Tag Archives: image of God

What Defines The People of God?

Chosen People Racist?

What’s behind the whole concept of the Jews as the Chosen People? Isn’t this idea racist?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

All human beings are God’s people, as it says that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Further, the great prophet Malachi said, “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10) The Talmud likewise points out that one reason the entire human race descends from a single set of parents, Adam and Eve, is so that no one would be able to claim his ancestors are greater than his fellow’s (Sanhedrin 37a). Judaism does not believe there is an inherently superior race of human beings.

-From the “Ask the Rabbi” column

Yesterday, I posted a blog article called Giving Up the Identity Crisis, which was based on material I reported on in Where Are All The Gentiles Who Are Drawn To The Torah?; a comparison between modern Noahides and their communities, and we “Messianic Gentiles” or, if you prefer, Talmidei Yeshua (Gentile Disciples of Jesus).

I’ve been pondering the ramifications of giving up the identity crisis and becoming more comfortable with who I am. Relative to our relationship with God, there’s only really one thought to consider: you’re either Jewish or you’re not.

new heartThe Jewish people, the modern inheritors of the covenants Hashem made with the Children of Israel, are the only named participants in those covenants. For the rest of us, by attaching ourselves to the Jewish Messiah, we attach ourselves to Israel and thus by God’s grace and mercy, we are allowed to benefit from some of the blessings of the New Covenant.

But as the quote from the Aish Rabbi states, if the Jewish people are not inherently superior to the rest of humanity, and if we’re all created in the image of the Almighty, then why are there distinctions between Israel and the people of the nations at all?

Historically, however, the world slipped away from its relationship with God, and eventually the entire world was worshipping idols. Approximately 4,000 years ago, Abraham re-discovered the one God, and chose to accept the challenge of spreading the ideas of monotheism and morality to the world. Through his dedication and willingness to give up everything for God, he was chosen – and his descendants after him – to become the guardians of God’s message.

In other words, Abraham chose God, and thus God chose Abraham.

Abraham then passed this responsibility to his sons Isaac and Jacob. That mission was formalized 3,300 years ago at Mount Sinai, when God put these ideas into a written form (the Torah).

Oh, that.

Yes, Israel became the keepers of the Torah of Moses for many, many centuries as well as the only nation on the planet that paid homage to God and obeyed His laws and statutes.

the crowdOf course, in that time, there were a number of non-Jews who, seeing the wisdom and beauty of the Torah, attached themselves to Israel and eventually, after the third generation, assimilated completely into Israel, leaving behind their non-Israelite lineage.

But God didn’t desire that humanity either have to convert to Judaism (which is how modern Jews view the ancient assimilation process) or be out of relationship with Him. And while modern religious Jews believe that humankind is born into a relationship with the God of Israel through the Noahide covenant (see Genesis 9 and AskNoah.org), God had a better plan.

That plan was absolutely not to replace Israel and Judaism with Gentile Christianity. That plan was and is for the people of the nations to benefit from God’s ultimate redemption of Israel by redeeming us as well, at least those of us who accept that Moshiach is the mediator of the New Covenant, trust in him and obey God’s commandments as they apply to the Goyim.

We aren’t born into this covenant relationship, but we are grafted in essentially as “alien residents” among Israel (symbolically, since most of us don’t live among the Jewish people in national Israel) so that the barriers that previously separated us from Israel have been resolved.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all Christians and all Jews get along. Quite the opposite in some cases. But it does mean that the Gentiles and Jews who revere Rav Yeshua (Jesus) within the context of the ekklesia (which does not mean “church”), and trust in Hashem to save, are part of a larger Messianic community that will be fully realized upon Moshiach’s return.

I’ve said all this before in one way or another, so why am I repeating myself (yet again) now?

jew and gentile
Martin Luther King Jr. in the front line of the third march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama with Rabbi Joshua Heschel, March 21, 1965

Because (and this is a gross oversimplification) once you learn that the only two identities you can have are “Jewish” and “Other” within the devotees to Israel’s God, there’s not much else to be concerned about.

But like I said, this is a gross oversimplification. People love labels and love to differentiate between groups by those labels and what they think those labels mean.

However, what we call ourselves and what we tell ourselves that means is probably less important than what we actually do about it. Is the non-Jew who says he or she “observes the Shabbat” any more or less loved by God or created in His image than the non-Jew who volunteers at the local food bank, donates clothing to the local homeless shelter, or who spends time with hospitalized friends and relatives because tzedakah (charity) was made part of our obedience to our Rav and thus to God?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the blessing of lighting the Shabbos candles is very beautiful, and so is inviting God into the home to share our rest, but the Shabbat is a unique sign of the Sinai covenant, a covenant Hashem made exclusively with the Children of Israel (and the mixed multitude present who would assimilate into the Israelites within three generations).

Once we acknowledge that we are either Jewish or not and we learn to be OK with that, our identity problems go away for the most part.

I am a (non-Jewish) disciple of my Rav.

Another person might say “I am a (non-Jewish) Christian,” and essentially mean the same thing.

OK, there are differences, but if I obey my Rav by donating to my local homeless shelter and the Christian obeys Jesus by donating canned goods to the local food bank, are we not both being obedient and following his commands? Are we not both being faithful in the same way to the same Master?

churchSure, you might say that Christians believe in supersessionism, or deny that the Jewish people are still attached to God through the commandments and the Torah, or that they believe that Jesus “nailed the Law to the cross,” but which of us has a theology and doctrine that is 100% correct from Hashem’s point of view?

Probably no one. And yet with an imperfect understanding of the Bible, our Rav, and our God, we can still do good in His Name. That very likely describes 100% of Christians and observant Jews.

One Christian denomination rails against another spending a lot of time and resources to do so. One branch of religious Judaism rails against another spending a lot of time and resources doing so. And good grief, just look at those of us who live, study, and worship “outside the box,” so to speak. We waste a lot of time arguing about distinctions this and distinctions that.

Isn’t there a better way to use our resources and to obey our Rav?

There is once you let go.

Someone on a closed Facebook group recently asked non-Jewish group members why they became Messianic Gentiles and what was the biggest obstacle they had to overcome in entering into Messianic Jewish community.

I know these are important questions and answering them facilitates a sense of community among those who participate, at least a virtual community since these people (potentially) live all over the world, but in some ways, making that distinction also facilitates the identity crisis.

Inner lightWho is a Messianic Gentile and what does that mean? What’s a Messianic Gentile’s relationship with Messianic Jewish community and how (or if) do we fit in? There are a bunch of other questions attached to those and there is no one unified answer.

But what if those aren’t the most important questions to ask and asking the right question gives us a better answer?

We are all created in the image of God. The Aish Rabbi said that the Jewish mission is to be a light to the nations. My interpretation is that Rav Yeshua is that light (John 8:12) and by becoming his disciple, we too become lights to the world (Matthew 5:14-16).

Maybe all we really have to answer is the question, “How can I better shine my light onto the world?” That’s a totally inclusive question because it applies to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. Sure, the answer is somewhat different depending on whether you’re Jewish or not, but not as much as you think.

Both the Jew and the Gentile are commanded to do kindness and give charity. Both the Jew and the Gentile pray. Both the Jew and the Gentile give thanks to God for what He provides us from His grace, mercy, and generosity (Psalm 145:16).

I’ve stopped worrying about what to call myself (this is a lot easier for me because I’m not part of a religious community that has a label and expects that label to mean something specifically defining). I suppose there are any number of words that others use to define me. My Jewish wife for instance, considers me a Christian. From her point of view, she’s probably right.

Who am IBut what about God’s point of view? Maybe the identity He assigned us, the person He created each of us to be, is based less on some theological system of belief and more on what we do about it.

If you behave like the person God created you to be, and strive each day to become a truer realization of that person, who cares what people call you? Who cares what you call yourself? It matters most of all how God sees you and your (our, my) response to Him.

Who am I? What do I call myself? Why, I’m “me”. I’m doing my best to be the person God created me to be. Or like Batman said, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

In the Image of God

And yet there is something in the world that the Bible does regard as a symbol of God. It is not a temple nor a tree, it is not a statue nor a star. The symbol of God is man, every man. God created man in His image (Tselem), in His likeness (Demuth). How significant is the fact that the term tselem which is frequently used in a damnatory sense for a man-made image of God, as well as the term demuth, of which Isaiah claims (40:18), no demuth or likeness can be applied to God — are employed in denoting man as an image and likeness of God.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “Man the Symbol of God,” p.124
Man’s Quest for God

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Colossians 1:15 (NASB)

Yes, I know. They don’t quite match. Heschel is talking about every human being as being made in the image (tselem) of God, even though that Hebrew word is typically used to describe detestable man-made images of gods. I’m hardly a language expert, so I have to wonder if Paul in calling Yeshua (Jesus) the “image of the invisible God” was thinking of the same word for “image” as Heschel mentions.

The reason I bring this up is that one of the more traditional Jewish arguments against Jesus-worship is that we are worshiping an “image” based on Colossians 1:15. Yet if each individual human being in general can be considered a symbol for and image of God, how much more can Messiah, the unique human presence on Earth, the mediator of the New Covenant, be considered the symbol for and image of God?

Kind of makes you wonder.

For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

Psalm 33:9

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-3, 14

It is understood that God actually “spoke” the world into existence with His Word. In human terms, our words emanate from us, we generate speech and it exits our mouths. If others are around us, they can hear what we say. So I can only imagine that the Word emanates from God, but in His case, His Word does so much more than just make sound or even language.

I really don’t have that much more to say on the topic. I’m wrapping up the last few notes I took while reading Heschel’s book (I have to get it back to the library) and wanted to make sure I didn’t lose track of the information. It’s part of my continuing process of trying to “get a handle” on the nature of Messiah and also on the nature of man.

And in this sense, Hillel characterized the body as an “icon” of God, as it were, and considered keeping clean one’s own body an act of reverence for its Creator (citing Leviticus Rabba 34, 3; also see Midrash Tehillim, 103).

-Heschel, ibid

And what is more, Biblical piety may be expressed in the form of a supreme imperative: Treat yourself as a symbol of God. In the light of this imperative we can understand the meaning of that astounding commandment: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

-ibid, p.126

This may add some dimension to another equally astounding commandment:

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48

To be holy and perfect because our Father in Heaven is holy and perfect. It doesn’t seem like such a tall order if we are to consider ourselves symbols for God and images of God. The “Word became flesh” and sojourned among us so that he could be perfectly human and yet the perfect image of God, a living example, our High Priest, but only in the Heavenly Court, who was tempted but did not sin.

Not that we can perfectly refrain from sinning ourselves, but we can be better symbols and images of our God, just as the Master illustrated.

But all may be guided by the words of the Baal Shem: If a man has beheld evil, he may know that it was shown to him in order that he learn his own guilt and repent; for what is shown to him is also within him.

from “The Meaning of this Hour,” p.148

If what we are shown is also within us, what if we’re shown good and not evil? What if we’re shown a perfect symbol and image of God in seeming contrast to our own imperfection as symbols and images? If being shown evil teaches us to repent, shouldn’t being shown good inspire us to draw nearer to the Source of that good?

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

Matthew 4:17

Inner lightI don’t think we can accept any longer the argument that Yeshua is not worthy of glory, honor, and devotion because he is considered the “image” of God, because we too are “images”. Each human being is, in some sense, representative of our Creator, and in a greater sense, Messiah is even more representative. How all this works is highly mystical and as such, I can’t explain it, but the “imagery” (pun intended) is compelling.

Our Master is the living embodiment, encased in flesh and blood, of what we should be or at least of what we should be attempting to be: holy and perfect representations of our Creator in human bodies. To do that, we must be in a constant state of repentance before God for nothing that is holy is compatible with sin.

Good Shabbos.

Overcoming with Good

negativeThe Almighty’s perspective is the ultimate perspective. It is the basis of reality. The real question we need to ask ourselves is, “What does the Almighty consider my true value to be?”

From the Almighty’s viewpoint, the answer is, “You are My child and you are precious. You are created in My image. In essence you are a Divine Soul. I have created the world for you. Your entire being and your value is a gift from Me. When you see yourself from My perspective, you know that you have infinite value. Your intrinsic worth is greater than anything that can be measured materially.”

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #984
“Almighty’s Perspective on Your True Value”

Just to let you know, this has nothing to do with my recent commentary on John MacArthur and his Strange Fire conference.

However, I recently have become aware of a resurgence of poor attitudes among believers in the blogosphere and the wider realm of the Internet. I guess it’s easier for these sentiments to be expressed in a semi-anonymous environment where accountability doesn’t appear to be an issue.

I’m not here to add to that negativity. Believe me, resisting this temptation is difficult, but in the end, if I didn’t, I would be no better than those I find who have betrayed friendship and trust.

There is always injustice in the world. Just as the Master said to his disciples that “you always have the poor with you,” it’s sad to say that we always have the unjust with us as well. Jesus went on to say “and whenever you wish you can do good to them,” reminding his listeners (and us) that poverty is an opportunity for us to help others and to do the right thing in his name. What can we say of the unjust? What opportunity do they present?

I could say they offer us the opportunity to be just and humane as they are unjust and inhumane, but the mistake here would be in attempting to confront others who, in their own “wisdom” and self-service, see themselves as upholding the cause of right.

No, confrontation and the continuation of angry words profits no one and does not serve man or God.

But there is another opportunity here. The opportunity is to uplift and uphold those who have been trampled on under the muddy and self-righteous boot. The opportunity is to offer healing words, an olive branch of peace, friendship, and hope.

unpopularRabbi Pliskin wrote the words I quoted above probably with the idea that he was addressing a primarily Jewish audience, but his words are true for everyone. We were all made in the image of God. To denigrate any human being is to lower that Godly image and even to drag it into the gutter. When people do this in believing they are serving God, it is a sad and miserable thing. It’s especially poignant that the instigators are woefully unaware of what they are doing and who they are hurting.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46 (NASB)

…it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:6 (NASB)

I know that some in the Christian world feel they just have to “call out” people and behaviors, even to the point of betraying a trust to do so, but if you feel there is a conflict or you feel you have been hurt, there is a better way.

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21 (NASB)

I encourage you all and especially my brothers and sisters in the faith, if you feel anger within you for another, if they are within the faith or not, consider the words of Paul. And please, please, consider the consequences for failure as spoken by our Master.

So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 25:17 (NASB)

For those among the believing community who purport to observe the Torah, this verse is the basis for one of the 613 commandments to not wrong someone in speech, which I would extend to wronging someone in the blogosphere or other text-based environment.

Standing before GodA large number of the mitzvot that are specific to “love and brotherhood” are found in Leviticus 19, such as “not to carry tales” (Lev. 19:16), “not to cherish hatred in one’s heart” (Lev. 19:17), “not to take revenge” (Lev. 19:18), “not to put anyone to shame” (Lev. 19:17), and “not to curse any other person (implying Jewish person)” (Lev. 19:14).

The core of these commandments is that all human beings are created in the image of God. To deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to another person, regardless of the provocation, is to also deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to God’s image.

Saying that you love God while trying to hurt another person is kind of crazy-making.

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NASB)

Love of God and love of your fellow human being, regardless of who they are, even if they are not like you, even if they have different beliefs, even if they have a different outlook, are two acts that are inseparable. A man who says he loves God but hates or denigrates another person, plunging their name into the mud publicly, is a liar.

The image posted at the top of this blog post was the inspiration for today’s “extra meditation.”

Any negativity that comes to you today should be returned to the sender.

That is my only response to the negativity I’ve been addressing. There is no one to fight. There is no one to hate. Anger solves nothing and only robs the person giving into anger of his peace. I choose peace.

Today, any negativity I discover in the blogosphere or any other environment I encounter will be promptly returned to the sender. My peace will be preserved. This is also my gift to any friends who have been victims of negativity, hostility, or any other ungodly attitude.

open-your-handAnd in the end, the real victims of negativity are those who nurture it in their own hearts and attempt to send it out to others.

It is said that Shabbos is a small foretaste of the peace of the Messianic Era. The Queen arrives within just a few short hours. In the tiny march of time left until we light the candles, I implore anyone reading these words to set your house in order, and by the time the sun dips below the western horizon, please be ready to invite peace into your home, and into your heart. But of course, you will need to repent and ask God for forgiveness. And if you’ve hurt another human being, before God will forgive, you must repent and ask forgiveness from those you have hurt.

He who conceals a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

Proverbs 17:9 (NASB)

Good Shabbos.

The Journey of God’s Image

If you were not you, if you saw yourself from the eyes of another, how would you see your journeys through life?

You would see how each journey leads away from home. Away from your birthplace, from those who nurtured you and that which made you what you are. Outwards, away from yourself in so many directions.

But you see your journey from within. From within, every journey leads in one direction: Towards within. Towards yourself. Closer and closer.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Traveling to Yourself”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

What a horrible thought. Imagine if you could see yourself the way others see you. I suppose if you look in the mirror, you may think you don’t look so bad, but when you see a photograph someone took of you, you think you look terrible. That’s the difference I experience between shaving while looking at my reflection in the morning and seeing a photo someone took of me.

Yuk. Put the camera away.

But what about who you are spiritually? This is something we see in ourselves one way and can be seen in an entirely different way from an outsider’s point of view. People may see what we do and judge us, for good or for ill, accordingly. You may see someone and by their deeds, believe they are a righteous person, but inside, who knows but God?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. –Matthew 23:25-28 (ESV)

What about, “Woe to you?” What about, “Woe to me?”

In the 2000 movie What Women Want, ad executive Nick Marshall (played by Mel Gibson), accidentally gains the ability to hear what women are thinking (but only women, not men). Since he’s the quintessential “male chauvinist pig,” after a period of disorientation, he turns this ability to his advantage in order to manipulate women.

You men out there who complain that you don’t understand women may think that the ability to hear a woman’s thoughts would be an extremely useful and helpful gift. Boy, are you wrong. How do you know what women think of you is at all complementary? Do you really want to be shaken out of your bliss of ignorance by finding out what your wife, your girlfriend, or your female co-workers really think of you?

What does God think of you?

Yes, I know…God is love, but He’s also a judge. You Christians may say that being covered by the “blood of Jesus,” God sees him instead of you, but let’s get real. If God is all-seeing and all-knowing, then He knows all about you with no illusions and no mystical blinders. You can’t control or limit the vision of God by “claiming the blood of Christ.”

I know I see my spiritual journey from only my own point of view. I have no capacity to see myself as God sees me or to judge my path as God judges it. I am trapped within my own perceptions, and no man can truly perceive God. So in traveling forward and seeking Him, how can I really know where I’m going or if I’m even headed in the right direction? I can’t depend on myself and I can’t imagine what God sees when He sees me.

Or can I?

We were created in G-d’s image. The image of His vision.

From a point before and beyond all things, G-d looked upon a moment in time to be, and saw there a soul, distant from Him in a turbulent world, yet yearning to return to Him and His oneness. And He saw the pleasure He would have from this union.

So He invested His infinite light into that finite image, and became one with that image, and in that image He created each one of us.

As for that moment He saw, that was the moment now.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“G-d’s Image”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

This doesn’t tell me what God sees when He looks at me, but it does provide something of a clue. “…a soul, distant from Him in a turbulent world, yet yearning to return to Him…” That’s me. But here’s the really interesting part, though:

So He invested His infinite light into that finite image, and became one with that image, and in that image He created each one of us.

Remind you of anything?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:1-5,9,14 (ESV)

I know that when Rabbi Freeman says, “He invested His infinite light into that finite image,” he is talking about God in relation to we human beings as created in His image, but the suggestion of God’s infinite light being expressed a “finite image” inevitably brings the first chapter of John’s Gospel to my mind. Also, when the Rabbi said “He saw the pleasure He would have from this union,” what I see is the joy God has when, through the covenant provided to the nations by the Master, we can also have union with God, even as the Master has such a union.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. –Galatians 3:27-29 (ESV)

We cannot see God or experience Him in any direct manner, but the Master did say that “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) That probably doesn’t mean that you are literally looking at God when you look at Jesus, but it does (probably) mean that something of God’s infinite and Divine “light” was imbued with the Master to give him a unique identity among men. Through our devotion to the Master, we can “see God,” but we can also see the best in ourselves. We can see a goal to shoot for, though not necessarily attain. We can see the endpoint of our process and the destination of our path.

We can’t see ourselves as God sees us (mercifully), but in keeping our eyes on the Master, we can see ourselves as we should be. We can see ourselves as the person we strive to be; as the person God made us to be.

For my part, I can either look at the photograph of myself and despair, or “look” at the “image” of the Messiah and try to overcome my darkness with his light. The spark within me that is fully realized within the existence of Messiah, longs to return to the Source, but is chained by flesh and blood down in the abyss. A purely human life is always chained in the darkness while longing for the light. A life of trust and faith may live in a world of darkness, but the soul can still fly free and know the day will come when true union with our Creator will be completed, as it is between the Master and God.

I and the Father are one. –John 10:30 (ESV)

Encountering Differences

differencesThe Talmud says, “Precious is the human being who was created in the image of G-d. And an even greater sign of this preciousness is that man was informed that he was created in G-d’s image.”

-Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf
“Freedom and Self Awareness”

Don’t be afraid of the other person because he is different from you. There is far more in common between any two human beings than there are differences.

As for the differences, think of them as the hooks that hold us together.
Differences are that which we have most in common.

(The Rebbe was talking to children and discussing relationships between Jews and non-Jews).

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

I was wondering how I’d start off writing about what was on my mind today and Rabbi Freeman handed me the answer in my email inbox. This theme of “differences” has been coming up a lot lately. As most of you who read my blog regularly know, my post on an openly gay Orthodox Rabbi performing a same-sex wedding ceremony has attracted a lot of attention and many comments. What’s really interesting is that the conversation shifted from the primary topic to Orthodox Judaism in general. Add to the mix Derek Leman’s Torah Fundamentals blog series which compares Christian (or Gentile Messianic depending on your perspective) and Jewish differences in how the Torah is read and understood, and a whole “can of worms” is opened up and spewed all over the place. The “Messianic” movement is the intersection where Christianity and Judaism tries to meet and integrate, which is sort of like taking the contents of the can and packaging it together again in a new way. However,  like intermarriage (something I’m familiar with), differences don’t always enter the mixing bowl very smoothly and sometimes there are significant bumps, lumps, and bruises involved in the process (and I apologize for mixing my metaphors along with Christians and Jews).

When Rabbi Freeman quoted the Rebbe in his conversation to children about relationships with non-Jews, he offered some hope that there can be a conduit of communication between Judaism and Christianity. I wish I could have heard the entire conversation. I’m sure it would have been inspiring.

I think the Messianic movement, at least for the Gentiles in it and perhaps for some of the Jewish members, believes the “keys” to the “Judaism” in “Messianic Judaism” are held, in part, by the Orthodox. This may or may not be true in any sense, but because the Orthodox live in a manner so distinctive in its Judaism and tradition, many Gentiles see them as “the real Jews” (some Jewish people think that Christians = Catholics and believe that all Christians follow the Pope and consider the Vatican as our “holy city”). In following the comments on last week’s blog post, it became apparent that what most Christians don’t know about Judaism in general and the Orthodox in particular, would fill volumes. That includes those non-Jews in the Messianic community, but Messianic non-Jews can make their lack of knowledge exceedingly apparent because many are trying to live a “Jewish” lifestyle without knowing that much about Jewish lifestyles.

I suppose it’s one of the reasons I don’t currently worship with Messianics on a regular basis and prefer to self-identify as a Christian. I can probably “do” Christianity a little better than I can “Judaism” at this point (though I’m sure I’d stick out like a sore thumb in any church once I started opening my mouth) and as far as me being a Goy is concerned, it’s a little more honest, too.

While Rabbi Freeman’s previous message is very encouraging, he also wrote a message about guiding each person to their own path:

Just as it is a mitzvah to direct someone onto the path where he belongs, so too it is a crime to direct someone onto a path that does not belong to him.

Each person is born with a path particular to his or her soul, generally according to the culture into which he or she was born.

There are universal truths, the inheritance of all of us since Adam and Noah. In them we are all united. But we are not meant to all be the same.

Our differences are as valuable to our Creator as our similarities.

interfaithFor people who are traditionally Christian or people who are traditionally Jewish in their religious and cultural expression, the path that belongs to them may be quite apparent, but for those of us who straddle the line between two worlds (since I’m intermarried) the path where we belong isn’t always very clear. I know in this, Rabbi Freeman would be the first to say that my path should lead me to a church or perhaps back to Noah, but if combined with the idea of making differences live together, and believing that Jesus was and is a Jew, I can’t allow my focus to become that narrow.

I mentioned yesterday that sometimes I have to take time out from this mess, close the books, get away from the computer, and pray. At the point of prayer (and forgive me for saying this), it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or Christian or anything else. The moment you move the rest of the world to one side and you authentically engage with God in prayer, it is just you and God. It can be like Jacob wrestling with the angel in that we struggle with God to understand who we are, who God is (we may even ask His Name), and what we are supposed to be doing. We cling to God and in that embrace demand, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:27). The mechanics of how we pray and the manner in which we conceptualize God may differ depending on whether we are Christian or Jewish, but the need to connect with God and even to contend with Him is universal.

I have been questioning lately where to find wisdom and insight into God in relation to the traditional Jewish texts but here too, there is an answer and a truth, as expressed by Rabbi Freeman, that we can all consume.

Truth can come from anywhere—there is nothing that does not have its truth. Because, without a spark of truth, nothing can exist. Not even falseness.

Therefore, the wise man is he who knows how to learn truth from every person and discover the truth of each thing.

Different religious traditions and different people groups understand themselves and God in varied ways. Sometimes one group will watch the ways of another and respond by being puzzled, confused, or even appalled. Each group thinks they have the corner market on the best way to pray, do good deeds, worship, and even eat and dress. Yet we were all created in the image of God and despite our obvious differences, that image is the universal link between man and man and between man and God.