Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
–Deuteronomy 10:14-16 (ESV)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”
–Matthew 23:23 (ESV)
I’ve been reminded lately that blogging isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. No, don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere (I hear a few disappointed sighs in the background). But I agree with one of my recent critics that we need to focus on more than just words and in particular, more than just certain, oft-repeated conversations.
Usually we think of negativity – the tendency to criticize, blame, hate, fear, or be depressed – as a psychological disposition. “Some people are just upbeat; I’m not.”
It sounds as neutral as saying, “Some people are blonde; some are brunette.”
But what if you viewed negativity as a spiritual disease?
-Sara Yoheved Rigler
“The Danger in Your Head”
This isn’t the only message I’ve received on this theme lately.
We live in an age of addictions. I grew up hearing about drug addicts, and had a brother-in-law who died from an overdose. Other people are addicted to food, and others to alcohol. The reason for some addictions is physical, as in the case of drugs or cigarettes. Other addictions are psychological, as people seek to escape the more painful aspects of their lives. I have noticed over many years, that some people are addicted to negativity.
Like most addictions, people who are addicted to negativity mask it with the notion that they are doing something noble, or filled with righteous indignation. Indeed, there are people who are noble, and are filled with righteous indignation who seek to challenge the status quo and change society for good, like the people who fought for civil rights for various groups.
-Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman
“Addiction to Negativity”
Yeah, that describes me. It also describes some of the people who criticize me. To be fair, once we get on our white chargers and lift up our lances, we start tilting at windmills with a ferocity and obsessive determination that would make Don Quixote look like a paragon of calm and reason.
Dr. Schiffman ends his blog post by saying, “In the end, if you let them drag you down, you can’t be of help to anyone else.” When he says “them,” he means addictions, but he could just as well mean “negative conversations” or “negative people.” What he really could have said is “when you let yourself drag you down…”
Sometimes negative people come unbidden to my blog but often I really am asking for it. I’ve seen a nice, juicy windmill in the distance and it seems to just call to me, like a pint of Guinness calls to an alcoholic. So I slap on my armor, hoist myself up on my big, noble steed (no doubt with the help of an imaginary Pancho Sanza), grab my weapons, and it’s off I go to joust with ethereal foes on the fields of honor. Then I tick someone off and they come to my blog and complain at me.
So what have I accomplished?
Or more to the point, Oh duh!
Judaism always strives to make the mundane sacred. If we elevate physical acts like eating by making a blessing, then why not cleaning?
When we do ‘bedikat chametz,’ the traditional search for bread that is performed with a candle and feather, we are searching our inner selves. The wick of the candle represents our body, while the flame that always strives to aim upward is our soul. The bread (the chametz) is our own puffed up ego. It is our sense of self-importance that often blocks the soul.
So when we look in those deep, dark places for bread, we are searching our inner selves for our ego. When we find the chametz, we then burn it with the flame, symbolically purging ourselves of our ego and liberating our soul.
Even having participated in Judaism and “psuedo-Judaism” over the years, I haven’t really gotten used to it. It is said that we should repent one day before we die, but since we never know when we’ll die, we should repent constantly. Christians know this but it is part of human nature to put off what we need to do until the last second. Problem is, as I’ve already said, we never know when the last second is going to tick away and expire.
What were those “weightier matters of the Law?”
I recently complained that bloggers representing a certain minority variant of Christianity fail to actually talk about these “weightier matters.” I’ve been told that the “ideals, theologies, and doctrines of an infant and growing movement” are more important or at least more interesting to the audience on the web than the aforementioned justice, mercy, and faithfulness. I hope that’s not true because if it is, then it’s a sad and pathetic commentary on that movement, and people consuming such material have lost their focus far more than I ever could.
It’s been so long since I’ve blogged about losing my focus that I can’t even find my previous write-up in a search. I guess that means it’s long overdue.
What are the weightier matters of Torah? Justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Many of the final exhortations of Paul’s letters also focus on these matters.
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)
As both Passover and Easter approach, I think it’s a good time to clean out my head, my heart, and my spirit. It’s a good time to rejuvenate myself and to focus my attention on what really matters. I can give out all the advice in the world about what I think others in the religious blogosphere should do, but that’s really meaningless. If they don’t know what God wants of them by now, nothing I can say will make any difference. However, I can make a lot of difference in what I say and do.
But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.
–Titus 3:9 (ESV)
I really need to take this piece of advice on board, because the adherence to these “foolish controversies” just consumes the web. I think there’s a better note to write for my virtual “message in a bottle.”
In his article Love Humanity, Rabbi Noah Weinberg provides a list as a way to answer the question, Why is “Loving Humanity” a Way to Wisdom?
- In order to realize your own potential, you have to love humanity. Their success is your success, too.
- The more you have love in your life, the more happy and efficient you’ll be.
- If you don’t appreciate the phenomenon of human beings, you’re missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures.
- Loving others connects you to the world, to all facets of creation.
- Love helps you get out of the confines of “me” and into the expansive “we.”
- Prioritize your love. Appreciate the relative value of each virtue.
- Realize that all human beings are God’s children.
If I write more like this in my “morning meditations,” I probably won’t attract very many readers and probably most people won’t comment or reply (although you are certainly encouraged to…hint, hint). People usually respond when they’re upset, not when they’re encouraged (though I’m trying to change that in myself for the better). I understand the need to write blogs and papers on theology, doctrine, and dogma. I know we need to provide clarification and solid Biblical research and teaching on what we understand the Bible to be saying to us.
But beyond that, what we really need is a guide to the simple way of living and doing the Word and Will of God. Dismissing people in favor of “things” and “mechanics” isn’t doing that. After all, how much theology do you really need to understand to volunteer to play with the little ones in the church’s nursery on Sunday morning, or to visit one of the older church members who is sick and in the hospital?
Some laws are heavier than others. They require more “strength” to lift. But the reward is that when you perform the “weightier matters of Torah” on a regular basis, they become very light…and this also lightens the heaviness of your soul…and of my soul.