Tag Archives: hope

No Guarantees

NoGuaranteesDue to the widespread famine in Canaan, Jacob and his family descended to Egypt to live under Joseph’s care. Before the journey, G-d appeared to Jacob and said “Don’t fear going down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you and I will also take you out (Gen. 46:3).” Wouldn’t this move to Egypt prove to be the beginning of hundreds of years of painful enslavement under ruthless taskmasters? Jacob knew of Abraham ‘s prophecy that his offspring would endure slavery and oppression in a foreign land for hundreds of years (Gen. 15:13). Why shouldn’t he have feared this impending horror?

The truth is that yes, Jacob had reason to fear. But G-d’s promise — that He would be with Jacob’s children all along and that ultimately they would emerge a great nation — gave Jacob the strength to overcome it. G-d, in His Wisdom, sent the Jewish people to Egypt to build them into a great nation. Life in Egypt would be difficult, torturous and deadly at times, but our Father swore to never let go of our hands throughout the surgery. He promised that the Jewish People would leave with new strength and a promising future. A nation committed to G-d, one that would introduce and instill spiritual purpose into the world, would come out at the other end.

Pain is commonplace, and it’s our Egypt. “That’s life!” as they say, but it’s far too glib. Take a moment to consider some of the difficulties you’ve gone through, where the pain has now subsided. Did that experience change the way you look at and value life, your family, or your community? Did you grow or learn from the trying times? Jacob learned the importance of remembering that G-d is with us throughout our suffering, and to focus on the rewards on the other side. We often merit seeing the blessing hidden in the sorrow, if we take a moment to appreciate it.

-Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
“Living in Fear”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayigash
and the Sandy Hook School Shootings
ProjectGenesis.org

Experiencing continual anxiety and fear is a terrible thing. According to Rabbi Dixler, we should look back on some crisis we’ve experienced in life and see how we made it through it all, and then determine how we changed and grew as a result. Difficult times are often a “hidden blessing.” Yes, I suppose that’s true. But if we take the example of Jacob and God as we see in Genesis 46:3, even though Jacob knew that his family; his descendents would suffer slavery and oppression in Egypt for centuries, he had God’s direct assurance that they would rise up out of Egypt and become a great nation.

But what happens when you are the one facing a challenge in your life or in your family? God rarely gives us, as individual believers, His personal assurance as to how things will turn out. The vast majority of the time, we don’t have a clue what’s going to happen from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour. Did the parents of those 26 children murdered at their school in Newtown, Connecticut have any idea at all that when they sent their precious ones off on that fateful Friday morning, they’d never see them alive again?

Of course not. If they did, the parents would never have let them go.

We don’t know what’s going to happen an hour from now, a day from now, a year from now. When tragedy strikes or even threatens to strike, such as an ambiguous and disturbing medical test result requiring a visit to a specialist in the near future, you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen and how it’s going to turn out. So you live with the concern and anxiety of not knowing, sitting on proverbial “pins and needles.” Rabbi Dixler has a suggestion for how we are to endure tragedy and I suppose, the threat of future tragedy as well.

It’s now just a week since the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, and we’re all afflicted with new fears and feelings of helplessness. We don’t know why this had to happen, but perhaps there’s one thought that can give us strength: Someone Who loves us is holding our hand, and the hands of our precious children. Turn to Him for reassurance. May we soon see the other end of this pain, and may we all find new strength and a more promising future.

In other words, there are no guarantees from God that we won’t suffer from tragedy and pain. The only promise is that God loves us and will stand with us, holding our hand, so to speak, while going through the anguish with us.

Supposedly, that’s exactly what God did with His people Israel every moment of their captivity in Egypt. Supposedly, that’s exactly what God did with His people Israel every moment during the Holocaust. And yet millions suffered and died, including many, many innocent children.

job_sufferingI’ve been reading the book of Job for the past couple of weeks and in the midst of all of his quite undeserved suffering, he had no idea what was happening to him or why. He was completely bewildered about why God should allow such terrible things to happen to him, since he could figure out no reason for it. His friends, on the other hand, were quite content to blame Job, most likely sincerely believing that the reason for Job’s pain and anguish was because of some sin. I haven’t gotten to the end of the book yet and I read Job very infrequently, but as I recall, it was only at the very end that God “explained Himself” and He also explained that “He who makes the universe also makes the rules.” In other words, you don’t get to question God. Sometimes God just “happens.”

Some cynics say that religion is a crutch for people who fear death. That may sometimes be the case, but it certainly does not apply to those who study Torah. The Torah does not say much about life after death. It’s really not a book about how to go to heaven or what happens after we die. The Torah is more concerned with how we live in this lifetime, not the next. It is possible to read the entire Torah and conclude that there is no afterlife or resurrection from the dead. In the days of the apostles, a sect of Judaism called the Sadducees did exactly that. They read the Torah, did not see anything about an afterlife, and concluded that there is no afterlife, no heaven or hell, no resurrection from the dead.

“Resurrection in the Torah”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayechi
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

There isn’t even the promise of life after death, at least as far as a plain reading of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) is concerned, which is what led the Sadducees to their conclusion. However, as the FFOZ commentator points out, a study of the Torah tells us more about how to live than how to die, or more accurately, it is a study of how to live in this life not the next one.

But now we have a puzzle. If the foundation of the Bible is a lesson on how to live our lives as we exist in this world and there are no guarantees as to how this life will turn out for us, shouldn’t we continually be in fear, trembling all of the time about what apparently random circumstance is going to happen next? It’s either that or live in denial of everything I just said and either pretend that we have control of our lives or that God, being in control, will never, ever let anything bad happen to us.

Death would almost be preferable, because then, there’s no uncertainty, no fear, no pain (assuming there is no life after death). Just an end and nothingness.

But the FFOZ commentator continues.

Once, a Pharisee named Rabbi Simai was arguing with the Sadducees. They asked him to prove from the Torah that the dead would be raised.

Rabbi Simai said, “From where in Torah do we learn the resurrection of the dead? From the verse, ‘I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan.’ It doesn’t say ‘[to give] you’; it says ‘to give them.’ Therefore [since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob haven’t yet received the land] the resurrection of the dead is proved from the Torah.” (b.Sanhedrin 90b, quoting Exodus 6:4)

Rabbi Simai’s point is that God promised to give the land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—not just to their descendents. Yet, as the writer of the book of Hebrews points out, the patriarchs “died in faith, without receiving the promises” (Hebrews 11:13). God must keep His promise, but in order to do so, He will have to raise the patriarchs from the dead. This explains why Jacob was so adamant about being buried in the tomb of his fathers in the land of Canaan.

Rabbi Simai’s argument with the Sadducees sounds similar to Yeshua’s. When the Sadducees asked Yeshua to prove from the Torah that the dead are raised, He pointed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:

But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Mark 12:26–27, quoting Exodus 3:6)

There is a hope of a life after this one, both in Jewish and Christian tradition. Sure, there are a lot of gaps in our knowledge and we don’t really know exactly how it all works, but I guess that’s where faith and trust comes in.

always-hopeFaith and trust also “fills in the gaps” of our lives in this world and this life as well. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Life is a mystery and not always in an exciting and fun way. The mystery can be horrifying and terrible. Disaster has struck. We tell ourselves we can only go up from the bottom, but what if the bottom drops out? We can still fall further. We can still suffer more. After Hurricane Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey, it’s not like everything got immediately better for the victims. Many are still struggling to recover. It may take years for some people to restore everything they lost. Maybe some of them never will.

Where is God?

I ask that question a lot. If Rabbi Dixler’s interpretation is correct, then God is with us all the time, even in the midst of hideous pain and suffering. According to Rabbi Dixler, God is not just an impassive observer, watching us as we writhe in agony or shiver in fear. He’s an active if unseen (and unfelt) participant in our pain, experiencing it with us, expressing compassion, demonstrating love, though we may not be consciously aware of it.

We just have to believe He is there and that He somehow helps. We just have to somehow trust in His presence and His concern, that He will not leave us alone, even though we can feel very much alone.

Not a great message to start out your week with, especially since this is Christmas Eve (for those of you who celebrate Christmas). A message of uncertainly with only faith to hang on to in a season most Christians believe is one of ultimate hope, joy, and glory.

That’s the “official story” of Christianity at this time of year. I didn’t go to church again this Sunday. I have my reasons, but basically, I just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel like listening to and singing Christmas Caroles, hearing the “oh boy, isn’t it great that Christmas is almost here” messages, and “joy, joy, joy to the world” and all that jazz.

God, I would love some “joy, joy, joy” in my life and in the world, but I’ll settle for the knowledge and assuredness that no matter what I and my family must face now and in the future, that you will truly be with us all, strengthening us and comforting us in the bad times, and rejoicing with us in the good times.

Amen.

Inspiring Hope

moshiach-ben-yosefThe Jewish people believe in what’s called the End of Days. This isn’t the final end of the world – but merely the end of history as we know it. After the End of Days the world will continue as usual, with the big exception that there will be world peace.

As the End of the Days approach, there are two paths that the world could take. The first is filled with kindness and miracles, with the Messiah “given dominion, honor and kinship so that all peoples, nations and languages would serve him; his dominion would be an everlasting dominion that would never pass, and his kingship would never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14) This scenario could be brought at any moment, if we’d just get our act together!

The other path is described as Messiah coming “humble and riding upon a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). In this scenario, nature will take its course, and society will undergo a slow painful deterioration, with much suffering. God’s presence will be hidden, and his guidance will not be perceivable.

According to this second path, there will be a valueless society in which religion will not only be chided, it will be used to promote immorality. Young people will not respect the old, and governments will become godless. This is why the Midrash says, “One third of the world’s woes will come in the generation preceding the Messiah.” (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Handbook of Jewish Thought”)

“End of Days”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series
Aish.com

This probably sounds a little different than how Christians understand the “end times,” particularly the interpretation of Zechariah 9:9, but if you click the link I provided and continue to read, you’ll see there are a lot of similarities between the Jewish and Christian “end times scenario.” One thing I’m particularly interested in is that, from the Jewish perspective, the “End of Days” isn’t the end of the world. Some Christians I’ve talked to believe that when Jesus comes, and after all of the stuff that happens in the Book of Revelation, the Earth will be destroyed, all the Christians will go to Heaven, and everyone else will burn eternally in Hell.

But the Jewish point of view reads more like how I understand John’s revelation. The people of God don’t go to Heaven, “Heaven” comes down to them (us).

Another interesting thing (for me, anyway) is how we seem to have a choice as to which road to take. A world filled with kind and just people who give Messiah “dominion, honor, and kinship” and with “all peoples, nations and languages” serving him, will merit a world of everlasting dominion by the Messiah, but only “if we’d just get our act together!”

That doesn’t seem very likely. The alternate choice seems to be the one we see unfolding before us at the moment:

According to this second path, there will be a valueless society in which religion will not only be chided, it will be used to promote immorality. Young people will not respect the old, and governments will become godless. This is why the Midrash says, “One third of the world’s woes will come in the generation preceding the Messiah.”

That is a very good description of the world we live in today…and it is also the world that we merit by our action or rather, our lack of action. However, the Aish Rabbi also provides a message of hope.

Despite the gloom, the world does seem headed toward redemption. One apparent sign is that the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel and made it bloom again. Additionally, a major movement is afoot of young Jews returning to Torah tradition.

By the way, Maimonides states that the popularity of Christianity and Islam is part of God’s plan to spread the ideals of Torah throughout the world. This moves society closer to a perfected state of morality and toward a greater understanding of God. All this is in preparation for the Messianic age.

The Messiah can come at any moment, and it all depends on our actions. God is ready when we are. For as King David says: “Redemption will come today – if you hearken to His voice.”

We have hope for the redemption yes, but what will rouse us out of our world of darkness and despair into that light and hope?

Just as when the world was created — it was first dark, followed by light.

-Shabbos 77b

Reb Tzadok HaKohen (.‫ (צדקת הצדיק – קע‬elaborates upon the theme of this Gemara. When Hashem wants to shower a person with goodness and blessings, He waits for the person to daven and to ask for this benefit. In order to motivate the person to call out in prayer, Hashem will direct a certain element of distress or some sort of fear in his direction in order for the person to call out to Him.

light-ohrDaf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
Commentary on Shabbos 77b

It would certainly seem as if Hashem, as if God were directing elements of distress or fear into our world and waiting for us to daven, to pray, to call out to Him. How can we, as people of faith, conclude otherwise?

But a word of caution.

what does pres mean Gd has called the children home. their place is w/ their parents not at the heavenly throne. we must object 2 suffering

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
on twitter

Some Christians have given in to the temptation to use tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings to say some hurtful things. They say these children were murdered to punish our nation for various sins, including some states allowing gay people to marry, that God “isn’t allowed in our schools,” and because abortion is legal in our country.

On the other hand, Rabbi Boteach is telling us that the death of innocent children makes no sense, is not desired by God, and must be resisted and objected to with every last bit of our strength, will, and compassion.

Frankly, given the choice, I’d rather go with Rabbi Boteach’s interpretation than what some of these Christians have said (including our President).

I was thrilled yesterday to get an email from my reclusive friend, Daniel Lancaster. Many of you know him from his books and especially as the author of the massively popular Torah Club volumes. He is a great writer and leader. His congregation, Beth Immanuel in Hudson, Wisconsin, has launched a new initiative acting with tangible love for Messiah to repair one broken place and assist in the lives of some people whose world is splintered and needs mending.

Beth Immanuel has adopted a worker, a Messianic Jewish woman who is putting her life on the line and her love into action in Uganda: Emily Dwyer.

They have launched a website and a plan to raise support to sustain Emily’s work in Uganda. They are baking challah bread, with Emily’s own recipe, as an ongoing fundraiser.

Recently, Emily spoke at Beth Immanuel and two of her messages are posted online. You can hear Emily Dwyer speak at this link (and be inspired — she is a speaker worth listening to).

You can see more about “Acts for Messiah,” the partnership between Beth Immanuel, some other affiliate congregations, and Emily Dwyer’s community in Uganda at ActsForMessiah.org.

-Derek Leman
“An MJ Congregation Acts for Messiah”
Messianic Jewish Musings

We can resist. We can fight back. We can strive for goodness in our world and promote hope in the people around us, regardless of where we may find ourselves. This message is also reflected in the commentary of the Aish Rabbi.

In many ways, the world is a depressing place. But life is like medicine. Imagine a person with a serious internal disease. Taking the right medication will detoxify the body by pushing all the impurities to the surface of the skin. The patient may look deathly ill – all covered in sores. But in truth, those surface sores are a positive sign of deeper healing.

The key is to maintain the hope of redemption.

How can we hasten the coming of the Messiah? The best way is to love all humanity generously, to keep the mitzvot of the Torah (as best we can), and to encourage others to do so as well.

HopeTo promote hope, we must have hope. To inspire the will to do good, we must possess that will and we must do good. This is the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity. God has allowed a world of darkness and we are responsible for lighting it up.

“Know the G-d of your fathers and serve Him with a whole heart.” (Divrei Hayamim I, 28:9) Every sort of Torah knowledge and comprehension, even the most profound, must be expressed in avoda. I.e. the intellectual attainment must bring about an actual refinement and improvement of character traits, and must be translated into a deep-rooted inward attachment (to G-d) – all of which is what the Chassidic lexicon calls”avoda”.

“Today’s Day”
Monday, Tevet 6, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

I can’t tell you why bad things happen. Sure, sometimes God may be trying to get our attention, but my radar into God’s motivations isn’t particularly accurate or insightful. I also don’t think it’s particularly helpful to point fingers and place blame upon political parties, advocacy groups, or any other folks. Yes, I’ll probably still complain about politics and people from time to time, but when I actually want to do the will of my Father who is in Heaven, then I must actually do for other people.

James, the brother of the Master, famously said that faith without works is dead. If that’s true, then complaining about the inequities, hardships, and tragedies of life, with or without faith, is also deader than a doornail.

Choose doing. Choose life. Inspire hope. If we continue to help repair the world, the “end of days” and coming of Messiah will take care of themselves.

My Hope Comes From The Lord

Worry is self-humiliation. Trust is dignity.

To worry is to worship the world. To fall on your knees in dread and grovel before it.

To trust is to lift up your eyes and stand as tall as the heavens. To live with nothing else but the bond between G‑d above and you below.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Just the Two of You”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

OK, I need to review my own lessons on trust. Being human, I sometimes forget that reality exists on more than just a human level. As a person of faith, I believe in God, but it takes a person of trust to actually rely on God to do, if not the impossible, then the highly improbable. I speak of the topic I chronicled recently as Vain Hopes.

Yes, it’s no fun when your spouse tells you that the most important single aspect of your existence, your faith, is embarrassing to her, but that’s hardly something I can change. So what’s next?

Understanding. I can’t change who I am (well, I can, but that would involve not being a Christian anymore and I’m not willing to do that), but I can try to better understand who she is. Maybe that will be some comfort.

So who is she? Expanding on the question somewhat, what is being “Jewish?”

In a very real sense, I’m totally unqualified to answer that question since I’m not Jewish. Even if I received documentation tomorrow that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother was Jewish (which I’m sure would come as a complete shock to her) and that all of her ancestors were Jewish in a long line going back as far as could be recorded, thus establishing that I’m Jewish, it still wouldn’t give me something I would sorely lack: an actual, lived, experiential, Jewish life. So how can I describe something I’m not and that I have no experience in being?

Really, I can’t. You would think Jewish people could, but actually, it’s more complicated than it seems.

I’m just out of college and struggling to forge my identity. I have strong Jewish feelings, but am meeting some really nice non-Jewish women and am having trouble articulating why Judaism is so central to my identity.

Can you tell me why I should hang in there with the Jewish people?

“Why be Jewish?”
Ask the Rabbi
Aish.com

Please click the above link and read the Rabbi’s answer, but personally, I found his response rather disappointing. What the Rabbi outlines as the advantages of Judaism, living a moral life, specific Jewish values, and so on, could as well be applied to just about any person who follows the lessons of what God gave to the world, “a set of ‘instructions for living’ – the Torah.”

However, the answer to another Ask the Rabbi question may prove more illuminating.

To categorize Judaism “only” as a religion is a misunderstanding. The Jewish people are a nation, who share a common land (Israel), a common religion (Judaism) and a common history (dating back to Abraham).

What is amazing is how the Jews have maintained their distinct national identity having been scattered to the four corners of the globe. This achievement was possible only because of our adherence to the Torah, the “constitution” of the Jewish people. The Torah lays out the scope of personal rights and obligations, as well as laws covering lifecycle, business practice, medical ethics, parenting, married life, etc. Observance of the Torah was thus the thread which kept the Jewish people alive, and thriving, in every place and time.

Judaism cannot be classified as a race, because anyone can become a Jew by converting. The convert is considered a Jew in every regard, and his relationship with God is the same level as that of every other Jew. Come to Israel and you will find black Jews, oriental Jews, Indian Jews, etc.

This is what Christianity lacks. We can enter into a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and draw close to his covenant community Israel, but we don’t become what the Rabbi describes above; a nation, a people, a unified whole that transcends the boundaries of religion, and if you include those few who convert, ethnicity and race.

Well, that’s not quite true. Anyone, regardless of national origin, race, color, ethnicity, gender, or any other attribute, can come to Christ and worship the God of Israel. But we are of the many nations and the Jews, regardless of where they were born, what secular citizenship they may possess, and whether or not they were born of a Jewish mother or converted from the nations, are uniquely of Israel, and though scattered across the planet, form a united nation before God.

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, in his commentary on Torah Portion Nitzavim, said:

As the commentators point out, the phrase “whoever is not here” cannot refer to Israelites alive at the time who happened to be somewhere else. That cannot be since the entire nation was assembled there. It can only mean “generations not yet born.” The covenant bound all Jews from that day to this. As the Talmud says: we are all mushba ve-omed me-har Sinai, foresworn from Sinai (Yoma 73b, Nedarim 8a). By agreeing to be God’s people, subject to God’s laws, our ancestors obligated us.

Hence one of the most fundamental facts about Judaism. Converts excepted, we do not choose to be Jews. We are born as Jews. We become legal adults, subject to the commands and responsible for our actions, at the age of twelve for girls, thirteen for boys. But we are part of the covenant from birth. A bat or bar mitzvah is not a “confirmation.” It involves no voluntary acceptance of Jewish identity. That choice took place more than three thousand years ago when Moses said “It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with … whoever is not here with us today,” meaning all future generations including us.

But how can this be so? Surely a fundamental principle of Judaism is that there is no obligation without consent.

Please read the full commentary by clicking the link above, but the reality of the Jewish people and Judaism, is that it exists and is obligated to God beyond the simple will of the individual. When you are born a Jew, the mitzvot are yours, whether you want them or not. In the best of all possible circumstances, you are taught to live a Jewish life and you learn to love that life as a Jew before the Throne of Hashem. Judaism chooses the Jew, not the other way around (apart from converts).

In Exodus 4:22, God directly refers to Israel as “My child, my firstborn, Israel.” Whoever and whatever we are as Christians, we do not enter into the presence of God except through Israel.

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

John 4:22 (ESV)

If we consider the Jewish Messiah as the firstborn of Israel, this point becomes even more specific.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (ESV)

The irony for me is that my closest Jewish relative is my wife, and not for a split second would she consider Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, nor see herself and her people as the authors of my salvation through Christ.

More’s the pity, and I pray that it won’t always be that way.

None of this is doing a very good job of defining who a Jew is or what Judaism is, at least down to the finest details. In fact, it gets a little more confusing when you consider the Ask the Rabbi answer to Definition of a Jew:

Torah methodology is universal – for Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular, Israel and the Diaspora, left and right. The Torah is alive and relevant for today. And for the Jewish people, the ability to effectively communicate this message is our single most important undertaking.

Simchat TorahThis makes it seem like what the Torah contains, at least at its core, is a set of instructions that applies to all of humanity, not just the Jewish people, but it is the responsibility of the Jews to “effectively communicate this message.” That sounds almost evangelical, until you realize the mission of Judaism isn’t to make the people of the nations into Jews, but to teach them/us about the One true God of Israel. In modern traditional Judaism, that extends no further than the level of the Noahide, but from Christianity’s point of view, we enter a whole new world when we know God by accepting Christ.

Where that world takes us is a journey beyond imagination, and one that is unique, in many ways, to each individual. In some ways, as is in my case, it actually leads somewhat away from its source; away from Judaism, at least at the personal level, since most Jews cannot tolerate a great deal of Christianity in their lives. But while faith is easy, trust comes very hard, especially in the presence of disappointment.

However, as Rabbi Freeman stated at the beginning of this “meditation,” “To trust is to lift up your eyes and stand as tall as the heavens. To live with nothing else but the bond between G‑d above and you below.”

Please forgive me if I take the liberty of applying those words of wisdom to all of us and not just to the Jewish people.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2 (ESV)

When you’re in the middle of the journey and it all seems so futile and hopeless, then the path has reached its end, regardless of what actually lies before you. But when there is hope, when you lift your gaze out of the dust and darkness and raise your head up to see the light, the journey begins again as if you had just taken your first step.

Vain Hopes

“Cast your burden upon Hashem, and He will sustain you.”

Psalms 55:23

Everyone in the world has burdens. Some are heavier than others – some are lighter. You cannot always tell how heavy someone else’s burden is; you only have the subjective experience of your own. But know, with clarity, that just as you have burdens, so does everyone else.

Here we have the ultimate advice on how to handle your burdens: do not do it alone. You never have to do it all yourself. As a matter of fact, it’s impossible to do it all yourself. You can call upon the Almighty, your Father, your King, Creator and Sustainer of the universe to help you. Our verse tells us that you can give over your entire load of baggage to Hashem, and He will sustain you.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Casting Your Burdens, Daily Lift #595
Aish.com

I had a most illuminating conversation with my wife a few weeks ago. Actually, it wasn’t so much illuminating as it was confirming. I don’t know how we got on the subject. We were home alone, just the two of us. We were talking at the kitchen table. I can’t remember exactly the words that were used but I discovered, or rather confirmed, the reasons that I will never be part of my wife’s Jewish life. She’s embarrassed that I’m a Christian.

I guess that’s why she never invites her friends over to our house. She always meets them for coffee or something. I think it’s just awkward to acknowledge me in front of other Jews. She said during our conversation, “What am I supposed to do? Introduce you as my ‘Messianic husband’?”

I corrected her and said that I’m a Christian and that I walked away from the “Messianic” life, in part, just for this reason. I don’t think it helped. I think, in her eyes, it’s just as bad for a Jew to be married to a Christian as to a “Messianic Gentile.”

At any rate, the end result, which is now finally in the open, is that I will not be attending shul with her, nor any classes at synagogue, nor any public festivals such as Sukkot. I even wonder if this is why she stopped lighting the Shabbos candles in our home. For all I know, she doesn’t go to synagogue anymore because people there know she’s got a Christian husband. For all I know, tongues wag about this misfortune of my wife’s.

That last part is my imagination, but again, who knows?

I never wanted my faith to come between us. For over a year, I’ve done everything I could think of to minimize the “impact” of my Christian faith in her Jewish life. Now I know that nothing I did worked. I’m embarrassing. I recall a situation that happened some months ago when my wife and I were shopping at our local Costco. We had just checked out and were about to leave when my wife ran into a friend from synagogue. They chatted for several minutes and then parted. All during their conversation, at no time did my wife pause to introduce me to her friend. It was as if I wasn’t even there. I guess I know why now.

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:49-53 (ESV)

This compares to Matthew 10:34-39 which also quotes Micah 7:6. I thought I recalled a variant on the Gospel verse that specified “husband against his wife,” but I can’t find it.

Close enough, I guess.

But I don’t want to be against my wife, nor do I want her to be against me.

Tough luck, eh?

I used to say that “in a created universe, there’s no such thing as luck,” but just how closely does God control circumstances? Were my wife and I truly fated to be married, or did God allow random chance to take charge? What about our decisions of faith? I might never have become a Christian if not for a long and what seemed to be, highly orchestrated and unlikely series of events that occurred over several month’s time. My wife became a Christian at almost the same time and for a while, we had similar ways of looking at God, Christ, faith, and marriage.

Then, through another set of long, unlikely occurrences, we have found ourselves where we are now: at opposite ends of the identity of the Messiah, a Jew and a Christian searching for God while living in two very different worlds. And thereby hangs our tale. I could stand to have the rest of the world be the enemy of my faith as long as my wife was by my side. Now, I realize that such a wish is vain and foolish. If “God is in control” as the Christians like to sing in church on Sundays, then what he’s planning to do with all of His control is beyond my comprehension.

Or, as Paul Simon sings:

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

Or is that too cynical?

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:21 (ESV)

I suppose that could be coupled with:

Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

Job 13:15 (ESV)

Argue? Argue about what? Shall I adopt Adam’s argument?

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:11-12 (ESV)

No, that’s as ridiculous now as it was the minute Adam said it. There’s no blame to be assigned, either to God or to my wife. I can’t even blame myself for being a Christian, since I must be convinced that this part of my experience was and is within the purposeful will of God.

So what do I do? Of late, I had been considering going back to a church. My son David told me he’d talked to a Pastor of a local Baptist church who had lived in Israel for fifteen years (not as a Pastor, but before being called into the ministry). No, he’s not Jewish, but this Pastor did tell my son that he didn’t consider himself “usual” for a Baptist Pastor.

But now I don’t know if it’s a good idea. The wedge is there between my wife and I and if I cannot bridge the gap and heal the wound that gapes wide and bleeding between us, I certainly don’t want to rip it open any further. Right now, I’m just one Christian alone in our house with no direct connection to any larger group of Christians. If I started going to church, how much worse would it be for the both of us?

My wife doesn’t invite her Jewish friends over because she’s embarrassed by me. She removed any pictures and other items from our home that were obviously communicating a faith in Christ (we once had a framed copy of the Lord’s Prayer written in Hebrew on the wall of our formal dining room), but unless she’s willing to give me the boot, my very presence (though I wouldn’t speak a word) is a glaring inconsistency to her faith and her life as a Jew.

Conversely, I couldn’t bring any Christian friends home, couldn’t host a Bible study, couldn’t have a few church friends around for coffee, not because I’m embarrassed that my wife is Jewish, far from it. No, but because it would be very difficult for her to tolerate.

Of course, she would say that I’m within my rights to practice whatever faith I choose in whatever manner I choose. She would never deny me that. But exercising my rights is still an embarrassment to her, at least in the presence of anyone she knows who is Jewish. Add this to my list of reasons why I can’t go to church.

I cannot do what logic would suggest, though, even for the sake of peace in the home:

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 10:32-33 (ESV)

I sometimes envy those Christians out there in the “Messianic” space for whom faith is just an intellectual exercise. Those folks who are almost obsessed with their sometimes unique take on “Judaism” in terms of personal doctrinal statements, systematizing theologies, categorizing the Jewish mitzvot, and other arcane pursuits, and yet who never actually feel and live a life immersed in pools of infinitely deep faith, transcending the written word and living between life and death, between love and despair, between God and the emptiness of the abyss.

There are all manner of interfaith marriages and many are able to make their way across the differences and to share the commonalities. My wife and I too share many commonalities between us, but our lives of faith and our vision of God are not among them.

As I was “mentally composing” this missive some hours ago (as I write this), I couldn’t help but be reminded of Solomon and Ecclesiasties:

For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 3:19 (ESV)

(My son and I built the sukkah in my backyard on Sunday afternoon, just hours before Sukkot began and I suppose the experience is what brought all this to the surface with such force…after all, what business do I have performing the mitzvah of building a sukkah…and notice that I’m blogging during the first two days of Sukkot…however, my son is Jewish so I guess that covers it)

With all of this in mind, I have been examining time, the past, the future, marriage, life, faith, as if they were all in a sealed box that I am turning over and over in my hands. God made the box, inserted all that it contains, locked it tight, and gave it to me. No, that’s not fair. I’ve certainly contributed the vast majority of the items the box contains. We all take the basic materials God gives us at birth and make them into what we are today. I can’t blame God or argue with Him, tempting though that might be.

Maybe that’s why Solomon wrote Ecclesiasties…because no matter what we do, we’re born, we live through whatever happens, and then we die. In the end, what will it matter? Why do some of us who are unworthy live, and others who are very worthy die? (you’ll need a Facebook account to open that last link). It’s a mystery. Who can know the vastness of the mind of God?

I quoted Psalms 55:23 at the beginning of this blog post, but as I’ve been reminded periodically, not everything that is written in the Jewish texts, including the Psalms, can automatically be applied to we non-Jewish Christians. Perhaps my desire to cast my burdens on God is merely vanity as well.

If you are ever feeling sad or dejected, there is a faster and better way to create a more positive feeling that to simply wait until the feelings change through happenstance. There are a few basic choices with a multitude of variations. You can take positive actions. Perform a mitzvah and experience joy for the good deed you are doing. Also, you can remember the good in your life and the positive things that have happened to you in the past. If need be, you can find a positive lens through which to see your present distress.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskn
Creating Positive Feelings, Daily Lift #594
Aish.com

Alone in silenceI can’t stop being a Christian and so I can’t stop being an embarrassment in the home. If I can’t openly express my faith, except in the blogosphere where she never travels to, then the mitzvah I must perform is to try to stay out of the way of her being Jewish. That’s kind of hard since we live in the same home, but I can only encourage her to do all that she can and must do as part of her Jewish community.

And as for me? I originally created this blog, this “morning meditation,” to chronicle my anticipated journey of faith with my wife into her Jewishness. Now that I realize my ambitions were only vanity and foolishness, what is there left to accomplish?

I have several projects related to this blog that are in process. Once those processes have reached their conclusion, the results may well dictate the continuation or dissolution of this experiment. As always, you’ll be the first to know of my decision.

Rise

The memory of a righteous person is a blessing.

Proverbs 10:7

At a family therapy session, one family member said something totally uncalled for, provocative, and insulting to another person. The remark was extremely irritating to me, even as an observer, and I anticipated an explosive outburst of outrage from the recipient. To my great surprise, the latter remained quiet and merely gestured to indicate that he was dismissing the comment as being unworthy of a response.

After the session, I complimented the man on his self-restraint. He explained, “A friend of mine once had a very angry outburst. During his rage he suffered a stroke from which he never regained consciousness.

“I am not afraid that if I become angry I would also suffer a stroke. However, what I and everyone else remember of my friend are the last words of his life, which were full of bitterness and hostility. That is not the way I wish to be remembered. Since no person can know exactly when one’s time is up, I made up my mind never to act in such a manner, so that if what I was doing was to be my last action on earth, I would not be remembered that way.”

The Talmud tells us that when Rabbi Eliezer told his disciples that a person should do teshuvah one day before his death, they asked, “How is a person to know when one will die?” Rabbi Eliezer answered, “Precisely! Therefore one should do teshuvah every day, since tomorrow may be one’s last day.”

The verse cited above may be explained in the same way. People should behave in a way that they would wish others to remember them, for that can indeed be a blessing.

Today I shall…

behave as though this day is the one by which I shall be remembered.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 10”
Aish.com

There’s more than a little anger flowing around on the Internet. Anyone with the ability to create a website or a blog potentially has access to a vast audience (though in reality, how many people really read all these messages), and whatever ax they have to grind, the website owner or blog writer freely grinds. I can’t exempt myself from such company since, given a good enough reason, I can go off half-cocked, just like the next guy.

But as we can see from the story told by Rabbi Twerski, if we allow hurt and anger to rule our lives, hostile words may be the last thing anyone remembers about us. Is that the sort of legacy you want to leave behind?

Many years ago, a psychologist friend of mine told me that anger is a “secondary emotion.” People don’t feel anger without some other emotion happening first. Usually it’s some sort of hurt or anxiety, like when you accidentally hit your finger with a hammer. First you feel pain, then you get mad at the hammer.

But there’s another kind of pain that people can suffer from, often for years or even decades. It’s the pain of unresolved fear or anxiety or loss. When we see a person fly off into a rage, all we are aware of is the rage, the unpleasantness of hearing such angry words and seeing someone screaming red-faced at us. We typically aren’t able to see behind the face at the sad, lost, and frightened person who is hiding beneath the anger and hostility.

Believe me, that “rager” isn’t half as angry at you or me as he or she is at themselves.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus said this?

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” –Matthew 22:39-40 (ESV)

Why love your neighbor as yourself? What if you don’t even like yourself? What if you detest and loathe the person you are? How could those feelings in any way translate into loving another person and how in the world could Jesus make “love” a command? Emotionally, some people are just barely able to get by from day-to-day. Love would be an enormous stretch for them.

Right now, feel a greater sense of self-respect and respect for others. This will be reflected in how you speak and how you act. Repeat the words “self-respect and respect for others.”

If you had a greater amount of self-respect, what is one special thing you would do differently today?

What can you do today that would be an expression of greater respect for others?

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Today’s Daily Lift #560”
Aish.com

AbyssLook at what Rabbi Pliskin is saying. He’s associating self-respect with respect for other people. I’ve said in the past that Jesus directly connects the commandment to love God with the mitzvot of loving your neighbor. You cannot say you love your neighbor unless you love God and you cannot truly love God if you do not love your neighbor. But to love your neighbor; to respect him or her, you must also love and respect yourself.

No, I’m not suggesting leaping into the depths of narcissism, but as I’ve said in the past, depression robs us of the purpose, the meaning, the joy that God has created for all of our lives. It is the thief that takes from us who we really are.

Depression is not a sin, but it can take you to places lower than any sin.

-Chassidic saying

When you’re sitting at the bottom of the abyss, buried up to your neck in darkness and held in place by the heaviness of your chains, it can be extremely difficult to imagine any other type of life. And yet God did not create you to live in darkness and to exist in the shadows. While there are circumstances that can be difficult or even impossible to overcome physically; slavery, imprisonment, chronic brutality by a spouse or parent, God has always intended more for us.

Even when the physical or emotional torture and abuse has passed and we are free from those chains, often times, we continue to forge bonds of our own and then place ourselves in their power. Unfortunately, the darkness and chains that some people live in are invisible to the rest of us. All we see is the anger, the outbursts, the bullying, and the ugly way we are being treated by this person. We never see how terribly they are treating themselves.

If only there were a way out of the abyss; a way to rise up and climb into the light.

Higher consciousness is more than a state of mind.

It is a way of eating, of sleeping, of loving, of speaking, of doing business—it is apparent in all your ways.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Higher Mind”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I know the climb seems insurmountable. I know you don’t even want to admit you are at the bottom of your well. It’s never too late. Not as long as you don’t give up hope. Not as long as you can still look up and see the light.

Look at the light. Begin your climb. Rise.

 

God Finds You

One who raises his voice when he davens is among those of diminished faith.

– Berachos 24b

Raising one’s voice in prayer is considered a demonstration of diminished faith in God. According to Rashi, the reason for this is that the person seems to be showing that he thinks that God will not listen to his prayers if they are spoken softly.

We should not interpret this statement literally. After all, only a fool would think that God only hears prayers at a certain audible level. This is not what the Gemara is discussing. Rather, the Gemara is referring to a person who davens regularly, but he feels that his prayers are not answered. There are two ways of reacting when this happens. One conclusion is to understanding that God, in fact, does respond to prayers, and that He cares about every person and every word directed towards Him. It is just that God has determined to not grant the request at this time, due to His system of perfect justice and due to His mercy.

The other conclusion a person might consider is that God is not listening to him. A person whose prayers are “denied” might feel abandoned, and therefore daven more intensively. A person might then hope that this, in and of itself, was the problem. The raising of one’s voice due to the feeling that God has been ignoring the prayers which were spoken softly is a function of a deficient understanding of God’s willingness to hear prayer.

The lesson of this Gemara is that we must strengthen our trust in God and in the knowledge that He cares about each of our prayers. God is continually monitoring every aspect of our willingness to call to Him, and although the answers to our prayers are not always discernible immediately, nevertheless, God responds in a manner that is always in our best interests. Any misunderstanding of this concept may lead to unnecessary hopelessness.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“Davening in an audible tone”
Berachos 24

Faith and trust in God. I’ve said many times before, that it’s not easy. As we see in the example above, Judaism recognizes that the heart can grow faint and the will becomes weak when God seems to be silent. So too we Christians can feel that something is amiss with our prayers when God won’t turn to us and help us in our need and anguish. How many times have we felt abandoned and cried out, “Where is God?”

Is this all just a test, then? Is God being deliberately silent just to see how we’ll hold up under pressure. That seems kind of cruel, don’t you think? Is that all life is…a test?

This is why many people refuse to come to faith. It’s not because religion is “irrational” or “absolute” or “superstitious.” It’s because faith means you don’t have control of God.

That seems to also mean you don’t have control over your own life. When we say “God is in control,” we’re admitting that we aren’t. Depending on who you are and how to perceive the implications of that statement, it can be either comforting or horrifying. If you trust God implicitly, knowing that He loves you and desires only good for you, it is ultimately comforting to know that God is in control of the universe, rather than a bunch of capricious, double-minded, self-centered human beings. On the other hand, if self-determination and self-direction are the values you prize above all else, imagining yourself turning over everything to a distant, supernatural (and probably fictional) entity would feel like discovering that the pilot of the airplane you’re travelling in, 36,000 feet above the earth, is a chimpanzee.

You’d have absolutely no control over your fate and your doom would be completely assured, unless you could wrest the controls away from the simian and back into your own “competent” hands.

It is in the dark and empty watches of the night, when the voices are all stilled, and your only companion is your doubt, that who you really are in God is revealed. It is not actually a test anymore than any other challenge or frustrating experience is a test. It’s simply how life works. Some days are better than others and you feel the closeness of God as He seems to walk with you during every waking moment. Some nights are worse than others and it seems as if God is long gone from this mortal sphere, and you have been cruelly abandoned.

And even then, unless your faith and trust is totally exhausted and you walk away from God as you believe He has walked away from you, you still search the night for Him. You look for God in your dreams. You seek Him out in your fears. You hope He’ll appear with the dawn. You call out His name in a whisper.

If we were truly humble, we would not be forever searching higher paths on the mountaintops. We would look in the simple places, in the practical things that need to be done.

True, these are places in a world of falsehood. If the world only had a little more light, none of this would be necessary.

But the soul that knows its place knows that the great and lofty G‑d is not found at the summit of mountains, but in the simple act of lending a hand or a comforting word in a world of falsehood and delusions.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Path of the Humble”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

And then you find Him when you are completely distracted by the needs of others. You find God in the simple acts of kindness you do every day. You discover your Maker in your gifts to the poor, or the smile on a grateful face. God finds you when you aren’t even looking for Him.