Tag Archives: holiness

Lessons in Spirituality and Righteousness

This week I wish to share with you some thoughts about Spirituality. Spirituality is feeling the presence of the Almighty. Feeling this connection to the Almighty is the greatest pleasure a person can know. It is the pleasure we feel when seeing a magnificent sunset, looking from a mountaintop over the beauty of the Almighty’s creation — or seeing your newborn baby for the first time.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from Shabbat Shalom Weekly for
Torah Portion Chayei Sarah
Aish.com

These words were spoken by a well-known contemporary of Jesus, Rabbi Hillel, into which Jesus often engaged in discussion or controversy. However, on this particular subject, I am assuming that there would have been none. The statement is found in Chapter 2, Mishnah 5 when he said that an ignoramus or an uneducated person cannot be righteous. Nor can the bashful person learn (he is too shy to ask questions). Nor can the hot-tempered man teach. Nor can one who occupies himself over much in business grow wise (as he would have no time to study). And, in a place where there are no competent men strive to be a competent person.

A boor cannot be sin-fearing, an ignoramus cannot be pious, a bashful one cannot learn, a short-tempered person cannot teach, nor does anyone who does much business grow wise. In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.

So why would Hillel, some two thousand years ago, declare that an uneducated person cannot be a righteous person?

-Roy B. Blizzard
from Passages in Translation: Pirkei Avot Chapter 2, Mishnah 5
BibleScholars.org

Two seemingly random quotes from distant sources speaking of spirituality and righteousness. Taking them in isolation, it would seem that anyone capable of feeling awe at the works of the Almighty can experience spirituality, but only an educated person can be righteous. Hardly seems fair, does it?

Maybe Rabbi Packouz makes the connection:

How does one develop spirituality? First, learn Torah. How many times have you heard people say, “I just love John Grisham … or Hemingway … or Dickens? But they never met those authors! However, they read their books and intuitively love the author for his writings. Ergo … read the Torah and love the Almighty!

The doorway to spirituality and righteousness is knowing God by studying Torah, and in this instance, I’m going to include the entire Bible as “Torah”.

But apparently, we have a problem as Dr. Blizzard notes:

The answer is that Hillel did not mean that the uneducated lack the desire to do good. It’s just that right actions require knowledge and people lacking knowledge will often not know the proper way to behave.

The point is that study is the key. And, basically, it has been and is being neglected in Christendom. The great Jewish scholar Maimonides taught in the Mishneh Torah written in the 12th century, until what period in life ought one to study Torah? His answer was “until the day of one’s death.”

God’s people should never use the feeble excuse, “well, we just don’t have time”. If God is the most important thing in your life and the Bible is His Word, one can only conclude that you need to make time!

He also cites this:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

-2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB)

While study is thoroughly ingrained in religious Judaism, it’s something of a chore in many churches. I was fortunate to attend a local Baptist church for two years where regular Bible reading and study was encouraged. It is true that I brought a different perspective to their ranks and one they ultimately could not absorb, but thankfully they continue to study and draw nearer to our God.

Christian CoffeeBut that’s not the case in many modern churches as Dr. Blizzard stated in the above-quoted paragraph. I study because I’m “built” to study. I completely enjoy reading and studying the Bible, so I don’t experience it as difficult or something to be avoided (which isn’t to say I don’t find study challenging). That means I can hardly take credit for my efforts as if I had overcome some personal obstacle or barrier with the goal of bettering myself.

But for a lot of other folks, it seems like there are so many other priorities that get in the way, or at least those people organize their priorities differently (and notice that as I write, I am not also vacuuming the living room carpet or cleaning the master bathroom).

Rabbi Packouz expands on this initial set of statements about the benefits of Torah study, including learning how to perform the mitzvot, which pleases Hashem and allows us to connect to Him in ways that otherwise would be unavailable to us.

Of course, R. Packouz is writing to a Jewish audience, so in order for Gentile Christians to make use of his commentary, we need to adjust it to our identity and our unique role in the redemptive plan of God.

With the permission of the heavenly assembly and with the permission of the earthly assembly, I hereby prepare my mouth to thank, praise, laud, petition, and serve my creator in the words of his people Israel. I cannot declare that Abraham fathered me, nor can I claim to be his offspring according to the flesh. For I am a branch from the stem of the children of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, like a wild olive branch grafted into a cultivated olive tree, in order to sprout forth and produce fruit in the name of all Israel.

-Aaron Eby
“Declaration of Intent for Messianic Gentiles,” p.134
First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer

I quoted part of the “declaration” from Aaron’s book to illustrate what I said above, that Gentiles are unique and have a special role to play within the Messianic assembly and among all of the disciples of the Messiah.

Having said that, there are many ways in which Jewish and Gentile roles and practices overlap in the Master’s ekklesia:

  1. Have a constant awareness of our Father, our King, Creator and Sustainer of the universe. As soon you think of the Creator, you immediately connect with Him. Think of Him often.
  2. Feel a sense of awe for the Creator by frequently contemplating the size and complexity of the universe.
  3. Realize that you are created in the image of the Creator and you are His child. When looking in a mirror, say to yourself, “I am a child of the Creator.”
  4. Everything you have in life, you have because it is a gift from the Creator. Be constantly grateful. This gratitude creates love.
  5. The Almighty loves us more than we love ourselves. Frequently say to yourself, “The Almighty loves me even more than I love myself.”
  6. Realize that everything that the Almighty causes to happen in your life, He causes to happen for a positive purpose. Some you will recognize, some you won’t. Frequently repeat, “This, too, is for the good.”
  7. Respect each human being because each human being is created in the Almighty’s image.
  8. When you do an act of kindness, you are emulating the Almighty. Do so frequently.
  9. Every prayer you say, whether formal or in your own words, is an expression of connecting with the Creator.
  10. Make a blessing to thank the Creator before and after eating. This adds a spiritual dimension to the food you eat.

That’s the first ten of the twenty ways R. Packouz lists to connect with the Almighty. Notice that none of them are specific to either Jews or Gentiles (the same goes for the other ten). In fact, you could take that list of twenty ways of connecting with God into any church and I can’t see why any Christian Pastor or layperson would object to them at all, except they might want to substitute “Jesus” for “the Almighty”.

Path of TorahSpirituality and righteousness all center around developing an awareness of God through the wonders in the world around us and specifically by studying the Torah. By studying the Torah however, we can go beyond “mere” awareness of God and begin to grasp who He created us to be and what we are expected to do with the lives we’ve been granted. While we Gentiles are grafted into Israel as a wild branch is grafted into a cultivated tree, that doesn’t make Gentile believers Israel. However, that also doesn’t mean we’re nothing either or that we are separated from God’s unique and chosen nation.

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

-John 15:5

Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.

-John 13:16

We see here that disciples of the Master are “grafted in” to him as a branch is grafted into a vine. That however doesn’t make any one of us Yeshua (Jesus), because he also teaches that we “sent ones” are not greater than the one who sent us. We are servants of the Master and slaves to the Most High.

But if we are grafted into the vine of Messiah and are not Messiah, to extend the metaphor, we are also grafted into Israel and are not Israel. In fact, without the benefit of the covenant promises God made with national Israel and the Jewish people, we Gentiles would have no status or relationship to God at all. We are grafted in only by God’s abundant mercy to mankind, and by our faith in the accomplished works of our Master, the mediator of the New Covenant.

The rest of the “declaration of intent for Messianic Gentiles” goes thus:

Father in Heaven, I will rejoice in you alone, for you have sanctified me and drawn me near to you, and you have made me a son of Abraham through your King Messiah. For the sake of our Master Yeshua, in his merit and virtues, may the sayings of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be joined to the prayers of all Israel, and may they be favorable before you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Although you are reading this on Sunday morning or later, I’m writing it near lunch time on Friday. My personal Shabbos Project will begin in a few hours and I hope to improve upon last week’s experience (and I no doubt will be writing about “Shabbat Observance 2.0″ subsequently).

We all discover ourselves by the light of Torah, but what is illuminated is different for each of us. This is sometimes the difference between being a Jewish or Gentile disciple of the Master, but there are also many other distinctions.

Although by necessity, I’ll be observing Shabbat alone, I know that it is designed to be celebrated in community. But there are ways in which we seek God that sometimes require that only the person and the Almighty be present. The Master sought to be alone often to pray, and yet he was also part of the larger community of Israel. When Paul became the Master’s emissary to the Gentiles, he was faced with the challenge of integrating Gentiles into Jewish communal and religious space, and that challenge remained before him for the rest of his life.

Shabbat candlesWhile I agree that community is a vital part of a life of faith, it is only half of that life. The Master indeed said we were to love our neighbors as ourselves but the prerequisite for doing so was to love the Almighty with all of our heart, spirit, and resources. Holiness, spirituality, and righteous living begin with one person studying the Torah, praying, and developing a growing awareness of God in the world around that person. Sometimes those experiences can be shared, but in the case of we “Messianic Gentiles,” often they cannot be, except “remotely” via the Internet.

But there’s nothing remote about God or the Torah. His inspired Word and His Created world are before each of us. Today they are before me and tonight, as I write this, so will the Shabbat. May the blessings of my mouth and the meditations of my heart always be pleasing before Hashem, my rock and my redeemer, and may I always be a faithful servant to my Master, Messiah Yeshua.

The Aftermath of Reviewing Michaelson’s “God vs. Gay”

And you shall love Hashem your God …

-Deuteronomy 6:5

And you shall love your neighbor as yourself…

-Leviticus 19:18

Both of these statements are positive commandments. We might ask: How can a commandment demand that we feel something? Since love is an emotion, it is either there or it is not there.

The Torah does not hold that love is something spontaneous. On the contrary, it teaches that we can and should cultivate love. No one has the liberty to say: “There are some people whom I just do not like,” nor even, “I cannot possibly like that person because he did this and that to me.”

We have within us innate attractions to God and to other people. If we do not feel love for either of them, it is because we have permitted barriers to develop that interfere with this natural attraction, much as insulation can block a magnet’s inherent attraction for iron. If we remove the barriers, the love will be forthcoming.

The barriers inside us come from defects in our character. When we improve ourselves, our bad character traits fall away, and as they fall away, we begin to sense that natural love which we have for others and for God.

Today I shall…

…try to improve my midos (character traits), so that I will be able to feel love for God and for my fellow man.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Cheshvan 7
Aish.com

The first thing that attracted me to this daily “devotional” of Rabbi Twerski’s is the obvious parallel to the teaching of the Master:

One of the scholars heard them arguing and drew near to them. He saw that he answered well, and he asked him, “What is the first of all of the mitzvot?”

Yeshua answered him, “The first of all the mitzvot is: ‘Hear O Yisra’el! HaShem is our God; HaShem is one. Love HaShem, your God, with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your knowledge, and with all of your strength.’ This is the first mitzvah. Now the second is similar to it: ‘Love your fellow as yourself.’ There is no mitzvah greater than these.”

-Mark 12:28-31 (DHE Gospels)

Rabbi Abraham Twerski
Rabbi Abraham Twerski

I don’t know if R. Twerski is at all familiar with the Apostolic Scriptures (probably not, but who knows) or even the portion I quoted above, but it seems amazing that nearly two-thousand years after the Master uttered this teaching, the same source material from the Torah should be linked together in a very similar manner by an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi and Psychiatrist.

Then, as I was performing my Shabbat devotionals, I came across the following:

The orlah, “foreskin,” symbolizes a barrier to holiness. Adam HaRishon was born circumcised (see Avos D’Rabbi Nassan 2:5) because he was as close as a physical being can possibly be to Hashem. So great was Adam at the time of his creation, that the angels thought he was a Divine being to whom they should offer praise. Thus, he was born circumcised; there was no orlah intervening between him and Hashem. Even the organ that represents man’s worst animal-like urges was totally harnessed to the service of Hashem.

-from the Mussar Thought for the Day, p.151
for Shabbos: Parashas Lech Lecha
A Daily Dose of Torah

Now compare the above quote to the next one:

Episcopal lesbian theologian Carter Heyward, whose work we briefly noted in part I, has described her project this way: “I am attempting to give voice to an embodied — sensual — relational movement among women and men who experience our sexualities as a liberating resource and who, at least in part through this experience, have been strengthened in the struggle for justice for all.” Heyward and others…are attempting nothing less than a recovery of the physical, embodied, and erotic within Christian traditions that have traditionally suppressed them. Building a theology of relationality that is reminiscent of the work of Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, Heyward has proposed a spiritual valuation of eros — which she defines as “our embodied yearning for mutuality.” Openness to embodied love opens us to other people, the biological processes of the universe, and to God. Thus, Heyward writes, “my eroticism is my participation in the universe” and “we are the womb in which God is born.”

-Jay Michaelson
Chapter 17: “And I have filled him with the spirit of God…to devise subtle works in gold, silver, and brass,” p.156
God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality

I previously quoted that paragraph in my third and final review of Michaelson’s book, but I think it bears repeating.

When Rabbi Twerski, (unintentionally) echoing the teachings of the Master speaks of loving God and loving his neighbor, he isn’t talking about erotic love or eroticizing our relationship with God or our fellow human being. When he writes of our “innate attractions to God and to other people,” he isn’t saying that these are sexual or romantic attractions any more than Messiah was speaking of sex.

The Mussar thought from the Artscroll “Daily Dose” series speaks of the male sexual organ as representing “man’s worst animal-like urges.” Throughout his book, Michaelson favorably compared people to animals in that both expressed their sexuality with same-sex partners, and yet we see that the traditional Orthodox Jewish viewpoint is to separate man from the animal world.

Even setting the midrash aside, the Mussar teaches that man is to be considered unique and separate from animals and further, that the single worst urge a man must bring under control in the service of Hashem is his sexual urge.

Talmud Study by LamplightThis is why Bible study in general and Torah study in specific is so important, because it grounds us in the Word of God and thus in righteousness and holiness. It points to our flaws and urges us to self-discipline. It’s like reading a health and weight loss manual while sitting down in an “all-you-can-eat” buffet. You are immersed in temptation, and yet you hold a reminder in your hands to resist because giving in to the world around you leads (extending the metaphor) to poor health, suffering, and premature death.

The death I’m speaking of is a spiritual death if we attempt to conform our faith to the standards of the world around us rather than conforming ourselves to the standards of God.

None of this demands that we must fail to love the people around us, even those who are very different, such as gay people, and since I’m straight, gay people are different, at least as far as that one quality or trait is concerned. But as I saw by the time I reached the end of the Michaelson book, what he was driving at wasn’t just the equalization of the participation of straight and gay people in the church and synagogue, he was talking about the total transformation of the house of God. Reading Rabbi Twerski and the Mussar for Lech Lecha on Shabbos made it abundantly clear that what Michaelson was proposing, even with sincere intentions, was not at all consistent with how God defines love.

I’m sorry to keep dragging this out and as far as my current intentions go, this is the last blog I’ll dedicate to Michaelson in specific and the topic of gays in the community of faith in general. But having, by necessity, entered, to some small degree, the world of Jay Michaelson’s thoughts and feelings by reading his book, I needed to pull myself back out and re-establish myself in the presence of God through the study of His Word.

We are commanded to love other people including those we find in the LGBTQ community. R. Twerski is correct in that we need not construct barriers between them and us in terms of our compassion. That said, there is a barrier between a holy life and a profane one. In the ekklesia of Messiah, as mere human beings who are daily bombarded with the excesses of the world around us, we constantly struggle with those excesses and with our own natures to seek to remain on the path God has set before us. I know I don’t always succeed and by God’s standards I am a complete failure.

But I can’t give up and either abandon my faith or seek to morph it into something consistent with my external environment, society, and culture. Holiness must be protected and thus we maintain a barrier, not one that doesn’t permit the expression of love, but one that keeps us from getting lost in a highly liberal and distorted use of the term.

When a parent loves a child, it doesn’t mean that parent is ultimately permissive and allows the child to do whatever he or she wants simply because it makes them feel good. We say “no” a lot, and even if the child cries or yells at us and tells us we’re being “mean”, we know we are actually being loving and protective.

That’s what God does to us and those are the commandments we not only obey, but support, uphold, and teach. Even if people like Michaelson want to call me “mean” for doing so, this is how God teaches the community of faith to do love. It’s a loving thing to live inside the standards of God, and as tempting as it may be, it isn’t love to believe you can be right with God outside of the house built by those standards.

TrustTwo more paragraphs from the Mussar thought from which I quoted above will finish the picture (pp.151-2):

When Adam sinned, however, he caused his nature to change. Before his sin, godliness had been natural for him, and sin had been repulsive, bizarre, and foreign. Once he disobeyed Hashem, however, he fell into the traps of illicit desire and self-justification. Suddenly, temptation became natural to him, and Hashem became distant; and when Hashem reproached him for having sinned, Adam hastened to defend himself rather than admitting his sin and repenting. After his fall, the angels had no trouble recognizing his human vulnerability.

In several places, the Torah mentioned … “the foreskin of the heart” (see, for example, Devarim 10:16). This is the non-physical counterpart of the physical foreskin, man’s urges and desires that attempt to bar him from achieving true service to Hashem. We remove the physical foreskin as an indelible act of allegiance, demonstrating our resolve to do the same for the spiritual barriers. Nevertheless, the Torah tells us that ultimately it will be Hashem Who will complete the removal of this spiritual foreskin (see ibid. 30:6) after we have done our utmost, and this will take place at the time of the ultimate redemption.

Sukkot: From Sticks and Leaves

Under the sukkahYou won’t find any intimacy with G-d by keeping the so-called “Noahide laws”. If all you need is to be ethical then you don’t need the Bible. Everyone has a conscience and already knows how to be ethical.

But the Tanak says that G-d wants more than ethical followers–He wants INTIMACY with us. The prophets all say that the Gentiles will be joined to G-d and joined to His People (Israel), that they will flock to Jerusalem/Zion to learn the Torah, they will keep Shabbat, Sukkot, etc. Have you read Isaiah 56, Isaiah 2, Micah 4, Joel 2, Amos 9, etc, etc?

Here’s something else: you will FAIL to keep the Noahide laws, which means you NEED atonement. As it happens, tonight is Yom Kippur so it’s a good time to consider how you have no atonement unless you accept Yeshua. Your Orthodox friends have deceived you but you need to realize that Yeshua is G-d. Thus, to deny Yeshua is to deny HaShem. That’s it! There’s no way around it!

Shalom,

Peter

-from a comment on
orthodoxmessianic.blogspot.com

The High Holy Days don’t play to our strength. The extended services put a premium on prayer, an activity at which we are no longer very adept. Yom Kippur asks of us to spend an entire day in the synagogue immersed in prayer. But we find it easier to believe in God than to pray to God.

-Ismar Schorsch
Commentary on Yom Kippur
“Why Pray? To Help Us Hold Up the Heavens,” pg 660
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Why am I starting a blog post about Sukkot by quoting people talking about Yom Kippur? Patience. The answers are coming.

I don’t often engage Peter, especially by referencing his home ground (his blog). There is a great deal about which we disagree and endless rounds of “head butting” have produced nothing but bruises and headaches. I can do without both.

Occasionally, however, he makes a good point, such as saying that simply engaging in ethical behavior for its own sake or imagining that it is only what we do that pleases God misses the point. As Professor Schorsch points out, in the end, it’s our engagement of God on God’s own terms, in prayer, devotion, supplication, and “brokenness” that forges a relationship and helps to deepen the bonds between mankind and our Creator.

But Peter also misses the point in imagining that a Gentile going beyond the Noahide laws and attempting to keep the full 613 mitzvot as the Jewish people are commanded somehow will make the difference. Does keeping the Torah mitzvot (a much longer list of activities than the Noahide laws), in and of itself, foster intimacy with God and spiritual growth within our souls? Didn’t Peter say something about atonement and a believer’s relationship with God?

Dependence is part of the human condition, of which we are also reminded by the fragile nature of the sukkah itself. Our feelings of thanksgiving and anxiety, of uplift and unease, are united by the inescapable sense of how subordinate we humans actually are to God’s will.

-Schorsch
Commentary on Sukkot
“An Undertone of Angst,” pg 674

Not all sages agreed, however, that sukkot were huts. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus early in the second century contended that the protection came in the form of a divinely provided cloud cover (ananei kavod). That is, for the duration of their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Israelites were fed by manna and sheltered by clouds, beneficiaries of a caring God.

-ibid, “Huts of Clouds?” pg 683

rainningWhile Judaism richly interweaves faith, prayer, and mitzvah performance, it is still less what we do than who we depend upon in our weakness as human beings, as if a Christian (non-Jewish believer in Jesus), by either wearing or not wearing tzitzit periodically during prayer, or even continually during waking hours by donning a tallit katan, will cause God to grant or withhold favor, blessings, and intimacy. If I fail to wear tallit and tefillin in prayer or refrain from building a sukkah in my backyard this year, will God frown upon my Christian soul if I choose to approach God in earnest prayer, with supplication, with a wounded spirit, and a broken and contrite heart? Is it only prayer, devotion, and tzitzit and sukkah construction efforts that create the “magic” combination and gets God’s attention?

This year, as in past years, I have built my little sukkah (it’s a kosher sukkah kit my wife and I ordered from Israel some years ago), but I didn’t build it because I thought that not doing so would result in my being sent to Hell without so much as a pitcher of ice water and an electric fan. I didn’t even do so because I thought God would withdraw his lovingkindness from me if I didn’t. I didn’t even do so because there’s a commandment in the Torah to build and live in a sukkah for eight days.

That’s not the point.

But I didn’t say that Christians are to totally refrain from all of the Torah mitzvot either. In fact, Christians who show true fruits of the spirit and authentically transformed lives actually do observe many, perhaps most of the Torah mitzvot, which in part, was the intent of the Jerusalem Council’s letter to the Gentiles we see recorded by Luke in Acts 15. We just don’t adopt those practices that have been given specifically to Israel, the Jewish people, because being people of the nations who are called by God’s Name (Amos 9:11-12) doesn’t make us Jewish or Israel.

I build a sukkah every year for two simple reasons. One, because my wife and children are Jewish and as the head of my family, it is my responsibility to build a sukkah for them, supporting and encouraging their Jewish Torah observance. Two, because, as Professor Schorsch says, building a sukkah illustrates the vulnerability all human beings experience in a universe created by God, and how we very much depend on Him for shelter from the elements and even for every single morsel of food we need to sustain our lives.

You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

-Psalm 145:16 (NASB)

It may have been huts or tents and not literally clouds that spared the Children of Israel from wind, and rain, and harsh desert heat for those forty years in the desert, but the handiwork of man only goes so far. After that, only God can protect and nurture.

In short, grace in Judaism is not undeserved. If we take the first step, God will meet us more than halfway.

-ibid, “Creating Settings of Holiness,” pg 682

rain_on_meI agree, we (not just Jewish people, but everyone in relationship with God) cannot be inactive in God’s grace, and in fact, God expects us to actually do something in participation with Him, but it’s God who does the heavy lifting and in the end, even if we fail completely in our attempts to interact with His Holiness, He is more than gracious enough to meet us, not only more than halfway, but all the way, as we crawl and bleed into the desert sand, in order to lift us up, hold us lovingly, and shelter us from harm.

For it is obvious and known that nothing we can do in and of itself can “force” God to draw nearer if it is against His Will. Our deeds are not righteous, and though He greatly desires obedience, it is not obedience that “makes” God become intimate with us or shelter us from the storm. It’s the fact that in the eyes of God, we are more helpless than newborn babies, unable to do anything for ourselves, as measured by an infinitely powerful and Holy God. It is only out of grace, mercy, and even pity that God takes the fragile sticks and leaves we build from our lives and makes them capable of withstanding even the mightiest of hurricanes.

This year, Sukkot begins tonight at sundown.

Chag Sameach Sukkot!

What God Wants

the-divine-torahIf one wishes to add on more restrictions than the law requires, one may do so for oneself, but not [make such demands] of others.

-Shulchan Aruch

Some people employ a double standard. One set of rules applies to themselves, and another to everyone else. The Shulchan Aruch, the standard authoritative compilation of Jewish law, accepts this policy – but on one condition: the more restrictive set of rules must apply to oneself, and the more lenient apply to other people.

Guidelines exist for many things, such as the percentage of income that one should give for tzedakah. Many tzaddikim, righteous people, retained only the barest minimum of their income for themselves, just enough to provide for their families, and gave everything else to the poor. However, they would never expect anyone else to follow their example, and some even forbade it.

Our minds are ingenious in concocting self-serving rationalizations. Sometimes we may have excellent reasons not to give more liberally to tzedakah, even if it is within the required amount. We may project into the future, worry about our economic security, and conclude that we should put more money away for a rainy day. Yet we often criticize people who we feel do not give enough to tzedakah.

We should be aware of such rationalizations and remember that the more demanding rules should apply to ourselves. If we are going to rationalize, let us rationalize in a way that gives the benefit of doubt to others.

Today I shall…

…remember to be more demanding of myself than I am of others.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 5″
Aish.com

I know that between Christianity, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots (and their various streams and branches), there is quite a bit of difference in understanding what God wants from us. How do we serve Him in holiness and righteousness? There is some common ground. Generally performing acts of kindness and charity are involved. We can all agree that giving food to the hungry is the right thing to do. But we also have lots and lots of traditions, doctrines, dogmas, and theologies that only sort of match up with the other groups or that don’t even come close.

Most Christians believe that Jesus replaced the Law with Grace, while observant Jews believe the Torah continues to be in force upon the Jewish people, as interpreted and operationalized by the sages. Within Messianic Judaism, there are different opinions about Torah and how it applies to Jewish and Gentile believers, and Hebrew Roots is so diverse a population, that opinions about Torah span a very wide spectrum.

I can’t tell you what to believe and how to live your life. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m continuously working on how to live my own life in accordance with my beliefs. I thought I’d reached a state of equilibrium, but recent questions have made me take another look at a few things. Also, as my relationship with different people change, I’m forced to evaluate the meaning of those relationships and how they impact my understanding of faith and God.

And there are no end of opinions on the Internet, and no end of people who are more than happy to tell you what to do, where to go, and especially what you’re doing wrong. If my hair were long enough, I’d want to tear it out, at least sometimes.

Some people accomplish a great deal, yet they are unhappy because they keep thinking that “somewhere else” they might be able to accomplish more. They live their lives with the general feeling that whatever they are engaged in at the moment is nothing compared to what they might possibly do.

This feeling is a poison that destroys joy and happiness in life. While you should try to accomplish as much as you can, it is often an illusion that you are missing out by not being “somewhere else.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #908, Make the Most of the Here and Now”
Aish.com

approaching-GodI sometimes feel this way about those believers who seem obsessed with “the end times” and spend unceasing hours and effort exploring every possible conspiracy theory as if they were investigating a spiritual X-Files. But Rabbi Pliskin’s statement is also well applied to understanding the purpose of our lives in general. What does God want from us? How are we to live? How stringent are “the rules” and are “the rules” the same for everyone, or do they differ for differing populations? What does God want of us?

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

-Micah 6:8 (NASB)

That seems like a good start but is it a good finish as well? I don’t know. I do know that any life of faith has to stand on something solid. If it doesn’t, it becomes too easy for someone else to come along and knock your faith down, like a shoddy sand castle on some forlorn beach.

In Christianity, it’s all about what you believe. In Judaism, it’s all about what you do because of what you believe (that last part isn’t exactly correct, but I’m choosing to express it as such).

Never underestimate the power of a simple, pure deed done from the heart.

The world is not changed by men who move mountains, nor by those who lead the revolutions, nor by those whose purse strings tie up the world.

Dictators are deposed, oppression is dissolved, entire nations are transformed by a few precious acts of beauty performed by a handful of unknown soldiers.

As Maimonides wrote in his code of law, “Each person must see himself as though the entire world were held in balance and any deed he may do could tip the scales.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Powerful Beauty”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

God is here. He is listening. I sometimes forget until He reminds me, that He fulfills my every need, even when I don’t ask Him to. When I “see” Him doing that, it’s His reminder to me that He’s there and He’s real and He cares.

I can’t let anyone try to take that away from me. I pray to God that He continually shares His Presence with me. What does God want? For me to wait for Him, watch for Him, and when He reveals Himself to me, to respond to Him with acts of righteousness, kindness, compassion, and justice. What do those things mean? I’ll spend the rest of my life finding out, but I know I’m not alone on the journey. I’m walking humbly with my God.

Unpopular Righteousness

unpopularThe ascent of the soul occurs three times daily, during the three times of davening. This is particularly true of the souls of tzadikim who “go from strength to strength.” It is certain that at all times and in every sacred place they may be, they offer invocation and prayer on behalf of those who are bound to them and to their instructions, and who observe their instructions. They offer prayer in particular for their disciples and disciples’ disciples, that G-d be their aid, materially and spiritually.

-Today’s Day
Hayom Yom: Iyar29, 44th day of the omer
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.
Chabad.org

There is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the Torah.

-Ethics of the Fathers, 6:2

I had a great idea for a blog post last night before I went to bed. It communicated what I thought we all should be talking about with each other, not only on our blogs, but face-to-face, in our emails, in our phone calls, in every way possible…the communication and communion of holiness.

But then I went to sleep, and when I woke up, it was gone. I’m disappointed because the drive to write it is still within me. But now, I can’t give it expression.

This morning (as I write this), I read Derek Leman’s blog post What is Popular on a Messianic Blog?. I try to steer away from being identified as a “messianic blog” because it limits the audience I attract and fails to communicate that the message of Messiah is for all people, not just “messianics,” and for that matter, not just for “Christians.” The message of the love of God for humanity is for…humanity.

But Derek has a point.

Hands down, and no surprise, the winner of the numbers game is controversy. My leading blog post of the past year was an expose I did on Jim Staley, a Two House and Hebrew roots teaching pastor in Missouri, called “The Messianic Wall of Weird, #2.” And when Ralph Messer wrapped a pastor in a Torah scroll, told the pastor he was royalty in God’s eyes, and promised this bizarre misuse of a sacred object in Jewish life would restore this pastor from his problems, that blog post got a ton of readers (“Ralph Messer is Not a Messianic Jewish Rabbi”). A few critiques of Tim Hegg I have written have drawn many readers, but also lost me many readers, as some fans of Tim Hegg did not appreciate the criticism I threw his way. Of course, we should not be surprised that controversy is popular.

Controversy (especially if negative and more so if tied to a popular figure or current event).

My response to Derek’s missive was to compare this sort of “popularity” to a car accident with horrible human injuries, or NASCAR, where the attraction is the “hope” that there’ll be a massive pile up of cars traveling at high rates of speed, visions of body parts flying about the landscape fairly dancing in the minds of the fans.

OK, that’s probably a little harsh and I don’t doubt I owe an apology to many NASCAR fans out there.

But I also think I’m correct in that what draws a large, vocal audience tends not to be topics of substance but topics of controversy, especially if it’s ugly and there’s an opportunity to “spill blood,” in a virtual sense.

rock_starBut now I’m the one straying into the realm of controversy. See how tempting it is?

Tim at Onesimus Files posted a link to a highly “popular” blog post called When Rock-Star Preachers Spew a False Gospel published at Charisma News. The topic of “rock star preachers” is of interest to me because of my recent comments on “Biblical sufficiency” related to Part 1 and Part 2 of my commentary on John F. MacArthur (no, MacArthur’s not a “rock star preacher,” quite the opposite).

Drama is like blood in the water and we are all sharks looking for the next feeding frenzy.

But is that the way God wants us to be?

The Chofetz Chaim writes that because we are so involved in worldly matters, we lose our sensitivity to the great amount of joy we can potentially experience when performing a mitzvah (good deed). He offers the analogy of a man who was granted an audience with a powerful ruler. Imagine that the ruler is greatly impressed with the man, and has the conversation recorded in his personal diary. What a thrill! Upon returning home, the man’s face would glow with elation as he retells his experience to all his friends and neighbors. Even if he’d previously been worried over personal problems, he’d quickly forget them! Over the next years, whenever he’d meet others at some gathering, his successful meeting with the ruler would invariably be the topic of conversation.

Says the Chofetz Chaim: If this is the joy of someone who found favor with a mortal (who will eventually die and whose glory is short-lived), all the more so should we feel joy when we doing something which finds favor with the eternal Creator of the universe. Even afterward, when recalling the good deed, we will feel a glow of pleasure. In fact, the Torah (Deut. 28:47) stresses that we should feel more joy in serving the Almighty than from all other pleasures that exist.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #813: Being in the Almighty’s Favor”
Aish.com

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

-John 13:34

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

-1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

I suppose I could be criticized for choosing specifically optimistic and encouraging examples of scripture to place here, but then again, if you value the Word of God at all, you shouldn’t ignore them, either.

kindnessWhy do we do good? For the benefit of those around us. This is what God desires. However there is another motive. Each mitzvah we perform, each morsel of food or drink we give to a homeless person, each child’s skinned knee we put a band-aid on and kiss, each smile we give to a person we’re visiting in the hospital, not only helps the lonely and injured and not only helps the loneliness and injury within us, but it brings us closer to God.

We do good because only God is good (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Only God is One (Deut. 6:4). Only by loving God can we love anyone else in the way God designed us to love (Matthew 22:34-40).

I could quote at length from the comments section of some “religious blogs” the transactions of believers who do not seem to be loving each other at all. Occasionally, I try to introduce the voice of reason and yes, of love, but I don’t know if it does any good. On the other hand, it’s difficult to ignore some of these venues. There are people out there who feel they have been badly hurt (and some of them really have) by a “church experience,” and in reaction, they say harsh things about all Christians in churches (and sometimes about Jewish people in synagogues). Reading some of their material is like watching someone terribly injured and bleeding while trapped in the wreckage of a disastrous car accident (and I’ve written about this before). It’s horrible to look at but I can’t turn away. I want desperately to help, but I don’t know how to get them out of the ghastly mess.

(I should say that I wrote this particular blog post several days before my controversial missive but this one was scheduled to be published while I was away from home.)

What do you do when someone is hurt, has been hurt for a long, long time, and yet doesn’t want to be helped? What do you do with people who totally identify with being hurt, who are defined by being hurt, by being victims, and yet don’t want to let go of the pain, even when they know that if they did finally, finally let go, they would be much better human beings…the people God intended them to be?

Is there “power” in playing the victim role? Absolutely. Look back to what I said before about “popular” blogs. Controversy, pain, “blood in the water,” arguments about who is a “true believer” and who is an “apostate” rule the religious web. Everything else, righteousness, holiness, goodness, devotion…all that stuff is boring. Who wants to read it? No one.

Well, that may be an exaggeration, probably a gross exaggeration. I suspect a “silent majority” of people do read about righteousness, holiness, goodness, and devotion, and absorb it into their beings like a starving child voraciously consumes a glass of milk. It’s just that most of them don’t talk about it, don’t comment on blogs, don’t demand to hear more, don’t speak out dynamically, don’t become impassioned, at least in any way we can see in the blogosphere.

As you’re reading this, I’m at First Fruits of Zion’s Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. Through the miracle of scheduling blog posts, I can write this “last week” and have it become visible on the web Wednesday morning. I hadn’t intended to have new “mediations” be published while away from home, but as I said above, something is driving me to write about what we never talk about, or at least what is never “popular” to talk about.

doing_goodIt could be argued that something is only popular if it produces positive results within its audience and controversy rarely does that. Certainly the common definitions for the word “popular” include “regarded with favor, approval, or affection.” Can controversy be regarded with “affection?” On the other hand, look at what’s “popular” in our world today. Consider the TV shows with the highest ratings. What about movies, music, celebrities? Are these popular things and people always examples of righteousness, holiness, goodness, and devotion, or are they mere reflections of the moral state of our society? I suggest we try to do what is “unpopular.” As people of faith, we must go against the general grain if it violates what we are taught by our Master and Teacher.

The commentary for Pirkei Avot 6:2 states:

Why the roundabout, “negative” wording of the mishnah? Why not simply say “True freedom is attained through Torah”?

Man is a finite being, and everything he possesses and is capable of achieving is likewise finite in scope and extent. It would, therefore, follow that there is no such thing as a free human being. Not only do the proud, the envious, the ignorant and the greedy live in their own prison, but even the most emotionally stable and content individual, blessed with the most plentiful resources and leading the most uninhibited of lives, is still subservient to his own inherent limitations.

Thus, our mishnah opens with the statement, “There is no free individual.” But one who occupies himself with Torah, subordinating his mind and self to the wisdom and will of the Almighty, transcends this most basic nature of every created thing.

Torah defies the unbridgeable gap between the finite and the infinite. It is the wisdom and will of G-d, articulated in terms that the human being can comprehend, relate to and implement in his life. One who submits to the servitude of a life devoted to Torah experiences the freedom that eludes the most “independent” of men.

We also learn something important from Paul:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

-Colossians 3:12-17

white-pigeon-kotelToday, I’m attending a conference dedicated to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of those gifts as I see it, is fellowship and community within the body of Jewish and Gentile believers. One might even say that I am participating in “echad” or a sense of “oneness” within the body of Messiah, though it contains many dissimilar parts.

We are commanded to love one another. I think that means we should love each other even if we don’t always like each other. I know I’m not always likeable, but I pray that God finds me always loveable, through His abundant grace and mercy. And if He can love me, He can love anyone. That means I should love anyone, too.

And showing love, more than any act of superficiality or ceremony is what it is to be righteous and holy to God. May the injured find healing in Him.

A person with humility is able to accept misfortunes and suffering. The arrogant person, however, is not able to tolerate these events.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”

-Charles-Louis de Montesquieu

133 days.

Being Light in the Darkness

light_from_withinHe explains there that tzaddikim are classified in two general categories. The first is that of the “complete tzaddik,” also known as the “ tzaddik who possesses (only) good.” Such a tzaddik has succeeded in completely transforming the evil of his animal soul to good and holiness. A tzaddik of the second category, that of the “incomplete tzaddik,” or the “ tzaddik who possesses evil,” is one who has not yet completely converted his animal soul to good; he still retains a vestige of its native evil. This remaining fragment of evil, however, is completely nullified within the far greater proportion of good.

from “Today’s Tanya Lesson”
Likutei Amarim, Chapter 11
Lessons in Tanya
Chabad.org

A certain individual was condemned to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi as a hypocrite. “He has such a high opinion of himself,” the rebbe was told, “and has assumed all sorts of pious customs and practices. He acts like a real holy fellow. But it’s all superficial: on the inside, his character is as coarse and unrefined as ever.”

“Well,” said the rebbe, “in that case, may he meet the end that the Talmud predicts for such people.”

The informers were taken aback. They had merely desired to “warn” the rebbe about this individual. But now, what sort of calamity had the chassidic master called down upon him?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained: At the end of Tractate Pe’ah, the Talmud discusses the criteria for a pauper to be eligible to receive charity. The section concludes with the warning: “One who is not in need, but takes . . . one who is not lame or blind but makes himself as such, will not die of old age until he is indeed as such.”

“In the same vein,” concluded the rebbe, “one who makes of himself more than he is in matters of righteousness and piety ‘will not die of old age until he is indeed as such.’ Acting like a better person will eventually make him a better person.”

“Make Believe”
Translated/adapted by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
in “Once Upon a Chassid” (Kehot, 1994)
Chabad.org

“The mind is everything. What you think you become.”

-Gautama Siddharta

Setting the mystic aspects of the quotes above to one side, I have to say that I know all this. I’m supposed to know all this. But knowledge and insight aren’t the same as integrated wisdom. What’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”

-Sandra Carey

This is hardly the first time I’ve pursued such a question, but it means something more or at least something different then what it did before. I’m not sure I want to tell you the whole story yet, but part of it has to do with a recent encounter both with a friend and with God. But before getting on to that, I suppose I should review my own previously stated understanding of knowledge and wisdom.

There is knowledge and then there is wisdom. Studying will provide knowledge and knowledge, in and of itself, isn’t always “good” or “bad”, but sometimes it is “relevant” and “irrelevant”. Wisdom tells us how or if that knowledge can be applied to us. The “path of wonder the Torah takes to come into our world” is not a path that Christians can readily follow and even if somehow we can, it’s not a path we are always called to walk. As Rabbi Freeman points out, “Every wise person prefaces his pursuit of wisdom by acknowledging, ‘This I will not be able to explain. This will remain in wonder.’”

what-you-thinkI suppose putting all that together and using Rabbi Tauber’s commentary as a guide, to gain wisdom, we must behave out of our knowledge of what is good, desirable, and pious, even if it’s not who we really are or what we can readily pursue, until it becomes integrated into the very fabric of our being. Then we may become wise and not just a “bucket” containing information.

Then we will become who we really are.

I’ve been standing on a threshold for a long time. Not that I’m a total facade, but I know I’m not the person I’m supposed to be, and probably not the person most people reading this blog believe me to be.

The quote from Siddharta can be condensed down into the simple phrase, “you are what you think.” But despite the Bible’s proscription to gain control of our very thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5) it’s not all that easy to manage what we think about habitually. There’s a reason that anxiety and anxiety control meditations are a tremendous part of the medical and psychopharmaceutical fields today.

But our thoughts and worries are also addressed in abundance in other realms as well.

The reason you have a business is to reconnect all these fragments back to their Creator. And the gauge of your success is your attitude.

If you see yourself as a victim of circumstance, of competitors, markets and trends, that your bread is in the hands of flesh and blood . . .

. . . then your world is still something separate from your G‑d.

But if you have the confidence that He is always with you in whatever you do, and the only one who has the power to change your destiny is you yourself through your own acts of goodness . . .

. . . then your earth is tied to the heavens, and since in the heavens nothing is lacking, so too it shall be in your world.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Attitude”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Rabbi Freeman’s commentary on the Rebbe’s advice deals specifically with earning a livelihood, which is very important of course, but what about things that are even more basic?

We all have a constant flow of thoughts and mental pictures in our minds.

These mental creations have a tremendous impact on how we feel, what we say and how we say it, and what we do and don’t do.

People who are self-confident have very different mental pictures and thoughts than people who lack self-confidence. People who feel very insecure feel that way because of what they say to themselves and what they picture about the past and the future. When they upgrade their self-talk and their mental images, they experience life very differently.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #680, Your Mind Impacts Every Experience”
Aish.com

blind2Supposedly, it’s not really what happens to you that matters, but the story that you tell yourself about what happens to you. Three people can undergo the same experience, the first can tell himself that things are a disaster and he’ll never recover, the second can say that it’s an interesting experience, but he won’t let it change him, and the third can say that it was an enlightening experience and that it will impact him for the better…

…regardless of what the experience happens to be.

That’s kind of simplistic since there are events that would overwhelm just about anyone, either with uplifting joy or abject sorrow. But over time, once the person adjusts to the emotional impact, they can tell themselves a story, sometimes telling it in different ways, until whatever the event is can be seen in a useful and positive light.

Obviously, things that happen to us that are good aren’t that hard to adapt to a positive story, but in the news lately, we’ve seen things happen that can only lead to tremendous pain.

You and I can face immense hardships and sorrow in our lives, and yet we see others who have suffered much worse and continued to go on, sometimes achieving true greatness.

In 1944, Simon Wiesenthal barely escaped death at the Janwska concentration camp. Wiesenthal had been imprisoned in a total of 12 concentration camps, and at the time of his liberation from Mauthausen in May 1945, his six-foot frame weighed just 99 pounds. Nearly all of Wiesenthal’s close relatives were murdered by the Nazis, and after the war he worked for the U.S. Army gathering documentation for Nazi war crimes trials. Wiesenthal continued this work privately, and became known as the “Nazi hunter” whose research led to capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, and dozens of other war criminals including Karl Silberbauer, the Gestapo officer responsible for the arrest of Anne Frank. Wiesenthal said: “When history looks back I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which operates the Museums of Tolerance, is named in his honor. In 1981, the Center’s film, “Genocide,” won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. Wiesenthal died at age 96 in Vienna and was buried in Herzliya, Israel.

Tevet 13
This Day in Jewish History
Aish.com

This isn’t to minimize difficult experiences for the rest of us who didn’t have to endure the Holocaust, but it shows us that it’s possible to survive and even to achieve great things after suffering terribly. Others besides Simon Wiesenthal survived the camps and continued to have a life for decades afterward, but perhaps not all of the survivors told themselves the same “story” about what it all meant to them. It would be understandable to give up, to surrender to depression or rage after such an experience, and no one would fail to have compassion, but the story Simon Wiesenthal told himself lead to a different path.

light-has-dawnedCertainly, this can be the path to holiness and a closer relationship with God, but there must also be a story that leads to a better relationship with yourself. Ultimately, I believe that both paths and both goals yield the same result, but what happens when you are injured and even devastated. You find yourself sitting in a very dark place, feeling yourself sink lower, hovering at the edge of the endlessly deepening abyss. How do you find your path when everything you are, particularly your thoughts and feelings, lead downward into the waiting embrace of oblivion?

Where a lantern is placed, those who seek light gather around – for light attracts.

Likutei Sichot, Vol. 10, p. 294.
from “Today’s Day”
Monday, Tevet 13, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Knowledge is like consuming the writings of the great sages, and it illuminates like a lantern or a small candle shining in the darkness. Wisdom is letting your thoughts and feelings not just experience the light, but absorb and become the light.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.

-Basho, Matsuo

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

-Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

Instead of sinking down and becoming the darkness, you can rise up with the sparks and become light, even if you continue to be surrounded by darkness.