, where we will live in peace and be ruled by our just and merciful King? When will Jesus come?

As long as we are waiting for him, we are also in exile. While we celebrate our salvation, let us mourn the fact that it was for our sins that Jesus suffered terribly and died. We share some measure of grief and sorrow for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews from Israel, because these are all events that are inexorably tied to the death of the Messiah and the spreading of the Gospel of Christ. The Prophet Micah said that someday, all people from the nations will stream to the mountain of God. For that reason, we too must long for the day of its return and for the restoration of the Jews to Israel, as we do for the return of Christ. Let us fast and mourn as for an only son who we have lost and pray for the day when he will come into the world again, in glory and honor and joy. One day, we will all be restored in the courts of our Father and our King.

In the last days
the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.

Many nations will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
Micah 4:1-4