Tag Archives: salvation

A Walk to Redemption

WalkingThe chassidic community in Poland was in a state of shock. The great chassidic master Rabbi Moshe of Lelov had decided to ascend to the Holy Land and settle there. How could they possibly go on without his leadership?

To his closest disciples the rebbe revealed that when he was a small boy, his father, Rabbi David of Lelov, had said to him: “I did not merit to see the Holy Land, but you must go there. Through your divine service which you will perform there, you will succeed in bringing Moshiach sooner, and hastening the Redemption.”

-Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles
“The Shattered Goblet”
Chabad.org

Last spring, after Shavuot, I wrote a two-part meditation called “Redeeming the Heart of Israel,” Part 1 and Part 2. I received a certain amount of criticism because I was perceived as somehow elevating Israel and the Jewish people above the non-Jewish believer in the Messiah. While the church is slowly moving away from its stance of supersessionism (I know, I used that word, again) and anti-Israel/anti-Jewish beliefs, it is still difficult for many Christians to take Paul at his word and believe that “all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26)

Part of the problem is understanding what redemption means. From a traditional Christian point of view, individuals are redeemed; we are saved by our faith in Jesus Christ, which generally means, when we die, we go to Heaven. All seems so nice and simple and reassuring. But that’s generally not how Jews see the concept of redemption and the coming of Messiah. As we see from Rabbi Tilles’ story, it is clear that the coming of the Messiah is closely coupled with the redemption of national Israel, not necessarily focused on each individual’s redemption (although this too is important). However, the Jewish point of view is often criticized by Christians as extra-Biblical and thus invalid.

But is this actually true or did Christ’s own disciples believe he was supposed to accomplish Israel’s national redemption?

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)

I’ve mentioned all this before, but I don’t know if anyone is taking the message seriously. I’m not trying to “undo” or contradict the doctrine of personal salvation through Jesus Christ, but to illustrate that one of the things he will do upon his return, that was expected the first time he was here but not accomplished, is to restore Israel as a nation to a state of rule over the earth, and return the Jewish people to their Land and heritage in glory and honor.

That’s the part some Christians, including some of those in the Hebrew Roots movement, have a problem with. The “inequality” among the body of believers in the form of salvation coming from the Jews. (John 4:22) Traditional Christianity has historically taught (and thankfully, this is changing) that the church has replaced the Jews in all of the covenant promises, and that Jesus killed the Torah in the process. Hebrew Roots maintains that the Torah still lives, but that the distinctions between Jew and (Christian) Gentile have been totally eliminated and there is only one new identity before God, the “Messianic” identity, despite the fact that God has promised to be a God to the Jewish people forever, to return them to their Land, and to establish Israel as the head of all the nations (i.e. the rest of us).

If you read all of Rabbi Tilles’ tale, you’ll see that sadly, Rabbi Moshe of Lelov never accomplished his mission to reach the Kotel and summon the Moshiach. It is believed that this occurred because the time for the Moshiach’s arrival had not yet come. While Christianity doesn’t believe we can do anything to hasten the return of Jesus, Jews believe by performing acts of tikkun olam or “repairing the world,” that we all, Jews and Gentiles alike, can take part in bringing the time of his coming (or return) just a little bit closer.

In the face of everything I’ve just said, we Christians have a couple of choices. We can accept that the Bible is telling us that we are dependent on the Jews for our salvation through the Jewish Messiah and our covenant relationship with the God of Israel, or we can ignore those parts of the Bible that present this information and focus on either the traditional church doctrine of supersession, or one of the variants being created in minority movements within larger Christianity (which includes Hebrew Roots in general and it’s subgroups such as One Law, which indeed is a Christianity and not a “Judaism”).

Probably the most lively debate on this topic currently happening (though it seems to be winding down) in the blogosphere is on Gene Shlomovich’s blog. I’m actually learning a great deal from a few of the individuals posting (and I may mine some of those comments and pull them together for a future “meditation”), mixed in with the more expected objections to Jewish “choseness” within the Messianic body. But I struggle to remember a lesson that I very recently wrote discouraging the acceptance of someone else’s “gift” of their own anger and hostility, which is not an easy task on the web, but one that is absolutely necessary if we are to truly call ourselves disciples of our Master.

We see in the early chapters of Acts that the community of disciples of Jesus Christ were all Jewish and that, upon accepting the Spirit and declaring their discipleship, the Jews did not deviate in any way from being Jewish. In fact, in the Torah Club commentary I’m reading this week, the early Jewish disciples are referred to as “The Temple Sect.”

Contrary to popular assumptions, the disciples did not teach against the Temple or the Levitical worship system. If the gospel did cancel the Torah and the Levitical worship system, the apostolic community in Jerusalem seems to have been ignorant about the change. They continued to revere the Temple and participate in its services throughout their lives.

The disciples of Yeshua revered the Temple because their Master revered it. He regarded the Temple as his “Father’s house.” As a boy, Yeshua was reluctant to leave the Temple courts. As an adult, He was found in the Temple teaching and attending the festival services. He spent the last days of His life, prior to his crucifixion, in the Temple. He prophesied its coming destruction only with sorrow and weeping…

After the ascension, his disciples “were continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:53). They were likely in the Temple when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost. Aftr that, they remained day by day in the Temple together.

As I continue my study of the book of Acts in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Torah Club, I hope to find that my perceptions are becoming clearer on these points, including what redemption truly means for Israel and the nations, and where we all stand, Jews and non-Jews, as brothers and sisters in the Messiah.

In my Days series, I’ve been recording my plans to return to more traditional Christian fellowship, in part to reconcile on some level with the larger body of Gentile believers. I don’t know how successful I will be, but I’ve been challenged to trust God more than I have in the past. Hopefully, the ground will remain firm rather than falling out from under me.

Walter Donovan (Julian Glover): As you can now see, Dr. Jones, we are on the verge of completing a quest that began almost two thousand years ago. We’re just one step away.

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford): That’s usually when the ground falls out from underneath your feet.

from the film
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Hopefully and with God’s grace, my journey toward reconciliation and redemption will also have a “happy ending.”

Advertisements

Sukkot and Simchat Torah: Abundant Life

Without Torah it is impossible for an individual to say that his life is full of things that cause him to offer G-d thanks; even if he enjoys mostly good times, he still cannot consider himself to be vitally alive, as most of a person’s time is occupied with food, drink and sleep, earning a living, etc.

A Jew, however, is inextricably bound to the “Torah of life,” and is therefore able to imbue all that he does with life; even while engaged in mundane affairs he cleaves to G-d by remembering that “All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven,” and “In all your ways shall you know Him.” (Mishlei 3:6; Tur and Shulchan Aruch , Orach Chayim 231.)

The result? “And you who cleave to the L-rd your G-d are entirely alive ,” (Devarim 4:4.) every moment of every day. Thus a person can and must thank G-d for granting him life and enabling him to reach this occasion.

“Shehecheyanu for Torah”
from “The Chassidic Dimension” series
Lesson for Berachah and Simchas Torah
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I periodically encounter some Jewish teachings and commentaries that apparently elevate the Jewish people at the expense of everyone else in the world. That is, it seems as if, at least in some corners of Judaism, that Jews see themselves as more spiritually elevated than Gentiles, regardless of any particular Gentile’s religious tradition, including Christianity. At first blush, this seems to smack of elitism if not downright bigotry, but we should remember that through the vast majority of Jewish history, at one time or another, most of the non-Jewish nations have tried to evict, enslave, or exterminate the Jews, in part, because of their “choseness” by God as a people.

It is a fact that God did give the Torah to the Children of Israel and it has been passed down, generation by generation to their modern descendents, the Jewish people. Yes, there was a “mixed multitude” of Gentiles standing with the Israelites at Sinai who also agreed to the full conditions of the covenant, but within a few short generations, not one distinctly Gentile person remained among Israel according to the Biblical record. They had all been completely assimilated into larger Israel, and their descendants became indistinguishable from Israelites who were fully, genetically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So if we choose to believe that without the Torah, the full yoke of the 613 mitzvot, (or those two hundred and some that can be performed today, especially outside the Land of Israel) that life cannot be lived to the fullest, then are the Jews saying that we Gentiles do not truly live our lives full of all good things?

Perhaps, at least according to the Chassidic Dimension reading I quoted above. But that’s not the end of the story, particularly for Christians.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 14 (ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

John 5:24-29 (ESV)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:7-10 (ESV)

It appears that the Gospel of John, the most “mystic” of the Gospels, at least according to Paul Philip Levertoff, has a lot to say about the life we have in Jesus Christ. And if indeed the Master is “the Word made flesh” who lived among his people, and he thus commanded his Jewish disciples to pass on that Word and make disciples of the nations of the world, then although we do not possess the Torah as the Jews do; as the set of conditions they must fulfill as part of the Sinai covenant, we possess the essence; the life of “Torah” in our faith and our salvation. We possess life to the fullest and have it abundantly.

Can we not also consider ourselves now “vitally alive” as the Jewish people do? Does that life not cause us to cry out in thanks and joy to God for all of His love, gifts, and provisions, even at those moments when we may be suffering?

Yahrtzeit of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), founder of the Breslov chasidic movement. Rebbe Nachman lived in Poland and the Ukraine, where he inspired thousands of Jews to greater love of God. Though he suffered the loss of his son and wife, Rebbe Nachman said: “You may fall to the lowest depths, heaven forbid, but no matter how low you have fallen, it is still forbidden to give up hope.” A few of his most famous teachings are: “It’s a great mitzvah to always be happy,” and “All the world is a narrow bridge — but the main thing is not to be afraid” (now a popular Hebrew song, Kol Ha-Olam Kulo). Every year on Rosh Hashana, tens of thousands of Jews travel to Uman (Ukraine) to pray at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman.

Day in Jewish History, Tishei 18
Aish.com

A chassid once traveled to one of the Chabad rebbes. He related to the rebbe that his deceased teacher had appeared to him in a dream with a frightening message: it had been decreed in heaven that one of this chassid’s children would pass away that year.

The rebbe heard his words, sighed, and remained silent. A reaction that certainly did not bode well.

As it was shortly before the holiday of Sukkot, the chassid remained till after the holiday. When it was time for him to return home, he approached the rebbe for his blessing. The rebbe happily assured him that his family would be well.

“Besides,” the rebbe asked, “what special deed did you do on Simchat Torah?”

The chassid recounted how during the hakafot he was standing on the side crying when he remembered that, after all, it was Simchat Torah! He washed his face and joined the dancing, ignoring his dread.

“You should know,” the rebbe said, “this is what caused the change in your situation.”

-Rabbi Yossy Gordon
“The Power of Joy”
Commentary on Sukkot and Simchat Torah
Chabad.org

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”

Luke 20:37-38 (ESV)

We are called not just to abundant life but to joy through our salvation in Christ. The Jewish Messiah allows us to partake in the blessings of such a completely full life that even in our tears, when we allow ourselves to be completely aware of God and His Presence among us, within pain and grief, there is still the light of joy. We are alive, and even those who have passed on to the “long sleep” remain alive in Him.

the-joy-of-torahIt’s difficult to communicate to most Christians the sheer happiness and celebration that is attached to Sukkot and Simchat Torah unless they’ve actually participated in those events and let themselves be immersed in such joy. And yet, even if we don’t “get” these or any of the other Jewish festivals, we should get why they are celebrating. The reason they’re celebrating is the same reason we should be celebrating. God is with us. How can we not feel completely, intensely alive?

Before we came to God through Christ, we were dead in our sins, completely separated from our Creator and so numb spiritually, that we lacked the ability to even be aware of God. (see Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13) Now we are not only alive, but abundantly and exceedingly alive. We have life to the fullest. We have life that extends beyond the mere beating of our hearts. We are alive in God.

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

Good Shabbos and Chag Sameach.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 8: Abraham, Jews, and Christians

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV)

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

Galatians 3:15-16 (ESV)

For the past several installments of this series including Part 7, I’ve been focusing on aspects of the New Covenant, mainly because the little bits and pieces that relate to Christianity can only be tracked down in different parts of the New Testament. However, recent conversations have shown me that I should probably return to the foundation of my understanding for a bit to illustrate its solidity, or at least describe the trail of reasoning that I’m pursuing.

As you have probably guessed, it all goes back to Abraham and the covenant God announced to him in Genesis 12. But what exactly did God promise Abraham and what does it have to do with us, that is, with Christians?

Here’s my understanding:

  1. Genesis 12:1-3 – God promises to make Abraham into great nation, bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham.
  2. Genesis 15:18–21 – God promises to give Abraham’s descendants all the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, and this area is later referred to as the Promised Land or the Land of Israel.
  3. Genesis 17:2–9 – God promises to make Abraham a father of many nations and of many descendants and the land of Canaan as well as other parts of Middle East will go to his descendants.
  4. Genesis 17:9-14 – God declares that circumcision is to be the sign of the covenant for Abraham and all his male descendants and that this will be an eternal covenant.

This covenant is then reaffirmed to Isaac in Genesis 21:12, and again reaffirmed to Jacob in Genesis 26:3-4. (the New Covenant as recorded in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 affirms and expands upon this and the Mosaic covenant) God confirmed that the promise of the covenant is specifically for the descendants of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the Children of Israel, in many places in the Torah, not the least of which is in Deuteronomy 34:4 (ESV):

And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.”

As far as the land of Israel goes, there is no provision in the covenant to give it to anyone or any other people group besides the Children of Israel and their descendants forever, the Jewish people.

That takes care of the Land. But what about us?

We learn from Galatians 3:15-16 which I quoted above, that through Abraham’s seed, through his offspring (singular) we among the nations would be blessed. Paul declares that the offspring in question is specifically the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ. Our blessings that issue from the Abrahamic covenant are directly transferred to us through the Messiah.

So far, of the four items in the above-referenced list, only one of them seems to apply to Christians, the blessings of the Messiah.

What else do we know about the Messianic blessings in the Abrahamic covenant?

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. –Romans 4:9-12 (ESV)

We see that it was Abraham’s faith that was counted to him as righteousness, and this was before the sign of the covenant was placed upon Abraham. We too, the “uncircumcised” of the nations, are called “righteous” because of our faith. Thus Abraham Avinu is our father, according to Paul, not just the father of the Hebrews. No, that doesn’t mean we are Hebrew (Jewish) too, nor does it mean we inherit the total body of covenant blessings and responsibilities that are incumbent upon the Jews, but it does make us connected to Abraham as the father of our faith, and through his covenant and the Messiah, with God.

This is kind of a delicate trail to negotiate, and we have to be careful that we don’t slip off the path and fall into erroneous thinking. The promise of the Land, and I believe the other specific promises, including the covenantal sign of circumcision, are for the physical descendants of Abraham and of Isaac, and of Jacob. That’s not the rest of us. That’s just the Jewish people.

In other words, all of the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant, including the blessings of the Messiah, flow to the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The single blessing that we can be attached to through the Messiah is attached to Abraham alone, as he was before his circumcision, as he was before Isaac; a man of faith and righteousness before God.

That’s the split, the demarcation line between Christian and Jew, the slender thread of “covenanthood” by which we Gentile Christians are connected to Abraham, the Abrahamic covenant, and thus, to God.

So what do we get out of it? Well, first of all, a cautionary tale:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Romans 11:17-24 (ESV)

Paul seems to be toggling back and forth between addressing the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. “You wild olive branches, you Gentiles,” Paul is saying. “Don’t get cocky just because you were grafted in. Remember, it’s the root that nourishes you, not the other way around. You think you are so hot just because a few Jews were knocked off the root to make room for you Gentiles? So what,” he might be saying. “If you fall away from the kindness of the Messiah, you can be knocked off and the Jews can be put back twice as fast!”

So to the Jews, don’t be arrogant to the Gentiles because they’re “newbies.” To the Gentiles, don’t be arrogant because some Jews were removed from the root to which you are now attached. Nothing is necessarily permanent. Anyone can be “ungrafted.”

That’s a terrific lesson for many non-Jewish believers to learn because, through one process or another, we have come to feel superior to the Jewish people who God, in the end, will reattach to the root, all of them. Remember, any of you out there who are not physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, (apart from legitimate converts to Judaism) don’t get cocky. God not only didn’t get rid of the Jews, it is through them that your salvation and covenant connection to God is established and nourished in the first place.

And for those of you who feel that being “grafted in” has whitewashed any physical and covenant distinctions between you and the “natural branches,” think again:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

Romans 3:1-8 (ESV)

Being Jewish is not beside the point just because we Gentiles have been grafted in. There remains much advantage to being Jewish. Even those Jews today who do not acknowledge Christ as Messiah are not permanently condemned as many Christians seem to believe. They are not discarded and cast aside.

Israel will be saved:

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 11:25-29 (ESV)

I’ve probably wandered from the strictly Abrahamic path, but with good purpose. The purpose is to illustrate that just because Jews and Christians share the Messianic blessings that are part of the wider Abrahamic covenant through faith, that does not mean we share all of the blessings attached to that covenant. Paul was extremely clear that there is a distinction between Jewish (native) and Gentile (wild) olive branches. They all didn’t “morph” into a single type of branch with no way to tell them apart.

Also, Paul was extremely clear that there were many advantages to being a Jew. Further, he said that even if some of the Jews were temporarily removed from the root for the sake of we Gentile Christians, in the end, God’s promises to the Jewish people are irrevocable; they cannot be revoked!

The really interesting thing about all of this is that a Christian must choose to become part of the covenant with God through Jesus and Christians can also “unchoose” Christianity for another religion or no religion at all. Not so with the Jewish people. If you are born a Jew, you are automatically born into the covenant (actually covenants, but I’m only talking about Abraham for the moment). God has temporarily turned His face away from His people Israel in the past, and He has temporarily exiled them in the past, but as “temporarily” implies, He always takes them back and He always will take them back.

In spite of the fact that this missive is longer than I intended, I didn’t get to say everything I could have said about Christianity and the Abrahamic covenant. Hopefully, I’ve said enough for now.

The Elusive Unchanging Dove

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Say to the Israelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Lord, [to last] seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations; seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations.

Those are the set times of the Lord that you shall celebrate as sacred occasions, bringing offerings by fire to the Lord — burnt offerings, meal offerings, sacrifices, and libations, on each day what is proper to it — apart from the sabbaths of the Lord, and apart from your gifts and from all your votive offerings and from all your freewill offerings that you give to the Lord.

Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord [to last] seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of the Lord for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.

So Moses declared to the Israelites the set times of the Lord.

Leviticus 23:33-44 (JPS Tanakh)

The Midrash teaches: “Just as a dove (yonah) is simple and accepts authority, the Jewish people accept God’s authority by ascending to Yerushalayim during the holiday. Just as a yonah is distinguished to its partner, who can tell it apart from other birds, Klal Yisrael are separated from the non-Jews by how they cut their hair, their fulfillment of milah and their care to wear tzitzis. The Jews comport themselves with modesty, like doves…Just as doves atone, Yisrael atones for the nations when they bring the sacrificial bulls for them during Sukkos.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Dove”
Kinnim 23

Wait a minute. Besides the part where it said “Klal Yisrael are separated from the non-Jews,” what did that say?

Just as doves atone, Yisrael atones for the nations when they bring the sacrificial bulls for them during Sukkos.

Yes, that’s what I thought it said.

I was reading this passage this morning (as I write this) and tried to recall exactly where in the Bible it says that the sacrifices of Sukkot were intended to atone for the nations of the earth. Naturally, my middle-aged memory being what it is, I couldn’t pull up the data, so I turned to my favorite research tool: Google. Turns out that the plain meaning of the text in the Torah regarding the Sukkot sacrifices doesn’t talk about atonement for the nations. But there’s always this:

These seventy oxen correspond to the original seventy nations of the world enumerated in the Torah who descended from the sons of Noah, and are the ancestors of all of the nations till this day. Israel brought these sacrifices as atonement for the nations of the world, and in prayer for their well-being; as well as for universal peace and harmony between them.

Thus our Sages taught, “You find that during the Festival [Succot], Israel offers seventy oxen for the seventy nations. Israel says: Master of the Universe, behold we offer You seventy oxen in their behalf, and they should have loved us. Instead, in the place of my love, they hate me (Psalms 109).”

G-d appointed Israel a kingdom of priests to atone for all these nations, and appointed Jerusalem a house of prayer for all the peoples…

We pray for the day when Israel will be fully restored to its land, rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and bring peace between G-d and man, and between all peoples. Amen.

-Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman
“The Significance of Succot Sacrifices”
15 October 2005/12 Tishri 5766
Ohr Somayach International

Here’s another look at the same picture:

The Talmud (BT Sukkah 55:B) teaches that the seventy bulls that were offered in the Holy Temple served as atonement for the seventy nations of the world. Truly, as the rabbis observed, “if the nations of the world had only known how much they needed the Temple, they would have surrounded it with armed fortresses to protect it” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1, 3).

-quoted from The Temple Institute website.

The irony involved in this commentary is that even though the nations hate Israel and destroyed her Holy Temple, still the Jewish people continue to pray for the peace and redemption of the nations.

Actually, we do find the number of bulls that are sacrificed during Sukkot is 70 in Numbers 29 starting at verse 12. There’s also another connection between the nations, Israel and celebration of the feast of Sukkot found in the books of the Prophets:

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar. And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day. –Zechariah 14:16-21 (ESV)

Sukkot is the only festival of the Jews when representatives of the nations of the world will be actually commanded to appear in Jerusalem to celebrate and, as you see, God desires this so much, that there will actually be penalties for nations refusing to be represented at this event in the days of the Messiah.

The Hebrew4Christians site adds a little more information to confirm this:

Prophetically, Sukkot anticipates the coming kingdom of Yeshua the Messiah wherein all the nations shall come up to Jerusalem to worship the LORD during the festival.

But that’s all in the future. What about now and especially, what about in ancient times? Has Israel been atoning for us all along and have we disastrously ended our own atonement before God by destroying the Temple and scattering the Jewish people throughout the earth?

I don’t know, but pondering all these thoughts did bring the following to mind:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” –John 4:22-26 (ESV)

I’m not necessarily drawing a direct connection between all of these points, but they are rather compelling. Consider this. In ancient times, during the Sukkot festival, it is thought that the Israelites sacrificed 70 bulls for the atonement of the nations of the world. In the Messianic Age to come, the nations are commanded to come up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot with Israel. And in his Sukkot commentary, Rabbi Ullman alludes to not only Zechariah 14 but this other prophetic word:

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” –Isaiah 56:6-7 (ESV)

Salvation for the nations comes from the Jews. It seems like our atonement in ancient days came from Israel and for those of us who are Christians, it continues to come from Israel even though the Temple in Jerusalem currently does not exist.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. –John 3:16-17 (ESV)

We from the nations cannot escape the great gift that Israel has continued to bestow upon us from days of old until this very time. God made Israel a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6) and that light has been allowed be spread from Israel and the Torah to the rest of us (Isaiah 2:2-4) so that we too can illuminate the world with that light (Matthew 5:14). But this is only possible because God sent the Jewish Messiah and King, our Master, to all of us. And this is only possible because the Messiah and Savior was as obedient as a dove (Matthew 3:16) and as silent as a lamb led to the slaughter (Jeremiah 11:19).

The Christian church hasn’t replaced Israel and we certainly haven’t merged into her so that Israel has ceased to be a people before her God. We among the nations are Israel’s beneficiaries. May we continue to bless the heart of Zion and her first born son, Jesus Christ, our Savior, King of the Jews.

That which can be grasped will change. That which does not change cannot be grasped.

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

Without mentioning it specifically, the Zohar sees great significance in the fact that the dove (and turtledove) is the only kind of bird permitted for sacrifice. In this way, the mysterious legendary dove with an olive leaf in its mouth becomes a representation of King Messiah…

-Tsvi Sadan
Yonah – Dove, pg 113
The Concealed Light: Names of Messiah in Jewish Sources

He is the elusive, unchanging dove.