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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

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself off, and Start All Over Again

(This sermon on the Haftarah from Parashat Shoftim was presented August 26, 2006, at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA)

What is God’s diagnosis and what is his prescription when His people are in the doldrums, especially a congregation of His people? Today’s Haftarah provides an interesting diagnosis and prescription for this ailment.

12 I, I am He who comforts you!
What ails you that you fear
Man who must die,
Mortals who fare like grass?
13 You have forgotten the Lord your Maker,
stretched out the skies and made firm the earth!
And you live all day in constant dread
Because of the rage of an oppressor
Who is aiming to cut [you] down.
Yet of what account is the rage of an oppressor? (Isa 51:12-13)

His diagnosis is that we are controlled by things that ought not to dominate our concerns. And the root of this problem is forgetfulness. Like a doctor interviewing a patent and doing a case study, Hashem asks us, “Have we forgotten who He is, what He has done, what He can do? Our sense of obstacles, of ennui, of being too busy, too sinful, too tired, too unavailable for participation in the life of God’s people is a sign of forgetfulness of who He is and what life with Him is all about . . .if we ever knew at all.

The Prophet, speaking for Hashem, goes on to offer His diagnosis of a second kind of forgetfulness.

14 Quickly the crouching one is freed;
He is not cut down and slain,
And he shall not want for food.
15 For I the Lord your God —
Who stir up the sea into roaring waves,
Whose name is Lord of Hosts —
16 Have put My words in your mouth
And sheltered you with My hand;
I, who planted the skies and made firm the earth,
Have said to Zion: You are My people!

The Holy One, the Great Physician, asks us this: Have we have forgotten who God has made us to be as a congregation of God’s people, and what we are supposed to do? In this text, he told his people Israel that he had put His words in our mouth, sheltered us with His hand, and said to Zion, “You are my people.” Should we not take these words seriously ourselves—should we not grasp hold of our Divinely given destiny and mission as Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue? Or have we simply forgotten?

We turn now from the diagnosis to the prescription. What does Hashem tell us we must do to amend our ways, to pull out of the ennui, the disengagement, the victim mentality that tends to afflict us?

17 Rouse, rouse yourself!
Arise, O Jerusalem,
You who from the Lord's hand
Have drunk the cup of His wrath,
You who have drained to the dregs
The bowl, the cup of reeling!

Even if you feel you have blown it with God in the past, you should, and we should as a congregation, rouse ourselves from our lethargy—and notice, this is NOT something God can do for us. This is not something to wait upon from God—God says to us, “Rouse yourselves, Arise!” It is OUR responsibility. And if we don’t, then we will simply continue to languish. In our congregation, and in any congregation, there will be people in various stages of spiritual illness—this spiritual lassitude—some slightly ill, some quite ill, some very ill and immobilized.

The Prophet goes on to name another symptom of this illness, this lassitude, this potentially deadly disease that can afflict a congregation of God’s people.

18 She has none to guide her
Of all the sons she bore;
None takes her by the hand,
Of all the sons she reared.
19 These two things have befallen you:
Wrack and ruin — who can console you?
Famine and sword — how shall I comfort you?
20 Your sons lie in a swoon
At the corner of every street —
Like an antelope caught in a net —
Drunk with the wrath of the Lord,
With the rebuke of your God.

That symptom is an unwillingness, an unavailability to be really engage in the life and calling of the Kingdom of God as expressed in the life our one’s congregation. It is a sign of serious congregational disease when none are available for leadership and for responsibility.

The health of our congregation, and of any congregation, will be directly proportionate to the percentage of us who step forward to take responsibility for congregational nurture, outreach and life.

To sum things up, the Prophet delivers final directives for us if we would recover and live in spiritual health.

52:1 Awake, awake, O Zion!
Clothe yourself in splendor;
Put on your robes of majesty,
Jerusalem, holy city!
For the uncircumcised and the unclean
Shall never enter you again.
Arise, shake off the dust,
Sit [on your throne], Jerusalem!
Loose the bonds from your neck,
O captive one, Fair Zion! (Isa 52:1-2)

We are to awaken ourselves, to shake off our negative, defeatist persona, and, as if donning a garmnet, “clothe ourselves in splendor, and put on our robes of majesty. We are to shake off the dust of our victim, captive mentality, and take our seat on our throne—adopting a regal persona appropriate to who we are as the people of the kind of God who has called us with a holy calling, who has put His words in our mouth, sheltered you with His hand; and said to us, “You are My people!”

And finally,

Turn, turn away, touch naught unclean
As you depart from there;
Keep pure, as you go forth from there,
You who bear the vessels of the Lord!
For you will not depart in haste,
Nor will you leave in flight;
For the Lord is marching before you,
The God of Israel is your rear guard (Isa 52:11-12)

If we would go forth into this kind of life, we must remain aware that God has called us to a holy calling—it is a mighty way of life, a life of Divine calling and divine companionship, but it requires of us ongoing disciplined commitment, and disengagement from the things that defile. As the Newer Covenant puts it, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).

Or, we can just settle for the life of forgetfulness and oppressiveness from which the Lord wants to deliver our community.

For additional confirmation of this perspective, see Colossians 3, which similarly speaks of putting off old garments and putting on new —shucking off an old, sinful, defeatist sense of self, and stepping into the new sense of self that Hashem has provided in Messiah [see also Rom 13:11-14, Eph 4:17-32, and 1 Peter 5:1-9]. In reading Colossians 3, and these other passages, pay special attention to the metaphors of taking off one persona and putting on another.

God has done so much for us. The only thing he will not do is what he calls us to do here—to rouse ourselves, to awaken ourselves, to step up to responsibility ourselves, and to ourselves embrace the life of purity appropriate to our high and holy calling.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Grab-Bag of Life Changing Insights from Parashat Ekev

A Grab-Bag of Life Changing Insights from Parashat Ekev
Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD

The following is an analysis of life changing principles found Parashat Ekev. As you read through this, have your Bible handy, and investigate the texts behind the principles that ring your chimes! And then put them into practice!

1. [7:12-15] Even though bad things do happen to good people, by being obedient to Hashem we multiply our chances of good things happening to us.
2. [7:16-20, 25 ff.] Learn to deal radically with that which contaminates. [Cf. Matt . 7:29-30].
a) Curiosity killed the cat, and sometimes won't do you much good either.
b) Sometimes objects are not just things; there is such a thing as spiritual contamination.

3. [7:17-21] - Fearful thoughts are automatic; maintain momentum by counterbalancing them with strengthening thoughts and memories
4. [7:21 ff.] Hashem is a God of process. He has reasons why he does not intervene instantaneously which we might not understand even if told.
5. [8:2-4] Hashem is more interested in our character than in our comfort.
a) It is helpful to think back on the uncomfortable times in your life and to reflect as to what Hashem might want to teach you through them.
b) Beware of a God-concept in which you are the star and Hashem exists to meet your needs. This is one of popular religion’s chief idolatries.
c) People who live this way are bound to be disappointed and will remain immature.
6. [8:2-4] A relationship with Hashem is an ongoing process of deepening trust demonstrated in obedience.
7. [8:2-4] Hashem's absence is more apparent than real.
8. [8:6-10] Learning to say thank you is essential to spiritual health. Gratitude and happiness go hand in hand. Dennis Prager believes that cultivating a sense of gratitude is the key to happiness. Come to think of it, the ungrateful person is never happy, and the grateful person usually is.
9. 8:11-18] Prosperity is more dangerous to spirituality than want is. It is when we are doing well that we are most apt to forget what Hashem has done and what we owe him as a result.
a) [8:17-18] Beware of the tendency to take credit for what God does.

10. [8:19-20] Even God's favored children are held accountable.
11. [9:1-6] Do not confuse Hashem's blessing with his commendation.
12. [9:7-10:11] There are limits to positive thinking: Don't forget to remember and learn from your mistakes.
a) This is contrary to popular expectations that I must never think anything negative about myself. If you forget your mistakes you are apt to repeat them. If you remember them, you are more apt to avoid them. So learn from your mistakes!
b) Learn from your mistakes in order to not repeat them.
c) In order to learn what they cost you.
d) In order to remember with gratitude the measures that had to be taken for you to be spared the consequences you deserved.
e) A good leader and a good parent is a good historian.

13. [9:25-29; 10:10-11] - Remember: we are not fatalists. Where there is God, where there is faith, where there is life, there is hope.
14. [10:1-5] - It is a good idea to keep mementos and artifacts in order to keep important memories alive.
15. [10:8-9] Serving God is a privilege, not a right. Don't ever take it for granted.
16. [10:12 ff., 11:1,22] Maintain your perspective: make sure you don't lose sight of the meaning of the whole through preoccupation with the parts. Especially, remember that the prime directive every day in every way is to grow in consistently "Showing love to the ADONAI your God by walking in his ways and clinging to him" [11:22]
17. [10:19] - Remembering when we were down and out helps us to be compassionate with others in the same situation. Forgetting where we came from makes us callous and unconcerned. Hashem wants us to remember.
18. [11:2-9] We are responsible to learn from our experience with God. Our constant question should be "What did I/should I learn from this?"
a) Hashem does not call us to live only in the present.
b) We must evaluate the past as a key to present actions leading to a brighter future.

19. [11:22] Loving Adonai, walking in his ways, and clinging to him must be seen in the context of taking care to obey the mitzvot.
a) Keeping Hashem's commandments is the main way He has commanded Jews to show their love to Him.
b) But it is possible to keep Hashem's commandments out of mere force of habit, conformity, religious scrupulosity, perfectionism, or pride. This does not please Hashem at all!
c) This is because all of the aspects mentioned in this verse are meant to go together: loving Adonai by walking in His ways, which the Jewish commentator Sforno reminds us means imitating His character, and clinging to Him as if in marital faithfulness to Him. It is in the context of this kind of intense love relationship that keeping the mitzvot has value. And, from a biblical and Jewish point of view, saying you love Him and yet don't want to bother with the commandments makes no sense: "If you love me, keep my commandments."
d) Finally, Rashi helps us by suggesting that "taking care to obey all these mitzvot" requires of us that we continually study Hashem's Torah that it be not forgotten. This can be said of all of God's word. We must study it diligently, for how else can we obey unless we know what is commanded us?
e) There is nothing mightier than a person who obeys God!

Monday, August 21, 2006


The following is a sermon on the Haftarah for Parashat Re'eh, presented August 17, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills. It explores the questions, "Why do you do the things you do and what are you getting out of it?"

1 All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You without money, come, buy, and eat! Yes, come! Buy wine and milk without money - it's free! 2 Why spend money for what isn't food, your wages for what doesn't satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will eat well, you will enjoy the fat of the land. 3 Open your ears, and come to me; listen well, and you will live - I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the grace I assured David. 4 I have given him as a witness to the peoples, a leader and lawgiver for the peoples. 5 You will summon a nation you do not know, and a nation that doesn't know you will run to you, for the sake of ADONAI your God, the Holy One of Isra'el, who will glorify you [Isaiah 55].

The first question I have for us today is this: Why does Hashem ask “Why?” Doesn’t he know? He is asking “Why” because he wants us to ask “Why.”

So my second question is this: Why does he want us to ask “Why?” Because he wants us to examine what really drives our life and what we are really getting out of it.

One of the questions underlying this passage is this: What is a good investment of one's life—one's energies, and especially, the only truly unrenewable resource that we have—our time. In order to answer that question, we have to ask this: What profit do we really expect to gain out of all this effort?

Koholet, the Preacher, the author of Ecclesiastes meditates on this issue throughout his 12 chapter book. Two quotations will have to suffice for today.

Ecc. 1:1 The words of Kohelet the son of David, king in Yerushalayim: 2 Pointless! Pointless! - says Kohelet -Utterly meaningless! Nothing matters! 3 What does a person gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?

4 Generations come, generations go, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, the sun sets; then it speeds to its place and rises there. 6 The wind blows south, then it turns north; the wind blows all around and keeps returning to its rounds. 7 All the rivers flow to the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place where the rivers flow, there they keep on flowing. 8 Everything is wearisome, more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, the ear not filled up with hearing.

9 What has been is what will be, what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there something of which it is said, "See, this is new"? It existed already in the ages before us. 11 No one remembers the people of long ago; and those to come will not be remembered by those who come after them.

12 I, Kohelet, have been king over Isra'el in Yerushalayim. 13 I wisely applied myself to seek out and investigate everything done under heaven. What a bothersome task God has given humanity to keep us occupied! 14 I have seen all the activities that are done under the sun, and it's all pointless, feeding on wind. 15 What is crooked can't be straightened; what is not there can't be counted. 16 I said to myself, "Look, I have acquired much wisdom, more than anyone ruling Yerushalayim before me."Yes, I experienced a great deal of wisdom and knowledge; 17 yet when I applied myself to understanding wisdom and knowledge, as well as stupidity and folly, I came to see that this too was merely feeding on wind. 18 For in much wisdom is much grief; the more knowledge, the more suffering.

Ecc. 5:10 The lover of money never has enough money; the lover of luxury never has enough income. This too is pointless. 11 When the quantity of goods increases, so does the number of parasites consuming them; so the only advantage to the owner is that he gets to watch them do it. 12 The sleep of a working man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the overfullness of the rich won't let them sleep at all. 13 Here is a gross evil which I have seen under the sun: the owner of wealth hoards it to his own hurt. 14 Due to some misfortune, the wealth turns to loss; and then if he has fathered a son, he has nothing to leave him. 15 Just as he came from his mother's womb, so he will go back naked as he came, and for his efforts he will take nothing that he can carry away in his hand. 16 This too is a gross evil, that in every respect as he came, so will he go; thus what profit does he have after toiling to earn the wind? 17 All his life he eats in darkness, in frustration, in sickness and in anger.

Returning to our question as to what a person seeks to gain out of the investment of his or her life, especially his or her time, the short answer is this: a sense of meaning—significance—a sense that all the sacrifices that were made were worth it all.

Unfortunately, most people are only dimly aware of what drives them.

I know of a man who spent is entire adult life as an OB-GYN and hated ever minute of it. Why? Because he really wanted to be an artist, but became a doctor to please his father. And many people are like that: they live their lives to please others, and come to the end of their lives feeling, "What a waste." This man lived his life to please his father, others live their lives to please everyone else but themselves. In either case, it's a waste, isn't it?

The Prodigal Son was driven by a mistaken idea of what the good life was—wine, women and song—but he came to the point where he realized that living his life to satiate his desires was a waste of his life, and that the real satisfactions of life lie in being at His Father’s house where he was appreciated and where his labors counted for something, where life had connectedness and enduring meaning. His life has been dominated by a need to satisfy his desires, but, like the doctor who should have been an artist, he came to see that his life of given to pleasures was really a tragic waste.

Another mistake people make is investing their lives in diversions. The story is told in Luke 12 of the Rich Fool.

Luke 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Rabbi, tell my brother to share with me the property we inherited." 14 But Yeshua answered him, "My friend, who appointed me judge or arbitrator over you?" 15 Then to the people he said, "Be careful to guard against all forms of greed, because even if someone is rich, his life does not consist in what he owns." 16 And he gave them this illustration: "There was a man whose land was very productive. 17 He debated with himself, `What should I do? I haven't enough room for all my crops.' 18 Then he said, `This is what I will do: I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and I'll store all my wheat and other goods there. 19 Then I'll say to myself, "You're a lucky man! You have a big supply of goods laid up that will last many years. Start taking it easy! Eat! Drink! Enjoy yourself!"' 20 But God said to him, `You fool! This very night you will die! And the things you pre pared -- whose will they be?' 21 That's how it is with anyone who stores up wealth for himself without being rich toward God.

I like that quotation in verse 15: “even if someone is rich, his life does not consist in what he owns.” It's not that being rich is wrong. It's just wrong, tragically wrong, to make your riches the meaning of your life. This takes us right to the heart of today’s lesson, to the “Why” we are dealing with. Why do you do the things that you do? What, after all, is a worthwhile investment of your life?

Scripture would seem to teach us that we need two things to make our lives truly meaningful—connectedness and enduring [rather than transient] meaning. We spend our lives trying to please others, or in the vain pursuit of power, pleasure, and pride, and we are driven, driven, driven. And somewhere along the way we are destined to find that these things, as amusing and pleasurable as they are, are actually diversions rather than investments in a life of connectedness and enduring meaning.

Yeshua highlights all of these things for us as recorded in Matthew 6:

6:19 Do not store up for yourselves wealth here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and burglars break in and steal. 20 Instead, store up for yourselves wealth in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and burglars do not break in or steal. 21 For where your wealth is, there your heart will be also. 22 `The eye is the lamp of the body.' So if you have a `good eye' [that is, if you are generous] your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if you have an `evil eye' [if you are stingy] your whole body will be full of darkness. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No 24 one can be slave to two masters; for he will either hate the first and love the second, or scorn the second and be loyal to the first. You can't be a slave to both God and money.

Although the passage sounds like “pie in the sky when you die bye and bye,” the meaning of storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven is this: the life of real satisfaction is one of connectedness to God and to the enduring meaningfulness of investing ourselves in the kinds of things that please Him and bring Him honor. All else is drivenness, desire, and diversion, and ultimately, a waste of time, money, and effort—for nothing else really satisfies--nothing.

Yeshua goes on to speak of worrying. Now when he says “don’t worry,” he is not saying “Be mindless and irresponsible.” Rather he is speaking to us about what preoccupies us, what drives us and keeps us awake at night. This is obsessive, preoccupied worry. Perhaps the key concept in this paragraph is the admonition: “Don’t be anxious about these things.”

Matt 6:25 Therefore, I tell you, don't worry about your life -- what you will eat or drink; or about your body -- what you will wear. Isn't life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds flying about! They neither plant nor harvest, nor do they gather food into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you worth more than they are? 27 Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to his life? 28 "And why be anxious about clothing? Think about the fields of wild irises, and how they grow. They neither work nor spin thread, 29 yet I tell you that not even Shlomo in all his glory was clothed as beautifully as one of these. 30 If this is how God clothes grass in the field -- which is here today and gone tomorrow, thrown in an oven -- won't he much more clothe you? What little trust you have! 31 "So don't be anxious, asking, `What will we eat?,' `What will we drink?' or `How will we be clothed?' 32 For it is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. 33 But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Don't worry about tomorrow -- tomorrow will worry about itself! Today has enough tsuris already!

So we return to today’s Haftarah reading which asks us: “2Why spend money for what isn't food, your wages for what doesn't satisfy?”. Why do we invest our lives in what proves only to be a diversion rather than an investment?

Paradoxically, this passage reminds us that we ought to invest ourselves, and especially our time, in what is free—the life of engagement with God, with the things of God, with the everlasting covenantal relationship with God bound up in “the everlasting covenant, the grace God assured to David” which points to the Messiah, through whom we come into deep connectedness with God and a life of enduring meaningfulness.

The question then for all of us is this: Is your life driven [like the doctor I mentioned and the Prodigal Son], is it a life of diversion, like the Rich Fool, or is it devoted to the Kingdom of God and His righteousness?

In the words of Koholet, “all else is pointless, feeding on wind.”

At the very end of his book, Koholet draws the moral of our story in sharpest terms:

13 Here is the final conclusion, now that you have heard everything: fear God, and keep his mitzvot; this is what being human is all about. 14 For God will bring to judgment everything we do, including every secret, whether good or bad.

Some day God will bring into judgment what our life was really about.

Shouldn’t we do the same thing today?

Why do you do the things that you do? What is your life really about? Are you “feeding on wind,” desiring, driven and diverted, or are you devoted?

“Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mel Gibson, James Dobson, and Whitewash

Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family has recently come out with press release about Mel Gibson's recent anti-Semitic statements. What follows is that press release and the text of a letter I sent to Dr. Dobson's attention.

Dobson Comments on Mel Gibson's Outburst
Pro-family leader stands behind "Passion of the Christ"
Colorado Springs, Colo. –– Focus on the Family Chairman James C. Dobson, Ph.D., today issued the following statement in response to Mel Gibson's recent anti-Semitic comments:

"As is now generally known, Mel Gibson recently made some very hurtful and unfortunate anti-Semitic comments while under the influence of alcohol. We certainly do not condone that racially insensitive outburst. Mel has apologized profusely for the incident and there the matter should rest. Mel has also indicated his willingness to seek help to overcome his alcoholism, and has asked the Jewish community for forgiveness. What more can he do?

"This incident is not relevant in any way to 'The Passion of the Christ,' which is one of the finest films of this era. Our endorsement of it stands as originally stated. We did not believe it was anti-Semitic in 2004, and our views have not changed since that time."


I am a Messianic Jew, 61 years old, a former missionary to the Jews, now leading a Messianic Synagogue in Beverly Hills. I hold an M.A. and PhD in Intercultural Studies from the Fuller Seminary School of Intercultural Studies. Currently, I am Professor of Jewish Spirituality for the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. I have spent nearly four decades as a liason person between the Christian and Jewish communities.

In all of these capacities I am writing to express my deep disapointment and alarm at Dr Dobson's apologia for Mel Gibson's recent anti-Semitic tirade which your press release mischaracterizes as an "outburst." While it was heartening to read the first sentence of the second paragraph characterizing the comments as "very hurtful and anti-Semitic," this is overshadowed by a pervasive attempt to explain away and absolve him from any real culpability. For example, the release points out that he made the comments "while under the influence of alcohol," that he "has apologized profusely and there the matter should rest," that he "has indicated a willingness to seek help to overcome his alcoholism, and has asked the Jewish community for forgiveness. What more can he do?"

Dr Dobson seems to be saying that "the alcohol made him do it" and that making apologies and undergoing treatment should be the end of the matter. The good Doctor knows that apologies are one thing, forgiveness is one thing, but reconcilation another. The "what more" Mel Cibson can do is to admit that he is an anti-Semite. Where else did these thoughts come from? A demon? Demon Rum? If a woman wrote to one of your counselors saying that her husband, while under the influence of alcohol said "I never loved you and just married you for the sex," would Dr. Dobson say that all he needs do is apologize and go to A.A. Meetings, and that she should then let bygones be bygones? Or would he not say that these comments are indicative of a deeper problem that needs addressing, and furthermore, that such hurtful comments mean that reconciliation might never happen?

In Dr Dobson's attempt to rescue the reputation of "The Passion of the Christ," he has whitewashed a stain far more indelible than "an outburst." Or were the speeches of Joseph Goebbels "racially insensitive outbursts" too?

Finally, suppose Rabbi Abe Foxman of the American Defamation League got drunk and made statements such as these: "Those Gentiles, they're all so stupid. They should all go to hell and take their Jesus with them." And then suppose Rabbi Foxman apologized and said he was going for treatment. Would Dr Dobson let matters go as easily as he is letting Mel Gibson off the hook?

I doubt it. Something is wrong. Jesus never did like whitewash.


Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann

Sunday, August 13, 2006


(The following is a Message for Shabbat Ekev, August 12, 2006, presented at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA)

Last Shabbat I was very vexed in the afternoon, after everyone had gone home. I was complaining to Harland G. about people I know in our congregation whom I have been teaching and exhorting for 15 years, but who are going to do what they are going to do---even if that means, for example, "forsaking the assembling of themselves together" with the rest of us, despite being pled with to do otherwise, and even promising to do otherwise—people who could, on a bad day, make me feel like all my effort is for nothing.

Just as I was about to speak, I believe the Lord spoke first—as I was inhaling to begin my tirade, he interrupted me with this word. It is from Isaiah 65:2 - “I spread out my hands all day long to a rebellious people who live in a way that is not good, who follow their own inclinations.” Hashem was saying to me—“Why are you surprised at all this? This is the way it has always been! This is the way it is for Me all the time! I speak, I plead, I wait, and I am ignored by people who persist in following their own ways, ways that are not good, people who are going to follow their own inclinations no matter what I say and no matter who is talking to them.”

I had two other conversations this week that contribute to today’s message. One was with Tali K., and it was about Mark 4:1-20, one of the passages we will be reading today—she commented how she has always been puzzled why some people engage with the things of God and some people just can’t seem to get it or never even take a bite. She realized that Mark 4 answers her question as to why this is. She said that the passage speaks about different kinds of people. And she was right. More to the point, it talks about different ways different people respond to what God is saying to us. More about that later.

I had another conversation this week, this one with Jon C., who commented upon how often in Deuteronomy we find the word “today,” and how the challenge to engage with God is so frequently couched in the context of “Today.”

We will be reading a number of passages today—some from the Newer Covenant, some from the Older, and all except the last focusing on the word “today.” Then we will read Mark 4:1-20, about the different ways people engage—or fail to engage—with the message of God and his invitation to engage. Then I will draw some concluding points for us all.

The first passage is from the New Covenant, and it ends by quoting Isaiah 65:2, the passage God called me to last shabbat. As we read it, notice that the underlying theme of this passage is the imperative to engage NOW with what God is saying to us

Romans 10:4 For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts. 5 For Moshe writes about the righteousness grounded in the Torah that the person who does these things will attain life through them. k 6 Moreover, the righteousness grounded in trusting says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend to heaven?'" that is, to bring the Messiah down - 7 or, "'Who will descend into Sh'ol?'" that is, to bring the Messiah up from the dead. 8 What, then, does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart."l that is, the word about trust which we proclaim, namely, 9 that if you acknowledge publicly with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord and trust in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be delivered. 10 For with the heart one goes on trusting and thus continues toward righteousness, while with the mouth one keeps on making public acknowledgement and thus continues toward deliverance.

In the Romans passage it is important to note the contrast the Apostle is drawing between people who postpone engaging immediately with God’s call and those who in the present engage fully with what He has done in Messiah. He speaks of those who insist on a precondition—someone to come and bring Messiah up from the dead or down from heaven—before they will be able to deal with things, as contrasted with those who are in the present engaged in an ongoing confession of faith and engagement in the now with what God is doing in Messiah.

It is this contrast between people in those whom we might term “people in the now,” or “today people” and those we might term “tomorrow people” that I want to direct our attention to this morning.

The Letter to the Hebrews also makes a big point about “today,” and about engaging now with what God is calling us to.

Hebrews 3:7 Therefore, as the Ruach HaKodesh says, "Today, if you hear God's voice, 8 don't harden your hearts, as you did in the Bitter Quarrel on that day in the Wilderness when you put God to the test. 9 Yes, your fathers put me to the test; they challenged me, and they saw my work for forty years! 10 Therefore, I was disgusted with that generation I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, they have not understood how I do things'; 11 in my anger, I swore that they would not enter my rest." 12 Watch out, brothers, so that there will not be in any one of you an evil heart lacking trust, which could lead you to apostatize from the living God! 13 Instead, keep exhorting each other every day, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you will become hardened by the deceit of sin. 14 For we have become sharers in the Messiah, provided, however, that we hold firmly to the conviction we began with, right through until the goal is reached. 15 Now where it says, "Today, if you hear God's voice, don't harden your hearts, as you did in the Bitter Quarrel," 16 who were the people who, after they heard, quarreled so bitterly? All those whom Moshe brought out of Egypt. 17 And with whom was God disgusted for forty years? Those who sinned - yes, they fell dead in the Wilderness! 18 And to whom was it that he swore that they would not enter his rest? Those who were disobedient. 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of lack of trust.

The exhortation here is to be today people—to not harden our hearts in the now. People who do so elicit divine disgust. In verse 13 the writer admonishes his readers to an ongoing today engagement with what God is up to, an engagement which is not once for all, but continual “For we have become sharers in the Messiah, however, provided that we hold firmly to the conviction we began with [by continually living in it—engaging with it] firm until the goal is reached.” He quotes from Torah to the effect that it was the very privileged people of the Exodus who failed to enter in because of their lack of trust—their failure to remain fully engaged with what God is up to. It is emphatically NOT enough to reflect on some faith commitment once made—as he says in verse 14, we must “hold firmly to the conviction we began with”—maintaining in the now the conviction we once espoused.

Turning now to Deuteronomy, let’s look at a few passage where we are called to respond in the Today---in the Now.

Deut 4:32 "Indeed, inquire about the past, before you were born: since the day God created human beings on the earth, from one end of heaven to the other, has there ever been anything as wonderful as this? Has anyone heard anything like it? 33 Did any other people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and stay alive? 34 Or has God ever tried to go and take for himself a nation from the very bowels of another nation, by means of ordeals, signs, wonders, war, a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and great terrors -like all that ADONAI your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? 35 This was shown to you, so that you would know that ADONAI is God, and there is no other beside him. 36 From heaven he caused you to hear his voice, in order to instruct you; and on earth he caused you to see his great fire; and you heard his very words coming out from the fire. 37 Because he loved your ancestors, chose their descendants after them and brought you out of Egypt with his presence and great power, 38 in order to drive out ahead of you nations greater and stronger than you, so that he could bring you in and give you their land as an inheritance, as is the case today; 39 know today, and establish it in your heart, that ADONAI is God in heaven above and on earth below - there is no other. 40 Therefore, you are to keep his laws and mitzvot which I am giving you today, so that it will go well with you and with your children after you, and so that you will prolong your days in the land ADONAI your God is giving you forever.

Notice here that it our responsibility to take these things to heart right now—not eventually—right now—in the Today. To “. . .know today, and establish it in your heart, that ADONAI is God in heaven above and on earth below - there is no other. Therefore, you are to keep his laws and mitzvot which I am giving you today, so that it will go well with you and with your children after you, and so that you will prolong your days in the land ADONAI your God is giving you forever.

We are responsible to live in the reality of this truth TODAY—for, as we will see at the end of this message, if we don’t respond today, we will never respond—because we will have taken a step toward hardening our hearts as did our ancestors who perished in the wilderness. And as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, it is a very bad idea to harden our hearts. Hardened hearts will be far less able to respond to the invitation of God tomorrow for people who have said “not now” today.

Next week’s Torah passage includes the following admonition:

Deut 11:26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse - 27 the blessing, if you listen to the mitzvot of ADONAI your God that I am giving you today; 28 and the curse, if you don't listen to the mitzvot of ADONAI your God, but turn aside from the way I am ordering you today and follow other gods that you have not known. 29 "When ADONAI your God brings you into the land you are entering in order to take possession of it, you are to put the blessing on Mount G'rizim and the curse on Mount 'Eival. 30 Both are west of the Yarden, in the direction of the sunset, in the land of the Kena'ani living in the 'Aravah, across from Gilgal, near the pistachio trees of Moreh. 31 For you are to cross the Yarden to enter and take possession of the land ADONAI your God is giving you; you are to own it and live in it. 32 And you are to take care to follow all the laws and rulings I am setting before you today.

And near the end of Deuteronomy we read this:

Deut 30:15 Look! I am presenting you today with, on the one hand, life and good; and on the other, death and evil - 16 in that I am ordering you today to love ADONAI your God, to follow his ways, and to obey his mitzvot, regulations and rulings ; for if you do, you will live and increase your numbers; and ADONAI your God will bless you in the land you are entering in order to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, if you refuse to listen, if you are drawn away to prostrate yourselves before other gods and serve them; 18 I am announcing to you today that you will certainly perish; you will not live long in the land you are crossing the Yarden to enter and possess. 19 "I call on heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have presented you with life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life, so that you will live, you and your descendants, 20 loving ADONAI your God, paying attention to what he says and clinging to him - for that is the purpose of your life! On this depends the length of time you will live in the land ADONAI swore he would give to your ancestors Avraham, Yitz'chak and Ya'akov.

The choice is always in the now. That is the only time choices can be made, and if you choose to say “Not now, later,” you are simply saying “No.”

Finally, we will look at the passage Tali referred to---what she termed different kinds of people, but which I would term different ways of responding or not responding to God’s invitation, summons, subpoena to engage with Him in the Now.

Mark 4:1 Again Yeshua began to teach by the lake, but the crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the crowd remained on shore at the water's edge. 2 He taught them many things in parables. In the course of his teaching, he said to them: 3 "Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he sowed, some seed fell alongside the path; and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky patches where there was not much soil. It sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow; 6 but when the sun rose, the young plants were scorched; and since their roots were not deep, they dried up. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked it; so that it yielded no grain. 8 But other seed fell into rich soil and produced grain; it sprouted, and grew, and yielded a crop -- thirty, sixty, even a hundred times what was sown." 9 And he concluded, "Whoever has ears to hear with, let him hear!" 10 When Yeshua was alone, the people around him with the Twelve asked him about the parables. 11 He answered them, "To you the secret of the Kingdom of God has been given; but to those outside, everything is in parables, 12 so that they may be always looking but never seeing; always listening but never understanding. Otherwise, they might turn and be forgiven!" 13 Then Yeshua said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How will you be able to understand any parable? 14 The sower sows the message. 15 Those alongside the path where the message is sown are people who no sooner hear it than the Adversary comes and takes away the message sown in them. 16 Likewise, those receiving seed on rocky patches are people who hear the message and joyfully accept it at once; but they have no root in themselves. So they hold out for a while, but as 17 soon as some trouble or persecution arises on account of the message, they immedi ately fall away. 18 Others are those sown among thorns -- they hear the message; 19 but the worries of the world, the deceitful glamor of wealth and all the other kinds of desires push in and choke the message; so that it produces nothing. 20 But those sown on rich soil hear the message, accept it and bear fruit -- thirty, sixty or a hundredfold.

Look at verse 14. What is “the message” that the sower sows? Different translations say it this way vary little. Most say “the sower sows the word,” and at least one other, The Good News Translation (Second Edition), says, “The sower sows God’s message.” But what is this message, this “word” that is being sown?

Really, what the “word” is in this context—the context of Mark 4 is NOT the Bible. It is not as if Yeshua is saying to these people, “the sower sows the Bible.” Rather, “the word” in this context is the message—the invitation—that God was extending through Yeshua—to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. And for us, the message, the word, of the Kingdom of God may be summarized in this way—it is the invitation, the summons, the subpoena from the throne of Heaven to engage with what God is doing—and to allow God and his priorities to fully engage you.

You will notice that a common theme in the passages we read this morning was the word “today.” Last week we examined the fact that life is not lived in generalities but rather in specifics. Although you may speak of having gotten up about 7:00 this morning, you did not get up at “about” anything—you got up at a precise moment in time that could have been marked with precision by an atomic clock. It is for this reason that God gave specific mitzvot to our people—not general guidelines, but rather specifics of what to eat, what not to eat, what days to observe and how, and all kinds of statutes, ordinances, and commandments to be followed carefully—because life is not and cannot be lived in generalties but only in specifics.

Similarly, life can only be lived in the now—the past is gone, the future is not here. The only time we have—the only time we will ever have—is Now. And if you do not follow God in the Now, you do not follow God at all.

The faithful people of God are today people: it is those who are trapped in unbelief who are tomorrow people, always tomorrow. Could it be that unbelief might be seen to be a habit of non-engagment and unavailability? We all know people who are habitually unavailable "right now" to engage with the things of God. No matter how nice these people are, no matter how much they say they believe, could it be that Scripture would characterize their current posture as "unbelief"?

The call of the Kingdom, the word to which we must all respond, is the invitation God extends to us to engage with what He is up do right now . . .and to allow it to engage us now. It is to be available to what God is saying to His people—to be eagerly available to be mobilized.

For those who are not available, our passage in Mark reminded us today that the Dark Side, or competing priorities, or an unwillingness to pay the price—any and all of these things can enter in and choke the potential out of this opportunity for engagement.

Yeshua told a number of parables about people who wanted to postpone their engagement with what God is up to—"let me first go and bury my father; I bought a field, I have to go see it; I just got married and therefore I cannot go; I bought some oxen and therefore must try them out." Yeshua’s word to all such people is dismissive and harsh, because any time we postpone engagement with what God is up to, we are demonsrating that we do not have saving engaging living faith---faith is always in the NOW. And if we have an excuse now, we will most assuredly have another excuse tomorrow.

Whatever you are doing with the demands of God on your life right now is the true state of your faith—if you are deferring and avoiding, you are demonstrating you are devoid of faith, living in unbelief.

Faith is always in the now.

So the big question is this: “How are you dealing today with how God is addressing you?”

Harden not your hearts - - for as long as it is called “Today.”

Our tradition reminds us: “avon goreret avon, u-mitzvah goreret mitzvah.” One sin leads to another, and one act of obedience leads to another. What you do with today’s opportunities conditions what you will do with tomorrow’s and all the tomorrows to follow.

Now is the time. What are you doing with God’s message to you at the only time you will ever be able to respond to Him? That time is called "Today."

Engaging with what God is up to now, for Messianic Judaism, means full engagement with Yeshua in the power of the Holy Spirit. In addition, the passages from Deuteronomy which we considered today demonstrate that we cannot honestly escape the fact that a part of that full engagement for the descandants of Jacob means engaging with God's commandments, with the pathway of mitzvot to which Scripture so often links the imperative to engage "today." This is the pathway to which Hashem is calling us to return--the pathway of covenant faithfulness, in the power of the Spirit and to the honor of the Father through Messiah Yeshua. See the recent posting http://rabbenu.blogspot.com/2006/08/why-just-trying-to-keep-ten.html for more details on what this means.

I guess it all boils down to this: Saying "Not now" is just another way of saying "No." We are either people in the No or people in the Now. Choose today whom you will serve . . .choose to engage today . . .choose now that your soul may live. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Why Just Trying To Keep The Ten Commandments Just Won't Do

Some people say, “Stuart, why do you talk about Torah obedience? Isn’t it enough that I try and live by the Ten Commandments?”

Of course the answer to this is “Isn’t it enough for what?” First, let’s not be confused: Torah obedience is not about “getting saved” (in Christian fundamentalist jargon), nor is it about going to heaven or keeping God happy. It is about the lifestyle that God gave the Jewish people as a people to be a means whereby we might honor Him in the midst of the earth . . .period. Neither is this kind of Torah obedience the province of all peoples on the face of the earth—rather it is specifically God’s covenant with Israel. “The Torah Moshe commanded us as an inheritance for the community of Ya'akov” (Deut 33:4).

Parshat Va’etchanan, (Deut 3:23-7:11), among many other passages in Scripture, speaks directly to this issue of honoring God when it records Moses saying,

“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. 6Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' 7"For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? 8And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deut 4:5-8). See also the following: “He reveals his words to Ya'akov, his laws and rulings to Isra'el. He has not done this for other nations; they do not know his rulings. Halleluyah!“ (Psalm 147:19-20); “Then he gave them the lands of the nations, and they possessed what peoples had toiled to produce, 45 in order to obey his laws and follow his teachings. Halleluyah!”(Psalm 105:44).

The keeping of Torah marks the Jews out as a wise and understanding people in the midst of the earth, the people of a God who is near to them whenever they pray to Him, and nation whose obedience and unique way of life marks it out as having righteous statutes and judgments.

This means of course that our keeping of Torah must be demonstrably indicative of wisdom and understanding rather than weirdness and strangeness. And our obedience must demonstrate that the way of life we have been given by God is righteous—again, not simply strange. This would appear to give priority to the moral implications of Torah as in keeping “the weightier matters of the Torah -- justice, mercy, trust” (Matt 23:23). And by the way, this prioritizing of moral, relational matters does not nullify ritual law at all. In the same context Yeshua says this: “"Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P'rushim! You pay your tithes of mint, dill and cumin; but you have neglected the weightier matters of the Torah -- justice, mercy, trust. These are the things you should have attended to -- without neglecting the others!” He tells the Torah-teachers and P’rushim that they ought not to neglect their ritual minutiae, here, by the way, matters strictly of halachic custom rather than stipulations of written Torah.

This brings us to a kal v’chomer argument—one from the lesser case to the greater. If Yeshua said we ought not to neglect matters of ritual custom, what Jewish life calls “d-rabbanan”—the teachings of the rabbis—then how much MORE ought we not to neglect matters stipulated in Torah, termed in our tradition, “d’oraita.”

Returning now to Va-etchanan and the matter of whether adhering to the Ten Commandments is enough, let us continue to follow Moses’ argument.

It is fascinating that Moses never admonishes the people to keep the Ten Commandments [more properly, “the Ten Words”], but rather to keep the chukkim and mishpatim [statutes and judgments/ordinances] "Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you" (Deut 4:1-2).

That he never admonishes them to keep the Ten Words but rather to keep the chukkim and mishpatim is likely due to the fact that life is in the details. Life is not lived in generalities, but in details. There is no other way to live than in specifics. One does not get out of bed approximately at 7:00 AM. Every day of our life there is a specific moment when our head lifts off the pillow and our feet touch the floor—a specific moment that could be marked with a chronometer. One may speak in retrospect of having gotten up this morning about 7:00 AM, but in the doing of it, we cannot get up approximately at such and such time, but rather there is specific moment when the deed happens. And so it is with all of life. Life is in the \details.

This is why the Torah and halachic discussion deal with minute details—it is because this is the only way life can be lived. But this being the case, we must remember as well to not lose our sense of proportion. Our keeping of Torah must be to the effect that we will appear to others to be a wise and understanding people with a God near to us, who gave us a unique way of life marking us out as having has righteous statutes and judgments. And it is a unique way of life weighted toward justice, mercy and trust in this God. That is where the center of gravity of our way of life is to be found. And the way we get to the center of Torah is by remembering it IS the center, and by implementing attention to details with that always in view.

Although this deserves another posting, I must not hesitate to remark here that Yeshua is of course at the center of our Messianic Jewish consciousness. He is not the nullfication of Torah, nor the replacement of Torah but rather the embodiment of that righteousness toward which Torah points—it is in this sense that “the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts” [Romans 10:4]. So, to keep the matter brief in the current context, our faith in Yeshua does not vitiate nor render outmoded the imperative for Jews to communally honor God in the context of Torah-living.

Speaking of “Torah-living” I found it interesting to see that Moses refers to the chukkim and mishpatim—the statutes and ordinances—by the collective term “Torah.” See Deut 4:8: “What great nation is there that has laws and rulings [chukkim and mishpatim] as just as this entire Torah which I am setting before you today?” So, we can see that living as Torah-true Jews means living by the chukkim and mishpatim—the statutes and ordinances of Torah, as mediated to us through communal discussion and precedent. I say the latter because the Torah—here, the chukkim and mishpatim—were not given to us as individuals but were given to a people, the people of Israel. If we would keep these chukkim and mishpatim, it is the height of chutzpah for us to simply ignore or discount over three millennia of communal discussion on what it means to honor and obey God in these ways.

On the question of Torah-living and honoring the Covenant God made with our ancestors, we have already seen that Moses never admonishes the Israelites to keep the Ten Words, but rather the chukkim and mishpatim, because, after all, life is in the details—in the specifics. We do not live in generalities but in the most specific of ways. This interpretation is further illustrated in Deut 4:13-14, where we read: “He proclaimed his covenant to you, which he ordered you to obey, the Ten Words; and he wrote them on two stone tablets. At that time ADONAI ordered me to teach you laws and rulings, so that you would live by them in the land you are entering in order to take possession of it.” It is clear from this passage that they way in which one honors the command to obey the Ten Words is by keeping the laws and rulings---the chukkim and mishpatim.

Moses Maimonides, the Rambam, helped us to learn that “mitzvah,” like Torah, is a general word. “Mitzvah” is the general word for “commandment,” and the terms chukkim, mishpatim, and eidot, are specific terms for kinds of mitzvot. And of course, to use another general term, the path of mitzvot is in Jewish life the path of Torah-true living.

Generally speaking, the mitzvot are divided into two categories: logical mishpatim ("laws" or "judgements") and supra-rational chukkim ("decrees").

The mishpatim are mitzvot such as the commandment to give charity or the prohibitions against theft and murder, whose reason and usefulness are obvious to us, and which we would arguably have instituted on our own if God had not commanded them. The chukkim are those mitzvot, such as the dietary laws which we accept as divine decrees, despite their incomprehensibility and -- in the most extreme of chukkim -- their irrationality.

[A third category, the eidot ("testimonials"), occupies the middle ground between the decrees and the laws. A testimonial is a mitzvah which commemorates or represents something -- e.g., the commandments to put on tefillin, rest on Shabbat, or eat matzah on Passover. These are laws which we would not have devised on our own, certainly not in the exact manner in which the Torah commands; nevertheless, they are rational acts. Once their significance is explained to us, we can appreciate their import and utility.] (This material on Rambam's analysis of the types of mitzvot is excerpted and adapted from material found at Chabad.org, but may be found elsewhere as well--it is the standard explanation in religious Jewish religious discussion).

This understanding of Torah-true living as keeping of God’s specific chukkim, mishpatim, (and eidot as well) is attested to in the Book of Malachi 4:4: “"Remember the Torah of Moshe my servant, which I enjoined on him at Horev, laws and rulings [chukkim and mishpatim] for all Isra'el.

An astute reader will query me on the basis of the Newer Covenant, as for example, where Yeshua refers to the Ten Words in his encounter with "The Rich Young Ruler," as he is commonly called. In Mark 10, we read:

17 As he was starting on his way, a man ran up, kneeled down in front of him and asked, "Good rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?" 18 Yeshua said to him, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good except God! 19 You know the mitzvot -- `Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't give false testimony, don't defraud, honor your father and mother, . .'" 20 "Rabbi," he said, "I have kept all these since I was a boy." 21 Yeshua, looking at him, felt love for him and said to him, "You're missing one thing. Go, sell whatever you own, give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me!" 22 Shocked by this word, he went away sad; because he was a wealthy man.

The parallel account in Luke 18 reads this way:

18 One of the leaders asked him, "Good rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?" 19 Yeshua said to him, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good but God! 20 You know the mitzvot -- `Don't commit adultery, don't murder, don't steal, don't give false testimony, honor your father and mother, . . .'" 21 He replied, "I have kept all these since I was a boy." 22 On hearing this Yeshua said to him, "There is one thing you still lack. Sell whatever you have, distribute the proceeds to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me!" 23 But when the man heard this, he became very sad, because he was very rich.

Do these passage demonstrate Yeshua's disparagement of the chukkim and mishpatim? Hardly! First, since the body of Torah mitzvot [chukkim, mishpatim, eidot] is the detailed explication of living out the Ten Words, referring to the Ten Words is shorthand for the entire body of Torah Law. Secondly, this account sets up Yeshua speaking first of one's responsibility to people--what Jewish tradition speaks of as "mitzvot bein adam lachavero" commandments pertaining to one's relationship to one's neighbor, and "mitzvot bein adam l'Makom"--commandments pertaining to one's relationship with God. This being the case, the gospel accounts may be stating the astounding proposition that if the Rich Young Ruler wishes to fulfill his obligations to God, then he should sell what he has and give tzedakkah, and come follow Yeshua.

In either case, these texts, taken in the context of Yeshua's broader teaching and his way of life as an observant Jews, and the lives of his disciples, cannot be taken as a nullifcation of chukkim and mishpatim as fulfillments of the Ten Words. If that were the case, then why do we find the apostles leading Torah observant lives--in the context of chukkim, mishpatim, eidot, and Jewish custom more broadly considered? See, for example, Acts 21:17 ff., a very powerful confirmation of Torah-true living as the apostolic norm for Jews, and also and 24:17, wherein we read even of the Apostle to the Gentiles being Torah observant and bringing offerings to the Temple about twenty-five years after Pentecost: "After several years away, I returned to Jerusalem with money to aid my people and to offer sacrifices to God" [NLT]; "Now after some years I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices" [NRSV]; "After an absence of several years, I came to Yerushalayim to bring a charitable gift to my nation and to offer sacrifices" [CJB].

Questions For Your Consideration

1. What bearing does this lesson have upon people who might be a bit obsessive about commandment keeping, treating everything as if it were equally important?
2. If it could be demonstrated from the Newer Covenant Scriptures that God no longer cares if we keep the commandments, statutes, and ordinances of the Torah, would this be an improvement or not, and why?
3. Have you ever kept God’s commandments in such a manner as people came to see you as wise and understanding because of it? Explain.
4. There are a number of places the tradition proposes that we might begin in keeping an observant life. One of these is in the keeping of shabbat. Why might shabbat keeping be an appropriate means of demonstrating to others that God has given us righteous laws, and that the path has set before us is full of wisdom and understanding?

Reaching Your Spiritual Potential - A Presentation to the 20's Group at the Annual Conference of the UMJC

In this presentation, we are going to examine what spiritual practices enable one to cultivate godly character. As we examine this issue, we should be careful to avoid a certain kind of Greek concept of “godly character,” as if godly character were simply a set of ideal characteristics. To look at godly character as a set of characteristics is inadequate because, from the perspective of our tradition and our scriptures, godly character is relational and must be seen not simply in what we are in ourselves but in who and what we are in our relationships with God and with society. A person’s godliness is evaluated not in isolation, but in how he or she relates to God and to others.

The Hebrew word to bear in mind is Hesed. Gordon Freeman has described hesed as “reciprocity…a value that goes beyond the minimum utilitarian aspect of living together in society…Its purpose is to lead to greater cohesiveness between people.” (Elazar and Freeman in Kinship and Consent: The Jewish Political Tradition and Its Contemporary Uses, ed. Daniel Elazar, 1983)

In other words, to act in hesed toward one another is to be social glue strengthening the bond of our covenantal relationship with each other and as a soothing salve for the community’s wounds. We need to be superglue, and super friends, and not sulfuric acid.

Godly character is not some Greek ideal of perfection, like a breathtaking statue. Character is not something that takes our breath away, but rather, something that must live and breathe itself. Our godly character will demonstrate its reality in our relationships with others, with ourselves, and with the God in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

As a model for godliness there can be no better example than Yeshua, our righteous Messiah. Therefore, today we will focus the early chapters of Luke, where we have opportunity to observe some of the spiritual perspectives and practices that shaped and sustained the One who is our model in all things.

We will be taking matters not in priority order but in canonical chronological order as they appear in the early chapters of Luke. We will see practices as related to perspectives, and perspectives as related to practices as we consider Yeshua and how he lived, moved, and had his being in hesed relationships with God and humanity.

1. Monitor a balanced and dialectical relationship between your role as your parent’s child, as an heir of a tradition, and as a child of God interfacing with the wider world.

In Luke 2, we read:

41 Every year Yeshua's parents went to Yerushalayim for the festival of Pesach. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up for the festival, as custom required. 43 But after the festival was over, when his parents returned, Yeshua remained in Yerushalayim. They didn't realize this; 44 supposing that he was somewhere in the caravan, they spent a whole day on the road before they began searching for him among their relatives and friends. 45 Failing to find him, they returned to Yerushalayim to look for him. 46 On the third day they found him -- he was sitting in the Temple court among the rabbis, not only listening to them but questioning what they said; 47 and everyone who heard him was astonished at his insight and his responses. 48 When his parents saw him, they were shocked; and his mother said to him, "Son! Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been terribly worried looking for you!" 49 He said to them, "Why did you have to look for me? Didn't you know that I had to be concerning myself with my Father's affairs?" 50 But they didn't understand what he meant. 51 So he went with them to Natzeret and was obedient to them. But his mother stored up all these things in her heart. 52 And Yeshua grew both in wisdom and in stature, gaining favor both with other people and with God.

Here we see Yeshua in his context. A traditional Jewish family, honoring tradition himself. His self-awareness is growing, and as an adolescent going through a life cycle change, he redraws and feels out anew the contours of his relationship to three authorities: the tradition, his parents, and God above. So will it be for you as young people. Especially in adolescence [which extends beyond the teen-age years, and for man can extend to about the age of thirty] this is a constant process and a constant challenge. You will need to honor all of these relationships, but also must mature in an understanding of what it means to honor your relationship to the tradition, to your parents, and to God, and this will be a recurring process. What all these three have in common is they are all authorities in your life—and maturing as young people requires of you that you mature in how you respond to the authority of God, of tradition, of parents. If you are growing as a person you will grow in these areas, and if you don’t change, it will be an indicator and a cause of stunted growth. Here is a rule of thumb: children react—adults respond. So monitor how you are dealing with these authorities—don’t just be reactive. Many of us need advice and help in this area, so don’t be afraid to ask help of counselors, clergy, trusted friends and mentors.

2. Cultivate an internal honesty, vulnerability, and intimacy with God – being filled with the Spirit.

We read also of Yeshua that when he was immersed by Yochanan in the Jordan River, the Spirit of God descended upon Him, and that he went forth into the wilderness, Filled with the Spirit.

If you would mature in your relationship with God, you must cultivate intimacy with the Spirit, whom I term “the in the meantime God.” Yeshua said that it would be to our advantage that he went away, for he would then send the Holy Spirit to be with us as an adequate compensation for the physical absence of Yeshua “in the meantime.” Cultivating intimacy with the Divine Presence requires of us that we cultivate an internal honesty with Him, and a vulnerability to his searching, probing authority. Only thus can we expect to function in linkage with Him and thus, be filled with the Spirit. This is not something that happens once for all, but is meant to be a continually renewed penetration of the Spirit into our deepest seat of feeling, planning, longing and being.

3. Learn about fasting and other enhancement disciplines. Experiment with them, learn how things are done, and the value of these various disciplines. How you will learn these things involves not simply reading, but being mentored, and I will have more to say about this soon.

In the case of Yeshua we learn that when he went into the Wilderness to be tempted by the Evil one, “During that time he ate nothing, and afterwards he was hungry.” I used to think that this fast was for the purpose of weakening Yeshua to the max, so that his resistance to the Temptation was to be that much more impressive. But actually, he fasted to fortify himself—to prepare himself for the onslaught he was about to undergo. So with us, there will be times when we will want to fast because of something we are facing or about to face, or to otherwise draw nearer to God in a special way for some special reason. You will need to learn about this practice and others like it, not only from books, but from others who have practiced this holy discipline and whom you can trust for their excellent counsel.

4. Cultivate discernment and learn how to borrow it from others. Yeshua demonstrated astounding discernment in his confrontation with the Evil One, who, with characteristic subtlety and cunning, sought to use Scripture to detour Yeshua from the trajectory of God's will. You too will need to cultivate discernment. This is especially important as young people, because there are many people out there who think they know what is good for your life, and will seek to influence you directly or indirectly—in other words, you may not even know they are trying to influence you. In addition, younger people, imagining that the possibilities are endless, can be prone to making unwise and short-sighted choices in life. For such reasons, you will need to develop discernment—the ability to rightly weigh and choose among alternatives. And there is nothing wrong, and much that is right, about aseeking the counsel of trusted advisors.

5. Make the study of Scripture foundationally, and of our holy tradition generally, the bedrock of your life.

When tempted by the Evil One in the Wilderness, Yeshua had not scriptures with him—no scrolls, certainly no books—but what he did have was what he had memorized though a lifetime of intimacy and study of Scripture. This is something which is still true of religious Jews in our day—the habit of Talmud Torah lishma—the study of sacred lore for its own sake. One of the profound weaknesses of the Messianic Jewish movement is the comparative lack of Scripturally knowledgeable, learned laity. This is a shameful lack and a profound weakness in our movement.

Learned Jewish scholars are looked upon as repositories of treasure in the Jewish world—which of you you young people will set yourselves on a path to becoming that kind of treasure for our community, a repository of learning that glorifies God and brings honor to the community? This is not a matter of vocation, by the way. There are plenty of Jewish lawyers, doctors, business people, for whom sacred learning in a daily part of their lives. What about you?

And when temptation and testing comes your way, as it did for Yeshua, will you be deeply equipped from a lifelong habit of diligent study?

6. Make it a habit to participate fully in public worship along with the people of whom God has made you a part—Jewish worship. We read in Luke 4, "16 Now when he went to Natzeret, where he had been brought up, on Shabbat he went to the synagogue as usual." It was Yeshua's life-habit to go to synagogue. Why? To learn [he was after all a human being, who had to "increase in wisdom and stature" as we are told in Luke 2]. He also went to celebrate the acts of His Father in the the life of Israel and to honor His Father in the place of prayer. He went as well to be with His people, Israel. And now, it is we who must join with Yeshua, our Great High Priest and the Great High Priest of all Israel, honoring and giving thanks to His Father in the midst of His people. This is our calling and privilege as part of a holy nation and a royal priesthood. It is also our unique calling as Messianic Jews—for we are the salt on the sacrifice of Israel’s prayers. As all sacrifices were seasoned with salt, so, as we mingle our prayers with those of our people, we render them more acceptable before the throne of heaven.

Priests had a job to do, and this is part of our job. Will you play your part?

7. Learn what it means to function in your area of giftedness - “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” This is what Yeshua said in his inaugural sermon, there in the synagogue in Natzeret. And since God had anointed Him for that, that is what he did. And for what has God anointed you?

There is a direct relationship between gifts and calling, and it is as we serve our gifts and calling that we mature and read our spiritual potential. I advise you first, to seek to discover what your gifts are—what is it that builds up the community of believers which you do with greater ease, effectiveness and joy than others? What is it that you habitually do that others in the community of faith have told you is a blessing to them? What sorts of gifted people are you habitually drawn to? Answering questions like these will help you to discover your gifts. And when you do, it is your task to repeatedly and continually seek our contexts where those gifts will be employed and developed. And the older you get, the more you should restrict yourself to functioning in those areas of giftedness.

By the way, there is such a thing as a “giftedness set.” This term, coined by Bobby Clinton, refers to the symbiotic combination of spiritual gifts, natural abilities, and acquired skills you have. He also speaks of a focal point—that area where your giftedness set focuses. For some people, their focal point is natural abilities—they are by nature gifted speakers, and that natural ability is empowered by their spiritual gifts and honed by the acquires skills. Others, like myself, are spiritually gifted teachers [I was a lousy school teacher, but have been very effective as a teacher of the things of God]. I also collect and read books on public speaking, to improve my game, so to speak, and am always critiquing my presentations to see how they might have been done better.

So learn about yourself and find ways to employ and develop the best that is in you for the progress of the Kingdom of Heaven.

8. Learn the ins and outs of exercising delegated spiritual authority - healing, the demonic. Obviously, this is what Yeshua did, and this is what he sent his disciples forth to do.

I am a person who has always loved books. The first birthday present I can recall asking for as a child was a Hebrew English dictionary! I realized some years ago that most of the catalytic ideas I have learned in my life have come through books. But books can only take you so far. As our next point will remind us, we all need mentors as well—people to bring us along, to teach us new things, to guide us into and through new experiences.

This was my experience with one of my mentors in graduate school who had developed sub-specialties of praying for the sick and the demonized. In the course of time, he invited me alongside to learn some things through guided hands on participation. This was preceded by and accompanied with my going through some paradigm shifts regarding what I believed about the immanence of God and the degree to which we are invited to interface with the spiritual realm.

Yeshua’s first disciples learned in this way—through observing Him in action, through being given assignments to “do the stuff,” through debriefings after such ministry excursions. The point is, he sent them forth not only to teach, and to spread the good news. He sent them forth to heal as well. And in a sense, healing is no big deal: although some are gifted in this area, with a better track record than others, all of us are called upon to be links in a chain of divine causality in praying for the healing of others. This is similar to the issue of evangelism. Some people have the gift to do so: they are markedly effective in this area. But all of us are called upon to do so, even those not so gifted. So with healing and casting out demons [sounds weird I know, but it happens and for many of us should be something we learn about in the fullness of time].

9. You will need to be mentored, do cultivate mentoree eyes.

Cultivating “mentoree eyes” means learning to look for and recognize mentors.

Bobby Clinton was one of my mentors in my graduate and post-graduate education. He is a world-class expert on mentoring. One of his most helpful teachings in this area is that each of us should seek out mentors in specific areas of life. There may be one person you know who is a masterful student of the Scriptures, another who appears to have a deep and nurturing prayer life, a third who has great skill in relating to people, yet another who stays organized and productive no matter how busy life gets. Each of these persons have something to teach you—knowledge to pass on, a skill to develop, a pathway to personal growth. Sometimes, these people are literary or historical mentors, by the way. For example, David Allen, in his book “Getting Things Done” has taught me more about getting organized and staying that way than anyone else in all of my life. And Ronald Reagan is one of my mentors in public speaking—I read about how he constructed his radio talks and speeches, how he delivered them, etc. I never met David Allen or Ronald Reagan, but they have mentored me nonetheless.

But of course there are also contemporary potential mentors whom you know in your social system, people who have something to teach you in certain areas of life. Learn to look for such persons, and to link up with them for season of learning, advice, apprenticeship, or what have you.

In this regard, find what resources you can by Bobby Clinton on the subject of mentoring. He has much to teach us all about how to make the best use of mentors, and how to mentor others as well.

10. Cultivate the habit of a private life of prayer to sustain you, to help you stay moored to your particular place in the world—to help you honor right priorities.
In Luke 5:16, we read of Yeshua, " . . . he made a practice of withdrawing to remote places in order to pray." Despite the fact that his daily life was draining, and that there were crushing demands made upon his time and energies, he would often withdraw, a great while before daybreak, and even spend nights in prayer. Why? I am convinced he needed His Father's guidance and needed the replenishment that comes from deep prayer. Private prayer is something you also will want to return to again and again. It is home base—it is the hub of your life.

11. The root of all of this is threefold - Torah, Avodah, G’milut Hasadim • Torah - fullbodied, communally grounded sacred instruction, rooted in scripture, tempered in tradition, processed in community. • Avodah - a multi-style life of prayer – “with all kinds of prayers” – liturgical, extemporaneous, praying in the Spirit with tongues, if this is a gift you have. Prayer as the hub of your life to which you return again and again and from which you depart to the rest of your life. Prayer is not simply something you do, like a merit badge or component of a respectable religious life or a module of a godly character—prayer is the oxygen of the Spirit. • Gemilut Hasadim - Remember what we said about Hesed earlier: it is “reciprocity…a value that goes beyond the minimum utilitarian aspect of living together in society…Its purpose is to lead to greater cohesiveness between people.” I would suggest that we should no longer think of “gemilut hasadim” as “deeds of lovingkindness,” but rather as “actions of covenantal maturity that make real the relationship we claim to have with each other.”

Just this week, a friend sent me a very recent article from Arutz Sheva, concerning the human cost of the current battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon. The article, by Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson, perfectly illustrates the spirit of gemilut hasadim. In his article he was extolling the sacrifice being made by Jewish soliders fighting for the well-being of all of Israel. Here is part of what he said.

At such times, the entire nation must be mobilized. Mobilization means not only giving money; mobilization is directing ones essence to accomplish a single goal: achieving victory over a ruthless enemy seeking the obliteration of our people. Just as our soldiers are currently battling with all their heart and soul, so too must we increase our spiritual warfare, through the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvos; through prayer, charity and acts of goodness; through expressing solidarity without reservation. . . .

“Expressing solidarity without reservation.”
That is something we in the Messianic Jewish Movement sorely need, and something we sorely lack—solidarity with each other across the divides in our movement, and solidarity with the Jewish people as a whole. We have a God-given mission in the world at a time when God is doing something new and eschatological among our people. And surely one of the practices we all need to undertake is “expressing solidarity without reservation” through gemilut hasadim, “actions of covenantal maturity that make real the relationship we claim to have with each other.” In this regard, the offerings our Union have given to the state of Israel have been splendid acts of gemilut hasadim. But there are small actions as well that demonstrate this value. Each of you should look for ways to strengthen and express your solidarity with the rest of the Messianic Jewish movement, with the Jewish people as a whole, and with the wider people of God.

12. I would add as well, that the full orb of Jewish ritual life is indispensable in keeping alive within us and among us a sense of covenantal connection to our people Israel across time.
I am reminded of the time that I stood in the Ukraine where I had gone on a humanitarian mission with our friend Michael Schiffman. As I put on my tallis and tefillin and prayed from the siddur, I realized with goose pimples that I was at that moment far closer than I had ever stood to where my father, and his father, and his father’s ancestors had stood. As I bound the tefillin on my arm. I realized I was bound not only to God, but also to a chain of Jewish continuity in which I was either going to be a strong link, or a break in the chain.

Ritual reminds us of the covenantal connection in which g’milut hasadim have their reality “expressing solidarity without reservation” through “actions of covenantal maturity that make real the relationship we claim to have with each other.”

13. Finally, remember the admonition to young people with which Solomon closes the Book of Ecclesiastes- “The end of all matters is this fear God, and keep his mitzvot; this is what being human is all about.” And this is what being godly is all about. Let’s get on with it.