Hear and Do!

900px-Cirrocumulus_to_AltocumulusThis week, Ross covers material contained within Torah readings Nitzavim and VaYelech – the two shortest readings in the entire cycle. He begins with the words of Israel’s ancient prophet Amos concerning a famine in the land; not a famine of bread and water, but a famine of hearing the words of God. Ross works through various passages in Deuteronomy related to the covenant and its relevance for hearers today. He stresses the importance of “hearing” and of “doing” the words of the covenant and points out that living a Torah life is possible today, contrary to teachings that suggest otherwise. The Torah is NOT in heaven, nor is it beyond the sea. It is in your mouth and in your heart to do it!


The Commanded Way

10wordsThis week’s teaching is from Torah Reading Ki Tetzay. It contains more commandments than any other Torah portion. The more than 70 commandments in this Torah reading cover a wide range of subjects, but Ross focuses his teaching on the underlying theme of keeping the commandments. He begins the class by speaking of an age old enemy known as Amalek and then relates that this enemy is fighting against the very Kingdom of God, a kingdom based upon justice and righteousness. Today, the enemies of the kingdom oppose “the way” of that holy kingdom, a way summed up in the commandments. They express this opposition by declaring that living by the commandments is legalistic, archaic, according to the flesh, etc. But this is in direct contradiction to the plain teaching of Scripture. Living the commanded way brings life, blessing and good. Ross shows that Torah living is a challenge, that it is not easy, but neither is it too difficult. You will not want to miss this teaching.


A Drunkard and a Glutton

400px-Maerten_de_Vos_-_Bruiloft_van_CanaAccording to the writers of Matthew and Luke, Jesus reports the following, “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:333-34; cf. Matthew 11:18-19)

What, if anything, does this tell us about the historical Jesus of Nazareth, reportedly from his own words? On the surface it would seem that at the least, John and Jesus had different eating and drinking habits. John was apparently the more ascetic and Jesus was perhaps a bit less disciplined of diet. Is this what the text seeks to convey? Are we to assume that Jesus ate and drank too much, earning him a reputation as a glutton and a drunkard? Certainly this is not the way his modern day followers think of him! Some would admit that he probably tasted of the fruit of the vine, but would never go so far as to suggest that he ever over indulged. In the well-known gospel account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12), it is recorded that Jesus performed a miracle in which he changed water into wine, but many have debated on whether or not the wine was fermented. Did Jesus either miraculously produce or consume fermented drink? And why, we might ask, would his enemies call him a glutton and a drunkard?

Perhaps the charge had nothing at all to do with his diet. The source of the name-calling can be shown to be the Torah of Moses and has more to do with a charge of rebellion against authority than with having too much to eat and drink.

Deuteronomy chapter twenty-one contains a passage that sheds light on our understanding of the charge against Jesus contained in the gospel accounts.

RSV Deuteronomy 21:18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they chastise him, will not give heed to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, `This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard (zolel v’soveh).’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

While we do not possess evidence from the gospels that his mother or father ever brought him before the elders of ‘his city’ with this claim. We do however meet from time to time with family confrontations in the gospels, most of which are explained as examples of hyper dedication on the part of Jesus to perform his father’s business[1].

The passage in question, according to the Hebrew text of Shem Tob’s Matthew[2], as well as the Du Tillet’s Hebrew Matthew[3] both read zolel v’soveh in accordance with Deuteronomy 21:20. It is preserved in such a way that it hardly remains noticeable as a direct link to the charge indicated in the Torah. Rather, we are inclined to take the charge of the unidentified ‘some’ as a scornful reference to Jesus’ eating habits. While the eating habits of Jesus were unlike those of his ascetic cousin John, the text in Matthew 11:19 is more likely referring to the prevalent view of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day that he was a rebel.

Perhaps there are other sayings preserved within the New Testament corpus that are yet to be uncovered that will shed new light on the views of the religious authorities concerning Jesus. While blasphemy is normally understood to be the motivator of several attempted ‘stonings’ of Jesus (Mark 16:64; Matthew 26:65-66; John 19:7; John 8:59; 10:31-33) perhaps there were other factors such as rebellion against religious authority that led the Jews to a negative appraisal of his self-proclaimed task.


[1] Luke records how Jesus remained in Jerusalem while his parents were returning home. This apparently caused some dispute with the young lad, who retorted, “Don’t you know that I am about my Father’s business?” One could also include various accounts scattered throughout the texts that show some disparity between Jesus and his close kin. Examples would include Mark 3:30-35 and similar texts such as John 2:4 etc.

[2] Howard, G. (1995). Hebrew gospel of Matthew (2nd ed.). Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

[3] Trimm, J.S. (1990). B’sorot Matti, the good news according to Matthew from an old Hebrew manuscript. Hurst, TX: Hebrew / Aramaic New Testament Research Institute.


The Prophet Nation

Scale_of_justiceIn this week’s teaching, Ross shares a message from Torah reading Shofetim. It is based upon two Hebrew words often translated as Justice and Righteousness. He illustrates how these two words form the foundation for Israel’s eternal mission, and define the Way of YHVH. Ross then demonstrates from Scripture that Israel is the Servant of YHVH – a servant with a task. The task is shown to be “messianic,” and as Ross explains, many of the prophecies attributed to a messiah figure are actually referring to the nation of Israel. Is Israel referred to as messiah? Can all YHVH’s people be prophets? What is required of a prophet? You will not want to miss this challenging teaching.


I Have A Dream – 51 Years Ago

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_WashingtonFifty-one years ago, on August 28, 1963 an estimated 200,000+ people marched on Washington, D.C. in what was called the march on Washington for jobs and freedom. It was during this march that the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now famous I Have a Dream speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The speech is arguably one of the greatest speeches of the twentieth century and is a hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement in America. In the speech, Dr. King referred to some of America’s founding documents as justification for freedom for ALL. It was an appeal to all who heard his words, to live true to the words of our cherished beliefs that declared liberty and freedom to all of the citizens of America. It was an open challenge for America to live up to its creed, or as Dr. King put it,

I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream . . .”

Following the speech, Dr. King was recognized as TIME Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963 and in 1964, he became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Here is that speech.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. While I claim to be no authority on the man, I have always been inspired by his speeches and have a great admiration for his work – namely in his efforts to achieve social justice and equality on behalf of his people.

I am a student of Scripture and so from this perspective I wanted to share something relevant in regards to the man and his work that I discovered several years ago. As a student of the Torah, I follow the weekly portions of the Law of Moses and in my classes I tend to look for ways to connect our present world with the ancient through these readings which have been in place in Judaism for nearly 2,000 years as far as we can determine. Time and again I have discovered interesting points – where current events seem to coincide with something found within the Torah reading. Several years ago as I prepared my class on the portion of Scripture that deals with the Exodus from Egypt, I immediately thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. who found much similarity between the struggles of his own people and the ancient children of Israel. As it turns out, the regular Torah reading for the week that Martin Luther King was born was the Hebrew Torah Reading that contains the story of the departure of the Children of Israel from the oppressive Egyptians! The texts contained in this reading are Exodus 10:1 – 13:16. Like a modern day Moses, Martin Luther King Jr. would devote his adult life to a struggle for freedom for his people.

I find it worth mentioning that the week he was born, all over the world Jewish people were reading Moses’ words to Pharaoh – “Let my people go!” Did these words carry in the wind into the ears of a small baby who would grow up to speak them again to the oppressors of his own generation? One can only wonder if somehow, these Torah portions contain a glimpse of what our own purposes are to be. At least in the case of Martin Luther King Jr., it would seem to be the case.

In light of the interesting connection between the Hebrew Moses and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, watch this video of his final speech. He would be killed the very next day.

On the anniversary of the March on Washington and the I Have a Dream speech, I have to wonder. For what cause would our generation assemble in such vast numbers. Would we travel great distances at great costs and come together in harmony for any cause? Who is the moral leader of our generation? Who is the voice that could convey a message that has the power to peacefully inspire change? May we all be inspired to seek out injustice in our own world. For as Dr. King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”