Tag Archives: Job

Above All Else, God Needs To Feel Compassion

Fear is the opposite of genuine faith. Fear comes from a place of faithlessness. When we have real confidence in God, fear is driven out. For the person of faith, fear is actually irrational.

Thought for the Week
“Fear Not”
Commentary on Torah Portion Devarim
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

There are times when moving forward is not enough. There are times when you can’t just change what you do, how you speak and how you think about things. Sometimes, you have to change who you are. You need to pick both feet off the ground and leap.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Quantum Leap”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

And while the future’s there for anyone to change, still you know it’s seems it would be easier sometimes to change the past.

Jackson Browne
Fountain of Sorrow
from the album Late for the Sky (1974)


I keep thinking about the victims of the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings. I’m sure some of the people who were there, some of the wounded, some of those who died, were probably religious. Some of them probably had faith. Some of them probably loved God. Did those people have no fear in the dark, choking on whatever gas the shooter released into the air, hearing the gunshots, the screams of the victims, seeing the blood. Were they not afraid because they had faith?

People get hurt, we get sick, we’re afraid, we sometimes cry. Doesn’t God understand that? If the writer of the FFOZ commentary is right, then every time a person of God feels fear, they are experiencing faithlessness. They are experiencing a total, catastrophic failure in their faith, a failure as a disciple of the Master, a failure as a child of God, and a failure as a human being.

Nevermind that we’re wired to have all of these emotions that we experience, including the emotion of fear. If you take your small, sick child to the doctor and you are told your baby has leukemia, is it a sin to be afraid that your child will die? If you lose your job and realize that you have no way to support your family and will most likely end up putting your wife and children on the street because you failed, is it a sin to be afraid?

It would be wonderful to not feel fear. It would be wonderful to approach every difficult situation with ultimate confidence and self-assuredness. It would be wonderful to constantly experience the love, grace, and strength of God in all circumstances, no matter how dire, knowing that even if you should be hurt, suffer the most hideous and painful diseases, and even face the loss of everyone you have ever loved, that it would be OK because God is with you.

And you never ever felt afraid.

It would be wonderful, but how many people have ever pulled it off? How many people have that much faith, trust, and confidence in themselves let alone God, to never feel afraid?

I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that the number is extremely small.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. –Luke 22:39-44 (ESV)

It’s impossible to really know what Jesus was feeling at that moment in time, but obviously he wasn’t facing his bloody, tortuous execution with calm, cool detachment. He accepted the cup set before him by the Father, but he still asked that it be taken away. He still was in agony, so much so, that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

But the Bible says,

…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. –Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

PleadGod was addressing Israel through the prophet Isaiah. Did Israel feel no fear because God was with them? Did they feel no fear when faced with the barrier of the Reed Sea as the armies of Egypt descended upon them with murderous intent? Did they feel no fear as they faced giants and fortified cities when they first tried to cross over into Canaan? Did they feel no fear on the day when the Temple was destroyed, when Jerusalem was burned to the ground, when the Jewish people were sent into exile and scattered like loose change among the nations of the world for 2,000 years?

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” –Romans 8:15 (ESV)

Yesterday, I wrote,

Maybe you’re thinking I’m being unreasonable. Maybe you’re thinking that I can’t be serious. Maybe you’re thinking that it would be too hard for you to help another person while facing a crisis of your own. And yet, God calls us to serve Him under all circumstances. Certainly we expect Him to serve us no matter what we’re going through and no matter what else is happening in the world.

You and I are only flesh and blood and bone. We’re weak. How can we stand up under the pressures of life and still be expected to help someone less fortunate than we are?

Some days the faith and trust is better and some days it’s worse. Some days I feel like I can take on whatever life and God dish out and some days I just want to hide in bed under the covers and have God make it all go away.

Someone recently commented on one of my blog posts, “I say, let the End come! Only He can fix this mess. We just keep messin’ it up!” I responded with encouragement. We can’t give up. We can’t just sit on our thumbs and do nothing and wait for Jesus to arrive on the bus from Heaven to repair our broken and dying world.

But discounting our weakness and criticizing the faithful for being faithless when we feel fear isn’t an answer I can accept. All flesh is grass (1 Peter 1:24). It is said that the spirit is willing but the body is weak (Matthew 26:41). I say that even the spirit is weak sometimes. For some people, it’s weak a lot of the time.

Some people say that fear is a liar and I suppose if a person allows fear to be the driving force in their life, then they will never really live. But many people have good reasons to feel afraid, either because they’re in a stressful or dangerous situation, or they’ve experienced enough of those situations that the future looks like a room full of tripwires and trapdoors.

But having said all that, the FFOZ commentary ends on this note:

It may not sound like one of the commandments of the Torah but it actually is a rule of life for the People of God. We are to live by faithful confidence in the strong hand of God. He who delivered Israel from Egypt and defeated the Amorites will also deliver the Canaanites into the hands of Israel. He who rescued our Master and Savior from the grave will also rescue us from every trouble and fear.

Yeshua says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

According to Rabbi Freeman, we have a Godly soul that strives to go higher each day and “she will transform that animal to yearn with a divine yearning.”

We have a Godly soul and a body of shredded and bleeding flesh. When you’re young, you have a certain amount of courage, even to the point of foolishness, because in most cases, nothing really bad has happened to you yet. After three or four decades, you know better. If you stick your hand in a fire, you’ll be burned. The chest pain you are feeling might not be “just indigestion.” The “near miss” on the freeway because an aggressive driver just had to pull in front of you came within an inch of a collision at 65 miles per hour.

I can’t give up. I can’t be safe. I cannot hide. God does not promise that I won’t ever suffer or die in pain. The Book of Job scares the heck out of me.

All I know is if God decides to slowly feed me into a running wood chipper feet first, an inch at a time, my only guarantee is that He will be with me. One translation of Job 13:15 says, “Though He slay me, I have no hope.” I suppose it’s more encouraging to rely on standard translations like, “yet I will wait for Him” or “yet will I hope in Him.”

I just wish some religious people wouldn’t be so hard on the rest of us (or is it only me?). Faith isn’t easy. Hope often fails. The commentary says,

When we feel frightened or worried, we must remember who our Father in Heaven is, and that He cares for us and watches over us.

Tell that to the people of Haiti who are still struggling. Tell that to the Christians in Japan post-tsunami. Tell that to every soldier, Marine, and sailor who has ever gone to war and still struggles with PTSD years and even decades later.

And tell that to the victims of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre.

Are they just going to recover, bounce back, and feel all hunky-dory again as if nothing ever happened? Are those people weak when they hear a car backfire and run for cover? Do they all suffer from chronic faithlessness just because they get scared?

Don’t you have compassion? Haven’t you ever been afraid?

Fearfully in the Hands of God

You, Hashem, do not withhold your mercy from me; may Your kindness and Your truth always protect me. For innumerable evils have encircled me, my sins have overtaken me and I am unable to see; they have become more numerous than the hairs on my head and my courage has abandoned me.Psalm 40:12-13 (The Stone Edition Tanakh)

Were He to kill me, I would still yearn for Him.Job 13:15 (The Stone Edition Tanakh)

Have you ever been sick or hurt? I don’t mean have you ever had the flu or a cold or hit your thumb with a hammer, but have you every really been sick or hurt? Have you been in the hospital? Have you ever worried that you might not see another day, or that your health and well-being would take a permanent turn for the worse?

Imagine Job, who lost everything and was completely bewildered as to the cause. He had always been steadfast in his faith and virtually walked in the footsteps of God, yet in nearly the wink of an eye, he was laid destitute and at death’s doorstep. His friends all turned against him, blaming him for his own misfortune. Even his wife cried out to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job did not have a happy life during this time and for all he knew, it would all end in his agonizing death. Yet his words recorded in Job 13:15 relate the nature of his faith and trust in God and the character of this man in the face of harsh tragedy.

Rabbi Yaakov Menken at Project Genesis wrote a commentary for Torah Portion Miketz that speaks to this kind of trust and the consequences when we lack it.

We read this week that two years after Pharoah’s wine steward and chief baker had their dreams, Pharoah had one of his own, and as a result, they rushed Joseph from jail.

Obviously Pharoah needed Joseph, but the Torah tells us something deeper: that Joseph was only in jail for the precise amount of time decreed from above. In fact, Joseph would have gotten out of jail earlier, but the Torah tells us that “the wine steward did not remember Joseph, and he forgot him.”

Why did he forget? Rabbi Shimon Yitzchaki quotes the Medrash, which explains that Joseph placed his trust in the wine steward, rather than G-d. For that reason, G-d made sure that the wine steward forgot him.

We celebrate the holiday of Chanukah because Judah “the Maccabee” and his brothers did the opposite. Yehudah may have been strong, but he wasn’t insane. His was a small group, vastly outnumbered by not only the well-trained Greek army, but even by the Hellenized Jews of the era. They went out to wage war, against impossible odds, expressing their trust that G-d would help them.

This, too, drives home the lesson that we discussed two weeks ago — that we are obligated to make our own efforts, but “know that if they succeed, it is only because G-d granted them success.” It doesn’t matter if the person we might trust is a friend or relative or even ourselves… in the end, success comes from a Higher Authority.

Quite some time ago, I wrote about the difference between faith and trust. Faith is knowing God exists. Trust is putting your life literally in His hands. But in spite of the fact that all people of faith desire to have a perfect trust in God, we are frail and mortal; “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). When we’re alone and afraid, how many of us can sweep away anxiety and terror with a wave of our hand and summon the full might of God as our courage?

I know I can’t. The best I can do is to try and echo the words of Job (Job 13:15), fearfully acknowledging at such desperate moments that my health, safety, and my very life are completely in His hands to do with as He wills. There is no bargaining with God. Paul quotes Moses (Exodus 33:19) to teach us this lesson.

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. –Romans 9:14-16

Rabbi Menken teaches that we are obligated to make our own efforts, but “know that if they succeed, it is only because G-d granted them success,” so we cannot sit passively and expect God to raise miracles for us. We must participate, as best we can, in God’s efforts but knowing that success is not because of us, but because of Him. Yet there are times when we can do nothing for ourselves and must rely totally on God’s mercy and His will. When someone who is having a heart attack or a stroke is in the emergency room, all they can do is to trust in God for their life, even if it should end in death because that is the nature of man in relationship to God. When a person has cancer, they can undergo various therapies and treatments, but their life remains solely in God’s hands. Job also teaches, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) That we pray for life does not mean that God is obligated to always give life. All people live in His hands and all people die in His hands.

I know this sounds dismal and depressing, especially on the day when the vast majority of the Christian world is celebrating the birth of the King of Kings, but lest we imagine that God is obligated to grant us a perfect, stress free existence, the counterpoint is that we are but dust and ashes; we are grass that is growing today, and tomorrow, is withered and thrown into the fire. In the end, we can try to live healthy lives, lives of faith, devotion, charity, and study; we try take care of ourselves and others, but still, no one knows the hour of his own death.

In those moments of hideous uncertainty or in that final “moment of truth”, we can only summon whatever trust in God we may possess and cry out to Him for His infinite mercy. If he should turn the hand of sickness and death away, we rejoice, and if not, we are with Him.

In His hands are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is His also. –Psalm 95:4 (KJV)

May they rejoice and be glad in You, all who seek You; may they always say, “Hashem be magnified!” those who live Your salvation. As for me, I am poor and destitute, the Lord will think of me. You are my help and my Rescuer, my God do not delay. –Psalm 40:17-18 (The Stone Edition Tanakh)


Two Worlds

What are you looking for? Wealth? Prestige? Position? You have all these right now. You should be altogether happy. And yet you are miserable – I can feel it for all your brave speech. Can you not be satisfied? And this way of living that fills you with restlessness and discontent – I am not a Jew but even I have sensed something lovely in Judaism, in its faith and in its morality with its emphasis on pity. Even its rituals are not without poetic grace. See how many Gentiles have been converted to your religion. Does that not prove that it possesses virtues which the Greek world lacks? These are at your disposal now. What more do you want?

-Nicholaus to Elisha in the book:
As a Driven Leaf
by Milton Steinberg

Steinberg’s classic is set at the beginning of the Talmudic age in Palestine during the Roman occupation, some fifty years after the destruction of the Second Temple. The book’s protagonist, Elisha ben Abuyah was born a Jew but raised by a Jewish father who disdained the traditional beliefs and who pursued pagan philosophies instead. Nicholaus was Elisha’s Greek tutor when he was a child but the tutor was dismissed when Abuyah died (Elisha’s mother died in childbirth). Abuyah’s brother then took charge of Elisha, providing him with a Jewish education rooted in Torah and tradition.

Elisha eventually abandons his Greek education and as a disciple of the sage Joshua, he not only becomes a Rabbi in his own right, but a member of the Sanhedrin as well.

Yet a series of personal and political conflicts throws Elisha into a crisis of faith and pulls his heart between the Jewish and Greek worlds. A chance meeting with his old tutor Nicholaus many years later in a bookstore in Caesarea, provides the stage for a confrontation between the spiritually tortured Elisha and his former teacher. But rather than support Elisha’s pursuit of “truth” by guiding him back into Greek beliefs, Nicholaus pushes Elisha toward the only path that seems sensible and right for a Jew; the path of Moses.

In some ways, I can relate to both Elisha and Nicholaus. Like Nicholaus, as a non-Jew, I can see great beauty, wisdom, and meaning in the fabric of Jewish ritual, learning, and understanding. Like Elisha, I feel as if I’m struggling to stand between two worlds; the Christian world which is the source of my faith, and the Jewish world which provides clarity and purpose to that faith. I too know what it’s like to be self-tormented, searching the path looking for divine sparks and not letting myself be satisfied with what I already possess.

Elisha’s anguish, and my own, reflects that of Job’s in our shared search for meaning and God, expressed here in Elisha’s own words:

“‘Wherefore,’ he demanded, ‘hidest Thou Thyself from me? Wilt Thou harass a driven leaf?’
“I know how he felt. The great curiosity is like that. It is not a matter of volition. It is a stark inner compulsion, dire necessary. And he against whom it moves has no more choice than a leaf driven by a gale. No, there is no retreat. Forward is the only way.”

Why do you hide your face
and consider me your enemy?
Will you torment a windblown leaf?
Will you chase after dry chaff? –Job 13:24-25

For the past year, I have also been enduring a crisis of faith and like Elisha, seeking answers in unusual places..well, “unusual” relative to modern Christianity which doesn’t typically see a great deal of validity in seeking the Christ within the pages of Talmud and Kabbalah. Yet I have seen the Messiah in the Chasidic writings and found his fingerprints on the pages of the Zohar. How can I relent, when Jewish sages from Hillel to Maimonides teach wisdom that so clearly points to the Master?

In his desperation, Elisha desires to seek out those who his Jewish disciples and peers would categorically reject as pagans and heretics:

“Two courses are before me. I wish first of all to make contact with the Christians and the Gnostics here in Caesarea.”

“What good will that do you?” Nicholaus inquired, wary now.

“It is not impossible that they can teach me some principle to give me direction.”

While a Christian might read these words and rejoice that a Jew is seeking out the grace and salvation of Jesus, for Elisha, this could very well turn out to be a disaster. It is not so much that he sees in Christianity what Judaism lacks, but that he has not allowed his faith to rest on the foundation of his fathers, and for that matter, on the rock of Torah, which the Jewish Messiah continually taught and lived when he walked among men.

Ironically, Elisha’s quest threatened to cost him the very thing he already possessed in Judaism:

“A man has happiness if he possesses three things – those whom he loves and who love him in turn, confidence in the worth and continued existence of the group of which he is a part, and last of all, a truth by which he may order his being.”

AbyssIn a sense, I am prepared to do what Elisha has done and leave my group and to some degree, the truth they follow, in order to seek out what I believe is right for me. Like Elisha, I’m taking a risk of falling completely away from my current expression of faith in order to seek out a greater closeness with God. Like Elisha, I am convinced in the existence of God but am uncertain as to how He may be understood and approached.

Unlike Elisha, I was not born into a people and a tradition built on the holy mount in Jerusalem and forged by the Shechinah at Sinai.

Here’s the danger:

“But look here,” Nicholaus cried, discerning a possibility he had not envisaged before. “Suppose the results of your experiment are not consistent with the Jewish religion?”

Elisha’s voice was strained, as though his throat had tightened, but he did not falter.

“I have considered that possibility, too. I hope it may never become an actuality. Yet, should that be my destiny, I am prepared to assume it.”

Here is what I face:

“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.” –Luke 12:8-9

Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself. –2 Timothy 2:11-13

I don’t say this is a great danger to me, but the challenge exists. Nicholaus called Elisha’s effort an “experiment” but for me, what I am doing is taking a journey and I expect that I will be traveling all of my life. I walk the path before me and risk losing my way. I travel in darkness while seeking the light. I pray that God travels with me and shows me who He is and who I am in Him. May my footsteps follow His as I climb a holy mountain.

As a Driven Leaf is a cautionary tale; it’s Steinberg’s warning that a Jew cannot live in two worlds without the danger of falling away from everything that gives meaning to being a Jew. Friedrich Nietzsche said that “if you gaze into the abyss long enough, the abyss gazes also into you.” Yet like Elisha, I am driven by forces I do not always understand and cannot control, to seek out God in the places where He may be found, even in the darkness of the abyss.

That’s why I write. That’s why I’m here. I am the leaf driven before the wind. Where will I finally alight and take rest?

Only time and God can answer me.