Ask the Rabbi

Traditional vs. Messianic Services

Q: I am not a life-long Jew. I have never attended a Jewish service. I am a life-long Christian, however, and I have come to really value the Jewish roots of my faith. Would it be possible to explain how the Messianic Shabbat service is different from the traditional Jewish service? It would help educate me in honoring our shared tradition(s).

A: Your question is difficult, because there are many different types of services in both the traditional and Messianic Jewish communities. So let me start by saying that the point of reference for this discussion will have to be the Shabbat service at Kehilat Sar Shalom. With that in mind, let me see if I can do your question justice. The biggest difference between a traditional service and a Messianic service would obviously have to be the emphasis placed on Messiah Yeshua. While there are plenty of Messianic references in the traditional service, Yeshua is not recognized as having fulfilled that role. Similarly, where elements of our service emphasize an obedience to Rabbi Yeshua’s interpretation, there is no such emphasis in a traditional service. For example, it is common for me to make reference to Yeshua’s statement, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.'” This is from Mark 12:29, of course, where Yeshua quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4. This is the Shema that we recite every service. We follow it with the V’ahavta prayer, which Yeshua also quotes from (Deuteronomy 6:5) in the passage from Mark. (See Mark 12:28-34.) So while the Shema is recited in synagogues all over the world, only in Messianic services would you find those types of things brought out. Apart from that, our services are very similar. Traditional services may include some singing. The more traditional shuls will probably not have musical instruments, as that may be construed as work on Shabbat. Their focus will be more on the recitation of the Psalms. However, many do include music in their services. In fact, a large portion of the Jewish world is turning to the art of music to reinvent the traditional liturgy. Artists like Debbie Friedman, Sam Glaser, and Craig Taubman have been pioneers in what has been termed the Jewish Revival Movement. They have been producing songs that are based on the traditional liturgy, but put to modern-sounding music. The Barechu that we sometimes do, and the Romemu version that we do are both creations of Craig Taubman. How much or how little music is included will depend entirely on the synagogue. Each service will also have some type of liturgy. Liturgy includes various prayers, such as the Shema, the V’ahavta, the Aleynu, the Kaddish, and the most common one, the Amidah. There are many others, and additional ones are added at various times during the year, including special liturgical pieces for the High Holy Days. At KSS, we have limited the amount of liturgy that we do, primarily because the majority of the people who come are not too familiar with it, and wouldn’t find it meaningful at first. Of course, those who stay and learn eventually come to appreciate and enjoy the liturgy. But again, even in traditional services, the amount of liturgy that is done will vary greatly. The more Orthodox the congregation, the more liturgical it generally is. That is not to say that the other services don’t have any liturgy at all, but you will more likely find the liturgical prayers recited in the form of a song or poem in those less traditional congregations. The language will tend to be different as well. The more Orthodox the congregation, the more likely it is that the entire service will be conducted in Hebrew, with little or no translation. The siddur (Jewish prayer book) that they use will most likely also be completely in Hebrew. As you move more toward the conservative and reform congregations, you are likely to find a progressively less Hebrew prayer book. That is, they will add in the English translations. They may add in transliterated Hebrew so that the person who doesn’t speak Hebrew fluently will be able to recite the prayers in Hebrew by reading the transliteration. Then there are those congregations that don’t even use the siddur at all, and conduct the entire service in English. It has always been the policy at KSS never to have prayers or blessings that aren’t translated. Because whatever the language, the element of kavannah is of importance. Kavannah is the heart attitude with which the prayers are recited. It used to be that it was felt that the recitation of the prayers was more important that even knowing what the prayers meant. If you can read them and understand them, and actually MEAN them, even better, but it is more important just that they are recited. You can tell these congregations when you go in and the prayers are being read at break-neck speeds, all in Hebrew, sometimes with just one person doing them, and the congregation responding with a well-placed, “Amen!” Their goal is simply to get through them. Understanding is secondary. At KSS, understanding is primary. After all, how can you really mean what you are saying when you don’t even speak the language? The prayer become almost irrelevant. This was partly what was driving the Jewish Reform Movement when it began in Germany. Therefore, while we encourage people to learn Hebrew, and certain Hebrew lessons are taught during the weekly message, all services will be conducted primarily in English, and all Hebrew prayers will be translated for understanding. This will help everyone to be able to pray with kavannah. Speaking of prayers, at traditional synagogues, there is a position called chazzan, or cantor. This is the person who has been trained in the recitation of the prayers, particularly how to sing them. He or she is also trained to read from the Torah scroll, using what is called a trope to sing the Torah. We do not currently have a cantor at KSS. Right now, the rabbi is filling that position, leading the singing of the prayers, and reading from the Torah scroll. And that does happen from time to time. This is a more common phenomenon in Messianic congregations, however, who will differ on their approach to the Torah. One thing you will find that is consistent is the Torah cycle. You can see earlier posts about the origins of the Torah and Haftarah cycle. What you obviously won’t find in a traditional synagogue is the B’rit Hadashah portion. The traditional understanding of Torah comes primarily from the Jewish sages of the Talmud and later. Judaism looks to it’s learned men, men such as Rashi and Maimonides and others for the interpretation and application of the precepts of Torah. To them, the authority has been given to the rabbis to make those decisions. For us, “Yeshua came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.'” So rather than relying on post-Biblical rabbis for our interpretation, we rely on the One Rabbi Who actually is the Living Word for our interpretation. In that sense, the B’rit Hadashah is our Talmud. It is our guide how to interpret and apply the precepts of Torah. I guess, to sum it all up, if you were to look at all of the different types of Messianic services, and compare them with all of the different types of traditional Jewish services, you would find some that are very similar, with the exception of Yeshua, and some that are very different. The bottom line is that all of them are theoretically designed to take you on a journey from the secular to the sacred. As you enter the service, you are being transitioned from a 6 day secular work week into a period of holy time. You are slowly brought up the mountain until you hear the very Word of God. When you are done, you make an offering, and you transition back into the realm of the secular, hopefully changed for the better by the mountaintop experience. However, the only one that can actually give life is the one that has Life infused throughout it.

“Yeshua said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. ‘” (John 14:6)

Creation and the Tabernacle

Q: Is there a parallel between the Creation account and the building of the tabernacle – seven commands, or something?

A: I have read that in one journal that there is a connection in the patterns of creation and the commandments to build the tabernacle. However, this was just one person’s research, and I have not seen it in other places. So while it may be an interesting correlation in facts, it is not something that has been accepted into mainstream theology. Nor is it something upon which theology or doctrine should be based.

Fear of commitment?

Q: What is meant by this passage from this weeks reading? “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”(John 2:24-25) This seems to make no sense. What would committing Himself to them have to do with the fact that “He knew all men”? Thanks for your thoughts.

A: The keys to understanding this passage rely in context and understanding the Greek.

The New King James Version translates John 2:24 this way. “But [Yeshua] did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.” OK. So who is them? Them refers to the people who came to faith  when they saw the signs that He had performed. The word   is the word that is translated as commit. A better understanding of this word is an acknowledgement or a confidence in a certain fact. So a better understanding of this verse would be, “But [Yeshua] did not place any confidence in their statements of belief, because He knew all men.” This, of course, is also making reference to the believers who came to faith in verse 23. It is because Yeshua knows all men that He perhaps knew that the folks of verse 23 were insincere. In that context, the rest of the passage makes sense. Because Yeshua is Messiah, and He knows all men, he knew what they were really thinking, and feeling in their hearts, and therefore wouldn’t acknowledge, or place any confidence, in their statements of faith.

Messages on the Website

Q: Are you going to resume posting your messages on your website.  Nothing has been posted since May 22, 2010.

A: The past several weeks have been quite a blur for me, actually, which is partly why there aren’t any messages posted since May 22nd. The next Shabbat, May 29th, there were no services held at Kehilat Sar Shalom. Our services were held in conjunction with the Chosen People Ministries retreat, Simcha 2010, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. So there will not be a recording for that Shabbat. The day after we returned from the Simcha retreat, we left for our missions trip to Cuba. On June 5th, Elder Bryan gave the message, and on June 12th, a friend of mine, Scott Heine, gave the message. It is my understanding that these messages were recorded, but have not yet been processed to be put up on the web. June 19th was the first Shabbat that I was back, and the message was essentially a presentation of our time in Cuba. It went quite long, and while it was recorded, it might take some additional processing in order to break it into parts for posting on the website. The message from June 26th was the first regular message that was given since May 22nd. I would anticipate that posting sometime in the next few days. So the answer to your question is yes, we will be resuming the posting of the messages very soon. However, it may take a little extra time to post the message from June 19th due to it’s size.

Miriam and the Heifer

Q: Numbers 19 details the death of the red heifer and the laws of purification by ashes and water.  Numbers 20:1 follows immediately with the death of Miriam.  Is there a deeper connection or analogy between Miriam and the red heifer?

A: The only connection here would be chronological. God gives the instructions for the ritual of the red heifer, and then Miriam dies. The whole process with the red heifer was in the instance that someone became unclean due to the touching of a dead body. I would say that it is likely that whoever was responsible for burying Miriam would probably have had to undergo the ritual, but I would say that there is no direct connection that is evident from the text.

Sound the Shofar!

Q: Numbers 10 talks about the two silver trumpets and the four different reasons for blowing them.  Are these the same four notes that are blown on the shofar at Rosh HaShanah?

A: The four notes of the shofar that are heard on Rosh Hashannah are tekiah, shevarim, teruah, and tekiah gedolah. They each have different meanings, and some of them are, in fact, mentioned in Numbers 10. It is impossible to determine exactly what each of the sounds mentioned in this passage were. We can make inferences, and well-educated guesses, but that is all they will be. Numbers 10:2 talks about the creation of the silver trumpets, and gives two reasons for using them. The first one mentioned is the calling of the congregation, and the second one is for directing the movement of the camps of the tribes of Israel, as they were stationed around the tabernacle in the wilderness. The calling of the congregation actually has it’s origins a little earlier, though. Exodus 19 relates the story of the Israelites camped around the base of Mount Sinai, prior to receiving the Torah. And the Lord instructs them in Exodus 19:13 not to approach the mountain until they hear the sound of the shofar. It even describes the sound. “When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.” This is the biblical foundation for sounding the shofar at the beginning of our services. We correlate the worship service to the experience at Sinai, and that is the clarion call that lets people know we’re heading up to the mountain. The first blast tells us, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob.” (Isaiah 2:3) Based on the “sounds long” reference, this could either be tekiah or tekiah gedolah. It would definitely NOT be either of the other two based on the description. Sounding the advance is the second sound that is discussed. Numbers 10:5-6 tell us that the first time the advance is sounded, the camps on the east start moving. The second time it is sounded, the camps on the south start moving. So this is a different sound from the one long blast that is heard to gather the congregation. Verse 7 is a little cryptic, but might give some idea as to what the sounding the advance might be. Numbers 10:7 says that it is possible to blow, but not sound the advance. This would seem to imply that the two sounds are fairly close, but not the same. The only two sounds that fit that description would be the tekiah and tekiah gedolah. Perhaps one of them had a slightly different ending, perhaps the quick transition to a higher note that we have come to associate with the blast of the shofar. There is no was to know for sure. Numbers 10:9 talks about the sound of the alarm. This was to be sounded when going to war. The word used in the Scripture is, in fact, teruah. Rosh Hashannah is, in fact, called Yom Teruah in Leviticus 23, or Day of the Alarm. This one is a series of 9 short notes. It was never to be used except for the sounding of an alarm. Numbers 10:10 talks about sounding the shofar during festivals and times of gladness, and at rosh chosdesh, which is the new moon indicating the start of a new month. Perhaps this the is final sound, shevarim, but there is really no way to infer that from the text. There were a number of other times that the shofar was sounded. For example, it was blown at Jericho. So Numbers 10 is not an all-inclusive list. It is a great starting place, though.

Living water

Q: The B’rit Hadashah uses the imagery “living water” a lot, and I never understood what it meant.  In my Bible, Numbers 19:17 uses the words “running water” but a footnote says “living water”.  Is this where that imagery comes from?

A: Any student of the B’rit Hadashah will soon note that there is very little imagery that hasn’t been used already in the Tanakh. The imagery of the living water is no different, and you are astute to pick that out. I am not sure which translation you are using, but they are right on! Numbers 19:17 reads in the Hebrew (transliterated), “v’lak-chu la-ta-mei may-afar s’ra-faht ha-cha-taht v’natan alav mayim chayim el-keli.” (The bolding is mine.) And the bold words literally mean, “living water,” though most translations do interpret that as running, fresh or flowing water. Now, in Jewish tradition, living water must be fresh or flowing water, as in the context of the mikveh, or ritual immersion. A mikveh isn’t considered kosher unless the water within is “living water,” that is naturally replenished, as in rain water, or flowing, like a river. So the Jewish concept of living water is tied intricately to the idea of running or flowing water. However, the clearest imagery in the Tanakh of the living waters comes from Jeremiah. Jeremiah 2:13 reads, “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns–broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Here, the Lord refers to Himself as the fountain of living waters. This is as compared to broken cisterns, which obviously cannot hold water. Here again is the concept of a continuous flow of water. While we, who are the broken cisterns that can’t hold water, can do nothing on our own without still being empty, if we let the living water fill us, we will continuously be filled, so that no matter how much we pour out, we will still be full. This is the origin of the imagery that John uses in chapter 4 and then again in chapter 7.


Q: My Christian friends think Pentecost was celebrated only after the giving of the Spirit described in Acts 2.  I explained what little I knew of Shavu’ot, but I didn’t really know what went into the actual observance of it.  Rabbi [K] made mention of it in his Shabbat message, but that was after it had passed.  Why didn’t we celebrate Shavu’ot as a congregation?  Isn’t it supposed to be a significant feast?

A: Shavuot is one of the eight major celebrations of Leviticus 23. Shabbat, Passover, Chag ha Matzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread), Yom ha Bikkurim (Firstfruits), Shavuot, Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashannah), Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Leviticus 23:16-22 gives us the basis for the celebration. It was observed by the nation of Israel since that time, though the manner in which it was celebrated changed with the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. The Biblical observance called for a wave offering of bread, along with burnt offerings involving lambs, bulls, rams and goats. And it was to be a Sabbath. Modern observance is very different. First, there is disagreement over when Shavuot should be celebrated. For the other celebrations, a date is given. “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month,” or “On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight.” Shavuot is dependent upon counting the days from “the day after the Sabbath.”  This has been subject to interpretation. Does the “Sabbath” that is mentioned refer to the weekly Sabbath that falls during the week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or does it refer to the first day of Passover, which is a Sabbath as well? The Pharisees interpreted this to be the first day of Passover Sabbath. The Sadducees disagreed, believing that the count should start on the day after the weekly Shabbat. If you read the rest of the passage, one was to count seventh Sabbaths from which ever day you start from. The day after the seventh Sabbath was to be the day of Shavuot. Yet, the Scripture also instructs to count 50 days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. The only way you can count seven Sabbaths in 50 days and end up on the day after the Sabbath is if you start on a Sunday. Therefore, it is my belief, and the practice of our congregation, that the Sabbath mentioned in Leviticus 23:15 is a weekly Sabbath, that the count begins on a Sunday, and seven Sabbaths later, the day after the seventh Sabbath, the 50th day, will then always be on a Sunday. Please note that this is a departure from what the majority of the Jewish community today believes and celebrates. However, I will place my trust in the Word of God, which I believe is clear in this matter. Regardless of which day it is celebrated on, there are certain primary observances. Tradition holds that Shavuot was the day that Moses received the Torah on Sinai.  Therefore, Shavuot is punctuated by a complete reading of the Torah. In many synagogues, the reading will begin erev Shavuot, and continue through the night and all the next day until the entire Torah has been read. This is a daunting task, but ultimately worthwhile, as the reading of Scripture is never a bad thing. Additionally, it is a holiday when only dairy products are consumed, like milk and cheese, blintzes and such. The rabbis said that the Torah was likened to milk in Song of Solomon 4:11. Therefore, since this was recognized as the day that the Torah was given, it is honored by the eating of dairy. Leviticus 23:22, the final verse dealing with this holiday, instructs that when the fields are reaped, the corners are left untouched. The original observance of this festival was as a celebration of the first of the barley harvest. Thus, all of the agricultural references, including the one about the gleaning of the fields. If you will remember, the story of Ruth includes a great deal about the corners of the field. Therefore, there is a connection between the book of Ruth and the observance of Shavuot. So Ruth is also read during this festival. Shavuot is also one of the three pilgrimage festivals, the chagim regalim. That means that when it was celebrated, all men were called to travel to Jerusalem to observe it. The other two are Passover and Sukkot. Acts 2:5 indicate that there were religious Jews from all over the place in Jerusalem at that time. That was because they were there for Shavuot, in observance of the command to go to Jerusalem for the festival. Clearly, Christians didn’t celebrate it before that time, because there really weren’t “Christians” then. That didn’t happen until decades later.  But all of the Jewish believers were celebrating, and still are, this feast of Shavuot. Today, we have the added benefit of the gift that was given in Jerusalem that Shavuot. And the giving of the Spirit is certainly a major focus in our congregation. And in an ideal world, we would have gotten together on “Pentecost Sunday” and read through the Torah, read the book of Ruth, and ate a lot of dairy food. However, it is not an ideal world. Last year, we had the ability to do that. We got together, a small group of us, and read through the Torah, at least as much of it as we could. (As I said, a daunting task.) This year, we weren’t able to do that. It is my prayer that by the time Shavuot rolls around next year, we will be better positioned to be able to observe this important festival, giving it the honor that it is due.

Haftarah and B’rit Hadashah readings

Q: How are the Haftarah and B’rit Hadashah portions selected, and are they the same pairing every year?

A: As mentioned in the question about the Torah cycle, the Haftarah was created essentially during the Babylonian captivity. The Jews were forbidden from reading and studying the Torah. They were not, however, forbidden from the rest of the Bible. The leaders of the day were so familiar with the Torah that they were able to, from memory, select a passage from the rest of the Bible (which was just the Old Testament at the time) that some how related to or reminded of the portion from the Torah that would have been read that Shabbat if they had been allowed. For example, the Torah portion for Parshat Balak, which is June 26th,  is Numbers 22:2-25:9. It encompasses the interaction between Balak, king of Moab, and Balaam, a prophet of the day. When the Jewish people were no longer able to read about this from the Torah, a passage from the prophet Micah was chosen, Micah 5:6-6:8. In Micah 6:5, the people are called upon to remember the events of Balak and Balaam. For that reason, it was selected to be read when the actual Torah portion could not. There did come a time when the Jews were permitted once again to read and study the Torah. But rather than simply discard the passage from the prophets they had been reading and studying for years, they kept that, too. So each Shabbat, a portion is read from the Torah and the Haftarah, both of which are set every year. The Torah portion is inextricably linked to a Haftarah portion. Not so with the B’rit Hadashah. Several different organizations have developed a reading cycle for the B’rit Hadashah. While the readings are sometimes different, the goal is the same. The readings should all connect, somehow. That is, the B’rit Hadashah portion should somehow connect with the Torah portion, Haftarah portion, or preferably, both. While sometimes the connections can be somewhat obscure, more often than not there is a prevailing theme that can be identified throughout the three readings. So for examples of a B’rit Hadashah cycle, you can check out Chosen People Ministries, who use the B’rit Hadashah readings from The Foundation for Leadership and Messianic Education (FLAME). Or, if you have a Complete Jewish Bible, at the end of each Torah portion, there are several different B’rit Hadashah portions listed. But the bottom line is that the Torah portion and Haftarah portions are fixed, the B’rit Hadashah is not. Does this mean that a rabbi will never deviate from the appointed schedule? No. It just means that when it is done, it is a departure from what the rest of the community is doing. And it should be the exception, not the norm. For me, in the absence of a clear message from the Lord to change, I will stick with the given readings. I have been known to depart from the published B’rit Hadashah portion from time to time as the Spirit leads, but will keep with the Torah and Haftarah of tradition.

Torah cycle and then some

Q: We study the Torah chapter by chapter, but the rest of the Bible is only presented in random selections.  Do we ever study the rest of the books as a whole?

A: The cycle of the Torah readings is a fixed cycle. It is something that has bound the Jewish community together for many centuries. While there is a three-year cycle that would read through the entire Torah in 3 years, the more traditional cycle is an annual reading. The additional reading from the Tanakh, called the Haftarah, (not half-Torah), is a reading that has been linked to the particular Torah portion. In most cases, these portions were linked together during a time when the Jewish people were not permitted to study the Torah. So they read and studied a portion from the somewhere else in the Old Testament that somehow related. Once the Torah was allowed to be studied again, the additional reading stuck, and so we have the Torah cycle. As believers in Messiah, we are obligated to also read a portion from the B’rit Hadashah, the New Testament. Those portions are selected based on connectivity to either the Torah portion, the Haftarah portion, or both. But there is no fixed portion. It is easily changed based on how the Holy Spirit leads. Of course, they are all open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and can be adjusted as the leader sees fit, but this would be a break from the rest of the community. The reading or studying of other books as a whole is something that has been done before during Shabbat services, and I would not rule it out in the future. However, that type of study is best handled in the context of a havurah, a small group fellowship or bible study. It really requires an interaction between people that is not easily facilitated during Shabbat services. It is my hope that in the very near future we will be able to launch our small group program, which has been plagued with obstacles since it was announced at the beginning of this year. Persistence will be our ally in the end, and everything will come to pass in God’s perfect timing.