Russ Resnik encountered Yeshua as Messiah in the early 70s as a young radical in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Later, he was drawn into the Messianic Jewish movement and founded Adat Yeshua, a Messianic congregation in Albuquerque, NM, which he led for nearly 20 years. Today, he serves as executive director of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), an association dedicated to establishing, strengthening, and multiplying congregations for Yeshua within the wider Jewish community. Russ is ordained as a Messianic Rabbi through the UMJC and also maintains credentials as a clinical mental health counselor. He has an international speaking and teaching ministry, contributes regularly to Messianic Jewish publications, and is the author of Gateways to Torah: Joining the Ancient Conversation on the Weekly Portion,Creation to Completion: A Guide to Life’s Journey from the Five Books of Moses, and the just-released Divine Reversal: The Transforming Ethics of Jesus. Russ and his wife Jane live in Albuquerque and have four children and six grandchildren.
The middah of honor is an essential part of “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which in turn is essential to the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and substance. If we don’t honor the people around us, can we really claim to honor the God who made them?
When I began to focus intently on the Shema earlier this year, I realized I’d have to make some changes to line up with what I was reading, three in particular: I’d have to really practice loving Hashem my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might. I’d have to start binding “these words” on my hand and forehead in the form of tefillin (more about that in a moment), and I’d have to recite the Shema morning and evening.
I’m basing my practice of mussar on the Shema for the next cycle or two. I’m inspired to do this just from learning the Shema more deeply the past few months, and also by some recent reading, including The Year of Living like Jesus by Ed Dobson.
Most civilizations have been cultures of the eye. Judaism, with its belief in the invisible God who transcends the universe, and its prohibition against visual representations of God, is supremely a civilization of the ear. . . . Hence, the key verb in Judaism is Shema, “listen.” To give dramatic force to the idea that God is heard, not seen, we cover our eyes with our hand as we say these words. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the Koren Siddur)
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Yeshua answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel . . .’” (Mark 12:28-29a)
For this cycle of middot, I plan to base all my comments on the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Let’s see how this works out with humility.
Tell the people of Isra’el, ‘When a man or woman commits any kind of sin against another person and thus breaks faith with ADONAI he incurs guilt. He must confess the sin which he has committed . . . (Numbers 5:6–7)
When truth encounters the data of our lives, it gives rise to confession.
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for what seemed like half an hour (Rev. 8:1, CJB).
Silence is the last thing we’d expect in heaven—the scene of unending worship and praise.
During the month of Elul, Jewish tradition recommends that everyone practice one of the main disciplines of mussar, cheshbon ha-nefesh, or taking an account of the soul.
Keep your lives free from the love of money; and be satisfied with what you have; for God himself has said, “I will never fail you or abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5 CJB
My comments on frugality earlier this year emphasized the limited resources of our planet and the mitzah of sharing more with those in need. These are worthy reasons to practice frugality and be free from the love of money, of course, but now I’d like to consider the root of frugality, which is contentment, or being satisfied with what we already have, so that we’re not constantly coveting more.
The rabbis of the Talmud discuss the 613 precepts of Torah and how the prophets sought to distill them into just a few principles. David, in Psalm 15, lists eleven; Isaiah reduces them to six (Is. 33:15-16); and Micah refines them even further to three: “It has been told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly before your God (Mic. 6:8). Then the discussion in the Talmud continues:
Isaiah came again and reduced them to two principles, as it is said, Thus says the Lord, Keep justice and do righteousness . . . (Is. 56:1). Amos came and reduced them to one principle, as it is said, For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel, Seek Me and live (Amos 5:4). To this R. Nahman b. Isaac demurred, saying: [Might it not be taken as,] Seek Me by observing the whole Torah and live? — But it is Habakkuk who came and based them all on one principle, as it is said, But the righteous shall live by his faith (Hab. 2:4).
It’s remarkable to hear the Talmud citing Habakkuk 2:4 in a way similar to that of the Apostolic Writings (see Rom1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38-39). In all these cases “faith” can be translated as “faithfulness,” which sheds light on the meaning of the verse. We might think of “faith” as mere belief, or agreement with certain key doctrines, but faithfulness implies more, namely loyalty to the Lord and his ways, staying true through life’s trials and changes. Faithfulness entails belief, but will also show up in our behavior and attitudes. We might call it faith-in-action. Such faithfulness is not portrayed here in contrast with Torah obedience, but as foundational to it. It does not negate the many other elements of a life pleasing to God, but underlies them all.
“Righteous” is another key word in this verse. So as we seek to practice the middah of righteousness, the Talmud and Habakkuk provide some major direction. Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh agrees with Yeshua himself in defining righteousness as treating others the way we want to be treated ourselves. Habakkuk reveals that such righteousness doesn’t arise out of keeping a detailed list of does and don’ts, or out of trying harder when we fail. We do need to put effort into righteousness, but it’s a relational effort before everything else, a matter of getting deeply in touch with Hashem and maintaining that connection through the way we treat others, in short of being faithful to the one who is faithful to us.
To paraphrase Habakkuk, The righteous person is the one who lives a life that is faithful to Hashem. Or to paraphrase from another angle, The one who faithfully stays right with God is really living.That’s righteousness, that’s faithfulness, and that’s life!