The Way of Life
A Vision

I had a vision.
A vision of our people turning toward the Messiah in unprecedented numbers.
A vision of thousands of messianic congregations spreading across the world.
A vision of a thriving messianic seminary where our young people can be trained to go forth with boldness, wisdom, and compassion.
A vision where we, as messianic Jews and a united movement, stand side by side with our Jewish brothers and sisters and work toward a messianic age of peace and harmony for both Jews and Gentiles.

We all acknowledge the Proverb, "Without vision, the people will perish." But what vision, and how do we attain to vision­ary goals? My vision may not be an exact replica of your vision, yet there will be points of agreement and the Spirit is moving us toward a shared vision. One sure way the Spirit will move us together is through the divine Davar. Through God's holy Word, through Torah, we can attain a unified vision and be assured that we have found the way to fulfill it. We must commit to the divine way in order to capture the dreams God has for us as individuals and as a movement.

Our ancestors were called out of Egypt to embark on a new path to a land of promise. But left to their devices, the way was not clear. Israel continued to walk according to their own way in the wilderness. Even at the start of their journey they heeded the majority report of the twelve spies: "Do not go forward for the land is filled with giants!" When they attempted to walk in God's ways, they often stumbled.

On the precipice of a new land, Israel remained uncertain. Into this cauldron of confusion and endless wandering, Moses teaches Israel the way of the Lord and gives them the law of the Lord. The crown of this teaching is the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). As God's vision given to Israel through Moses, Devarim provides the divine template for life. Israel's way out of a parched wilderness was to behold this divine vision and embark on this divine path.

Likewise, the way out of any wilderness experience faced by the messianic movement is through God's ways, expressed through Torah and enfleshed through mesorah (tradition). These are holy resources for further growth and blessing. Parashat Reeh begins, "See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: Blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God."1 Blessing for the messianic movement will not come through an undiscovered for­mula, a mystical spiritual experience, or a new prophetic word, but through our faithfulness to the divine way of life, Derekh Hachaim. This is the way that is taught in Devarim.

Devarim

Where B'resheet (Genesis) through B'midbar (Numbers) ends, Devarim continues and brings Torah to a close. The fact that Devarim follows the book of B'midbar (in the wilderness) is no acci­dent. Devarim provides the way out of a physical or spiritual wilder­ness. These Mosaic messages also show the way to successfully enter the Land. Set before the Conquest of the Land, Devarim establishes the moral, political, and spiritual formation of Israel. It becomes the lawbook and constitution of emerging Israel.

Through the lens of Devarim, God may shed light on where we stand as a messianic movement. These final words spoken by Moses challenge all Israel (past, present, and future) to commit to God and remain faithful for generations to come. Devarim calls for this spiritual examination by posing a question that we all need to answer.

And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? 2

Israel's response begins:

"to fear the LORD your God, to walk only in his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the LORD's commandments . . ." 3

 

The fuller confessional response is Parashat Hayir'ah (Devarim 10:12-22). On an even larger scale, the ultimate response is the recitation of the entire book of Devarim in the liturgical life of Israel, and the fulfillment of its spiritual ideals and code of com­mandments (Devarim 12-26) in daily life.

Israel's history also points to Derekh Hachaim (the way of life). This story is largely portrayed in the narrative portions of Devarim 1-5 and Devarim 34 that frame the book. Devarim 1-3 retells the account of Israel's failed attempts to take the Land first recorded in B'midbar 13-14. Then, the golden calf incident and the giving of the Law provide the historical backdrop for the teachings of Devarim 4-11. Interestingly, the historical flow of Devarim 1-11 moves back in time. This reverse chronology moves from post-Sinai to Sinai events, from wilderness events to the giving of Law and Theophany. Devarim's retelling of the journey brings Israel back to the place where God appeared and spoke at Sinai. This unique event, unlike any other, binds Israel to God, and God to Israel.

The messianic movement also needs to return to the founda­tions of its Jewish existence, to the perpetual source of spiritual energy, and to the perfect pattern of divine order revealed at Sinai. As we retrace the steps of our ancestors, we are led to the holy mountain where God is manifest. We return to face God in his holi­ness as Jews. We return to fulfill the divine intention of avodat Yisrael,4 "let my people go that they may serve me." We recapture the essence of Judaism, an encounter with Divinity, and its result­ing impact on our lives and the world around us. One designation for this life-transforming experience of God is covenant renewal.

Devarim, like all of Scripture, calls for covenant renewal. As Moses' successor, Joshua confirmed his covenantal loyalty to God: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." The Messianic Covenant5 also calls for the renewal of our relationship with God. Through Yeshua, Israel renews covenant with God. When the Messiah came to our people, he enhanced their experience of God, and brought them farther on the path of life, Derekh Hachaim. The Messianic Covenant is the besorah (good news) for our people. It is the final covenant of fulfillment in a series of covenants that progress from the Adamic Covenant of haGan (the Garden) to the Abrahamic, Noahic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants.

As messianic Jews, we continually renew our allegiance to God through all of the covenants culminating in the Messianic Covenant. The messianic movement must commit itself again to God and God's way, and find renewal in the ancient covenants of our people. Our divine relationship through the Messiah will then lead us to new depths of divine understanding, and new heights of obedience. 

Between Two Worlds

As a messianic movement, we find ourselves in a similar place to ancient Israel. We are also in a wilderness, beset on both sides. On one side, we have a largely Gentile-oriented church, a place where it can be hard to function as a Jew, at least in a communal sense. In the church, our friends are non-Jewish as well as our music, cultural identity, customs, and so on. On the other side is the traditional syn­agogue without messianic expression.

Both parties perpetuate the divide erected between the commu­nities in the fourth century by Constantine. This divide does not allow for Jews who are experiencing the life of Messiah to participate in either community fully as they are. They are asked either to func­tion as assimilated converts to Christianity or as marginalized heretics who have nothing of value to say to the Jewish or wider communities. Like our ancestors, this in-between state places us at a point of decision. At this point of demarcation, we decide our destiny.6

Since the messianic movement lives in the midst of these two larger worlds, it has often adopted their values and concepts. In fact, the present state of our movement becomes clearer through com­paring how Judaism and Christianity have, in different ways, approached Torah. Against this backdrop, we can form a messianic Jewish approach to Devarim.

Torah, as a whole, consists of large portions of law and story. In the case of Christianity, it chooses story over law, emphasizing the narrative character of the Pentateuch. For Christianity, Torah is pri­marily a story of an ancient people meant to lead the nations to the coming of the Savior. In contrast, Judaism exalts law over story and focuses on the practice of Torah.

Even the titles given to the book of Devarim demonstrate these two ways of understanding Torah. Christian communities tend to view Devarim as a second law (as Deuteronomy or Deuteronomium) and have stressed discontinuity with the preceding law code. Jewish communities emphasize the repetitive nature of Devarim and its continuity with prior revelation, calling the book, Mishne Torah, or repetition of the (same) Law. Christianity is interested in demon­strating how "Jewish law" changes and is eventually outmoded, while Judaism perceives of Torah law as unchanging or eternal.

Is the essence of Torah story or law? A messianic approach does not accept traditional approaches as conclusive. For the messianic movement, the adoption of the story approach would downplay the role of tradition and connection with Jewish community. The law approach would lead to the practice of tradition without the full force of New Covenant realities and teaching, and a corresponding disassociation with the church. Instead, we seek Derekh Hachaim (the way of life) through Messiah. 

The Way Of Life

Devarim is the final word of Torah and, as such, becomes the lens through which we see the rest of Torah. In other words, as the cap­stone of Torah, Devarim functions as a reading strategy for the entire Torah. It is an interpretive key that teaches Israel how to understand and live out the first four books.

Throughout Devarim, a revised history, a revised law, and a revised liturgy are presented to Israel. This program of revision is displayed in a variety of ways. For example, Shemot provides a law for the wilderness and Devarim gives a law for the Land. The revised history reflects the same historical account, yet written in a slightly different way to emphasize distinct themes for a new social context.7 With law and liturgy, changes are made to serve a developing social and religious order. This revisionary program allows Devarim to dis­play continuity with the past, change for the present, and a glorious vision of the future. Such an approach provides a model for a mes­sianic approach to Torah.

Devarim reminds Israel of the lessons of the Wilderness and predicts its future failures. Even so, consequent judgment would not be final. Moses would depart and Israel would find new leader­ship. Then, in exile, Israel would again re-enter the Land. God, through Devarim, promises that despite the Wilderness, despite the death of Moses, despite future disobedience, there would be "grace in the end." Devarim anticipates these hard times for Israel and offers a built-in program of renewal. Hope exists through God's promise and Israel's faithfulness, through covenant renewal and sustained obedience.

Yet, what could release Israel from endless cycles of disobedi­ence and obedience? At the end of the day when the sun appears to fade into the horizon, Messiah would come to Israel. The greatest promised renewal to the spiritual life of Israel is Messiah. Devarim points the way to this new messianic order:

The Lord said to me: ‘What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.'8

 

Devarim ends with these words of heightened significance:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt-to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or per­formed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. 9

 

Devarim promises a future messianic revision that fulfills and sustains observance, and furthers the story of Israel without dimin­ishing God's faithfulness to Israel.10 Traditional forms of Judaism and Christianity often do not fully appreciate a fuller picture of a messianic revision that corresponds with Yeshua's Sermon on the Mount. Yeshua teaches:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heav­en and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Whoever then cancels one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you the truth, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.11

 

This is also how we understand Paul's teaching of fulfillment:

The Messiah is the goal of the law.12

 

Messiah is not the goal of the law in the sense of finality, but a continuation of Devarim's program of revision. Messiah is the embodiment of Torah and Israel and ensures the continuity and vitality of both. In fact, the destiny of Messiah, Torah, and Israel are all intertwined.

And yes, Yeshua and the Apostle Paul are in harmony. We seri­ously question Hyam Maccoby's recent work, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity. The premise of this book-that Paul was a rabbinic flunky who rebelled against Messianic Judaism to form his own religion-is itself a myth.

We return once again to Parashat Reeh. I love the way the trope begins for Parashat Reeh. There is a revia taam over Reeh that signi­fies sustained attention.13 In this way, we have extra time to consider deeply what we are about to hear.

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse- the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.14

 

What are we to see? We are to see the way of life. Moses says, "do not turn from the way (haderekh)."

Derekh can be translated as "path" or "way." Following God is the way of life, Derekh Hachaim. When we hold the Torah scroll, we hold it by the handles, by the atsey-chaim (trees of life). As we touch the handle, the ets-chaim (tree of life), it reminds us that we are approaching God's living way, Derekh Hachaim. God throughout Torah tells us to choose life and blessing. God's way is the way of life.

Yeshua teaches:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Yeshua is the way and the life and also the way of life. Yeshua is calling us to follow him, not in some esoteric spiritual sense of way, but in the way he lived, applying God's way to the grit and grime of everyday life. Don't turn from the way the Lord your God commanded you to walk through Yeshua! Yeshua makes the path of discipleship clear:

He who continues in my word is my disciple.

The messianic movement must not forget its ancient name. The messianic faith was originally called the Way, Haderekh. Acts records this name five times. Paul states:

I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way.15

 

The Way was a deeper experience of first-century Judaism. Paul stresses this truth as he continues:

I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men.16

 

Derekh Hachaim is the messianic application of the Torah and the Prophets to all of life. It is not simply a religion or a system of beliefs; it is life. It is the outworking of divinely-empowered messianic life in all its social, legal and spiritual dimensions. 

The Divine Directives Of Devarim

How are we to live out the Way? Once again we look to Devarim. As a divine blueprint, it outlines what our movement and congrega­tions should look like. It is a book that messianic communities can build upon. It provides us with at least three divine directives.

These divine directives are for spiritual development. The intense inner devotion to God that Devarim demands is the essence of our spirituality. The Shema of Devarim calls us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength. This zealous devotion will enable us to carry out these divine directives as individuals, as congregations, and as a movement.

The Sabbath Cycle Of Life

Our first divine directive is to keep the Sabbath cycle of life. The way out of the wilderness is through ordering our lives on moedim, God's appointed times. God lays out the whole year for us and pro­vides us with the cycle of life. Devarim is like a yearly planner with all of the most important dates already filled in for us. This should be of great comfort. God has structured time and ordered the chaos of our lives. In our families and in community, our daily, weekly, seasonal, and yearly existence corresponds to the living way.

The smallest building block of this division of time is the Shabbat-work cycle. I have yet to find a better introduction to Shabbat than Abraham Joshua Heschel's classic work, The Sabbath, written some fifty years ago.17 Heschel teaches that a day of worship and rest is essential to our spiritual lives and everything we do.

As we seek to follow Derekh Hachaim, our work must be set in the context of rest. God commands:

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has com­manded you. Six days you will labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God, in it you will not do any work.18

 

This commandment actually contains two commands. The commands are to work for six days, and to rest for one.

As we experience life, it may seem as if our work never ends. Yet, each Shabbat we are to be completely at rest. We stop our striving, and calm our innate desire to cultivate the world and our relation­ships. We enter God's Sabbath, for even God rested from his labors on the seventh day of creation.

On our journey from the wilderness to the land, we are moving to a better place. But we will never get there unless we stop, rest, and become spiritually refreshed at the oasis of Shabbat. Even though right now you may feel lost in the wilderness, the way out is through the Sabbath cycle of life. We follow the divine pattern: create, create, create, create, create, create, for six days, and then rest from our labors for one day, the day that the Lord sanctifies. We need to fully enter Shabbat, to return to Derekh Hachaim, and come out transformed to work with spiritual vitality.

A New Song: Messianic Jewish Liturgy

Devarim also uses liturgy encompassing worship, prayer and song to lead us on Derekh Hachaim. Through its program of revision, Devarim offers a revised liturgy. Such liturgical revision is not new to Judaism as the findings of Qumran demonstrate. Diverse litur­gical developments at Qumran reflect a Jewish community with messianic aspirations and ideals distinct from the majority voices of the community.

Our need, like every generation before us, is to religiously reform our people. This purpose was fulfilled throughout our history as the entire book of Devarim was utilized as part of Israel's liturgy. Today, we continue this ancient liturgical tradition of teaching and singing Devarim with Torah cantillation and musical settings of Devarim. We also further this tradition through our ongoing development of mes­sianic liturgy. Compelling liturgical development is one of the most important things we can do for successive generations, for a renewed liturgy shapes how we look at Jewish worship, Jewish spirituality, and all of life.

In order to further stress the immense significance of Jewish worship and liturgy, I appeal to you in two ways. First, this has been our liturgy as Jews for thousands of years. Our siddurim preserve Devarim's original intent as a text for worship. Parts of Devarim are used in the Sabbath and daily liturgy and on special occasions: Devarim 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 are recited daily as part of the Shema; the first paragraph of the Amidah begins with a citation from Devarim describing God's attributes; and the declaration of monotheism in the Aleinu is drawn from Devarim 4.39. These three prayers are central to the ongoing worship of Israel and reflect the deep imprint of Devarim.

The second reason is that the Divine presence manifests itself in a special way when we worship and pray. When we stand in prayer in anticipation of a theophany, a revealing of God, there is a charge in the air. The community has been called together by God, our sacrifices of praise have been offered, and the Spirit of God falls upon us. For all of us who have experienced this, I need not give any more reasons for the importance of worship and liturgy.

Let us also not forget that Devarim ends with the liturgical declaration of song. Devarim 32 is Parashat Haazi'nu, the Song of Moses. Thus, another way out of the wilderness is through song. We leave the wilderness and enter the land singing.

Redevelopment: A Renewed Messianic Community

The third divine directive of Devarim concerns redevelopment and community renewal.19 One way of defining redevelopment is the reorientation of ministry to reach out to a group of people that the congregation has previously been unable to reach. What applies to our congregations, applies to our movement as well. Devarim offers at least five dynamics of redevelopment.

The first dynamic of redevelopment is to enhance spiritual energy.20 Without growing spiritual power within congregations and the daily practice of spiritual disciplines, nothing else can be done to affect community development. Spiritual leaders, by exam­ple and through mentoring, must do all they can to increase a con-gregation's spiritual vitality.

The second dynamic is to come to terms with history. 21 Once we understand where we have come from, we will be less likely to try to do things just because that is the way it has always been done before. We must reckon with the fact that the world has changed and will never be the same again. This also means casting off any romantic notions of the past and grieving that we will never relive the past. Coming to terms with history also means envisioning a new future.

The third dynamic is to expand the leadership and ministry base and to empower leaders for ministry. This means extending leadership across generations and gender, and engaging in team models of congregational leadership and service. Intergenerational and team leadership is not only the way of the future, but it was the way of Torah. Parashat Shof'tim is a good place to interact with this dynamic.22

The fourth dynamic is to re-enter the community. First, we need to understand our community and its needs, struggles, and hopes. Then, we must overcome the fear of leaving our comfort zone and stepping into a community where we may not be fully accepted and valued. Finally, we must tangibly and persuasively befriend and serve this community.

The fifth dynamic is to plan for ministry. Planning includes events, classes, projects, and programs. Yet, we cannot simply tack on an event or program to our congregations and expect long-term results. The first four dynamics of redevelopment must be dealt with before we can provide effective programs and services.

Re-Entering Our Jewish Community

Now, we turn again to the fourth dynamic of redevelopment: re-entering our Jewish community. Ancient messianic Jews were a vital part of their community. They worshiped in the Temple and local synagogue, shopped at the Jewish market, and resided in Jewish neighborhoods.23 They were a voice and a presence in their community. But eventually, our ancestors were forced out of deep­er community involvement. We have a responsibility to return to our community. Through re-entering Jewish community, the place where our people dwell, we begin to fulfill our calling to serve our people. We find another way out of the wilderness through enter­ing Jewish space.

At the same time, we can build constructive relationships with the church and share in mutual blessing. The church, however, must recognize our need to express our Jewish identity and to develop our messianic faith. We can never become less messianic or less Jewish, but must bring our messianic Jewish community to new levels of growth and maturity.

Our messianic community must increasingly overlap the lives and communities of our people. Each of us should feel that we are experiencing community and then offer this community to others. This does not mean that we wear our messianism on our sleeves or become more zealous for tradition than the rest of the Jewish com­munity, but that we serve and live with our people, and share in the joys and heartaches of our community.

In the summer of 2002, I attended the National Jewish Choral Conference in the Catskills with my family. I was having dinner with a cantor from a conservative synagogue in the south. When it came up that I am a messianic Jew, he immediately had a story to tell me. The cantor said,

We have a messianic congregation very close to us and have had mes­sianic Jews come and visit us with no problems. Then, one day, we had someone come to our oneg who kept sharing about Jesus. Of course, we were upset.

At that point, I was thinking to myself, "Oh no, not again." But the rest of the cantor's story got better. The cantor continued,

My Rabbi and I eventually met with the leadership of the messianic con­gregation. To my surprise, the leaders apologized for what had happened and assured us that this would not happen again. I now have a new-found respect for this messianic congregation.

I was able to find a friend in this cantor because even though one of our messianic congregations made a mistake in how they entered traditional Jewish space, they were humble enough to admit it. Later, I told my new friend that I was planting a messian­ic congregation in Philadelphia and having trouble finding some­one who could serve as a cantor. I also shared that we as a move­ment struggle in this area and need help in developing a liturgical tradition and style that is faithful to traditional nusach. My friend thought that this was a positive direction for our movement and was happy to see our progress.

{josquote}If the only relationships and friendships you have are with messianic believers and not with members of the larger Jewish community, then you have failed to re-enter the community. You have not made the kind of aliyah that Yeshua calls for when he sends us to our people. {/josquote}

As we enter Jewish space, we should not begin by questioning traditional forms of Judaism and inferring that it is spiritual degenerate. Let others see how Messiah transforms your daily life-how Messiah makes us good friends, and co-workers. If people respect you for who you are, you will be surprised how well they listen. 

The community needs to see us as we really are. Often we are viewed as proselytizers-someone who gets in your face and treats you as a "soul to be won," a person who, with unrelenting force of will, puts a pamphlet in your hand, tells you to repent and believe in Jesus, all in the space of one minute. This prevalent perception of messianic Jews is perpetuated by aggressive and grandstanding efforts. I am not saying that there is no place for messianic outreach. All branches of Judaism and Christian denominations have some type of community outreach. But if this is all we are known for as a community, then we are presenting only one facet of our Jewish personality. Direct outreach is too often expressed and perceived as unrelenting chutzpah. Too much of one thing is not good.24

We need to realize that we are no longer living dur­ing the Jesus Movement of the late 60s. Our Jewish communities are not college campuses or city streets. Approaches and methods that are effective and received by one generation at one period of time should change with the times. Messianic congrega­tions need to find ways to serve our people, especially those who are spiritually searching or intermarried, without intentionally distanc­ing the rest of the community.

If we stay within our messianic communities, then we will allow a misconceived view of messianic Jews to persist. Though more direct messianic outreach will continue just as with the Lubavitchers in traditional circles, we will deeply connect with more of our people as we live with and serve the larger community.25

With this in mind, consider adopting a 2+2 approach to commu­nity involvement. This approach calls for membership and service in both the messianic and larger Jewish community. The first two refers to membership in a messianic congregation and one area of congre­gational service. The other type of membership refers to membership in a traditional Jewish organization. It could be Hadassah, the local Jewish Y, becoming part of a study group or regularly taking classes at a Jewish community center or school. Second, it means regularly serving through some kind of Jewish volunteer work and giving.

If this level of community involvement does not already charac­terize your life, pursue it until you are fully engaged as a messianic Jew in your community. Develop a concern for your Jewish commu­nity and find shared causes and goals. We can stand together in our concern for the assimilation and the secularization of our people, our love for Israel, and the need for Jewish education.

As much as possible, we need to live and work in the midst of our Jewish communities. I'll be blunt. Think seriously about making potential changes in your life context. No one is off the hook here; we all have a responsibility. This includes messianic Gentiles who have joined messianic congregations. If the only relationships and friendships you have are with messianic believers and not with members of the larger Jewish community, then you have failed to re-enter the community. You have not made the kind of aliyah that Yeshua calls for when he sends us to our people. You have remained in the wilderness, while the land is overrun by atheism and agnos­ticism. Entering Jewish space may mean selling your home in a largely non-Jewish community and moving into your Jewish com­munity. Membership in a messianic congregation is only one way, among others, to live as Jews.

The theme of the 2002 UMJC National Conference is Behold Your King Has Come. The "your" of your king refers to the Jewish community. This is our place to prepare for and work for the com­ing of the King. This is where our King already is. He is where our people are. He is at the heart of the Jewish community. We tell our people, hine melech shelcha, behold your King, remembering that Yeshua was already there long before we re-entered our community.

It is a sign of maturity when we as a movement can return to our community and take our place at the city gates. At these gates, we remain messianic Jews. In many cases, our Jewish presence and lifestyle will be no different than the rest of the community, but we must also dare to be different. We cannot allow our desire to enter the mainstream community to undercut our positive distinctions as messianic Jews.

Yes, we receive the traditions passed down to us for millennia, but we also messianize them. As each generation that transmits tradition, it becomes responsible to change it for the better. As a messianic community, this means that we deepen our experience of Jewish spirituality and tradition through Messiah, that we become more zealous in works of charity and social justice through Messiah, and that we unite Tanakh with the Brit Chadasha through Messiah.

Messianic congregations do not function in a diminished capac­ity. This ancient messianic movement spread Jewish messianism to the nations and changed the world. Once again, through us, the Messiah is presenting to the world a messianism worthy of world renown. Our movement goes against the stream of secular, individ­ualistic, and anti-messianic thought, and becomes a catalyst for the spiritual transformation of our people. This is a powerful spiritual force at work within the larger Jewish community that is breaking forth to capture the hearts of our people.

A Way of Life


In closing, let us consider how Derekh Hachaim relates to the life of our Messiah, the prayers of our people, and the wisdom of our ancestors. First, Yeshua perfectly models Derekh Hachaim. Shabbat after Shabbat, Yeshua served, taught and healed his people. The gospel of Luke makes this clear:

Yeshua went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.

Then Yeshua went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people.

On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching:

On a Sabbath Yeshua was teaching in one of the synagogues . . .26

 

Yeshua also survives his wilderness experience through close attention to the teaching of Torah. In resisting temptation, he quotes three times from the book of Devarim. He says:

Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.27

 

The power of Yeshua's life is displayed in his dependence on Derekh Hachaim. Interestingly, Devarim is quoted in the New Covenant more than any other book from the Torah. Following Yeshua's example, every messianic leader and those aspiring to mes­sianic leadership should master the book of Devarim (or be mas­tered by the book of Devarim). Get to the point where the words of Devarim flow freely from your mouth and your heart and you will overcome any wilderness experience.

Derekh Hachaim is also portrayed throughout our worship. After the Torah reading, we pray, Baruch ata Adonai elohenu melech haolam, asher natan lano torat emet (Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who gives us true Torah). Then we say, vechaye olam natah betochenu (and God planted within us eternal life). What does that mean, that God has planted within us eternal life?

Torah keeps us Jews. It links us to all Jews, past, present, and future. For those of us who have families who have been directly touched by the holocaust, you might identify with one of my former Torah teachers. She says that when she teaches Torah to a student, she feels as if it is one more for us, and one less for Hitler. When we transmit Torah, we extend the chain of Jewish life for generations to come. But this Torah blessing can have a deeper meaning. Does not Yeshua say that salvation is of the Jews? So, if Torah is life and Yeshua is the ultimate embodiment of Torah, then we as Jews can have the greatest experience of obedience and life through Messiah. Messianic prophecy bears witness:

‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,' declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.' 28

 

The messianic new covenant is about a deeper spirituality that keeps us from exalting Torah over God, and ourselves over Torah.

Pirke Avot offers us wisdom for fulfilling Derekh Hachaim. Chapter 2 closes with these words:

Rabbi Tarfon says: the day is short, the work is plentiful, the laborers are sluggish, and the reward is abundant, and the Master of the house comes.

He used to say: it is not your duty to finish the work, but you are not at liberty to neglect it. If you have studied much Torah, you will be given much reward: faithful is your Master to pay you the reward of your labor, and know that the rewarding of the righteous is in the age to come.

"It is not your duty to finish the work." With these words, Rabbi Tarfon challenges the person who tries to do it all, and stumbles because they are running the marathon of life at a sprinters pace. Tarfon then discloses another way contrary to Derekh Hachaim: "but you are not at liberty to neglect it." In this case, he refers to a person who determines that since they do not have to finish the work, they may offer a half-hearted effort.

Instead, we are called to persevere on Derekh Hachaim (the way of life). Even though we may not fully realize our vision in our life­time, we press on, knowing that, "The reward is great in the age to come and the Master of the house comes." Behold, your King comes.

Notes:

 

  1. Devarim 11:26-28.
  2. Devarim 10:12.
  3. Devarim 10:12b-13a.
  4. Avodat Yisrael (the service of Israel), originally intended to refer to the Temple’s sacrificial service (e.g., the 17th blessing of the Amidah), may now refer to the all-encompassing service of Israel including avodah (worship), gemilut chasidim (acts of kindness) and talmud torah (biblical study) [Mishnah, Peah 1.1]. These aspects of service should also guide the individual and communal life of messianic Jews.
  5. Messianic Covenant is an alternative rendering to New Covenant or New Testament. Although the latter is derived from a single scriptural reference in Hebrews, covenants are primarily identified with a preeminent individual. The designation “Messianic Covenant” meets this qualification and also counters a supersessionism that has been associated with the qualifier, “new.”
  6. Messianic Jews and congregations should not have to choose sides, but should be able to flourish in both worlds as long as they maintain their identity and passion to serve their people. For messianic Jews who are members of traditional churches and stress their bloodline identification as Jews, their choice of communal identity should be respected. Yet, caution is warranted. Models of assimilation tend to constrain minority and ethnic groups within some churches. These churches become a place for Jews to believe in Jesus and remain functionally non-Jewish. As a result, messianic Jews who identify with Jewish culture, religious music, prayer, and customs tend to feel displaced. This reductionistic approach to societal, religious, and communal identification reflects a colonialist tendency where the dominant culture mandates the standards of a minority group.
  7. Devarim provides a revision of the history and Covenant Code of Shemot (Exodus) and other portions of the first four books. One resulting legal change is from earlier laws associated with a moveable sanctuary to Devarim’s demand for temple worship in one place.
  8. Devarim 18:17.
  9. Devarim 34:10.
  10. Increasingly, Protestant and Catholics are reexamining the effect of supersessionism and replacement ideology on their perception of Israel. For example, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has determined that supersessionism demonstrates a disregard for Jewish people even to the extent that they are viewed as “cursed by God.” “We believe and testify that this theory of supersessionism or replacement is harmful and in need of reconsideration as the church seeks to proclaim God’s saving activity with humankind.” [Statement of the 1987 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)]. For further exploration of the impact of supersessionism on Christianity and alternative theological models, see R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996). Soulen states his objective: “Taking the contemporary churches’ rejection of supersessionism as its starting point, the book asks two questions: how deeply is supersessionism implicated in the traditional fabric of Christian theology? And how can Christians read the Bible and articulate their most basic convictions in ways that are not supersessionist? In short, how can Christians be really Christian without being triumphalist toward Jews?”
  11. Matthew 5:17-20.
  12. Romans 10:4.
  13. The musical shape is descending stepwise motion from dominant to tonic, i.e., two sixteenth notes (G), followed by a descending triplet (F, Eb, D, with tenuto on F), and ending on a quarter note (C).
  14. Devarim11:26.
  15. Acts 24:14a.
  16. Acts 24:14.
  17. For a recent review of The Sabbath, see Elliot Klayman’s review in Kesher 15 (Summer 2002), 101-06.
  18. Devarim 5:12-14a.
  19. 19 In the area of redevelopment, the author is indebted to the workshop leaders at a conference for spiritual leaders (TASTE 1, August, 2001).
  20. See Devarim 3-11.
  21. See Devarim 1-3.
  22. Devarim 16:18-21:9. Devarim’s call to appoint cohanim, shof’tim, and shot’rim (priests, judges, and officials) demonstrates the divine intention for plurality and diversity of leadership. Congregational leadership based on the solo-model tends to be top-heavy and places too many demands on an individual that should be distributed throughout a leadership team and congregation. Furthermore, the solo-model limits accountability and may inhibit the growth of a congregation.
  23. These communal realities applied both in the Land and the Diaspora for most of the early history.
  24. Many messianic congregations do not have enough educational and social outreach programs that serve the needs of the larger Jewish community. I have served on the UMJC Outreach Committee for a number of years and we are trying to come alongside congregations to encourage such development.
  25. The specific dilemma facing the messianic movement is that messianic congregations and Jewish missions are indistinguishable to the vast majority. Larger Jewish missions with multimillion-dollar budgets have dominated mass media, church relations, the press, and the streets, and in these ways have formed the public image of messianic Jews. The congregational movement has a variety of options to distinguish itself, including: 1. Engage in a positive image campaign through media, Christian relations, and service programs for the Jewish community.
    2. Make clear the distinctions between Jewish missions and messianic congregations in the public arena.
    3. Develop closer working relations with Jewish missions who are willing to creatively engage and relate to messianic congregations. Jewish missions have historically been more adept at serving the needs of churches in their development of programs and operating procedures for staff.
    4. Call for a symposium of congregational and mission leaders to clarify differences and determine means of mutual support or cooperation.
    As messianic Jews continue to unite for worship, service, and outreach, diverse views and approaches are a natural development, yet differences should be resolved through open dialogue without accusatory or irresponsible exchanges. Whatever trajectory the messianic movement takes, it should not be taken haphazardly or without a careful consideration.
  26. Luke 4:16; 4:31; 6:6; 13:10.
  27. Devarim 8:3; 6:16; 6:13.
  28. Jeremiah 31:33.

 

Andrew Sparks (M.DIV., Westminster Theological Seminary, S.T.M., Yale University) leads Congregation Avodat Yisrael of Philadelphia, PA, serves as Executive Director of Messiah Now and is Editor-in-Chief of Kesher.

 
MJTI School of Jewish Studies
RocketTheme Joomla Templates