Tag Archives: envy

Why Do Christians Hate Judaism?

This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded, saying…

Bamidbar/Numbers 19:2

Rashi explains that the unusual introduction of “this is the decree of the Torah” (rather than an introduction specific to the subject of parah adumah), is a response to Satan and the nations, who tauntingly ask, “What is the purpose of this commandment?,” to which the Torah answers that it is a decree from Hashem, and it is not for anyone to question it.

-from “A Torah Thought for the Day,” p.62
Sunday’s commentary on Parashas Chukas
A Daily Dose of Torah

I’m continuing to write on the general theme of the role of non-Jews in Messianic Jewish community, a study started in this blog post and most recently addressed in yesterday’s morning meditation.

Chana Sara in her blog post from a few years back asks Where Do I Fit? It’s certainly a question I keep asking myself, both in relation to my decision to study the Bible through the lens of Judaism and particularly Messianic Judaism, and the larger existential question of where do I fit in my relationship to God.

Once you accept that any sort of connection to God must go through Israel, the Jewish people, and especially through the exceedingly Jewish Messianic King, then you must come to the realization that in order to relate to God you must enter into a completely alien world, that is, alien for the non-Jew. You must enter a Jewish world or at least a worldview.

Even many secular Jews feel, when attempting to observe a mitzvah or when attending a synagogue prayer service, that they are also “strangers in a strange land.” True, they are Jews in the midst of Jewish community, but the traditions, the customs, the halachah, the Hebrew, if you haven’t been raised in an observant home nor had the benefit of a traditional Jewish education, can seem even to the ethnic Jew, like a trip down the rabbit hole to “wonderland.”

And most people become uncomfortable when faced with the unfamiliar and the unknown. People become defensive and even hostile when thrown abruptly into an alien environment. We prefer what we’re used to.

Chana Sara wrote in the aforementioned blog post:

As a ba’alat teshuva, I have a lot of questions when it comes to where I “fit” within Judaism. I was born into a conservative Judaism family, meaning that my mother can’t part from the egalitarian idea of the conservative movement, but keeps conservative standards of kosher and Shabbat.

As soon as I had my bat mitzvah I don’t remember going back to shul for any reason. Possibly the high holidays, but possibly not even then.

jewish women prayingThis is a commentary on a Jewish journey into Yiddishkeit, which is also a journey my wife embarked upon a number of years ago. I remember the struggles she faced in her first attempts to connect to Jewish community and Jewish observant praxis. How much more difficult is it for the non-Jew, with no direct connection to Jewish community and lifestyle, to face the challenge of entering the Jewish world in order to comprehend and obey the Jewish Messiah?

I understand that God is not just the God of Israel but also the God of the nations, but every shred of Biblical content that we have with us today was produced by Jews, and, for the most part, for Jews. Only certain sections of the Bible directly address the nations, and not all of those references relate to us kindly. Amalek comes to mind.

The commentary I quoted from at the top of the page, specifies those commandments in the Torah that have no discernible reason or purpose, but nevertheless must be followed because they are God’s will for the Jewish people. Rashi’s interpretation of the above-quoted verse from Numbers supposes that HaSatan, the adversary, and the Goyim, the Gentiles, would criticize the Israelites for observing such commands or would actually bring into question the Torah as the Word of God based on what appears to be a collection of meaningless decrees.

And therein lies the root of my question, “Why Do Christians Hate Judaism?” I know “hate” is a strong word and I use it in part for dramatic emphasis as opposed to literal meaning. Most Christians don’t actually hate the Jewish religion or form of worship, but they do believe that it is merely a religion of works which exists in opposition to Christ and the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace.

I also don’t mean to indicate that Christians hate the Jewish people or the state of Israel. Many Evangelical churches say they love the Jewish people, and no doubt, they are sincere. Of course, that love for Jews and national Israel is predicated on a very Christian understanding of the eschatological meaning of the existence of Jews and Israel relative to the second coming of Christ.

This brings us back to those Christians who have come to realize that what they’ve learned from the pulpit or in Sunday school isn’t, strictly speaking, the exact Gospel message Messiah and his apostles taught in the late Second Temple period. Once we have learned that the Church’s current theology and doctrine is all based on a two-thousand year old mistake and is the result of a violent divorce between the early Jewish and Gentile Yeshua disciples, then we’re faced with a horrible reality.

In an ekklesia that is wholly Jewish and that can be only understood and communicated with through a wholly Jewish process, a process alien to anything we were formerly taught as Christians in our churches, who are we, what do we do, and where do we go to pursue our faith given this totally Jewish contextual reality?

unworthyDo you see where this might cause some anxiety or even a crisis of faith among the devout Gentiles when facing a life within Jewish community and educational space?

Do you see why Christianity was invented in the first place, as an alternative to this crisis, as a means to take control over worship of God and devotion to Christ by redefining it as Gentile and not Jewish?

Although my father’s recent illness is the primary reason I chose to abandon plans to be in Israel right now, another reason was the idea that, as a Gentile (and a flawed, imperfect human being) who is oriented toward but can never be a part of Israel, who am I to set foot in the Holy Land?

However, there are other responses to this crisis. There are some Christians who have walked away from the Church but who still do not feel comfortable surrendering their identity to Jewish interpretation. They have invented a world of their own which states that while they are not ethnically Jewish, nevertheless, they are Israel as much as the Jewish people are, and thus they are as obligated to the Torah of Moses as any observant Jew.

But there’s a caveat.

They still reject Judaism, or at least Judaism as it has evolved over the past nearly twenty centuries. They reject, for the most part, that entity we know as Rabbinic Judaism, the “traditions of the elders,” the so-called “made up” laws that add on to or perhaps even defy the plain meaning of the written Torah.

Now here’s the trick.

If we Messianic Gentiles accept Messianic Judaism as a Judaism, and accept the validity of the teachings of the Jewish Sages, teachings which, for the most part, have nothing to do with us, then what does that mean for us? For understandable reasons, as much as Christianity has rejected Judaism, Judaism has rejected Christianity. They aren’t on speaking terms and can barely stand being in the same room with each other.

JerusalemOnce we Gentile believers come to a Messianic Jewish understanding of the Bible, the Messiah, and God, once we see how much God loves Israel, how special Israel is to God, and how we people of the nations are only saved through Israel and not because the nations have any sort of direct covenant connection with God, what is our most likely initial response?

The Torah states, “And Korach, the son of Yitzhor, the son of Kehas, the son of Levy, took …” Why does the Torah take the time to tell us his lineage?

Rashi, the great French commentator, explains that the key reason for Korach’s rebellion was his envy of his cousin, Elizaphan the son of Uziel, who was appointed prince of the tribe of Levy. Moshe’s father was the first of four brothers and his sons were the leader of the Jewish people and the High Priest; Korach figured that since he himself was the firstborn of the second son, that he should have been appointed the Prince of the Tribe of Levy.

Envy is destructive. It prevents a person from enjoying life. If ones focus is on other’s success and possessions, it will cause pain and lead to highly counterproductive behavior. No wonder that Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers 4:28, lists envy as one of three things which destroy a person (the other two are lust and desire for honor).

To overcome envy, focus on what you have and what you can accomplish in this world. The ultimate that anyone can have in this world is happiness. The secret to happiness is focusing on what you have. And if you are happy, you won’t envy others!

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
based on his commentary on Parashas Korach in
Growth Through Torah
as found at Aish.com

Especially in our modern western egalitarian culture, the idea that any one group might be special and especially privileged is abhorrent to most of us. When encountering certain Biblical realities, we attempt to refactor them by applying our modern worldview, thus reinterpreting the Bible beyond all reasonable credibility. We make statements to the Jewish people in Messiah that are the moral equivalent of the politically correct comment to check your privilege:

“Check Your Privilege” is an online expression used mainly by social justice bloggers to remind others that the body and life they are born into comes with specific privileges that do not apply to all arguments or situations. The phrase also suggests that when considering another person’s plight, one must acknowledge one’s own inherent privileges and put them aside in order to gain a better understanding of his or her situation.

Rabbi M.M Schneerson, the Rebbe

While the concept of “check your privilege” is, in my opinion, somewhat questionable, or at least has the potential to be grossly misused, applying it to the relationship between Messianic Gentiles and Messianic Jews (or any group of Jews) is Biblically unsustainable.

So where does that leave us?

I don’t have an answer, at least not a whole one. I do have a clue, also written by Chana Sara in her recent blog post My Experience with the Rebbe:

But he was more than just a rebel. He was a person with a fervor for life, for Yiddishkeit and for people. Everyone was important, Jew or non-Jew, male or female, child or adult. Every person was important and he wanted to do good for all mankind. The U.S. has dedicated Education and Sharing Day as a tribute to the Rebbe and steps he took toward the betterment of education for all U.S. children. He stressed the importance of the Noahide laws. He wanted to make sure that all of mankind was healthy and well and ready to take on the world in the way Hashem desires them to. He was really into everyone being the best that they can be and being able to help them realize their potential. The world isn’t finished being built, and the Rebbe wanted to make sure we were aware of that and are putting on our best faces to be able to finish making this world a dira b’tachtonim, a dwelling place for Hashem.

While there are voices within Messianic Judaism who advocate for a strict bilateral relationship between Jews and Gentiles, it is also part of the process of tikkun olam for Jewish and non-Jewish scholars and teachers within Messianic Judaism to make their lessons available to the Messianic Goyim so that we may learn and understand the teachings of the Master within his own context and turn our praxis and our devotion to God accordingly.

While there are plenty of resources available including those authored by Christian Pastors writing from within a Messianic context, as far as my experience goes, there are still no real answers.

If we acknowledge that Christian tradition does not adequately or accurately reflect the Jewish context of the Bible, and if we admit that Jewish praxis is not Gentile praxis in any form, including one that adopts the appearance of Judaism while rejecting the last eighteen hundred years or so of Jewish teaching and writing, what do we have left?

A mystery and no answers.

In previous comments on other blog posts I’ve written on this topic, it has been suggested that Gentile identity within Jewish space will have to evolve over a long period of time, decades if not centuries (barring the timing of King Messiah’s return, of course).

But courageous Jewish leaders such as the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory, indeed, had a heart not just for the Jewish people but for all people. Although his special mission and devotion was for Yiddishkeit, he understood that Messiah’s coming would herald the redemption of all of humanity in an unparalleled era of peace.

That’s the heritage of not just Israel but of all mankind, of you and me, all of us.

rebbe yahrzeit
People visit the grave site of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The twenty-first yahrzeit of the Rebbe has just passed and perhaps, if I may be so bold, in his merit, we can remind ourselves that somewhere, somehow, the people of the nations have a place in God’s redemptive plan, too. However, that plan and how we figure into it, isn’t very clear when viewed through a Jewish lens, since that lens was designed to reveal God’s relationship with the Jewish people and with Israel.

But it is the only lens we have that most accurately reveals the true reality of God’s message to the world, one that doesn’t diminish or destroy Jewish people, the nation of Israel, or the traditions, writings, and praxis of Judaism.

However uncomfortable or disorienting it may be to live life as a Gentile poised on the edge of our understanding of the God of Israel, the Jewish Messiah, and the Jewish scriptures, our best response should never be envy, supersessionism, or disdain. Instead, let us don the garments of humility, wonder, and awe, and then begin walking our path, one that is uncharted and unknown, toward the undiscovered country of who we are, which isn’t really defined by Judaism or even Christianity but rather by God.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.

-Revelation 21:22-22:5 (NASB)

Notice that it’s not just Israel who exists in the presence of God and of the Lamb. The nations are there…we are there, too, and we will be healed.

The tzadik is one with G-d.

We recognize him because within each of us is also a tzadik who is one with G-d.

Inside each of us is a spark of Moses.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory

Within each of us is a spark of the Messiah. Have faith and courage.

Up to Jerusalem

Why I am a Messianic Gentile, Part Two

And Korach, the son of Yitzhor, the son of K’hos, the son of Levi, took …

Numbers 16:1

Rashi explains that the key reason for Korach’s rebellion against Moshe was that he was envious of another relative who received honor while he didn’t.

Envy is destructive. It prevents a person from enjoying what he himself has. When you focus on the success of another person and feel pain because of it, you are likely to do things that are highly counterproductive. Envy is one of the three things that totally destroy a person (Pirke Avos 4:28). The downfall of Korach was because of this trait. Not only did he not get what he wanted but he lost everything he already had.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Commentary on Torah Portion Korach, pg 332
Growth Through Torah

I mentioned in Part One of this two-part series, that I have many good reasons for being a student and disciple of Yeshua (Jesus) within a Messianic Jewish context. And while the status I have accepted upon myself may make me appear as a “second-class citizen” within the ekkelsia of Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven, in fact, who I am and where I stand has been defined for me by God. Even if I sometimes chafe at that position based on my personality flaws, that does not change the will of God for my life. Any reaction that leads me to envy of the Jewish people for their distinctiveness and unique role in the plan of the Almighty will also lead to my “destruction” (though I probably won’t be incinerated or fall into a pit).

The blessings of God in my life are great. Far be it from me to cause God to take them all away:

While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. So He said:

“A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’ I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”

Luke 19:11-27 (NASB)

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (Kdushas Levi) commented that a truly righteous person’s main goal in all that he does is to give pleasure to the Almighty. To such a person there is no difference if he or another righteous person causes that pleasure.

But if a person’s main focus is on his personal reward, he wants to do everything himself. Therefore, our verse states that Korach took. He wanted to take for himself and therefore felt resentment about the attainment of others.

-R. Pliskin, pp 332-33

coinsWe not only see the dire consequences of envy leading a person to self-aggrandizement, but that such a person has lost their focus on what is to be the true motivation of a servant of God, to please God rather than their own human desires.

If God has assigned a specific role, function, and purpose for the Jewish people, then it is foolish for we non-Jewish disciples of the Master to seek their place and their role. In having those desires and particularly in acting them out, we are rebelling against God and seeking our own personal pleasure. Not only that, we are actually denying ourselves the pleasure of fulfilling the role God assigned to us, one that really would be pleasing to God.

And they gathered against Moshe and Aharon. And they said to them, “You have taken too much power for yourselves. The entire congregation is Holy, and the Almighty is in their midst. Why do you take leadership over the congregation of the Almighty?”

Numbers 16:3

Remember that the Sages say that when a person finds fault with others he frequently is just mentioning his own faults which he can wrongly assume someone else has. Be very careful not to accept negative information about others as the truth without careful examination.

-R. Pliskin, pg 334

mirrorIt is not uncommon for people to sometimes project their own worse character traits onto another person and then blame that other person for what they don’t like about themselves. The irony is that this attribution can happen below the level of consciousness. That is, the person may truly not be aware of their negative character trait but attribute it to someone they don’t like or with whom they disagree. It’s as if they are using their adversary as a mirror to reflect their own behavioral and emotional flaws.

So, if I am to take R. Pliskin’s advice and apply it to every time I’m criticized for my stance as a Messianic Gentile, one way to interpret their criticism (though it might not be true in every case) is that the critic may be assigning me traits or motivations they themselves possess. I guess that’s why it’s a good idea for me to always be aware of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, so I don’t start believing things about who I am and my behavior that are not true. I must also be careful in my assessment of others to make sure I’m not guilty of projecting my own flaws upon them.

That has always been the normative view of Judaism, enunciated in the rabbinic principle that “one who performs a deed because it is commanded is deemed more praiseworthy than one who does it voluntarily” (Bavli Kiddushin 31a). Actions that come instinctively fail to stretch us. Growth results from reaching beyond ourselves.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Reaching Beyond Ourselves,” pg 534, June 22, 1996
Commentary on Torah Portion Korach
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

If one desires or even covets obligation to the full yoke of Torah as a Gentile, where is the “stretch”? How are we participating in growth if we not only are doing what we want, but performing mitzvot that do not belong to us? However, if we recognize the legal structure that defines Gentile inclusion in Messianic Judaism (Acts 15) and obey those commandments, we are not only pleasing God, we are participating in our own spiritual growth and elevation (see the ancient Jewish/Christian document The Didache and D. Thomas Lancaster’s latest book Elementary Principles for more).

Going back to what R. Pliskin said about pleasing God by allowing another righteous person to perform mitzvot that are commanded of them, to encourage Jewish believers to perform mitzvot such as davening with a minyan or observing Shabbos is what fulfills our function as righteous Gentiles in Messiah. For only Jewish Torah observance will bring Messiah’s return nearer, therefore, by encouraging Jewish Torah fidelity within the Messianic community, we are helping others to be righteous, participating in our own growth as disciples, and blessing the heart of God.

At least that’s how I see myself as a Messianic Gentile (in an ideal state, and I can say, that I’m hardly an ideal person).

The arrogant person thinks, “If I honor this person, what will people think of me? Will it raise or lower my stature in the eyes of others?” But the humble person makes no calculations of this kind. He treats each person according to the Torah ideals of how people should be treated. Ultimately this only elevates a person’s true stature regardless of how other people might react.

-R. Pliskin, pg 336

HumbleI’ve met very few truly arrogant people, that is people who really think they’re the “greatest thing since the invention of sliced bread.” Most people who appear arrogant and self-assured are actually the opposite. They feel threatened and insecure when others experience success or if put in a situation where they must give deference to another. While I can hardly call myself truly humble, if I strive in that direction as a goal, then acknowledging Jewish “specialness” in covenant relationship with God does not diminish me or reduce my stature in the eyes of others. If someone else believes I am being reduced by recognizing Jewish covenant status, then that is their projection and perhaps their own personal fear.

Imagine how Gentile Christians will react when, upon Messiah’s return, they realize to their chagrin that the Church is not the center of the Kingdom of God, it is Israel. This may be at the core of why many Christians have difficulty with Messianic Judaism and the continuation of Jewish Torah observance within the Jesus-believing Jewish community. It illustrates how, over the long centuries of Church history, Christianity has reversed causality in placing itself above and before God’s covenant people, Israel.

Also your brethren the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, shall you draw near with you, and they shall be joined to you and minister to you. You and your sons with you shall be before the Tent of the Testimony. They shall safeguard your charge and the charge of the entire tent…

Numbers 18:2-3

After the death of Korach and the rebels, the Levites especially among the Children of Israel were demoralized and terrified. They felt their own worth and stature was lower than ever after the failed rebellion. Yet God was kind and reminded the Levites that they had a special status and duty to Hashem above the other Israelites and that they also were of the tribe of Levi, just as were Aaron and his sons, the Kohenim.

That’s what I think is missing every time someone believes that I’ve allowed myself to be put at the back of the bus in the Messianic community; the lack of realization that Messianic Gentiles have a highly important role that cannot be fulfilled by the Jewish people. Messianic Jews and Gentiles are interdependent and the Messianic Jewish ekklesia cannot achieve wholeness unless we join together in our complementary roles. We need each other.

So the next time I find myself missing donning a tallit in prayer or being present at the lighting of the Shabbos candles, I must remind myself of everything I’ve just written. Because the minute I give in to the attitude of I want to be like them” or worse, “I deserve to be like them,” not only have I insulted God and betrayed the Jewish people in Messiah, I’ve lost my way and forgotten my God-assigned purpose in life. A righteous person serves God, not his own desires. May God grant me humility and peace. May He grant this to all of us who call ourselves Messianic Gentiles.

Final note: Last year, I also wrote a two-part series on Korach and what this rebellion tells us about who we are today.

If God Loves You, Why Are You Complaining?

The angels glare in envy as the breath of G‑d descends below to become a human soul. Ripped out of the Infinite Light, it squeezes itself within meat and bones to experience that passion which belongs uniquely to earth below—and channel it towards its Beloved above. A new sort of love is born, a novelty to the cosmos and to its Creator: a fire within the human heart upon which the animal roasts, transformed to the divine.

“And G‑d saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” The sages tell us that “good” refers to the urge to do good, “very good” to the passion to do no good. The evil is not good, but the passion—if only it will find its true purpose—is very good.

For all that He made, He made for His glory.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Human Passion and the Envy of Angels”
From the “Freeman Files” series

I sometimes wonder what we complain about. No, I don’t mean “complain” in terms of being afraid, being sick, or some other such human problem. I mean “complain” like what happens in the blogosphere and in social networking venues. I mean “complain” like always needing to be “right” and being upset when someone else thinks we’re “wrong” and won’t just agree with us that we have all the answers. I mean complain like “I’m the good guy” and everyone who doesn’t agree with me are “the bad guys.”

That kind of complaining.

As we see from Rabbi Freeman’s midrash and metaphor, even the angels envy our special relationship with God. Not the Jewish relationship with God, and not the Christian relationship with God. The human relationship with God.

Even if you temporarily put aside any distinctions between Jews and Christians, between the various other religious groups, and between the many other differing bodies of humanity, we all have one thing in common that is very important.

We were all created in the image of God.

Even the angels can’t say that. No other living being that exists today or that has ever existed can say that. Just we poor, pathetic, mortal human beings can say that.

I’m tempted to quote the mostly over-quoted John 3:16 since it emphasizes God so loving the world and not some subsection of its population. I want to sometimes scream at some people to please get over themselves because things are the way things are, not the way you want them to be.

Tomorrow’s “morning meditation” and my commentary on this week’s Torah Portion talks again about the “choseness” of the Jewish people and why that’s not a threat to the rest of us (though you’d suspect otherwise by reading other religious blogs). Once you let yourself get past the unique relationship God has with the Jewish people through the giving of the Torah at Sinai, you can understand that none of that means God loves you or me any less or that somehow Jewish distinctiveness makes Christians second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God.

And yet, this week in the “Messianic blogosphere” I’ve noticed some authors sparing no effort in maligning individuals and reputations, even to the point of calling some Jewish Messianics “racist” in order to justify their positions and jockey for a superior spot in the race to significance.

But wait a minute.

Take one giant step backward and look at Creation and then picture yourself in the midst of it. That’s where you are. That’s where I am. That’s where we all are. God so loved you and me and all of us, that he sent His only begotten son so that if anyone, anyone at all, believes in him, he/she/they will have eternal life in covenant relationship with our Creator, with God.

Anyone at all.

Isn’t that good enough for you?

You have a life given to you by God. So do I. What are we supposed to do with it? B*tch about other religious people all the time because they don’t support our own special viewpoint about how we’re supposed to be more special than they are? Really?

Our Sages gathered these sections in an order … according to the requisite steps (Introduction to Path of the Just).

While character refinement is an important and desirable goal, we must be careful to stride toward it in a reasonable and orderly manner. Overreaching ourselves may be counterproductive.

Physical growth is a gradual process. In fact, it is not even uniform; the first two decades are a sequence of growth spurts and latency periods. Generally, the body does not adjust well to sudden changes, even when they are favorable. For instance, obese people who lose weight too rapidly may experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Although the weight loss is certainly in the interest of health, the body needs time to adjust to the change.

If we are convinced, as we should be, that spirituality is desirable, we might be tempted to make radical changes in our lives. We may drop everything and set out on a crash course that we think will lead to rapid attainment of the goal. This plan is most unwise, because psychologically as well as physically, our systems need time to consume new information, digest it, and prepare ourselves for the next level.

Luzzato’s monumental work on ethics, The Path of the Just, is based on a Talmudic passage which lists ten consecutive steps toward spirituality. Luzzato cautions: “A person should not desire to leap to the opposite extreme in one moment, because this will simply not succeed, but should continue bit by bit” (Chapter 15).

Today I shall …
… resolve to work on my spirituality gradually and be patient in its attainment.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Av 21”

Imagine if we all blogged the way Rabbi Twerski does. Imagine instead of sowing contention and discord between our own little religious factions, we resolved each day to be just a little bit better as a person than we were yesterday. There’s nothing in that sort of lesson that has any room for tearing other people down. Even if someone were to tear down Rabbi Twerski, I doubt if he’d spend any time (I don’t know this of course, I’m just supposing) using his space at “Growing Each Day” to post a rebuttal and complain about opposing opinions and oppositional people.

(I know I’m complaining right now too, but hopefully I’ll end on an up-note).

What is your purpose in life? Why did God put you here? Why are you still breathing, walking around, talking, and (possibly) blogging?

We were put here to love God and to love other people. Easier said than done to be sure, but hardly impossible. If you can do that through blogging, that’s terrific. Rabbi Twerski’s “Growing Each Day” series proves (to me, anyway) that you can do good through blogging. If writing isn’t your thing or you can’t do it without having to always comment that someone is wrong on the Internet, then close your web browser, log off your computer, step away from the keyboard, and find something to do that actually does serve the purposes of God. You don’t have to slay dragons or tilt at windmills.

Just do something that in some small way, is helpful to another person in the world, preferably without making a big deal about it or about you.

Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person…
Who is brave?
The one who subdues his negative inclination…
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has…
Who is honored?
The one who gives honor to others…

Talmud – Avot 4:1

Tomorrow, I’ll probably continue to complain, though it’s not why God put me here. Today, I just want to thank God I’m living and breathing and that I have a tomorrow in which I will wake up alive.