Put it on my father’s bill

Dear coworkers,

It’s been a very full celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost today.

But first of all, is it really even Shavuot today? Those living in Israel may be confused, as the country already celebrated the Torah holiday on Friday, including most Messianic Jews. Is this a case of Christians changing the dates to avoid identifying with our elder brothers in the faith?

Or is it possibly a case of the Pharisaical rabbinic tradition changing dates to avoid identifying with their younger brothers? As we’ve shared with you in past years, the Torah couldn’t be more clear that that the Feast of First Fruits falls on the Sunday after Passover, which starts the great seven-week countdown to the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) also on a Sunday. It’s otherwise unheard of for Torah holidays to fall on a fixed day of the week, so it shines a very bright light on the resurrection of Messiah on the first day of the week, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Our author friend Lois Tverberg finds signs in a dialogue in the Mishna that the dates may have been changed in response to the large numbers following Messiah in the first century:

While the Sadducees might have opposed the change, the Christians may have actually been the heretical group that inspired this calendar shift, which occurred after the death of Christ but before 70 AD.

As a result of the Pharisaic/rabbinic change of dating of Shavuot, the holiday would seldom fall on Yom HaRishon (Sunday, the first day of the week). Otherwise, it will always fall there. This means that two major holidays commanded by the Torah would always occur on Sunday, but those became the two days that were major celebrations for the Christians, the Resurrection and Pentecost.

Personally, I suspect that the real reason for moving the festival is because the early Christians were celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus on the day of Firstfruits (Omer), and the outpouring of God’s Spirit on Shavuot. As much as Christians are criticized for moving Easter away from Passover to cut themselves free of their Jewish roots, it seems that the rabbis were doing the same thing, only in reverse.

And the messianic writer Avner Boskey also has little sympathy with the “rabbinic plastic surgery” which makes Shavuot a celebration of the giving of the commandments at Sinai, rather than the long-awaited giving of the Holy Spirit:

This attempt to tie in Shavu’ot to the Mosaic Covenant was not based on any clear biblical information. Instead, it came from the theological desire to shift focus away from the amazing events of Acts 2 – the inauguration of the New Covenant…

This biblical time line reveals that it’s inaccurate to state that Shavu’ot and the Giving of the Two Tablets happened on the same day or even in the same month.

The Scriptures do not give an exact date for the Giving of the Mosaic Covenant. The event happened, but the Bible does not specify when (Exodus 19:1, 16; 24:4, 16; 34:28; 40:17). It’s a little like Christmas: the reason December 24/25 was chosen has nothing to do with specific dates in the Gospel records, and everything to do with freshly baptized Roman and Constantine traditions. People hunger for dates and, when the Bible is silent about such things, folks tend to choose dates anyway – ‘everyone does what’s right in his own eyes’ (see Judges 21:25).

The bottom line friends: we all–Jews, Christians and Muslims–must learn to distinguish between human traditions and the word of God if we’re to find the way.

Meanwhile the medical centers in Israel gave a resounding answer this Shavuot weekend to one of the great questions of the gospels: Is it lawful to save life on the Sabbath?

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

It seems to me that every Torah holiday this test comes up anew. This time we were hit with three emergency newborns between life and death in the Gaza Strip, just as Israel’s Shavuot observance was beginning on Thursday:

moaz arrivalThat’s four-day-old Moaz, admitted to the Sheba Medical Center Thursday, just a few hours before the start of the holiday. Then on Friday, the actual day of observance, Sheba also opened its doors to two-day-old Machmoud:

machmoud arrivalThen today, on the actual day of Shavuot, Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem joined in by welcoming 12-day-old Gaith to safety:

gaith arrivesWow! I love these partners. When the Jewish people walk in their calling, it’s life from the dead.

Our share in all this, in addition to praying and organizing the transfers, is to support the hospitals financially. They give discounts of more than 50% from the normal cost, and we also have a grant partner, so we’ll only need about $15,000 to cover our part in saving these three lives over Shavuot.

I had a simple insight this week while traveling with Bria and Doro in Iraq which helped build my faith for this. We were staying with a family whose eight-year-old daughter wanted to go to the store to buy snacks for her guests. She didn’t have any money of her own, but she knew her father’s heart. I could just picture her going into the store and saying, “Put it on my father’s bill.” And I think her father would be delighted.

The Kurdish people here, like their Arab, Christian and Yazidi neighbors, use food to show honor to their guests, so we’ve been struggling not to overeat this week. The quantities of food they put out are mind-boggling:

gharbi mealAnd we’re learning from our neighbors that one of the most precious gifts we can give in return is to simply honor the value of their lives and the lives of their children. We can honor them in life, and also in death, as my son Zack found this week alongside baby Yousef from Gaza during his final hours:

yousef in icu

I held his hand as his heart slowed, and coworker Lena and I sang over him. We wept at his death and we wept together with his grandmother.

Shortly before he died, a nurse came in to check on him and renew his medications. I watched as the nurse changed his sheets and carefully cushioned Yousef’s mostly withered body. I thanked him as he was leaving for treating the baby with such dignity. He answered me: “I just want to do what’s right.”

We did not know Yousef; we had no opportunity to. His life, most of which was spent in the hospital, was too short for him to develop much personality. Most of the grief over his passing will be felt by his family and on behalf of his family. But we and the Sheba staff showed him honor and dignity in his final moments, treating him and his life as being special and worthy of love, regardless of whether he could receive it. And in the same time we showed his grandmother honor and dignity, and treated her life and love as special too. Brothers and sisters, that is the heart and dream of our work here, a work of dignity and honor and love. We praise God that even–or perhaps especially–in the face of this tragedy, we could do that work.

This morning, Yousef’s body was put in an ambulance, and he and his grandmother were returned to the Gaza Strip. Pray for her and their family in this time of loss. I believe even now Yousef is with our Lord.

We look for the resurrection of the dead.

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity…for there the LORD commands the blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133).

Jonathan for Shevet Achim