Tag Archives: praying

Hiatus or Something Like It

Walking outRabbi Meir Hagar of Viznitz related that one of the great chassidic rabbis was once praying with much enthusiasm. His evil inclination came to him at a moment he was praying with the height of fervor, and whispered in his ear, “How can you be so insolent as to pray in such a manner? Yesterday you did improper things. You are unworthy of such prayers.”

The righteous man was not thrown by the evil inclination and mentally replied, “It might be true that yesterday I have erred. Moreover, it is possible that tomorrow once again I might err. But right now I am in the middle of praying, so get away from me!”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Make the Highs Even Higher”
Aish.com

It is said that for every descent spiritually, there is an ascent. This blog and a good many other things are going into hiatus, or at least a significant slow down, for an indeterminate period of time which may be a few days to a few weeks, or even longer. Frankly, I’ve recently been reminded of my humanity and my fallibility (I came to this conclusion before my recent Nanos blog post, but the mess I caused didn’t help). I’ve always been concerned about putting my thoughts, feelings, and opinions about God, the Bible and everything out on the Internet, since I am only human, when the rest of the religious people in my space (and in all other religious spaces) in the blogosphere seem to be so “perfect” (not that anyone is perfect, of course).

I’m far from perfect. Very far.

I’ll miss the daily writing. I really enjoy it. But discussing theological issues should be less about personal enjoyment and more about enlightenment and truth. I told a friend over coffee last Sunday that I was stuck on the level of content as far as my faith goes. I like reading and writing about “stuff,” about opinions, and doctrine, and information.

But that’s not all that a life of faith is made of. A life of faith must be lived faithfully.

For however long I’m away, or however infrequently I visit, I bequeath the religious blogosphere to those of you who want it or need it. I’m going to see what life is like without living it on a daily basis. At one point, I thought blogging was a way to get closer to God, but now I see that it has become a barrier between me and Hashem, like many other things I have in my life.

Oh, just in case the “apostasy police” or anyone else is “concerned” by what my decision means, no, I haven’t lost faith or walked away from Jesus. I’m walking away from a public online discussion of my faith right now, thank you very much.

When will I be back? I don’t know exactly. I still have one more episode of First Fruits of Zion’s television program A Promise of What is to Come to review, and I know I’m going to watch it, but when will I write the review and post it for all to read? Soon I hope.

Even if I return to this blog in a few days or a few weeks, it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll return to daily blogging.  It’s more likely, though nothing is decided yet, that I could just stop by every once in awhile and share a few thoughts or insights or even a review on an irregular basis. Just a brief, intermittent presence.

What will I be doing now that I’m not regularly writing online? Praying, reading, studying, pondering, meditating. Who knows what else? God knows what He wants of me. I just have to discover what that is and then do it.

Lord, Thou knowest that I am growing older.

Keep me from becoming talkative and possessed with the idea that I must express myself on every subject.

Release me from the craving to straighten out everyone’s affairs.

Keep me from the recital of endless detail. Give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips when I am inclined to tell of my aches and pains; they are increasing with the years and my love to speak of them grows sweeter as time goes by.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Make me thoughtful but not nosy; helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom and experience it does seem a pity not to use it all. But Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

-found at Aish.com
“A prayer for those growing older”

Blessings on all who have shared in my journey thus far. May it continue by the will and grace of God.

Good Shabbos and Good Night.

Who is Righteous?

goodly-tents-of-jacobHow goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel. As for me, through Your abundant kindness, I will enter Your House. I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary in awe of You. O HASHEM, I love the house where you dwell and the place where your glory resides. I will prostrate myself and bow, I will kneel before HASHEM my Maker. As for me, may my prayer to You HASHEM come at an opportune time; O God, in Your abundant kindness, answer me with the truth of Your salvation.

“Mah Tovu (How Good)”
-from the Siddur

This is the beginning of the Shacharit or morning prayers, said by Jewish people around the world at the beginning of each day.

I have a sad confession to make. I don’t pray in the morning very often. The first hour or so after I get up is dedicated to a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and slowly waking up in front of my computer. Oh sure, I recite the Modeh Ani upon awakening, but that takes only a few seconds and I’m still in bed when I make the blessing.

However, this morning my son wasn’t feeling well and frankly, neither was I, so we decided to skip the 5 a.m. visit to the gym. I could have noodled around on the web or even read a book, but I decided to pray.

I began with extemporaneous prayer and my mind scattered all over the place. I kept trying to focus it back, but that would last only a few seconds. I can certainly see the benefits of hitbodeut since it actually encourages “talking” to God as one talks passionately to a close companion, but for that, I’d need to be completely alone (I don’t want to wake my wife and daughter).

Then I remembered my siddur. I opened it up to the Shacharis/Morning Services section and began to read. And I began to pray.

I know that I previously expressed some hesitation and even trepidation at attending the recent First Fruits of Zion Shavuot Conference. I wondered if I really belonged in a “Jewish” worship context anymore (or if I ever did). I wondered why it didn’t feel like “home” anymore.

But praying, even somewhat briefly, with the siddur this morning did feel like home. I limited my prayers, trying to avoid those that overtly identified the person praying as Jewish, but I feel as if the pattern and rhythm of the siddur is almost calling to me.

After Mah Tovu, I prayed Adon Olam (all this is in English and I’m softly reciting, not singing), skipped the blessings of the Torah, and continued with the liturgy up to the Akeidah portion.

It’s not very long, actually.

But why don’t I do this every morning? I can’t say I don’t have the time, because I can find the time.

Then I was reminded of something else that happened at the conference.

I won’t go into too many details, but one person giving a presentation referenced another individual present and called him a tzadik. This was because the person being referenced is scrupulous in all the prayers, rituals, and traditions of observant Judaism. He refrains from all inappropriate forms of work on the Shabbat and festivals, observes each time of prayer, davening in Hebrew, and otherwise is diligently mindful of his duty to Hashem…

…even though he’s not Jewish.

That last part’s important because it brings up the question of whether or not observing Jewish religious practices makes a non-Jew more holy, more righteous, more “tzadik-like.” Particularly as a non-Jewish person involved in the Messianic Jewish movement, however tangentially, do the Jews and Gentiles in that movement consider me a failure for not following Jewish religious observances?

After a wave of guilt passed over me, I realized that some of the most righteous men I know are Christians who probably don’t pray one word in Hebrew. I’ve come to develop a great admiration particularly for a few of the men at the church I attend. I’ve learned some things about one specific individual that he’d never tell me himself, but that are completely consistent with how I experience him.

israel_prayingIf he were Jewish, I’d probably call him a tzadik. But what makes him such isn’t his “Jewish” observance, because as far as I know, he has none. What makes him such is that he is devoted to God in all of his ways, not only in prayer and worship, but in everything that he does.

How a life of righteousness looks, at least superficially, may be different depending on whether or not you’re a Christian or a Jew, but at the core, living a life that is pleasing to God should be the same regardless of who you are.

Jews pray and Christians pray. I remember my Pastor said that there were times in Israel when he was traveling with Jewish men. They would daven shacharit in a minyan and he would sit off to one side and silently pray, not intruding on them, but observing the holy time nonetheless. They all honored God and each other with their prayers and their devotion.

Jews give to charity and Christians give to charity. Jews visit the sick and Christians visit the sick. Jews feed the hungry and Christians feed the hungry. Jews gather together regularly to worship God and Christians gather together regularly to worship God.

Do you see what I’m getting at?

A “tzadik” isn’t just a Jewish righteous person, it’s any righteous person. Granted, the term itself is Jewish, but the concept behind it can be applied to any individual who seeks the will of God and then does the will of God.

I guess a Christian would use the word “saint” but I’m not quite sure it is an equivalent term exactly.

But the words used matter less than the life that’s lived. While in the example I cited above from the conference, one person acknowledged that another was a tzadik, but the recognition matters less than the life that’s lived, even if it is lived in obscurity so that no one knows.

But God knows.

God knows everything about the righteous and the unrighteous.

…as it is written:

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.”

Romans 3:10-11 (NRSV)

There is no one who is righteous just because of who he is or what he does. Paul goes on in the same chapter to say that we are only righteous by faith. It is by faith that we seek God at all. It is by faith that we pray.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski writes an online “column” for Aish.com called Growing Each Day in which he begins with a quote from the Bible, Talmud, the Siddur, or some similar text. He then writes a brief commentary and finishes by applying the principle to his own life (and by inference, his readers are invited to apply it to their lives in order to “grow each day.”

Adapting his model to today’s “extra meditation:”

Today I shall…

…seek God each morning by turning to Him in prayer, so that my life will begin to conform to His will.

Good Shabbos.

110 days.

Praying for Oklahoma

oklahomaA mammoth tornado carved a trail of destruction through the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, killing at least 51 people, including some children, and ripping apart two elementary schools today, local authorities said.

“It is absolutely devastating, this is horrific,” Oklahoma Lt. Gov Todd Lamb said. “We’re going to have fatalities. … We’re going to have significant injuries. … We just don’t know what those numbers are. Schools have been hit, a hospital has been hit, businesses have been flattened, neighborhoods have been wiped away — we don’t have the numbers in yet but it is going to be significant and it is going to be horrific.”

-Lauren Effron and Dean Schabner
“Oklahoma Tornado: At Least 51 Dead, ‘Horrific’ Damage”
ABC News

One word meditations:

Pray. Donate. Give. Care. Love.

Experiencing Prayer

Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch, used to pray at great length. Sometimes his prayers would take hours. Near Mezeritch there lived a learned man who, like the Maggid, also used to pray according to the kavanot (mystical intentions) taught by the holy Ari (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) of Safed, but whose prayers did not take so long. When he heard about how much time the Maggid spent, he was perplexed, and wanted to know the reason. He decided to ask the Maggid himself.

Once a year this learned man, who also happened to be quite wealthy, would travel to the great fair in Leipzig. There he would invest some of his capital in merchandise, which he would then sell in his hometown upon his return at a good profit. He was able to live off the proceeds from these transactions for the rest of the year, while he devoted his time to Torah study and prayer. On his next such business trip, he made a point to pass through Mezeritch and stop there.

Witnessing for himself the Maggid’s lengthy prayers, he was amazed. At his first opportunity to speak privately to the Maggid, the wealthy scholar said, “I also pray according to the special mystical intentions taught by the holy Ari, yet I don’t find the necessity to extend my prayers for so long.”

Instead of answering directly, the Maggid expressed interest in how his guest made a living. The man explained how it was enough for him to travel once a year to Leipzig to invest in merchandise, which he then sold for a good profit in the area where he lived.

“But how do you know that you have made a profit?” inquired the Maggid.

“Simple. I enter all my capital expenditures and traveling expenses in my ledger, and subtract their sum from the total amount of income from sales. The remainder is my profit,” replied the merchant, wondering why the rebbe was so interested in the details of his business.

“But why,” the Maggid asked innocently, “do you waste all that time and money traveling to Leipzig and back? Why don’t you just write all the credit and debit figures down in your ledger and calculate your profits that way, without fuss?”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the merchant. “Is it possible to think that from writing numbers can come a profit without bothering to do anything else? Ha, ha, ha. Of course, you have to travel and buy and sell before the profit can be real, not just theoretical.”

“Well,” said the Maggid, “the kavanot are like merchandise: if they are not fully possessed in your mind and heart as if you were ‘there,’ it is like writing profit figures on a piece of paper without doing the business work. On the other hand, if you are firmly attached ‘there,’ you can then acquire some excellent ‘merchandise’ and make a handsome profit with the kavanot.

“But that,” concluded the Maggid to his astonished visitor, “requires extended time and investment in prayer.”

Translated/retold from Reshimas Devarim, vol. 4.
“The Prayer Business”
-Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles
Chabad.org

Man should ponder thoughtfully how great are the kindnesses of the Creator: Such a puny insignificant being, Man, can bring great delight to the “Greatest of all great”‘ of Whom it is written, “There is no delving into His greatness.” (Psalm 145:1) Man ought therefore always be inspired, and perform his avoda with an eager heart and spirit.

“Today’s Day”
Sunday, Kislev 8, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

I’m not really a “mystic” sort of guy. I enjoy reading (I don’t seriously study mysticism) mystic commentaries and texts because I find they work wonderfully as metaphors of moral and spiritual concepts and ideas. Mysticism is a very good way to tell stories about people and God, which is why I’m fond of the writings of the Chassidim and Chabad.

So try not to take the commentary about prayer I quoted above as if I think this is a literal truth, although for some, I imagine it is. I latched onto it mainly because it makes me think about prayer and what it’s supposed to mean. Hopefully, it’ll make you think more about prayer, too.

DaveningIn yesterday’s morning meditation, I spoke a bit about my use of the Modeh Ani and Bedtime Shema blessings in my own life. Prayer is difficult for me, at least lengthy prayer, because I find that so many random thoughts and emotions creep in when I’m trying to talk (and listen) to God. Since the Modeh Ani is fairly short and I recite it from memory, there isn’t time for anything else to interfere, and since I recite the ending portion of the Bedtime Shema from my siddur, the fact that I’m reading from text helps focus my thoughts and my intention.

I actually have been thinking more about prayer since I read a friend’s commentary on his own experiences recently:

Early this morning before my flight had left the gate, I was quietly (and discreetly) praying Birchot Hashachar (morning blessings) from my pocket siddur when suddenly the woman sitting next to me asked me, “What language is that?” “Hebrew,” I replied. “Oh, I thought it was Greek,” she said.

“Well, I actually know that, too,” I said, which then led into an extensive conversation that unfortunately I was too tired to engage in and, B”H, managed to escape shortly after takeoff by falling asleep for the duration of the flight. (A window seat and foam earplugs are always my best friends on a flight.) Then after landing, I went to the airport chapel to pray Shacharit. I must have prayed Shacharit there countless times while travelling, and I usually have the chapel all to myself. Sometimes other people enter the chapel for some quiet moments while I’m there and they see me wearing my tallit and tefillin, which I can only imagine how that might look to them if they’re unfamiliar with Judaism. Usually they only stay for 30 seconds—one minute at most—and then they promptly leave. (I can always sense their feelings of uncomfortability and awkwardness.)

However, this morning while I was donning my tefillin, a clean cut, black gentleman dressed in a suit and tie entered the chapel and sat down a few seats behind me. I politely said “Good morning” to him, then began quietly praying Pesukei d’Zimra and continued with my usual morning prayer routine as quietly and discreetly as possible. Amazingly, however, he actually stayed. A few minutes later, when I was between the Shma and Amidah, he began walking toward the exit, but then quickly turned around, boldly approached me, and asked me forthright, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” I was a bit taken aback by his question and it took me a few seconds to process it. “Yes, I do,” I responded, although somewhat apprehensively. “Oh, praise the L-RD,” he said, and reached out to shake my hand. “Something in my heart told me to ask you that. I’ve heard of you guys. Yeshua Ha-ma-shee-ah?” “Yeshua Hamashiach,” I affirmed. And then he suddenly walked out with this big smile on his face while I was left there wondering what that was all about.

Depending on who you are and how and where you pray, you aren’t always praying alone and your prayer life may have some sort of impact on others. Of course, even when I prayed with a siddur, I rarely prayed in public (unless it was at a worship service where everyone was using a siddur), so I never had these sorts of encounters. But in reading the comments of my friend about his own experiences, I was reminded of the beauty of the Jewish prayers and how the early Jewish believers gathered daily to recite the prayers at Solomon’s colonnade at the Temple in Jerusalem.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but last spring, when I was attending the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Shabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin, I had a wonderful experience. One morning, I arrived at the congregation early and was sitting in the main sanctuary waiting for services to begin. In the distance, I heard men davening Shacharit in Hebrew. I followed the sound into the library and discovered the men were praying together in an upper room. Not wishing to disturb them (and my Hebrew is more than abysmal), I chose to stand underneath the room and just listen.

If you’ve ever heard men praying the Hebrew prayers before, you know it is a beautiful sound and even without understanding all of the words (I’ve been around the prayers enough to be able to generally follow them), I felt myself transported in a sense, lifted up into the spirit of the prayer, and found myself drawing closer to God.

I don’t think you have to pray in Hebrew to draw closer to God, but there’s something about a minyan davening (not that I can qualify to pray with a minyan) that brings me into communion with God in a way I’ve never found when praying or singing hymns in a church.

Be that as it may, we are each responsible for our own prayer life and thus our relationship with God. And yet for me, prayer is one of the most difficult parts of my relationship with God. I receive great joy in reading the Bible and various commentaries and studies, but spending time alone with God is so difficult, again because my brain keeps getting in the way. I think that’s why I like praying with a siddur because it helps me focus my intention upon God and praising His Name. Praying “alone,” that is, without a siddur, allows the noise and static of my own thoughts to completely take over, and I find myself drowning in the sound that my brain generates rather than rising above my own existence and approaching the Creator.

When I go to church, we pray, but it somehow isn’t the same. When I go to Sunday school, we pray, but it’s not like we’re praying together. This too I think is one of the “weaknesses” of Protestantism.

I don’t really have an answer to my conundrum, but I think Rabbi DovBer has an answer that works, at least for some Jewish people (or people of faith), in that you have to invest in your prayers rather than just use praying as a “remote control” method of communication. Prayer requires time, discipline, and an investment of purpose. I haven’t attempted such a thing for a very long time. For me, Modeh Ani and the Bedtime Shema are a beginning, but unlike my friend, I haven’t extended myself to pray at set times, and particularly wouldn’t do so if I was in a public place such as an airport (and I didn’t even know airports had chapels).

Is my experience common or am I an oddball in his area of faith as well? What are your experiences like? Is anyone willing to share?

61 Days: Preparing for Re-entry

I see church as a less than ideal environment for anyone who wishes to follow Torah…I see the need for rescue missions but for everyone in churches…I think they all need to be rescued — rescued from anti-Judaic doctrines…I see those anti-Judaic Christian doctrines as negatively affecting both Jews and gentiles. There is only one faith and it’s a Jewish faith — it’s the Judaism proposed by Yeshua and the authors of the New Testament.

-a comment from Peter
on Gene Shlomovich’s blog post
One Law Gentile Has a Change of Heart

I’m probably going to regret this, but I really can’t avoid writing this “meditation,” especially given the angst-filled missive I posted yesterday. But in having my conversation over at Gene’s blog, I realized that I’ve been just as guilty of misjudging Christians and been treating the church just as unfairly as I think Peter is. However, he’s right in that he can at least go to a church without writing a month’s worth of daily blogs exposing his every doubt and misgiving, as opposed to me dragging my heels every inch of the way between here and the nearest chapel.

Peter suggests that Christians need to be rescued out of the church and returned to…what?

Well, let’s go back a step. Rescued from what?

rescued from anti-Judaic doctrines…

So you get a small army together, raid a local church during Sunday services, scoop everyone up in a big net, and fly them via helicopter to…where? A late Second Temple era “ekklesia?”

But they don’t exist and frankly, we don’t know how to replicate one. Even if we did, is that our goal? To transport all 21st century Christians back in time twenty centuries to the first “churches” established by Paul in the diaspora? To what end?

OK, I get it. If the Gentiles never stopped worshiping the Jewish Messiah with the Jewish disciples, chances are supersessionism would never have developed and we’d all be hunky-dory together, Jews and Gentiles all praying to Jesus, right?

Well, maybe not.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Romans 11:11-24 (ESV)

What picture is Paul painting here? This letter was addressed to a congregation of disciples in Rome that included both Jews and Gentiles. He’s “toggling” back and forth between each population in this letter, trying to keep each group from playing the “superiority card” against the other. He’s telling both the Jewish group of disciples and the Gentile group of disciples not to get too cocky, because God is the final judge of who will be on the root and who will knocked off, and for that matter, who will be put back on again. The “glue” was (and is) faith, not simply being Jewish or being non-Jewish.

But even this early in the history of “the church,” the friction between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples was evident…and this was a combined congregation, with Jews and Gentiles worshiping together, breaking bread, fellowshiping, davening together.

On the one hand, both the Jews and Gentiles in Rome would have been part of the Roman culture, but on a deeper level, Jews, no matter where they live, have their own culture, apart from the surrounding goyim. Chances are, the “Messianic” Jews lived in a Jewish section of Rome, apart from the Gentile disciples. Chances are, there were a thousand other cultural, ethnic, lifestyle and halalaic differences between the Jews and Gentiles that, while they were held together in their faith in the Messiah, they were also separated in these many other ways. Why do you think Paul had to write “neither Jew nor Greek” to other churches as we see in Galatians 3:28?

Often, we miss these matters when reading the New Testament, but the struggle to integrate the non-Jewish nations and the various cultures they represented into the worship of the God of Israel must have been an enormous task for the Jewish disciples who were, at that time, the leaders and mentors of the ekklesia of Christ. Friction between the Jews and the various people groups from the nations was inevitable from the beginning. Maybe that’s part of the reason Paul wrote to the Roman Gentiles, ” a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”

The partial hardening upon Israel has to come! If the Messianic (Christian) faith had remained exclusively or primarily Jewish at that point in history (and especially if the Gentile disciples were expected to take on the full yoke of the Law as a minority of Hebrew Roots practitioners believe today), then either the Gentiles would not have accepted Jesus in such great numbers or, they would have “reinvented” the faith anyway, alienating the Jews and recreating the Jewish Messiah as the Goyishe Jesus.

Does that mean that part of God’s plan for integrating the nations into faith and trust in God through the Jewish Messiah was a separation between Jews and Gentiles? It certainly could be seen that way. Does that mean we must always be totally separate and even hostile toward one another? Absolutely not. The budding Messianic Jewish movement of the past few decades, which is now gaining increasing traction, is evidence that we can interface and fellowship while retaining our national and cultural distinctions.

I’m quite familiar with the history of supersessionism in the church and the long centuries of enmity between Jew and Christian and thankfully, that is slowly ending. But is the “cure” for this supersessionism to remove the Christians from the church and to include them in a Jewish synagogue setting, attempting to integrate them into modern Jewish cultural and religious practices?

Or is there another way?

What about Christians who are not supersessionist staying in the church or returning to church? What about being members of a church so that the church can become more aware of its heritage and its connections to ancient Judaism; so it can begin to recognize the face of the Jewish Messiah King as the actual face of Jesus Christ?

I launched Going Back to Ekklesia a day early because I needed to write this “sequel.” I needed to firm up my commitment to return to fellowship with other Christians and not treat them as an “alien other” that I’m just “visiting” but not actually a part of. If I am to champion the cause of Christianity to those “Christians” I encounter who disdain the name, then I must belong to the group of people, the church, who have faithfully followed the cause of Christ.

I apologize to anyone who I’ve offended by my previous comments, particularly in my hesitation at joining fellowship. I realize now, by seeing the church through another’s eyes, that I was being woefully unfair and unkind. I ask that you accept me as a fellow brother in the faith, though I probably won’t always talk as you’d expect a Christian to express himself (just read my blog posts to see what I mean). If my personal “wall of separation” is to come down, then I’m the one who has to remove it.

I have no illusions that I’m so powerful or smart or cool that my single contribution will be some sort of “big deal,” but if nothing else, I’ll remove any sort of dissonance from my statements and I’ll have something “real” to talk about.

Whatever comes your way today, whatever situation you walk through, you are safe in God’s hands. Any storm that swirls around you swirls around Him. He is your Shield, your Strength, your Rock, your Fortress. Nothing is getting through without His permission. We may not always understand why He allows what He allows, but we can cling to the blessed fact of His everlasting love.

Marie

Who is Worthy of God’s Word?

To some, G-d is great because He makes the wind blow.

For others, because He projects space and time out of the void.

The men of thought laugh and say He is far beyond any of this, for His Oneness remains unaltered even by the event of Creation.

We Jews, this is what we have always said:

G-d is so great, He stoops to listen to the prayer of a small child;

He paints the petals of each wildflower and awaits us there to catch Him doing so;

He plays with the rules of the world He has made to comfort the oppressed and support those who champion justice.

He transcends the bounds of higher and lower.

He transcends all bounds.

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

Indeed, the prayer of the community was born the very instant the prophetic community expired and, when it did come into the spiritual world of the Jew of old, it did not supersede the prophetic community but rather perpetuated it. Prayer is the continuation of prophecy, and the fellowship of prayerful men is ipso facto the fellowship of prophets.

-Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
from Chapter VII of his book
The Lonely Man of Faith

Rabbi Soloveitchik says a very interesting thing. He links the age of the prophets to the post-Second Temple world of Rabbinic Judaism. This may seem strange to most Christians, since we are taught a good many things passed away with the ascendency of Christ and the demise of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In fact, Christianity tends to discount the early Rabbinic period forward in the history of Judaism and “replace” it with the grace of Jesus Christ.

Of course Rabbi Soloveitchik as an Orthodox Jew, would not offer any sort of acknowledgement of Christ, but I think we can take his words, and those of Rabbi Freeman’s and try to apply them to the world of prayer among all men. While the prophets of old were unique and (as far as I can tell) no man has the “gift of prophesy” today as did Jewish men such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, we all have the capacity to engage God in the realm of prayer. This makes no man a prophet in the manner of those I have just mentioned, but the ability of humanity to connect, through faith, with God was not ended when the Second Temple was destroyed. Nor did it end with the life, death, life, and ascendency of Jesus. As Rabbi Freeman tells us, God is so great that “He stoops to listen to the prayer of a small child.”

And yet, from a Jewish point of view, prayer is not the exclusive property of the individual as Rabbi Soloveitchik notes:

No man, however great and noble, is worthy of God’s word if he fancies that the word is his private property not to be shared by others.

Judaism sees its relationship with God as largely corporate as indeed, is the Sinai covenant between God and the Israelites. Yet each Jew living today is also to consider himself as having stood personally at the foot of Mount Sinai as God gave the Torah through Moses. By comparison, Christianity, though the “body of Christ,” exists conceptually as a large collection of individuals, and each believer interacts as a unique personality, almost exclusively independent of the community of the church.

We see this most often in how we, as Christians, pray. It’s an almost irresistible temptation to pray about me, myself, and I, and Jesus did not prohibit this. And yet, he also told us to pray for others, even our enemies, and to petition God for the welfare of our leaders, our neighbors, and our oppressors. Rabbi Soloveitchik echos this when he writes “Man should avoid praying for himself alone…When disaster strikes, one must not be immersed completely in his own passional destiny, thinking exclusively for himself, being concerned only with himself, and petitioning God merely for himself.” To do so would be to imagine that God is little more than Aladdin’s genie and we alone are the one holding onto the lamp.

PrayingBut what is prayer and how is it somehow connected to perpetuating the continuation of prophecy?

Who is qualified to engage God in the prayer colloquy? Clearly, the person who is ready to cleanse himself of imperfection and evil. Any kind of injustice, corruption, cruelty, or the like desecrates the very essence of the prayer adventure, since it encases man in an ugly little world into which God is unwilling to enter. If man craves to meet God in prayer, then he must purge himself of all that separates him from God.

God hearkens to prayer if it rises from a contrite heart over a muddled and faulty life and from a resolute mind ready to redeem this life, In short, only the committed person is qualified to pray and to meet God. Prayer is always the harbinger of moral reformation.

So who can pray? On the one hand, it seems as if prayer is reserved for the person who is passionately dedicated to removing all sin and evil from his being and who longs to engage God in a realm of purity. On the other hand, what man, no matter what his condition, is completely clean and pure except that God has made him so?

Even an unbeliever can pray and be heard by God, otherwise no one could ever come to faith and be accepted by God. No one would ever be able to come to faith in God through Jesus Christ and be cleansed, healed, and reconciled with his Creator unless God was willing to hear the prayers of people covered in filth. It’s the desire to have the mantle of sin be removed from our shoulders, not the success of that removal whereby God is willing to hear us. In that sense, we do possess a “specialness” that was experienced by the prophets of old in that they too were willing, though still mortal and imperfect men.

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” –Isaiah 6:4-5 (ESV)

As I mentioned before, the prophets didn’t consider God’s revelations to them to be their exclusive property but rather, they shared God’s word with all, even as they were commanded to do. Should we, in our own human need, keep prayer just for us and not share it with all of God’s creations?

But since we are all imperfect and perhaps never, even for a moment, attain a purity that allows a true connection to God, how does God hear? What of the person so damaged and injured in his spirit, that he only knows to cry out but is unable to shed his “skin of evil?”

Likewise, we encourage the sinner to pray even though he is not ready yet for repentance and moral regeneration, because any mitzvah performance, be it prayer, be it another moral act, has a cleansing effect upon the doer and may influence his life and bring about a complete change in his personality.

It seems as if I’m wandering further and further away from the prophets or rather, Rabbi Soloveitchik did when he penned these words. On the other hand, the Rav seems to be saying what he did before; that prayer isn’t the exclusive property of the pious and the holy and the righteous. Even sinners can and absolutely need to connect to God. Jesus was criticized for eating with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors, yet he said this:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” –Luke 5:31-32 (ESV)

Thus access to the heart of God is available to all, not just to the perfect and those who sit in clean suits and dresses in pews on Sunday morning.

But going back to the very beginning of today’s “meditation,” we as Christians see that God is accessible not just to us and not just to “sinners,” but to all Jews everywhere, whether they are in the Messiah or not (and I am not lumping the Jewish people in with “sinners”).

I know it’s strange. Do I speak blasphemy? Do I ignore John 14:6? I suppose it looks that way. But I’m not willing to throw post-Jesus Jews under a bus because Christianity (and many in the Hebrew Roots movement) think “Rabbinic Judaism” is a dirty word.

I’ve sat in synagogues on Shabbat and during the Shema, have felt God enter as a tangible presence. I’ve sat in churches during prayer and singing and felt as if the room were completely empty. This is not to say that all synagogues possess God’s presence and all churches contain only God’s absence. Far from it. I am only saying that the 21st century church is not the only receptacle for the spirit of God. God is present where all men who desire Him are gathered, and resides in the heart of each individual, no matter who he is, who longs for the lover of his soul.

Who is qualified to engage God in the prayer colloquy? The person who is ready to cleanse himself certainly, but more than that, even the person who is at present unable or unwilling to be clean may still cry out. The very act of calling God’s Name may not “command” God to listen, but it may require the person praying to change his heart in acknowledgement of Him.

Thousands of years before the coming of Christ, while most of our non-Jewish ancestors (I’m speaking to Christians right now) were dancing around the pagan fires and worshiping “gods” of stone and wood, the Jewish people were turning their hearts to the One God. True, they also turned away many times, but God called them back and they returned. Otherwise, there would be no Christians today, for there would have been no Judaism by which the Messiah entered the world (and will enter it again).

Whoever you are reading this, know that God is not your exclusive property. God is a God to all or He is a God to none. While He has a special and unique relationship with the Jewish people which is perpetual and unable to be broken, He sent His only begotten Son for the rest of us, too. The rest of us just need to make sure that we don’t try to “take over” and restrict God to only ourselves.