Climbing the Ladder to Spiritual Identity

A Well-Rooted Perspective

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

 Luke 24:27 ESV

 A story handed down in the Jewish mystical tradition:

“The great Chassidic master Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov would pray for many hours every day. His disciples, who had long concluded their own prayers, would form a circle around him to listen to the melody of his prayers and feast their eyes on the spectacle of a soul soaring in meditative attachment to its Maker. It was an unspoken rule amongst them that no one abandoned his post until their master had concluded his prayers.

One day, a great fatigue and hunger befell them. One by one, they slipped home for a bite and a few moments rest, certain that their master’s prayers would continue for several hours more. But when they returned, they found that he had finished praying while they were gone.

‘Tell us, Rebbe,’ they asked him, ‘why did you conclude your prayers so early today?’

The Baal Shem Tov answered them with a parable: Once, a group of people were journeying through a forest. Their leader, who was blessed with keen eyesight, spotted a beautiful bird perched atop a tall tree.

‘Come,’ he said to his companions, ‘I wish to capture this beautiful bird, so that we may delight in her song and gaze upon her wondrous hues.’

‘But how can you reach this bird you see,’ asked they, ‘the tree being so high and ourselves held captive by the ground?’

‘If you each climb up onto the shoulders of your fellow,’ their leader explained, ‘I will climb on to the shoulders of the topmost man and reach for the treasure that beckons to us from the heights.’

And so they did. Together, they formed a chain reaching from the earth toward the heavens, to raise their leader to his aspired goal. But they soon wearied of the exercise and went off to eat and rest, and the man who had sighted the bird tumbled to the ground.” [The Ladder, Eliezer Steinman]

There are numerous points of convergence between mystical Judaism and apostolic (New Testament) Christian theology. The thought-world of Chasidic Judaism reaches up and out into the supernatural possibilities postulated by the Bible in ways that are transformative and enlightening, yet foreign to us as Christians — like a shining treasure that beckons to us from the heights, a beautiful bird singing exquisite songs in the tree of life, far above us, as we, believers in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, are held fast to the ground by the weight of our galvanized theological certainties, as if chained from below.

Alas, to our detriment as believers in the Creator God, the God of Israel, by virtue of our faith in His Messiah, the essential substance of the [Jewish] Gospel writers often seems to have more of an affinity with the world of Chasidic thought than with the world of Christian thought. This is difficult for we Christians to hear, and yet, most, if not all of the same theological concepts are present in both perspectives: the rebirth of the soul, spiritual endowment, personal relationship with God, emphasis on joy and love, the priority of repentance, Messianic hope, and most of all, attachment to a righteous rabbi through radical discipleship — in the Christian perspective, the rabbi’s name being “Yeshua,” or “Jesus.” [First Fruits of Zion, Love And The Messianic Age, Study Guide, Paul Philip Levertoff, ,

How logical for the Judaism of Jesus to add to, not subtract from, our great spiritual endowment. How odd for us, as non-Jewish believers, to all but reject it.

Shabbat shalom. May the full repertoire of music extended to us by way of our complete spiritual heritage enter our ears with the understanding that much of it may come to us in Hebrew, not English or Latin; in a heavenly melody sounding more like a Chasidic nigun than a Christian hymn. And may we have the humility and wisdom, along with the spiritual eyes and spiritual ears, to hear it, understand, and be blessed beyond our wildest dreams by the beauty of everything connected to the Tree of Life that is Messiah. Including us, the wild branch.


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