Tag Archives: Sinai

She Goes to Synagogue and He Does the Lawn Work

The Jewish people in the land of Egypt had sunk to the lowest possible level of impurity — so much so that it was nearly impossible to distinguish between Jew and gentile. And then, suddenly, Hashem pulled them out from beneath all their impurity, and they were free — ready for a new beginning and spiritual greatness.

One must remember that no matter how far he has sunk, and as hopeless as his situation may seem, he has still not descended to the level of his forefathers in Egypt. His spiritual predicament cannot be worse than theirs. He must remind himself of the Exodus and internalize its meaning. He can then look toward the time when Hashem, in His mercy and in His kindness, will simply lift him up, freeing him from his seemingly hopeless state, and allowing him to begin his spiritual ascent anew.

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.43
Thursday’s Commentary on Parashas Acharei
A Daily Dose of Torah

I know I’ve said this before, but I really enjoy studying from the Jewish texts, at least those I’m capable of comprehending. In reading the studies contained in “A Daily Dose of Torah” I find myself again drawn toward Judaism as a method of study, a way of understanding God, and even as a lifestyle. In Judaism, there seems to be such a great richness of tradition and apprehension of faith, trust, and obedience that much of Evangelical Christianity lacks.

I live with a Jew. Actually, right now, I live with three of them, but only my wife is the least bit religious. Only she regularly worships at synagogue on Shabbat, and this is as it should be because, after all, she’s Jewish. It’s a commandment from Sinai given to Israel, and as a Jew, she is part of Israel.

I, on the other hand, have great difficulty being obedient even to those commandments I know unequivocally apply to all people of the nations as well as to the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua. How could I ever hope to attain the level of obedience and devotion expected of a Jew?

No, it’s not that Jewish people are perfectly obedient and devoted, but any Gentile aspiring to any sort of Jewish “lifestyle” might want to take stock of how they’re doing as a Gentile first before having the chutzpah to believe he or she can voluntarily take on board the much greater responsibilities and duties God requires of the Jewish people.

A Jew is born into the covenant whether he or she wants to be or not. They’re not given a choice. Any Gentile considering conversion certainly is making a choice and, like deciding to get married, cannot possibly see the long-term results and consequences of such a monumental decision.

The same goes for Gentiles who remain Gentiles but, through one thought process or another, come to believe they can or should either voluntarily take on board some, most, or all of the Torah mitzvot, or who have decided for themselves that they are (somehow) equally obligated to the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews.

Helping the HomelessReally, are you doing so well at a lesser level of obligation and obedience that you need the additional challenge in your life? Has doing charity, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, abstaining from even the hint of lashon hara (evil speech, gossip, denigrating another human being through words) become so humdrum and boring that you require adopting the higher standards of Torah in order to keep your life from becoming mundane?

When I take stock of my life, day by day, I realize how limited I am and how even those requirements Hashem has placed upon the people of the nations sometimes seem far beyond my abilitites. Why do I think I’d do any better in davening three times a day with a minyan, donning tzitzit, laying tefillin, observing Shabbos, keeping glatt kosher, and many of the other mitzvot of Torah?

He explains that both Shabbos and Mikdash (the Sanctuary) represent a dimension of love between Hashem and His nation, the former in time and the latter in space. On Shabbos, Hashem, as it were, invites every Jew to spend the day in His House, to live in the holiness of Hashem’s embrace and bask in his radiance. The Mikdash, too, represents this loving relationship, as symbolized by the two Cherubim that faced each other in the Sanctuary’s innermost chamber, the kodesh hakodashim.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.99
Thursday’s Commentary on Parashas Kedoshim
A Daily Dose of Torah

I have to recognize that, while God loves the whole world and while the Gentile disciples of Messiah are also loved and cherished by Hashem, it is Israel who receives a special love and relationship with the Almighty, and without Israel’s “chosenness,” we Gentiles would have no hope at all. Thus, God has given His people Israel, the Jewish people, special gifts as well as special obligations, in this case, Shabbat and the Holy Temple.

It’s not that we Gentile believers won’t have a role or a place in either in future Messianic Days, it’s just that we shouldn’t forget where they came from or to whom they were given.

This date marks the death of Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884), an American-Jewish statesman. Benjamin was the second Jew to serve in the U.S. Senate, representing Louisiana. When another senator accused him of being an “Israelite in Egyptian clothing,” Benjamin, who had married into a prominent Roman Catholic family, replied: “It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amidst the thundering and lightnings of Mount Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain.”

-from “This Day in Jewish History,” Iyar 11
Aish.com

Judah Benjamin’s reply to his fellow senator is as relevant today as when he first spoke those words.

I suppose in some sense, this is why my wife goes to shul on Shabbos and I stay home, mow the yard, and try to fix the broken sprinkler system so that I can water our lawn. It’s not that I’m necessarily forbidden from worshiping with my wife. After all, there are plenty of intermarried couples, both at the Chabad, and at our local Conservative/Reform synagogue. It’s just that it’s more important for her to observe the mitzvot associated with Shabbos than it is for me, because she is a Jew and I’m not.

ShabbatEven if I somehow believed that the Shabbat is also incumbent upon me as a Gentile, the Jewish people kept and preserved the Shabbat for thousands of years, while the ancestors of every non-Jew alive today were worshiping pagan gods, consorting with heathen temple prostitutes, and in some cases, feeding their children to sacrificial fires in obscene fertility rites.

We have no worthiness or honor of our own not did our forefathers. It is only through God’s abundant mercy and kindness that He provided any way at all for the Gentile to even approach His Throne in the most humble and penitent manner.

Let us strive to improve ourselves and to become obedient to those few things God requires of the Gentile disciples. If we can master our yetzer hara and if there are more requirements and more gifts Hashem wishes to assign to us, we will receive them from the hand of Messiah in all due time.

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Chol HaMo’ed Pesach: Writing on Flesh

When Moses descended, he carried the Word of God—not the Word made flesh, but the word made stone upon the two tablets of the covenant.

“The Word from Heaven Was Broken”
Commentary on Chol HaMo’ed Pesach
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

The obvious image those words should invoke is this:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John1:14 (NASB)

The Old Covenant was established with the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai and the conditions of that covenant, the Torah, were given on stone tablets.

The mediator of the New Covenant entered our world as “the Word made flesh” and the conditions of that covenant were in every spoken word and action of that “Word,” in the person of Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth, HaMaschiach (the Messiah). But of course, the conditions previously established didn’t change, and everything taught by the Rav from Nazareth was Torah.

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

Matthew 5:17-18 (NASB)

The conditions of the Old Covenant were written on stone tablets. Exodus 32:16 says the finger of God wrote on the first set of tablets before the sin of the Golden Calf, before Moses broke them.

The FFOZ commentary tells us that according to midrash, the tablets that descended from Mount Sinai can be compared to a human body, and when Moses broke that “body,” because of the sin of Israel, the letters on the tablets flew off the stone and returned to their Source in Heaven.

When Messiah Yeshua’s body was broken due to the sin of Israel, his spirit left him and returned to its Source.

letters-on-stoneAfter the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses returned to the mountain and to God to plead for Israel and to renew the covenant (Exodus 34). This began a long and cyclical pattern of sin and repentance for Israel.

After the death of the Master, he was resurrected three days later and thus was completed the inauguration or the very starting of the New Covenant, a process that will not reach fruition until the Master’s return, for he ascended to Heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father, our High Priest in the Heavenly Court, who makes final atonement for the sins of humanity, who is the mediator of better promises. But get this:

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (emph. mine)

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB)

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (emph. mine)

Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NASB)

The conditions of the Old Covenant were written on stone tablets and on scrolls, objects that are inanimate and external to human beings. If we want to know about God and if we want to “know God,” we must study and practice, and yet Biblical and human history is all too clear that even the best of us fail, no matter how great our desire to serve God.

praying_at_masadaYeshua came as the “Word made flesh,” the living embodiment of the Torah, the walking, talking, flesh and blood, human expression of the will and wonder of God, all contained within a human body. He was the perfect image of what we strive for, the Word written on flesh.

There’s a difference. John’s Gospel says that Yeshua was the Word made flesh, while we get from Ezekiel and Jeremiah that the Word will be written on our fleshy hearts. We don’t literally become the Word as a human being, we “merely” have it wholly integrated into our being.

But here’s the result.

Amen, I say to you, none among those born of a woman has arisen greater than Yochanan the Immerser; yet the smallest in the kingdom of Heaven will be greater than he.

Matthew 11:11 (DHE Gospels)

I mentioned above the concepts of knowing about God vs. knowing God. I don’t doubt that there are people today, great tzaddikim or saints who know God, at least to the current extent of human ability, but the Bible records that Moses spoke with God “face to face” (Exodus 33:11). That’s pretty hard for me to imagine, especially since God is considered Spirit and without physical form (the third of the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith).

But the Master prophesied that when the New Covenant is fully enacted, then the finger of God will have finished writing His Word on our hearts of flesh and, like Moses and the Prophets of Old, including John the Baptizer, we will all know God, God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17), and everyone, from the least to the greatest, will have a full knowledge and intimate relationship with God. We won’t just know about Him, we will know Him.

Jesus, when the Spirit was poured out on him at his immersion (Matthew 3:16) became the forerunner, the first fruits of New Covenant human beings. He was still fully human, but with the Spirit poured out on him as it will be someday in the Messianic Era, a human being who could be tempted but still not sin. He’s the living promise that we will be perfected even as he was perfected.

It’s exciting to watch God’s plan open up in the pages of the Bible. The progression from the tablets and scrolls to the first fruits of the New Covenant, Messiah, coming as the “Word made flesh,” and then anticipating the day when that Word will be written on our flesh as well.

Right now, we experience just the leading edge of that New Covenant as we continue to live in the Old Covenant era, the Spirit was given as a pledge and a promise of what is yet to come (2 Corinthians 1:22). We aren’t there yet, but God has given His Spirit to us as His bond that what He has promised will indeed occur.

But there’s a catch.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NASB)

PrayingThis doesn’t just happen.

Yes, God promised it and it will happen, but it won’t just happen to us without an effort on our part. It isn’t just an intellectual and emotional acceptance we make that Jesus is Lord and then suddenly we’re in. As we see from Paul’s example, we only get to the finish line after running the race, after exerting ourselves, after keeping the faith and holding fast to our confession (Hebrews 4:11, 14).

Recently, I wrote of some of this as applied to me personally in For Redemption is Not Yet Complete and next week’s review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Epistle to the Hebrews sermon The Source of Eternal Salvation will speak strongly to who we are in Messiah and our role in the process of repentance and salvation.

Each day, we struggle to reaffirm our faith. Each day we must repent anew, plead for the forgiveness of our sins, and turn to Yeshua as our atonement. The finger of God is moving and writing, but only if we are willing participants in allowing our stony heart to be transformed, only if we surrender ourselves as the material upon which (upon whom) God may write His Torah.

And we do that only by recognizing the one who came from God and who returned to God and who will come again. The one who arrived as a flesh and blood man and who was (and is) also the Word. For only through him can we find the Word within us as we are within Him.

Wednesday Night in My Pastor’s Office

iron-sharpens-iron-hotWhat then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God…”

Romans 3:9-11 (NASB)

There is no person on earth so righteous, who does only good and does not sin.

Ecclesiastes 7:20

Reading the suggestions for ridding oneself of character defects, someone might say, “These are all very helpful for someone who has character defects, but I do not see anything about myself that is defective.”

In the above-cited verse, Solomon states what we should all know: no one is perfect. People who cannot easily find imperfections within themselves must have a perception so grossly distorted that they may not even be aware of major defects. By analogy, if a person cannot hear anything, it is not that the whole world has become absolutely silent, but that he or she has lost all sense of hearing and may thus not be able to hear even the loudest thunder.

In his monumental work, Duties of the Heart, Rabbeinu Bachaye quotes a wise man who told his disciples, “If you do not find defects within yourself, I am afraid you have the greatest defect of all: vanity.” In other words, people who see everything from an “I am great/right” perspective will of course believe that they do no wrong.

When people can see no faults in themselves, it is generally because they feel so inadequate that the awareness of any personal defects would be devastating. Ironically, vanity is a defense against low self-esteem. If we accept ourselves as fallible human beings and also have a sense of self-worth, we can become even better than we are.

Today I shall…

…be aware that if I do not find things within myself to correct, it may be because I am threatened by such discoveries.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Av 25”
Aish.com

Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17 (NASB)

Last night I met with Pastor Randy for the first time in several weeks. He has been away in Southern California as part of his Ph.D program and just returned late last week. Prior to our meeting, he sent me two PDFs as email attachments, one was a chart he had drawn as a graphic representation all the covenants, and the other was a text description of the covenants. I have to admit, I was intimidated. He was responding to something I had blogged earlier in the week. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

In response and to prepare for the meeting, I sent him a link to my blog post Abraham, Jews, and Christians, since I suspected we’d be discussing the differences between how Jews and Christians are connected by covenant to God and specifically why I believe that the Torah, the conditions pertaining to the Sinai covenant, still apply to the Jewish people today.

AbrahamI hadn’t slept well the night before, so I was running on three hours rest and as much chutzpah as I could summon. All I wanted to do was to go to bed (our meeting was scheduled for 6:30 p.m., so as you can imagine, I must have been really tired), but I wanted to have this meeting, too. Armed with my hardcopy printouts and my Bible, I went to church.

Actually, it was a blast. I had a great time. When we started talking, I forgot completely about being tired. Pastor gifted me with Thomas Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, which I’ll start as soon as I finish the Septuagint book. I suspect Schreiner’s book is going to be a “challenge” to me, but that’s almost always a good way to learn. During our conversation, he suggested half a dozen other books for me, which I’m not going to reference here, so I suspect my reading list has been reserved for the next few months.

We actually agreed on most of the details of the covenant connection Christians have through Abraham and why that results in the Gentile church “bypassing” the Sinai covenant, but following a series of links from Abraham, to the New Covenant, to the “Last Supper,” to Paul’s commentary on Abraham in Galatians 3:16. The only link we Christians have through the Abrahamic covenant is stated in Genesis 12:1-3 which is the Messianic blessing on all the peoples of the earth. This was stated before the portion of the covenant requiring circumcision (which links the rest of the Abrahamic covenant directly through Isaac, through Jacob, and then to Jacob’s sons, the Patriarchs, and then the twelve tribes of Israel, and ultimately the Jewish people).

Where we disagreed was familiar territory: the duration of the Sinai covenant. Pastor believes that it should have ended at the cross with a “transitionary period” lasting until the close of the Biblical canon. My opinion is that it extends much further, well past our current age and through the Messianic Era, finally terminating at what we could consider “the end of time” as we understand it.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Revelation 21:22-27 (NASB)

temple-prayersAs long as there’s a Temple in Jerusalem or the promise that it will be rebuilt (which we have in the promise of Messiah’s return), then the Torah cannot pass away from existence and neither can Israel and the Jewish people (Jeremiah 31:35-36, Matthew 5:17-19). The best one can say is that certain portions (the Laws pertaining to the Temple, the Priesthood, the Sanhedrin, and certain other ordinances regarding the Land of Israel itself) go into abeyance, a state of being temporarily set aside. When Hebrews 8:13 talks about the “Old Covenant” passing away, it describes the process of currently passing away, not having already passed away. I just happen to think that “passing away” process doesn’t end until the coming of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10).

We also agreed on one thing that will make a lot of Christians a little nervous. We agreed that the New Covenant isn’t yet a “done deal.” In other words, not all the work was finished “on the cross.”

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NASB)

Pastor used another term, but the way I see it, God’s finger is still in the process of writing the Law within us and on our hearts. If He had already finished it with the first coming of Messiah, we would all “Know the Lord” and we don’t yet. The moving finger has not yet “writ” and thus has yet to move on. Link the still writing finger of Jeremiah 31 with the slowly passing away of the Old Covenant in Hebrews 8:13 and I think you’ll see the Torah as it currently exists will be with us for quite some time.

We still went ’round a bit on the purpose and reason for the Law and finally agreed that how it is applied is largely situational (which I mentioned a few days ago). Pastor again tried to tell me that the Torah was given to show the Israelites that it was too hard for anyone to obey His Law and that they needed Messiah. I pointed to Deuteronomy 30, and he replied, Romans 4. I pointed out that one part of the Bible doesn’t cancel another and that only certain parts of Torah have been temporarily set aside as I mentioned above. I also referred back to Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 to illustrate that the Israelites didn’t experience Torah as a burden or a hardship but instead, their foremost joy.

Reading_TorahHe says the Torah does not provide salvation. I know that and I agree. It never did. When Israel violated the conditions of Torah they were ultimately exiled. And they were ultimately called back to God and restored to their Land. Why? Because of God’s love and grace. He never let them go. In that, we Christians are no different, though the nations are not corporately linked to God as is Israel. When we are disobedient, we are not abandoned but instead disciplined. When we become humbled and cry out, God brings us back, even as He has Israel. The Torah doesn’t save. It works as a specific set of conditions indicating the Jewish people are set aside for God, and the conditions apply to them alone on top of the obligations Torah applies to we Gentile believers.

Like I said in the quotes above, no one is righteous, no not even one. The Torah doesn’t confer righteousness, only our faith and God’s grace does that.

I don’t think he’s convinced, but I did the best I could to illuminate my end of the conversation. Part of the problem is Pastor’s perception of “Rabbinic Judaism,” but right then, I was only trying to show that during New Testament times, Torah continued to apply and the Torah moves forward across history. I didn’t want to even comment about the post-Biblical Rabbinic period until I created a bridge that started at Sinai and moved past the crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascendance, with the Torah moving across that bridge and forward, spanning the history of the Jewish people. Jesus didn’t just observe the Law because he was born on the “wrong side of the cross,” he did so because that’s the obligation and the joy for all Jews under covenant. His death didn’t change that.

Boaz Michael puts things is proper perspective, I think:

This may sound counterintuitive to many, but the gospel—the story of Jesus’ first coming, his earthly life, his death and resurrection—is not the fulfillment or even the climax of Israel’s story. It does not complete or resolve the narrative that begins with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. It does not fulfill God’s promises to David in the books of the early prophets. It does not fulfill the promises of the later prophets concerning Israel’s final destiny. It does not even fulfill the Torah itself, in which God promises certain things to his people Israel after their return from exile.

The completion or resolution of Israel’s story does not and will not occur until she is redeemed from her exile, planted firmly in the land God has promised to her, and returned to a state of loving obedience to the Torah under the leadership of the Son of David, Yeshua the Messiah.

I mentioned the example of 19th century Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein who came to faith in Yeshua past the age of sixty; a person who was wholly Jewish before and after coming to Messianic faith who found that Torah was illuminated, expanded, and possessed of great joy by the Messiah. When Messiah “fulfills” the Torah, it doesn’t end, but it is shown to be truly perfect in Moshiach! Observance goes on for the Jewish believers, but it is Torah observance with much greater meaning, something that as a Gentile Christian, I can hardly even imagine.

Pastor surprised me a bit. My opinion has been that the population of Jews in Messiah dwindled more or less steadily past the Biblical period and finally extinguished completely sometime between the fourth and seventh centuries CE, and then finding a slow resurgence in the past several centuries.

Pastor contradicted me and said he believes that across the past two-thousand years, there has always been a remnant of Messianic Jews. I’d love to believe that but I need to see some evidence. He pointed me to a book called Our Jewish Friends by Louis Goldberg, which I’ll certainly have to read to see the validity of such a claim and how it could possibly be substantiated. Does Goldberg mean Jewish converts to Christianity? To me that’s not the same thing as people who live fully Jewish lives realized in Messiah. Now that would be a thrill to discover.

first-baptist-churchIn many ways, last night’s talk was one of our most productive conversations, at least for me. We won’t be able to meet again for another couple of weeks, but I’m looking forward to it. I mentioned to Pastor that the following day’s “meditation” would be called On Being a Good Christian and was based on his sermon from last Sunday. That led to my angst on ever being able to officially join a local church and the dilemma of “denominationalism” for me. We know that Paul frowned on such divisions in the church (1 Corinthians 1:10-17) but he told me (surprising me again) that we can’t anachronistically apply Paul to our modern church.

We agreed that at the heart of all disciples in Messiah, we must all contain a set of core beliefs, without which, we cannot call ourselves “Christians” (which in this case, would include “Messianics”). Beyond that, denominations provide additional dimensions based on social, cultural, and sometimes even ethnic similarities. I had a brief epiphany and said that denominations were not unlike the evolution of the different streams of ancient and modern Judaism including the addition of elements of culture and tradition. I don’t think Pastor expected that comparison and hopefully it will be food for thought in subsequent conversations.

But since I opened the door, our next conversation in two weeks will be on the differences in Christian denominations. I actually need this since my grasp on the topic is extremely weak. I don’t know if I’m learning to be a better Christian, but I hope I’m growing and learning to be a better child of God.

Blessings on my Pastor for his patience, his intelligence, his passion, and his friendship.

 

 

Whatever Happened to the Mixed Multitude?

Mount SinaiThe first prerequisite for receiving Torah is unity of the Jewish people. On the first day of Sivan, the Jews arrived at the mountain. The verse (Exodus 19:2) uses an unusual conjugation to describe their encampment. Rather than the plural form, here the entire camp is described in the singular. This emphasizes the need for unity at the giving of the Torah. (Rashi, Exodus 19:2)

-Rabbi Zave Rudman
“Chumash Themes #12: The Ten Commandments”
Aish.com

(Ex. 12:38), a class who accompanied the Israelites as they journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, the first stage of the Exodus. These were probably miscellaneous hangers-on to the Hebrews, whether Egyptians of the lower orders, or the remains of the Hyksos (see EGYPT ØT0001137; MOSES ØT0002602), as some think. The same thing happened on the return of the Jews from Babylon (Neh. 13:3), a “mixed multitude” accompanied them so far.

“Mixed multitude” definition
dictionary.reference.com

I don’t know what brought this to mind today, but the “mixed multitude” popped into my head. Probably because comments on several of my blog posts recently have mentioned conversion to Judaism, and that is the commonly held fate in religious Jewish opinion of this group of non-Jews who left Egypt with the Children of Israel (and possibly a similar group returned to Israel with the Hebrews at the end of the Babylonian exile).

But what happened to them? Where did they go?

I’ve been lamenting with Derek Leman lately over the loss of my “innocence” about the Bible. If scholars like Friedman are right, then the entire question may be moot because the Israelites and a group of Gentile “hangers on” may or may not have accompanied them on an exodus that may or may not be partly or completely fiction.

But setting that aside for the moment and assuming the events and people groups being described have some sort of basis in reality, I’ll go ahead and ask the question: what the heck happened to the “mixed multitude?”

The answer depends on your theology. I say that because how we interpret what the Bible is telling us is firmly rooted in what we believe about our religion.

Let’s look at Rabbi Rudman’s statement above. According to Jewish tradition, the group who accepted the Torah at Sinai were basically considered a single person; totally unified. But if that includes Hebrews and Gentiles, then their identities became fused into a single entity with no ability to differentiate. That can’t be literally true, because post-Sinai, individuals were identified as non-Jews.

Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp, and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed.

Leviticus 24:10-11 (ESV)

So national identity wasn’t obliterated after Sinai and it was recognized that the individual involved had an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father.

So were Hebrews and Gentiles fused in some other way? Midrash aside, is this even remotely likely?

Let’s take a look at some opinions:

In Exod 12:38, we read that when the Israelites left Egypt, a mixed multitude (עֵרֶב רַב) went up with them. Therefore, the question arises: Who were the mixed multitude? Interestingly, the word עֵרֶב is also attested to at the time of Nehemiah. In Neh 13:3 the term עֵרֶב is linked to Nehemiah’s reforms against intermarriages. In other texts, such as Jer 25:20; 50:37 and Ezek 30:5, the term עֵרֶב has the meaning “to take on a pledge” or “to give in pledge exchange.” In those instances, the term עֵרֶב appears in the context of war and those slain by the sword; thus, the term refers to mercenaries. A clue to the identity of the mixed multitude can also be found in Exod 13:18, where the text describes the Israelites at the time of the Exodus as חֲמֻשִׁים, a term which can have military implications. The existence of mercenaries in the ancient world is well known. They were part of David’s army and accepted as part of the Israelite nation. In this paper, we will show that the term עֵרֶב רַב in Exod 12:38 refers to mercenaries who intermarried with the Israelites and left armed with them at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.

-Shaul Bar
“Who Were The ‘Mixed Multitude’?”
Hebrew Studies (taken from the Abstract)
Vol. 49, (2008), pp. 27-39
Published by National Association of Professors in Hebrew (NAPH)
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27913875

many peopleThat defines the “mixed multitude” as an extremely specific group of people, in this case, mercenaries. But that might not be to everyone’s taste.

In typical fulfilment of the promise in Genesis 12:3, and no doubt induced by the signs and wonders of the Lord in Egypt to seek their good among the Israelites, a great crowd of mixed people (רב ערב) attached themselves to them, whom Israel could not shake off, although they afterwards became a snare to them (Numbers 11:4). ערב: lit., a mixture, ἐπίμικτος sc., λαός (lxx), a swarm of foreigners; called אספסף in Numbers 11:4, a medley, or crowd of people of different nations. According to Deuteronomy 29:10, they seem to have occupied a very low position among the Israelites, and to have furnished the nation of God with hewers of wood and drawers of water. – On Exodus 12:29, see Exodus 12:34.

Keil and Delitzsch Bible Commentary
referencing Exodus 12:38

That expands the identity of the “mixed multitude” from a single profession but still leaves us with a low view of this group of Gentiles who, according to this interpretation, would be nothing but trouble for the Israelites and ultimately provide the tribes with a “worker class” to perform menial labor.

Barnes’ Notes for the same verse say that they were “Probably remains of the old Semitic population, whether first brought into the district by the Hyksos or not is uncertain. As natural objects of suspicion and dislike to the Egyptians who had lately become masters of the country, they would be anxious to escape, the more especially after the calamities which preceded the Exodus.” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible tells us “Some of these were Egyptians, and some of other nations that had resided in Egypt, and who, on various accounts, might choose to go along with the children of Israel; some through intermarriages with them, being loath to part with their relations, see Leviticus 20:10, others on account of religion, being proselytes of righteousness, and others through worldly interest, the land of Egypt being by the plagues a most desolate place; and such wonders being wrought for the children of Israel, they saw they were a people that were the favourites of heaven, and judged it safest and best and most for their interest to keep with them…”

We can’t be sure who this group of people were, but most (but not all) opinions I’ve found seem to believe they were the dregs of society, refugees who had no better place to go and nothing better to do. An uncertain future with the fleeing Israelites was better than remaining in slavery and suffering in Egypt.

Was this “rabble” raised up spiritually with the Hebrews at Sinai and became one with the covenant people of God?

We read famously in Exodus 12:38 about a mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel. This probably reflects the idea that non-Israelite peoples left Egypt with Israel (other ideas have been suggested, but I am reading it this way). Many in the Gentile Back-to-Torah movements today (Hebrew Roots, One Law, Two House) refer often to this passage as a paradigm for their own relationship to the Jewish people. The assumption is: when Torah was given there were Gentiles present, they were included within the Torah commandments as non-Israelites, and this is a parallel to Gentile in our time who are in Messiah and who thus feel they too have been commanded to keep Torah. I wish to show in this article, referring to another aspect of the Jewish halakhah (rules of practice) for conversion, that the mixed multitude cannot be used in this manner. This mixed multitude should be regarded as joining Israel (going through conversion).

-Derek Leman
“Conversion 2: The Mixed Multitude”
Messianic Jewish Musings

mountain-morningThis is really the crux of my curiosity about this group, since they are often used, in certain minority Christian circles, as the justification for “Gentile/Christian obligation to Torah.” Leman’s opinion should be obvious to those who know his work or the general opinion of Messianic Judaism (as opposed to the various Hebrew Roots groups), so I don’t think you’ll have to guess about his conclusions.

I don’t believe the mixed multitude converted as such during the days of Moses, since the Children of Israel were tribal-based and one doesn’t convert to a tribe. Even after the Babylonian exile (see Cohen), the Israelites returned to their land as clan-based groups and as yet did not have a well-defined (or defined at all) concept of conversion (Conversion is a recognized process by the time we reach the Second Temple period). The closest I think we can come is that anyone who wanted to stay with the Israelites had to live like the Israelites, but they were still not members of a tribe or later, a clan. They were a group of “gerim” who lived alongside the Israelites but who didn’t become Israelites.

Leman continues:

So, let’s consider the mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel. What happened to them? We do not hear about their continuing existence as a group of people. They did not remain Gentiles within Israel. They became Israelites (like Caleb did). They were absorbed into the people of Israel (exactly like modern converts are absorbed into the people of Israel). And they submitted to the same covenant ceremony as the Israelites (and as converts do today).

I suppose to a degree it seems as if I’m disagreeing with Leman, since he says the “mixed multitude” did, in a sense, convert and disappear into the tribes. Yes, they disappeared, but having no tribal identity, how did they manage it? Assuming the Gentiles living among Israel intermarried with various members of the tribes, their children, and grandchildren, and later descendants would have taken on tribal identity and then the Gentiles would have vanished. Presumably if a later group of Gentiles left Babylon with the Jewish clans, they too would have intermarried (or been subsequently evicted, see Ezra 10) and then their descendants would have adopted clan identification and their history as Gentiles would have been lost to history and time.

Can we use their example, Gentiles living alongside Jews and performing the same mitzvot, as a model for Christianity and Christian obligation to Torah today? I seriously doubt it. The social and organizational conditions that required the mixed multitude to take on a status very similar to widows and orphans who had to tribal inheritance to lands in Israel no longer exists. Jews have long since ceased to be a tribal people and Judaism no longer recognizes that process as a valid method of accepting non-Jews within their community. Instead, a formal conversion process is now in place.

Also, what about Jesus?

Oh yeah, remember him?

Yes, that was a tad snarky, but to deny that Jesus gives all people among the nations a covenant relationship with God (the process is complicated and frankly, not well-defined theologically), is to deny Jesus entirely.

The story of the mixed multitude, in any meaningful theological sense, is no longer relevant. This process is one that passed away because it is no longer necessary. That’s not the same as saying that Jewish obligation to the mitzvot has passed away, nor is it a supersessionistic pronouncement. The Messianic reality of Jesus just makes the status of the ancient gerim completely anachronistic for the modern Christian, and it has been so for at least 2,000 years, and probably for a good deal longer.

moshiach-ben-yosefI know I’ve been writing a lot about all this lately, and I will continue to do so (at least for tomorrow and the next day), but in elevating the status of the ancient ger as a role model and template for the modern Christian is to say we must strip ourselves of the blood of Jesus, so to speak, and undo everything that he has done for us. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul strongly discouraged the Gentile believers from converting formally to Judaism as a means of attaining righteousness before God. It was completely unnecessary for that purpose.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Galatians 5:2-6 (ESV)

This is not to say that conversion to Judaism was forbidden in Paul’s eyes and it’s likely that some believers did convert. But in those days, there was no dissonance between being Jewish (born or converted) and discipleship under Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah. Today, it’s problematic, since virtually any legitimate conversion process to Judaism requires the individual involved to renounce all other religious allegiances (specifically Christianity).

In many of my other blog posts, I say that remaining Gentile Christians and being drawn to the Torah is not a problem. We can indeed go beyond our obligations and voluntarily take on many of the mitzvot. It doesn’t make us Jews. It doesn’t make us Israelites. It makes us Christians who have solidarity with the Jewish people and who, alongside them, strive to encourage and support the return of the Jews to the Torah, to the Land, and to summon the Moshiach, may he come soon and in our days.

As for the mixed multitude…I hate to say it, but they’re old news. That dinosaurs once existed and were a necessary presence in their time and place doesn’t mean that they have relevancy in our modern world. A lot has changed since then.

Final note: This is my 700th blog post for Morning Meditations. If God is willing, they will continue for another 700 and beyond.

Mishpatim: The Boundaries of Knowing God

At the conclusion of Mishpatim – after almost an entire Torah portion that addresses matters not directly related to Mattan Torah, the giving of the Torah – Moshe is told: “Go up to G-d.” (Shmos 24:1) Rashi explains (Commentary of Rashi ibid.) that this took place on the fourth of Sivan, prior to Mattan Torah.

The Midrash notes (Shmos Rabbah 12:3; Tanchuma, Va’eira 15) that at the time of Mattan Torah , two things were accomplished: “Those Above descended below” – “G-d descended on Mt. Sinai,” (Shmos 19:20) ; and “Those below ascended Above” – “And to Moshe He said: ‘Ascend to G-d.’ ” (Ibid. 24:1) Man ascended to G-dliness.

“A Tale of Two Portions”
Commentary on Torah Portion Mishpatim
The Chassidic Dimension
Chabad.org

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and wait there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the teachings and commandments which I have inscribed to instruct them.” So Moses and his attendant Joshua arose, and Moses ascended the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us until we return to you. You have Aaron and Hur with you; let anyone who has a legal matter approach them.”

When Moses had ascended the mountain, the cloud covered the mountain. The Presence of the Lord abode on Mount Sinai, and the cloud hid it for six days. On the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. Now the Presence of the Lord appeared in the sight of the Israelites as a consuming fire on the top of the mountain. Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moses remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.Exodus 24:12-18 (JPS Tanakh)

Regardless of the differences between the world’s wide spectrum of religious disciplines, they share one, basic, common goal: to understand God. How we conceive of God and the mechanics and meaning behind the process of finding Him (or her, depending on your tradition) varies tremendously across different cultures and across the panorama of history, but in the end, we want and even need to connect to something that is larger than us, and to find out why we are here and where our place is in a universe.

In Judaism, this process has two parts: God descending to man and man ascending to God. Both of these parts happen at the end of Mishpatim, and the climactic moment of this week’s parashah, in some sense, mirrors the desires of every person of faith. This is why we study the actions of the Creator: to learn the nature of God. It is also why we study people who have had personal encounters with the Creator…because those people have learned something of the nature of God. I like how Rabbi Tzvi Freeman expresses the thoughts of the Rebbe in this matter:

Science is the study of those things G-d thinks about,
by one of His thoughts.

Torah is the study of G-d thinking.

We do not have the privilege of ascending Sinai as God has descended upon it, and the ability to encounter God within the smoke and the flames, but like my previous description of how Moses encountered God, we also have two parts to our own process of approaching an understanding of Him: we can study the universe and we can study the Torah. As Rabbi Freeman points out, the first is studying what God thinks about and the second is studying God as He thinks.

I’m not discounting prayer at all and prayer is a vital component in establishing and developing our relationship with the Creator, but we are not only called to experience God in a spiritual and emotional sense, we are also called to experience Him in thinking. We need to understand, at least to the limits God built into the human mind.

This is why the Torah has manifested as a document or series of documents that is tangible and lends itself to study and multiple layers of interpretation. It’s why humanity has spent countless centuries pouring over every tiny bit of text and arguing with ourselves and each other over meanings both obvious and arcane. This is why the Bible can be read in your native language, pointing the way to the Kingdom of Heaven, and still allow God to be a complete mystery in every single aspect.

God seeks to dwell among mankind, but our ability to “know God” is something we struggle with all our lives. As human beings, we often make the mistake of thinking that God is knowable in the same way his creations are knowable. We mistake how we can learn what God’s thinking about by studying His universe (which we don’t understand all that well, either) with understanding the process of God thinking by studying the Bible. And even in studying God’s “thought process,” our ability to truly comprehend more than a tiny fraction of anything at all regarding God, is extremely limited. The world is filled with commentaries (including this one), in bookstores, in libraries, in seminaries, and particularly on the Internet, with a stream of endless text purporting to explain the nature and character of God, including that which is secret and that which may only be known to a favored few “prophets”.

But what do we know?

One who is unqualified can never assume that he understands the depths of halachah like a genuine posek. It is astounding how even the most apparently obvious halachos can sometimes be much more complex than they appear on the surface.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“The Transfer of Holiness”
Siman 153 Seif 1

A certain man was assumed to be a kohen for many years and redeemed many bechoros. One day he was confronted with an unexpected visitor to town who claimed upon his arrival that this kohen was really no kohen at all! To the surprise of everyone in the town, the man who had been assumed to be a kohen for so many years admitted that he was not a kohen. People wondered what the halachah was in such a case. Was this man still considered a kohen? Did all the many bechoros that he had redeemed need a new pidyon? Although they figured he was now like a yisrael in every regard since presumably he had nothing to gain by accepting this man’s testimony — and this is the halachah whenever
someone believes one witness—they decided to consult with a competent posek.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The False Kohen”
Arachim 34

Studying TorahHere we see two things. We see that not everyone is qualified to interpret the Bible and, even more so, to plum the depths of halacha related to Jewish understanding and ritual observance, and we also learn that one may successfully misrepresent himself as a person who has a special religious or teaching authority when in fact, he does not. Beyond the fact that there are false prophets, charlatans, and religious hucksters in the world who have some sort of religious ax to grind, there are also people who are seemingly well-meaning and sincere, but who are also naive or just plain ignorant about how complicated it is to study the text and arrive at meaningful conclusions. There are people who feel they have a special calling to arrive at these “meaningful conclusions” and to teach them to others, perhaps because of some emotional need, when that special calling is only an illusion. Anyone can create a web site or a blog (even me).

I’m not trying to discourage anyone from honest study and exploration on the path that leads to holiness, (which is, after all, what I’m trying to do) but there’s a difference between being one pilgrim on the road who asks questions and reaches for the Heavens, and someone who is a true posek and tzaddik who has spent all of his or her life and resources in acquiring the knowledge to fulfill a position that only God can assign.

I am the former and not the latter, but I still need to ask the questions, record my observations and, if necessary, accept (hopefully) gentle rebukes from those who are authentically learned (as opposed to the scores of folks out there who only think they are) as to where I’ve made my mistakes.

And I’ve made mistakes.

And I will no doubt continue to make mistakes as I attempt to learn, throughout the rest of my life.

But it’s worth it if, in the end, I am allowed to even approach the tiniest thread trailing from the hem of the garment of God.

But, as I said, there are limits.

The above allows for an extended interpretation of a famous statement of our Rabbis: (Bechinos Olam, sec. 8, ch. 2; Ikarim, Discourse II, ch. 30; Shaloh 191b.) “The ultimate of knowledge is not to know You.” The simple meaning of this statement is that a person should realize the limits of his intellect, and therefore understand that knowing G-d is impossible, for He transcends all limits. There is, however, an allusion to the concept that when a person has fully developed his mind, he appreciates that even the concepts which he knows possess an inner dimension which transcends intellect. And going further, one can infer dimensions of G-d that are infinite, internalizing this knowledge to the point that it shapes our personalities.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
After Sinai; Making the Torah a Part of Ourselves
Commentary on Mishpatim
“Knowing, and Not Knowing”
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 896ff; Vol. XVI, p. 242ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 243ff.
Chabad.org

As I’ve already mentioned, our limits are built in, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a great deal we can learn, as long as we are mindful that we do have limits and know where those limits are set. Some men are great scholars, while others will only rise to the level of a humble and seeking student. Some women have been appointed by God to be learned sages, while others may only reach the most elementary levels of Torah comprehension. This does not make one of us better than another in God’s eyes, or make the learned more loved and cherished by the Creator than the struggling disciple. It only means that we have our roles and our boundaries which have been set for us as God has set the limits to the sea and the sky.

Of course, we must make certain that the limits we acknowledge are those set by God and not by us. Just as an overly ambitious or arrogant person can elevate himself to a station higher than God intended (and eventually fall an equally great distance into a spectacular abyss of defeat), so can a person fail to rise to the level God has apportioned for them, not recognizing that they can seek and learn and understand more than they have imagined (or more than someone else told them they were allowed). Seek the level that God has set; learn to see when you still have miles to go on the trail and when you have reached the point where God has said, “no further”.

But even when you have reached that limit, realize that it’s not truly the end.

Knowledge of G-d in this manner anticipates and precipitates the coming of the Redemption, the era when “A man will no longer teach his friend…, for all will know Me, from the small to the great.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

“Knowing, and Not Knowing”
-Rabbi Touger

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

-John Muir, Scottish-American environmentalist and writer

Good Shabbos.