This heading may appear flippant. It will hopefully become clear that what appears irreverent is in reality the desire to dig below the sediment of our perceptions that obscures the treasures beneath.
In Acts 21:1-4 (written by Luke the Apostle, a companion of Paul on many of Paul’s travels) we read of some of the cities of Asia that Paul visited:
“And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo.”
These cities were bursting with things of exquisite natural beauty, artistic charm and excellence. Where did we learn that these cities were so marvellous to behold? Not from Paul (or Luke). There is not a word about geography, nothing about scenic beauty in the travels of Paul. Paul, like Herzl, was yearning for ethical and spiritual fulfilment. Paul’s only interest was doing the “deep lasting work” (John Piper) of preaching the Gospel to a lost humanity. The difference between the Apostles Paul and Luke, on the one hand, and Herzl, on the other, is that the Apostles’ idea of ethical and spiritual fulfilment was based on the two pivotal mitzvoth (commands) of the Torah; the first, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5); the second, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:18).
That is what Jesus meant in the following passage:
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31).
By “neighbour”, Jesus does not only mean the Israelite Joe Shmo but the gentile Joe Soap as well. This impartiality is poignantly illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
The key issue in the Torah – and in the Newer Testament as well – is that if righteous acts such as love of neighbour are not rooted in the love (manifested in faith and obedience) of God, they are nothing more than filthy garments:
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah, 64:6).
כְבֶגֶד עִדִּים כָּל־צִדְקֹתֵינוּ – kheveged(like garments) idiym(filthy) kol-tzidkotaynu(our righteousness).
“Filthy garments” is a “polite” translation. The Hebrew says: “our righteousness is like menstrual cloths.”
Herzl’s spiritual yearnings excluded the yearning for the “Holy one of Israel.” Much of the modern confrontation between Jews in Israel harks back to an endemic and more ancient confrontation – between the faithful few and the unfaithful majority:
“Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (Isaiah, 30:11, New International Version).
(The Hebrew of the words in italics above appears in red below).
סוּרוּ מִנֵּי־דֶרֶךְ הַטּוּ מִנֵּי־אֹרַח הַשְׁבִּיתוּ מִפָּנֵינוּ אֶת־קְדֹושׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
Translations of Tanakh are usually more polite and decorous than the original Hebrew, which is often “in your face”. In the example below, this is literally so.
Get the Holy One (kadosh קְדֹושׁ) of Israel (yisroel יִשְׂרָאֵֽל) out of our face (miponaynu מִפָּנֵינוּ) the “u” in the English transliteration is pronounced “oo”].
Even those who read Hebrew cauterise the literal meaning of miponaynu מִפָּנֵינוּ and see only the figurative meaning of “in front of”, “before”. So we end up with this watery translation: “cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.” The figurative gain is a literal loss.
The light of the “enlightened” Jew is not the light that came into the world; it’s the light that comes out of man (Genesis 1, John 1).
“Vain – worthless, nothing, empty – is the salvation of man” (Psalm 60:11).
שָׁוְא תְּשׁוּעַת אָדָם shav teshuat ADAM (salvation of man). Yeshua (Jesus – Saviour) derives from teshua (salvation).