Two weeks ago when I went into the prison for the Chapel service I was shocked to find out that half of my regular attendees had been transferred to another facility, only a week after I was allowed back in following the year-and-a-half long COVID-19 shutdown. That same day, however, I met an inmate who had been coming to the meetings they held on their own during the time I was away. He and two others I had met the week before joined me in worship of our Creator and in reading and discussing the Torah portion.
This week I once again did not know what to expect. Things have been different every week since we resumed. The Chaplain met me at the front lobby, and after the security check we walked back to the Chapel.
Before I arrived, the Chaplain had printed out a few copies of the 5782 Torah reading calendar I created. They were waiting for me when I got to the room we use, along with the liturgy and song sheets we use and a stack of Bibles. Because of the COVID restrictions, the guys aren’t permitted to bring their own bibles from their cells to the Chapel. Instead, they use Bibles that stay in the Chapel. They are brand new and very nice, but unfortunately they are King James Version. The guys (and I as well) stumble through the archaic language.
I mentioned something about wishing we had different Bibles, and the Chaplain took me to a storage room where he gave me a small stack of books – they were the Hertz Chumash! I thanked him and thought that would be an exciting treat for our group.
An Hour of Casual Conversation
The walks closed and I found myself in the room with only one other gentleman, the guy who I had first met two weeks ago. This was interesting, similar to what had happened last week. Last week we started with three guys for our two-hour long meeting, but halfway through two of them had to leave. That left me alone with a guy I really did not know, and we had a very enjoyable conversation. Now it looks as if the same thing will happen this week.
Most – actually, all – of us in the group are not ethnically Jewish. Until now, that is. This guy who had come out today had mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago that he had grown up going to Synagogue, and I noticed as we recited the liturgy that some of it was familiar to him. Now we had the chance to chat one-on-one. It wasn’t too personal, and I never ask the guys why they are incarcerated (sometimes they volunteer it). He told me a few things about his growing up, some about the Synagogues and even a little about Sukkot and building a sukkah.
I think these casual and non-preachy conversations are what Yeshua was referring to in Matthew 25, his Olivet Discourse, when he said “I was in prison, and you came to me.”
An Hour of Worship and Study
When the walks opened at nine o’clock a couple of other gentlemen joined us. We took a few minutes to look at the calendar and to discuss the upcoming Appointed Times. This is something that, due to COVID-19 restrictions, they will probably have to do on their own. One of the men here has celebrated Feasts with me in the past, and will be an encouragement to the others as they walk this out.
That still left us almost an hour for a service with liturgy and prayer, Scripture reading and discussion. The Hertz Chumash turned out to be helpful, though not much easier to read than the KJV. I can’t remember if this is the 1917 JPS translation or not, but the English is the formal old Elizabethan-type language.
We were in Parasha Shoftim this week (beginning at Deuteronomy 18:16:18). Even though they don’t read Hebrew, we were able to see the repeated words tzedek tzedek (justice, justice or righteousness, righteousness) in the Hebrew text. We also found the repeated Hebrew for “Awake, awake” (two instances, and they aren’t the same) and for “Depart, depart” in the Haftarah reading in Isaiah, which are included in the Hertz Chumash. And the notes in the Chumash reinforced what I was explaining to them about the emphasis found in repeated Hebrew words in Scripture.
Most importantly in this Torah portion, we discussed the “prophet like Moses.”
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.
“The LORD said to me, ‘…I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
Although when I asked them about it they quickly said it was about Yeshua, when I asked “Why?” they really didn’t have an answer. So we went looking in the New Testament, beginning with Peter’s sermon in Acts 3. Then we went a few other passages that show how people during the time of Yeshua were actually looking for this prophet.
They asked him [John the Baptist], “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Therefore when the people saw the sign which He [Yeshua] had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” Others were saying, “This is the Christ.”
This is exciting, sharing with these men, watching them and knowing that it is sinking in. They get it. And hopefully when they are talking with others, they will be able to show this as well. Tying the whole Bible together only shows one thing: it all points to Yeshua and the restoration of the Kingdom.
Time went by fast. The chaplain opened the door and announced “line movement” – the walks were open and they must return to their unit and their individual cells. We still had time, though, for the Aaronic Benediction, and then we parted for another week.