Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Belated Post for Tu B'shvat

From A Fire Burns in Breslov:
Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l had a student who was famous for his diligence as well as his creative thinking; he had the distinction of being both a masmid and a mechadeish. This bochur studied many years under Rav Yisroel, but one day, to the shock and dismay of all the other students, the “prodigy” went off the derech!

When the terrible news was brought to the Rav, he displayed no surprise at all.

“During all the years that I oversaw this student’s progress, I never glimpsed the least glimmer of joy on his face. He worked very hard to grasp the depth of a subject, but it was obvious that he was never really moved by any of his chiddushim. He never allowed himself to be connected to the Torah, and so it was easy for him to fall away!”
Let this story be an exhortation to take stock of the "fruit" produced in our lives last year and to connect yourself to the true Vine this coming year!
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Bear much fruit, and so show yourselves to be my disciples. ~R. Yeshua

Friday, January 22, 2010

More from David Stern

Joshua at Yinon recently posted some choice quotes from Messianic Jewish pioneer David Stern. This morning I pulled his classic book on Messianic Judaism off the shelf and found another great quote I wanted to share from the section entitled Why Jewish History is My History:
The reason why Jewish history is my history is that I am . . . a Messianic Jew. A non-Messianic Jewish objector might ask, "Why is Jewish history important for you? Be Christian and find your place in your own stream of history." No, that is unsatisfactory for several reasons.

First, Jewish history is mine because I am Jewish. I reject the claim that I am not. Jewish history leads to me and explains who I am.

Second, Jewish history is important for me because Judaism has preserved some elements of truth...

And third, Jewish history is mine because if we Messianic Jews are to undertake our task to help heal the split between the Church and the Jews, as insiders to both, we must be fully identified with Jewish as well as Christian history.

So the Rambam is my Rambam, and David Ben-Gurion is my Ben-Gurion, and so are Moses Mendelssohn and Moshe Feinstein and Solomon Schechter and Stephen Wise and Judah HaNasi and the Raba and Abaye and Meyer Lansky and Albert Einstein and the Marxes--Karl and Groucho--and Peres and Shamir and Rav Kahane and Charlie Biton. All mine! And I, a Jew who honors the Jewish Messiah Yeshua, am theirs.
Powerful statement (find it on page 61). What say you, readers? Do you identify with Dr. Stern's words? Do you agree with him?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Perspectives on the disaster in Haiti

I thought Judah at Kineti L'Tziyon struck a good balance in his recent post "Pat Robertson on Haiti." Here's a quote from his closing thoughts: is awfully confident (arrogant?) of a human to claim to know God’s intentions. Unless there’s engraved writing on the wall, fire from heaven, bare arm of the Lord coming down from the clouds, gosh. Without that, it’s all speculation, isn’t it?

Did Robertson say God revealed this to him? Not that I see. And even if he made such a claim, how do you know whether to believe him? Religious people are famous for making false prophecies.

Religion folk are too quick to lend to the supernatural what can be explained by the natural. Earthquakes happen, folks. Not every catastrophe is divine punishment.

We actually have a family from Haiti in our congregation. Last Shabbat, one of these precious women stood up to share with the congregation about the disaster and to give us an update on her family. Then she said, "And I just want to say something about what Pat Robertson said." Inside I cringed, but then she said something that really surprised me.

"He's right," she said. "My country has been heavily involved in voodoo from its earliest days. But don't just look at Haiti. Here in this nation, when prayer is taken out of schools, when people steal money from others, and perpetrate all sorts of evil on others--isn't that voodoo too?"

Her mini-sermon was passionate and reminded me of something Yeshua said, which Gene S. also commented on Judah's post:
Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:4-5)

Rabbi Steinsaltz on MLK, cont.

On Monday night I heard Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz speak on the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm sharing my notes from the talk so that you readers can benefit from it, as well as to give us an opportunity to discuss what he said!

After a few light-hearted opening statements (on the sponsor's succinct introduction: "Thank you for making that an introduction and not an obituary."), Rabbi Steinsaltz began his talk by admitting, "This is the first time I have to do a commentary on the writings of a priest" (meaning Dr. King). "Hopefully I can deal with it," he added jokingly.

He then started with an observation: Dr. King's speeches were filled with quotations of Scripture, but all of them* come from the Tanakh. ("The Old Testament," he clarified, since "I'm in America.")

R. Steinsaltz suggested that perhaps this wasn't a terribly PC thing for him to say (On politically correctness: "the one law in Washington that nobody breaks"). And to be clear: "I'm not saying that MLK was a 'crypto-Jew.'" Rather, R. Steinsaltz wanted to make the point that in his fight for justice, the bulk of Dr. King's scriptural inspiration came from the Old Testament. This is because, R. Steinsaltz continued, there is a difference between the moral message of the Old Testament and the New Testament.

I'll continue with this later in the week, but for now: what do you think? Is R. Steinsaltz right about MLK? What difference in moral message between Old Testament and New Testament do you think R. Steinsaltz is getting at?

* Or most--R. Steinsaltz admitted that there may be a few he was leaving out.

Monday, January 18, 2010

If Jesus was here on earth today...

A second quote of the day (can he do that!?)--this time from Aaron of the MessianicForTorah blog, in post on Bible Verses Inscribed on Military Weapons:
Some people apparently think that if Jesus was here on earth today, he would be an American soldier. Listen up, folks, he would not be an American soldier, we all know he’d probably be in the IDF a Republican a youth pastor a hippie a guerrillero a Chassidic rebbe or something.

Another quote from Rabbi Russ

This is from Russ's recent post on the Sermon on the Mount--and it mentions the situation in Haiti (Don't Stand Idly By!) as well:
How do we say, “Happy are the poor” to the desperately poor of Haiti in the wake of the recent earthquake? It’s clear from Yeshua’s example that we don’t say it, or anything else, that we are not ready to enact ourselves. Better, that we enact it instead of saying it at all. The true response to the mystery of suffering is not a matter of better words, but of taking on a portion of the suffering somehow to relieve it. I don’t know how to do that on behalf of Haiti or Darfur or the back alleys of Juarez. I am sure that targeted prayer and careful giving are a start, and perhaps others can suggest where to go from there. In the meantime, let’s make sure we don’t use “Happy are the poor” to dodge helping the poor. Instead, it’s a rebuke of our pursuit of advantage and accumulation—not something to tell others, but to tell ourselves.

Coming soon: Rabbi Steinsaltz's talk on MLK

Last night I had the privilege of seeing Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz* speak on the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from a Jewish perspective. I managed to capture the highlights from most of the talk on my Palm. A few minutes from the end of the talk, I began receiving very evil looks from the couple in front of me (who were evidently disturbed by the not-quite-silent squeaking of my Palm Centro's buttons).

So in the future, I'll take notes with pen and paper. In the meantime, I'll attempt to make a rectification by posting a few highlights from the talk here on the Gathering Sparks blog over the next week or so.

For now, here's a short one: when the entire audience rose as Rabbi Steinsaltz ascended the platform, I remembered that there was a blessing to pronounce upon seeing a great Torah scholar...but I couldn't remember what it was! Anyways, here it is (with nitty-gritty details for the halachically-minded):

Blessed are You, LORD our God, Master of the universe,
who has given wisdom to those who fear Him.

* Pronounced Ah-deen Shtein-salts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rosh Chodesh

This week's haftorah is from Isaiah 66 due to Rosh Chodesh--the new moon. Here's an excerpt from
[...] a greater dimension of Rosh Chodesh was intended to be and will eventually become a reality. The Tur in Orach Chaim (417) quotes the Pirkei D'R'Eliezer which reveals that Rosh Chodesh was actually intended to be a full scale Yom Tov [i.e. holiday]. The Tur quotes his brother R' Yehuda who explains that the three Yomim Tovim correspond to our three patriarchs and that the twelve days of Rosh Chodesh were intended to correspond to the twelve tribes. This link reveals that each Rosh Chodesh truly has a unique aspect to itself and that one of the Biblical tribes' remarkable qualities is available to us each month. However, as the Tur explains, due to an unfortunate error of the Jewish people this opportunity has been, to a large degree, withheld from us.

But in the era of Mashiach this error will be rectified and the experience of Rosh Chodesh will actually reach its intended capacity. Yeshaya reflects upon this and says at the close of our haftorah, "And it will be that from month to month. . . . all will come and prostrate themselves before Hashem." (66: 23) The Psikta Rabbsi (1:3) explains that in the days of Mashiach we will have the privilege of uniting with Hashem every Rosh Chodesh. All Jewish people will come to the Bais Hamikdash each month and experience His Divine Presence. During the illustrious era of Mashiach sin will no longer exist and Rosh Chodesh will be viewed exclusively as an opportunity for elevation. Each month will provide us its respective quality and opportunity which we will celebrate through the Rosh Chodesh festivities. The sacrifice of Rosh Chodesh will reflect our great joy over being with Hashem and will no longer contain any aspect of remorse or sin. In those days, the experience of His Di vine Presence in the Bais Hamikdash will be perpetuated throughout the month and the entire period will become one uplifting experience.*
*Copyright (c) 2010 by Rabbi Dovid Siegel and The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim of Kiryat Sefer, Israel.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Quote of the Day - Russ Resnik

From "Self Effort":
Sometimes the Messianic Jewish worlds reacts so much to the law-free, works-free gospel that we distort it in the opposite direction and think of Yeshua simply as the ultimate Jewish moralist. But the journey Yeshua has in mind when he says “follow me” leads us into good deeds, into a life of compassion and service . . . and into the discovery that to pursue this life requires his power. So law and grace, faith and works, are different categories and could be at odds, but in the good news of Messiah they come together to reveal and lead us into the transforming work of God.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Doing "Double Takes" over at The Rosh Pina Project

Over at the Rosh Pina Project, "yeze" has begun a regular series of "Double Takes," where he posts something he came across in the Jewish world along with a curious parallel in the New Testament. These are similar to my intentions with the Gathering Sparks blog.

Here are a few of my favorites so far:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Birkat Kohanim

Most Messianic Jews are familiar with the Birkat Kohanim--the priestly blessing which God commanded Aaron and his sons to bless Israel with. You may have grown up hearing this blessing pronounced by one of the leaders at your synagogue. What you might not know is that Jewish halakha the Torah specifies that only Kohanim should pronounce this blessing:
The LORD said to Moses, "Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
" ' "The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace." '
"So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."
Num 6:22-27
The Wikipedia article on Birkat Kohanim is worth reading. One highlight:
In the case where no Kohanim are present in the synagogue (but there still is a minyan) the hazzan will read the prayer verse by verse, and the congregation will respond after each verse with "kein yehi ratzon, may it be God's Will." This response is used instead of "Amen," because the hazzan is merely "mentioning" the blessing, as it were, and not actually performing the ritual. However, many congregations (including Chabad) do indeed respond "Amen." This response is also employed on days and times when the Amidah is publicly repeated but the Kohanim do not recite the priestly blessing.
(For the holidays, I received Leonard Cohen's Live in London DVD from a good friend.) So, in closing, here's one famous Cohen giving the Birkat Kohanim:

Do you have any Kohanim in your congregation? If so, do they pronounce the Birkat Kohanim?

Post-note: please don't take this post as a criticism of non-Cohen leaders or congregations employing this blessing; I really am grateful when anyone pronounces a blessing over me! By sharing the quotation from the Wikipedia article, I actually wanted to highlight the creative yet simple way that Jewish practice manages to preserve the priestly responsibility to carry out the mitzvah of Num. 6:22-27 without forbidding communities who don't have any Kohanim from employing this wonderful blessing as well.