In future generations, people will find difficulty in understanding how at one time generations existed who did not regard the idea of God as the highest concept of which man is capable, but who, on the contrary, were ashamed of it and considered the development of atheism a sign of progress in the emancipation of human thought.
Russia and Western Man (1950)
Moreover, the sublime in the Biblical sense is found not only in the immense and the mighty, in the “bold, overhanging, and, as it were, threatening rocks,” but also in the pebbles on the road. “For the stone shall cry out of the wall” (Habakuk 2:11). “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psalms 118:27).
Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism
I was almost astonished when I came across the quote of Schubart in Rabbi Heschel’s book, if only because it is such a completely accurate prediction of what we experience in the world today. I had to read it over again to make sure I understood the phrase correctly. We live in an age where belief, faith, and trust in God is considered at best anachronistic and at worst, ignorance and bigotry. Religion, more than any other organized structure, is blamed by the prevailing secular world for all manner of human ills including war, famine, disease, and race-hatred. This is considered especially true if you are a Christian or a Jew (for social and political reasons, modern western culture treats Muslims as exempt from this group).
Yesterday morning, my wife sent me a link to an article written by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman (we both appreciate his writing very much) called What is Chutzpah? The following caught my attention:
Citing the words of the Mishnah, “Be fierce as a leopard,” the code tells us that this means that when you go about doing all those Jewish things that Jews do, you shouldn’t feel the slightest embarrassment before those who ridicule you.
I’m not Jewish, but anyone who is openly religious will give the appearance of being an “oddball” in the culture we live in, and certainly I am considered an “oddball” even among other Christians (read any of my blog posts to find out why). Rabbi Freeman reminds me that to live a life of faith unashamedly, you must have chutzpah; the unabashed courage to make every action and every statement an expression of who you are in God and who He is in you.
One of Rabbi Freeman’s articles, related to the one on chutzpah, addresses Emunah, which is sometimes translated as “faith” or “belief”. It’s not an entirely equivalent term to either of those English words, and contains the sense that it “is an innate conviction, a perception of truth that transcends, rather than evades, reason.” That’s something of a radical concept, because the secular world sees faith as the lack of logic and reason while emunah is described as a sort of “meta-reason” and in fact, “wisdom, understanding and knowledge can further enhance true emunah.”
Several months ago, I wrote a blog article called Getting in the Wheelbarrow which describes the difference between faith (or at least belief) and trust. In short, faith is believing in the existence of God. Trust is “living out loud”, so to speak, a life with the certainty that God will always support you in all circumstances. This means being faithful to God in all things regardless of what people say or think about you and your rather unpopular lifestyle.
It’s not easy.
Almost two weeks ago, I wrote in another blog post that “What’s more important is to realize that we have that importance in the eyes of God no matter what anyone else thinks or feels about us.” That includes our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and anyone whose thoughts, feelings, and opinions matter to us.
It’s not easy.
I’ve been following some conversations on a couple of blogs lately. One blog is written by Dr. Stuart Dauermann who believes that Jews who have faith in Jesus (Yeshua) should live a completely Jewish ethnic, cultural, and religious lifestyle. The other is maintained by Judah Gabriel Himango who believes that “Spirit-Life-giving” worship elements such as singing “Messianic” songs and performing “Davidic” dancing (this is an oversimplification..see his blog for more details) shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of traditional Jewish worship practices (which are somehow not “Spirit-Life-giving”). I’ve already commented in the conversations on both blogs and don’t want to re-hash the arguments here, but it’s commentaries like these that remind me how much of a struggle it can be to make the simple choice to worship and honor God in a particular manner without attracting someone’s ire.
Chutzpah and Emunah are partners by necessity because living a life of the latter absolutely requires possessing the former, that is unless you choose to live in a cave or on a mountain top far away from other human beings. Isolation for the sake of faith however, is not what God had in mind.
And now the LORD says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD
and my God has been my strength—
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” –Isaiah 49:5-6
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. –Matthew 5:14-16
In seeking God, we seek the sublime, the exalted and elevated, the most mighty of all Kings and the greatest of all Lords, the One God of all creation. However, Heschel says that the sublime isn’t always found in the highest heavens (pp 40-41.)
The sublime is revealed not only in the “clouds piled up in the sky, moving with lightning flashes and thunder peals,” but also in God’s causing the rain “to satisfy the desolate and waste ground, and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth” (Job 38:27); not only in the “volcanoes in all their violence and destruction,” but also in God’s “setting up on high those that are low” and in frustrating “the device of the crafty” (Job 5:11-12); not only in “the hurricanes with their track of devastation” but also in “the still small voice” (I Kings 19:12); not only in “the boundless ocean in the state of tumult” but in His setting a bar to the sea, saying, “Thus far shalt thou come, but no further; here shall they proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11).
I might add that not only is the sublime found in the majestic Courts of Heaven and on the awesome Throne of God, but also in the lowliest servant of the Most High, trembling in fear and awe as he kneels before his King.
Rabbi Freeman writes that Abraham and Moses had enough chutzpah to question even God and that David’s chutzpah wouldn’t allow him to be afraid of the giant Goliath who was screaming terrible insults at the Jewish people.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, had no sense of fear of anyone or anything other than G-d Himself. Those who knew him said that if a lion would jump out at him, he wouldn’t flinch.
Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch defined the kind of chutzpah that the leaders of Chabad implemented in their fight against Czarist oppression and later Bolshevik anti-religious persecution: “Just go over it.” Meaning, no matter what they do, no matter how ominous it looks, just keep your locomotive steaming straight ahead as though there’s nothing in your way.
How much less should you and I fear those around us who believe we are ignorant and failing to uphold a proper “political correctness”, all for the sake of an ancient God who they have long since concluded is a myth created by a middle eastern tribe far removed from modern enlightenment and progressiveness. In the face of an “enlightenment” that has darkened the corridor leading to true wonder and awe, we believers and disciples of the Master, small and humble though we may be, are also his only lights in the world of men. We are serving as guides through the fog and pathfinders to the confused and dazed of humanity who are wandering blind in a lost and troubled world.
We associate chutzpah and emunah with the Jewish people and it has served them well, but these tools are essential for any person who professes faith and trust in God and it is by these qualities that we shall endure, though we are only “small pebbles on the road” and stones crying “out of the wall”.