Life Without Limits

No Limits

He [Hillel] used to say: The more flesh the more worms; the more possessions the more anxiety; the more women the more witchcraft; the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more manservants the more theft. But the more Torah the more life, the more study the more wisdom; the more counsel the more understanding; the more charity (righteousness) the more peace. (Avot 2:8)

While studying this mishnah (“saying”) from Pirkei Avot, I came across some interesting thoughts in regard to Paul, and how we might understand one of his teachings on an entirely new dimension than before. First, let me give some background.

Less Is More

The more flesh the more worms; the more possessions the more anxiety; the more women the more witchcraft; the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more manservants the more theft.

This maxim can easily stand on its own. We all realize, to some degree or another, that “less” is often “more,” and “more” is often an overdose. The main point Hillel is making here is that just because we think we need “more,” it is not necessarily a good thing. “More” can often lead to our demise.

Our Animal Nature

In Rabbi Abraham Twerski’s excellent commentary on Pirkei Avot, Visions of the Fathers, he expounds upon this saying through a couple of illustrations. He says that if we look at a human being we will find that he is composed of both a physical body, and a spiritual soul. Our bodies are essentially the same as any other animal, and living for our bodies as our main priority (it’s easy to find out if this is true or not, by simply looking at where we invest our time & resources) causes us to be no better than an animal. In actuality, in some ways being an animal would really be better, because animals generally don’t over-indulge. When they have eaten to their fill, they stop. Not so with humans. Too often we eat more for pleasure than for our physical needs. Animals don’t struggle with obesity. Humans do.

So to primarily feed our physical bodies puts us at a level that is actually below the animal kingdom. We miss our calling of truly being human. Therefore, just as this mishnah states, we must attend to our physical needs with limitations.

Our Spiritual Nature

On the other hand, however, our spiritual needs are different than our physical needs. While we must be careful to limit our physical pleasures, our neshamot (our spiritual beings) should be handled with an entirely different approach. Just as God is infinite, the needs of our neshama, made from the spark of the Divine (“…breath deep the breath of God”), are also infinite. Therefore, placing a limit upon our spiritual pursuits (in contrast to our physical pursuits) may actually be detrimental to us, rather than beneficial. Rabbi Twerski sums this thought up with the following:

There are some things for which halachah does not designate an appropriate limit, but for many other spiritual activities — such as helping others or Torah study — there are no limits.1

This immediately brought my mind back to a passage from the Mishna that is recited each morning:

These are the precepts that have no prescribed measure: the corner of the field [which must be left for the poor], the first-fruit offering, the pilgrimage, acts of kindness, and Torah study. (Peah 1:1)

These things “have no limit.” They may be done “to excess.” After all, can we be too kind? Too generous? Too devout? Should we place a limit on godliness?

The Fruits of the Spirit

This brought my mind back to something we hear from the Apostle Paul that has always troubled me in its wording. In his letter to the Galatians he introduces his concept of the “fruit of the Spirit” with the following:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16,17)

He essentially does the same thing as our mishnah. He warns us against “feeding our flesh,” and contrasts this with being sensitive to the Spirit and living a more spiritual life than a fleshly one. But the curious part about it is when he actually gives us his list for the “fruit of the Spirit”:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22,23, emphasis mine)

Paul could have stopped with “self-control.” However, he concludes his list with the phrase, “Against such things there is no law.” In other words, these are things which “have no limit,” just as the corners of the field, the first-fruit offering, the pilgrimage, acts of kindness and Torah study. There should be no limit to love, nor joy, nor peace, nor kindness, nor goodness, nor faithfulness, nor gentleness, nor self-control.

Have you been limiting yourself unnecessarily? I know I have. Are you ready to live life without limits?

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

This is how we do it. This is how we truly live. To coin a phrase… “Just do it.”

 

  1. Twerski, Abraham, Visions of the Fathers, p. 104.

Angelic Midrash

A little later than I thought, due to Pesach. However, it’s here…

Tuesdays mornings at 6:00am I have a standing meeting with a good friend. Nearly every week it’s a given that we will be meeting, and we come away challenged and encouraged. Over the last few weeks, our attendance has grown a bit. We’ve recently had two other men begin to join us in order to glean a bit of Torah. One has been exposed to Torah for several years, and the other has only recently come across its path. I’m not saying this to boast. I’m saying this to say how wonderful it is to begin to have other men who are committed to discussing and learning Torah, and willing to meet at a restaurant at 6:00am each week in order to do so.

This week we were talking about Pesach and our community-wide Seder. This led us into a discussion regarding Eliyahu (Elijah) and his role in being the forerunner of Messiah. One gentleman brought up the point that he knew that Elijah had come in the form of Yochanon the Immerser (John the Baptizer) in order to announce the arrival of Yeshua, but was wondering if there is reason to believe he would return to announce the second coming of Messiah.

This led us to opening up the writing of both Malachi and Luke’s Gospel to allow the words of Scripture to speak for themselves. I didn’t realize that it would lead to a whole new paradigm on these passages.

Malachi 3:19-24 (4:1-6 in a non-Jewish published Bible) says:

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the L-RD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the L-RD of hosts.

“Remember the law (Torah) of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the L-RD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (NASB)

From the context of this passage it appears that Eliyahu will indeed return to re-announce the coming of Messiah at then end of this Age. It was exciting, however, when we began to examine the end of this passage with the angelic announcement of Yochanon the Immerser to his father Zechariah.

In regard to Eliyahu, Malachi specifically says the following: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” In Luke’s account of the proclamation of Yochanon we hear the following:

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:13-17, NIV)

In this passage, the angel does not quote the passage in Malachi directly, but does a midrashic remez instead. Malachi states that not only will the hearts of the fathers be drawn back to the children, but that the hearts of the children be drawn back to the fathers. The angel’s account in Luke doesn’t include this latter half of the children being drawn back to the fathers.

For a long time (maybe ten years) I’ve had a hunch that the passage in Malachi hinted at drawing others back to the “fathers” — the “avot” (i.e. the patriarchs or sages and therefore Torah). However, I had not been able to draw any hard conclusions. A re-examination of this passage in Luke is the missing clue. Evidently, Hashem believes it to be connected to this concept — so much so that He sent Gabriel to teach us of the connection.

In the style of an Aramaic targum, the voice of the angel in Luke’s account midrashically expounds upon the mere pashat understanding of Malachi’s text in order to give the fuller implication of its significance. It begins with the direct quote of the function of Eliyahu being to “turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children” but then veers from the expected reversal of turning “the hearts of the children to their fathers.” Rather than merely quoting the reversal, the angel gives us an elucidation, forcing a connection between the hearts of the children returning to the fathers, and turning the hearts of the disobedient back to the path of righteousness — a path of Torah. He specifically states that Yochanon will turn the “disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.” In effect, he will turn those living apart from the obedience of Torah to the tzaddikim (the righteous ones).
In Hebrew we have a thematic connection between the avot and both the patriarchs and sages of the Talmudic period. When referencing the avot, one of these two connections are instinctively made.

Therefore, the work of Eliyahu HaNavi is not only to return the hearts of fathers to children, but to return the hearts of those apart from Torah back to the wisdom of Torah.

After explaining this, my friend said he could totally understand this, because over the last few weeks his heart has been turned toward Torah, because his heart has been turned toward his soon expected child. His love for this little one within the womb has made him want to turn towards Hashem’s ways, rather than the ways which have been traditionally taught within the church.

Truly in our day and time the spirit of Eliyahu is turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the unknowingly disobedient to the wisdom of Torah.

Yeshua – Redeemer of the Captives

The problem: Exile – the state of being barred from one’s native country, typically for political or punitive reasons.

The solution: Mashiach

The question is, how does Mashiach affect the problem of exile?

The exile is foretold several places in the Tanakh. Here is but one passage that tells of the reason for the exile of Israel.

And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, `Why has the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?’ then you shall say to them: `Because your fathers have forsaken me, says the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn evil will, refusing to listen to me; therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’ (Jeremiah 16:10-13, RSV)

In parashat Nitzavim, we see the promise to undo the effects of the exile once it has happened:

And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you this day, with all your heart and with all your soul; then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes, and have compassion upon you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will fetch you; and the LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, that you may possess it; and he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)

But still, how does Mashiach fit into all of this? Keep reading… Continue reading “Yeshua – Redeemer of the Captives”

Fishers of Men – Yeshua’s Messianic Midrash

The other day while preparing for this past Sabbath’s drash, I came across something which was—at least for myself—very exciting. I discovered a midrash of Yeshua of which I had not known.

Although my entire life I have been very familiar with Yeshua’s words in Matthew 4:19 in which he calls his disciples to be “fishers of men,” it has never had the impact as it has since my discovery.

When Yeshua tells his disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” he is doing a remez on Jeremiah 16:16-18 in which the “fishermen” are literally fishers of men. However, in reading Jeremiah in context, it appears that these fishermen are a curse upon Israel. They will hunt down the men of Israel and haul them off into captivity.

Behold, I shall send many fishermen—the word of Hashem—and they will fish them out, and afterwards I shall send many trappers and they will trap them from atop every mountain and every hill and from the crevices in the rocks. For My eyes are upon all their ways; they are not hidden from before Me, and their sin is not concealed from before My eyes. I shall repay them first for the repitition of their [forefathers’] sin and transgression, for having desecrated My land; with their disgusting abominations and their detestations they have filled up My heritage.

However, in Yeshua’s use of the term “fishers of men” in regard to his disciples, he alludes to this passage in a different manner. His use is in the positive, rather than the negative sense. Instead of his disciples bringing their catch into captivity, they will bring them back from exile (first from spiritual exile). Yeshua does a very sophisticated remez in that he ties the terminology to both the proper context (by contrast) and to the previous statement by Jeremiah. He connects the “fishermen” with the return of the exiles, rather than the drawing away of the exiles, focusing on the previous verses which state:

However, behold—days are coming—the word of Hashem—when it will longer be said, “As Hashem lives, Who took out the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt,” but rather, “As Hashem lives, Who took out the Children of Israel from the land of the North and from all the lands where He had scattered them,” and I shall return them to their land, which I gave to their forefathers. (Jeremiah 16:14-15)

Yeshua opts for an alternative reading in which it can be read:

However, behold—days are coming—the word of Hashem—when it will longer be said, “As Hashem lives, Who took out the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt,” but rather, “As Hashem lives, Who took out the Children of Israel from the land of the North and from all the lands where He had scattered them,” and I shall return them to their land, which I gave to their forefathers. I shall send many fishermen—the word of Hashem—and they will fish them out, and afterwards I shall send many trappers and they will trap them from atop every mountain and every hill and from the crevices in the rocks. (Jeremiah 16:14-16)

No longer are the “fishers of men” those who would take Israel into captivity, but those who would end the exile through bringing the good news of the Kingdom and true t’shuvah through Mashiach HaTzeddik. May we be good fishermen and bring about the end of the exile in our lifetime.