Tag Archives: Rav Yeshua

Living a Life

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of being a Christian or a Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua, or whatever you want to call me.

My life has taken a downturn recently, specifically since April. I was laid off of my job of eight years, basically because the company and my job description had changed so radically that I was no longer an adequate “fit”.

dad
© James Pyles

Then my Dad died abruptly, and it was fortunate that I happened to be visiting my folks at the time to be able to support my Mom.

So far the only job I’ve been able to get is temporary contract work for significantly less than I was previously paid and absolutely no benefits.

I’ve been trying for the past couple of months to get medical insurance through the local version of “Obamacare” (Affordable Care Act) and getting the run around. I received yet another encrypted email from them when I got home from work today that was probably prompted by my zillionth phone call to them this morning. I suspect they are about to reject, for some arcane reason, the document I submitted proving I’ve been without medical coverage since July 1st.

And to add insult to injury, I’m fined by the Federal Government every month I’m not insured, even though I’m trying as hard as I can to purchase coverage.

What does all this have with God, faith, and religion?

It has to do with life and how we live it, and more specifically, how I live it.

I’ll admit that I’m better at the study of the Bible then actually living out its principles. I suspect that my life has been going downhill because God is trying to get my attention. He wants something out of me. He wants me to live a better life, but it’s not that simple.

God doesn’t make deals. He doesn’t say, “If you do this thing for me, I’ll make your life better and you and your wife will get health insurance coverage.”

How do I know this? Because tons and tons and tons of believers of great and wonderful faith live terribly dangerous and difficult lives. Just look at the Apostles. Except for John, they all were executed in one way or another, and even John was thrown into a vat of boiling oil, though amazingly he lived.

That’s been my sticking point. If you trust in God with all your heart and soul, there’s still no promise that you’ll escape pain and suffering. There’s no promise that if I trust God with all my heart and soul, that I’ll be able to provide my wife and myself medical insurance let alone a better income.

I mean God could do that, but obviously He doesn’t have to.

On the other hand, if I ignore what I think God wants me to do (love and trust Him completely), then I can hardly expect He will turn my life around or provide opportunities for me to improve my condition.

No I’m not writing this just to whine (well, maybe just a little). I’m writing this to speak to the question of Gentile praxis in a Messianic world (or at least a Messianic thought and study world since I don’t have that kind of praxis or community).

In the closed Facebook group “Messianic Gentiles,” First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) writer and teacher Toby Janicki has been sharing a number of articles on their particular publication of the Didache, which may or may not have originated with the Apostles or their students. It’s an attempt to answer the question of what is Gentile praxis within (Messianic) Judaism.

I certainly won’t discourage anyone from reading and pursuing that particular model of religious practice, and indeed, I’ve written on the Didache myself.

But it seems to me that all of us have our hands full anyway, not with the rituals of praxis but with day-to-day living.

I mean, how close to or far from God do you feel? How often do you read the Bible? How often do you pray? How often do you pray and don’t feel like you’re just taking to yourself and the four walls? Are you kind to others even when you don’t feel like it? Do you yell at the person who cuts you off when you’re driving to work? Given the terrible things that are happening in Huston thanks to Hurricane Harvey, what have you done to offer aid and assistance? Do you give to others in need in your local community?

huston
David J. Phillip/AP

These aren’t questions I’m asking you, they’re questions I’m asking myself.

A life of faith is no life at all if it isn’t lived, but frankly, living that life isn’t easy.

I’ve been trying to listen to Christian radio again (mainly because there’s no such thing as Messianic Jewish/Gentile radio, at least nothing that is freely available over the airwaves). I’m having a hard time with it.

Air1 at least has more modern pop songs, but it’s also marketing to the younger crowd, and it can be terribly juvenile and even shallow. On the other hand, they have mentioned their concern for the people of Huston, and I learned about Convoy of Hope from them.

I’ve tried listening to a couple of local Christian stations.

I have a tough time with the more traditional Christian songs and hymns. I had the same problem when I was attending church. The people who’ve grown up in the church have a great deal of emotional and nostalgic attachment to those tunes, but to me, they are terribly archaic and boring.

The Christian station where people talk drives me nuts. I guess this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and I was listening to these two Pastors who were fairly gushing over Martin Luther. I can’t stand Martin Luther because of the Anti-Semitism he displayed toward the end of his life. This is on top of these so-called “reformers” not taking their reform back far enough in history so they could re-discover the deep connection Gentile believers have to a Jewish perspective on Hashem and Rav Yeshua.

Those “reformers” just changed things enough to object to some of the greater abuses of the Catholic church as it existed at that time. They kept all the stuff that deleted the Judaism out of an originally Jewish faith, and kept all the stuff that put Gentiles and only Gentiles at the top of the religious food chain.

Yeah, that works for me.

But I’ve got to do something differently, even if it drives me nuts. Frankly, I suspect there are a lot of non-Jewish but Judaically aware believers who are also scrambling to make sense of their/our lives. My point isn’t that the hard part of it all is being “Judaically aware,” the hard part is what’s hard for every Christian in churches and home fellowships all over the place.

The hard part is conforming our lives, our faith, and our actions to the desires of God. The hard part is to be a better person, even when it seems impossible. The hard part is to be a better person, even when God doesn’t promise to do anything for you in return.

This isn’t about where you go when you die, which is the shallow and simple-minded version of the “good news”. This is about who you are and what you do right here and now in this life. This is the “Gospel message” you absolutely won’t hear on Christian radio ever, and a message you won’t hear in many if not most churches.

jfk
President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” (and he’d be appalled if he were alive today and could see the nature of the younger generation coming up and what they want).

But what if he asked works in a relationship with God, too?

“Ask not what God can do for you. Ask what you can do for God.”

Really, if responding to that doesn’t take up 100% of your time, I don’t know what will. Frankly, the prospect scares me to death, but at the same time, I can’t fault it, since this is what the Bible speaks of regarding our service to God and our fellow human beings.

I suspect, even if nothing else changes in my life, my response, if I choose to sincerely make true Teshuvah, will occupy every day I have remaining in this life.

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Finding God on the Slopes of Kilimanjaro

Margareth said:

Like you, I have found Aish articles really uplifting. It has really made me respectful for the profound wisdom I see in the articles there.

There are people like this I have met on the slopes of mount Kilimanjaro where my mother comes from. Their lives are hard and yet when you make an impromptu visit, their lined faces literally beam with happiness and they make sure they give a prayer of thanks before you are invited to eat and before you go. They put me to quite to shame in their faith and hope and joyfulness of attitude. Maybe the city life is what is destroying me…I do love being up there on the mountain. The missionaries outdid themselves up there.

I trust your day has gone well.

To which I replied:

My day is fine, Margareth. Thank you.

I know you’ve described the hardships of your life, but from my point of view living in southwestern Idaho, it seems incredible to be able to say you met people living on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. It illustrates that no matter who we are or where we live, no matter how far apart we are in terms of geography, nationality, language, and culture, we are all one in the Lord God. Most of us, we believers in the United States, tend to believe our problems and lives here are the only problems and lives. We rarely pull out heads out of the sand to realize how truly diverse are the people of God, how different our experiences, our very lives are from one another. And yet we are all brothers and sisters through our faith in Messiah. May he return soon and in our day.

I’d like to pull this brief transaction from the comments here and make it a blog post all it’s own. This realization, which escapes most of the Church in the west, needs to be pointed out and brought to light. I only wish I could bring these words to every Christian, Hebrew Roots person, and everyone attached to Messianic Judaism in any way, so we could all open our eyes and see that our struggles aren’t the only struggles, and that people of deep faith live all across the face of the Earth. It is God’s world and He will one day come back to live among us, in His Temple in Jerusalem, and the King will once again rule with Justice and Righteousness.

kilimanjaroThe first time I ever heard of Mt. Kilimanjaro was when I became aware of Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and much to my chagrin, I must admit to never having read it. But Hemingway isn’t the point. What Margareth said is.

I know when she mentioned visiting the people who live on the mountain’s slopes, and saying that’s where her mother comes from, they were simply statements of fact. But for someone like me, someone who is not all that well-travelled, and someone who pays far too much attention than I should to the “first world problems” declared by the news and social media pundits, it brought my own staggering ignorance into stark relief.

It also reminded me of just how ignorant most of us are in the United States of America, and probably many other western nations, to the true, vast expanse of the presence of the people of God in our world, all over the world.

In her brief descriptions of her life in the comments sections of Blessing God in a Dark World and Finding What’s Most Important, she has shown me a world I am completely unfamiliar with. And yet it is also a world where all we people of faith have a common mission and purpose. That mission and purpose is to bring the light of Messiah to others, in whatever we do, no matter who we are, no matter what language(s) we speak, no matter our nationality, history, culture, or personal experiences.

We have our master and teacher, Rav Yeshua, Jesus Christ in common. I know when our Rav walked this Earth, he came “for the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), and yet, he commissioned his disciples to make disciples of all the people of the Earth (Matthew 28:16-20), and assigned Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul, the responsibility of being his special emissary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-18).

To the best of his ability, and given the available modes of transportation of his day, Paul carried out his mission of bringing the good news of the Messiah, both to the Jews and the Gentiles living in the diaspora.

For the past nearly two-thousand years, others have taken up the mantle of the Apostle in bringing the good news to all the people of all the nations of the Earth. A lot of those missionaries have also caused a great deal of harm, destroyed the unique language of culture of many indigenous peoples, tortured, and even murdered people, Jews particularly, who would not convert to goyim Christianity, and committed many other acts that God condemns.

faithAnd yet, some remnant of the true intent of what Christians call “the Great Commission” survived. According to Margareth, the evidence of that lives on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro where her mother comes from.

I am amazed and pleased to pull my own head out of the sand and realize that I have something in common with people who live halfway around the world from me, people I’ll never meet, people, quite frankly, whose faith far outshines my own.

On the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the nation of Tanzania, on the continent of Africa, lives a people who have the same Messiah I do. They pray in his name. They greet visitors and travelers in the best tradition of Abraham (Genesis 18:1-8). Maybe the missionaries outdid themselves up on the mountain.

Or maybe the Spirit of God was exceedingly welcomed and has since resided with those humble people. The Church in America could learn a lot from them.

Thanks, Margareth. May God bless you and keep you forever in His Hand.

If You Could Imagine

Imagine that King David encouraged you to recite his Psalms. Imagine that King Solomon encouraged you to learn from the wisdom of Mishlei (Proverbs). Imagine that Hillel and Rabbi Akiva encouraged you to study Torah. Imagine that the Baal Shem Tov encouraged you to pray with passion and fervor. Imagine that the Chofetz Chaim encouraged you to be careful with your power to speak, and to speak words of positive encouragement and never to speak negatively about others or to insult people. Imagine that Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev encouraged you to see the good in others and to find merit for them. Imagine that Rabbi Meir Shapiro encouraged you to learn Daf Yomi and to encourage others to do so. Imagine that Rabbi Noah Weinberg encouraged you to light the fire of Torah in every Jewish heart.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Chapter 37 of his new book
Encouragement: Formulas, Stories, and Insights

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

This is part of Rabbi Pliskin’s advice for how to use our imagination to encourage ourselves. Of course, he’s writing for a Jewish audience, so we may find ourselves limited in imagining that David might really encourage the Goyim to recite his Psalms, and certainly in envisioning the Baal Shem Tov encouraging us to pray with passion and fervor.

As much as I enjoy Rabbi Pliskin’s writing, I wonder if this one isn’t a bit of a stretch.

What would Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) encourage a non-Jewish disciple to do? What about Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul)? The answers to those questions might seem self-evident to a traditional evangelical Christian, but when you realize that the hearts of Yeshua and Paul were first and foremost turned to their Jewish brethren, what does that mean for the rest of us? Do we have the right to even imagine they would encourage us?

Of course, Paul’s epistles to the various Gentile communities he established were full of encouragement (as well as, in some cases, criticism and even condemnation). After all, he was the emissary to the Gentiles, specifically appointed by Rav Yeshua in a metaphysical vision.

So if we were to imagine Paul encouraging us, what would he say?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:9

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

The Jewish PaulThese are just quotes and don’t really address how we could imagine Paul encouraging each of us personally. Paul wrote these letters to a different audience, different of his “churches” nearly twenty centuries ago. How can we imagine what he might say to you or me today?

Let’s take a look at part of Rabbi Pliskin’s quote again:

Imagine that King David encouraged you to recite his Psalms. Imagine that King Solomon encouraged you to learn from the wisdom of Mishlei (Proverbs). Imagine that Hillel and Rabbi Akiva encouraged you to study Torah. Imagine that the Baal Shem Tov encouraged you to pray with passion and fervor.

Now, allow me the arrogance of rewording it.

Imagine Rav Yeshua encouraged you to review all that was written about him in the Gospels. Imagine that the Apostle Paul encouraged you to read everything he wrote to encourage the early Gentile disciples in his Epistles. Imagine that James and the Elders in Jerusalem encouraged you to read the Jerusalem letter as an invitation to stand alongside Jewish Messianic community.

Does that seem more reasonable to you? Can you imagine being encouraged in that way by those people?

I don’t know.

Jewish people can feel a kinship for David, Solomon, Rabbi Akiva, and all of the other ancient Jewish luminaries because they are all united, both by blood and by covenant. In a sense, they are all extended family.

Not so for the Gentiles. We have no direct covenant relationship with God, even through Christ (at least not as the Church teaches it). We are symbolically adopted, metaphorically grafted in. We belong only by the grace and mercy of the God of Israel. The only standing we have before our Maker is the one He decides we have.

That said, I’ve met Christians who truly believe the Apostle Paul would feel right at home in their Baptist churches, and that the “services” Paul led were pretty much the same as church services today (I kid you not), in fact, even with a language in common, Paul would find most or all church services totally alien to him.

He might not feel that much more comfortable in a modern synagogue service, but at least the Hebrew and some of the prayers would be familiar so he’d know he was in Jewish community.

I hate to over-generalize. It’s one of the failings of the Church, the belief that each and everything written in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation was specifically written for and to Christians.

Context tells us otherwise, or it should. Much if not most of the Bible is specifically written to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Unless you’re Jewish, that doesn’t include you or me.

So there is only a tiny handful of scripture that we can or should even imagine has anything to do with the rest of the world. Where does prayer stop and self-serving imagination begin?

Man aloneI haven’t been feeling myself lately. I’m doing a little bit better than I was, but recovery is slow. At least I can concentrate enough to write again.

If you can imagine any Biblical luminary speaking directly to you, oh I’m not suggesting self-serving wish-fulfillment, but what legitimately anyone in the Bible would have to say to you as an individual, who would it be and what would they say?

If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question?

-Joan Osborne
from the lyrics of “One of Us”

R.C. Sproul, Jesus, and the Doctrine of Active Obedience

I don’t think there’s any more important text in all the New Testament that defines the work of Jesus than this one. That Jesus was sent to fulfill all righteousness. And what that meant to the Jew was to obey every jot and tittle of the Law. Because now Jesus is not acting in His baptism for Himself, but for His people. And if His people are required to keep the Ten Commandments, He keeps the Ten Commandments. If His people are now required to submit to this baptismal ritual, He submits to it in their behalf. Because the redemption that is brought by Christ is not restricted to His death on the cross.

-R.C. Sproul
“Jesus and His Active Obedience”
from an excerpt of his teaching series, “What Did Jesus Do?”
Ligonier.org

The video and transcript (you can access both by clicking the link above) were posted online on February 16th, and a Facebook friend (amazingly, someone I’ve actually met once face-to-face) posted the video and some commentary on his own Facebook page (I’m sorry I can’t actually embed the video into this blog post, since I can only find code to do that compatible with YouTube).

I don’t normally weigh in on this sort of thing, and I’ve been trying to distance myself from constantly reviewing and criticizing Christian sermons and teachings, but I’ve heard of Dr. Sproul before in relation to John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference of a few years back, and I even reviewed Sproul’s Strange Fire sermon, so naturally, I was curious.

r.c sproul
Image: Ligonier.org

The video is less than four-and-a-half minutes long, so I figured it wouldn’t take up too much of my time to hear what he had to say. Besides, the people commenting on this snippet seemed mostly favorable of it.

Sproul offered two competing doctrinal positions as the core of his sermon: Passive Obedience and Active Obedience.

In Passive Obedience, all Jesus had to do was obey God by suffering the pain and curse of dying on the cross so that we would all be absolved of our sins. Our sins are transferred to Jesus, he takes on the penalty of death for all our sins so that we don’t have to die, and we become innocent before God.

Sproul says we would be innocent but not righteous, sinless but with no track record of obedience, and thus not able to become righteous.

So what has to happen to make us innocent and righteous?

Sproul doesn’t think Jesus had a three-year ministry for nothing. In those three years, post his baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, Jesus lived a life consistent with Jewish religious and lifestyle praxis, but doing so perfectly, observing all of the mitzvot that applied to him as a Jewish male living in Israel during the late Second Temple period with an active Levitical priesthood and Sanhedrin court system (a lot of the mitzvot can’t be obeyed by a Jew living outside of Israel or in the absence of the Temple, the priesthood, and the Sanhedrin).

Active Obedience, according to Sproul, is Jesus deliberately observing all of the relevant mitzvot perfectly and without fault, failure, or even an occasional omission. He did so because his Jewish people were unable to be perfectly obedient. Thus Jesus was obedient for his people. His righteousness transferred to the Jewish people making it as if they had been perfectly obedient.

sefer torahSo what’s all that got to do with the rest of us, that is, we non-Jewish believers?

Sproul skips over the impact to Jewish Israel and goes into what this does for the modern Christian:

What does Jesus do? He obeys the Law perfectly, receives the blessing, and not the curse. But there’s a double imputation that we will look at later at the cross, where my sin is transferred to His account, my sin is carried over and laid upon Him in the cross. But in our redemption, His righteousness is imputed to us—which righteousness He wouldn’t have if He didn’t live this life of perfect obedience. So what I’m saying to you is that His life of perfect obedience is just as necessary for our salvation as His perfect atonement on the cross. Because there’s double imputation. My sin to Him, His righteousness to me. So that, that is what the Scripture is getting at when it says Jesus is our righteousness.

So somehow, Christ’s perfect obedience of the mitzvot, which made him perfectly righteous, transfers to us, we non-Jewish believers in Jesus, while his death on the cross allows our sins to be transferred to him, and thus Jesus died in our sins so we wouldn’t have to pay the penalty ourselves.

A nice, neatly wrapped little package. However, the package has a few holes in it.

Sproul didn’t tie any of this back to the New Covenant, particularly the New Covenant language we find in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, nor did he account for the fact that Jeremiah 31:31-34 states that the only two named participants of the New Covenant are the House of Judah and the House of Israel. The non-Jewish nations are not included (it takes a lot of study to actually find the connection, so you might want to review this summary for some of the details).

So how can Christ’s righteousness because of his Torah obedience have anything to do with us? At best, it would transfer to the Jewish people across all time because he perfectly obeyed the mitzvot when Jewish people aren’t always perfect (who is?).

Sproul also missed this definition of righteousness:

Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15:6 (NASB)

AbrahamGranted, the issue of righteousness is more complex than this, but it would seem that at its core, having full trust in God is the very essence of righteousness. Everything else flows from that trust.

Beyond all this, Sproul doesn’t say what happens to Torah obedience post-crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. If Sproul is a traditional fundamentalist Christian Pastor, he most likely believes that once Jesus “fulfilled” (annulled) the Sinai covenant God made with Israel, it ceased to have any continued function for the Jewish people. Since no one but Jesus could keep the commandments perfectly, no one could earn perfect righteousness on his or her own.

Nor did they need to. All they had to do was come to faith in Jesus Christ, his obedience to God through the Torah, and his atoning death on the cross, and he or she would merit full righteousness and total forgiveness of sins (In other words, Jewish people would have to give up Jewish religious practice, stop being Jews, and convert to Christianity, all in order to worship their own Jewish King).

Sproul does weave a tale that has Jesus living the life of a totally obedient and observant Jew, but only for the purpose of attaining perfect righteousness that could then be transferred to his believers.

If you are a regular reader of this blogspot, I’m sure you realize that I disagree with Dr. Sproul about the nature of the covenants and the part the New Covenant plays in the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people and national Israel.

I told one of my sons the other evening (his mother is Jewish, so he’s Jewish) that Jews are the only people who are born into a covenant relationship with God whether they want to be or not.

I realize that, relative to Genesis 9 and the Noahide covenant, the same could be said for all humanity, but most of humanity doesn’t know and doesn’t care about the covenant God made with Noah and its presumed relevance to us today.

On the other hand, even a secular Jew is at least aware of the Mount Sinai event, the covenant made by Hashem, and the stated set of responsibilities and obligations the Jewish people have to God, to the Torah, to the Land of Israel, to humanity, and to the planet. They just choose to disregard those responsibilities (or most of them) for whatever reason.

MessiahRav Yeshua (Jesus) is the mediator of the New Covenant. Yeshua’s coming was indeed a pivotal point in not only the history of the Jewish people, but human history. He came as a messenger to demonstrate that all of the New Covenant promises God made to Israel would indeed come to pass over the course of time. Hashem sent Yeshua to make a partial payment on those promises.

Those down payments are highlighted in a sermon review I wrote a year-and-a-half ago:

He also said that the sign of the New Covenant is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which we see famously in Acts 2 with the Jewish Apostles and Acts 10 with the Gentile Cornelius and his entire household. We also know from 2 Corinthians 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:5, and Ephesians 1:13-14 that the Holy Spirit given to believers is but a down-payment, a token, a small deposit on the whole sum that will not be delivered in full until the resurrection.

Click the link above to find out more about the purpose of Rav Yeshua’s life in Israel, walking among his people, observing the mitzvot, and developing a following as a Rav.

I don’t mean to bang on Dr. Sproul. He’s probably a very nice man who really believes everything he says, but without the slightest thought to what it does to the Jewish people, the primacy of Israel in God’s redemptive plan, and all of the “Old Testament” prophesies that don’t happen to jibe with what he believes about Jesus.

I can’t allow myself to care about all of the different opinions out there that don’t agree with mine held by hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of Christian Pastors worldwide, whether their influence extends only to the four walls of their local church or, like Sproul, whose influence extends to anyone with Internet access. If I let all that bug me, I’d probably go nuts.

R.C. SproulBut some people who I know or at least am acquainted with, seem to think Sproul has the corner market on the purpose of Jesus relative to the Torah, to the Jewish people, and to the Christian Church. I don’t believe, for the reasons I stated above, that Sproul is teaching a Biblically sustainable doctrine in this short video excerpt (and that statement probably sounds astonishing to some).

I’m writing this to say there’s another way to look at scripture that I think is more sustainable and that takes all of the Bible into account as a single, unified document. No carving up or allegorical interpretations are required.

On the Occasion of Ha’azinu and Building a Sukkah

As I write this, I put our little sukkah kit together several hours ago. It’s only a 4 x 6 foot sukkah and the frame snaps together, but it still took me a little over an hour. The canvas is the hardest part to handle, especially alone. Then there is improvising the roof supports so I can roll the bamboo (yes, it came with the kit and is certified kosher) mat across the top. Hanging the lights is usually pretty easy, though this year I used some masking tape to hold the connecting electrical cord in place.

I’ve got a couple of plastic chairs in the small structure, but since the holiday doesn’t begin until tomorrow evening, I decided not to have lunch inside (not that there’s any particular commandment for me to do so, at least as far as I can find).

All of my family had to go to work today, so I’m alone right now. Given that my major “honey do” task after the lawn was constructing the sukkah, I decided, that done, I’d read the Bible.

For the past several years, I’ve been using the same Bible reading plan to go through the Bible in a year. It’s one of the few things I took from my former church experience. The plan actually will take you through the Bible cover-to-cover in 222 days, but I like to build in some “wiggle room.”

That said, I stopped following my plan months ago, as my “slump” deepened, my faith in religion waned, and I decided to focus on other, less spiritual priorities.

Four days ago (again, as I write this), I downloaded a new plan, printed it, and have started reading again. It felt appropriate given my attempt at “starting over” in returning to God.

Since I’d also abandoned my traditional reading and studying the weekly Torah portion, and still having uninterrupted time on my hands, I decided to brush the dust off my Chumash (metaphorically speaking, of course) and pick up with Torah Portion Ha’azinu, including the haftarah readings and readings from Psalms and the Gospels.

I have to admit, it felt good. It’s a pleasant afternoon, and I decided to do my reading on the back patio with a cup of coffee and glass of water, within just a few feet of the wee sukkah I constructed earlier.

And, in defiance of my desire to not rely so heavily on Jewish sources, I also read the commentary on today’s Torah portion from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Growth Through Torah.

Even though Rabbi Pliskin is writing for a Jewish audience, I must confess most of what he has authored in this book makes so much sense to me on a personal and moral level. I’ll return to that in a bit. I want to present something to you first.

As part of my Bible reading plan so far, I’ve read the first four chapters of Matthew. Being back in the Gospels reminds me that Gentiles do, from time to time, appear in those pages. I think it’s important to consider how Rav Yeshua interacted with them and I’ll explain why in a minute.

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment.

Matthew 8:5-13 (NASB)

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.

Matthew 15:21-28

MessiahHere we have Rav Yeshua demonstrating two very different attitudes towards non-Jewish people. In the first case, Jesus was actually amazed at the faith in which the Roman Centurion had in Yeshua’s power to heal (and presumably faith in Hashem, the source of all healing). In fact, verses 11 and 12 seem to state that in Messianic Days, many non-Jews, because of their faith, “will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” This is contrasted with a statement about the “sons of the kingdom,” which in this context, I can only presume are Jewish people, “will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” most likely due to lack of faith.

I’m sure these verses have been misused by Christians for centuries to support the old idea that God replaced the Jews with the Gentiles (the Church) in His love and in the covenant promises. While I do not believe this to be true in any sense, there appears to be some support for the idea the Gentile faith in Messianic days, through the merit of Messiah, will at least metaphorically, allow a number of them to “recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

That’s pretty exciting.

But what about Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman?

A lot of Christian commentators (I can’t cite references, but I do remember this explanation being served up to me more than once) believe that Jesus really wasn’t referring to this person, pleading for her daughter’s life, as a “dog,” and that this was just a test of her humility and faith.

But given the traditional social relationship between Jews and Canaanites in those days, that’s pretty much how he, and most other Jewish people, would have thought of her. Even his disciples implored Rav Yeshua to send the woman away, fully knowing that her daughter was “cruelly demon-possessed.” Not the sort of kindness and compassion we’d expect from students of Jesus Christ.

And it’s almost as if Yeshua provided the healing in spite of his feelings for this woman and her people. Yet it was her great faith that seemed to touch the Rav and transcended their usual social roles.

We know Yeshua himself said that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), so the Gentiles weren’t particularly any concern of his, and Yeshua’s interactions with them were an extreme exception rather than the rule.

Yet in John’s highly mystical Gospel, as he is declaring himself the Good Shepherd of Israel, he does make one small admission:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

John 10:16

We presume that these “other sheep” are the Gentiles who will eventually come to faith in the God of Israel through the merit of Messiah, but that must have been a confusing statement to his Jewish audience, since in verses 19 through 21, they accused him of being demon-possessed.

We really don’t find a good example of Gentile Yeshua-devotion in the Gospels, largely because having come to the “lost sheep of Israel,” the Rav wasn’t seeking out, nor did he direct his disciples to seek out, the Gentiles.

In fact, in spite of Matthew 28:18-20, even Yeshua’s closest companions had no expectation that they should actively search out Gentile devotees and make them into disciples. From their point of view, it’s likely that if they had chosen that direction, they would have obeyed their directive by having interested Gentiles convert to Judaism through the proselyte rite.

Peter's visionIt wasn’t until about fifteen years later by some estimates, that Peter was more or less forced to witness a righteous Gentile and his household be the objects of God’s acceptance of faith by allowing them the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Acts 10:44-48

If you read the full context of Acts 10, you’ll see that Peter was pretty reluctant to make the journey to the home of the Roman Centurion Cornelius. Peter’s famous rooftop vision, recorded earlier in the chapter, was Hashem’s effort to convince this apostle that associating with Gentiles, even to the point of entering a Gentile’s home and breaking bread with him, was not going to ritually defile Peter and his Jewish companions (no, it’s not about food…it was never about food).

Just as with Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman, it was a matter of social roles and the perceived “spirituality” of pagan Romans vs. Jewish worshipers of Hashem that kept them apart.

But while Cornelius was a God-fearer and had made many acts of tzedakah (charity) on behalf of the Jewish people, as well as continually praying to Hashem, he was not a disciple of Rav Yeshua until God directed Peter to visit the Centurion’s home and teach him.

It was only then that Cornelius and all the Gentiles in his household received the Holy Spirit of God in the manner of the Jewish disciples as we witnessed in Acts 2.

After this astonishing revelation, Peter had some explaining to do to the “apostles and the brethren” about why he spent several days in a Roman Centurion’s home.

After relating the supernatural circumstances that resulted in Peter visiting Cornelius, he concluded:

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 11:15-18

It seems that the leaders of the Messianic sect of Judaism once known as “the Way” never anticipated this possibility. They never expected Gentiles to receive the Spirit and to have the ability to repent “that leads to life.”

I believe this is some sort of indication of the qualitative difference between Cornelius’ status before Hashem as a God-fearer and later, as a disciple of Rav Yeshua. Only by Yeshua’s faithfulness and in the merit of Messiah may a Gentile become a disciple, one who is more or at least different from the God-fearer Cornelius had been before, and repent in a manner that “leads to life,” the resurrection, and have life in the world to come.

As far as the Bible is concerned, we never hear of Cornelius again and have no clue as to how he led his life after these events.

But I do believe that the various incidents I’ve referred to so far provide some interesting perspectives as to the encounters of non-Jews with Messiah or with faith in Messiah.

In all of these examples, faith seems to be the common element. It’s faith that transcends the ethnic and national barriers that “contain” God within Judaism and allow the rest of the world to turn to Him. This faith even impressed the Rav, and it was proof of this faith that convinced Peter, and through him, the rest of the leaders of the Way, that Gentiles could receive the Spirit, could repent, could merit the promise of life in the world to come, just as the Jews had.

But what does that mean for we non-Jewish disciples today who don’t find an identity or role in the traditional Church and who do not find it convenient or even warranted, to, in some fashion, imitate Jewish praxis?

My teachings should come down to you as rain.

Deuteronomy 32:2

Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz used to cite the Vilna Gaon on this verse that rain helps things grow. But what grows? Only what is there from before. If someone has vegetables and fruits that are healthy and delicious, rain will help them develop. But if there are poisonous mushrooms, rain will help them grow too. Similarly, Torah study makes one grow. But it depends on one’s character traits what one will become. A person who has elevated traits will become a greatly elevated person. But if a person has faulty character traits, the more Torah he studies the greater menace he will become.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Commentary on Torah Portion Ha’azenu, p.464
Growth Through Torah

the crowdI suppose this is why we have such a diversity of “characters” in the religious space, particularly among the more learned. But if Bible study only amplifies who you already are, then how do you, Jew or Gentile, truly become a better person? More to the point, what path must the “Judaically aware” Gentile take (on a metaphoric deserted island) beyond Bible study, in changing one’s character and becoming more conformed to the expectations of God?

I’ll continue to explore these questions in future “meditations.”