Zvi Dec/Jan 1993/1994
My watch stopped running recently and had to be repaired. I took it to a watchmaker in the Ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem because they are very good at this trade.
Two Hasidic men entered the watchmaker’s shop with me, and I allowed them to go ahead of me. Before discussing their business, they, as usual, started to speak about the weekly Scripture reading in the synagogue, and that led to a discussion about their study of the Talmud in the yeshiva (religious school). One of the men told the watchmaker, “Even if you are on vacation or have some free time here in your shop, you must continue to study the great books of the rabbis. It is against the law not to do so.”
I listened to them for a long time, and then I decided to enter the conversation. “If you are so faithful to God,” I commented, “you should know that study alone will not get you into heaven. You must bow down on your knees and pray to God. If your prayer comes from your heart, believe me, God will not ask you why you didn’t study the Talmud during your vacation.”
You can be sure that by now, even after such a brief statement, they were all against me. “What are we, Christians, that we should bow down?” they asked. I replied, “Was Daniel a Christian when he bowed down three times a day before God? Also, I can show you many instances in the Bible where our great prophets bowed down before the Lord. Were they Christians? David, who was our greatest king and is in the lineage of the Messiah—you sing every Sabbath, Messiah Ben-David—bowed down on his knees before God. He wrote in Psalm 95:6, ‘Oh, come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lᴏʀᴅ our maker.’ Was David a Christian? What about his son Solomon? The Scripture says that he ‘kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven, And said, O Lᴏʀᴅ God of Israel, there is no God like thee in the heaven, nor in the earth; who keepest covenant, and showest mercy unto thy servants’ (2 Chr. 6:13–14). Was he a Christian? And what about yourselves? On Yom Kippur, the great day of atonement, you bow down many times and cry ‘Adonai, Adonai’ [Lord, Lord]. If, as you say, only Christians bow down to pray, then you are just like them.” “Never!” they shouted.
By this time they had forgotten all about their business. They were too occupied with me. One of the men said, “It is a pity that our rabbi isn’t here. He would be able to answer you.” I asked, “How is it that you have studied all your lives, and you all are now past 70, and yet you cannot give correct answers about your faith? Don’t you see that all of your study is, as King Solomon said, ‘Vanity of vanities … all is vanity’ (Eccl. 1:2)? Many things come out of your mouths, but nothing comes from your hearts. As we say here in Israel, the mouth that forbids is the one that permits. Also, it is written in Proverbs 21:23, ‘Who so keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from troubles.’ If you truly desire to preach the good news about the Lord, I am sure that He will put the right words in your mouths.”
These men, who had grown very suspicious of me, displayed all the outward signs of being religious, but I could tell that they were empty inside, in spite of their long years of study. Then they asked, “Why do you try to act so religious? We can tell that you are not. You don’t pray in the synagogue, you have never studied the Talmud, and you don’t even cover your head, yet you want us to do what you say.” I replied, “I have never said that you should do as I say. Everything I have told you is from our own Jewish Scriptures. God has told us to obey the law of the Lord, to fear Him, and not to follow other gods, but what are you doing? Wasting your lives studying the writings and traditions of men, which have nothing to do with the law of the Lord. Believe me, your black clothing, long beards, and side curls do not bring glory to God. You have to give to God what we cannot see with our natural eyes—your hidden heart. You can hide the thoughts and intents of your heart from me and the whole world, but you cannot hide them from God. It is written in Proverbs 15:3, ‘The eyes of the Lᴏʀᴅ are in every place, beholding the evil and the good’ and again in 1 Samuel 16:7, ‘man looketh on the outward appearance, but the looketh on the heart.’”
The watchmaker then said, “This reminds me of an occasion a few years ago when a man came into my shop and spoke just like you. He was a missionary.” (In the same breath he said, “His name shall be cursed!”) “Are you one of them?” he asked. I told him, “You can curse my name and say whatever you like about me, but the truth is that I believe in the living God, Messiah Ben-David. You sing about Him every Sabbath, but you don’t believe in Him in your heart, where it really matters. Did you know that the words Messiah and Christ mean the same thing?” At this they all jumped around as if they had been bitten by a snake, and they said, “This can never be! We will ask our rabbi, and if it is not true, you will be in great trouble.” I replied, “I will be waiting for his answer.” Then I left the shop without ever handing over my watch to be repaired.
It is a sad thing to encounter such people, and I certainly do not enjoy such angry disputes, but the Lord has given me a job to do. He has made me, like Ezekiel, “a watchman unto the house of Israel” (Ezek. 3:17). You never know how the Lord will use such a situation, and He has said that His Word will not return unto Him void (Isa. 55:11). I pray that as these men continue their tedious study of the Talmud and other books of commentary, they will remember our conversation and turn to the Bible, the true Word of God. If they do, I know their eyes will be opened and they will surrender their hearts to Him.