Tag Archives: hypocrisy

I’m Not Who I Was

changing-courseDo not be dismayed by the hypocrisy of others, nor by your own inconsistencies. Our lives are all journeys through hills and valleys—no person’s spiritual standing is a static affair.

But the good each person achieves is eternal, as he connects to the Source of All Good, Who is infinite and everlasting. The failures, on the other hand, are transient and superficial, fleeting shadows of clouds, as stains in a garment to be washed away.

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

I’ve written over 900 blog posts for “morning meditations” and 214 for my previous blog (which stopped being active in 2011) called Searching for the Light on the Path. That’s over 1100 blog posts that record my progressive journey of faith, attempting to discover my position along the trail that leads to God.

In all that time and in all those blog posts, my opinions and beliefs have shifted a bit; perhaps more than just a bit in some areas. I’ve explored and opened myself up to some concepts and investigated and shut down others. Some people who were my friends or who were at least friendly to me have dropped me like a hot rock as I’ve developed my understanding of God, the Messiah, and the Bible in directions that oppose their belief systems. Other people have opened up to me and shared their highly valuable insights when seeing that I am not trying to impose my will on others, but seeking to discover God’s will for me and the world around me.

I suppose that last part sounds a bit narcissistic but then again, no one blogs except from their own perspective and as a means of presenting that perspective to anyone with Internet access.

I haven’t been directly accused of this, but I remember one blogger accusing another of hypocrisy based on the changing of the second blogger’s perspectives over time.

But aren’t we supposed to change? Aren’t we supposed to grow? What would happen if you learned basic arithmetic but never progressed beyond that point? What would have happened if no one anywhere across history ever developed algebra, calculus, or trigonometry? What would have happened if the best telescope we had in the world was still on the level of the one created by Galileo? What if our best medical technology for curing fevers and multiple other ailments was to apply leaches to human beings?

Are you a hypocrite if you learn something new and it changes how you see things and how you think?

As Rabbi Freeman said above, “Our lives are all journeys through hills and valleys—no person’s spiritual standing is a static affair.”

It’s interesting that a religious person should be the one to say that because, at least in Christianity, after achieving a certain level of knowledge, the expectation (this is just my opinion, of course) is that we should stay “static” with “the truth.” I’m not denying that there is Divine and eternal truth in our universe. Our universe was created by such truth. But that hardly means we know everything that there is to know about God or faith or that we even know enough. Is it enough to answer some altar call or to raise your hand in church as a profession of your faith in Jesus Christ? Is it enough to be saved?

It seems that a lot of Christian Bible studies and Sunday school classes aren’t really designed to teach people new ideas or to help people explore uncharted territory in theology, but to continue confirming what everyone already knows. Earlier today, I reviewed a television episode produced by First Fruits of Zion describing the meaning behind the name “Jesus.” However, the information presented, though very basic from my point of view, was designed to be new and even a tad bit “revolutionary” to the traditional conservative Christian audience targeted by these programs.

iam-not-a-numberIf someone who had been raised and educated spiritually in a “typical,” “ordinary” American church saw this or some other episode of FFOZ TV, they would very likely encounter what for them would be brand new information about topics they thought they knew completely.

I recently reviewed Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. In the book, McKnight recounts a conversation he had with another Pastor about the meaning of the gospel. That Pastor too had stopped learning a long time ago and if he was studying at all, it was for the purpose of maintaining the pattern and level of knowledge he already possessed:

I replied, “A book about the meaning of gospel.”

“That’s easy,” he said, “justification by faith.” After hearing that quick-and-easy answer, I decided to push further, so I asked him Piper’s question: “Did Jesus preach the gospel?”

His answer made me gulp. “Nope,” he said, “Jesus couldn’t have. No one understood the gospel until Paul. No one could understand the gospel until after the cross and resurrection and Pentecost.” “Not even Jesus?” I asked.

“Nope. Not possible,” he affirmed. I wanted to add an old cheeky line I’ve often used: “Poor Jesus, born on the wrong side of the cross, didn’t get to preach the gospel.”

In my weekly conversations with my Pastor, I find myself challenged by a person who does study a great deal and who presents me with information I don’t possess which, in my case, is how traditional Christian theology, doctrine, and dogma works. For a Christian, I don’t know very much about how the formal “church” conceptualizes things. I often reference Jewish sources for my studies, both because I’m drawn to them and because they challenge my “Gentile” way of understanding God and faith. Both my Pastor and my studying help me grow, at least a little bit at a time.

We’re supposed to grow and we’re supposed to help other people grow. In the church (and in other Gentile-driven religious contexts based on the Bible), we have adopted a philosophy, not of growth, but of comfort. We want to be comfortable in what we think, feel, and believe. We don’t want to be challenged. Our day-to-day lives are challenging enough. We want to spend our Sunday services and Bible studies with people who think just like us, discussing things that we all understand in exactly the same way.

I know that sounds cynical, but it’s actually very human. All people who identify with a group that thinks, feels, and acts in a particular way relative to the larger environment want that. Christians want that, and religious Jews want that, and Hebrew Roots people want that, and progressives want that, and atheists want that, and everyone else wants that, too.

God is transcendent. He doesn’t fit in the little boxes we try to put Him in (if we are people who believe that God exists at all). Our hope, our goal, our journey should all be pointed in the direction of transcendence. We can never completely know the infinite God all in all, but we are tasked with approaching Him as closely as we can, knowing that it won’t be incredibly close.

Instead, we’ve reached an area of comfortable equilibrium and there we stay. It’s like two married people who behave more like roommates, including sleeping in separate bedrooms. It may be comfortable, but you’ll never experience passion that way.

The Rebbe would sit down with his students and say, time and time again:

The Baal Shem Tov taught that from every thing a person hears or sees in this world he must find a teaching in how Man should serve G‑d. In truth, this is the whole meaning of service of G‑d.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“All the World is My Teacher”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

icarus-seeking-lightIn Greek mythology, the wings of Icarus melted when he flew too close to the Sun and he fell, but we will freeze into complete inaction and be totally ineffectual if we stay away from the flames of wisdom and knowledge. Challenge involves risk and risk feels dangerous. Sometimes we accept a challenge and the danger and then we (seemingly) fail and fall, ending up not getting what we want. Moses accepted the challenge of leading the Jewish people through a desert for forty years at the behest of God, and in the end, he was denied entry into Israel. He failed the challenge.

Or was it a failure?

Chassidic teaching explains that this is the deeper reason why Moses was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel. If Moses would have settled us in the Land, we could never have been exiled from it. If Moses would have built the Holy Temple, it could never had been destroyed. If Moses would have established the people of Israel in their homeland as a “light unto the nations,” that light could never have been dimmed.

If Moses would have crossed the Jordan, that would have been the end: the end of the struggle, the end of history.

G-d wasn’t ready for the end yet. So He decreed that Moses remain in the desert. But He did allow him to see the Land. And because Moses saw it, and because the effect of everything Moses did is everlasting, we, too, can see it.

At all times, and under all conditions, we have the power to ascend a summit within us and see the Promised Land. No matter how distant the end-goal of creation may seem, we have the power to see its reality, to know its truth with absolute clarity and absolute conviction.

We are still in the midst of the struggle. It is a difficult, oft-times painful struggle; but it is not a blind struggle. Moses has seen to that.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Land and See”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

building-the-templeAll that isn’t in the Bible, but let’s go with it for now. If Moses had entered the Land, would the Messiah have come? What would have happened to the people of the nations of the world? Would we all have been drawn to the light of Israel in the days of Moses? What would that have meant? Becoming gerim, “resident aliens” and then having our descendants being assimilated and absorbed into tribal Israel? That would mean anyone outside of the original Israelites and their descendants would have had to ultimately become part of tribal Israel to become Holy unto God. But what about the rest of us?

God wasn’t ready for the end, perhaps not because of what it would have meant for Israel but because of what it would have meant for the majority of the world. All those things midrash says Moses would have done will actually be performed by Messiah, Son of David. But Israel had to suffer because Moses didn’t enter the Land and instead died in the desert. That’s a horrible realization; not comfortable at all.

We won’t come to learn the reality of our existence in a world created by God if we allow ourselves to remain in a comfortable place. Moses died, and Joshua was challenged with conquering a nation. David founded Jerusalem but the task of building the Temple was left to Solomon. Israel fell into exile on multiple occasions, her Temple destroyed, her Land lost for centuries. The Messiah came and died. Then he rose. Then he ascended. And then he didn’t come back. Human history has been spinning out of control ever since, or so it appears.

What can we do? We can stop being comfortable. “Comfortable” is not the condition of our current world. We need to read, to study, to challenge ourselves, to change as we encounter each new spark of the Divine that has been left here for us by the Source of that fire. We’re meant to grow, to develop, and to act. How else can we prepare the way for the return of the King?

Will a Soul Cry Out Against You?

On today’s amud we see that one should have pleasure on Shabbos. A close student once invited Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, join him leil Shabbos.

“I never go to anyone for Shabbos until I find out their custom during the meal I shall be attending,” answered Rav Yisrael Salanter.

This student very proudly recounted that his table was filled with both physical and spiritual oneg shabbos of the very best kind. “We only procure our meats b’tachlis ha’hidur. The cook in our house is a G-dfearing woman, the widow of a renowned talmid chacham. Our table is resplendent with the best foods, yet we are very careful to sing and say an abundance of Torah between each course. We even have a regular seder in Shulchan Aruch. Understandably, our table ends only very late into the night.”

Rav Yisrael accepted his student’s invitation, but with a surprising condition. “I will come, but only if you cut two hours off the meal.”

The student complied with his mentor’s strange request and the meal from start to finish took slightly under an hour. At the very end, right when they were preparing to wash mayim achronim, the student could not contain his curiosity, “Please teach me what is wrong with my regular meal that the Rav would not come until I cut it to such an extent.”

Instead of replying, Rav Yisrael merely asked that the cook be brought the table. When the modest woman arrived, Rav Yisrael apologized to her. “Please forgive me for rushing you this evening since on my account you were forced to serve course after course with no break between them.”

“Hashem should bless the Rav with all the brochos!” replied the gratified widow. “I only wish that he came to us every Friday night. My boss usually has a very lengthy meal, and after a hard day working on my feet in the kitchen, I am so weak that I can hardly stand. But, thanks to the Rav, I can get some much needed rest.”

Rav Yisrael turned his student and said, “In this poor widow’s reply you have an answer to your question. It is true that the way you set up your table is very meritorious…but only if your tzidkus isn’t attained at the expense of another!”

from Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“Oneg Shabbos”
Shabbos, June 2, 12 Sivan
Siman 167 Seif 16-20

This lesson needs virtually no commentary and its meaning should be plain, so I have very little to add. In many religious traditions including Christianity and Judaism, there is a tendency to want to impress others with our level of sanctity and holiness. Nevermind that the Bible speaks against such personal arrogance, it is human nature to want to look good in front of others, especially others who hold a higher social rank or who we otherwise feel are our superiors. That’s what we see here in our “story to share.” We also see an example of people who should know better, trying to convince “the masses” of their holiness.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. –Matthew 23:1-7 (ESV)

This verse is usually cited by Christians to pound on Jewish tradition including the modern halachah of Jews wearing tallitot and tefillin, but I don’t believe that was the Master’s intent. He had no problem with that the Pharisses taught (see verse 3 above), only the bad motivations for their behavior. In our story from the beginning of this blog post, the student didn’t necessarily have bad motivations for demonstrating such a high level of observance, but he was careless. He put form before substance. He attained his tzidkus at the expense of another.

Ultimately, everything we do, we do for the sake of Heaven, but as human beings, it is extremely easy to mess up our priorities. This isn’t something you only find in Judaism, it’s also equally likely to happen in Christianity. That’s because I’m describing a trait of the all too frail human heart. On some level, we all desire to do what is right, but our personalities get in the way. It’s even worse when, like the student in our example above, we don’t even realize it. Heaven forbid it should be pointed out to us in such a public way and in front of the person we have been inadvertantly victimizing.

All I’m asking of anyone reading this is that you stop and look in a mirror. Who are you and what are you doing? Could you be serving God better? Could you be serving other people better? Have you, even without realizing it, been exploiting, injuring, or insulting someone else while believing you’re doing good for God? If the answer to any of the last three questions is “yes,” then what do you need to change?

Final question: is it worse to be a hypocrite and know you’re screwing up, or to be clueless about how you’re hurting others?

You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn… –Exodus 22:22-24 (ESV)