Beckoning the God of Peace

in-the-face-of-the-stormPrepare yourself with this meditation, and when you feel anger overcoming you, run through it in your mind:

Know that all that befalls you comes from a single Source, that there is nothing outside of that Oneness to be blamed for any event in the universe.

And although this person who insulted you, or hurt you, or damaged your property, is granted free choice and is held culpable for his decision to do wrong — that is his problem. That it had to happen to you — that is between you and the One Above.

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

I’ve spent the past several days monitoring some disturbing and less than “Godly” attitudes on the Internet (No Judah, your not one of them). I suppose it’s obvious that hostile and critical people and organizations should express themselves in an environment as open as the World Wide Web, but it’s always disappointing when the sources of such poor behavior are those who claim the cause of Christ (though they may not call him by that title). I won’t give honor to either of the two specific sites/blogs to which I’m referring by linking to them on my blog, but suffice it to say that they both (apparently) desire to denigrate Jews and Judaism in general, and specific individuals in the Messianic Jewish movement in particular.

There’s more than a little irony happening here. First off, both of the sources I am speaking of advertise themselves as being educated and scholarly, in addition to being holy and honorable. And yet, how can what they say about themselves be true when the results of their “scholarship” and “reviews” are a widespread (relative to the scope of the Internet but perhaps not their readership) reiteration of classic hatred of Jews, a further expression Christian supersessionism, and a great outpouring of comments about individuals bordering on character assassination?

After Shabbat had ended on Saturday night, in a fit of pique, I wrote this on Facebook:

There’s so much injustice masquerading as scholarship and that reduces the history of Jewish people to a subject that’s examined under a microscope. How far do I go to challenge people who think they are defending the cause of Christ but who actually are walking in the footsteps of everyone who has authored a pogrom and constructed a holocaust?

I found myself sorely tempted to respond to the sources of my frustration via email, blog comments, and twitter, basically to (proverbially) give them a piece of my mind. Fortunately, I stopped myself. It’s hardly taking the moral high road when another can provoke you to descend to their level. On the other hand, is this blog post any better?

In all my days I have never had to look behind me before saying anything.

-Shabbos 118b

Lashon hara (gossip or slander) is not necessarily untruthful. The Torah forbids saying something derogatory about a person even if it is completely true.

One of the best guidelines to decide what you should or should not say is to ask: “Does it make a difference who might overhear it?” If it is something that you would rather someone not overhear, it is best left unsaid.

Sometimes the information need not be derogatory. A secret may not be saying anything bad about anyone, but if someone has entrusted you with confidential information, and you have this tremendous urge to share the privileged communication with someone else, you should ask yourself: “Would I reveal this if the person who trusted me with this information were present?”

Sometimes people want to boast. They may even fabricate their story to those who have no way of knowing that it may not be true. Still, they would be ashamed to boast in the presence of someone who knew that their statement was false.

Volumes have been written about what is proper speech and about what constitutes an abuse of this unique capacity to verbalize with which man was endowed. But even if one does not have time to master all of the scholarly works on the subject, a reliable rule of thumb is to ask, “Do I need to look behind me before I say it?” If the answer is yes, do not say it.

Today I shall…

…monitor my speech carefully, and not say anything that I would not wish someone to overhear.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Shevat 30”

Let’s look at the first two sentences of Rabbi Twerski’s commentary on “lashon hara” again:

Lashon hara (gossip or slander) is not necessarily untruthful. The Torah forbids saying something derogatory about a person even if it is completely true.

That’s very difficult for most of us to do, especially when we have free access to the Internet and the ability to create and edit websites and blogs we have created or to make comments on the blogs and discussion boards of others. The web is full of harsh criticisms aimed at others and yes, some of those criticisms are true. And yet, and this is especially focused at those folks who claim to observe the Torah of Moses whoever they may be…to publish comments regarding specific individuals for the express purpose of destroying their reputation or causing them personal and emotional harm, cannot be construed in any manner as actually serving God.

peace-of-mind1I’m not unmindful that such individuals are responding in anger, and that they even feel justified due to the belief that they are fighting against what they see as some sort of “injustice” they think was perpetrated against them or their own cause or tradition, but is such a response really the right thing to do? I know that I’m struggling with my own anger at such behavior, but in doing so and in writing this blog post, I’m walking the edge of the very abyss I believe they have already fallen into.

But what is Rabbi Freeman’s advice on anger? If anyone has insulted you or done you wrong, it is a problem that they possess. It’s only the problem of the person insulted (in this case, me) if they (I) allow the insult to affect them (me). Thus, the individuals who are behaving rather poorly on the web are only a problem to me if I let them affect me. That I’m even writing this “meditation” means I must confess that I have allowed this to happen. In that case, my conversation must not engage those who have behaved in an insulting matter, but to the degree that they have entered my life with their discordant behavior, I must take the matter to God. How I feel and how I must respond is between Him and me alone.

To apply Rabbi Twerski’s commentary on what I’ve been saying, in addition, I must monitor my own “speech,” which includes anything I post online. I’m glad I didn’t give in to temptation last Saturday, otherwise I would have failed in that area as well.

(Unfortunately, I did give in to temptation on Google+ Monday morning and I am now living with that regret. The resulting comments on my recent Return to Jerusalem blog post were actually stimulating, but the “comments storm” that occurred on my Why I Go to Church missive were troubling and disappointing for the most part..though thankfully only from a single individual.)

Where do I go from here?

We cannot think two thoughts at the same time. Consequently, when negative thoughts arise, you do not need to fight them. Make an effort to think positive thoughts, and the negative thoughts will disappear.

(see Rabbi Nachman of Breslov; Likutai Aitzos: machshovos, no.11)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #727
“Fill Your Mind with Positive Thoughts”

There is a much older “midrash” on this topic in which I can also take comfort.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

Not only think of what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable, but practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

candleIt is not unexpected that we in the body of faith at one time or another, will turn to God in our anguish and ask Him to quiet our minds and our lives, to shield us from the turmoil that comes from the world and from inside of ourselves. And yet, if we want the “God of peace” to reside with us, Paul says that we must choose to focus our thoughts on peace and then to practice peace.

As Rabbi Twerski might say:

Today I shall…

…strive to practice peace by embracing peace within my thoughts, so that the God of peace will be with me and guide me in His ways, and so that no other person may suffer for anything I say or do.

“The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. … The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”

-George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright

13 thoughts on “Beckoning the God of Peace”

  1. Your patience is admirable, unfortunately the laws of lashon hara are all to often unknown
    Or ignored by those arguing about faith. A great reminder that no matter what amount of “righteous indignation” we feel it is no excuse for assaulting another persons character or abusing them verbally in any way.

  2. Well, it’s not that admirable, or I wouldn’t have to write this sort of “meditation” at all, Sean. But thanks for the compliment. We are, after all, supposed to build each other up, even if there are those in the body of faith who seemed to have missed that lesson.

  3. “Lashon hara (gossip or slander) is not necessarily untruthful. The Torah forbids saying something derogatory about a person even if it is completely true.”

    Then, Yeshua broke the Torah?

  4. Consider the motive and the heart of the speaker, Steven. Most people “bad mouth” each other because they want to strike back for offenses real or imagined, or to puff themselves up. That’s pretty much what I’ve been experiencing lately. On the other hand, Jesus spoke the truth, not to slander, and not to gossip, but to correct. Sometimes these events were public, which doesn’t exactly square with how I read the “letter of Talmud,” so to speak, but he certainly wasn’t using the truth to deliberately tear down any of his disciples or followers just because he could do it.

    Think of it this way. Let’s say a wife is annoyed at something her husband did at a dinner party and she responds by publicly criticizing him in front of all their friends, terribly embarrassing him. Later, when he complains, she might say, “I was just telling the truth.” Yes, she was, but look at the result. She embarrassed him in front of their friends and damaged his trust in her.

    Does that really compare to how Jesus instructed his disciples?

    1. Where does the Torah forbid saying something derogatory even if it’s true?

      In the book of Luke, Yeshua called the King Herod “that fox” and it was an insult and it was not to his face but through others.

      Your point about the intention of the heart, I get that. But, sometimes we misjudge the hearts of others. How do we know when someone speaks the truth to correct as opposed to when he speaks the truth to slander and embarrass?

  5. Steven, you may be missing the quotes I included from the New Testament, including the words of Jesus and Paul, addressing the matter of treating each other poorly. Are you actually defending insulting and humiliating your fellow believers (or anyone else), just because you can?

  6. And before anyone brings it up, I’ve already refuted the chavruta illusion and described online attack dogs, along with their tactics and their motivations. I really don’t see why this is such a difficult concept to grasp. Even Hillel said, “What you dislike, do not do to your friend. That is the basis of the Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn!” A generation or so later, Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

  7. “Are you actually defending insulting and humiliating your fellow believers (or anyone else), just because you can?”

    Ah, you feel insulted and humiliated and believe a brother has sinned against you. You place it on the table before us for judgment, knowing many of us understand WHO you write about. You give a veil of not participating while at the same time you counter with your own accusations of sin such as:

    “some disturbing and less than “Godly” attitudes on the Internet”

    “but suffice it to say that they both (apparently) desire to denigrate Jews and Judaism in general, and specific individuals in the Messianic Jewish movement in particular.”

    “reiteration of classic hatred of Jews, a further expression Christian supersessionism”

    To garner support to your side by flinging more accusations of sin?

    Now, I wonder, is there really sin here? May G-d search our hearts 🙂

  8. Actually, I don’t really feel insulted and humiliated, though occasionally I get a little put off. I’m using the events of the past couple of days as a jumping off point to illustrate that the Bible doesn’t support us acting like the rest of the blogosphere, picking and sniping at each other because we want to satisfy our personal feelings or to “get back” at someone.

    I don’t “name names” because those involved probably already know they’re involved and at the same time, I don’t have to advertise identities to the rest of the Internet. Believe it or not, I am trying exercise restraint.

    (Oh, by the way, in none of this was I referring to you, Steven.)

    There are others in the larger body of faith who still struggle with their particular theologies and take pot shots at both Judaism and Christianity. In a sense, I’m addressing issues on both fronts and attempting to illustrate that regardless if you’re a believing Jew or Gentile, Christ’s teachings on how we are to treat each other apply.

    If you’re accusing me of sin, so be it, and I’ll be the first to admit that my heart needs to be continually cleaned by the Master and I certainly am far from perfect. Fortunately he has the grace to allow me to move along through my own mistakes and be patient. If that weren’t true of how he treats all of us, no one could survive.

  9. “If you’re accusing me of sin”

    No, just the opposite. I don’t think these things are proven sin and may be misunderstandings or the fact that people see things very differently depending on their perspective.

    To credit you though, Yeshua said “woe to you when all men speak well of you for so they did to the false prophets”.

    Sometimes it is a good thing NOT to be spoken well of! Shalom James 🙂

  10. Paul list various spiritual gifts, wisdom, knowledge, etc. in 1 Cor. 12. He closes the chapter with, “…And I will show you a still more excellent way” (vs. 31). This leads into 1 Cor 13. which we’re told the more “excellent way” is to have a real and functional love. I will would hope that I will always choose the more excellent way. Grace and peace!

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