Tag Archives: vaeira

Va’eira: Is This Egypt?

hebrew_slaves_egyptSay, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians.

Exodus 6:6-7 (JPS Tanakh)

G‑d reveals Himself to Moses. Employing the “four expressions of redemption,” He promises to take out the Children of Israel from Egypt, deliver them from their enslavement, redeem them, and acquire them as His own chosen people at Mount Sinai; He will then bring them to the land He promised to the Patriarchs as their eternal heritage.

from “Va’eira in a Nutshell”
Commentary on Torah Portion “Va’eira

I had coffee with a friend after work on Wednesday. We see each other irregularly these days, but our conversations are always good. The main reason we met was because he wanted to borrow my copy of Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile. This, of course, was also one of the primary topics of our talk as I sipped my coffee and he sampled his tea.

One of the things I value about our relationship is that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. We never argue and conversations never become heated, but we do see things from different points of view. I think he’s interested if not intrigued about my return to church (although this could be projection on my part) and he struggles with the implications of going back into the church after having been “redeemed” from it. It’s an interesting metaphor.

In our discussion, he likened leaving the church to the Children of Israel leaving Egypt. It’s not a complementary picture of the church that he’s painting, but it’s one that I’ve encountered on numerous occasions during my sojourn in the Hebrew Roots movement. Egypt represents nothing good spiritually and morally and leaving Egypt is always seen as a positive action on the part of God toward the Israelites. But can non-Jewish believers leaving the church be seen in the same way? If the church equals Egypt, torment, and slavery, and being released from all that means coming closer to God, then when a Christian leaves church, where do they (we) go that is better and what do they (we) do when they get there?

Let’s back up a minute. In Judaism the process of God rescuing the ancient Hebrews from their slave status in Egypt and bringing them to Himself at Sinai involves what is called the “four expressions of redemption” based on the above-quoted Exodus 6:6-7. But what are these four expressions and what do they mean?

According to the Ask the Rabbi column at Ohr Somayach, they are:

  1. “I will take you out from under Egypt’s burdens – Vehotzeiti
  2. “And I will save you from their servitude – Vehitzalti
  3. “And I will redeem you – Vega’alti
  4. “And I will take you as My nation – Velakachti

This is actually a commentary on the four cups we see during a traditional Passover seder. The Ohr Somayach Rabbi further states:

We didn’t go from a slave nation to being the Chosen People at Mount Sinai overnight. There were different stages of redemption. The above phrases described these different stages. Each cup of wine represents one of these levels.

leaving_egyptThat’s fine as far as it goes, but to me, it’s not very revealing, especially if we are trying to compare these four expressions to how we might view a non-Jewish Christian leaving the church (which is being equated to Egypt).

OU.org expands on the meaning of the four expressions thus:

According to R. Bachya (Spain, 1263-1340), the explanations of the Four Expressions are as follows:

  1. “I will take you out” – Hashem would remove the slavery even before the Jews left Egypt, from all the Tribes of Israel, because of the growing perception by Egypt of Hashem, the G-d of Israel, as the One Almighty G-d.
  2. “I shall save you” – Hashem would take the Jews out of Egypt with plagues visited upon the Egyptians, their Pharaoh and their gods, “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.”
  3. “I shall redeem you” – Hashem would perform the miracle of “Kriat Yam Suf,” the Splitting of the waters of the “Yam Suf,” and the creation of a dry path for the Children of Israel to walk upon as they crossed the Sea of Reeds. Then Hashem caused the piled-high waters to descend in a tidal wave upon the Egyptian Army, to permanently crush the World-dominating power of Egypt.
  4. “I shall take you” – Hashem took the Jewish People to Himself as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. This was the spiritual component of the Redemption from Egypt. In fact, the spiritual Redemption was the Reason for the Physical Redemption.

The fifth expression, “I shall bring you to the land,” refers, of course, to the Land of Israel…

I must admit, I’m having a tough time mapping what I’ve been quoting from above to any image of why Christians should leave the church and where they are supposed to go. On the other hand, I’m kind of biased and truth be told, it wasn’t that many years ago that I might have accepted my friend’s metaphor relative to the Hebrew Roots movement.

But consider this. If Hebrew Roots is supposed to be the “Sinai” for Christians leaving the church, is it an attainable goal and is it right and accurate to say the church is Egypt in a spiritual (or any other) sense?

The Christians who, throughout the ages, have propagated this message and tried to soothe the hurting, feed the hungry, and speak to social injustice have been keeping the weightier matters of the Torah. Both Yeshua (Mark 12:31) and the Sages (Rabbi Hillel in b.Shabbat 31a and Rabbi Akiva in Sifra, Kedoshim 4:12) taught that love of neighbor is the essence of Torah. These are non-trivial accomplishments which speak to the robust, biblical ethical system which many devout Christians have embraced.

-Boaz Michael
“Chapter One: The Church is Good,” pg 49
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile

You’ll have to read all of Boaz’s book to get the full flavor of why the church is good, but I believe he paints a very convincing picture of the modern “body of Christ” as it lives and breathes within the multitude of churches in our communities and around the world. Even today in the lives of people I know, Christians are doing wonderful acts of kindness in the name and spirit of Messiah.

We are seriously getting love aimed at us by a little church nearby. Out of the blue, the pastor had contacted me wanting to know if some of their members could do anything for us and he wouldn’t take no for an answer unless it really was no.

Today some amazingly nice folks showed up and hauled off to the dump our junk too big for our own vehicle, in one of the guy’s large truck.

Meanwhile, the ladies scoot in to do some cleaning while visiting with Heidi.

And meanwhile another great guy is walking me around our deck, explaining to me how he is going to prep the bannister and then paint it for us.

And they’re coming back tomorrow!

-Joe Hendricks

I originally quoted Joe in a blog I published last June. Sadly, since that time, Joe’s wife Heidi passed on, but the church he mentions continues to be a support in his life as he grieves and as he yet looks to the future by the grace of Christ.

afraid-of-churchThe church isn’t perfect. In fact, It’s taken quite awhile for me to overcome my own misgivings about going back to church (which can be reviewed in all their glorious details in my recent “Days” series, which culminated at Day Zero). In fact, I still periodically have to review Pastor Jacob Fronczak’s blog post Why I Go to Church to remind myself that a community can be imperfect and still be the will of God for the good.

So if the church isn’t Egypt, then do we have to be delivered from it? Is there someplace better to go to and what do we call it?

I can’t answer for every person out there who has once been in the church and, for whatever reasons, left it, either for some other religious organization or to pursue God as a solidary individual or family. I can only speak for myself and how I express my evolving understanding of God’s will for my life.

I don’t think we can get back to the “root” of our faith. I know that’s disappointing and maybe some of you disagree with me, but hear me out. At some point about 2,000 years ago, a sect  called “the Way” rose among the other movements in Judaism in the late Second Temple period. The Jewish disciples were devoted to a “dead Rebbe” rather than a living teacher, one who they said not only died, but rose again. He is the Mashiach, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16), who sits at the right hand of the Father (Psalm 16:8, Psalm 110:1, Acts 2:33), and who is the High Priest in the Court of Heaven (Hebrews 4:14).

The “Christianity” of that moment in history was a wholly Jewish religious movement and it co-existed with numerous other Jewish movements in Roman occupied “Palestine” in those days. Acts 10 shows the first non-Jew who came into discipleship under Messiah within this sect without converting to Judaism, and the “ministry” of Paul, who as an emissary to the Gentiles, preached a Gospel not given by men but by Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12). As more and more Gentiles in the diaspora began to hear the “good news” of the Jewish Messiah and apply it to their lives, slowly the Gentiles and Jews within the “Jesus movement” began to trace somewhat divergent trajectories. Those slight deviations in trajectory would later lead them on completely different paths through the progression of history, and for centuries now, they have both identified themselves as two completely different religions that once shared a common point.

Should Christians seek to leave the church and travel backward across the timeline, trying to recapture whatever idealized or “perfected” Christianity that may (or may not) have existed somewhere around the mid 40s CE? Is it even possible?

Or does the path that God has set before us lead forward into the future…a future that will summon the risen Messiah to come out of the sky in the clouds (Revelation 1:7), who will redeem his people Israel, and who will also gather his disciples from the nations? If this future-oriented path is the true one, then perhaps there is no “perfect Christianity” to go back into upon “leaving the church.” Regardless of whatever Christian or Jewish worship venue to which you are attached (including any form of Hebrew Roots or Messianic Judaism), chances are, you don’t belong to a perfect community. Chances are people in your congregation make mistakes. Chances are, when scrutinized by the King of All Glory, your theology may not be absolutely and totally 100% “kosher.”

Chances are, there is no perfect church, synagogue, community, or congregation for you or for any of us to join upon leaving “church.” Face it. All congregations that involve human beings and human relationships are “messy.” We have to start with where we are, not where we’d like to be.

Yes, the church could be improved. That’s the other very valuable (to me) chapter in Boaz’s book, “Chapter 2: The Church Needs to Change.” Frankly, we could also probably say, relative to God’s perfect understanding, that the synagogue needs to change as well. A better way to say it is that we all need to change, to be better, to draw nearer to God, to refine our understanding of who He is and who we are in Him, Jew and Christian alike. We travel upon our divergent trajectories but we have one Shepherd and one King, and God is One. Not that our ultimate unity under Him as His “peoples” means uniformity, but it does mean unity of devotion and fealty.

The Messiah will come. He will return Israel to its place as the head of all the nations, rebuild the Temple, defeat evil, and establish a reign of peace and tranquility for all peoples of the earth. All the Jewish people will be gathered unto him in their nation Israel, and we believers who reside across the four corners of the Earth will bow our knees to him and call him Lord over all (Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10). That is our future.

But we’re not there yet.

two-roads-joinWe have to start where we are. If we are non-Jewish Christians in church, we should stay in church. We should bring our understanding of the Jewish Messiah King to where we are, not remove it from our fellow believers and hoard it for ourselves. If we are Gentiles in a Messianic community, then we should stay there (though there may be exceptions who will also attend a church) and use other platforms for communicating our understanding to the Christians we know or will come to know (compare to 1 Corinthians 7:18). For myself, I go to church not to change anything but to encounter God and His purpose for me, whatever it may be.

We may not always see the good in the church but it’s there. We may not see it because when we were introduced to the Hebrew Roots movement (for those of you reading this who are or were involved in Hebrew Roots), we were told the “church is Egypt.” However, if it’s been awhile since you’ve taken a look at the church, at the Christians in your community, at the believers you work with, live near, and consider friends, maybe it’s time you took another look. There are indeed two paths involved, but they’re not the two you have been imagining.

There are two paths:

One: Everything is for the good. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually good will come out from it.

The other: Everything is truly good—because there is nothing else but He who is Good. It’s just a matter of holding firm a little longer, unperturbed by the phantoms of our limited vision, unimpressed by the paper tiger that calls itself a world, and eventually we will be granted a heart to understand and eyes to see.

Eventually, it will become obvious good in our world as well.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Believing in G-d”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

To modify Rabbi Freeman’s commentary slightly, everything we encounter is for the good, and eventually good will be demonstrated by the church. We must be patient and help as we can. Also, everything in church is truly good because nothing else exists in our world but God who is Good (Mark 10:18). It’s just a matter of us holding on a little longer where we are, not allowing our limited vision of how we see Christianity to limit God’s work in the church.

Eventually, the good of God and of the body of Christ in our world will become obvious to us as the time for the return of our Master draws near.

Good Shabbos.

Missing Author

empty-bibleWho wrote the Torah? Most people you ask — depending on your circle of friends — will answer, “A group of very wise men got together and wrote it.” For the past 3,300 years the Jewish people have lived with the consciousness that the Almighty dictated the Torah to Moses who wrote it down word for word, letter by letter. Every Torah-educated Orthodox Jew believes that. Are they fools, fantasizers, misguided religious fanatics?

It will surprise some people to know that for the past 3,300 the Jewish people have taught their children the evidence for the belief that there is a God and that He dictated the Torah to Moses. Actually, I am sure that for the first hundred or two hundred years after the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai the authorship of the Torah was not even a question. For generations all a Jewish child had to do was to ask his father if he was at Mt. Sinai or if his father or grandfather was there. Even Moses himself tells all generations to “Go and ask … has a people ever heard the voice of God speaking … as you have heard and survived?” (Deuteronomy 4:32-35).

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vaeira

This post may trouble some readers. It really shouldn’t. Religious leaders in some circles have sought to suppress the overwhelming evidence that something like the Documentary Hypothesis is true. Attacks against this idea usually claim that those who believe this theory simply disbelieve God. Such attacks also tend to refer to Julius Wellhausen and his views, which actually do not represent what is essential about the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis (DH) has many forms and is better known as JEDP. In my opinion, the best developed understanding of the DH is found in Richard Friedman’s work, including the very readable Who Wrote the Bible? (which was a bestseller).

-Derek Leman
“Exodus 6:2-3 and the Documentary Hypothesis”
Messianic Jewish Musings

I haven’t revisited this topic in a long time and even after I read Derek’s blog post, I was determined not to regurgitate it again from the murky depths so that it could come back up into the cold light of day. Then I read Rabbi Packouz and I was reminded that there is a fair distance between the stories we tell ourselves about the Bible and the story that the Bible tells us about itself (I know these gentlemen are specifically discussing the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, but I’m choosing to expand the discussion to the Bible as a whole).

I don’t mean the story the Bible tells in the actual text, but the history and evolution of the creation of the Bible as we have it today. I’m no scholar, but even I’ve read enough to realize that the Bible has lots and lots of warts, bruises, wrinkles, and other imperfections. No reliable and trustworthy Bible scholar would suggest that God literally dictated the Bible word-for-word to its various human authors.

So where is God in the Bible? No I don’t mean where is God mentioned, but is there anything of God in the actual composition of the Bible? Or is the Bible just the stories we tell ourselves about it? Frankly, we have told ourselves some pretty interesting stories about the Bible.

One way to establish and support an acceptance of Talmudic interpretation and judgment relative to Torah for post-Second Temple Judaism is to project the values and even the “reality” of Talmud (and later, Kabbalah) not only forward in time but backward. Peering at the Patriarchs through this lens, we can indeed “see” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob studying Torah and Talmud in the study house of Shem when by historical knowledge and a plain reading of the Torah, such events seem very unlikely to have actually taken place.

-from my blog post:
The Rabbinization of Abraham

study-in-the-darkI periodically wrestle with this issue. Back on my previous blog, I wrote such articles as Reading the Bible in the Dark, The Bible is a Mystery Novel, and Who to Believe. I manage to “tame” the questions and conundrums by reading the Bible as if it were a series of Chassidic, or in my case, Messianic Tales. Maybe that’s the only way to make sense of the Bible, and especially the Gospels.

He read the Gospels in German. Then he obtained a Hebrew version and reread them. Though he was in the midst of a Gentile, Christian city where Jesus was worshiped in churches and honored in every home, Feivel felt the Gospels belonged more to him and the Chasidic world than they did to the Gentiles who revered them. He found the Gospels to be thoroughly Jewish and conceptually similar to Chasidic Judaism. He wondered how Gentile Christians could hope to comprehend Yeshua (Jesus) and His words without the benefit of a classical Jewish education or experience with the esoteric works of the Chasidim.

Taken from Jorge Quinonez:
“Paul Philip Levertoff: Pioneering Hebrew-Christian Scholar and Leader”
Mishkan 37 (2002): 21-34
as quoted from Love and the Messianic Age

But this presents a problem. During last Sunday’s sermon, Pastor said (I don’t have my notes with me, so what I’m about to write isn’t an entirely accurate quote) that the only way to show an unbeliever how to encounter God and come to faith in the Father through Jesus Christ is by reading and using scripture.

Um…whoa. Waitaminute.

Given everything I’ve said above, plus Derek’s commentary, plus just a boatload of Biblical scholars , scripture is not and cannot be the literally dictated words of the God of Heaven as whispered into the little, shell-like ears of the prophets and other writers of the books of the Bible.

In fact, I’m hard-pressed to tell you what the Bible is and who actually wrote it. Even portions of the New Testament weren’t in all likelihood, written by the people whose names are attached to them. Not all of the epistles written by Paul? Probably not. Did the Apostle John who (supposedly) wrote the Gospel of John also write Revelation?

Once you stop taking the Bible for granted, a lot of new territory opens up in front of you…in front of me.

In defense of the Bible (the Torah actually), Rabbi Packouz has this to say:

Perhaps the most powerful example is Shmitah (the Sabbatical year for the land). Modern agriculture science has taught us the value of letting the land rest and replenish itself. A sensible law would be to divide the Land of Israel into 7 regions and each year let one region lie fallow while people eat from the crops of the other 6 regions. However, that’s not the law of the Torah! The Torah writes, “For six years you may plant your fields … but the seventh year is the Sabbath of the land in which you may not plant your fields nor prune your vineyards (Leviticus 25:36).

The WHOLE land is to rest all at the same time! What happens to an agrarian society that stops farming for one year? Starvation! And how long does a religion last that advocates letting the whole land rest in the 7th year? My guess … about 6 years!

Perhaps they could avoid starvation by buying food from surrounding countries? A good idea and a reasonable idea … but the Torah has other plans. The Almighty says, “I have commanded My blessing to you in the sixth year and you will have produce for three years” (Leviticus 25:20-22).

Either one has to be God to have the “audacity” to make a law for the whole land to rest and then to promise a bounty crop 3 times as large as usual in the sixth year — or a stark raving mad lunatic!

Yet, the Jewish people neither starved nor abandoned the Torah! 3,300 years later a sizable portion of our people still adhere to the laws of Torah and still trust in the promises of the Almighty!

How could any human being promise in writing something that requires powers totally beyond his control?

And furthermore, why would anyone be willing to risk his own credibility and the legitimacy of his religion, when it would be easier to present a more rational solution and avoid the credibility issues.

Going to GodCan we accept that somewhere in the pages of the Bible we might actually be able to encounter the Divine? If so, where and how (apart from Shmitah)? If we can’t take the Bible as literally, page-by-page, the Word of God, then what do we consider it? If God is in there somewhere, then is it an intellectual and scholarly race to discover the secret location of the well of God’s Spirit?

Derek Leman seems to think that it’s possible to have a very questioning view of the Bible and yet still have faith:

People get from their religious background the idea that “Moses wrote all” or “Moses wrote almost all” of the Torah. For example, people will say “Moses wrote Genesis.”

This is complicated by things like Yeshua referring to “Moses and the prophets.” People take this to mean that Yeshua, who they suppose was omniscient during his earthly sojourn (but he was not) affirmed that Moses wrote all of Gen-Deut. He did not. His references to Moses actually writing all concern commandments, not narratives. With Moses as the originator of the commandments (or original vessel through whom they were revealed), all the five books are called “of Moses” but this need not mean authorship.

Anyway, because some of the earliest people to doubt Moses as the final author of Torah were skeptics, it is common for people to think anyone with a more complicated view than “Moses wrote it” are doing so because of a small faith or a lack of faith or a dislike of faith.

But I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation of how other people do it. I only have how I do it and my “method” requires usually suspending disbelief for the sake of faith. I have encountered God before, so in an extraordinarily subjective way, I know He is real, He is alive, and He is God. I’m not going through the crisis of faith I had when I first faced this particular realization, but I do allow myself to periodically become aware of just how fragile a knowledge of God is if based solely on the Bible. On the other hand (and I’ve alluded to this already), basing knowledge of God solely on our experiences with the Holy Spirit can be just as hazardous, because most human beings have very little ability to tell the difference between an emotional experience and a spiritual one (barring the occasional saint or tzaddik).

I may not be able to take everything I read in the Bible and everything that Christianity and Judaism says about those events as actual, factual events (though some of them probably are), but I can still take what I read and what I study and try to apply them so that I can learn to live a better life.

The Patriarch Abraham was tested (by God) ten times and withstood them all. This proves Abraham’s great love for God.

-Ethics of the Fathers 5:3

Abraham was tested with ten trials of progressively increasing severity, ultimately culminating in the test of sacrificing his beloved son Isaac if God so willed.

Abraham successfully passed all the tests. Still, while he did demonstrate his intense loyalty and devotion to God, how did it prove his love for God?

In yesterday’s message we learned that God does not challenge people beyond their capacities. It follows, then, that as they advance in spiritual growth and strength, they actually render themselves vulnerable to trials of greater intensity. In the course of his many trials, Abraham detected this pattern. He could have logically decided to avoid any further spiritual progression, because it might subject him to even greater ordeals than those he had already sustained.

Abraham decided otherwise. He desired so much to come closer to God that he was willing to pay any price. Thus, when he was put to the ultimate task – to sacrifice Isaac – Abraham was not taken aback. He had fully anticipated such an eventuality.

We are not of the mettle of Abraham, and we pray every day, “Do not put us to test.” While we indeed wish to advance spiritually, we ask to be spared the distress of trial. Yet, should we experience adversity in life, we would do well to realize that this may be a testimony to our spiritual strength.

looking-upToday I shall…

try to advance myself spiritually. Although I pray to be spared from distress, I will try not to recoil if adversity does occur.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 26”

Thomas Gray once penned the famous words, “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise” (in the poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” 1742). I suppose many “Bible-believing Christians” feel very blissful as long as they don’t consider the rather troubling questions I’m bringing up this morning. On the other hand, once the “bliss bubble” is popped, then we can only face the painful trial of reality, if not the wisdom, of whatever we have left.

Chances are, Abraham never faced the ten challenges, at least as we see chronicled in Pirkei Avot (but not the Bible). Chances are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never studied Torah in the academies of Shem and Eber as we learn from the Talmud. Maybe the only place we really encounter God is in our prayers. Or maybe we encounter God everyday, as long as we continue to seek Him.

According to Gedaliah Nigal’s book The Hasidic Tale, some of the goals of the hasidic story are to “rouse its hearers into action for the service of God” and to win “adherents, among them some outstanding individuals, to hasidim.” In relation to this, I’ve said:

The “Chasidim” of Jesus also made sure the stories of their Master were passed on from generation to generation, eventually being recorded and passed on to the future…to us.

Paul Philip Levertoff thought that the teachings of Jesus read like a collection of Chasdic tales. Perhaps as Gentile Christians reading tales of the Chasidim, we can also find a connection to the Messiah, the Prophet, and the greatest Tzadik, whose own death atoned for not just a few, but for all.

Having gone through all this again, I feel reassured.