As you all know, I have spent the last month working on my writing. Many people suggested that my writing be autobiographical, and indeed, it was… First, I’d like to thank all of you for your prayers and encouragement. I thought I would share one of the chapters I enjoyed writing, from something that happened during my first year in Israel. I hope you enjoy it, and that it is encouraging as well…
Rabbi Moshe and his wife were newlyweds. They were sent to Tiberias via the Habad Movement, I learned later, to fight missionaries. I did not know this when they arrived though, and it wouldn’t have made any difference if I had known.
One of my friends had overheard a conversation in the office. Apparently Moshe and Miriam were scheduled to arrive on a Friday afternoon, just before Shabbat. Yochanon, some other friends of mine, and I asked the office what they were doing to prepare the room for them. The response shocked us:
“Nothing, it’s not our problem. They are ones that decided to arrive on a Friday.”
We developed our own welcoming committee, bought plastic plates, silverware, kosher pre-cooked food, bottled drinks, the works. We wanted to be sure they had enough supplies until Sunday so that they could enjoy their first Shabbat in Israel. Yochanon demanded to have the key from the office staff. It didn’t take much demanding. No one wanted to stay late to greet them.
We sat in the lounge and waited for them to arrive.
Around two in the afternoon, only 2-3 hours before sunset, the young family arrived. The taxi driver pulled up, dumped their luggage on the sidewalk, and they entered the gates of the Mercaz looking quite dislocated. Yochanon greeted them and we all went to get the food out of the refrigerator. He helped with the luggage and took them up to their apartment. We got the rest of their things from the office as well: pans, dishes, blankets, sheets.
I wish you could have seen their faces when we walked into their apartment carrying everything. Yochanon had just finished explaining where everything was, and showing them how their air conditioner worked. They had been there long enough to note the empty refrigerator and sheetless beds. In we all came. Messianic Jew, British Jews, Indian Jews, ex-Foreign Legion Dutch convert to Judaism… Moshe in his black hat. Baby sleeping in a stroller, and Miriam looking young, bewildered, and the hair of her blond wig mussed from the long flight.
We helped them set everything up, put everything away, told them what rooms we were in if they needed anything else, and left them, looking happy and relieved. They told all of us afterwards that it was the most amazing welcome they ever could have had, surely HaShem had sent us to bless them.
Moshe made it a point to get to know all of us, and often invited different families or singles for a Shabbat meal. As we got to know each other, it was mostly on the general helping level—no religious discussions. Because I was working as a visiting nurse I had a good knowledge of which buses went where, how to find which store, and where most of the roads went. Information that a new comer found greatly helpful.
I’ll never forget our first discussion about faith and I told him that I believed in Jesus. He was shocked. I responded, “Why are you so surprised? Everyone must have told you by now what I believe.”
“They have,” he answered. “And I told them I refused to believe it unless I hear it from you. You are too Jewish to be a Christian. I know. I converted from Christianity to Judaism.”
That blew me away. I smiled, and said, “Well, now you have heard it from me.”
To my surprise, he and Miriam remained quite sociable with me. Looking back, I am grateful. If they had rejected me, how would I have been shaken out of the darkness I’d fallen into.
With the things that had happened, my disillusionment with faith, and my pushing God into the background, the depression I was in was clear to anyone who wanted to see it. It was very obvious to Moshe. He kept asking me if I wanted to study Torah with him. I kept saying no.
But I was watching him. The man was so confounded happy all the time. He reminded me of some Christian friends I’d had in America when I was in college. I thought they must have been born with smiles pasted on their faces.
One day, as I was walking to the Mercaz (immigrant absorption center) after work our paths intersected. We exchanged greetings and then he tried again. “Debbie, are you sure you don’t want to study Torah with me? I know you would find it interesting.”
His kindness, his persistence, and his smile got to me. “What would we study?” I asked.
“You pick the topic. Whatever you want.”
That caught me by surprise. I could choose what to study? I looked at him and his cheerful affect. “OK,” I said, “I’d like to study this—why are you so happy all the time? Why should I love God?”
A brief look of surprise passed over his eyes, and then he answered, “We can do that. I’d be glad to. When do you want to start?”
We had arrived at the Mercaz as we talked, and so, having set a day and time, I went up to my room and thought nothing more about it.
Quite truthfully, I only remember one lesson that Moshe taught—it would be our last lesson.
Each lesson I brought a notebook with me and would take notes. I rarely took a lot of notes, though sometimes something he’d say would give me cause for reflection and I would write it down.
I came in, as usual, and our lesson started, as usual, with a passage from Scripture. That day it was Psalm 119:89
Your word, O LORD, stands firm in the heavens forever.
We read it together in English and in Hebrew. Moshe then turned and asked me, “What is a word?”
I felt my stupid blank look directed towards him, “something I say?”
“More than that,” he prodded, “Be specific.”
“Something that means something?”
Moshe was silent. Wrong answer. I thought a bit harder. “I don’t know, words are, words, we speak them we use them to communicate.”
With a voice of exasperation that I rarely heard, Moshe responded, “Debbie, I expect more from you. You write poetry and stories. You live with words. What are they?”
Pushed to think, pushed out of my hardness, I thought quietly, and finally said, “The spoken expression of who I am?”
“Excellent!” Moshe was excited. “You got it.” He turned and pointed to our passage. “Now, do you see what is wonderful, what is amazing in this verse? Why you have to love God?”
I felt dumb now. “No.”
“Debbie, what are words made up of,” he knew where he wanted to go with this, but I didn’t.
I answered, “Letters.”
“Right! You got it!” Then he surprised me, “Let’s go to Genesis 1:3. Read it.”
I looked up the verse and read out loud, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
“Now read Genesis 1:6.”
I read that out load as well. “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.’”
Moshe looked at me expectantly, “Do you see it? Look at verses 9, 11, 14. What do these all have in common?”
I read through the verses and then looked up, “And God said?”
“Debbie, it’s more than that. What did God say?”
I had no idea what he wanted me to say, didn’t it say what He said? “Let there be…?”
“No,” he was obviously doing all he could to maintain his patience. As he did, I realized that at a certain level, I was being almost deliberately obtuse. I tried to focus more on what he wanted me to understand.
“When you read, ‘Let there be light,’ ‘Let there be an expanse,’ and so on, what are your reading.”
I could only think of one logical answer. “Words?”
“Excellent!” Moshe smiled and pointed to the Hebrew text. “And as you said, the words are made up of letters, correct?”
“Yes.” I knew that answer.
Moshe moved into teaching mode. “Debbie, there is something here you cannot fully grasp when reading the text in English. If I write a word, and remove the vowels, will you still be able to read the it?”
“And if I spell the word with all the letters, but get one wrong, can you understand it?”
“And if I forget a letter, will you be able to understand it?”
I nodded. “Yes, most likely.”
Moshe nodded agreement. “In Hebrew this is not the case. If you remove a letter from a word, that word no longer exists. It essentially becomes a different word with a completely different meaning.”
He continued, “In the creation event, God used words, the spoken expression of Himself. And in Psalm 119, when we read that God’s word stands firm in the heavens, this means His word is perfect and unchangeable. Not one letter can be removed from what He spoke, the spoken expression of Himself bringing all things into existence. If we tried to change His word, which we can’t, but if we did He would stop being God…”
As Moshe was speaking, his words begin to resonate within me, and I began to write, but what I wrote were not notes on what He was saying, but the revelation that God was giving me as He brought to memory verses learned long ago. I was not thinking chapter and verse, but rather words, remembering His words and connecting them with what Moshe had said
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
Jesus is the spoken expression of who God is, I wrote.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Jesus is the WORD that was spoken, resulting in creation, I wrote.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
Jesus is the Spoken Expression of Who God is, which means Jesus is God, I wrote, and I believe in Him, God exists, Jesus exists and it all fits together… I’ve been focusing on externals, what people say and do rather than on WHO God is, on the spoken expression of God on Jesus… I wrote.
Moshe interrupted my thoughts, “What are you writing?”
I started in surprise. I had truly missed everything else he’d been saying as I’d written the verses and my startling revelation. I looked at him, and realized, he had given me back my faith in God and in Jesus, and he would not be happy. “I was writing notes from what you said.”
“Wow, I’ve never seen you write notes like that before. Can I read them?”
I knew I had to let him read my notes. “Yes… but you won’t be happy.” I handed my notebook to him.
He took it and began reading. I could see his reaction as he read further into my notes. He finally reached the end and looked at me in shock. “I said that?” and he pointed to the notebook.
“Well, not exactly.”
He urged me on. “Exactly what?”
I explained to him what I had been going through spiritually and how as he had spoken, it was as though God had turned on a light in my mind and in my heart. I had discovered my solid foundation in the WORD. And I was truly grateful. I had needed this lesson.
“This is not what I meant to teach you.” He protested.
“I know,” I answered, “But it is what God wanted me to know and all I can do is thank you.”
We parted ways, me joyful; he for the first time looking sad and thoughtful.