Torah Tuesdays: Holy stones!

Shalom, folks. Continuing in my multi-year long process of mapping all the Biblical commandments into an interactive, visual tree – EtzMitzvot.com – I’ve added several commandments to the tree tonight, most of which deal with idolatry. Commentary below. Enjoy!

#50 Don’t setup statues for worship

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Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the LORD your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the LORD your God hates.
Deuteronomy 16:21-22

Maimonides interprets this as 'Not to erect a pillar in a public place of worship.'

I find this interpretation both too narrow in one area and too broad in another. Smile 

Location, location, location

It’s too narrow when he says, “in a public place” – reading the text and looking at several commentaries, it seems apparent God isn’t so much concerned about pillars in public places, but rather, to not erect poles or statues with the intent of worshiping them. While the text does say Asherah poles “next to the altar of the LORD”, the following verse on sacred stones, or statues, seems more open-ended.

Tripolye_statue1The explicit reference to Asherah in the text is likely due to the previous inhabitants of the land of Israel, the Canaanites, who erected poles to worship a fertility goddess by that name. Worship of Asherah, along with her well-known cohort Ba’al, spread from the Canaanites to the people of Israel; 9 different books of the Bible, including 2 books of the Torah, explicitly reference worship of this idol.

The Torah explicitly forbids Asherah poles near the altar of the LORD. This suggests God knew the Israelites would mix idol worship and worship of God. Recent archaeological finds suggest the same: artifacts from 800 BC contain inscriptions linking Yahweh and Asherah as husband and wife.

This has prompted atheists, and a recent BBC television series, to claim the Bible has a conspiracy/cover up of this God-to-Asherah connection. I find this charge easily dismissible; the Torah is quite open – hardly a cover up! – when explicitly forbidding this syncretism.

Pillars, statues, and holy stones

Maimonides’ interpretation is too broad when he says “not to erect a pillar.” The context here is clearly on idolatrous objects of worship, not simply pillars or statues of any kind. It seems to me secular statues – for example, war memorials – are not likely what the Torah is attempting to forbid here.

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An example of a secular statue.
Not likely what is being forbidden by the
commandment against statues.

Maimonides’ broad interpretation, in which virtually all kinds of pillars and statues and likenesses are forbidden, has had a lasting effect on the Jewish people today. When I was in Israel last summer, I saw evidence of this. In the city of Herzliya, named after Zionist pioneer Theodore Herzl, the city’s water tower, as I recall, has a faux statue of Herzl. Instead of a statue, they have some halacha-safe image that looks like a statue but isn’t:

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Faux statue of Theodore Herzl in Herzliya, Israel.

All because of the ban on statues and likenesses, per Maimonides’ broad interpretation of this passage and a few others like it.

That said, as I recall, there are some real statues in Israel that apparently don’t fall under the stringent halacha against statues. Just outside of the Old City of Jerusalem, near David’s tomb, there’s a Holocaust memorial with a statue of a girl, along with a halachic justification for the statue. I found it amusing enough I needed to snap a few photos of it:

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Here’s a close-up of the tablet, along with blurb about “Yes, this is in keeping with Jewish law [against statues] and is endorsed by the Rabbis.”

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So it would seem there must be some halachic exception to Maimonides’ ruling that statues and standing stones are forbidden. (An exception that the fine people of Herzliya haven’t discovered? Smile)

That said, there are some ugly standing pillars in Israel. The United Nations, in all its vast wisdom, erected a giant pillar just outside Jerusalem as a symbol of tolerance. (Did not a single person at the UN think to check Jewish halacha before building this monstrosity, or are they just trolling us with a giant phallic symbol?)

Phallic

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Somehow, I think the UN Tolerance Monument might just fall under the Scriptural ban on sacred statues! Smile

Thanks for reading, see you next Tuesday.

Torah Tuesdays: EtzMitzvot updates

Shalom, folks. Just a quick note, I’ve wanted to get back on the horse with regards to EtzMitzvot.com, the big visual tree detailing all the commandments in the Torah.

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In keeping with the good desire to study and learn, and combatting the lethargy preventing me from moving forward with my God-related projects Smile, I’m shooting for regular Torah Tuesday blog posts, in which I examine a few commandments, blog about them, and add them to the massive EtzMitzvot visual.

For today, I’ve added 10 commandments related to idolatry to the new tree (imported from the old static visual) and have added some nice metadata on hover of a commandment. You can now see varying observance levels for each commandment on hover.

For example, here’s when I hover over the “Rest on Shavuot” commandment:

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See you next Tuesday, fine Kineti reader, and I hope you enjoy EtzMitzvot.

When was the last time you were ministered to?

When was the last time you were ministered to?

I mean, when was the last time -- and be honest with yourself at least! -- God used other people to build you up, strengthen you, encourage you?

Or is your religious life composed primarily of telling other people how wrong they are, chiding people for incorrect theology, and complaining about how better things could be if only people adopted your view of things?

I help run a Messianic congregation and it can be tiring. I am grateful to God for the opportunity to minister to others, I consider it an honor to lead people in worshiping God, to encourage other people in service to the Lord, to spur people on to have a growing edge of Messiah faith.

But ministry for years and years is draining! And sometimes, you need to be ministered to. Sometimes you need receive ministry. I love leading other people in worshiping God at my congregation, but sometimes I want someone else to lead. Sometimes I want to worry less about what chords I'm playing next, and focus more on performing a full brain- and heart-dump to God. (I'm sure there's a more sophisticated theological term than ‘heart-dump’, but I digress. :-))

Occasionally, I want to not worry about planning music, teachings, sending out congregation emails, planning events and booking guest speakers, handling rent and donations and congregation website and responding to emails and hosting gatherings and all the things that come with running a congregation. Sometimes I want to receive ministry, too.

I was ministered to at Beth Immanuel last night

That's what happened last night. I was ministered to, and it felt great. It was like a refueling of the soul. I visited Beth Immanuel during a Wednesday night service and I was ministered to as my buddies Troy Mitchell and Simon de la Pena sang some old Christian songs for the Lord.

(For the uninitiated, Beth Immanuel is the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) congregation; their leaders work for FFOZ, and FFOZ holds their annual conferences at Beth Immanuel.)

Daniel Lancaster, the leader, spoke about Messiah's ascension – traditionally taking place on this day, the 40th day of counting the omer – encouraging us with the knowledge that Yeshua has ascended to the right hand of God, and we too will be raised up with him and seated with the Lord.

Armed with this knowledge, and knowing that God is causing everything – peoples, theologies, ideas, philosophies, nations – to come under submission to Israel's Messiah per Psalm 110 – with this knowledge, we the disciples of Yeshua have little to fear or be discouraged about. After all, we will be seated with the Maker of All Things, the Creator and Divine Engineer, the Master. From that perspective, the troubles of life are small beans.

After the service, we shared some food and drinks, spoke with a few folks in their community. I got a chance to speak with Aaron Eby, which is always a pleasure. Aaron's a sharp Messianic mind. He explained his upcoming teaching on halachic theory and worldview, the things which drive our Torah practice. We talked about the 10 commandments, Dennis Prager, and congregation life. Aaron and I share a love of technology, so of course we talked some software nerd crap. Smile

Meanwhile Troy Mitchell played some niggunim and old Jewish tunes in the room while we were eating. Soon, the whole room was thumping on tables, clapping, stomping feet, singing loud with one voice. HINEH MAH TOV U'MA NAIM! It was so loud at one point, my ears actually hurt from the loud voices singing in unison in the small side room.

Just then, Aaron stood up and announced a special guest who arrived rather unexpectedly: Rabbi Joshua Brumbach of Ahavat Zion, one of the oldest Messianic congregations in the United States. The rabbi was passing through Minneapolis, his flight was delayed, so he took an Uber ride to join us for the night. Ha! A divine appointment. Brumbach said a few words to the group, and later that night, he asked if anyone could drive him back to his hotel.

I volunteered, as it was on the way home. But really, I wanted a chance to chat him up. Smile We had spoken over our blogs for the last several years – often times, speaking for myself, via barbed discussions over our differences in Messianic theology – but we had never met in person. This would be an interesting car ride. Smile

Well, I drove him back to his hotel and we chatted about life, the ups and downs of running a congregation, our wives, humanitarian efforts, Israel, and even a little technology. Turns out, Rabbi Brumbach is a really down-to-earth sort of guy. I regret wasting so much time arguing with him over the years.

I have come to realize the FFOZ guys and the UMJC guys aren't my competition. They have a different calling, and I don't see eye-to-eye with them, sure. (Particularly regarding gentiles and Torah.) But they aren't my competition. They are my brothers who love Messiah and love Torah. And they're doing the best they can. I can learn from them. They can learn from me. My congregation is not in competition with Beth Immanuel. We are two instruments in an ensemble playing a single holy symphony, each a different sound complementing the other. Together, it brings glory to God. Speaking with Rabbi Brumbach, he agreed there was a need for both our roles and voices in the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots worlds.

After all of this, I got home around 1am. I should be tired right now, but instead I woke up this morning feeling refreshed. A bit of spiritual renewal is good for the soul. I feel strengthened, built-up, encouraged. It is good to be ministered to. And now, this shabbat, I will pass that ministering and that encouragement on to my congregation.

Being ministered to is good for your spiritual wellbeing. When was the last time you were ministered to?