I see a lot of memes on social media that not only ridicule the Church as unless but actually say Christians are evil.
I suppose the “useless” part comes in when believers pray to their “sky daddy” rather than “follow the science.” After all, if a Christian were sick, they’d go to the doctor like any atheist and humanist. Of course they would. They would also pray, which I’m sure baffles many folks.
I’m not going to attempt to defend the practice of prayer. It would fall on deaf ears. I will however say that the Church isn’t just a self-perpetuating system that isolates itself from reality except on those moments when it can destroy people’s lives by being pro-life.
As another aside, I won’t pretend there aren’t bad people who hide behind the label “Christian,” nor will I say there aren’t greedy Pastors and bloated churches that love money more than God. I abhor them and everything they stand for. But you won’t find the faithful on television or in the news. Faith and doing good are often anonymous.
I’m sure most of you have heard by now that actor and musician Jussie Smollet (born “Justin Smollett”) allegedly faked an attack upon himself on January 29, 2019, stating that he was assaulted by two white men who put a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him, and called him racist and homophobic slurs while also saying, “This is MAGA country.” Smollett is African-American and gay. He also allegedly received a threatening letter a week earlier containing a mysterious white powder which turned out to be Tylenol.
While all this is getting a lot of attention in social media, not everyone is condemning him, at least publicly. Some politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi and Cory Booker, have deleted their initial “tweets” on twitter that showed support for Smollett, however U.S. Representative Maxine Waters continues to believe him. Also, African-American author and screenwriter Steven Barnes, while not defending Smollett’s alleged crime outright, does say that faking the attack does not make him a racist (and who said it did?).
Now, although Smollett has gotten a severe “dressing down” from both African-American Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and African-American Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. (I’m pointing out that both men are black so readers don’t believe their comments are based on racism), as Judge Lyke stated, before the law, Smollett is presumed innocent until the state proves its case against him (assuming they can).
However a blog, as well as social and news media, are not courts of law, so we can afford to make some assumptions. Let’s assume that all of the allegations against Smollett are true and that he not only mailed a threatening letter to himself (which may constitute mail fraud, a Federal offense), but hired two men he’s worked with on “Empire” to fake the attack. What can we say about this?
It seems like this 36-year-old man needs a lot of attention, and playing the role of a victim, both because he’s gay and black, would certainly qualify as attention. Having his “assailants” pretend to be white Trump supporters would likely result in immediate condemnation on Trump in particular (for inspiring hate) and white conservatives in general, both being pretty easy targets in the aforementioned social and news media. In other words, on the surface of it, the attack would seem credible to a lot of people.
But that’s not enough. Before Chicago P.D. formally charged Smollett, he described himself during the attack as a gay Tupac, meaning that he was tough and fought back (although the real life boxer Tupac Shakur, who was murdered in 1996 at the age of 25, had his own legal problems). Smollett apparently was attempting to dispel the traditional stereotype that gay men are effeminate and would be helpless in a physical fight (which is ridiculous because I’ve known gay men who have served in the Marine Corps and they are tough).
Smollett is alleged to have staged the attack, in part, because he was dissatisfied with the amount of money he was earning on “Empire” which was supposedly about $125,000 per episode. With 18 episodes per season, that comes out to over two million dollars a year. Of course, there are television actors who earn more, such as the cast of “Big Bang Theory” who are said to each pull down $900,000 per episode. Nice work if you can get it.
If you put everything together, you can make a case for Smollett being a talented but highly insecure individual who needed a lot more recognition than he was getting, and yes, money is definitely a form of recognition. Sympathy and admiration are other forms, which would play to his being a victim and valiantly fighting back against his two, supposedly MAGA loving white racist attackers.
Let’s face it, most of us feel insecure at times and probably want more attention than we’re getting, but most of us don’t go to such lengths to get that attention. Add Smollett’s own admission that he has a drug problem, and you have some significant psychopathology going on, which I bet this young man’s attorneys are going to significantly exploit in court.
But it doesn’t matter. Smollett’s already destroyed his life, at least for the next several years. However, consider actor Robert Downey Jr‘s own drug-related career damage. After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapse, he finally got this act together and now he’s one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood. I suppose that could happen to Smollett, too, but he could also pull a Lindsay Lohan. Or not, since I just read that her career is also slowly getting back on track. Who’d have thought?
However, he’ll have to go through a lot of hurdles first, not the least of which are the consequences of being convicted if it goes that way.
But he’s not the only one who will experience consequences.
Smollett’s ploy isn’t unique. According to USA Today, it’s actually pretty common, and as a result, each false allegation causes further damage to race relations, and in this case, will again make it more difficult for real victims of racism and prejudice against the LGBTQ community to be believed. Now each and every actual victim of a hate crime gets to “thank” Smollett and the many others who put their own issues ahead of everything else. Now, with each difficulty in being believed, in having their allegations be considered valid, at feeling like they’re not being taken seriously, these people can turn to Smollett and realize that he made it harder for them.
And as Catholic teenager Nick Sandmann found out, this also makes it more likely that anyone wearing a MAGA hat for any reason will be considered a violent racist.
Why am I writing this here on my religious blog? Because we’re supposed to be people of good conscience. We’re supposed to provide charity to the widow and the orphan, which is Biblical shorthand for the disadvantaged. I’ve been burned before giving charity to someone who had duped me, and I didn’t just waste my own money doing it. How do incidents like the one Smollett allegedly perpetrated affect our own willingness to believe the victim, offer help, give to the needy? After all, we’re people just like anyone else, and I don’t doubt that there are plenty of Christians right now who are raking Smollett over the virtual coals in social media, in their families, and in their churches.
Is that right?
The court will judge Smollett on legal matters, and like everyone else, God will judge him on how he’s treated the Almighty and other human beings. While we, as individual human beings, likely have an opinion about Smollett and the behavior he’s accused of committing, a wider or more “God-like” view should tell us that we too have a judge, and while we may not be guilty of faking racist or homophobic attacks on ourselves, we do need to pay attention to our own thoughts, words, and deeds first. Have we done something that hurts others because of our own selfishness? If the answer is yes, then it behooves us to make amends in our own lives. This won’t change Smollett, and it won’t justify us “badmouthing” him, but it will mean we’re capable of learning a lesson here. So, hopefully, is Jussie Smollett.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yeshua (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.
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 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].
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.
I 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…
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.”
“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.
In 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.”
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman