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A Review of the Sinai Ethic: The Ethic of Possession

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

Exodus 19:1-6 (NASB)

The Sinai Ethic was originally presented by Rabbi Russ Resnik, executive director of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), during the annual First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavu’ot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. Shavu’ot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah and the pouring out of the Spirit, is a holy and deeply spiritual time that provides a reverent connection with the people of God who heard the words of the LORD spoken from the fire at Mount Sinai. These teachings, given in three sessions during the festival, focus on the moral and ethical mandates that the giving of the Torah established for the Jewish people and all nations.

-from the back cover of the CD for the audio teaching, “The Sinai Ethic”

Session Three: The Ethic of Possession

It’s been almost two weeks since my review of Part Two of this series. I’ve been wanting to get to it, but frankly, I just haven’t had the time up until now.

This is the shortest of Rabbi Resnik’s lectures at twenty-nine minutes and it sounds like he delivered it right after session two.

In the previous session. R. Resnik related a joke told by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that the Bible was a record of “failures, contradictions, and shortcomings.” Setting the joke aside, R. Sacks also speaks of the Bible’s overarching themes as Creation, Revelation, and Redemption, and it’s these three themes that are the backbone of session three.

Resnik said that Creation is God’s relationship with the universe. Revelation is God’s relationship with humanity. And Redemption is what happens when you apply Revelation to Creation. This is somewhat mapped out in the siddur, according to Resnik, because there are two blessings said before the Shema and one afterward. The first two are blessing God as Creator of light and blessing He who has chosen His people Israel. Creation and Revelation.

The blessing after the Shema is blessing God as Israel’s redeemer.

Revelation also points to Sinai where God revealed Himself, but the ultimate background or stage upon which revelation occurs is the Land of Israel. It is in the Land that God reveals Himself to the Jewish people, and it is through Israel that God reveals Himself to the nations. Israel’s (that is, the Jewish people’s) possession of the Land is part of facilitating God’s revelation to humanity across the globe.

There’s a lot of political debate about the Jewish right to the Land of Israel but what about her responsibilities?

Rabbi Russ Resnik
Rabbi Russ Resnik

Resnik laid out a number of examples revealing that Israel’s ethical and moral behavior were the responsibilities that determined if they lived in the Land or went into exile. For instance, the Fifth Commandment ties living in the Land to how parents are honored.

However he focuses on the following:

‘When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God.’

Leviticus 23:22 (NASB)

This is the section of Leviticus describing the Moadim or “God’s Appointed Times”, but this mitzvah appeared earlier.

‘Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.’

Leviticus 19:9-10

Why the repeat?

Resnik says Leviticus 19 addresses the Laws of Holiness while Leviticus 23 speaks of the Laws of the Moadim. He believes that these two occurrences provide linkage between ritual and ethical practices. He states that Israel cannot truly celebrate the festival of Shavuot (any festival, actually) as a unique Jewish heritage if it ignores the universal, moral dimensions contained within the festival.

Shavuot is called the Festival of Revelation, which makes sense. It is a celebration of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. But in citing the Laws of Gleaning, it also reveals God’s compassion to the poor and to the ger (stranger). This is part of the ethic of possession, the responsibility to not ignore the disadvantaged among you.

Choosing to focus on the stranger, Resnik references various scriptures including Leviticus 19 and Exodus 22 but his favorite is:

“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Exodus 23:9

The word translated as “feelings” in the NASB is the Hebrew word “nefesh” which is better translated as “soul”. “You shall not oppress the stranger since you know the soul of a stranger…”

But why are there strangers in the Land living among the Israelites? Was Israel not expected to exterminate the people living in the Land and displace them?

The problem isn’t that the people living in Canaan were Gentiles, the problem was that they had racked up 400 years of sin and iniquity.

IsraelResnik says that the Torah doesn’t preach racism and ethnocentrism. The Torah doesn’t have a problem with Gentiles. In fact, Israel was chosen, not because they were the strongest or the best, but because they too had been strangers and out of God’s abundant love for Abraham.

God gave the Israelites possession of the Land according to His promise and to facilitate His revelation to the nations of the world. Leviticus 25:23-24 is God’s declaration that the Land of Israel really belongs to Him, but He has given the Jewish people stewardship over the Land.

This relates to the following:

The Lord’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these…

Leviticus 23:2

Periodically, someone points this verse out to me indicating that the Moadim are not “Jewish” festivals, but the Lord’s festivals as a way to say that anyone has the right to observe the festivals, and that the Jewish people are not uniquely associated with them.

But let’s look at that verse again with some emphasis added:

The Lord spoke again to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these…'”

Leviticus 23:1-2

The relationship Israel has to the Land is the same relationship it has to the festivals. Yes, it all belongs to Hashem, but He has given Israel the Land and the Festivals to use to proclaim the revelation of God to the nations of the world. It all flows from God through Israel and then to the rest of us. We cannot eliminate or disconnect Israel from God’s revelation or redemptive plan because it is only through Israel and her Messiah that the rest of the people of the nations of the Earth can also be redeemed.

Because of Israel’s “chosenness” and her unique role and relationship with God, some non-Jews have accused the Jewish people, especially Jews in the Messianic Jewish movement, of elitism and even racism. But Resnik says that Israel’s election and possession (of the Land) are for God’s purposes, not Israel’s.

Believers in Messiah aren’t elite, they’re marginal. They/we stand at the margins of the world, not being sucked into its values, as prophetic witnesses. The Ethic of Possession looks forward into the future to the Messianic Age.

Traditionally, the Torah commands that all people in the Land of Israel, from the least to the greatest, from the pauper and stranger to the King, all celebrate the moadim with overwhelming joy. Why? Because it’s a portrait of the coming Messianic Age when there will be no poor and no strangers; when everyone will have a place and a role in the Kingdom through Messiah.

What Do I Think?

Rabbi Resnik was measured and considerate, not only in this session but in all three, in pointing out the relationship Israel has with God and their responsibility to the rest of the world. This has profound implications on the role of Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic movement as prophetic witnesses standing on the margins of the world, summoning the future age of prosperity and peace under King Messiah.

Resnik chose not to emphasize the ceremonial or ritual distinctions between Jews and Gentiles and focused instead on Israel’s responsibilities to the Gentiles. Granted, this was all in grand and sweeping generalizations and none of this is going to answer questions like “should a Gentile wear a tallit when praying”. The universal moral imperative of the Ethic of Possession requires that in their practice including celebrating the Moadim, the Jewish people make provision for the “disadvantaged” of the world as the world lives among them; the poor and the stranger, which Resnik seems to use as a synonym for non-Jews.

So, in a sense, Israel is “advantaged” because the Jewish people are the possessors of the covenants and the chosen of Hashem.

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

Romans 3:1-2

Since Gentiles have no direct connection to the Sinai and New Covenants and our linkage to any of the blessings promised by God is only through a single part of God’s covenant with Abraham, I guess you could say we are “disadvantaged” in that we are dependent on Israel fulfilling her responsibilities to God and to us.

AbrahamThis is most directly realized through Messiah, Israel’s firstborn son, so to speak, the living embodiment of the Word of God and His Will, the Savior and King of the world. But that salvation and kingship is inexorably bound to the people and nation of Israel, and any attempt to “de-couple” that relationship undoes God’s redemption…

…not that it’s possible to undo anything God does, we only attempt it by creating theologies and doctrines that spin the illusion that Jesus and salvation are completely separate from God’s covenantal relationship with Israel and the Ethics of Sinai.

After a rocky start in Session One, I find I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Rabbi Resnik’s presentation. It’s a pleasure to add another perspective on the issues with which we all struggle as people of faith, expanding my knowledge and understanding, not only of God and the Jewish people, but of who I am as a Gentile of the nations in the reality of Messiah.

Old Wine Made New

He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

Luke 5:36:39 (NIV)

I normally don’t use the NIV translation, but it more accurately translates Yeshua’s (Jesus’) last word as “better” rather than “good” or “fine”.

Let me explain.

I wasn’t going to write another blog post so soon, but two things happened. The first is that I saw yet another photo posted on Facebook of a presentation, in this case, by Jacob Fronczak, at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) 2014 Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, WI (the photo is posted below), and the second was a comment made by Steve Petersen on a prior blog post:

New wine = new teachings
Old wineskins = disciples who can’t embrace new teaching.

He also provided a link to an article written by D. Thomas Lancaster called New Wine and Old Wineskins: The Parable of Luke 5:36-39 Re-examined.

According to Lancaster, the “wineskin” parable is typically interpreted by the Church as old wine/wineskin being the old, outmoded Law, and new wine/wineskin being the new teaching of salvation by the grace of Christ.

Just as the new wine would burst the old skins and be spilled, so too the New Covenant Gospel of the Church Kingdom would be wasted if it was poured into the Old Covenant, Mosaic, legalistic religion of Judaism. In almost unanimous consent interpreters and commentators have agreed that the old wine, old wineskins and the old coat are all symbols of Judaism and Law whereas the new wine and the new coat are symbols of Christianity and Grace.

The problem, and maybe you spotted it, comes in with the last sentence: “The old is better.” If the Old is the Law and Jesus was teaching that the New, that is grace replacing the Law, is better, how can he possibly say that the old is better?

That is, unless the traditional Christian interpretation has problems.

The answer lies in interpreting Yeshua’s words through the lens of other, similar Rabbinic teachings of that era rather than filtering them through modern Christian doctrine. I won’t go into all the details. I’ve provided the link to Lancaster’s original article. It’s not long and you can read it for yourself.

I want to point out something else, something that’s directly related to my experience at church last Sunday.

Jacob Fronczak, a church Pastor and contributor to First Fruits of Zion, particularly in recent issues of Messiah Journal, is one of the presenters at this year’s Shavuot Conference. I saw his photo next to a projection of a PowerPoint slide. The slide displayed numbered list:

  1. All theological systems are based on premises that cannot be proved, but must be accepted on faith.
  2. The premises we choose will determine the shape of our theology.
  3. If Israel is not present in our premises, Israel will not be present in our fully formed theological system.

Beyond what I can read on the screen, I have no idea what Jacob is teaching, nor will I until FFOZ publishes his presentation in a text or audio format. However, I’d like to take his list and add a little something to it. Especially relative to point three, I’d like to say that it is how Israel is presented in our premises, assuming it’s present at all, that will shape our theological system.

ffoz1Many churches, including the one I attend, believe that Israel and the Jewish people have eschatological significance, that is, they have an existence and purpose in the end times. On the other hand, it is “the Church” as a unique and even supernatural entity that has primacy and is ultimately ascendant (as Israel is presumed to be based on the Hebrew Scriptures and New Covenant language contained therein). So Israel can be present in our premises but cast in a role that renders it secondary to the Church and ultimately, totally subjugated by said-Church (which includes Jews who have converted to Christianity).

Lancaster’s article speaks also to my experience in class last Sunday at church. Here’s his interpretation of the Luke 5:36:39 parable:

No one takes a lesson meant for a new student and tries to teach it to an old (already educated) student. If he does, he will fail to teach the new student, and the lesson meant for the new student will be rejected by the old student.

No one teaches new Torah-teaching to old (previously educated) students. If he does, the new teaching will be rejected, the student will be lost. No. Instead new Torah-teaching must be taught to new students. And no one after receiving old teaching (previous education) wants the new, for he says, “The old teaching is better.”

I’m not sure what to do with this. People, once educated in a particular system, rarely step outside that system or accept new information that apparently contradicts that system, even if the new interpretation objectively makes more sense and is more consistent with the source document (in this case, the Bible) than their current system.

No one likes change. I know I don’t. I’m a real creature of habit. I love my routine. It bugs me when my schedule is thrown off, even a little.

On the other hand, I love learning new things. And over time, I’ve learned many new things and have slowly allowed my perspective on theology and doctrine to change as new information became available and, after I thoroughly assessed it, determined that this “new wine” did indeed belong in my “old wineskin” (go figure). I guess to a limited degree, this old leopard can take on a few new spots.

walking-into-churchBut that means certain things relative to being at church and being in Sunday school. It means that I was right (or rather, my wife was) in saying that I have nothing to offer anyone at church. This assumes that everyone is there at church because they want to be there and that they agree with everything (or most everything) being taught. Even if there are minor disagreements with particular points, there is still more agreement between all the people within that system than there would be with just about anything I had to say from my “alien” viewpoint.

So, for them, “the old is better.” Who wants the new wine I’ve tried to peddle in their midst? I was right to keep quiet in Sunday school, even when I heard Jewish people and Israel being momentarily “dissed”.

On the other hand (like Tevye, I find there’s almost always an “other hand”), people have periodically approached me and said that they liked some point I made or found something I said interesting or enlightening. I assume that everyone in Sunday school and in church all universally agree with each other and unless they say otherwise, there’s no way to know for sure. I can speak up from time to time and hope I get lucky (or perhaps hope that the Holy Spirit will render someone’s heart a little more open to my opinions), or keep quiet, respecting the majority (including the church leadership since several members of the Board of Elders go to the same class) and withhold anything that might be elucidating to the possible minority who could be open to hearing it.

On that day, when two, poorly educated fishermen stood before the Sanhedrin, they demonstrated the full caliber of their education under Yeshua and vindicated his choice of disciples. New garments, new wineskins and new students.

Lancaster’s interpretation of Yeshua’s parable has limits. It assumes that only new (uneducated) students would accept the Master’s teachings, but we know he attracted the attention of “old wineskins” such as Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) and Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38). Who knows how many other “old” and well-educated disciples Yeshua attracted, either during his “earthly ministry” or later, during the time of the apostles?

I think an old dog can learn new tricks, it’s just not as easy as when you were (I was) a new dog.

Everyone listening to Jacob Fronczak and the other presenters at the Shavuot conference wants to be there. They bought tickets to attend the event, arranged to travel there, arranged for lodgings, and so on. They went through no small effort to make their way to Hudson and to find themselves sitting in the pews of this beautiful synagogue setting. So each and every person there is open to what is being taught.

And like I said, although it’s not quite the same effort to attend my local church, all of the people present are there willingly, and they all are open to learning what is being taught, even if they don’t agree one-hundred percent of the time.

But they didn’t sign up to listen to me spout off about new wine. That’s not my job and no one asked me to take it onboard. Maybe there are some old wineskins that might want a little new wine, but I can hardly tell who they are and what they might be open to.

On the other hand, my blog is open to the world or at least anyone with Internet access. I can only assume that each person who visits, if they stay long enough to read, is doing so willingly, even if they disagree with some of the things I say. My “wine” is welcome for the most part within their “wineskins.” At least I don’t have worry that there’ll be some outcry to ban me from the web.

wineThe Internet isn’t “community” though sometimes we fall into the illusion that it is. Facebook, twitter, and blogging aside, you don’t really form a community in virtual reality. I know the difference between Facebook “friends” and face-to-face friends.

But sometimes the Internet is all you’ve got, especially if “face-to-face” are old wineskins and all you’ve got to offer is new wine.

But my new wine has the flavor of the centrality of Israel, the primacy of the Jewish people in past and future prophesy, with the capstone being Messiah, Son of David, Son of God. My wine doesn’t spill all over the pages of the Torah, blotting out major sections, shuffling about the letters and words, and making them appear as if God said one thing but really meant another.

In a very real way, my “new wine” is actually old, really old. In fact, I’m banking that it’s at least as old as what the apostles, and even the Master taught. That means the old really is better, for the old is God who makes a covenant and never breaks it, who embraces Israel and never releases her, who presents the Torah through Moses and never changes a word or a letter as long as Heaven and Earth continue to exist.

In my bottle of old wine, Messiah brings a Gospel message that really is good news to the Jewish people and that supports and upholds the dignity and preservation of national Israel. It’s also good news for the Gentiles as long as we realize that salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22).

It’s amazing what a single photograph and a few sentences of text will inspire. A toast to old wine made new again.

Chag Shavuot Sameach!

Gifts of the Spirit: Pursuing the Mystery

MysteryLest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

Romans 11:25

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

Ephesians 3:1-3

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:27

What is this “mystery” of which Paul speaks? In all three of my examples from scripture, it seems directly related to the Gentiles being brought into the Jewish movement of “the Way.”

(I have to say before going on that you’re probably going to think I’m a little crazy for writing this. I don’t have some big theological point to make and I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I just have this rattling around in my head and I need to put it out there. OK, that’s done. Continue reading).

I’ve been rather slow in my reading this past week for a variety of reasons, but I managed to squeeze in a chapter from John Sanford’s book Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John. In Chapter 3: Christian Disciples, the First Disciples – John 1:35-51, he says (pg 32):

The call to the disciples is a call to initiation into the mystery of Christ. The idea of initiation is all but lost in our present culture, but it was an important one in the time of the inception of Christianity, for in the Roman Empire at that time there flourished a burgeoning number of “mystery religions.” The Greek word translated in English as “mystery” did not mean to the ancient Greek-speaking person what it means to us. A mystery for us is a puzzle to be solved. A mysterion for the ancients was “a matter to the knowledge of which initiation is necessary.” There are some things that can be known only by experiencing them; all in-depth spiritual or psychological understanding falls into this category. For this reason the word mysterion (mystery) is very important in the New Testament.

That statement reminds me very much of the recent First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference which was held at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. The focus of the conference was Gifts of the Spirit and by definition, a spiritual encounter can only be perceived through a direct experience, and is certainly one that reveals something of God. Yet the receiving of the Holy Spirit by those who repent and turn toward God is something that can only be understood by the person receiving the Spirit (unlike in ancient days when outside observers could actually see “tongues of fire” descending upon those whom the Spirit encountered and rested upon).

It also reminded me of something that happened a week ago when I was having coffee with my friend Tom. I won’t tell you all of the details, but at one point, Tom was telling me how important it was to him to be able to communicate to others his unique personal message of encountering God. Tom closed his eyes and a change came over him. I can’t explain it except to say that it reminded me of this:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3

I actually can’t find in the Bible where it says something like “and then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he spoke…” but that’s what it reminded me of. At the conference, some of the presenters were discussing the folks who stand up in church and say stuff like “And thus says the Lord” or “The Lord gave me a word of wisdom to speak…” and then they go on to say whatever it is that they think God told them to say.

But actually, the people who are really speaking “in the Spirit” don’t typically make a preamble statement, they just speak in the Spirit.

That’s what I think was going on with Tom.

OK, I can’t prove it and maybe he was just being very passionate at that moment. He certainly didn’t report anything unusual happening to him during our conversation. But that’s what it looked like. That’s what I experienced in listening to him. It was a mystery. It was an initiation of sorts into another perspective. As Sanford states in his book (pp 32-3), “this is, one who leads the initiate into a deeper revelation of himself and God.”

light-in-my-handsI don’t want to get too mysterious here and I certainly don’t want to give you the impression that I’m selling you some sort of spiritual bill of goods. I’m not claiming to have “gotten a word from the Lord” or anything like that. I’m just saying that there’s a point at which we encounter God that doesn’t translate well into human language. It isn’t easy to articulate. Nevertheless, it’s something I believe God shares with those He chooses as He wills.

These experiences are not random. They happen for a reason, though that reason isn’t always apparent.

The experiences that now came to the disciples in their association with Jesus were deeply meaningful and exciting. They had found the Master and they followed him happily, growing in consciousness and enthusiasm as they did so. But their full initiation was not complete. Before they could really truly know, deep within themselves, they would have to undergo two more crises even more painful than the first.

-Sanford, pg 36

For the Jewish disciples of the Master, they endured his death, rejoiced at his resurrection, watched him ascend into the Heavens, and then waited. But in Acts 2 we see that their wait had ended and something miraculous happened to them. They were initiated into the Spirit of God in order to fulfill the purpose of spreading the Gospel message to Israel, Samaria, and to the world beyond. The message of Spirit and salvation. The message of repenting and bringing near the Kingdom of Heaven.

Just looking at Peter when he denied the Master and then seeing him later, after Acts 2:2-4, we encounter a totally changed man.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Acts 2:36-39

Do you feel changed? Have you been “initiated into the mystery of Christ?” For that matter, do I feel changed?

Those who give priority to their physical selves and make the soul subordinate cannot achieve sincere brotherhood.

-Tanya, chapter 32

Rabbi Schneur Zalman states that a thorough unity is achieved between friends when their neshamos (souls) are permitted to fuse. Since all neshamos are part of God Himself, and inasmuch as God is the Absolute One, all souls can similarly be one. Separation and divisiveness among humans do not derive from the soul, but from the physical self.

The needs and desires of the physical self – the quest to satisfy one’s earthly drives – are the causes of divisiveness. The neshamah does not seek pride nor wealth, is not offended, and does not seek to berate others. All these are traits of the physical self. To the degree that one recognizes the neshamah as one’s true essence and subordinates the physical self thereto, to that degree one can eliminate the divisive factors and achieve true unity and brotherhood.

We thus see why spirituality is of such overwhelming importance. Hillel said that the essence of the Torah is “love your neighbor as you would yourself.” To achieve such love, one must eliminate the impediments to sincere love of another, and as Rabbi Schneur Zalman stated, these impediments are the non-spiritual aspects of life. The greater the degree of spirituality one achieves, the more perfect can one’s love of another person be.

Today I shall…

…seek to establish the primacy of spirituality in my life.

-Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Sivan 17”

paul-on-the-road-to-damascusParticularly in Judaism but also in Christianity, we can become very focused on studying. There’s nothing wrong with studying, with learning the Word of God, and in fact, as responsible believers, we have a duty to familiarize ourselves with the Bible and, to the limits of our abilities, to delve into its depths.

But it is going to take more than the capacities we have within ourselves, our “wetware” and programming, so to speak. In truly learning to know God we must start with the Bible, but we must continue in the Spirit. This isn’t something we can turn on and off like a light switch, and I think it’s pretty much up to God to initiate such a contact, but we have to be open to it.

True, in Acts 9, Paul was nowhere near desiring such an encounter when the Messiah came upon him in a light and a voice. Messiah “happened to” Paul whether Paul wanted him to or not.

But in our material world with our material problems and our material worries, it’s far too easy for us to put aside the spiritual reality of our relationship with God. I imagine that even some other believers reading this blog post will think I’m some sort of “religious nut” for talking about the Spirit of God. And yet, what else can I do? A.W. Tozer says that “I would emphasize this one committal, this one great volitional act which establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus.” All we can do is look up, to gaze at Him, and like the apostles, we wait.

Messiah will one day walk among us again in our world, but his journey of return begins in the clouds.

This is the actual time of the “footsteps of Mashiach.” (The final age prior to Mashiach’s advent.) It is therefore imperative for every Jew to seek his fellow’s welfare – whether old or young – to inspire the other to teshuva (return), so that he will not fall out – G-d forbid – of the community of Israel who will shortly be privileged, with G-d’s help, to experience complete redemption.

“Today’s Day”
Monday, Sivan 18, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

As Rabbi Twerski might say, today I shall strive to be open to the mysterious movement of God’s Spirit in my life through love of Him and so that my love of my neighbor is more evident in the world.

Am I pursuing the mystery or is the mystery pursuing me?

This will be the last blog post where I’ll directly reference presentations from the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference. I’ve pretty much exhausted my notes, the ones I can still read, anyway. I may, from time to time, refer to the conference or some of the speakers or attendees again, but not in any depth. I hope you enjoyed what I shared from my experiences. I sincerely meant to present my own point of view about the conference and do not represent First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) in any way. At some point FFOZ will no doubt produce an audio CD of the presentations given at the conference. I encourage you to acquire a copy if my renditions of the events there has piqued your interest.

The road

Was it something I said or something I did
Did my words not come out right

-Lyrics by Bret Michaels
Every Rose Has Its Thorn (1988)
Recorded by Poison

The Road is long and often, we travel in the dark.

115 days.

Shelach: Going Up

Rising IncenseBut the men who had gone up with him said, “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.” Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the Nephilim there — the Anakites are part of the Nephilim — and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”

Numbers 13:31-33 (JPS Tanakh)

Then the two men came down again from the hills and crossed over. They came to Joshua son of Nun and reported to him all that had happened to them. They said to Joshua, “The Lord has delivered the whole land into our power; in fact, all the inhabitants of the land are quaking before us.”

Joshua 2:23-24 (JPS Tanakh)

Have you ever wondered about these two events? What set apart one generation from the next? There’s actually an involved set of sociological, psychological, and experiential factors that come into play about why the generation who came out of Egypt couldn’t conquer the Land but their children could.

However, according to Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s commentary on Torah Portion Shlach:

The Kotzker Rebbe said that the mistake of the spies was in the words “and so we were in their sight.” It should not bother a person how others view him. (Otzer Chaim)

A person who worries about how others view him will have no rest. Regardless of what he does or does not do, he will always be anxious about receiving the approval of others. Such a person makes his self-esteem dependent on the whims of others. It is a mistake to give others so much control over you. Keep your focus on doing what is right and proper. Work on mastering the ability to have a positive self-image regardless of how others view you.

The Chofetz Chaim commented, “When you view yourself as inferior, you will assume that others also view you in this manner. The truth could very well be that the other person views you in a much higher manner. As the Yalkut Shimoni states, “The Almighty said, ‘Who says that you were not in their eyes as angels?’ ” (HaChofetz Chaim, Vol 3, p. 1060)

It has been said that “you are what you think,” or in other words, your “attitude” about a person or situation tends to dictate how you’ll respond. If you believe you are a “grasshopper” in the sight of others, often it’s because that’s how you see yourself in comparison to those others (or anyone). The result is what you do or what you fail to do.

Here’s another comparison:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

Mark 10:13-16

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mark 10:17-23

camel-eye-of-a-needle-gateI suppose another way of putting it is how can a child be compared to a rich man when they attempt to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

But what does that have to do with the generation with Moses who failed to enter the Land and the generation with Joshua who did?

It’s all a matter of perspective. What is the world a child sees as opposed to someone who is quite wealthy when confronted with bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near?

What did the rich person have to lose and what were the children being brought to Jesus experiencing? When we become secure in our situation for whatever reason, there’s a tendency not to want to leave that security. But children don’t worry about jobs, income, and wealth. They take it for granted that the adults in their lives who love them will take care of them. They focus on the matter at hand which for them is just being a child.

When Jesus said ‘whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it,” he wasn’t saying that maturity or education had no value. He wasn’t even saying that having wealth or material comfort was such a bad thing. He was saying that we must learn to trust and value the Master and the “gifts” of the Kingdom of Heaven most of all.

The first generation of Israelites who left Egypt in some sense never really left. Whenever they encountered trouble, they responded by longing to return to the only home they ever knew: Egypt. The fact that they lived as slaves and endured terrible hardships was what they found familiar. No matter how much more beneficial it was to be free and to be protected by the King of Heaven, that life was unfamiliar and frightening. They never really learned to trust God at the core of their beings, regardless of how many miracles they witnessed.

But their children grew up trusting God and Moses rather than the Egyptians. They learned to love God as children and continued that “child-like” trust into their adulthood as they faced the Land of Canaan across the Jordan.

No, they weren’t perfect people, but the Biblical record shows us that no one who obeyed God and followed His precepts was a perfect person. Noah wasn’t, Abraham, wasn’t, neither were Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and so on.

And yet, some part of those people who spoke with God “face-to-face” and who were called people after God’s own heart all had a quality in common with the children who were being brought to Jesus. Those who did not obey thought they had too much to lose by following the Master, even if what they were clinging to was actually degrading, humiliating, and even agonizing.

conference2In my Torah commentary for last week, I discussed my hesitancy at attending the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. As much as I wanted to just step through the doors of the synagogue and immediately feel at home, I didn’t. I mainly live in a Christian world now, so re-entering a traditional Jewish prayer service was a rough transition. I eventually adjusted, but it was the people I encountered at the conference that finally made me feel at home.

But looking back, I understand that it was the story I told myself about who I am now and what attending a Jewish festival in a traditional setting means. In order to feel more “at home” in church and even to be comfortable in calling myself a “Christian,” I’ve had to put a lot of other stuff away and change my attitude about what it all means.

I was cleaning out my closet recently and came across the box where I have stored my tallitot, tefillin, and other items I previously used when I had adopted a more “Jewish” worship style. I’ve become more comfortable not employing those holy objects in my prayers but I’d be lying if I said that part of me didn’t miss them.

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

Troy Mitchell

At the conference, someone at the synagogue asked Rabbi Carl Kinbar to let them know if their services could be improved in any way. As I recall (so this is hardly word-for-word), Rabbi Kinbar had no complaint and indeed, had a compliment. He said he’s been in other synagogues and the services were technically very correct, but the prayers were horizontal. That is, the services seemed “flat.” There was excellent form but no substance or quality that ascended to Heaven.

Rabbi Kinbar said that the prayers at Beth Immanuel were “vertical.” They ascended up to the Throne of God.

In my own life (and probably in the lives of most people of faith), we have a tendency to let the context in which we worship define who we are as servants of the Most High. That first generation out of Egypt allowed their slavery to define themselves, even after they were free, and slaves cannot conquer a nation. The only difference between them and their children, was that they knew their master was God, not an Egyptian slaver.

looking-upChildren tell themselves one story about life and rich people tend to tell themselves a different story. As a result, it is easier for the former to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than the latter. The story I tell myself about who I am, at its core, cannot be a “Jewish” story (and certainly not, since I’m not Jewish) or a “Christian” story (even though I am a Christian). Who I am must be based less on religous ritual and context than on a child’s trust and faith that regardless of circumstance, knows God is always there, providing, protecting, and loving, just like any good Father.

I can be praying in church, in synagogue, at home, or even in a desert, but it is not where I am that defines me, but who I am in Messiah. And then, like sweet incense, my prayers go up.

Children live in a natural state of awe. To reclaim that energy, identify what fascinates you the most about life. Set goals for living and pursue them with relentless fascination.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg

When G‑d told Noah to build an ark before the world would be destroyed, Noah built an ark.

But when G‑d told Abraham He was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah—cities corrupt and evil to the core—Abraham argued. He said, “Perhaps there are righteous people there! Will the Judge of All the Earth not do justice?”

Abraham felt a sense of ownership for the world in which he lived. If there was something wrong, it needed to be changed. Even if it had been decreed by the will of G‑d.

Moses took ownership of the dark as well as the light. He argued not just for the righteous, but also for those who had failed.

When the people angered G‑d with a golden calf only 40 days after the revelation of Absolute Oneness at Mount Sinai, Moses had to admit they had wronged. Yet he did more than plead for them: he put his entire being on the line for them.

“Forgive them!” he demanded. “And if you do not forgive them, then wipe me out from Your book that You have written!”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Noah and Abrahamand Moses
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Good Shabbos.

117 days.

Gifts of the Spirit: Building God’s Dwelling Place, Part 2

tabernacle-sea-caveAnd Moses finished setting up the Tent of Meeting.

Exodus 40:33

…no place on earth is devoid of the Shechinah. Rabbi Joshua of Sikhnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi, What is the Tabernacle compared with? With a cave situated on the edge of the sea. When the sea rises and floods it, the cave is filled by the sea, yet the sea is not diminished. Likewise, the Tabernacle was filled with the radiance of the Shechinah.

-Pesikta Derab Kahana 1.3

If you haven’t done so already, please read Part 1 of this “meditation” before continuing here. This is a continuation of my commentary on the teaching “For God’s Dwelling Place” presented at the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship by Rabbi Carl Kinbar.

Yesterday, I suggested that there is no inconsistency between the Spirit of God dwelling within each of us as disciples of the Jewish Messiah and God dwelling among His people Israel in the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Holy Jerusalem. That’s not exactly traditional thinking for most Christians, and at least in the western world, we tend to think in terms of “either/or” rather than “why not both.”

But to borrow a little “rabbinic language,” to what can the dwelling place of God be compared?

Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.

Hebrews 3:5-6 (NRSV)

The end of the Book of Exodus records Moses finishing the work of setting up the Tabernacle and then the Divine Presence covering and filling the Mishkan. Moses was faithful in the construction of a dwelling place for God among His people Israel as God’s servant. But there is one who is more than a servant. He is a son. How much more faithful is the son over the house of the father than the servant?

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:4-5

Reading Hebrews and Peter’s first letter gives the impression of an “either-or” situation. Either God dwells in a Temple of stone or He dwells in a Temple of flesh and blood, with a flesh and blood Son being the cornerstone of the “structure.” But is this necessarily true in a permanent sense? It is true that there is no Temple in Jerusalem today, and it is true that the Spirit dwells within each of God’s people, that we come together as “living stones” and united, we form a “Temple” of God, the body of Messiah.

And it is true that today we offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Messiah.

The sacrifices God desires are a broken spirit; a heart broken and humbled, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 51:19 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Not too long ago, I wrote about what it is to be broken in heart and in spirit before God and among other heartbroken people. These were the sacrifices we offered to God at Shavuot and His Spirit filled the synagogue in Hudson, Wisconsin during the days of the festival.

There is no Temple sacrifice that atones for murder and adultery, both of which David was guilty of, except on Yom Kippur. He must have known this when he wrote his famous Psalm. But what is the state of the heart of one who approaches God in abject humility on Yom Kippur? Is not every Jew heartbroken, contrite, and humbled? Are these not the sacrifices we make to God with our lives as we turn away from our sins and turn to Him begging for forgiveness?

Rescue me from blood-guilt, O God, God of my salvation, let my tongue sing joyously of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips that my mouth may declare Your praise.

Psalm 51:16-17 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

David seems to paint a portrait that is completely appropriate for the disciple of Jesus in the world today. No stone Temple is required when we turn to God and offer spiritual sacrifices of the heart. But then, David says something that doesn’t fit into the Christian template.

Then You will desire the offerings of righteousness, burnt-offering, and whole offering; then will bulls go up upon Your altar.

Psalm 51:21 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

The Jewish disciples of Messiah in the days of the apostles would have had no problem with Temple sacrifices, and it is said that under certain conditions, even the God-fearing Gentiles could offer sacrifices at the Temple through the Priests. It is only today, and especially with no House of God standing on the Temple Mount that Gentile Christians balk at the thought of “bulls going up upon God’s altar.”

jerusalem_templeAnd yet we know that there will be a physical Temple in Jerusalem again, and we know that each of the nations who went up against (who will go up against) Jerusalem in the final days, will be commanded to send representatives to Jerusalem for Sukkot each year (Zechariah 14:16). True celebration of Sukkot in the days when there is a Temple in Jerusalem require that sacrifices be made in the Temple (Leviticus 23:33-43).

In the days of the Temple, will the sacrifices of the heart no longer be required? Hardly. Read Psalm 51 again. Once our hearts and spirits are broken before God as spiritual sacrifices, then will the offerings of bulls be accepted upon the Temple altar.

And God will once again dwell among His nation Israel and in the hearts of His devout ones, first the Jew and also the Gentile who is called by His Name.

But let’s take a closer look at what’s happening now.

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:17-22 (NRSV)

Notice that we Gentiles who were far off were brought near and united as members of God’s household through the Spirit and not by the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews. Rabbi Kinbar says that the phrase referring to Gentiles “who were far off” literally describes being “outside the house” in Greek. He also said, according to my notes, that the reference to “house” both means “house” as a structure and also the process of “building the house.”

Gentiles are brought near to Israel, bringing us inside the house, but we also join Israel in the process of building the house of God with Messiah as the cornerstone. Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master are all part of a single household; a holy Temple of God. Jesus is the house and the house is also in him. Jesus is pre-eminent and pre-dominant in the house.

For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.

1 Corinthians 3:9-10 (NRSV)

However, Rabbi Kinbar suggests that we should be careful what materials we use to lay upon the foundation stones of the house. A quick look at the condition of “the church” today, at least in the United States, suggests that many Christians aren’t using the finest materials for the construction job. In fact, sad to say, many churches are using sub-standard materials, flimsy and faulty wood, stone, and tools. Precious stones were used in the construction of the Jerusalem Temple. Should we use anything less in the Temple where we are the stones?

Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church…So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church…What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

1 Corinthians 14:4, 12, 26 (NRSV)

These are all images of building up the house of God as members of the house, the body, the community of faith. We build with our spiritual gifts, we build with prayer, with hope, with love, with faith. 1 Corinthians 12:11 says that we are all one by the same Spirit but each one of us individually has specific gifts. We’re not all alike. We each have something unique to contribute, just as Bezalel and Oholiab and “every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill” had unique talents they used in making the elements of the Tabernacle (Exodus 36:1-3).

I’ve said previously that we are a work in progress as a body of faith. God has not yet written his Torah on our hearts, nor have our hearts been fully transformed from stone to blood-pumping hot flesh. We still cry out to one another, “Know God!” (see Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8; 10).

Receiving the SpiritRabbi Kinbar finished his presentation by stating something I consider remarkable about our “living house.” God is actually living in the dwelling place we are constructing while it is still in the process of being built. This is completely unlike His dwelling in the Tabernacle and later, the Temple, because those projects had to be fully completed before the Divine Presence filled them. For He lives within us as we are still measuring and hammering and raising wooden beams and laying precious foundation stones.

The plans for the Tabernacle and the Temple were exquisitely precise and each and every piece of stone and wood was of the finest quality, constructed by exceptionally skilled craftsmen. Not so God’s living house today. We stumble half blind to draw and redraw the blueprints, reach for any tool handy, and much of the time, employ shoddy workmanship and poor materials in our efforts. And yet God is tolerant of us and what we’re doing. He continues to live among us and to live in us as we build and rebuild ourselves as believers, striving forward, falling back, but never taking our gaze from the soul of our Master.

The dwelling place of God is past, present and future all at once. Just imagine when the house if finally complete, when the imperfections have been burned away like dross, leaving only a precious and perfect product. When that day comes, then our King will be evident in the house, and he will be one and His Name one. And God will dwell within us as the Presence dwells in the Jerusalem Temple. And Messiah will walk among His people again.

But He’s also in His house now, and we are here too, united in His Spirit as His Spirit unites us.

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

Troy Mitchell

119 days.

Gifts of the Spirit: Building God’s Dwelling Place, Part 1

creation2And there was evening and morning: one day.

Genesis 1;5

R. Samuel b. Ammi said: From the beginning of the world’s creation the Holy One, blessed be He, longed to enter into partnership with human beings… When did the Holy One, blessed be He, compensate them [those below for not partnering with them at that time] there? At the erection of the Tabernacle, as it says, “And he that presented his offering the first day” (Num. 7:12), meaning, the first of the world’s creation, for God said, “It is as though on that day I created My world.”

-Genesis Rabbah 3.9

Rabbi Carl Kinbar’s notes for his teaching “For God’s Dwelling Place” presented at the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin begin this way. It’s really a two-part lesson that Rabbi Kinbar managed to offer to us in a single session on Shabbat (I’ll write it as a “two-parter” presenting the second part tomorrow).

You may be put off by the Talmudic references and I’ve been avoiding them until now, knowing how Christian audiences sometimes react to the teachings of the Rabbinic sages. On the other hand, it is sometimes helpful to access Jewish commentary on the Word of God and the Spirit of God in order to re-insert what we are learning back into it’s “natural Jewish habitat” (as D.T. Lancaster puts it).

But what does the act of creating the world and building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert have to do with “gifts of the spirit?”

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Exodus 24:15-18 (NRSV)

Rabbi Kinbar told a story about how this verse was once taught in a class. One woman in the class responded that it must have been incredibly boring for Moses to sit up on that mountain for forty days and forty nights with nothing to do.

When I heard him describe this woman’s comment I immediately thought, “Sure, if he were alone!” Rabbi Kinbar kindly suggested to his class, “Let’s assume that God is exactly as the Bible describes Him.” Apparently, it doesn’t occur to some folks to take the Bible at face value and to believe God is as He is described in the pages of His own Word.

But let’s “assume” that He is and that at Eden, He desired to dwell among people. In Exodus, He desires to dwell among His people.

I will meet with the Israelites there, and it shall be sanctified by my glory; I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate, to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.

Exodus 29:43-46

But it’s more than just God living in the human world. God wants something special from people, something that He doesn’t want from any other portion of creation. He wants to be partners with us. He want us to work with Him, not just for Him. He wants more than servants, He wants sons and daughters to help in building His dwelling place; building the Kingdom of God.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Luke 17:20-21

looking-at-heavenWe tend to think of the “Kingdom” as either Heaven or the future Messianic era, but Jesus is talking about it in the present tense: “…the kingdom of God is among you.” When he says it’s near, he doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right around the corner or that it’s coming soon, he means that as we pursue our partnership with God and perform the mitzvot necessary to help repair our broken world, we are drawing nearer to the Kingdom, we are building little bits and pieces of the Kingdom every time we perform an act of kindness, charity, or justice.

I don’t mean that God just wants to “dwell” with us in some abstract or metaphoric sense.

Moses did everything just as the Lord had commanded him. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was set up. Moses set up the tabernacle; he laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars; and he spread the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent over it; as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Exodus 40:16-19

As far as I know, there’s nothing in the Hebrew text that suggests Moses had help when he built the Mishkan for the first time and Midrash states that Moses built the entire structure single-handedly. Moses “partnered” with God in constructing God’s dwelling place. All of the Children of Israel who either directly participated in making the elements of the Mishkan or who donated funds and materials for the work “partnered” with God in constructing God’s dwelling place among them.

And when the Divine Presence descended upon the Mishkan so that even Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting (Exodus 40:34-38), it was possible for the first time to make offerings to God directly in His presence and God dwelt among His people Israel. In fact, it was not possible to make sacrifices to God unless the Divine Presence was in the Mishkan. And this, according to the Sages, was God’s compensation for the lack of human participation in the creation of the world; allowing human participation in the construction of God’s Mishkan and God dwelling directly within Israel and her legions.

In the Garden, God comes down to human beings. At Sinai, when God gives the Torah, God comes down to human beings. And when the last element of the Tabernacle was constructed, God comes down to human beings.

And God came down to human beings in the form of a human being, not in the totality of all that God is (for the Divine Presence is not the totality of all that God is, for even the earth is His footstool, see Isaiah 66:1, Acts 7:49) but God came down to us and dwelt among us as living, breathing flesh.

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

John 3:13

Most Christians have a difficult time understanding what the Temple means to the Jewish people. Most Christians don’t understand what the big deal is about Jews praying at the Kotel (Western Wall, Wailing Wall). Most Christians don’t get the importance of Exodus 40 because they (we) believe that now that we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God lives in us more than ever, and who needs the Temple anyway?

We do.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I mentioned in a previous blog post about the conference, that the Holy Spirit has always been moving among humanity and particularly among Israel. The Spirit didn’t show up for the first time in Acts 2. If we can say there’s any sort of difference between the time of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Apostolic Era, it was that the Spirit did not previously dwell upon literally every man and woman in Israel, but after the first Shavuot post-ascension, the Spirit does dwell upon each person who has come to faith in God.

Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; yet the spirit rested upon them — they were among those recorded, but they had not gone out to the Tent — and they spoke in ecstasy in the camp. A youth ran out and told Moses, saying, “Eldad and Medad are acting the prophet in the camp!” And Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ attendant from his youth, spoke up and said, “My lord Moses, restrain them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” Moses then reentered the camp together with the elders of Israel.

Numbers 11:26-30 (JPS Tanakh)

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” Wow.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Acts 2:1-4

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.

Acts 10:44-46

Wish granted, Moses.

jewish-temple-messiahAnd even beyond that, there will still be a Third Temple in the Messianic Age, and it is in the Temple that Messiah will be enthroned as King over all.

And it will be God’s House and He will dwell among humanity again.

It’s not an either-or proposition. We can have both. We can build both in partnership with God. But we in the church must never forget that our “connectedness” to God is wholly dependent on Israel’s “connectedness” to God. We are made partners through Israel’s partnership with God.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Once more they shall use these words in the land of Judah and in its towns when I restore their fortunes:

“The Lord bless you, O abode of righteousness, O holy hill!”

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name:
If this fixed order were ever to cease
from my presence, says the Lord,
then also the offspring of Israel would cease
to be a nation before me forever.

Jeremiah 31:23, 34-36

This set of verses is meaningful in at least two ways. It teaches us that we are not “there” yet. It was quite obvious to me as I was sitting in a conference listening to a Rabbi teach me about God’s partnership with humanity that I still needed to be taught about God. Teachers were still saying “Know the Lord.” We are still in the process of building. God’s finger is still in the process of writing His Word on our hearts, of turning our hearts from stone to warm and beating flesh.

The other thing it teaches is that Israel will not cease to be a nation before God as long as there is a Sun by day and a Moon by night, as long as the waves of the sea continue to come to the shore. Only when this “fixed order” stops will the offspring of Israel stop being a nation before God.

Israel by design and the people of the nations who are called by the Lord’s Name by being grafted in have a job to do. We must continue to build God’s dwelling place among us. How do we do that? By obeying the will of God for our lives, by loving God with all of our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. By feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, comforting the grieving. By studying His Word, by living the life that God has provided for us in accordance with His wishes. By loving and by humility.

praying-at-the-kotelThe generation of Israelites in the desert weren’t circumcised. The consequence of not obeying the commandment of the brit milah is to be cut off from among the people. This is a serious consequence. Why didn’t God cut off that entire generation that came out of Egypt?

According to Rabbi Kinbar, it was because of God’s love and humility. We don’t often think of God as being humble, but we do know that even Moses was considered the most humble of all men (Numbers 12:3). Maybe Moses, as a “disciple” of God, was imitating his Master.

I want to mention two more items before I end my “meditation” for this morning. Remember the woman Rabbi Kinbar told us about, the one who thought spending forty days and forty nights on the mountain with God would be boring? Another woman responded to her after Rabbi Kinbar suggested we could accept what the Bible tells us about God at face value. The second woman said she heard from God. It was just after her husband died and she was feeling intensely grief-stricken. The woman didn’t say what God told her, but the implication was that His presence was very comforting and very real…and not boring at all.

The last thing I want to say is that Rabbi Kinbar suggested something I hadn’t considered before. Is the Birkat Kohenim (the Priestly Blessing) a blessing for the Messianic Era?

May the LORD bless you and guard you – יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you – יָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace – יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

I’ll pick up Rabbi Kinbar’s lesson in Part 2 tomorrow.

120 days.