Tag Archives: the concealed light

Let It Rain Joy

Restrain the festival by bonds to the corners of the altar.

Psalms 118:27

The Talmud states that if a person celebrates the day after the holiday with a festive meal, it is considered as though he had built an altar and had brought sacrificial offerings upon it.

Succah 45b

Rashi states that the reason for the eighth day, Shemini Atzeres, can be explained with the parable of a king who invited his children for several days of feasting. When the time came for them to leave, the king said, “Your departure is so difficult for me. Please stay with me for yet one more day” (Rashi, Leviticus 23:36). Similarly, after seven days of Succos, in His great love for Israel, God asks us to stay with Him for yet one more day before returning to our mundane activities, which so often distract us from Him.

To indicate that we cherish our closeness to God just as He does, we add a day of festivity after the last day of the holiday, to extend even further the intimate companionship with God. This testimony, that we value our intimacy with Him and that we leave the Sanctuary only because we must tend to our obligations, is held equivalent to building an altar and bringing votive offerings.

Indeed, God wants us to engage in work – Six days shall you work (Exodus 20:9) – but our attitude toward the workweek should be that of a person who is away from home on an assigned duty, and who longs to return home to his loved ones. The importance of our closeness to God should be manifest not only on the day following the festival but all year round as well.

Today I shall…

try to maintain the closeness with God, that I achieved during the festival, even when I am involved with the activities of everyday life.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day – Tishrei 24”
Aish.com

While for Christians, today is just another day of the week, for observant Jews all over the world, the party’s over. The festivals that have received so much build up over the past month or two have all ended. If they haven’t done so already, it’s time for Jewish families to dismantle their sukkot and put them away (assuming they use a kit like I do) for another year. The dancing is over and the Torah scrolls have been returned to their arks. This coming Shabbat’s reading is Genesis 1:1. The cycle of life begins once again.

It can either be a build up or a let down.

Or, as I mentioned yesterday, it can simply be another reminder for me that time is passing and there is no definite direction set for the next step of my journey. I suppose I could just keep walking and wait to see what turns up, but what if nothing turns up? Everybody hits a “dry spell” in their faith, but I feel positively arid.

Joy is supposed to be a mitzvah, but over the past year and a half or so, I’m still failing Joy 101.

If we have no joy in our hearts, we deny the love of God. We should not say, “Our heart is the dwelling place of lust, jealousy, anger; there is no hope for us.” Let us realize that we have another guest in us who desires to give us life and joy, notwithstanding our sin.

-Paul Philip Levertoff
Love and the Messianic Age

alone-desertLevertoff isn’t the only one to make such an observation:

The natural state of a human being is joy. Joy is a healthy state – healthy for us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Lack of joy comes from thinking in ways that block your joy. Different people have different obstacles to their joy. It is easy to blame other people, circumstances, or situations for one’s lack of joy, but the only reason that other people, circumstances, and situations might cause a lack of joy is because of the way that one views those factors. The one who views everything in his life as an integral part of his service to the Almighty, will experience joy in dealing with whatever arises. “This, too, is part of my mission in this world.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Joy: The Natural State, Daily Lift #601”
Aish.com

Oh, and there’s this rather well-known scripture:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (ESV)

And then, according to Tsvi Freeman in his book The Concealed Light, Joy is one of the names of the Messiah (pp 240-1):

HaGra, the Gaon of Vilna, explained, “‘They shall obtain joy and gladness’ (Isaiah 35:10). Joy (sason) and Gladness represent the two Messiahs, the core of Joy being Messiah son of Joseph, about whom the verse speaks” (Kol HaTor 74). This understanding is based upon the Talmud, where Joy and Gladness are personified in a discussion about the highly significant practice of pouring water on the altar during the Feast of Booths (Sukkot).

And speaking of Sukkot:

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

Isaiah 12:3

I can only conclude that joy, like love, is a verb; it’s something you do, not something you feel. We can love by performing acts of love, such as feeding the hungry, hugging a crying child who just skinned his knee, helping an elderly, infirm person across the street, or visiting a sick person in who is in the hospital. But how to you do joy?

Or has that question already been answered?

Simchat Torah means “the rejoicing of the Torah,” for the Torah rejoices on this day. The Torah is the stuff of the Jew’s life: his link to his Creator, his national mandate, the very purpose of his existence. But the Jew is no less crucial to the Torah than the Torah is to the Jew: it is he and she who devote their life to its study, teaching and practice; he and she who carry its wisdom and ethos to all peoples of the earth; he and she who translate its precepts and ideals into concrete reality.

So if we rejoice in the Torah on Simchat Torah, lifting its holy scrolls into our arms and filling the synagogue with song and dance, the Torah, too, rejoices in us on this day. The Torah, too, wishes to dance, but, lacking the physical apparatus to do so, it employs the body of the Jew. On Simchat Torah, the Jew becomes the dancing feet of the Torah.

“Torah in the Winter”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Adapted by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Chabad.org

But James, the brother of the Master, didn’t say to “count it all joy” when you’re dancing around with the Torah scroll, but when “you meet trials of various kinds.” And Rabbi Pliskin said, “The one who views everything in his life as an integral part of his service to the Almighty, will experience joy in dealing with whatever arises,” so anything that happens, regardless of its nature, if it is part of us serving God, should be a source of joy.

What’s the connection, or is there a connection between Jewish tradition, Jewish philosophy, and Christian scripture?

I suppose this is where having a mentor might come in handy, but I can’t see that happening.

Of course, James didn’t say “feel joy when you meet trials of various kinds,” he just said “count it all joy,” as if it were joy, but it isn’t really. Rabbi Pliskin’s advice is harder, because he tells us to “count it all joy” no matter what, and to actually experience joy. I like James’s advice better. Maybe in the arid times, we’re supposed to just “count it all joy” not expecting to really experience joy, but knowing that someday, once the water starts to pour again, joy will be forthcoming with the rain.

Let it rain joy.

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Mourning for the Great Mountain

There is an interesting, but somewhat misunderstood, halachah. It has to do with not filling one’s mouth with laughter now while we do not have a Beis HaMikdash. In the words of the Orchos Tzaddikim: “One should only feel joyous in that which brings to enhanced service of God. He should never feel joy from that which causes another pain. For example, one who has wheat should not feel happy if there is a famine and he will make a large profit, since this is bad for others. One should also never take joy in another person’s death, even if he was left a legacy and will profit handsomely from this. Regarding such situations, one who shows proper decency and does not feel joy fulfills the mitzvah of ואהבת ’לרעך כמוך. One should accustom his heart to feel joy at his friend’s success. Most especially one should feel great happiness when he see others doing God’s mitzvos, since this is God’s will.

“Nevertheless, one should not fill his mouth with laughter in this world, as we find in Berachos 31. Since the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, all joy has been mixed with sorrow. We also find in Niddah 23 that Rabbi Yirmiyahu tried to make Rabbi Zeira laugh but did not succeed.

When someone learned that the halachah not to fill one’s mouth with simcha is actually in the Shulchan Aruch, he was shocked and wondered how this could be prohibited.

He decided to ask the Sdei Chemed, zt”l, who was certainly a true scholar and fulfilled in every detail of halachah without compromise. “The halachah not to fill one’s mouth with laughter due to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is a middas chassidus. But this should not be confused with mockery. One who mocks is in one of the four groups that will not receive the Shechinah, as we find in Sotah 42!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Rejoicing in the Right Way”
Niddah 23

This isn’t going to resonate well with most Christians because Christianity isn’t focused on the Temple as the point of connection between man and God. We focus on the life and spirit of Jesus Christ for that connection and, for most Christians, the Temple is superfluous. For most Christians, the Temple is a cosmic “so what?”

That’s kind of a shame because we may have to try to relate to it at some point, especially if traditional Jewish thought is correct and the Messiah, that is Jesus Christ, actually rebuilds the Temple.

The mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15).

Judaism 101

However even if you have a tough time with that perspective, our story off the Daf can tell us a few other things, such as not rejoicing under circumstances when we win but someone else loses. We have a tendency to do that as human beings, but when we lose, when we’re hurt, when we’re afraid, we certainly don’t want others to feel happy about it. Most of the time, when we’re under duress, we don’t want people around us to feel happy about anything. We want them to feel upset, compassionate, and then try to help us.

What if a Christian sees a Jew under duress over the destruction of the Temple? I know it happened almost 2,000 years ago and Christians tend to think the Jews should “get over it” but that’s because we don’t understand the significance of the Temple in Judaism. We want Jews to realize that Jesus Christ is their temple and that it’s going to be all right because Jesus loves them. But most Jews aren’t going to relate to oto ha’ish that way, at least not right now (and I consider it a miracle any time a Jewish person does recognize the Jewish Messiah through the Gentile disguise that we have put on Christ).

I found the following footnotes for Chapter 11 of the Rambam’s The Laws and Basic Principles of the Torah at history.hanover.edu:

The whole of the following passage was deleted from most of the editions published since the Venice edition of 1574.

“If he did not succeed to this degree or he was killed, he surely is not [the redeemer] promised by the Torah. [Rather,] he should be considered as all the other proper and legitimate kings of the Davidic dynasty who died. G-d only caused him to arise in order to test the multitude. As it is written [Daniel 11:35], “Some of the wise men will stumble, to purge, to refine, and to clarify, until the appointed time, for it is yet to come.”

“Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach and was executed by the court was also spoken of in Daniel’s prophecies [Daniel 11:14], “The renegades among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.”

The rest of the text is equally uncomplimentary toward Christianity, but that’s less to do with Jesus as Messiah and more to do with the subsequent “development” of the Christian/Jewish relationship over the past 20 centuries or so. However the beginning of Chapter 11 also says the following:

In future time, the King Mashiach[1] will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will rebuild the [Beis Ha]Mikdash and gather in the dispersed remnant of Israel. Then, in his days, all the statutes will be reinstituted as in former times. We will offer sacrifices and observe the Sabbatical and Jubilee years according to all their particulars set forth in the Torah.

Whoever does not believe in him, or does not await his coming, denies not only [the statements of] the other prophets, but also [those of] the Torah and of Moshe, our teacher, for the Torah attests to his coming, stating: [Devarim 30:3-5]

This is similar to something the Master said 1,200 years earlier:

Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” –John 5:45-47 (ESV)

Perhaps we Christians shouldn’t rejoice too much, not because we’re mourning the Temple and lament its loss, but because our human lives and failures made it necessary for Christ to suffer and die. True, he was resurrected again, just as the Temple will be remade by him (my opinion), but that doesn’t absolve us of our crimes, nor does it repair our present broken and suffering world. To those Christians who rejoice over Jewish suffering, you are missing the point, not only of the lesson of the Sages but of God’s own teachings. If the Jewish people mourn the Temple, they will also mourn Messiah.

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. –Zechariah 12:10 (ESV)

While the prophet is most likely speaking directly to Israel, Christ was pierced for us as well, so we should also mourn and not overly rejoice at our Salvation. True, we thank God for our redemption from death and our adoption as sons and daughters of the Most High, but there is still a lot of work to be done and if we are only happy for ourselves, how can we strive to reach out toward others in their suffering?

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. –Romans 9:3-5 (ESV)

As Maimonides said, “Whoever does not believe in him, (the Messiah) or does not await his coming, denies not only [the statements of] the other prophets, but also [those of] the Torah and of Moshe, our teacher, for the Torah attests to his coming.”

Israel awaits his coming but they do not know who he is. We who do know his name must not rejoice that we hold that knowledge and others do not. We must not be bitter that others refuse to accept his name as Messiah. We must live our lives with caring and compassion for everyone, shunning no man whether Jew or Gentile, but welcoming everyone in peace to our Temple and our Great Mountain of God.

But there is another way of understanding it. With the help of verses such as “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – From whence comes my help?” (Psalm 121:1), where the psalmist lifts up his eyes to the “mountains” (as the Hebrew has it), the following explanation is given: “You shall become a plain – this is Messiah Son of David. And why is his name called Great Mountain? Because he is greater than the fathers, as it says, ‘Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high’ (Isaiah 52:13). He shall be higher than Abraham, more exalted than Jacob and higher than Jacob. … more exalted than Moses … and higher than the angels. This is why it says, ‘Who are you, O great mountain?'” (Midrash Tanchuma W, Toledot 14).

-Tsvi Sadan
“Great Mountain” (har hagadol) pg 58
The Concealed Light: Names of the Messiah in Jewish Sources

 

Behaalotecha: The Presence of Light and Compassion

lightThe Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” Aaron did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Numbers 8:1-3 (JPS Tanakh)

The Almighty is not in need of our light. On the contrary, we are in need of His. For this reason the Torah guides us in the proper way of taking full spiritual advantage of the light of the Menorah: The lamps must radiate toward themselves, meaning that the light they give should not only illuminate others, but it must come back and shine on the Menorah itself.

This returning light is at once a fact and a commandment. It applies especially in our day and age when the Temple and the Menorah are no longer standing, and when we must fill the void of the reflecting light that the Menorah once provided.

When the light we radiate around us by leading Torah lives returns to us, enhancing our spirituality and improving our behavior to one another, we will have fulfilled both the fact and the commandment of “When you light the lamps opposite the front of the candlestick the seven lamps shall give light.”

-from “Light That Returns”
A commentary on Torah Portion Behaalotecha
VirtualJerusalem.com

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

I suppose this week’s commentary on the Torah Portion is only loosely based on the Parashah, but I must admit that I need a little extra “light” in my world. With that in mind, I’m “tweaking” my “meditation” to favor “light.”

The Virtual Jerusalem commentary compares the commandment of lighting the Menorah in the Tabernacle to the “light” of spirituality, goodness, Torah study, and scholarship. To a Christian, praying, singing hymns, and preaching the Word might all seem like more worthwhile activities than studying the Bible, but for some Jews, studying Torah is directly associated with obeying its commands to do good and to show kindness to others. When you take in the light of the Torah, it shines in the world around you as well.

That very well could be related to what the Master was thinking when he said the words we have recorded in Matthew 5:14-16. We shine our light because we have received that light from our Master and teacher. It extends out into the world but it also is reflected back toward us as those we have touched in a meaningful way received our light (which comes from our Master) and it returns to us as a blessing.

Yes, we need blessings and renewal because even among the body of believers, it can be a trying world. If you’ve been reading the comments made on my blog over the past week or so, you know that tempers became heated, nerves became frayed, and some among the body of Christ seemingly forgot that our Master taught us a new commandment to love one another (John 13:34). Of course, there is the concept of “tough love” or “I’m only telling the truth,” but the Bible is replete with teachings about how to approach a brother privately to solve a dispute (Matthew 18:15-18).

Of course, Jesus goes on to say:

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” –Matthew 18:19-20 (ESV)

Naturally, the two have to actually agree on something, which seems easier said and done, and perhaps that “two or three..gathered in my name” means gathering face-to-face and not virtually in the blogosphere.

Yes, the “magic” of brotherhood I experienced at the Shavuot conference I recently attended has dissipated and once again, I encounter the actuality of “religious conversations,” where one can be accused of various misdeeds when the only “crime” that occurred was saying to the other person, “I don’t agree with you.” Failing to unreservedly honor another’s sacred cow can be a terrible thing (and I know a little something about pursuing sacred cows).

Tsvi Sadan calls the Messiah the concealed light, in part because the light of the Jewish King has been temporarily concealed from his Jewish brethern for the sake of the nations (see Romans 11). Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, in presenting the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, says:

It all began with an infinite light that filled all and left no room for a world to be. Then that light was withheld so the world might be created in the resulting void.

Then the world was created, with the purpose of returning to that original state of light — yet to remain a world.

All the world’s problems stem from light being withheld.

Our job then, is to correct this. Wherever we find light, we must rip away its casings, exposing it to all, letting it shine forth to the darkest ends of the earth.

Especially the light you yourself hold.

The Light was concealed. But its Source was not. The Source of Light is everywhere.

For those of you with little tolerance for Chassidic mysticism, I prefer to think of these writings as metaphorical. If indeed we shine some of the “concealed light” of our Master, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as he taught us, we must not let the light be concealed. We must “rip away its casings” and expose that light to others. But what light are we talking about and what happens when it shines?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. –Matthew 5:3-12 (ESV)

I suppose I could have quoted from any number of the Master’s teachings, but this one seemed particularly appropriate. Who is blessed? The poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, people who are passionate for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, peacemakers, those persecuted for the sake of righteousness, the reviled, those falsely accused on account of the Master.

If you toss the Beatitudes into a big bowl, take a large wooden spoon and stir vigorously, you can come out with the idea that if you are persecuted, reviled, falsely accused, or just plain “bad mouthed,” you should still respond with meekness, act mercifully, be peacemakers, and mourn for the souls of those who need to personalize conflict in the name of Christ. What an odd way to react to a verbal slap in the face, but then the Master also said something about turning the other cheek (though probably not literal in meaning).

Sorry, I just needed to ponder those thoughts and to consider that even the world of religious discourse (some would say especially the world of religious discourse) is no less filled with landmines and tripwires than any secular conversation.

He could have placed streetlamps along all the pathways of wisdom, but then there would be no journey.

Who would discover the secret passages, the hidden treasures, if all of us took the king’s highway?

Toward the light Rabbi Freeman uses light and darkness to describe the presence or absence of wisdom and knowledge of God, but I choose to see this as a metaphor illustrating peace, mercy, and righteousness, or their absense. A movie I’ve seen a few times starring Harrison Ford as (of all people) the President of the United States, contains one of my favorite lines of dialog:

Peace isn’t merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.

In my case, I’d settle for only the occasional absence of conflict (since, after all, this is the Internet and human beings are involved), the presence of compassion, and the soft glow of a bit of kindness, like candlelight, holding the darkness at bay.

Good Shabbos.

Gift of the Firstborn of Israel

Firstborn (bechor) as one of the names of the Messiah is seen in the heavenly conversation found in Psalm 89:27. There God himself says of the Messiah, “I will make him My firstborn. The highest of the kings of the earth.” The Bible gives to the firstborn a significance that goes far beyond the laws regarding earthly inheritance. Commenting on the verse, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn” (Exodus 13:2), the midrash says, “God said to Moses, ‘Just as I have appointed Jacob firstborn – as it says, “Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22), so will I appoint King Messiah firstborn,’ as it is said, ‘I will appoint him firstborn'” (Exodus Rabbah 19:7).

-Tsvi Sadan from his book
The Concealed Light, pg 16
Firstborn (bechor)

A few days ago, on one of my meditations, I said:

The Master said that Salvation is from the Jews,” (John 4:22) but then, so is peace. This is another reason why we Christians, and indeed, the entire world, owes the Jews a debt that can never be repaid. It is their King who will finally come and bring peace for everyone, not just the nation of Israel, but the nations of the earth.

However, I had neglected to anticipate that this might be seen as offensive or at least inaccurate from a traditional Christian point of view. By way of explanation, I offered an additional comment:

Israel was always meant to the the beacon that would lead the rest of the world to God. Consider Isaiah 49:6 and Isaiah 51:4. By extension, Jesus said of himself that he was (and is) the light to the world (John 8:12) and he passed that torch (if you’ll pardon the obvious pun) to his disciples, including us, when we said that we are a light to the world (Matthew 5:14).

There’s an unbroken chain in the transmission of God’s Word from God Himself, to His people Israel, and to Israel’s firstborn son of Creation and the firstborn of the dead Jesus Christ. Jesus is called the King of the Jews, which hardly divorces his work of salvation from the Jewish people. We thank, praise, and honor God for our salvation and redemption from sin, however He chose to provide those gifts through the birth of Jesus and the light of His nation Israel, which was always to be our guiding light, since the very beginning.

God is God alone, but Jesus doesn’t exist in isolation. He was born, lived, died, and was resurrected within a specific context so that “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:2)

(To be fair, I must say that the conversation that was started on my own blog post was continued at Steven’s blogspot, http://washedfeet.wordpress.com/)

To me, the connection between God, Israel as firstborn, and Jesus as firstborn is pretty self-evident, but apparently not everyone shares this view. In an attempt to be fair and check my thinking and perceptions, I decided to explore the names of the Messiah and how they reveal his character and relationship to God and Israel. Part of the result is that I found the above-quoted passage from Sadan’s book. It seems that not only does midrash confirm the near interchangeability between the Messiah and Israel but the Torah does too. If we feel we owe a debt of gratitude to Jesus Christ for being saved by the grace of God through the blood of the Messiah, then by inference, we are offering that gratitude to Israel as well; which is also God’s firstborn.

I know this will probably not sit well with some and it’s not like I’m going out of my way just to be a pest, but I do feel honor-bound to point out the truth of the Bible as best as I can understand it in defense of not only Israel but of God’s intent in choosing Jacob’s children as his own treasured, splendorous people. I do not believe the nature, character, and purpose of Messiah can be separated from Israel as a people or a nation, either in function or in prophesy.

The one who has “borne our griefs” and who has “carried our sorrows” that we Christians see in Isaiah 53:4 is viewed as the “Suffering Messiah,” Jesus Christ. The church can scarcely begin reading this passage before envisioning Jesus on the cross. However, from a Jewish point of view, it is Israel who is suffering, as a people, rather than Messiah:

“If the Holy One, blessed be He, is pleased with a man, He crushes him with painful sufferings. For it is said: And the Lord was pleased with [him, hence] He crushed him by disease (Isa. 53:10). Now, you might think that this is so even if he did not accept them with love. Therefore it is said: “To see if his soul would offer itself in restitution”. Even as the trespass-offering must be brought by consent, so also the sufferings must be endured with consent. And if he did accept them, what is his reward? “He will see his seed, prolong his days”. And more than that, his knowledge [of the Torah] will endure with him. For it is said: “The purpose of the Lord will prosper in his hand”. It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai says: The Holy One, blessed be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, and all of them were given only through sufferings.. These are: The Torah, the Land of Israel and the World To Come.”

sourced from Talmud – Brachot page 5a

I’m hardly an expert, but is it so hard to imagine that Isaiah may have been referring to both Israel and Messiah? I’ve never been a big fan of always applying a prophesy to a single event or person. I believe it’s possible for Isaiah to have been giving a “multi-layered” message that to his immediate audience may have meant one thing, and to an “extended audience” may mean something else.

Admittedly, this is a dangerous thing to do and I’m stretching the limits of Bible interpretation quite a bit here, but for a good purpose. I’m trying to illustrate that Jesus is not only (in some mystical fashion) the personification of the Divine, but the living personification of Israel as a people. To say that we are “saved by Jesus” in some way is to say that “salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22 ESV)

The link between Jesus and the well-being of Israel wasn’t lost on Paul either, and he went out of his way to communicate that message to the non-Jewish disciples in Rome. Apparently the non-Jewish disciples didn’t have a problem with this understanding:

For they (the Gentile believers) were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. –Romans 15:27 (ESV)

More than a few non-Jews in the Messianic movement have been accused of worshiping Judaism rather than God and sad to say, that’s true in many cases. I suppose in my comments, I could be accused of “the glorification of the flesh of Israel,” (though I’ve never been comfortable with some of the stereotypical Christian phraseology) but that is not my intent. What I am trying to communicate is not the exalting of Israel as a people above God or above the Messiah. The Master himself said that no servant is greater than his master (John 13:16) and certainly Israel serves God and not the other way around. On the other hand, Israel serves God and the living, breathing, walking, talking, expression of the ideal Israel is the Messiah, the Savior, Jesus Christ, King of the Jews.

The rest of Sadan’s commentary on “firstborn” (bechor) as a name for the Messiah links these ideas together with how we disciples of the Master tend to see his most outstanding act on behalf of the world:

Reference to Messiah in connection with the command to consecrate all the firstborn is highly significant. Moses gives two reasons for the injunction: remembrance of the Exodus by celebrating Passover and remembrance of the death of the Egyptian firstborn. Exodus 13 appears to suggest that Israel’s freedom is achieved through the Passover lamb and the Egyptian firstborn. In addition to the classic clash over the rights of the firstborn, here the decisive divine act reveals that the right of the firstborn belongs not to Pharaoh but to Jacob. In a manner of speech, this massive human death is responsible for Israel’s redemption; in a sense, the death of the Egyptian firstborn was a sacrificial death.

The rather shocking idea that the death of the firstborn brings about redemption is found in the very command to consecrate all of Israel’s firstborn. The translation, “You shall set apart to the LORD all that open the womb, that is every firstborn” (Exodus 13:12), fails to reveal the true meaning. The Hebrew for “set apart” here actually signifies “sacrifice.” Israel, accordingly, was to sacrifice their firstborn. It is only in verse 15 that we learn that the death of the firstborn is replaced by the process of ransoming. Further still, it is the tribe of Levi that becomes the substitute for the firstborn (Numbers 8:18), since the Levites have no inheritance in Israel…

By appointing Messiah as the Firstborn, God thus sets him up to be the preeminent Firstborn, the ultimate Lamb. As such, he has no substitute; no one can pay the ransom for him. Rather, he is bound to pay the ultimate price to redeem Israel by sacrificing his own self.

Sadan, pp 16-17

There doesn’t appear to be a reasonable and legitimate way to separate Messiah as the firstborn, from Israel as the firstborn. Further, the ultimate and “preeminent Firstborn” must sacrifice himself as the “price to redeem Israel.” That was and is the great purpose of the Messiah as the sacrifice of the firstborn, to act as the substitute for firstborn Israel, much in the matter that the Levites were “sacrificed” for the sake of each firstborn child of the other tribes. It was Messiah’s purpose to die for the redemption of all Israel.

Most Christians are probably asking right about now, “but what about us?” That’s where God’s grace comes into play and where our gratitude should be expressed. Up until this point, everything is happening within the context of Israel’s relationship with God. Up until this point, the Gentiles; the rest of the world, haven’t been involved except in the role of conquerors and persecutors of the Jews. Except for Israel, up to this point, all of the other people groups on earth have been pagan, polytheistic, idol worshipers.

Period.

But the endlessly bountiful graciousness of God (and this was always part of His plan) opened the doors of salvation for the rest of us, too. Though from a Jewish perspective, this was completely “out of scope” for the plan, God allowed the sacrifice of the ultimate Firstborn to redeem not only Israel, God’s firstborn, but the entire human population of the earth.

I can’t even begin to express how amazingly HUGE this is. The Jewish disciples couldn’t have possibly understood the fantastic impact of the Master’s words in Matthew 28:18-20 when he commanded them to “make disciples of all nations.” I’m not even sure that they “got it” until nearly two decades later when Peter, seeing the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his household receiving the Holy Spirit, exclaimed:

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. –Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

I think this must have been the moment when it truly dawned upon Peter what God had in mind and the staggering and mind-blowing impact the Messiah’s sacrificial and redemptive death and resurrection would have in the world. Not only would all Israel be saved (Romans 11:26) but “that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17 ESV)

The Jewish Pharisee Paul (also known as Saul among the Jews) was specifically commissioned by the Master (Acts 9) to be the emissary to the Gentiles and to carry the Good News of salvation offered by God through the Jewish Messiah to the nations. I promise you, the Gentiles had no idea what was about to happen to them, how their lives would be changed, and how the entire fabric of the next two-thousand years of human history would be inexorably altered by the will of God, all thanks to the grace of the Creator of the Universe and His choice of the Israelites as His “light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6).

This entire debate started when I tried to describe Jesus as the Minister of Peace to the entire world. This point was entirely lost on my audience (apparently) and so, employing Sadan’s book once again, I’ll conclude with part of his commentary on another name for the Messiah: “Prince of Peace” (sar shalom):

Rambam very likely based his interpretation on the opinion of Rabbi Yose Haglili, who lived shortly after the destruction of the Temple and who is recorded as saying, “The name of Messiah is Shalom, as it is said, ‘Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace'” (Masechtot Ketanot, Derech Eretz II).

…The Prince of Peace therefore, is greater than Moses, Isaiah, Ezra, and the rest of Israel’s prophets, for none of them were able to establish lasting peace.

Sadan, pg 239

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and the security of Israel, for in praying for Israel’s peace, you are praying for your own, thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord, King, Master, and Savior.

Amen.

The Elusive Unchanging Dove

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Say to the Israelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Lord, [to last] seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations; seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations.

Those are the set times of the Lord that you shall celebrate as sacred occasions, bringing offerings by fire to the Lord — burnt offerings, meal offerings, sacrifices, and libations, on each day what is proper to it — apart from the sabbaths of the Lord, and apart from your gifts and from all your votive offerings and from all your freewill offerings that you give to the Lord.

Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord [to last] seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of the Lord for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.

So Moses declared to the Israelites the set times of the Lord.

Leviticus 23:33-44 (JPS Tanakh)

The Midrash teaches: “Just as a dove (yonah) is simple and accepts authority, the Jewish people accept God’s authority by ascending to Yerushalayim during the holiday. Just as a yonah is distinguished to its partner, who can tell it apart from other birds, Klal Yisrael are separated from the non-Jews by how they cut their hair, their fulfillment of milah and their care to wear tzitzis. The Jews comport themselves with modesty, like doves…Just as doves atone, Yisrael atones for the nations when they bring the sacrificial bulls for them during Sukkos.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Dove”
Kinnim 23

Wait a minute. Besides the part where it said “Klal Yisrael are separated from the non-Jews,” what did that say?

Just as doves atone, Yisrael atones for the nations when they bring the sacrificial bulls for them during Sukkos.

Yes, that’s what I thought it said.

I was reading this passage this morning (as I write this) and tried to recall exactly where in the Bible it says that the sacrifices of Sukkot were intended to atone for the nations of the earth. Naturally, my middle-aged memory being what it is, I couldn’t pull up the data, so I turned to my favorite research tool: Google. Turns out that the plain meaning of the text in the Torah regarding the Sukkot sacrifices doesn’t talk about atonement for the nations. But there’s always this:

These seventy oxen correspond to the original seventy nations of the world enumerated in the Torah who descended from the sons of Noah, and are the ancestors of all of the nations till this day. Israel brought these sacrifices as atonement for the nations of the world, and in prayer for their well-being; as well as for universal peace and harmony between them.

Thus our Sages taught, “You find that during the Festival [Succot], Israel offers seventy oxen for the seventy nations. Israel says: Master of the Universe, behold we offer You seventy oxen in their behalf, and they should have loved us. Instead, in the place of my love, they hate me (Psalms 109).”

G-d appointed Israel a kingdom of priests to atone for all these nations, and appointed Jerusalem a house of prayer for all the peoples…

We pray for the day when Israel will be fully restored to its land, rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and bring peace between G-d and man, and between all peoples. Amen.

-Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman
“The Significance of Succot Sacrifices”
15 October 2005/12 Tishri 5766
Ohr Somayach International

Here’s another look at the same picture:

The Talmud (BT Sukkah 55:B) teaches that the seventy bulls that were offered in the Holy Temple served as atonement for the seventy nations of the world. Truly, as the rabbis observed, “if the nations of the world had only known how much they needed the Temple, they would have surrounded it with armed fortresses to protect it” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1, 3).

-quoted from The Temple Institute website.

The irony involved in this commentary is that even though the nations hate Israel and destroyed her Holy Temple, still the Jewish people continue to pray for the peace and redemption of the nations.

Actually, we do find the number of bulls that are sacrificed during Sukkot is 70 in Numbers 29 starting at verse 12. There’s also another connection between the nations, Israel and celebration of the feast of Sukkot found in the books of the Prophets:

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar. And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day. –Zechariah 14:16-21 (ESV)

Sukkot is the only festival of the Jews when representatives of the nations of the world will be actually commanded to appear in Jerusalem to celebrate and, as you see, God desires this so much, that there will actually be penalties for nations refusing to be represented at this event in the days of the Messiah.

The Hebrew4Christians site adds a little more information to confirm this:

Prophetically, Sukkot anticipates the coming kingdom of Yeshua the Messiah wherein all the nations shall come up to Jerusalem to worship the LORD during the festival.

But that’s all in the future. What about now and especially, what about in ancient times? Has Israel been atoning for us all along and have we disastrously ended our own atonement before God by destroying the Temple and scattering the Jewish people throughout the earth?

I don’t know, but pondering all these thoughts did bring the following to mind:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” –John 4:22-26 (ESV)

I’m not necessarily drawing a direct connection between all of these points, but they are rather compelling. Consider this. In ancient times, during the Sukkot festival, it is thought that the Israelites sacrificed 70 bulls for the atonement of the nations of the world. In the Messianic Age to come, the nations are commanded to come up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot with Israel. And in his Sukkot commentary, Rabbi Ullman alludes to not only Zechariah 14 but this other prophetic word:

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” –Isaiah 56:6-7 (ESV)

Salvation for the nations comes from the Jews. It seems like our atonement in ancient days came from Israel and for those of us who are Christians, it continues to come from Israel even though the Temple in Jerusalem currently does not exist.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. –John 3:16-17 (ESV)

We from the nations cannot escape the great gift that Israel has continued to bestow upon us from days of old until this very time. God made Israel a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6) and that light has been allowed be spread from Israel and the Torah to the rest of us (Isaiah 2:2-4) so that we too can illuminate the world with that light (Matthew 5:14). But this is only possible because God sent the Jewish Messiah and King, our Master, to all of us. And this is only possible because the Messiah and Savior was as obedient as a dove (Matthew 3:16) and as silent as a lamb led to the slaughter (Jeremiah 11:19).

The Christian church hasn’t replaced Israel and we certainly haven’t merged into her so that Israel has ceased to be a people before her God. We among the nations are Israel’s beneficiaries. May we continue to bless the heart of Zion and her first born son, Jesus Christ, our Savior, King of the Jews.

That which can be grasped will change. That which does not change cannot be grasped.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Grasping Change”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Without mentioning it specifically, the Zohar sees great significance in the fact that the dove (and turtledove) is the only kind of bird permitted for sacrifice. In this way, the mysterious legendary dove with an olive leaf in its mouth becomes a representation of King Messiah…

-Tsvi Sadan
Yonah – Dove, pg 113
The Concealed Light: Names of Messiah in Jewish Sources

He is the elusive, unchanging dove.

 

 

Freeing Prisoners

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.Luke 4:17-20 (ESV)

Visit the prisoners and bring them some happiness. Even if they are guilty; even if, in your eyes, they deserve whatever misery they have. Bring them joy.

G-d is always with the oppressed. Even if the oppressor is righteous and the oppressed is wicked, our sages tell us, G-d is with the oppressed.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“G-d with the Oppressed”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

He has been sent to proclaim liberty to the captives and to set free the oppressed. When we read these lines Jesus read, citing Isaiah 61:1,2 (see Septuagint) and Isaiah 58:6, we Christians think of ourselves, which I suppose is rather self-centered. We have been set free, if not from the world or our own human natures, at least from being slaves to the values of the world and the complete corruption of the human heart. It’s actually not that simple, since Christians often believe only they (we) can perform good while all of our secular counterparts can do only evil. Yet the just and the unjust can both feed the hungry, give to the poor, and shelter the homeless. Our freedom is to see that we do not serve only ourselves or only other human beings when we do what is good, but we serve God and acknowledge His Kingship over all the earth.

But we were not always free.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. –Romans 5:6-11 (ESV)

Please keep that in mind. Jesus didn’t die for you (or for me, or for anyone) because you were so cool, but because you were his enemy! I say that because many in the church continue to disdain “sinners” and hold themselves up higher than the human beings who are “unchurched” just because we Christians are “saved by grace.” And yet, many Christians don’t act like they were saved by grace, but rather, they act like they’ve been saved because they were loved by Jesus more than the unsaved (I know…the faulty “logic” confuses me, too).

Really, I’ve met Christians like this. It’s one of the reasons I left the church in which I became a Christian. Self-superiority among many believers is just rampant and it’s appalling.

If we could only look at ourselves as God sees us. What a horrible thing to wish upon anyone.

Oh, you think that you look really terrific to God? By His grace, perhaps, but He can see you, me, and everyone exactly as who we are and who we have been (and who we will be). He saw the good in us and the person He created us to be when we were still slaves to the sin in our hearts and the desire to serve only ourselves. Remember Rabbi Freeman’s advice? Visit the prisoners and bring them some happiness. Even if they are guilty; even if, in your eyes, they deserve whatever misery they have. Bring them joy.

Haven’t we all been guilty? Haven’t we all deserved whatever misery from which we suffered? Didn’t we cause Jesus to suffer and die because of our guilt? And yet God “visited” us when we were prisoners, guilty though we were and brought us the joy of the Good News. Now that we who were oppressed have been set free, and we who were poor in spirit have had the Gospel proclaimed to us, instead of condemning those who continue to be guilty, shouldn’t we proclaim freedom for them as well? And if you do and if you are rebuffed and ridiculed for your faith, should you then rebuff those who treat you poorly, or should you pity them? If you return bad for bad, are you not declaring that you are just as blind as those to whom you offer a lamp?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

Our righteous shepherd desires that we do kindness, mercy, and justice to those around us, as we have received it from him. Dr. Tsvi Sadan, in his soon to be released book The Concealed Light, shows us a different application of the name shepherd (ro’eh) for the Messiah (pp 222-23), particularly when we, who claim the name of Christ, treat his people Israel as if they are prisoners who will never be redeemed, and as if the Jews are no longer his own sheep.

It is Ezekiel who hears God speak of Messiah as the Shepherd (ro’eh): “I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them – My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23). This Shepherd – “my servant David” – is seen by the Zohar as Shiloh, the “Faithful Shepherd,” who will deal decisively with Israel’s enemies (Zohar, Pinchas, 246b).

In his book “Em HaBanim Smechah,” Rabbi Issachar Shlomo Teichtal (murdered by the Nazis in 1944) had this to say about the religious leaders of the Jews of his day: “Who will accept responsibility for the innocent blood that has been spilled in our days? It seems to me that all the leaders who prevented the people of Israel from joining the builders [of the land of Israel] cannot cleanse their hands and say, ‘Our hands did not spill this blood!'” (21-22). Rabbi Teichtal wrote this book while hiding from the SS search parties for three years. The remarkable fact is that he cites from memory countless passages from Scripture and Jewish sources, some of which are aimed at explaining his bitter complaint about those Jewish leaders whose approach, “it is preferable to sit and do nothing,” discouraged Jews from immigrating to Israel, thus leaving them to die by the millions in hostile Europe.

In light of these sobering words, the Shepherd of Israel will do what generations of shepherds could not do; namely, he will gather the sheep from the nations to Israel. Then he “will compel them to do justice and righteousness and then he will become their shepherd, meaning that they will accept his reign and will learn from him until they willingly receive him as their shepherd” (Malbim to Ezekiel 34:23).

If this is true of Messiah, the Shepherd of Israel and his people the Jews, shouldn’t we, his Gentile disciples also “do justice and righteousness” to those in our midst and not reject the unsaved among us? And specifically, shouldn’t we support the in-gathering of the Jewish people to Israel from the nations and not disdain them or the mission of the Shepherd to restore the Jews to their land?

Learn to be at peace with others who are unlike you and be at peace with Israel, the Shepherd’s sheep, and the prisoner you will be freeing will be yourself.

This is the “morning meditation” that will be published on Purim (I’m writing this the day before), a celebration of freedom from certain death for the Jews. Certainly God has visited the “prisoner” and announced the good news of life to Israel, bringing great joy to His people. Let us rejoice with them on this day, and in anticipation of His bringing an even greater freedom to Israel and to the nations in the person of the Messiah.

“Peace is not the absence of affliction, but the presence of God.” -Anonymous

Chag Sameach Purim.