Friday, August 7, 2009

Today is my birthday. If I was Jewish, my Bat Mitzvah portions would have occurred on the Sabbath before the 9th of Av

I wouldn't have known that if one of the elders at the Messianic congregation hadn't researched our Bar and Bat Mitzvah portions to give us a few years ago.

Baruch HaShem, Dallas

No offense, but I have not be drawn to Messianic Judaism in that way. I am not the least motivated to learn Hebrew so I could read from the Torah in the Shabbat service. In my nearly two decades in the Messianic community I haven't been trying to redefine my Christian identity into a "Messianic Gentile" identity. It seemed to me to defeat the very goal of the LORD to make of two one new man in Messiah.

No more than my marriage union with my husband has eliminated my distinct identity as a woman, my coming alongside the Messianic Jewish believers has not erased my identity as a Christian. Neither of us has anything to be ashamed of, nor to feel inferior to, in our distinct, yet unified identities in Yeshua/Jesus. It isn't a competition, it's a family. I believe our distinctive callings are to be celebrated, not argued over which now holds the dominant role. (An argument that misses the point of "one new man" entirely.)

Anyway, back to "My Jewish Birthday"
- If I had been born a Jew, then on Friday, July 26th, 1963, I would have had my Bat Mitzvah Sabbath. I would have celebrated my 13th birthday by "making aliyah" (going up) to read the Torah. My portion, Davarim ("Words" or Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22) would have been read on "the Sabbath of Vision," (taken from the haftarah portion, Isaiah 1:1-27) because my Jewish birthday falls the Sabbath before Tisha B'av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the first and second Temple.

Okay - that's it! No more bogging down in all the technical intricacies! Here are the things I'm getting at:

First off, I wasn't too crazy about finding out my Torah portion was tied to Tisha B'av. It is not the most uplifting portions one could have linked to their life, although I have to admit - at the time I would have been having my Bat Mitzvah devastating events in my family life were unfolding that would impact our family for decades and generations. So when I received the little index card telling me what my Bat Mitzvah Torah portions were, I thought, "Well isn't this just par for the course!"

Both the passage from Deuteronomy and from Isaiah speak to the rebellion of Israel and God responding with what He intended to do about it. Like I said, not the most uplifting passages...but also not unlike my own life. Perhaps that is why I have always related so personally to the things I've read in Scripture about Israel. Sure, there is all this disobedience, rebellion, failure, but also the promise of God's love toward Israel shines through all that in the end. It always gave me so much hope seeing how His intentions even through all that was for good in Israel's end.

As that great prophet of light-heartedness, Jeremiah put it: "For thus says the LORD....I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."

Rembrant: Prodigal Son

Through all the "rocky road" relationship, Israel has always belonged to God and in the end still holds a pearl of great price: the promise of God to give Israel at last the ability that "they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed." Isaiah 6:10

What I'm saying is, I can relate to the troubles of Israel and also draw great hope for His plan for me in the end - a future and a hope.

Secondly, in doing some investigation into my Bat Mitzvah Torah portion this year, I found many interesting, timely points. One, in the portion from Isaiah, God is telling Israel that He is not interested in sacrifices of animals or solemn assemblies. What He is after is people who are righteous and genuinely holy - not merely religiously pious.
"Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.
'Come now, and let us reason together,' Says the LORD,
'Though your sins are like scarlet,They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.'

This is the striking difference between the righteousness which is by faith and that which is pursued by religious works. Tisha B'av is about the past. The destruction of temples that human hands can build. The future, however, is a vision of being made clean, whole and really holy. Not our man-made attempts at righteousness, but the righteousness of hands that truly are clean, and of lives that are just and seek justice for others.

So close and yet so far

Today, I found also some interesting things on a Hassidic web site. In teaching on my Torah portions, the "Chassidic Masters" note that Deuteronomy is, in fact a 37-day long speech by Moses that ends on the day of Moses' passing.

The Sages of Judaism explain that in the first four books of the Torah, Moses is transcribing everything as he received it from God. However in Devarim, or "Words" (Deuteronomy), Moses is recapping the major events and laws in his own words. This, they note, is because God is seeking human partnership - the "partner in creation" that God has desired from the creation of mankind.

In the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) they explain,
"a human being, Moses, attains a level of identification with the Divine wisdom and will on which his "own words" are completely in harmony with their Divine content -- so much in harmony that they are no less G-d's words than those which G-d dictated in the first four books."

Further, they write of the "partner in creation" that God desires:
A free, independent partner, whose choices are fully his own....Because G-d wanted true partners to His endeavor, not a bunch of employees and messenger boys (He had plenty of those already when He created man -- they're called "angels").

In discussing the Haftarah portion of Isaiah 1:1-3:27, the Chassidic teaching notes:
On the ninth day of the month of Av ("Tish'ah B'Av") we fast and mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

A model display of the Temple

"The Shabbat preceding the fast day is called the "Shabbat of Vision," for on this Shabbat each and every one of us is granted a vision of the third and final Temple, according to Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev. It's significance is expressed in the following metaphor:

'A father once prepared a beautiful suit of clothes for his son. But the child neglected his father's gift and soon the suit was in tatters. The father gave the child a second suit of clothes; this one, too, was ruined by the child's carelessness. So the father made a third suit. This time, however, he withholds it from his son. Every once in a while, on special and opportune times, he shows the suit to the child, explaining that when the child learns to appreciate and properly care for the gift, it will be given to him. This induces the child to improve his behavior, until it gradually becomes second nature to him -- at which time he will be worthy of his father's gift.'

"A basic tenet of our faith," the Chassidic rabbis write, "is that 'The entire earth is filled with His presence' (Isaiah 6:3).

Acknowledging that Israel "failed to measure up" twice the Temple was destroyed.
"So G-d built us a third temple. Unlike its two predecessors, which were of human construction and therefore subject to debasement by man's misdeeds, the Third Temple is as eternal and invincible as its omnipotent architect. But G-d has withheld this "third suit of clothes" from us, confining its reality to a higher, heavenly sphere, beyond the sight and experience of earthly man."

"It is a vision of the Third Temple in heaven -- in its spiritual and elusive state -- like the third set of clothes that the chld's father has made for him but is withholding from him."

Under a sub-heading titled "The Wearable House" the rabbis comment on Rabbi Yitchak's metaphor:

"Why, we might ask, are the three temples portrayed as three suits of clothes? Would not the example of a building or house have been more appropriate? The house and the garment both 'house' and envelop the person. But the garment does so in a much more personal and individualized manner."

"G-d chose to reveal His presence in our world in a "dwelling" -- a communal structure that goes beyond the personal to embrace an entire people and the entire community of man. Yet the Holy Temple in Jerusalem also had certain garment-like features. It is these features that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wishes to emphasize by portraying the Holy Temple as a suit of clothes."

"G-d chose to reveal His presence in our world in a "dwelling" -- a communal structure that goes beyond the personal to embrace an entire people and the entire community of man. Yet the Holy Temple in Jerusalem also had certain garment-like features. It is these features that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wishes to emphasize by portraying the Holy Temple as a suit of clothes."

In the traditional understanding of Judaism, as my Messianic Jewish friend Asher Intrater recently pointed out, salvation is viewed in national terms, whereas in Christianity salvation is viewed in personal terms. Do you see how very close this Hassidic teaching is to grasping what God is up to in terms of the salvation of Israel - a personal salvation on the basis of faith in His Messiah on a national scale?

I was also quite astounded by the grasp of these Hassidic teachings as to God's desire from the Garden of Eden to today, to bring forth a people willing to so align themselves with His Will that He could entrust to them the power of creating His will on earth through His Davarim, His words - making His Words our own. I have difficulty reconciling the teachings of these "Chassidic Masters" with the photographs of Haredim persecutors - those throwing rocks at secular Israelis in Jerusalem, as well as those who have waged a relentless campaign of harassment of the Messianic believers in the Negev.
Haredim Protesters in a stalking vigil outside the home of a Messianic Jewish widow with several children in Arad

It also strikes me how close we can be so close to the Truth and still be so far away from it. To bridge the gap that stands between understanding what God is working to bring forth in us and seeing it come to pass, is the revelation of Yeshua and being one in Him.

Over the past few days as I contemplated how many Jews in the Messianic movement are being lured out of the faith by Judaizers, I have thought that reason this is even possible is because of over emphasis been placed on the traditions and culture of Judaism. One thing is important: Yeshua, and our continual abiding in Him.

The Messianic movement is a relatively young one, really only starting to bloom in the same year that Israel recaptured control of Jerusalem. The return of a remnant of faith among Jews is on a parallel track with the restoration by God of the Jews to the land of, and then rebirth of nation of Israel. This is the literal fulfillment of the Ezekiel vision of the valley of dry bones and like the government of Israel, the restoration of a Jewish branch of the faith in Jesus has also been coming incrementally.

What I am saying is, that because the Messianic movement is a fairly 'new creation' it has been growing up. Part of the growing up process has been the reclamation of its Jewish identity. That has meant Messianic Jews have had to throw off the insistence of both Christians and Jews that to believe in Yeshua - the Jewish Messiah - meant losing their Jewish identity. It is not so but the battle continues in both groups. Little by little Christians are realizing this is not so, and also little by little so are Jews. No where is this more discernible than in Israel among secular Jews.

As with any new revelation, it seems we always go from one extreme to the other before we finally find the Divine balance. These early decades of the Messianic movement have rightly sought to recapture Jewish identity for Jewish believers in the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua. However, when we see the movement beginning to lose Yeshua in the process of regaining traditional Jewish identity, then it is high time for a course correction.

Wherever Yeshua is not the primary focus - and our abiding in Him to the point of our transformation into His likeness - we will be susceptible to losing people to other things. This is just as true in the Christian churches as it is in the Messianic synagogues.

We must determine not to serve up 'flavors' of our faith instead of training all eyes on Yeshua, so we may become what we are beholding. Truly He is our Temple model.

Israeli Messianic worshipping


Anonymous said...

Donna, your thoughts are so clearly expressed here. I am glad that the Lord could use your birthday to illustrate to us His kingdom. I loved the comparison of the 3 temples to the 3 suits of clothing. Something new fell into place in my spirit with that. The main thing, as always, is to keep Christ Jesus as the core and the heart of it. Conformity to Him is our goal and His desire. Thanks for sharing.

David Wolff said...


I was hoping that you could help me find the Torah, Haftarah and Brithadashah reading bor my son's Bar Mitzpah. His birthday is 4 Sivan 5756 (May 22, 1966, in the morning). Thanks for your help!


Donna Diorio, IsraelWatcher said...

David, I am certainly no expert in Torah portions. Someone at Baruch HaShem handed me the Torah portion that related to me several years ago, or I honestly would not know how to calculate it. You can look up the portions via Google, but honestly, the EASIEST way to do this is would be to ask a Messianic Rabbi to help you calculate the correct portion. If you are Jewish, then this is an important acknowledgment of being a part of the line of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob who were separated by God to perform this acknowledgment forever. If you are not Jewish, you may still be interested in pursuing a bar mitzvah, but it is strictly extra-curricular to our faith as Christians whom God has drawn to love and support our Messianic spiritual family.

My advice: contact a Messianic congregation that does bar mitzvahs and ask for their help in determining the right Torah and B'rit Hadashah portions.