Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tefillin (Phylacteries) in Worship

I got a question today about using tefillin, more commonly called (among Gentiles) phylacteries, in worship. Tefillin are the leather bands with small leather boxes which contain scrolls with passages from the Torah (most commonly Deu. 6:4) that Orthodox and Hasidic Jews wear in prayer.

There's nothing wrong with using tefillin in worship. Whlie Yeshua criticized those who made their tefillin over-large to show off their "piety" (Mat. 23:5), He did not condemn the practice itself and even paired it off with the Biblical practice of wearing tzitzit, or fringes.

The tradition comes from Deu. 6:6, 8, in which YHVH commands, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart . . . And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes." Certainly, wearing tefillin is a very literal way of fulfilling this command. However, as I explained in the post on living a symbolic life, it's not the whole fulfillment.

In Exo. 13:16, YHVH commands Israel to keep the Passover every year, saying, "And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt." Therefore, we must interpret Deu. 6 in the light of the previous command in Exo. 13, and conclude that what God is saying that we must do symbollic acts ("bind them for a sign upon thine hand") and view symbollic things ("they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes") to remind us of God's commands and all that He in His boundless grace has done for us.

Literally binding the tefillin to one's hand and head certainly qualifies as keeping this command in both a very literal and yet also a symbolic way. However, it is not the only, or even the primary, means by which we are to keep this commandment, nor should it be considered a requirement. When we keep the Passover, we keep the command. When we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we keep the command. When we put on a talit and look on the tzitzit, we keep the command. When we are baptized, we keep the command. All of these things involve doing and looking upon physical symbols of the spiritual reality that we are a part of, and serve to keep God's Word frontmost in our mind.

Therefore, while a Messianic Jew or former Gentile may use tefillin as a part of his (or her, but that's another subject) worship, he is not required to, nor should he do so simply to show off how holy or Torah-observant he is.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Silent Times

A little under two weeks ago, the new year, as defined by God (Exo. 12:2), began--and with it began the cycle of salvation.

There's an old saying that "a Jew's catechism is his calendar"--and that's more true than most know. God's entire plan of salvation for Israel--and by extension, the world--is laid out on His calendar, according to His mo'edim (appointed times).

This is, accoroding to God, the first of months, the beginning of His plan. But before we go forward, let us look backwards for the moment: Before Pesach (Passover) is a long period between the seven Feastdays that God commanded at Sinai. The last feast was Sukkot, six months ago. That's not to downplay the importance of Hannukah or Purim--they too have prophetic importance--but simply to point out that this is the long gap, if you will, the long period of silence, corresponding to the 430 years of silence while Israel was in Egypt and the 430 years of silence between the last prophet and the coming of Messiah.

Within this long gap, we see Hanukkah and Purim, two feasts that celebrate Israel's victories over those who wanted to destroy her. In both, God's hand was active, but hidden: In the book of Esther, which explains the origins of Purim, God is not even mentioned by name! (This was to keep the people of Persia, where Esther was published, from obtaining and misusing the Name of YHVH. However, YHVH can be found in four places in acrostic form.) And the books of Maccabees, which record the origin of Hanukkah, were written in an era without the prophetic Spirit, a fact they themselves acknowledge (1 Mac. 14:41), which is why they were not added to the canon. Nevertheless, though invisible, God's hand was clearly sheilding His people, and Israel survived--just as He protected Israel from being wiped out by Egypt during their slavery there.

Just because we don't see God throwing down fire and parting seas does not mean that He has ceased to work. There's an old saying:
For lack of a nail, a shoe was lost.
For lack of a shoe, a horse was lost.
For lack of a horse, a rider was lost.
For lack of a rider, a battle was lost.
For lack of a battle, the war was lost.
God may act openly, visibly, with miracles and plagues to effect His will--or He may cause a single nail to loosen, and thus turn the tide of an entire war. He may send a prophet to demand Pharaoh let His people go with great signs and wonders, or He may place a single Jewess in the court of a king to intercede for her people.