The Divine Path to Taking Out the Garbage

shhhhOne who degrades another person is a fool, and a man of understanding will make himself deaf to his words.

Proverbs 11:12

When people feel good about themselves, they have no need to enhance their self-evaluation by berating others. Those who do so are exposing their own poor self-worth and to what extremes they will go in order to achieve any feeling of worth.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Shevet 13”

I don’t mind people disagreeing with me, but it’s when they do so behind my back that I take a certain amount of offense. When I read Rabbi Twerski’s commentary from which I just quoted, I had an ugly feeling I’d need it in a day or so. Although he is giving a lesson on gossip (lashon hara), I find that it applies to those who choose to call others out by name and denigrate them just because they can.

Rabbi Twerski is correct in saying that when someone employs such tactics, it reveals more about them than the person they’re attempting to malign. Nevertheless, I feel we are not to respond by using the same tactics (and so my critic will remain anonymous) and we must even do our best to forgive the victim.

In another article, Rabbi Twersky quotes Ecclesiastes 7:9 in support of his dedication to…

…try to avoid erupting in anger when I feel offended and at least delay an angry response until I have more thoroughly evaluated the situation.

That’s not easy, since we are all human and, when slapped in the face, our first response is to want to slap back. I can understand that my critic may take this particular blog post as my taking a “shot at him,” but consider this.

May no person be made to suffer on my account.

-Siddur, Prayer on Retiring

Although the Torah does not require people to love their enemies, it does demand restraint, in the sense of not seeking revenge (Leviticus 19:18). The Talmud extends this concept to forbid not only the act of revenge, but even a prayer that God should punish our enemies. “If someone is punished on account of another person, the latter is not admitted to the Divine Presence, for as Solomon says in Proverbs (17:16), ‘For the righteous, too, punishment is not good’ “(Shabbos 149b).

When Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev’s adversaries expelled his family from town during his absence, his colleagues asked Rabbi Wolf of Zhitomir to invoke the Divine wrath upon them for their heinous deed. “I cannot do anything,” Rabbi Wolf said, “because Rabbi Levi Yitzchok has anticipated us and is now standing before the open Ark, praying fervently that no harm come to them.”

Actions like this incident may appear to be the ultimate of magnanimity, but it is not necessarily so. To the contrary, they can also be understood as helping one’s own interests. If we pray that another person be punished for his or her misdeeds, we become vulnerable ourselves (see 3 Kislev), for the Divine sense of justice may then bring our own actions under greater scrutiny. After all, is it not reasonable to expect a high standard of personal conduct in someone who invokes harsh treatment of his neighbors?

Consequently, it is wiser to seek forgiveness for others and thereby merit forgiveness for ourselves than to pray for absolute justice and stern punishment for others’ misdeeds and thereby expose ourselves to be similarly judged.

Today I shall…

…try to avoid wishing harm to anyone, even to those who have greviously offended me.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Shevet 17”

Kind of reminds me of some lessons taught by other wise Jewish sages.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34 (ESV)

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 12:19-21 (ESV)

ForgivenessI suppose Paul, in quoting from Proverbs 25:22, might be the more appropriate scripture, since Jesus is asking God to forgive his executioners, and not just a few people (who in this case are a blogger and a few of his friends who cheer him on) who have “badmouthed” him. Nevertheless, we have a clear principle to not retaliate against someone, whether they’re another believer or not (though it’s sad when a believer should actually create such a situation in the first place).

I just read a blog post written by Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann called Stumbling Towards Shalom. In part, this article says:

I remember years ago helping at a wedding of a friend. This bride, at her rehearsal, was standing on the platform when her bad knee (with an untended to bad ligament) went out of its socket. I still remember seeing that. It meant she had to hobble in order to meet her bridegroom.

Will the same be true for all of us, as we prepare to meet our Bridegroom? Will we be stumbling and falling because of matters untended to?

How are we doing? And what are the prospects for our movement if we do not do better than we are? The author of the letter to the Hebrews leaves us with a final word about our ligament of peace and how we are walking. . . or not walking well together:

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:12-14).

While Rabbi Dr. Dauermann is specifically addressing division and unity within the Messianic Jewish movement, I believe it is appropriate to apply his words to the wider context of Christianity and the body of both Jewish and Gentile believers.

The body of Messiah will never achieve its goals while we continue to take pot shots and cheap shots at each other in an attempt to add supports to our own flagging egos. The cause of Christ is not our cause or something we invented out of our own righteousness, it’s God’s. We can either choose to sanctify the Name or desecrate it with our words and deeds.

I used to think that all forgiveness first required repentance, and in terms of our relationship with God, I believe that’s true. And yet I want you to notice something.

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Acts 9:3-9 (ESV)

In his conversation with Ananias (see Acts 9:15), the Lord calls Saul “a chosen instrument of mine,” and yet in the encounter between Messiah and Saul, at no time do we see that Saul ever repented or asked for forgiveness. Of course Luke may have simply omitted these overt statements assuming his readers would understand that such actions are implied. After all, Saul’s life does dramatically change almost immediately as he turns away from his former persecution of the Master and his servants and turns toward God. But there’s still a lesson here for me to learn.

clean-upI have no choice but to respond with a forgiving heart, even though it’s not in my human desire to do so. I have prayed for my adversary when he has asked it (in a general request on his blog and not to me specifically). I will continue to do so, for I desire no harm should come to any critic of mine or to their families. I recently said that we will all have to give an accounting to God as to how we lived our lives. I’m not suggesting that I am focused on my critic’s encounter with God but rather my own. If I don’t forgive, if I allow anger or the desire for retribution to rule me, when I am facing my God, what will I have to say about it?

Everyone has his share of “not good.” It’s impossible that a physical being should be devoid of faults. The point is not to flee or hide from them. Nor is it to resign yourself to it all. It is to face up to the fact that they are there, and to systematically chase them away.

Recognizing who you are and gradually cleaning up your act—it may look ugly, but it is a divine path.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Cleaning Up”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

It is better to forgive others, to let go of grudges and hurts and allow God to take care of such matters, than to have to explain to God why you bore a vengeful heart and intent toward someone He loves as much as He does you…and me. I admit by even writing this blog post that it still “smarts” to be taken to task, particularly when I am being honest, forthright, and transparent, but as Rabbi Freeman says, I’m striving to recognize the “ugly” in me and to take the “divine path” toward cleaning up my garbage.

I hope to meet the others I have contended with on that path as well someday.

“In youth we learn; in age we understand.”

-Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Austrian writer

4 thoughts on “The Divine Path to Taking Out the Garbage”

  1. It’s good to “turn the other cheek” when slapped. It’s better to thank G-d for the slap as it gives you opportunity to practice obedience to the one who gave the commandment.

    It’s good to let men see us practicing the commandments of Messiah, our “good works” so to speak, so that fellow believers in Yeshua can glorify G-d.

    It’s important to avoid “I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”

    Ultimately, we are merciful because it is in our best interest. I think you made that case very well.

  2. “Sometimes God reminds us of what is in our best interests, even when we don’t always want to listen.”

    One of the many things I love about him! 🙂 Happy Shabbos James!

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