Tag Archives: Redemption

Pinchas: Is It Too Much To Ask For Both?

The Torah portion of Pinchas begins with G-d saying to Moshe: (Bamidbar 25:11-12.) “Pinchas… has turned My wrath away from the Jewish people by displaying anger among them on My behalf.”

Pinchas’ conduct involved self-sacrifice, for his deed aroused the wrath of the tribe of Shimon, whose members sought to kill him. (See Sifri and Tanchuma, end of Parshas Balak; Sanhedrin 82b.)

After the Torah concludes the tale of Pinchas, it speaks about the division of Eretz Yisrael and the appointment of Yehoshua to lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land. The portion concludes with a section on offerings, a number of which could be brought only when the Jews were in Eretz Yisrael. (See Menachos 45b; Zevachim 111a.)

Since all the above is part of the portion titled Pinchas, it follows that the entrance to Eretz Yisrael and all related matters are somehow connected to the spiritual service of Pinchas.

What is the connection?

Our Rabbis tell us (Nedarim 22b. See also Shmos Rabbah, beginning of ch. 32.) that, were it not for the iniquities of the Jews, their first entry into Eretz Yisrael would have triggered the Redemption. Although this did not actually take place, in some respects the first entry resembled the future Redemption.

This similarity helps us understand the relationship between Pinchas and the entry into Eretz Yisrael, for our Sages state: (Targum Yonasan, Va’eira 6:18; Zohar, Vol. II, p. 190a; Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, ch. 47; Yalkut Shimoni, beginning of Pinchas.) “Pinchas is Eliyahu,” and Eliyahu is the one who will bring the tidings of Redemption.

-Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
“Pinchas”
The Chassidic Dimension
Commentary on Torah Portion Pinchas
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

You can click the link I provided above to read the full “Chassidic Dimension” commentary (and remember, this is midrash, not concrete fact, so I make no claim as to how or if it can be applied to a specific understanding of the Biblical text), but what Rabbi Wineberg wrote reminded me of something else I recently read.

“If both Judaism and Christianity are correct in their definitions of redemption, then Jesus must do both what Judaism is expecting the Messiah to do, and what Christians expect him to do. This means that Jesus will do more than come back and save those who believe in him from sin and death. He will also re-gather his people Israel from exile and restore them to their land in a state of blessing and peace (Isaiah 35, 48:12-22, 52:1-12; Jeremiah 31).”

-Boaz Michael

I suspect that Boaz is sending out some “teasers” from First Fruits of Zion’s next project and if so, then it’s something I’ve been looking forward to since my last face-to-face conversation with him.

Both Rabbi Wineberg and Boaz talk about Israel’s redemption, but what does that mean? What is redemption within the Jewish religious context? We have a pretty good idea from Boaz’s statement above, but here’s a little bit more.

The mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15).

Judaism 101

Wikipedia has a more condensed explanation:

In Judaism, (Hebrew ge’ulah), redemption refers to God redeeming the people of Israel from their various exiles. This includes the final redemption from the present exile. In Hasidic philosophy parallels are drawn between the redemption from exile and the personal redemption achieved when a person refines his character traits.

I’ll assume that most of my audience has a basic working knowledge of what Christians mean when they refer to redemption, but once again, I’ll invoke Wikipedia in order to offer a brief definition:

In Christian theology redemption is an element of salvation that broadly means the deliverance from sin. Leon Morris says that “Paul uses the concept of redemption primarily to speak of the saving significance of the death of Christ.” The English word redemption means ‘repurchase’ or ‘buy back’, and in the Old Testament referred to the ransom of slaves (Exodus 21:8). In the New Testament the redemption word group is used to refer both to deliverance from sin and freedom from captivity. Theologically, redemption is a metaphor for what is achieved through the Atonement. Therefore there is a metaphorical sense in which the death of Jesus pays the price of a ransom, releasing Christians from bondage to sin and death. Most evangelical theologians and Protestant denominations, however, reject the idea of Origen who held that redemption means that in the atonement God paid Satan with the death of Jesus.

Rabbi Wineberg is obviously addressing the Jewish and specifically the Chassidic viewpoint, while Boaz is saying that the Messiah will bring about both “redemptions” since they both are presupposed by the Biblical text. But how does this work or indeed, does it work at all?

One person commented critically about this on Facebook:

Sounds like Messianic theology to me please both groups so that every ome [sic] get to go! Makings all that Israel went though worth NOTHING. But this will please the people so tell them what makes them happy.

This isn’t the first time Boaz and FFOZ have been accused of playing both sides against the middle, but is that what they’re doing here? It would be impossible to tell based on a single quote, so let’s try another one from Boaz.

“I have to confess, I don’t really get it. If you believe in Jesus, you believe he is the King. The Lord. The Boss. Your Boss. There is no other option. It’s an integral part of his identity. The fact that some people have lost sight of that fact is evidence, to me, of how far we have come from a really Biblical idea of who Jesus is. We have forgotten that there is no such thing as a Jesus who is not our King, a Jesus we don’t have to obey.”

That one is also bound to draw some fire since the Messianic movement in all of its flavors has been rather “Torah-centric,” often at the expense of the Jewish Messiah. A lot of Christians who have been dissatisfied with the church have abandoned it in favor of the Torah and probably without meaning to, have fused the Torah and Jesus (Yeshua) into a single unit, as if they were interchangeable components; cosmic spark plugs, so to speak. Torah equals Messiah and Messiah equals Torah and pretty soon we forget that the Messiah was and is the living example of what a Torah lifestyle looks like (at least in the late second Temple period) and that he also has a life of his own, and a very critical life at that.

I actually started talking about this topic right after I returned home from the FFOZ 2012 Shavuot Conference. Blog posts “Redeeming the Heart of Israel,” Part 1 and Part 2 discuss the interactivity between Christianity and Judaism in bringing about national Jewish redemption.

Initially, I was very keen on this concept, since the mission of the church as presented in this paradigm, is to bring about Israel’s redemption by encouraging Jewish Torah observance, and this is something that is very dear to me on a personal level. But then, as I thought about it, I wondered where we could look in the Bible to support this viewpoint. Christianity is (and in this case, rightly so) a tad suspicious of Jewish religious pronouncements that seem to be disconnected from the Bible or which have a source largely based on Rabbinic midrash. If you can’t point to where in the Bible we can find Israel’s redemption linked to Torah obedience and to personal salvation all as the work of the Messiah, how real can it be? Can we successfully bridge Jewish and Christian conceptualizations of redemption so that we can envision all of this as what the Jewish King will accomplish upon his return?

I find this to be a compelling direction to investigate, but I suspect FFOZ has its work cut out for it, not just in performing the necessary scholarly research and constructing a book that is accessible to a mass audience made up of a broad spectrum of Jewish and Christian theologies, but in convincing that audience that the powers of the Messiah are indeed sufficiently vast as to encompass such a redemption.

I just finished a conversation on Facebook unrelated to this one, where the fellow and I were discussing the difficulties involved in truly seeing a situation from another person’s paradigm. We all almost exclusively tend to see the world from our own limited perspective. If you’re an evangelical Christian for example, your worldview is colored by that lived experience. The same is true if you are an Orthodox Jew, a Sunni Muslim, a Catholic priest, a liberal, progressive Democrat, or just about anybody else.

Although we like to believe so, Messianic Judaism doesn’t successfully meld Judaism and Christianity. Both are extremely different perspectives as we understand them currently and also historically. So saying something like, “If both Judaism and Christianity are correct in their definitions of redemption, then Jesus must do both what Judaism is expecting the Messiah to do, and what Christians expect him to do,” seems as if you are talking out of both sides of your mouth. Maybe both things can be true, but how can you see and understand the Messiah from the perspectives of both Christian and Jewish redemptive imperatives simultaneously?

It isn’t easy.

Rabbi Wineberg states:

The novel aspect of the future Redemption lies in the fact that at that time, G-dliness will be fully revealed. (Tanya ch. 37.) Nowadays, G-dliness is clothed in the material world, and manifest only in a contracted manner. In times to come, however, a greater level of Divine illumination will be found within this world — a level not subject to contraction or limitation.

On the Facebook thread discussing this topic, Pastor Bill Beyer replied:

Theology is not about making people happy. It’s about finding the truth. To say that Yeshua can only do one OR the other is limiting the power of the Messiah. Truth be told, scripture says he’s going to do even more than these two things.

The only limiting factor imposed on the Messiah is us. We place constraints on his power and what he will accomplish based on our viewpoints, doctrines, dogmas, and desires. Christians have been told that redemption means only personal redemption for believers. Jews have been told that redemption means only the national redemption of Israel and the ingathering of the exiles. To quote Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) from the first Iron Man (2008) film, “I say, is it too much to ask for both?”

I suspect the answer is right around the corner.

Good Shabbos.

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The Messiah’s Lament

Someone once asked the Chozeh of Lublin, zt”l, an interesting question about a well-known statement found on today’s daf. “Our sages tell us that a person who says something in the name of the one who originally said it brings redemption to the world. It seem strange that after all these centuries that the Jewish people have learned Talmud—which quotes the original source for every statement—we have not yet been redeemed!”

The rebbe immediately supplied an excellent reply to this question. “We can understand this in light of what I have already said: that there are two types of redemption. Besides a general redemption for the Jewish people through our righteous redeemer, there is also a personal redemption for every Jew. So the redemption alluded to here is not the ultimate redemption at all. It refers to every Jew’s personal needs, both material and spiritual. When a Jew says something in the name of its originator, he affords this type of redemption to the world.”

Rav Shmuel, the student of the renowned Be’er Mayim Chaim, zt”l, gave a similar response. “It is clear from the very words of our sages themselves that this does not refer to bringing Moshiach. Firstly, it says that it brings גאולה , redemption, not the גואל , redeemer. Secondly, our sages learn this from Esther. When Esther revealed the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh to Achasverosh, she told him this in the name of Mordechai. Just as there we find that this led to a specific redemption for the Jews and it was not the actual arrival of Moshiach, the same is true at all times. When someone says something in the name of its originator, a Jew somewhere is saved from difficulty!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Bringing Redemption to the World”
Shabbos, June 9, 2012
Niddah 19

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV)

I’ve written about the connection between Jewish return to the Torah and Israel’s national redemption before, but I still don’t understand it very well. Our “story off the daf” for the previous Shabbat discusses what seems to be a related matter, but while I think it’s interesting and perhaps ultimately important, the ability to fully comprehend what it means against the larger backdrop of Israel, the Messiah, and humanity continues to elude me.

I usually “get in trouble” for two reasons when I opine in this direction. I am usually criticized for “buying into” the various arcane and mystic Jewish writings as if they are fact, and I am accused of applying midrash as if it can be directly attached to the Gospels. While none of this is necessarily true, I do believe it is important to illustrate that general Jewish thought and perspectives on matters such as redemption, the Messiah, and God can be bound by a single though slender thread as we weave our way from ancient to modern times. It’s the thread that’s important because it shows that the destruction of the Second Temple did not disconnect the Jewish people from their faith in or their covenant relationship with God.

What remains mysterious to me though, is how to connect the Jewish vision of Israel’s national redemption and the return of the Messiah back to what we see in the Scriptures. I think there is a clue, albeit a rather faint one, in the Master’s lament over Jerusalem from Matthew 23:37-39. Let’s consider a few things.

The general assumption in Christianity is that the Temple was destroyed and the Jews scattered because they had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. But is that true? Can we find anywhere in either Scripture or Rabbinic commentary that says the Jews will suffer exile for the rejection of the Messiah? If you know where this is found, please point me to it, because I have never seen such a pronouncement in the Bible.

Why do Jews believe the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish nation sent into exile?

Why was the Temple destroyed? One of the reasons given by our Sages was unwarranted hatred. The Jewish people, even during the siege of Jerusalem, remained fractionalized and divided. And on the individual level, there was a lack of concern, love, and respect for each other.

How can this be corrected? By showing unrestrained love. By reaching out to another person – any other person – and showing him care, consideration, and concern. Do a favor for someone else, not because there is a reason to do so, but because you care for him.

“Keeping In Touch: The Three Weeks”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Adapted by Rabbi Eli Touger
Chabad.org

There are probably other traditional reasons but this is the one I encounter most often. Notice that a solution to the exile is also offered in showing “unrestrained love” toward your fellow. Our popular culture refers to “random acts of kindness” which sounds like a good idea, too.

Historically and in Scripture, we find that God has promised the destruction of the Temple and Israel’s national exile as consequences for disobedience to Torah and straying after “alien gods,” which of course, has little or nothing to do with a rejection of Jesus as Messiah (Post-Second Temple, the Jewish resistance to pursuing “alien gods” is one of the primary reasons why many Jews have rejected the Christian Jesus). Messiah, in Jewish thought, isn’t the cause of national exile, but the ultimate hope of its end.

Galut means exile. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Jewish nation was driven out of its homeland and sent off into a tear-soaked galut that lasts to this very day. We wait and yearn for the day when our galut and suffering come to an end, when we will be returned to the Holy Land, with the coming of our redeemer, the Moshiach.

-from “Moshiach 101”
Chabad.org

The mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15).

Judaism 101

Now let’s return to the Messiah’s lament over Jerusalem. What does he say is Israel’s “crime?”

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

In every era of disobedience in Israel, those messengers of God, the prophets, were imprisoned or killed when they brought a message that was intended to turn them from their sins back to God. It wasn’t so much that the identity of the prophets were in doubt, Israel just didn’t want to hear the message. They were not “willing to be gathered.” So too in the time of Jesus. Many believed he was the Messiah and while history records that the level of religious observance during the late Second Temple era was rather high among the general Jewish population, baseless hatred and hostility between a Jew and his fellow was also present. The message of Jesus was to love one another (John 13:34) but largely, the message was rejected.

So what is the consequence for such a rejection of the message of love and repentance? There are actually two. The first is:

See, your house is left to you desolate.

This is exactly what happened when the vast majority of the Jewish population was forced out of Israel. The Land of Israel (“house”) was left desolate, not only of the Jewish people but of the blessings of God. This desolation would continue to be literally true in the land as long as there was not a substantial Jewish presence. The famous American author Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) described such desolation:

“….. A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route…. hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

from The Innocents Abroad

The punishment it seems, not only affected the Jewish people, but the Land of Israel as well.

But what of the second consequence:

For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

The common understanding of this is plain. Israel will not see the Messiah again until it declares him (i.e. Jesus) as Messiah and Lord.

I must admit, it’s difficult to connect the national redemption of Israel and return of the Jewish people to the Torah with not only the Messiah’s return, but in Israel’s specifically recognizing Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. So in general, when do Jews believe the Messiah will come. Opinions vary, but the Judaism 101 site offers a summary:

Although some scholars believed that G-d has set aside a specific date for the coming of the mashiach, most authority suggests that the conduct of mankind will determine the time of the mashiach’s coming. In general, it is believed that the mashiach will come in a time when he is most needed (because the world is so sinful), or in a time when he is most deserved (because the world is so good). For example, each of the following has been suggested as the time when the mashiach will come:

  • if Israel repented a single day;
  • if Israel observed a single Shabbat properly;
  • if Israel observed two Shabbats in a row properly;
  • in a generation that is totally innocent or totally guilty;
  • in a generation that loses hope;
  • in a generation where children are totally disrespectful towards their parents and elders;

None of those options seems to directly connect to, “you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” I must admit to being at a loss, although the first three and particularly the first option seem somewhat promising.

So, either I am unaware of some vital scripture or other piece of information that ties the Messiah’s lament to how Jews understand national redemption of Israel, the Torah, and the coming of Messiah, or there is a really big disconnect between Jewish thought, even within Messianic Judaism, and how the record of the Gospels and the writings of the apostles describe redemption and the return of Jesus.

I’m not writing this “meditation” to offer answers but to pose questions. This is my continued exploration into this topic, and I’m trying to understand without summarily dismissing the Jewish perspective on their own national redemption (as perhaps many other Christians would). I offer this subject up for discussion and commentary, particularly to my friends in the Messianic Jewish movement who may actually have a unifying solution. If there is an answer to the mystery, where can it be found?

Why were we made so small, with such great heavens above our heads? Because He desired creatures that would know wonder.

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

A Christian Seeking Messiah ben David

Everyone agrees with all the wonderful advice and ethics written in the books of the sages. Everyone agrees that this is the way to run your life. The only issue each one of us has is whether those words are truly meant for me, or for someone else in some other time and place.

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

In some strange way, these few sentences capture the struggle we encounter at the intersection of Christianity and Judaism. I know that many Christians and Jews don’t believe their two worlds intersect at all, but in spite of 2,000 years of “discomfort” between us, we just can’t seem to get away from each other.

The other day, on my commute home from work, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Judeo-Christian.” I wish I could have talked to the driver to find out what they were thinking when they put that on their car.

Let me explain.

Judeo-Christian is a term traditionally used to describe a specific set of ethical or moral values often associated with American historical and cultural beliefs. It artificially forces a connection between Christianity and Judaism that most Jews don’t appreciate. Christianity doesn’t mind so much because of the knowledge that we wouldn’t exist as a faith without Judaism, at least the ancient Judaism that ended (from the church’s point of view) with the destruction of the Second Temple.

When pushed, Jews and Christians will admit to sharing some common values and goals, such as feeding the hungry and and visiting the sick, but the foundations of how Judaism and Christianity view God, the world, and just about everything else are fundamentally and radically different from each other. In some sense, it’s amazing that Christians and Jews can have a meaningful conversation at all, at least on the topic of God (I’m sure there’d be no problem discussing the World Series or something like that).

As many of you know, I’ve recently been trying to describe the linked relationship between Christianity and Judaism as part of Israel’s national redemption. It’s slow going because the idea that God would actually intertwine the destinies of the Gentile church and the inheritors of Sinai is foreign to the two groups. Even within the realm of Messianic Judaism, which should be a friendly environment for both, the idea that Christ can only come back if Christians support and embrace Jewish return to Torah has met with significant resistence (Read Redeeming the Heart of Israel, Part 1 and Part 2, as well as Disconnect Reconnect Disconnect if you don’t believe me).

Paul in Romans 11 explains that it was necessary for there to be a separation between the Gentile believers and the Jews for the sake of the nations. But after so very long existing apart from each other, overcoming the walls we’ve built between us is no easy task.

So how do we live together while maintaining our separate identities? How do two people who are married maintain their own lives and wills and uniqueness?

I don’t know, except to say that who we are is built into us. No matter how much you may love your spouse, that love doesn’t erode your personality so you stop being you and start being them.

Something does happen, though. You learn to set aside some of your personal desires and preferences and to act for the benefit of your beloved husband or wife because you want to do good for them.

Our Master did no less for us.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” –John 10:11-18 (ESV)

The difference between him and us is that Jesus is our Master and we are his disciples and servants. We are not greater than the one who sent us. But with our spouse, neither husband nor wife is elevated over the other.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. –Galatians 3:27-29 (ESV)

But I’ve been wrong before.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. –Micah 4:1-2 (ESV)

I was having coffee after work the other day with a friend and we were discussing this whole matter. We realized as we were talking that, after 2,000 years of ascendency; after 2,000 years of being the sole owners and arbiters of salvation through Jesus Christ, the Christian church might not want to acknowledge that “the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains.” They might not want to repeat the words of the Master when he said (John 4:22) “salvation is from the Jews.”

In other words, we Christians might not want to face the fact that when the Jewish King returns, he will restore Israel to its rightful place at the head of the nations, he will establish forever the full redemption of his Jewish people, and it is we from among the nations who will “flow” up to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to honor the King of the Jews and to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Rather than the church expecting it to be the other way around. Rather than the Jews “flowing up” to Christianity and abandoning Judaism, the Torah, and ultimately, the Jewish Messiah King.

Kind of humbling for we Christians, isn’t it?

I cheated a bit when I quoted Rabbi Freeman earlier. Here’s the full text of what he said:

Everyone agrees with all the wonderful advice and ethics written in the books of the sages. Everyone agrees that this is the way to run your life. The only issue each one of us has is whether those words are truly meant for me, or for someone else in some other time and place.

If it is truth, it is meant for you, now, here.

There is a truth about our existence in this world that we aren’t always aware of. Maybe we’ve never been aware of it, but it rests inside of us, like a cocoon which appears dormant or even lifeless, and yet contains the beginnings of what will become a spectacular butterfly.

Like a new life being nurtured in a mother’s womb, the will of God for each of us is embedded within our souls, waiting for the right moment to begin to stir. I believe that’s what is happening now in Christianity and Judaism. I believe this is part of what the Master called in Matthew 24:8 “the birth pangs” (please don’t overanalyze that metaphor and say he was really talking about wars and earthquakes…I think he was also talking about what I’m talking about).

Any woman who has ever given birth can tell you that it is a wonderful, and terrifying, and ecstatic, and agonizing experience. So too are the birth pangs we are approaching as Christianity and Judaism, divided for so many centuries, approaches an intersection that God saw and destined before He built the foundations of the Universe.

Our Lord, our Master, our Messiah is coming, but we all play a vital part in summoning his presence. We in the church must encourage the Jewish return to Torah and national redemption of Israel. Israel must be that light to the nations, drawing us all to God. Then the Moshiach will come, the Jewish King will ascend his throne, and the Temple of God will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.

For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. –Hosea 3:4-5 (ESV)

Blessed be the nation of Israel and may she return her heart to God and the Torah, that she may be redeemed and restored. And may the Messiah come soon and in our day.

Redeeming the Heart of Israel, Part 1

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:6-8 (ESV)

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

Romans 15:25-29 (ESV)

It is believed by the sages that if all of Israel would observe a single Shabbat properly, the Messiah would immediately come, since obeying the Shabbat is equivalent to obeying the entire Torah. We could extend this idea to say that if all Jews were to perfectly observe all of the Torah mitzvot, the redemption of Israel would be at hand. Interestingly enough, the two portions of scripture I quoted above directly apply to this concept. Let me explain.

There is just so much I could say about the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference I attended a few days ago. In fact, over the next several days, I will blog almost exclusively on my different experiences at Beth Immanuel, however one particular presentation stands out. When I heard it on the evening of the last full day of the conference, I knew it would be the keystone to everything I took away from my trip and the centerpiece to everything I intend to write.

I’ll just tell you in advance that this is going to be challenging. Some people don’t like being challenged.

Boaz Michael, Founder and President of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) gave a presentation about, among other things, the redemption of Israel. But it’s not the sort of redemption that you are probably imagining. According to dictionary.reference.com, redemption, in a theological sense, can mean:

  1. deliverance from sin; salvation.
  2. atonement for guilt.

This falls in line with the traditional Christian understanding of the term “redemption” and often equates to “when I die, I’m going to heaven.” Being “saved” or “redeemed” is typically the single most important part of what happens to a Christian. Nothing else matters until you “confess Christ” and are “saved.” After that, you can live a life consistent with the teachings of Jesus knowing your eternal future in Heaven is secure.

But Jews think about meriting a place in the world to come quite a bit differently. The chief difference is that Jews aren’t really obsessed about being “saved” and “going to heaven.” While meriting a place in the world to come is certainly important, Religious Jews are far more concerned with obeying God in the here and now, and some even look for opportunities to perform a mitzvah that cannot often be accomplished. There is even a saying that the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah. This is actually a concept Christians should recognize:

For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. –Matthew 25:29 (ESV)

Jewish in JerusalemThis is the point of the “parable of the talents” as told by the Master. As in the wisdom from the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), “the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah and the ‘reward’ of a sin is a sin,” we are “rewarded” for what we do, whether it is for the good or the bad. That reward can come either in this world or the next, according to Jewish thinking, but it’s directly tied to the sort of life a Jew lives right now. Jews have been commanded to obey all of the 613 commandments in the Torah but as you might imagine, being just as human as Christians or anyone else, they don’t do a perfect job. Unfortunately, God was very specific about the consequences to the Jewish people if, as a nation, they did not obey the commandments of Sinai.

The second Temple – when the Jews were involved in Torah, mitzvahs and acts of kindness – why was it destroyed? Because the Jews were guilty of harboring baseless hatred towards each other!”

-Rabbi Naftali Silberberg
-as quoted from askmoses.com

Most Christians believe that Herod’s Temple was destroyed in 70 CE and the Jews subsequently exiled from Israel because they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. As you’ve just seen, this isn’t how Jews understand the cause for their exile and in fact, during the days of the Second Temple and when Jesus walked among his people, proper Jewish religious observance was rather high; much more so than in the days of the destruction of the First Temple.

However, the sin of baseless hatred of one Jew for another was very severe. Jesus especially pleaded with his people to repent of this sin.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. –Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

As recorded in Matthew 18:21-35, the Master illustrates how serious this sin is in the “parable of the unforgiving servant.” But sadly, tragically, Israel didn’t listen, resulting in dire consequences.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” –Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV)

Simchat TorahIt’s not as if every single Jew in Israel was guilty of this sin, but Israel is judged by God as a nation, not a collection of individuals. If the nation is in sin, every Jew suffers whether they commmitted the offense or not. To this day, the Jewish people are in exile, not because they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but because they refused to listen and obey his teaching to turn away from the sin of baseless hatred toward their brothers and to instead seek peace.

This has nothing to do with whether or not Jews merit a place in the world to come. God didn’t take away Jewish “salvation” as a result of this sin, He took away the posession of the Land of Israel from the Nation of Israel, and scattered them across the face of the earth. Redemption, for Israel, isn’t being saved so they can go to Heaven, it’s the restoration of the Jews to their Land and the ascension of Israel above all the peoples of the earth.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem –Micah 4:1-2 (ESV)

Connect that back to Acts 1:6-8 and you’ll see that Israel, as a nation, awaits final redemption so it can be restored to the place at the head of the nations as God has always intended.

But what does that have to do with you and me? Even if we accept that this is true for the Jewish people, what sort of role would Christians have in Israel’s redemption?

I’ll give you the answer to that in Part 2.