Finding God on the Slopes of Kilimanjaro

Margareth said:

Like you, I have found Aish articles really uplifting. It has really made me respectful for the profound wisdom I see in the articles there.

There are people like this I have met on the slopes of mount Kilimanjaro where my mother comes from. Their lives are hard and yet when you make an impromptu visit, their lined faces literally beam with happiness and they make sure they give a prayer of thanks before you are invited to eat and before you go. They put me to quite to shame in their faith and hope and joyfulness of attitude. Maybe the city life is what is destroying me…I do love being up there on the mountain. The missionaries outdid themselves up there.

I trust your day has gone well.

To which I replied:

My day is fine, Margareth. Thank you.

I know you’ve described the hardships of your life, but from my point of view living in southwestern Idaho, it seems incredible to be able to say you met people living on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. It illustrates that no matter who we are or where we live, no matter how far apart we are in terms of geography, nationality, language, and culture, we are all one in the Lord God. Most of us, we believers in the United States, tend to believe our problems and lives here are the only problems and lives. We rarely pull out heads out of the sand to realize how truly diverse are the people of God, how different our experiences, our very lives are from one another. And yet we are all brothers and sisters through our faith in Messiah. May he return soon and in our day.

I’d like to pull this brief transaction from the comments here and make it a blog post all it’s own. This realization, which escapes most of the Church in the west, needs to be pointed out and brought to light. I only wish I could bring these words to every Christian, Hebrew Roots person, and everyone attached to Messianic Judaism in any way, so we could all open our eyes and see that our struggles aren’t the only struggles, and that people of deep faith live all across the face of the Earth. It is God’s world and He will one day come back to live among us, in His Temple in Jerusalem, and the King will once again rule with Justice and Righteousness.

kilimanjaroThe first time I ever heard of Mt. Kilimanjaro was when I became aware of Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and much to my chagrin, I must admit to never having read it. But Hemingway isn’t the point. What Margareth said is.

I know when she mentioned visiting the people who live on the mountain’s slopes, and saying that’s where her mother comes from, they were simply statements of fact. But for someone like me, someone who is not all that well-travelled, and someone who pays far too much attention than I should to the “first world problems” declared by the news and social media pundits, it brought my own staggering ignorance into stark relief.

It also reminded me of just how ignorant most of us are in the United States of America, and probably many other western nations, to the true, vast expanse of the presence of the people of God in our world, all over the world.

In her brief descriptions of her life in the comments sections of Blessing God in a Dark World and Finding What’s Most Important, she has shown me a world I am completely unfamiliar with. And yet it is also a world where all we people of faith have a common mission and purpose. That mission and purpose is to bring the light of Messiah to others, in whatever we do, no matter who we are, no matter what language(s) we speak, no matter our nationality, history, culture, or personal experiences.

We have our master and teacher, Rav Yeshua, Jesus Christ in common. I know when our Rav walked this Earth, he came “for the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), and yet, he commissioned his disciples to make disciples of all the people of the Earth (Matthew 28:16-20), and assigned Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul, the responsibility of being his special emissary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-18).

To the best of his ability, and given the available modes of transportation of his day, Paul carried out his mission of bringing the good news of the Messiah, both to the Jews and the Gentiles living in the diaspora.

For the past nearly two-thousand years, others have taken up the mantle of the Apostle in bringing the good news to all the people of all the nations of the Earth. A lot of those missionaries have also caused a great deal of harm, destroyed the unique language of culture of many indigenous peoples, tortured, and even murdered people, Jews particularly, who would not convert to goyim Christianity, and committed many other acts that God condemns.

faithAnd yet, some remnant of the true intent of what Christians call “the Great Commission” survived. According to Margareth, the evidence of that lives on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro where her mother comes from.

I am amazed and pleased to pull my own head out of the sand and realize that I have something in common with people who live halfway around the world from me, people I’ll never meet, people, quite frankly, whose faith far outshines my own.

On the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the nation of Tanzania, on the continent of Africa, lives a people who have the same Messiah I do. They pray in his name. They greet visitors and travelers in the best tradition of Abraham (Genesis 18:1-8). Maybe the missionaries outdid themselves up on the mountain.

Or maybe the Spirit of God was exceedingly welcomed and has since resided with those humble people. The Church in America could learn a lot from them.

Thanks, Margareth. May God bless you and keep you forever in His Hand.

Blessing God in a Dark World

Why are we also in danger every hour? I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

1 Corinthians 15:30-32 (NASB)

It would be less frustrating if the Almighty’s face weren’t hidden. Everything would be clear and our decisions easy. We’d certainly sleep better at night. But that’s not our challenge, that’s not our opportunity for growth.

We need to rouse ourselves now, to move forward with faith and optimism, recognizing that even though He may be hidden, it’s all in His hands. And on Purim, we can take a small drink (emphasis on small), just to help ease our anxieties and inhibitions and clear the path to this recognition.

We pray that this be the year where the whole Jewish people comes to recognize the Almighty’s presence and where the mask of darkness is removed from our world.

-Emuna Braverman
“When God Hides His Face”
Aish.com

I was recently challenged to do the following:

James..there’s a lot you could write to us about glorifying G-d with all our soul/nephesh (Kiddush Hashem) in life now and in the face of death.

terrorism in nice
Credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

That’s no small request, especially since I don’t always know how to glorify God when my soul feels like it’s been run over by a tank.

The world’s a pretty horrible place. The most recent atrocity is the terrorist attack in Nice, France, and particularly how Europe is treating a terrorist attack against non-Jews vs. how it normally responds when Palestinian Arabs murder Israeli Jews.

As I said in my previous blog post, I get tired. I get tired of all the woe and grief in the world. I get tired of arguing with the religious pundits. I get tired of arguing with the social justice warriors (SJW), particularly the religious ones.

I want to go back to bed and pull the covers up over my eyes.

But that’s hardly blessing God in the face of adversity, in the face of a faithless and morally corrupt world, in the face of all the bad things and then the worse things that are going to happen between now and the return of Messiah.

I think a common problem, as least as I understand it, in blessing God during adversity is that we aren’t always focused on God, we’re focused on the adversity.

OK, to be fair, when someone steps on your toes, it hurts and you yell “Ouch!” Pretty hard not to pay attention to the pain.

But after the momentary “ouch,” and once we regain our composure, we can rededicate our focus on God once more.

Of course, it’s easier to do that if our focus on God was there before the “ouch”.

That’s right. The secret to focusing on God while under duress is to focus on God before trouble begins and to make it a habit.

That’s one of the things I like about observant Judaism. There’s a blessing and a ritual for everything. I know many Christians see that as a straight-jacket, but it can also be very organizing. If you develop a discipline of praying to God and blessing Him at regular and specific times of day, chances are God will be a lot nearer at hand when the world blows up in your face than if you were just praying to God whenever you felt like it (which for many Christians, usually means praying whenever you want something or when you feel an “ouch”).

Although the majority of Jews living in Israel are secular, there is something about the Jews in the Holy Land. Whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, God is particularly close to Jews in Israel, Jews who have returned to the Land in response to prophesy.

Like Paul, we have our hope in the resurrection, but like Paul, we should always be aware of the nearness of trouble, pain, and death. If we lose our hope in God, we’ve lost everything, so indeed, let us “party hardy,” because nothing really matters in the long run. We might as well be wasting our time playing Pokémon Go, because life and death, faith and God don’t mean anything.

I previously said that in response to an SJW, the most important thing to me was playing with my grandchildren, celebrating life rather than wallowing in oppression, victimhood, and sorrow.

prayers in the darkHowever, that’s just one small expression of what’s really, really important. Drawing nearer to God. If we start doing that now and do it everyday, we will already be closer to God when trouble comes. If we wait until trouble and pain comes, it may become too hard to focus our attention on Him, especially if we’re yelling “Ouch!” all the time.

In principle, it’s not that hard. Read the Bible every day. Set aside fixed times of prayer. Perform some sort of devotional on a daily basis. Be aware of opportunities to do good in your community every day and perform at least one mitzvah (commandment) each day, always with an awareness of the God who is over your head.

Is it easy?

No. If it were, we’d all do it. If it were, I probably wouldn’t complain so often and give in to bad impulses to engage intractable people on social media.

Oh, and I did another minor Facebook “purge” this morning, just for the sake of my peace of mind. I like being exposed to a variety of opinions, but I draw the line at hostility and self-righteousness.

If we wake up being thankful to God for our lives and go to sleep asking for His protection, and if we regularly “touch base” with Him during the day, on the day of woe, He will already be our old companion.

The opinions of men, their transitory social imperatives, their fluid and relative morality, this is like sand on the beach, there one day and washed back out into the ocean the next. Only God is our rock and our deliverer, both from the world and from the darkest parts of our own souls.

If I were better at this, I’m sure my soul wouldn’t have such large dark parts. But the arm of God is not too short to save, even someone like me.

Finding What’s Most Important

I despair for my involvement in humanity, religious and otherwise. I suppose it was predictable. In fact, a lot of people predicted it. I pretended that I could go it alone, but in the end, it wasn’t possible, let alone reasonable.

I’ve been through the religious argument wars, the Jewish identity wars, the “you’re just a Goy” wars, and I’ve survived. But it’s gotten worse, much worse.

My Aberrant Theology was bad enough, having to struggle with the various flavors of normative Christianity, which frankly, hasn’t appealed to me for quite some time.

But given all of the recent racial unrest, assaults, murders reported in the mainstream media lately, religious people who are also what have been called Social Justice Warriors (not the person who originally posted this to Facebook but one of the more vocal commentators), who are also religious and at least in theory, hold a theological view somewhat similar to my own, I despair.

What’s the point of attempting dialog when each and every time, the only answer is to remain silent or capitulate?

I tried to clarify my views and seek a dialog, but when the discussion got to a certain point, it was abandoned, probably because I didn’t “see the light”.

It’s just like church. It’s just like the contention in Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, at least as far as my involvement has been.

I know it’s my fault. I’m not easy to live with (a fact my wife can confirm). I don’t play well with others. I don’t roll over. I ask too many questions. When pushed, I push back. Nobody likes that, especially when the point of online debates is to be right and to make sure everyone else knows they’re wrong.

Social justice sounds nice, it sounds, well… “just”, but just like religion, it’s only as good as its weakest link…human beings.

I admit that as I’ve gotten older, my tendency toward being somewhat misanthropic has increased. Yesterday, I put my one year old granddaughter in a stroller and took her for a walk in the neighborhood. During the walk, I kept identifying the potential threats to my grandchild. The family walking two large dogs. The pre-teen boys playing basketball and not paying attention to their proximity to my granddaughter and the potential for collision. Cars driving too fast through the neighborhood.

My granddaughter loves to go for walks, but by the time we got back home, I was a nervous wreck.

Religious pundits make me nervous. So do social justice warriors. At least in social media, they want me to agree with them while asking no questions and simply accepting what they believe is self-evident; that they are always right.

Some months ago, I did a purge on Facebook, Google+, and twitter to eliminate some of the more negative forces in my life. I really need to find more peace and less contention. I don’t thrive on conflict and bringing conflict to others. I need to stop letting myself be drawn into endless and fruitless debates.

It’s nothing personal. I need to do this for me, not against you. It’s been over two weeks since I’ve posted here. Granted, I’ve blogged elsewhere, but even at Powered by Robots, I’ve allowed conversations to occur I never should have. What started out as a venue for my fiction writing turned into a social platform, at least some of the time.

I’m tired of fighting.

I’m considering what next to eliminate from my life so I can reclaim some peace of mind. Maybe killing all news feeds would be a start.

One of the few things I’m sure of is that my grandchildren love me. My grandson loves playing with me, and my granddaughter smiles and laughs when she first sees me after we’ve been apart. That should be what’s most important. Not jumping through the religious and social hoops of people who need something from me I do not have to give.

I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. If God wants me, He certainly knows where to find me. I’ll be on the floor playing with children. And later in the night, I’ll be sleeping and dreaming of tomorrow.

My Aberrant Theology

There are days.

Really, I don’t know why I respond to Facebook clickbait sometimes.

No, that’s not fair. It’s not “clickbait” as such. The person who posted the statement is honest and forthright. We just happen to disagree, that’s all.

He said:

Q: What do you say when someone protests, “We’re not under the law, we’re under the New Covenant!”
A: I would respond as follows…

Q: When the Scriptures describe the New Covenant, in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (which is also quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12) what is the first thing God says He will do in the fulfilling of the New Covenant?
A: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”

Q: What is the law that God will write on our hearts as part of the New Covenant?
A: According to Romans 8:1-11 those who walk in the Spirit will submit to God’s Law, so that it “might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” So, we are no longer under the “condemnation” or “curse” or penalty of the law, but we are most certainly still instructed by God’s law. In fact, it is now being written on our hearts, so that we might faithfully walk it out. According to Ephesians 2:8-10 this is why we were saved by grace through faith: that we might walk in “good works” which God, “prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

new heartI happened to mention that Jeremiah 31:31 states only the House of Judah and the House of Israel, and not the Gentiles at all, participate in the New Covenant. Christianity sidesteps this little problem by cherry-picking various New Testament scriptures while ignoring the fact that there’s no linear progression from Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 and those particular passages. In this case Ephesians 2 was invoked.

My response was to point to a two-part series on Ephesians 2, Abraham, and the unique Jewish mission I wrote over 14 months ago, specifically citing the works of Carl Kinbar and Derek Leman.

The response to my response was to have Kinbar and Leman (and by inference, me) accused of “aberrant theologies”.

“The inappropriate emphasis of Jewish or Gentile identity will inevitably result in aberrant theologies.” … as demonstrated by Kinbar and Leman.

Just to be clear, the dictionary definition of “aberrant” is “departing from an accepted standard.” Synonyms include “deviant, deviating, divergent, abnormal, atypical, anomalous, irregular.”

Reminds me of those times when the head Pastor of the church I used to attend stated that he spoke “sound doctrine,” implying that anyone who disagreed with him was teaching “unsound doctrine.”

In other words, “agree with me or you’re wrong.”

Of course, the arguments being used against me are based on Covenant Theology which I’ve already discounted, at least within my own little world view.

This is all my fault. If I’d just learn that people don’t want to discuss, they want you to be “aberrant,” then I’d (hopefully) not engage them, even the nice ones, in such conversations. They never end well. If you’re mainstream, you are always right. That’s one of the reasons I don’t go to their churches. No room for minority opinions. No place for the occasional oddball. The Church is for conformists (of course, most religious institutions require such a thing by definition).

TempleI guess it doesn’t matter if I’m right either. Let them have their victories over the Jewish people and Judaism, over the Torah and the Temple. God will be God no matter what I say or no matter what anyone else says, either.

I just don’t believe God will delete my Jewish wife and children based on a theological technicality that wasn’t even conceived of until after the Gentile Christians threw the Jewish disciples of Yeshua out of their own party sometime in the early second century CE and after.

No, that’s not really what Covenant Theology says…well, not exactly. I just don’t think you have to drag the Jewish people and Jewish praxis into the mud in order to elevate the Messiah. I believe both ascend together. Why would the King of Israel bring down his Israelite subjects, the named members of the covenants with God, in order to elevate a non-covenant people? After all, without those covenant people who are already near to God, how can a non-covenant people be brought nearer to the God of Israel by them and by their King?

If You Could Imagine

Imagine that King David encouraged you to recite his Psalms. Imagine that King Solomon encouraged you to learn from the wisdom of Mishlei (Proverbs). Imagine that Hillel and Rabbi Akiva encouraged you to study Torah. Imagine that the Baal Shem Tov encouraged you to pray with passion and fervor. Imagine that the Chofetz Chaim encouraged you to be careful with your power to speak, and to speak words of positive encouragement and never to speak negatively about others or to insult people. Imagine that Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev encouraged you to see the good in others and to find merit for them. Imagine that Rabbi Meir Shapiro encouraged you to learn Daf Yomi and to encourage others to do so. Imagine that Rabbi Noah Weinberg encouraged you to light the fire of Torah in every Jewish heart.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Chapter 37 of his new book
Encouragement: Formulas, Stories, and Insights

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

This is part of Rabbi Pliskin’s advice for how to use our imagination to encourage ourselves. Of course, he’s writing for a Jewish audience, so we may find ourselves limited in imagining that David might really encourage the Goyim to recite his Psalms, and certainly in envisioning the Baal Shem Tov encouraging us to pray with passion and fervor.

As much as I enjoy Rabbi Pliskin’s writing, I wonder if this one isn’t a bit of a stretch.

What would Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) encourage a non-Jewish disciple to do? What about Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul)? The answers to those questions might seem self-evident to a traditional evangelical Christian, but when you realize that the hearts of Yeshua and Paul were first and foremost turned to their Jewish brethren, what does that mean for the rest of us? Do we have the right to even imagine they would encourage us?

Of course, Paul’s epistles to the various Gentile communities he established were full of encouragement (as well as, in some cases, criticism and even condemnation). After all, he was the emissary to the Gentiles, specifically appointed by Rav Yeshua in a metaphysical vision.

So if we were to imagine Paul encouraging us, what would he say?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:9

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

The Jewish PaulThese are just quotes and don’t really address how we could imagine Paul encouraging each of us personally. Paul wrote these letters to a different audience, different of his “churches” nearly twenty centuries ago. How can we imagine what he might say to you or me today?

Let’s take a look at part of Rabbi Pliskin’s quote again:

Imagine that King David encouraged you to recite his Psalms. Imagine that King Solomon encouraged you to learn from the wisdom of Mishlei (Proverbs). Imagine that Hillel and Rabbi Akiva encouraged you to study Torah. Imagine that the Baal Shem Tov encouraged you to pray with passion and fervor.

Now, allow me the arrogance of rewording it.

Imagine Rav Yeshua encouraged you to review all that was written about him in the Gospels. Imagine that the Apostle Paul encouraged you to read everything he wrote to encourage the early Gentile disciples in his Epistles. Imagine that James and the Elders in Jerusalem encouraged you to read the Jerusalem letter as an invitation to stand alongside Jewish Messianic community.

Does that seem more reasonable to you? Can you imagine being encouraged in that way by those people?

I don’t know.

Jewish people can feel a kinship for David, Solomon, Rabbi Akiva, and all of the other ancient Jewish luminaries because they are all united, both by blood and by covenant. In a sense, they are all extended family.

Not so for the Gentiles. We have no direct covenant relationship with God, even through Christ (at least not as the Church teaches it). We are symbolically adopted, metaphorically grafted in. We belong only by the grace and mercy of the God of Israel. The only standing we have before our Maker is the one He decides we have.

That said, I’ve met Christians who truly believe the Apostle Paul would feel right at home in their Baptist churches, and that the “services” Paul led were pretty much the same as church services today (I kid you not), in fact, even with a language in common, Paul would find most or all church services totally alien to him.

He might not feel that much more comfortable in a modern synagogue service, but at least the Hebrew and some of the prayers would be familiar so he’d know he was in Jewish community.

I hate to over-generalize. It’s one of the failings of the Church, the belief that each and everything written in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation was specifically written for and to Christians.

Context tells us otherwise, or it should. Much if not most of the Bible is specifically written to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Unless you’re Jewish, that doesn’t include you or me.

So there is only a tiny handful of scripture that we can or should even imagine has anything to do with the rest of the world. Where does prayer stop and self-serving imagination begin?

Man aloneI haven’t been feeling myself lately. I’m doing a little bit better than I was, but recovery is slow. At least I can concentrate enough to write again.

If you can imagine any Biblical luminary speaking directly to you, oh I’m not suggesting self-serving wish-fulfillment, but what legitimately anyone in the Bible would have to say to you as an individual, who would it be and what would they say?

If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question?

-Joan Osborne
from the lyrics of “One of Us”

Growing Up Playing on the Railroad Tracks

I realized that it’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve written anything on this blog. There are a few reasons for this. The first, as I chronicled here, is that for the past week, I’ve been sick as a dog. Actually, the whole family has, thanks to some nasty bug my poor granddaughter (who now is thankfully on the mend) picked up at the Germ Factory Day Care Center.

Oh, it’s not like I haven’t been blogging at all. In addition to the aforementioned Old Man’s Gym blog post, I’ve been attempting to generate some traction on my newest blogspot, Powered by Robots, including a discussion on how I’m developing my forthcoming science fiction novel, promoting my latest textbook (yes, I write those, too), and reviewing a scifi short story available for Kindle.

But that’s not the whole reason I haven’t been writing here.

aloneI haven’t been writing “Morning Meditations” because I haven’t been inspired to do so. I suppose that should be disturbing since, given my life situation, this is pretty much the only spiritual outlet (or intake) I’ve got.

I’ve seen a meme on Facebook that says something like, “If you’ve given up on God because your church has failed you, then it wasn’t God you had faith in.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that meme lately.

It seems kind of trite and not exactly true, though. When I walked out of my little church the better part of two years ago, a lot of people tried to find me an alternative. They seemed to think without belonging to a community, that my faith would wane, and that I would eventually stop having faith at all.

It hasn’t been easy.

But it does go to show that when you have problems with community, for whatever reasons, it is generally believed that you cannot go it alone, just you and God.

So the meme isn’t exactly correct.

On the other hand, it’s not entirely incorrect, either.

I’m writing all this because I’ve seen various messages in social media lately saying stuff like “just returned from such and thus spiritual event and had a wonderful time with old and new friends.” I won’t name names, because that’s one way I get into trouble with “the powers that be”.

But I am reminded of the great times I had in community, both regular, weekly get-togethers and special events and conferences. Those doors are closed to me now, precisely because I closed them (and I had good reasons to do so).

gratitudeThis morning (couldn’t sleep, coughing and return of the evil nose bleed), I came across something at Aish.com, a quote from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Thank You, Gratitude: Formulas, stories, and insights.

A few years ago a person who would be considered successful by most people’s standards shared with me, “Looking back at my childhood, a pattern that I remembered having is, ‘He has more than me.’ ‘His birthday present was better than mine.’ ‘He gets to travel to more interesting places.’ ‘He is luckier than I am.’ ‘He has more friends.’ ‘He lives in a nicer house.’

“On my fortieth birthday I made a mental accounting of my life. I thought about various traits and patterns that I had. The most distressful part of this mental accounting was that I noticed I wasn’t very happy in my life. When I asked myself why, and thought about it, I realized that I kept feeling that I had less than others. I was told to look back at my childhood for this pattern, and that’s when I realized how often this theme came up. There were many ways that others had it better than I did. And my mind was full of thoughts of not only having less, but of being less.

“I realized that if I wanted to live the rest of my life joyfully, I needed to do one of two things. Either I could make it my goal to be so successful in every way that is important to me that I would be far ahead of everyone I knew. Then I would find it easier to be grateful for my accomplishments, successes, and possessions. Or I could learn to gain greater mastery over my thoughts. I would choose to think thoughts of gratitude as my automatic way of thinking. The first choice would take so much time, effort, and energy that I would be in a constant frustrating race with others. I might never reach my goal and even if I did reach it, it was certainly not going to last. Eventually someone would pass me by. This way of thinking would give me many years of stress and frustration and there really wasn’t a way that this would give me gratitude and happiness. It was obvious that the wiser approach would be to be grateful for what I had. Choosing this pattern of thought was one of the best choices I have made in my life.”

So if I feel “deprived” or feel “less” in any way, particularly in the area of spiritual company, I either have to work so hard that I outshine anyone I may be envious of, or I change the way I think about what I do have in my life and be grateful to God for that.

Kind of a no-brainer once you put it that way. Oh, and there’s this:

Ben Zoma says: Who is rich? The one who is appreciates what he has…

-Talmud—Avot 4:1

Talmudic RabbisI saw another “meme” (not really a meme, but it read that way to me) that said something like “Torah without Rabbinics” or “Judaism without Rabbinics”. Yeah. Good luck with that.

Actually, I’ve heard this one before, and more than once. The first time I can remember was when I was in graduate school. One of my instructors described his childhood and how he would literally play on the railroad tracks behind where he lived because his family didn’t live near a more appropriate venue such as a park.

Now you may think that was terrible, and looking back, a lot of people might tell themselves they had a bad childhood because they were poor, but he said at the time, he was having a blast. When you esteem what you have, it’s hard to focus on what you lack (or what others may think you lack).

Over every single blade of grass, there is a heavenly force that whispers to it and commands, “Grow!”

-Bereishis Rabbah 10:7

OK, there is that. It’s easy, without external prompts, to simply tread water in your own little pool, and I have plenty of experience doing that.

In his commentary on the above-quoted Bereishis Rabbah, Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski says in part:

Every living thing in the world has potential, and it is the Divine will that everything achieve its maximum potential. We think of humans as the only beings that have a yetzer hara which causes them to resist growth. Certainly animals and plants, which do not have a yetzer hara, should achieve their maximum potential quite easily.

Not so, says the Midrash. Even plants, and in fact all living matter, have an inherent “laziness,” a tendency towards inertia. Even the lowly blade of grass needs to be stimulated and urged to grow.

We can see from here that a human being thus has two inhibiting forces to overcome in order to achieve growth: (1) the yetzer hara, which is unique to us, and (2) the force of inertia, which is common to all matter.

plant growing through concrete
Image: xellow.com

So while Heaven prompts us to grow, our yetzer hara and plain old inertia counters that. However, if a single blade of grass can push its way up into the air through solid concrete, and if drops of water can slowly wear down a stone, then it possible for a human being, namely me, to pick away at the barriers between me and a more spiritual life, a tiny bit at a time.

"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

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