Tag Archives: humanity

A Schlub Contemplating Intrinsic Greatness

A person is obligated to say:

“The world was created for me” (Talmud – Sanhedrin 37a), and
“When will my deeds reach the level of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?”

The Torah attitude is that we are obligated to be aware of our greatness. Feel proud that you are created in the image of the Almighty. Pride in the elevation of your soul is not only proper, but is actually an obligation to recognize your virtues and to live with this awareness.

(Toras Avraham, p.49; Gateway to Happiness, p.119)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Recognize Your Greatness”

I sometimes wonder when reading quotes from Orthodox Jewish sources if the author meant for a Gentile to take any of that advice. After all, I can only assume that the primary audience of Aish.com are Jews. Did Rabbi Pliskin mean “greatness as a Jew” when he wrote “greatness as a human being?”

Then again, Rabbi Pliskin is a noted psychologist as well as a Rabbi, author, and lecturer, so perhaps he really does mean that all human beings have the capacity of being great because we were all created in the image of Hashem.

Along the same lines, Rabbi Pliskin also wrote:

Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin used to say:

“The worst fault a person can have is to forget his intrinsic greatness as a human being.”

(Dor Daiah, vol. 1, p.172; Rabbi Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, p.131)

AbrahamI’m used to thinking that certain people are great and the rest of us are “Okay”. Abraham was great. Moses was great as well as exceeding humble (Numbers 12:3). Given the Biblical record as well as the long chronicle of human history, it’s difficult to imagine that the majority of the people across time possess “intrinsic greatness”. Frankly, it’s easier to imagine that most people have a talent for being an “intrinsic pain-in-the-neck”, myself included.

But then again, some people are more optimistic than others:

Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.

–William James

Believe you can and you’re halfway there.

–Theodore Roosevelt

Of course, William James, Theodore Roosevelt, or even Rabbi Pliskin aren’t quoting directly from scripture, so perhaps they aren’t seeing human beings the way God sees us.

Or maybe I’m being cynical. I can see, at least in theory, that God most likely wants us all to live up to our highest potential, to be the very best people we can be, the people He created us to be. It’s just that none of us seem to live up to our very highest potential, at least most of the time.

Someone wrote to the Aish Ask the Rabbi column asking about certain Orthodox Rabbis who are caught committing illegal and immoral acts, such as bribing public officials. The Aish Rabbi responded in part:

First things first: The Torah is the guidebook for ethical perfection. All the values that the Western world takes for granted – education, equal rights, sanctity of life – are from the Torah. That is an inarguable fact of history.

Being orthodox does not guarantee that a person has succeeded in internalizing what he has been taught.

I would say that all Jews – religious and not – do not follow the Torah 100%. Everyone does the best he can, some making more of an effort than others. But no one is perfect.

But I would also say that almost without exception, an individual will be more kind, charitable and moral because he learns Torah and follows it.

The question is not: Why do some religious Jews behave badly? The better question – and this is what I ask myself whenever I see an Orthodox person doing something wrong – is: Would the same individual behave worse, or behave better, if he was not religious?

Talmud StudyThis feels a little bit like a “dodge” to me. It sounds like the Rabbi is saying that as bad as some religious Jewish people may be in terms of how they behave immorally and unethically, if they didn’t have their training in Torah, they would be so much worse.

Would they? I don’t know.

I do agree that, although we Gentile believers are not called upon Biblically to replicate a Jew’s observance of the mitzvot, we do have our own Torah for the nations which assigns all humanity with valuing the underlying principles, the very foundation of Torah.

We are all called upon to do good and, as the Aish Rabbi says (I’ll extrapolate his sentence beyond its context and apply it to all humanity), no one obeys the Torah principles and mitzvot as they/we are called to obey with anywhere near 100% fidelity.

The Aish Rabbi says that because one Orthodox Rabbi committed immoral acts does not mean that the Torah failed, just that one human being has failed. Rather than throwing the Torah and a religious life out the window because people don’t and can’t live up to God’s standards perfectly, we should strive to be better tomorrow than we are today. Obedience is a journey, not a mountain top where you sit sagely because you are always right.

On the other hand, the journey of obedience isn’t a pit or a cave where you are trapped forever because you are always wrong and can never succeed either.

Or so intimates the Aish Rabbi.

The Rabbi finishes his answer by saying:

I would also argue that if you are looking for a role model of righteousness, you are far more likely to find it in a great religious person than in the secular world. The act of purifying oneself through prayer, study, mitzvah performance, and devotion to helping others to reach the heights of Godliness.

True, the observant community does not exist in a hermetically-sealed bubble protected from all negative influences. But given a choice of one or the other, I think the choice is clear.

I suppose if we could receive an unfiltered and unedited view of the life of any person we might think of as a “role model of righteousness,” we’d be disappointed in them, at least in some sense. If no one is perfect, then all people have failed; they’ve failed other people, and they’ve failed God.

I once was at an event where a highly esteemed gentleman had just finished speaking to an audience, and many members of that audience heaped praises upon him. I was a little surprised at what I perceived as his lack of humility. I got the opportunity to speak to him about it, and he responded, “People need heroes.”

Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer on the TV show “Parks and Recreation.” The guy’s a definite schlub.

I think I understand what he was saying, but it still bothers me a little. I know Moses had this one down pat, but how can you connect to your “intrinsic greatness” while also knowing what a schlub you are inside?

I don’t mean “you” or any other specific human being. I don’t have an unfiltered, unedited view into anyone else’s life except my own. That’s why this whole concept of “greatness” is difficult for me to understand.

I almost said that if I could talk to Moses for five minutes (assuming we had a common language), he could explain it to me, but our lives are absolutely incomparable. After all, who can live up to a man like Moses, who talked with God “face-to-face” as it were? Not me.

Even Moses had his faults, some of them as large as the life of greatness he led. But that being said, where does that leave the rest of us?

See You in the Funny Papers

As for people not playing on your blog as you want… quit writing a blog if you want to keep things neat and tidy and simply how “you” feel. Publish a newsletter and ignore the private responses which you disagree with. I have to be honest, I believe you think and write wonderfully. I like the discourse here. However your premises bring with them a perspective that is often open to question. If you do not like the questions, it seems odd you would post things which are so open to critical analyses. In all love, it is like going to the South Pole and questioning why it is cold.

-from Rockey in his January 29, 2015 at 12:24 p.m. comment

Okay. I take the hint. I could use the break.

By the way, that was a pretty diplomatic way to get your point across, Tim.

Thanks. I revisit this idea every now and again and then the comments back off, I receive some encouragement, and I’m writing again.

But not this time.

I’m sure it’s me. I’m sure I’m just being an unreasonable blogger, especially given I’m writing in the religious blogging space. D. Thomas Lancaster mentioned in one of his recorded sermons that he doesn’t maintain a personal blog, and I think for some of the reasons I’m encountering.

As I face various matters in my personal life (in spite of what many of you may think, I really don’t share everything that’s going on with me on this blog) as well as issues of continuing in my faith, I realize I don’t want the additional “drama” that sometimes happens in the comments section of my blog. I rarely comment on the blogs of others (at least compared to a few years ago) for the same reason.

So I’m closing comments on my blog. I was going to publish this blog on Friday morning and later on close comments, but that could seem like I’m just trolling for sympathy or whatever. It makes more sense to come to a clean stopping point this evening. Close comments and publish this blog post at the same time.

I may still write as Tim suggests without providing a venue for feedback. That may be frustrating to some, but not all blogs allow comments so there’s no rule that says I have to. There’s a process that lets anyone who really, really needs to say something to me to email me from within the blog, but that takes a few more steps than writing a comment and I don’t anticipate much of a response.

After some time, I may open the place up for comments again, but I’ll have to see what the experience is like with comments disabled for a while. For all I know, I may get used to the peace and quiet, and even to not having to write about everything that pops into my head.

I’ve actually been toying with the idea of doing a completely different blog, something not involved with religion at all (I do have a couple of other interests). I feel like a Don Quixote who has decided he doesn’t have to tilt at windmills any longer. I want to stop fighting “religious wars” for a while. I’d just like to spend some time enjoying being in the presence of God. There’s a certain freedom in that.

“See you in the funny papers.”

attributed to Walt Kelly
Creator of the Pogo comic strip

In the Image of God

And yet there is something in the world that the Bible does regard as a symbol of God. It is not a temple nor a tree, it is not a statue nor a star. The symbol of God is man, every man. God created man in His image (Tselem), in His likeness (Demuth). How significant is the fact that the term tselem which is frequently used in a damnatory sense for a man-made image of God, as well as the term demuth, of which Isaiah claims (40:18), no demuth or likeness can be applied to God — are employed in denoting man as an image and likeness of God.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “Man the Symbol of God,” p.124
Man’s Quest for God

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Colossians 1:15 (NASB)

Yes, I know. They don’t quite match. Heschel is talking about every human being as being made in the image (tselem) of God, even though that Hebrew word is typically used to describe detestable man-made images of gods. I’m hardly a language expert, so I have to wonder if Paul in calling Yeshua (Jesus) the “image of the invisible God” was thinking of the same word for “image” as Heschel mentions.

The reason I bring this up is that one of the more traditional Jewish arguments against Jesus-worship is that we are worshiping an “image” based on Colossians 1:15. Yet if each individual human being in general can be considered a symbol for and image of God, how much more can Messiah, the unique human presence on Earth, the mediator of the New Covenant, be considered the symbol for and image of God?

Kind of makes you wonder.

For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

Psalm 33:9

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-3, 14

It is understood that God actually “spoke” the world into existence with His Word. In human terms, our words emanate from us, we generate speech and it exits our mouths. If others are around us, they can hear what we say. So I can only imagine that the Word emanates from God, but in His case, His Word does so much more than just make sound or even language.

I really don’t have that much more to say on the topic. I’m wrapping up the last few notes I took while reading Heschel’s book (I have to get it back to the library) and wanted to make sure I didn’t lose track of the information. It’s part of my continuing process of trying to “get a handle” on the nature of Messiah and also on the nature of man.

And in this sense, Hillel characterized the body as an “icon” of God, as it were, and considered keeping clean one’s own body an act of reverence for its Creator (citing Leviticus Rabba 34, 3; also see Midrash Tehillim, 103).

-Heschel, ibid

And what is more, Biblical piety may be expressed in the form of a supreme imperative: Treat yourself as a symbol of God. In the light of this imperative we can understand the meaning of that astounding commandment: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

-ibid, p.126

This may add some dimension to another equally astounding commandment:

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48

To be holy and perfect because our Father in Heaven is holy and perfect. It doesn’t seem like such a tall order if we are to consider ourselves symbols for God and images of God. The “Word became flesh” and sojourned among us so that he could be perfectly human and yet the perfect image of God, a living example, our High Priest, but only in the Heavenly Court, who was tempted but did not sin.

Not that we can perfectly refrain from sinning ourselves, but we can be better symbols and images of our God, just as the Master illustrated.

But all may be guided by the words of the Baal Shem: If a man has beheld evil, he may know that it was shown to him in order that he learn his own guilt and repent; for what is shown to him is also within him.

from “The Meaning of this Hour,” p.148

If what we are shown is also within us, what if we’re shown good and not evil? What if we’re shown a perfect symbol and image of God in seeming contrast to our own imperfection as symbols and images? If being shown evil teaches us to repent, shouldn’t being shown good inspire us to draw nearer to the Source of that good?

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17

Inner lightI don’t think we can accept any longer the argument that Yeshua is not worthy of glory, honor, and devotion because he is considered the “image” of God, because we too are “images”. Each human being is, in some sense, representative of our Creator, and in a greater sense, Messiah is even more representative. How all this works is highly mystical and as such, I can’t explain it, but the “imagery” (pun intended) is compelling.

Our Master is the living embodiment, encased in flesh and blood, of what we should be or at least of what we should be attempting to be: holy and perfect representations of our Creator in human bodies. To do that, we must be in a constant state of repentance before God for nothing that is holy is compatible with sin.

Good Shabbos.

Overcoming with Good

negativeThe Almighty’s perspective is the ultimate perspective. It is the basis of reality. The real question we need to ask ourselves is, “What does the Almighty consider my true value to be?”

From the Almighty’s viewpoint, the answer is, “You are My child and you are precious. You are created in My image. In essence you are a Divine Soul. I have created the world for you. Your entire being and your value is a gift from Me. When you see yourself from My perspective, you know that you have infinite value. Your intrinsic worth is greater than anything that can be measured materially.”

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #984
“Almighty’s Perspective on Your True Value”

Just to let you know, this has nothing to do with my recent commentary on John MacArthur and his Strange Fire conference.

However, I recently have become aware of a resurgence of poor attitudes among believers in the blogosphere and the wider realm of the Internet. I guess it’s easier for these sentiments to be expressed in a semi-anonymous environment where accountability doesn’t appear to be an issue.

I’m not here to add to that negativity. Believe me, resisting this temptation is difficult, but in the end, if I didn’t, I would be no better than those I find who have betrayed friendship and trust.

There is always injustice in the world. Just as the Master said to his disciples that “you always have the poor with you,” it’s sad to say that we always have the unjust with us as well. Jesus went on to say “and whenever you wish you can do good to them,” reminding his listeners (and us) that poverty is an opportunity for us to help others and to do the right thing in his name. What can we say of the unjust? What opportunity do they present?

I could say they offer us the opportunity to be just and humane as they are unjust and inhumane, but the mistake here would be in attempting to confront others who, in their own “wisdom” and self-service, see themselves as upholding the cause of right.

No, confrontation and the continuation of angry words profits no one and does not serve man or God.

But there is another opportunity here. The opportunity is to uplift and uphold those who have been trampled on under the muddy and self-righteous boot. The opportunity is to offer healing words, an olive branch of peace, friendship, and hope.

unpopularRabbi Pliskin wrote the words I quoted above probably with the idea that he was addressing a primarily Jewish audience, but his words are true for everyone. We were all made in the image of God. To denigrate any human being is to lower that Godly image and even to drag it into the gutter. When people do this in believing they are serving God, it is a sad and miserable thing. It’s especially poignant that the instigators are woefully unaware of what they are doing and who they are hurting.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46 (NASB)

…it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:6 (NASB)

I know that some in the Christian world feel they just have to “call out” people and behaviors, even to the point of betraying a trust to do so, but if you feel there is a conflict or you feel you have been hurt, there is a better way.

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21 (NASB)

I encourage you all and especially my brothers and sisters in the faith, if you feel anger within you for another, if they are within the faith or not, consider the words of Paul. And please, please, consider the consequences for failure as spoken by our Master.

So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 25:17 (NASB)

For those among the believing community who purport to observe the Torah, this verse is the basis for one of the 613 commandments to not wrong someone in speech, which I would extend to wronging someone in the blogosphere or other text-based environment.

Standing before GodA large number of the mitzvot that are specific to “love and brotherhood” are found in Leviticus 19, such as “not to carry tales” (Lev. 19:16), “not to cherish hatred in one’s heart” (Lev. 19:17), “not to take revenge” (Lev. 19:18), “not to put anyone to shame” (Lev. 19:17), and “not to curse any other person (implying Jewish person)” (Lev. 19:14).

The core of these commandments is that all human beings are created in the image of God. To deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to another person, regardless of the provocation, is to also deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to God’s image.

Saying that you love God while trying to hurt another person is kind of crazy-making.

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NASB)

Love of God and love of your fellow human being, regardless of who they are, even if they are not like you, even if they have different beliefs, even if they have a different outlook, are two acts that are inseparable. A man who says he loves God but hates or denigrates another person, plunging their name into the mud publicly, is a liar.

The image posted at the top of this blog post was the inspiration for today’s “extra meditation.”

Any negativity that comes to you today should be returned to the sender.

That is my only response to the negativity I’ve been addressing. There is no one to fight. There is no one to hate. Anger solves nothing and only robs the person giving into anger of his peace. I choose peace.

Today, any negativity I discover in the blogosphere or any other environment I encounter will be promptly returned to the sender. My peace will be preserved. This is also my gift to any friends who have been victims of negativity, hostility, or any other ungodly attitude.

open-your-handAnd in the end, the real victims of negativity are those who nurture it in their own hearts and attempt to send it out to others.

It is said that Shabbos is a small foretaste of the peace of the Messianic Era. The Queen arrives within just a few short hours. In the tiny march of time left until we light the candles, I implore anyone reading these words to set your house in order, and by the time the sun dips below the western horizon, please be ready to invite peace into your home, and into your heart. But of course, you will need to repent and ask God for forgiveness. And if you’ve hurt another human being, before God will forgive, you must repent and ask forgiveness from those you have hurt.

He who conceals a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

Proverbs 17:9 (NASB)

Good Shabbos.

Walking East of Eden

walkingA person who has trust in G-d will be free from bothersome thoughts. He will not worry about what will be tomorrow if he has enough for today. He does not cause himself needless pain and discomfort by worrying that perhaps he will be lacking something in the future. A person who has trust in G-d feels no need to flatter other people. He will not veer from his principles for the hope of financial gain. Questions of how he will make a living do not bother him since he knows with clarity that it is impossible for him to have more or less than what the Almighty has decreed for him.

Even if there is a world crisis, he will not worry about his personal situation. He has trust that any misfortune which was not decreed upon him will not affect him. He walks in this world completely free from worries and sadness. He takes pleasure in what he has and feels no lack of possessions.

In short, if a person has trust in G-d, he has everything.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Today’s Daily Lift, #875”

In 1942, the first trainload of Jews in Holland were sent to concentration camps. A few years earlier, tens of thousands of Jews had fled from Germany to Holland, which maintained an open-door immigration policy. But soon after, the Nazis occupied Holland and proceeded to make it Judenrein (clean of Jews). Perhaps the most famous Dutch Jew was Anne Frank, a teenage girl whose diary has become the most widely-read account of life during the Holocaust. In 2005, Holland’s prime minister apologized for his country’s collaboration with the Nazis.

Day in Jewish History for Av 2

Does it seem odd that I post two such contradictory quotes side-by-side so to speak? That’s how they came to me yesterday (today, as I write this) by email from Aish. Thousands of Jews trusted in God. Thousands of Jews trusted in the Dutch to help them escape the Nazis. Things didn’t work out so well.

Yesterday, I wrote about how God provides everything we need including sufficient answers to our difficult questions. That isn’t to say He provides all the answers and we continue to struggle all our lives to draw closer to our Creator and to understand our place in the universe.

I’ve been a life-long “fan” of the NASA space program. I remember growing up hearing about the Mercury and Gemini projects. I used to long for the days when we’d have orbiting space stations, Moon bases, and manned rockets going to Mars. None of that really happened but I still follow the adventure. I’ve been recently following the news about Voyager 1 and whether or not it has left the solar system. My childhood fascination with space contributed to my early interest in science fiction and today, I’m reliving some of that by re-reading Arthur C. Clarke’s classic Rendezvous with Rama.

Exploring the universe tends to make one feel very small. But I never feel smaller than when I am confronted with human anger, hostility, and cruelty.

starry_night_7daysWe are still in the three weeks of mourning which started on Tammuz 17 and Tisha B’Av (Av 9) is rapidly approaching.

While I strive to maintain faith and trust in God, there are days when I get worn down. It’s not that God isn’t trustworthy and it’s not that He won’t fulfill all His promises, it’s just whether or not I’ll be able to hang on to that faith and trust long enough to see it through.

Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31 (NASB)

I suppose Jesus has the right to criticize Peter and the rest of us for our lack of faith, for even when Messiah’s own faith was tested, he endured.

And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.

Luke 22:39-44 (NASB)

I know that Jesus lived a human life and he suffered more than most. And yet, none of us are like Jesus, least of all me.

About a week ago, I posted another blog bringing into question the traditional Christian belief in the rapture. What will happen to the faithful should they suffer and not be rescued when they expect it?

It’s not my faith in God that’s being tested, it’s my faith in human beings. I know that God wants us to love one another even as we love Him (and even as He loves us), but He can never be faithless, cruel, mean, moody, disagreeable, hostile, frustrated, annoying, annoyed, and so on. Only we are like that and we are like that toward each other all the time.

No, this isn’t about being criticized on the Internet again. In fact, my little corner of the blogsophere has been pretty quiet these days. Not a lot of religious posturing is going on and it’s fairly easy to ignore what little is occurring.

And yet, the world of human beings keeps going on the same way it has since there have been human beings. It’s not just the petty slights of day-to-day living, but the whole panorama of human history that shows me human beings don’t change. In spite of the illusion of progressivism, the idea that we keep getting better and better as long as we keep becoming more and more socially and politically liberal, people die every day. There are wars every day. Women are assaulted, beaten, and raped every day. Human beings do cruel things every day, just like we always have.

No matter what I do, I’m not perfect even for one minute of any day, and no matter what I do, what mistakes I’ve made, how much I’ve tried to make amends, I’ll make another mistake, tomorrow, an hour from now, a minute from now.

alone-on-marsSometimes, looking back, I wonder if part of my interest in space exploration and science fiction is the desire to get away from it all. I think of the Mars One project actually working. What would it be like to stand on another planet, staring out into the distance, gazing into the vast desert of another world, one with very, very few human beings on it? What would it be like to be truly alone, where it’s quiet and peaceful and empty?

But all that is a fantasy, at least for me. I’m on Earth, where God has put all of us. I live in a broken world, and it spins and spins in a broken universe. And besides God, all we have is each other.

The souls are all one.
Only the bodies divide us.
Therefore, one who places the body before the spirit
can never experience true love or friendship.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“True Love”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I don’t know if I buy that part about all souls being one but I do agree that we are divided. There’s a difference between studying, reading, and writing religion and the actual doing of religion. In my opinion, there’s a difference between wearing tzitzit or laying tefillin or lighting the Shabbos candles because they’re written down in a book and doing the same things because you are responding to God with devotion and love. There’s probably even a difference between giving to charity or donating to a food bank because you think you should do it and because you are acting out of compassion.

The one thing that shows everyone your true motivation is if you can take insults or abuse or worse and still remain loving toward other people and toward God in every word and deed.

We are divided. We are separated from God and from each other. We have been since before Adam and Eve walked east out of Eden. We’ve been walking away from paradise ever since, even as we keep trying to walk toward it.

Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.

-Golda Meir

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Why We Fail to Walk with God

WalkingMy ordinances you shall do, and My statutes you shall observe, to walk with them, I am the Lord, Your G-d.

Leviticus 18:4

What does the Torah mean “to walk with them?”

The Ksav Sofer, a famous Hungarian rabbi, commented that the words “to walk with them” mean that a person needs to walk from one level to the next level. That is, a person should constantly keep on growing and elevating himself.

It is not enough to keep on the same level that you were on the previous day. Rather, each day should be a climb higher than the day before. When difficult tests come your way, you might not always appreciate them. The only way to keep on elevating yourself is to keep passing more and more difficult life-tests. View every difficulty as a means of elevating yourself by applying the appropriate Torah principles. At the end of each day, ask yourself, “What did I do today to elevate myself a little higher?” If you cannot find an answer, ask yourself, “What can I plan to do tomorrow to elevate myself?”

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

I’m getting a little tired of these “tests.” They don’t seem to be helping me. Worse, they don’t seem to be helping anyone else, either.

Let me explain.

In continuing to read Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, I arrived at “Chapter 6: Messianic Jewish Ethics,” written by Russ Resnik. It’s interesting that when we think of Jesus, we usually think of his mercy, his grace, or his compassion, but it’s a little unusual to consider his ethics. And yet, even Jews who are not believers, when they read the Gospels, find the ethics of Jesus are undeniably Jewish.

A generation later, the Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide commented on the Sermon on the Mount, “In all this messianic urgency toward humanization God wills for all the children of Adam and toward the humanization of this earth, in the deathless power of hope that finds in reliance on ‘the above’ the courage to go ‘forward,’ Jesus of Nazareth was ‘the central Jew,’ as Martin Buber called him, the one who spurs us all to emulation.”

-Resnik, pg 82

Resnik states that “Yeshua fully embodies the image of God, which is placed upon humankind from the beginning: ‘God created mankind in his own image’ (Gen 1:27).” He also refers to the first man and woman as “divine image bearers” and further says:

…the divine image is obviously not a physical resemblance, but neither is it an abstract spiritual resemblance. Rather, it entails representing God through active engagement in creation. This understanding of the image of God gives rise to the Jewish idea that God does ethics before we do, that our ethical behavior is not just a matter of obedience, or even pleasing God, but of reflecting God and his nature, fulfilling the assignment to bear the divine image.

-Resnik, pg 84

In other words, even before the commandments to do good and to walk with God’s ordinances and statues were recorded in the Torah, they were humanity’s built-in imperative to do good because God does good and we are made in His image. When we do good, we are a reflection of the image of our Creator. Resnik provides a quote from the Talmud to cement his point.

What does it mean, “You shall walk after the Lord your God?” Is it possible for a person to walk and follow in God’s presence? Does not the Torah say “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire”? (Deut 4:24). But it means to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He. Just as He clothed the naked, so you too clothe the naked, as it says “And the Lord made the man and his wife leather coverings and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). The Holy One, Blessed be He, visits the ill, as it says, “And God visited him in Elonei Mamreh” (Gen 18:1), so you shall visit the ill. The Holy One, Blessed by He, comforts the bereaved, as it says, “And it was after Abraham died that God blessed his son Isaac…” (Gen 25:11), so too shall you comfort the bereaved. The Holy One, Blessed be He, buries the dead, as it says, “And He buried him in the valley” (Deut 34:6), so you too bury the dead.

-b. Sotah 14a
quoted by Resnik, ibid

Although Resnik didn’t cite this portion of the Gospels, the following seems to fit rather well as an illustration of “walking with God.”

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-40

boston_marathon_terror_explosionAs I write this (most of it, anyway), it is early Tuesday morning, and yesterday, several explosions occurred at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring and maiming many others. To walk with God and reflect His image is to do good under all circumstances, to visit the sick and injured, and to bury the dead, but I despair for humanity. Although we certainly can find some helpers involved in response to this terrible expression of violence, how many more people exist who are capable of committing similar acts of hostility or worse? It always seems like we struggle and struggle in this unending battle of good vs. evil, and to what gain?

Batman (played by Christian Bale): Then why do you want to kill me?

The Joker (played by Heath Ledger): [giggling] I don’t, I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You… you… complete me.

Batman: You’re garbage who kills for money.

The Joker: Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.

The Joker: We really should stop this fighting, otherwise we’ll miss the fireworks!

Batman: There won’t *be* any fireworks!

The Joker: And here… we… go!

[Silence. Nothing happens. Confused, Joker turns to look at the clock, which shows that it’s past midnight and neither ferry has blown the other up]

Batman: [triumphantly] What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you? You’re alone!

The Joker: [sighs] Can’t rely on anyone these days, you have to do everything yourself, don’t we!

-from the film The Dark Knight (2008)

In this scene, Batman and the Joker are debating the nature of humanity. Batman believes that human beings are basically good, while the Joker believes that “these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.” In the film, the situation that the Joker sets up to prove his point fails. The people involved don’t blow each other up, but risk their own lives in order to show compassion, even for people they don’t know, even for criminals.

But it’s just a movie, a work of fiction. People are good in the movie because they’re written that way.

What about people in reality?

According to Resnik, we are also “written” to do good because we are made in the image of God and should “naturally” reflect His goodness. However, the history of the human race seems to prove otherwise. We are not good, we have not been good, and in spite of what “progressives” may believe, we are not getting better. We simply shift around the types of “badness” we commit and just call it “good.”

aloneBut wait. I’ve already been down this path once before and I know where it leads. It leads to a dark, depressing dead end where no one will follow you and where no one wants to go. Do I really want to go there again? I probably will. Given the nature of my personality, I visit that place periodically. But do I want to stay this time?

When I complained previously that all the heroes were dead, I was reminded “All the more reason to be the “called out” ones and live counter to our culture.” It’s true. The fewer of us there are, the harder we’re supposed to work for what we know is good and right. It gets more lonely and more scary, but God didn’t ask us to serve Him in a world of truth and light. If everything were perfect, He wouldn’t need us to do Tikkun Olam. It’s in the face of terrorism, tragedy, and horror that we need to be especially faithful to the tasks that God has given us. No matter how discouraging things get sometimes, we still have to work and we still have to wait.

We’re all waiting for something to happen to save us. Christians and Jews are waiting for the Messiah. The inquisitions happened and the Messiah didn’t come. Pogroms beyond measure have happened and the Messiah didn’t come. Crusaders raped, pillaged, and murdered, with the blood of their victims running through the streets like water and the Messiah didn’t come. Wars have slaughtered millions and the Messiah didn’t come. The Nazis murdered six million Jews and countless other “undesirables” and the Messiah didn’t come. Someone blew up a bunch of people at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds and Messiah didn’t come.

What’s God waiting for? Is He waiting for us to “walk in His ordinances and His statutes?” Is He waiting for us to become the people He designed us to be? Is He waiting for us to follow Him in the footsteps of the Messiah? He’s been waiting a long time. He’s waiting for us to do what He sent us here to do. He’s waiting for us to live out His image. If the Messiah is the ultimate human image of God, we share that with him as his disciples. We must hold on. I must hold on. One little dip in the pool of despair, a couple of laps just for good measure, then out again, dry off, get dressed, and get going.

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

How ironic that I should hear the voice of Messiah from the mouth of Gandhi, but then I think Gandhi understood Jesus better than many of his followers, including me. This is why God created the Shabbat…to give our injured spirits a rest in Him. Someday the rest will be perfect. Until then, we must continue to carry the image of God to a suffering and disbelieving world. Without that, there is no hope.

Good Shabbos.

159 days.