Sunday, September 27, 2015

What the First Golah Community Forgot About Sukkot

In the fifth century B.C.E., when a small group of Southern Kingdom exiles returned to Israel, they had mostly forgotten about the Torah.  They had survived a great trampling, like grain on a threshing floor, but they had returned bruised and beaten and on the verge of cultural extinction.  Like wheat separated from chaff, they had remained distinct up until that point.  But now, having forgotten about the Torah, they had also forgotten about who they were.  And so they had begun to intermarry with non-Jews at an alarming rate.  It seemed as though the returnees from the Southern Kingdom (i.e. the Jewish People) would be annihilated via assimilation just as the Northern Kingdom had been:
"Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud and as the early dew that passeth away, as the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney," Hosea 13:3
But G-d, abounding in mercy and love for His People, raised up Ezra (pictured above).

Ezra knew the cure for cultural amnesia:  Sukkot--also known as a festival of ingathering (Exodus 23.14-16) which was appropriate given that G-d had "ingathered" the exiles like wheat from the threshing floor.  

And Ezra recalled what Moshe said regarding the purpose of Sukkot:
"Moses wrote down this Teaching and gave it to the priests, sons of Levi, who carried the Ark of the Lord's Covenant, and to the elders of Israel.
     And Moses instructed them as follows:  Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the Feast of Sukkot, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.  Gather the people--men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities--that they may hear and so learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully every word of the Teaching.  Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere the Lord your God as long as they live in the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to occupy."  Deuteronomy 31.9-13.
So Ezra read the Torah.  And, wouldn't you know, just as Moshe had prophesied, Am Yisrael heard the words and decided to recommit to observing the Torah faithfully:
"And he [Ezra] read from it [the Torah] facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law....They [the Levites] read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading," Nehemiah 8:3,8
"[Israel then entered] into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes," Nehemiah 10:29
And so G-d saved the Southern Kingdom (i.e. the Jewish People).  But He also hadn't forgotten about the Northern Kingdom:
"And I that am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles [sukkot], as in the days of the solemn feast," Hosea 12:9
He promised that the Northern Kingdom would once again dwell in Sukkot as in the days of old.  They would remember their Exodus from Egypt, the 40 years in the wilderness, and they would once again hear the words of Torah being read.

But how was this to come about?  After all, hadn't the Northern Kingdom been completely annihilated via assimilation?  

Perhaps not entirely annihilated as some might have supposed.  G-d promised to thresh the Northern Kingdom but He also promised that not a single grain would fall to the ground:
"...Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt?...For behold, I am commanding, And I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, But not a kernel will fall to the ground..In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old," Amos 9:7,9, 1 
I'm so excited as I'm writing this!!!  Dear Reader, do you see where I'm going with this?  Check this out:

Where do we see this Amos passage in the Apostolic Writings (aka New Testament)?  Do you recall?  We see it in the famous Jerusalem Council decision of Acts 15:
"After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent [sukkah] of David that has fallen..." Acts 15:16
And what is the purpose of this Sukkot for these ingathered Gentiles?  Yes!  To hear the words of Torah being read:
"For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues," Acts 15:21
And we know that there is a sukkah which will cover ALL of Am Yisrael because it is written:
"And in that day....there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain," Isaiah 4:1, 6 
The day of "hearing the Torah" is also the same day as the "threshing", a threshing that some nations will not survive:
"And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of theLord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem....But they know not the thoughts of the Lord, neither understand they his counsel: for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor," Micah 4:2, 12
"And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil....And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions....and the moon [shall be turned] into blood..." Joel 2:28, 31
And, yes, Dear Reader, tonight is Sukkot and it is also, apparently, a significant blood moon.  But I am not a prophet and do not understand such things.  At any rate, this should be a season of joy for us, that G-d has called us back to hear the words of His Torah and to dwell in the shade of His sukkah.

May the lips of the faithful be opened to proclaim this Good News!  And may He shut the lips of those who preach that Gentiles have no place in David's Sukkah!

Shalom and Blessings to the Faithful Brothers and Sisters,


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Calling in a Favor

So I tend to be a very private person and I certainly don't like to ask for anything.  But I would like to ask a favor of all my readers out there:  if you could pray for my job situation I would very much appreciate it.  Thank you in advance!

Blessings and Shalom,


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Inseparability Thesis: Why There Cannot be a Separation Between Divine Law and Morality

Given that there are some teachers in the Messianic movement who, by holding to the Christian notion that Divine Law can be separated into moral and non-moral laws (note 1), have actually persuaded Messianics to only pursue a limited number of mitzvot--only the commandments your conscience tells you to keep (a position which leads to apostasy), I think it's now time that the One Law movement provided a theory of morality to explain the relationship between morality and Divine Law.  So, without further ado, I give you my Inseparability Thesis:

It should first be noted that there is a definitional issue with regard to morality.  While many people cavalierly refer to "moral law" as if there is a universal understanding of morality as a law, the value system undergirding it, its epistemology, the reality is that there are so many different approaches to morality that the term has become ambiguous.

Now, I'm not arguing that man doesn't have a conscience that informs him of a "higher" value system.  Indeed, there is an innate, natural "fear of G-d" that most people possess (with certain exceptions such as the Amalekites, Deut. 25:18) coupled with some inkling of understanding of what G-d considers beneficial and what G-d considers harmful.  But this feeling about right and wrong is not enough on its own.  We've seen in our own country, the United States, that the Supreme Court has taken that great instructor of morality, civil "law", and used it to preach that homosexual marriage is good, that murdering babies is a right protected in the "penumbra" of the Constitution.  I place human law in quotations because we, as Judaists, believe that human law is not law unless it conforms to the Divine Will.  It is merely prima facie law.

So if morality cannot be subjective but must be based upon objective, Divine values, then what is the purpose of conscience?  Martin Sicker explains eloquently:
"The question that begs an answer concerns the character of the relationship between natural morality and biblical teaching.  Is natural morality entirely subjective or is it discoverable objectively through human reason?  The traditional Judaic response to the first part of the question rejects the notion of subjective morality and insists that a valid system of ethics must be based on the explicit as well as the implicit teachings of the Torah.  Thus, natural morality or the prompting of human conscience cannot be pitted against the ethical norms specified in the Torah.  As Wurzburger put it:  'The Will of God represents the supreme authority to which all other considerations must be subordinated.  Conscience is merely complementary to the explicitly revealed provisions of the Law; it supplements but does not supersede them.  The role of conscience is limited (1) to discern the Will of God for situations that do not come within the purview of explicit legal norms and (2) to function as a hermeneutical principle to be employed to help ascertain the meaning and range of applicability of laws when their formulation contains an element of ambiguity,'" Martin Sicker, The Moral Philosophy of Judaism:  A Study of Fundamentals

"In considering how Judaic ethics differed from secular ethics, Byron L. Sherwin wrote that the essential difference is that it rejects the 'claim that ethics can be based upon individual subjective human criteria alone...The limited wisdom and experience of an individual who must make an ethical decision in a particular situation cannot vie with the cumulative wisdom and experience of a long-standing tradition in deciding what course of action is ethical.'  Thus, 'by providing both a subjective and an objective basis (revelation and tradition) for ethics, Jewish ethics maintains a kind of system of checks and balances upon the approaches characteristic of secular ethics and the problems they entail.'  At the same time, Judaic ethical thought and literature 'encourages the exercise of the individual intellect, intuition, and insight and the incorporation of sources of wisdom imparted from other traditions into the process of moral decision,'" Martin Sicker, The Moral Philosophy of Judaism:  A Study of Fundamentals
So to return to the definitional question, is there a moral law as some sort of second law to Scriptural Law?  Not according to Scripture.  Scripture informs us that the Torah contains the perfect revelation of the will of G-d and, as such, conveys ALL of the "higher" values:
"A moral decision is one that the man or woman making it makes in the light of what he or she believes is right or wrong...A moral decision might also be made in conformity with a rule or law; after all, the rule or law itself might express moral values....A decision doesn't stop being moral just because it is made in the light of 'divinely revealed law'.  On the contrary, since it is a self-evident moral duty to do what God wants, and since he would only want us to do what is good, then if there really is a known 'divine law', obviously we ought to follow it.  Traditional Jewish belief is that the the authentic record of God's self-revelation....When Jews speak of the Torah as 'God's law', what they mean is that it expresses what God wants us to do; it is how God himself formulated the 'moral law'--'the Torah of the Lord is perfect' (Psalm 19:8).  It is not law as opposed to morality, but law which is morality," Themes and Issues in Judaism
So the Torah represents the concretization of morality--the perfect expression of all the values of G-d.
Now, one last thing...

If the Torah of Israel contains the full expression of the moral values of G-d and no other nation has such laws:
"He issues His commands to Jacob, His statutes and rules to Israel.  He did not do so for any other nation; of such rules they know nothing.  Hallelujah" Psalms 147:19-20
"What nation is so great that they have such righteous rules and laws, like this entire Torah that I am presenting before you today? [Umi goy gadol asher-lo chukim umishpatim tsadikim kechol hatorah hazot asher anochi noten lifneychem hayom]," Deuteronomy 4:8

Then that means EVERYONE, out of yirat Hashem (fear of the L-rd), should adopt the Torah of Israel!



"Two kinds of old-covenant stipulations have clearly not been renewed in the new covenant...the portion of laws from the Pentateuch that no longer apply to Christians can be grouped conveniently into two categories: (1) the Israelite civil laws and (2) the Israelite ritual laws....some aspects of the Old Testament ethical law are actually restated in the New Testament as applicable to Christians....No other specific Old Testament laws can be proved to be strictly binding on Christians, valuable as it is for Christians to know all of the laws," pgs. 167-169 of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart

"We must therefore distinguish three kinds of precept in the Old Law; viz. ‘moral’ precepts, which are dictated by the natural law; ‘ceremonial’ precepts, which are determinations of the Divine worship; and ‘judicial’ precepts, which are determinations of the justice to be maintained among men," (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a, Question 99, Article 4)

"We must attend to the well-known division which distributes the whole law of God, as promulgated by Moses, into the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial law," (Calvin, J, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, James Clark & Co., 1962, Volume 2, Book 4, Chapter 20, Section 14, page 663)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

UMJC Still Employs Derek Leman's Moral Law vs. Non-Moral Law Distinction

In David Rudolph's position paper entitled "Gentiles and Torah", he says that Torah may be classified according to ethnic laws, incumbent upon Israel, and ethical laws, incumbent upon mankind.  He cites to Derek Leman, who was, until very recently, a UMJC rabbi, the Chair of the UMJC's Education Committee, a member of the UMJC's rabbinical council, etc.  Now, Derek Leman is the only one from the UMJC that has written extensively on this so-called ethnic vs. ethical distinction in Torah.  So I thought I'd give a brief review of Derek's writings on the subject since it appears that the UMJC bases this ethnic/ethical distinction largely on the writings of Derek Leman.

Derek Leman bases the so-called ethnic-ethical distinction on the theory that some laws in the Bible are moral and some laws are not moral.  No, seriously, that's what he says.  For example:

"The blood prohibition is not a moral law. It is a priestly law," from: (cached)
By the way, just for the record, something is considered "moral" if it is "good."  The opposite of moral is therefore something that is "bad."

So, according to Derek's view, once a Gentile distinguishes between Biblical laws which are moral (and therefore universal) and Biblical laws which are immoral (and therefore intended only for Israel), then a Gentile is able to live his calling as a righteous Gentile. 

Does that sound like a good guideline to follow?  Or does this sound like the kind of thinking that might lead someone astray?

But, as of 9/16/2015, the UMJC apparently thinks that Derek Leman's analysis is correct because this is the teacher to whom they cite in their position papers (e.g. "Gentiles and Torah").

Shalom and Blessings to the True Brothers and Sisters in Messiah Yeshua,


Monday, September 14, 2015

Yom Teruah with My Wonderful Family!

I was truly blessed for Yom Teruah.  My amazing wife cooked a lovely dinner and then we all had apples and honey and pomegranate and a round loaf of bread with lots of butter on each slice.  It's surely an act of grace that G-d should bless me with such a woman!  And to also have a daughter that loves Yeshua and serves Him with her whole heart--I am a very blessed man!

May all of my Messianic brothers and sisters out there be inscribed in the book of life and may you all have a very sweet year!

Shalom and Blessings,


Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Hebrew Language: The DNA of Creation

Here's a mind-blowing video about how G-d's Instructions (Torah) for mankind can be found in the letters of Hebrew words: