Tag Archives: tzedakah

Premeditated Acts of Kindness

One winter Friday evening after services, I happened to walk home in the company of a talkative Seminary student. As we made our way down Broadway, we passed a weary and emaciated man whispering for some spare change. On Shabbat I pay less heed to such heartrending pleas because I don’t have any money with me. Neither did my young companion. Yet he politely interrupted our animated conversation and asked the man whether he would like a sandwich. When he responded with evident joy that he would, the student pulled out a neatly wrapped sandwich from his plastic bag and gave it to him. Obviously, unlike me, the student did not allow Shabbat to prevent him from aiding the homeless who crowd the sidewalks of Broadway in the midst of the academic acropolis known as Morningside Heights. Though we met no more homeless before we parted company, for all I knew my companion still had another sandwich or two left in his bag to feed the hungry. His unobtrusive display of forethought and compassion stirred me deeply, as it filled me with pride.

-Ismar Schorsch
“A Stitch in Time” (pg 441, May 20, 1995)
Commentary on Torah Portion Behar
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

I read Schorsch’s commentaries on the weekly Parashat as a matter of devotion each Shabbat morning, but this time I was almost startled at the parallel between the incident he reported and the Gospel reading for Behar as recommended by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) (Each year near the beginning of the Torah cycle, FFOZ provides a list of the parashat readings for the coming year on PDF for anyone who cares to download it).

Here’s what I had read just minutes before:

On that day of Shabbat, he was teaching in a certain synagogue. A woman in whom there was a spirit of disease for eighteen years was bent over and unable to stand with a straight posture. Yeshua saw and called to her. He said to her, “Woman, be freed from your disease.” He placed his hands upon her, and instantly she arose and stood upright and praised God. The leader of the synagogue became upset that Yeshua had healed her on Shabbat, so he responded and said to the people, “There are six days on which you may do labor. Come and be healed on them, but not on the day of Shabbat!”

The Master answered and said to him, “Hypocrite! Will not any one of you untie his ox or donkey from the stable on Shabbat and lead him to get a drink? But here we have a daughter of Avraham whom the satan has bound for these eighteen years. Will she not be released from what binds her on the day of Shabbat?

When he said these words, all who were standing against him were ashamed, and all of the people rejoiced about all of the wonders there were performed by him.

Luke 13:10-17 (DHE Gospels)

I suppose you can’t compare the supernatural miracle of healing a woman who had suffered an affliction for eighteen years with simply giving a starving, homeless man a sandwich you are carrying with you, but they both speak of a willingness not only to feel compassion but to actively express it for the benefit of another, even (apparently) flying in the face of devoted Shabbat observance.

Teaching of the TzadikimYeshua (Jesus) was accused by the local synagogue leader of violating the prohibition of working on the Shabbat by healing the disabled woman. From the point of view of the leader of the synagogue, his interpretation of the laws of Shabbos was correct and obviously, based on the reaction of the rest of the people present, that opinion was the majority viewpoint in that stream (and probably all streams) of Judaism in that day.

Even today, while it is permissible in Orthodox Judaism to render medical treatment in the cause of saving a life, routine medical matters (this woman had survived her ailment for eighteen years, so Yeshua could have waited another day before healing her) are attended to on the other six days of the week.

For many Bible readers, this distinction may be too obscure, but if missed, the reader also misses the message of all the Sabbath stories in the Gospels. The essential message is not that Jesus has cancelled the Sabbath or that the rabbinic interpretation of Sabbath is illegitimate. The Sabbath-conflict stories instead communicate that acts of compassion and mercy performed to alleviate human suffering take precedence over the ritual taboo. The miraculous power by which Jesus performs the healings only serves to add God’s endorsement to Jesus’ halachic, legal rationale.

Did Jesus’ disciples break the Sabbath in the grain fields? Yes. But they were justified in doing so because their need took precedence over the Temple service, and the Temple service took precedence over the Sabbath. Therefore Jesus declared them guiltless and told the Pharisees, “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7).

Did the Master break the Sabbath when he healed on the Sabbath day? Yes. Would fixing a car break the Sabbath? Of course it would, and by the same standard so does fixing a human body. Nevertheless, the Master justified doing so because compassion for his fellow man took precedence over the Sabbath.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter Seven: At Dinner with the Sages,” pg 61
The Sabbath Breaker: Jesus of Nazareth and The Gospels’ Sabbath Conflicts

It is Lancaster’s opinion that Yeshua did indeed “break the Shabbat” as it is literally understood, and performed one of the types of work or melachah (plural: “melachot”) that is forbidden to do on the Sabbath. But Lancaster believes that the needs and dignity of human beings who are created in the image of God have a higher priority than mechanically performing a list of “dos” and “don’ts”.

I don’t mean to cast Shabbat observance or any performance of the other mitzvot in a negative light, far from it. I do want to point out something about human nature, though.

Ismar SchorschIsmar Schorsch, whose writings I greatly admire and who was the sixth Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) for nineteen years (he retired on June 30, 2006), wrote, on “Shabbat I pay less heed to such heartrending pleas because I don’t have any money with me.” It wasn’t that Schorsch lacked compassion or didn’t care about the dire needs of other people, but the traditional practice on Shabbat is not to handle any form of currency or to engage in any type of commerce. Naturally, he didn’t have any money on him, and neither did his sandwich-carrying companion.

But get this:

The Mishnah divides the landscape into “domains”: the private domains of individual houses, the public domains of streets and markets, and shared areas like alleys and courtyards that are not quite public and not quite private. The prohibition of carrying is violated when one removes an object from one domain to another [M. Shabbat 1:1, 2:1; M. Eruvin passim]. The Mishnah goes even further in eliminating the notion of “burden” from this prohibition. It declares that the prohibition is violated only if the object that has been carried is an object that people in general, or at least its carrier, value or use or keep; if it has no value or if it is too small to be used or if it is not worth keeping, then it does not qualify as an “object” for the purposes of this prohibition. A Torah-fearing Jew would not remove even such a nonobject from one domain to another on Sabbath, but incurs no liability for having done so [M. Shabbat 7:3-8:6, 9:5-10:1].

-Shaye J.D. Cohen
“Chapter 6: Judaean Legal Tradition and Halakhah of the Mishnah,” pg 136
The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature
Edited by Charlotte E. Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee

Since it appears a sandwich has value (especially to a hungry man) and is definitely big enough to use (eat), Schorsch’s companion could not be excused for carrying food items from one domain (presumably he made this sandwich before Shabbat and at his home, which is a different domain than the street) to another. Of course, the Mishnah may be more strictly observed by Orthodox Jews than Conservative Jews (Schorsch is affiliated with Conservative Judaism and presumably so are the students at the Jewish Theological Seminary, including the student in question), but I have to wonder.

shabbat walkI have to wonder if both Schorsch and the Seminary student were aware of the prohibition of “carrying,” which was another reason that they both had no money in their possession, since money obviously has value, but they saw a higher value requiring attention. The statement made by Schorsch from which I quoted above, indicates that it was quite common on Broadway to encounter homeless people who would typically ask for spare change or some other form of charity, even on Friday evening. Schorsch saw no way to assist them while observing the Shabbat but the student didn’t let that stop him.

Did the student violate Shabbat by carrying sandwiches from one domain to the next, even for the purpose of committing “a premeditated act of kindness” (Schorsch, pg 443)? Schorsch’s own reaction of pride, not even questioning the apparent violation of performing “work”, seems to answer from his point of view.

We can compare this to the reaction of the synagogue leader and the others attending Shabbat services after hearing Yeshua’s response to their criticism of his healing a non-life threatening disability on Shabbat:

When he said these words, all who were standing against him were ashamed…

Luke 13:17

The people who had initially criticized Yeshua’s act of kindness and compassion on Shabbat felt ashamed when they understood that it is common and permitted to relieve the suffering of another living being on Shabbat, whether a thirsty farm animal or a woman under a debilitating disability. Schorsch felt pride at recalling his student’s “unobtrusive display of forethought and compassion.”

I don’t believe that either Yeshua or the anonymous student violated the Shabbat. I believe they acted in the highest principle of Sabbath observance, even if it seems they “broke” the observance of the literal meaning of the melechot involved in each incident.

“The Sabbath does not ‘do away’ with sadness and sorrow,” writes Pinchas H. Peli in The Jewish Sabbath, “it merely requires that all sadness be ‘tabled’ for one day so that we may not forget that there is also joy and happiness in the world and acquire a more balanced and hopeful picture of life.”

-from “Keeping Sabbath – Ways to Practice”
Practicing Our Faith

“Oneg,” or the traditional meal eaten at the end of Shabbat services at synagogue, literally means “joy”. Regardless of the trials and difficulties we may encounter during the rest of the week, or no matter what else may be troubling us, Shabbat is a time to set all that aside and to live as if the Kingdom of God had already arrived, as if Messiah were already enthroned in Jerusalem, and as if he already reigns over a world filled with peace and the glory of God.

So to alleviate the suffering of even one person or any other living thing is to assist them in some small manner in entering Shabbat and a foretaste of the Kingdom.

MessiahIn any way we think we are obeying the will of God, let’s not forget that there is a higher principle involved that summons the future Messianic Age. What we say, think, and do now, on one level, is temporary and will not last, so we sometimes tend to dismiss this life in anticipating the next. But we must never forget for a single instant, and especially on Shabbat, that kindness, compassion, charity, and raising the level of the dignity of another person, even for a moment, are eternal principles and the loftier and weightier matters of Torah, and they speak more of loving God and loving others (for the two are inseparable) than the matter of committing a “forbidden” act of melachah here or there as the situation arises.

Yeshua rejects all those who do not give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked of even “the least” of his “brothers,” but welcomes those who are “blessed of his Father.”

Then the king will say to those standing on his right, “Come, those who are blessed of my Father, and possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was traveling, and you took me in; naked, and you covered me; sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.”

The righteous will answer and say, “Our master, when did we see you hungry and sustain you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you traveling and take you in, or naked and cover you? When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?”

Then the king will answer and say to them, “Amen, I say to you, what you have done for one of these young brothers of mine, you have done for me.”

Matthew 25:34-40

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FFOZ TV Review: Treasure in Heaven

FFOZ TV episode 24Episode 24: What did Jesus mean when he told his disciples to store up treasures in Heaven? Episode twenty-four will take a look at the phrase “treasures in Heaven” through a Jewish lens. “In Heaven” in this phrase does not mean “in the sky” but rather “with God.” Jesus tells us that God rewards his children openly for what they do in secret. Viewers will learn that being disciples of Jesus means being a generous person, giving to the needy, doing the work of the kingdom, and not focusing on earthly gain.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 24: Treasure in Heaven (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of Treasure in Heaven

This episode went pretty much the way I expected with just a few small question marks. First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) educators and authors Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby based today’s teaching on the following verses:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rottenness consume them, and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rottenness do not consume them, and thieves do not break in and steal. For in the place where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21 (DHE Gospels)

Toby asked about how one can actually store a treasure in Heaven? Is there some sort of cosmic retirement plan in the Afterlife? Is it possible to do something to store treasure in Heaven now so we’ll have it to spend after we die?

These seem like silly questions but throughout much of the episode, Toby kept returning to these points. I started to wonder what the traditional Christian teaching must be about this passage? Does the Church or some part of it believe that there is a literal treasure in Heaven that we get when we die?

For viewers who have been regularly watching this show, it should be apparent that the reference to “Heaven” doesn’t have to literally be the place where God lives. The Hebrew word for “Heaven” can also mean “sky”. However, given the general theme of this first season of the FFOZ TV show, “Heaven” is more likely being used as a circumlocution to avoid saying the most personal Name of God. For instance, the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” actually means “Kingdom of God” as in the coming Messianic Era.

That would mean storing up “treasure in heaven” means something like storing up “treasure in the Messianic Kingdom.” But that’s still mysterious if you don’t understand certain Rabbinic concepts and idioms.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:2-4 (NASB)

Toby JanickiThis should help provide clarity. Toby links “storing up treasure in heaven” to these earlier verses in the chapter. Jesus teaches a direct link between giving to charity in secret and being openly rewarded by God. This is also a Rabbinic concept, but one where Christianity treads lightly, since we are taught that salvation is a free gift and not tied to anything we can do, such as give to charity. Also, Isaiah 64:6 defines “righteous acts” as “filthy rags” so it would seem as if this interpretation of Jesus’ teaching contradicts not only older scripture but Christian doctrine as well.

We aren’t talking about “buying our way into Heaven” with our “filthy” righteous deeds, though. We are however, talking about a relationship between our giving to charity and some sort of reward from God. More specifically, we are talking about giving in secret, without using our “generosity” to draw attention to ourselves, and that is what God rewards openly.

As a side note, this makes me wonder why some churches today have listings on their walls or in some public document of the names of their larger contributors if Jesus taught to give in secret?

If you say, “See, we did not know this,”
Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?
And does He not know it who keeps your soul?
And will He not render to man according to his work?

Proverbs 24:12 (NASB)

It looks like Jesus isn’t contradicting this older portion of scripture and in fact, he seems to be teaching the same lesson. “And will He not render to man according to his work?” So what we do here in this life does seem to matter to God and God responds to our actions by giving back to us in the manner we’ve given (or not given) to others.

This brings us to the first clue for this episode:

Clue 1: When Jesus tells us to “store up treasures in heaven,” he is not telling us to store up treasures in the Afterlife, but to store up credit with God.

Storing up “credit with God” still makes it sound like we’re opening up a credit line at the Bank of Heaven and then drawing against it, but that makes no sense at all. There’s got to be more to this lesson.

As it turns out, there is:

The lamp of the body is the eye, and if your eye is whole, your entire body will be illuminated. But if your eye is evil, your entire body will be darkened — and if the light within you is darkened, how great is the darkness.

A man is not able to serve two masters. For he will hate the one and love the other, or he will cling to one and despise the other. You are not able to serve both God and mamon.

Matthew 6:22-24 (DHE Gospels)

OK, maybe that didn’t clear everything up. To get a better handle on what Jesus is saying, the scene shifts to Aaron Eby in Israel for a Hebrew lesson on the term “the evil eye.”

So what is the “evil eye” and the “whole” or “good eye”? Aaron tells his audience that one interpretation of an “evil eye” is a description of what happens to a believer who looks at forbidden things. Another tells of a believer who is not spiritually perceptive. But in the overall context of these verses, which seem to be addressing money, that doesn’t make sense.

Aaron EbyAs it turns out, having an “evil eye” in Jewish idiom means being stingy. Also, the words translated as “whole eye” or “good eye,” given the idiomatic meaning being referenced, are better translated as “beautiful eye,” meaning generous. But how does it make sense that your “eye” can indicate stinginess or generosity? According to Aaron, it has to do with how you look at or perceive others. If you look at someone with good intent or in order to see the good in them, you are looking at them with a “beautiful” eye and are inclined to be generous toward them. However, if you look at people with poor intent or in a negative manner, you are inclined to be withholding from the needy and thus have an “evil” eye.

Returning to Toby in the studio, we come to the next clue:

Clue 2: Jesus’ words about storing up treasures with God are directly linked to “beautiful eye” and “evil eye.”

Now we seem to be zeroing in on the solution to today’s mystery. But if God rewards believers for giving generously and in secret to charity, what sort of reward is provided? Toby said that it is not along the lines of prosperity theology. It’s not a matter of giving large amounts of money to certain charities or churches in order to get back a boatload of cash in this world.

So what is the answer?

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:25-26, 31-34 (NASB)

In a nutshell, this means that we shouldn’t worry about the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, and shelter, because God knows we need these things and will provide. Instead of devoting our resources to accumulating material possessions, we should seek first the Messianic Kingdom, and “the basics” will take care of themselves.

By being generous, we come closer to entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Conversely, a stingy person is removed or retreating from entering the Messianic Kingdom.

This sort of reminds me of what I wrote about the FFOZ TV episode on The Golden Rule. How we treat others brings us closer or places us further away from entering the Messianic Kingdom. But as I said before, although we’re not talking about buying our way into Heaven, how can being generous or stingy admit or inhibit living in the Era of the Messiah?

Unless it’s somehow related to the lesson of the “sheep and goats” we find in Matthew 25:31-46, which is also talking about generosity and stinginess. Even a believer who is stingy or has exhibited the “evil eye” may be rejected by the King upon his return. What we do does matter. This reading of the Bible makes that inescapable, although it’s not always easy to understand.

The final clue is:

Clue 3: Storing treasure in heaven is the same as seeking the Kingdom of God.

It doesn’t mean that God will provide a one-to-one system of giving vs reward whereby if you give a certain amount to your church or to charity, that you’ll automatically get back the same or more than you “invested.” In fact, that sort of theology goes against what Jesus taught, since he commanded giving in secret, which at least implies the idea of giving generously with no thought of reward.

What Did I Learn?

I actually knew the vast majority of what was taught today, but some of what was said got me to thinking. As I see it (and this is just my opinion), by being generous in the here and now, we are somewhat foreshadowing the coming Messianic Kingdom, which will be characterized by kindness, generosity to all, and peace. Just as each weekly Shabbat is a foreshadow and a preview of the lasting Shabbat of Messiah, so too every mitzvah of giving we commit, each act of tzedakah, is a momentary snapshot of how all humanity will behave toward each other one day.

tzedakah-to-lifeI have a better “feeling” about this being part of the “reward” rather than necessarily admittance into or rejection from the Messianic Era, but as the passage from Matthew 25 indicates, there will be those believers who get in and those who are given the boot.

Also, as I said above, I don’t see any sort of formula being developed out of these scriptures and this lesson whereby the more you give, the more you get in cash or material goods. There have been far too many saints or tzaddikim who have lived and died in poverty, even though they were abundantly generous with whatever they had, to make me believe that giving to charity is some sort of insurance against poverty or some other bad things happening to me. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes. Blessed be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). God does as He wills. Sometimes, even the most devout servants of God don’t have access to even the basics of food, water, clothing, or shelter, even though this seems to contradict the words of the Master.

But we don’t see this so much in the West because most of us can at least make ends meet if not live rather well, especially when compared to the kind of abject poverty we see in what we call “third-world countries.”

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”

Luke 21:1-4 (NASB)

I thought this deserved an honorable mention, since we are talking about giving generously. OK, so it’s not giving in secret if Jesus and his disciples can see how much everyone is giving, but we do see a woman living in great poverty, probably a state of lacking most of us have never experienced, giving all she had to live on for the sake of God and the Temple. I don’t think I could advise a person to do that, holding nothing back for themselves, but then again, maybe she was not worrying about her next meal, what clothes she was going to wear, or the place she was going to rest her head, just as Messiah taught.

It’s a hard lesson in this world of 401Ks, Medical Savings Accounts, and saving up to send the kids to college.

I seem to remember, probably from something Dave Ramsey said, that families should include charitable giving in their budgets in the same way as we budget for car repairs, groceries, clothing, and so on. This isn’t giving all we’ve got, but it is giving what we can if we are so inclined.

Only two more episodes in season one left to review.

FFOZ TV Review: Seek First the Kingdom

ffoz_14mainEpisode 14: For Christians, nothing should be more important than seeking first the kingdom. Episode fourteen will take a deeper look at what it means to “Seek first the kingdom of God” from a Jewish perspective. Viewers will learn that the kingdom of God is the Messianic Era. To seek first the kingdom is to obey the teachings of Jesus and do the will of God while always leaning on God’s grace. The Sermon on the Mount is the long answer to what it means to seek to enter his kingdom.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 14: Seek First the Kingdom

The Lesson: The Mystery of Seeking First the Kingdom of God

What is it to seek first the Kingdom of God? We’ve learned from previous episodes of this program, that the Kingdom of God is actually the Messianic Era, not “going to Heaven.” It’s the Kingdom that Jesus will establish upon his second advent into our world, where he will rule and reign over Israel as her King, and as King of all the nations of the Earth.

But let’s take a closer look at an important saying of the Master from Matthew 6:31-34 using the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels translation to begin to address this mystery:

Therefore, do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For the Gentiles request all of these. Does your Father who is in heaven not know that you need all these? But seek first the kingdom of God and his tzedakah, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry for itself. It is sufficient for trouble to come at its time.

As always, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki tells his audience that we may be led into error if we do not look at these scriptures from the original linguistic, historical, and cultural context, the context of the audience for whom Matthew wrote his gospel, the context of the audience of Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount. This is the lynchpin that holds together FFOZ’s interpretation of the New Testament and folds it into the overall Jewish context of the entire Bible.

Toby says that Jesus is telling us we are not to focus on our immediate, material needs, but rather to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Toby summarizes the Kingdom using material presented in previous episodes:

  • The Kingdom of God is Messiah’s rule over the earth upon his second coming.
  • The exiles of Israel, the Jewish people, will be regathered to their nation.
  • God will defeat all of Israel’s enemies.
  • Messiah establishes a rule of peace over all the Earth.
  • The Torah will go forth from Zion.
  • Everyone will be filled with the Knowledge of God through the Holy Spirit.

I immediately thought of my conversation with my Pastor last week. Part of our discussion included a quick summary of the Book of Revelation, and I noticed that Toby didn’t touch on the “rapture of the Church” to Heaven with Jesus for the seven years of tribulation. I suppose that will be a topic for another time, although previously, Toby mentioned that “the Church” would be raptured with Jesus to Jerusalem. I suppose that means “the Church” won’t be “off planet” for the seven years of woe and judgment, but that’s a topic for another time.

Toby said that the Sermon of the Mount is the overall context for today’s lesson and that Matthew 5:20 is the key to understanding the Sermon. It functions like a thesis statement, and not correctly understanding this single verse will lead to misunderstanding the entire sermon.

I found this terrifically compelling, because Pastor and I got “hung up” on this very verse last week. I was presenting my understanding of the terms “abolish” and “fulfill” we encounter in Matthew 5:17-19 based on the previous episode of the show: The Torah is Not Canceled (see my review of that episode for more details).

However, verse 20, as I mentioned, was a problem:

For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

ffoz_tv14tobyThe context of verses 17-19 discuss the Torah and how Messiah did not come to disobey (abolish) the Torah, but to obey (fulfill) it. Pastor says that “fulfill” can’t possibly mean “obey” in context because of verse 20. No amount of obedience of the mitzvot can lead to saving righteousness. The only answer I had to give was that Jesus was contrasting Torah obedience with faith, essentially saying that the scribes and Pharisees were depending on what they did to save them, and, as important as obedience is relative to Jews and the Torah, it’s only faith that saves. I was trying to pull a rabbit out of my hat, so to speak, thinking “theologically” on the fly.

So I was hoping that Toby was going to offer a link from verse 20 back to verses 17-19 and give me a more “fleshed out” explanation. What ultimately happened was unexpected.

Toby forged a direct connection between Matthew 5:20 and Matthew 6:33

For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33

As I’ve said in the past, it would be helpful to know the source for making such connections in the Bible. A bibliography for each episode would enhance my ability to understand. But we have arrived at our first clue:

Clue 1: Make it your top priority to enter the Messianic Era.

But there’s another part to all of this. While we can grasp the meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven, what does “righteousness” mean in these contexts? Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and his righteousness. You might think you know what “righteousness” is, but remember, this show is all about presenting familiar parts of the Bible as seen through the historical, cultural, and linguistic lens of first century Judaism. What does “righteousness” look like when you put those glasses on?

To learn the answer, the scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel. Aaron teaches us (and I apologize for the poor spelling of the transliterations) that “righteousness” can be mapped back to two Hebrew words: “Tzeddik” and “Tzadakah”. “Tzeddik” gives us the sense of “justice,” “correctness,” “equitability,” and “uprightness.” It’s an abstract concept and is more about being righteous. “Tzadakah,” on the other hand, is a more “hands on” term, according to Aaron. It’s more about doing right things, doing the correct thing, and doing righteousness rather than being righteous.

It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us. (emph. mine)

Deuteronomy 6:25 (NASB)

Aaron explains that the word “righteousness” or “tzedakah” used in this verse speaks of doing the correct thing, which here is performing particular Torah mitzvot. The concept of righteousness and doing right are completely fused. One cannot be righteous without doing righteousness. This should remind most Christians of the following:

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

James 2:18-24 (NASB)

ffoz_tv14aaronOver time, the meaning of the word “tzedakah” has changed. It is commonly thought of today as specifically giving to charity, but Aaron says that it did not lose its previous meaning in taking on a more modern way of being understood. The underlying concept of the word is doing kindness to others, kind treatment of others. When God shows us His righteousness, he is being kind to us. When we show others righteousness, we are doing good things for them. Although Aaron and Toby didn’t say this specifically, I think we can link tzedakah back to being a tzeddik (a righteous one). You cannot be righteous without doing righteousness. Let’s look at Matthew 5:20 again.

For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (emph. mine)

So, given all that we’ve learned up to this point, are Aaron and Toby telling us that entering the Messianic Era, the Kingdom of God, is dependent on how much kindness we do for other human beings? But how can we be more “righteous” than the scribes and the Pharisees, who set the bar pretty high?

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; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

Matthew 23:23 (NASB)

While the scribes and the Pharisees were all about doing “righteousness,” that is, acts of kindness and justice (the two can’t be separated in our understanding of tzedakah) toward others, still, they had problems, and these were problems Jesus brought to light. They were hypocritical (or some of them were). They taught righteousness but didn’t do righteousness. This is why Jesus told his disciples to do what the Pharisees taught but not to emulate their actual behavior (Matthew 23:1-3). There was nothing wrong with the teaching of righteousness of the Pharisees, but in many cases, they didn’t “walk the walk”. Jesus seems to be telling his disciples (and us) that our righteous deeds must exceed those of the Pharisees if we are to enter into the Kingdom of God.

Let’s refactor the two scriptures that Toby says are key to our understanding of today’s mystery:

For I say to you that unless your good deeds surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20 (NASB)

But seek first His kingdom and His good deeds, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33 (NASB)

Returning to Toby in the studio, we have arrived at our second clue:

Clue 2: Righteousness = Acts of the Law; Good Deeds of God’s Torah.

Toby says that if Jesus has to give this instruction, it begs the question of whether or not some disciples of the Master will not enter the Messianic Era. He offers the following as an answer:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

charity-tzedakahToby’s coming really close to saying that all disciples of Jesus who do not practice the Torah mitzvot, or at least those that command acts of kindness and charity to others, will not enter into the Messianic Era. In other words, they “practice lawlessness.” However, Toby was quick to point out that this isn’t a matter of salvation. Even if you do no acts of kindness, you can still be saved by the grace of Jesus Christ through faith (though if you have faith, then why aren’t you performing tzadakah?). But this brings up a critical question. How can you be saved but not enter the Messianic Age? Where will you be if you’re not there?

Oh, and this is the third and final clue:

Clue 3: Not everyone will enter the Messianic Era.

Toby again tells us that not entering the Kingdom and not performing acts of kindness and charity to others does not negate the free gift of grace through Christ. But the Messianic Era is a span of historical time in which all those resurrected and all those who are born in it are in that Era. How can you not enter a span of history unless you’re dead…but if you’re saved, you’re not dead?

What Did I Learn?

Linking last week’s review to today’s, let’s have another look at a key passage of scripture:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NASB)

Here I see that, at least from FFOZ’s point of view, my response on verse 20 was wrong. Putting all this in one basket, the FFOZ perspective is that Jesus, having been criticized and accused of not living out and teaching the Torah correctly by the scribes and Pharisees, uses this opportunity to clarify his position. He has not come to abolish (disobey) the Torah, but rather to fulfill (obey) the Torah. Any Jew (his intended audience in this context was Jewish) who annuls even the least of the mitzvot (in contrast to Jesus who says he doesn’t) will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven (the Messianic Age). Anyone who keeps and teaches the Torah mitzvot will be called great in the Kingdom (and since Jesus was the only person who kept the mitzvot perfectly, this implies that he will be the very greatest in the Kingdom).

(I should note at this point, that Aaron chose to interpret the term “righteousness” we see in Matthew 5 and 6 as “tzedakah” rather than “tzeddik.” If it could be either/or, it would be helpful to understand on what basis “tzedakah” was selected over “tzeddik” … on the other hand, as I mentioned above, can we really separate these two words … can one be a tzeddik without performing tzedakah?)

Continuing to address his audience and building on what he’s just said, Jesus instructs that unless their good deeds according to the performance of the Torah mitzvot, exceed those of the scribes and Pharisees (who later Jesus accuses of teaching well but not performing well), then they will not merit entering the Kingdom of Heaven (the Messianic Age).

On the one hand, a person who annuls the least of the mitzvot and teaches others to annul them will be in the Kingdom of Heaven but will be least there, and on the other hand, unless a person’s performance of the mitzvot related to good deeds does not exceed the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, they will not enter the Kingdom at all, not even as the least.

I think this needs some clarification. I know my Pastor would not likely be convinced by this argument. For him, righteousness is a state of being (being a tzeddik, which no one achieves without faith in Christ) that no person can earn regardless of what they do. He would call this “salvation by works,” even though Toby is saying that it’s actually admission into the Messianic Kingdom for the already saved. Salvation isn’t earned but admission to the Messianic Kingdom apparently is.

waiting-for-mannaI will admit to being confused by this one for the reasons I’ve already stated. However, like other episodes of this program, complete ideas are expressed not in one episode, but in connecting many episodes together to form the total message. Hopefully, that’s what’s happening here.

FFOZ President and Founder Boaz Michael, as always, came on camera at the very end of the episode to announce that next week’s show would address “the Lord’s Prayer.” Maybe the part that says, thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven” will be used to help clarify today’s commentary on the Mystery of Seeking First the Kingdom of God.

I will review another episode next week.

The Unintentional Shabbos Christian

Shabbat candlesIf a non-Jew lit a candle [for himself], a Jew may also benefit from it. If the non-Jew lit it for the Jew, this is prohibited.

-Shabbos 122a

The Mishnah discusses the case where a gentile lit a candle on Shabbos. If he lit it for himself, the Jew may sit in that illuminated area and benefit from the light. However, if the gentile lit the light for the sake of the Jew, the Jew may not benefit from the light.

There is a variance among the Rishonim in explaining the reason why it is prohibited for a Jew to benefit from labor which a gentile performed (on his own) on Shabbos for the sake of the Jew. Tosafos ( ד”ה ואם ) and Rambam (6:18) explain that if a Jew would be allowed to have this labor done for him, we are concerned that the Jew would then give outright instructions to the gentile to do the labor for him. Rashi and Ran (Beitza 24b) write that it is simply prohibited for the Jew to benefit from labor done for him on Shabbos.

Ritva writes that according to the understanding of Rambam and Tosafos, it might seem that we have arranged a rabbinic precaution (not to benefit from labor done by a gentile) to safeguard another rabbinic injunction (lest we come to give instructions to a gentile outright). This seems to be in violation of the general rule that we do not establish גזירה לגזירה . Nevertheless, the correct explanation is that this is simply a one-staged enactment. The sages set into motion protective measures to ensure that the Shabbos remain special. In order to set it aside and different from the other days of the week, it was necessary to disallow benefiting from the labor performed by a gentile, either when he does it for us by himself without being asked, or whether he does it when asked to do so. These guidelines are all part of the same approach to preserve the sanctity of Shabbos.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Preserving the sanctity of Shabbos – through speech”
Commetary on Shabbos 122a

It’s been a particularly cold and icy winter here in Southwest Idaho. Fortunately, it’s warmed up some lately to near normal temperatures for this time of year, but in the past two weeks, lows have been in the single digits and into negative numbers while highs never got anywhere near above freezing. Ice on the roads and sidewalks has been particularly hazardous, and I know of many people, including several in my family, who have fallen and become injured.

But most winters, it’s just the typical matter of shoveling snow off the driveway and sidewalks and being cautious when driving to and from work. I was remembering a typical “snow shoveling” winter of a few years ago that was like the one I just described while reading the above-quoted commentary. It was on a Sunday morning (before I went back to church) and I had some time on my hands. I had finished shoveling the snow off of my own drive and sidewalks, but on Sunday, it can be a chore for some of my “church-going” neighbors to shovel and get ready to go to services. So I decided to just keep going and to clear the driveways and sidewalks of a couple of other houses near me. I know one neighbor in particular whose family goes to church early and generally has a full day of it. I shoveled off their drive and walk while they were gone.

One of the things about me doing such things is that I don’t like to be noticed (kind of hard when you’re standing in the middle of someone’s driveway with a big, orange snow shovel, I must admit). But I thought I’d gotten away with it. I thought no one would figure out it was me. That is, until my neighbor came over later that afternoon to say “thanks.” He was appreciative because Sunday is indeed a very busy day for him and he didn’t know when he’d be able to get around to shoveling his snow. It was a big help.

I don’t say all this to make myself sound like a big deal, though, but I do have a point. Be patient.

Now imagine my neighbor is an Orthodox Jew and all this is happening on Saturday instead of Sunday. Further imagine that my neighborhood is within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue (it’s not, but let’s pretend). Now let’s say I know my neighbor and his family are Jewish and I know that they walk to shul on Saturday morning. They’ve probably already left for services and I know they won’t be shoveling snow on Shabbos. As a Christian, it would be a nice thing for me to help them out and shovel their driveway and sidewalk.

But will they see it that way? Sure, they didn’t ask me to do it for them (which would be forbidden), but technically, they can’t benefit from my labor if I did it to benefit them. Could they even walk on the sidewalk and the driveway I shoveled for them upon their return from shul? Frankly, I don’t know, but in my eagerness to be “a good Christian neighbor,” I may have actually caused more of a problem than a help.

Why am I saying all this?

shoveling-snowLast week, I wrote a large number of “meditations” that addressed how Jews who are Messianic may view a life of halachah in relation to their discipleship under Messiah Yeshua, Christ Jesus. It’s a controversial topic, certainly for Christians and even for a number of Jewish people, but it’s one that needs to be discussed. In reading the commentary on Shabbos 122a just a few days ago, I started to wonder how “Christian generosity” and Jewish observance of Shabbos could unexpectedly collide, producing undesirable results. Granted, the Christian in my imagination was just trying to be a good neighbor and lend a hand, but especially an Orthodox Jewish neighbor might have a fundamentally different way of looking at such “help.” This is what happens when we don’t understand each other.

Granted, in this day and age, people who live in the suburbs next to each other or across the street from each other, don’t get to be friends or acquaintances the way we did when I was a child. Often people don’t even wave “hi” to each other when they are both out in their front yard or passing each other on the street.

But if part of being a Christian is loving your neighbor as yourself, and chances are you know a little bit about yourself, how can you be sensitive to your neighbor’s needs if you don’t know what those needs they are. Snow on a driveway and a sidewalk may seem to tell you want your neighbor requires, but you can’t really go by superficial appearances. Who is your neighbor? How can you help him?

If you, as a Christian, have a Jewish neighbor, and you want to be a good neighbor, it might help if you got to know him a little bit. However, we Christians have other Jewish “neighbors” who may not live near us, but who are connected because our “salvation comes from the Jews.” (John 4:22). Whether your Jewish neighbor is someone who lives near you or, in a more expansive sense, is your “neighbor” because he is a child of God like you, how can you become aware of his needs, and of Israel’s needs, if you don’t know what those needs are?

Addressing my last question, Boaz Michael recently posted a new blog article called Three Kinds of Churches pt.2. It includes a section called “Churches that align with Israel” and the description of such churches (and Christian people) may well be part of the answer we need.

Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.

-Pirkei Avot 2:5

Adapting Hillel’s famous statement, we also can’t be a good neighbor, until he have stood in his place, or perhaps just started a conversation with him.

A Transformational Life

collapsingSo anyone who hears these words of mine and does them, I will compare to a wise man who built his house on a rock. The rain fell, the streams flooded, the winds blew, and they touched that house, but it did not fall, because it was founded upon the rock. But whoever hears these words of mine but does not do them, I will compare to a foolish man who built his house upon sand. The rain fell, the streams flooded, the winds blew, and they encountered that house. It fell, and its collapse was great.

Matthew 7:24-27 (DHE Gospels)

I was reading the various portions of the Bible related to Torah Portion Yitro on Shabbos and the recommended reading (from First Fruits of Zion/FFOZ) for the Gospels was Matthew 7:1 – 8:1. I’m not going to copy and paste or manually type the text for such a large portion of scripture into this “meditation” (you can click the link I provided and read it yourself), but I must say that as I finished reading it, I realized that this section of Matthew could actually be expressing a single thought. If you haven’t done so already, please read that particular part of scripture now and then continue reading here. It’s OK. I’ll wait.

Finished? Good.

Do you see what I mean? Look at what the Master is teaching.

Jesus starts off by telling his disciples and anyone else who was listening how to do tzedakah or charity, mainly in secret rather than making a big show of it for others to see. He delivers the same message about praying and gives us a simple model of a prayer. Again, he says the same thing about how to fast and reminds us of where our true wealth lies. Speaking of treasure, he defines the relationship between a believer and money and also how we need to trust God for our needs. Interestingly enough, in the DHE translation, Matthew 6:33 goes like this:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his tzedakah, and all these things will be added to you.

Tzedakah isn’t just giving to charity. The underlying sense of this Hebrew word communicates performing acts of justice and righteousness…in other words, doing good for other, which is much more than just donating money or goods.

He instructs his audience not to judge and connects how we judge others with how we’ll be judged by God (and that should be a frightening thought to many of you…it is to me). He talks about answers to prayer and trusting God. He gives us a basic rule about how to treat others using how we treat ourselves as a guide. He warns us about false prophets, and I’m sure you realize there are plenty of those in the Christian world today. Then he says something amazing and more than a little terrifying:

Not everyone who says to me, “My master! My master!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but rather, the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. It will be that on that day many will say to me, “My master, my master, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many wonders?” Then I will answer them, saying, “I have never known you. Depart from me, workers of evil!”

Matthew 7:21-23 (DHE Gospels)

Recently, someone commented on one of my blog posts that, “Christianity is not about right belief or right thinking or even right behavior; Christianity is about right relationship…” I’m sure the people who the Master says he will send away will also think they had a “right relationship” with Jesus and will be absolutely shocked to find that they were wrong. But what happened? I mean, these people, according to what Jesus says, were prophesying in Christ’s name, driving out demon’s in his name, and performing many wonders in his name. How could they do all that and still have the Master say to them, “I have never known you. Depart from me, workers of evil?”

I’ve had several conversations with my Pastor and one of the things we’ve discussed is salvation, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. What may surprise you is that he believes that not everybody in the church should be considered a Christian or “saved.” It makes more than simply raising your hand when asked if you will allow Jesus to enter your life or answering an altar call to really make you a disciple of the Master. If your life isn’t transformed as a result, then nothing has changed and you are still in exactly the same state you were in before you “accepted Christ” as your Lord.

So if just saying “yes” and just “believing” doesn’t do it, what does transform you? Actually, the better question is, how do you know you’re transformed?

fruit-treeGo and read Matthew 7:1 – 8:1 again. Jesus is describing a transformed life or maybe it’s more accurate to say, a “transformational life.” We don’t just change once and then get stuck, like flipping a light switch from off to on. We are, or should be, constantly changing and growing in wisdom and in the Spirit.

In Matthew 7:15-20, the Master teaches on how to spot a false prophet by the fruits he produces, but I think his advice works in spotting a false believer too, even if we happen to be one of them. Remember, some believers are going to be surprised and dismayed that the Master sends them away and even calls them (us?) “workers of evil.” I think that even though some people will be capable of performing wonderful acts of goodness, kindness, generosity, and even some miracles, that they won’t really have a living, growing, connected relationship with God. Maybe they think that “doing” is all that’s required or more than likely, maybe they’ll believe that believing is enough.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

James 2:18-20 (ESV)

It looks like a transformational life requires both faith and “walking the walk.”

A number of changes have been going on with me lately and I can only conclude that God is trying to get my attention. He’s got it. I realize that my own life hasn’t really been very “transformational.” Like I said, I don’t think such a life is either there or not all the time like an on/off switch, but I do think, to extend the metaphor, that my light has been pretty dim, or at least not as bright as God intends it to be. I’m not going to outline some multi-step plan of mine for letting my light shine brighter, but within my thoughts and feelings and actions, I am starting some changes.

I haven’t set much time aside for prayer, which I think makes a difference. Also, I haven’t been as dedicated to acts of tzedakah as I know I should be. If there is something transformational going on with me, it needs to be more visible, especially to me.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski has this to say on such a life.

“Master of the world, Who reigned before anything was created.”

-Siddur

The prayer Adon Olam is the opening prayer of the morning service; some congregations also recite it at the close of the evening service. It is also included in the extended version of the prayer upon retiring.

Adon Olam’s being both the opening and closing prayer is similar to the practice of beginning the reading of Genesis on Simchas Torah immediately after concluding the last chapter of Deuteronomy. There, we indicate that Torah is infinite; like a circle, it has no beginning or end. So it is with prayer, which represents our relationship with God. Since God is infinite, we never reach a finite goal in relating to Him.

Indeed, the cyclical natures of prayer and Torah not only indicate that there is no end, but also that there is no beginning. Secular studies have levels of graduation which indicate that one has completed a certain level. In Torah studies, we do not complete anything. Indeed, each volume of the Talmud begins with page two rather than page one, to teach us that we have not even begun, let alone ever finish.

Growth in spirituality has no limits. The symbolism in the cyclical format of Torah and prayer is that we cannot say that we have even reached the halfway mark in spiritual growth, much less the end. This realization should excite us, not depress us, because our potential is infinite.

Today I shall…

try to understand that regardless of how much I think I may have advanced in spirituality, I have hardly even made a beginning.

lightThere may be a very fine line between being a sheep or a goat and I don’t want to find myself on the wrong side of the line. It’s not that I’m just being selfish (but yes, I am thinking about myself), but that I really do what to serve God and live out my high-sounding ideals. I’ve said that a life of faith isn’t like a light switch but there definitely is an “on” and an “off” involved. Ultimately, like sheep and goats, you are either one or the other, you are either a disciple of the Master in a lived, experiential way, or you are a poser.

To borrow a line from Rabbi Twerski, today I shall…

…start to live a more transformational life and bear the type of fruit that gives evidence to me and to the world that I am following in the footsteps of my Master.

Remembering Jerusalem

poor-israel…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Galatians 2:9-10 (ESV)

James, Peter, and John gave Saul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship.” They commissioned them to go to the Gentiles while they themselves continued to witness Messiah to the Jewish people. Saul says, “They only asked us to remember the poor – the very thing I also was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). How should this single caveat be understood?

It does not mean the apostles laid upon the Gentile believers no greater obligation to Torah than the commandment of giving charity generously to the poor. Saul did not say, “Only they asked the Gentiles to give charity to the poor.” He said, “Only they asked us to remember the poor.” In this context, “us” must be Saul and Barnabas.

In his commentary on Galatians, Richard Longenecker identifies “the Poor” in Galatians 2:10 as a shorthand abbreviation for the longer title that Paul gives them in Romans 15:26, where he refers to them as “the poor among the saints at Jerusalem…” Saul and Barnabas were to remember the Poor Ones of the apostolic assembly of believers in Jerusalem: the pillars, the elders, the assembly of James and the apostles.

D. Thomas Lancaster
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Va’era (“and I appeared”) (pp 362-3)
Commentary on Galatians 2:1-18, Acts 12:25

I’ve talked about charity very recently. It was less than two months ago that I discovered that some folks at the church I attend believe that Christians have a special duty to support the poor of Israel based on the following:

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:37-40 (ESV)

I was trying to describe this to my (Jewish) wife just the other day, but I’m not sure she believed me. It’s not typical behavior from many churches. On the other hand, as we see from Lancaster’s teaching on Galatians 2, there is a rather clear Biblical precedent for the Gentile believers to “remember” the poor of Israel.

OK, I know that according to Lancaster, James and the Apostolic council was telling Saul (Paul) and Barnabas to remember the poor of Israel, but look at the context. On the very heels of the council validating Paul’s mission to the Gentiles to bring them to covenant relationship with God through Messiah without requiring that the Gentiles convert to Judaism, and sending Paul and Barnabas back to the Goyim with their good graces, James, Peter (Cephas), and John added the caveat to remember the poor. How could that message then not be transmitted by Paul from the Apostolic council to the Gentiles in the diaspora?

Still don’t believe me?

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.

1 Corinthians 16:1-3 (ESV)

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints…

2 Corinthians 8:1-4 (ESV)

Which “saints” do you think Paul was taking about?

It sure looks like Paul was imploring, directing, even commanding the Gentile churches in the diaspora to take up a collection to be used as a donation to the poor among the Apostolic community in Jerusalem, even from the poor among the Gentile churches.

poor-israel2I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, I’m trying to inspire some life in the one we have, but the one we often ignore, most likely through ignorance. I said just yesterday that we translate and interpret the Bible based on our traditions and theologies. The obligation of the Christian church to support the poor among Israel has fallen through the cracks of our creaky theology for nearly twenty centuries. It’s time to fix the floorboards, firm up the foundation, and take back the responsibility that we were given by the first Apostles and the men who walked with Christ.

This does not absolve us of our responsibility to the poor of the nations, the poor of our country, our city, within our neighborhoods and our own churches. But it opens the door in our lives and in our spirits to remember Jerusalem, to remember Israel, and God’s special covenant people, our mentors, and the root of our salvation.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

Psalm 137:5-6 (ESV)

If you’re hard pressed to know where to begin, then consider visiting meirpanim.net, colelchabad.org, or chevrahumanitarian.org. That’s just for starters.