A heart wrenching sight caught my attention a few days ago. A young man entered the alley beneath my window, a helmet on his head, a mask covering his beard, and stopped by the side door to the little synagogue in the alley. He bowed his head, caressed the door with pale fingers, trying to remove some dust, kissed the mezuzah, and than caressed the door yet again.
“My God,” I thought, “such longing. I’m not quite sure what it is he is missing so: praying as a quorum, communal life, perhaps You? Oh, how I hope it is You they are longing for.”
A Sector In Crisis
Corona regulations have caused a unique crisis for the religious Jew. Some of the pillars upon which orthodox Judaism is built have failed in this difficult time. Ever since the destruction of the Second Temple on 70 AD, the Rabbis have devised various rulings to provide an alternative to the blood sacrifices, which atoned for sin and guilt. For hundreds of years they taught that prayer and head covering atone, keep safe and save those who practice them. So much so that the orthodox Jew believes that if he engulfed himself in the “tents of Torah” (meaning: the writing of the Sages, not the Old Testament), he will actually protect Israel much better than the soldiers serving in the IDF.
They also taught that the writings of the Sages are to be studied together, in a group. Therefore, in the early days of Corona outbreak, they still continued to gather in the yeshivas and crowded synagogues, even after large gatherings were prohibited. But soon it became clear that the rate of mortality among the orthodox Jews far exceeded that among the secular population. The conclusion: the communal studying in groups does not necessarily provide protection. For all intents and purposes it was actually the cause of their death.
On March, images of orthodox coffins in Brooklyn began to stream through the media, and these hastened the wake up call. The Rabbis realized they were endangering their flocks, and reluctantly agreed that staying at home is the way to go. That praying in quorum is not necessary. That one can pray and study on his own.
That, however, led to another question, just as interesting: can the orthodox Jew, so dependent on the rulings of his Rabbi even on minor details, trust those rulings? For years he was taught one thing, and now, all of a sudden, the rulings are almost the opposite.
King and Ephod
The words of Hosea (3:4) well describe the state of the leadership in Israel up to a couple of weeks ago. Israel was “without king or prince (political leadership), without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods (spiritual leadership)”. The Israeli government was paralyzed due to repeated elections. And although an agreement was signed recently between the two largest parties, it is hard to believe how such a government can survive long.
The ephod and household gods symbolize spiritual guidance, some form of priesthood. Hosea says that even these are nowhere to be found. His statement is somehow echoed in our days, as the things that are considered to be pillars of worship for the religious Jew, such as studying Talmud and the prayers in the synagogues, have lost their primary place of activity due to the crisis.
Women and Public Prayer
As the strict instructions begun to soften somewhat about three weeks ago, meetings for prayer were finally allowed. At first a maximum of 9 (later on 19) people could gather in one place, yet even that had to be done outside the synagogue, in the open, while staying 2 meters apart.
I heard on the radio one woman tell just how much she will miss their prayers when the crisis is all over. “I will never attend a synagogue”, she made it clear, “but I will definitely miss hearing your prayers outside my window. You have awakened a longing in my heart”.
Women cannot pray with men in orthodox synagogues, but the Rabbis cannot forbid women living above these open spaces, or passing on the street, from hearing the prayers and even taking part in them. Thus, many around the country are exposed to daily prayers that used to take place only inside thick walls, women included. And if they so desire, they can even participate. So long as they keep 2 meters apart. This is some sort of a revolution.
An Open Window
A couple of days later I saw a young man, covered in a prayer shawl, approaching the synagogue next door. The gate was locked. Corona, you know. Two religious men happened by, one of which is that synagogue’s treasurer.
“What time is your meeting?” the lad asked. “I’m looking for a place to pray. I want to become more religious.”
To my astonishment the treasurer turned his back and started walking away, mumbling something along the lines of “doesn’t he know everything is closed right now?”
“Why didn’t he show any interest, draw him closer to religion?” I wondered. And than realized: there is a spiritual vacuum worldwide, as well as among the Jewish people, a vacuum that enables the Body of Yeshua to enter in, not with religion, but with Truth.
Please, Lord, strengthen the Israeli Body, the holy remnant (Is. 6:13). Fill us with the courage and inspiration we need. Show us how to draw with strings of love those who are starting to seek the face of their Messiah, whose fat surrounding their hearts starts to dissolve and ears are opening (v. 10).
A Ruth-Naomi Kind of Prayer
In OT days, the judges and spiritual leaders usually sat at the city gates. I am going to use the language of Ruth and Naomi (whose story is usually read in synagogues during the coming Feast of Shavuot), as I pray for these leaders:
God of Israel, come up to the gate (Ruth 4:1), and change our national mindset, that leads us to believe that there is another path to redemption. We were taught that You are unapproachable, and that we need mediators to plead our cause before You. But now, Abba, for long weeks now, hundreds of thousands of devout Jews were unable to reach the elders at the gates as they were used to.
I am asking for more favor. Yeshua, You are the Redeemer in The Story! Please stand at The Gate and reveal Your true Face to us. Let us see who You truly are. Come and fight on behalf of the bitter widow who has been returning from exile to Beit Lehem, to The House of Bread. She doesn’t really know You, and therefor unable, or perhaps just scared, to enter Your dwelling place on her own.
Thank You, Lord, for the Ruths You have trained for centuries, and who have so faithfully shown us who you really are. That it is safe to glean in your fields, and even lay at your feet at the middle of the night. That you are not going to abuse us or ruin our reputation. That you will provide our needs and send us back with a double portion and dignity. Open our eyes to see how you have woven a precious story, that is about to reach its peak, as both the gentile and the Jew walk into your House and usher in the second coming of the Son. Pour over Your Body an unprecedented measure of your spirit. We are longing for that, Lord.
A Prayer for Me
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a shofar. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins” (Is. 58:1).
For a while now God has been calling me to shout aloud, not hold back, raise my voice like a shofar and declare a message to my people (He also used Hos. 8:1 to get my attention on this matter). A major part of my teaching so far focused on the ears of various “Ruths” – gentiles desiring to see and take their part in the restoration of modern “Naomi”.
I believe He is now calling me to focus more on Hebrew speakers. So I need your prayers. What message exactly does He want me to declare in their ears? How? Who to? What is my part in the current state of affairs of modern “Naomi”, as she turns from a bitter widow into a mother, a teacher and nurturer, destined to lead others unto Him?
Thank you for being there, some of you literally as my very own “Ruths”.