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 Divine Reversal: The Transforming Ethics of Jesus. Russ and his wife Jane live in Albuquerque and have four children and seven grandchildren.
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!
Preparing to teach or preach Scripture is hard work and Rabbi Leffin’s maxim doesn’t make it any easier: “Do not allow anything to pass your lips that you are not certain is completely true.” This saying applies to everyone, but if we have to watch out for what passes our lips in general, how much more watchful must we be when we’re handling the Word of God? That’s why Ya’akov instructs us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, since you know that we will be judged more severely”. --James 3:1 CJB
Silence is one of the great casualties of the digital age. A generation ago, it was already hard to escape the drone of the broadcast media, especially as we started to put a radio or TV in every room and develop portable units that we could take anywhere. Now, in the digital age, it’s much worse, with TV, radio, internet, MP3 player, and much more all lodged within the phone in our pocket or purse.
“Be diligent to make your call and election sure.” 2 Peter 1:10
Divine-human partnership is one of the great themes of Scripture. Only God can create, but he places human beings within his creation to bear his image, to fill the earth and subdue it.
Sometimes, when people say “time flies,” or comment on how quickly it goes by, I think, “Compared to what?” We’ll say how quickly a year goes by, but it was a year, whatever it might feel like, so what are we comparing it to when we’re surprised at how short it is?
The other day in the elevator, I learned something about righteousness.
As we are approaching the half-way point of Sefirat Ha-Omer, counting the days from Passover to Shavuot (Lev. 23:10-15), we might recall that the first 32 days of the Omer are a period of semi-mourning in Jewish tradition.
"And the Lord said to Moses, Go to the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready by the third day; for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai." (Ex. 19:10–11)
As we continue to learn mussar through the days of sefirat ha-omer (counting the omer), we can see some helpful parallels between the two topics. Mussar is all about spiritual preparation and progress, and so is sefirat ha-omer, if we understand it properly. One tradition views this period—the transition from Passover, season of our freedom, to Shavuot, season of the giving of our Torah—as providing time for the newly-freed Hebrew slaves to rise up from their condition of bondage and become ready for the revelation of Torah. Some rabbinic sources speak of 49 levels of impurity that they needed to transcend. But even apart from that specific interpretation, it makes sense that it would take time to shed the slave mentality enough to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. The cleansing of garments that the Lord commanded at the end of this process culminated seven weeks of cleansing that led up to it.
Counting the Omer is an opportunity to learn decisiveness. This tradition marking the days from Passover to Shavuot (see Lev. 23:10-21) reenacts the journey from bondage in Egypt (Mitzraim in Hebrew, meaning “the narrow place”) to revelation at Mount Sinai.