Tag Archives: halacha

Review of “Halachic Authority in the Life of the Messianic Community”

This leads me to conclude that the Jewish religion has preserved the Jewish people in their long wanderings in the desert of the Gentiles. Some will say that it is not Judaism which has preserved the Jewish people, but God’s grace. They should rest assured. God has indeed preserved the Jewish people, and he has done so by securing them in this “ark” that is called the Jewish religion. The Jewish religion therefore constitutes a revelation of God’s grace towards the Jewish people. This religion, which arose from the smoky ruins of the Temple and which people so love to hate, is the primary instrument through which God has preserved the Jewish people. Because of it, there are Jews in the world today.

-Tsvi Sadan
“Halachic Authority in the Life of the Messianic Community”
Messiah Journal
Issue 109/Winter 2012, pp 16-17

When I saw the title, I thought the topic would be more related to the specific differences between halacha in traditional, Orthodox Judaism and a halacha that could be applied to Jewish, and perhaps in some sense, to non-Jewish disciples of the Master in a Messianic framework. However, Sadan’s excellent article, which was originally delivered as a lecture in Israel on September 5, 2008, addresses something else almost entirely: the religion of the Jews who follow the Messiah.

Let me explain.

There is an impression that the Jews, and especially the Jews who were born, raised, and educated within a traditional religious and cultural Jewish framework, who are part of Messianic Judaism and who are disciples of Yeshua (Jesus), “the Maggid of Nataret,” belong to a different sort of “Judaism” than their brothers in what we refer to as “Rabbinic Judaism.” In fact, many Jews and non-Jews in other branches of the “Messianic” movement, as well as those attached to Hebrew Roots groups, tend to view Rabbinic Judaism, what we consider the Reform, Conservative, and especially Orthodox branches of Judaism, to be separate, distinct, and “lesser” forms of “true” Judaism. They seem to believe that the only fully realized Judaism is represented by a Messianic Judaism that follows Jesus while removing any aspect of halacha and tradition that exceeds the “written Torah.” This form of Messianic Judaism, actually rejects Rabbinic Judaism in the vast majority of its content (except for using the model of the modern synagogue service and the use of tallitot, siddurim, and so forth) especially and including Mishnah, Talmud, and Gemara: the so called leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (see Matthew 16:6 and Mark 8:15).

According to Tsvi Sadan, they are dead wrong. Forgive me. What follows is necessarily lengthy.

To understand the meaning of this “leaven,” which scares the daylights out of some people here, I will take just one verse from an abundance of new Testament verses quoted in those inflammatory letters. In Matthew 16 (the word “hypocrites” does not appear in the standard Greek text used today), Yeshua twice calls his disciples to beware of the “leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (vv. 6, 11). These two admonitions follow the miracles and wonders which he had just performed in the sight of thousands of people. When the Pharisees and the Sadducees approach him to test him (v. 1), Yeshua correctly sees this as impudence of the highest order, and responds accordingly: “[Hypocrites,] do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky but cannot discern the sign of the times?” (v. 3). This means that Yeshua is labeling his opponents hypocrites because of their pretense to see one more sign while in fact all they wanted to do is accuse him.

-Sadan, pg 15

He goes on to say point blank that the “leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” is hypocrisy, not the specifics of Second Temple era halacha and tradition. Sadan confirms that there is no dissonance between Messianic Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism or for that matter, the religious concept of Judaism in any form and Rabbinic Judaism. More plainly put, Rabbinic Judaism is the only Judaism, according to Sadan.

So where does that leave the non-Jews who, in some manner or fashion, are attached to the Messianic and Hebrew Roots worlds? Moreover, where does that leave Christians in relation to their Jewish brothers who also honor Yeshua as Messiah and Lord?

Finally, let me make one point with respect to the Christians living in our midst, because probably there is someone who will distort things and claim that the position I have proposed here leads to hated of the Gentiles. Let me say here that I warmly welcome every Christian – on the condition that he or she does not attempt to impose his or her religion on me. I regard very seriously the behavior of some Christians living in Israel who have the gall to malign the Jews living in the state of Israel merely because they refuse to be evangelicals, Lutherans, or Baptists. God-fearers from all nations are welcome to participate in the Jewish service of God as long as they do not speak against Israel, Torah, and Judaism. I do not agree with the attitude that says that in order to achieve unity with our Gentile brethren, we should remain Jews but reject Judaism. I consider this assertion as nothing less than complete and utter foolishness.

-Sadan pp. 24-25

Laying TefillinSadan continues to strongly make his point for another page and a half, and most assuredly all of it, as I imagine these brief quotes have done, will certainly bring forth the ire of many non-Jews and some Jews in the aforementioned “Messianic” and Hebrew Roots movements, who indeed believe that the Jews who worship the Messiah must abandon Judaism in order to be “completed Jews” (as if a Jew who worships in the manner of his fathers is somehow incomplete).

Sadan’s article does bring up one very interesting point: do Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians belong to two separate and unrelated religions? I have no idea what Sadan thinks, but as far as I can gather from his article, the response seems to be “yes and no.”

It’s “yes” in the sense that everything that Judaism is, including the 613 commandments of the Torah and the entire body of Talmudic judgments, rulings, and traditions, apply only to a Jewish population. Judaism’s ethnic and cultural aspects are completely intertwined with Judaism as a “religion,” so you cannot remove the traditions, without removing what it is that defines a Jew. I’ve said all this before and Sadan’s article does nothing to change my mind.

It’s “no” in the sense that, in spite of the differences in our covenant obligations to God, we share One God and One Messiah, and we are all His creations. We are different branches, but grafted into the same tree. We are Jew and Gentile, but we have equal access to God. We are co-citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven and we all inherit a life in the world to come. And we will all sit at the same table at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11).

I do want to take exception to one statement in the article where it appears Sadan refers to we Christians as “God-fearers”.

God-fearers from all nations are welcome to participate in the Jewish service of God as long as they do not speak against Israel, Torah, and Judaism.

I don’t believe that Christians who have accepted the Messianic covenant upon themselves (as it applies to the nations) are equivalent to the ancient God-fearers or the modern Noahides. God-fearers were non-Jews who came out of pagan worship to recognize the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the One, true, and unique God of the Universe. They quietly worshiped among the Jews in their synagogues and I imagine the God-fearers humbly populating the Court of the Gentiles in Herod’s Temple, listening with awe to the songs of the Priests, and urgently desiring to bring their own sacrifices before the King.

But they had no covenant relationship with God at all. There was adoration and worship, but no access (unless they chose to convert to Judaism). Jesus, the Messiah, appeared in the world and changed all that. He allowed the nations to come close to God, to be adopted, and to be called sons and daughters of the Most High, through the blood of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29). I certainly hope that Sadan hasn’t chosen to “demote” those of us who come along side him as co-members of the Messianic covenant.

If you’re not familiar with some of the related concepts Mark Kinzer describes in his book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People, you may find Sadan’s article shocking and even completely alien to how you’ve imagined Jews being attached to Jesus as their own Messiah. If you are familiar with Kinzer’s book, some of you may still be outraged at what Sadan writes and vehemently disagree with his propositions and his ardent passion in defending his own Judaism.

This issue of Messiah Journal couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Last night, I was having a conversation with Judah Gabriel Himango on his Facebook page about the Shabbat and what the coming of Jesus changed in the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. Judah suggested that because of Jesus, Jews should abandon the traditional Jewish synagogue model of worship and adopt a Shabbat service more along the lines of what’s recorded in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. Here are some of his comments:

Messiah’s arrival was of such great impact, such that the way we live our lives and the way our congregations are modeled must be in light of his coming. Lives and religious services modeled on the understanding that Messiah hasn’t come would be to live as if he never arrived in the first place. The Messianic movement, including the Messianic Judaism subset, should not merely be emulators of Judaism.

How about the stuff in Corinthians 14 for starters? Shouldn’t those things be in Messianic services?

And how about the Psalms, where music and instruments are used to praise the Lord? Shouldn’t those things be in services, both Jewish and Messianic?

I believe people — Jews and gentiles — should change their lives around to what Messiah commanded and what his disciples taught in the Scriptures.

If our lives and our services look exactly like those before Messiah, it’s as if his arrival never happened.

Needless to say, I disagreed.

The RabbiLet me make clear that I like Judah and I’m not angry or upset with him. I’m not picking on him or singling Judah out, but rather, I’m using his words to illustrate what many other disciples of Jesus believe and want to see actually occur. I must disagree with his desire to replace Jewish worship with how he interprets one small portion of the New Testament, as well as with the general suggestion among Christians, that Messianic Jews should remain (somehow) Jews but flush Judaism down the nearest toilet, tossing Rabbis and Talmud under a speeding bus. While I have questions about how Sadan sees Christians vs. God-fearers, I agree with him in most if not all of the rest of his points. I can’t see the Gentiles in the church and in “Messianism” and Hebrew Roots as having any right whatsoever to re-define Judaism in their own image. Of course, they say that it’s not they who are doing the re-defining, but Jesus instead, but I disagree. We’ve seen that there are an abundant number of paths one can take to interpret the New Testament, including doing away with the Law (and the Jews) and replacing it with the Grace of Christ (and the Gentile Christians), and I disagree with that as well (see my article in MJ 109 “Origins of Supersessionism in the Church” for more).

In previous blog posts and blog comments, I’ve tried to make arguments that present many of the same ideas as expressed in Tsvi Sadan’s “Halachic Authority in the Life of the Messianic Community,” but I lack his insights and perspectives as a Jew and frankly, his wonderful talent in writing. Whether you end up agreeing with him or not, I believe that reading this illuminating work will open your eyes to a new and different way of seeing the Jew in relationship to his Messiah within the time-honored and God-granted context of Judaism.

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The Prayer of Cornelius

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.”Acts 10:1-3

The shortest prayer service of the day takes place in the afternoon, or at least just before sunset, and is called Mincha.

-Rabbi Berel Wein
“Mincha: the afternoon prayer”
Aish.com

moshe.gorin: The KSA says the ikar time for mincha is mincha ketana (9 1/2) hours after sunrise but the Rebbe davened before then. If you’re davening alone, when is best?

Torah613: The Rebbe davvened earlier (probably) because he davvened with the Yeshiva’s minyan, which was daily at 3:15.

Straight halacha would imply that Mincha Ketanah is better, so if it isn’t a question of davvening betzibur, MK is better.

Disaclaimer: As in all halachik questions, a competent Rov should be consulted.

mosheh5769: Whether we pray alone (bediavad) or with a Minyan (betzibbur), the prefered time for Mincha is Mincha K’tanah. Some say that if you pray in Mincha Gedola, you are still Yatza, but Lechatkhila, it is proper to pray at the time of Mincha K’tanah.

I don’t know where and who, but I have no doubt Taryag will help, there is a Posek who ruled that it is better to pray Mincha K’tanah alone than to pray Mincha Gedola with a Minyan. Why, I don’t remember, and I don’t know if other Poskim poskened in the same way.

Anyway, the best time to pray is at the time of Mincha K’tanah and not earlier. But of course, if a Shul has the custom to pray earlier (like the Yeshiva’s Minyan as it has been explained by Taryag) and if there need you to complete the Minyan, even if it is not your custom, you should complete the Minyan and daven earlier.

-from the discussion thread “Best time for Mincha”
Archived thread at Chabadtalk.com

We don’t know much more about the late Second Temple figure Cornelius than what we read in the verses I quoted above. He was what we call a “God-fearer;” a Gentile, a Roman centurion who, by definition, would have been a pagan polytheist, and who, during his assignment in the land of the Hebrews, came to realize that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was and is the God; the One and Unique Creator of the universe.

Coming to that realization alone must have taken great courage and conviction. His actual response to his realization was certainly astounding, given who he must have been and where he had come from. We know he “gave alms generously to the people”, who we assume to be the Jews among whom he lived. The messengers sent to bring Peter to Cornelius after the Centurion’s vision referred to him as “an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation” (Acts 10:22). And oh wow! Cornelius was so favored by God that this happened.

And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” –Acts 10:30-33

Incidentally, the ninth hour is at about 3 p.m. in the way we tell time today, about the time of the Mincha prayers. But why is that important? So who taught Cornelius to pray the Mincha prayers. Ok, there’s nothing to say that he was truly praying Mincha, but here’s why I think he was. Consider this.

The Roman Centurion Cornelius comes to faith in the One true God of the universe. Now what does he do? We know that he gives alms, probably to the poor among the Jews. Whatever else he did resulted in Cornelius being “well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation”, which is no small thing since he was also part of the Roman occupying army. As far as we are able to understand, that group of non-Jews who were called “God-fearers” worshiped on Shabbat among Jews in the synagogue. Where would he have learned the prayers and how to worship? What was the only available model Cornelius could have used to worship a God who was virtually unknown in the Greek and Roman world?

I’m not suggesting that Cornelius “lived as a Jew” in the sense of fully taking on Jewish customs including the various religious and identity markers. It is doubtful (but what do I know) that he would have shown up in the Court of the Gentiles at the Jerusalem Temple. After all, he had to consider appearances and what would the troops in the Italian Cohort have said if one of their Centurions was seen in such a public place among the Jews. On the other hand, his reputation preceded him among the Jewish people based on his being a devout and charitable man. Desiring to worship God above all other considerations, what would he have done? He would have consulted his Jewish mentors as to how to approach God. Prayer offered to the God of Israel is available to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.

“Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house, hear from heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. –2 Chronicles 6:32-33

Even in the days of King Solomon, a non-Jew could come to Jerusalem, pray facing the Temple, and expect to be heard by God. Why couldn’t the Jews among whom Cornelius lived and worshiped have taught him the same thing?

How did Jews pray during the Second Temple period? I’m no expert, but assuming the Jews in the time of Cornelius and Peter had similar traditions about prayer to those of Jewish people today, they would have prayed as Jews pray now. They would have prayed the Shacharit (morning), Mincha (afternoon), and Maariv (evening) prayers. If Cornelius wanted to learn how to pray from the Jews, they would have taught him how to pray the way that they prayed, with perhaps only a few variations, because Cornelius was not Jewish. In those days, siddurim (prayer books) were not used and the prayers were generally memorized. That means, Cornelius would have had to say the prayers by memory, probably in Hebrew or Aramaic (given that the Centurion was posted to a foreign land, it’s not inconceivable that he was bi-lingual or multi-lingual). He also would have prayed at the times set by halacha for prayer which, in the afternoon, meant around 3 p.m. or the ninth hour.

Why am I writing this and why should you care? What does it matter to a Christian in the 21st century if a Roman centurion, who came to faith in Jesus almost 2,000 years ago, happened to worship and pray in a manner similar to the Jews? Have you ever wondered why Christians don’t pray in the same manner as the Jews today?

I’m not saying that we must pray morning, afternoon, and night (though it wouldn’t be a bad idea). I’m saying that there’s nothing stopping us from considering where we come from as a faith. However you pray and however you worship in your church, your way isn’t the only way. In fact, if you go back more than a few decades or a few centuries, the way you may consider “Christian” and “holy” probably wasn’t practiced, as least in a manner you’d recognize. Go back far enough, like 2,000 years, and the way a God-fearer and a Christian prayed and worshiped wouldn’t be much different than the way a Jew prayed and worshiped.

Imagine that.

We tend to take prayer and worship for granted because we can always pray and worship anytime we want. But in many ways, the church considers prayer and worship as optional or at least voluntary. We get to choose our own way and manner of doing things. However, for believers and God-fearers like Cornelius, that privlege and honor to worship the King may have come with a commandment attached, maybe at the level of rudimentary “halacha” for non-Jews who had faith.

Today’s amud discusses the halachah regarding hearing the Torah reading when one is in prison. Although today in many places things may be different, it used to be that most prisons would not allow a sefer Torah inside—even for an important person or a minyan of prisoners. When the Vilna Gaon spent about four weeks imprisoned it was impossible for him to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the Torah reading. After he left prison he called a baal koreh to read for him all four parshios he had missed while in prison.

Although missing so many weeks is very unusual, many greats were meticulous to make up the reading that they had missed that day.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“The Prisoner’s Duty”
Siman 135, Seif 11-14

Our Gemara reviews a series of Mishnayos where the obligation to fulfill mitzvos is taught to be more inclusive than plainly stated. Regarding the mitzvah to read the Megillah on Purim, R’ Yehoshua b. Levi teaches that the expanded inference is meant to include women. Although this rabbinic mitzvah is one that is restricted to time, and women are generally exempt, here woman are obligated because “they were also included in the miracle.”

Rashi explains that women are obligated in the mitzvah to read the Megillah to the extent that a woman may read the Megillah for her husband or other men.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Women’s obligation in reading and hearing the Megillah”
Arachin 3

The level of “commandedness” which defines Jewish tradition, worship, and prayer seems very “heavy-handed” to most Christians and the spectre of “man-made rulings” is generally disdained in the church (and among many Gentile believers to call themselves “Messianics”). And yet, how would an “upright and God-fearing man” like Cornelius have seen his responsibilities to God as taught to him by his Jewish mentors? Would the Jewish sense of halacha have meant to him what it meant to the Jews? We don’t know. But imagine if we, as Christians, could experience some of the sense of duty and obligation to God, to the prayers, to our way of worship, as Cornelius may have? How much more would God be a part of our lives today? How much more would God be our lives today?

ShemaOne of the functions of tradition and halacha in the life of a Jew is to make every act holy. You cannot eat without blessing God and considering the food on the plate sitting in front of you (or even without considering the plate). You cannot wake up in the morning without gratefully thanking God for returning your life to you. You cannot go to bed at night without asking God to send his angels to guard your soul as you sleep. You cannot progress through your day without ceasing your labors at specific hours in order to devote yourself to God in prayer. And for one day a week, you cannot do many things as you do them on the other days of the week, but instead, you cease labor entirely and dedicate the day to family, prayer, worship, and God.

I’m still not saying that as Christians we should live like Jews, but consider what we’re missing by not taking tradition more seriously. Tradition can be like a straight-jacket or a pair of wings. It can bind us inescapably to a collection of actions and rules that threaten to smother us, or it can send us free into flight away from a mundane world and into the presence of God with practically every move we make.

Maybe this is why the Jews considered the foreigner Cornelius an “upright and God-fearing man”. Maybe this is why God found that Cornelius merited a vision of an angel, and made him and his household a bridge between God-fearers and disciples of Christ.

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. –Acts 10:44-48

Amen.

On Considering Christian Halachah

birds“If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young.”Deuteronomy 22:6 (JPS Tanakh)

Rural areas have both advantages and disadvantages, even in terms of observing mitzvos. One of the advantages is bonafide opportunities to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, sending away the mother bird to take the eggs or chicks discussed in the last chapter of Chullin, which begins with today’s daf. One of the strange things about fulfilling rare mitzvos is that that one has no experience of exactly how to fulfill the mitzvah or various details relevant to it.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“A New Mitzvah Opportunity”
Chullin 138

The Beraisa teaches that there is no requirement to search for
a nest in order to fulfill the mitzvah of sending away the mother
bird from its nest. This mitzvah is only incumbent upon a person
if he happens to come across a nest.

Is there an obligation to pursue other mitzvos, or are we expected
to fulfill mitzvos only when they come our way?

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Is one required to pursue finding a nest, or does it apply only when one comes across a nest?”
Chillun 139

I often include quotes in my blog posts that no doubt seem strange, mysterious, or perhaps even ridiculous to a Christian. Comprehending Jewish Rabbinic teachings, opinions, and rulings is something that is generally disregarded in the church and considered the “wisdom of men” working in opposition to the Word of God. While I don’t want to debate such a broad topic in today’s “morning meditation”, I do want to see if we Christians can take away anything from some of these teachings (and I wouldn’t be writing about this unless I thought it was possible).

Christians believe that we should do good, as we were taught by Jesus. That we should give people who are hungry and thirsty food and drink, visit the sick and the prisoner, and clothe those without adequate clothing is clearly illustrated in teachings such as the one we find in Matthew 25:31-46. In fact, Jesus states that seeing a person in need and failing to help them will result in our being sent to “eternal punishment”, so just “believing in Jesus” in our minds and hearts is hardly enough to “save” us.

However, are we only to perform such acts of kindness if the opportunity comes our way, or are we, as Christians, to actively seek out situations where we can do what we have been commanded to do? Let me give you another example.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. –Matthew 28:19-20

This directive of Jesus to his Jewish disciples is commonly referred to as “the Great Commission”. Entire churches and religious organizations are dedicated to fulfilling this commandment by evangelizing to not only people in our lives, but entire nations and people groups. There are specific missions devoted to evangelizing the Jewish people (much to the consternation of many Jews). Churches regularly send representatives to third-world countries to teach the Gospel of love and salvation to the people living there.

In other words, as far as “the Great Commission” is concerned, a significant percentage of the body of Christ deliberately and actively seeks to fulfill the commandment, rather than waiting for some opportunity to arise where we can perform evangelism.

While Christianity doesn’t provide an organized list of our duties, Judaism very specifically codifies the responsibilities of each Jewish person as 613 commandments. A few days ago, I quoted Rabbi Shmuley Boteach as saying:

There are 613 commandments in the Torah. One is to refrain from gay sex. Another is for men and women to marry and have children. So when Jewish gay couples tell me they have never been attracted to members of the opposite sex and are desperately alone, I tell them, “You have 611 commandments left. That should keep you busy.”

He seemed to be saying that, even if you cannot obey all of the commandments, there is much merit in obeying some or even most of them. This defies the common Christian criticism of “the Law” in that Torah obedience is supposed to be an all or nothing affair. Christians believe that no human being can always keep the Law and that no one, except Jesus, ever perfectly obeyed the mitzvot. It also appears to indicate that the various commandments stand alone or are contained in distinct “silos” of activity so that a Jew can be doing good by obeying some of the mitzvot while not obeying others. Additionally, there’s the idea that each mitzvah is unique and has some sort of individual value not carried by the others. Sort of like obeying the mitzvah of visiting the sick carrying a wholly different merit than the mitzvah of (for a Jew) praying with tefillin.

There is an excellent example of this in the Preface to The Concise Book of Mitzvoth: The Commnandments Which Can Be Observed Today as authored by Israel Meir Kagan and translated Charles Wengrov. Preface writer Ben Zion Sobel discusses the commandment to compensate a hired worker within a specific time frame:

Now, one who is not an employer might think that he has no opportunity to fulfill this commandment and be rewarded for it. But if he were to examine his everyday activities, he would realize that in fact, this mitzvah comes his way more often than he imagined.

For example, whenever one hires a painter to paint his house, or a handyman to build or repair something, or a plumber to fix a leak, he is required to pay the hired worker on time. Moreover, whenever one rides in a coach (or in our times, in a taxi), he has actually “hired” the driver to transport him to his destination, and he is thus responsible for seeing to it that the driver’s wages are paid promptly. Before paying, he is to take a momemt to say to himself, “I am about to perform the commandment of my Creator, Who instructed us to pay a worker on time.” Then he would deserve the full reward for having fulfilled a mitzvah of the Torah.

Pouring waterAs I mentioned before, this is a very different way for a Christian to think about performing acts of charity and righteousness, especially the “reward” part. And yet being rewarded for obeying God and doing good deeds is not alien to Christianity.

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. –2 Timothy 4:6-8

Paul was a Jew and he conceptualized the world around him, including God, the Messiah, and the mitzvot, as a first century Jew. It’s no mystery that what he wrote actually fits into how later, Talmudic period Jews conceptualized their role in relation to the Torah. As 21st century Gentile Christians, do we allow this “intersection” of the New Testament, the Torah, and The Concise Book of Mitzvoth to get in our way or to provide a lens of clarity? Was Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 4 “too Jewish” for us to understand and thus do we ignore it, deferring only to NT writings that are more palitable to the non-Jew, or do we start to realize that there is something in Judaism that provides context, understanding, and focus to our lives as disciples of the Master?

Returning to the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, there are apparent contradictions in the interpretations regarding this particular commandment and on the whole, Christians would rather not be bothered with having to puzzle through our responsibilities to God and our duties to Jesus. When we think of ourselves as “free from the Law”, we imagine we are free from having to put much time and effort into understanding who we are and what our God desires from us.

However, maybe God has, in some way, built complexity into His desires for us on purpose. Maybe we are supposed to actually think and not just feel about a life of faith, compassion, and holiness. If we engage more of who we are and more of our internal and external resources into living a life conforming to God’s will, more of who we are is involved in that holiness. We are forced to consider even the most trivial of actions in relation to what God wants us to do and how He wants us to do them.

I’m not saying that Christians should emulate Jews in every small detail. Far from it. But I am saying that we can take the “light” that Judaism shines on God and His Word and use that light to see how we can be better disciples and servants of both our Creator and his beloved creations.