13 Tishrei 5783
To watch recording: https://youtu.be/xq1bkhe_rxU
Who is a Jew?
Who is a Jew? This question came up twice during this week alone. The first time, when I was surfing YouTube, I saw a video entitled The Secret to Jewish Survival and the next day I received an article written by a Hebrew Christian friend who lives in Israel entitled “Who is a Jew?”. He quoted Rachmiel Frydland, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, who said to him, ‘if we give the rabbis the right to define who is a Jew, then we will also be giving them the right to define who is the Messiah”. I wrote to him and asked, then why are we giving that right to Christians or indeed anyone else? If we accept that the Written Torah holds the Creator’s truth, giving us a moral compass and the key to right living for humankind, then why doesn’t it mention “one” messiah. We do read about the Hebrew word “mashiach” which means anointed…but anointed for what? For a specific role, a special function such as king, prophet, priest, leader etc.
Our beloved Rabbi Yeshua knew the Torah as well as the teachings of our sages far better than I could ever know them. What would he say about who is a Jew? What would our Hebrew prophets say, including Obadiah who was by the way, a Ger, a proselyte? These men always referred us back to the Written Torah. They reminded us that the only Saviour there is, is God Himself and that as humans, we can’t save ourselves. We can only try to do our best; when we fail, we pick ourselves up and we try again. Throughout the Torah, a simple, common thread emerges, one that is especially clear in this parashah, Haazinu. Devarim 32: 4 & 5 says “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He. The corruption is not His, it is His children who are blemished; they are a perverse and crooked generation.” Ouch! That’s hard to hear and we rarely hear it from our rabbis but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we are a great, wonderful, or perfect people. We are, however, a Chosen People and with that comes a role, a responsibility. Our Scriptures contain a story of a simple people, a unique people who were formed for a purpose by the Creator. We were taken out of, separated from the rest of humanity not because we were better or smarter or more beautiful rather, we were to introduce to the rest of humanity, the God who gave us our unique calling. That’s in our book, the Torah. We were to be ohr l’goyim, a light to the nations.
There are many other spiritual books written by those who would disagree, and who insist that their holy book has more value than ours, and which they claim is no longer valid. They have to say that because if they believe what our Torah says, it would, for the most part, invalidate theirs. They attribute more value to their later books than to the one that was given to Moses by the Creator Himself. So, it really has nothing to do with value, since we are all equal, rather by invalidating the Torah, they are invalidating the One Who formed us as a people. If we accept the validity and the uniqueness of the Torah, then it naturally follows that we understand that there is One Creator, a Bore Olam Who is the all-powerful, Almighty God, who is compassionate, loving, eternal, and who knows us better than we know ourselves. He has a plan for mankind and wants only good for His creation.
So now we have to decide if the God we believe in, is all those things. Yes, He’s a God of love but let’s not be fooled; He’s also fierce, more than the worst lightning and thunderstorm we can ever imagine. If men fainted in the presence of angels, imagine standing in His Presence. The Israelites were so afraid at Mt. Sinai that they asked Moses to speak to them instead of them having to listen to God’s voice directly. God’s sense of justice is beyond our own; He will not be played; He will not be bribed; we cannot buy Him. He’s not a sugar daddy who gives us everything we ask for and He’s not easily offended.
So, God established this nation, as Devarim 32 vs 6 says “has he not made you, and established you?” Out of the world’s people, He molded us into twelve tribes. From the twelve, He formed a thirteenth tribe from Joseph’s sons, Efraim and Manasseh. He would take one tribe for Himself to be anointed (mashiach), to serve, to be intermediaries between Him and the people…these were the Levites, and from the Levites, He chose Aaron who would be the Cohen HaGadol, the High Priest and greatest “servant” of all. Later, God said that we would all be a nation of priests, cohanim. Our role would be to serve as intermediaries between the Bore Olam and the rest of the nations. We would introduce our one God to the nations who already had their gods, so why would they accept ours? Well, for the most part, they didn’t, and their jealousy caused them to want to destroy us. Isn’t that the reason Cain killed Abel? Isn’t the messenger the one who gets shot? However, there were those who did accept their calling, like Ruth and Caleb, the prophet Obadiah and even the Hebrew sage, Rabbi Akivah. They were all proselytes who heard and responded to the call, like their forefather Abraham had.
The stories in the Torah are about the early adventures of this called-out people; how they would triumph and fail, time and again, throughout their 40 years in the desert. This journey would establish the formula, the pattern that we would follow throughout the millennia on this good earth. These people became known as Yehudim, from Yehudah or Judah, Jacob’s fourth son. It means “the one who praises God”. Those of us, both the natural born descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as the ger, the stranger who has lived among us, are still here after almost 4000 years. What other peoples have retained their core beliefs over thousands of years, kept their original language and have a clear identity that still remains today. To what or to whom can we attribute this? The answer lies within our history book, our Torah.
With Haazinu we are approaching the end of the Torah, this great saga which is quite vivid in its pictures. In Chapter 32 Verses 7- 8, Moses tells us, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he set apart the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the people of Israel”. Interesting… Israel has always had its numbers set down by our Creator. The beauty of the Torah is that it leaves room for many interpretations within its moral boundaries. To me, He is showing us that it is not our numbers that makes us mighty or right, for we represent only 0.02 percent of the world’s population and yet we have made such an impact upon humanity in every area of life. God uses one to chase a thousand as we have seen throughout the history of our people; even in my lifetime when Israel won their wars of survival in 1948, the Six Day war in 1967 and the Yom Kippur war of 1973. It wasn’t our strength that gave us victory, rather God was behind us every step of the way.
The warnings in Haazinu, which are repeated throughout the Torah, are not only for Israel but for all the nations. Devarim 32:10 – 14 reminds us that Israel is the apple of His eye and paints a beautiful picture of how He cares for us as the eagle cares for its young. Immediately however, we are reminded that Yeshurun (Israel) grew fat and provoked our Creator to anger by turning to false gods. It is at this point that He said in verse 20 “I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end shall be for they are a very perverse generation, children in whom there is no faith.” How can we simply brush over verses? Verses 23 – 26 continue :“I will heap evils upon them; I will spend My arrows upon them; The wasting of hunger, and the devouring of the fiery bolt, and bitter destruction; and the teeth of beasts will I send upon them, with the venom of crawling things of the dust…” “ I thought I would make an end of them; I would make their memory cease from among men; Were it not that I dreaded the enemy’s provocation, lest their adversaries say: Our hand is exalted, and the LORD has not done all this.’ God has allowed us throughout the centuries to suffer the consequences of our actions.
But let’s not despair for we continue to read in verses 39 – 47 “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me; I kill, and I make alive; I have wounded, and I heal; and there is none who can deliver out of My hand. 43 Sing aloud about His people, O nations, for He avenges the blood of His servants, and renders vengeance to His adversaries, and covers the land of His people. 46 Moses said to them: ‘Set your heart upon all the words with which I testify against you this day; that you may direct your children to observe to do all the words of this Torah. 47 For it is no vain thing for you, because it is your life…”
What does this all have to do with “Who is a Jew?” I think we are asking the wrong question. This is not an issue about race or ethnocentricity. Jewishness is not about who goes to synagogue, who wears the right clothes or eats the right food; it is not about whether our father or mother was born a Jew. The Torah addresses all these things if we are willing to search. The question is, Who represents the Creator of Israel? Who has the calling, the role to be ambassadors for the Most High God. An ambassador would never do anything, “on purpose”, to shame the leader of their country.
As we approach Sukkoth, the last of the Moedim, we are reminded that we are temporary vessels, that our God sees everything that we do. We can’t hide from Him. It is the only festival mentioned in Zechariah 14:9 “when the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day the LORD shall be One, and His name one.” And in verse 16: And it shall come to pass, that everyone who is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of Sukkoth.” There is only one God, only one human race. The most important question we can ask ourselves is: “Who do I represent?”
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkoth Sameach