"There is the Torah way and there is the wrong way," says the man preaching to the congregation. Is the speaker a traditional rabbi? Actually, he is John Hagee the Senior Pastor of a non-denominational evangelical megachurch and the occasion is one of many "Nights to Honor Israel" organized by the group he founded called CUFI, Christians United For Israel.
For those of us who love Israel and are deeply committed to her survival and well-being, it is hard not to be affected by the incredible outpouring of support, passion and general affection that is displayed at such events, whose participants are mainly Christians, but include as guests of honors Israeli dignitaries, rabbis and, touchingly, survivors of the Holocaust. Pastor Hagee does not gloss over the history of specifically Christian acts of anti-Semitism, proclaiming as part of his mission the repair of the damage done by different Church doctrines that made Jews targets of terrible injustices and violence.
As for the fear that his ultimate motive involves winning converts to Jesus, he has not only disavowed proselytizing to Jews, but he has even risked being seen as a heretic in the eyes of some of his evangelical brethren by seeming to imply that Jews can ultimately find salvation without coming to the cross. Although he has affirmed that he is not willing to go quite that far, it may seem that Hagee is modeling how a person can be passionate about their own religious truth and still have room to respect and even promote the faith of another.
However, that is not the case. As the quote with which I began avers, Hagee sees no room whatsoever for there to be validity in the faith of those who would not declare the Jews to be chosen, and the Five Books of Moses, the Torah, to be the only foundation upon which truth may be laid. Although I deeply appreciate how much he and others have done to increase goodwill toward Jews and support for Israel within the Christian community, it is Hagee's certitude about the implications of the chosenness of Jews and our promised land that causes me to part ways.
When I look to the Torah, I do not see a static set of injunctions, directives, stories and blessings. Instead, I see the window into the countless generations of interpretations and conversations that have produced a framework not only for meaning, but for inspiring new creativity. The same Torah on which is founded the Sabbath and dietary laws that I practice is also the source of understanding the image of G*d imprinted on each person from which many Jews derive our recognition of the sacred in same-sex relationships. The same Torah teaches the holiness of the Land of Israel is also the source of the responsibility to each other that inspires many Jews to dream of and work toward establishing peace with our Palestinian neighbors and Muslim cousins. And while many Jews are comfortable saying, as Hagee does, that only the "Torah way" as they understand it can be true, many Jews, including the majority in Israel, want to make sure that there is complete freedom of religion in Israel, including freedom for Jews who believe differently.
This time on the Jewish calendar is a period called the Omer in which traditionally each day and each week is counted with a special blessing in order to fulfill the commandment in Leviticus, "Count for yourself seven complete weeks ... 50 days." These weeks are the days leading from the festival of Passover and the Exodus from Egypt and the Festival called Shavuot (Pentecost) on which we celebrate receiving the Torah. According to one tradition, it would have made sense that we would receive Torah immediately after the Exodus in order to cement the seamlessness of freedom from slavery and the command given on Mount Sinai. However, instead, we not only wait 49 days before celebrating Torah, we make a point of counting each day of each week separately to show that there are multiple facets and ways to embrace the meaning of Torah.
The 33rd day (Lag B' Omer), which is today, has become a special day that for many is synonymous with the Jewish mystical tradition that a brilliant rainbow will appear when the world is ready for redemption. For me, this image is even further sharpened by the way this time itself broken into sevens, in its days and weeks. Just like a prism that refracts white (really invisible) light into seven colors, the Torah itself refracts the unknowable and invisible truth into a rainbow of possibilities. It is this rainbow lens that I see when I look into the same Five Books of Moses that are also so central for Pastor Hagee. Not a right way and a wrong way but a way of seeing the world as open to many truths. How do I know it now? Cause the Torah shows me how.
For more on the Omer, join the HuffPost Religion virtual community by visiting the liveblog, which features inspiration and teachings for all 49 days of spiritual renewal between Passover and Shavuot.