Tag Archives: Pirkei Avot

The Yoke We Must Bear

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

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

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

Acts 15:7-10 (NASB)

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

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

Exodus 20:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FFOZ TV Review: The Torah Is Not Canceled

ffoz_tv13_mainEpisode 13: It is commonly taught that Jesus came to cancel the law but Jesus tells his disciples “I did not come to abolish the law.” Episode thirteen will revolutionize the viewer’s understanding of the law by learning that the law was given for Godly instruction. They will discover that not only has the law of God not been done away with but the prophets tell us that it will be observed even in the Messianic Era. It will also be taught that the law has different applications for different people, with some commandments only being applicable to Jewish people.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 13: The Torah Is Not Canceled

The Lesson: The Mystery of Jesus and the Torah

In this episode, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby take on one of the major misconceptions of Christian doctrine, that the death of Jesus canceled the Torah and invalidated the Law. Toby calls this “The Mystery of the Torah is not Canceled,” but I prefer the other expression he used: “The Mystery of Jesus and the Torah.”

The core to this episode is a scripture that practically everyone in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements is keenly aware of:

Do not imagine that I have come to violate the Torah or the words of the prophets. I have not come to violate but to fulfill. For, amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one yod or one thorn will pass away from the Torah until all has been established.

Matthew 5:17-18 (DHE Gospels)

These verses are part of what is called the Sermon on the Mount, which is thought of in Christianity as the core of Jesus’s moral teachings.

Toby tells his audience that a closer analysis of Matthew 5:17 will help us get to our first clue in solving today’s mystery.

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

Matthew 5:17 (NASB)

According to Toby, Jesus had been criticized by the Jewish religious authorities, saying that he was not teaching and living by the Torah correctly. Jesus was taking this opportunity to explain his intent as a teacher. The phrase “I have come” has the sense in the Hebrew of purpose and intention. Toby tells us that in this section of his sermon, Jesus isn’t explaining his role as Messiah in relationship to the Torah, but his intention and purpose in teaching the Torah. He wants to clear up any misunderstanding about what he’s teaching, not explain how he is going to impact Torah obedience in Israel as the coming Messiah.

ffoz_tv13_tobyBut we have to have a proper understanding of the terms “abolish” and “fulfill” in order to understand Jesus’s words. While Christians have to take at face value the verse saying that Jesus didn’t come to “abolish” the Law, that is, to destroy, discard, overturn, or annul, they often interpret “fulfill” as abolish, since the net effect in Christian thinking is that Jesus “nailed the Law to the cross.”

But within a first century Jewish Rabbinic context, how are the words “abolish” and “fulfill” understood?

Rabbi Jonathan would say: Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, will ultimately fulfill it in wealth; and whoever abolishes the Torah in wealth, will ultimately abolish it in poverty. (emph. mine)

-Pirkei Avot 4:9

Pirkei Avot is also called Ethics of Our Fathers, and is a collection of ancient Rabbinic teachings compiled from 200 years before Jesus’s birth until 200 years after his resurrection.

Here we see how the early Sages defined the use of fulfill and abolish in relation to the Torah (the word “neglect” was in place of the word “abolish” in the quote of Pirkei Avot 4:9 I copied from a Chabad email newsletter). I bolded some of the words in the above quoted phrase so you could better see Toby’s point.

To “abolish” in this context, means to disobey Torah.
To “fulfill” in this context, means to obey Torah.

Jesus is saying that in his teaching and his life, he did not come, that is, it was not his intention and purpose as a teacher, to disobey the Torah, but rather, to obey the Torah. Let’s look at Matthew 5:17 again but in a modified form.

Do not think that I came to disobey the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to disobey but to obey. (emph. mine)

A rather startling change of meaning, don’t you think? Now we have the first clue we need to solve the mystery:

Clue 1: Jesus came to obey and teach the Law.

But exactly what is “the Law” and why does Christianity see it so negatively? To get the answer, the scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel.

ffoz_tv13_aaronWhat is the Torah? Most often, we think of it as the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And while the Torah does contain many laws for Jews living in the Land of Israel and diaspora, as well as Jewish ethical and moral conduct, it also contains the story of Creation, the calling of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the astonishing redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Aaron teaches us that Torah means something like “guidance,” “teaching,” or “instruction.” The root word in Hebrew is an archery term implying something that is cast, thrown, or shot with aiming or guidance, like one might shoot an arrow at a target. In this sense the Torah can be any spiritual or Biblical teaching directing someone toward righteousness. To differentiate this broader meaning from the first five books of the Bible, we call those five books the Torah of Moses.

The main point of Aaron’s teaching is rather straightforward. Torah doesn’t mean “law,” it means teaching, instruction, and guidance, in a spiritual or moral sense. It doesn’t have to refer only to the “mechanics” of the legal parts of the Torah of Moses. He also explains what a “jot” and a “tittle” or “thorn” is which illuminates how Jesus used those terms in Matthew 5:18. Jesus was saying that he did not intend to abolish or disobey even the smallest detail of the Torah until heaven and earth passed away.

Returning to Toby, we have our second clue:

Clue 2: Torah is God’s Instruction.

Toby takes the lesson one step further and describes the future role and function of the Torah in the Messianic Era. To understand how this works, we must turn to Jeremiah 31:31-34

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Here, Toby interprets this scripture about the New Covenant in the same way I’ve been doing on this blog for quite some time. On the surface, the prophet is saying that there will be a new covenant and that it will be different from the old covenant, but what exactly will be different. Grace instead of Law? That’s not what scripture says. Let’s drill down into verse 33:

I will put My Torah within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (emph. mine)

ffoz_tv13_torah_bethemmanuelI substituted the word “Torah” for “Law” since that’s how it’s rendered in the Hebrew. Remember, the New Covenant is made with Judah and Israel, not with the church or the nations. God still expects the Jewish people to obey the Torah, His guidance and instruction, but it will be written internally and will be part of the fiber of their being, rather than being written externally. My understanding is that it will be second nature for the Jewish people to live a lifestyle in obedience to God, rather than struggling between the good and evil inclinations.

We saw in the FFOZ TV show None Greater Than John that verse 34 refers to the state of the people of God during the Messianic Era. We will all know God, from the greatest to the least of us, as prophets, with an overabundance of the Spirit of God upon us.

This is the Messianic Era, when the Jewish exiles are returned to their Land, the Land of Israel, all of Israel’s enemies are finally defeated forever, and King Messiah establishes world peace. In those days, all Jews will obey Torah and even the Gentiles of the nations will go up to Jerusalem to learn:

And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Isaiah 2:3 (NASB)

Here we have the third and final clue:

Clue 3: The Torah will be obeyed in the Messianic Era

But this brings up the subject about the relationship of the Torah to the non-Jewish people. I thought that the topic would be ignored as in past episodes, but Toby briefly touches on it by saying that the Torah has different applications to Jewish and non-Jewish people. Most (non-Messianic) Jews would probably say the Torah has little to no application to the goyim at all, but Messianic Judaism sometimes has a unique perspective regarding non-Jews and particularly Christians.

At the end of the episode, FFOZ Founder and President Boaz Michael comes on camera and refers to the Torah as “God’s loving instruction.” He says that both Jews and Gentiles need to study the Torah and discover how it applies to our lives, also implying that there are different applications of the Torah to Jewish and non-Jewish people.

What Did I Learn?

ffoz_tv13_torah_lettersI gained a greater appreciation of the Rabbinic use of the terms “fulfill” and “abolish,” although I’d heard something similar in the past. I was also reminded of a discussion I had with my Pastor last week on this very topic: will there be distinctions between Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Era and will there be any such thing as “Torah” in those days? He says “no” and I say “yes.” I don’t think the Torah ceases as we understand it today until “all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). The question is, when is everything that must be accomplished actually accomplished? If not even the smallest detail of the Torah pass away until heaven and earth pass away, then the only possible answer is that the Torah passes away only when there is a new heaven and earth.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…

Revelation 21:1-3 (NASB)

When the Messianic Age is established, the Torah will still be in effect upon Israel, that is the Jewish people. There will be some applications for non-Jewish believers, but Toby was deliberately vague in this area. Only after everything has been accomplished, evil has finally been defeated, and a new heaven and earth have been established, that the Torah, as we understand it, will pass away.

But as I was watching this episode and reflecting on my conversation with Pastor last week, I was reminded of a question he asked me. There are several Jewish people who attend my church. None of them are “Messianic,” and would be better called “Hebrew Christians,” people of Jewish ethnic and family lineage but those who practice a traditional Christianity. In other words, they likely believe the law is abolished in the sense of being permanently destroyed.

Pastor asked me if I thought they are obligated to the Torah. My principles say “yes,” but I was suddenly confronted with the reality of my words. Could I go up to any of these individuals unbidden, and tell them to their face that they should be performing the mitzvot, not as a matter of salvation or justification, but out of covenant obedience? Probably not (not unless they asked, of course…). It would be like going up to a Jewish person driving to shul on Shabbos and telling them they shouldn’t drive but walk instead. Who am I, the religious police? On the other hand, if the Torah is incumbent upon all the Jewish people now and will be even into the Messianic Age…what are the consequences to a Jew for abandoning the Torah, even at the behest of the Christian church?

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:19 (NASB)

prophetic_return1I believe that Jewish people are currently obligated to perform the mitzvot, but that doesn’t mean I must forcibly impose my beliefs upon them. Every person negotiates their own relationship with God. Every Jew must discover who they are as a Jew in relation to Hashem. I can only pray that all Jewish people everywhere return to the Torah and thus bring the Messiah that much closer to bringing his rule and reign fully into our world. For when he returns, as Toby and Aaron teach, the Torah will be established in Israel and will go forth into the nations from Zion.

When G‑d made the world He gave each creature, each nation and each individual a role and a meaning.
When each plays its part there is harmony.
When the lines become too blurred, there is acrimony.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Distinctions”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I will review another episode next week.

Lost Beyond Eden

Inner light“Do not despise any person and do not disdain anything for there is no person who does not have his hour and there is no thing without its place”

-Ben Azzai
from Pirkei Avot 4:3

Just as the soul fills the body, so does G‑d fill the world.” Our bodies are vitalized by our souls, but our souls themselves are invisible. Yet, through seeing the life in the body, one can appreciate the soul within. G‑d enlivens and creates the worlds, yet He is invisible. But He is evident in every creation.

-Talmud, Berachot 10a.

I don’t know what to write about for today. I know that’s pretty strange for me, since it seems that most of the time I can’t “shut up” in the blogosphere, but as I reviewed my “resources” for today (as I started to write this) and looked for inspiration, I didn’t find any.

Well, that’s not exactly true, hence the quotes above. But what do they mean and how can we apply them to our lives as people of faith (or as people in general)?

A few days ago, I related another problem I have with religious people. I lamented how hard-hearted we can be, some of us at least. How can anyone call themselves a disciple of Christ, and yet deliberately and with malice, kick a father when he’s down over the recent suicide of his son?

Yet in reviewing the comments on Dr. Michael Brown’s article Enough With the Mean-Spirited Words Against Rick Warren (And Others)!, I found both the good and the bad.

The good:

Thank you Michael Brown, thats maturity talking. I dont understand why people cannot have compassion. When Jesus saw the people he was moved with compassion. We can agree to disagree but personal attacks especially in an emotional time like this is horrible.

The bad:

While I agree with most of your article, I suppose that vitrolic “bashers” are thinking it is pay back time for Warren; not that I support this idea or their behaviour. Rick Warren has assumed the limelight and as any celebrity is exposed to the dangers of that. While the behaviour is indeed unmerciful, Rev. Warren must have expected it and must know how to insulate himself. He is after all a professional.

Well, the bad wasn’t horrible, but the comment writer still assumes that Pastor Warren should “suck it up” so to speak, since he’s a professional.

He’s also a father, a fellow Christian, and a human being, and he, like the rest of us, was created in God’s image. When we desecrate another human being, we desecrate the image of God.

Lakanta (played by Tom Jackson): What do you think is sacred to us here?
Wesley Crusher (played by Wil Wheaton): Maybe the necklace you’re wearing? The designs on the walls?
Lakanta: Everything is sacred to us – the buildings, the food, the sky, the dirt beneath your feet – and you. Whether you believe in your spirit or not, we believe in it. You are a sacred person here, Wesley.
Wesley: I think that’s the first time anyone’s used that particular word to describe me.
Lakanta: You must treat yourself with respect. To do otherwise is to desecrate something that is holy.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
from the episode Journey’s End (broadcast date 26 Mar. 1994)

That’s probably one of my favorite quotes from any Star Trek TV show, both because it expresses a rare spirituality for modern television, and because it speaks a rare truth. Each of us is sacred to God and we should be sacred to each other (most of the time, we’re not). If we could see all other human beings, including ourselves, from God’s point of view, we would see a planet populated by sacred, holy people; all of us being in God’s own image.

The statement that we are created in the image of G‑d means that we were formed as a reflection of our Creator’s attributes and characteristics. This cannot be taken to mean that we literally look, feel or think like G‑d does, because He has no form and is not limited in any way. Rather, we are like a one-dimensional reflection of a real object. From the reflection we can have an inkling of the original, but the reflection is literally nothing in comparison to the original.

-Rabbi Menachem Posner
“What is the ‘Divine Image’ in Man?”
Chabad.org

This week’s double Torah Portion TazriaMetzora relates an important lesson about how we treat God’s image.

“He (the person afflicted with tzora’as) shall be brought to Aharon the priest or unto one of his sons the priests.”

Leviticus 13:2

The Dubno Magid said that many people speak loshon hora because they are not fully aware of the power of the spoken word. How often people rationalize, “I didn’t do anything to him, I only said a few words.” The metzora, who has been afflicted with tzora’as because of his speaking loshon hora, is taught a lesson about the power of a single word. He must go to a priest who will decide if he is a metzora or not. Just one word by the priest (“Unclean!”) will completely isolate him from society. No more will the metzora minimize the destructive capability of words.

Words can destroy. They can destroy someone’s reputation. They can destroy friendships. They can destroy someone’s successful business or someone’s marriage. Therefore, we must be careful with them as we would be with explosive material.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Tazria-Metzora
Aish.com

Adam-and-Even-Expelled-from-ParadiseYou must go no further than the religious blogosphere or Christian discussion boards to find the worst examples of loshon hora (the “evil tongue”) among us. Periodically, most of us who write religion-based blogs are victims of such behavior, almost always from our fellow believers. I’m rarely “picked on” by atheists or people from other religious disciples. It’s always from the people with whom I share a nearly identical view of God, Jesus, and the Bible.

More’s the pity.

Adam trudged past the gates of Eden, his head low, his feet heavy with remorse and pain.

Then he stopped, spun around and exclaimed, “Wait a minute! You had this all planned! You put that fruit there knowing I would eat from it! This is all a plot!”

There was no reply.

Without failure, Man can never truly reach into the depths of his soul. Only once he has failed can he return and reach higher and higher without end. Beyond Eden.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Failure”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

The irony is that the minute we lower ourselves to claim superiority over a brother or sister of Christ, we have failed. Participating in gossip and “badmouthing” others drags us down…it never lifts us up. While, according to midrash, Adam “trudged past the gates of Eden, his head low, his feet heavy with remorse and pain,” most people committing loshon hora hold their heads up high and feel superior in “bringing down” a “false teacher” or some Christian who they perceive (within their own imaginations sometimes) has “fallen from grace.”

News flash: blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make your burn any brighter and in fact, the very light you are extinguishing is your own.

We all fail. By even in pointing out how Christians fail, in some sense, I’m failing. I’m being critical of my fellow believers. I am speaking ill of them. I should be trudging past the gates of Eden, my head low, my feet heavy with remorse and pain.

And I do. I do, even if I’m not personally guilty of misusing my tongue or, in this case, my fingers, because I am a Christian. I am a member of the body of believers. One of the other parts in the body I share has failed. That means the body I inhabit is tainted and since the outside world can’t tell the difference between one body part and the next, that means we’re all tainted. Christianity (or whatever you call your version of the disciples of the Messiah) is disgraced whenever even one of us behaves poorly. God’s Holy and Sacred Name is dragged through the foul mud and muck. In trying to bring down “false teachers” by criticizing them over the untimely death of their children, we actually bring down God and bring down ourselves.

The Image of God is sullied and soiled, all thanks to us.

walking-home-to-edenBut as Rabbi Freeman also says, “Without failure, Man can never truly reach into the depths of his soul. Only once he has failed can he return and reach higher and higher without end. Beyond Eden.” Like the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-32, we too must fail completely before the path of repentance and return is open to us.

Rabbi Freeman also speaks of this:

Return is the ultimate act of self-expression.

Nobody returns because he is commanded to do so. The ability to return comes from you alone.

And that itself is the evidence that you were never truly torn away: The outer garments of the soul may have been severed, but the core remained at every moment in intimate union with its Source. And from there came the message to return.

It is possible to redeem the Name and Image of God, but we must be willing to admit when we fail. We must be willing to return to God humbled and even humiliated. If men like Pastor Rick Warren have faults, they are completely beside the point right now. The Christians who have truly failed are those who took advantage of the suicide of his son Matthew to attack Pastor Warren and his family. They (we) are the prodigal sons. If we are wise, we will return to God in submissiveness. There is a way back.

Or we can continue to walk away from Eden and away from God forever, even as we operate under the illusion that we are His and He is ours through Messiah.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 16:18

We can remain arrogant and lose ourselves in the darkness beyond Eden, or return and walk back home in humility and to the service of the King. Which choice will we make?

“Saints are sinners who kept on going.”

-Robert Louis Stevenson
Scottish novelist, poet and essayist

Chayei Sarah: Oil for the Lamp

“Now Avraham was zaken / old, well on in days, and Hashem had blessed Avraham bakol / with everything.”

Genesis 24:1

Why does our verse say that Avraham was “well on in days” rather than “well on in years”? R’ Yaakov Yosef Hakohen z”l (1710-1784; foremost disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov z”l; known by chassidim as “the Toldos” after one of his works) explains:

The Gemara (Shabbat 153a) teaches: Rabbi Eliezer said, “Repent one day before you die. But, since no one knows when he will die, repent every day.” King Shlomo likewise said (Kohelet 9:8), “At all times, let your clothes be white.” Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai said: “This may be likened to a king who announced that he would hold a feast, but did not announce the time. The intelligent ones among his entourage dressed-up so as to be ready on a moment’s notice, while the fools did not prepare.” [Until here from the Gemara]

-Rabbi Shlomo Katz
“Beginnings and Endings”
Hamaayan, Volume 26, No. 5
Commentary for Torah Portion Chayei Sarah
Torah.org

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV)

Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? The one who learns from every person…

-Pirkei Avot 4:1

Who is wise? The motto for the Boy Scouts is “Be prepared,” so, given the lessons we see above, it would seem that we would be wise if we learned from the sages who provided those teachings. We can learn from every person, but it is better to learn from those who have something useful and edifying to say.

And yet, how often do we ignore wise teachings until it is too late? How often do you put off changing the batteries in the smoke detectors in your home? How often do you let the needle on your car’s gas gauge get down to “E” before looking for a gas station? And while it’s impossible to predict an earthquake, if you knew a hurricane was coming, how long would you wait before trying to leave for a safer location or stocking up on food and water for yourself, and batteries for your radio, and then shuttering your windows against the coming storm?

No, I’m not taking a cheap shot at the victims of hurricane Sandy, but rather, I’m saying something about we Christians. How often do we take “being saved” for granted, even when we know that a “storm” is coming? How often do we take our relationship with God for granted and think we know everything we need to know about Him?

I saw this yesterday on Facebook:

Going to be a very interesting year ahead. I started going to a Bible study with a friend of mine, yesterday was our first class and let me just say complete shock. They are studying B’RESHEET (Genesis) and in the new members class the leader was telling us how she has been a Christian for over 40 years, joined this Bible study 5 years ago and it was the first time she ever read the ‘Old Testament’. Many of the other women commented that they too had not read anything other than the Psalms and had no idea where this thought of ‘twelve’ tribes came from. How very ,very sad.

Isn’t that a little like waiting until the last minute before getting oil for your lamps, and then getting locked out of the “marriage feast?”

OK, a lot of Christians don’t really consider the Old Testament to be that important. A lot of churches bill themselves as “New Testament” churches and that’s pretty much all they feel they need. However, since all of Christ’s “source material” from Scripture was before the Gospel of Matthew, it might be wise to study what he must have studied (We sort of assume that Jesus just “knew” the Bible forward and backward, but as a child and young adult, no doubt like other Jews, he attended synagogue on Shabbos, heard the sacred texts being read, and studied as would be expected of a young Jewish lad from a humble family in the Galilee).

We do know that he knew a few things and learned a few things growing up.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished.

Luke 2:46-48 (ESV)

It is true that studying does not automatically assure that a person will grow wise, but lack of study will almost certainly result in a person being ignorant. Christianity and Judaism have one core document that provides us with a connection to those who established our faith and who can tell us the story of man and God: the Bible (“Bible” has different definitions depending on whether you’re Christian or Jewish).

But it’s not that simple.

To define sola scriptura without academic terminology might sound something like this: The Bible is the only authority in the believer’s life; it is never wrong about anything; it touches on every aspect of life; it needs no outside help to be correctly interpreted; it never disagrees with itself; it can be understood by anyone of average intelligence; and it applies to everyone in every situation.

-Jacob Fronczak
“The Five Solas: Sola Scriptura”
Messiah Journal, Issue 111 (pg 47)

That sounds good as far as it goes, but let’s see what else Pastor Fronczak has to say.

I only use the example of translations to illustrate the fact that in a very practical sense, the Scriptures in their original languages are, for most Christians, not enough – tools such as translations, concordances, the Masoretic vowel points, and commentaries are required in order to understand the text. Of course, the goal is to understand the original text, which in itself is not an objection to the doctrine of sola scriptura – until one realizes that every translation, every commentary, and even the textual tradition itself are all based on traditions along with the divine written revelation. It is simply impossible to get away from these traditions and study the Bible in isolation. (Fronczak, pg 52)

It seems that studying the scriptures to acquire wisdom is getting harder or at least more complicated all the time.

I’ll probably write another “meditation” sometime soon expanding on other points in Fronczak’s article, but essentially, he is saying that we cannot study the Bible in any useful manner without employing (hold on to your hats) the “traditions of the (Christian) elders.”

“The traditions of the elders” has received a lot of “bad press” in Christianity because of the perception that both ancient and modern Jews allow “the traditions of men” to have authority equal to or even greater than the Bible. The Christian response, particularly among Protestants, is to say, “let scripture interpret scripture,” which is the short definition of sola scriptura. That means, “no traditions are allowed,” just the Bible itself. However, Fronczak’s article makes it abundantly clear that the early church fathers employed a great deal of tradition in even canonizing the books of the New Testament, and Catholicism, even to this day, states that the Bible can only be understood through its traditions.

Imagine the shock of realizing that the same is true among all modern-day Protestant churches as well. We just don’t choose to say it in those words.

Remember that quote from Pirkei Avot about a person being wise if they learn from everyone?

And what about the commentary on Abraham and its apparent companion lesson about the ten virgins? How can we learn from everyone and how can we be prepared to learn what we need to learn in order to comprehend what the Master is teaching us, and thus draw closer to God?

You must unlearn what you have learned.

-Yoda (Frank Oz – voice)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

In some sense, learning what’s important and what takes us on the path toward wisdom means “unlearning” concepts and doctrines that we discover aren’t useful in our lives. That isn’t always easy when such information is directly attached to words like “sacred” and “holy” and “divine revelation.” It would be like a person who learned as a child that God was a giant, old man with a long white beard who sits on a huge golden throne on a cloud in the sky. Now imagine that child is Jewish and then he grows up and learns that according to Rambam’s thirteen principles of faith, God doesn’t even have a body and is not to be considered a corporeal being? If the fellow was still young enough, that might come as quite a jolt.

Now imagine being a woman of middle age who has been a Christian for forty years reading from the book of Genesis for the first time. Taking it a step further, imagine the same woman in a group of women studying the Old Testament, accessing the classic interpretations for Genesis to try to understand anything at all about who Abraham was, where he came from, why God made a covenant with him, and what that covenant means to both Jews and Christians today.

If we are to take the lesson from Avot at face value, then our class of women might want to “unlearn” a few things about the Old Testament and learn, not only from extra-Biblical Christian commentaries about Genesis, but from a few Jewish ones as well.

Certainly Jesus understood Abraham from a completely Jewish context and framework. If we want to understand Jesus, we must understand what he understood.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.

-Matsuo Basho

So we unlearn what is not useful to us and then start learning from a wide variety of sources, seeking to understand God (as best we can) and who we are in Him. How do we know when we’re “prepared enough?” Five of the ten virgins kept “flasks of oil” with them for their lamps so that when the bridegroom came, they were ready to light them, even if it was at midnight. How do we know when we’ve studied enough so that we have “flasks of oil” at hand?

Let’s look at it another way. Studying, learning, understanding, are all active processes. You can’t bottle the stuff and put it on a shelf for a rainy day. It’s like continually replenishing the oil in lamps that continually must be burning. This makes sense when compared to another parable of the Master about we Christians being the light of the world (see Matthew 5:14-16) and how our light must be placed where everyone can see it burning all the time.

Our “lamps” will never be filled to 100% capacity where we can then stop tending to them. We are prepared when we’re always preparing; when we’re always studying, and learning, and discussing, and pondering, and repenting, and praying, and…you get the idea.

In each journey of your life you must be where you are. You may only be passing through on your way to somewhere else seemingly more important—nevertheless, there is purpose in where you are right now.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Be There”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Or in the words of my generation, “Wherever you go there you are.” We should all consider ourselves “a work on progress.” We’ll never be complete. We’ll never be “finished” or “done” or “perfect.” As long as we live, we must move forward. As long as we’re breathing, there’s someplace else to go, something else to learn, another person we need to meet.

And God will always be with us, as long as we continually seek him, and walk by the light of our lamp.

Good Shabbos.

The Pious Fraud

In a reply to a yechidus query in the winter of 5635 (1874-75), my grandfather said to my father: The yetzer hara, (the evil impulse), is called “animal soul,” not because it is necessarily a brute animal. At times it may be a fox, the most cunning of beasts, and great wisdom is needed to perceive its machinations. At other times it may clothe itself in the garb of an earnest, straightforward, humble tzadik, possessing fine traits of character.

The animal soul manifests itself in each person according to his individual character. One person may suddenly experience a powerful longing to study Chassidus or to meditate deeply on some chassidic concept. The truth is, however, that this is nothing more than the yetzer hara’s counsel and the animal soul’s machinations to prevent him from engaging in the avoda of davening or a similar activity.

Take this as a general principle and remember it always: Any matter that is effective towards or actually leads to active avoda, and is confronted with opposition of any sort, even the most noble, that opposition is the scheming of the animal soul. My father concluded: Until then I had not known that there can be a “pious” animal soul, let alone a “chassidic” animal soul.

“Today’s Day”
Shabbat * Sivan 23, 5703
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

The nature of good vs. evil and the nature of the human soul is somewhat more complicated in Judaism than it is in Christianity. I’m not going to spend any time trying to delve into these explanations, since there are people much more knowledgable and wiser than I am who have already made those distinctions. I do want to talk about how as human beings, we tend to fool ourselves, though. I know a lot about that.

It’s interesting to consider that even a very righteous person who desires to study Chassidus (If you’re Christian, think of it as studying the Bible, though that is a woefully inadequate comparison) could actually be caving into his “evil impulse.” I mean, what’s wrong with studying the Bible, folks? Or, what’s wrong with praying, or going to your local house of worship?

According to the commentary, even the desire to do something praiseworthy may be masking something else we’re trying to avoid, including our own awareness that we’re not being forthright in our motivations.

Really?

Think about this.

I want to read and study the Bible or some online commentary on the Torah. Being who I am, I’ll probably start writing a blog about it just because it’s in my nature to turn Bible study into blogs. But the floor needs to be vacuumed. Or my daughter needs a ride to work. Or my grandson is visiting and wants me to play with him. Or something is bothering my wife and she wants to talk with me about it. Or…

Well, you get the idea.

There’s nothing wrong with studying. There’s nothing wrong with blogging about Biblical or faith-based topics…unless they get in the way of “the weightier matters of the Torah,” which almost always involves actually doing some sort of good deed for another human being.

Imagine an extreme case where a person studied the Torah to the exclusion of all other considerations, including earning a living and supporting his family.

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. –2 Thessalonians 3:10 (ESV)

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. –1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV)

But most of us aren’t that extreme. We do however, know how to appear pious and holy to the outside world and still have defective motives though.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. –Matthew 23:27-28 (ESV)

Jesus was addressing people who knew they were being hypocrites and they didn’t mind behaving that way. What about those of us who truly believe we’re doing the right thing, but are really serving our own interests? We may really tell ourselves that studying Torah is more important than getting a job or getting a better job so we can support our families. We may tell ourselves that studying the Bible is more important than doing the vacuuming, washing the dishes, making dinner for the kids, or helping our neighbor with her yard work. I suppose, on a certain level, we can make a convincing case for it, too. After all, what’s wrong with studying the Word of God? What’s wrong with being immersed in the Bible? What’s wrong with being consumed and even obsessed with a life of faith?

What? But doesn’t a life of faith involve actually doing something about it? Doesn’t mowing your neighbor’s yard override praying, at least sometimes? Should we always ignore people for the sake of something we consider a higher ideal?

It’s probably not clear-cut in every single situation, but often we are so clever, we convince ourselves to do what we want to do, something that is indeed praiseworthy, so we can get out of doing something we don’t want to do that is equally praiseworthy.

The ego of man is cannibalistic in essence. At worst, it destroys everyone and everything in its path in order to attain its selfish goals. At best, as in the case of a civilized, refined and tolerant individual, it acknowledges its status as one among many, avows its support of the “human rights” of its fellows and concedes the legitimacy of pursuits other than its own. But even the most liberal-minded of men cannot escape the trappings of the ego: he will always see his fellow through the prism of self. His (seemingly) objective mind will point out that he shares the planet with billions of others, that there exist countless perspectives and callings in addition to his own. Deep down, however, the self will remain the gravitational center of reality, its ultimate point of reference. He will see others as necessary, perhaps crucial, but always secondary cogs to the kingpin of self.

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
“The Contemporary Cannibal”
Sivan 23, 5772 * June 13, 2012
Chabad.org

This is part of a direct commentary on the following:

Rabbi Chaninah, deputy to the kohanim, would say: Pray for the integrity of the sovereignty, for were it not for the fear of its authority a man would swallow his neighbor alive. Rabbi Chaninah son of Tradyon would say: … Two who sit and exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence rests amongst them…

-Ethics of the Fathers, 3:2

On the surface, it doesn’t seem as if there’s a connection between our need for a sovereign in order to curb man’s aggressive nature and studying words of Torah, but with just a little thought, the link becomes apparent.

So anyone who views the universe as an ownerless, arbitrary existence will never transcend the moral and intellectual cannibalism of the ego. For without a supreme authority that creates, defines and gives direction to all of creation, the self and its perceptions are the sole judge of right and wrong; inevitably, one’s vision of others will be tinted with the color of self.

It is only through the fear of G-d, only through the acceptance of the sovereignty of the King Of All Kings, that man can grow beyond the prejudice and anarchy of the ego. It is only by sensing an Absolute Truth before which all are equally insignificant, but which grants significance to the countless individual roles that fulfill the Divine purpose in creation, that an individual can genuinely see his fellow as his equal.

And because the naturally self-centered consciousness of man is, by definition, incapable of truly seeing beyond itself, this truth it is not something that one can understand and feel with the contemporary tools of his mind and heart. One must therefore “pray for the integrity of the sovereignty” in his life. One must concede that the transcendence of self is beyond his humanly natural capabilities, and humbly request that he be granted a higher, ego-free vision of his fellow.

It is only by acknowledging the absolute sovereign of the universe and submitting to His will that we can stop, look at what we’re doing, and realize what is really important in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Studying the Bible is important. Praying is important. Playing with your three-year old grandson is more important. God’s Bible is always there and is vital in helping us understand the importance of our roles, but once a moment in a child’s life has passed, you never get it back again.

You need to decide what you are. If you believe yourself to be angel, be prepared for some disappointment. If you think of yourself as a beast, you may well become depressed.

Best to know you are human. Stay away from situations you can’t handle, and face up to the mess when you fall down. That’s even higher than the angels.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Identity”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

To Serve My Creator

“Everything was created to serve me,” states the Talmud, “and I was created to serve my Creator.”

-Talmud, Kiddushin 82a.

“I was created to serve my Creator.” With these words, the Talmud sums up the purpose of life. But there is also another version of this talmudic passage, which reads. “I was not created, but to serve my Creator.” A similar “double negative” is employed by our mishnah: “All that G-d created in His world, He did not create but for His glory.”

The difference is significant. The statement, “I was created to serve my Creator,” recognizes man as an existence in his own right (“I was created”), though one whose ultimate raison d’etre is defined by a reality greater than himself. The second version, however, attributes no legitimacy whatsoever to man as an entity distinct from his role: “I was not created, but to serve my Creator”–therein, and only therein, lies the fact of his being.

One of Torah’s basic rule is: “These and these are both the words of the Living G-d.” When the Torah mentions two opinions or interpretations it is because both are valid and relevant. Differing versions and manners of articulation of the same statement also complement one another, each providing another perspective to the concept they express.

The same applies to two descriptions of man’s identity and purpose: both are integral to our lives. There is an aspect to our mission in life that involves the total abnegation of self. But our service of the Creator also includes an element that allows for–indeed demands–the retaining of an individual identity, an “I” which serves as opposed to an egoless service.

from an Ethics of Our Fathers commentary
Sivan 2, 5772 * May 23, 2012
Chabad.org

Recently, I’ve been exploring the identity of “faithful man” based on Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s book The Lonely Man of Faith. You may have read some of my musings in “meditations” like Burning the Plow and Behar-Behukotai: Seeking Crowns. But in all of the explorations of the purpose of man I’ve read that were written by people of faith, I continue to collide with one important fact: each of us as individuals is important to God.

On the one hand, I guess that doesn’t come as much of a shock, since we assume it all the time, particularly when we pray. But on the other hand, the significance of a single human soul seems so unimaginably small when compared to the infinite being of the eternal Creator. Even David remarked on it in this famous passage from one of his psalms:

O Lord, what is man that you regard him,
or the son of man that you think of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a passing shadow. –Psalm 144:3-4 (ESV)

Interestingly enough, Shakespeare “answered” David’s query.

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!

-Hamlet Act 2, scene 2

But what Shakespeare quipped in irony, we might say with conviction. I’ve been tempted more than once to imagine that God created the Universe for the sake of humanity but not necessarily for individual people. Then, I’ve imagined that only certain people have been worthy of Creation and the rest of us just got a “free ride,” but is that selling God and His intentions short?

There’s no way to know for sure, except when we read David’s psalm, but then, was David only talking about himself, or was he describing even the most humble of God’s creations? All men, great and small alike, are equal in that our “days are like a passing shadow” and each of us is “like a breath.” No one is immune from loneliness, loss, sickness, pain, and finally, death. We take comfort in the hope of the life in the world to come, but we live here and now and frankly, even people of faith can feel scared and small. In fact, we may be uniquely suited to feel scared and small because we are, in some tiny sense, aware of the vastness of God. Secular man in his self-appointed position of supremacy over the earth, knows only himself as the largest and most dominant of beings and only in vague impressions may get glimpses of something bigger…but then that might only be “the environment” or whatever is out there in “the universe.”

All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.” -Sanhedrin, 11:1

“G-d makes the spiritual physical; the Jew makes the physical spiritual” -Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

The Jew of faith, can take comfort in these words but what about the rest of us? What about the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah? What about Christians? Actually, Christians tend to be a little arrogant in their…in our salvation. We believe only those who are exactly like us have “saved” and will “go to Heaven” but we deny Sanhedrin 11:1 (which is understandable for most Christians) as well as Paul’s own words:

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; –Romans 11:26 (ESV)

Somewhere between the crushing humility of insignificance in God’s incredible universe and the Babel-like pedestal some Christians put themselves on, is the reality of who we are as individual disciples of Christ, and what all that means. However, it’s not just individual Christians and Jews who are significant and important in the vision of God but, if we believe that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), then God loves everyone. We were, after all, created in His image, each of us, as individuals, as single, tiny, frail, and frightened human beings. He loves us and cares for us, whether we acknowledge His existence or not.

And He loves us so much, all humanity, each and every person, that He made it possible for us all to be aware of Him, to know Him (to the best of our ability and comprehension), and to love Him.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. –Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

We were once “strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV) but no longer. Not because we are just part of humanity but because each and every one of us as an individual person was crafted by God’s own hand. He made us lovingly, He cherished us, He caused us to be born, He’s helping us grow.

and I was created to serve my Creator…

Addendum: As most of you know, I recently attended the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) 2012 Shavuot Conference hosted by Beth Immanuel Shabbath Fellowship in Hudson, WI. It was fabulous but it will take quite a number of “meditations” to describe all of my experiences, including the wonderful people I met and the very interesting ideas, concepts, and teachings to which I was exposed. For those of you who attended with me and everyone else who want to know how things went, please be patient. I’ll be writing about all this shortly.