August 17, 2014 / 21 Av, 5774

Dear Berean,

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.”
Exodus 19:21-23

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.
Romans 14:1-4

“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:

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.
Deuteronomy 4:2

Yeshua alludes to this in His admonition:

And why do you break the commandment of G-d for the sake of your tradition?
Matthew 15:3b

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:

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.
Romans 14:1-4

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.


Rumination #47: Are we to maintain "Jewish identity" and "Gentile identity" as separate and distinct in the One Body of Messiah?

There are some in Messianic Judaism who think that this is a prime directive of the Scriptures. Rightfully, they see the horrible atrocities inflicted upon the Jewish people that resulted in the theft of Israel's identity by the early Christian church. Rightfully, they are concerned about how often times, Gentiles have lead Israel astray. But regarding the need to maintain a separate and distinct identity they are wrong. There is only one identity for the believer and follower of Messiah: In Him, we are One People.

An argument is made from Acts 15, and Acts 21 that Jewish and Gentiles believers are given different standards of righteousness. Of course, this is demonstrably false, but there are some that in an effort to maintain Jewish identity in Messianic Judaism have falsely argued that the Torah is only an invitation to Gentiles, whereas to Jews it is an obligation. Arguing that the Apostles only obliged Gentile believers to some mythical "moral" code plus the four dictates of Acts 15:20; 29; 21:25 misses the entire point. Those that espouse such a theology are focused on the righteous standard at expense of the greater picture: One People in Messiah.

The fact is, there are clear and explicit instructions found within the Scriptures that tell us how Gentiles and Jews are to be identified within the People of G-d - and it isn't to be distinct and separate. Beloved, please remember this: there are no instructions either in the TaNaKh, or in the Apostolic Scriptures that tell us that we must maintain distinct "Jewish identity" and "Gentile identity." None. In fact we read of just the opposite:

One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger [ger, Gentile] who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before HaShem.
Numbers 15:15

Therefore remember that you, once [former] Gentiles in the flesh - who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands - that at that time you were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without G-d in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances [man-made rules of distinction], so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to G-d in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

...the mystery...that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Messiah through the gospel.
Ephesians 2:11-16; 3:6

Some time ago a well-known Messianic leader and I were discussing this passage because he was insisting on a cultural distinction between Jew and Gentile. He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home and is concerned how "Messianic Gentiles" were blurring the "cultural distinctions." Of course, he knew by my surname that my father was Scot-Irish. I asked him, what, in my mind, was a pivotal question: "Are you and I in the same family, the family of Abraham?"  I was surprised by his response. "No we aren't," he said. That is where such a faulty theology leads us: apartheid in the Body of Messiah. G-d forbid. While we may have many distinct cultures within the world-wide Body of Messiah, we have one standard of righteousness. The Torah is not "cultural," as some are purporting.

While some will come up with convoluted and contradictory theologies to explain away our One identity in Messiah, the fact is that their efforts to invite Gentiles and to obligate Jews to the Torah are a dangerous deviation from the biblical instructions we have regarding our single identity in Messiah. In Him, our identity is Israel.

Jew and Gentile, One in Messiah. We have One King, we are One People, and we have been given One Torah

Parashat Re'eh - 'Behold' (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

This week's parasha is named for the first word of the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 11:26.

R'eh, anochi noten lifneichem-haiyom: b'rachah, uk'lalah: et-hab'rachah-asher tishm'u, el-mitzvot HaShem Ekoheichem, asher anochi m'tzavveh etchem, haiyom.

Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of HaShem your G-d which I command you today;
Deuteronomy 11:26-27

Re'eh: For the people of Torah, it is a word that holds special significance in the context of these verses. You see, the people of Torah are learning to reject the Greek/Western way of looking at life. The people of Torah are more interested in living life. Let me explain.

The Greek way is a philosophical way. It approaches life with a fundamental principle: the physical world is only a shadow - it is not real. The spirit world is the only true reality. Go back and read that again. You may find yourself agreeing with some of that. If you do, then do not worry, I am not going to single you out. We are all subject to this way of thinking. We have had every facet of our lives, and especially our religious lives, filled with this type of thinking. It has invaded our most sacred places. It is a lie.

The Greek way is how whole portions of the Scripture were explained away by the early ''church fathers'' in their attempts to explain their prejudice against parts of the Scripture of HaShem. Turning whole sections into expanded allegories is a dangerous thing indeed. It strikes at the very heart of Messianic faith.

While it is understandable during times of stress and persecution to want to spiritualize the blessings of G-d, and to look simply for ''pie in the sky by and by,'' when we do we are failing to take into account several important historical facts in addition to the dubious path of ignoring Scripture. Consider the Jewish people. In the history of man, there has never been a surviving people who have suffered as they have. All the while, and in the midst of their tears - they have rejoiced in G-d given physical things like no other people. One would think that they of all people would be simply looking for ''heaven.'' Instead, for thousands of years they have looked for a physical Messiah to establish His physical Kingdom in physical Jerusalem. They have sought for outward ways to express inward thoughts. They can teach us something - having a future hope and thanking HaShem for things not currently realized do not have to make us too heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Certainly, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of such a people:

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented - of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.
Hebrews 11:37-39

We have their testimony. They are not known for their creeds - they are known for their deeds. They did not see the reality of what the hoped for - and yet they did not cease to live real lives. They did not merely place themselves in the realm of theory. Those listed in the ''faith chapter'' were not merely mystics - they were Torah obedient. Every command obeyed was a matter of bringing glory to HaShem. Every opportunity of obedience to HaShem is an opportunity to show real love for Him. This is not the Greek way. This is the Hebrew way. It is the Torah way. The physical is always connected to the spiritual. They cannot be separated. Our Messiah Himself is the eternally-joined physical and spiritual. He is Immanu'El - G-d with us. G-d in the flesh. He is Echad: One.

Beloved, Yeshua's teaching about the connection between the heart (will) and deeds was not meant to negate outward deeds. May it never be! So-called ''faith'' that has no outward expression in obedience is not faith at all. That is what R'eh is all about. Seeing. And that is where our parasha begins.

Behold [re'eh = see], I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of HaShem your G-d which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of HaShem your G-d, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known. Now it shall be, when HaShem your G-d has brought you into the land which you go to possess, that you shall put the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.
Deuteronomy 11:26-29

Physical (real) blessings, or physical (real) curses - for physical (real) obedience or disobedience. In a physical (real) Land. This is real stuff. This is no mere creed or statement of faith. Have the Greek/Western theologian sometime try to explain the ''idea'' of the Land. In their attempts to allegorize it they cannot answer some very important questions.

You know your Bible. You know the answer to all of these questions relates back to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - but it still does not answer the questions, ''Why promise a land? Why bother with that at all?" After all, all that really matters is having G-d in our hearts, right? All that really matters is knowing we are going to ''heaven,'' right? All that really matters is the eternal, right? All of those seem correct... and they are also wrong. Remember, you cannot have the spiritual without the physical. Remember what we learned last week: WHERE matters, because of WHO is there.

R'eh is about putting flesh on the skeleton of theory. It is about physically seeing. Although faith comes by hearing (and hearing by the Words of HaShem), faith without deeds is not faith. So no, it is not enough to have the knowledge that we have G-d dwelling among us in a spiritual sense - eventually we need to see it. That is one reason why Messiah came. So we could see Him. He was a real man. He is a real man. He is Immanu'El - G-d with us. And for those of us so distantly removed from the time of the First Century, knowing Him is for naught if He does not physically (really) return someday and we see Him. And that leads us to why the Land is so important. Yes, it is important because HaShem promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the Land as an inheritance - but the reason He did that to start with relates to r'eh (seeing, manifesting). The G-d of the Universe does not desire merely to dwell in ''our hearts'' - He wants to physically dwell in our midst. That is an awesome thought!

There is a serious problem with this though. We were driven from the Garden and from the Presence of the Holy One, blessed is He, because of our disobedience. He set cherubim with flaming swords to keep us out of His Presence. Now our only way back into His Presence is through that flaming sword. It is a real sword. It is HaShem's Torah. It is double-edged: it kills and yet it can also protect. The Torah outlines the legal way into His Presence in the Tabernacle system. It was not an allegory. It was real. Those who approached the Almighty in the Tabernacle and later the Temple were really in the Presence of HaShem. It was not only a picture for us who know Yeshua and the reality of His sacrifice for us - experiencing HaShem in the Holy Temple was real - and it was awesome. I liken it to the difference between how we know Yeshua now - and what it will be like when we see him face to face. Beloved, that is what the Hebrew word r'eh ultimately refers to: looking at each other face to face.

But you shall seek the Place where HaShem your G-d chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His Name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before HaShem your G-d, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which HaShem your G-d has blessed you. You shall not at all do as we are doing here today - every man doing whatever is right in his own eye - for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which HaShem your G-d is giving you. But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which HaShem your G-d is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, then there will be the Place where HaShem your G-d chooses to make His Name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to HaShem. And you shall rejoice before HaShem your G-d, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you. Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the Place which HaShem chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.
Deuteronomy 12:5-14

Beloved, if you come from a traditional Christian background, you have been trained in some measure to have distain for the Holy Temple. You have been taught in some measure to reject the physical reality of a Temple, and especially the "sacrificial system." You have been taught that we are the only Temple of G-d. That is not what Scripture teaches. Ezekiel and Zechariah teach us that the Holy Temple of HaShem will one day be built again. It will be built in the physical city of Jerusalem, on the physical Har HaBayit, on Mount Moriyah. Although the Children of Israel, when they heard Moses speak these words on the Plains of Moab, did not know where the Place was - G-d did make it clear later. He made it His permanent Place when He told Solomon:

Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this Place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My Name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.
2Chronicles 7:15-16

Today it seems there is no such Place. Har HaBayit is capped with an abomination dedicated to the worship of a false god. Just like the naysayers who allegorized the physical return of Jews to the Land of Israel before 1948, so too there are some who say that we are in no need of a new Temple. We are the Temple. "Peter said so," they may say. They are wrong. Not only will the Holy Temple be built again - it will ultimately be where Messiah Himself is. He will physically (really) reign from the physical (real) city of Jerusalem. His throne will be real. His Torah will be real. His Presence will be real. We will see Him there in that Place.

Many people shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of HaShem, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths." For out of Tzion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of HaShem from Jerusalem.
Isaiah 2:3

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.
1Corinthians 13:12a

So, as you study this week's portion, do not be content with spiritualizing what you read - ask HaShem about how you can make it real. R'eh.

HaShem Tzuri v'Goali, oseh shalom bim'romav
HaShem, My Rock and My Redeemer,
He Who makes peace in His Heights

Hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kal Yisrael.
May He make peace upon us and all Israel.

Y'hi ratzon m'l'fanecha HaShem Ekoheinu v'Ekohei avoteinu
May it be Your will, our G-d, and G-d of our forefathers

Sheiyibaneh  Beit Hamik'dash bim'harah v'yomeinu
That the Holy Temple be rebuilt, speedily in our days

V'ten chel'keinu b'toratecha
And grant us our portion in Your Torah

v'sham na'avad'cha b'yirah
And we will serve You with reverence

Kimei olam uch'shanim kad'moniot
As in days of old and in former years

from Shemoneh Esrei -

Haftarat Re'eh - 'Behold' (Isaiah 54:11-55:5)

This week's haftarah is the third in the series of seven haftarot of consolation that are read between Tisha B'Av and Rosh Hashana. The focus of this week's reading from the Prophets is consolation for Jerusalem and the Messianic promise.

Our haftarah begins in the middle of a declaration of HaShem's love for Israel. Earlier in Isaiah 54, He repeats His covenant promises to Israel and declares Himself to be her eternal Husband. Our portion begins in verse 11:

O you afflicted one [Jerusalem], tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones.
Isaiah 54:11-12

Of course, we are immediately reminded of Jerusalem as it is described in Revelation:

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from G-d, having the glory of G-d. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel... The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.
Revelation 21:10-11; 18

These are the times of refreshment. This is the Messianic Age. This is the best consolation that Jerusalem could receive. Contrast the present city of Jerusalem with what follows in Isaiah 54:

All your children shall be taught by HaShem, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. Indeed they shall surely assemble, but not because of Me. Whoever assembles against you shall fall for your sake.
Isaiah 54:13-15

Remember, the Almighty's perspective is far different from ours. He sees what He will do - He speaks and it comes to pass.

The next verse have often been claimed by people who oddly enough have no regard for Jerusalem or her inhabitants, but rest assured these promises are for Jerusalem.

"No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of HaShem, and their righteousness is from Me," Says HaShem.
Isaiah 54:17

When reading Scripture, never make the mistake of beginning to read at the reference (always read the verses before for context), and never assume that a chapter break is a break in the passage. Chapter and verse breaks are man-made. Often they cut right across a continuation of a thought or a prophecy. This is the case in Isaiah 54 and 55. Our haftarah continues across the chapter break between chapter 54 and 55.

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Isaiah 55:1

If you love the Feast of Sukkot like I do, you will recognize these words. Yeshua quotes them:

On the last day, that great day of the feast [the Feast of Sukkot], Yeshua stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink..."
John 7:37

Our portion ends with a Messianic prophecy. It is the Promise of Messiah Son of David...

Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you - the sure mercies of David. Indeed I have given Him as a witness to the people, a Leader and Commander for the people.
Isaiah 55:3-4

I love the way the Gutnick Chumash translates these verses:

Incline your ears and come to Me (to hear My words)! Listen, and you will (merit to) live (again, with the revival of the dead)! I will make and eternal covenant with you, as enduring as (My) loyalty to David. Indeed, I have made his (enduring dynasty) as a proof to the nations (that My word always endures, and Mashiach [Messiah], his Descendant, will be) a Ruler and a Leader of the nations.
Isaiah 55:3-4 Gutnick Edition Chumash

Re'eh! Behold! He comes. He comes to make consolation for the afflicted Jerusalem. He comes to establish His Kingdom and His holy throne within her walls. He comes, and He brings His reward with Him.

May it be soon, and in our days. Even so, come quickly L-rd Yeshua!

Prayer Focus for Re'eh -  "Avodah" [Service]

The Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah) prayer is extremely Messianic in its focus. There are several blessings that look forward to the day when Messiah Son of David will setup His Kingdom in Jerusalem. As well, the blessing for the return of the Presence of the Almighty to the rebuilt Temple is included. It is called "Avodah" [Service].

Be favorable, HaShem our G-d, toward Your people Israel and their prayer and restore the service [avodah] to the Holy of Holies of Your Temple. The fire-offerings of Israel, and their prayer accept with love and favor, and may the service [avodah] of Your people Israel always be favorable to You.
May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in compassion.
Blessed are You, HaShem, Who restores His Presence to Zion.
-- ArtScroll Translation

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Standing in Prayer with all Israel,

Rick Spurlock
Bereans Online