Tag Archives: Korach

Why Do Christians Hate Judaism?

This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded, saying…

Bamidbar/Numbers 19:2

Rashi explains that the unusual introduction of “this is the decree of the Torah” (rather than an introduction specific to the subject of parah adumah), is a response to Satan and the nations, who tauntingly ask, “What is the purpose of this commandment?,” to which the Torah answers that it is a decree from Hashem, and it is not for anyone to question it.

-from “A Torah Thought for the Day,” p.62
Sunday’s commentary on Parashas Chukas
A Daily Dose of Torah

I’m continuing to write on the general theme of the role of non-Jews in Messianic Jewish community, a study started in this blog post and most recently addressed in yesterday’s morning meditation.

Chana Sara in her blog post from a few years back asks Where Do I Fit? It’s certainly a question I keep asking myself, both in relation to my decision to study the Bible through the lens of Judaism and particularly Messianic Judaism, and the larger existential question of where do I fit in my relationship to God.

Once you accept that any sort of connection to God must go through Israel, the Jewish people, and especially through the exceedingly Jewish Messianic King, then you must come to the realization that in order to relate to God you must enter into a completely alien world, that is, alien for the non-Jew. You must enter a Jewish world or at least a worldview.

Even many secular Jews feel, when attempting to observe a mitzvah or when attending a synagogue prayer service, that they are also “strangers in a strange land.” True, they are Jews in the midst of Jewish community, but the traditions, the customs, the halachah, the Hebrew, if you haven’t been raised in an observant home nor had the benefit of a traditional Jewish education, can seem even to the ethnic Jew, like a trip down the rabbit hole to “wonderland.”

And most people become uncomfortable when faced with the unfamiliar and the unknown. People become defensive and even hostile when thrown abruptly into an alien environment. We prefer what we’re used to.

Chana Sara wrote in the aforementioned blog post:

As a ba’alat teshuva, I have a lot of questions when it comes to where I “fit” within Judaism. I was born into a conservative Judaism family, meaning that my mother can’t part from the egalitarian idea of the conservative movement, but keeps conservative standards of kosher and Shabbat.

As soon as I had my bat mitzvah I don’t remember going back to shul for any reason. Possibly the high holidays, but possibly not even then.

jewish women prayingThis is a commentary on a Jewish journey into Yiddishkeit, which is also a journey my wife embarked upon a number of years ago. I remember the struggles she faced in her first attempts to connect to Jewish community and Jewish observant praxis. How much more difficult is it for the non-Jew, with no direct connection to Jewish community and lifestyle, to face the challenge of entering the Jewish world in order to comprehend and obey the Jewish Messiah?

I understand that God is not just the God of Israel but also the God of the nations, but every shred of Biblical content that we have with us today was produced by Jews, and, for the most part, for Jews. Only certain sections of the Bible directly address the nations, and not all of those references relate to us kindly. Amalek comes to mind.

The commentary I quoted from at the top of the page, specifies those commandments in the Torah that have no discernible reason or purpose, but nevertheless must be followed because they are God’s will for the Jewish people. Rashi’s interpretation of the above-quoted verse from Numbers supposes that HaSatan, the adversary, and the Goyim, the Gentiles, would criticize the Israelites for observing such commands or would actually bring into question the Torah as the Word of God based on what appears to be a collection of meaningless decrees.

And therein lies the root of my question, “Why Do Christians Hate Judaism?” I know “hate” is a strong word and I use it in part for dramatic emphasis as opposed to literal meaning. Most Christians don’t actually hate the Jewish religion or form of worship, but they do believe that it is merely a religion of works which exists in opposition to Christ and the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace.

I also don’t mean to indicate that Christians hate the Jewish people or the state of Israel. Many Evangelical churches say they love the Jewish people, and no doubt, they are sincere. Of course, that love for Jews and national Israel is predicated on a very Christian understanding of the eschatological meaning of the existence of Jews and Israel relative to the second coming of Christ.

This brings us back to those Christians who have come to realize that what they’ve learned from the pulpit or in Sunday school isn’t, strictly speaking, the exact Gospel message Messiah and his apostles taught in the late Second Temple period. Once we have learned that the Church’s current theology and doctrine is all based on a two-thousand year old mistake and is the result of a violent divorce between the early Jewish and Gentile Yeshua disciples, then we’re faced with a horrible reality.

In an ekklesia that is wholly Jewish and that can be only understood and communicated with through a wholly Jewish process, a process alien to anything we were formerly taught as Christians in our churches, who are we, what do we do, and where do we go to pursue our faith given this totally Jewish contextual reality?

unworthyDo you see where this might cause some anxiety or even a crisis of faith among the devout Gentiles when facing a life within Jewish community and educational space?

Do you see why Christianity was invented in the first place, as an alternative to this crisis, as a means to take control over worship of God and devotion to Christ by redefining it as Gentile and not Jewish?

Although my father’s recent illness is the primary reason I chose to abandon plans to be in Israel right now, another reason was the idea that, as a Gentile (and a flawed, imperfect human being) who is oriented toward but can never be a part of Israel, who am I to set foot in the Holy Land?

However, there are other responses to this crisis. There are some Christians who have walked away from the Church but who still do not feel comfortable surrendering their identity to Jewish interpretation. They have invented a world of their own which states that while they are not ethnically Jewish, nevertheless, they are Israel as much as the Jewish people are, and thus they are as obligated to the Torah of Moses as any observant Jew.

But there’s a caveat.

They still reject Judaism, or at least Judaism as it has evolved over the past nearly twenty centuries. They reject, for the most part, that entity we know as Rabbinic Judaism, the “traditions of the elders,” the so-called “made up” laws that add on to or perhaps even defy the plain meaning of the written Torah.

Now here’s the trick.

If we Messianic Gentiles accept Messianic Judaism as a Judaism, and accept the validity of the teachings of the Jewish Sages, teachings which, for the most part, have nothing to do with us, then what does that mean for us? For understandable reasons, as much as Christianity has rejected Judaism, Judaism has rejected Christianity. They aren’t on speaking terms and can barely stand being in the same room with each other.

JerusalemOnce we Gentile believers come to a Messianic Jewish understanding of the Bible, the Messiah, and God, once we see how much God loves Israel, how special Israel is to God, and how we people of the nations are only saved through Israel and not because the nations have any sort of direct covenant connection with God, what is our most likely initial response?

The Torah states, “And Korach, the son of Yitzhor, the son of Kehas, the son of Levy, took …” Why does the Torah take the time to tell us his lineage?

Rashi, the great French commentator, explains that the key reason for Korach’s rebellion was his envy of his cousin, Elizaphan the son of Uziel, who was appointed prince of the tribe of Levy. Moshe’s father was the first of four brothers and his sons were the leader of the Jewish people and the High Priest; Korach figured that since he himself was the firstborn of the second son, that he should have been appointed the Prince of the Tribe of Levy.

Envy is destructive. It prevents a person from enjoying life. If ones focus is on other’s success and possessions, it will cause pain and lead to highly counterproductive behavior. No wonder that Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers 4:28, lists envy as one of three things which destroy a person (the other two are lust and desire for honor).

To overcome envy, focus on what you have and what you can accomplish in this world. The ultimate that anyone can have in this world is happiness. The secret to happiness is focusing on what you have. And if you are happy, you won’t envy others!

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
based on his commentary on Parashas Korach in
Growth Through Torah
as found at Aish.com

Especially in our modern western egalitarian culture, the idea that any one group might be special and especially privileged is abhorrent to most of us. When encountering certain Biblical realities, we attempt to refactor them by applying our modern worldview, thus reinterpreting the Bible beyond all reasonable credibility. We make statements to the Jewish people in Messiah that are the moral equivalent of the politically correct comment to check your privilege:

“Check Your Privilege” is an online expression used mainly by social justice bloggers to remind others that the body and life they are born into comes with specific privileges that do not apply to all arguments or situations. The phrase also suggests that when considering another person’s plight, one must acknowledge one’s own inherent privileges and put them aside in order to gain a better understanding of his or her situation.

Rabbi M.M Schneerson, the Rebbe

While the concept of “check your privilege” is, in my opinion, somewhat questionable, or at least has the potential to be grossly misused, applying it to the relationship between Messianic Gentiles and Messianic Jews (or any group of Jews) is Biblically unsustainable.

So where does that leave us?

I don’t have an answer, at least not a whole one. I do have a clue, also written by Chana Sara in her recent blog post My Experience with the Rebbe:

But he was more than just a rebel. He was a person with a fervor for life, for Yiddishkeit and for people. Everyone was important, Jew or non-Jew, male or female, child or adult. Every person was important and he wanted to do good for all mankind. The U.S. has dedicated Education and Sharing Day as a tribute to the Rebbe and steps he took toward the betterment of education for all U.S. children. He stressed the importance of the Noahide laws. He wanted to make sure that all of mankind was healthy and well and ready to take on the world in the way Hashem desires them to. He was really into everyone being the best that they can be and being able to help them realize their potential. The world isn’t finished being built, and the Rebbe wanted to make sure we were aware of that and are putting on our best faces to be able to finish making this world a dira b’tachtonim, a dwelling place for Hashem.

While there are voices within Messianic Judaism who advocate for a strict bilateral relationship between Jews and Gentiles, it is also part of the process of tikkun olam for Jewish and non-Jewish scholars and teachers within Messianic Judaism to make their lessons available to the Messianic Goyim so that we may learn and understand the teachings of the Master within his own context and turn our praxis and our devotion to God accordingly.

While there are plenty of resources available including those authored by Christian Pastors writing from within a Messianic context, as far as my experience goes, there are still no real answers.

If we acknowledge that Christian tradition does not adequately or accurately reflect the Jewish context of the Bible, and if we admit that Jewish praxis is not Gentile praxis in any form, including one that adopts the appearance of Judaism while rejecting the last eighteen hundred years or so of Jewish teaching and writing, what do we have left?

A mystery and no answers.

In previous comments on other blog posts I’ve written on this topic, it has been suggested that Gentile identity within Jewish space will have to evolve over a long period of time, decades if not centuries (barring the timing of King Messiah’s return, of course).

But courageous Jewish leaders such as the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory, indeed, had a heart not just for the Jewish people but for all people. Although his special mission and devotion was for Yiddishkeit, he understood that Messiah’s coming would herald the redemption of all of humanity in an unparalleled era of peace.

That’s the heritage of not just Israel but of all mankind, of you and me, all of us.

rebbe yahrzeit
People visit the grave site of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The twenty-first yahrzeit of the Rebbe has just passed and perhaps, if I may be so bold, in his merit, we can remind ourselves that somewhere, somehow, the people of the nations have a place in God’s redemptive plan, too. However, that plan and how we figure into it, isn’t very clear when viewed through a Jewish lens, since that lens was designed to reveal God’s relationship with the Jewish people and with Israel.

But it is the only lens we have that most accurately reveals the true reality of God’s message to the world, one that doesn’t diminish or destroy Jewish people, the nation of Israel, or the traditions, writings, and praxis of Judaism.

However uncomfortable or disorienting it may be to live life as a Gentile poised on the edge of our understanding of the God of Israel, the Jewish Messiah, and the Jewish scriptures, our best response should never be envy, supersessionism, or disdain. Instead, let us don the garments of humility, wonder, and awe, and then begin walking our path, one that is uncharted and unknown, toward the undiscovered country of who we are, which isn’t really defined by Judaism or even Christianity but rather by God.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.

-Revelation 21:22-22:5 (NASB)

Notice that it’s not just Israel who exists in the presence of God and of the Lamb. The nations are there…we are there, too, and we will be healed.

The tzadik is one with G-d.

We recognize him because within each of us is also a tzadik who is one with G-d.

Inside each of us is a spark of Moses.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory

Within each of us is a spark of the Messiah. Have faith and courage.

Up to Jerusalem

Are Messianic Gentiles Korach?

Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehas, the son of Levi, separated himself.

Bamidbar/Numbers 16:1

This verse begins the passage that deals with the rebellion of Korach, who sought to overthrow Moshe and Aharon from their positions as leaders of the Jews. The verse stresses that Korach took himself apart — that is, he deliberately sought to develop machlokes, strife between the Jews and their leaders.

-from “A Torah Thought for the Day,” p.2
Sunday’s commentary on Torah Portion Korach
A Daily Dose of Torah

Over two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called What Am I, Chopped Liver?, in which I attempted to illustrate that non-Jews who are somehow associated with the Messianic Jewish movement are not an afterthought of God or a devalued population without a role in God’s redemptive plan for Israel and the nations simply because we’re not Jewish.

I could never have predicted what happened next. As I write this (Monday afternoon) that fifteen day old blog post has collected 191 comments and counting. Apparently, I struck a nerve, a really sensitive one.

I’ve written several posts since then, but none has gained the traction of “Chopped Liver,” which is just fine.

But then I started studying for the coming week’s Torah Portion Korach.

Rashi explains that Korach wished to make the point that there was no reason for Moshe and Aharon to be seen as greater than the rest of the Jews, for all of them had been spoken to by God at Sinai. thus their assuming leadership represented a selfish act of self-promotion…

…No matter how holy the Jews, they still needed leaders — and Hashem had ordained that those leaders were to be Moshe and Aharon. Sadly, Korach refused to see the obvious answer, and came to his terrible end as a result.

ibid, pp.2-3

We need to look at Korach and his 250 followers in context. The failure of the ten spies had just occurred (see Shelah) and the Children of Israel, bewailing their fate, refused to enter the Land and conquer it. Instead, they begged for a new leader to guide them back to Egypt. Even the next morning when the people realized their error, it was too late. Hashem had already decreed that the current generation wander the desert for forty years, until the last one of them expired.

Not listening to Hashem again, the Israelites attempted to take the Land. Hashem was not with them and the local Canaanite armies easily routed Israel, sending her packing, so to speak.

From Korach’s point of view, this might all seem to be the fault of Moses and Aaron. Midrash states that Korach and his companions believed Moses had appointed himself and Aaron as leaders, and that their positions of authority did not come from Hashem. If Korach were right, then there was no absolute divine source that appointed Moses as the Leader and Prophet of Israel and he might be opposed, overthrown, and replaced. This was Korach’s intent.

Although Korach was dead wrong (literally as it turns out) and Hashem decreed his demise, I can’t think too harshly of Korach. Yes, he was misguided and confused, probably tortured by the humiliating defeat in Canaan, and the dreaded prospect of the Israelites spending the rest of their days wandering the desert of Sinai. But assuming he wasn’t just greedy for power, he probably thought he was doing the right thing, the only thing he could think of to save his people.

korach rebellionBut he lacked Moses’ perspective and his apprehension of the will of Hashem for Israel.

It is commonly thought that Korach’s sin was one of attempting to usurp the roles of Moses and Aaron and to make himself the leader and High Priest (a bit if hypocrisy if he really thought that all Israelites were complete equals).

But we “Messianic Gentiles” (or whatever you want to call us) are also trying to figure out our roles relative to Messianic Jews and within the context of Messianic Judaism. Can we Gentiles be compared to those involved in the Korach rebellion?

First of all, let’s understand how I’m using the term “Messianic Gentiles.” Why don’t I just call us “Christians?”

Well, in the most generic way of speaking, we are Christians. That is, anyone who follows Christ (Messiah) as a disciple can be called a Christian (and my Jewish wife calls me a Christian). I make the differentiation for two reasons.

The first is that, in modern times, there are a number of Jews who choose to follow the traditions of their Sages in how they observe the Torah, living like many, many other observant Jews all over the world…and yet they are also disciples of Yeshua, recognizing him as Moshiach and the coming Jewish King.

Calling them “Christians” would be a gross injustice because historically, Christianity has been directly opposed to Jews observing Torah, studying Talmud, gathering in synagogues on Shabbos, and honoring the traditions of the Sages.

The closest analog to modern Messianic Jews are the very early Jewish disciples of the Master we find in the Apostolic Scriptures, but we also have to remember that nearly two-thousand years of Judaism stand in between these two groups of Jews. And certainly by any comparison, those ancient and our modern Messianic Jews in no way resemble today’s Evangelical Christians.

The second reason is similar to the first. We Gentiles in Messiah, who associate ourselves with Messianic Judaism in terms of how we understand and study the Bible and the function of the New Covenant, are not opposed to Jews practicing Judaism in the manner of their forefathers. We have a different vision of the primacy of Israel in the current age and into the Messianic Era. We know that Yeshua is the center of God’s plan of redemption, that God’s redemption emanates from Yeshua to Israel, and only then, from Israel to the nations.

This understanding is only rarely found in any corner of mainstream Christianity, thus I refer to us as Messianic Gentiles to communicate the distinction, not to deliberately separate ourselves from the (much) larger ekklesia of Christ among the Gentiles, that is, the Christian Church.

So are we Messianic Gentiles guilty of the rebellion of Korach in seeking a role in Messianic Judaism?

Based on the initial criteria I cited at the top of this blog post, that Korach deliberately separated himself from his Israelite fellows in order to cause strife (at least according to Midrash), how can we say we have separated ourselves from Messianic Judaism if our intent is to join them, albeit as Gentiles and not Jews?

It seems more apparent that we’ve separated ourselves from the local church and from historical Christianity so it’s very likely if we are rebelling, it is against the Christian Church, not Messianic Judaism.

Mount SinaiBut what about the supposition I’m adapting from Korach, that we Gentiles are every bit as Holy to God as are the Jewish people, thus no role possessed by Jews should be denied us?

It’s difficult to make a direct comparison because Korach and his group were Levites and Israelites, so they had that in common with Moses and Aaron. We Gentiles don’t have tribe and ethnic identity in common with the Jews in Messianic Judaism. We can’t separate ourselves from something we never were in the first place.

That’s an important point because the Sinai Covenant, and for that matter the New Covenant, are both made exclusively with the Jewish people. The disciples from the nations aren’t named subjects to those covenants. It’s only by the mercy and grace of God that he has preordained “every knee will bow” and indeed, that Gentiles turning to Hashem en masse, is a rock-solid indication, based on scripture, that the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven into our world is imminent (but “imminent” in the timing of God, not necessary by the human calendar).

So if any Gentile were to claim equal rights to the Sinai and New Covenants as members and citizens of Israel, it would be the height of hubris, and indeed, pride and arrogance are things that Korach has been accused of throughout the ages. If any of we Messianic Gentiles made such a demand, we’d be on par with Korach, cut from the same cloth.

But that’s not what most of us are trying to do. We’re not claiming the Torah for our own. We are not calling Moses our Father and maybe not even our Teacher (apart from the veiled implications of Acts 15:21).

What we do want to know is, given our particular orientation as Gentiles standing on the foundation of the Jewish Bible, who are we, where do we belong, and what should we be doing?

Of course, as part of the exceptionally long dialogue on my aforementioned blog post and particularly my conversation with Rabbi Kinbar, our “place at the table” may have to be self-defined. The various leading organizations that can truly be termed “Messianic Judaism” have their hands far too full managing their own definition, identity, and role.

Korach disputed the validity of Moses and Aaron as God-assigned leaders of the Children of Israel. Are we Messianic Gentiles questioning the leadership of Jews in Messianic Judaism? Can there be a Judaism without Jews? If we non-Jews want to be part of Messianic Judaism, are the Jewish people our leaders and are we trying to “take over” Messianic Judaism from them?

Those are a lot of loaded questions.

If there are Messianic Jewish synagogues that are by and for Jews in Messiah only, then we don’t have a seat at that table and we don’t belong. If we don’t belong, they can hardly be our leaders.

If there are Messianic Jewish synagogues that welcome non-Jews as adjunct members or resident visitors and if those synagogues are led by a majority Jewish board of directors, then the board are our leaders.

synagogueThat gets a little complicated since, for instance, the local combined Reform/Conservative shul in my corner of Idaho has both Jews and Gentiles on the board, although, of course, the Rabbi is Jewish.

In a comment made by Rabbi Carl Kinbar recently:

At the same time, MJ leaders share the responsibility. It doesn’t take long for them to figure out that few congregations made up preponderantly of Messianic Jews will grow large enough to support their leader full-time.

Virtually all Messianic congregations where individuals (Jew or Gentile) simply walk in the door and stay, are largely (sometimes almost completely) Gentile in make-up. This is especially true of congregations in areas where there are few Jews to begin with. Jewish practices are usually, or perhaps inevitably, reconfigured to the point of being somewhat unrecognizable. Most MJs who take their Judaism seriously feel quite alienated in that kind of environment. They also feel the need to guard themselves lest they speak or act “too Jewish” and thus offend the Gentiles (and some other Jews, too). As a traveling speaker, I have experienced enough Messianic congregations to know what I’m talking about.

That said, no congregation that walls itself in can be spiritually healthy. Congregations that have a distinct vision must have a strong and persistent determination to maintain living relationships with those who have a different vision, theology, or idea of congregational fabric.

P.S., I also believe that it is not viable, in the long term, for largely MG congregations to restrict leadership positions to Jews even when there are equally or more qualified MGs. It will not work sociologically or psychologically. A large percentage of MG children who mature in that kind of environment will leave as soon as they can. (emph. mine)

I can only imagine the matter of leadership is managed on a community-by-community basis. Thus the question of who leads and who follows is highly variable depending on whatever congregation you are attending. Synagogues with a majority non-Jewish membership will likely have a significant Gentile presence on the board, while Messianic Jewish shuls made up of a majority of Jews with only a few Gentiles (non-Jewish spouses of Jewish members perhaps) might have few to no Gentiles on the board and most certainly a Jewish person in the role of Rabbi.

In any congregation, there has to be a method of leadership whereby the members feel they are represented by such leadership. In many churches and synagogues, board members are elected by popular vote, and it is the board that hires the Pastor or Rabbi, who then is an employee of the institution and who can even be fired by the board if necessary (or their contract can simply not be renewed once it becomes due).

I’ve been in a congregation, a very organizationally unsophisticated one, where there were multiple attempts, some successful, to lead a hostile takeover, a sort of bloodless coup, either deposing the previous leader out of hand or causing a split in the group.

This is not uncommon among small but growing Hebrew Roots congregations, but it’s also been known to happen in full-fledged Christian churches (I have no idea if splits happen in mainstream Jewish synagogues since I have no direct experience).

It’s always ugly and never serves to sanctify the Name of God.

messianic judaism for the nationsSo are we Messianic Gentiles rebels with or without a cause?

I would say no. Not if we aren’t intending to take control of something that isn’t ours, that is, the covenant inheritance of the Jewish people. We have a right to seek out our own identity and role as long as the identity and role we desire doesn’t already belong to another group.

I think this is why some within Messianic Judaism would rather the Gentiles all stay in the Church, because it solves this pesky problem by using the already existing identity for Gentile believers as Christians within the Church and Jewish disciples as Jews within Judaism.

But not all Jews in Messiah agree, and as far as my experience goes, most Messianic Jewish groups in the United States have a large if not a majority Gentile population.

So I suppose as long as we Messianic Gentiles aren’t plotting to overtly or covertly take over whatever Messianic congregations we are attending, then we aren’t rebels. Of course, any group in a congregation that attempts a takeover of said-congregation outside of the formal rules would be considered rebels, regardless of the ethnic make up of the house of worship.

So if we’re not taking over Jewish synagogues and we’re not claiming the Torah and Israel to be who we are equally along with the Jews, then no, we aren’t rebels, usurpers, or thieves. We are just pilgrims on a trail, traveling a path, searching for who we are in Hashem and in Messiah.

We may never find out who we are in Messianic Judaism or in direct relation with Messianic Jews. But as I wrote just recently, we have every likelihood of discovering who we are in Messiah, and then helping and supporting Jewish Torah observance and community in anticipation of the return of Messiah and the establishment of his Kingdom in Israel and among us all.

Why I am a Messianic Gentile, Part Two

And Korach, the son of Yitzhor, the son of K’hos, the son of Levi, took …

Numbers 16:1

Rashi explains that the key reason for Korach’s rebellion against Moshe was that he was envious of another relative who received honor while he didn’t.

Envy is destructive. It prevents a person from enjoying what he himself has. When you focus on the success of another person and feel pain because of it, you are likely to do things that are highly counterproductive. Envy is one of the three things that totally destroy a person (Pirke Avos 4:28). The downfall of Korach was because of this trait. Not only did he not get what he wanted but he lost everything he already had.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Commentary on Torah Portion Korach, pg 332
Growth Through Torah

I mentioned in Part One of this two-part series, that I have many good reasons for being a student and disciple of Yeshua (Jesus) within a Messianic Jewish context. And while the status I have accepted upon myself may make me appear as a “second-class citizen” within the ekkelsia of Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven, in fact, who I am and where I stand has been defined for me by God. Even if I sometimes chafe at that position based on my personality flaws, that does not change the will of God for my life. Any reaction that leads me to envy of the Jewish people for their distinctiveness and unique role in the plan of the Almighty will also lead to my “destruction” (though I probably won’t be incinerated or fall into a pit).

The blessings of God in my life are great. Far be it from me to cause God to take them all away:

While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. So He said:

“A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’ I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”

Luke 19:11-27 (NASB)

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (Kdushas Levi) commented that a truly righteous person’s main goal in all that he does is to give pleasure to the Almighty. To such a person there is no difference if he or another righteous person causes that pleasure.

But if a person’s main focus is on his personal reward, he wants to do everything himself. Therefore, our verse states that Korach took. He wanted to take for himself and therefore felt resentment about the attainment of others.

-R. Pliskin, pp 332-33

coinsWe not only see the dire consequences of envy leading a person to self-aggrandizement, but that such a person has lost their focus on what is to be the true motivation of a servant of God, to please God rather than their own human desires.

If God has assigned a specific role, function, and purpose for the Jewish people, then it is foolish for we non-Jewish disciples of the Master to seek their place and their role. In having those desires and particularly in acting them out, we are rebelling against God and seeking our own personal pleasure. Not only that, we are actually denying ourselves the pleasure of fulfilling the role God assigned to us, one that really would be pleasing to God.

And they gathered against Moshe and Aharon. And they said to them, “You have taken too much power for yourselves. The entire congregation is Holy, and the Almighty is in their midst. Why do you take leadership over the congregation of the Almighty?”

Numbers 16:3

Remember that the Sages say that when a person finds fault with others he frequently is just mentioning his own faults which he can wrongly assume someone else has. Be very careful not to accept negative information about others as the truth without careful examination.

-R. Pliskin, pg 334

mirrorIt is not uncommon for people to sometimes project their own worse character traits onto another person and then blame that other person for what they don’t like about themselves. The irony is that this attribution can happen below the level of consciousness. That is, the person may truly not be aware of their negative character trait but attribute it to someone they don’t like or with whom they disagree. It’s as if they are using their adversary as a mirror to reflect their own behavioral and emotional flaws.

So, if I am to take R. Pliskin’s advice and apply it to every time I’m criticized for my stance as a Messianic Gentile, one way to interpret their criticism (though it might not be true in every case) is that the critic may be assigning me traits or motivations they themselves possess. I guess that’s why it’s a good idea for me to always be aware of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, so I don’t start believing things about who I am and my behavior that are not true. I must also be careful in my assessment of others to make sure I’m not guilty of projecting my own flaws upon them.

That has always been the normative view of Judaism, enunciated in the rabbinic principle that “one who performs a deed because it is commanded is deemed more praiseworthy than one who does it voluntarily” (Bavli Kiddushin 31a). Actions that come instinctively fail to stretch us. Growth results from reaching beyond ourselves.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Reaching Beyond Ourselves,” pg 534, June 22, 1996
Commentary on Torah Portion Korach
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

If one desires or even covets obligation to the full yoke of Torah as a Gentile, where is the “stretch”? How are we participating in growth if we not only are doing what we want, but performing mitzvot that do not belong to us? However, if we recognize the legal structure that defines Gentile inclusion in Messianic Judaism (Acts 15) and obey those commandments, we are not only pleasing God, we are participating in our own spiritual growth and elevation (see the ancient Jewish/Christian document The Didache and D. Thomas Lancaster’s latest book Elementary Principles for more).

Going back to what R. Pliskin said about pleasing God by allowing another righteous person to perform mitzvot that are commanded of them, to encourage Jewish believers to perform mitzvot such as davening with a minyan or observing Shabbos is what fulfills our function as righteous Gentiles in Messiah. For only Jewish Torah observance will bring Messiah’s return nearer, therefore, by encouraging Jewish Torah fidelity within the Messianic community, we are helping others to be righteous, participating in our own growth as disciples, and blessing the heart of God.

At least that’s how I see myself as a Messianic Gentile (in an ideal state, and I can say, that I’m hardly an ideal person).

The arrogant person thinks, “If I honor this person, what will people think of me? Will it raise or lower my stature in the eyes of others?” But the humble person makes no calculations of this kind. He treats each person according to the Torah ideals of how people should be treated. Ultimately this only elevates a person’s true stature regardless of how other people might react.

-R. Pliskin, pg 336

HumbleI’ve met very few truly arrogant people, that is people who really think they’re the “greatest thing since the invention of sliced bread.” Most people who appear arrogant and self-assured are actually the opposite. They feel threatened and insecure when others experience success or if put in a situation where they must give deference to another. While I can hardly call myself truly humble, if I strive in that direction as a goal, then acknowledging Jewish “specialness” in covenant relationship with God does not diminish me or reduce my stature in the eyes of others. If someone else believes I am being reduced by recognizing Jewish covenant status, then that is their projection and perhaps their own personal fear.

Imagine how Gentile Christians will react when, upon Messiah’s return, they realize to their chagrin that the Church is not the center of the Kingdom of God, it is Israel. This may be at the core of why many Christians have difficulty with Messianic Judaism and the continuation of Jewish Torah observance within the Jesus-believing Jewish community. It illustrates how, over the long centuries of Church history, Christianity has reversed causality in placing itself above and before God’s covenant people, Israel.

Also your brethren the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, shall you draw near with you, and they shall be joined to you and minister to you. You and your sons with you shall be before the Tent of the Testimony. They shall safeguard your charge and the charge of the entire tent…

Numbers 18:2-3

After the death of Korach and the rebels, the Levites especially among the Children of Israel were demoralized and terrified. They felt their own worth and stature was lower than ever after the failed rebellion. Yet God was kind and reminded the Levites that they had a special status and duty to Hashem above the other Israelites and that they also were of the tribe of Levi, just as were Aaron and his sons, the Kohenim.

That’s what I think is missing every time someone believes that I’ve allowed myself to be put at the back of the bus in the Messianic community; the lack of realization that Messianic Gentiles have a highly important role that cannot be fulfilled by the Jewish people. Messianic Jews and Gentiles are interdependent and the Messianic Jewish ekklesia cannot achieve wholeness unless we join together in our complementary roles. We need each other.

So the next time I find myself missing donning a tallit in prayer or being present at the lighting of the Shabbos candles, I must remind myself of everything I’ve just written. Because the minute I give in to the attitude of I want to be like them” or worse, “I deserve to be like them,” not only have I insulted God and betrayed the Jewish people in Messiah, I’ve lost my way and forgotten my God-assigned purpose in life. A righteous person serves God, not his own desires. May God grant me humility and peace. May He grant this to all of us who call ourselves Messianic Gentiles.

Final note: Last year, I also wrote a two-part series on Korach and what this rebellion tells us about who we are today.

Seeking Korach’s Peace, Part 2

homogenizedKorach apparently desired to bring “peace” by homogenizing all of the Levites with the Kohenim (Priests). However there were two things wrong with that plan. The first is that God did not desire to remove the distinctions between the Kohenim and the Levites. The second was the Korach’s motives were less than pure, both according to Midrash and by how God “reacted” to Korach and the other rebels.

This is the second part of this two-part series. If you haven’t done so already, please read Part 1 and then continue here.

Rabbi Yanki Tauber and Rabbinic commentary states that Korach and his co-conspirators objected to mattanot kehunah, or the “gifts to the Kohanim,” the giving to the Priests of a portion of each Israelite’s crop or the “first shearings” of his flock, as well as the other gifts. Korach felt that all the Levites should be included, and attempted to elevate himself and the rest of the Levites to a level that was never intended for them. While it is noble for anyone to desire to be elevated spiritually, we must do so within the plan of God for our lives. God determined that certain of the mitzvot, the wearing of tzitzit and tefillin, were signs for the Jewish people, so my performing those mitzvot as a non-Jewish Christian, even out of the desire to draw closer to God, won’t do me any good. In fact, if I do so out of ego and the desire to exalt myself before others, I am opposing the plan of God.

Rabbi Tauber continues:

Korach was right: our involvement with the material can be no less G-dly an endeavor than the most transcendent flights of spirit. Indeed, our sages consider man’s sanctification of material life the ultimate objective of creation. “G-d desired a dwelling in the lowly realms,” states the Midrash; “This,” writes Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his Tanya, “is what man is all about; [this is] the purpose of his creation, and the creation of all worlds, supernal and terrestrial.” But Korach erred in his understanding of the nature of this “dwelling in the lowly realms” that G-d desires, and the manner in which man can indeed fashion a divine home out of his material self and world.

unworthyKorach’s underlying motivation was a feeling of inferiority and his response to that experience was to lead a “bloodless coup” (though eventually his own blood would be shed) against the Kohenim and against Moses (and against God) by artificially raising himself and the two-hundred and fifty rebels to a level they did not merit. But is it a bad thing to be “lowly?” In Jewish mystic thought, God actually desires to dwell among the lowly. There is no one so insignificant and so humble that God does not desire to dwell with them.

And the Master also taught humility:

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:8-11 (NASB)

Imagine if I, as a Christian, attempted to adopt a role that God had never designed for me. How humiliating it would be for me to be chastised by the Master of the banquet, Messiah himself, and be told to take a lesser seat. Better that I should seek the most humble and unassuming place at the table and if he so desires, the King can invite me to a better place.

And it’s not like the King was not willing to humble himself. Messiah humbled himself in becoming an ordinary human being.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

Philippians 2:3-7 (NASB)

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:45 (NASB)

servingThe King came to serve his subjects, even to the point of death. He left Heaven and became a poor human being, wearing flesh and blood rather than his rightful Divinity, even as the Divine Presence descended from Heaven to occupy an “ordinary” tent of earthly materials. It is said that even the Torah is Divine and must wear “garments” in order to become accessible to human beings.

Rabbi Tauber’s commentary says that, unlike modern progressive and inclusionist thought, spirituality within the human population and within the individual human being does take the form of a hierarchy of sorts. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) does have duties that place him in closer proximity with the Holy, closer than the other members of the tribe of Levi or the rest of the Jewish people. So it is between the Jewish disciples of Messiah and the Gentile followers. No, it doesn’t mean that Jewish people are “better” or “more loved” by God than Gentile Christians, just that their “duties” are such that they have unique opportunities to perform Holiness by certain of the mitzvot that are not offered to the people of the nations who are called by Messiah’s name.

Conversely, as commentary has previously stated, God desires to dwell in the “lowly realm” and thus among the lowest levels of Creation. In that act, God descends to us, and in that very act, God allows us to ascend toward Him, particularly without requiring that we usurp mitzvot that are not our own.

Korach attempted to reverse the order by elevating himself first, imagining that such an act would “force” the Almighty to descend to him. The opposite happened and God “lowered” Korach quite literally into the earth, burying him alive. Whatever peace Korach had hoped to achieve by his defiance was a pipe dream, and whatever peace he had already been granted by God was buried with him.

Ironically, Korach, as a Levite, already possessed a special and “vertical” role as ordained by God, but that wasn’t good enough for him. Christians too have a special and ordained role but we must be diligent to fulfill that role, lest we also lose everything God has given us. If we can’t take care of even a little, how will we be granted greater blessings. Indeed, we’ll lose even what we’ve got.

“And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

“But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:24-30 (NASB)

I’ve written on numerous occasions, including in Provoking Zealousness, about the special role we Christians have in relation to the Jewish people, to Israel, and to God. A role that no one else can fulfill. A role that is different from the Jewish believers, but one vital to them and to us. Rather than, like Korach, demanding a role that is not ours, we must give it back, take up our own “cross,” and follow the Master of our lives.

returning-the-torahWhen a Christian demands that a believing Jew give up a Jewish lifestyle, give up the Torah of Moses, and give up the mitzvot, it is as if Korach demanded that Moses and Aaron surrender their roles as Prophet and High Priest and join the other Levites or the other Jewish people in the “mundane”. When a Hebrew Roots person demands that they take possession of the specific “sign” mitzvot that uniquely identify the Jewish people as distinct from the rest of the nations, it is as if Korach demanded to become Prophet and High Priest, elevating himself to a level not given to him by God.

In either case, they are violating the purpose of Torah that provides for harmony between different and distinct groups of people while maintaining distinctions.

I know that the Pirkei Avot, the body of Midrash, and the Tayna are not likely to be viewed as having any authority in relation to the lives of Christians and Christian Hebrew Roots followers, but these sources illustrate important principles. We all travel on trails of spiritual enlightenment, following a path carved out for us by God, striving to become better today than we were the day before. This is praiseworthy and desirable, but we must remember that it is God who creates and defines the universe and everything in it, not us. We work in partnership with God but we are definitely junior partners. When we decide to elevate ourselves outside the plan of the Almighty, not only are we trying to become more important than other human beings, but to take the role of God as well.

Nor does Torah endeavor to create a uniform world society: its detailed laws delineate the many different roles (man and woman, Jew and non-Jew, Israelite, Levite and Kohen, full-time Torah scholar and layman, etc.) to comprise the overall mission of humanity.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber

We are commanded to love the Lord our God with everything we’ve got and to love our neighbor as ourselves. To obey that Torah, we must be humble and servile to our fellows and particularly to our Creator. Everyone who seeks to exalt himself will be lowered, like Korach, and the most humble, like Moses, will be elevated.

Seeking Korach’s Peace, Part 1

korahs-rebellionWhich is a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and all his company.

-Ethics of the Fathers, 5:17

But the Torah did not come to blur the distinction between the heaven and earth. In fact, its self-proclaimed task is “To differentiate between the holy and the mundane, between the pure and the impure” (Leviticus 10:10). Nor does Torah endeavor to create a uniform world society: its detailed laws delineate the many different roles (man and woman, Jew and non-Jew, Israelite, Levite and Kohen, full-time Torah scholar and layman, etc.) to comprise the overall mission of humanity.

Indeed, a uniform world could no more represent a harmonious state than a single-hued painting or a symphony composed entirely of identical notes could be said to be a harmonious creation. Like the third day’s “work of the waters” that harmonizes the divisiveness of the second day by means of further delineation, the Torah makes peace in the world — peace between the conflicting drives within the heart of man, peace between individuals, peace between peoples, and peace between the creation and its Creator — by defining and differentiating, rather than by blending and homogenizing.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Who Was Korach?”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

I continue to be reminded of several things based on my studies, my transactions on the Internet, and my conversations with my Pastor. The question of the purpose of Torah stands out because it has no simple answer. The Bible is a multi-layered, densely packed container of the wisdom of God as expressed in partnership with human beings. It functions on many levels, most of which are not obvious by a casual reading and often, not even by repeated readings.

For instance, one function of the Torah, according to Rabbi Tauber’s commentary, is to create harmony and peace between those things that are not alike in our world. As stated above, this includes:

…peace between the conflicting drives within the heart of man, peace between individuals, peace between peoples, and peace between the creation and its Creator — by defining and differentiating, rather than by blending and homogenizing.

This takes me to a blog post of Derek Leman’s which I’ve mentioned before: Torah and Non-Jews: A Practical Primer. I’ve already commented on this, but when studying a commentary on Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) Chapter 5, the issue of the purpose of Torah for Jewish and non-Jewish believers came up again, and rather forcefully. It would seem that the commentary on the Korach Rebellion (see Numbers 16) is a prime example of one of the purposes of Torah.

I’m a rather unusual Christian, which you know if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time. I don’t believe that the Torah was done away with for Jews after Jesus and I do believe that Torah applies to Christians, but only in a specific sense, not in the manner it applies to the Jewish people. In my beliefs, I’m standing between to opposing opinions. Christianity believes (in general, there are exceptions) that the grace of Jesus Christ replaced the Law and that all believers in Jesus, Jews and Gentiles alike, are uniform in grace and no one is required to keep the commandments of the Law. Hebrew Roots believes that the Torah was never replaced by the grace of Messiah and that all disciples of the Master, Jews and Gentiles alike, are uniform in the Torah and everyone is required to keep the commandments of the Law in an identical manner (there are numerous variations to Hebrew Roots beliefs and what I am saying here is meant to be the most generalized expression).

I believe, as Rabbi Tauber states, that the Torah supports the promotion of peace between divergent people groups. In my case, it is intended to develop peace between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus) by defining and differentiating, rather than by blending and homogenizing.

communityIn the “philosophy” of the United States of America, the principle of everyone having equal access to opportunities has been morphed into “equal achievement and acquisition.” That is, everyone should have all of the same stuff and live identical lives at the top of the economic and social status pile, so to speak, regardless of who you are, what you do, how hard you work, and so on.

That’s not realistic.

Neither is it realistic, or in my opinion, Biblical, to expect Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Christ to hop into a metaphorical mixing bowl and have a Sunbeam 12-speed mixmaster applied to their bodies and their identities so that once the mixing is done, everyone is the same, bloody, smooth, creamy consistency. Jews and Gentiles were differentiated by God and we are meant to stay differentiated.

Rabbi Tauber says:

What is peace?

Our Sages have said: “Just as their faces are not alike, so, too, their minds and characters are not alike.” Such is the nature of the human race: individuals and peoples differ from each other in outlook, personality, talents, and the many other distinctions, great and small, which set them apart from each other.

It is only natural to expect these differences to give rise to animosity and conflict. And yet, at the core of the human soul is the yearning for peace. We intuitively sense that despite the tremendous (and apparently inherent) differences between us, a state of universal harmony is both desirable and attainable.

But what exactly is peace? Is peace the obliteration of the differences between individuals and nations? Is it the creation of a “separate but equal” society in which differences are preserved but without any distinctions of “superior” and “inferior”? Or is it neither of the above?

It’s neither. We don’t blend and blur Gentile and Jew and we don’t create individual silos of “separate but equal”. But then what do we have left? Rabbi Tauber leverages the Creation story (another recent favorite of mine) to explain the answer.

This is why, explain the Chassidic masters, the Torah is associated with the third day and the third millennium. The number “1”, connoting a single entity or collection of identical entities, can spell unanimity but not peace. If “1” represents singularity and “2” represents divisiveness, then “3” expresses the concept of peace: the existence of two different or even polar entities, but with the addition of a third, unifying element that embraces and pervades them both, bringing them in harmony with each other by defining their common essence and goal, but also their respective roles in the actualization of this essence and the attainment of this goal — and thus their relationship with each other.

So the “third day” does not undo the divisions of the second. Rather, it introduces a “third” all-transcendent element which these divisions serve. And it is this dynamic of harmony by diversity that “completes” their differences and renders them “good.”

In the Genesis account, God ends a “day” by saying “it was good” … except on the second day? Why the second day?

Because on that day divisiveness was created; as it is written `it shall divide between water and water.'” However, the Midrash then goes on to point out that on the third day the Torah says, “it was good” twice, because then “the work of the waters,” begun on the second day, was completed. In other words, the division effected on the second day was a less than desirable phenomenon, but only because it was not yet complete; on the third day, this divisiveness itself is deemed “good.”

creation2On the second day, God introduced disharmony and divisiveness and then on the third day, he inserted a new element which then created an overarching unity that embraces and pervades the two diverse roles bringing them into harmony without homogenizing them. They remain distinct, and they are bought into peace. And that is good.

Rabbi Tauber likens all this to Korach and the two-hundred and fifty leaders in Israel who rebelled against the authority of Moses.

They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?”

Numbers 16:3 (JPS Tanakh)

Korach apparently desired to bring “peace” by homogenizing all of the Levites with the Kohenim (Priests). However there were two things wrong with that plan. The first was that God did not desire to remove the distinctions between the Kohenim and the Levites. The second was the Korach’s motives were less than pure, both according to Midrash and according to the Torah record.

According to Midrash:

What exactly did Korach want? His arguments against Moses and Aaron seem fraught with contradiction. On the one hand, he seems to challenge the very institution of the priesthood (kehunah), maintaining that “as the entire community is holy, and G d is within them, why do you raise yourselves over the congregation of G d?” But from Moses’ response we see that Korach actually desired the office of the Kohen Gadol for himself!

And according to Scripture:

And Moses said, “By this you shall know that it was the Lord who sent me to do all these things; that they are not of my own devising: if these men die as all men do, if their lot be the common fate of all mankind, it was not the Lord who sent me. But if the Lord brings about something unheard-of, so that the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, you shall know that these men have spurned the Lord.” Scarcely had he finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions. They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.

Numbers 16:28-33 (JPS Tanakh)

I wrote this commentary as a single blog post but it exceeded 3300 words, so I decided to break it in half. Part 2 will be published in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”

Korach: Learning How to Dance

korach-buried-aliveThere are two rebellions this week. First, Korach, a Levite, was passed over for the leadership of his tribe and then challenges Moshe over the position of High Priest. No good rebellion can be “sold” as a means for personal gain, so Korach convinces 250 men of renown that they must stand up for a matter of principle — that each and every one of them has the right to the office of High Priest (which Moshe had announced that God had already designated his brother, Aharon, to serve).

Fascinatingly, all 250 followers of Korach accept Moshe’s challenge to bring an offering of incense to see who God will choose to fill the one position. This meant that every man figured he would be the one out of 250 to not only be chosen, but to survive the ordeal. Moshe announces that if the earth splits and swallows up the rebels it is a sign that he (Moshe) is acting on God’s authority. And thus it happened!

The next day the entire Israelite community rises in a second rebellion and complains to Moshe, “You have killed God’s people!” The Almighty brings a plague which kills 14,700 people and only stops when Aharon offers an incense offering.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Korach

A fanatic is someone who redoubles his efforts while losing sight of his goal.

-George Santayana

You’d think after seeing the deaths of Korach and the 250 rebels that the rest of the Children of Israel would have been frightened enough to back away from speaking against Moses, Aaron, and ultimately God. Unfortunately, they seemed to have panicked and panic has no reason. Neither does fanaticism which is defined as “a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal, particularly for a religious or political cause or with an obsessive enthusiasm…the fanatic displays very strict standards and little tolerance for contrary ideas or opinions.”

Since I blog in the world of religion, I suppose that someone could come along and accuse me of being a fanatic when I defend a particular point of view and don’t acquiesce to another’s contrary viewpoint. But then I hope there is a difference between steadfast determination and being a fanatic.

Korach and the 250 didn’t back down and neither did the Israelite community until after over 14,000 people died. What does it take for the rest of us to look at a situation, know when to press ahead with our point, and know when to back away?

In describing in his commentary how not to argue, Rabbi Packouz lists nine points. One of them is:

Turn the argument into a discussion. Don’t defend a position; set forth an idea or problem to be clarified. People of good will who reason together can come to a common conclusion. Listen with an open mind. Be a judge, not a lawyer!

calvinism-vs-arminianismIn the blogosphere, it’s difficult to keep a discussion into spilling over the threshold of civility into an argument. A lot of religious people take a “my way or the highway” stance with the theologies and doctrines to which they adhere. My exploration into Calvinism vs. Arminianism is a good example of such a dialog. So far, no one has come along on my blog to take me to task for my viewpoint in that debate, but if I found the right venue for the discussion, I’m sure a “passionate” exchange would occur. There have indeed been such debates in the comments section of my blog in the past.

So how do we know when we are defending a position for our faith and for the sake of God as opposed to our own ego and bullheadedness?

This week’s Torah portion tells the story of Korach’s dispute with Moshe. The mishna (a teaching) in Pirke Avot 5:20, states that “Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will be of lasting worth and one not for the sake of Heaven will not be of lasting worth. Which dispute was for the sake of Heaven? That of Hillel and Shamai. Which was not for the sake of Heaven? That of Korach and his company.”

That’s part of the Dvar Torah presented in Rabbi Packouz’s commentary. Here’s something similar.

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

Acts 5:33-39 (NRSV)

I suppose this isn’t the first time this passage from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles has been compared to the Korach rebellion. The trick is to know our own motivation, which is harder than you may think. A good many people have been utterly convinced that they were arguing and even fighting for what is good and right, only to ultimately discover that their motives were totally selfish. Human beings are very good at self-delusion, sometimes with disastrous results.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”

Matthew 7:21-23 (NRSV)

Woman in the darkThat’s a terrifying thought. I don’t doubt that those of whom the Master speaks sincerely believed (some of them, anyway) that they were “fighting the good fight,” speaking prophesies in his name, casting out demons in his name, and doing many other powerful things in the name of Christ. What bitter disappointment will they suffer when they find they are completely rejected and in fact have been following the wrong path all along.

And how do I know for sure that the path I am following is the right one? How do I know if I will be among those accepted in the Kingdom or tossed out in the dark?

Remember, self-delusion is incredibly common with people.

The mishna should have said that the dispute not for the sake of Heaven was that of Korach and Moshe, not between Korach and his fellow conspirators! Why didn’t the mishna mention Moshe as the antagonist? Korach started the dispute for his own personal gain (not for the sake of Heaven) while Moshe was upholding the Almighty’s word and the Almighty’s honor (you can’t get more “for the sake of Heaven” than this!)

Why then does the mishna mention that a dispute not for the sake of Heaven is the one between “Korach and his company”? We might think that Korach and his company were united in their argument with Moshe. The mishna is telling us that each of the 250 was challenging Moshe for his own gain (remember, each one brought incense to see if he himself would be chosen as the Cohen Gadol, High Priest.) In truth, Korach and his congregation were in dispute amongst themselves as to who should be the High Priest.

The mishna points us in a direction, but the effort to maintain an understanding of our motives belongs to us. Every time we take a strong position, we must ask ourselves, “am I doing this for the Master’s glory or for my own?” When my opinion is challenged and I strongly defend my point of view, I must ask if it is for the sake of Heaven that I do this or only because I want to be “right?”

If confronted with the knowledge that I’m acting for my own interests, would I be willing to admit I am wrong? In such a discussion is it very wise to make such an admission. Rabbi Packouz comments.

No one is ever totally right. Find something to apologize for, to take responsibility for. The other person will feel better and may even own up to some mistakes of his/her own.

I spent nearly a year writing about my journey of discovery and ultimately had to admit I was wrong about my original “one law” assumptions that I had made years before and never questioned.

I don’t think that I made my assumptions solely out of self-interest or ego, but once my assumptions were confronted by others, my ego and the need to be “right” was definitely engaged. I can tell you that it is a difficult and painful thing to realize many of the attitudes and beliefs I held were incorrect, and letting them go was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

But if I didn’t let them go, especially in the face of overwhelming evidence and with the realization of the damage I was doing, especially in my home, the price to be paid would have been much, much more dear.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 14:8-11 (NRSV)

Waiting to danceThis is a good test for fanaticism, because a fanatic cannot be humble. It feels too “dangerous” to back down, too vulnerable to be silent about something that’s important. Rabbi Packouz suggests that being silent and, when talking, speaking with a soft voice are two ways to avoid arguing. If you can maintain your composure, agree with the points being made by the other person you feel are correct, and admit it when you know you are wrong (letting yourself even consider that you could be wrong is a step in the right direction), then it is very likely that you are not being fanatical about what you’re trying to communicate.

Then your mind and heart are most likely clear enough to determine when you are tempted to argue for the sake of your own ego or sense of vulnerability, and when you are standing up and being a voice for the sake of Heaven.

But you have to be sure to constantly be your own critic, questioning what you’re doing and why.

Leslie (Diana Muldaur – voice): “You seem quieter than usual tonight.”
Batman (Kevin Conroy – voice): “Every time I come here, I wonder if it should be the last time. . . Put the past behind me. . . Try to lead a normal life.”
Leslie: “Santayana says that ‘those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it’.”
Batman: “He also said ‘a fanatic is someone who redoubles his efforts while losing sight of his goal.'”

-from the episode “I Am the Night”
Batman: The Animated Series (1992)

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

-Troy Mitchell

I often question why I write this blog at all. What good does it do? Am I doing it to help build the Kingdom of Heaven or just because I like to see my words posted on the web? Blind certitude is something I can’t afford. I don’t think it’s something any of us can afford. This isn’t a matter of fighting to see who wins and who loses, but the pursuit of interaction and cooperation so that we can mutually seek out an encounter with God.

Our work involves trying to dance when others only know how to wrestle.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar

The lesson of Korach is that we need to learn not how to wrestle, but how to dance.

Good Shabbos.

110 days.