Tag Archives: High Holy Days

How I Won’t Be Observing Yom Kippur

One of my favorite stories is of the house painter who deeply regretted stealing from his clients by diluting the paint, but charging full price. He poured out his heart on Yom Kippur hoping for Divine direction. A booming voice comes down from Heaven and decrees — “Repaint, repaint … and thin no more!” Yom Kippur begins Friday evening, September 29th! (It is the ONLY fast day that is observed on a Shabbos.)

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the anniversary of the day Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai the second set of Ten Commandments. This signified that the Almighty forgave the Jewish people for the transgression of the Golden Calf. For all times this day was decreed to be a day of forgiveness for our mistakes. However, this refers to transgressions against the Almighty. Transgressions against our fellow human being require us to correct our mistakes and seek forgiveness. If one took from another person, it is not enough to regret and ask the Almighty for forgiveness; first, one must return what was taken and ask for forgiveness from the person and then ask for forgiveness from the Almighty.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz

In general, observant Noahides can (but are not required to) commemorate those Jewish festivals that in some way relate to Gentiles and the overall spiritual missions that G-d assigns for them. There are some of the Jewish festivals that Noahides have more of a connection to, and they can honor these as special days (for example, with prayers and selected Torah reading): for example, Rosh HaShanah (the annual Day of Judgment for all people), and Sukkot (the annual time of judgment for the rainfall that each nation will receive, which is also characterized by the themes of unity and joy).

But you should be aware that these days are not to be commemorated by Noahides in the same way that they are commanded to be fully observed by Jews. For instance, a Noahide should not refrain from normal activities on the Jewish holy days or Sabbath, and should not perform those Jewish commandments that are religious only, and have no practical benefit for Noahides (for example, waiving the four species of plants during the Festival of Sukkot, or fasting on Yom Kippur).

The Jewish festival days of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, Yom Kippur, Purim and Shavuot have little relevance to Noahides, other than as reminders of constantly-relevant general Torah principles.

Taken from “Noahide Holidays” at AskNoah.org

With regard to Yom Kippur, which relates to the relationship between the Jews and G-d, Gentiles should not be concerned that they are lacking in any way in their opportunity at any time for successful repentance. The fact that only Jews were given Yom Kippur, the day that Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments, should only be a positive influence, in that perhaps it may inspire a Gentile to do his or her own needed repentance on any day of the year.

Taken from “Asking G-d to forgive for breaking a Noahide Law: Does this relate to Yom Kippur?”
at AskNoah.org

As you can see I’ve been doing a little bit of reading, particularly with the High Holidays rapidly approaching. There’s no real template for how or if the “Judaically aware” Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua should observe such events. Certainly we are not Jews and we are not Israel (yes, I’m going to be criticized for those statements I suppose), but it’s difficult to ignore such an august occasion, especially when one’s spouse is Jewish (though not particularly observant at present).

I borrowed some information from a Noahide site to gain some perspective, but I’m not convinced the Noahide makes a suitable model for people like me. They don’t take into account the blessings of the New Covenant being conferred upon us due to the merit and faithfulness of our Rav.

Yet what else is there?

I do take some comfort, especially at this time of my life, in the statement that Yom Kippur can be a reminder that I can sincerely repent before Hashem at any time at all (of course, Jewish people can too). I’m also glad the Orthodox Rabbis who administer AskNoah.org recognize that Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot have applications to both Israel and the nations, so in some manner or fashion, we can partake in those observances as well.

As with my last several blog posts here, I continue to state that what you get out of your relationship with the Almighty depends on what you’re looking for.

If you are an observant Jew, it seems that your praxis is well-defined, which is part of what “grinds the gears” of some “Messianic Gentiles,” since our model seems less distinct. Maybe that’s because it’s too easy to mistake form for substance.

I think some of Paul’s letters, particularly Romans, touched on how some Jews (perhaps converts to Judaism who had Yeshua-faith) mistook the mechanics of Torah observance for an actual relationship with Hashem. I’ve seen it in some Messianic and Hebrew Roots groups in the past.

It’s easy to get distracted by praxis unless you have the correct perspective.

If the High Holidays are to mean anything for the rest of us, I think it’s true that they can serve as a reminder that God is accessible to us too. He’s always intended that from the very beginning. We were never meant to be left out in the cold or to be considered “sloppy seconds”.

As time goes on and I attempt to do even such minor things as listen to Christian radio, I realize that I don’t have very much in common with the normative Christian church. However I’d be lying and a fool if I said that I had nothing in common at all.

The church is full of good people, faithful people, people who have repented and continue to sincerely repent and to walk before Hashem. They do much kindness, express compassion in word and deed, are at the forefront helping victims of Harvey and Irma, putting their time, money, and effort where others only put their mouths.

Whether you call yourself a Christian, Messianic, or anything else, that’s what really matters, how you live out your relationship with Hashem through your devotion to Rav Yeshua. That’s what we should take with us into the Holidays. That’s what we should always take with us everyday as we walk with God.

The Prayer of the Nations to Our Father

praying aloneAs just about anyone involved in some form of Judaism or in the Messianic/Hebrew Roots movements knows, the High Holy Days are coming up on us fast.

Of course this season may not have the same application upon Gentile believers as upon the Jewish people. “ProclaimLiberty,” who often comments here, said (I think) that perhaps Sukkot might be the better time for a Gentile to make teshuvah given our understanding of Zechariah 14:16-19.

I’ve also been giving some thought to prayer, particularly after reading Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s commentary on Ki Tavo. The vast majority of what he’s written could as easily apply to the Gentile as to the Jew apart from his recommending the Artscroll Siddur.

Many non-Jewish Messianics use such a siddur for prayer and I have myself in the past, but there are a lot of pitfalls to avoid, such as any section that refers to the person praying as “Israel” or otherwise  to being Jewish.

After all, we’re not Jewish.

As far as I know, there is no such thing as a Messianic Siddur just for Gentiles and there’s a simple reason for that. Most Gentile Messianics worship corporately with Jews, at least in some congregations. It would make spoken group prayer impossible to manage if the Jews were using a siddur worded very much differently from the Gentiles praying nearby.

However, even one Orthodox Rabbi advises that Gentiles can use an Orthodox Siddur as long as they avoid employing any of the language or prayers specifically set aside for Jews.

He also says that Gentiles are exempt from the obligations for prayer applied to a Jew. He states that we (or at least Noahides) aren’t obligated to specifically worded prayers or particular times of prayer. He suggests that maybe the Psalms (from a reliable Orthodox Jewish publishing company…probably as opposed to how he considers Christian Bibles) would make a good “book of prayer” for Noahides.

Something similar (I think) has been suggested by the Messianic Jewish community such as how Gentiles are allowed to pray at the specific times of prayer but are not actually obligated to do so. In other words, we can adopt the praxis but it’s not commanded of us.

That’s not to say we should not pray or that God doesn’t expect us to pray. In Rabbi Packouz’s commentary for Nitzavim-Vayelech, he states in part, citing The Book of Our Heritage, that:

In the Providence section we proclaim our understanding that: 1) the Creator has a one on one relationship with every human being 2) God cares about what we do with our lives and sees and remembers everything 3) there are Divine consequences for our actions.

To bring a tighter focus on the main point, he says “the Creator has a one on one relationship with every human being.” If that’s true, then the Almighty has made provision to interface with and connect to every individual human being, including you and me.

Sometimes in the Messianic world, we Gentiles get so hung up on Judaism that we forget we also have a specific invitation to pray to God as Gentiles.

On another blog where I write fiction, my latest chapter in a time travel series sends one of my protagonists back to the time of King Solomon and the dedication of the Temple. The most relent portion of that for “the rest of us,” is this:

“Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in 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, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.

1 Kings 8:41-43 (NASB)

It wasn’t since just the time of Rav Yeshua that Gentiles could communicate with God through prayer. It was an expectation from the very beginning. After all, who were Adam and Havah (Eve) and their children and their children’s children? Who were Noah and his family, and until being declared a “Hebrew,” who was Abraham?

I belong to a private Facebook group dedicated to “Unchurched Christians” or believers who have left the organized church but who continue to have a faith. The public website is Unchurching.com.

I’m not particularly involved in its content and joined mainly because I think it’s an interesting idea and also because not only am I unaffiliated with a congregation, I am likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

I was listening to Christian radio again on my commute home from work (I know…right?) and the Pastor was referring to a passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus was talking about the Church. The what? The sermon just reminded me of (in my opinion) what a massive disconnect mainstream Christianity has from what the Bible actually says since nothing called “church” existed in that place and time.

One of the Pastor’s points was that a Christian cannot subsist apart from the organized Church anymore than your hand could continue living if it were amputated from the rest of your body.

I don’t know about that. I have to believe continuing in relative isolation must be possible. After all, Richard Jacobson, who used to be a full-time Pastor in a church before quitting all of that and starting an online community for “Unchurched Christians” seems to believe otherwise, and more and more relationships are conducted online as we continue to rely on the internet for our extended social contacts.

Besides all that, God isn’t hiding. We don’t have to go to a church or synagogue to find Him. He’s there with us. If that weren’t true, He wouldn’t or couldn’t hear our prayers if we weren’t in a house of worship.

The one big flaw in my analysis, going back to Solomon, was his statement about a Gentile coming and praying toward the Temple, implying close proximity rather than merely facing in the direction of Jerusalem where ever you might be on Earth.

But I can’t help that and I do not intend to take Solomon quite so literally. Also, “church” isn’t the Temple, that is, the unique physical location where the glory of God appears physically.

God is accessible to us, Jew and Gentile alike. Yeah, I’ve said it before. We don’t belong formally to the Covenants, New or otherwise. We as non-Jews are wholly dependent on God’s mercy and grace, His desire and will that all human beings come to Him.

tears of repentanceBut that is His will, it’s what the Bible actually says, even though the vast majority of its content was written by and for the Jewish people.

While the High Holy Days may not have a direct application on the Gentile believer, Messianic or otherwise, it can serve us as a reminder that God also wants the people of the nations to make teshuvah and turn toward Him. What’s the harm if we actually accept His offer? In fact, what benefits might we discover the Almighty bestowing upon us if we do pray to our Father in Heaven?

The High Holy Days for the Rest of Us

Some years ago, a prominent Protestant clergyman offered the suggestion that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur could very well be adopted as religious occasions for people of all faiths. He was intrigued by the predominance of the theme of universalism in the Days of Awe. Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot convey their respective messages of human freedom, of man’s duty as a moral being, and of the thanksgiving man owes to God, in the context of the historic vicissitudes and experiences of the ancient Israelites. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, however, are not related to any particular event in Israel’s past. They are, as Yehezkel Kaufmann characterizes them, “cosmic holidays” linked with the hopes and the destiny of mankind. The liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yon Kippur is indeed suffused with the spirit of universalism.

-Max Arzt
“The Liturgy: An Introduction,” p. 13
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement

I suppose I’m crazy to post this, since most Christians wouldn’t even begin to “resonate” with the High Holy Days that are rapidly approaching. And yet, as Arzt notes, an anonymous Protestant clergyman of some prominence in a past era undeniably saw a more universal application to God’s judgment and mercy.

Isn’t that because God will indeed judge all the earth? Aren’t we all under His authority. Does He not have the right to elevate or to condemn? Did He not love Jacob, heir to the covenant promises, but hate Esau who was a descendent of Abraham and Isaac but not in line to receive favor as a Patriarch?

And yet at the end of days, God will judge the descendants of Jacob and Esau both.

The persecution to which R. Yehudai Gaon alluded is the injunction issued by Justinian in 553 C.E. against teaching the deuterosis, the oral interpretation of the Torah. Scholars had therefore assumed that when Judaism “went underground,” certain piyyutim replaced the prescribed liturgy and that other piyyutim of a more legalistic content served as a means of circumventing Justinian’s prohibition against teaching the Oral Law.

-ibid, p. 19

burning talmud
Burning volumes of Talmud

While many Christians today boast a love of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, we still bristle at the thought of the Oral Law, since it has long been a tradition in our own religious stream to love the Bible (and our own traditions) but disdain the traditions of other faiths, particularly Judaism. We may not physically burn volumes of Talmud anymore, but we continue to do so in our minds and hearts.

In America, Jews are free to practice their religious faith which includes Talmud study and worshiping according to the customs, but historically Judaism has survived, in part, by periodically going “underground” or at least maintaining a low profile. Some of the other Judaisms object to the behavior of the Chabad because they can be so “in your face” about being Jewish, and are very definitely “above ground”.

We like to remind people that America is a Christian nation (actually, it isn’t and never has been) but imagine how insecure that could make a Jew feel? Anti-Semitism isn’t extinct in America or any place else, it’s just waiting for the right environment in which to once again flourish.

It is generally agreed among scholars that the synagogue arose during the Babylonian exile and that it co-existed with the Temple in Jerusalem during the period of the Second Temple…

…Thus the Synagogue was well prepared to assume its post-exilic role as the center of Jewish education, worship, and communal welfare. That the people recovered so quickly from the traumatic effects of the destruction of the Temple was due to the fact that for some centuries before 70 C.E., the Synagogue had been a functioning institution with a reasonably well-established liturgy. The Rabbis tell us that God prepares the healing before the hurt (Song of Songs Rabbah, 4:5).

-ibid, “The New Year (Rosh Hashanah),” p. 43

I’ve maintained over the years that it was indeed the synagogue, the liturgy, and the Talmud that preserved the Jewish people in the centuries after the destruction of the Temple and the initiation of the longest exile they would ever endure, particularly after two failed rebellions against the Romans and the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) betrayal of their Jewish counterparts. Apparently a Gentile sub-population could not be sustained within a Judaism in exile and under siege by the powerful nations around her scattered people.

I recently discovered that a medieval French philosopher and theologian named Peter Abelard was considered the “only pre-Holocaust Christian who related to Jews as to fellow humans.”

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

That’s quite a statement and an indictment against collective Christianity, but it might not be entirely unearned. While I’m not the student of history I wish I were, I do know that as much as modern Christianity depends on the work of the men of the Reformation, its chief architect, Martin Luther, toward the end of his life, was no friend to the Jews.

According to Jewish Virtual Library, an excerpt from Luther’s work “The Jews and Their Lies” states:

What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:

First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly ­ and I myself was unaware of it will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.

If I had lived in those days and had been a devotee of Luther, how could I have possibly imagined that God loved the Jewish people, had plans to restore them to their Land, and was continuing to uphold His covenant relationship with them? How could I even believe the words of Jesus when he said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22)?

Rabbi Nachum Braverman writes, “On Rosh Hashana we make an accounting of our year and we pray repeatedly for life. How do we justify another year of life? What did we do with the last year? Has it been a time of growth, of insight and of caring for others? Did we make use of our time, or did we squander it? Has it truly been a year of life, or merely one of mindless activity? This is the time for evaluation and rededication. The Jewish process is called “teshuva,” coming home — recognizing our mistakes between ourselves and God as well as between ourselves and our fellow man and then correcting them.”

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from his commentary on Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

This leads us back to the “universalism” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Contrary to popular belief, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is not an exceptionally depressing for fearful day for most religious Jews. My wife explained to me one year that it’s actually an opportunity to hit the reset button of our lives, to repair faults and faulty relationships, and to take advantage of an opportunity laid at our feet to become better people and build a better future.

Yom Kippur prayers
Yom Kippur Prayers

While there’s been a great deal of improvement in the relationship between Jews and Christians since the Holocaust, there is still a lot of underlying tension. There’s still a lot of “unexamined baggage” both Jews and Christians are carrying around about each other. To be fair and given recent events, there’s also a lot of baggage I’m carrying around about other Christians that needs to be examined and cleaned up one way or another. I suppose the fact that Rosh Hashanah begins This coming Wednesday the 24th at sundown with Yom Kippur following at sundown on Friday, October 3rd could provide all of us the opportunity to do better and be better than we have been so far.

I know I need something like this. Sure, we can repent and draw nearer to God and to other people any time of year, but when do we have an engraved invitation from God to do so?

I’ve heard D. Thomas Lancaster call Yom Kippur a “dressed rehearsal” for the final judgment. Even if, as a Christian, you feel assured of your salvation, that doesn’t mean you are perfect. I know it doesn’t mean I’m perfect, not even close. Rehearsals are opportunities to practice an important event to make sure you get it right before the real thing happens. That’s a pretty good reason for all faiths, and truth be told, all human beings to observe the universalism of the Days of Awe, for indeed awesome days are coming and when they arrive, if we are not prepared, we never will be.

Christianity still has much to repent for about how we think, feel, and sometimes treat the Jewish people, particularly religious Jews. What have you done that you need to repent of?

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

The Candles of Rosh Hashanah

Shabbat candlesWhen I got home last night after my meeting with my Pastor, the Shabbos candles were lit. I was pleasantly surprised. For the past week or so, my wife has been at the Chabad helping the Rebbitzen prepare for Rosh Hashanah. My wife didn’t stay for services, which somewhat disappointed me, but the fact that she lit the candles when she got home was heartwarming (and hearth warming).

Unfortunately, there’s a limit to what I can say to her about it without crossing barriers, so I have to keep my feelings to myself (don’t worry, I’m pretty sure she never reads my blog).

As I said, I visited my Pastor last night, basically to discuss Chapter Eight of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book, The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach. We actually started on topic but managed to drift into the definition and purpose of “the Church,” the collective body of Jewish and Gentile disciples of Jesus, the Messiah. Pastor’s opinion is that the New Covenant creates an entirely new entity, the church, and that Jews who become part of that New Covenant join a new entity and leave the older covenant, Sinai, behind.

But if newer covenants cancel older ones, then what about Abraham?

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

Galatians 3:17-18 (NASB)

Nope. Newer covenants do not invalidate older ones.

Pastor kept trying to make his point about the New Covenant from Ephesians 2, but we were missing what it says in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, which is the only way to understand the Biblical “core” of the New Covenant:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.”

Ezekiel 36:22-24 (NASB)

abraham-covenant-starsI wrote a multi-part series starting here that charted the massively complicated course of the New Covenant in terms of what it does and doesn’t say about Jews and Gentiles. This is a very good example of not being able to adequately “prove” the particulars of the New Covenant using only the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament, which by the way, does not mean the same thing as “New Covenant”).

First of all, look at the object of the New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31 says it’s “the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” so basically, the Jewish people. But what is the New Covenant and how does it differ from the old, according to Jeremiah? Verse 33 says “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.”

I have no reason to believe that when God says “My law” that He means anything other than Torah. The difference is that instead of the Torah being externally recorded, it will be part of the internal Jewish motivation. Verse 34 says that they (the Jewish people) “will not teach again, each man and his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all will know Me…”

Today, Jewish people, and in fact all of us, “know God” because of the Bible, an external document that gives us the details of God’s holy standards for the Jews and the Gentiles who are called by His Name. True, the Holy Spirit was given to all believers, but we still have our internal, human nature that struggles against both the Spirit and against conforming our lives to Biblical standards. “After those days,” the Messianic Era, those who are part of the New Covenant, Israel and Judah, the Jewish people, and those of us who are grafted into the root through our faith in Messiah, will have that law, as it applies to each of us, written on our hearts, so that it will be “natural” for us to be obedient to God.

What I don’t see is that the content of the law or the differing roles of believing Jews and Gentiles will change in the slightest. It doesn’t say that in the text.

To support this, Ezekiel 36 says that because of God’s great name, which has been profaned among the nations (verse 23), God will renew Israel, so that the nations (the rest of the world) will know that God is God. Verse 24 continues saying God will take the Jewish people from the nations and return them to Israel. This too is part of the New Covenant, the redemption of national Israel.

So what do we know about the New Covenant. God will write His Torah, not on a scroll or on stone tablet, but on the hearts of the Jewish people, so that they will more perfectly obey His Torah. He will also redeem the Jewish people from their long exile and return them to their Land, to Israel. This is the New Covenant.

Quite a shift from what Pastor was talking about.

I’ve already written about how Gentiles become part of the New Covenant through Abraham, so don’t worry…we’re there, too. I tried to pull it all together in a final (or almost final) blog post called Building My Model which I think you’ll find is a pretty good summary of how the whole New Covenant develops.

the-divine-torahEphesians 3 is part of that description, but because my Pastor mentioned Ephesians 2, I’ll include links to my own interpretation of that chapter as well as an illuminating online conversation on Ephesians 2 and why it does not describe the swan song of the Torah. In fact, I recently said that it is impossible for the Jewish people to repent and to be redeemed by God without turning back to God and obedience of His Holy will through Torah observance.

But what does this have to do with Rosh Hashanah?

During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, religious Jews take the opportunity to hit the reset button on their lives, to take stock of the previous year and to repair any damage they may have done in their relationship with other people and with God. In the long history of enmity between Christianity and Judaism, we in the church have demanded that Jews distance themselves from the Torah (and thus from God) by burning Torah scrolls, volumes of Talmud, numerous synagogues, and sometimes Jewish people.

If the New Covenant includes and intensifies the older covenants rather than replacing them, then we Christians have some “making up” to do with the Jewish people. In our mistaken attempt to reconcile them with Christ by destroying Jewish observance, Jewish lifestyle, and Jewish people, we’ve been opposing rather than obeying God. If we Christians are serious about being part of the New Covenant, then we cannot inhibit the Jewish people from also being included. In fact, if they aren’t included, then we have no direct linkage, since Abraham is the father of all.

Last night, while I was out of the house, my wife lit the candles to commemorate the start of Rosh Hashanah. As a “good Christian husband,” what is my duty to my Jewish wife, given all I’ve just said? Part of my duty is to be delighted that the warmth and glow of the Shabbos candles once again grace the interior of our home.

L’Shana Tova Tikatevu. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life and enjoy a wonderful new year.

Rosh Hashanah: Playing the Shofar For Our Father

shofar-rosh-hashanahAnd so we plead on Rosh Hashanah, Avinu Malkenu—our Father, our King. We know who You are, behind that stern mask, feigning objective judgment upon Your throne. You are the Ruler of All That Is, but You are also our Father, and a compassionate loving Father at that. Come here with us, hold our hands, see everything from our view down here. Feel our troubles and the pangs of our hearts as only a father can do. And then get involved with Your world and bless us with a sweet and goodly year.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“I Don’t Like Rosh Hashanah”

A few days ago, while I was doing some reading, I had an idea for a “Rosh Hashanah” themed blog post. But I got busy with other things and now that I have the time to write it, the idea is gone. I searched my various online inspirations in an attempt to recapture what I had previously thought of, but no go.

But yesterday (as I write this) I did read my four-and-a-half year old grandson a book, written by Sonia Levitin called A Sound to Remember. Unfortunately, it was a library book and since it was due, I had to return it, thus I no longer have it with me to quote from.

The book seemed a little long and a little dry for my young grandson but he still cuddled next to me and paid rapt attention as I read the story of a boy, just past Bar Mitzvah age, named Jacov, a child living in a 19th century European village. Jacov was described as a “slow boy” who stuttered and who generally was the joke of both children and adults in his small town. But his ally was his teacher and friend, the Rabbi of the local synagogue.

The story begins several weeks before the start of the High Holidays. At this time, someone is usually selected to blow the shofar at the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services (custom says that a single individual is chosen for both of these honors). However, instead of the Rabbi choosing one of the elders of the synagogue or another person of esteem, he chose Jacov.

No one could believe it. Everyone tried to talk the Rabbi out of it. But the decision was made.

Jacov was terrified. What if he made a mistake? How much worse would he seem in the eyes of his neighbors than he already was if he made a mess of blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah?

The day came. Jacov’s parents beamed with pride as the young boy, shofar in hand, stood at the bemah ready to participate in the most important part of the service. The Rabbi called for the first blast. Jacov, who had been practicing diligently in preparation for this moment, blew with all his might, but almost no sound came out. The Rabbi called for the next blast. Jacov redoubled his efforts and the sound was a little better, but still hardly above a whisper. Jacov was red with embarrassment and trembling with shame. He just had to get the last call right.

The Rabbi shouted for the last blast but absolutely nothing was heard from the shofar. Jacov, in spite of all his efforts and determination, couldn’t make a sound.

The day was a disaster for both Jacov and everyone in the congregation. Angry faces “greeted” Jacov and his family as they left the synagogue that day. Jacov had no appetite for food and sat on his bed at home as that night’s darkness encroached, almost as dark as his depression at having utterly failed.

As I said, typically the person who blows the shofar at Rosh Hashanah also has the honor at Yom Kippur, but everyone in the village felt certain that the Rabbi would replace Jacov with a much more worthy individual. After all, who could be less worthy than Jacov?

But this was not the Rabbi’s choice. The Rabbi instead, made a secret agreement with Jacov and then took a quick trip to the city, which was unheard of for a Rabbi during the High Holidays.

Yom-Kippur-ShofarOn Yom Kippur, right before the blowing of the shofar, Rabbi made a statement that was the point of Levitin’s book and the text I wish I could quote.

He said that it is true that customarily, the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah should be loud and robust, but sometimes this is not what God wants to hear from us. Sometimes it is our whispers, our anguish, our small cries of the soul that honor God more. Who is to say that Jacov’s tiny and silent efforts weren’t as pleasing to God as another’s loud, clear shofar blasts? Rabbi was much more eloquent in his words than I am right now, and all of the people in the synagogue realized that at this time of atonement, they had failed their Rabbi, little Jacov and his family, and God by being so stern and unforgiving. To truly end the commemoration of this most holy day, they all had to seek forgiveness and make amends.

Then Rabbi revealed the reason for his trip and the purchase he made in the city: another shofar.

At the end of the service, both Rabbi and Jacov blew their shofars together, and no one could be certain which one (or was it both) was making the loud, clear sounds to remember.

Rabbi Freeman in his Rosh Hashanah commentary, tells a story of a Jewish farmer who had hired a teacher to live in his home with his family. In exchange for room and board, the teacher was to provide instruction for his children. However, with the approach of Rosh Hashanah, the teacher went into town to stay for the holidays so he could be close to the local synagogue. This left it to the father to “home school” his children for several weeks.

The father, usually such as “softie” with his children, found that he had to be overly firm to keep his children from taking advantage of him while he was teaching them their lessons.

Finally, on only day three of this exercise, one small child broke down in tears. Father may have played a good part as stern teacher, but he was still father at heart. He couldn’t bear to look at one of his smallest children crying. Looking down at the table to conceal his chagrin, he brusquely called the child over.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

Between his sobs, the child answered, “I want to ask my daddy…”


“I mean my teacher…”


“…so I can ask my daddy…”


“…that my daddy should ask the teacher…”

“So what is it?!”

“…that my teacher shouldn’t be so hard with us any more!!”

teaching-childrenThe story of the beginning of the New Year and the Day of Atonement is the story of our Teacher, our Master, and our Father and who we are as His children. Although most Christians probably don’t think there’s much for us to learn, since we accept that Jesus is our final atonement, there is a great deal we should pay attention to.

We are like Jacov, not very “quick on the draw,” so to speak. Earnest but immature. Eager to learn, but stumbling over the details. We know we are criticized and often deserve it, but we also can’t always control our natures and we make a lot of mistakes. If only our stern taskmaster, who asks so very much of us, would also be our loving Father, who can forgive abundantly.

We assume that once forgiven, we can do whatever we want. That we cannot fall from the hands of our loving Father. We often abuse the privilege of being “saved.” But what did Paul say?

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 6:1-2 (NASB)

I recently heard it said that as Christians we should live lives of continual repentance before God. That doesn’t mean we repent once, declare our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and then we’re covered forevermore, regardless of our behavior. It means we must be continually aware of our sins and our failures, continually confess them before the Father, continually regret our willful disobedience, continually make life changes designed to never again commit the sins we have repented of, and relocate our steps so we are walking on the path that God has set before us.

Even if we did that only once a year, say during the High Holidays, it would be a better effort at repentance than many Christians make.

Then, maybe we would appreciate that the harshness of our teacher is only a mask concealing the kindness and forgiveness of our loving Father, who is in Heaven.

If you are still asking yourself what possible relevance can the commemoration of Jewish festivals have for Christians, since this is all commanded in the Law (Torah), consider the following:

Question: Why do the Jewish people needs a covenant/Brit with G-d. Why do we have to be commanded to follow his Mitzvos? Why is the commitment necessary? Please let me know if you have any suggestions on further readings as well.

Answer: The Talmud asks your question, in a way. First, note that the Torah gives commandments to Gentiles as well, so evidently it is the Torah view that all humans need these. In fact, Adam, the first man, was commanded.

-from “Ask the Rabbi”
“Commandments and Covenants”

Without the basis of Torah, we Christians have no moral or ethical elements in our lives. This is no directive for Christians to behave like religious Jewish people, but God’s covenant with Abraham is our linkage to Christian covenant relationship with God. A significant subset of Torah is intended for the people of the nations who are called by His Name. Certainly the commandment to repent is not lost on us…or at least it shouldn’t be.

Wishing you a good and sweet new year.

Mistreating People

A few years ago, in a hilarious episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the comedian Larry David bought scalpers’ tickets to his congregation’s High Holy Day services, and was kicked out when his subterfuge was discovered. Nothing that dramatic happened to a friend of mine who wished to attend services last year, but he also had an unpleasant experience with a large congregation.

My friend, who moved to Westchester several years ago, is not a regular shul-goer, but had always gone to High Holy Day services in the city. In his first year in the suburbs, he called a large local Conservative congregation — his denominational preference — and was told that he could have tickets that year at a nominal fee, but if he wished to attend the following year he would have to join the congregation. He was out of the country the following year, so when he returned the year after that, he phoned to ask if he might pay a more substantial fee for his seats this time but not yet become a congregation member. He had not made up his mind about membership. The response he received was a snappish, “You cannot come here again without joining,” and a loud click of the receiver. One or two other large synagogues in his area also informed him in no uncertain terms that he had to be a member to get tickets.

-Francine Klagsbrun
Special to the Jewish Week
“Synagogues Should Be More Welcoming”
The Jewish Week

That sounds terrible. In fact, the whole process of buying tickets to the High Holy Days services probably seems strange and alien to most Christians. After all, it’s not like we have to buy tickets to get seats at Christmas or Easter services in a church (although I must admit, I haven’t commemorated either event or worshiped in a church setting for many years). And yet, the synagogue model raises funds in a very different manner than the church and purchasing an annual membership to a synagogue as well as buying tickets for special events like Passover or the High Holy Days is perfectly normal and reasonable.

But what about the situation described by Klagsbrun? Is this what God really intended? Is this how a synagogue welcomes a Jew into its midst for worship and to honor God? If the person in question had held a membership to the synagogue, it wouldn’t be a problem. But just as some Christians only attend church on Easter, some Jews only go to shul for the High Holidays. No one bars the door to the “annual Christian” but why should a “three day a year Jew” not be able to worship because of lack of “membership?”

Of course, there are always options.

Put off by those responses he called the local Chabad office, ordinarily a sect foreign to his liberal religious and social outlooks. The rabbi who answered the phone greeted him cordially and invited him to attend all the holiday services with no payment. When he did, he received a warm welcome from the rabbi and his assistant. And when he became ill and did not show up for Yom Kippur, the rabbi later called his home to inquire after him. Although my friend missed the more intellectual atmosphere of a Conservative synagogue, he enjoyed the enthusiasm and inclusiveness of the Chabad service. Needlessly to say, he sent an unsolicited check to Chabad after the holidays. It was the money he had offered to pay for tickets to the large suburban synagogue.

No, this isn’t my advertisement for the Chabad and that also was not Klagbrun’s intent when writing her article. For many Reform and Conservative Jews, entering the world of the Chabad is about as comfortable as a visit to the surface of the Moon without the benefit of a spacesuit. A large number of Jews consider the Chabad “cult-like, with its mysticism, messianism, and adulation of the Rebbe” (so if you as a Christian have issues with the Chabad, you’re not alone). But they are doing one thing right. They are welcoming the so-called “three days a year” Jew into their midst the way (forgive me if this next part offends you) that a church would welcome an errant Christian, seeker, or wandering atheist through their doors.

Klagsbrun suggests that it is time for “synagogues to rethink some of their policies, add flexibility, reach out to the unaffiliated, and then take more pride than ever in what a religious New Year really means.” I don’t often go out of my way to be critical of Judaism, but I am also aware that no people group and no religious faith is perfect or has the corner market on righteousness. To my way of thinking, the “welcomeness” of the church (whatever faults it may possess) is generally more aligned with the will and wisdom of God and the spirit of the Messiah than the examples of the synagogue Klagsbrun brings forth. And yet, even during some of Judaism’s darkest hours, God’s response to His “straying sheep” is not condemnation, but compassion.

By the time Moses returned to the scene, his people had hit an all-time low. They worshipped idols, spoke slanderously of each other, and had wandered very far from the path of their forefathers. Perhaps he should have told them off, saying, “Repent, sinners, lest you perish altogether!”

But he didn’t. Instead, he told them how G-d cared for them and felt their suffering, how He would bring about miracles, freedom and a wondrous future out of His love for them.

As for rebuke, Moses saved that for G-d. “Why have you mistreated your people?!” he demanded.

If you don’t like the other guy’s lifestyle, do him a favor, lend him a hand. Once you’ve brought a few miracles into his life, then you can urge him to chuck his bad habits.

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

I am sometimes treated to a view of our local Reform and Chabad synagogues, their members, and their Rabbis, as seen through my wife’s eyes and experiences. No one is perfect. Everyone has flaws. Some of the events that occur within the Chabad are less than attractive or appealing. And yet to read words of wisdom and beauty that are inspired by the Rebbe are a joy that reminds me of the grace of Jesus. As I mentioned in yesterday’s “morning meditation”, God is writing on all our hearts and there is something of the Divine in each of us. Rather than rebuking our neighbor for his shortcomings, we should show our love and grace, even as God has shown love, grace, and mercy to us.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16 (ESV)