Blessing the Nudnik

:‫גדולה שמושה של תורה יותר מלמודה – ז‬
The service of Torah is greater than its study. – 7b

After R’ Reuven Grozovsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Beis Medrash Elyon, had a stroke he was left paralyzed on the right side of his body. The bochrim in the Yeshiva had a rotation to help the Rosh Yeshiva wash negel vasser, hold his siddur and wrap the Rosh Yeshiva’s tefilin around his arm and head. To make the task an even greater challenge, the Rosh Yeshiva’s left hand would occasionally shake uncontrollably.

On one particular occasion, a new bachur was assigned the task of helping R’ Reuven, and the bochur was very nervous. He had never really spoken with the Rosh Yeshiva before. When he heard R’ Reuven wake up, the nervous young man quickly walked over to help the Rosh Yeshiva wash negel vasser. Unfortunately, R’ Reuven’s hand suddenly shook and the water missed the Rosh Yeshiva’s hand entirely. The embarrassed bochur tried a second time, but this time he was so nervous that he ended up pouring the water all over the Rosh Yeshiva’s bed and clothing. The bochur now wanted to run, but R’ Reuven was relying upon him. The third time he carefully poured the water over R Grozovsky’s hands, held the siddur while R’ Reuven said birchos hashachar and helped put tefilin on the Rosh Yeshiva. As the bochur was ready to leave, R’ Reuven called him over and chatted with him for a few moments. The bochur left a few minutes later much calmer than before after this pleasant conversation with the Rosh Yeshiva.

When the bochur retold the story to his friends in the Beis Midrash they couldn’t believe it. As far as anyone knew no one could ever remember the Rosh Yeshiva speaking while he was wearing tefilin. It became clear to everyone that R’ Reuven had made an exception to the rule in order to be able to put the mind of this young bochur at ease.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Lessons learned when attending to Gedolim”
Berachos 7

This may be a little difficult to understand, but imagine that the esteemed Rosh Yeshiva, a man who had suffered a stroke and who struggled to perform his daily prayers, who never spoke with another person while wearing tefilin, actually took the time to make an exception for this extremely anxiety-ridden young person. Usually, we think of performing acts of kindness for the sick and the infirm, but here, the infirm R’ Reuven Grozovsky extended himself to perform an act of kindness for this new bachur.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think that this is the center of what it is to be a person of faith. We simply must put forth our efforts to help others in any way that we can when we see a need.

It certainly would have been within the Rosh Yeshiva’s rights to complain and to chastise the bochur for his numerous blunders. He didn’t have to speak to him at all and he could have told others afterwards what a blockhead this young fellow was. He could have shredded this person’s already (obviously) fragile ego and everyone in that community would have probably supported R’ Grozovsky in doing so.

But the Rosh Yeshiva was a true tzaddik and for such a man, performing a cruelty would have been unthinkable.

How do we treat people?

I know, we shouldn’t treat others with disrespect and insult them since, as people who are disciples of our Master, we have been taught to “turn the other cheek” when maligned and mistreated. But what about if the other person deserves a good (metaphorically speaking) slap in the face?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:38-48 (ESV)

Jesus isn’t directing us to be doormats or to let someone beat us to a pulp, but if we’re to err, it seems as if we should err on the side of compassion and humility, even if there’s a chance we could be cheated or misused in some other way. Loving your enemy isn’t giving a flower to the guy who’s trying to shoot you. It’s showing kindness to someone who is a nudnik (pest) or other annoying or unreliable person for their own sake and for God’s.

Hard as it is for us to imagine sometimes, God loves the person who annoys us the most just as much as He loves us.

Given that I’m a blogger and that I comment on the blogs of others, I occasionally run into such individuals and the temptation is to tell them what I really think of them and feel perfectly justified in doing so.

But as you can see, that would be wrong. Sometimes it’s important to forgive others, even if reconciliation isn’t going to work out between the two of you. No, forgiving doesn’t always mean it’s wise or practical to continue a relationship, particularly if the other person is unrepentant and unlikely to stop being abusive, verbally or otherwise. But God still loves that person a great deal. How can we return hostility for hostility knowing this?

The blessing of an ordinary man should not be considered lightly in your eyes.- 7a

Tur Shulchan Aruch rules (‫ )הל‘ נשיאת כפים‬that every Kohen has a mitzvah to participate in the blessing of the people. We do not discourage a person who is known to be a rasha from joining, for this would be causing him to add evil to his already tarnished reputation. Rather, we allow him to bless the people with the other Kohanim, and we look upon his involvement no less than “the blessings of a simpleton”, which we are not to treat lightly. Tur then adds: “The blessings are not dependent upon the Kohanim, but they are rather in the hands of God.”

This final comment of the Tur needs to be understood. He already justified including the Kohen rasha in the mitzvah, for even the blessing of a simpleton is important. What additional factor is provided by concluding that everything is in the hands of God? Tur apparently understood the Gemara as did the Rashba. A ‫ הדיוט‬is not referring to an evil person. Rather, it refers to someone who is at a lesser level or stature than the one being blessed. Even Dovid HaMelech was a ‫ הדיוט‬vis-à-vis the service which the Kohanim performed in the Beis HaMikdash, and all Kohanim were ‫ הדיוטות‬vis-à-vis the Kohen Gadol.

Gemara Gem
“The blessing of a ‫הדיוט‬”
Berachos 7

A rasha is considered someone who is wicked and even criminal. Nevertheless, there are provisions for a “rasha” Kohen to say the blessings so that they do not make their evil deeds even worse.

I’m not going to try to suggest that we make ourselves or our communities completely open to people who are prone to physical, sexual, or psychological violence, but within the confines of practicality and common sense, we can at least avoid verbally bashing and slandering people we don’t like, even if they’ve mistreated us and seem unable to realize their own faults and misbehaviors in how they treat others.

It’s called “taking the moral high road.”

Yes, it was an encounter with such a person (hardly a rasha but certainly a nudnik) that has inspired this “extra meditation” today, but it was also a “backchannel” discussion about how God loves even nudniks that sealed my decision to write it. Once the sting of having my “tail stepped on” dulled, I realized it’s the right thing to do because it’s what God does for us. Even though in God’s eyes, I’m sure we are often “nudniks,” too.

Yes, I think it’s possible to love someone you don’t always like. It’s even possible to love someone you know you may never be able to speak to again. God doesn’t need to be protected from our bad moods, attitudes, and unkind words and so, if we are willing, He not only forgives us but provides for reconciliation between us. On the human level, it isn’t so easy because we are vulnerable to harmful people and even to people who have not a clue that they are a toxic element in every conversation in which they participate.

But we must remember this:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

If God can allow a rasha Kohen to participate in the blessings, then we can try to remember to bless the occasional nudnik who crosses our path. May we be blessed even as we bless others.

Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.

-Maya Angelou

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17 thoughts on “Blessing the Nudnik”

  1. Thanks, Boaz. But this probably won’t be well received in all corners, especially since I just posted a link in the most relevant place I could think of.

  2. I think this was fantastic. And really does not just apply to our online dealings, but also real life. The same sorts of issues present in the Synagogues too, and how we treat people really shows our faith and traditions.

    Thank you for the reminder.

  3. James,

    I’m considering telling you how FFOZ and UMJC has injured me personally and also my family. In any event, I believe that one day the damage wrought by such ministries will be made known and on that day you will understand why I had no choice but to stand up to them. And why I’m utterly committed to exposing the dangers of Divine Invitation and Bilateral Ecclesiology.

    Till that day, I would encourage FFOZ and UMJC and you, James, to take time to pause and honestly evaluate the case for full gentile Torah obligation. I would also strongly urge the convening of a council to resolve this matter. I don’t believe any ministry should be isolated in such a way so that they may teach whatever doctrine with impunity (i.e. not having to give account to local or regional bodies). ALL teachers should be held to account for their teachings. I would gladly submit myself to a council that consists of a collection of representative elders from the Torah-observant Messianic Community (trans-denominational, multi-racial). Unfortunately, the current racial and ideological divide in the Body makes traditional conflict resolution methods impracticable. Still I remain open to suggestions.

  4. I expect the world to continue to do everything it can to make the Jewish people a distant memory, to rid of them whether through physical or theological means, usually in the name of supposed justice to correct some wrong that the Jewish people have supposedly done to them. However, it makes me sad when people who claim to be “messianic” try to do the same.

  5. The King will one day return and restore Israel as the head of the nations, and many Gentiles will stream to Jerusalem and to the Temple of God and give praise, honor, and glory to the Messiah. Who we are and what we’ve done to support or fail to support Israel will be revealed and many will give an accounting. May the Lord have mercy on them and upon us.

  6. ” I don’t believe any ministry should be isolated in such a way so that they may teach whatever doctrine with impunity (i.e. not having to give account to local or regional bodies).”

    Peter, I suppose you’d love to have all the bickering One-Law/Two-House groups to submit to some larger Christian body. Let’s see them allow you to go on with your “Gentiles must live like Jews and get circumcised” or “Gentiles are really lost tribes of Israel” doctrines with impunity. (I know, they should give you their best theologians, scholars and linguists, may be even ten at a time, and you will tear them apart).

  7. Gene, I can’t imagine what group exists that could be a central body to oversea all of the “messianic” organizations in existence. We don’t have any such group that overseas all forms of religious Judaism or Christianity. Ultimately, the Messiah King will rule and we will all turn to him. Until then, there will be different ministries, and each of us will have to decide which voices are speaking the truth.

  8. “I would gladly submit myself to a council that consists of a collection of representative elders from the Torah-observant Messianic Community (trans-denominational, multi-racial).”

    Jewish believers represent just a small fraction in their own Messianic Jewish world, and are completely outnumbered by the “independent messianics”. I suppose that if the latter, provided they harbor similar resentments vis-à-vis what they term “Messianic Jewish racism toward Gentiles” as Peter and some of his friends, can get together a council, they can vote to not to have anything to do with those “racist” Jews and their theologies. Hmm… I get a distinct sense of déjà vu.

  9. I have been completely blown away by this exchange…..while I do not know Mr. Shlomovich I do appreciate his comments/theology. Years ago my husband (we are Jews/me by conversion) and I lived in southern California and attended a congregation in which a teaspoon of Jewish blood ‘back there somewhere’ made one a Jew in some gentiles mind. (We were shocked as we did not know there was one such theology in existence!) Now, years later, we find it really offensive because when one gives serious through to the Jewish journey through out history, the persecution, past and present and the different forms of it, and now all of a sudden, in this very small world of Messianic Judaism, to find gentiles who want so easily to slip in to the (perceived) good side of Jewish life … wow…what a mind boggler. “” Jewish believers represent just a small fraction in their own Messianic Jewish world””” so lets not repeat History!

  10. Hi Pat,

    Unfortunately, sometimes people “play rough” in the religious blogosphere and even in what we call the “Messianic space,” there are those who seem to want to tear Judaism apart for the sake of Gentile inclusion or even (dare I say it) supersessionism.

    I want to be clear though that this blog post isn’t focused on tearing people down (nudniks or otherwise) but trying to express compassion and building people up. I can’t help that there may be people who so strongly disagree with conventional Jewish thought that they find it necessary to reinvent Judaism in their own (non-Jewish) image. I can recognize that often a person who behaves with an apparent abundance of self-confidence bordering on hostility can actually be the most hurt and vulnerable of human beings.

    Tomorrow’s “morning meditation” will be an extension of this one and address the relationship between doubt and wisdom (and conversely, excessive self-assuredness and, shall we say, lack of wisdom). When brothers in the Messiah are fighting, there’s a problem. When the Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah King start maligning Judaism, the inheritors of the Sinai covenant must be defended.

    “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”Genesis 12:3

    We must remember the lessons learned from Balaam and Balak.

    By the way, I do know Gene (not face to face, alas) and he’s a good guy.

  11. “By the way, I do know Gene (not face to face, alas).

    James, this we have to remedy, somehow. BTW, I almost met Mr. Peter in Baltimore, but, alas, he couldn’t make it to the meeting because of diverging itineraries.

  12. I almost met Mr. Peter in Baltimore, but, alas, he couldn’t make it to the meeting because of diverging itineraries.

    Now that would have been an interesting meeting. 😉

    Gee. You’re in Florida. I’m in Idaho. I’m sure both of our travel budgets aren’t really very big. I’d like to go to another FFOZ conference next year or at least one where Boaz will be appearing. Maybe we could meet then.

  13. “I suggest you remind Boaz that the higher one flies the harder he falls in the end….”

    I know, Dan, you would love nothing better than to see him fall. Your obsession with him and Derek is disturbing.

  14. Dan, I think Boaz was referring to me as the “high flyer,” not to himself, so if anyone falls, I guess it will be me. Anyway, aren’t we supposed to aspire to be better than we are right now, and to reach up for new spiritual heights?

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