in the wilderness

David’s Fallen Tent in the Wilderness

The Torah states:

“And the Almighty spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai” (Numbers 1:1).

Why does the Torah specify “the wilderness” of the Sinai desert? It would have been sufficient to say “in the Sinai desert”; everyone knows that deserts are wildernesses.

The Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah comments on this verse, “Whoever does not make himself open and free like a wilderness will not be able to acquire wisdom and Torah”. This refers to having the trait of humility which allows a person to learn from everyone and to teach everyone.

An arrogant person will only be willing to learn from someone he feels is befitting his honor. A humble person is only concerned with gaining Torah knowledge and will be grateful to learn new ideas even from one who has less overall knowledge than himself.

The Midrash teaches that the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai because Mt. Sinai was the lowest of all the mountains. This symbolizes that if a person wants to receive wisdom he must be humble. If he is full of himself there is little room for anything else.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar
Based on Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book
Growth Through Torah
Aish.com

Wow, speaking of arrogance and humility. Rabbi Pliskin’s message as presented by Rabbi Packouz came along at the right time.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been pondering my wife’s accusation of my being arrogant in my approach to attending church and presenting my particular (and from their point of view, unique) perspective on the Bible, the Messiah, Jewish people, and Judaism. How dare I walk into someone else’s house and tell them they should redecorate, what color to paint the walls, and that their taste in art is hideous?

Well, hopefully, I wasn’t that bad, but sometimes it feels like it.

As Ben Zoma said:

Who is one that is wise? One who learns from every person.

Pirkei Avot 4:1

I am inexorably drawn toward learning from Jewish sources, and yet when I try to enthusiastically share what I’ve learned with my fellow Christians, I feel like I’m the only guy in the room speaking Martian.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Interestingly enough, I have learned a lot by going to church. Not so much in the areas of theology or doctrine, although it’s been illuminating to capture the Evangelical perception of theology and doctrine, but in the areas of history, both Church history and the more generic kind, church social dynamics, and…brace yourself…kindness.

No matter how much of a pest I make of myself, people are still smiling at me, reaching out to me, offering to listen to my woes (should I ever share them in person), and to pray for me.

Who is wise? One who learns from every person, including every person at church. Yes, there is much to learn. I have to remember that church isn’t just theology and doctrine, it’s action. It’s the perpetual food drive I donate to every time I go to church, dedicated to feeding the hungry in our local community. It’s the missionary effort around the world, serving people who have never heard of the compassion of Christ, it’s visiting the sick, offering comfort to the grieving, providing care and education for little children.

“What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.”

-John Ruskin

Ironically, most Christians are so “works-phobic” that they don’t count their own good deeds (mitzvot) as really meaning anything in the cosmic economy of God, more’s the pity, because it’s what the Church does best.

I don’t have as much to complain about as I think:

“A child, for example, cuts his finger and screams the house down. An adult cuts his finger and gets on with life. Children live in the here and now, so a child has no context for his pain. There is no meaningful future to look forward to, just the immediacy of the pain. An adult realizes that the pain will pass and life will be good again in spite it. He doesn’t suffer. And, by the way, why is it that when you hug and kiss a child the pain seems to go? It’s not the pain that goes, it’s the suffering. You have given the child a meaningful context for the pain – the context of a parent’s love. The child still feels the pain, but with a newfound context for it, he no longer suffers.

“An adult must find his own meaning in his pain. Sometimes it is obvious, as in the case of a woman in labor. Sometimes it is a little harder. But when he or she can look at the pain as a means to grow, a means to develop deeper self-understanding, then the pain remains, but the suffering will be forgotten.

“Everyone goes through pain in life. But not one of us has to suffer if we do not want to.

“Again, the choice is ours.”

-Rabbi Packouz

Rebbe
Rabbi M.M Schneerson, the Rebbe

R. Packouz is referring to tremendous human suffering and agonizing pain, not simply being frustrated when people around me don’t take my point of view seriously. What I am experiencing isn’t as painful as even a child’s cut finger. But I still gave in to the temptation to say, “ouch.”

I’ve started reading Sue Fishkoff’s book The Rebbe’s Army, and in the first chapter, she relates (pg 17):

The Besht’s (the Baal Shem Tov or Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer) message was revolutionary. His followers broke with certain Jewish norms, adopting specific dress and customs and making ritual modifications, all of which horrified the Jewish establishment.

I don’t know if I’ve “horrified” anyone, but I’m certainly shaking up the establishment here and there. Fishkoff also writes of the Besht:

“I have come into this world to show man how to live by three precepts,” he said. “Love of God, love of Israel, and love of the Torah.”

If I can have a similar purpose within my own context, then it wouldn’t be just me wielding my opinion like a sword, but the will of God to teach how to love and how to focus love.

Not that my fellow Christians are ignorant about love. Many, as I’ve said above, love greatly and demonstrate that love abundantly, particularly to the Jewish people. I just want to help illustrate that there is no dissonance between loving the Jewish people, loving Israel, loving the Torah, and loving God. There is no dissonance between loving Jewish people and realizing that means accepting and approving Jewish people loving the Torah, loving Israel, and loving God, including Messianic Jewish people.

Since I frequently read material published online by Aish.com, I often come across quotes of Rabbi Pliskin’s work, such as the one I cited above. I decided it was long past due to actually purchase one of his books, so after I finish Fishkoff’s book, I’ll be consulting (since it’s a Torah commentary) Growth Through Torah.

From what I can tell about R. Pliskin from his writing, he seems to stress compassion and kindness toward others. He seems like the sort of person who desires peace in the world and peace between people, rather than always banging heads over this theological point or that.

Chuck Jones
Chuck Jones

In many ways, we are at war in the world, battling against ignorance, hostility, brutality, and indifference, but if all we do…I do is fight, then I’ve simply redoubled my efforts after forgetting my purpose (a lesson I learned from Chuck Jones when he was describing his philosophy behind creating Wile E. Coyote to a film class I once attended).

I still don’t want to be too quick in deciding what I’m going to do next, so I’m not going to hastily pursue a conclusion.

On the other hand, there is this…

Giving up is a final solution to a temporary problem.

-anonymous holocaust survivor

And this…

While most Hasidim restrict their personal dealings to Jews, and some even to Jews within their own ultra-Orthodox communities, Lubavitchers have never been insular. Their first interest is in kindling the sparks within Jewish souls, but since the early 1980s they have widened their appeal to include non-Jews, whom they urge to remain within their own religions while obeying the seven laws God gave to Noah … This is crucial because only when all God’s divine sparks are released and reunited with the Divine Oneness will God’s purpose be achieved. “Our job is to make a dwelling place for God in the lower world,” says Rabbi Sholtiel Lebovic … “We try to make the world a more and more godly place, until the coming of Moshiach [the Messiah].”

-Fishkoff, pg 22

Although many Orthodox Jews, including Chabadniks, look down their noses at Gentiles and particularly Christians, here we see a perspective that acknowledges all human beings are “sparks” thrown off by the Divine Oneness, and only by all of those sparks being united with their Source can the world be prepared for the coming (return) of the King.

I’m one of those small sparks. But so is each and every individual soul at the church I attend, and each and every individual soul in all of the churches in the world. They’re just waiting for someone to discover them, reveal them, and free them, so they can fly…so they can soar.

I should take a fresh look at the blueprints for that tent again and see if God really wants me to help build it.

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13 thoughts on “David’s Fallen Tent in the Wilderness”

  1. Excellent follow up to yesterday’s post. The idea that we are all sparks from the same source is a good metaphor. I can’t help but believe that the key is to humbly seek God. We will have our differences, but in the end, our humility will allow us to see Him and recognize the truth, even if we were wrong along the way. I believe those too proud to let go of their position will be the ones claiming “Lord, didn’t we do great things in your name?”

  2. Thanks, Terry. Actually, as some Orthodox Jews see it, the concept of “divine sparks” isn’t metaphorical, it’s mystical. It represents a reality beyond our normal experience.

    Not being much of a mystic, I too relate to many of these images as metaphors, but there’s a rich history and depth behind how it can be interpreted. This might give you some idea:

    http://www.aish.com/tp/i/btl/48936957.html

  3. I don’t really have any disagreement with what you quoted from Rabbi Packouz at the beginning of this essay, but I have to admit to a bit of perplexity about his question from Num.1:1. He asks: “Why does the Torah specify ‘the wilderness” of the Sinai desert? It would have been sufficient to say ‘in the Sinai desert’…”. The reason for my perplexity is that the text does say simply “ba-midbar Sinai”, which, as any idiomatic Hebrew speaker/reader will tell you, means simply: “in the Sinai desert”. It certainly was sufficient; and the Torah does not add any emphasis that could justify the English amplification “in ‘the wilderness’ of the Sinai desert”, as if there were additional words. The notion of “wilderness” is entirely an artifact of translation, though it is certainly true that deserts are wild places befitting the English term “wilderness”. Because of this, I felt that the rabbi’s comment was starting out on an entirely false, exaggerated premise; though thankfully the logic of the remainder did not depend on this premise. I know that English readers sometime get odd ideas from translated Hebrew text, but somehow I was expecting a rabbi to know better.

  4. I can’t speak to Rabbi Packouz’s interpretation, but I thought the symbolic imagery was appropriate for what I was trying to communicate.

  5. I certainly appreciate acts of kindness and love I have seen in the church, and certainly one cannot argue with that. However, I would question whether the love is predicated upon: a) belief that I am one of them, or b) hope that their love and acts of kindness will lead me to see things their way.

    All brands of institutional religion seem to allow a few people to use their gifts, and so feel fulfilled, while the majority are expected to act as worker bees to fulfill the vision of the leader(s).

    The question is, can you be content to be tolerated because they are either genuinely kind or truly like you, or because that is part of their doctrine, but never fully received as having something to offer them. Does their love extend to attempting to at least understand what is valuable to you and drives you?

    I’m thinking the most open people will probably be the musicians; they tend to have a different spirit about them. Would they be willing to add a song or two of Messianic style music? You discussed the idea of offering a class before. This would examine the question of whether this group has any interest in what you find so important and why. If you offered and were approved to teach a class that is not a part of the regular schedule, say, “a taste of Chazal,” “understanding the words of Yeshua in light of first century literature,” or perhaps some issues that Skip Moen has already gone into in depth, such as Heschel’s teachings, or the Amidah. I think everyone likes Heschel. You could do a straw poll and find out what issues of Jewish history/culture/learning people might find interesting, and what questions they have. Or, perhaps there is no interest, as it is too threatening?

  6. Really Chaya, I’m interacting with real, live human beings at church, not “types” or “roles” played by humanoid robots. People are actually capable of being kind because it’s the right thing to do and an expression of “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

    It is true that I don’t know any perfect human beings, and frankly, many of them (including me) can be disappointing from time to time, but just because a person is part of an organization (church, job, home) doesn’t mean they’ve lost their free will. Just because someone is at the head of an organization (Pastor/Rabbi, boss, head-of-household) doesn’t make them inherently evil or opportunistic.

    If you’re talking about my personal experience at church, what I sometimes experience as frustration with their inability or unwillingness to “think outside the box,” doesn’t negate their other genuinely good qualities. If they think I’m full of hot muffins (so to speak) but also visit the sick, provide for the hungry, and otherwise commit acts of kindness, who am I to say they aren’t serving God?

  7. I love reading Pliskin to the family on Shabbat. I am certain that you will enjoy his works too. I’ll have to add his “Growth Through Torah” to my wish list, it sounds very appealing to me. I also have “The Rebbe’s Army” and just haven’t sat down to begin reading it yet. Thank you for the reminder! I’ll pull it out and set it on the end table when I’m done with the one I’m currently reading.

    Your first post was raw, and real. This post shows that you’ve wrestled with some of those thoughts a bit and seem to feel better about where you are and what you’ve been doing. Taking time to reevaluate isn’t a bad thing. It can re-fuel the fire or it can bring about a complete redirection. HaShem will lead you to what He wants you to do. We, too, have grasped onto the spark concept and find great delight in watching as someone discovers the spark, and gently blowing on that spark to encourage it to become a flame ready to encourage more sparks. 🙂

    You are right, the church is full of some amazing people. Somehow church people seem to have a bad reputation in some circles but I think that’s only because one bad apple spoils the reputation for the whole bunch. That is unfortunate. Thank you for clearly stating the virtues of the ones you’ve been spending Sunday mornings with. They have a good friend in you.

  8. I wouldn’t say, in my own case, that the people aren’t serving God according to their own understanding, because I believe they are, and I believe whatever they do is because they believe it is in the service of God and their fellow man.

    That being the case, where do I fit in, if they believe it is loving God and their fellow man to view the things I believe I have to offer as potentially harmful, and so refuse to even examine or discuss them openly? I think all of us would like to feel we are a member of the family, and not a well-treated guest. If you are a guest in someone’s home for a long time, perhaps after a while you get the idea it is really your home, and maybe you feel it is okay to make suggestions or that your contributions (other than to support their vision or assist it) are valued.

    As far as Tent of David, how would the leadership, and maybe even the members, feel if they were aware upfront that your purpose in their midst was to influence them in some direction?

  9. Lisa, glad I could motivate you as far as a few new books. 😉 Thanks for continuing to be encouraging.

    Chaya, we influence people just by showing up and talking. As far as my motivation in terms of Tent of David, I would like to be a ‘witness’ of a sort, representing a point of view on the Bible that I believe is a more authentic interpretation of the actual, lived experience of the apostles, but admittedly, I have drifted into being somewhat self-serving. Not one of my finer traits to be sure.

    If I expect people to accept me for who I am, then how can I not accept them as who they are a well? I don’t know how this is going to end up, I only know where it is right now.

  10. Hi James. I understand your need to make an impact on people, since sharing what all of us are learning about Yeshua we believe is so important. Have you considered other ways, besides Michael Boaz’s Tent of David approach? I you are somehow interested, I could email you information about a project that could be of your interest. I’ll wait for your answer about this.

    Shalom!

  11. Funny you should ask, Alfredo. I was just thinking this morning that it doesn’t all depend on me and whether or not I make an impact shouldn’t be the big deal. If my personal significance is tied to whether people respond to my message or not, then I’ve already failed. Besides, I can always blog with out feeling like I have to censor myself.

    Please feel free to email me whatever you want, but realize I may or may not decide to become involved in your project.

    Blessings.

  12. Yes I have, but I haven’t had the time to give it a close reading. My parents were here for the Memorial Day holiday, plus I have a rush freelance job I’ve been doing (due tomorrow), so I’m just now working through my emails. I’ll reply to your email when I’ve digested it.

    Thanks.

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