Monday, June 1, 2015

How Will You Respond to the Call to Torah? (An Examination of Sifre Deuteronomy) [UPDATED]

I was thinking about Shavuot early this morning (there's an upcoming Shavuot celebration at Grove Ave. Baptist Church in Richmond VA on June 5th--it's advertised on their website for anyone who is in the area and interested).  And with a midrash from Sifre Deuteronomy on my mind, I was thinking about how Jews and Gentiles experience Shavuot differently.  For Jews, Shavuot is a triumph--the Jewish People (Israel) responding to the call to Torah.  For Gentiles, it's something of a dilemma.

For Christian Gentiles, Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai to Israel, is completely irrelevant.  While Christians have mixed feelings about how they should relate to Israel, they are unanimously against the idea that the Torah of Moses should be binding as a Way of Life and be the only framework for informing our Worldview.

Messianic Gentiles, however, tend to feel conflicted about Shavuot, as they hear conflicting messages within the Messianic Movement about how Gentiles should relate to Torah.  First Fruits of Zion teaches that Gentiles are excluded from the Covenant People of Israel and not required to keep the Torah of Moses and therefore Gentiles have an ambiguous identity:

"[The Acts 15 decision] left open questions about observance and intergenerational continuity.  By not requiring Gentiles to take on the legal status of Jews, the apostles created a new category, so to speak.  Neither Jew nor proselyte, the Gentile believer was left with an ambiguous and tenuous status among the people of God that can best be described as that of a God-fearer:  a monotheist non-Jew worshipping in a Jewish context,” Boaz Michael, D. Thomas Lancaster, “ ‘One Law’ and the Messianic Gentile”, Messiah Journal 101.
Today, I'd like to point to an enlightening Midrash containing in Sifre Deuteronomy.  It offers a story in which G-d offered the Torah to all of mankind before finally deciding to give the Torah just to Israel.  It's enlightening because of the REASONS that Gentile mankind offered for rejecting the Torah.  Each time G-d offered the Torah, Gentiles rejected it because acceptance would've meant forfeiting Gentile-ness (and becoming indistinguishable from Israel):

A. Another teaching concerning the phrase, 'He said, 'The LORD came from Sinai':
B.  When the Omnipresent appeared to give the Torah to Israel, it was not to Israel alone that he revealed himself but to every nation.
C.  First of all he came to the children of Esau.  He said to them, 'Will you accept the Torah?'
D.  They said to him, 'What is written in it?'
E.  He said to them, 'You shall not murder' (Exod. 20:13)
F.  They said to him, 'The very being of 'those men'...and of their father is to murder, for it is said, 'But the hands are the hands of Esau' (Gen. 27:22).  'By your sword you shall live' (Gen. 27:40).'
G.  So he went to the children of Ammon and Moab and said to them 'Will you accept the Torah?'
H.  They said to him, 'What is written in it?'
I.  He said to them, 'You shall not commit adultery' (Exod. 20:13).'
J.  They said to him, 'The very essence of fornication belongs to them...for it is said, 'Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father' (Gen. 19:36).'
K.  So he went to the children of Ishmael and said to them, 'Will you accept the Torah?'
L.  They said to him, 'What is written in it?'
M.  He said to them, 'You shall not steal' (Exod. 20:13)
N.  They said to him, 'The very essence of their...father is thievery, as it is said, 'And he shall be a wild ass of a man,' (Gen. 16:12).'
O.  And so it went.  He went to every nation, asking them, 'Will you accept the Torah?'
P.  For so it is said, 'All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth' (Ps. 138:4).
Q.  Might one suppose that they listened and accepted the Torah?
R.  Scripture says, 'And I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the nations, because they did not listen' (Mic. 5:14).
S.  And it is not enough for them that they did not listen, but even the seven religious duties that the children of Noah indeed accepted upon themselves they could not uphold before breaking them.
T.  When the Holy One, blessed be he, saw that that is how things were, he gave them to Israel."


One day Gentiles will stop being Gentiles as they destroy their "idols" and go to Jerusalem to learn the Torah.  Why?  Because those who G-d calls will make a decision to answer His call rather than making up excuses, "I cannot accept because acceptance would mean that I must change my identity."  But they will say, "I will hear and do everything you say even if it means forfeiting my Gentile identity, my idolatry, my ancestral laws;  I will join your People and follow your Torah."


  1. Perfectly pictured in:

    16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” 18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

    1. Perfect example where we have Orpah, Ruth's sister, who returned to her people and her gods (Ruth 1:15). "Orpah" means "nape" as in she showed the back of her neck to Naomi. But Ruth turned toward HaShem (Ruth 1:22) and thus changed from Gentile orientation to Israelite orientation.

  2. You said (June 1st) "Shavuot will be coming up this month."

    When is Shavuot 2015?

    1. James,

      Not when you're on Richmond time. : )

      There's an upcoming Shavuot celebration at Grove Ave. Baptist on June 5th and I guess I was sleepily thinking about it when I wrote the post.

      In all seriousness though, I guess it does highlight how disconnected I am from an observant community.

      Anyway, thanks for the correction.

  3. A Holy House

    Back when you were in the flesh,
    You were, to Heaven, Strangers;
    Without God and without hope,
    Exposed to all hell's dangers.

    But now, you are in Jesus Christ,
    Though you were afar,
    Made very nigh by His shed blood,
    Though poor Gentiles, you are.

    For Jesus Christ is now our Peace,
    That has made us all one,
    Having destroyed the enmity
    Through what His death has done.

    For ordinances separated
    Gentile from the Jew,
    But now Christ has abolished this,
    And made one of the two.

    And all of us, He reconciled
    To God-so making peace!
    He made atonement with His blood,
    To cause God's wrath to cease.

    This is the peace that Jesus preached
    To everyone who'd hear it-
    Through Him, we all have access
    To the Father, by one Spirit.

    You Gentiles are not foreigners
    And strangers anymore,
    But you are of the House of God,
    Built on a solid floor

    Of apostles, and of prophets!
    Into a Holy House you've grown,
    With our Lord Jesus Christ Himself,
    The Chiefest Corner Stone.

    All fitly framed together
    As the Temple of the Lord,
    A habitation now for God,
    Through Christ, in one accord!

    Ephesians 2:11-22

    From the new book "Comfort in Christ: A Collection of Inspired Poetry by Rebecca Gholson.

    1. Thanks for the comforting poem! It was needed.

  4. So, Ammon, Moab, and Ishmael rejected Torah to pursue adultery and thievery but Jacob accepted Torah while pursuing four women after stealing the birthright?

    The human experience involves each of us discovering the ends of our disobedience and longing for G-d to accept us back and to reveal his instructions (Torah).