What God Wants

the-divine-torahIf one wishes to add on more restrictions than the law requires, one may do so for oneself, but not [make such demands] of others.

-Shulchan Aruch

Some people employ a double standard. One set of rules applies to themselves, and another to everyone else. The Shulchan Aruch, the standard authoritative compilation of Jewish law, accepts this policy – but on one condition: the more restrictive set of rules must apply to oneself, and the more lenient apply to other people.

Guidelines exist for many things, such as the percentage of income that one should give for tzedakah. Many tzaddikim, righteous people, retained only the barest minimum of their income for themselves, just enough to provide for their families, and gave everything else to the poor. However, they would never expect anyone else to follow their example, and some even forbade it.

Our minds are ingenious in concocting self-serving rationalizations. Sometimes we may have excellent reasons not to give more liberally to tzedakah, even if it is within the required amount. We may project into the future, worry about our economic security, and conclude that we should put more money away for a rainy day. Yet we often criticize people who we feel do not give enough to tzedakah.

We should be aware of such rationalizations and remember that the more demanding rules should apply to ourselves. If we are going to rationalize, let us rationalize in a way that gives the benefit of doubt to others.

Today I shall…

…remember to be more demanding of myself than I am of others.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 5”

I know that between Christianity, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots (and their various streams and branches), there is quite a bit of difference in understanding what God wants from us. How do we serve Him in holiness and righteousness? There is some common ground. Generally performing acts of kindness and charity are involved. We can all agree that giving food to the hungry is the right thing to do. But we also have lots and lots of traditions, doctrines, dogmas, and theologies that only sort of match up with the other groups or that don’t even come close.

Most Christians believe that Jesus replaced the Law with Grace, while observant Jews believe the Torah continues to be in force upon the Jewish people, as interpreted and operationalized by the sages. Within Messianic Judaism, there are different opinions about Torah and how it applies to Jewish and Gentile believers, and Hebrew Roots is so diverse a population, that opinions about Torah span a very wide spectrum.

I can’t tell you what to believe and how to live your life. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m continuously working on how to live my own life in accordance with my beliefs. I thought I’d reached a state of equilibrium, but recent questions have made me take another look at a few things. Also, as my relationship with different people change, I’m forced to evaluate the meaning of those relationships and how they impact my understanding of faith and God.

And there are no end of opinions on the Internet, and no end of people who are more than happy to tell you what to do, where to go, and especially what you’re doing wrong. If my hair were long enough, I’d want to tear it out, at least sometimes.

Some people accomplish a great deal, yet they are unhappy because they keep thinking that “somewhere else” they might be able to accomplish more. They live their lives with the general feeling that whatever they are engaged in at the moment is nothing compared to what they might possibly do.

This feeling is a poison that destroys joy and happiness in life. While you should try to accomplish as much as you can, it is often an illusion that you are missing out by not being “somewhere else.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #908, Make the Most of the Here and Now”

approaching-GodI sometimes feel this way about those believers who seem obsessed with “the end times” and spend unceasing hours and effort exploring every possible conspiracy theory as if they were investigating a spiritual X-Files. But Rabbi Pliskin’s statement is also well applied to understanding the purpose of our lives in general. What does God want from us? How are we to live? How stringent are “the rules” and are “the rules” the same for everyone, or do they differ for differing populations? What does God want of us?

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (NASB)

That seems like a good start but is it a good finish as well? I don’t know. I do know that any life of faith has to stand on something solid. If it doesn’t, it becomes too easy for someone else to come along and knock your faith down, like a shoddy sand castle on some forlorn beach.

In Christianity, it’s all about what you believe. In Judaism, it’s all about what you do because of what you believe (that last part isn’t exactly correct, but I’m choosing to express it as such).

Never underestimate the power of a simple, pure deed done from the heart.

The world is not changed by men who move mountains, nor by those who lead the revolutions, nor by those whose purse strings tie up the world.

Dictators are deposed, oppression is dissolved, entire nations are transformed by a few precious acts of beauty performed by a handful of unknown soldiers.

As Maimonides wrote in his code of law, “Each person must see himself as though the entire world were held in balance and any deed he may do could tip the scales.”

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

God is here. He is listening. I sometimes forget until He reminds me, that He fulfills my every need, even when I don’t ask Him to. When I “see” Him doing that, it’s His reminder to me that He’s there and He’s real and He cares.

I can’t let anyone try to take that away from me. I pray to God that He continually shares His Presence with me. What does God want? For me to wait for Him, watch for Him, and when He reveals Himself to me, to respond to Him with acts of righteousness, kindness, compassion, and justice. What do those things mean? I’ll spend the rest of my life finding out, but I know I’m not alone on the journey. I’m walking humbly with my God.

4 thoughts on “What God Wants”

  1. James, I made a point to myself, not to post on your blog anymore (I guess I can call this an exception), due to what I felt was beating a dead horse, and our obvious disagreements, however, I read your post today, and I feel this verse is a generalization that fits many of the questions I think many people have, not just you… It has always stuck out to me, despite the millions of opinions, that go around and around:

    Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
    The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

    Peace brother.

  2. Thanks, Zion. I’m sure we don’t disagree on literally everything, so it might be OK for you to peek in here every now and again to see what I’m up to. 😉

    I disagree with my Pastor every time we have a one-on-one conversation, which is usually once a week, but we get along pretty well. A relationship doesn’t always have to be based on one party convincing the other party to believe something. Sometimes “iron sharpens iron,” but that means the “iron” can get a little hot, and it implies that the two “irons” in some sense are “opposed” (but not necessarily oppositional). Pastor uses that “iron sharpens iron” metaphor quite often to describe our conversations.

    Actually, starting Thursday, I’ll be posting a series of commentaries on this book which you might be interested in (and if not, no worries).

    The Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 passage is very reminiscent of Micah 6:8, which I quoted above. I think that doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly are at the heart of fearing God and keeping His commandments.

    Peace to you as well.

  3. The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. I don’t believe you can reach an equilibrium in this life, you have to move onwards and upwards, or as C.S. Lewis said, “further up and further in.”

  4. I tend to think of human progress, even in spirituality, as climbing a series of plateaus. We human beings are rarely completely linear in our endeavors.

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