Listen to Maimonides…

A text without a context is a pretext. Thus begins the argument about hermeneutics and textual interpretation when someone disagrees with us! The problem, of course, is more serious than the stock answer may suggest. There are genuine disagreements about what ‘the facts’ are in any given situation, and none more so than when it concerns such crucial issues as to the identity and person of the Mashiach, the Messiah predicted and prophesied in the Torah and Jewish literature. And in a world of ‘fake news’ and institutionalised gaslighting, the need for concrete facts and truth has never been more needed. Thus it is to Maimonides that we should turn, one of the ‘greats’ in Judaism whose words carry so much weight and whose wisdom has helped so many to understand the (Jewish) world.

One of his famous quotes reads: ‘Accept the truth from wherever it comes’. On the face of it this sounds like a very wise statement, and indeed it is. Truth is truth, and as they say, it will out. Yet the sad reality is that Rambam’s words have never truly been taken to heart. As the leader of a Messianic Jewish revival group in the first century, Yeshua declared that He is the way, the truth and the life. Seen objectively He is saying that through Him these ideas fully take flesh and are visible for all to see. If Judaism represents the truth (and it does), then Yeshua must therefore embody Judaism and its sacred principles and ideas in His every action, thought and word. Messianic Jews have no problem with this concept of course, but there remain many in other forms of Judaism for whom this reality is still afar off, and who fail to see Yeshua as a person of history in any other way than controversial.

However, if we take the statement ‘accept the truth from wherever it comes’ at face value, it is not enough to merely apply it to the teaching of Yeshua and hope it is accepted. The statement demands an examination of sources. All truth is examined for its veracity in the light of trustworthy communicators and reliable trusted sources. In other words, what is said (the text) is tested against multiple sources and responsible research (context). The single most important context that we can research for this is the nature and character of G-d as revealed in the Torah and Tanach. If the words and teachings of Yeshua match up with the revealed and researched nature and teachings of the Lord G-d of Israel, then we must de facto take them seriously and accept the truth of them, even if they come from places we may not like.

So what is the revealed nature and character of our G-d? That can be summarised in one sentence: I am the Lord your G-d who brought you up from the land of Egypt. G-d is the One who delivers, redeems, saves and sets free. It is His primary nature as revealed in the Torah. The question then remains for many of our brethren who reject Yeshua on the basis of historical animosity rather than research and examination of the sources, does Yeshua’s teaching in any way contravene the nature of salvation, redemption and deliverance we know to be true of G-d? Many Messianic Jews today are discovering that it does not. What do YOU think?

Accept the truth from wherever it comes.

Blowing away the dust of history (part six)

This last part of the Nicodemus series examines an element that was clearly missed in the first century and most certainly would have been met with a surprised response from the learned Nicodemus, despite his vast knowledge of Torah and Judaism. The difficulty as always is joining the dots to make sense, in a cohesive way, of what we are reading in the Scriptures.

This last area touches upon the nature and definition of righteousness, and more importantly HOW we achieve it. Judaism poses us with a dilemma: An infinite G-d who reveals His righteousness to mankind through the Torah, His absolute standards of holiness and consecration, and then apparently sets us up to fail. I say apparently, because there is not one person alive or dead who has ever kept the Torah and its standard of righteousness. King Shlomo put it this way in 1 kings 8:46 ‘there is no one who does not sin’. Rav Shaul put it in a similar fashion: ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of G-d’. The definition of sin is breaking a commandment and you can therefore hear the desperate heart cry of the followers of Yeshua Mashichaynu in Matt 19:25 who asked ‘who then can be saved?’ Yeshua’s answer is interesting: ‘With man this is impossible, but with G-d all things are possible.’ In essence He is saying that man can never reach that level of righteousness needed to enter the Kingdom, to be a part of Israel now and in eternity. But G-d CAN make a way for this to happen.

To be fair to our brothers in the first century, the Prushim (Pharisees) have been given a very, and undeservedly, bad press. Yeshua’s castigation was not laid against them because they were not righteous, far from it, but because their righteousness was not enough! Matt 5:20 makes this clear; our righteousness as Jews must EXCEED that of this particular sub-group in Judaism of the first century. Nicodemus would, in all likelihood given his background, have fully identified with the level of righteousness demonstrated by this sect of Judaism, and more importantly their approach to achieving it. The question then becomes how to exceed this level of righteousness, given that these men had indeed a level of righteousness and were Torah observant? If they failed to meet the mark, still struggling with sin (and they did), then what hope does anyone have? Again, Yeshua’s words point the way ‘with G-d all things are possible’.

So how DO we achieve a level of righteousness that will allow us access to G-d’s presence? Thankfully the Lord has not left us to work this out for ourselves. One of His own names is Adonai Tzidkenu, the Lord our righteousness. Our G-d IS our righteousness and we have to have His righteousness given to us if we are ever to be righteous enough.  The next question then becomes, how do we receive such a righteousness? Do we have to earn it, pay for it, or just receive it? Is it dependent upon us at all? The answer is maybe surprising for those who have worked within the parameters of more recent forms of Judaism. The model of righteousness turns out to be Avraham avinu, who because of his faith, or better faithfulness in response, was given G-d’s righteousness, freely and undeservedly despite his own personal sin. G-d justified him because of his response towards what G-d was promising. If we can understand that this transactional act between G-d and man occurs through faith alone, then we can understand one of Rav Shaul’s most misquoted and misunderstood verses. In his letter to the Jewish community in Rome (3:21) he states that ‘now the righteousness of G-d apart from the Torah has been revealed’. Most read this as if the Torah was therefore abrogated. Not at all. It IS most definitely the righteous standard of G-d revealed. The problem is we can’t keep it. But by being credited with that righteousness, the very righteousness of G-d through faith instead of through obedience, it IS now possible to be righteous before G-d. This is what the verse means and is critical to understanding Rav Shaul. This is no abrogation of Torah but a strong affirmation of it. ‘Apart from’ does not mean ‘instead of’.

Only by being credited with G-d’s own righteousness do we stand a chance of ever standing in His presence, a core desire and aim of Judaism. The writer to the Hebrews puts it in a radical way: (a) boldness to enter the Holy of Holies. This is no sacrilegious or iconoclastic act, but an understanding that through faith salvation can come, and that through the sacrifice that He alone could bring for our sins: Yeshua. With faith making righteousness possible we can come fully into His presence and not fear death.