Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of being a Christian or a Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua, or whatever you want to call me.
My life has taken a downturn recently, specifically since April. I was laid off of my job of eight years, basically because the company and my job description had changed so radically that I was no longer an adequate “fit”.
Then my Dad died abruptly, and it was fortunate that I happened to be visiting my folks at the time to be able to support my Mom.
So far the only job I’ve been able to get is temporary contract work for significantly less than I was previously paid and absolutely no benefits.
I’ve been trying for the past couple of months to get medical insurance through the local version of “Obamacare” (Affordable Care Act) and getting the run around. I received yet another encrypted email from them when I got home from work today that was probably prompted by my zillionth phone call to them this morning. I suspect they are about to reject, for some arcane reason, the document I submitted proving I’ve been without medical coverage since July 1st.
And to add insult to injury, I’m fined by the Federal Government every month I’m not insured, even though I’m trying as hard as I can to purchase coverage.
What does all this have with God, faith, and religion?
It has to do with life and how we live it, and more specifically, how I live it.
I’ll admit that I’m better at the study of the Bible then actually living out its principles. I suspect that my life has been going downhill because God is trying to get my attention. He wants something out of me. He wants me to live a better life, but it’s not that simple.
God doesn’t make deals. He doesn’t say, “If you do this thing for me, I’ll make your life better and you and your wife will get health insurance coverage.”
How do I know this? Because tons and tons and tons of believers of great and wonderful faith live terribly dangerous and difficult lives. Just look at the Apostles. Except for John, they all were executed in one way or another, and even John was thrown into a vat of boiling oil, though amazingly he lived.
That’s been my sticking point. If you trust in God with all your heart and soul, there’s still no promise that you’ll escape pain and suffering. There’s no promise that if I trust God with all my heart and soul, that I’ll be able to provide my wife and myself medical insurance let alone a better income.
I mean God could do that, but obviously He doesn’t have to.
On the other hand, if I ignore what I think God wants me to do (love and trust Him completely), then I can hardly expect He will turn my life around or provide opportunities for me to improve my condition.
No I’m not writing this just to whine (well, maybe just a little). I’m writing this to speak to the question of Gentile praxis in a Messianic world (or at least a Messianic thought and study world since I don’t have that kind of praxis or community).
In the closed Facebook group “Messianic Gentiles,” First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) writer and teacher Toby Janicki has been sharing a number of articles on their particular publication of the Didache, which may or may not have originated with the Apostles or their students. It’s an attempt to answer the question of what is Gentile praxis within (Messianic) Judaism.
I certainly won’t discourage anyone from reading and pursuing that particular model of religious practice, and indeed, I’ve written on the Didache myself.
But it seems to me that all of us have our hands full anyway, not with the rituals of praxis but with day-to-day living.
I mean, how close to or far from God do you feel? How often do you read the Bible? How often do you pray? How often do you pray and don’t feel like you’re just taking to yourself and the four walls? Are you kind to others even when you don’t feel like it? Do you yell at the person who cuts you off when you’re driving to work? Given the terrible things that are happening in Huston thanks to Hurricane Harvey, what have you done to offer aid and assistance? Do you give to others in need in your local community?
A life of faith is no life at all if it isn’t lived, but frankly, living that life isn’t easy.
I’ve been trying to listen to Christian radio again (mainly because there’s no such thing as Messianic Jewish/Gentile radio, at least nothing that is freely available over the airwaves). I’m having a hard time with it.
Air1 at least has more modern pop songs, but it’s also marketing to the younger crowd, and it can be terribly juvenile and even shallow. On the other hand, they have mentioned their concern for the people of Huston, and I learned about Convoy of Hope from them.
I’ve tried listening to a couple of local Christian stations.
I have a tough time with the more traditional Christian songs and hymns. I had the same problem when I was attending church. The people who’ve grown up in the church have a great deal of emotional and nostalgic attachment to those tunes, but to me, they are terribly archaic and boring.
The Christian station where people talk drives me nuts. I guess this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and I was listening to these two Pastors who were fairly gushing over Martin Luther. I can’t stand Martin Luther because of the Anti-Semitism he displayed toward the end of his life. This is on top of these so-called “reformers” not taking their reform back far enough in history so they could re-discover the deep connection Gentile believers have to a Jewish perspective on Hashem and Rav Yeshua.
Those “reformers” just changed things enough to object to some of the greater abuses of the Catholic church as it existed at that time. They kept all the stuff that deleted the Judaism out of an originally Jewish faith, and kept all the stuff that put Gentiles and only Gentiles at the top of the religious food chain.
Yeah, that works for me.
But I’ve got to do something differently, even if it drives me nuts. Frankly, I suspect there are a lot of non-Jewish but Judaically aware believers who are also scrambling to make sense of their/our lives. My point isn’t that the hard part of it all is being “Judaically aware,” the hard part is what’s hard for every Christian in churches and home fellowships all over the place.
The hard part is conforming our lives, our faith, and our actions to the desires of God. The hard part is to be a better person, even when it seems impossible. The hard part is to be a better person, even when God doesn’t promise to do anything for you in return.
This isn’t about where you go when you die, which is the shallow and simple-minded version of the “good news”. This is about who you are and what you do right here and now in this life. This is the “Gospel message” you absolutely won’t hear on Christian radio ever, and a message you won’t hear in many if not most churches.
President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” (and he’d be appalled if he were alive today and could see the nature of the younger generation coming up and what they want).
But what if he asked works in a relationship with God, too?
“Ask not what God can do for you. Ask what you can do for God.”
Really, if responding to that doesn’t take up 100% of your time, I don’t know what will. Frankly, the prospect scares me to death, but at the same time, I can’t fault it, since this is what the Bible speaks of regarding our service to God and our fellow human beings.
I suspect, even if nothing else changes in my life, my response, if I choose to sincerely make true Teshuvah, will occupy every day I have remaining in this life.
Chapter 3: The Prohibition Against Making a New Religion or Adding a Commandment
Chapter 4: Liability to Divine and Earthly Punishments
Chapter 5: Torah Study for Gentiles
Chapter 6: Serving God; Prayer and Grace After Meals
Chapter 7: Sacrificial Offerings
Chapter 8: Obligatory Moral Conduct
Chapter 9: Repentance
I’m sure that even the casual reader can detect which of the above chapter titles are a criticism of or prohibition against Christianity. However, there are a lot of other pieces of information that some of you might find interesting.
In Rabbi Schochet’s introduction, he states that a Gentile who observes the Noahide Laws only because they make sense cannot be considered a Ger Toshav or “Gentile Resident.” Only one who accepts upon themselves these commandments due to the Holiness of God may consider themselves the “pious of the nations of the world.” Otherwise, we’d just be considered “wise people.”
In other words, it’s a matter of intent. According to R. Schochet as well as R. Weiner, it is imperative we recognize that God gave the seven Noahide Laws along with the rest of the Torah (oral and written), at Mount Sinai to Moses.
In chapter 1, the first step for all of us is to develop an awareness of God. This compares to the following (though the book didn’t make this point):
I am the Lord your God Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Just like a Jew, we are commanded to first have an awareness of the existence of God, which then is followed by the prohibition against idolatry. This is both to be an intellectual and emotional ascension.
I found it interesting that the chapter mentioned a truly pious Gentile who is careful to observe the seven laws may settle in Israel, but one who observes them only out of intellectual conviction is forbidden to do so. I wonder if there is a provision made by the Israeli government for Noahides settling in the Land? I would have to guess “no” given my current understanding.
Chapter 2 addresses proselytizers as those who attempt to persuade another to serve an idol. Given other conversations I’ve had on this blog, I can well imagine this includes a Christian attempting to convince a Gentile to believe in Jesus.
From the book’s point of view, anyone who says God sent them to add, remove, or change a commandment from those given to Moses must be considered a false prophet, whether the person is a Jew or Gentile. That one might be aimed even at Jesus or the Apostle Paul as well as everyone who has followed them in the faith.
The same sentiment can be read into chapter 3 which discusses the Prohibition Against Making a New Religion. Of course, it could include any of the other world’s religions, but given the history of Christianity and Islam relative to Israel, and particularly Christianity’s “great commission,” I can well imagine the intent of the author.
This also involves adapting Jewish practice in creating new religious obligations such as creating a sabbath for yourself, regardless of the day of the week (Sunday comes to mind). However, Gentiles are also forbidden from celebrating Jewish holidays, with the exception of having been invited by a Jew to do so, such as a Gentile attending a Passover seder or being offered a meal in a Sukkah by a Jewish host.
Interestingly enough, although Gentile males are not obligated to be circumcised, they may voluntarily do so as a “gift to God.”
We are forbidden, according to the book, to perform any mitzvah that requires the “holiness of a Jew” such as writing a scroll of the Torah or affixing a mezuzah to our doorways. This suggests that Jews have a greater or higher level of holiness than Noahide Gentiles, but I think I’ve read something about that previously.
That said, a Gentile may perform any of the mitzvot between man and man or man and God “which has a reason and logical benefit for a person or society.” However, without an obvious logical benefit, such observance is forbidden.
This has to do with “logical morality” such as giving to charity and respecting your parents. They aren’t specific to the Noahide Code, but they make moral sense, so it’s not enough to know the seven laws, we must also study and understand basic morality from a Jewish point of view.
As an example, we must honor our parents because it is a general moral principle, but we are forbidden to do so because it’s a commandment from God (since it’s not included in the seven laws).
Chapter 4 has to do with divine and earthly punishments for violating the seven laws and all their implications.
I found it interesting that the age of accountability is the same for Gentiles as it is for Jews, age thirteen for males and twelve for females. This assumes either a Noahide community to guide these children or parents who are doing so.
There’s a mention of a Noahide’s obligation to develop a court system, but this is obviously a societal obligation rather than an individual one. Also, I don’t know of any court system in any nation that specifically judges violations of the seven Noahide laws.
It’s important to note that the book considers it an obligation for Noahide parents to properly educate their children in the seven laws and how to perform them.
Chapter 5, Torah Study for Gentiles was interesting.
The upshot is that Gentiles are obligated to study the portions of the Torah which contain the seven laws with the same level of “delving into the Torah” that a Jew performs when studying Torah and Talmud. A Gentile may also study those portions of the Torah and Talmud which will help them understand how to perform logical moral acts, such as honoring one’s parents.
In fact, it is permissible for a Gentile to read the entire Tanakh, but not with the same level of depth as a Jew, since those commandments are not intended for us. We may also read other Jewish texts such as the Mishneh Torah by Rambam which “presents Torah-law decisions, but not their inner reasons or the details of how the derived rulings were decided…” We may even read on Kabbalah but with the same prohibitions as reading portions of Talmud.
Chapter 6 is particularly intriguing and may even be practical in that it provides suggested blessings and prayers for Gentiles.
There’s always something of a problem with Gentiles using a Jewish siddur in individual prayer or community worship because the language is written for Jews. We are not “Israel,” so how to use a standard siddur has always been a difficulty for Gentile Messianics.
Although, as the book says, prayer, blessings, and praise to God are not specifically required of Gentiles, they are encouraged. Personally, I don’t see how one can obey the commandment to have an awareness of God and not pray to, bless, and praise God.
That said, we are not to use the prayers or methods of worship of idol worshippers, which is probably shorthand for “don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer” or any other Christian-based worship behavior.
We are, however, permitted to praise God using phrases from the Hebrew Bible. The book cites Abraham and Joseph who both lived among non-Hebrews and yet taught them to worship God, so there is a precedent.
As I mentioned above, there are many suggested prayers and blessings adapted for Gentiles, including Grace After Meals, and this is one of the first practical pieces of information in this book that Messianic Gentiles might adapt to their own praxis.
I was a little surprised at Chapter 7, which discusses sacrificial offerings, since the Temple in Jerusalem does not currently exist. However, the book says that while it is permitted for a Noahide to build himself an altar and to sacrifice kosher animals, it’s not encouraged, both because making such an offering means the Gentile would have to be worthy to more closely approach God, and because we would need expert advice from a qualified Rabbi, which in this day and age, might be difficult.
However, we are permitted to study the precepts of making sacrifices on a theoretical level.
Obligatory moral conduct is covered in Chapter 8, which addresses logical moral behavior not specifically addressed in the seven laws. One of the arguments against the Acts 15 “Jerusalem letter” being a guide as to what the Gentile devotee of Yeshua must observe is that the precepts don’t include things like not stealing or not committing murder. It seems, if you take the book’s perspective, we aren’t expected to “check our brains at the door” so to speak.
Acts 15:21 suggests that Gentiles will hear the Torah read in synagogues every Shabbat, so even if we’re not obligated to the same set of commandments as the Jew, the moral principles taught are still useful in guiding us.
The final chapter in Part I is on repentance, and yes, God will accept our sincere efforts in repenting of our sins and forgive us. The Prophet Jonah and the Gentile city of Ninevah are mentioned as an obvious example.
This part of the book seems to act as a summary for everything else that follows, so in a way, I probably only have to read thus far to get a good idea of what else will be taught.
So what do I think? There are a few sections that seem helpful, such as the blessings and prayers presented, but overall, it’s an Orthodox Jew’s view of what makes up a righteous Gentile. Is it practical for Messianic Gentiles? As a whole, probably not, because it assumes that Rav Yeshua is not the true Messiah and it discounts what is written in the Apostolic Scriptures.
Also, although it’s not presented as such, what we’re really talking about is a “Judaically-oriented” Gentile’s relationship within Jewish community, so if you are not part of a (Messianic) Jewish community, it’s doubtful most of what’s presented in this book is going to be useful (unless you really do want to forsake Yeshua and become a Noahide).
While we can make an argument for Noahides based on the “God fearers” we read about in Acts or some of Paul’s letters, we also have read these God fearers were very joyful when they heard the good news of Rav Yeshua, which imparts a greater ability to draw close to the Almighty than afforded a Noahide (in my opinion).
I’m going to read the rest of the book, but it’s pretty much going where I expected it to go.
If I were part of an actual Jewish community in Messiah, and if there were no pre-established model for my role in said-community, I would probably have a discussion with the congregational leadership about a Gentile’s relationship to Jews based on some synthesis of God fearers, the Acts 15 directives, and perhaps portions of Rabbi Weiner’s book.
However, the only Jews I interact with on a daily basis are my wife and children, so it’s not incumbent upon me to adapt my personal praxis for the sake of peace in a congregation.
For those Gentiles in Messiah who are in community with Jews, it’s a lot more complicated.
Included in the Torah, God also repeated and gave to Moses the Seven Commandments for the Children of Noah, along with their explanations and their details.
All the Gentiles of the world were henceforth eternally commanded to accept upon themselves and to fulfill these seven Divine precepts, because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah, and He made known through Moses our teacher that the descendants of Noah had previously been commanded to do them.
Just yesterday I mentioned buying this eBook online. Although I’ve only begun to read it, I found some interesting details I wanted to share.
According to Rabbi Weiner, who periodically references the Rambam, midrash states that on the first day of Adam’s creation, God gave him six of the seven Noahide Laws (although a number of them wouldn’t have made sense to the first man, because, for example, the prohibition against theft requires someone to steal from).
God again gave these laws, this time including the prohibition against eating a limb from a live animal, to Noah (see Genesis 9). However, both of these revelations were private ones, given by God to individuals. In other words, there were no witnesses.
R. Weiner explains that Gentiles were still obligated to obey the seven precepts, but that they yielded limited benefits.
However, when God gave the Torah to Moshe (Moses) at Mount Sinai (and I find it interesting that I’m writing this just days before the Festival of Shavuot), He gave, again according to midrash, both the written and oral Torahs to Moses with the entire nation of Israel standing as witnesses.
The seven Noahide laws were given as part of the Torah, and as part of the Torah, they can never be annulled, deleted, added to, or subtracted from:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
–Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)
Rav Yeshua (Jesus) affirmed this by his own words (although mainstream Christianity doesn’t necessarily see it that way), which lends some credence to the Jewish idea that we non-Jews are obligated to observe and receive a heightened spiritual benefit from the seven Noahide laws and their detailed explanations as found in the oral Torah. But that assumes Moses really did receive an “oral Torah” at Sinai along with the full contents of the written Torah, and all of that information was passed down in an unbroken line to the present day.
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgement. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.
-Ethics of the Fathers 1:1
Of course if you’re not an Orthodox Jew, you might have a different opinion about all that, but let’s roll with it for the time being.
In his Author’s Introduction, R. Weiner goes on to say:
Jewish Sages and faithful Rabbinical authorities in every generation are commanded to explain the Torah to the rest of the Jewish people. They are also commanded to explain the Noahide commandments to the Gentiles, and to teach them how these seven mitzvot should be fulfilled.
The Rabbi continues his explanation stating that only “accepted Jewish Torah scholars” are authorized to explain the Noahide laws to the Gentiles and no other teachers or authorities should be considered valid.
That would tend to leave out any Christian Pastors or teachers, as well as Jewish teachers who are not accepted as authorities, such as some of those within the Messianic Jewish movement.
The non-profit organization Ask Noah International (ANI) has taken up the mantle of educating the Gentiles, but it’s not something universally embraced by Orthodox Judaism in general (or any other Judaism). I’ve even heard it said once (though I don’t recall the source), that Jews within Messianic Judaism are not obligated to teach the Gentile the ways of righteousness, and that their movement is primarily or exclusively for Jews who have come to faith in Rav Yeshua.
Yet from R. Weiner’s perspective, authorized Jewish Rabbis and scholars are obligated to teach the Gentiles the seven mitzvot and the exact meaning of each one, which is the point of the book I’m reading. From the time of Adam to the giving of the Torah, Gentile observance of the seven laws had some merit attached, but when these laws were given to Moses as part of the Torah along with the explanation for them in the oral Torah, an enhanced spirituality was given to the Gentile by their observance.
When the revelation went from private to public, Gentile obligation and the rewards for doing so, became permanent and eternal.
Of course, exactly how the Gentiles are to observe the mitzvot can only be learned from Jewish scholars who are fluent in the portions of the oral Torah which pertain to those mitzvot. Earlier in this book, it was explained that many or even most Rabbis lack that knowledge and experience, and one of the missions of ANI is to be a resource to them.
R. Weiner quotes Rambam from Laws of Kings 8:11 which states that any Gentile who is pious and carefully observes the seven mitzvot will merit a place in the world to come. He goes on to write:
This is so provided that one accepts them and observes them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moses our teacher…
In a sense, this makes Moses a teacher to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
Remember though, this is only from the author’s brief introduction to the book. I haven’t even started the first chapter yet.
There’s one thing to consider as we go forward. If the seven mitzvot incumbant upon the Gentiles are eternal because they were given to Moses at Sinai and the Torah is eternal, then can we somehow fold them into the Acts 15 ruling of James the Just and the (Messianic) Jerusalem Counsel which gave all Gentiles who are devoted to Rav Yeshua the legal status of “resident aliens” among Israel?
There is a Midrash (a commentary on the Five Books of Moses in the form of a parable) about a successful businessman who meets a former colleague down on his luck. The colleague begs the successful business man for a substantial loan to turn around his circumstances. Eventually, the businessman agrees to a 6 month loan and gives his former colleague the money. At the end of the 6 months, the businessman goes to collect his loan. The former colleague gives him every last penny. However, the businessman notices that the money is the exact same coins he loaned the man. He was furious! “How dare you borrow such a huge amount and not even use it? I gave this to you to better your life!” The man was speechless.
Likewise, the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves, to enhance our souls by doing the mitzvot (613 commandments). It is up to us to sit down before Rosh Hashana and make a list of what we need to correct in our lives between us and our fellow beings, us and God and us and ourselves!
Rosh Hashanah begins Sunday evening, October 2nd, which is only a few days away. This has pretty much zero meaning in normative Christianity and immense meaning in normative Judaism, as well as in Messianic Judaism and some corners of the Hebrew Roots movement.
One of my readers, ProclaimLiberty, who is a Messianic Jew living in Israel, has suggested that Sukkot might serve for Gentile Messianic believers as a better holiday to observe what Jews typically practice during the High Holidays. Perhaps he’s right. Certainly Zechariah 14:16-19 has much to say about this.
In my own circumstance, I don’t plan to commemorate the High Holidays. I don’t doubt my wife will attend synagogue, but for personal reasons, I choose to make those observances within myself.
I hadn’t planned to blog again on this topic. My previous blog post The Month of Elul and the Gentile Christian has gained a lot of traction and the conversation is up to 53 comments as of this writing. But then I saw the quote from Rabbi Packouz’s recent article and was reminded of the “Parable of the Talents” we find in Matthew 25:14-30. I’m certainly not suggesting a direct parallel. Rabbi Packouz would not have considered referencing the Apostolic Scriptures, and the classic Christian interpretation of the parable doesn’t touch upon the above-quoted midrash, but I want to play a game.
Specifically, I want to play a game of pretend. I want to pretend that the parable can have multiple, metaphorical meanings. Let’s just pretend that we can apply the commentary by Rabbi Packouz to the Parable of the Talents and say one of the things God does not want is for us to waste our very lives.
Let’s just say that one of the things that Yeshua wants us to make use of is God’s investment in our own personal value.
In the comments section of my blog post on Elul, it has come up multiple times that Gentiles in God’s economy have less value, perhaps much less value than Jews. I don’t necessarily believe this, but any non-Jew who has been around the Messianic Jewish community long enough can get the impression that, based on the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in all of the covenant promises of God, including the New Covenant, we don’t count for much.
So, to again quote R. Packouz, let’s just pretend that relative to being human, whether we are Jewish or Gentile, “the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves…”
Since the 613 commandments aren’t applicable to us, it becomes a bit if a head-scratcher as to what we are supposed to do to improve ourselves, but that’s only if we aren’t paying attention. Many of the things that Jews do to improve themselves are available to everyone.
Give to charity, pray, volunteer your time at a local foodbank, and generally act toward others in a kind manner, even when you have to go out of your way to do it.
It is said that the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40) are to love the Lord your God with all of your resources and to love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments are just big containers that hold lots of other commandments, some having to do with your relationship with God and others with your relationship with human beings.
The point is, God gave each and every one of us our lives and He expects us to do something with those lives. Not just with specific talents or gifts, and not just with money, but with all that we are. Going out, we should be better people than we were when we came into this world.
We Gentiles who are in some manner associated with the Messianic movement or at least the Messianic perspective often complain about our status, as if the Jewish people have it all sewn up. I don’t think that’s the case. I think we get so busy being involved in our own angst, that we can’t see beyond it.
I read an article in the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish called Synagogue Dues: Pay to Pray? The Jewish person asking the question is upset that Jews should have to buy a ticket or a membership to a synagogue in order to enter and pray on the High Holidays. He’s so upset that he’s deliberately boycotting the holidays.
The Aish Rabbi responds in part with this:
I must say, however, I’m surprised by your reaction to this whole situation. Who are you ultimately hurting by boycotting the holidays? Instead of saying: “That blasted synagogue! I’ll teach them a lesson and defile my soul with some bacon!” Why not say: “I’ll start my own synagogue and the policy will be free seating on High Holidays for those who can’t afford tickets.”
It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive. Proactive means making your own reality happen. Reactive is allowing other people’s shortcomings to hurt you. Judaism is a religion of action. So let me know when you start that synagogue. It’ll be my honor to pray with you there!
There may be some difficulty in defining the roles and duties of Gentiles who have chosen to become part of a Messianic Jewish community, but make no mistake, no Messianic Jewish person, no matter what their position or education, can interfere with your relationship with God.
If you feel there’s something about Messianic Judaism or some Messianic Jews that devalues you as a creation of God and a devotee of Yeshua, that may be your problem and not their’s. Even if an individual Messianic Jew (or anyone else) attempted to persuade you that God thinks of you as sloppy left overs compared to Jewish people, that simply is not true.
A friend of mine is fond of saying, “Do not seek out Christianity, and do not seek out Judaism. Seek out an encounter with the Living God.”
If you’re here, that means God wants you here, and he expects you to fulfill whatever roles and tasks He has assigned you. Your job, our job, all of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, is to seek out what we are supposed to do and then to do it.
I believe the first task is to truly embrace the fact that God loves us and wants us to appreciate that love, not only by loving God but by loving ourselves. How can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we don’t love and value our own existence first?
Writes Rabbi Twerski: the sum total of all the traits that are unique to human beings comprise the spirit that makes us distinctly human. Whether one believes that the spirit was instilled in man by God or somehow developed in the process of human evolution — the fact that human beings have a spirit is independent of one’s belief.
If one is seeking spirituality, then one must exercise his uniquely human capacities. Spirituality is thus nothing more than the implementation of these capacities, hence spirituality can be seen as being synonymous with humanity. To the degree that a person is lacking in spirituality, to that degree he is lacking in humanity.
Without including religion in the definition of spirituality, the above definition is for generic spirituality. However, for Jewish spirituality one needs to look to the Torah for direction on how a Jew should exercise his uniquely human capacities!
Which begs the question of what Rabbi Packouz or Rabbi Twerski would believe a non-Jew’s proper expression of spirituality should be. Probably as a Noahide, but I’ve covered that territory before.
Taking a step back, what makes human beings unique and spiritual beings? From R. Twerski’s book, Rabbi Packouz lists eight attributes:
The ability to learn from past history.
The capacity to think about the goal and purpose of one’s existence.
The capacity to volitionally improve oneself.
The capacity to delay gratification.
The capacity to reflect on the consequence of his actions.
The capacity to control anger.
The capacity to forgive.
Granted, that people possess these abilities doesn’t mean they exercise them all the time (and some people exercise them almost none of the time, or so it seems), but we do possess them and they are at our disposal.
Please click the link to R. Packouz’s article that I inserted above to read the definitions for each of the numbered items. I’ll quote from the last one here: Free Will.
Animals are under the absolute domination of their body and cannot make a free choice. If hungry, it must look for food. It can’t decide to fast today. If a jackal sees a tiger eating a carcass, it will refrain for fear of retribution. Only a human being can be in a position with no possibility of detection or retribution and decide not to steal because it is morally and ethically wrong.
To the best of my understanding, only a human being can contemplate God and his/her relationship to Him. Only a human being can deliberately ignore God or dismiss Him as “unreal”.
However, since God gave us these capacities, we are responsible for putting them into play and in how we choose to use each of them.
That means we are responsible for not only learning from our past mistakes, but the past mistakes of our ancestors; history’s past mistakes.
Thus a world of human beings should have learned from thousands of years of anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred, but that doesn’t seem to be taking place. The Church as a unified entity (understanding that there are actually thousands upon thousands of separate denominations) should have learned that the Jewish people and Israel have not been rendered obsolete because of “Jesus,” but that doesn’t appear to be happening either. So far, humanity has done a rather poor job of learning from history, in spite of the fact that so-called “progressives” believe they are “on the right side of history” (but are they on the “right side of God?”).
I mentioned a little earlier that only human beings are able to contemplate God. Item two seems related to this since our goal and the purpose of our existence cannot be separated from God’s reason for creating each of us. And yet, how many times have you asked yourself why God specifically created you and why you are here in the first place? I’ve asked myself that question many times. I still do.
I heard a bit of dialogue in an otherwise unremarkable movie once that’s stuck with me:
Her: “People change.”
Him: “Most people don’t.”
Once we’ve locked on to a goal or goals for ourselves, we can create a plan for personal improvement and enact that plan.
OK, maybe that’s unfair, but most people, including me, get to a certain point in our personal development and then tend to stay there. Depending on what stage the person is stalled or stuck at, they can be adequate and even accomplished human beings, or they can be desperately flawed and dysfunctional.
Some people make many plans and goals but fall flat at the execution stage. Others become too anxious to even imagine a plan to change and perform the metaphorical act of “hiding under the bed,” as if life will just leave them alone if they ignore it.
Fasting on Yom Kippur (or for other reasons) teaches delaying gratification. Actually, anyone who’s ever been a parent or grandparent knows all about delaying gratification.
My wife and I had our grandkids for the weekend. Actually, our son brought them over for dinner last Thursday and Friday evening as well, so we saw a great deal of them all. My grandson is seven years old, and my granddaughter is 9 months. They have radically different needs and meeting the needs of both simultaneously isn’t always easy.
Since babies need more attention than little boys, my grandson sometimes had to delay gratification. When I was alone watching both kids and I needed for feed my granddaughter, my grandson had to find something else to do besides play with Grandpa (don’t worry…we found plenty of opportunities to have adventures).
It goes without saying that my wife and I, as well as the kids’ Dad, Uncle, and Auntie, all delayed gratification to one degree or another when the children were in our home. That’s what adults do, especially when taking care of kids. That’s what you do when you love someone and you put their needs and wants ahead of your own.
Ideally, it’s what you do when you love God and you recognize what He wants you to do and what His priorities for you are. It’s not like God is a dictator or doesn’t want you to have time to relax or have fun, but as His servants and His children, we have a responsibility to Him first and foremost. If we see someone else in our world who has a need, God has given us the ability to attend to that need first because, after all, it’s the right thing to do.
Not that we actually do so all the time.
Consequences, like Karma, are a b**** (you probably know how to finish that quote). They are also a reality of life. For instance, if you choose not to pay a debt, your wages or taxes can be garnished. I think this goes along with delaying gratification.
Unless you are insanely wealthy, you have only so much money each month to work with. That means, if you are at all responsible, you have a budget. You may “flex” it a little bit with a credit card, but when all the bills come in, they need to be paid.
That means choosing to pay for necessities first, such as food, housing, clothing, and so forth, and only afterward using money to “play”. Reversing that process tends to lead to painful consequences.
There are also consequences for “blowing off” God. They most likely aren’t immediate. We know that will be an accounting, a judgment at the end of all things, so it may seem as if God is giving you a pass with what ever sin(s) you have a problem with.
Sure, God can arrange for natural consequences. If you use drugs or alcohol habitually, all God has to do is wait for your body to start falling apart. Same for overeating (which is a big problem in our nation). Same for a lot of things. The consequences are built into many sins. For some though, you just have to stand by. Don’t worry. They’ll come. Or you can learn from your mistakes and improve your life so you stop sinning and thus avoid uncomfortable consequences.
Your choice (free will, remember?).
Every time I drive anymore, I get a lesson in controlling my anger. I’m not always successful. It seems that as I get older, I don’t have as great a capacity to tolerate traffic. Good thing I live near Boise, Idaho now rather than Orange County, California.
But going back to the example of being a parent or grandparent for a moment, let’s take another look at controlling anger. Sometimes adults get angry at kids, at least momentarily. You catch a kid coloring on the freshly painted walls of her bedroom or letting the air out of your car’s tires (I did the latter once when I was five). Your immediate tendency is to explode at them (Don’t worry, my Dad didn’t).
If you are a mature adult, you stop yourself. Really, they’re just kids. They do stuff like that. Yeah, you can create consequences for their behavior so they can learn more about right and wrong, but blowing up at a kid is just satisfying your own impulses rather than displaying good parenthood.
The same is true when you get angry at another adult in the presence of your kids. Parents fight sometimes. Some fights are louder than others. While yelling and screaming at a significant other doesn’t do you or them any good (how many people have changed for the better as a result of being screamed at?), if kids are around, it’s not only uncomfortable, it’s terrifying.
When Mom and Dad have a major emotional eruption at each other, it’s like the kid’s world has fallen apart. The two people in life who a child absolutely must depend upon and believe in have just exploded into a temper tantrum that makes Mount St Helens look like a firecracker, and that means the two people who are supposed to provide for the physical and emotional security of their child have completely failed and gone down in flames, pulling their child in with them.
OK, I get it. People argue sometimes. Fine. We’re all human, in good ways and bad. But don’t do it when your children are around. That’s not being a good parent, adult, or human being.
The flip side is the capacity to forgive. But wait.
I think Rabbi Packouz (and maybe Rabbi Twerski) missed something. It’s not just about putting our own hurts aside and forgiving the person who hurt us. How about the ability to say you’re sorry, mean it, and ask for forgiveness when you’re the one who’s “blown it?”
If you indeed have blown up at someone or otherwise have failed to maintain behavior consistent with being a mature adult, after you’ve calmed down and realized the consequences of your actions, you have the option of apologizing and asking forgiveness.
Bernie Sanders recently accused the IDF of killing 10,000 innocents in an operation responding to terrorist acts initiated in Gaza. He admitted in the radio interview that he wasn’t sure of his statistics, then went ahead and uttered his outrageous statements anyway.
When later confronted with the fact that the figure was more like 2,300 “Palestinian” Arabs, and many of them were combatants, not innocent bystanders, instead of Bernie apologizing, he said that the New York Daily News distorted his statement.
I heard the radio interview and nothing was distorted or misrepresented except Sanders’ so-called “facts”. Bernie could have taken the moral high road and admitted his mistake (it’s pretty easy to make one when you don’t have accurate information immediately at hand), but instead, he chose to (in my opinion) lie about it, avoid personal responsibility, and blame others for his own inadequacies.
While R. Packouz citing R. Twerski’s list of items of what it is to be human seems pretty optimistic, it’s all too apparent that being human has some serious drawbacks. We have all of these wonderful abilities, and a lot of the time, we don’t use them or don’t use them very well.
Which brings us back to free will.
We can recognize that we are flawed, imperfect, and sometimes even damaged and dysfunctional human beings who have these terrific capacities and screw up using them more often than not.
We can recognize all that and say “screw it.” We can give up. Someone recently wrote about this on her blog. Her choice was go not give up and not give in, but to stay the course.
Moved by her struggle, I offered this:
Affirmations are powerful. They work for us or against us. Every statement we tell ourselves about who we are and what we find possible is really an affirmation. Positive affirmations build us. Negative affirmations do the opposite. So right now you can tell yourself a great affirmation: “I choose better, higher, and wiser self-talk each and every day.”
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The trick about positive affirmations, is that they need to be used as motivators for actual change, not just internet “memes” that sound good, but only serve to create the illusion that you already are the person you want and need to be.
Using the positive affirmation that you are courageous means that you have to follow-up by facing some difficult situation with courage, rather than avoiding it. Using the positive affirmation that you are compassionate means that you have to follow-up by showing compassion to another person, even if they aren’t very easy to get along with. Using the positive affirmation that you are productive and self-supporting means…
…well, you get the idea.
Bernie Sanders is a politician, so I expect him to lie, even to himself. However Bernie Sanders, like the rest of us, is a human being, and thus, he is ultimately responsible for using what God gave him or to face the consequences…in this life or the next.
Since he’s Jewish, as the quote I placed at the top of today’s “meditation” attests, he’s responsible for looking “to the Torah for direction on how a Jew should exercise his uniquely human capacities!”
As far as I can tell, he’s got a long way to go.
But so do the rest of us.
Where do we look (assuming non-Jews) for direction on how we should exercise our uniquely human capacities? If you are a normative Christian, you’ll probably say “the Bible” and really means your particular church’s interpretation of scripture.
If you’re someone like me, the answer is essentially the same, but the interpretation is different, sometimes really different.
I recently read a question in a closed Facebook group asked by a non-Jew who was wondering what sources he could consult to determine if we, like the Jewish people, are obligated or at least allowed to participate in specific times and practices of prayer. There was a brief but lively discussion, and the general consensus was that while we may not be obligated, we are most likely allowed to pray in a manner similar to Jewish praxis, adjusting for a non-Jewish and non-covenant relationship with God.
And all this takes us back to the question I implied at the top of today’s blog post: What is a non-Jew’s proper expression of spirituality given a more “Judaic” understanding of the meaning and purpose of the Bible, the Messiah, and Jewish Israel?
That answer is our ongoing struggle for self-definition and, for some of you at least, your role and purpose within Jewish community. For the rest of us, it’s merely working out who we are to God and to other human beings, community notwithstanding. At the end of the day, regardless of who we are, who is in our lives, and what we believe, it’s just us and God.
What we do matters. Each day is an opportunity to do just a little bit better than you did the day before. With each morning’s dawn you can dedicate yourself to having a good day. With each passing day, you are building a life. Let’s all try to build a good one.
Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.
Lately, I’ve been making a few comparisons between that group of people referred to as Messianic Gentiles or who I sometimes call Talmidei Yeshua and non-Jews called Noahides, a group that Orthodox Judaism believes to be “righteous Gentiles” based on their adherence to the Seven Laws of Noah (see Genesis 9 for the original source material).
…only to find that not only did the reblog not exist, but that it pointed to a different blog altogether: The Torah Way.
Now I was really curious, but the blog’s About page and the associated profile yielded no useful information.
I did find one blog post that seemed illuminating: Leaving Christianity. My guess is that this blog author reblogged my content without having read it thoroughly and thought it was a pro-Noahide commentary. Once he/she discovered more about me, he/she deleted it and moved on.
This person’s “story” seems similar to the other formerly-Christian Noahides I’ve referenced in other blog posts. They read the Bible, compare it to traditional Christian doctrine, and find a massive disconnect between the promises Hashem made to Israel in the Tanakh (Torah, Nevi’im [Prophets], Ketuvim [Writings]) or what Christians call the “Old Testament,” and what seems to be presented in the Apostolic Scriptures (“New Testament”).
As I’ve said before, people like me attribute the disconnect to a horribly inaccurate interpretation of the Apostolic Scriptures originally crafted by the early “Church Fathers” (and later, expanded upon by other Christian movements including the Reformation) in order to totally remove anything Messianic and Jewish about Rav Yeshua (Jesus) from devotion to him, creating a completely new Gentile-driven religion called “Christianity”.
Noahides, on the other hand, believe that the disconnect is because there is absolutely no validity in any of the content of the “New Testament,” no validity to the belief that Yeshua will return as King Messiah, and that non-Jews have no access to the blessings of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36) whatsoever (which is easy to understand since only the House of Judah and the House of Israel are named participants in the covenant).
From that point of view, the only “in” for non-Jews with Hashem is through the Noahide Covenant (which is actually made with all living things, not just all human beings).
The unknown author’s blog post begins:
Leaving Christianity was extremely easy, yet most difficult at the same time. It was easy when I would weigh everything upon the Word of My Creator as I used Deuteronomy Chapter 13 as a balance in the scale of TRUTH. Difficult only in losing the community and camaraderie Christianity brings.
As I studied what is properly known as the Torah, (that which is called in vulgarity the “old” Testament). I fell in deep love and fascination with the God of Creation, the God of Sinai, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
There are a number of things here that parallel the history and attitudes of the “Judaicly-aware” folks of which I am one.
The non-Jewish Christian reads the Torah and discovers TRUTH that is not taught in the Church, and in fact, a truth that seems in direct contradiction to what is taught in the Church.
The non-Jewish Christian experiences an attitude of “vulgarity” or some other negative attribution toward the Torah expressed in the Church.
The non-Jewish Christian “falls in love” with the beauty of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings that is unique and precious.
The non-Jewish Christian feels driven to leave the Church and find a “home” elsewhere; some community of Gentiles who can live by more Torah-driven values, at least as much as portions of Torah apply to non-Jews.
This is a lonely place to be, not a believer in Christianity, and not a “Jew” by any known bloodline. What does a believer, devotee and seeker of the God of Israel become? We don’t believe the Seed of Jacob will be replaced with another people, We don’t believe that God’s beautifully designed Laws and Standards are done away with, nor do we believe we are to pretend to be Jewish, yet to quote Rabbi David Katz, we long to be “Jew-ISH.”
Nanos attributed this quality to the First Century C.E. non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua, particularly those who were taught by Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul).
It’s funny how, no matter to what degree our individual conclusions differ from one another, when we discover this discrepancy between Christian doctrine and the actual Biblical text, we pour mind, body, and soul into study to discover the “truth,” trusting only in the Spirit of God to lead us to that “truth.”
Therefore, when I would try to calibrate the teaching of Paul to this Master Being’s Commands, Decrees and Standards it was clear to see to whom my loyalty would reside and to Whom I would choose to entrust my very soul. I applied myself to deep study of the Actual Scripture, turning off Television, Cable and Facebook, unplugging from everything and asked from a sincere heart for this God, this Creator to open my eyes to His Truth, no one else’s, to not allow me to go astray, or be misled. I put my faith in Him alone and held strong to the words of Solomon, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.”
But although the process of “leaving Christianity” for a Talmid Yeshua and a Noahide may have some similarities, the results are quite different.
I have to remind myself that one Jewish person taught me that Noahides, along with national Israel and we non-Jews in Messiah, may all have some status before Hashem. After all, Isaiah 56 doesn’t map out exactly how a “foreigner” is to attach himself (or herself) to the Lord (Isaiah 56:3, 6-8).
I admit, this area of thinking is more than a little fuzzy, but I learned some time ago, that the Bible operates at a large number and wide variety of levels, and some of the information encoded within is very tough to reach. I’m convinced that there is data in the Bible that, once our Rav returns and interprets it for us, we will be amazed that we missed it so completely.
But back to the musings of this anonymous Noahide:
I found Laws, Commands and Standards that seem so perfect, so regal, so wise that I envy these special children, these special People that have been chosen to follow them. Yes, I envy these standards. Saddened to think I wasn’t chosen or found special enough to be asked to live by such self-discipline and refined practices.
Another strong parallel. A Gentile who longs to observe the mitzvot in the manner of a Jew and who realizes that the mitzvot, for the most part, don’t apply to us (though some non-Jews in the Hebrew Roots movement will strongly disagree).
But to continue quoting:
We, as a small family realized, we are not Jewish, we are not to replace the amazing Jewish People. We do believe that Their God is the ONLY GOD, We believe that His Ways are Rich, Rewarding and Righteous. Even though we as gentiles are not commanded to follow His Laws given to the Children of Jacob, we can clearly see the blessings, health and provision that almost immediately follow implementing them brings.
This is pretty much identical to the thoughts and feelings of a lot of non-Jews who, in some manner or fashion, have become associated with Messianic Judaism.
But this final quote is unique to those non-Jews who feel in order to leave normative Christianity, either for the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots movements or into Noahidism, have to denigrate their former association with the Church:
We have found that seeking His Kingdom, His Will, His Truth, His Words have elevated us way beyond the falsehood Christianity (AKA Baal worship or idolatry).
Yikes. I suppose this person has disconnected not only from Christianity, but from those people in his/her former church who really did live a life of holiness, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and paying homage to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Sometimes going through a “divorce” is painful and that pain can turn into a terrible anger.
This writer says to the blog’s audience, “…you are NOT alone. I will soon post information on resources that are available.”
I’ve taken a look at this blog and there are only two subsequent write-ups present (as of this writing), neither offering further resources for the Noahide or potential Noahide.
This blog writer is correct in saying that the journey of a non-Jew circling the peripheral boundary of Judaism is lonely. We don’t quite fit into anyone’s definition of anything. We do what we do because only the centrality of Israel in God’s overarching plan of redemption makes any sort of sense once taking a holistic view of the Bible.
But as I mentioned here, even Noahides are sometimes (often?) turned away from Orthodox synagogues and Chabad Houses when they show up wanting to learn Torah.
The difficulty of non-Jews gaining access to Jewish teaching, wisdom, and knowledge goes all the way back to Shaul’s/Paul’s Gentile communities in the diaspora. No one in Judaism, regardless of the “flavor,” knows what to do with us, largely because we don’t fit into any “Jewish-friendly” template within Jewish community.
Carolyn is Baptist. She always will be. And she comes to my synagogue regularly.
By regularly, I mean she comes to everything. Friday night services, Saturday morning Torah study, holiday celebrations, Adult Ed. Everything. Although she brings her Bible and her faith in Jesus along with her to every synagogue function, she doesn’t come to evangelize. And she’s not interested in converting to Judaism. She’s just interested in what Judaism has to offer.
This Jewish website is very liberal and so is Rabbi Bergman. I’ve mentioned her before, and she seems incredibly open to non-Jews and even Christians associating with her synagogue, probably because more Gentiles than Jews are attending the classes she teaches:
In my small, coastal Georgia community, 90 percent of the participants in the classes I teach are non-Jewish, whether it is a class in Hebrew, Kabbalah, or Judaism 101. Last fall I taught a class on Israel and had just over 100 attendees every week for six weeks. I took a survey of the 90 or so non-Jewish participants. Each person identified with a particular Christian faith group so there were no “nones.” The majority are currently affiliated with a church which means very few “nons.” This tells me it’s not only unaffiliated seekers who are Jewcurious, it is also the church-going, faithful filling the pews.
It seems that there are a lot of non-Jews interested and even fascinated with Judaism. These aren’t just Noahides or people like me, but Christians who have no intention of leaving their churches. Some of the Christians, such as the aforementioned “Carolyn,” attend synagogue on Shabbat and church on Sunday, and in fact, she attends every function the synagogue offers.
Other non-Jews like Carolyn come to synagogue regularly. Some are looking to be closer to Jesus, some come to enhance their understanding and connection to their own faith, and some just come to understand themselves. Something about Judaism provides an access point to spirituality and meaning. Regardless, Carolyn and her cohort take what Judaism has to offer on Friday night and Saturday morning to one of the many churches down the street on Sunday.
A lot of non-Jews are interested in Judaism and believe that in some way, Jewish teaching is meaningful to them, even though they have no intention of actually converting to Judaism.
I don’t know what it means. Maybe this has always been a trend but isn’t often noticed, or maybe (and I think I’ve said this before) God is preparing His remnant from among the nations for Moshiach’s return and the unfolding of his Kingdom here in our world. Maybe it’s important for representatives of the nations, including those who are church-attending Christians, to begin to understand that King Messiah and Israel will be ruling the nations of the earth, not the Church.
The day is coming. We must be ready…no matter who we are.
"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