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Passover and the Contrary Question
The Haggada describes four sons who ask about the meaning of the Passover ritual; the wise son, the contrary son, the simple son, and the son who doesn’t even know how to ask.



The contrary, or wicked, son (RASHA in Hebrew) says, “What is the meaning of this service to you?” The Haggada picks up on a hint in this question. The contrary son says the service means something, “’To you’ and not to himself. And because he excludes himself from the group, he denies a basic principle.” This last phrase is KAPAR BA’AQIR, meaning to deny a root principle, or the very principle of religion.



So, what foundational principle does the contrary son deny by excluding himself from participation in the Passover service?



To answer this question, let’s recall a major point of the Passover story. The Lord delivered us out of Egyptian bondage, not to set us loose in a quest for individual autonomy, but to form us into his people. The Exodus isn’t primarily a tale of personal liberation, as the 21st century might imagine, but of the birth of a community, the house of Israel. The story reaches its climax at Mount Sinai, where the Lord says to all Israel, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people; for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6).



The Jew who would exclude himself from this holy community formed at Mount Sinai misses the point of the entire event celebrated each year at Passover. Indeed, the Haggada declares, “if he had been there [in Egypt] he would not have been redeemed.”



This axiom, rooted deeply in the biblical portrayal of the Exodus, poses a particular challenge to us in the Messianic Jewish community. Our loyalty to Yeshua as Messiah often creates an exclusion from the group—the Jewish community—such as the Haggada warns against. We could counter, of course, that we’re not the ones who have chosen exclusion from the group, but the group excludes us. We don’t exclude ourselves, but exclusion is often imposed upon us. But there’s still a warning here that we’d do well to heed. God’s mandate for the Jewish people to remain whole and unified, and for every Jewish person to include himself or herself in the community, is essential for us in Messianic Judaism.



Let’s consider how we might exclude ourselves, or better, how we can be sure that we include ourselves as members of the Jewish community.



Do we celebrate Passover as the story of our formation as a people, as a season of redemption that will one day be fulfilled in Messiah for all Israel? Or do we use it only as a backdrop for rehearsing the events of Yeshua’s final week and their personal implications? Yeshua’s Passover is essential, of course, but it doesn’t need to take us out of the Passover story that all Israel recounts. In fact, if we understand Yeshua’s Passover properly, we see it as part of the Passover of all Israel. In the same way, as we look forward to the redemption of Passover to come, do we pray for the restoration of the Jewish people as outsiders praying for “them,” or as members of the community praying for “us”? When we recite, “In every generation enemies have risen up to destroy us,” do we identify with the concerns and causes of our people today, when anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise around the world?



Our faith in Yeshua may sometimes lead us into unavoidable conflict with our wider Jewish community, but Yeshua himself modeled the right response. He never excluded himself from the group, but remained in the midst of his people Israel until the end. Let us find a way to do likewise.



O Pure One in heaven above, restore the congregation of Israel in your love. Speedily lead your redeemed people to Zion in joy. Next year in Jerusalem!
Purim, Passover and the Hidden Messiah
Who has believed our report?

And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? Isaiah 53:1



The phrase “arm of the Lord” normally describes the mighty and undeniable acts of God. It reminds us of Passover, when God revealed himself openly both to Israel and to Egypt by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. “Arm of the Lord” is almost a synonym for revelation of the Lord, but ironically, Isaiah is asking whether there is anyone who has seen it. He describes a servant sent to redeem Israel, even though “he was despised and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah says that he is “one from whom people hide their faces” (53:3)—which reminds us of Purim, not Passover.



When the sages of the Talmud ask, “Where is there an allusion to Esther in the Torah?” (Chullin 139b), they answer with Deuteronomy 31:18, where God warns Israel of exile to come: V’anochi haster asteer panai, “And I will hide, yes hide my face.” Asteer – “hide” – sounds like Esther. So does the term hester panim, to hide the face, which describes the conditions of Israel’s long exile. Rashi wrote, “In the days of Esther there will be hester panim, hiding of the divine countenance.” Accordingly, there is no mention of God in the whole book of Esther.



Purim is the festival of exile, a time when God seems hidden. Passover is the festival of redemption, when God is undeniably present. So where are we today?



The Gospel of Mark provides a clue. It opens announcing, this is “the Good News of Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of God,” (1:1) and goes on to record the testimony of Yochanan the Immerser (1:7–8), and a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; I am well pleased with you” (1:11). Even the demons recognize that Yeshua is the Son of God (1:24, 3:11, 5:7), but Yeshua silences them. Indeed, he repeatedly instructs those who experience his healing power to tell no one about it (1:44, 3:12, 5:43, 7:36, 8:26). When Yeshua visits his own hometown, the people ask, “Where did this man get all this?” (6:2-3). Rather than recognizing him as Messiah the Son of God, they take offense at him. His own disciples, when Yeshua performs the great miracle of calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee, ask “Who can this be, that even the wind and the waves obey him?” (4:41).



Mark has announced who Yeshua is, but there’s still something hidden about him, and we, the readers, get drawn into the question, “Who can this be?” If we answer too quickly, we’re bound to get it wrong, because Yeshua hides the fact that he is Messiah to reveal what kind of Messiah he will be. He turns the normal expectations of his day, and our day, on their head. As Purim reminds us, things are not as they appear. Those who seem powerful and in control will be put in their place by outsiders, including a God who is hiding.



The turning-point in Mark comes when Yeshua takes his disciples off to a retreat, and asks them on the way, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter nails it: “You are the Messiah,” but Yeshua orders them not to tell anyone else (8:27-30).



The secret is out, but now Yeshua focuses on the suffering and crucifixion he must soon endure on the coming Passover to fulfill it. Furthermore, Yeshua reveals that even after he rises from the dead there will be continuing exile and persecution—the hidden face of God—until he returns (13:33-37).



Yeshua hides his Messianic identity to ensure that his followers understand what kind of Messiah he is. But he has another purpose in remaining hidden; to prepare them for the long period between his resurrection and his return in glory, when he will often seem hidden, and his followers may be tempted to lose hope and become complacent. Instead, Yeshua warns us to stay alert, to believe actively, and to serve him before all else as we watch for his return.  The way of loyalty to a hidden Messiah is different from what we might choose for ourselves. And it’s definitely different from the way carved out by the religious consumerism of our day.   



Purim reminds us of Isaiah’s question, “to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” And Purim provides the answer: it will be revealed to those who actively rely on him, despite the delays and disappointments of exile. In the same way Yeshua, who seems hidden to many, who fails to meet the expectations that this world cherishes, is the one who brings redemption for Israel and the nations. He is our Passover, and this whole season reminds us that the hidden Messiah will be revealed to those who seek him and eagerly await his return.



Exodus and Intergenerational Connectivity
The long struggle between God and Pharaoh, which we’ve been covering in our recent Torah readings, opens with God’s intensely personal demand: “Let my son go that he may worship me” (Ex. 4:23). Moses and Aaron repeat this same demand six times: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” Finally, when they get to number seven, Pharaoh blinks: “Go, worship the Lord your God!  . . . But which ones are to go?”

The Lord says, “Let my people go,” and Pharaoh says, “Okay! Okay! Go already! . . .  But what exactly do you mean by ‘my people’?” We thought Pharaoh was finally broken, but he’s just negotiating. Moses, however, is in no mood to negotiate: “We will go with our young and our old; we will go with our sons and daughters, and with our flocks and herds . . .” (10:8–9). Just as the Lord’s motivation in Exodus isn’t abstract, but personal and familial, so God’s people in Exodus isn’t abstract, but a complex, young-old, male-female, extended family—and so it is today.

I came of age when the phrase “Generation Gap” was cutting-edge, but the gap is far wider today, when our whole culture has become age-segregated. Parents go off to work somewhere, baby goes into childcare, teens and young adults have their own self-enclosed scenes, older folk cruise around for a few years in the RV before checking into a retirement home or senior center, and everyone’s eyes are focused on the screen right in front of their noses.

The religious world has followed suit. We’ve age-defined our churches and synagogues, programs and websites. There’s a place for such specialization, of course, but if it starts to usurp community, the complex, young-old, male-female “people” that the Lord claimed as his own, it starts looking too much like the dysfunctional dominant culture.

But, since the story of redemption is told in the language of family, it can help redeem us from today’s loss of family. Let’s consider some of its lessons.

1.     God’s people is intergenerational. As we focus on transition in the Messianic Jewish community and promote our younger generations, we need to be just as diligent to promote intergenerational connectivity. Since congregation is an alternative to the dominant culture, it needs to be a place where generational isolation and alienation are overcome, not increased.



2.     Intergenerational connectivity thrives on dialogue. When we observe Passover year after year, our children will ask, “What do you mean by this observance?” (Ex. 12:26). And parents get to explain: “I eat unleavened bread for seven days because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt” (Ex. 13:8). Instead of the isolation that’s so typical today, Exodus pictures the generations actually talking to each other. The generations need to break out of our 21st century isolation to interact, talk, and learn from each other. Do our congregational and family practices foster cross-fertilization or alienation?



3.     Interconnected generations remain distinct. We’ve all read about the differences between Baby-Boomers and Millennials, and all those in between. Real community doesn’t obliterate the differences. The emerging generations need the hard-earned wisdom of the established generations, and established generations need the stimulating “why” of the emerging generations.



4.     Established generations need to not only possess the faith, but to compellingly practice the faith. And the emerging generations need to stick around and engage with the older. This requires that our practice has substance and is compelling. We in the Messianic Jewish world might ask: Have we created a religious practice worth sticking around for, one that stands out—in the right way—from the surrounding culture?



It’s as if God designed this whole Exodus story with the family-community in mind, so that “you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you [all] may know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 10:1-2). There’s only one story as compelling—the life, death and resurrection of Messiah. As with the Passover story, we retell this story not only in words but in practice, following the example of the resurrected Messiah not just in our religious life, but openly, visibly, in all that we do.


When the Lord declares that “my people” means young and old, sons and daughters, he sets the stage for the work of Messiah Yeshua, who redeems young and old, male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free. Like any good parent (or really, as the source of all good parenting), the God of Exodus longs for wholeness of his family. Messiah comes to accomplish that wholeness. Let’s cooperate by building Messianic community as an answer to the fragmented, generationally-gapped, isolated culture that surrounds us.

What’s Bad about BDS

What’s Bad about BDS



Rabbi Russ Resnik


Every summer, when churches gather for their conferences and assemblies, some inevitably include proposals for economic sanctions against Israel. Last summer the Presbyterian Church, USA, voted to divest from companies doing business in Israel that they found objectionable. This summer the United Church of Christ (UCC) approved a resolution “calling for divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation or control of Palestinian territories, and a boycott of products from Israeli settlements” (nytimes.com/2015/07/01).


Two days later, the Episcopal Church rejected a similar motion, and the Mennonite Church followed with a decision to table their version of economic sanctions until 2017. So the news isn’t all bad, but the battle goes on. And it’s only part of a larger effort called BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, launched in 2005 by an alliance of Palestinian groups (bdsmovement.net/call). The UCC decision to join the boycott is just the latest episode of church support for BDS, and it’s an outrageous decision, especially for a church, for at least three reasons:


1. Boycotting Jewish businesses was a prime expression of anti-Semitism not so long ago in "Christian" Europe, including during the Nazi era. Churches did little to counter the boycotts then. As a sign of repentance for that historic failure, they should repudiate boycotts against the Jewish state today. BDS justifies boycotting with a false narrative of Israel as an apartheid state. Sanctions helped bring down apartheid South Africa in the early 90s, and BDS hopes they can bring down Jewish Israel in the near future. It’s no accident that the UCC agenda this summer included a resolution to label Israel as an apartheid state. It received a slim majority, but failed to receive the two-thirds vote required for passage. Israel as an apartheid state is a big lie that gets traction in the popular media, but has no place in a church body claiming to seek justice.  


2. Despite the naive UCC disclaimer that their boycott resolution reflects the church’s “spirit of love for both Israelis and Palestinians” (nytimes.com/2015/07/01), it plays right into the one-sided BDS movement. BDS aims not so much for justice for the Palestinians, which is a worthy goal, but for the end of Israel as a Jewish state, as reflected in the three conditions Israel must fulfill for BDS sanctions (like those approved by UCC) to end:


A. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

B. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;

C. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.


I agree with B, as does Israeli law, even if it is not always fully enacted. Like every other democratic state, Israel must do the hard work of living up to the ideals enshrined in its laws and official documents. On the other hand, no one should agree with items A and C.


“All Arab lands” in point A is dangerously vague. Some BDS supporters clear up the ambiguity when they chant the slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” In other words, it’s all Arab lands and Israel is an occupying colonial power in its ancestral homeland. Is that really the statement that these churches want to make? The BDS Facebook page moderates the language of condition A a bit with the words I’ve underlined: “Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall.” This looks like a PR ploy to sound better on the social media, but it still demands Israel’s withdrawal from much of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, as well as major Jewish towns like Ariel and Maale Adumim.


Moreover, with its call to dismantle “the Wall”, that is, the security barrier that Israel built to stop the suicide bombers of the second intifada, BDS invites the resumption of terror attacks inside Israel. It’s a non-starter for any responsible Israeli government, as it should be for church leaders claiming a “spirit of love for both Israelis and Palestinians.”


Point C means welcoming into Israel millions of Palestinians who've never lived there, and who oppose the Jewish state. It’s a thinly veiled effort to dismantle Israel as we know it.


3. Mobilizing church support to end the Jewish state depends on a false theology. This theology denies any special status for the Jewish people so that it can portray the Jewish return to the land of Israel as “occupation and colonization.” Ironically, churches that claim to be progressive are reverting to the antiquated and discredited theology that denies God’s faithfulness to his promises toward the Jewish people.


Tzedek or justice is the theme of our UMJC conference this month (Regonline.com/tzedek15). My hope is that churches that are concerned about Jews and Arabs in the Middle East will truly seek justice rather than political trendiness.
A Messianic Rabbi Measures 2016 . . . for Prayer
This list of twelve key events of 2016 doesn’t try to cover everything, but focuses on issues of special relevance to the Messianic Jewish community, as a suggested prayer list for 2017.   



1.     Messianic Jewish community in Israel faces growing pressure against Aliyah

The Messianic Jewish community in Israel continues to grow and so does government resistance to Messianic Aliyah (immigration). In response, Israeli Messianics launched the MAC (Messianic Aliyah Coordinator) project to provide up-to-date information and needed support for Messianic immigrants. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.



2.     March – Fourth Christ at the Checkpoint

The Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference, which is held biannually since 2010, has been a source of controversy within the Messianic Jewish community, because of alleged anti-Israel rhetoric and political positions. Shortly after CATC this year, Christ Church Jerusalem hosted its “At the Crossroads” conference, which brought together Christians and Messianic Jews from throughout the Middle East, with a more positive vision of Israel and a less political orientation. Read my brief reports here and here.



3.     March-April – Twelfth annual Israel Apartheid Week

This anti-Zionist effort mostly centered on college campuses “seeks to raise awareness of Israel’s settler-colonial project and apartheid system over the Palestinian people.” Israel Apartheid Week is a relatively small movement, but I’m including it because it’s part of a larger problem of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on college campuses.



4.     June – Brexit: British voters opt out of the European Union

Brexit is a huge story in its own right, and also seems to be part of a trend toward nationalism and populism worldwide, trends which have never been good for the Jews, and should be prayerfully watched.



5.     Continuing Islamist terror attacks around the world

2016 concluded with a terror attack in Istanbul that killed at least 39. As of this writing, the assailant is still at large and unidentified, but throughout 2016 Islamist groups launched attacks around the world.



6.     July – Changing of the guard at the UMJC

UMJC delegates confirmed the appointment of Monique Brumbach, a younger lay leader, to the position of Executive Director, which I previously filled. Delegates also elected a younger congregational leader, Jesse H., as UMJC President to succeed Kirk Gliebe, who completed two fruitful terms. This trend toward younger leadership is at work throughout the wider Messianic Jewish community.



7.     August – Continuing racial tension in America  

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in protest of alleged police brutality against African-Americans. Also in August, Calev Myers of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice released Crucial Alliance: African-Americans, Jews, and the Middle East Conundrum, calling for a renewal of the historic alliance between blacks and Jews.



8.     September – Death of Shimon Peres

Peres was the last surviving leader of Israel’s founding generation, a Nobel laureate who had served two terms as prime minister. In his term as president, 2007-2014, Peres had become a symbol of hope for peace and a dynamic, innovative Israel. Peres’ hilarious retirement video captures that symbolism brilliantly.



9.     November – Bob Dylan is awarded Nobel Prize

Dylan is a Jew who openly embraced Yeshua as Lord and Messiah in the late 70s. Several sources claim that Dylan never abandoned his faith in Yeshua, but refuses to fit in with anyone’s expectations. 2016 also marked the death of another iconic Jewish singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen, whose work also reflected a deep engagement with Yeshua.



10.  November – Election of Donald Trump

Trump’s campaign sent mixed signals to Jewish voters. On the one hand he revealed himself, especially after the election, as a strong supporter of Israel, with Jewish family members. On the other hand, Trump supporters, and even some Trump campaign materials, included anti-Semitic elements that Trump seemed slow to repudiate.



11.  Siege of Aleppo

Civilians in Aleppo were trapped for most of 2016, caught in a brutal struggle between rebels and Assad government forces supported by Russia and Iran, with thousands of casualties and multiple thousands of refugees. By the end of the year, Aleppo was retaken by government forces, but the humanitarian crisis continued and Russian involvement reflected a shifting dynamic in the Middle East, to which Israel is seeking to adjust.



12.  December – UN Security Council passes Resolution 2334

Resolution 2334 is the first of a long string of anti-Israel UN resolutions that the US failed to veto. It was followed on 12/28 by a speech by John Kerry, which put the onus on Israel, and Israel’s settlement policy in particular, for the failure of the peace process. Like a resolution passed in October by UNESCO, the December resolution seems to deny the historic Jewish connection to “east Jerusalem” and the west Bank. Israel’s supporters are now concerned that a Middle East conference in France on January 15 will build on this momentum in ways that are harmful to Israel’s security and standing in the world.

All in all, a lot to remember for prayer in 2017!

Is There a Right to Die?

Is There a Right to Die?

Amid all the excitement and dismay of the Trump upset on Election Day, it was easy to miss a lopsided vote in Colorado favoring Proposition 106, which legalized “Medical Aid in Dying” or assisted suicide. I suppose the story wasn’t all that newsworthy since five other states that already have similar laws. Besides, the Colorado law seems rather tame, at least as described in the Nov. 8 Denver Post: It “will allow adults suffering from terminal illness to take life-ending, doctor-prescribed sleeping medication.”

But newsworthy or not, Proposition 106 highlights one of the great underlying questions of our age: What gives value and meaning to human life?

If we don’t give a definitive answer to this question, then we’ll have to deal with other questions: Who sets the limits on “Medical Aid in Dying”? On what basis would such limits be set? Should there be any limits at all?

The Netherlands and Belgium are a few years ahead of the US in legalized assisted suicide. In 2001 and 2002, they legalized euthanasia (which differs from assisted suicide in that someone other than the victim does the killing). According to a recent article by Douglas Murray, euthanasia in these countries has expanded far beyond terminal cases to include those suffering from mental illness. The article opens with the story of Nathan (born Nancy) Verhelst: “In September 2013, when Nathan was 44 years old, the Belgian state killed him by lethal injection because of his ‘unbearable psychological suffering.’” It goes on to report, “In 2013, a single Dutch clinic helped kill nine psychiatric patients who were all able-bodied.” Even more recently, just two months ago, the first minor received euthanasia in Belgium. Wesley J. Smith comments: “Think about this: Children who can’t enter into legal contracts, get tattooed, or be licensed to drive a car may request—and receive—death.”

Euthanasia has become a cause célèbre today, right up there with gay and transgender rights. I see a common thread uniting these issues, which goes back to the big question: What gives value and meaning to human life?

Classical Judaism and Christianity agree on a response to this question. Humans are created in the image of God. Human life, therefore, has inherent, undeniable, and indeed sacred value. This value underlies the entire structure of our morality, and the laws and institutions that rest upon it. It’s reflected, for example, in the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . .” Thomas Jefferson didn’t pen these words as a Christian, or even a believer in the Bible. He was a freethinker, who years later produced his own version of the Gospels that excluded all references to the miraculous and the resurrection. But his thinking was shaped by the broad biblical revelation of a Creator, who “self-evidently” gave value and dignity to human beings. Jefferson favored a separation of church and state, but his Declaration of Independence reveals the state’s dependence on foundational religious ideas.

It’s ironic that in today’s democracies, including the USA, a document claiming what the Declaration claims, or resting its argument on creation and the Creator, as it does, would be driven out of public discourse.

Without the foundational idea of humankind created in the image of God, however, how exactly do you decide on the value of a human life? If it’s merely biological and material, then when to end it really is a matter of individual choice. But if human life is merely biological, how do you make that decision? Can a free society sustain itself detached from the broad religious values that it was originally established on? The trajectory set by euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands suggests the answer.

Wesley Smith concludes his story:

Here’s the bottom line. Euthanasia consciousness isn’t really about “choice.” Nor is it about terminal illness. Rather, euthanasia proponents see killing and suicide as acceptable answers to human suffering and acceptable means of reducing costs of care.

I don’t entirely agree. I believe that “choice” really is part of the bottom line of “euthanasia consciousness.” If there is no Creator (or the Creator is irrelevant), I have unlimited choice to run my own life by my own tastes and values. I’m free to customize and accessorize my own life, as I would be with any commodity. Even the created categories of male and female collapse before individual choice—and collapses like this should be celebrated. That’s why many who see themselves as cutting-edge celebrate all expressions of gender choice and engineering, and increasingly celebrate a “right to die” as well.

Human freedom without meta-human values, however, has proven itself hazardous to human life.


A daily dose of Teshuvah

A daily dose of Teshuvah

A week before Rosh Hashana, I attended a community-wide Selichot (forgiveness or mercy) service here in Albuquerque, which was to include a talk on teshuvah (return or repentance) by a well-known Jewish scholar, Dr. Louis Newman. Since this was a nice Jewish event, we started out with some nice Jewish food before it began, and Dr. Newman himself sat down at our table with a few copies of his book Repentance: The Meaning & Practice of Teshuvah. I’m an introvert, but I pushed myself to launch a conversation, since teshuvah is so central to my own writing and counseling practice.



After a friendly opening, I asked Dr. Newman if “repentance” was really the best translation for teshuvah, and he explained (very plausibly) why it is. This led me to ask whether he uses the term “sin” in his book. I was wondering whether the book really engaged with the traditional Jewish sources—which definitely grapple with the ugly word, sin—or was a modern recasting of the whole issue that would use terminology like “making a mistake”, “not being true to yourself,” etc. Dr. Newman assured me that he does use the term “sin,” but added that he often substitutes with “transgression,” since “sin” sounds so Christian.



“But doesn’t repentance sound Christian too?” I asked.



“Actually, Christianity tends to downplay repentance and focus more on atonement,” he responded. “Atonement is something that’s done for you, but repentance is something you need to practice every day.”



“Right,” I said, “‘Repent one day before you die.’” [Pirke Avot 2:15]



Dr. Newman could tell I’d studied a bit about repentance, and so he asked me what I did for a living. I took a deep breath, “Well, I should let you know that I’m a Messianic Jew. I work with the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, and I’m also a therapist. I’ve written about repentance and I employ it in my counseling practice too.” It was Dr. Newman’s turn to take a deep breath. When he was suddenly called away from the table, I figured that he’d use that as an opportunity to end the conversation. But a few minutes later he came back, apologized for being called away, and dove back in. We wrapped up our conversation for the time being, and later I bought a copy of his book, which he signed with a friendly note.



Newman’s point about atonement vs repentance in Christianity is well taken. The Gospel opens with a command to repent, of course, but it’s often understood as a one-time event, your entre to salvation. Once inside, you might need to repent again, on occasion, but the real focus is on atonement, God’s work on our behalf through the crucifixion of Messiah Yeshua. This issue gets raised every year as we Messianic Jews commemorate the Days of Awe from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, which are also called the Days of Teshuvah. We’re often asked why we go through the rituals of repentance and confession on Yom Kippur, when we’ve already been totally forgiven once and for all through the atoning sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua.



Good question: Is repentance a one-time, life-changing deal, or a matter of daily practice? You guessed it—the answer is both.



Teshuvah, turning away from sin and turning toward God, is integral to the good news of Messiah Yeshua:



“The time has come,

God’s Kingdom is near!

Turn to God from your sins

and believe the Good News!” Mark 1:15  



When the Gentiles respond to Peter’s preaching of the good news, the Messianic Jewish leaders conclude, “This means that God has enabled the Goyim as well to do teshuvah and have life!” (Acts 11:18). In both passages teshuvah is equated with believing the Good News, and is the entry to life in God’s Kingdom.



So, what about repentance as part of our daily practice? Messiah Yeshua instructs us to pray, “Give us the food we need today. Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us” (Matt. 6:11-12). Then he adds, “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will not forgive yours” (Matt 6:14-15). James 5:15-16 and 1 John 1:8ff. also indicate that believers need ongoing confession and forgiveness of sins. These passages demonstrate that teshuvah is not only a one-time event, but also something that we’re to practice regularly.



The sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua provides once-for-all-time atonement for our sins. But we need to return (make teshuvah) to this atoning sacrifice continually, perhaps even daily. Or as the saying goes, “Repent one day before you die.” Messiah Yeshua tells us that we need to forgive and be forgiven regularly, just like we need daily bread.

DIY & Sinai

DIY & Sinai

He, our Lord,
will yet remember for us the love of [Abraham] the steadfast one.
And for [Isaac] the son who was bound,
He will still the enmity against us,
and for the merit of [Jacob] the innocent man,
He will bring today our judgment out to the good,
for this day is holy to our Lord. (Koren Machzor for Rosh Hashanah)




One of the age-old controversies between Judaism and Christianity is alive and well today: do we really need a mediator between God and man?



The rabbinic writings often assert that Israel needs no intermediary with God, but can approach him directly. In the 16th century, R. Obadiah Sforno summed up this line of thought, commenting on the first of the Ten Commandments: “I am Hashem, the Lord your God” (Ex. 20:2):



I alone am Hashem . . . and I confirm that you have accepted upon yourself My sovereignty, to be your God, with no need for a mediator. Therefore, to Me alone shall you pray, and Me alone shall you serve without any mediator.



This old idea of direct, mediator-free access to God appeals to the 21st mind, with its distrust of any sort of religious formality. We live in the DIY era—Do It Yourself. Surely this applies to our relationship with the Almighty, doesn’t it? But the Rosh Hashanah prayer above reflects another strain of Jewish thought: The merit of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob provides mediation with God. This ambivalence stems from the biblical text itself. For example, God appeared directly to all Israel at Mount Sinai, but Moses served as mediator throughout that encounter. Israel meets the Lord “face to face,” according to Deuteronomy 5:4, but in the next verse Moses “stands between” the Lord and Israel to mediate the divine word.



In Parashat Shof’tim (Deut. 16:18-21:9), Moses, contemplating the end of his life, says that when he is gone,



The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.” (Deut. 18:15–16)



This Prophet will be a mediator like Moses. Through him, God will again reveal Himself to Israel. “And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which he speaks in My name, I will require it of him” (Deut. 18:19).



The Torah concludes before this Prophet appears. “But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face . . .” (Deut. 34:10). For Messianic Jews, of course, this Prophet arose many centuries later, in the person of Yeshua of Natzeret, and Peter urges the Jews of Jerusalem to heed his message:



Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Yeshua the Messiah, who was preached to you before. . . . For Moses truly said to the fathers, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever he says to you.” (Acts 3:19–20, 22)



Messiah Yeshua is the promised mediator, but why do we need a mediator at all? All Israel stood before God at Mount Sinai. All Israel has a share in his Torah. These things don’t just belong to a priestly caste, but to all the people. That’s a great 21st century idea.



So, why exactly do we need a mediator?



Because God is unspeakably holy. The Jewish sages who rejected the idea of a mediator recognized this holiness, of course. Paradoxically, however, their insistence on mediator-free access to God plays right into today’s glib spirituality, which imagines that if God is out there, I can find Him without any outside help and define Him on my own terms.



Instead, as we approach the Days of Awe (October 2–12 this year), may we regain a sense of awe. The God of Israel reaches out to us in mercy, yet His purity and splendor are so great that a vast gulf remains between us. God’s inapproachability may not jibe with our modern, DIY orientation, but the picture is clear. Between the holy God of Israel and humankind, even the best of humankind, is a vast gulf. Thank God that He has sent the Prophet like Moses to bridge that gulf. Him we shall hear in all things, whatever he says to us.  



Adapted from Creation to Completion: A Guide to Life's Journey from the Five Books of Moses, by Russell Resnik. Messianicjewish.net.



Book Review: The Siege of Jerusalem: Selected Writings of Pauline Rose
In the Messianic Jewish community, we often invoke our long heritage going back to Biblical times, but we generally overlook the recent history of our movement. Vine of David is providing a great service in countering this blind spot with its “Messianic Luminaries Series,” most recently featuring the life and writings of Pauline Rose (1898–1973).

Pauline was born in South Africa, where she married Albert Rose, a prosperous dealer in ostrich feathers, which were a fashion staple of the time. After the feather market collapsed, the Roses moved to London, where Albert again prospered as a builder and developer, while Pauline pursued her interest in art and a career in design. Albert was a traditionally observant Jew, but Pauline was on a spiritual quest through this whole period, often desperate in her search for meaning and truth. Shortly before or during World War II, she had a transformative encounter with Yeshua:

“Then, in my despair, Yeshua revealed himself to me. From one moment to the next I was transported from the depths of despair to the heights of joy. From that time the Spirit began the work of transformation within me and I saw Yeshua not only as my personal Saviour, but also as the Messiah of Israel.”[1]  

Pauline’s final phrase would be echoed by multitudes of Jews coming to Messianic faith during the Jesus movement and beyond: “I saw Yeshua not only as my personal Saviour, but also as the Messiah of Israel.” It’s a core element of the whole Messianic Jewish vision.

But what Pauline Rose actually said was, “I saw Jesus.” not “Yeshua.” Boaz Michael indicates in his introduction that this edition “update[s] the language in keeping with modern Messianic Jewish preferences.”[2] Likewise, “Jewish Christian” is changed to “Messianic Judaism,” “Messianic Jew,” or “Messianic Jewish.” This modification of language enhances the readability of the book, but raises the issue of whether this edition imposes a contemporary concept of Messianic Judaism upon an early Jewish-Christian leader.

Rose’s own words help resolve this issue, as she describes the meaning and purpose of the Messianic Jewish community:

1.     “We are a community of Jews who believe Yeshua of Nazareth to be the Messiah of Israel, the Saviour of the world; we remain united with our Jewish people, not becoming members of any Gentile church.”

2.     “We believe that we are called into being to be a group witness for our faith in Israel and to be a spiritual centre and home for all Jews who seek the Messiah.”

3.     “Our mission is to rekindle the light of the Messiah in the synagogue and to proclaim the message of the kingdom to the Jews and to all nations. . . .” [3]

This 1953 statement is remarkable in framing faith in Yeshua in positive relationship with Jewish life and identity. Rose doesn’t picture Yeshua-faith as a transfer from synagogue to church. Rather, Yeshua belongs within Israel and among the Jewish people, as do his followers. The “mission is to rekindle the light of the Messiah in the synagogue”—terminology that is echoed in Messianic Jewish thought and writings of the 21st century.

Rose pursued a literal fulfillment of the vision of rekindling the light of Messiah within a Jewish setting. On June 16, 1944, in the midst of World War II London, she met on Erev Shabbat with a handful of Jewish followers of Messiah and their Gentile friends to kindle the Sabbath lights, with the traditional blessings, and also “in honour of Yeshua the Messiah, the Lord of the Sabbath.”[4] I’ve often advised Jewish believers in Yeshua who asked how to start a congregation to do the same thing: meet on Erev Shabbat and welcome Messiah Yeshua into the midst of your celebration. Exactly two years later, in 1946, Rose and her friends met on the Mount of Olives to kindle “the Sabbath light of the Messiah for the first time in Jerusalem.” She adds, “This date marks the beginning of the Synagogue of Messiah in the Holy City.”[5] Eventually the Roses moved permanently to Jerusalem, where Pauline pursued her quest to see Messiah Yeshua once more established in his land and among his people.

As the title implies, the book includes Rose’s account of her experience of the 1948 Siege of Jerusalem and its aftermath, which included being kidnapped and held as a spy for several days by the Stern Gang, as well as suffering the general deprivations of the siege. It seems fitting that one so committed to the Messianic redemption of her people was able to share in this pivotal moment of their redemption, a redemption still unfolding in ways that Pauline Rose anticipated 70 years ago.  





[1]The Siege of Jerusalem: Selected Writings of Pauline Rose. Compiled, edited, and revised by Boaz Michael (Jerusalem: Vine of David, 2016), 11.

[2] Ibid. 4.

[3] Ibid. 53-54.

[4] Ibid. 45

[5] Ibid. 45.
Shavuot, Kindness, and the Kingdom to Come
Rabbi Ze’ira said: This scroll [of Ruth] tells us nothing either of cleanliness or of uncleanliness, either of prohibition or permission. For what purpose then was it written? To teach how great is the reward of those who do deeds of kindness [gemilut hasadim]. Midrash Rabbah, Ruth 2.14

Shimon ha-Tzaddik was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: On three things the world stands—on Torah, on Avodah [divine worship], and on Gemilut Hasadim. Pirke Avot 1.2

The practice of kindness, or gemilut hasadim, is a foundational Jewish value, so it’s amazing that one of its prime exemplars in the Hebrew Scriptures is Ruth—a woman of no social status or means, an impoverished widow, who isn’t even Jewish.[1]

Hesed or hasadim (plural) is translated as “lovingkindness,” “grace,” or “mercy.” But all these sound a bit too exalted for everyday use, so I’ll stick with the simpler translation, kindness. Gemilut hasadim is the deliberate practice of kindness: proactively, energetically, and creatively finding ways to be kind to others, especially when they don’t seem to deserve it, and especially within the ordinary scenes of daily life. The story of Ruth is full of examples of this deliberate practice of kindness.

At the beginning of the book, Ruth and her sister-in-law Orpah deliberately practice kindness toward their mother-in-law Naomi by sticking with her after her sons—their husbands—die. They escort her all the way to the borders of her homeland, where, “Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal with you in hesed, as you have dealt with the dead and with me” (Ruth 1:8). But Ruth extends even greater kindness and she refuses to leave Naomi:

For where you go, I will go,

   and where you stay, I will stay.

Your people will be my people,

   and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16)

We rightly take Ruth’s choice as a model of Gentile love for Israel, which should accompany love for the God of Israel. But it is also a model of kindness.

Later, when Ruth presents herself as a marriage partner to Boaz, he says: “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your hesed is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3:10). Boaz is an older man and, “A woman prefers a poor young man to a wealthy old man” (Midrash Rabbah, Ruth 6.2). But Ruth is motivated by hesed, not personal preference. She seeks the redemption of Naomi’s whole household, not just an attractive marriage.

When Christians read the Book of Ruth, they don’t tend to ask why it was written, but they might wonder why Ruth appears in the genealogy of Messiah Yeshua (Matt. 1:5), which generally follows normal usage and traces Yeshua’s descent through the males. Perhaps Ruth appears here for the same reason that her book appears in the Hebrew Scriptures—because she exemplifies gemilut hasadim. From her position of weakness as a foreigner, a woman, and a widow, Ruth finds ways to practice kindness, and thus weaves a strand of hesed into the mantle of the Messianic line.

Another question raised by the book of Ruth; why is it read at Shavuot? Its setting is the grain harvest, which is what Shavuot celebrates. Ruth is able to take advantage of a provision of the Torah, which is repeated specifically at Shavuot: the gleaning privilege (Lev. 19:9–10; 23:22). Hesed characterizes Shavuot and it’s hesed that brings Ruth and Boaz together—the kind provision of a corner of the field to the disadvantaged, and Boaz’s kind expansion of that provision to make sure that it really helps and empowers Ruth. The practice of kindness by both of them creates a marriage that produces Obed, Jesse, David, and from him, the line of Messiah.

Rabbi Shimon says that the world is founded on gemilut hasadim. How striking that the line of David, which becomes the line of Messiah, is founded on gemilut hasadim as well! The Messianic kingdom depends ultimately, not on the sort of power and resources that the world depends on, but on the deliberate practice of kindness. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Messiah died for the ungodly. . . .  God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us” (Rom 5:6, 8).

As we celebrate Shavuot this year, we celebrate God’s kindness toward us and all peoples. And the best way to celebrate kindness is to put it into practice, deliberately, creatively, and daily.

Hag Sameach—a joyous festival!





[1] Rabbinic commentators tend to portray Ruth as a convert to Judaism, but even so, she begins her story as a Gentile, not a Jew.
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