Tag Archives: grace

Loving Yourself: A High Holidays Primer for Non-Jews

There is a Midrash (a commentary on the Five Books of Moses in the form of a parable) about a successful businessman who meets a former colleague down on his luck. The colleague begs the successful business man for a substantial loan to turn around his circumstances. Eventually, the businessman agrees to a 6 month loan and gives his former colleague the money. At the end of the 6 months, the businessman goes to collect his loan. The former colleague gives him every last penny. However, the businessman notices that the money is the exact same coins he loaned the man. He was furious! “How dare you borrow such a huge amount and not even use it? I gave this to you to better your life!” The man was speechless.

Likewise, the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves, to enhance our souls by doing the mitzvot (613 commandments). It is up to us to sit down before Rosh Hashana and make a list of what we need to correct in our lives between us and our fellow beings, us and God and us and ourselves!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Nitzavimm (Deut. 29:9-30:20)
Aish.com

shofar-rosh-hashanahRosh Hashanah begins Sunday evening, October 2nd, which is only a few days away. This has pretty much zero meaning in normative Christianity and immense meaning in normative Judaism, as well as in Messianic Judaism and some corners of the Hebrew Roots movement.

One of my readers, ProclaimLiberty, who is a Messianic Jew living in Israel, has suggested that Sukkot might serve for Gentile Messianic believers as a better holiday to observe what Jews typically practice during the High Holidays. Perhaps he’s right. Certainly Zechariah 14:16-19 has much to say about this.

In my own circumstance, I don’t plan to commemorate the High Holidays. I don’t doubt my wife will attend synagogue, but for personal reasons, I choose to make those observances within myself.

I hadn’t planned to blog again on this topic. My previous blog post The Month of Elul and the Gentile Christian has gained a lot of traction and the conversation is up to 53 comments as of this writing. But then I saw the quote from Rabbi Packouz’s recent article and was reminded of the “Parable of the Talents” we find in Matthew 25:14-30. I’m certainly not suggesting a direct parallel. Rabbi Packouz would not have considered referencing the Apostolic Scriptures, and the classic Christian interpretation of the parable doesn’t touch upon the above-quoted midrash, but I want to play a game.

Specifically, I want to play a game of pretend. I want to pretend that the parable can have multiple, metaphorical meanings. Let’s just pretend that we can apply the commentary by Rabbi Packouz to the Parable of the Talents and say one of the things God does not want is for us to waste our very lives.

Let’s just say that one of the things that Yeshua wants us to make use of is God’s investment in our own personal value.

In the comments section of my blog post on Elul, it has come up multiple times that Gentiles in God’s economy have less value, perhaps much less value than Jews. I don’t necessarily believe this, but any non-Jew who has been around the Messianic Jewish community long enough can get the impression that, based on the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in all of the covenant promises of God, including the New Covenant, we don’t count for much.

So, to again quote R. Packouz, let’s just pretend that relative to being human, whether we are Jewish or Gentile, “the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves…”

Since the 613 commandments aren’t applicable to us, it becomes a bit if a head-scratcher as to what we are supposed to do to improve ourselves, but that’s only if we aren’t paying attention. Many of the things that Jews do to improve themselves are available to everyone.

tzedakahGive to charity, pray, volunteer your time at a local foodbank, and generally act toward others in a kind manner, even when you have to go out of your way to do it.

It is said that the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40) are to love the Lord your God with all of your resources and to love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments are just big containers that hold lots of other commandments, some having to do with your relationship with God and others with your relationship with human beings.

The point is, God gave each and every one of us our lives and He expects us to do something with those lives. Not just with specific talents or gifts, and not just with money, but with all that we are. Going out, we should be better people than we were when we came into this world.

We Gentiles who are in some manner associated with the Messianic movement or at least the Messianic perspective often complain about our status, as if the Jewish people have it all sewn up. I don’t think that’s the case. I think we get so busy being involved in our own angst, that we can’t see beyond it.

I read an article in the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish called Synagogue Dues: Pay to Pray? The Jewish person asking the question is upset that Jews should have to buy a ticket or a membership to a synagogue in order to enter and pray on the High Holidays. He’s so upset that he’s deliberately boycotting the holidays.

The Aish Rabbi responds in part with this:

I must say, however, I’m surprised by your reaction to this whole situation. Who are you ultimately hurting by boycotting the holidays? Instead of saying: “That blasted synagogue! I’ll teach them a lesson and defile my soul with some bacon!” Why not say: “I’ll start my own synagogue and the policy will be free seating on High Holidays for those who can’t afford tickets.”

It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive. Proactive means making your own reality happen. Reactive is allowing other people’s shortcomings to hurt you. Judaism is a religion of action. So let me know when you start that synagogue. It’ll be my honor to pray with you there!

There may be some difficulty in defining the roles and duties of Gentiles who have chosen to become part of a Messianic Jewish community, but make no mistake, no Messianic Jewish person, no matter what their position or education, can interfere with your relationship with God.

If you feel there’s something about Messianic Judaism or some Messianic Jews that devalues you as a creation of God and a devotee of Yeshua, that may be your problem and not their’s. Even if an individual Messianic Jew (or anyone else) attempted to persuade you that God thinks of you as sloppy left overs compared to Jewish people, that simply is not true.

awareness-of-godA friend of mine is fond of saying, “Do not seek out Christianity, and do not seek out Judaism. Seek out an encounter with the Living God.”

If you’re here, that means God wants you here, and he expects you to fulfill whatever roles and tasks He has assigned you. Your job, our job, all of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, is to seek out what we are supposed to do and then to do it.

I believe the first task is to truly embrace the fact that God loves us and wants us to appreciate that love, not only by loving God but by loving ourselves. How can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we don’t love and value our own existence first?

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What God Expects of the Jew and Also the Gentile

R’ Moshe Feinstein (in his Darash Moshe) explains that greatness is not defined by a person’s accomplishments, but rather by the person’s success in fulfilling the tasks for which Hashem equipped him and sent him to this world. Every person enters the world with unique abilities and a specific set of tasks to accomplish. Some are given tremendous ability, and are expected to achieve a great deal, while others are endowed with lesser abilities, and correspondingly, smaller tasks. But every person’s job is identical — use the skills you have been given to the utmost, to accomplish as much as you can.

-from “A Torah Thought for the Day,” p.75
Tuesday’s commentary on Parashas Va’eira
A Daily Dose of Torah

From a rationalist’s point of view it does not seem plausible to assume that the infinite, supreme Being is concerned with my putting on Tefillin every day. It is, indeed strange to believe that God should care whether a particular individual will eat leavened or unleavened bread during a particular season of the year. However, it is that paradox, namely, that the infinite God is intimately concerned with finite man and his finite deeds; that nothing is trite or irrelevant in the eyes of God, which is the very essence of the prophetic faith.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “Does God Require Anything of Man?” p.102
Man’s Quest for God

You may not think the two quotes just above have much to do with one another, but bear with me. The former is addressing how each human being is placed on earth to fulfill his or her specific potential understanding that we all have different potentials, and the latter is discussing, not generally human response to God, but a Jew’s response to Hashem through performance of the mitzvot.

There are many problems which we encounter in our reflections on the issue of Jewish observance. I would like to discuss briefly several of these problems, namely, the relation of observance to our understanding of the will of God; the meaning of observance to man; the regularity of worship; inwardness and the essence of religion; the relevance of the external deeds.

-Heschel
“To Obey or to Play with the Will of God.” p.102

Is Heschel using “man” and “Jewish” as interchangeable terms, or can we infer that he means that all human beings are responsible for obeying God, and then drawing out Jewish observance as distinct from God’s expectations for the rest of us?

I doubt Heschel meant to include that meaning into his writing but I’m going to “force” the issue based on my particular perspective.

You see, not only do I believe that each individual human being was placed here in life for a purpose that has been assigned to us by God, but I believe that God has placed the Jewish people and the Gentile nations here to fulfill specific purposes depending on which corporate body we are born into (aside from some Gentiles converting to Judaism).

praying_jewIn other words, there are specific tasks God placed Jewish people here to perform, and we Gentiles have specific tasks we also are here to perform, all in the service of God.

But those Jewish and Gentile tasks aren’t necessarily the same (though there’s probably some overlap).

I know that will ruffle a few feathers out there, but I’ve said this often enough and in so many different ways, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone by now.

As for the “equality” of women in Torah, a great deal depends on what you think “equality” means. In Torah, it does not mean that every member of the community is authorized to perform the identically same roles and tasks. Leviim may not perform some tasks reserved for Cohanim. Other Jews who are not in these categories may not perform the tasks reserved for priestly categories (with some rare and constrained exceptions). Men may not bear children nor are they exempt from time-critical tasks required of them (the men, not the children [:)]). Women may not perform certain tasks required specifically of men. Children are constrained from performing adult tasks and are not to be relied upon to perform adult responsibilities (though their training will include learning by doing, emulating such tasks). None of these categories are less to be valued because of what they may not do; and each is to be highly valued for what they *are* given to do. They are all equally valuable and honorable; but they are not identical in their assignments nor may they trade off their specific responsibilities, though some tasks may be shared by more than one of these categories.

-from a comment made by “ProclaimLiberty”
on my blog post Jews Defining Their Own Relationship With God And The Torah

While the conversation was about male and female equality of roles within Jewish religious and communal space, I chose to expand the concept to include Jewish and Gentile roles within that same space and particularly within Messianic Judaism.

Individuals are granted potentials to fulfill and so are people groups, namely Jewish and Gentile. After all, the Torah was given to Israel at Sinai, not all of the human beings living on the Earth. So if there were a Gentile “mixed multitude” also standing at Sinai saying as one man, “all that you have said we will do” (Exodus 19:8; 24:3), those from outside Israel either assimilated into the tribes, losing their Gentile heritage forever, or they left without so much as a “by your leave” to return to the rest of the nations, probably the lands from which they came.

But what about the rest of us? I mentioned that I thought the nations had specific tasks hard-coded into our potential as well. I suppose I could start with Genesis 9 which is the basis for what in Judaism is referred to as The Seven Laws of Noah, but I can go further than that.

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

Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)

But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”

Acts 21:25

It would seem, at least from my point of view, that the Bible presupposes a distinction in the duties human beings have to God depending on whether or not you’re Jewish.

Yet we all wholeheartedly accept Micah’s words: “He has showed 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). If we believe that there is something which God requires of man, then what is our belief if not faith in the will of God, certainty of knowing what His will demands of us?

-Heschel
“Does God Require Anything of Man,” p.103

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

But from a “Messianic Gentile’s” perspective, what is the “certainty of knowing what His will demands of us?” The overly simplistic answer some have selected is that “one size fits all.” In other words, there are 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to perform (though many of them are in abeyance since we are without a Temple, a Levitical Priesthood, and a Sanhedrin in Israel), and God has only one standard of piety and righteousness for the whole human race, that is, the aforementioned 613 commandments, the Torah.

But if we accept that, then we must accept that God first chose Israel to be a light to the nations, then at some point, “unchose” her, and instead, chose all followers of Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach). Except that’s exactly what the Christian Church believes. Christians believe that God “unchose” Israel and the Torah and then chose “the Church,” the worldwide body of believers in Jesus. Hebrew Roots generally (but not universally) believes that (again, please bear with me) God “unchose” Israel and then chose all followers of Messiah Yeshua and applied the Torah to his latter selection in the same manner as He did with His former selection (and as I’ve said before, I don’t for a split second believe that Gentile disciples actually become “non-Jewish Israel”).

It is so difficult from a western egalitarian mindset to imagine that God would be so “unfair” as to have different standards and different expectations for different people groups. And yet, He is God and His will be done.

Heschel calls observing the mitzvot “the Jewish way of life,” (p.105) and he takes Christian theology and specifically the writings of the Apostle Paul to task for emphasizing that a man is justified by faith apart from the Law (p.108 citing Romans 3:28), which he doesn’t consider to be a particularly Jewish attitude.

The highest peak of spiritual living is not necessarily reached in rare moments of ecstasy; the highest peak lies wherever we are and may be ascended in a common deed. There can be as sublime a holiness in fulfilling a friendship, in observing dietary laws, day by day, as in uttering a prayer on the Day of Atonement.

-ibid
“There is No Exterritoriality,” p.111

I agree, however Heschel seems to have missed this:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

James 2:14-16

Of course James (Ya’akov or Jacob), the head of the Council of Apostles and Elders and brother to the Master was (and is) also Jewish so it stands to reason that he and Heschel might have some common insights on a Jewish response to God.

One of the questions I am asked when I bring up this subject is what specifically does God expect of the Gentile in Messiah? I’ve tried to answer that question on multiple occasions over the past several years, most recently in The Duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians to the Jews, Messianic Judaism for the Rest of Us and Gentiles Studying Torah for the Sake of Doing. But in reading Heschel another detail came to mind.

While not prescribing a diet — vegetarian or otherwise — or demanding abstinence from narcotics or stimulants, Judaism is very much concerned with what and how a person ought to eat. A sacred discipline for the body is as important as bodily strength.

-Heschel, pp.111-12

So God isn’t concerned about what a Gentile ought to eat?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

1 Timothy 5:23

The Kosher laws aren’t exclusively a list of “health foods” and in fact, some of the dietary requirements God has for the Jewish people defy logic, but let’s say God does care what we eat (he cares about everything we do, but I’ll use this as an example). Since the Jewish people, God’s nation Israel, has been called out forever from the rest of the nations, which includes the people of the nations who have come to faith in Yeshua, His list of expectations maps to what he has “wired” into them as a set of “potentials”. That goes to every little detail in life, as Heschel alluded to above, including food.

Now let’s say that God also has dietary expectations for the rest of us but that those requirements are less stringent. What if the specific examples we see Paul issuing in his epistles all come down to a general principle (or a few of them if you include the Jerusalem letter) of “eating right?” After all, Paul in his missives seems to be mainly concerned on matters of health, probably for the sake of the Gentile disciples honoring God by behavioral performance (praying, doing good deeds), which is better done if you aren’t sick.

I’m limiting this to food but there’s a lot of things we can do with our bodies to either sanctify or desecrate the Name of God.

kosher deliWhat I’m getting from all this is that God’s behavioral expectations of the Jewish people are much more specific and strict than His expectations for the rest of us because that’s the role He assigned them in this life. He assigned the Gentiles a more “generic” but no less important role and thus the expectations attached to our role are more “relaxed” as reflected in the quotes from Acts 15 and Acts 21.

This isn’t to say that a Gentile disciple can’t go “above and beyond” as a matter of personal conviction. After all, God allowed Jewish people to go “above and beyond” by taking a Nazarite Vow (Numbers 6). However, we are no more required to behave beyond our basic assigned requirements than a Israelite was required to undergo the Nazarite ritual (with notable exceptions such as Samson, Samuel, and John the Immerser who were all life-long Nazarim).

It’s not that the Jews have the Law and the Christians (all non-Jewish believers in Messiah) have Grace. We all have Law and we all have Grace. It’s just that the “Law” for the Gentile disciple isn’t as highly specific as it is for the Jew. There’s more flexibility built into our lives than there is for the Jewish people. God expects them to uphold a higher standard and they bear a greater responsibility. Being “chosen” isn’t always a walk in the park.

That’s not the end of the discussion and there are a lot more details involved, but for those, I’ll refer you to Review of the Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses and The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses Revisited.

I know this won’t satisfy some of you out there, but I don’t expect to be able to do so. This is just me refining my understanding of who I am as a Messianic Gentile and my duties to God as a disciple of the Master, may he come soon and in our day.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Repentance from Dead Works, Part 2

More thoughts on repentance from dead works as an essential part of the gospel and one of the elementary teachings of Yeshua. Evangelism is not like making toast. Discipleship and evangelism entails an ongoing process. Includes excerpts from a blog in which an Evangelical pastor explains why he does not preach repentance. Does repentance mean to “change your mind” or to “turn from sin”?

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Nineteen: Repentance from Dead Works, Part 2
Originally presented on June 8, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Initially, Lancaster took a detour from delving into the deep meaning of the Epistle to the Hebrews to take a closer look at the six elemental principles of our faith as outlined in Hebrews 6:1-3. Since teaching the first principle last week, repentance from dead works, he takes a further detour, traveling a greater distance away from his source material in order to illustrate how far the Evangelical Church has drifted away from the essentials of the Bible.

After his recap of “the milk,” the very, very first thing the Hebrews writer thought that any person needed to know when starting out as a wet-behind-the-ears disciple of Yeshua (Jesus), that is, repentance from sin and turning to God, he tells his audience how difficult the journey of becoming a disciple actually is:

Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.”

Matthew 8:19-22 (NASB)

Notice how Jesus doesn’t make it so easy for someone just to follow him? He seems to push people away. Maybe that’s because being a disciple of the Master is a difficult thing to do. It has many advantages and God wants all people to turn away from sin and return to Him, but it’s not like taking a walk in the park.

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Luke 9:23 (NASB)

Repentance and salvation isn’t as simple as “Come as you are, believe in me, and you’ll go to Heaven when you die.” Rather, it’s as if Jesus is saying, “Come as you are, pick up your cross, follow me, and prepare to be persecuted.”

This isn’t a terribly popular message in Evangelical Christianity which is why, according to Lancaster, it isn’t preached very much in churches. How does Lancaster know this? He Googled it. No kidding, that’s what he said.

He came across a blog (the link is at the top but I’ll present it again) called EscapeToReality.org owned and operated by someone named Pastor Paul Ellis.

Pastor Paul Ellis
Pastor Paul Ellis

Lancaster said that Pastor Ellis’ blog just came up in the search results and Lancaster doesn’t know a thing about this person except he’s a blogger. Lancaster’s opinion is that if you blog and your material is available on the web, you’re just “asking for it” (which is why Lancaster doesn’t blog and isn’t even on Facebook).

I guess I must be asking for it, too. I’m not sure I’d ever want to have Lancaster comment on my blog given the following, but then again, I hope my content is more doctrinally sound. Lancaster referenced a blog post written by Pastor Ellis in November of 2011 called 3 Reasons Why I Don’t Preach on Repentance (“Turn from Sin”).

Religious people often complain that we grace preachers don’t emphasize repentance sufficiently. It’s true. I hardly emphasize it at all. But then neither did the Apostle John. You’d think if salvation hinged on our repentance then it would be in the gospels but John says nothing about it. Not one word. Neither does he mention repentance in any of his three letters. I guess John must’ve been a grace preacher.

I’d never heard of a category of preachers called “grace preachers” but I guess they stand in opposition to people like Lancaster who do indeed preach repentance.

Lancaster pointed out a couple of things about Ellis’s quote. First, he only draws from the Gospel of John and ignores Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Second, he’s wrong about John.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:34-36 (NASB)

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:4-10 (NASB)

Apparently, Pastor Ellis missed a few key portions of John’s writings.

And just in case you missed it (as perhaps Ellis has), Jesus really did preach on repentance. It was his central theme:

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15

You may have to return to Lancaster’s previous definitions of sin and repentance or look at my own series on Teshuva for the following to truly make an impact:

  1. Repentance means to turn from sin
  2. Repentance means to change your mind

Ellis also says:

It (repentance) means different things to different people. But Biblical repentance simply means “change your mind.” You can change your mind about anything, but Jesus called us to change our mind and believe the good news (Mk 1:15).

Your definition of repentance will reveal whether you are living under grace or works. In the Old Testament, sinners repented by bringing a sacrifice of penance and confessing their sins (Num 5:7). But in the new we bring a sacrifice of praise and confess His name (Heb 13:15). We don’t do anything to deal with our sins for Jesus has done it all.

In other words, just sitting around in church is good enough and you don’t even do that. Jesus does it all and we’re saved. No personal accountability is required.

Oh, the three reasons Ellis doesn’t preach repentance. I’ll give you the raw list, but you’ll have to go to his blog to read the full content:

  1. It puts people under the law
  2. It doesn’t lead people to salvation
  3. We’re called to preach the gospel, not repentance

It’s hard to believe Pastor Ellis has even read the whole Bible. He’s saying that repentance just puts people “under the law,” repentance doesn’t lead to salvation, and we are only supposed to preach the gospel as if the message of repentance isn’t at the gospel’s core.

I’m sorry if this sounds snarky or arrogant on my part (and I’ve had a problem with arrogance from time to time), but Ellis’ blog should be named “EscapeFromReality.org.”

Lancaster also has three points, but in this case, they’re three points on why he does preach repentance:

  1. The gospel message calls us to repent (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15)
  2. Repentance is defined by the Bible as turning away from sin and turning (or returning) to God
  3. Sin is defined by the Bible as a violation of the commandments of God

under the lawI could add a fourth point and I think Lancaster would agree: The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

But how do you preach this message? Actually, Lancaster’s question reminded me of one I asked myself about a month ago. How do you evangelize from a Messianic Jewish point of view?

Lancaster drew a somewhat humorous example to prove his point. Imagine a couple of people from his congregation going door-to-door in the neighborhood:

“Excuse us. We’re from Beth Immanuel just down the street. Can we have a few minutes of your time? Are you a sinner? Do you practice sexual immorality? If so, we have good news for you?”

I don’t think anyone with a message like that would be invited inside for coffee and cookies.

Actually, Lancaster answered his own question, citing a series of teachings he recorded called What About Evangelism (also available in MP3 format), discussing how to evangelize from a Messianic Jewish perspective (and I’ve definitely missed that one).

He made a point that it’s not just the lost who need this message, but the saved. How many “Christians” in churches think they are saved, think they are walking the path of righteousness, but who don’t have a clue about the actual gospel message of the Bible and who, if they’ve repented at all, did so only once when they first came to faith in Christ?

For some people, that could be years or even decades ago.

Lancaster used a “toast” metaphor, but for the sake of time and the length of this blog post, I’ll suggest you read about it in his book Elementary Principles.

Lancaster, by the end of his sermon, seemed satisfied that everyone listening to him had “gotten down” this first foundational principle of faith, this first glass of “milk,” so we can move on to the second one next week.

What Did I Learn?

I learned (I guess it should be obvious) that in some ways, Lancaster remains very Evangelical. He’s a passionate believer in missions and evangelizing the lost. He wants to get the message out to everyone because “God so loved the world.” The fact that he took one additional sermon just to emphasize the desperate importance of continual, ongoing, daily, repentance, constantly picking up our crosses, and following our Master, seems proof of that.

I also wondered, thinking about recent events, if this is one of the reasons for the whole Tent of David mission, which is not just to illuminate Evangelical Christianity on the merits of a Messianic Jewish view of the Bible, but to witness to the “found,” so to speak, who may never have heard the message of repentance of sins before.

what about evangelismLancaster cited something Boaz Michael mentioned to him once about a broadcast interview of the famous megachurch Pastor Joel Osteen (in an earlier version of this blog post, I misquoted Lancaster as saying “Rick Warren”). According to what Lancaster said Boaz told him, Pastor Osteen was asked about the secret of his success, to which Osteen replied, ”The secret to my success is that I never preach about sin.”

But if you don’t preach about sin and repentance, and Lancaster made this very clear, you are misleading your flock and probably condemning them as well. Is that grace?

I thought I’d share some of the comments on Pastor Ellis’ blog post about not preaching repentance, just to emphasize the problem:

Repentance does not save a sinner. If you believe repentance does save, but after seeing the truth and you change your mind, because you realized that it is the blood of Jesus that saves, * then you have repented

Repentance does not forgive sins. If you believe repentance does forgive sins, but after experiencing true forgiveness and you change your mind,because you realized that you have been forgiven and “the blood of Jesus cleanses (continuously)” you of all sin * then you have repented grace and peace

savedbygrace

Thank you! Contemporaries who believe man is dead until regenerated still want to preach repentance to him.

Dean O’Bryan

You know what is interesting is that when I used to preach repentance as a turning from all of your sins was to have another thought nagging me, “How can you say that salvation is apart from works when you are asking man to do something to be saved?”

You rightly pointed out that John never preached repentance, but neither did Paul in the entire book of Romans that had much to say about salvation.

I used to preach Luke 13:5 as proof that one must turn to be saved, but when I read the context was when I realized that being saved from sin was nowhere in the context at all. It was addressing a nation, and not some death, burial and resurrection gospel to be believed. Does not matter what angle you approach Luke 13 from as nothing there is about stopping sins to be saved.

What is sad is how religion will preach the verse that says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” and will change the meaning into, “Believe on the ((((((LORD)))))) Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” They will always shout the word “Lord” and then pause a moment before reading the rest of the verse. They want you to think that Paul was stressing a surrender to the sovereign Lordship of Christ to be saved, as they will claim that Jesus cannot be your Lord until you give up your every sin first.

Dave

In response to one comment, Pastor Ellis said in part:

It starts off in innocence but before you know it you’re listening to talking snakes. Choose life. If saying sorry and making amends brings life and healing, do it (Jas 5:16). If reviewing your sins brings death, suffering and condemnation, don’t.

despairThere are many more such statements but I think you get the point.

I learned that as much as I can experience frustration in the church I currently attend, Pastor does indeed preach repentance of sins and returning to God. If I attended Pastor Ellis’ church, I don’t think I’d do very well there at all.

How many churches out there are preaching “grace” and avoiding “sin” and “repentance” at all costs, including the costs of the souls of their members? Out of some misplaced since of “mercy,” how many “grace preachers” are preventing the people in their churches from repenting and actually returning to God? How many of these believers are still suffering needlessly in their sins or worse, believing that they’re just fine and don’t need to repent at all?

Addendum: I re-read all of Pastor Ellis’ blog post plus a good many of the comments (there are tons of them), particularly comments Ellis wrote. It’s not that he opposes repentance as such, and he even praises repentance, but he gives a rather (in my opinion) simplistic view of what repentance means in terms of our relationship with God through Messiah.

While I believe he is sincere, caring, compassionate, and loves Jesus, I think that like so many Evangelicals, he tends to be “works-phobic” and sees obedience to God by performing the mitzvot (including repentance) and God’s grace as polar opposites rather than co-existing elements in a life of faith.

The comments on that one blog post stretched for over a two year span and they were comments similar to those I’ve experienced on other religious blogs, that is, plenty of strife and theological posturing to go around.

Having read the many opinions expressed in the blog’s comments section, in the end, I don’t believe we’re mere robots who sit around having faith in Jesus and being saved and that’s the extent of our lives as Christians. I believe God wants us to be active participants in our relationship with Him and with each other, including being accountable for our behavior. I don’t think that once we come to faith, it is impossible for us to ever sin again and that we can just “change our minds,” which is a gross over simplification of the concept of Teshuvah (turning from sin and turning to God), and then it’s all good.

God is gracious and He always has been. It wasn’t an invention of Jesus, it’s been God’s nature forever and He’s always been gracious and compassionate to human beings.

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin…”

Exodus 34:6-7 (NASB)

Without Faith and Grace

leaving_edenJudaism and Christianity parted company over how to read these few spare chapters in universal history. For the Church, the Garden of Eden became the soil for the doctrine of original sin. In their waywardness, Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, fell hostage to the domain of the devil. The narrative bespoke the immutably depraved condition of human nature. To know the Torah was not sufficient to do it. In the words of Paul, “In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive that there is in my bodily members a different law, fighting against the law that my reason approves and making me a prisoner under the law that is in my members, the law of sin.” (Romans 7:22-23) Not human willpower then but divine grace alone in the person of God’s own Son who had died on the cross could hope to break this vicious cycle of human malice.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Teshuvah in Place of Original Sin,” pp 34-35 (October 16, 1999)
Commentary on Torah Portion Noah
from the book Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

I know we’ve already read Torah portion Noah this year, but as I’ve been working through the commentaries in Schorsch’s book each week, I’ve been taking notes of the more compelling articles. For each Torah Portion, there is a small but powerful collection of Schorsch’s writings which he composed over a number of different years. Going over this collection is like opening his mind and listening to Schorsch musing on how he encountered each Parashat across each annual reading cycle over time.

I’m also grateful that this book includes his thoughts on Christianity and comparisons to Judaism, not because I’m trying to “shoot down” Christianity (or necessarily Judaism), but it’s helpful to have an intelligent mind discuss my faith from the “outside.” Like my conversations with my Pastor, it hones my ability to look at my own beliefs, especially when they’re challenged, and discover if I truly know and can explain why I have the faith I possess in Jesus as Messiah.

It’s a steep learning curve sometimes and I can hardly claim to have all of my ducks in a row, so to speak. However, I can say that the ducks are lining up in a somewhat more orderly fashion than they have in past years.

Original sin vs. the Jewish understanding of “the Fall” makes for interesting reading. Judaism in all its different modern streams, is not going to consider the need for a spiritual savior (though Moshiach is considered the redeemer of national Israel in Jewish thought, generally speaking). The Torah is accepted as sufficient, and always has been, to negotiate the Jewish relationship with a perfect God.

That’s hard for me to believe since no man can obey the commandments perfectly, and the Tanakh is a blatant record of that fact. The New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 starting in verse 27 promises that the covenant once written on stone tablets and scrolls made of animal skin will, in future times, be written on the heart, thus the “disconnect” between the desire for Holiness in man and the imperfection of living out that Holiness will cease to exist. Man and God will have a far more intimate relationship in those days than we enjoy in the present, or at any point in the past.

Gateway to EdenBut for Christianity, Jesus is the arbiter of that covenant, the gatekeeper, the doorway, and only by a profession of faith in him and the resultant transformed life, can man access the New Covenant of God. After that perfect writing of the Torah on a circumcised and human heart of flesh, can man perform the mitzvot with complete fidelity and with true justice and righteousness. Prior to that event, Christian or Jew, no man obeys God in the manner God desires, or for that manner, even in the manner we ourselves would wish.

In my own approach to a closer walk with God, I find myself slowly moving in a direction, but then, the tether that binds me to the habits of the past snaps me back like a rubber band that has been stretched just a little too far…and it stings.

It is not until we come to the late and marginal Book of Jonah that we first confront in full view the idea of teshuvah, repentance, as efficacious. Nor is it an accident that we read all of it in the synagogue on Yom Kippur afternoon, for Jonah encapsulates the essence of the day: that atonement, resolve, and initiative can get us beyond the impediments of our past and ourselves.

-Schorsch, pg 35

For all of the prophets of Israel we see in the Tanakh (Old Testament) who implored that nation of God to abandon her sin (which she regularly failed to do), only the Gentile city of Nineveh heeded a reluctant prophet and turned away God’s “evil decree.” It wasn’t permanent, of course, and later down history’s road, Nineveh sinned and fell, but consider how many times (if you can) that Israel too listened to the words of the prophets and averted disaster.

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

Matthew 23:37-39 (NASB)

The Master’s commentary on the matter is plain and dismaying. And yet, I heard one person tell me that if Israel had turned away from their sins and returned to Torah and God in the days that Jesus walked the earth, the Messianic Age would have come and flourished even in that very instant.

The world is waiting for Israel’s national repentance, without it, Messiah will not come and both Israel and the nations continue to suffer from our own folly.

Schorsch would say that the story of Jonah and Nineveh tells us that human beings can, in and of ourselves, hear the warnings of God, repent in sincerity, and the result is that God’s promise of destruction will be averted. But without Messiah, how were Nineveh’s sins forgiven? They certainly weren’t Israelites. History doesn’t record that they sent representatives to Jerusalem to offer the appropriate sacrifices for guilt and sin (and we know that the sacrifices of Gentiles were accepted in the Temple, even in the days of Jesus).

Jonah's KikayonOnly God’s grace can explain why Nineveh survived when they repented. God is an “either-or” engine or sorts. “Either you repent and I will spare you, or you keep sinning and I will destroy you.”

This may also explain why, when they were faithful, when they did obey God, when they did perform the mitzvot, however imperfectly, and offered the required sacrifices, that is required by God, in the Temple in atonement for that imperfection, God chose to respond to sacrifices and the blood of goats and bulls, by sparing Israel, forgiving the apple of His eye, cherishing His often wayward bride.

On the basis of this small book, the Rabbis softened their understanding of the divine-human relationship with a large dose of compassion. God stood ready to forgive and humans had the capacity to grow. Thus Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus in the early second century proclaimed:

“Repent one day before your death.” When his students asked him how one might know that day, he replied: “Then repent today for you might die tomorrow.” (Avot DeRabbi Natan, ed. Schechter, page 62)

In other words, each and every day, and not just Yom Kippur, was suitable for repairing one’s ties to God.

-Schorsch, pp 35-36

Such is true of the Christian as well, and more so, since we do not have a traditional day in our religious calendar set aside specifically for repentance and “repairing one’s ties to God.” If anything, we are rather casual about the whole affair, for we are taught that once we were saved at some altar call or camp meeting, our place in Heaven is assured. We can never again fall from God’s hand.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

John 10:27-30 (NASB)

That’s quite a promise, but I still say we should not rest on our laurels so comfortably, for the Master also said this:

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

Matthew 24:9-13 (NASB)

FallingTo “fall away” means we must have some place to fall from, in this case, from our faith in God (and I didn’t fail to notice that those “falling away” did so during the great tribulation). This does not seem to be the illusion of faith or describing those people who are not among the elect (for the Calvinists among you), but those who were in the Father’s hand at one point, who will fall away because lawlessness increased, their love grew cold, and they listened to false prophets.

We must always be alert and cautious. Like Nineveh, when we see the warning signs and hear the voice of God calling to us to beware lest we perish, we should respond immediately and “don sackcloth and ashes,” so to speak, declare a time of fasting and mourning, even if it is only with our own individual soul, and turn back to God, rather than risk falling from His hand down to the depths of despair.

In short, the rabbinic concept of teshuvah rested on deeds rather than on faith, on the discipline of Torah rather than on divine grace. Its implicit optimism about the correctability of human nature tempered the near fatalism that darkened the original meaning of Genesis.

-Schorsch, pg 36

I couldn’t disagree more.

First of all, Nineveh was redeemed for a specific time, but we have no indication whatsoever that it never returned to sin (and knowing the nature of human beings, I believe it must have returned to that dark place) and was forever redeemed as a city before God. Repentance, teshuvah, is not a single act that once accomplished, is accomplished forever. We have Christ’s warning that we can fall away. True, no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hands, but that doesn’t mean we can’t “bail out” on our own accord. We cannot be dragged unwillingly from the presence of God, but we can wantonly walk out of our own free will, thumbing our nose at the Divine in a suicidal gesture right before our final exit.

Schorsch says that human beings have pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and effectively refrain from sin, but again, the Tanakh is the witness against him (and against us all). Also, if the Covenant of Moses was sufficient forever in an unratified form, why does God promise a New Covenant, with the Torah not written externally, but inscribed internally across the fabric of our hearts (and please keep in mind that the content of the previous covenant remains unchanged, only the “material” upon which it is written does)?

I don’t know if I completely buy the classic Christian interpretation of the events in Eden, but I do believe that no amount of human effort, all by itself, will ever pay the debt we owe to God for our willful rebellion. From Adam in the beginning and down across each generation, we have failed God, and laughed at God, and denied God again and again. Even the best among us falls short, as Paul said (referencing Psalms 14 and 53), there is no one righteous, not even one of us…ever (Romans 3:10-12), apart from the Master himself.

dust-and-ashesWith much respect to Schorsch and his commentaries, which I enjoy very much, we cannot possibly walk the walk without both faith of the heart, and the grace of a most merciful God. Without both faith and grace, our repentance would be a faint and temporary glimmer in the dark, and we would all meet the ultimate fate of historical Nineveh well passed Jonah’s intervention, and the fate of all the “great cities” that have risen and crumbled to dust across the vast corridors of time.

Divine grace is certainly necessary, and no human being can even come close to “meeting God halfway,” so to speak. But we are still required to change directions, to face away from our sin and to turn toward God. Once that’s accomplished, often with God’s insistent “prodding,” then and only then do we have life, and the will to live it in obedience.

Judging Outside the Box

thinking-inside-the-boxCourage enables a person to say what is on his mind. This is wonderful for someone who has deep respect for other people. He realizes that each person is created in the image of the Creator and therefore he has a basic respect for every person he encounters.

This is wonderful for someone who consistently sees the good in others, and even though he is aware of faults and limitations, he focuses on the good and the potential good. This is wonderful for someone who is on a high level of love for other people and therefore would never want to needlessly cause anyone pain.

For courage to be valuable, the owner of that attribute needs to be sensitive to the feelings of others. While he has the assertiveness to say whatever he feels like saying, he would not feel like saying something that is needlessly painful. He will be careful how he says whatever he says. He pays attention to the outcome of his messages. Since there are always a multitude of ways to word any message, he will choose the most sensitive approach.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Courage for Good”
Daily Lift #810
Aish.com

I can see people calling others names on the blogosphere again. Actually, it’s just two bloggers who’ve done this recently and I won’t draw any further attention to them by mentioning their names or the URLs to their blogs.

This is another thing that bugs me about “religious people” (and I’ve mentioned these sorts of problems a time or two before). In the name of being right or telling the truth or whatever we think we’re doing, we behave as if anyone we disagree with is bad or wrong or even evil.

I suppose it’s one thing to have someone criticize us and then to respond with anger. That’s still wrong but it’s understandable and all too human. It’s another thing entirely though, to seek out someone else, compare your position to their’s on some matter, and then go out of your way to write a blog post telling the world how bad that person is in your eyes, specifically calling them denigrating names, and then defending your poor behavior when someone calls you on it.

Although the next example isn’t quite what I’m talking about, in researching an article I recently read that was authored by John F. MacArthur, I read the following on his Wikipedia page:

His writings are critical of other modern Christian movements and ministers such as those who run “seeker-friendly” church services such as Robert Schuller, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren.

He has criticized popular mega-church pastor Joel Osteen, whom he has spoken of as a quasi-pantheist and proclaimed his teachings to be Satanic…

MacArthur has referred to Catholicism in previous speeches as the “Kingdom of Satan” and holds to the confession that the pope is the antichrist.

We live in a nation where we have free speech rights and so MacArthur has a right to his opinions and to express them in public. No question about that. I’m also not a fan of the whole “megachurch” model and think it’s a bad idea that doesn’t serve the needs of its members as much as it does the needs of its leaders. It’s OK to be critical of this style of offering the Gospel, but calling someone “Satanic” or referring to the Pope as “the antichrist” is not only non-productive, but inflammatory. I suppose you could spin the Bible to justify public name-calling, but there are plenty of scriptures that talk about loving other believers and even praying for your enemies.

Using the above-examples, it might be more “Christian” for MacArthur to pray for those he disagrees with than to call them names.

But I don’t really want to pick on MacArthur much (though Wednesday’s and Thursday’s “morning meditations” will focus my comments on material he’s written), since I’m supposed to be talking about better ways of addressing situations where we disagree with each other in the world of faith. Name calling isn’t on the board nor should it ever be.

Judge NotThere are principles in Judaism that advise we judge people favorably (something I’ve written about before) and see the merit in everyone (see Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s article, Make Others Meritorious). That’s not easy to do. Our entire world is constructed around crushing your enemy and seeing the worst in everyone. From the news media, to politicians, to dealing with your next door neighbor and his noisy dog, we’ve been taught that we must come out on top, we must be a winner therefore others must be losers, and we can only be good when other people who are different are bad.

Is that what the Bible says?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13:34

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14-21

If you value the Word of God at all, you can’t ignore these teachings. But how do you put them into practice? None of us are spiritual Pollyanna‘s, as much as I suppose we should be. We all have our darker sides, our “sin natures” that stand in-between us and a life of righteousness and holiness.

I’ll put myself on the hot seat. I haven’t publicly offered my criticisms of the chapter MacArthur wrote yet, but I do need to reframe and rethink what I say and think about him. If I disagree with his position on a number of matters (not that he’ll ever know about it or even know that I exist), what should I do? It’s appropriate to write book reviews or “chapter” reviews as long as the disagreement isn’t personalized and I don’t call MacArthur bad names.

I don’t think he’s satanic and he’s probably a nice person. If I met him, I would probably like him. I can see that he values honesty, he certainly values the Word of God, which I admire greatly, and he’s serious about studying the Bible and encouraging others to do so as well. These are all very fine qualities.

HumbleWhat about the parts I don’t agree with? Beyond writing critiques and exercising my free speech rights, I need to pray, not only for him but for me. I’m not a perfect person and I don’t have all the brains in the world, so it’s possible for me to misunderstand something. I must turn to God, who possesses all knowledge and all compassion and ask Him to help me and to help all of us break out of our little boxes and to consider how God thinks about us and how He sees us.

I’m sure if we could see ourselves as God sees us, even for a second or two, it would be a tremendously humbling experience.

Maybe that’s how we do it. Maybe we learn to see the best in others by realizing God’s grace means He’s seeing the best in us. More than that, He’s seeing the best in the human life of Messiah as the best in us, though we hardly deserve it.

In religious Judaism, you sometimes hear that Jews are granted a favor in the merit of the Patriarchs or some similar statement. In Christianity, we tend not to think in those terms. We think instead of Jesus and what he’s done for us. But we also have a place in the world to come in the merit of our Master, the Messiah, Yeshua. It’s the same concept looked at from a slightly different point of view. To see it though, we had to get outside our box for a moment.

Before I’m critical of someone else again, I’ll try to remember that they look differently to God than they do to me, and therefore, I need to see the merit in them and to judge them favorably…even when I disagree with them.

“Never argue with stupid people, they drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

-Mark Twain

142 days.

Blessing the Nudnik

:‫גדולה שמושה של תורה יותר מלמודה – ז‬
The service of Torah is greater than its study. – 7b

After R’ Reuven Grozovsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Beis Medrash Elyon, had a stroke he was left paralyzed on the right side of his body. The bochrim in the Yeshiva had a rotation to help the Rosh Yeshiva wash negel vasser, hold his siddur and wrap the Rosh Yeshiva’s tefilin around his arm and head. To make the task an even greater challenge, the Rosh Yeshiva’s left hand would occasionally shake uncontrollably.

On one particular occasion, a new bachur was assigned the task of helping R’ Reuven, and the bochur was very nervous. He had never really spoken with the Rosh Yeshiva before. When he heard R’ Reuven wake up, the nervous young man quickly walked over to help the Rosh Yeshiva wash negel vasser. Unfortunately, R’ Reuven’s hand suddenly shook and the water missed the Rosh Yeshiva’s hand entirely. The embarrassed bochur tried a second time, but this time he was so nervous that he ended up pouring the water all over the Rosh Yeshiva’s bed and clothing. The bochur now wanted to run, but R’ Reuven was relying upon him. The third time he carefully poured the water over R Grozovsky’s hands, held the siddur while R’ Reuven said birchos hashachar and helped put tefilin on the Rosh Yeshiva. As the bochur was ready to leave, R’ Reuven called him over and chatted with him for a few moments. The bochur left a few minutes later much calmer than before after this pleasant conversation with the Rosh Yeshiva.

When the bochur retold the story to his friends in the Beis Midrash they couldn’t believe it. As far as anyone knew no one could ever remember the Rosh Yeshiva speaking while he was wearing tefilin. It became clear to everyone that R’ Reuven had made an exception to the rule in order to be able to put the mind of this young bochur at ease.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Lessons learned when attending to Gedolim”
Berachos 7

This may be a little difficult to understand, but imagine that the esteemed Rosh Yeshiva, a man who had suffered a stroke and who struggled to perform his daily prayers, who never spoke with another person while wearing tefilin, actually took the time to make an exception for this extremely anxiety-ridden young person. Usually, we think of performing acts of kindness for the sick and the infirm, but here, the infirm R’ Reuven Grozovsky extended himself to perform an act of kindness for this new bachur.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think that this is the center of what it is to be a person of faith. We simply must put forth our efforts to help others in any way that we can when we see a need.

It certainly would have been within the Rosh Yeshiva’s rights to complain and to chastise the bochur for his numerous blunders. He didn’t have to speak to him at all and he could have told others afterwards what a blockhead this young fellow was. He could have shredded this person’s already (obviously) fragile ego and everyone in that community would have probably supported R’ Grozovsky in doing so.

But the Rosh Yeshiva was a true tzaddik and for such a man, performing a cruelty would have been unthinkable.

How do we treat people?

I know, we shouldn’t treat others with disrespect and insult them since, as people who are disciples of our Master, we have been taught to “turn the other cheek” when maligned and mistreated. But what about if the other person deserves a good (metaphorically speaking) slap in the face?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:38-48 (ESV)

Jesus isn’t directing us to be doormats or to let someone beat us to a pulp, but if we’re to err, it seems as if we should err on the side of compassion and humility, even if there’s a chance we could be cheated or misused in some other way. Loving your enemy isn’t giving a flower to the guy who’s trying to shoot you. It’s showing kindness to someone who is a nudnik (pest) or other annoying or unreliable person for their own sake and for God’s.

Hard as it is for us to imagine sometimes, God loves the person who annoys us the most just as much as He loves us.

Given that I’m a blogger and that I comment on the blogs of others, I occasionally run into such individuals and the temptation is to tell them what I really think of them and feel perfectly justified in doing so.

But as you can see, that would be wrong. Sometimes it’s important to forgive others, even if reconciliation isn’t going to work out between the two of you. No, forgiving doesn’t always mean it’s wise or practical to continue a relationship, particularly if the other person is unrepentant and unlikely to stop being abusive, verbally or otherwise. But God still loves that person a great deal. How can we return hostility for hostility knowing this?

The blessing of an ordinary man should not be considered lightly in your eyes.- 7a

Tur Shulchan Aruch rules (‫ )הל‘ נשיאת כפים‬that every Kohen has a mitzvah to participate in the blessing of the people. We do not discourage a person who is known to be a rasha from joining, for this would be causing him to add evil to his already tarnished reputation. Rather, we allow him to bless the people with the other Kohanim, and we look upon his involvement no less than “the blessings of a simpleton”, which we are not to treat lightly. Tur then adds: “The blessings are not dependent upon the Kohanim, but they are rather in the hands of God.”

This final comment of the Tur needs to be understood. He already justified including the Kohen rasha in the mitzvah, for even the blessing of a simpleton is important. What additional factor is provided by concluding that everything is in the hands of God? Tur apparently understood the Gemara as did the Rashba. A ‫ הדיוט‬is not referring to an evil person. Rather, it refers to someone who is at a lesser level or stature than the one being blessed. Even Dovid HaMelech was a ‫ הדיוט‬vis-à-vis the service which the Kohanim performed in the Beis HaMikdash, and all Kohanim were ‫ הדיוטות‬vis-à-vis the Kohen Gadol.

Gemara Gem
“The blessing of a ‫הדיוט‬”
Berachos 7

A rasha is considered someone who is wicked and even criminal. Nevertheless, there are provisions for a “rasha” Kohen to say the blessings so that they do not make their evil deeds even worse.

I’m not going to try to suggest that we make ourselves or our communities completely open to people who are prone to physical, sexual, or psychological violence, but within the confines of practicality and common sense, we can at least avoid verbally bashing and slandering people we don’t like, even if they’ve mistreated us and seem unable to realize their own faults and misbehaviors in how they treat others.

It’s called “taking the moral high road.”

Yes, it was an encounter with such a person (hardly a rasha but certainly a nudnik) that has inspired this “extra meditation” today, but it was also a “backchannel” discussion about how God loves even nudniks that sealed my decision to write it. Once the sting of having my “tail stepped on” dulled, I realized it’s the right thing to do because it’s what God does for us. Even though in God’s eyes, I’m sure we are often “nudniks,” too.

Yes, I think it’s possible to love someone you don’t always like. It’s even possible to love someone you know you may never be able to speak to again. God doesn’t need to be protected from our bad moods, attitudes, and unkind words and so, if we are willing, He not only forgives us but provides for reconciliation between us. On the human level, it isn’t so easy because we are vulnerable to harmful people and even to people who have not a clue that they are a toxic element in every conversation in which they participate.

But we must remember this:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

If God can allow a rasha Kohen to participate in the blessings, then we can try to remember to bless the occasional nudnik who crosses our path. May we be blessed even as we bless others.

Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.

-Maya Angelou