Learning God

davening_morningIn the early period of his leadership the Alter Rebbe taught: “The footsteps of man are directed by G-d.”(Tehillim 37:23) When a Jew comes to a particular place it is for an (inner Divine) intent and purpose – to perform a mitzva, whether a mitzva between man and G-d or a mitzva between man and his fellow-man. A Jew is G-d’s messenger.

Wherever a messenger (shaliach) may be, he represents the power of the meshalei’ach, the one who sent him. The superior quality that souls possess, higher than the angels (who are also “messengers”), is that souls are messengers by virtue of Torah.

“Today’s Day”
Tuesday, Tamuz 10, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

If you know something worthwhile, share it. By reaching others, you will reach yourself.

Whatever you learn – from books, lectures, or life experience – do so with the goal of sharing with others. If it was fascinating, how did it change you? What did it teach you about living? And how can you transfer that insight to others?

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“Way #46: Learn In Order To Teach”s

Sharing life experiences? Rabbi Weinberg is talking my language.

The past two “morning meditations” were my commentary on a teaching given by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) President and Founder Boaz Michael called Moses in Matthew. One of the essential points I tried to get across is that not all of the information “encoded” in the gospels (or the rest of the Bible for that matter) can be accessed and understood apart from a Jewish context. That context includes not only understanding the original languages and the cultural and historical framework of the time in which the Bible writers were operating, but the philosophical, religious, and midrashic material that would have been in the minds of those writers and their immediate audiences.

While the Bible is truly the inspired word of God, the Bible writers most likely had no idea that what they penned would be translated into hundreds of languages and consumed by nations and cultures all over the planet, two-thousand or more years into the future. In their intent, they were writing to people like them, people they knew or knew about, a specific and contemporary  readership.

Localization, when applied to language, is the process of writing a document in one language with the specific purpose that it be (more or less) easily translated into other languages. That requires the original document be written as “generically” as possible, employing no slang, idiom, or other language forms that are difficult to translate literally into other languages.

But one of the things we know or should know, is that the Bible writers used a lot of word play, symbolism, imagery, idiom, slang, and nicknames that were extremely specific to not only the original languages but to the time and culture in which these writers were living. To make matters worse, the Greek of the New Testament can seem extremely awkward at communicating thoughts and ideas that the Hebrew thinking/speaking writers were attempting to communicate.

My Pastor, who is fluent in Hebrew, agrees that some of the New Testament phrases written in Greek are worded in a very difficult manner, but they become much clearer when “retro-translated” into Hebrew (which is one of the reasons why the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels are extremely helpful).

man_risingThe quote from “Today’s Day” at the top of this blog post says in part that “A Jew is G-d’s messenger. Wherever a messenger (shaliach) may be, he represents the power of the meshalei’ach, the one who sent him.” That’s quite true but as disciples of the Jewish Messiah, even we Gentiles are messengers of God and we also represent the one who sent us.

Rabbi Weinberg says that the purpose of learning is to teach, not that we must all take on the role of a formal teacher, but any time we communicate something we have learned to another, we are teaching them what we learned. That’s what I’m doing with this blog.

The interesting thing is that, based on everything I’ve written over the past several days (and long before that), as Christians, we can’t really learn the Bible beyond a certain point until we learn to read it “Jewishly.” Therefore, we can’t really teach what we’ve learned about the Bible beyond a particular limit until we’ve learned to teach it “Jewishly.”

This isn’t to say that we Gentile Christians will ever learn to conceptualize the world in the same way as someone who was born into a Jewish home, raised and educated within a fully cultural and religious Jewish context, and as someone who lives a life that is halachically Jewish. I live with a Jewish wife and have three Jewish children and I don’t come anywhere near understanding my world from the Jewish perspective, let alone writing from that perspective.

But hopefully I’ve learned enough to add a bit of an “accent” to my language…to communicate from a different perspective, presenting my understanding of the Bible (limited though it may be) in a way that appears new or at least different from what most Christians teach and comprehend.

According to Rabbi Weinberg, you don’t have to be perfect to teach. That’s a lesson I know all too well:

The best teachers make mistakes; more at the beginning, less later on. It’s like riding a bike or driving a car – the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Nobody ever became a great teacher without flopping a few times.

The first time, you’ll probably be laughed at. But don’t be discouraged. (Be glad they didn’t curse you!) Try again. The second time they’ll argue with you. That’s a good sign already; you’ve got them engaged. The third time they’ll thank you. That makes all the previous efforts worth it.

The same way a budding artist needs to study under the masters, a teacher needs to study the methods of great educators. If you have a favorite teacher (or journalist, actor, etc.) be conscious of their techniques for communicating the message.

But don’t wait until you’re perfect – because that’s a long way off! Just get started and teach as best you can. It will do wonders to help clarify your own viewpoint.

Of course, no one will ever become a perfect teacher and some people are more naturally gifted in that role than others. One of the reasons I write is to clarify what I’m learning within myself. Sometimes presenting that to others helps me learn as well. If the Jewish people were called to be a light to the nations, then Messiah has taught us that we need to be a light, too. We are learning things from our Master that are well worth sharing, but as he said, a light cannot shine if it is hidden under a basket.

GardeningLearning and teaching is a living, organic process. We know we’re alive when we are interacting, not only with other human beings, but with God. We are fulfilling the purpose of our existence. We are exercising the reason for our design.

We don’t have to be perfect and we don’t even always have to be all that good. We do have to do, though. If we are sincere, and motivated, and acting in His Name, we will move forward, we will learn, we will teach, and with the help of God, a few people will actually understand, then learn, and then teach too.

People think that to attain truth you have to pulverize boulders, move mountains and turn the world upside-down. It’s not so. Truth is found in the little things.

On the other hand, to move a mountain takes some dynamite and a few bulldozers. To do one of those little things can take a lifetime of working on yourself.

You do what you can: Learn and meditate and pray and improve yourself in the ways you know how—and He will help that what you do will be with Truth.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Small Truths”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”

-Helen Keller, American writer and political activist

The Master said (Luke 21:15), “…for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” While that may not always seem true given the amount of ridicule believers receive from various members of our society, we are not abandoned and alone, either. Learn and keep on learning, but information kept to yourself only helps you. You are only serving God when you share it and Him.

2 thoughts on “Learning God”

  1. While I agree wholeheartedly with our need to share with others what we have learned about God, and I love the perspective in the quote by Rabbi Noah Weinberg.

    Yet, I think of all the harm done by teachers who distort truth, Biblical or otherwise, intentional or otherwise.

    I’m just wondering your perspective on James chapter 3 (quoting only verse 1) “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” and Prov 10:19 “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” 29:10 “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” ?

  2. I think there’s a difference between “Teachers” and “teachers.” The former are in a formal role and represent themselves has having some knowledge based on education and some appointment to authority (in a church/synagogue/so on). The latter is everybody else. Whenever you write a blog, just by sharing your perspectives, in some sense, you are teaching. You teach your children every day. You teach everyone who comes in contact with you a little bit about God, at least if your words and behavior are consistent with your faith.

    I don’t claim to be a “Teacher” by any stretch of the imagination, but being a “teacher” is inevitable. We do however, have a choice about how well we teach and what we teach about.

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