Tag Archives: Ethics of Our Fathers

The Pious Fraud

In a reply to a yechidus query in the winter of 5635 (1874-75), my grandfather said to my father: The yetzer hara, (the evil impulse), is called “animal soul,” not because it is necessarily a brute animal. At times it may be a fox, the most cunning of beasts, and great wisdom is needed to perceive its machinations. At other times it may clothe itself in the garb of an earnest, straightforward, humble tzadik, possessing fine traits of character.

The animal soul manifests itself in each person according to his individual character. One person may suddenly experience a powerful longing to study Chassidus or to meditate deeply on some chassidic concept. The truth is, however, that this is nothing more than the yetzer hara’s counsel and the animal soul’s machinations to prevent him from engaging in the avoda of davening or a similar activity.

Take this as a general principle and remember it always: Any matter that is effective towards or actually leads to active avoda, and is confronted with opposition of any sort, even the most noble, that opposition is the scheming of the animal soul. My father concluded: Until then I had not known that there can be a “pious” animal soul, let alone a “chassidic” animal soul.

“Today’s Day”
Shabbat * Sivan 23, 5703
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

The nature of good vs. evil and the nature of the human soul is somewhat more complicated in Judaism than it is in Christianity. I’m not going to spend any time trying to delve into these explanations, since there are people much more knowledgable and wiser than I am who have already made those distinctions. I do want to talk about how as human beings, we tend to fool ourselves, though. I know a lot about that.

It’s interesting to consider that even a very righteous person who desires to study Chassidus (If you’re Christian, think of it as studying the Bible, though that is a woefully inadequate comparison) could actually be caving into his “evil impulse.” I mean, what’s wrong with studying the Bible, folks? Or, what’s wrong with praying, or going to your local house of worship?

According to the commentary, even the desire to do something praiseworthy may be masking something else we’re trying to avoid, including our own awareness that we’re not being forthright in our motivations.


Think about this.

I want to read and study the Bible or some online commentary on the Torah. Being who I am, I’ll probably start writing a blog about it just because it’s in my nature to turn Bible study into blogs. But the floor needs to be vacuumed. Or my daughter needs a ride to work. Or my grandson is visiting and wants me to play with him. Or something is bothering my wife and she wants to talk with me about it. Or…

Well, you get the idea.

There’s nothing wrong with studying. There’s nothing wrong with blogging about Biblical or faith-based topics…unless they get in the way of “the weightier matters of the Torah,” which almost always involves actually doing some sort of good deed for another human being.

Imagine an extreme case where a person studied the Torah to the exclusion of all other considerations, including earning a living and supporting his family.

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. –2 Thessalonians 3:10 (ESV)

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. –1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV)

But most of us aren’t that extreme. We do however, know how to appear pious and holy to the outside world and still have defective motives though.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. –Matthew 23:27-28 (ESV)

Jesus was addressing people who knew they were being hypocrites and they didn’t mind behaving that way. What about those of us who truly believe we’re doing the right thing, but are really serving our own interests? We may really tell ourselves that studying Torah is more important than getting a job or getting a better job so we can support our families. We may tell ourselves that studying the Bible is more important than doing the vacuuming, washing the dishes, making dinner for the kids, or helping our neighbor with her yard work. I suppose, on a certain level, we can make a convincing case for it, too. After all, what’s wrong with studying the Word of God? What’s wrong with being immersed in the Bible? What’s wrong with being consumed and even obsessed with a life of faith?

What? But doesn’t a life of faith involve actually doing something about it? Doesn’t mowing your neighbor’s yard override praying, at least sometimes? Should we always ignore people for the sake of something we consider a higher ideal?

It’s probably not clear-cut in every single situation, but often we are so clever, we convince ourselves to do what we want to do, something that is indeed praiseworthy, so we can get out of doing something we don’t want to do that is equally praiseworthy.

The ego of man is cannibalistic in essence. At worst, it destroys everyone and everything in its path in order to attain its selfish goals. At best, as in the case of a civilized, refined and tolerant individual, it acknowledges its status as one among many, avows its support of the “human rights” of its fellows and concedes the legitimacy of pursuits other than its own. But even the most liberal-minded of men cannot escape the trappings of the ego: he will always see his fellow through the prism of self. His (seemingly) objective mind will point out that he shares the planet with billions of others, that there exist countless perspectives and callings in addition to his own. Deep down, however, the self will remain the gravitational center of reality, its ultimate point of reference. He will see others as necessary, perhaps crucial, but always secondary cogs to the kingpin of self.

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
“The Contemporary Cannibal”
Sivan 23, 5772 * June 13, 2012

This is part of a direct commentary on the following:

Rabbi Chaninah, deputy to the kohanim, would say: Pray for the integrity of the sovereignty, for were it not for the fear of its authority a man would swallow his neighbor alive. Rabbi Chaninah son of Tradyon would say: … Two who sit and exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence rests amongst them…

-Ethics of the Fathers, 3:2

On the surface, it doesn’t seem as if there’s a connection between our need for a sovereign in order to curb man’s aggressive nature and studying words of Torah, but with just a little thought, the link becomes apparent.

So anyone who views the universe as an ownerless, arbitrary existence will never transcend the moral and intellectual cannibalism of the ego. For without a supreme authority that creates, defines and gives direction to all of creation, the self and its perceptions are the sole judge of right and wrong; inevitably, one’s vision of others will be tinted with the color of self.

It is only through the fear of G-d, only through the acceptance of the sovereignty of the King Of All Kings, that man can grow beyond the prejudice and anarchy of the ego. It is only by sensing an Absolute Truth before which all are equally insignificant, but which grants significance to the countless individual roles that fulfill the Divine purpose in creation, that an individual can genuinely see his fellow as his equal.

And because the naturally self-centered consciousness of man is, by definition, incapable of truly seeing beyond itself, this truth it is not something that one can understand and feel with the contemporary tools of his mind and heart. One must therefore “pray for the integrity of the sovereignty” in his life. One must concede that the transcendence of self is beyond his humanly natural capabilities, and humbly request that he be granted a higher, ego-free vision of his fellow.

It is only by acknowledging the absolute sovereign of the universe and submitting to His will that we can stop, look at what we’re doing, and realize what is really important in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Studying the Bible is important. Praying is important. Playing with your three-year old grandson is more important. God’s Bible is always there and is vital in helping us understand the importance of our roles, but once a moment in a child’s life has passed, you never get it back again.

You need to decide what you are. If you believe yourself to be angel, be prepared for some disappointment. If you think of yourself as a beast, you may well become depressed.

Best to know you are human. Stay away from situations you can’t handle, and face up to the mess when you fall down. That’s even higher than the angels.

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

To Serve My Creator

“Everything was created to serve me,” states the Talmud, “and I was created to serve my Creator.”

-Talmud, Kiddushin 82a.

“I was created to serve my Creator.” With these words, the Talmud sums up the purpose of life. But there is also another version of this talmudic passage, which reads. “I was not created, but to serve my Creator.” A similar “double negative” is employed by our mishnah: “All that G-d created in His world, He did not create but for His glory.”

The difference is significant. The statement, “I was created to serve my Creator,” recognizes man as an existence in his own right (“I was created”), though one whose ultimate raison d’etre is defined by a reality greater than himself. The second version, however, attributes no legitimacy whatsoever to man as an entity distinct from his role: “I was not created, but to serve my Creator”–therein, and only therein, lies the fact of his being.

One of Torah’s basic rule is: “These and these are both the words of the Living G-d.” When the Torah mentions two opinions or interpretations it is because both are valid and relevant. Differing versions and manners of articulation of the same statement also complement one another, each providing another perspective to the concept they express.

The same applies to two descriptions of man’s identity and purpose: both are integral to our lives. There is an aspect to our mission in life that involves the total abnegation of self. But our service of the Creator also includes an element that allows for–indeed demands–the retaining of an individual identity, an “I” which serves as opposed to an egoless service.

from an Ethics of Our Fathers commentary
Sivan 2, 5772 * May 23, 2012

Recently, I’ve been exploring the identity of “faithful man” based on Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s book The Lonely Man of Faith. You may have read some of my musings in “meditations” like Burning the Plow and Behar-Behukotai: Seeking Crowns. But in all of the explorations of the purpose of man I’ve read that were written by people of faith, I continue to collide with one important fact: each of us as individuals is important to God.

On the one hand, I guess that doesn’t come as much of a shock, since we assume it all the time, particularly when we pray. But on the other hand, the significance of a single human soul seems so unimaginably small when compared to the infinite being of the eternal Creator. Even David remarked on it in this famous passage from one of his psalms:

O Lord, what is man that you regard him,
or the son of man that you think of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a passing shadow. –Psalm 144:3-4 (ESV)

Interestingly enough, Shakespeare “answered” David’s query.

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!

-Hamlet Act 2, scene 2

But what Shakespeare quipped in irony, we might say with conviction. I’ve been tempted more than once to imagine that God created the Universe for the sake of humanity but not necessarily for individual people. Then, I’ve imagined that only certain people have been worthy of Creation and the rest of us just got a “free ride,” but is that selling God and His intentions short?

There’s no way to know for sure, except when we read David’s psalm, but then, was David only talking about himself, or was he describing even the most humble of God’s creations? All men, great and small alike, are equal in that our “days are like a passing shadow” and each of us is “like a breath.” No one is immune from loneliness, loss, sickness, pain, and finally, death. We take comfort in the hope of the life in the world to come, but we live here and now and frankly, even people of faith can feel scared and small. In fact, we may be uniquely suited to feel scared and small because we are, in some tiny sense, aware of the vastness of God. Secular man in his self-appointed position of supremacy over the earth, knows only himself as the largest and most dominant of beings and only in vague impressions may get glimpses of something bigger…but then that might only be “the environment” or whatever is out there in “the universe.”

All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.” -Sanhedrin, 11:1

“G-d makes the spiritual physical; the Jew makes the physical spiritual” -Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

The Jew of faith, can take comfort in these words but what about the rest of us? What about the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah? What about Christians? Actually, Christians tend to be a little arrogant in their…in our salvation. We believe only those who are exactly like us have “saved” and will “go to Heaven” but we deny Sanhedrin 11:1 (which is understandable for most Christians) as well as Paul’s own words:

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; –Romans 11:26 (ESV)

Somewhere between the crushing humility of insignificance in God’s incredible universe and the Babel-like pedestal some Christians put themselves on, is the reality of who we are as individual disciples of Christ, and what all that means. However, it’s not just individual Christians and Jews who are significant and important in the vision of God but, if we believe that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), then God loves everyone. We were, after all, created in His image, each of us, as individuals, as single, tiny, frail, and frightened human beings. He loves us and cares for us, whether we acknowledge His existence or not.

And He loves us so much, all humanity, each and every person, that He made it possible for us all to be aware of Him, to know Him (to the best of our ability and comprehension), and to love Him.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. –Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

We were once “strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV) but no longer. Not because we are just part of humanity but because each and every one of us as an individual person was crafted by God’s own hand. He made us lovingly, He cherished us, He caused us to be born, He’s helping us grow.

and I was created to serve my Creator…

Addendum: As most of you know, I recently attended the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) 2012 Shavuot Conference hosted by Beth Immanuel Shabbath Fellowship in Hudson, WI. It was fabulous but it will take quite a number of “meditations” to describe all of my experiences, including the wonderful people I met and the very interesting ideas, concepts, and teachings to which I was exposed. For those of you who attended with me and everyone else who want to know how things went, please be patient. I’ll be writing about all this shortly.

A Physical Object is Merely “I am”

The mitzvos are primarily physical deeds performed with physical objects: animal hides are fashioned into tefillin and wrapped around one’s head and arm; flour and water become the instrument of a mitzvah in the form of the matzah eaten on Passover; a ram’s horn is sounded on Rosh Hashana; a citron and palm fond are taken on Sukkot. For the physical world is ultimately the most appropriate environment for the function of the mitzvah to be realized.

“The mitzvos relate to the very essence of G-d” is a mainstay of chassidic teaching. But the very notion of something relating to another thing’s essence is a philosophical oxymoron. The “essence” of something is the thing itself, as opposed to manner in which it affects and is perceived by that which is outside of it. Hence the philosophical axiom: “The essence of a thing does not express itself or extend itself.” In other words, if you see it, it is not the thing itself that you see, only the manner in which it reflects light and imprints an image on your retina; if you understand it, then it is not the thing itself that you comprehend, only a concept which your mind has pieced together by studying its effect on other things; and so on.

Nevertheless, G-d desired to project His essence into the created reality. This is the function of the mitzvos: through observing His commandments and fulfilling His will, we “bring” the very essence of G-d into our lives. And this is why He chose the physical object as the medium of the mitzvah’s implementation.

Spiritual entities (i.e., ideas, feelings, etc.) intrinsically point to a source, a cause, a greater reality that they express and serve. The spiritual is thus the natural medium for the various expressions of the Divine reality that G-d chose to convey to us – unlike the physical, whose deeper significance is buried deep beneath the surface of its corporeality, the spiritual readily serves as the expression of a higher truth.

But when it comes to the projection of G-d’s essence, the very “virtues” of the spiritual disqualify it: its capacity to convey, to reveal, to manifest, runs contrary to the introversive nature of “essence.” Here, the physical object, the most non-transcendental element of G-d’s creation, is the most ideal vehicle for G-d’s essence capturing mitzvos.

A physical object merely is: “I am,” it proclaims, “and my being is wholly defined by its own existence.” As such, the physical object constitutes the greatest concealment of the Divine truth. Precisely for this reason, it is G-d’s medium of choice for man’s implementation of His will.

In other words, the object of the mitzvah is not a “manifestation” of the Divine. Were it to reflect Him in any way, were it to reveal anything of the “nature” of His reality, it would, by definition, fail to capture His essence. But capture His essence it does, simply because He willed it to. G-d, of course, could have willed anything (including a manifest expression of His reality) to convey His essence, but He chose a medium that is most appropriate according to logical laws he established in creating our reality – a reality in which “essence” and “expression” are antithetical to each other. He therefore chose the material world, with its virtual blackout on any revealed expression of G-dliness, to serve as the “tool” with which we perform the mitzvos and thereby relate to His essence.

-from a commentary on
Ethics of Our Fathers (Chapter 4)
“Essence and Expression”
Iyar 17, 5772 * May 9, 2012

Yesterday’s “extra meditation,” The Blood of the Prince, took a look at the “deity of Jesus” issue and inspired many passionate responses. Here’s the same issue from a different point of view.

You may have just read this lesson from the Pirkei Avot or Ethics of Our Fathers and wondered what it had to do with anything. In Christianity, the physical and the spiritual are usually seen as two separate and often incompatible entities. Christians are always trying to escape “the flesh” so they can connect to the Spirit. Yet in Judaism, this isn’t necessarily the same picture.

The connection of flesh and spirit is a question that was discussed with some fervor recently on Gene Shlomovich’s Daily Minyan blog post, Crisis? A Jewish husband believes that Jesus is the Messiah but not G-d. Once again, the question of the Deity of Jesus was brought up and once again it was not resolved, except in the minds of people who feel they know for sure that Jesus is “God in the flesh.”

Some of us however, aren’t so sure how it’s all supposed to work, which I guess is why we have faith but not always complete knowledge of who and what God is and isn’t.

But the commentary I quoted from includes a very interesting statement:

A physical object merely is: “I am,” it proclaims, “and my being is wholly defined by its own existence.” As such, the physical object constitutes the greatest concealment of the Divine truth. Precisely for this reason, it is G-d’s medium of choice for man’s implementation of His will.

I started thinking about something the Master said that sounds at once somewhat similar and yet is entirely different.

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” –John 8:56-58 (ESV)

Of course, the statement “I am” not only recalls the Pirkei Avot commentary, but Exodus 3:14:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”

The Master is apparently saying not only that Abraham believed in him, Jesus, by faith (see Hebrews 13:11 as well), but that the great “I am” of Exodus is also the Christ. The quote from the Pirkei Avot commentary says that a physical object’s loudest cry of “I am”  (including physical man) declares that it is defined by its physical nature, and that physical nature is also the ultimate hiding place for the Divinity of the Creator. Which “I am” reference can we apply to Jesus…or can we apply both?

I’ve explored Messianic Divinity before and have leaned toward an alternate “explanation” for the joining of humanity and Divinity in the person of Jesus Christ than the one held by the church. That doesn’t make me a popular fellow by more traditional Christian thinkers (whether in the church or the Hebrew Roots movement) but at least I’m willing to question my assumptions and admit that I don’t know everything (which seems a prudent position given the ultimate “unknowability” of God).

That said, I’m taking somewhat of a different position today and exploring the other side of the coin, albeit through the interface of a commentary on the classic Jewish texts. I’m hardly saying that what was written in the Pirkei Avot directly or indirectly applies to the concept of the Messiah in general or Jesus in specific. The two “I am” references are competely disconnected in practicality. I’m just choosing to use this comparison as a “jumping off point” for exploring both Jesus and God.

That’s a big jump.

But then, I never said that Jesus wasn’t Divine in some manner or fashion, I just failed to jump on the mainstream Christian bandwagon in terms of an explanation. Judaism may not hold that a man can also be God and worthy of the worship and honor due to God alone, but it does (and I’m not even speaking of Jewish mysticism here) acknowledge the ability of the Divine to somehow exist within our universe and even to play by the rules of that universe, though as a matter of choice, not limitation:

Indeed, since the purpose of creation is that the essence of the Divine should be drawn down into the physical reality, the objective is to do so on its (the physical reality’s) terms, not by overriding them. So if the logical laws that govern our reality and dictate that “expression” is incompatible with “essence,” our bringing of G-dliness into the world is to be achieved “blindly,” without any perceptible manifestations of the Divine essence.

On the other hand, however, if G-d’s essence is truly to enter our reality, He must enter it as He is, without hindrance or inhibition. If His reality tolerates no limits or definitions, “revelation” must be no less conducive to His essence than “concealment.”

In other words, for Him to be here implies two (seemingly contradictory) truths: if He is to be truly here, then His presence must be consistent with our reality; yet if it is truly He who is here, He must be here on His terms.

This is why created existence has two distinct components: the Present World and the World to Come the process and its culmination. The process of drawing down the Divine essence into the created reality is carried out under an obscuring veil of corporeality, in keeping with the created rule that “the essence of a thing does not express itself or extend itself.” At the same time, the product and end result of this process are a world in which G d is uninhibitedly present, in which also the expressions of His reality fully convey the quintessence of His being.

In Jewish mystic tradition, the Angels and even the mysterious essence of the wisdom of Torah must be “clothed” in the mundane in order to exist in our world. Though God the Ein Sof, the infinite and unknown Creator does not interact with the world, something we call the Shekinah, which in most Christian Bibles is translated as “God’s glory” did enter our world, incinerating the top of Sinai and entering the Tabernacle in the desert, constructed by the hand of man. That Shekinah, we call “God” too, but it doesn’t seem to bother us that God existed simultaneously as Ein Sof and Shekinah (if something that strange, mystical, and metaphysical can even be expressed in temporal terms).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:1,14 (ESV)

I don’t know how it all works so I have no answers to give you. If you’re comfortable with your answers, then I guess that works for you. Frankly, I’m more “comfortable” or at least better able to tolerate the vast uncertainty of the nature of “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Once we say that we know all there is to know about God, it is humanity defining Divinity rather than the other way around. I don’t think I could live with that.

The Blood of the Prince

tallit-prayerThis is one of those “hot” topics. A Messianic Jewish rabbi friend of mine recently got an email from a distraught woman urgently asking him to intervene on behalf of her husband. I would like some opinions on the matter from my readers. I will paraphrase that email below to protect all parties:

Please pray for us and help us. You see, my Jewish husband (who is from Israel) believes that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel through whom God redeems and saves, but he refuses to believe that Jesus is God too. My husband is adamant that he will not accept this belief. I don’t know what to do – I don’t want him to be lost. I need urgent help and I think my husband will benefit from your counseling. I am really hoping that you would be able to convince him of his error before it’s too late.

Question for my readers: should this woman be concerned about the spiritual fate of her husband? If this Jewish man never changes his mind on the nature of the Messiah, should he be concerned about his final destiny and should we?

-Gene Shlomovich
Crisis? A Jewish husband believes that Jesus is the Messiah but not G-d
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Daily Minyan blogspot

I’m not in the habit of quoting one person’s full blog post to begin one of my own, but this question, which I thought was unanswerable, may just have been answered (though judging by the subsequent comments that have been accumulating as I’ve been writing this missive, maybe not). There was a lively debate by various folks commenting on this blog but it degenerated (and is still degenerating) into a “Jesus is God” vs “Jesus is Messiah but not God” vs “I don’t know what Jesus is” kind of debate. A few people took a stab at actually trying to answer Gene’s question, but no one really knew or could support their opinions from scripture…that is until now:

I am convinced that Peter’s first introduction to Messiah (John 1:41), and his own confirmation of that introduction (John 6:69, 11:27) brought him into sonship, and is all that is expected of any Jew to be saved and secured for Kingdom status (Romans 10:13, 11:26).


Then Gene replied:


Thank you for providing an answer to my exact question directly from scripture.

Traditional religious Judaism doesn’t spend a great deal of time worrying about whether or not Jews are saved. In the merit of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, Jews are all considered to have a place in the world to come. However, in Christianity and the various corners of the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements (which all overlap but are not really the same), there are a couple of important questions that have remained unanswered:

If Jews are “saved” through the merit of the patriarchs, what significance does Jesus have as the Messiah to them?

On a more fundamental level, the question is:

Are Jews saved?

I’ve struggled with these questions as well. To say that the process of salvation for a Jew is identical to a Gentile means that prior to the coming of the Messiah, no Jews could be saved. I also means that the millions of Jews who refused to convert to Christianity because they believed we Christians practiced paganism and polytheism, have been consigned to hell, often having suffered torture and murder at the hands of the church who was attempting to force their conversion, first.

I’m not sure I have the answer regarding “salvation” relative to all Jews everywhere, but it appears that Brad, armed with “only” a Bible, has answered the first question. Let’s take a look at his material in a more detail. His statement can be broken up into two main sections:

I am convinced that Peter’s first introduction to Messiah (John 1:41), and his own confirmation of that introduction (John 6:69, 11:27) brought him into sonship…

PrayingSo what do we see when we are introduced to the Messiah and that introduction is confirmed? What brought Peter into “sonship?”

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi”, “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”. He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas”. –John 1:35-42 (ESV)

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” –John 6:66-69 (ESV)

Mary, the sister of Martha, also faced the same question and arrived at the same conclusion.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” –John 11:25-27 (ESV)

Now here’s section two:

and is all that is expected of any Jew to be saved and secured for Kingdom status (Romans 10:13, 11:26).

So what is actually expected of a Jew for salvation through the Messiah?

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” –Romans 10:10-13 (ESV)

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” –Romans 11:25-27 (ESV)

“No distinction between Jew or Greek” seems to be relative to the issue of salvation, so the Messiah has always been a vital element, but as Paul also said, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved,” so this two is part of God’s plan for Israel.

Putting it all together, nothing else but what has been presented above is required to answer Gene’s question (and I’m paraphrasing): “Is a Jewish man ‘saved’ if he comes to faith in Jesus as the Messiah but not as God clothed in flesh and blood?”

Peter believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the holy one of God and that he had words of eternal life. Mary, sister of Martha also believed that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God that that “everyone who lives and believes in him shall never die.” Everyone, Jew or Gentile, who calls on the Lord’s name shall be saved, and Gentiles, in God’s mercy, are brought into the Kingdom through the temporary hardening of the Jews. In the end, as Paul continues, “all Israel will be saved.”

God will not abandon the life of his heritage Israel nor let the blood of the Messiah go to waste:

The poor man stood in the doorway, smelling the sweet, freshly baked bread, and held out his hand for something to eat. Hunger gnawed at his stomach, for he had not eaten in days. He had tried to find work, but no one wanted to hire him. At last, hearing that Rabbi Yitzchak of Kalush had an open heart and an open door, he came to his house late one Friday afternoon.

Even before they opened the door, he could smell the fresh baked bread . . .

The cook looked at her challahs, golden baked and twisted, and sprinkled with poppy seeds. The cook did not want to give him a slice from the challahs. They were for Shabbat. She looked in the kitchen cabinets and drawers for an old, stale piece of bread, the kind that is usually given to beggars, but she found none.

“Slice up a loaf,” a man’s voice said, “no blood will be lost because of it.”

And so she cut into the loaf, soft and white, and gave the poor man a thick slice to eat. Unless a person has truly been hungry, he cannot know the meaning of bread. The poor man ate greedily. As he left, a man with kind eyes nodded. He was the one who had told her to cut the bread. The poor man knew that this man had saved his life.

-from a commentary on
Ethics of Our Fathers (4:3)
“The Blood Not Lost”

The Son of God is the bread of life to all mankind but particularly to His people the Jews. The blood of the Prince was not spilled in vain on Jewish soil and was not wasted for the sake of Israel. We in the church should not consider the Jew with contempt:

Ben Azzai used to say: “Do not regard anyone with contempt, and do not reject anything; for there is no man who does not have his hour, and nothing which does not have its place.” -Avot 4:3

The Face in the Mirror

Mirror“Rabbi Mendel of Kotsk was told of a great saint who lived in his time who claimed that during the seven days of the Feast of Booths his eyes would see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David come to the booth. Said Rabbi Mendel: “I do not see the heavenly guests; I only have faith that they are present in the booth, and to have faith is greater than to see.” (page 118)

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”John 20:29

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 8:10-11

In the early morning when I drive to the gym for my workout, the sun is not yet risen. There is no cold bite in the air, but I can still tell that the days of summer are all but exhausted and that autumn is finally approaching. We are in the month of Elul which precedes the High Holy Days and after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, comes Sukkot or the Festival of Booths.

Although I cherish all of God’s appointed times, I must confess that Sukkot is one of my favorites. I enjoy the process of building a temporary structure that can potentially shelter the guests of Heaven, but more tangibly, that will allow my family to pray, take meals, together, and celebrate God’s provision among us. It is a custom in Judaism to invite the poor to share a meal in your sukkah and in my imagination, I picture all of us, rich and poor, great and small, sitting and eating as the Master prophesied, with “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” during Sukkot.

During Passover, it is customary to set a place at the meal for Elijah the Prophet and, at one point in the haggadah, a child is sent to the door to see if Elijah is there, for if he is, then the Messiah is coming. During Sukkot, we can set a place for anyone, “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David”, both in the hope that they may come and share a meal with us, and in anticipation of the time when (again, as the Master teaches) we will all be together as a community of God, sharing and talking and eating and teaching, and everyone “will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid…” (Micah 4:4).

However, before our eyes are allowed to witness such a wonderful and miraculous “Sukkot” feast, we must learn to see with the eyes of Rabbi Mendel and the eyes of the Baal Shem Tov.

Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place –Pirkei Avot 2:4

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (the “Besht,” founder of the chassidic movement) taught: “Your fellow is your mirror. If your own face is clean, the image you perceive will also be flawless. But should you look upon your fellow man and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are encountering—you are being shown what it is that you must correct within yourself.”

Quoted from Ethics of Our Fathers commentary:
“The Mirror”
Elul 9, 5771 * September 8, 2011

The eyes of faith see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sitting in our Sukkah sharing a meal with our family. How do the eyes of faith see your neighbors and friends? How do you see those people around you, particularly if you view them with annoyance or scorn?

A few days ago, I wrote a morning meditation about how our thoughts and words affect our relationship with other people and with God. I hadn’t really intended to write a “sequel”, but that’s how it worked out. But if we claim to see the wonders of God through the lens of faith, yet fail to use that same lens when looking at our fellow human being, what “faith” are we really professing?

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. –James 3:9-12

SuccothI could hardly write these words with any sort of sincerity if I continued to use my own eyes to view my brothers and sisters in a less than complementary light. We are completely perfect but made in God’s image. We are only mortal, but we are capable of touching the infinite. As Rabbi Heschel writes (page 118):

This, indeed, is the greatness of man; to be able to have faith. For faith is an act of freedom, of independence of our own limited faculties, whether of reason or sense-perception. It is an act of spiritual ecstasy, of rising above our own wisdom.

To have faith is not to capitulate but to rise to a higher plane of thinking. To have faith is not to defy human reason but rather to share divine wisdom…Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these.

And from the Psalms:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth. –Psalm 121:1-2

Heschel states that, “…our faith in Him conveys to us more understanding of Him than either reason or perception is able to grasp”, but what good does that do us if we refuse to even try to see people around us as God sees them; as God sees us all? We may believe we are adoring and serving God but we have failed Him completely if we cannot adore and serve people as well.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” –Mark 12:28-34

As the commentary on Pirkei Avot states:

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, taught: “Your fellow is your mirror. If your own face is clean, the image you encounter in your fellow will also be flawless. Should you gaze into this `mirror’ and see a blemish, it is your own imperfections that you are seeing.”

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. –Matthew 7:3-5

If looking in the mirror which is your brother’s face, you see only imperfection and error, how will you ever see the face of Abraham or the face of Jesus in your Sukkah?

Who is the light in your reflection?

I’ll Get By With a Little Help

Praying with TefillinWelcome to today’s “bonus” meditation.

Teshuvas Torah L’Shmah was asked whether a person who would not be able to concentrate while davening (praying) should daven or not. Seemingly, if he will not be able to concentrate he should be exempt since sefarim write that davening without concentration is comparable to a body without a soul. Accordingly, if he is unable to concentrate he should not daven. He responded that one who is distracted and consequently incapable of davening with proper concentration should nevertheless daven since we do not push aside the mitzvah just because of his difficulty. He then adds that someone who does not know the inner meaning or kabbalistic intent that is supposed to accompany a mitzvah is not exempt from that mitzvah. A person is expected to do what he can and even without that additional intent the mitzvah is considered fulfilled without any defect whatsoever.

Even though the individual does not know how to properly focus his thoughts on davening, God will supplement what is lacking.

Daf Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Should a person daven if he cannot properly concentrate?”
Chullin 31

In his Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi sets down the fundamentals of the chabad-chassidic approach to life. On the cover page of this “bible of chabad-chassidism” he defines his work as follows:

“Based on the verse, `For it [the Torah and its precepts] is something that is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it’ – it explains, with the help of G-d, how it is indeed exceedingly close, in a long and short way.”

Chabad Commentary on Chapter 2
The Ethics of Our Fathers
“The Long But Short Of It”
Tammuz 25, 5771 * July 27, 2011

If you are a person of faith, your highest desire is to draw closer to God and do to what will please Him. Any son or daughter wants to not only obey their father but to do what will make him happy. So it is between us and our Father in Heaven.

So what’s the problem? We are.

To continue from the Chabad commentary for Pirkei Avot Chapter 2:

The Torah and its mitzvos are the Creator’s blueprint for creation, detailing the manner in which He meant life to be lived and His purpose in creation to be fulfilled. But is a life that is ordered utterly by Torah indeed feasible? Can the ordinary “Everyman” be realistically expected to conduct his every act, word and thought in accordance with Torah’s most demanding directives?

…a person may argue: Why spend a lifetime pursuing this demanding regimen of mind and heart? Why must I toil to understand and feel? Why not take the direct approach–open the books and follow instructions? I’m a simple Jew, he may maintain, and the attainment of such lofty spiritual states as “comprehension of the Divine”, “love of G-d” and “awe of G-d” are way beyond my depth. I know the truth, I know what G-d wants of me—the Torah spells out the dos and don’ts of life quite clearly.

Despite the previous quote, sometimes we don’t really understand what God wants. Sometimes we don’t know how to pray. Sometimes we aren’t sure how to do our best. Sometimes we wonder, couldn’t God make loving Him “with all our heart, mind, and strength” just a little bit more straightforward? After all, I’m no saint or holy man. I’m just a regular person.

But God has an answer for that.

The Torah itself is quite clear on the matter: “For the mitzvah which I command you this day,” it states, “it is not beyond you nor is it remote from you. It is not in heaven… nor is it across the sea… Rather, it is something that is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it.” (Deut. 30:11-14) Torah’s vision of life is not an abstract ideal, nor a point of reference to strive toward, but an achievable goal.

God does not expect more of us than we are capable of giving. Our problem is often we do not believe we are capable of what God expects. Some churches compound the problem by “dumbing-down” what God requires, using “grace” as the back door out of taking personal responsibility for our behavior. God does cut us some slack, but not by simply removing the mitzvot (commandments) we think are too difficult for us.

Like the person who cannot pray because he cannot concentrate, when we have truly made our best effort, God will “supplement what is lacking” in us. After all, He knows what we are lacking because He designed us. We also have this:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. –Romans 8:26-27

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. –Hebrews 4:14-16

Praying ChildEven though we are lacking. Even though we can barely speak let alone pray, God has provided for our every need, even when we cannot see hope illuminating the darkness. Just have one simple desire as you turn to Him:

[Rabbon Gamliel the son of Rabbi Judah HaNassi] would say… Make that His will should be your will… –Ethics of the Fathers, 2:4

Jesus expressed the most important focus of our lives this way:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” –Mark 12:28-33

Finally, when you pray, pray like this:

The ultimate prayer is the prayer of a small child.

You pray to some lofty concept of The Infinite Light or The Essence of Being or…

But the child doesn’t have any concept. Just G-d.

From the wisdom of the Rebbe
Menachem M. Schneerson
as compiled by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman in his book
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

Good Shabbos.