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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...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Halakhic Learning/Living

I have had the privilege of contributing to the Riverton Mussar program (see links list on the right) for quite some time now. As I was preparing for this coming week's piece a small portion of what I wrote felt like it needed to be unpacked a little more, in a different context. I felt that context would be here. Here is the paragraph I am referring to: "Halakha, in general, removes the veil between the spiritual and physical and reminds us that creation is good and that we are empowered to make it holy. Our daily lives do not become holy by us making them more “spiritual.” They become holy when we acknowledge God as Lord over them, in all their physicality and messiness. In this light we can see that the more we are diligent to bless/thank God (or the world around us) the more likely we are to engage the task at hand. May we all grow in our capacity to use every opportunity to bring holiness and goodness into the world." About a month ago I finished reading a translation of Rabbi Soloveitchik's, Halachic Man. I was challenged by it, but there were a few key points that struck me so very strongly. I will share just two of them here. 1. Soloveitchik suggests that "halachic man" sees a responsibility to experience (and respond to) God within the context of the details of life. Eternal life is found beginning with this life! There is no desire for some disembodied soul state. The goal lies in the Jew's capacity and responsibility to sanctification of the world he/she lives in. 2. The goal of halakha is the prophetic state! Soloveitchik defines this state (in part) as the awareness of the heavenly throne above you at all times. Through deep engagement with halakha in learning and practice, "halachic man" is able to move toward the perception of God and his holiness in a way akin to that of the prophets. I do not mean to oversimplify incredibly complex concepts. Soloveitchik presents a lot of crucial background and caveats so as to avoid confusion in what he is saying. One cannot fully understand these points unless one reads his book. Nevertheless, I feel comfortable asserting that these two points are congruent with values we see in the ketuvim sh'lichim (Apostolic Writings). The Kingdom is at hand, and we have a responsibility to draw it out in the here and now. Make no mistake about it: The mechanisms of halakhic thought/living contrast the pursuit of healing the sick and raising the dead. The real chidush (new idea) here is that in spite of the contrast, they have the same goal and root. Therefore deep halakhic engagement and pursuit of seeing the "Yeshua-natural" (I prefer this to "supernatural") are complimentary and should be equal pursuits of any Messianic Jewish community. So, where do we begin? I have to confess that, by and large, the Messianic Jewish community is lacking in its pursuit of halakhic thinking/living (I am including myself in this critique...I have a long way to go). Even among those Jewish Yeshua followers that engage Jewish life in the context of our people's developed tradition, it normally stops shy of transforming our largely non-halakhic culture. So, I suggest we begin where this way of thinking began, where our sages began: Learning. We need to develop learning cultures that transform the way we think and live. there is much more to do than this, but I want to do my part in promoting this. So... I am going to offer one small way for at least some of us to get started. Every new Jewish month, within the first week, I want to offer a halakha of the month. I will provide some background in the particular halakha and then we can all have a discussion about what it means, how to grow towards it, etc. Any takers?


  1. Great post Ben. I really look forward to this. I feel a learner culture revolution coming in the MJ blogosphere. Great!

  2. Glad to have such a good response!

    I'll be posting on our first halakha soon :-)

  3. I enjoyed reading your post! Also, the book you mentioned sounds interesting - I'll have to read it.

    Yes, please count me in! :D

  4. Looking forward to it!