Today’s blog reflects on the Episcopal daily reading and the traditionof Jewish faith
God’s Election of Israel
9I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people,* my kindred according to the flesh.4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah,* who is over all, God blessed for ever.* Amen.
Paul expresses his enduring grief that his own people have rejected Jesus Messiah, and his enduring recognition of Israel’s place in the history of faith.
Today I want simply to note my debt to the faith of Israel, especially as expressed in the Hebrew Bible, but also in the witness of the Mishnah, the Talmud and the great Hasidim. The invention of the synagogue as a village institution which could maintain the practice of their faith by a scattered and persecuted people for two millennia is an extraordinary achievement, obscured for the moment by the association of Judaism with the State of Israel and its brutalities.
The tales of the Baal Shem Tov, the master of the good name, (1700-1760) have always delighted me. For example:
Concerning the verse of the psalm: “The law of the Lord is perfect,” the Baal Shem said: “It is still quite perfect. No one has touched it as yet, not a whit and not a jot of it. Up to this hour, it is still quite perfect,”
That’s a wonderfully sardonic interpretation of the Law’s perfection: no-one’s been able to touch it either by their wisdom or their obedience!
One Simhat Torah evening, the Baal Shem himself danced together with his congregation. He took the scroll of the Torah in his hand and danced with it Then he laid the scroll aside and danced without it. At this moment, one of his disciples who was intimately acquainted with his gestures, said to his companions: “Now our master has laid aside the visible teachings, and has taken the spiritual teachings unto himself.”
When the Torah is truly understood and obeyed, you express it in the dance.
In the midst of praying, the Baal Shem once said the words in the Song of Songs: “ ‘New and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.’ ” And he added: “Whatever is in me, everything, new and old, for you alone.” They asked him about this, saying: “But the rabbi tells words of teaching to us too!” He answered: “As when the barrel overflows.”
This is a beautiful expression of love for God and the nature of authentic teaching.
I give these examples from Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim (Kindle) as encouragement to any reader to explore a beautiful and challenging tradition of faith.