The Paradox of the Rebellious Child – an Impossible Outcome

This weeks Torah Portion, Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) has some very challenging passages – at least when first read on a fairly superficial level, but even perhaps still challenging after deeper reflection!!

It starts off with the narrative about the beautiful woman captured in wartime (Deut 21:10-14).

I love this answer as a great lesson in confronting our ‘evil inclination’, our Yetzer haRa, http://www.aish.com/tp/i/wbr/48922022.html

It goes on to discuss the ‘rebellious child’.

Rabbi Ari Kahn has a good explanation in one of his commentaries regarding the case of the rebellious child, who is to be stoned to death!
“Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death …” Deut 21:21
Rabbi Kahn states: “As the Sages see it, the rebellious child does not develop in a vacuum; he is the result of a dysfunctional home. … Interestingly enough, the Rabbis felt that there never was and never would be a “real” rebellious child.
 
This is not to say that such a child never existed.
 
Rather, the courts could never successfully prosecute and adjudicate such a case, due to the myriad conditions required for a conviction …”
Ari Khan shows here that the proper understanding of this passage is in what it actually teaches, and therefore in what should be avoided, and not in some strictly literal and seemingly incredibly harsh condemnation of a rebellious son.
A shocking scenario is painted with a consequence that very few would ever see as just or fair and certainly one appearing to display a total lack of true grace.
Yet this reality, this commandment, was never, and would never be enacted because it requires both mother and father to speak with one voice, and such unity of parenthood could not result in a rebellious son! (Read Ari’s article here for the full picture).

Thus those who dismiss the Tanakh and it’s teaching because of their rejection of a text they take in a very literal and simplistic manner are really shown to be both ignorant and arrogant in their approach.

I have also written briefly on this Torah Portion in an earlier blog post, ‘Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness’ here.

Dysfunctional Relationships by Rabbi Ari Kahn:  http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/54308942.htl

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The Torah is God’s Song

Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deut. 29:9–31:30)

The last command of the Torah[1] reads:

“Now therefore write down for yourselves this song, and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be my witness within the people of Israel.” D’varim (Deut.) 31:19

Many Jewish scholars have asked ‘why a song?’ and was the song the next section of Deuteronomy or the whole of the 5 Books of Moses?

Rabbi Sacks refers to Rabbi Yechiel Michal Epstein who states that one of the reasons the Torah is called “a song” is because a song becomes more beautiful when scored for many voices interwoven in complex harmonies.

Rabbi Sacks goes on to write: “The Torah is God’s libretto, and we, the Jewish people, are His choir, the performers of His choral symphony. And though, when Jews speak they often argue, when they sing, they sing in harmony, as the Israelites did at the Red Sea, because music is the language of the soul, and at the level of the soul Jews enter the unity of the Divine which transcends the oppositions of lower worlds.

The Torah is God’s song, and ‘we’ collectively are its singers.”
He also argues that through the writing and singing of this Torah ‘song’, the Torah is renewed afresh with each generation and each individual.

The Torah Portion, Nitzavim includes some of the most fundamental principles of faith in The God of Israel.

It speaks of:

  • the unity of Israel;
  • the future redemption;
  • the practicality of Torah; – see http://goo.gl/m9Dz95 and
  • Freedom of choice.

The Torah Portion (Parshah) of Vayelech also speaks of how the Almighty will ‘hide His face’ – see https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/09/23/moses-and-the-king-who-hides/

(Thanks to Chabad.org & Rabbi Jonathan Sacks for the thoughts paraphrased above).

In considering this Torah Portion, and the concept that the Torah is God’s Song to be sung by all who love the Instructions of God (Torah), as well as considering how it can be renewed through the generations, I think it also worth reflecting on how the writer of Yochanan’s (John) Gospel in the Apostolic Writings (the NT) saw Torah.

You can get closer to the source of Yochanan’s understanding by going back to the original Hebrew of Proverbs 8:

“The L-RD purchased me at the very beginning of His way before any of his activities at that point. From before time began, I was poured out, even before there was “earth” … And I was BESIDE (or WITH) Him, a master artisan, And I was full of delights, daily playing before Him at every moment’ – Proverbs 8:22, 23, 30 translated by Uriel ben Mordechai

This ‘wisdom’ is TORAH. The Torah existed before the foundation of the universe.

Thus, it seems that it is the Torah, that Yochanan (John) refers to in John 1:1, which if we had the original autograph in Hebrew would more likely read in English something like this:

“In the beginning was the Torah, and (the) Torah was for the sake of (the) G-d, And godly was (the) Torah.”

Get Uriel ben Mordechai’s book for more details on the validity of this translation – see  ‪http://above-and-beyond-ltd.com/store/books/if.html

This translation is also very well presented and attested for in Jacobus Schoneveld’s scholarly article: ‘Torah in the Flesh

Further, when we consider that Yochanan was not writing in a vacuum, but actually quoting what other Jewish writers had written before him (and in Hebrew), we can be fairly sure of his intent, even if we only have poor Greek translations.

Yochanan, like Yeshua relied on the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh.

Yeshua when he repeatedly said ‘It is written …” were referring to the Tanakh. When Yochanan concluded his Gospel account by stating that these things were written so that you may trust, or have faith,  that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God (Jn 20:31), he was clearly endorsing and supporting the work of Yeshua and his own argument that in Yeshua. The Torah had put on (or wore) flesh.

To understand anything in the NT and to appreciate the intent of the NT authors such as Yochanan, we need to look not only into the Tanakh to understand their perspective and biblical reality, but also to documents from the inter-testamental time (perhaps as late as, late 3rd century BCE to early 2nd century BCE, through to around 40-50 CE) to appreciate common Jewish thinking, understanding and terminology. So this includes works like the ‘Wisdom of Sirach’.

In this respect even sectarian works from this period can be relevant.

So with this appreciation, it is worth asking if the concepts and ideas presented in Yochanan’s prologue were already existent or even prevalent in the Tanakh and in Jewish thought of his time.

What we find is that Yochanan’s prologue, for example John 1:3 “through ‘it’ (the Word or the Torah) everything came to be: no single thing was created without ‘it’ ” was a Jewish ‘commonplace’.

That is, it was already part of Jewish writings prior to Yochanan.

For example in the Book of Jubilees we read that God “has created everything by His word/Torah” (12:4), and so it is also said in Wisdom of Solomon 9:1.

Even more similar to Yochanan’s prologue is the wording of two sentences in the Dead Sea Scrolls: “By His (God’s) knowledge everything came to be, and everything which is happening — He establishes it by his design and without Him [nothing] is done” (1QS XI: 11).

And “By the wisdom of Thy knowledge Thou didst establish their destiny ere they came into being, and according [Thy will] everything came to be, and without Thee [nothing] is done” (1QH 1:19-20).

Thus, the concept that God created the world through his ‘word/Torah/wisdom’ is a Jewish concept.

In fact, the Tanakh informs us that Almighty created the entire universe through ‘fiats’; through His word. So not only does the ‘word’ of God have a creative function, it also has an analytical function.

Consider for example, Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit. …and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Here we see the ‘word’ or ‘logos’ having an analytical function. Interestingly, even the Hellenistic Jew Philo (20 BCE – 50 CE) took this position.

In Wikipedia we read: ‘Some scholars hold that his concept of the Logos as God’s creative principle influenced early Christology. Other scholars, however, deny direct influence but say both Philo and early Christianity borrow from a common source. For Philo, Logos was God’s “blueprint for the world”, a governing plan.’

So consider that Yochanan starts with: “In the beginning was the Torah, and (the) Torah was for the sake of (the) G-d, And godly was (the) Torah.” And then goes on to state (paraphrasing Yochanan 1:14):

“And the Torah dressed itself in human flesh and so dwelt amongst us, so that we could see its (the Torah’s) glory from the Father, a glory full of grace and truth.”

So God’s Song has dressed itself in humanity, so that all who love Torah, and see the perfect example (in Yeshua) of how to live Torah, can properly renew, and in unity, sing Torah daily.

Perhaps we can even sense the rising crescendo of this ‘Torah Song’, as we witness the great signs through the creation of State of Israel, and the dawning of the final Redemption!

Shalom!

[1] The word תּוֹרָה (Torah) means teaching or instructions. It is also used to refer to the 5 Books of Moses, as these contain the Torah. Normally when referring to the whole Hebrew Bible, the phrase Torah, Prophets and Writings is used, but at times this may also be shortened to ‘Torah’.

Torah Portion: Ha’azinu (Listen) – Deuteronomy 32:1 – 52

“This week we read the Song of Moses, one of Moses’ final speeches to the Children of Israel before his death. The only other words Moses speaks to the nation after this are the words of blessing in Deuteronomy Chapter 33.

But in Deuteronomy Chapter 32, Moses composes a long poem in which he praises G-d, discusses His relationship with His people and reviews historical events, some of which are revealed prophetically to him but have not yet occurred.

I would like to focus on two verses, each of which carry messages which speak to me in an especially relevant way.

“Remember the days of old, understand the years of each generation” (Deut. 32:7). Moses instructs his people to remember their history. In referring to the days of old, he hearkens back as far as Creation – remember the events of the universe from its very beginnings. Understanding the years of a generation implies a deeper comprehension of events, of people, of their actions and the consequences of those actions.

Moses understands what so few people understand today – that we are unable to understand our present if we don’t understand our past. If we don’t understand the ways of nature and the origins of the universe, and especially the fact that the universe was created by G-d, we will never be able to comprehend our role as human beings – to serve our Creator.

And if we don’t evaluate the events of history, the expectations G-d has from the Jewish people and from all peoples, His judgment over them and the consequences of our actions, then we will be doomed to failure every time.

The second verse that I find meaningful is Deut. 32:15 “And Yeshurun (a name for Israel) grew fat and kicked…then he forsake G-d who created him.” When life is good and blessings are abundant – then it is easy for Israel to forsake G-d, to forget that the source of our blessings is His generosity. When we are in trouble, it is natural to cry out for help. But when things are good, we tend to brag and attribute our success to our efforts alone. We forget that it is G-d who has blessed us, that it is He who created us, and to Him we owe our gratitude.

If all of Israel, if all of the world, would turn to Him in the height of our prosperity, the world would be a better place. The western world is a wealthy world and a secular world indeed.

If all of Israel remembered the lessons of history with regard to our conflict with the Arabs, and if our entire nation remembered that it is G-d who has created us and who is responsible for our blessings, we would all hold on to the gift He has given us and never let go. We would all treasure Biblical Israel forever.”

– Sondra Oster Baras, CFOIC, Samaria, Israel

Today in Australia (September 7th 2013) we have a National Election. We have been greatly blessed here and just like Israel, we have forgotten the source of our blessings. As we vote, we demonstrate as a nation whether we still have any small sense and appreciation of our Creator and His Grace towards us.

While it is difficult to choose who to vote for, as we are all imperfect men and woman, as are the political parties, there are though still some clear choices in who NOT to vote for.

We should not vote for those who reject the sanctity of life (through supporting abortion and euthanasia for example). Also we should not vote for those who would support such people and such parties (with their preferences for example).

May HaShem have mercy on us!

Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness …” – Martin Luther King

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Arthur Baldwin

To be free, you have to let go of hate.

And I suspect, as the quote from James Arthur Baldwin argues, that letting go of hate does initially open your heart to pain.

Yet, to be free you need to forgive those who have persecuted you. This does mean you need to accept and acknowledge the pain, yet remembering the hurt and accepting the pain is a process and a journey. It is a journey of release; of letting it out and letting it go.

Forgiveness does not meant forgetfulness; it does not mean forgetting the injustice or persecution that you have endured, but it does often mean remembering it so that you don’t re-live it, and remembering it so that you can be more empathetic towards others who may suffer similarly to how you may have suffered.

Such remembering is then a positive memory, a memory that no longer has pain attached to it. This can take considerable time. It doesn’t happen over-night, but is a journey that is best taken in company.

While you still feel pain, you are still suffering injury and therefore you have not fully freed yourself of the past, you are still, to a degree at least, living in it.

When you let those who have hurt you define you (by placing you in this position of pain), you have clearly not achieved liberty.

Hatred and freedom cannot co-exist. Anger and bitterness are the fruit of unforgiveness – if you still feel these powerful emotions, then you are still harbouring some un-forgiveness.

In a world devoid of God there is no justice and hence no true hope for restitution, for fairness and ultimate redemption. When you have a relationship with God and you recognize that He will ultimately bring Justice tempered always with Grace, you can then release your pain to Him, and then truly find freedom.

True freedom though may not be what you think it is. True freedom is the liberty and choice to seek the best for you, for your family; for your community and for your nation & your world. This is also the essence of ‘tikkun olam’ (repairing the world).

The best is a deep and abiding relationship with your Creator. Such a relationship involves loving your heavenly Father with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and this in turn means loving your neighbor as yourself. If you love God you will love His commandments. When you love His commandments, His Torah (divine instructions), you will walk in the Way (Psalms 119).

Be free – let go of hate!

To go deeper please check out: Freedom & the Law and Amazing Grace

* This short blog post was inspired by a great article on this weeks Torah Portion – see ‘Letting Go of Hate’ by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks – http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/167470055.html

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/

The Rarity of Repentance

One of the rarest of people are those who learn to fully and totally repent, especially where this has involved a reversal of character.

If you are a strong, independent and very capable individual it is perhaps even harder to recognize your error, to recognize when you have wronged someone (and hence, in a sense, the Almighty, because all are made in His image). Sometimes we even need some serious help – see for example the story of King David in 2 Samuel 12.

If we love God, we are to love our neighbour (see Leb 19:18 and Gal 5:14). In fact the 10 Commandments, the 10 Words, sum this up – the first 5 declare what we should do if we love God and the second 5 the very basics of how we should act if we love our neighbour. (See ‘Living the Way: The Path of the Circumcised Heart’ and ‘Siblings of the King: Living in the Will of the Father’ for more on this – both at http://www.circumcisedheart.info)

Implicit in the whole Bible is the idea that one man’s sin however small, affects the entire word, however imperceptibly.

On the bigger scale we have the famous Jewish saying, based on the story of Cain and Abel and the ‘blood’ being plural in Hebrew (‘the bloods of your brother cry out from the ground’), that states that:

Save a man; save a world. Destroy a man; destroy a world”

This also lead to the Jewish appreciation that a wise man must give his wisdom to the community in the same way a man blessed with wealth/riches should also do so. Put simply, it is a sin not to serve – all have talents; all are called to use those talents to help repair or better the world (Tikkun HaOlam).

Thus, the community also must take responsibility to address wrong and protest against evil. However, if one is mistaken and protests unjustly and publicly against someone, then this is seen as the use of the ‘evil language’ (Lashon HaRa), and is a serious mistake. To destroy anyones reputation wilfully and unjustly is a great sin.

Thus we can see some tension here. The challenge of speaking out against wrong, yet doing so with great care, especially where it is possible we might be mistaken in our understanding.

This leads us to this weeks Torah Portion and to the amazing way in which Tamar was able to address Judah’s sin in a manner that did not wilfully and unjustly harm his reputation, but rather lead him to great repentance and even it appears, to change his very character in some way.

Rabbi Sacks addresses this brilliantly – I have posted his whole article below along with the link to it at aish.com.

Vayigash(Genesis 44:18-47:27) – Choice and Change – by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The sequence from Bereishit 37 to 50 is the longest unbroken narrative in the Torah, and there can be no doubt who its hero is: Joseph. The story begins and ends with him. We see him as a child, beloved – even spoiled – by his father; as an adolescent dreamer, resented by his brothers; as a slave, then a prisoner, in Egypt; then as the second most powerful figure in the greatest empire of the ancient world. At every stage, the narrative revolves around him and his impact on others. He dominates the last third of Bereishit, casting his shadow on everything else. From almost the beginning, he seems destined for greatness.

Yet history did not turn out that way. To the contrary, it is another brother who, in the fullness of time, leaves his mark on the Jewish people. Indeed, we bear his name. The covenantal family has been known by several names. One isIvri, “Hebrew” (possibly related to the ancient apiru), meaning “outsider, stranger, nomad, one who wanders from place to place.” That is how Abraham and his children were known to others. The second is Yisrael, derived from Jacob’s new name after he “wrestled with G-d and with man and prevailed.” After the division of the kingdom and the conquest of the North by the Assyrians, however, they became known as Yehudim or Jews, for it was the tribe of Judah who dominated the kingdom of the South, and they who survived the Babylonian exile. So it was not Joseph but Judah who conferred his identity on the people, Judah who became the ancestor of Israel’s greatest king, David, Judah from whom the messiah will be born. Why Judah, not Joseph? The answer undoubtedly lies in the beginning of Vayigash, as the two brothers confront one another, and Judah pleads for Benjamin’s release.

The clue lies many chapters back, at the beginning of the Joseph story. It is there we find that it was Judah who proposed selling Joseph into slavery:

Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover his blood? Let’s sell him to the Arabs and not harm him with our own hands. After all – he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. (37:26-27)

This is a speech of monstrous callousness. There is no word about the evil of murder, merely pragmatic calculation (“What will we gain”). At the very moment he calls Joseph “our own flesh and blood” he is proposing selling him as a slave. Judah has none of the tragic nobility of Reuben who, alone of the brothers, sees that what they are doing is wrong, and makes an attempt to save him (it fails). At this point, Judah is the last person from whom we expect great things.

However, Judah – more than anyone else in the Torah – changes. The man we see all these years later it not what he was then. Then he was prepared to see his brother sold into slavery. Now he is prepared to suffer that fate himself rather than see Benjamin held as a slave. As he says to Joseph:

“Now, my lord, let me remain in place of the boy as your lordship’s slave, and let him go with his brothers. How can I return to my father without the boy? I could not bear to see the misery which my father would suffer.” (44:33-34)

It is a precise reversal of character. Callousness has been replaced with concern. Indifference to his brother’s fate has been transformed into courage on his behalf. He is willing to suffer what he once inflicted on Joseph so that the same fate should not befall Benjamin. At this point Joseph reveals his identity. We know why. Judah has passed the test that Joseph has carefully constructed for him. Joseph wants to know if Judah has changed. He has.

This is a highly significant moment in the history of the human spirit. Judah is the first penitent – the first baal teshuvah – in the Torah. Where did it come from, this change in his character? For that, we have to backtrack to chapter 38 – the story of Tamar. Tamar, we recall, had married Judah’s two elder sons, both of whom had died, leaving her a childless widow. Judah, fearing that his third son would share their fate, withheld him from her – thus leaving her unable to remarry and have children. Once she understands her situation, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute. Judah sleeps with her. She becomes pregnant. Judah, unaware of the disguise, concludes that she must have had a forbidden relationship and orders her to be put to death. At this point, Tamar – who, while disguised, had taken Judah’s seal, cord and staff as a pledge – send them to Judah with a message: “The father of my child is the man to whom these belong.”

Judah now understands the whole story. Not only has he placed Tamar in an impossible situation of living widowhood, and not only is he the father of her child, but he also realises that she has behaved with extraordinary discretion in revealing the truth without shaming him (it is from this act of Tamar’s that we derive the rule that “one should rather throw oneself into a fiery furnace than shame someone else in public”). Tamar is the heroine of the story, but it has one significant consequence. Judah admits he was wrong. “She was more righteous than I,” he says. This is the first time in the Torah someone acknowledges their own guilt. It is also the turning point in Judah’s life. Here is born that ability to recognise one’s own wrongdoing, to feel remorse, and to change – the complex phenomenon known as teshuvah – that later leads to the great scene in Vayigash, where Judah is capable of turning his earlier behaviour on its head and doing the opposite of what he had once done before. Judah is ish teshuvah, penitential man.

We now understand the significance of his name. The verb lehodot means two things. It means “to thank,” which is what Leah has in mind when she gives Judah, her fourth son, his name: “this time I will thank the Lord.” However, it also means, “to admit, acknowledge.” The biblical term vidui, “confession,” – then and now part of the process of teshuvah, and according to Maimonides its key element – comes from the same root. Judah means “he who acknowledged his sin.”

We now also understand one of the fundamental axioms of teshuvah: “Rabbi Abbahu said: In the place where penitents stand, even the perfectly righteous cannot stand” (Berachot 34b). His prooftext is the verse from Isaiah (57: 19), “Peace, peace to him that was far and to him that is near.” The verse puts one who “was far” ahead of one who “is near.” As the Talmud makes clear, however, Rabbi Abbahu’s reading is by no means uncontroversial. Rabbi Jochanan interprets “far” as “far from sin” rather than “far from G-d.” The real proof is Judah. Judah is a penitent, the first in the Torah. Joseph is consistently known to tradition as ha-tzaddik, “the righteous.” Joseph became mishneh le-melekh, “second to the king.” Judah, however, became the father of Israel’s kings. Where the penitent Judah stands, even the perfectly righteous Joseph cannot stand. However great an individual may be in virtue of his or her natural character, greater still is one who is capable of growth and change. That is the power of penitence, and it began with Judah.

– from http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/183700211.html

Abraham, the Father of the faithful:

This weeks Torah Portion (named Lech Lecha) is from Genesis 12-17. There is so much here; so much to read; grasp and grapple with. From the founding of a new people in a new Land, to the incredible covenant and promises made to Abraham.

The covenant and promise in Genesis 17:4-5 is in my opinion, one of the most significant of all, as it speaks to a time when the Word of God is embraced by Gentiles. “…You will be the father of a multitude of nations.Neither will your name any more be called Abram, but your name will be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”

Note that the Almighty declares a future promise as if it is already past, as if it has already been fulfilled. The Word of God cannot be stopped; it’s intent will always come to pass.

There is a lot, and I mean, an awful ‘lot of water to pass under the bridge’, looking forward from that day, before this promise fully comes to pass.

Before Abraham can be the Father of all who put their trust in the One True God, he must first become the Father of the Chosen People, and these people must separate themselves to God; become ‘holy’ (meaning separated), before they can become a ‘light to the Gentiles’ and ultimately lead many Gentiles, many peoples of many nations, into the family of Abraham, so that the promise to Abraham can be fulfilled.

When this promise is finally and totally fulfilled, ALL the children of Abraham will stand as equals before the Almighty, as demanded by their status as children of the father of the faithful, the man so specially chosen to announce, and proclaim the One True God to the world.

I love the way that Rabbi Ari Khan brings out the apparent contradictions that need to occur as a lead in to the ultimate fulfillment of his great promise. To quote just a little of his brilliant article (see link below for full article at Aish.com):
“ … The joyous, really incredible news that a nation will emerge from the loins of Avraham, is tempered by the knowledge that a certain tension will always surround this nation. As this nation emerges, we learn that others will never be indifferent….They will always elicit some sort of reaction from others, (they will) always serve as a source of blessing or a curse for others.

Furthermore, this blessing may be limiting: it is particular in nature, it is directed exclusively to the people who will become known as the Jewish People. In Avraham’s eyes, universal dreams may be challenged by particular nationalistic aspirations. Whereas Avraham has seen himself as a citizen of the world on a mission to help elevate all of mankind, his mission now becomes linked exclusively with this new entity, “the Children of Avraham.”

… in Shechem nationhood emerges. This is where Dina is abused, and where the local residents offer the family of Israel to join destinies, to join them and form one nation. This offer is rejected, and a process is set in motion:

A nation with its own unique history begins to chart its path, undertaking the long march to fulfill its particular, unique destiny. A nation, indeed; but at this point a small, vulnerable nation that rejects the benefits of assimilation into a strong, well-established local clan. This is a defining moment, a decision that crystallizes and forms the Nation of Israel.

… With the command to perform the Brit Milah (circumcision) Avraham’s life will change. There will now be a boundary between him and everyone else. He will now be viewed even more suspiciously by his neighbors. In fact, the rabbis express their sensitivity to Avraham’s conflict between universalism and nationhood as a “hesitation” on Avraham’s part when he was commanded to perform circumcision.

… Clearly, then, the Brit Milah (circumcision) is a test. The challenge may be heightened by the paradoxical nature of the command which he receives:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Avram ; your name will be Avraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Then God said to Avraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner-those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Bereishit 17:1-14)

Avram is told that from now on his name will be Avraham, signifying that he will be a father of many nations – Av Hamon Goyim. This would seem to be the ultimate universal message: Not only will Avraham be a part of the larger universal existence, he will bring nations toward God.

And in the next breath he is told to perform circumcision which creates boundaries and will forever separate Avraham and his descendents from all others. In one fell swoop, the universal vision and the narrow, parochial, particular approach.

Apparently, Avraham is confused. How can he impact the entire world when he must first perform an act of self-mutilation that people will view as grotesque?

Apparently, what Avraham still lacks is “holiness” – kedusha – which is literally rendered as “set apart”. This separateness is a new phase for Avraham, and not one to which he would have come without God’s command. This separateness may be seen as that which contradicts Avraham’s innate attribute of chesed (loving kindness), the attribute through which he has served God up to this point in his life.

How is he to reconcile chesed with kedusha? How is he to be a part of the world – involved, engaged, interested, even responsible for the world – and live a life of kedusha, set apart, indelibly marked by “differentness”? How will he and his descendents reconcile living in a mundane world with their unique destiny and closeness to God?

The answer presents itself later on in the text, as Avraham finds himself enmeshed in his next paradoxical challenge: the Binding of Isaac. Here, too, logic is defeated. If Yitzchak is to be offered, how can he effectively be the living progeny destined to carry on the family line? Avraham and Yitzchak nonetheless set out to fulfill God’s command, and they bring two other people along. Our Sages identify them as Yishmael and Eliezer – Avraham’s first son, and the man who was like a son.

… Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place far away. And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come back to you.’(Genesis/Bereishit 22:4-5)

Those last words, “and come back to you,” cannot be ignored. Avraham encapsulates a unique religious experience in this short statement, and we should take note of every element: This awesome religious experience would not be complete until Avraham came down the mountain and shared with others his epiphany, his feelings and his enlightenment. Avraham would have the greatest impact on the two men he left behind only after parting ways, dedicating himself to the more particular religious experience at the summit, and then returning to their company.

Similarly, for the Jewish People to have an impact on the world, we must first disengage, separate ourselves, and fully explore our unique relationship with God.

There will be times when we must wrest ourselves away from our deep involvement, even our responsibility for the world. We must climb lofty mountains, even engage in divinely-mandated, though seemingly paradoxical, behavior. But we must always remember that eventually we must come down from the mountain, re-engage, return to the people that we left at the foot of the mountain. We must find the language and establish the relationship that will allow us to share with them what we learned at the summit.

Avraham learns to resolve the tension. Both the universal and the particular are important, but they are intertwined.

The way we can accomplish our universal responsibility is by first becoming separate, different – as holy as we can possibly become. Only this will enable us to fulfill our mission of tikkun olam, to enlighten, to educate, to heal and repair the world.

… Our world, then, is not so different from that of Avraham and Sarah after all. The world still lacks holiness. By observing the commandments, both those we understand and those that seem to us paradoxical, we add holiness to our lives. We set ourselves on a higher rung, as it were. And as holiness accrues, we will find our spiritual, ethical and social abilities exponentially increased, and thus our ability to effect change and fix a broken world.” – see http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48952101.html

The Jewish people have spent their time in the desert and their time learning holiness. They ‘came back to us’ (Gen 22:5), to the Gentiles in a sense, when Yeshua lived the perfect example of true holiness and oneness with the Almighty.

His example, to the point of giving up his life for his friends, for his people, calls out across the divide to the Gentile people, to God-fearers throughout the world, that we too can separate ourselves to God and in having the some trust in the Almighty, the same faith(fullness) in God that Yeshua had and that Abraham had (Rom 3:22 & 4:16), we too can indeed become fully ‘children of Abraham’ and full members of the Commonwealth of Israel. The Resurrection was the Almighty’s stamp of approval on the witness of Yeshua; the ‘circumcision’ of Yeshua (his ‘separation’ to God), can then become the ‘circumcision’ of the Gentile God-fearers.

This is the mystery revealed in Yeshua’s day; the mystery of how Abraham was to become the father of many nations; the mystery revealed to Sha’ul, and to Peter through Cornelius.

In part 2 of our podcast on the Hebraic Mindset, we will speak more about ‘tikkun olam’ (repairing the world).