Tag Archives: Revelation

What I Learned in Church Today: Partakers in Tribulation, Kingdom, and Perseverance

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Revelation 1:9 (NASB)

John sees himself as a “brother and fellow partaker” with the Asian Christians in three things which are “in Jesus”. Does this mean that these are part of God’s design for them? Explain your answer.

-Charlie’s notes on Rev 1:9-20
for Sunday School class

As I mentioned last week, as a teacher, Charlie has few questions and presents limited material so that we can explore the great depths the Bible has to offer.

I won’t attempt to go over all that we discussed in class today, but I thought that the “three things” Charlie says John identifies as “in Jesus” were particularly interesting. What three things are we “fellow partakers” in?

Tribulation, Kingdom, and Perseverance.

When I saw those three words together, they just “clicked”.

Consider.

When Jesus died and was resurrected, he inaugurated the very beginning of the entry of the New Covenant into our world. In fact, even before the crucifixion, the central message of Jesus was “the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” as if the Kingdom could burst into our world at any second, even as he was speaking (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, Mark 1:15).

seek first the kingdomBut even as the Kingdom is entering our reality, it will not reach fruition until the Messiah returns to us as King. We are to live in the present world, we believers that is, as if the Kingdom is already here and as if Jesus were already enthroned in Jerusalem as King Messiah. As D. Thomas Lancaster preached in his Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, we are freedom fighters or partisans, fighting against the world’s current tyranny, against the brokeness of a world that thinks it’s getting better every day, and fighting for our allegiance to the King, who is steadily coming nearer and soon to return.

Until then, we will indeed face great adversity and tribulation, even as the freedom fighters in Nazi occupied France did during World War Two. But we fight for a great cause, and we represent the King’s justice and mercy. We are fellow partakers in this troubled world, in the hope of the coming Kingdom, and we must maintain patient endurance until the Master comes back and establishes his reign over Israel and nations of the world.

After I was done laying out my answer (and I was feeling really proud of myself), Charlie asked for Biblical support for all that. Oops. I didn’t put that in my notes. Pride indeed goes before a fall. Fortunately, other class members stepped up to the plate and provided what I was missing. I guess there’s some truth in what Paul E. Meier said in his article for Messiah Journal issue 116 Christian Theology and the Old Testament:

Scripture points out that the understanding of individual believers is fragmental; each one of us has been granted a different degree of insight (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). The dimensions of God’s love are so vast that the whole body of believers is needed in order to comprehend them (Ephesians 3:18). God may give more insight to some than to others; he gives to each one according to the measure of his grace (Romans 12:3, Ephesians 4:7).

In other words, it “takes a whole village” or in this case, a whole Sunday school class to properly interpret the Bible. No one of us holds all the keys or can open all the doors to the Word of God, since we’re all apportioned gifts of different types and to different degrees by the mercy of Hashem.

Torah at SinaiThat means, we are all fellow partakers in the tribulations, the kingdom, and in perseverance with each other as we are all in Yeshua our Master, the Messiah King and Priest. But I wouldn’t have put all this together the way I have without an understanding of how the New Covenant works and what the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven really means (see The Kingdom is Now, Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, Keys to the Kingdom, and Foretaste of the Kingdom).

John’s Revelation, his mystic vision of the exalted Messiah King, is the source of a great deal of mystery and I can’t pretend to understand it all, but I do understand that we have one whose “voice [is] like the sound of a trumpet” as our High Priest.

So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound…

Exodus 19:16 (NASB)

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet…

Revelation 1:10 (NASB)

Yes, my Master and Lord. May your Kingdom come soon.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 22:20 (NASB)

Amen.

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A Quick View of Revelation Through a Christian Lens

trumpets-on-the-lords-dayI was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

Revelation 1:10-16 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

The previous entry is Trouble Breaking into Church with Messianic Prophesy.

Last Wednesday, Pastor and I talked about (among other things) a summary of his understanding of the Book of Revelation, that really confusing, mystic experience of the apostle John, the vision he experienced during his exile on Patmos.

In one of my previous blog posts, I had tried to sketch out my understanding of Pastor’s conceptualization of Revelation but missed the mark. This is my attempt to correct my mistake, but it’s also part of my investigation into “the end times,” that part of Christian/Hebrew Roots/Messianic Jewish doctrine I’ve been avoiding for so very long.

The following (and this time, I took notes) is my summary of Pastor’s summary of Revelation. Basically, I’m just laying a little groundwork for what follows. No conclusions, just the fundamentalist Christian mapping to the return of Jesus, the rapture, the tribulation, and the Messianic Era.

Here goes.

According to Pastor, in Revelation 1, we see the resurrected Jesus. As you might imagine, he’s not quite the way John remembered him during their time together in Israel.

In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we see the churches, but according to Pastor, after this point in the book, the Church (big C), the entire body of Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus Christ everywhere, disappears, to be taken up to Heaven with Jesus for the seven years of tribulation. For those seven years, there are no Christians on Earth at all.

Chapters 4 and 5 show us the Church in Heaven.

Chapters 6 through 19 show us the tribulation period, God’s judgment and wrath on the unsaved of the Earth. Since there is no mention of the Church in these chapters, Pastor believes the “argument by silence” here supports the Church being absent from the Earth during this time. Those people who come to faith in Jesus during the tribulation are saved, but they are not part of the Church. Those ancient Israelites who lived and died before Jesus are resurrected (Pastor says he’s not quite sure on the timing of this event) and are saved, but they too are not part of the Church.

Chapter 19 says something important.

And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.

Revelation 19:14 (NASB)

Depending on which Bible translation you use, the phrase could be rendered “armies in heaven” or “armies of heaven.” If it’s of heaven, then it’s most likely talking about angels. But according to Pastor, if it’s in heaven, then it’s likely talking about the Church, the group of Jewish and Gentile believers who were raptured up to Heaven with Jesus but who now follows Jesus back down to Earth. Their being “clothed in fine linen, white and clean” indicates their righteousness and purity. There’s a further implication that in Jesus striking “down the nations,” that as his army, the Church, will also “strike” (Pastor didn’t mention that last part, but seems to make sense, given the context).

Chapter 20 of Revelation is the Messianic reign. I mentioned to Pastor that one chapter being devoted to such an important time period seemed a little skimpy, but he reminded me that there are many prophesies in the Old Testament (Tanakh) that speak at length about the Messianic reign. I can’t wait to map them to the fundamentalist Christian interpretation of events to see how (or if) it all connects.

final_battleRevelation chapters 21-22 are the final battle, the new Heaven and new Earth and progressing into Eternity.

We spent some time covering a little theoretical ground on the rapture before tribulation (which is Pastor’s viewpoint), rapture after tribulation (which Pastor says most churches go with), and rapture in the middle of the tribulation. Pastor believes the following is the critical portion of scripture that supports his perspective and that all other perspectives must somehow explain it in order to be considered valid.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NASB)

Pastor also mentioned there are differences of opinion about when the Messianic Era will occur, but my current opinion is that the wars (all but the final one) must all occur and all of Israel’s enemies must be defeated before we experience a thousand years (or a long but undefined period of time) of peace under the reign of the King.

This all leads back to who and what is the church, the fate of ethnic Israel (Romans 11:26), and what I consider the “splitting” of “saved Israel” (the righteous Israelites such as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and so forth) vs. the Jewish people who believed in Jesus and are part of the Church. It still bothers me that Israel has two separate expressions in the Millennial Kingdom, one as saved Israel and one as Israel in the Church (occupying the body of Messiah with the Gentile Christians).

The prophesies in the Tanakh don’t presuppose a divided Jewish people unless you consider those that mention Israel and Judah, such as the following:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:31-32 (NASB)

I don’t want to go too far down that road right now. Like I said, I’m just laying the groundwork for what follows, but if you have any ideas about how the Christian and Jewish points of view about the coming (or return) of Messiah are supposed to fit together, let me know.

Trouble Breaking Into Church With Messianic Prophesy

daniel“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

Daniel 9:24-27 (NASB)

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.

Revelation 20:4-6 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

The previous entry is The Obscured Messiah in the Bible.

Last Wednesday night, my Pastor and I got through the majority of Chapter 8 (it’s not a long chapter and only covers Galatians 2:11-14) in D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle of the Galatians. We disagreed so much about the content, that I apologized for seeming so oppositional. We continue to “butt heads” over the purpose and function of the Torah in the lives of the Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah in the Apostolic age and beyond.

But we got sidetracked again. Pastor asked me about the nature and function of “the Church,” the collection of Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah. I knew Pastor saw the Church as separate from Judaism…well, sort of, but I had no idea how separate it was supposed to be.

From my point of view, “the Church,” the body of Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah, is the logical extension of Biblical and historic Judaism that began with Abraham and was formalized in law at Sinai. Judaism has always looked forward to Messiah, so when Jesus was revealed as Moshiach, it wasn’t a departure from Jewish history but rather, the fulfillment of Jewish hopes and dreams. Of course, that fulfillment isn’t really filled full and it won’t be until his second advent when he will establish his reign of peace in Israel and across the entire world.

messiah-prayerSo if Jewish discipleship in Messiah is the natural and logical extension of Jewish history in the first century CE, then what was Gentile discipleship? I’ve said over and over that it was a major chore for Paul and the other Apostles to figure out a way to legally include Gentile disciples into the community of Jewish faith in Messiah without requiring that they convert to Judaism through the ritual of the proselyte and become obligated to the full yoke of Torah (and my Pastor and I also continue to debate what the Torah is and what purpose it has in Judaism) in the manner of the Jews.

It’s like Israel is the main event and enters through the front door of the mansion, while Gentiles get to come in but have to be admitted through the side entrance near the kitchen (but once we’re in, we’re in). I know that’s an unflattering image for most Christians, but that’s how the Bible reads. Going to the Old Testament (Tanakh), all of the prophesies about Messiah and what he will do emphasize blessings for Israel, not particularly for “the Church” (since “the Church” isn’t even a glimmer in any prophet’s eye in the Tanakh), but thanks to a single line in the Abrahamic covenant, the Gentiles in the world will receive blessings as well.

Did you get that? Israel is the main beneficiary of the blessings of the Messiah and the rest of the world benefits from the “spillover,” so to speak.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
“For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the Lord will rise upon you
And His glory will appear upon you.
“Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.”

Isaiah 60:1-3 (NASB)

I’ve said before that only a single verse in Genesis 12 links the people of the nations to the Abrahamic covenant, and it is only that verse that allows us to have a connection with God at all, through our faith in Messiah. All of the conditions of all of the covenants God made with Israel continue forward in time and, although major sections of the Torah are held in abeyance until such time as the Messiah comes, rebuilds the Temple, re-establishes the priesthood and the Sanhedrin, and ascends the Throne of David, everything else that God “covenanted” with the Jewish people remains in effect.

So how did the tail end up being the head? How did the Church get to think of itself as first and the Jewish people second.

Here, I’ll give you an example. Let’s go back to my conversation with Pastor about the Church and all that must occur when Messiah returns.

rapturePastor, like most Christians, believes that when Messiah comes, all members of the Church, Jews and Gentiles alike, will be taken up into the air with him and be raptured to Heaven. And there we’ll stay. Meanwhile, a lot of bad, ugly things will be happening on the earth. Lots of people will be “left behind” and many will come to faith at that time. But they won’t be “the Church”. According to Pastor, they’ll be believers, but they’ll form a distinct group outside of the Church. The Church at that time will be in Heaven with Christ. Only believers and non-believers will be on earth enduring the tribulation.

Pastor said he wasn’t sure of the timing, but that all of the Israelites, the ancient Jewish people who lived and died before the first advent of Christ, will be resurrected and they will stay on earth. They are “believers” but not the Church. They will have a special and unique role as the 144,000 (Revelation 7:4-8), but the Church disappears from the face of the planet with Jesus and they (we?) don’t return until Jesus returns, all the way down into Revelation 20. But how can Israel, the Jewish people, be fractured into two groups: those who are in the Church in Heaven, and those who are “mere” believers on earth? Abraham saw Messiah’s day (John 8:56) but he lived before the first advent. Does that mean Abraham is in Heaven as part of the Church or on earth as a “believer?” It all doesn’t make sense.

No wonder my Sunday school teacher balked when I said his calling the people of the nations in Zechariah 14:16 “unsaved Gentiles” was anachronistically projecting a “Christianism” into the Jewish text. But then again, I still think my teacher was wrong, because according to both him and Pastor, it is possible for people to come to faith during the Messianic reign, although they won’t be part of “the Church,” they will still be “saved.”

But I’ve got a problem. Whenever I read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the other prophets who speak of Messiah, I get one picture. But when I read Revelation and the sections of the Gospels and Epistles that mention the second coming of Jesus, I get a faintly related but mainly different picture.

I’ve avoided the whole issue of the second coming and the “end times” for most of my “career” as a believer because, frankly, I’ve met so many “nuts” in the Hebrew Roots movement who were incredibly obsessed about “the end times” and who weaved all kinds of bizarre scenarios around it. However, if I ever hope to understand the past, present, and future of the Jewish Messiah King, I’m going to have to take all this head on.

My Sunday school class just finished a multi-week inventory of the end times, the Messianic age, and the final events leading into eternity, but I prefer a fresh look at the material. I’m probably not going to throw myself headlong into the subject if, for no other reason, than the only information sources I have immediately handy are Christian sources (I know that sounds strange, but how does Judaism in general and Messianic Judaism in particular treat this topic?).

walking-into-churchAfter nearly a year of going back to church (although I guess I’ve been a part of “the Church” all along), I still find it hard to break into the church. Break into the church? I mean I still lack the ability to take on traditionally Christian concepts and doctrines with any amount of ease. I question everything. Everything seems strange or at least unanticipated. Is it just my ignorance of the Bible and how to interpret it, or has the Church become so comfortable with its historic perspectives that it has lost the ability (or the will) to ask itself if it could possibly be wrong?

I’m going to have to “cut and paste” everything the Bible says about the future Messianic age together on one page to even begin to make sense of it. Is there any hope of reconciling the prophesies of the Jewish Messiah in the Tanakh with the prophesies about the risen Christ in the New Testament?

“Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”

Lenny Bruce

Where Do We Find God?

Torah at SinaiWhere is the Torah?

-Shabbos 89a

It seems incredulous that Satan was unaware that Moshe had received the Torah and had taken it down to earth. Tosafos answers that at that moment, Hashem caused the Satan to become confused and confounded in order to avoid the risk of having Satan interfere with the giving of the Torah.

Maharsha notes that the Gemara had earlier reported that when Moshe came to the heavens, all the celestial angels presented Moshe with various gifts, and among those who gave Moshe a tribute was Satan himself. (This interpretation is based upon the fact that Satan and the Angel of Death are one and the same. It was the Angel of Death that divulged the secret of the incense to Moshe, and that it had the power to interrupt a raging plague.) Satan, we see, clearly was aware of the events surrounding Moshe’s mission and that his coming to the heavens was specifically in order to receive the Torah and to bring it back for the Jewish people. Why, then, asks Maharsha, was Satan surprised when Moshe took the Torah back to earth?

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“To where did the Torah go?”
Commentary on Shabbos 89a

This is midrash and as such, it’s not a good idea to try to take it literally, but perhaps there is something we can learn here. If we indeed have an Adversary who seeks to divert us from a life of holiness and an awareness of God and if this Adversary has the ability to succeed in his task, then how is a life of holiness possible at all?

Maharsha responds that…

Satan realized that the Torah was going to be given to Moshe. However, due to its extreme holiness and spiritual nature, Satan was certain that this was valid only as long as Moshe remained in the heavens. It did not seem possible that the Torah had any purpose in being taken to earth, to be shared with men who are made up of physical elements. When Moshe took the Torah to the Jews, Satan was shocked, and he asked, “What happened to the Torah? How could it be fitting for man to have?”

The truth is, though, that the purpose of Torah is indeed for man to have.

There are certain voices in Judaism who believe the Torah is far more than a document; a scroll with words that communicate information. They see the Torah as having a life of its own, it is wisdom and it is also part of God and thus it is the embodiment of God. Interestingly enough, Christianity’s perception of “the Word” is not far from this.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. Everything was made to exist through him, and nothing that was made to exist was made to exist except by him.

John 1:1-3 (DHE Gospels)

But of course, there’s more.

The word was made flesh and dwelled in our midst. We have beheld his glory, like the glory of a father’s only son, great in kindness and truth.

John 1:14 (DHE Gospels)

The Bible exists between two “bookends,” between two instances wherein we see God dwelling among His people. In Genesis, we see that He walked in the Garden with man and in Revelation, we see God once more among those who love Him. And in between, the Torah was brought to earth by an emissary of God and given to men, both as the Torah from Sinai and the Word made flesh in Israel.

While midrash may ponder how the Adversary could allow the Torah to be brought down from Heaven to become accessible to man, the Bible tells us that he challenged such an action in the days of the second temple.

Then the spirit carried Yeshua into the wilderness so that the satan could test him.

Matthew 4:1 (DHE Gospels .. see Matthew 4:1-11 for more)

everlastingBut testing isn’t the same thing as stopping or preventing or defeating. As the midrash says…

The goal of the Torah is that it be studied and applied by man, in order for him to incorporate it into his unique blend of being made up of both physical and spiritual aspects.

And as told to us by John…

And from his fullness we all have received kindness upon kindness. For the Torah was given by Mosheh and the kindness and truth came through Yeshua the Mashiach. No one has ever seen God; the only son who is in the Father’s lap has made him known.

John 1:16-18 (DHE Gospels)

God has always desired to dwell among His special creation; among humanity. He has done so before, however briefly, and He will do so again in eternity. He has sent His messengers and His emissaries to us to give us gifts of Himself, the Torah of Moses and the Mashiach, the Christ. The means to know God and to be with God are within our grasp. As the sages say, the Torah is not in Heaven. As the Apostles of the Messiah say, the Spirit of God is with us in our hearts.

Blessings to you and all who are yours, and blessed be God who so loved the whole world that he gave us His only son.

Amen.

Living in the Echo of Genesis

And Hashem God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin, and He clothed them.Genesis 3:21 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Not only did God Himself make them comfortable garments, He Himself clothed them to show that He sill loved them, despite their sin. -R’Bachya

If Judaism had relied exclusively on the human resources for the good, on man’s ability to fulfill what God demands, on man’s power to achieve redemption, why did it insist upon the promise of messianic redemption? Indeed, messianism implies that any course of living, even the supreme human efforts, must fail in redeeming the world. It implies that history for all its relevance is not sufficient to itself.

There are two problems: the particular sins, the examples of breaking the law, and the general and radical problem of “the evil drive” in man. The law deals with the first problem: obedience to the law prevents evil deeds. Yet, the problem of the evil drive is not solved by observance. The prophets answer was eschatological…”Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, and I will form a covenant with the house of Israel…not like the covenant that I formed with their forefathers…I will place My law in their midst and I will inscribe it upon their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:30-33). “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you and bring it about that you will walk in My statutes and you will keep My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism (p. 379)

Creation, existence, devotion, obedience, sin, failure, humiliating shame, but still love.

The story of Genesis is the story of humanity. We are born into the universe and spend our lives trying to understand who we are and why we exist, and then we attempt to live up to what we believe is the purpose of our lives. Those us who have an awareness of God and a faith in our Creator strive to connect to the object of our faith and to join with Him in creating acts of holiness in the world around us.

I acknowledge You, for I am awesomely, wondrously fashioned; wondrous are Your works, and my soul knows it well. My frame was not hidden from You; that which I was made in concealment, which I was knit together in the lowest parts of the earth. –Psalm 139:14-15 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

But we fail, not all the time, but often. How like Adam and Eve we sometimes feel shame and stand naked and exposed in our transgressions against Him.

But love and the struggle to continue in the face of our failures for the sake of Heaven is also the story of Genesis.

Man’s ability to transcend the self, to rise above all natural ties and bonds, presupposes further that every man lives in a realm governed by law and necessity as well as in a realm of creative possibilities. It presupposes his belonging to a dimension that is higher in nature, society, and the self, and accepts the reality of such a dimension beyond the natural order. Freedom does not mean the right to live as we please. It means the power to live spiritually, to rise to a higher level of existence…Freedom is an act of self-engagement of the spirit, a spiritual event. -Heschel p. 411

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. –Galatians 5:1

The irony in Paul’s words is in how the church has misunderstood them to believe that the Torah was slavery and that grace and “lawlessness” was the only freedom. In fact, we are declared free the first moment we touch the hem of the garment of God and acknowledge that we are not chained to the laws of an earthly existence. In the spiritual person’s freedom, we escape the shackles that secular man rattles proudly in our faces as evidence of his emancipation from “religion”.

Religion becomes sinful when it begins to advocate the segregation of God, to forget that the true sanctuary has no walls. -Heschel p. 414

The mysterious forbidden fruit and the deceit of the serpent are failure, sin, and slavery, but God’s love for us and our bond with Him are our continued freedom. For Christians and Jews and Muslims and all the other traditions struggling to understand the nature of man and God, even “religion” can become a barrier when it becomes an idol in our lives and a greater force than God Himself. For Jews, Heschel (p. 415) says something even more startling.

Even the laws of the Torah are not absolutes.

Only God is absolute and the Torah, the mitzvah, the prayers, all of them exist as the interface by which we connect with God to perform His will, but like the stars in Heaven and the great seas, they are creations, not the Creator.

The ultimate concept in Greek philosophy is the idea of cosmos, of order; the first teaching in the Bible is the idea of creation. Translated into eternal principles, cosmos means fate, while creation means freedom…The essential meaning of creation is, as Maimonidies explained, the idea that the universe did not come about by necessity but as a result of freedom. -Heschel pp.411-12

Under heavenChristianity, in depending on the Greek philosophy imposed on church’s understanding of the New Testament due the original language of the text, accidently or perhaps deliberately filters out the Jewish meaning of the teachings and wonder of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul said in Galatians 5, we are not possessed by God nor owned by the Master, though our Master he is, but we are free of the weight of human frailty and sin. We are free to allow ourselves to be clothed in not only righteousness but in the performance of the mitzvah, joining as humble partners with God in the task of repairing the world and preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah.

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!” –John 12:12

As the people in Jerusalem spread palm branches in the road, paving the way for the entry of Christ, so by our faith and our deeds do we pave the road for his return, in triumph, glory, and splendor, for as sin has made man a slave on earth, the King of Kings will break our bonds and we shall be free under his reign and under God.

Hashem, what is man that You recognize him; the son of frail human that You reckon with him? –Psalm 144:3 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

We must continue to ask: what is man that God should care for him? And we must continue to remember that it is precisely God’s care for man that constitutes the greatness of man. To be is to stand for, and what man stands for is the great mystery of being His partner. God is in need of man. -Heschel p. 413

After the failure at Eden, we continue to ask ourselves why God loves us. We try and comprehend beyond our own small ability to reason, that God’s love is boundless and timeless and does not depend on our ability to adequately love Him, for we have no such power. In our weakness, He is strong and gives us strength to love an unknowable God. However, we must grasp onto that strength, lest we fail and fall away.

Man’s survival depends on the conviction that there is something that is worth the price of living. -Heschel p. 422

This is especially true of the Jewish people, but it is no less true for the rest of us.

In trying to understand Jewish existence a Jewish philosopher must look for agreement with the men of Sinai as well as the people of Auschwitz. -Heschel p. 421

We must cling to our God as tightly as possible for only in that attachment may we remain nourished in His love and find our way along the path. Only with God can we survive the failure of humanity and achieve the glory for which we were truly created, both for the Jew and the Gentile.

Israel is the tree, we are the leaves. It is the clinging to the stem that keeps us alive. -Heschel p.424

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. –John 15:5

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. –Romans 11:17-22

ForgivenessThe antidote to the cruelty of this broken world is kindness and love, not just to those who are kind and loving to us, but to everyone, because God loves everyone, the sinner and the saint alike, with equal passion and devotion, for we are all devoted sons and daughters but we are also prodigals and wayward.

We cannot hate what God loves. Rabbi Aaron the Great used to say: “I wish I could love the greatest saint as the Lord loves the greatest rascal.” -Heschel p. 424

Both Christians and Jews await the return of the Messiah and the hope of the world to come, though each tradition denies the validity of the other’s interpretation. God is God and He is One, in spite of how we misunderstand and misconstrue. A Christian waits for the end of Revelation and a Jew waits for this and remembers.

We remember the beginning and believe in the end. We live between two historic poles; Sinai and the Kingdom of God. -Heschel p. 426

A person of faith is caught between two realities; the one we live in now and the one we hope for, when God will reign and tears and dread are banished forever. We cannot ignore one for the other. We cannot live in the present without the hope of the future, but we cannot look at the end of the tale without realizing that it will never occur unless we work with God here and now to bring the Moshiach. We live in the echo of Genesis while awaiting the sound of the final Shofar of Messiah. In between, we have palm branches to gather in order to prepare his way.

Drawing Near

Kohen GadolThe name of this week’s Torah reading, Korach, provokes an obvious question: It is written: “The name of the wicked shall rot,” and on this basis, our Sages state that a person should not be named after a wicked man. Why then is an entire Torah reading named Korach? For with this title, Korach’s identity is perpetuated forever, since the Torah is eternal.

Among the explanations given is that Korach’s desire was, in essence, positive. Korach wanted to be a High Priest, to experience the absolute closeness with G-d that results from entry into the Holy of Holies. Indeed, when Moshe responded to Korach, he did not tell him this objective was unworthy. On the contrary, as Rashi relates, Moshe said he shared the same desire; he also wanted to be a High Priest.

Moreover, at Mount Sinai, G-d told the Jewish people that they are “a kingdom of priests,” and our Rabbis interpret this to refer to the level attained by a High Priest.

Rabbi Eli Touger
In the Garden of Torah
“Korach’s Positive Import”
Chabad.org

A third gentile wanted to convert so he could become the High Priest, and wear the Priestly garments. Shammai said no, but Hillel accepted him. After studying, he realized that even David, the King of Israel, did not qualify as a cohen, not being a descendant of Aaron…Hillel’s welcoming personality complements his saying: “Love people and bring them close to Torah.” (Avoth 1).

from -Hillel, Shammai and the Three Converts
Saratogachabad.com
citing Shabbos 31

“My job is not to distance anyone, but to draw them closer. If a person needs to be rebuked, let someone else take care of that.”

-from a letter of the Rebbe
quoted by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Bringing Closer”
Chabad.org

I write a lot about praying, about reading Talmud, Chasidic stories, the Bible; and I write a lot about living out the life that God gave us, not just praying, reading, and studying. But what’s the point? Why do we do this? Why do I do this?

Why did the convert in the story about Hillel want to be a High Priest?

The motives are all the same. We want to draw closer to God. Even Korach, the subject of this week’s Torah Portion is said to have had good motives, though a bad way of expressing them. We all want to draw closer to God.

But what does that mean? I’m not sure anyone really knows.

What would we do if we were really close to God? You probably think you know the answer. You probably think it would the the most wonderful, peaceful, loving experience of your entire life. But do you know what you’re really asking for?

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” –Exodus 20:18-20

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. –Revelation 1:17-18

Do not be afraid? Are you crazy? who wouldn’t be afraid?

Sure, Abraham spoke with God “face-to-face” and Moses talked with God at the top of Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights, but that was Abraham and Moses. The Bible doesn’t relate tales of every one who encounters God having a perfectly comfortable and casual conversation and in fact, in the two scriptures from which I just quoted, we see that the more typical response of a meeting with the Divine was to expect to die in the next second or two. Why do we want to get closer to God?

We think we want to get closer to God when we imagine God is some sort of “cosmic teddy bear” who is all comfy and cozy and we can sit on His lap like kids telling Santa Claus what we want for Christmas. But it doesn’t work that way as we’ve seen in abundant measure. So why do we want to grow closer to God, abandoning all common sense and reason, desiring to have such an intimate and terrifying experience?

In Jewish mysticism, it’s believed that we contain a spark of the Divine; something of God, within each of us. That spark is always striving to return to the source. It’s like trying to hold a beach ball underwater in a swimming pool; the more you try to drive it downward, the more it pushes back toward the surface. The more darkness we pour into our being, the more sorrow and sin we find in the world, the more the Holy fire within us seeks out the conflagration of God.

From this life and light proceeds the divine “spark” which is hidden in every soul. Not all men succeed in rising to this close union with God at prayer, because this spark is imprisoned in them. “Yea, even the Shechinah herself is imprisoned in us, for the spark is the Shechinah in our souls.

-Paul Philip Levertoff
Love and the Messianic Age

Ezekiel's VisionIn yesterday’s morning meditation, I said that meeting God requires our “time, effort, and an unquenchable need to learn“. It’s that unquenchable, insatiable, unstoppable drive; like a spark seeking the fire, that pushes us forward, over the edge of the abyss, sometimes without our conscious will, pressing us across the threshold from our familiar world into the Presence of the Throne of God. This is what drives mystics to leave the universe and seek higher Heavens in vision and in spirit. This is what we see in the Merkabah or the Ezekiel’s chariot event and this is what John experienced in the vision he recorded in Revelation. Daniel’s visions all but drove him insane.

Most of us won’t have such intense encounters with God, but we seek something of Him nonetheless. It’s why we pray. It’s way we read the Bible. It’s why we study Talmud and Kabbalah. It’s why, night after night, we seek Him in our dreams and day after day, we call to Him to be with us along our way.

You shall teach them diligently to your children and you shall speak of them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire, and when you arise. –Deuteronomy 6:7

This small portion of the Shema is part of what Jesus taught as one of the two greatest commandments; the commandments that are the “containers” for all of the Torah and the Prophets. Perhaps this is a clue telling us how we draw closer to God.

We know that Korach’s intentions were good, but intentions are not nearly as meaningful as the actions we take. His actions ultimately cost the lives of over 14,000 people. And while the actions of the convert who approached Hillel with the desire to become High Priest didn’t result in tragedy, he still was given the opportunity to learn a hard lesson in what it means to draw nearer to God.

Interestingly, the letter from the Rebbe quoted by Rabbi Freeman seems to speak somewhat of Hillel who, unlike his contemporary Shammai, did not rebuke the foolishness of the three converts but rather, welcomed them and gave them the time and the room to discover their mistakes. We make our own mistakes in trying to draw nearer to God. A lot of the errors we make have to do with arrogant presumption and the idea that the life, death, and life of Jesus Christ turned God the Father from a horrible, vengeful creature into everybody’s favorite uncle. Fortunately, God, like Hillel, gives us time and room to discover our errors.

It’s in our sincere attempts to encounter God that we actually discover when we’re walking the wrong path. Like Moses who saw only God’s “back” but not His “face”, when we’re ready, we realize just how vast and overwhelming even a momentary glimpse of God’s awesome glory is when it breaks into our world. However, to meet with God, we must make our humble efforts to seek Him out, in the pages of the Bible, in the halls of study, in the realms of prayer…and then we must wait.

From a mystic perspective, it is explained that Korach’s desires reflected the spiritual heights to be reached in the Era of the Redemption…The rewards of that age cannot, however, be attained prematurely, but only as a result of our Divine service. It is only through our selfless devotion to the Torah of Moshe and the directives of “the extension of Moshe in every generation” the Torah leaders of our people that we can elevate ourselves and the world to the point that “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d.”

-Rabbi Touger

Good Shabbos.