Commentaries and Cautionary Tales

study-in-the-dark‫לא שנא בדרבנן ולא שנא בדאורייתא – קמח‬

Tosafos (earlier 55a) explains that this rule, that under certain circumstances, one should refrain from pointing out a fellow Jews’ transgressions and not to rebuke a sinner, is only applicable where the offender will most certainly not listen to the words of rebuke which are addressed to him. However, if there is any possibility that the person will change his ways, then the observer has the responsibility to instruct him not to sin.

Rema (O.C. 608:2), however, writes that if the nature of the unlawful behavior is in the realm of a halachah which is not explicit in the Torah, then the obligation to intervene depends on whether or not the person will respond or not, as Tosafos says. Although the law is derived from a verse, being that it is not explicitly stated, we only proceed to rebuke the offender if there is a chance he may listen and change his ways. However, if the halachah is one which is explicit in the Torah, then we must rebuke the sinner even if we are certain that he will not listen to our words.

The rationale for the ruling of Rema is found in Rashba (Beitza 30a). He writes that a halachah that is not explicit in the Torah might be looked upon lightly by some people. We should assume that the violator is mistaken is considering this halachah as not important, but the fact is that if we were to correct him, he probably will disregard our rebuke. It is in this situation that we say, “It is better that he not be told, and that his actions remain inadvertent, than for us to make an issue of it and for his continued actions to be a more intentional violation of halachah.” However, if the person is disobeying a halachah which is explicit in the Torah, we cannot assume that his actions are inadvertent at all. We will not make matters worse by exhorting him to desist from his sinful ways, because he is already acting defiantly. We can only hope to improve the situation and to remedy the person’s observance.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Rebuke to the receptive”
Shabbos 148

I had just commented on one of Derek Leman’s blog posts in what promises to be yet another endlessly circular debate on whether or not Paul ever intended for the non-Jewish disciples of Jesus to be obligated to the full weight of the Torah commandments when I read the above-quoted commentary. As you can tell from the wording in my last sentence, I consider most of these conversations to be a futile waste of time, but on the other hand, they are so incredibly compelling (“Someone is wrong on the Internet”) that I still stick my nose in unbidden from time to time (and usually get it chopped off).

Obviously, the Daf commentary on Shabbos 148 is meant to apply within a Jewish halakhic context, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’m artificially applying it to a wider audience and loosening up some of the definitions (“wrong” doesn’t necessarily mean “sin”).

I very recently referred to all people and particularly all people of faith as “poor, blind, naked, stupid human beings who think we’re a whole lot more cool and smart than we really are.” Apparently that message didn’t get out because if it had and if it were taken seriously, then I suppose we might pause in the middle of our “self-important” debates to consider who and what is really important in the grander scheme of things (i.e. the Kingdom of Heaven).

A key element in why it’s easy to lack gratitude is because human nature is to take things for granted when we get used to having them. To master gratitude we need to stop taking things for granted and to increase our thoughts of appreciation.

The Creator keeps bestowing His tremendous kindnesses on us each and every day when we are awake and when we are asleep, whether we are aware of them or not. There are so many things in our lives that we take for granted.

As an exercise, choose a day to not take anything for granted. Look at everything as if it were new. Look at everything as if this were the first time that this positive thing was happening. Look at all that you own as if you just bought or received them today. Look at what you have as if it were invented recently and you are one of the first people on the planet to get it.

Hopefully this exercise will give you the experience of what it’s like to not take things for granted.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #744: Don’t Take Things for Granted”

illegal-christianityIt seems that one of the things we’re taking for granted in all of these debates is God. Not that we shouldn’t examine, explore, and discuss our faith and how we understand worship and lifestyle, but I think we’re missing the big, big picture. Recently, I’ve started reading a book called The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun written by a Chinese Christian with New Zealand missionary Paul Hattaway. Yun tells his story of coming to faith in Christ at age 16 in a family that was extremely impoverished and in a China where it was illegal to be a Christian.

Yun recounts one of the earliest events when he was captured by law enforcement agents in China for preaching at a gathering of Christians:

I was made to kneel down in the dirt while officers punched me in the chest and face and repeatedly kicked me from behind with their heavy boots. My face was covered with blood. The pain was unbearable and I nearly lost consciousness as I lay on the ground.

They lifted me up and made me stagger down another street. They were determined to make an example of me to as many people as possible.

-Yun/Hattaway, pg 63

I’ll talk more about Brother Yun and the “loss of focus” I believe many of us have been suffering from in tomorrow’s “meditation,” but after reading the Daf commentary and seeing the birth of yet another blogosphere debate this morning, I didn’t want to wait.

In my own little world, I meet with my Pastor every Wednesday night and we discuss many things. We continue our own debate on the function and purpose of “the Law,” both in its original and ancient context and in the world of Judaism today. Pastor Randy lived in Israel for fifteen years, has many Jewish friends, and is deeply devoted to the Jewish people, so it’s not as if he’s a stranger to these topics. And yet we continue to debate how the Torah applies in Judaism and what “Torah” even means.  As people of faith, we all struggle to find our own focus when we read the pages of the Bible, trying to discover the message God has delivered about the past, present, and future.

While our discussions have been very productive thus far, Pastor Randy suggested we turn future meetings toward a specific topic, namely D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians. I’ve been meaning to re-read it again since I feel I didn’t really “get it” the first time, and Pastor Randy wants to read it but since his reading list is so incredibly vast (he has read up to one hundred books in a single year, so as a reader, I’m definitely an “illiterate” amateur by comparison) that having a “reading partner” will add motivation for him to address Lancaster’s work. I think it’s one way to bring some of the matters we have been talking about into greater clarity.

Maybe it seems like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, eschewing Internet debates on controversial Biblical matters but engaging in such conversations in my personal life, but some things seem to be more accessible and “relatable” face-to-face. Also, our conversations don’t involve “the usual suspects” in the blogosphere who always present the same point of view and who always expect everyone else to change their minds except them. That has to include me whenever I participate in these web discussions and that’s why I think those transactions miss the point.

I’ve already experienced some shifting in my viewpoints and more than a little illumination as a result of my Wednesday night talks, and I suspect that my own meager offerings to the conversation may have influenced some of Pastor Randy’s perspectives as well. But that’s what a conversation does…it’s not just a venue for us to teach, it’s an opportunity to learn, to let ourselves be changed, to grow, to be open to encountering God.

It’s also an opportunity to revisit the essentials of faith, which we will definitely not encounter on someone’s web log. God is encountered personally, in actual contact with real human beings, and in the presence of the humility and nakedness of our own spirits.

christianity-is-IllegalIn reading Brother Yun’s book, I’m witnessing the struggle to spread the message of the Gospel in Communist China in the 1970s and early 1980s (which is how far I’ve gotten in my reading so far). Many people coming to faith are illiterate farmers. The vast majority have never even seen the Bible since possession of one would be illegal (although supposedly that has changed in recent years). Most only have a vague idea of who Jesus is except that he’s God’s son who died to take away our sins and illnesses. They meet in secret in small house churches. They baptize in the middle of the night, sometimes in winter, cutting holes in the ice in rivers, trying to avoid the police, arrest, imprisonment, and torture. It will never occur to them that some other Christians in the western nations think that they’re “obligated” to wear tzitzit, keep kosher, and observe the Shabbat. They’re too busy risking their freedom and their lives trying against all odds to worship Jesus Christ, to love one another, and to spread the word of hope to the hopeless.

I’m hardly one to say that I’ve risen above all of the bickering and debating, but I really think we need to stop and put a few things back into perspective. If all the things we argue about aren’t for His Glory; if they aren’t for the sake of Heaven, then they can only be for our own gratification and the desire to be “right.”

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Titus 3:1-11 (ESV)

Commentary and cautionary tale as found in midrash and in a Pastoral epistle from Paul. Blessings.

10 thoughts on “Commentaries and Cautionary Tales”

  1. I like what you said about not endlessly debating these things (though these issues are very compelling!). However, I think as we dig deeper into the Context, and Hebrew, and Greek on these doctrinal issues, I think we’re going to see people’s thinking get a little more well-defined, and for these debates to gravitate on to other debates.

    Identity issues are always some of the hardest and most emotional though, because you essentially have different groups trying to define/categorize who/what the other groups are (not just what they believe, but who they are in God’s eyes).

    Something tells me we’ll be debating this until the next big debate comes along.

  2. Please do write a review of that book when you have finished, James.

    I have been wanting to read a balanced take on the book since hearing of it a while back. I think you would be just the guy to provide such a commentary 🙂

    Peace to you, friend.

  3. @Nate: Which book? Brother Yun’s or Lancaster’s? (I suspect you mean the latter…if so, I already reviewed it, though it could stand a second look).

    @Rob: Yes, these are compelling debates, which is why I continue to get sucked in…uh, to participate against my better judgment. My suspicion is that we’ll still be discussing all this when Messiah comes. Then he’ll tap us on all the shoulder and say, “Uh, fellas…here’s how it really works. Hopefully, we’ll all shut up and listen to him. 😉

  4. // My suspicion is that we’ll still be discussing all this when Messiah comes. Then he’ll tap us on all the shoulder and say, “Uh, fellas…here’s how it really works. Hopefully, we’ll all shut up and listen to him. //

    Ha! Which is exactly where the need for mercy, forgiveness, and humility between brethren comes into play.

  5. No worries, Nate. So far, I’m compelled by the struggle of Brother Yun and the other Christians in China in the late 1970s/early 1980s. The reports of various supernatural events I’m setting to one side for now.

  6. Glad you seem to be enjoying it so far. Though I do hope you will review the miraculous in the book as well, when the time comes that is.

    Shalom, James.

  7. I’m an honest reviewer, Nate. I’ll give everything in Brother Yun’s book a fair assessment. Read a bit more over lunch. I don’t think we understand just how much some people still suffer for their Christian faith in the world.

  8. Truly, I agree. It’s easy to forget not everyone can practice their faith without fear of punishment.

    “They persecuted me, they will persecute you,” becomes very real for many.

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