Tag Archives: Exodus

Who Were The Mixed Multitude of the Exodus?

Long-time reader ProclaimLiberty (PL) commented yesterday some of his thoughts on the ultimate fate of the so-called “mixed multitude” who left in the Exodus from Egypt with the Children of Israel as lead by Moses (and ultimately Hashem).

He’s made such statements before, but I’ve written so many blog posts (well over 1,500) and people have made so many comments (16,658 as of this writing), that it’s hard to keep track. So I thought I’d take PL’s statements and use them as my next “meditation” so I can keep track of what he said.

I’m also doing this for the edification of my readers and anyone who happens to “surf in”.

We are typically taught that the mixed multitude were a group of non-Israelites who left Egypt with the Children of Israel to escape slavery and/or because they witnessed the awesome plagues of Hashem and wanted to follow the God of the Hebrews.

However, according to PL, and I think he’s on the right track, it’s a little more complicated than that.

The following text in italics is what PL wrote. I did some very minor editing, but otherwise the words below are his.

Any of the Mixed Multitude who actually had survived the forty-year desert trek while remaining with the tribes of Israel would have to have assimilated over the course of generations via intermarriage into one tribe or another. However, a significant number of them were responsible for the murmuring to go back to Egypt and against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. Recall how many folks died when the earth opened up and when various plagues decimated the ranks of those at fault. That would certainly have reduced the numbers among that “mixed multitude”.

Further, that phrase in Hebrew is rather like the English phrase “motley crew”, so that it did not refer solely or even primarily to a non-Jewish rabble. It would have included a lot of Jewish rabble as well, who were perhaps not sure about their specific ancestral tribal affiliation due to conditions of Egyptian slavery that would have separated children from their families of origin.

Finally, non-Jews who used the Jewish departure from Egypt as an excuse to get out along with them did not necessarily remain among the Jews as they headed out into the desert. One would have to expect that they might have attached themselves to the next passing caravan as long as it was not headed toward Egypt, and thus set off for parts unknown to make a new life for themselves, or even tried to return to some remembered ancestral homeland in Midian, Moab, Syria, Chaldea, Babylon, Sumer, or elsewhere. Of course there is no specific hint in the Exodus account regarding this last possibility; and there is no reason to expect to see one because it would be meaningless to the primary story line of the trek toward Midian where Moshe had been following sheep and encountering a burning bush on Mount Sinai, whence HaShem had commanded him to return with the people.

All in all, upon close examination, there is very little in the notion of that ancient mixed multitude for modern non-Jews to identify with or use as an excuse to justify their desire to affiliate with modern Jews. They’re much better off identifying with the Isaiah 56 foreigner or the ten Zechariah 8:23 Gentiles who are envisioned by example as grasping a single Jew’s tzitzit to request permission to come along because HaShem is with the Jewish people. Note that grasping a Jew’s tzitzit is not any sort of authorization or encouragement for non-Jews to wear them or anything like them; and that there is a subtle distinction between how the Isaiah 56 foreigners honor the Shabbat by not profaning it and how Jews were commanded actually to sanctify it.

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Fire on the Mountain

On the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of the shofar was very powerful, and the entire people that was in the camp shuddered. Moses brought the people forth from the camp toward God, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was smoking because HASHEM had descended upon it in the fire; its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain shuddered exceedingly. The sound of the shofar grew continually much stronger; Moses would speak and God would respond to him with a voice.

Exodus 19:16-19 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Sermon One: Fire on the Mountain
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

I’ve wanted to review D. Thomas Lancaster’s lecture series on Hebrews for a while now, and since I have just finished my reviews of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come, I thought Hebrews, a particularly troublesome epistle for me, would be a worthy project.

Two interesting things happened to encourage me to start this project. The first was the sermon at church Sunday before last. The guest speaker (Pastor is out of town for a few weeks) taught on Hebrews 1:1-3. I took copious notes and disagreed with about half of what the person was saying. I almost wrote a blog post about it, but decided that I didn’t need to blog about every single experience I have, and certainly not about every single sermon I have issues with.

The next interesting thing was going over last week’s Torah reading, which was Torah Portion Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23), a part of which I quoted from above because it factors in to Lancaster’s first lesson on Hebrews.

Lancaster begins his first sermon, “Fire on the Mountain” in the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series by announcing that the traditional Torah readings of the Book of Genesis had just ended (as he made the recording) and the Torah reading cycle was entering the Book of Exodus. Lancaster then briefly summarized the first twenty chapters or so of Exodus for his congregation and I began to think I’d clicked on the wrong audio file in attempting to access the start of his Hebrews sermons.

But there’s a connection between Exodus and Hebrews.

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12:18-24 (NASB)

Lancaster takes his audience through a short and somewhat loose history of the introduction of the Epistle to the Hebrews and its canonization. The Eastern Church adopted the anonymously written letter almost immediately upon receiving it, but the Western (Roman) Church took its sweet time, not canonizing the epistle until the Fourth Century…three hundred years after it arrived on the scene.

Mount SinaiThe letter was so “Jewish,” so “Rabbinic” that a lot of people didn’t know what to make of it. It came with the title “To the Hebrews,” but what does that mean exactly? It could have been added later and may only reflect the opinion of some translator or interpreter as to the intended audience.

Lancaster then compared his experience with Hebrews to his experience with Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, since both Galatians and Hebrews are typically used by the Church as “proof texts” that the Law is dead and has been replaced by grace. In other words, those two letters are the biggest guns in the traditional Church arsenal used to shoot down Judaism and replace it with Christianity.

To illustrate this, Lancaster described some of his personal history, especially related to Galatians, starting with being a “Pastor’s kid” attending Sunday school classes taught by his oldest brother David. Lancaster thought he knew Galatians pretty well growing up, but about twenty years ago, when attending a congregation that he called back then “the Messianic Jewish heresy,” he was prompted to re-read Galatians and all of his beliefs about what Paul was saying in that letter suddenly weren’t quite so clear.

I won’t go through the entire story, which culminated with yet another sermon series of Lancaster’s that eventually became the book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, but twenty years ago, so disturbed by how the “Messianic Jewish heresy” was describing the continuance of Torah rather than its abrupt death at the hands of Paul, Lancaster called his brother David to get some guidance. Guidance arrived but not in the form Lancaster was expecting. Lancaster quotes his brother as saying about the continuation of the authority of Torah:

Maybe it’s not what we always teach, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

But what’s all that got to do with the Book of Hebrews?

Lancaster set the stage for the further study of the epistle (or any Biblical document, really), but that’s not the emphasis of this thirty minute teaching. The emphasis in the first sermon was on the Kal Va-chomer argument or a comparison of two items from the “lighter” or somewhat less significant, to the “heavier” or more significant.

Jesus used this particular method on more than one occasion:

Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (emph. mine)

Matthew 7:9-11 (NASB)

Galatians by D.T. LancasterLancaster gave a few other examples, both from the Gospel and Talmud of such an argument, including the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8), which only implies the Kal Va-chomer argument (and seeing that the argument can be implicit rather than explicit is important because a reading of Hebrews 12:18-24 also indicates the Kal Va-chomer argument is somewhat implicit), but the point is that such an argument is not alien to Judaism in general and the teachings of the Master (and apostles) in particular.

Notice something important, though. Lancaster says that in the latter situation in the above example, the generosity of our (good and perfect) Father in heaven, when compared to the earlier situation, generosity of earthly (evil) fathers, the latter does not undo the former. That is, the fact that God is good, perfect, and generous does not invalidate, replace, or cancel the generosity or the status of our human fathers.

Another point to pay attention to is that the first situation, the generosity of imperfect but giving earthly fathers, must be true and have value in order for the second situation, the generosity of the good and perfect Father in Heaven, to be even more true.

Now let’s revisit Hebrews 12:18-24 which compares Mount Sinai and the Torah to Mount Zion and the Messiah. Paraphrasing, and these are my words trying to capture Lancaster’s message:

If you thought it was incredible, awesome, terrifying, and the greatest revelation of God to humanity when God appeared to the ancient Israelites and gave them the Torah at Sinai, how much more so will it be incredible, awesome, terrifying, and an even greater revelation of God to humanity when you confront Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and His myriads of angels?

But the latter doesn’t invalidate the authority, truth, and value of the former, it is just bigger, badder, has more authority, is more true, and has more value.

If the latter invalidated the former, the Kal Va-chomer argument would fall apart and neither situation could be true.

One verse later, the anonymous writer of the letter to the Hebrews uses the same method again:

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.

Hebrews 12:25 (NASB)

If those who received the Torah at Sinai couldn’t escape the consequences of ignoring God, how much less will you escape the consequences of “Him who warns from heaven.”

Lancaster offered other examples of these arguments as presented by Jesus, but I think you get the point. Lancaster is saying that, like the traditional, majority Christian interpretation of Galatians, we have it all wrong about how we understand Hebrews. It took a rather pointed and shocking revelation from his brother David for Lancaster to decide to re-evaluate Galatians from a fresh perspective, setting aside Christian tradition, and interpreting the letter from its original, first century Jewish viewpoint.

Setting aside the traditional Christian interpretation and taking a fresh look at old epistles is one point that Mark Nanos makes about the Galatians letter in his book The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context. This is the point that Lancaster is making about how we should treat the book of Hebrews, too. It’s the focus of this lecture series, which I imagine will actually start at Chapter 1, verse 1 in the next recording. I’m looking forward to it.

What Did I Learn?

d_thomas_lancasterI learned to shift my perspective when looking at the book of Hebrews, at least Hebrews 12:18-25. As I mentioned above, Hebrews has been a big problem for me. I had been so exposed to the traditional Christian interpretation of this letter, that I couldn’t see any way around its anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah message, which stood in such opposition to everything else I understand in the Bible. Now Lancaster has given me a basic tool with which to shift that understanding, a new lens with which to look at the text.

The website of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, the congregation where Lancaster teaches, contains all of the audio recordings of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series (thirty-seven as I write this). Believe it or not, I only listed the highlights of Lancaster’s first sermon. You can listen to “Fire on the Mountain” and the other recordings of his Hebrews teachings on that page at your convenience.

I’ll review the second sermon, “A Word of Exhortation” next week.

Shemot: Jewish Survival and the Promise of the Torah

The death of Pharaoh's sonThen the Lord said to Moses, “You shall soon see what I will do to Pharaoh: he shall let them go because of a greater might; indeed, because of a greater might he shall drive them from his land.”

Exodus 6:1 (JPS Tanakh)

No other people have ever gone into exile and survived for thousands of years to come back to re-establish a national homeland. The return of the Jews from exile to the Land of Israel was nothing short of a miracle!

What does it all mean?

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemot (Exodus)
Aish.com

If you follow the annual Torah readings as I do, you might be tempted to just blow past all of the miracles of God in the land of Egypt and the liberation of millions of Jewish slaves. After all, you know the story. Even Christians who only occasionally read the “Old Testament” are familiar, at least in general, with Moses and Aaron confronting Pharaoh, King of Egypt to demand the release of the Israelites so they may worship Hashem their God. But Shemot (Exodus) tells a very important story that is highly relevant to all of Jewish history and a story important to every Jew alive today.

It’s a story of survival against all odds, survival in the face of hardship, slavery, and even certain destruction. It’s a story of God’s extraordinary love for the Jewish people and the lengths to which the Almighty will go to rescue them from every type of harm. This doesn’t mean that individual Jewish people won’t have hardships or even that large numbers of Jews won’t suffer, but the Jewish people, Israel will survive and ultimately thrive.

The Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath…

Deuteronomy 28:13 (NASB)

This doesn’t mean that Israel will be the head and not the tail just within their own nation, and it doesn’t just mean Israel will be the head in their general region of the earth, it means, in the Messianic Era, when Moshiach returns all the exiles to their land and restores Israel with honor and power, the nation of Israel and the Jewish people will be ascendant over all the other nations of our planet, and Messiah will be King of all.

But what stands in the way of that accomplishment? After all, amazingly, there are Jewish people after thousands of years of concerted effort expended by various nations to exterminate them. Not only do Jewish people survive, but identifiably Jewish culture, religion, literature, art, music, and the Torah have all survived, continuing to set the descendants of the ancient Israelites apart from all the other nations and people groups in our world. God has always preserved them and He will always preserve them.

The Torah tells us, “And Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that entire generation” (Exodus 1:6). Why is it important for us to know that the whole generation has passed on?

The Ohr HaChaim explains that the enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians occurred in three stages: First, Joseph died and the Israelites lost their power. Second, the bothers (sic) died. As long as even one of the brothers was alive, the Egyptians still honored them. Third, everyone from that generation died. Until that happened — as long as the members of the first generation were alive — the Egyptians considered them important and were not able to treat them as slaves.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the Mirrer Rosh Hayeshiva, commented that there are two aspects here. One is on the side of the Egyptians. They were unable to treat the Jewish people as slaves as long as they considered them important. The other aspect is on the side of the Jewish people themselves. As long as they were considered important and worthy of respect by themselves, the Egyptians were not able to treat them in an inferior manner. Only when they personally considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Based on Growth Through Torah

ShoahThis commentary on this week’s Torah portion also speaks to both Jewish and non-Jewish people in the present. Jewish survival is dependent upon how the Jewish people regard themselves and how the rest of the world regards them. Like Joseph and his brothers and their entire generation, as long as the rest of us understand the relationship between Israel and God and treat the Jewish people accordingly, they will continue to survive, because we can not bear to make “slaves” of such a people who have been lifted high by God. But when we denigrate the Jewish people, as we often have done across history, then we get Shoah, The Holocaust.

It takes great courage to come back and stand out after six million of your people have been starved, tortured, and exterminated. The natural tendency would be to hide, to go underground, to blend in, disappear, fade from history as a people, just in order to not be in a position where you, your children, or your grandchildren will ever again be taken from their homes and put in the camps. As Rabbi Pliskin’s commentary states, it’s not just how the rest of the world treats you, it’s how you consider yourself.

If the Jewish people don’t stand up for themselves as proudly Jewish, the rest of the world won’t respect them, and again, we get Shoah.

Am I contradicting myself? Earlier, I said that Jewish survival is dependent upon God’s great acts, and so this is true. But the Jewish people had to cry out to God, a leader had to be willing to rise up from the people to shepherd them, as Moses did. The Jewish people had to, and still have to willingly accept God, accept the fact that God chose them, that they are still chosen, and to “hear and obey” the Word of God that uniquely signifies their called out status.

When we look at Jewish history, we see a history where the Jewish people have defied the laws of nature and the laws of history! We have survived and impacted this world though we have been thrown out of our land not once, but twice! We have impacted the world perhaps more than any other people in history — the concepts of the value of human life, universal education, justice and equality, the importance of and goal of world peace (as opposed to glorifying war), the importance of a strong stable family as a basis for a moral foundation for society, individual and national responsibility for the world — though we were beaten, killed and exiled from one nation to the next. Though few in number and spread to the four corners of the earth, we survived as a people, never assimilating into anonymity. Even our land, the Land of Israel, defied the laws of nature, only fertile when the Jewish people inhabited it.

Coincidence? Good luck? A roll of the dice? Perhaps — except that each and every phenomenon was prophesied and predicted in the Torah hundreds and thousands of years before the events. Does it make you think that perhaps something is going on here? That perhaps there is a special relationship between the Almighty and the Jewish people?

The Almighty, the Jewish people and the Torah are intertwined. In the past 3,300 years there has been effort after effort — from within as well as from without — to redefine and redirect our people. Each and every one has failed. If you wonder why, then perhaps the time has come to read the Torah and find out. The Torah is not only our heritage, it is the game plan for the Jewish people and the world!

-Rabbi Packouz

rabbi_child_and_sefer_torahPeriodically, my Pastor asks what I think the role of Jewish obedience to Torah is in today’s world (although I think Rabbi Packouz answered that question very well in the above-quoted statement), especially in light of Christ and the Church. Why would a believing Jew continue to observe the mitzvot when (from his point of view) they were clearly eliminated by Jesus and they, like the rest of us, now live by the grace of Christ?

Being “Messianic” doesn’t make a Jew not a Jew. All of the conditions for survival I outlined above still apply to them, just like they apply to any other Jewish person alive today. For a Jewish person to find, recognize, and acknowledge the Messiah is the answer to a prayer and the culmination of a dream.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Moshiach, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Yonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 16:15-17 (NASB – adjusted)

I made a few minor changes to the translation above to make it clearer that Simon Bar Yonah was a Jew realizing that his Master, the Rabbi he has been following, is indeed the Moshiach, “the Son of the living God.” Peter didn’t stop being Jewish, immediately start munching on a ham sandwich, burn a Torah scroll, and join the local Baptist church because he became a Christian. He didn’t change into something else besides being Jewish, he received a revelation that at the core, all Jewish people want and need to receive. The revelation of the arrival and presence of Messiah, Son of David, King of Israel, who will save his people, not just from their sins and certainly not from the Torah, but from the centuries and centuries of persecution, pogroms, inquisitions, and genocidal efforts of a hateful and disbelieving world.

Peter recognized Jesus as who he was and is without a New Testament in hand and especially without the last two-thousand years of Christian theology, doctrine, dogma, and history, including the reformation, muddying up the waters to the degree that neither Jew nor Gentile can recognize Jesus as Moshiach any longer.

Peter recognized the Moshiach because he was there, he knew what to look for, not in spite of the Torah but because of it.

It has been prophesied in the Torah that Jews would be exiled from the land and that they would return to the land: “And it shall come to pass when these things shall come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have placed before you, you will take it to heart amongst all of the nations where God has scattered you; you will return to the Lord your God and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you today, you and your children with all of your heart and with all of your soul. Then the Almighty will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you; and He will return and gather you from among all of the nations where he has dispersed you. If your dispersed ones will be even at the ends of the heavens — from there God Almighty will gather you and from there He will take you. And God your Lord will bring you to the land that your fathers inherited and you shall inherit it and He will do good for you and make you more numerous than your forefathers” (Deuteronomy 30:1-5).

-Rabbi Packouz

For a Jew, particularly a Jew in Messiah, the Torah is inescapable. When Paul called the Torah a “tutor” or “child conductor” (Galatians 3:24), we can consider the Torah as a protector, a defender, a preserver of the Jewish people pointing toward the ultimate expression of the Torah. Yes, it “points to Christ” but once a Jewish person has recognized Moshiach and turned to him, it doesn’t mean the “tutor” is useless and tossed aside. It only means that the capstone has been added to the structure to make it solid and permanent. The structure still needs all the pieces. There are many other purposes the Torah fulfills for the Jewish person besides illuminating the image of Messiah. Without the Torah, the Jewish people lose everything it is to be Jewish, to be called out, to be unique among all of God’s Creations.

Rabbi Isaac LichtensteinThis is our mistake in the Church. We demand that when a Jewish person becomes a disciple of Moshiach, they consider Paul’s words as meaning that all of the purposes of Torah have been extinguished and that the Torah is not only useless, but actually a detriment to the believing Jew. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jewish people such as Paul Philip Levertoff and Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein did not stop being Jewish when they discovered the identity of the Messiah. Especially in Rabbi Lichtenstein’s case, the Torah became more important, more enlightening, not less. Performing each mitzvah was given a new dimension in Messiah.

This is something the rest of us don’t understand. This is something we were not only taught to disregard, but to actually disdain. We’ve been taught to shun and even fear the Law of Moses, but we fail to understand the joy and fulfillment that an observant life can be for a Jew. For a Jew in Messiah, the meaning of a Torah observant life is amplified. Torah and Messiah are complementary, not oxymoronic.

Messiah and Torah preserve and sustain the Jewish people, for both will be present in the age to come. If they didn’t, then how could the gospel of Messiah be good news for the Jews?

Good Shabbos.

Shemot: Trusting God

trust2In this week’s Torah portion the Torah tells us “There arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” There is a disagreement whether it was truly a new king or whether the king (Pharaoh) chose to ignore any debt of gratitude to Joseph and his people for saving Egypt and the world from the 7 year famine. Obviously, trusting in people — especially heads of governments — is problematic. Who do you trust? Who can you trust?

In my youth there was a television show entitled, “Who Do You Trust?” The show was not entitled “Is There Anyone You Trust?,” because, in the end all of us trust in someone or something. People trust in their intelligence, their power, their charm, their knowledge, their connections, their political candidate, and in their wealth. For those who trust (or trusted…) in their wealth, it is ironic that on the American dollar bill it advises “In God We Trust.”

Ultimately, what will help all of us to weather these difficult times is strengthening our trust in God. Trust in God gives a person peace of mind, the ability to relax and to be free of stress and worry. It helps one to deal with frustrations and difficulties.

Like all intelligent discussions, we first have to start with a definition. Trust in God is believing, knowing, internalizing that all that the Almighty does for us if for our good. It is knowing that the Almighty loves us greater than any love one human being can have for another person. He totally knows and understands us and our personal situations. Only the Almighty has the power to impact your situation. He has a track record. You can rely on Him. Everything the Almighty does for you is a gift; there are no strings attached.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Who Do You Trust?”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemot
Aish.com

That sounds fine as far as it goes, but it’s not as simple as all that. Trusting in God does not mean that you are guaranteed a problem-free life. In fact, as we’ve recently seen, Many people suffer horrible tragedy and tremendous loss regardless of their trust, or lack thereof, in God. The hurricane devastates the righteous and unrighteous alike and loss of a child will break anyone’s heart.

However, Rabbi Packouz provides a handy list of 7 Principles for Trusting in God for our review. Here they are:

  1. The Creator of the universe loves me more than anybody else in the world possibly can.
  2. The Almighty is aware of all my struggles, desires and dreams. All I need is to ask Him for help.
  3. The Almighty has the power to give me anything I want.
  4. There is no other power in the universe other than the Almighty. Only He can grant me success and give me what I want.
  5. The Almighty has a track record for giving me more than I am asking for.
  6. The Almighty gives with no strings attached. I don’t need to earn it or deserve it. He will give it to me anyway.
  7. The Almighty knows what is best for me and everything He does is only for my good.

Although Christianity and Judaism are two different religions (with a common root), I think the list above can be applied just as well to the non-Jewish believer as to the Jewish person.

Does God love you more than anybody else in the world can? The New Testament is full of comments about God’s love, the most obvious being John 3:16. Yes, God does love you and He loves me, and He loves all Christians, and all Jews, and all Muslims, and all Buddhists, and all human beings who have ever lived and who will ever lived.

And yet disaster can strike at any moment and human history is replete with tragedies and disasters. The road of our lives and the lives of all who came before us is littered with broken bodies and broken hearts and broken spirits.

Certainly God is aware of all our needs and struggles since nothing is hidden from Him, but point two suggests that all we have to do to be relieved of our pain is to ask Him for help. Does everyone who has a sincere faith and prays to God receive immediate relief from suffering? Ask the parents of those children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

God really does have the power to give you, me, and everyone else anything we want, but that doesn’t mean He will grant us anything we want. In fact, it is very likely that God will not grant us anything we really want most of the time.

From a Christian’s, Jew’s, or Muslim’s point of view, there is only one power in the universe: God. Only God can grant success and comfort. But as I already said, there’s a difference between what He can do and what He will do.

Does God have a track record of giving us more than what we ask for? I’m not even sure how to measure such a thing. I think that’s probably true in some cases, but not in others. Ask six million Jews who died during the Holocaust while praying for God to grant them mercy. Was death the only mercy He decided to give?

no-strings-attachedGod gives with no strings attached. Hmmm. Is that true? Probably in more cases than not, but there’s a presupposition that even in giving, God is trying to get our attention, especially if those receiving His gifts do not have faith. On the other hand, referring back to John 3:16, God is the grand master of unconditional love, so who am I to talk?

God knows what is best for me. I can’t argue against that and this seventh point could be used to explain the other six. We may ask for something and not get it and then conclude that we didn’t get what we wanted because it wasn’t good for us. On the other hand, the parents of 26 murdered children only want this all to be a bad dream and for their precious little ones to be restored to them. Is that not “good for them?”

No, I’m not trying to be a downer and “diss” trusting in God, but such an abiding trust is difficult to come by.

Blessed are You, O God … Who has provided me my every needs.

-Siddur

One of the great tzaddikim lived in abject poverty, yet always had a happy disposition. He was asked how he managed to maintain so pleasant an attitude in the face of such adverse conditions.

“Each day I pray to God to provide all my needs,” he said. “If I am poor, that means that one of my needs is poverty. Why should I be unhappy if I have whatever I need?”

Tzaddikim are great people and we are little people who may not always be able to achieve the intensity of trust in God that would allow us to accept adversity with joy. But even if we cannot attain it to the highest degree, we should be able to develop some sincere trust.

When our children are little, we as parents know what they need. They might prefer a diet of sweets, but we give them nourishing foods. They certainly despise receiving painful injections that immunize them against dreadful diseases, but we forcibly subject them to these procedures because we know what is good for them.

Some people do not believe in God. But to those that do, why not realize that He knows our needs better than we do, and that even some very unpleasant experiences are actually for our own betterment?”

Today I shall…

try to bear adversity with less anger and resentment, remembering that God is a compassionate Father, and that He gives me that which He knows, far better than I, that I truly need.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 20”
Aish.com

The Hebrew word bitachon is typically translated as “trust” in English, but that hardly does it justice. Trusting God isn’t about God always giving us what we want or us experiencing God as always doing what we think of as good. It’s the realization that God is always good regardless of our experiences.

Consider any of the “holy men” you may admire and revere from the Bible. From Abraham to Paul, they all led less than perfect lives. Yes, God granted them many gifts, but He also allowed much hardship. Abraham and Sarah were childless and without an heir for most of their lives and into extreme old age until God granted them Isaac. Jacob was hated by his brother Esau, kept in virtual slavery by his relative Laban for twenty years, his daughter was raped and held captive, his favorite son Joseph was lost and presumed dead. Another son Judah married outside of the Hebrews and two of his three sons died. Joseph was a slave and a prisoner for years in a strange land before being elevated to great power, but only on the condition that he conceal his identity, even from his own brothers. When Joseph died, every one of his descendants for generations was kept as slaves in Egypt. Even their rescuer Moses was unable to lead his people into Canaan and instead wandered with them in the desolate wilderness for forty years until finally dying with almost everyone else in his generation without walking in Israel for himself.

Dietrich BonhoefferThe “saints” of the New Testament fared no better. Consider the stoning of Stephen, the harsh life of Paul leading only to death in Rome, and the martyrdom of Peter and every other Apostle. No, trust and faith did not result in comfort of life.

No, trust in God cannot be based on experience with God because if it were, none of these people would have been able to trust Him. In fact it seems that one must trust God in spite of our life experience. Rabbi Packouz’s list does little good, since God does not perform good on command. Knowing that God can spare us pain and suffering doesn’t help and is a bitter irony when God doesn’t spare us pain and suffering. Job’s most famous line (for me) illustrates what it is to trust in God.

Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

Job 13:15 (ESV)

This gives us a picture of the Jewish method of trusting God, since it doesn’t preclude telling God how we feel about what’s happening to us.

Rabbi Twerski tells us that only a great tzaddik, a very holy and spiritual person, can truly trust God at the level I’m talking about here. But he also says that it’s not impossible for we “ordinary folk” to trust God, either. In his own declaration on the matter, Rabbi Twerski states, Today I shall try to bear adversity with less anger and resentment, remembering that God is a compassionate Father, and that He gives me that which He knows, far better than I, that I truly need.

In our own times of hardship and anguish, maybe this is the best we can do as well.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 (ESV)

Good Shabbos.

Why Are We Needed?

i-need-youThe sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneerson, recounted the following story some 64 years ago:

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad rebbe, had a disciple who was also a great philanthropist. Two causes that were particularly dear to him were supporting the Jewish community in the Land of Israel and ransoming captives.

This wealthy chassid had already married off his children and begun pledging dowries for his less-affluent relatives, when the wheel of fortune turned, and his finances suffered.

He was forced to borrow money, and at the end he was left penniless. Overwhelmed and pursued by creditors, he did what any chassid would do: he traveled to his rebbe and unburdened his heavy heart.

After listening intently to his complaints, Rabbi Schneur Zalman addressed him: “You speak about what you need, but say nothing of what you are needed for!”

In this week’s Torah portion, the first one of the book of Exodus, we read about the beginning of the harsh Egyptian exile. But with the disease comes the cure: in the same portion we read about the birth of Moses, the man who was to lead the Jewish people out of their bondage.

One of the first things we hear about Moses is that how he helps another person. Emerging from a sheltered existence as a member of Pharaoh’s household, he sees an Israelite slave being cruelly beaten by an Egyptian, and rescues him.

There are times in our lives when it may be challenging to think about anyone other than ourselves, but the message of Rabbi Schneur Zalman to the anonymous chassid rings true: You speak about what you need, but say nothing of what you are needed for!

Often, the best response to adversity is to break out of our comfort zones and extend a helping hand to another person with love and gratitude for all the good that we have.

-Rabbi Shaul Wertheimer
“What Are You Needed For?”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemot
Chabad.org

I’ve recently lamented about the relative significance of our lives to God and His purposes, but I suppose the above-commentary, part of which I’ve read before, provides us with something of an answer. Still, it’s difficult when we have needs, to set those aside and to consider instead what we are needed for. When it is our heart that hurts and our eyes that grow dim, how can we view ourselves as the pilgrim instead of the exile? Yet we see that in God causing Moses to rise up among his Jewish brothers, that He created Moses to become both.

Some time after that, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their labors. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen. He turned this way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he found two Hebrews fighting; so he said to the offender, “Why do you strike your fellow?” He retorted, “Who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Moses was frightened, and thought: Then the matter is known! When Pharaoh learned of the matter, he sought to kill Moses; but Moses fled from Pharaoh. He arrived in the land of Midian, and sat down beside a well.

Exodus 2:11-15 (JPS Tanakh)

I can only imagine that after having grown up in Pharoah’s court, becoming a shepherd in Midian was something of a let down for Moses, at least at first. But in my imagination, I think of Moses finally marrying, raising sons, and eventually coming to terms and to a peace with the simple life, tending to his flock in the shadow of the mountain of God.

But then, God had other plans for Moses.

“You speak about what you need, but say nothing of what you are needed for!”

-Rabbi Schneur Zalman

But Moses said to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” And the Lord said to him, “Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with you as you speak and will instruct you what to say.” But he said, “Please, O Lord, make someone else Your agent.” The Lord became angry with Moses, and He said, “There is your brother Aaron the Levite. He, I know, speaks readily. Even now he is setting out to meet you, and he will be happy to see you. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth — I will be with you and with him as you speak, and tell both of you what to do — and he shall speak for you to the people. Thus he shall serve as your spokesman, with you playing the role of God to him, And take with you this rod, with which you shall perform the signs.”

Exodus 4:10-17 (JPS Tanakh)

Most of us have never been a prince in Egypt or even a wealthy philanthropist and chassid, but I’m sure many of you reading this have been poor (or are poor) and in need and have been focused more on your own desperation than the plight of the world around you. It’s only natural that when we are confronted with our own pain, we direct all our attention to it and ask for help. It is only natural that, when presented with a task or a mission that seems well beyond our capacities, we should try to turn it down or ask that it be assigned to someone else.

But sometimes God asks the most unlikely people to do the most unusual things.

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Acts 9:19-22 (ESV)

micah6-8And what does God ask us to do?

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (ESV)

For kindness is Yours, O God, when You compensate each person according to his actions.

Psalms 62:13

In our productivity-oriented society, we tend to place value on the product rather than on the process. Success is praised and failure is condemned, and we have little interest in the circumstances under which others function.

This attitude might be justified in the marketplace, since commerce lives by the bottom line. Still, our preoccupation with commerce should not influence us to think that people’s successes and failures should be the yardsticks for how we value them.

God does not judge according to outcome. God knows that people have control only over what they do, not over the results. Virtue or sin are determined not by what materializes, but by what we do and why.

Since the Torah calls on us to “walk in His ways,” to emulate God as best we can, we would do well to have a value system so that we judge people by their actions, not their results. This system should be applied to ourselves as well. We must try to do our utmost according to the best ethical and moral guidance we can obtain. When we do so, our behavior is commendable, regardless of the results of our actions.”

Today I shall…

try to be considerate of others and of myself as well, and realize that none of us is in control of the outcome of our actions, only of their nature.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 19”
Aish.com

You and I speak of our needs to God and He desires this. But He also desires that ask Him what we are needed for. The answer is the reason we are all alive today.

49 Days: Changing into a Stranger

“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’”

Acts 7:23-34 (ESV)

As I write this, it’s early Sunday afternoon and not too long ago, I got home after church services and Sunday school. The Pastor’s sermon was on Acts 7:20-43 and focused on Moses. This is part of Stephen’s defense presented to the Sanhedrin in response to (false) allegations that he spoke against Moses, the Torah, and the Temple. But Pastor Randy didn’t really present it like a legal defense. He was teaching the congregation the story of Moses and he taught it using interesting tools.

OK, for the most part, he told it using Acts and we also read from Hebrews 11:23-27 as well as Joshua 1:5-9. But he also twice referred to the Talmud. Pastor didn’t cite the specific references, but he did point out something about how Jews see Moses and the Exodus, not just how Christians see Moses. I was favorably impressed. How many Baptist Pastors refer to Talmud and the Jewish perspective regarding anything we learn in church?

I was also impressed that he took the time to explain those paintings and statues of Moses that have him wearing horns on his head as the result of a translation error, and he described Moses returning from his encounters with God on Sinai as glowing so brightly that no one could bear to look at the light. He did refer to the giving of the Torah as “delivering the scriptures” but he also called those scriptures “living words.” In referring us to Joshua 1:5-9 he re-enforced (I don’t know how many people picked up on the implications) this high view of Moses and the Torah:

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:5-9 (ESV)

Verse 8 says, This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

A Baptist Pastor is saying that it’s a good thing for God to tell Joshua that he is to meditate on the Torah day and night, to be careful to obey what is written in it, and that doing so will bring success.

Wow.

Both the Pastor’s message and the Sunday school class based on that message focused on how Moses was denied by God entry into Israel because of his disobedience and for that to serve as a warning to us to be careful to obey God’s will for our lives.

If you recall, last Sunday I was more than a little “chatty” in Sunday school class and this past Sunday, I was much more restrained. I did directly answer one of the teacher’s questions, but other than that, I only spoke when engaged in light conversation, fulfilling my desire to listen and learn.

So far, the message I’m getting is one of humility, submissiveness to God, and love for other human beings. This message was consistently presented, even when the Sunday school teacher brought up the recent elections and even when he asked what our proper response should be if two gay people came into the church.

Like I said…wow.

People continue to be friendly. Complete strangers come up to me, introduce themselves (they apparently know who I am somehow) and tell me they’re praying for me. I was asked for my last name in Sunday school this time around (I think for attendance purposes), so now, in theory, I’ve become more “findable” if anyone decides to “Google” me. That means they can potentially find this series of “meditations,” which speaks a lot more about what goes through my head than I’ve exposed in the church community.

I know this is only my second week, but I was very aware of how “disconnected” I felt in church. Like I said, everyone is friendly and all, but I don’t actually know anyone, and they don’t know me. I’m not (yet) a part of the community. They aren’t really “friends” (let alone family) yet. I suppose that comes with time, and I haven’t had to enter into a completely new environment like this in a good, long while. After Sunday school class was over, all I had to do was leave. For me, there was no conversation, no activity, no relationship that was available that would have kept me at church five, ten, or twenty minutes longer.

I’m not sure what to do except keep going every Sunday (or most Sundays) and see what develops. For the first time, someone mentioned the kids rehearsing for the Christmas program, and I realized that a few of the Sundays coming up, I won’t be attending. I guess that’s one of the limits I’m putting on “community.”

Part of what we discussed in Sunday school (well, Charlie, the teacher, did most of the talking) was how Moses’ different experiences, particularly as a shepherd, changed him and prepared him for what he needed to do to lead the Children of Israel. Charlie asked if any of us had any experiences that were as drastic as going from a “prince” in a King’s palace to being a shepherd (I have, but I kept them to myself). He asked how the experiences God put in our lives changed us and prepared us for fulfilling our role in doing God’s will.

In remembering the lesson and looking at myself, I realize that in order to fit in and become a part of this community, I’ll have to change. I’m not sure how or into what or who, but something will need to progress within me that will be for my own good, even if I can’t see what it is right now.

May we have life in which God fulfills our hearts’ desires for good.

-Siddur

The followers of Rabbi Uri of Strelisk were all poor. When another Chassidic master visited him, he asked Rabbi Uri why he did not pray that his congregants become more prosperous.

Rabbi Uri called in a follower whose shabby clothing attested to his poverty. He said to him, “Now is a special moment of grace, and you will be granted anything your heart desires. Ask for whatever you wish.”

Without a moment’s hesitancy, the man said, “I wish to be able to say Baruch She’amar (the opening prayer of the morning service) with the same fervor as the Rabbi does.”

Rabbi Uri turned to his friend. “You see now for yourself!” he said. “They do not want riches. Why should I intercede to get them something they do not want?”

We ask God for many things, but most importantly, we should pray that He enlighten us what it is that we should pray for, lest we waste our prayers by asking for things that are not to our ultimate advantage and fail to ask for what is really essential.

Today I shall…

try to think about what it is that I really need and that is in my best interest, instead of focusing on things that may seem desirable but are really inconsequential.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Cheshvan 25”
Aish.com

This is where the “trusting God” part comes in (again). I have to trust that being here, in this church and with these people (who by and large, remain strangers to me) is the right thing to do and is what God wants me to do. I have to trust that whatever way I am to change, that I do so in God’s will and that I will change into more of who I’m supposed to be and not into a stranger to myself.

Moses was a “stranger in a strange land,” and God helped him to become more of who he needed to be, ultimately resulting in Moshe, the most humble man on all the earth, and the greatest prophet in Judaism. I am also a “stranger in a strange land.” Who am I going to be?