Tag Archives: shabbos

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”)

Snow and Shabbos

shoveling-snowMaimonidies explains our midrash by reference to the related instance of rabbinic religious psychology: “God’s presence is never felt in a state of sadness or lethargy or levity or conversation or distractedness, but only amid the joy of performing a mitzvah.”

-Ismar Schorsch
quoting Bavli Shabbat 30b.
“The Seedbed of Prophecy,” pg 165 (December 21, 1996)
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayigash
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

I read this on Shabbat after shoveling snow off of my driveway and sidewalk. Actually, I also shoveled the snow off of the sidewalks of my two next door neighbors. It was a mitzvah of a sort. I try to do a little more than required because I know it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s something God built into me for some reason.

But I was performing one mitzvah (I don’t think the Bible says to specifically shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk, but it does say to love your neighbor, so I figure helping them with shoveling snow qualifies as “love”) but I was breaking another, well, sort of. It depends on whether or not you believe that non-Jewish believers are obligated to observe Shabbos in the manner of the Jews. I know that the Didache, an early document dated to the second or even first centuries and purportedly used to train new Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah entering the Jewish religious stream of “the Way,” states that even a Gentile may keep the entire “yoke of the Lord” (i.e. Torah commandments) if they (we) are able, but if not, to keep what we can, so keeping the Sabbath in some manner is on my radar screen as an option.

On the other hand, the two Jewish members of my household (and the other two Jewish family members who have their own households) don’t observe Shabbos, though I believe they are obligated to do so.

But I’m not the religious police. Each person must negotiate their own relationship with God. Past efforts of mine suggesting to my family that they take a more observant path have resulted in a rebuke and a reminder that they themselves must make those sorts of decisions.

And so they must. My remaining option for the sake of peace in the family is to pray and to rely on God to lead His own back to Him, even as Messiah will lead all the Jewish exiles back to redemption in the Land of Israel.

In reading the quote from Schorsch (and Maimonidies), I tried to recall if I felt joy when shoveling snow and if I felt the Presence of God. I have to admit that I didn’t experience either state. There was a sense of satisfaction at the realization that I was exceeding my property lines and doing what wasn’t expected of me, but I can’t say I had any sort of religious revelation. I don’t think living a life before God or doing the right thing is magic. I think it’s just what we’re supposed to do.

I also believe that no one “does it” perfectly, and I’m a living example of that.

If anything, I have a greater sense of the presence of God when I reading the Bible, when I’m studying the Torah Portion, when I’m contemplating a Psalm, even when I’m writing a blog post about God and the mitzvot.

I know people (online) who do a much better job at observing Shabbos. Some of them live in places like Colorado and Wisconsin, places that get a lot of snow. What do they do on the Shabbat when it’s snowing, just let it sit on their driveways and sidewalks?

I live in a suburban neighborhood that has a homeowner’s association (whether I like it or not) and the association has a covenant which states that each homeowner is responsible for keeping the sidewalks in front of their homes free (reasonably) of snow. We are also legally responsible if we fail to do so and a pedestrian falls and is injured as a result. So I have a duty to protect my neighbors by keeping my sidewalks clean, even on the Shabbat.

I know some people who would be rather rigid and dictatorial about such a suggestion, saying God’s commandment to observe Shabbat trumps any law or other responsibility assigned by human beings, but let’s look at that. I have a duty to love my neighbors which could be interpreted as protecting them from harm. I know there’s a Torah commandment that specifies if you see someone drowning in a body of water and you do nothing to help save their life, you have sinned against that person and against God (Rabbinic interpretation does say however, that if you are a poor swimmer and would be likely to drown too, you are absolved of this responsibility).

So what’s the higher duty, to perform an act on the Shabbat that at least in potential, could prevent a neighbor from being harmed, or to observe the Shabbat and ignore my neighbors by playing the “I’m keeping the Shabbat, look at how holy I am” card?

It’s an interesting question.

Of course, returning to my lack of actual obligation to observe a strict Shabbat, at least in the present age, I am not in quite the same bind as a Jewish person. I also believe the commandment to love one’s neighbor is universal, particularly since we see it occurring not only in Leviticus 19:18, but issuing from the mouth of Jesus (see Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).

I know there is a part of Shabbat observance that is also universal, since such observance acknowledges God’s Creative Sovereignty, but I will have to be satisfied with acknowledging God’s creation of human beings by doing something, even on Shabbat, that is of service to some of those “creations.”

I try to spend most of my Saturdays in prayer, in study, in recording my contemplations on God, but it’s not perfect. In fact, it’s very far from perfect. But what I desire and am unable to accomplish today, may God grant me a life in the world to come where I may observe His peace and His perfection.

And as I write this, it’s still snowing outside.

Overcoming with Good

negativeThe Almighty’s perspective is the ultimate perspective. It is the basis of reality. The real question we need to ask ourselves is, “What does the Almighty consider my true value to be?”

From the Almighty’s viewpoint, the answer is, “You are My child and you are precious. You are created in My image. In essence you are a Divine Soul. I have created the world for you. Your entire being and your value is a gift from Me. When you see yourself from My perspective, you know that you have infinite value. Your intrinsic worth is greater than anything that can be measured materially.”

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #984
“Almighty’s Perspective on Your True Value”
Aish.com

Just to let you know, this has nothing to do with my recent commentary on John MacArthur and his Strange Fire conference.

However, I recently have become aware of a resurgence of poor attitudes among believers in the blogosphere and the wider realm of the Internet. I guess it’s easier for these sentiments to be expressed in a semi-anonymous environment where accountability doesn’t appear to be an issue.

I’m not here to add to that negativity. Believe me, resisting this temptation is difficult, but in the end, if I didn’t, I would be no better than those I find who have betrayed friendship and trust.

There is always injustice in the world. Just as the Master said to his disciples that “you always have the poor with you,” it’s sad to say that we always have the unjust with us as well. Jesus went on to say “and whenever you wish you can do good to them,” reminding his listeners (and us) that poverty is an opportunity for us to help others and to do the right thing in his name. What can we say of the unjust? What opportunity do they present?

I could say they offer us the opportunity to be just and humane as they are unjust and inhumane, but the mistake here would be in attempting to confront others who, in their own “wisdom” and self-service, see themselves as upholding the cause of right.

No, confrontation and the continuation of angry words profits no one and does not serve man or God.

But there is another opportunity here. The opportunity is to uplift and uphold those who have been trampled on under the muddy and self-righteous boot. The opportunity is to offer healing words, an olive branch of peace, friendship, and hope.

unpopularRabbi Pliskin wrote the words I quoted above probably with the idea that he was addressing a primarily Jewish audience, but his words are true for everyone. We were all made in the image of God. To denigrate any human being is to lower that Godly image and even to drag it into the gutter. When people do this in believing they are serving God, it is a sad and miserable thing. It’s especially poignant that the instigators are woefully unaware of what they are doing and who they are hurting.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46 (NASB)

…it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:6 (NASB)

I know that some in the Christian world feel they just have to “call out” people and behaviors, even to the point of betraying a trust to do so, but if you feel there is a conflict or you feel you have been hurt, there is a better way.

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21 (NASB)

I encourage you all and especially my brothers and sisters in the faith, if you feel anger within you for another, if they are within the faith or not, consider the words of Paul. And please, please, consider the consequences for failure as spoken by our Master.

So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 25:17 (NASB)

For those among the believing community who purport to observe the Torah, this verse is the basis for one of the 613 commandments to not wrong someone in speech, which I would extend to wronging someone in the blogosphere or other text-based environment.

Standing before GodA large number of the mitzvot that are specific to “love and brotherhood” are found in Leviticus 19, such as “not to carry tales” (Lev. 19:16), “not to cherish hatred in one’s heart” (Lev. 19:17), “not to take revenge” (Lev. 19:18), “not to put anyone to shame” (Lev. 19:17), and “not to curse any other person (implying Jewish person)” (Lev. 19:14).

The core of these commandments is that all human beings are created in the image of God. To deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to another person, regardless of the provocation, is to also deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to God’s image.

Saying that you love God while trying to hurt another person is kind of crazy-making.

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NASB)

Love of God and love of your fellow human being, regardless of who they are, even if they are not like you, even if they have different beliefs, even if they have a different outlook, are two acts that are inseparable. A man who says he loves God but hates or denigrates another person, plunging their name into the mud publicly, is a liar.

The image posted at the top of this blog post was the inspiration for today’s “extra meditation.”

Any negativity that comes to you today should be returned to the sender.

That is my only response to the negativity I’ve been addressing. There is no one to fight. There is no one to hate. Anger solves nothing and only robs the person giving into anger of his peace. I choose peace.

Today, any negativity I discover in the blogosphere or any other environment I encounter will be promptly returned to the sender. My peace will be preserved. This is also my gift to any friends who have been victims of negativity, hostility, or any other ungodly attitude.

open-your-handAnd in the end, the real victims of negativity are those who nurture it in their own hearts and attempt to send it out to others.

It is said that Shabbos is a small foretaste of the peace of the Messianic Era. The Queen arrives within just a few short hours. In the tiny march of time left until we light the candles, I implore anyone reading these words to set your house in order, and by the time the sun dips below the western horizon, please be ready to invite peace into your home, and into your heart. But of course, you will need to repent and ask God for forgiveness. And if you’ve hurt another human being, before God will forgive, you must repent and ask forgiveness from those you have hurt.

He who conceals a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

Proverbs 17:9 (NASB)

Good Shabbos.

Finishing Off Shabbat

extinguished_candleIn Judaism, Shabbos is a time to be especially careful not to become angry or to become involved in a quarrel. Quarrels spread like fire and destroy everything that is precious. The sanctity of Shabbos, if it is observed properly, enables people to feel a sense of unity. It promotes love and brotherhood. The sanctity of Shabbos can spread and enter the hearts of each individual and everyone can become as one.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“The Sanctity of Shabbos”
Aish.com

I’ve been trying to write a commentary for Torah Portion Re’eh (the reading for this coming Shabbat) but it’s not coming. I actually did write something, but I didn’t like it, so I deleted it (a rare thing for me). I know I’m forcing stuff into the text rather than just letting it flow. That’s not typical of how I write but then, it’s still Monday and maybe I’m just too far away from Shabbos mentally and spiritually.

Rabbi Pliskin says that we should not become angry or quarrel on Shabbos. It destroys peace. It’s destroys sanctity, not just the sanctity of the Shabbat, but the sanctity among God’s people (if we can call ourselves God’s people).

Here’s an example of Shabbos as described by Derek Leman in his blog post The Jewish Experience at UMJC 2013:

The highlight of the conference for me came in the Shabbat Shacharit service. While our crowd of 600 people that morning may not have been the largest crowd I have ever been in, it was the largest crowd of Jewishly knowledgeable and intensely spiritual people I have ever been in. I have worshipped in a stadium with 50,000 Christians before and found it to be powerful. But to be in ballroom meant for 474 people that has 600 Jews packed in with tallitot and kippot, all of whom know the calls and responses of the Hebrew liturgy, was something powerful on a level I can hardly explain.

Before reciting the Shema we sang a song about the Shema. It began with a haunting melody that we called out for several minutes just to the sound “oo.” Kavanah, they say, is the Hebrew word for inner intent, devotion and concentration upon an idea. I have never felt kavanah like that before.

When the Torah scrolls were being paraded around the ballroom, paraded throughout a dense crowd, standing room only, aisles packed, and being paraded slowly so all could touch their tallitot or books to it and bring the word to their lips, we recited the “Niggun Neshama,” by Neshama Carlebach. It must have taken at least ten minutes to complete the Torah parade, with the crowd facing it wherever it was in the room and a spirit of intensity of devotion on every face and joy that was overwhelming.

I truly experienced what God said about Shabbat, “It is a sign between you and me forever” (Exod 31:13).

I have to admit to being a little envious (sorry, Derek) at reading his description, but then again, even if I had the bucks to spend on going to a conference in Los Angeles, Derek did say it was “600 Jews packed in with tallitot and kippot,” so it’s not an experience that would be open to (Gentile) Christians.

no_kvetchingNo, I’m not kvetching. I understand and support worship venues that are specific to Jewish people in the Messiah. I realize I’m not part of the community of Messianic Jews (and I’ve calmed down since I wrote that last blog post). Last May, I expressed some concerns about worshiping in a Messianic Jewish context, based on my “transition” into a Christian religious space, but after about nine months in church, as much as I enjoy certain aspects of being in church, if I had my “druthers,” I’d probably worship at some place like Beth Immanuel.

But for lots and lots of reasons, I don’t have my “druthers” and probably never will. Frankly, I don’t think it’s about me getting my way. I think it’s about me being where I am and doing what God wants me to do. Anyway…

But as much as Derek enjoyed his time at the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) conference, there are others who didn’t think it was so hot. I was going to quote from a certain Hebrew Roots blogger or one of the commenters on his blog as an example of their criticism, but after reading through the material, I just didn’t have the heart. It’s not Shabbos, but really, the words have been put online once. I don’t need to repeat them. Suffice it to say, there are those who find that the UMJC is disingenuous, or non-Biblical, or too Talmudic, or not enough apostolic scriptures, or whatever.

I’ve complained about religious people on more than one occasion. Really, it takes a lot of effort sometimes to remain religious, at least publicly, given the way some people express themselves, supposedly for the sake of Heaven.

From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished.

Acts 14:26 (NASB)

Last Sunday, my Pastor preached on Acts 14:21-28 in his sermon, “What Makes a Good Missionary (Part 3)?” I’ll write more about it on Thursday, but as part of his description of the end of “Paul’s first missionary journey,” he said that Paul and Barnabas reported back to their “home church” at Syrian Antioch (I’m more inclined to believe it was a synagogue that included Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Messiah) about everything they had accomplished. Reminded me of this:

The essence of Shabbos is peace of mind. Our attitude on Shabbos should be as if all the work we need to do has already been completed. If you need to travel or do any kind of work, on Shabbos you should try to feel as if you have reached your destination and every single job you have to take care of has already been completed.

All the laws of Shabbos serve as a recipe for attaining peace of mind. Not only are we to refrain from doing any form of work, but we are enjoined not to even discuss anything that has a connection with work.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Let Shabbos Finish Your Work”
Aish.com

Absence of quarreling and peace of mind at the week’s work having been accomplished. Sounds good, but my view of the world of which I’m a part doesn’t provide for peace.

Derek ended his blog post this way:

I am encouraged. I am strengthened. I pray you, Jewish or non-Jewish reader, find your heart warmed as well. May God, as Solomon prayed, hear in heaven and forgive the sins of our people and bring them again to the land which was given to the Jewish people as an inheritance.

up_to_jerusalemThe Jewish people have a right to pray for the God of Israel to forgive their sins and to return them to their Land which was given to them as an eternal inheritance. If we Gentile believers can’t be a part of the solution, then we should at least get out of their way (and out of God’s way…not that we could ever inhibit His will). My generation used to have a saying: “If you aren’t part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.”

We Gentile believers, whether we call ourselves “Christians,” “Hebrew Roots,” or anything else, need or consider our position and make a few adjustments. The fact that we are disciples of the Jewish Messiah does not give us vast authority to run roughshod over those people who were uniquely chosen by God at Sinai. If there was no Israel, there would be no method of attaching a Gentile through covenant to God. We vilify the Jewish people at our own peril. We should be wise. A blessing and a curse lay before us as well.

I’ve been writing about the Shabbat which I currently have no way to enjoy. I suppose that’s my fault for a lot of reasons, but it is no longer in my control. However there is an eternal Shabbat promised to all the faithful, if we can just maintain our strength until it comes. But in denigrating the Jewish people including Jews in Messiah (no, we don’t have to agree with all Messianic Jewish organizations about everything) are we unknowingly throwing away our place within that Shabbat? Are we in the process of finishing our work as the crown jewels of the nations or are we simply ending our opportunity for the final Shabbat rest because of our hostility and disrespect?

Sorry for another in a long line of “why can’t we play nice together” blog posts. I really wish the lot of us would take the advice of Thumper’s father (brief video) and just hush up and worry about perfecting our own spirituality. Let other people including Derek Leman and the various attendees of the UMJC conference attend to their own relationship with the Almighty.