Messiah is coming soon!

A Rabbi’s thoughts….
All Judaism is #Messianic. This unrefutable position is so well known it is pointless even trying to undermine it. Contrary to popular opinion across most of the world, the concept of a Messiah (Mashiach) has only Jewish soil to grow in, and without the Hebraic understanding which is drawn from the thousands of years of Jewish Scripture the figure of Messiah would have no definition and no function. It has been the Jewish longing of centuries and continues unabated to this day. In Yeshua’s day one of the most popular questions asked him was ‘are you the one who is to come?’ Messianic expectation was high in the first century, and for good reason. All the time indications offered by the Tanach were coming together into a nexus of excitement that the time was right. As we know, our Sages and Rabbis later had their thoughts transcribed, thoughts that were laden with the sadness and disappointment that apparently Messiah had not come. Yet of course, in Messianic Judaism we know that ‘in due season’ and at the right time, exactly on schedule, Messiah was indeed born to a Jewish family in Israel of the first century.
The correlation to today is intriguing. The very expectation surrounding the coming of Mashiach in the first century drove the crowds to search for his presence, indeed we may argue the expectation itself had some role in creating the spiritual environment into which Mashiach could be born. We have a record of one man, Shimon, who according to the texts was a (Jewishly) pious and righteous man. He was ‘waiting for the Consolation of Israel’ and upon seeing Yeshua declared ‘my eyes have seen Your salvation’. Today too, the expectation is once more growing that Mashiach’s arrival is immanent. Whether in the preparations for the rebuilding of the Temple, the birth of red heifers or more generally in the shifting of the scenery on the geopolitical world stage, expectation is growing that Messiah is coming soon.
Nothing demonstrates this expectation more than a radio play put on by Radio Kol Chai in Jerusalem shortly after Tish b’av a couple of weeks ago (link). Designed to impact in a similar way that the ‘War of the Worlds’ was designed, it most certainly had the same effect. People phoned the radio studio in droves, so realistic was the ‘live’ coverage of Messiah’s arrival in Jerusalem. Many wanted to know what they should do now Messiah was here. The aim of the play? To heighten awareness of the possible ‘any moment’ arrival of the one we have waited so long for. Intriguing too that the dialogue connected with so many of the Messianic prophetic expectations in the Tanach, including the transport used on Messiah’s coming: “It is still unclear whether he will be riding on a donkey or descend on a cloud from heaven,” the on-site report continued, addressing an ancient debate on the method of the Messiah’s arrival. “The emotion is at a peak and we are especially high.”
For Messianic Jews of course none of this is new. Our own expectations are high because we can read the signs of the times and know the birth pangs are well under way. His return is on schedule and in due season we shall see Him revealed once more, this time to rule and reign as King David and not the broken and ‘hidden’ Yosef. May Mashiach come soon and in or day. Amen.

Moshe’s ‘revised’ Torah

Shabbat shalom! Our portion this week from #Devarim continues to highlight the reasons for the variant readings in the text of Devarim (Deuteronomy). The differences between theses texts and the original events elsewhere in the Chumash (Pentateuch) are well known but maybe less well known are the reasons why.
The question is, should we have a faith crisis about these ‘changes’? The answer of course is no, but to merely dismiss them as mere nothings or ancient scribal anomalies is to miss the point and in fact we rob ourselves of an understanding that will truly enrich our concept world of Judaism and Messiah’s role in it. In Devarim 1:1 we read that these are the words MOSHE spoke to ALL Israel. The implications are clear, this is his paraphrase, his interpretation of all the events and commandments that had gone before. It was as if he was saying ‘now you are entering the Land. you must understand what all this (Judaism) is all about.’ And because he spoke to ‘all Israel’ he spoke them to us too today. It means that these words contain not just verbal truth but deep conceptual truth and spiritual meaning, which is what v20 says… for Moshe it is not just TEXT that he is relaying but MEANING. He is communicating his legacy to Israel in terms of not raw data or even a founding document, but he is trying to get the idea over that LIFE should be our guiding principle, or to put it another way, look beyond the mere words to see what connects the big idea, what makes righteousness tick not just tick the boxes. I think Moshe would say today ‘feel the spirit of the Torah’, its core intention and motivating dynamic, why it what it is and look behind to feel the essence of it. It is why of course to be fair, so many passages do try to do just that, to distil the core ideas down to a basic principle, like ‘love.. and neighbour as yourself’.
The same idea comes out in Dev 6:17-18, 20 where the children are asked to seek the MEANING of the Mitzvot, not just their execution. What may be more surprising is that the Talmud (Baba Mezia 30b) states ‘Rav Yochanan said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the judges ruled in accordance with the strict letter of the law, as opposed to ruling beyond the letter of the law.’ It seems that this is what Moshe is hinting at avoiding when he says ‘do that which is right and good in the eyes of the Lord’. This is such an obvious redundancy after all the commandments have been given that it begs understanding. What Moshe wants us to do is to reach for the essence of the Torah, not just the letter of literal meaning. I think he would say ‘Seek what you are meant to learn from the command as you carry it out’, what is the Lord’s intention for you, what do you learn from His heart by being obedient? Seen this way we begin to understand why the Torah is not just a repetitive book hammering home a monotonous message. This is not about indoctrination but inculcating LIFE. Clones need not apply, this is about thinking for yourself with the Spirit of God ‘bringing back everything I have taught you’ as Yeshua said. We Messianic Jews have the Spirit of God to guide us, teach us, the actual Author living in us by whose spirit the Torah was written and communicated. Doing what is right and good should now be first not second nature to us in all situations, even the ones not legislated for by commandment or tradition.

A spiritual earthquake

Something is happening! The situation between the Jewish community and those who follow Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah (Mashiach) has been a historical demonstration of 2000 years of religious and cultural inertia. But we live in times where old walls are crumbling and new perceptions are beginning to dominate. What has seemed the ‘only’ way for so long is now seen as narrow, restricted and unhelpful. The ‘something’ I refer to though may surprise. For those of us who have closely followed the growing awareness in Christians of the ‘Jewish background’ to the Scriptures, it has been a deep joy to see a similar (albeit as yet still academically driven) awakening in our Jewish communities around the world to the fact that Yeshua is one of us. I don’t normally recommend books, but a new book coming from a Reform Jewish background (see link below) by Rabbi Evan Moffic is worth the highlight. His statements (while not ‘new’) are nevertheless worth repeating because of the inclusive nature of the views expressed, and the implications of the internal logic of taking such views. He says ‘Jesus (Yeshua) wasn’t a Christian. Jesus lived and died as a Jew. Understanding the Jewishness of Jesus is the secret to knowing him better and understanding his message in the twenty-first century.’ (Brackets mine). He goes on to explain in a later interview about his book with Deborah Goldman (8/9/16) ‘Jewish life in the first century has great importance for Jews and Christians; both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity emerged out of the destruction of the Second Temple. We can learn both about our similarities and differences by exploring this pivotal time.’

There will be many who will welcome such an extended and open hand, myself included as a Messianic Jew. But it isn’t the JewishNESS of Yeshua that interests me. That last suffix causes all the problems. It is one thing to accept the JewishNESS of Yeshua, another entirely to accept he is Jewish. For some this will be splitting hairs, but the difference is real. Many talk about the JewishNESS of early Christianity as if this early hallmark and root can today be safely and hygienically dispensed with, an anachronism of history; Sure it is interesting and helpful as a hermeneutic tool, but beyond that irrelevant. Adding ‘ness’ to our categories gives us a safe distance to analyse, reduce the threat level and engage in conflict-free debate. But until the suffix is removed no real lasting change will happen. For Christians the Bible study is enhanced, for Jewish people a turbulent period in our history is explained. But both communities can continue to coexist.

Rabbi Moffic is wrong on one of his salient points: The emergent forms of faith that developed out of the late first and early second century in Israel were not rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. The two surviving forms of Judaism (for survivors they were) by mid second century were (early) Rabbinic Judaism and Messianic Judaism. This has become already a well documented and undisputed fact by many academics. Avoiding the implications of this by continuing to add ‘ness’ to any theological debate and discussion will only push back the internal logic of the current revival in Judaism going on. The emergence again of Messianic Judaism, after 2000 years of seclusion, is a sure sign that Judaism WILL be revived once more in our days.…/…/

Real Riches

A Rabbi’s thoughts….

Judaism has always been understood to be a religion of revelation and not discovery. What that means in practice is that the source of all our Jewish understanding, commandments and traditions is from Heaven. As G-d spoke, so we know. Had He not shown us the way of righteousness, truth, love and mercy, we simply would not have known, nor yet worked it out for ourselves. Another way of looking at it is that if Judaism was a man made invention, a human conceptualised faith system, then it certainly wouldn’t have been designed in the way it is. For one, in the first set of 10 ‘commandments’ there would be one approximating ‘Thou shalt eat X every day’ (replace the X with whatever food you enjoy) – at least if I had written them! That they, the commandments, have stood the test of time and have influenced the legal and cultural basis of so many nations and empires over time is yet one more testimony to the enduring ‘other-worldly’ nature of Judaism. Even the strongest of human empires and the values they represent eventually fall apart, yet the Kingdom of G-d endures, as do the people of G-d, the Jewish people.

But having qualified the origins of Judaism, I want to add one caveat: what truth is to be had can be seen and valued precisely BECAUSE it is enduring and seen to have real value. It becomes tried and tested, eventually to the point whereby mankind can go on to make the somewhat audacious claim to have ‘discovered’ some eternal truth and reality, when in fact it has been as clear as the sun in the sky for an eternity past for those of faith. And it was one such claim, a ‘breakthrough’ moment for Prof Stephen Hawking this last week caught my eye. An eminent and influential man, his word carries weight. He is to be congratulated for his recent discovery of truth, and above all his willingness to publish it too. I quote from the article published on the website (31st July 2016) link below:

“In a Guardian essay, the world-renowned physicist made the case for a more comprehensive and generous definition of wealth “to include knowledge, natural resources and human capacity.” ……. “We will need to adapt, rethink, refocus and change some of our fundamental assumptions about what we mean by wealth, by possessions, by mine and yours. Just like children, we will have to learn to share.” …… He goes on to explain how he came to see money “as a means to an end” but never as an end in itself. It’s an attitude that is becoming more widespread, he wrote: “People are starting to question the value of pure wealth. Is knowledge or experience more important than money? Can possessions stand in the way of fulfilment? Can we truly own anything, or are we just transient custodians?”

I am genuinely glad that Prof Hawking has published this questioning and probing analysis of the current human condition and its fruitless pursuit of happiness through wealth creation. With humility of course we have to acknowledge that such thoughts pre-date his conclusions by many thousands of years. As Jews we have known for a very long time that wealth in itself does not and can not buy happiness. Such transient things can only enhance the mere brevity of human life in comparison with eternity, and only highlight the otherwise empty void in our spirits and souls. Wealth is good, but it isn’t G-d. This point exactly was made by Mashiach (Messiah) Yeshua 2000 years ago when he said ‘you cannot serve G-d and mammon’. Laying up treasures in Heaven, he concludes, was a much sounder investment. The reason? Because where our treasure is, there will be found your heart. If G-d is your treasure beyond all comparison, then that’s where your heart will reside. Real wealth depends on what we give, not what we collect. In German there is a saying that it is better to give with a warm hand than a cold one, a thought that Judaism itself could have penned. The joy of giving, knowing that blessings are shared and not stored, fills the eternal investment banks of Heaven.

So I am glad that Prof Hawking has seen the light. It is sad that it has taken so long, but maybe we as Jews should take heart too. Maybe the world does and will eventually begin to join the dots and begin to seek G-d and His revelation. Maybe they’ll be pleasantly surprised at what they’ll find.