Children of Abraham

Children of Abraham

“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” — Genesis 22:17,18

The Father of Faith

Who is this man upon whom the three monotheistic religions of the world are based? Who is this man called “friend of God” (James 2:23), the one whom we call “Abraham Avinu” (“Our Father Abraham”)? Who is this mere mortal by which the King of the Universe defines Himself?

The One, True, Living God — the God of the Bible — is known as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He initially reveals Himself to this man Abraham as אל שדי (“El Shaddai“) — “God Almighty” or the “All Sufficient God.” However, His first self-designation, to anyone other than Abraham is that of “God of Abraham” (Genesis 26:24) He identifies Himself in relationship to this one man whom He called out from among his brethren to become the singular person through whom all humanity will be blessed. The Holy One is also known as the “Shield of Abraham,” from His promise to Abraham which states, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield” (Genesis 15:1). In any case, God has inseparably wrapped Himself up in this man named Abraham.

Abraham is probably best known as the “Father of Faith,” a title which has been bestowed upon him because of how he exemplifies one who is trustworthy in all things. Both Paul and the author of Hebrews refer to him in similar terms. In one instance, Paul refers to him as “Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9). In both his epistle to the Romans and to the Galatians, Paul makes the argument that besides the physical descendants of Abraham, all those who trust in Yeshua (Jesus) are considered spiritual children of Abraham because they model Abraham by responding to their calling through faith. Thus Abraham is “the father of all who believe” (Romans 4:11). Continue reading “Children of Abraham”

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.

Fruit of Humility

 

This is a recent video from Toby Janicky of FFOZ. This is teaching #8 in a series called “Mishlei Musings.” (“Mishlei” is the Hebrew name for the book of Proverbs.) This episode is called “The Fruit of Humility.” It would have really helped me if I had watched this before we went into Passover, per my last post.

Mixed blessings: The Torah of Life and Death

For as many as are of the works of the Torah are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE TORAH, TO PERFORM THEM.” Now that no one is justified by the Torah before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” However, the Torah is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Torah, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”–in order that in Messiah Yeshua the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

(Galatians 3:10-14, NASB with my Messianicisms)

No other words of Scripture have been misinterpreted, misapplied, and utterly confusing more than Paul’s words to the believers in Galatia. While I don’t intend on trying to put forth all of the answers to understanding the mind of our beloved Apostle (because I simply do not have them all), I do wish to bring some illumination on this particular passage.

Unfortunately, since I don’t know Greek (yet), at present I have to rely on other tools in order to sift through our English interpretations of the Apostolic Writings, particularly Paul. Probably the greatest tool I have at my disposal is my understanding of the goodness of Torah, based on the perspectives of the Tanach, the prophets and the Master. With this reference point, I can have a starting place by which to orient myself to any course I must navigate within the writings of the Apostles.

Another tool is my (however limited) knowledge of rabbinic writings and their lines of thought. Knowing rabbinic writings helps me to not be ignorant of problematic texts and seeming contradictions within the Apostolic Writings that would shake my faith like it has for so many others beginning to navigate their way through the Apostolic Writings with a fresh knowledge of Torah.

These two tools allow me to examine passages and make connections to Rabbinic thoughts and arguments (at least to the ones with which I am familiar) and bring a balanced perspective to the problematic texts. This passage in Galatians is one such text. How can we reconcile Paul’s statements regarding Torah, especially in light of Deuteronomy 6:25, which states:

It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.

Looking at Paul’s words merely in our biased, English translations contradict this statement of Torah flat out. However, if we look at it from different perspectives, we can begin to make some sense out of it. One “clue” I have found is in Young’s Literal Translation, which translates verse 11 this way:

“And that in Torah no one is declared righteous with God, is evident, because `The righteous by faith shall live;'”

(Galatians 3:11, YLT)

The difference is the preposition “in Torah” verses “by Torah”. We know that we can be justified “by” Torah, just as it clearly states in Deuteronomy. Our lives are put before the heavenly tribune and the book of the Torah is therefore opened to compare our deeds of faithfulness or deeds of infidelity to what is written. Our names are found in either the Book of Life or the Book of Death. This is attested to in the book of Revelation, which states that those who persevere are those who hold to (are faithful to) the “commandments of God” (the Torah) and maintain their faith in Yeshua (Revelation 14:12).

However, we cannot be justified “in” the Torah. We cannot be justified by our choice to become included in those of the Covenant. Our inclusion does not justify us. It only affords us the opportunity to be justified and brought near on covenantal terms. If we are “included” into Israel, yet we forsake the Torah or Yeshua, we have heaped judgement upon ourselves.

If we take this argument into account, we can see how the Torah is life to those who truly take hold of it (via faithfulness to the commandments), and death to those who espouse it, but are unwilling to submit to its requirements. The Talmud is in agreement with such thoughts:

Rav Chananel the son of Pappa said: What is the meaning of that which is written, “Listen! For I will speak princely things”? Why are the words of Torah compared to a prince? This serves to tell you: Just as this prince has the power to kill and to give life, so too the words of Torah have the power to kill and give life.

This is reflected by that which Rava said: To those who grasp it with their right hand [through submission], the Torah is a drug of life. To those who grasp it with their left hand [in defiance], it is a drug of death.

(b.Shabbat 88b).

Therefore, let us heed the words of James, brother of the Master, which state:

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.

But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

(James 1:21-25)

For Torah is a “tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.”