Thundersnow 2011

Jan 30, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Last Wednesday, the East Coast was hit by a heavy snow storm. In the DC area, beginning around 3:30pm the snow began falling at a rate of 1.5-2" an hour. The storm brought with it heavy, wet snow, lightning and thunder - earning it the label Thundersnow. And of course ... our power was knocked out (and as of the writing of this blog 4 days later still remains out). We live in one of the wealthiest counties in America. However, you wouldn't know it from my status updates. Every time a little storm or wind comes through, our power is always knocked out for at least one or more days (thank you PEPCO!).

So what a joy it was to board an airplane on Friday (just barely due to another small storm) bound for Southern California! Goodbye snow, cold, and no electricity ... Hello sunshine!

If you missed reading new posts during those few days, the reason is because we had no electricity and were traveling. Yesterday (Shabbat), I spoke at my home congregation, Beth Emunah, and Monique and I led a packed-out Beit Midrash discussion on the parashah.

As I write this quick update I am sitting in our hotel room overlooking beautiful green hills and preparing for the Hashivenu theological forum which begins this afternoon. I will give an update on some of my thoughts over the next couple days.

I am very excited about the topic this year - Community. This is a very practical and relevant theme and discussion that I hope will help us in continuing to build a healthy and more mature Messianic Jewish movement. Monique is also presenting a response paper to one of the main papers which should prove to be very exciting and informative.

For those unfamiliar with the Hashivenu Forum, it is an annual gathering of Messianic scholars from around the world (and often scholars from the wider Jewish and Christian communities). Another exciting aspect of the forum is that it brings together a wide variety of thinkers representing the breadth of the Messianic Jewish community as well as the wider Jewish-believing community. For more information about what the forum is all about you can check out the Hashivenu website.

By the way ... Last week I asked for some feedback on particular topics or thoughts you would like to see addressed on our blog in 2011. I would still love to hear from you!

Thanks and Shavua Tov!

Quote of the Day

Jan 26, 2011 at 3:57 PM
"The ‘Gen-Y’ers wish to live lives that matter. They are hungry for community and where they do not find ones that welcome them, they will create their own. They do not wish to escape, but to engage; they do not want to judge or to be judged, but to join. They do not desire indictment, they seek inspiration. They are also not willing to accept the community silos of the past but are interested in models that perform. They are not interested in being silent partners in an organizational bureaucracy but want to matter and will accept process only if it leads to purpose. They are looking to change the spelling of their gaming console, the Wii from two i’s to an “e.’’
If we create portals of entry, share with them our story undiluted or whitewashed, and find the courage to let them make it their own they will do something that we can’t: guarantee our future."
-Rabbi Kenneth Brander from his recent article, 'Gen Y' is Hungry.

What Do You Think?

Jan 25, 2011 at 10:50 PM

We would appreciate hearing from you ...

General Interest

Our blog exists for you ... our readers. Therefore, what would you like to see on our blog in 2011? What kind of topics, discussions, or questions do you find most relevant?

Themed Posts

Additionally, in some upcoming posts I'm considering addressing Ten Misconceptions Jews Have About Yeshua. As such, what do YOU think are the top 10 misconceptions most Jewish people have about Yeshua?


Furthermore, although a number of fine individuals within the Messianic Jewish community have published apologetics (including some really awesome stuff!), I often find myself disappointed with what is largely out there. I feel an incredible burden for the great number of Jewish and non-Jewish people who are often led off the derekh of faith in Yeshua due to the efforts of anti-missionaries, and oftentimes weak and faulty arguments. IMHO, there is just a great lack of quality apologetic materials that truly address many of these issues from a thoroughly Jewish perspective. Rather, we need materials from those who value Jewish texts and traditional Jewish life. Similar to the great early works of such Jewish believers as Rabbi Yechiel Tzvi Lichtenstein, Paul Philip Levertoff, Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein, Joachim Heinrich Biesenthal, etc.

What do you think? Do you often find this to be true? If so, what do you think are the most pressing issues to be addressed? And what do you think are prevalent topics or issues that have still NOT YET been addressed within the wider Messianic Jewish community?

Please let us know what you think. Afterall, you're input will help shape the future of our blog!

What does G-d expect of us?

Jan 21, 2011 at 9:44 AM

Parashat Yitro

This week’s Parasha tells us that “Moshe went up to G-d, and then HaShem called to him from the mountain.” This phrase begins the retelling of the powerful story of G-d giving the Torah to Israel, and of the experience we had as a people standing before the presence of HaShem.

This most interesting point is made before G-d actually gives any of the mitzvot. That point is simply that G-d expects something from us. All the blessings, mitzvot, and covenants rely on action from our part. The Torah specifically tells us that Moshe went up to G-d, and then HaShem called down to him. The giving of the Torah rested on Moshe taking the faith initiative to seek out G-d. To climb up the mountain in an expectancy to encounter the manifest presence of the Divine. It was an action, an action of faith. That is what all of the mitzvot really are - lessons in faith. Or as one rabbi once put it, the 613 mitzvot are actually 613 ways to connect to HaShem.

Moshe did his part, so that G-d could do G-d’s part. And the response is just as tremendous. Before we as a people even had an opportunity to hear all of the mitzvot, G-d required that we first make a choice, by faith, to follow in His ways before we even knew what would be expected. And by faith, we the Jewish people accepted the Torah before it was even given:

“All the people answered as one, ‘Everything HaShem speaks, we will do (Ex. 19:8).’”

Judaism teaches us that we are partners with G-d in bringing redemption into the world. Of course G-d could have done it without our help. However, the most exciting thing is that HaShem gives us the opportunity for Kiddush HaShem, to sanctify the Name of God in the earth. We have been given the ability to see the world through a different set of lenses. Instead of viewing everything as either “holy” or “secular,” our mission as Jews is to see things as “holy” and “not yet holy.” We can either see the world as mundane, or take simple everyday acts and elevate them to a level of holiness.

G-d gives us the privilege of partnering with Him in bringing redemption into the world. To do our part, so that G-d can do G-d’s part. G-d stands at the door and knocks (Re. 3:20). HaShem beckons us to be faithful to the mitzvot and faithful to the covenant. Through obedience to Torah, and the pursuit of G-d’s presence, it is possible to engage and change the world, and prepare the way for the coming of our righteous Mashiach Yeshua. Bimhera v’yamenu - May it be soon and in our days!

A Second Sinai Experience

Jan 20, 2011 at 9:18 AM

Luke 7:1-17

In this week's Torah portion, parashat Yitro, G-d reveals Himself to the people of Israel during the giving of the Aseret Dibrot – the Ten Commandments. In the Torah, G-d revealed Himself in very physical manifestations on Mt. Sinai. There was thunder and lightning, the ground shook, and a great shofar blast was heard growing louder and louder. And then in the climax of the moment, G-d answered Moshe with a voice (Ex. 19:19). This was a powerful encounter with the G-d of Israel, who made Himself and His will known to the Jewish people.

Luke 7 appears right after a revelation of Yeshua also made from a mountain top. Often known as “the Sermon on the Mount,” the context of Yeshua’s message is actually paralleled with the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Yeshua’s message is rooted in Jewish legal – halachic – style and nature. Similar to the giving of the Torah, it is also a revelation of G-d’s will to humanity - a sort of “second Sinai experience.” Instead of thunder and lighting, however, G-d’s character became further made known through Yeshua.

Luke 7:1-17 describes two miracles performed by Yeshua. The first miracle was the healing of an influential Roman officer’s servant, and the second is the healing of a dead man who was the only son of a widow in the city. At the end of the section, Luke describes that the town’s people “were all filled with awe and gave glory to G-d, saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ and, ‘G-d has come to His people.’ This report about him spread throughout all of Y’hudah and the surrounding countryside (Luke 7:16-17).”

Through both of these portions, we gain a glimpse of G-d’s attributes and guidelines for our lives. Through Yeshua, we see the G-d of Israel, the same G-d who revealed himself to Moshe on Mt. Sinai. As Paul states in Colossians, “He is the visible image of the invisible G-d (Col. 1:15).” And in the same way, G-d wants to reveal Himself to us in a very personal and real way.

Each and every one of us has the opportunity to engage HaShem in our own Sinai experience – individually and corporately. So the next time the Torah is removed from the ark, remember the original revelation on Mt. Sinai, and relive the giving of the Torah. For G-d wants to reveal Himself to, and through you in the same way.

Shalom Talk Radio

Jan 19, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Are you familiar with Shalom Talk?

Shalom Talk is a weekly radio show and podcast focused on "conversations for change." In the hour long show (or 50 min. podcasts), the host, Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, interviews individuals who are making a difference in the world. Whether through academics, art & entertainment, or through their work, all of the guests on the show are mensches for change.

And the caliber of the topics of Shalom Talk are as relevant as the guests. Topics have included internet bullying, a discussion with a Jewish Renewal Rabbi on the State of Israel, politics, theology, and the economy.

Some of Shalom Talk's guests have included:

-Dr. Mark Nanos (NT scholar)
-Rabbi David Zaslow (Jewish Renewal Rabbi)
-Yehudah Solomon (lead singer of the well-known Moshav Band)
-Dr. Fletcher Tink (specialist in Urban Compassion ministries)
-And many other great guests!

Shalom Talk airs every Sunday at 1:00pm (PT) on KRLA 870 AM radio. You can also listen to past shows on the Shalom Talk website.

Definitely check it out!

A Modern Day Prophet

Jan 18, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

For some reason, this year I have been much more impacted by the life and legacy of Dr. King than ever before. I have always admired his life and work. And of course, his words have always motivated and inspired me. In fact, Dr. King (in a very roundabout and distant way) even played a role in the story of how my wife and I became engaged.

However, this year something different has happened. This year, it truly hit me what lies at the root of his great legacy. Dr. King was more than a great figure, a great leader, or a great orator. Dr. King was also more than a visionary. Was he all those things? Absolutely! But there was something much deeper which caused people to either admire or despise him. Dr. King was a prophet. He was one of our generations greatest prophetic voices in the line of the great prophets of the Tanakh - along with such modern giants as Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel (see our previous post, Praying With Their Feet).

If we look at the prophets of the Tanakh, their role was to call Israel back to covenant faithfulness, and rally against injustice and oppression. For more on this you can read my recent post, Justice as Holiness, Part II: The Prophets.

In today's Charismatic Christian circles people are all too quick to throw around the labels of "prophet" and "prophetic" without understanding what the role and message of a biblical prophet truly was. Often people get caught-up in the sensationalism of the prophet as a messenger of G-d. However, what does it really mean to be a messenger of G-d?

Let's not forget ... Dr. King was a radical, and not so different from the prophets of old. Jeremiah was considered a nudnik ... Hosea married a harlot ...

One of the cardinal lessons of a prophet is that they are not motivated by social protocol, but by the leading and prompting of G-d. They will proclaim their message despite praise or persecution. And that was certainly the case with Dr. King. Many who praised him at one point often despised him at others. His stance on an issue was based on his true convictions, not because he sought to be popular. And what many do not often discuss is the fact that Dr. King was clearly motivated by the voice of G-d.

Dr. King was a great visionary, a great leader, a great man ... and a great prophet to our generation. And like the prophets of old, in his own time many heeded the call ... yet many more were repulsed. It is only after his death that he is truly appreciated.

In closing, I'll just end with some of the most memorable quotes of Dr. King:

-“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

-"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

-"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

‎-"Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated."

-‎"Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”

-“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Praying with their Feet

Jan 15, 2011 at 10:30 PM

This weekend we remember the inspiring legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his role in not only the civil rights movement in America, but for his contributions to humanity, and his leadership to a generation.

But why discuss MLK on a Jewish blog?

Many people today are unaware that Jewish individuals and clergy played a tremendous role in the civil rights movement. One of the most prominent Jewish figures in this struggle was none other than Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel - one of the greatest Jewish theologians of our time (Heschel is pictured at far left in the above picture, along with Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath (carrying the Torah), and Rabbi Everett Gendler).

In a tremendous article on the two great figures, Dr. Susannah Heschel (Heschel's daughter) points out that "Heschel and Dr. King marched arm in arm at Selma, prayed together in protest at Arlington National Cemetery, and stood side by side in the pulpit of Riverside Church."

According to Susannah Heschel:

"The relationship between the two men began in January 1963, and was a genuine friendship of affection as well as a relationship of two colleagues working together in political causes. As King encouraged Heschel's involvement in the Civil Rights movement, Heschel encouraged King to take a public stance against the war in Vietnam. When the Conservative rabbis of America gathered in 1968 to celebrate Heschel's sixtieth birthday, the keynote speaker they invited was none other than King. When King was assassinated, Heschel was the rabbi Mrs. King invited to speak at his funeral."

For Heschel, the march from Selma had tremendous spiritual significance. Following the march, he wrote:

"For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."

On this day, as we remember the legacy of MLK, we also recall his friend and colleague, Abraham Joshua Heschel. A holy pair who truly learned to pray with their feet - and taught others to do so as well.

The Road Less Traveled

Jan 14, 2011 at 9:29 AM

Parashat Beshalach

Why does G-d lead the children of Israel to the sea, rather than guiding them down the well-worn highway?

Parashat Beshalach is unique in that it begins by telling us what G-d did NOT do.
G-d did not guide them to the highway that goes through the land of the Philistines, because it was close by – G-d thought that the people, upon seeing war, might change their minds and return to Egypt. Rather, G-d led the people by a roundabout route, through the desert by the Sea of Suf. Exodus 13: 17- 18
Rather than guiding the Jewish people quickly down the well-traveled highway to present-day Gaza, G-d chose the less obvious route, leading to an eventual entry to the Land (forty years later) over the banks of the Jordan River. The text says that the children of Israel departed Egypt “fully armed,” and yet G-d led them away from battle. Why is this? It seems that before the people even began their journey out of Egypt, G-d already knew they lacked fortitude for the challenges ahead.

Much has been said about the generation of Jewish people that participated in the exodus from Egypt. Ibn Ezra discusses at length the “slave mentality” that left a generation of liberated slaves psychologically incapable of facing direct combat with their enemies. After all, it is this generation that later believes the bad report of the ten spies, and is prohibited from entering the Land as a result of their lack of faith in G-d’s promises. Later in this very parasha, these former slaves doubt G-d’s ability to meet their most basic needs – for protection from violence, water, and food - despite repeated miracles demonstrating G-d’s power.

Maimonides argues that G-d chose an indirect route in order to toughen the people and prepare them to enter the Land. In his Guide for the Perplexed, he says, “Ease destroys bravery while trouble and concern about food create strength. This strength that the Israelites gained was the ultimate good that came out of their wanderings in the wilderness.” (3:24) This would make sense, but for the fact that this generation of Jews never had the opportunity to exercise their supposed bravery. It was their children (who did not witness the miracles of Beshalach) who entered and conquered the Land.

It seems that G-d chose this route in order to demonstrate something fundamental about the way He works through the Jewish people and through history. It is not human ingenuity or warfare that produces redemption. Indeed, the people of Israel are given their freedom without the need to lift a single sword. It is G-d who turns the seabed into dry ground, who turns bitter water sweet, who rains manna and quail from heaven, and who routs the Amalekites’ attempt at blood sport. G-d admits that this choice has a didactic purpose when he explains to Moses that, “I will win glory for myself … and the Egyptians will realize at last that I am the LORD.” (14:4)

It often strikes the reader as a shame that the generation that witnessed awe-inspiring plagues and miracles struggled so vocally with their ability to rely on G-d for basic provisions. But it is not for our own satisfaction that the Torah itemizes their every complaint. Instead, the Torah reminds us that, regardless of our current position (whether it be characterized by relative affluence or relative deprivation), we remain dependent on G-d for our every need. Even those who are unburdened by a “slave mentality” are ultimately unable to accomplish anything of significance without G-d’s direct intervention. And that ultimately, G-d is working out His plan to redeem all creation through the trials and challenges faced by the Jewish people. By continually redeeming us, G-d tells the nations of the world that He is the LORD. Our highest calling as a people is not to toughen our own hides, but to place our trust in G-d. Paradoxically, it is through our uniquely vulnerable exercise of faith that G-d demonstrates His might.

This post was originally written last year for the Set Table.

Are We Kosher?

Jan 11, 2011 at 1:04 PM

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman, has raised an important discussion on his blog concerning the use of the title "rabbi" within the Messianic Jewish Movement, and whether or not those who use the title are 'kosher.'

This is important because far too many people within the broader Messianic movement use the title "rabbi" without any formal education, rabbinical studies, or recognition. When this is done it is an embarrassment to our movement, weakens our credibility, and makes the job of my colleagues and I that much harder. After all, it is actually fraud if someone claims to be a lawyer when they are not. Or claims to be a doctor, when they did not complete the requisite study.

When someone assumes a title they did not earn (or can back-up) they weaken the meaning of the title. For centuries a rabbi has been defined as a scholar of Jewish law and practice. Historically, rabbis were consulted as experts on matters of halachah and its application. It is only in the last two hundred years or so that rabbis have been expected to take on more of a pastoral role, and assume a position of being the "professional Jew." However, as the roles of rabbis have evolved over the last two hundred years, what has not changed is the expectation of the rabbi as a scholar.

The issue is not whether someone can be an effective leader without being an ordained rabbi. The issue has to do with the use of the title rabbi which has a clear and specific meaning. If one does not agree with the meaning, they do not have to use (nor should they) the title.

One becomes a rabbi by receiving s'micha from another rabbi or group of rabbis after the completion of a formal level of study. Furthermore, conferment of s'micha MUST be passed down from those who already possess s'micha from a recognized body or individual (and cannot be self-administered). Today, most rabbis are graduates of a rabbinical seminary; which is often a 5 year graduate level education. Within the Orthodox and Jewish Renewal communities, s'micha from an individual rabbi is still widely practiced after completing a particular level of study.

I am proud to be a part of a small group of Messianic rabbis who are rabbis in every sense of the word - and have worked very hard to get to this point. We officiate at life cycle events, decide on halachic matters, study and teach Jewish history and texts - yet remain rooted in Mashiach. My colleagues and I have had to immerse ourselves in Jewish life. We have had to complete graduate level educations in Jewish Studies, have a thorough understanding of Jewish history, Hebrew, prayer, Jewish texts, and halachah; and have studied in yeshivot and other Jewish institutions. Many of us even hold credentials within the wider Jewish community.

The s'micha administered today by the UMJC (for example) meets these criteria in both academic requirements AND in the chain of succession of conferment. Because we readily recognize the need of learned and well-prepared leaders, we are also always working hard on regularly increasing requirements and expectations of what it means to be a Messianic Rabbi.

In fact (stay tuned) as the MJRC is currently working on, and will soon be releasing, a formal document clearly defining the term "Messianic Rabbi" from our perspective.

Passing of Debbie Friedman

Jan 9, 2011 at 2:46 PM

Today the world lost a beautiful neshama.

The Jewish community is buzzing with the news that beloved Jewish folk singer Debbie Friedman passed away this morning at 5:49am (PST). She had been in a coma for a few days, and going into the weekend countless Jewish tweets, messages, and emails were reminding people to pray for rafuah shleimah.

According to the Jewish Journal:

"Friedman had been in critical condition and was being held on a respirator in a medically-induced coma in an Orange County, California hospital.

A healing service was scheduled for Sunday evening at the Manhattan JCC and was set to be viewed online. There is no word if the service will become a memorial tribute or not.

According to JTA, 'Friedman, who was in her late 50s, is widely credited with reinvigorating synagogue music by introducing a more folksy, sing-along style to American congregations. In 2007 she was appointed to the faculty of the Reform movement’s cantorial school in a sign that her style had gained mainstream acceptance.'”

Countless Jewish people across the world have been inspired by her music, warmth, and stories. She was a sort of female Shlomo Carlebach in regard to her impact on Jewish music, liturgy, and prayer. So many of her melodies have now become staples in many congregations - songs like "Mi Sheberach," her melody for Havdalah, and "Lechi Lach."

For two years I taught Hebrew school at a very large Reform synagogue. Many of her songs were staples for chapels and Summer camps because they were moving, spiritual, and singable. In 2005 I attended one of her concerts and I must say, it was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life (and, trust me ... I have been to all kinds of concerts and worship services). I will never forget that evening, and the way it furthered my own Jewish spirituality and journey. Her music carries a very sweet place within my own neshama as it does within numerous other Jewish people around the world.

This afternoon a great tribute was published in the Jerusalem Post. And for those interested, you can watch this tribute video from 1997 by Union of Reform Judaism.

I am truly saddened and join the rest of the wider Jewish community in mourning her passing. May Debbie Friedman now sing with the angels in heaven and may her memory and music continue to inspire countless generations. ברוך דיין האמת - Baruch Dayan HaEmet.


***UPDATE: You can watch the video of today's funeral service for Debbie Friedman HERE.

Responding to Calamity

Jan 7, 2011 at 10:29 AM

Parashat Bo

Last week’s Torah portion, Va’era, introduced the first seven of the ten plagues. This week, Parashat Bo identifies the final three plagues and records the mitzvot concerning Passover.

Each of these plagues are devastating enough on their own, but added up together you can see why the result was the dramatic climax of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Each plague is a demonstration of HaShem’s might and omnipotence. And what most people miss in the story is that each plague carries its own unique message, as each plague was meant to bring a direct assault against a different Egyptian deity.

“… and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, I am HaShem (Exodus 12:12b).”

The Nile River in Egyptian mythology carries a sacred aura about it. It is the life source of the country. It alone represents life and sustenance in an otherwise dry and parched land. Blood is a symbol of death. Therefore the first plague represented a direct assault upon the Egyptian’s sole source of life.

The Egyptian deity, Heqet (or Isis), is often represented as a frog. She represents fertility and sustenance. As a result, the second plague of frogs was a direct assault against this specific deity, demonstrating that HaShem, the G-d of Israel, was more powerful than Heqet and that HaShem alone is the source of all life.

The ninth plague, darkness, was a demonstration against Egypt’s primary deity Amen-Re, who is often represented as the sun. Three days of darkness so thick it could be felt (Ex. 10:21) established that the G-d of Israel was even greater than Egypt’s primary deities.

So, you get the idea … each plague directly correlated with a particular deity or central tenet of Egyptian mythology. But the final plague – the death of the firstborn – was the most catastrophic. Pharaoh would not have let us go on his own. Sadly, it took ten deadly and disastrous plagues to get Pharaoh to let the Jewish people leave Egypt. Although the result of these plagues would be our exodus from tyranny, slavery, and oppression; we do not rejoice over the suffering of the Egyptians or the havoc brought upon them.

Wine is a symbol of joy. So during the Passover Seder, when we recall the ten plagues we deplete the wine in our cups by placing drops of wine onto our plate. When havoc is wrought upon any people – be they helpless victims or our enemies, we do not rejoice over their fate. Our tradition teaches us that their suffering decreases our own joy.

So although we do not rejoice over the fate of the Egyptian people, we do commemorate our redemption from Egypt. We also look forward to our ultimate redemption – when our Messiah, Yeshua, returns and ushers in the world to come. The Messianic Age will bring with it not only our redemption as a people, but a permanent end to oppression, disease, and the suffering of others.

Quote of the Day

Jan 6, 2011 at 11:00 AM
"All of this leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I am keenly aware that I am who I am today by virtue of my upbringing during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s in a small, southern Jewish community, where I was shaped by all of the major Jewish institutional forces of the 20th century ... But the Jewish world has changed rapidly and dramatically over the past decades. And today, I am nurtured Jewishly by a loosely connected national network of Jewish 'start-up' communities, funders, and umbrella organizations — groups brought together by a common vocabulary centering around 'innovation,' 'social entrepreneurship,' 'meaning,' and 'empowerment.'"

-Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum, from a recent Sh'ma article: GenXers and Boomers: Humility and Tzimtzum

Justice as Holiness - Part III

Jan 5, 2011 at 10:57 AM

The New Testament

In our first post in this series we explored support for justice as holiness in the Torah. In our second post we explored justice as holiness within the prophets, and today, in our third and final post, we explore justice as holiness within the Apostolic Writings (the New Testament).

Yeshua is constantly concerned with people on the fringes of society. This is exemplified best within what is often called “The Beatitudes” (see Matthew 5:1-11). These are basically proclamations of hope to those who are oppressed. Think about the language employed. It is not about the rich, the lofty, or those who have it all figured out. It is the poor who inherit the Kingdom, those who mourn who receive comfort, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness that are filled. Furthermore, Yeshua links social action directly with himself:

"For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you made me your gust, I needed clothes and you provided them, I was sick and you too care of me, I was in prison and you visited me … Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!” (Matthew 25:35-40)

James, the brother of Yeshua, and the leader of the Messianic community in Jerusalem during the first century, states unequivocally: “The religious observance that G-d the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for the orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world (James 1:27).”

In Jewish thought, faith and action must go hand-in-hand. As James further notes:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has not actions to prove it? Is such ‘faith’ able to save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food, and someone says, ‘Depart in peace, keep warm and fulfilled!’ without giving him what he needs, what good does it do? Thus, faith by itself, unaccompanied by actions, is dead." (James 2:14-17)

As Followers of Messiah

We should be the specialists in reaching out to those on the margins, for we follow a Messiah who knows how to embrace and empower those on the fringes of society. Yeshua reached out to those who were hurting, lost, and oppressed. Yeshua got involved!!!

We are required to speak out against injustice everywhere – for example, raising awareness about the world’s largest war in Congo, about slavery, violence against women, the rights of immigrants and minorities, and intervening wherever we witness injustice.

As we embrace our own marginality as followers of Yeshua, we will in turn empower an entire generation located on the margins, searching for purpose and belonging. Furthermore, by speaking-out for those who are oppressed and bound, we also further our role as the Remnant within Israel, and as a Light to the Nations.

*This series is an expansion of an article I recently wrote for the UMJC Twenties newsletter, which can be read HERE.

Justice as Holiness - Part II

Jan 4, 2011 at 11:43 AM

The Prophets

Yesterday in the first part of this three-part series I introduced the concept of justice as holiness and explored its foundation in the Torah. Today we move on to the Prophets.

The biblical prophets echo a call to social justice. Part of the prophetic role in calling the Jewish people back to covenant faithfulness includes a clear condemnation of injustice in all its forms. According to the biblical prophet Isaiah, G-d requires action to accompany our faith:

“Here is the sort of fast that I want –

releasing those unjustly bound,

untying the thongs of the yoke,

letting the oppressed go free,

breaking every yoke,

sharing your food with the hungry,

taking the homeless poor into your house,

clothing the naked when you see them,

fulfilling your duty to your kinsman!” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

According to Isaiah, a great reward accompanies those who take action to free the oppressed. The theme of social justice is so central to the theology of the biblical prophets that it is even described as a central component of Messianic redemption. Isaiah 61 is attributed with being a Messianic passage, and is believed to describe a proclamation of Messiah:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me,

because HaShem has anointed me to announce good news to the poor.

He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted;

to proclaim freedom to the captives,

to let out into the light those bound in the dark;

to proclaim the year of the favor of HaShem.” (Isaiah 61:1-2a)

In fact, we see this fulfilled in Luke 4:16-22 where Yeshua stands up to read the Haftarah in the synagogue in Nazareth. After reading these exact words from Isaiah 61, Yeshua closed the scroll, returned it to the Gabbai, and stated, “Today, as you heard it read, this passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled.” In this passage Yeshua declared himself to be that messianic figure. Furthermore, Yeshua saw his role as the “mevaser” – the bearer of not only a message of hope, but of actual deliverance from physical oppression.

We often think of the “good news” as simply referring to the spreading of the Gospel message, or the “captives” mentioned as those in the world who are ‘lost’ and need to know the message of Yeshua. This is not entirely wrong. But over-spiritualizing the text loses its practical message - an idea central to biblical theology – that Messiah has come to bring about justice for the oppressed and actual freedom for those who are bound. According to the prophets, encompassed within the “good news” is a message of social justice. They must go together – concern for both the physical and spiritual well-being of others. And they are equally important!

Tomorrow, in our final segment of this series to kick-off the New Year, we'll explore the concept of justice as holiness in the Apostolic Writings ...

*This series is an expansion of an article I recently wrote for the UMJC Twenties newsletter, which can be read HERE.

Justice as Holiness - Part I

Jan 3, 2011 at 1:23 PM

*This series is an expansion of an article I recently wrote for the UMJC Twenties newsletter, which can be read HERE.

As Messianic Jews, we have a unique obligation to pursue social justice. This mandate is not just a hip cultural movement but is deeply connected to our spiritual lives. The Torah makes clear that the pursuit of justice is holy work. It is a vital part of preparing the world for the coming of Mashiach.

The Torah repeatedly calls us to stand up for the downtrodden and to recognize every person as created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of G-d (Genesis 1:26-27). This is especially true regarding strangers in our midst:

"You are not to deprive the sojourner or orphan of the justice which is his due, and you are not to take a widow’s clothing as collateral for a loan. Rather, remember that you were a slave to pharaoh in Egypt; and HaShem your G-d redeemed you from there. That is why I am ordering to do this." (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

The Torah considers the treatment of strangers a matter of justice. The way we treat strangers reveals our gratitude to G-d for redeeming us from Egypt (or lack thereof). Therefore, we are further commanded in Deuteronomy: “Justice, only justice you must pursue!” (16:20)

According to the Torah, holiness is not some mystical, esoteric state of being. Rather, it is a way of life and a pattern of action. To “do holiness” is to partner with G-d in bringing redemption into the world. We are instructed to weigh fairly, pursue justice, observe Shabbat and the mitzvot, and protect those who are downtrodden. Why? Because the Torah states Anochi HaShemBecause I am HaShem … and you are to be holy as I am holy (Leviticus 19:2)”.

We are additionally commanded in the Torah: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16). Regarding this verse the Talmud asks:

“What does the verse mean, ‘Do not stand idly by your neighbor’s blood?’ It means that if a person sees his fellow drowning, mauled by beasts, or attacked by robbers, he is bound to save him (b. Sanhedrin 73a).”

The rabbis clearly understood that when we see someone in trouble we are commanded to act. This goes beyond only when someone’s life is in danger. In fact, the Talmud further states that if we do not act upon injustice, we are directly responsible for not doing so:

“All who can protest against [something wrong that] one of their family [is doing] and does not protest, is held accountable for their family … A citizen of their city is held accountable for all citizens of the city. [All who can protest against something wrong that is being done] in the whole world, is accountable together with all citizens of the world (b. Shabbat 54b).”

From the perspective of the Torah, we must act whenever we see injustice. And if we do not act, we are personally responsible for the outcome.

Tomorrow we'll explore the concept of Justice as Holiness within the Prophets ...