Tag Archives: compassion

Lessons Learned from Chris Pratt Praying for Kevin Smith

chris pratt
Photo of actor Chris Pratt from a 2015 article published by Elle Magazine

Earlier today, I read an article at Aish.com called Chris Pratt, Keep Praying or “When did prayer become a dirty word?” by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz.

You probably know actor Chris Pratt from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Jurassic World or even the television show Parks and Recreation. In addition to his success in the world of entertainment, he’s a Christian, which must be tough in the world of entertainment.

He came to garner a special type of attention though when he “tweeted” on twitter that he would be praying for actor/director Kevin Smith after the latter’s recent heart attack.

As far as I can tell on both Pratt’s and Smith’s twitter feeds, Smith never responded to Pratt’s well wishes, but plenty of other people did, and not very kindly.

According to Rabbi Abramowitz’s article, some of the “Twitterati” issued the following responses:

  • Doctors and nurses save lives, not prayer.
  • There is NO proof there is a higher power. Zilch.
  • We all know God isn’t real.
  • Praying is utterly worthless. Just an easy way to pat yourself on the back while making you warm and fuzzy inside by actually thinking your prayers affect the plan of a divine sky daddy that’s supposedly omnicient (sic) and omnipotent.
  • Thank the surgeons and modern medicine. Your magical sky fairy had nothing to do with it I assure you.
  • A claim that prayer heals is dangerous. It results in needless deaths every year around the globe.

R. Abramowitz’s article continues:

In fairness, there were many who came to Pratt’s defense, including screenwriter and director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), who wrote, “There is nothing wrong with sending someone positive thoughts & prayers. But when this is coupled with inaction when action will benefit the situation, it’s empty. … (N)o one expects Chris Pratt to shoulder doctors out of the way and perform heart surgery on Kevin Smith. Nor does Kevin need Chris to pay his medical bills. So I think his prayers are appreciated, and about all he can do.”

Gunn gets it. It’s one thing to object to “thoughts and prayers” when it’s in lieu of action. But if “thoughts and prayers” are all one has to offer, then objecting to it is nothing more than a mean-spirited attack on another person’s faith.

Beyond this core point which pretty much says it all in terms of a response to the online anti-prayer pundits, the Rabbi went into the Jewish basis for prayer which may or may not particularly resonate with Pratt.

What can I say that can add anything to what R. Abramowitz wrote? Probably not much except that this is merely the latest (cheap) shot anti-religious and generally leftists folks have taken at people of faith. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t agree with you” or “I don’t believe in God” and another thing entirely for people to become angry because you express your faith in a kind and supportive manner.

It seems, referring back to the bulleted list above, Pratt’s critics jumped from A to Z assuming he meant that only prayer could heal and that there was no need for doctors, which is a position only some very sketchy edge cases in fundamental Christianity espouse.

There have been men and women of faith ever since the Garden and for nearly as long, there have been critics who have discounted that faith. If you don’t believe, fine and dandy, but again looking at the bulleted list, why all the anger?

I don’t know if Pratt has read R. Abramowitz’s missive and I’m pretty sure he’ll never know mine exists, but if I could say something to him, I’d tell him “thank you,” even if Kevin Smith didn’t.

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The Language of the Soul

I recently read an online article at Aish written by Sara Debbie Gutfreund called The Blind Woman at the Gym, but it wasn’t what Ms. Gutfreund wrote that captured me. Someone named Sarah commented and what Gutfreund wrote (November 18, 2012 4:31 a.m.) and it was her story that prompted me to write my morning meditation (her comment was a single block of text which I’ve broken up into paragraphs to make her missive more readable):

This story reminds me of something that happened to me 19 years ago when I was doing my undergraduate degree. Our university required us to take a PE class. Being an English and French major at the time, I considered a PE class a waste of time and so I chose something ‘easy’ called “fitness walking”.

The first day of class, the gym teacher told each of us to pick a walking partner because we were to travel in two’s in a line. As I looked up from my books and surveyed the room for someone I knew, I found no familiar face. Then, at the very edge of class, in a corner, sat a blind girl and her leader dog who was an adorable black lab with soft brown eyes. The first thing I noticed was the other classmates looking toward her nervously, then back at each other, and then pairing off with each other and avoiding her because of their own discomfort. I thought to myself, ‘thank Goodness she can’t see their faces.’

I walked over and cheerfully said to her, “Hi, I am Sarah and I would love to be your walking partner this semester.’ The blind girl, with her beautiful long brown curly hair and eager smile quickly introduced herself as Angie and her dog as Sarge. All three of us, Angie, Sarge, and me walked together all semester and became great friends.

We regularly got together even after the class ended and remained friends until I moved 2,000 miles away.

That’s normally the end of the tale, two close friends move away from each other and never see or hear from one another again. But this is the age of social media, so finding anyone on Facebook should be a snap, right? Well, that’s not exactly how this next part happened.

Angie and I lost touch over the years, but the other day she found my parent’s phone number, called them and asked to be put in touch with me. We talked for hours that day and she told me about her marriage and her two children.

I’m leading up to the part of the tale that is the point of my writing this blog post. Here it is:

Then, she hesitated and said, “My daughter, my first born…I named her Sarah– after you…” Tears came to my eyes and I told her I was touched. She continued, “I met you when I was a freshman. You were a senior– and you weren’t disabled. And you took me in as family at a scary time in my life.” After we ended the call, I gave gratitude to G-d for giving me such an opportunity to meet Angie.

I don’t know why this final piece of Sarah’s commentary got to me. Maybe because it tells me that we may never realize how we affect people, for good or for ill, even after knowing them for years.

A chance meeting nearly two decades ago brought two young women together, one who was actively avoided by most of her classmates because she’s visually impaired, and their friendship meant so much to the young Angie, that even after the two parted, when she had her first child, a daughter, Angie named her “Sarah,” after the friend who meant so much to her.

We poor, pathetic human beings think we’re so powerless most of the time. We get cancer and we can’t cure it. We get into car accidents when we’re late for work. Our governments wage wars and we citizens can’t stop our soldiers, our fathers, brothers, and sons, from being maimed and killed. All the time we pray to an infinite and all-powerful God to rescue us from the consequences of being human.

And then Sarah tells the story of her friendship with Angie and in a sudden flash of realization, the power we all wield, to heal or to harm, to inspire or to discourage, stands in stark contrast to the impotency we were feeling just moments before.

I’ve spoken before about why all our religious arguments don’t work to serve the purpose of God, why only God can speak to our souls. Sarah’s story shows us that we can speak to each other’s souls. We just have to say the right words or rather, we have to actually show caring for another living being. Love and compassion are the language of the soul. It speaks even in eternal darkness and paints portraits even the blind can see.

Reading “Rebbe” So Far

If a person consistently talks about the faults of others, he will usually overlook even the most obvious positive attributes of those same people.

Today, think of someone that you often degrade, and try focusing on one positive quality of that person.

(see Rabbi Chaim Zaitchyk -Maayanai Hachaim, vol.3, p 85; Rabbi Pliskin’s “Consulting the Wise”)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #79: Focus on the Positive”
Aish.com

I’ve been reading Joseph Telushkin’s book Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History which, according to Dennis Prager, is one “of the greatest religious biographies ever written.” I had heard good things about the book and put it on my mental list of books to read. Then I saw that my wife had checked out a copy from our local public library and thought of asking her if I could borrow it when she was through.

And then last week, I found the book on my desk with a note from her suggesting I read it. Of course, it was almost due (you can only check books out of the New Releases section of the library for two weeks), but I got a chance to start reading before it had to be turned back in. I went online and put a hold on the book, so when I returned it on a Friday, it was ready for me to pick it up and check it out on my library card the following Monday.

I’m a little over a quarter way through this 640 page tome and find it utterly fascinating. Telushkin is doing a great job of portraying the exceptional abilities and humanity of the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson) while avoiding lionizing him and making him into an unrealistically perfect person (as perhaps some Lubavitchers tend to do).

We often hear the phrase, “It’s not personal.” But often, perhaps more often than not, disagreements do become personal. For example, in theory, since differences of opinion between political liberals and conservatives, and among Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews, are over matters of policy and beliefs, they need not result in personal ill will among those holding opposing views or advocating different policies. As a Hebrew expression puts it: Halevai, if only that were true. For the Rebbe, though, it was true.

-Joseph Teluskin
“Chapter 9: Expressing Disagreement Without Being Disagreeable,” p. 131
Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History

If I had to pick one chapter to recommended to anyone who blogs or otherwise expresses their opinion on the Internet (of the chapters I’ve read so far), I’d pick this one. I think it should be required reading before writing and particularly before clicking on the “Submit” button and spewing our thoughts, feelings, and perspectives on the web for all to see…and particularly if we’ve got an ax to grind, religious or otherwise, that involves castigating another human being.

The Rebbe had many strong opinions, so it wasn’t always like he was playing the role of meek and mild “Mr. Nice Guy.” For instance, he believed that the only valid conversion to Judaism was an Orthodox Conversion and that people who had converted to a different branch of Judaism should not be considered Jews and particularly should not be allowed to make aliyah (have the right of return to emigrate to Israel as a citizen).

The “Who is a Jew?” issue — in which the Rebbe insisted on Israel only recognizing what he regarded as fully halachic, in effect only Orthodox, conversions to Judaism as valid — was one of those issues that provoked considerable opposition to the Rebbe, and one on which he found himself in periodic opposition with the Israeli minister of the interior, Yosef Burg (who was himself an Orthodox Jew). The Rebbe felt that Burg was permitting compromises on what he felt must be a non-compromisable issue. At a meeting with Bernie Rader, the Rebbe, in an uncharacteristic manner, screamed out at one point, “Why does he allow people who are not Jewish to be written down as being Jewish?” Yet, at this very moment of great annoyance, the Rebbe drew back and then, in typical Rebbe style, he said, “But it’s also true that he is a Jew who prays three times a day.” For Rader this was vintage Rebbe: “He always finished up by saying something nice about a person.” And not just a general platitude about the person being nice, but a specific detail (“prays three times a day”) that served to remind the Rebbe (and Rader) of areas in which he and Burg were united.

-Teluskin, p.134

Rebbe
Rabbi M.M Schneerson, the Rebbe

If I could copy and paste the entire chapter into my blog, I probably would, or at least make a downloadable PDF of the chapter available.

As we see from Telushkin’s recording the obvious outburst of the Rebbe in the above-quoted paragraph, the Rebbe was all too human. He could lose his temper out of frustration and scream at people. But he also realized what he did and backed off, seeking to define relationships, not by where people disagreed, but by where they were alike.

According to Telushkin, the Rebbe had the ability to focus on speaking critically of a person’s opinion without attacking their motives or their personal character. That’s extremely important because it’s quite possible to disagree with someone who has good motives and a fine character, and even if they don’t (or you believe they don’t), it is still possible, and perhaps from the Rebbe’s point of view necessary, to avoid embarrassing or causing emotional pain to another person, particularly another Jew.

Much of the time in public discourse, the Rebbe would state his opinion in contradiction to another person without ever mentioning that person’s name. Again, this was to accurately represent his stand on an issue, which was sometimes critical such as the Rebbe’s belief that “trading Land for peace” in Israel would not achieve peace and simply put Jewish lives in danger, without verbally assaulting the person having a different stand, who in all likelihood believed they were doing what was best.

Even when Rabbi Tzvi Greenwald, an Israeli educator and lecturer who was often accused of being too easygoing and tolerant in his interactions with non-religious Jews, asked the Rebbe if he should rebuke secular Jews in an attempt to motivate them to become more observant, the Rebbe’s response in part was:

“You will just build a wall between you and them, an impenetrable wall.”

-ibid, p. 140

The ability to treat another person with respect in the face of disagreement, especially on highly emotionally charged issues, is rare in my experience. Most of the time, even among religious people on the web and sometimes in person, relationships can be strained, even to the breaking point. This is hardly a good reflection on our Master and desecrates the Name of God.

Telushkin wrote that it isn’t known if this ability came naturally to the Rebbe or if he acquired it over many years of experience. It is known that the Rebbe was an extraordinary person even as a young man, many years before the would assume the leadership of Chabad.

The Rebbe
The Rebbe

One of the qualities a person must possess in order treat another person as a valued human being created in the image of the Almighty while disagreeing with strongly held opinions of that person is being “comfortable in your own skin.” That is, you have to realize that first of all, you’re not perfect either, and secondly, that your imperfections and your being God’s cherished creation is something you and the other person have in common.

If you fail to fully grasp and embrace those two facts, you will not achieve anything close to what the Rebbe did in these situations. In other words, you’ll be like about 98% of the people commenting in the blogosphere.

There is no person on earth so righteous, who does only good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

Reading the suggestions for ridding oneself of character defects, someone might say, “These are all very helpful for someone who has character defects, but I do not see anything about myself that is defective.”

In the above-cited verse, Solomon states what we should all know: no one is perfect. People who cannot easily find imperfections within themselves must have a perception so grossly distorted that they may not even be aware of major defects. By analogy, if a person cannot hear anything, it is not that the whole world has become absolutely silent, but that he or she has lost all sense of hearing and may thus not be able to hear even the loudest thunder.

In his monumental work, Duties of the Heart, Rabbeinu Bachaye quotes a wise man who told his disciples, “If you do not find defects within yourself, I am afraid you have the greatest defect of all: vanity.” In other words, people who see everything from an “I am great/right” perspective will of course believe that they do no wrong.

When people can see no faults in themselves, it is generally because they feel so inadequate that the awareness of any personal defects would be devastating. Ironically, vanity is a defense against low self-esteem. If we accept ourselves as fallible human beings and also have a sense of self-worth, we can become even better than we are.

Today I shall…

…be aware that if I do not find things within myself to correct, it may be because I am threatened by such discoveries.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Av 25”
Aish.com

As Rabbi Twerski said, most people who are disagreeable don’t think of themselves as perfect and the rest of the world as losers. In my experience, most people who are disagreeable are aware, at least deep down inside, of their imperfections and their insecurities. They attack or behave in a hostile or rude manner, not just because they think they are right, but because they have to be right. If they allow themselves to consider the possibility that they could be wrong, it would be a blow to their ego and would strike at the very heart of their vulnerabilities. They can’t afford to be wrong, to be humble, to apologize, to ask forgiveness because of the emotional distress that would result.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve greatly appreciated my interactions with Pete Rambo on his blog. We disagree about a great many things, at least in the religious arena, but have yet to attack each other or to personalize conflict. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted out of a relationship with those people who differ from me on some opinion in the blogosphere. I think it’s a quality the Rebbe employed in his dealings with everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike (more on the Rebbe and non-Jews in a minute).

I recently posted a blog about the value and priority of living a focused life. I have admired focused lives for at least forty years. And in recently reading Joseph Telushkin’s study on the life and work of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, I drank deeply from a remarkably focused life. Telushkin said that researching the book made a better man of him. Reading the book is doing the same for me.

-Rabbi Stuart Dauermann
“Learning From the Lubavitcher Rebbe How To Be A Mentsch and Servant of God”
Interfaithfulness.org

I read this shortly after my wife recommended Telushkin’s book and it was encouraging. R. Dauermann’s parting words at the end of his short review were:

Read this book. It will make you a better human being . . . and a better servant of God.

In discussing my experience in reading the book with my wife (as far as I’ve gotten so far), I pondered whether or not the Rebbe was one of those rare persons in our world who truly was a tzaddik. I sometimes use that word to refer to people such as Abraham, Moses, and certainly Jesus (Yeshua), but no one who has lived in modern times.

Stuart Dauermann
Rabbi Stuart Dauermann

And yet if a tzaddik did live among us (Rabbi Schneerson passed away in 1994) and we have a record of his teachings and lectures (which we do), perhaps it would be a good idea to take R. Dauermann’s advice and read the Telushkin book. So far I’ve found it compelling and even inspiring. It is my prayer that reading of the Rebbe’s extraordinary life will make me a better person and better servant of God too, even as a non-Jew and a disciple of Christ.

A final note on the Rebbe and his relationship with non-Jews. In “Chapter 11: Judaism’s Mission to the World,” Telushkin relates how the Rebbe had encouraged Jewish businessman and philanthropist David Chase to pray daily as Chase’s birthday present to the Rebbe. Chase agreed, and while vacationing on his yacht, he asked the Captain each morning which way was east (the yacht would periodically change course, sometimes even while Chase was praying) so he could face toward Jerusalem while davening. The Captain agreed to tell Chase which way was east each morning and not to change course while Chase was praying.

One Sunday morning, the yacht pulled into Block Island and the Captain asked to go ashore for an hour or two.

Chase answered yes and asked the captain where he was going. “I would like to go to church,” Winters answered. “You pray to your God every morning, and you’re making me feel guilty that I don’t follow my faith. So I want to go to church and say my prayers.”

At his next visit to 770, Chase told the Rebbe about this incident. The Rebbe, to quote Chase, “got a big kick out of it,” and the businessman learned that the Rebbe shortly thereafter spoke of this event at a public lecture; he wanted his Chasidim to know that their behavior could encourage non-Jews, not just Jews, to come closer to God.

-Telushkin, p.158

Shabbat Shalom.

Premeditated Acts of Kindness

One winter Friday evening after services, I happened to walk home in the company of a talkative Seminary student. As we made our way down Broadway, we passed a weary and emaciated man whispering for some spare change. On Shabbat I pay less heed to such heartrending pleas because I don’t have any money with me. Neither did my young companion. Yet he politely interrupted our animated conversation and asked the man whether he would like a sandwich. When he responded with evident joy that he would, the student pulled out a neatly wrapped sandwich from his plastic bag and gave it to him. Obviously, unlike me, the student did not allow Shabbat to prevent him from aiding the homeless who crowd the sidewalks of Broadway in the midst of the academic acropolis known as Morningside Heights. Though we met no more homeless before we parted company, for all I knew my companion still had another sandwich or two left in his bag to feed the hungry. His unobtrusive display of forethought and compassion stirred me deeply, as it filled me with pride.

-Ismar Schorsch
“A Stitch in Time” (pg 441, May 20, 1995)
Commentary on Torah Portion Behar
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

I read Schorsch’s commentaries on the weekly Parashat as a matter of devotion each Shabbat morning, but this time I was almost startled at the parallel between the incident he reported and the Gospel reading for Behar as recommended by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) (Each year near the beginning of the Torah cycle, FFOZ provides a list of the parashat readings for the coming year on PDF for anyone who cares to download it).

Here’s what I had read just minutes before:

On that day of Shabbat, he was teaching in a certain synagogue. A woman in whom there was a spirit of disease for eighteen years was bent over and unable to stand with a straight posture. Yeshua saw and called to her. He said to her, “Woman, be freed from your disease.” He placed his hands upon her, and instantly she arose and stood upright and praised God. The leader of the synagogue became upset that Yeshua had healed her on Shabbat, so he responded and said to the people, “There are six days on which you may do labor. Come and be healed on them, but not on the day of Shabbat!”

The Master answered and said to him, “Hypocrite! Will not any one of you untie his ox or donkey from the stable on Shabbat and lead him to get a drink? But here we have a daughter of Avraham whom the satan has bound for these eighteen years. Will she not be released from what binds her on the day of Shabbat?

When he said these words, all who were standing against him were ashamed, and all of the people rejoiced about all of the wonders there were performed by him.

Luke 13:10-17 (DHE Gospels)

I suppose you can’t compare the supernatural miracle of healing a woman who had suffered an affliction for eighteen years with simply giving a starving, homeless man a sandwich you are carrying with you, but they both speak of a willingness not only to feel compassion but to actively express it for the benefit of another, even (apparently) flying in the face of devoted Shabbat observance.

Teaching of the TzadikimYeshua (Jesus) was accused by the local synagogue leader of violating the prohibition of working on the Shabbat by healing the disabled woman. From the point of view of the leader of the synagogue, his interpretation of the laws of Shabbos was correct and obviously, based on the reaction of the rest of the people present, that opinion was the majority viewpoint in that stream (and probably all streams) of Judaism in that day.

Even today, while it is permissible in Orthodox Judaism to render medical treatment in the cause of saving a life, routine medical matters (this woman had survived her ailment for eighteen years, so Yeshua could have waited another day before healing her) are attended to on the other six days of the week.

For many Bible readers, this distinction may be too obscure, but if missed, the reader also misses the message of all the Sabbath stories in the Gospels. The essential message is not that Jesus has cancelled the Sabbath or that the rabbinic interpretation of Sabbath is illegitimate. The Sabbath-conflict stories instead communicate that acts of compassion and mercy performed to alleviate human suffering take precedence over the ritual taboo. The miraculous power by which Jesus performs the healings only serves to add God’s endorsement to Jesus’ halachic, legal rationale.

Did Jesus’ disciples break the Sabbath in the grain fields? Yes. But they were justified in doing so because their need took precedence over the Temple service, and the Temple service took precedence over the Sabbath. Therefore Jesus declared them guiltless and told the Pharisees, “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7).

Did the Master break the Sabbath when he healed on the Sabbath day? Yes. Would fixing a car break the Sabbath? Of course it would, and by the same standard so does fixing a human body. Nevertheless, the Master justified doing so because compassion for his fellow man took precedence over the Sabbath.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter Seven: At Dinner with the Sages,” pg 61
The Sabbath Breaker: Jesus of Nazareth and The Gospels’ Sabbath Conflicts

It is Lancaster’s opinion that Yeshua did indeed “break the Shabbat” as it is literally understood, and performed one of the types of work or melachah (plural: “melachot”) that is forbidden to do on the Sabbath. But Lancaster believes that the needs and dignity of human beings who are created in the image of God have a higher priority than mechanically performing a list of “dos” and “don’ts”.

I don’t mean to cast Shabbat observance or any performance of the other mitzvot in a negative light, far from it. I do want to point out something about human nature, though.

Ismar SchorschIsmar Schorsch, whose writings I greatly admire and who was the sixth Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) for nineteen years (he retired on June 30, 2006), wrote, on “Shabbat I pay less heed to such heartrending pleas because I don’t have any money with me.” It wasn’t that Schorsch lacked compassion or didn’t care about the dire needs of other people, but the traditional practice on Shabbat is not to handle any form of currency or to engage in any type of commerce. Naturally, he didn’t have any money on him, and neither did his sandwich-carrying companion.

But get this:

The Mishnah divides the landscape into “domains”: the private domains of individual houses, the public domains of streets and markets, and shared areas like alleys and courtyards that are not quite public and not quite private. The prohibition of carrying is violated when one removes an object from one domain to another [M. Shabbat 1:1, 2:1; M. Eruvin passim]. The Mishnah goes even further in eliminating the notion of “burden” from this prohibition. It declares that the prohibition is violated only if the object that has been carried is an object that people in general, or at least its carrier, value or use or keep; if it has no value or if it is too small to be used or if it is not worth keeping, then it does not qualify as an “object” for the purposes of this prohibition. A Torah-fearing Jew would not remove even such a nonobject from one domain to another on Sabbath, but incurs no liability for having done so [M. Shabbat 7:3-8:6, 9:5-10:1].

-Shaye J.D. Cohen
“Chapter 6: Judaean Legal Tradition and Halakhah of the Mishnah,” pg 136
The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature
Edited by Charlotte E. Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee

Since it appears a sandwich has value (especially to a hungry man) and is definitely big enough to use (eat), Schorsch’s companion could not be excused for carrying food items from one domain (presumably he made this sandwich before Shabbat and at his home, which is a different domain than the street) to another. Of course, the Mishnah may be more strictly observed by Orthodox Jews than Conservative Jews (Schorsch is affiliated with Conservative Judaism and presumably so are the students at the Jewish Theological Seminary, including the student in question), but I have to wonder.

shabbat walkI have to wonder if both Schorsch and the Seminary student were aware of the prohibition of “carrying,” which was another reason that they both had no money in their possession, since money obviously has value, but they saw a higher value requiring attention. The statement made by Schorsch from which I quoted above, indicates that it was quite common on Broadway to encounter homeless people who would typically ask for spare change or some other form of charity, even on Friday evening. Schorsch saw no way to assist them while observing the Shabbat but the student didn’t let that stop him.

Did the student violate Shabbat by carrying sandwiches from one domain to the next, even for the purpose of committing “a premeditated act of kindness” (Schorsch, pg 443)? Schorsch’s own reaction of pride, not even questioning the apparent violation of performing “work”, seems to answer from his point of view.

We can compare this to the reaction of the synagogue leader and the others attending Shabbat services after hearing Yeshua’s response to their criticism of his healing a non-life threatening disability on Shabbat:

When he said these words, all who were standing against him were ashamed…

Luke 13:17

The people who had initially criticized Yeshua’s act of kindness and compassion on Shabbat felt ashamed when they understood that it is common and permitted to relieve the suffering of another living being on Shabbat, whether a thirsty farm animal or a woman under a debilitating disability. Schorsch felt pride at recalling his student’s “unobtrusive display of forethought and compassion.”

I don’t believe that either Yeshua or the anonymous student violated the Shabbat. I believe they acted in the highest principle of Sabbath observance, even if it seems they “broke” the observance of the literal meaning of the melechot involved in each incident.

“The Sabbath does not ‘do away’ with sadness and sorrow,” writes Pinchas H. Peli in The Jewish Sabbath, “it merely requires that all sadness be ‘tabled’ for one day so that we may not forget that there is also joy and happiness in the world and acquire a more balanced and hopeful picture of life.”

-from “Keeping Sabbath – Ways to Practice”
Practicing Our Faith

“Oneg,” or the traditional meal eaten at the end of Shabbat services at synagogue, literally means “joy”. Regardless of the trials and difficulties we may encounter during the rest of the week, or no matter what else may be troubling us, Shabbat is a time to set all that aside and to live as if the Kingdom of God had already arrived, as if Messiah were already enthroned in Jerusalem, and as if he already reigns over a world filled with peace and the glory of God.

So to alleviate the suffering of even one person or any other living thing is to assist them in some small manner in entering Shabbat and a foretaste of the Kingdom.

MessiahIn any way we think we are obeying the will of God, let’s not forget that there is a higher principle involved that summons the future Messianic Age. What we say, think, and do now, on one level, is temporary and will not last, so we sometimes tend to dismiss this life in anticipating the next. But we must never forget for a single instant, and especially on Shabbat, that kindness, compassion, charity, and raising the level of the dignity of another person, even for a moment, are eternal principles and the loftier and weightier matters of Torah, and they speak more of loving God and loving others (for the two are inseparable) than the matter of committing a “forbidden” act of melachah here or there as the situation arises.

Yeshua rejects all those who do not give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked of even “the least” of his “brothers,” but welcomes those who are “blessed of his Father.”

Then the king will say to those standing on his right, “Come, those who are blessed of my Father, and possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was traveling, and you took me in; naked, and you covered me; sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.”

The righteous will answer and say, “Our master, when did we see you hungry and sustain you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you traveling and take you in, or naked and cover you? When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?”

Then the king will answer and say to them, “Amen, I say to you, what you have done for one of these young brothers of mine, you have done for me.”

Matthew 25:34-40

The Challies Chronicles: John MacArthur and Joni Eareckson Tada

macarthur-strangefire-confJohn MacArthur opened the Strange Fire conference, and then, for the second session introduced Joni Eareckson Tada as a friend and former member of his church. She was at the conference to share her testimony of living as a quadriplegic who has prayed for, but not received, a miraculous healing. As MacArthur said in his closing comments, if anyone has the faith to be healed, it must be her. In a sweet and spontaneous moment, Joni called MacArthur to the stage and, hand-in-hand, the two sang a couple of stanzas of “O Worship the King” together. I have been to a lot of different conferences, but that will now rank as one of my all-time favorite moments.

-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: Joni Eareckson Tada,” October 16, 2013
Challies.com

This is the second part of my Challies Chronicles series, an analysis of Pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference as “live blogged” by Pastor Challies.

I’m also more or less “live blogging,” in that I’m writing as I’m reading, giving you my impressions as they occur. I want to be fair to MacArthur and I feel that, using Tim Challies as my source, someone who, as far as I know, should be sympathetic and supportive of MacArthur’s views, I am avoiding those bloggers and other pundits who tend to be “anti-MacArthur” to accomplish the purposes of this project.

All that said, being fair doesn’t mean I always have to agree with MacArthur or the other presenters at Strange Fire.

Joni Eareckson Tada

I assume that by having Ms. Tada present her testimony that MacArthur was attempting to refute faith healing in the present age. While I agree that there are just a boatload of charlatans out there who claim “the healing power of Jesus,” and who say they can cure anything from acne to brain tumors by the laying on of hands (and giving a bunch of money as a “love offering”), there seems to be more to Tada’s story:

Even today she often has well-meaning charismatics who come up to her and pray for her healing. Though she never says no, she does always ask them to pray for specific things and then highlights character issues. Will you pray for my bad attitude? Will you pray for my grumbling? She means to show them that she is far more concerned with indwelling, remaining sin than chronic pain and legs that do not work.

She went on to describe a trip to Jerusalem and going to the very place where Jesus had healed that paralyzed man so many years ago. And there, in a moment alone, she found herself praying to God to thank him for not healing her, because a “no” answer to her requests for physical healing had purged so much sin, selfishness, and bitterness. That “no” answer left her depending more on God’s grace, has given her greater compassion for others, has reduced complaining, has increased her faith, has given her greater hope of heaven, and has caused her to love the Lord so much more. She sees the joy of sharing in his suffering and would not trade it for any amount of walking.

What do we really want to be healed of, our physical problems or our spiritual problems? Do we need to be healed of cancer or given the “medical procedure” of a circumcised heart?

And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Matthew 9:2-8 (NASB)

struggling_prayOnly God forgives sins and so I also believe only God can miraculously heal. Even if we say, as I can only believe MacArthur says, that the age of miraculous healing is done and that God does not heal anymore in a supernatural sense, I have a question. Why do we pray for people when they are hurt or sick?

Actually, I have no idea if MacArthur prays for the sick, although I certainly hope he visits them because I don’t think that type of kindness we see in the Bible was ended when New Testament canon closed.

I go to a fundamentalist Baptist church. I imagine MacArthur would be comfortable worshiping there. And yet, in the bulletin they pass out to me as I enter the doors of the church for services every Sunday morning, there is a multi-page paper containing many, many prayer requests.

At the top of the list, we are to pray for our President, our other Government representatives and so on. Then there’s a list of missionaries we should pray for. After that, there are multitudes of requests from people in the church about others in the church, family members, friends, and so on, most of whom suffer from terrible medical situations.

When I go to Sunday school after services, the teacher begins class by asking for prayer requests. Again, usually people’s medical problems are brought up, people facing surgery, people with chronic illnesses, people who are dying.

Why do we pray for them if we don’t, on some level, want God to heal them? Sure, sometimes we pray for someone’s salvation. Sometimes we pray for someone who is in a spiritual crisis of one kind or another, but most of the time, we pray for people who are sick.

I know from my own experience, that most if not all of the terminally ill people I have prayed for have died. I know that’s cruel to say, but that’s my experience. Why did I pray for them? What was the point?

I can see how the whole “faith healing” process has been hijacked and abused and I most certainly don’t advocate for frauds and hucksters who prey upon the illness and weakness of others for financial gain, but I do take exception to the idea that we aren’t supposed to pray for people who are hurt (and I’m not quite sure MacArthur would actually advocate that position). I also take exception to the idea that God can’t or won’t heal someone supernaturally.

I don’t say these healings occur regularly or we can predict when they will happen. If they happen at all, they probably do so infrequently and without any way to know when a person will or won’t be healed. And yet we hope. And yet we pray. And yet we rely on God to have mercy, and beg Him to heal, if not the loved one who we know is about to perish, but our grieving soul when we are left behind and alone.

Yes, as we read Matthew 9:2-8, above all, God desires to heal the soul, to forgive sin, to bring about redemption, to circumcise the heart of stone and give the sinner a heart of flesh.

None of that means we like to see our loved ones suffer physically. None of that means we aren’t compelled to pray for them, to ask and even to beg God to cure a four-year old little girl of leukemia or some other horrible, life-threatening ailment.

Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

2 Samuel 12:21-23 (NASB)

plead1It’s a terrible thing to think that God would cause a newborn baby to die because of the sins of his father. I’m not sure how else we can interpret the events about the child David and Bathsheba conceived together in the shadow of adultery and murder. But while the child was alive, David prayed and fasted and wept, but the child died anyway.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed by the name of the Lord.

Job 1:21

That has to be one of the most bitter prayers recorded in the Bible, and yet it is reflected in the grief of David and in the grief of anyone who has lost a loved one.

How can I not pray from the “brokenness” of my heart?

I think Ms Tada’s point was well made. I know that living with a long-term and severe medical problem can actually bring a person closer to God, can make the relationship stronger and more intimate. I’ve seen such a thing happen to a man I know. But it’s still a bittersweet thing. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want to heal the injured or comfort the grieving. That doesn’t mean that sometimes, in accordance with His will, God doesn’t provide us with what we need, and even what we ask for out of His abundant grace, power, compassion, and pity.

I don’t know what MacArthur was trying to accomplish by presenting Ms. Tada on stage at his conference. What he accomplished, at least for me, is to remind me of how fragile life is and how we all rely on God to help us when our problems are so much bigger than we are. If MacArthur meant to indict the Pentecostal church for false advertising, I missed that part of the message.

Apostasy, Pentecostalism, and Other Things That Go “Bump” in the Night

Witch huntApostasy is not new or shocking to me; years ago, my younger brother Aaron gave up faith in Yeshua and converted to Orthodox Judaism. My cousin Anthony went from Christianity to Messianic Judaism to atheism. A family friend, Alice, got involved in Karaite Judaism and lost faith in Messiah. There was a time in my own life where I considered agnosticism.

I grok doubt and sympathize with people going through it.

And in my 10 years writing this blog, I’ve seen several other Messianic bloggers lose faith…

-Judah Gabriel Himango
“The 3 signs of apostasy, and how to deal with doubt in your life”
Kineti L’Tziyon

And despite this, Evangelicalism has thrown open its arms and welcomed this Trojan Horse, allowing an idol in the city of God. This idol has fast taken over.

MacArthur then contrasted Reformed theology with the charismatic movement and said that Reformed theology is not a haven for false teachers. It is not where false teachers reside or where greedy deceivers and liars end up.

-Pastor John MacArthur
as quoted by Tim Challies
Challies.com

I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to enter into this conversation. I see some good points made by these men, but I wonder if it’s really worth the cost.

Let me explain.

As you probably know, I’ve already expressed some criticism of Pastor John MacArthur and his recent Strange Fire conference, which strongly addressed problems with the Pentecostal church and the Charismatic movement in Christianity. I’m planning on using the record of the conference presentations on the blog of Pastor and well-known Christian blogger Tim Challies to do a more detailed (and hopefully fair) examination of MacArthur, his information, and most importantly his intentions, in holding his conference and publicly “calling out” the Charismatic movement and its followers.

However, well-known Messianic/Hebrew Roots blogger Judah Himango seemed to mirror MacArthur in drawing attention to another six ton elephant in the room, apostasy from Christianity (or in this case, the Messianic Jewish and/or Hebrew Roots movement, which could be considered a form of Christianity).

Pentecostalism and Messianic Judaism/Hebrew Roots are different in that the Pentecostal church has hundreds of millions of followers worldwide, while Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots are (so far) rather minimally attended (I don’t have any specific figures on the population of either group). Other than that though, from a traditional, fundamentalist Christian viewpoint, both movements can be considered the same “strange fire,” that is, both are outside of what might be considered acceptable and “normative” Christianity relative to how Reformed theologians such as MacArthur might see them.

I’m not going to address the actual content presented by MacArthur and Himango. Both have a good deal to say about their relative subjects and in sampling both, they also have a great deal of good information to present, information that should be considered, information that is very likely useful and beneficial.

But at what cost?

In order for both of these gentlemen to do what they’ve done, make public significant difficulties among specific movements and specific individuals, they have to objectify those movements and particularly the individuals involved. To one degree or another, they have to set aside any concern for how the subjects of their criticism will be impacted by what they are saying and publishing.

After the Strange Fire conference (or actually even before it), there was a power surge of criticism against MacArthur for being insensitive, for being hurtful, for being damaging to millions upon millions of fellow Christian brothers of sisters. Being right was more important than how MacArthur’s being right would injure all these people, many, perhaps most of whom, sincerely believe they are serving God and following Christ.

Judah Gabriel HimangoTo read Himango’s blog post on apostasy, as well as another Messianic blogger’s kudos to Himango, you’d think that this young man wrote the most beneficial religious commentary in the past century.

I won’t deny that Himango had a number of good points and I don’t doubt his intensions are sincere, but in order to make them, he had to…no, let me change that, he chose to name names. He started with his family and moved on to others, some that I am familiar with and at least one who I’ve known quite well.

Did Himango or anyone else ask them if they wanted to be “outed” like this?

When you have been a member of the Christian faith and you leave, that usually provokes a lot of strong feelings in those believers you’ve left behind. Those strong feelings are almost never pleasant, and it’s never pleasant to be on the receiving end when they are expressed.

I recently had to create a comments policy on my blog in order to contain some otherwise negative statements being made. As part of my policy, I issued the following statement:

In Jewish religious tradition, Leviticus 25:17 which states “You will not wrong one another,” is interpreted as wronging someone in speech. This includes any statement that will embarrass, insult, or deceive a person or cause that person emotional pain and distress. Even statements believed to be true and factual but that cause another harm are considered wrongful speech.

Of course, there’s a problem. Sometimes it really is the right thing to discuss problems in the faith, difficult issues, and even “difficult people,” so how to you balance that against the principle of harmful speech, and avoid damaging any other human being by what you say, even if what you’re saying is factual and truthful?

I wish I knew. I only know that in order for good people to hurt other good people, you have to do something to your “target” in your head. You have to objectify them. You have to make them, in some way, less than human. Otherwise, if you have even the tiniest bit of compassion and pity in your soul, you couldn’t bear to put someone you love or once loved through pain and torture by putting them in the spotlight and pointing a harsh finger at them, even if you think you’re doing it for the right reasons.

So how do you do it?

I’m going to present a couple of really extreme examples.

Look at how we convinced American military personal to kill Nazis and Japanese during World War II. Look at how we convinced the American public to support a World War, condone the bombing of millions, endure severe shortages of goods and services so they could be diverted to the war effort. How did we do it? By making Germans and Japanese less than human. That’s also how we herded masses of Japanese living in America into prison camps, men, women, and children, even as the Nazis were herding millions of Jews and other “undesirables” into prison camps, men, women, and children.

World War 2 posterHow have we aborted untold millions of unborn children in our nation since 1973? How have we made abortion a wildly successful financial effort? How have we sold abortion as “women’s reproductive services” to an entire nation, and completely ignored the fact that the only difference between a fetus being aborted and an unborn baby who is already loved by mother and father is that one is unwanted and the other is wanted?

By turning an unborn human being into a “fetus,” a “thing.” Yes, the term “fetus” is technically accurate, but shifting the emotional context from baby to thing is what’s required to eliminate a thing. Then it’s not killing a baby. Then we can live with ourselves and get to sleep at night…most of us.

That’s also how to kill an enemy in war. To one degree or another, it’s how you attack another human being in speech, a person who was created just as much in the image of God as you were. By “objectifying” them.

I told you these were extreme examples. Imagine though, that we can still do others some measure of harm, even when we’re not being “extreme.”

If we remember that someone who worships God in a Pentecostal church is a person, just like we are, someone who is a parent, a child, someone who goes to work, who goes to the movies, someone who loves, cries, becomes afraid, is capable of compassion, just like we are, then it’s not quite as easy to say that everything they experience in their worship of God is really a product of the Adversary and grieves the heart of God.

Maybe all that is true, but it’s how we say it and with what intent that makes the difference.

We can also “out” and disdain people, human beings just like us, if we don’t think of them as people just like us but rather as “apostates.” An apostate is a special class of being who has done the unthinkable, he has, in the context of my message as well as Himango’s blog post, rejected Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Or in more Judaic terms, rejected Yeshua HaHashiach, the Son of David, King of Yisra’el.

Regardless of how apostasy within the Church affects you, can you say that because a person leaves the faith, all bets are off and you can treat them anyway you want?

Maybe. After all, the Master said this:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15-17 (NASB)

If someone continually refuses to repent of their sin, Jesus says they are to be treated as a Gentile and a tax collector,” not really desirable companions in that place and time. But notice that Jesus began by saying “show him his fault in private” and continues with “if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

Talk to him in private avoids embarrassing him unnecessarily. Your goal is to win your brother, and in this context, the converse must be true. It must be possible to “lose” your brother, with the understanding that on some level, this person is still your brother, though you may have to ask him to be removed from the community of faith until he repents.

When MacArthur accused Charismatic people of offering “strange fire” to God, he was massively criticized on the web. There was and is a lot of debate about whether MacArthur was right in his message and right in his method. I don’t really need to speak of MacArthur or defend Charismatics, since that’s already been done in abundance. But in our little corner of the Messianic and Hebrew Roots blogosphere, who takes a hard look at the methods by which some writers are addressing those who have left our ranks, either to become atheists or to pursue more traditional (non-believing) Judaism as converts or people who are halachically Jewish?

nadab-abihu-fireI’m not defending leaving the faith, but is the only response to that act to revile and assault those who have? I have very personal reasons for not dragging Jewish non-believers through the mud, but I won’t “name names” or specifics on my blog so I can avoid creating “targets.” Can’t we instead respond to this tragedy with compassion, mercy, and even pity? Can’t we leave the door to friendship open? Is there no room for Christians and Jews to associate and even be friends, or does that constitute a “yoking” problem?

What is God’s point of view on all this? I can only infer it from the Bible. Certainly, God has been capable of more than a little wrath. MacArthur’s invocation of “strange fire” is a prime example of that, relative to Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu and their horrible, fiery end.

But God is also a God of compassion, mercy, pity, and love.

The thirteen attributes of God are captured for us in the following:

Merciful God, merciful God, powerful God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity, willful sin and error, and Who cleanses.

Exodus 34:6-7

The Master’s own compassion for an unrepentant Jerusalem is the echo of Moshe’s encounter with Hashem:

Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How many times I have desired to gather your sons like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Listen: your house will be abandoned for you, desolate. For I say to you, from now on you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Hashem!”

Matthew 23:37-39 (DHE Gospels)

Compassion, even in the face of a very hard truth.

In his blog post, Himango says that Heresy hunting is a problem. What about Apostate hunting? We don’t burn “witches” anymore, we just embarrass them on the Internet. I must say that Himango was rather measured and even considerate in his write up, in spite of the fact that he listed names and biographies for those on his “apostate list,” but the person who started the ball rolling, so to speak, was much less merciful, and all the more harsh, and in fact, betrayed a personal trust based on friendship in “exposing” another person’s very difficult choice to leave the body of Yeshua.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:19-21

Jesus showed pity and regret to Jerusalem and even asked the Father to forgive his executioners (Luke 23:34). Paul quotes the Torah in imploring the Romans (and us) to not respond to hurt with revenge, but to only show compassion, charity, and mercy.

13 Attributes of MercyAre we to answer someone else’s “strange fire” by incinerating them in speech or in writing, or can we emulate, Jesus, Paul, and God, by being “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness?”

Is the fault in any problem always in someone else? Is it never in who we are and what we do, even in the name of Christ?

A final note. I’m less than pond scum algae to men like John MacArthur, so I doubt he’ll ever be aware of my existence, let alone my blog, but Judah Himango and I have exchanged a number of comments over the past few years, so I don’t doubt that when he finds out I wrote this (and to be fair, I’ll let him know before I click the “Publish” button), he’ll have something to say about it, probably something not very complementary. Unfortunately, you can’t write something like this without becoming a target.

Again, I don’t doubt that Judah had good intensions in writing his blog post and he did make many good points. I believe he sincerely wants to support and encourage people, especially those associated with the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, in staying the course and continuing in the faith.

But there’s a price to be paid, a cost to be exacted from those people we put under our microscope. Is it worth it?

I didn’t want to write this. But I had to write it.