Rav Raphael of Barshad, zt”l, was a very well known and respected personage, but this did not make him feel any arrogance at all. On the contrary, his every motion was filled with true humility. Every time he would enter a shul or gathering, he would sit in a common seat that was very distant from the coveted eastern wall.
One person felt that this was very strange and decided to ask him what was behind this odd practice. “With all due respect, I cannot fathom what is behind the rebbe’s custom. Either way—if the Rebbe sits in the back because he has true humility, why not sit in the front? Surely, one can retain a feeling of broken-heartedness even while sitting in an honorable seat. And if the rebbe has problems with thoughts of arrogance, chas v’shalom, what does sitting in the back help? Clearly it is possible to be filled with self-inflated feelings while sitting in the back as well as in the front. On the contrary, it is possible to fathom how one would be filled with more thoughts of arrogance because he acts humble…”
Rav Raphael replied, “Listen to me, my brothers. In Kiddushin 59 we find that although action nullifies the intent in one’s thoughts, mere thoughts cannot nullify action. If I, who is unworthy for the honor, were to sit in the mizrach, I would be doing an action of arrogance while trying to overcome this with thoughts of humility. But
we see that this is an exercise in futility. However, sitting in the back is an action of humility which overcomes any thoughts of arrogance. Isn’t it clear that this is the only option that gives me a chance of overcoming thoughts of arrogance?”
Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“Action Overrides Thought”
Rema Siman 150 Seif 5
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” –Luke 14:7-11 (ESV)
I always worry about “getting into trouble” whenever I post quotes from Talmud and the Gospels in parallel. I realize that the Talmud was written and compiled centuries after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, so he couldn’t have known about “Rabbinic Judaism” as such, though he probably did know about the teachings of Hillel and Shammai. And yet, again and again, it seems as if much of what the Master taught in some manner or fashion, is carried on in how Jews continued to teach and in how they continue to teach today. I know the connection is tenuous at best, but for some reason, I find it comforting on a purely visceral level.
And yet, someone completely unexpected seems to hold an opinion similar to mine. Frankly, I was more than surprised when I read this.
Not only was Jesus a rabbi, he was a deeply learned, well-versed student of Jewish holy texts. Almost all his teachings derive directly from the Torah. The lessons he articulated line up squarely with Jewish morality and statements of rabbis found in the Talmud. Some of Jesus’ most famous and recognizable teachings are taken directly from earlier Jewish sources.
…Jesus was equally familiar with Talmudic sayings. When Jesus instructs his listeners, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye,” he alludes almost word for word to a Talmudic teaching of Rabbi Tarphon: “If someone urges you to remove the speck from your eye, he must be given the answer, ‘Take the plank out of your own.'”
-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Chapter 4: Jesus the Rabbi (pg 24)
Although, as an Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Boteach’s perspective on Jesus is quite a bit different than the one held by Christianity (and when I finish reading his book, I’ll post a complete review), he does recognize that many of the teachings of Christ recorded in the Gospels are indeed teachings that resonate very strongly with what Jews understand from Torah and Talmud (though as I said, the Talmud didn’t exist during the time of the Gospels).
This is how I can draw parallels from the following:
Sadly, there is always a need for charity, especially while we are in exile. The Ohr HaChaim, zt”l, explains that a wealthy man has been entrusted with more money so that he will support the poor and worthy institutions.
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Consecrating One’s Wealth”
For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. –Matthew 25:29 (ESV)
However, there is a 2,000 year old “disconnect” between the teachings of the Jewish Rabbi from Nazareth and his almost completely non-Jewish followers all over the earth. In one sense, Jesus was remarkably successful in delivering his message, but according to Boteach, it was Paul’s fault that it was totally stripped of its Jewish origins and recreated in the image of the Goyim.
I have to strongly disagree with Rabbi Boteach here, since I don’t believe Paul is the “culprit” but rather, subsequent non-Jewish church leaders who, when they saw that Judaism was universally reviled in the Roman empire after the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews from Israel, decided to change horses in mid-stream (and this part, Boteach does agree with), creating a faith that would eventually become the state religion of the Roman empire.
I know. I’m probably being unfair and the history of the early church is a lot more complicated than that, but how many Jews have suffered and died because the non-Jewish disciples of Christ forgot that he was also Jewish? However, I must say here that many good non-Jewish disciples loved God and did their best to live out the true principles taught by the Master, so the core of what it is to be Christian has endured, at least as a remnant. But here we are, 2,000 years later, still trying to pick up the pieces of shattered human lives and relationships like tiny bits and shards of Herod’s Temple after the Romans got through with it.
I admit to being discouraged lately. Ironically, it’s mostly to do with Christianity. As much as I’d like to think that the church is getting past its attitude of blaming the Jews for not converting to Christianity, something or someone comes along and shows me that I’m wrong. Then there are some folks who are more or less associated with the Messianic or Hebrew Roots movement who, in their own way, are trying to do the same thing: minimize the Jews in their own faith, not by replacing Jews with Gentiles the way some churches have attempted, but by saying there is absolutely no difference between Gentiles and Jews, as if God “unchose” the Jewish people and then reapplied the same “Sinai choseness” upon all of believing humanity.
Yeah, I’m discouraged. It’s why I wrote my lament on the value and validity of church community and why I know more than ever that it would be completely intimidating for me to go to a church. If someone said to my face the things they feel free to say to me on the Internet, I would have to walk away and regain my composure before deciding if I should respond or not. That’s easy on the web, but harder to do in an in-person encounter, especially when you’re supposed to be “safe” within the encouraging arms of the “body of Christ.”
There are other, even more personal reasons why life as a Christian is becoming depressing and although I am mostly transparent here, this part I’ll reserve to myself. No, I’m not talking about a lack of faith in God or any sort of desire to abandon my discipleship under the Master. However, my faith in some of the people of the church is sorely being tested.
Frankly, I don’t know how God manages to put up with some of his followers, sometimes especially me. No wonder Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”