The holy stone is then broken: The Chief Rabbi on Ki Tisa

moses-breaks-tablets-of-law-marc-chagall

This week, the Torah reading is Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35), and I would again like to dwell on the thoughts of Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks on this parasha.

The parasha largely deals with Moses’ meeting with God upon Mount Sinai, the tablets of the law, and the apostasy of Israel. God gave Moses tablets of the law, which Moses broke in anger upon seeing his people worshipping the golden calf. This was such a disappointment on a national scale, and even Aaron as the high priest had failed his duty by allowing the sin to occur, and not controlling the people. Moses was then told to carve a replacement tablet, following God’s instruction.

R. Sacks wonders why the first tablet which was written by God’s hand was destroyed, but the second tablet written by the hand of man remained. He writes:

Hence the paradox: the first tablets, made by G-d, did not remain intact. The second tablets, the joint work of G-d and Moses, did. Surely the opposite should have been true: the greater the holiness, the more eternal. Why was the more holy object broken while the less holy stayed whole? This is not, as it might seem, a question specific to the tablets. It is, in fact, a powerful example of a fundamental principle in Jewish spirituality.

R. Sacks asks a fascinating, excellent question.

He then suggests that the two versions of the tablets of the law, are metaphoric of different human encounters with the divine. But there are other ways to approach this question.

We could bear these things in mind:

Although we might naturally assume G-d to be aloof and distant from his creation, here we see the Lord cosmically and dynamically interacting with his people. We are aware of the thunder and the lightning on Mount Sinai, but we can sometimes miss the most intriguing aspect of Ki Tissa, that we learn more about G-d taking on physical attributes here than perhaps anywhere else in Torah.

In Exodus 31:18, we read of G-d speaking with Moses, and giving him a tablet of the law written by the finger of G-d.

 וַיִּתֵּן אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ בְּהַר סִינַי, שְׁנֵי, לֻחֹת הָעֵדֻת–לֻחֹת אֶבֶן, כְּתֻבִים בְּאֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים

In Exodus 33:10, G-d speaks to Moses face to face, like a man talking to his friend. We see here G-d taking upon himself a very human likeness:

 וְדִבֶּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים, כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ

In Exodus 33:22-23, we find the dimensions of G-d curious. G-d promises to cover Moses with his hand, whilst his “glory” walks by. Only G-d’s glory back – but not his face – can be seen by Moses. How then can G-d cover Moses with His hand? The hand belongs to G-d, whilst the face and back belong to the glory of G-d, who is also G-d himself.

וְהָיָה בַּעֲבֹר כְּבֹדִי, וְשַׂמְתִּיךָ בְּנִקְרַת הַצּוּר; וְשַׂכֹּתִי כַפִּי עָלֶיךָ, עַד-עָבְרִי
וַהֲסִרֹתִי, אֶת-כַּפִּי, וְרָאִיתָ, אֶת-אֲחֹרָי; וּפָנַי, לֹא יֵרָאוּ

As for the tablets themselves, they too are given to Moses by G-d, by hand, after He had finished speaking. Speaking, writing, giving and appearing visible are all characteristics you would associate with people on earth, and it seems shocking that G-d should share in these things.

So to Rabbi Sacks’ question: why did what was written by G-d, end up destroyed?

Here we had something holy and descending from on high, which was given to Israel to instruct her in a new way and bring her closer to G-d. Yet this holy instrument of G-d’s righteousness was destroyed because the sins of Israel had caused righteous wrath and anger. Even the priesthood and the teachers of Israel had failed to prevent the people falling into sin.

When the tablets came from on high, they were destroyed. When the tablets were made from the materials which came from bowels of the Earth, they were no longer to be destroyed.

We could compare the tablets to Moshiach. He was sent to Israel to instruct her in a new way and bring her closer to G-d. Moshiach, who embodied G-d’s righteousness, was also destroyed by G-d himself acting in righteous anger, because of the sins of Israel and the whole world. Likewise then, the priesthood and teachers of Israel had failed to prevent the people falling into sin.

Moshiach came from on high, and he perished. When G-d raised Moshiach from the bowels of the Earth, he would never again perish in his incorruptible body.

Beautifully, Moshiach himself was and is the same person as G-d’s glory who passed before Moses.

Ki Tissa may make us initially think of the stone tablets that was destroyed by Moses, but we may also think of the rejected stone destroyed by G-d, which became the chief cornerstone (Psalm 118:22).

אֶבֶן, מָאֲסוּ הַבּוֹנִים–    הָיְתָה, לְרֹאשׁ פִּנָּה

This stone was broken at first, but then was forever to be unbroken – a pattern we see first developed in Ki Tissa.

Was Moses a priest? The Chief Rabbi on Tetsaveh

hirschfeld(1)

This week, the Torah reading is Tetsaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10), and I would like to dwell on the thoughts of Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks on this parasha.

The parasha deals almost exclusively with Aaron and the priests. Chabad has an article providing further details about the priestly uniform.

Rabbi Sacks notes that this is the only parasha reading spanning Exodus/Shemot to Deuteronomy/Dvarim that does not mention Moses by name. Distancing himself from other popular views slightly, R.Sacks does not see the absence of Moses as any kind of punishment or cause for sorrow, but rather as a way to focus on Aaron, who took charge of the priestly office:

Moses the prophet dominates four of the five books that bear his name. But in Tetsaveh for once it is Aaron, the first of the priests, who holds centre-stage, undiminished by the rival presence of his brother. For whereas Moses lit the fire in the souls of the Jewish people, Aaron tended the flame and turned it into “an eternal light”.

R. Sacks notes:

No other type of religious personality has had the impact as the prophets of Israel, of whom the greatest was Moses. The priests, by contrast, were for the most part quieter figures, a-political, who served in the sanctuary rather than in the spotlight of political debate. Yet they, no less than the prophets, sustained Israel as a holy nation.

Rabbi Sacks’ posting really made me ponder, and I came to the conclusion that surely you could count Moses as a priest.

R. Sacks notes the differences between a prophet and a priest in Israel. He is mainly  concerned with the office of priesthood compared to that of prophet, as the role developed in Israel following the law G-d gave in Tetsaveh.

But before the priest’s role in Israel was detailed in Tetsaveh, priests did exist – we read in Parasha Lech Lecha (Gen 14) how Melchizedek King of Salem brought bread and wine to Abraham, and that he was a “priest to the Most High God”.  Curiously, Abraham offered a tithe to Melchizedek, as we read:

וַיִּתֶּן לוֹ מַעֲשֵׂר מִכֹּל

The priests of Israel, the sons of Aaron would also receive tithes. We even read in Psalm 110 that Melchizedek’s priesthood would be echoed in an eternal priesthood:

ד נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה, וְלֹא יִנָּחֵם– אַתָּה-כֹהֵן לְעוֹלָם;
עַל-דִּבְרָתִי, מַלְכִּי-צֶדֶק.

So the concept of being a priest is beyond the definition of Tetsaveh.

In which ways, then, was Moses a priest? We see his actions in lifting up the serpent in Parasha Chukat (Numbers 21), in which we see Moses acting as a priest for his people:

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

Here, Moses offers up prayers and performs an action that provides atonement for his people. It is not a sacrifice or an incense, but it is still the direct following of God’s command, by lifting up the serpent.

The Psalmist acknowledges Moses as a priest (Psalm 99:6):

מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, בְּכֹהֲנָיו

Moses and Aaron among His priests

So although I admire R. Sacks’ writings and logic, ultimately Moses like Aaron was a priest – it can’t be therefore that Moses is not found in Tetsaveh because it was all about priests, as Moses too was a priest, although not in quite the same official way as Aaron was.

Moses was both priest and prophet, yet initially he was not widely recognised as a leader. He voluntarily left behind a life of riches and had to escape certain death in Egypt, surviving an infant massacre.

In Dvarim (Deuteronomy 18:17-19), G-d promises to send a prophet like Moses to Israel – there was no-one more like Moses than Moshiach himself, who also combined the roles of king and priest.

Like Moses, Moshiach’s priesthood was different to Aaron’s.

Perhaps this is the greater mystery towards which Tetsaveh might point us.

Yad L’Achim hands list of missionaries “faking Chabad conversions” to Chief Sephardi Rabbi

You couldn’t make this up :)

From Judeus.org, we learn:

R. Amar

R. Amar

The Chief Sephardi Rabbi has received from an anti-missionary organisation, a list of over 60 missionaries who are in the process of conversion to Judaism, or whose only goal is to infiltrate Torah-observant communities. The list includes names, addresses, and ID numbers of missionaries who have hidden their true faith and purpose. many of them have already completed a long process of conversion, including a series of tests, some whom have received conversion certificates, proclaiming themselves to be Jews despite their secret beliefs and their true intent.

With the help of these certificates, some of them have succeeded in infiltrating some haredi and Chabadnik communites, taking advantage of the rulings given by religious courts. The religious courts of Israel could not have imagined that these apparently innocent converts belonged to messianic sects whilst preaching their terrorist doctrine to Jews.

Rav Amar was totally shocked by the facts that were presented to him, and welcomed the plan that Rav Lipschitz had come up with, in order to stop missionaries taking advantage of Batei Din.

Rav Lipschitz presented a list of 17 specific questions that should be asked to all prospective converts. Each question requires a “Yes” or “No” answer. He explained that, according to messianic beliefs, it is forbidden to deny a question related to your faith, and if a missionary lies, his conversion was not sincere and can be annulled.

Even if the convert is not a missionary but simply wants to convert in order to immigrate to Israel or get state benefits from Israel, in this case, the rabbi explained, it is not a spiritual question, but a political one, and you are likely dealing with a false convert.

“You need to know exactly what to ask, and how to ask it, in a way that leaves no room for doubts,” he said.

The anti-missionary organisation Sefer Israel has launched a course, approved by the Chief Rabbinate, that aims to prepare judges on the Beit Din Hagadol to confront the worldview of the “messianic Jews”. “New enemies demand new strategies”, the rabbi declared.

The questionnaire was immediately adopted by Rav Amar, who is also a Nassi on the Beit Din Hagadol.

R. Eybeschutz’ Amulets & Moshiach

This is Part 3 of our Emden-Eybeschutz series (See Part 1 and Part 2)

R. Jonathan Eybeschutz

R. Jonathan Eybeschutz

R. Yakov Emden was the 18th century rabbi who argued that the Gospels presented a message of love for the Gentiles, and obliged Jews to keep the Torah in love, as Yeshua and his disciples did.

He lived in Altona where he oversaw a shul in the same town as R. Jonathan Eybeschutz, the former Talmud censor, Dayan of Prague and Chief Rabbi of Metz, who became the Chief Rabbi of the Three Communities – Altona, Hamberg and Wansbeck (AHW) – in 1750.

Emden and Eybeschutz became fierce rivals.

Why? The Yivo Encyclopedia explains what led Emden to oppose Eybeschutz so vociferously, and in public:

When some expectant mothers who had purchased amulets of protection from Eybeschütz in Metz and in AHW mysteriously died, the amulets were opened and discovered to contain combinations of letters that hinted at the name Shabetai Tsevi. A polemic was then initiated by Ya‘akov Emden, who published many pamphlets accusing Eybeschütz of belonging to a clandestine cult that engaged in corrupt practices, including sexual perversities. The controversy raged for nearly two decades and engulfed communities throughout Europe. Regionally, Eybeschütz’s supporters were strong in Eastern Europe, particularly in the Bohemian lands, whereas Emden’s allies formed a wide-ranging coalition of Eybeschütz’s enemies in Western Europe. Emden’s most prominent supporter was Ya`akov Yehoshu‘a ben Aleksander ha-Kohen Falk, the chief rabbi of Frankfurt am Main. Falk, considered one of the greatest scholars of his generation, was perceived as being impartial.

The controversy began to die down in 1755, after the publication of Eybeschütz’s Luḥot ha-‘edut (Tablets of the Testimony), which contained many letters of support. In 1760 the controversy was renewed when it was discovered that some of Eybeschütz’s students were indeed affiliated with the Sabbatian cult. At the same time, Eybeschütz penned a brilliant memorandum at the request of Polish Jewry, who were charged with the blood libel by the Frankists.

Sabbatai Zevi was a Jew from Ismir who claimed to be the divine Moshiach, and convinced most Jews that he was going to restore Israel’s glory. Most Jews stopped believing in him when he converted to Islam, after he was  threatened by the Ottoman Sultan.

Zevi converted to Islam in 1666, and died in 1676. Some Jews, including many rabbis, remained secret believers in Zevi – even after his death. The Emden-Eybeschutz controversy erupted in the early 1750s, a good 75 years after Zevi’s death.

So R. Emden accused R. Eybeschutz – the greatest rabbinic scholar of his day – of being a heretical Jew who believed that the Jewish Moshiach would be resurrected, bring a new Torah for Israel, judge the nations, and bring about the messianic age. Moreover, R. Emden would also accuse R. Eybeschutz of being a secret believer in Yeshua the Nazarene as well as being a Sabbatean.

But was R. Eybeschutz a Sabbatean?

The answer to this question, very likely, is “yes”, despite the many protestations of he, his peers, his congregants and his fellow rabbis. We will look at some reasons why in a future post.

For now, I just wish to point out that the implications of this story about R. Eybeschutz’s beliefs are very revealing. The whole Emden-Eybeschutz controversy really proves that Jews who hold unpopular beliefs about the resurrection of Moshiach and the new Torah for Israel can still be considered holy, righteous men within Judaism.

Within time, I am sure this perception will extend to Messianic Jews who worship Yeshua as Moshiach.

Terror-Linked Rabbi Dov Lior Condemns Messianic Jews

R. Dov Lior

R. Dov Lior

We are used to Yad L’Achim saying stupid things about Jewish believers in Yeshua haMoshiach being “spiritual terrorists”.

Continuing on this theme, the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba Dov Lior has claimed in Arad that Messianic Jews are worse than terrorists.

We read on Yad L’Achim’s website:

Harav Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba-Hebron, spoke of the obligation of each and every person to warn of the dangers of missionaries who lay in wait seeking to entrap innocent Jews. He expressed hope that we would shortly merit to see the fulfillment of the verse, “Sinners will cease from the earth.” (Tehillim, 104,35)

Rav Lior added that missionaries were worse than terrorists, as our Sages teach that one who causes another to sin is worse than one who kills him.

Of course, Dov Lior hasn’t killed anyone.

But he has inspired others to murder, which is a terrible sin!

Haaretz reported last month:

The wretchedness of the law in the face of Rabbi Dov Lior has many meanings, and Lior’s refusal to be interrogated over his support for “The King’s Torah – The Laws for Killing Gentiles” – only marginally gets at the heart of the matter.

Thirty years ago, the terrorist organization known as the “Jewish Underground” was set up with the purpose of killing Arabs. The group’s head of operations, Menachem Livni – who was convicted on multiple counts of murder before being pardoned by the regime – testified at the time that the living spirit, the initiator, the religious instructor and the coordinator of the murders was Lior.

This was true for the murders the underground carried out, and was also true for the pressure he put on the murderers to blow up buses and their passengers. The law states that someone who dispatches murders should receive multiple life sentences, along with additional time for organizing the crime. But thanks to instruction from higher up, Lior was never imprisoned, put to trial and or even properly interrogated.

And so he continued: Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron in 1994, saw Lior as his rabbi and counselor. After the Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre, Lior declared that “Baruch Goldstein was holier than the saints of the Holocaust.” The living spirit behind the religious edicts against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which lead to his 1995 assassination, was also, according to testimonies, Lior. Rabin’s assassin frequented Hebron, where he used to see Lior.

So by provoking terrorists to sin, Dov Lior is actually worse than they are.

That’s not me saying this. He has condemned himself by his own words.

The Rabbis Behind the Ashdod Protests: Chaim Pinto

R. Chaim Pinto

R. Chaim Pinto

Alongside Dov Lipschitz and the Abuchatzeira brothers, the name Chaim Pinto appeared on the list of rabbis protesting. Chaim Pinto is an in-law of the Baba Baruch and so closely affiliated with members of the Abuchatzeira family.

If you recognise the name, you may have heard of Chaim’s famous son Josiah Pinto, a rabbi to the stars in the USA. Josiah Pinto famously met with NBA star LeBron James, as celebrity website TMZ reported last year.

Chaim Pinto is the Chief Sephardi rabbi of Ashdod, as well as being the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Malachi. Ma’ariv covered this story, and featured a local council member commenting rather enigmatically that R. Sheinin – the official Chief Rabbi of Ashdod – was perceived as not being able to meet the spiritual needs of all of Ashdod’s religious citizens.

This inevitably raises the question: why would one city need two rabbis?

Naturally, there are always tensions between rival religious instructors in the same town, although I suppose finding a common enemy (Messianic Jews) and shouting loudly about them is a great way to encourage unity amongst the brethren.

United Synagogue Quotes the Gospels

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The London Jewish Chronicle reports on the United Synagogue:

Shul-goers were left wondering over the United Synagogue’s leaflet on the weekly Torah portion last Shabbat. A helpful illustration of the High Priest’s costume came with a quotation from an unexpected source, the Gospel of Matthew.

Could the Archbishop of Canterbury be making a bid to be next Chief Rabbi?