Tag Archives: dancing

Korach: Learning How to Dance

korach-buried-aliveThere are two rebellions this week. First, Korach, a Levite, was passed over for the leadership of his tribe and then challenges Moshe over the position of High Priest. No good rebellion can be “sold” as a means for personal gain, so Korach convinces 250 men of renown that they must stand up for a matter of principle — that each and every one of them has the right to the office of High Priest (which Moshe had announced that God had already designated his brother, Aharon, to serve).

Fascinatingly, all 250 followers of Korach accept Moshe’s challenge to bring an offering of incense to see who God will choose to fill the one position. This meant that every man figured he would be the one out of 250 to not only be chosen, but to survive the ordeal. Moshe announces that if the earth splits and swallows up the rebels it is a sign that he (Moshe) is acting on God’s authority. And thus it happened!

The next day the entire Israelite community rises in a second rebellion and complains to Moshe, “You have killed God’s people!” The Almighty brings a plague which kills 14,700 people and only stops when Aharon offers an incense offering.

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

A fanatic is someone who redoubles his efforts while losing sight of his goal.

-George Santayana

You’d think after seeing the deaths of Korach and the 250 rebels that the rest of the Children of Israel would have been frightened enough to back away from speaking against Moses, Aaron, and ultimately God. Unfortunately, they seemed to have panicked and panic has no reason. Neither does fanaticism which is defined as “a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal, particularly for a religious or political cause or with an obsessive enthusiasm…the fanatic displays very strict standards and little tolerance for contrary ideas or opinions.”

Since I blog in the world of religion, I suppose that someone could come along and accuse me of being a fanatic when I defend a particular point of view and don’t acquiesce to another’s contrary viewpoint. But then I hope there is a difference between steadfast determination and being a fanatic.

Korach and the 250 didn’t back down and neither did the Israelite community until after over 14,000 people died. What does it take for the rest of us to look at a situation, know when to press ahead with our point, and know when to back away?

In describing in his commentary how not to argue, Rabbi Packouz lists nine points. One of them is:

Turn the argument into a discussion. Don’t defend a position; set forth an idea or problem to be clarified. People of good will who reason together can come to a common conclusion. Listen with an open mind. Be a judge, not a lawyer!

calvinism-vs-arminianismIn the blogosphere, it’s difficult to keep a discussion into spilling over the threshold of civility into an argument. A lot of religious people take a “my way or the highway” stance with the theologies and doctrines to which they adhere. My exploration into Calvinism vs. Arminianism is a good example of such a dialog. So far, no one has come along on my blog to take me to task for my viewpoint in that debate, but if I found the right venue for the discussion, I’m sure a “passionate” exchange would occur. There have indeed been such debates in the comments section of my blog in the past.

So how do we know when we are defending a position for our faith and for the sake of God as opposed to our own ego and bullheadedness?

This week’s Torah portion tells the story of Korach’s dispute with Moshe. The mishna (a teaching) in Pirke Avot 5:20, states that “Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will be of lasting worth and one not for the sake of Heaven will not be of lasting worth. Which dispute was for the sake of Heaven? That of Hillel and Shamai. Which was not for the sake of Heaven? That of Korach and his company.”

That’s part of the Dvar Torah presented in Rabbi Packouz’s commentary. Here’s something similar.

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

Acts 5:33-39 (NRSV)

I suppose this isn’t the first time this passage from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles has been compared to the Korach rebellion. The trick is to know our own motivation, which is harder than you may think. A good many people have been utterly convinced that they were arguing and even fighting for what is good and right, only to ultimately discover that their motives were totally selfish. Human beings are very good at self-delusion, sometimes with disastrous results.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father 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 deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”

Matthew 7:21-23 (NRSV)

Woman in the darkThat’s a terrifying thought. I don’t doubt that those of whom the Master speaks sincerely believed (some of them, anyway) that they were “fighting the good fight,” speaking prophesies in his name, casting out demons in his name, and doing many other powerful things in the name of Christ. What bitter disappointment will they suffer when they find they are completely rejected and in fact have been following the wrong path all along.

And how do I know for sure that the path I am following is the right one? How do I know if I will be among those accepted in the Kingdom or tossed out in the dark?

Remember, self-delusion is incredibly common with people.

The mishna should have said that the dispute not for the sake of Heaven was that of Korach and Moshe, not between Korach and his fellow conspirators! Why didn’t the mishna mention Moshe as the antagonist? Korach started the dispute for his own personal gain (not for the sake of Heaven) while Moshe was upholding the Almighty’s word and the Almighty’s honor (you can’t get more “for the sake of Heaven” than this!)

Why then does the mishna mention that a dispute not for the sake of Heaven is the one between “Korach and his company”? We might think that Korach and his company were united in their argument with Moshe. The mishna is telling us that each of the 250 was challenging Moshe for his own gain (remember, each one brought incense to see if he himself would be chosen as the Cohen Gadol, High Priest.) In truth, Korach and his congregation were in dispute amongst themselves as to who should be the High Priest.

The mishna points us in a direction, but the effort to maintain an understanding of our motives belongs to us. Every time we take a strong position, we must ask ourselves, “am I doing this for the Master’s glory or for my own?” When my opinion is challenged and I strongly defend my point of view, I must ask if it is for the sake of Heaven that I do this or only because I want to be “right?”

If confronted with the knowledge that I’m acting for my own interests, would I be willing to admit I am wrong? In such a discussion is it very wise to make such an admission. Rabbi Packouz comments.

No one is ever totally right. Find something to apologize for, to take responsibility for. The other person will feel better and may even own up to some mistakes of his/her own.

I spent nearly a year writing about my journey of discovery and ultimately had to admit I was wrong about my original “one law” assumptions that I had made years before and never questioned.

I don’t think that I made my assumptions solely out of self-interest or ego, but once my assumptions were confronted by others, my ego and the need to be “right” was definitely engaged. I can tell you that it is a difficult and painful thing to realize many of the attitudes and beliefs I held were incorrect, and letting them go was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

But if I didn’t let them go, especially in the face of overwhelming evidence and with the realization of the damage I was doing, especially in my home, the price to be paid would have been much, much more dear.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 14:8-11 (NRSV)

Waiting to danceThis is a good test for fanaticism, because a fanatic cannot be humble. It feels too “dangerous” to back down, too vulnerable to be silent about something that’s important. Rabbi Packouz suggests that being silent and, when talking, speaking with a soft voice are two ways to avoid arguing. If you can maintain your composure, agree with the points being made by the other person you feel are correct, and admit it when you know you are wrong (letting yourself even consider that you could be wrong is a step in the right direction), then it is very likely that you are not being fanatical about what you’re trying to communicate.

Then your mind and heart are most likely clear enough to determine when you are tempted to argue for the sake of your own ego or sense of vulnerability, and when you are standing up and being a voice for the sake of Heaven.

But you have to be sure to constantly be your own critic, questioning what you’re doing and why.

Leslie (Diana Muldaur – voice): “You seem quieter than usual tonight.”
Batman (Kevin Conroy – voice): “Every time I come here, I wonder if it should be the last time. . . Put the past behind me. . . Try to lead a normal life.”
Leslie: “Santayana says that ‘those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it’.”
Batman: “He also said ‘a fanatic is someone who redoubles his efforts while losing sight of his goal.'”

-from the episode “I Am the Night”
Batman: The Animated Series (1992)

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

-Troy Mitchell

I often question why I write this blog at all. What good does it do? Am I doing it to help build the Kingdom of Heaven or just because I like to see my words posted on the web? Blind certitude is something I can’t afford. I don’t think it’s something any of us can afford. This isn’t a matter of fighting to see who wins and who loses, but the pursuit of interaction and cooperation so that we can mutually seek out an encounter with God.

Our work involves trying to dance when others only know how to wrestle.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar

The lesson of Korach is that we need to learn not how to wrestle, but how to dance.

Good Shabbos.

110 days.

Life Under Repair

Question: I’ve been enjoying the philosophy articles on Aish.com. The approach to life resonates with me much more than the Western style of consumerism and media hype. Regarding the obligatory nature of mitzvot, however, I think sometimes humans have to disregard the boundary and be disobedient against the command. It might be painful, but I believe you come away with a higher appreciation that God and His commands are ultimately correct. Do you agree with this thinking?

The Aish Rabbi Replies: You have touched on a deep truth, but ultimately your principle is mistaken. The Talmud states: “In a place where a reformed sinner stands, even a righteous tzaddik does not stand.” The idea is that after having erred, you can analyze your negative acts, learn from them, and use that knowledge as a foundation to motivate you further.

While all this seems to imply that it is better to make mistakes and then correct them, rather than never have made the mistake in the first place, that is not true.

Let’s take the mundane example of the rule: “Always look both ways before crossing the street.” There are two ways to learn this lesson: 1) Listen to the advice of teachers and parents to look both ways before crossing, or 2) cross recklessly, get hit by a car, and then while lying in the hospital acknowledge a lesson well-learned.

The problem in choosing the second path is that there is always a residual effect from our mistakes. A teenager who experiments with drugs may grow up to realize the dangers, but a lot of brain cells have been killed in the meantime.

“Intentional Mistakes”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series

(I almost didn’t post the first picture that appears in today’s “meditation” because of its provocative elements, but of all the similar images I found, this one came closest to communicating what I wanted to say.)

In a comment on Gene Shlomovich’s recent blog post How Jesus may have viewed conversion to Judaism, I mentioned how I corrected one of my mistakes:

To be fair, many non-Jewish “Messianics” were taught for years or even decades that there was “One Law for the native-born and the alien” and that information is well ingrained into their psyche and identity. Now that “the movement” has evolved and more accurate information is available relative to how the Bible defines the roles of “Messianic” Gentiles and Jews, it is very hard for some to surrender a status or role that they’ve become quite used to.

I remember when FFOZ (First Fruits of Zion) first announced that they had been wrong in supporting the One Law position and that they were correcting their teachings and organizational stance. I felt angry and betrayed and shot off a very pointed comment or two on Facebook in response. It was like being given an important and valuable gift and becoming comfortable with it, then having it suddenly ripped away.

I suppose I could have become one of those angry “deniers” and continued to “demand my right” to “Torah obligation,” but I started to think. FFOZ had financially just shot themselves in the foot. A large number of their constituents simply abandoned them, abruptly and significantly reducing their income. Why would they do that when in any practical sense, even if privately they’d come to the conclusion that One Law was unsustainable Biblically and theologically, they should have publicly maintained their OL position in order to make sure they survived as a ministry? Their decision only made sense if moral and spiritual honesty were more important to them than an income.

I became curious and started investigating. At about the same time, I started looking at my wife’s pursuit of her Jewish identity as an individual and as a member of the Jewish community through different eyes. Long story short, I realized that I had been wrong in my One Law assumptions and shifted my perceptual and theological paradigm accordingly.

But to say that it was difficult is a gross understatement. A lot of people aren’t capable of that kind of change. I even recently wrote about how difficult it is to “share Abraham” so to speak, and accept that only certain blessings are passed down to the nations (Christians) through Israel. Exchanging self-entitlement for a more mature reality is very hard and not everyone is going to accept it.

Frankly, and not to necessarily contradict the Aish rabbi from whom I quoted above, I don’t see how some mistakes can be avoided. I mean, we all make mistakes. Some are actually part of the human developmental learning process. Take walking for example. When a small child is first learning how to stand and walk, the child falls a lot. Falling isn’t a mistake at this stage of development, it’s a requirement and it’s perfectly normal and expected. No small child has ever (to the best of my knowledge) spontaneously stood and walked with absolute precision on the very first try, and never fell back to the floor. Everybody falls the first time, or the first dozen times, or the first few hundred times.

I think trying to understand God and trying to understand who we are in God is like learning how to stand and walk. We get a lot of things wrong at first, but that’s to be expected. Just conceptualizing the existence of God is tremendously difficult, and integrating faith, trust, hope, and spirituality into a daily lifestyle can escape even some of the best of us. I would hardly expect anyone to become “good at it” right off the bat. In fact, most of us never get really “good at it.” We continue to struggle, to learn, and we periodically fall flat on our faces.

That’s how I’d characterize my own spiritual development, anyway. I suspect that if we were all honest with ourselves and everyone else, every person of faith would admit to the same thing. Only pride keeps us from doing so. We’re afraid of looking foolish. We’re afraid of what other people will say. We’re afraid of just letting go of all that and, like a little child, accepting what God has given us from His abundant store of gifts.

For seven days of Sukkot, Jews walk around in circles, carrying an assortment of green and yellow flora. Then, on Simchat Torah, they dance in circles carrying Hebrew scrolls, working up to a frenzy.

Did I say dance? Well, it’s more like marching, your hands over the next guy’s shoulders, singing and stomping as you march to . . . the same place you started from. Repeat until you plotz. (Yiddish: collapse)

Now for my confession…

When I was first invited, cajoled and nudniked to join the circular festivities, I was more than hesitant. I attempted to explain that I didn’t see the point of walking in such a way that you don’t get any further than where you started. Needless to say, the argument was ignored, and I was swept into the circle whether I liked it or not.

And I felt stupid. For about the first 40,000 circuits. After that, I forgot about myself and how I felt and what I was doing and why I was doing it and whether I was stupid and that I was there at all. And that’s when the circle became good. Very good.

It was good exactly due to that which I had subliminally feared. Because as I stand here, I am I. In the circle, that I dissolves into we. And in that very act of transcendence, that loss of self, there is unbounded joy.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Why Jews Dance in Circles”
Commentary on Sukkot and Simchat Torah

While being embarrassed and feeling foolish (and avoiding joy) aren’t exactly mistakes, these are experiences that, if we allow them to, will prevent us from correcting mistakes and lead us into a lifestyle based on error and fear. In fact, many people try so hard to avoid embarrassment, foolishness, and the tremendous effort that change requires once it’s discovered, that they live in self-denial, never even permitting themselves to realize that what they are living is a mistake. That is why so many people (and I know atheists must think this about religious people) can “stand their ground” and “stand up for their rights” with total conviction of purpose, and still be dead wrong.

But remember, even in the lesson we learned from the Aish Rabbi, it’s only a mitzvah if we realize we made a mistake and corrected it. And, remember as well that it would have been better to never have made the mistake in the first place.

We can’t avoid making a mistake. We fall so that we can learn to pick ourselves up. Although mistakes are regrettable, they are also part and parcel of the human experience. Falling down is an obvious mistake when our intention was to walk. Many human mistakes are far more subtle and even when we want to be honest, it can be difficult to see past our own assumptions, prejudices, and pride.

To conquer even our unintentional and unconscious errors, we must learn to question everything about ourselves. Why do I believe in such-and-thus? Is it because I grew up believing this? Did someone teach me this belief when I was cognitively or spiritually immature? Examining the same information now that I am more educated, more mature, and more stable, will I reach the same conclusions that I did before?

These are all very dangerous questions and they can make us feel extremely insecure in areas that are absolutely the foundation of our existence. You don’t have to question your faith in God, but you do have to question what that faith means and how it is to be expressed. While people can change, most people don’t once they arrive at a certain comfortable plateau. The trick is never to completely rest on that plateau. It’s not your destination. Keep climbing, even if you feel uncomfortable, even if you feel nervous or foolish. The truth is always one level higher than you’ve ascended so far.

Or like Rabbi Freeman, after dancing in pointless circles the first 40,000 times or so, eventually, you’ll see that pursuing the joy of God is more important than how you feel or what you look like to others. Fixing mistakes and repairing your life is a mitzvah. So is longing for God. The two go hand in hand.

Climb. Dance.



Do you remember the thrill of hitting a home run? Getting out on the last day of school? Riding your new bicycle? You jump with joy. Fantastic!

Joy gives you energy and makes you feel great. You can achieve all kinds of things that otherwise may seem too difficult to attempt. With joy, you’re not afraid to talk to the guy sitting next to you on the plane. No problem! You’ve got energy, buoyancy. You’re alive!

True joy comes from the pleasure of growth and self-actualization – when we conquer a difficult challenge, or experience a moment of clarity.

When your team wins the World Series, or when you win the lottery, the joy is a delusion. Why? Because you did not change or grow.

Joy cannot result from events, from “good things happening to you.” Joy is solely the result of your reaction to life, your commitment to turning every moment into a growth experience. A new baby means you have to extend yourself at all hours of the day and night. That’s not easy. But if you focus – even at 3 a.m. – you’ll recognize this as real joy.

Do significant things and you will have more joy. If you are fighting for a cause, you are making an impact on the world. You are heavy. You are eternal.

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“Way #8, Constant Joy”
48 Ways to Wisdom

“Oh well,” he said after a moment. “Then I’ll dance, boss. Sit further away, so I don’t barge into you.”

He made a leap, rushed out of the hut, cast off his shoes, his coat, his vest, rolled his trousers up to his knees, and started dancing. His face was still black with coal. The whites of his eyes gleamed.

He threw himself into the dance, clapping his hands, leaping and pirouetting in the air, falling on to his knees, leaping again with his legs tucked up – it was as if he were made of rubber. He suddenly made tremendous bounds in to the air, as if he wished to conquer the laws of nature and fly away. One felt that in this old body of his there was a soul struggling to carry away this flesh and cast itself like a meteor into the darkness. It shook the body which fell back to earth, since it could not stay very long in the air; it shot it again pitilessly, this time a little higher, but the poor body fell again, breathless.

-Nikos Kazantzakis
Zorba the Greek (1946)

Joy is usually an occasional or even rare event in our lives, not a constant companion. But then, how many of us could endure a constant state of joy, as if we were old Zorba, pushing our bodies to the limit, dancing and leaping and trying to defy gravity until we finally collapse on the ground exhausted?

Actually, this sounds like another “unlikely sage” I described last spring; Moshe the Shepherd, who also expressed unbounded joy with almost limitless energy.

Then he got up and said, “Master of the world, I’m just a simple shepherd; I don’t know any Torah, and I don’t know how to pray. What can I do for You? The only thing I know is to sing shepherds’ songs!” He then began to sing loudly and fervently with all his strength until, again, he fell to the earth, exhausted, without an ounce of energy.

-Yitzchak Buxbaum
“The Shepherd”
from his book, Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov
quoted from Chabad.org

It’s the day after Yom Kippur. Either you feel elated or depressed. Like Elaina Cline said, “I used to hate Yom Kippur. Every year, as we blew the shofar and rushed home to eat, I would secretly breathe a huge sigh of relief. It was finally over – all the misery, the moroseness, the fear – until next year.”

You can hate Yom Kippur. You can dread confronting the darkest side of your soul. Or you can take joy in the opportunity to realize that what is worst about you is not who you really are. You are really a soul full of joy, singing, leaping, striving to reach your Creator, and to dance with God.

God does not desire that we remain in our pit of mud, sorrow, and regret. He didn’t create us to simply suffer and cry. We must have joy; we must take joy in Him, in all that He’s done for us, for creating our life, for giving us ambition and purpose, for granting us wings so that we can fly.

What is G‑d’s ultimate delight?

That a human soul will build portals of light so that the Creator’s presence may shine into His creation.

That a breath from His essence will pull herself out from the mud and turn to Him in love.

That a child of His being, exiled to the shadows of a physical world, will discover that the darkness is nothing more than Father hiding, waiting for His child to discover Him there.

But none of these can reach to the essence of all delights, the origin of all things, the hidden pleasure beyond all pleasures: The delight that this breath, this soul, this child did it all on its own.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Ultimate Delight”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Sukkah in the rainSukkot is coming soon; a time to build and decorate, a time to eat, drink, and celebrate. Who better to invite to the party than God. How shall we call out to Him and express our joy?

“And my tongue will express Your charity. Your praise all day long.”

Psalms 35:28

The charity that King David was referring to was the kindness and charity that the Almighty bestowed on him. Out of gratitude and appreciation for this, King David would praise Hashem all day long.

Fulfillment of this one verse would guarantee a person a life of happiness and gratitude – an elevated and spiritual life.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“A Guarantee of Happiness”
Daily Lift #587

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

Psalm 95:1-6 (ESV)

Although life is no bed of roses and we face our burdens and struggles every day, God is with us. He cares about us, and makes the way clear for us to approach Him, from the greatest to the smallest, all of His creatures. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. Even in the midst of your troubles, count it all joy.

Shavua Tov, chodesh tov, and shana tova!

And Don’t Forget To Dance

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

-John Lennon
Imagine (1971)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)

I hate to keep picking on Joe and Heidi, but their continual battle with cancer is a continual inspiration to me. More than that, it’s their courage, faith, and humor in the face of living a nearly impossible life that is the real inspiration. It puts to shame most of us who complain about our rather modest discomforts.

The first thing I thought of when I saw the photo of Joe and Heidi dancing, and knowing something about the hardships they face was, “this is what it must be like to watch people dancing in Heaven.” Then I thought about the “no more tears” portion from John’s Revelation. Then I thought about writing.

And here I am.

But what if, as John Lennon suggested, that there is no Heaven. What if we face insurmountable hardships, heartbreak, tragedy, and sorrow with no hope and no end except a black and empty death? How would that change us? What would it make human behavior like?

Or is this why the world is in the shape it’s in today? Because the majority of the world, as Lennon suggested, believes there is no Heaven…no accountability…no God?

I know I’m going to experience some serious “blowback” about that comment from secular humanists and atheists who see themselves as the greater moral force in the world and I can’t say they’re not. It doesn’t take a belief in God in order to do good. However, I think it takes such a belief to give it all a greater meaning beyond our temporal context. But some atheists cast themselves in the superior role because they don’t do good just to satisfy some abstract and alien being sitting in judgment on a throne. They do so because…um, why? Because it’s the right thing to do? But how do they know? How does anyone know?

Where do we get the idea that something is good and some other thing isn’t? What is “good” and what is “evil?” How do you know? If you’re an atheist, there is no moral structure attached to your belief since not believing in God isn’t value laden. It simply means you don’t believe a supernatural being created the universe and is involved in our lives.

What if there is no Heaven for Joe and Heidi? What would it mean in terms of the overwhelming fight they’ve been waging against cancer? Have they been praying to empty air? Has the courage they’ve gotten from faith been in vain?

Based on Lennon’s lyrics, he seemed to believe that if we deconstructed all human (and supernatural) infrastructures, organizations, groupings, and distinctions, the world of human beings would be a better place. Maybe it would be, I don’t know. It won’t happen because human beings absolutely need to identify, label, and organize their environment in order to make any sort of sense of it. All people groups use two basic names. One for themselves and the other for everyone else. Those names mean something to them and to us. Of course, they might not mean the same things.

When I say I’m a Christian, I mean a particular thing. Other people hear that label and perhaps comprehend it in a different way than I do. Some people hear that label and comprehend it in the most negative possible light. In their world, they have one name for themselves, which means they’re “good”, but the name “Christian” or “Jew” means something that bad, wrong, immoral, or evil (and where did the concepts of good and evil come from, anyway?)

But from inside my point of view and from inside my faith, I don’t perceive my faith to be evil. I know I am not a perfect person and I have made mistakes. I’ll make mistakes again. I don’t brag about it or enjoy it, but that’s part of what it is to be a flawed human being living in an broken world. And after all, human beings broke it.

I’m accountable not just to other human beings (my wife, my family, my employer, the government), but I’m accountable to a force that is larger than human institutions and an intelligence that comprehends the infinite mysteries of the universe. For me, there is a greater sense of morality and ethics that exists and One who is the origin of what it is to be good or to be evil.

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” –Romans 7:7 (ESV)

Sometimes it helps to have an external standard to help us define our role in life. For those of us who have faith, God is that standard. For those without faith, I suppose our government, or the news media, or a social organization will have to do. I can’t tell anyone else how to live their lives, but it would be wonderful if others would stop insisting they have the right to tell me to abandon my faith. But that’s the way of the world. If faith isn’t strong enough to withstand the winds of criticism from society, it will never stand up against the brutal storms of some disaster like cancer.

So Joe and Heidi showed me what it’s like to dance in Heaven this morning. As I looked at their photo, all of the sorrow and grief and hostility of the world surrounding me momentarily faded away. Imagine there is no Heaven if you want. But grasping hold of my faith not only gives me peace about the future, but the strength to carry on in the harsh and uncertain present and to try to do a little good in the world I live in every day. I pray, whoever you are reading this, that you can find the same.

In your worldly business, just do what needs to be done and trust in G-d to fill in the rest.

In your spiritual business, however, you’ll have to take the whole thing on your own shoulders. Don’t rely on G-d to heal the sick, help the poor, educate the ignorant and teach you Torah.

He’s relying on you.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Make it Your Business”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

And don’t forget to dance.