Tag Archives: Shabbos Project

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.

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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.

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

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?

shabbos-candles-banner

Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul

I have a question concerning playing music on Shabbat. My uncle is a wonderful guitar player and singer. He writes many songs and aspires to share his music with the world one day. On a recent Shabbat, we were at a friend’s house where many people were singing. I asked him to play, but he declined, saying it was against Jewish law.

I feel this may be stretching the restrictions. For me, I believe that Shabbat is a time to share joy with family and friends. Music is a wonderful way to do this.

I am not seeking to criticize my uncle. I just want to get a better grasp on the concepts, so that I can discuss this point with him in a more educated manner.

From the “Ask the Rabbi” column at
Aish.com

It’s not the question that I’m so much interested in as the detailed answer conveyed by the Aish Rabbi. It speaks very much to my Shabbos Project and the associated feelings of insecurity I’ve been experiencing as the days pass by. The Rabbi’s answer, although not directly addressing non-Jews observing the Shabbat, does tell a beautiful story toward the end, and at the beginning of his response, he explains why Jews observe Shabbat the way that they do. It’s a helpful reply to those who criticize the Jewish people for “man-made traditions.”

I’m copying the Rabbi’s entire response here so you get the full experience of his words. I’ll italicize the quote to make it more readable rather than putting it between “blockquote” tags. Also, as I write this, the Aish website seems to default to “mobile=yes”, so if you’re not on a smartphone or tablet and click the link I provided, the text on their web page will look a little odd.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I appreciate the sincerity of your question. Of course there are many beautiful aspects of Shabbat — the candles, the challah, the wine, and the opportunity for family and friends to be together.

Yet these aesthetic elements must not obscure the essence of Shabbat. It is a commemoration of the Creation of the world. Since God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, in our effort to emulate God we likewise work for six days and rest on the seventh.

The Talmud (Shabbat 73a) describes 39 categories of “creative acts” which we refrain from on Shabbat. These are the 39 powers of creation that exist in the world, corresponding to those acts performed by God (so to speak) in creating the world. Just as God refrained from creative activity on the seventh day, we do likewise. And when we refrain from that which is prohibited on Shabbat, we are, in the truest sense, being God-like.

The job of protecting the Shabbat (as well as other mitzvot) was entrusted to the wisest and most dedicated leaders of the Jewish people, the members of the Sanhedrin. These leaders made certain enactments to protect the uniqueness of the Shabbat experience. One enactment is to not play a musical instrument on Shabbat. This is due to a concern that playing an instrument on Shabbat could lead to fixing an instrument in a way that infringes on one of the 39 types of activity.

If these laws are not respected, then the Shabbat experience is ultimately diminished. And since Shabbat is a cornerstone of Jewish life, this measure was taken to ensure that observance of Shabbat is maintained for all. Further, the enactment was approved and accepted by the entire Jewish nation.

Further, the Sages made no distinction between string and wind instruments. Frequently the Sages will enact a decree that way, because otherwise many people would get confused about what is permitted and what is not.

Music that involves only the body — e.g. singing and whistling — are permitted on Shabbat. All instruments are not.

NishmatI would like to share with you a story from pre-War Europe:

In the city of Dinov, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech would sing the Shabbat morning prayers. As he would sing, he would gaze through the window and see the lush green rolling hills, the flowers splashing color against the deep blue sky. All this would move him to sing with great emotion the “Nishmat” prayer:

“If our mouths were filled with song like the sea is full of water, and our tongues as full of joyous song as the sea has waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky, and our feet swift as hinds — we still could not thank You sufficiently.”

Week after week, the non-Jewish shepherds would hear this song wafting over the country plain. They would stop their work to listen attentively, and many would even walk to the synagogue to hear the rabbi sing.

When the rabbi died, the congregation felt a rupture in their hearts. All week long they mourned, but on Shabbat, which is a time for happiness, they tried to restrain themselves. Yet the cantor, when he reached the “Nishmat” prayer, stopped to swallow a tear.

Suddenly, the entire congregation heard the rabbi’s melody filling the synagogue! Everyone looked out the window to see the non-Jewish shepherds singing the rabbi’s song. (from “Tales of the Chassidic Soul”)

Indeed, music is a great part of Shabbat. That’s why there is a rich heritage of Jewish melodies which add to the Shabbat atmosphere. Many of these songs are printed in the standard Siddur. So while you may miss your uncle’s guitar playing one day a week, remember that he is keeping the Shabbat experience fully alive, as Jews have done, for thousands of years.

I don’t know how to access “Tales of the Chassidic Soul,” but if the story shared by the Aish Rabbi is any indication, it must be a wonderful work and I’d love to get a hold of a copy (Googling and searching Amazon produced nothing).

The effect of Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech singing the Nishmat prayer on the non-Jewish shepherds is, I believe, the exact response many Christians have when hearing the Hebrew prayers, and certainly it speaks to my soul. I remember the first time I visited Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship during their annual Shavuot conference. I arrived early for the event one morning and heard from the rooms in the back, beautiful Hebrew singing. I felt myself drawn to the voices and realized that the men were davening the Shacharit or “morning prayers” in one of the upstairs rooms. I found myself standing beneath the room just listening, not understanding the language, but letting the prayers wash over my spirit. In some ways, it was the highlight of my entire Shavuot celebration that year.

ShabbatThat’s what I’m hoping will happen in some small measure as I attempt to observe a proper Shabbat. As I’ve said elsewhere, I have no command of the Hebrew and I sing like a frog, so I can’t produce anything like the same result as that one morning in Hudson, Wisconsin, but in the absence of any talent on my part, I’m hoping God will fill what is missing inside of me, even as the singing of Rabbi Elimelech filled something inside the shepherds toiling outside the synagogue in Dinov.

The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, Hashem our God, the spirit of all flesh shall always glorify and exalt Your remembrance, our King.

-from the Nishmat prayer

My Personal Shabbos Project

This past Shabbat, thousands of people experienced the beauty of Shabbat for their first time. I’m sure many were touched, perhaps transformed by the experience. But it will fade unless we transform the inspiration into action.

-Sara Debbie Gutfreund
“After the Shabbat Project”
Aish.com

My husband and I spent the Shabbos Project in Venice. It was great to see a different community. Tali’s enthusiasm was great. Attached is a picture from candle lighting…

-Batsheva Jassinowsky, Johannesburg
from the Shabbos Project’s website

This is just a sample of the many commentaries available about last weekend’s Shabbos Project which I previously blogged about. I took some online criticism from well-meaning but less than compassionate individuals who believe that everything in the covenant conditions God gave to Israel at Sinai now belongs to any non-Jew who is a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus), including the Shabbat.

Of course, as I said before, I think there’s a certain amount of justification for non-Jews observing the Shabbat in some fashion based both on Genesis 2 in honoring God as Creator, and Isaiah 56 which predicts world-wide Shabbat observance in the Messianic Kingdom. Additionally, based on D. Thomas Lancaster’s interpretation of The Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, we disciples of the Master can and perhaps should behave as if the Messianic Era is already upon us, even though our world is still ruled by darkness; we can behave as partisans or freedom fighters, holding onto our own until the return of the King.

Thus there seems to be more than sufficient support for Gentiles in the present world participating in Sabbath observance. My personal caveat is that if you are not observing Shabbat in a Jewish environment by invitation or are not part of a Jewish family, as a Gentiles, please try not to behave in a heavy-handed manner and claim “all your Sabbaths belong to us,” to borrow from a popular meme.

I know a convenient excuse for anti-Semitism used by some folks is that the Bible says we don’t have to be respecters of men but only of God (Acts 4:19, 5:29). But we also know from the Master’s teaching not to usurp the place of honor at the banquet, but rather, we should wait to be invited before we are elevated and esteemed (Luke 14:7-15).

However, I’m not writing this to be (deliberately) provocative today. I have a unique opportunity in early November when I will be “home alone” for two Sabbaths. That means, among other things, that I can make 100% of the decisions about how I spend my time on those occasions, and I’ve decided to conduct a small, personal, “Shabbos Project” of my very own.

shabbatIt may surprise you to know that I’ve never really observed a proper Shabbat sundown to sundown, Friday to Saturday. My (Jewish) family has never been very observant, so about the best they do is lighting the Shabbos candles and even that doesn’t happen every week.

When we were all doing “Hebrew Roots” many years ago, even then, none of us were as observant as we liked to believe. We drove to the Hebrew Roots congregation, and while we often used crock pots for our food, a certain amount of turning on electrical devices occurred. Naturally, we turned lights on and off, we opened and closed refrigerator doors (causing the light to go on and off), we wrote, and no doubt we participated in some or most of the other thirty-nine melachah or types of work forbidden on the Shabbat.

It’s sort of like our “keeping kosher” was. We avoided specific types of food but that was that. The so-called “Biblical commandments” without the “man-made” interpretations of said-commandments.

But I wonder what it would be like, for me, the goy, to actually attempt to approach observing Shabbat for real. I have two weekends to try it out. I won’t be part of a “project” and in fact, I’ll be the opposite. Where the Shabbos Project attempted to bring together as many Jews as possible from all over the world, I’ll be flying solo, just me and the Shabbat.

I’m not a baker, so Challah will have to be purchased, and I think there’s a couple of local stores that sell it. Wine is not problem obviously since I can buy that anywhere. We’ve got plenty of Shabbat candles and the candlesticks on hand, and I have copies of The Sabbath Table and First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer to study in preparation.

This means no driving, no cooking, no watching TV, no using the computer (thus, no Internet), no opening the fridge (which will be interesting since I’ll probably need to keep some of the food I plan on eating cold), timing whatever cooking I do for Friday night such that it’s all done in time and there’s no clean up (or I can tolerate a mess until Saturday night).

It also means planning out my Friday night and Saturday. There are no services within walking distance of my house and in any event, I don’t think it would be appropriate to inflict myself on one of the two synagogues in town. That means I can stay at home and still pray the Sabbath prayers, read the Torah portion (which I do anyway), read Torah commentaries (which I do anyway) and so on.

I don’t read Hebrew and I sing like a cement mixer, so the prayers will be in English and I won’t be singing Shabbos songs after Erev Shabbat dinner.

Then there’s Havdalah to consider. I don’t have one of “those” candles lying around but I guess I can perform the rest of the rituals (assuming I can remember them, it’s been years).

I’m probably missing a lot. I could “Google” something like “how to observe Shabbos” and come up with the basics. In reading A Daily Dose of Torah, some sections mention the melachah, but the commentary seems so involved that I don’t think I could memorize all of the specifics. I think you have to live a lifetime of that level of observance to really “get it down” and as far as I know, there may be times when even a highly observant Jew misses a step or two.

Shabbat candlesOf course, as a goy, I don’t have to observe Shabbat to the level of an Orthodox Jew, so there’s no real pressure to do so. On the other hand, I would like to approach this and accomplish something I’ve never done before, not because I think it would make me a “big deal” and not because I’m somehow claiming my “rights” or “heritage,” but for the reasons I mentioned before, because I want to spend at least one Shabbat honoring God as Creator and summoning, at least in some tiny fashion, a taste of the Messianic future.

If you’ve got any ideas, now’s the time. I’ll have two shots at this. The first can be a trial run to help me work out all the kinks, so I can have a better Shabbat a week later. As you read this, I have about ten days until my first go at it. Suggestions?

Addendum: Relative to the differences in obligation to the mitzvot of Jews and non-Jews in Messiah (and this seems relevant given the topic is Shabbat observance), I found this excellent commentary at Aish.com:

Imagine two people who are very different from each other. This needn’t be a source of conflict. Rather, if each one focuses on how to help the other, then the differences between them will actually make their personalities complementary.

Not only will they like each other despite their differences, but rather, because of them. They will even become closer, because their differences provide more opportunities to be of service to each other.

Contrast this to those who focus on what he can take from the other. They will quarrel frequently and eventually end up hating one another.

(see Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler – Michtav MaiEliyahu, vol.3, pp.33-4; Rabbi Pliskin’s “Consulting the Wise”)