Tag Archives: holy

What is Faith?

What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

-Morpheus played by Laurence Fishburne
from The Matrix (1999)

I thought about this quote as I was driving home this evening (as I write this) and wondering what happened between Monday and now. On Monday evening and into Tuesday morning, and even as far as this morning, something carried over from a new or rejuvenated sense of faith and spirituality. Then, as I was driving home, it was like a balloon popped and I could feel myself sinking back into my previous template, which is at a depth where contact with God is like a faint echo struggling to make its way through the cold deeps of a twilight ocean.

What’s stronger, something new or something old? Answer: something old. Something new is exciting in the moment, but what’s old, like old habits, have a much greater and firmer foothold on your life or, in this case mine.

To paraphrase Morpheus, “What is faith? How do you define ‘faith’? If you’re talking about what you can feel emotionally, what you experience in response to stimulating books on faith, on hearing rousing music with impassioned lyrics, then ‘faith’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

That’s a horrible realization and it was even more horrible that such a thought reminded me John MacArthur speaks against a faith based on sensation and experience. Of course, he goes in the opposite direction and believes in a faith based almost exclusively on the intellect and his version of Bible study, making him not unlike some Rabbis in some traditional corners of Judaism.

You’re a great one for logic. I’m a great one for rushing in where angels fear to tread. We are both extremists. Reality has brought us somewhere in-between.

-Captain James Kirk (William Shatner)
from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Apparently the 1990s were very good for movie quotes.

coastKirk and Spock seem to be polar opposites: an emotionalist always looking for his next adventure, and a logical rationalist, always seeking the calm of study, knowledge, and wisdom. But as Kirk pointed out, both of them are extremists. Reality (what is “real?”) is somewhere in the middle.

And so we arrive at attempting to define the essential elements of a life of faith. Certainly not just a stimulating book about a faithful man of God who could perform healing miracles, or music and lyrics that touch the emotions and hopefully the soul. Certainly not just the enthralling study of the Bible, of interesting commentaries, of Talmud and midrash.

Reality is somewhere in the middle because human beings are emotional and intellectual beings. Too much of either side of the equation leaves our faith woefully off-balance, and us teetering on the edge of plummeting into one abyss or another.

A little over two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post quoting First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Founder and President Boaz Michael saying that faith is a platform supported by three legs: the Spirit of the Lord, the Torah of Moses, and the Gospel of the Messianic Kingdom.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, the apostle Paul speaks of another three “legs:” faith, hope, and love. It seems we are not complete as devotees of the God of Israel and disciples of Messiah unless we not only value multiple elements in a living faith, but we allow those elements to exist in balance relative to one another. Depending too much on any one “leg” for support, will likely find us about to fall in the opposite direction.

I’ve heard it said that it takes six-weeks to either make a new habit or break an old one. I’m sure that’s overly simplistic, but if you are trying to break an old, unwanted but familiar and relatively comfortable habit, six weeks can seem like a long time. After the initial excitement at any resolution, after a few days pass, the old and familiar assert their influence.

I suppose I could immerse myself in inspirational books and music, but that’s just swinging in another extreme direction and it won’t last. What I think will last is establishing a balance, realizing that there will be moments of disappointment and let down, moments when things will seem dry and uninteresting, and that those moments do not have to stand in the way of a new or renewed sense of the presence of God.

Some habits are good. Continuing to read and to study the Bible is good. Listening to faith-based music is good. Set times of prayer and “davening” from the Siddur is good. Reaching out to God, not only when He seems close, but when He seems far away is good.

Most people who are religious I think organize their activities into the holy and the secular. It’s holy to go to church and secular to go to work. It’s holy to sing a hymn and secular to sing a rock song from the ’60s. It’s holy to pray, and it’s secular to wish.

Leonard CohenThat’s the problem. From God’s point of view, we are all His creations and thus we all share some small part of the Divine. As people of faith, the awareness of that state should be present in us…in me. There really are no times or circumstances or tasks where God is not present. It’s just a matter of whether or not I chose to be aware of the presence during those times I deem “secular”

A momentary pause in the music doesn’t mean the song has ended. The end of a paragraph or chapter doesn’t mean the book is done. And the realization that I won’t always “feel” that God is near doesn’t mean God isn’t near. Faith is continuing to act faithfully even if the physical and spiritual world seems silent and empty.

Faith isn’t a feeling and it isn’t a thought. Faith is a habit or at least it’s supported by habits…praying, singing, reading the Bible, pondering God’s wondrous acts and wisdom, opening your cognition and emotions to God, even if He should choose not to fill them.

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

-Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah”

Faith is that moment when all is silent and void and yet there is still nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

Praying Where God Has Placed His Name

ancient-kotel-prayersWhen responding to the question, “Why do Jews pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem,” Rabbi Tzvi Freeman had this to say.

I think what you’re really asking is: If G‑d is everywhere, why should prayer be more effective in one place than another? In truth, the same can be asked regarding praying in a synagogue vs. praying at home.

The question has been asked many times before in classical Jewish literature. Since this is a Chabad site, I’ll provide the answer given by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), the first rebbe of Chabad.

The essence of his answer is that although G‑d is everywhere, His light shines stronger in some places than in others. He compares this to the human body: You are everywhere in your body, yet you are far more conscious of your mind than of your toes. So too, in the universe that G‑d created, there are places, times and states of being where we are able to be more aware of Him—and it is from those places/times/states that our prayers can fly best.

Any person is able to create for himself a time of day and a special place from which he or she reaches out to G‑d. And we all should—somewhere in our homes or gardens, set aside a place of prayer and meditation, along with a time of day or week that we sit there and connect. Even more special is a place that was chosen not just by us, but by G‑d as well. And that is the Temple Mount, which G‑d chose as His dwelling place in the time of King David.

Ever since then, that specialness has never left the Western Wall, the only remnant left standing.

The Talmud tells us that every synagogue is a “minor Holy Temple.” Thus the above also applies—in smaller measure—to any location designated to be a house of worship for G‑d.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but one item on my bucket list (not that I have a well-defined bucket list) is to pray at the Kotel, otherwise called the Western Wall. I’m not even entirely sure that, from a Jewish point of view, it would be considered appropriate for a Christian to pray at the Kotel. After all, there is a certain controversy associated with some Jewish women davening at the Kotel, and I’m not even Jewish.

On the other hand, American Presidents and Catholic Popes have prayed at the Kotel, so I suppose it could be permissible for me to do so as well.

Why do I want to?

The Jewish person querying Rabbi Freeman was confused by the significance of even Jews davening at the Kotel. What’s the difference between praying there, in synagogue, at home, or, for a Christian, in church?

Rabbi Freeman answered the question from a Jewish point of view, but can any of that be applied to someone like me?

I think so.

So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.

Genesis 22:3-4 (NASB)

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz.

Genesis 28:18-19 (NASB)

But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. There also you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you.

Deuteronomy 12:5-7 (NASB)

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Acts 5:42 (NASB)

Jacobs_LadderIt is said in midrash that the place where the Akedah (binding of Isaac) occurred was at the future Temple Mount in what would be Jerusalem. This is also supposed to be the identical site where Jacob experienced God at Beth El (literally, “House of God” in Hebrew). We also know from the Torah, that God intended to place His Name in a specific geographic location, which is also understood as the Temple Mount. Further, we see that the early Apostles of Messiah regularly taught and prayed at the Temple, specifically at Solomon’s portico (see Acts 3:11).

All of this seems to indicate that not only Jerusalem, but the site of the Temple, has a special significance to God. Yes, God is everywhere and we are not inhibited from praying to God anywhere, but no other place on Earth seems to hold the presence of God in such a way as Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.

And the Kotel is all that is left of the Temple, at least for now.

Also, if it is true that the Temple will be rebuilt and especially if Messiah, Son of David, will rule from Jerusalem and that his throne will be placed there, then any disciple of the Master should be drawn to the Holy City and to the location where Hashem’s Temple has and will once again be established.

Christians have to be careful though, because any attachment we show to Jerusalem and the Kotel can easily be misunderstood by Jewish people as our “taking over” Jewish Holy sites. The church as a long history of supersessionism, so it’s important to respect the overwhelming Jewish history and ownership of Jerusalem and Israel. However, many religious Jews believe that the people of the nations will one day be drawn to Messiah and worship God in Jerusalem, so in that context, we can present ourselves as desiring to honor Hashem at the Kotel. Even Solomon understood this from days of old.

“Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.”

1 Kings 8:41-43 (NASB)

In desiring to pray at the Kotel, I am only responding to the prayers of the King.

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

Psalm 122:1 (NASB)

But again, Christians must not forget that it is Jewish eyes that are constantly looking toward Jerusalem and Jewish hearts that “sigh” for Messiah.

“Notwithstanding all this, the Jew … has his heart fixed upon Jerusalem, praying and sighing a waiting, and longing for the coming of the Messiah King, the promised Redeemer of the House of David.”

Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein

What Doesn’t Kill You

:‫אחד המרבה ואחד הממעיט ובלבד שיכוין לבו לשמים. — ה‬

Whether one does a lot or a little, it is equal, as long as his intention is for the sake of Heaven – 5b

In his commentary to Hilchos Krias Sh’ma, the Or Zarua writes: “One who toils in Torah to the best of his ability might nevertheless feel that he has accomplished very little. He should know, however, that as long as he has done his best, he has earned the same reward as another who has toiled in Torah and who has accomplished much. The reward is commensurate with the effort. (Avos 5:23). The Yerushalmi even says that if one person toiled in Torah day and night for one hundred years, while another studied Torah to the utmost of his abilities for a shortened lifespan of twenty years, God rewards them equally.”

The Or Zarua concludes and rules that the same measure is used in terms of giving tzedaka and for all meritorious acts. When a person honestly does whatever he can and works to the fullest extent of his abilities, God judges it as if he has accomplished what is expected from him, and God will reward him accordingly.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“To focus one’s heart for the sake of Heaven”
Berachos 5

I suppose this could be condensed down to something like, “do your best” or some similar statement. The “Gemara Gem,” from a Christian point of view, is probably thought of at best as a learned opinion or an encouraging statement, though as I’ve mentioned before that Christianity doesn’t look at Bible study as an act of loving God or something done for its own sake. In religious Judaism however, Torah study brings a Jew close to God in a way that most non-Jews will never understand. I certainly can’t claim any special insights myself.

But think of the implications here. For an observant Jew, failure to strive in Torah study or approaching Torah study with a rather casual attitude must be looked at by God in a less than complementary fashion. If Torah study is that important, whether you’re an accomplished scholar or someone who can hardly grasp the basics, it is your effort and devotion that results in God’s favor. Imagine how you’d feel if you didn’t try your best, but you still cared about merits from God. Or even imagine if you tried your best and still accomplished very little. You might still feel, regardless of what was quoted above, that you are a failure. You might even have friends or family who are more than willing to re-enforce that opinion of yourself, whether due to poor Torah study or any number of other disappointments.

Yesterday, I tried to explain that each of us, having been made in the image of God, are holy and sacred people. We should treat each other and ourselves with dignity and respect befitting someone who contains a precious spark of the Divine. However, I ended yesterday’s missive with a cautionary note:

Oh, one more thing. All this is far easier said than done, especially finding that “holy” guy in the mirror while I’m shaving in the morning.

Knowledge and insight are wonderful things but they don’t automatically result in wisdom and change, especially when your so-called “holiness” collides into the reality of day-to-day life.

Consider this.

Someone spends most of their life, for whatever reasons, believing that they have little to offer others and that whenever they try to do their best, failure is the result. They have hurt others without meaning to, hurt themselves, and generally made a mess of things. Finally, they come to the conclusion that everyone who they love and want to be close to, resents them and even sometimes hates them because of all the trouble they’ve caused.

At some point, this person, on a cognitive level, realizes that at least some of what they’re experiencing is self-constructed and self-maintained. They learn that “you are what you think” and after reading more self-help and inspirational material than they thought they could stand, they come to the realization that they have the power to change how they think and therefore, how they feel and behave.

So they give it a shot. Maybe they just practice some set of rules or habits that they’ve been told effective people use. Maybe they even go to a counselor of some sort to help get a direction and supportive feedback.

But it doesn’t work.

Here’s why.

Each day for twenty, thirty, forty years or more, this person has added ten pounds of weight on their back. I know ten pounds doesn’t sound like much, but if you added ten more pounds each day, day in and day out, 365 days a year for decade upon decade upon decade, it would eventually become tons…tons of weight on the person’s back. Tons of weight holding the person down.

Each time they employ some sort of method to change their thinking, their feeling, and their behavior, they are taking a small hammer and a wee chisel and chipping off a fleck here and a fragment there of fifty or sixty or seventy tons of concrete and steel, trying to lighten the load. After a few days or a few weeks or a few months, the person tries to stand up under the load. It doesn’t seem any lighter. They still can’t stand. They still can’t move.

On top of all this (no pun intended) the original mechanism of thoughts and perceptions that cause this person to process all outside input as negative and punitive is continuing to add more and more weight on. So as this person attempts to make their burden lighter at an extremely miniscule rate, the weight is being replaced faster than it can be removed, so in fact, change is not occurring at all or worse…the weight is getting even heavier.

Do you think when the Or Zarua says the following, that it applies to our much burdened individual?

When a person honestly does whatever he can and works to the fullest extent of his abilities, God judges it as if he has accomplished what is expected from him, and God will reward him accordingly.

I’m not sure it does. Here’s why.

Only when a person has peace of mind can he really feel love for humanity. Lack of peace of mind leads to animosity towards others. Peace of mind leads to love.

Only if a person has peace of mind will he be able to pass the test of dealing properly with other people. He will be able to [be] kindhearted to everyone. His peace of mind will enable him to tolerate others and be patient with them.

see Daas Chochmah Umussar, vol.2, p.203;
Mussar Hatorah, p.10;
Gateway to Happiness, p.73
quoted from Aish.com

If we are supposed to love God by loving other people and performing acts of kindness and charity, and thus achieve an understanding that we can love ourselves and that indeed, God loves us too, how is this achieved if you cannot perform the first step? I suppose I’m looking at this in too much of a linear fashion. I’ve said before that feelings are not necessary in order to do good. Just do good. And yet, thoughts and feelings of self-loathing, self-deprecation, and the insurmountable weight of depression, like 88,000 pounds of lead crushing you into the dirt and mud, makes it difficult or even (seemingly) impossible to budge an inch. In real life, it takes some sort of motivation to do just about anything, especially something that is out of character and that requires an extraordinary effort.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. –2 Timothy 4:5-8 (ESV)

But the encouragements of Paul in the New Testament might seem to backfire in the face of someone pinned to the ground by their faults like an insect trapped in amber.

I know some people read blogs like mine for a sense of encouragement, support, and inspiration, but mine is a very strange “inspirational” blog. Candy-coating life is usually ineffective, and it’s practically insane to deny that some people find emotional survival to be the best they can accomplish on any given day, or at the very least, it’s rather cruel. In the background of life for a person like the one I’ve been describing, it isn’t just the fear that the people they love will get fed up with them and leave, but that God will get fed up as well.

Worry can always provide reason. Maybe G‑d is out to punish you. Maybe you don’t deserve to be saved from the mess you’ve gotten into. Maybe an ugly mess is the only way He has to provide for you.

That’s not called trust. Trust means you have not a shade of doubt that He will deliver. No matter what.

The heavens above mirror the earth below. Trust in Him and He will fulfill your trust.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Forget Punishment”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Telling someone like this that they don’t trust God may seem to be rather “oh duh” at this point. They know that. It’s just another nail in their emotional coffin, just another ten or a hundred pounds added to what they’re already ladened with (though I should say at this point that if you can’t trust God, trusting or even liking most other people is probably out of the question, but here’s the kicker…do you not trust God because people have proven to be untrustworthy or do you not trust people because you believe God is untrustworthy?).

You must treat yourself with respect. To do otherwise is to desecrate something that is holy.

That which doesn’t kill you will usually try again.

Supposedly, you can only go down so far before you start to rise up again. There is a principle in some areas of Judaism that says, “Every descent is for the sake of a future ascent.” Of course, that “ascent” might not occur until the world to come, which means you’re already dead and your life on earth hasn’t worked out at all. Besides, it’s just a saying. You can’t find it in the Bible.

And yet the Jewish people have survived every conceivable defeat, degradation, and humiliation, and still managed to survive and even to thrive due to such teachings added to the promises of God.

Why doesn’t this work for anyone else?

There is an increasingly mythical sacred person buried under endless tons of rock, dirt, and pain. They keep trying to dig their way out of their cave-in using only splintered, bloody stumps of what’s left of their fingers. The light is dimming and the air is running out. When the Divine spark is extinguished, what will be left of the person who was supposed to be holy? When the abyss finally claims its victim, will God still be there to watch?



The Image of the Holy

[If a criminal has been executed by hanging] his body may not remain suspended overnight … because it is an insult to God.
Deuteronomy 21:23

Rashi explains that since man was created in the image of God, anything that disparages man is disparaging God as well.

Chilul Hashem, bringing disgrace to the Divine Name, is one of the greatest sins in the Torah. The opposite of chilul Hashem is kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the Divine Name. While this topic has several dimensions to it, there is a living kiddush Hashem which occurs when a Jew behaves in a manner that merits the respect and admiration of other people, who thereby respect the Torah of Israel.

What is chilul Hashem? One Talmudic author stated, “It is when I buy meat from the butcher and delay paying him” (Yoma 86a). To cause someone to say that a Torah scholar is anything less than scrupulous in meeting his obligations is to cause people to lose respect for the Torah.

Suppose someone offers us a business deal of questionable legality. Is the personal gain worth the possible dishonor that we bring not only upon ourselves, but on our nation? If our personal reputation is ours to handle in whatever way we please, shouldn’t we handle the reputation of our nation and the God we represent with maximum care?

Jews have given so much, even their lives, for kiddush Hashem. Can we not forego a few dollars to avoid chilul Hashem?

Today I shall …

… be scrupulous in all my transactions and relationships to avoid the possibility of bringing dishonor to my God and people.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Av 17”

This is an excellent point we Christians should learn. Yesterday, I commented about the intrinsic interweaving of loving God, loving other people, and loving ourselves. Rabbi Twerski’s commentary builds on that and shows us that what we do, for good or for ill, reflects upon the name of God. If we do good, God’s Name is elevated, even among the unbelieving nations. If otherwise, God’s Name is desecrated.

But there’s more.

Since all people everywhere across the vast span of human history have been created in the image of God, how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves is incredibly important. To treat another human being for any reason, with a lack of respect and dignity, is to treat God with dishonor. When we show kindness and compassion to someone, it is as if we were doing so to God. To show cruelty, dishonor, and disrespect to another…

…well, you get the idea.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:41-46 (ESV)

This reminds me of a song I heard Alanis Morissette sing on the radio, though I guess it was originally released by Joan Osborne:

What if god was one of us,
just a slob like one of us,
just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home?

-Lyrics by Eric Bazilian

If we would just try to imagine that everyone we encounter, no matter who they are, is God. How would that affect how we respond to them? How would we treat them differently? How would we see them? How would we feel about how we treated them yesterday?

But if God is holy, and being created in the image of God, other people are holy, what about you…and me? That is, how are you treating yourself? How am I treating myself?

Lakanta (played by Tom Jackson): What do you think is sacred to us here?

Wesley Crusher (played by Wil Wheaton): Maybe the necklace you’re wearing? The designs on the walls?

Lakanta: Everything is sacred to us – the buildings, the food, the sky, the dirt beneath your feet – and you. Whether you believe in your spirit or not, we believe in it. You are a sacred person here, Wesley.

Wesley Crusher: I think that’s the first time anyone’s used that particular word to describe me.

Lakanta: You must treat yourself with respect. To do otherwise is to desecrate something that is holy.

Wesley Crusher: Is that what you think I’ve been doing?

Lakanta: Only you can decide that.

Wesley Crusher: I guess I haven’t had a lot of respect for myself lately.

from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode,
Journey’s End (1994)

I always feel a little embarrassed when I include a quote from a television show or movie in these “meditations” but this transaction between Wesley and Lakanta absolutely crystallizes the point I’m trying to make. Remember, I previously said that there’s a connection between loving God and loving other people with loving yourself. Now we see that perhaps we can’t obey God at all; we cannot love Him and treat His Name as sacred, until we learn that to treat ourselves with disrespect is to desecrate someone who is holy…that is you…and me.

I know, it’s pretty hard to wake up first thing in the morning, look at that tired, unshaven face in the mirror, and think of myself as holy. On the other hand, what do we see when we look at the faces of other people? If we can’t see what is holy in them, how will we ever see what is Holy in God?

When we seek to serve God, when we do our best to help others, to treat them kindly, with respect, with dignity, we aren’t just doing it for them, though of course they benefit. We aren’t just doing it for ourselves either, for that would be ultimately self-serving. But in honoring others, we are serving a purpose that transcends our human existence and connects us with holy realms and an infinite God. The very act of spending half an hour with a sick friend at the hospital or even donating one can of beans to your local food bank inescapably connects you with the Divine purpose; the very heart of the One and True God. It’s not just morality, it’s spirituality. It’s not just right and wrong. It’s living holiness.

It’s so easy to think of ourselves as “ordinary.” It’s so easy to get swept away by the habits of our small lives. To go to work. To shop for food. To mow the lawn, To take out the garbage. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re not here to be ordinary people doing ordinary things. God created us to do great and wonderful things. It’s all at our fingertips. All we have to do is look in the mirror and see a sacred person. All we have to do is look at somebody else, and see someone who is holy.

God is One and we were created in His image. So it is as if God were one of us. It’s as if God is all of us, not as imagined in some mystic, eastern philosophical way, but because we are all of His image, His essence.

You are holy. So am I. So is the next person you see or speak to, no matter who they are.

As a person behaves here below, so he is treated above.

Perhaps someone once tried to tell you about the ugly deeds of another. Perhaps you responded, “I’m not interested.” And you didn’t listen.

Then there will be a time when a heavenly being will wish to report on your doings here on earth. If you have had the guts to respond this way, G‑d will also say, “I’m not interested. I don’t want to even listen.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“How to Not Listen”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

What if God was one of us?

Oh, one more thing. All this is far easier said than done, especially finding that “holy” guy in the mirror while I’m shaving in the morning.


Ever wondered why the ark in your synagogue has two coverings – a door and a curtain?

The first mention of the concept of the curtain is found in the Talmud. Today this curtain is called the parochet (Heb. פרוכת).

The ark, known as the aron kodesh (Heb. ארון קודש), is considered one of the holiest components of the synagogue; the actual Torah scrolls which are kept inside the ark are the holiest.

In the Holy Temple in Jerusalem there was a curtain separating the “Holy” chamber and the “Holy of Holies” chamber. “And you shall place the table on the outer side of the dividing curtain…”

The curtain in the Temple was not used to separate the rooms; there was a stone wall for that. The curtain, explains Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi, was a sign of modesty and respect for the Holy Ark which was kept in the Holy of Holies.

The same is true for the ark in the synagogue. The Torahs are wrapped in individual coverings, the ark has a door, and we add an extra curtain as a sign of modesty and respect for the holy scrolls.

-Rabbi Dovid Zaklikowski
“Why is There a Curtain Covering the Ark in my Synagogue?”

What I quoted above might be just an interesting, educational tidbit except for the following:

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” –Matthew 27:51-54 (ESV)

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. –Ephesians 2:14-16 (ESV)

I’m really not bright enough or at least not sufficiently educated in theological issues to really address this issue, but it came up while I was reading so I thought I’d blog about it anyway.

In truth, I doubt there’s a way to connect the small article by Rabbi Zaklikowski to the New Testament verses I’ve referenced, but if nothing else, I guess I can illustrate how differently Judaism and Christianity view the parochet. It’s also important to remember, before I proceed, that Rabbi Zaklikowski’s commentary is midrash rather than established fact, relative to the “modesty” of the Torah scrolls. With all that said, let’s continue.

From Christianity’s point of view, the parochet represents something of a problem. It is both what separates man from God and what separates Jew from Gentile (specifically Gentile Christian). It is commonly believed that when Jesus died, the splitting of the parochet, which separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies, indicated that through Christ’s blood, there was no longer any separation between man and God. To put it in Christian vernacular, “man could now boldly approach the Throne of God” without the intermediary of the Levitical Priesthood.

The second symbolic representation of the parochet was the separation of Judaism, which for thousands of years was the sole keeper of ethical monotheism, the Torah, the Shabbat, and access to the God of Abraham, from the rest of humanity who were not inheritors of the covenant of Sinai. Through Jesus, the separation was torn down and now all men, not just the Jews, could approach God. There was no need to access God through Judaism and the Jewish priests. The distinctions between Jew and Gentile were torn away and everyone became “one new man” before God.

Well, that’s how the Christians see it.

But looking at the parochet from Rabbi Zaklikowski’s perspective, it isn’t an undesirable barrier at all but rather, a protector and a sign of significance and special Holiness. Putting a veil between man and the most Holy place indicates that it is indeed the most Holy place; something not to be treated casually or as something common or ordinary.

This provides, or rather confirms something for me (and remember, this is all symbolism and parable, not concrete fact or Biblical truth). It has often bothered me how Christianity seems to treat Holy things as common. Jesus is a “good buddy.” God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, vast, infinite, omnipresent, omnipotent God, is actually a cute, cuddly cosmic teddy bear and anyone can just crawl up onto His lap and squeeze Him, and hold onto His furry, little tummy. I’ve even heard some women say that they occasionally imagine falling asleep in bed while being held in Christ’s arms.

Wow, really?

I can understand being hurt and sad and broken and needing access to a comforter beyond what we have access to within humanity; someone who knows us, understands us, sympathizes with us, and yet, has access to the Throne of God and can intercede for us with the Almighty, asking for mercy, comfort, and grace.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. –Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

On the other hand, in order to serve our own wants and needs, we have reduced the Jewish Messiah King and the One God of eternity, the great and awesome Ein Sof, down to mere shadows and objects of personal convenience.

We don’t want Jesus to be separated from us by anything so we make him our neighbor, our buddy, our “lover” (I say that in a non-sexual way), and our BFF.

That isn’t normally how a disciple treats his Master or how a subject considers her King.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to put the parochet back up at some point so we can preserve our sense of respect and honor of God as is His due, and to show glory and majesty to the King who came once and who will come again in power.

But what about the separation between Christian and Jew? How will putting parochet back up affect the “one new man?”

I’ve discussed that subject, from one point of view or another, for the past several years. What is the Christian responsibility to the Jew in terms of encouraging Jewish Torah observance, supporting the restoration of national Israel and her redemption, and thus summoning the great and terrible day of the Lord’s return?

In order to have a role in that, there must be some sort of distinction between Christian and Jew, especially if Gentile Torah observance isn’t what’s required to initiate Israel’s national redemption and everything that will follow. To tear down the parochet, removes the mechanism by which the Messiah will return. How can we do that?

Then what am I saying? Am I dismissing scripture? Am I discounting the Gospel of Matthew and the letter of Paul to the Ephesians? Not at all. I am saying that these events may not mean what we’ve been taught they mean. They are two, isolated text strings that have been used as part of a long pattern of the church’s supersessionist theology but which, on an actual lived and spiritual level, may represent something other than what we imagine.

After all, when the parochet in the Temple was torn, do we think that it was never repaired, and remained rent until the final destruction of the Temple and the razing of Jerusalem decades later? And was Paul’s metaphorical language meant to literally mean the Temple’s parochet, or was something else removed, the hostility, which may simply have been the attitudes between Jew and non-Jew which we see Peter overcoming in Acts 10?

I can’t say for sure. Perhaps New Testament scholars have their own theories. All I’m suggesting is that we might want to treat God with a tad bit more awe and reverence than what we are accustomed to, and we might want to consider that the Christian role in redeeming Israel may require removing the barriers of ethnic and religious “hostility,” without removing ethnic and religious distinctions, so that we can work in complementary fashion to perform Tikkun Olam, to repair our broken world, and to make it ready for what God has planned to happen next.

Just a few thoughts to ponder on today’s “morning meditation.”



The Elusive, Invisible, Tzaddik

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.

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

This is amazingly difficult for me to get my brain around, mostly because I can’t imagine it applying to me, not even a little. But there are only a few sentences here to try and understand Rabbi Freeman’s point. What about how others reacted to this blog post?

*Posted June 24, 2012 by Yaakov Branfman, Jerusalem, Israel
So, in other words, when he goes against the Tzaddik, he’s really going against that part in himself who is a Tzaddik. And, not even talking about going against, but when he simply doesn’t value the Tzaddik, he’s not valuing that part of himself.
When he values a “regular” person, he’s valuing that part in himself, and when not valuing that person, he’s not seeing the good parts in himself.

*Posted Aug 22, 2009 by Anonymous, New York, NY
Yosef is the only one in the Torah was called HaTzaddik. Yet we find that Yosef made mistakes, and struggled, yet overcame his inclination, but is not that he had _NO_ such impulses.

By the way this is a phenomenal pearl of wisdom by written by Tzvi Freeman… If we look at people, and look for the Tzaddik within them… we can _PULL_ the Tzaddik to the surface.

*Posted Aug 9, 2009 by mark alcock, Durban, SA
“Tzaddik, The: A wholly righteous person. In the context of Chabad literature, one who has conquered his animal impulses and is filled entirely with love and reverence for G-d.” One is either righteous or not, not sometimes without sin.

*Posted Aug 9, 2009 by Michal
When I look at it this way,
then even I am a Tzaddik.
Most of the time.
Unfortunately not always !!!

I think what Rabbi Freeman (or the Rebbe) is trying to say is that we should look for the best in other people and the best in ourselves. There is supposed to be some spark of wonder, divinity, and even perfection within each human being and, if we can try to relate to that part of another person rather than the other parts that are imperfect, then maybe they will aspire to be what we see in them, rather than what the rest of the world sees.

That has profound implications. If you know someone who is perpetually sad or angry or cynical or sarcastic, you tend to relate to them by their primary presentation. We all tend to believe that a person is the way we see them and the way they act. But what if we choose to look at and to treat each person as if they were a tzaddik, even if that is the farthest thing from who they actually appear to be?

No, it wouldn’t suddenly change them. Chances are, they’d think you were faking it when you treated them with respect, honor, and deference (how else should you treat someone who is one with God?). Chances are they’d think you were lying. But what if you always treated the other person with respect, honor, and deference, even though their behavior didn’t warrant such treatment and even though everything inside of you tells you that they don’t deserve it?

At the very least, you’d confuse the other person. At the very most, they might, just might be able to see something of a tzaddik in themselves and start behaving differently.

OK, it’s a long shot and most of the time, it wouldn’t work, but how could it hurt? And what if their life is somehow a message to us?

So even if one is your enemy, and justifiably so; even if his moral and spiritual downfall is one of his own making – it could have happened without your having been made aware of it. That you have witnessed it has nothing to do with him: it is a message to you, enjoining you to deal with a similar negative element – be it in subtlest of forms – within yourself.

-Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement

What if someone where to treat you like a tzaddik? How would you react?


If you go around thinking you’re pretty cool stuff, you might think that it’s only what you deserve and you’d let it go to your head. That would be too bad, because if you go around all the time thinking you’re pretty cool stuff, chances are, you really aren’t. Chances are, things like humility, honoring God, and loving your neighbor as yourself might have escaped you. Yet none of these things would escape a tzaddik. If even one other person started treating you like a tzaddik and kept treating you that way, do you think those things that had escaped you before would begin to become noticeable?

And what if you look and look but you don’t see the tzaddik in yourself? What if you see a total screw up who, no matter how hard he tries, just can’t stop making mistakes, losing track of important details, and whose past is a ghost attached around his neck with heavy, iron chains, haunting not only his every waking moment but every minute of his dreams? And what if no one ever treated you like a tzaddik, not that you’d ever expect such a thing?

Can you look for and find the tzaddik in yourself or is there only your past, your mistakes, and how everyone else sees you in exactly the same way you see yourself?

Don’t be “this”. Don’t let them define you. If you catch yourself fitting into a definition, contradict it. Never travel a single road.

Be forever walking through the splitting of the sea.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Being Paradox”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

If there is even a tiny spark of the tzaddik in you, then not only can God see it but He placed it there. When a person can see only his mistakes, he also believes that’s only what God sees. It’s not that God can’t see past our flaws, but when we are drowning in our own despair, it’s impossible for us to believe God can see in us what we can’t see. It’s impossible for us to believe that there is something more in us than our own self-definition or the way others see our behavior and choose to define us. It’s impossible for us to think that we can escape the definition and become the paradox. Rabbi Freeman’s commentary on the above statement tells us that only God is truly the paradox:

If we wish to touch G-d Himself, we cannot find Him in any defined, bounded form. He is entirely unbounded, free of any definition. and that can only be discovered in utter paradox.

That is why everything a Jew does according to Torah, is bound up with paradox–because it is divine.

A Jew enters that identity when He is bound up in the Torah. A Christian would have to be bound up in Christ, the living Torah, to transcend the definition as Rabbi Freeman suggests, and to find the tzaddik within.

It would be wonderful to suspend the definition and to find the tzaddik who is completely concealed inside of me. But most days, there’s just who I see when I look in the mirror, and who the world sees when it looks at me, and who knows what God sees? Some days are better, and some days are worse, and some days all there is to see in me is a rasha. Have you even seen the tzaddik in you, let alone met him or her? If so, what is it like?

One of the Alter Rebbe’s great and very close chassidim had yechidus, in the course of which the Rebbe inquired after his situation. The chassid complained bitterly that his financial situation had utterly deteriorated. The Rebbe responded: You are needed to illuminate your environment with Torah and avoda of the heart – (davening). Livelihood and what you need – that, G-d must provide for you. You do what you must, and G-d will do what He must.

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tamuz 5, 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