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Rabbenu

A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Saturday, July 09, 2005

"Because I Said So, That's Why!" - Messianic Jewish Practice and The Red Heifer

While I was away from you, I was on the East Coast teaching a course in Jewish Virtues and Values under the auspices of MJTI, Messianic Jewish Theological Institute. Each time I teach I meet more people, sometimes just one or two new people, in whose heart burns some spark of the vision that I share with you here at Ahavat Zion. It is a vision which is not mine alone. Actually, although founded in Scripture, and nurtured by the Ruach HaKodesh, the bones of this vision are found in the seven core principles of Hashivenu.

1. Messianic Judaism is a Judaism, and not a cosmetically altered "Jewish-style" version of what is extant in the wider Christian community.

2. God’s particular relationship with Israel is expressed in the Torah, God’s unique covenant with the Jewish people.

3. Yeshua is the fullness of Torah.

4. The Jewish people are "us" not "them."

5. The richness of the Rabbinic tradition is a valuable part of our heritage as Jewish people.

6. Because all people are created in the image of God, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him; therefore, true piety cannot exist apart from human decency.

7. Maturation requires a humble openness to new ideas within the context of firmly held convictions.

These principles were viewed as radical, fringe views in 1997 when some friends and I crafted them. But now, gradually, more and more people are buying into them, and making them their own. But our views are not universally accepted, and there are even some people who misunderstand and misrepresent what we stand for.

One of the reasons people do this is because our principles don’t harmonize with their own core assumptions. Such assumptions are usually subconscious, unrecognized, and very powerful.

Let me illustrate for you through a quotation from a recent Jews for Jesus newsletter. JFJ has, especially during the past year or so, been misunderstanding us, misrepresenting us, and warning people away from people who hold views like ours.

In this quotation, let’s look at just one of the matters about which JFJ is warning people. Then, let’s look at the underlying, subconscious world-view assumption that is energizing this attack. This will help explain why JFJ is so upset, and will aid us in determining whether the attack is valid.

Here is the quotation:

"Some Messianic Jews are teaching that it is incumbent upon all Jewish believers to observe the Law of Moses and to worship exclusively in Messianic Congregations. They would agree that we are saved by grace through faith in Messiah Jesus. However, they would add that Jewish believers who want to fulfill their destiny as Messianic Jews must continue to be part of the Jewish community, which means living a ‘Torah observant lifestyle.’ . . .

"There is nothing wrong with celebrating the biblical feasts, or following certain rabbinical traditions, but we can do so only to the extent that we don not contradict the clear teaching of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, And part of that New Testament teaching is that, in Messiah, we are fully free to practice these things or not as a matter of choice and conscience." [End of quotation from JFJ Newsletter].

Sometimes underlying assumptions lie close to the surface, and this is one of those occasions. What are our JFJ critics assuming about the commandments of God, about commandment-keeping? They are assuming that the issue of whether to obey the commands or not is strictly a matter of choice and conscience. Furthermore, they are saying that this is what the Newer Testament teaches.

Not exactly.

While the Newer Testament does forbid us to oppress others with our convictions on such matters, it emphatically does not teach that commandment keeping for Messianic Jews is strictly a matter of personal conviction and preference. If I had the time, I would take you deeper into the article from which this quotation is excerpted and expose to your gaze a whole nest of false assumptions, such as their labeling these views "neo-Galatianism, pure and simple." The fact that Paul six times specifies in the letter that he is writing not to Jews but to Gentiles entirely escapes their notice. But, as I said, I do not have time this morning to look at these various ancillary matters. Today, I just want to concentrate on one question: For Messianic Jews, is the keeping of the commandments of Torah supposed to be purely a matter of personal preference ?

Not if we include today’s Newer Covenant reading in our Bible’s, it isn’t! Let’s look at that quotation together:

"Matt. 5:17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Now, we could argue about what it means to have a righteousness surpassing that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. But that question is subsidiary to points made earlier in the text. And these points totally refute the contention that, for Messianic Jews, the keeping of the commandments of Torah is supposed to be purely a matter of personal preference.

Notice how Yeshua sets up this discussion: he says "don’t think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets [the Torah or the N’vi’im]. Why would someone think that? Perhaps it was because Yeshua found himself at variance with the Jewish leaders of his day on certain matters. Since Yeshua was at loggerheads with the leadership of religious Israel on some matters, it might be easy to assume that he had come to overthrow the entire system. Or perhaps Matthew records this because already in his day, as Gentile congregations were multiplying, some were downplaying the role of the commandments for all the people of God. Furthermore, perhaps Yeshua is operating here out of prophetic insight, seeing that there would come a day when the consensus of Yeshua believers in the Church would favor an abolition of commandment-keeping.

Whatever the case, Matthew presents Yeshua standing up here and saying, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." He is not speaking here of Messianic prophecy, but rather of commandment-keeping, that is clear. That is why he says in verse 19, "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Is he here speaking against Torah obedience for Messianic Jews? No, he is not. He is speaking against commandment breaking and against those who would teach others to break "one of the least of these commandments" in the Torah and the Prophets.

We must be careful against reading our own mentality and consensus back into the text. He is NOT speaking about Messianic prophecy. We know that because there are absolutely no cues in the context to indicate that Messianic prophecy is the subject under discussion. And when he speaks of our righteousness surpassing that of the Pharisees and the scribes, he is not speaking of a righteousness apart from or other than commandment keeping. He just said one verse earlier, "19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven," and in the verse before that, he grounds it all in the Torah and the Prophets, and warns against thinking that he had come to abolish them.

No, the obedience he calls us to is *greater than*, rather than *other than* that of the Pharisees and scribes. He calls us to commandment keeping, but not to mere commandment keeping. We must keep the commandments out of abiding love for God and man in the power of the Ruach haKodesh sent forth by Yeshua. We must keep the commandments free of egotism, free of hypocrisy, free of religiously oppressing others, free of majoring in the minors [excesses also criticized in Jewish sources]. In all these areas, as Messianic Jews living in community, we will need and will have the gyroscope of the Spirit to help us. In this way, our commandment keeping can go beyond even the gargantuan efforts of the Pharisees and scribes. Our obedience is meant to be purer. It is meant to be stronger. But if Matthew five means anything at all, our obedience is not meant to be wholly other.

Notice that Yeshua sets a time limit on all of this, a time for when it may well be legitimate to argue that all this commandment-keeping is passé. What is that time limit? "Until heaven and earth disappear." But until that time, the keeping of Torah’s commandments should remain an imperative for Messianic Jews, and not just "a nice option if that’s your thing," or, something "we are fully free to practice . . .or not as a matter of choice and conscience," as some of our detractors suggest.

Consider the following,
[Edited from material Found on line, 7/8/05 at http://www.bje.org.au/adults/templateBase.php?id=906&gid=2 ].

"Jewish life identifies three categories of commandments, or mitzvoth. While "mitzvoth" is the general word for the commandments of God, they generally fall into three categories.

1. Mishpatim

These are the ‘mitzvot of justice’. These mitzvot are logical: their meaning is self-evident in that everyone accepts them as desirable and necessary. Mishpatim include prohibitions against theft and murder. They are laws that keep society under control.

2. Edot

This literally means ‘commemorative’ mitzvot or ‘testimonials’. Examples of these mitzvot are the rules of the festivals which commemorate important events in Jewish history.

3. Chukkim

These are ‘statutes’ or ‘decrees’ that God has set out for us to follow. Chukkim have no discernable rationale. Of the three mitzvah categories, chukkim alone are the ultimate test of faith. With mitzvot such as mishpatim, one need not be particularly devout to obey the law against murdering, or with edot, one may indeed enjoy celebrating Passover. However, chukkim are observed only because God told us to do so.


Today’s Torah reading in Bamidbar/Numbers 19 is the proof-text above all proof-texts for discussing what is meant by a chok [plural "chukkim"], by which we mean a mitzvah with no apparent rationale other than the authority of God. The commandment spoken of here seems foolish and irrational. It involves killing and sacrificing an animal, the "Parah Adumah -the Red Heifer," whereby everyone involved in killing and sacrificing the animal or handling its ashes becomes ritually impure. Yet, it is the ashes of this animal, mingled with water, that later will be the means through which people defiled by contact with the dead become pure! What is this? You become unclean by killing and offering an animal that is necessary for anyone to become pure? It makes no sense, and that’s why it is a chok."

What is the point I am making? Just this: that Messianic Judaism rightly so-called respects the fact that God is the commander and that we are the commanded, and that to be a Jew is to be a member of a people with covenant responsibilities. It is also clear that to the extent we think and operate as if our response to the mitzvot is a private and optional matter, we do not really understand what the Bible says to Jewish people.

Perhaps the following quotation from material found on the Web will help bring things into sharp focus for us.

"We, as servants, ought not obey His commandments because we agree with them, nor because they make sense to us. Rather, we should listen to the word of G-d because that’s what He wants us to do.
This can be derived through careful observation of the words of the Torah. The child asks, "What are the testimonies [edot], decrees [chukkim] and ordinances [mishpatim]?" To which the Torah says we should answer, 'We were slaves. . . G-d commanded us to perform all these "decrees" [chukkim]…'

Edot [Testimonies] and Mishpatim [Ordinances] are the types of commandments for which we may feel we have an understanding and that they have a meaning to which we can relate. Chukkim [decrees], on the other hand, are the ones we carry out for only one reason: because it is the will of G-d. Although the son asked about all three, the Torah, in responding to the child, reiterates only the decrees. The point is clear. Even testimonies and ordinances are supposed to be performed as if they were decrees, with unquestioning dedication." [Found on line 7/8/05 at www.denverkollel.org/torah/60/holiday/pesachI.html].

And remember our text from Matthew 5:17-20. This too should help bring matters into sharp focus for us all.

And finally, perhaps the following reference will help bring these matters home to us. In the relationship of every parent with his or her child, there come occasions when the he child questions why he or she must do something the parent has directed. Sometimes the parent will give an explanation: it is part of the growing process for the child, growing in understanding. But also, for every parent who understands and respects the meaning of his or her own authority and the need of children to understand authority as being not only within themselves but also outside themselves, at such times the parent will have to say, "Because I said so, that's why."

The child owes respect to the parent expressed in doing what he or she said to do simply because the parent said it. Don't we owe the same to the God who says of Himself through Malachi, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me" [Malachi 1:6]?

Increasingly, here at Ahavat Zion, may we honor the God of our ancestors by keeping His commandments. Messiah didn’t ask anything less of us, but rather, this and more.

At 7/13/2005 2:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I tire of the constant treatment of the red hefer as a mystery. Compared to some of the other commands, this "mystery" is easy to solve.

"Why is the wearing of linen and wool together a sign of holiness for the kohen gadol but not wearing them a sign of holiness for everyone else?"

"Why wool & linen only?"

As for the red hefer, remember that "kpr" means to "cover over". The underlining problem is not gone so much as swept under the rug. The red hefer bears uncleanliness away from someone, but where does it go? A little to the one performing the cleansing, yes. But also it travels back in time to the ones who prepare the ashes. They are in contact with all the uncleanliness of those who are cleansed--so they become unclean. Hashem's grace mediates the transactions, (particularly through the soul of the hefer) so that the uncleanliness of those preparing the ashes is of the mildest sort--at sundown, their cleansing completes.

Nathan Zook

 
At 7/13/2005 8:56 PM, Blogger PK said...

Despite Mr. Zook's comment, well put!

 
At 7/14/2005 4:49 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Interesting comment, Mr. Zook, although I fail to see why you "tire" of the more traditional perspective on the Red Heifer. Although your treatment may well be a new insight worthy of consideration, am curious as to whether anyone else has noticed what you find rather obvious? In my treatment of the Red Heifer, a small part of this drash, I relied on the general consensus of our sages, that this particular chok is a prime example of what chukkim are: comandments without the kind of discernible purpose or inner logic which you appear to find rather obvious. Again, I ask you: has anyone else before you come up with your clever explanation. If not, then why do you think that you and not they found it obvious?

 
At 7/16/2005 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please call me Nathan. I haven't taught in a decade.

I should have been more specific. I could buy, "we've struggled with this for centuries, but while 365 years was enough to solve Fermat's last theorem, we still don't have this one." That's not what I hear. I hear, "It's a mystery--so don't try to understand it", and I'm tired of it. Arguably, such instruction goes against most of what we are taught.

I've not heard of anyone else having noticed. I rather expect that it has not been published, which does not mean I'm the first to arrive at this interpretation.

Before going further, I must comment that the lack of tone in web communications is a serious problem. I cannot safely discern your tone, which I suspect to be a very polite version of, "Hey wise guy, you really think you alone got this one right?" It's a fair question. It doesn't hurt that I don't tend to listen when someone tells me not to try to understand something.

My gift is primarily in mathematics, which contrary to folk lore is far more Hebraic at its base than Greek. One unique feature is that in mathematics, one is not considered a member of the guild until one has demonstrated original insight, so my response is mostly to bring the process over.

I AM a GPMJ (Gentile Practicioner of Messianic Judiasm), after all, so I've already declared eighteen centuries of bishops & sages to be wrong once.....

Newton & Leibnitz independently discovered the calculus within a few years of each other. This phenominon is so common that advisors feverishly check with their collegues to attempt to ensure that their students don't get beaten to the punch & have to restart their dissertations. They don't always succeed.

So why them and not their predecessors? "If I have seen far, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." The body of knowlege, the understanding of the world, reaches the point that certain concepts come within reach.

From quantum physics, I learn that antielectrons can be thought of as electrons moving backwards in time.

From the Cat in the Hat Comes Back, I get the idea that a mess can get spread around and thinned out until it is dealt with finally.

Newton hints & Einstein declares that time is a dimension not very different from the physical ones. Judaism goes so far in affirming this (and centuries earlier, I might add), that we actually set boundaries around times.

==

So now, read Num 19 again, only this time read it in the following order: v1, v11-22, v 2-10, but be certain to read it like I read Romans 11. Forget you've ever seen or heard anything about the text before. In particular, don't look at it as an unknowable mystery that we aren't supposed to understand, but like any other piece of Torah that we're supposed to chew.

In verses 11-16, we are taught about the tumah that comes from contact with a dead body. G-d not being the type to leave us helpless, verses 17-22 detail how to return to a state of ritual purity, along with a few more details about how tumah can be spread. Verse 21, however, alerts us to a little mystery--contact with the water of purification brings contanmination, even for the one doing a purification.

It is certainly time to find out about these mysterious ashes!

Verses 2-10 give the instruction for the creation of the ashes, and while the text is not completely clear, we know that when a new hefer is needed, that the new ashes are mixed with the old. This will become significant.

These ashes are the result of a whole burnt offering. Now burnt offerings can provide a cover for sin, so it is fair to conclude that this burnt offering is providing a covering for the tumah.

But the tumah is in the future. What connects the tumah from someone who buried a corpse a century from now to the offering?

The ashes. But to do this, the tumah must be moving backwards in time. Though it moves backwards, it is still tumah, and contact with it brings tumah.

The one doing the sprinkling is made tumah because he contacts the tumah of those who will be cleansed tomorrow and next year--and the last one to cleanse before the next offering gets tumah "mixed in." The priest, the man who burns the offering, the clean man who gathers the ashes, all contact the ashes after the offering is made, and are therefore between the source of the tumah and the covering of the tumah--they are tumah. By G-d's grace, this is the lesser tumah. They immerse and are cleansed at sundown.

Tumah flowing backwards in time, travels from the one being cleansed though the drops of water to the ashes. Some gets "splashed" on the ones handling the ashes or water--as if in this state tumah is "radioactive".

==

So why does G-d send tumah backwards for covering? Well, we tried it the other way & it just didn't work.

Consider. If tumah went forward, then the cleansing would not be complete until the offering was done. If tumah is to be dealt with immediately, then there would have to be a sacrifice after the second cleansing. Burying the dead would be as having tsara'ot!

By sending it back, one offering covers a multitude of tumaot(;)).

Oops! Did I just mention Messiah? Then I must be done. :-D


Nathan Zook


P.S.: By no means did I intend to cast aspersions on your drosh as a whole--we need very much to keep in mind the office of the One we serve.

P.P.S: I hope the annual conference & delegate's meeting goes well.

 

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