The Resolute and Supple Reed

“Who is wise? One who learns from every person.”
-Ben Zoma, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1)

Throughout the existence of the Jewish people, we have long been enamored with intelligence. Just look at the disproportionate amount of Jews who have been awarded the Nobel Prize. However, intelligence by itself is not a supreme value; it can be used for either good or evil. Thus, the Talmud tells us, “The purpose of wisdom is to bring about repentance and good deeds” (Berachot 17a). In other words, if we’re not using our minds to try to become better people, our intelligence really doesn’t amount to much at all. Furthermore, Ben Zoma’s excerpt from Pirkei Avot alludes to the fact that while a person’s intellectual capacity is innately limited, wisdom can be attained by anyone. A wise person is not someone who graduated first in their class, but rather someone who is constantly trying to learn.

“Who is Wise”
Lev Echad blog

I didn’t create this “morning meditation” blog to simply spew out answers but rather to ask hard questions. I don’t pretend to have some special insight into God or religion or faith. I only have my experience as I continue and grow in my relationship with God. I chronicle the developments of that relationship here in a variety of forms, including commentary on the Bible and occasionally reviews of related publications. I’m not really here to teach but to learn, and I learn from every person who talks to me in this blog. I think that’s how we all learn…by communicating.

It’s not always easy. As I’m sure you’ve discovered by participating in or just reading the comments on this blog, a lot of disagreement and sometimes heated debate happens. Occasionally, tempers flare, though I do my best to try and contain the “emotionalism” of our debates. The goal, as I see it, is not to try to prove who is right and who is wrong, but to pursue realization and truth. Truth, as I’ve said before, is not the same as fact, and thus truth can take on more than one form.

As Asher said in the quote I posted above, “A wise person is not someone who graduated first in their class, but rather someone who is constantly trying to learn.” He also said this:

Thus, the Talmud tells us, “The purpose of wisdom is to bring about repentance and good deeds” (Berachot 17a). In other words, if we’re not using our minds to try to become better people, our intelligence really doesn’t amount to much at all.

The goal Asher describes is similar to mine. The point of being intelligent isn’t to “be right” but to “bring about repentance and good deeds.” We’re supposed to study and explore and debate and discuss, not to exalt ourselves and to prove we’re the “smarter guy,” but to become better people through a greater understanding of our relationship with God. From a Jewish point of view, that also involves doing and not just thinking or saying, so “good deeds” are a vital part of that process as is repentance of our sins before man and God.

Does that mean a truly wise person is always a doormat who never takes a strong stand on a moral principle? Not at all.

On today’s daf we find that the Beis HaMikdash was purposely destroyed either before or after Shemittah, since bad things happen during times that are already difficult.

Keeping Shemittah in Israel was a big conflict not too long ago. Hardly anyone was doing it—even otherwise religious farmers—and those who were willing were often intimidated by their peers. The Chazon Ish, zt”l, wrote a beautiful letter of encouragement to those farmers who were willing to consider sacrificing what appeared to be their advantage in order to keep the letter of the law.

“I am a farmer who makes his living through the work of my hands. It is now almost Shemittah and a riveting thought has gotten into my head: I want to keep the laws of Shemittah with courage and boldness. I am alone and unaided, a joke to all of my neighbors. ‘How could it be?’ they asked when I began. ‘You won’t plant and you won’t harvest? You can’t fight against reality!’

“But my chutzpah stood me well and despite the indisputable fact that anyone with intelligence knows that it is physically impossible to keep these halachos unless one has a silo filled with grain for three years—since Shemittah is obviously impossible to fulfill in our times without enough grain before the seventh year. Now isn’t like it used to be, they say; you cannot rely on miracles. Yet the year is already halfway over and it looks like one can keep Shemittah after all. I planted everything before Rosh Hashannah, while it was still the sixth year, and during the seventh year I have not worked my field. I am careful to treat the produce which overlaps from the sixth year to the seventh with holiness and I hope to make peace with reality—or that reality should mete out what is good for me.

“My neighbors mock me—yet the weather mocks them. It works out to be good for one who planted early, but not for their crops planted during Shemittah. Only my early-planted crops have survived!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Time of Challenge”
Arachin 12

It seems obvious that if we are in the right in an argument or dispute, we should stand our ground, even against overwhelming odds, including that of “popular public opinion.” The question is, how can you know that you are always right? If you are a reasonable person and honest with yourself, you’ll have to admit that you can never be “always right”. That’s where learning from others comes in. Even a genius cannot know everything if that genius is in isolation. Only by discourse with the rest of the world, including a world that is fundamentally different from you, can real learning ever take place. The trick is to differentiate between being resolute in your principles and being mule-headed stubborn, even in the face of great evidence that discounts the validity of your arguments.

OK, I say that with the understanding that most people don’t change once they’ve made up their minds. But if change were impossible, then no one would come to realize that the God of Abraham is the Maker of the Universe. If we could not humble ourselves and admit that we were wrong, no one would come to faith in the Jewish Messiah, our Lord, Savior, and King.

But our greatest adversary doesn’t exist outside of us in some other group or church or synagogue or even in the supernatural realm. Our greatest enemy is who we are.

There are times you must be like a reed in the wind. And there are times you must face it like an iron wall.

When it comes to matters that lie at the surface, then “I hold like this” and “my opinion is like this” stand in the way of harmony and peace. Every such “I” is the very root and source of evil.

But when it comes to matters that touch your essence and core, the purpose for which you were placed in this world, then you must be an iron wall. Then you must say, “On this, I cannot budge.”

Liberated from its thick shell of ego, empowered and emboldened, the essential self breaks through the concrete, blossoms and flourishes.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“I Versus I”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Although “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), we must not “dull” ourselves by always seeking resistance. To “sharpen” a human being requires debate, disagreement, and discourse, and then an experience of contrition before God to help us understand when it is time to stand our ground like an iron wall, and when it is time to be supple like the reed before the wind.

In the midst of our human storms, we must never forget that what matters most is to seek His Face.

My heart, O God, is steadfast;
I will sing and make music with all my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, LORD, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples. –Psalm 108:1-3


16 thoughts on “The Resolute and Supple Reed”

  1. However, intelligence by itself is not a supreme value; it can be used for either good or evil. Thus, the Talmud tells us, “The purpose of wisdom is to bring about repentance and good deeds” (Berachot 17a).

    This comment is very liberating, as you often find people who praise their own intelligence but have few or no “good deeds”. It is something that I have milled over in my mind so often. And also wondered how humility fits into the picture of intelligence and also intelligence is something that is awarded to one, even as good health and your station in life, and like Job, it is given by Adonai and it can also be taken away, nothing, not even intelligence can be taken for granted.

    I thank you for your morning meditation, it is inspiring and though provoking and makes me feel closer to Adonai in my understanding. Berachot. Taliah.

  2. Isaiah said of the Messiah, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” (Isaiah 42:3 ESV)

    As disciples we today should learn the manner of their Master. We are too quick to snuff out every smoldering wick with which we disagree or to break every bent reed which stands in our way. We are often quick to join a quarrel, raising our voice in the streets in the name of truth and dogma. In our zeal to advance the kingdom, we sometimes tread upon the principles of the kingdom. We should emulate the Master’s gentle nature, standing firm for truth, but always with a low profile and humble disposition.

  3. @Taliah: Greetings and welcome, Taliah.

    I agree with you completely. Thank you.

    @Boaz: Thank you for that. I wrote today’s “morning meditation” with exactly that thought in mind. We fight and we “war” with each other in the blogosphere and in other venues, and completely miss the point of being disciples of the Master. Among other things, he taught us to turn the other cheek and to carry the pack of the Roman soldier an extra mile, when we were only required to carry it one.

    We stand up and demand our “rights” for this or that under God, and completely forget that the primary message of Jesus was not one of individual rights but rather, our responsibilities to God and to other people. Christ had the “right” to claim Kingship of the world and its people 2,000 years ago, but instead of standing up for his “rights” (as the adversary tempted him with), he submitted to the will of the Father, surrendering even to the horrible death on the cross. If he had “stood up for his rights”, humanity would have no hope. Only by Messiah’s humility and submission have we all been reconciled to God and saved by grace and mercy.

    The message has been lost. We must take it back.

    Blessings and Shalom on you, your family, and your ministry, Boaz.

    For everyone reading this blog, peace upon you all.

  4. James,

    I don’t think it was fair that you directed a comment at me in a previous post and then shut down the comments system. I’ve never seen you do that before but I’ve only been following your blog a short while.

    I realize that there’s no such thing as completely free speech. I know that you can’t yell “fire!” in a movie theatre; you can’t incite immediate violence, etc. But it didn’t seem like anyone on that post was saying anything that would warrant shutting down the forum (although I may have missed something).

    I try not complain in situations where I don’t know what the solution is. But I felt like a complaint was in order here. I thought discussions were supposed to be organic so that people who are nice can establish a reputation for being nice, people who are jerks will be known for being jerks, and the people–the audience–can discover the truth for themselves. Am I wrong here?

    Somewhat annoyed,


  5. James,

    The Master also presented the other side: Matt. 10:34-36. He called the Pharisees “hypocrites,” “white-washed tombs,” “vipers” and “blind.”

    For one, to present only one side of the picture when the truth is presented to them and they cannot defend their error, is nothing but hypocrisy.

  6. @Peter: My comments weren’t directed at you personally, so please don’t take them that way. I found it necessary to shut down comments on the other blog post as an alternative to going through piecemeal and deleting any comments that may have crossed the line. This is the first time I’ve *ever* had to do this on any of my blogs (I maintain several on a variety of topics), so it’s an extremely rare occurrence. I don’t know how you felt that my statements relevant to closing comments on that blog post were directed at you (they weren’t) and I apologize if you were offended.

    @Dan: I like you, at least most of the time, Dan. I don’t mind that you’re feisty and irreverent and I certainly don’t expect you to agree with my point of view on the topics we discuss, so that’s not a problem for me. I do have a problem when you start name calling, either me or other people. I don’t like having to take overtly controlling measures for blog comments, but if you continue on this course, even one more time, I will simply start removing any offensive comments you make. I urge you to consider your response, if you choose to make one, carefully. If you need a forum to make your remarks in an uninhibited fashion, I suggest you use your own blog for that purpose. If you consider me a liar or a hypocrite, then you can easily stop visiting my blog and reading my material, as it will be of no use to you. I continue to consider you my brother in Messiah, but that doesn’t mean I always have to let you say what you want here. Blessings.

    My note to anyone who has been upset by the content or comments on my blog this week is to read what I’ve written in the body of today’s blog. I will be extending this message for tomorrow’s “morning meditation” as well. Debates and discussion aside, there’s a time when we must remember that our main goal is to pursue the glory of God and to humbly bow before the will and teachings of the Messiah.

    I didn’t make this blog so we could all get into “fights”. I created this as a place to ask questions religion rarely asks, ponder potential answers that we may never settle on this side of Messiah, and to share my continuing journey of faith in God. It’s time to make peace and to recognize that we all have our discipleship in the Moshiach in common. Let us come together under that banner and part in peace in his name.

  7. Jasmes,

    Sorry, my comment was not directed at you. I made the comment in general because that is what i see on many blogs: a setting aside of the truth in favor of passing an agenda through. I challenge you to point to any lie in my blogs or comments….

    Here is an example of what I mean…We had a discussion about the multitude at Sinai. You said , on one hand, that they were assimilated into Israel within three generations without any ritual conversion, yet on the other hand, you are against today Gentiles who accept the God of Israel assimilating into Israel in three generations…What is the difference?

  8. If there is one word that epitomizes to me the dark inner pulse giving macabre spiritual life to the twenty centuries-long “breaking of reeds” known as the Adversus Judaeous tradition (the tradition of Christian anti-Antisemitism), it is the term “triumphalism.” This strange, twisted sense of haughty, brutal satisfaction in the wake of the coerced demise of the Jewish faith tradition might be seen as the direct antithesis of “the Master’s gentle nature.” Now, as we work to reach out to the Jewish people in the aftermath of the Shoah–the ultimate catastrophic byproduct of such a long–lasting, punitive form of spiritual triumphalism–it’s more important than ever to emulate “the Master’s manner” if we are to be blessed by a great turning of the Jewish people toward their theologically misrepresented Messiah. After all the reeds that have been broken, an adamant refusal to break them now in emulation of Yeshua’s gentle nature, may very well be the sign of divine love that the Jewish people have so long been waiting for from the direction of the Christian Church.

  9. … or perhaps more accurately stated: “After all the reeds that have been broken, an adamant refusal to break them now in emulation of Yeshua’s gentle nature may very well be the sign of divine love that the Jewish people have so long been waiting for from the direction of the followers of Yeshua.”

  10. @Dan Benzvi: I never called you a liar. I only said I disagree with you. Big difference.

    In the day of Moses, “conversion” for lack of a better term, was managed simply by living the same lifestyle as the Children of Israel. So did your kids and so did your grandkids. After the third generation, then your descendants were considered Hebrews. Not sure what the first 3 generations were called except “foreigner” or “gerim”.

    What you suggest today is that a Gentile should be able to “convert in the same manner, as far as I can tell. Problem is, 3,500 hundred years later, the situation is radically different. Post Second Temple and nearly 2,000 years of intense hostility of the Christian church against the Jewish people, it seems as if more formal processes were put in place for the conversion process. I can only guess at the rationale, but the bottom line is that each branch of Judaism manages its own conversion process. You may disagree with how they do it and I’ve been critical of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as far as how they treat converts, but neither you nor I have the right to make them change.

    @Dan Hennessy: Greetings and welcome. I believe the Jewish people have always benefited from signs of divine love, the greatest of which is the love of the Messiah for his people. He came for the lost sheep of Israel once. He will come again to reconcile us all.

  11. James,

    I have no idea what you are saying. The only thing I know is that you did not answer my question.

    I am not interested in what the rabbis in Israel say, I am interested in Scriptures. And you, what you are clearly condon on the part of the multitude, you are openly reject hiding behind the rabbis….

    Did Paul err when he said : “fellow citizens,” “Fellow heirs?”

  12. Dan, I’ve explained myself as clearly as I can. I didn’t say that the current process of conversion maps directly to the Bible, I only explained that I felt each branch of Judaism has the right to set the standards for conversion to their group. Even before the birth of the Messiah, the tale of Hillel, Shammai, and the 3 converts illustrates that a non-Jew cannot simply demand to become Jewish without the approval and cooperation of Jewish religious authorites.

    As far as being fellow citizens is concerned, I recently responded to another person on another one of my blog posts, explaining how the veil can be removed from between Jew and Gentile, and yet we can be distinct people with distinct roles and purposes. I quote my original message below but I’ll say in advance that I don’t expect you to agree with my interpretation, no matter how much I present it to you.

    Jesus taught from Genesis (Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:8), that a man and woman become “one flesh” rather than two separate individuals when they marry. That doesn’t mean that a man stops being a man and a woman stops being a woman (obviously). It doesn’t mean they lose their individual identities, responsibilities, and roles. A woman is still the only one in the marriage capable of having children, but a man is still required to contribute something during act of procreation that a woman cannot produce. Both are different and unique, and both are united under God in the purpose of being “one flesh” in the sense of family and raising children.

    Now apply that to the “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15), “removing the veil between Jew and Gentile” (Ephesians 2:14), and “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28) scriptures and you can see them in a different light. Jewish and Gentile disciples of Jesus are “one new man” in the same sense that a husband and wife can be “one flesh”. The “one new man” unites Jewish and Gentile disciples without removing any of the individual rights, responsibilities, and roles of each covenant group. Jews are still Jews in identity as defined by the Mosaic covenant even as men are still men. Gentiles are still Gentiles in identity as defined by the Davidic/Messianic covenant even as women are still women. The Marriage covenant unites man and woman and the Davidic covenant unites Jews and non-Jews in pretty much the same manner, without “undoing” the uniqueness, identity, responsibilities, and obligations of each group.

    Jews retain not just being Jews but they also retain Judaism and all that goes with it. They don’t lose their distinctiveness under the Davidic covenant any more than a man or woman becomes an androgynous being under the marriage covenant.

  13. James,

    You man and woman analogy is faulty. The BE proponents are also making the same erronious analogy. Mark Kinzer, in his book “Post missionary….” qutes Paul in Ephs. 5:22-33 and writes; “these verses focus on the love of the husband for his wife, the unity they are supposed to share as “one flesh,” and the way this love and unity reflect both the teaching of Gen, 2:24 and its typological embodiment in the relatrionship between Messiah and His ekklesia,”

    Kinzer takes Paul’s model of marriage and finds support in it for his BE. just as in marriage the male and female retain their distinctive genders yet are one, so in the ekklesia the Jewish and Gentile believers retain their distinctive ethnicities and cimmunal culture.

    there is one major difference, however, for Kinzer and you, the marriage model only works as a description of the BE if the husband and wife reside in separate houses!

    Think about it…

  14. Good morning, Dan. Hope you slept well.

    I have thought about it. Remember, for many years, I too was a One Law proponent and so I’ve done considerable thinking and reading in this area. Like I said above, I don’t expect you to agree with my conclusions. That’s pretty much a given. But you asked me a question and I’ve done my best to answer you.

    However, our current discussion has little to do with the topic of this actual blog post. What the blog for yesterday is trying to express is that, in spite of all of our studies and intellectual arguments, and disagreements, there is still the overarching commonality between you and me and all people of faith in the Messiah that we belong to each other and to God. We may dispute some of the many details we choose to mull over, but God is One. Let’s agree upon that, at least. Shabbos is coming. I’d like to enter it in peace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.