If That’s Not Love

An elderly woman and her little grandson, whose face was sprinkled with bright freckles, spent the day at the zoo. Lots of children were waiting in line to get their cheeks painted by a resident artist who was decorating them with tiger paws..

“You’ve got so many freckles, there’s no place to paint!” a girl in the line said to the little boy. Embarrassed, the little guy dropped his head. His grandmother knelt down next to him. “I love your freckles. When I was a little girl I always wanted freckles,” she said, while tracing her finger across the child’s cheek. “Freckles are beautiful!” The boy looked up, “Really?” “Of course,” said the grandmother. “Why just name me one thing that’s more beautiful than freckles.” The little boy thought for a moment, peered intensely into his grandmother’s face, and softly whispered…

“Wrinkles!”

-Rabbi Label Lam
“Wrinkles!”
Commentary on Torah Portion Balak
Torah.org

Elsewhere in Rabbi Lam’s commentary, he discusses the power of words. When we speak we have the power to heal or to harm, to educate or mislead, to raise one person to the highest achievements possible in his nation, and reduce another to abject defeat and despair. Even as I write this, two men are using the power of words to try to convince our nation which one of them should be our President and the leader of the free world for the next four years. Words have great power.

The writings of James, the brother of the Master, also tell us just how powerful words can be.

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. –James 3:5-10 (ESV)

Rabbi Lam tells us that the “entire world was created by G-d with words! We say every day in our liturgy, “Blessed is He Who spoke and the world came to be!” So it is said elsewhere:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:1-5, 14 (ESV)

We human beings wield a terrible power; we have the ability to speak. With that ability, we can create or destroy, much in the same manner that God creates or destroys with words. One misspoken word and we can destroy a child’s dreams or break a lover’s heart. We can crush a grandmother’s love or reduce a young girl’s spirit to ashes.

Not that we’d mean to, but mistakes happen. One slip of the tongue is all it takes. This is how we are not like God. We can make mistakes and He can’t…

…or can He?

We know that G‑d is the most perfect Being, and that everything exists solely because of Him. Furthermore, He knows everything through His knowledge of Himself, so of course He does not make mistakes.

At the same time, our rabbis shake it up and tell us that there are things which G‑d “regrets” having created, such as the evil inclination.

One way to reconcile these viewpoints is to understand that of course G‑d knew what He was doing when He created these negative things, but He knew that they were necessary in order for humanity to attain the greater good He had in mind. So, while He created these things, He does not “like” them, and we are supposed to view them as temporary.

-Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
“Does G-d Ever Make Mistakes?”
Chabad.org

We have a tendency to anthropomorphize God, to make Him seem human. We do this in order to relate to Him better because how can you imagine an infinite, unimaginable being?

You can’t.

So you make Him seem a little more like you in order to talk to Him. I think that’s why some Christians pray directly to Jesus instead of God the Father (even though Jesus said to direct prayers only to God). Because Jesus lived as a human being and walked among his people. He’s easier to relate to, to talk to, to express ourselves in words to.

And he’s supposed to understand mistakes.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. –Hebrews 4:15 (ESV)

Well, yes he was tempted, but no he didn’t sin. So he never made a mistake. And God never makes a mistakes, though He has His “regrets.”

We have our regrets, too. We make mistakes. Lots of them. We hurt people. We use words carelessly. Then we don’t like to admit mistakes because we’re embarrassed. And we hurt people again. We’re irresponsible. We don’t say we’re sorry. We don’t apologize. We don’t ask for forgiveness. We don’t say, “I forgive you.”

God doesn’t make mistakes but we do. Jesus didn’t make mistakes but we do, all of the time.

So why are we here? It’s not like we’re going to get any better. Well, maybe we’ll get somewhat better, but perfection is beyond our capacity. The church tells us that if we just confess our sins to Jesus and ask for forgiveness, we are covered in Christ’s blood, so we appear as pure as the driven snow to God.

But that does nothing to get rid of remorse.

The progressive humanist society around us says that if we become atheists and surrender our archaic belief in God, then we’ll have nothing to feel guilty about. But does that mean surrendering accountability and a conscience? Isn’t that just replacing one system of laws and judgments for another, but with human fallibility being the final arbiter of right and wrong?

I suppose one of the reasons my faith is sustainable is that my pursuit of a Holy God gives me an ideal to shoot for that isn’t based on humanity’s foibles, errors, and selfishness. All men fail. All men make mistakes. There is no “Messiah” apart from God.

God gave us the ability to use words and shows us how to be perfectly creative with them, whereas mankind mixes up creativity and destruction. It’s the destruction where I find despair. But even in our imperfection, God finds hope.

We are the finishing tools for His handiwork.

He applies His breath, our souls, to the harsh earth , softening it to absorb the rains of blessing from heaven; to the coarse surfaces of human life to polish them, so they can receive light from above and shine.

That friction that wears us down, those sparks that fly—it is all a byproduct of His handiwork.

And if you should ask, how could it be that a mundane world presents resistance to the infinitely powerful breath of G‑d?

In truth, it cannot. But He condenses that breath into a soul, He tightly focuses her power, until the harshness of this world can seem real to her, and then she will struggle, and in that struggle she will make the world shine.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Friction”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

And struggle we do. An imperfect vessel vainly attempting to contain and utilize the power of a perfect soul. And yet we fail to use even a simple set of words such as “I love you” correctly.

King Solomon had acknowledged that “Life and death are in the hands of the tongue!” The famous British poet Rudyard Kipling expressed it this way, “Words are the most intoxicating drug known to man!” Isn’t it so!? Lives rise and fall on a single word! People get courage to carry on or so discouraged to end it all, based on the slight turn of a phrase. It makes a world of difference if the message says, “I love you!” or “I hate you!”

-Rabbi Lam

Even when you know inside that someone loves you, a single word spoken in anger or disdain can be ultimately annihilating. The apology comes too late. The memory of a thousand, thousand prior failures springs unbidden from the abyss. A lifetime of verbal slaps is re-experienced in a moment.

If we are to make mistakes, then we need to make a lot fewer of them. For every word of anger, we need to speak ten of love and compassion. It’s not as hard as we imagine. All we have to do is this.

His grandmother knelt down next to him. “I love your freckles. When I was a little girl I always wanted freckles,” she said, while tracing her finger across the child’s cheek. “Freckles are beautiful!” The boy looked up, “Really?” “Of course,” said the grandmother. “Why just name me one thing that’s more beautiful than freckles.” The little boy thought for a moment, peered intensely into his grandmother’s face, and softly whispered…

“Wrinkles!”

If that’s not love…

Try to speak words of love before it’s too late.

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