HALLEL READING DURING SUKKOT
Grace and I participated in the reading of the Hallel Psalms, 113-118, on the 6th day of Sukkot, October 14, 2014/Tishri 20, 5775, in the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat, Israel this year.
David Nekrutman, the Director of the Center founded by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, organised the reading as a joint venture of Jews and Christians; the readers were mostly Rabbis and Pastors, both women and men, Jews, Arabs, African American and Caucasians.
Although our small group had been cautioned by our Rabbi leader to be careful not to become too charismatic/exuberant in our worship, (there would be Jews in attendance who might not understand), the music was lively and Rabbi Riskin quickly broke out in clapping and dancing that drew the dancing men into one area and the dancing women into another. Grace and I glanced at each other before we too joined in the clapping enthusiasm.
It was an amazing experience of the Joy of Sukkot bursting out of our hearts as we shared it with all in the congregation.
Memorable and thought provoking to say the least.
We heard later, from both Christian and Jewish leaders involved with the Center, that what we were seeing and experiencing was a breakthrough event.
You may well have read some of our description of the experience on my Facebook page; for the Center's own description see: http://cjcuc.com/site/2014/10/22/hundreds-of-christians-joined-rabbi-riskin-to-celebrate-sukkot/
Given the history of Jewish-Christian relations over the centuries, how is it possible for Jews and Christians to openly, joyfully and spontaneously pray and worship together like this?
Reflecting on the aspects of the experience already mentioned and the thoughts expressed by the various participants, and particularly the concluding comments by Rabbi Riskin, I want to share some thoughts regarding the question posed above.
I am reminded, to begin with, of an observation made by our host in Kfar Hanassi about a month prior to this event. He prefaced his comment with an assurance that he did not want to offend, but suggested that to be a true "Christ follower" one would be a Jew.
It was a passing comment, and we did not find time to pursue it further, but it stirred my thinking. It is true that many "Christians" are so only nominally while others are deliberate about being separate from Jews, but since Yeshua was undeniably a Jew, and a Torah observant one at that, our friend's observation made sense to me. I wondered if it might also be fair to say that a "true Jew" would be a Christ follower, since the essence of Christ's teaching comes straight from Torah, Psalms and the Prophets. But that was never discussed.
So, what do we have in common that would make for such a joyful celebration together?
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list by any means, nor is it in any order of priority; but let's see where this goes.
We all acknowledge the One LORD God who calls Himself YHWH (Yod Heh Vav Heh), or Yah, the Creator of the Universe, and everything in it, our Redeemer, our Provider and Sustainer, the HOLY one of Israel.
He made a Covenant with Noah and his descendants after destroying the corrupt, Godless world; and then with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as a specially selected family through whom He would bless the whole world.
We agree that the Covenant included the Promise of a specific LAND, specially chosen by God, "the Mountains of Israel", as the place on earth where His NAME would reside, first in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and at Shiloh, and later, after King Solomon built it, in the Temple.
We agree that the first and essential command is: " Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."
YHWH gave His people a whole new calendar, based on the lunar year, to separate them, as a Redeemed people, from the nations around them; so they would be a light to those surrounding nations.
They were to keep Shabbat weekly as part of this separation; the Shabbat, incidentally, is the only part of Creation that the Creator calls HOLY; every aspect of the spatial dimension of Creation is called GOOD or VERY GOOD; only the Sabbath, an element of Time, not space, is HOLY. Every seventh day is to be separated from the six work days so that we will give ourselves wholly to God who is Holy. We are to be Holy as He is Holy. "You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6).
In addition to the weekly observance of Shabbat, He instituted annual feasts through which they would remember YHWH's actions; beginning with Passover (Pesach), Nisan 14-15, which commemorates their deliverance from death because of the blood on the door posts, lintel and sill. After the death of the firstborn descended on the Egyptians, the Hebrews emerged, like newborns, through the bloody door into a new life as a Free People.
Pesach is followed closely by Unleavened Bread (Chag Hamotzi), Nisan 15-22 and First Fruits (Habikkurim), Nisan 16-17.
Next month, Sivan 6-7, comes Pentecost (Shavu'ot), commemorating the giving of Torah.
In our Christian understanding, we see these three as having a significant correlation with events in the life of Yeshua.
In Fall we have the remaining three, all in the month of Tishrei: Trumpets (Yom Teru'ah), 1 Tishrei, Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), 10 Tishrei, and finally the crowning joy of Tabernacles (Sukkot), a full week of celebration from 15-22 Tishrei. This final Feast is one in which Israel has always known that they are to include all nations; Zechariah, in chapter 8, prophesies this ingathering of the nations.
We were privileged to be part of the fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy this year, 2014 (5775). Hallelujah!
Thus, year round, God's people have special events to focus their attention on the God who called them into a unique relationship with Himself, and set them apart as a light to all nations. We believe that in God's own mysterious way, we followers of the Way, of the Christ, are joined, grafted-into His tree of Redemption, together with our older brother; in which case, we should give very close attention to the LORD's Feasts and get on board with their celebration.
I am thoroughly challenged to study and pray for revelation regarding God's purpose for all of us to be separate from the world around us in this way; we have lost a great deal from the time when the early followers of the Way were Torah observant people, even after Gentiles became the majority.
Moses (Moshe), in the Torah, lays out YHWH's directions for life, including the blessings associated with following those directions, and the curses associated with missing the mark; all of which is revealed to him by YHWH on Sinai, some of it written by the "finger of God" Himself.
Already in the initial call to Abram (Avram) in Ur of the Chaldeans, God said, "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you"; making the mandate to include the nations quite clear.
The prayer, worship and celebration in which we participated in Efrat brought all of this, and much more, powerfully to bear on our whole being. It was like the command to Love God with all our heart, soul/mind and strength; the whole being drawn in and deeply touched. David Nekrutman said that the Holy Spirit of God, Ruach Kadosh, was evidently present and infusing the gathering with the Presence of God.
Grace and I certainly experienced this Presence powerfully stirring our inner beings. We want more!