In Silence Like Sheep

Today’s daf discusses the halachos that apply to a person who has shamed his fellow Jew.

Rav Raphael of Barshad, zt”l, was always careful to see the good in every Jew. Judging others favorably was part of his very nature. Another important characteristic of Rav Raphael was that he was always happy when embarrassed by others. To him, this was the biggest favor that one can receive from anyone. The Ramak, zt”l, writes in Tomer Devorah, that since being shamed is likened to being killed, one who is silent in the face of humiliation has atoned for all of his sins. Like dying, even the worst sins are wiped away if one endures disgrace quietly.

The Ramak adjures people to take this to heart. “Everyone falls short in one way or the other and requires atonement for his failings. What is better? To suffer pain and illness—which cause a person to lose precious time from learning—or to be shamed? Enduring humiliation is a matter of having the right attitude and truly understanding that the humiliation has saved him from much worse. If one achieves this understanding he will not hold it against the person who shamed him. On the contrary, he received a gift from the one who embarrassed him.”

When people would come to Rav Raphael about having endured shame, he would explain the greatness of enduring embarrassment and that this had saved the person much worse troubles. When the person was consoled, he would laugh with pure joy and say, “How wonderful!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Silent Atonement”
Arachin 14

Periodically, I experience some rather impassioned arguments happening in the comments sections of various blog posts. I don’t mind and even encourage spirited debate, but there were moments when that “spirit” crosses the line into insult and harm. We cannot behave like this as disciples of the Master and this is clear disobedience of his commandment for us to love one another (John 13:34). I know what it is to get a “head of steam up” in an argument and to lose sight of what I’m trying to express and why. In that moment, all that really seems to matter is to prove my point and to show “the other guy” that they are in error. Sometimes it may seem really is important to point out an error made in understanding our faith, but at what cost? Is it worth promoting resentment and division in the body of Messiah? Must we always have the loudest voice?

When reading the commentary on the Daf, I was immediately captured by how much this seems to describe Jesus. I doubt the author meant to create such a parallel, but for the Christian, it is unavoidable.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. -Isaiah 53:7 (ESV)

And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent. -Matthew 26:62-63 (ESV)

How many of us would remain silent in such a situation? How many of us, even knowing what was at stake, would fail to vigorously defend ourselves against these unfair charges and attempt with all our might to avoid a death sentence and execution on the cross? And yet, in a way, we are commanded to do exactly that: to accept even death in silence, enduring everything for our Master’s sake.

But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. -Matthew 5:39 (ESV)

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” -Luke 9:23 (ESV)

Recall the commentary from today’s Daf which says that insulting someone is the same as murdering them (and I’ve written about this recently), and that enduring an insult in silence is as if you died and have atoned for all of your sins. I realize that Talmudic midrash is not to be taken as literal fact, but Jesus did endure his own murder in silence and in fact, his death did atone for the sins of the world. It’s all right there, if we’ll only pay attention.

We all like to say that we want to “be like Jesus.” For most of us, that doesn’t mean literally dying a horrible and torturous death for the sake of others, but it does mean enduring many insults for the sake of Christ. He even said this would happen to us.

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. -Matthew 10:21-22 (ESV)

So did James.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. -James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Can you see why the Jewish lens often illuminates the words of the Jewish Messiah, even without apparent intent? And yet there are those who are uncomfortable with the way I choose to view my Master, and some even insist that the Jewish perspective is not only worthless, but has long sense been wiped away and replaced by the singular and wholly “un-Jewish” Christian interpretation. However, I do not want even this point to be the cause of divisiveness between brothers in the Messiah. There is much value in offering consideration for one another for the sake of peace.

“They said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that no man ever greeted him first, even idol worshippers in the market” [i.e., Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was the first to greet every person, even idol worshippers] (Berachot 17). At the same location the sage Abaye advocated soft speech and words of peace to everyone, especially including idol worshippers.

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

the-joy-of-torahAs a Christian, part of how I approach the ways of peace between me and Jewish people is to attempt to understand what Judaism means to a Jew, to the best of my meager ability. Taking joy in the Jewish people and in Judaism may be what the Jewish Messiah himself did as he gazed longingly at Jerusalem, anticipating the final salvation of Israel (Matthew 23:37-38). What he said began in sorrow and dismay, but will one day conclude in great happiness, as we see in the words of Rabbi Tzvi Freeman:

This is the meaning of a Jew and Judaism, the very meaning of the word: To live in a state of sustained wonder. To know that there are things beyond human grasp. That the very existence of anything at all is beyond knowing. And then to strive to know.

Let us endure much in silence and humility for the sake of our brothers and for the Messiah, that we may one day know what is beyond knowing, and shout in brotherly joy at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11).

You are the God Who works wonders, You manifested Your might among the nations. With Your powerful arm You redeemed Your nation, the sons of Jacob and Joseph, Selah. -Psalm 77:15-16 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

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5 thoughts on “In Silence Like Sheep”

  1. Elie Wiesel tells these two stories, among others, in his book, “Souls On Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters”:

    “Rebbe Levi-Yitzhak of Berditchev notices a coachman, who, to save time runs through his morning prayers while greasing his carriage. He does not scold him. Instead, he lifts his eyes to heaven and asks it to be his witness: ‘Look at your people, God of Israel, and be proud. He prays. Tell me, do You know of any other nation that has You so completely in its thoughts.?”

    “Walking down the street one day, he received the well-aimed contents of a garbage can on his head. Inquiries revealed the culprit to be the wife of a fierce, malicious Mitnagged. Unruffled, the Rebbe continued to the House of Study, where he pronounced the incident closed: ‘Don’t be angry with her, Lord, it’s not her fault. Poor woman, she wishes only to please her husband. Can you blame her for that?”

    Wiesel’s stories about Levi-Yitzhak teache me many things about my inner disposition to those that are not like me or who may behave with less “piety” than I… and… that I should consider all that I do not know about a person or group of people before pointing a critical finger at them concerning things I think that I do know about them.

  2. … and thanks to you, James, for your very important article on Supersessionism in Messiah Journal. We have such a great opportunity, with this indigestible historical knowledge, to teach with love the hard lessons of the Shoah and in doing so, demonstrate Yeshua’s great heart of patience, humility and compassion to a misguided world that lacks understanding. I look forward to reading the entire series. May we be like Levi-Yitzhak as we undertake to do so…

  3. Let us endure much in silence and humility for the sake of our brothers and for the Messiah, that we may one day know what is beyond knowing, and shout in brotherly joy at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11).

    Amen. Thank you James.

    – Andrew

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