Tag Archives: family

Encouraging a Jewish Wife

apples-oranges-interfaithNo matter what the content, the fact that there are classes for Intermarried couples is a progress , because it is a doorway to observance and making a Jewish home, and even conversions. Sometimes it is the non-Jewish spouse who brings the Jewish partner back to Judaism so they need to be given a chance. This is different from being lenient about intermarriage. Since a lot of Jewish observance is done at home eg. Shabbat , people can be introduced to it and be encouraged because of the wonderful effect it has on family life, would be a good place to start with.

Comment found on “What to Do about Intermarriage”

A lot of Jewish articles about intermarriage are difficult for me to read because many sound like “The goyim are bad for marrying Jewish men and women and causing them to assimilate.” Harold Berman’s article was much more refreshing, but Anonymous’s comment really hit home.

Sometimes it is the non-Jewish spouse who brings the Jewish partner back to Judaism so they need to be given a chance.

My daughter just returned from Israel a few days ago after spending nearly two weeks in the Land participating in the Birthright Israel program. While she was gone, one Friday afternoon, my wife got out the Shabbos candlesticks (sans actual candles). She didn’t light the candles, but she didn’t want me to put them away after Shabbos, either. They’re still sitting on our counter waiting and have been for two Friday evenings now, after gathering dust in our bookshelf for months.

Through casual conversation, I found out that my wife took our grandson for a visit to the home of the Chabad Rabbi and Rabbitzin. It came up when we were talking about a new Lego toy my wife bought our grandson, which was the result of him playing with the Rabbi’s children (I guess they’re heavily into Legos). Yesterday afternoon, my wife wasn’t home, but since she didn’t have to watch our grandson that day, I thought she was off doing errands and visiting friends. I was right, but not in the specifics. She’s spent the afternoon helping the Chabad Rabbitzin do some cooking. There was a hint that she might be planning on helping with some of the food preparation for the High Holidays as well.

birthright_taglitI couldn’t be happier. Well, yes I could. I’m delighted that the missus is becoming more involved with the Chabad community again. Actually, for all I know, she never stopped, but she stopped talking about it. I’m glad that part of her life is becoming more overt again. I keep wondering if she’s simply wishing that I would quit church and become more interested in Judaism.

It’s not like I didn’t try. After leaving my previous congregation, I suggested and hinted and finally asked about the two of us participating together in the Jewish community. Eventually it came out that it would be too embarrassing to have her “Messianic” husband meet with her Jewish friends. I guess a Christian husband is equally humiliating for her.

Welcoming is critical. But it’s not enough. And the question “how can we be welcoming” is the wrong starting point. Instead of asking how we can welcome interfaith families, we would serve them better by asking how we can help them transform themselves through Jewish life. Welcoming, without more, is simply a technique to get people in the door. But Jewish transformation goes to the heart of our passion and purpose as a people.

Helping intermarried families feel comfortable may encourage them to enter our doors. But it won’t help them grow. And it may not even convince them to stay. To be sure, being welcoming and effecting Jewish transformation is hardly an either/or equation, and notable examples of doing both well can be found. But the communal starting point is nearly always one of welcoming, hardly ever one of transformation, and in the meantime, the majority of intermarried families are either unengaged or under-engaged in Jewish life.

I’ve met intermarried couples who joined a synagogue because they were made to feel comfortable.

But I’ve never met an intermarried couple (or in-married, for that matter) who got excited about Jewish life, who gave their kids a rich Jewish education, who chose to become a Jewish family, simply because they felt comfortable. In virtually every case, they encountered a gifted Jewish teacher, had a meaningful experience in a service, or found that Judaism spoke profoundly to their worldview.

intermarriageNotice the first paragraph I’m quoting from Mr. Berman’s article says “interfaith” families, not just “intermarried.” Intermarried simply means that one member of the couple is Jewish and the other is Gentile but not necessarily religious (particularly Christian). Interfaith implies that the Jewish member is religiously Jewish on some level and the Gentile member is affiliated with another religion (probably Christianity).

The direction in which the article travels leads to not just welcoming interfaith/intermarried couples in the synagogue, but the drive to help them transform into Jewish families.

Another person commenting on the article said:

One cannot simultaneously believe that the Messiah has come & believe Ani Ma’anim with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach. Raising children with nothing is nothing. Make a choice, give your child roots (whatever they are) so she IY”H can have wings.

Here we start moving into potentially hazardous territory. What happens to the Christian member of the marriage if the goal of welcoming interfaith/intermarried couples into Jewish life is to create Jewish families?

I know from a Messianic Jewish point of view what the answer could be but that doesn’t play if the Jewish person in the marriage does not have faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

My wife would never ask me to abandon my faith. I’ve considered saying I could cease all outward signs of my faith if it would help her to return to the synagogue and become more involved in Jewish community (I stop short of offering to abandon all internal signs of my faith), but first of all, I know she would decline, and second of all, it’s still a dangerous step for me to take.

And we’re not raising children. My youngest is twenty-five so as adults, my children are all responsible for their relationship with God and who they are (or aren’t) as Jews. The window of opportunity my wife and I had to instill a strong Jewish identity in our children has long since slammed shut.

woman_torahI want my wife and children to become as involved with the Jewish community, with the Torah, with the mitzvot as they want to be and in fact, as involved as God wants them to be. I would be more than happy to “go along for the ride,” so to speak, though as I said before, my presence would make my wife highly uncomfortable. I always come up against the same walls when I face being intermarried and I don’t know how to get over, around, or through them. No one in my church could understand and they’d probably be offended that I’m praying for my family to be more Jewish rather than for them to convert to Christianity.

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 7:12-16 (NASB)

I wonder if there’s an adaptation of Paul’s midrash on “intermarriage” that says the Christian husband can save the Jewish wife by leading her to be more Jewish? Probably not, but it’s a nice thought.

There’s an emphasis in certain corners of Messianic Judaism in general and in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) ministry in specific that believes strongly that we Gentile Christians exist to provoke the Jewish people to zealousness in the mitzvot and a return to the Torah. I’ve come to believe this as well.

I just need to know how…or maybe the only answer is just for me to stay out of my wife’s way and let her do what she’s going to do. Maybe it’s just a matter letting go and trusting that God knows what He’s doing.

Finding My Exit

no-exitWhen you and the path you have chosen get along just great, it’s hard to know whether your motives are sincere.

But when you come across a path to do good, and this path goes against every sinew of your flesh and every cell in your brain, when you want only to flee and hide from it —do this.

Then you shall know your motives are sincere.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I hit what seemed to be a pretty significant wall this past weekend. Hopefully not too many people noticed, but I was turning myself into knots inside and very seriously doubting my current path for a day or two.

The first event that contributed to this mess was from divisiveness in the blogosphere. I should have known better, but a miscommunication between a friend and I and then another in a long series of online “nastygrams” caused me to question whether or not my friend was pulling away from me and pulling much of my current world view along with him (long story).

As personal as the first event was, the second event was far more intimate. On Sunday morning, my wife and I were having a small chat before I left for church. I happened to mention that Pastor Randy gave me a paper on the different arguments between Arminianism and Calvinism and my difficulties in they way the author of the article was expressing his viewpoint.

I didn’t think much of it, but my wife, who is Jewish, started touting how Judaism has received the Torah in an unbroken line between Sinai and the present and that in any response to changes of circumstances across time, the Rabbis always consult the core text and all applications are based on strict adherence to the Torah, thus avoiding the problems I was having with a Christian commentary.

I think it was her attempt to show me that Judaism has a better handle on the Bible and thus on God than Christianity, which I don’t mind, but in our conversation, she brought up how, if the Christian view of the Bible were true, then it totally invalidates Jews and Judaism.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that her perception of Christianity is not what I believe at all. And yet I was confronted with a dilemma. I could explain, thanks to all of the information I’ve captured within this blog, why I believe she’s wrong and why a Messianic interpretation of “Christianity” is wholly Jewish, but my being a “prophet without honor in my own land” (and needless to say, in my own family), how would she take it?

The worst that would happen if I were talking to any other Jewish person was that they’d tell me I was “full of it” and walk away (not that I desire to insult anyone). But what would be the worst that would happen if that transaction were to occur between me and my wife?

I didn’t want to find out so I let the conversation die.

But as I went to church, I was confronted with two highly significant relationships in my life being (apparently) damaged, all because of who I am and my faith in Christ.

I remembered part of a conversation I had with my Pastor. I told him I left the Hebrew Roots movement in part because I knew my participation was very embarrassing to my wife. He asked me, somewhat incredulously, if my being a Christian and going to church were any less embarrassing to a Jewish wife. I absolutely didn’t consider that before, but at that moment and again last Sunday morning, it hit me like a punch in the teeth from Mike Tyson.

I also couldn’t help but consider a few verses.

Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

Ezra 10:10-11 (NRSV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Matthew 10:34-38 (NRSV)

leavingThe Master doesn’t address husband and wife specifically, but it wasn’t hard for me to read between the lines. And in relation to Ezra, I guess I would be the “foreign wife.”

I wasn’t afraid this would dissolve my marriage, but I could see my friendship receding into the distance and, as damage control, what would be my only option to contain this conflict? If my wife was saying that my being a Christian made me “anti-Semitic” by definition, then how could I prove otherwise except to stop going to church? But how could I stop going to church and maintain my faith in Christ?

The conflict between my faith and my marriage came abruptly into sharp focus.

So last Sunday at church was miserable, not because of church, but because of me.

It’s actually pretty painful to see all of the other couples at church because they’re couples. There’s no conflict that I can see between husband and wife because of their faith. They sit together at church, they bring their children, they go to Sunday school together, they support each other’s views.

That’s also true of most people (but not all) I know in the Messianic movement. I sometimes feel like the only oddball.

So with a nudnik (and I know something about nudniks) trying to drive a wedge between my friend and me on the one side, and my most recent “religious conversation” with my wife on the other, who I am supposed to be at Christ was stuck soundly in the middle. All I could see were “no option options.” I was in a box with no way out, a room with no exit.

So what happened?

I did what I always try to do under similar circumstances…I didn’t do anything about it. The temptation was to act impulsively to reduce the discomfort, but that’s usually the wrong thing to do.

After church, there was plenty of gardening to do and that’s relatively mindless work, so I had a lot of time to think. After that, I was given the annual task of cleaning out my book closet (if left to my own devices, I’d keep everything I’ve ever owned). My wife and daughter tackled the equally daunting job of cleaning out and arranging the food pantry.

My son Michael came over by the by and cooked dinner for us while we were working. By the by, my wife and I interacted and I noticed that she was behaving, not as if I were an anti-Semite in the camp, but like I’m her husband and we’re doing typical Sunday evening family stuff together in our home.

The bubbling pot began to cool.

I got an email later that night allaying my other concern and reminding me that just because “bad attitude” people try to interfere with friendships doesn’t mean those friendships are any less established. The message couldn’t have come at a better time.

when-the-forest-beckonsThis whole episode reminded me that I have a duty to my wife to share the Good News of Messiah with her. The problem is, she’s already heard it, accepted it within the church, re-accepted it within a Hebrew Roots context, and, when transitioning first to the Reform-Conservative synagogue in town and then the Chabad, chosen to reject the Gospel of Jesus “because that’s not what Jews believe.”

I wish I could convince her otherwise, but that “Good News” might not be easy for her to hear coming from me, especially when I’m competing with the Chabad Rabbi, a lot of anti-missionary rhetoric, and two-thousand years of post-Jesus Jewish history.

That particular “adventure” is to be continued, but I do have a message for blogging nudniks who deliberately try to mess up friendships in order to further their own agendas:

There are people who believe they are doing good by swallowing others’ egos alive. The egos of those they cannot help, and of those who cannot help them, are inedible to them—and therefore intolerable. They cannot work with others—because their egos leave no space for “others”—only for those extensions of their own inflated selves that show they need them, or for those whom they need.

You don’t love your neighbor to glorify your own ego. When you come to your sister’s or brother’s aid, leave your own self behind. Love with self-sacrifice.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Free Love”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

If you come to realize that what you do is not for the sake of Heaven but for the requirements of your own ego or emotions, then the need for you to attend to your own affairs is far, far greater than whatever temporary issues I may be experiencing.

I found the exit from my no-exit room and am continuing down the path that God has set before me.

The Interwoven Passover Seder

hagadaLeader: God is my strength and my song, and God has become my triumph.

Group: And we will praise our God forever.

Leader: The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

A Passover Haggadah

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Psalm 118:22

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…'”

Matthew 21:42

That kind of caught me by surprise Monday night.

But let me start at the beginning.

I went through the Haggadah several times to make sure I was familiar with the reading, using little sticky arrows to point to places I needed to skip or pay close attention to (especially where to break for the meal). Last year, I tried reading the Haggadah cold with no preparation at all and became quickly lost (where’s the part I’m supposed to read when it’s not Shabbat?). There are all kinds of songs in the Haggadah I’m not familiar with so where do I read and where do I skip and when I skip, what page do I skip to?

My son, who I commute to and from work with, had an appointment after work on Monday he forgot about, so we had to detour from the plan of getting home in plenty of time to help prepare the meal to getting home with not a lot of time to spare.

Fortunately, my other son has the week off and had spent most of the day with my wife helping her out, so when I got home, everything was under control. All I had to do was cook the chicken and pick up my daughter from work. The only hiccup I introduced was I had taken a copy of the Haggadah to work to go over it one more time before the Seder. When I showed up with it at home that evening, the missus got that “Ah ha! That’s where the other one went” look on her face, but after that, all was well.

By 7:20 that night, everything was in order. Tons and tons of food had been prepared. The formal dining room table was set. Everyone was present. We were ready.

My four-year old grandson was very patient with us. I was wondering how he’d tolerate sitting at the table for long periods of time while we were reciting from the Haggadah. Fortunately, long road trips in the van have helped him to know when and how to sit still.

And he likes matzah.

We praise You, God, Sovereign of Existence! You have called us for service from among the peoples, and have hallowed our lives with commandments. In love You have given us [Sabbaths for rest,] festivals for rejoicing, seasons for celebration,, this Festival of Matzot, the time of our freedom, a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Praised are You, Lord our God, Who have us this joyful heritage and Who sanctifies [the Sabbath,] Israel, and the festivals.

-from the Haggadah

“You have called us for service from among the peoples…hallowed our lives with commandments…You have given us…the time of our freedom…Who gave us this joyful heritage and Who sanctifies [the Sabbath,] Israel…”

Remember, the family Goy is the leader of the Seder in my home and I’m the one reading all of this. I couldn’t figure out any way to read from the Haggadah and not imply that somehow I thought all this applied to me and that I was claiming to be Israel (though I’ve been acquainted with just a few Christians who call themselves “Israelites” and claim pretty much everything that’s Jewish without so much as a by your leave).

But it was more my issue than anyone else’s. I don’t think my wife or children expected me to change the text just to accommodate my “Gentile-ness.” It was really the only thing left that was bugging me about our intermarried Seder.

I decided to let it slide.

(I should say that I was feeling kind of guilty in blogging and even visiting the Internet on Tuesday morning, but I saw a significant number of Jewish believers already posting blogs and comments on Facebook, so apparently, I’m not a horrible person…in their eyes at least…for doing what I’m doing now…I guess it’s up to God to decide how He wants to respond to our online “work.”)

Then I read the quote in the Haggadah from Psalm 118 that is echoed in Matthew 21, Ephesians 2:20, and 1 Peter 2:7. I know the Haggadah wasn’t referencing any of the New Testament quotes, but remember, I said that I intended to allow the Seder to have a double meaning for me, not just addressing the traditional Passover for the Israelites, but the Messianic application as well:

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Luke 22:14-20

candleI admit, I didn’t have a spiritual power surge during the Seder but I had fun. I had fun in the sense of satisfaction at watching my family gather and celebrate the Seder together. I had fun watching my grandson trying to understand why Bubbe was taking him to the front door to see if someone named “Elijah” was there. I had fun watching him really, really, enjoy matzoh ball soup.

I had a feeling of warmth, like the lighting of the candles at the beginning of the reading.

I was glad to be there and participating in the “reminder” to my wife, my sons, and my daughter, that they are Jewish and that who they are and where they come from has a meaning that is unlike any other people and meaning that has ever existed or will ever exist. Even in Christianity, we are not born into a covenant. We cannot consider ourselves as having stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah (although it wouldn’t hurt for us to picture ourselves standing at the foot of the cross and watching Jesus slowly die for our sins).

I did have a “light to the world” moment earlier on Monday morning at work, though. The person who sits right behind me is a very kind and gentle Catholic man. Another of the people who arrives as early to work as the two of us is a Christian woman. The subject of our conversation turned to Passover and within a few minutes, I realized that I had a captive audience, and I was explaining not only the traditional meaning of the Passover, but how I see it as a Christian, juxtaposing it against Easter.

As I’m writing this, I’m watching the “patterns” of Passover, at least in my life, weave in and out of my family, my friends, my understanding of God, taking on different colors and textures as Passover crosses from one of my worlds to the next. Passover is what it means to me as a tradition for my family. Passover is what it means to me as a Christian who acknowledges that my Lord and Savior is the Jewish Messiah King. Passover is what it means to me when, as a Christian, I share my understanding of its observance with others around me.

And in some way that is highly untraditional in the Christian and Jewish worlds, Passover is one of the bridges that crosses the gap between me and God.

So when packing my lunch this morning, among other food items, I inserted the obligatory pieces of matzah. They act, not only as nourishment, but as conversation pieces with my co-workers. They also act as reminders of the body of Christ, which was broken for me and which symbolize the Covenant that attaches me to God; a Covenant that extends directly back to Abraham.

My faith in celebrating Passover as a Christian in a Jewish family has been restored, blissfully and peacefully. Would that the upcoming Easter Sunday observance of the resurrected Messiah be as meaningful.

But that is yet to come.

Early in the Morning – Late in Life

Running out of timeMoshe ascended early in the morning and descended early in the morning.

-Shabbos 86a

Rabbi Menachem Bentzion Sacks used to expound upon this theme. The climb to God, the spiritual drive to perfection, must begin early in one’s life. In reference to Moshe’s receiving the second tablets (34:2), the Torah similarly emphasizes: “Be ready in the morning, and go up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and be placed there before Me at the top of the mountain.” Within these words is contained a message for all generations. Namely, one must prepare in the “early morning” of one’s life and begin an ascent in order to stand before Hashem when one reaches the peak of one’s maturity.

Our sages have praised those who partake of a hearty morning meal. We are told (Bava Kama 92b): “I will remove illness from amongst you.” (Shemos 23:25). This refers to the removal of eighty-three maladies associated with the disease called “marah”. Also among the benefits gained by eating a morning meal is that one is granted the ability to study Torah and to teach.

Finally, “Sixty men may pursue one who has early meals in the morning, but they will not overtake him.” All of these advantages can be applied as well to one who partakes of spiritual food. “Torah is compared to water, as in Yeshayahu 55:1.” – Bava Kama 17. The more a young person is nourished early in the morning by studying in the dawn of his life, the stronger and more solid are the fibers of his spiritual foundation. By means of this reinforced and vitalized internal charge, our youth can merit to study Torah, to teach Torah, and to have the knowledge of Torah permeate their beings. Shlomo HaMelech has written (Mishlei 22:6): “Educate a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This system serves to immunize children from illnesses of the soul which otherwise infect them with ‫ .מרה‬Only when our youth are equipped with Torah ideals can they withstand the difficult and corrupting challenges which the world will present to them later.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“Early in the Morning – Early in Life”
Commentary on Shabbos 86a

Fortunate are we that our youth has not caused us embarrassment in later life.

-Succah 53a

Many people gain wisdom in their later years. When they look back on their youth, they regret having squandered so much time. Some people’s “golden years” are unfortunately marred with regret over the time they lost.

Young people can learn from their elders. People who reflect on the past during their last days often say, “My greatest regret is that I did not spend more time with my family.” Has anyone ever said, “My greatest regret is that I did not spend more time at the office”?

While experience teaches most efficiently, some things are simply too costly to be learned by experience, because the opportunity to apply these lessons may never arise. Our learning too late that we have spent time foolishly is a prime example.

Ask your father and he will tell you; your elders and they will say it to you (Deuteronomy 32:7). In his last words, Moses gives us this most important teaching: “Why learn the hard way when you can benefit from the experience of others who have been there?” We should regularly ask: “How pleased will I be in the future about what I am doing now?”

Today I shall…

try to examine my actions with the consideration of how I will look back at them in the future.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 15”

None of the above is at all comforting to those of us who came to faith later in life. Worse, since my initial coming to faith was not within a Jewish context and there were a lot of “mixed messages” between Christianity and Judaism traveling in my household when my children were young, I was unable to communicate a distinct Jewish “intent” for my children who now, as young adults, operate only marginally within the Jewish lifestyle and not at all within one of religious observance and faith.

interfaithMore’s the pity and certainly as the Father, it is my fault.

Not that my children blame me, I suppose, but given the dangers we hear about intermarriage and assimilation as delivered by the Jewish community and by Jewish history, I feel the weight of responsibility rests upon my shoulders.

Patrick Stewart (in the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation) once delivered the line…

Remembrance and regrets, they, too, are a part of friendship…And understanding that has brought you a step closer to understanding humanity.

Being human and given my particular background, I may understand humanity, but I am no less vulnerable to human foibles and failures as the next man. I suppose, from the Jewish point of view, at least if I use the above quoted commentaries as my guide, I’ve arrived at the party far too late and wearing the wrong suit for the occasion. Only the Master suggests that it may be otherwise.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)

That helps me but it doesn’t help my family, particularly my children who, as young adults, are now responsible for making their own decisions without any sort of “parental influence” from me, at least the unwanted kind.

But if I didn’t arrive early enough, perhaps it’s still not too late.

Hearken and hear Israel, (Devarim 27:9) this is the time marked for the redemption by Mashiach. The sufferings befalling us are the birth-pangs of Mashiach. Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva. (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit I:1) Have no faith in the false prophets who assure you of glories and salvation after the War. Remember the word of G-d, “Cursed is the man who puts his trust in man, who places his reliance for help in mortals, and turns his heart from G-d” (Yirmiyahu 17:5). Return Israel unto the Eternal your G-d; (Hoshei’a 14:2) prepare yourself and your family to go forth and receive Mashiach, whose coming is imminent.

“Today’s Day”
Wednesday, Tevet 15, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

early_morning_skyI wish I could prepare my family to go forth and receive Mashiach, but the best I’m able to do at the moment is attempt to prepare myself. On the other hand, my wife recently confided in me that she feels I blog more about my feelings of going back to church than I ever discuss with her. I was rather shocked at hearing this, since I had no idea she had any interest in my church activities at all. Maybe what I do to prepare myself to go forth and receive Mashiach is more noticeable than I thought.

On the one hand, God and faith seem to be happening too late to do much good in my life and in the lives of those I love the most. On the other hand, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman had this to say about the Rebbe’s lessons, which may also apply to me.

There is a recurring theme in the volumes of stories told of the Rebbe: The tale of the man who was in the right place at the right time.

There are the stories of someone embarking on a trip to some distant place, and the Rebbe gave him a book to take along, or asked him to do a certain thing there, or to meet a certain person. Or the Rebbe simply asked someone to go to a place, with little direction of what to do there.

And then, in these stories, it always works out that just at the right time the right person turns up in the right place and all the story unfolds. It’s all a matter of making connections: Every soul has certain sparks of light scattered throughout the world that relate to it in particular. The Rebbe sees the soul and senses, like a geiger counter, the sparks that await this soul. All that was needed is to bring the two within a reasonable proximity and the rest takes care of itself.

The stories are meant as a teaching as well. The Rebbe was revealing to us the wonder of our own lives, that there is purpose latent in whatever you are doing.

To extend the metaphor and express it as a question, is God still writing my story with purpose and intent in what I am doing today? Is it still possible for my life to draw others to God?

“A wise man changes his mind, a fool never”

-Spanish Proverb

Longing for Yom Kippur

Because the day has passed, shield us by the merit of [the Patriarch Abraham] who sat [at the door of his tent] in the heat of the day [to welcome wayfarers].

Genesis 18:1 (Ne’ilah prayer)

Just prior to Ne’ilah (the concluding service of Yom Kippur), one of the Chassidic masters ascended the bimah (platform) and said tearfully, “My dear brothers and sisters! God in His infinite mercy gave us the entire month of Elul to repent, but we failed to take advantage of it. He gave us the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah, when our standing in judgment before the heavenly tribunal should have stimulated us to repent, but we neglected that opportunity. He gave us the special grace of the Ten Days of Penitence, but we let these pass too. All we have left now are a few precious moments that are propitious for forgiveness.

“The Sages of the Talmud tell us that if a person enters a marriage contract on the condition that he is a perfect tzaddik, then it is binding even if he is known to be a complete rasha (wicked person). Why? Because he may have had one moment of sincere contrition that transformed him from a complete rasha to a perfect tzaddik. “Do you hear that, my dear brothers and sisters? All it takes one brief moment of sincere contrition! We have the opportunity of that moment now. In just one moment we can emerge totally cleansed of all our sins, in a state of perfection akin to that of Adam in the Garden of Eden.”

The rabbi wept profusely and uncontrollably. “Could we be so foolish as to overlook such a rare opportunity? Let us assist one another and join in achieving sincere repentance!”

Today I shall…

…take advantage of the Divine gift of forgiveness, and make my resolutions of repentance sincere, so that the new person that emerges will be unencumbered by the burdens of the past.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 10”

I’m not going to be fasting for Yom Kippur this year. I’ve fasted in the past. Further in the past, I’ve fasted and attended religious worship, although only elements of the Yom Kippur service were involved. A Jewish friend emailed me last night and asked if I were going to fast in solidarity with the Jewish people. I had thought about it, but I know that my family won’t be fasting and it seemed a little presumptive for me to fast, since I’m the only non-Jewish member of my immediate family.

I suppose you could say that if I fasted, I would be leading by example, but it could also boomerang back and make me look like I’m being critical of them and taking on a “holier than thou” attitude. I’m not taking the day off of work, either. I think my family will be working tomorrow as well. I suppose this is a problem, since they are Jewish and choosing not to observe the Yom Kippur fast nor going to shul to repent with the community of Israel.

Last spring, I wrote an article called “Redeeming the Heart of Israel” (Part 1 and Part 2) in which I defined the Christian relationship to the Jewish people as one of encouragement and support for Jews to return to Torah and to the ways of their fathers. That’s easier said than done when it’s your own family.

Oh, I’ve dropped subtle and not-so-subtle hints, but ultimately, the choice isn’t mine to make. It’s theirs. Each individual, Jew, Christian or anyone else, negotiates their own relationship with God. For me, my atonement is in Jesus Christ. Frankly, I believe that’s true of everyone, but not everyone perceives that truth in their lives. There are elements of both the Abrahamic and New Covenant that link both Jews and Christians, through the Messiah, to God, so Messiah is the hope for all of us.

But since I am not Jewish, the particulars of the Sinai covenant do not have blessings for me. Without a Jewish “lived” experience, I’m unsure how to encourage my family to be who they are and maybe it’s not my place to try. But then, when you love someone, you want what’s best for them; you want what will make them happy.

God opens His Hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing (Psalm 145:16). My desire is for my family to return to the mitzvot; return more fully to the Torah, and to be the people God made them to be; Jewish people. I apologize and regret anything I may have said or done that has been to the contrary. I pray to God that in the coming year, He may help turn the hearts of all His Jewish children back to Him and help we Christians be more compassionate of His Chosen People, that we may stand at their side and together, all acknowledge that God is One. On that day, may all Christians fast on Yom Kippur in solidarity with their Jewish friends and family.

May the Messiah come soon and in our days, and may you be sealed for a good year in the book of life.

To honor the most Holy day for the Jewish people, I will not present a “morning meditation” on Wednesday which is Yom Kippur (begins at sundown on Tuesday). My next blog post will be Thursday morning.

Will My Grandchildren Be Jewish?

Jewish GrandchildrenYou could call this “extra” meditation a “Part 2” of my earlier blog post What God Has Joined Together. Part of the “mission” of my blog is to document the life of an intermarried couple and what that means. Here we go.

Based on current intermarriage rates and the average number of children per family, the chances of young, contemporary Jews having Jewish grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with the exception of the Orthodox, are increasingly remote.

From “Will Your Grandchildren be Jewish”
Aish.com (PDF/graphic)

Based upon the data and the various population studies that are now available, it appears that an extraordinary disintegration of the American Jewish community is in process. There was a time when every Jew could take it for granted that he or she would have Jewish grandchildren with whom to share Seders, Sabbath and other Jewish moments. However, the clear data indicates that this expectation is no longer well founded. Indeed, our studies show that within a short period of time the entire complexion of the American Jewish community will be altered inexorably.

From “Will Your Grandchildren be Jewish?”

Will my grandchildren be Jewish? Probably not. Let me explain, but I have to go back a little bit.

My wife is Jewish and I’m not. She’s Jewish because her mother was Jewish (both of my wife’s parents passed away many years ago). My wife’s father wasn’t Jewish and my wife wasn’t raised in a religiously or culturally Jewish home. She only realized that she was Jewish by halachah (because her Mom is Jewish) when she was a young adult. Even then, she waited decades until she fought to enter into a culturally and religiously Jewish world, and that’s where she is today.

My wife has two brothers and two sisters. None of them acknowledge being Jewish. One brother and one sister are actively Christian and her Christian brother even denies the possibility that his mother was Jewish, saying there’s no proof (we have tons of proof, including the documentation of many maternal relatives buried in Jewish cemeteries). Out of five children of a Jewish woman, my wife is the only one living a Jewish life today. Sad but typical. My wife beat the odds but she had to work really hard to do it.

We have three children. All self-identify as Jews, at least marginally. I say “marginally” because they don’t really involve themselves in Judaism on a cultural or religious level. My daughter is the one who has come closest to embracing her Judaism. She sometimes goes to Chabad functions with my wife. When she was an exchange student in Japan for a year during high school, my daughter made the effort (and it was significant) to attend the synagogue in Tokyo on a few occasions (my daughter lived about 50 miles away). My daughter has tutored Hebrew to some of the kids at our local Reform shul.

My sons acknowledge that they’re Jewish but that’s about it. I think David has a basic faith in Jesus but he doesn’t lead any sort of religious lifestyle. Michael doesn’t have a Jewish lifestyle as far as I can tell.

Only David is married and he’s married to a (wonderful) non-Jewish girl. They have one son, my grandson, the apple of my eye. And my grandson is not Jewish.

Michael will probably marry someday, but he’s not currently dating and the chances of him marrying a Jewish woman isn’t very good. My daughter Jamie says she wants to marry someday, but doesn’t want to have any children (even through adoption).

No, my grandchildren will not be Jewish.

Things seem grim for the Jews in America but I’m going to try to inject something upbeat.

Julie Wiener writes a series of articles for The Jewish Week magazine called In the Mix. Julie is intermarried to a “Righteous Gentile husband” and they have two daughters (and because Julie is Jewish, so are her kids…I don’t know if Julie’s parents are intermarried). According to an article she wrote last June, intermarried Jews are breeding like crazy.

Depending on your point of view, that’s either good or bad. Depending on who you are, intermarried couples (like Natalie Portman and her partner Benjamin Millepied) can raise their children Jewish or (like Anthony Weiner and his Muslim wife, Huma Abedin) not. Not that it’s up to the Mom exclusively what cultural and religious identity the children will have. Julie published a more recent article called Battle Hymn of the Gentile Mom describing how the non-Jewish wives of Jewish husbands commit to raising their children Jewish. There’s even this quote:

Also of interest in JTA is an article about a recent study of Chicago’s Jewish population, which finds that while intermarriage (and the Jewish population) has increased, the percentage of intermarried families raising Jewish children has also increased…

I can read all the articles and research studies I want, but all I really have to do to see where the children and grandchildren of intermarried couples end up is to look at my own family. We never chose to embrace Judaism in the home until fairly late in life when the kids were almost grown. I often wonder what would have happened if we could have made the decision earlier. A futile waste of time, I know.

God has never permitted the Jewish people to vanish from the face of the Earth and I don’t believe He ever will. When the Messiah comes, there will be Jews here. But it will be a miracle from God. It seems like people aren’t helping with the process all that much.