Tag Archives: Shema

The First and Second Shema

Jewish_men_praying2The most obvious difference between the two sections is that the first simply instructs the Jew to pursue his or her relationship with G‑d, without promising reward or threatening punishment. The second section, while enjoining us to do the very same things as the first, informs us of the benefits of doing so (“I will give the rain of your land in its due season . . . and you shall eat and be sated”; “In order that your days be multiplied . . . upon the land”) and warns us of the consequences of transgression (“He will stop up the heavens”; “You will soon perish from the good land”). Other than that, however, the second section seems a repetition of the first, with only minor differences in wording and syntax.

Rashi, in his commentary on these verses, cites several further examples of how the second section introduces a concept or injunction not included in the first.

In the second section, the commandment to love G‑d is given in the plural (“with all your hearts and with all your souls”) rather than the singular (“with all your heart, with all your soul”) employed by the first section. The first section, explains Rashi, is an injunction to the individual, while the second is an injunction to the community. (This difference is repeated throughout the two sections. The Hebrew language distinguishes between second-person singular and second-person plural, as Old English does with “thou” and “you.” The entire first section speaks in second-person singular, the second section in second-person plural.)

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Second Chapter of the Shema”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

According to this commentary, a Jew is obligated to recite the Shema each morning and each evening of his life. Accepting that, why am I writing about the Shema? For that matter, as a Christian, why am I writing about the Torah and Judaism? Derek Leman recently wrote a blog post emphasizing lengthy and careful Torah study for Christians which I also commented upon. Nothing in the Bible is irrelevant, although some portions cannot be acted upon today by any Jewish person (or anyone else) and some portions can only be acted upon by Jewish people.

I’m also interested in the Torah pursuant to my desire to answer my Pastor’s question what is the purpose of the Torah, especially for Messianic Jews?

Reading Rabbi Tauber’s commentary, I was provided with a few clues about the application of the Shema and thus the Torah in the lives of observant Jewish people.

This isn’t going to be a scientific or academic response. I lack the educational “chops” for such an analysis and frankly, as I write this, I’m pretty tired, not having gotten enough sleep last night. My brain is foggy. Don’t expect a lot. I suppose I should delay in writing this, but the drive inside me has other ideas.

Rabbi Tauber lists many different ways to interpret the first and second sections of the Shema, but I want to focus on the emphasis between the text being directed at the individual Jewish person vs. the Jewish community.

Jewish individual vs. community devotion to God and observance of the mitzvot is a unique concept. Christianity doesn’t really have such a viewpoint. Oh sure, there’s the concept of what we do as individual Christians as opposed to Christian community activity, but it just doesn’t “feel” the same. Christianity doesn’t convey the same cohesive identity that Judaism does. Further, we don’t have a focused set of commandments that delineate the duties of individuals in the church in contrast to the body of believers as a whole.

According to Rabbi Tauber, there is such a thing for Jews and Judaism.

The most obvious difference between the two sections is that the first simply instructs the Jew to pursue his or her relationship with G‑d, without promising reward or threatening punishment.

The directive to the individual Jewish person relative to the Shema and the Torah is an instruction to pursue a relationship with God. Period. No mention of punishments or rewards. Is that supposed to tell us something about how God responds to the virtues or the failures of an individual Jewish person? Maybe not, but keep that in mind.

The second section, while enjoining us to do the very same things as the first, informs us of the benefits of doing so (“I will give the rain of your land in its due season . . . and you shall eat and be sated”; “In order that your days be multiplied . . . upon the land”) and warns us of the consequences of transgression (“He will stop up the heavens”; “You will soon perish from the good land”).

ancient_jerusalemThe second section seems to say more or less the same as the first except that it’s directed at the community of Israel as a whole and that it includes rewards and punishments for obedience or failure to obey (for length, I’m not quoting everything from the article that supports my points, so you’ll need to read the source to “fill in the blanks”).

The story of the Bible does mention individual Jewish people such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and so on, but the grand, overarching epic is really the story of collective Israel. It’s Israel that is blessed by God, or Israel that is sent into exile. Solomon builds the Temple for Israel, or the Temple is destroyed to punish Israel. Individuals play their parts and individuals are blessed or suffer, but it’s really the consequences to the nation, for good or for ill, that are at stake.


In the second section, the commandments to don tefillin, study and teach Torah and affix mezuzot immediately follow the warning that “you will swiftly perish from the good land that G‑d is giving you.” This, says Rashi (citing Sifri), is to teach us that also after you are exiled, you must distinguish yourselves with the mitzvot: put on tefillin, make mezuzot, so that these not be new to you when you return.

Taken on its own, the first section implies a connection to G‑d only through the Torah and its mitzvot as observed in the Holy Land. We need the second section to tell that all this is equally applicable in exile.

The first section describes a relationship whose relevance we can assume only under conditions of closeness to G‑d: when we dwell secure in the land that “G‑d’s eyes are constantly upon,” and when He manifests His presence amongst us in His holy home in Jerusalem. But when He hides His face from us and banishes us like children exiled from their father’s table, our ability to love Him, to comprehend His truth and to implement His will can be questioned. Indeed, we cannot even assume that these precepts are meant to apply to such conditions of spiritual darkness.

Not so the second section. Because the relationship is one of our making, because it stems from within, it becomes ingrained in our very essence. Integrally us, it persists wherever and whenever we persist.

There seems to be differences in application between the first and second section of the Shema based on whether or not Israel, collective Israel, is in exile. To be sure, there is no collective Israel if there isn’t a response from the many, many individual Jewish people, but it’s Israel in exile. Some individual Jews have it better and some worse in the diaspora. Look at the differences in life for Jews in America vs. in the Arab nations or some European countries.

My Pastor lived in Israel for fifteen years and in his experience, when Jews made aliyah, they had one or two responses: either they became more religious or they stopped being religious completely. In Israel, as a Jew, you don’t have anything to prove. Of course you’re Jewish. You made aliyah. You live in Israel.

But the instruction from the Shema for Jews in exile is another thing.

In the second section, the commandments to don tefillin, study and teach Torah and affix mezuzot immediately follow the warning that “you will swiftly perish from the good land that G‑d is giving you.” This, says Rashi (citing Sifri), is to teach us that also after you are exiled, you must distinguish yourselves with the mitzvot: put on tefillin, make mezuzot, so that these not be new to you when you return.

daven-tefillin-siddurWhat has helped the Jewish people survive as the Jewish people throughout each long exile from their Land? For the last nearly two-thousand years, it’s been obedience to the mitzvot; carving out a uniquely Jewish lifestyle that separates them from the peoples of the nations. This may be one of the reasons why halachically Jewish people, particularly those who were born and raised in observant Jewish households, and who have the benefit of a Jewish education, object to non-Jews taking on behaviors reflective of the Jewish sign commandments (wearing tzitzit publicly and so on) and engaging in what one Christian blogger has referred to as Evangelical Jewish Cosplay.

“Messing around” with someone else’s survival mechanism is likely to result in a very strong and unpleasant response.

Which is what we often see in clashes between Jewish Messianic Judaism and Gentile Hebrew Roots. Often non-Jewish people fail to appreciate the collective historical “consciousness” of the Jewish people. I remember sitting in the local Reform synagogue around the time the film The Passion of the Christ (2004) was released. There was tremendous fear in that room about how the local Christian community, not to mention the worldwide Christian community, would respond to that film, particularly in their (our) interactions with Jews.

You wouldn’t imagine that one film would inspire so much anxiety, but historically, after every passion play, there has been a pogrom. It was as if their grandfathers and great-grandfathers and the elders of Israel were whispering in the ears of every Jewish person in shul that morning, telling them of the horrors they had experienced in decades and centuries past. “They’ll watch this film, then something terrible will happen,” they might have been saying to their grandchildren. “I’ve been through this before. I know,” said the plaintive voice.

There’s something woven into the subconscious and in the marrow of every Jew that responds to what has threatened the community of Jews across the ages.

The Torah and the collective lifestyle of Judaism has preserved individual Jews and the Jewish community for untold centuries all over the world. At the core, you can’t really completely separate a Jew from the Torah, anymore than you could take away a person’s eye color or blood type.

There’s a reason why Jews are obligated to recite the Shema twice daily. There’s a reason why there’s a tremendous amount of repetition built into Jewish observance of Torah and of prayer.

If you were to observe large numbers of individual Jewish people in their lives, you would see the scale of religious observance run the gamut from no observance at all as an atheist to an extreme attention to every tiny facet of halachah in Orthodox Jewish life.

That’s the life of an individual Jew as addressed by the first section of the Shema. Individual Jewish people can be observant to one degree or another or completely unobservant. They’re born into covenant, like it or not, but they make choices just like everybody makes choices. An individual Jew may live or die, old or young.

shoahBut collective Jewry has always survived perhaps because, especially at “crunch time,” when the world is doing its best to exterminate all Jews from the face of the earth, Jews rally, the Jewish community unites, they seek distinction and uniqueness, because being Jewish together insures that Judaism will survive, even if some individual Jewish people reject their heritage. Even if individual Jews die Jewish people and Judaism continue.

In Israel, a Jew may not have so much to prove because they are Jewish in the Jewish homeland, but everywhere else, in order to be Jewish, they must not take being Jewish for granted. Every time that’s happened, bad things have resulted.

If you want to see just how “Jewish” a Jewish person is, try to take that Jewishness away from them or claim it for your own as a non-Jew. What God built into the Jewish people from the beginning will erupt. Sometimes, such as when assimilation threatens, that’s not only a good thing, but it’s necessary for survival.

And God intends that Judaism should survive. If you want to know one of the purposes of the Torah and particularly the Shema, that’s a really being one.

Bo: I Will Betroth You to Me Forever

Laying Tefillin “And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand the Lord freed us from Egypt.”

Exodus 13:16 (JPS Tanakh)

The Children of Israel are commanded to consecrate all firstborn, and to observe the anniversary of the Exodus each year by removing all leaven from their possession for seven days, eating matzah, and telling the story of their redemption to their children. They are also commanded to wear tefillin on the arm and head as a reminder of the Exodus and their resultant commitment to G‑d.

“Bo in a Nutshell”
Summary of Torah Portion Bo

It isn’t easy for most Christians to understand many aspects of Jewish religious and ritual life. We can comprehend the need to pray, to gather together in worship, and to acknowledge God as King over all, but the way that Jews express their faith is often alien to Christians, especially Protestants, since we don’t have a strong ritual component (relative to Judaism) in our private and corporate worship lives.

Take Tefillin (phylacteries) for example. Why should a man have to wrap straps around one arm and the forehead with little boxes attached in order to pray to God? In this case, modern Jews are obeying a very ancient commandment from God as quoted above.

Here’s the commandment again as expressed in scripture that is also a part of the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this is also part of what Jesus referenced when asked about the two greatest commandments.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31 (ESV)

If you put the commandment of tefillin within the context of loving God and loving your neighbor, then obeying this mitzvot is a sign of that love and adoration, not only of the Creator above, but of your fellow human being, because you cannot say you are performing the former if you do not perform the latter.

daven-tefillin-siddurOne of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) commentaries for Torah Portion Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) specifically addresses the commandment of tefillin.

There is some argument over whether the commandment of tefillin was meant to be taken literally, or if it is just a figurative language. In the Near East, it was once common for blood covenant partners to exchange amulet-like pouches which contained tokens, or even full copies, of their covenant obligations to one another. These were worn as bracelets or necklaces. The commandment of tefillin is consistent with that ancient ritual, especially when one considers the rabbinic tradition that God Himself wears tefillin with Israel’s name on them. In that sense, the tefillin are similar to wedding rings. In fact, while a Jew winds the black leather straps for tefillin of the hand about his middle finger like a ring, he recites the betrothal passage from the book of Hosea:

“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD.” (Hosea 2:19–20)

The binding on of tefillin is a tangible, ritual reminder of our obligation to bind God’s commandments on our very lives. God’s Word is to be between our eyes, filtering all that we see and think. It is to be bound on our hands, weighing all that we set our hands to do.

As you can see, the love and marital symbolism is unmistakable and in reciting the blessings for donning tefillin, the Jewish heart is drawn in affection and adoration toward God…

…and toward each other.

As we were saying goodbye, I said to the man who had been asking the questions: “I suppose that you have a special interest in tefillin; is that was why you were asking those questions about them?”

“I haven’t put on tefillin for over 20 years!” was his reply.

“But you should!” I responded.

He then said: “Everyone here is now going home to sleep, but I am going to work. I own a bakery, and we work all through the night. If you want me to put on tefillin, you can come to my bakery at about 6:30 AM. At that time we are between bakes, and I’ll put on tefillin.”

I must admit that this was not my style, but I could not refuse, so at 6:30 Wednesday morning I arrived at his bakery with tefillin, prayerbook and skullcap, and amongst the sacks of flour he put on tefillin. What surprised me was that he needed no help—he knew exactly what to do and what to say.

After he finished, I said to him: “You obviously know how to put on tefillin, and you know the blessings and the prayers. Why don’t you do it regularly?” He told me that he didn’t own a pair of tefillin, and it was not one of his priorities to buy a pair—but if someone gave him a pair of tefillin, he would put them on regularly. I answered that I was returning to England via New York, but I expected to be back in Detroit in about six weeks, and that I would bring him a pair of tefillin.

-Benzion Rader
“Another Day Without Tefillin?”

This is part of a rather lengthy story about one Jew going well out of his way (much more than the segment above indicates) to make sure another Jew could fulfill the commandment of tefillin. You might ask yourself if it was so important to the baker to daven with tefillin, why didn’t he just purchase some for himself?

jews-praying-in-the-snowI don’t know. Regardless of his reasons or circumstances, once the other man became aware of the situation, he became obligated to help his fellow Jew. You can click the link I provided to read the entire article, but in short, here’s the rest of the story. The transaction between the businessman and the baker happened in Detroit. The businessman stopped in New York on his way back home to London to consult with the Rebbe in Crown Heights (Brooklyn), and the Rebbe convinced the businessman to make sure the baker had acquired tefillin immediately, before going back home rather than waiting six weeks. With great difficulty due to limited time and finances, the businessman was finally able to purchase tefillin and had them shipped to Detroit so that the baker would not go one more day without being able to pray with tefillin.

I left for London only after advising the Rebbe what had been arranged, and after waiting to hear that they had been collected and delivered in Detroit.

A few months later, I met this person again in Detroit, and asked him how he was doing with the tefillin. He told me that he had not missed a day—even walking home in the snow one day when his car broke down so that he put on the tefillin before sundown. He said: “Because of the trouble you went to in order that I should receive the tefillin the very next day, they are especially important to me.”

Again, this might seem rather a strange thing to a Christian since we do not experience any circumstance or situation that would inhibit or diminish our prayers, and certainly nothing like a physical object or device used in prayer.

Nevertheless, from a Jewish point of view, everything that happened was the performance of a single act of love in order to help one Jewish man perform another act of love…by davening with tefillin.

The results are obvious.

Good Shabbos.

Blessings at Night and Morning

A song of ascents. Praiseworthy is each person who fears HASHEM, who walks in His paths. When you eat the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your home; your children shall be like olive shoots surrounding your table. Behold! For so is blessed the man who fears HASHEM. May HASHEM bless you from Zion, and may you gaze upon the goodness of Jerusalem, all the days of your life. And may you see children born to children, peace upon Israel.

Tremble and sin not. Reflect in your hearts while on your beds, and be utterly silent. Selah.

Master of the universe. Who reigned before any form was created,
At the time when His will brought all into being —
then as “King” was His Name proclaimed.
After all has ceased to be, He, the Awesome One, will reign alone.
It is He Who was, He Who is, and He Who shall remain, in splendor.
He is One — there is no second to compare to Him, to declare as His equal.
Without beginning, without conclusion — His is the power and dominion.
He is my God, my living Redeemer, Rock of my pain in time of distress.
He is my banner, a refuge for me, the portion in my cup on the day I call.
Into His hand I shall entrust my spirit when I go to sleep — and I shall awaken!
With my spirit shall my body remain. HASHEM is with me, I shall not fear.

-Portion of the Bedtime Shema

My father said that the reciting of sh’ma before retiring at night (p. 118-124) is, in miniature form, like the Confession before death. But then one leaves the marketplace permanently, and the commerce of “Today to perform them” is finished. With the Bedside Sh’ma every night, however, one is still in the middle of the “market” and can still accomplish and achieve.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Kislev 6, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

It is said in Jewish wisdom that one should repent one day before his death. But how can you know when the day of your death will come? You can’t. Therefore repent every day as if it is your last day of life.

I sometimes have bouts of insomnia for a variety of reasons. As I write this though, I slept very well last night. In fact, I recall that I was engaged in a rather compelling dream when the alarm went off, jarring me into consciousness.

But the night before, just prior to retiring, I recited the portion of the Bedtime Shema I quoted above. I can’t necessarily credit the Bedtime Shema with my restful sleep, but I suppose it didn’t hurt. On the other hand, you’d think, given recent events, that I’d have a lot on my mind.

And so I do, but that apparently didn’t disturb my sleep.

I also recite the Modeh Ani when I wake up in the morning. Even if I do not offer God any other prayers during the day, considering Him, even for a few moments as I end my day and again as I start the next one acts like “bookends,” with God on either side of my waking experience and me existing in the middle.

But what about the middle? That’s where we spend our lives or at least the conscious portion of them. It’s where we “feel” we’re alive, it’s where we are aware of being alive. What do we do with that time?

Lots of things. Many of us have jobs where we do our work and earn our pay. Sometimes our thoughts turn to God, but most of the time we are too distracted with our work to consciously consider Him. While a tzaddik, a righteous person, is constantly aware of God, most of us aren’t. Most of us struggle to remind ourselves of God, except at certain times such as when we need God or during a scheduled time of prayer or worship.

Fortunately, God doesn’t need anything to remind Him of us. One of the blessings He gave the Jewish people, and I wish Christianity would adopt such a practice, are set times for prayer. Muslims also have set times to turn away from their common activities and to turn toward God. We in the church tend to just “wing it,” which isn’t necessarily bad, because we should all be free to pray at any moment, but it isn’t necessarily good because we typically ignore God until something comes along to remind us of Him.

Imagine if we handled our human relationships that way. Imagine that we ignored our spouse, our children, our parents, until some external factor came along to remind us of their existence and that we needed something from them. I guess some of us do handle our human relationships that way. More’s the pity. But then, what is the state of those relationships? If you ignore someone long enough, they will eventually ignore you, too.

Pain, loneliness, fear, anxiety, the spectre of death all remind us of God and how much we need Him. While we shouldn’t wait for those reminders, being human, we often do. The troubles in our lives act as God’s messengers, coming to us and telling us we shouldn’t wait too much longer. Why wait for pain or fear to tell you that God is waiting for you?

And may Heaven help us all if even then, we still ignore God.

And if not now, then when? (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

Hillel’s famous statement is a bit enigmatic. The simple answer is, “Later.” Why can’t we take care of whatever it is some other time? Granted that procrastination is not a virtue, why does Hillel imply that if not now, then it will never be?

The Rabbi of Gur explained that if I do something later, it may indeed get done, but I will have missed the current “now.” The present “now” has but a momentary existence, and whether used or not, it will never return. Later will be a different “now.”

King Solomon dedicates seven famous verses of Ecclesiastes to his principle that everything has its specific time. His point comes across clearly: I can put off doing a good deed for someone until tomorrow, but will that deed, done exactly as I would have done it today, carry the same impact?

The wisdom that I learn at this moment belongs to this moment. The good deed that I do at this moment belongs to this moment. Of course I can do them later, but they will belong to the later moments. What I can do that belongs to this moment is only that which I do now.

Today I shall…

try to value each moment. I must realize that my mission is not only to get something done, but to get things done in their proper time, and the proper time may be now.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 14”

When I go to sleep — and I shall awaken! With my spirit shall my body remain. HASHEM is with me, I shall not fear.

God allows us to awaken at the proper time, feeds us when we are hungry, gives us rest when we are tired. He is waiting for us now to do something. Tomorrow is too late.

Hope and Love

Canon White is not only concerned about the physical safety of the scrolls; he is also dedicated to what’s written on them.

“The thing that I really respect about how Jews live is that God is in everything. If you’re really Orthodox, God is not removed from anything. From the bathroom to the bracha [blessing] you make afterwards, you bless Him and you thank Him. Every time you say ‘Baruch ata Hashem,’ you are showing that you believe that He is the King of the Universe!”

He pauses. “Do I sound frum?”

Yes, he does. Canon White learned the lingo as the first non-Jewish student at the Karlin yeshiva in Jerusalem. A rabbi there permitted him to get a taste of Jewish learning.

He has grown from a student of Judaism into a teacher of it. He offers a weekly course about Judaism to Christians in Baghdad.

“The Iraqi Christians who come to my class are shocked,” says Canon White.

“They say that nobody has ever told them about Judaism before. It’s hard for them to accept that they’ve been told lies.

None of the young Iraqis have heard about the Holocaust. They don’t know how Christians have persecuted Jews.”

-by Ari Werth
“Struggle for the Scrolls”

Every once in a while, I’ll hear about an extraordinary person, an extraordinary Christian who really does love the Jewish people and Israel. In my circle of friends and acquaintances, I hear a lot about Christians loving Jews, but I don’t think the lot of us can hold a candle to the Vicar of Baghdad.

Andrew White is an Anglican priest risking his life helping Christians in Iraq. Even more dangerous, however, is what he volunteers to do – protecting the last few Iraqi Jews.

“I help Jews because the very heart of my own education, of my faith, is a love for Judaism,” says Canon White. “I don’t see how I can be a Christian without knowing my Jewish roots, and without loving them.”

Given the opportunity, I wonder how many of us would take the risks that White is taking to protect Iraqi Christians and Jews and to try to rescue the single largest collection of Torah scrolls in existence; 365 deteriorating Torah scrolls hidden away in a secret sub-basement in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

I said just the other day that no Christian would ever be admitted into a Yeshiva, but obviously I was wrong. As you read in the quote above, White is the first non-Jewish student ever admitted into the Karlin yeshiva in Jerusalem. His “reward” perhaps for truly dedicating his heart and his spirit to understanding the Jewish people and their closeness to God.

Ignorance, as Canon White calls it, prompted him to write a book about the Jewish roots of Christianity. He shared the newly finished manuscript . It describes several fundamental concepts and practices of Torah observance.

“There is nothing more inspiring than ‘Shema Yisrael,’” he writes in the upcoming book. “I say it every morning and every night. I taught my little boys to say ‘Shema’ before they go to sleep.” He’s planning on translating the book into Arabic. “The Muslims need to know that our faiths come out of Judaism and that therefore the Jews are our brothers, not our enemies. We need to learn from and love our older brother.”

Most believers live in a world where we’ve been taught that the Jews have been marginalized and that Christianity has ascended over them. I know the church is changing, but change is slow. Sometimes change can get sidetracked and Jewish practice and tradition isn’t dismissed, but rather taken over by non-Jewish “Christians” and reinvented as a new type of Christian faith. But there’s a difference between practicing Christianity with a thin Jewish veneer and what White is doing. When he teaches his children to say the Shema, (Deut. 11:19) he isn’t doing so in a way that diminishes the Jewish people but rather, in a manner that honors them. Canon White is one of the few Christians who really “gets it” as far as comprehending what it actually means to honor his faith and recognize Judaism as its root.

Christianity isn’t evil, in spite of what you may have heard in certain corners of the blogosphere. God is opening our eyes and turning our hearts. Men like Canon White are living proof of this (my final article in my supersessionism series for Messiah Journal, which will be published this coming winter, will show how White is hardly alone).

There’s another way to look at Christianity within the current context as well.

On the one hand, it is very difficult for Jews to accept that something is built on the spot of the Holy Temple.

On the other hand, we can thank God for the kindness He has shown – since I imagine He could have allowed a much less flattering structure built on it – like a parking lot, or a sanctuary to an idol. In this case, the Muslims believe in one God and treat the Temple Mount with sanctity.

In fact, Maimonides explains that other monotheistic religions have flourished in order to help spread essential Jewish ideals, to better prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah.

from “Ask the Rabbi”
“Temple Mount”

A strange attitude for a Rabbi to take regarding Islam (or Christianity) but then, it’s just as strange for an Anglican priest to teach Arab Muslims and Christians that Jews aren’t the enemy. Jesus himself said that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) and from a Jewish point of view, salvation is about both national Israel and the individual human being. And it’s about hope.

Each day we hope for Your salvation. -Shemoneh Esrei

The Talmud states that one of the questions that will be posed to each person on his or her day of judgment is, “Did you look forward to salvation?” While the question refers to anticipating the ultimate Redemption, it can also refer to the salvation of the individual.

Positive attitudes beget positive results, and negative attitudes beget negative results. Books have been written about people who have recovered from hopeless illnesses because, contrary to medical opinion, they did not give up hope. On the contrary, they maintained a positive attitude. While this phenomenon may be controversial (for many people are skeptical that cheerful outlooks can cure), people certainly can and have killed themselves by depression. With a negative attitude, a person suffering from an illness may even abandon those practices that can give strength and prolong life, such as the treatment itself.

I have seen a poster that displays birds in flight. Its caption comments, “They fly because they think they can.” We could do much if we did not despair of our capacity to do it.

Looking forward to Divine salvation is one such positive attitude. The Talmud states that even when the blade of an enemy’s sword is at our throat, we have no right to abandon hope of help.

No one can ever take hope from us, but we can surrender it voluntarily. How foolish to do so.

Today I shall…

try to always maintain a positive attitude and to hope for Divine salvation.

-Rabbi Abraham J Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 11”

Never abandon hope, even when “the blade of an enemy’s sword is at our throat.” Men like Canon White give me hope in Christianity and the church. He shows me that Christians and Jews can co-exist, work, live, and worship God side-by-side in unity. We don’t have to do away with the Jews so that Christians can thrive. We don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” by creating new “Christian” religions or denominations or sects that discard the church and the Jewish people while taking over Jewish worship practices.

In the modern world, it’s difficult for me to have heroes. So many of them are revealed to be flawed and damaged human beings. I don’t know who Andrew White is behind the article I just read, but today, he became one of my heroes; one of the few. If I needed a model for how to be a Christian in relation to the Jewish people, I wouldn’t have to look any further than men like Canon White.

I hope you read all of the Ari Werth’s article Struggle for the Scrolls. If you haven’t, please do so now. Read it all. Scroll all the way to the bottom. There, you’ll find a section in yellow with information and links that instruct us on how to “save the scrolls” that are being held in Iraq. Read the article. Spread the word. So much of Jewish history has been lost to oppressors. If even some of the scrolls are still undamaged, we can return them to their rightful owners, the Jewish people.

To achieve wonders takes a heart both humble and fearless.

Yes, two opposites. But also from two opposite directions:

The mind awakens the heart to its nothingness, and by this, the soul G‑d gave you is bared in all its brazen power.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Fierce and Humble”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

If you love Israel, and I know many of you reading my words do, then you can do something with that love. You can give hope.

The Happiness Mitzvah

Judaism’s most famous slogan is the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” More than just a prayer, it’s a reminder of the very high purpose of life.
Here’s some more Jewish slogans:

“It’s a mitzvah to always be happy.”
“The external affects the internal.”
“The world stands on Torah, prayer, and kindness.”
“Everything happens for the good.” (“Gam zu l’tova.”)
“God is good.”
“God loves me.”

To increase your focus in life, try saying these things … out loud … over and over.

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory
“Way #3: Say It Out Loud”
from the “48 Ways to Wisdom” series

Last week, I dedicated all of my blog posts to uplifting and encouraging topics. While I am now “free” to write about a wider range of subjects, I still think it’s important to offer supportive and inspirational missives to whoever happens by my blog, so I’m creating today’s “extra meditation” with that in mind.

Living in a broken world isn’t always easy and being a person of faith can add to the struggle. It’s important to remember that we are not alone. We have each other and we have God. According to Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, the Rebbe once said to a Jewish activist in a dangerous Arab land, “Strengthen your awe of heaven and you will diminish your fear of human beings.” That is like a very similar piece of advice from a much older source:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:28-31 (ESV)

Somewhere in the teachings of the Master are not just lessons on how to quell our fears, but words that show us how to summon peace and joy. If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know that much of the time, peace and joy elude me as I ponder not only the great mystery of God but the mystery of my one small life. And yet, I’m learning that if I temporarily put that aside, I can create a small bridge between the person I am and the one God created me to be.

Life is what it is. It’s not easy. It can be full of pain and trouble. We want and even beg God to fix our world so we don’t have to suffer.

He hasn’t done it yet. Someday, we know He will. Messiah will come. Jesus will return. In the meantime, we must remember that we have a “very high purpose of life.”

God is One.

God is good.

God loves me.

He loves you, too. He loves us all.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart

Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our God, Hashem is the One and Only. You shall love Hashem, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources. And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 (Stone Edition Chumash)

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)

While many Christians firmly believe that the teachings of Jesus replaced the teachings of Moses, we see here a clear and compelling illustration that not only did Jesus draw what he taught from the Torah, he created the rock-solid foundation of everything he taught from the Torah and specifically the Shema, the most holy of all the Jewish prayers.

I’ve written about this before. I’ve written that loving God cannot be divorced from loving other people and if we say that we do love God with all of our hearts, then we must love other people in tangible ways, providing for the needy, feeding the hungry, showing compassion for the grieving.

But is behavior all that God commands?

This week’s reading contains “Shema Yisrael” — “Hear, oh Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One.” [Deut. 6:4] And what is the next verse? “And you will love HaShem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” The commentaries explain that this commands every Jewish person to be so consumed by love of G-d that he or she is prepared to give up his or her last penny, or, in fact, his or her life…

But how can the Torah demand that a person love? How do you require emotion?

Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“For the Love of G-d”
Commentary on Torah Portion Va’ethanan

How can God command us to experience an emotion for Him? How can God actually command us to love Him? I can see how He can command us to exhibit various behaviors or refrain from other behaviors. Feed the hungry. Don’t carry a grudge. But love? We know when we love someone, but it’s not as if my wife or children can actually order me to love them. I just do.

One answer is to consider “love as a verb.” That is, instead of focusing on that warm and fuzzy feeling that is sometimes associated with romantic love for example, we can focus on what we do that results from that feeling. Now take it a step further. Don’t wait for the feeling. Just start behaving in a loving manner by doing all of the things that indicate love.

Rabbi Menken continues:

There are two ways to develop an emotion like love. The first is to appreciate everything that has been given to you. Gratitude towards a person, such as a parent or spouse, makes you love them more, and so to with G-d.

The other goes still deeper — and, at its root, offers one reason why Judaism involves so many Commandments. When you do something for someone, that in and of itself instills love for that person in your own heart. Parents, especially, see every day that love in the heart is enhanced by love in action, by investing energy and effort into a child.

Whether between man and man or man and G-d, each and every day we are offered countless opportunities to choose to follow G-d’s Will. And when we follow His Will with a deep understanding of His love for us, and motivated by our love for Him, then that causes us to love Him more.

How do we love God? As it turns out, the feeling may not always come before the action. Yes, we may experience a sense of gratitude when we realize all that God has done for us and in turn, respond by experiencing the feeling of “love” for Him. More often though, our response to God is not a feeling but an action. In this case, since there’s nothing we can really do for God since He has no needs and for God, nothing is missing, we show love for God by showing love for people.

This is how God can command us to love Him and this is why Jesus fused the two commandments of loving God and loving others together in such a way that they are always joined.

The more we obey the commandments, the more we show love for other people, and thus, the more we show love for God, using our emotions, our spirit, and our tangible resources.

A few days ago, I mentioned that for a Jew, studying Torah was an act of loving God and as Rabbi Menken says:

The Sages tell us that “the study of Torah is equal to them all.” When we study G-d’s Torah, we observe His Commandment to do so, we perceive His incredible wisdom, and by doing so with love, we increase our love of G-d and His Torah at the same time.

While Christians do study the Bible as a way to learn more about our faith and to draw closer to God, we don’t typically conceptualize the act of study, either alone or with a group, as an act of love.

Maybe that’s a good idea since if we did, we might be less motivated to actually get away from our books and our computers, and actually do something for somebody else. And after all, there are enough pundits, religious and otherwise, spouting off in the blogosphere or in social networking venues such as twitter and Facebook (and gosh, did I just describe myself?).

On the other hand, studying is by far, the safer option. Here’s why.

At times there is so much suffering in the world that a sensitive person finds it difficult to tolerate. The Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzhak Zev Soloveitchik, applied the following Talmudic statement as his advice for such people in such times: “He who wants to live should act as if he were dead.”

There are times when human suffering is so great that a person who feels the suffering of others will simply not be able to continue living. While we have an obligation to feel the suffering of others, we should protect ourselves from overdoing it and destroying ourselves.

At times, said the Brisker Rav, we should adopt an attitude as if we were no longer alive and only then will we be able to exist.

-Moadim U’zmanim
Rabbi Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, p.257

HomelessIt isn’t easy to suffer. It’s also not easy to watch someone else suffer. Yes, there are things that we can and must do to alleviate the suffering of others, but let’s face it, we can’t always help. If someone is suffering from terrible cancer and the sometimes worse effects of chemotherapy treatment, what can we do? We can clean their house, cook food for them, do their yardwork, drive them to medical appointments, but we can’t miraculously cure their cancer or make the hideous side effects of chemo go away. We can pray and pray with all of our heart and soul that God will provide a complete physical and spiritual healing from Heaven for this person, but often, we don’t see that healing arriving anytime soon or at all, at least not in the matter that we desire.

So we should stop feeling? We should stop caring? Even if we could do that, and even if that would protect our own emotions, it would also stop us from expressing our concern for the living and the dying. How can we do that, just go through the motions of helping as if we were a machine?

Should we then stop helping because it is too painful or, Heaven forbid, because we might feel that our help isn’t appreciated enough?

Don’t regret good deeds when you end up suffering. In every business there are negative aspects. When you do acts of kindness, realize in advance there are likely to be some unpleasant aspects and accept them.

Realize that when you help others you are helping yourself. You will find it easier to tolerate difficulties.

-Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch
Shiurey Da’as, p.116
Rabbi Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, p.254

How ironic that this all comes full circle. We desire to love God, so we love others by helping them. Now we learn that by helping another person, even when providing that help causes us to suffer as well, we are also helping ourselves. So to love God is to love others…and to love ourselves. Maybe that’s why the commandment for loving others says, “and you should love your neighbor as yourself.”

I sometimes regret that saying the Shema twice daily is only for the Jews. At one time, I also recited the Shema, but that was another lifetime, so to speak. That was when I believed that God opened the doorway to the Sinai covenant so wide, that everyone was supposed to walk through. Now I realize that my doorway to God is provided exclusively by Jesus Christ and it is through Him and what I think of as the “Messianic covenant” that I am alive in the Lord.

But that doesn’t make me a Jew.

However, it does make me a disciple of the Master and as I continue learning how to love God, I realize that He loves me too, and far, far more than I could ever be able to love Him.

As a father is merciful towards his children, so has Hashem shown mercy to those who fear Him. For He knew our nature; He is mindful that we are dust. Frail man, his days are like grass; like a sprout of the field, so he sprouts. When a wind passes over it, it is gone, and its place recognizes it no more. But the kindness of Hashem is forever and ever upon those who fear Him, and His righteousness is upon children’s children, to those who keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commands to fulfill them. –Psalm 103:13-18 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

PrayingOf course, the Psalmist was writing about the ancient Israelites and the commandments of the Torah, so perhaps I’m taking liberties in applying his words to we Christians and particularly to myself. But the teachings of Jesus are replete with words of love for his disciples and indeed for humanity, as the famously quoted John 3:16 attests. I have no fear that by God loving the Jewish people, He loves everybody else any less, for God’s love is as infinite as His Being.

And so as He loves, we should also love, or at least we should love to the limits of our human abilities. We are commanded to love Him and we are commanded to love each other. By this we realize that God loves us and that we are more than just grass and dust, though our lives are just as fragile.

If you are Jewish and you are observant, you already have a siddur and pray the Shema twice a day in accordance with the commandment. If you are Christian, you probably have never even seen a siddur; a Jewish prayer book, and up until today, you may not have even heard of the Shema. If you have the opportunity, just once, find a siddur, open to the portion that contains the Shema, and read it to yourself and perhaps just once, even read it to God. Although we are not Israel, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God by the merit of our Master and King and by His merit, we are commanded to…

…love Hashem, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources. Let these matters that I command you today be upon your heart. Teach them thoroughly to your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise.

from the Shema