Tag Archives: light

Our Hope This Chanukah: “I Got You”

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

“I got you,” Johnson told her.

Peraza was shot once in the back and survived.

Johnson died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More’s the pity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Friedrich Nietzsche

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

Ms. Gutfreund’s list of eight items are:

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 11:33-36 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

-Abraham Lincoln

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

Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 5:3-12 (NASB)

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

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

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Chanukah and the Light of Love

“Rav Avraham Pam (former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas) teaches us that we see this special love of God for the whole Jewish people even though many had defected to Hellenism and then returned to Torah observance with the triumph of the Macabees. When a couple reconciles after a separation, the relationship often becomes one of peaceful coexistence, but the quality of love that they initially had for each other is rarely restored.

“Not so when Jews do teshuvah (repentance — returning to the Almighty and to ways of the Torah). Rambam says that although a sinful person distances himself from God, once he does teshuvah he is near, beloved and dear to God. It is not that God “tolerates” the baal teshuvah (returnee), but rather that He loves him as He would the greatest tzaddik (righteous person). As the prophet says, “I will remember for you the loving-kindness of your youth, when you followed Me into the desert, into a barren land” (Jeremiah 2:2). The love of yore is fully restored.

“This is the significance of the miracle of the oil. It teaches us that with proper teshuvah our relationship with God is restored, as if we had never sinned.

“This is also the message of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph did not simply forgive them and suppress his resentment for their abuse of him. Rather, he loved them and cared for them as if nothing had happened, telling them that he feels toward them as he does to Benjamin, who was not involved in his kidnapping (Rashi, Genesis 45:12).

“The celebration of Chanukah is, therefore, more than the commemoration of a miracle. We are to emulate the Divine attributes (Talmud, Shabbos 133b). Just as when God forgives, His love for us is completely restored — so must we be able to restore the love for one another when we mend our differences.

“As we watch the Chanukah candles, let us think about the light they represent: the bright light of a love that is completely restored!”

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from Shabbat Shalom Weekly for
Torah Portion Mikeitz
Aish.com

I apologize for the rather lengthy quote from Rabbi Packouz’s article, but it very much speaks to my continuing theme of sin, repentance, and return and also happens to be appropriate as a missive for this third day of Chanukah (as you read this).

One of the great difficulties in making lasting teshuvah (repentance or return to God) is the feeling of being “damaged goods”. Assuming everything R. Packouz wrote in the above-quoted passage is true about God, we still have to face, on a human level, how other people often find it difficult to receive the repentant sinner as if he or she had never sinned. Also, you or I can still feel “dirty” in our sins as we sincerely strive to repent, even though, according to the prophet, our “…sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NASB).

Yes, the good Rabbi is talking about Jewish repentance in his write-up, but by the merit of our Rav, Messiah Yeshua, we also are allowed to repent, turn away from our sins, and return to our God. In this I believe we too will be treated as if we had never sinned. Otherwise, we have no hope.

love-in-lightsAlthough Chanukah commemorates a specific event and miracle exclusive to the Jewish people, it has applications for the rest of us. If the lights of the Chanukah candles can represent “the bright light of a love that is completely restored” between a Jew and his God, it can have the same meaning for all of the non-Jewish disciples of the Master.

The Apostle Paul was quite clear that repentance, atonement, and forgiveness were accessible to Jew and Gentile alike through trust in the accomplished works of Messiah.

Concerning Paul’s declaration of the blessings of Messiah at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch:

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.

Acts 13:48-49

And our Master himself said:

“I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 8:11

My family lights the Chanukah menorah for eight nights in our home because my wife and children are Jewish. But if, Heaven forbid, something should happen and I found myself living alone, I could certainly see a continued application in my kindling the Chanukah lights for the sake of the Light of the World (John 8:12).

Chag Sameach Chanukah.

Born Again Idol Worshipper

jesus-idolAs Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the great Kabbalist and philosopher living at the turn of the century put it, “There is faith that is actually denial, and there is denial that is actually faith.” When a person says that he believes in God, but in fact, that God he believes in is really a conceptual spiritual idol, an image of God that he has conjured up, then his faith is actually denial of truth, heresy. However, when a person professes atheism because he just can’t believe in some almighty king with a white flowing beard floating somewhere in outer space, in a sense he is expressing true faith, because there is no such God.

-Rabbi David Aaron
“Chapter One: Getting Rid of God,” pg 7
Seeing God: Ten Life-Changing Lessons of the Kabbalah

In Christian thinking, that human failure is inherent in human nature, one of the results of original sin, Adam’s rebellion against God’s will in the Garden of Eden as recorded in Genesis 3. That blemish is transmitted from one generation to another to all of humanity through the sexual act. Jesus’ vicarious death on the Cross then represents God’s gracious gift, which erases that original sin and grants salvation to the believer who accepts Jesus’ saving act.

But in Jewish sources, the very fact that the prophets urge the people of Israel to unblock their hearts, to open their eyes, to remove the obstacles that get in the way of their relation to God suggests that this obstacle is more a matter of will, not at all inherent epistemological obstacle to recognizing God’s presence in the world.

Any time we install a feature of creation and call it God, we are committing the sin of idolatry, the Jewish cardinal sin. It need not be a material object; it can be something much more abstract or elusive: a nation, history itself (as in Marxism), financial reward, or another human being.

-Rabbi Neil Gillman
“Introduction,” pp x-xi
The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians

It’s not really pleasant to be called an idol worshipper but that’s exactly what happened to me recently.

No, it wasn’t done in an unkind way and I understand the complete sincerity of the person involved and their desire to be “a light to the world,” so to speak, by encouraging me to reconsider what this person believes is a very bad decision on my part…worshipping a man as God.

I think it’s rather amazing that I checked out both Rabbi Aaron’s and Rabbi Gillman’s books from my local library a week or more ago, before I knew I’d be having this conversation with my friend. In reading their first chapters, they both seem to be speaking to the idea of worshipping idols, albeit from different directions. Rabbi Gillman’s book sounds somewhat like my friend in that it’s a Jewish person attempting to be a light to the nations by writing to Christians and letting us know how we’re not getting it right. We aren’t examining the Bible through the correct lens. There are just too many areas of the Tanakh (Old Testament) that either fail to speak of God becoming man and Messiah, or that directly speak against such a thing.

My friend and I have had these conversations before and while I try very hard to take his suggestions and information and examine them objectively, I continue to run headlong into my faith in Jesus as Messiah. I’ve been challenged to re-examine that faith against the Tanakh and seek my answers within its pages. Can we “prove” Jesus is the Messiah without touching the New Testament at all?

Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:24-27, 31-32 (NASB)

I suppose I just cheated because I’m quoting from the New Testament, but look at what’s being said. Jesus, using only Moses and the Prophets (which makes perfect sense as none of the New Testament writings existed during this time in history), “explained to them all the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

If I take that statement at face value, that means it’s possible to support having faith in Jesus as Messiah using only the Torah and the Prophets. Too bad Luke didn’t record what Jesus actually said. It would have made things a lot easier to investigate.

crossLately, I’ve been writing a lot to Christians in the church defending Messianic Judaism and the observance of the Torah mitzvot by believing Jews. I’ve spent almost no time at all directly addressing Jewish people who are religious but have no faith in Jesus, and who see worshipping Jesus as God as idolatry. Rabbi Aaron implied, based on the above-quoted passage of his book, that someone who doesn’t believe in a God that is not credible because He is quantifiable, physical, and definable, has more faith than a person who can point to Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Is worshipping Jesus worshipping an “image?” Is worshipping Jesus who lived a human life actually worshipping a man?

You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but you shall utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.

Exodus 23:24 (American King James Version)

So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female…

Deuteronomy 4:15-16 (NASB)

Those two verses don’t seem to have a direct bearing on the worship of God in corporeal, living form, since “images” and “graven images” address more manufactured items, like statues and such.

This all goes to the heart of how we Christians understand that Jesus was at once human and Divine. For most Jewish people, this does not compute. Rabbi Gillman’s book is written specifically to refute Christianity, although I’m certain with the best intentions.

When Christians try to explain their/our faith to most other groups, we rely a lot on the New Testament and we speak in all manner of “Christianese.” However, does this work very well with most Jewish people? The majority of Messianic Jewish people I know came into the movement by way of the church. Most of them became familiar with and invested in the Torah and a lived Jewish experience only later on. Faith in Jesus preceded a Jewish understanding of faith in Jesus.

Not being Jewish and not having that lived experience and education, I can only present the basis of my faith from a Christian/Gentile point of view.

A lot of Jewish people have a point in “defending” themselves against Christianity. Conversion and assimilation are considered a real threat to Jewish continuance forward in time. While I don’t believe that God would ever allow the extinction of the Jewish people and of Israel, Jewish people are still afraid. Further more, people like my friend and Rabbi Gillman authentically believe they are providing Gentile Christians a service in explaining how we are mistaken and how to correct our mistakes.

This is the sort of dialog that the church hasn’t done well at during the past twenty centuries or so. But if we can’t show from the Tanakh that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, what can we Gentiles in Christianity say to the Jewish people who challenge the validity of our faith and our identity in Christ?

Sparking Illumination

bright-spark-welderThe Jewish people have no monopoly on G-d and spirituality. In fact, Judaism’s core desire is that the world perceive G-d’s presence in their lives, and grow spiritually. What’s curious then is the wording of what is arguably Judaism’s most famous expression: “Shema Yisrael… Listen Israel, G-d is our Master, G-d is One (Deut 6:4).” If this eternal message relates to all mankind, why is it addressed only to Israel? Would not the One who created and sustains all mankind, by definition, be the Master of all?

Rashi’s classic commentary solves the puzzle: G-d might appear to be the Master of only the Jewish people, those who received and accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The nation of Israel got direct instructions on how to live from the Master Himself — “Israel, G-d is our Master.” However, “G-d is One” — we wish and hope for the day when every soul universally recognizes the Al-mighty’s intimate involvement with all, when the spirituality hidden beneath every surface becomes abundantly clear.

Perhaps this is a perspective that has been overlooked, but it’s crucial that our practice and interaction with people reflect this hope. It increases our concern and our love for others, and helps us appreciate everyone’s efforts to grow and live meaningful lives. Is this not a recipe for unity?

Good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org

The Rabbi’s message was originally posted on August 12, 2011 but I periodically revisit it because I took the rather bold step of asking Rabbi Dixler a question. I’ve blogged about it before but in re-reading the Rabbi’s blog post and particularly the comments that have accumulated, I decided it was time to write about the message again.

I must say at this point that trying to “retrofit” modern or any post-Biblical Rabbinic commentary and insights into the original Messianic faith of “the Way” and thus into Christianity is a dubious prospect at best (not that I haven’t been guilty of doing so time and again), but it’s a way of creating dialog and raising awareness among the different “fragments” of the people of God about how God really, really is One and that He is the God of all of Creation, not just of one people group or one religious group. No, I’m not saying that the God of the Bible talks through all religions and their stuff such as Taoism, Buddhism, or Hinduism. I’m saying that regardless of the “systems” and “theologies” and “philosophies” that we human beings manufacture in order to organize ourselves and make “us” feel better and superior to “them,” God is God, a complete and objective unity, in spite of what we believe about Him or even if we believe He exists.

But remember I said that I asked Rabbi Dixler a question. Here it is:

Greetings, Rabbi Dixler.

Thank you for your insightful message, but I must admit to not quite seeing how Rashi’s commentary, as presented in your letter, solves the puzzle. G-d did indeed give direct instructions to the nation of Israel on how to live, but I don’t see where the rest of humanity receives the information that G-d is One.

I’m aware of the Noahide Laws as recorded in Genesis 9, but they don’t resonate from Noah to the rest of the nations in the same sense as the unbroken chain of Torah does from Moses and Sinai to the Jews of today. There’s a unified link between G-d, Moses, and the Israelites who stood at Sinai that can be traced from 3500 years in the past all the way to the present-day Jewish people. When you say that “we wish and hope for the day when every soul universally recognizes the Al-mighty’s intimate involvement with all”, how do you believe this will happen? Will we only become aware of the “spirituality hidden beneath every surface” when the Messiah comes?

Forgive me for asking you this question. I’m a Gentile married to a Jewish wife and we frequently have discussions like this. Since you asked for comments, I thought I’d take this opportunity to ask for your viewpoint.

Thanks and Good Shabbos.

And here is the Rabbi’s response:

James, You make a great point. He did give instructions to the rest of the world, but not to the level He gave to the Jewish people. It would seem that the discrepancy would give the appearance of Him acting as Master over the Jews, while exhibiting less mastery over the non-Jews. The point of the message was to say that He has as much a desire to have that relationship with the non-Jews, if they reach the required level of recognition of Him. While Jews may not always act at that level of recognition, they are the descendants of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs which gives them an advantage.

The recognition of the non-Jews has been happening throughout history and it will certainly reach it’s zenith at the time of the Messiah. The spread of the belief in monotheism to most of the civilized world was likely the greatest manifestation of this that we’ve seen so far.

the-shepherdNow remember that I said it wasn’t so good an idea to try to fit what normative modern Judaism says into normative modern Christianity. From my point of view, Rabbi Dixler doesn’t present a full picture because, from his perspective, he can’t present a full picture. He is (understandably) unwilling or unable to recognize that the Messiah has already come and will come again and that, in his first coming, he did something remarkable for all of humanity. He gave us the ability to get a lot closer to God than we ever could previously. He gave the non-Jewish people of our world the ability to connect to God in a way that is much more intimate and fulfilling than Rabbi Dixler has described on his blog.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.

Acts 15:19-21, 30-31 (ESV)

The beat goes on, but you get the idea.

But while God is God and God is “universal,” human beings are scattered and shattered and fragmented all over the place in terms of who we think we are, who we think God is (if we have a concept of God) and what we think that means about ourselves and everybody else (and I’ve talked about this before). I’m not just talking about Jewish identity vs. Christian identity, but we can’t ignore that aspect of our connection to God either. As I said just yesterday, we need to heal the broken pieces of humanity, not tear ourselves more and more apart.

But as I’ve also said, unity is not the same as uniformity. I’m not talking about coming together in one, anonymous, doughy, blob with no distinctive features or identifying marks. Don’t worry though. As one of the people commenting on Rabbi Dixler’s blog said, we are nowhere near any form of unity:

I’m a Chab Jew and I have experienced the desdain of other Orthodox jews, some Chassidim. If we cannot be one how can we expect to have the goyim in the boat?

Good question.

After quite a number of questions and comments, Rabbi Dixler sent out a general reply:

An issue that has been raised by a few is that this message somehow dilutes the idea of the Chosen Nation and that the commandment to love is only towards others Jews. To be clear, the Jews were chosen by G-d to be the recipients of His Torah since they are the children of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs – those who discovered G-d’s presence for themselves, devoted every ounce of their being to Him, and introduced the pagan world to what it means to have one G-d. At the same time, the mission of Jews that they’ve been chosen for is to spread the knowledge of G-d’s presence to all of humanity, by acting as a light to the nations. Built into this mission is the concern that all of humanity appreciate G-d and the spiritual relationship we have with Him.

The supreme irony is that Israel is a light to the world in a way that much of Judaism must deliberately reject due to the historic nature of the relationship between Christians and Jews.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12 (ESV)

cloaked-in-light-tallitAs Israel’s first-born son, the Messiah embodied Israel’s mission to be a light to the nations. He was and is the living, breathing expression of God’s intention to live among, not just the Jewish people, but among all people and to bring us all close to Him and close to each other. Rabbi Dixler’s comments come so very close but still miss the target, at least as I see it.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

Israel is the light of the world and that light is transmitted in its most perfect form from the body of the first-born son of Israel, the Messiah, Son of David. But as his disciples, we too are called to be a light to the world, to send forth the light that originates from God to a dark and desperate humanity. One of the Jewish commentators I quoted above lamented that if Judaism isn’t united, how can they expect the goyim to get into the boat? If the disciples of Messiah aren’t united in love and purpose, how can we expect to ignite a spark, let alone shine a light that illuminates the power and glory of Christ in a fallen Creation?

After examining my finances, I think I’m one step closer to being able to attend the Shavuot Conference being hosted by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) in Wisconsin this May (there are still a few more details to work out). But based on my experience with the conference last year, I realize that “for every ascent, there is a descent,” for every uplifting event of fellowship, there is an inevitable let down when it’s over. That’s why, as much as I’m looking forward to going again this year, it’s not the focus of my faith or my “mission” (if I can be so bold as to say that I even have a “mission”).

The goal, the focus, and purpose of our lives and our very beings is not to count on periodic events of fellowship, sharing, and worship, but to live out each day with purpose, seeking an encounter with God, promoting healing between the damaged and torn parts of Messiah’s body. The Messiah isn’t just the Christ who belongs to the goyim and he’s not just Yeshua who belongs to a tiny population of modern Messianic Jews. Messiah belongs to all Jews everywhere and he belongs to any and all people from among the nations who hear his voice, who are called out, and who recognize the shepherd.

the-last-candleWe don’t all do “light to the world” in the same way, so it appears as if we are working at cross purposes relative to all of the different “Judaisms” and “Christianities” that exist in the world today. But if we believe that God is One and His Name is One, then we must also believe that whatever man has put asunder, God will one day join back together, not as an anonymous, gooey, doughy mass of bland, “wonder bread,” cookie cutter cut up humanity, but as who He made each of us to be and each of our people groups to be; those chosen at Sinai and those who joined him at the cross.

We don’t “get it” now. None of us really “get it” now. But if we keep striving for our encounters with God, if we continue to seek His will, if we keep striking our little stones against our little bits of flint, maybe we’ll one day create a spark, ignite a flame, and then the light to the nations and the light of the nations will illuminate the world.

And we will be illuminated, too. I just hope my tiny candle doesn’t burn out first.

Being Light in the Darkness

light_from_withinHe explains there that tzaddikim are classified in two general categories. The first is that of the “complete tzaddik,” also known as the “ tzaddik who possesses (only) good.” Such a tzaddik has succeeded in completely transforming the evil of his animal soul to good and holiness. A tzaddik of the second category, that of the “incomplete tzaddik,” or the “ tzaddik who possesses evil,” is one who has not yet completely converted his animal soul to good; he still retains a vestige of its native evil. This remaining fragment of evil, however, is completely nullified within the far greater proportion of good.

from “Today’s Tanya Lesson”
Likutei Amarim, Chapter 11
Lessons in Tanya
Chabad.org

A certain individual was condemned to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi as a hypocrite. “He has such a high opinion of himself,” the rebbe was told, “and has assumed all sorts of pious customs and practices. He acts like a real holy fellow. But it’s all superficial: on the inside, his character is as coarse and unrefined as ever.”

“Well,” said the rebbe, “in that case, may he meet the end that the Talmud predicts for such people.”

The informers were taken aback. They had merely desired to “warn” the rebbe about this individual. But now, what sort of calamity had the chassidic master called down upon him?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained: At the end of Tractate Pe’ah, the Talmud discusses the criteria for a pauper to be eligible to receive charity. The section concludes with the warning: “One who is not in need, but takes . . . one who is not lame or blind but makes himself as such, will not die of old age until he is indeed as such.”

“In the same vein,” concluded the rebbe, “one who makes of himself more than he is in matters of righteousness and piety ‘will not die of old age until he is indeed as such.’ Acting like a better person will eventually make him a better person.”

“Make Believe”
Translated/adapted by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
in “Once Upon a Chassid” (Kehot, 1994)
Chabad.org

“The mind is everything. What you think you become.”

-Gautama Siddharta

Setting the mystic aspects of the quotes above to one side, I have to say that I know all this. I’m supposed to know all this. But knowledge and insight aren’t the same as integrated wisdom. What’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”

-Sandra Carey

This is hardly the first time I’ve pursued such a question, but it means something more or at least something different then what it did before. I’m not sure I want to tell you the whole story yet, but part of it has to do with a recent encounter both with a friend and with God. But before getting on to that, I suppose I should review my own previously stated understanding of knowledge and wisdom.

There is knowledge and then there is wisdom. Studying will provide knowledge and knowledge, in and of itself, isn’t always “good” or “bad”, but sometimes it is “relevant” and “irrelevant”. Wisdom tells us how or if that knowledge can be applied to us. The “path of wonder the Torah takes to come into our world” is not a path that Christians can readily follow and even if somehow we can, it’s not a path we are always called to walk. As Rabbi Freeman points out, “Every wise person prefaces his pursuit of wisdom by acknowledging, ‘This I will not be able to explain. This will remain in wonder.’”

what-you-thinkI suppose putting all that together and using Rabbi Tauber’s commentary as a guide, to gain wisdom, we must behave out of our knowledge of what is good, desirable, and pious, even if it’s not who we really are or what we can readily pursue, until it becomes integrated into the very fabric of our being. Then we may become wise and not just a “bucket” containing information.

Then we will become who we really are.

I’ve been standing on a threshold for a long time. Not that I’m a total facade, but I know I’m not the person I’m supposed to be, and probably not the person most people reading this blog believe me to be.

The quote from Siddharta can be condensed down into the simple phrase, “you are what you think.” But despite the Bible’s proscription to gain control of our very thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5) it’s not all that easy to manage what we think about habitually. There’s a reason that anxiety and anxiety control meditations are a tremendous part of the medical and psychopharmaceutical fields today.

But our thoughts and worries are also addressed in abundance in other realms as well.

The reason you have a business is to reconnect all these fragments back to their Creator. And the gauge of your success is your attitude.

If you see yourself as a victim of circumstance, of competitors, markets and trends, that your bread is in the hands of flesh and blood . . .

. . . then your world is still something separate from your G‑d.

But if you have the confidence that He is always with you in whatever you do, and the only one who has the power to change your destiny is you yourself through your own acts of goodness . . .

. . . then your earth is tied to the heavens, and since in the heavens nothing is lacking, so too it shall be in your world.

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

Rabbi Freeman’s commentary on the Rebbe’s advice deals specifically with earning a livelihood, which is very important of course, but what about things that are even more basic?

We all have a constant flow of thoughts and mental pictures in our minds.

These mental creations have a tremendous impact on how we feel, what we say and how we say it, and what we do and don’t do.

People who are self-confident have very different mental pictures and thoughts than people who lack self-confidence. People who feel very insecure feel that way because of what they say to themselves and what they picture about the past and the future. When they upgrade their self-talk and their mental images, they experience life very differently.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #680, Your Mind Impacts Every Experience”
Aish.com

blind2Supposedly, it’s not really what happens to you that matters, but the story that you tell yourself about what happens to you. Three people can undergo the same experience, the first can tell himself that things are a disaster and he’ll never recover, the second can say that it’s an interesting experience, but he won’t let it change him, and the third can say that it was an enlightening experience and that it will impact him for the better…

…regardless of what the experience happens to be.

That’s kind of simplistic since there are events that would overwhelm just about anyone, either with uplifting joy or abject sorrow. But over time, once the person adjusts to the emotional impact, they can tell themselves a story, sometimes telling it in different ways, until whatever the event is can be seen in a useful and positive light.

Obviously, things that happen to us that are good aren’t that hard to adapt to a positive story, but in the news lately, we’ve seen things happen that can only lead to tremendous pain.

You and I can face immense hardships and sorrow in our lives, and yet we see others who have suffered much worse and continued to go on, sometimes achieving true greatness.

In 1944, Simon Wiesenthal barely escaped death at the Janwska concentration camp. Wiesenthal had been imprisoned in a total of 12 concentration camps, and at the time of his liberation from Mauthausen in May 1945, his six-foot frame weighed just 99 pounds. Nearly all of Wiesenthal’s close relatives were murdered by the Nazis, and after the war he worked for the U.S. Army gathering documentation for Nazi war crimes trials. Wiesenthal continued this work privately, and became known as the “Nazi hunter” whose research led to capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, and dozens of other war criminals including Karl Silberbauer, the Gestapo officer responsible for the arrest of Anne Frank. Wiesenthal said: “When history looks back I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which operates the Museums of Tolerance, is named in his honor. In 1981, the Center’s film, “Genocide,” won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. Wiesenthal died at age 96 in Vienna and was buried in Herzliya, Israel.

Tevet 13
This Day in Jewish History
Aish.com

This isn’t to minimize difficult experiences for the rest of us who didn’t have to endure the Holocaust, but it shows us that it’s possible to survive and even to achieve great things after suffering terribly. Others besides Simon Wiesenthal survived the camps and continued to have a life for decades afterward, but perhaps not all of the survivors told themselves the same “story” about what it all meant to them. It would be understandable to give up, to surrender to depression or rage after such an experience, and no one would fail to have compassion, but the story Simon Wiesenthal told himself lead to a different path.

light-has-dawnedCertainly, this can be the path to holiness and a closer relationship with God, but there must also be a story that leads to a better relationship with yourself. Ultimately, I believe that both paths and both goals yield the same result, but what happens when you are injured and even devastated. You find yourself sitting in a very dark place, feeling yourself sink lower, hovering at the edge of the endlessly deepening abyss. How do you find your path when everything you are, particularly your thoughts and feelings, lead downward into the waiting embrace of oblivion?

Where a lantern is placed, those who seek light gather around – for light attracts.

Likutei Sichot, Vol. 10, p. 294.
from “Today’s Day”
Monday, Tevet 13, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Knowledge is like consuming the writings of the great sages, and it illuminates like a lantern or a small candle shining in the darkness. Wisdom is letting your thoughts and feelings not just experience the light, but absorb and become the light.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.

-Basho, Matsuo

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

Instead of sinking down and becoming the darkness, you can rise up with the sparks and become light, even if you continue to be surrounded by darkness.

60 Days: There is Still a Light that Shines

Inner lightWhen you come to a place that seems outside of G‑d’s realm, too coarse for light to enter, and you want to run away—

Know that there is no place outside of G‑d, and rejoice in your task of uncovering Him there.

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

The soul above awaits the time it will be privileged to descend into a body. For the soul senses how much it can accomplish here below; it can attain the level of “delighting with G-d.” So what is everyone waiting for?

“Today’s Day”
Shabbat, Cheshvan 15, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Given what I’ve been writing about in these past few days, the quotes above seem rather fitting. There is no place we can go that God cannot enter with us, ironically including into the church.

I’ve been experiencing a little “push back” (no, not at home) about my decision to re-enter Christian fellowship, as if Christianity was a step backward and that some other philosophy or theology were more evolved for the non-Jewish believer. I can’t say that the path I’ve selected is for everyone, I can only say that it is right for me, at least the “me” who exists today and needs to face a certain set of challenges.

Jewish mysticism sees the soul in Heaven awaiting “assignment” to a physical body so it can enact the will of God in the world of human beings. In a sense, that’s sort of how I feel right now, waiting to enter into the world of the church to see if I have anything to contribute to the body of Christ. I also (and I’ve said this before) must be careful to communicate that I’m not entering the church with “ulterior motives” but rather, to add whatever uniqueness of expression and perspective God has gifted me with to the ekklesia of the Messiah as it exists in my own little corner of the planet.

One of the reasons some people choose to attend a particular church is that they are “fed” there. I’ve never been really sure of what that meant (I’m not very good at “Christianese”) but I suppose it has something to do with the teaching or the level of emotional or spiritual support provided by the Pastoral and teaching staff. I don’t think I’m going to church to be “fed” as such, but I do believe that Christian fellowship will give me something that I’ve been sorely lacking.

O, God, who will dwell in Your tabernacle, who will rest on Your holy mountain? … One who speaks the truth in his heart … who swears to his own hurt but will not retract.

Psalms 15:1-4

In their mind’s eye, people believe that they are acting as truthfully as possible. We all know, however, how easily we can deceive ourselves. Since truth may be elusive, how then can we know that we have the truth?

There is a useful litmus test. We can know that we have the truth when we have the courage to feel the pain of accepting the truth. People lie because they think the lie will be less painful or costly for them than the truth.

People often fail to grow because they are reluctant to face the painful truth that they have done wrong. We have an innate tendency to avoid pain, and therefore we are apt to conjure up rationalizations that justify our behavior. These rationalizations are nothing but lies ― sometimes clever and convincing, but lies nonetheless. Facing the truth and accepting the pain that comes with it requires courage.

People who “speak the truth in their heart,” says the Psalmist, do not retract their word even if it is to their own hurt. On the other hand, those who constantly seek to change everything to conform to their maximum comfort are only lying to themselves.

Today I shall…

try to be courageous and not automatically withdraw from everything that is painful. I shall try to examine my actions to make sure I am not sacrificing truth for comfort.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Cheshvan 13”
Aish.com

While I don’t experience the church or Christians as a “painful truth,” in fact, I most likely have been denying myself an experience that I need in order to grow spiritually. It’s easy to say that the church is “such-and-thus” in some negative sense, and to let that be the excuse to keep me away. It’s also easy (but not as easy) to visit a church, and to say to yourself (and others) that “these people aren’t me,” or “I can visit them, but I’m not one of them.” Playing the “superiority card” at the church is no way to contribute to the body of believers, even if you (or I) think that they are less than what they can be and should be.

In the “Today’s Day” lesson for Friday, Cheshvan 14, 5704, we find:

“From G-d are man’s steps established.” (Psalm 37:23) Every one of Israel has a spiritual mission in life – which is to occupy himself with the work of construction, to make a “dwelling-place” for G-d.

That statement doesn’t actually apply to the church or any body of worship so much as it does to the individual and how we establish a “dwelling place” for God within us and within the world, but it still fits. If the Messiah dwells among us when two or three are gathered in his name, (Matthew 18:20) then it behooves us…it behooves me to gather with others so that he may be with us…and with me. Serving God isn’t particularly being served by God, but serving others and summoning the Spirit so that it may dwell within those who need it. There are so many who would hoard the gifts of the Spirit for themselves, but that’s not what we were taught. We can only be who God made us to be by being together and by joining others.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

This teaching of the master is not unlike what we see presented from a more contemporary Jewish Rabbi.

G‑d did not give you light that you may hold it up in the middle of the day.

When you are given light it is in order to accomplish something, to do something difficult and novel.

Go take your light and transform the darkness that it may also shine!

It feels a little egotistical to say that I’m going to take my light and let it shine among my fellow Christians, but I feel as if the Master is commanding us to do just that; to share and to love and to be with each other. More than that, we are to place that light on a hill and let the rest of the world experience it as well. That’s pretty hard to do in isolation and I don’t think just “blogging light” cuts it. We have to uncover the light, we have to shine the light.

We have to be the light.

Let it be, let it be
Ah let it be, yeah let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be…

-Paul McCartney
Let It Be (1970)

Let it be.