A certain man was profoundly depressed. He perceived his many flaws and failings and they pained him, but he did not feel confident that he could atone for them. How could he possibly rectify such serious wrongs?
When Rav Yissachar Dov of Belz, zt”l, was asked what someone in this state of mind should do, he offered powerful words of encouragement. “You must understand that God never rejects the Jewish community, as we find in Chullin 29. The halachah is that if an individual is defiled within the community, he can bring his korban Pesach along with them. His personal sacrifice is not rejected because he is part of the community.
“By the same token, someone who takes stock of himself and finds himself riddled with faults should not give up. Although his feelings of inadequacy push him to abandon his efforts to serve God altogether, God forbid, he must take heart and do what he can. It is true that he is defiled, but if he becomes one with the Jewish community, God will enable him to rectify his many transgressions.”
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, zt”l, offered different advice to help fight feelings of spiritual inadequacy, however. “A person may contemplate the many mitzvos in the Torah and say, ‘How can I possibly fulfill them as required?’ Similarly, someone who has transgressed many sins should beware of what his yetzer haram (evil inclination) will surely claim: ‘How can you rectify so many evil deeds?’
“It is for this person that Moshe warns us, ‘And you should know today.’ He was alluding to Shabbos, regarding which the verse states, ‘Today is Shabbos.’ Moshe was telling us to how to answer such discouraging claims. We must say in our hearts: ‘Our sages explain that keeping Shabbos is likened to fulfilling the entire Torah. Through learning the laws of Shabbos and keeping them carefully, week after week, God will help me rectify my spiritual failings.’”
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Joining the Community”
If you’re a Christian, you may find several things about this commentary that trouble you. For one, it’s addressed to the Jewish people, so how can it apply to you? It also talks about a Jewish person’s difficulty in fulfilling all of the Torah commandments, which doubtlessly, you believe don’t apply to you. Also, the vast majority of Christians either don’t see the relevance of keeping the Shabbat as Jews do, or they believe that going to church on Sunday and then doing “whatever” afterward, fulfills this requirement.
Take a closer look.
While I agree that the commentary was written specifically to apply to Jews and that the 613 commandments Jews believe they are obligated to fulfill do not apply to non-Jewish Christians (or the vast majority of them, anyway), there is a lesson to be learned here. Despite being “saved” by Jesus Christ, a Christian still can feel as if he or she is spiritually deficient. It’s not like it’s impossible for a Christian to sin or even impossible for a Christian to suffer under multiple, habitual sins. It’s hardly impossible or a Christian to feel terrible guilt over having committed many sins and to experience a profound distance from God.
Some Christians in this situation simply give up their faith and surrender to their sins and the values of a fallen world.
The message of the esteemed Ravs we see quoted above is a message of hope that we Christians can look to as well. We are grafted in to the “cultivated olive tree” and “if the root is holy, so are the branches” (Romans 11:16). But while Rav Yissachar Dov suggests that a Jew can draw strength from the larger Jewish community, and the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh states that when a Jew observes the mitzvot applying to the Shabbat, it’s as if he fulfilled all of the Torah commandments, where does that leave us? How can a Christian overcome a profound sense of guilt over committing not just a few, but many sins across a long time period while professing faith in Christ?
The answer really isn’t that different. One of the reasons we gather in groups and worship communally is to gather strength and encouragement from each other:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. –1 Thessalonians 5:11
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. –Hebrews 3:13
You may not want to open up and expose the full truth of your being to your entire congregation or Sunday school class, but you can find someone on the Pastoral staff whom you feel you can trust, a compassionate Bible teacher, or a close Christian friend, and ask them for help. Yes, turn to God in prayer, repent in the name of Jesus, ask for forgiveness and the strength to stand tall under temptation, but don’t forget the kindness, grace, and support you can receive from a believing neighbor or friend. God provides us human comforters for a reason.
The other point also applies, though it may be more difficult to see.
In yesterday’s morning meditation, I suggested that it is appropriate and even beneficial for Christians to observe and keep the Shabbat in a manner similar to the Jewish people. That is, to keep an entire 24-hour period of time devoted to drawing nearer to God and to separating from the routine and stress of day-to-day life. Christians tend to see keeping a Sabbath in this manner as a list of what they can’t do (can’t go shopping, can’t go out to lunch, can’t mow the lawn), but it’s more about freedom than about restriction. It’s the freedom to put down the load you carry the other six-days of the week and to spend time focusing who you are; putting all of your attention on God, on prayer, on Bible study, on discussing the teachings of Jesus with others.
Christianity doesn’t have a tradition that says fulfilling one set of holy acts somehow fulfills all of them, but we don’t generally look at things that way. We know that Jesus atoned for our sins, so we don’t concern ourselves with all of the separate actions we would have to take to atone for all of the different sins we committed. We aren’t responsible for making the atonement ourselves, only for accepting the fact that Jesus is our atonement.
Still, as Christians, we can be overwhelmed by the amount and the depth of our sins and how we can ever manage to break the cycle of our disobedience. How can we remove all of the darkness from our souls and know that we are clean after leading sinful lives for months or even years? Wouldn’t a lifetime of sin and hypocrisy as a Christian take a lifetime to undo? How can we be forgiven if we still sin? Rather than trying to see the end result, we can take the “a journey of a thousand miles” point of view on the matter. We can start by focusing on just the first step.
Here’s the deal. Your life is a mess. You’ve really screwed up and you’ve been screwing up for a long time. Maybe your married life is worse than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s or you’ve severely “abused” Google’s image search feature on your computer to view women “inappropriately”. Perhaps your business dealings have been less than “open and above board” or you’ve been putting your hand in the boss’s till rather than helping your employer earn a profit.
Maybe you’ve been calling yourself a “Christian” and going to church on Sunday, but behaving no differently than the atheists and agnostics that populate your community, your workplace, and your neighborhood.
There’s hope. There’s always hope. You can turn it around. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. I know you’d like it to be. I know it might seem easier to just give up, but that only puts more distance between you and God and trust me, you’ll regret it in the long run. God said, “”Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22) and please notice that He is addressing “all you ends of the earth” and not the Children of Israel exclusively.
Faith and belief in Jesus isn’t enough to help you. Knowing God exists and leaving it at that isn’t the answer. James, the brother of the Master, said that we must have faith and deeds (James 2:14-24). We must trust that when we turn from sin to God and desire return, that God will be there with open arms waiting for us, like the Father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). We must not only believe God will accept our repentance, we must actually take the “risk” of returning and abandoning the sins that keep us from Him.
The only mistake you can make that is absolutely fatal is to walk away from God and never look back. Short of that, while you’re alive, you have hope. The world may be broken, but God can heal your brokenness.
There’s no such thing as defeat. There’s always another chance. To believe in defeat is to believe that there is something, a certain point in time that did not come from Above.
Know that G-d doesn’t have failures. If things appear to worsen, it is only as part of them getting better. We only fall down in order to bounce back even higher.
From the wisdom of the Rebbe
Menachem M. Schneerson
as compiled by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman in his book
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth