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Taking a Stand for Yeshua:
Our Father, Who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.
Opening benedictions, praising God
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done
on earth as it is in Heaven.
For to You belongs the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever. Amen.
Closing benedictions, again praising God
In fact, the Disciples’ Prayer in many ways resembles a shortened form of the Amidah combined with the shortened form of another venerated Jewish prayer, the Kaddish (“Holiness”). It is a marvel of composition, easily memorized even by the very young, yet capturing all at once a praise for who the Holy One truly is and the petitions for the most pressing needs facing us each day.
It is also, interestingly enough, far less Messianic than either the Amidah or the Rabbis’ Kaddish!
The purpose of this article is to go through the Amidah,
explaining the significance of each benediction from a Messianic point of view.
We will see that not only do the Jewish people rely wholly on (that is, put
their faith in) God’s grace for the forgiveness of sins, they eagerly await for
the Messiah and even call for Him by Name! Lest anyone accuse me of
manipulating the text, I will be using Rabbi Donin’s translation of the Amidah,
with occasional reference to The Complete Artscroll Siddur. Neither is a
Messianic source, and neither has any motivation to twist the translation to
either impress a Christian audience nor provide a Messianic apologetic to a
Jewish one. It is my hope that by way of this article that I can demonstrate to
both my Christian and Jewish brethren that perhaps our basic beliefs are not so
far apart after all.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God and God of our fathers,
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob,
The great, mighty, and awesome God,
God Supreme, who extends loving kindness and is Master of all,
Who remembers the gracious deeds of our forefathers,
And who will bring a Redeemer with love to their children’s children for His name’s sake.
King, Helper, Savior, and Protector, Blessed art Thou, Lord, Protector of Abraham.
This first benediction of the Amidah establishes the worshipper’s relationship to God—a relationship wholly dependent on the covenants God made with the Patriarchs. That is why the Mishnah, cognizant of this dependence on God’s covenants rather than on one’s individual merit, states, “All Israel has a place in the World to Come” excluding those that demonstrate their utter faithlessness (Sanhedron 11:1). The necessity of this covenant relationship is well-established in the Renewed Covenant Scriptures as well: Sha’ul speaks of his own people, the Jews, as those
to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Messiah according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Rom. 9:24-25)
In contrast, he writes, those who were Gentiles were born “separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). It is only by being adopted by Messiah and grafted into Israel’s tree that we can share in the special covenant relationship that Israel enjoys (Rom. 11:17ff). Therefore, Sha’ul writes, no Gentile believer should be arrogant against a Jew, whether or not that Jew has been “broken off” for a lack of faith in Yeshua. Indeed, he writes, “but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you” (v. 18). Wilson notes regarding this relationship,
The Greek term Paul uses here is bastazo, meaning “bear,” “carry,” “lift up,” “support”. . . . Indeed, a study of various contexts in which bastazo occurs shows that this verb “implies the constant attitude of submission.” This nuance, then, suggests the proper attitude required of the gentile believer in regard to his place in the family of God. firmly supported by the fatness of the olive root, Israel, Gentiles have no room for a spirit of arrogance, price, or self-sufficiency (Rom. 11:20). they are dependent upon the Jews for their salvation and spiritual existence. Dan Johnson has effectively noted this relationship: “From Paul’s time until the present, the church has tended to view its existence independently of Israel. . . . In Paul’s view any church which exists independently of Israel ceases to therein to be the church as a part of God’s salvation plan and becomes simply another religious socieity.” (Abraham 15)
However, once we have been grafted into this great Hebrew root, into the tree of Israel, by trusting and swearing fealty to Israel’s King, we become fully adopted into Abraham’s family, “heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29). Thus, Abraham is not simply the father of the Jews; he becomes our father, regardless of our birth. Thus it becomes wholly appropriate for all believers in the Messiah Yeshua to pray this benediction, no matter whether a born Jew or a former Gentile.
The second thing that we note about this prayer is that we
are already seeing the Messianic expectation of the Jewish people aroused: “And
who will bring a Redeemer with love to their children’s children for His name’s
sake.” Actually, notes the Artscroll Siddur’s commentary on this
passage, the translation should be, “And brings a Redeemer. The phrase
is in present tense. Every event, no matter how terrible it may seem, is a step
towards the ultimate redemption by the Messiah (Siach Yitzchak).” We
also use the present tense in our synagogue, recognizing that God has both
already brought the Redeemer, Yeshua, and that He will bring Him again to
complete the redemption of the whole world.
Thy might is eternal, O Lord,
Who revives the dead,
Powerful in saving,
Who makes the wind to blow and the rain to fall, [Said only in winter]
Who sustains the living with loving kindness,
Who revives the dead with great mercy,
Who supports the falling, heals the sick, frees the captive,
And keeps faith with the dead;
Who is like Thee, Almighty, and who resembles Thee,
O King who can bring death and give life,
And can make salvation blossom forth.
And faithful art Thou to revive the dead.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, who makes the dead live.
The doctrine of the Resurrection of the dead was of such importance to Pharisaic Judaism, which became Orthodox Judaism, that the sages decreed,
On Tannaite authority [it was stated], “Such a one denied the resurrection of the dead, therefore he will not have a portion in the resurrection of the dead. For all the measures [meted out by] the Holy One, blessed be he, are in accord with the principle of measure for measure.” (b. Sanhedron 90a)
This doctrine was considered so important for two reasons: First, because the Tanakh assumes a concept which has been dubbed by some modern scholars as the Semitic Totality Concept. Where Greek thought was that a person was a spirit who happened to be housed (or imprisoned!) in a body, Hebrew thought was that a person is a spirit and a body and a soul (lit. a breath, the animating life-force), so that the loss of any of them made for less than a complete person. Therefore, in order to truly receive the promises that the Eternal One had made to Israel’s fathers, one had to be Resurrected whole in the ‘Olam HaBa, the World (or Age) to Come. This concept is assumed by the NT authors (cf. John 11:24ff, 1 Co. 15, 2 Co. 5:1-4), and those who denied the Resurrection, such as the Sadducees, were said by Yeshua to be “mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mat. 22:29). It is sad indeed that the spirit of the Sadducees long ago infected so much of the Body of the Risen Messiah.
The second reason is that the Resurrection is second only to Creation as a demonstration of God’s power—and the ultimate demonstration of God’s power to heal. Rabbi Donin notes, “Power among human beings is generally defined in terms of one’s ability to destroy. . . [but] the real might of God lies in His ability to give life to man and to earth, to sustain life, to heal the sick, to free the captive, to raise the fallen.” (Pray 79) Indeed, as we noted in our response to Rabbi Singer on the interpretation of Yoma 39b, “Where [Yeshua] claimed to be the Messiah and Savior of Israel, He did so by His deeds rather than by His words—and his deeds were to raise the dead, heal the lepers, bring sight to those born blind, and cast out the deaf-mute spirits.” In fact, when Yochanan HaTivlei (John the Baptist) sent messengers to find out if Yeshua was truly the Messiah, the Master answered him with just this point (Mat. 11:4f).
Likewise, Yeshua did not go around telling people, “Hey, I’m God.” Rather, He did the deeds of God so that we would understand that the Father’s Sh’khinah, His visible Presence and Glory, was in Him.
Note carefully the last three lines of the benediction: Here we have the first mention of Yeshua’s Name in the Hebrew word for “salvation”—or rather, a play-on-words of His Name. The word translated “salvation” is y’shuah (ישועה), which is pronounced exactly like the name Yeshua (ישוע)—in fact, they are spelled exactly the same save for the final heh (ה). As we will see in the Fifteenth Benediction, the Salvation that blossoms forth can refer only to the Messiah. Now notice the linking of ideas here! The King brings death and gives life (cf. Deu. 32:39) and makes Salvation sprout, or blossom. The idea of someone sprouting (matzmicha; מצמיח) conveys the idea of birth, of a branch growing from a family tree—in fact, one of the titles of the Messiah in the Tanakh is the Branch (tzemach; צמח) of Adonai (Isa. 4:2) and of David (Jer. 23:5 and 33:15, Zec. 3:8 and 6:12).
It is that Branch in Whom the Eternal One
demonstrated His faithfulness (not a quid pro quo for our obedience) by
bringing about His birth, then His death, and then restoring Him to life
forevermore. Yeshua’s Resurrection is the sign which guarantees the
Resurrection of all the faithful when He comes again on the clouds of the sky,
the Firstfruits offering of the rest of the harvest (1Co. 15:20, 23). It is sad
indeed that with these concepts described so vividly in the NT, so few who
believe in them think to pray for that Resurrection of the righteous.
Thou art holy, and Thy name is holy,
And those who are holy shall praise Thee every day.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, the holy God.
This benediction corresponds to, and may be considered a lengthened form of, the second line of the Disciples’ Prayer: “Hallowed be Thy Name.”
When the Amidah is being recited by a minyan, a group of at least ten men, in the synagogue, the following responsive reading is said:
First by the congregation, then repeated by the Chazzan, or Prayer Leader: “We will sanctify You and revere You according to the pleasant words of the counsel of the holy Seraphim, who thrice recite ‘Holy’ before You, as it is written by Your prophet, ‘And one will call another and say:’”
All: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole world is filled with His glory.” (Isa. 6:3)
Chazzan: “Facing them they give praise, saying:”
All: “Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place.” (Ezk. 3:12)
Chazzan: “And in Your holy Writings the following is written:”
All: “The Lord shall reign forever—your God, O Zion—from generation to generation, Halleluyah!” (Psa. 146:10)
Another peak into this heavenly worship that the Third Benediction invokes that we who believe in Yeshua HaMashiach can look to is the Revelation given to Yochanan the Emissary, the Apostle John. Indeed, not even Ezekiel and Isaiah saw so much of heaven’s worship of the King of the universe.
What does “holy” mean? The Hebrew word kadosh (קדוש) speaks of something that has been separated from the everyday. It should also be noted that the normal means of emphasizing something in Hebrew is to repeat it: For example, “You shall surely die” in Gen. 2:17 would be, if rendered with wooden literalness, “You shall dying die.” To repeat a word in triplicate indicates the superlative; thus, when we say that God is Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, we are saying that He is entirely unique, different from all other things. This is a point that we Western Christians all too often forget in our “God is my buddy” mentality. Yes, He is our great Friend, but He is also our King, the Holy One, and we must treat Him with the proper respect.
Giving God His proper respect means to imitate Him in His holiness:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, be sober and set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah—as children of obedience, not conforming yourselves according to your former lusts as in your ignorance, but just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all of your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy; for I am holy.” (1Pt. 1:13-16)
The command Peter here cites comes from the book of Leviticus (11:44f, 19:2, and 20:7). In the first instance, it concludes a section dealing with the laws of kosher and just before the final admonition, “to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean” (v. 47). The second time, it heads a section detailing a variety of commandments both moral (e.g., not to put a stumbling block in the way of the blind) and ceremonial (e.g., waiting for three years before eating the fruit of any newly planted tree). The third time it heads a section detailing illicit sexual relationships. This teaches us that it is by following the Holy One’s commandments—both moral and ceremonial—that we imitate His holiness.
This should not be seen as a burden, or as an intimidating
standard that we fear falling beneath. After all, we have already been
redeemed. Rather, we should view each mitzvah, each command, as an
opportunity and special privilege, a teaching from our Father in how to be more
Thou grant knowledge to man,
And teach understanding to humans;
From Thine own Self, favor us with knowledge, understanding, and sense.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, giver of knowledge.
The degree to which Jewish culture encourages the pursuit of knowledge cannot be overstated. A people that for so many centuries were forbidden to hold land and were in constant danger of persecution and expulsion wherever they lived survived by the adage, “They cannot take what is in your mind.” Such a love of knowledge is perhaps the reason Jews are so over-represented in the list of Nobel prize winners.
But long before the Diaspora made secular knowledge so vital to them, the Jewish people were great seekers of the knowledge given by God and of God. Rabbi Donin states,
The sages said it candidly, “If there is no understanding, how can there be prayer?” (Yer. Berakhot 4:3). They also felt that “an ignorant person cannot be truly pious” (Avot 2:5), for true piety—the kind that is not based on mere superstition—presupposes an understanding of the nature of the world and a knowledge of what God requires of us. (Pray, 82)
This is not to say that the sages despised those who, through no fault of their own, had not had the opportunity for advanced learning. One Jewish legend speaks favorably of a simple Jewish farmer who became lost on his way to the synagogue for a Kol Nidre service (the service on Yom Kippur eve). Finally, the sun went down, and he was forced to stop and camp out alone in the woods. He didn’t know the correct prayers by heart, so he simply recited the Hebrew alphabet and asked the Holy One to compose them into a fitting prayer for him.
What the sages had little patience for, however, was ignorance born of laziness. Studying the Torah—and by extension, the rest of the Scriptures—is considered the highest form of worship. If prayer is the praise and petitioning of a great King, studying the Scriptures is like unto listening to the words of that King so that we can know His will and carry it out, and more than that, so that we can know Him. The one who prays a lot but never reads the Bible is like a chatterbox who never shuts up to listen. (I confess that in human relations, I often fall short of the ideal of listening twice as much speaking.)
As strange as it seems, there is a large segment of Christianity which actually boasts about its ignorance. “Don’t give me theology, just give me Jesus,” some say—as if theology were something other than the pursuit of knowing God. Others look down on those who use commentaries, dictionaries, lexicons, histories, and other aids to better understand the Scriptures in their original context, claiming that just reading the King James with the aid of the Spirit is enough. Some actually decry studying the Scriptures at all, saying that the Spirit alone is all that is necessary!
Such flies in the face of what the Apostles taught:
2Ti. 2:15 - Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
Rom 15:14 - And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.
2Pt. 1:5ff - Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
2Pt. 3:16 - . . . as also in all [Paul’s] letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction . . .
Acts 17:11 - Now these [Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
Acts 18:24ff - Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Yeshua, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
As one studies the Proverbs, one sees over and over again the benefits of both knowledge and wisdom being extolled over ignorance and foolishness. The Scriptures commend all throughout those who diligently seek the knowledge of God and His Word. It is, in fact, a commandment that “This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Jos. 1:8), and that we teach God’s words diligently to our children (Deu. 6:7). In fact, doing so is connected with the Great Commandment, to love God with all our heart, soul, and might (v. 5)—and how can we teach to our children what we are ignorant of ourselves?
True knowledge, of course, is not rote head knowledge. There are many who can cite Scripture who are completely ignorant of what it means. And while the helps we spoke of before are important to a full understanding of the Scriptures, all of them are for naught for the one who is not taught by the Spirit. Yeshua’s disciples followed Him for over two years, but they did not fully understand the prophecies concerning Him until He opened their minds (Luke 24:45). This is because “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1Co. 2:14).
How do we reconcile these truths? It is simply thus: The Spirit is indeed our teacher (John 14:26), but the Holy One does not reward the lazy with instant knowledge unworked-for. He may, of course, choose to give a “word of knowledge” (1Co. 12:8) where it is needed, but in general the way He operates is to infuse the knowledge that we get by studying the Word with wisdom—that is, with a fuller understanding of the application of that Word.
This is actually in line with what Judaism teaches: “[T]he
giving of knowledge and wisdom to man is an act of Divine grace, for by doing so
God graciously shares with man one of His own Divine qualities." (Donin, Pray,
Thus Ya’akov (Jacob, aka James) writes, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him
ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be
given to him” (Jas. 1:5). This benediction of the Amidah does exactly that.
Return us, our Father, to Thy Torah,
And draw us closer, our King, to Thy worship,
And bring us back before Thee in complete repentance.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, who desires repentance.
That God desires repentance rather than to destroy the wicked is the consistent teaching throughout Scripture: “’For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord ADONAI. ‘Therefore, repent and live’" (Ezk. 18:32). “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2Pt. 3:9).
Rabbi Donin notes that only in this benediction and the next one is God addressed as “Our Father” rather than “Our Lord” or “Our King.”
For just as it is the duty of a father to teach his children Torah and to guide them on the correct path, so do we ask our Father in heaven to bring us closer to His Torah and help us steer a proper course in life.
Likewise, when we ask for His forgiveness, we emphasize His fatherly relationship to us by praying for a father’s merciful understanding. “As a father has compassion on his children” (Psalms 103:13), we ask that God have mercy on us and forgive us. (Pray 83)
This understanding makes it clear why Yeshua’s favorite title for the Holy One is “Father.” It wasn’t that He was seeking forgiveness, of course, for He had no sin. Rather, His relationship to the Father was a special one, His body being directly created by God in Miriam’s womb to incarnate the Sh’kinah, God’s visible Presence, which emanates from the Father as light from the sun. But His special role was to call sinners to repentance and to provide the atonement for all so that we could be adopted a children of God, Yeshua being the Firstborn (cf. Rom. 8:28-29). Thus, He provided so that while the Holy One is still our King, due a higher respect and obedience than any in His Creation, He is also our Father, who rejoices and runs out to meet His prodigals when they come home.
It is widely understood by my Christian brethren that ultimately it is God who must call sinners to repentance, rather than the sinners themselves who turn back to God of their own volition. Calvinists in particular point to passages such as John 6:44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day,” or Eph. 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." (There are linguistic reasons for disputing that “the gift of God” here refers to the saving faith; nevertheless, I've included the quote here as an example of Christian thought on the subject.) Such a belief is implicit in Jewish soteriology as well: “Return us, our Father . . . draw us closer . . . bring us back . . .”
We also do well to note the distinct lack of a “salvation
of works” in the Prayer. The petitioner, recognizing his own weakness to his
yetzer ha’ra (the evil inclination, what the NT refers to as the sarx,
or “flesh”), appeals to God for the ability to repent and return—he does not
appeal to God for salvation on the basis of his own works! This becomes even
more apparent as we turn to the next benediction.
Forgive us Father, for we have sinned,
Pardon us, our King, for we have transgressed,
For Thou art a pardoner and a forgiver.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, Gracious One who forgives abundantly.
Many, if not most, Christians believe that Judaism is a works-based religion which teaches that if you somehow do more good deeds than bad in your life, this “earns” you a place in Heaven. Sadly, there are many Jews who, being mis-taught in their own synagogues (or failing to go to synagogue often enough to be taught) also believe this is true. Some, in their earnestness to contrast Judaism with what they see as an overly dark view of human nature and sin in Christianity, will assert that Judaism sees sin as “no big deal.” The Prayer makes liars of both.
It is true that Judaism has no concept of “total depravity” as such, but it does have a very realistic understanding of true human nature (as a reading of the rabbis demonstrates) and the seriousness of sin and the need for the Father’s continual forgiveness. It does not try to explain away our guilt or claim our good deeds as some kind of counterbalance on the scales of God’s justice, but instead appeals solely to the mercy of the Father.
The confusion on Judaism’s teaching on this matter seems to stem from confusion over a conversation recorded in the Avot d’Rabbi Nathan (ch. 4) which took place shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple:
On one occasion, when they were leaving Jerusalem, the latter [R. Joshua] gazed upon the destroyed Temple and cried out, “Woe to us! The place where Israel obtained atonement for sins is in ruins!” R. Jochanan said to him, “My son, be not distressed. We still have an atonement equally efficacious, and that is the practice of benevolence.” (Cohen, Talmud 157. He goes on to cite Hos. 6:6 in support.)
To claim that this means one is supposed to work for salvation misses R. Yochanan’s point. He was not pointing to salvation by a 51% effort, or 51% success rate. Rather, looking at the example of those who had undergone the Babylonian captivity, when the Temple was likewise destroyed, he realized that ultimately atonement and forgiveness were in God’s hands. Therefore, it was better to do the things which could be done (and which God preferred anyway) and trust the Holy One for His atonement than to lament over that which could not be practiced (blood sacrifice). After all, if Daniel was considered righteous even though he could offer no sacrifices—indeed, what of the Israelites who suffered under the lash of Pharaoh before the Exodus?—surely God would be merciful to other generations who also could not.
While such a view does rely on God’s grace rather than human effort, the downplay of the necessity of blood to atone for sin has been a blind spot in Jewish theology, ignoring the statement of the Torah, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev. 17:11). It follows that if a life is needed to atone for sins, yet those who could not offer the lives of clean animals to atone for their sins could still be justified by God’s mercy, then He would have to provide some manner of super-atonement which was efficacious for not just a day or a year, but for all time. It is just such a sacrifice that we have in the Messiah Yeshua, our Pesach Lamb, who is the very Redemption that Jews pray for in the next benediction.
It is traditional to beat on one’s breast when saying this part of the Prayer, specifically at the words “forgive” and “pardon.” This brings to mind the tax collector Yeshua spoke of in one of His teachings:
But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
It seems likely that the Master, to whom the Amidah was a daily part of life, was referring directly to this benediction by the tax collector’s prayer.
In the Disciples’ Prayer, Yeshua tell us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”—the implication being that if we do not forgive others, neither will we be forgiven. This is in fact the direct teaching of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mat. 18:22ff). It is also the teaching of Maimonides (the Rambam), one of Judaism’s greatest sages:
He that is wronged (they say) is forbidden to be difficult to pardon; for that is not the manner of the seed of Israel. But when the offender implores him once and again, and it appears he repents of his deed, let him pardon him: and whosoever is most ready to pardon is praiseworthy. (quoted by Lightfoot, Commentary 259)
Of course, forgiveness is only one side of the coin of
salvation. The other is redemption.
Look upon us in our suffering,
And fight our struggles,
Redeem us speedily, for Thy Name’s sake,
For Thou art a mighty Redeemer.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, Redeemer of Israel.
Where the Western Christian focus is primarily on the salvation and redemption of the individual, the Jewish focus has always been on the redemption of the nation. Christianity has focused on a spiritual redemption from sin, Judaism on redemption from the troubles that assail the Jewish people. Both are important, though this prayer focuses on the latter.
However, it is not the final redemption from exile that this benediction looks to—that distinction falls to the Tenth Benediction. Rabbi Donin states that it is a prayer “to be delivered from the troubles that constantly befall us . . . all the personal difficulties—whether body or soul—that afflict our daily lives.” (Pray 84, 85, citing b. Megillah 17b)
This corresponds to the Disciples’ Prayer, “but deliver us from evil” or “the Evil One.” Sometimes we create for ourselves a mystical ideal where a person is so holy and spiritually minded that they walk over jagged rocks, never feel the effects of weariness or starvation, laugh with joy at every pain, and bleed mother’s milk. Such an ideal has no place in Scripture, where even the Messiah Himself sweated blood in anticipation of the agony and shame He was about to endure and petitioned that, if possible, the cup before Him might be taken away (Luke 22:42ff). The Bible is very realistic when it comes to men’s sufferings and their reactions to them—it portrays every human extremis of weariness, pain, and despair.
The Holy One does not call on us to pretend that we are unaffected by the trials we face in this world. He wants us to cry out to Him for comfort as a child does his Father when he falls and breaks an arm. The heroes and prophets of the Bible were not sinning or displaying some lack of faith when they petitioned God for relief and justice against their adversaries, and neither are we. Consider the parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8). However, there is also a tension that we face in that we are at the same time called on to bless those who curse us and pray for those who persecute us (Mat. 5:44). God wants us to bring our grievances before Him and petition Him for justice, but at the same time, we should always seek the salvation and good of those who are the cause of the injustices against us, just as Yeshua both pronounced judgment against Jerusalem and prayed for those who nailed Him to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
Of course, when the persecutor is saved by repenting and turning towards the God of Abraham and His Messiah, the wall between us, the reason for the original persecution, is destroyed. What better way for God to bring an end to our suffering than to redeem the one who is inflicting it?
As when we pray the First Benediction, referring to God as
the “Redeemer of Israel” is not saying that He redeemed Israel to the exclusion
of the Gentiles, but as the firstfruits of His Redemption of the whole world.
It is by being grafted into Israel’s tree (Rom. 11:11ff), by being annexed into
the greater commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2:12-16) that the Gentiles are saved,
and it is for this reason that we must support and love the root.
Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed,
Save us and we shall be saved,
For Thou art our glory.
Send complete healing for our every illness
For Thou, Divine King, art the faithful, merciful Physician.
Blessed are Thou, Lord, who heals the sick of His people Israel.
“I kill, and I make alive. I wound, and I heal,” says El-Shaddai to Israel through His prophet Moses. Earlier, we saw the expectation of the Resurrection explicitly stated in this storehouse of Judaism’s theology; here we see the belief in the Holy One as the great Healer. As Donin notes, “[W]hile it is the doctor who treats the patient, it is God who cures him.” (Pray 85)
It is a tradition that should the person praying know any who are in need of healing, that they add a special prayer for that person or persons immediately after the line, “Send complete healing for our every illness.” It is also understood that this prayer encompasses not just illnesses of the body, but illnesses of the mind and spirit as well.
While it is certainly no great difficulty for the One who made our cells to repair them, the Bible indicates that God’s healing goes far deeper than that—and indeed, that it costs Him far more than a simple expenditure of the effort of moving around a few molecules. It’s very interesting in that light that this benediction links together the idea of being healed with being saved, for this is exactly what the New Covenant Scriptures emphasize. Matthew, writing about Yeshua’s healing ministry, quotes Isaiah 53:
When Yeshua came into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her. She got up and served Him. When evening came, they brought to Him many possessed with demons. He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He took our infirmities, and bore our diseases.” (Mat. 8:14-17)
Isaiah 53 has been called the “holy of holies” of the Tanakh by Christian commentators for a reason: It presents the whole message of the Gospel in one short passage. It describes Yeshua’s humility, His lack of the qualities which men consider for leadership, His rejection by men, and goes on to describe Him giving up His life “an offering for sin.” It speaks of Him being executed with wicked men (e.g., the two thieves) and of being laid to rest in a rich man’s tomb. It does not conclude on this sorrowful note, however, but finishes with stating that because He willingly submitted to this, the Holy One would enable Him to “prolong His days” and “see light and be satisfied” giving Him “a portion with the great”—all of which would require a Resurrection to follow the Sacrifice!
Sidenote: I saw the power of this passage when visiting with an Israeli Orthodox friend. Since Hebrew was his first language, he was reading from the Scriptures in Hebrew and providing on-the-fly translations for us. In a stroke of Spirit-inspired genius, a fellow Messianic Jew asked him to do a translation of Isaiah 53 for us. He happily agreed.
He got three verses in, paused, and said, “That sounds positively Christian, doesn’t it?” He got another two or three verses in, stopped, and said, “I don’t understand this; I need to see the commentary.” The commentary, being written by modern rabbis, told him what he wanted to hear, that this passage refers to the whole people of Israel suffering for the sins of the world. He took refuge in that, and we let him be after pointing out that the Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 98b) says that this passage refers to the Messiah.
But the fact is that before he retreated to the commentaries (which follow Rashi’s interpretation rather than the earlier Talmudic one), he saw Yeshua standing there on the page for himself. We didn’t have to explain it to him.
Matthew’s use of this passage in regards to Yeshua’s healing ministry goes far deeper than most realize. When Isaiah speaks of the Messiah bearing our sicknesses and carrying our sufferings, he’s ultimately referring to the Crucifixion. Why then does Matthew quote him here? The implication seems to be that Yeshua only healed the sicknesses and sufferings that are the results of Adam’s Fall because He provided the ultimate Atonement for the Fall in His Sacrifice. In fact, Matthew almost seems to say that when He healed others, He did not simply transform the cells of their bodies, but in some way took their burdens upon Himself, carrying them to the Altar to be burned.
“For You are our glory” can also be translated, “For you are our praise.” The Jew is not here simply saying that he is praising God, but that the Almighty is the sole reason why we receive any honor in this world or the world to come:
Moses is saying that the Holy One is to be our only God, the centerpiece of our lives, who is the only reason Israel was made a great nation (thus, making them a praise), or that the Gentiles were grafted into her. And when He shows His power by healing our infirmities, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, He again brings attention to us in the eyes of the world, attention that we must then redirect to Him.
You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him; and you shall cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things, which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down into Egypt with seventy persons; and now the LORD your God has made you as the stars of the sky for multitude. (Deu. 10:20-22)
Bless this year for us, O Lord our God, and all its varied produce that it be for good;
Provide (dew and rain for*) a blessing on the face of the earth,
Satisfy us with Thy goodness, and bless this year like the good years.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, who blesses the years.
*Prayed only during the winter months, Israel’s rainy season
While this benediction is called the Birkat haShanim (“Prosperity of the Year”), the prosperity it prays for is not excess wealth that one can spend on luxuries, but the same sort as found in the Disciples’ Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Ultimately, the prosperity being prayed for is that we might have plenty of food. The reason why the prayer changes slightly in the winter is that this is the rainy season in Israel—and if the winter rains did not come, famine was sure to follow. So important were these rains to Israel’s well-being, in fact, that a special “firstfruits” offering of water, called the House of the Water-Drawing, was made on the altar during the Feast of Sukkot to request the rains from the Holy One. (It was during this ceremony that a young carpenter from Nazareth stood and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink!” [John 7:37])
Though some have mis-interpreted Mat. 19:21ff and Luke 6:24f to mean otherwise, there is no sin per se in being rich. Abraham was one of the richest men of his era, to the point where he and Lot had to go their own ways because their flocks were too huge to keep near each other and he was able to field a personal army. Joseph was likewise wealthy beyond imagining, wielding all the vast wealth of Egypt in Pharaoh’s name. The whole nation of Israel emerged from Egypt with a vast store of gold, silver, bronze, linen, and other goods that the Egyptians willingly surrendered to them.
The sin is not in having wealth, but in coveting and loving wealth. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1Ti. 6:10). In this, the poor can stumble as easily as the rich, coveting their neighbor’s possessions in violation of the Tenth Commandment rather than being content in what God has given them.
Money should not be a goal, but a means to an end. The rabbis teach that Abraham used his vast wealth to show hospitality to everyone he met (including the three strangers, one of whom was the Holy One Himself, in Gen. 18), and in this way spread the knowledge of the True God throughout the pagan world. Joseph used the great resources of Egypt to provide food to the whole known world during a great famine, and thus to save the lives of many. Israel used the wealth taken from their former masters to build the Tabernacle so that the Holy One would dwell among them so that He could be made known throughout the earth.
Solomon serves as a case-study in both the proper use and dangers of wealth. In the beginning of his reign, he built the Temple of the Holy One to be “a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isa. 56:7). By itself, this put a burden on Israel in the form of taxes and conscripted labor, but it was one that they bore willingly. But as Solomon’s reign went on, he continued building palaces, stables, and monuments for himself, putting a great burden of taxation and conscription on the nation, to the point that they begged his son Rehoboam to lift these burdens—and when he refused, the nation was split apart!
Solomon’s fall came from marrying many pagan women to cement more alliances (as well as to satiate his own appetites) to build more wealth to build more monuments to the glory of his reign. He was, in essence, trying to “keep up with the Joneses”—though in this case, the Jonses were pagan kings who continually enslaved others to build their towers of Babel—and in so doing, he fell into both literal and figurative idolatry, and broke the Holy Nation in half.
We in America face the same temptation. Let us then use
our great wealth—a wealth unlike any the world has ever seen—to spread the
Gospel by means of acts of hospitality, charity, and loving-kindness rather only
on our own entertainment and pleasure.
Sound the great shofar for our freedom,
Lift up a banner for the ingathering of our exiles,
And bring us together from the four corners of the earth.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, who gathers together the dispersed of His people Israel.
The return of Israel to the land is an event long prophesied by the prophets and long desired by faithful Jews for nearly two thousand years. No other people in the history of the world have survived with their ethnic identity intact for more than two centuries after being dispersed among other nations—yet the Eternal One has preserved His special people for nearly ten times that! It’s said that when the Czar of Russia asked an Eastern Orthodox priest why he should believe in the Bible, the priest wisely answered, “Because of the Jew, Your Highness.” The Czar instantly converted to Christianity upon hearing this basic truth.
We are living in days when we are seeing the return of Israel to the Land in stages. Many Jews still live in other countries, especially America, unable or unwilling to return to the Land of Promise. Many of the so-called “Lost Tribes,” the descendants of the northern kingdom, are also being discovered and considered for making Aliyah (immigration). Indeed, just a few years ago, the Bene Manasseh in northern India were accepted as true descendants of Israel and are in the process of being admitted into the Land.
One of the facts of Biblical prophecy that is difficult for my people to accept is that it was always God’s plan to save the Gentiles through His Messiah before restoring full fellowship with Israel and bringing us home. We see this in the history of Joseph, whose Messianic importance is such that the Talmud actually speaks of a Mashiach ben Yoseph, a suffering servant whose fate it was to die, alongside Mashiach ben David (Sukkah 52a). Just as Joseph first saved the whole Gentile world by feeding them bread during a severe famine before being reunited with his brothers and revealing himself to them, so the Son of Joseph (as it is thought; Luke 3:23) is feeding the whole Gentile world—all who will come to Him and ask—the Bread of Life before being reunited with and revealing Himself to His brethren (see Notes on Genesis). This fact is brought out by Isaiah, who writes,
It will happen in that day that the nations will seek the Root of Jesse (Messiah, cf. v. 1), who stands as a banner of the peoples; and his resting place will be glorious. It will happen in that day that the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people . . . He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (11:10-12)
Yeshua confirmed that He would not Come again until after the Good News was proclaimed to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Mat. 24:14, Rev. 7:9ff). And indeed, exactly as He prophesied and as the prophets prophesied before Him, we see Israel returning to the land at exactly the same time that we see the Great Commission drawing towards its inevitable conclusion.
Traditional Judaism has an ongoing debate into the timing of the eschatological events, even as Christianity does. The order of the benedictions in the Amida suggests that the order forseen is first the Ingathering and restoration of self-rule to Israel, then the renewed piousness of the people and the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem, and then after that, the Coming of Messiah. This is not at all dissimilar to the events leading up to Yeshua’s First Coming or the premillennial view of His Second Coming.
However, there are those, following the opinion of Maimonides, who believe that the Messiah must come first. “Any ingathering of Jews before the Messiah, according to him [Maimonides], is only a partial ingathering. The Messiah will complete the task (Hil. Melakhim 11:1).” (Donin, Pray 89) This too is consistent with the premillennial view of prophecy, which sees a partial ingathering and rebuilding of the Temple, but sees Yeshua completing the task after the Second Coming and Day of the Lord and either cleansing and expanding the Temple or building a new, Fourth Temple (described in Ezk. 40-48) to replace it (cf. Isa. 66:24, Zec. 6:12ff, Rev. 14:1ff).
I have recently (as of this writing) had the opportunity to
see a partially-restored Land. It is truly amazing to see the Lord’s hand at
work there, and while the task is not complete, to live in such days as we can
see the end of the road is truly a blessing. At the same time, there is much
work left to be done, for while the Jewish people are physically back in the
Land, many have hearts that are distant from the God of the Land. Both Donin
and the Artscroll Siddur (Scherman, 111f)
note that this benediction is not simply a plea for physical salvation, but for
spiritual salvation as well, for an end to the Diaspora of the heart as well as
the Diaspora of the body. Indeed, we pray for that day when all Israel will be
saved (Rom. 11:26), when every tribes looks on the Pierced One and mourns, and a
fountain of forgiveness is opened up (Zec. 12:10ff), and when the King of Israel
says, “I am Yeshua your brother.”
Restore our judges as at first,
And our counselors as in the beginning,
Removing from us sorrow and sighing;
Rule over us, Thou alone, O Lord
With kindness and mercy,
And vindicate us in the judgment.
Blessed are Thou, Lord, King, who loves righteousness and judgment.
It is a sad fact that the times and places where people didn’t wish to have the righteous leadership and just courts of a previous age are rare indeed. It seems to be the common lot of all men to look backwards to a time of history that they imagine to be a golden age of righteousness and piety. Jews look back through the earlier rabbis and ultimately back to Moshe, the great mediator of the Torah, while Christians look to the early Church fathers and the Apostles—and Messiah Himself, it goes without saying.
We often pray that God will restore to us the saints and sages of ages past, but how many of us are willing to dedicate ourselves to living like those holy men and women on a day-to-day basis? Righteousness and justice must begin at home, as the following story illustrates:
In the 1800s, it came to the attention of a Russian rabbi named Israel Salanter that the second son of a widow in a city that he was visiting was to be drafted into the Czar’s army in place of the son of a man who was wealthy enough to bribe the authorities to overlook his own. That afternoon, Rabbi Salanter went to the local synagogue, and three times, when a man stood to lead the prayer service, cried out, “It is forbidden for you to lead us in prayer, for you are a heretic; you don’t believe in God or the Torah!”
Finally, the congregants asked Rabbi Salanter to explain his behavior. “The fact that you pray,” he said, “does not prove that you are believers. You pray only because your fathers prayed. If you really believed that the Torah was the voice of God commanding you, how would you dare ignore Torah laws which forbid oppressing a widow, and favoring prominent people in judgment? That you are willing to ignore such laws shows that you do not really believe in God and His Torah." (Telushkin, Literacy 237)
Far too often, Christians (and Jews!) think of Judaism as a religion more concerned with ritual than with morality. Nothing could be further from the truth! Telushkin notes that in the Talmud, it is written that the first questions asked when a person is brought before the court of Heaven to account for his life, the first question asked is not whether one followed the purity rituals, but whether one lived with purity: “Did you conduct your [business] affairs honestly?” (b. Shabbat 31a). “The above passage unequivocally asserts that ethics is at Judaism’s core; God’s first concern is with a person’s decency.” (Wisdom 3)
Of course, there will be a day when true righteousness and righteous judgment will be restored:
Many peoples shall go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
And He will teach us of his ways,
And we will walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion the Torah shall go forth,
And the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations,
And will decide concerning many peoples;
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more. (Isa. 2:3-4)
I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Yeshua, and for the Word of God, and such as didn’t worship the beast nor his image, and didn’t receive the mark on their forehead and on their hand. They lived, and reigned with Messiah for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:4)
Yeshua tells us that we will be given rulership in the
‘Olam Haba, the World to Come, based on how we invest ourselves in this world
(Luke 19:12ff, Mat. 25:14ff). Therefore, even as we pray and look forward to
God giving us just judges in the Age of the Kingdom, let us see to it that we
are seeing to the stewardship that He has given us in this one.
For slanderers let there be no hope,
And let all wickedness instant perish.
May all Thy enemies be quickly cut off;
And as for the malicious,
Swiftly uproot, break, cast down, and subdue
Quickly in our day.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, who breaks the power of His enemies and subdues the
Of all the benedictions, there is probably no other which would raise more eyebrows among Christians than this one. After all, didn’t Yeshua say to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us (Mat. 5:44)? Interestingly, the rabbis felt a similar discomfort over this benediction:
“All other prayers on the same theme do not petition for the destruction of the wicked nor for their punishment, but for their return to God and to the ways of righteousness (Berakhot 10a; Sanhedron 39b; Avodah Zarah 4b; Taanit 23b)” (Donin, Pray 93).
Making matters more complicated, there is a form of this benediction in what is called the Palestinian recension which specifically targets the ha-Notzrim, which is to say the Nazarenes, the early Jewish followers of Yeshua. Proponents of the view that there was a sudden and absolute schism between the Church and Synagogue in apostolic times point to the recension as proof. The Talmud (b. Berakot 28b-29a) does state that this benediction was placed into the liturgy by Rabbi Shamuel the Small at Yavneh, which would have been around c. 90 ce.
However, the fact is that we do not have the exact rendition of the benediction that was instituted at Yavneh. Wilson writes,
David Flusser is doubtless correct . . . when he argues that at Yavneh Rabbi Samuel the Small did not insert the word minim (“heretics”) into the text. Rather, the word was part of the original text of the Birkat ha-Minim and is pre-Christian (probably late Maccabean) in origin. . . Thus, in its initial pre-Christian setting, the Birkat ha-Minim was not directed at Jewish Christians but rather “coined against dissidents, apostates and traitors—including those who delivered Jews to the Gentile government—and similar wicked men who separated themselves from the Jewish collectivity.” Similarly, this term would include Hellenizers, Sadducees, Essenes, and any other sectarians who departed from Pharisaic standards and beliefs. (Abraham 67)
We must emphasize that only two texts of the Birkat ha-Minim (both found in the Cairo Genizah [aka the Palestinian recension]) explicitly mention Christians. . . Furthermore, it is very significant that notzrim (“Christians”) appears only in the two Genizah verisions . . . for in all other versions—whether from Christian or non-Christian countries (which would not have any Christian censors)—only the word minim (“heretics”) appears. If notzrim were added by a formal decision at Yavneh, why is it not found more widely in the liturgy? (ibid. 68)
Wilson concludes by saying that the earliest Christian sources referring to Jews cursing “the Nazoraeans” comes from Jerome (c. 400 ce) and Epiphanius (c. 375 ce), indicating that addition came between the late second and late fourth centuries. In any case, while the curse did exist in some liturgies, it was a late addition that apparently did not become widespread, and the form of the liturgy that has been handed down does not single out the Nazarenes.
How then should we approach this benediction? Is it appropriate for Messianic Jews to recite? I believe so.
The Renewed Covenant Scriptures are full of excoriations against false teachers, aka minim, and those who maliciously slander and persecute the Ekklesia. For just a few examples:
Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay affliction to those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted with us, when the Lord Yeshua is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, giving vengeance to those who don’t know God, and to those who don’t obey the Good News of our Lord Yeshua, who will pay the penalty: eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might . . . (2Th. 1:6-9)
But false prophets also arose among the people, as false teachers will also be among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction. . . But these, as unreasoning creatures, born natural animals to be taken and destroyed, speaking evil in matters about which they are ignorant, will in their destroying surely be destroyed. . . (2Pt. 2:1, 9)
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been killed for the Word of God, and for the testimony of the Lamb which they had. They cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, Master, the holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9-10)
The second thing that we should consider is that there is nothing in the prayer
that limits it to human slanderers, heretics, and persecutors. Indeed,
the Greek word for slanderer is diabolos (διάβολος),
which is most commonly translated “devil.” It is the Devil who sows discord and
minim (lit. “divisions”) among the brethren, and it is he and his
children that we are ultimately looking for God to destroy “without hope,”
making them to “perish in an instant.” Like the prayer of the souls under the
altar in Revelation, the purpose of this benediction is not vindictive, but
vindicative, not wishing for any of the elect to perish, but looking forward to
the day when God makes His justice known.
On the righteous and the saintly,
On the elders of Thy people, the house of Israel, and on their surviving scholars,
On the true proselyte and on ourselves,
Let Thy compassion flow, O Lord our God.
Grant a good reward to all who sincerely trust in Thy Name;
Place our lot with them forever and let us not be shamed,
For in Thee do we trust.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, the support and security of the righteous.
There is probably no greater or more damaging misperception of Judaism by Christians than that Judaism teaches a “works-based salvation” while Christianity teaches, “a Gospel of pure grace.” In point of fact, Judaism has never taught that one can get to heaven by “being a good person” or “if one’s good deeds outweigh one’s bad.” As Wilson explains:
The common teaching of first-century Judaism—although one might not always get this impression by reading certain sections of Paul’s letters—was that “election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God’s mercy rather than human achievement.” Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar of New Testament studies, concurs: ‘The rabbinate has never considered the Torah as a way of salvation to God . . . [we Jews] regard salvation as God’s exclusive prerogative, so we Jews are the advocates of ‘pure grace.’” He concludes by stressing that all masters of the Talmud teach that salvation could be obtained “only through God’s gracious love.” (Abraham 21)
We see this fact of salvation taught in the above benediction: “Grant a good reward to all who sincerely trust in Thy Name; Place our lot with them forever . . .” Place our lot with whom forever? The antecedent is clearly those who have put their faith in the Name—the reputation, the character—of the Holy One. Therefore, we pray not that God count us among those who were saved by their own righteousness, but among those saved by His righteousness.
A couple of illustrations will serve to drive this point home. The first comes from a traditional song sung during the Yom Kippur (Kol Nidre) service in synagogues all across the world, the Avinu Malkeynu. The song calls upon God to show us a father’s mercy, despite our own shortcomings:
Ase emmanu, tzedakka v’chesed,
Ase emmanu, tzedakka v’chesed,
For we don’t have with us any righteous deeds or lovingkindness,
For we don’t have with us any righteous deeds or lovingkindness,
Does this seem like the prayer of a person counting on earning heaven by being “a good person”?
Another illustration comes from a story in the Talmud, a midrash on Isa. 1:18. The Holy One tells sinful Israel to go to their fathers to be rebuked. Israel balks, stating that the Patriarchs did not seek mercy for them when told that Israel would be afflicted by Egypt and Edom.
“So to whom should we go now? Rather, let the Lord say!” The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them, “Since you have thrown yourselves on Me, ‘though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.’” (b. Shabbat 89b)
If Judaism doesn’t teach salvation by works, then why did Paul expend so much ink trying to dispel that notion? There are two possibilities, either or both of which might be true: First, simply because a religion teaches something does not mean that all of its followers will understand correctly. If so many Christians are confused about the source and obtaining of their salvation, why should we expect there to be no misunderstanding about the tenants of Judaism by any Jew?
But secondly, remember that Paul was writing primarily to a Gentile audience, especially in the book of Galatians. In Greek mythology, the gods were demanding, spiteful supermen who took pleasure in smiting those who stepped out of line. It was these Gentiles that Paul was trying to steer away from the notion of salvation by works, not primarily the Jews. Most translations muddle this fact. For example, Galatians 2:15-16 is rendered in the NASB: "We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus . . .” The word “nevertheless” is completely interpolated, suggesting that Paul thought it abnormal that the Jewish believers would understand salvation by grace received in faith.
It should rather read, as it does in the KJV: “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ . . .” Translated without extra words, the passage makes it clear that Paul expected those who were born and raised Jewish to understand this simple fact of salvation.
The difference between the traditional Jew and one who knows the Messiah Yeshua
is not a matter of works vs. grace. Rather, those who know Yeshua know how
God’s grace and atonement have been put into effect. While this is no small
distinction, we should not slander Judaism by misrepresenting its beliefs.
To Jerusalem Thy city, return with compassion,
And dwell within it as Thou promised;
Rebuild it soon in our days—an everlasting structure;
And speedily establish in its midst the throne of David.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, builder of Jerusalem.
The restoration of Jerusalem as the center of the worship and government of God for the whole earth is attested to throughout the Scriptures. It is a great source of lamentation that this fact of prophecy, which we are seeing the fulfillment of even now, is ignored or outright rejected by so much of the Church today. Yet even the early Church fathers who believed that the Jews had been replaced by the Christians as God’s chosen people understood that Jerusalem was central to His plans: “But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged,[as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue 80).
It was always the Holy One’s intent to place His Name—that is, His reputation—in one certain place upon the earth above all other locations (Deu. 12:14), and in fact had already marked the place out in the days of Abraham (Gen. 14:18, 22:2). David reigned from Jerusalem and set his heart on building a permanent Holy Place, or Temple, for his Lord there. That task fell to Solomon, who upon completing the Temple and filled with the Spirit, declared that to be the place where God had indeed put His Name (1Ki 8:29), a designation that the Holy Scriptures declare would last forever (2Ki 21:7; 1Ch 23:25, 33:4ff). The Scriptures are clear that Jerusalem is the city of the great King (Mat 5:35)—King Yeshua, who will reign from Jerusalem over the whole earth, even compelling all of the nations to come to worship Him every Sukkot (Zec 14:16ff).
I have read and heard Christians say, “After the Cross, God got out of the real-estate business.” I have heard accusations that those who believe what the prophets say about Jerusalem’s future destiny of primacy over the whole earth are being “fleshy” and materialistic in their thinking. But as the Hasidic singer Mattisyahu points out in one of his songs, “Dont’cha see, it’s not about the land or the sea / not the country but the dwelling of His Majesty.”
If it were only having possession of Jerusalem again that the Jewish people were looking forward to, this benediction would have been removed or modified forty years ago when the holy city was retaken. We continue to pray for the restoration of Jerusalem, however, because it is not the real estate that we care about, but God’s promises of a golden age, a World to Come in which the King will mete out peace and justice to the whole world from His throne in the city which He has called His own (cf. Isa. 2:3, Mic 4:2).
Observant Jews always make a point of praying towards Jerusalem whenever possible. This isn’t just a quaint custom, but the direct command of Scripture: “Listen to the supplication of your servant, and of your people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place. Yes, hear in heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive” (1Ki 8:30). In fact, it is also commanded that Israelites outside of the Land pray towards Jerusalem (v. 44) and even for the Gentile follower of the only true God to do the same:
Moreover concerning the foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, when he shall come out of a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name, and of your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm); when he shall come and pray toward this house; hear in heaven, your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you for; that all the peoples of the earth may know your name, to fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by your name. (vv. 41-43)Clearly, God has set this city apart for a very special destiny, and it is because of that calling that He has been so harsh in His punishment of her sins. Yet such judgments shall ultimately purify Jerusalem (Isa 4:4), preparing her for her ultimate destiny—a destiny which I believe we will see within our lifetimes.
The offspring of Thy servant David,
Quickly cause to flourish,
And lift up his power by Thy deliverance;
For Thy deliverance do we constantly hope
(And look forward to deliverance).
Blessed art Thou, Lord, who makes the glory of deliverance to flourish.
There is an unfortunately implication in the term “Messianic Jew”: It implies that traditional Jews do not believe in the Messiah. In truth, all Orthodox Jews believe that God will send the Messiah to redeem Israel, and pray for it three times a day. So important is the Messiah to Judaism that the great sage Maimonides numbered it among the Thirteen Principles of Faith.
Just as in the Second Benediction, the word translated “deliverance” in the benediction is y’shuah (ישועה), which is pronounced exactly like Yeshua (spelled ישוע). This gives a new dimension to the angel’s injunction to Miryam and Yoseph (Mary and Joseph), “You shall call his name Yeshua, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins” (Mat. 1:21): Every day, three times a day, pious Jewish men like Yoseph gathered in the synagogues and prayed for the Holy One to send Yeshua, Salvation.
The fifth line, “And look forward to deliverance,” is not spoken in many
synagogues, but rather concentrated upon, fulfilling “the Talmudic teaching that
a Jew must look forward to redemption every day” (Siddur, 114n). The
Artscroll Siddur commentary also notes, “Here we are taught that the
ultimate salvation of the Jewish people is possible only through the Davidic
Hear our voice, O Lord our God,
Show compassion and mercy to us,
Accept our prayers with mercy and favor,
For Thou art a God who hears prayers and supplications.
And from Thy presence, O our King, turn us not away empty;
For Thou hearest the prayer of Thy people Israel with compassion.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, who hears prayer.
Once again, we see that the Amidah assumes that if God hears the Prayer, it will be because of His grace rather than because of the righteousness of the petitioner. There seems little to add to this benediction, save for a comment by Donin. He notes that “[i]t is permissible, even desirable, to introduce extemporaneous requests within any of the petitionary blessings, but particularly in this one” (Donin, Pray 97). Indeed, while Judaism has a strong liturgical tradition, it has never seen such liturgy as a replacement for personal, ad-libbed prayer.
The purpose of the liturgy is to enable a congregation to pray together with one voice and to allow those without a natural talent for poetic speech to offer up prayers that they might think more worthy of the Holy King. At the same time, Judaism--Hasidic Judaism in particular--has always emphasized the acceptance of the simple man's prayer as well. One legend speaks of an unlettered man who became lost in the woods on his way to the Kol Nidre service for Yom Kippur. Forced to fast alone during that day of rest and knowing little of the liturgy, he recited the Hebrew alphabet and prayed that the Holy One would compose them into a worthy prayer. In my own life, I have seen the Spirit move at the most humble, childlike prayer.
This is not to say that all prayers must be simplistic and childlike, only that
those the Holy One has not given gifts of oration to should never feel ashamed
to come into His presence with their worship and petitions. On this point,
both Judaism and Christianity can agree one hundred percent.
Favorably receive, O Lord our God, Thy people Israel and their prayer,
Restore the worship to Thy Temple in Zion,
Receive with love and favor the offerings of Israel and their prayer,
And may the worship of Thy people Israel always be favorably received by Thee.
May our eyes behold Thy return to Zion in mercy.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, who restores His Divine Presence to Zion.
There is an unfortunate tendency in Christian prayer to treat the Holy One as some kind of Santa Claus to be given a laundry-list of requests. In Judaism, though one certainly brings one's petitions to the King, the emphasis is clearly on gratitude and on blessing Him for what He has already done. Indeed, even the requests are couched as praises, as we have seen.
In the Seventeenth Benediction, the time of requests has come to an end, and just as in the Disciples' Prayer, we return to blessing the King. "But wait," one might object, "this benediction asks for the return of the Temple service. Isn't that a request?" It is, but one has to look at the nature of the request: It is not a request for forgiveness, or health, or prosperity, or rescue, but that the truest form of worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that the world has ever known will return, so that all may worship Him in the House of Prayer for all Peoples (Isa. 56:7).
Furthermore, the kind of prayer that we are asking to be allowed to bring to the Holy One's Temple is not prayer of petition: “Words like ‘retzei’ and ‘l’ratzon’ are nearly always used in association with the way God is asked to respond to what we bring Him, not to what we ask of Him” (Donin, Pray 98, emphasis original). That is, we are asking to be allowed to bless Him more, not to get more from Him. That yearning of the Jewish heart--a yearning that all who serve King Yeshua should know, whether they call themselves Messianic or Christian--is in and of itself a praise of God, a pure form of worship, and an acceptable sacrifice (Rom. 12:1).
A final note on this benediction: The last line prays for God to restore
His Presence to Zion. The word "Presence" is the translation of
Sh'khinah. The Sh'khinah is the rabbinic term for the Glory (Kevod)
that dwelt in the Tabernacle and the Temple between the Cherubim of the Ark (Exo.
25:22, Eze. 10:18). We Messianic Jews believe that in Yeshua, the Holy One
placed His Sh'khinah, His Glory, into a human being (John 1:14). So when
we who believe in Yeshua pray this prayer, we are praying for His return to set
up His reign in Jerusalem.
We give thanks unto Thee who art the Lord our God and God of our fathers for all eternity.
Thou art the Strength of our lives, the Shield of our deliverance.
In every generation, we shall thank Thee and declare Thy praise
Four our lives that are entrusted in Thy hand,
And for our souls that are in Thy care,
And for Thy miracles that are daily with us,
And for Thy wondrous deeds and goodness that occur at all times, evening, morning, and noon.
Thou art the Benevolent One, for Thy mercies are never ended,
The Compassionate One, for Thy deeds of kindess do not stop,
Always have we placed our hope in Thee.
For all this, O our King, may Thy Name be always blessed and exalted forever and ever.
All the living will forever thank Thee and praise Thy Name in truth, O God, our eternal salvation and help.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, whose Name is Goodness; it is pleasing to give thanks to Thee.
Establish peace, well-being, blessing, grace, loving kindness, and mercy upon us and upon all Israel, Thy people.
Bless us, our Father, all of us as one, by the light of Thy presence,
For by the light of Thy presence have you given us, O Lord our God,
A Torah of life, love of kindness, justice, blessing, compassion, life, and peace.
And it is good in Thy sight to bless Thy people Israel at all times and in every hour with Thy peace.
Blessed art Thou, Lord, who blesses His people Israel with peace.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to Thee,
O Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.
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