Lech Lecha - Get yourself out

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jl jl  October 16 2010  8 Cheshvan 5771

I would like to continue in the area of paradigm shifts as I have been speaking about over the last weeks. Just because we have been doing or have believed something all our lives, it doesn’t mean that it is the right way. Sometimes we don’t change simply out of laziness or not wanting to challenge the authorities. When we were growing up we would see incongruence in what we were being taught. I have often heard the expression, “do as I say; don’t do as I do.”  That just doesn’t hold true.

One aspect of this is in how we have viewed people who we think are Tzaddikim. In Judaism, a true Tzaddik is not a saint but is actually someone who is called to do G-d’s will, someone who is obedient until the end; not someone who feels holier than anyone else but is simply obedient and with humility.  Avinu Abraham is a great example of one who is a Tzaddik— obedient and humble. This brings me to what I would like to focus upon in this week’s drash. In my study of our illustrious rabbis, some of my favorites are Rambam, Ramban, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, but I am a little disappointed about how they deal with the topic “Who is a Jew” — the quintessential question for those who call themselves Jews.

Since modern Israel became a nation we have had a very difficult time defining who we are. In the courts, it has been decided that we need to follow halachah which states that Jewishness comes from the mother. Also anyone who believes in Messiah Yeshua has been eliminated due to the pressure of the rabbis.  Today Israel is a contradiction in terms since it is such a secular nation yet under religious authority. The paradox is that you can be an Israeli even if you are an atheist but if you believe in Yeshua, you cease to be a Jew!

If I were to ask all of you the question, “Who is a Jew?” I am sure that I would hear a variety of answers. Basic Rabbinic Judaism says that a Jew is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the chosen people- “L’am segulah”- ‘hlvgc oil' - a peculiar people with a special purpose, given by G-d.

The response becomes muddy when we analyze it. Is being a Jew an ethnic question? Can we break it down to our DNA? This has created many problems for the Jews in the eyes of the rest of the world. It has caused anti-Semitism to those who are outsiders while at the same time becoming a great responsibility to the insiders. Both sides yell out “that’s not fair”.  Tevya from Fiddler on the Roof in speaking to G-d after the tragedy of the pogrom in his little village said something like this, “Good Lord, we know that we are the chosen people and it’s not that I am complaining, but couldn’t you choose someone else for a change.”

My perception of “who is a Jew” is quite different from Rabbinic Judaism or other groups. We read in this week’s portion of how Abram at the age of 75 is called by G-d to leave Ur and go to Canaan, to the Promised Land.  He was not a poor man and he left with his wife and nephew Lot and a large group of people—his servants, none of whom were Jews, including Abram.

Later we read in Gen. 15 and 17 about the two covenants made between him and G-d. The first is brit bein habetarim,- ברית בין הבתרים the covenant of the parts. This brit is extremely important for us to be able to understand the concept of “mediator” (Yirmeyahu 34:18). Without it we can never truly understand the role of Messiah Yeshua as mediator.  In a covenant, both parties need to be alive; in this case G-d and Abram. It was the mediator (represented by the animals) that died. That is why the whole concept of testator and testament is a false one created by those who wanted to install the idea of an Old and New Testament (The Vulgate; the Catholic translation of the Scriptures in Latin by Jerome, was the culprit of this misinterpretation).  This would validate their desire to have us turn away from Torah.  The new covenant was not with Jesus. He was the mediator. The covenant was between G-d and Israel (read in the Messianic Writings {misnomer New Testament}, the letter to the Jewish believers in Messiah, Hebrews chapters 8 & 9).

The second covenant is Brit Millah – ברית מילה or Pact with our father Abraham –של אברחם אבינו  בריתו . In chapter  17:9-14 we read. “God further said to Abraham, 'You for your part must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you, generation after generation. 10 This is my covenant which you must keep between myself and you, and your descendants after you: every one of your males must be circumcised. 11 You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that will be the sign of the covenant between myself and you. 12 As soon as he is eight days old, every one of your males, generation after generation, must be circumcised, including slaves born within the household or bought from a foreigner not of your descent. 13 Whether born within the household or bought, they must be circumcised. My covenant must be marked in your flesh as a covenant in perpetuity. 14 The uncircumcised male, whose foreskin has not been circumcised -- that person must be cut off from his people: he has broken my covenant.'

It was a sign “oht” אות"”, between G-d and Abraham, a non-Jew, for all his descendants. Herein lays the true calling. Again we can read in the Messianic Writings what our Messiah Yeshua says in; Matt. 3:9 “… and do not presume to tell yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father," because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. & Luke 3:8  “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not start telling yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father," because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones…”  and we can compare with Yochanan 8:37-39 37 "I know that you are descended from Abraham; but you want to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 What I speak of is what I have seen at my Father's side, and you too put into action the lessons you have learnt from your father. 39 They repeated, 'Our father is Abraham.' Jesus said to them: If you are Abraham's children, do as Abraham did."  Basically, the children of Abraham Avinu were the ones that G-d has chosen, and He can make them as He wishes. This is the calling; this is the promise that comes from our G-d.

Rabbi Shaul spoke of this and elaborated upon it. In the Book of Acts 13: 16 & 26 …16 “Paul stood up, raised his hand for silence and began to speak: 'Men of Israel, and fearers of God, listen! … 26  'My brothers, sons of Abraham's race, and all you godfearers, this message of salvation is meant for you...”  Here we can read that Rabbi Shaul was distinguishing between two types of people— those who were the physical descendents of Abraham and those who were his spiritual descendents.

In Rom 9: 6 - 16 we read: "6 It is not that God's promise has failed. Not all born Israelites belong to Israel, 7 and not all the descendants of Abraham count as his children, for Isaac is the one through whom your Name will be carried on."

In Rom 11:16-24 it says …16 When the first-fruits are made holy, so is the whole batch; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 Now suppose that some branches were broken off, and you are wild olive, grafted among the rest to share with the others the rich sap of the olive tree; 18 then it is not for you to consider yourself superior to the other branches; and if you start feeling proud, think: it is not you that sustain the root, but the root that sustains you. 19 You will say, 'Branches were broken off on purpose for me to be grafted in.' True; 20 they through their unbelief were broken off, and you are established through your faith. So it is not pride that you should have, but fear: 21 if God did not spare the natural branches, he might not spare you either. 22 Remember God's severity as well as his goodness: his severity to those who fell, and his goodness to you as long as you persevere in it; if not, you too will be cut off. 23 And they, if they do not persevere in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for it is within the power of God to graft them back again. 24 After all, if you, cut off from what was by nature a wild olive, could then be grafted unnaturally on to a cultivated olive, how much easier will it be for them, the branches that naturally belong there, to be grafted on to the olive tree which is their own.

One day we are going to be one people as he foretold through Rav Shaul, when he spoke of two trees, the wild olive tree which represents the nations and the true tree which represents Israel.  I, a Jew was cut off from the true tree and later re-grafted in and the wild branches are grafted into Israel for the first time. Together we make up the true Israel.  We become one people called by G-d to be obedient and to serve Him. We are to follow Torah and become His servants.

The emphasis we need to place is not upon “Who is a Jew” but on who is called to serve the G-d of Israel.

May God add blessing to His Word.