Deeds matter more than creeds

Prof Paul Johnson:
“… another characteristic of Judaism: the relative absence of dogmatic theology. … Their view of God is very simple and clear (he’s comparing it with the huge problems of dogmas and innumerable heresies within Hellenistic Christianity). Some Jewish scholars argue that there is (also) in fact, a lot of dogma in Judaism.

That is true in the sense that there are many negative prohibitions – chiefly against idolatry. But the Jews usually avoided the positive dogmas which the vanity of theologians tends to create and which are the source of so much trouble.  They never adopted, for instance , the idea of Original Sin. Of all the ancient peoples, the Jews were perhaps the least interested in death, and this saved them from a host of problems. It is true that belief in the resurrection ansd the afterlife was the main distinguishing mark of Pharisaism, and thus a fundament of rabbinic Judaism. Indeed the first definite statement of dogma in the whole of Judaism, in the Mishnah, deals with this: ‘All Israel share in the world to come except the one who says resurrection has no origin in the Law’. But the Jews had a way of concentrating on life and pushing death – and its dogmas – intro the background.”

The first creed of Judaism (Gaon around 900 CE) did not come into acceptance until Judaism was some 2500 years old! Even Maimonides 13 articles of faith, which have given ‘little rise to controversy’ have not been ‘endorsed by any authoritative body’.

“Judaism is not so much about doctrine – that is taken for granted – as behaviour; the code matters more than the creed.”

Quote from Johnson, ‘A History of the Jews’, p 161 

Or as put in the Mishnah: “Deeds matter more than Creeds”.

While Prof. Paul Johnson is a Roman Catholic, I doubt that few, even Jewish historians (and I love the work of Rabbi Ken Spiro), have given as good a history of the Jewish people as Prof. Johnson – he clearly loves the Jewish people; he explains the rise of both anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred so well, and he shows how dependent the entire world really has been on the wisdom and endeavours of the Jewish people.

His book should be read by all Jews (to encourage and uplift them) and by all Gentiles to enlighten them!

It is a big book – it took me awhile to digest but it was so worth it. 

The only time he goes a little wrong in my opinion, is when he tries to explain certain Christian perspectives rather than any Jewish ones!

His personal website is: http://pauljohnsonarchives.org/

Mt Sinai & the Messiah: Miracles precede Revelation

This weeks Torah Portion is about the 10 Words. At Mt Sinai “God’s self-disclosure was not to an individual (a prophet) or a group (the elders) but to an entire nation, young and old, men, women and children, the righteous and not yet righteous alike.” (quoting Sacks – see below)

This revelation is unique in the history of man. It was preceded by some of the greatest miracles as well. And yet, the Almighty declares, through Jeremiah, that a greater miracle will occur:

Jeremiah 16:14-15: “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.”

In the last 65 years since 1948 we had been most privileged to witness this greater miracle. Could this greater miracle be the fore-runner to a greater revelation!?

Scholars estimate that some 2 million witnessed the revelation at Mt Sinai – how many more will witness the coming revelation of the Messiah?

One strange aspect of this miracle(s) though is that the world at large has not recognized it. With the miracles of the Exodus, while many Egyptians may initially have denied that the Creator of the Universe, the mighty YHVH was behind the plagues, surely no-one who witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, whether Israelite of Egyptian soldier, could have denied the miracle before them.

In comparison, many through a lack of knowledge and the deliberate deluding influence of today’s mainstream media, can not see the awesome miraculous nature of the creation of the State of Israel in one day. Israel today is a place of daily miracles. Perhaps these miracles will soon extend throughout the earth and perhaps some event or events may occur which will be as undeniable as the parting of the Red Sea.

Then the world may be a little more ready for the greater revelation. I believe this greater revelation will occur on Yom Teruah – may this year’s Yom Teruah (Day of Shouting)  be THE day when the shouting will overwhelm everything else; when the glory of YHVH will shine brighter than the – see The Day of Trumpets & the Return of the King  for more on this.

Rabbi Sacks writes a great Torah portion about this revelation – see http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/188580691.html

Moses and the King who Hides

Having briefly touched on this week’s Torah Portion and how I suspect that Moses would have been heartbroken, I also want to raise an interesting issue around the concept of the Almighty, the King of the Universe ‘hiding’ himself.

Moshe Kempinski in his Torah Portion Podcast points out that the Hebrew in Duet 31:17 literally reads ‘I will hide that I will hide’, where we read in English: “and I will abandon them and hide my face from them.”

Apparently, the Jewish sages understand this to mean that God will hide or turn His face away even when people don’t know that He has!

That is, they may think they are walking in Truth, and with God, when they are NOT!

What a profound and challenging thought!

In a related story that Moshe Kempinski shared in his Torah Podcast, he relates the story of the Rabbi grandson of the great mystical Rabbi Baal Shem Tov. He is sitting outside studying Torah when one of his grandchildren comes crying to him. His grandchild has been playing hide and seek and found the perfect hiding place. The only problem was no-one found him! After the child had been soothed and went off to play, the Rabbi pondered on this. When his wife came out to the verandah where he was sitting, the Rabbi was crying. She asked why. He said, God hides so well, that few try hard enough to find Him!

God WANTS us to find him! We WILL find him when we seek Him with all our heart, mind and soul!”

I had written a blog post (at luke443.blogspot.com.au) some 18 months ago on this concept of ‘The King Who Hides’. It is reposted below:

The King who hides:

I recently heard a good analogy.

A young King saw a beautiful but poor peasant girl and was taken by her grace, her beauty and her joy. He desired to get to know her better and perhaps win her heart. He did not want to command her obedience or to intimidate her, but wanted her to love him for himself.

Yet if he faced her in all his finery and authority and with all his royal assembly and displayed the great breadth and majesty of his Kingdom, he would have little hope of getting to know her on level terms, of getting to develop a mutual and balanced relationship.

He must therefore disguise himself. Not in any dishonest or devious manner, but simply to find a way to let her see the man behind the Kingdom, in the hope that she might connect with his true self, his values, his character and natural beauty.

This is perhaps an analogy for how God interacts with us.

He hides Himself to some degree, He sets a distance between himself and us. Without such disguise, such ‘hiding’, we would be overwhelmed, and our relationship with the Almighty could not develop with the simplicity and normalcy that successful courtship requires.

The Almighty has ‘hidden’ Himself from us to such a degree that he calls on us to seek him and that only by seeking him with all our hearts, minds, strength and soul will we find him.

Consider Proverbs 2:1-5

1. My son, if you will receive my words, and store up my commandments within you;

2 So as to turn your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding;

3 Yes, if you call out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding;

4 If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures:

5 then you will understand the fear of Yahweh, and find the knowledge of God.

We can see here that the Almighty calls us to receive his words and by meditating of his words and commandments we will be obedient to them. We see here that we need to seek with great diligence as God’s treasures are hidden.

Luke 11:9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Also Jeremiah 29:13

And you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart.

This verse in itself is extremely powerful and I believe sums up the truth that, while God may be hidden, He can be found and we can enter into a relationship with the Creator and King of the Universe. Our King calls for our whole heart.

Are you listening? Are you willing to search for Him and His hidden treasures?

To give a little more of the context of Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart”, we see Jeremiah prophesying about the return from exile in Babylon:

Jeremiah 29:

10 “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.

13 You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart,

14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

The context then was that the Almighty himself would lead some of the Jewish people to turn back to Him and He would hear them.

The last king of Babylon was Belshazzar. Belshazzar was aware of what the prophet Jeremiah had prophesied at the time when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel:

“And this whole land [of Israel] shall be a ruin, and a waste, and these nations [the tribes of Israel] shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when the seventy years are fulfilled, that I will punish the king of Babylon …” (Jeremiah 25:1112)

Naturally, this is something Belshazzar was worried about and so he kept count. Unfortunately for him he miscalculated by one year. The year 371 BCE arrived, and Belshazzar assuming that the prophecy had not come true, decided that God must have abandoned His people, the Jews and that he will not therefore restore them to Israel as promised in the Jeremiah prophecy. He also, therefore thinks he won’t be punished.

So to celebrate, Belshazzar throws a huge feast and brings out for all to see the Temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from Jerusalem. He orders his consorts and concubines to drink from Temple cups and to praise “the gods of gold and silver, copper, iron, wood and stone.” (Daniel 5:1-5)

At that moment, a large unattached hand appears and starts to write on the wall  – ‘The writing is on the wall’!

You probably know the rest of the story.

What you may not realize though, is that when given the opportunity to return to Israel, most reject the dream. There were estimated to be around a million Jews living in the Babylonian empire, yet only 42,000 go back ― only about 5% of those that went into exile 70 years earlier go back and the remaining 95% stays put.

The same thing happened in 1948 when the state of Israel was declared. There were about 12 million Jews in the world at that time and only 600,000 or 5% settled the land. The rest, some 95% preferred to stay in exile. This story is, of course, far from complete.

The recent and even more miraculous return (see my article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ – at www.circumcisedheart.info ), is a more complete, but still on-going, fulfillment of all of Jeremiah’s ‘return’ prophecies.

So now think of the implications! In seeing the fulfillment of these prophecies, can we now identify, who has sought God with all their heart, and who has found, or at least is finding Him?

Super-Heroes: Heartbreak for Moses!

In this weeks Torah Portion (Vayelech – Deut 31:1-30), we read about Moses last day and how the Almighty tells Moses that he is about to die, after the last 40 years leading the Nation of Israel in the desert.

God calls both Moses and Joshua into the Tent of Meeting (where His presence was most revealed; most real and ‘physical’ or felt). Along with ‘passing the baton’ to Joshua and encouraging Joshua as the new leader of His People, God informs Moses that the people will fail God (for a time) and God will hide His face from them!

Here is what He shared:

Deut 31:

“15 ADONAI appeared in the tent in a column of cloud; the column of cloud stood above the entrance to the tent.

16 ADONAI said to Moshe,

“You are about to sleep with your ancestors. But this people will get up and offer themselves as prostitutes to the foreign gods of the land where they are going. When they are with those gods, they will abandon me and break my covenant which I have made with them.

17 Then my anger will flare up, and I will abandon them and hide my face from them. They will be devoured, and many calamities and troubles will come upon them. Then they will ask, ‘Haven’t these calamities come upon us because our God isn’t here with us?’

18 But I will be hiding my face from them because of all the evil they will have done in turning to other gods.

19 “Therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the people of Isra’el. Have them learn it by heart, so that this song can be a witness for me against the people of Isra’el.

20 For when I have brought them into the land I swore to their ancestors, flowing with milk and honey; and they have eaten their fill, grown fat and turned to other gods, serving them and despising me, and broken my covenant;

21 then, after many calamities and troubles have come upon them, this song will testify before them as a witness, because their descendants will still be reciting it and will not have forgotten it. For I know how they think even now, even before I have brought them into the land about which I swore.”

The song that Moses writes for the people ends in hope (see Deuteronomy 32), with

“43 Sing out, you nations, about his people! For he will avenge the blood of his servants. He will render vengeance to his adversaries and make atonement for the land of his people.”

The Tanakh of course, shares in many places that despite all their wrongs and their turning away, HaShem will bring His People back into the Land of Israel, for His Name’s sake! See my article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ (at www.circumcisedheart.info) for some of the evidence for this.

What I wanted to touch on though was Moses heartache!

Imagine, he has led the Jewish people out of Egypt; they have seen many miracles on a daily basis; they, this 2 million people, have ‘seen’ the Almighty in a way that no-one else has, and yet, after his forty years of leading them, Moses is told that they will turn their back on the Almighty!

And Moses can’t do anything about it; he is about to die; to ‘sleep’ with his ancestors!

How heart-broken must he have been; how despairing! He had been like a father to his brethren; he had devoted everything to them; he had rejected a royal life for them; he had sacrificed much and here he is being told in a sense that he has failed! Yes, he knew that at the great Day of Judgment; the People of Israel would be restored and all the prophecies to Abraham fulfilled, but what comfort now; in this his final moments.

Moses was a super-hero! And yet, in a sense HaShem tells him he has failed! Was it worth it?

Do you feel for Moses; do you empathize with him; when you have given your all and it appears you have failed? Evil still abounds! Man still hates his brother! What can we do?!

Let us turn to the Almighty, the King of the Universe and acknowledge we need Him; we need His strength; His comfort; His mercy and justice! His Messiah! His great Day; the Day of Judgment; the Day of Atonement; the Day of cleansing!