Tag Archives: hope

Faith and Hope Without Torah

How can we find and hold onto joy in this world without it slipping out of our hands? The holiday of Simchat Torah provides an answer. As we dance with the Torah, we bask in the unique, eternal happiness that only Torah can bring into our lives. “It is a tree of life for those who grasp it” (Proverbs 3:18).

-from “Holding onto Joy: Celebrating Simchat Torah”
Sara Debbie Gutfreund
Aish.com

Simchat TorahI don’t suppose this will be much different from many other posts I’ve authored before, but every so often, I just need to say something here.

I’ve spent this season pretty much ignoring the High Holy Days. I didn’t even build our Sukkah this year. My wife (who is Jewish) didn’t seem to have any interest, and since I’m not Jewish, it seemed at least a bit presumptuous for me, a Goy, to construct a Sukkah when my Jewish wife was unconcerned. In fact, she left town last Monday and will be coming home tonight, so she would have missed out on much of the festival anyway.

Now that the holidays are over including Sukkot, I experience a sort of relief. I don’t have to concern myself with what I should or shouldn’t do as a “Judaically-aware Gentile believer” or whatever you want to call me.

Well, they’re not quite over yet. Simchat Torah begins at sundown tonight and ends on Erev Shabbat. Oy.

Depending on who you talk to, Gentiles and especially Christians have no part in the Torah. Oh sure, I’ve heard some “Messianic Gentiles” discuss an application of Torah or some small subset that applies to us, but really the key to understanding what’s supposed to apply to us can be found in Acts 15. Maybe the Didache has applications for us and maybe it doesn’t, but it doesn’t give us a share in the Sinai Covenant.

So what do we have?

According to Gutfreund’s article, there are five ways the Torah brings joy to the Jewish person:

  1. It gives then higher goals
  2. It shows them how to be grateful
  3. It teaches them hope
  4. It connects them
  5. It gives them flow

As I said above, it’s my opinion that Gentile believers can’t claim the Sinai Covenant and thus we can’t claim the Torah, so what do we have?

To paraphrase Paul in one of his epistles (Romans 3:2) “Much in every way.”

Though we have no direct covenant relationship with God, He has determined that He will love us anyway and, through His mercy and grace, has allowed us to partake in the blessings of the New Covenant through our faithfulness and devotion to Rav Yeshua (and conversely by the merit of Rav Yeshua’s faithfulness to Hashem).

I know it’s been said that before Abraham, there were no Jews, so the Gentiles must always have been part of God’s plan for redemption. It’s not that simple. Before Abraham, there was no distinction between a covenant and non-covenant people. Once there was Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses, the whole playing field changed. God made a decision (well, He’d always has made, is making, and will always make that decision). He chose a people unto Himself, a special people separated to Him from the nations of the Earth.

Sucks to be the nations, huh?

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

This could be interpreted as including the Gentile and thus expressing God’s desire that we should not perish either.

So if we don’t have the Torah, do we have higher goals, the ability to be grateful, hope, connection, and “flow?”

Let’s take that last one first. What is “flow?”

Our happiest moments occur when we are in the “flow,” completely engaged and absorbed by an activity we are doing. We transcend our physical and emotional limitations by immersing ourselves in the energy of the moment. Torah gives us this sense of flow when we are doing a mitzvah that is challenging for us but within our grasps. We visit the sick even when hospitals make us nervous. We invite the widow from across the street to Shabbos dinner even though we aren’t in the mood for guests. We give tzedakah even though we are anxious about our finances. We choose to overcome a limitation inside of us and move forward even when we have to push ourselves to do so.

-Gutfreund (ibid)

It’s not like a Gentile believer can’t perform mitzvot, it’s just many to most of the Torah mitzvot don’t apply to us. However, I would argue, generally doing good certainly does apply to us. We can visit the sick, comfort the widow, show kindness to the orphan, give to charity, and many other things that would give us a “flow.”

Certainly, faith in God through Rav Yeshua can give us higher goals. After all, believers, Jewish and Gentile, ideally live transformed lives, lives where we are not the same people we were before becoming devoted to Hashem.

Even more than the Jews, we Gentiles should be grateful. After all, every single Jew on Earth is born automatically into a covenant relationship with God. We’re not. We have to become aware of Hashem, of Yeshua, and we have to make and then implement a choice. However, it is an avenue that Hashem has specifically created for us so that even the nations can serve Him. If you’re not grateful for that, you’ve got a problem.

That leads to hope. Without Rav Yeshua we were without hope. In fact, we didn’t even know we were without hope.

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2:11-13 (NASB)

King DavidOur hope is in him, hope in being reconciled with God, hope in the resurrection and a life in the world to come, hope in being better human beings, in being servants to the one true God.

Connection. Oh well, there always has to be a fly in the ointment, at least for me. Belonging and connection implies community. Actually, community is possible and likely for most religious Jews and believing Christians, but as my conversation with my co-worker earlier today illustrated for me again, I don’t belong in the Christian world.

He’s a nice guy. I like him. He’s a self-admitted “redneck,” and an Evangelical. I’ve tried and tried to avoid religious conversations with him, but he sent me a poem he wrote, and then a prayer he wrote, so finally I decided to lay my cards on the table and emailed him the link to Hurtado on the “Conversion” of Paul (and he’s lucky I didn’t send him Christianity Drives Me Crazy).

He actually laughed while reading it. He said that he was only interested in what the Bible said and laughed again when I told him the Bible was interpretable. He actually believes you can read the KJV Bible and that’s all you need to have a perfect understanding of the full and complete message of God (or at least enough of it to merit personal salvation).

We went back and forth for a while. He finally said that not everyone is called to be a theologian. I explained that I wasn’t a theologian or at best, I’m an interested amateur.

I was sort of hoping he’d let it go, but he sent me an essay he wrote on the nature of love (though it was critical of Barack Obama and political and social liberals).

To his credit, he did read through my commentary on Hurtado and is still occasionally peppering his dialogue with statements on some “testimony” he recently heard.

Yeah. I have about as much connection with all that as a cat at a dog convention.

Oh well, you can’t have everything, and four out of five ain’t bad.

Besides, while we Gentiles may have no claim to the Torah, we do still have the benefits Gutfreund outlined through our devotion to our Rav, and by his merit we have our hope.

For more on Sukkot and Simchat Torah, see Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’s commentary on Genesis 1:1-6:8, The Faith of God.

Advertisements

Our Hope This Chanukah: “I Got You”

As bullets rained down during the San Bernardino shooting rampage, Shannon Johnson, 45, wrapped his left arm around 27-year-old Denise Peraza and held her close.

“I got you,” Johnson told her.

Peraza was shot once in the back and survived.

Johnson died.

Peraza, who is recovering from her injuries, shared her story of survival Saturday with reporters to honor Johnson.

-Sarah Parvini and Cindy Carcamo
“‘I got you’ are man’s last words to co-worker as bullets fly in San Bernardino rampage”
The Los Angeles Times

Johnson and Peraza
Photo: L.A. Times: Shannon Johnson, 45, left, and Denise Peraza, 27, right.

I suppose a lot of you reading this have heard the story, either in the news or through social media. Shannon Johnson’s photo has been all over Facebook and probably twitter and other media outlets as well. It should be.

I know that in a week, everyone will forget about Mr. Johnson, about Denise Peraza, the young woman whose life he saved, and (tragically) even about the terrorist massacre which took the lives 14 innocent people.

That’s human nature in the digital age. Our attention and even our compassion in fleeting. Once the event has passed, we crave another thrill served up for us by CNN or MSNBC.

More’s the pity.

But what’s worse than forgetting the victims is vilifying them. You can click the link to see the details. This man’s life and the fact that he wasn’t Jewish (although the news media misidentified him as such) has brought all of the Internet trolls out in force, including people I have known (via the web) personally. People who are otherwise decent human beings who find it necessary to desecrate the dead.

And on top of all that, the so-called press, if you can imagine a person like Linda Stasi qualifying as an “unbiased” reporter, are playing the blame the victim game from a different direction.

Every time someone says it was the victim’s fault he/she was shot, killed, raped, maimed because of their politics, their religion, their gender, or anything else, when they were, by definition, not the aggressor but the target of aggression, not only do we excuse the person or people or groups who/that were actually responsible for the attack, relieving them of any blame for their actions, we reveal ourselves to be, at best, morally and ethically confused, and at worst, cowards.

HopeThis is a season of hope, or it’s supposed to be. Chanukah is a reminder that even in the face of overwhelming odds, God will help His people not only survive, but prevail against armies and evil.

Another such “morally confused” individual who also happens to “report” on television news media has expressed concern that Americans pray to an anti-Muslim God. I’ll let you readers decide how you want to interpret that sentiment, but I don’t think it’s wrong to pray, not only for mercy, but for justice. God can decide what is just, and it shouldn’t be too hard for those of us who have been studying the Bible for a while to have some idea of what Hashem considers just in the affairs of the human race.

I could go on and on quoting people I find enormously misguided and yet who much of the public seems to hang by their every word, but I came to give hope, not despair.

More than that, I came to talk about how all of us can give hope, using Chanukah as our basic template, whether we’re Jewish or not (and I’m not).

Sara Debbie Gutfreund wrote a small article for Aish called 8 Ways to Turn Darkness into Light. I’m sure we have been staring into the darkness a great deal lately. There is much darkness in the world.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Often, we respond to tragedy and despair with anger and outrage, and while this is perfectly understandable, it’s not always helpful.

Ms. Gutfreund’s list of eight items are:

  • Practice kindness
  • Reframe your goals
  • Living “as if”
  • Thinking creatively
  • Look through a spiritual lens
  • Embrace change
  • Connect to God
  • Love challenge

You can read her article to get the specifics, but it comes down to you and me having a personal responsibility to be the light that illuminates the darkness, to be a beacon of hope sweeping away heartache and grief.

lampThis is the same message Rabbi Benjamin Blech was explaining and why Chanukah is so important.

Not only that, our Rav taught his disciples something similar:

“No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.”

Luke 11:33-36 (NASB)

We have a very simple choice before us…simple to understand, but not always simple to perform. We have to choose if we want to be light or darkness. Which do you want to be and moreover, which one are you, based on your words (spoken and printed) and actions (the latter being more relevant than just what you want)?

Of course, often the people who embrace darkness imagine that they are actually representatives of the light. They’re sincere about it, too. No amount of talking, convincing, or arguing will change their minds or let them see themselves as the darkness desperately in need of light.

If some of them come along (and they have visited me here before), I know I won’t be able to convince them. Hopefully, they will show themselves wise and just hold their tongues (fingertips in the case of keyboarding).

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

-Abraham Lincoln

Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.

Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)

Maybe that makes me a fool for even writing all this.

Johnson was identified as “a Christian who…dabbled in Hinduism,” whatever that might mean to you who are reading this.

But this is who he was to the woman he saved, Denise Peraza:

“This amazing, selfless man who always brought a smile to everyone’s face in the office … this is Shannon Johnson, who will be deeply missed by all … my friend, my hero.”

I’ve referenced a few people who represent the darkness but I won’t name the main participants, the terrorists. They’ve received enough recognition and I won’t give them more.

Alone in silenceIf I do want to preserve a single memory of this horrible event, I want it to be of Shannon Johnson who, while probably not a perfect person, and maybe you’d disagree with is religion or something else about his life, spent the last few moments of his life being the light. He wrapped his arms about Peraza and said, “I got you.”

These were his last words before his life but not his light went out of this world.

If he was and is a light, if, as disciples of our Rav, we also are to be lights, and if our Rav is a light, He is also the Light Who made it possible for one day’s supply of oil to burn for eight, purifying the defiled, returning the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to Hashem’s service.

It’s as if He said to the aged priest Matisyahu and his five sons, “I got you.”

Is it such a leap to believe, that when our own light is being threatened by the darkness, it can be reignited by those same words spoken to us?

When we cry, when our hearts are crushed, when we are overwhelmed by this nightmarish world, by overt evil that shoots a gun, and covert evil that kills with words, God whispers to each one of us out of the darkness, “I got you.”

Let your flame illuminate the abyss, banish the demons, and declare righteousness and justice for the oppressed and the grieving.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

light“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:3-12 (NASB)

“When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

It Takes a Child to Build the Temple

Yehuda Glick, head of the LIBA Movement for Freedom of Movement on the Temple Mount, expressed his satisfaction that “for the first time in three years the Temple Mount has been opened to Jews on Tisha b’Av.”

“300 Jews have already come, including MK Shuli Muallem-Refaeli (Jewish Home). Afterward, we went to Commander of the Old City, David Avi Biton, and expressed our appreciation of the wonderful work the police were doing today,” Glick added.

Earlier this morning, masked Arabs arrived at the Temple Mount throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the security forces. Police entered the area and dispersed the rioters. There were no casualties, and the police have remained in place to maintain order.

Last night the Jerusalem District Police arrested 27 Arabs suspected participating in the rioting in East Jerusalem.

Thus far, 457 suspects have been arrested for rioting, of which 160 have been served indictments. Additional arrests are anticipated.

“Temple Mount Open to Jews on 9th Av for First Time in 3 Years”
-found at VirtualJerusalem.com

I hadn’t planned to write on Tisha B’Av but the above-quoted article plus something else inspired me. To understand why, read this:

Tisha B’Av night we sit on the floor and read from the Book of Lamentations. In a mournful voice we chant “Alas, she sits in solitude! The city that was great with people has become like a widow. She weeps bitterly in the night and her tear is on her cheek.”

We grieve for our Temple that was destroyed. We recall a once golden Jerusalem that now sits in darkness, abandoned. The streets of the city run red with rivers of blood. Lamentations describes a glorious nation being led out in chains as the fires of destruction fill the air. We cry “for Mount Zion which lies desolate, foxes prowled over it.”

-Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
“Making Tisha B’Av Relevant”
Aish.com

Tisha B'Av
photo credit: Alex Levin http://www.artlevin.com

Observant Jews mourn the loss of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples on this date as well as commemorate many other tragedies that have occurred in Jewish history employing very specific practices. Personally, I’ve decided to fast but not to employ all of the traditions involved in Jewish observance to avoid giving the impression that I’m fulfilling the mitzvah. I fast, pray, and study in solidarity with the Jewish people, but I must consider their losses as theirs, not mine.

But while Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning, it is also a day of hope. The very fact that the Temple Mount was opened to Jews on Tisha B’Av for the first time in three years makes me want to smile, even though that is inconsistent with a state of mourning.

I did have to smile at the following, though:

My son was on the lookout the minute the plane touched down in Israel. I could see the ignited light in his little four-year-old eyes on the entire car ride from the airport as he viewed the Holy Land for the first time. He was a tiny man on a mission, to see the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Jewish Temple, he was always hearing about.

He learned in school the common Jewish notion that each mitzvah (good deed) a Jew performs adds a “brick” to rebuild the destroyed Temple. And he was expecting to see the third Temple in the process of being rebuilt, brick by brick, mitzvah by mitzvah. You can imagine how his face fell and heart was broken when we arrived at the site of the Kotel, the Western Wall.

-Beth Perkel (as told to her by R.S.)
“Searching for the Third Temple”
Aish.com

Some among Israeli Jews believe the Third Temple should be rebuilt right now, while others (including me) think when the Messiah comes (returns), he will build it.

But the wonderfully innocent audacity of a four-year old little boy expecting the bricks of the Temple to miraculously appear one by one as Jews all over the world perform mitzvot is an obviously literal interpretation of midrash and also the perfect faith only a child could have.

“Mommy, this is it?”

“What do you mean this is it?”

“Where is the Beit Hamikdash? All I see is a wall Mommy, where are the bricks we have been working for, where are all the extra bricks?”

“They are coming precious child, someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, they are coming.”

But my answer wasn’t enough. He stood transfixed, woefully unsatisfied, hoping somehow that the bricks would miraculously appear. When they didn’t, he wandered around, the only one moping at the Kotel during the precious moments of our short visit there.

Ultimately, this searching Jewish child actually did find the bricks to the Temple at the Yad La-shiryon tank museum at Latrun, or more specifically, in the memorial wall, in which each brick is a representation of the mesirat nefesh or the self-sacrifice of the soldiers who died defending Israel.

“Mommy, this is it! We found the bricks! These are the bricks for the Beit Hamikdash!”

It brought tears to my eyes. Somehow, his soul had understood something so deep on this very spot where soldiers throughout Jewish history, from the time of the Tanach onward, had died glorifying God’s name, defending the Jewish homeland and helping us take steps towards our destiny. I could see the radiance on his face. He had found it – the bricks that showed him that God’s promise of redemption was on its way.

Kotel
photo credit: Chabad.org

What will bring (back) the Messiah, what will rebuild the Temple, is hope, even during the darkest periods of life. That’s what Tisha B’Av is, hope in the darkness. Even as Jews study Lamentations by candlelight sitting on short stools (as is the custom), with some eyes welling with tears, there is always hope.

Hope is what has enabled the Jewish people to endure as a people for so long. Hope is what recreated the modern state of Israel from the sand and ashes of “Palestine”. Hope is what keeps the prophesy of Messiah alive and all that he will do to return the exiles, redeem God’s people, and restore the nation to its former glory.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2 (NASB)

Our hope is in the Lord, maker of Heaven and Earth. That is the Jewish hope but it must be the hope for the rest of us, otherwise we have nothing, for “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22).

Hope is a four-year old boy who sees the “extra” bricks for building the Temple in the memorial of Israel’s honored fallen heroes.

May you have an easy fast.

He Will Come

LionIn that day, the stock of Jesse that has remained standing shall become a standard to peoples — Nations shall seek his counsel and his abode shall be honored.

In that day, My Lord will apply His hand again to redeeming the other part of His people from Assyria — as also from Egypt, Pathros, Nubia, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the coastlands.

He will hold up a signal to the nations and assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

Isaiah 11:10-12 (JPS Tanakh)

This passage from Isaiah is part of the readings for the last day of Pesach (Passover) which ends at sundown today (Tuesday). For any Christian, the imagery is immediately recognizable as describing Christ, and for a religious Jew, the Messiah is surely appearing here. We see part of the Messianic prophesy and what the King will do upon his return, such as bringing the scattered of Israel back to their nation from the four corners of the earth. He will also be a standard and a banner attracting we from the nations to seek his counsel and to honor his abode, which is the rebuilt Temple in Holy Jerusalem.

The last day of Pesach sends a message of hope to both the Jewish people and all human beings on earth that the Messiah will gather us all to him and he will be our King. Revelation 2:27 speaks of Messiah “ruling with a rod of iron,” which doesn’t sound pleasant, but it shows that King Messiah will have dominion and authority over everything and everyone. The Bible speaks at length about the Messiah and his rule.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Micah 4:1-2

For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

Hosea 3:4-5

While we in the church firmly understand and believe in the Christ, the Moshiach, in the person of Jesus; that he walked the earth once before and will dwell among us again, this has yet to be discovered by many, both Gentile and Jewish. But is can be discovered, just by watching Jesus and listening to him. Even a simple fisherman saw this.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Matthew 16:13-16

Who is Moshiach?Religious Jews all over the world desperately await Messiah, crying out to him, “How long?” In case you haven’t noticed, the world is a mess and particularly for the Jewish people, and particularly for the Jewish nation Israel, these are very hazardous times. Of course, times are always hazardous for the Jews and for Israel. It seems to be built into the very fabric of their existence that the world will always be against them. That is why it is so important for we Christians to support and uplift them. Many promises have been made about what Messiah will do for his people Israel and if the church isn’t standing for Messiah and for his nation and people Israel, then we stand against them; against Christ, very much at our own peril.

In writing about Moshiach (Messiah), the Rambam states in his Code of Law, Yad HaChazakah : “Whoever does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only [the statements of] the other prophets, but also [those of] the Torah and of Moshe, our teacher, for the Torah attests to his coming, stating: ‘And the L-rd your G-d will bring back your captivity and have compassion upon you.’

-Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson for Torah Portion Balak
“The Prophecies of Bilam”
Chabad.org

In honoring the week of Unleavened Bread by eating only matzoh and reading the daily readings for this season, we temporarily draw closer to Messiah and draw him closer to us. The church also celebrates Resurrection Day bringing glory to the risen King and looking to the hope of his return, even as the Jewish people look to his coming.

Our only hope is in continuing to believe that he will come, even as it says in the twelfth of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith:

I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he may delay, nevertheless, every day I anticipate that he will come.

A couple of years ago at this season, I wrote a blog post called Why Don’t Christians Count the Omer? It’s a serious question, since Jews and Christians both share Shavuot, though we in the church call it Pentecost. There’s another reason I ask the question, though. Jews and Christians also share the same desire and the same hope for Messiah, though we understand his specific identity differently. The person is the same person (most Jews will disagree with me, of course) and the hope is the same hope. Given that, why don’t we bind our anticipation together?

Could the Messiah return on Shavuot/Pentecost? There’s no way to know for sure. If he does, then counting the Omer is sort of like a “countdown” for Messiah’s appearance as we anticipate his “coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).

waiting-for-mannaA blogger who has asked to remain anonymous speaks of the Christian appropriation of Judaism and particularly the co-opting of the Seder for the Communion story, but while I share her desire to protect Judaism from Christian misuse, I can’t help but see the parallels. I can’t help but see my Christ and my King in the classic Jewish and Christian texts. The Messiah is there, and for those who believe, we are all waiting for him.

His “face” has been very visible and clear to me this week and I wonder, shouldn’t all Christians be celebrating Pesach, not to steal from the Jews, but to come along side them, joining our hope with theirs? Shouldn’t we also be counting the Omer, not to appear more “Jewish” but to long for the Messiah we see in the ancient Holy texts of Israel?

A bottom line requisite to bring about redemption is to eagerly “await” the Messiah with a genuine burning desire. Whether he comes in our time or, God forbid, not, we are both held accountable and credited for the quest. Nothing stands in the path of willing. We must will, long, yearn, desire, quest, beseech and pray. But as to the actualization of that long awaited promise, we must defer to the unfathomable wisdom of the Almighty.

-Rebbetzin Feige Twerski
“Bringing the Messiah”
Aish.com

Rebbetzin Twerski concludes her article by inspiring her readers to be mindful of their actions, always behaving in a manner that pursues Messiah rather than material things, to pray for others, for an end to misery in the world, and an end to the pain of God, who some Jews believe suffers right along with His Creation. And she tells us to hope, yearn, anticipate and have faith.

As it is said, “I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he may delay, nevertheless, every day I anticipate that he will come.”

Purim: Death in the Presence of the King

hadassahWho [but Moses] ascended to heaven and descended? Who else gathered the wind in his palm? Who else tied the waters in a cloak? Who established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name if you know?

Proverbs 30:4 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

On that day at the turning of evening he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the sea.” They left the crowd of people and took him in the boat that he was in, but other boats followed him. A great, stormy wind arose, and the waves were flooding inside the boat to the point where it was almost full. He was asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat, so they woke him up and said to him, “Rabbi, are you not worried about us? We are perishing!” He woke up and reprimanded the wind, and he said to the sea, “Hush and be silent!” The wind calmed down, and there was a great silence. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Why are you lacking faith?” They feared with a great fear and said to each other, “Who is he, then, that both the wind and the sea listen to him?”

Mark 4:35-41 (DHE Gospels)

Faith in the face of certain disaster is at least “difficult” for most of us. We struggle to maintain our faith in God when “ordinary” trials and troubles confront us, but when the difficulty is extreme and death or severe hardship seems absolutely unavoidable, where is our faith then? Moments like those are times of extreme testing and most of us, myself included, hope and pray we will never have our faith tested like that.

And yet, at this time of Purim, we see before us that faith is tested and tested harshly. Yes, the story of Esther is known and realizing that it has a happy ending takes some of the tension out of her situation, but that’s not how life works for us. That God knows the ending of our life of troubles before it begins does nothing to comfort us when we are in the midst of terror, injury, disease, and grief.

Only Esther could save her people from the evil decree of Haman, but to approach the King when he has not summoned you could lead to death. Could Esther risk her own life for the sake of the Jewish nation in exile as they rapidly approached extermination?

Then Mordechai said to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine in your soul that you will be able to escape in the king’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews. For if you persist in keeping silent at a time like this, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether it was just for such a time as this that you attained the royal position!”

Esther 4:13-14 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

While in the Jewish world, Purim is a time of joy and frivolity, a time of wearing costumes, children’s plays, candy, cakes, and a little of the “hard stuff” (for the adults), what lessons can we learn, Jews and Christians alike, from Esther’s example?

How should we understand this give-and-take? Was it simply a matter of Esther fearing for her life, while Mordechai urged her to put the plight of her people first?

Their argument, explains the Nesivos Shalom, was much more fundamental. Esther had accepted the fate of her people. She argued that they had reached such a spiritual low that they were undeserving of Divine deliverance from Haman’s decree. The Al-mighty has rules, and the people had broken them and were sealed for extinction. Mordechai countered that the situation is never hopeless. We will be saved “some other way,” one that defies all rules. G-d has a profound love for us and will break the rules of His kingdom, even if we don’t deserve it. If we reach beyond our limits for Him, He will go beyond His limits for us. Go into the palace against the rules, he said, and demonstrate how our love for Him also transcends all limits.

Purim encourages us to live in this plain that overlooks our natural limitations. Walled in by physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries, we often fall short of our potential for greatness, accepting that some things are just impossible to achieve. Some things are indeed impossible, but never are they hopeless. The Al-mighty has limitless love and help waiting for us, and with Him all is possible. With that in mind, we can have the strength to attempt and hopefully achieve the impossible.

-Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
“Beyond the Law”
Commentary on Esther and Purim
Project Genesis

symmes_chapel_churchIt is said that we should maintain our hope in God, even when our death seems certain, “even if a sharp sword is resting on [our] neck” and the decree against us is final, that through prayer, the mercy of God may still be aroused. We read the story of Esther at Purim. We dress in silly, brightly colored costumes and participate in plays where, when Mordechai’s name is said, we cheer, and when Haman’s name (may it be blotted out forever) is mentioned, we boo. We eat and drink as if we had been a prisoner on death row who, in the final seconds before the fatal injection was to be given to us, we were miraculously pardoned and set free.

But we must always be mindful that there are still prisoners.

“[A]fter all of these pressures, after all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ.”

Pastor Saeed Abedini
from a letter he wrote as a prisoner in Iran

Pastor Abedini is still a captive in Iran and his jailers continually demand that he deny his faith in Christ and “return to Islam.” I don’t normally “get political” on this blog nor was I intending on writing a commentary on Purim or for that matter, on Pastor Abedini, but I think God had other plans. In faith, we pray for deliverance when times are difficult. But it is trust and hope that drives us to pray when the sword is in motion, falling toward the back of our necks, and death is certain.

I raise my eyes upon the mountains; whence will come my help? My help is from Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Who is it who has gathered the wind in his palm? Who is He and what is the name of his Son? Who is he, then, that both the wind and the sea listen to him?

Pray that the God who created us all liberate Pastor Abedini soon and that his faith and hope does not falter. Pray that none of us will be put to a similar testing, but if we are, pray that we are strengthened and can endure.

Pray that the King finds favor with us and welcomes us into His Presence.

No Guarantees

NoGuaranteesDue to the widespread famine in Canaan, Jacob and his family descended to Egypt to live under Joseph’s care. Before the journey, G-d appeared to Jacob and said “Don’t fear going down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you and I will also take you out (Gen. 46:3).” Wouldn’t this move to Egypt prove to be the beginning of hundreds of years of painful enslavement under ruthless taskmasters? Jacob knew of Abraham ‘s prophecy that his offspring would endure slavery and oppression in a foreign land for hundreds of years (Gen. 15:13). Why shouldn’t he have feared this impending horror?

The truth is that yes, Jacob had reason to fear. But G-d’s promise — that He would be with Jacob’s children all along and that ultimately they would emerge a great nation — gave Jacob the strength to overcome it. G-d, in His Wisdom, sent the Jewish people to Egypt to build them into a great nation. Life in Egypt would be difficult, torturous and deadly at times, but our Father swore to never let go of our hands throughout the surgery. He promised that the Jewish People would leave with new strength and a promising future. A nation committed to G-d, one that would introduce and instill spiritual purpose into the world, would come out at the other end.

Pain is commonplace, and it’s our Egypt. “That’s life!” as they say, but it’s far too glib. Take a moment to consider some of the difficulties you’ve gone through, where the pain has now subsided. Did that experience change the way you look at and value life, your family, or your community? Did you grow or learn from the trying times? Jacob learned the importance of remembering that G-d is with us throughout our suffering, and to focus on the rewards on the other side. We often merit seeing the blessing hidden in the sorrow, if we take a moment to appreciate it.

-Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
“Living in Fear”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayigash
and the Sandy Hook School Shootings
ProjectGenesis.org

Experiencing continual anxiety and fear is a terrible thing. According to Rabbi Dixler, we should look back on some crisis we’ve experienced in life and see how we made it through it all, and then determine how we changed and grew as a result. Difficult times are often a “hidden blessing.” Yes, I suppose that’s true. But if we take the example of Jacob and God as we see in Genesis 46:3, even though Jacob knew that his family; his descendents would suffer slavery and oppression in Egypt for centuries, he had God’s direct assurance that they would rise up out of Egypt and become a great nation.

But what happens when you are the one facing a challenge in your life or in your family? God rarely gives us, as individual believers, His personal assurance as to how things will turn out. The vast majority of the time, we don’t have a clue what’s going to happen from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour. Did the parents of those 26 children murdered at their school in Newtown, Connecticut have any idea at all that when they sent their precious ones off on that fateful Friday morning, they’d never see them alive again?

Of course not. If they did, the parents would never have let them go.

We don’t know what’s going to happen an hour from now, a day from now, a year from now. When tragedy strikes or even threatens to strike, such as an ambiguous and disturbing medical test result requiring a visit to a specialist in the near future, you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen and how it’s going to turn out. So you live with the concern and anxiety of not knowing, sitting on proverbial “pins and needles.” Rabbi Dixler has a suggestion for how we are to endure tragedy and I suppose, the threat of future tragedy as well.

It’s now just a week since the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, and we’re all afflicted with new fears and feelings of helplessness. We don’t know why this had to happen, but perhaps there’s one thought that can give us strength: Someone Who loves us is holding our hand, and the hands of our precious children. Turn to Him for reassurance. May we soon see the other end of this pain, and may we all find new strength and a more promising future.

In other words, there are no guarantees from God that we won’t suffer from tragedy and pain. The only promise is that God loves us and will stand with us, holding our hand, so to speak, while going through the anguish with us.

Supposedly, that’s exactly what God did with His people Israel every moment of their captivity in Egypt. Supposedly, that’s exactly what God did with His people Israel every moment during the Holocaust. And yet millions suffered and died, including many, many innocent children.

job_sufferingI’ve been reading the book of Job for the past couple of weeks and in the midst of all of his quite undeserved suffering, he had no idea what was happening to him or why. He was completely bewildered about why God should allow such terrible things to happen to him, since he could figure out no reason for it. His friends, on the other hand, were quite content to blame Job, most likely sincerely believing that the reason for Job’s pain and anguish was because of some sin. I haven’t gotten to the end of the book yet and I read Job very infrequently, but as I recall, it was only at the very end that God “explained Himself” and He also explained that “He who makes the universe also makes the rules.” In other words, you don’t get to question God. Sometimes God just “happens.”

Some cynics say that religion is a crutch for people who fear death. That may sometimes be the case, but it certainly does not apply to those who study Torah. The Torah does not say much about life after death. It’s really not a book about how to go to heaven or what happens after we die. The Torah is more concerned with how we live in this lifetime, not the next. It is possible to read the entire Torah and conclude that there is no afterlife or resurrection from the dead. In the days of the apostles, a sect of Judaism called the Sadducees did exactly that. They read the Torah, did not see anything about an afterlife, and concluded that there is no afterlife, no heaven or hell, no resurrection from the dead.

“Resurrection in the Torah”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayechi
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

There isn’t even the promise of life after death, at least as far as a plain reading of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) is concerned, which is what led the Sadducees to their conclusion. However, as the FFOZ commentator points out, a study of the Torah tells us more about how to live than how to die, or more accurately, it is a study of how to live in this life not the next one.

But now we have a puzzle. If the foundation of the Bible is a lesson on how to live our lives as we exist in this world and there are no guarantees as to how this life will turn out for us, shouldn’t we continually be in fear, trembling all of the time about what apparently random circumstance is going to happen next? It’s either that or live in denial of everything I just said and either pretend that we have control of our lives or that God, being in control, will never, ever let anything bad happen to us.

Death would almost be preferable, because then, there’s no uncertainty, no fear, no pain (assuming there is no life after death). Just an end and nothingness.

But the FFOZ commentator continues.

Once, a Pharisee named Rabbi Simai was arguing with the Sadducees. They asked him to prove from the Torah that the dead would be raised.

Rabbi Simai said, “From where in Torah do we learn the resurrection of the dead? From the verse, ‘I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan.’ It doesn’t say ‘[to give] you’; it says ‘to give them.’ Therefore [since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob haven’t yet received the land] the resurrection of the dead is proved from the Torah.” (b.Sanhedrin 90b, quoting Exodus 6:4)

Rabbi Simai’s point is that God promised to give the land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—not just to their descendents. Yet, as the writer of the book of Hebrews points out, the patriarchs “died in faith, without receiving the promises” (Hebrews 11:13). God must keep His promise, but in order to do so, He will have to raise the patriarchs from the dead. This explains why Jacob was so adamant about being buried in the tomb of his fathers in the land of Canaan.

Rabbi Simai’s argument with the Sadducees sounds similar to Yeshua’s. When the Sadducees asked Yeshua to prove from the Torah that the dead are raised, He pointed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:

But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Mark 12:26–27, quoting Exodus 3:6)

There is a hope of a life after this one, both in Jewish and Christian tradition. Sure, there are a lot of gaps in our knowledge and we don’t really know exactly how it all works, but I guess that’s where faith and trust comes in.

always-hopeFaith and trust also “fills in the gaps” of our lives in this world and this life as well. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Life is a mystery and not always in an exciting and fun way. The mystery can be horrifying and terrible. Disaster has struck. We tell ourselves we can only go up from the bottom, but what if the bottom drops out? We can still fall further. We can still suffer more. After Hurricane Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey, it’s not like everything got immediately better for the victims. Many are still struggling to recover. It may take years for some people to restore everything they lost. Maybe some of them never will.

Where is God?

I ask that question a lot. If Rabbi Dixler’s interpretation is correct, then God is with us all the time, even in the midst of hideous pain and suffering. According to Rabbi Dixler, God is not just an impassive observer, watching us as we writhe in agony or shiver in fear. He’s an active if unseen (and unfelt) participant in our pain, experiencing it with us, expressing compassion, demonstrating love, though we may not be consciously aware of it.

We just have to believe He is there and that He somehow helps. We just have to somehow trust in His presence and His concern, that He will not leave us alone, even though we can feel very much alone.

Not a great message to start out your week with, especially since this is Christmas Eve (for those of you who celebrate Christmas). A message of uncertainly with only faith to hang on to in a season most Christians believe is one of ultimate hope, joy, and glory.

That’s the “official story” of Christianity at this time of year. I didn’t go to church again this Sunday. I have my reasons, but basically, I just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel like listening to and singing Christmas Caroles, hearing the “oh boy, isn’t it great that Christmas is almost here” messages, and “joy, joy, joy to the world” and all that jazz.

God, I would love some “joy, joy, joy” in my life and in the world, but I’ll settle for the knowledge and assuredness that no matter what I and my family must face now and in the future, that you will truly be with us all, strengthening us and comforting us in the bad times, and rejoicing with us in the good times.

Amen.