Tag Archives: love

Finding What’s Most Important

I despair for my involvement in humanity, religious and otherwise. I suppose it was predictable. In fact, a lot of people predicted it. I pretended that I could go it alone, but in the end, it wasn’t possible, let alone reasonable.

I’ve been through the religious argument wars, the Jewish identity wars, the “you’re just a Goy” wars, and I’ve survived. But it’s gotten worse, much worse.

My Aberrant Theology was bad enough, having to struggle with the various flavors of normative Christianity, which frankly, hasn’t appealed to me for quite some time.

But given all of the recent racial unrest, assaults, murders reported in the mainstream media lately, religious people who are also what have been called Social Justice Warriors (not the person who originally posted this to Facebook but one of the more vocal commentators), who are also religious and at least in theory, hold a theological view somewhat similar to my own, I despair.

What’s the point of attempting dialog when each and every time, the only answer is to remain silent or capitulate?

I tried to clarify my views and seek a dialog, but when the discussion got to a certain point, it was abandoned, probably because I didn’t “see the light”.

It’s just like church. It’s just like the contention in Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, at least as far as my involvement has been.

I know it’s my fault. I’m not easy to live with (a fact my wife can confirm). I don’t play well with others. I don’t roll over. I ask too many questions. When pushed, I push back. Nobody likes that, especially when the point of online debates is to be right and to make sure everyone else knows they’re wrong.

Social justice sounds nice, it sounds, well… “just”, but just like religion, it’s only as good as its weakest link…human beings.

I admit that as I’ve gotten older, my tendency toward being somewhat misanthropic has increased. Yesterday, I put my one year old granddaughter in a stroller and took her for a walk in the neighborhood. During the walk, I kept identifying the potential threats to my grandchild. The family walking two large dogs. The pre-teen boys playing basketball and not paying attention to their proximity to my granddaughter and the potential for collision. Cars driving too fast through the neighborhood.

My granddaughter loves to go for walks, but by the time we got back home, I was a nervous wreck.

Religious pundits make me nervous. So do social justice warriors. At least in social media, they want me to agree with them while asking no questions and simply accepting what they believe is self-evident; that they are always right.

Some months ago, I did a purge on Facebook, Google+, and twitter to eliminate some of the more negative forces in my life. I really need to find more peace and less contention. I don’t thrive on conflict and bringing conflict to others. I need to stop letting myself be drawn into endless and fruitless debates.

It’s nothing personal. I need to do this for me, not against you. It’s been over two weeks since I’ve posted here. Granted, I’ve blogged elsewhere, but even at Powered by Robots, I’ve allowed conversations to occur I never should have. What started out as a venue for my fiction writing turned into a social platform, at least some of the time.

I’m tired of fighting.

I’m considering what next to eliminate from my life so I can reclaim some peace of mind. Maybe killing all news feeds would be a start.

One of the few things I’m sure of is that my grandchildren love me. My grandson loves playing with me, and my granddaughter smiles and laughs when she first sees me after we’ve been apart. That should be what’s most important. Not jumping through the religious and social hoops of people who need something from me I do not have to give.

I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. If God wants me, He certainly knows where to find me. I’ll be on the floor playing with children. And later in the night, I’ll be sleeping and dreaming of tomorrow.

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The Language of the Soul

I recently read an online article at Aish written by Sara Debbie Gutfreund called The Blind Woman at the Gym, but it wasn’t what Ms. Gutfreund wrote that captured me. Someone named Sarah commented and what Gutfreund wrote (November 18, 2012 4:31 a.m.) and it was her story that prompted me to write my morning meditation (her comment was a single block of text which I’ve broken up into paragraphs to make her missive more readable):

This story reminds me of something that happened to me 19 years ago when I was doing my undergraduate degree. Our university required us to take a PE class. Being an English and French major at the time, I considered a PE class a waste of time and so I chose something ‘easy’ called “fitness walking”.

The first day of class, the gym teacher told each of us to pick a walking partner because we were to travel in two’s in a line. As I looked up from my books and surveyed the room for someone I knew, I found no familiar face. Then, at the very edge of class, in a corner, sat a blind girl and her leader dog who was an adorable black lab with soft brown eyes. The first thing I noticed was the other classmates looking toward her nervously, then back at each other, and then pairing off with each other and avoiding her because of their own discomfort. I thought to myself, ‘thank Goodness she can’t see their faces.’

I walked over and cheerfully said to her, “Hi, I am Sarah and I would love to be your walking partner this semester.’ The blind girl, with her beautiful long brown curly hair and eager smile quickly introduced herself as Angie and her dog as Sarge. All three of us, Angie, Sarge, and me walked together all semester and became great friends.

We regularly got together even after the class ended and remained friends until I moved 2,000 miles away.

That’s normally the end of the tale, two close friends move away from each other and never see or hear from one another again. But this is the age of social media, so finding anyone on Facebook should be a snap, right? Well, that’s not exactly how this next part happened.

Angie and I lost touch over the years, but the other day she found my parent’s phone number, called them and asked to be put in touch with me. We talked for hours that day and she told me about her marriage and her two children.

I’m leading up to the part of the tale that is the point of my writing this blog post. Here it is:

Then, she hesitated and said, “My daughter, my first born…I named her Sarah– after you…” Tears came to my eyes and I told her I was touched. She continued, “I met you when I was a freshman. You were a senior– and you weren’t disabled. And you took me in as family at a scary time in my life.” After we ended the call, I gave gratitude to G-d for giving me such an opportunity to meet Angie.

I don’t know why this final piece of Sarah’s commentary got to me. Maybe because it tells me that we may never realize how we affect people, for good or for ill, even after knowing them for years.

A chance meeting nearly two decades ago brought two young women together, one who was actively avoided by most of her classmates because she’s visually impaired, and their friendship meant so much to the young Angie, that even after the two parted, when she had her first child, a daughter, Angie named her “Sarah,” after the friend who meant so much to her.

We poor, pathetic human beings think we’re so powerless most of the time. We get cancer and we can’t cure it. We get into car accidents when we’re late for work. Our governments wage wars and we citizens can’t stop our soldiers, our fathers, brothers, and sons, from being maimed and killed. All the time we pray to an infinite and all-powerful God to rescue us from the consequences of being human.

And then Sarah tells the story of her friendship with Angie and in a sudden flash of realization, the power we all wield, to heal or to harm, to inspire or to discourage, stands in stark contrast to the impotency we were feeling just moments before.

I’ve spoken before about why all our religious arguments don’t work to serve the purpose of God, why only God can speak to our souls. Sarah’s story shows us that we can speak to each other’s souls. We just have to say the right words or rather, we have to actually show caring for another living being. Love and compassion are the language of the soul. It speaks even in eternal darkness and paints portraits even the blind can see.

Learning to Love from God

“And Moshe said to his father-in-law, the people come to me to seek the Almighty.”

Exodus 18:15

Moshe had arranged for the people to come to him when they had questions. The prophet Shmuel, on the other hand, went to the people to deal with their needs. What can we learn from Shmuel about coming close to the Almighty?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz comments that one’s closeness to the Almighty is dependent upon one’s love for other people. Shmuel’s going to the people showed that he had great love and concern for them.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from the Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Yitro
Published in Growth Through Torah
quoted at Aish.com

To what can this be compared?

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:28-34 (NASB)

Rabbi Pliskin’s commentary continues:

Where did Shmuel get this great love other people? The Midrash says that the garment that his mother made for him when he was a child was with him his entire life. This garment, say Rabbi Shmuelevitz, was made with the profound love his mother had for him. This love became such a part of Shmuel that it manifested itself in his entire way of dealing with other people.

The love a mother shows her infants and young children by getting up in the middle of the night to take care of them implants in them a deep feeling of being loved. When such a child grows older he will have love for others. Any small thing a parent does with love for his children will pay off great dividends. The greater the child becomes the more many people will benefit from that love.

We learn to love other people because of the love shown to us by our Heavenly Father and by learning to love and draw close to Him. We also learn to love God by showing love to your spouses, our children, and anyone else around us, because God loves all those people, too.

Love is the fire in which Sinai burned and the fire in which Moses was with God. Love is the Spirit that dwells in each of us that comes from God.

The Aftermath of Reviewing Michaelson’s “God vs. Gay”

And you shall love Hashem your God …

Deuteronomy 6:5

And you shall love your neighbor as yourself…

Leviticus 19:18

Both of these statements are positive commandments. We might ask: How can a commandment demand that we feel something? Since love is an emotion, it is either there or it is not there.

The Torah does not hold that love is something spontaneous. On the contrary, it teaches that we can and should cultivate love. No one has the liberty to say: “There are some people whom I just do not like,” nor even, “I cannot possibly like that person because he did this and that to me.”

We have within us innate attractions to God and to other people. If we do not feel love for either of them, it is because we have permitted barriers to develop that interfere with this natural attraction, much as insulation can block a magnet’s inherent attraction for iron. If we remove the barriers, the love will be forthcoming.

The barriers inside us come from defects in our character. When we improve ourselves, our bad character traits fall away, and as they fall away, we begin to sense that natural love which we have for others and for God.

Today I shall…

…try to improve my midos (character traits), so that I will be able to feel love for God and for my fellow man.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Cheshvan 7
Aish.com

The first thing that attracted me to this daily “devotional” of Rabbi Twerski’s is the obvious parallel to the teaching of the Master:

One of the scholars heard them arguing and drew near to them. He saw that he answered well, and he asked him, “What is the first of all of the mitzvot?”

Yeshua answered him, “The first of all the mitzvot is: ‘Hear O Yisra’el! HaShem is our God; HaShem is one. Love HaShem, your God, with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your knowledge, and with all of your strength.’ This is the first mitzvah. Now the second is similar to it: ‘Love your fellow as yourself.’ There is no mitzvah greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31 (DHE Gospels)

Rabbi Abraham Twerski
Rabbi Abraham Twerski

I don’t know if R. Twerski is at all familiar with the Apostolic Scriptures (probably not, but who knows) or even the portion I quoted above, but it seems amazing that nearly two-thousand years after the Master uttered this teaching, the same source material from the Torah should be linked together in a very similar manner by an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi and Psychiatrist.

Then, as I was performing my Shabbat devotionals, I came across the following:

The orlah, “foreskin,” symbolizes a barrier to holiness. Adam HaRishon was born circumcised (see Avos D’Rabbi Nassan 2:5) because he was as close as a physical being can possibly be to Hashem. So great was Adam at the time of his creation, that the angels thought he was a Divine being to whom they should offer praise. Thus, he was born circumcised; there was no orlah intervening between him and Hashem. Even the organ that represents man’s worst animal-like urges was totally harnessed to the service of Hashem.

-from the Mussar Thought for the Day, p.151
for Shabbos: Parashas Lech Lecha
A Daily Dose of Torah

Now compare the above quote to the next one:

Episcopal lesbian theologian Carter Heyward, whose work we briefly noted in part I, has described her project this way: “I am attempting to give voice to an embodied — sensual — relational movement among women and men who experience our sexualities as a liberating resource and who, at least in part through this experience, have been strengthened in the struggle for justice for all.” Heyward and others…are attempting nothing less than a recovery of the physical, embodied, and erotic within Christian traditions that have traditionally suppressed them. Building a theology of relationality that is reminiscent of the work of Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, Heyward has proposed a spiritual valuation of eros — which she defines as “our embodied yearning for mutuality.” Openness to embodied love opens us to other people, the biological processes of the universe, and to God. Thus, Heyward writes, “my eroticism is my participation in the universe” and “we are the womb in which God is born.”

-Jay Michaelson
Chapter 17: “And I have filled him with the spirit of God…to devise subtle works in gold, silver, and brass,” p.156
God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality

I previously quoted that paragraph in my third and final review of Michaelson’s book, but I think it bears repeating.

When Rabbi Twerski, (unintentionally) echoing the teachings of the Master speaks of loving God and loving his neighbor, he isn’t talking about erotic love or eroticizing our relationship with God or our fellow human being. When he writes of our “innate attractions to God and to other people,” he isn’t saying that these are sexual or romantic attractions any more than Messiah was speaking of sex.

The Mussar thought from the Artscroll “Daily Dose” series speaks of the male sexual organ as representing “man’s worst animal-like urges.” Throughout his book, Michaelson favorably compared people to animals in that both expressed their sexuality with same-sex partners, and yet we see that the traditional Orthodox Jewish viewpoint is to separate man from the animal world.

Even setting the midrash aside, the Mussar teaches that man is to be considered unique and separate from animals and further, that the single worst urge a man must bring under control in the service of Hashem is his sexual urge.

Talmud Study by LamplightThis is why Bible study in general and Torah study in specific is so important, because it grounds us in the Word of God and thus in righteousness and holiness. It points to our flaws and urges us to self-discipline. It’s like reading a health and weight loss manual while sitting down in an “all-you-can-eat” buffet. You are immersed in temptation, and yet you hold a reminder in your hands to resist because giving in to the world around you leads (extending the metaphor) to poor health, suffering, and premature death.

The death I’m speaking of is a spiritual death if we attempt to conform our faith to the standards of the world around us rather than conforming ourselves to the standards of God.

None of this demands that we must fail to love the people around us, even those who are very different, such as gay people, and since I’m straight, gay people are different, at least as far as that one quality or trait is concerned. But as I saw by the time I reached the end of the Michaelson book, what he was driving at wasn’t just the equalization of the participation of straight and gay people in the church and synagogue, he was talking about the total transformation of the house of God. Reading Rabbi Twerski and the Mussar for Lech Lecha on Shabbos made it abundantly clear that what Michaelson was proposing, even with sincere intentions, was not at all consistent with how God defines love.

I’m sorry to keep dragging this out and as far as my current intentions go, this is the last blog I’ll dedicate to Michaelson in specific and the topic of gays in the community of faith in general. But having, by necessity, entered, to some small degree, the world of Jay Michaelson’s thoughts and feelings by reading his book, I needed to pull myself back out and re-establish myself in the presence of God through the study of His Word.

We are commanded to love other people including those we find in the LGBTQ community. R. Twerski is correct in that we need not construct barriers between them and us in terms of our compassion. That said, there is a barrier between a holy life and a profane one. In the ekklesia of Messiah, as mere human beings who are daily bombarded with the excesses of the world around us, we constantly struggle with those excesses and with our own natures to seek to remain on the path God has set before us. I know I don’t always succeed and by God’s standards I am a complete failure.

But I can’t give up and either abandon my faith or seek to morph it into something consistent with my external environment, society, and culture. Holiness must be protected and thus we maintain a barrier, not one that doesn’t permit the expression of love, but one that keeps us from getting lost in a highly liberal and distorted use of the term.

When a parent loves a child, it doesn’t mean that parent is ultimately permissive and allows the child to do whatever he or she wants simply because it makes them feel good. We say “no” a lot, and even if the child cries or yells at us and tells us we’re being “mean”, we know we are actually being loving and protective.

That’s what God does to us and those are the commandments we not only obey, but support, uphold, and teach. Even if people like Michaelson want to call me “mean” for doing so, this is how God teaches the community of faith to do love. It’s a loving thing to live inside the standards of God, and as tempting as it may be, it isn’t love to believe you can be right with God outside of the house built by those standards.

TrustTwo more paragraphs from the Mussar thought from which I quoted above will finish the picture (pp.151-2):

When Adam sinned, however, he caused his nature to change. Before his sin, godliness had been natural for him, and sin had been repulsive, bizarre, and foreign. Once he disobeyed Hashem, however, he fell into the traps of illicit desire and self-justification. Suddenly, temptation became natural to him, and Hashem became distant; and when Hashem reproached him for having sinned, Adam hastened to defend himself rather than admitting his sin and repenting. After his fall, the angels had no trouble recognizing his human vulnerability.

In several places, the Torah mentioned … “the foreskin of the heart” (see, for example, Devarim 10:16). This is the non-physical counterpart of the physical foreskin, man’s urges and desires that attempt to bar him from achieving true service to Hashem. We remove the physical foreskin as an indelible act of allegiance, demonstrating our resolve to do the same for the spiritual barriers. Nevertheless, the Torah tells us that ultimately it will be Hashem Who will complete the removal of this spiritual foreskin (see ibid. 30:6) after we have done our utmost, and this will take place at the time of the ultimate redemption.

What Brings Us Near to the Kingdom of God?

Did you ever wish you could change someone’s negative feelings toward you into positive ones? Consider the following story:

In the days of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, it occurred that a butcher was angry at the Rabbi of his city for rendering a decision that the meat of a cow he wanted to sell was not kosher. In his anger, he devised a scheme to murder the Rabbi. On a pretext, he had the Rabbi travel with him on a lonely road. Along the way, the butcher took out his sharp knife and wanted to kill the Rabbi.

At first the Rabbi pleaded with the butcher to have compassion on him. But this was to no avail. When the Rabbi saw that nothing he could say would make a difference, he started to mentally focus on all of the positive qualities and attributes of the butcher. Suddenly there was an amazing transformation. The butcher began to cry, kissed the Rabbi, and begged his forgiveness.

The lesson: Love others and they can’t help but to love you!

(see Rabbi Chaim Zaitchyk – Maayanai Hachaim, vol.3, p.191; Rabbi Pliskin’s “Consulting the Wise”)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Radiate Love”
Aish.com

A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.

-The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) to the Tin Man (Jack Haley)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)

This morning, in a comment I made in response to Rabbi Carl Kinbar, I said in part:

The Internet is a very judgmental place where often the rules of civil social discourse do not apply. People are accused of all sorts of things on little or no evidence. When terms like “Bilateral Ecclesiology” start getting thrown around, people don’t see complex individuals, they just see “types”. To be fair, we make “types” out of people behind labels such as “One Law” and a lot of other names as well. Even though we are bound to disagree with each other on a number of issues in the religious blogosphere, if we tried to recognize each other as not only real people but as fellow disciples of Messiah, maybe we’d treat each other a little better. What would it be like if instead of dialoguing via the Internet, we suddenly all found ourselves in a coffee shop somewhere having this discussion over cups of hot java? I suspect the conversation would be different.

I periodically make such pleas on my blog, trying to encourage civility in the midst of disagreement. They are usually my least popular blog posts and attract little attention and fewer replies.

And yet all of our protestations and arguing make us liars if we call ourselves disciples of the Messiah or just plain “Christians”.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20 (ESV)

maskThe Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, is replete with passages about loving one’s brother and neighbor, and yet how much love do we see in these dialogues about our various theological perspectives? Almost none. But I would be a liar myself if I said they didn’t exist at all:

I would have to respectfully disagree. McKee’s research is precisely what we need to peel back the layers of this onion and find the original intent of the Author in His unchanging, everlasting Word. Then, we can understand what it truly means to return to the ancient paths and walk in the ways that demonstrate our love for God.

-Pete Rambo
“The ‘ger,’ the Chumash and Anachronism”
natsab.com

This is part of Pete’s rebuttal to comments I made in Part 2 of my review of J.K. McKee’s book (and boy is he getting a lot of free publicity from me) One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit. I’m not going to write a detailed rebuttal to Pete’s rebuttal of my review, because then he’d write a rebuttal and I’d write a rebuttal, and there’s a limit to how much time and energy I have available for a this sort of thing.

But it’s the way Pete responded that’s virtually unique to these transactions. Generally people on both sides of the aisle get pretty worked up when labels like “Bilateral Ecclesiology” or “One Law” are inserted into the mix. We tend to respond with our emotions first and our intellect second or more accurately, we respond with anger, hurt and outrage first and never consider applying compassion, empathy, and understanding to the other person’s point of view at all.

If we were the Rabbi in Rabbi Pliskin’s midrash facing an angry butcher with a sharp knife, we’d all end up sliced and diced and buried in a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere.

For a people will dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem. You will not have to weep; He will surely show you grace at the sound of your outcry, when He hears, He will answer you. The Lord will give you meager bread and scant water; your Teacher will no longer be hidden behind his garment, and your eyes will behold your Teacher.

Isaiah 30:19-20 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Next Wednesday, my review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Inner Torah, part of his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series, includes this portion of scripture and something of Lancaster’s commentary about it.

It is said by some of the Jewish sages that one of the things Messiah will do when he comes (returns) is to teach Torah correctly, including the hidden things of Torah. It is also said that the Torah we have now, the actual physical object and its textual contents, is a “copy and shadow” of the heavenly, supernal Torah, the literal will and wisdom of God that resides in the Heavenly Court. The Torah we have was “clothed,” so to speak, when it was given at Sinai so it could exist in the physical realm and be understood and consumed by human beings.

They will no longer teach — each man his fellow, each man his brother — saying ‘Know Hashem!’ For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest — the word of Hashem — when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.

Jeremiah 31:33 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

dear_godThe New Covenant promises that the Word of God will be written on our hearts and we will all ‘Know Hashem,’ from the least of us to the greatest, in a manner that can only be compared with the great prophets of old. There will no longer be a need for one person to teach another because our Teacher will be inside of us, no longer hiding His face; no, we shall see Him and know Him.

But not now, not yet.

Until then, we don’t know, hence we disagree, and sadly, hence we personalize conflict and get mad at people who don’t agree with us.

Disagreement isn’t the problem. Failure to love is. But if we fail to love people then we are failing to love God. How can we say we follow God and not love Him? Yes, one believer can disagree with another and yet they can love each other and they can love God. The traditional model of learning in Yeshiva is based on debate and yet it is not based on hate but love and the desire for learning.

It is said that Herod’s Temple was leveled, Jerusalem razed, and the Jewish people exiled from their Land, not because of lack of observance of the mitzvot, not because the Torah was not being studied (and certainly not because the “Jews rejected Jesus”), but because of baseless hatred of one Jew for another.

It doesn’t look like we Gentile disciples of the Master (i.e. “Christians”) have learned very much from that lesson.

Our Sages gathered these sections in an order … according to the requisite steps (Introduction to Path of the Just).

While character refinement is an important and desirable goal, we must be careful to stride toward it in a reasonable and orderly manner. Overreaching ourselves may be counterproductive.

Physical growth is a gradual process. In fact, it is not even uniform; the first two decades are a sequence of growth spurts and latency periods. Generally, the body does not adjust well to sudden changes, even when they are favorable. For instance, obese people who lose weight too rapidly may experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Although the weight loss is certainly in the interest of health, the body needs time to adjust to the change.

If we are convinced, as we should be, that spirituality is desirable, we might be tempted to make radical changes in our lives. We may drop everything and set out on a crash course that we think will lead to rapid attainment of the goal. This plan is most unwise, because psychologically as well as physically, our systems need time to consume new information, digest it, and prepare ourselves for the next level.

Luzzato’s monumental work on ethics, The Path of the Just, is based on a Talmudic passage which lists ten consecutive steps toward spirituality. Luzzato cautions: “A person should not desire to leap to the opposite extreme in one moment, because this will simply not succeed, but should continue bit by bit” (Chapter 15).

Today I shall…

…resolve to work on my spirituality gradually and be patient in its attainment.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Av 21”
Aish.com

And so it goes with us, at least ideally, slow and steady growth and gaining in understanding.

It’s not just in areas of learning and knowledge we strive to grow, but we must also nurture advancements in wisdom, compassion, spirituality, and Godliness. Without such, we can be as intelligent as Einstein and as learned as the Rambam and still know and be nothing.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (NASB)

Standing before GodEven if you “win” the argument but you fail to love, you have won nothing. Of all of the mitzvot we strive to perform, if we fulfill them all flawlessly but we fail to love, we have failed to observe all of the Torah and we have desecrated the Name of God.

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord;  and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:28-34 (NASB)

How near or far from the Kingdom of God are you?

The Mitzvah of Loving a Jew

The Alter Rebbe repeated what the Mezritcher Maggid said quoting the Baal Shem Tov: “Love your fellow like yourself” is an interpretation of and commentary on “Love Hashem your G-d.” He who loves his fellow-Jew loves G-d, because the Jew has with in himself a “part of G-d Above.” Therefore, when one loves the Jew – i.e. his inner essence – one loves G-d.

from “Today’s Day”
Friday, Menachem Av 12, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Of course, the scripture to love God and to love your fellow (Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18 respectively) is rendered very “Jewish-oriented” by Chabad, but it made me ask myself that if one Jew loving another Jew is considered a mitzvah, what about a Gentile loving a Jew? No, not a Gentile Christian loving another Gentile Christian or generic human being, but specifically a Jew…is it a mitzvah?

I can’t find any Biblical corroboration except perhaps for the following:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Matthew 25:34-40 (NASB)

At first blush, that seems to be a directive for us to love people in need, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and so on, but early in my return to church, Charlie, who is on the Board of Elders at the church I attend was teaching Sunday school one day, and he interpreted that scripture specifically as what Christians are supposed to do for the needy of Israel.

Up until that day, it had never occurred to me to read that passage in such a manner, but now it makes perfect sense. I read the Master’s words as a commandment to assist the hungry and thirsty and needy among the Jewish people.

Of course, Jesus (Yeshua) was talking to a completely Jewish audience, so from that perspective, he was issuing the commandment of one Jew to love another Jew, even as we see it from the Chabad’s point of view. But we also have this:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

John 13:34 (NASB)

Here again we have Jesus speaking to his Jewish disciples, so we can interpret this command as we have the one we have in Matthew 25, but I also believe we can extend the intent to include how we Gentile disciples are supposed to love other disciples, both Jewish and Gentile, with a love like the Master’s, with a love that includes the willingness to give our lives for our fellows in Messiah.

jewish charity
Photo: Reuters

But that doesn’t absolve us from our duty to love the Jewish people as well, particularly those who are in need, those who are suffering.

In my case, having a Jewish wife and children, I automatically fulfill the mitzvah on a daily basis, but that’s not an excuse to remove myself from loving the larger Jewish population, the people and nation of Israel.

Related to the recent observance of Tisha B’Av, Aish.com dedicated an article to the challenge of one Jew loving another. Jewish people come in all shapes and sizes and dispositions, and as you might imagine, it isn’t always easy for one Jewish individual to indiscriminately love all other Jewish people everywhere.

How much more difficult it is for us, who are not Israel and not Jewish, and especially we who in the Church have a history of disagreement and even enmity with the Jewish people, to express that indiscriminate love?

In trying to research the “mitzvah” of Gentiles loving Jews, I came across this:

I love the Jewish people and have enjoyed reading the many spiritual thoughts on your website. I want to draw closer to God, but from what I’ve read it is a very big commitment to convert. I don’t think I am up for this at this stage in my life. Is there some way to tap into the Torah wisdom without being part of the Jewish people?

-from Ask the Rabbi
“Seven Laws of Noah”
Aish.com

One of the ways that some non-Jews express their love for the Jewish people and Israel is to become Noahides, or people of the nations who observe the Seven Noahide Laws. This is about the best way to express such a love and attraction from a Jewish point of view, since it has the full support of Orthodox Judaism and allows Gentiles to enter into Jewish worship and community space, albeit with a radically different status than the Jewish leaders, mentors, and participants.

Of course, you have large groups of Evangelicals who love Jews and love Israel, but that love isn’t always returned. To be fair, sometimes Christian love for Israel is pretty shallow and very conditional, so Jews have a right to be hesitant about returning all the “love and support”.

in gratitude and hope
Photo: Aish media

There are, of course, those non-Jews who show love to Jewish people, even at great risk to themselves such as an Arab family protecting Jews during the Holocaust. Given the current world-wide criticism of Israel (and by inference all Jewish people) relative to Hamas and its terrorist attacks (and Israel’s response), it may come to a point, even very soon, when any non-Jew who supports the Jewish people will risk at least a verbal or print backlash if not actual violence. If not now, then eventually I believe it will come to that.

But what is it to love the Jewish people? Is it just a warm and fuzzy feeling? Is it giving money to Jewish causes and charities? Is it wearing t-shirts supporting the IDF? I suppose it could be all those things. But what about supporting Judaism?

What’s the difference between supporting Jewish people and causes and supporting Judaism? A big, fat, whopping one for some folks.

There are a lot of people in a great many religious venues who say they love the Jewish people. I’ve already mentioned Noahides and Evangelical Christians, but what about Gentiles in Messianic Judaism (Messianic Gentiles) and Gentiles in one of the expressions of the Hebrew Roots movement (One Law/One Torah, Two House, Sacred Name, and so on)?

That can get a little more dicey. Relative to Hebrew Roots, there, I believe, is an authentic love of the Jewish people and national Israel, but sort of a love-hate relationship with Rabbinic Judaism (no, there isn’t any other kind, even Messianic Judaism is Rabbinic Judaism). There’s a love of Torah as it is understood, and a love of the “roots of our faith” which is usually expressed in some sort of modern Jewish religious practice (wearing a tallit and kippah, praying from a siddur in Hebrew, reading from the Torah, practicing a form of Shabbat rest, and so on), but there is also often a disdain for Talmud, for the authority of the Sages in ordering how to perform the mitzvot, and how Torah is continually interpreted and reinterpreted across time to apply to later generations.

I was re-reading Dr. Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s article The Problem With Hebrew Roots, or, It’s Good to be a Goy. It actually kind of reminded me of something Aaron Eby said on this Vine of David video about the unique calling of the Messianic Gentile:

We at Vine of David have composed an alternate form of the second paragraph of Kiddush for Messianic Gentiles that reflects their unique identity and relationship to the Sabbath. The blessing was culled from the most ancient strata of the prayers of early believers. This form of Kiddush is affirming, beautiful, and ancient, and represents a radical rebound from centuries of replacement theology. Messianic Gentiles would do well to use such prayers in order to instill in their children a sense that their identity and mission as Messianic Gentiles are important and meaningful.

jewishThe identity structures of Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles is, by definition, complementary and even vaguely reminiscent of the relationship between Orthodox Jews and Noahides in the synagogue.

However, the latter relationship can’t really be compared to the former, because in the former, at the end of the day, we are all disciples of the Master and we all share equal co-participation in the blessings of the resurrection and the life in the Messianic Age in accordance with the same covenant, the New Covenant. Of course there’s also differentiation because Jews additionally come under the Sinai Covenant, but relative to Noahides and Judaism, they have no common Covenant relationship with God at all.

That complementary relationship between Jew and Gentile in Messiah requires mutual respect, which includes respecting each other’s space. A comment and R. Dauermann’s response on his aforementioned blog post drew my attention:

Glenn – July 31, 2014
Splendidly written, Stuart! It is so in concert with Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 7, and the larger message of Isaiah 56.

But I am a bit perplexed. On the very principle you articulate, shouldn’t we absolutely discourage the practice of converting Gentiles to Messianic “Jews”? It was my understanding that you support such conversions.

As always, thanks for your time!
Glenn

Stuart Dauermann – August 2, 2014
Well, Glenn, I so much appreciated your question that I devoted another blog to it. See it here: http://www.interfaithfulness.org/?p=2040

So I visited the link R. Dauermann posted, which led me to an article called Conversion, Yes; Confusion, No.

While Dauermann actually supports Gentile conversion specifically within Messianic Judaism on very rare occasions, he also made a number of statements relevant to the point I’m trying to make:

The problem nowadays is that Gentiles are being made to feel like second class citizens, or feel themselves to be second class citizens in the Kingdom of God because they are not Jewish. This is WRONG! Gentiles are NOT second class citizens and in no manner whatsoever do they or can they improve their citizenship in the Kingdom of God through “discovering their Jewish roots,” through deciding they are part of the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, or any such thing. In other words, not only are Gentiles not second class citizens, they also do not become in some manner super-citizens through discovering or creating some sort of Jewish identity.

This is pretty common of Christians who, for whatever reasons, have left formal church attendance and entered some form of Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots. I’ve attended some Hebrew Roots groups that were downright disrespectful of Christianity and used quite abusive language when referring to Churches. There was a real drive to do anything possible to separate themselves from anything having to do with “the Church” (i.e. “Babylon” or a thousand other insulting labels).

Beth Immanuel ShavuotAlong with that need to separate was the requirement to create a new identity, but since Judaism is the general template for Hebrew Roots, any statement that pointed to Jewish exclusiveness in the covenants tended to elicit two related reactions: a feeling of inferiority and a response of hostility (I should point out here that not all Hebrew Roots people exhibit this dynamic, particularly the Hebrew Roots congregation in which I once worshiped, but it’s been sadly common in my previous experience with other people and groups I’ve encountered). As R. Dauermann pointed out, Gentiles are not inferior to Jews. I’ve read many (non-Messianic) Jewish commentaries stating that Jews do not (ideally) see themselves as better or superior to Gentiles, just different.

The same is true in Messianic Judaism. The distinctions particular to Jews are not really rights so much as responsibilities and duties. Think how much more difficult it is to attend to the mitzvot as a Jew than those duties assigned to the Gentile in Messiah (Christian in Jesus). Is faith in Jesus supposed to be about our “rights?” Does God owe us rights? Does He owe us anything?

Even Paul called himself a slave (see Romans 1:1 for example). He didn’t complain about his rights.

Many people act like the Torah is a book they may apply any way they choose, and that by doing so, they are being more faithful to God than those who do not bother to do so. Some even imagine that by doing so, they become in some manner Jewish. Such people are naïve and in error.

The Torah is not a book we happened to find and which we may interpret as we choose, but rather it is the national constitution of a people. It must be understood as the community property of the Jewish people, and must be understood and interpreted in keeping with millennia of Jewish discussion and practice. It is not like the Koran, which allegedly came down entire from heaven, or like the Book of Mormon, allegedly found on golden plates hidden in the Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York. No, Torah is the way of life of the Jewish people, it enshrines the decorum appropriate to the Jewish people as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, the way of life appropriate to this people serving in the courts of the King of Kings.

-R. Dauermann

This is where love of Jews and love of Judaism, particularly the Judaism(s) observed within the context of Messiah, begins to separate for some.

In my opinion, being a disciple of the Master and attaching ourselves to the God of Israel is not a matter of rights but a matter of service. We have duties and obligations and we have unique roles and identities that define those obligations. God made us who we are, and although He gave us free will, He didn’t give the leopard the ability to change his spots.

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (NASB)

And by “Keeping God’s commands is what counts,” my interpretation is keeping the commands as they apply to the person, which isn’t the same for a Jewish believer as it is for a non-Jewish believer.

As both R. Dauermann said on this blog and Dr. Mark Nanos said in a recent paper, while Paul generally opposed Gentiles in Messiah converting to Judaism, he didn’t absolutely forbid it. He just felt (and rightly so) that converting to Judaism would not have any sort of impact on the person’s justification before God. You don’t become a better person by converting to Judaism, you just become Jewish.

If you feel a strong need and desire to live as a Jew and to observe the mitzvot as a Jew, then conversion is probably the right thing for you (there are a lot of other factors to consider that are beyond the scope of this blog post, but it’s not as simple as all that).

Restoration
Photo: First Fruits of Zion

However, as I mentioned, conversion isn’t necessary to serve God, because God expects the whole world to serve Him, both Israel and the nations. How we serve God is dependent on who we are, Israel or the nations. Rejecting this definition is where you may feel you love Jewish people and Israel, but it actually means you’re rejecting how they define themselves and frankly, you’re rejecting how God defines the Jews and Israel.

Judaism isn’t perfect, but it can be argued that Judaism, that is Rabbinic Judaism including Mishnah, Talmud, halachah, and the whole meal deal is what God gave the Jewish people to enable them to survive the last two-thousand years of exile, and to make it possible to re-establish the modern state of Israel.

You can’t love the Jewish people and the nation of Israel and also throw the Rabbis and their volumes of Talmud under a bus. You can’t say “I love you but I deny you the right to define yourself.”

That isn’t love. I don’t even know what to call that sort of behavior.

If it’s a mitzvah for a Christian and/or Messianic Gentile to love the Jewish people and Israel, you can’t hate Judaism at the same time. You can’t hate someone’s identity as it was assigned to them by God but say that somehow, you love that person anyway.

I know the people who need to hear this the most will reject it out of hand, but this message is the natural and logical extension of exploring the mitzvah of loving Jews. In order to love the Jewish people, we cannot hate ourselves. The mitzvah of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Matthew 22:39) means we must love both our neighbor and ourselves. If we hate being a Gentile because we think (or have been taught) that it is inferior or pagan or some other ridiculous thing, then we have no basis or platform for loving someone else, anyone else, really.

Love starts with loving God (Deut. 6:5; Matthew 22:37), then (in my opinion), loving ourselves as God made us since we are created in His image (Gen. 1:27). Only then, realizing that God loves us with a powerful love and realizing we are lovable just as we are (which in my case is a Gentile), can we love another person. Only then can we love a Jew because God made the Jew just the way he or she is including the Jewish person’s covenant identity, which includes unique roles and responsibilities.

Once you are confident in God’s love for you, no matter who you are, then you have no reason to feel inferior to someone else and you should have no desire to covet their status and assume that it is your “right” to do so.

It’s only at that point where you are capable of fulfilling the mitzvah as a Gentile disciple of the Master of loving the Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel. God loves them. So should we.