by Dr. John Conrad
A single woman went to a pet store and bought a parrot for companionship. She looked forward to having the parrot talk to her and simply spice up her day. At first, the parrot seemed bored. It perched listlessly in the corner of the cage so she bought a different cage in a brighter color. This didn’t stimulate the parrot so she purchased glittering, colorful toys and creatively arranged them in the cage. Still the parrot moped and stared lifelessly into the distance. Repeatedly, the woman went back to the pet store, buying colored perches, toys to play on, and anything she could think of to tickle her parrot’s fancy. Sadly, the parrot grew more and more quiet. Finally, one day the woman went in to check on the parrot. It lay on its side breathing its last. With one final effort it croaked, “Lady, don’t they sell bird feed at that pet store?”
This silly story reminds us of an old adage. People with enough to eat have lots of problems. People who don’t have enough to eat have only one problem. The story of the parrot is a parable of the Messianic Train. Many of us are enamored with the Train, but we forget where it is going. We spend more time fluffing the seat cushions and decorating the windows than we do making sure the train has fuel, is functioning properly and, most importantly, headed in the right direction. Because of misplaced priorities we often find ourselves ending up at the wrong destination. Like the woman with the parrot we major on minors and minor on majors.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting theothers. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)
In this passage the Greek word translated “weightier” is barus Strongs 926. It means heavy, of great moment. In other words, important or most important. So Yeshua’s comment informs us of the most important of God’s instructions to His people.
A quick review of Yeshua’s statement in Matthew 23:23 reveals it to be a restatement of Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does Yahweh require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”
Another way to understand Yeshua’s pronouncement would be to constantly view our keeping of the small matters of Torah through the lens of justice, mercy and faithfulness. When our method of obeying Torah sabotages justice, mercy or faithfulness it needs to be discarded.
Our ability to discern the weightier matters is directly related to our ability to see the goal. The end or goal of the Torah is the Messiah. Romans 10:4: “For the Messiah is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” “The end” here is the Greek word telos which means goal. It is like saying at the end of this road is Salt Lake City. At the end of Torah is Yeshua. If our Torah observance does not lead to Yeshua we have jumped the tracks. Since God is love, Paul makes the obvious statement in Romans 13:8 that “love is the fulfillment of the Torah.” We make a huge mistake when we argue about minor details of Torah when the need in the person’s life is to know Yeshua. Like the parrot, they may be surrounded with the apparatus of Torah observance, but they die because they are not connected to the vine and its life-giving nurture.
A simple way to evaluate our actions is to ask several questions:
1. What is the goal of my behavior?
2. Who will be helped or hurt?
3. Will the Messiah be lifted up by my actions?
4. Does this action reveal or display God’s love?
People are drawn to genuine justice, mercy and faithfulness. I often wondered why my Swiss grandparents converted to Mormonism in the late 1800s. When I read their testimonies some of the reasons became abundantly clear. When my great grandmother read her Bible it stirred up many questions in her mind. When she took these questions to her priest he rebuffed her angrily. She was told it was not her place to read the Bible and she was to accept what the church and its officers told her. Conversely, when the Mormon missionaries came to Switzerland they patiently listened to her questions and did their best to answer them. They prayed with the families and told them that each of them could approach God through Jesus Christ (Yeshua the Messiah) on their own because of His sacrifice. The idea that an individual could pray and reach out to God on his own was revolutionary and life-changing. It was only a short time before the families converted and were baptized. This story does not testify to the correctness of Mormon doctrine, but to the correctness of showing love and mercy.
I’ve been told many times that we (Ephraim) must provoke Judah to jealousy with our observance of Torah. This is a recipe for a contest--someone wins and someone loses -- it is a competition. It is like a game of tag.”You trimmed your beard -- you’re out! Your tzitzits are the wrong blue, the incorrect length, you’re out! You pronounced Yeshua (Yehoshua, Yahshua) wrong -- you’re out! You followed the rabbinical calendar for the observance of the feasts -- you’re out! Or you didn’t follow the rabbinical calendar for the observance of the feasts -- you’re out!”
On the other hand, it would be helpful to refrain from saying that the church doesn’t keep Torah. Sadly, many churchgoers eschew Torah in their speech, but while they disdain many provisions of Torah, they try their utmost to be just, merciful and faithful. Our wearing tzitzit, celebration of new moons, Feasts, Sabbaths, observance of clean and unclean foods springs from our commitment to be faithful. Our obedience should not be a hammer to smash the church. A loving example of Torah obedience will ultimately be much more effective.
A couple of years ago, we held a Seder for a group of people in Missouri. Several families didn’t come because they were horrified by the “un-Biblical” Jewish traditions they had identified as part of the Seder. A teacher had been in the area warning people about all evil traditions -- both those perpetrated by the church and those from rabbinical Judaism. Anyone keeping these traditions would be hopelessly compromised by them. However, nothing in the Seder could be construed as thwarting justice, mercy or faithfulness. While straining out a gnat they had swallowed a camel. An opportunity to develop friendships and fellowship with other Israelites had been thwarted by silly, unfounded fears. When they had a chance to gather with the Messiah, they had opted for scattering with the enemy. Unintentionally, they had made their understanding of Torah the goal, instead of Yeshua and His love.
Another clear obstacle to true Torah observance is the human tendency to judge what we see or sense with our five senses. Isaiah 11 makes it clear that the Messiah will not judge by what he sees or what he hears. He will judge by righteousness. Samuel would have picked several incorrect candidates from Jesse’s sons to be the next king of Israel. Yahweh had to remind him that He did not look at the outside of a man, but at his heart.
This means sharing Torah requires a deep spiritual connection with Yeshua. Our goal is to bring people into a relationship with their Messiah. This relationship is lived out in a life that follows the precepts of Torah. It is important not to fall prey to the idea that Torah consists of the externals; tzitzit, Sabbaths, Feasts, and diet. It is our connection and love of our Messiah that motivates us to keep His commandments. We don’t wear tzitzit to let people know that we are Messianic. We wear them to remind us to love Yahweh with all of our heart, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
I’ve never forgotten a young man who had come into a strong Messianic understanding. He considered himself very magnanimous because he accepted to some degree any who kept the 7th day Sabbath. Now there is no question that the 7th day Sabbath is an eternal Biblical principle. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered he was hiding his chewing tobacco habit (disgusting) from me and the fact he was sleeping with his unmarried girl friend. I know of another Messianic with a long, untrimmed beard, side curls and tzitzit down to his knees. He enjoys internet pornography rationalizing that “men will be men.”
I will briefly touch on another sensitive area. In Messianic circles we often honor speakers with exciting teaching abilities or those given to sensational prophetic statements. We display a total lack of discernment when we do not hold our leaders to the weightier matters of Torah--justice, mercy and faithfulness. We need discernment to listen to that which is true. When statements are made based upon faulty research, or bent to fit a particular point of view, we become politicians espousing a partisan line and not teachers of Torah.
Another point comes from Rabbi Shalom Arush, who counsels many troubled marriages. One of the precepts he stresses is that if one of the partners is led to become Torah obedient this must become a very good thing for the other partner. Otherwise, the partner will view Torah as destructive. We must ask ourselves--has the Torah in my life made me a better spouse, a better son or daughter, a better parent, a better employer, a better employee, a better member of the Messianic fellowship? Have those living around you sensed your humility, your desire to serve and your fervent love for Yeshua? Or did they turn away because you reeked of religious arrogance and self-righteous certainty?
Torah is the DNA of our Messiah -- it is His genetic material that He has planted in our hearts. It is the seed of the Kingdom. When it is nurtured and grown in the proper environment it yields love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As Paul reminds us, none of these qualities are against Torah; none violate it. I would go further and say that when these attributes do not characterize Torah-keeping folks, the seed has been corrupted. Yahweh makes an astonishing pronouncement in Isaiah 1:12-14 “When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies -- I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.”
Why does He reject all these activities that He commanded Israel to do for Him? Because they had neglected the weightier matters of Torah. He pleads with Israel, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)
We have been so blessed to be a part of this restoration in this day. Torah is not bondage, but rather life. This revelation transforms us. Let’s make certain that in our holy pursuit of Torah that the foundation of Yeshua is built in well. That the important things have truly been given the credit they deserve. For many their introduction to Torah will be the lives we live before them. May the Messiah and His love be revealed in us, I pray.
Printed in the MIA Herald, Sept 2011.