Ki Tetze - August 21, 2021

Torah Portion:
Ki Tetze - August 21, 2021

Torah: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-54:10

Devotional by Matt Rosenberg:
Completely Other
Right in the middle of a seemingly random list of laws found in this Torah portion is this commandment:

"You are not to wear a woven mixture, wool and linen together. You are to make for yourself twisted threads on the four corners of your garment in which you cover yourself.” Deuteronomy 22:11-12 (TLV)

Why would God ask us to not mix wool and linen into our clothes? The answer is that God requires Israel to be completely other. When it comes to observing Torah, people (typically a Christian who doesn’t “keep the Law”) often ask me, mockingly: “So do you not mix fabrics in your clothes?” My answer: Of course I do.

But not mixing fabrics is not a commandment in the Torah. It’s only one mixture that matters, wool and linen. I mix those as well. But, like many Jewish people for at least 2,000 years, I only mix wool and linen on one part of my clothes: my Tzitzit (fringes). Why would we intentionally mix them when we are told not to? Of course you have to understand the context of why we were told not to in the first place.

In Exodus 28 and 39 there are descriptions of the clothing that God commanded the priests to wear and a set of commands for the garments of the High Priest. All of the descriptions include both wool and linen. The reason God commanded the Israelites to not wear wool and linen is because the combination of wool and linen is one of the ways the priesthood was set apart, completely other, from the rest of the people.

In turn, the rabbis from the Babylonian captivity began to teach that Tzitzit should be made of wool and linen for every man. Why would they do something directly against what the commandment seems to teach? There is a beautiful specificity in the idea that the only garment that combines wool and linen on a Jewish person’s body are the fringes that God commanded us to wear in Numbers 15:37-40. Traditionally, these fringes represent the commandments that set Israel apart from the nations. It’s a tangible reminder that the priesthood is set apart and that the Jewish people are set apart from the nations. Set apart for what? To be completely other. But that otherness is not to disconnect us from other people; rather, it is the set-apartness that is designed to draw people back to God.

Being set apart does not make us better or more righteous. Commandment-keeping is not the point by itself, since it doesn’t earn us anything. The basis of the covenant between God and the Jewish people is God’s love and mercy for His people. When Israel understands God’s unmerited grace and mercy towards us, we are supposed to extend that grace and mercy to the nations. When followers of Yeshua understand God’s unmerited grace and mercy towards us, we are supposed to extend that grace and mercy to everyone around us.

As a Jewish follower of Yeshua, I wear Tzitzit. When Jewish followers of Yeshua ask me, “Should I wear the fringes?” My answer is yes! It’s a part of the covenant that God made with our fathers. Should Gentiles wear them? No and maybe yes! While Gentiles don’t share the same obligation since the covenant was not made with them, there are plenty of Gentiles who do and can; it’s just not commanded by God for Gentiles. The command for Israel speaks to the uniqueness of the Jewish people and our calling from God to be completely other and to reach the nations (Gentiles).

The desire of the rabbis to encourage Jewish people to mix wool and linen in their Tzitzit comes from Exodus 19:6, “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Peter quotes Exodus when he wrote to Jewish followers of Yeshua, reminding them in 1 Peter, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” If the priesthood is completely other from the Jewish people and the Jewish people are a “kingdom of priests and a holy (completely other) nation,” then distinction matters. Not as many have understood it—not distinct as in better, but distinct in our purpose. The Lord says it in Isaiah 49:6, “It is too trifling a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved ones of Israel. So I will give You as a light for the nations, that You should be My salvation to the end of the earth.” Too small a thing to save just Israel, you, Israel will be a light to the nations and bring salvation to the ends of the earth! Of course, that is exactly what Yeshua’s Jewish disciples did!

Let’s not get it twisted (see what I did there)—God gave Israel, the Jewish people, a set of commandments to keep us completely other from the nations, with the end goal being that the nations come to the God of Israel as Gentiles. Not to become Jews, not to convert to another religion, but to turn to the God who formed each of us in our mother’s womb. Today, God is calling all people, Jew and Gentile, who follow Yeshua to be completely other. Not by everyone doing the same thing in the very same way, but by finding practical ways to express our otherness in order to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Yeshua as they are.

It’s why we often say, “At Restoration, Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles, but we all belong to the family of God, together!” Different expressions united in our hope that not only did Messiah come, but He will return for everyone who calls on His Name!

Lord God, and God of our Fathers,
Help us to know who we are in You. Help us to be completely other—not just different in the ways we want to be, but to listen and pay attention to the things You want us to do differently. Make us people who light up the darkness with the grace and mercy of God.
In Yeshua’s Name, amen.
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