Did you ever wish you could change someone’s negative feelings toward you into positive ones? Consider the following story:
In the days of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, it occurred that a butcher was angry at the Rabbi of his city for rendering a decision that the meat of a cow he wanted to sell was not kosher. In his anger, he devised a scheme to murder the Rabbi. On a pretext, he had the Rabbi travel with him on a lonely road. Along the way, the butcher took out his sharp knife and wanted to kill the Rabbi.
At first the Rabbi pleaded with the butcher to have compassion on him. But this was to no avail. When the Rabbi saw that nothing he could say would make a difference, he started to mentally focus on all of the positive qualities and attributes of the butcher. Suddenly there was an amazing transformation. The butcher began to cry, kissed the Rabbi, and begged his forgiveness.
The lesson: Love others and they can’t help but to love you!
(see Rabbi Chaim Zaitchyk – Maayanai Hachaim, vol.3, p.191; Rabbi Pliskin’s “Consulting the Wise”)
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.
-The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) to the Tin Man (Jack Haley)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
This morning, in a comment I made in response to Rabbi Carl Kinbar, I said in part:
The Internet is a very judgmental place where often the rules of civil social discourse do not apply. People are accused of all sorts of things on little or no evidence. When terms like “Bilateral Ecclesiology” start getting thrown around, people don’t see complex individuals, they just see “types”. To be fair, we make “types” out of people behind labels such as “One Law” and a lot of other names as well. Even though we are bound to disagree with each other on a number of issues in the religious blogosphere, if we tried to recognize each other as not only real people but as fellow disciples of Messiah, maybe we’d treat each other a little better. What would it be like if instead of dialoguing via the Internet, we suddenly all found ourselves in a coffee shop somewhere having this discussion over cups of hot java? I suspect the conversation would be different.
I periodically make such pleas on my blog, trying to encourage civility in the midst of disagreement. They are usually my least popular blog posts and attract little attention and fewer replies.
And yet all of our protestations and arguing make us liars if we call ourselves disciples of the Messiah or just plain “Christians”.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
–1 John 4:20 (ESV)
The Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, is replete with passages about loving one’s brother and neighbor, and yet how much love do we see in these dialogues about our various theological perspectives? Almost none. But I would be a liar myself if I said they didn’t exist at all:
I would have to respectfully disagree. McKee’s research is precisely what we need to peel back the layers of this onion and find the original intent of the Author in His unchanging, everlasting Word. Then, we can understand what it truly means to return to the ancient paths and walk in the ways that demonstrate our love for God.
“The ‘ger,’ the Chumash and Anachronism”
This is part of Pete’s rebuttal to comments I made in Part 2 of my review of J.K. McKee’s book (and boy is he getting a lot of free publicity from me) One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit. I’m not going to write a detailed rebuttal to Pete’s rebuttal of my review, because then he’d write a rebuttal and I’d write a rebuttal, and there’s a limit to how much time and energy I have available for a this sort of thing.
But it’s the way Pete responded that’s virtually unique to these transactions. Generally people on both sides of the aisle get pretty worked up when labels like “Bilateral Ecclesiology” or “One Law” are inserted into the mix. We tend to respond with our emotions first and our intellect second or more accurately, we respond with anger, hurt and outrage first and never consider applying compassion, empathy, and understanding to the other person’s point of view at all.
If we were the Rabbi in Rabbi Pliskin’s midrash facing an angry butcher with a sharp knife, we’d all end up sliced and diced and buried in a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere.
For a people will dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem. You will not have to weep; He will surely show you grace at the sound of your outcry, when He hears, He will answer you. The Lord will give you meager bread and scant water; your Teacher will no longer be hidden behind his garment, and your eyes will behold your Teacher.
–Isaiah 30:19-20 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Next Wednesday, my review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Inner Torah, part of his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series, includes this portion of scripture and something of Lancaster’s commentary about it.
It is said by some of the Jewish sages that one of the things Messiah will do when he comes (returns) is to teach Torah correctly, including the hidden things of Torah. It is also said that the Torah we have now, the actual physical object and its textual contents, is a “copy and shadow” of the heavenly, supernal Torah, the literal will and wisdom of God that resides in the Heavenly Court. The Torah we have was “clothed,” so to speak, when it was given at Sinai so it could exist in the physical realm and be understood and consumed by human beings.
They will no longer teach — each man his fellow, each man his brother — saying ‘Know Hashem!’ For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest — the word of Hashem — when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.
–Jeremiah 31:33 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
The New Covenant promises that the Word of God will be written on our hearts and we will all ‘Know Hashem,’ from the least of us to the greatest, in a manner that can only be compared with the great prophets of old. There will no longer be a need for one person to teach another because our Teacher will be inside of us, no longer hiding His face; no, we shall see Him and know Him.
But not now, not yet.
Until then, we don’t know, hence we disagree, and sadly, hence we personalize conflict and get mad at people who don’t agree with us.
Disagreement isn’t the problem. Failure to love is. But if we fail to love people then we are failing to love God. How can we say we follow God and not love Him? Yes, one believer can disagree with another and yet they can love each other and they can love God. The traditional model of learning in Yeshiva is based on debate and yet it is not based on hate but love and the desire for learning.
It is said that Herod’s Temple was leveled, Jerusalem razed, and the Jewish people exiled from their Land, not because of lack of observance of the mitzvot, not because the Torah was not being studied (and certainly not because the “Jews rejected Jesus”), but because of baseless hatred of one Jew for another.
It doesn’t look like we Gentile disciples of the Master (i.e. “Christians”) have learned very much from that lesson.
Our Sages gathered these sections in an order … according to the requisite steps (Introduction to Path of the Just).
While character refinement is an important and desirable goal, we must be careful to stride toward it in a reasonable and orderly manner. Overreaching ourselves may be counterproductive.
Physical growth is a gradual process. In fact, it is not even uniform; the first two decades are a sequence of growth spurts and latency periods. Generally, the body does not adjust well to sudden changes, even when they are favorable. For instance, obese people who lose weight too rapidly may experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Although the weight loss is certainly in the interest of health, the body needs time to adjust to the change.
If we are convinced, as we should be, that spirituality is desirable, we might be tempted to make radical changes in our lives. We may drop everything and set out on a crash course that we think will lead to rapid attainment of the goal. This plan is most unwise, because psychologically as well as physically, our systems need time to consume new information, digest it, and prepare ourselves for the next level.
Luzzato’s monumental work on ethics, The Path of the Just, is based on a Talmudic passage which lists ten consecutive steps toward spirituality. Luzzato cautions: “A person should not desire to leap to the opposite extreme in one moment, because this will simply not succeed, but should continue bit by bit” (Chapter 15).
Today I shall…
…resolve to work on my spirituality gradually and be patient in its attainment.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Av 21”
And so it goes with us, at least ideally, slow and steady growth and gaining in understanding.
It’s not just in areas of learning and knowledge we strive to grow, but we must also nurture advancements in wisdom, compassion, spirituality, and Godliness. Without such, we can be as intelligent as Einstein and as learned as the Rambam and still know and be nothing.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
–1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (NASB)
Even if you “win” the argument but you fail to love, you have won nothing. Of all of the mitzvot we strive to perform, if we fulfill them all flawlessly but we fail to love, we have failed to observe all of the Torah and we have desecrated the Name of God.
One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
–Mark 12:28-34 (NASB)
How near or far from the Kingdom of God are you?