Tag Archives: criticism

See You in the Funny Papers

As for people not playing on your blog as you want… quit writing a blog if you want to keep things neat and tidy and simply how “you” feel. Publish a newsletter and ignore the private responses which you disagree with. I have to be honest, I believe you think and write wonderfully. I like the discourse here. However your premises bring with them a perspective that is often open to question. If you do not like the questions, it seems odd you would post things which are so open to critical analyses. In all love, it is like going to the South Pole and questioning why it is cold.

-from Rockey in his January 29, 2015 at 12:24 p.m. comment

Okay. I take the hint. I could use the break.

By the way, that was a pretty diplomatic way to get your point across, Tim.

Thanks. I revisit this idea every now and again and then the comments back off, I receive some encouragement, and I’m writing again.

But not this time.

I’m sure it’s me. I’m sure I’m just being an unreasonable blogger, especially given I’m writing in the religious blogging space. D. Thomas Lancaster mentioned in one of his recorded sermons that he doesn’t maintain a personal blog, and I think for some of the reasons I’m encountering.

As I face various matters in my personal life (in spite of what many of you may think, I really don’t share everything that’s going on with me on this blog) as well as issues of continuing in my faith, I realize I don’t want the additional “drama” that sometimes happens in the comments section of my blog. I rarely comment on the blogs of others (at least compared to a few years ago) for the same reason.

So I’m closing comments on my blog. I was going to publish this blog on Friday morning and later on close comments, but that could seem like I’m just trolling for sympathy or whatever. It makes more sense to come to a clean stopping point this evening. Close comments and publish this blog post at the same time.

I may still write as Tim suggests without providing a venue for feedback. That may be frustrating to some, but not all blogs allow comments so there’s no rule that says I have to. There’s a process that lets anyone who really, really needs to say something to me to email me from within the blog, but that takes a few more steps than writing a comment and I don’t anticipate much of a response.

After some time, I may open the place up for comments again, but I’ll have to see what the experience is like with comments disabled for a while. For all I know, I may get used to the peace and quiet, and even to not having to write about everything that pops into my head.

I’ve actually been toying with the idea of doing a completely different blog, something not involved with religion at all (I do have a couple of other interests). I feel like a Don Quixote who has decided he doesn’t have to tilt at windmills any longer. I want to stop fighting “religious wars” for a while. I’d just like to spend some time enjoying being in the presence of God. There’s a certain freedom in that.

“See you in the funny papers.”

attributed to Walt Kelly
Creator of the Pogo comic strip

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The Divine Path to Taking Out the Garbage

shhhhOne who degrades another person is a fool, and a man of understanding will make himself deaf to his words.

Proverbs 11:12

When people feel good about themselves, they have no need to enhance their self-evaluation by berating others. Those who do so are exposing their own poor self-worth and to what extremes they will go in order to achieve any feeling of worth.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Shevet 13”
Aish.com

I don’t mind people disagreeing with me, but it’s when they do so behind my back that I take a certain amount of offense. When I read Rabbi Twerski’s commentary from which I just quoted, I had an ugly feeling I’d need it in a day or so. Although he is giving a lesson on gossip (lashon hara), I find that it applies to those who choose to call others out by name and denigrate them just because they can.

Rabbi Twerski is correct in saying that when someone employs such tactics, it reveals more about them than the person they’re attempting to malign. Nevertheless, I feel we are not to respond by using the same tactics (and so my critic will remain anonymous) and we must even do our best to forgive the victim.

In another article, Rabbi Twersky quotes Ecclesiastes 7:9 in support of his dedication to…

…try to avoid erupting in anger when I feel offended and at least delay an angry response until I have more thoroughly evaluated the situation.

That’s not easy, since we are all human and, when slapped in the face, our first response is to want to slap back. I can understand that my critic may take this particular blog post as my taking a “shot at him,” but consider this.

May no person be made to suffer on my account.

-Siddur, Prayer on Retiring

Although the Torah does not require people to love their enemies, it does demand restraint, in the sense of not seeking revenge (Leviticus 19:18). The Talmud extends this concept to forbid not only the act of revenge, but even a prayer that God should punish our enemies. “If someone is punished on account of another person, the latter is not admitted to the Divine Presence, for as Solomon says in Proverbs (17:16), ‘For the righteous, too, punishment is not good’ “(Shabbos 149b).

When Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev’s adversaries expelled his family from town during his absence, his colleagues asked Rabbi Wolf of Zhitomir to invoke the Divine wrath upon them for their heinous deed. “I cannot do anything,” Rabbi Wolf said, “because Rabbi Levi Yitzchok has anticipated us and is now standing before the open Ark, praying fervently that no harm come to them.”

Actions like this incident may appear to be the ultimate of magnanimity, but it is not necessarily so. To the contrary, they can also be understood as helping one’s own interests. If we pray that another person be punished for his or her misdeeds, we become vulnerable ourselves (see 3 Kislev), for the Divine sense of justice may then bring our own actions under greater scrutiny. After all, is it not reasonable to expect a high standard of personal conduct in someone who invokes harsh treatment of his neighbors?

Consequently, it is wiser to seek forgiveness for others and thereby merit forgiveness for ourselves than to pray for absolute justice and stern punishment for others’ misdeeds and thereby expose ourselves to be similarly judged.

Today I shall…

…try to avoid wishing harm to anyone, even to those who have greviously offended me.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Shevet 17”
Aish.com

Kind of reminds me of some lessons taught by other wise Jewish sages.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34 (ESV)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by 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 (ESV)

ForgivenessI suppose Paul, in quoting from Proverbs 25:22, might be the more appropriate scripture, since Jesus is asking God to forgive his executioners, and not just a few people (who in this case are a blogger and a few of his friends who cheer him on) who have “badmouthed” him. Nevertheless, we have a clear principle to not retaliate against someone, whether they’re another believer or not (though it’s sad when a believer should actually create such a situation in the first place).

I just read a blog post written by Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann called Stumbling Towards Shalom. In part, this article says:

I remember years ago helping at a wedding of a friend. This bride, at her rehearsal, was standing on the platform when her bad knee (with an untended to bad ligament) went out of its socket. I still remember seeing that. It meant she had to hobble in order to meet her bridegroom.

Will the same be true for all of us, as we prepare to meet our Bridegroom? Will we be stumbling and falling because of matters untended to?

How are we doing? And what are the prospects for our movement if we do not do better than we are? The author of the letter to the Hebrews leaves us with a final word about our ligament of peace and how we are walking. . . or not walking well together:

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:12-14).

While Rabbi Dr. Dauermann is specifically addressing division and unity within the Messianic Jewish movement, I believe it is appropriate to apply his words to the wider context of Christianity and the body of both Jewish and Gentile believers.

The body of Messiah will never achieve its goals while we continue to take pot shots and cheap shots at each other in an attempt to add supports to our own flagging egos. The cause of Christ is not our cause or something we invented out of our own righteousness, it’s God’s. We can either choose to sanctify the Name or desecrate it with our words and deeds.

I used to think that all forgiveness first required repentance, and in terms of our relationship with God, I believe that’s true. And yet I want you to notice something.

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Acts 9:3-9 (ESV)

In his conversation with Ananias (see Acts 9:15), the Lord calls Saul “a chosen instrument of mine,” and yet in the encounter between Messiah and Saul, at no time do we see that Saul ever repented or asked for forgiveness. Of course Luke may have simply omitted these overt statements assuming his readers would understand that such actions are implied. After all, Saul’s life does dramatically change almost immediately as he turns away from his former persecution of the Master and his servants and turns toward God. But there’s still a lesson here for me to learn.

clean-upI have no choice but to respond with a forgiving heart, even though it’s not in my human desire to do so. I have prayed for my adversary when he has asked it (in a general request on his blog and not to me specifically). I will continue to do so, for I desire no harm should come to any critic of mine or to their families. I recently said that we will all have to give an accounting to God as to how we lived our lives. I’m not suggesting that I am focused on my critic’s encounter with God but rather my own. If I don’t forgive, if I allow anger or the desire for retribution to rule me, when I am facing my God, what will I have to say about it?

Everyone has his share of “not good.” It’s impossible that a physical being should be devoid of faults. The point is not to flee or hide from them. Nor is it to resign yourself to it all. It is to face up to the fact that they are there, and to systematically chase them away.

Recognizing who you are and gradually cleaning up your act—it may look ugly, but it is a divine path.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Cleaning Up”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

It is better to forgive others, to let go of grudges and hurts and allow God to take care of such matters, than to have to explain to God why you bore a vengeful heart and intent toward someone He loves as much as He does you…and me. I admit by even writing this blog post that it still “smarts” to be taken to task, particularly when I am being honest, forthright, and transparent, but as Rabbi Freeman says, I’m striving to recognize the “ugly” in me and to take the “divine path” toward cleaning up my garbage.

I hope to meet the others I have contended with on that path as well someday.

“In youth we learn; in age we understand.”

-Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Austrian writer

26 Days: Are You Waiting For Me to Leave?

leavingHow many days you have left, and how many more article can you milk from the dry turnip?

-A comment to me on one of my recent blog posts

A person who is serious about self-improvement will be grateful to anyone who points out his faults! (Whereas a person who does not have a strong desire for self-improvement will deny that he has any faults – even those which are blatant.)

Utilize the criticism of others as an opportunity for introspection.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #1123, Accepting Criticism”
Aish.com

It’s just amazing how people will address you when the Internet stands between the two of you. I’ve written before about how rude people tend to be when communicating on the web, and how (in all likelihood) they’d be a tad bit more civil if they had to talk with you face-to-face.

I started the “Days” series in part because of my internal response to Internet “crankiness.” After all, who wants to put up with a collection of people who continually complain at you (me) because you won’t fully endorse their opinions on a topic you have in common? Not me. Of course, there are some folks who say that it’s not “crankiness” or complaining that motivates them, but rather the use of “challenging discourse” as a method of learning. I set aside that particular excuse for rudeness awhile ago.

But my critic hit the nail on the head. I have 26 days left in my self-imposed countdown. Do I disappear then to avoid the “challenges” of “crankiness” on the Internet?

On the one hand, life would be a little more calm without the continual “noise” of social networking, but amid the noise, there’s occasional “signal” that is beneficial. Should I put up with those who have a particularly low signal to noise ratio because I benefit from others who possess a much higher ratio? Is it worth it?

On the other hand, I don’t like being pushed around and I don’t like bullies. If someone doesn’t like the content I generate, they don’t have to visit my blog. I’ve stopped visiting the blogs and websites of nudniks because it was foolish of me to engage people who would only talk at me and never listen. Disagreement is fine and I can certainly live with it. Hostility for its own sake I can live without.

There are people who do gracefully criticize me when I get things wrong, and as stinging as it can be, I actually appreciate it. On the other hand, these are people who can bring such matters to my attention without behaving as if my error or ignorance has personally insulted them. I’m finding that’s a rare and special gift among human beings.

If someone is critical of you in a harsh tone of voice, try telling them the following:

“I appreciate your strong feelings about the matter, but I would appreciate the comments more if they were expressed more pleasantly.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #304, Soften Criticism”
Aish.com

I don’t like to “call out” individuals on my blog. It’s happened to me on numerous occasions on more than one blog and I find it ungracious and offensive. On the other hand, I couldn’t illustrate my point without quoting what one of my critics said to me earlier, so to my critic, I apologize if I caused you embarrassment. I really do just want to point out that if your criticism of me is out of a sincere desire to help me become a better person, there are more constructive ways to go about it.

I have to consider that there are some people out there who can’t just leave my blog alone and who really do want me to give up and pull the plug at the end of the month. Frankly, if I bother some folks that much then I suspect they may need to get another hobby or maybe even a life, since I’m not that significant in either the blogosphere or the human race.

But if there are people who want me to leave, that’s probably a good reason for me to stay. Remember, I don’t like bullies. If you don’t like me, don’t read my blog. I don’t read your blogs and I certainly don’t comment on them. I don’t need to hang around people who suck the joy out of life and living just because they can.

If you have a suggestion on how I can be better that is motivated by a sincere desire to help and you can express it without hostility, please let me know, either in a blog comment or via email. If you are complaining about me just because you can, I invite you to go elsewhere.

Thank you.

Collision

Criticizing another person is not out of the question. It’s just that there are a few conditions to attend to before you start.

The first condition is to make sure this person is your close friend. Those are the only people worth criticizing—not just because they may actually listen, but also since you run a lower risk of making them into your sworn enemies.

If this person you feel an urge to criticize is not yet your close friend, you’ll need to spend some time with him. Find out everything that’s good about him, and go out of your way to help him out. Eventually, a real friendship will develop.

Also, you’ll need to ensure that this person has the same knowledge, understanding and perspective of right and wrong as you do before you can attack his decisions. If he doesn’t, you’ll need to spend some time learning and discussing together until you see each other’s point of view.

Once the two of you are in the same space in Torah and observance of mitzvot, and he’s your good friend to boot, then it’s okay to criticize—if necessary. And if you can remember what there was to criticize.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
from How to Criticize and More on How to Criticize
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”

-Benjamin Franklin

I was recently involved in a Facebook conversation started by a fellow who took exception to the King James Version of the Bible and, by inference, all of Christianity. He was very nice about it, but just because someone says “please” and kisses you on the cheek before punching you in the face doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

OK, that’s a little unfair and he did say something about his motivation for “sharing” the photo criticizing the KJV Bible:

…if something can’t stand inquiry at every level, do we have any business basing huge belief systems on it?

I suppose that’s true and there are many people, both atheists and Christians, who spend a great deal of time examining the Bible and offering critical analyses of the text. I don’t mind serious scholars investigating the writings of Judaism and Christianity and providing illuminating and challenging questions, but at one point does the motivation of those who criticize people of faith become less than scholarly?

And then there’s reddit or more specifically, the sub-reddit on atheism. For those of you who don’t know, reddit is a social news website where the registered users submit content, in the form of either a link or a text “self” post. Other users then vote the submission “up” or “down”, which is used to rank the post and determine its position on the site’s pages and front page. (source: Wikipedia) Sub-reddits are pages within the larger whole that address specific topics of interest, such as music, movies, science, and atheism. However, the atheism sub-reddit isn’t defined so much by what atheists believe as by what they’re against which is, for the most part, Christianity (although the atheist sub-reddit page is probably doing it wrong).

I only bring up reddit because I read it daily and because they go out of their way to bash Christians daily. The fact that popular online social venues regularly criticize not only religious beliefs but religious believers shouldn’t exactly come as a shock. After all, atheism is probably the predominant “religion” in the west today (I say that last part somewhat ironically).

Besides, weren’t Christians told to expect this sort of behavior?

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. –Matthew 5:11 (ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. –James 1:2-4 (ESV)

However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t consider the other side of the coin. Just why is there so much criticism being directed at Christianity? There are a few reasons.

You can’t really be an atheist unless you are defining yourself against a theist, someone who believes in a god or gods of some sort. Since belief in a god or gods requires a belief in the supernatural, something you can’t examine objectively using the scientific method, atheists who are scientifically oriented define themselves in opposition to religious people who are considered irrational, superstitious, or just plain stupid.

Atheists who may or may not be scientifically oriented have another, wider motivation for not only refuting religion, but particularly being really angry at Christianity. Christians tend to be viewed (and not unjustly in many cases) as being pushy, self-righteous, opinionated, bigoted, hostile, narrow-minded, and generally “in-your-face” about what they believe.

The basis for some of this is “the great commission,” which we find in Matthew 28:19-20:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

In other words, Christians are commanded to carry the “Good News of Jesus Christ” to everybody who will listen. That’s fine as far as it goes. If someone is curious about me and my faith, I’ll be glad to explain to them why I believe what I believe and to suggest (if they’re still willing to listen) that a life lived in relation with our Creator has many benefits.

But it doesn’t stop there for many believers.

I mentioned before that atheists tend to define themselves in relation to who they’re against. So does Christianity. Christianity defines itself against sin, or so it says. Christians pursue this definition to the degree that they can be very outspoken (depending on the denomination and how conservative they are) against the values and people currently held in high esteem by popular western culture.

The current popular debates between Christianity often are not based on whether God exists or not, but on the so-called “culture wars” between what some consider Christian values and the more popular, progressive viewpoint. These topics tend to center around social issues such as the rights of women, people of color, and particularly (since it’s been in the news a lot lately) gay rights and what is referred to as “marriage equality.”  Each side accuses the other of heavy-handed tactics in promoting their agenda and attempting to manipulate the minds and beliefs of the next generation.

As an example, I’m presenting an interesting photo (no, not the one below, you’ll have to click the link) I found on the atheist sub-reddit page. Although there’s no explanation regarding the photo of this person’s facial bruise and his bumper sticker, since it is posted on the atheist sub-reddit page, I can only assume it’s meant to indicate that a person of faith, possibly a Christian, assaulted this man because the person of faith believed the man in the photo was gay.

This plays into the reputation Christians have in the secular world relative to gays (even though the Bible doesn’t specifically command a Christian to give a gay man a black eye). To say that this particular (assumed) example of “Christian hostility” is unfair and possibly inaccurate is obvious, but to be fair, we have been rather oppressive at times in our treatment not only of gay people, but of any person who doesn’t measure up to the particular standards of the church, however those standards are understood.

In other words, religious people and non-religious people are capable of being unfair and critical. Religious people and non-religious people are easily offended and need to strike back against the person or organization that offered the offense. Religious people and non-religious people believe their particular system of beliefs are right, correct, represent basic reality, and are not only fact but truth.

What do religious people and non-religious people have in common.

They’re all people.

It’s important to remember (curb your dogma for a second) that we all operate inside of systems. Having a particular religious orientation means you are operating within that system and are subject to all of the conditions imposed by that system. Having an orientation toward atheism means you are operating within that system and are subject to all of the conditions imposed by that system. Sure, religion tends to believe that it is a container for truth while atheism tends to believe that it is a container for fact, but both are systems and the people within them will go to great lengths to defend their beliefs including attacking people who hold differing beliefs.

If you’re a Christian and an atheist says or does something that offends you, hurts your feelings, or makes you angry, that happens because you are human. Your faith is important to you and when it’s attacked, it’s like someone has just jabbed you in the eye with a sharp stick. If you’re an atheist and a Christian says or does something that offends you, hurts your feelings, or makes you angry, that happens because you are human. Your beliefs are important to you and when they’re attacked, it’s like someone has just jabbed you in the eye with a sharp stick.

I’m not here to “prove” that Christianity is right or wrong or that atheism is right or wrong. I’m here to say that we are spending a tremendous amount of time defining ourselves by who and what we are against and going out of our way…all of us, to hurt as many people as we can in the process, whether we think that’s our motivation or not.

Since atheism has no formal moral or ethical code attached to it, I can’t hold atheists to any standard of right or wrong. If an atheist wants to go out of his or her way to hurt a Christian, Jew, Muslim, I can’t blame them too much. After all, they are only acting according to human nature.

However, Christianity does come with a formal moral and ethical code (which varies a bit depending on denomination) and I can (and will) hold Christians to a moral and ethical standard. If you’re a Christian and you’re going out of your way to hurt someone just because you can, I’m going call you on it. That’s not “church bashing,” that’s calling believers to return to behaving as we were taught by Jesus and his example.

As I recall, when Jesus became angry, he was usually criticizing the religious authorities around him, not unbelievers and sinners. He used to hang out with sinners, eat with them, talk with them, and provide charity for them. If he defined himself at all, it was in comparison to the standards of the One who sent him, not against the people around him.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. –John 5:19 (ESV)

No one is born a Christian. Unlike Judaism, we don’t have a biological, genetic, inheritance from our “fathers.” We each come to know God through the example of our Master and teacher at some point in our existence. Then we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what that means by acting out of our understanding and Christ’s example. We don’t always do such a great job of it, unfortunately.

But since no one is born a Christian, that means anyone who isn’t a Christian might come to faith one day. If we are obligated to share our “good news” with everyone else, we need to make sure we are really sharing good news and not criticism, judgmentalism, hostility, and bigotry. We must remember that we have been taught to share the good news by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned, and there are penalties against us when we fail to do so. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Rabbi Freeman said, The first condition is to make sure this person is your close friend. Those are the only people worth criticizing—not just because they may actually listen, but also since you run a lower risk of making them into your sworn enemies. In other words, all of the time we (believer, atheist, whatever) spend on the web criticizing other people and their beliefs isn’t going to change anything. No one will listen let alone change their minds just because someone they’ve never met thinks they’re either godless or superstitious.

I have no hope of changing anyone as a result of today’s “morning meditation,” either. But who knows? Maybe by advocating that all parties put down their guns, knives, and boxing gloves, maybe we can temporarily arrive at an uneasy truce. In the end, we all want to know the same things.

Who am I and what am I doing here? Is this all there is, or is there something more?

I’m pretty sure bashing people who don’t share our belief system won’t answer those questions.

This is the first part of a series that continues in Repairing Life.

 

Rebuke of the Master

Master and disciplesAnd He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?Mark 9:19 (NAS)

A certain man once asked the Chavos Yair, zt”l, about a surprising comment found on today’s daf. “In many places we find various insults various lumineries hurled at each other. For example, in Menachos 80 we find that Rebbi tells Levi, ‘I don’t believe he has a brain in his head…’ How could he say such a sharp insult??

“Why do we find in Yevamos 9a that Rebbi says that Rav Levi has no brain in his head? Isn’t that a little harsh? What about the verse, the words of the wise, spoken gently, are heard?” And the Mishnah: The honor of your friend should be as dear to you as your own?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Menachos 80
Stories off the Daf
“The Words of the Wise”

We are supposed to love each other. The words of the Prophets and the Savior Jesus tell us this (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31). So how can the Chavos Yair justify insults between the ancient sages in Judaism? How can you say you honor God, love your neighbor, and then still say that ‘I don’t believe he has a brain in his head…’ to a fellow teacher or to a student?

How could Jesus, a man who has been called “the Maggid of Nazeret” and who is acknowledged as a great Rebbe and who is lifted very high as Messiah, insult his own disciples?

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. –Matthew 16:8-12

If Jesus is supposed to be all “meek and mild” and so full of love and grace, couldn’t he have made his point a better way? Couldn’t he have addressed his disciples; his students, without making them feel two inches tall?

Maybe his insults were the point, however. Look at the rest of the commentary for Menachos 80:

The Chavos Yair responded, “It was from here that the Rambam learned that a rav must show anger with his disciple if he feels that the student’s failure to understand is due to a lack of diligence and care in his learning. Since Rebbi felt that his student was careless, showing anger was a means to goad him to be more diligent in the future.”

When Rav Eliezer Schlesinger, zt”l, was asked to explain this he made a strong point. “It is true that Rebbi insulted Rav Levi. Yet you must consider that this is the best way to develop his student. It is important to note that we also find Rebbi complimenting Levi, for example, in Zevachim 30. Surely this was done in a properly balanced manner to educate Rav Levi in the best possible way.”

It’s important to note that what’s being advocated here isn’t insulting a person for lack of capacity or ability. This teaching is illustrating that the student, or the Master being addressed in such a harsh fashion should have known better. When serving a great Master and when serving God, we don’t get to be lazy about it. We were given gifts and skills that we are expected to use to our fullest. After all, we have been taught to love God with everything we’ve got (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Mark 12:30), so shouldn’t we serve Him to the absolute limits of who we are and what we can do?

While it is pleasant to be taught by a sage or an instructor who addresses us only with kindness, gentleness, and patience, as human beings, we often take advantage of such a teacher and only produce enough effort to “get by”. This is not the way of a disciple of a true sage and certainly not what is expected by the God we serve.

Do not limit yourself. Love God with all your heart. Serve God with all your effort. If you choose not to, be prepared to be discipled and humbled by the One who knows your very soul.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. –Proverbs 3:11-12