Will the real Mashiach please stand up?

In difficult times people search for a ‘strong man’. In the current climate of financial instability with economic uncertainty abounding, wars and rumours of wars reaching our eyes and ears everyday, where nations threaten to unleash cataclysmic violence upon the face of the earth, we can sense the growing clamour for ‘someone’ to do something. With the growth of extreme right-wing rhetoric and the corresponding establishment of political parties feeding on this uncertainty, we can see mankind’s need for a strong man. Someone who will and is able to sort out our problems and lead us in difficult and challenging times.

As we were about to enter our Land and inheritance so many thousands of years ago, we were confronted with a situation that demanded strong action and leadership, someone who would lead us to subdue the Land unto righteousness and establish a light of truth, holiness and faith that would shine out to the nations around us. It was at that point that Moshe died, he would not lead us in. We cried out to Adonai ‘we need a strong man’! According to Devarim 18:15  Moshe says to Israel: ‘The Lord your G-d will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him shall you hear’. Traditionally our sages and rabbis have seen this replacement as Yehoshua who did lead us in to take residency in our Land. Yet it is clear that he clearly was not ‘like Moshe’. He never had the access to G-d that Moshe had, never exhibited the humility that was Moshe’s hallmark where he preferred to see his own demise rather than his people’s.

Who can lead us to renew our Land today? Who is there who can establish truth, love, holiness, mercy, justice and fundamental righteous in the Land? Is it that we just need to see the Temple rebuilt? The priesthood restored? The government in the Knesset repleced with a Sanhedrin style Beit Din of rabbis? Maybe we need to see a cadre of Prophets created to function in our midst, or… is it that we need to see G-d in our midst once more? A strong man, like Moshe, prophetic, righteous and just, humble to the point of death, selfless and loving? A strong man, who unlike Moshe, is able to deal with our real problem: sin.

Zechariah (12:10) talks of a time when we return to the Land and then G-d pours out on us a spirit of supplication and grace, He shows mercy on us in our condition. When that happens G-d says we shall ‘look on Me whom they have pierced, mourning as one mourns for an only son’. When have we ever pierced G-d? When did we ever so cause Him harm that was physical and real, and when have we ever mourned for Him and what we have done to our G-d?

The answer to that question is slowly being revealed. Will the real Mashiach of Israel, the Strong Man, please stand up? Keep watching for He will and is!

Zionism and Jewish renewal.

It’s taken as read, isn’t it, that as Jews we stand for and support our national homeland, the only place in the world where we can BE Jews, live as Jews and not fear showing anyone our identity. We are all Zionists now.

Zionism is our modern day cultural inheritance, a movement that drove the first pioneers to make such deep sacrifices and has cost the lives of countless of our soldiers and young people since the dream became a reality in the geopolitical world. Zionism, the hope of and for a nation, a place we can all finally say is home. But is that what Zionism is? If so, has Zionism lived up to expectation? What was the actual reason behind it? To ‘merely’ recreate a homeland and then sit back, satisfied that the ‘job was done’? What did we think we were building or recreating? What would be the foundation, the cultural and spiritual Erbgut upon which ‘new’ Israel would be built? And as we ponder now, after Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, has the dream been realised?

Israel, our nation, has come of age. We have taken our place amongst the nations of the world, become even a leader amongst them in certain areas. Israel is known today for its technological advancement, GM crop sciences and software innovation. It also lays claim to having the ‘capital’ of the homosexual world, of having a social and economic underclass that needed to demonstrate in the streets last year for change, and a growing trend of migration to countries where it is ‘easier’ to live.

If Jewish renewal is to take place then we must begin to take a firm hand to the rudder of Zionism. If Zionism ‘merely’ means the ownership and habitation of the Land by Jewish communities, families and individuals then it should be consigned to history as a successful movement. Israel belongs to us again and this should be celebrated. If however, Zionism means more than that, then its aims, aspirations and goals need to be refined to ensure that the dream of the first pioneers continues to live on today. And what should that dream mean today?

At the recent World Zionist Conference in Chicago these questions were being hotly debated. On being asked what Zionism meant, one young person responded ‘ (it is) a commitment to building something special. It’s not just about supporting a Jewish state or even about loving the country, but a dedication to really turning it into a light to the nations’ (as quoted in IJP p21 Feb 22 2013).

If our definition of Zionism allows for our nation to do no wrong, then we shall fail to fully realise the depth of renewal which Zionism should embody. Returning to our Land was the first step, not the last. Physical residency is the start of a full spiritual return to Hashem, an initial creative event that triggers a brighter glow to our national light and calling. Zionism is a ‘job in hand’ not a job completed. Israel means something, Zionism means something, being Jewish means something, but these meanings only combine to form a vision of national spiritual renewal when we once more return to our G-d with repentance and humility. Israel, as the real, physical, tangible and visible manifestation of the Kingdom of G-d on earth, should reflect its Founder and Creator. Israel IS different.

People of the Book?

If you’ve ever been called a nickname you will know that they often stick because it becomes so closely identified with who you are that two eventually become synonymous. These names though are supplied by others who are attempting to summarise who or what you are. In other words they are not words or phrases used by you to self-identify, but used by others to classify. So it is with the phrase ‘People of the Book’, a term used by Islam to denote all religious people who had a revealed text by which they lived, but in particular used of monotheistic religions and their adherents. Yet it begs the question as applied to Judaism and Jewish people, is it true? When outsiders look in to Judaism and the Jewish community, is this what they see? Are we people ‘just following the text’? As reductionist and, in extremis, absurd as this sounds, we may hesitate before wiping it from the table. We surely ARE known as being a people who ‘follow the commandments’. Judaism is in most people’s eyes, a religion of Law. We are a textual people, framed by words and driven by meanings. But was it meant to be so? Have our ‘labellers’ got it wrong?

As the Torah unfolds it is immediately clear that large sections of it are not about Law. Many column widths are given to life, history, events connecting to create a national narrative; in short a record of our community lives lived out in dedication to G-d, real people in real situations forming reality through a G-d who is real. The commandments as given at Sinai were an addition to our already existent lives with G-d, our calling and role in this world already fixed long before we were commanded to establish our national definition through Law. Yet all this seems to have been forgotten. We are known as ‘the People of the Book’ not as ‘the People of the Living G-d’. We have become so ‘good’ at following the instruction manual that we have forgotten the One who gave it to us in the first place. If we are to renew Judaism once more then we must re-focus on the Giver of the Gift and not just the Gift itself. We must win back the driving force of faith that Avraham had if we are to truly live out the commandments, and that means a return to our G-d who called us in the first place.

Maintaining a false dichotomy

Many years ago I remember an elderly man talking to a group of school children in a synagogue explaining to them that at the heart of Judaism was ‘deed not creed’. He went on to say that Judaism isn’t about what you believed, but how you acted. In essence, he concluded, as long as we adhere to the Shema, the rest is commentary. The children seemed to be impressed with these ‘wise’ words spoken by a Jewish man of such wide life experience. They troubled me then, and still do. Yet we still find such ‘parolen’ casually marshalled together to defend our faith against those who seem to espouse a merely faith-framed religion. The words have become a part of a demarcation zone, handed down and rarely challenged, Even an eminent Rabbi of Benjamin Blech’s standing cannot resist the inevitable draw of this statement (p48, Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism) when he concludes ‘Judaism places deed over creed’.

Pause for a moment and consider this: as long as we do the ‘right thing’ what we believe is unimportant? Now, to be fair, I know that no Rabbi ever means that when these words are spoken, but to say them utterly undermines the reality of the Torah and the full revelation given to us by G-d. It is precisely because we believe and have faith that we act in a certain way. Just one example will suffice: it is logical for a pantheist to worship a tree because the a priori belief is that deity is resident in all the natural order and objects. Belief frames actions. Avraham was willing to leave his home nation and family (action) because of his nascent faith and trust (belief) in the One true G-d who had revealed Himself to him. So for Moses Mendelssohn to state ‘There is not in the Mosaic Law a single command ‘Thou shalt believe’. Faith is not commanded. Only actions are.’ (ibid p48) is to miss the point completely. The reality of this false deed/creed divide is seen even in the first commandment: ‘I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt’, in other words a bold statement of historical, verifiable deeds which revealed the nature and character of our G-d; a statement and action that actually demands a response from us. And that response as an act of belief and faith is to keep the commandments that follow. Belief, faith, trust always precede action. These precede it because they frame our response to G-d and who He is, how He has revealed Himself to us. The commandments only make sense (the deeds) once we have established who we worship (the creed). As the leader of the first Messianic Jewish Din in Jerusalem said 2000 years ago ‘some will say ‘you have faith, I have deeds’, Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds’. Indeed as we know from the Scriptures ‘without faith it is impossible to please G-d’. Belief, faith, trust, accepting the yoke of Torah, all these and more connect in the spiritual realm to generate the deeds that follow true faith and belief. To act kiddush hashem is to fundamentally demonstrate the false dichotomy of the deeds v. creeds paradigm. Avraham believed G-d and had faith. Let us construct a Judaism that reflects this reality today in faith AND deed.