Psalm 19:7-11 tells us that the Torah of God is without defect, restoring the soul. Torah itself lays the answer to all our deepest needs and spiritual hunger and to all our ‘life’ questions. Torah points the way forward to solutions; as we approach the autumn High Holy Days with the Days of Awe and the deep introspection demanded of us, it is good to remind ourselves where to look for the answers to our questions of self and our personal inadequacy to stand blameless before God.
When we turn to this week’s portion, we find the whole parashah is dedicated to returning to God (shuv in Hebrew). It seems as if Torah screams at us ‘TURN BACK’! Torah is perfect, without defect, always telling us the truth and revealing righteousness in undiluted form. However, despite everything God has done for us, we threw it back in His face, we despised His teachings and thus suffered under His righteous judgement down the ages. This too has to be accepted as true, Torah, without defect.
Deuteronomy 30:1-3 predicts a worldwide dispersion or galut where persecutions of a horrific nature can be expected, followed by a return to the Land of our forefathers. The physical return began in 1948 but the second part is yet to happen in its fullness – although the spiritual revival of our people has begun. It would be true to say that pretty much since the first century, there have never been as many Jews who follow Yeshua Mashichanu as there are today. The Messianic Jewish movement is the spearhead for Jewish revival and we are part of it, the ancient remnant that is being preserved. Judaism needs reformation, renewal and rejuvenation and through Messiah we are seeing it happen. Mashiach is the means to bring Life to our people.
These short verses predict with absolute and devastating certainty that a time will come when Israel is away from the Land and not walking with Adonai. A time when the Judaism she professes to live out is not actually what the Lord demands and a spiritual blindness has come upon us. We shall be pursued by the ‘curses’ of Torah – and we have been for the last 2,000 years.
To put it in terms used by Rav Shaul, in our rebellion we have drawn a veil over our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). However, it does not say that God has placed a veil over our hearts, as some attempt to maintain; this is a veil that we have allowed to settle there, a barrier to understanding caused by our rebellion and hardness of mind. This veil has brought a collective spiritual blindness over us as Israel, the historic Jewish people. We have been unable to see Mashiach for who he is: our own deliverer and salvation sent by God to release us from our sin. As a result, we have developed forms of Judaism that have not been faithful to the original Torah given by God at Sinai. Yet the verses are equally clear that the veil can be removed: if you trust the atonement given through Mashiach, you too can reach out to God and have the veil removed. Returning to the Land is only the first step in the full redemption and salvation of Israel.
And yet… the story gets more complicated. To understand fully the final turning to God for revival, we have to consider an aspect of Rav Shaul’s teaching on the Olive Tree. (Romans 11:11,25). He is expounding on how all Israel will finally be restored to a living relationship with the one true God. And this restoration hinges at least partly on how the nations respond to Him too. As Israel is provoked to jealousy, so redemption comes. Believers down the ages have rarely, if ever, provoked Israel to jealousy; in fact just the opposite is true. As our sages and rabbis have said consistently during the last 2,000 years, what has been created from Mashiach appears to be ‘avodah zarah’: strange worship or heresy. Thankfully it is faith that saves, not form but we cannot ignore the challenge.
The key to national Jewish revival is hinged upon one word: ‘fullness’ (v25). It seems that this cannot happen until the ‘fullness’ of the nations have responded. Most commentaries go with the explanation that this is numerical but then one wonders, just how many is enough? It effectively and conveniently kicks the issue of Israel’s redemption into the long grass. This is not good enough.
The Greek word used here is related to other words which have been translated by words such as fulfilment, completion or being made whole. If this definition is used, then a different image begins to emerge. The ‘so’ of verse 26 seems to make this ‘fullness’ dependent on Israel’s final redemption, caused by a provocation caused by the nations responding to the God of Israel and also receiving salvation according to the Jewish pattern laid down from Abraham.
Seen from a Torah perspective, with a broken relationship with God we have become paltry reflections of our full human greatness as imitators and images of Adonai, as we were created to be. Restoration to that relationship however is a wholeness, a completeness and fulfilment and all this is kept in the Torah, perfect and without defect, the message of a deliverer and redeemer from the outset. To be ‘fully’ Jewish is to be restored to God again, living in obedience to Torah and enjoying the fruit of the Land. The same message is for the nations too; come and join us, convert to Judaism in Mashiach and you too can be completed, whole, fully reflecting that image again. The model of sin-redemption-righteousness is a Jewish message.
From this angle, conversion to the God of Israel and making Jewish converts is a provocation indeed – especially as this happens through Mashiach Yeshua. Once Messianic Judaism (including conversion) is thoroughly established, provocation will begin and according to Rav Shaul, SO all Israel will be saved! It’s not about numbers but about restoration – a lifting of the veil and a return once more to God. These are the times we are now living in!