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Serving Jesus through discipleship

Archive for the tag “Rabbi”

The Rabbi as Shepherd


The image of the shepherd and his sheep is frequently used in Scripture as a metaphor for the relationship between God and his people. Not only that, God often chose shepherds to lead His people. Abram, Moses and Davie for example were all experienced shepherds. This image sent a powerful message to the people of Israel because even to this day, a flock of sheep in Israel is dependent on the shepherd for survival. Israel is not a land of knee high grass and abundant water. The shepherd must lead the sheep daily to graze on short tufts of grass an hillsides and to drink from widely scattered sources of water. Without the shepherd’s leading, the flock would die.

The shepherd/sheep image describes the intimacy, dependence, obedience and faithfulness that characterize the rabbi/disciple relationship as well. The rabbi walks ahead and leads his disciples by his voice. Just as sheep follow their shepherd without understanding why the shepherd leads where he leads, disciples follow the rabbi by faith, trusting him to lead them in the right way to the right place. Following the rabbi is just as much a matter of life and death for the disciple as it is for the sheep that follow the shepherd.

Shepherd

Shepherd (Photo credit: AfghanistanMatters)

In contrast to sheep who follow their shepherd, goats often wander on their own, away from the shepherd’s chosen path, the “path of righteousness.” Goats require extra attention from the shepherd because they think they know a better path.

In light of this, consider what Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31-46, particularly verses 32-34, 41: “He will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on His right, “Come you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire.” The key difference between the sheep and the goats is that the sheep obeyed the shepherd; they did what He would do. The goats on the other hand, had no interest in what concerned the shepherd.

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Profile of a Rabbi


English: Rabbis Brown and Mayer talking with R...

English: Rabbis Brown and Mayer talking with Rabbi Aharon Feldman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Jesus day, a rabbi was not the head of a formal religious community or a synagogue as we think of a rabbi today. Instead, rabbi was an honored termof respect given to one who interpreted and taught the Hebrew Bible. Rabbi meant “my superior” or “my master” and came from a Hebrew root meaning “great” or “many”. Disciples and others used this term to refer to great scholars and teachers of the Scriptures who were also known as “sages”. After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, rabbi became a formal title for sage.

Rabbis played an important role in the Jewish spiritual culture because there were no formal seminaries at the time of Jesus. Each rabbi taught his disciples how the Torah should be interpreted and obeyed, and his disciples willingly submitted to that interpretation. A rabbi then was an honored teacher who was well versed in the text of the Hebrew Scriptures. He was highly respected for his knowledge, interpretation, and teaching of Scripture as well as for his personal righteousness. Following a rabbi required a deep commitment on the part of the disciple who would live with and follow the rabbi day in and day out for years in order to learn to be like him and live in obedience to God as the rabbi did.

For the Galileans, walking with God took priority over everything. So a rabbi and his disciples were highly respected by others in the community. A family or extended family group usually provided housing and food for a rabbi and his disciples. Because of the high respect for the study of the Torah, and the fact that the rabbi was leading other people to the kingdom of heaven and the life to come, each disciple was expected to honor his rabbi even more than his own father. It is difficult for Christians today to imagine such love and commitment to a human teacher, but that was the norm in Galilee.

All teaching by the early rabbis attempted to explain, interpret, and apply some portion of the Hebrew Bible. To the audience, the validity of the teaching depended on the rabbis ability to use a variety of passages in new and creative ways to illustrate the teaching with parable or metaphor, and to ground the teaching in text. whether they wanted to or not, people who heard Jesus teach recognized that He taught with authority.

In fact, Jesus best fit the type of rabbi believed to have s’mikhah, the authority to make new interpretations of the Torah. Most of the teachers of the law could only teach accepted interpretations. Teachers with authority, however, could make new interpretations and pass legal judgments.

Educated as a Rabbi

The Mishnah describes the educational process for a young Jewish boy during Jesus time.

At five years old [one is fit] for the Scripture, at ten years the Mishnah [oral Torah interpretations], at thirteen for [the fulfilling of the commandments], at fifteen the Talmud [making rabbinic interpretations], at eighteen the bride chamber, at twenty pursuing a vocation, at thirty for authority [able to teach others].

This passage clearly describes the education of a n exceptional student, because few students became teachers. It also indicates the centrality of the Hebrew text in the education of Jews in Galilee. A comparison of this description to Jesus’ life shows that He closely followed the customs of his time and place.

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