Tag Archives: Noah

Perfecting Humanity

This week’s Torah portion is Noah — the story of the world being destroyed by a flood because of the way people treated each other (see Dvar Torah). It is a lesson that we all need to take to heart. Did you ever ask yourself, “What would it take to create a perfect world and perfect humanity?” Here’s my list. These are all ideas culled from the Torah, the Instruction Book for Life.

10 Rules for Perfecting Humanity

  1. Speak Properly
  2. Act with Honesty and Integrity
  3. Respect Others
  4. Be Kind to Others
  5. Study Wisdom
  6. Work for a Cause
  7. Be Humble
  8. Pray
  9. Make a Daily Accounting
  10. Be Real with God and Life

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Shabbat Shalom Weekly
Aish.com

NoahGiven that I’m reasonably “settled” in what I have to do and how I have to do it in having a relationship with God while also being “Judaicly aware” (not that I’m very good at doing it all), I haven’t expected to write much more on this blog, or at least I thought I wouldn’t write very often.

But since the Torah Portion for this week is Noah, the story of a righteous Gentile, and that Judaism considers Hashem’s covenant with Noah (all living things, really) to be binding on all non-Jewish humanity even to this day, I thought I should draw some attention to the Rabbi’s commentary.

Notice that the list above are 10 rules for perfecting humanity not just Jewish people. Of course, Rabbi Packouz is writing to a Jewish audience, but I don’t think that invalidates the application of his advice to the rest of us. Also notice that the advice applicable to the Gentile was derived from the Torah.

Someone (a non-Jewish believer) commented on this recent blog post that the Torah is universal. He meant that every detail and every mitzvah is universally applied to all human beings who are either Jewish or Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus).

Well, of course the Torah is universal. Rabbi Packouz’s list illustrates this perfectly. However, that there are principles and even praxis in the Torah that are equally relevant to the Jew and Gentile doesn’t mean that all of Torah is equally applicable.

But let’s take what we’ve got in the list above.

First, go to the original article and read how R. Packouz “fleshes out” each item on the list.

Next, let’s consider how well each of us does on a daily basis in fulfilling every one of the ten items above.

Do we speak properly? This pretty much means not engaging in gossip or idle chatter about other people, even though there are some folks who get an emotional charge out of tearing someone else down, especially when that someone else has made mistakes and is reaping the consequences.

That sort of goes along with item 4: Be Kind to Others. No matter how unappealing or even sinful a person looks on the outside, first remember that none of us is perfect either, and then realize that everyone is fighting a hard battle, not just you.

cookie jarDo we act with honesty and integrity? As disciples of Rav Yeshua, I hope so, but let’s face it, more than one religious person, Christian and Jew, has been caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar. Sometimes how we recover from a mistake tells more about our character than never making one.

Do we respect others? I guess I should have put this one in with items 1 and 4, since our respecting all other people based on them also being created in the image of the Almighty would probably eliminate the vast majority of unkind and improper behavior in the world.

Study Wisdom. In this case R. Packouz cites both Torah and Pirke Avot, but I find it interesting that Theodore Roosevelt once said, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” Clearly, both Packouz and Roosevelt are saying very similar things. Acts 15:21 also seems to imply that the non-Jew can benefit from being grounded in Torah study (the Christian Bible obviously didn’t exist at that point in time) and there’s a lot to gain for a non-Jew studying Torah besides merely learning to imitate Jewish praxis.

Work for a Cause. They say charity begins at home but it doesn’t end there. Even if we sometimes question exactly what our mission is on Earth from God’s point of view, it’s pretty easy to look around our community and see needs. Find one you can fulfill.

Be Humble. That’s hard to do in the blogosphere. You’d think religious bloggers would be experts at this one, but often the exact opposite is true. R. Packouz says that wisdom only enters a humble person, so item 5 does nothing for you unless you also practice item 7.

Pray. Again, hopefully we are all doing this every day…maybe even every hour depending on what’s happening in our lives. These aren’t just petitions to fulfill personal needs, although this too is appropriate in prayer. Many of the personal prayers we find in the Bible are praise to God. Also, praying goes along with items 3, 4, and 6. When we pray for others, we integrate them into our thoughts and emotions, and out of that, we can act to be the answer to their prayers.

Make a Daily Accounting. This is an ugly one. Oh sure, if you’re a saint and you never sin, then this accounting is your personal victory list for the day. However, if you are a human being, there are bound to be at least a little bit of red on your ledger that needs to be wiped clean.

waiting-for-godBeing real with God would be easy, you’d think. He knows everything, after all. You can lie to others convincingly, but you can’t lie to God (no matter how much you might want to sometimes). Being real with God is baring your soul to Him. Being real with life is applying your relationship with God to your lived experience and connections to other people.

So, you’ve been through the 10 rules for perfecting human beings. You don’t have to say how you did. I’m certainly not going to share the gruesome details about my performance on the list.

But you can share it with God and see how He can help you and me be better tomorrow than we’ve been today.

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Returning to God in Time for Sukkot

If Yom Kippur can also be a time of repentance and mourning for non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus), then I suppose I’m late.

On the other hand, as PL recently commented:

That having been said, Sukkot is coming up, and you should probably give some consideration to how much you are willing to pursue practical enactments of the anticipated messianic era in which Zachariah envisioned the requirement for gentiles to celebrate Sukkot and the aspects of it that imply redemption for the nations. The above essay seems to indicate that you’ve pulled away too far, and perhaps that you’ve begun to acknowledge it.

I heard somewhere (I can’t recall the source thanks to my leaky memory) that if Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can mark a season of repentance and renewal for the Jewish people, then maybe Sukkot serves that purpose for the nations.

No, I’m not attempting to reintroduce myself into Jewish space, but I can’t ignore the (Biblical) fact that God also wants to include the Gentiles in the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, the Messianic Kingdom of redemption of the world. And while we are not nor shall we ever be Israel, there has to be a way to return to God that is appropriate for the non-Jew and that doesn’t involve directly (or maybe even indirectly, if such a thing is possible) using any form of Judaism as the Gentile’s conduit to repentance and reconciliation with God.

But where to begin?

Actually, I did begin and then stopped. I thought about looking at the practices of Yeshua and how he related to the Father as well as what Paul taught the Gentiles of his day, thinking this could provide some sort of baseline for the 21st century non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua.

followBut while more traditional Christians have no trouble conceptualizing how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the fact remains that the Master almost never interacted with non-Jews and when he did, he wasn’t always civil about it. Yeshua was (and is) a Jewish teacher who gathered a Jewish following in the first century of the common era, in the then Roman-occupied Holy Land. He came, at that place and time, for the lost sheep of Israel, not the lost sheep of the nations.

For the nations, Yeshua never came directly. For us, he sent Paul instead (Acts 9).

So what did Paul teach? The answer to that question would fill a book, probably many books, and many books have been written with Paul as their subject, some complementary (Christian) and some with disdain (Jewish). And almost certainly, the vast majority of those books got Paul and how he related to Jewish people, Judaism, and his Gentile pupils all wrong.

Probably one of the very few books that may have gotten Paul right, or at least come as close as we can given the Apostle lived and died nearly two-thousand years ago, was the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul Within Judaism (and I still owe Mark Nanos a book review on Amazon).

Don’t think that my returning here to write, even occasionally, means that I think myself worthy of being read. It absolutely doesn’t mean I think myself a teacher. But PL is right. In pulling away from the inevitable strife caused by the presence of a non-Jew (and particularly me) in Jewish space, specifically Messianic Jewish space, I’ve also pulled away from paying much attention to God.

In attempting to hack my 61-year-old body to perform younger at the gym and in more practical physical applications, I’ve used that effort to insulate me from “hacking” my relationship with God, particularly continual repentance and reconciliation.

At this late date in the Jewish High Holidays, there’s no way I can even beg the forgiveness of all those I’ve upset and offended online and in person, but I’ll take this opportunity to humble myself before all of you anyway.

I’m still covered in “filthy rags” as it were. Still in need of a lot of work. I’ve always known that, but the issues over a busted computer (long story) and various other stressors this weekend have brought that realization to the forefront.

I know now that as flawed and imperfect as I am, what kept me moving forward or at least prevented me from moving backward, was writing this blog. Even as I kept falling on my face time after time, each new blog post was my effort to pull myself back up and keep on running the race (with apologies to the writer of Hebrews 12:1-3).

unworthySo I’m telling you that I’m not a better person, at least not better than I was a month, two months, or six months ago. I’ve taken some steps to cull a few of the more negative influences I’ve encountered in the blogosphere and in social media, if for no other reason, than to reduce the level of conflict I experience, but I don’t think I’ve benefited significantly from that as yet.

So where does that leave me?

Non-Jewish disciples of Jesus find their home (this is a generalization, not an absolute statement) in more or less one of two places: Most of them find a home in some sort of Christian church. No surprise there. A significant minority find their home in either an expression of Messianic Judaism or in some version of Hebrew Roots.

None of that helps me.

What’s left?

Well, even if I found myself on a deserted island somewhere thousands of miles from anyone else, there would still be God.

Assuming in a communal and spiritual sense, that’s actually my situation, what’s to be done?

The answer returns me to the Apostle Paul and what he taught. If Jewish avenues of connection aren’t available to me in forging a relationship with God, then Paul certainly must have taught his Gentile students how they could turn to Hashem.

How did they?

Here’s what little I have so far. I put this together a few months ago:

What Did Paul Teach?

What we do/don’t do:

  • Gentiles weren’t to be circumcised.
  • Gentiles weren’t to convert to Judaism.
  • Cornelius prayed at the set times of prayer.
  • Cornelius gave charity to the Jewish people.
  • Paul preached that the Gentiles owed charity to the poor of Israel.
  • Pray for Jerusalem.
  • The Jewish PaulExamples 1 Cor 5:11 and 13. Purge evil from among you and no slander or backbiting.
  • Practice repairing the world a little every day.
  • Restore Jesus and Paul and their teachings to their original Jewish context.
  • Teach the centrality of Israel in the restoration of the world.

Who we are:

  • Gentiles can call Abraham their Father (Rom. 4:11).
  • [Many of the contributors of the Nanos/Zetterholm volume say that Gentile believers had an “anomalous identity” and “occupied a social and religious no-man’s land”. Gentile identity defies classification.]
  • Gentile believers are neither proselytes nor God-fearers.
  • Like converts, we make an exclusive commitment to the God of Israel, but unlike converts, we do not take on Jewish ancestral practices (kosher food, shabbat, circumcision, and so on).
  • While we retain our native ethnic identities, we no longer worship our native gods.
  • Paul saw us as part of Abraham’s seed (Gen. 17:4-5, Gal. 3:29, Rom. 4:13-18), and yet Israel is also Abraham’s seed.
  • Nanos says we are not guests nor proselytes but full members alongside the Jews (members in what…the Kingdom of Heaven probably).

All this is pretty disorganized and needs a lots of fleshing out.

While I’ve missed the boat as far as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are concerned, it’s still not too late to at least get back on the road in time for Sukkot (what most Christians think of as the “Festival of Booths”).

I apologize for involving Jewish online resources, but in a lot of cases, I have no choice since Paul operated on this calendar and, as PL pointed out in the above-quoted statement, even we Gentiles will be operating within such a calendar or observance in Messianic Days.

walking outPreviously, I’ve drawn some ire, both in blog comments and via email, by citing or quoting from specific Messianic Jewish resources that were written for a non-Jewish audience in mind, so I’m going to do my best to avoid mentioning them as I chronicle my journey of return.

That’s regrettable, since a lot of how I understand my relationship with God, Paul, Yeshua, and the centrality of Israel (and not the Church) in national Israel’s redemption and the redemption of the world through her, is from those resources.

But one of my goals for this blog (it always has been actually) is to not promote conflict. Sometimes the only way to avoid conflict is to avoid interacting with some people and groups who, unfortunately, I have a tendency to irritate and provoke (and I apologize and ask forgiveness of all those folks too, but even if they forgive me, repentance and forgiveness don’t automatically mean reconciliation…sometimes, you just can’t go home).

I don’t want “morning meditations” to be like so many other blogs in the online religious space that go out of their way to generate conflict, disagreement, and even raw hostility.

I’m not teaching, declaring, or demanding. I’m just sharing my personal and spiritual experiences (such as they are) day by day (or perhaps more periodically).

What did Paul teach his Gentile disciples and how can I apply (if it’s possible) that to my own life? What can I learn from those few other non-Jews, such as Cornelius, who worshiped God outside of Judaism and within their own non-Jewish households?

Since the Jewish Messiah and becoming his disciple (through the teachings of Paul) is at the core of this exploration, I don’t know that any examples of non-Jews we see in the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament) are relevant or even appropriate.

NoahOne notable example might be Noah, since he preceded any notion of Judaism and was considered “a righteous man, blameless in his time,” and “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 NASB).

Noah prayed to God, God spoke with Noah, Noah obeyed God, and Noah sacrificed to God, so what he did (apart from building an Ark and gathering a bunch of animals together) isn’t entirely out of the ballpark.

But for the most part, I’ll be spending my time in the Apostolic Scriptures, hoping some vestige of these ancient trails can point me to my way home as well.

Relative Righteousness

‘This is the story of Noah. Noah was in his generations a man righteous and wholehearted.’

What is the implication of ‘his generations’? Rabbi Yochanan said, “Only in his generations, but not in others.”

Reish Lakish said, “If in his generations, then certainly in other generations.”

-Tractate Sanhedrin 108a

Rabbi Yochanan acted in accordance with the noble precept “judge every person positively.” If the text lends itself to both laudatory and pejorative readings, then certainly a man described by the Torah as ‘a man righteous and wholehearted’ should be given the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, the Torah itself deprecates Noah for not having tried to influence others, in contrast to our father Abraham, about whom the Torah testifies ‘and the souls they had acquired (lit., “had made”) in Charan.’ The Rabbis explain: “He (Abraham) brought them under the wings of the Holy Presence, Abraham converting the men and Sarah the women. The Torah reckons this as if they had made them” (Tractate Sanhedrin 99b). Except for his immediate family, Noah “made” not a single soul and seemed uninterested in the fate of contemporary humanity.

-Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel
Chapter 1: A Tzaddik in His Generations, p.95
Translated by Kadish Goldberg
Jews, Judaism, & Genesis: Living in His Image According to the Torah

I’ve read this criticism before. There’s more than a hint of “superiority” in attributing higher or better motives to Abraham, the first Hebrew, than to Noah who was a Gentile, at least on the surface. Of course, if Rabbi Yochanan is correct, then Noah really did forsake even the attempt to inspire anyone in his generation besides his family to repent of their sins and thus be saved of the coming destruction of the flood.

On the other hand, how can Reish Lakish possibly be right, since there is evidence showing that Abraham but not Noah had disciples who were devoted to the One God?

If, however, we assume that the leader is forged by his generation, the picture is reversed. Noah’s stature surpasses that of Abraham. Abraham functioned in a society amenable to moral improvement, wherein one could “make souls.” Noah lived in a totally corrupt society, yet remained unblemished by its immoral influences.

-Amiel, p.96

This doesn’t tell us if Noah tried to save anyone, but it does suggest that he would have universally failed, given the abject corrupt nature of the society around him.

All this is conjecture, of course, but have you ever wondered if the world we live in today is more like Noah’s or Abraham’s?

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

Matthew 24:36-39 (NASB)

We can see that Jesus (Yeshua) is drawing a comparison between the days of Noah and the days of Messiah’s eventual return. In both cases, the general public didn’t have a clue that their time had come and that a revolutionary act of God was imminent. People will still be carrying on “business as usual” right up until the end.

stained glass jesusBut we can’t necessarily extend the comparison to include relative levels of corruption. After all, in the current age, people do respond to Christian missionary efforts and become disciples of Jesus and even some Jews and Gentiles have come to the realization of the revelation of the Jewish Messiah as the Jewish Messiah rather than the Goyishe King, if you’ll pardon my making a distinction.

Beyond the presumed difference in behavior in Noah and Abraham that Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish represent, there’s the idea that God will continue to offer redemption should a generation be open to it, and withdraw that option should that generation be totally cold to God. Does God ever give up on an entire people group?

As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying,

“To your descendants I have given this land,
From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”

Genesis 15:15-21

Although God promises the Land of Canaan as a permanent inheritance to Abraham’s descendants, they would not be allowed to take possession of that Land until the current inhabitants had become so corrupt that they were (presumably) unable to be redeemed. This seems to indicate some sort of spiritual or moral “cut off point,” a state that once entered into can never be reversed.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”

Exodus 32:7-10

It seems like Israel had crossed that “line in the sand” or at least was standing right on top of it. If Moses hadn’t pleaded with God for Israel (Exodus 32:11-14), then the inheritors of the Land would only have come from the tribe of Levi, that is, the descendants of Moses.

That last point is debatable however, and God could have been testing Moses the way He tested Abraham at the Akedah (Gen. 22:1–19).

The famous “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20) as Christianity calls it, was Messiah’s directive to his Jewish Apostles to do what had never been done before; make disciples of the people of the nations without requiring them to undergo the proselyte rite and convert to Judaism. It may have been (and I’m extending the previously mentioned midrash about Noah and Abraham) that like the people of Noah’s generation, the Gentiles were considered unable to be redeemed unless they converted and joined Israel and Jewish people “lock, stock, and barrel,” so to speak. If a Gentile were permitted entry into the ekklesia of Messiah and to remain a Gentile, was such a thing even possible?

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

Acts 15:1-2

Peter's visionMany Jews didn’t seem to think so, not because they were mean-spirited or had anything against Gentiles as such, but because it seemed like a spiritual and covenantal impossibility. Even Peter, if he hadn’t experienced his vision (Acts 10:9-16),would never have understood that it was possible for Gentiles to be redeemed.

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.

Acts 10:28

See? The vision was a metaphor, not a literal reality. It was never about food. It was about people.

Opening his mouth, Peter said:

“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.

Acts 10:34-35, 44-46

Obviously, those late Second Temple period Jews who thought Gentiles could not be brought to God on equal terms and yet remain Gentiles were wrong, but it took a lot of convincing. In fact, Luke’s Book of Acts and many of Paul’s epistles testify to how eagerly thousands upon thousands of Gentiles accepted the discipleship of Yeshua upon themselves, receiving the Spirit and the promise of the resurrection.

But what about we believers today? Oh yes, Christians sometimes go door-to-door passing out religious tracts, send missionaries to far away lands to preach the word of the Gospel, and otherwise proselytize the people around them, but do we ever give up on individuals or, Heaven forbid, entire groups of people?

For Easter one year, the church where I first became a believer many years ago, created a video project. They went to Portland and deliberately approached people who seemed extraordinarily (from these Christians’ point of view) unlikely to accept Christ or even to know much about him. The people they captured on video tape seemed to be what I believe were/are called punk rockers, people, with spiked, multi-colored hair and a proliferation of body piercings; people who didn’t look at all like the “clean-cut” Christians from that church in Boise, Idaho, who typically were socially and politically conservative, and most of whom were educated professionals.

When we screened some of the raw video prior to editing, a lot of people around me in the audience were laughing and making fun of the answers the “subjects” gave in response to the Christian interviewer’s questions about Jesus and Easter.

I was disgusted.

If that had happened today, I certainly would have spoken up, but way back then, I was considered what is called a “baby Christian,” someone new to the faith. I had very little experience as a Christian and didn’t know how or even if this was to be considered normal for a believer. All I knew was that a year from that point, none of the people in that Church would know if anyone they had spoken to in Portland might have made a confession of faith and become a brother or sister in Christ. They’d just written these folks off. More’s the pity.

Who are we? Are we worthy to be called by His Name?

Well, no one is worthy, but by our behavior, by our attitude toward individuals or entire groups or “types” of people, do be sanctify or desecrate the Name of God?

unworthyI can’t tell you about Noah’s righteousness relative to Abraham’s with any certainty, or for that matter, in relation to Moses, but I can tell you that the next time you see another believer operating with a “holier than thou” attitude (or the next time you operate with that attitude), chances are, the second you started making fun of someone else or denigrating them for some flaw or problem they possess, you ceased to have any claim to any righteousness you thought you had.

…as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one…

Romans 3:10

So what’s the cure for this sickness of self-righteousness?

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…each of you…”

Acts 2:37-38

Peter said other things, but I’m assuming that it is as believers we need to repent of how we judge others, not as those who still need to be baptized by the merit of Moshiach. But then again, if we are capable of acts of cruelty or even just indifference to whole populations of people because they don’t look, talk, or act like us, maybe we are not really disciples of the Master at all.

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.'”

Matthew 7:23

Noah: Reminder of the Rainbow

rainbow-israelThe story of one righteous man in an evil generation. The Almighty commands Noah to build the ark on a hill far from the water. He built it over a period of 120 years. People deride Noah and ask him, “Why are you building a boat on a hill?” Noah explains that there will be a flood if people do not correct their ways (according to the comedian Bill Cosby, Noah would ask “How long can you tread water?”). We see from this the patience of the Almighty for people to correct their ways and the genius of arousing people’s curiosity so that they will ask a question and, hopefully, hear the answer.

The generation does not do Teshuva, returning from their evil ways, and God brings a flood for 40 days. ah leave the ark 365 days later when the earth has once again become habitable. The Almighty makes a covenant and makes the rainbow the sign of the covenant that He will never destroy all of life again by water (hence, James Baldwin’s book, The Fire Next Time). When one sees a rainbow it is an omen to do Teshuva — to recognize the mistakes you are making in life, regret them, correct them/make restitution, and ask for forgiveness from anyone you have wronged as well as from the Almighty.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Torah Portion of the Week
Noah, Genesis 6:9-11:32
Aish.com

The rainbow is a sign to do teshuvah. I’d never heard of that before or, if I had, it leaked out of my memory somewhere along the way.

The Jewish world has just completed the period of the High Holidays including Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most Holy and solemn day on the Jewish religious calendar, a day when every observant Jew seeks to repent and to beg God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others. The rest of the world, including most Christians, don’t have much regard for Jewish holidays, but for Christians, you’d think we might take a cue from the rainbow.

Of course, since we have the blood of Jesus covering our sins and we’ve been washed white as snow, most Christians don’t give a great deal of thought to ongoing repentance, forgiveness, and atonement. More’s the pity.

But this is about me, not you. No, I’m not writing this as an exercise in narcissism, but rather as my effort to continue to turn toward God and to seek His face.

The heart of those that seek God shall rejoice. Seek God and His might, constantly seek His countenance

Psalms 105:3-4

As I write this, I didn’t sleep well last night. I thought about seeking God, about recounting His wonders, about remembering His marvels and judgments, but my mind was too clouded and distracted. Reading the Bible while fighting fatigue was unproductive. All I could do was to try to cling to God and pray that He would grant me at least a little bit of rest.

I’ve resolved to meditate on and even to memorize His Word (some of it, anyway) as a way to keep Him and His teachings close to my heart. Last night wasn’t a good time to do that and it reminded me of just how far a journey I must yet travel.

sandy-little-ferry-flooding-hmed-4a_photoblog500If I had known last night what I know this morning, I might have meditated on a rainbow.

Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman says that the rainbow is both a curse and a blessing. It’s a curse because it is a reminder that the world deserves to be destroyed for its sins, but that God has promised by covenant not to do so by flooding. Such a grim reminder of destruction that, in slightly smaller ways, we still suffer from today. But then, what else can we say about the rainbow? Rabbi Ullman states this:

The generation of the flood indulged in this worldliness to the point of perversion. Their wanton obsession with variety and variation resulted in their abusing the full gamut of their G-d given powers for the purpose of impurity. The flood purged the world of this impurity and the rainbow was given as a sign and reminder of what results from inundating the world with indulgence. However, the same rainbow simultaneously reminds us to repent from the relentless pursuit of multiplicity drawing us away from G-d. It urges us to direct the full spectrum of our powers and interests over the rainbow to the One on High.

In this way the rainbow is at once both curse and blessing; transgression and repentance; seductively appealing and pristinely beautiful. It depends on what you’re looking for in life. And perhaps that’s why, although it’s forbidden to indulge in the rainbow’s beauty, one may gaze at it – for the purpose of doing teshuva and directing one’s pluralities to G-d — in order to make the blessing.

I think the rainbow is visually appealing so that it will draw our gaze and having done that, remind us that we must continually seek to repent, to do teshuvah, to be reminded that we have a purpose in this world that goes beyond pursuing our individual desires.

I’ll never look at a rainbow the same way again.

One of the fundamental differences in Jewish Law and Noahide Law is that, Jews do not actively pursue Jewish converts, among non-Jewish nations.

The B’nai Noah are already under the Seven Laws, and have been permanently warned concerning their observance, so it is not a matter of trying to “convert” someone, from one religion to another; for the Noahide Code is not a “religion;” and all organized “religions,” are prohibited for the Noahide.

For the Noahide, it is a matter of Teshuva (return to G-d), not proselytization. Similarly a Jew who grew up atheist or agnostic, or who had strayed from the Torah and converted to an idolatrous religion; when he realizes his mistake and returns to Judaism, he does not “convert” back to Judaism; it is a matter of Teshuva, or returning.

It is the same for a Noahide. Others proselytize, Noahides return.

-Shlomo
“The Noahide Teshuva”
Gateway to Heaven

I include this quote because it suggests a very interesting idea. Jewish people are born into a covenant relationship with God whether they want to be or not. When a Jew leads a wholly secular life and later wants to return to God, as “Shlomo” says, that person doesn’t have to “convert” to Judaism, since they’re already Jewish and in relation to God. However, they do have to return to God, to do teshuvah, to repair the damage done in that relationship (I’ll argue that a Messianic Jewish person has not converted to Christianity but rather, made an even more complete return to God by becoming a disciple of Moshiach).

Blessed by GodMost Jewish people don’t recognize the Christian connection to God or that we are the beneficiaries of the blessings of the covenant God made with Abraham. However, they are quite willing to say, as “Shlomo” did above, that all non-Jews already have a covenant relationship with God through Noah. So, from that perspective, a Gentile does not have to “convert” to Judaism or anything else. The Gentile, like the Jew, is born already having a covenant relationship with God and on that basis, must return to God.

And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

Genesis 12:3 (NASB)

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Galatians 3:16 (NASB)

Christianity is something else. No one is born a Christian. Even if you are born to parents who are believers, you are not automatically a believer. Each person negotiates their own relationship with God. On the other hand, the covenant God made with Abraham is very old and spans across human history just waiting for any and all of us to grasp it and experience the blessings of the seed, of Messiah. In that sense, are we converting to Christianity or returning to something God intended for us all along?

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

Not that all of us will, of course. But we each have a responsibility to turn…to return to Him. It is not a casual act and it’s not something you do once and then it’s done forever. I neglect my relationship with God at my own peril. God created each of us in His own image, and endowed us with free will and a desire to seek Him. Many of us twist or distort those gifts and either go our own merry way in chasing our pleasures, or in seeking “something” we can’t define, become lost in the maze of religions and philosophies, imagining we are wise by worshiping what isn’t alive or even real.

Another Shabbos approaches. Another opportunity to welcome the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) beckons. Will the glow of the candles symbolize the warmth of God in my home and my heart? Will I fill in the “missing rainbow colors” in that glow and see the reminder to repent and return?

“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”

-Peter Marshall

Good Shabbos.

70 Days: The Lost Shabbat

Shabbat candlesWhen Lemech named his new son (at the end of last week’s reading, Gen. 5:29), he called the boy “Noach”, saying “this shall comfort us (yeNaCHameinu) from our work and the difficult labor of our hands.” But the name Noach was prophetic in a different vein, as the name also means to be at rest (“NaCH”). The Zohar, the fundamental work of the Kabbalah, of Jewish mysticism, says that “Noach” is thus a hint to the Sabbath, the day of rest. “Shabbos” is derived from the word “SHeVeS,” which also means to be at rest: “for in [the seventh day] He rested (“SHaVaS”) from all His work.” [Gen. 2:3]

In this week’s reading, Noach is commanded to make sure there is a light in the Ark, using the unusual word “Tzohar” (found nowhere else in the Bible) to indicate brightness like midday (“Tzaharayim”). The Avnei Azel writes that when we combine the numerical value of “Tzohar” with that of the Ark, “Tayvah,” the sum is the value of “Shabbos.” The Sabbath encapsulates both the Ark, the shelter from the flood, and the brightness within it.

We live throughout the week with work and other responsibilities, building up (and sometimes crashing down) around us. Shabbos is quite literally a shelter from the storm, and opportunity to withdraw from all the distractions and focus upon what is truly important. It is the busiest executives who, when they decide to fully observe the Sabbath, and stop using all electronic devices and not do business on that day, frequently remark that they don’t know how they survived without it.

Viewed correctly, the Sabbath isn’t about restrictions, but is the opportunity to focus upon the light within.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“The Light Within”
Commentary on Torah Portion Noah
ProjectGenesis.org

I usually “get in trouble” when I post anything mentioning mysticism or Kabbalah, and I want to assure you that I tend to see mystic writings metaphorically, since I am nowhere near being any sort of “mystic” myself. But in reading Rabbi Menken’s commentary on last week’s Torah portion, I can’t help but once again be captured by the “magic” of the Shabbat. I don’t think it’s so much the mechanics of the seventh day, but the idea that God has provided the Jews with a way to wrap themselves inside a comforting blanket of sorts, that provides peace and a special closeness with God for one day a week. It’s as if the week is a cold, winter’s day with an icy wind blowing, freezing you to the marrow as you make your way about your tasks, and Shabbat is staying in bed late in the morning, toasty warm and pleasantly relaxed inside and under your comforter, while that self-same icy wind blows impotently outside.

I have been told more than once that the Shabbat is the sign of the Mosaic covenant with the Children of Israel and as such, is not “transferable” to the rest of the world, but of all the blessings that God provided the Jewish people, I must admit, I continue to “covet” only this one. I find it a particular disappointment that when Jesus made it possible, through certain blessings of the Abrahamic and New covenants, and through his broken body and blood, for we non-Jews to also enter into covenant relationship with God as his disciples, he didn’t make it possible for us to also enter into a weekly Shabbat as well.

More’s the pity.

But then again, early Christianity, when it threw off its Jewish mentors and guides like old rags and “reinvented” itself in the centuries after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in Holy Jerusalem, set aside many of the “Jewish” aspects of its own Messianic worship, including meeting with other like-minded Gentiles and Jews in the synagogue to daven on Shabbos. We abandoned the potential for such a “rest” in both God the Father and in Christ. We did it to ourselves.

I say all of this because I’ve contacted a Pastor and set up an appointment to meet with him in a little less than two weeks to discuss my “situation.” As I’ve said in other Days blogs, I pretty much have to “fish or cut bait.” I can try to sit on the edge of a razor blade forever, or pick a side and jump off into whatever awaits me below. So I picked a side and jumped. Now, I’ll be in free fall for the next week and a half or so, and then I’ll arrive at ground level and make the first “bounce” in my landing. Believe me, I’ll make sure you hear it when I go “thump.”

But the closer I move toward Christianity and the church, the further I feel I am distancing myself from Judaism and, in some aspects, particularly from my Jewish wife. And as I said, of all the Jewish practices and values I have been exposed to, the Shabbat is the one closest to my heart. Even though the Shabbos candles are no longer lit in my home on Friday evening, I do not abandon it in my heart. But with my body and everything else, having chosen a “course correction” for myself which is designed to increase my trust in God, what am I leaving behind?

In describing the Shabbos, the verse in Bereshis (2:3) writes: “For on it [the seventh day] Hashem rested from all His work which He created לעשות —to do.” This final word in the verse…does not complete the thought of the verse the thought of the verse smoothly, and it seems to even be an extra word altogether.

A cursory observation of the world indicates that Hashem continues to sustain the world on Shabbos just as on every other day. Plants grow and creatures thrive on Shabbos, with the ongoing providence of Hashem overlooking every detail just as on the weekdays. In what manner, then, is the seventh day a day of rest for Hashem?

The Bnei Yisasschar explains that when the world was created, it was set into place with the potential it needed to continue, and for nature to take its course. Creatures were given the instincts necessary to procreate, and plants were placed into their environment for survival and in order to prosper. As the world continues to exist on Shabbos, it is within the realm of work that was put into place before Shabbos, and the work takes place on Shabbos automatically without further input.

The verse tells that Hashem created the world “to be done.” Hashem continually renews the world every moment. Yet, from the day of creation and onward, this supervision of Hashem is manifest in a manner as if the world is set and conducts itself naturally.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“A World Set in Motion”
Commentary on Shabbos 17

I’ve sometimes wondered about Creation, the Seventh Day, and entropy, that property of all systems including the universe, to go from a more to a less organized state, very slowly running down like an old clock worked by a mainspring (if you’re old enough to remember such clocks and watches). When God “rested” and He built-in to His Creation the ability to continually move forward under its own “momentum,” so to speak, is what we see of the universe’s expansion, and the general long-term decay of systems (including human being “systems”) part of His “rest?”

Jewish philosophy sometimes states that God is continually renewing the universe and if He was to cease, even for the briefest of moments, existence itself would fly apart. But I seem to notice (and I believe the scientific world will agree with me here) that the universe is rather very slowly, ponderously, “flying apart” anyway. Sort of a disturbing counterpart to the “warm, comforting blanket Shabbat’s rest” I described above.

FallingApartBut if God’s rest isn’t a literal, one-to-one model of Shabbat between Creator and creation, then perhaps it is a twist on the metaphor that we should regularly rest in Him, or otherwise “fly apart” for lack of any rest in God at all. However, I understand that we can also consider the Shabbat as a hint or foretaste of the Messianic era to come, when all of our current concerns and labors will come to an end and we will all perpetually rest with Him.

The Jewish people are compared to the stars twinkling in the high heavens. By their light, even he who walks in the darkness of night shall not blunder.

Every Jew, man or woman, possesses enough moral and spiritual strength to influence friends and acquaintances, and bring them into the light.

“Today’s Day”
Wednesday, Cheshvan 5, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

God gave a good many gifts to the Jewish people, not the least of which is the Shabbat. Although both Judaism and Christianity tend to agree that we non-Jews don’t enter into a weekly Shabbat’s rest (no Christian ever treats Sunday like an observant Jew treats the Shabbat, so no, Sunday is not the “Christian Shabbat”), it is much to our own regret that we fail to do so. For we have robbed ourselves of not only a weekly renewal in God, but of a preview of what life will be like when the Jewish King and Lord will take possession of his kingdom, and rule the world in true justice and in peace.

And yet today and in the weeks ahead, I find myself deliberately walking on a path that leads away from that peace. I hope this is me trusting in God rather than me just being foolish.

Noah, Moses, and Peter: Lessons from Acts 2

Receiving the SpiritFor the disciples of the Master, Shavuot already carried extra significance as the fiftieth day since His resurrection. He was the first fruits of the resurrection. The disciples and followers of Yeshua were themselves the first fruits of His labor. On Shavuot, they added 3,000 souls to their number and the great harvest of men began.

The story of Acts 2 depicts the early disciples of Yeshua still engaged in the biblical calendar, keeping the LORD’s appointed times as prescribed by the Torah of Moses. Unlike later Christian tradition which discarded the biblical calendar with its weekly Sabbaths and holy days, the early disciples remained steadfastly Torah observant, even after the resurrection of our Master.

Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Torah Portion Noach (Noah) (pg 30)
Commentary on Acts 2:1-41

“Chronicles of the Apostles” takes students on a year-long study of the book of Acts with Messianic commentary and Jewish insights into the Epistles.

Follow the lives and adventures of the apostles beyond the book of Acts and into the lost chapter of church history. Study Jewish sources, Church fathers, and Christian history to reveal the untold story of the disciples into the second century.

Promotional description of
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

All of them were gathered with one heart.

Ma’asei HaShlichim 2:1

So begins my year-long study of the Apostolic writings from Acts and other sources, which runs in parallel with the annual Jewish Torah reading cycle. I say “parallel” rather than a more closely connected link because, although this study in Torah Club is to be read for the Torah Portion Noach (Noah), they have little, if anything to do with each other. Noach doesn’t speak of Shavuot or the giving of the Torah at all, which are events that occur much later in the Torah narrative. And yet perhaps this is a good thing.

In traditional Christian Bible studies, the New Testament is given overwhelming preference with maybe a slight nod to the Old Testament, but almost certainly not the Torah (the Five Books of Moses). In the Hebrew Roots movement, where I have spent most of my history as a believer worshiping God and studying the Word, the Torah is given the greater preference, even though we are followers and disciples of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. I think it’s good to try to even the scales, so to speak, and give equal time to all of the different portions of the Bible.

A traditional Jewish Torah reading will present from the Torah and the Prophets. Few synagogues also offer the opportunity to read the Psalm for the week, but each Torah Portion has a corresponding Psalm (Psalm 29 in the case of Noah). First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) has also created a schedule of Gospel readings that map to the readings of the Torah, but the later portions of the Apostolic scriptures are largely ignored, at least formally.

In my “previous life” as a teacher in my former “One Law” (part of Hebrew Roots) congregation, I created an alternating cycle where for one year, Matthew through Acts was read along with the Torah cycle, and the next year, Romans through Revelation was read. So in two years, the congregation would go through the Torah twice, through the traditional readings of the Prophets and the Psalms twice, and through the entire New Testament. Imagine how much you would absorb after a decade of repeatedly reading and hearing read the vast majority of the Bible.

But reading and hearing read is one thing (or two things) and studying is something else. Here, FFOZ and D. Thomas Lancaster offers the Torah Club student (or class, since this material is designed to be used in a small group study) the opportunity to “dig deeper” into the scriptures and to learn how familiar passages in Acts are married back to the Torah, as well as to the Prophets, other portions of the New Testament, and as the study progresses through the annual cycle, to extra-Biblical learned texts as well.

Today, I am learning about the Acts of the early Jewish Apostles, This lesson is about the 3,000 Jews, many probably from the diaspora, who were in Jerusalem for the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), which is held in the late Spring, and who came to receive the Spirit of the Lord and to come to faith in Jesus (Yeshua), the Jewish Messiah, the Son of the God of Israel, the redeemer of Israel and the world.

The disciples were all “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Torah uses the same terminology to describe the endowment of God’s Spirit on Joshua, Caleb, Bezalel, and Oholiab. In those examples, the Torah likens a human being to a vessel. God’s spirit can fill a human being like water can fill a jar.

from “Chronicles”
Torah Portion Noah (pg 32)

And what is this supposed to teach me? I’m reminded of something I said just recently:

I’m still not sure of what the process is where I’m supposed to be emptied now and filled later, but in trying to live out that process in writing and in person, I prefer to think of myself as taking “the higher road less traveled”

But in reading Lancaster’s study of Acts 2 and the giving of the Spirit, I’m also reminded of this:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

1 Corinthians 4:7-11 (ESV)

So aren’t we all fragile jars of clay containing an unimaginably valuable treasure of the Holy Spirit of God, through our Master and Messiah Jesus Christ?

Acts 2 describes the giving of the Spirit to thousands of new Jewish disciples of the Messiah on the day of Shavuot. Is it too soon to bring in the idea that we among the nations were also to receive the Spirit?

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

Perhaps I can also extend the lesson and the metaphor of “jars of clay” to include Gentile God-fearers like Cornelius and his transition into what was later known as Christianity through accepting discipleship under Jesus Christ…and also bring Noah into the lesson.

I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Genesis 9:11-17 (ESV)

As we saw in Acts 10, Peter, the Jewish Apostle, was astonished to discover that the Spirit of God would also come upon the non-Jew who accepted Christ, just as it came upon the Jews during his experience of the events recorded in Acts 2. It had never occurred to him before that such a thing was even possible. What a wonderful God who can also save the children of the nations as well as the Children of Israel.

But earlier in the chapter, we learn some things about Cornelius as he was before becoming a disciple of Jesus:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.

“Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.”

Acts 10:1-2, 22 (ESV)

The Roman Centurion Cornelius and his non-Jewish household were known as “God-fearers,” non-Jews who had come to the realization that the God of Israel was the God, the One and only, the Creator. In that realization, they came to faith, abandoned the pagan idols of Rome, and gave homage to God only. Often, non-Jewish God-fearers would worship in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Many took on some of the other Jewish religious practices of the day, including the daily prayers, and even, to a degree, a Kosher observance (for Peter to break bread in Cornelius’s house, this would have to be true in his case).

But would a Gentile simply walk into a Second Temple era synagogue on Shabbat and inform the Rabbi and other Jews that he intended to worship the Israelite God with them? How was this done and under what status would a Gentile appropriately do such a thing?

Recall Genesis 9 and the covenant God made with Noah and all of his descendents which, by definition, includes all of humanity.

The concept of the Noahide was not formalized, as we understand it today, until the Talmudic era, many centuries after Cornelius and Peter walked the earth. However, the covenant of Noah would have been well-known among the Jews and it’s not beyond reason to believe that a man as devoted to God as Cornelius would have learned or been taught that anyone from among the nations stands before God as subject to the covenant with Noah. Perhaps, though not called or even thought of as “Noahides,” many of the Gentiles who would later receive the Spirit and be baptized by water in Christ’s name, were nevertheless, viewed in such a manner, as God-fearing men and women who had heard the distant words of God to Noah at Ararat, and thus, believed.

To borrow more from Lancaster’s Torah Club lesson (pg 47), maybe we can understand the rite of baptism, especially as it related to the God-fearers, just a little better:

Based on this reading, Lichtenstein argues that the formula (see Acts 2:38) is not a baptismal confession but a statement of purpose. The disciples were to immerse people for the sake of declaring their faith in His messianic identity. Their immersion for His sake signified their entrance into His school of disciples and their allegiance to Him.

The apostles believed that the immersion in His name entailed a mystical union with Him, with His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. (see Romans 6:1-13 and 1 Corinthians 4:7-11)

This interpretation of the meaning of baptismal immersion signifies the crossing of a barrier for the non-Jewish adherents to the God of Israel, from God-fearers and possessors of the covenant of Noah, to disciples and people granted entrance to much greater covenant blessings under Messiah Yeshua.

In the events of Acts 2 and during the festival of Shavuot, every Jew present would be constantly reminded of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, of the awesome voice of God thundering from the smoke and fire, of the top of the mountain, smoldering in unspeakable tongues of flame. When the Spirit of God manifested as “tongues of fire” and rested upon the disciples of Moshiach at Solomon’s Portico, and they spoke in the many tongues of men and the languages of the nations, how much more significant was that Shavuot and all those that followed in their annual procession, to the older and newly made disciples? And when Peter saw that even the Hebrew FireGentiles could receive the Spirit, the greater mysteries of God’s work among all the world, linking Noah, to Moses, to Jesus, unfolded like an infinitely wide cloth, spilling amazing treasures across history, from Creation and into the future that even we now inhabit.

Admittedly, I’ve far exceeded the content of this part of volume 6 of the Torah Club in this “meditation,” (though I’ve included only a tiny fraction of what the over 20 pages of lesson notes – not to mention the accompanying audio CD – for this single teaching have to offer) but once I start learning, the connections to many other sparks of God’s wisdom were inevitable. If you continue to follow me in these studies or to embark on your own through the Torah Club, this will happen to you as well. Believe me, if you encounter the wealth of information in just this single study, it will illustrate to you that what you thought you knew about the events of Acts 2 only scratches the surface of what is actually there.

As humble and empty jars of clay, in seeking God and studying His Word, we desire to become filled with His Spirit and His Wisdom, every day, on each encounter with Him, and across all of our years.

…and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Luke 24:47 (ESV)