Archive for June, 2009

24
Jun
09

Ribbon HaOlamim

The Siddur is a reflection of both the heart and history of the Jewish people.  The prayers and blessings come from a variety of sources spanning from the Bible to contemporary Sages and Rabbis (depending on the siddur).  Most of us are familiar with the prayers and blessings that are prominant during a traditional Shabbat service such as the Shema, a portion of the Amidah, Ashrei, Adon Olam, Ein Kayloheynu – just to name a few.  But if we are not careful we will miss some wondrous blessings and praises that can enhance our daily worship as well as help us to relate to our people and to help us in explaining Yeshua and Messianic Judaism.

 One such blessing is called Ribbon Kol HaOlamim (master of the worlds).  it can be found in the Artscroll Ashkenaz Siddur on p. 26 second paragraph.  It originates in the Talmud (Yoma 87b) in a paragraph that discusses the necessity of  confessing sins frequently.  This blessing is a statement of our inadequacy and our utter need and thankfulness  for the benevolence of God:

Not on the merit of our righteousness do we cast our supplications before you but on the merit of your abundant mercy. What are we? What is our life? What is our kindness? What is our righteousness? What is our salvation? What is our strength? What is our might?

This is followed by a declaration of our covenant relationship with God. As Jewish people, we stand in relationship with God via the promise that He initiated  with Abraham and confirmed as a result of the “binding of Isaac”.   it is a promise of national destiny and purpose.   As a messianic community, we are reminded that    that God has initiated the New Covenant with us through the death and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah.  As the remnant of Israel along with all people who embrace Yeshua  we are able to appropriate these new covenant blessings of complete forgiveness, intimacy with God and bodily resurrection (see Eph. 1:1-13).

The final section is filled with praise and an acknowledgment of blessing:

 Therefore we are obligated to thank you, praise you, glorify you…We are fortunate – how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot , how beautiful our heritage.

We should never take for granted the covenantal purpose and destiny that we have as a people   and we should never take for granted the blessings of life and forgiveness of sin that we have in knowing Yeshua the Messiah.  What a wonderful way to start each day – being rememinded of our standing before God that comes via his grace and mercy.

This prayer came to mind recently when a Jewish friend challenged me on the need for believing in Yeshua. He asked me the question that we have all faced at one time or another – what about good people who have never heard of Yeshua? How unfair is it that some people live in places where they have never heard of Yeshua.   I responded by talking about Ribbon HaOlamim.  I told him that this prayer tells us  that no one is worthy of the blessings of God and that we as Jewish people should be the most thankful people to have this covenant relationship that we have done nothing to earn. It is not a question of fairness, rather it is an issue of the grace and mercy of God.  I said that clearly our people have not lived up to our end of the bargain  and that Yeshua came to initiate the restoration of Israel and to be the vehicle himself for the nations to hear the good news as preached by Isaiah and   Yeshua himself.   I told him that embracing Yeshua means that we can appropriate New Covenant blessings of forgiveness of sins, intimacy with God  and a place in the World To Come.  In the end, we do not know how God may reveal himself to the  hearts of individuals but we know that we are called to be a light to the nations and that is why we are called to bring Yeshua to all peoples – beginning with our own people.    In Him is the promise of resurrection.  My friend did not suddenly embrace Yeshua. However I hopefully communicated that we are not preaching an unfair message and that our messsage – while not in agreement with traditional jewish understanding – can find some validity from the Siddur. 

May Ribbon HaOlamim remind us to be ever thankful  for Messiah Yeshua.

11
Jun
09

the Remnant of Israel – among Israel

My friend and colleague Allen Singer recently related a story to me of being in a church   where he was welcomed with open arms – but did not feel at home. They were appreciative that he is a Jewish follower of Messiah. But he was not at home because the surroundings did not reflect his own identity.  He then related another story about an event in the Jewish community. Here, he was at home – but did not feel welcomed because he is a Jewish follower of Messiah and some of the people there were aware of his messianic beliefs.  This is a dillemma for many Messianic Jews.  We appreciate the commaraderie and encouragement and welcome that we receive from Christian friends and churches. After all, we believe in Yeshua, his deity, the tri-unity of God, his atoning death and resurrection, and the necessity of Yeshua’s salvation. But we do not necessarily feel at home because of our Jewish identity.  This does not mean that I could not attend a church or be  comfortable with fellow Messiah followers – it just means that it does not feel like I am at home.  But when i visit a synagogue, in most cases, i are not welcome – but I feel at home!

Recently I attended two different synagogues in my community.  I am desirous of finding a place where I can go from time to time and pray Shachrit, the morning prayer service. I enjoy praying with the Siddur and of course accentuating it with my personal prayers in Yeshua’s name. I enjoy wrapping my arm and head with teffilin and wearing a tallit. Besides, my parents are quite elderly and the day will come when I will want to say kaddish in a minyan to honor their lives.

It is not easy to go someplace where you know you are not wanted. One particular morning I got up early and drove to a synagogue. I had some butterflies in my stomach as I approached the door. I thought to myself, What if I cannot find the room where they are praying? What if someone immediately asks me my synagogue affiliation? What if someone asks me what I do for a living?  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not ashamed of the Gospel or Yeshua or Beth Messiah.  I have no problem telling people who I am and my belief and affiliaiton. But who wants to be a disappointment? Who wants to be rejected?  Yeshua himself did not desire rejection. He wept over the rejection of the people. 

When I walked in, I saw where the men were praying. It was a small chapel with an Aron HaKodesh(holy Ark) and a Torah table in the middle of the room. I immediately found a spot in the back row. Of course, I found the pew that was in much need of repair. Every time I stood up or sat down there was a loud squeeky sound. The Rabbi arrived a few minutes after I did. He came up to me and asked me if I was there for Kaddish – if i was there for a deceased relative. I said no and he then proceeded to move to the front of the chapel. It was Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of a month) so the Torah was read. One of the leaders came up to me and asked me if I was a Cohen or a Levite.  i am a Levi. The next thing I knew, I was at the Torah table with an aliyah!  Following the service, the Rabbi came up to me again and asked me more about myself. He asked me if I was affiliated with any local synagogue. I told him that I was with Beth Messiah. After a few moments of processing what I said, he quickely ended the conversation and said good-bye. At least he did not tell me never to come back.  Then I went to another synagogue for the first day of Shavuot. Again I sat in the back and again I was called for an aliyah! So I guess I am two for two when it comes to being called to the Torah. A few days later, I went to the same synagogue for a weekday Shachrit service. This time, no one came up to me until it was over and then the Rabbi welcomed me. He did not ask me any questions and I soon left. I am sure at some point if I continue to attend from time to time someone will ask me about my synagogue affiliaiton. Hopefully I will be able to continue to attend. At all of the services, I felt at home but not welcomed. But the more I think about it, I felt at home in a unique kind of way.  Yeshua was not present. The New Covenant reality of the Ruach HaKodesh was not present.  So how could I feel at home?  I   felt at home because I was   the remnant of Israel – among Israel; I felt very connected to Yeshua – not because I was in the midst of Messiah followers but because I was in the midst of Israel. I felt like was having an incarnational moment of   living the “Yeshua life” being in the midst of the Jewish people, desiring their understanding and belief in the Messiah and at the same time being one and praying with my people. I realized that Yeshua was present through me – the representative of the remnant.    

My home is the Messianic Jewish Congregation. Here I can pray as a Jew in the presence of like minded Messiah followers and experience the presence of the Ruach in the midst of the community of believers. There is tremendous encouragment and spiritual growth in being part of a messianic jewish community. But from time to time I will continue to go to one of the  synagogues in my city and live out an aspect of the calling of being the remnant of Israel – among Israel.

02
Jun
09

Ruth: Convert to Jewish Identity or Grafted in Gentile?

It is customary to read/study the book of Ruth on Shavuot. This past Shabbat afternoon we had a little Shabbaton as we took a fresh look at this story of a Gentile young woman who places her lot with the children of Israel.  In the beginning of the story, we have a sad situation. Naomi has lost her husband and her two sons and she is living in a foreign land. She is, in a sense in exile. She has two daughters-in-law who are foreign women. One of them, Orpah does the natural thing – she goes back to her family.  The other daughter-in-law, Ruth sticks with Naomi. Usually at this point we jump to the conclusion that Ruth has decided to “convert” to judaism and place her lot with the Jewish people and it serves as a paradigm fo conversion. However, the text does not indicate such a conclusion. Her moving statement of loyalty is a statement of loyalty to Naomi. Wherever Naomi goes Ruth will go.  When she says “your people shall be my people and your God my god” I suggest that she is simply saying that she will identify with Naomi whether in Moab or in Israel. In fact, in those days the understaing was that gods were regional in nature and so if Naomi goes back to Israel, Ruth is saying tha whoever the god of Naomi’s people may be – that will be her god too.  The point of the story thus far is that Ruth shows great mercy toward Naomi by not leaving her. Ruth goes beyond the expectation of someone in her situation and shows great kindness to her mother-in-law.  there really is nothing for Ruth to gain by placing her lot with Naomi. After all, she has nothing.

Now let us move forward in the story to the role of Boaz. Naomi realizes that this wealthy man could be the answer to the hopes of Naomi and Ruth. According to the Torah, if a near relative marries a widow, there is the redemption of the inheritance of the husband. Naomi is beyond child bearing years and therefore would not be attractive to Boaz – so she sends Ruth – the Moabitess – to make herself known to Boaz. At first Boaz defers to the nearest relative. But the unnamed nearest relative declines to fulfill the role of redeemer because for whatever reason it is not in his best interests to marry Ruth. This was all in accordance with the law. On the other hand, Boaz loves Ruth and shows great mercy to Naomi and Ruth. By making Ruth his wife, both Naomi and Ruth are redeemed. They receive a new status, an inheritance, protection and fulfillment. Boaz is not simply motivated by duty but by love.  Not only is this a happy ending for Naomi, Ruth and Boaz but the fruit of this relationship is King David and ultimately Messiah Yeshua.  Just as there were two daughters-in-law and one picked the conventional choice and one showed great mercy motivated by love – so it is with Boaz. There are two “eligible” men who are near relatives and who have the means to marry Ruth and thus redeem the name and inheritance of the deceased. One chose a conventional avenue and the other, Boaz is motivated by his love for Ruth to redeem Naomi and Ruth.

The Book of Ruth teaches us much about loyalty, mercy and love. in this cold world there is much for us to meditate on in this book. But it teaches us also about the love of God for Israel and the nations. Naomi reminds us of our people in exile. God has never forsaken the Jewish people even when they have been driven from the land.  He rasies up nations to both judge his people but also to protect them. God used this Moabitess to facilitate the redemption of Naomi.  By marrying Ruth, Boaz is redeeming Naomi! What a paradigm for the way God works today in blessing Israel through the nations! The Apostle Paul laments the fact that our people have rejected the Messiah of Israel but he admonishes the Gentiles followers of Messiah to bring the messsage of salvation to the Jewish people.  In the story of Ruth we see the concept of mutual blessing. A Gentile blesses a Jew and the Gentile is blessed. I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse (Gen. 12:3). The story of Ruth bears this out. If we simply see in this story a Gentile who converts to Judaism we miss the point. After all Ruth is referred to as a “Moabitess” all the way through the story.  Boaz reminds us of Yeshua who is the light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. Both Ruth and Boaz are models of mercy, love and loyalty.  In addition, we see in this story a picture of a Gentile being “grafted in” to the blessing of Jewish inheritance. In Messiah Yeshua, Gentiles partake with Jews of the root and fatness of New Covanant blessing without losing one’s particular identity.  May we learn from this story both about radical  inclusion,  loyalty and mercy among Jews and Gentiles and the radical love of God toward the nations and Israel.