Organized Religion and a Zeal for God

decline_272870998Parashat Pinchas

According to a recent Gallup poll, the number of Americans who have faith in organized religion is at an all-time low. Only 44% of Americans today have “a lot of confidence in organized religion,” compared to 66% in 1973, when organized religion or church was the highest rated institution in Gallup’s confidence in institutions measure.

Did you know that organized religion continued to rank first in most years through 1985, outranking the military and the U.S. Supreme Court?

The confidence of Americans in organized religion began to change in the mid to late 80′s, when it fell below 60% for the first time. It has been in a consistent decline ever since.

One can also note the rise of large scandals and crimes associated with religious figures and institutions during this same time period, brought into a more public light through popular media.

A Healthy Dose of Skepticism

This may come as a surprise to some of you … but I am also sort of a skeptic of organized religion. I know … SHOCK … HORROR … And yet I am a rabbi. I am a bit of a skeptic because I know exactly how easy it is to use religion as a crutch … or to manipulate people … and how it can be used to take advantage of people in their most vulnerable times instead of being a positive force for change and assisting them on their spiritual journeys.

But it is also some of that skepticism that convinced me to become a rabbi. Because (a bit naively) I wanted to try to make a difference … and because I still believe that religion can have a positive role in our lives. My desire is to help re-infuse religion with the awe of the sacred … to renew that sense of “Wonder.” But to do so, we need to get our priorities back in order.

Spirituality vs. Religion

In many ways “spirituality” and “religion” got separated. We have all heard (possibly over and over again) the all too common response, “I’m just spiritual, not religious.” What people are implying is that “I feel connected to God, but not to all that binding legalism, manipulation, and control. “I’m a free thinker … and just want to seek out God in my own way.”

In my humble opinion, religion, and particularly Judaism, is failing our people … and failing the world. Although there are some great leaders and communities out there … we have largely lost our zeal.

Parashat Pinchas gives us a taste of that zeal.

י  וַיְדַבֵּר יְיְ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.

10 And HaShem spoke unto Moshe, saying:

יא  פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן, הֵשִׁיב אֶת-חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת-קִנְאָתִי, בְּתוֹכָם; וְלֹא-כִלִּיתִי אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקִנְאָתִי.

11 ’Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the cohen, has deflected my anger away from the people of Israel by being as zealous as I am, so that I so that I didn’t destroy them in my own zeal.

יב  לָכֵן, אֱמֹר:  הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, שָׁלוֹם.

12 Therefore say: Behold, I am giving him My covenant of shalom;

יג  וְהָיְתָה לּוֹ וּלְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו, בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם–תַּחַת, אֲשֶׁר קִנֵּא לֵאלֹהָיו, וַיְכַפֵּר, עַל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

13 making a covenant with him and his descendants after him that the office of cohen will be theirs forever.’ This is because he was zealous on behalf of his G-d and made atonement for the people of Israel.”

Pinchas had a zeal both for HaShem and his people … a zeal which we must have as well. But how do we do that?

What is normally our Haftarah this week (1 Kings 19:9-21) provides an answer. Elijah, who was running to escape the wrath of Jezebel, flees to a cave where He has a powerful encounter with God, and God sends him back to confront his fear and to realize he is not alone.

Lessons from the Haftarah

From the Haftarah we learn three very important lessons:

  1. Rather than run in fear, we must confront what we fear the most
  2. We cannot do it alone … when we are convinced, like Elijah, that we’re the only ones left … God reminds us there are others as well who will stand with us.
  3. We need encounters with God

Often we are like Elijah, and desire to run away from our problems. However, the lesson we learn over and over again from our Scriptures is that we must face and confront our fears! Like Elijah, if you try to run, don’t be surprised if God tells you to go back and face your fears.

Religion today has taken on a modern vs. an ancient approach to faith  – it largely focuses on emotion and does everything to “make you feel good” (it is soothing), verses actually enabling you to deal with the difficult tasks at hand. True faith is a faith that demands something of you!

Moses was also asked to go back to where he was exiled from. Yeshua said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” In other words, pick up your tool of execution … and carry it … let it become your symbol of faith. You cannot be victorious when running in fear … and then make all kinds of excuses for doing so.

Each difficult task we face in life can lead to either victory or defeat. It is how we deal with life’s circumstances when they are thrown at us that will determine the outcome.

Another important message from 1 Kings is that you cannot do it alone. An important element of faith is to teach us how to get through the difficult bumps of life. We need support from one another … you are not supposed to do it alone.

When Elijah thought he was the only one left, HaShem reminded him that He had preserved 7,000 others who in their zeal for God have also refused to worship Ba’al.

God’s Pursuit of Us

We were created to be in relationship with our Creator. This is the essence of Judaism, according to Abraham Joshua Heschel. We need to rediscover that sense of awe and wonder in our lives. Because it is that relationship with God that gets us through life’s difficult circumstances.

When we think that we can exist apart from God we are only fooling ourselves. Our souls are longing to be fed, and yet we often ignore the hunger pains, and instead try to soothe them through other temporal means.

We are constantly bombarded on the path of life … we need others … we need a vehicle for HOW TO confront our fears … how to learn to face what scares us and hurts us the most. When we feel a desire to pursue our spiritual journeys alone, Judaism teaches us that we actually need each other, and that we need to be interconnected to each other for support.

Renewing Our Zeal

Although we can encounter God anywhere, and at anytime, religion is is the vehicle for encountering God – in and through each other. This is what religion has largely lost. It has lost its zeal which Pinchas and Elijah are praised for … a zealous pursuit of God and the well-being of each other. Organized religion has largely become a soothing mechanism to make you feel good about yourself rather than equipping you to face life’s difficult challenges. It has become a faith which no longer demands anything. Therefore, it has also largely lost its ability to become a conduit for a radical, life-changing encounter with God.

Is it any wonder why so many Americans have lost faith in organized religion?

Parashat Pinchas teaches us that it is time to once again be zealous. Especially in a world that no longer think it needs God anymore. It is time to rise up and be zealous, but with a zeal that comes from love, rather than false pride or judgmentalism. True love. For as Yeshua stated, they will recognize us by our love.

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Happy Independence Day!

We wish you and your family a very happy 4th of July, and leave you with a couple of inspiring thoughts on this Independence Day.

“Of all the disposition and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports … Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

-President George Washington (Farewell Address)

“Our G-d and G-d of our ancestors: We ask Your blessings for our country, for its government, for its leaders and advisor, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights from Your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst … May this land under Your providence be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom and helping them to fulfill the vision of Your prophet: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war anymore.” And let us say: Amen.

-“A Prayer for our Country,” Siddur Sim Shalom

 

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A Talking Donkey?

Parashat Balak

Parashat Balak speaks of a non-Jewish prophet (Bilaam) who was hired to curse the people of Israel. Multiple times Bilaam attempted to curse Israel, and each time G-d caused him to speak a blessing instead of a curse.

In the middle of the parasha, Bilaam sets off on his donkey in another attempt to curse Israel. However, a strange thing happened. G-d sent an angel to bar the way of Bilaam. Upon seeing the Malach HaShem, the Angel of HaShem blocking its path, three times the donkey refrained from continuing and each time Bilaam beat the donkey. After the third time, G-d enabledthe donkey to speak, responding, “What is it I have done to you that you beat me these three times? (Num. 22:28)” It was not until G-d enabled Bilaam to see the Malach HaShem that Bilaam truly realized what was happening.

So what can we learn from this? Often many of us are like Bilaam. For one reason or another we become caught up in our own desires, blind to G-d’s purposes, and to the needs of the community around us. And when anyone or anything attempts to keep us from doing something in pursuit of those desires, we beat them too. So in the end, we are hurting not only ourselves, but those around us without any consideration.

And yet, other times in life we feel like the donkey. We are working so hard to do the right thing, and to avoid the entrapments along life’s path. However, it seems life just keeps beating us and beating us despite our best attempts. Like the donkey in the parasha, many of us often feel like screaming out, “Why do you continue to beat me?”

In either situation, we are letting our circumstances get the best of us. When we lose faith, lose hope, and lose sight of where HaShem is leading us, we end up getting beaten down by the world around us. We need to be people of clear vision. After all, the book of Mishlei (Proverbs) states, “Trust in HaShem with all of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge G-d, and G-d will make your path straight (3:5-6).”

May all of us be blessed to truly listen and follow G-d’s path for our lives. May we be followers of HaShem’s Torah, and heralds of the message of Messianic redemption. May we no longer kick against the goads, lost and beaten down by our own misguided desires. Rather, may each of us merit a prophetic vision for our unique purpose, and may we all witness the fullness of Israel in Messiah Yeshua.

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Book Announcement

Jude Cover (2)Just in time for the Summer conferences …

My new book, a commentary on the Epistle of Jude, has just been published under the title, “Jude on Faith and the Destructive Influence of Heresy” by Lederer/Messianic Jewish Publishers (by the way, right up front for all the critics, the title was not my idea).

For those at the MJAA Messiah conference, you can pick it up this week in the marketplace at the Lederer table. It will also be available at the UMJC conference.

If you are not attending either of the conferences it should be available to purchase through Lederer and Amazon sometime next week.

Some are already asking why I chose to write on the Epistle of Jude. Its a good question. Honestly, there are two reasons. The first reason is because it is a fabulous little book that everyone skips over. However, although it might be small, it packs a major punch! This book is not as insignificant as you might think. Secondly, my choice was also practical. Since it is such a short book, I thought it would be much more realistic to commit to writing a commentary on Jude than on a much longer book, especially something like Hebrews or Revelation. Something like that takes years. But I have definitely been bitten by the “writing bug” and have already committed to a few more projects to be released in the next year or two, including commentaries on 2 Peter and hopefully Philippians.

I must say, you will be surprised at how much one can actually write about the Book of Jude. First of all, it is a letter written by one of Yeshua’s own brothers. This alone is significant. Second, it is a scathing rebuke of false teachers and the heresy they spread among God’s people. Third, it is also an appeal to remain faithful despite difficult times. And finally, it deals with issues and ideas that some consider quite scandalous. Therefore, how could I NOT want to write on such a fascinating book of the New Testament?

Stay tuned over the next week or so as I share more on the Epistle of Jude and my new commentary. And if you are at one of the Summer conferences … make sure to pick up a copy before it is made available online! I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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AZS Celebrates 40 Years

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Past and Present Leaders of AZS. From Left to Right: Rabbi Joshua and Monique Brumbach (current leaders), Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann (rabbi emeritus, ’91-’11), Rabbi Betzalel Budoff (former rabbi, ’80-’91), and the founders, Dr. Ray and Kassiani Gannon.

This post is LONG overdue …

This past February, the congregation where I serve as the Senior Rabbi, Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue in Beverly Hills, CA, celebrated its 40th anniversary with a special gala dinner featuring special guests, joyous music and historical trivia and insights into the congregation’s past forty years. This momentous occasion brought together current and past members, as well as other special guests, for an evening of recollection, celebration and vision casting toward the future. The event also turned out to be an excellent opportunity for outreach as there were many friends, family and colleagues present who were introduced to the community for the first time. Many people expressed an interest in finding our more about our congregation and a few people have already become actively involved.

Invite FINAL CroppedOur special honored guests included the founders of the congregation, Dr. Ray and Kassiani Gannon, and former leaders Rabbi Barry Budoff and Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann. We also had special music featuring Messianic Jewish recording artists Britta K, Sally Klein O’Connor and Misha Goetz.

Ahavat Zion was originally founded in 1973 under the name Beth Emmanuel. However, in 1978 the congregation reincorporated and changed its name to Ahavat Zion. As the oldest Messianic congregation on the West Coast, and one of the seven oldest in the entire country, Ahavat Zion has been at the forefront of the Messianic Jewish movement, serving as a flagship congregation, a think-tank for innovative ideas and services, and a spiritual home for those who are Jewish or intermarried.

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Special Recognition and presentation to AZS founders, Dr. Ray and Kassiani Gannon.

It has now been a few months since the 40th Anniversary Celebration and I continue to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback … from the warmth and friendliness of the evening to how nice it was to especially recognize the contributions of significant members throughout the congregation’s history. This was definitely a significant milestone I will never forget.

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The Rock of … What?

Parashat Chukat

Without water, the community began grumbling against Moses and Aaron. Leaving the community, they went to the entrance of the Tabernacle and fell on their faces in the presence of HaShem. Moshe was commanded to take his staff and speak to the rock, which would produce water in response to the cries of the children of Israel.

However, leaving the Tabernacle Moshe went before the people. “You rebels,” he shouted, “Are we supposed to bring you water from this rock?” Moshe raised his staff and struck the rock twice, and water flowed in abundance.

Displeased, G-d said to Moshe and Aharon, “Because you did not trust in Me, so as to cause Me to be regarded as holy by the people of Israel, you will not bring this community into the land I have given them (Num. 20:7-12).”

So what’s the big deal?

G-d’s Name is intimately linked to the people of Israel. So much so that G-d has chosen to associate His Name with the Jewish people – i.e. “the G-d of Israel.” As HaShem’s remnant, the Jewish people have a specific role to play in the cosmos. This role is something called Kiddush HaShem – the Sanctification of the Name of G-d.

We are to be Or L’Goyim – a Light to the Nations. As Israel, we are partners with G-d in bringing redemption into the world. We are the harbingers of a cosmic message with cosmic ramifications.

The real issue is not that Moshe struck the rock. This is supported by Rashi, and other rabbinic commentators. The issue is that Moshe did not sanctify the Name of G-d in the presence of the people. Moshe’s actions were more than an “oops … I was supposed to speak to the rock, not hit it.” This was so serious that Moshe was forbidden to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. In some way, HaShem was dishonored in front of the entire people. Rather than Kiddush HaShem, Moshe performed a Chilul HaShem (a desecration of the Name of G-d).

The task of the Sanctification of G-d’s Name has been handed down to us. Our job in this world is to bring about glory to HaShem, and prepare the way for the coming of Mashiach. May we truly recognize the implications of what is at hand. G-d has chosen each one of us to partner with Him in bringing redemption into the world. We need to rise up, take our staffs in hand, and not only bring water to a parched people and land – but prepare the way for the coming of Mashiach. And may our righteous Messiah (who we eagerly await) lead us out of exile and into the Promised Land speedily and soon!

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Rebellion and Selfishness … or a Message of Hope?

Parashat Korach

This week’s parasha begins with an outright rebellion against Moses and Aaron. So what do we learn from this?

Korach, a first cousin of Moses (and also a Levite), and those with him are presented in the parasha as having selfish motivations for their rebellion, as exemplified in their accusation:

“You take too much upon yourselves! After all, the entire community is holy … So why do you exalt yourselves above HaShem’s community?” (Numbers 16:3)

It seems Korach felt he could do a better job leading the people of Israel than Moses and Aaron. So he set out to overthrow them, and usurp their authority by assembling a group of people to follow him.

Pirkei Avot teaches:

“Any dispute that is for the sake of heaven will have a constructive outcome; but one that is not for the sake of heaven will not have a constructive outcome … And what sort of dispute was not for the sake of heaven? – The dispute of Korach and his entire community (Avot 5:20).”

In the end, Korach and his family were swallowed up by the earth, and the 250 people with him were consumed by fire. What is even more unbelievable is that the very next day the people started grumbling against Moses again – after just having witnessed the fate of Korach and those with him. So G-d sent a plague that ended up killing another 14,700 people in addition to those who died along with Korach.

We learn from Parashat Korach that G-d takes selfishness very seriously. Because whenever we think we can “do it better,” we need to be careful. There are times when it is true – maybe we can do it better. But the real question is our motivation. Is our motivation to do a great job? Or, is it a matter of a selfish ambition based on jealousy, insecurity, or rebelliousness?

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that G-d has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)

We are supposed to be confident in our abilities. But a mature confidence is not arrogance. Paul warns that we should never take ourselves too seriously. For if we do, and begin grumbling against those around us, we risk the fate of Korach.

To be clear, the message of Korach is not one of utter hopelessness. For interwoven in the story is also a message of redemption. Although Korach himself chose to rebel against G-d, Moses, and Aaron; his descendants chose to follow in the ways of HaShem. How do we know this? There are eleven Psalms all written by “the Sons of Korach.” As G-d so often does, He took a negative experience and turned it into a story of hope.

The descendants of Korach deliberately chose not to walk in the ways of their ancestor. Rather, they took upon themselves the burden to walk in the ways of HaShem. We are instructed elsewhere in the Torah to be holy just as G-d is holy. Holiness is a choice. We can either choose our own selfish ambitions, or we can be like the sons of Korach, and (despite any negative reputation and associations) choose righteousness, holiness, and the way of our Messiah. I hope we choose wisely.

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MJ Leaders Oppose Presbyterian Divestment

LogosLast week leaders representing the mainstream Messianic Jewish movement worldwide approved a joint statement opposing the upcoming divestment proposals to be taken up this week within the Presbyterian Church (USA) at their General Assembly in Detroit.

The whole statements is as follows (and can be found on the various organizations’ websites):

——

As the Presbyterian Church (USA) prepares to discuss divestment proposals designed to influence Israeli policy at its General Assembly in Detroit, June 14-21, leaders of the international organizations speaking for the Messianic Jewish community respond with a strong statement of support for Israel. 

Amid continuing efforts to pressure and marginalize the state of Israel through boycotts and economic sanctions, the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, meeting in Detroit, June 14-21, will consider proposals to pressure Israel through financial divestment. Amid reports of growing worldwide anti-Semitism, the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network offers “Zionism Unsettled,” a study guide that explicitly delegitimizes Israel as a Jewish state. In the face of such actions, the international Messianic Jewish community expresses its unwavering support for the Jewish homeland in Israel.

The international Messianic Jewish community supports the right of the state of Israel to exist within safe and secure borders, and the right of all Israelis to freely live and travel without the threat of terrorism.

We affirm the historic connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, as well as God’s promise to give the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the land of Israel as an eternal inheritance. As Scripture states:

“I will establish My covenant with you as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and to your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:7-8)

We further recognize that the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel in modern times was foretold by the prophets:

“Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36:23-24).

In addition, the historical sufferings and persecutions of the Jewish people, culminating in the Holocaust of World War II, demonstrated to the community of nations that the Jewish people have an inherent need for their own homeland. The establishment of the Jewish State justly protects Jewish continuity and safety.

We also affirm the current and future aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) as a fulfillment of Scripture, as it is written:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when men will no longer say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought Israel up out of Egypt’, but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where He had banished them’. For I will restore them to the land I gave their fathers.” (Jeremiah 16:14-15).

We, therefore, support the right of Jewish people to immigrate to their historic homeland.

In light of the vision of peace conveyed by the Jewish prophets, and as followers of Messiah, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:5-6), we look toward a future in which the current suffering of both Jews and Arabs in the Middle East will be replaced by true peace. This vision of the future compels us to work and hope for peace today. Therefore we applaud all genuine efforts toward peacemaking between Israel and Arab parties in the Middle East.

Throughout the Scriptures, Israel as a people is called to be a light and example to the other nations of the world (Ex. 19:5-6, Deut. 4:5-8, Is. 2:2-4; 60:2-3). We believe the modern state of Israel is an heir to this calling, which is reflected in her thriving democracy, where civil rights are enshrined in law. Therefore, we encourage the equal application of Israel’s laws to all of her citizens, and the preservation, continuation and growth of human rights for all of Israel’s minority groups.

We also encourage our congregations outside of Israel to work for the welfare of the state of Israel, to pray for the land and its safety, and to visit the land, thereby expressing support for the nation and its inhabitants. In addition, we express our particular solidarity with the Messianic Jewish community in Israel.

Finally, we remind all believers in Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah from every nation of these words of blessing found in the book of Psalms, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you’” (Ps. 122:6).

John Fischer, President
Paul Wilbur, Executive Director
International Messianic Jewish Alliance

Kirk Gliebe, President
Russell Resnik, Executive Director
Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations

Paul Liberman, President
Joel Chernoff, General Secretary
Messianic Jewish Alliance of America

Frank Lowinger, Chairman
International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues

Contact: Russ Resnik, 505-440-2265, rebrez@umjc.org
Joel Chernoff, 610-304-2237, joelchernoff@mjaa.org

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Keeping the Faith

Parashat Shelach Lecha

This week’s parasha begins with the sending out of the twelve spies.  After reconnoitering the land God was about to give them, they returned with news that the land was indeed flowing with chalav u’dvash, milk and honey.  However, due to their lack of faith in God, they also reported that there were fierce people dwelling there, and that the cities were fortified and well protected.

Continuing, the Torah says, “At this all the people of Israel cried out in dismay and wept all night long (14:1).” They began to grumble against their leaders, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb; and cried out to return back to Egypt.  The people lost faith that it was possible to enter the land that God had promised them.

Joshua and Caleb pleaded with the entire community:

“If HaShem is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us – a land flowing with milk and honey.  Just don’t rebel against HaShem (14:8).”

Instead, the people held on to their own insecurities and Israel rebelled against HaShem, thinking that it would be better to return back to Egypt (the place of enslavement).  This lack of faith ignited God’s anger, and He appeared before all the people and threatened to destroy us.

During one of the most beautiful sections of the Torah (14:13-19), Moshe pleads with HaShem to reconsider and forgive his people.  God agreed, but with the condition that the generation who had the opportunity to enter the land, but rebelled and lacked faith, would not see the promise fulfilled.  The generation that rebelled against God was forced to return to the desert to wander for forty years.

The concluding verses of the parasha describe the commandment to wear tzitzit on the corners of our garments.  These verses are the origin for the mitzva of wearing a tallit.  God instructed that the wearing of tzitziyot were meant to be a reminder for all generations and that we must look upon them and remember our relationship and covenantal obligation to God.  Why?  “So that you shall not follow after your own heart and eyes after which you go astray (15:39).”

The wearing of tzitzit are meant to serve as safeguards against our lack of faith.  To be constant reminders of not only God’s commandments, but also to His loving faithfulness to each one of us.  All too often we focus on the negatives we are faced with each day, and forget the many times we have seen God act on our behalf.  The many miracles God has done for us, and the deliverance from that which we all have been set free from.  Just like our ancestors, we often lack faith.  We know God’s promises for our lives, but we often cower when faced with fierce opponents and well fortified lands.  It is so much easier to hide behind our insecurities and cry out to return to our own individual Egypts – the places of our individual enslavement.  Why do we wear tzitzit?  Because we constantly need reminders.  Reminders of our faith, and our constant devotion to God.  So that we, like our ancestors, will have the faith to walk-in and take back the Promised Land.

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Shavuot and the Book of Ruth

Tonight begins the festival of Shavuot, also known as Pentecost. In Biblical times, Shavuot was the celebratory conclusion of the Barley harvest, which began during Passover, and the harvest of the wheat. That is why this harvest festival is also known as Chag HaKatzir (Festival of Harvesting) and Yom HaBikkurim (a day of First Fruits).

After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE Shavuot became primarily identified with the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, therefore Shavuot is also called Z’man matan Torateinu (the time of the giving of our Torah). The sages and mystics have taught that Shavuot is the moment when an eternal covenant – a sort of marriage – was made between HaShem and the Jewish people.

As Messianic Jews, Shavuot takes on additional meaning as it is also the context of Acts chapter 2, when the Ruach HaKodesh was poured out in a greater manifest way upon those gathered upon the Temple Mount. This experience parallels similar imagery and connections with the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai and Numbers 11 when the Spirit came upon Eldad, Medad and the seventy elders. All of this imagery is purposely interwoven to provide the background for Acts 2.

The Book of Ruth

It is traditional to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot. There are several reasons the rabbis ordained that Ruth be read on this particular holiday. For one, it takes place during the counting of the Omer and Shavuot. Second, with the giving of the Torah Shavuot includes the Jewish people entering into a covenant with G-d. The book of Ruth describes how Ruth also entered into a covenant with G-d.

But there are a few other observations worth mentioning about Ruth, beginning with three prevalent themes:

  1. Story Begins with Chaos in Israel (during the tumultuous time of the Judges)
  2. A Redeemer Figure appears (a Go’el – Boaz)
  3. Who brings about Restoration

Speaking specifically of the time period of the book – which was the period of the Judges (c. Iron Age – 1200-1050 BCE), the Talmud makes an interesting statement:

“R. Yochanan further said … it was a generation which judged its judges (שְׁפֹט הַשֹּׁפְטִים).  If the judges said to a man, ‘Take the splinter from between your teeth,’ he would retort, ‘Take the beam from your own eyes.’  If the judge said, ‘Your silver is dross,’ he would retort, ‘Your liquor is mixed with water.’” -b. Bava Batra 15b

The period of the Judges was a very difficult time to be sure. However, the language here should remind us of a similar statement made by Yeshua:

“Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the beam in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)”

This is an interesting connection, especially since the Talmud is dealing specifically with the Book of Ruth.

Additionally, the Midrash on Ruth makes an interesting comment that supports not only the idea of Mashiach being like Moshe, but opens the door to the possibility of some sort of second appearance:

“R. Berakhia in the name of R. Levi: ‘The Last Redeemer [Messiah] will be like the First Redeemer [Moses].  Just as the First Redeemer was revealed and then again was hidden from the Children of Israel … so the Last Redeemer will be revealed to them and then will be hidden from them.’” -Ruth Rabbah 5:6

I believe Ruth, like much of the Tanakh, contains glimpses of Mashiach. Ruth particularly contains these glimpses. In fact, you could maybe even call these glimpses the “Gospel according to Ruth.”

We too live in a day when there is disorder and chaos – when our judges need to be judged. And our Messiah is also a redeeming figure who is central to the story just as Boaz (who is also referred to as a Go’el) is central to the story. And Mashiach will be the ultimate Go’el and bring about our ultimate redemption – individually, corporately, and cosmically.

As we celebrate Shavuot, let us remember and relive the giving of the Torah and let us also experience a foretaste of redemption, for hidden within the book of Ruth are glimpses of Mashiach, our ultimate redeemer (Go’el).

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