Unpopular Righteousness

unpopularThe ascent of the soul occurs three times daily, during the three times of davening. This is particularly true of the souls of tzadikim who “go from strength to strength.” It is certain that at all times and in every sacred place they may be, they offer invocation and prayer on behalf of those who are bound to them and to their instructions, and who observe their instructions. They offer prayer in particular for their disciples and disciples’ disciples, that G-d be their aid, materially and spiritually.

-Today’s Day
Hayom Yom: Iyar29, 44th day of the omer
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

There is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the Torah.

-Ethics of the Fathers, 6:2

I had a great idea for a blog post last night before I went to bed. It communicated what I thought we all should be talking about with each other, not only on our blogs, but face-to-face, in our emails, in our phone calls, in every way possible…the communication and communion of holiness.

But then I went to sleep, and when I woke up, it was gone. I’m disappointed because the drive to write it is still within me. But now, I can’t give it expression.

This morning (as I write this), I read Derek Leman’s blog post What is Popular on a Messianic Blog?. I try to steer away from being identified as a “messianic blog” because it limits the audience I attract and fails to communicate that the message of Messiah is for all people, not just “messianics,” and for that matter, not just for “Christians.” The message of the love of God for humanity is for…humanity.

But Derek has a point.

Hands down, and no surprise, the winner of the numbers game is controversy. My leading blog post of the past year was an expose I did on Jim Staley, a Two House and Hebrew roots teaching pastor in Missouri, called “The Messianic Wall of Weird, #2.” And when Ralph Messer wrapped a pastor in a Torah scroll, told the pastor he was royalty in God’s eyes, and promised this bizarre misuse of a sacred object in Jewish life would restore this pastor from his problems, that blog post got a ton of readers (“Ralph Messer is Not a Messianic Jewish Rabbi”). A few critiques of Tim Hegg I have written have drawn many readers, but also lost me many readers, as some fans of Tim Hegg did not appreciate the criticism I threw his way. Of course, we should not be surprised that controversy is popular.

Controversy (especially if negative and more so if tied to a popular figure or current event).

My response to Derek’s missive was to compare this sort of “popularity” to a car accident with horrible human injuries, or NASCAR, where the attraction is the “hope” that there’ll be a massive pile up of cars traveling at high rates of speed, visions of body parts flying about the landscape fairly dancing in the minds of the fans.

OK, that’s probably a little harsh and I don’t doubt I owe an apology to many NASCAR fans out there.

But I also think I’m correct in that what draws a large, vocal audience tends not to be topics of substance but topics of controversy, especially if it’s ugly and there’s an opportunity to “spill blood,” in a virtual sense.

rock_starBut now I’m the one straying into the realm of controversy. See how tempting it is?

Tim at Onesimus Files posted a link to a highly “popular” blog post called When Rock-Star Preachers Spew a False Gospel published at Charisma News. The topic of “rock star preachers” is of interest to me because of my recent comments on “Biblical sufficiency” related to Part 1 and Part 2 of my commentary on John F. MacArthur (no, MacArthur’s not a “rock star preacher,” quite the opposite).

Drama is like blood in the water and we are all sharks looking for the next feeding frenzy.

But is that the way God wants us to be?

The Chofetz Chaim writes that because we are so involved in worldly matters, we lose our sensitivity to the great amount of joy we can potentially experience when performing a mitzvah (good deed). He offers the analogy of a man who was granted an audience with a powerful ruler. Imagine that the ruler is greatly impressed with the man, and has the conversation recorded in his personal diary. What a thrill! Upon returning home, the man’s face would glow with elation as he retells his experience to all his friends and neighbors. Even if he’d previously been worried over personal problems, he’d quickly forget them! Over the next years, whenever he’d meet others at some gathering, his successful meeting with the ruler would invariably be the topic of conversation.

Says the Chofetz Chaim: If this is the joy of someone who found favor with a mortal (who will eventually die and whose glory is short-lived), all the more so should we feel joy when we doing something which finds favor with the eternal Creator of the universe. Even afterward, when recalling the good deed, we will feel a glow of pleasure. In fact, the Torah (Deut. 28:47) stresses that we should feel more joy in serving the Almighty than from all other pleasures that exist.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #813: Being in the Almighty’s Favor”

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13:34

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

I suppose I could be criticized for choosing specifically optimistic and encouraging examples of scripture to place here, but then again, if you value the Word of God at all, you shouldn’t ignore them, either.

kindnessWhy do we do good? For the benefit of those around us. This is what God desires. However there is another motive. Each mitzvah we perform, each morsel of food or drink we give to a homeless person, each child’s skinned knee we put a band-aid on and kiss, each smile we give to a person we’re visiting in the hospital, not only helps the lonely and injured and not only helps the loneliness and injury within us, but it brings us closer to God.

We do good because only God is good (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Only God is One (Deut. 6:4). Only by loving God can we love anyone else in the way God designed us to love (Matthew 22:34-40).

I could quote at length from the comments section of some “religious blogs” the transactions of believers who do not seem to be loving each other at all. Occasionally, I try to introduce the voice of reason and yes, of love, but I don’t know if it does any good. On the other hand, it’s difficult to ignore some of these venues. There are people out there who feel they have been badly hurt (and some of them really have) by a “church experience,” and in reaction, they say harsh things about all Christians in churches (and sometimes about Jewish people in synagogues). Reading some of their material is like watching someone terribly injured and bleeding while trapped in the wreckage of a disastrous car accident (and I’ve written about this before). It’s horrible to look at but I can’t turn away. I want desperately to help, but I don’t know how to get them out of the ghastly mess.

(I should say that I wrote this particular blog post several days before my controversial missive but this one was scheduled to be published while I was away from home.)

What do you do when someone is hurt, has been hurt for a long, long time, and yet doesn’t want to be helped? What do you do with people who totally identify with being hurt, who are defined by being hurt, by being victims, and yet don’t want to let go of the pain, even when they know that if they did finally, finally let go, they would be much better human beings…the people God intended them to be?

Is there “power” in playing the victim role? Absolutely. Look back to what I said before about “popular” blogs. Controversy, pain, “blood in the water,” arguments about who is a “true believer” and who is an “apostate” rule the religious web. Everything else, righteousness, holiness, goodness, devotion…all that stuff is boring. Who wants to read it? No one.

Well, that may be an exaggeration, probably a gross exaggeration. I suspect a “silent majority” of people do read about righteousness, holiness, goodness, and devotion, and absorb it into their beings like a starving child voraciously consumes a glass of milk. It’s just that most of them don’t talk about it, don’t comment on blogs, don’t demand to hear more, don’t speak out dynamically, don’t become impassioned, at least in any way we can see in the blogosphere.

As you’re reading this, I’m at First Fruits of Zion’s Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. Through the miracle of scheduling blog posts, I can write this “last week” and have it become visible on the web Wednesday morning. I hadn’t intended to have new “mediations” be published while away from home, but as I said above, something is driving me to write about what we never talk about, or at least what is never “popular” to talk about.

doing_goodIt could be argued that something is only popular if it produces positive results within its audience and controversy rarely does that. Certainly the common definitions for the word “popular” include “regarded with favor, approval, or affection.” Can controversy be regarded with “affection?” On the other hand, look at what’s “popular” in our world today. Consider the TV shows with the highest ratings. What about movies, music, celebrities? Are these popular things and people always examples of righteousness, holiness, goodness, and devotion, or are they mere reflections of the moral state of our society? I suggest we try to do what is “unpopular.” As people of faith, we must go against the general grain if it violates what we are taught by our Master and Teacher.

The commentary for Pirkei Avot 6:2 states:

Why the roundabout, “negative” wording of the mishnah? Why not simply say “True freedom is attained through Torah”?

Man is a finite being, and everything he possesses and is capable of achieving is likewise finite in scope and extent. It would, therefore, follow that there is no such thing as a free human being. Not only do the proud, the envious, the ignorant and the greedy live in their own prison, but even the most emotionally stable and content individual, blessed with the most plentiful resources and leading the most uninhibited of lives, is still subservient to his own inherent limitations.

Thus, our mishnah opens with the statement, “There is no free individual.” But one who occupies himself with Torah, subordinating his mind and self to the wisdom and will of the Almighty, transcends this most basic nature of every created thing.

Torah defies the unbridgeable gap between the finite and the infinite. It is the wisdom and will of G-d, articulated in terms that the human being can comprehend, relate to and implement in his life. One who submits to the servitude of a life devoted to Torah experiences the freedom that eludes the most “independent” of men.

We also learn something important from Paul:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17

white-pigeon-kotelToday, I’m attending a conference dedicated to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of those gifts as I see it, is fellowship and community within the body of Jewish and Gentile believers. One might even say that I am participating in “echad” or a sense of “oneness” within the body of Messiah, though it contains many dissimilar parts.

We are commanded to love one another. I think that means we should love each other even if we don’t always like each other. I know I’m not always likeable, but I pray that God finds me always loveable, through His abundant grace and mercy. And if He can love me, He can love anyone. That means I should love anyone, too.

And showing love, more than any act of superficiality or ceremony is what it is to be righteous and holy to God. May the injured find healing in Him.

A person with humility is able to accept misfortunes and suffering. The arrogant person, however, is not able to tolerate these events.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”

-Charles-Louis de Montesquieu

133 days.

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