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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.

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Why the Torah is the Tree of Life

I also raised My hand [in oath] against them in the Wilderness to scatter them among the nations and to disperse them among the lands, because they did not fulfill my laws, they spurned My decrees, desecrated My Sabbaths, and their eyes went after the idols of their fathers. So I too gave them decrees that were not good and laws by which they could not live.

Ezekiel 20:23-25 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

In a moment of great pique, God has the prophet Ezekiel tell his exiled brethren of the relentless misdeeds of their fathers, which brought about their loss of the land. God insists at one point: “Moreover, I have them laws that were not good and rules they could not live by.” The import of these harsh words is that God might just be the author of inadequate or even malevolent law, a proposition that flies in the face of God’s goodness, love, and perfection.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Divine Music in a Human Key,” pg 468 (May 14, 1994
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar (Numbers)
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

The twenty-fifth verse in Ezekiel 20 relates a startling admission on the part of God through the prophet, that God gave Israel “decrees that were not good and laws by which they could not live.”

When reading those words, I was immediately reminded of the traditional Evangelical Christian reasoning about why God gave the Torah to Israel at Sinai in the first place. I mean, if God was going to cancel the Law with the death and resurrection of Jesus, or at least have it pass into obsolescence to be replaced by the much more “livable” grace of Christ, by what rationale did God require and demand that the Israelites keep the Torah mitzvot?

The answer, and I was also startled when I first heard the Pastor at the church I attend present it to me, is that God wanted to illustrate that no one could possibly keep the law and that we all need God’s grace to save us from sin.

So God sets forth a lengthy set of conditions associated with the Sinai covenant between Hashem and Israel, with a generous collection of blessings for obedience to God’s Torah (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and an abundant list of curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

God, being faithful to His Word, has indeed blessed Israel when they cleaved to His Torah and cursed them when they strayed from obedience.

The haftarah reading for Bamidbar, Hosea 2:1-22, chronicles the course of God’s response to His covenant people, from wrath in response to Israel’s faithlessness when she “played the harlot” (v 7) by abandoning her “husband” (God) and chasing after foreign lovers (idols), to the promise of renewing the intimate relationship between Hashem and Israel when they returned to Him in obedience:

And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy, and I will espouse you with faithfulness; then you shall be devoted to the Lord.

Hosea 2:21-22 (JPS Tanakh)

Laying TefillinAfter all of that, with generation after generation of Jews all striving, sometimes succeeding and often failing to willfully keep the commandments, yet in their heart, always loving and revering the Torah, they never suspected that God was just setting them up for a huge fall. And then, during the Roman occupation, just a few decades before the destruction of Herod’s Temple, God was going to yank it all away from them and abruptly declare that He had planned to have Israel fail and fail miserably all along, in some sort of demented preparation for the coming the Messiah and “the law of grace.”

I enjoy reading mystery books that have a creative and unanticipated plot twist to keep things interesting, but God, according to Evangelicals, is the undisputed master if “I didn’t see that one coming,” the ultimate jumping of the tracks where the train carrying all the exiled Jews back to Jerusalem becomes the carriages transporting endless hoards of formerly pagan Gentiles to Rome.

Ezekiel 20:25, especially when read out of its immediate context and outside the overarching plan of God for Israel, could be interpreted as supporting this “double-dealing” motivation of God except for this:

But note what has been accomplished by this exegetical twist: The holiness of the text has been preserved. Whatever blemish we may detect has nothing to do with the original power and beauty of the Torah, but derives solely from inferior mediation. Not the author, but the interpreter is at fault.

-Schorsch, pg 469

It is said that Biblical interpretation starts with translation but it obviously doesn’t end their. The value of our Holy Scriptures rises and falls with the correct understanding of what we’re reading. Putting on the supersessionism-colored glasses forged by the Gentile “Church Fathers” and polished by the men of the Reformation, we indeed do read the Bible “through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) rather than accessing the plain sight of God.

But how can man see with God’s vision? We probably can’t, though we are experts at saying we really can, and in saying that, we reveal ourselves to be deluded or liars.

This thing you call language though, most remarkable. You depend on it for so very much. But is any one of you really its master?

-Spock/Kollos (Leonard Nimoy)
Is There in Truth No Beauty? (1968)
Star Trek: The Original Series

Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy

The above quote references a “mind-meld” between Mr. Spock and a non-humanoid being named Kollos, an ambassador for his planet who is non-verbal and who can only communicate with people through telepathy. He experiences “humanity” for the first time seeing the world (or the bridge of the Enterprise) through Mr. Spock’s senses and communicating through spoken language which he never had done before. You and I like to think we are familiar and even (as I said above) “experts” on understanding the Bible, but an outside observer, if they could access our point of view, might accuse us of what Kollos accused the people on the Enterprise, depending on language for so very much without truly being its master.

We depend on the Bible for so very much, but who can say if anyone can be the master of a document that, while scripted in this world by human beings, was inspired by the mind and spirit of God?

But it’s just about all we’ve got, just like language is just about all we’ve got to communicate with one another, to learn about one another. We only have the Bible to teach us about God.

But no one of us being its master, how dare we say that any part of the Bible, down to even the tiniest jot or tittle, in any way has been cancelled, annulled, eliminated, replaced, folded, spindled, or mutilated?

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

It is a Tree of Life for those who cling to it, and happy are those who support it.”

Proverbs 3:18

It’s not just a matter of poorly interpreting the Bible but in selectively reading it. Christians can “cherry pick” those scriptures that seem to support a classic supersessionist view of an expired Torah, but they can’t explain those portions that support a high view of Torah, a continued zealous observance of Torah by multitudes of believing Jews in New Testament times (when Acts 21:20 speaks of “how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law,” the Greek word we translate into English as “thousands” is literally “tens of thousands,” and that Greek word is the basis for the English word “myriads,” telling us that vast numbers of Jesus-believing Jews were completely over-the-top zealous for the Torah), and since the Bible (in my opinion…and the Epistle to the Hebrews notwithstanding) doesn’t speak of the Torah expiring like an aging carton of milk in the back of the fridge, then I have no reason to believe that God intended to annul the Sinai Covenant and its conditions for the sake of the inaugurated but not yet arrived New Covenant…not until after Heaven and Earth pass away.

Tree of LifeUntil then, the Torah is a Tree of Life, first to the Jew and also to the Gentile, defining, among other things, who we are in relation to God and who we are to each other, Jewish believers remaining wholly and completely Jewish in identity, role, and responsibility, and grafted in Gentile believers taking on, not a Jewish role, but one that uniquely defines us as the people of the nations who are called by His Name, who have a calling that is not Israel but that supports Israel, for our salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22).

The one mystery I have struggled with up until recently was why, after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, is worshiping God “not enough” anymore?

Many, many years ago, long before my wife and I became religious, we attended a Passover Seder at a friend’s home. At one point during the reciting of the Haggadah, he stood up and joyously cried out, “No one comes between a Jew and his God!” Even as a non-believer, it was quite obvious to me that he was referring to Jesus and Christianity, perhaps viewing Jesus as a layer of abstraction that was thrust between people (or Jews) and God when no such separation existed before.

We can debate whether or not the Temple and sacrifices separated Jewish people from God or actually brought them closer and say that Jesus draws Jews (and everyone else who will believe) closer still rather than further away, but from a Jewish point of view (I can only assume, not being Jewish), being told you now can only come to God through Jesus rather than praying to Him directly with no intermediary, makes it seem as if the rules have changed and a brand new player was added to the game, one that the Jewish people never needed before.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.”

Deuteronomy 30:11-16 (NASB)

The Torah is the Tree of Life, the source of everything that is good and is from God for a Jew. It was never too far away and it was never intended to be impossible to observe. God did intend for the Jewish people to observe the mitzvot and by obedience, they would draw closer to God and receive good life and prosperity in the Land. Why would that ever change? Not through Jewish disobedience, because God always provided Israel a way back through repentance. Not because of the coming of Messiah, but I’ll get into that at a later time (see below).

the-joy-of-torahSo far we’ve seen that Judaism is a religion of joy, and hopefully, I’ve shown that this joy emanates from observance of the mitzvot and study of the Torah, and that the Tree of Life brings a Jew (and realistically, all of us who embrace the Word of God) nearer to God. But where does Jesus fit in?

I know that’s an odd question and I know many of you think you know the answer. In my next meditation, I’ll see if I can show you a new answer (new to me, anyway) and why God didn’t change the rules, just as the New Covenant was never intended to replace the Sinai Covenant. God doesn’t destroy anything He has created, but He does continually reveal Himself to us across the history of the Bible.

It’s revelation I’ll speak of next time.

The Boy in the Sukkah

Sukkah in the rainIn a sense, Sukkos itself is about getting our priorities straight. Here we just finished with the Days of Judgement, hopefully with Hashem’s blessings for a year of prosperity and success. Yet the first thing we do with our new-found blessings is to leave our comfortable homes for the temporary shade of the Sukkah. We thereby acknowledge that there can be no greater “success” in life that to do what Hashem really desires, even when it’s not what’s most comfortable. Sometimes we shake with the Esrog and sometimes we shake with the horse – the main thing is to strive to understand what Hashem wants of us in a given situation, not what we want or what makes us feel good. As the pasuk says (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:6), “In all your ways know Him; He will straighten your paths.”

-Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman
“Sukkos: Shaking Up Our Priorities”
Torah.org

My four-and-a-half year old grandson keeps calling me from my Sukkah. Actually, he keeps phoning me from my Sukkah, calling me at work. OK, he’s only done it twice, and he had Bubbe’s (my wife’s) help doing it.

The first time was actually a day or so before the festival began. He and Bubbe were lunching in the Sukkah and he called me to invite me over. Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave my job right then, but agreed to join him later that afternoon. The second time was a few days later, still at the same time of day. He wanted to know why “Uncle Mikey” (one of my sons) wasn’t answering his phone. I explained that “Uncle Mikey” was probably in school (university) and couldn’t answer the phone.

The kid really wants more company in my Sukkah. And that’s a good thing.

This is the season of joy for Jewish people. The days of judgment have passed and there is great celebration in or rather outside many Jewish homes, eating, and singing, and dancing, all for the sake of the Torah and Hashem.

As I write this (on Friday before Shabbos), I have yet to take a meal in my own Sukkah (Note: On Shabbos I started taking my meals in the Sukkah). I almost did last night, but my wife and I had a conversation on a serious subject while making dinner and, both being distracted, we sat down at the kitchen table for our meal and were eating before I realized we’d missed eating in the Sukkah together.

I thought about breakfast or at least coffee this morning in the Sukkah, but it was still dark outside and after coming back from the gym, my son (in this case, David) and I were in a rush to get ready for work.

As Rabbi Hoffman suggests, I need to get my priorities straight. Obviously, my grandson already has his up to snuff, since he’s eating every day in the Sukkah and trying to invite others to do the same.

landonAnd I’m pretty sure that at his age, he doesn’t really grasp Sukkot yet.

But who knows?

It’s Friday before Shabbos, but you won’t read this until Monday morning (or later). I’m hoping I can get all the kids over on Sunday for a meal. Everyone has different schedules so it isn’t easy to gather together in our home regularly. But just once this week, it would be nice to eat with the family in the Sukkah (Note: As it turned out, everyone had plans away from our home on Sunday, including my wife…ah, maybe next year).

It is said in Machzor of Succos, “I welcome to my table the saintly guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.” It is said in the Siddur, “I am hereby ready and prepared to fulfill the positive commandment…” It is said in Isaiah 11:6 “And a little boy will lead them.”

And so, we should follow.

Doing Joy

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

Therefore, first of all, man ought to be happy and joyous at all times, and truly live by his faith in the Lord who animates him and is benignant with him every moment. But he who is grieved and laments makes himself appear as if he has it somewhat bad, and is suffering, and lacking some goodness; he is like a heretic, Heaven forbid.

Igeret HaKodesh 11 (Kehot)

Apparently, I struggle with joy. I suppose it’s part of my nature or my personality to do so, just like I struggle with everything else, including God. I don’t have an easy relationship with joy. It’s like my relationship with all those religious and spiritual people who seem to be so happy and carefree all the time. I just don’t see how they can be perpetually “warm and fuzzy” (kittens, puppies, John Lennon quotes) and still manage to relate to those of us who seem to need to keep a toe or a foot in the real world.

Was that cynical?

While I have recently acknowledged joy, I have even more recently mourned its lack in my life. But I have still managed to say something hopeful about joy.

I can only conclude that joy, like love, is a verb; it’s something you do, not something you feel. We can love by performing acts of love, such as feeding the hungry, hugging a crying child who just skinned his knee, helping an elderly, infirm person across the street, or visiting a sick person in who is in the hospital. But how to you do joy?

This morning (as I write this), I realized that last night I actually did joy. I just didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time. That means I actually do joy more often, much more often than I thought I did.

Here’s what happened.

On Tuesday evenings, my son and daughter-in-law take a class and they ask my wife and I to watch our grandson Landon while they’re out. Last Tuesday night, my wife had to work late, so when I dropped off my son at his place after work (we commute to and from work together), I took Landon home with me (oh, he’s three-and-a-half years old, just so you know). My daughter was home and cutting up lots and lots of organic and recently picked apples on the back patio as part of her latest culinary masterpiece project (cider, I believe). The sukkah was still up, which should help set the scene for you.

Oh, one more thing. Rabbit and Alley. We have two hand puppets that we acquired (I don’t remember the details) when our own children were small. One is a rabbit and the other is an alligator (hence, “Rabbit and Alley”). Landon adores Rabbit and Alley (or “Raddit and Alley” as he calls them). They are his very close friends, almost as close as “Baby” which is his favorite stuffed toy (a giraffe).

When we got to my place, he saw that his aunt was out back and he wanted us all (Grandpa, Rabbit, and Alley) to play outside so we could be with her. My grandson is a picky eater, so he didn’t want to have dinner with me. He did sit beside me and we chatted while I ate. After my hunger was sufficiently assuaged, we proceeded out back.

Landon consumed a lot of (Auntie provided) fresh apples between periods of playing in the sandbox. Rabbit and Alley (and I) watched him as he transferred sand almost endlessly from one container to another. He put sand in a small bucket and pretended that he was planting (alternately) “pretty flowers” and tomatoes. Rabbit received the honor of watering the “plants” (pouring more sand in the bucket). He gave Rabbit and Alley “flowers” to put in their “pockets” and fed them imaginary tomatoes, since Rabbit and Alley like their vegetables (Landon, not so much).

When the sun went down sufficiently, I turned the lights on that are mounted on the sukkah, and we went inside. Landon ate more apples and asked me to read the Hebrew that is on two walls of the sukkah. I can’t read Hebrew, but was able to point out the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. Landon was a little confused when I mentioned that David played a harp because his Dad (also David) plays the drums. I had to explain that one is a King and the other is his Daddy.

We ran around the outside of the sukkah “hiding” from each other. He hid behind bushes. He picked up a “pretty rock” and carried it around for a while. I’m pretty sure I was wearing Rabbit and Alley on my hands the whole time. I tend to forget they’re actually on my hands when I’m playing with him, unless I need to take them off to turn the pages of a book I’m reading to him, or some similar activity.

In fact, when the sun went down, we did go in and I read him two books, one about an adventurous young penguin, and the other about a duck who likes to make soup.

His parents came to pick him up and, as is true with most children who are in the middle of having a good time, he didn’t want to go. So, to encourage Landon to go to the car, Rabbit, Alley, and Grandpa went out to the front to see him off. After he and his parents left, I went back inside and only then remembered to take off Rabbit and Alley and place him in their seat of honor near the fireplace.

I woke up this morning and realized that playing with my grandson was “doing joy”. It’s not that I had been emotionally ecstatic and overwhelmed with mind-bending happiness, but I recalled, looking back on the evening, that I had been quietly, pleasantly happy. I’ve mentioned before that one of the acts of love we are able to perform is to hug a crying child who has just skinned his knee. If that’s love, then joy must be playing “Rabbit and Alley” with a small child who on some level (even though he sees me put the puppets on and take them off) believes that Grandpa, Rabbit, and Alley are his best friends.

Love and joy are playing with your grandson. The next time you can’t find the Spirit of God within you and you feel lost, abandoned, and arid inside, play with someone you love. There, you’ll find joy and every other gift that God provides.

When man has moved away from the Divine, the only rectification is for man to move back toward God. Therefore the Zohar concludes that repentance is the key to heal the rift, which caused the destruction of the second Temple. This would also explain the Midrash cited at the outset — Moses knew that the absence of the Temple necessitated man’s movement toward God; therefore, Moses instituted thrice daily prayer, in order to remind man constantly, in all his experiences, that he must not forget God, rather he should take every opportunity to stand in front of God.

Furthermore, prayer is described as “service of the heart.” Evidently the heart, the emotions are crucial for this return.

But the Zohar insists that repentance coming from the heart full of love is needed to return the Jews to the level which should have been reached via the first fruits offerings. When this happens, joy will become a reality — everlasting and complete joy.

-Rabbi Ari Kahn
“Joy: Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tavo”
(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)
Aish.com

I’m beginning to think that Moses should have instituted thrice daily play times with small children to remind us constantly that we must not forget God.

Turn away from feeling lost and lonely by cherishing whoever God gives you to play with, and your heart will return to Him. Go do love and joy.

Let It Rain Joy

Restrain the festival by bonds to the corners of the altar.

Psalms 118:27

The Talmud states that if a person celebrates the day after the holiday with a festive meal, it is considered as though he had built an altar and had brought sacrificial offerings upon it.

Succah 45b

Rashi states that the reason for the eighth day, Shemini Atzeres, can be explained with the parable of a king who invited his children for several days of feasting. When the time came for them to leave, the king said, “Your departure is so difficult for me. Please stay with me for yet one more day” (Rashi, Leviticus 23:36). Similarly, after seven days of Succos, in His great love for Israel, God asks us to stay with Him for yet one more day before returning to our mundane activities, which so often distract us from Him.

To indicate that we cherish our closeness to God just as He does, we add a day of festivity after the last day of the holiday, to extend even further the intimate companionship with God. This testimony, that we value our intimacy with Him and that we leave the Sanctuary only because we must tend to our obligations, is held equivalent to building an altar and bringing votive offerings.

Indeed, God wants us to engage in work – Six days shall you work (Exodus 20:9) – but our attitude toward the workweek should be that of a person who is away from home on an assigned duty, and who longs to return home to his loved ones. The importance of our closeness to God should be manifest not only on the day following the festival but all year round as well.

Today I shall…

try to maintain the closeness with God, that I achieved during the festival, even when I am involved with the activities of everyday life.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day – Tishrei 24”
Aish.com

While for Christians, today is just another day of the week, for observant Jews all over the world, the party’s over. The festivals that have received so much build up over the past month or two have all ended. If they haven’t done so already, it’s time for Jewish families to dismantle their sukkot and put them away (assuming they use a kit like I do) for another year. The dancing is over and the Torah scrolls have been returned to their arks. This coming Shabbat’s reading is Genesis 1:1. The cycle of life begins once again.

It can either be a build up or a let down.

Or, as I mentioned yesterday, it can simply be another reminder for me that time is passing and there is no definite direction set for the next step of my journey. I suppose I could just keep walking and wait to see what turns up, but what if nothing turns up? Everybody hits a “dry spell” in their faith, but I feel positively arid.

Joy is supposed to be a mitzvah, but over the past year and a half or so, I’m still failing Joy 101.

If we have no joy in our hearts, we deny the love of God. We should not say, “Our heart is the dwelling place of lust, jealousy, anger; there is no hope for us.” Let us realize that we have another guest in us who desires to give us life and joy, notwithstanding our sin.

-Paul Philip Levertoff
Love and the Messianic Age

alone-desertLevertoff isn’t the only one to make such an observation:

The natural state of a human being is joy. Joy is a healthy state – healthy for us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Lack of joy comes from thinking in ways that block your joy. Different people have different obstacles to their joy. It is easy to blame other people, circumstances, or situations for one’s lack of joy, but the only reason that other people, circumstances, and situations might cause a lack of joy is because of the way that one views those factors. The one who views everything in his life as an integral part of his service to the Almighty, will experience joy in dealing with whatever arises. “This, too, is part of my mission in this world.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Joy: The Natural State, Daily Lift #601”
Aish.com

Oh, and there’s this rather well-known scripture:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (ESV)

And then, according to Tsvi Freeman in his book The Concealed Light, Joy is one of the names of the Messiah (pp 240-1):

HaGra, the Gaon of Vilna, explained, “‘They shall obtain joy and gladness’ (Isaiah 35:10). Joy (sason) and Gladness represent the two Messiahs, the core of Joy being Messiah son of Joseph, about whom the verse speaks” (Kol HaTor 74). This understanding is based upon the Talmud, where Joy and Gladness are personified in a discussion about the highly significant practice of pouring water on the altar during the Feast of Booths (Sukkot).

And speaking of Sukkot:

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

Isaiah 12:3

I can only conclude that joy, like love, is a verb; it’s something you do, not something you feel. We can love by performing acts of love, such as feeding the hungry, hugging a crying child who just skinned his knee, helping an elderly, infirm person across the street, or visiting a sick person in who is in the hospital. But how to you do joy?

Or has that question already been answered?

Simchat Torah means “the rejoicing of the Torah,” for the Torah rejoices on this day. The Torah is the stuff of the Jew’s life: his link to his Creator, his national mandate, the very purpose of his existence. But the Jew is no less crucial to the Torah than the Torah is to the Jew: it is he and she who devote their life to its study, teaching and practice; he and she who carry its wisdom and ethos to all peoples of the earth; he and she who translate its precepts and ideals into concrete reality.

So if we rejoice in the Torah on Simchat Torah, lifting its holy scrolls into our arms and filling the synagogue with song and dance, the Torah, too, rejoices in us on this day. The Torah, too, wishes to dance, but, lacking the physical apparatus to do so, it employs the body of the Jew. On Simchat Torah, the Jew becomes the dancing feet of the Torah.

“Torah in the Winter”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Adapted by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Chabad.org

But James, the brother of the Master, didn’t say to “count it all joy” when you’re dancing around with the Torah scroll, but when “you meet trials of various kinds.” And Rabbi Pliskin said, “The one who views everything in his life as an integral part of his service to the Almighty, will experience joy in dealing with whatever arises,” so anything that happens, regardless of its nature, if it is part of us serving God, should be a source of joy.

What’s the connection, or is there a connection between Jewish tradition, Jewish philosophy, and Christian scripture?

I suppose this is where having a mentor might come in handy, but I can’t see that happening.

Of course, James didn’t say “feel joy when you meet trials of various kinds,” he just said “count it all joy,” as if it were joy, but it isn’t really. Rabbi Pliskin’s advice is harder, because he tells us to “count it all joy” no matter what, and to actually experience joy. I like James’s advice better. Maybe in the arid times, we’re supposed to just “count it all joy” not expecting to really experience joy, but knowing that someday, once the water starts to pour again, joy will be forthcoming with the rain.

Let it rain joy.

Sukkot and Simchat Torah: Abundant Life

Without Torah it is impossible for an individual to say that his life is full of things that cause him to offer G-d thanks; even if he enjoys mostly good times, he still cannot consider himself to be vitally alive, as most of a person’s time is occupied with food, drink and sleep, earning a living, etc.

A Jew, however, is inextricably bound to the “Torah of life,” and is therefore able to imbue all that he does with life; even while engaged in mundane affairs he cleaves to G-d by remembering that “All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven,” and “In all your ways shall you know Him.” (Mishlei 3:6; Tur and Shulchan Aruch , Orach Chayim 231.)

The result? “And you who cleave to the L-rd your G-d are entirely alive ,” (Devarim 4:4.) every moment of every day. Thus a person can and must thank G-d for granting him life and enabling him to reach this occasion.

“Shehecheyanu for Torah”
from “The Chassidic Dimension” series
Lesson for Berachah and Simchas Torah
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I periodically encounter some Jewish teachings and commentaries that apparently elevate the Jewish people at the expense of everyone else in the world. That is, it seems as if, at least in some corners of Judaism, that Jews see themselves as more spiritually elevated than Gentiles, regardless of any particular Gentile’s religious tradition, including Christianity. At first blush, this seems to smack of elitism if not downright bigotry, but we should remember that through the vast majority of Jewish history, at one time or another, most of the non-Jewish nations have tried to evict, enslave, or exterminate the Jews, in part, because of their “choseness” by God as a people.

It is a fact that God did give the Torah to the Children of Israel and it has been passed down, generation by generation to their modern descendents, the Jewish people. Yes, there was a “mixed multitude” of Gentiles standing with the Israelites at Sinai who also agreed to the full conditions of the covenant, but within a few short generations, not one distinctly Gentile person remained among Israel according to the Biblical record. They had all been completely assimilated into larger Israel, and their descendants became indistinguishable from Israelites who were fully, genetically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So if we choose to believe that without the Torah, the full yoke of the 613 mitzvot, (or those two hundred and some that can be performed today, especially outside the Land of Israel) that life cannot be lived to the fullest, then are the Jews saying that we Gentiles do not truly live our lives full of all good things?

Perhaps, at least according to the Chassidic Dimension reading I quoted above. But that’s not the end of the story, particularly for Christians.

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.

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, 14 (ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

John 5:24-29 (ESV)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:7-10 (ESV)

It appears that the Gospel of John, the most “mystic” of the Gospels, at least according to Paul Philip Levertoff, has a lot to say about the life we have in Jesus Christ. And if indeed the Master is “the Word made flesh” who lived among his people, and he thus commanded his Jewish disciples to pass on that Word and make disciples of the nations of the world, then although we do not possess the Torah as the Jews do; as the set of conditions they must fulfill as part of the Sinai covenant, we possess the essence; the life of “Torah” in our faith and our salvation. We possess life to the fullest and have it abundantly.

Can we not also consider ourselves now “vitally alive” as the Jewish people do? Does that life not cause us to cry out in thanks and joy to God for all of His love, gifts, and provisions, even at those moments when we may be suffering?

Yahrtzeit of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), founder of the Breslov chasidic movement. Rebbe Nachman lived in Poland and the Ukraine, where he inspired thousands of Jews to greater love of God. Though he suffered the loss of his son and wife, Rebbe Nachman said: “You may fall to the lowest depths, heaven forbid, but no matter how low you have fallen, it is still forbidden to give up hope.” A few of his most famous teachings are: “It’s a great mitzvah to always be happy,” and “All the world is a narrow bridge — but the main thing is not to be afraid” (now a popular Hebrew song, Kol Ha-Olam Kulo). Every year on Rosh Hashana, tens of thousands of Jews travel to Uman (Ukraine) to pray at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman.

Day in Jewish History, Tishei 18
Aish.com

A chassid once traveled to one of the Chabad rebbes. He related to the rebbe that his deceased teacher had appeared to him in a dream with a frightening message: it had been decreed in heaven that one of this chassid’s children would pass away that year.

The rebbe heard his words, sighed, and remained silent. A reaction that certainly did not bode well.

As it was shortly before the holiday of Sukkot, the chassid remained till after the holiday. When it was time for him to return home, he approached the rebbe for his blessing. The rebbe happily assured him that his family would be well.

“Besides,” the rebbe asked, “what special deed did you do on Simchat Torah?”

The chassid recounted how during the hakafot he was standing on the side crying when he remembered that, after all, it was Simchat Torah! He washed his face and joined the dancing, ignoring his dread.

“You should know,” the rebbe said, “this is what caused the change in your situation.”

-Rabbi Yossy Gordon
“The Power of Joy”
Commentary on Sukkot and Simchat Torah
Chabad.org

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”

Luke 20:37-38 (ESV)

We are called not just to abundant life but to joy through our salvation in Christ. The Jewish Messiah allows us to partake in the blessings of such a completely full life that even in our tears, when we allow ourselves to be completely aware of God and His Presence among us, within pain and grief, there is still the light of joy. We are alive, and even those who have passed on to the “long sleep” remain alive in Him.

the-joy-of-torahIt’s difficult to communicate to most Christians the sheer happiness and celebration that is attached to Sukkot and Simchat Torah unless they’ve actually participated in those events and let themselves be immersed in such joy. And yet, even if we don’t “get” these or any of the other Jewish festivals, we should get why they are celebrating. The reason they’re celebrating is the same reason we should be celebrating. God is with us. How can we not feel completely, intensely alive?

Before we came to God through Christ, we were dead in our sins, completely separated from our Creator and so numb spiritually, that we lacked the ability to even be aware of God. (see Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13) Now we are not only alive, but abundantly and exceedingly alive. We have life to the fullest. We have life that extends beyond the mere beating of our hearts. We are alive in God.

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

Good Shabbos and Chag Sameach.