Salvation From Both a Jewish and Christian Perspective- Part 1

This is the first time I have tried to give a teaching that will be formatted in a series of small lessons. I would appreciate any comments, either during or after the entire lesson is completed, which will let me know if any of you like this form of teaching. I will continue to post my normal “Drash to Start the Day” individual messages, but if you like these more in-depth lessons posted a bit at a time, please let me know.

 

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Before we look at the different views of salvation that exist between Jews and Christians, we should agree on what we mean when we talk about “salvation.” Salvation is the forgiveness of sin, meaning we are freed from the consequences (which could be either spiritual, physical or both) of the violations of God’s law that we have committed, which also means redemption from spending eternity in Hell (whatever form that takes) enabling us to have eternal life in the presence of God.

Since salvation is redemption from a crime or a sin, how do we achieve it? Well, in the case of a Civil crime, if we go to court and the judge finds for us, we are saved from paying a fine. If a corporation is suffering failure and a larger one comes along and merges with them, injecting new funds, that corporation has found salvation from bankruptcy. And what about life insurance? If a spouse passes away, there are many expenses that must be incurred and life insurance can be a real (pardon the pun) life-saver by providing the needed funds which could be salvation from debt.

These are types of salvation we find in the physical world, but we want to discuss the “religious” kind of salvation, which is first and foremost given to us in the Torah: we call it the Sacrificial System.

In Judaism as in Christianity, the shedding of innocent blood is the only way to atone for sin, and God outlined in the first 7 chapters of the Book of Leviticus the different types of sacrifices to be made in order to receive forgiveness for the different types of sin we commit.

In Christianity, the way to receive salvation is not through this sacrificial system but by means of the sacrifice performed by the Messiah, Yeshua ha Mashiach (Jesus Christ), which we receive when we profess faith in him.

Ultimately, salvation comes from faith. Just as with Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness (meaning sinless in God’s eyes), the way we find salvation is through our individual repentance and faith in God and the Messiah; a faith that inspires obedience.

The one thing about salvation that is agreed upon in both Jewish and Christian theology is that salvation, meaning forgiveness from sin and eternity in the presence of God, will come about through the intervention of a Messiah.

Judaism is the progenitor of the idea of a Messiah and is also from whence the Messiah will originate. The Tanakh (the “Jewish” Bible) has over 130 different references to the Messiah, and there are also many references to him in the Talmud, all of which tell us what to expect of him so that when he arrives we will be able to recognize him. In order to understand the Jewish expectations of the Messiah, let’s review some of these now.

Even before the Messiah comes, there will be specific events that signal his arrival. In Ezekiel 38:16 we are told there will be wars and suffering before the coming of the Messiah. The prophets Isaiah (11:11-12), Jeremiah (23:8 and 30:3) and Hosea (3:4-5) prophesied that before Messiah arrives God will regather his people back to their land (Israel.)

Because of what the prophets have said, Jews expect other things from the Messiah, as well. For instance, there will be the restoration of the religious courts of justice and we will have a one-world government (Isaiah 2:2-4, 11:10, and 42:1; Jeremiah 33:15.) The prophet Zephaniah (3:13) said there will be an end to wickedness, sin, and heresy. There will be rewards to the righteous, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the restoration of the line of David and one of the greatest of all Messianic (Jewish) expectations: the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem and the temple service (Jeremiah 33:18.)

Besides the general expectations we have seen already for what the Messiah will do, the Tanakh gives us very specific instructions on how to recognize the Messiah.  Micah 5:12 tells us he will be born in Bethlehem, Isaiah 7:14 tells us he will be born of a virgin (there is an on-going argument about the use of the word “almah” in this passage), Isaiah 35:56 and 42:18 tell us that he will have the power to heal people, Daniel 9:24-26 tells us exactly when the Messiah will come (which has been mathematically worked out to the day Yeshua rode into Jerusalem on the back of a colt), Zachariah 11:12 lets us know he will be sold out for 30 pieces of silver, and (finally) Isaiah 53:5-7 and 53:12 give us the best news of all- his death will atone for the sins of all mankind.

This ends the first portion of this teaching, which is to identify the Jewish expectations of their Messiah and how they should recognize him when he arrives. Next, we will discuss why within Judaism, at that time and since then, the Jewish people (as a whole) have not accepted Yeshua as their Messiah.

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I welcome any comments you may want to make- just be nice.

Until the next time, lehitraot and Baruch HaShem!!

 

 

Is Absence of a Commandment a Commandment?

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Once again we are celebrating the holiday of Hanukkah. This is the celebration of the military victory the Israelites had over the last of the Seleucid kings, Antiochus Epiphanes who was instigating Hellenism- the obliteration of any religion, language and culture that is not Greek. It also celebrates the cleansing and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, which had suffered what Daniel prophesied as the abomination of desecration caused by the Greeks sacrificing pigs to their gods using the altar in the Temple. The miracle of the one day supply of holy oil lasting for 8 days is why we call this the Festival of Lights.

Here’s something to consider: if it wasn’t for God’s intervention and the Maccabees leadership, it is possible that the Enemy of God, that old lion HaSatan, could have wiped out not just the Jewish people, but Judaism, altogether! And, because the Messiah comes from the Jewish people, if Antiochus had been successful, there would be no salvation for the world.

This event occurred roughly 165 years before Yeshua’s ministry, and Yeshua, himself, celebrated it in Jerusalem (John 10:22), yet it is not a festival that God commanded us to observe (the celebration of Hanukkah at that time is also confirmed by Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews 12.7.323-326.)

The story of Hanukkah, found in the books of the Maccabees (1 and 2) are not in the Tanakh, but in the collection of extra-biblical books called the Apocrypha. These are not considered to be scripture by any of the Judeo-Christian religions, except Roman Catholicism. The celebration and rituals for Hanukkah are Talmudic, meaning Hanukkah is a man-made tradition created by the Rabbis of old and found in the Babylonian Talmud tractate Shabbat 21b.

For this reason, there is some contention whether or not we should celebrate it at all. The main reasons for ignoring it are that it is not a commanded Holy Day and that it is a tradition, and Yeshua said that we should not follow the traditions of men.

So…let’s take a look at these objections, and let’s start with the latter objection: Yeshua said all traditions of men are bad. The only thing wrong with this argument is that it is, well… wrong!

One of the most quoted New Covenant verses to justify that all traditions of men are wrong is Mark 7:6-13. That chapter starts with the Pharisees complaining to Yeshua that his Talmudim (Disciples) do not wash their hands before eating, which is a violation of the tradition of N’tlat Yadayin. Here is Yeshua’s answer to them:

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother, and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

The complaint Yeshua had was not against our traditions, but that the Pharisees were using these traditions to nullify God’s commandments. In other words, Yeshua is not against our traditions but when they are used to nullify God’s commandment.

And you might be surprised to know that the Talmud agrees with Yeshua!! Here is an excerpt from a report on the website yashanet.com regarding this topic:

The Talmud states that the ritual of hand washing (Netilat Yadayim) is invalid if the mind and heart is not also “cleansing.” In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, stated: “In life it is not the dead who make you unclean; nor is it the water you wash your hands with, but rather the ordinances of the King of Kings that purifies.” Much later, Rabbi Maimonides (Rambam) made a similar comment, “For to confine oneself to cleaning the outward appearance through washing and cleaning the garment, while having at the same time a lust for various pleasures and unbridled license … merits the utmost blame.”

Sounds like whitewashed sepulchers full of dirty bones, doesn’t it?

This report goes on to cover many other issues of Yeshua and the Talmud, and the general conclusion is that Yeshua was a Torah observant man who also followed the traditions of the Rabbis (I am adding-when they did not nullify God’s commands!)

Here are other conclusions from that report:

Rabbi John Fischer, Ph.D. Th.D wrote: “The Gospels provide sufficient evidence to the effect that Jesus did not oppose any prescription of the written or oral Mosaic Law.”

Finkel; G. Friedlander wrote: “In effect, Yeshua built a “fence around the Law” – as indicated by the Aramaic and Hebrew underlying “fulfill” – much as the earlier sages cited by the Talmud did (Pirke Avot 1.2). And, his fence is remarkably similar to that of the sages.”

Tim Hegg wrote: “Yeshua certainly follows the halachah of the Sages in spite of the fact that such traditions are not explicitly stated in the Written Torah.”

Shemayah Yardin wrote: “There is no evidence that suggests the Netzarim abandoned their Orthodox Judaism, and there is no evidence that proves the Netzarim rejected the Oral Torah. There is however, ample evidence in scripture and history, as shown extensively, that Rebbe Yeshua, his Shlichim (Apostles) and all his followers (the Netzarim) all supported, endorsed, taught and lived according to Written and Oral Torah, and the halachot, customs and traditions of the Sages.”

David Stern wrote: “Based on all of my research, myself and my colleagues, have found without any doubt, that Yeshua’s teachings and life style was closer to Hasidic Judaism than any other form of Judaism.”

So it is clear when we look at the Talmud and the research of biblical scholars (Jewish ones, to boot!) that Yeshua was NOT against traditions. He was against those people who used traditions to overrule what God commanded from us.

Now that we know traditions are not bad and that Yeshua did not reject all man-made traditions, we can look at the first objection to celebrating Hanukkah: it is not a festival created by God.

Since we know that tradition is not unacceptable when practiced correctly, the real question regarding celebrating anything that is not specifically defined and commanded in the Torah is this- is the absence of a commandment a commandment?

In other words, if we are not told to do something, does doing it automatically make it a sin?

Well, we know the converse is true- if we are told not to do something and we do, that is a sin. No problem there, right? We all agree? Good.

But…if we are NOT told, for instance, to celebrate a particular event, is celebrating it a sin?

Sin is a violation of God’s commandment, but if God doesn’t give us a commandment about something, then what?

There are many verses in the Torah about which animals are allowed for the different sacrifices but there is nothing telling us how to kill them. Based on other laws about treatment of our animals we can infer that the Torah would require that we kill them humanely, but (again) God does not give us a specified procedure. However, we do have one- it is called the Shechita, and it is found in the Talmud. It is a man-made tradition. However, it is obvious that God allowed it since that is how the sacrifice was performed by Aaron and his descendants up to the time Yeshua taught at the Temple in Jerusalem and even past that time until the Temple was destroyed.

And all that time these sacrifices had been accepted by God.

There is no specified or commanded procedure for performing the B’rit Milah (circumcision) but God has accepted it from Abraham’s day onward. The procedure is outlined in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 133a and b.

Here we have looked at two of the most important elements in the Jewish worship of God, and how we are to perform them is not commanded in the Torah. The Talmud defined how we are to perform them and this has been accepted by God- even though they are man-made traditions.

It is clear that Jewish traditions are not unacceptable to God and that Yeshua did not deny the validity of man-made traditions. These wrongful teachings were designed and propagated by the Enemy to separate us from God, and it is my passionate opinion that anyone who universally denies the validity of the Talmud or Jewish traditions that do not specifically nullify God’s commandments are doing the work of the Enemy of God.

Those celebrations and traditions which are man-made and designed to give thanks to God and demonstrate a heartfelt worship and love for him are acceptable to God. It is not the tradition that is the issue, but the manner in which it is practiced.

Washing of hands before the meal is not a sin, but telling someone who doesn’t wash their hands before eating that they are sinning is a sin. Celebrating Hanukkah as a way to give thanks to God for his intervention which caused the miraculous salvation of his people is certainly acceptable to God. Celebrating Hanukkah as nothing more than a day to exchange gifts and eat latkes (I believe) is not acceptable to God as a form of true worship.

I certainly hope this settles the matter for people, once and for all. As Isaiah said (which Yeshua quoted), it isn’t what we do that is the issue, it is what is in our hearts when we do it. Following the Torah exactly with a heart bent on simply following the rules is nothing more than legalism, and celebrating or practicing man-made traditions with heartfelt thanksgiving and to show our love for and worship of God is righteous and acceptable to God.

Is This Really the Image We Want to Project?

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Every Friday I usually give a message on the Torah reading (parashah), but I saw an article in the local paper this morning and feel I need to talk about it, instead.

Some of you may take what I say here the wrong way so please be patient and do not allow yourself to jump to conclusions based on a word or phrase I use. I pray that I will say what I want to say in an effective way.

The article showed a gay pride parade with some of the marchers taking pictures of people on the other side of a police barrier, taking pictures of them. Those on the other side were wearing shirts with words on them such as, “Jesus is the Lord” and “Gay is an abomination.”

The image is clearly that “Christians” don’t like gay people. I believe this is not the image we should be sending.

There is an immediate and effective argument that anyone who is being protested against can use, which is the fallback excuse that the person protesting is “racist.” That word used in that context will almost always deflate the protester’s argument. When we add to it the somewhat extreme actions of wearing shirts that declaim the people and exclaim a “religious” attitude that will only add fuel to the fire of accusations.

I have family members who are gay, and I never stopped loving them for a second. I also never felt “devastated” by their lifestyle. I do not agree with that lifestyle and do not condone it, but I accept that that is who they are. Is homosexuality a sin? Of course it is! …so is lying, so is cheating on your taxes, so is taking that ream of copier paper from work to use at home, and so is gossiping about the neighbors. All of these are sins, and as far as God is concerned, one sin is as bad as another.

There are those that sin on purpose without any sense of remorse or repentance, and they are not going to be forgiven (that makes sense, doesn’t it?); and there are those who sin but don’t want to, and when they repent and remorsefully ask for forgiveness they will receive it (by means of the sacrifice of  Messiah Yeshua.)

The world says we should be tolerant of each other, but the world’s idea of tolerance seems to be not just acceptance, but support. I think the world doesn’t really understand what “tolerance” should be. To tolerate something doesn’t mean that you agree with it or that you condone it, and certainly should not in any way indicate support of it; for me, it depends on what we are tolerating. What I mean is this: I tolerate a friend who has a good heart but can be a real pain the neck to deal with sometimes. I tolerate a co-worker who may be lazy but will eventually get the job done with some prodding. I tolerate my cat waking me up 1 hour earlier than I want to be woken up.

What I don’t tolerate is someone who is cruel and unfair. I don’t tolerate injustice or cheating on your spouse. I don’t tolerate bullying or speaking against God. And by not tolerating I mean I will speak up against it, I will take action to stop it, or I will simply walk away and ignore the one doing it.

As for homosexuality, I see it as sin and will not tolerate someone forcing it on another, or someone denying another their right to choose how they will live. And yes- it is a choice; whether it is caused by hormones, it is genetic or for some other reason, the truth is that everything we do in our life is a choice. If someone feels that they are not the gender their body has, they can choose to go with their feelings or to submit to their physicality. I do not say one or the other is right or wrong, only that feeling the way they do they have a choice what to do about it.

I would rather have seen those “Christians” that were protesting the gay rights parade wearing regular clothes and holding up signs that would be more compassionate and understanding. Signs that said, “You do have a choice” or “We don’t love what you do but we can still love you”, or things similar to that form of compassionate disagreement. Protest the sin and do so not in an accusatory way, but in a compassionate, understanding way that still gets across the idea that their lifestyle is not acceptable to God.

Just as with any sin that we come against, we should protest the sin but leave any judgment of that person who sins between that person and God.

The image of a Believer, whether a Christian, Messianic Jew, Hebrew Roots, or whatever should be one of compassionate understanding with intolerance of wrongdoing. It is a delicate balance, a thin line to walk on, but with spiritual maturity and biblical understanding, we can achieve a dialog that will not be accusatory or support a claim of racism.

If we want to stop sin, we must do so in a way that will not turn away the sinner but attract them.

And I don’t know what that is- it probably needs to be determined case-by-case. But I trust in God that the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) will lead me in a way that can accomplish God’s desire for everyone, which he tells us in Ezekiel 18:23:

Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD; and not rather that he should return from his ways, and live?

God wants everyone to have eternal life…it’s our choice whether we choose that or not.

Parashah Chayei Sarah 2018 (The life of Sarah) Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

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This parashah begins with the end of Sarah’s life. Abraham buys a burial cave and after the mourning period, he has Eliezer, his servant and guardian of all he owns (like Joseph was for Potipher’s household) go back to Abrahams’ old village to find a wife for Isaac from amongst Abraham’s own family. God goes ahead of Eliezer and Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s brother, Nachor, is the one God has chosen. After she is brought back and joined with Isaac, the parashah ends with a note about the other sons Abraham had through his second wife, Keturah- 6 more sons. Finally, we are told of Abraham’s death and burial. The last lines of this parashah give us the names of the sons of Ishmael, who become 12 nations.

I need to confess some pridefulness on my part in that I have always thought that the numberless amount of descendants that God promised Abraham would beget (Gen. 15:5) are the Jewish people. I never really thought of anyone else that came from Abraham’s loins as being part of that number. Oh, yes- I recognized that the Arab peoples were brothers, way, way back somewhere since they also came from Abraham, but I always thought the descendants that counted were just the Jewish people.

Lately, I have had discussions with other people who claim they are one of the tribes sent into the Diaspora and are just now tracing themselves back to their Israelite tribe. The 10 tribes that have been dispersed throughout the world have also lost their origins, having been assimilated into the culture and bloodlines of the geographical locations to which they went. And these locations are worldwide, from Asia through Africa, in Europe- all over!

We all know that Abraham had 2 sons, Ishmael and Isaac- one became the Arab nations and the other the Jewish nation. But do you recall that in this parashah we are told of 6 other sons that Abraham had? He gave them all gifts and sent them on their own way, and since his first two sons grew into nations that numbered (and still do) in the millions, it only seems reasonable to believe that God’s promise to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens would also be fulfilled through these other 6 sons. That means that we know of at least 24 tribes from Ishmael and Isaac, alone, and who knows how many more tribes from the other 6 sons?

Over the past 5 Millennia, that’s a heck of a lot of people! Even when we consider that some of the Semitic tribes have been destroyed, such as the Assyrians and Babylonians, that still leaves plenty of descendants.

My point is that God’s promise to Abraham may not have been restricted to just the Jewish descendants. There may be more “sons and daughters of Abraham” around than I ever thought there were. My “special” condition, being a Jewish descendant of Abraham, may not really be oh-so-special, after all. And I confess I felt a little let down by that realization; on the other hand, after I thought it over a bit more, I started to think this is a good thing.

God promised Abraham his descendants would be more numerous than the stars, more than the grains of sand on the beach, and when we think about that promise as including the adopted children of Abraham, that fits in perfectly with what we are told in the Bible.

John 10:16– “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd” 

Gal. 3:29– “For if you belong to Messiah, you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” 

Isaiah 56:6-8“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, everyone who keeps from profaning the Sabbath and holds fast My covenant; even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” 

Psalm 86:9– All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name.

Hosea 2:23– “I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, and I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!'”

That verse in Hosea is, contextually, dealing with the regathering of Israel, but the adopted sons and daughters will be the regathered, as well.

There are many other verses throughout the Bible, Old and New Covenants, which indicate God’s plan to bring all the nations- not just those that are the direct descendants of Abraham- into his salvation.

I have met many people over the years, especially those that have seen my testimony, who have stated they wished they had been born Jewish. Others have come to me or have posted that they are just now finding out that their grandparents were Jewish (many European and Sephardic Jews hid their Jewish lineage for fear of being persecuted or killed.)

The truth I have now accepted is that being a “Jew” is not so special, after all, since I have many brothers and sisters who are all children (either directly or adopted) of Abraham, throughout the world. And they are, indeed, as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

The conclusion I have come to is this: being a Jew by birth is not what is special. What is special is to accept Yeshua as my Messiah and to live my life as my Messiah did, worshiping the Holy One of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through obedience to his Torah.

Why Christianity Has Ignored the Torah

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Today I am doing pretty much an opinion piece but the historical references are accurate.

I have two theories about why Christianity, in general, has ignored the Torah. In truth, most of the Tanakh is ignored, but the Torah, which has been misidentified as “the Law”, is taught to have been done away with by Yeshua’s sacrifice. As such, Christianity has been focused on love and forgiveness, and has marketed salvation through the Blood of Christ as a “Come as you are” party, after which you can “stay as you are.”  

First, we must remember that in First Century Jerusalem there were two religions: Judaism and Roman paganism. When a Gentile repented of their pagan ways and accepted Yeshua as their Messiah, they were converting to Judaism- there was nothing else. When a Jew accepted that Yeshua was the Messiah, he didn’t convert to anything because Yeshua was (and still is) Jewish and taught from the Tanakh, which included the Torah. So, Jews were still Jews and Gentiles were converting to Judaism.

The Elders in Jerusalem gave the new Gentile Believers some time to wean their way (so to speak) off of paganism and into this very different lifestyle by only having 4 absolutely “You can’t do this anymore” items on the list of immediate changes they must make (see Acts 15:19-21.) Soon, there were more Gentiles accepting Yeshua than Jews, and the distance between a Jewish lifestyle and the changes Gentiles had to make was growing further and further apart.

To add to the problem, Rome was persecuting the Jewish population because they were rebelling against Roman rule. This was not a religious persecution, mind you- it was a political one. To the converting Gentiles, though, it didn’t matter- the closer they were associated with Jews, the more under Roman persecution they came. Let’s not forget that the power elite in Judea also was persecuting this new sect of Judaism(it isn’t Christianity yet) because the teachings of Yeshua eroded the power base of the Pharisees, which was a performance-based salvation through which they could control the people by use of traditions they created.

By the end of the 1st Century leading into the 2nd Century, the majority of Believers were Gentiles who changed the rules of worship. The Sabbath was changed to Sunday and Ignatius of Antioch proclaimed Judaism and (now called) Christianity were unable to exist together. At this time we see most of the commandments in the Torah being ignored and the (mostly) Gentile Believers no longer had anything to do with Judaism.

NOTE: this back-fired on the Christians because to the Roman government, what was even worse than rebelling was forming a new religion. The Jewish persecution stopped sometime around the time of the first Jewish-Rome wars (60-90 C.E.)  when Rome had killed thousands of Jews and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. The next devastation of the Jewish population was about 60 years later during the Bar Kochba Rebellion, and by then Christians only had to worry about Rome.

The second reason, in my opinion, that Christianity ignored the Torah is because of a terrible misunderstanding of the “Great Commission”, which is considered a commandment by Yeshua to go out and make disciples of everyone in the world. This is found in Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19.

I call it a terrible misinterpretation because it has been used as the justification for slaughtering thousands upon thousands of Jews and Muslims over the centuries (the Crusades and the Inquisition are the best-known means of performing what can only be called a “religious genocide”, but Nazi Germany and the Russian Pogroms are an indirect result of this.) The idea of going throughout the world and spreading the Good News was meant to be a benevolent ministry, not a military incursion where people are forced to convert or die. Any condemnation for rejecting God and/or Yeshua was to be administered by God, not people.

At some point, people realized that instead of the threat of death, to make the “Great Commission” successful market it as a “Once saved, always saved” program, and to sell the idea that “God loves you just as you are, ask forgiveness in his name and go to heaven.” Now that is an easy sell!

“Wow! All I have to do is proclaim Jesus is the Messiah, I am sorry I have sinned, please forgive me in Jesus’s name, Amen…and that’s all? Really? Just repeat the “Sinner’s Prayer” and I will be guaranteed a place in heaven forever? Where do I sign?”

See what I mean? Now, if I came to you and said you need to repent, accept Yeshua as your Messiah and follow the 613 commandments in the Torah, you might want to think about it for a while. Like, maybe, for the rest of your life think about it! It’s not an easy thing to just jump into a completely different lifestyle. There is a Shabbat where you aren’t supposed to buy or sell anything, you aren’t allowed to work on many festival days during the year, and you can’t eat any pork or shellfish. You can’t fornicate, you can’t lie, and you have to do this for the rest of your life! In fact, even after you have repented, if you return to your old ways of sin you will lose the salvation that you were given.

See what I mean? If I am trying to convert people from a gluttonous, sexually free and hedonistic religion to one of moderation, sexual purity and servitude to others, I will not be very successful. However, if I say just proclaim faith in Jesus, ask forgiveness and you are set for eternity, I will get many more people to join the club.

Following the Torah is being made holy, which means you are separated from the world and that results in the world not accepting you. People, human beings, want to be accepted. We are a social animal, and so the true religion that God gave to the Jewish people to bring to the world is not going to be a popular choice. Christianity, especially after Constantine, was and still is being sold as something very simple to change to.

Throughout history, Jews have not encouraged anyone to convert to Judaism- but Christianity is all about converting, and the easier it is to convert without really changing your current lifestyle, the more converts you will get.

So there you have it! Christianity has rejected the Torah because:

  1. they didn’t want to be part of the persecution of Jews by Rome; and more recently
  2. it makes it easier to get converts.

Let me again state that these theories are my own ideas. I expect that most Christians raised and accepting typical Christian dogma will vehemently disagree with me, and most Messianic Jews and Hebrew Roots Christians will agree with me, or at least accept that it is possible things happened this way.

 

Sukkot 2018 Intermediate Shabbat Reading

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This Shabbat is known as the Sukkot Intermediate Shabbat. The Torah has already been read to the end, but we don’t turn it back and restart until the 8th day of Sukkot, which is called Sh’mini Atzeret. It is also known by another name, Simchat Torah, which means Joy of Torah.  

This reading takes place right after the sin of the Golden Calf has occurred. God told Moses that he would no longer dwell with this people because they are stiff-necked and rebellious, but Moses intercedes (as he did all the time) and convinces God to stay with them; otherwise, says Moses, how will the rest of the world know that they have been chosen as God’s unique and select people? God relents to Moses’ request, and then Moses takes it one (big) step further and asks God to show his Glory to Moses. God, confirming that he knows Moses well, agrees but states that his face cannot be seen. He places Moses in a cleft in a rock and as he passes by he pronounces himself to Moses while covering Moses’ face with his hand allowing him to see only his back. 

This part of the Torah (Ex. 34:5-7) is known as the 13 Attributes of God, which God proclaims to Moses as he passes by him (I am paraphrasing from my Chumash):

  1. The LORD– God reveals his “name”, which the Rabbi’s state is his character;
  2. The LORD– this repetition is explained in the Talmud as meaning that God is the same merciful and forgiving God before a person sins as he is after a person sins;
  3. God– the all-mighty Lord of the Universe, ruler of nature and mankind;
  4. merciful– full of affectionate sympathy for the sufferings and misery of human frailty;
  5. and gracious– assisting and helping, consoling and raising up the oppressed;
  6. long-suffering– slow to anger, not hastening to punish the guilty but giving them time to repent;
  7. abundant in goodness– plenteous in mercy, granting gifts and blessings even when underserved; 
  8. and truth– eternally true to himself, rewarding those obedient to his will;
  9. keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation– remembering the good deeds of one’s ancestors and reserving reward to the most distant descendants;
  10. forgiving iniquity– bearing with indulgence the failings of people;
  11. transgression– evil deeds from malice and rebellion against the Divine;
  12. and sin– shortcomings due to heedlessness and error; 
  13. but will by no means clear the guilty– he will not allow the guilty to go unpunished. 

Do you realize how amazing this sentence is?  It is God telling us all exactly who he is and explicitly what he wants us to know about him so we can know how he wants us to behave. After all, how many times does he tell us to “be Thou holy, as I am holy?”  Well, right here are the instructions for how we can accomplish that goal.

And you know what I think? I think they aren’t all that difficult to do. 

Obviously, we aren’t the LORD, the Lord God and if someone was good to us we won’t be around to remember their kindness to their thousandth generation.  Other than those two things, though, I think we are all capable of emulating these other qualities of God. 

The reason this specific reading is done now is to demonstrate that God wants to be with us- the whole idea of Sukkot is to remember the way God dwelt with and cared for our ancestors in the desert. It is a way of bonding with them and God. God always wants us to be in his presence. In fact the festival of Sukkot, according to Leviticus 23: 33-36 is to be seven days long, and the 8th day is a Shabbat rest.  The Rabbi’s explain in the Talmud (somewhere) the 8th day was added by God because he so enjoyed dwelling with his people that he extended Sukkot for another day.  I know that is unsubstantiated by the actual scriptures, but it is such a nice thought and it does fit in with what we know of God and his love for his children, that whether it is absolutely the truth or not, it is not dishonoring to God and a wonderful expression of God’s love.

We can never be as God is, but we can always be closer to how he wants us to be.  He tells us in this section of the Torah exactly what we need to know about him, and as far as I am concerned, that is all I need to know. Frankly, for me (at least) just trying to emulate these attributes of God is more than enough of a challenge for me. 

Are you up to the challenge? 

May your remaining days of Sukkot be a blessing to you.

Kol Nidre Message 2018

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This night, September 18, 2018, is Kol Nidre, the eve of Yom Kippur. As such I would like to share the traditional message I used to give when I was “acting” Rabbi (for about 1-1/2 years) at the Northeast Philadelphia Messianic Synagogue I had attended for 17 years.

Before we go into the message, I have a beautiful rendering of the Kol Nidre prayer which you can watch by clicking on this link: Kol Nidre.

For centuries, the Kol Nidre prayer has been used as a polemic against the Jewish people, accusing us of being untrustworthy and stating that our word is useless.  At one point there was even a movement within Judaism to remove this prayer. That movement came to a stop once it was discovered that the prayer dates back to 17th Century Spain, where persecution of the Jews was taking place under the Inquisition. Many thousands of Jews were forced to forgo their beliefs and swear allegiance to Christianity or suffer torture and death.  That is why even though the Torah requires us to strictly adhere to any oaths we take, this prayer seems to be an anomaly; however, we are not asking to be released from valid oaths and contracts we make but only from those oaths we were coerced into making.

On this day, when we ask God to forgive us our sins, we must realize that we have an obligation to forgive those that have sinned against us.  And not just to forgive others, but to forgive ourselves, as well.

It is strange that we are willing sometimes to forgive others their sins against us but we will not forgive ourselves for sins we have committed against others. After all, if we love others enough to forgive them their sins, shouldn’t we love ourselves enough to forgive our sins? Doesn’t it say in Leviticus 19:18, “Love thy neighbor as thyself?” If we love our neighbor enough to forgive them, then shouldn’t we do the same for ourselves?

If I ask God for forgiveness but refuse to forgive myself, then I am placing myself above God!  So many times I have heard someone say, “How can God possibly forgive me for this?” That person doesn’t understand Grace and doesn’t understand that God is able to do so much more than we can.  In Romans 5:20 we are told that where sin is increased, so too is Grace.  There is no sin too great or too horrible for God to forgive. 

And God is not just willing to forgive: he desires to forgive! He is so compassionate that he assumes our sins are accidental.  Numbers 15:25-26 states that we will be forgiven from our sins we did “in error”; in other words, God assumes that we did not intend to sin but that we did it by accident!  What a wonderful demonstration of the compassionate understanding and forgiving nature of God! 

But let us not forget that disobedience of the Torah is still rebellion and a sin. And the wages of sin is still death (Romans 6:23.) However, because of God’s forgiving nature, he is willing to see our sins as his children making a foolish mistake.  However, that is no reason for you to get comfortable with your sin- sin MUST be removed from our lives if we want to be with God eternally. He may look upon us with compassion and love but he is still God, and there can be no sin in his presence.

Too many people have been taught that “Once saved, always saved” is how things work under the blood of Yeshua. That is a lie. We are not to take advantage of God’s willingness to forgive us and just assume he will, which can only lead to an attitude of unrepentance. If we think it is OK to sin now and then, that is like trampling the blood of Messiah into the dirt. Even though God understands it is our nature to do so, it is NEVER acceptable to sin.

Because we cannot overcome our nature, Yeshua came to earth and sacrificed himself for us so that through his goodness we have the opportunity to overcome our sinfulness.

Today we pray for forgiveness and ask God for the atonement of our sins. This is a process:

  1. First, we must recognize our sin and take responsibility for it so we recite the Al Chet prayer, also called the Ashamnoo (we are guilty);
  2. We must choose to do Teshuvah (repent) and remove sin from our lives;
  3. Once we have done these two things, only then can we ask God to forgive us. Because we cannot sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, we ask forgiveness through the blood of the Messiah, who gave his life as a ransom for us over 2,000 years ago and through his innocent shedding of blood we can receive forgiveness (Messianic Jews/Hebrews 9:22.) 

Some of you may be asking why bother to go through fasting and prayer to ask forgiveness when we already have it through Yeshua ha Mashiach?  The answer is simple: because it is a commandment! Besides that, don’t we still sin? Don’t we still need to ask forgiveness? “Once saved, always saved” is hogwash and a lie from the pit of Sheol which is designed to keep us out of God’s Grace. We need to ask forgiveness of our sin(s) every single day! Maybe even more than once per day. So, nu? If we are to ask forgiveness any time we sin, why should we not ask on this day, the one day that God specifically said we should?  

Another reason is to show solidarity with our unsaved Jewish brothers and sisters. Look at the prayers we recite on this day (the Al Chet and the Amidah) – they ask forgiveness for the sins WE have committed. Not the sins I have, but the sins we have committed. These prayers are community prayers because in Judaism God sees the entire nation of Israel as a single entity. We are not just responsible for our own sins, but for the sins of all Jews; those who came before us and those who are with us. 

One last word: what we do on this day is not to be left in the Synagogue or Church- we are to take this attitude of Teshuvah and forgiveness for others out into the world. Going to Shul on the High Holy Days isn’t enough. We meet together to reinforce each other and to strengthen each other so that we are able to go back out there- back into the darkness to be a light. What we do today is what we should be doing every day.

So whether you are attending Shul all day or staying home and worshiping with God alone, take what you do out into the world with you tomorrow and every day thereafter.

What Jews and Christians Agree on That is Wrong for Both

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How many of you have heard someone say “Jews have the Torah and Christians have the Blood of Christ” when talking about the commandments in the Torah and who is supposed to obey them? I know I have, and the general understanding is that Jews and Christians are separated by this idea that Jews need to obey the Torah but Christians don’t because Jesus died for their sins.

Both sides seem to agree to this: Jews say the New Covenant is only for Christians and Christians say the Old Covenant is only for Jews.

Jews use only the Tanakh and Christians reference the Tanakh, sometimes, but generally stay only within the New Covenant. In fact, I believe the vast majority of Christians who have been taught from the Gospels and the Epistles don’t even realize that the writers of those books and letters are all quoting from the Tanakh.

So if both Jews and Christians feel “their” Bible is only for them, why is this wrong?

Well, I’ll tell you why- because the Torah is for everyone and Yeshua died for everyone. Yeshua taught the Torah and the Apostles taught the Torah: that was the only “Bible” around. The New Covenant letters and Gospels were being written as early as the middle of the First Century but didn’t come together until around 367 C.E., nearly three centuries later.

What has happened is that the “grafted in” are trying to take over the tree, and the tree is letting them!

The Old and New Covenants are one Bible, one story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It starts with the creation of everything, then God chooses a man (Abraham) to be the father of a nation dedicated to serving God; later, God tells that nation they are to be a nation of priests to the world (Exodus 19:6) and he gives them the Torah, his User Manual (if you will) on how they should live their lives. As priests, of course, they are not only to live their lives in accordance with the Torah but they are to teach the rest of the world how to do that, as well. The story continues as we read how the people of God fail to perform their priestly duties, and after the nation suffers a civil war leaving two nations, Shomron in the North and Judah in the South, their constant sinning forces God to disperse them throughout the world. However, that isn’t the end of the story.

There has, from the beginning, been the promise of a Messiah to come and reconcile the chosen people to God, and then all the world will worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in accordance to God’s commandments (Torah) when God regathers his people into their land, Israel. The promise of a Messiah comes to fruition in the New Covenant, which is the continuation of the Old Covenant. It starts some 400 years or so after the last entries in the Tanakh and it is Yeshua who is the Messiah. As prophesied, he is not accepted by the masses although he was supernaturally born and portrayed God’s power throughout his ministry. The prophecy that all people will come to worship God begins (properly) with the Messianic Jews (early followers of Yeshua) adding to their numbers from the Gentiles who were converting to Judaism. Despite what has been taught, first century Jews that followed Yeshua never converted to Christianity because Yeshua was, is and always will be a Jew teaching the Torah. As his ministry grew in strength and numbers more and more Gentiles were added as fewer and fewer Jews came to accept him as their Messiah. I suppose at some point there had to be a limit, since there were so many more Gentiles than Jews in the world then, just as it is today.

Starting around the end of the first century, the separation of Yeshua’s followers from Judaic worship to what is today Christianity begins to really “take off” and with the Council of Nicene, Christianity is a totally different religion, persecuting the Jews and re-branding Yeshua as Jesus Christ, the blue-eyed, blond-haired Teutonic image that is what people think of today.

The story ends with the regathering of the Jewish people to their homeland and the Acharit HaYamim (End Days) that we read about in Revelation. And, when all is said and done, all people will recognize and proclaim Yeshua as the Messiah and worship God on his Holy Mountain in Jerusalem (the new Jerusalem) as God told us we should, which is found (you guessed it!) in the Torah.

So, nu? What’s my point? My point is this: we need to bridge that gap that people created which God never intended to exist. We need to overcome the bigotry and hatred between Jews and Christians and realize that there is one God who does not have any religion, just laws, commandments, rules, ordinances, and regulations that tell us how we are to worship him and how we are to treat each other.

One God, one set of laws, one people under God and one Messiah for all. The separation between Jews and Christians serves only to help the enemy of God to be able to take over the world. Anyone, therefore, who promulgates that Jews and Christians should remain separated and that following the Torah is no longer valid or needed is an agent of Satan, whether or not that person realizes it.

If you are Christian, read the whole Bible and you will see there is nothing “new” in the New Covenant. If you are Jewish, rebuke the bigotry and fear that Jews have of the New Covenant. Read a Messianic version of the New Covenant (NOT the King James version, please!) and see that what Yeshua said was not in any way different from what Moses said. Yeshua taught the deeper, spiritual meaning of the Mosaic law by using a Drash to teach the Remes (look up the exegesis system called PaRDes to see what I am talking about) but never, ever taught against the Torah. He couldn’t! He was and still is, the Living Torah.

For Jews that are waiting for Messiah, you must be open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, he already came and he will be coming back. You can still wait, and I pray you accept him when he returns, or you can open your heart and mind and just simply study about Yeshua now. Remember, the Talmud talks about the Messiah as the Son of Joseph and also as the Son of David, indicating two separate Messianic occurrences.

For Christians, you must be open to hearing that the Torah is what Yeshua taught and the Canon of Modern Christianity is not what Yeshua taught but what Constantine created. You need to read the Old Covenant to really be able to understand what Yeshua was teaching and accept that following the Torah isn’t just for Jews.

Yeshua is Messiah to the world: Jews, Gentiles, Buddhist, Muslims ….everyone! God has no religion and when all is said and done, we who will survive through faith will worship God in the way he instructed his chosen nation of priests to teach us.

Old Covenant for Jews; New Covenant for Christians- True or False?

The basic understanding between Jews and Christians is that the OC (Old Covenant, or Tanakh) is for Jews and the NC (New Covenant/Testament) is for Christians. One is the Jewish Bible and the other is the Christian Bible.

I do not believe this to be true, but from a certain viewpoint the NC was written for Christians.

Before I explain why I say this, let me first identify the four different types of writings that are found in the bible:

  1. Divinely Dictated: these are writings of what God said written exactly as he said it. The best example is the 10 Commandments, written “with the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:13);
  2. Divinely Inspired: these are writings by people of what God told them to write down or repeat. Examples are the Torah and the writings of the Prophets;
  3. Divinely Based: these are writings by people to people explaining the meaning of the divinely dictated or inspired writings. The letters of the Apostles are examples of this type of writing; and
  4. Narratives: these are writings that give us a historical accounting. Examples would be the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles and the Book of Acts.

The Tanakh (OC) was written by Jews to Jews but it is for everyone in the world. God has no religion: he has his rules for how to worship him and how to treat each other. He choose Abraham’s’ descendant’s as his chosen people because of the faith of Abraham; later that faith was tested when God told Moses the children of Israel would be a nation of priests to the world (Exodus 19:6.) It is generally said God gave the Torah to the Jews, but I prefer to say God entrusted it to the Jews. It was entrusted to Jews not for their use only, but for them to learn it and live it, then teach the rest of the world how to do the same. The fact that the Torah is for everyone is undeniable because God said the Jews were to be a nation of priests: a Rabbi doesn’t teach his congregation how to be Catholic and a Priest doesn’t teach his congregation how to be Buddhists. If the Jews are God’s chosen priests to the world, and he gave them the Torah to live by, then it is clear that God wants the world to live by the Torah, too.

This is further confirmed when we read that God said those who sojourn with the Jewish people (meaning choose to live with them and adopt their lifestyle) would have the same rights as a natural born Jewish person (Lev. 24:22; Lev. 19:33), meaning not only were they legally the same but spiritually the same. As the New Covenant puts it, “adopted sons and daughters of Abraham” (Gal 3:29.) Again, if they are adopted children they are subject to the same rules of the household that the natural born children are.

The NC is different. As in the Tanakh there are some writings by Jews to Jews, and these include the books of James, Hebrews, Peter, John and Jude.  However, most of the NC (about 2/3) is composed of the letters written by Shaul, and although these were written by a Jew, they were not written to Jews- they were written to Gentiles who were learning how to be Jewish. So, as I said above, from a certain viewpoint we could make an argument that the NC is a “Christian” bible because the majority of it was written to Christians.

Both the OC and NC were written by Jews. Originally each was written to a specific group but they both are for the entire world. What went wrong was that the NC writings were difficult for the Gentiles to understand because they were written by Jews very well versed in Torah and who had a Jewish “mindset.” There were many more Gentiles that came to accept Messiah than Jews, and as the Jews that wrote these letters died off, Gentiles who did not know the Torah and had never lived a Jewish lifestyle didn’t recognize implied meanings (which Jews would understand) in these letters. Consequently, they began to interpret them incorrectly. This pollution of the original meanings culminated with Constantine and the Christian Canon he devised, which completed the separation into two religions: one that worshiped God and obeyed Torah waiting for their Messiah and one that worshiped God and accepted his Messiah but ignored the Torah.

For the record, the letters from Shaul (Paul) were instructions to Gentiles becoming Jewish advising them of the difference between legalistic Torah observance and faithful Torah obedience. The former is a Pharisaical teaching based on complete legal performance of Torah laws as the path to salvation; the latter is based on understanding that we are saved by faith and the Torah should be obeyed because it is God’s instructions to help us live a better and holier life.

There is a big difference between obeying God just to obey and obeying God as a result of faithful trust in him.

For me the Tanakh and the NC are one book: it starts with Genesis and ends with Revelation. It is the story of God and his relationship with the world, how he honored Abraham’s faith by choosing his descendants to be entrusted with the Torah so they could teach the world God’s laws and rulings that lead to eternal life (Deut. 30:15-19; Ezekiel 18:23.) The first part of the bible brings us from creation to the dispersion of the Jewish people and their hope in Messiah. The rest of the book tells us of the coming of Messiah and the spreading of God’s salvation to all people, finishing with a vision of the Olam Haba (world to come.)

One day people will recognize the OC and NC are one book for everyone. Until then each one of us must practice good exegesis; that means to read the bible remembering the four types of writings and considering what was written to whom and why. We need to maintain proper context, using hermeneutics and the culturally correct definition of words and phrases for that time. And we must read the entire bible- Genesis through Revelation. It is only when you have an understanding and knowledge of the Old Covenant that you will realize there is nothing “new” in the New Covenant.

 

The Finite Can Never Understand the Infinite

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Can you imagine what 1,000,000 candles would look like if they were all lined up in a row?

Can you picture in your mind what 1,000,000 dollar bills would look like if they were stacked one on the other?

I can’t.  My mind, although it is often in a state of flux, is still pretty sharp and yet I cannot picture what one million anything looks like. I cannot “see” it or imagine what it is.

This is the problem we have when we try to imagine or understand the awesomeness of God. He is so far out of our range of understanding, so distant from the furthest edge of the Bell Curve of our knowledge that we can never even come close to knowing what he knows. Or understanding why he does what he does. Or even understanding the things he tells us about.

In Judaism we have three types of laws:

  1. Mishpatim– these are the laws we can understand that are mostly “civil” laws, such as do not kill or do not commit adultery;
  2. Edot– these are ceremonial laws regarding the rites and practices such as rules for Shabbat and the sacrificial system; and
  3. Chukim– these are laws God gave to us that seemingly have no rationale at all. For instance, changing the sacramental bread every week or not wearing clothes of different cloths.

Human nature almost demands that we know the “why” of something. When someone asks us to do something, how many times is our first response, “Why?” This is no different with God because I hear and read, over and over…and over…so many people “explaining” why the Kosher laws are better for us or why we need to wear Tzitzit.

The answer I give is this,” Because God said so.”

That is all the answer we need, and the easiest answer to understand. I will go even further than this and say that if this answer isn’t enough for you, then you need to start asking yourself what your faith is based on?  If we say we have faith, but can’t accept God’s commandments without understanding the reason why we should, then we aren’t faithful at all. How can I say that? Easy!- if you cannot accept what God says without knowing the reason why, it is because you do not trust that God knows what he is talking about. That is an a priori truth, as far as I am concerned.

When we trust someone we do what he or she suggests, especially when we are unsure of what we are doing. We seek out confirmation that we are doing the “right” thing in the “right” way. I saw this when I was a Salesman: so many people needed to see articles from Consumer Reports or Better Business Bureau ratings or letters from customers justifying using my company because we did such a great job. Did they really think I would show them complaint letters? And I realized that these people had no faith in their own decision-making ability but total faith in other people’s ability to decide. In a similar way, so many congregations are constantly preached to about God’s love and compassion and forgiveness, all of which are good things, but when these are the only things that are talked about, the congregation is not given the chance to trust God as they should. Talking only about love and forgiveness is like third party confirmation- the people hear all about what they want to hear but they don’t learn what they need to know. And what they need to know is that God is there even when troubles are all around them. The leaders of God’s people must be trusted, and that trust must be turned to God.

We can (and should) question our human leadership, and we can ask God why (he can handle that), but we must not ask God to prove why what he says is something we should do. That is disrespectful and demonstrates lack of faith. Yes- ask God why things happen; Yes- ask God why whatever you are going through is happening to you; Yes- ask God why he is allowing something to happen. You can always ask God why he wants you to do something but you should never ask God to prove to you why you should do it.

Can you see the subtle but very important difference here? It is OK to ask God to explain something to you but it is not OK to demand he prove what he says to be something you agree you should do.  When God says do not eat pork, there are those who can explain why pork is unsafe using health studies about pork and Trichinosis, and others will use that to explain why we don’t need to obey that law anymore because of the USDA. In both cases, what we are doing, really, is trying to understand the “why” of Gods’ law so that we can justify obeying it.

My point is that the moment we try to understand something in order to justify it we are showing distrust in God. There is absolutely no reason why we need to understand any of God’s laws- NO reason! He is God, and that is all the justification “why” anyone needs; anything more than that and you are being faithless, obstinate, stiff-necked and rebellious.

So do yourself a favor- just forget trying to understand why when it comes to God and his commandments. It’s a useless and impossible thing to do because the finite (us) can never understand the infinite (God.)