Tag Archives: cruelty

Walking East of Eden

walkingA person who has trust in G-d will be free from bothersome thoughts. He will not worry about what will be tomorrow if he has enough for today. He does not cause himself needless pain and discomfort by worrying that perhaps he will be lacking something in the future. A person who has trust in G-d feels no need to flatter other people. He will not veer from his principles for the hope of financial gain. Questions of how he will make a living do not bother him since he knows with clarity that it is impossible for him to have more or less than what the Almighty has decreed for him.

Even if there is a world crisis, he will not worry about his personal situation. He has trust that any misfortune which was not decreed upon him will not affect him. He walks in this world completely free from worries and sadness. He takes pleasure in what he has and feels no lack of possessions.

In short, if a person has trust in G-d, he has everything.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Today’s Daily Lift, #875”

In 1942, the first trainload of Jews in Holland were sent to concentration camps. A few years earlier, tens of thousands of Jews had fled from Germany to Holland, which maintained an open-door immigration policy. But soon after, the Nazis occupied Holland and proceeded to make it Judenrein (clean of Jews). Perhaps the most famous Dutch Jew was Anne Frank, a teenage girl whose diary has become the most widely-read account of life during the Holocaust. In 2005, Holland’s prime minister apologized for his country’s collaboration with the Nazis.

Day in Jewish History for Av 2

Does it seem odd that I post two such contradictory quotes side-by-side so to speak? That’s how they came to me yesterday (today, as I write this) by email from Aish. Thousands of Jews trusted in God. Thousands of Jews trusted in the Dutch to help them escape the Nazis. Things didn’t work out so well.

Yesterday, I wrote about how God provides everything we need including sufficient answers to our difficult questions. That isn’t to say He provides all the answers and we continue to struggle all our lives to draw closer to our Creator and to understand our place in the universe.

I’ve been a life-long “fan” of the NASA space program. I remember growing up hearing about the Mercury and Gemini projects. I used to long for the days when we’d have orbiting space stations, Moon bases, and manned rockets going to Mars. None of that really happened but I still follow the adventure. I’ve been recently following the news about Voyager 1 and whether or not it has left the solar system. My childhood fascination with space contributed to my early interest in science fiction and today, I’m reliving some of that by re-reading Arthur C. Clarke’s classic Rendezvous with Rama.

Exploring the universe tends to make one feel very small. But I never feel smaller than when I am confronted with human anger, hostility, and cruelty.

starry_night_7daysWe are still in the three weeks of mourning which started on Tammuz 17 and Tisha B’Av (Av 9) is rapidly approaching.

While I strive to maintain faith and trust in God, there are days when I get worn down. It’s not that God isn’t trustworthy and it’s not that He won’t fulfill all His promises, it’s just whether or not I’ll be able to hang on to that faith and trust long enough to see it through.

Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31 (NASB)

I suppose Jesus has the right to criticize Peter and the rest of us for our lack of faith, for even when Messiah’s own faith was tested, he endured.

And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.

Luke 22:39-44 (NASB)

I know that Jesus lived a human life and he suffered more than most. And yet, none of us are like Jesus, least of all me.

About a week ago, I posted another blog bringing into question the traditional Christian belief in the rapture. What will happen to the faithful should they suffer and not be rescued when they expect it?

It’s not my faith in God that’s being tested, it’s my faith in human beings. I know that God wants us to love one another even as we love Him (and even as He loves us), but He can never be faithless, cruel, mean, moody, disagreeable, hostile, frustrated, annoying, annoyed, and so on. Only we are like that and we are like that toward each other all the time.

No, this isn’t about being criticized on the Internet again. In fact, my little corner of the blogsophere has been pretty quiet these days. Not a lot of religious posturing is going on and it’s fairly easy to ignore what little is occurring.

And yet, the world of human beings keeps going on the same way it has since there have been human beings. It’s not just the petty slights of day-to-day living, but the whole panorama of human history that shows me human beings don’t change. In spite of the illusion of progressivism, the idea that we keep getting better and better as long as we keep becoming more and more socially and politically liberal, people die every day. There are wars every day. Women are assaulted, beaten, and raped every day. Human beings do cruel things every day, just like we always have.

No matter what I do, I’m not perfect even for one minute of any day, and no matter what I do, what mistakes I’ve made, how much I’ve tried to make amends, I’ll make another mistake, tomorrow, an hour from now, a minute from now.

alone-on-marsSometimes, looking back, I wonder if part of my interest in space exploration and science fiction is the desire to get away from it all. I think of the Mars One project actually working. What would it be like to stand on another planet, staring out into the distance, gazing into the vast desert of another world, one with very, very few human beings on it? What would it be like to be truly alone, where it’s quiet and peaceful and empty?

But all that is a fantasy, at least for me. I’m on Earth, where God has put all of us. I live in a broken world, and it spins and spins in a broken universe. And besides God, all we have is each other.

The souls are all one.
Only the bodies divide us.
Therefore, one who places the body before the spirit
can never experience true love or friendship.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“True Love”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I don’t know if I buy that part about all souls being one but I do agree that we are divided. There’s a difference between studying, reading, and writing religion and the actual doing of religion. In my opinion, there’s a difference between wearing tzitzit or laying tefillin or lighting the Shabbos candles because they’re written down in a book and doing the same things because you are responding to God with devotion and love. There’s probably even a difference between giving to charity or donating to a food bank because you think you should do it and because you are acting out of compassion.

The one thing that shows everyone your true motivation is if you can take insults or abuse or worse and still remain loving toward other people and toward God in every word and deed.

We are divided. We are separated from God and from each other. We have been since before Adam and Eve walked east out of Eden. We’ve been walking away from paradise ever since, even as we keep trying to walk toward it.

Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.

-Golda Meir

Lost Beyond Eden

Inner light“Do not despise any person and do not disdain anything for there is no person who does not have his hour and there is no thing without its place”

-Ben Azzai
from Pirkei Avot 4:3

Just as the soul fills the body, so does G‑d fill the world.” Our bodies are vitalized by our souls, but our souls themselves are invisible. Yet, through seeing the life in the body, one can appreciate the soul within. G‑d enlivens and creates the worlds, yet He is invisible. But He is evident in every creation.

-Talmud, Berachot 10a.

I don’t know what to write about for today. I know that’s pretty strange for me, since it seems that most of the time I can’t “shut up” in the blogosphere, but as I reviewed my “resources” for today (as I started to write this) and looked for inspiration, I didn’t find any.

Well, that’s not exactly true, hence the quotes above. But what do they mean and how can we apply them to our lives as people of faith (or as people in general)?

A few days ago, I related another problem I have with religious people. I lamented how hard-hearted we can be, some of us at least. How can anyone call themselves a disciple of Christ, and yet deliberately and with malice, kick a father when he’s down over the recent suicide of his son?

Yet in reviewing the comments on Dr. Michael Brown’s article Enough With the Mean-Spirited Words Against Rick Warren (And Others)!, I found both the good and the bad.

The good:

Thank you Michael Brown, thats maturity talking. I dont understand why people cannot have compassion. When Jesus saw the people he was moved with compassion. We can agree to disagree but personal attacks especially in an emotional time like this is horrible.

The bad:

While I agree with most of your article, I suppose that vitrolic “bashers” are thinking it is pay back time for Warren; not that I support this idea or their behaviour. Rick Warren has assumed the limelight and as any celebrity is exposed to the dangers of that. While the behaviour is indeed unmerciful, Rev. Warren must have expected it and must know how to insulate himself. He is after all a professional.

Well, the bad wasn’t horrible, but the comment writer still assumes that Pastor Warren should “suck it up” so to speak, since he’s a professional.

He’s also a father, a fellow Christian, and a human being, and he, like the rest of us, was created in God’s image. When we desecrate another human being, we desecrate the image of God.

Lakanta (played by Tom Jackson): What do you think is sacred to us here?
Wesley Crusher (played by Wil Wheaton): Maybe the necklace you’re wearing? The designs on the walls?
Lakanta: Everything is sacred to us – the buildings, the food, the sky, the dirt beneath your feet – and you. Whether you believe in your spirit or not, we believe in it. You are a sacred person here, Wesley.
Wesley: I think that’s the first time anyone’s used that particular word to describe me.
Lakanta: You must treat yourself with respect. To do otherwise is to desecrate something that is holy.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
from the episode Journey’s End (broadcast date 26 Mar. 1994)

That’s probably one of my favorite quotes from any Star Trek TV show, both because it expresses a rare spirituality for modern television, and because it speaks a rare truth. Each of us is sacred to God and we should be sacred to each other (most of the time, we’re not). If we could see all other human beings, including ourselves, from God’s point of view, we would see a planet populated by sacred, holy people; all of us being in God’s own image.

The statement that we are created in the image of G‑d means that we were formed as a reflection of our Creator’s attributes and characteristics. This cannot be taken to mean that we literally look, feel or think like G‑d does, because He has no form and is not limited in any way. Rather, we are like a one-dimensional reflection of a real object. From the reflection we can have an inkling of the original, but the reflection is literally nothing in comparison to the original.

-Rabbi Menachem Posner
“What is the ‘Divine Image’ in Man?”

This week’s double Torah Portion TazriaMetzora relates an important lesson about how we treat God’s image.

“He (the person afflicted with tzora’as) shall be brought to Aharon the priest or unto one of his sons the priests.”

Leviticus 13:2

The Dubno Magid said that many people speak loshon hora because they are not fully aware of the power of the spoken word. How often people rationalize, “I didn’t do anything to him, I only said a few words.” The metzora, who has been afflicted with tzora’as because of his speaking loshon hora, is taught a lesson about the power of a single word. He must go to a priest who will decide if he is a metzora or not. Just one word by the priest (“Unclean!”) will completely isolate him from society. No more will the metzora minimize the destructive capability of words.

Words can destroy. They can destroy someone’s reputation. They can destroy friendships. They can destroy someone’s successful business or someone’s marriage. Therefore, we must be careful with them as we would be with explosive material.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Tazria-Metzora

Adam-and-Even-Expelled-from-ParadiseYou must go no further than the religious blogosphere or Christian discussion boards to find the worst examples of loshon hora (the “evil tongue”) among us. Periodically, most of us who write religion-based blogs are victims of such behavior, almost always from our fellow believers. I’m rarely “picked on” by atheists or people from other religious disciples. It’s always from the people with whom I share a nearly identical view of God, Jesus, and the Bible.

More’s the pity.

Adam trudged past the gates of Eden, his head low, his feet heavy with remorse and pain.

Then he stopped, spun around and exclaimed, “Wait a minute! You had this all planned! You put that fruit there knowing I would eat from it! This is all a plot!”

There was no reply.

Without failure, Man can never truly reach into the depths of his soul. Only once he has failed can he return and reach higher and higher without end. Beyond Eden.

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

The irony is that the minute we lower ourselves to claim superiority over a brother or sister of Christ, we have failed. Participating in gossip and “badmouthing” others drags us down…it never lifts us up. While, according to midrash, Adam “trudged past the gates of Eden, his head low, his feet heavy with remorse and pain,” most people committing loshon hora hold their heads up high and feel superior in “bringing down” a “false teacher” or some Christian who they perceive (within their own imaginations sometimes) has “fallen from grace.”

News flash: blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make your burn any brighter and in fact, the very light you are extinguishing is your own.

We all fail. By even in pointing out how Christians fail, in some sense, I’m failing. I’m being critical of my fellow believers. I am speaking ill of them. I should be trudging past the gates of Eden, my head low, my feet heavy with remorse and pain.

And I do. I do, even if I’m not personally guilty of misusing my tongue or, in this case, my fingers, because I am a Christian. I am a member of the body of believers. One of the other parts in the body I share has failed. That means the body I inhabit is tainted and since the outside world can’t tell the difference between one body part and the next, that means we’re all tainted. Christianity (or whatever you call your version of the disciples of the Messiah) is disgraced whenever even one of us behaves poorly. God’s Holy and Sacred Name is dragged through the foul mud and muck. In trying to bring down “false teachers” by criticizing them over the untimely death of their children, we actually bring down God and bring down ourselves.

The Image of God is sullied and soiled, all thanks to us.

walking-home-to-edenBut as Rabbi Freeman also says, “Without failure, Man can never truly reach into the depths of his soul. Only once he has failed can he return and reach higher and higher without end. Beyond Eden.” Like the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-32, we too must fail completely before the path of repentance and return is open to us.

Rabbi Freeman also speaks of this:

Return is the ultimate act of self-expression.

Nobody returns because he is commanded to do so. The ability to return comes from you alone.

And that itself is the evidence that you were never truly torn away: The outer garments of the soul may have been severed, but the core remained at every moment in intimate union with its Source. And from there came the message to return.

It is possible to redeem the Name and Image of God, but we must be willing to admit when we fail. We must be willing to return to God humbled and even humiliated. If men like Pastor Rick Warren have faults, they are completely beside the point right now. The Christians who have truly failed are those who took advantage of the suicide of his son Matthew to attack Pastor Warren and his family. They (we) are the prodigal sons. If we are wise, we will return to God in submissiveness. There is a way back.

Or we can continue to walk away from Eden and away from God forever, even as we operate under the illusion that we are His and He is ours through Messiah.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 16:18

We can remain arrogant and lose ourselves in the darkness beyond Eden, or return and walk back home in humility and to the service of the King. Which choice will we make?

“Saints are sinners who kept on going.”

-Robert Louis Stevenson
Scottish novelist, poet and essayist