Tag Archives: Rambam

Judaism Without Jewishness

In Maimonides’ introduction to the Sefer Hamitzvot (“The Book of Commandments”), he states the goal he set to accomplish with authoring this work.

The Talmud (end of Tractate Makkot) tells us that there are 613 biblical precepts—248 of which are “positive commandments,” i.e., mitzvot that require an action on our part, and 365 “negative commandments,” i.e., prohibitions. The 248 positive commandments correspond to the 248 limbs in the human body, each limb, as it were, demanding the observance of one commandment. The 365 negative commandments correspond to the 365 days of the solar year, each day enjoining us not to transgress a certain prohibition.

Maimonides’ Introduction to Sefer Hamitzvot
Lessons for Shabbat, March 3, 2012 – 9 Adar, 5772
Chabad.org

I sometimes wish I could live the life of a scholar, immersed in the ancient tomes, pouring over arcane literature, seeking the wisdom of the ancients. I find what little I am able to study extremely rewarding, but it leaves me longing for more. There are a number of reasons why I don’t pursue such a path more wholeheartedly. For one thing, I most likely am not quite bright enough to truly become a scholar. I consider myself an “interested amateur” in the realm of the Jewish learned texts, but that’s just about it. Also, I have to make a living, and my work involves a completely different set of disciplines and skills. I can hardly quit my “day job” and throw myself into Jewish study full time. My wife would have a fit. Finally, I lack an appropriate Jewish venue for learning. Sure, I could take some online courses, but that would involve the time I’ve already said I do not have and alas, the funds that are dedicated to supporting my family, so such is not to be.

Given all that I’ve just said, please forgive the multitude of the mistakes I’m about to make. All of the observations are my own including any errors. I can only plead ignorance and excessive enthusiasm.

But I am having a blast reading Chabad’s daily commentaries on the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot. You might consider such a line of interest a waste of time for a Christian. After all, what does Jewish philosophy, theology, and thought have to do with the Jewish Messiah (or did I just answer my own question)? In terms of how the church chooses to view their devotion to Jesus Christ, Maimonides has practically nothing to do with faith in Christ. On the other hand, how can we really understand the Jewish Messiah and his modern-day Jewish disciples if, as his Gentile disciples, we don’t even dip one toe into the wells of Jewish wisdom?

In his book review of First Fruits of Zion’s book Biblically Kosher, Gene Shlomovich makes a few interesting comments that speak to this point.

Messianic Jewish congregations do not lack food. Far from it, there’s usually plenty of it in our synagogues. But is it kosher? In my experience, most of the congregations only pay lip service to kashrut, often not extending it beyond not serving pork and shrimp. The same even goes for many of the leaders as well. Even worse, our Messianic Jewish conferences, the showcases of our Jewishness, of our unity and solidarity with the Jewish people and Judaism, of our allegiance to Torah, are often located far away from Jewish communities or from kosher establishments, with most participants expected to partake in the non-kosher fair served up by the hotel where the conference is taking place! One can cite many reasons for this – historic Christian anti-Judaism that has left its mark resulting in aversion to all things “rabbinic”, rampant secularization of American Jewry, unwillingness to put in the effort required, perceived and actual higher costs of keeping kosher, and often just plain ignorance.

This rather shocking commentary shows that even a significant number of those people and congregations that purport to be Messianic Jewish choose not to grasp the “Jewishness” of being a Judaism (Messianic or otherwise). I don’t doubt their sincerity in and devotion to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and as Lord and Savior of humankind, but for the most part, the “Jewishness” of their “Judaism” is just so-so (and if I, a gentile Christian can make such an observation, imagine what impression these groups make on other Judaisms?). If you are a Christian with a deep interest in Judaism and its Messianic applications, just say so and proceed accordingly. That might be a better path than recreating Gentiles in a Jewish image and suggesting that you are something other than who you (we) really are. Am I being too harsh?

That leads me to something I just read in my Chabad study of Sefer Hamitzvot. I think it’s interesting.

Do not count Rabbinic Commandments in this list. E.g. lighting Chanukah candles or reciting the Hallel.

Indeed, this seems obvious, for the Talmud says that 613 mitzvot “were given to Moses at Sinai,” and rabbinic mitzvot were not instituted until later dates. But in truth, we follow rabbinic rulings because of a biblical mandate: “You shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left” (Deuteronomy 17:11); and as such, before performing a rabbinic mitzvah, we say a blessing in which we thank G-d for “sanctifying us with His commandments and commanding us to…” Nevertheless, the individual rabbinic precepts are not counted as part of the 613 (and, are considered “rabbinic,” a classification that has certain halachic implications).

Many Messianic Jewish groups put forth the supposition that Gentile Christians are equally obligated to the same 613 commandments (the current codification of which were created by Rambam) as their Jewish counterparts. I’ve said more than once that any attempt of non-Jews to emulate a Jewish lifestyle, especially one that eschews all but the most basic tenets of Judaism (particularly oral tradition and Talmud), will be at best inadequate and at worst, a sham. I’m not encouraging non-Jewish Christians to take on a Jewish lifestyle, especially “just for giggles,” but if you insist on pursuing a knowledge of Judaism and feel compelled to take on some of the mitzvot as a personal conviction (and I can certainly relate to this), then you might want to acquire some sort of idea of what you’re getting into.

Getting back to Principle 1 though, I find it fascinating that the rabbinic judgments are not to be included in the 613 commandments. At first blush, it seems as if it may be correct to divorce the written Torah from its oral and midrashic counterparts, as certain parts of Messianic Judaism have indeed done. But the very idea that there are 613 commandments comes from Talmud.

While the Talmud gives us these precise numbers, it does not list the 248 positive commandments or the 365 negative ones. Thus, numerous “mitzvah counters” have arisen throughout the generations – many who preceded Maimonides – each one attempting to provide a comprehensive listing of the mitzvot, each one’s list differing slightly from all others’.

The idea isn’t that the written Torah has authority and the oral Law, Talmud, and halacha don’t, but that they are intricately interwoven and interdependent elements. The Torah of God given at Sinai is of God. Of this, there is no dispute. However, in Judaism, the oral Law was also given at Sinai, but only to Moses. Without the oral Law, there would be no hope of understanding, let alone implementing, the written mitzvot. Yet, in the post Second Temple period, it became necessary to document and understand written and oral Torah in relation to a world without a Temple, without a priesthood, without the sacrifices, and without Israel.

But.

But this doesn’t mean that rabbinic rulings are the same as the Word of God. Rambam’s gift to the Jews is to provide documentation of how the Laws of God are to be understood and implemented within Judaism. This is an important point, because the Torah laws, for the most part, aren’t implemented in such a precise manner within much of Messianic Judaism (even many congregations in that portion of MJ that is devoutly Jewish in their observance may need a “touch up” here and there). In other words, you can’t just read the 613 commandments in a list and think you know what you’re reading and how to respond to them. That’s why Rambam wrote the Sefer Hamitzvot in the first place. That’s why the Talmud exists, why the Beit Din exists in many Jewish communities, and why there is a continually growing body of Jewish rabbinic rulings and judgments as questions and situations arise requiring them.

The Sefer Hamitzvot is a document limited in scope but one that couldn’t exist apart from the wider body of Jewish law and interpretation. Any non-Jew or any Jew who does not have a history grounded in traditional Jewish learning (and who is in the Messianic community in some capacity) will want to pay attention to the Torah as the foundation, and also the so-called “leaven of the Pharisees,” (I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek). This “leaven” is what adds the dimensions of meaning to what might otherwise be a compelling and driving force in Jewish life, but also a rather unattainable Torah. The Torah is not in Heaven. Once given to men, men must learn to understand God’s intent within the world where we live.

As I’ve already said, I’m not an expert in this area. I’m only an interested amateur, so I probably got everything wrong just now. On the other hand, it’s better to get everything wrong and admit ignorance than to claim to have everything right and still be completely turned around. At least in the former case, there’s always the opportunity for correction. Even the best explorers get lost. Only the foolish explorers think they never can be.

When you find the Infinite, where will you put it?

In your broken vessel?
It will not stay.

In a new whole one?
It will not fit.

Let the heart be broken in bitterness for its confines. Let it be whole in the joy of a boundless soul.

This is the secret that Man holds over the angels: Only the human heart can be broken and whole at once.

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

When we study, we are reading the map. Our teachers are our guides. Rebuke is replacing a flawed course for a better one. Our destination is the broken and healed heart within us, into which the infinite resides. Judaism is an interface by which we can understand all of that, if it is the one we choose. For the Jew, Judaism is the natural lens by which to view Torah and God. For the rest of us, it is the method by which we can attempt to understand the Jewishness of the Messiah. If we non-Jews choose to go down that path, then we need to let the path tell us where it goes and not the other way around. You can’t have a Judaism without “Jewishness.”

 

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Rebuilding the Broken Wall

Rema rules that it is prohibited to destroy part of a Bais HaKnesses unless the intent is to build in that spot. The Mishnah Berurah explains that in such an instance it is not considered destroying; rather it is considered building. He then mentions that many authorities permit drilling a hole in the wall of a Bais HaKnesses in order to attach a shtender even though Taz is stringent about this matter.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Breaking part of the wall of a Bais HaKnesses”
Rema Siman 152 Seif 1 (b)

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.John 2:18-22 (ESV)

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.John 19:34 (ESV)

I suppose you could say that today’s “meditation” is an extension of what I wrote yesterday. But when studying this topic, I can’t avoid the connection between the tearing down and building up of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the “tearing down and building up” of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. We see that, as Rema rules, you are not to destroy any part of the Temple or a synagogue unless you intend to also build on that very spot. How much more do we understand that the Master was “destroyed” with the intention of building up.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. –Matthew 16:21

On yesterday’s blog, Rabbi Carl Kinbar stated:

Therefore, we must consider the possibility that God permitted the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (and the death of many) is order to establish Torah.

The Master also said that difficult things had to occur so that all righteousness may be established. This included his own, shameful, agonizing death and surrendering to a sentence he did not deserve. And yet, if he didn’t submit to the will of the Father, even in this, what hope would there have been for the world? We have a parable that, on the surface, seems mysterious, but that I believe can be applied to this point.

Today’s amud discusses when a shul must be torn down. A certain community shul was slated to be destroyed and then rebuilt. As the repairs were in the final stages, the members wondered whether they needed to make a blessing of hatov v’hameitiv. It was really a compound question though: is one required to make such a blessing on the construction of a new shul, and if so, does a rebuilt shul have the same status as one that is new outright?

They posed these questions to the Halachos Ketanos who replied, “A community that has built a new shul definitely needs to make such a blessing on it. The shaliach tzibur should stand up in front of everyone and make the blessing out loud. The same certainly holds true regarding a shul that was destroyed or demolished and then rebuilt from scratch. The proof is from the Ran in Nedarim who writes that if one vowed never to enter a certain house and it subsequently collapsed and was rebuilt he may enter the rebuilt house. This is because it is considered like an entirely new structure.

He continued, “The source for this is the midrash in Koheles Rabbah: This could be compared…to a king whose son had angered him. The king was so infuriated that he drove the boy out and swore that he would never again be allowed entry into the royal palace. What did the king do when he finally calmed down? He ordered the palace demolished and rebuilt. In this manner he was able to have his son rejoin him in the palace without violating his oath!”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“A Rebuilt Palace”
Rema Siman 152 Seif 1 (b)

Like a King who swore he would never see his son again in the palace, something had to be torn down and rebuilt so that we among the nations could enter into the presence of our Sovereign. In some way, what had to be destroyed and rebuilt was the Son of the King, through whom the veil between a non-covenant people and God could be torn away, so that we could relate to God through the covenant of the Messiah. This also reminds me of the mikvah, where a person and his sins enter into the water and the realm of “death” and when the man emerges, he is clean and his sins are no more. Perhaps this is how we may think of ourselves as having shared in the death and new life of Jesus.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:16-17 (ESV)

…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. –Philippians 3:10-11 (ESV)

We only understand all this and have hope due to our faith in the promises. Even when it seems like everything holy is being torn down in the world, and nothing that is righteous is being built up, we must continue to realize that he is coming and we have not been abandoned in a battered and broken world.

On Erev Tisha B’av, the rebbe approached him and asked if he had a siyum prepared for a seudas mitzvah after the fast. This is customary among many chassidim; it is meant to demonstrate a belief that Moshiach will certainly come and redeem us soon despite our lengthy exile.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“He Has Stretched out a Line”
Shulchan Aruch Siman 152 Seif 1 (a)

PrayingAs I review the state of the world of faith, including some of its representatives who comment in the religious blogosphere, I often despair and think that nothing I say or do really matters. I often wonder if anyone really seeks the Holiness of God or if they instead, choose to worship at the altar of their own self-righteous opinions. I know I have “worshiped” there on occasion, which makes me feel all the more disgusted. But when I read and study and pray and reflect within myself and between me and the heart of God, I am momentarily encouraged. Man is flawed and the world is splintered, but that’s what tikkun olam is all about. Like the Chassidim, we must have “a siyum prepared for a seudas mitzvah”, so to speak, because we too, among the non-Jewish disciples of the Master, also believe the Moshiach will most certainly come, no matter how long we may have to wait.

If only God will strengthen us against the times of doubt, and sorrow, and grief.

You have to begin with the knowledge
that there is nothing perfect in this world.

Our job is not to hunt down perfection and live within it.
It is to take whatever broken pieces we have found
and sew them together as best we can.

—the Rebbe’s response to a girl who wanted to leave her school for what she thought to be a better one.
as related by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Chabad.org

Perhaps we can do better than just putting together broken pieces of the fallen wall. Perhaps we will see something new and wonderful being raised up.

I believe with a complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless, every day I will wait for him to come.

-from the Rambam’s thirteen principles of faith

May he come soon and in our days, and may we see the fallen booth of David being rebuilt with our own eyes.

Replay: Getting in the Wheelbarrow

I first published the blog post “Getting in the Wheelbarrow” last spring on my now defunct Searching for the Light on the Path blogspot. Given the set of challenges I’ve been facing lately, it seemed like a good time to pass this message along again.

There are two words often lumped together and commonly perceived as synonymous, when in reality they are not.

The two are Faith and Trust. In Hebrew, emunah and bitachon. One way of explaining the difference between these words is that the former is the belief that G-d exists. The latter is the knowledge thereof, or, more accurately, the result of that knowledge, in mind, heart, and deed.

Rabbeinu Bechaya (in his book Kad Hakemach) puts it this way: “Anyone who trusts has faith, but not anyone with faith trusts.”

-Mendel Kalmenson
“The Real Answer to the Question, Who Moved My Cheese?”
Chabad.org

This could be a useful answer to a lot of people’s difficulties in their relationship with God. It could be a useful answer to your relationship difficulties with God. It could be a useful answer to my relationship difficulties with God. We tend to think of having faith in God and trusting God as the same thing, but they’re not. Because they’re not, we’re expecting certain things to happen in our lives that aren’t going to happen. It’s like being married. If we believe in our spouse but don’t trust him or her, what kind of a marriage is that? Is it even a relationship at all?

Here’s another example from the same source:

This point can be further illustrated by a parable:

Long before the entertainment industry boomed, tightrope walking was a common form of amusement and recreation.

Once, a world-famous master of the sport visited a particular region. Word spread quickly, and many people turned up for the show. All was quiet as the master nimbly climbed the tree from which he would begin his dangerous trek.

But just before beginning his routine he called out: “Who here believes I can make it across safely?”

The crowd roared their affirmation. Again he asked the question and was greeted by the same response.

He then pulled out a wheelbarrow from between the branches and asked, less boisterously, “Which of you is willing to get inside the wheelbarrow as I cross?”

You could hear a pin drop.

Faith is the roaring response of the crowd; trust is climbing into the wheelbarrow.

It’s easy to have faith in God but not to trust Him. It’s easy to say “God exists and I believe in Him” as long as we don’t have to become personally involved in performing the weightier matters of Torah. We can have an incredible faith that the tightrope walker will make it to the other end of the rope as long as we don’t have to climb into his wheelbarrow.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.-James 2:14-24

When James (Ya’akov) says “that a person is considered righteous by what they do”, he’s talking about trust or bitachon. Our problem, is that we “think” about God, and we “feel” all warm and fuzzy about Jesus, but we don’t “do” anything about changing our lives to conform to our thinking and feeling. Here’s another example:

Maimonides is one in a long line of Jewish commentators who have proposed rationalistic interpretations of Scripture. Thus, words denoting place, sight, hearing, or position (of God) are interpreted as mental properties or dispositions. In our own vocabulary, it could be said that Maimonides has attempted to demythologize biblical narrative.

-from Maimonides: A Guide for Today’s Perplexed
by Kenneth Seeskin

Maimonides tends to see Biblical interpretation as either literal or allegorical and his strength as a theologian, philosopher, and sage is in his rational approach to the Tanakh (Jewish Bible). However there is a significant gap in his vision. We can also interpret the Bible and God through a mystic and experiential lens. The mystic seeks to encounter God in an extra-natural realm; meeting Him outside the boundaries of our physical universe, but we can also experience God in our day-to-day life by experiencing ourselves. We can “do” God and not just “think” or “feel” God. We can be the answer to prayer. We can have and live out faith and trust.

We can get in the wheelbarrow.

Out of Balance

In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen recalls the healing work she did with a Holocaust survivor, whose response to the enormity of the spiritual pain he lived with was to close off feelings toward people and to be “cautious with this heart.” Dr. Remen relates that he joined her on retreat after he was diagnosed with cancer. Initially he was belligerent to strangers, but through inner stillness exercises and introspection he had a transformational experience. One day, while meditating, he sensed a deep pinkish light emanating from his chest. He felt enclosed by a beautiful rose. Troubled by the experience, he took a walk on the beach and began a silent dialogue with G-d. He asked the Creator whether it is all right to love strangers. G-d’s answer jolted him: “You make strangers, I don’t.” In that instant, the Holocaust survivor’s feelings of interpersonal distance began to melt. Strangers were no longer strangers. It was all right to love a stranger.

-Rabbi Laibl Wolf
“Tif’eret: Growing a Wise Heart” (pp 154-156)
Practical Kabbalah: A Guide to Jewish Wisdom for Everyday Life

I’ve been feeling off balance lately. Most of it has to do with how I choose to react to what I see, hear, and read about in the world around me, both in real life, and via the Internet. I’m not encouraged by what I see, but if you’ve been reading my “meditations” for the past week or so, you already know that. I found I needed to write this “extra meditation” to try and re-establish a bit of balance and to reduce my desire to wad up the whole world of religion like a piece of tissue paper contaminated with dripping bile, and toss it in the nearest toilet.

For Christians, this is a time of year (ideally) when they re-attach to the true meaning of loving and giving, by expressing the will of God with their lives in the community around them. If God was willing to send His “only begotten son” to suffer and die for us so that we could be reconciled to the Father, then why shouldn’t a Christian “pass it on”, so to speak, and offer grace, kindness, and mercy to the next fellow, regardless of who they happen to be? After all, Jesus died for us while we were still enemies of God (Romans 5;10). Must we only show goodness to those people who look, act, and believe like we do? Why even “tax collectors” and “pagans” do that (Matthew 5:42-48). Nevertheless, the religious community, or some portions of it, confirm the belief in the secular world that we are all bigoted haters and want to force the whole world to be exactly like we are.

“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me, God.”

That’s part of the oath people used to take when swearing to tell the truth in court. They don’t make you say it anymore because someone was offended with God and we wouldn’t want to God to offend someone, would we (this is sarcasm)?

On the other hand, we shouldn’t go out of our way to be so dedicated to what we think of as “truth” that we automatically condemn, revile, disdain, and hate those people who apparently (perhaps by putting up a Christmas tree) don’t have “the truth”. After all, they must be evil and wrong and we have to stop them by telling them how lousy their cherished faith is, don’t we (that’s more sarcasm)?

OK, I’m still out of balance. Quickly, someone toss me one of those poles used by tightrope walkers, or better yet, another story from Rabbi Laibl’s book (pg 147):

Once upon a time a king had two close friends who rebelled against his kingdom. The king seemed to have no choice but to execute the law – the death penalty. But he could not bring himself to kill his friends. Instead, he erected a tightrope over the courtyard at a precarious height. Each prisoner was allowed to walk across the tightrope to freedom. The chances were slim, yet miraculously the first prisoner succeeded. The second prisoner called out to his friend for advice, and the freed man obliged. He called back, “Whenever I felt myself beginning to list to one side I didn’t wait until my weight was there but immediately compensated.

This Hassidic tale invokes many portions of the Bible, including how God sent His Son so that we might all have a chance to conquer the death penalty by “walking the straight and narrow”. Notice though, that in order to navigate the rope, you couldn’t be an extremist. If you went too far to the left or to the right, you would be killed. In fact, when you even thought you were starting to slip to one side, to survive, you had to immediately shift your weight in the opposite direction.

Also, notice that the freed man went out of his way to help his friend rather than taking his salvation and running away. Notice that even though the king (God) had every right to execute the rebels, because they were his friends and he had compassion, he tempered his justice with mercy. Justice was not thrown away, but he gave the rebels a chance, probably more of one than they deserved. Justice was balanced with mercy and grace.

We don’t do balance (or mercy and grace) very well in religion and yet, it’s all over our history. Moses Maimonidies (Rambam), as quoted in Rabbi Laibl’s book (pg 146) “counseled his disciples to take the middle path.” I know I talked on this exact same topic last week, but plenty of people still aren’t getting it (especially the majority who don’t read my blog, though they may not agree with me, even if they chose to read these “meditations”). It is one thing to say that you disagree with someone based on your convictions and your understanding of the Bible, but it’s another to condemn them and to believe God will destroy them. Some compare a Christian who celebrates Christmas to a husband to cheats on his wife (and there are plenty of marital metaphors in the Bible), but that metaphor breaks down at some point. A husband and wife are both human; both equals, while God is not human and we can not aspire to ever be His equal. A husband may come close to really understanding everything his wife is about, but we have absolutely no clue exactly what God is all about.

In the end, even if God chooses to condemn others and even if we were “right”, should we have treated those others negatively and with such extremist attitudes and even pride, or should we have balanced our approach to them as God did for us, tempering justice with mercy? Many religious people want to dump the justice onto others but covet the mercy all for themselves, not passing it along. Doing this, are we really God’s children?

Intermediaries

The Torah at SinaiAny belief that an intermediary between man and God could be used, whether necessary or even optional, has traditionally been considered heretical. Maimonides writes “God is the only one we may serve and praise….We may not act in this way toward anything beneath God, whether it be an angel, a star, or one of the elements…..There are no intermediaries between us and God. All our prayers should be directed towards God; nothing else should even be considered.”

-from Jewish Principles of Faith (Wikipedia)

It is a positive precept to pray every day to the blessed God for Scripture says, “and Him shall you serve” (D’varim 6:13); and through the Oral Tradition our Sages of blessed memory learned (Talmud Bavli, Ta’anith 2a) that this service means prayer. For Scripture states, “and to serve Him with all your heart” (D’varim 11:13): What is service with the heart? – prayer.

-from The Concise Book of Mitzvoth
Compiled by The Chafetz Chayim

I’m continuing to read D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians and this part of his commentary about Galatians 3:17-20 struck me as interesting:

Paul said angels put the Torah in place by an intermediary, which is Moses. The martyr Stephen made a similar statement in Acts 7:33 where he spoke of “the law delivered by angels”.

As we see in the previous quotes, one of the principle beliefs in Judaism is that there is no intermediary between a Jew and His God (I recall hearing my Jewish host at a Passover seder declare this in a toast over twenty years ago). Yet clearly, Moses was an intermediary. For that matter, so was Aaron and every High Priest after him, who entered the most Holy Place once a year on Yom Kippur to offer atonement for the nation of Israel.

Christians like to say, at the death of Jesus, when the parokhet (veil) was ripped top to bottom, exposing the most Holy Place (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:18), that we were given direct access to God through prayer and are now able to “boldly approach the Throne of God” without an intermediary. And yet, both Hebrews 5:1-10 and Hebrews 7 describe Jesus as our High Priest in the Heavenly Court, interceding on behalf of humanity. Paul even said that:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. –Romans 8:26

I know Jews don’t pray to Moses or Aaron, but at least during the time of the Tabernacle and Temple, Jews did go through the priesthood to offer korban to God. And do all Christians pray to God or, believing in the Trinity, do some pray directly to Christ?

If God is One and key parts of theology say there is no intermediary between man and God, regardless if you are a Jew or a Christian, then how can we reconcile all of these intermediaries?