Repairing Life

R’Simlai notes that the posuk (Yeshayahu 45:23) teaches that everyone in the world takes an oath before God. What is this oath, and when is it administered? The oath is the one referred to in Tehillim (24:3-4), “Who shall ascend into the mountain of God, and who shall be able to stand in His holy place? He who is of clean hands and pure of heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.” The oath itself is that at the time of birth the soul is commanded, “Be righteous, and do not be evil!” It is given when the soul is sent to the world. We recite Tehillin 24 – the paragraph of “L’David Mizmor” – at Maariv immediately after the silent Amidah on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Chaim Hager, the Rebbe from Viznitz, was also known as the Imrei Chaim. When he would read this posuk on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur he would cry. A visitor to his community was taken aback to hear the Rebbe whimpering at the particular point where false oaths are mentioned. The visitor could not fathom how the Rebbe could be so moved about the possibility of having taken a false oath.

As the chassidim passed by the Rebbe after davening, this visitor followed along in the line. When he asked the Rebbe for an explanation, the Rebbe answered: The Gemara (Niddah 30b) tells us that before a soul is sent into this world it is administered an oath which states “You are to be a tzaddik! Do not be a rasha!”

The oath continues with the person being adjured that even if everyone in the world tells him that he is a tzaddik, he must never become complacent by believing their compliments. Rather, the person must always strive for perfection and consider himself to be a rasha.

“Now,” continued the Rebbe, “who can confirm that he has fulfilled this oath which his soul has taken and that he is a tzaddik? Who can insist that he has not taken a false
oath?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemera Gem
“Be a tzaddik! Do not be a rasha!”
Niddah 30

This is midrash and not (as far as I know) literal fact, so I don’t suppose that before we are physically born, our souls take an oath before God to be righteous and not to be evil. Still, what if you happen to feel obligated to do good but find yourself doing the opposite? Who are you accountable to and what are the consequences?

I commented in yesterday’s morning meditation about the ongoing debate between Atheists and Christians (and other religious people). I mentioned that atheism as a belief system, does not have a built-in moral or ethical structure. The only requirement to be an atheist is to not believe in God or that any supernatural being had anything to do with the creation of the universe, or is involved in the course of human events.

But if you choose to be a person of faith, you are agreeing to a certain set of moral and ethical standards. If you fail to meet those standards, even occasionally, you have not only reneged on your agreement with your religion and with God, but you have dragged the Name of God through the mud for all to see, especially those who disdain religion and religious people.

If you believe that you have taken an oath before God to be a “tzaddik” and not be a “rasha,” you’ve failed that, too.

The problem is, being human, sooner or later, you will fail. If a non-religious person fails, who is hurt? It depends on the failure. They may hurt themselves, people where they work, their friends, their family, and so forth. Of course none of that is good, but when we who claim faith in God fail, particularly in a moral or ethical area, we fail all those people and we fail God as well. We become a “rasha” and not a “tzaddik.”

I’m exaggerating here. Not all people in religion can be considered tzaddikim, since these are the most righteous, noble, and holy in the world of faith. Christianity would call them “saints.” How many Christians can truly be called “saints” (although some Christian denominations consider all Christians to be worthy of being saints because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ)?

Most of us are “mere mortals” who are doing our best to try to make it through one day at a time. Some days are better than others. Some days we’re better at honoring God and His desires than others. Some days seem pretty crummy, but we try to keep going because of our faith and our belief that God is with us, regardless of our circumstances and, in most cases, regardless of how badly we fail.

That’s why anti-Christian and anti-religious rhetoric on the Internet or in real life is so disturbing. Not because secular people don’t agree with my choosing to have faith, but because it means that I or someone like me has failed. We have failed to show that we are doing our best to follow a moral standard that was set for us by the Creator of the Universe and the lover of our souls. We have given the world the opportunity to believe that our faith is not only a lie, but an excuse to actually indulge in selfish, moral attacks on those we deem weaker or more vulnerable in the world.

I wish I could find the image I saw the other day on the web (thought it was on the atheism sub-reddit but I can’t find it). It was a “rant” on how a young atheist found himself in church (not sure how this happened) and listened to the Pastor preach on how young people don’t have values today. The person listening to the sermon reasoned that the Pastor meant that young people don’t have the church’s values, which the commenter described as repression, inequality, exclusivism and so forth. He defined atheist values as inclusiveness (except if you’re a person of faith, but that’s beside the point), equality, compassion and so forth (I really wish I could find the image because it was just brilliant).

The conclusion is that the church wasn’t particularly moral at all and that atheism, by comparison, was a much better belief system. Of course, the commenter wasn’t really describing atheism but rather western political and social progressivism which includes atheism as a core element. Nevertheless, there are times when Christians do not take the moral high road and liberal progressives do (and I should mention that there are more than a few Jewish people who have doubts about God, too).

But the argument against religion has to discount the times when Christian programs really do feed the hungry, send visitors to the sick, comforts the mourning, defends the widow, the orphan, and the disadvantaged, but those people and programs don’t make it on the news or, for the most part, in the popular social networking sites. It also isn’t generally advertised that the civil rights movement was started and supported by Christian and Jewish activists rather than atheists and scientists.

Whether you as a Christian like it or not, the world is watching and waiting for us to fail (they never expect us to succeed). Some of those watching are really anxious for us to fall face down in the sewer. When we do fail, we fall far, and we hit hard, and we take the reputation of God with us when we go over the edge.

Debating atheists on their own terms will not sanctify the Name of God. You will never elevate God’s reputation by trying to “prove” He exists and created the universe. Living a life of faith and devotion to your ideals by helping others and repairing our damaged world will. You may never convince even one atheist to consider a life of faith, but at your finest, you will be fulfilling your oath, doing your best to live as a “tzaddik,” and helping vulnerable and needy people in the process. But you should always question your own motives before criticizing someone else’s.

If you have not yet succeeded in fulfilling the criteria to be a critic, yet still feel a necessity to provide criticism, there is an alternative:

Sit and criticize yourself, very hard, from the bottom of your heart, until the other person hears.

If it comes from your heart, it will enter his as well.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Last Word on Criticizing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Repair the world one day at a time. And for Heaven’s sake, be a tzaddik! Do not be a rasha!

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3 thoughts on “Repairing Life”

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