Tag Archives: commonality

Encountering Differences

differencesThe Talmud says, “Precious is the human being who was created in the image of G-d. And an even greater sign of this preciousness is that man was informed that he was created in G-d’s image.”

-Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf
“Freedom and Self Awareness”

Don’t be afraid of the other person because he is different from you. There is far more in common between any two human beings than there are differences.

As for the differences, think of them as the hooks that hold us together.
Differences are that which we have most in common.

(The Rebbe was talking to children and discussing relationships between Jews and non-Jews).

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I was wondering how I’d start off writing about what was on my mind today and Rabbi Freeman handed me the answer in my email inbox. This theme of “differences” has been coming up a lot lately. As most of you who read my blog regularly know, my post on an openly gay Orthodox Rabbi performing a same-sex wedding ceremony has attracted a lot of attention and many comments. What’s really interesting is that the conversation shifted from the primary topic to Orthodox Judaism in general. Add to the mix Derek Leman’s Torah Fundamentals blog series which compares Christian (or Gentile Messianic depending on your perspective) and Jewish differences in how the Torah is read and understood, and a whole “can of worms” is opened up and spewed all over the place. The “Messianic” movement is the intersection where Christianity and Judaism tries to meet and integrate, which is sort of like taking the contents of the can and packaging it together again in a new way. However,  like intermarriage (something I’m familiar with), differences don’t always enter the mixing bowl very smoothly and sometimes there are significant bumps, lumps, and bruises involved in the process (and I apologize for mixing my metaphors along with Christians and Jews).

When Rabbi Freeman quoted the Rebbe in his conversation to children about relationships with non-Jews, he offered some hope that there can be a conduit of communication between Judaism and Christianity. I wish I could have heard the entire conversation. I’m sure it would have been inspiring.

I think the Messianic movement, at least for the Gentiles in it and perhaps for some of the Jewish members, believes the “keys” to the “Judaism” in “Messianic Judaism” are held, in part, by the Orthodox. This may or may not be true in any sense, but because the Orthodox live in a manner so distinctive in its Judaism and tradition, many Gentiles see them as “the real Jews” (some Jewish people think that Christians = Catholics and believe that all Christians follow the Pope and consider the Vatican as our “holy city”). In following the comments on last week’s blog post, it became apparent that what most Christians don’t know about Judaism in general and the Orthodox in particular, would fill volumes. That includes those non-Jews in the Messianic community, but Messianic non-Jews can make their lack of knowledge exceedingly apparent because many are trying to live a “Jewish” lifestyle without knowing that much about Jewish lifestyles.

I suppose it’s one of the reasons I don’t currently worship with Messianics on a regular basis and prefer to self-identify as a Christian. I can probably “do” Christianity a little better than I can “Judaism” at this point (though I’m sure I’d stick out like a sore thumb in any church once I started opening my mouth) and as far as me being a Goy is concerned, it’s a little more honest, too.

While Rabbi Freeman’s previous message is very encouraging, he also wrote a message about guiding each person to their own path:

Just as it is a mitzvah to direct someone onto the path where he belongs, so too it is a crime to direct someone onto a path that does not belong to him.

Each person is born with a path particular to his or her soul, generally according to the culture into which he or she was born.

There are universal truths, the inheritance of all of us since Adam and Noah. In them we are all united. But we are not meant to all be the same.

Our differences are as valuable to our Creator as our similarities.

interfaithFor people who are traditionally Christian or people who are traditionally Jewish in their religious and cultural expression, the path that belongs to them may be quite apparent, but for those of us who straddle the line between two worlds (since I’m intermarried) the path where we belong isn’t always very clear. I know in this, Rabbi Freeman would be the first to say that my path should lead me to a church or perhaps back to Noah, but if combined with the idea of making differences live together, and believing that Jesus was and is a Jew, I can’t allow my focus to become that narrow.

I mentioned yesterday that sometimes I have to take time out from this mess, close the books, get away from the computer, and pray. At the point of prayer (and forgive me for saying this), it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or Christian or anything else. The moment you move the rest of the world to one side and you authentically engage with God in prayer, it is just you and God. It can be like Jacob wrestling with the angel in that we struggle with God to understand who we are, who God is (we may even ask His Name), and what we are supposed to be doing. We cling to God and in that embrace demand, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:27). The mechanics of how we pray and the manner in which we conceptualize God may differ depending on whether we are Christian or Jewish, but the need to connect with God and even to contend with Him is universal.

I have been questioning lately where to find wisdom and insight into God in relation to the traditional Jewish texts but here too, there is an answer and a truth, as expressed by Rabbi Freeman, that we can all consume.

Truth can come from anywhere—there is nothing that does not have its truth. Because, without a spark of truth, nothing can exist. Not even falseness.

Therefore, the wise man is he who knows how to learn truth from every person and discover the truth of each thing.

Different religious traditions and different people groups understand themselves and God in varied ways. Sometimes one group will watch the ways of another and respond by being puzzled, confused, or even appalled. Each group thinks they have the corner market on the best way to pray, do good deeds, worship, and even eat and dress. Yet we were all created in the image of God and despite our obvious differences, that image is the universal link between man and man and between man and God.