Torah is the life blood of the Jewish people. Our enemies have always known that when we Jews stop learning Torah, our assimilation is inevitable. Without knowledge there is no commitment. One cannot love what he does not know. A person cannot do or understand what he has never learned.
-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Shavuot” Aish.com
Of late, I have distanced myself from more formal expressions of Messianic Judaism, and so I decided to revisit the question “What should Shavuot mean to me?” I reviewed my previous comments on the matter. Things have changed even more since then.
In his commentary, Rabbi Packouz continued:
A Jew is commanded to learn Torah day and night and to teach it to his children. If a Jew wants his family to be Jewish and his children to marry other Jews, then he must integrate a Torah study program into his life and implement the teachings into his home and his being. One can tell his children anything, but only if they see their parents learning and doing mitzvot, will they inherit the love for being Jewish. Remember: a parent only owes his child three things — example, example, example.
Well, that’s for a Jew. The Torah wasn’t given to the nations at Sinai and we didn’t inherit it either at Acts 2 or Acts 15. We have, by inference, received the promise of the Holy Spirit and Acts 10 does record non-Jews receiving such a Spirit, so the Pentecost event should have some significance for us.
But there’s a disconnect between people of the nations receiving the Spirit and other of the New Covenant blessings solely by the grace and mercy of God, and the Children of Israel receiving the Torah as the conditions of the Sinai Covenant.
So we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav should be cautious as to how much of Shavuot we claim, since it doesn’t belong to us. While I enjoy reading Rabbi Packouz and the other Aish rabbis, I’m distinctly aware that they are writing solely for a Jewish audience. It’s just that they can’t block any non-Jew who happens to visit their site.
As I was reading R. Packouz, a pop-up appeared inviting me to chat with an Aish.com Rabbi. I don’t know what I’d say and I’m sure he’d be in the same bind, hence I minimized the window.
I did come across another Aish article written by Rabbi Moshe Greene called The Yiddish Speaking Latino Cop. I won’t quote from it, but I encourage you to read it, as the article describes how a non-Jewish retired police officer named Donny became so close to a great chassidic leader, that he “picked up” Yiddish, and perhaps much more.
Ultimately, the story is about encouraging Jewish unity, not the role of a non-Jew in that process. That said, it was Donny who asked Rabbi Greene a pointed question that resulted in his writing about the encounter for Shavuot.
But unlike Donny, we might not find ourselves in a unique position to have those insights and experiences that might actually cause a Rabbi to think in a new direction. However, as R. Greene mentioned (though regarding only Jews), we all can participate in the process of Tikkun Olam, or making the world a better place.
Perhaps for the Gentile, Shavuot is less about the Torah, the Sinai Covenant, the Festival, and the traditions, than it is a reminder that as possessors of the Spirit of God and in the name of our Rav, we too can do our part to make the world just a little bit better.
Yesterday, I attended a class called “The Laws of Shavuot.” Being relatively new to Judaism, I expected a class similar to those before Passover or Sukkot. Many technical laws. Lots of “do”s and “do not”s.
To my surprise, other than going to synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments, there are very few laws unique to Shavuot. Unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there are no lengthy prayers. And unlike Sukkot and Passover, we can eat whatever we like, as well as wherever we like. Sure there are the customs related to flowers, blintzes, and cheesecakes, but hey, it’s a piece of (cheese)cake compared to the other holidays.
Am I missing something here? Shouldn’t the holiday on which we received the many laws of the Torah have some laws of its own?
I suppose I should write something about Shavuot. The festival begins at sundown this Tuesday, June 3rd and continues through sundown on Thursday, June 5th. It’s the only one of the Jewish moadim (appointed times) that has a direct corollary in the Christian religious calendar since the Church observes the Pentecost event (Acts 2:1-13), however, while Christians consider Pentecost a one time occurrence, Shavuot, from a Jewish perspective, is an annually recurring celebration.
As the person writing to the Chabad “Ask the Rabbi” column observes, unlike the other Jewish festivals, Shavuot doesn’t seem to have much in the way of customs or commandments associated with it. Of course, neither does the typical observance of Pentecost in churches. In fact, growing up in a Lutheran church, I didn’t even know Pentecost was an event. I only thought we celebrated Christmas and Easter. The same was true when I actually (finally) came to faith (as a child, I never understood I was supposed to do something like “accept Christ into my heart,” so I couldn’t be considered a Christian in those days) in a Nazarene church when in my early forties.
I guess I should correct a point I made above. Shavuot celebrates a one time event also, the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Yet, the Bible commands the Jewish people to observe the moadim in perpetuity, while Church custom added the “observance” of the giving of the Holy Spirit outside of the Biblical canon.
For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.
–Acts 20:16 (NASB)
In the church I attend, both in the sermons on this verse and in Sunday school class, it is imagined that Paul’s primary motivation to get to Jerusalem in a hurry has to do with the significance of the Pentecost event, the giving of the Holy Spirit, which the Pastor refers to as “the birthday of the Church”. And while Pastor does acknowledge that Paul, as an observant Jew (though he believes that in this “transitional period”, Torah observance was on its way to extinction among the Jewish ekklesia), would also be motivated to return to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot in accordance to the commandment, my Sunday school teacher is all but blind to the “Jewishness” of Paul and focuses exclusively on Pentecost as the apostle’s overriding concern.
More’s the pity. The Church wholly misunderstands Paul and has led the rest of the world, including ancient and modern Judaism, to misunderstand him, too. We also tend to miss why Shavuot would have been so special to Paul as a Jew and especially as the apostle to the Gentiles in the diaspora.
Torah is the life blood of the Jewish people. Our enemies have always known that when we Jews stop learning Torah, our assimilation is inevitable. Without knowledge there is no commitment. One cannot love what he does not know. A person cannot do or understand what he has never learned.
He, of all people, should have known the vital importance of Torah study and observance for Jews, Jesus-believers or otherwise, in order to maintain Jewish identity and covenant integrity. After all, he declared himself…
…a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God…
–Acts 22:3 (NASB)
Also, on many occasions after his initial arrest, he proclaimed his innocence, including in Rome:
Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.”
–Acts 28:17 (NASB)
The Torah was always close to Paul and in spite of how the Church has distorted Paul’s teachings and his reputation and taught the Jewish people to distrust if not actively despise Paul, the meaning of Shavuot must have been heavily upon him during his last visit to Jerusalem.
What is it supposed to mean to Jews today? What is Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar’s answer to the question of why Shavuot is so “easy”?
Here’s what R. Cotlar says the answer isn’t:
The Torah is often seen as a “bandage” solution. The world is essentially a dark and scary jungle filled with all sorts of unhealthy foods, relationships and forms of recreation. So the Torah keeps us out of trouble.
Essentially, this perspective is saying that there was always a world, stuff, and us. The Torah? That came later on. It wasn’t until 2,448 years after creation that G‑d decided to work on the glitches, or at least provide us a way to maneuver around them.
With this approach, the Torah is an imposed set of laws—one that clashes with the world around us.
Now here’s the correct response:
The Torah is G‑d’s own wisdom. It existed long before there was a world. But G‑d wasn’t happy with this wisdom staying in the spiritual realms. He wanted a physical world where this wisdom would be studied and its commandments observed. To make things challenging, He planted obstacles and distractions, but these are merely masks that conceal the world’s true purpose: An activity center for Torah and mitzvahs, a place where every word can be transformed into Torah, every gadget used for holiness, every dollar turned into a mitzvah.
And because this was the intent from the very beginning, it’s Torah—not the craziness on the outside—that is the world’s true genetic makeup. We need the Torah merely to reveal what the world always was meant to be: a home for G‑d.
The celebration of the giving of the Torah seems so “ordinary” because the Torah represents what is supposed to be “normal life” for the Jewish people, it’s a reflection of what God’s intent for Creation was always supposed to be. R. Cotlar even calls the Torah the “very DNA of the world.”
Each year on Shavuot, when we re-experience Sinai, we show our appreciation for Torah through normal eating and celebrating—without any special rules. For the Torah does not introduce a new reality, but rather sheds light, purpose and sanctity into everything that is already here now. Even cheesecake.
What should Shavuot or “Pentecost” if you will, mean to Christians today? In most churches, not much. Even those churches that observe some sort of Pentecost celebration rarely, if ever, even give lip service to Shavuot. Until I started studying within a Hebrew Roots context, I had no idea what so many “out-of-town” Jews were doing in Jerusalem when the Pentecost event happened. I had no idea that Jews from all over the civilized world would be flooding into Jerusalem to observe Shavuot and to offer sacrifices at the Temple.
Although I won’t have the opportunity this time around, for the previous two years, I’ve seen first hand what Shavuot should mean to Jews and Gentiles celebrating together in response to the ancient mitzvot and through the revelation of Messiah. This year, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) is holding it’s annual National Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin from May 30th through June 5th. Messianic Jews and Gentiles from all over the U.S. and some from other nations, are currently gathering together for a time of worship, fellowship, and celebration in Messiah, perhaps not entirely unlike that early Jesus-believing “Synagogue of the Way” in ancient Syrian Antioch.
A Jew is commanded to learn Torah day and night and to teach it to his children. If a Jew wants his family to be Jewish and his children to marry other Jews, then he must integrate a Torah study program into his life and implement the teachings into his home and his being. One can tell his children anything, but only if they see their parents learning and doing mitzvot, will they inherit the love for being Jewish.
But if this is what the Torah, and by extension Shavuot, means to the Jews, what does it mean to those of us from “all the nations (who) will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23)? Do the Jews celebrate the giving of Torah while the Gentiles celebrate the giving of the Spirit?
We can see the application of celebrating the Spirit to both the Messianic Jews and the believing Gentiles, but what about the Torah?
Last year at the Shavuot conference, during the Shabbat and Shavuot Torah services, I was reluctant to participate because of this very question. I had embraced Boaz Michael’s vision of the Tent of David and was attempting to integrate into “church life.” Would I damage that effort by not only participating in but thoroughly enjoying celebrating Shavuot within a wholly Jewish context?
I’m afraid my identity and affiliation confusion made me seem “inhibited” and I lost the sense of closeness I felt toward people the year before. I only started to “get into it” at the very end but by then it was too late. And when returning home, almost before the plane landed back in Boise, I thought I shouldn’t go back the following year. I felt like I embarrassed myself in front of many of the people I respect, people who I consider friends but who now seem distant.
In the past year, I find I don’t really fit in at church though I’ve tried to remain devoted to my mission. I seem to be making a mess of all of my relationships on both sides of the aisle. I’ve been reconsidering my purpose in church, but I’m rapidly running out of options and ideas except maybe continuing to attend while keeping my head down and my mouth shut.
My wife surprised me a few weeks ago. Actually, it was on the day she called me arrogant for thinking I had a purpose to change anyone or anything in any Christian church. She asked me why I wasn’t going to this year’s Shavuot conference.
I was more than surprised by her asking. I didn’t even realize she was aware that another conference was coming up. I told her the truth. First off, we always have a “discussion” about the financial cost of my attending, even though I’ve received generous support in the past. I also mentioned (again) the relative level of embarrassment I cause her in the local Jewish community, not only as a church-going Christian, but as a “Messianic” and one who periodically associates with “Messianic Jews.”
But she’s worried about my “fellowship,” which she brings up from time to time (again, to my surprise), and she said that for those people in the Jewish community who she’s closest to, my being a Christian probably doesn’t make a difference one way or the other. It’s not as if I interact with any of her Jewish friends, or at least I haven’t for many years.
Shavuot is a time of community. I suppose you could say that of any of the moadim, but on Shavuot, God forged the nation of Israel at Sinai, He created a Covenant relationship with Israel and delivered, through Moses, the conditions of that relationship, the Torah, which gives joy and is a tree of life to all those who cling to her. We grafted in Gentiles, by clinging to the garments of the Jewish people through faith, apprehend salvation and some of the covenant blessings. Through faith in Messiah who leads us to the Father, we can sit at the same table as the Jews in Messiah as equal co-participants, and be blessed as well as be a blessing as the crowning jewels of the nations.
This Sunday (today, as you read this), I expect to be in Church listening to a sermon on Acts 21 and 22 and discussing Paul’s initial defense against the charges leveled against him by some Jewish agitators, largely due to his close association with Gentiles, both in the diaspora and in Jerusalem.
Yet Paul fought tremendous opposition to his return to Jerusalem, and many of his closest friends and advisors thought it was a mistake for him to enter the Holy City. Nevertheless, he went, for he was traveling not of his own accord but in response to God’s will. He knew it would be the last time he would see Jerusalem and that he was quite likely to die. His dedication to the Torah, to the Temple, and to the Jewish people was brought into question and many believed him to be a traitor, but he was responding to a higher purpose, not higher than Temple and Torah, but higher than criticism, insult, and even threats of death.
What should Shavuot mean? It should mean choosing (or being chosen, if speaking of the Jewish people) a way of life that isn’t comfortable and for some, isn’t even safe. It’s recognizing that God comes bearing gifts, but those gifts aren’t always easy to carry. Actually, the yoke of the Master is light, but in my case, I find the burden of my human character flaws to be an unwieldy weight that I stagger under and yet cannot release.
Shavuot means accepting what God gives in obedience and realizing your life isn’t your own anymore. It never was of course, but the illusion of “self-ownership” is swept away. Shavuot may be a time of fellowship, but can also bring near the realization that your “ekklesia” may be nowhere nearby, and in the stillness and quiet, you, or rather I, turn to the One who has taken my life and the One to whom I willingly surrender it.
As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.”
–John 6:66-68 (NASB)
Shavuot is a reminder to accept whatever comes from the hand of God, whether bitter or sweet.
For the third session at Strange Fire, John MacArthur introduced his good friend R.C. Sproul. Because of issues with his health, Sproul was unable to travel to California, so instead he sent along a video message. And his task was to speak about Pentecost.
He began by saying, “I want to look specifically today at the redemptive-historical significance of Pentecost.” We’re aware that the modern Pentecostal movement began at Azusa Street and that it occurred outside of the mainline denotations until the middle of the 20th Century. Then it moved into Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, etc. circles. Initially when it came into these various denominations there were several attempts to assimilate the theology into their creedal foundations. At the same time, Pentecostals were gathering their beliefs into a creed, which became Neo-Pentecostal theology.
-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: R.C. Sproul” Challies.com
I’m not familiar with R.C. Sproul so I looked him up on Wikipedia. That didn’t help much, so I looked Dr. Sproul up at Ligonier.org. That was only slightly more enlightening. Oh well, I guess I just don’t know the population of presenters John MacArthur chose for his Strange Fire conference. But then, I’m an unusual Christian because I don’t know a lot of “famous names” in the Christian publication world.
I have to admit to being confused for the first part of Pastor Challies’s “live blogged” rendition of Sproul’s presentation. Dr. Sproul was supposed to be speaking about the Pentecost, the original event we see depicted in Acts 2, but then he launched into a brief history of the Pentecostal movement. Where’s the relationship?
Then Sproul said a few things that got me thinking.
The fundamental weakness of Neo-Pentecostal theology is that it understands the original Pentecost differently than the apostles, and that it considers this Pentecost too lowly.
I’m not sure most Fundamentalist Christians understand the original, Jewish context of Pentecost the way the apostles did either, but that’s not what got my attention. It was this.
The significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit has to do principally with the Holy Spirit empowering Christians for ministry. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit he was promising power and strength.
OK, I can buy that as far as it goes. Relative to Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles in preparation for their mission to spread the Gospel message to Israel, Samaria, and to the rest of the world. But that would mean only believers who have a specific mission would ever receive the Holy Spirit. Sort of like these guys.
So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.
–Numbers 11:24-25 (NASB)
Sproul actually mentioned this event in his presentation, and we see the Spirit God gave to Moses being “sub-divided” among the seventy elders who were to form the first Sanhedrin. The Spirit was preparing them for their mission and, like the later apostles of Acts 2, they prophesied once and then never again.
But what about this?
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. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?”
–Acts 10:44-47 (NASB)
If, as in our previous examples, the Holy Spirit is only given to people who have a special mission or job to do for God as a method of empowerment, why was it also given to the Roman Cornelius and his non-Jewish household? The Bible records no subsequent information about them, so either they didn’t have a mission for God, or they did and Luke simply thought it not worthy of recording (or he was unaware of what happened next for Cornelius, his family, his servants, and so on).
Or there’s another reason we just haven’t gotten to yet.
As far as I can tell, universally in all Christian denominations, it is believed that everyone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit…except that we don’t see this event happening to the Ethiopian who receives Messiah in Acts 8:25-40, only that he is baptized by water. For that matter, we don’t see Spirit baptism happening today, at least not as it’s described in Acts 2 and 10. Christians I know today don’t say they prophesied or spoke in tongues when they came to faith. But then we also know (Acts 19:1-6) that historically, some believers weren’t even aware of the Holy Spirit, at least initially, only John’s baptism of water and repentance.
It is admitted that some people can have conversion or regeneration simultaneously with their baptism by the Holy Spirit, but in the main there is a time difference between original conversion and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
I can only assume this means Sproul too believes all people who come to faith in Christ receive the Spirit, although he seems to indicate that there’s some sort of difference between “original conversion” and “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” We see some indications of this in scripture, as I noted above, but I’m still not sure if Sproul is referring to these scriptures or something else.
In the Old Testament a person could only be a believer by being born again of the Holy Spirit. But the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament with respect to Pentecost is that in the Old Testament the Spirit was only given by God selectively to isolated individuals, such as the prophets or the judges when they needed strength for the particular task.
OK, here’s the really interesting part. Sproul says that an Israelite could only become a “believer” (I find the term somewhat anachronistic, since being a “believer” isn’t mentioned let alone emphasized in the Tanakh or “Old Testament” as it is in modern Christianity) by receiving the Holy Spirit. I agree that the Biblical record only shows certain individuals receiving the Spirit (such as Prophets), so does that mean Sproul is saying only Old Testament Prophets were saved? Does that mean the vast, vast, majority of ancient Israelites who were born, lived, and died in a covenant relationship with God worshiped the Creator in vain and have no place in the World to Come?
I’m not sure Sproul meant to say it that way and even if he did, it’s not in line with scripture. If the faith of Abraham was counted to him as righteousness, and the Abrahamic covenant carried down to Isaac, and then Jacob, and then the twelve tribes, and then all of Israel, it would be difficult to believe that covenant faith being counted as righteousness somehow didn’t translate into salvation. After all, the Tanakh has tons and tons to say about Jewish faith in God.
It would make more sense to believe that the faith of the Israelites was counted as saving righteousness by God’s grace, and that only those individuals who required special empowerment to carry out the acts of God, such as the Judges and Prophets, would require the Holy Spirit.
Of course, this brings up the question of why everyone who comes to faith post-Acts 2 receives the Holy Spirit, especially since the Strange Fire conference attempts to convince us all that no one has the gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophesy or anything else.
I certainly am not going to throw the ancient Israelites in the Torah and the Prophets under the bus because one presenter may have inadvertently suggested that the Holy Spirit has suffered a change in job description between the Old Testament and New Testament records, and that the “old” God only saved those Jews who were possessed of the Spirit of prophesy.
Here’s another interesting detail.
In Acts 8:14-17 we have the record of what happened among the Samaritans. There is a second Pentecost among the Samaritan believers when Peter and John lay hands on them. In Acts 10:44-48 the Spirit falls on the God-fearers, which Peter recounts in 11:13-18. This is Pentecost number three. Just as in the case of the first and second Pentecosts, all of those present received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 19:1-7 the Gentiles in Ephesus receive the Holy Spirit and are empowered for ministry.
So you have four separate Pentecosts, one for each people group in Acts. When Paul was dealing with the Corinthian church, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Here he speaks of the universality of the Sprit’s [sic] empowering of every believer. That’s the significance of Pentecost.
If I didn’t know what little I know about Sproul, I wouldn’t be so surprised by such statements. “Pentecost” just means “the fiftieth day” and is the Greek name for Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks. Shavuot or Pentecost only comes once a year on the Jewish (and Christian) religious calendar, so it’s a little odd (for someone who should know better) to say there were “four separate Pentecosts.” It’s also strange to believe in four separate events of the giving of the Holy Spirit to specific populations (however, he may have been waxing poetic).
If God was doing something new in the giving of the Spirit (but not entirely new it seems) to those requiring power to perform a ministry, I would interpret Acts 2 as the beginning of a continual process rather than the start of four separate and distinct “waves” of “Pentecost events” based on differences between people groups.
Maybe I’m “majoring in the minors” here, but it seems like Sproul’s presentation didn’t really amount to much, at least for me.
No, I don’t want to give up on Sproul’s presentation yet. Here’s how Challies ended it on his blog post:
In Ephesians 2:11-19 Paul again addresses this issues [sic] that threatened to divide the 1st century church, the issue of what role the Gentiles have in the body of Christ. Paul’s “mystery” in Ephesians and Colossians is that Christ has folded Gentiles into his body and indwells them. “Through Christ we both have access through one Spirit to the Father.” This is a Trinitarian work.
My concern with Charismatic friends is that they have a low view of Pentecost. They don’t see it as a signal of the outpouring of God on all Christians. They believe all Christians can have it and should have it, but they miss the point that the pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost means that all Christians already have the Spirit and have been empowered by him, and that they don’t need to be baptized by the Spirit again.
I think Sproul is saying that the giving of the Spirit to Christians is a one time event, like water baptism, and that Pentecostals have repeated events of accepting the Spirit, thus “cheapening” the gift of the Spirit. Also, it is the giving of the Spirit Acts 10 to Gentiles that indicates that we are also accepted into the redeemed body of Christ, and it is faith in Messiah that allows us to receive the Spirit and be saved in the same way as believing Jews.
That helps, but it doesn’t close the can of worms I think Sproul opened up in terms of Old Testament Jewish salvation. We seem to see though, that Sproul is saying the Spirit was only given for empowerment of prophets in the Old Testament, but that in the New Testament, the Spirit was given, not only to empower, but as a sign of induction into the body of Messiah. I’m still not willing to accept that only the Spirit-filled Prophets and Judges of ancient Israel were “saved.”
According to MacArthur’s viewpoint though, even if all believers after the Acts 2 event received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, post-closure of Biblical canon, whatever gifts a person once received from the indwelling of the Spirit simply ceased to exist. But we don’t know why.
The period from Passover to Shavu’ot is a time of great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavu’ot: Passover freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavu’ot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. Shavu’ot is also known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day; however, Shavu’ot has no particular similarity to the Christian holiday of Pentecost, which occurs 50 days after their Spring holiday.
Shavu’ot is not tied to a particular calendar date, but to a counting from Passover. Because the length of the months used to be variable, determined by observation, and there are two new moons between Passover and Shavu’ot, Shavu’ot could occur on the 5th or 6th of Sivan. However, now that we have a mathematically determined calendar, and the months between Passover and Shavu’ot do not change length on the mathematical calendar, Shavu’ot is always on the 6th of Sivan.
The date of Shavuot is directly linked to that of Passover. On Passover, the Jewish people were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot they were given the Law and became a nation committed to serving God. Shavuot is celebrated in Israel for one day and in the diaspora (outside of Israel) for two days. Reform Jews celebrate only one day, even in the diaspora. Karaite Jews and Christians believe that Shavuot always falls on a Sunday, while mainstream Jews follow the teaching of the Talmud, which holds that the holiday commences immediately after the “counting of the omer,” or 50 days after Passover.
Last Sunday, my Pastor’s sermon from Leviticus 23 was on Shavu’ot/Pentecost. Like many Christians (and I had no idea Christians believed this before a few days ago), he believes that Shavuot must always fall on a Sunday for the following reasons:
The word “Sabbath” in this verse is assumed, by some, to be the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which has been deemed to be a “special Sabbath.” Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to assume that the first instance of “Sabbath” in Leviticus 23:15 indicates the special Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Aviv (or Nisan) 15—that is, the day after the Passover, Aviv 14. In thinking this way, their count of the Feast of Weeks would begin on the day after the 15th, which is the 16th. Many, if not most, Jewish rabbis begin the count here.
However, in Leviticus 23:16, it says, “Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath….” There are not special Sabbaths during each of the seven weeks during which the count is made. However, there are seven regular weekly Sabbaths. Therefore, the fifty-day count ends on Sunday, the day after the seventh weekly Sabbath (which is Saturday). That makes the first day of the fifty-day count to be a Sunday as well. So Shavuot = the Feast of Weeks = Pentecost always falls on a Sunday, although some believe that it can be on any day of the week, depending on the year.
I have no idea who Ted Montgomery is or why he’s considered an authority in this matter (and he should update his website design to something that doesn’t just scream, “1998!”), but what he has on his site is basically the same explanation Pastor gave in his sermon.
If he’s right, then Shavuot/Pentecost always occurring on a Sunday would have a great deal of meaning in Christianity and bolster the Christian tradition of having the official weekly worship day on a Sunday. I don’t know enough about it to have much of an opinion, but one of my personal “laws” (and I think almost everyone has this “law”) is that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
When I looked up the dates for Shavuot at Chabad.org, the holiday doesn’t always fall on a Sunday according to their calendar. In fact, this past year, since Shavuot is celebrated two days in the diaspora, Shavuot was observed on Wednesday, May 15th and Thursday, May 16th. Next year, it will also be held on a Wednesday and Thursday, but in early June.
How the dates for Shavuot are calculated depends on when you start counting. If it’s always on the first day after Passover, the day of the week Shavuot occurs will vary. If it’s always on the first day after the Saturday Shabbat, then it will always be on Sunday. Before last Sunday, the only way I heard that it was to be calculated was how Judaism traditionally recommends. Christianity, it seems, always comes up with little surprises for me.
I know that Christians, including my Pastor, will tell me that the calculation for the “Sunday-only” Shavuot/Pentecost is purely Biblical and thus, it doesn’t matter what Judaism and the Rabbis have to say about it. On the other hand, this observance was given to the Children of Israel well over a thousand years before the birth of Christ, so I’d have to give the Jewish people some “props” in how they choose to understand the Torah on this matter.
According to Pastor in his sermon, in Acts 20, we see Paul anxious to get to Jerusalem as soon as possible. Pastor tells us that this is because he wanted to arrive in time for Shauvot, but he asked an odd question. Why should it have mattered to Paul? He wasn’t a farmer. Shavuot is (or was) all about offering the first fruits of the wheat harvest to God at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. What was the big deal for Paul?
Pastor’s answer was not so much about the Jewish Shavuot as the Christian Pentecost. Because of the giving of the Holy Spirit in the original Acts 2 event and its meaning as the “birthday of the Church,” Paul wanted to get back to Jerusalem to commemorate the Christian side of the coin, so to speak, as opposed to observing one of the three pilgrim festivals that all Jews are commanded to attend in Jerusalem each year.
It is true that based on Leviticus 23:15-22, it doesn’t seem as if Paul would rush right back to Jerusalem in order to offer a personal wave offering of two loaves of bread along with the lamb and drink offerings. But then again, in the same sermon, Pastor said that the offerings recorded in those scriptures weren’t personal offerings but were offered for the entire assembly of Israel, so Paul wouldn’t have had to be a farmer with a personal sacrifices to offer to desire to be present at the Temple. He just had to be a Jew.
We see in Acts 2 that thousands upon thousands of Jews from the diaspora were present in Jerusalem for Shavuot. Could they have been responding to this?
“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God (emph. mine).
–Exodus 23:14-17 (NASB)
You can find similar language commanding Jewish people to appear at the Temple in Jerusalem for Shavuot in Exodus 34:21-24, Numbers 28:26-31, and Deuteronomy 16:9-12. I’m not saying that the Acts 2 event had no meaning for Paul and that it didn’t add a tremendous dimension to Shavuot for Paul and the other Jewish apostles and disciples, but it would hardly be disconnected from the commandments of God for the Jewish people and Jewish obedience to the Torah of Moses. There’s no reason to believe the Christian conceptualization of Pentecost would have unplugged the festival from the Jewish Shavuot.
After all. Pastor acknowledged in his sermon that one of the names for Shavuot is “Z’man Mattan Toratenu” or “The Time of the Giving of the Law (Torah).” In his sermon, he affirmed that it is quite Biblical to believe that, given the timing of the Exodus from Egypt, that the Children of Israel could have been at Sinai for the giving of the Torah on the traditional date for Shavuot.
For Paul then, the linkage between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Spirit would have been inescapable and been seen as a dramatic illustration of God’s continual graciousness to the Jewish people as a light to the world and as the means by which Israel and the nations would be redeemed.
While I strongly believe that the coming of Jesus, his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father represents a revolutionary event in the course of human history and the plan of God for both the Jewish people and the people of the nations, it was and is also the predictable, prophesied, and logical extension of God’s plan across time, not a radical departure shifting from God’s “plan A” to “plan B.”
The past several blog posts where I mention my Pastor, I know it seems as if I’m really butting heads with him, so to speak. While we don’t always see eye to eye, I have great respect for him and I thought last Sunday’s sermon especially was informative and illuminating. In fact, the highlight of my church attendance every Sunday is his sermon. As you can see, he provides me with a lot of food for thought.
I know why Christians count the Sabbaths from Passover to Shavuot as they do. The symbolism relative to Pentecost and Sunday is exceptionally compelling given Christian tradition. I can also understand why Judaism would calculate it differently based on disconnecting the Jewish Shavuot from the Christian Pentecost. On the other hand, that doesn’t make the Christian calculation right and the Jewish calculation wrong (or vice versa). Even if Shavuot/Pentecost occurs annually according to the Jewish calendar, that hardly devalues the meaning of the holiday for believing Jews and Gentile Christians. Christians just don’t have to work so hard to disconnect Pentecost from its original and ongoing meaning in Judaism. If there will be a Third Temple as both Pastor and I believe, then those offerings will once again be upon the altar in Jerusalem in Messianic days.
Why was Paul in such a hurry to get to Jerusalem before the festival of Shavuot? We can’t derive his exact intent from the text of Acts 20. However, reason, history, and the Torah tells us that he needed no other reason than because he was Jewish. If he had other reasons, then we will learn those after the time of Messiah’s return, may he come swiftly and in our day.
For 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.
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.
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 Gentiles 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.
When dedicating the Beis HaMikdash, King Shlomo exclaimed in wonderment: “Will G-d indeed dwell on this earth? The heavens and the celestial heights cannot contain You, how much less this house!” For the Beis HaMikdash was not merely a centralized location for man’s worship of G-d, it was a place where G-d’s Presence was and is manifest. Although “the entire earth is full of His glory,” G-d’s Presence is not tangibly felt. He permeates all existence, but in a hidden way. The Beis HaMikdash, by contrast, was “the place where He chose to cause His name to dwell.” There was no concealment; His Presence was openly manifest.
Why was man’s activity necessary? Because G-d’s intent is that the revelation of His Presence be internalized within the world, becoming part of the fabric of its existence. Were the revelation to come only from above, it would merely nullify worldliness. To cite a parallel: when G-d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, the world ground to a standstill. “No bird chirped… nor did an ox bellow, nor the sea roar.” Although G-dliness was revealed within the world, material existence did not play a contributory role.
When, by contrast, the dwelling for G-d is built by man himself part of the material world the nature of the materials used is elevated. This enables G-d’s Presence to be revealed within these entities while they continue to exist within their own context.
-Rabbi Eli Touger
“A Dwelling Among Mortals”
from the In the Garden of the Torah series
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 902;
Vol. XVI, p. 286ff; Vol. XXI, p. 146ff Chabad.org
The building of a Mishkan foreshadows the transformation of the entire world into a dwelling place for G-d. This is accomplished through Torah, Divine service, and deeds of kindness – the “three pillars” upon which the world stands. (Avos 1:2.)
-Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVI, pp. 292-297.
In this week’s Torah portion, we see the Children of Israel being commanded to bring contributions that will be used as materials for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert. Moses is provided with what me might think of as a “diagram” of the Heavenly Court and told to direct the Children of Israel to build, for all intents and purposes, a “scale model” so that God might dwell among His people. This is a strange enough request when you try to picture the “environment” where God dwells in the Heavens, and then imagine what it would be like to build a physical representation of that metaphysical “place.”
But it gets even stranger.
Thus, it is understood that although the construction of the Mishkan and the bringing of donations had to have happened in accordance with only one of these three schedules, all three opinions are true as they relate to the spiritual Mishkan within the heart of every Jew.
-Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. VI, pp. 153-156.
The use of the term ‘them’ rather than ‘it’ has been interpreted as a message that the purpose of the Mishkan sanctuary was to facilitate the dwelling of the Divine Presence within the heart of every Jew. The role of the Mishkan in the wilderness and during the first four centuries of a Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael was perpetuated by the first and second Beit Hamikdash Temples which spanned a period of nine centuries. All of this is today but a memory to which a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) gives a special dimension. This does not mean, however, that a Jew cannot build a mini-sanctuary in his heart even today. The Divine Presence is waiting to dwell within the hearts of all Jews if only they will let it enter!
-Rabbi Mendel Weinbach
‘The “Holy Sites”‘
For the week ending 8 February 2003 / 6 Adar I 5763 Ohr Somayach
If it seems unusual or even incomprehensible to be able to build a “scale model” of the Heavenly Court and then expect God to take up residence, how much more incredible is it to expect God to take up residence within the “spiritual Mishkan within the heart of every Jew?”
Oh, have you heard of this before?
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. –Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)
Perhaps this isn’t so strange, since the Jewish disciples of the Master had a precedent for the Pentecost event act at Sinai, but what came next was completely unexpected.
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)
God desires to dwell among His people, which we can understand, because God once did dwell among His people in Eden before the fall. God once again, though in a somewhat different sense, arranged to dwell among His people Israel, and that dwelling was to be a light to the nations. As part of the process of God being among man, each Jew was to consider that the Divine Presence was also dwelling within each of them. This was repeated at the Pentecost event and while all of that is magnificent, the truly amazing thing in the eyes of God’s chosen ones, was (and perhaps still is for some Jewish people) that the Creator extended His splendid and compassionate grace, even to the Gentiles.
But is this the whole story and, now that Christianity boasts of the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit,” is this work finally complete?
On the ninth day of the month of Av (“Tish’ah B’Av”) we fast and mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Both the First Temple (833-423 bce) and the Second Temple (349 bce-69 ce) were destroyed on this date. The Shabbat preceding the fast day is called the “Shabbat of Vision,” for on this Shabbat we read a chapter from the Prophets (Isaiah 1:1-27) that begins, “The vision of Isaiah…”
On the “Shabbat of Vision,” says Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, each and every one of us is granted a vision of the third and final Temple — a vision that, to paraphrase the Talmud, “though we do not see ourselves, our souls see.” This vision evokes a profound response in us, even if we are not consciously aware of the cause of our sudden inspiration.
Adapted by Yanki Tauber
“Shabbat of Vision”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Chabad.org
I previously mentioned that Christianity abandoned a major portion of it’s history and heritage by tossing the Jewish foundation of our faith aside, so I can understand that the church would view any Jewish “vision” of the Third Temple with skepticism if not utter disbelief. Perhaps they are right, but could there be any way to reconcile all of the imagery we have of the bodies of believers being as Temples for the Spirit of God and the coming of a Third, physical Temple where God will once again dwell among His people Israel?
Especially in western thought, we tend to see conditions as “either or”. Either the Spirit dwells in the Temple, or it dwells within the heart of the believer. For some reason, it can’t be both, although I’m not sure why. After all, in Judaism, the Divine Presence dwelt within the Mishkan, but it also dwelt within each Jewish heart in some mysterious, spiritual, and mystic way. God, in a metaphysical manner, dwelt within the Heavenly court, but He also made it possible for a physical replica of His “abode” to be created among His people Israel so He could also dwell among men, even though no structure could possibly contain Him.
God’s desire to be among us is fraught with problems when we actually make ourselves wonder how it is possible, and yet we see reliably, that God has indeed done so, in Eden, in the Mishkah, and in Solomon’s Temple. Jews are said to be able to have a vision, on a mystic level, of the Third Temple on the Shabbat just before the Ninth of Av. What are the Jewish people supposed to see and understand? Perhaps this.
The First Temple was built on Divine command and assistance. The Second Temple was constructed at the orders of a human being. The level of revelation associated with it, and the accompanying miracles, were far less intense. Yet, precisely because it came to be built through human efforts and on human initiative, it had a greater impact on this world. It was larger than the first Temple, taking up more of this world in terms of space, and it lasted longer, occupying this world for a greater length of time.
The Third Temple, like the Shabbat on which we are shown its image, combines the strengths of both the first and second Temples. It combines the Divine revelation, an inspiration from Above, along with human effort, an inspiration from below, to create a permanent home for G-dliness. Thus is the lesson and inspiration of this Shabbat. We are given a Divinely revealed vision which we must combine with human efforts to permanently alter the world we live in, and, even more challenging, ourselves.
“Make It Real”
Shabbat Chazon chabad.org
Repeatedly, we’ve seen how God must contribute to the construction of His dwelling on Earth, but so must man. While God does not need human beings to offer their efforts in the service of Divine tasks, we see in the Bible how people are continually involved in “building” with God and repairing the world. While God does not “need” our help, something about the nature of God dwelling among us requires that we be actively engaged. In this, we must take “ownership” of our desire to return the holy sparks within us to Him, not by our going up to God, but in allowing God to come down to us. Somehow, God dwelling within us and God dwelling among us in a Temple are all interconnected. We must change the world for Him but we must also change ourselves. Paradoxically, we can do neither without God’s help, but then, those tasks cannot occur without us, either. I can’t explain how it all works. I only know that God is showing all of us, not just the Jewish people, a picture of His future with His people; His human beings.
Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev uses the following metaphor to explain the necessity of the Three Temples and why we must wait such a long time for Him to be truly among us again.
A father once prepared a beautiful suit of clothes for his son. But the child neglected his father’s gift and soon the suit was in tatters. The father gave the child a second suit of clothes; this one, too, was ruined by the child’s carelessness. So the father made a third suit. This time, however, he withholds it from his son. Every once in a while, on special and opportune times, he shows the suit to the child, explaining that when the child learns to appreciate and properly care for the gift, it will be given to him. This induces the child to improve his behavior, until it gradually becomes second nature to him — at which time he will be worthy of his father’s gift.
God has shown us His gift in the Messiah, but He also withholds the Messiah’s coming until we are ready. But God is gracious enough to show us what will happen once we reach this state of being worthy. Through the vision of a prophet, we can see the return of the Messiah, our later return to Eden, and finally, the placing of the Throne of God among us at a future time when the requirement for Ezekiel’s Temple is no longer necessary.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. –Revelation 22:1-5 (ESV)
But before all that happens, we must come to terms with our struggle between life in this world, in the spirit and in the body, as Rabbi Tzvi Freeman relates:
The human mind despises the body that houses it, but the soul has only love.
The mind would soar to the heavens, but for a body that chains it to the earth. The mind would be consumed in divine oneness, but for the body’s delusion of otherness, as though it had made itself.
But the soul sees only G-d.
In that very delusion of otherness,
in that madness of the human ego,
even there, the soul sees only G‑d.
For she says, “This, too, is truth.
This is a distorted reflection of the Essence of all things,
of that which truly has neither beginning nor cause.”
And so she embraces the bonds of the body,
works with the body, transforms the body.
Until the body, too, sees only G-d.
—Basi LeGani 5712
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman