Zvi Dec/Jan 1991/1992
It is written in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lᴏʀᴅ is the beginning of wisdom,” and so it must be.
My wife suffers from rheumatism, and recently her doctor prescribed a visit to the Dead Sea. Many people from the Middle East, Europe, and other parts of the world come to the Dead Sea to soak in its therapeutic water, and on our visit we encountered people from many countries. Among them was a group of Jews from Yemen, most of whom are ultra-Orthodox. What’s more, they believe in many old traditions handed down from generation to generation. I know their mentality, customs, and culture very well, and shortly after we arrived that morning I began to talk with them. They were very pleasant, and although I was the only Ashkenazic (European) Jew among them, we soon became friends and spent many hours in conversation while bathing in the Dead Sea.
As evening approached, one of the men said, “It is time to pray the Maariv [evening prayer],” and immediately there arose a heated debate. And what was it about? Some of the men said that the Maariv should be prayed at 8:00 p.m., while others said it should be prayed at 7:30 p.m.! Of course I was listening in on their conversation—but only listening. Finally one of the leaders, an old man with a long white beard, said, “We have an Ashkenazi among us, so why are we having this foolish discussion? Let’s ask his opinion.”
I had prayed for such an opportunity, but I left it in the Lord’s hands, and He graciously answered my prayers. The man who spoke was a rabbi and he said to me, “You see the dispute that is going on. Tell these people what time we should pray the Maariv.” I replied, “God doesn’t put advertisements on the street corners telling us when to pray. It is written in Psalm 121:4, ‘Behold, he who keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.’ If you are a few minutes late in praying it is not the end of the world. God is always awake, and He always hears when we pray. We can pray to Him at any time of the day or night. The important thing is that we come to Him with an open heart. If you pray from a prepared list of requests or from a prayer book that was written for you by someone else, it is not, in my opinion, true prayer. It is more like dictation that a boss gives to a secretary, who then sends it on to another.”
They were surprised at my attitude and asked, “How can you pray without a prayer book?” I replied, “Nowhere in the Bible is it written that you must read your prayers from a book that someone wrote for you. How can you call that prayer?”
This statement caught their interest, and they told me they had never talked with their rabbis about such things. Then they asked, “How do you pray?” I replied, “First I read the Bible, and then I pray, opening my heart to my Heavenly Father. In Psalm 117:1 it is written, ‘Oh, praise the Lᴏʀᴅ, all ye nations; praise him, all ye people.’ Therefore, I praise His holy name. But I can tell that you have boycotted the Bible and everything that is holy, adhering instead to your old, traditions, which are nothing more than vanity of vanities. It is written in Proverbs 31:30, ‘Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain,’ but this is what you are worshiping, and your children also, and your children’s children. Where will it all end? Someone must open your eyes and warn you about such vanity. Again, it is written in Jeremiah 31:29–30, ‘In those days-they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity.’”
Most of the Yemenite Jews are very religious and know the Scriptures, but their problem is that they cannot break away from the traditions of their fathers. Now these men started to ask me questions about the Bible. I answered them very carefully, not wanting to offend them and lose the opportunity to have further contact with them. After a while the rabbi said, “This has been a good time of questions and answers, and you are a very interesting man and also very serious, which is good because now I want to ask you a serious question. When do you think our Messiah will come?”
Since the beginning of this long conversation I had been waiting for this one question, and I thanked God that it came from the rabbi. I said, “You may not believe what I am about to tell you, but it is, nevertheless, the truth. Do you see this small Bible I am holding?” “Yes,” he replied. I then handed it to him and said, “Please read aloud the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. I am sure that in it you will find the answer to your question.” He took the Bible and said, “This is the book of books.” “It certainly is,” I replied, as I helped him open it to Isaiah 53. He read the entire chapter and then said, “Tell me, what is the meaning of this?” I responded, “I know that you have never read this forbidden chapter.” Then I started at the beginning and explained each verse, making very clear the meaning of these important words.
When we finally ended our conversation, it was far past the time for the evening prayer, but I had the joy of praying with them and for them with an open heart before the Lord. I thank God that He gave me the great privilege of being His servant among these ones who were, as God told Moses, “a stiff-necked people” (Ex. 32:9). Please pray that the Lord will give me further opportunity to speak with these people and that they will open their hearts to Him as their Messiah. Pray also for my wife as she suffers with rheumatism and is recovering from serious cornea transplant surgery.