Make a difference!
So we’re wandering, sojourning in our sukkot, we’ve learned the transitory nature of our lives, we’ve learned in the desert that God was our provider and every slice of our lives was held in His hand alone. Sukkot, as all Chagim, draws our eyes and focus inexorably back towards home.
But it’s not only sojourning that we focus on. Sukkot as you know is the final harvest time, the ingathering of the second harvest (in Israel) that has been ripening over the summer. The Torah teaches in the alternative Numbers passage this morning that this harvest will include some from the nations too, that all people who follow the One True God will come together, His redeemed people, the people of God. With the 70 sacrifices offered representing the 70 nation groups created after Babel, Judaism has always included offerings for the nations. It has been the bedrock of our outreach, knowing that there is a way that those not born into the family can be atoned for and drawn to the God of Israel. God has always made a way for us to be welcomed back into His presence and in case we should ever be tempted to hold onto such good news for ourselves as Jews, this command to offer sacrifices for the nations should remind us what we truly should do with the good news. We need to take it out and tell people!
We are all created in the image of God (monogenesis) but as the world has turned its back on the one true Creator it has constantly sought to mimic that original unity through false ideologies, be they secular or religious. Of course, all attempts so far have failed; just how do you unify all peoples? King Shlomo had the answer; he says in 1 Kings that the purpose of building the Temple in Jerusalem was that ‘all the peoples of the earth would know that the Lord is God; there is no other.’ To create true unity again amongst all peoples will mean a core accepted belief system and central cultural values that will unite all. Judaism, as the response of God to our human needs is the faith that will bring this about.
Against this I can hear the outcry of the world: atheists will tell you that it is sheer arrogance of man and extreme hubris of conceit to say that God speaks to us, guides us and has revealed to us the way of salvation and redemption for the whole world. How ironic that that comment should come from those for whom man IS the greatest show on earth, the pinnacle of evolutionary achievement, the technological masters of the universe. Actually, because God does and has spoken to us, revealed Himself to us down the ages we have a very healthy self-image of who we are, and it’s not big as we saw with Job the other day! In reality, anyone who has come ‘face to face’ with God realises just how small and insignificant we truly are.
Others will tell you in these days that God cannot be contained in one faith system, that all should ‘come together’ for the sake of world peace and harmony. Of course comments like these come from those who do not study religions in depth, experts in the field know only too well that the differences are at times irreconcilable and theological and theopractic elements are unbridgeable. A reality it will never be!
Ed Miliband declared this week that his ‘faith’ was in essence all mankind working together for a better future. Nice rhetoric, but such a humanist desire based on ‘being nice to each other’ is not a faith I aspire to, nor will it be for anyone who a) truly knows humanity and b) who truly knows the God of Israel. God has made it abundantly clear that there is only one set of values, beliefs and righteous lifestyle that will ever work, and that’s His. It was God who said to Avraham ‘in YOU all the families of the earth will be blessed’, i.e. that Av (and what he stands for, the line of promise) is the doorway to blessing and correct functioning as a human being. God has made a way through sacrifice to save people from their sins, and not just for Jewish people either! Judaism is not the same as other religions/faiths/philosophies, we do claim to be absolute and our revelation special and unique.
The problem is that this subtle seductive drip-feeding from the world that generic faith is the way ahead, causes all kinds of problems spiritually for us. And that may not be the way you think. Read Ex 34:12. We are commanded to not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the Land we inherit. So important was this attitude that Rav Shaul reiterates it in 2 Corinthians 6:14: we should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. We’ve tended to see that verse in a very narrow way, as regards marriage, but in fact if you read the context (Temple purity and holiness) it has a much wider remit. Being (unequally) yoked, tied, connected to someone or something has covenantal aspects too, it is the shared perception of values and common ground that we think we have, yet fundamentally do not. We begin to absorb its ways of thinking, attitudes and assumptions when in fact our call and challenge as Jews is to confront, not imbibe.
Anyone who has experienced such things will know that it doesn’t take long before the ‘shared’ journey actually becomes a one way street; you become the one who ends up dancing to their tune. Compromise comes only from the one seeking to accommodate. People often talk about ‘soul ties’, a virtual spiritual covenant with things and people who are off limits, like the Canaanites. We saw through our tragic history the results of those who married or made covenants with those who were decidedly not interested in joining Israel. It’s what brought Shlomo’s kingdom to a grinding halt and set us in decline. These ties bring only unfruitfulness in their wake and start to spiritually undermine not only the one making such covenants but also those in the community or family around them. The ripples go out.
When Yeshua sent us out with the Great Commission it was to re-instigate the outreach imperative of Israel. Not for us the one world concepts, generic faith ‘all roads lead to God’ approaches. Our God and our faith are unique and we are to be different but not out of reach in this world. Be careful what you connect with, it will influence you more than you know and realise. Rather, take the message that is truly good news to everyone who will hear you!