Question. How do the Jewish and Christian views of salvation differ?
Answer.The opening words of Psalm 27 are
“HaShem Ori V’Yish’i” –
“The Lord is my Light and Salvation”.
Salvation (“yeshu’ah”) is a major concept in Judaism, but in a quite different sense to Christianity, which holds that a person’s soul needs to be “saved” from its sinful self, an after-life event, granted by Divine grace as a reward for faith.
The Jewish concept sees salvation in earthly, historical terms. It is not that I am my own enemy but that real earthly forces threaten me and I need God’s protection.
This is the theme of many of the Psalms, which constantly call upon God to save, i.e. to rescue, us from suffering. The distress is sometimes caused by human transgression, but no-one is born automatically or inherently sinful; if we go wrong it is because we are careless or rebellious, not because our nature is evil and compels us sin.
Salvation is the Divine protection that enables us to escape the clutches of real-time trouble.
There is a different but associated principle of redemption (“ge’ulah”). Though this is sometimes in the singular it is generally in the plural – it is not so much that I as an individual am redeemed but that we all are, as a people.
Redemption is crucial to the messianic fulfilment; Israel is “redeemed” as the first stage in the redemption of the whole of mankind.
THE KOHEN’S LOVE
Question. Why does the kohen praise God who “commanded us to bless His people Israel *in love*”?
Answer.One possibility: God lovingly commanded the kohanim to pronounce the blessing. He must love the kohanim very greatly to entrust them with this responsibility.
A more probable interpretation: the kohanim must love the people. Kohanim are as likely to have quarrels with others as the rest of us are. But when they bless the congregation they have to rise above any personal issues and love their fellow Jews both collectively and individually.
The congregation must reciprocate and love the kohanim collectively and individually: as the kohen must rise above personal issues, so must the congregation. A further question: when the kohanim bless the people, who blesses the kohanim?
The answer is implied in the words of the Biblical verse, “They shall place My name upon the Children of Israel, and I shall bless them” (Num. 6:27), i.e., “When they bless the people, God Himself blesses them”.
A HARBOUR CRUISE & GOMEL
Question.Would I need to “bensch gomel” after a harbour cruise?
Answer. On returning from a journey, including a sea voyage, one has to say the “hagomel” blessing which thanks God for His protection. The blessing derives from Psalm 107, which specifically mentions “those that go down to the sea in ships” (verse 23). Sea voyages were perilous in ancient days and the element of danger has continued throughout history (think of the Titanic).
Halachic authorities differ on what kind of sea voyage requires the “gomel” blessing. Some – like Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igg’rot Moshe, OC 2:59) – limit it to a major voyage lasting at least a number of days. Others – especially Sephardi authorities – rule that a short trip requires the blessing if it lasted 72 minutes or more and the vessel went sufficiently far as not to be visible from the shore.
(I should add that this question came from an Australian who lives in Sydney and occasionally takes a harbour cruise from Circular Quay to Manly and back. Accidents have been known to happen with harbour ferries, but they’re so rare as not to affect the tenor of the above explanation.)
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com