Tag Archives: study

Viewing the Truth Through a Dirty Window

Truth is simple, it has no clothes, no neat little box to contain it.

But we cannot grasp the something that has no box. We cannot perceive truth without clothing.

So Truth dresses up for us, in a story, in sage advice, in a blueprint of the cosmos—in clothes woven from the fabric of truth itself.

And then, before we can imagine that we have grasped Truth, it switches clothes. It tells us another story—entirely at odds with the first. It tells us new advice—to go in a different direction. It provides another model of how things are—in which each thing has changed its place.

The fool is confused. He exclaims, “Truth has lied!”

The wise person sees within and finds harmony between all the stories, all the advice, every model we are told.

For the Torah is a simple, pure light, a truth no box can contain.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Raw Truth”
Based on the Letters and Talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Depending on our philosophical or theological orientation, we like to think we have a pretty good grasp of “the truth.” This includes the truth of who we are as human beings and, if we’re religious, the truth about the nature of God, Creation, and everything.

But as Rabbi Freeman points out, human beings cannot apprehend “raw truth”. If we could, if we could see truth the way we see the color “red” or hear a particular musical note, maybe we would all perceive “truth” (more or less) in the same way. Humanity wouldn’t be so conflicted. We would all “know truth”.

But we aren’t there, not yet. We don’t perceive raw truth anymore than we can see X-rays with the unaided eye.

So we “clothe” truth with interpretation and tradition. A number of recent conversations have re-enforced the fact (as opposed to truth) that all human beings, and particularly human beings who believe the Bible is the source of truth, are oriented by specific traditional methods of interpretation to believe the Bible says certain things. The problem comes in when we encounter people who have different traditions that tell them different things about the Bible than what our traditions tell us.

While I agree that there is probably a supernal Torah in Heaven that no box can contain, in order to “package” the Torah, or for that matter, the entire Bible in order to deliver it to humanity, it gets put in a box. It has to be clothed. It is a book written (originally) in several languages over thousands of years. The completed “product” is now many thousands of years old and has been translated into innumerable languages. Just in English, there are hundreds if not thousands of translations of the Bible.

And over those thousands of years, both in Christianity (in all its forms) and in Judaism (in all its forms), many traditions have sprung up to tell many different variant religious populations what the Bible is saying. When a tradition persists long enough, it ceases to be perceived as a tradition and it is commonly understood to be the truth…

…whether it is from God’s point of view or not.

suitThey say “the clothes don’t make the man” and “never judge a book by its cover,” but quite frankly, we have no other way of understanding the Bible. We can’t access its “raw truth” and so we have interpretation by tradition. This is stated rather plainly in (especially) Orthodox Judaism. The local Chabad Rabbi told my wife that the Torah can only be understood through tradition. My experiences studying in various churches over the years tells me that Christians interpret the Bible based on traditions too. We just don’t talk about it. We like to think we can read the plain meaning of the text, especially in English, and know just what it is saying. However, the reality of the situation is that we understand, for instance, the letters of the Apostle Paul based on the traditional interpretation of those letters, not necessarily what Paul was actually trying to communicate.

“Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.”

-Dr. Leo Buscaglia

I’ve been told I’m a competent writer, talented, occasionally brilliant. I guess I better be since it’s my “day job”. It’s also a joy for me to write. I really get a lot of pleasure crafting a message in text. I usually enjoy talking about what I write, but periodically the joy gets sucked right out of the experience when all people seem to want to do is argue about what I write.

The point of my writing isn’t for me to tell you what the truth is necessarily. I write this blog to chronicle my process in the pursuit of truth. If you read all of my blog posts chronologically, I would hope you’d see a development or evolution in my comprehension of the Bible from a particular point of view (which may not be your point of view). It’s the progression of my traditional interpretive matrix. I’m tailoring the clothing in which to dress the truth of the Bible.

You probably dress the Bible in different clothing and then we argue about what sort of suit “truth” is dressed in this morning. The “Emperor” always wears clothes, and our debate is only over which sort of clothing he’s put on (or rather, what we’ve put on him).

Only God sees the Emperor without clothes.

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…

Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)

We aren’t there yet. This is a prophesy about the coming Messianic age. From my point of view, Yeshua (Jesus) initiated the very beginning of this age into our world, but it will not reach fruition until his return when each of us will have such a filling of the Spirit of God, that we will apprehend Hashem in a manner greater than the prophets of old. We will literally “know God”. We will see the truth unclothed, the raw truth…

…but only then.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

This is how we see the truth right now, just as a dim reflection, a faint image, hardly perceptible, open to interpretation as to what is really being viewed. Paul knew this truth and preserved it for us but we don’t believe him. We don’t want to believe him, because believing we can know the truth in absolute terms now gives us emotional security. We don’t like a world that is suspended in dynamic tension between seemingly inconsistent and opposing thoughts, beliefs, and faiths. It’s unsettling.

But like it or not, that’s where we are. I’m sure I’ve got a lot of things wrong. I don’t always answer the questions posed to me because I don’t always have even an opinion on the answers. I’m not “the Bible Answer Man.” I don’t always know.

I wrote a completely different “morning meditation” that I had planned to publish today at the usual time (4 a.m. Mountain Time), but I pulled it out of the queue because it was more of the same and I anticipated more of the same comments and responses.

Who wants more of that?

MirrorI used to actually learn a lot from the comments and the insights of the people conversing with me and each other, but now I’m not sure I’m learning so much. Now I feel like we’re just going around and around in circles and the expectation is that I must change my mind and either think and believe like a more traditional Christian, or think and believe like how an Orthodox Jew views a Noahide.

But I’m not those types of people and that’s not how I experience the Bible’s “clothing,” so to speak.

I also feel like there might not always be an interest in me and what I think but rather, that my blog is being used as a pulpit for someone else’s idea, as a platform to convince my readers to take on a different theological point of view. Certainly some people reading my blog could be undecided about Christianity or Judaism. Did I create this blog to promote viewpoints I don’t endorse?

There’s a fine line as to just how much debate and disagreement to tolerate for the sake of learning. How much of it should I allow and where’s the cut off line? How “fair” should I be before exercising my administrative control as the blog owner? I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been pretty liberal in my policy on comments compared to some others. I rarely edit or delete comments (although I did delete a comment just yesterday).

You don’t have to agree with me and I don’t have to agree with you. That doesn’t make any of us either right or wrong. It just means we’re attempting to discuss what clothes the Emperor might be wearing today. It’s like viewing the truth through a dirty window. None of us see it very well. The problem is when we believe we see truth all too clearly.

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Gentiles Studying Torah for the Sake of Doing

Although the word “chassid” is generally translated to mean exceedingly pious or devout, conjuring up visions of fasting, prayer, and religious zeal, its origin is in the concept of “chesed,” giving freely of oneself for the benefit of others. It is a quality practiced by Hashem, as described in many verses, and which we are encouraged to emulate as part of the obligation to follow in Hashem’s ways.

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.158
Friday’s commentary on Parashas Vayigash
A Daily Dose of Torah

“Serve the Almighty with joy, come before Him with singing” (Psalms 100:2).

The verse is recited daily in the morning prayers. But we have to internalize its message. Repeat this verse as often as possible, while thinking about what it means and how you can apply it.

This is especially important for a person with a tendency towards sadness. A sad person mentally repeats hundreds of sad messages a day. Repeating a verse with a positive, joyous message will serve as a good counter-balance.

(see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Happiness,” p.110)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Daily Lift #207 “Worth Repeating”
Aish.com

I sometimes envy devout Jewish people. At least in my studying Torah and the Jewish writings, their lives of devotion to God through the prayers and the mitzvot seem so ordered and unambiguous. Although living according to the requirements of Orthodox or Conservative Judaism has great complexity, it seems as if a Jewish person’s path is predictable and comprehensible with no gray areas within which they struggle.

Of course, that’s an illusion and I have no doubt that observant Jews struggle with their faith as much as anyone, even me. Still, there is such purpose in studying Torah, not for the sake of studying or acquiring knowledge, but to learn what God expects of us and then to do it.

However, that understanding isn’t limited to the Jewish people. All of us who are considered disciples of the Master, whether we’re called “Christians” or “Messianic Gentiles” have a duty to God and arguably to the Jewish people. We study the Bible, not just to learn the Word of God, but to put that Word into action in the world around us and in our everyday lives.

This point can be lost for many who are associated with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots. For decades, the emphasis for Gentiles exiting “the Church” and entering Messianic synagogues or Hebrew Roots congregations has been Torah, Torah, Torah. We have gotten into the bad habit of getting hung up on how to properly tie tzitzit, lay tefillin, and styles of kippot to place on our heads that we’ve forgotten about the weightier matters of Torah:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness…”

Matthew 23:23 (NASB)

PhariseesThe verse goes on with the Master instructing his Pharisaic audience to perform the weightier matters without neglecting the others (tithing mint, dill, and cumin), but then, he was speaking to Jewish Pharisees, not Gentile disciples.

Still, it’s a lesson that applies to us. Messianic Gentiles and Hebrew Roots Christians revel in their/our Torah knowledge but what do we do with it? If “knowing” is the full extent of our studies, then we know nothing. Only in doing, and I don’t mean tying tzitzit, are we fulfilling the mission to which God has assigned us.

But what is that mission?

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

I sometimes say there’s more than a bit of overlap in the mitzvot that apply to both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master and I would say that doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly before God definitely qualifies as part of that overlap.

I was reminded of this during my visit with my parents this week. My Dad had cancer treatments (thanks, he’s doing much better) in Salt Lake City just before Christmas (it’s not a dirty word) but because his vision was compromised by the treatments and my Mom’s vision is not so good, my folks asked me to fly down to SLC and drive them back home to their place about five or six hours away.

Of course I did and I’m staying with them for a week to make sure they’re doing OK.

So I’m away from home and my regular routine and doing what I can to be of service to my parents, both of whom are still quite independent minded though in their early eighties.

Putting the needs and desires of others ahead of our own is what God wants above all else. Though my “observance” is rather minimal these days, I still maintain a particular level of dietary and other practices that aren’t exactly compatible with how my parents live. But whose needs am I here to meet though, mine or theirs?

I know some people will pop off and respond that the requirements of God (Shabbat observance, dietary laws) trump even the needs of one’s parents, but I respectfully disagree:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”

Exodus 20:12

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

Ephesians 6:1-3

ShabbatThe commandment in Torah directed toward the Israelites and coupled with their living long in the Land of Promise is interpreted by Paul to be applied to the Gentiles as a condition of having long lives, or so it seems from the dual quotes above.

If given a choice between honoring my parents and the rote lighting of candles or what “work” one does on Shabbos, I’ll accept doing love and kindness to my folks as the higher commandment; the weightier matter of the Law. I don’t believe God will condemn me for honoring them.

But that leads to the larger mission for Messianic Gentiles which has a very particular focus. Although I can’t find the exact quote, a Messianic Jew mentioned in a Facebook discussion (in a closed group, so I can’t pass on the link) that one of the roles of the Messianic Gentile is to serve in supporting Messianic Jews in greater observance of Torah.

Actually, I’ve written before on the duty of Messianic Gentiles to the Jewish people, as well as why I’m a Messianic Gentile (Part One and Part Two). I believe we have a duty to preserve the Jewish people as Jewish and to assist in any way to support their covenant fidelity to God. This is a duty routinely abandoned by the Church and we Messianic Gentiles must take it back and uphold it:

The problem of Jews assimilating with the nations while in exile is an existential danger that is discussed by many commentators throughout Tanach. Meshech Chochmah, commenting on the verse: “God spoke to Yisrael in night visions…and said…have no fear of descending to Egypt, for I shall establish you as a great nation there (Bereishis 46:2,3), notes that only with respect to Yaakov do we find the description of a prophecy as “night vision.”

-from “Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.165
Commentary on Shabbos for Parashas Vayigash
A Daily Dose of Torah

The Christian Church in well-meaning but mistaken efforts, has believed that the only way to “save the Jews” was to have them convert to (Goyishe) Christianity, effectively destroying the Jewish people as Jews, decoupling them from the covenants, and assimilating them into the Gentile world as “Hebrew Christians”.

Messianic Gentiles, in my opinion, are specifically assigned by God with the duty to serve the Jewish people in maintaining and increasing their level of observance to the mitzvot. Gentiles acting like Jews does nothing. Gentiles encouraging and supporting Jews in greater covenant fidelity does much and may even hasten the return of Moshiach.

The Church, in attempting to separate Jews from the covenants, has been destroying Christian salvation, because only through the promises God made to Israel can God’s redemptive plan for Israel, as mediated by Messiah, be extended to the nations of the Earth.

Also, those who assume that there is “One Law for the Jew and the Gentile” inhibit or even fail the Gentile mission to the Jews by usurping Jewish covenant uniqueness (I’ve said this many times before in numerous ways, so I’m sure this message is familiar to my regular readers). If I, as a Gentile, were to don a tallit gadol and lay tefillin, it might make me feel good but it accomplishes nothing. If I encourage a “Hebrew Christian” to return to the mitzvot (or take them up for the first time) and thus don a tallit and lay tefillin, I have done much:

He said, “I have come to realize that as a Jew, I am called to live out the Torah.” Goldberg explained that the prophetic-kingdom promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 had revealed to him that the Torah is part of the new covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Moreover, he had come to realize that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 which exempted Gentiles from circumcision and obligation to the Torah’s Jewish identity markers said nothing at all about exempting Jews from any aspect of the Torah. Since the Jerusalem Council did not address Jews in their ruling, he deduced that they intended Jewish believers to remain faithful to Torah.

-Boaz Michael
from The Director’s Letter: “Four Different Views on Messianic Judaism,” p.10
Messiah Journal, issue 118/Winter 2014/5775

prayer-hitbodedutI’ve quoted the words of Alec Goldberg before and I guess you can say this current “meditation” is an extension of the previous one, because it addresses somewhat the definition of Messianic Judaism and particularly the role of the Gentile within such a Jewish framework.

I quoted the “Daily Lift” above because it speaks of internalizing what we study and the message of the morning prayers. So too must we internalize what the Bible teaches us about a Gentile’s duty to Jewish Israel and the needs of individual Jewish people:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40

I learned a new interpretation of these verses from a wise Sunday School teacher in church about two years ago. I used to think this was a description of our general duty as believers to attend to the needy in general, but he pointed out that he understands this scripture to describe the duty of Christians to the needy among Israel.

Do you see how all this is playing out? Our duty speaks of subduing our personal needs for the greater good of, in this case, Jewish Israel and specifically Messianic Jews. If Messianic Gentiles have any role in the Messianic Jewish synagogue, it is to facilitate and encourage Torah observance of the Jewish disciples of the Master. This means setting our own wants, needs, and desires to one side and doing the “Torah” that is applied to we non-Jewish disciples.

I’ve known this for some time, but was reminded of it again in my visit with my aging parents. We do kindness out of love and we learn love from Torah (Bible) study. The Torah teaches us to honor our fathers and mothers, but I also believe Messiah teaches we Gentiles to honor Israel for only through her comes salvation for the world (John 4:22).

MessiahNo one comes to the Father except through the Son and only Messiah Yeshua is the keystone of our faith. If we wish to serve our Master, we must continually set aside ourselves and serve the least of his brothers, the Jewish people.

This is who we are as Gentile disciples and this is why we study Torah. So we can do.

For more on the duty of Gentiles to the Jewish people and the relationship this is supposed to forge, please read Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann’s article Everlasting Love: The Continuing Election of The Jewish People.

The Aftermath of Reviewing Michaelson’s “God vs. Gay”

And you shall love Hashem your God …

Deuteronomy 6:5

And you shall love your neighbor as yourself…

Leviticus 19:18

Both of these statements are positive commandments. We might ask: How can a commandment demand that we feel something? Since love is an emotion, it is either there or it is not there.

The Torah does not hold that love is something spontaneous. On the contrary, it teaches that we can and should cultivate love. No one has the liberty to say: “There are some people whom I just do not like,” nor even, “I cannot possibly like that person because he did this and that to me.”

We have within us innate attractions to God and to other people. If we do not feel love for either of them, it is because we have permitted barriers to develop that interfere with this natural attraction, much as insulation can block a magnet’s inherent attraction for iron. If we remove the barriers, the love will be forthcoming.

The barriers inside us come from defects in our character. When we improve ourselves, our bad character traits fall away, and as they fall away, we begin to sense that natural love which we have for others and for God.

Today I shall…

…try to improve my midos (character traits), so that I will be able to feel love for God and for my fellow man.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Cheshvan 7
Aish.com

The first thing that attracted me to this daily “devotional” of Rabbi Twerski’s is the obvious parallel to the teaching of the Master:

One of the scholars heard them arguing and drew near to them. He saw that he answered well, and he asked him, “What is the first of all of the mitzvot?”

Yeshua answered him, “The first of all the mitzvot is: ‘Hear O Yisra’el! HaShem is our God; HaShem is one. Love HaShem, your God, with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your knowledge, and with all of your strength.’ This is the first mitzvah. Now the second is similar to it: ‘Love your fellow as yourself.’ There is no mitzvah greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31 (DHE Gospels)

Rabbi Abraham Twerski
Rabbi Abraham Twerski

I don’t know if R. Twerski is at all familiar with the Apostolic Scriptures (probably not, but who knows) or even the portion I quoted above, but it seems amazing that nearly two-thousand years after the Master uttered this teaching, the same source material from the Torah should be linked together in a very similar manner by an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi and Psychiatrist.

Then, as I was performing my Shabbat devotionals, I came across the following:

The orlah, “foreskin,” symbolizes a barrier to holiness. Adam HaRishon was born circumcised (see Avos D’Rabbi Nassan 2:5) because he was as close as a physical being can possibly be to Hashem. So great was Adam at the time of his creation, that the angels thought he was a Divine being to whom they should offer praise. Thus, he was born circumcised; there was no orlah intervening between him and Hashem. Even the organ that represents man’s worst animal-like urges was totally harnessed to the service of Hashem.

-from the Mussar Thought for the Day, p.151
for Shabbos: Parashas Lech Lecha
A Daily Dose of Torah

Now compare the above quote to the next one:

Episcopal lesbian theologian Carter Heyward, whose work we briefly noted in part I, has described her project this way: “I am attempting to give voice to an embodied — sensual — relational movement among women and men who experience our sexualities as a liberating resource and who, at least in part through this experience, have been strengthened in the struggle for justice for all.” Heyward and others…are attempting nothing less than a recovery of the physical, embodied, and erotic within Christian traditions that have traditionally suppressed them. Building a theology of relationality that is reminiscent of the work of Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, Heyward has proposed a spiritual valuation of eros — which she defines as “our embodied yearning for mutuality.” Openness to embodied love opens us to other people, the biological processes of the universe, and to God. Thus, Heyward writes, “my eroticism is my participation in the universe” and “we are the womb in which God is born.”

-Jay Michaelson
Chapter 17: “And I have filled him with the spirit of God…to devise subtle works in gold, silver, and brass,” p.156
God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality

I previously quoted that paragraph in my third and final review of Michaelson’s book, but I think it bears repeating.

When Rabbi Twerski, (unintentionally) echoing the teachings of the Master speaks of loving God and loving his neighbor, he isn’t talking about erotic love or eroticizing our relationship with God or our fellow human being. When he writes of our “innate attractions to God and to other people,” he isn’t saying that these are sexual or romantic attractions any more than Messiah was speaking of sex.

The Mussar thought from the Artscroll “Daily Dose” series speaks of the male sexual organ as representing “man’s worst animal-like urges.” Throughout his book, Michaelson favorably compared people to animals in that both expressed their sexuality with same-sex partners, and yet we see that the traditional Orthodox Jewish viewpoint is to separate man from the animal world.

Even setting the midrash aside, the Mussar teaches that man is to be considered unique and separate from animals and further, that the single worst urge a man must bring under control in the service of Hashem is his sexual urge.

Talmud Study by LamplightThis is why Bible study in general and Torah study in specific is so important, because it grounds us in the Word of God and thus in righteousness and holiness. It points to our flaws and urges us to self-discipline. It’s like reading a health and weight loss manual while sitting down in an “all-you-can-eat” buffet. You are immersed in temptation, and yet you hold a reminder in your hands to resist because giving in to the world around you leads (extending the metaphor) to poor health, suffering, and premature death.

The death I’m speaking of is a spiritual death if we attempt to conform our faith to the standards of the world around us rather than conforming ourselves to the standards of God.

None of this demands that we must fail to love the people around us, even those who are very different, such as gay people, and since I’m straight, gay people are different, at least as far as that one quality or trait is concerned. But as I saw by the time I reached the end of the Michaelson book, what he was driving at wasn’t just the equalization of the participation of straight and gay people in the church and synagogue, he was talking about the total transformation of the house of God. Reading Rabbi Twerski and the Mussar for Lech Lecha on Shabbos made it abundantly clear that what Michaelson was proposing, even with sincere intentions, was not at all consistent with how God defines love.

I’m sorry to keep dragging this out and as far as my current intentions go, this is the last blog I’ll dedicate to Michaelson in specific and the topic of gays in the community of faith in general. But having, by necessity, entered, to some small degree, the world of Jay Michaelson’s thoughts and feelings by reading his book, I needed to pull myself back out and re-establish myself in the presence of God through the study of His Word.

We are commanded to love other people including those we find in the LGBTQ community. R. Twerski is correct in that we need not construct barriers between them and us in terms of our compassion. That said, there is a barrier between a holy life and a profane one. In the ekklesia of Messiah, as mere human beings who are daily bombarded with the excesses of the world around us, we constantly struggle with those excesses and with our own natures to seek to remain on the path God has set before us. I know I don’t always succeed and by God’s standards I am a complete failure.

But I can’t give up and either abandon my faith or seek to morph it into something consistent with my external environment, society, and culture. Holiness must be protected and thus we maintain a barrier, not one that doesn’t permit the expression of love, but one that keeps us from getting lost in a highly liberal and distorted use of the term.

When a parent loves a child, it doesn’t mean that parent is ultimately permissive and allows the child to do whatever he or she wants simply because it makes them feel good. We say “no” a lot, and even if the child cries or yells at us and tells us we’re being “mean”, we know we are actually being loving and protective.

That’s what God does to us and those are the commandments we not only obey, but support, uphold, and teach. Even if people like Michaelson want to call me “mean” for doing so, this is how God teaches the community of faith to do love. It’s a loving thing to live inside the standards of God, and as tempting as it may be, it isn’t love to believe you can be right with God outside of the house built by those standards.

TrustTwo more paragraphs from the Mussar thought from which I quoted above will finish the picture (pp.151-2):

When Adam sinned, however, he caused his nature to change. Before his sin, godliness had been natural for him, and sin had been repulsive, bizarre, and foreign. Once he disobeyed Hashem, however, he fell into the traps of illicit desire and self-justification. Suddenly, temptation became natural to him, and Hashem became distant; and when Hashem reproached him for having sinned, Adam hastened to defend himself rather than admitting his sin and repenting. After his fall, the angels had no trouble recognizing his human vulnerability.

In several places, the Torah mentioned … “the foreskin of the heart” (see, for example, Devarim 10:16). This is the non-physical counterpart of the physical foreskin, man’s urges and desires that attempt to bar him from achieving true service to Hashem. We remove the physical foreskin as an indelible act of allegiance, demonstrating our resolve to do the same for the spiritual barriers. Nevertheless, the Torah tells us that ultimately it will be Hashem Who will complete the removal of this spiritual foreskin (see ibid. 30:6) after we have done our utmost, and this will take place at the time of the ultimate redemption.

Can You Help Us Find a Bible Study for the Coming Year?

The third month was chosen for the revelation because everything that is closely connected with the Torah and with Israel is triple in number. The Torah consists of three parts: The Pentateuch, The Prophets, and the Writings. The oral law consists of Midrash, Halakhah, and Haggadah… (Pesikta de Rav Kahana, ed. Buber pp. 186-187)

-quoted by Max Arzt in
Part 2: “The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur),” p.285
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement

My friend Tom and I have been toying with the idea of studying Torah together for quite some time, but the recent events that have seen me leave (once again) church have added emphasis to the proposal. This past Sunday, Tom and I were talking over coffee and started to define some of the parameters for our study.

First of all, I’m not sure a study focused on Torah is the best way to go. Sure, the timing is right. We are very close to the end of the current Torah cycle, and the new cycle begins with Torah Portion Beresheet on October 18th, less than three weeks away.

But Tom said that he wants to have a study that specifically focuses on Messiah and what he means in our lives. I don’t know if I want to study the sidra for each Shabbat with the idea that I must find the Messiah within its pages. What if I don’t?

The second goal of our Torah study is that we might be able to see the Messiah clearly in its pages. Remember Luke 24. This chapter establishes for us one of the key hermeneutic principles of approaching Torah. Here Yeshua tells us specifically to look in the Torah in order to see Him. “And beginning with Moshe and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).

When we first started looking for Yeshua in every Torah Portion, we were concerned that we would not be able to find Yeshua anywhere. However, much to our surprise, after beginning the work we found it difficult to stop! We have discovered that the person and work of Messiah are evident in even the most technical sections of the Torah. And the more we see Him, the more we can worship Him.

-Ariel Berkowitz
“How to Study the Torah”
MessianicPublications

While I don’t always agree with everything presented at this website, I’ve found Berkowitz’s insights valuable in the past and, when I saw this link show up in my Facebook feed, I decided to have a go at it. Seems Berkowitz has no problem seeing the Messiah in the Torah, but maybe another approach would work better for Tom and me.

I started reading the Berkowitz article with an idea to base our Bible study upon its principles. I said I found Berkowitz valuable, but that doesn’t mean I always agree with him. In taking the text at face value (and not allegorizing), he says:

This also applies to what appear to be legal sections. If God said to put a fence around the top of our houses, for example, He does not mean to build fences to protect the Torah! Literally, what is being referred to is a protective enclosure being placed around the top of a house to prevent people from falling off. (In that part of the world, most dwellings had flat roofs, which facilitated people congregating on them.) We have no permission at this point to go beyond the literal face value of the text.

D. Thomas Lancaster
D. Thomas Lancaster

Well, yes and no. Yes, I can agree that it’s a bit of a stretch to create a midrash stating that the Torah commandment to build a fence around the edge of your flat roof also means building fences around the commandments, manufacturing additional barriers to keep the observant from getting too close to the “edge” of sin. I do however, think that we can take the particular commandment and infer a general principle from it (this isn’t my original idea, I got it from one of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermons). I believe the specific commandment about building a fence around your roof can be expanded to the general principle of removing all physical hazards on your property that could potentially cause injury to family and guests. These would be acts of kindness and express concern over the well being of the people around you. I don’t think there’s too much of a stretch involved here, but it does require we think beyond the immediate situation described.

Berkowitz says:

Also associated with this principle is the necessity of determining the intended meaning of the passage. Since Moshe was the writer of the Torah, we must try to put ourselves in his shoes as he wrote it, even as we attempt to discern the Lord’s intent in giving each teaching. Moreover, we also need to put ourselves into the shoes of the people who first received the Scriptures and seek to know how they understood the text.

I agree with this wholeheartedly and I think many Bible students and scholars don’t take this far enough. Remember, almost without exception, all of the writers of the Bible are Jewish people and the Bible’s contents (with the exception of some of Paul’s letters and a few other portions) were intended to be read exclusively by Jews.

We have to at least attempt to understand what the writer was intending his readers to get out of the document, including any allusions, less than obvious references, traditions, and interpretive praxis that could be employed to derive meaning. The answers to all that are likely not easily gleaned from the plain meaning of the text and require some knowledge of the Judaism of the time period in which the document was authored.

A really good example of this is a lecture that Boaz Michael delivered some years ago called “Moses in Matthew”. I don’t think a recording of that teaching is available commercially, but I managed to get a copy of it and reviewed its contents in a blog post called “The Jewish Gospel”, Part 1 and Part 2. Rabbi Joshua Brumbach also reviewed it on his blog about three years ago.

Ariel Berkowitz
Ariel Berkowitz

I don’t want to attempt to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, so for the details, you can click on the links I’ve provided. In brief though, Boaz aptly illustrated that without understanding the highly specific mindset of Jews living in occupied Palestine in the late Second Temple period, we sometimes misunderstand (sometimes to a great degree) what Jesus (Yeshua) was teaching, leading us to a far less than perfect comprehension of the message of Messiah to his people Israel and, across history, to us.

Berkowitz continues in his article making statements I believe are in support of what I just said above:

For example, it makes a difference to our understanding of the Torah if we know that each of the ten plagues was brought against one of the gods of Egypt. It changes our perception of the book of Deuteronomy if we are aware that its format virtually follows that of other middle to late Bronze Age suzerainty treaties and covenants. Moreover, are we aware that our knowledge of ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets can help us understand the structure of Genesis, as well as why Rachel stole the family idols from Laban? Finally, what is meant by the designations “Way of the Philistines” and “King’s Highway?”

Closely connected with this rule is the principle of studying the Torah in Hebrew, its original language. There are sometimes words, thoughts, or concepts in the Hebrew of the Torah that are almost impossible to express in a translation. For example, it is helpful to know that the Hebrew word sometimes translated into English as “sacrifice” is the word korban (קָרְבָּן), which has the same root as the word meaning “to draw close.” Hence, a sacrifice is that which helps us draw close to God. In addition, there are virtually no English equivalents for the Hebrew words tahor (טָהוֹר) and tamei (טָמֵא) (often rendered pure and impure, or clean and unclean, respectively).

Again, and specifically speaking to the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles, we would also have to know how other Jewish teachers of that time period wrote, what common allusions and references they shared, the midrashic associations the readers were supposed to make, and so on. Reading Jewish texts of any time period requires knowledge of not only the religious and cultural Judaism of that point in history, but what it was to live as a Jew listening to or reading the teachings of the Rabbis.

This isn’t information always available to us.

But if we don’t always have the past at our fingertips, we do that the present:

Jewish practice and interpretation of the Torah began centuries ago—in many cases even before the time of Yeshua. Although we do not believe in the authority of the oral law, it nevertheless contains much that is useful for us today (such as an incredibly insightful periodic interpretation of the Torah). It is helpful for us, therefore, to read some of the best of the modern Jewish commentators (at least those of both the Rishonim and Akharonim), because in them we may find accurate interpretations of the most difficult passages of the Torah. Moreover, it can also be helpful to examine some of the rabbinic applications of the Torah, as some of these halachic teachings might shed some light for us on a given passage.

Jewish Man PrayingChristians don’t always take me seriously when I say that in order to understand the Bible, including (especially) the teachings of Jesus, you have to understand something about Judaism. However, this is true. Christianity has its interpretive traditions which, from their earliest inception, were designed to minimize if not outright delete any “Jewishness” from the Jewish texts. And yet, as I’ve seen time and again, ignoring a Jewish interpretation of the Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, has led to tremendous errors in the development of Christian theology and its resultant doctrine. This isn’t to say that Christianity has completely missed the boat. The Church grasps the principles of loving God and doing good to other human beings very well. They just don’t know what to do with Jewish people as having a unique covenant relationship with God, and especially have not a clue how to understand the Judaism of Jews in Messiah.

Unfortunately, Berkowitz had to employ this rather reductive list of the three rules of interpretation, which I’ve previously encountered:

  • First ask, “What does the passage say?”
  • Next ask, “What does it mean?”
  • Finally, ask, “What does it mean to me?”

Not to say that this list is bad, but if you didn’t understand that it must be expanded to include what I’ve described previously about comprehending the entire historical, cultural, linguistic, midrashic, and every other area of context in which a particular text of the Bible was written and read, then you’ve going to miss a lot.

And in describing interpretation, Berkowitz doesn’t mention that interpretation begins at translation. He admits that most people don’t have a sufficient command of the Biblical languages to read them, and thus tend to rely on translations, but he doesn’t say that some translations do heinous violence to the text. The English Standard Version, for example, changes Greek verb tenses in some of Paul’s letters and in the Epistle to the Hebrews to make the scriptures read as if the Old (Sinai) Covenant has already completely passed away and that it has totally been replaced by the New Covenant. However, the verb tenses in the actual Greek indicate that the old is in the process of still passing away, and there is no indication in the originals that the New is even here yet.

Berkowitz does say that there are a number of good study aids available and I would add to that list a variety of different translations and a lexicon to help with some of the problems modern translators have introduced.

Berkowitz states that the number one requirement in Bible study is to “rely on the Spirit of God to be our teacher.” I can agree, but I’ve argued with a few people here on my blog that the Spirit doesn’t have to exist in isolation from other resources and that we don’t have to “check our brains at the door,” so to speak.

In addressing the use of commentaries, Berkowitz says:

Some people simply will not use commentaries or study aids when studying the Bible. They say they want God to teach them, not man. The problem with this statement is that God has specifically blessed certain people in the body of Messiah with the gift of teaching. We are not disputing the fact that people can discover wonderful things in the Torah by themselves. But God’s usual method is to gift certain people who can, in turn, teach others the truths of His Word. Hence, we all need to rely on the God-gifted Torah teachers whom the Holy One places in our path.

Furthermore, we must also realize that most commentaries were originally sermons or verbal teachings before they appeared in print. If we are willing to ask another person his or her opinion about a given passage in the Bible, we should be willing to consult a commentary. There is no difference, other than the fact that one is a verbal opinion about the Torah and the other is written.

We are not islands unto ourselves. We are members of the body of Messiah, each equipped with certain areas of understanding which, when combined, help bring to all of us a more complete understanding of the Bible. Thus, we should not throw away all the books and say “we will just study the Bible.” God never meant for His people to function like that. In the resources section of this Web site we provide a continually growing list of Bible study aids, such as commentaries, that we recommend. There will undoubtedly be others, especially in other languages. But this is a good beginning for those who are new at Torah study.

TanakhI’ve come the long way around to ask a simple question. Tom and I (and whoever decides to join us) need a structure and format for our studies. We could just shoot from the hip or talk off the tops of our heads, but that’s rather self-limiting.

We need a study that is focused on the Messiah. We’d like to not have the study devolve into a “what’s right” and “what’s wrong” about theology and doctrine, which, for example, so many of these religious blogs tend to do. We would like the study to be specifically Messianic rather than traditionally Christian. If at all possible, we’d like the study not to be too expensive. Unfortunately, a lot of good teaching material out there also costs a proverbial arm and leg.

I’m open to suggestion (without the obligation of having to take everyone’s suggestions). Any ideas?

In advance, thank you for your help and insight.

Oh, and by the “coming year,” I mean within the next few weeks to a month or so, not the beginning of 2015. Thanks.

Torah and the Gentile Believer

It is prohibited for a gentile to study Torah, and if he does so, he is [deserving of death] (see Sanhedrin 59a). A Jew is not allowed to teach him Torah, so as not to be the vehicle by which the gentile sins. What, then, is being added to this ruling in our Gemara from the verse in Tehillim?

According to ” ז ט we can say that the study of Torah which is prohibited for a gentile is the in-depth and careful study of its profundities. This includes the intricate aspects of Torah taught by Moshe to the Jewish people. However, the study of a simple listing of guidelines of Jewish law and general halachos would not cause a gentile to be liable for death. A Jew is, therefore, not in violation of עור לפני for exposing a gentile to such information. Our Gemara teaches that this is still prohibited, nevertheless, based upon the verse in Tehillim.

“Teaching Torah to a gentile”
from “Distinctive Insight” for Ghagiga 13
Daf Yomi Digest for September 21, 2014
Published by the Chicago Center for Torah and Chesed

Disclaimer: I suspect I may be misunderstanding the above-quoted text and it’s source. If anyone can offer clarification, I’d appreciate it. I can only base the following on my current understanding.

I suppose I take it for granted that I can read and study my Bible. I also take it for granted that all of the contents of the Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, are Jewish books, written by Jewish authors for Jewish readers. It was only with the advent of the New Covenant era which has yet to actually arrive, that large numbers of Gentiles were taught the Jewish scriptures as part of the grafted-in population of non-Jews into the First Century C.E. Jewish religious stream originally known as “the Way”.

Of course the prohibition cited in the above-quoted text didn’t exist at that time, at least not in a formal or written manner (and probably not at all as far as I know) and in fact, we see there was some expectation that the Gentile disciples of the Master were expected to learn and study Torah under the authority of Jewish teachers:

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:21 (NASB)

I interpret this rather cryptic verse to mean that the Gentiles, though by legal decision (Acts 15) obligated to observe only a subset of the full yoke of Torah incumbent on a Jewish disciple, were nevertheless to hear Torah read in the synagogue on Shabbat and most likely to learn and study Torah with their Jewish teachers and mentors. Such an informational background would be absolutely necessary if the Gentiles, especially those recently having been pagans (as opposed to the God-fearing Gentiles who regularly attended shul) were to make any sense at all of the teachings of the Master and to comprehend how the New Covenant blessings allow for the redemption of the people of the nations through God’s redemption of all of Israel.

But of course something happened between then and now. Gentile Christianity was formed out of the bosom of the early Jewish Messianic movement and proceeded, due to many events and circumstances, to remove itself from having anything to do with Judaism. I’ve said before that the actions and mistakes made by the first Gentile Christians in the Second and Third Centuries have been carried down in some manner or fashion into the current Church such that “studying Torah” is not on any believer’s radar (although there are exceptions which I will address presently).

No doubt a great deal of apprehension and even fear among Jewish people has been inspired by the decidedly nasty behavior of the Church toward the Synagogue over the long centuries, and has only been softened quite recently due to Hitler’s Holocaust.

About 350 years ago, someone asked Rav Avraham Amigo, zt”l, an interesting question. “A notzri who is connected to the authorities has been buying our books in an effort to complete a library of all the basic Torah texts. He has also offered to pay a certain Jew to teach him Torah. It is not clear whether this is preparatory to conversion or because he is seeking a way to undermine the Jewish community. Is it permissible to teach him or sell him seforim?”

The Gadol responded, “It is prohibited to teach him, as we find in the Gemara in Chagiga 13a. However, if there is a potential threat to Jewish life involved, it is definitely permitted to teach him, as we learn from the Gemara in Bava Kama 38b. If it does not appear that there is an element of danger in this case, I forbid teaching him or selling him books. Whether he truly intends to convert is difficult to ascertain because he could endanger himself by showing an interest in Judaism as the citizen of a Catholic country. In any case, the Gemara in Gittin 85a states that conversion is not likely, and we also find many references in Shas that prove that heretics often try to capitalize on whatever little learning they do have to defame the sages and undermine the Jewish community.”

The Rav continued, “In any event, we must guard against the possibility that he will travel where he is unknown and get the confidence of a Jew on the road. The Jew will trust him because he is learned. Once he wins his confidence he may very well kill him. This is the logic of the Gemara in Menachos 43a regarding the prohibition to sell a non-Jew techeiles. If he was wearing techeiles, he could easily fool a Jew on the road and kill him for his possessions!”

“The Torah of the Jewish People”
from “Stories off the Daf” for Chagiga 13
Daf Yomi Digest

PogromWhen I first read this story I thought it seemed ridiculous that homicide would be the only or primary motivation of a Gentile to desire Jewish learning. But apparently the fear originated somewhere and resulted in essentially blocking off any non-Jews from more than a superficial level of Torah study unless that Gentile person’s intent was to convert to Judaism.

This doesn’t seem very applicable today, though. I can go online and order any Jewish book that’s available for purchase from any number of Jewish or non-Jewish sellers. I can even order all manner of Judaica online including tefillin and a tallit and no one is going to require that I prove that I’m Jewish (which I’m not). Of course, accessing a knowledgable and authentic Torah scholar from which to learn and study might be a bit of a chore, especially within Orthodox Judaism, but on the other hand, I could take online classes through organizations such as the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, and as far as I know, there’s no restriction on any class based solely on being Jewish or Gentile.

I really doubt there’s much of a chance that someone like me studying Torah, in whatever manner I’m able, will result in any physical (or any other kind of) harm coming to a Jewish person.

But notice something else.

“If he was wearing techeiles, he could easily fool a Jew on the road and kill him for his possessions!”

This statement assumes that the hypothetical homicidal Gentile being discussed not only appeared learned in Torah but that, based on a different Gemara, he could be mistaken for a Jew because he was wearing “techeiles” (which is the blue coloring originally commanded [Numbers 15:37-41] that Bnei Yisrael wear as a thread among the tzitzit on the four corners of their clothing). I have to assume that “techeiles” is another way of saying tzitzit in this instance, thus it is not only forbidden to teach a Gentile Torah but to sell him tzitzit (in modern times, probably a tallit with the tzitzit attached) as well for the sake of Jewish safety.

While in the modern era, it seems highly improbable that a Gentile would study Torah and wear tzitzit for the express purpose of waylaying and murdering a Jew for his possessions, that fear originated somewhere at some time in the past and I don’t doubt that such an apprehension “echoes” across the corridors of history and into the present day.

Ten years ago, I was sitting in our local Conservative/Reform synagogue on Shabbat. Mel Gibson’s film Passion of the Christ (2004) was about to be released in theaters across the U.S., and in the discussion was a very real fear of the consequences. Historically, after every passion play, there is a pogrom, and although our little corner of Idaho generally doesn’t see a great deal of anti-Semitism, a shared cultural and genetic fear rapidly filled the room.

While at least locally, nothing happened and the film came and went, that fear comes from somewhere and it persists.

Ever since there have been Jews or Israelites or Hebrews, the rest of the world has been trying to kill them. Two-thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul was actively recruiting Gentiles to enter into and participate in Jewish communal and religious space as co-equals and participants in the benefits of the New Covenant blessings, however, he received a great deal of pushback from Jewish communities and community leaders, even to the point of Paul suffering injury and risking death.

And yet, there were synagogues from Syrian Antioch to Rome where Jews and Gentiles co-mingled in relative peace, studying, worshiping, and associating together, and at least for at time, it seemed to work out.

But not in the long run.

The history would take too long to relate, but the net result is that Jews learned to distrust the Gentile Christians along with all of the other Gentiles in the diaspora, and Gentile Christians for their (our) part, learned to distrust Jewish people.

Hence rulings were issued such as it being forbidden to sell Jewish books and to teach Torah to a Gentile, and the seemingly irrational fear that a Gentile would leverage Jewish learning and a Jewish appearance to do harm to a Jew.

But now we have something interesting going on.

synagogueA significant minority population of Gentile Christians are experiencing a renewed interest in Judaism, specifically Messianic Judaism. On the surface, the Messianic Jewish movement seems to be an attempt to do what Paul was trying to do; to bring Gentiles into Jewish community for the mutual study of Torah and the mutual worship of God through faith in the work of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus).

But that’s not exactly what’s happening. In the days of Paul, the Way was one of many Judaisms in ancient Judea and the diaspora nations, and if Gentiles wanted to join, they had to accept Jewish authority in the synagogue. Gentiles, by definition, were the learners since all knowledge of Messiah was Jewish knowledge. Gentiles were present in Jewish community by the invitation of the Jewish community, and that community defined Gentile legal status and all of the requirements for Gentile entry and participation.

Modern Messianic Judaism, given the past two-thousand years, is not an attempt to re-create the “churches” of Paul. Gentiles have plenty of Christian Churches and a long and rich tradition to draw from. Jewish people discovering the revelation of the identity of Messiah are attempting to maintain Jewish space and community and to carve out a niche for themselves in larger Jewry, one that allows for a fully experienced and realized Jewish lifestyle that acknowledges Messiah as mediator of the New Covenant God (Hebrews 9:15) made with the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31).

And as I said above, a significant portion of Gentiles are leaving churches and are fascinated with a wholly culturally and religious Jewish take on who Jesus is and what it really means to be a disciple of the King of the Jews.

Do you see how confusing this could get (and has gotten)? Jews who don’t want to convert to Christianity and abandon what it is to be a Jew are attempting to develop Jewish communities for Jews in Messiah, but the Gentiles are knocking at the door asking (and sometimes demanding) to be let in and to study Torah. At some visceral level, I can see the old fears kicking in among the Messianic Jews. Can they be a Jewish community if Gentiles are present? What other motivation could some of these Gentiles have for wanting entry?

Even if those fears don’t appear rational to the rest of us, it’s possible the fear, or at least some degree of apprehension, is still there and feels very real.

I don’t know any of this as absolute fact, but I find myself wondering if Jewish opposition to Gentile participation in the larger body of the mitzvot up to and including donning a tallit, laying tefillin, davening with a siddur, and the rest of those behaviors that make a person look “Jewish” (whether they are or not), might have something to do with the same spirit that inspired Chagiga 13?

I don’t know. But if there’s even a hint of that historical fear incorporated in the desire for modern Messianic Jews to have exclusively Jewish community, then we “Messianic Gentiles” might want to take another look at what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

I’m not saying it should be forbidden for Gentiles to study Torah. Far from it. I’m not saying that all Gentiles should be forbidden from having community with Messianic Jews. Far from it. I’m just saying that we should wait for an invitation to enter someone else’s house.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11

yom kippurYou’re probably reading this “meditation” in the “space” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, that very critical ten day period in Judaism when many observant Jews are attempting to shift the scales of God’s justice toward mercy. It’s also the time when the new year is unfolded before us all shiny, new, and full of potential. After Yom Kippur is Sukkot, then Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, and a new Torah cycle begins on October 18th.

There have been a number of changes in my life that occurred rather abruptly and I’m looking forward to pursuing my studies with renewed zeal and anticipation. Who I study with and how we pursue the Bible and the presence of God, I don’t know yet (as I write this). As with the other changes I’ve experienced like this one, I’ll wait and see what God has in mind.

Secular sources view history in perspectives of their own, predicated on economic, social, and political principals. By contrast, the Torah directs us to view history as the unfolding of the Divine Plan. History is the metamorphosis of man through the stages of destruction and redemption, continuing towards his final redemption in the days of Moshiach. And all such events, the redemptions and destructions, are perceived as fundamental testimony to the presence of the Almighty in this world, and are understood as experiential units in hashgachah pratis, the active force of the Hand of the Almighty. (Rabbi Mordechai Gifter; “Torah Perspectives,” pp.103-4)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from his commentary on Torah Portion Ha’azinu, pp.466-7
Growth Through Torah

Addendum: Having written all this, I find that Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann’s FAQ called Responding to Some Questions About Messianic Jews and Torah does an excellent job of addressing matters of Torah for the Messianic Jew. I highly recommend it.

Following the Galatian Letter

paul-editedPaul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 1:1-5 (ESV)

In the Holy Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul argues against Gentile believers in Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth undergoing conversion to become Jewish. Paul maintained that Gentile believers attained salvation and inherited the blessings promised to Abraham through faith, not conversion.

The Apostle Peter said that the writings of “our beloved brother Paul” contain “some things hard to understand.” If that was true in Peter’s day, how much more so today. Paul was a prodigy educated in the most elite schools in Pharisaism. He wrote and thought from that Jewish background. Unfortunately, that makes several key passages of his work almost incomprehensible to readers unfamiliar with rabbinic literature. I invite Christians to use this book as an opportunity to study Paul’s epistle to the Galatians from a Jewish perspective.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
from the Introduction (pg 1) of his book
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach

I reviewed Lancaster’s book the better part of two years ago, but I never thought my write-up did the book justice. Normally, Lancaster writes in an easy to follow manner, making complex theology accessible to laypeople and non-scholars such as me, but Galatians was probably a bit of a stretch to try to get to fit into a comfortable mold. I’m sure I missed a lot along the way, although when I pulled the book out of my closet (my wife allows me exactly one closet for all of my books…she’s trying to train me not to be a “pack rat”), I saw that I have voluminous notes scribbled all over a mass of bits and scraps of paper like so much ticker tape parade confetti. I was obviously trying to “get it.”

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

2 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)

That’s Peter’s description of and probably experience with the writings of Paul, as Lancaster quoted from in his introduction, and we can see from the full quote that not only can Paul’s meaning be misunderstood, but it can be deliberately “twisted” with the potential result of “destruction” by people Peter refers to as “ignorant and unstable.”

I don’t think you have to be “unstable” to misunderstand Paul and especially his letter to the churches in Galatia, but a lot of us are ignorant (I don’t mean that in a pejorative manner) of what it was to think, write, and live as a highly educated Pharisaic Jew in the middle of the first century, a mere decade or two before the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It may be ignorance, at least in part, that makes Paul’s Galatians letter so difficult to grasp. I’m sure it’s my ignorance that resulted in me not fully comprehending Lancaster’s book back in the summer of 2011.

But that’s about to change.

This coming Wednesday evening, my weekly conversations with Pastor Randy at my church are taking a left turn at Albuquerque, so to speak, and following Paul’s classic letter into Galatia. This time, Pastor Randy and I will be pursuing Paul’s letter together. Frankly, I can’t wait.

study-in-the-darkI wish Pastor would put his bio on the church’s website (which needs serious help, but I’m working on it) so I could access more than just my failing middle-aged memory to describe him. He’s not only been a missionary and a Pastor, but he also has a history as an educator in a scholarly setting. I’ve seen what he studies and reviews just to get ready for a single sermon, and it usually involves anywhere between twelve and twenty books. In our discussions we may not always agree on everything, but my respect for his knowledge and insight continues to grow geometically with each encounter. Admittedly, it’s an honor to just sit in the same room with him for ninety minutes or so once a week and be able to access his thoughts and experiences, especially since his education and background are a great deal of what I lack.

Lancaster repurposed twenty-six sermons on Galatians, which he delivered to his congregation, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2008, to create this book I’m about to revisit. That’s twenty-six weeks and twenty-six opportunities for me to not just re-read Lancaster’s book, but to study it and to learn from two fine scholars and devoted believers in Christ.

Along the way, I’m hoping not only to learn a lot more about Paul’s letter, but more about the nature of how Paul saw non-Jewish God-fearing believers within a Jewish worship and faith context, who they were in the Jewish Messiah King, and how he saw their role, and our role, in the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m hoping to learn a little something more about myself as a Christian, too.

I was able to talk with Pastor Randy briefly just before services began this morning (as you can imagine, Sunday is his especially “busy” day) and confirmed our meeting for this coming Wednesday and the plan to cover Sermon 1: Letter to the God-Fearers (Galatians 1:1-5). I’m planning on taking notes as I read through the book and during my discussions with Pastor Randy so that I can collect the results of this experience, not just for my own edification, but hopefully for yours.

I invite you to come along with Pastor Randy and me on this weekly adventure as we return to the churches of Galatia by way of Lancaster’s The Holy Epistle to the Galatians. May we all learn the wisdom and message of our Master together through the voice of his Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, and through this, may we all draw ever closer to God.