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The Undiscovered Continent of God


All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NRSV)

Wisdom that can only be accessed by the angels or by enlightened sages is limited wisdom. Torah is said to be G-d’s wisdom and as such must be boundless. Just as G-d is everywhere and in all things, while at the same time entirely transcendent of all things, so His wisdom must be a wisdom that is equally accessible to a five-year-old child as to a great scholar–as long as there is a mind there to receive. Stories about two brothers fighting, rules about splitting an article of disputed ownership–these are simple matters that everyone can relate to. And yet, in the way Torah deals with them, you can find a well of infinite wisdom.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“G-d in the Talmud”

This will probably get me in a lot of trouble, but I’ve been thinking about part of the conversation Pastor Randy and I had last Wednesday night. We had gotten together to discuss chapters 6 and 7 of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, but one discussion inspiring comment in this book often sends Pastor Randy and I down unanticipated trails.

We were talking about the “nature” of the Bible. Pastor Randy is a self-proclaimed literalist and rests the core of his understanding of the Bible on being able to read the text in its original languages, factoring in the context, history, and “personhood” of the writing and the writer. On that level, you should be able to understand 100% of the Bible’s content as long as you have a sufficient background in the ancient languages, cultures, histories, and in some cases, biographies involved in the authoring of the various books and chapters.

But we both acknowledge that it doesn’t seem to work out that way. While some parts of the Bible seem to be understood in the same manner by most people, others elicit wild disagreements, sometimes even by people within the same church, let alone between different Christian churches, between different denominations, and certainly between Christianity and Judaism.

The other part that came up, as noted by Rabbi Freeman above, is that the Bible can be accessed on a variety of conceptual levels, from that of a five-year old child, to an aged, wise, and highly educated scholar. Pastor and I agreed that the Bible contains “depths” such that we can continue to explore forever and we will never comprehend all that there is this side of the Messiah.

I tried to introduce the idea that there might be a “mystic” side to all this built into the Bible itself but that statement came into conflict with Pastor Randy’s view of the Bible as an “object” that God deliberately caused to be written in human languages by human beings. In other words, God wants us to understand the Bible as a revelation…

…doesn’t He?

In my opinion, yes and no.

An atheist can look at the Bible and compare it with other religious, mystical, and philosophical texts. The Bible is sometimes studied in universities as literature rather than as a sacred text. If only viewed at the level of an object containing words on paper, it should be ultimately knowable, and if it wasn’t uniquely inspired by God, it should be ultimately known. After almost two-thousand years of intense study, you’d think we’d have the Bible pretty much “mapped” by now.

mariana_trench_edgepointExcept we don’t. We haven’t reached the “limits” of the Bible. In plumbing its depths, we haven’t reached the bottom of its Mariana Trench. Those people who feel there’s nothing left to learn from the Bible either gave up too soon or they are choosing not to take the Bible seriously and meet it at where the Bible “lives.”

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:1-5

God spoke and the world was, and yet that spoken word is somehow also the living Messiah and if every word in what we call “the Bible” is also God-breathed, then the Bible we hold in our hands, though it is a printed book, is also something much more. So what do we find in the Bible when we actually try to read and understand what God is trying to tell us and how do we find the deeper message?

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

John 14:26

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:12-16

explorerWe seem to require a unique set of tools beyond the usual hermeneutics, at least if we want to get past a certain level of comprehending the Bible. We actually seems to require some spirit-breathed help, since the Bible is as much a spiritual entity as it is a physical document. Perhaps those depths I’ve been discussing cannot be understood or even discovered without a competent guide, much like Indiana Jones following an ancient map in order to find an even more ancient and elusive treasure.

Or as Rabbi Freeman writes:

Similarly, Torah is not just about “what G-d thinks about” but also about “how to think like G-d.” G-d can choose to think about whatever He wishes to think about. The issue is not the subject but its treatment. That’s why Torah learning, as distinct from typical academic studies, is much more about process than about content. More about “how you got there” and less about “where you got to.”

Certain streams of Judaism have no problem at all understanding the Torah as associated with and even equivalent to God’s own wisdom and thoughts, not just the content of His mind, but the process of God’s thinking. And didn’t Paul say “we have the mind of Christ?”

Almost a month ago, I said that the Bible is water, but from a Chasidic point of view, this is more true than you might think:

When the sages compared the Torah to water, Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains, they had this quality in mind: Just as water descends from the highest place to the lowest without change, so the Torah descends from its place in the highest realms to become invested in mundane, material issues so that every person can grasp it–without any essential change in that wisdom.

It is true that God wants us to know Him from the Bible, but that may be a greater truth than we realize. The Bible is designed to be accessible and knowable to just about anyone, and yet it is not so knowable that it can ever completely be known, even by the greatest sage or scholar in any tradition across the vast span of human history.

The Bible is at once a book that can be read in its simplicity and an amazingly vast and unknown continent that has never been visited by people before. And it is all good, it is all very good.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11 (ESV)

But as accessible as the Bible is supposed to be to anyone and everyone, beyond a certain point, it’s best not to “go it alone.” When exploring unknown or uncertain territory, in addition to a map, it never hurts to have one or more experienced guides.

I’m convinced that it is the viewpoints of men like Paul Philip Levertoff and their uniquely Jewish view of the teachings of Messiah that will help open up the unknown continent to us. It is true that said “lost continent” will never be completely known, but it is completely knowable, and that is the challenge is before us (I’m hardly discounting the Spirit of God as our guide, but scholars and theologians are also men of the Spirit who can teach us).

Everlasting-JewI heard Daniel Lancaster recently say that we must examine the New Testament within its native environment: Judaism. In the case of most Christians, I don’t think it would hurt to have a guide who is Jewish and who knows the lay of the land.

It’s books like Levertoff’s Love and the Messianic Age and its accompanying commentary, as well as the soon to be released The Everlasting Jew by Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein that will be our traveling companions.

Ultimately the Spirit of God and the mind of Messiah will be our guides but we are the explorers. We are the men and women putting on our expedition hats or strapping on an Aqualung to our backs, getting ready to stride into the antediluvian forests or dive into the prehistoric oceans in search of secrets that have only been whispered since the Spirit of the Word moved over those waters who knows how long ago.

Looking at the Bible as a book with words and language and history and context makes it approachable by human beings and thus not so intimidating. Looking at the Bible like mystery novel and mysticism helps us realize how far beyond humanity is the wisdom and words of an infinite God.

This is only the beginning of the adventure.

Tent of David: Returning to Faith

TeshuvahFirst, the Christian church has forgotten that Jesus was and is a practicing Jew. Second, Christians have forgotten the centrality of Israel in God’s plan to redeem the world and her continued covenant status as God’s chosen people. Third, Christianity has an extremely low view of the Torah itself and the commandments God gave to the Jewish people. Fourth, the Christian gospel message, having replaced the broad and majestic vision of the kingdom of heaven with a knowledge-based individualistic salvation, has been emptied of its power.

-Boaz Michael
Chapter 2: The Church Needs to Change (pg 61)
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile

If anything in the above-quoted paragraph shocked you as a Christian, then you probably need to get a copy of Boaz’s book and read it all the way through. However, I’m not writing this “meditation” today to shock you, but to remind you of something.

One of the objections I hear about “going to church” from believers who are not church-goers is that the church gives a whitewashed, “feel good” message, that doesn’t communicate the reality of the Bible, sin, and salvation. That may be true in other churches but it wasn’t in the one I attended last Sunday. It was anything but “whitewashed, feel-good.” The quote I opened this “meditation” with is part of that message. The message is that just because you believe, you may not have a terrifically realistic grip on the consequences of your belief. If you call yourself a Christian or a believer, but still can violate the Word of God with no feelings of guilt, anguish, or remorse, what you have may not even be what is called “faith.” Believing isn’t enough.

-from Day Zero

I mentioned in my last “church report” blog that Pastor Randy delivered anything but a “feel good” sermon about Christians and salvation. In fact, he was very pointed that “just believing” was not enough. We have to remember who Christ is and who we are in him and above all, why he had to die.

Interestingly enough, Boaz’s point about the Christian gospel message being emptied of its power seems to connect quite well to the Pastor’s sermon. Boaz continues.

Yeshua (Jesus) surely preached the gospel; his message – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – is just as much “the gospel” today as it was two thousand years ago. When Peter adjured the crowds after the coming of the Spirit on Shavuoat in Acts 2:38-39, his message was not “believe in Jesus; go to heaven.” It was “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

-Michael, pg 87

Admittedly, Peter was delivering this message, the message of salvation, to a totally Jewish audience, and so there is no misunderstanding, let me verify that this message is for the “rest of us” who once were far off.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2:11-13 (ESV)

We non-Jews were also once “far off,” as Peter said, but now we too have been brought near thanks to the Messiah, the Christ.

But if Peter says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” what does that mean? Does it mean what you think it means?

That is the gospel message. Repent – change the way you live and your life and begin to obey the commandments of God. For the kingdom of heaven is at hand – you can, in some way, bring God’s rule down to earth through your actions; it is possible to “live now for the realization of this Messianic Age” (quoting Levertoff, “Love and the Messianic Age” (Marshfield, Mo: Vine of David, 2009), 32).

-Michael, pg 89

That’s probably not quite what Pastor Randy was getting at in his sermon last Sunday. Pastor was talking about people who have made an intellectual assertion that Jesus is Lord without ever incorporating that knowledge into an actual, lived faith…without any realization that Jesus died for my sins and that I have a personal responsibility to repent and beg for forgiveness.

awareness-of-godThat’s not the wrong thing to do of course, but looking at what Boaz is writing, salvation means more than just the saving of individual upon individual by giving out “go to heaven free” cards. The kingdom of heaven isn’t heaven, according to Boaz, and it has little to do with personal salvation as such, at least not as much as most of us were led to believe. Making a commitment of faith to God through Christ is an entire change of lifestyle in the here and now that has the power to change everything in the here and now. Salvation isn’t just the promise that we’ll go to heaven, it’s the promise that we’ll receive the power to, in some sense, bring heaven to earth.

As Boaz says, Yeshua didn’t simply teach “believe in me and go to heaven when you die.” If you read the Gospels carefully, you’ll see that he doesn’t really mention anything about what happens to you when you die. He mentions what happens to you when you live, if you repent and come to a true and saving faith.

The church needs to change, but not because the church is bad or that Christians are bad. The church needs to change because much of Christianity has taken the message of the Gospel and reduced it down to a simple “get saved” footnote and missed the larger point of what happens while we’re alive. No, it’s not a “works-based” salvation, but one of Pastor Randy’s scripture examples in last Sunday’s sermon was from James.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

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? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James 2:14-26 (ESV)

You cannot have a true and saving faith unless it has changed your life. If your every action does not conform to the message of James and you are not behaving in a manner that reflects faith, then you probably should ask yourself if you ever repented at all when you “confessed Christ.” And beyond the “generic” helping to repair the world, as I learned recently (and this is also echoed in Boaz’s book), when we are adjured to help the needy, we in the church have a special duty to assist the poor, the sick, and the needy of Israel as it is said:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, 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.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:34-46 (ESV)

sukkoth-feastI know I’ve said a lot of this before, but I want to illustrate that Boaz Michael’s book has a much broader scope than you may have gathered from my previous review. It’s not just directed at those non-Jewish “Messianic” believers who are in the church or who are contemplating returning to church…it’s a message for all believers everywhere who may not have a complete understanding of what the Gospel is trying to tell us.

This is a message about who we are, who we are in Christ, and most importantly, what to do with the rest of our lives. It’s not a message about packing our bags and getting ready for the trip to heaven, it’s about what we do as disciples of the Master and sons and daughters of the living God. Where do we find God? Why are we needed by other people? How do we inspire hope in the world around us and be a light in the darkness?

This is the kingdom of heaven being drawn near to us and to the people around us…by who we are in our faith.

Let It Rain Joy

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

Psalms 118:27

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

Succah 45b

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

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

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

Today I shall…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Paul Philip Levertoff
Love and the Messianic Age

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

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

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

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

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

James 1:2-4 (ESV)

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

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

And speaking of Sukkot:

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

Isaiah 12:3

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

Or has that question already been answered?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let it rain joy.

Shemini: Ordinary Miracles

These concepts are reflected in this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Shemini. Shemini means “the eighth.” It refers to the first of Nissan, the day on which the Sanctuary was established. It is called “the eighth day” because it was preceded by seven days of dedication, during which Moshe erected and took down the Sanctuary each day, and taught Aharon and his sons the order of sacrificial worship…The Torah relates (Leviticus 10:1-2) that they brought an unauthorized incense offering and as a result, “Fire came forth from G-d and consumed them.”

Many explanations are offered as to why the brothers were punished by death. From a mystical perspective, it is said (Or HaChayim, commenting on Leviticus 16:1) that they died because their souls soared to such heights that they could no longer remain in their bodies. Nevertheless, their conduct is judged unfavorably because their spiritual quest ran contrary to G-d’s intent in creation: the establishment of a dwelling for Himself amidst the day-to-day realities of our existence. (See Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai) Their deaths show that our spiritual quest should not be directed towards the attainment of lofty rapture, but instead should remain firmly grounded in our actual lives.

This theme is also reflected in the conclusion of the Torah reading, which focuses on kosher food. For the establishment of a dietary code indicates that Judaism’s conception of Divine service involves living within the world.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Transcendence and Immanence”
In the Garden of Torah”
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 973ff;
Vol. XVII, p. 92ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 475ff
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemini

All that walk on four… (11:21)

When Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch was a child of seven, he asked his father: Why does man walk upright, while animals walk on all fours? Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied: “This is a kindness from G-d to man: although man treads upon the material earth, he sees the sublime heaven. Not so those that crawl on four, who see only the mundane.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Rebbe’s New Clothes”
Once Upon a Chasid
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemini

I suppose I’m being unfair when I accuse Christianity of focusing on the Heavenly at the expense of the here-and-now. After all, Christians perform many wonderful services of charity and kindness to those around them and to those in far-flung corners of the world. But as I recall my past when I used to sit in a pew in a church sanctuary on Sunday morning, it seems as if a great deal of time was spent touting the advantages of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and that it’s all about “me and Jesus.” How many prayers have I heard offered up to the ceiling of the Sunday school classroom, asking for “a closer walk with thee” and thanking Jesus for the personal gift of grace and salvation?

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but now that our “ticket to Heaven” has been “punched,” so to speak, what are we supposed to do with the rest of our lives?

The commentaries I quoted from above may seem alien to most of you, but they do aptly illustrate the necessity of balancing the secular with the Divine. So many of the commandments given to the Israelites at Sinai were related to the world in which we live. There are commandments about food, commandments about clothing, commandments about marriage, commandments about farming, commandments about helping your neighbor, even if you don’t like him very much, commandments about…well, you get the idea.

Sure, there are also a lot of commandments about God, services of holiness, and acts of the Spirit, but there is an inseperable link between loving God and loving human beings (See Matthew 22:36-40). As far as I can tell, most or all of the commandments we see in the Torah that have to do with visiting the sick and feeding the hungry apply just as much to the Christian as they do to the Jew. That’s what I see in the Master’s teachings, anyway.

But many Christians still have this funny idea that we are only really serving God if we have some sort of formal “ministry” within the church, even as a lay teacher. Yet we see countless examples in the Bible of ordinary people who were devoted to God and who lived day-to-day lives that included acts of kindness and compassion to whomever they encountered who needed it.

Giving a jump start to the car of a guy who’s late for a job interview is just as holy as helping to build a new church on a mission trip to a foreign country. Where did we get the idea that we had to do something unusual and extraordinary; something way outside the normal boundries of our lives, in order to serve God and to obey the teachings of Jesus? As an “ordinary” person, you may be capable of committing more acts of holiness than even the greatest televangelist or Pastor of a “megachurch” you see on TV ( I suppose I’m employing more than a little tongue-in-cheek here).

And perhaps you are capable of even much greater miracles than these.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do… –John 14:12 (ESV)

Miracles, by the way, don’t always have to be violations of the laws of physics. Sometimes, offering a momentary smile to a person who looks sad, or helping a lost person find the right address can be a miracle as great as moving a mountain.

Reading the Bible, praying, meditating on the acts of God, and worshiping with your fellows are all absolutely necessary acts of holiness and they bring much joy to God and to your own heart. But they are no more or less vital than helping change a flat tire for someone, donating a can of soup to your local food bank, or spending time with a neighbor who is in the hospital after surgery.

Today (as I write this), I’m going to take my son to work, deliver a Bible and some other books to a Chaplin who is going to deliver them to a sick and elderly Jewish gentleman who has just discovered the Messiah in Yeshua, and spend some time over coffee studying the Word of God with a friend. I don’t say these things because I think it makes me a better or special person. I say them because I’m an ordinary person doing ordinary things. But the ordinary and the holy are all intermixed in everything we do. We have our feet on the ground, but our eyes turned to Heaven.

And of all the ordinary things you and I are going to do today, who knows which one of them is a miracle?

Whatever we “offer” to God and to human beings, let it be who we are and not some “strange fire” we think we need to burn with in our hearts. God made us perfect as the people we are meant to be.

Good Shabbos.

In Search of the Jewish Voice of Jesus

Kohen GadolThe Maharal, zt”l, explains the mechanics of idolatry. “Our sages teach that a Jew who gives charity on condition that his son recover from illness is a complete tzaddik. Conversely, charity given by a non-Jew on condition is meaningless. The gemara explains that even if the child does not recover, the Jew will not want his money back, but the non-Jew will want a refund. To understand why, we must delve into the reason why people worshiped idolatry. They desired to excel in something, be it war, love, or the like. Idolatry meant only acting in a way that they held strengthened their goal. It is no wonder that an average idolater who gave money on this condition would demand a refund if the child did not recover. He only gave charity as a fee in the hopes that his son will heal. If this didn’t provide excellent results, it was a waste of money from his perspective.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Dust of the Remains”
Chullin 125

By God’s divine providence, I “accidentally” took in my hand a New Testament, which for many long years I had left unnoticed in a hidden corner – a book which I had, in vexation, taken from a Jewish teacher thirty-three years before, in order that he might not read it.

I began to turn over its leaves and to read.

-Rabbi Ignatz (Isaac) Lichtenstein (1824-1909)
District Rabbi of Tapioszele, Hungry
As quoted in Messiah Journal, Issue 108/Fall 2011
“A Christian’s Guide to the DHE”

Let’s say you are a Christian who has an interest in Judaism, as it is the source of your faith. Strange, I know, but let’s pretend. Let’s say that, out of your interest and curiosity, you have taken to reading the traditional weekly Torah Portions which are recited each Shabbat in every Jewish synagogue in the world. You may even read some of the Jewish commentaries on these readings and, as time passes, you may discover yourself picking up on the rhythm of Jewish thinking and start seeing the “Old Testament” through new and illuminated eyes.

Then you return to reading the New Testament. By now, you are very familiar with the teachings of Jesus and the letters of Paul. Strangely, they seem a little stale to you. This is not because Christ is stale and not even because your faith is beginning to become a little tired, but because you cannot detect what most assuredly was a Jewish voice coming from the “Son of Man”, the offspring of Miriam (Mary), a late Second Temple period Jewish virgin who had an extraordinary encounter with an angel one day (Luke 1:26-38). When you read the Gospels and the Epistles, you hear the voice of your Gentile Christian Sunday school teacher and your Gentile Christian church Pastor. These are very good and kind men and you value their service to the faith very much.

But something is missing.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gavri’el to the Galil, to a certain town named Netzeret, to a virgin who was betrothed to a man named Yosef from the house of David. The virgin’s name was Miryam. The angel entered the room and said to her, ‘Shalom to you, gracious woman! HaShem is with you! {You are blessed among women.}” {When she saw him,} she was alarmed by his statement and said in her heart, “What is this brachah?” The angel said,

Do not fear, Miryam, because you have found favor before God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you shall name him Yeshua. He will be great, and he will be called the son of the Highest. HaShem, God, will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Ya’akov forever. There will be no end to his kingdom.

Miryam said to the angel, “How can this be? I have not known a man.” The angel answered and said to her,

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Therefore, the one that is born will be called holy – the son of God. Look! Your relative Elisheva, whom people have called barren, is also pregnant and will bear a son in her old age. This is her sixth month. For nothing is perplexing to God.

Miryam said, “I am the maidservant of HaShem. Let it be for me according to your word.” And the angel left her. –Luke 1:26-38 (DHE Gospels)

Is that more like it? No, it’s not an English Bible with a couple of “Hebrewisms” thrown in to make it sound “Jewish”. It’s much more than that.

In 1873 the British and Foreign Bible Society commissioned Franz Delitzsch to prepare a translation of the New Testament into Hebrew. Delitzsch agreed and set to work utilizing his extensive knowledge of mishnaic Hebrew and first century Judaism to create a translation and reconstruction of the Greek text back into an original Hebrew voice. His reconstructing translation was completed in 1877. After the first edition, it went through extensive review and revision for the next 13 years. The final edition was published in 1890 under the care and supervision of Gustav Dalman. Sixty thousand copies were distributed for free throughout Europe resulting in tens of thousands of Jewish people coming to know Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel.

Those Jewish believers and their influences are the very embers that have ignited this modern day hope and revival.

Since that time the Delitzsch NT has continued its good work through a series of reprints by various missions to the Jews. It is our honor to work alongside this great man of God and bring all of his wisdom, scholarship and vision to today’s people of God in a fresh and relevant way. We pray that it will allow even more Jewish people to engage in the life giving words of Yeshua.

From the introduction to the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels
by Vine of David

This Bible, which has been faithfully reproduced by Vine of David and enhanced with many new features isn’t meant to be the perfect English translation of the Gospels. Originally, it was the testamony of the writers of the Gospels, reconstructed back into its original Hebrew “voice” so that the words of Jesus (Yeshua) could be more clearly perceived by 19th (and now 21st) century Jews. This isn’t an easy task because, as you read in the prior quote from Daf Yomi Digest, matters related to non-Jewish worship are not considered to operate on the same level as observant Jewish piety. On the other hand, you also read words from the heart of a 19th century Rabbi who, accessing no special edition of the New Testament, nevertheless found the Jewish Messiah. To continue reading from Rabbi Lichtenstein:

An accomplished lady who was conversing with me exclaimed, when her arguments had all been met, “He is everything great, everything noble, if only he were not called Jesus Christ.”

Ironically, the name revered by Christians across 2,000 years is, for good reason, feared and reviled throughout Judaism and it is that name, not who he is or what he teaches, that separates the great “Maggid of Netzeret” from the vast majority of his people, the Jews, in today’s modern world. Rabbi Lichtenstein describes his own perceptions in this area:

As impressions of early life take a deep hold, and as in my riper years I still had no cause to modify these impressions, it is no wonder that I came to think that Christ himself was the plague and curse of the Jews, the origin and promoter of our sorrows and persecutions. In this conviction, I grew to years of manhood, and still cherishing it, I became old. I knew no difference between true and merely nominal Christianity. Of the fountainhead of Christianity itself, I knew nothing.

Most Jews come to know Christianity not from Christ but from his followers, both those in the here and now, and those who have cursed, harrassed, persecuted, and killed the Jewish people for hundreds upon hundreds of years. It is a miracle of God that even a single Jew in all that time, and to this very day, has ever come to faith in Jesus and called himself a disciple of the Master. Certainly Rabbi Ignatz Lichtenstein was the beneficiary of one such miracle in 1884 when he become enthralled with the New Testament and devoted his life to being a disciple of Yeshua.

But what about you, “hypothetical” Christian, who longs to also hear the Jewish voice of Jesus? If now there exists an edition of the Gospels that will allow you to hear Jesus as less evangelical Christian and more Jewish Rabbi, why should you desire to hear words that were written for a Jew? The article “A Christian’s Guide to the DHE” in Messiah Journal addresses your concerns.

Reading the DHE is important for Christians because it places the Gospels back in their proper context. The Messiah came as a Jewish man to the Jewish people in the land of Israel. This was no accident. Rather, this was the setting that the Father specifically chose to reveal his truth and his plan of salvation.

The implication is rather startling. If God chose to provide His plan for the salvation of the non-Jewish people of the earth in the form of a First Century itinerent Jewish Rabbi, born of working-class parents in a small rural town in a Roman occupied nation, are you going to be able to completely understand the message of that plan and hear the entire intent of God by reading a traditional English translation of the Bible? Yes, you can buy a Chumash and a Tanakh to immerse yourself in the pool of Jewish learning in the Torah, Prophets, and the Writings, but you are missing an important, some might even say “crucial” element in reconstructing the ancient Jewish presence of the Word of God.

The Death of the MasterJewish men like Rabbi Lichtenstein and Paul Philip Levertoff encountered Jesus at great risk and yet accepted that risk, which included being rejected by family, friends, and the entire Jewish community, in order to connect to the tzadik God made most great in all the world, who is revealed not only a Rabbi and Prophet, but as “the Prophet” and the Moshiach. You, as a Christian, may end up taking a bit of criticism from your Sunday school teacher, your Pastor, even your parents and spouse, because you are called to hear a voice few of them will ever perceive. But having once heard that voice, how can you ignore it? No, you can’t. He’s calling to you.

You are not alone. You are not without directions in which to turn. There are others who walk the same path as you. The DHE Gospels can let you hear the Jewish voice of Jesus. Messiah Journal is a publication written for the Christian and the Jew who desires to meet the Jewish Messiah. You can go beyond where you are now in understanding the author of the faith in your heart. The subtle nuances and the “hidden” message in the words of Jesus and the Gospel writers do not have to go unnoticed. You can find them. Hopefully this review has helped you know where to look.

The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels: A Review

DHEIn 1873 the British and Foreign Bible Society commissioned Franz Delitzsch to prepare a translation of the New Testament into Hebrew. Delitzsch agreed and set to work utilizing his extensive knowledge of mishnaic Hebrew and first century Judaism to create a translation and reconstruction of the Greek text back into an original Hebrew voice. His reconstructing translation was completed in 1877. After the first edition, it went through extensive review and revision for the next 13 years. The final edition was published in 1890 under the care and supervision of Gustav Dalman. Sixty thousand copies were distributed for free throughout Europe resulting in tens of thousands of Jewish people coming to know Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel.

Those Jewish believers and their influences are the very embers that have ignited this modern-day hope and revival.

This is the introduction on the Vine of David website to the Levy Hirsch Memorial Edition of the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels. Over a century has passed since the last edition of this critical and faithful publication has been produced and Vine of David, the ministry arm of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) that specializes in early Messianic Judaism and the development of Messianic liturgical resources, has taken up the mission of publishing this Gospel and distributing it for free to any Jewish person, allowing Jews to explore the teachings of the Master, both in Hebrew and in English.

The Delitzsch Gospels is an elegant Bible and holding it, is like holding a bridge between Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) from the 19th century to those carrying the Messianic banner today. While there are other New Testaments written in Hebrew and other Semitic languages, Delitzsch’s translation uses sources and interpretations that are the most well-known.

Although the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels are specifically reaching out to the Jewish people, as a non-Jewish Christian, I find the resources this publication offers to be compelling. From the Translator’s Preface and Introduction to the abundance of reference materials, including maps and charts, this version of the Gospels provides history and context, not only of the Franz Delitzsch and the 19th century believing Jews, but a hint of the true Jewish origins of the Gospels and of the 1st century Gospel writers.

The heart of the Delitzsch Gospels are the Gospels themselves. Reading them reminds me  of the experience of reading the Chumash or the Tanach. Opening the Gospel to Mattei (Matthew) 1:1, the genealogy of Jesus is presented in English on the left page and in Hebrew on the right. Even with Hebrew skills far less than fluent, I can still imagine going through the opening words of the first Gospel alongside both Christian and Jewish believers, and perhaps get a small sense of what the author was thinking in his own language as he began recording his understanding of the life of the Master.

Beyond the value the Delitzsch Gospels present to Jewish believers, this modern edition also offers a unique gift to Gentile Christians who have little or no understanding of the “Jewish Jesus”. It presents those in the church with a taste of “original” Jesus, the Jewish Rabbi who walked the streets of 1st century Jerusalem and who taught his disciples in the hills of Galilee. In reading and studying from the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels, we all can attain a clearer vision of who Jesus was and is among his people, the Jews, and his mission to save the lost sheep of Israel.

Who is Jesus of Nazareth, Son of the living God, called the Christ and the Moshiach? You may think you know. But the images invoked by reading his words and his life from the pages of Vine of David’s Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels may well introduce you to the Jewish Messiah and the Israelite Carpenter, Teacher, and King of Kings for the very first time.

To learn more, please visit the Vine of David. The blessings will be yours.