Israel of the flesh; and Jacob, the Israel of God

This post is a follow-on from The Essence of the Jewish people and quintessence of a Midrashic mind: Humility?, where I examined Rabbi Ya’aqob Menashe’s reasons why he considers humility to be the essence of the Jewish people. 

In Genesis 17:7 God promises Abraham: “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”

Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, so he was not only the father of the Hebrews but also of the Arabs, yet only the Hebrews (later, the Israelites) were, according to the Torah, children of the promise (elect, chosen). We have to look beyond Abraham to Jacob and Esau to understand why the children of “promise” descend from Jacob and not from Esau. Both of them were Hebrews on the father’s and on the mother’s side – unlike Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar. But having one Hebrew parent or two is not relevant. As Paul shows in Romans 9, having two Hebrew parents does not make Jacob superior to Ishmael in any way, because the promise is not ultimately about flesh but about spirit.

Who is this people of the promise, according to Torah? In Deuteronomy 14:2, we read: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and God has chosen you to be his treasured people from all the nations that are on the face of the earth.” Furthermore: “Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people” (Exodus 19:5).

Yet, the above verses don’t tell us why God chose the Jews. The answer is found here:

“The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

In the above verse, two reasons are given for choosing the Jews: 1. God swore an oath to their ancestors, where Jacob is the central figure (not Abraham, because He is the ancestor of the Arabs as well), and 2. God loved them; because of or in spite of their (worldly?) insignificance, the scriptures don’t say. What the Hebrew scriptures definitely do not say is what Rabbi Menashe claims, namely, that the Jewish people were chosen because God say how humble they were.

What the written Torah does no say, the oral Torah (Talmud) does. One of the things it says is that the Jew is a “piece of God above,” and consequently has a higher soul than the non-Jew. See also “Who is my neighbour?

If the Jewish people are God’s elect, which I believe, why did they suffer so? Much has been written to try and answer that question, yet very seldom is the right reason given. The reason, which the written Torah clearly spells out without any help from the Oral Torah, is that they suffer because they are elect: “You only have I singled out of all the families of the earth: therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities.” (Amos, 3:2):

But to the social realities. How humble is the (generic) Jew? Here is Rabbi Shmueley Boteach (pronounced Botech, guttural “ch”) in his panegyric of the “incorruptible” Lubavitcher Rebbe:

“I have been fortunate in my life to meet personalities in positions of authority. I have seen that few, if any, are immune to the vagaries of corruption. By this I mean that those who have made large sums of money, for example, change just a little bit. They develop a sense of their own self-importance. They expect, and receive, a level of deference, however small. Their circle of intimates changes as well. They are often surrounded by people of similar wealth…when you’re fortunate enough to find a personality who doesn’t let you down, who remains a pillar of righteousness and is above any consideration of personal interest, you latch on to that personality and you march in his footsteps.”

In sum, for Rabbi Boteach the Lubavitcher Rebbe was not like most other men, Jews and non-Jews; he was humble. Be careful, though. Many followers, including, the present Prime Minister of Israel (according to the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz), believe that the Rebbe, who died in 1994, is the Messiah:

“Benjamin Netanyahu promised to tell the truth at the United Nations, and the truth was indeed revealed. The prime minister chose in this speech to quote reverently from his meetings with one person only: the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who viewed himself as the messiah.”

As far as I know, the Rebbe never denied that he was the Messiah. I think it would not be disrespectful to God to question Rabbi Boteach’s high regard for the Rebbe. He was also one of the great leaders of the Chabad movement, which, says Rabbi Boteach, “is becoming the de facto face of Judaism worldwide.” It’s alarmingly interesting that one of Chabad’s principal Torah tools is Gematria. And that’s the modern face of Judaism. Deception – perhaps mostly through ignorance – on a large scale.. But then the world out there is no different. We read in Jeremiah (17:9):

“The heart is deceitful/corrupt/vain/slippery above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” ESV
The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceeding weak–who can know it? Mechon Mamre (Jewish translation)

Here is the Hebrew of Jeremiah 17:9:

עָקֹב הַלֵּב מִכֹּל, וְאָנֻשׁ הוּא; מִי, יֵדָעֶנּוּ

Deceitful, slippery (AKOV) עָקֹב
sick/malignant/incurable (ANOOSH) אָנֻשׁ

Which, unsurprisingly brings us back to the election of Israel. Who was the first Israelite? Jacob YA’AKOV יַעֲקֹב, the deceiver, the slippery one, the AKOV, עָקֹב – a heel, in both senses of the word (Jacob also means “heel catcher” named such because he irrupted from the womb holding on to Esau’s heel).

The father of the Israelites, unlike his brother Esau, was a slippery customer. So, why did God choose Jacob/Israel to be the child of the promise? When we understand and accept the written Torah answer to that question, we’ll understand much more who God is. We already understand who man is when we see the answers he gives.

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob;” But Esau I hated, and made his mountains a desolation, and gave his heritage to the jackals of the wilderness (Malachi, 1:2-3).

Rabbi Matityahu Glazerson, in his “Philistine and Palestinian” (1995) uses Gematria to prove that Esau was evil while Jacob, the father of the Jews, was not. As I argued in The Midbar (wilderness) of Gematria, Gematria is not only a peripheral (but in mystical Judaism is actually central) but also a perilous way to go. Much better to consult the Apostle Paul (Romans 9) on the matter!

1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised Amen.

6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire (will) or effort, but on God’s mercy.

It is verses like verse 16 that unleash unbridled hatred in the unregenerate heart against Paul. Here’s a thing: if someone else had said the above within earshot of Paul at another period of Paul’s life, Paul would have dragged the “blasphemer” off to prison, or even worse, had him stoned, as happened to the very visible and vocal Stephen.

Paul, like Torah believing Jews, was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee” (Paul’s words about himself; Philippians 3:5). Yet, God did a miraculous work of grace (by definition, unmerited) with this consuming Pharisee. If the Messiah had not struck him down, Paul would have remained a model of Hebrew uprightness; and that would have been his downfall.

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