Tag Archives: humility

The Humble Desert

This is the second of two blog posts I wrote several weeks ago. I don’t know when or if I’ll write anymore.

Ohr HaChaim explains the first verse in Sefer Devarim in a novel way: He says that Moshe was alluding to nine attributes that are necessary for those who go in the path of the Torah.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.132
Sunday’s commentary for Parashas Devarim
A Daily Dose of Torah

Although this commentary was written for a Jewish audience, we non-Jews in Messiah who seek his Kingdom may glean some insights into the necessary attributes for us to turn to Hashem, God of Israel, in repentance and humility.

The following is a truncated version of this list of nine attributes. For the full text, go to pp. 132-133 of the aforementioned portion of A Daily Dose of Torah

  1. The word “on the other side,” is an allusion that one should acquire the trait of Avraham, as it says (Bereshis 14:13) “and told Abram, the Ivri…” [The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 42:13) says that our forefather Avraham was called the “Ivri” because he was on one side…of the world, and the rest of humanity was on the other. The Eitz Yosef (ad loc.) explains that this refers to Avraham’s recognition of his Creator, challenging the status quo of his time, when idolatry was the norm.]
  2. A person should constantly have self-reproof in mind, as the Gemara says (Berachos 7a): “One self-reproof in a person’s own heart is better (for his self-improvement) than 100 lashes.”
  3. One should be humble, as the Gemara says (Eruvin 54a): A person should conduct himself as if he were but a humble desert…
  4. One’s humility should follow the proper course as delineated in Rambam (Hilchos Dei’vos Ch. 5). [Rambam writes at length there about the proper conduct one should display, both in public and private.]
  5. The Mishnah (Avos 3:1) says that two of the things one should remember so as not to come to sin are that a person ends up buried in the ground, and that he will have to stand in judgment before Hashem for all his deeds. In Avos 2:10, the Mishnah tells us to repent every day, lest one die without repentance.
  6. The virtuous say (Chovos HaLevavo, Shaar HaPerishus 4) that one should be outwardly cheerful and inwardly mournful.
  7. One should have a pure and clean heart, as Dovid HaMelech prays in Tehillim (51:12), “A pure heart create for me, O God.” One should distance himself from hatred, jealousy, strife and bearing grudges.
  8. One should regularly learn Torah, as it is stated about our forefather Yaakov (Bereshis 25:27): “Yaakov was a wholesome man, dwelling in tents,” which refers to the study tents of Shem and Eiver (Rashi ad loc.).
  9. One should not passionately pursue things that seem valuable, meaning, the wealth of the physical world, because one who is following his heart’s desires is not doing God’s work.

How can this be applied to the non-Jew in Messiah? We can only look to those texts in our Bible, enshrined in the Apostolic Scriptures, that describe what is required of us through Messiah as a result of his humble birth, his life among Israel, his death at the hands of the goyim, his miraculous resurrection, and triumphant ascension.

MessiahThere are two general models by which we non-Jews may learn our proper behavior as disciples and perhaps look to the above-listed nine attributes: The behaviors of our Master, Rav Yeshua, that we find recorded in the Gospels, and what the Apostle Paul taught, as well as mitzvot we see the righteous Gentiles of that time performing, also chronicles in the Apostolic Scriptures.

Let’s take another list of those nine attributes and see if they make any sense when applied to a Gentile disciple of the Master.

  1. To be separate from the rest of mankind. Are we Christians “called out” from the mass of general humanity to be something special to God?
  2. To constantly reproof ourselves. Reproof is just a fancy word meaning rebuke, reprimand, reproach, or admonition. Applied to a believer who sins (and who doesn’t sin, even among the redeemed Gentiles?), we should be our own worst critics, for self-reproof is better than being “called out” because of our sins by others.
  3. To be humble. Looking at Eruvin 54, the relevant portion states: “If a person makes himself [humble] like a wilderness on which everyone tramples, [Torah is given to him like a Matanah (gift),] and his learning will endure. If not, it will not.”
  4. I don’t have access to Rambam’s lengthy discourse on humility, so no illumination will come from his insights, at least not in this small write-up.
  5. Avos 3:1 seems pretty self-explanatory. Once you fully realize that you are mortal, an end will come, and you will stand in judgment before a righteous and just God, should you continue to sin? And yet we do all the time. How wretched we are.
  6. Outwardly cheerful and inwardly mournful. Sounds like Matthew 6:16.
  7. In order to have a pure and clean heart, we would have to be in a constant state of repentance, which seems pretty consistent with what we’ve read so far.
  8. Regularly learn Torah. That fits in with what we generally assume about Acts 15:21 but, if we expand that idea to regularly studying the Bible, and all Bible learning could be considered “Torah” or “teaching” in a way, then why couldn’t we benefit from this?
  9. What is most important to us? A nice house? An expensive car? Watching the most recent superhero movies in the theaters? What did the Master teach in Matthew 22:36-40? What did he teach in Matthew 6:19-21?

The Jewish PaulAlthough the Master appointed the Pharisee Paul to be the emissary to the Gentiles, and tasked him to bring the Good News of Messiah to the people of the nations of the world, Paul was not commanded to convert those Gentiles into Jews. Although Paul brought many non-Jews into Jewish social and worship contexts to teach them to understand such foreign (to them in those days) concepts as a monotheistic view of One God, who and what “Messiah” is and what he means, and what the “good news” is to Israel and how it can be applied to the rest of the world, at some point, he had to realize based on the sheer number of Gentiles in the world in relation to the tiny number of Jews, that the Gentiles would quickly develop their own communities, congregations, and perhaps their own customs, halachah, and praxis, independent of direct (or even indirect) Jewish influence. The tiny Apostolic Council of Jerusalem couldn’t hope to administer a world wide population of Gentiles.

Two-thousand or so years later, Christianity and Judaism, having traveled along widely divergent paths, seem like an apple and an orange trying to find common ground and not doing a very good job of it. Judaism isn’t what links Jews and Gentiles in Messiah. Judaism is what links Jews to other Jews. It’s what links Jews to Torah. It’s what links Jews to Israel.

Judaism isn’t what teaches the apple and the orange that they are both fruit (assuming you’ve seen the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The promise of living in the Kingdom of Heaven, otherwise known as the Kingdom of God, or even the Messianic Era…this is what we have in common, all of us, all of humanity…all people everywhere, or at least those who make teshuvah, turn to God, and who answer the call to be redeemed.

But Jews are part of the Kingdom by covenant. The path for the rest of us is more complicated, at least once you set aside the notion we’ve been taught out of a truncated Gospel, the notion commonly taught in most Christian churches.

Although Messianic Judaism in its various modern incarnations is a very good place to learn about how God’s redemptive plan for Israel, and through Israel, the rest of the world, is really supposed to work, it can also (and certainly has in many cases) lead a lot, or many, or most non-Jews associated with Messianic Judaism to some very confusing conclusions.

Learning from within a Jewish context of one sort or another is valuable, but none of that means we non-Jews are supposed to consider Judaism a permanent destination. Our destination lies elsewhere.

Yeshua’s (Jesus’) central message was Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near, not “Believe in me and you’ll go to Heaven when you die.”

Sadly enough, Christianity widely teaches that Paul’s central message was “humans are saved from sin by believing in Jesus.” So either Paul completely turned the good news of Messiah on its head, so to speak, or Christianity totally misunderstands Paul.

For people like me, that is, non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah, it is vital to comprehend what the Master taught about the Kingdom and then see how Paul interpreted those teachings as applying to the people of the nations. Only understanding that gives me a clear picture of the actual context in which God expects people like me to operate and what I’m supposed to do with all this information.

Apostle Paul preachingI shouldn’t have to look far. Paul’s discourse to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch where he addressed Jews, proselytes, and non-Jewish God-fearers should tell the tale and show us what he taught that so excited the Gentiles.

As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us,

‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles,
That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).’”

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.

Acts 13:42-49 (NASB)

You should read all of Acts 13 for the full context, keeping in mind that Luke probably wrote down only a short summary of Paul’s complete address to the synagogue.

We do know that Paul advocated for redemption of the Gentiles through Israel’s redemption, and that the news among the Gentile God-fearers was so well received during Paul’s first Shabbat visit, that multitudes of non-Jews, most of whom were probably not God-fearers and in fact, most of whom were likely straight-up pagans, enthusiastically showed up on the next Shabbat, dismaying the synagogue leaders to the extreme, but attracting a lot of excited Gentiles to the “good news.”

That good news wasn’t Judaism. The local Gentiles always knew that they could undergo the proselyte rite to convert to Judaism (and some few of them actually did). Paul wasn’t preaching for all Gentiles to convert, he was preaching the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven, where all people could receive the Spirit of God, could be reconciled to the Creator of the Universe, and receive the promise of the resurrection and a place in the World to Come.

This was as open to the Gentiles as it was to any Jew.

Verse 38 of the same chapter says that Messiah proclaimed forgiveness of sins (through teshuvah or repentance) to even the Gentiles, something most of the Goyim (and probably most Jews) hadn’t even considered possible before, especially within their polytheistic family and social framework.

The synagogue was where Gentiles had to go, at least initially, because that was the only place in town where anyone taught anything about the God of Israel and the meaning of Messiah’s message. Like I said, Judaism isn’t the final destination for the Gentile. It was and perhaps sometimes still is the place we need to go in order to learn that our final destination is the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s where we need to focus our attention.

alone-desertIf we get too caught up in trying to “belong” to Judaism, we are either going to become frustrated when it doesn’t work out that way, or offended and angry when Jews in Messiah see we Gentiles as interlopers and poachers of their territory.

In some ways, that’s probably what caused a lot of the problems in Gentile integration into Jewish social and community circles that we find in Luke’s “Acts” and Paul’s epistles.

Rather than trying to bulldoze my way into Messianic Judaism, I’m determined to become a humble desert, to be the dust under everyone’s feet. In the siddur, it says “To those who curse me let my soul be silent, and let my soul be like dust to everyone.”

All I can do is to continually repent before the Throne of God, try to live my life in humility, and seek to behave in a manner pleasing to my Master so that one day I may enter the Kingdom…

…even if it is like dust seeping in through the doorway.

The Torah states, “You shall trust wholeheartedly in the Lord, Your God” (Deuteronomy 18:13).

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim, used to say, “The Torah obliges us to trust wholeheartedly in God … but not in man. A person must always be on the alert not to be cheated.”

The Chofetz Chaim devoted his life to spreading the principle of brotherly love, the prohibition against speaking against others, and the commandment to judge people favorably. Though he was not the least bit cynical, he was also not naive. He understood the world and human weaknesses.

In Mesichta Derech Eretz Rabba (chapter 5) it states that we should honor every person we meet as we would (the great sage) Rabbi Gamliel, but we should nevertheless be suspicious that he might be dishonest.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
as quoted at Aish.com

The Pilot Project for the Nations

Warning. This is pretty cynical. It’s been that kind of day.

@James — You wrote: “It does seem like the Bible is biased heavily in defining the roles and responsibilities of the Jewish people and is pretty skimpy with its “advice” to the Gentiles.” I think I mentioned somewhere above, in response to a similar comment from Drake, that this should be obvious because the literature was written by Jews for Jews, and its consideration of gentiles was only to provide a larger framework for the world in which Jews must exist as a part of that larger body of humanity. It was never intended to provide advice or guidelines for non-Jews, though such guidelines may be (and have been) inferred from it. I pointed out to Drake that it is inappropriate to “criticize” this literature for not providing such information, because that was not its purpose. One might as well criticize a cookbook for not including motorcycle-repair instructions, or a self-help book about quitting smoking for not addressing drug addictions in general. Now, it’s not entirely incidental, of course, that the instructions for a pilot program redeeming one of the families of the earth should contain information that can be generalized to other families; but to criticize a lack of generalized information is just not correctly appreciating the nature and purpose of the existing literature.

Comment by ProclaimLiberty (emph. mine)
Submitted 2015/06/30 at 10:53 a.m.
On Why Do Christians Hate Judaism

That explains a lot.

I actually like the references to the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) in the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) being referred to as a “pilot program” (I know PL used “pilot program” as applied to the Jewish people and then generalized to the rest of us, but I think my interpretation fits better). It makes perfect sense. The phrase brings into clarity what I think we’ve been struggling with in the conversation taking place on the aforementioned blog post, as well as the one that started this whole thing out.

I don’t know if the Apostle Paul ever intended to flesh out his “pilot program” and develop a full-fledged halachah for the non-Jewish disciples. Maybe not. I’ve read more than one commentary stating that Paul believed the Messianic return was imminent, so he probably didn’t think he had to do anything but put band-aids on gushing arteries because Yeshua was going to be back so fast, he’d heal all our wounds.


divorceThis also explains why, with the passage of time, the Gentiles decided to take matters into their own hands and, in a rather ugly divorce, separate themselves from their Jewish mentors and invent an identity of their own, one that diminished if not deleted the Jewish role in the redemptive plan of God through Moshiach (Christ).

Maybe I’ve been a little hard on the Church Fathers. Maybe they thought that turning against the Messianic Jews, all other Jews, and Israel was an unfortunate but necessary step if Gentile lives and souls were to mean anything at all, at least in a more fully developed form.

No real identity, role, or function for the Gentile disciples in Jewish space? No problem. Leave Jewish community and create an identity, role, and function for non-Jewish believers, excuse me, “Christians” that stands on its own legs, without any sort of need for Judaism. Heck, if they were stinging from being put on long-term hold in a “pilot program,” they’d just take it to the next level and write a theology that made Israel and the Jewish people the “bad guys”.

And it worked, at least, from a Christian perspective, for the past eighteen-hundred years or so.

Then, as Derek Leman recently wrote, Messianic Judaism had a “revival” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and then later in the 1960s. From there, after a few missteps, it picked up steam and is now beginning to realize itself as an authentic Judaism again.

And as I’ve said before, with Jewish realization of their identity in Messiah, there also came a Gentile realization that said, “I’m no longer the center of Christ’s attention, anymore” (not that we ever were).

And it’s not too far a walk from that point to, “I’m not only not the center of attention, but I’m pretty much irrelevant.”

Of course that defies certain statements in the Bible such as Galatians 3:28 which seems to establish some common ground between Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic ekklesia, but I think it stands to reason that if you admit the centrality of Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people in God’s redemptive plan for the world, then the only place for Christians to go once they leave the pitcher’s mound is either the outfield, or more likely, the bleachers (the parking lot? …maybe a few miles away from the ballpark?).

shakespeareI’ve mentioned before that when Israel becomes the head of all the nations and King Messiah reigns from Jerusalem over not only Israel but over the rest of the world, the rest of the world will be composed of vassal nations, subservient to the head nation, the Jewish nation.

For some reason, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 57 comes to mind:

Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you.
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But like a sad slave, stay and think of nought,
Save, where you are how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love that in your will
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

Of course, the accepted commentary on this sonnet states this is the lament of a neglected friend regarding a companion who has abandoned him and gone off adventuring with others, but I think it could be applied to the current discussion.

I know I’m probably exaggerating, but this series of blog posts are an evolutionary exploration into who or what non-Jews in Messiah are if at all in relationship with Jewish community.

In the blog post I mentioned at the top of today’s missive, I commented that the worst case scenario (for Gentiles) in the Messianic Age, given what I’ve just said, is a true “bilateral ecclesiology,” one extending world-wide with the Jewish people in Israel and the rest of us in our own nations, perhaps only visiting Israel on special occasions to pay homage to our Lord, but otherwise, as the defeated nations that had vainly attacked (or from the present’s point of view, will attack) Israel and were conquered and shamed for our efforts, we remain in our place and tend to our own affairs and only come to the King if summoned.

I wonder if the pilot program was ever meant to be developed further, even by Messiah, since the rather dystopian scenario (for Gentiles) I’ve just crafted doesn’t really need a lot more detail than said-pilot program provides.


I wonder if there’s a Gentile application to Solomon’s Ecclesiastes? We poor, dumb Christians rule and reign in our churches for eighteen-hundred years thinking we have the proverbial tiger by the tail, only to realize that we are the tail and we’re no tiger, not by a long shot.

Each and every insult, pogrom, persecution, injustice, and inquisition Christianity has ever visited upon the Jewish people in eighteen or so centuries is going to come back and land right on our collective necks with a solid, concrete “thump”.

Maybe the reason Gentiles don’t fit into Messianic Judaism is that we were never meant to. Maybe Mark Kinzer’s vision of separate silos for Jews and Gentiles is intended to be carried over into the Messianic Era. Maybe we had our chance to stay loyal to the Jewish people and Israel during the Age of the Apostles, but once we walked out of the house, so to speak, and slammed the door in Messianic Jewish faces, there was no going back…


I see now why the Pastor and just about all of the other people I described Messianic Judaism to at that little Baptist church I used to attend didn’t accept a word of it. I know why “One Law” Hebrew Roots Christians (no, you aren’t “Messianic Judaism”) can’t accept it either. It’s a terribly humbling realization and one accepted only with great difficulty and personal reorganization of who we are. We can never be who we thought we were. Those people never existed, at least not to God.

What was Solomon’s point in writing Ecclesiastes again?

Oh, yeah.

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (NASB)

Yes, God will judge us, may He have mercy on the nations. Except that keeping His commandments, if you mean the Torah mitzvot, only “applies to every person” (assuming Solomon didn’t mean “every Jew” since his primary audience was most certainly exclusively Jewish), in the broadest possible sense.

torahOf course, it’s dangerous to attempt to apply any of the Jewish scriptures (and even the Apostolic texts are Jewish scriptures written by Jews for Jews) to non-Jews in any sense, so I’m skating on proverbial thin ice (a very hazardous thing given that it’s triple digit highs in and around Boise for the foreseeable future).

Yes, I’m being pessimistic. Half the time, I want to take this “religion thing” and say “to heck with it…if I’m not supposed to belong to the club, I’ll leave.”

Maybe Thomas Gray was correct when he penned in his poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College:”

“Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

While Christians were ignorant of their/our true place in the ekklesia and their/our station in the future Kingdom of Messiah, we felt like Kings and Queens, reigning and ruling with Jesus, King of the Hill, Top of the Heap, and so on.

Given the “alternate reality” I’ve just constructed, we’d better duck and run when Messiah really does return for treating the Jewish people and Israel so badly, especially if all of the nations we live in (everywhere except Israel) are going to war against God’s precious, splendorous people, and, as the Bible says, we’re going to get our fannies whooped.

So wising up, I look around and find that I’m just part of a pilot project, a starter kit, a house made of cards with cotton candy for a roof and play-doh for a foundation.

No wonder I’ve felt so “unfinished” or maybe just “unmade” in my version of being a “Messianic Gentile.”

But it all fits. It explains everything, particularly why there are so many questions and so few, if any, answers.

We really were never meant to go as far as we tried to go, were never meant to rise as high as we tried to fly.

Like Icarus, now that I’ve flown close enough to the Sun to see the truth, my wax wings have melted and I plummet to earth like a broken angel, though I’m hardly angelic.

“Being your slave, what should I do but tend upon the hours and times of your desire” indeed.

icarusI think I’d better crawl on my knees in abject humility or humiliation for the incredible arrogance I’ve been guilty of in even imagining I could be more or, worse yet, that I was more.

I don’t think I’ve understood being a servant up until now, not really.

A fallen servant is one whose wings have melted, and wallowing in soggy, warm wax, all I can do to serve is to scoop up some of that gooey, messy stuff. Maybe it’ll be good enough to make into a few candles to light the way, should the King decide to return by the road that winds past my small place.

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?

The Consequences of Disagreeing

Learn to disagree without creating an unpleasant argument.

A mature disagreement is when two people both listen carefully to the other’s position in order to understand the position and why the person feels that way.

The Torah obligates us to treat each person with respect – even if you disagree.

(For a series of probing questions on this topic, see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Self Knowledge,” pp.125-7)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Disagree Respectfully”
from “Today’s Daily Lift”

When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of my most recent What I Learned in Church Today blog post including Pastor Randy’s rebuttal to my comments. Though he may not believe this, I’ve been deeply concerned about how what I’ve written affects him and others. I was trying to communicate that in the aforementioned article but I’m not sure I was successful.

My problem is just how far to go in expressing my opinion, either in church itself or on my blog. I guess I could split the difference, since “church” doesn’t belong to me in the sense that I “own” the social and communal space, while I do “own” the communication conduit of my blog. I could keep mum at church and spew all of my thoughts and feelings out into the blogosphere (and I do the latter on a regular basis).

But I don’t exactly keep quiet in church, at least not in Sunday school. Granted, I don’t attempt to start a riot, and I do consciously limit the amount of interaction I allow myself to what I hope is a tolerable degree. I know I’m not always successful in this, however.

But as the quote from Rabbi Pliskin above suggests, the issue isn’t so much disagreement but whether or not respect is maintained. I don’t know if I’ve been doing this very well. When researching R. Pliskin’s write-ups on this topic, a few other entries came up in my search:

People can have diverse opinions. They can have different personalities. They can have different goals and objectives. Even so, they can choose to interact in peaceful ways, and discuss their differences with mutual respect. At times they will work out solutions to their mutual satisfaction, and at times they will not. Nevertheless, they can be calm, and think clearly about the wisest course to take.

(Growth Through Tehillim: Exploring Psalms for Life Transforming Thoughts, p. 92)

Disagree Respectfully

When it comes to being assertive, the ideal is to be able to speak up whenever appropriate and to do so respectfully.

Think of some situations in the past when you were not as assertive as you wish you were. Imagine yourself being able to say anything to anyone (as long as it is appropriate). Then take action to assert yourself in a way that you have not done so before.

(For a series of probing questions on this topic, see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Self Knowledge,”pp.131-3)

Be Respectfully Assertive

SilenceAh, the words “When it comes to being assertive, the ideal is to be able to speak up whenever appropriate,” accuse me. Is it always appropriate to speak up? Isn’t “silence golden?” Shouldn’t I “go along to get along?”

I think people would be a lot more comfortable around me at church if I really did keep my mouth shut, and I can only imagine I’d cause Pastor Randy fewer headaches and gray hairs if I kept his sermons out of my blog. It’s going to come to that. Given the tone of the comments on the blog post in question, I don’t see any other reasonable choice on my part, especially if “respectfulness” is to be maintained rather than me just being “assertive” all the time. I’ve already taken it too far.

In exploring whether or not my pontificating about church is a sign of my personal arrogance, I consulted Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s series 48 Ways to Wisdom and specifically Way #29: Subtle Traps of Arrogance. Am I really all that smart or well-educated in theological knowledge that I always know better than trained and educated Pastors and Bible teachers? Am I infallible? Certainly not. Then where does this drive to learn more and express what I believe come from? You’d think I’d be smart enough to shut up, listen and learn.

Who is wise? He who learns from all people.

-Pirkei Avot 4:1

On the other hand, self-expression, particularly in writing, is how I process information and make sense out of it (which is what I’m doing right now). Until then, it’s just a bunch of thought fragments floating around in the global context of my mind or at best, scrawled and scribbled notes on torn and frayed pieces of paper. Dressing them up, so to speak, by blogging creates a framework within which I can organize that information and even respond to it in some fashion. It has the added (if sometimes dubious) benefit of eliciting responses from interested readers on the web.

R. Weinberg’s article ended with a bullet point summary:

  • If you’re busy patting yourself on the back for what you’ve achieved, you won’t make an effort to do more.
  • If you’re constantly defending your opinions, you’ll never be open to hearing new ideas.
  • If you are arrogant about your ideas, then you are limiting yourself.
  • If you’re grateful, you will grow.
  • If you experience pleasure in doing the right thing, then look for more pleasure.

I suppose the point stating “If you’re constantly defending your opinions, you’ll never be open to hearing new ideas” is the most applicable one since by the very definition of my “mediations”, I’m expressing opinions that are in need of defending, at least at the moment when someone disagrees. I guess turning it around, I’m the one disagreeing with traditional Church doctrine, and that has resulted in Pastor Randy having to comment on my blog to defend his position, something he wouldn’t have had to do if I’d have kept my hands off the keyboard and my opinions of his sermon to myself.

I suppose it also comes down to whether or not I’m limiting myself by being arrogant about my ideas.

study-in-the-darkBut these aren’t ideas I’ve cooked up out of “ham fat,” so to speak, but out of hours and hours of reading, listening to lectures and sermons online, and writing, and pondering, not in order to puff myself up, but to authentically read and understand the Bible as a single, unified document containing the single, unswerving intent and plan of God to redeem Israel and thus redeem all of Creation. For me, Christian theology and doctrine doesn’t provide the solution. No matter how I slice it, Christian doctrine forces the plan of God to “jump the tracks” at least once in the Bible, in order to take the plain meaning of Torah and the prophecies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and make them fit traditional Christian beliefs as they have evolved in the centuries of the “post-Nicene Church”.

If the Bible is as Evangelical Christianity says it is, then both God and the Bible don’t make sense and further, they (in my opinion) pull a major bait-and-switch on Israel and the Jewish people.

I just want the Bible to make sense and from my current perspective, I believe it does.

But back to the question of what to do about this?

In general, writing little theological essays from my amateur’s point of view probably does little if any harm. According to one estimate, as of November 2013, there were over 152 million blogs in the Internet, and a new blog is being created somewhere in the world every half a second.

That’s a lot of blogs.

Among all of that, my one little blog is completely insignificant. Of course, I occupy a rather rarefied space in the blogosphere, not only as a religious blogger (plenty of those around), but one who specifically comments on non-Jewish participation in Messianic Judaism (or maybe it should be expressed as “Messianic Gentilism” or something like that).

Of course, the second I comment on a specific individual, such as a Pastor, or on the teachings of a particular church, things narrow down considerably in terms of the “influence” or at least the “impact” I can have on people’s lives.

I really don’t think I’m being arrogant in the sense that I’m always right and people had better see things my way or else, but that isn’t to say I couldn’t have done things better or have been more considerate. Where’s the fine line between being respectfully assertive and being arrogant? Where’s the line in the sand separating humble respect from passivity or censorship (even if self-imposed)?

The only solution that avoids hurting others in relation to church is to not talk at or write about church. Oh, I guess I can say “Hi, how are you,” but expressing a theological opinion in Sunday school will have to be a “no-no,” and certainly writing any commentary on sermons or Sunday school lessons must be taken off the table completely.

the-crossThat’s probably like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped but it’s better than continuing to hammer away at a nail that’s already been beaten flat (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor).

Better late than never.

What do I do from here? I have a pretty good idea about that but will let it cook for a day or two (or more — or less) longer just to make sure. Given a good enough reason, I can go off half-cocked but I’d like to avoid it if at all possible. I spent a long time praying and pondering before returning to church. I’ve made a nearly two-year investment in Christian community. In the aftermath of what I’ve done, I have to see just what is left…if anything.

Walking in the Dust of the Footsteps of Moshiach

This is the actual time of the “footsteps of Mashiach.” (the final age prior to Mashiach’s advent) It is therefore imperative for every Jew to seek his fellow’s welfare – whether old or young – to inspire the other to teshuva (return), so that he will not fall out – G-d forbid – of the community of Israel who will shortly be privileged, with G-d’s help, to experience complete redemption.

“Today’s Day”
Monday – Sivan 18 – 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Previously, I wrote about how privileged Gentiles associated with the Messianic Jewish movement (and in theory, all Gentile Christians) are to be able to support and encourage increased Torah observance among the Jewish people united in Messiah, in order to bring nearer the coming (return) of the King. Although the small commentary above states that it is important for every Jew to seek his fellow’s welfare, I believe we can extend that sentiment to all of mankind.

There are two interrelated principles here. The first is for all disciples of Jesus to seek the welfare of any other person, as it is written, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18, Mark 12:31). The second is like it in that we non-Jews should seek out the welfare of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, as it is written, “And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

As I also said, within the unity of the body of Messiah, we are all one and yet we are all distinct. Just as men and women are distinct, so are Jew and Gentile, for Paul in his various epistles, never stopped distinguishing between the Jew and the Greek (Gentile). Therefore, we have no excuse to fail to make such distinctions as well.

And yet, both within the larger body of the Christian Church and certain subsets of what is called Hebrew Roots, it is considered unfashionable and even offensive to continue to make such distinctions. However, if we fail to do so, either by eliminating the primacy of national Israel and replacing it with the Church, or forcibly inserting Gentiles into the nation of Israel, we violate God’s unique calling to the Jewish people to remain a set apart people before Him forever.

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:
“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”

Jeremiah 31:35-36 (NASB)

For the New Covenant was made with the house of Judah and the house of Israel, not the people of the nations, and it is only by coming alongside Israel rather than replacing her or co-opting her unique relationship with God, that we can enjoy blessings of the covenants God made with the Jewish people.

To deny this on any level is to bring a curse upon yourself, but to bless and uphold the nation of Israel and the distinct nature and character of the Jewish people is to bring blessings upon yourself from God, who selected Israel for His own.

The early sages, who were like angels (may their merit protect us) have already determined that the healing of the soul is like the healing of the body:

The crucial first step is to identify the location of the illness, whether it is caused by the crassness, grossness and corruption of his physical body or by a failing in his soul-powers, the person being inclined to undersirable traits like arrogance or falsehood and the like. Or, the source of the malady may be habit – inadequate rearing or unwholesome environment having brought on bad habits.

“Today’s Day”
Shabbat – Sivan 16 – 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

This relates to another quote I cited before:

A person who worries about how others view him will have no rest. Regardless of what he does or does not do he will always be anxious about receiving the approval of others. Such a person makes his self-esteem dependent on the whims of others. It is a mistake to give others so much control over you. Keep your focus on doing what is right and proper.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Given the current context, applying R. Pliskin’s words to me, I see that those who disagree with my words are not in control of who I am. Those who disagree with the uniqueness, sanctity, and distinctiveness of the Jewish people; the nation of Israel before God, cannot affect the nature and character of the chosen people, even as they either seek to eliminate Israel in God’s plan or dilute Israel by inserting masses of Gentiles into her midst without continuing to uphold her distinction.

But R. Pliskin’s words can also be applied to those who oppose Israel in that these people and groups may see their self-esteem and self-assigned identity as being worthwhile only if Israel is diminished either by elimination from God’s plan, or by needing to be included and even fused with Israel, not allowing Israel to exist apart from Gentile inclusion.

To the Christians, including some groups within Hebrew Roots, it is important and even vital to realize that our distinctiveness apart from Israel does not diminish us. Quite the opposite. Our vital role in supporting Israel and heralding the return of Israel depends on our distinctiveness.

If a Gentile “keeps the Torah” in some manner or fashion, that may benefit the individual involved but it does nothing to summon the Messiah’s return. If, on the other hand, the Gentile were to support and encourage Jews in Messiah, including those in the Church referred to as “Hebrew Christians” in observing the mitzvot, then we are fulfilling our purpose and passion and performing a mitzvah “only Gentile disciples of Messiah may accomplish”.

As a young boy, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe) would go with his father on walks through the woods. One time, as they talked, the boy absent-mindedly plucked a leaf off a tree and began to shred it between his fingers. His father saw what his son was doing, but he went on talking. He spoke about the Baal Shem Tov, who taught how every leaf that blows in the wind—moving to the right and then to the left, how and when it falls and where it falls to—every motion for the duration of its existence is under the detailed supervision of the Almighty.

That concern the Creator has for each thing, his father explained, is the divine spark that sustains its existence. Everything is with Divine purpose, everything is of concern to the ultimate goal of the entire cosmos.

”Now,” the father gently chided, “look how you mistreated so absent-mindedly the Almighty’s creation.”

”He formed it with purpose and gave it a Divine spark! It has its own self and its own life! Now tell me, how is the ‘I am’ of the leaf any less than your own ‘I am’?”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Purpose of a Leaf”
Based on the letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson

Everything was created by God with a unique purpose, even a humble leaf, and must be treated with respect. How is the Jewish ‘I am’ any less than the Gentile (Christian) ‘I am’?

korahs-rebellionExodus 20 commands Israel not to covet the things that belong to a neighbor such as his house, his wife, his servants, or his animals. Far be it from me to add to or subtract from the Bible, but my personal “midrash” on coveting includes the “commandment” not to covet thy neighbor’s mitzvot. Just as Korach and his followers coveted the position and mitzvot associated with Moses, the Prophet of God, and Aaron, the High Priest and was judged in error by God, so we too will be judged as in error by coveting positions, roles, and mitzvot we do not merit because we are not Jewish.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11 (NASB)

It is not shameful or diminishing to seek humility in the presence of God and in our daily lives. In fact, as we see from scripture, it is ultimately honoring, though we should not seek honor for ourselves, for in taking our proper place furthest away from the head of the table, how might the host of the banquet choose to honor us by placing us in a much better seat. But that selection of a better seat is not for us to make, it is for him, for Messiah, Son of David. For even he, though he deserves great honor and glory, chose to be humbled.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:45 (NASB)

The Master said that all those who choose to glorify themselves in this world already have their reward, but those who choose to humble themselves now will have great reward in the coming Kingdom:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-6 (NASB)

walking humblyServe God in all humility, placing the needs of others before your own. Realize that Paul always went to the Jew first, for the Good News of Messiah is the Gospel of Israel and only afterward the good news also to the nations.

If you seek to take what is not yours, when Messiah comes, will he not seek justice and remove from you that which you have usurped? Better to pursue nothing for yourself, and when Messiah comes, let him gift each of us with whatever we may merit according to his grace, kindness, and wisdom. Consider the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30):

For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.

Matthew 25:29 (NASB)

Also, the Master taught:

So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34 (NASB)

To God be great honor and glory, and to Moshiach our King, let him be raised high above us. Let us walk in the dust of his feet (Nahum 1:3) and be satisfied with our lot.

Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): “From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation.”

Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. As is stated (Proverbs 16:32), “Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city.”

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated (Psalms 128:2): “If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you”; “fortunate are you” in this world, “and good is to you” in the World to Come.

Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows. As is stated (I Samuel 2:30): “For to those who honor me, I accord honor; those who scorn me shall be demeaned.”

-Pirkei Avot 4:1

May we make teshuvah and repent of our failings before God, then pursue the path of Messiah as he and he alone has set it before each of us. Amen and Amen.

For more on this topic, please see the Hebrew Roots section of the MessianicGentiles.com website.

Addendum: Sadly, this blog post did nothing to resolve conflicts and in fact seems to have added fuel to the fire. Thus, I’m forced to write a “part three” to this series. Please see Briefly Revisiting Gentiles and the New Covenant for details.

Does Unity Always Demand Passivity?

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:1-3 (NASB)

How is it pleasing to the Lord when hungry believers with different backgrounds and viewpoints, come together in a spirit of unity to study and apply His Word? What Christ-honoring qualities, in Ephesians 4:1-3, do we need to embrace in order for this to happen?

-from the Sunday school study notes for June 8th

I know I’ve accused myself (and been accused by my wife) of collapsing the Tent of David because of my arrogant presumption, which has subsequently caused me to question my role in the church (if any, beyond being a pew-warmer in services and a silent witness in Sunday school), but I’ve got just one question: are we supposed to “dumb down” the Bible and ignore blatant error for the sake of unity among believers?

I’m really tempted to ask my Sunday school teacher that question, but I know it would just stir up hard feelings (and I’ve done that before).

We’re studying Acts 22:22-29 and somehow my Sunday school teacher has gotten the impression that Paul became all humble, meek, and mild for the sake of Jesus Christ. Really, the last thing I imagine Paul to be in the face of adversity is meek and mild. I also think Christians largely misunderstand humility, especially in leadership.

Moses’s humility was a function of his greatness. Penetrating more deeply into the unfathomable mystery of things than anyone before or since, he was more acutely aware of his ignorance. As the Torah relates at Mount Sinai: “Moses approached the thick cloud where God was” (Exodus 20:18).

-Ismar Schorsch
Commentary on Torah Portion Beha’alotekha
“The Inscription on My Father’s Tombstone,” pg 498,
May 28, 1994
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

To make his point, he recast a verse in which Moses declares: “It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that the Lord set His heart on you and chose you — indeed, you are the smallest of peoples” (Deut. 7:17). Nevertheless, the midrash continues, “the Holy One Praised Be He told Israel that I love you because each time I bestow greatness upon you, you shrink yourself before Me. I bestowed greatness upon Abraham and he said to Me: ‘I am but dust and ashes’ (Gen. 18:27). Upon Moses and Aaron and they said: ‘who are we?’ (Ex. 16:7) Upon David and he said: ‘I am a worm, less than human'” (Psalm 22:7).

“The Humblest of Men,” pg 513, June 5, 2004

Reb Yakov Kamenetzky
Reb Yakov Kamenetzky

And from another source:

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky was about to take his place at the end of a long line waiting to board a bus, when someone in the front of the line who knew him called out, “Rebbe, you can come here in front of me!”

“I’m not permitted to,” replied Rav Yaakov. “It would be stealing.”

“I give you permission. I don’t mind.”

“But what about everybody else behind you?” said the Rosh Hayeshiva. “I would be stealing their time and choice of seat by moving them back one. Who says they allow me to?”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Commentary on Torah Portion Beha’alotekha
“Even when traveling be careful to observe Torah values,” pg 320
Quoting The Jewish Observer, Nov., 1985
Growth Through Torah

Here we see that humility is a reflection of strength of character and the upholding of Torah values (or Biblical values if you prefer), and is not the result of a person willing to sacrifice those values for the sake of unity, peace, or to prevent a “spirited debate.”

Certainly no one could accuse Abraham, Moses, Aaron, or David of being “meek and mild” and unable or unwilling to take a strong personal stand for what is right just to avoid an argument or to dodge a disagreement.

That said, we can also see from Rav Kamenetzky’s example that it is also required to sacrifice personal convenience for the sake of said-values, and from that, I derive the principle that you don’t enter into a debate, even if you think you’re correct, just for the sake of being right and proving the other person or people wrong.

I continually struggle with that last bit, even as I compose this blog post and anticipate (as I write this) Sunday school tomorrow morning (yesterday as you read this).

And as compelling as the examples I’ve already presented may be, there’s one more that should “seal the deal” so to speak:

When the ten heard this, they began to be upset with Ya’akov and Yochanan. Yeshua called to them and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles are the ones who oppress them, and their great ones dominate them. But it is not to be that way among you. Rather, one who desires to be great among you is to be as a servant to you, and the one who desires to be the head will be a slave to all. For even the son of man did not come in order to be served, but rather to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:41-45 (DHE Gospels)

It is true, and Chancellor Schorsch supports this in his commentary, that people operating outside of the Covenant community (Gentiles, in Schorsch’s as well as Jesus’ case) have leaders who feed off of power and self-glorification, while leaders in Judaism, at least in the ideal, become more humble as God heaps greatness upon them.

Ismar Schorsch
Ismar Schorsch

But as I said, this doesn’t mean humility equals passivity.

In the Temple he found merchants of cattle, flocks, and young doves and those who give change for money sitting there. He took cords, twisted them into a whip, and drove all of them out of the Temple, along with the flocks and cattle. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To the dove merchants he said, “Take these out of here, and do not make my Father’s House into a marketplace!” His disciples remembered the passage, “For the zeal of your House has consumed me.”

John 2:14-17 (DHE Gospels)

Of course, that hardly gives me license to make a whip and go charging into Sunday school, even metaphorically, for the sake of making a theological point. On the other hand, if unity were the single, overriding priority in the community of faith, then we would never see any Jewish leader, including Jesus, take a strong, personal stand for the sake of Heaven.

There is a line in the sand that, once crossed, must provoke a response. So on the one hand, I could have been wrong to remain silent in Sunday school class when I felt that line had been crossed. On the other hand, I need to choose my battles. I usually do that in class, selecting only one or two points in the class notes to address openly, but even then, it doesn’t always work out.

How do I tell my Sunday school teacher (or do I tell him at all) that unity is not the be all and end all of communal life in the congregation of Christ?

Be careful not to become involved in quarrels with your friends. Arguments will only create distance between you and others.

The most effective approach to avoid needless arguments is to master the ability to remain silent. You don’t have to say everything you think of saying. At times there is an actual need to clarify a specific point and it’s appropriate to speak up. But a large percentage of arguments come from making comments that don’t need to be made.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
quoted at Aish.com

By the time you read this (Monday morning), I might have the answer.

Addendum: It’s Sunday afternoon and Sunday school class actually worked out better than I thought it would. I’ll write more about this later.