Tag Archives: important

Ki Tetzei: Paying Attention

You shall not see your brother’s ox or sheep going astray and ignore them; rather, you should restore them to your brother…

And so you shall do with every lost thing of your brother – you may not remain oblivious –Deut. 22:1-3

When Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch was a young man, he lived in the same house as his father, Rabbi Schneur Zalman. Rabbi DovBer and his family lived in the ground floor apartment, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman lived on the second floor.

One night, while Rabbi DovBer was deeply engrossed in his studies, his youngest child fell out of his cradle. Rabbi DovBer heard nothing. But Rabbi Schneur Zalman, who was also immersed in study in his room on the second floor, heard the infant’s cries. The Rebbe came downstairs, lifted the infant from the floor, soothed his tears, replaced him in the cradle, and rocked him to sleep. Rabbi DovBer remained oblivious throughout it all.

Later, Rabbi Schneur Zalman admonished his son: “No matter how lofty your involvements, you must never fail to hear the cry of a child.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Cry of a Child”
from the “Once Upon a Chasid” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tetzei

Where do our priorities lie? What is really important to us? I know it’s certainly possible to be so focused on a task or some study, that you don’t hear the cry of a child or otherwise notice something important, (my brother-in-law once burned his toast to the point of filling the kitchen with smoke because he was engrossed in a newspaper article) but on the other hand, it’s very possible for us to mess up what we think is more important. Some “religious people” tend to think their “religious practice” is more important than the “mundane” responsibilities that surround us. How often do we let opportunities to spend time with our families, help a neighbor fix their fence, or smile at a stranger pass us by because we think we’ve got more important things to do “for God?”

What about this?

Many routine actions that we do every day can be elevated by focusing on more elevated thoughts.

For example, when you go shopping for your family, focus on the fact that you are doing an act of kindness. Or, when you say good morning to someone, focus on the fact that you are giving him a blessing. If someone asks you to pass the salt, realize you are doing an act of kindness.

Focusing in this way will increase your level of joy, and increase your desire to do more good deeds.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Elevate you Mundane Actions, Daily Lift #562”

Rabbi Pliskin teaches us that every thing we do, every action we take, no matter how mundane or ordinary, contains the seeds of holiness just by focusing on how those actions serve others and please God. That means mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, and helping to feed a baby are all acts of kindness that are elevated to works of holiness.

Rabbi Tauber takes it one step further by saying that performing a kindness, one that’s as simple as comforting a crying child, is actually more important than studying Torah.

Imagine that.

I’m not saying that we should stop reading our Bibles, cease pondering scholarly commentaries, and abandon our prayers and corporate worship. I am saying that we should stop thinking of those activities as the only way we serve God. We should stop believing that there’s any separation between what we do that is holy and what we do that is common.

“The thing that I really respect about how Jews live is that God is in everything. If you’re really Orthodox, God is not removed from anything. From the bathroom to the bracha [blessing] you make afterwards, you bless Him and you thank Him. Every time you say ‘Baruch ata Hashem,’ you are showing that you believe that He is the King of the Universe!”

-Ari Werth
Quoting Anglican priest Andrew White
from the article “Struggle for the Scrolls”

We tend to think all of our “work” is what we were really put here for, particularly if we’re “religious.” We pay a great deal of attention to creating congregations, attracting people to help the membership grow, networking with other religious people who think like we do, trying to paste and tape together varied and scattered faith groups to form some sort of unity. But in the end, what if our true purpose in life is to comfort a frightened child who fell out of his crib, help him feel secure again, and then watch him fall asleep in your arms?

Whenever you are feeling particularly “religious,” “holy,” or “righteous,” stop whatever you’re doing. Look, listen, pay attention. Are you being oblivious to what God really wants you to do? Are you failing to help your brother find something he lost? What are you missing?

Good Shabbos.

Following the Footsteps of Messiah

It seems like every discussion on every Messianic blog, every “innovative” (I use the term somewhat pejoratively) theology in the Messianic movement, every controversy that I come into contact with currently boils down to the idea of Jewish and Gentile identity.

One Law/Divine Invitation isn’t really about Torah observance. Everyone on both sides of the argument is saying that Torah observance is good and it’s for everyone. People who characterize the argument along the lines of whether or not Gentiles are “supposed to” or “allowed to” observe Torah are completely missing the point (or, in some cases, deliberately and maliciously mischaracterizing the DI position).

Torah observance is not the issue. The only issue is whether or not God has a special covenant relationship with the Jewish people, and whether they continue to have the responsibility to guard that covenant (including the responsibility to admit or refuse proselytes to Judaism).

-Jacob Fronczak
“Getting Past Jewish and Gentile Identity”
Hope Abbey

In my opinion, Jacob’s blog post is spot on. There’s been this ongoing debate on the Messianic blogosphere for years now on the “One Law” topic and I think that Jacob’s correct when he says we’re focused on the totally wrong thing.

I was on the phone yesterday with a guy who lives in Tacoma. Our conversation was all over the map, but we eventually settled on discussing Gentile obligation to the Torah. We were talking about how non-Jewish people who have attached themselves to the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots movement can become incredibly obsessed with “Gentile obligation to the Torah” to the exclusion of virtually all other considerations. What other considerations?

“You have a job. You can provide for your family.”

“You have a lovely wife and a wonderful little boy. Learn to love them and enjoy your time with them.”

“You not only are aware of God but you know Him and you love Him, thanks be to the Messiah whose Good News brought us into such a relationship and sustained us to see this time.”

“You may not know all of the answers to your questions, but you know what’s important. You can spend the rest of your life studying the Bible, but no matter what you end up knowing and not knowing, God is with you all of the time.”

I could go on. Frankly, the Messiah told us what’s important:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. –Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)

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.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:34-46 (ESV)

Really. Did anyone get “saved” or “lost” because of Gentile/Jewish identity confusion?

Becoming truly aware of God and His wonders and His graciousness is like entering a world of endless possibilities. You want to sample them all and in fact, you want to just jump into the “ocean” of God and “drown” in Him. However, sooner or later, you realize you still need to breathe and so you come to the surface. That’s the point where you start to ask yourself, “who am I now as a person of God?” Answers vary, but at some point you realize you can’t hog the whole ocean to yourself. Too much of anything can be overwhelming and even harmful:

Doctors tell us that it is better to eat food in small increments more frequently than to eat less frequently, but in larger amounts. It is a delight for those who manage this to find that they can manage on much less food than they had previously assumed that they required. But of course, one difficulty is how to manage with those very tasty foods that seem to compel some of us to eat more and more of them. What is one to do with such foods? One way is to simply abstain from such foods. Others do enjoy them, but still manage to eat a very small amount, “just to taste.”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“A Question of Moderation”
Siman 168 Seif 9

If I posted the entire missive, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to most Christians and it certainly would seem irrelevant to a life lived under grace, but there’s an important lesson hidden here. At some point, someone told a lot of non-Jewish people in the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots movement that “One Law fits all.” It’s a compelling thought that we who are Gentile Christians might have access to the wonders of the Torah just by believing so and for many, it’s almost magical the first time you don a tallit and look down at the tzitzit. It’s also kind of intoxicating in a way and many of us (including me at one point) get swept up in the “coolness factor.” In fact, we can be so swept away by the waves of “Jewishness” that we forget all about the “weightier matters of the Torah,” such as those the Master taught in the scriptures I cited above.

The Torah is like a room filled with an infinite selection of delectable morsels and the temptation is to eat them all in unlimited quantities. But has all of the food at the banquet been laid out for us and is eating every bit of everything we see really a good idea?

A wind from the Lord started up, swept quail from the sea and strewed them over the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and about a day’s journey on that side, all around the camp, and some two cubits deep on the ground. The people set to gathering quail all that day and night and all the next day — even he who gathered least had ten homers — and they spread them out all around the camp. The meat was still between their teeth, nor yet chewed, when the anger of the Lord blazed forth against the people and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague. –Numbers 11:31-33 (JPS Tanakh)

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” –Luke 14:7-11 (ESV)

The two sets of verses I quoted above really do go together. Both have to do with desiring something that is unmerited, unnecessary, and not particularly good for us. They both also have to do with what we want for us, that is, me, me, me. What are my rights? What do I get?

Is that what the Master taught? To put ourselves and our rights and what we want before all other considerations? Sure, you may say, but what about my “obligations?” Fine! What about your obligations to feed the hungry, visit the sick and the prisoner, welcome the stranger? Are you fulfilling those obligations to God? Are you as concerned about helping other people as you are about how your tzitzit are tied?

And what about this as quoted from Fronczak’s blog post?

Messianic Jews can work with Judaism to portray to them a Jesus who is fully Jewish, dealing with theological and cultural objections. This will only happen when Messianic Jews become well versed in their own literary heritage, and when they begin to take halacha seriously, and when someone can walk into a Messianic synagogue and actually reasonably expect a traditional synagogue service.

Messianic Gentiles can work with Christians on the traditional Christian misinterpretations of the Scripture. They can restore the image of Jesus the Jewish Messiah, the importance and centrality of Israel, and the continuing relevance and binding authority of the Torah (not coincidentally, three of First Fruits of Zion’s core values).

That is the big picture; it is what really matters. We need to get on with it so we can make that happen. We need to become who we are, and get on with our mission.

I suppose I’m not really saying anything different from Jacob is and I don’t know if my blog post adds anything to his already excellent statement, but I can’t help but want to support what he’s saying and to emphasize the fact that we do really need to “get on with it.” Continually arguing among ourselves about who is obligated to this and that doesn’t do jack, so to speak.

If you really want to know what your obligations to God are and then perform them, look around you, discover a need someone has, and then fulfill it. If you meet just one person’s need everyday, you will be doing the will of God and walking in the footsteps of the Messiah. Torah will take care of itself.

This is the actual time of the “footsteps of Mashiach.” (the age just before the Messiah comes) 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.

-from “Today’s Day”
Monday, Sivan 18, 5703
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.