Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
Early disciples were martyred for their unwavering faith that Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel. Stephen, Ya’akov (James), and Sha’ul (Paul) were faithful Jews, but they were convinced there was something more, something intended from the beginning. They fully understood what the prophets and sages of old only had glimpses of: the Divine Messiah, born of a woman, dying for sin not His own, raised from the dead on the third day – and coming again to establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem.
We affirm what the Apostolic Scriptures say about Messiah. He is our Master. We are His disciples.
The First Slip
Over the years some have complained that I am too “rabbinic” in my teaching. Perhaps some of that is because I have often cited Jewish teachers – many of them, from Hillel to Heschel.
The sages of Israel add deep understanding and context to the Bible - especially the Apostolic Scriptures [New Testament]. The writings of the sages provide an insider’s look into the language and culture of the first disciples of Yeshua. While the Oral Torah contained in the Mishnah, Talmud, Tosefta, and Midrashim do not control me, they most certainly inform me. Even later works such as the Zohar, and commentaries from Rashi and Ramban add better understanding to not only the words of the Apostles, but even the Master, Yeshua Himself.
However, to doubt or to ignore the Apostolic Scriptures is the first slip on a slippery slope.
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Rumination #33: The presence of light reveals flaws. The revelation of the Holy One, blessed is He, reveals our unworthiness to receive that revelation. But that is not the purpose for light, nor for the revelation of HaShem.
There is a line of thinking in some theologies (sadly even among some who call themselves "Messianic") that goes something like this: The purpose for the "Law of Moses" was to reveal sin and our need for a Savior. Now that Jesus has come, and the way of salvation is made clear, we no longer need the "Law of Moses" – instead we have a new law, the "Law of Christ."
While some Scripture passages certainly indicate that the Law reveals sin, there is something missing from this theological misdirection. The effect of the revelation of HaShem always reveals man's frailty and sin.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw HaShem sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the Temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is HaShem of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, HaShem of hosts."
Was the purpose of Isaiah's vision simply so he would know that he was a sinner? How absurd and man-centered! It was a revelation of the Holy One of Israel, blessed is He.
The Torah is the revelation of the righteousness of HaShem. It reveals Who He is and it reveals His Messiah. Just as the flaws of a work are revealed in the daylight, so are our weaknesses, our failings, and our sins are revealed in His Presence. And just as a candle is subsumed in the brilliance of the mid-day sun, so is our meager obedience to His righteous standard is as filthy rags.
But let us not be confused… the purpose of the Torah is not to reveal sin. May it never be said! The purpose of the Torah is to reveal HaShem. It is to reveal Messiah.
For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.
For Messiah is the goal of the Torah, in righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness of the Torah, "The man who does those things shall live by them."
When Fences Become Walls
And HASHEM said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to HASHEM to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to HASHEM consecrate themselves, lest HASHEM break out against them.” And Moses said to HASHEM, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.”
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for G-d has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the L-rd is able to make him stand.
“Children want boundaries.” You have heard that, or perhaps you have said it yourself. It is true of course. Human beings seem to almost crave limits to our behavior. No doubt this part of our G-d-given conscience – our sense of “right and wrong.”
Let’s be honest though, our conscience is not the same thing as right and wrong – it simply is our sense of what we think is right and wrong. Sadly, some people seem to have no conscience at all, and it is equally sad when some think everything is wrong.
When Conscience Becomes a Choice
In order for our conscience to be a positive tool in our relationship with HaShem, we need to be careful what choices we make in establishing new (or new to us) “fences” (boundaries put up to protect particular commandments) and how we maintain a distinction between those fences and the written commandments of HaShem. Once a standard is a part of our conscience, it is difficult to undo that without damaging our conscience.
It is common in newly observant communities for individuals to grab hold of standards that are new to them. This can be very good. The danger is when individuals make these fences matters of conscience. This is a matter of choice if the fences are not clearly distinguished from the actual commandments of HaShem. “So, if the standard is upheld, and the individual conscience is not offended, what is the downside?” you might ask. The dangers are:
An ever-increasing more-observant-than-thou attitude
Adding to your personal “I will be offended if…” list
Your children as they grow older may have difficulty distinguishing between HaShem’s commandments and your newly established fence
By choice, becoming the “weaker brother”
Safely Embracing Fences
In the case of neighbors with literal fences along a property line, it is easy to understand that one neighbor cannot move the fence without affecting the other. This is also the case of “fences around the Torah.” To best understand how to safely embrace fences, we must remind ourselves what fences are and how they might affect others. A fence is a standard that is beyond of the literal words of HaShem. Notice, that man did not initiate the fence around Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 to keep the people safe. HaShem commanded that it be built. So the Exodus 19 model does not apply to “fences around the Torah” – that is, unless you are also willing to disregard the very sober words in Deuteronomy 4:2:
You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of HaShem your G-d that I command you.
Yeshua alludes to this in His admonition:
And why do you break the commandment of G-d for the sake of your tradition?
I am very encouraging to people who want to embrace Jewish tradition, making the lifestyle of Judaism, their own. I offer this personal caution however: as you adopt traditional halacha and make it your own, do not make the traditional halacha a matter of conscience. That is truly your choice. Distinguish between the literal commandment, and the traditional “how to” in walking out that commandment. Here are my personal recommendations:
Context. Do your best to mirror the community in which you find yourself. If your community does not adhere to your newfound fence, be careful to not promote it as a community standard. Do not broadcast your fence. It is personal, or for your family only. On the other hand, be careful to reflect the community in which you are currently a part. Do not offend your brothers and sisters by what you permit or by what you forbid.
If you have children, as they get older, make it clear that your “family rules” are not “more right” than any other families' rules.
Be gracious. Recognize that everyone errs in some way. Make sure you do not begin to look down on those who do not share the same fences that you do.
Remember Romans 14:4:
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the L-rd is able to make him (and you) stand.
Don’t let your fences become walls. Walls that keep out the blessing of a healthy relationship with HaShem, or walls that make your circle of brothers and sisters ever more small.
The Mideast Update News Site
In 2007, my eldest son moved to Jerusalem working as a journalist and writer. Since then he has done interviews with government officials, academics, and "the man on the street." Joshua maintains a news web site that draws from his contacts in the middle east: the Israeli government, middle eastern universities, and public relations outlets. His reporting, analysis, and insights are unique in reporting on Israel and the middle east.
My friend Brock Wright has written an iPhone/iPad app called "Daily Aliyah" that displays the Torah and haftarah portion for the current week, as well as the daily aliyah for the day of the week. Get it for free in the iTunes App Store.