Tag Archives: shavuot

Pilgrimage to Wisconsin

thekingdomisnowThis Shavu’ot, in honor of the anniversary of the giving of the Torah and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the teachers from First Fruits of Zion are gathering to provide historical answers about the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” from a Messianic Jewish perspective. We’ll be taking a serious look at the role of the Holy Spirit and supernatural gifts. What does Judaism say about prophets and prophecy? What did the gift of tongues mean to the early believers? What is a Spirit-filled life, and what are the gifts of the Spirit from an apostolic-Jewish perspective? How did they function? Is the Holy Spirit active today? How so? This is prophetic teaching about the power of the Messianic Era (the Kingdom) bursting into this current age in the form of supernatural manifestations.

The Gifts of the Spirit are tokens of the Messianic Era—a down payment on the promises of the Kingdom of Heaven, bringing the power of the Messianic Age into our world today.

-from the Shavuot Conference 2013 webpage
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

I went to last year’s conference and had a blast, but just like last year right before I left home, I am experiencing a little trepidation. Things have changed in the last year. I’ve returned to a Sunday church setting for regular worship and have been exploring areas, concepts, and ideas that I have never touched on before.

Last year, I expected to be completely anonymous and was astonished when so many people recognized me. This year, I’m afraid I’ll expect people to recognize me (and I hope I’m not such an egomaniac) and instead I’ll be completely anonymous, even to the people I know well.

Truth be told, I don’t travel as well as I used to. I like going to new places once I arrive and I discover I really do have confirmed room reservations, transportation, and meals, but there’s always a concern that I’ll get on the wrong plane and end up in a different city, arrive at the correct destination but have no luggage (I actually dreamed about that recently), or arrive at the correct destination and no one will have heard of me. I have no desire to sleep in the airport.

I know this is the wrong attitude to approach this year’s Shavuot conference. The theme of the conference is Gifts of the Holy Spirit which presupposes faith and an expectation of gifts that are beyond human creation and experience. If God wants me to go to this conference, He’ll make it possible. If he wants me to participate in a meaningful way, He’ll make that happen too, somehow.

As you read this, it’s Tuesday morning (or later) and I’m on a plane between Boise and Salt Lake or between Salt Lake and Minneapolis–Saint Paul. I suppose if I traveled more, this wouldn’t seem so daunting, but I haven’t been on a plane since last year at this time, so it’s hardly a common occurence in my life.

OK, stop. There I go again. Trust. Faith. I’ve got to remember that.

Last year, I was just beginning to explore this whole Christian vs. Messianic thing. This year I’m deeply involved.

There’s another issue here though. This whole classification of Christian vs. Messianic among non-Jews is just a little crazy. I know that it’s meant to differentiate between traditional Sunday Christians and those who have become more aware of the Hebraic origins of our faith, but it’s gotten to the point where we’re almost acting like we have two different religions.

I know a number of non-Jews who self-identify as “Messianic” visit and read my blog posts. If that’s you, I want you to practice something in the privacy of your own homes when you’re all alone. I want you to say out loud, “I’m a Christian.” Repeat it a few times. C’mon, don’t whisper. Really belt it out. “I’m a Christian.”

“I’m a Christian.”

-Me from last year

conference2I’m a Christian. In many ways, I’m more of a Christian now than when I took this journey last year. Am I too much of a Christian?

Life is exploration. Life is change. Life is a journey and as I write this (last Wednesday morning from your point of view), I’m anticipating a big one (for me, anyway). I find that I’m suddenly scrambling in my brain and in my schedule to put last-minute touches on projects, make sure all my arrangements are arranged, and I’m still trying to frantically put all my ducks in a row (the darn things have a tendency to wander).

Last year I said, ” In some ways, I’ll be just as nervous attending the conference as I would be if I decided to visit a church next Sunday morning.” Right now, I’m more used to going to church on Sunday than I am attending a Messianic conference. I’m sure once I get there, everything will be fine, but there’s this nagging suspicion that I’ve mutated into a lifeform that will look, act, and sound alien to the people in that environment (kind of like a duck in a pond full of swans).

As you might expect, I’ll have little or no time to actually compose new “meditations” when I’m at the conference, so I won’t be posting “morning meditations” every day while away from home (I’ve composed a couple previously that will be automatically published tomorrow and the next day thanks to the WordPress scheduling feature). I may or may not get access to a computer, so I might not even be responding to comments (or clearing comments held for moderation) until the following Sunday, but we’ll see about that.

I’m hoping this will be a time of renewal and rejuvenation (an odd thought for someone approaching his sixth decade on earth) as well as a revived illumination. While I am a creature of habit and I take great comfort in a regular routine, the law of diminishing returns has kicked in and the more I walk my yearly circle in the same way and on the same path, the less I learn and thus, the less I can return to others.

I suppose I should consider Toby Janicki’s point of view on attending the conference:

Today, many Gentile believers are returning once again to the celebration of Shavuot under the auspices of Messianic Judaism. While Christian tradition focuses primarily on the Acts 2 outpouring of the spirit in its celebration of Pentecost, a Messianic Jewish celebration of Shavuot focuses on both this outpouring and the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. In some ways Shavuot represents the totality of the believers walk, spirit and truth. God not only gave Israel his precious instruction and desired they share it with the nations, but he also gave his people the Holy Spirit which enables us to walk out those instructions and spread the kingdom of heaven. Chag Sameach!

One day, God be willing, I’ll see Jerusalem and the Kotel with my own eyes within this lifetime. But if a trip to another part of my own country to see people who are relatively the same as me causes such concern, how will I face traveling to another country where the people don’t even speak my language and they conceptualize the world in fundamentally different ways?

May God travel with me on my journey (and journeys) and grant me companionship wherever I may find myself. May I also find Him there as well.

…when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” – And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:18-19 (ESV)


134 days.

The road

Noah, Moses, and Peter: Lessons from Acts 2

Receiving the SpiritFor the disciples of the Master, Shavuot already carried extra significance as the fiftieth day since His resurrection. He was the first fruits of the resurrection. The disciples and followers of Yeshua were themselves the first fruits of His labor. On Shavuot, they added 3,000 souls to their number and the great harvest of men began.

The story of Acts 2 depicts the early disciples of Yeshua still engaged in the biblical calendar, keeping the LORD’s appointed times as prescribed by the Torah of Moses. Unlike later Christian tradition which discarded the biblical calendar with its weekly Sabbaths and holy days, the early disciples remained steadfastly Torah observant, even after the resurrection of our Master.

Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Torah Portion Noach (Noah) (pg 30)
Commentary on Acts 2:1-41

“Chronicles of the Apostles” takes students on a year-long study of the book of Acts with Messianic commentary and Jewish insights into the Epistles.

Follow the lives and adventures of the apostles beyond the book of Acts and into the lost chapter of church history. Study Jewish sources, Church fathers, and Christian history to reveal the untold story of the disciples into the second century.

Promotional description of
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

All of them were gathered with one heart.

Ma’asei HaShlichim 2:1

So begins my year-long study of the Apostolic writings from Acts and other sources, which runs in parallel with the annual Jewish Torah reading cycle. I say “parallel” rather than a more closely connected link because, although this study in Torah Club is to be read for the Torah Portion Noach (Noah), they have little, if anything to do with each other. Noach doesn’t speak of Shavuot or the giving of the Torah at all, which are events that occur much later in the Torah narrative. And yet perhaps this is a good thing.

In traditional Christian Bible studies, the New Testament is given overwhelming preference with maybe a slight nod to the Old Testament, but almost certainly not the Torah (the Five Books of Moses). In the Hebrew Roots movement, where I have spent most of my history as a believer worshiping God and studying the Word, the Torah is given the greater preference, even though we are followers and disciples of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. I think it’s good to try to even the scales, so to speak, and give equal time to all of the different portions of the Bible.

A traditional Jewish Torah reading will present from the Torah and the Prophets. Few synagogues also offer the opportunity to read the Psalm for the week, but each Torah Portion has a corresponding Psalm (Psalm 29 in the case of Noah). First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) has also created a schedule of Gospel readings that map to the readings of the Torah, but the later portions of the Apostolic scriptures are largely ignored, at least formally.

In my “previous life” as a teacher in my former “One Law” (part of Hebrew Roots) congregation, I created an alternating cycle where for one year, Matthew through Acts was read along with the Torah cycle, and the next year, Romans through Revelation was read. So in two years, the congregation would go through the Torah twice, through the traditional readings of the Prophets and the Psalms twice, and through the entire New Testament. Imagine how much you would absorb after a decade of repeatedly reading and hearing read the vast majority of the Bible.

But reading and hearing read is one thing (or two things) and studying is something else. Here, FFOZ and D. Thomas Lancaster offers the Torah Club student (or class, since this material is designed to be used in a small group study) the opportunity to “dig deeper” into the scriptures and to learn how familiar passages in Acts are married back to the Torah, as well as to the Prophets, other portions of the New Testament, and as the study progresses through the annual cycle, to extra-Biblical learned texts as well.

Today, I am learning about the Acts of the early Jewish Apostles, This lesson is about the 3,000 Jews, many probably from the diaspora, who were in Jerusalem for the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), which is held in the late Spring, and who came to receive the Spirit of the Lord and to come to faith in Jesus (Yeshua), the Jewish Messiah, the Son of the God of Israel, the redeemer of Israel and the world.

The disciples were all “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Torah uses the same terminology to describe the endowment of God’s Spirit on Joshua, Caleb, Bezalel, and Oholiab. In those examples, the Torah likens a human being to a vessel. God’s spirit can fill a human being like water can fill a jar.

from “Chronicles”
Torah Portion Noah (pg 32)

And what is this supposed to teach me? I’m reminded of something I said just recently:

I’m still not sure of what the process is where I’m supposed to be emptied now and filled later, but in trying to live out that process in writing and in person, I prefer to think of myself as taking “the higher road less traveled”

But in reading Lancaster’s study of Acts 2 and the giving of the Spirit, I’m also reminded of this:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

1 Corinthians 4:7-11 (ESV)

So aren’t we all fragile jars of clay containing an unimaginably valuable treasure of the Holy Spirit of God, through our Master and Messiah Jesus Christ?

Acts 2 describes the giving of the Spirit to thousands of new Jewish disciples of the Messiah on the day of Shavuot. Is it too soon to bring in the idea that we among the nations were also to receive the Spirit?

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

Perhaps I can also extend the lesson and the metaphor of “jars of clay” to include Gentile God-fearers like Cornelius and his transition into what was later known as Christianity through accepting discipleship under Jesus Christ…and also bring Noah into the lesson.

I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Genesis 9:11-17 (ESV)

As we saw in Acts 10, Peter, the Jewish Apostle, was astonished to discover that the Spirit of God would also come upon the non-Jew who accepted Christ, just as it came upon the Jews during his experience of the events recorded in Acts 2. It had never occurred to him before that such a thing was even possible. What a wonderful God who can also save the children of the nations as well as the Children of Israel.

But earlier in the chapter, we learn some things about Cornelius as he was before becoming a disciple of Jesus:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.

“Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.”

Acts 10:1-2, 22 (ESV)

The Roman Centurion Cornelius and his non-Jewish household were known as “God-fearers,” non-Jews who had come to the realization that the God of Israel was the God, the One and only, the Creator. In that realization, they came to faith, abandoned the pagan idols of Rome, and gave homage to God only. Often, non-Jewish God-fearers would worship in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Many took on some of the other Jewish religious practices of the day, including the daily prayers, and even, to a degree, a Kosher observance (for Peter to break bread in Cornelius’s house, this would have to be true in his case).

But would a Gentile simply walk into a Second Temple era synagogue on Shabbat and inform the Rabbi and other Jews that he intended to worship the Israelite God with them? How was this done and under what status would a Gentile appropriately do such a thing?

Recall Genesis 9 and the covenant God made with Noah and all of his descendents which, by definition, includes all of humanity.

The concept of the Noahide was not formalized, as we understand it today, until the Talmudic era, many centuries after Cornelius and Peter walked the earth. However, the covenant of Noah would have been well-known among the Jews and it’s not beyond reason to believe that a man as devoted to God as Cornelius would have learned or been taught that anyone from among the nations stands before God as subject to the covenant with Noah. Perhaps, though not called or even thought of as “Noahides,” many of the Gentiles who would later receive the Spirit and be baptized by water in Christ’s name, were nevertheless, viewed in such a manner, as God-fearing men and women who had heard the distant words of God to Noah at Ararat, and thus, believed.

To borrow more from Lancaster’s Torah Club lesson (pg 47), maybe we can understand the rite of baptism, especially as it related to the God-fearers, just a little better:

Based on this reading, Lichtenstein argues that the formula (see Acts 2:38) is not a baptismal confession but a statement of purpose. The disciples were to immerse people for the sake of declaring their faith in His messianic identity. Their immersion for His sake signified their entrance into His school of disciples and their allegiance to Him.

The apostles believed that the immersion in His name entailed a mystical union with Him, with His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. (see Romans 6:1-13 and 1 Corinthians 4:7-11)

This interpretation of the meaning of baptismal immersion signifies the crossing of a barrier for the non-Jewish adherents to the God of Israel, from God-fearers and possessors of the covenant of Noah, to disciples and people granted entrance to much greater covenant blessings under Messiah Yeshua.

In the events of Acts 2 and during the festival of Shavuot, every Jew present would be constantly reminded of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, of the awesome voice of God thundering from the smoke and fire, of the top of the mountain, smoldering in unspeakable tongues of flame. When the Spirit of God manifested as “tongues of fire” and rested upon the disciples of Moshiach at Solomon’s Portico, and they spoke in the many tongues of men and the languages of the nations, how much more significant was that Shavuot and all those that followed in their annual procession, to the older and newly made disciples? And when Peter saw that even the Hebrew FireGentiles could receive the Spirit, the greater mysteries of God’s work among all the world, linking Noah, to Moses, to Jesus, unfolded like an infinitely wide cloth, spilling amazing treasures across history, from Creation and into the future that even we now inhabit.

Admittedly, I’ve far exceeded the content of this part of volume 6 of the Torah Club in this “meditation,” (though I’ve included only a tiny fraction of what the over 20 pages of lesson notes – not to mention the accompanying audio CD – for this single teaching have to offer) but once I start learning, the connections to many other sparks of God’s wisdom were inevitable. If you continue to follow me in these studies or to embark on your own through the Torah Club, this will happen to you as well. Believe me, if you encounter the wealth of information in just this single study, it will illustrate to you that what you thought you knew about the events of Acts 2 only scratches the surface of what is actually there.

As humble and empty jars of clay, in seeking God and studying His Word, we desire to become filled with His Spirit and His Wisdom, every day, on each encounter with Him, and across all of our years.

…and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Luke 24:47 (ESV)

Redeeming the Heart of Israel, Part 1

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:6-8 (ESV)

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

Romans 15:25-29 (ESV)

It is believed by the sages that if all of Israel would observe a single Shabbat properly, the Messiah would immediately come, since obeying the Shabbat is equivalent to obeying the entire Torah. We could extend this idea to say that if all Jews were to perfectly observe all of the Torah mitzvot, the redemption of Israel would be at hand. Interestingly enough, the two portions of scripture I quoted above directly apply to this concept. Let me explain.

There is just so much I could say about the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference I attended a few days ago. In fact, over the next several days, I will blog almost exclusively on my different experiences at Beth Immanuel, however one particular presentation stands out. When I heard it on the evening of the last full day of the conference, I knew it would be the keystone to everything I took away from my trip and the centerpiece to everything I intend to write.

I’ll just tell you in advance that this is going to be challenging. Some people don’t like being challenged.

Boaz Michael, Founder and President of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) gave a presentation about, among other things, the redemption of Israel. But it’s not the sort of redemption that you are probably imagining. According to dictionary.reference.com, redemption, in a theological sense, can mean:

  1. deliverance from sin; salvation.
  2. atonement for guilt.

This falls in line with the traditional Christian understanding of the term “redemption” and often equates to “when I die, I’m going to heaven.” Being “saved” or “redeemed” is typically the single most important part of what happens to a Christian. Nothing else matters until you “confess Christ” and are “saved.” After that, you can live a life consistent with the teachings of Jesus knowing your eternal future in Heaven is secure.

But Jews think about meriting a place in the world to come quite a bit differently. The chief difference is that Jews aren’t really obsessed about being “saved” and “going to heaven.” While meriting a place in the world to come is certainly important, Religious Jews are far more concerned with obeying God in the here and now, and some even look for opportunities to perform a mitzvah that cannot often be accomplished. There is even a saying that the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah. This is actually a concept Christians should recognize:

For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. –Matthew 25:29 (ESV)

Jewish in JerusalemThis is the point of the “parable of the talents” as told by the Master. As in the wisdom from the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), “the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah and the ‘reward’ of a sin is a sin,” we are “rewarded” for what we do, whether it is for the good or the bad. That reward can come either in this world or the next, according to Jewish thinking, but it’s directly tied to the sort of life a Jew lives right now. Jews have been commanded to obey all of the 613 commandments in the Torah but as you might imagine, being just as human as Christians or anyone else, they don’t do a perfect job. Unfortunately, God was very specific about the consequences to the Jewish people if, as a nation, they did not obey the commandments of Sinai.

The second Temple – when the Jews were involved in Torah, mitzvahs and acts of kindness – why was it destroyed? Because the Jews were guilty of harboring baseless hatred towards each other!”

-Rabbi Naftali Silberberg
-as quoted from askmoses.com

Most Christians believe that Herod’s Temple was destroyed in 70 CE and the Jews subsequently exiled from Israel because they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. As you’ve just seen, this isn’t how Jews understand the cause for their exile and in fact, during the days of the Second Temple and when Jesus walked among his people, proper Jewish religious observance was rather high; much more so than in the days of the destruction of the First Temple.

However, the sin of baseless hatred of one Jew for another was very severe. Jesus especially pleaded with his people to repent of this sin.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. –Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

As recorded in Matthew 18:21-35, the Master illustrates how serious this sin is in the “parable of the unforgiving servant.” But sadly, tragically, Israel didn’t listen, resulting in dire consequences.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” –Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV)

Simchat TorahIt’s not as if every single Jew in Israel was guilty of this sin, but Israel is judged by God as a nation, not a collection of individuals. If the nation is in sin, every Jew suffers whether they commmitted the offense or not. To this day, the Jewish people are in exile, not because they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but because they refused to listen and obey his teaching to turn away from the sin of baseless hatred toward their brothers and to instead seek peace.

This has nothing to do with whether or not Jews merit a place in the world to come. God didn’t take away Jewish “salvation” as a result of this sin, He took away the posession of the Land of Israel from the Nation of Israel, and scattered them across the face of the earth. Redemption, for Israel, isn’t being saved so they can go to Heaven, it’s the restoration of the Jews to their Land and the ascension of Israel above all the peoples of the earth.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem –Micah 4:1-2 (ESV)

Connect that back to Acts 1:6-8 and you’ll see that Israel, as a nation, awaits final redemption so it can be restored to the place at the head of the nations as God has always intended.

But what does that have to do with you and me? Even if we accept that this is true for the Jewish people, what sort of role would Christians have in Israel’s redemption?

I’ll give you the answer to that in Part 2.

Shavuot: An Oasis in the Desert

Torah at SinaiOur retelling of the Exodus on Passover ends when we close the Haggadah text. But when did the story really end?

You might think that the story ended when the Jewish people left Egypt on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, 1313 BCE. On that day the Jews were freed from the land where they had been enslaved. But it was not so easy to leave slavery behind…

-Rochel Chein
“When Does the Passover Story End?”

It may seem strange to talk about Passover in a blog post about Shavuot, but there’s a connection. The most obvious link between Passover and Shavuot is the Counting of the Omer which begins after the first full day of Passover and ends, 49 days later, on Shavuot. While this may not seem to mean a lot to most Christians, I’ve previously lamented about why Christians don’t count the Omer. It seems like the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the giving of the Spirit in Jerusalem are parallel events or on some mystical and cosmic level, even the same event. It seems it would make good sense for both Jews and Christians to be doing a countdown and for very similar reasons.

But is arriving at Shavuot and receiving the Torah the final end of Passover for the Jews? Rochel Chein’s commentary continues.

Now the Jews had the Torah, but they were still homeless and unable to fulfill many of its laws. G‑d used four expressions of redemption to promise Moses that He would redeem the Jews from Egypt. (We commemorate them by drinking four cups of wine at the Passover Seder.) But the four expressions were followed by a fifth promise (Exodus 6:8), “And I will bring you to the land…”

Similarly, G-d told Moses that, “I have descended to rescue them from the hand[s] of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).

Surely it’s safe to say that the Exodus narrative ends when the Jews enter the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert?

I’ve previously written how each year we have numerous times of renewal if we observe the festivals on the Jewish calendar, when we can not only remember the great acts of God for the sake of Israel, but live them as if they were happening for the first time, becoming new souls again as the Torah and the Spirit fill our emptiness. But here we see that this never ending cycle is not just a series of annual events. Perhaps what we are experiencing is eternal.

But the first few centuries after the Jewish people entered Israel were tumultuous, and it was only when King Solomon ruled that there was true peace, and “Each man sat under his vine and his fig tree.”

Support for the idea that the Exodus concluded with the building of Solomon’s Temple can be found in the famous “Dayeinu” song in the Passover Hagaddah reader. The song reviews all the miracles that G‑d did for the Jews after they were saved from Egypt, concluding with the building of the Holy Temple.

But Solomon’s reign ended, and it was followed by eras of civil strife, the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples, and the dispersal of the Jewish nation in exile. We end the Seder with the prayer, “Next year in Jerusalem,” that we may speedily merit the final redemption and the building of the third Temple.

In a sense, saying “next year in Jerusalem” is a cry to God to send the Messiah. In a sense, each year we live on earth, even with the Torah and the Spirit to comfort and guide us, we are still wandering in the desert. Passover has never really ended. We are all still walking away from Egypt and toward the final redemption of the world one step at a time, one day at a time, one year at a time.

Shavuot is one of those steps that we take each year but as we see, it’s not the final step, nor is it the “end of Passover.” We have the Torah and we have the Spirit, but we are still here and it is still now and the Messiah has not yet returned. The world is unredeemed and there is a longing for God to restore the garden that was lost. When will God return the Messiah to us?

According to Mrs. Chein, Mitzrayim, the Hebrew name for Egypt, is similar to the word meitzarim, which means “boundaries” or “limitations.” We exist in a limited world and we are bound by a broken Creation and our flesh and blood frailty. Shavuot isn’t the end of the Passover or the Exodus wanderings, it’s just a milestone along the way. Yet it is a precious and wonderful milestone because it, and the Shabbat, are foretastes of the final Shabbat, the full redemption, the world to come.

It’s an oasis in the desert where we may rest for a time. At the conclusion of the festival, we rise up, and move on, following our pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day.

A Christian at Shauvot

the-joy-of-torahLast week, I had the opportunity to speak with a visitor to our website, a woman in her mid-50s. Sarah* was baptized as a child and grew up “in the church,” but always felt an affinity to the Jewish People. She even recalls mentioning to her parents that she wished she were Jewish, which they dismissed despite her maternal grandparents’ very Jewish-sounding last name.

Later in life, she developed an interest in genealogy, and began to research her family tree. Slowly but surely, the evidence became incontrovertible: she was, in fact, a Jew all along. It turned out that her grandparents had barely escaped the Holocaust, and with her parents had conspired to hide their Jewish identity from her siblings and cousins.

What is most remarkable about this story is not merely her discovery, but that her desire to learn more about Judaism had in fact preceded it. Now it is truly a journey of self-discovery as well. Her Jewish soul was calling to her, and over time it became impossible to ignore.

In just a week’s time, we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuos, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. But because Judaism teaches that the spiritual energies of each holiday return to the world each year at that time, it is by no means merely a commemoration, but a time uniquely appropriate for receiving the Torah, for increasing our knowledge and understanding.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“Is it Time for More?”

In less than a week, I’ll be attending the First Fruits of Zion 2012 Shavuot Conference in Hudson, WI. In my case, it will be an interesting experience but not one like the situation described by Rabbi Menken. It is true that I am “attracted” to Judaism, its customs and traditions, its teachings and philosophy, but at the same time, I’m very conscious of how “alien” an environment it is. While I “borrow” a great deal of my source material from Chabad.org, I am aware, primarily through my wife, of how much of a “goy” I am, particularly in relation with my brief, periodic contacts with our local Chabad community.

So what am I doing here?

Believe it or not, I ask myself that question a lot. The simple and straightforward answer is that I have no where else to go. When I stop for a moment on my particular journey, and take stock of how far I’ve come and where I am now, I find that I’m swimming in some strange lagoon or tide pool off to the side of traditional Christianity and Judaism. Though you may not believe it, in many ways that body of water is fed more by Christianity, at least culturally, than by Judaism.

I was made particularly aware of that this morning when I read the part of Rabbi Menken’s missive that said:

So please take this as an invitation. The reason why we have these chat and e-mail services are so that people in distant locations, and people who are not ready to walk into a class, can make contact and get some guidance as to the next steps they might take. Rather than replying to this email, the best ways to reach us are via chat on Torah.org, or a question on JewishAnswers.org… or perhaps a comment, which you can tell us is not to be published!

I’ve met more than a few non-Jewish people in the Hebrew Roots movement who felt that their story was, or should be like, the one described by Rabbi Menken and, the fact that they were attracted to Judaism meant that they were some sort of “crypto-Jew” with hidden Jewish relatives lurking somewhere in their distant history. For the woman Rabbi Menken describes, this was actually true, but for most of us who lean more toward Jewish educational resources than the latest devotionals found in the local Christian bookstore, it is not.

So what’s the story for the rest of us?

I have no idea.

Oh, I can weave theories and engage in guesswork, but that’s all it is…theories and guesswork.

As I was reading this morning, I imagined that at the upcoming Shavuot conference, I would be doing this with the others in attendance:

Give thanks to Hashem, declare His Name, make His acts known among the peoples. Sing to Him, make music to Him, speak of all His wonders. Glory in His Holy Name, may the heart of those who seek Hashem be glad. Search out Hashem and His might, seek His Presence always. –Psalm 105:1-4 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

And yet given the mixed crowd of Jews and non-Jews present to give honor and glory to the Jewish Messiah, I wondered if the following was also part of the reason for me being there:

Thus said Hashem, Master of Legions; In those days, it will happen that ten men, of all the [different] languages of the nations, will take hold, they will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” –Zechariah 8:23 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

I’ve recently written on more than one occasion that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), which are the Master’s own words. Given the amount of “push back” that I’ve received from the traditional Christian perspective, it’s hard to imagine a time when the prophesy of Zechariah 8:23 will come to pass, unless none of those ten men are Christian.

On the other hand, the prophet may have been speaking of a time when we will all realize that Christianity can no longer afford to be divorced from Judaism, and that Jews and Gentiles who are devoted to God and particularly those who are disciples of the Master, must find times to join together and “give thanks to Hashem, declare His Name, (and) make His acts known among the peoples.”

ShavuotAs for now, there are still many barriers between human beings and this kind of unity and peace. We should take advantage or those rare times when we, who have different backgrounds and traditions, can join together “in spirit and in truth” and give thanks to the glory of God together. I join my Jewish brothers and sisters, along with many other believing Gentiles on Shavuot, not to seek my Jewish soul or to imagine I’m someone that I’m not, but to summon some slender thread at the corner of the garment of Zechariah’s prophesy, take hold of it, and to allow the barriers that separate us to become the walls of the corridors that lead us all to Messianic peace and fellowship.

Nothing limits you, no force that holds you captive—other than a fiction of your imagination.

So you will say, “What, then, of the forces of nature? Of the constraints of a human body? Of the hard reality that slams against me when I attempt to stride through the barriers of life?”

Yes, they are there. But they are not what they seem to be.

They are not there to oppose you, but to carry you. As your soul pulls forward, those barriers force her inward, towards her deepest, strongest self.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Pushed From Behind”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Shavuot Fellowship in Wisconsin

Twenty-years ago the spirit of the Lord kindled something new, and the ministry of first fruits of Zion was born. With the teachings of First Fruits of Zion, Christians and Messianic Jews began to rediscover the Torah.

Two decades later, First Fruits of Zion and the Messianic Jewish movement still lives, breathes, and is ready to thrive. At Shavuot 2012, First Fruits of Zion breaks new ground as we present our game plan for the future of Messianic Judaism, for Jewish believers in Yeshua, and for Messianic Gentiles from all nations. Come and hear the vision, become a solid member for change—be inspired to kick-start a fresh revolution by learning practical ways to facilitate study groups, Torah studies, and other outreach efforts.

from the Shavuot Conference 2012 webpage
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

I have to admit to being a little nervous about attending this conference. Oh, I’m also really excited. I’ll get to see some old friends that I don’t get “face time” with very often, and actually meet people I’ve only communicated with over the web. But like some “fine wines” (yeah, that’s a joke), I don’t really travel well, I like to get to bed early, and I don’t enjoy large crowds. I don’t really thrive in a large conference environment.

But more to the point, I haven’t been to anything like this for a number of years and as an “unaffiliated Christian” in a world of Messianic Jews, Messianic Gentiles, and others who don’t traditionally identify with the mainstream church, I’m not sure what to expect or how I’ll be viewed by everyone (not that I should care, I suppose).

For one thing, the tallit and tefillin are staying at home (I’ll still bring a kippah). When I backed away from the One Law position (the basic Idea that all of the 613 commandments or mitzvot that observant Jews believe apply to them also applies to all non-Jewish Christians by virtue of being “grafted in”), I backed away from just about everything that had an outward Jewish religious practice. I started to imagine (not that she’d say anything) what my (non-Messianic) Jewish wife might be thinking every time I put on a tallit and laid phylacteries to pray. For me, it was easier to come to peace with the direct interfaith part of our marriage if I didn’t try to “walk her side of the street” so to speak. I put most of the religious items I used in “Messianic worship” in a box and there they’ll stay until I have a good reason to bring them out again.

So I don’t consider myself “Messianic” in the sense that most (probably) of the attendees at the Shavuot conference consider themselves Messianic (the non-Jews, that is).

There’s another issue here though. This whole classification of Christian vs. Messianic among non-Jews is just a little crazy. I know that it’s meant to differentiate between traditional Sunday Christians and those who have become more aware of the Hebraic origins of our faith, but it’s gotten to the point where we’re almost acting like we have two different religions.

I’m not OK with this. If Jesus was and is King of the Jews for Messianics, then he was and is King of the Jews for more traditional Christians. Recognizing the Jewishness of Jesus and then encasing that fact with a Messianic “bubble” only isolates that information and the truths it contains from all other Christians everywhere. Rather than focusing on the differences between how many non-Jews in the Messianic movement see things and how most other Christians see things, maybe we need to spend more time paying attention to how we’re alike.

I know a number of non-Jews who self-identify as “Messianic” visit and read my blog posts. If that’s you, I want you to practice something in the privacy of your own homes when you’re all alone. I want you to say out loud, “I’m a Christian.” Repeat it a few times. C’mon, don’t whisper. Really belt it out. “I’m a Christian.”

“I’m a Christian.”

Was that awkward? For some of you, it probably was. No, I’m not making fun of you or trying to be mean. My point is that whether you consider yourself a “Messianic Gentile” and pray wearing tzitzit and tefillin or you think of yourself as a Christian and feel no need to adopt any Jewish customs or commandments in your prayer and worship life, God is One. He’s the same God. Jesus is Jesus. He’s the Messiah, the Lord, the Savior, the Christ.

He’s the same guy for Messianics and Christians. We just picture him differently.

But how does he picture himself?

We don’t really know, but it wouldn’t hurt to stretch ourselves a little and try to see Jesus from a Jewish point of view and within a functional Jewish context. That’s probably a picture closer to his reality than many in the mainstream church see him.

However, you may be very comfortable with the division between Messianics and Christians. You may be asking yourself why you’d want to go through all that trouble and mess up your comfort. Because he is the Christ and we are Christians. He is the Master and we are his disciples. Jesus didn’t ask us to stand apart from each other, he asked us to be a united body and to work together like the different parts in your body.

I’m not a typical Christian. I don’t go to church. I have particular standards regarding food items that most Christians don’t observe. I have certain other convictions and perspectives that you won’t find in most churches. But I’m still going to be a really different “breed of cat” than most of the other conference attendees when I get there in a few weeks. In some ways, I’ll be just as nervous attending the conference as I would be if I decided to visit a church next Sunday morning.

But the point is, I shouldn’t have to feel that way. I probably wouldn’t if I got my wish (and my prayer). My wish and my prayer is that all believers come together in unity and truth, regardless of how different we are, and recognize our mutual fellowship and discipleship as followers of the Messiah King, who came once for the salvation of souls and who will come again to repair the world.

My wish and my prayer is that we who are grafted in realize that we are all Christians.

When you think of yourself and what you believe and then think of other believers and how different they are from you, try to consider how much you have in common with each other. That’s what I’m going to be doing on May 24th at Beth Immanuel.

And if you happen to be planning on attending FFOZ’s Shavuot Conference 2012, post a comment and let me know. I’d love to meet you when we’re together in Hudson, Wisconsin…and meeting in spirit and in truth.