Tag Archives: messianic judaism

Another Look at Torah Principles and the Gentile

Spirit, Torah, and Good NewsFor years, I’ve subscribed to daily updates from the Aish HaTorah Jewish educational website. I know, I’m not Jewish, but I find that the vast majority of their content “resonates” with me better than most traditional Christian commentary.

A few days ago, I came across an interesting question in the Ask the Rabbi column. Actually, it was the answer that was more interesting, but let’s look at the question first:

I’ve been reading Aish.com for years. But the other day someone asked me to describe the principles behind Aish. I must confess that I didn’t know. So what’s the answer?

Here’s the numbered list portion of the Rabbi’s response:

  1. Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.
  2. Aish HaTorah defines success as inspiring a commitment to grow Jewishly.
  3. Every Jew is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. We never know who is a better Jew.
  4. Every human being is created “In the image of God,” and therefore has infinite potential.
  5. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood.
  6. Torah is wisdom for living, teaching us how to maximize our potential and pleasure in life.
  7. Our beliefs need to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith.
  8. Each Jew is responsible one for another, and each is empowered to face the spiritual and physical challenges facing the Jewish people.
  9. The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world. The Jewish people’s history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.
  10. The Jewish people are bound together. Our power lies within our unity. Unified, no goal is beyond our reach; splintered, almost no goal is attainable.

Now, Aish HaTorah provides educational content created by Jews for Jews. No part of it (as far as I can find) targets anyone else, including (and probably especially) Christians. Obviously, I’m not blocked from visiting their website, and I could even come up with a valid reason for reading their material given that my wife is Jewish, but does any of this stuff apply directly to us.

When I say “us,” in one sense, I mean all Christians, but more specifically, I’m addressing we “Hebraically-aware” Gentile believers (if you’re Jewish and Messianic, you probably don’t even have to ask this question).

I know there’s quite a bit of disagreement about just how much of the Torah can be applied to we non-Jews who find ourselves attracted to Jewish praxis and thought. I’m not here to “solve” that puzzle. I have a personal answer that works for me, but your mileage may vary. Also, since I don’t belong to a faith community, there’s no higher human standard that can be authoritatively applied to me (though some have tried).

Let’s go over this one step at a time.

1: Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.

Assuming we believe that Christianity in general and Messianic Judaism in specific is the natural and planned extension of everything we’ve read in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible, Old Testament), is it fair to say that we Gentiles practice a form of Judaism (and I’ve addressed this question before)?

Maybe and maybe not. Perhaps the better question is whether or not the philosophy behind this first point can be applied to a Gentile’s spiritual journey with Rav Yeshua?

My guess is that most Christians would say “no.” Why? I think it has something to do with this:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. –James 2:10 (NASB)

Taken out of context, this seems to directly contradict the Aish Rabbi by stating that you have to keep every single commandment in the Torah perfectly, and if you break one law, you’ve broken them all (although a Christian would say we aren’t “under the Law”).

However, putting that verse back into its James 2 context, in my humble opinion, I think it means if you depend solely on your praxis to reconcile you with God, that’s the standard by which you’ll be judged. However, if you depend on faith, and out of that faith, comes your practice, you will receive mercy.

That could probably be said a lot better than I just put it, but it’s a more comfortable fit with the Aish Rabbi’s statement. After all, who among us is perfectly obedient to God all of the time? No one. Except for Rav Yeshua, I don’t believe that even the most devout of Jews has always perfectly performed the mitzvot every single hour of every single day.

In fact, the Bible is replete with statements emphasizing that rote behavior all by itself does not reconcile you with God, but instead Teshuva (repentance) and a contrite heart are needed.

Since even most traditional Christians believe we are all on a “spiritual walk with Jesus,” I think we could safely apply the “our faith isn’t all or nothing” principle to us as well.

2. Aish HaTorah defines success as inspiring a commitment to grow Jewishly.

On the other hand, point two doesn’t seem to have one darn thing to do with us, that is, we non-Jews. We don’t “grow Jewishly” since we’re not Jewish. No way around this one. Of course, success could be defined as inspiring a commitment to grow “Messianically,” but that opens up another can of worms.

3. Every Jew is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. We never know who is a better Jew.

Can we substitute “believer” or “Christian” for Jew? I think we can if we acknowledge that all human beings are created in the image of the Almighty. We already know that God desires all people to be redeemed, not just national and corporate Israel, you I don’t have a problem with believing that people are worthy of respect (though not all of them behave respectfully).

I also agree you’ll never be able to tell who is the “better Christian” just by looking. We all have our inner lives that only God is privy to. No matter how “holy” a person appears, it’s what God sees in their hearts that matters most.

Oh, this introduces a ton of questions about denomination, doctrine, and theology between Christians. For instance, nearly five years ago, John MacArthur held his Strange Fire conference where he and the other speaking Pastors did everything in their power to attack Charismatics. So much for “worthy of respect” (of course, I’ve read how some Orthodox Jews diss Reforms, so this is probably a human trait).

4. Every human being is created “In the image of God,” and therefore has infinite potential.

This is directly linked to item three, and seems to re-enforce it, so yes, we are worthy of respect and have infinite potential because we’re human beings. It’s just a matter of how we choose to apply that potential, and a lot of the time, we don’t do very well.

5. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood.

This one is a bit dicey since, depending on your point of view, a large block of the mitzvot don’t apply to us at all, even acknowledging that without a Temple, Priesthood, and Sanhedrin, there’s a lot of the Torah even Jewish people can’t currently obey.

This answer hinges on whether you believe any of the mitzvot apply to us, and if so, which ones. We’ve had this discussion on my blog many times before, and I doubt that this side of Messiah, we’ll ever come up with the final answer.

Of course, there are some obvious points we can all agree on. If we’ve been believers for very long, we all have a sense of the difference between right and wrong, or righteous behavior vs. sin. What we all puzzle over is the more “ritualistic” aspects of the Torah; wearing tzitzit, donning tefillin, and such. Should we pray in Hebrew or are our native languages good enough (assuming Hebrew isn’t our native language)? Maybe this goes back to point one.

I would agree that obeying God’s will is indeed an opportunity for personal growth, and study is the cornerstone upon which Acts 15:21 stands, so yes, we can study the Bible, not just read it.

6. Torah is wisdom for living, teaching us how to maximize our potential and pleasure in life.

There’s actually a lot of the Torah we can apply to ourselves, or at least the moral and spiritual principles behind the mitzvot, which is another good reason to study them. We may not be commanded to wear tzitzit, but understanding why God commanded Israel to do so, may help us realize what God wants from us as well, which then adds to our potential and pleasure in life.

7. Our beliefs need to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith.

This is where traditional Christianity and Judaism travel in opposite directions, because the Church emphasizes faith most of the time. It’s not that Christians believe their religion is irrational, and Biblical apologetics is a really big deal, but at the end of the day, the Church is all about having pat answers, not continually struggling with tough questions.

This is one of the reasons I tend to favor a Jewish perspective over a Christian one, because I don’t believe the Bible holds every single answer to our questions about God, Jesus, faith, and the universe. I don’t think God ever expected us to settle down in our pews and get comfortable and cozy. Instead, I believe that we all have a little “Jacob” in us as we struggle with our angels (or is it our demons?). I think we study and pray as part of that struggle, and through that crucible, we grow.

8. Each Jew is responsible one for another, and each is empowered to face the spiritual and physical challenges facing the Jewish people.

Are we our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper? The answer to that seems obvious, but Christianity isn’t the same sort of corporate entity as Judaism. We aren’t a single nation like Israel, we are all the rest of the nations, so we don’t share a unified identity.

Of course, not all Jews are the same, and in fact, just like the rest of us, they can be radically different, one from another. Certainly my wife isn’t like the local Chabad Rebbitzin, and although they’re friends, their personalities and level of observance are light years apart.

But if we see a brother sinning, are we responsible for doing something about it, or should we just turn a blind eye? Again, I think the answer is obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. On the one hand, Jesus did give his “new commandment” in John 13:34 only to his Jewish disciples, but why can’t we apply it to ourselves? Does it hurt to love one another just as we believe our Rav loves us?

9. The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world. The Jewish people’s history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.

Okay, here we have the closest statement so far that the Torah principles actually mean something to the nations, but only if Israel is the light. I’ve said before that as Israel’s “first-born son” (metaphorically speaking), Yeshua is that light, and that he directly commissioned Paul (Rav Shaul) to be his emissary to the people of the nations means he intended for that light to be passed on to the rest of us.

There seems to be a thread that we can trace through different portions of the Bible leading to the conclusion that one of the functions of Messiah is to direct Israel’s light upon the rest of the world, only we must remember it’s Israel’s light. We can only benefit from that illumination, we can never possess it directly.

10. The Jewish people are bound together. Our power lies within our unity. Unified, no goal is beyond our reach; splintered, almost no goal is attainable.

That’s probably true of any group. The unity of the original thirteen colonial states in the U.S. is based on that principle.

Christians talk about “the body of Christ” meaning the corporate unity of all Christians everywhere, even though there seems to be a terrific battle going on between at least certain denominations and churches (although, as we all know, within Messianic Judaism, things are very “messy” as well).

When Messiah returns, one of his responsibilities will be to gather together all of the Jewish people around the globe and return them to Israel, so yes, Jewish unity will finally be achieved. That part is certain.

What about the rest of us?

That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? In my imagination, I believe he will end all of our petty bickering and posturing as well, but I don’t know if that’s particularly mapped out in the Bible. Yes, after all of the wars are over, there will be “peace on Earth,” but will people ever get along? More to the point, will we all agree on matters of spirituality, faith, and praxis?

I don’t know. One of the other things Messiah is supposed to do is interpret Torah correctly. We saw him doing some of that in the Gospels, but will that ever be extended to the rest of humanity? Will we finally know the exact “nuts and bolts” of God’s expectations for us besides the apparent moral and ethical values?

I hope so. It would be nice. But maybe even in Messianic days, we will still be required to struggle. Then again, Jeremiah 31:34 does say that at least Israel and every single Jew, will have an apprehension of God formerly reserved only to Prophets; a full indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 10 shows us that even Gentiles receive the Spirit, so perhaps what the Jewish will know under the New Covenant will be passed along to us as well. Then blogs like this one will be unneeded and I won’t have to ask any more questions.

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On Not Counting the Omer

omer symbol

I keep forgetting about Shavuot. I haven’t been counting the Omer, although in the past, I’ve made a case for non-Jewish Christians doing so.

My lack of “observance” isn’t Messianic Judaism’s fault, it’s mine.

Some time ago, someone in the MJ movement reached out to me privately asking for my participation in something. I asked a few follow-up questions, but as time passed, I never responded.

This pretty much says that if I feel any form of disconnection with my chosen religious framework, it’s because of me.

I suppose I could say “once burned, twice shy,” but that’s not true either. I’m an adult, so I don’t have to let a few bad experiences color my judgment. I’ve had a lot of other good experiences.

Truth be told, I don’t live the sort of life that lends itself to “Messianic community.”

Well, that’s only sort of true. The real truth is that I’ve reached an equilibrium point; a place of balance.

Even more to the point, I wonder how much I have left to say on the topic?

Once upon a time, I believe some people considered me to be the “Messianic Gentile” who asked the questions most other MGs were only thinking. However, maybe there are just so many of those questions lying around, and now all that’s left is to rehash and rehash the same themes, just like how Hollywood keeps remaking the same old tired TV shows and movies.

I know there is a Messianic future where all disciples of Rav Yeshua will be engaged and we will have a direction in which to follow. Then, like now, we will have a choice to make as to how involved we want to be.

Most people, without a lot of discipline and motivation, tend to settle for “lukewarm.” The Bible doesn’t say very good things about being lukewarm.

I can read the Bible and study various tomes, but that doesn’t make me an expert on anything except being me. I have no astute or elegantly intelligent opinions to offer. I occasionally find the insights of certain scholars to be enlightening, but you can read them for yourselves. You don’t need me.

Blogging, and especially religious blogging, is about community. If no one reads your stuff, you are alone. People have read my stuff here, which has been pretty terrific for the most part. However, in my opinion, the most interesting articles I’ve authored have been about community (or the lack thereof), because in the end, we may need God the most, but we need each other, too. That’s why worship is corporate and not just one guy or one gal sitting alone in a room with a Bible.

I’ve noticed a severe drop off in participation from both supporters and detractors over the long months. Part of that is because I had to restrict some people from making comments due to the level of hostility that was being expressed.

However, I think also it may be because a lot of others like me are reaching the same “tipping point” relative to their involvement in “the movement.” After crossing a particular threshold, there’s just nowhere else to go, especially if you are “unevenly yoked” like I am.

It’s sometimes said that “love is a verb.” You don’t really love unless you act upon it and “do unto others.” Faith is a verb, too. It’s not something you sit around cherishing in the abstract. If you want to have a relationship with God, you have to “do” the relationship. Otherwise it dies, or worse, it continues to exist, but gets stale, like that carton of milk in the back of your fridge you’ve been ignoring.

In the end, whether it’s you or me or somebody else, if you want to be more than lukewarm, you either have to turn the heat up or off.

I suppose that’s why a lot of we MGs have historically been upset that we don’t have a ritual system as do observant Jews. Ritual and tradition are things that we do, not just contemplate.

Unlike observant Jews, Gentiles have to get up off of their rear ends and “do” something. We have no ritual unless it’s a personal one, which is fine and dandy.

When I want to stop being lukewarm, I may not end up counting the Omer or building my small, family sukkah, but I will have to do something. The same goes for the rest of humanity. God did what He was and is going to do. The rest is up to us, at least until Messiah returns.

Why Christianity Was Invented and What It Means To Me Today

I didn’t think I’d be writing another blog post about Passover this year. After all, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve addressed that theme, particularly relative to being intermarried and being a “Messianic Gentile.” But I had a dream last night that made me look at it from a different direction. Actually, I’ve had this idea running around in my brain for a while now but chose not to express it before.

No, I don’t think my dream was a “prophetic dream” or any such thing. It was probably just my mind processing information.

In my dream, I saw a blog post written by someone whose name many of my readers would recognize (which is why I’m not going to use it) who was criticizing me for being “stuck” in my spiritual development. This person said he wanted to like me but that I needed to move on.

It’s true that I’ve plateaued, but that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m writing this to ask (and then answer) why there’s such a thing as Christianity in the first place?

To the vast majority of church-going Christians, the answer might seem obvious. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) tells his Jewish disciples to go make disciples of all the nations, that is the Goyim; the Gentiles.

Then in Acts 9, Rav Yeshua creates a vision for Paul (Saul or Rav Shaul if you prefer) specifically commissioning him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles, a mission he would pursue diligently for the rest of his life.

I suppose we could even give a lot of the credit to Constantine for manufacturing the Roman Catholic Church and making them a dominant religious structure that continues to affect the entire Christian Church and all of its denominations to this day (the Reformation didn’t change as much as people think and in fact continued to support the many crimes the Church has committed against the Jewish people).

Almost four years ago, largely citing New Testament scholar Magnus Zetterholm, I wrote Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and “Honey, I Want A Divorce” describing the cultural and sociological dynamics that likely drove a really big wedge between the ancient Jewish and non-Jewish devotees of Rav Yeshua, effectively sending them on two divergent paths, Judaism and Christianity.

But while normative Jewish devotion to Yeshua waned in the subsequent decades and centuries until it was finally (but not permanently) extinguished, the Gentile Christian Church blossomed or, from some points of view, “grew like a weed.” However, Gentile Christianity, in order to form its own identity, had to totally reinterpret the Bible so that not only were Israel and the Jewish people minimized as the focus of God’s attention, but all of the covenant promises the Almighty made to Israel were “spiritually transferred” to the Christian Church.

However, for those few of us who are “Hebraically aware” Gentile believers, an honest reading of scripture reveals that God didn’t change His mind, lie to Israel about His ultimate intent, or go from plan A to plan B somewhere in the first part of the book of Acts.

Christianity as it has existed for nearly 2,000 years including its modern incarnations, is not the logical and natural expression of the Bible. It’s an invention that was required by the ancient Gentile believers in order to form their own identity and praxis completely separate from the Jewish origins of the faith.

So what? A lot of us know that. It’s old news.

Here’s the deal. It’s happening again today. Well, that’s not exactly true. Let’s say an echo of the original schism is happening again today.

JewishI remain a big supporter of Messianic Jewish community, the active and lived experience of Messianic Jews within normative Judaism. While in Reform, Conservative, and even Orthodox Jewish synagogues, you might find the occasional Gentile (a Jewish member’s spouse for instance or perhaps a non-Jew considering conversation), by and large, the people there are almost all Jews and even if a few goys are present, it’s still a wholly Jewish community. No one questions that for a second.

In a Messianic Jewish synagogue, you are likely to find the majority of members are not Jewish since modern Messianic Judaism has its origins in the Church. However over the last few decades, the movement has evolved such that Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua desire to not have to choose between Jewish identity and praxis and their devotion to their Rav.

That all makes sense. The Jews in Paul’s day who were devoted to Yeshua were pretty much indistinguishable from the Pharisees (that may come as a shock to some people). Paul himself was an observant Jew in the Pharisaic tradition as were Peter, John, Matthew, and all of the other Jewish disciples. Devotion to Rav Yeshua, even after the crucifixion and resurrection, and even after the Acts 15 decree which applied only to the Gentile believers, did not change that fact on any level.

So why should it be any different today?

One argument is that Judaism then isn’t the same thing as Judaism today and that’s very true. However, if you accept, as many Messianic Jews do, the idea that Rabbinic authority allows for the evolution of interpretation of Torah such that Judaism today is the natural and logical extention of true Jewish faith and praxis, then there is some basis for Messianic Jewish praxis closely mirroring Orthodox Jewish praxis.

That statement if full of trap doors for a lot of Gentile Messianic believers and probably some Jewish ones, but let’s roll with it for the time being.

Where does that leave Hebraically aware Gentiles?

If Messianic Judaism necessitates exclusive Messianic Jewish community, we Gentiles are right back where we were before. Trying to find community that best fits our identity and doesn’t tromp all over our Messianic Jewish mentors.

The normative Church isn’t the answer. I tried that and my personal experience ended up being pretty frustrating. Hebraically aware Gentile believers for the most part, are a poor fit in that environment.

Acts 13 famously describes what happens when Gentile presence overwhelms Jewish community. Initially, the Jewish leaders of the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch welcomed Paul’s message of the Good News of Messiah, but the following Shabbat when scores of Gentiles (and not just the usual crew of God Fearers) showed up at the door, they were shocked and outraged. The Gentiles had invaded Jewish community in force, and while not having malicious intent, still threatened a wholly Jewish space by perhaps rewriting Jewish community and praxis to fit their own requirements.

So Paul, his companions, and probably most of the Gentiles were kicked out and the Apostle to the Gentiles fought an uphill battle for Gentile acceptance from that point on until his death.

Sort of the reverse happened in modern times. Historically over the past several decades, Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots spaces were largely composed of Gentiles, often badly imitating Jewish praxis, praying using Hebrew transliteration, reading the Torah portion in English (or in the primary language of their nation), and believing they were “Torah observant” or “Torah compliant” or whatever. Oh, and they absolutely drew a distinction between the written Torah, which they adored (as they understood it), and the oral Torah (Talmud) which they despised as “Man-made.”

Of course, there were always Jews present, but many/most of them had not been raised in observant Jewish families, many/most had been raised in intermarried families, and many/most had been raised in normative Christian families, the Jewish parent being more correctly identified as a “Hebrew Christian”.

But that’s been changing slowly and steadily, at least to the best of my knowledge. Now Messianic Jews (some of them anyway) are embracing what it is to be a Jew on all experiential levels and strongly desire to be among normative, observant, Jewish community.

That’s led some Messianic Jews to make the choice to abandon Rav Yeshua and join the Orthodox community in order to realize their desires. It’s also seen a number of “Messianic Gentiles” also abandon their Rav and convert to Orthodox Judaism. For them, it was either Rav Yeshua (and the Christians) or lived Jewish community.

Yes, Messianic Jews can have their cake and eat it too, and it’s not like they won’t let Gentile Messianic believers visit and worship with them or even grant them some sort of “associate membership.” However, in order to be Jewish community, it has to be primarily or exclusively Jewish, just like a normative Orthodox synagogue.

I think this is why we have the (Gentile) Hebrew Roots and Two-House movements today. Oh, they’ve existed for decades and in fact it could be said that modern Messianic Judaism (for Jews) emerged from them. However, that returns us to the question of what to do with these pesky Hebraically aware Gentiles, and the answer (which is uncomfortable to some) is something you’d have to call “bilateral.” That is separate but equal. Yeah, that’s really uncomfortable and I’m (hopefully) exaggerating to make a point.

In other words, Hebraically aware Gentiles are in the position of having to invent their own communities for the sake of Messianic Jewish exclusivity.

What does any of this have to do with Passover?

I observe Passover (well, without the Temple and Levitical Priesthood, no one really observes Passover) in the traditional manner for one primary reason; my wife is Jewish. If she plans a seder in our home, then I lead the seder as head of household.

Last year, my wife spent Passover with our daughter in California and thus, I did not observe Passover in any way.

If, Heaven forbid, something were to happen to my wife and I were alone, I would not continue to observe Passover.

While there are Gentile applications for the festival, truly the Passover feast is wholly Jewish and describes a uniquely Jewish relationship with the Almighty, even relative to Rav Yeshua. In Messianic Days, when the Temple is rebuilt, the Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua will not be able to eat of the Pascal lamb. We can eat anything else, but not the lamb. Torah is clear on this matter and there is no example whatsoever of a Gentile eating of the lamb (If you think you can point one out, let me know).

But will Gentiles be in Jerusalem at all for Passover?

I’m guessing “yes” (and I’ve been wrong before) but only for one reason.

When Rav Yeshua returns, he is going to straighten out all of our communal and identity conflicts. First of all I think the church is in for a really big shock. Secondly, Yeshua will definitively (I hope) describe the roles and communities fitting for both Jewish and Gentile disciples and then hopefully all of this angst will just go away. If not, then we’ll still have to figure out for ourselves what it is to be servants of the King and so these pain points will continue.

What do to until then?

Some people think that Messianic Judaism as it currently exists is the forerunner of the Messianic Age as it will be.

Maybe and maybe not. I wouldn’t count on it for the simple reason that too many human egos are involved.

I’ve long since decided to withdraw from anything that even remotely resembles Jewish praxis, well, for the most part. It is true that every Saturday morning, I read the Torah and Haftarah portions along with a reading from the Gospels. There are no prayers or ceremony around this act, I simply read them.

Every morning when I wake up, I recite the Modeh Ani in English. That is the extent of my “Jewish” prayers.

The Jewish PaulNo, it’s not that I believe the “Halachah police” are going to kick down my door and bust me for “cultural appropriation.” I just don’t believe it’s right for me to adopt Jewish praxis, especially since my wife, who is Jewish, is pretty sensitive of me, a Christian, doing “Jewish stuff.”

So what to do until Messiah returns? Wait.

That’s all I can do. I can’t see a solution to the conflicts I’ve raised. If Messianic Judaism is Jewish then it is best left to the Jews. Paul had a vision about how to integrate the Gentiles, but his innovation died with him and Yeshua did not assign him a successor, which I find highly interesting. No one, absolutely no one followed Paul’s work. If the Almighty intended for the Gentiles to be integrated into a Jewish faith in our Rav, why did Paul’s work cease? At that point, it absolutely necessitated the Gentiles reinventing their identity into something completely different and new (and scripturally inaccurate).

Perhaps it’s because only Messiah can accomplish so great and difficult a thing.

So I’m waiting for him to do it because I don’t think we can accomplish it on our own.

Shabbat, Purim, and What Makes You Happy

Purim

I was reading this week’s column by Rabbi Kalman Packouz and found a few points that might actually apply to those of us who are “Hebraically-aware Gentiles.” He was discussing Purim (which begins this Wednesday evening at sunset) and Happiness, but I’ll start with something about Shabbat.

R. Packouz’s Dvar Torah for this coming Shabbos is based on a small portion of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Growth Through Torah (which I own and highly recommend):

The Torah states:

“Six days you shall work and on the seventh day, it should be a complete rest sacred to the Almighty” (Exodus 31:15)

What does it mean “a complete rest”?

Rashi, the great commentator, tells us that rest on Shabbat should be a permanent rest and not merely a temporary rest. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the former Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of the Mir Yeshiva, clarifies that a temporary rest means that a person has not really changed his inner traits, but he merely controls them on Shabbat. He still has a bad temper and has a tendency to engage in quarrels, but because of the elevation of Shabbat, he has the self-discipline not to manifest these traits. The ultimate in Shabbat observance is that a person should uproot those negative traits which are contradictory to peace of mind on Shabbat. One needs to uproot such traits as anger and the tendency to quarrel with others. Only then is your rest on Shabbat a complete rest.

It is not sufficient for a person just to refrain from the formal categories of creative acts on Shabbat. Shabbat is the gift of peace of mind. This is not considered righteousness, but an essential aspect of Shabbat. Only by being a master over your negative emotions can you have true peace of mind.

I know the Shabbat can be one of the many “touchy points” between Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic and Hebrew Roots communities. If you are of the belief (as am I) that all of the parts of the Torah apply exclusively to the Jewish people and only certain portions can be said to apply to the rest of humanity, then you are left with the question of what should a Gentile do for Shabbat (if anything at all)?

I know all the arguments (I think). Hashem sanctified (made Holy) the Seventh Day and “rested” on it (God doesn’t get tired so He doesn’t “rest” in the conventional sense). If the Sabbath was created well before the Torah was given, how can it be a “Jewish-only” thing?

But then there’s the fact that the Sabbath is a sign of the Sinai Covenant which was indeed given exclusively to the Children of Israel. Yes, the “mixed multitude” was there, but in receiving the Covenant, they became permanent residents within Israel and on the third generation, their descendants were absorbed into the tribes. No, there’s no leverage for saying Gentiles received the Torah at Sinai as well.

However, Isaiah 56:1-8 famously declares that “foreigners who keep from profaning the Shabbat…will be made joyful in Hashem’s House of Prayer” (Holy Temple in Jerusalem).

So how do those two contradictory viewpoints resolve?

It’s been suggested that how a Jew and Gentile approach the Shabbat has fundamental differences. A Jew observes the Shabbat while a Gentile merely recognizes its holiness. But what does that mean?

R. Packouz’s Dvar Torah may have given us an inadvertent clue (it’s doubtful he was writing to people like me). In his commentary on Purim, he spoke of the “secret to happiness,” saying in part:

People often think that the secret of happiness must be some hidden Kabbalistic mystery or exotic activity. The truth is that it’s simple and easy to understand. It’s something every person knows, but just doesn’t focus that he knows it.

Happiness is the pleasure you have in appreciating what you have; it is looking at the glass as half full. It says in Pirke Avot 4:1 (“Ethics of Our Fathers” — found in the back of most Jewish prayerbooks), “Who is the rich man? He who is happy with his portion”. There used to be a common motivational sign during the Depression hanging in businesses in the United States: “I was sad that I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.”

Happiness is not dependent upon material acquisition. There are plenty of people who have what you desire and they are not happy.

In my opinion, we “Hebraically-aware Gentiles” were never given the full set of Torah observances were the Jews (Acts 15 backs me up), so a lot of us have gone through what I call “Torah envy.” We want what the Jews have and some folks out there go right ahead and claim it for themselves through one process or another.

But according to the Sages, who is rich? He (or she) who is happy with their lot. That is, it’s very possible to be happy and not have everything someone else has and in fact, even if you had it, that possession might not make you happy.happyGoing back to R. Pliskin, the character and nature of any given Jewish person doesn’t change on the Shabbat. The person with a bad temper still has a bad temper. However, in honor of the Shabbat, he/she choses not to express it (in Judaism, some believe Hashem grants the Jew an additional “soul” on the Shabbat). Even more, you can use the sanctity of the Shabbat to learn to permanently “uproot” negative traits and generally become a better person over time.

If the non-Jew was not given the Shabbat relative to all of the specific observances, we can still choose to honor God as Creator of the Universe (and all human beings were created by Hashem) by “elevating” ourselves and choosing to be a little happier than we are the rest of the week or even choosing to become better people over time. We can take the life we’ve been given (not everyone can be Jewish) and appreciate what we have been granted by God rather than bemoaning our state as a non-covenant people. After all, through our devotion to Rav Yeshua and by his merit, we have been granted many of the blessings of the New Covenant without being named recipients.

What’s not to like?

“Happiness is not doing what you enjoy, but enjoying what you do.”

-Anonymous

Book Review: 5 Minute Torah by Darren Huckey

5 minute torah
Found at the Emet HaTorah website.

Darren Huckey asked me to review his book 5 Minute Torah: Messianic Insights Into The Weekly Torah Portion which was published last fall, and to that end, mailed me a copy. It really lives up to its title.

Good Things

This is a terrific beginner’s Torah study for Messianic newbies. Beyond a short introduction, the entire book consists of a brief study of each parashah (portion) of the annual Torah reading. No matter when you buy the book and start studying the portions for each Shabbat, you can dive right in.

Although advertised as a five-minute study per Torah portion, to me they were about two-and-a-half minutes but then I read fast and, after many years of study, a lot of the material seemed pretty familiar. Darren didn’t pull all of the commentaries from his own knowledge, but rather relied on the published insights of such sages as Rashi, Rambam, Ramban, as well as some Chassidic interpretations. The Bible translation used is the ESV which isn’t my favorite but you can’t have everything.

All in all, as I’ve said, this is a very good beginner’s Torah study guide for the non-Jew in the Messianic community (or Jew who has absolutely no background in Torah study perhaps having spent most of their religious life in the Church) or mainstream Christian to start out with. It’s completely approachable and easily digestible.

Darren also points the reader toward calendars for the current Torah cycle including those that reference the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) as well as the Torah, Prophets, and Writings.

Concerns

Since Darren stated that he used specific sources for his commentaries, I’d have liked to have seen those sources cited for a number of reasons. First off, there are many opinions in the world of the Jewish sages that have been collected for hundreds or even thousands of years and not all of them agree. In Christianity, disagreement among theological authorities is seen with worry but in Judaism it’s pretty much the norm and dynamic tension is much better tolerated. But for the someone completely new to Torah study, I think it would help to know who said what. Those sorts of brief citations can be commonly found in my copies of the Chumash and Tanakh.

Also, in a published work, there are customary methods of identifying information that is not original but created by another authority. Typically, authors or organizations want to be acknowledged when their material is being used by someone else.

Finally, since this is a beginner’s guide, the reader might want to know where to go next after they’ve progressed beyond what is offered in this resource, so those citations could have been used as road signs pointing ahead, so to speak.

The only other thing I can think of is that Darren, at the very end of his book, could have added a few pages of “where to go next” for more involved Torah study resources, Messianic and otherwise. I know when I get my hands on a hot resource that whets my appetite, I want to start reading a lot of other stuff and I think Darren is well-positioned to offer such guidance to his audience.

I’m also putting this review on Amazon.

How is Messianic Judaism “Trending?”

the crowdMy stats say this blog has a little over 900 followers and while that doesn’t put me anywhere in the same neighborhood as TechCrunch, it does mean that at least potentially, a few people out there are visiting and reading my content (and thank you for doing so, especially since I don’t post here nearly as frequently as I have in the past).

In answering a comment on my previous missive, I found myself wondering about the current state of Messianic Judaism (or whatever you want to call it) and whether or not it is growing, shrinking, or just holding steady. That is, how is MJ “trending” in terms of population?

It’s the sort of question I’d love to dig into but I haven’t the faintest idea where to go to find valid numbers. I know there are probably individual Messianic organizations that likely keep track of their numbers, but I can’t think of any one central repository that could tell me if MJ is gaining or losing ground.

Why should I care?

Because I wonder how many people there are out in the world like me.

I once belonged to a private Facebook group made up of Christians who are “unchurched.” The term “unchurched” usually means people who don’t go to church, but in this context it describes Christians who remain in the faith but who no longer attend a formal congregation. Usually they meet in small, home groups because “church” in one way or another, no longer suits their needs.

I left that Facebook group when I saw them using the Bible to somehow justify that large, organized bodies of believers isn’t supported by scripture. Of course, I had to bring in Temple worship, plus the system of synagogues that existed during Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) “earthly ministry” which even Rav Yeshua attended.

I got a lot of blowback and I know how much fun that is from maintaining a presence in the religious blogosphere for so many years, so I dropped that association like an angry rattlesnake.

I have lots and lots of reasons for not being involved in any sort of faith community anymore, some are relative to theology and doctrine and some are personal. One has to do with being intermarried to a Jewish spouse and how my affiliation with organized Christianity (including the Messianic movement) impacts her. No, she’d never say I couldn’t worship as I see fit, but we’ve been married nearly thirty-five years and I can tell how my “praying with the enemy” (metaphorically speaking) affects her.

Every once in a blue moon I catch myself missing such congregational meetings, but in the end, the liabilities involved still outweigh the benefits.

How many others who have previously been regularly involved and integrated into some sort of formal Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots group have since dropped away to march to the beat of their own drummer? Believe me, I can see why folks would fall away, either to go back to the normative Church or to attend no congregation at all, but how can we find out about them?

Of course this begs the larger question of the state of Christianity. Is the normative Church shrinking? If so, then maybe a shrinking Messianic movement (though I have no idea if it is shrinking) is understandable in that context.

A quick Google search wasn’t particularly illuminating.

The Washington Post published a January 2017 article called Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving but Thom S. Rainer’s blog (President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources) posted a September 2016 blog post titled Five Reasons Churches are Dying and Declining Faster Today. ChurchLeaders.com produced a December 2017 article that was way too long but reported mixed trends depending on location and church size, and The Gospel Coalition created a March 2015 “fact checker” that seemed to say conservative churches weren’t growing as fast as they once were but were still growing, while “mainline” churches which had strayed away from “Biblical Christianity” were on the decline.

However that’s normative Christianity, not Messianic Judaism.

So does anyone really know how MJ is doing and if so, what’s your source of information?