Tag Archives: Jews

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?

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What is the Romans 11 Olive Tree?

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:17-24 (NASB)

I’m writing this “morning meditation” just to preserve something I know I’ll forget if I don’t document it (as I get older, I find that my memory is becoming somewhat “leaky”).

I want to talk about trees.

Actually, I want to talk about one specific tree, an olive tree, the one Paul mentioned in the above-quoted portion of his Holy epistle to the Romans.

What in the world does that tree represent? Some of the common responses are “Israel,” “Judaism” or the “Jewish people,” or maybe “Jesus,” although that last suggestion doesn’t exactly make sense from the Jewish point of view given that the tree has existed for as long as the Jews have existed if they are natural branches.

ancient_olive_treeI discovered (or maybe rediscovered, given the “leakiness” of my memory) a plausible answer, one that is in fact more plausible than any I’ve suggested above.

The first element to understand is that this tree represents all those who share faith in HaShem, who trust Him. Verse 20 is the key that shows the definition of this tree, because unbelief is the mechanism that breaks a branch off of the tree, and faith is the mechanism by which one remains on the tree. At one time, the only branches on that tree were the natural native ones, which is to say Jews. The cultivation of that tree represents the principles of the Torah covenant that inculcated faith into the entire culture of the Jewish people – thus Jews were a people who had been acculturated to the notion of faith or trust. Being broken off of the tree refers to a loss of faith or a rejection of it. Being grafted onto the tree represents acquiring faith (or regaining it if it had been lost or rejected). Wild branches represent non-Jews from cultures that were not acculturated to faith in HaShem. They were not naturally accustomed to it, but they could learn faith by means of the teachings of Rav Yeshua and thus be “grafted” onto the tree of faith to which they were not native, “contrary to nature” (meaning by means of deliberate intervention by a gardener). The sap of the tree must then represent the nourishment of Torah knowledge, perspective, and insight that Jews have cultivated for many centuries to elaborate the meaning of a life of faith. The root of the tree is thus the source of this nourishment, the Torah.

-a comment of Proclaim Liberty from
June 15, 2015 at 4:06 a.m on my blog post What am I, Chopped Liver?

That’s only part of PL’s rather lengthy missive, but it does serve to illustrate that, from his perspective, the Romans 11 tree isn’t Judaism, the Jewish people, or even Israel. The olive tree is a metaphor for faith and trust.

I provided a link above that points directly to PL’s comment so you can read the content in full (or re-read it given the current context). Frankly, I’ve puzzled over the nature of this tree for more hours than I care to think about without coming to a conclusion. I ended up setting the matter aside, figuring the answer would land in my lap eventually.

I think it finally has.

Of course, given the mention of the Torah being the nourishment the tree provides both to the natural (Jewish) and grafted in (Gentile) branches, what’s to prevent someone from concluding that both types of branches are equally obligated to the mitzvot?

PL responses to this in part:

Now, this analogy doesn’t quite answer the questions about Torah observance for non-Jews, though Acts 15 offers a starting point to differentiate between two discipleship types, and perhaps it also explains Rav Shaul’s reference to two different versions of gospel: one addressed to the circumcised, and the other to the uncircumcised (viz:Gal.2:7), neither of which is to be dismissed as merely so much “chopped liver”. [:)] It may be suggested, however, that an acculturation to faith certainly does occur as wild branches reside on the tree and absorb Torah nutrients, and receive treatment from the Gardener (e.g., pruning) comparable to that given the native branches. Moreover, by faith does it become possible to set aside insecurities, so as to enable facing the discomfort of working to distinguish between applications of Torah which apply to everyone (including wild branches) and those which apply only to someone else (i.e., only to the native ones). We can also consider what might be the implications for this analogy in the present era when so many wild branches come from cultures that have been already at least partially accustomed to the notion of faith in G-d, even if that faith has been contaminated with views that are contrary to Torah or Jews or Judaism or related notions.

James and the ApostlesActs 15:21 hints at the responsibility for non-Jews to learn Torah, even after it had just been clarified that their legal obligations to specific performance were very limited. Why then to learn? I would suggest that making the distinctions I described in the above paragraph requires a depth of Torah understanding, because even common principles of Torah might result in different praxis for Jews and for non-Jews to obey. For example, I recently was looking closely at the text of Is.56 (vs.2&6) to consider the characteristics of how the “foreigner”, who is being commended by HaShem for clinging to His covenant, actually approaches the Shabbat. He is described only as keeping from profaning it; whereas Jews are elsewhere commanded to actually sanctify it and guard it. This suggests some sort of difference in the specific behaviors associated with it. I’m still grappling with what that may mean, and how gentile obedience and compliance to this may thus differ from what I know as my Jewish responsibilities and praxis. But it does show that what constitutes obedience for one may be disobedience if another tries to do the same rather than what is appropriate to his or her categorical situation.

I know this is really long by Internet standards, but there is a lot of good information to absorb here. I think (my opinion) that PL is describing how complex and nuanced the Gentile’s “grafted-in-ness” is. There’s no easy black-and-white answer as to who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing as non-Jewish disciples, except that it’s not identical to what observant Jews are supposed to be doing.

We have clues, hints, and starting points, but I think it’s up to us to struggle with how we’re going to build our lives on the foundation of the Bible, and particularly how the Apostolic Scriptures present the lives of non-Jews in Messiah.

I just didn’t want to lose track of the very concept of the Romans 11 tree as a metaphor for Faith and Trust. Lack of faith may get a natural branch knocked off the tree temporarily, but it doesn’t turn a Jew into a non-Jew. Nothing can do that. Being grafted into the tree does not turn a Gentile into a Jew. We’ll always be Gentiles. It also doesn’t turn us into Israelites. Only Jews are Israel.

But being grafted in means we’ve come to faith in Hashem, the God of Israel, and we are nourished by the principles of Torah as applied to the Goyim.

faithI’m not writing this to present an answer or declare some amazing Biblical insight (particularly because the insight isn’t even mine). I’m just putting this here as another piece of the puzzle of our lives in God that may help to fill in the picture.

Oh, one more thing:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 11:25-29

Immediately after writing “if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”, Paul goes into how Israel’s “hardening” is only partial, that is, temporary, and will only last until “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” Then “The Deliverer will come from Zion” and “remove ungodliness from Jacob” so that “all of Israel will be saved.”

This is clearly New Covenant language and, as I’ve said many times before, I believe God will truly redeem all of Israel just as He promised. Paul was telling the Gentiles not to let being “grafted in” go to their (our) heads. The olive tree of faith has belonged to the Jews from the beginning. Any of the natural branches knocked off temporarily for the sake of the Gentiles, for our sake, will all be rejoined to the tree by Messiah. Even in being knocked off, temporarily losing the “faith connection,” it was done for the sake of the nations, so we owe a debt of gratitude, even to those Jews who currently reject the notion that Yeshua could possibly be the Messiah. That’s the majority of Jews across the past twenty centuries. Without their temporary absence from the root (and who is to say how absent they are since they cleave with great faith to Hashem), there would be no room for us.

Any Christian or non-Jew who calls themselves a “Messianic Gentile” or “Messianic whatever” who also disdains non-believing (let alone believing) Jews is guilty of ingratitude, not only to Israel but to God who arranged it all. Remember, the “promises are irrevocable.”

Let that sink in.

Next Year in Jerusalem

With Pesach beginning this Friday, April 3rd at sundown, I thought I’d interrupt my reviews of Pastor Chris Jackson‘s book Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, and say something about how I’m experiencing the approach of Passover and Easter this year.

Last year, I called the association of Easter and Passover a collision, although I did urge Hebrew Roots and Messianic people not to throw Christianity under a bus for celebrating Easter as their most Holy day.

However, this year, I’m getting nervous. No, I’m not feeling anxiety about Passover or even Easter, but about how the status of the state of Israel is changing. A few days ago, The Jewish Press published an op-ed piece called “Obama Declares War on Israel”. Unfortunately, they’re not wrong. American President Barack Obama’s negative attitude toward Benjamin Netanyahu and his recent victory in winning the election in Israel, coupled with Obama’s disastrous policies toward a near-nuclear Iran, indicate that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is at its weakest point ever.

We are about to join the ranks of those nations who are enemies of Israel, and we know from scripture that all the nations that will go up against Israel in war will be defeated by God, and their survivors will be compelled to pay homage to Israel and her King.

On a much smaller scale, I read a story about some comedian named Trevor Noah, who is taking over Jon Stewart’s job as host of “The Daily Show”, making a number of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel “tweets” on twitter.

Here’s two of his more vitriolic tweets:

Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn’t look b4 crossing but I still would hav felt so bad in my german car!

South Africans know how to recycle like Israel knows how to be peaceful.

Fortunately, according to the story, he suffered a strong and immediate backlash for his comments. However, his tweet in response was hardly repentant:

To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian.

So far, I don’t find him particularly funny.

I’m just listing two examples of a much wider body of information indicating how the world is continually turning away from the nation of Israel and is being willing to victimize Jewish people up to and including murder. Even American Vice President Joe Biden publicly admitted that Jews in this country can only rely on Israel and not on the U.S. As anti-Semitism continues to rise in our nation, are we going to start looking like Europe in how we treat our Jewish citizens?

It may not be too soon for American and European Jews to start making Aliyah. That gives the statement “Next Year in Jerusalem,” which we say at the conclusion of every Seder, a new and poignant meaning.

burning star of davidIt’s not just President Obama who has declared war on Israel and the Jewish people, it’s the entire world.

Yesterday, Derek Leman posted (or re-posted) a blog called Passover, Resurrection, Constantine which is a fabulous history of how Easter came to be in the Christian religious calendar.

In the second century, the congregations of Yeshua-believers were dissociating themselves from Jewish origins. Ignatius of Antioch famously said, “It is monstrous to talk of Christ and practice Judaism” (Letter to the Magnesians 10:3). The Jews had been in two wars with Rome (66-70 and 130-132 CE). Yeshua-believers, who had originally been seen as a sect of Judaism, had originally been protected under Roman law — free from obligation to show devotions to Roman gods and Caesars under the Jewish exemption — by being regarded as Jews and proselytes to Judaism. Now being Jewish carried with it the worst social stigma possible in Roman society.

But a controversy arose between the main congregations and some Asian bishops (the Roman province of Asia, in modern Turkey). Specifically Polycrates, claiming to be keeping up the practice handed down to him from Polycarp, kept a fast (vigil) until the 14th day of the month (apparently the Jewish month, Nisan) and then held a feast (likely a Passover Seder). But the other congregations at this point held a vigil on Saturday followed by a feast on Easter Sunday. The people in this dispute like Polycrates, who kept their feast on the 14th day, were called Quartodecimanists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartodecimanism).

They were some of the last hold-outs, Yeshua-followers who kept some of the Jewish customs of the early believers. There would be philo-Semitic (Jewish friendly) Christians well into the fifth century (as Chrysostom preached sermons against them). But in the second century such friendliness with Judaism was already well on its way to being considered a departure from true faith.

I think we still suffer under the legacy of those days and, even in the secular world, Jews and Judaism have historically endured the disfavor and displeasure of the people of the nations (to put it mildly).

Recently, the Sojourning with Jews blog posted a missive called One New Man-ity challenging the traditional Christian belief that God’s “Old Testament” particularity toward Israel was replaced by a “New Testament” universalism that exchanged the Jewish people for the Church. As a non-Jewish wife married to a Jewish husband, she defines the Gentile role in relation to the Jewish people thus:

God also says He will discipline His people and that they will be scattered out of the land and suffer terribly from the nations for a very long time. They will “dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar….” But “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. Other places say He will rescue Jacob from “hands that were too strong for him.” I juxtapose that with Jesus saying his followers are to love and care for even the least of his brothers and so, I see that I have a calling of my own and the overarching purpose is to love God, and my neighbor as myself.

According to the historical record, if all Christians had understood this, there would have been more to stand in-between the Jews, and the nations that repeatedly sought their blood.

As far as I’m concerned, she is definitely “preaching to the choir.”

Passover and the Week of Unleavened Bread commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from under the harsh slavery of Egypt and God, through Moses, leading His nation to Sinai to establish them as the head of the nations, giving them His Torah.

In his commentary on Passover this year, Rabbi Kalman Packouz says:

People think they are free when they throw off the yoke of the Torah. However, unless one has the revealed wisdom of the Torah, he is at risk at becoming a “slave” to the fads and fashion of his society. Slavery is non-thinking action, rote behavior, following the impulse desires of the body. Our job on Pesach is to come out of slavery into true freedom and to develop a closer relationship with the Almighty!

passoverWhat has kept the Jewish people free and united them as a people for over 3,500 years when an entire world continually tries to destroy them, is cleaving to God’s Torah and maintaining their Covenant distinctiveness from the nations around them.

Passover, for the Jewish people, is a time to celebrate freedom, not just from slavery and tyranny, but from the spectre of annihilation, assimilation, and dissolution.

Several days ago, my wife and I were discussing the sad state of America and how our President seems all too willing to throw Israel to Iranian wolves. In a fit of pique, she said she’d consider giving up on the U.S. and making Aliyah.

A momentary surge of joy welled up in me at the thought, but I realize she wasn’t making a serious suggestion. According to my spouse, Israel is looking for younger families to make Aliyah, not a couple approaching retirement.

But this made me realize that while I would hate leaving my children, my grandchildren, and my parents behind, it’s more important to me to support the Jewish nation and the Land of Promise than to tolerate my own country, which seems to be in a moral and ethical nosedive destined to crash and burn at the conscience of the King.

The weight of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic hate weighs heavily upon my shoulders as I contemplate this year’s seder, just a day away as you read this (and as I consider Easter as well). But if I have faith in God at all, then I know what He has promised Israel, to be the head of all the nations, to be a Land of everlasting peace and prosperity, will come to pass. And not all the Barack Obamas, Trevor Noahs, or anyone else can stop Him from ushering in the Messianic Era and blessing the Jewish nation of Israel.

At my family Seder tomorrow night, when we all declare “Next Year in Jerusalem,” may that “next year” come soon. May it come soon for all Jews living in the diaspora and for all those who love them.

Freedom is the responsibility to fill our lives with meaning.

-Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf

Yom HaShoah: A Day to Remember

Rav Moshe Teitelbaum, zt”l, the previous Rebbe of Satmar, went through the living inferno that those who survived the Holocaust endured. After some time in Auschwitz, he was moved to Tröglitz, a camp in Rehmsdorf. Despite the danger, the inmates of the camp arranged to pray kol nidrei and they invited the rebbe to lead the prayers.

Of course, it was unthinkable to eat on Yom Kippur. But since the meager evening meal was served after nightfall, it at first appeared as though those who wished to fast would have to go without food before the fast as well. After much wrangling, the head of their block, Dr. Kizaelnik—who had been the rosh kahal in Sighet before the war—finally managed to arrange with the kitchen staff that the evening meal would be served before nightfall.

An eyewitness later recounted, “Before kol nidrei we went back into the block and fell onto our beds, crying bitter tears the likes of which I hope I never hear again. Then the good doctor announced that kol nidrei would soon begin and that any who wished could join the minyan. Still weeping, we went to the part of the room set aside for davening, and the rebbe began to speak.

“The rebbe commenced, ‘Rabbi Akiva said: Ashreichem Yisrael! Before Whom are you purified, and Who purifies you? Just as a mikveh purifies the defiled, God purifies Yisrael. We must recall that Rabbi Akiva was one of the ten martyrs—killed for sins he did not commit. He saw all the terrible travail which would befall Yisrael. Yet he chose to give a message of chizzuk to us for all generations. Although a mikveh literally alludes to a ritual pool, it can also allude to the word tikvah, hope. This
teaches that when we hope to Hashem, and do teshuvah—even if we are in the worst situation—God will uplift us. Even from this present darkness, which no nation has ever experienced, such bitterness and cruelty, God will deliver us. Amen.'”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Hope of Yisrael”
Kereisos 23

Originally posted on April 18th, 2012 with some adaptations.

Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah begins in the evening of Sunday, April 7, 2013, and ends in the evening of Monday, April 8, 2013. Do not forget. Do not let your children forget. As long as we remember and repent, there lies our hope in God.

As I edit this blog post, it’s early Sunday afternoon before Yom HaShoah. At Sunday school class earlier, when the teacher asked for prayer requests, an older gentleman named Charlie told us all that tonight at sundown, Holocaust Remembrance Day begins and encouraged us all to pray for Israel and the safety of the Jewish people. I believe it is the duty and honor of all Christians to continually pray for Israel and especially at this time, that never again will the Jews be rounded up and slaughtered like cattle. Pray for King Messiah’s return and for the shalom of all Jews everywhere.

(Click the image below to see a larger version)

According to Dr. Michael Schiffman’s blog, “over 50,000 elderly Holocaust survivors living in Israel, and many thousands of holocaust survivors living in the former Soviet Union (are) living in abject poverty right now.” You can help make a difference. Learn how at Dr. Schiffmans’ blog and then make a donation at chevrahumanitarian.org.

There’s always hope, as long as you repent, remember, and then act out of kindness and compassion.

Separating Good from God

returning-the-torahThe campaign of the Greeks was aimed to “make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will” (Sidur p. 59); as the Midrash (Bereishit Raba 16) puts it, (the Greeks demanded) “Write…that you have no share in the G-d of Israel.” It was a war against G-d. “Let them study Torah,” the Greeks implied. “Let them practice the justice-mitzvot and the ‘testimonial’ observances. But they must not mention that the Torah is G-d’s Torah and the mitzvot are the decrees of His will. Torah and mitzvot must be severed from G-dliness.”

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tevet 2, Seventh Day of Chanuka, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Why should any religion get the credit for people doing good, but not get the credit for people doing bad?

I think it should be consistent either way, don’t you? Either the church gets all the credit or none of it. You can’t just give it the good and ignore the bad.

-comment from NotAScientist
on my blog post
When Christians Do Good

Typically, one of the criticisms non-religious people level against Christians and other people of faith is that we need some sort of excuse to do the right thing. We use our faith and our religion as an external motivator to do good when, as human beings, we should just know how to do good and do the right thing because it’s the right thing.

This gets muddied up further when definitions about what “right” happens to be differ between religious and non-religious populations and certain social priorities and “causes” become involved. Then too, the matter of the “supernatural” vs. the “rational” is also injected into the argument, with rational, scientific atheism and secular humanism weighing in on the side of “thinking” as opposed to “believing”.

In doing a little research into “atheist advertising” for this blog post, I found a number of clever slogans that atheists use to promote their particular viewpoint. One was on the side of a New York City bus and read…

“You don’t have to believe in God to be a moral or ethical person”

The ad then provided the URL to the New York City Atheists website (see the story at The New York Times for details).

But that takes us back to the “Today’s Day” quote at the top of this blog post and interestingly enough, Chanukah.

As you’re reading this, Chanukah has just ended (at sundown Sunday night) but the lessons it teaches us are still fresh in my mind. Why would the Greeks be content to continue to allow the Jews to perform the Torah mitzvot and to do justice, as long as they divorced those moral and ethical deeds and the Torah itself from the God of Israel? If you donate food to your local food bank because you believe that helping others is the right thing to do, and I perform the same act in response to the will of God, what difference does it make? Hungry people are still fed either way, right?

atheist_christmas_adWell yes, hungry people are still fed either way. Someone can enjoy a donated meal without wondering about the motivation of the person who provided it. Their belly will be just as full and they can feel just as grateful to the person who helped them out. I can understand why an atheist would make such a statement, but why would the ancient Greeks, who had no end of gods of their own, want to say something like that about the Jews? Why separate the good deed from the ultimate author of the good deed, God?

Pinchas arose and wrought judgment, and so the plague was checked.

Psalms 106:30

The word tefillah, or “prayer,” has its origin in the word pallel, which means “to seek justice.” Prayer should therefore be an activity whereby one seeks justice. The first recorded prayer in Jewish history is that of the Patriarch Abraham. He sought justice for the people of Sodom and pleaded with God to spare them (Genesis 18:23-33). Thus, when we pray, whether for ourselves or for others, it should be with the understanding that we are seeking justice.

How, then, can we ask of God to grant our various requests? Are we deserving of this? Do we deserve them? Are they within the realm of justice?

Two answers come to mind. If, as part of our prayers, we admit the wrongs we have done, sincerely regret them, and commit ourselves not to repeat them, then we may indeed be deserving. We therefore do not make our requests on the basis of what we are, but on the basis of what we will be. Second, if we extend ourselves by forgiving people who have offended us and acting with kindness toward them, then God’s acting accordingly toward us can in itself be considered justice.

Thus, teshuvah (the process of regret and return) and gemilas chasadim (acts of kindness) are the foundations of prayer.

Today I shall…

try to do teshuvah, and to act toward others in a way that I wish God to act toward me.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 1”
Aish.com

I don’t have some wise commentary or a learned sage to draw from to answer the question I posed above, but there seems to be one difference between the atheist’s motivations and the reason a person of faith does good: the definer and creator of good.

If man is the final arbitrator of what is good and evil, then good and evil changes over time, changes between nations and cultures, and changes from one individual to the next. What I may consider good, another person may see as evil. What I can justify within my own conscience may be considered tremendously heinous within another’s moral structure.

But God is God. He does not change and thus what is good does not change.

And what is good?

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

Mark 10:18 (ESV)

OK, it’s not that simple. I’ve mentioned before that religion and how we understand God evolves over time. Besides that, even just within Christianity, various denominations and even individuals who go to the same church can differ on a number of political and social issues in terms of what is “good” and “evil.” Should you pray for the well-being of President Obama or pray against his health and safety? You may believe the answer to that question is clear, but I promise you that no matter what your answer may be, there is a believer out there who has the opposite answer, and yet both of you believe you are in the right because of God and the Bible.

But even though we have that monkey wrench in the machine, I still believe it is better to seek out God in matters of right and wrong than to universally rely on our own judgment and feelings. I’ve been writing recently about the Sandy Hook school shootings and it is only the most recent of the many debates you will find on how to address violence in our society. What is the right thing to do? What is the ethical and moral thing to do in response to the death of 26 people, including 20 small children?

symmes_chapel_churchI don’t know.

I do know that even those of us who turn to the God of the Bible for our strength and our hope don’t always agree on the answer. How much more must a secular world with only the standard of public opinion dispute each other, disagree, and contend?

I don’t know the answer. But I am thankful that when I have to ask the question, I don’t have to ask another human being who is just as hurt, sorrowful, and angry as I am.

If my sense of right and wrong became detached from God, even if my basic behavior and my concept of what is good did not change, I would be at the mercy of the opinion of whatever group of people I chose to listen to or worse, I would have to depend upon the voice of my own personal thoughts and feelings.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2 (ESV)

It was God who took a family and made them a people and a nation too numerous to count. If the Greeks had succeeded and caused the Jews to detach the Torah from God, Israel too would become detached and ultimately lost. It is God who redeems the soul of every living person and from whose hand we receive what each of us needs at its proper time. Without God, we too would be lost.

Hope and Love

Canon White is not only concerned about the physical safety of the scrolls; he is also dedicated to what’s written on them.

“The thing that I really respect about how Jews live is that God is in everything. If you’re really Orthodox, God is not removed from anything. From the bathroom to the bracha [blessing] you make afterwards, you bless Him and you thank Him. Every time you say ‘Baruch ata Hashem,’ you are showing that you believe that He is the King of the Universe!”

He pauses. “Do I sound frum?”

Yes, he does. Canon White learned the lingo as the first non-Jewish student at the Karlin yeshiva in Jerusalem. A rabbi there permitted him to get a taste of Jewish learning.

He has grown from a student of Judaism into a teacher of it. He offers a weekly course about Judaism to Christians in Baghdad.

“The Iraqi Christians who come to my class are shocked,” says Canon White.

“They say that nobody has ever told them about Judaism before. It’s hard for them to accept that they’ve been told lies.

None of the young Iraqis have heard about the Holocaust. They don’t know how Christians have persecuted Jews.”

-by Ari Werth
“Struggle for the Scrolls”
Aish.com

Every once in a while, I’ll hear about an extraordinary person, an extraordinary Christian who really does love the Jewish people and Israel. In my circle of friends and acquaintances, I hear a lot about Christians loving Jews, but I don’t think the lot of us can hold a candle to the Vicar of Baghdad.

Andrew White is an Anglican priest risking his life helping Christians in Iraq. Even more dangerous, however, is what he volunteers to do – protecting the last few Iraqi Jews.

“I help Jews because the very heart of my own education, of my faith, is a love for Judaism,” says Canon White. “I don’t see how I can be a Christian without knowing my Jewish roots, and without loving them.”

Given the opportunity, I wonder how many of us would take the risks that White is taking to protect Iraqi Christians and Jews and to try to rescue the single largest collection of Torah scrolls in existence; 365 deteriorating Torah scrolls hidden away in a secret sub-basement in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

I said just the other day that no Christian would ever be admitted into a Yeshiva, but obviously I was wrong. As you read in the quote above, White is the first non-Jewish student ever admitted into the Karlin yeshiva in Jerusalem. His “reward” perhaps for truly dedicating his heart and his spirit to understanding the Jewish people and their closeness to God.

Ignorance, as Canon White calls it, prompted him to write a book about the Jewish roots of Christianity. He shared the newly finished manuscript . It describes several fundamental concepts and practices of Torah observance.

“There is nothing more inspiring than ‘Shema Yisrael,’” he writes in the upcoming book. “I say it every morning and every night. I taught my little boys to say ‘Shema’ before they go to sleep.” He’s planning on translating the book into Arabic. “The Muslims need to know that our faiths come out of Judaism and that therefore the Jews are our brothers, not our enemies. We need to learn from and love our older brother.”

Most believers live in a world where we’ve been taught that the Jews have been marginalized and that Christianity has ascended over them. I know the church is changing, but change is slow. Sometimes change can get sidetracked and Jewish practice and tradition isn’t dismissed, but rather taken over by non-Jewish “Christians” and reinvented as a new type of Christian faith. But there’s a difference between practicing Christianity with a thin Jewish veneer and what White is doing. When he teaches his children to say the Shema, (Deut. 11:19) he isn’t doing so in a way that diminishes the Jewish people but rather, in a manner that honors them. Canon White is one of the few Christians who really “gets it” as far as comprehending what it actually means to honor his faith and recognize Judaism as its root.

Christianity isn’t evil, in spite of what you may have heard in certain corners of the blogosphere. God is opening our eyes and turning our hearts. Men like Canon White are living proof of this (my final article in my supersessionism series for Messiah Journal, which will be published this coming winter, will show how White is hardly alone).

There’s another way to look at Christianity within the current context as well.

On the one hand, it is very difficult for Jews to accept that something is built on the spot of the Holy Temple.

On the other hand, we can thank God for the kindness He has shown – since I imagine He could have allowed a much less flattering structure built on it – like a parking lot, or a sanctuary to an idol. In this case, the Muslims believe in one God and treat the Temple Mount with sanctity.

In fact, Maimonides explains that other monotheistic religions have flourished in order to help spread essential Jewish ideals, to better prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah.

from “Ask the Rabbi”
“Temple Mount”
Aish.com

A strange attitude for a Rabbi to take regarding Islam (or Christianity) but then, it’s just as strange for an Anglican priest to teach Arab Muslims and Christians that Jews aren’t the enemy. Jesus himself said that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) and from a Jewish point of view, salvation is about both national Israel and the individual human being. And it’s about hope.

Each day we hope for Your salvation. -Shemoneh Esrei

The Talmud states that one of the questions that will be posed to each person on his or her day of judgment is, “Did you look forward to salvation?” While the question refers to anticipating the ultimate Redemption, it can also refer to the salvation of the individual.

Positive attitudes beget positive results, and negative attitudes beget negative results. Books have been written about people who have recovered from hopeless illnesses because, contrary to medical opinion, they did not give up hope. On the contrary, they maintained a positive attitude. While this phenomenon may be controversial (for many people are skeptical that cheerful outlooks can cure), people certainly can and have killed themselves by depression. With a negative attitude, a person suffering from an illness may even abandon those practices that can give strength and prolong life, such as the treatment itself.

I have seen a poster that displays birds in flight. Its caption comments, “They fly because they think they can.” We could do much if we did not despair of our capacity to do it.

Looking forward to Divine salvation is one such positive attitude. The Talmud states that even when the blade of an enemy’s sword is at our throat, we have no right to abandon hope of help.

No one can ever take hope from us, but we can surrender it voluntarily. How foolish to do so.

Today I shall…

try to always maintain a positive attitude and to hope for Divine salvation.

-Rabbi Abraham J Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 11”
Aish.com

Never abandon hope, even when “the blade of an enemy’s sword is at our throat.” Men like Canon White give me hope in Christianity and the church. He shows me that Christians and Jews can co-exist, work, live, and worship God side-by-side in unity. We don’t have to do away with the Jews so that Christians can thrive. We don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” by creating new “Christian” religions or denominations or sects that discard the church and the Jewish people while taking over Jewish worship practices.

In the modern world, it’s difficult for me to have heroes. So many of them are revealed to be flawed and damaged human beings. I don’t know who Andrew White is behind the article I just read, but today, he became one of my heroes; one of the few. If I needed a model for how to be a Christian in relation to the Jewish people, I wouldn’t have to look any further than men like Canon White.

I hope you read all of the Ari Werth’s article Struggle for the Scrolls. If you haven’t, please do so now. Read it all. Scroll all the way to the bottom. There, you’ll find a section in yellow with information and links that instruct us on how to “save the scrolls” that are being held in Iraq. Read the article. Spread the word. So much of Jewish history has been lost to oppressors. If even some of the scrolls are still undamaged, we can return them to their rightful owners, the Jewish people.

To achieve wonders takes a heart both humble and fearless.

Yes, two opposites. But also from two opposite directions:

The mind awakens the heart to its nothingness, and by this, the soul G‑d gave you is bared in all its brazen power.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Fierce and Humble”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

If you love Israel, and I know many of you reading my words do, then you can do something with that love. You can give hope.