Tag Archives: renewal

If You’re Not A Jew, Who Are You?

NoahIt’s the beginning of a new Torah cycle, and even though I haven’t been diligent with my studies lately, I am not unmindful of them either.

I’m recycling some older thoughts but I think they are worth the review. I came across an article from the Ask the Rabbi column at Aish called Who is a Jew?. The answer is pretty straightforward. You’re a Jew if your mother is Jewish or if you convert to Judaism. Period, end of story.

I know not everyone agrees with this definition, but it does fit the Orthodox perspective and generally, it’s one I can agree with.

Because the upcoming Torah portion for this Shabbat is Noach (Noah), Rabbi Kalman Packouz in his Shabbat Shalom Weekly column wrote about the Noahide Laws. I know this can be a controversial subject among those who read this blog, but I’m making a point. Be patient.

According to Rabbi Packouz, and you’ve heard this before, you don’t have to be a Jew to merit a place in the world to come. His article explains that even from the beginning, Hashem always intended to create the Jewish people, give them the Torah, and have them be a light to the world as the nation of Israel.

As for the rest of us, what are we to do with that light? It’s there. It’s shining. Where does it lead those of us, that is, the vast majority of the world’s population who are not Jewish?

R. Packouz’s response is predictable; the 7 Noahide Commandments.

I’ve written at length about them many times before so I won’t repeat myself here. You can search this blog and probably find a lot more information, opinions, and comments on the topic.

However, some folks who call themselves “Messianic Gentiles” have proposed that the Noahide Laws can at least be used as a guide for the halachah which applies to non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua.

I don’t know if that’s true in an absolute sense, but if you have no other path, it gives you a place to start. There are plenty of Jewish sources which are instructive to Noahides, and in fact, when you go over those laws, they aren’t particularly outrageous:

  1. Don’t murder
  2. Don’t steal
  3. Don’t worship false gods
  4. Don’t be sexually immoral
  5. Don’t eat the limb of an animal before it is killed
  6. Don’t curse God
  7. Set up a legal court system and do justice
generic white guy
Image: Cafepress.com

You can get more details by reading R. Packouz’s article or visiting sites such as Noahide.org.

Of course, these laws and the perspective of Jewish authorities found at Aish and elsewhere do not take Rav Yeshua and his teachings into consideration, and again, I’ve written a great deal about factoring in our reconciliation to Hashem through devotion to our Rav and by his merit.

According to the teachings of R. Packouz and particularly Rav Shaul (Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles), God really did presuppose that all of humanity would be reconciled to Him, but that Jews would be Jews and the people of the nations would be the people of the nations.

Why am I writing this and why should you care?

Basically to say what I’ve said before. There’s nothing wrong with not being Jewish. I mean, most of the world isn’t Jewish and we’re still created in the image of the Almighty. We’re given a place in the world to come, the blessings of the resurrection, and even the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as disciples of our Rav.

We can even call Rav Yeshua our Rav and not feel like we’re ripping off the Jewish people.

Do we have to obey the Noahide Laws? Well, we probably do if we live generally moral lives. Even if we’d never heard of the Noahide Laws, whether we call ourselves Christians, Messianic Gentiles, or anything else, chances are we don’t murder, steal, worship false gods, or practice sexual immorality. We certainly don’t eat the limbs of a living animal, hopefully don’t curse God, and live in a nation with a system of laws and courts.

In other words, we are likely observing the Noahide Laws whether we know it or not.

What else is there? What else does there have to be?

We know in general that meeting regularly with like-minded believers to build each other up is a good thing. It’s a good thing to pray. It’s a good thing to study the Bible, both in groups and as individuals. It’s a good thing to treat others, even people we don’t like, with kindness and generosity.

Coffee and BibleAll of these principles can be found in the Bible and they don’t apply just to observant Jews.

As we begin another Torah cycle and start another year, it’s good to remember that we don’t have to be Jewish in order to be close to God. However, that knowledge was brought to us in general by the Jewish people, and in specific by our Jewish Rav. After all, he specifically selected one Apostle to bring the good news of Moshiach to the goyim, that is, to the rest of us.

Rejoice.

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Waking Up New

The Talmudic Sages ask: “Who is the wise man?”

The answer: “One who sees (i.e., thinks about) the outcome of his actions.”

Keep asking yourself, “What is the goal of my present behavior?” and “What are the potential harmful consequences?” These two questions will enable you to have greater control over your behavior.

(Talmud – Tamid 32a; Rabbi Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, p.258)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #222: “Outcome Thinking”
Aish.com

I would be wonderful if we all did this, especially when faced with a morally questionable decision or one that otherwise has the potential to hurt another person, but human nature seems to dictate that we consider the outcome of our actions only after we have acted.

The value of this principle is greatest when a person is in the process of making teshuvah and attempting to repair the damage his or her sins have already done. No, repentance doesn’t change the past, though we often wish it would, but considering the outcome of our actions can work to prevent us from repeating our mistakes.

In other words, we can’t “undo” previous sins, but we can consider the impact of present and future actions and keep ourselves from sinning again.

Our problem is how to live what we pray, how to make our lives a daily commentary on our prayer book, how to live in consonance with what we promise, how to keep faith with the vision we pronounce.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “The Goal and the Way,” p.94
Man’s Quest for God

However, a sort of strange paradox can occur. As I said, we can’t change the past but we can change the future, so to speak, by considering our actions in the present. But what about all the damage we’ve done up to this point? What about all of the hurt we’ve caused, all the disappointment that’s already a result of what we’ve done? How can we possibly lift that kind of weight off our backs in order to even begin to move toward the future?

The very first prayer of the day is Modeh Ani, which is recited immediately upon awakening. The prayer ends with the words, “great is Your faithfulness.” This praise underscores the fundamental importance of our trust in Hashem’s faithfulness in watching over us. Iyun Tefillah relates this phrase to the verse in Eichah (3:23): “They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness…

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.63
Commentary for Sunday on Parashas Va’eira
A Daily Dose of Torah

Or, in other words…

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities

Psalm 51:2-9 (NASB)

In terms of cause and effect in the present world, what we’ve done in the past is done and cannot be undone. But once a person has repented sincerely of his or her sins, God does not simply put them in the past, but it is as if the person had never sinned at all. Each new morning you wake up a completely new person with no debts to be repaid as far as God is concerned. God is faithful to forgive and to treat us as if we had never sinned, as if we were pure, faultless, and blameless.

And on that basis, we can wake up and consider ourselves a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a brand new life waiting to be lived. Then, as we proceed throughout our day, at the point where we are making decisions, we can feel free to stop and consider the consequences of each action. Since we have a brand new life to live, using our experience with past failures as a guide, we can choose to avoid certain decisions in favor of others that will have a better outcome.

Going back to the Modei Ani, it’s not just that God is faithful in returning our souls each morning, and it’s not just that we put our faith in Him, but God has faith in us:

Chasam Sofer, commenting on this phrase, translates it to mean, “great is your faith in us.”

Though we are careless and abusive in the treatment of our souls, which Hashem has entrusted to us, He returns them to us again and again, confident that we will use them properly in His service.

-“A Daily Dose of Torah,” ibid

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100

No matter what sort of past we’ve led, we can still have a bright future with God in His service. Only God can untie us from the tyranny of guilt and shame and free us to serve Him in joy and boundless gratitude, for great is His faith in us.

Bamidbar and Shavuot: Souls in the Desert

“Numbers” may be the name by which the fourth of the Five Books of Moses is commonly called, but in the Hebrew original it is known as Bamidbar, or “In the Wilderness.” It is interesting to note that this parsha is always read immediately before the festival of Shavuot, “the season of the giving of the Torah.” What is the connection?

The Sages teach that it is not enough for G-d to give us the Torah, we have to be ready to receive the Torah. What makes us worthy recipients of this most precious and infinite gift from G-d? This is where the “wilderness” idea comes in. A wilderness is a no-man’s land. It is ownerless and barren. Just as a desert is empty and desolate, so does a student of Torah need to know that he is but an “empty vessel.” Humility is a vital prerequisite if we are to successfully absorb divine wisdom.

-Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“Wisdom from the Wilderness”
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar (Numbers)
Chabad.org

When the day of Pentecost (that is, Shavuot) arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?”

Acts 2:1-8 (ESV)

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to write about. On my “morning meditation” for Fridays, I usually create a commentary on the weekly Torah Portion, which this week is the beginning of Numbers. However, we are also on the cusp of Shavuot and the two cannot be neatly divided and separated. In my quote from Rabbi Goldman, he even asks about the connection between the two. Fortunately, he also gives us an answer.

However, for those of us who are disciples of the Jewish Messiah and devoted to Jesus Christ, there is an added dimension to offering the Torah to the wilderness within all our souls. There is the giving of the Spirit and God. This isn’t to say that Jews do not have access to the Spirit of God. Far from it. But in accepting the Messiah into our hearts and recognizing that it is Jesus who is Lord of life and firstborn from the dead, we enter into a covenant that not only preserves us in the present world, but one that will endure beyond the next and into all eternity, even as Heaven and Earth pass away (Matthew 5:18).

But we are still here and we exist in what we call “now,” which is approaching Shabbat and a day later, Shavuot. We look to the past, to Mount Sinai and the Torah and to that room in Jerusalem and the Apostles being filled with the Spirit, and we rejoice. But it’s not all about the past.

Unlike Passover or Sukkos, or even the minor Rabbinic holiday of Purim, Shavuos comes with no special observances, no unique Mitzvos to be performed on that day. The “only” thing that sets Shavuos apart is that it is the day when G-d gave the Torah, His most precious gift, to the Jewish people.

Each year, we don’t merely revisit or even relive that experience. Kabbalistic sources teach that the unique spiritual powers of each holiday return to this world every year on that same day. On Shavuos, we have a special power to take our portion in Torah, each and every year.

Every year, many of us skip out on this unique opportunity. We deny ourselves the closeness to G-d which is within our grasp. And there is a fascinating Medrash concerning the giving of the Torah, which hints that this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“Shavuos”
Torah.org

Rabbi Menken doesn’t say this explicitly, but the reason we study Torah, observe the festivals, and remember the holy acts in the lives of the Apostles is to not just relive them today, but to experience them as new, fresh, living events that are happening to us for the very first time. Many Christians speak of a need for renewal in the church and yet Judaism has built into its calendar multiple times of renewing each and every year. Jews and Christians are at such a time now. Before our awareness of God, we existed as a wilderness, empty and barren in our soul. This is especially tragic for Jews since they are members of the Covenant and a chosen people, even if they acknowledge God not at all. We who are Gentiles, if we are without God, we are as Paul described us; far off and without hope (Ephesians 2:12).

The Jews were joined with God at the foot of Sinai in the desert, where the Torah was given to them. We who were once far off were offered the opportunity to also draw close to God at the foot of the cross and in that room in Jerusalem, when we were washed by blood and filled with Spirit. We were made alive and spiritually aware of God through Christ.

Rabbi Goldman concludes his commentary on Numbers and Shavuot by saying:

May we receive the Torah with joy and earnestness so that this important festival will be both memorable and meaningful.

Paul says in Ephesians 12:22 (ESV):

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Open your minds, your hearts, and your spirits to God. Today we become new again.

A Happy Shavuos and Good Shabbos.

(Shavuot begins Saturday evening right when Shabbat ends, so my next “morning meditation” will be posted online Monday morning. Blessings).