How do we get to heaven? Christians and Jews come up with different answers. While the rabbis do not dismiss the idea of the necessity of grace, which is so prominent in the NT, they emphasize following the commandments – the performance of mitzvot – to secure them a place in heaven:
- Therefore, when we study Torah and keep the Mitzvot we are in absolute communion with G-d… When Man observes the Mitzvot in deed, discusses the Mitzvot in speech, and concentrates and grasps all that his intellect is able to grasp of the Torah in thought, then Man’s soul is fully clothed in the Mitzvot and is in perfect unity with G-d.
For the rabbis, mitzvot-keeping is not just a hypothetical pathway to union with God but actual. According to them, many are achieving this union. Meanwhile, the entire Mosaic system yells “foul.” It informed the Israelite that no one could enter into the Presence of God – only the High Priest once a year on Yom Kippur – without suffering death. However, the rabbis claim that the Israelite could not only enter into His Presence but into a oneness with Him.
Contrary to this, rabbinic Kabbalistic theology claims that humanity can work its way up into the Presence of God, even to “perfect unity with G-d.”
In like manner, Rabbi Gerald Sigal writes that obedience is key:
- The fulfillment of all the promises God made to Abraham, both those made before circumcision and those made after, is contingent upon obedience to God’s will, not simply faith alone. (“The Jew and the Christian Missionary,” 274).
This would have been a surprise to Abraham who believed God, and his belief alone became the pathway to receiving mercy and the gift of imputed righteousness (Genesis 15:6), without any mention of his keeping the mitzvot.
In contrast to the rabbis, the HS prove:
- No one is deserving before God:
- Israel certainly wasn’t deserving:
- Grace will come to the penitent (repentant), not to the “deserving”:
- It is the penitent, not the deserving, who will unilaterally be given the grace of God in the end:
1. No one is deserving before God:
Instead of blessing, we deserve cursing as a result of our performance in obeying the mitzvot. This had been Moses’ judgment:
- “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deut. 27:26)
This stipulation placed a curse on everyone, demonstrating that blessing could not be earned or deserved but would be conferred on Israel by God’s mercies alone. We cannot earn anything from God. Instead, we need His mercy, as so many of the Psalm attest:
- If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. (Psalm 130:3-4)
- Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. (Psalm 143:2)
We are all sinners in desperate need of the mercy of God. In contrast to this dismal assessment, one rabbi wrote:
- Kabbalah states that the community of Israel, comprising 600,000 souls, is the general source of vitality for the world as a whole, for the world was created for the sake of these souls.
However, this directly contradicts everything in the HS. In fact, Moses warned the people against thinking that they were righteous or even deserving:
- After the Lord your God
has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has
brought me here to take possession of this land because of my
righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations
that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of
your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take
possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these
nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish
what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand,
then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God
is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.
In fact, at times Israel had morally descended beneath the other nations:
- “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: 'Because you have multiplied disobedience more than the nations that are all around you, have not walked in My statutes nor kept My judgments, nor even done according to the judgments of the nations that are all around you...'” (Ezekiel 5:7)... “Your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who dwells to the south of you, is Sodom and her daughters. You did not walk in their ways nor act according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you became more corrupt than they in all your ways” (Ezekiel 16:46-47).
Scripture also teaches the impossibility of earning anything from God, as He revealed to the contrite Job:
- “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:11)
- [Man] has the capacity to elevate and transform all of creation for a higher purpose. When one fulfills one’s duty [mitzvot-keeping] and mission in life, not only is the one’s goal in the scheme of Creation reached, but also helps the rest of the world attain perfection.
What hubris! Humanity fulfills nothing, and the law should have made this clear to Israel. Israel had been repeatedly warned against such arrogance. God had even taught Moses a song which the Israelites were to sing perpetually to testify against them and their future hubris.
Instead, we consistently fail to fulfill our “duty and mission in life,” as Paul’s quotations from the HS attest:
- “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.’" (Romans 3:10-12 quoting Psalm 14, 53; Rom. 3:19-20))
According to Job, it is delusionary to suppose that we will ever be in a position to earn God’s mercy:
- "What is man, that he could be pure, or one born of woman, that he could be righteous? If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is vile and corrupt, who drinks up evil like water! (Job 15:14-16)
In light of this, the rabbinic assertion that we can lift ourselves up is absurd:
- The beauty of Torah and Mitzvot is that through simple everyday actions that are well within the reach of normal individuals, every person can connect with the Divine and transform this world into an abode for G-d.
Instead, the Mosaic Temple communicated that Israel fell far short of God’s standards and dwelt under His wrath. Therefore, substitutionary blood sacrifices had to be continually offered to secure God’s forgiveness.
2. Israel certainly wasn’t deserving of any of God’s blessings:
The Prophets of Israel uniformly denounced Israel:
- “The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider. Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward.” (Isaiah 1:3-4)
Israel didn’t know God because they did not seek Him:
- For the people do not turn to Him who strikes them, nor do they seek the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 9:13)
- And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:7)
Israel did not seek God because they didn’t want God:
- “So will I choose their delusions, and bring their fears on them; because, when I called, no one answered, when I spoke they did not hear; but they did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight." (Isaiah 66:4)
- “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts; people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face; who sacrifice in gardens, and burn incense on altars of brick.” (Isaiah 65:2-3)
- “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds." But they did not hear nor heed Me," says the LORD. (Zech. 1:4)
Israel’s “obedience” had been superficial and hypocritical:
· “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals… Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!” (Isaiah 1:11-15)
If obedience is necessary to receive God’s blessings, then Israel and all humanity are without hope. All fell under a curse that only mercy could address! However, the rabbis have an inflated estimation of Israel’s faithfulness to their God:
· It is necessary to fulfill the practical Mitzvot performed by the body itself in deed. In this way the actual power of the body engaged in this act is absorbed into the Divine Light and will and unites with Him in perfect unity.
However, Israel’s failures were far worse than simply failing to be obedient. Instead, Israel utterly rejected their God:
· LORD, are not Your eyes on the truth? You have stricken them, but they have not grieved; You have consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to return. (Jeremiah 5:3)
· “Why has this people slidden back, Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return. I listened and heard, but they do not speak aright. No man repented of his wickedness, saying, 'What have I done?' Everyone turned to his own course.” (Jeremiah 8:5-6)
· “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hosea 4:6)
In light of these, how can the rabbis confidently insist that our deeds will unite us “with Him in perfect harmony?” Instead, all of the Prophets testify that Israel’s deeds have separated them from their God, something that Jewish history has made very clear.
Was there ever a Prophet who assured Israel, “You are doing a great job! Keep up the good work!” No! However, Scripture does make many promises that those who keep the commandments will be blessed. This, of course, is true, but Israel’s unfaithfulness disqualified them from this promise and qualified them for only the curse (Deut. 28-29)! Consequently, Israel could only hope for the mercy of God, but so often, their hope was focused elsewhere.
3. Grace and blessedness will come to the penitent (repentant), not to the “deserving”:
King David had committed adultery and murder. He deserved to die and he knew it, but he found God’s mercy:
- Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit…I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:1-5)
The Temple and the offerings symbolized the fact that blessedness depended not on what Israel earned but on whom they trusted. After Solomon commemorated the Temple, the Lord assured him that His mercy depends not a successful record of keeping the mitzvot, but on a repentant heart:
- “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14)
God would “freely pardon” Israel’s sins. It didn’t depend on Israel’s moral virtue:
- Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)
God demanded that Israel repent without having to first build up their portfolio with good deeds:
- "Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:30-32)
Having a change of heart was critical. If they truly repented, there would also be evidence of this. They would “Turn away from all your offenses.”
4. It is the penitent, not the deserving, who will unilaterally be given the grace of God in the end:
What do we find in the end when Messiah returns? Do we find Israel waiting expectantly, having fulfilled the mitzvoth? Not at all! Instead, Israel will mourn for having rejected their Messiah:
- “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zechariah 12:10)
There is no indication that Israel will wake up on their own and perform the required mitzvot, as the rabbis suggest:
- There are a number of ways conducive to hasten the Messianic redemption prior to its final date. Generally speaking these involve the observance of some special mitzvot which constitute comprehensive principles of the Torah.
There is no prophecy in the entire body of the HS that suggests that Israel will hasten the coming of their Messiah through their “observance of some special mitzvoth.” Instead, their Messiah will unilaterally open their darkened eyes:
- “They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.' (Jeremiah 32:38-41)
In fact, there is not a single prophecy that even suggests that God will re-establish Israel based on Israel’s worthiness:
- For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. (Ezekiel 36:24-29)
- My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him (14:4)… I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. (Hosea 11:7)
- Jeremiah 33:6-8 Behold, I will bring it health and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth…I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me.
Israel will receive all of God’s blessings apart from any mitzvot-keeping. Instead of God restoring Israel because Israel is worthy of His mercy, God will restore despite Israel’s ubiquitous unworthiness, evidenced even by the unbiblical theology of the rabbis.