The Two Aspects of Sacrifice (Parshah Tzav: Leviticus 6:1*-8:36)

As delivered before Tikvat Israel Congregation in Richmond, Va. on March 28, 2015.

The content of this d’rash was inspired in great part on certain sections of The Body of Faith by Michael Wyschogrod, which I would recommend for further study and reflection.

*Note that the Parshah starts at Leviticus 6:8 in the standard Christian canon


Well Aloha to You Too. . .

Here’s my answers to Derek Leman’s Friday Questions for this week:

1. Why do so few people read any blog I post on Friday?

In general, weekends tend to be the slowest times for the blogosphere (although intriguingly, commenters tend to be more active over the weekend).  I can only imagine this trend being increased by Shabbat observance of our audience.

2. Besides Messianic Jewish Musings, a website related to faith issues or Bible or theology or Judaism that I read a lot is:

I’ve been follow closes the Messianic Jewish Prayer Group on Facebook these days; they have alot of intriguing discussion.  Also, I follow the webcasts of Fellowship Bible Chapel in Columbus, OH, especially John Haller’s Bible prophecy updates.

3. Besides the web, places I turn for additional education about faith, Bible, Judaism, theology, include:

In recent years I’ve taken MJTI courses, though I had to refrain this year due to lack of funds and some general life craziness.  Really, I’ll read any dead-tree media that intrigues me, mostly borrowed from a local university library.  But the truth is that the Internet is where its at; there really isn’t much out there that isn’t either (a) on the web, or (b) referenced on the web but behind a paywall or in super old source material that hasn’t been fully uploaded yet.

4. Why are the most popular topics, by far, on MJ Musings anything related to Paul, Gentiles, or Torah observance?

Because, frankly, too many in the Messianic movement are stuck obsessing over identity issues to focus on anything else.  It gets really boring after a while.  Also, it’s a dog-whistle for all kinds of One-Law heretics and other eccentrics to come out of the woodwork and start trolling a weblog.

5. When it comes to video blogs I:

. . .have never seen them.

6. The biggest issue MJ Musings doesn’t talk about enough is:

Stuff that isn’t argumentative theology, that just stops and smells the roses and just appreciates the irony and humor of it all.  Also, you can link to and talk about other blogs and writings more.  Such a connectivity is what makes the blogosphere run, blessing and being blessed with and through web traffic.

7. This last question is to help me understand how to get out and speak to more groups around the U.S.

I wish I knew since I’d like to connect with broader forums myself.  That being said . . .

f. I’d love to be part of a group with a live presentation about one of the topics commonly represented at MJ Musings.

Let me know when you plan on coming to Richmond or thereabouts.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Everyone!


“It was not by my own grace, but God who overcame it in me, and resisted them all so that I could come to the peoples of Ireland to preach the gospel. I bore insults from unbelievers, so that I would hear the hatred directed at me for travelling here. I bore many persecutions, even chains, so that I could give up my freeborn state for the sake of others. If I be worthy, I am ready even to give up my life most willingly here and now for his name. It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.”

Confession of St. Patrick, 37

Getting Sidetracked on God’s Triunity–Part 2: What Would Rav Kook say to Joseph Smith?

Surrender DorothyThis is Part 2 in a series on the Triunity of God in a Messianic Jewish context.  For Part 1, click here

As I mentioned previously, the origin of this series was in a recent chavurah lesson I organized on the triunity of the Godhead in a Messianic Jewish context.  During the research for that lesson, I went down several detours in my research in materials I read which I thought would be good discussion for this blog.  

Triunity and Trinity is a minefield, and it becomes even more of one when discussing it (discussing Him!) in a Messianic Jewish milieu.  The Jewish Body of Messiah has a special onus to avoid all appearance of evil in regard to idolatry and avodah zarah, be it because of our witness to the Jewish people, our need to maintain integrity in our Jewish identity, or just our desire to please God by obeying the mitzvot.  But doing so is harder than it may seem, for both Christian and Jew, even under the best of circumstances. As Rav Kook wrote in his essay “The Pangs of Cleansing”

One must always cleanse one’s thoughts about God to make sure they are free of the dross of deceptive fantasies, of groundless fear, of evil inclinations, of wants and deficiencies . . . All the divine names, whether in Hebrew or in any other language, give us only a tiny and dull spark of the hidden light to which the soul aspires when it utters the word “God.”  Every definition of God brings about heresy, every definition is spiritual idolatry;  even attributing to Him intellect and will, even the term divine, the term God, suffers from the limitations of definition.  Except for the keen awareness that all these are but sparkling flashes of what cannot be defined–these, too, would engender heresy. (Emphasis added)

You and I are “idolaters” not just because we’re Messianic Jews or believers in Yeshua, but because we are thinking, reading, and writing about God as we speak.  All believing Jews are minim in this sense, along with the majority of humanity who are not atheists–of whom Kook becomes complimentary later in the essay.  Of course this is not a full, literal truth of the matter, but Rav Kook’s words serve to show the pitfalls of making even guarded, conservative inquiry about the Godhead. Continue reading

Getting Sidetracked on God’s Triunity–Part 1: The Ghost in Jewish Midrash

Fractal-tree-300x232I have a good excuse for why blogging was light this past week. It was because . . . wait for it . . . I was planning a lesson for a congregational chavurah group on the triunity of God in a Messianic Jewish context.  Even with the abundance of good scholarship out there, it was a complicated subject that took me much time and mental effort to fully absorb, let alone get myself to a place where I could be confident enough to dare teach others.  This would be the case even with the most Type-A, hyperfocused, super smarty go-getter out there. But this is me we’re talking about, and my research methods can be, let’s just say, a little serendipitous.  And by serendipitous, I mean “about to crash my four year old Toshiba computer because I have over 50 browser windows open, including several 100+ page PDFs, five YouTube videos on pause and my kids’ Dora the Explorer flashgame running in the background” serendipitous.

The good thing about this method is that it fuels content inspiration, even if it tends to throttle content production.  So on one hand, I’m neglecting my blog to construct a chavurah class, which I’m in turn neglecting by being sidetracked by content that probably won’t help in making the class.  One the other hand, this sidetrack content leads to quite a few “this would make a good blogpost!” moments, if only I had the time to sit down and write about it.  

That time is now. This post, and this series of posts, is dedicated to the interesting loose ends I stumbled across while recently researching the triunity of God.  But as you will see, these are “sidetracks” in more ways than one since they represent the ways we can get sidetracked when discussing such a profound and unfathomable subject.  

THE SIDETRACK CONTENT I FOUND and want to share in this blogpost is two instructional videos on understanding–or rather not understanding–the doctrine of “Trinity” or triunity of the Godhead.  The latter term is more accurate and preferable than the former.  “Trinity” is not Continue reading

Contrarian Purim Thoughts

I haven’t had time to write anyone on Purim, since I was preparing a F2F study on the Triunity of God, something that I will post on later.  Meanwhile, here’s some good though somewhat challenging thoughts on the holiday in Purim & My Bangladeshi Friend by Seth Tillman

Every year at Purim, my co-religionists and I read Esther. The story, as customarily explained to children, is that Esther won a contest . . . something akin to the modern beauty pageant. The prize was that she was made queen – the wife of the Persian emperor. As a result, by pleading to her husband on behalf of her brethren, she was well-situated to save the Jewish community from the nefarious Haman, who actively plotted genocide against the Jews. Esther’s courage thwarts Haman and the community is saved, although it remained in exile. The story is presented as one with a happy ending.

But, that is the story as it is told to our children.

By contrast, an adult, who considered Esther, would understand that the story of Purim is also an intensely sad story. That, I suspect, is one reason behind the origin of the rabbinic requirement to drink at Purim – to blunt (what should be) our emotions, (what should be) our pain. And this understanding of the text and of the requirement to drink on Purim is also consistent with the fact that Esther is the one book of the canon which is written absent God’s name. It demeans God (or, at least, one particular conception of God) to actively involve Him in such a story. An adult, who struggled with the text, would realize that Esther did not win a “beauty contest;” she was not free to opt-out; she was not free to leave at will. Simply put, she was a kidnapped woman: a woman whose family, friends, and community were either unwilling or unable to be saved from a tyrant. A tyrant who used a public contest to demonstrate his empire’s dominance over conquered peoples by taking their women.

Is it not possible, is it not likely that earlier generations drank to blunt the pain that a normal feeling human would naturally have had for Esther, and, concomitantly, to blunt the pain that a parent, sibling, or child should feel for a mother, sister, or daughter that one is unable to save?

Maybe this is why it was the only book of the Tanach not found in the Qumran caves, those proud, pure desert-dwelling tzadiks did not care to be reminded of their subjugation–then and now.