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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...

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.