Joel of Jerusalem Feb/Mar 1981
I would like to tell you about an opportunity I had just a few days ago. On my way home from work, for some “unknown” reason I went by a different way than I usually take. As I was walking along I was wondering why I was there; how did this happen? But, I received the answer in the end.
It was a very warm day and I went home through the Mea-She’arim quarter of Jerusalem. That is where most of the extremely religious people live — people who have never left that small area in their entire lives because they were warned when they were young children that the people who live outside the Mea-She’arim quarter are atheists. Of course, what they have been told is not true, and you can easily see that even they do not really believe it when you walk through the streets. What my eyes saw that day was three young men who belong to one of the most fanatic groups, and they were gambling in the street, playing for money. How can this be, I asked myself, here in this most important religious section, Mea-She’arim, the “Holy of Holies” of Jerusalem where they are fighting against such things, that you can see such a nice “example” right in the street?
I felt I must know what was happening, so I took courage and asked the three young men, “Am I dreaming, or is it true what my eyes are seeing?” Then I said, “Mazel Tov” (good luck). The three looked at me with surprise and asked, “Why do you think you are dreaming?”
I answered, “Because I see here the same thing that goes on in the ‘free world’ outside of Mea-She’arim.” “And what do you see?” they asked. “Gambling!” I replied. “Today it is a lottery, I suppose tomorrow it will be card playing. This is a great surprise to me.” “Why?” they asked, and I answered, “Because it is written in the Bible, ‘. . . Ye cannot serve God and money’ [Mt. 6:24]. I also see that you are fighting against each other with all your hearts while you are gambling, and this is against the will of God. No one should know these things better than you. I am sure you are aware that what you are doing is against the Lord.”
They then said, “Now you are going too far. Tell us who you are, that you think you can tell us what to do. Look at yourself and look at us. We have our heads covered, but you are doing as the goyim [Gentiles] do, having your head uncovered.” I asked, “Is that all I am doing wrong? If so, I can tell you that you are blind.” “Why?” they demanded. “Because you think that all you have to do to please God is cover your heads,” I replied. “This is a big mistake which you always make.” “Do you want us to go around with our heads uncovered like you?” they asked. I said, “I cannot give you orders, I can only make a proposal to you.” “Let us hear it,” they replied.
“First of all,” I told them, “you must really want to follow the Lord. Don’t gamble, because this is against His will and it will not give you any success, only troubles. Also, you must stop making the mistake of thinking that covering your heads will please God. The important thing is that your hearts be covered with flesh and not stone.” At this they said, “You speak like an angel, but tell us who you really are.” This is a question I hear almost every day now, and so I was not surprised, and even though I was not in the best place to answer such a question, I went ahead, “If you want to know who I am, I will be glad to tell you. I am a Jew who is saved, and I believe on the living God.” They responded, “And now you have come here to teach us how to live? Weil, you can believe that we have enough teachers here, maybe too many.” “Yes, I can see that,” I told them, “but the sad thing is that you are going deeper into sin and there is no one who will come and tell you the truth about the Lord and how to be saved.” “Are you trying to tell us that our rabbis are not right?” they asked. I answered, “Your rabbis also need help from above, just as we all do. They are not special people, they are also mortal. Even though you have received your education from these highly educated men, I can see that you are in poor knowledge, and the rabbis are poorer than you.”
They then began to attack me with many curses, but I know what the Lord has said to us, “. . . bless them that curse you . . . pray for them who despitefully use you,and persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). As they were shouting at me,” a man with a long white beard, about sixty-five years of age, passed by the kiosk (small outdoor stand with a few tables where you can buy drinks and snacks) where we were talking. He was a rabbi and I stopped him and asked, “Do you see what your pupils are doing?” “They are not my pupils,” he replied, “they are only an imitation.” I could see that he was ashamed because of these three men and he said, “I am very tired, I must sit down.” He then took a seat at one of the tables and invited me to sit with him, even though the three were stilt shouting at me.
I brought a Coca-Cola to him, and it was now just the two of us speaking together. The rabbi said, “Tell me who you are.” You can see how many times I must answer this question, but this time it was something special. His question came from his heart and I felt that he was someone who was very thirsty, not for water but for knowledge. When I saw his white face and his eyes looking at me so intently waiting for an answer, I knew I must give it to him. I thought again of where I was — in the very headquarters of the most fanatic ones in Israel — and the three young men were still there, waiting to “eat me up” without salt because of their hatred for me. After all, I am a believer saved by the blood of the Lord, and I was against them because of their gambling, but I remembered that the Lord said, “Go ye . . . and teach all nations …” (Mt. 28:19).
And so, even though I was a little afraid from the beginning and I didn’t know how my mouth would speak, I received great courage from the Lord and said to this nice old man. You can see with whom you are speaking. I am only a man, but I believe on the living God.” “I do also,” he told me. I responded. But I have been born again.” “What!” he exclaimed. “Tell me this again.”
“Yes, I am born again,” I repeated. “How can this be?” he asked. “You are no longer a child, and you cannot possibly mean that you were dead and are now alive again.”
I told him, “I know this is going to be a great surprise to you, but I must tell you that, yes, I was dead in sin but I have been saved from my sins and now I am alive, because now I am born again in the Spirit.” When I said the words “born again in the Spirit”, it was something completely new to him and he said, “Born again? Born in the Spirit?” Of course, he thought I was crazy at first, but in time he came to realize what I meant and he became frightened. His whole body started to tremble, even though it was a very warm day, and I asked, “Are you not feeling well?” “I was feeling well,”’ he replied, “but now I don’t know what is wrong with me. This is the first time I have ever trembled so, and I myself want to know why.” I said, “It could be that this is the beginning for you and that soon you will become born again. I think that now you are only waiting for an order from above.”
He then said, “Please speak very quietly because, as you know, even the walls listen in this place.” In my heart I wanted everyone around us to hear the conversation, but knew this man was afraid and that he was so thirsty for the Word of God, and so I spoke softly. After awhile the rabbi said, “I am finished trembling and I feel fine again. Now I can open my mouth and speak. I was born in the Mea-She’arim section and now I am past sixty years old. Believe me, I know every stone in this place because I have never left this quarter in my whole life. My grandfathers came from Tiberias and Safad in the north of Israel They came here to Jerusalem where I was born and received my education. I am the seventh generation born in Israel.”
I told him, “I am sorry that you have lived all your life in such darkness. You have never seen the light.” “Oh, you are mistaken,” he said. “We have night and day here. Of course it is dark at night, but during the day we have light.” “No,” I responded, “here in Mea-She’arim you have darkness always, never any light. Since you are a rabbi, you may think it is wrong that I say such things to you, but if you would like to hear more, I am ready to tell you.”’ “Please tell me more,”’ he said.
I began, “Even though a man has a high education, without God in his heart he is walking in darkness. Even when the sun is shining brightly, he cannot see the true light. He only knows everlasting darkness, and especially here in the Mea-She’arim quarter. You can see with your own eyes the picture before you. Today they are gambling, tomorrow it will be card playing, and after that — well, who knows.” “What can we do to stop ali this?” he asked. I answered, “One way is to be an obedient child of God through trusting Messiah Jesus and following Him in the waters of baptism.”’ “What!” he said. “Never! Never! This is what the meshumeds [traitors or apostates] do. It is impossible to receive the Holy Spirit only by coming to the waters of baptism, as you have said.”’ “No, that is not what you must do to become born again,” I told him. “You must first give your heart to the Lord. The water will not wash away your sins. That is a sign that you have received Him as your Savior.”
We were having an absolutely open conversation, but I could tell that he did not want to hear about the Holy Spirit and so I said, “Let us try to speak more clearly with one another. I want to speak not only with my mouth, but with facts to back up what I say. Would you like to hear what our prophets have written about the Holy Spirit?” “Yes,” he replied, asking, “Do you have the Holy Scriptures with you?” I “just happened to have a small Hebrew Bible with me and read for him Ezekiel 36:25 to 27:
Then wilt I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your tilthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them.
After this he asked, “How do you know all of this?” “Because I am walking in the light,” I replied. Even at night when it is dark, the Lord is my light and in Him is no darkness.” “Ail of this which you say is good,” he told me, “but you must realize that I was born here and have lived my whole life here. Do you want me to leave this place now? Where should I go?” I responded, “How long will you continue in darkness? Is it not enough that you and your pupils have not the light? Do you want the generations to come to be in darkness also? They will be born in sin and will die in sin, and no one will come and say to them, ‘Enough! No more darkness! As it is written, ‘Arise, shine; for thy light is come . . . ‘ [Isa. 60:1]. Someone must tell the people this. You did not know these things but I have told them to you, and now you must go and tell your pupils. If this is hard for you, I will be glad to come with you. Surely you remember that Moses went to Pharaoh, even though he was afraid, because the Lord promised to go with him.”
I could see on his face that he was very close to crying. He was so friendly with me and wanted to hear more and more. He said, “This is the first lesson I have ever received in Mea-She’arim that has gone so deep into my heart.” Then I said, “Please, my friend, leave all this darkness behind you and let us walk together in the light of the Lord Jesus who died for you.”
It was interesting to see that the three young men I had been speaking with never stopped fighting among themselves while I was talking with the rabbi. I was sorry about this, because I felt the fighting was because of me and if they had not been fighting so, they might have heard our conversation. I wanted to try and stop them, but the rabbi said, “Let them fight. What the eye does not see, the heart does not grieve for.” “No, my dear friend,” I responded, “that is not the way the Lord wants it. If you become born again, they will also fight against you. You know yourself that in the beginning you were also against me, but now we are good friends, I have seen the hard way that it is easy to make enemies but difficult to make friends.
I then went over to the three and said. “Please do not continue your fighting. You must be tired of it by now. Let me invite you to have a Coca-Cola with me.” They accepted, and so I bought drinks for all of them, including another one for the rabbi. After that they forgot about their fighting and asked again, “ Who are you?” When the old man heard this, he said, “I must go now. I am afraid.” As he was leaving I said, “Remember, no more darkness,” and he replied, “Only light.” Then I turned my attention to the three young men and told them what they wanted to know — who I was and what I believed — and this time they listened.
I thank the Lord that He was with me that day, directing my path to that place and giving me the words to speak. Please pray for this dear old rabbi and for the three young men, that they would have their eyes opened and come to know Him who is the true Light of the world.