Tag Archives: Messianic Jewish

Rosh Hashanah: Are We Ready To Approach God?

The words we say are spoken in the heavens. And yet higher. For they are His words, bouncing back to Him.

On Rosh Hashanah, we say His words from His Torah recalling His affection for our world; He speaks them too, turning His attention back towards our earthly plane.

We cry out with all our essence in the sound of the shofar; He echos back, throwing all His essence inward towards His creation. Together, man and G‑d rebuild creation.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Cosmic Mirror”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

The process of Tikkun Olam or “Repairing the World” is well understood in Jewish thought and I’ve blogged on this topic many times before. I think it is a perfect way for both Jews and Christians to understand our relationship with God, especially as Rosh Hashanah is nearly upon us, and God has His “cosmic finger” poised over the universal “Reset button,” so to speak.

And yet, during the most holy time on the Jewish religious calendar, the world is a very troubled place. The U.S. Consulate in Libya was recently attacked and Egyptian protesters mounted an assault on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. And while the nuclear threat Iran poses against Israel seems terribly imminent, the U.S. citizens and government largely oppose intervening to defend Israel.

Even within the community of faith in Christ, there are many different voices who actively oppose one another and malign fellow believers, even as God urges us to establish peace with our brother and the Messiah’s law requires that we love one another.

How can we say that we are “partnering” with God in repairing His Creation when we can’t even resolve simple disagreements between ourselves?

The person who is truly fortunate in this world is the one who has authentic trust in the Almighty. He is able to sustain a feeling of well-being when things go well as well as when things are challenging. He experiences a sense of well-being whether he has a lot or a little. He experiences this well-being whether people meet his expectations or whether they don’t. His well-being is constant, because his trust in the Almighty gives him the awareness that his life has a plan that is specially designed for his welfare. The nature of that plan becomes clearer all the time. The reality of what occurs in his life is what Hashem in His infinite wisdom knows is ultimately best for his unique spiritual needs.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Being Truly Fortunate, Daily Lift #575”

I’ve talked about trusting God before, but it’s a lesson that needs to be repeated since, after all, we human beings don’t trust each other very well, let alone an infinite and invisible God. How can we trust Him to provide us our every need when millions go hungry every day; when millions don’t even have access to clean drinking water; when millions are sick, starving, suffering under terrible oppression, raped, tortured, and murdered?

ForgivenessYet we people of faith who live comfortably in the United States or other well-fed Western nations, argue about our rights and our theologies and our doctrines while our stomachs are full, our homes are adequately warmed or cooled, we drive to and from our jobs in cars, and no one threatens to kill us because of the God we claim as our own.

Rabbi Freeman describes God and Heaven as a sort of “mirror” which reflects the holiness of the words of Torah back upon the faithful ones who utter them in the synagogues during these special “Days of Awe.” I’d like to suggest that God is also a mirror, not just of our holiness, but for everything else that we are, including the ugliness of our greed, selfishness, narcissism, envy, and hypocrisy. Dream not of today and your comforts, pleasures, and desires, but instead stare into that mirror and realize, like the beautiful and self-indulgent Dorian Gray, there is a consequence for every unkind word we speak, for every vengeful thought we allow to be expressed within us, for every time we seek our needs at the expense of another.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:15-19 (ESV)

If I were to reword the last set of statements from the Master and address them toward all of us, I might say, “Disciples of the Jewish Messiah, do you love me more than your own theological baloney and self-serving doctrines?”

I wonder what we would answer if he caught us in one of the recent blogosphere “debates” arguing over which theology of ours is the “greatest” and he chastised us all for our unloving attitudes and lack of respect for one another?

For many Christians, Rosh Hashanah is just another day in the life and it does not register on the calendars of most churches and believers in Jesus. But for those of us among the nations who feel somehow connected to the “Jewishness” of Jesus and seek an affinity with the origins of our faith, we should be paying attention to God and our own frailty, not to our rights and our wants. We should be intensely aware that Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown this coming Sunday, and an accounting will be asked of us by God. God will ask us to explain why we failed Him so many times over the course of the year. He will not ask us our opinion of why we believe someone else we don’t like may have failed God. Pay attention to your own eyes and let God take care of the splinter in your brother’s eye.

With such an awesome and majestic encounter before us, how should we be preparing our spirits to enter the Presence of the King? We’ve had an entire month to soften our hearts toward God and our fellow human being. Are we ready or have we been wasting our time on futile pursuits?

God is waiting for us. How shall we approach Him?

Who Am I Now?

At the event I took the opportunity to ask Rabbi Boteach a question having to do with historical context. I challenged him over his claim that Christians seeing the Jewish Jesus would lead to a more human understanding of Jesus, which in turn would lead to a more tolerant Christianity. My problem with such a claim is that we have ample historical precedent from the history of Jewish-Christian relations that an emphasis on the humanity of Jesus does not necessarily lead to greater tolerance of Jews. On the contrary, it can lead to anti-Semitism by focusing attention on the cause of Jesus’ suffering. This was the case during the high Middle-Ages. Christians “discovered” the humanity of Jesus. This led to a plethora of artwork showing Mary with baby Jesus actually drawn with baby features and gave us the Christmas creche we have today. This also led to an emphasis on Jesus’ physical suffering on the cross. The divine Jesus could never possibly feel pain; only the human Jesus could suffer. Rabbi Boteach response was that the Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, the Roman were. This is in fact a major point of his book. While this answers the question whether Christian readers will take Rabbi Boteach’s arguments to anti-Semitic conclusions, it does not answer the question I was asking of why we should be willing to draw a straight line between a human Jesus and a tolerant Christianity when historically this has not necessarily been the case.

“Kosher Jesus’ Lack of Historical Context”
Book review of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus
from Izgad

This isn’t a review of Boteach’s book Kosher Jesus from a Christian point of view, but reading it did make me start to think about the “Christian point of view” and whether or not I actually have one. I don’t. I realized in reading this blog post that I haven’t the faintest idea how “traditional Christians” see the world, at least from an actual “lived” experience, even though I call myself a Christian.

So why do I call myself a “Christian?”

Frankly, for lack of any other way to describe myself as a person of faith. My wife, who is Jewish, considers me a Christian. Everyone who I know who is Jewish considers me a Christian. Ironically, many of the Christians I know call me a “Messianic Jew.” I find this last part rather surprising (and uncomfortable) since, not being Jewish, I can’t be any sort of “Jew,” Messianic or otherwise. According to many Messianic Jews I know, I can’t be “Messianic” either, since being “Messianic” is considered a Jewish designation. Technically, as far as it’s been explained to me, the Gentiles cannot have a “Messiah” as such. We can have a Savior, or Lord, or Prince of Peace, but the Messiah came for “the lost sheep of Israel.”

I call myself a “Christian” to try and avoid any confusion about who I am. I am not a Jew so calling me a “Messianic Jew” is completely inappropriate. Calling myself a Christian announces that I am a Gentile who believes in Jesus Christ, just as millions and millions of Gentiles have been Christian across the vast expanse of history. Since I”m also vehemently non-supersessionist, I am also at odds with some and perhaps many other Christians, which is one of the reasons why I don’t go to church.

Even though some Jewish people consider me “Judaically-oriented” or having a heart and mind for Judaism, it has occurred to me lately (and again, referring back to the Izgad review of Kosher Jesus), that I might not fit all that well into a Jewish setting, either. It’s one thing to read and study Jewish commentary and studious texts and another thing entirely to be part of a community. It occurs to me that when my wife says the Rabbis at the local Reform and Chabad synagogues “tolerate” the presence of Christians in their midst (as long as they don’t try and proselytize the Jews at shul), that “tolerate” may be in the sense of tolerating a splinter under your fingernail or the discomfort caused by a repetative motion injury. You can handle it being around, but it’s not exactly enjoyable…and it would be a relief when the thing you are “tolerating” is finally gone.

That’s my projection, of course, but I think it’s reasonable. In reading Jacob Fronczak’s blog post Why I Go to Church, part of what he is saying is that he must “tolerate” some aspects of church communal life. It’s not perfect and it’s not going to be. That would be true for me as well if I were to attend a church (though I suppose they’d have to learn to “tolerate” me if I ever chose to actually open my mouth and say what I was thinking). To emphasize my “differentness” from how “regular” Christians think, I have to say I’ve received my first criticism on my recent article Origins of Supersessionism in the Church. My critic, a Christian, and a person I have no reason to believe is anything but honest, sincere, and well-grounded in the faith, states that many of the historical wounds between Messianic Judaism and the church are well on their way to healing at this point in our relationship, but the tone and attitude of my article, has resulted in ripping open some of the scars and pouring salt into the reopened injuries. I don’t seem to be doing “Christian” very well.

So if I’m a Christian, it’s because the label is the closest and most accurate approximation that represents my faith, but I’m a Christian who would not easily fit into either a church or synagogue setting. I’m nearly nine months into my current “experiment,” the primary goal of which was to join with my wife and, as a married couple, worship together within a Jewish context. It hasn’t worked out well thus far. With just a little more than three months left before I decide to continue toward my goal or to pull the plug for good on my hopes, it has become increasingly unlikely that I will achieve anything I started out aiming for.

I don’t actually have to confront the “where do I go from here” question until the end of May or perhaps early June (and keep in mind these time frames are completely arbitrary and self-assigned), but it’s not too early to start thinking about the question. If I had to frame an answer today, I would have to say that there are no options for community that meet my requirements. Facing that would mean facing the consequence of having no tangible faith community for the long term and possibly for the rest of my life.

I don’t fit in. Even if I did find a community where I personally fit in, chances are very high that my wife wouldn’t, and one of the primary requirements for achieving my goal is to worship with my wife. If someone were to offer me a practical option for community that fit me personally “hand in glove,” it would still be lacking if it didn’t fit my spouse as well.

So, who am I? I’m a Christian who doesn’t think very much like a Christian but to be honest, I don’t think very much like a Jew either. I’m the fish in the game Marco Polo who is always “out of water”. If I can’t say that I’m a “freak of nature” I have to say that I’m probably a “freak of faith.” I’m not trying to sound pathetic, but this blog is centered on my “experiment” so it represents, among other things, a chronicle of my progress or lack thereof.

Oh, interesting thing about the reviews of the Boteach book. I’ve found numerous Jewish and Messianic Jewish book reviews, but I have yet to find even one single review written by a Christian. If Rabbi Boteach had hoped to reach not only the Jewish community, but the church with his book, he doesn’t seem to have achieved his goal either, at least up until now.