Blind Passage: Karaite Perspectives
To know the past is to know the future. It is the overall message of the Old Testament, the Torah, or the Bible as you may wish to call it. To some they will see it as the recorded history of the Children of Israel. Others will see it as the foretelling of the future of how things will be once again. Filled with the past but brimming over in prophecy. As we sit around the Passover dinner table we are instructed not only to remember the past as the Lord brought us out of bondage from Egypt but to actually relive the event through song and ceremony. Our history impacts on everything we do and everything we are yet there are those amongst my own people that have said, “Of what use is history, of what purpose can the present serve?” Only the future holds any meaning to them and I for one cannot understand their thinking, for as Karaites if we are not a people of history, then what are we. Our entire faith is built on the past, An everlasting past with laws, commandments and customs that were forged three millennia ago but still govern our actions unto this day. So every time we pick up the Tanach to study we are historians, seeking how these ordinances came about, why we were instructed to behave in a certain manner, understanding our roots and our differences from other people. How someone may believe that they can avoid the historical and yet be Karaite is beyond comprehension. What they are seeking is blind faith, to follow teachings like a man walks down a blind passage, reaching only a dead end with no progress, no purpose and no hope of reaching the true destination. Those are the guidelines of other faiths, that say to their followers, believe this because we told you it was so and do not question us if you consider it impossible because then you are condemned as one of the faithless and cast into hell. Those are the repressible religions of dogma and myths, the antithesis of Karaism and why Anan ben David insisted that we read everything for ourselves and draw conclusions by ourselves so we are not reliant on the twisted concepts of misguided men serving their own end. Therefore I encourage you, if you truly believe in Karaism to read, to question, to search and to discuss. That is the greatness of our faith as we find the God of our forefathers, the Almighty of our present and the Lord of our future.
Once Were Strangers
"Forget not that once you were strangers in a strange land," said God to the Children of Israel. It was His way of telling us that we must always respect the strangers, the Gentiles, those who believe differently from us and not condemn them for it. Something so clear could not possibly be confused with thinking that it was referring to being strangers within our own community, yet there are those that wish to express their xenophobia amongst my people by believing it so. God was reminding us that as a people, as a nation, we must interact with others in this world that do not share our same beliefs or customs. But in so doing, we should not shun them or fear them because though they do not believe in the same way we do, ultimately, they do worship the same God, even though they might not know it. That universal truth is expressed as follows from Malachi 1:11, "For from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name is great among the Gentiles and in every place incense is offered up unto my name and a pure offering, saith the Lord of Hosts." God informs us that he receives all their offerings, he is the one they pray to, though they may not realize it, for he is the one and only God and it is only a matter of time until the Gentiles realize it.
And when they finally realize it, as it says in Zechariah 8:23, "Ten men from the Gentiles of various tongues shall take hold the garment of the Jew, saying, We will go with you for we have heard that God is with you." That which they believed was their God they now realize was our God and that we were never strangers but brothers and they return to the fold.
And in the end, there will be no strangers as they will become part of us for so it is written in Isaiah 14:1, "And the strangers shall be joined with them," further emphasized when it says, "Ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles and in their glory ye shall triumph." We will rejoice in that the strangers have finally adopted our ways (we eat their riches and thus they assimilate to our ways).
The beauty of Karaism is its founded in tolerance. Of course there are those that say that Anan ben David was anything but tolerant, and the Ananites were extremists in their views. And this leads me to a common failing that we often commit, to judge a man by his followers and not by the actions or sayings of the man himself. Initially Anan did attempt to be more stringent in his adherance to the Torah than the Rabbanites that had put him in prison for refusing to step down as Exilarch, the position he was rightfully entitled to.
When one reads Isaiah 2:4, one naturally thinks of warring nations. After all the reference is to swords. But why strike them into plough shares, the word strike implying hammering as in working at a forge. Of course the imagery is nice, but so would have been the concept of beating their swords into writing implements, implying they became creative, or into shepherd's crooks implying that they went out to help or lead others, etc. The imagery of transformation specifically referred to ploughshares, an implement for tilling the earth, making a furrow so that seeds could be planted. Seeds being life and so we have the reciprocal transformation of death into life. Remorse and sorrow into hope and delight. The reference is far more global than the concept of war; it is about attitudes. About how we treat our fellow man, instructing us to shed wrath for kindness, hatred for love, anger for happiness, and intolerance for tolerance. Therefore to be Karaite is to respect the interpretations, the views and insights of others, knowing that they may be dissimilar from our own but accepting that as long as they are not in conflict with the Torah then those views are of equal standing to what we choose to believe.
And there are those that ask, "Why do I spend so much time examining the history of Christianity and discussing the errors in its interpretations." A fair question since my entire series 'To My Brother Yeshua' is dedicated to exactly that. And my answer is quite simple. Because it is in the Tanach to do so. Those that cast hate upon other faiths, condemn their ways and pray for their demise have failed to understand the prophet Isaiah's statement in 2:3 where he says, "And many nations shall go and say, come let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He shall teach us in His ways and we will walk in His paths, for out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." It is clear, at least to me that we should not shun the Gentile but teach them the error of their ways so that eventually we can lead them along the path of true enlightenment. As it is commanded in the Tanach, so shall it be adopted as an instruction amongst the Karaites. But there are still those that will claim we are not to waste our time trying to re-educate them from their mistakes, that the saying of the prophet indicates that some will find that path on their own and the others don't matter at all; let them perish. If that was the case then it would be hard to explain the sentence, "For the instruction shall proceed from Me and I will make my judgement rest as the Light of Nations." then in Isaiah 42:1, "Behold the servant on whom I shall rely, for he as judge and teacher shall carry out judgement among the Gentiles and they shall wait for his instruction." One must remember that the word Torah means instruction and improvement, but in the context of the Books of Moses, this instruction has commonly become known as The Law. It is obvious from these verses in Isaiah, when they are clustered together that God did not expect the Gentiles to just stroll up the mountain one day on their own accord, but that they would do so because the servants of the Lord, ie. Children of Israel, the Karites, etc., would spend the time teaching and instructed them until they adopted the Torah as the only Law of God. And how do I know that the reference to the servant was a reference to the Children of Israel, because that too was explained just prior in Isaiah 41:8-9 where it says, "And thou, O Israel, my servant Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, my friend." So the answers are obvious, we must be the light, we must teach them, and we must bring them back to the path as God has instructed us. As the Psalmist describes the importance of our instructing the Christians and others in Psalm 96:3, "We relate His glory amongst the Gentiles, His wonderful works amongst the nations." Unlike the Rabbanites who wished to keep the Law of Israel to themselves, we see that it was always his plan to disperse us amongst the nations so that we would instruct them in the Law, and relate the glory of the one and only God and spread his wonderful works amongst the nations. That is what Karaites do!
There are those that have understood the Torah as claiming the only ones to teach the people the Laws of Moses are the Kohenim, the High Priests, the sons of Zadok. And here I am, the son of Yoseph, of the designation Kahana, of the House of Phiabi, of the Family of Aaron of the Tribe of Levi and I disagree totally. You put too much faith in men of my caste if you think we are the only ones fit to teach. To view the tombstones of my ancestors is to see the words engraved upon them that read 'ha kohen' and what does that truly tell you. Besides being designated as priests, does it tell you if they were good men? Does it tell you if they were intelligent or caring? Can you know if they were compassionate or loving? They are words and they tell you nothing of the character of the man. The true teacher is not the one born of a title to do so but the man that extends his hand down to the stranger that has fallen to help him back to his feet. He has not done so for any other reason than because he can.
And what does the Lord our God say about those who should teach the people? If we read Joshua, then we know that he read the Torah before the Children of Israel and he had them all the princes of the tribes sign their name to it as an appendix that he affixed to the Torah that they have listened, learned and obeyed. Joshua, who was neither High Priest nor Levite taught them in the valley that day. And Deborah whom was neither High Priest, Levite, nor man sat in judgement and taught the law beneath the palm tree. In fact we must understand that all the judges were more than warriors, or government leaders, they were teachers. They sat in judgment of the people, proscribing under the law, dispensing justice and wisdom and they were not Levites. Of course probably the greatest lesson the Lord has passed on to us regarding the designation of teachers is in the second chapter of 1 Samuel. Whereas Eli's sons did what was wicked in the eyes of the Lord, Samuel was blessed and he ministered before the Lord (taught) and he became both prophet and teacher. And who was Samuel but an Ephrathite, designating him as either from the tribe of Benjamin or Judah but not a Levite.
So let us not fall into the trap of extracting what we think is true from one sentence in the Tanach that proclaims priests as the teachers without examining its meaning against the rest of the Tanach. Let us not find a grain of sand and proclaim that we have discovered a beach. As I have shown, the teacher is the one appointed by God. And when the Children of Israel stumble and fall, we will not know who's hand it is that has bent down to help us up. But whomever it might be, we can call him teacher.
Let us remember in closing what it said at the Beginning, in Genesis 12:3, "In thee all the nations of the world shall be blessed." I have written in the past there are two thoughts regarding the naming of ourselves Karaites. The many say it is a reference to Reading the Scriptures" but the few like my own family have understood it to mean "Those that Are Called." But called for what you might ask? Perhaps that can best be explained in Micah 5:6, where the prophet says, And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many nations as dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the Sons of Man." The sentence is clear to those that hear the calling. We are scattered amongst the nations for a purpose. Just as the dew and the rains nourish the grass, ensuring that there is always water to sustain them, we are also ever present amongst them, feeding them slowly but constantly like the dew, and sometimes quickly and frenzied like the rains. And we do not hesitate in doing so. We do not make excuses that we must remain silent or afraid to speak up until the coming of the Messiah (Sons of Man) for as it can be seen, our role is to prepare the fields, ensure their growth and the coming of the Messiah is nothing more than the harvesting of our work. As for being intimidated by these nations, fearing to teach them our religion for fear of reprisals, or abandoning them as not worthy of our efforts as some amongst the Karaites have claimed, then I refer them to Micah 5:7, "And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations in the midst of many peoples as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep." The Lord is saying that we will have the final word, our strength shall tear down all opposing views, like the young lion that takes down one sheep at a time, satiating his hunger but limiting his hunting so that it is methodical, practical and sustaining. One by one we will draw the people to the light. That is our calling, that is Karaism.
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