A Lesson from Habad and Natural Branches Outreach

February 26, 2015

I am a great admirer of Habad, and of the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zts"l. You can expect me to speak on these pages about him and about them from time to time.

One of the secrets of Habad’s dynamism has been its theological underpinnings whereby all Jews are regarded as having a special soul which is just waiting to be awakened to the world of Torah and mitzvot. In such a model, Jews are not regarded as a resistant class which must be won to a new perspective, but more as a sleeping army waiting to be roused. This perspective makes outreach to be an optimistic endeavor.

Fortunately, the realm of Yeshua faith offers a similarly positive and motivational construct which underlies natural branches outreach. To my knowledge no one follows this construct, although my colleagues and I in Interfaithfulness will be doing so.

I call this optimistic mindset "Natural Branches Outreach." This is an optimistic approach to Jewish outreach, seeing Jewish people as naturally inclined to be joined to God’s redemptive purposes in Messiah Yeshua, including a return to Torah and mitzvot, which I have explained at great length on these pages is clearly part of God's agenda for the Jewish people. Most succinctly, this juxtaposition of Yeshua faith and a Jewish return to Torah is expressed in Ezekiel 37:24:

“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd (This is of course the Messiah).  They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes (and this is a Jewish return to Torah)."

I am sorry to say that the general mindset in which most Jewish believers in Yeshua have been indoctrinated sees the Jewish public in negative terms as indifferent, resistant, difficult, or “gospel hardened.” These assumptions destroy motivation and engender adversarial approaches. They are foundationally pessimistic, and frankly, I want nothing to do with such a mindset. Do you? And is there an alternative?  Yes there is!  Natural Branches Outreach.

Natural Braches Outreach always remembers that Jewish people naturally belong in the olive tree of God’s redemptive purpose, so that even when broken off in unbelief, they are naturally disposed to be rejoined to that olive tree when the right conditions are fulfilled.

Paul discusses the natural branches metaphor in Romans 11:17-24, where he speaks of the Jewish people as natural branches, even when for a time broken off from the olive tree of God's redemptive purposes:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (Romans 11:17-24 ESV)

In accordance with Paul’s discussion in Romans 11, Jewish branches, even when broken off of the olive tree, remain natural branches such that the most natural place for them to be is rejoined to the olive tree.

It is unnatural for Jews to not be living Jewish lives, in rewarding relationship with God, and fullness of Yeshua faith. Therefore our goal is to bring them back where they have always belonged.

Our task is to give Jewish people delicious tastes of that redemptive reality from which they are currently alienated or of which they are unaware. Our task is to gently and appropriately help Jews to wake up to what they have been missing, confident that they will experience a sense of having “come home” when they deeply experience the reality and vibrancy of Jewish life, relationship with God, and Yeshua faith, in the power and Presence of the Ruach HaKodesh.

The outreach practitioner is not so much a sales person as a health professional assisting people in waking up from a dormant state, even from a coma, or if you wish, raising the dead with the delegated power that Messiah gives to us. Therefore, our approaches must be careful, individualized, gentle and patient.

Most people will not buy into this construct. It goes against the prevailing wisdom. But no one would have guessed that the Lubavitcher Rebbe could take a traumatized remnant of the Shoah and create a movement which is now the most dynamic movement in the Jewish world. For him to do so went against the prevailing wisdom.

Are you ready to go against the prevailing wisdom with me?  If so, get in touch with me at stuart@interfaithfulness.org and tell me about yourself. 

You might even add a comment or two here on this blog.




6 comments on “A Lesson from Habad and Natural Branches Outreach”

  1. Stuart -

    It isn't clear to me whether your intended audience is solely a Jewish one or not (particularly in light of your previous posting "It’s Not the Gentiles’ Fault, But They Can Be Part of the Solution".

    So, let me ask, what role do you see in this Natural Branches Outreach, if any, for people like me (Gentiles who have tried vary hard to "get it", and sought to come alongside the Jewish people, without trying to become Jewish)? I say "if any" because I am willing to accept that your response may well be "none at all" or "extremely limited".

    I have my own thoughts on the question, as you might imagine, but I'm genuinely interested in hearing yours, on your terms.

  2. Dear Stuart,
    Thank you for sharing this idea. It brought confirmation for me. The night before you posted this I was having dinner with my husband and we were discussing outreach and Messianic Judaism. I am also a great fan of the Rebbe and his work and I was explaining to Ken that I thought we need something similar to how Chabad does things. It would work. I know it would. So my question to you is how do we get started? We want to be part of this.

  3. Unless believers in Yeshua who are not Jewish (I personally do not like the term "believer" because he called them disciples=learners=imitators) are willing to change they way they approach Jews, there is a danger that the "indifferent, resistant, difficult, or “gospel hardened,” may actually be them. We from Gentile backgrounds should be more like the Canaanite woman who realized the incredible grace of knowing the Jewish Messiah and the Torah that was as Yeshua said, was really "the children's (Israel's) bread.
    Matthew 15: 24-27
    But he answered and said to them, “I am not sent except to the sheep that have strayed from the house of Israel.”...He said to her, “It is not good to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, my lord, even the dogs eat from the crumbs that fall from their master's table and they live.”

    We hear so much about faith, faith, faith in Yeshua, but I rarely here a sermon on:

    "Even the demons believe and shudder."- James 2:19
    Not everyone who says to me Lord Lord..."- Matthew 7:21

    How about our outreach being a simple, "Thank You" to a Jewish person, that because of their ancestors we know the Messiah and if we chose can live the principles of the Torah. Shalom.

    1. Thank you Stacey for your articulate contribution. Your call for gentile humility and respect cannot be heard too often. Likewise, your complaint that "believe" sounds too much like giving assent, and that faith is really something deeper and more costly.

      I would only add that Yeshua is presented in two identities in Scripture, with both being important, with neither to be confused with the other. He is first the Messiah of Israel, as the heavenly messenger said to those shepherds, "I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people (of Israel). Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Messiah, the Lord." In this identity, Yeshua is the Son of David, and he is good news for the Jewish people. But he wears another "hat," and that is, he is the Savior of the world. We find that in various places, such as the end of John 4 where the Samaritan woman discovers from Yeshua's own lips that he is indeed the Messiah. But later, the people in her city find out that he is not simply good news for the Jews. Here is what they say:

      Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, aand we know that this is indeed the Savior cof the world.

      We will later find out that another term for this is that Yeshua is the Lord of the Church.

      There you have it: Son of David, and Lord of the Church: therefore, Savior of all.

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