last night i decided to take a walk around 1am. on my way back a sweet old lady approached me asking if i knew where a certain hotel was. i must note that since leaving my house i was filled with this expansive sense of love and suddenly the situation struck me as very odd that an elderly woman was roaming the streets looking for a place to stay for the night. i told her i did not know where the hotel was but i knew of a hostel nearby. we walked there but there was no room. then we tried another hotel, long story, it turned out the rooms there were $200/night, more than the woman had. at this point the woman began looking at stairwells and considering just sitting somewhere for the remaining night hours. the situation was heartbraking. i even offered to let her stay in my room on a mattress, but she did not want to impose. at this point we were in the ultra-orthodox jewish neighborhood of jerusalem, and i thought, perhaps someone knows of somewhere she could rest for the night, perhaps in a syngagogue or house of study. without really thinking i told her to wait and ran after one of the ultra-orthodox men walking the streets. i explained the situation and asked if he knew of a place she could rest, he said no..no..i began to give up..then he said…
“Tzedakah miracle in Ir HaKodesh, week of Shabbos Chazon 5772”
Rucho Shel Mashiach blog
I actually posted a link to this blog article on Facebook a few days ago, but I really wanted to write about what it means to me (you can click the link above to read the whole story, but I’m going to finish the quote in just a little bit).
I was thinking about Christian perceptions of Jews and Judaism. At its worst, Christianity thinks of Judaism as a dead, works-based religion that has no spirit or soul, no connection to the living God, and that religious Jews only do good deeds because they’re “under the Law” and out of fear of breaking their commandments.
But then I realized that atheists think about Christianity in pretty much the same way.
I’ve been criticized several times over the past week or so by atheists who say that I need to have the “excuse” of God to do anything good for another person. They ask why I can’t just do good deeds because it’s the right thing to do? After all, that’s what (supposedly) all atheists and progressive humanists do.
My, my, my but how we judge each other. Hopefully the “Tzedakah miracle” story will help change some Christian minds about how Jews see helping other people. I’m not sure what to do about helping atheists see that we Christians can actually do good as well, and how we experience Jesus as a powerful motivator and example of what it is to be charitable.
I was also thinking about Tisha B’Av which begins on Saturday at sundown. It’s the solemn commemoration of the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples, as well as many other tragic events that have occurred in Jewish history. Jews typically fast on this occasion, which is the culmination of a three-week period of mourning, and refrain from various pleasurable activities.
Of course, for Christians and everyone else, it’s just another day.
I sometimes wonder why Christians don’t mourn the destruction of the Temple. I know, that probably sounds silly. Most Christians believe that the Temple was destroyed as a natural result of the coming of Jesus and that now, each individual Christian is a “temple” for the Holy Spirit. The physical becomes “spiritualized” a great deal in Christianity.
But among other things, the rebuilding of the Temple in Holy Jerusalem is part of what the Messiah is supposed to do (see Jeremiah 33:18). Here’s a little bit more about what the Messiah will do when he comes.
The mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15).
“Mashiach: The Messiah”
Although plainly depicted in prophecy, almost all of the information in the quote above isn’t generally known and accepted in the church.
But what does this have to do with charity? More than you might think.
Jews long for the coming of the Messiah so that their exile will end and that Israel will be restored to great glory and God will be revered by all of the earth (and just because the modern state of Israel exists today, doesn’t mean the exile has ended yet). Christians want Jesus to come back because he will rule and reign over the earth and everyone will honor Christ and Christianity and know God through him.
Similar goals but radically different applications.
Except for a few things like charity.
Both the Jewish and Christian requirements to do charity are rooted in the same source: the Law of Moses. The Torah of Moses and the Gospels of Jesus both go to great efforts to encourage and support a lifestyle of giving and generosity among their devotees. Although in Christianity, there is no direct connection between doing good and bringing back Jesus, in Judaism, every act of tikkun olam or “repairing the world” is thought, at least by some, to hasten the return of Messiah (the mechanics behind this concept are complex, so I won’t delve into them here).
I don’t know if it’s true or not that doing charity brings the Messiah closer to returning, but it couldn’t hurt.
And it couldn’t hurt to help someone out when they’re in need. Does there have to be a reason or does your reason or mine really matter? After all, regardless of motivation (interesting article, by the way), if you give a hungry person some food, they’ll still be fed.
Interestingly enough though, charity doesn’t always have a straightforward result, as we see in the conclusion of the “Tzedakah miracle” story (and as far as I can tell, this isn’t “just a story,” it’s real life):
without really thinking i told her to wait and ran after one of the ultra-orthodox men walking the streets. i explained the situation and asked if he knew of a place she could rest, he said no..no..i began to give up..then he said, that he has money, if that could help. as if to reject it i said no, the only room is $200, but thank you. he preceded as if i had said $5, pulled $150 out of his wallet and handed it to the woman while quoting from the talmud that the temple was destroyed because of a lack of love between people. together we giddily walked to the luxury hotel, only to find out that there were no rooms available! the man then said to the woman that it is not right to ask for charity back after it has been given, so the money is now hers. we considered several other hotels and the man walked off. as soon as he walked off the woman took my hand and we walked into an alleyway. she was beaming with excitement, she said, i will go to the local hospital and sit there for the night, now i have money for the whole week, i can stay somewhere nice while i find an apartment, maybe even save it for shabbos. in other words, hashem orchestrated a miracle..nothing could have turned out better. when i told a friend about this he said i had met the souls of abraham and sarah roaming the streets of jerusalem. now i know why i felt compelled to take a walk, sometimes we are but vehicles for the miracles that are scheduled to take place..
The old woman never found a very comfortable place to spend the night, but instead of spending all of her new-found “wealth” in a single evening, she now had enough money to live on for a week. True, her situation was not permanently solved, but just think of how many people all across our planet live extremely uncertain lives. Even if we give them charity, we can’t solve all of their problems forever. But then, giving them enough to eat even for one more day makes life better for them.
But what about the Temple? Is there a hidden blessing in its destruction and the long, long wait for the coming of the Jewish Messiah King? I don’t know except perhaps that it gives us time and something to shoot for. It reminds us that the Temple is no longer with us because of lack of love between people (at least according to the Talmud). The world needs a lot of fixing. No doubt about that. It’s probably the one thing we can all agree on, regardless of our politics, our religion (or lack thereof), our social standing, or anything else. The world’s a mess.
There are a lot of missing bits and pieces to the world that need to be replaced and repaired. It’s like our existence is a half-built jigsaw puzzle and we’re the puzzle makers. We have to cooperate to make the picture whole. For those of us who believe, Jesus will come and his job will be to do the final “fixing.” For religious Jews, the Messiah will come and do pretty much the same thing. But you and I are here now. People are still hungry and homeless. We can’t solve their problems, but we can make their lives just a little bit better for an hour, or a day, maybe even for a week if God so wills it.
We can grieve and feel sorrow over our losses. We can complain about what’s wrong with the world and complain about the politics and religions of those people who are different from us. Or we can let events like Tisha B’Av remind us that we have lost but we also have something to look forward to. Tisha B’Av also reminds us that we can get over ourselves, get over being cranky, and try to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
I said this ago a few days ago, but it bears repeating. “Do good. Seek peace. Keep swimming.” Give life. I don’t care why you do it. Just do it.
May the inherent righteousness and goodness of all our souls be revealed in full and hasten our full redemption, and may we merit to see the third temple speedily in our days, as one people with one heart.
Edit: I should note that Tisha B’Av actually starts tonight at sundown, but because it’s also Erev Shabbat, the fast doesn’t begin until after Shabbat has ended. I apologize for the error I made above.