From the Beginning
Ancient Israel and the Commandments
God’s people Israel followed the Torah half-heartedly. His most central command had been the Shma, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” Deut 6:5. All your heart! All your soul! All your might! The Torah was written for God to be their king, but Hebrew Scripture records that they soon asked for an earthly king 1 Sam 8:5. God had set them apart as his own Deut 7:6, but they wanted to be like everyone else. As their sins multiplied, they became less and less sensitive to sin, so that they sinned all the more gravely. He declared through Isaiah, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: ‘Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me’” Is 1:2.
Isaiah’s Prophecy of the Recognition
Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Go, and say to this people: ‘Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate, and the LORD removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land” Is 6:9–12.
God pleaded through Isaiah for his people Israel to return to him. “Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! Is 43:8. But instead, Israel turned to the dark side, to sinat khinam, hatred without a cause.
With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: “You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them” Mt 13:14–15.
Then, addressing the shlikhim directly, he continued,
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. Mt 13:16–17.
Rabbi Yeshua’s opening words, “For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away,” Mt 13:12 mean that souls who eagerly embrace him and his teaching “with all your heart,” Deut 6:5; Mt 22:37 will be wide open to God’s grace and consequently receive even more of it, while souls that repeatedly defy God will eventually become so insensitive to his grace even in the small amounts they had allowed to come through to their hearts that they would not recognize even their own Mashiakh. Rabbi Yeshua himself told the Pharisees that great tragedy would befall them “because you did not know the time of your visitation” Lk 19:44. Each individual Jew at that time had free will, and still does today, but his own and his ancestors’ rejection of Rabbi Yeshua made it very difficult. This is like a man living on welfare without working. He is free to stay in bed all day every day except for food and rest room breaks, but at some point he will become so weak that he cannot do even that.
The Sharp Turn
Rabbi Yeshua warned that the Temple would be destroyed because, “You did not know the time of your visitation” Lk 19:44. Sacrifice to God was primary in Mosaic Judaism. Among its 613 mitzvot covering every part of Israel’s life, perhaps 189, more than 30 percent, far more than any other subject, covered the Temple sacrifices in some way. In AD 70, on the Ninth of Av, God allowed Roman soldiers to destroy the Temple. He had taken the privilege of liturgical sacrifice, the most important part, from the people who did not follow Rabbi Yeshua and gave it to those who did, forcing a sharp transition from Mosaic Judaism to Rabbinic Judaism, from following Moses to following their rabbis, an ontological change in Judaism itself.
After nineteen centuries, Jews who did not follow Rabbi Yeshua still pine for the Temple. Despite constant Jewish prayer (the Amidah, final three prayers, which are said three times each day, every day of the week), it has never again risen.
God’s three great feasts, pesakh (Passover), shavuot (Weeks) and sukkot (Tabernacles), had been pilgrimage feasts that had held Judaism together by encouraging aliyah, ascent toward Jerusalem, by living in Judea. In the absence of the Temple, the pilgrimage feasts became home feasts again, celebrated at home and in synagogues.
God in his mercy willed that even the Jews who rejected Rabbi Yeshua could still have the eternal election as the inner core of their Rabbinic Jewish faith. The three major Rabbinic Jewish denominations, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, all teach that God chose Abram Gen 12:1 the Hebrew Gen 14:13, and the whole people Israel at Mt. Sinai Ex 24:7. This entails a personal obligation for each descendant of Abraham. The prophet Amos emphasizes this, as the Lord says, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel” Amos 7:8. Observant Jews today read the Torah and the Talmud and the Shulkhan Arukh, together with their rabbis discerning God’s law and keeping it as best they can.
God lives in eternity. “I the Lord do not change” Mal 3:6. The passage of time and habit deadens man’s sense of sin but God’s eternal election visibly remains in full force. Alice von Hildebrand writes, “It is worth remarking that there are Jews who, having totally abandoned their faith, and viewing the Old Testament as a purely mythical work, are still so deeply marked by the Jewish craving for some sort of redemption that they often spearhead radical leftist causes (communism, abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage). They are ardent idealists who have talked themselves into believing that to wage war on old taboos will open the door to an earthly paradise for which they long. It is a tragic but meaningful derailment. As chosen people, their longing for an ‘absolute’ cannot be extinguished in their souls by shallow satisfactions.”