-Ethics of the Fathers 3:15
Imagine a situation: you have a fine home, a well-paying job, a comfortable car, and a substantial retirement annuity. If you do a single thoughtless act, you will lose everything you have worked to achieve: home, job, car, and savings. What kind of precautions would you take to avoid even the remotest possibility of incurring such a disaster? Without doubt, you would develop an elaborate system of defenses to assure that this event would never occur.
The Talmud tells us that everything we have worked for during our entire lives can be forfeited in one brief moment of inconsideration: we embarrass another person in public. Perhaps we may say something insulting or make a demeaning gesture. Regardless of how it occurs, the Talmud states that if we cause another person to turn pale because of being humiliated in public, we have committed the equivalent of bloodshed.
Still, we allow our tongues to wag so easily. If we give serious thought to the words of the Talmud, we would exercise the utmost caution in public and be extremely sensitive to other people’s feelings, lest an unkind word or degrading gesture deprive us of all our spiritual merits.
Today I shall…
…try to be alert and sensitive to other people’s feelings and take utmost caution not to cause anyone to feel humiliated.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Adar 2”
I suppose this is a continuation of a previous morning meditation and yet another attempt on my part to appeal to the body of faith. I am aware of a discussion in the Hebrew Roots “blogosphere” that has cast me and a friend of mine in an unfavorable light, but up until now, I’ve said nothing about it. I certainly have no intention of visiting said-blog and attempting to refute the accusations. What would be the point? As we see from Talmudic wisdom, behaving unkindly in response to criticism is unsustainable. Of course virtually all Christians, including those in the Hebrew Roots movement, have little use for the Talmud, so I imagine Rabbi Twerski’s appeal is in vain when applied to such an audience.
Accessing the Bible, do we really get a sense that if we humiliate another person publicly, we’ll lose our salvation as the Rabbi suggests? No? So why worry about it? I guess we are free to humiliate others with impunity, right?
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
–Romans 1:28-32 (ESV)
OK, that’s a little harsh, even for me. Also, Paul was talking about God’s wrath upon the unrighteous, and that couldn’t possibly include anyone in the body of Christ, could it? Maybe I should look elsewhere for more appropriate scriptures.
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
–1 John 3:11-15 (ESV)
That may still be a little over the top, since you don’t actually have to hate someone in order to publicly embarrass and humiliate them. I’m sure my recent critics don’t actually hate me. Given that, is it OK with Jesus then to be insulting?
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
–Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)
Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but that one seems to be pretty close to the mark. In fact, it is pretty much identical to the following:
He who publicly shames his neighbour is as though he shed blood.
-Talmud: Bava Mezia 58b
Well, so much for the Talmud having absolutely and totally no relevance to a Christian life of faith. Perhaps a certain amount of the Torah and traditional Jewish halachah applies to Christians after all, if it connects back to what we learn from our Master.
But getting back to the main point of this missive, it seems that (and I’ve mentioned this many times before) our endless series of rants, public insults toward others, and general “bad mouthing” of other Christians with whom we disagree, isn’t exactly “kosher,” so to speak. Unfortunately, when I say stuff like this, the usual response from some quarters is that I’m just an old “softie” and that I’m sacrificing “clarity” and “truth” for the sake of patience, kindness, avoiding envy or proud boasting, and attempting not to dishonor others (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
Obviously, I’m not perfect at it, thus some of the language that I’ve included in this “extra meditation.”
But what are we to do under such circumstances when other believers insist on overlooking both Matthew 5:21-22 and its Talmudic corollary Bava Mezia 58b?
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)
But in making this an issue on my blog, am I “repaying evil for evil” rather than “heaping burning coals” (by heaping kindness) upon the heads of those who are so critical of me? (As an aside, Paul’s quoting partially from Proverbs 25:22, so again, I guess more of the Torah is applicable upon us than we commonly realize.)
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Easier said than done, especially on the Internet, when people visit each other’s blogs and make sniping comments like gangbangers doing drive-by shootings. It’s one of the reasons I don’t visit and especially don’t comment on the blogs of some of my “opponents.” My minor effort at not repaying evil for evil and perpetuating the cycle of “drive-bys.”
But this still isn’t working because I’m still writing a message to people who don’t want to listen. There’s no hope of trying to get them to see why what we’re all doing is so wrong. Self-justification is a powerful lure and there’s a tendency to confuse our priorities with God’s.
But if there’s no hope, what’s left?
There is hope, and there is trust in G-d –and they are two distinct attitudes.
Hope is when there is something to latch on to, some glimmer of a chance. The drowning man, they say, will clutch at any straw to save his life.
Trust in G-d is even when there is nothing in which to hope. The decree is sealed. The sword is drawn over the neck. By all laws of nature there is no way out.
But the One who runs the show doesn’t need any props.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Between Hope and Trust”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Why don’t people like to remain silent when others insult them? Because they’re afraid that others might think they’re weak and unable to answer back.
The truth is, it takes much greater strength to remain silent when someone insults you. Revenge, on the other hand, is a sign of weakness. A revenger lacks the necessary strength of character to forgive.
(Rabbi Yerachmiel Shulman; Ketzais Ha’shemesh Big’vuraso, p.42; Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Happiness,” p. 302)
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #728: It Takes Strength to Keep Silent”
Yeah. I’ve got to work on that one. After all, I can hardly say I’ve advanced further spiritually than my critics if I’m just as prone to the same misbehavior as they display. We shall know a tree by its fruit. In my case, I’ve striving to be a “silent fruit tree.”
Taking a page from Rabbi Twerski’s book…
Today I shall…
…try to refrain from replying to insults that others say to me or to those people I care about and strive to return good for evil.