Tag Archives: mitzvot

Messianic Jews and the Torah

I know I’m probably opening up a big can of worms here, but I’ve read a couple of things online today (yesterday as you read this) that really have me scratching my head (in puzzlement, not because I have an itch).

The first was from the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish.com. Someone asked:

I get upset when I see different Jewish denominations at odds with each other. Why doesn’t everyone just accept everyone else? Or perhaps is there a way to know which of the denominations is the most correct?

I’ll only quote part of the Rabbi’s answer:

Historically, any Jewish group which denied the basic principles of Jewish tradition – Torah and mitzvah-observance – ultimately ceased to be part of the Jewish people. The Sadducees and the Karites, for instance, refused to accept certain parts of the Oral Law, and soon after broke away completely as part of the Jewish People. The Hellenists, secularists during the Second Temple period, also soon became regarded as no longer “Jewish.” Eventually, these groups vanished completely.

Early Christians were the original “Jews for Jesus.” They accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah, but not the eternal, binding nature of the commandments. Initially, these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan. But the turning point came when Paul, realizing that Jews wouldn’t accept the concept of a dead Messiah, opened up membership to non-Jews. At that point, these “Jews” experienced a total severing of Jewish identity.

My understanding of the early Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) puts me at odds with this Rabbi. The Rabbi pre-supposes that Paul “opened up” membership into the First Century CE Jewish religious stream once called “the Way” to the Gentiles because “Jews wouldn’t accept the concept of a dead Messiah.” Except the record in the Apostolic Scriptures shows that Yeshua (Jesus) commanded his apostles to make disciples of the Gentiles (Matthew 28:19-20), and that he later commanded Paul to be an emissary to the Gentiles (Acts 9). The Biblical record also doesn’t present the issue of a “dead” (resurrected) Messiah as one of the objections some synagogues had to Paul’s message.

In fact, based on the following, a great many Jews initially accepted devotion to Messiah:

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:37-41

As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:42-43

You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…

Acts 21:20

The Jewish PaulI don’t perceive that Paul switched his emphasis of going first to the Jews with the good news of Messiah and then only to the Gentiles (Romans 1:16), nor that he was encouraging Jews to abandon the Torah (as he was falsely accused of). And yet these seem to be common themes that run through most Jewish objections to Yeshua and particularly to Paul.

I do think the Rabbi is somewhat correct in saying that the large influx of Gentiles into the ancient Messianic movement ultimately resulted in a messy Jewish/Gentile schism that did not remove Jewish identity from Jewish Yeshua believers, but did transform the movement into the new Gentile religion of Christianity (which was done by the early Gentile “church fathers,” not by Paul). Jewish participation in Yeshua-devotion as a Judaism subsequently dwindled and finally was extinguished for many centuries.

But the Aish Rabbi said something else that is interesting if not entirely accurate:

Early Christians were the original “Jews for Jesus.” They accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah, but not the eternal, binding nature of the commandments. Initially, these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan.

My opinion based on scripture is that the early Yeshua-believing Jews very much did accept the Divine revelation of the Torah and the eternal and binding nature of the commandments.

There was no dissonance between Jewish identity and performance of the mitzvot and the revelation of the resurrected Messiah.

(I suppose I should say that yet another typical misconception many Jewish people make is equating the specific organization Jews for Jesus with both the ancient and modern Messianic Jewish communities.)

That was pretty much going to be my point for today’s missive, but then I read an article on the Rosh Pina Project’s blog called Rabbi Telushkin: If Jews believed Messiah has come, they wouldn’t keep Torah. The title alone is baffling and I hope I’m reading this wrong, but I truly don’t understand what’s being said here:

Here at RPP, we very much believe that Messianic Jews are free to observe the Torah, or not to, according to their consciences. There is certainly no obligation to keep Torah.

Some Messianic Jews still keep Torah as a “witness” to other Jews. If we keep Torah, the logic goes, Orthodox Jews will realise that it’s okay to be Jewish and believe in Jesus. When it comes to “witness”, however, we think that continued Messianic Jewish Torah observance has the opposite effect.

It sends a mixed message to the Jewish community. According to Judaism, when Messiah comes the Torah is abolished. Messiah’s followers now keep to a new law, not Torah.

So when Jews see us claiming the Messiah has come, but we should still keep the Torah, we are sending a mixed message. We are saying Messiah has come already, but we’ll act as if nothing has changed by continuing to keep Torah.

According to Judaism, when Messiah comes, there is no more Torah.

In order for Messianic Judaism to act consistently with the values of Judaism, Messianic Jews would have to abandon Torah.

TorahUm…since when have Jews believed that when Messiah comes they will stop observing the mitzvot? I’ve never heard of such a thing before. In fact, according to this Jewish source…

The King Messiah and the Sanhedrin will restore the Sabbatical system and the Jubilee (which involve seven-year counts and a fifty-year count), as well as all other Commandments that we are unable to fulfill today. He will uphold and restore complete performance of the commandments and complete obedience to Hashem and His Torah. He will cause all Jews in the entire world to fulfill the Commandments of the Torah, and to uphold and strengthen the one and only true Judaism. Likewise, he will succeed in getting all the nations of the world, everyone alive, to acknowledge and serve the One True G-d, Hashem. This does not mean that they will convert and become Jews. It means that they will keep the Seven Laws that Hashem commanded the children of Noah.

The King Messiah will be extremely learned in Torah and absolutely observant of all the Commandments as taught and explained in the Oral and Written Torah.

The Messiah will not need to perform any miracles to prove who he is. Nor would the miracles be very significant. The Messiah’s purpose is to bring about the return of the Jews from exile, to restore our united practice of the Commandments of the Torah, to raise our conciousness to a high level of fear and love of Hashem, and to reinstate the Jewish kingdom in the Holy Land of Israel as Hashem originally established it under King David. Those are the Messiah’s essential purposes. Even bringing peace and affluence to the world will be only so that the world will be able to peacefully pursue our purpose of serving Hashem through Torah study and prayer — Jews as Jews, and Gentiles as Gentiles. Performing miracles is not particularly meaningful, since the Messiah will be an obviously righteous man, and the Torah commands us to obey the righteous.

What I’m driving at here is that all the miracles in the universe do not make someone Messiah, if he is not righteous. jesus, who contradicted the Torah, could not have been the Messiah, no matter how many miracles they claim he performed. The real Messiah, when he comes, may or may not perform miracles, but he will certainly not contradict the Torah in any way, shape or form.

-from the article “What the Messiah is Supposed to Do”

Sorry about the really long quote, but I wanted to make sure that I got the point across (and to that end, I bolded the word “Torah” above) that the Jewish understanding of Messiah does not require the removal of Torah observance and in fact, Messiah and Torah are inexorably intertwined. The RPP writer is entitled to their opinion, but I really don’t see that such a viewpoint is sustainable based on the Tanakh, Apostolic Scriptures, or Jewish traditions.

Jews, Messianic or otherwise, are required to observe the mitzvot because the mitzvot are eternal. Even the Master is famously quoted as saying so:

“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

Photo: First Fruits of Zion

You should also watch this thirty-minute episode of First Fruits of Zion‘s television program The Torah is not Canceled (free to be viewed online).

I say all this in support of Jewish Torah observance, whether Messianic, Orthodox, or otherwise. Messianic Jewish observance of the mitzvot isn’t a “witness,” it is obedience based on covenant obligation. The Jewish view of the New Covenant makes this plain.

I’m forced to disagree with both the Aish Rabbi and the RPP author that Jewish devotion to Yeshua results in loss of Jewish identity and abandoning Jewish covenant responsibilities to Hashem (or making Torah observance optional for Jews). Granted, in the long history of Christianity, the Church has required that Jews surrender their identity when coming to faith in Messiah, but all that has changed. Gentile Christianity no longer is the sole keeper of the Keys to the Kingdom, and Jews now have an avenue by which they can reclaim their own King and their own Kingdom and remain Torah observant Jews.

I realize that I’ve most likely really offended a bunch of people by writing and publishing this and certainly that’s not my intention. I am quite aware that opinions differ widely within Messianic Judaism as to just how “Jewish” Jews in Messiah should be. I suppose some would see me as a radical for my belief that Messianic Jews should remain firmly rooted in Jewish identity, Jewish community, and Jewish devotion to Torah and to keeping and guarding the commandments. Yes, I’m speaking of an ideal state of the movement rather than the fractured reality of today’s Messianic Judaism, but I believe there will come a time when all Jews will be drawn back to the Torah by Messiah.

If anything, and I’ve said this just recently, the job of Gentiles in Messiah is to help facilitate Jewish observance of the mitzvot. A Christianity (or Messianic Judaism) that preaches otherwise denies the New Covenant promises God made to Israel.

Renewing Her Relationship with Shabbos and Hashem

And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you.

Exodus 31:12-13 (JPS Tanakh)

The Talmud (Shabbos 10b) describes Shabbos as a special gift the Almighty gave to the Jewish people.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from “Observing Shabbos is a sign of your relationship with the Almighty,” p.218
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tisa
Growth Through Torah

My wife is continuing to renew her relationship with Hashem. Today (Shabbos, as I write this), she went to the Chabad for Shabbat services. I couldn’t be more delighted.

Why? Let me explain.

I’ve mentioned before that I believe the duty of non-Jews in Messiah and particularly those of us who identify as Messianic Gentiles, is to support, and if possible, inspire a return to greater Torah observance for Jewish people, and frankly, whether they’re disciples of Yeshua or not.

But without me doing a thing, something remarkable happened this morning. My wife (who is not Messianic in the slightest) went to Shabbat services. As I said above, I couldn’t be more delighted. She’s been lighting the Shabbos candle in our home somewhat intermittently over the past few months, but this is the first time in a long time when I’ve found her all dressed up and heading out the door to go to the Chabad to worship.

Shabbat candlesI’ve tried my hand at personal Shabbat observance and let’s say the results weren’t spectacular. Shabbat observance for anyone requires a great deal of discipline and preparation and really, I think it can only be done when it is fully integrated into your lifestyle. It would probably be best if you grew up in an observant home, but short of that, practicing and striving to observe Shabbos over the course of months, ideally with a knowledgable Jewish person guiding you, would certainly be effective.

But after my own “experiment,” and especially knowing my wife would not support me observing Shabbat (my “honey do” list has certain duties I must perform on Saturday), I decided that if it’s more important for her to observe Shabbat than it is for me, then my observing Shabbat, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t really matter all that much. I think Rabbi Pliskin would probably agree:

The Chofetz Chayim gave two parables to illustrate how Shabbos serves as a sign of the relationship between the Jewish people and the Almighty. When two people are engaged to be married they send each other gifts. Even if difficulties arise between them, as long as they keep the gifts that they received from each other we know they still plan to get married. But if we see that they have returned the gifts, then we know that the relationship between them is over. Similarly, as long as a person observes Shabbos we see that he still has a relationship with the Almighty.


Granted, she drove to services and it’s possible she will perform other melachah today, but this is still a powerful leap forward.

The effect of observing the Sabbath properly has another dimension. The Midrash (Shemos 25) states: R’ Levi said, “If the Jews will observe Shabbos properly, even one day, the son of David will arrive (i.e. we will return to Eretz Yisrael).” Why? For it is considered the equivalent of all the mitzvos, as the verse states (Tehillim 95:7): “For He is our God and we are the flock He pastures and the sheep in His charge — even today, if we but heed His call!”

from A Mussar Thought for the Day
Sunday’s commentary on Torah Portion Vayakhel
A Daily Dose of Torah

Yes, this is midrash so we might not be able to take it literally, but I believe there is a certain truth involved in Jews performing the mitzvot with Kavanah, the return of Messiah, and the New Covenant promises of God to Israel, the Jewish people, being realized.

Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, that you may become cleansed; I will cleanse you from all your contamination and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow My decrees and guard My ordinances and fulfill them. You will dwell in the land that I gave to your forefathers; you will be a people to Me, and I will be a God to you.

Ezekiel 36:25-28 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

No, I’m not discounting the Messiah, and I know that no one comes to the Father except through the Son:

I am the bread of life. Anyone who comes to me will not be hungry, and one who believes in me will not thirst again.

John 6:35 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

MessiahI don’t believe that Yeshua-devotion and the New Covenant promises of God to Israel are mutually exclusive. In fact, they are inexorably tied to one another, since Messiah is the mediator of the New Covenant and he came the first time to lay the foundation and to make the first down payment of the New Covenant.

This may be for some of you as was said in the synagogue in Kefar Nachum (John 6:59-60), “This word is difficult. Who is able to hear it?”

Rabbi Derek Leman has been spending the past several weeks on his blog laying out his theological perspective on a Jewish understanding of the Bible including the Apostolic Scriptures, as it describes Hashem’s relationship with the ancient and modern Jewish people. One of the things he said, and I agree with him, is that God didn’t abandon the Jewish people, and switch to the Christian Church at the end of the Biblical narrative. He can be found just as commonly in the Synagogue as in the Church (and having worshiped in a synagogue setting in years past, I can attest that His Presence was there).

So I don’t believe that God has abandoned my Jewish wife anymore than He has abandoned me for being a Christian (or Messianic Gentile if you prefer). I do believe that God expects my wife, as a Jew, to observe the mitzvot, including the Shabbat, since they were given specifically to the Children of Israel (as opposed to all mankind) at Sinai. The existence of a large number of “grafted in” Gentiles does not take away uniquely Jewish obligations and duties to God, and if my being a disciple of Yeshua means anything at all, then it should mean that I will do everything in my power to support and encourage my wife to observe the mitzvot associated with Shabbos.

The first of the zemiros that many people sing on Friday night begins with the words: “Whoever hallows Shabbos as befits it, whoever safeguards Shabbos according to the law [and refrains] from desecrating it, his reward is exceedingly great, in accordance with his deed.”

from A Closer Look at the Siddur
Sunday’s commentary on Torah Portion Vayakhel
A Daily Dose of Torah

So even if she didn’t light the Shabbos candles last night but she davened at shul (today) on Shabbos, then in accordance with her deeds, may Hashem reward her.

Of course, this should only be the beginning:

Rashi comments on this that rest on Shabbos should be a permanent rest and not merely a temporary rest. I heard from Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz the following explanation: A temporary rest means that a person has not really changed his inner traits, but he merely controls them on Shabbos. He still has a bad temper and has a tendency to engage in quarrels, but because of the elevation of Shabbos he has self-discipline and these traits are not manifest. But the ultimate in Shabbos observance is that a person should uproot those negative traits which are contradictory to peace of mind on Shabbos. One needs to uproot such traits as anger and the tendency to quarrel with others. Only then is your rest on Shabbos a complete rest.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from “To have peace of mind on Shabbos you need to have mastery over your traits,” p.220
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tisa
Growth Through Torah

intermarriageI’m choosing to interpret this a bit differently than I think Rashi and Rabbi Pliskin have in mind. I think that when a Jewish person observes some portion of Shabbos but not others, they are achieving a sort of temporary rest. Only when a Jewish person observes all of the aspects of Shabbos do they achieve the permanent rest they find in the complete acceptance of Hashem’s gift to Israel.

I’m keenly aware that my wife very likely sees me as an obstruction to her Shabbos observance since, after all, not only am I not a Jewish husband, I am in fact, a Christian husband, and like most Jews, she sees Christian theology, doctrine, and practice as the antithesis to religious Judaism and Torah observance.

More’s the pity.

I probably embarrassed her this morning, though I didn’t mean to. I spent about an hour and a half at the gym and when I got home covered in sweat, she was just coming out of our bedroom dressed quite nicely. I was startled and although I thought I knew the answer, I asked where she was going.

“Where do you think?” she responded.

I was thrilled she was going to services but she said I was “acting weird about it.” I guess I didn’t get my actual emotions across, but then I know she doesn’t want me to comment too much about her observance or relationship with Jewish community.

In the end, if my staying home and doing chores on Shabbat somehow frees her to go to synagogue, daven with Jewish community, and to observe more of the mitzvot, then I am content to be in that role. This is the role, at least from my tiny viewpoint, that I believe God has assigned me as a Messianic Gentile. The rest is in Hashem’s hands.

Why All Our Arguments Will Never Whisper To The Soul

faithIn the comments section of my previous meditation, a number of people debated over their various theological beliefs and offered a number of “proofs” to support their points of view. At about the same time, I read an article called “Why is there no evidence of G-d” at Chabad.org. This inspired a few thoughts about the nature of “truth” and why (probably) no one person or religious organization has the complete corner market on truth. But in the sidebar of the aforementioned article was a series of links to related articles. I clicked the one that said What Does it Mean to “Believe in G-d”?.

The statement, “I believe there is a G‑d” is meaningless. Faith is not the ability to imagine that which does not exist. Faith is finding relevance in that which is transcendent. To believe in G‑d, then, means not that you’re of the opinion that He exists, but that you have found relevance in Him. When a person says “I believe in G‑d” what s/he really means is “G‑d is significant in my life”.

In discussing our relationship with G‑d, the question we first need to ask, is, Who cares? In what way is He relevant?

For some people, G‑d is relevant because they are concerned with the origins of existence. For others, G‑d is relevant because they are concerned with the afterlife, and faith is a prerequisite for getting to heaven. Finally, for others, G‑d is relevant because they believe that life has purpose.

Certainly Christians convince others to come to faith because of the promise of the afterlife (“If you died tonight, do you know what would happen to your soul?”). The Church convinces “sinners” to convert to Christianity based, at least initially, on the fear of going to Hell and suffering for all eternity, and that by being “saved,” they are promised they’ll avoid Hell and ascend to Heaven when they die to be with Jesus.

That seems kind of cheesy. It’s like we have faith in God because it’s all about us and our salvation. Even coming to faith so we have some “grounding” in the origins of the universe, people, and the existence of everything still seems kind of self-centered.

But what about believing because we want life to actually mean something?

In Judaism, particularly in Chassidism, the interest in G‑d comes from the conviction that life has meaning. The recurring question in Chassidic thought is: Why is a soul sent into the world to suffer in a physical body, for 80, 90 years? We know there is a purpose, that G‑d is the author of that purpose, and we want to know and understand it.

One who lives by his heart exclusively, trusts only what he feels. One who lives by his mind exclusively, trusts only what fits. But neither of these tells you the truth. The mind demands that logic be trusted, the heart demands that the emotions be trusted. Yet both can be mistaken. They do not reveal inherent truth. For that, we turn to the soul, the neshamah. Because the soul is a part of the Divine — and that is truth. When we have faith, when we find relevance in G‑d, we are trusting that instinct in the soul that tells us that G‑d is the purpose of life.

In pragmatic terms, the mind, the heart and the soul must each fulfill their function: when we know all that can be known, when we come to the edge of knowledge and logic itself tells us that we have reached its outer limits and it cannot handle what lay beyond this point, faith enters. Where the mind is no longer adequate, the soul responds to truth. This is faith.

Let’s look at the central message:

The mind demands that logic be trusted, the heart demands that the emotions be trusted. Yet both can be mistaken. They do not reveal inherent truth. For that, we turn to the soul, the neshamah.

soulIn an ultimate sense, we can use evidence to support facts but not the truth. Being nice or being smart don’t really lead us to truth, but then we have a problem. How can you or I convince another person of “the truth” since that exists only in the purview of the soul?

This is why in Chabad-Lubavitch it is our approach to invite a Jew — even one who claims not to believe — to do a mitzvah, before we engage them in a discussion on faith. Because in consideration of the existence of the soul, we can assume that we don’t have to convince people of life’s Divine purpose. We just have to get them started, and with each mitzvah they do, their neshama asserts itself more, and questions become answered of themselves. By way of analogy, if a woman’s maternal instinct appears to be absent, you don’t argue the philosophy of motherhood with her. Just put the baby in her lap and her maternal response will emerge.

I can’t even imagine how a Christian would evangelize using this method. In Christianity, doing only matters after believing and is only a reflection of believing. Granted, the Church has a strong practice of charity and service to others, but it’s not the driving force that causes a person to convert to Christianity in the first place (could you imagine being a Christian and approaching a “sinner,” inducing them to join the Church with the promise of a lifetime of service to God and humanity?).

However, that’s more or less what Rabbi Manis Friedman is suggesting in his article. That’s why the Chabad will ask a Jew who is not at all religious to perform at least one mitzvah. Because the mitzvot are what connects a Jew to God.

To encounter God is a transcendent experience that goes beyond thought or emotion, but in order to “operationalize” that encounter, a Jewish person “does”. That is, he or she connects the soul to the author of the soul by performing mitzvot. This isn’t to say that prayer and worship don’t connect Jewish people to God, but at least from the Chabad’s perspective, it all starts with performing a single mitzvah, and then another, and then another, until they are living an increasingly Jewish life.

Christianity has the opposite approach in that reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping come first, and then eventually as the believer’s life is transformed by their faith, they come to the place where they are “doing” Christianity by helping other people.

argumentWhen we argue with each other for the supposed purpose of correcting what we believe others have gotten wrong about the Bible, about God, and about Messiah, and we say we are doing so because we care about those people, we are missing a vital element. We can’t reach their soul, at least not directly, with logical arguments or by appealing to their emotions.

Whether it’s by a Christian having a person they’re evangelizing praying to be saved, or by a Chabad representative having a Jew lay tefillin, the appeal is to the soul, and although we have different actions we put people through to make this happen, it’s really God who is speaking to the neshamah. That’s why, except in very rare instances, our blog conversations will never really be able to convince someone to admit that their theology is wrong, to change their minds, and to adopt a different religious discipline.

Speaking of changing religions, I found this article and it seemed relevant.

Search for God and Find Yourself

God called unto man [Adam] and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:9

We read in Genesis that after Adam sinned, he tried to hide in the Garden of Eden. Was Adam so foolish to think that he could hide from God? Certainly not! He was hiding from himself, because it was himself that he could no longer confront. God’s question to him was very pertinent: “I am here. I am always here, but where are you?”

Adam’s answer to God describes man’s most common defense: “I was afraid because I was exposed, and I therefore tried to hide” (Genesis 3:10). Since people cannot possibly conceal themselves from God, they try to hide from themselves. This effort results in a multitude of problems, some of which I described in Let Us Make Man (CIS, 1987).

We hear a great deal about people’s search for God, and much has been written about ways that we can “find” God. The above verse throws a different light on the subject. It is not necessary for people to find God, because He was never lost, but has been there all the time, everywhere. We are the ones who may be lost.

When an infant closes it eyes, it thinks that because it cannot see others, they cannot see it either. Adults may indulge in the same infantile notion – if they hide from themselves, they think they are hiding from God as well. If we find ourselves by getting to know who we are, we will have little difficulty in finding God, and in letting Him find us.

Today I shall…

…try to establish a closer relationship with God by coming out of hiding from myself.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Shevat 4

As human beings, we have the power to remake ourselves and to some degree, even those around us, just by how we behave and how we choose to think of ourselves and other people. A person who goes around chronically depressed or angry is likely to be pretty unhappy and be surrounded by other depressed or angry people.

OK, it’s more complex than that, but the idea is that if you continually involve yourself in doing good and behaving (and even thinking) as if you are constantly surrounded by good people, it is more likely that you will feel better about yourself, and other people will regard you well. At least it beats the alternative I outlined in the previous paragraph.

Rabbi Twerski brings up an interesting idea. People are always searching for God. I myself mentioned that I am continually pursuing God. Why? Is God running away from me? According to R’ Twerski, it’s the other way around. If I feel the need to pursue God, it’s because I’m the one running away from Him. If I need to search for God, it’s because I’m (futilely) trying to hide from Him. In the end, since no one can run and hide from God, all I accomplish is running and hiding from myself, and probably many other people in my life.

Serenity promotes peaceful and harmonious relationships with other people. We have often cited the verse, “As in water, face to face, so too is the heart of one person to another” (Proverbs 27:19). When you speak serenely to someone, the peaceful energy puts the other person in a better state, and usually that person will speak more pleasantly to you.

(From Rabbi Pliskin’s book, Serenity, p.17)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Serenity Promotes Harmonious Relationships”
from “Today’s Daily Lift #234”

SpeakObviously, this won’t work in every single case, but as a general rule, how you speak to someone (or address them in other ways including digital social media) is going to have an effect on how they respond to you.

But remember that all this starts with you and how you talk to yourself.

You are the person with whom you talk to most often. To become a serene person, consistently talk to yourself serenely.

Become aware of the tone of your voice when you speak to yourself. This often is so automatic that many people never consider it an issue. But it can be a major factor in whether or not you are usually serene.

(From Rabbi Pliskin’s book, Serenity, p.37)

-R’ Pliskin
“Speak to Yourself Serenely”
from “Today’s Daily Lift #98”

If you believe you are not a good person and that others don’t like you, chances are you’ll behave as if you’re not a good person and people really won’t like you. I’m not advocating that you become an egomaniac and think you’re the best thing God created since sliced bread, but God did create you (and me) for a reason, and He must have had a good reason for doing so.

I’ve heard it said (I can’t find the source right now) that each Jew should consider the world as having been created just for him or her. I know that sounds pretty bold, but expanding the idea to all human beings, we learn that each individual is precious to God and so we each have a very specific purpose in His design. God just didn’t create a “human herd” and relate to us only as “the masses,” God relates to us as individuals, just as He did with Adam when he tried to hide from God (or rather, from himself) in the Garden.

If each of us is that important to God, shouldn’t we treat ourselves with respect and speak to ourselves with serenity?

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:28-33 (NASB)

I know I’m stretching the interpretation of these verses a bit, but is it too much to consider ourselves as our own neighbor? If how we treat others flows out of how we speak to and treat ourselves, then shouldn’t we first treat ourselves with love and respect and allow that to direct how we speak to and treat others? After all, if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must first love ourselves.

But the first of these two greatest commandments is to love God. Why? Because He loves us in an unparalleled and unbounded manner. God’s capacity to love far exceeds any person’s capacity, so He loves each one of us far more than we could possibly love ourselves, each other, and much more than we are capable of loving Him.

Life isn’t easy. Even having the most positive attitude possible won’t prevent bad things from happening. It won’t always prevent you (or me) from sinning and letting that sin separate you (or me) from God and other people.

Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting.

Pirkei Avot 3:1

freeIf we keep God constantly before us and don’t attempt to hide from Him (which is impossible) and ourselves, then Akavia ben Mahalalel is right and we won’t (at least not as often) come into the hands of transgression and sin. And if we accustom ourselves to do more good deeds instead, then who we are will slowly change for the good and who we are with God and with others will change for the good as well.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

If we pursue God’s peace, then His peace will find us.

The Yoke We Must Bear

An implement taken from the pastoral life served as a metaphor in rabbinic literature, itself the product of city life. That implement was the yoke, which in linking animals to the plow and to one another made farming possible. For the rabbis, there were two yokes. The first was the yoke of Heaven: the acceptance of the existence of God as one and unique and the proclamation that there was no other. The second was the yoke of commandments: the acceptance by a Jew that the same God had enjoined the people to follow a particular path and to live a particular kind of life. The commandments were both ceremonial and ethical; their specificity grew out of a specific concept of God. Thus the yoke of Heaven created a particular kind of yoke of commandments.

“The Yoke of Torah,” p.50
from Chapter Three: “Know Where You Came From; Know Where You Are Going”
Pirke Avot: A Modern Commentary on Jewish Ethics

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”

Acts 15:7-10 (NASB)

I have no doubt that God desires that all human beings, not just the Jewish people, acknowledge the “yoke of Heaven,” that is, accept “the existence of God as one and unique and the proclamation that there was no other.” After all, this is the very first commandment that God gave the Children of Israel at Sinai:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Exodus 20:2

Most Christians don’t realize this is a commandment because it reads more like a declarative statement, but it is a commandment. However, as I said above, God desires “all flesh” to bow before him, not just “Jewish flesh”. The question is how?

That’s not much of a question for most of us. The vast, vast majority of church-going Christians have a fairly good idea of what they think they need to do to serve God. So do the vast majority of religious Jews. But somewhere in between is a group of Jews and Gentiles who are affiliated, to one degree or another, under the banner of “Messianic Judaism.”

Of course, and I’ve written many times on this before, it becomes somewhat problematic to think about a non-Jew having involvement in a Judaism as such. This is one reason why the other branches of Judaism consider Messianic Judaism to be a form of Christianity with a thin Jewish overlay. For their part, many Christians see Messianic Judaism as “too Jewish” for their taste and this “yoke of commandments” seems rather “legalistic,” though they misunderstand the role of Torah and the mitzvot in the lives of Messianic Jews (and Gentiles).

But as indicated above, the yoke of Heaven and the yoke of the (Torah) commandments are metaphors used to describe the relationship between humanity and Deity. These yokes then, are the connection between who we are as living creations of Hashem and the Creator Himself. The first is awareness and acknowledgement of the very existence of God and our willing proclamation of that fact, and the second, which our writer from the Pirke Avot commentary calls a particular path for the Jewish people, is a living response or extension of the first yoke, but only for the Jew.

Apostle Paul preachingOf course the commentary I’m citing doesn’t take into account the role of Yeshua (Jesus) as Master, Messiah, and Mediator of the New Covenant, so it could be said, at least by some non-Jews, that in coming to Messianic faith, the Gentile takes on board both yokes, just as does the Jew.

But what yoke was Peter talking about in Acts 15:10?

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?

Peter certainly couldn’t have been dismissing the yoke of Heaven as a requirement of becoming a disciple of the Master, since without a basic acknowledgement of God as Creator and Sovereign, everything that follows is meaningless. But there’s only one other yoke to consider: the commandments, that is, the Torah of Moses.

Now many, most, or all Christians will consider “the disciples” to be all disciples, Jewish and Gentile, and thus reach the conclusion that Peter was advocating for doing away with the commandments (and replacing them with grace). But they miss the fact that in verse 7, Peter identifies the object of his statement as “the Gentiles,” thus he is talking about the yoke of the commandments as being too great a burden to place on them, that is, on us, the non-Jewish disciples.

All of Acts 15 is an attempt to answer the question, “What do you do with a bunch of Gentiles who are being invited to become disciples within Judaism?” Since even a brief inventory of the Tanakh (what Christians call the “Old Testament”) describes the rather difficult history of the ancient Jewish people relative to their obedience to God, I think Peter is justified in saying that the mitzvot are a yoke which neither their (Jewish) fathers nor they (the Jews present at this legal proceeding, and by extension, Jewish people in general) could bear.

This isn’t to say that God expected any Jewish person to perfectly and flawlessly perform the mitzvot. God doesn’t expect the unreasonable out of flawed human beings. Certainly King David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22), was less than perfect, and yet even in light of his many human mistakes, he continually and passionately pursued God. James, the brother of the Master, said that “works without faith is dead” (James 2:17, 2:26), so obviously both are required in a life acknowledging the yoke of Heaven and of the mitzvot.

In reading the continuation of the Acts 15 narrative, we see James and the Council ultimately ruling in favor of Peter’s (and Paul’s) interpretation of scripture that the Gentiles should be exempt from many elements of the yoke of Torah. As I mentioned, the yoke of Heaven is a minimum requirement for anyone oriented toward God, so no one can be made exempt from this requirement.

In fact (citing Acts 15:28), it (that is, this decision) seemed “good to the Holy Spirit” that only a limited subset of mitzvot be applied to the Gentile disciples, rather than test God by laying a stumbling block in their path and causing them to repel from coming to faith.

But if God provided two yokes for the Jewish people, the yoke of Heaven and then a path to live out their faith in the yoke of the commandments, what about the rest of us? Actually, I attempted to answer that question, not by providing an exhaustive list of “do this” and “don’t do that” (which seems to be the standard expectation), but rather a higher level conceptualization of humanity’s overarching relationship with God.

Orthodox Jewish manThe Jewish people continue to bear a greater level of responsibility in their obedience to God because of their unique covenant status, but God in His graciousness and mercy, granted access for the Gentile to the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection to come without requiring that we shoulder the same “burdening yoke” (though that yoke is also “perfect for restoring the soul”; see Psalm 19:7).

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I don’t think Acts 15 is the end of the story, and I believe that oral instruction must have accompanied “the letter” as it made its rounds (perhaps eventually being formalized in that document we have called the Didache).

Just in living my own life day-to-day, I find that I have my hands full simply “doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with my God (Micah 6:8).” If we can master loving our neighbor as ourselves, as James the Just said, we “are doing well” (James 2:8). This is what James called “the royal law” and part of what the Master called “the greatest commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40). Since this “royal law” is linked to loving God, that brings us full circle back to the yoke of Heaven.

Maybe if you think you have completely mastered the yoke of Heaven, you, as a Gentile, feel you have merited also taking on the yoke of Torah. If you have mastered even that first yoke, then I envy you, for it seems that I and the believers I know have fallen short on some aspect or another in attempting to pull this “plow”.

If humility is about seeking a balance between the extremes of thinking too well of ourselves and thinking too poorly, where is that balancing point for the Gentile in Messiah? It may not be along the same path as the one God placed before the Jewish people.

One final note. As was said in the very first quote at the top of the page, a yoke not only links an animal to the plow but it links two animals to each other. If I say that the yoke of the commandments links Jewish people to God and to each other as Jews, I believe the yoke of Heaven links all of the faithful together, Jew and Gentile alike. So in this, I am not creating a barrier between Jewish and Gentile believers in Yeshua, rather, I am showing you by which yoke we are linked, for we are all yoked by Heaven.

Gentiles Studying Torah for the Sake of Doing

Although the word “chassid” is generally translated to mean exceedingly pious or devout, conjuring up visions of fasting, prayer, and religious zeal, its origin is in the concept of “chesed,” giving freely of oneself for the benefit of others. It is a quality practiced by Hashem, as described in many verses, and which we are encouraged to emulate as part of the obligation to follow in Hashem’s ways.

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.158
Friday’s commentary on Parashas Vayigash
A Daily Dose of Torah

“Serve the Almighty with joy, come before Him with singing” (Psalms 100:2).

The verse is recited daily in the morning prayers. But we have to internalize its message. Repeat this verse as often as possible, while thinking about what it means and how you can apply it.

This is especially important for a person with a tendency towards sadness. A sad person mentally repeats hundreds of sad messages a day. Repeating a verse with a positive, joyous message will serve as a good counter-balance.

(see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Happiness,” p.110)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Daily Lift #207 “Worth Repeating”

I sometimes envy devout Jewish people. At least in my studying Torah and the Jewish writings, their lives of devotion to God through the prayers and the mitzvot seem so ordered and unambiguous. Although living according to the requirements of Orthodox or Conservative Judaism has great complexity, it seems as if a Jewish person’s path is predictable and comprehensible with no gray areas within which they struggle.

Of course, that’s an illusion and I have no doubt that observant Jews struggle with their faith as much as anyone, even me. Still, there is such purpose in studying Torah, not for the sake of studying or acquiring knowledge, but to learn what God expects of us and then to do it.

However, that understanding isn’t limited to the Jewish people. All of us who are considered disciples of the Master, whether we’re called “Christians” or “Messianic Gentiles” have a duty to God and arguably to the Jewish people. We study the Bible, not just to learn the Word of God, but to put that Word into action in the world around us and in our everyday lives.

This point can be lost for many who are associated with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots. For decades, the emphasis for Gentiles exiting “the Church” and entering Messianic synagogues or Hebrew Roots congregations has been Torah, Torah, Torah. We have gotten into the bad habit of getting hung up on how to properly tie tzitzit, lay tefillin, and styles of kippot to place on our heads that we’ve forgotten about the weightier matters of Torah:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness…”

Matthew 23:23 (NASB)

PhariseesThe verse goes on with the Master instructing his Pharisaic audience to perform the weightier matters without neglecting the others (tithing mint, dill, and cumin), but then, he was speaking to Jewish Pharisees, not Gentile disciples.

Still, it’s a lesson that applies to us. Messianic Gentiles and Hebrew Roots Christians revel in their/our Torah knowledge but what do we do with it? If “knowing” is the full extent of our studies, then we know nothing. Only in doing, and I don’t mean tying tzitzit, are we fulfilling the mission to which God has assigned us.

But what is that mission?

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

I sometimes say there’s more than a bit of overlap in the mitzvot that apply to both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master and I would say that doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly before God definitely qualifies as part of that overlap.

I was reminded of this during my visit with my parents this week. My Dad had cancer treatments (thanks, he’s doing much better) in Salt Lake City just before Christmas (it’s not a dirty word) but because his vision was compromised by the treatments and my Mom’s vision is not so good, my folks asked me to fly down to SLC and drive them back home to their place about five or six hours away.

Of course I did and I’m staying with them for a week to make sure they’re doing OK.

So I’m away from home and my regular routine and doing what I can to be of service to my parents, both of whom are still quite independent minded though in their early eighties.

Putting the needs and desires of others ahead of our own is what God wants above all else. Though my “observance” is rather minimal these days, I still maintain a particular level of dietary and other practices that aren’t exactly compatible with how my parents live. But whose needs am I here to meet though, mine or theirs?

I know some people will pop off and respond that the requirements of God (Shabbat observance, dietary laws) trump even the needs of one’s parents, but I respectfully disagree:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”

Exodus 20:12

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

Ephesians 6:1-3

ShabbatThe commandment in Torah directed toward the Israelites and coupled with their living long in the Land of Promise is interpreted by Paul to be applied to the Gentiles as a condition of having long lives, or so it seems from the dual quotes above.

If given a choice between honoring my parents and the rote lighting of candles or what “work” one does on Shabbos, I’ll accept doing love and kindness to my folks as the higher commandment; the weightier matter of the Law. I don’t believe God will condemn me for honoring them.

But that leads to the larger mission for Messianic Gentiles which has a very particular focus. Although I can’t find the exact quote, a Messianic Jew mentioned in a Facebook discussion (in a closed group, so I can’t pass on the link) that one of the roles of the Messianic Gentile is to serve in supporting Messianic Jews in greater observance of Torah.

Actually, I’ve written before on the duty of Messianic Gentiles to the Jewish people, as well as why I’m a Messianic Gentile (Part One and Part Two). I believe we have a duty to preserve the Jewish people as Jewish and to assist in any way to support their covenant fidelity to God. This is a duty routinely abandoned by the Church and we Messianic Gentiles must take it back and uphold it:

The problem of Jews assimilating with the nations while in exile is an existential danger that is discussed by many commentators throughout Tanach. Meshech Chochmah, commenting on the verse: “God spoke to Yisrael in night visions…and said…have no fear of descending to Egypt, for I shall establish you as a great nation there (Bereishis 46:2,3), notes that only with respect to Yaakov do we find the description of a prophecy as “night vision.”

-from “Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.165
Commentary on Shabbos for Parashas Vayigash
A Daily Dose of Torah

The Christian Church in well-meaning but mistaken efforts, has believed that the only way to “save the Jews” was to have them convert to (Goyishe) Christianity, effectively destroying the Jewish people as Jews, decoupling them from the covenants, and assimilating them into the Gentile world as “Hebrew Christians”.

Messianic Gentiles, in my opinion, are specifically assigned by God with the duty to serve the Jewish people in maintaining and increasing their level of observance to the mitzvot. Gentiles acting like Jews does nothing. Gentiles encouraging and supporting Jews in greater covenant fidelity does much and may even hasten the return of Moshiach.

The Church, in attempting to separate Jews from the covenants, has been destroying Christian salvation, because only through the promises God made to Israel can God’s redemptive plan for Israel, as mediated by Messiah, be extended to the nations of the Earth.

Also, those who assume that there is “One Law for the Jew and the Gentile” inhibit or even fail the Gentile mission to the Jews by usurping Jewish covenant uniqueness (I’ve said this many times before in numerous ways, so I’m sure this message is familiar to my regular readers). If I, as a Gentile, were to don a tallit gadol and lay tefillin, it might make me feel good but it accomplishes nothing. If I encourage a “Hebrew Christian” to return to the mitzvot (or take them up for the first time) and thus don a tallit and lay tefillin, I have done much:

He said, “I have come to realize that as a Jew, I am called to live out the Torah.” Goldberg explained that the prophetic-kingdom promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 had revealed to him that the Torah is part of the new covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Moreover, he had come to realize that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 which exempted Gentiles from circumcision and obligation to the Torah’s Jewish identity markers said nothing at all about exempting Jews from any aspect of the Torah. Since the Jerusalem Council did not address Jews in their ruling, he deduced that they intended Jewish believers to remain faithful to Torah.

-Boaz Michael
from The Director’s Letter: “Four Different Views on Messianic Judaism,” p.10
Messiah Journal, issue 118/Winter 2014/5775

prayer-hitbodedutI’ve quoted the words of Alec Goldberg before and I guess you can say this current “meditation” is an extension of the previous one, because it addresses somewhat the definition of Messianic Judaism and particularly the role of the Gentile within such a Jewish framework.

I quoted the “Daily Lift” above because it speaks of internalizing what we study and the message of the morning prayers. So too must we internalize what the Bible teaches us about a Gentile’s duty to Jewish Israel and the needs of individual Jewish people:

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

Matthew 25:34-40

I learned a new interpretation of these verses from a wise Sunday School teacher in church about two years ago. I used to think this was a description of our general duty as believers to attend to the needy in general, but he pointed out that he understands this scripture to describe the duty of Christians to the needy among Israel.

Do you see how all this is playing out? Our duty speaks of subduing our personal needs for the greater good of, in this case, Jewish Israel and specifically Messianic Jews. If Messianic Gentiles have any role in the Messianic Jewish synagogue, it is to facilitate and encourage Torah observance of the Jewish disciples of the Master. This means setting our own wants, needs, and desires to one side and doing the “Torah” that is applied to we non-Jewish disciples.

I’ve known this for some time, but was reminded of it again in my visit with my aging parents. We do kindness out of love and we learn love from Torah (Bible) study. The Torah teaches us to honor our fathers and mothers, but I also believe Messiah teaches we Gentiles to honor Israel for only through her comes salvation for the world (John 4:22).

MessiahNo one comes to the Father except through the Son and only Messiah Yeshua is the keystone of our faith. If we wish to serve our Master, we must continually set aside ourselves and serve the least of his brothers, the Jewish people.

This is who we are as Gentile disciples and this is why we study Torah. So we can do.

For more on the duty of Gentiles to the Jewish people and the relationship this is supposed to forge, please read Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann’s article Everlasting Love: The Continuing Election of The Jewish People.