15 Nisan 5776 פֶּסַח, ניסן ט”ז, תשע”ו פרשת
Chag Pesach Sameach. This festival is the first of the seven festivals with Shabbat as the covering for all of the others as found in Leviticus 23. In Exodus 12 we are told that the first of Nisan is the first month of the year for us. The other new years in Judaism are rabbinical interpretations. I am not against tradition as long as it exalts the name of our Creator; if it gives us a different idea about what the Torah teaches we need to be very careful. I have been teaching you about the Paradigm Shift in our thinking. We call ourselves Messianic Jews and Gentiles in this community because we believe in the Messiah. The question is what type of messiah we believe in and what can he do. This has created many divisions and many groups among the people not only in Rabbinic Judaism but also in Christianity each with their own understanding and reacting to each other instead of examining what the Torah actually says about the Messiah. I have also been speaking to you about how throughout history our sages have developed the idea of the Mashiach although the Torah does not give us a definition about who he is. Mashiach in Hebrew means the “anointed” one and there were 4 types of anointing in the Scriptures: for the priesthood, the king, the prophets and we can add the judges in a tangential way. The ceremony of anointing was meant to single out a person who was chosen for a special role. The term Mashiach itself presents a variety of ideas. Christianity brought back the idea of the suffering servant in Isaiah 52:12-53:13 and this has created a division among our Hebrew sages and Gentile theologians concerning its interpretation. Both have come up with their own interpretations out of reaction to each other instead of truly examining what the Scriptures say. Each has a little of the truth and I caution you to seek out Truth rather than to follow the so-called experts. It was Rashi who changed these passages as referring to the nation of Israel. The grammar however shows that this doesn’t hold water and today’s scholars confirm that these verses speak of the Mashiach or an individual. Before Rashi, in the Aramaic Targumim, Onkelos and Jonathan both wrote that these verses were speaking of an individual. Christianity has focused on these passages making them a parallel with Jesus Christ. For me there is a great different between Yeshua ha Mashiach and Jesus Christ; they have nothing to do with each other. I have nothing to prove nor do I wish to convince anyone; I only want to be clear concerning the teaching in the Torah. The greatest revelation that our Creator gave to us is the Torah, the first five books of the Bible given to us at Mount Sinai. The basic foundation is the Ten Commandments and every other writing serves to extend these ten.
This morning we have reached Pesach a festival pregnant with theological understanding. For the Jew, it represents the deliverance of our people from the oppressive powers at that time. Sadly, Christianity has totally lost the understanding of this festival and they have replaced it with Easter imposing their own understanding upon the Scriptures which have little to do with what the Hebrew actually says. Our Rabbis have done the same with Torah but let’s get away from religion and get back to the Torah as we follow the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob for what He did, what He is doing and what He will do. Pesach is a historical event. In Exodus 20, He says, “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; you shall have no other gods before me.” He doesn’t say, “I am the Creator, the God of the Universe.” He starts with a historical occurrence letting the people know that they are not to forget what He did for them. This is why Pesach is important. The same thing that He did for us He will do for all the nations and we are going to be my messengers. Throughout history however, we as Israel keep forgetting this. It is very important to understand that the Pesach offering was not for the forgiveness of sin. It was a “korban shelamim todah” – a thanksgiving offering for the peace that He has brought us.
I want to bring you a geopolitical idea for today. What was happening at the time that Israel was delivered from the oppression of Egypt? If we compare Egypt with the powers of today, we can say that it could be the United States, the European Union or even the United Nations. It was an empire in control of the world. What happened with Israel? They were limited in their capacity to exercise their free will. Israel didn’t have the right to make their own decisions even though they were relatively free in Goshen. Little by little their rights were taken away after Joseph died. They had gone to Egypt only temporarily during the famine leaving behind the land promised to their forefathers. God told Moses that he would take the people out of Egypt. He knew that Moses was incapable of doing it on his own and that with His strength he would succeed; it was his calling in the same way that God called Israel to perform their role.
The Israelites were living in Goshen, on very fertile land excellent for taking care of their herds. The Egyptians didn’t like to go there because sheep and goats were considered to be gods and so they despised the Israelites for eating their gods. The new Pharaoh soon began to oppress the Israelites after they had lived for many years in peace and prosperity. This was similar to the Jews in Germany before the last war. They were very comfortable there, many assimilating to the religion of the Germans even converting to Lutheranism to receive titles of nobility. The Jewish Reform movement was born here. Many Jews had fought bravely during WW1 dying for their country and earning medals of honor for Germany. Suddenly Hitler rose up like “the Pharaoh who did not know Joseph” and tried to completely destroy the very people who had served them well. It is important to understand that Israel never asked the God of their fathers to take them out of Goshen and bring them back to the Promised Land. They simply want Pharaoh to ease their oppression. The Jews in Germany couldn’t believe that this advanced society could do such a thing to them. They were sure it would pass. Finally many were able to flee but millions perished because they failed to take the initiative of move in time or were simply too poor to go. The people who fled Germany survived. That is one of the biggest problems with religion. The religious leaders tell people not to worry; the Messiah will deliver them. Many religions tell us not to worry; God wouldn’t let us suffer; He will take us away. This is an escapist theory. When things don’t go well, get out and go. He gave us brains and resources.
God sent Moshe to take them out of Egypt showing Pharaoh, the power of the world, that He was going to destroy their gods and did that using the 10 plagues. Pesach speaks of the deliverance of Israel and shows that He is the one true God of Israel and the world. The Israelites were so assimilated at this point that they could no longer discern the difference between right and wrong. They needed to be moved and formed into a new people who would be freed from idolatry. The process of weaning the people from paganism would be long and gradual. Rambam teaches us in the Guide for the Perplexed that God began this process by having them build one central location, the Mishkan for the ceremonial rituals and offerings. They would no longer have altars any place they wanted or in their homes where they would offer to the local gods. This would bring their focus upon Him alone. He allowed the korbanot or offerings to continue but He changed the focus from being sacrifices for the appeasement of their gods to the korbanot. Our Creator was teaching Israel that they needed something to be able to “approach” Him. This was the real and simple meaning of the korbanot. Today the idea behind the “sacrifices” has been so theologized that they have lost their meaning. The shedding of blood has been given the idea of forgiveness for sin but at that time shedding of blood was for making a pact or covenant, sealing a Brit. In some groups it is still the custom for two people to make a cut in their palms and join them together to seal an agreement between them. Animals do not have the power to forgive sin. It is only God who can do that. We sometimes mix theology with facts.
Let’s move ahead to what the times were like when Yeshua was alive in Israel. The Israelites were now firmly settled in the land. Contrary to what many believe, they did not have a monolithic religion rather there were many groups and idolatry was rampant according to the historical writers of that era. Remember just because a Jew believes in something, it doesn’t mean that what he believes is right. We always need to compare it with the Torah. Israel had fallen under the rule of the Roman super-power and could not make decisions on self-governance. They could not even kill one of their own without the approval of Rome. This is why they needed to go to Rome to have Yeshua killed. The popular brand of killing was on the Roman stake and the blood-thirsty Pontius Pilate was known to have murdered thousands upon thousands of political agitators this way. Yeshua was basically a martyr. Today things haven’t changed too much. Let me give you a simple example. Has Israel been able to choose its own capital city? We all know that it is Jerusalem but the major countries of the world have put all their embassies in Tel Aviv including that UN and the USA. Are we free, able to determine our own future? We are constantly under threat of complete destruction. Rome is still dominating this world under the banner of the super powers.
Our Creator sent His messenger Yeshua who came to perform a work of love. He was bringing us back to the Torah. Did he ever preach to the Gentiles? He spoke to and had problems with his own people, specifically with organized religion and the political rulers. They both sought to destroy him because he told the religious people that they were taking the people away from God imposing their own ideas making them miserable. He told the politicians that Israel was a free nation and would never be dominated by them. They didn’t like that Yeshua who was from poor background not a rabbi of high standing, would have such a large following. The people followed him by the thousands believing him to be the Messiah even though Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity both deny this fact. The problem was that they were expecting Mashiach ben David who would conquer Rome; they didn’t want Mashiach ben Joseph the suffering Messiah. He didn’t deliver them from physical oppression because it was not his role. His role was to bring the people of Israel back to the Torah and to their calling. We Jews have been blamed for killing Jesus but this is not the fact. It was the Romans and a small group of religious people who were in the pockets of Rome. The one who has been demonized for the past two thousand years is Judas which in Hebrew is Yehudah and means “one who praises God”. The gospels have portrayed him a way that has made his name despised. To me he was a zealot, a freedom fighter who wanted a Messiah who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression. As his talmid, he followed him and believed that his rabbi, his master Yeshua was the messiah. He watched him do extraordinary things but when Yeshua didn’t move against the Romans, he decided to push the agenda. He was sure that Yeshua would step up to the plate if he was turned over to the Romans. However instead of reacting and destroying the Romans, Yeshua remained silent. Judas had his eyes open, remembering all that Yeshua had taught them. He ran to the Sanhedrin at the Temple knowing that he had given them innocent blood confessing that he made a huge mistake and threw back the money they had given him. These hypocrites who had betrayed Yeshua to the Romans claimed that there had nothing to do with it and now it was out of their hands. The charges against him were written in three languages, Latin, Greek and Hebrew…”the King of the Jews.” He allowed himself to be taken and died as a martyr to teach us that our God is the only one we need to serve; that our life here is not as important as serving the Creator and living Torah.
We are living this situation today. The zealots are once again rising up in Israel today becoming terrorists like the enemy. We have the right to defend ourselves but we do not have the right to be criminals. We have a very high standard about the sacredness of life and we must not give that up. Yes there is injustice against us and we need to cry this out at the United Nations. We do not have the right to destroy people who are not attacking us. Instead of elevating the name of Israel, this behavior puts it down. With all Israel’s problems we still are better than the other nations because of our God.
Passover is a festival of deliverance and freedom giving us the responsibility to respond to him. This is why He removed us from the slavery of Egypt…to respond to Him. It is a festival of thanksgiving. We don’t need to hide but we can act in a responsible manner. As followers of messiah Yeshua, we were taught to do the right thing and to take responsibility for our behavior. May God give us the wisdom to live a “kasher lifestyle” (to do things in the right way…this has nothing to do with food) while we wait for and pray for the Messiah to come soon.