Tag Archives: shabbat

The Shabbat That Was

O Lord of Legions, God of Israel, you created the world by your word, and you separated the Sabbath as a memorial; for on it you ceased from your work in order to meditate on the words of your Torah. For the Sabbath is a rest from creation, a completion of the world, a seeking of words of Torah, an expression of praise to God, to thank him for what he has given to mankind. Blessed are you O Lord, who sanctifies the Sabbath.

Kiddush for Shabbat, p.17
from The Sabbath Table Prayer Book

If you’re familiar with the kiddush blessings, then you probably noticed this is a deviation from what is normally said. This particular blessing is the alternate wording recommended for Messianic Gentiles in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shabbat siddur and was part of my Erev Shabbat devotions last Friday evening.

But as the hours of my preparations finally reached fruition and I lit the Shabbos candles and offered the traditional blessings and praises to Hashem and welcomed the Shabbat Queen into my home, I was also undergoing an educational and hopefully a transformational experience.

But why would a Gentile believer observe the Shabbat and in fact, why should a Gentile believer observe Shabbos? After all, it’s the sign of the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. What does that have to do with us, the rest of humanity, when the covenant specifically set Israel apart as Holy from all the other nations of the world?

And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you. You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.

Exodus 31:12-17 (JPS Tanakh)

As the sign of the Sinai covenant, it would seem that only Israel, that is the Jewish people, should partake in observing the Shabbat, but there’s also acknowledgement of God as Creator in a seventh day rest. Even Hashem, Master of Creation, rested on the Sabbath day, according to midrash to contemplate His Torah. Since all of Creation, every living thing, was produced by the Word of God, and since all mankind was and is created in the Image of God, then there is sufficient precedence, in my opinion, to at least allow if not obligate “all flesh” to cease in our labors and on the seventh day, to bring honor, majesty, and glory to our Creator.

But there’s more. According to Kabbalistic tradition (see Zohar, Vayera 119a), each of the seven days of the week maps to the seven days of creation and they map to the seven millennia of creation. The Shabbat day then, corresponds to the seventh millennium which is thought of as the universal age of rest, the Messianic Era.

This was also mentioned in two of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series: Enter My Rest and A Sabbath Rest Remains.

As part of my review of the latter sermon, I said:

The Sages liken the Shabbat to the Kingdom of Heaven and the World to Come. It’s as if the days of the week and Shabbat represent the different ages of creation with the seventh day, the end of time, being a grand, millennial Shabbat, an age of great rest, and our weekly Sabbaths are merely a periodic reminder, down payment, or foretaste of that ultimate rest in Moshiach.

This seems to resolve Lancaster’s mystery or cliffhanger, but in fact, he states that it was a trick question. Since the Messianic Age is future oriented, then Hebrews 3 and 4 are not only a rendition of history but prophetic. It may surprise you to realize that all of the prophesies in the Bible have to do with Israel and Jerusalem and for all prophesies to be fulfilled, there must be an Israel and Jerusalem. No Israel, no fulfillment of prophesy.

So a literal Sabbath, a literal Land of Israel, and the Messianic Age to Come all figure into God’s rest and the object of Lancaster’s sermon for the past couple of weeks.

Tree of LifeSo not only in Jewish mystical tradition but from the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Apostolic Scriptures, we see that there is direct linkage between the seventh day Shabbat and the prophesy of the Messianic Kingdom to come, a Kingdom upon which we all put our hope.

So we Gentiles in Messiah have two reasons for looking to Shabbat as also something we can participate in: to acknowledge God as Creator and as a foretaste of the Messianic Era to come, when our King Messiah, Yeshua our Master, will usher in an age of unparalleled peace, justice, and mercy, the age of the resurrection, and a bringing to completion of the New Covenant promises when we will all know God!

But the era of Messiah is yet to come although he has already opened the door a crack, so to speak.

It was a lonely Erev Shabbat. I skipped over the blessings for the children and the Woman of Valor for obvious reasons. It seemed like an interminable wait until 5:01 p.m. (candle lighting for my little corner of the world) on Friday, but once it arrived, everything went much too quickly. Even after the blessings and the meal, I think there was still some last moments of light in the sky. If this had been a meal in community or among family, there’d have been a lot more activity and sharing, but in the end, there was only me and God. But it was sufficient.

On Saturday, I did what I always do, well, sort of. I studied from A Daily Dose of Torah for Shabbos, read the Torah portion, Haftarah, and the associated readings from the Psalms and the Gospels. Then I studied the commentary for the Torah portion from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Growth Through Torah.

And I learned why Gentiles benefit from observing a Shabbat rest and from Torah study.

The quality of one’s life is not dependent on external situations. There are people whose lives seem to run quite smoothly. Nevertheless, they tend to evaluate minor frustrations as tragedies and therefore view their lives in negative terms. The Torah ideal is to be aware that the purpose of your life is to perfect your character and every life situation is an opportunity for growth.

This lesson is most important for us to internalize. See the growth possible in every life event. In each difficult situation ask yourself, “How can I become a better person because of what happened?”

-R. Pliskin
Commentary for Chayai Sarah
“See the good in every life situation,” p.52-3

I periodically encounter people (mostly online these days) who believe that only they obey God’s Torah perfectly as they completely reject the so-called “traditions of men,” or the Rabbinic commentary on and interpretation of the mitzvot. Unfortunately, this reduces the commandments of God to a lengthy but simple list of “do this” and “don’t do that” with no colors, nuances, or wonder. It’s like a child doing what his or her father commands, let’s say not running into the street, not because the child comprehends the intrinsic danger involved and perceives the value of life, but simply because they were told to.

The study of Torah is an exploration into the self, a journey of discovery and wonder as we investigate what it is, as an individual human being, to be a creation of God and indeed, to be made in His unique and marvelous Image. The Torah tells a story that involves each one of us, but not in identical ways. What I discover about myself in the light of Torah will be different from what another person discovers. What a Gentile finds revealed in his or her soul by Torah study and the Shabbat rest will be different from what a Jew unveils about his or her character.

Like it or not, God created each of us as individual and unique persons. No two of us are alike but that hardly means that, as individuals, we are excluded from community. Even though we are individuals and are distinct from one another, we also have commonality and based on that, we form groups and collective associations; assemblies, if you will.

For a non-Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah to observe the Shabbat in some fashion, and to study the Torah of Moses, the Writings, the Prophets, and the Apostolic Scriptures, unites us with our Jewish counterparts in the ekklesia of our Master, Messiah Yeshua. It doesn’t make us “cookie-cutter clones” of one another, but lacking absolute uniformity doesn’t automatically lead to division and isolation, anymore than my being a man and my wife being a woman means we have nothing in common and cannot be a family together.

In my own case, the fact that I’m a non-Jewish man married to a Jewish woman and the father of three Jewish children adds a dimension in Torah study and the Shabbat that only increases my understanding of both the commonality and distinctiveness between Gentile and Jew. The irony here is, in terms of the Shabbat, I could only make that discovery while spending a week apart from my Jewish family.

PrayingBut though I lacked, I also gained in abundance.

I said the Shacharit for Shabbat for the first time in a long time, and even donned my old kippah for the occasion, davening from my aging Artscroll Sefard Siddur (making some minor wording adjustments as necessary). I was reminded of the beauty of the prayers, particularly on Shabbat, including the blessings recited just before the Shema:

Our Father, merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us, instill understanding in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform, and fulfill all the words of your Torah’s teaching with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and revere Your Name, so that we may not feel inner shame nor be humiliated, nor stumble for all eternity. Because we have trusted in Your great, mighty and awesome Holy Name, may we exult and rejoice in Your salvation.

I believe those words can apply equally well when said by a Gentile as by a Jew with the understanding that what we are to understand, what we are to hear, to learn, to teach, to safeguard, to perform, to fulfill, is what has been set before each of us as our portion.

When a Gentile observes the Shabbat, when a Gentile studies Torah, it’s not a matter of rote imitation of Jewish tradition and ritual or worse, it’s not with the idea that Gentiles can “do it better” than Jews because only we know how to obey scripture without the “interference” of the Jewish sages and their “man-made laws,” arrogantly setting ourselves up as having superior knowledge of Torah and the commandments.

The Shabbat and the Torah provides a fourfold blessing for everyone but particularly for the Gentile believer. In these practices, we join with God in praising Him as our Creator. We also experience a foretaste of the future Age of Messiah in which we will have blessings and peace in abundance, as if every day was a Shabbat. Even studying alone or observing Shabbat individually, in praising God and saying the blessings, we are joined in Spirit with all those Jews and Gentiles who also adore Hashem and cleave to the hope of Messiah. Finally, the Shabbat and Torah reveals who we are as individuals, our unique identity that God assigned each and every one of us, and our individual and special role as servants of Messiah, may he come soon and in our day.

Lessons in Spirituality and Righteousness

This week I wish to share with you some thoughts about Spirituality. Spirituality is feeling the presence of the Almighty. Feeling this connection to the Almighty is the greatest pleasure a person can know. It is the pleasure we feel when seeing a magnificent sunset, looking from a mountaintop over the beauty of the Almighty’s creation — or seeing your newborn baby for the first time.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from Shabbat Shalom Weekly for
Torah Portion Chayei Sarah
Aish.com

These words were spoken by a well-known contemporary of Jesus, Rabbi Hillel, into which Jesus often engaged in discussion or controversy. However, on this particular subject, I am assuming that there would have been none. The statement is found in Chapter 2, Mishnah 5 when he said that an ignoramus or an uneducated person cannot be righteous. Nor can the bashful person learn (he is too shy to ask questions). Nor can the hot-tempered man teach. Nor can one who occupies himself over much in business grow wise (as he would have no time to study). And, in a place where there are no competent men strive to be a competent person.

A boor cannot be sin-fearing, an ignoramus cannot be pious, a bashful one cannot learn, a short-tempered person cannot teach, nor does anyone who does much business grow wise. In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.

So why would Hillel, some two thousand years ago, declare that an uneducated person cannot be a righteous person?

-Roy B. Blizzard
from Passages in Translation: Pirkei Avot Chapter 2, Mishnah 5
BibleScholars.org

Two seemingly random quotes from distant sources speaking of spirituality and righteousness. Taking them in isolation, it would seem that anyone capable of feeling awe at the works of the Almighty can experience spirituality, but only an educated person can be righteous. Hardly seems fair, does it?

Maybe Rabbi Packouz makes the connection:

How does one develop spirituality? First, learn Torah. How many times have you heard people say, “I just love John Grisham … or Hemingway … or Dickens? But they never met those authors! However, they read their books and intuitively love the author for his writings. Ergo … read the Torah and love the Almighty!

The doorway to spirituality and righteousness is knowing God by studying Torah, and in this instance, I’m going to include the entire Bible as “Torah”.

But apparently, we have a problem as Dr. Blizzard notes:

The answer is that Hillel did not mean that the uneducated lack the desire to do good. It’s just that right actions require knowledge and people lacking knowledge will often not know the proper way to behave.

The point is that study is the key. And, basically, it has been and is being neglected in Christendom. The great Jewish scholar Maimonides taught in the Mishneh Torah written in the 12th century, until what period in life ought one to study Torah? His answer was “until the day of one’s death.”

God’s people should never use the feeble excuse, “well, we just don’t have time”. If God is the most important thing in your life and the Bible is His Word, one can only conclude that you need to make time!

He also cites this:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB)

While study is thoroughly ingrained in religious Judaism, it’s something of a chore in many churches. I was fortunate to attend a local Baptist church for two years where regular Bible reading and study was encouraged. It is true that I brought a different perspective to their ranks and one they ultimately could not absorb, but thankfully they continue to study and draw nearer to our God.

Christian CoffeeBut that’s not the case in many modern churches as Dr. Blizzard stated in the above-quoted paragraph. I study because I’m “built” to study. I completely enjoy reading and studying the Bible, so I don’t experience it as difficult or something to be avoided (which isn’t to say I don’t find study challenging). That means I can hardly take credit for my efforts as if I had overcome some personal obstacle or barrier with the goal of bettering myself.

But for a lot of other folks, it seems like there are so many other priorities that get in the way, or at least those people organize their priorities differently (and notice that as I write, I am not also vacuuming the living room carpet or cleaning the master bathroom).

Rabbi Packouz expands on this initial set of statements about the benefits of Torah study, including learning how to perform the mitzvot, which pleases Hashem and allows us to connect to Him in ways that otherwise would be unavailable to us.

Of course, R. Packouz is writing to a Jewish audience, so in order for Gentile Christians to make use of his commentary, we need to adjust it to our identity and our unique role in the redemptive plan of God.

With the permission of the heavenly assembly and with the permission of the earthly assembly, I hereby prepare my mouth to thank, praise, laud, petition, and serve my creator in the words of his people Israel. I cannot declare that Abraham fathered me, nor can I claim to be his offspring according to the flesh. For I am a branch from the stem of the children of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, like a wild olive branch grafted into a cultivated olive tree, in order to sprout forth and produce fruit in the name of all Israel.

-Aaron Eby
“Declaration of Intent for Messianic Gentiles,” p.134
First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer

I quoted part of the “declaration” from Aaron’s book to illustrate what I said above, that Gentiles are unique and have a special role to play within the Messianic assembly and among all of the disciples of the Messiah.

Having said that, there are many ways in which Jewish and Gentile roles and practices overlap in the Master’s ekklesia:

  1. Have a constant awareness of our Father, our King, Creator and Sustainer of the universe. As soon you think of the Creator, you immediately connect with Him. Think of Him often.
  2. Feel a sense of awe for the Creator by frequently contemplating the size and complexity of the universe.
  3. Realize that you are created in the image of the Creator and you are His child. When looking in a mirror, say to yourself, “I am a child of the Creator.”
  4. Everything you have in life, you have because it is a gift from the Creator. Be constantly grateful. This gratitude creates love.
  5. The Almighty loves us more than we love ourselves. Frequently say to yourself, “The Almighty loves me even more than I love myself.”
  6. Realize that everything that the Almighty causes to happen in your life, He causes to happen for a positive purpose. Some you will recognize, some you won’t. Frequently repeat, “This, too, is for the good.”
  7. Respect each human being because each human being is created in the Almighty’s image.
  8. When you do an act of kindness, you are emulating the Almighty. Do so frequently.
  9. Every prayer you say, whether formal or in your own words, is an expression of connecting with the Creator.
  10. Make a blessing to thank the Creator before and after eating. This adds a spiritual dimension to the food you eat.

That’s the first ten of the twenty ways R. Packouz lists to connect with the Almighty. Notice that none of them are specific to either Jews or Gentiles (the same goes for the other ten). In fact, you could take that list of twenty ways of connecting with God into any church and I can’t see why any Christian Pastor or layperson would object to them at all, except they might want to substitute “Jesus” for “the Almighty”.

Path of TorahSpirituality and righteousness all center around developing an awareness of God through the wonders in the world around us and specifically by studying the Torah. By studying the Torah however, we can go beyond “mere” awareness of God and begin to grasp who He created us to be and what we are expected to do with the lives we’ve been granted. While we Gentiles are grafted into Israel as a wild branch is grafted into a cultivated tree, that doesn’t make Gentile believers Israel. However, that also doesn’t mean we’re nothing either or that we are separated from God’s unique and chosen nation.

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.

John 13:16

We see here that disciples of the Master are “grafted in” to him as a branch is grafted into a vine. That however doesn’t make any one of us Yeshua (Jesus), because he also teaches that we “sent ones” are not greater than the one who sent us. We are servants of the Master and slaves to the Most High.

But if we are grafted into the vine of Messiah and are not Messiah, to extend the metaphor, we are also grafted into Israel and are not Israel. In fact, without the benefit of the covenant promises God made with national Israel and the Jewish people, we Gentiles would have no status or relationship to God at all. We are grafted in only by God’s abundant mercy to mankind, and by our faith in the accomplished works of our Master, the mediator of the New Covenant.

The rest of the “declaration of intent for Messianic Gentiles” goes thus:

Father in Heaven, I will rejoice in you alone, for you have sanctified me and drawn me near to you, and you have made me a son of Abraham through your King Messiah. For the sake of our Master Yeshua, in his merit and virtues, may the sayings of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be joined to the prayers of all Israel, and may they be favorable before you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Although you are reading this on Sunday morning or later, I’m writing it near lunch time on Friday. My personal Shabbos Project will begin in a few hours and I hope to improve upon last week’s experience (and I no doubt will be writing about “Shabbat Observance 2.0” subsequently).

We all discover ourselves by the light of Torah, but what is illuminated is different for each of us. This is sometimes the difference between being a Jewish or Gentile disciple of the Master, but there are also many other distinctions.

Although by necessity, I’ll be observing Shabbat alone, I know that it is designed to be celebrated in community. But there are ways in which we seek God that sometimes require that only the person and the Almighty be present. The Master sought to be alone often to pray, and yet he was also part of the larger community of Israel. When Paul became the Master’s emissary to the Gentiles, he was faced with the challenge of integrating Gentiles into Jewish communal and religious space, and that challenge remained before him for the rest of his life.

Shabbat candlesWhile I agree that community is a vital part of a life of faith, it is only half of that life. The Master indeed said we were to love our neighbors as ourselves but the prerequisite for doing so was to love the Almighty with all of our heart, spirit, and resources. Holiness, spirituality, and righteous living begin with one person studying the Torah, praying, and developing a growing awareness of God in the world around that person. Sometimes those experiences can be shared, but in the case of we “Messianic Gentiles,” often they cannot be, except “remotely” via the Internet.

But there’s nothing remote about God or the Torah. His inspired Word and His Created world are before each of us. Today they are before me and tonight, as I write this, so will the Shabbat. May the blessings of my mouth and the meditations of my heart always be pleasing before Hashem, my rock and my redeemer, and may I always be a faithful servant to my Master, Messiah Yeshua.

My Shabbat That Wasn’t

Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of the Sabbath.

-from the Artscroll Sefard Siddur

That’s as far as I got on observing Erev Shabbat or really all of the Shabbat yesterday (as you read this). I dropped my wife and daughter off at the airport very early on Friday morning and thought I had the whole day ahead of me to make Erev Shabbat preparations.

But my plans were already unraveling.

Actually, this all started Thursday afternoon as I was driving home from work. Like an estimated 50 million people worldwide, I suffer from a form of tinnitus or what some people call “ringing in the ears.” For me, it’s always present in my left ear and occasionally I’ll hear intermittent sounds in my right, usually when under stress.

Most of the time, I can ignore it unless it’s very quiet, and even when I’m trying to sleep, it’s more like a form of “white noise” so it doesn’t prevent me from dozing off.

But for some unknown reason on Thursday afternoon, my right ear started perceiving loud and highly distracting sounds, so much so that at their worse, they actually blocked out the tinnitus noise I experience in my left ear.

Any loud noise, especially a sudden noise like a car door slamming, was like having my head shoved in an echo chamber. All sudden sounds had a clanging “metallic” quality that seemed to bounce back and forth inside my skull.

The long and the short of it is that I got a grand total of two to two and a half hours of sleep Thursday night/Friday morning. By the time I took my family to the airport at 5 a.m., my hearing was back to normal (what’s normal for me), but I felt like my brain was packed with boiled inner tubes and rusty railroad spikes. On top of that, there were two tasks that had suddenly come up that had to be resolved on Friday without fail.

Between my inability to concentrate and having to focus (as best I could) on all of the phone calls and appointments related to solving the two issues in question (they’re personal enough for me not to share them online), any time I had to organize Erev Shabbat observance was consumed.

The good news is that everything that needed to get done got done more than an hour before sundown. I have to thank the kind and understanding people involved for going the extra mile and helping me achieve my goals. I was very impressed with the amount of caring that these people extended to someone they had never met before.

The bad news is that by the time that candle lighting came around, I didn’t have anything prepared besides the candles. So I kindled the Shabbat lights, said the blessings, and instead of a hearty meal, challah, and wine, I settled for a couple of tamales and a beer. Actually, they were very good tamales and a very tasty Fat Tire amber ale.

But I learned a few things.

I can’t remember the source and a quick Google search yields no useful results, but I recall reading a Shabbat commentary stating that a particular Rabbi would spend all week preparing for his Shabbat observance. At some point mid-week, when he found a lamb he wanted to roast for the Erev Shabbat meal, he would loudly declare, “This is for Shabbat!” He would do this anytime he acquired something to be used in honor of the Shabbat.

I can see I will need to do the same. OK, not the loud, public declarations, but spending the entire week gathering and preparing for Friday afternoon.

While The Sabbath Table seems like a highly useful resource, I’m going to have to spend more time with it to map the flow of the prayers to my needs, particularly since I’ll be observing Shabbos as an individual, and particularly because I’m not Jewish.

Also, while I have a pretty good idea of the level of observance I will attempt, I will need to “nail down” what I want to do so that I don’t spend my rest fumbling over the prayers and worrying about procedure when I need to be welcoming the Shabbat Queen.

Which brings up an interesting question: my level of observance. I know some people will be thinking that I’m “picking and choosing” the “rules” to Shabbat rather than relying on the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Like it or not, though, there is preparation that goes into Shabbat and there are different standards of observance. I want this to be a joy, not a cumbersome activity, and “loading up” on a series of mitzvot that I don’t understand and have never performed before will just distract me from the actual purpose of my Shabbos Project, which is to honor God and experience some small foretaste of the coming Messianic Kingdom.

shabbatFor the rest of it, I can choose a wine, challah or at least some other acceptable substitute, and particularly plan out meals so I don’t find myself in a situation where I’m without an appropriate meal or snack at any point during the twenty-four plus hours of Shabbos.

I’ve come to think of the mitzvot related to Shabbat not in terms of restrictions and how much I want to be “obligated,” but rather how much I want to be blessed. The less “weekly baggage” I employ, the more of me, my thoughts, feelings, attention, and behavior is turned on this holy day to God.

Much of the Book of Exodus is dedicated to the exquisitely fine details of preparing to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert along with all of the objects to be used, the robes of the priests, and everything else. The lists of activities and materials can seem mind numbing to read through, and I’m sure there have been more than a few people who have struggled with this section of the Torah and couldn’t wait to get past it to more “interesting” stories.

But consider. It takes all of this preparation (this is only a small sample)…

You shall make on the breastpiece chains of twisted cordage work in pure gold. You shall make on the breastpiece two rings of gold, and shall put the two rings on the two ends of the breastpiece. You shall put the two cords of gold on the two rings at the ends of the breastpiece. You shall put the other two ends of the two cords on the two filigree settings, and put them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, at the front of it. You shall make two rings of gold and shall place them on the two ends of the breastpiece, on the edge of it, which is toward the inner side of the ephod. You shall make two rings of gold and put them on the bottom of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, on the front of it close to the place where it is joined, above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. They shall bind the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it will be on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece will not come loose from the ephod.

Exodus 28:22-28 (NASB)

…to get to the “big event:”

He erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Exodus 40:33-38

If all of the details God provided Moses had not been attended to exactly as God had given them, then there would not have been the dwelling of the Divine Presence among the Children of Israel.

In my reading, I came across an interesting detail:

You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.

Exodus 35:3 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

The Tanakh commentary for this verse states:

The Torah can be understood only as it is interpreted by the Oral Law, which God taught to Moses, and which he transmitted to the nation. The Oral Law makes clear that only the creation of a fire and such use of it as cooking and baking are forbidden, but there is no prohibition against enjoying its light and heat. Deviant sects that denied the teachings of the Sages misinterpreted this passage, so they would sit in the dark throughout the Sabbath, just as they sat in spiritual darkness all their lives.

I know a lot of people who will disagree with the above-quoted paragraph, but since the Torah is very limited in telling us exactly how one is to observe the Shabbat, whether you think the Oral Law was given to Moses or it is the compilation of Rabbinic rulings and commentaries about the Shabbat and all the other mitzvot, the fact remains that Judaism, the inheritor of the twelve tribes and of the Torah, has been the keeper of the Shabbat for more than 3500 years. Like it or not, when a non-Jew and a disciple of the Messiah enters into any form of Shabbat observance, we’re entering Jewish worship and ritual space.

praying alonePages 131 to 155 of Aaron Eby’s book First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer contain a minimalist siddur adapted for use by Messianic Gentiles (that would be me). Starting this (Sunday) morning, and at least for the next week, I intend to participate in regular prayer time in a more formal manner than I’ve become accustomed to.

Some years ago, I all but stopped using a siddur in prayer as part of my effort in backing out of Jewish space and honoring my wife who, as a Jew, thought it rather strange that a Christian Goy like me would be doing “Jewish” stuff. However, for the next week, it’ll just be me at home…well, me and God, and I find myself drawn to something I’ve missed.

No, I won’t be donning a tallit and kippah or laying tefillin (and in any event, although Aaron believes under certain circumstances these practices are appropriate for Gentiles, he did not include the applicable blessings for the use of such objects in his book). I’m a Messianic Gentile and am interpreting the will of my Master in this way. I’m not telling you what you have to do or should do. I’m describing what I did last week that didn’t work, and what I’m going to do in the coming week to enter a place that is a brief and precious portrait of the coming age of Messiah, may he reign in power and glory.

The Faithful Servant

In Buenos Aires, thousands of Jewish families hosted others who’d never before experienced a Shabbat.

-Simon Apfel
“The Shabbat that Shook the World”
Aish.com

To me, that’s the exact point of Gentiles having a familiarity with the Torah and the Jewish people. True, the Shabbos Project being described in the above-referenced article is the effort of Jews encouraging other Jews to observe the Shabbat, but Jewish people only make up a tiny fraction of the world’s population. If Gentiles do have a special and sacred role in relation to Judaism, it is to undo much of what we’ve done over the long centuries, and to actually encourage the Jewish people to observe the mitzvot. Historically the Goyim, and particularly the Christian Church, has done everything in their/our power to discourage Jews in Judaism, resulting in a power surge of secularism and assimilation among Jewish people on our planet. I think God wants us to change that.

I know I’ve written a lot about this lately, really a lot, but when I read that one sentence from the Aish article, I was once again reminded of a Gentile’s duty to the Jewish people. It won’t matter much if Gentiles start keeping the Shabbat if more Jewish people don’t.

There isn’t much material in Jewish publications about Gentiles keeping the Shabbat, and what’s available is negative. At least Messianic Judaism is encouraging Gentiles to keep Shabbos on some level.

The upside of my personal Shabbat project, which starts tomorrow evening, is that I get to experience something unique and precious, an encounter with God on Shabbos. The downside is that it only benefits me. I have a Jewish family I’d love to see observe Shabbat more than just the lighting of candles. If somehow what I’m doing were to contribute to them, then my role in this world would be complete.

So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.”

John 13:12-16 (NASB)

…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.

Matthew 20:28

I know I’m taking these verses out of context, but I can’t get past the feeling that we can learn a principle from them, not just that we have a duty as believers to serve each other and to serve humanity, but specifically that we Gentile disciples, out of sheer gratitude for our being brought into the blessings of the New Covenant through Israel’s relationship with God, need to return the favor by bringing Jews back to their own Torah and to Hashem, God of Israel.

That’s a tough thing to do without being seen as intrusive and offensive. Dressing up in kippot and tallitot isn’t going to “provoke Jews to jealousness” (Romans 11:11) or to zealousness, but those of us who are friends and family members of Jewish people can certainly try to contribute. If nothing else, we just need to get out of the way of Jewish people and Judaism. For institutional Christianity, this means ceasing from preaching against Judaism. No, I don’t just mean preaching pro-Jewish people sermons, but actually ceasing from preaching against the practice of Judaism for Jewish people, including and especially Jews in Messianic Judaism. More than that, we need to continually look for opportunities to support Jewish observance of the mitzvot.

So on one hand, I’m looking forward to my personal Shabbos Project, but on the other hand, it’s going to be pretty hollow. Not just because I’ll be alone but because no Jewish people will be involved. I won’t have served my purpose unless or until I’ve done something to support even one Jewish person in lighting the Shabbos candles, saying the blessings, or participating in Jewish community.

Only then will I, as well as the other Gentiles who have captured this vision, be worthy of being called the “crowning jewels of the nations”. Only then will the Master say to us, “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). After all, when we serve the Jewish people, we are serving the Master:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40

Discovering Myself by the Light of Torah

Question:

I came across your site and wow–I really want to become Jewish. My mother was a fairly devout Italian Catholic and my father an Anglican skeptic who never went to church. I was always so confused. But now your site has really turned me on to Judaism, a real coming home for me. What’s my next step?

Response:

Your next step is to become a better person. Develop greater faith in your soul, in your destiny, and in your Maker. Do more good, reach out to more people. Learn more wisdom, apply whatever you learn, and make life worth living.

But you don’t need to become Jewish to do any of that. Plenty of wonderful people doing beautiful things in the world are not Jewish, and G‑d is nonetheless pleased with them.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Should I Convert to Judaism?”
Chabad.org

My wife was reading this in an email newsletter from Chabad last Friday afternoon. As I came home from work, I passed by her and happened to glance at what she was viewing on her computer. I briefly saw the title and was intrigued (since she’s already Jewish and conversion is a non-issue for her). Later on, I looked up the article and read through it.

The full content of what Rabbi Freeman wrote is astonishingly applicable to the debates we see happening between the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots (particularly One Law/One Torah) movements. I recently became aware of an online dialog discussing whether the One Law/One Torah movement should or should not be considered a “Judaism”. Some of the more well-known pundits in that space were saying “no” based on the requirement to distance themselves from the large body of Talmudic authority and rulings (subsequent commentary indicates the opinions being expressed are more complicated, but that has little bearing on what I’m presenting here).

This is in contrast to how First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Founder and President Boaz Michael recently defined Messianic Judaism in his “Director’s Letter” in the Fall 2014 edition of Messiah Journal, p.10:

To me, Messianic Judaism is not just a Jewish-flavored version of Christianity. If I was asked to define Messianic Judaism, I would say, “Messianic Judaism is the practice of Judaism coupled with the realization that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the New Testament is true, and the kingdom is at hand.”

Rabbi Stuart Dauermann in a recent blog post, quoted the first five of The Hashivenu group’s seven core principles, which also defines Messianic Judaism:

  1. Messianic Judaism is a Judaism, and not a cosmetically altered “Jewish-style” version of what is extant in the wider Christian community.
  2. God’s particular relationship with Israel is expressed in the Torah, God’s unique covenant with the Jewish people.
  3. Yeshua is the fullness of Torah.
  4. The Jewish people are “us” not “them.”
  5. The richness of the Rabbinic tradition is a valuable part of our heritage as Jewish people.
Boaz Michael
Boaz Michael

Rather than emphasizing the sufficiency or the primacy of scripture to the exclusion of all other considerations or practices as does One Law/One Torah, Messianic Judaism can be thought of in the manner of the other branches of Judaism in accepting, in addition to the primacy of Torah, all of the history, traditions, customs, wisdom, and interpretations of the great Jewish sages as part of their legacy, heritage, and lived daily experience, and added to all that, “the realization that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the New Testament is true, and the kingdom is at hand.”

In his reply to the non-Jewish writer who was inquiring about conversion to Judaism, Rabbi Freeman continued:

You see, there’s Judaism and there’s Jewishness, and the two are not one and the same. Judaism is wisdom for every person on the planet and beyond. We call it the Torah, meaning “the teaching,” and it’s a divine message to all human beings containing the principles that much of humanity has already accepted as absolute truths. The idea that human life is beyond value is a teaching originating from Torah, as is the related concept that all human beings are created equal. So too, the right of every individual to literacy and education was brought to the world through Torah. And world peace as a value and goal was preached exclusively by the Torah and its prophets thousands of years before it became popular in the rest of the world. And of course, the idea that there is a single, incorporeal Being who creates and sustains all of reality, and is concerned over all that occurs with each individual, thereby giving each person, creature, event and object meaning, purpose and destiny–this is a core teaching upon which everything else rests, and the central teaching of the Torah.

That’s Judaism. Then there is Jewishness. To be Jewish means to belong to an ancient tribe, either by birth or by adoption (a.k.a. conversion).

I invite you to click on link I provided above and read R. Freeman’s entire commentary (it’s not very long). He says some amazing things about the comparison and contrast of Judaism and Jewishness. It seems, on some level, anyone who is responding to God through the basic presentation of the Torah and the awareness presented by Judaism can access God through that template, that is, through the relationship Israel has with God as understood through the Torah, but that “Judaism” isn’t the same as “Jewishness”.

Tribes have rituals. So do Jews. Males of the tribe wear particular items of clothing, such as tzitzit and kippot. Women keep a certain mode of modest dress and married women cover their hair. Men also wrap leather boxes containing parchment scrolls on the heads and arms every morning, while robed in woolen sheets with more of those tzitzit tassels. In our services, we chant ancient Hebrew and read from an ancient scroll. We have holidays that commemorate our tribal memories and establish our identity as a whole. Certain foods are taboo and other food is supervised and declared fit-for-the-tribe. Nope, you can’t get much more ancient-tribal than any of that.

The point is, none of that ritual stuff was ever meant as a universal teaching, except perhaps in a more generalized way…

Now, what I’m saying is not very PC nowadays. We live in a world of hypermobility. Not just because we own our own cars and reserve our own tickets online to go anywhere, anytime–but because we imagine our very identities to be just as mobile as our powerbook. Pick me up and take me anywhere. Today I’m a capitalist entrepreneur, tomorrow an Inuit activist, and the next day a Californian bohemian. And we can mix and match–today, you can be Italian, Nigerian, Chinese and Bostonian all in the same meal. So who is this Freeman character to tell me which tribe I belong to and which not?

To be frank, because this Freeman character considers the hyper-identity scheme to be a scam, a mass delusion and a social illness. You can switch your clothes, your eating habits, your friends, your social demeanor, your perspective on life and maybe you can even switch to a Mac. But G-d decides who you are, and the best you can do is discover it.

It almost seems as if Rabbi Freeman were borrowing his arguments from those I’ve recently heard expressed in Messianic Judaism, but maybe it’s the other way around. If indeed we consider Messianic Judaism as another branch of Judaism alongside the other branches, it stands to reason that how they think of “Judaism” and “Jewishness” should be similar, in this instance, to the Chabad among the other Judaisms.

At the same time, there are also Jewish disciples of Yeshua; their Jewishness remains significant, and it is central to their unique identity. Unity in corporate prayer between Messianic Gentiles and Jews is a beautiful and powerful testimony of Yeshua’s greatness. Such unity can only exist in a setting in which members are aware of their respective roles within the people of God.

-Aaron Eby
“Declaration of Intent for Messianic Gentiles,” p.47
First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer

Stand aloneOne of the “issues” that comes up, and Boaz Michael discusses it in the aforementioned “Director’s Letter” from Messiah Journal, is that Messianic Judaism has some difficulty in identifying the role of the Messianic Gentile within Jewish community. This, as I’ve mentioned before, is also one of my personal challenges, although I am not involved in face-to-face Jewish (or any other kind of) community at present. Still, every time I do “Jewish stuff,” it is prudent of me to be mindful of that community and to at least try to imagine what my role as a Gentile should be.

Gentiles who devote themselves to Yeshua of Nazareth are not only disciples; they are his subjects, and he is their King…

These Gentiles are no longer separated from Messiah or “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenant of promise” (Ephesians 2:12). Instead, they share in the inheritance and the destiny of the whole nation. In keeping with this identity, the God-fearing Messianic Gentile should not hesitate to join the Jewish people in formal prayer.

As Messianic Gentiles engage in these prayers, they must not lose sight of their own important and esteemed position as the crowning jewels of the nations.

-ibid

I previously wrote a two-part review of Mark D. Nanos’ paper ‘Paul’s Non-Jews Do Not Become “Jews,” But Do They Become “Jewish”?: Reading Romans 2:25-29 Within Judaism, Alongside Josephus’ which discussed some of the distinctive differences between “Jews” and “Jewishly” as it might have been perceived by the apostle Paul (and Nanos’ paper is now freely available online at the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting (JJMJS) website).

I received a number of pointed responses based on the controversial nature of the topic, but then, the idea of Gentiles operating in Jewish religious and communal space as equal co-participants tends to get controversial.

If I can take Rabbi Freeman’s commentary and adapt it to the Messianic Jewish and Gentile framework, then it seems, as the Rabbi suggests, that Gentiles are perfectly free to take the higher principles of the Torah as universal, but should reserve those rituals that are specifically “Jewishly” for the “tribal” Jewish people as the Rabbi defines them.

R. Freeman finished his response with the following paragraph.

I believe that what G-d wants from each person is that s/he examine the heritage of his ancestors, discover the truths hidden there and live in accordance with them, knowing that this is what his Creator wants from her/him. The truths are there because all of human society was originally founded upon the laws given to Adam and to Noah, along with those laws that all the children of Noah accepted upon themselves. These truths are found by examining one’s heritage through the light of Torah. The Jewish Tribe are the bearers of that light. But you don’t need to become Jewish to partake of it. Light shines for all who have eyes.

Granted, he isn’t writing with the Messianic Gentile in mind and our status in relation to Israel through our devotion to Messiah Yeshua isn’t the same as a Noahide, but I believe his basic point is essentially the right one. Jews, as tribal members (although Israel isn’t truly tribal in the modern era, they inherit was belongs to the tribes as their descendents), are the original possessors of the Torah including all of the tribal rituals assigned to them by God. The rest of us, once we are drawn to Israel by the light of Torah and the light of Messiah, discover the truth of the Torah by its light from within our own national and ancestral contexts. This is why a Gentile approaching Messianic Jewish prayer does so along a somewhat different trajectory than a Messianic Jew.

Torah platesThis is why my upcoming personal Shabbos Project is traveling a somewhat different path and why I’ve had difficulty in attempting to interpret the path as it applies to me. I’ve come to a sort of peace with it now that Shabbos is approaching and I no longer feel intimidated about having to “get everything right”. The point of the experience is to experience God, not to worry about my level of observance. I’m not going to look anything like an Orthodox Jew nor should I ever try. I want to honor God and enter His presence and with that uppermost in my mind and heart, the rest will take care of itself with a little judicious preparation.

In some ways, I’m facing the Shabbat for the first time and already I’m discovering more about myself and who I am through the Shabbat and the light of Torah, which is the portrait Rabbi Freeman has so aptly painted.

Messianic Jewish Shabbat Observance and the Gentile

It is appropriate for Gentile disciples of Yeshua to participate in Jewish prayer. After all, the Temple in Jerusalem is to be called “a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). Yeshua did not come to create a separate religion for Gentiles with different prayers.

-Aaron Eby
Chapter 2: Prayer in Jewish Space, p.33
First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer

I mentioned in my previous blog post My Personal Shabbos Project that I was planning an undertaking for two Sabbaths in November (the first is just a week away as you read this) to actually do my best to authentically observe Shabbos. The family will be away, so I’ll have the ability to construct my observance without offending anyone or intruding on “Jewish space” as a goy.

To that end, I mentioned a couple of resources I’d be studying: The Sabbath Table and Aaron Eby’s aforementioned First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer.

I’ve been looking through Eby’s book and in the second chapter, I came across a section called “Gentiles and Jewish Prayer”. The quote at the top of the page is taken from the first paragraph in that section. It sounds very supportive, encouraging, and inclusive. This is the second paragraph:

Nonetheless, there are issues and boundaries that must be considered when a Gentile chooses to participate in Jewish prayer services. In the same way, the “house of prayer for all peoples” had distinct areas through which men, women, Jews, Gentiles, and priests could enter and different ways in which they could participate.

-ibid

This was certainly true in the time of Herod’s Temple, and I can imagine, relative to Gentiles, it was also true in the time of Solomon:

Also a gentile who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name’s sake — for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm — and will come and pray toward this Temple — may You hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and act accordingly to all that the gentile calls out to You…

1 Kings 8:41-43 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

The key phrase for me is “and will come and pray toward this Temple…” I don’t have any command of the Hebrew, so I don’t know really what “toward this Temple” is supposed to indicate. Were the gentiles to stand outside the Temple and pray in its direction? King Solomon doesn’t seem to be saying that gentiles anywhere on earth could just face Jerusalem, because he speaks of gentiles traveling to Israel because of God’s great reputation.

Most Christian English language Bibles use the word “toward” although the International Standard Version says “facing,” and both the Jubilee Bible 2000 and the Douay-Rheims Bible say “in this house” and “in this place” respectively. Put together, I get the definite impression that gentiles weren’t expected to enter any part of the Temple’s grounds when Solomon was King. At least in Herod’s Temple, there was a court of the Gentiles.

About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God…

Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments…

Acts 10:3, 30 (NASB)

Cornelius the centurion was the quintessential God-fearer. Luke says that he was a “devout” man, indicating some level of Torah observance.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Cornelius, the God-Fearer of Caesarea,” p.18
Messiah Magazine, Fall 2014 edition

cornelius
Peter and Cornelius

Clearly in the days of the apostles, the God-fearing Roman Cornelius had taken it upon himself to observe some of the mitzvot including the set times of prayer. Luke places the centurion praying at the ninth hour which corresponds to between two to three p.m., a time in both the ancient and modern worlds when devout Jews pray the Minchah or afternoon prayers. Exactly what and how Cornelius was praying we’ll never know, but his devotion to God and to the Jewish people got the attention of an angel and subsequently the apostle Peter.

So I agree that Gentiles were always meant to participate in the prayers, and both in the days of Solomon and Herod, we have indications that, as Eby says, there were distinctions regarding the placement of Gentiles in Jewish space, specifically the Temple.

I find this promising and more than a little daunting, which is why, even though ideally Shabbat observance is done in community, it is better for me to observe Shabbos alone, and particularly outside of Jewish space. Frankly, for me to have any sort of “thumbprint” placed upon my Sabbath practice, it’s just easier to do so in my own home.

Not that my home isn’t “Jewish space” since I live with a Jewish wife and daughter, but one of the requirements of my project is that I be alone so that, among other things, I don’t (metaphorically speaking) stomp all over their Jewish space with my big, fat feet. I have no desire to appear more “observant” than the Jewish people I live with, Heaven forbid. My role is supposed to be to encourage them to be more Torah observant.

It should be noted that until Peter and his party of Jewish companions entered Cornelius’s home, the centurion’s environment was composed exclusively of gentiles, so whatever Jewish observances he employed were not impinging on Jewish space. Of course God-fearing Gentiles regularly attended synagogue, but I can only imagine that they didn’t simply just “mix in” with the Jewish crowd but instead, had specific seating arrangements.

Eby in his book agrees with Lancaster and believes the “text implies that Cornelius prayed in what seemed to be a Jewish way” (p.33). Further, Eby says:

There is a delicate balance when it comes to the relationship of Gentiles to Jewish prayer. If the prayer of Messianic Gentiles is to be identical to Jewish prayer, it implies that these Gentiles have become Jews or that they fit into the same legal category as Jews. This is a type of replacement theology. On the other hand, if Messianic Gentile prayer is to be completely different from Jewish prayer, it denies the concept that it is through Israel that all nations connect with God.

-Eby, pp.33-4

Next, Eby speaks of “Blessings in Vain” and “Misappropriation of Identity,” both of which the Gentile (me) encounters in many of the blessings in a standard siddur, which, as Eby states, is “written from a first-person Jewish perspective.”

Fortunately, though I’m not terribly familiar with it yet, The Sabbath Table is written in such a way that it guides the Jewish and Gentile disciples along slightly different paths in the traditional liturgy, so the Gentile doesn’t have to “think fast on his/her feet,” so to speak, when reaching a part of the prayers where the reader is identified as Israel.

I remember encountering this issue in my “Hebrew Roots” days and I eventually learned to either avoid certain “problematic” areas of the siddur, or to broadly re-interpret them as meaning I supported Israel and her people rather than I was Israel.

Aaron Eby
Aaron Eby

Eby also suggests substituting “us” with “your people Israel” as a plea for Israel rather than as a request from Israel.

I know all this is going to rub some people the wrong way, but prior to the apostolic era, it was relatively rare for Gentiles to be in Jewish space and particularly to keep the Shabbat unless they were in the process of converting to Judaism or represented that equally rare phenomena (in those days) of being a Gentile married to a Jew.

Going back much further and into the time of Moses, any Gentile who wished to become attached to Israel and be considered a “resident alien” was actually obligated to a significant number of the mitzvot, including Shabbat observance, with the understanding that they would become permanent members of the community as Gentiles and that their descendents, starting at the third generation (grandchildren), would be absorbed into an Israelite tribe and clan (probably through intermarriage) and be considered Israelites; their ties to their Gentile ancestors obliterated.

But as Gentile disciples of Yeshua, we are not considered gerim as such (since Israel is no longer tribal), nor God-fearing Noahides, since all the nations of the earth are obligated to the basic laws of Noah, but we benefit from the blessings of the New Covenant, the promise of the resurrection, the giving of the Spirit (see Acts 10), and the life in the world to come.

Paul’s vision, his “gospel” included Gentiles in Jewish social and religious space and he staunchly defended his position, even in the face of James and the Apostolic Council (see Acts 15), and while his vision died with him, it has been reborn in modern Messianic Judaism.

Boaz Michael, President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), defines Messianic Judaism in part by saying:

To me, Messianic Judaism is not just a Jewish-flavored version of Christianity. If I was asked to define Messianic Judaism, I would say, “Messianic Judaism is the practice of Judaism coupled with the realization that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the New Testament is true, and the kingdom is at hand.”

-Boaz Michael
“Defining Messianic Judaism”
from the Director’s Letter, p.10
Messiah Journal, issue 117, Fall 2014

Boaz didn’t mention Gentiles in his definition of Messianic Judaism, but on pages 7 and 8, he states:

In many ways, the Messianic movement seems to be stuck in a rut, unable to resolve its most basic identity questions. Like one of those endless Messianic circle-dances, we are continually circling around the same sets of questions: Jewish identity, effective evangelism strategies, the role of tradition, the role of liturgy…and especially the role of Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement. (emph. mine)

I don’t know if the question of the role of the “Messianic Gentile” in Messianic Judaism is a problem in Messianic Judaism or just my own personal issue. I suppose I’m more sensitive to these matters than most because I’m intermarried, and particularly to a non-Messianic Jew. The divide between me being a Christian and her being Jewish is a well-defined line of demarcation.

Which brings me back to observing Shabbat individually and the “problem” of me being a Gentile and the Shabbat prayers being Jewish.

For example, one line in the traditional after-meal blessing offers thanks to God “for the covenant that [he] sealed in our flesh.” It seems problematic for a Messianic Gentile to say this. But should someone who is not Jewish then say “for the covenant that you have written on our hearts?” To do so would imply that Messianic Jews have only a fleshly covenant, whereas the new covenant that is written on hearts belongs only to Messianic Gentiles, God forbid.

-Eby, p.36

As my long-suffering wife would say, “Oy!”

Eby goes on to say that prayers in a Messianic Jewish synagogue should not be homogenized across the Jewish and Gentile population, and I agree, but that also would introduce a certain amount of “clashing” with one group saying one thing and another saying something completely different at the same time.

I can see the attraction of church only because it is homogenized. Everyone is the same, though I feel sorry for the “Christian Hebrews” in attendance since it is my firm belief that they aren’t “cookie cutter identical” to the Gentile Christian congregation in which they are embedded (I also can see the attraction of a homogenized [Jewish] synagogue environment for Messianic Jews and for the same reasons).

I don’t know how Paul did it. I wish he’d left more detailed instructions.

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

I remember feeling this sense of dissonance the second time I attended the Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship. Although it advertises itself as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations,” within its walls, I experienced a severe case of identity confusion, probably because at that time, I had returned to regular church attendance and didn’t know if I was “fish or fowl”. How could I totally commit to church and still “feel” like a “Messianic Gentile?”

The dissonance damaged my Shavout experience and a few relationships along with it, much to my regret, and ultimately resulted in me bouncing back out of church since in the end, I didn’t have a single thing in common with the people there, at least in terms of theology and doctrine.

But “shoehorning” my way back into Messianic Judaism hasn’t proven particularly easy, either. When I’m just me, studying alone, praying alone (though I haven’t touched my siddur for months now), it’s just me and God and problems of identity and relationship aren’t a problem. God knows who I am and who I am created to be. I don’t know what He’ll think of all my preparations for Shabbat. Maybe He thinks they’re all foolish. I don’t know. If I’m doing this just for me, then I’m doing it in vain. Shabbat only means something if my intent is to honor God.

But dodging through this minefield of a Gentile and Jewish prayer and a Gentile and Jewish Shabbat observance makes me glad I’m doing all this in the privacy of my own home. If I slip or, Heaven forbid, get a little bit to “liberal” with the prayers, the only person who’ll be offended is God, and I’m hoping He’s more forgiving of me than I am of myself.

The Shabbat is supposed to be a delight. So why do I have a feeling of impending dread?

Actually, here’s part of the answer:

Don’t confuse God’s commandments with the traditions of men. Does God actually want such “extra effort” to do things He has never commanded?

Why was Jesus challenged so many times about what He did on the Sabbath? Was it because He was breaking God’s law? Or was it because His actions contravened the traditions men had ADDED to God’s commandments about the Sabbath?

What did Jesus actually mean by “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.

I just find something ludicrous in the fact that a refrigerator light can cause such concern and is that kind of thing REALLY what the Sabbath is about? Would applying duct tape to the switch (or disconnecting the light some other way) be pleasing to God or would leaving the light to shine displease Him ?

This is a recent comment on another blog post and it highlights one side of the argument. The other side is me trying to be sensitive to Jewish requirements as a non-Jew choosing to observe one or two Sabbaths using the only template I have available: a Jewish template. In trying to navigate the competing priorities of human beings, I’m letting them suck the joy out of what should be a joyous occasion. Really guys, I’m going to be alone so how I choose to observe Shabbos should be between me and God.

If I were in someone else’s house or in someone’s synagogue, I’d follow the requirements of my host, but in any real sense, my “host” will be God. Like I said, I’m following Jewish tradition to some degree because it’s the template I have available to me, and frankly, Jews have been observing the Shabbat for untold centuries before there were any Christians. You’d think we goyim would recognize by now that the Jewish people are the experts on Shabbat.

I probably won’t be perfect in my observance or meet everyone’s expectations, Jewish or Christian, but why should this be any different than anything else I’ve done or written about?

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