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I am committed to a life provoking the invasion of The Coming Kingdom through: human service, ecstatic prayer, halakhic observation, community building, nurturing hope, and drawing down abiding faith...

Friday, December 31, 2010

What should we be focusing on?

It seems to be rather obvious that everyone has his/her unique calling toward advancing those things which are crucially important for the Messianic Jewish movement:

Jewish-Christian relations
Hebrew education
Creative thinking
Developing halakhic standards
Developing siddur material and music

All of this goes towards the ultimate goal of developing community that addresses the needs and goals of the MJ movement for itself and the world.

I am preparing a book revew of Rabbi Elie Kaunfer's Empowered Judaism which I will be presenting late next month. As a part of this review I will be touching on the applicability of Rabbi Kaunfer's model for the MJ movement. As I have been engaging in this project some questions have manifested:

How can the way we move forward respond to our particular needs as a community (as opposed to making us look like a particular, already-existing, form of 21st century Judaism)?

What does being an empowered Messianic Jew look like...what should we be focusing on?

I'm looking for some feedback from all of you on your answers to some of these questions :-)
I hope some of the feedback I receive here will help me develop a more diverse and responsive presentation.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In The Likeness of Men

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Messiah Yeshua, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

For this reason also, God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Yeshua every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Messiah Yeshua is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5–11 (NASB)

On the surface, Paul is encouraging the Philippians to live a life of humility and total devotion to God. The reason given is Yeshua’s humility, though being worthy of exaltation. By the end, we find Yeshua bearing the Name of God. One might ask which of Yeshua’s attributes we are to admire most: his humility or his equality with God. The answer is both. Yeshua is the fullest expression of what it means to be in the image of God, an appellation given to Adam in Genesis. The revelation of his Divinity comes to pass through the perfection of his humanity. Because he is the perfect man, he is the Son of Man . . . The Son of God. What we find is that his humanity is perfected in his divinity. But this is not so that we would not aspire to be fully human, but rather he teaches us to be more fully human than we could ever be. By connecting to his humility, we tap into what can be mutual between us and God: the capacity for sacrificial love.

When we submit fully to God we are responding to the sacrificial love he bestowed upon us. His sacrificial love was fully realized in his death, burial, and resurrection yet it was activated by his very birth. God gave us the fullness of himself completely over to us in the form of a little baby. God gave us an opportunity to truly see his face in one another as we were given privilege to see his own face. What child is this? Who is this King of Glory? Our Messiah Yeshua, the risen One, the crucified One, the Word wrapped in flesh, the baby wrapped in poor cloth, the Light of the world!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chodesh Tov-Tevet

Chodesh Tov everyone!

I pray your Hanukkah has been filled with light and gladness...We are entering the month of Tevet where am Yisrael have the task to carry the light of Hanukkah into the upcoming days. We will celebrate renewal once again in Sh'vat (stay tuned...)

In the meantime, there are lessons to carry from Hanukkah that we are given space to reflect on in the seemingly "empty" month of Tevet (apart from one minor fast day on the 10th).

1. Our particularity has universal implications

The Jewish people live as a reminder of a unique relationship with God, one that is constantly growing and bearing fruit. Without the Jewish people, we could not consider God as faithful or loving (heaven forbid!). any time a nation or ideology comes up to espouse universalism at the expence of particularity the root of all things good in this world is removed: Love. Love requires particularity. I do love all people, but I also love my family uniquely. I care for both and one group does not have intrinsic value over the other but my focus is on my family. Without the uniqueness of love, there is no God of the Bible. God loves creation. God loves humanity uniquely among creation. God loves those who draw near uniquely among all people. God loves the ekklesia uniquely among those who draw near. God loves the Jewish people uniquely. God loves Mashiach Yeshua as the embodiment of all, uniquely.

Let us all never forget this in a world in love with universalism that the love of the all can only be real when there is the ability and acceptance of unique love.

2. Assimilation will not save us

The Jewish people cannot become more "palatable" to the world by assimilating. It is only in being who we are, deeply and fully that we can hope to represent God in this world.

Let us carry this into Tevet. When our hanukkiot are no longer lit may we be living hanukkiot when the Hanukkah products are taken off the shelves, and the token ode to our people has been forgotten.

3. A little light goes a long way

It doesn't take much light to light up a dark room. It doesn't take large numbers to keep the Spirit of God and our people alive. As our brothers and sisters in the Church worldwide will remind us on the 18th of Tevet (this year) it only takes one birth to change the world!

Monday, November 22, 2010

FFOZ-Latest Messiah Journal!

First Fruits of Zion (and Vine of David) is a profound resource for believers in Yeshua. All of their materials are worth checking out (http://ffoz.org/).

Particularly special, however, is their latest issue of Messiah Journal. In addition to a wonderful article on the ethics of Yeshua, there are two biographies of luminaries of Messianic Judaism: Franz Delitzsch and Rabbi Isaac Lichenstein. This articles are informative and timely, as FFOZ and VoD hope to release their special edition of a Delitzch Hebrew/English translation of the New Testament soon.

My personal favorite in this issue is a translation of R Lichenstein's, "The Talmud on Trial," which is an apologetic defese of the Talmud to the Christian world.

There are other excellent articles in this issue, including dicussions of "one law" theology and apologetics for Yeshua's Messiahship.

I cannot say enough good things about the journal or the thankfulness I feel for having the opportunity to take a sneak peek...What are you waiting for...check it out: Messiah Jounal Issue 105 Fall 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chanukkah-Increasing in Holiness

(For any "ruachites" stumbling on the blog, this gives a good portion, though not all, of the material from my shiur last Shabbat)

Chanukkah holds two modes of redemption in tension:

1.The defeat of the foes of the Jewish people and God
2.The increasing light of the Jewish people shining forth into a dark world

The matter is best described in the famous machlochet ("disagreement") between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. Beit Shammai say we start with eight lights and gradually decrease, while Beit Hillel say we start with one light and gradually increase all eight days. The first explanations given in the gemara are that Beit Shammai count by the number of days left while Beit Hillel count by the number of days that have passed. This has a certain philosophical import, but it's pretty straightforward. It is the next set of explanations that bring the conversation to another level:

Beit Shammai corresponds to the [Sukkot] Festival
Beit Hillel [say] we increase in matters of holiness

One of the unique features of Sukkot (another 8 day holiday if you count Shemini Atzeret as a part of it) is the large portion of bull sacrifices that decreases by number as you go through the chag. These sacrifices are understood to correspond to the nations of the world. Each sacrifice is a kind of atonement for the nations. It has been suggested that these sacrifices weaken the power of the enemies of Am Yisrael and God. Now we get to the heart of the matter: Beit Shammai are essentially saying that the focus of Chanukkah is the weakening of the foes who oppose us. Beit Hillel say the focus is on the ever increasing light that comes into the world beginning with one nation and growing from there: holiness increases.

Both are valid, but we go with Beit Hillel. The simple reason is, with very few exceptions, the halakha goes with Beit Hillel. We are being taught something even more profound however: It is not the weakening of our foes that is primary for Am Yisrael but rather our increasing light into a dark world. As our light increases foes will be vanquished. Nevertheless, light warms and brightens as much as it burns and we have a responsibility to focus on brightening and warming.

It is fascinating that the only Besora that mentions Chanukkah is Yochanan's. Yochanan, more than any of the others, focuses on Yeshua as the light of the world. From him, our great shamash, all the other lights of holiness are ever-increasingly illuminated. May all chasidei Yeshua remember that we are called to be the light of the world, set ablaze by the fire for God and mankind Mashiach set in us. May we be sure to have enough oil to keep our lamps lit. As we publicize the miracle of Chanukkah, may we join all of Am Yisrael to increase in matters of holiness.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chodesh Tov-Kislev

Kislev is both the darkest and brightest month of our year. It is a month burdened with long dark nights, and at one point of our history the threat of destruction under the Greek empire. A great miracle happened in this month, however: a little candle blazed bright enough to shut out the overbearing darkness. That candle was the menorah...that candle was am Yisrael. As a commemoration of that victory we have an opportunity every year to make our light shine without impending doom as a catalyst, but rather the joy of being alive. May all of k'lal Yisrael be blazing lights this month...I pray that those of us who are still waiting for the bridegroom keep enough oil in our lamps to welcome him for the wedding.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oral Torah: Lifestyle and Communication

In my previous post I discussed a variety of things which Oral Torah is not. I want to continue with what I feel are two helpful ways of understanding Oral Torah that may point us in a direction of clarifying it as a modality.

1. Oral Torah is a lifestyle-Oral Torah requires an engagement with TaNaKh and tradition that asks more questions than it answers and yet produces more clarity than confusion. The midrashim wrestle with deep existential questions and issues raised by the biblical text as it interfaces with the Jewish historical experience (even the more general human experience). Midrash does not produce dogma, but it does produce a way of engaging Scripture that values what it could be saying as much as what it actually does. Halakhic Oral Torah balances the midrashic/aggadic mode of living with the daily practical application of biblical law and ethics. Halakha understands biblical law to be applicable at the most basic level, and in every way possible. There is no room to have any aspect of life to be "secular." Oral Torah, in this sense moves beyond the realm of thought and engagement with Scripture and becomes a fundamental mode of living which consistently allows for the Written Word to say more than we could have ever imagined, and requires our attention in every facet of life.

2. Oral Torah is communication-This is more obvious. It is transmitted "orally," after all (in my next post I will discuss scholarship on what makes Oral Torah, well, oral). The texts of Oral Torah strive as much as possible to share the names of those who spoke the tradition. In fact, the titles of the earliest transmitters of Oral Torah are: Taanaim and Amoraim (literally, "speakers," in Aramic and Hebrew respectively). Almost all traditional Yeshivot require and encourage ongoing conversation about what various halakhot and midrashim mean. The conversation does not end, because to do so would diminish the very name of Oral Torah.

Gerard Bruns (a Christian Scholar) had the following to say about midrash, which I feel is applicable to Oral Torah, generally. This selection of his work ties together the view that Oral Torah is both, a lifestyle and conversation:

“At all events, my argument would be that we ought to think of midrash as a form of life…rather than simply as a form of exegesis; midrash is concerned with practice and action as well as (what we think of as) the form and meaning of texts...There is…no conflict of authority in midrash because in midrash authority is social rather than methodological and thus is holistic…the institution of midrash itself-rabbinic practice-is authoritative, and what counts is conformity with this practice rather than correspondence to some external rule or theory concerning the content of interpretation as such”

(Bruns, G. (1992). The Ancients. New Haven: Yale University Press, pgs.105 and 113).

In my section I will discuss ideas of the oral nature of Oral Torah.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Oral Torah-What it isn't

I have been inspired by one of my current MJTI classes to reflect a bit more on concepts around Oral Torah. I want to begin by sharing two underlying assumptions I bring to the conversation right from the get-go:

1. I do not believe legalism has anything to do with Judaism whatsoever. Among the critiques I have of developed mesorah (tradition/heritage), and there are some, legalism does not ever come up.

2. I DO believe Oral Torah is an indispensable componant to the life of any Jewish community and to attempt to completely do away with it is both unfortunate and impossible.

The question lies in what "it" is. I have a few thoughts for our consideration.

I plan on doing an extended "series" on this topic and so I will start with what I believe Oral Torah is NOT.

Oral Torah is not a collection of documents. In other words, I would say it is inaccurate to define Oral Torah as : Talmud, Tur, Shulchan Arukh, Midrash Rabbah, etc. The process of Oral Torah led to the creation of such works. Oral Torah, by definition, oughtn't be reduced to a list of documents.

Oral Torah is not a verbatim recitation of a series of laws given to Moses at Sinai. The Savoraim, who redacted the Gemara, preserved a number of metaphors, declarations, and parables to describe the differences between Oral Torah and Written Torah and they did not seek to describe anything apart from Oral Torah's "rootedness" and authority from Sinai (examples to come in the series).

Oral Torah does not "trump" Written Torah-Oral Torah was never in competition with Written Torah in the first place. To put them at odds is to fundamentally misunderstand the sages who first described them as unique componants of Torah.

In the coming days and weeks I will post more on what Oral Torah actually is (and it is multiple things)...first a mashal (parable):

" What is the difference between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah? To what can it be compared? To a king of flesh and blood who had two servants and loved them both. He gave each of them a measure of wheat and each a bundle of flax. What did the wise servant do? He took the flax and spun a cloth. He took the wheat and made flour. He cleaned the flour and ground, kneaded and baked it, and set it on top of the table. Then he spread the cloth over it and left it until the king would come. The foolish servant, however, did nothing at all." (Seder Eliyahu Zuta, Chapter 2)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

To the Messianic Jewish Community: What Are We Waiting For?

Some of you may not be surprised that patience has been on my mind lately! I've been particularly struck by the patience God required of Avraham as I reflect on this week's parsha (Lekh Lekha). Avraham was not, by and large, an "arriver." He was constantly on the move, pursuing God's call. He had the requirement to be patient without the luxury of stillness. This is true of all of us. Each of us are waiting for something, some promise to come into fullness...

However, there was something that Avraham did not need to be patient about, and that actually enabled him to be patient about almost everything else:

Responding to God and hearing His voice...

Avraham was in constant relationship with God and responded to Him with urgency.

Unfortunately, I know I am sometimes "patient" with my response and relatioship with God. "I'll pray later...I know I should stop and listen for answers, but I'm busy right now...I'll eventually get to improving on that mitzvah, etc."

It is no wonder that my limited sufferings sometimes feel unbearable: I have a tendancy to set aside for later those the things I have access to right now!

I find this to be true on a communal level also....

Do we have to move slowly out of fear we might become to transformed too quickly?
Do we have to forgo living out of the identity we already have just because we need to patient for it to look how it's supposed to?
Do any of us really know yet how it's supposed to look?

I'm now wondering if we're being patient with the right things. I'm willing to be patient for every Jew in the Messianic community to daven out of a siddur. I'm not so willing to wait on davening with the awareness that in Yeshua we have inherited ALL THINGS, whether we're using siddurim or not.

It will take time for us to fully be the community we want to be, but I wonder if we're accidently opting out of the things we have inherited for the sake of getting to the external more quickly (not that any of us would have ever conciously expressed it that way). The truth is that I don't know. I'm just getting a sinking suspicion that we are in a season to shift our focus to the internal communal awarness of our inheritance so that we are able to pursue our current goals with true patience (as opposed to complacency, which tends to rule often).

I leave the question out there with the hopes of hearing some of your responses:

What are you waiting for...what should we be waiting for?

Monday, October 11, 2010


Theology can be a dangerous enterprise, albeit an important one. The process of determining boundaries and central themes of belief and practice usually ends with one group of people cutting themselves off from another. With all this inner-communal divisiveness, it is no wonder that the world is largely saying "no" to religion.

Interestingly enough, this is even a theme within religious groups! Whether it is drawing a distinction between Yeshua faith and religion, or Torah from religion, most current revivals (I've heard in Jewish and Christian groups-though it is more pervasive in certain christian groups) are growing because of the distance their leaders place between themselves and "religion." There's a big problem with this, however.

I am reminded of a song introduction from Tom Lehrer in which he sarcastically said, "I know there are people in this world who do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that!" There is a similar dynamic going on among the "anti-religion" religious of our day. There is a pervasive lie in society that "most wars are caused by relgion." Those who buy into this lie miss the fact that most wars have actually been caused by governments, and those governments use religion to justify their endeavors. People in power tend to want more. You take your average frum yid who bakes challah (who wouldn't hurt a fly) and put him in a position of power with an army at his fingertips, and see what happens...It would certainly be missing the mark to target his frummness as the problem (any takers on the pressure of having an army at his fingertips having something to do with it?). What has happened is that the need for control has been equated with the word, "religion." Whole new theologies which are completely foreign to the world of the Bible, as well as those communities that preserved it for us, are read into Scripture.

Glorifying religious systems is not a good plan, but denegrating "religion" and pretending Yeshua faith or Torah lifestyles are independant of religion isn't going to help much either.

What is the goal, then? Even those of us who admit we are religious would agree it is not to glorify religious structures instead of God.

I offer for our consideration that the goal of our faith and practice be to make God and Messiah known in this world. This requires systems that operate with God at the center. This means growing relationships with others that bear resemblance to the love Yeshua commanded us to have with our fellows. This means NOT conforming our own minds to match misconceptions of who we are and redifining ourselves accordingly, but rather being conformed into the identity we have in Yeshua. This is a spritual AND religious endeavor. I pray we may all take it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chodesh Tov-Cheshvan

For thoughts on this month, see, "Cheshvan," below.

Here is my quote of the month:

"and be not conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for your proving what [is] the will of God -- the good, and acceptable, and perfect."

Romans 12:2, YLT

...any thoughts?

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Today is Erev Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan and (as is common in this blog) I am compelled to share some about this month...I'm drawing a blank!

Why is that?!

Because unlike every other month of the Jewish calendar, there are no particular holidays or special mitzvot. Once both days of Rosh Chodesh are over, we are on our own until next Rosh Chodesh. Even Iyyar has the Omer!

What's the theme of Cheshvan, then?

We have a tradition that Cheshvan is reserved for the building of the third Temple and Mashiach's coming-events so special they'll need a month all to their own. There is something very profound going on here. Mashiach's month is one in which all traces of uniqueness and specialness are hidden and/or reserved for a later time. Mashiach is supposed to be there but there is nothing overt that enables us to see him there. While all the parallels of Yeshua are swirling around in Tishrei, in Cheshvan we Messianic Jews are reminded of a stark reality that Yeshua is largely hidden (or missing) in our tradition. Our normal mode of operation-revealing Yeshua's mysterious presence with tradition-is very important, but it's not possible on Cheshvan.

All of Am Yisrael face Cheshvan with the same experience of its surface-level emptiness. All of Am Yisrael have to "make it happen" on Cheshvan, having been filled up during Elul and Tishrei. We Messianic Jews have an even more profound task ahead-revealing the Mashiach in Cheshvan so that he be known speedily and soon. May Cheshvan be a time we bring Mashiach more into the light, revealing him not as we often do (mysteriously present within our holydays and mitzvot), but as one who in a very real way is missing from the month our tradition reserved for him (whether known or not).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Very Special Gift

I have become a very thankful member of what is, in my view, one of the greatest Messianic Jewish contributions in five years: Riverton Mussar.

Riverton Mussar consider's itself to be "a wellspring for ethical change," but I will go so far as to say it is the first modern Messianic Jewish step towards getting to the core of the renewal intended for us in the Besorah: A renewal of our minds to be conformed into Yeshua's image (see Romans and 1 + 2Corinthians)-to know that our actions and thoughts are crucial to the Kingdom Coming (see Sermon on the Mount).

Mussar is a discipline of accountability that challenges its practitioners to come into an awareness of accountability to themselves, others, and God for all of their thoughts and actions. It includes ongoing journaling and charting progress in specific character traits (middot) . Riverton Mussar sets this up as an online community with the chevruta (one-on-one) element. There are specific middot to cycle through, and physical materials mailed to recipients who subscribe.

I encourage all Messianic Jews to consider joining this group. At the very least, check out their site regularly. This is already changing my life, and giving me clarity into what is most important to me: I want to be a better man today than I was yesteday-a better man tomorrow than I am today...growing towards the image of the one who inherited all things and wants to give his disciples all things.

Monday, October 4, 2010

High Holyday Reflection

It has historically been the case that the High Holyday season tends to numb me to any "intermediate" experiences. In other words, when I wasn't in shul, thinking about shul, preparing for shul, eating one of the meals, spending time with community, etc. I would be somewhat unmoved by whatever I was experiencing. Things that might have normally impacted me wouldn't. I used to think this was a good thing, that I was being "super-spiritual." I realized something quite striking around Rosh HaShanah...we don't say "L'Tishrei Tovah Tikateivu," we say, "L'Shanah Tovah Tikateivu." The High Holydays are meant to bring heightened awareness to the remainder of our year. They are not meant to hijack everyday living, but rather to pump everyday living with renewed vigor. Thankfully, this year, my whole life was the High Holyday experience, and not just those times of prayer and community. For this, I am extremely grateful for God's patience with my historic misunderstanding of this precious season, and new understanding to put things right for years to come.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


As I have shared on t'shuvah this month, I spent some time on Rav Shaul's presentation of the ultimate goal, and starting point, of t'shuvah: dead to sin when alive in Yeshua. It would seem that this is central to all Yeshua-believing life (and it is). Here is whyI feel Elul is the most appropriate time to remind ourselves of this...

Rosh HaShanah is the "head of the year," the new years day of the Jewish civil calendar, the day of "blowing the horn" according to the Torah, and the day of judgment according to our tradition. This is encounter with God as king and judge. All of our deeds, hearts, and minds are examined in the presence of our King. Rosh HaShanah is a yearly enactment of what is both a daily event at one level and a Day yet to come. There is something that is often missed about Rosh HaShanah: God does not only examine our sins...He examines the entirety of our being. We can see Rosh HaShanah as our annual moment to acknowledge his kingship and be set on a trajectory to enter back into the order of this world with renewed confidence in the King we ultimately serve, with a new task for the year ahead. Rosh HaShanah is a day of being equipped with renewed minds and hearts to carry on in the world God has entrusted us. THIS is why t'shuvah is important; so we can operate in a lifestyle that will enable us to steward God's will "on earth as it is in heaven."

Yom Kippur is the "Day of Atonement." It is very much centered around our death as a people: fasting slows our bodily functions, not bathing/shaving/etc. separates us from our daily "lives," Kol Nidrei is very much like a death-bed vow, and Jewish men are buried in the kittel (which is worn on Yom Kippur). We face the fact that we have no Temple, and that really our death is the only thing that can save us from sin. Many Yeshua followers would suggest that Yeshua changes this. I would argue that Yeshua affirms this! Romans 6 makes it very clear that Yeshua does what he does to pave the way for us to do the same. Immersion in him is our own participation in his death. In him, we know our own death will be a transition into resurrection life. This is why it is crucial that Messianic Jews participate fully in Yom Kippur. It is an annual commemoration of our own immersion in Yeshua, and a foretaste of our own great transition from Olam Hazeh into Olam Haba. It humbles us to this great gift, and renews us to live our lives for God more fully in the coming year.

Sukkot/Simchat Torah is the only eight day festival in the Torah, and is called the "season of our joy." I love how prophetically disproportionate the holiday of Joy is to the others. Seven is a number associated with completion, and the order for this world. Eight is a number that represents that which is beyond the confines of the natural order of the world. Eight days of Joy is meant to remind us of eternity in Joy. Yes, both Judgment and Atonement are serious and important. Nevertheless, they all point to an eternity of reconciled living. Sukkot is a reminder that God created belonging for us when we didn't "belong" anywhere yet. It is also a reminder that God commands us to create our own belonging where he will dwell-even in this transient stage of our lives. Sukkot is a reminder that life is eternal without "this life" being eternal.

Elul is meant to be a preparation for the transformation that comes in Tishrei. This is why t'shuvah is so central to Elul. It is our movement(s) toward God that enables us to encounter Him ever more intimately and profoundly.T'Shuvah is the central act that brings us into deeper relationship with Yeshua. I pray that all of us have found this Elul to be transformative. I look forward to blogging again after Simchat Torah is completed.

In the meantime...L'Shanah Tovah...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Intimate Mitzvot

The anology of the husband/wife relationship has been swirling in my head and heart recently while reflecting on t'shuvah. The classical image ("classical" in Judaism) has God as the husband, Israel as the wife, and the Torah as the ketubah. Presumably, each mitzvah is then seen as a stipulation within the ketubah. While I hold this image very dear, I want to offer an additional one (though not entirely novel)...

The mitzvot came to the Jewish people as a result of divine encounter. Shir haShirim Rabbah relates the Sinai experience, in various ways, to "kisses" from God. In fact, words of Torah between two people are also related to "kissing." The point is that the mitzvot are manifestations of an intimate encounter (Sinai) that resembles yichud as much as it represents the signing of the ketubah. If the giving of the Torah was a kiss from God, then our mitzvot are kisses in return. Without being crass (k'viachol), the mitzvot are zivugim (relations) between us and God. Every mitzvah we perform is a unification of our will with God's that is meant to bear fruit...God made it known to Adam and Chavah that his will for us was to be fruitful :-)

In many ways, t'shuvah is a renewal of vows. Each return to a mitzvah is an opportunity to renew intimacy with God, and bring new life into creation

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Inspirational Words

T'Shuvah is, and rightfully so, often expressed in terms of a person's motion towards God. As this process develops it seems so easy to forget God's "side of the story." As Elul is a month leading into the Yomim Norim, when we face God as Judge and King more explicitly than in any other time of the year, God's "side of the story" becomes increasingly important.

I want to share a quote that illustrates this aspect of the process of t'shuvah better than any I have yet encountered. It is from C.S. Lewis' anthology of quotes from George MacDonald (a Scottish preacher/writer whom C.S. Lewis quotes often, and said of him: "I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master.")

"For He regards men not as they are merely, but as they shall be; not as they shall be merely, but as they are now growing, or capable of growing, toward that image after which He made them that they might grow to it. Therefore a thousand stages, each in itself all but valueless, are of inestimable worth as the necessary and connected gradations of an infinite progress. A condition which of declension would indicate a devil, may of growth indicate a saint." (by George MacDonald, from C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald: an Anthology)

May we all carry this in our minds and hearts into Tishrei, and beyond...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Most Welcome Reminder (adapted from the Set Table)

Messianic Judaism is not the easiest path to take if you’re serious about it. There are constant pressures to throw in the towel, and unfortunately, many of those pressures aren’t even coming from our opponents on the outside. Endless backbiting, backstabbing, militant allegiances to acronyms, and hypersensitivity to doctrinal feuds all pervade our little world. Nevertheless, we’re still being drawn in. Yet we keep going. Why? Because there is love here, there is truth here. We know that behind all the petty childish treatment of one another over important matters, there is a love binding us together if we remember. Rav Shaul reminds us of what is most important:

Brothers and Sisters, I remind you of the
good news which I have preached to you,
in which you stand, and by which you are
being saved, if you hold fast to it, unless
your belief was flawed with frivolity. To you
I handed on, of first importance and
supreme range, the news that I received:
The Mashiah died for our sins according to
the Scriptures, and he was buried and rose
on the third day according to the
Scriptures, and he was seen by Kefa, and
then by the twelve. Later he was seen by
more than five hundred brothers at once, of
whom most of them are still alive, but some
have gone to sleep. And then he was seen
by Yaakov and all the messengers . . . and
whether it was I or other ones we preached
our message and you believed.
1 Corinthians 15:1–7, 15
Restored New Testament and ESV

The most important thing, bar none, is that Messiah died for our sins and left that grave empty after three days. This reality was witnessed by his disciples, and by all of the apostles. This message is “of first importance” (according to most translations) and “of supreme range” (according to Willis Barnstone’s translation). This message is what keeps us standing and is saving us every day. There is no other reason for us to be who we are. I am personally ashamed to realize how little I regularly stand in this reality and allow it to save me each and every day.

How about our community? Do we stand in Yeshua’s triumph over darkness, chaos, and sin? When was the last time we called our minds and hearts to the core of the Besora? How often do we remember that without this there would be no: MJTI, MJRC, MJAA, Tikkun, Fire Ministries, UMJC, etc? I am afraid to say that the answer is probably: not enough.

Brothers and Sisters, we need this reminder. Our community is facing the reality that it might not exist beyond thirty years if we don’t step up. Let us remind one another, and seek to be reminded daily through our Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Chasidim. We cannot lose sight of the one who is saving us. We need to cultivate lives where we recognize resurrection as our beginning, our end, and everything in between. We are the community of the resurrection. May we press in for this each and every day from now until the day we meet him, and he smiles and says, “Oh Yeah, I know them . . .”

Practical T'Shuvah

There are may things that can distract out minds from what we normally think of as t'shuvah. T'shuvah is classically known as a return to mitzvot, apologizing for wrongdoing, weeding out sinful behavior, and the like. I personally find these things difficult to focus on when I'm planning events, over-tired, stressed at work, suffering financial burdens, etc. What I am finding more and more is that all of these circumstances need to be brought into t'shuvah also:

For example:

I could sleep one hour less to daven a full shacharit in the morning. This could be a very important thing. OR, if i'm already over-tired, this could actually spiral me into a pattern of impatience with those who I love most, higher blood pressure, neglect of excercise, etc.

The point is that sometimes t'shuvah means getting the extra sleep. There are times that t'shuvah is best expressed as excercise! The thrice daily prayer for t'shuvah shleima-complete return means that all of who we are is brought into t'shuvah. Particularly in the month of Elul, we are bombarded with numerous concepts of what t'shuvah is all about (I've done a great deal of that on this blog). At the end of the day, the practical outworking of some of the fundamentals of true t'shuvah is expressed in taking every single circumstance that comes our way and using it as an opportunity to do t'shuvah: apologizing for a harsh word, admitting the need for help, eating the right way, getting enough sleep, learning a little more Torah, davening more consistantly, davening more intentionally, mending relationships at work, and beyond...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

T'Shuvah for the Jewish People Part 3

This will be my final post regarding the specific aspects of Jewish t'shuvah. So far we've looked at:

1.Ahavat Ysrael-Love for each and every Jew

2.Deeper Torah Observance-Committing to anchoring our hearts in God's kingdom through keeping mitzvot

Now, I want to look at the unique function of the Jewish people's t'shuvah by means of the klal, and on behalf of the entire world...

"I ask, 'Did they stumble into transgression so they might fall?' Never! But through their stumbling salvation came to Gentiles to make Jews wish to emulate them. Now if stumbling means fortune for the world and if their defeat will signify a fortune for the Gentiles, then how much greater will their fullness be. To you the Gentiles I speak...if their own rejection means reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean? Surely life from the dead."

-Selected from Romans 11:11-15

"All Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26)

Rav Shaul's view of the "stumbling" of the majority of our people is so profound. His love and faith in Am Yisrael runs so deep that he frames the entire communal stumbling as a temporary set-back so the rest of humanity can benefit from Yeshua first! He actually sees the Jewish people's, by-and-large, corporate rejection of Yeshua as an unconscious act of salvation on behalf of all creation. He goes on to say that the result of the Jewish peoople's full acceptance of Yeshua will be "life from the dead"-I offer for our consideration-the Jewish people's corporate acceptance of Yeshua in firm identity as Israel (with all that entails) will bring about the resurrection (literal and metaphoric) of all who are in Yeshua, the one who's own resurrection activates the promise.

The corporate acceptance of Yeshua will shock the entire world and transform not only Israel herself, but all of creation. Rav Shaul is essentially eluding to the resurrection promised for all who are in Yeshua by means of Israel's acceptance! In other words, reconciliation is followed by resurrection, and resurrection takes place as a result of Israel's fullness.

The Messianic Jewish community cannot afford our primary focus to be on anything other than being a manifestation of this reality as a "remnant," soon to be realized on a corporate scale. The reality is not only that Yeshua died and rose, it is that as Am Yisrael comes into her fullness, all who belong to Yeshua will also rise...

"This will be the great wonder of the vision of redemption. Let the bud come forth, let the flower bloom, let the fruit ripen, and the whole world will know that the holy spirit is speaking in the community of Israel, in all the manifestations of its spirit. All this will culminate in a penitence that will bring healing and redemption to the world."-Rav Kook translated from Orot HaT'Shuvah

1. Ahavat Yisrael
2. Deeper Torah Observance
3. Living in the Resurrection Promise

L'Shana Tova Tikateivu...L'Olam Haba Tikateivu...Baruch Haba B'Shem HaShem...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

T'Shuvah for the Jewish People part 2

Last post I discussed the matter of Ahavat Yisrael (Love of the Jewish People) as the core t'shuvah for Jews. In this section I'm going to discuss how this is expressed by a return to faithfulness to keep mitzvot.

Each and every mitzvah, whether d'oraita or d'rabbanan, is a gift. It is only at a very basic level that the mitzvot serve to "control" behavior. To quote Bill Johnson (though he may cringe at the thought of me applying these words to mitzvot) they help to "anchor our affections in a world we cannot see." They do more than that though, they bring the order and structure of that Kingdom into this world. Each and every time a Jew says a b'racha he/she is acting as a steward for God's kingdom, acknowledging His sovereignty and will. Every time we recite "asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav" over something not explicitly in TaNaKh we acknowledge the appointment of our Sages as our leaders, those who "sit in Moses' seat" (Mt 23:2). The term, "observance," is quite appropriate in this sense: the performance of a mitzvah is a response to the observation that God is in charge, worthy of praise, the One who sets the standard for our lives.

Mitzvot are also the common context for our communal life. We most often gather together for Shabbat, Chagim, Bar/Bat Mitzvot, Circumcisions, etc. This is because mitzvot are also manifestations of our care for one another. Whether it's giving someone a meal, showing our parents honor, not humiliating an opponant, teaching someone a b'racha, showing up for a shiva minyan, etc. we are participating in the life God wanted for us when we were given the Torah in the first place, the life Yeshua intended/intends for us.

May this season stir in us a new love for the physical acts that are reflections of:
1. The love God has for us
2. The love we have for God
3. The love we have for one another

Monday, August 16, 2010

T'Shuvah for the Jewish people Part 1

(Note for Ruachites: The continuing posts for this month will draw from, and expound on, themes from the shiur I gave on the month of Elul, and all of my posts up until now on t'shuvah, "What is t'shuvah," "T'Shuvah Culture," and "No Excuses," were also a part of that shiur)

Let's look a little more deeply into what t'shuvah means for Israel specifically. So far we've looked at what it means as followers of Yeshua, but there is a unique role and purpose for those of us "of the circumcision."

"Let him not hesitate to link himself with the soul of the people as whole, despite the fact that...there are also wicked and course people. This does not diminish in any way the divine light of the good in the people as a whole, and and a spark of the divine soul is radiant even in the most fallen individuals.." -Rav Kook, translated from Orot HaT'Shuvah

Rav Kook teaches a fundamental principle on t'shuvah that we need to love and attach ourselves to every single Jew, period. No "if's, and's, or but's"! He didn't make it up. Other have said it, and it's in the Torah. He was, however, uniquely known for this. Rav Kook was a great supporter of the secular Jews settling the land, and had an affinity for the free-spiritedness of all those who felt stifled by the Torah observant community. Rav Kook's observance was one that enabled him to stay firm in his own observance, encourage Torah learning, and also deeply love all Jews and appreciate the holiness in their chutzpah. Yeshua was even more so. He brought healing into the life of every single individual Jew who came to him for healing. His heart yearned for the complete redemption of his people.

It is crucial that a starting point for the uniquely Jewish componant of t'shuvah be passionate love for our people. If we are, in fact, being conformed into Yeshua's image to ever increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18) and we know Yeshua's heart for his/our people then this is key to the whole endeavor. Rav Shaul suggests that he would give up his own share in Olam Haba for his people to come into Mashiach. Ahavat Yisrael in its purest form will not stifle our love for all people, it can only enhance it. This love can only have a domino effect on all the people we encounter!

It is this love that holds all other mitzvot within it, and is the mirror mitzvah to love of God. Without this uncoditional love we will be less able to properly keep the mitzvot dependant on it, and we will be much less a reflection of Mashiach. So, before we get on out high horses, let's not bad-mouth the Jews who are "more observant" than us, "less observant than us," members of [insert acronym for organization you think is destroying Judaism], etc.

May we all love our people with: hospitality, prayer, lending a hand, making some time, giving a gift, and warm affection.

Friday, August 13, 2010

No Excuses

The infamous attitude presented by many renewed/re-born Yeshua believers is that of complete forgiveness of sin no matter what damage has been caused or will be caused by their actions. The term, "saved," gets thrown around alot and the "one-step" t'shuvah program has taken place. The problem with this pervasive attitude is that it is, on most levels, entirely true!
Actually...that's not the REAL problem...the real problem is that in spite of it being true, the other aspects of what make it true are often missed:

Romans 6:1-13
"1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Mashiach Yeshua were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Mashiach was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
8Now if we died with Mashiach, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Mashiach was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Mashiach Yeshua. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness."

Rav Shaul's point is not simply that our sins are forgiven, the person we were has actually died to sin. When we sin, we are living in dead bodies completely alientated from the freedom from sin we've been given in Yeshua. The point is that when we sin, we have NO EXCUSES. We can't say, "well I'm human, it's in my nature to sin." Beep...wrong answer...try again :-)

Yeshua is not a "get out of jail free card!" He breaks the cell open and says, "If you want to live inside this cell, you have no share in me." We've been broken out of jail, but we keep going back in. This is our problem. The fact that the cell is unlocked is not an indicator that we are free, it's an indicator that we have been freed. the difference is that we are empowered to live with the Ruach HaKodesh abiding within us, being transformed into Yeshuas image (see "What is t'shuvah," below).

We followers of Yeshua are dead to sin, but we need to demonstrate this. That is Rav Shaul's main point: We are essentially zombies when we continue to sin, our only true life is a life of righteousness.

This is exciting and sobering. Yeshua's Judaism ain't easy, but there's alot of Joy :-)

May we all live knowing that we have no excuses for our continued sin, and especially in this time of Elul, cultivate a lifestyle:

1. free of arrogant self approval
2. saturated with transformation into glory

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

T'Shuvah Culture

I began discussing this season by offering a working definition of t'shuvah that could come close to identifying the fullness of its purpose and potential (see: "What is T'Shuvah?," below). Before we start getting into some nitty-gritty details of practical ways of doing t'shuvah, I wanted to address one more foundational piece: creating a culture of t'shuvah around us.

I'm usually not this dogmatic, but I believe this strongly enough to say it: The season of t'shuvah in Elul will not impact any of us nearly as deeply if we do not actively seek to make it the focal point of our lives.

T'Shuvah is not something one can do passively, or engage in unintentionally. We need to create a culture in our lives to cultivate it. Most of us are not engaged in daily interaction with fellow congregants (or even a part of congregations) to have this culture emerge around us. That means we will have work to do to make it happen, to be that culture in order to have it around our entire community, our homes, our jobs, etc...

I offer the following for our consideration:

1. Don't go it alone-Find at least one partner to pray with, learn with, chat with, etc. specifically on this issue of t'shuvah. Encourage one another.

2. Pray, pray, pray-Let this be a season of more intense prayer. Speak to God alot about this area of life and listen to His answers

3. Don't distract your mind-We have so many natural distractions in our lives that we don't need to artificially add any. I know it sounds extreme, but attempt to make every move you make a part of this process of being conformed into the image of Mashiach. There is no "down time" from complete t'shuvah. It is either your life, or its not. This does NOT mean that everything is heavy and serious (Heaven Forbid), in fact you might yourself giggling if you do this enough! It means framing our lives in such a way that the only thing that matters is encounter with our King and becoming more like Him (loving others, bringing healing into the world, giving encouragement, being reliable, etc.)

4. Learn-Read some stuff. I know Yinon and Messianic Jewish Musings (both in my link list) are blogs engaging this topic. The B'rit Chadasha letters address this topic alot,the Besorot address it, TaNaKh addresses it. Get a hold of some Rav Kook or other works of Mussar.

All four suggestion are a part of the process of digging in deeply; digging into God's heart, digging into our own hearts, digging into others thoughts, etc. If we allow t'shuvah to envelope our entire lives in this season, imagine what Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot-Simchat Torah can be for us this year...Excuse me while I go off to giggle :-)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What is t'shuvah?

T'shuvah can be defined in a variety of ways. Most of the variety of definitions depend on what the definer sees as the "end-game" of t'shuvah. For example, if the end-game of t'shuvah is to scrupulously observe mitzvot (a most worthy sentiment) then t'shuvah can be defined as aligning ones practices with the Torah. Most would consider this a very limiting definition of t'shuvah. I would suggest that any definition of t'shuvah for the Jewish people would inevitably need to hold Torah observance in addition to many other things. Rav Kook and Rav Shaul present both the "end game" and the root purpose of t'shuvah. I have a feeling that their guidance can help us define t'shuvah in a way that expands its role in our lives as well as the range of its impact.

"Penitence was planned before the creation of the world, and it is for this reason the foundation of the world...To nullify the basic nature of life that man shall become a non-sinner--this itself would be the greatest sin...Penitence redresses the defect and restores the world and life to their original character precisely by focusing on the basis of their highest attribute, the dimension of freedom. It is for this reason that God is called the God of life." -Rav Kook translated from Orot HaT'shuvah

If we are to take Rav Kook at his word we know that, whatever we define t'shuvah to be (it is translated here as "penitence"), it is fundamental to the creation of the world and the journey of that creation. Rav Kook goes on to say that the fruit of t'shuvah is the absence of sin and restoration to freedom; t'shuvah is what allows God to be called the God of life. The end-game of t'shuvah then is to uproot sin and fix its damage, as well as to establish freedom and recognition of the God of life. This sounds like something significantly more transformative than simply admitting what we've done wrong, apologizing, and promising to not do it again. While there's value in the nitty-gritty process (and it oughtn't be done away with), it doesn't center attention around what t'shuvah is ultimately doing in our lives, namely: It turns us into "non-sinners" and brings us into complete freedom. The beginning stages of t'shuvah require introspection, but there is ultimately meant to be a shift.

As most of us here are familiar with B'rit Chadasha, it would seem to be quite obvious that Rav Kook's statements about t'shuvah are directly in line with much of the besora (especially according to the Apostles). Becoming a follower of Yeshua is meant to uproot sin out of our lives and bring us into greater freedom. Rav Shaul takes this even a step further:

"Now all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as reflected in a mirror, are transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another, as from the perfect spirit of the true Mashiah." -Korinthians Beta 3:18, The Restored New Testament, Barnstone

We are being transformed into the image of Yeshua! The quintessential act of t'shuvah according to Rav Shaul is immersion in Yeshua and living into our transformation into his glory. This is far from introspection; this is a shift from looking at our own image and becoming obsessed with his and being aware that his is the destination of ours.

The literal meaning of "t'shuvah" comes from the verb, "to turn."

So...I offer for our consideration...

Complete t'shuvah is turning away from our own sin, and toward the face of Yeshua, whose glory we manifest more and more each day. The fruit of t'shuvah is the revelation of God's glory in our lives. I am convinced that with this as our "end-game" our t'shuvah will transform more than our own behavior; it will make us Olam Haba (The Coming Kingdom) operating within Olam Hazeh (This World)...

Now that we have a definition of what t'shuvah ultimately is and does, we are better equipped to explore how to draw closer to its fullness during the month of Elul....

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chodesh Tov-Elul!

Hello All,

It's t'shuvah time! It should probably come as no surprise that this would take up a healthy portion of my posting this month but I'm going to take it a step further in that it will be the ONLY topic I will post about this month.

I'm going to explore the writing's of Rav Kook and Rav Shaul on this important topic. I just want to start with two key quotes from both of them (I will comment on each of them in depth throughout the week):

"Penitence was planned before the creation of the world, and it is for this reason the foundation of the world...To nullify the basic nature of life that man shall become a non-sinner--this itself would be the greatest sin...Penitence redresses the defect and restores the world and life to their original character precisely by focusing on the basis of their highest attribute, the dimension of freedom. It is for this reason that God is called the God of life."

-Rav Kook translated from Orot HaT'shuvah

"Now all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as reflected in a mirror, are transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another, as from the perfect spirit of the true Mashiah."

-Korinthians Beta 3:18, The Restored New Testament, Barnstone

Thursday, August 5, 2010


What is (are) the Jewish people commanded to “see” in this parsha?

“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey…” (Deuteronomy 11:26-27, NJPS)

Parsha Re’eh is a well known collection of laws and statutes from the book of Devarim ranging from matters related to settlement of the land to purging idolatrous practices from the life of the community. The book as a whole indicates that what follows is a series of “words” or “matters” that are heard by the community, and spoken by the Lord, through Moses. So between the speaking and listening, where does the injunction to “See” fit in, and what are the people seeing? It could very well be that the word, re’eh (see), is being used idiomatically in the same way it is sometimes used in English: “Now, see here, you should…” Or, it may be that there is something else going on.
The standard interpretation of re’eh in this verse is that it refers primarily to the reward for obeying God’s commands (blessing), and the punishment for not doing so (curse). In other words, God is giving the Jewish people an option to be blessed or not, and to see what that difference looks like:

“Those Israelites who were not persuaded by hearing God’s commandments at Sinai, or by hearing Moses’ exhortations, are asked to see the difference that following God’s ways can make in one’s life.” (Etz Hayim, p. 1061)

The contributors to the Etz Hayim commentary are most certainly expressing something meaningful by this, but the fact remains that the Jewish people were being told all of this, and the illustrative component of what they were being told here is no different than any other set of Laws. The Etz Hayim commentary continues:

“The distinguishing characteristic of human beings…is our ability to choose the values by which we live.” (Etz Hayim, p. 1061)

This gets to the heart of the matter. What is different in this moment of Moses’ exhortation is that now, more than any other time, we were able to see that we’re being given a choice as well as where this choice will take place. This is more than the ability to see what the choice is; it is to come to see that there is a choice at all. As we peered into the distance to gaze upon the Land we were about to enter it became clear that the choices we would make would determine our success in that Land. The Land is not so much heard as it is seen. It is a place with great potential for life and joy, as well as death and sorrow. This draws in the totality of what we were told to re’eh (SEE).
A disturbing renewal of scorn in the larger world’s vision of the Jewish people has come in large part as a result of the choices of the State of Israel. This is not to say that rising international scorn is proportionally justified, but rather that our success in the Land is related to our right relationship to God; a relationship that is not strong in the State of Israel by and large. We must see that regardless of the disproportionate response to Israel’s short-comings, the Jewish people are not given the opportunity to justify failure to meet the requirements for blessing in the Land. Those requirements have been spelled out for us in the Torah. God has made it clear that they are a choice, but that the choice is between blessing and curse. May the Land of Israel become filled full with those who make the choice of blessing, so that there can be a swift end to the rising curse and a return of all Jews, especially Mashiach, home.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Is the Siddur really liturgical?

The Siddur is often defined as a collection of liturgical prayers and declarations. The way the Siddur is presented in most Messianic Jewish services (most Jewish services in general) is as liturgy. There is a great deal of call and response, very little space for individuals setting their own pace, etc. The term liturgy, however, is most specifically defined as the Eucharist, and more generally as a rite for public prayer/worship. The Siddur most certainly contains Jewish "liturgy." Nevertheless, I am becoming increasingly convinced that Siddur davening is not meant to be "liturgical" in totality, though portions of it are.

For example...

The Bar'chu is meant to be call and response. The kedushah in the public recitation of the Amidah has a community <-> leader dynamic. The kaddishim are public, and have specific communal responses. The Torah service has similar dynamics. Not suprisingly, all of the prayers I mentioned require a quorum of ten Jews for them to be recited. These are most definitely liturgical.


Jewish prayer and blessings are not entirely communal. This is an overreaction to hyper-individualism (which is a problem) and the result is robbing people from a whole individual aspect of Jewish spirituality, not to mention the sense of individual responsibility to mitzvot. It doesn't work to say Judaism is communal and then expect every individual to daven on their own.

The Siddur is much more diverse. The morning blessings were never intended to be recited communally. The blessing over washing hands happens (oddly enough) after one washes hands. The blessing over God's creation of the body is meant to be recited after going to the bathroom. The blessing of "who provides for all my needs" is meant to happen after putting on shoes. The blessing over "who straightens the bent" is meant to happen after when one gets up in bed (This whole list is mentioned in Masechet B'rachot).

As far as the other sections of shacharit that are led be the shliach tzibbur, while there's singing together, the experience is not meant to be "lock-step." The shliach tzibbur is simply meant to set the pace so that the k'hal can join together for the "liturgical" portions of shacharit.

Let's not forget that the siddur contains all kinds of blessings for all kinds of occasions meant to be memorized. In fact, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, which is the latest Jewish law code , only reluctantly allows for a person to hold something during the Amidah...namely, a Siddur! The actual "position" for the Amidah is hands folded over the solar plexis. The first two b'rachot and Modim were meant to be recited exactly as is, while the others were meant to be improvised upon.

The point is that the service was established long before people had Siddurim. This is also the case with Christianity, but Christian liturgy is often very short and/or repetitive...The upshot is this:

Shacharit is simply too long to be treated like liturgy. This whole liturgical paradigm that developed is what led to much of the rebellion against the traditional order/content. Most people thought, and still do think, the answer was/is to shorten it. This is still not enough. I will offer the following for consideration:

If Shacharit is treated like it is all liturgy, it will be very difficult for it to be meaningful. If you truncate it you don't get the full story, and if you make people do the entire thing virtually out loud with no opportunity to set their own pace within a larger pace, it will become performance. We need space to be on our own, yet together, often. We need opportunities for shlichim to choose which psalms to sing out loud in the moment. We need our communities to be educated and comfortable enough with the service to make all of this possible.

I pray for renewing minds and shifting paradigms. I pray that all of us will find ourselves encountering God in our services more deeply in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Four Principles

Over the past few days it has become increasingly clear to me that there are four primary principles I need to get embedded in my being. It occured to me that these principles are really important for all followers of Yeshua, and I think it worthwhile to share them

1. We live under an open heaven

Pastor Bill Johnson is the senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Reading, California. His community has lived and operated in a state of revival culture for years now. This culture is not gimmicky and it shows no signs of burning out. Johnson believes that it is the responsibility of the ekklesia (he uses "Church") to operate with the awareness that we have access to the Will and Blessings of God. As long as we are aligned with His will we have no reason to anticipate anything less than the fullness of what we seek in Him. If we continually pray for what we already have (i.e. "please God open the heavens for us," etc.) we are operating out of a place of denial of what God has accomplished as well as denial of what He intended for us to accomplish. Please see one of his sermons on this subject : The Gate of Heaven
* I do not endorse all theological and/or exegetical positions in this sermon, but the main points are very good

2. When we look at another human being, we're looking into the face of God

I have most often heard this expressed in Jewish sources (particularly Rabbi Avraham Sutton-I have a link to his website on my link list). Being created in the image of God goes way beyond a metaphor to explain our ability to relate to Him. Yeshua expresses it most profoundly when he states that when we take in another we've taken Him in, we've taken God in. The truth is that we are meant to honor God above all, but honor of Him leads to full honor of another person. Just as Yeshua connected "Love the Lord..." with "Love you neighbor..." (The Hebrew gematria is actually the same also) we must be aware that our entire avodah (service to God) is centered on these two perpetually intertwining mitzvot; the ultimate reason for seeking: the miraculous, obeying commandments, learning Torah, prayer, and developing natural gifts. When we see the face of God in others we are more aware of the importance of the open heaven above us.

3. We are empowered to create belonging around us

This is a subject of importance that I learned from a series on "Healing the Brokenhearted" (a ministry begun by Gary and Kathy Oates). So much of human pain comes from the feeling that we don't belong. In fact, this is the core pain of every single human exile: the loss of belonging. Most of us may not be aware that each of us began our lives creating beloning: the fetus creates its own placenta; it didn't exist before. We have been empowered from the beginning to do this. Many of us spend more time looking for belonging in others, rather than creating belonging around us! The work of God is to create belonging and he has empowered us to do the same. We can only create from material we already have (only God creates ex nihilo). Therefore, to live with the intention to surround ourselves with belonging must mean the we essentially have always had belonging. Healthy community comes when the efforts of its membership function to make the community a place for people to belong and become more aware of their own unique belonging in the world. When we operate out of belonging, we are more able to see the face of God in others, and we access the open heaven above us.

4. The fundamental intention in prayer is the realization that our soul is always praying

There is a volume of Rav Kook's writings, Olat R'AYaH, that deals specifically with the subject of prayer. For Rav Kook prayer is a function of the soul that is always active. The act of prayer is when the the entirity of our being comes into alignment with what our soul is doing. This is because Rav Kook's paradigm is that our human soul has its root in the divine and that this is not severed. When we recognize that continuity between our own life force and the creator of the world our prayer becomes more that a recitation of words or reflections of emotional states; prayer is recognized as the natural state of humanity (to quote Abraham Joshua Heschel: "How can we be truly human if we cannot pray"). Prayer is the link that reminds us of our connection with God, brings a union between our will and God's will which brings blessing to the world around us. The real issue of prayer is not whether it is liturgical or spontaneous, communal or individual (all four are important and can even be simultaneous). The real issue is the extent to which our prayer life connects us to the unceasing energy and movement of our soul(s). Recognizing that our soul is always praying helps to establish our belonging and ability to create it, makes us more acutely aware of the value of others, and attaches us to the open heaven above us.

I pray that all four principles can be internalized within the entire ekklesia so we can be better equipped to live in the kingdom coming now.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


"Art does not draw from itself alone what it gives to things; it spreads over them a secret which it has first seized by suprise in them, in their invisible substance or in their endless exchanges and correspondences...a world more real than the real offered to the sense"-Jacques Maritain

This is a quote used as the introduction to Markus Bockmuehl's, Seeing the Word, a work offering insights as to how faith-centered academia can re-focus New Testament studies. Bockmuehl's initial metaphor views the Gospel authors as artists paining a scene, and the quote serves to make this comparison all the more powerful: The Gospel accounts are very much like artistic representations of encountering Yeshua. Because of this they are not necessarily meant to answer all of our questions or give us all of the information, rather they are meant to give over to us the deepest truth of the encounter, its majesty, its power.

This is what Maritain's quote would look like if we inserted the "Gospels" in place of the more generic, "art":

The Gospels do not draw from themselves alone what they give to things; the Gospels spread over things a secret which their authors had first seized by suprise in them, in their invisible substance or in their endless exchanges and correspondences...a world more real than the real offered to the sense

As we continue our own journeys with Yeshua, let us not forget to allow ourselves to be arrested by the encounter, to know that there are certain experiences that cannot be explicitly expressed by anything less than the holy imagination those experiences engender.

An Important Statement

A dear teacher of mine, Dr. David Rudolph, submitted a paper for the online journal, Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations. This paper is titled, "Paul's "Rule in All the Churches" (1 Cor 7:17-24) and Torah-Defined Ecclesiological Variegation

This is an important article for understanding one of the clearest exegetical bases for the Messianic Jewish community.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Heisenberg and the Kingdom of God

Heisenberg postulated the "Uncertainty Principle" based, in part, on his observed premise that the more you know the location of an particle, the less you can now about the speed at which it is moving, and vice-versa. Inevitably, this would leave one "uncertain" about either or both measurements at any given time depending on where the observer is focusing. If something has a definite position, then it has no definite momentum; if something has definite momentum, then it has no definite position. Interestingly enough, if this principle is applied "beyond" the realm of quantum physics and into the realm of complex dynamic systems more generally, Heisenberg's discovery has some powerful implications...

(lest you think my blog very rapidly turned into being something very different than what you were expecting :-)

The Kingdom of God is a dynamic system. It is a culture and system organized around the creative, revelatory, and redemptive work of God. Yeshua tells us that No one can know the hour of the fullness of the coming kingdom except the Father (Matthew 24:36). WHY? Because the Son IS the Kingdom coming NOW (Matthew 3:2)! The Son cannot determine its speed because He is focused on where it currently is, where He currently is. We cannot determine the velocity of the coming Kingdom, and that as why we are told simply that it IS HERE. So long as we are focused on when it will be, or where it is going for that matter, we will be unable to detrmine where it is now. This is why we are warned to not predict the end, but rather to discern the times. We need to know where we are, where the Kingdom is, and stay on board because this journey is unpredictable.

One might ask, "What about the prophets?"

Most (if not all) prophets prophesied based on what they heard and saw as in a present vision or voice, as if what will be was happening in front of them imminently. They could tell you that is was real because they knew where it was and that it was coming, but they could not predict: exactly when it would come to pass, what people's response to it would be, or what God's response would be. Anyone remember Jonah? The prophecy didn't even happen, all collapsed in the face of its indefinite location and momentum.

Alright then...What's the point of this confusion?

The more we realize God is coming, we miss where He is now. The more more we realize where we are now, we cannot know how fast (or slow) we're moving-or if we'll ever arrive. Yeshua teaches us where to put our eyes, what to know for sure, and what to leave uncertain. The point is that we musn't miss the Kingdom that is at hand because we are too frightened of the uncertainty that results in the inability to determine its ETA. God will always be full of suprises, and we will not likely arrive at any time that we can determine of a certainty. The comfort is in the realization that we know He is here NOW, and our motion toward Him needn't be definable...I'm certain of it :-)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Halakhic Observation

Terms like: Orthodox, Observant, Frum, and Shomer Mitzvot all conjure up images of a very specific kind of Jew. This is an individual who is scrupulous in living according to the norms and customs established and interpreted through the Shulchan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law). This individual likely sees him/herself as as halakhically centered, focused on a way to "properly walk" before God. Unfortunately in the Messianic Jewish community (inherited from secular, conservative, reform, etc. Jews), stereotypes and malicious feelings have arisen do to the behavior of some Jew who adhere to this way of life. This usually results in snide remarks about dress and behavior and generally leads to small attacks on any individual seeking to grow in "halakhic observance."

"Don't go too far."

"I don't want to see you in a black hat."

These are the kinds of remarks one can often hear if (Heaven Forfend) he/she is caught bentching when no one else around is doing it. The meta-communication is: "Be observant...but not TOO observant. And above all else HIDE your observance lest it ruffle too many feathers." While this kind of attitude is often flaunted as seeking to live a balanced approach to Jewish religious life it ends up normalizing, at best, dividing at worst, and it rarely harmonizes. I pray that this pervasive attitude will be replaced with a more "sterling way."

I have a modest suggstion to offer for our consideration...

At issue is not whether or not Messianic Jews look like Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Renewal, etc. The question is how we can be the best followers of Yeshua and live out the very best that Written Torah, Oral Torah, and the Living Torah have to offer. I want to offer the term: Halakhic Observation.

Halakha literally means "walk;" it does not mean "law." We Jews have laws, and halakha teaches us how to walk in those laws. The aversion the early Rabbis had in writing down halakhot was due to the fear that halakha would be elevated to the level of undisputed authority in the same way the Written Torah is; to write it down could end the halakhic discussion and make it difficult to adapt the Torah to new circumstances for the Jewish community. Sadly, the Rabbis fears came true in many ways, and most Jews think only of the Shulchan Arukh when they speak of living "halakhically." Now before we start wagging our fingers at the Orthodox again I want to remind us that other branches of Judaism have done the same with their own standards, and it behooves us to look at the problem with new eyes. We need to begin a communal process of dialogue not only about what our halakhic norms should be, but also how to think and live as halakhic communities. This could enable us to avoid the pitfalls of emphasis on norms at the expense of learning the principles that guide the norms.

For example:
Do we drive on Shabbat because "we don't live in the shtetl anymore," or because we see the opportunity to hear the Torah as a community on Shabbat morning as a mitzvah that will bare more fruit in the long term. I pray it will one day be the latter reason.

Halakhic Observance has come to mean "observing halakha." Halakhic Observation means that whatever we encounter, we live in it halakhically. Halakhic Observation means that we observe the world around us, our communal lives, our relationship with one another, and our relationship with God by means of our walk in God's perfect guide...It means that we observe every aspect of our lives as an opportunity to do a mitzvah...It may enable us to truly be living Torahs ourselves...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Beit Midrash...A taste of Shamayim

I remember when I first read the Talmudic accounts of Shamayim (Heaven) being like a giant Beit Midrash (House of Study) and feeling a little bit like the Rabbis were creating heaven in their own image. The whole thing seemed a little puzzling to me. I, like many others in the Messianic Jewish movement, was taking for granted the role of learning and learning communities. This is not that uncommon in the wider Jewish world either. Gemilut Hasidim and Avodah are treated as superior devotional categories in liberal branches of Judaism. Torah is practically treated as the smallest of these pillars and relegated to the realm of scholarship, with very few exceptions. Torah learning is not seen as devotional but the realm of the intellect which as a result of our platonic inheritance is seen as separate from intuitive experience and physical action.

The beginning of my week-long Rabbinical school intensive didn't seem to offer anything new to shatter the status quo in this regard. Very early on I was told that the experience would be a combination of the intuitive with the academic, achieved through two classes: "Experiencing the Ruach in Jewish Space," and "Seminar in Rabbinic Texts: Eikha Rabbah" each corresponding to one of these modes, respectively. No one mentioned the academic value in the Ruach class, and even few explored the intuitive spiritual value of the Midrash seminar. Nothing could have been further from the truth...

Both classes required academic skill. Both classes connected me more deeply to God, Am Yisrael, The Body of Messiah, and my own soul. The experience of all of us learning and living together enabled me to: be spontaneous in the siddur, be liturgical in free-form prayer expressions, feel deeply in working out translations, and to excercise my intellect in devotional meditation. The dichotomies and tensions I once lived with vanished and I knew I would never be the same. Why this sudden change?

We all came together primarily to learn Torah, and that included living together in intentional community (making breakfast, cleaning up after lunch, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.), praying together, and sharing together. I grew closer to everyone during this time in a way that I didn't anticipate but am eternally grateful for. The crying, laughing, thinking, praying, yelling, whispering, and general intimacy came because we did acts of kindness for one another, we prayed together, and we learned together. It was truly a Beit Midrash...

It dawned on me that willingness to learn together is so under-appreciated in our community and this is a major hinderance to our growth. We're all looking for common theology and the perfect prayer services. Without learning together, where will our familiarity with the language of the siddur come form? Without learning together, where will the arousal to speak to God from what we have first heard come from? Without learning together, where will the knowledge of one another come from? Charity is important. Theology is important. Intimacy with God is important. Sharing meals together is important. But it is the Torah which first taught us these things are important, and without its reminders and potential for new revelation we will most certainly forget and these important categories will lose their power in our lives. I am convinced that it was our learning together fueled the intensity of our davening and communal connection with one another.

I encourage all of us to work toward the formation of learning communities within our movement. I know my first experience of one was a little taste of Shamayim...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Av: At Night, Weeping...In the Morning, a Cry of Joy

Crying is an emotional expression I am not very good at any more. Rarely do I allow myself to feel something deep enough that I can cry. The month of Av is, to some extent, a month very much connected with crying. First and foremost, it holds the commemoration of the destruction of both Temples. The weight of these catastrophic events cannot be underestimated. I have had the privelege to begin a class on the midrashim of Eikha Rabbah (I will will be learning more inside for the first seven days of Av for an MJTI Rabbincal intensive in L.A.). The willingness the Rabbis have to portray God as a mourning Husband, Father, King, and even Mother is profoudly moving. It demonstrates to me the the Rabbis are trying to get Jews distant from the Destruction of the second Temple to understand the extent of its impact. This event changed Judaism and Jewish life forever. Even the rebuilding of the Temple cannot erase the long dark history of this exile. In my community, it is in this time that we take the opportunity to reflect on Messiah's execution. This is also an event that that changed the course of history forever. This year, I want to be able to cry over these events. I want Am Yisrael to be able to cry over the memory of tumbling walls, screaming children, watching our wives get raped, our children get trampled, our King get beaten, and His tired flesh bruised and bloody...

But then there is another kind of crying in Av...

The Talmud relates that the 15th of Av was, along with Yom Kippur, the most joyous day of the year. It was the day of young maidens going out into the city of Jerusalem to find their bridegrooms. There is often alot of crying at weddings and engagements! These are joyful times to celebrate the beggining of new life, the end of an old life. It is likely no coincidence that the 15th of Av is the full moon of that month. The evening of the 15th of Av is the brightest night in the darkly burdened night that is the month of Av. As a follower of Yeshua I want to go out into the world on the 15th of Av dressed in white, with all of Am Yisrael, seeking our Bridegroom with plenty of oil in stock. I want us to remember the coming Kingdom, and to cry for Joy together...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Isolation, Desolation, and Miracles

As we have begun our journey through three weeks of reflection and consciously facing our pain, I wanted to share a former Set Table piece I wrote that expresses my faith that it is in the midst of desolation that the miraculous power of God can shine forth and conquer...

Much of the work of Messiah as presented to us in the Besorot has to do with overturning forces that keep the body and soul imprisoned. In fact, it is this very overturning that threatened all establishments; his radical invasion of governments, power structures, villages, homes, bodies, souls, and hearts. This theme is found in the Torah.

In Exodus, before any Promised Land is given to the nation of slaves coming out of Egypt, they are called to the Desert (Exodus 5:1). They are called away from the cacophony of an empire in love with the sound of its own sin. Moses prays to YHVH “outside of the city” (see Exodus 9:33). In fact, all of his encounters with YHVH are away from the presence of Pharaoh. This illustrates the need for the silence that comes from isolation in desolate places; it is the beginning of fear of God. Before a connection characterized by love was established, there was fear and apprehensiveness. This apprehensiveness is also a desolate place from which the power of God can become manifest.

YHVH begins to become known in the desolate places, to those who will heed the call…to those who will carry the Presence into “society”. Nothing established is left safe. Tolerance of oppression, tolerance of pain, tolerance of fear, tolerance of men-gods, tolerance of god’s made by the hands of man, and tolerance of empire’s “creating of worlds” (see Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 3:5) are all obliterated by YHVH’s defibrillator for creation: the miracle.

Fast-forward to Mark 1:29-45. It begins with Yeshua casting out the illness of Shimon’s mother-in-law. This doesn’t happen publicly. It happens in the privacy of a home, in the presence of few. Then it is not until the beginning of night that he heals many people’s illnesses and cast out their demons. Finally, he keeps the demons from revealing his identity (see Mark 1:29-34). Mark is showing us that Yeshua was keeping much of His power and identity veiled. The desolation of the not-yet-fully-revealed needed to be maintained.

The mystery of the power of God can be a frightening thing. It is secretive yet penetrating. It is something less than welcomed by crowds. It is something that necessitates the retreat of its bearer before it can become manifest publicly:

“Early in the morning while it was still like night, he got up and went to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (The New Covenant, Barnstone).

After healing the leper in the following section, Yeshua specifically instructs him to keep quiet about the miracle, but the man does not listen. What follows is what the NIV so poignantly translates as Yeshua “stayed outside in lonely places” (Mark 1:45).

Every mother feels her birthing pains alone, and these pains are the antithesis to the joy that results from them. The birthing pains of the miracle, and of its agent, are desolation and loneliness. Maybe it is only in desolation can we learn to need God fully. Our joy is that it doesn’t end with desolation. It ends with homecoming, the building of a kingdom, and the conquering of death!

Accidental Commonality and Unity

My trip to Italy was filled with amazingly beautiful and powerful experiences that will be with me all of my life. It was especially challenging to confront the barrier between Christianity and Judaism in Europe, and the suprising place in which those lines broke down...

The divides between Judaism and Christianity over history in Europe is familiar to most people and the fact that this divide would still be so strong (though not as overtly violent) would also not likely be suprising to people. This divide is most profoundly expressed in the traditional Roman Catholicism that is predominant as well as the lack of: Conservative, Reform, Renewal, etc. Jewish presence. The potential for a strong Messianic Judaism in Europe is significantly dampened by both parties strong adherence to religious traditions uncomfortable with redefining boundaries. With that said, there was one area where the artisitc paved a road toward commonality (though entirely without intention).

Italy is home of some of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, particularly in Florence and Venice. Interestingly enough, the main Synagogue in Florence, and the Synagogues in Venice are also some of the most beautiful in the world. The Synagogue in Florence is the same shape as the famous Duomo in the same city. The inside of the Synagogue has a pipe organ, pulpit, and the ark is placed right where the altar would be were the building to be a Church. Amazingly enough, this particular Synagogue was commissioned by the Orthodox community. They had no intention of using the organ on Shabbat or the pulpit. It was designed this way because they hoped to attract more Jews who had strayed from Judaism through creating a place similar to a Church. The starkest difference is that the scrolls of the Torah replace the image of Yeshua on the cross. Incidently, the Synagogues in Venice were also not built Jews because in order to be an architect one had to be a member of a guild, and Jews were not allowed such memberships.

What we have here is an ironic twist provoked by a need for both the Church and the Jewish people to have beatiful places to worship God where the difference between them, visually, lies in the exaltation of the written Word (Scrolls and Hebrew letters) for one, and the Fleshly dimension (images and the Living Word) for the other. As the title of my blog would suggest, I see these two categories is indivisibly ONE.

What a beautiful thing to know that when Jews and Christians in this period decided to build their beit t'fillot all the differences in theology couldn't keep out the unbreakable link between them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Empowered Torah

From tomorrow (6/16) evening until 6/29 I will be engaging in an experiment that will require me to step outside of "computer land," cell phone reception, and the continent. This experiment is commonly known as "Vacation," and I am looking forward to learning A LOT about it!

With that said, I wanted to leave a small thought behind with hopes to read others thoughts and questions upon my return if anyone is so inclined:

How does a maturing Messianic Jewish k'hilah become more of an empowered community?

The tagline of Hashivenu is "towards a mature Messianic Judaism." Though this is crucial, and an ongoing process, it seems worth noting that maturity is not an end in and of itself. Maturity is the attitudinal quality that will empower us to properly partner with God in this world. It would seem that God's will for us is to carry crosses, do greater works than Yeshua, make disciples, and generally lay a smack-down on sin and chaos...SO....

It seems like higher education is not going to take care of this one for us. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for the higher education. In fact, It is vital that we be an educated community. I just want to suggest that it would behoove us to be about our Father's business and at some point that means stepping outside of our classrooms/meetings/conferences into the world...And we're not handing out those tracts again!

What are we going to do with all this education? What are we going to do with all this yiddishkeit? What are we going to do to let the whole world know what it means for Messiah Yeshua to be ALIVE and moving in power as the King of Israel?

Whatever it is...
It needs to look humble, not timid.
It needs to carry Fear of God that empowers rather than petrifies the will.
It needs to be bold without being stupid
It needs to be rooted in relationship with God
It needs to demonstrate God's power

I am grateful for all of the work that many are doing in this movement that is taking us in this direction. There is much more to be done on all fronts. With that said, "vision" would seem to require not settling for what seems immediately available, but entering a realm that expects far greater things. Hashivenu is teaching us to move towards maturity; What will be next to guide us toward an empowered Messianic Judaism?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mussar, Middot, and a re-Minder

There is much to contemplate, live, and share as a Jewish follower of Yeshua. As such there is much discussion on Messianic blogs across the globe discussing Jewish ritual practice, what equity between Jew and Gentile looks like (or doesn't), Rabbinic tradition, Yeshua's deity, and so on. I find these to be noble and important topics, but have (for the most part) decided to leave them to those individuals who have already done an excellent job in addressing them. I suggest the links and book list on the right for anyone interested in knowing the general hashkafah (philosophy) I align myself with on such matters...

In starting this blog it has been my hope to fan the flames on various aspects of Messianic Jewish faith and practice that I feel could get more attention than they currently are(at least in my generation, if not beyond). The topic of this post has to do with one such area...

Yeshua focused very much on growing the middot (character traits) of those he encountered. He spoke more about how we ought to carry ourselves while wearing tefillin than teaching how to put them on. He reminded us why we wear tzitzit more than telling us how they are to be tied. I am utterly convinced he would instruct us on the details if we asked, but that was not his primary function. He came to Fill-Full the Torah with all its richness and power. He came to implant it deep within our hearts by teaching us how to cleave to him in Truth. He told us that we oughtn't even look with lustful/hateful eyes, let alone behave lustfully/hatefully. Many of us didn't grow up engaged in Torah, so we're busy learning the "dos" and "donts," as well as the "hows." I would like to re-Mind us that Yeshua wants to give us the inner level AND the external, he wants to give us the TOTALITY of Torah. He wants to clean us from the inside out, he wants us to LIVE from the inside out.

Thankfully his core values find expression in his words to us, in the words of many others, and in our ongoing relationship with him. I would like to encourage us all to start engaging in Mussar (ethical/cognitive/spiritual growth) even more. There are many ways this can be done:

1. Find a partner and learn the Sermon on the Mount together. Each time you learn together, question and encourage one another in the topics you're learning. Ask, "Which aspects of Yeshua's teaching are most difficult?" and discuss ways to improve.

2. Find a partner to learn a book on Middot or general improvement (I personally reccomend Rav Kook for Mussar, Rebbe Nachman for devotional material, The Apostolic Letters).

3. Learn any of these on your own.

4. Don't daven ONLY with the Siddur. The Siddur is so beautiful and powerful, but don't let it replace time with you and God ALONE...No accessories necessary.

5. Don't be afraid to ask friends and people you trust in your communities how you're doing in particular areas. We needn't be afraid to involve one another in our processes. In fact, it's vital that we do so. This is the only way p'rat (individual) growth can advance into k'lal (communal) growth.

6. Get thee a Rav! Find someone who is a leader that you trust and respect and ask for advice on particular issues or just share what's going on.

7. Know that the effort you're putting in is not to serve your needs alone, but is a participation in the colletctive t'shuvah (re-Turning) of Israel, all Humanity, and all Creation.

I personally reccomend all of these. It burns so deeply in my heart to share the vital importance of taking observance and faith into levels beyond our own limited visions of what we are capable of. Pure hearts and minds are not promises left for some other world. We are promised access to COMPLETE T'SHUVAH NOW. It will not happen if each of us is doing this alone. All of us need to be doing it, and we all need to be sharing it with one another. We have a purpose as the Body of Messiah...Let's grow together.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tammuz: Broken Torah, Broken Walls, and Broken Hearts

So....One would think after a wild first quarter of a year we (The Jewish People) would be rearing to go deeper and deeper into holiness and unity. After all, the triad/trilogy of Nisan-Iyyar-Sivan sets us up for it. We have had wild revelation and redemption leading into a period of growth and preparation to receive the very thing that will keep us free and redeemed forever (Torah and Ruach).


Not so fast. After receiving the wildest revelation at Sinai, what did we do? We built a Golden Calf. Not only did we build this thing, but we rejoiced over it!

Our tradition has it that the month of Tammuz is the month in which we built this idol. The 17th of Tammuz is the day in which the walls of Jerusalem were breached (Commemoration of this day begins a three week period of mourning until the remembrance of the destroyed Temple). Tradition ALSO says that this very day that the walls were broken was the day Moshe broke the original tablets inscribed with the Aseret Dibrot.

There is deep significance in Moshe's breaking these tablets. Moshe does this after his conversation with HaShem in which he argues with HaShem that he should not destroy the people. HaShem was ready to wipe us all out, but Moshe intercedes. Now, upon coming down the mountain Moshe sees with his own eyes what has happened. It is clear that he was angry, but I would not be so quick to suggest that he broke these tablets out of anger alone. When he strikes a rock to pour out water out of anger, instead of speaking to it, HaShem declares him unfit to enter Eretz Yisrael. One would think that breaking the tablets inscribed with the very finger of the Holy One, Blessed BE He, would yield a significant punishment! But, what does HaShem actually do? HaShem has Moshe make a new set...Therefore, Moshe must have thought this through a little more carefully.

The Torah on its own doesn't really make too much space for T'shuvah. Most of the time, if you sin, you pay for it severely. There needed to be a way for T'shuvah because Am Yisrael is a broken group, humanity is broken. Moshe did the unthinkable, he made the Torah as broken as Am Yisrael was. Only through a broken Torah that can be made whole again is there a possibility that the Torah can be available to us, in our brokenness, so that we may be made whole again.

This is the connection between the breaking of the tablets and the breaching of the walls. Both events wereresults of our own inability to be faithful to HaShem. Our own denial of HaShem leads to the breaking of those things that keep us close to him.


This is not permanent. In fact, the Torah is broken only to be made whole again, and the walls are breached only to be built again. This is the "deeper magic" of God. This is what Yeshua did. He was broken in order to be made whole again so that we would do the same.


Back to Tammuz 5770. This is a month to face our own brokenness, but it is also a month to face what was done for us so that we could be made whole again and accept that renewal. This is the beginning of our process of T'shuvah. T'shuvah doesn't begin in Elul, it begins now. The problem is that most of us wait until Elul before we start. This year I pray that all of us members of Am Yisrael, especially those who are Hasidei Yeshua, would begin our T'shuvah now. Maybe this is the year that Av can become the month of Mashiach...more on that next month...Chodesh Tov...