"The Leaven of the Pharisees"
We hear it every night for over a week each year: “Blessed are you, Adonai our Elohim, king of the universe, who has…commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light(s).”
But Michelle Halperin (in Publicizing the Hanukkah Miracle on myjewishlearning.com) asks a very important question: “Where in the Torah did God so command us?” The same could be asked about the similar blessing over the Sabbath candles. Such blessings are beautiful, especially in Hebrew, and they can remind us to draw close to the One we are blessing. But if we’re going to thank Him for His commands, shouldn’t we be sure we are talking about something He really said?
If we look carefully, much to our dismay, it turns out that neither of those blessings is something the Creator enjoined anywhere in Scripture. He told us not to light a fire ON the Shabbat, but not specifically to light one beforehand. It’s an unwritten rule at best—and possibly a common-sense assumption, before electricity, if we wanted to have any light that evening—but still, not a command.
Continues Halperin, “The rabbis’ response is to bring two verses from the Torah as proof-texts to justify viewing themselves as channels for God’s word: ‘You shall not deviate from the word that they [the rabbis] will tell you’ (Deuteronomy 17:11) and ‘Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say to you.’ (Deuteronomy 32:7) Through these bold words the rabbis are legitimizing themselves as the arbiters of God’s word and creators of rituals that embody God’s intentions, both for Hanukkah and for all the rest of Jewish life and practice.”
So it was the “elders” at some time in history who ordered that the blessings be done or said in this way, and it eventually took on the sanctity of something said by the Creator Himself—so much so that Halperin never even raises the obvious next question. The Ten Commandments do tell us to honor our father and mother, so what they say is, at least ideally, the rule in their household. But can any parent’s authority be carried across to being binding on the whole nation? And if we check the context of what Deut. 32:7 (quoted above) is telling us to ask our elders about, it is simply to confirm that YHWH (the name for which “HaShem” or “Adonai” are often substituted) is indeed our Father who made us. So from where is any actual authority to speak for Elohim on other matters derived?
The magic ingredient was that the P’rushim (or Pharisees, whose title means “clear separatists”) gained ascendancy over the prophetically-authorized Sadducean (Tzadoqite) priesthood (Y’hezq’El/Ezekiel 44:15) when the Temple was lost, since their model for halakhah seemed a workable way to fill that void. Those who today are called “rabbinic” are the direct heirs to their philosophy. Being the only major sect that survived, they wrote the historybooks, so it seemed their way was how it had always been. One of the ways they established a right to call their word law was to posit that at the same time he received the written Torah, Moshe (Moses) was given additional instructions—ones that were only transmitted orally.
This means, however, that no one can check these for veracity, because no one has the original version. This gives them all the room they want to claim that the unwritten rules also have the stamp of Moshe’s authority. When the Temple was gone, the Jews were scattered, and they anticipated that this knowledge could otherwise get lost entirely, the oral tradition finally was written down (in the Mishnah and Gemara, which constitute the Talmud). But by that time, if it originated with Moshe, it had been “whispered down the alley” for over 1,500 years, and we all know what that kind of transmission does to a message.
And the existence of such an oral Torah eludes whomever seeks it directly. Even the verse used to establish it—“…by the mouth of these words have I cut a covenant with you and with Israel” (Exodus 34:27)—begins with “YHWH told Moshe, ‘Write down these words…’” It bases the authority for the covenant on what is written. A short while later, when Moshe came down from the mountain, “all the descendants of Israel came close, and he gave in the form of commands all that YHWH had discussed with him on Mount Sinai.” (34:32) Thus he had witnesses who could vouch for it. The Torah also says Moshe “wrote down all the words of YHWH” that he was given there. (Exodus 24:4; Deut. 31:24) Soon after he died, when the transmission to the next generations was beginning, “there was not a word of all that Moshe commanded that Y’hoshua did not read.” (Y’hoshua 8:34-35)
So what does that leave to be transmitted orally? The parts he was shown without words, like the blueprint for the Mishkan (Tabernacle)? But even those ended up being put into writing also. What about the “how-to” of commands that might otherwise seem obscure or ambiguous? That is what most of the Mishnah is: a description of how things were done during Second-Temple times. But does that prove that things had always been done the same way before that—or have to be done that way, even in the modern world?
The very fact that numerous opinions are given on each question before one is finally settled on suggests that there may very well be many ways to apply the same Torah command, and maybe one of them fit better at one time in history and another fit better under different circumstances later. Being left open-ended in many aspects, the Torah was able to be flexible and adaptable to situations of different shapes and sizes—especially when we ended up far away from the Homeland and the Temple.
But isn’t the oral Torah just the “fleshing out” of the written “skeleton”? Possibly, but, as in Ezekiel’s vision (Ez. 37), something more than flesh and bone is required for one to be fully alive: a spirit. “Flesh” in Hebrew idiom (symbolic of natural human strength) is a dangerous thing if there is no true spirituality, in which not just outward actions but heart attitudes are transformed. (Ezekiel 36:26)
There is a solution, and indeed it is what supplies that missing spirit, which can give every individual the wisdom to know how to apply the general commands to his immediate circumstance, and the internal motivation to want to do the mitzvoth, because they are now written on his heart, as Jeremiah described it in chapter 31. This would effectively preclude the fear of abuse which makes “fences around Torah” appear indispensable. But it has been made all but unimaginable in Jewish circles because the rabbis have so engrained a particular idea into the Jewish psyche that it hovers as a “super-ego” over one’s shoulder any time one dares to crack open a B’rith Chadashah (often called the New Testament, but better translated “Renewed Covenant”), like the old schoolmasters that held the switch over one’s head, warning “That book is not for you!”
By this--another unwritten (and unsubstantiated) concept--they excluded Yeshua from the whole system, though he really was sympathetic with their goal if not their methodology; he too provided a way to “do Judaism without the Temple” if and when necessary, and his was the only way that could really rival theirs. But he was also one of their most effective critics; therefore in their minds he had to be silenced and discredited. And they did a pretty complete job of it, even though his criticism was constructive, meant to spare his people many of the woes they have gone through. (Mat. 23:34-38)
Many stories that are called “tradition” or “Midrash” are indeed found not in oral Torah but in some very ancient writings that go back well beyond the P’rushim’s time: “apocryphal scriptures” that have been included in some past canons, being considered on par with the currently-accepted text, and then a third tier of so-called “non-canonicals” which are quoted in universally-agreed-upon Scriptures like Joshua 10:13 and 2 Shmu’el 1:18. This does not necessarily give them the same level of authority as the primary canons, but it shows that they have stood a certain test of time and are certainly worthy of respect and consideration when trying to answer some of the questions that are inevitably raised when we read the simple Tanakh.
But to impose them—or, the even more recently-compiled Talmud—on everyone as the only way to measure faithfulness to Elohim? I think that is what Yeshua meant when he referred to “the leaven of the Pharisees”. (Matithyahu 16:6; Mark 8:15)
He describes this “leaven” as “hypocrisy”. (Luke 12:1) I don’t think he is saying that leaven symbolizes hypocrisy, but rather that the practices that constitute this “leaven” are hypocritical. Why? Because, no matter how you may judge others as less holy because they don’t follow as many rules as you do, no one can follow all of those rules and still have time to get to what Yeshua called the “weightier matters—justice, mercy, and faithfulness”.
He allowed that the synagogue rulers did have some measure of authority: “The P’rushim and the sages sit in Moshe’s seat [from which the Torah was read in synagogues of his day], so be diligent indeed to do all that he tells you, but do not act on their enactments or their precedents—in that they say, but not one of them carries [them] out. They make great demands and impose heavy burdens that cannot be carried, but not one of them is willing to himself move [them] with his own finger.” (Mat. 23:2-4, Hebrew version)
As an earlier chronicler of Israel’s history said, “They neither act according to their own prescribed customs and legal procedures nor according to the Torah and the commandment that YHWH gave to the sons of Yaaqov…” (2 Kings 17:34) Yes, tithing even herbs they ought to do, Yeshua says (for that is YHWH’s command), without neglecting those “weightier” aspects of Torah. (Mat. 23:23) But these additional regulations?
Take, for example, the practice of separation of meat and milk, to the point of having two ovens in each kitchen. All of the details associated with this ostensibly came from one simple verse (reiterated two other times in the same words), “Do not boil a kid in its own mother’s milk.” (Ex. 23:19; Deut. 14:21) In context, it could even be argued that in Hebrew it really means, “don’t let a kid be raised to maturity on its mother’s milk when it is already time to bring it as a firstfruit offering” (Ex. 34:26). But the p’shat (literal sense) can mean “boil” too, so we should not boil that kid in that milk either. But to carry it as far as saying one should not even eat chicken—whose mother does not even produce milk—at the same meal as cheese made from a cow’s milk borders on excessiveness that certainly does put an undue burden on those who can barely afford one refrigerator, let alone two. Kashrut that goes beyond what is written—which is not much more than which animals are clean and that we ought not eat the blood—does indeed often become unreasonably expensive and seems to give certain butchers an unfair corner on the market. Avraham (Gen. 18:8) and David (2 Shmu’el 17:29) ate meat and milk together, and Scripture never implies they did wrong, as Drs. Eitan Bar and Golan Brosh point out. That interpretation came much later.
Having a few fences around Torah can be a good idea; having too many is a distraction from real spirituality, which is about knowing YHWH and helping other people (as Avraham was doing through his hospitality). If an interpretation strays from that focus, we are missing the point of the command.
You are free to take upon yourself whatever diet you find most profitable (within Torah parameters), but not everyone needs the same diet; to mandate an extrapolation of such an obscure verse as binding on all of us or judge other ways of keeping the same commandment as sinful is taking it beyond anyone’s right.
The same thing could be said—and was said, by Yeshua, of course—about the ritual of washing one’s hands before a meal. (Mark 7:1-23) Yes, it’s a good practice, and it’s a great symbol of purity, but what if a little dirt occasionally gets into our food? The body has a way to get rid of it. No big deal. We’re already more than filthy inside, and that is a worse problem, which Pharisaic ways do not adequately address. (This is not at all talking about the issue of eating clean vs. unclean animals.)
What is the nature of leaven? It puffs up, making bread that has no more flour, water, or nutrients than the flat version we eat at Passover appear to have more substance than it really does. The “oral Torah” greatly expands on the written, but does it really provide us with more spiritual nourishment? Or does it tempt us to the other kind of puffing up—the pride that comes from thinking we are better people than others at the core simply because we know more or have done more acts that appear noble?
Is there really more of the “weightier matters—justice, mercy, and faith(fulness)” in what is inherited from the P’rushim? (Mat. 23:23) Many instead major on things like, “Make sure you always pray the Modeh Ani before you set one foot out of bed in the morning”. It is a beautiful prayer, but to miss praying it is not a violation of Torah. If we “teach as doctrines the commandments of men” (Isaiah 29:13) [elevate men’s opinions to the status of authoritative Torah as if given by YHWH Himself], we will call some things “sin” that really don’t matter one way or the other to YHWH. In such a situation, Yeshua told the critical P’rushim, “If you really understood what ‘I desire mercy over sacrifice’ [Hoshea 6:6] means, you would not have condemned those who are not guilty.” (Mat. 12:7) Mercy is one of those “weightier matters”—a lot more important than whether a little soil from your hands gets in your food.
Anticipating that this would be a temptation, Moshe himself warned us, “Do not add to the word which I am commanding you or diminish it in any way.” (Deut. 4:2) But he follows with a “so that”. This means he is saying it for a particular reason. What is it? “…so that you can carefully guard the commandments of YHWH your Elohim”. The implication is that if we do add or do take away any of the commands, we will not be able to properly obey the rest of them. Why? Because His particular commands, as written and preserved by Moshe, form a perfectly-balanced mix of just the right proportions of judgment and mercy, of strictness and grace, of performance of deeds and of trust in YHWH, of what we do and of Who gives us the strength to do it. These commands are sustainable. (Deut. 30:11)
But by adding more to one side of the equation, we end up having to “set aside the commandment of Elohim in order to keep [our] tradition...depriving the Word of Elohim of its force.” (Mark 7:9-13) We won’t even go into the obscuring of YHWH’s name—the ultimate diminution—here. But the Talmud contains many cases where the rabbis claim that YHWH gave them authority to reinterpret, update, or even overrule His commands. (e.g., Baba Metzia 59b) They see Scripture not as the entirety of Jewish law or even its essence, but only part of a greater whole that can develop through time.
But that begs another obvious question: hadn’t the authority to interpret the Torah already been assigned to someone else? Let’s go back to the quote with which this article began: “You shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you.” If we look at the antecedent for “they” in Deuteronomy 17:11 (found in verse 9), we don’t see “rabbis” anywhere in the context. Rather, the “they” whose verdict Israel is to follow actually refers to the “priest, the Levite, and the judge that there shall be in those days” (at whatever time a difficult interpretive issue may arise). Let’s look at the whole section:
“"If a matter is too difficult for you to render judgment between blood and blood[guilt], between [one] cause and [another], or between [one] blow and [another]--matters of legal controversy between your civil precincts, then … come to the Levitical officials or to the judge that there will be in those days, and consult them, and they will make known to you the way to decide the case. But you must act on the word of the sentence which they make known to you from that place which YHWH shall choose, and be careful to carry out all that they direct you [to do]. You must do according to the word of the instruction by which they direct you and the decision with which they answer you; you must not deviate from the sentence which they make known to you, [either] to the right or to the left.” (Deut. 17:8-11)
To whom are people to come for clarification and rulings? The rabbis in Yamnia? No, the priests in Jerusalem or the Levitical cities! If anyone has the right to call their word “Torah”, it is they. Their job is to guard Torah and teach it, so of course they would be the best at judging on its basis. The prophets say the same: “The lips of a priest should protect knowledge, and [people] should seek instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of YHWH [the Master] of Armies." (Mal’akhi 2:7)
Of course, this behooves all Israel to make sure these descendants of Levi are given all the training and equipment they need to be able to do so with integrity. But where are they today? They are acknowledged, even honored, in synagogues by being given first rights at reading the Torah, etc. But are they in any overt position of authority? And if not, why not?
Daniel Gruber skillfully shows in Rabbi Akiba’s Messiah how both politics and forced interpretations (eisegesis--“reading into” the text of Torah) were means by which they co-opted and eventually ousted the Levites to make theirs the dominant version of Judaism, by which it is almost universally-defined today. But then how can we call it the same religion? If Christians are upbraided for “replacement theology”, is Judaism held accountable for doing exactly the same thing? Both groups tip their hats to the Torah, but neither really lives according to it anymore.
Christians adopted pagan holy days, but the rabbis also replaced the new moon and its contingent holidays with a contrived calendar. It does come pretty close—always within two days of the actual sighting, which is impressive for having been calculated hundreds of years ago. But if we are two days late or two days early for a moed (which means “appointed time”), can we still expect the One with whom we have the appointment to be there to meet with us in the same way as He prescribed? All the way back at creation, before there was ever a rabbi or priest or any man, YHWH made the moon one of the signs that defines the appointed times. (Gen. 1:14) Now that reports of new moon sightings can be transmitted anywhere in the world instantly, should we not go back to this clearly-constituted authority? And shouldn’t we restore the human authorities that Israel’s constitution (the Torah) actually recognizes?
But if we reinstate the priests, won’t we need to start offering sacrifices again?
That is an important point, because what ever gave us the right to stop them? Did we use the destruction of the Temple as a convenient excuse? (“Well, we can’t do that anymore, so I guess we don’t have to. After all, YHWH desires mercy and not sacrifice, right?”) Much of the framework of rabbinic Judaism was built around a crisis in which, for the last 40 years before the Temple was destroyed, the scarlet wool placed in the Temple at Yom Kippur, which used to turn white to show that YHWH had accepted the offering, no longer did. (Rosh haShanah 31b, 32a) Seth Postell points out that the rabbis surmised from this that YHWH no longer honored the Sinai covenant as the way to atone for sins.
But a succinct summary of all the sin and guilt offerings delineated in the Torah is, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” (Hebrews 9:22) This is a paraphrase of “The life of the flesh is in the blood. I have given it to you on the altar as an atonement for your souls.” (Lev. 17:11) Can that just be replaced with alternatives that seem less messy—giving charity, studying the Oral tradition, or a general doing of good deeds?
In these areas the rabbis do have an impressive record, to be sure, but do they really satisfy what justice requires? One of the foremost achievers in this vein (Acts 26:4-5; Galatians 1:13-14) and who remained a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), but realized it was not enough, described where this was kind of halakhah was taking his people: “They have a zeal for YHWH, but it is not based on a correct understanding, since they do not recognize the righteousness that is YHWH's, and so in seeking to establish their own [kind of] righteousness, they did not submit to YHWH's righteousness.” (Rom. 10:3)
If one has not lived a holy life but says the Sh’ma right before he dies, is that all it will take for him to be judged as righteous? That sounds like some kind of magic, or worse, witchcraft—trying to manipulate the spirits (in this case, YHWH’s own Spirit) to do what we want just because we say the right words. No, Torah says, “The blood shall be the distinguishing mark…When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” (Ex. 12:13) That is the only way given us to get around the decreed sentence. To fulfill all of the Torah’s requirements without the Temple, the need for blood as atonement must still be taken into account.
Yeshua’s way does account for this ongoing need. In that very same context—at Passover itself—Yeshua said, “This is my blood of the renewed covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Mat. 26:27-28; Acts 10:43 and Romans 3:25 give more details about how.) The blood we inherited from Adam was sin-laden, so for a time we could substitute the blood of innocent lambs, bulls, and goats, which had never sinned. But they could never truly pay for human sin; they temporarily pushed the debt threshold back so that we could still retain the relationship with YHWH until a real payment could be made. Finally, with Yeshua, there was human blood that was without blemish because the way YHWH had him born circumvented that curse, as I’ve detailed elsewhere. Just because the altar is gone does not mean we do not owe blood for our sins. Right at the time the crisis of the scarlet wool not turning white began, Yeshua’s blood was shed. YHWH showed that He had accepted Yeshua’s offering of his innocent blood by raising him from the dead. So there is blood available for the debt to be paid, but if we do not “sign up for the program”, we are still on our own and we still owe YHWH for our sins. The debt cannot just be cancelled; that would be injustice for the victims. It is paid in a different way than before, but it must still be paid. Unauthorized, “illegal tender” is not accepted as payment, but that is what the rabbinical method tries to use—a bloodless offering, which leaves the real debt intact and still growing.
Yeshua saw that they were on such a trajectory, and foresaw the terrible effects it would have on his family: “Woe to you, scribes and P’rushim—hypocrites who close up the Kingdom of the Heavens to the children of humanity, because you neither enter it nor allow those eager to enter [to do so].” (Mat. 23:13; that chapter gives many more examples in the same vein.) This would especially apply to “God-fearing” Gentiles who wanted to draw near and worship YHWH, but were barred from most of the Temple, though they did not share the same intentions the Seleucids did in the days of the Maccabees, when excluding foreigners was an understandable emergency measure.
And this still continues to this day, where righteous non-Jews are told they should NOT keep the Shabbat or keep kosher, but should limit themselves to the Noachide laws, because they are of a lower spiritual caliber than any Jew, observant or not! This does not take into consideration the fact that the lost tribes are returning. Another category besides Jew and Gentile exists, but rabbinic Judaism does not take this into account.
I am not saying any of this with a polemic, supersessionist, or triumphalist tone; I count myself to be both Semitic and Israelite, if not Jewish (not being from the tribe of Yehudah). I am not trying to convert anyone to a different religion. Rather, it is a matter of which vision of Israel is sustainable in any circumstance as well as transferable to all nations. Yeshua’s is both:
“Come to me, all who are working hard and are heavily-weighed down, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn of me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mat. 11:28-29)
Those to whom he was speaking knew exactly what he meant. In those days, the “yoke of Torah” was familiar terminology, since they hadn’t yet settled on the final draft of the Mishnah; each rabbi proffered his particular “yoke”: the halachic practices that to him constituted the main points of righteousness.
So what was Yeshua’s? Not “Christianity” as we know it, but transcultural Torah, also applicable outside the Land of Israel or the Temple: “‘Love YHWH with all your heart…’ and… ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. On these two commandments hang all the Torah and the prophets.” (Mat. 22:37-40)
Bar and Brosh point out that even some rabbis say that Moshe’s Torah will be replaced by a “new Torah” brought by the Messiah (Midrash Tehillim 146 and Yalkut Shemoni 429, affirmed by R. Joseph Telushkin). They concede that when he comes, we will all need to defer to his interpretation of Torah. (Midrash Elijah Zuta 20) I think it will be more a shift of focus or viewpoint on Torah than a complete replacement of it, but Messiah has already come and has shown us that his way of interpreting Torah is that our traditions are never to crowd out YHWH’s actual words or the welfare of our fellows, “and if there is any other command, it is summarized in this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Romans 13:9)
So it boils down to a relationship more than religion—a reconciliation, then friendship with the Creator that leads to respect for His creations, rather than so many isolated principles as such. Yes, the details are important, but they are just ways of expressing the fact that we “get it” when we see the big picture. And The longest-lived of Yeshua’s top students, who constantly emphasized that loving YHWH means loving His children as well, later summarized the whole matter as “His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 Yochanan/John 5:3) Well, guess what. Moshe said the very same thing: “This commandment which I am laying upon you today is not beyond your power to do.” (Deut. 30:11)
Some rabbinic commands, on the other hand, do seem to be beyond our power, especially when our own power is all that we have. Can we do all of them every day? For example, extensive prayers (repeated the same way each day), which must be done at breakneck speed to get them all in. How can anyone who has a job get all of these things done—or focus on what they mean? Or can only those wealthy enough to spend all of their time studying and praying be counted as righteous? And what if you don’t have a minyan (quorum) of ten? Must you be deprived of the right to pray certain prayers? Yeshua only said two or three need to be gathered in his name for him to add his endorsement to what we are asking the Father to do. (Mat. 18:20; Yochanan 14:13; 15:16) And that asking is simple: whatever we need that day. (Mat. 6:11)
He fills in the gaps. His “transfused” blood and the new spirit it brings (Ezekiel 11:19) revive the bodies damaged by Adam’s corrupted genetic code, making the commandments even less out of reach. (Romans 8:11) This new connection to Elohim replaces the weakened one by which we functioned before (like an electrical cord that had a short). He permits the Torah to be written on our hearts, making us WANT to obey from within (Jeremiah 31:33), and that is more than half the battle. There is something right inside us now that answers to the outward commands, so we are insiders to His ways; they are no longer foreign to us. (Ephesians 2:19) This is one reason his renewal of the covenant was offered “to the Jew first”—those who should have been able to understand this better than anyone, having grown up in a culture designed to lay out the best framework to grasp what YHWH was accomplishing through the Messiah. But the leaven that was already growing in that culture was beginning to make this harder to see.
From a sect that numbered a scant 6,000 in the time of Herod the Great, this “leaven” has permeated all of Judaism to the point that it is essentially what most people identify as Judaism now. Thankfully, some are bringing back the ancient ways. The faith of Yeshua, which also lost sight of its origins, is being reeled back in to its Hebraic character, too, as part of the restoration leading up to the Age to Come. But to warn those returning from the House of Yosef (the lost tribes) to avoid the pitfall of the leavened version, “YHWH says, ‘If you return, return to ME.’” (Jeremiah 4:1) Not to just anything that is called Hebraic.
That is why, after recognizing the paganism we needed to come out of, converting to Judaism will not put us in a better position before Elohim. Anytime we call something an “-ism”, it means something that started as a reality has grown too far and has either become unbalanced or claims to be the whole when it is only a part.
All of Israel is an entity created by YHWH. But yeast is not meant to be the first thing you smell or taste when you encounter a nice, fresh, warm loaf of bread. If you do, there is too much of it. So if we call it “Judaism”, maybe there is too much of “Judah” in the mix, crowding out the other tribes which are also components of Israel and whom Yeshua also came to redeem.
We hear it in all kinds of anachronisms like “Abraham the Jew” (there were no Jews until four generations later, when Yehudah first had children) or “when the Jews left Egypt”. (Did only one tribe leave with Moshe? Even Moshe himself was not a Jew, but a Levite.) Judah is part of YHWH’s “twelve-grain” loaf, but from the outset—even in the days of the tribe’s patriarch—we read that “Judah turned away from his brothers” and lived apart from them. (Gen. 38:1) Have they carried the “separateness” of the set-apart people too far?
There is a difference between the two kinds of separateness (p’rush and qadosh). Holiness is crucial, but distancing oneself from those with whom one is supposed to be united is not what holiness is about. It is not being different for the sake of being different, but for the sake of being right. But when we get it right, we want to spread that “rightness” so that not just we, but many others, can be right as well. It is not something to hoard, but to share, because this is one thing that does not diminish as it is distributed.
That is the very context in which Yeshua spoke of the leaven of the P’rushim—when, like Elisha before him (2 Kings 4:42-44), he kept on breaking the bread and it continued to be enough. (Mat. 16:9-12) Five loaves (5 books of Torah?) in Yeshua’s hands fed 5,000-plus (assumedly of the tribe of Judah), with enough for all twelve tribes left over. (Mat. 14) But he contrasted this with seven loaves (Torah plus Mishnah plus Gemara?) feeding only 4,000 with only 7 baskets-full left over. (Mat. 15) He related these two sets of numbers to the leaven of the P’rushim and the Tzadduqim too (who were particularly connected with the Temple, which had also grown far beyond the intimate prototype of the Mishkan/Tabernacle). There was not as many-fold an outcome, though they started out with more material. Their leaven did not go as far as Yeshua’s. Wait; Yeshua had leaven too? Yes, in the chapter right before all of these events involving bread, he said that leaven can also be a picture of the Kingdom, which grows until it permeates the whole world. (Mat. 13:33)
He wanted to be sure none of the leftovers were wasted. But what he actually said was “so that none may be lost”. (Yochanan 6:12) Israel was scattered everywhere so that in the process of finding us “lost sheep” (Mat. 15:24—mentioned right before the second feeding), many others who were already in our spheres of influence could also be brought into the righteous orbit of Israel.
The right kind of leaven feeds not just the separatists, but the rest who need it as well. Yeshua has other sheep who are not of the flock of Judah, but ultimately he wants to make all of them into one (Yochanan/John 10:16)—not all of them Jews, but all of them Hebrews (Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24), because he wants to bring reconciliation and make the two back into one again. (Ephesians 2:15) No more “ism” —not a philosophy or system; just a restored relationship with YHWH—and with our estranged brothers. “There is one bread; we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17)
The other tribes are now being gathered and have welcomed the one from Judah who earned the right to be king. Daniel (9:25-26) gave the time frame within which the Messiah had to appear. Additionally, the genealogies of the descendants of David were destroyed when the Temple was burned, so how could a later Messiah’s pedigree ever be properly proven? If he did not arrive before the Temple was destroyed, we have missed him altogether. If that is the case, the words of the prophets have all fallen to the ground and there is no hope for this world. That is not a prospect that I could live with.
The Talmud, in Sanhedrin 97a, uses Psalm 90 to postulate that the present world can last only 7,000 years, with the last millennium being the Shabbat, the Messianic Kingdom. But in that ethos, the 2,000 years prior to that Shabbat (the 5th and 6th “days” since Creation, are called “days with Messiah”—so what Messiah, if not Yeshua, have we lived with for the past (nearly) 2,000 years?
So if you are hesitant to give consideration to Yeshua (not the caricature “Jesus” that became an idol, but the genuine article) for the circular reason that “it is just not a Jewish thing to do”, we must echo the question that David asked of the elders of Judah—his own tribe—after Avshalom’s rebellion was quenched and all the rest of Israel was ready to restore him to his throne: “You are my brothers, my own bone and flesh, so why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house?” (2 Shmu’el 19:13) Aren’t you the least bit jealous of what is rightfully yours? Even the Muslims recognize who the Messiah is, even if they don’t understand what that means!
Don’t let the “leaven of the P’rushim” blind you to the obvious.