Tag Archives: faith

Abraham and the Impossible

Prof. Paul Eidelberg

The Torah tells us that Abraham was extremely old and that Sarah was beyond child-bearing age. Indeed, the Gemara says she had no womb! The distinguished Rabbi Akiva Tatz, a physician and a philosopher, offers a familiar as well as unfamiliar commentary:

“When these two people, totally devoid of any possibility of having a child, were told that they would in fact have a child, they laughed. And a child was born. And his Divinely-given name was “Yitzchak”—Hebrew for ‘He shall laugh.’ Is this a clue to the extraordinary tragedy-preceding triumphs of the Jewish people over their adversaries during the past millennia?

Jews begin where the impossible ends. This tells about Jewish faith or trust in God, because that’s precondition of achieving the impossible. Unfortunately, most Jews today are trapped in the language and limitations of politics, which of course precludes the impossible?

Ever since Aristotle, pundits have defined politics as the “art of the possible.” However, what is deemed possible depends very much on the intellectual and moral character of the politician. Polls in Israel indicate that 80 to 90 percent of the Jews in this country regard Israeli politicians as “corrupt,” by which they mean that these politicians pursue their personal or partisan interests at the expense of the national interest (an old story antedating Machiavelli). In other words, Israeli politicians are little men whose horizon extends no further than the next election. Thoughtful Jews place no faith in politicians. Let’s return to Abraham and the Torah.

The akeida (the binding of Yitzchak recounted in Genesis) reveals Abraham as the prince of faith, of unsurpassed trust in God. Abraham, the first Jew, was tested as no other human being. His test, to paraphrase Rabbi Tatz, was to sacrifice his son for whom he had waited into extreme old age, and in whom he saw the ascendancy of a great and noble people. This same Abraham, after teaching the world that human sacrifice was wrong—Abraham, whose entire personality was loving kindness—how could he possibly slaughter his beloved son? “Beyond the emotional level, the intellectual level was no less difficult—it made no sense, and Abraham, the discoverer of ethical monotheism, was a man of supreme intellectual power. God (HaShem) had promised him progeny from Yitzchak—how could there be a contradiction in the Divine?”

The Kabbalah expresses an even deeper problem. As Rabbi Tatz puts it, “Avraham knew that HaShem did not want this sacrifice (as the verse states: ‘V’lo alsa libi—which I never intended’) as one knows the mind of the beloved—and he was correct. In fact, ultimately, HaShem prevented him from carrying it out! So he had all levels of his consciousness crying out that this action could not be done, and HaShem said to him, in effect, ‘Yes, all that you feel and say is true, but kill him anyway’! That’s a test!? That’s facing the impossible! And Abraham proceeded to do the impossible.

“The result? The impossible occurred, the miraculous manifested. We are told in the Torah that Yitzchak was spared, he climbed off the altar, and a ram was offered in his stead. But we are told in the Midrash: ‘Efro shel Yitzchak munach le’fanai—the ashes of Yitzchak lie before Me’; in a higher dimension, he was sacrificed! Not the ‘ashes of the ram’ but the ‘ashes of Yitzchak’. He became an ‘olah temimah’—a pure, burnt offering.

“The impossible paradox—a man who lives physically in this world, but spiritually in the next, simultaneously! And the qualities of the father and the son live on in the Jewish people—the ability to yield the emotions, the intellect, the entire personality to HaShem in emuna (faith), and the gift of being able to live in a physical world and transcend it at the same time.”

This is Not blind faith. This faith springs from recognizing God as the Creator of heaven and earth, hence from rational trust in His providence. From the father of the Jewish people we learn that whatever the ordeal or suffering is inflicted upon us, it is intended for our ultimate good by a just and gracious God. We must bear in mind that suffering is the spur of self-examination, reflection, insight, and transcendence. The heights of human perfection are not a gift but an achievement requiring the greatest trials of the human spirit.

What is true of the individual is true of the nation. The ordeal of the Jewish people appears endless. Two thousand years of dispersion, persecution, and Holocaust issuing in the rebirth of Israel, but an Israel tormented by bloodthirsty Arabs who, aided by virtually the entire world, are dedicated to Israel’s annihilation. Yesterday by war, today by a deadly “peace process.”

After centuries of Jew-hatred still rampant in the democratic world, only shallow, effete, and “Establishment” Jews can ignore the genocidal war being waged against Israel. Iranian president Ahmadinejad is only the most conspicuous instrument of anti-Semitism: Eisav sonei Yaakov. Even nations in the democratic world have honored this murderous tyrant.

How can Israel stand up to this worldwide hatred of the people who gave mankind the Book of Books? How can Israel withstand such envious and implacable animosity?

Our Prophets and Sages tell us that this period will be one of great trials for Israel. But soon Israel will break the Covenant of Death of which Isaiah speaks. Soon the lies of the “peace process” will be swept away and the truth will emerge from Zion. Only keep faith with the God of Abraham. Sacrifice your doubts and fears and dare the impossible. Soon we shall have the last laugh on our enemies!

Internationally known political scientist, author and lecturer, Paul Eidelberg is founder and president of the Israel-America Renaissance Institute (I-ARI) with offices in Jerusalem and Philadelphia.

Noah’s Ark Being Rebuilt In The Netherlands

An industrious contractor is rebuilding Noah’s Ark. It’s not clear whether Johan Huibers has heard from God, but he has witnessed several floods overtaking his hometown of Dordrecht. With the onslaught of global warming, flood waters keep rising to ever higher levels.

Huibers claims he is not only concerned about rising flood waters. He also wants people to know about the true and living God.

While Huibers envisions floods of curious people coming to tour the Ark, local officials and business owners are seeing visions of economic growth. Huibers’ profits from a previous ark project were over $1 million, which leads one to believe that the town folk’s visions were inspired.

Tourism is a good thing. If making a part of biblical history real to people generates tourist trade, the gracious God, who delights in the prosperity of His people, probably won’t mind some who are not to benefit as well.

Maybe, they will also get a glimpse of the eternal light that will profit throughout eternity. That seems to be the ultimate goal for rebuilding Noah’s Ark.

If interested, the New York Times report about Huiber’s project can be read at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/30/world/europe/30ark.html.

Sermon on the Mount : Property Rights

By Daniel Downs

As mentioned in the first post, the gospels of Matthew and Luke contain two versions of a sermon proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth most likely from Mount Gerizim. This is where Moses told half of the tribal elders of Israel to reiterate the blessings for the keeping the law as the Israelites passed from the wilderness into the promised land (Deuteronomy 27:11-12; 28:1-14).

In the Sermon, Jesus pronounces blessings to the poor who faithfully follow God’s way. Those who do so become rich in two ways: First, their relationship with God makes them full of His presence and power enabling them to live according to the divine law. Jesus’ apostle Paul called it being filled with the Spirit. (Read his letter to the Ephesians) Second, they gain legal rights to the material and spiritual benefits of citizenship in the Kingdom of God. This means they have access to resources of the Creator. (See first post titled “Sermon on the Mount: Any Relevance Today?)

Jesus proceeds by pronouncing that those who mourn and weep will laugh again. In the world, problems arise whether because of mistakes, wrongdoing, injustices, natural disasters, or other forms of loss. Like Job, God comforts and restores. (See the second post titled Sermon on the Mount: From Weeping to Laughing)

The next blessing pronounced by Jesus is only recorded in the gospel of Matthew. It goes like this:

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5: 5).

I can think of only two reasons why Luke didn’t include it in his gospel. One possible reason is it was never part of Jesus’ sermon. The author of Matthew’s gospel included it because he was a Jew who had been trained to regard humility as a godly trait. Even though this blessing may not have been part of Jesus’ sermon, it was expected of those faithful to the law of God. Another possible reason is this: Being a citizen of the Roman Empire, Luke was trained to regard meekness as weakness. Romans regarded themselves as members of a superior race and culture than most others, for example, citizens of the always subjugated people of Palestine. This is the more likely reason.

The uniqueness of this part of Jesus Sermon is not just its singular mention in Matthew’s gospel; it is more exceptional because it was a quote taken from Psalms 37, which was itself the summation of a law of God:

“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret because of him who prosper in his way or because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it only leads to doing evil. For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. Yet a little while and the wicked will be no more; you will look carefully for his place and he will not be. But the meek will inherit the earth and will delight themselves in abundance” (7-11).

The above verses point the familiar reader back to Exodus when the Jews were delivered from the injustices of slavery in Egypt. The Jews were not forced into slavery just as a punishment for any wrong done while in Egypt. Rather, it was because they were foreigners whose population greatly increased. There large population made a paranoid dictator fearful about their allegiance. That is, Pharaoh feared they might join Egypt’s enemies to attacking and conquering Pharaoh and his empire. The easiest way to eliminate such a potential threat was to control all aspects of their lives, which meant to enslave them. (Exodus 1:8-11)   In this context, waiting on the Lord meant to continue being faithful to God and covenant law while waiting for God to execute justice. However, God told Abraham the Jews would be enslaved for 400 years in Egypt for two reasons: (1) their sins would lead them into it, and (2) the divine justice concerning the unrelenting sins of the Canaanites would take 400 years for completion. After which time, God promised the freedom of Jews and their right to possess the land previously promised to Abraham and to his descendents. (Genesis 15:13-16; Joshua 24:14; Deuteronomy 9:5-6; 12:29-31; 18:9-12)

The moral of the story is waiting in the right way leads to inheriting the promised land.

Inheriting and possessing land over which God reigns also will result in peace, freedom, and prosperity (Deuteronomy 7:12-14; 12:10; 25:19; 28:1-14). Because this promise included all faithful citizens of God’s reign, the collective or societal benefit of protection from enemies was implied. Yet, the individual aspect of the implied benefit was personal space within the land. Inclusive within this landed space was peace, a benefit of unhindered movement resulting from societal protection and prosperity; a related benefit was freedom of movement and work resulting from protection. Because God’s law required the promised land to be apportioned to each family according to need, title to that land was part of the inherited possession (Numbers 33:51-54). Prosperity didn’t equate to being as wealthy as Pharaohs, Caesars, Herods, or other tyrants. Prosperity meant having enough to meet the need of family and self as well as an abundance for tithes, offerings, showing hospitality to strangers, and helping others as need arose.

Jesus’ apostle Paul refers to the same when writing to the believers in Corinth about wealth and helping those suffering lack in Jerusalem because of famine. In the context of redemptive investments, Paul states that Jesus became poor that they (Corinthians and all believers) might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He then defines what he meant by rich:

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having sufficiency for every need, you may have an abundance for every good work” (9:8).

By good work, Paul meant investing in the needy believers in Jerusalem. By doing so, they were cheerfully fulfilling kingdom law and increasing future returns all in the spirit of meekness. (Leviticus 25:35-37; Proverbs 19:17)

The ancient model of meekness was Moses (Numbers 12:3). Yet, Moses stood against Pharaoh face to face as God commanded. Moses led the Jews and others out of Egypt toward the promised land. Moses gave Israel the law of God. Moses led the warriors of Israel. Moses commanded the execution of Jews who had rebelled against the command and law of God. Moses interceded on behalf of the people in the face of God anger and judgment. Moses cared deeply about all of Israel. Moses trained Joshua for future leadership. Moses stood up to the opposition of jealous family members and others. However, the meekness of Moses was not defined by his courage. It was his caring and especially his obedience to God. God defended Moses against all opposition as Moses turned to God. That is, Moses trusted God. He trusted God because God carried out His word. Therefore, he was faithful to God. As a result, Moses waited on God. The one exception when he was angry about the faithless complaining of the people Moses went beyond God’s instruction. God used this as an object lesson by forbidding Moses from leading the Israel into the promised land. (Numbers 20:1-12)

In other words, not waiting on God leads to wrongdoing resulting in adverse consequences no matter who you are.

Notice, inherent in the English word “wait” consists of two implications: (1) it refers to duration of time during which a person waits for another person to respond, act or fulfill an agreement, or vise versa. (2) It more importantly refers to service to others i.e., to wait on a king, waiting on tables, etc. Just as Moses fulfilled both, those who heard Jesus’ sermon would have understood the same applied themselves. Waiting on the Lord meant waiting on God to act to enrich their lives with His wonderful presence and power, to comfort them during time of suffering, to lead them into possession of the benefits of the promise land.

The same audience also would have understood the purpose of God’s law of healing. The meek could not possess the earth if hindered by debilitating diseases. Consequently, citizens of God’s kingdom were to expect good health because they faithfully obeyed the law. (Exodus 23:25; Deuteronomy 7:12, 15) As the law promised good health, God also promised healing even if new diseases occurred. That is why healing was a prominent part of Jesus’ messianic work; the obedient were being restored in order to possess all of the benefits of the promise land.

So it is to be expected today.

The blessings of citizenship in God’s kingdom by covenant through faith in Jesus are promised to all. It is the fulfillment of God’s word to Abraham that through his descendents all peoples would be blessed. The Torah, songs of Israel (Psalms), and the proclamations of the Prophets contain the definition of the intended blessings. In his sermon from Mount Gerizim, Jesus reiterates the blessing. (Matthew 19:27-29; Luke 18:28-30; Mark 10:28-30)