Tag Archives: ki tisa

Waiting for Hope in the Abyss

AbyssRav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, zt”l, taught great inspiration from a statement on today’s daf.

“A person who has sinned and fallen to the lowest place, banished from God’s presence, should also never despair. A sacrifice that was fitting but then lost its status is no longer accepted even if afterward it regained its original status. But Rav holds that if the animal is still alive, it is not rejected absolutely. This fallen soul is no different. As long as he has some chiyus, some vitality, it is always possible to start again and attain forgiveness. This is the deeper meaning of the words, ‘Forgive our sins for they are many.’ This can be also be read, ‘Forgive our sins, because the halachah follows Rav—that ba’alei chaim are not rejected.'”

The Lechivitcher, zt”l, offered a parable to help understand this better. “A Jew is like a valuable coin. Even if it rusts and has mud crusted over it, it still retains its original value. The owner must clean the coin by removing the rust and the caked mud, but once he does so it shines just the same as it did when it was new.”

Rav Moshe of Kovrin, zt”l, was once encouraging some young chassidim who were struggling in spiritual matters. “Even if one falls again and again—even one hundred times—he must strengthen himself again and again. It is incumbent upon us to always find a way to encourage ourselves again and again, until we climb out of our spiritual rut!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Ba’alei Chaim”
Temurah 23

I always have to be careful when I generalize a Jewish commentary and try to apply it to Christianity. After all, the Rabbis didn’t produce these Dafs with Christians in mind and sometimes, the judgments and insights they generate are specifically not to be applied to non-Jews. However, when reading Derek Leman’s book review of Daniel Boyarin’s book The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, I found something interesting.

So, it might surprise you to know that Boyarin thinks Judaism and Christianity are compatible. His goal, stated on pages 6-7 is to help Christians and Jews to stop vilifying each other. He doesn’t follow Jesus and isn’t asking fellow Jews to do so. But he demolishes all ideas that Christian devotion to Jesus is contrary to Judaism or that Christianity is anything other than a Judaism to which mostly non-Jews have been drawn. Jews in the time of Jesus were looking, he says, for a divine messiah. And Jesus’ earliest followers were kosher Jews. The sad separation and enmity of Judaism and Christianity is something to get beyond, not something to perpetuate.

According to how I’m reading Leman (I haven’t read Boyarin’s book yet), Boyarin doesn’t see a severe “disconnect” between first century Jewish and Gentile worship of God through the “path” of “the Way”. But, as Boyarin declares, if Christianity is not directly contrary to Judaism, can I say the reverse, that Judaism is not directly contrary to Christianity? Further, can I stretch my metaphor to say that Jewish teachings are not directly contrary to Christianity?

You probably think I’m grasping at straws. On the other hand, let’s look at our “story off the Daf” again. What is the theme? That even the person who is most distanced from God because of their sin should not dispair and give up all hope of reconciliation. Doesn’t that sound like it could be a Christian theme as well?

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. –Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. –2 Timothy 4:6-8 (ESV)

I believe we who are Christians can take the same hope that, no matter how far we have fallen away from God, we can rise back up to Him, even as Rav Simcha Bunim teaches.

Yesterday, the Jewish world celebrated Purim, the commemoration of the victory of the Jewish people in ancient Persia over Haman’s plan of genocide. If you read the Book of Esther on Purim, you realized how desperate it was for the Jews and how hopeless everything seemed. Even after Esther revealed the evil Haman’s plot to King Achashverosh, it was not in his power to reverse his decree. The destruction of the Jews seemed inevitable. And yet, through the courage of Esther and Mordechai and the love of God for His people, the King granted the Jews the ability to fight back and to defend themselves.

Hopelessness was turned into hope and defeat was transformed into victory; a victory that is still commemorated many thousands of years later, for with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Although God is not explicitly mentioned in Esther, we know that He was there with Israel, defending them and encouraging them. It was a miracle that the Jews survived the enormous threat against them. It is always a miracle when the Jews survive, since often it is only God who is for them, and an entire world who desires that they perish. Remember this too, as you study the sin of the Golden Calf for this Shabbat’s Torah Reading. There is no failing or sin so great that you become irredeemable.

Yet most of God’s miracles are not in the realm of the supernatural. It was (seemingly) through very natural processes that the Jews were saved from the plan of Haman. Seas did not part. The earth did not stop rotating on its axis, Fire and destruction did not rain down from heaven upon the enemies of the Jews. So it is in our lives today, even in the most dire and hopeless of circumstances. You may not feel the hand of God touching you or see His finger writing in the dust, but He is there and while you live, there is hope, but only if you hope in Him.

The philosopher, when he sees a miracle, looks for a natural explanation. The Jew, when he sees nature, looks for the miracle.

-Rabbi Tsvi Freeman
“Unnatural Response”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Blessings and hope.

Ki Tisa: Pursuing Tranquility

Inner lightThe Torah portion of Sisa contains an entire section (Shmos 31:13-18.) relating to Shabbos. It begins by stating that Shabbos is “a sign between Me and you for all generations, so that you know that I, G-d, am making you holy.” The section concludes: “And the children of Israel shall observe the Shabbos … as an everlasting covenant … for in six days G-d made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased working and rested.”

Why is Shabbos and its laws discussed here at such length, when it was already covered in detail (.Ibid., 20:8-11.) as part of the Ten Commandments?

Our Sages derive (Taanis 27b; Beitza 16a.) from the words “He ceased working and rested,” that “An additional [measure of] soul is granted [the Jew] on the arrival of Shabbos.

What exactly is meant by the statement that “an additional [measure of] soul is granted [the Jew] on the arrival of Shabbos”? According to the Zohar, this literally refers to an additional measure of spirituality that is granted from above as a gift on Shabbos.

“Shabbos and the Additional Soul”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tisa
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

I sometimes have difficulty with the rather esoteric teachings of the Chasidic sages, and certainly imagining that an “extra soul” comes upon a Jewish person with the arrival of the Shabbat is a bit of a stretch for me. On the other hand, part of what is being communicated is that, for the Jew, Shabbat brings a special kind of peace and tranquility that cannot be found on the other days of the week. This could be more than simply choosing to refrain from normal work and focusing more on God, and contain a supernatural or even mystical component. After all, where God is involved, anything is possible.

Starting with my “morning meditation” Learning Acceptance, I have been attempting to “pursue peace” in a different manner or fashion than I have previously, making adjustments to my behavior and even my thoughts as I attempt to approach this goal. The arcane imagery of receiving an “additional Shabbat soul” is rather appealing, but the Chasidic teachings on Ki Tisa remind me of the demarcation line that is set between the Jew and the Gentile. According to the Chasidim, this “additional soul” of peace arrives on the Shabbat for the Jew and not for the Gentile, because only the Jew is set apart as holy (Exodus 31:13).

I suppose I could complain about this not being fair, but then I’m sure someone would remind me that life, and even God (although He is always just) are not always fair. But then, the Rebbe and the Chabad Rabbis are hardly taking the teachings of Jesus into consideration. Could there be a kind of peace we Christians can access as well?

Sometimes Christians don’t realize that Jesus, when he walked among men, observed the mitzvot of first century Judaism in the same manner as the other Jews in Israel, as did their fathers and their father’s fathers. The Shabbat was no stranger to Jesus, in spite of the fact that most Christians and Jews believe that Jesus actually taught breaking the Shabbat (which is untrue). His Jewish disciples would also have observed the Shabbat with their Master, and continued to do so in the manner of the Jews after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and James, brother of the Master and leader of the Messianic council in Jerusalem, were also devout, Shabbat keeping Jews.

Although the exact form of the teaching from which I quoted above may not have been known to them, certainly the peace of the Shabbat would be all too familiar to the Jewish followers of the Way. In what manner, if any, would this special type of peace have been transmitted to the non-Jewish disciples, both in Roman occupied Judea and in the Greek diaspora?

There’s no way to know for sure, but it is likely that the Gentile disciples would have worshiped on Shabbat, if for no other reason, than because their Jewish mentors did so. It’s in the realm of the historians and the New Testament scholars as to whether or not the Gentile disciples attempted a form of Shabbat rest along with their Jewish counterparts, but usually, when someone is trying to learn a new type of worship, they do so by imitating an original model. This may be the reason the rather mysterious words of Acts 15:21 were recorded:

For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

The Gentiles were assumed to learn the intricate details of the God of the Hebrews from hearing the readings of the Torah and the Prophets during Shabbat services, but that would presuppose that even a few Gentiles were in the synagogue for worship on Shabbat. Leaping forward twenty centuries, I know from my own experience, the beauty of witnessing the lighting of the Shabbos candles, and the sublime grace of welcoming the Queen into my home. I must admit that my family doesn’t keep the Shabbat as we’d like, but it remains an ideal and a goal toward which we strive.

Tranquility is also an ideal and a goal toward which I strive, even in a troubled world and in struggling with a troubled soul. I guess that’s what makes the idea of receiving an “additional soul” so appealing. But is receiving this “Shabbat soul” something the original non-Jewish disciples would have understood let alone attempted?

I don’t know. Maybe not.

I only know as an outsider looking in, the glow and warmth of Shabbat peace is attractive to me as well.

There are two aspects of Shabbat observance: outwardly, it is a day of rest, but inwardly, it is a time of soul-union with our Maker; in the same way the additional soul has an inner and outer purpose. This outer purpose is, as Rashi explains, an expanded heart, or in other words a sharpening of our sense perceptions comparable to the effect of mind-altering drugs which heighten the ability to see colors, taste food, appreciate sound, and the like. This outer purpose helps us fulfill the commandment of delighting in Shabbat.

From Rafael Moshe Luria; translated by Simcha H. Benyosef
“The Additional Shabbat Soul”
Kabbalah Online

When Rabbi Eli Touger discusses the dynamics of the sin of the Golden Calf in his Ki Tisa commentary, he says:

Similarly, all the punishments suffered by the Jewish people throughout the centuries are connected to this sin (Sanhedrin 102b; Rashi, Exodus 32:35.). What place can such an event have in a portion whose name points to the Jews’ ascent?

To answer this question, we must expand our conceptual framework, for the state to which G-d desires to bring mankind is above ordinary human conception. This is indicated by the very expression: “When you lift up the heads”; “the heads,” human intellect, must be elevated.

Rabbi Touger shifts his focus from “the Jews’ ascent” to “G-d desires to bring mankind is above ordinary human conception.” That is, the focus shifts from Jews to everyone. Of course, it could just be assumed, given his context, that everything he presents is directed to Jews and that the nations are not to be considered, but how can we reconcile this with the concept that the Jews were to be a light to the nations, and that God so loved even the nations (John 3:16), who were also created in His own image (Genesis 1:27)?

Whatever the understanding of the Chasidim may be in relation to Gentiles, God, and peace, the emissary to the Gentiles had this to say:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

While this doesn’t address a Shabbat peace, it is an encouragement from our ancient Jewish mentor for the Gentile disciples to also seek peace through “prayer and supplication” and that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your (our) hearts and your (our) minds in Christ Jesus.” Tranquility for the non-Jewish disciple then, is not considered unattainable nor forbidden.

But what about this “extra soul?”

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” –Acts 10:34, 44-47 (ESV)

I know. I’m stretching the metaphor completely out of shape, but when we among the nations accept the Spirit of God as disciples of the Jewish Messiah, do we not also inherit the ability to seek the peace Paul describes in Philippians? I mentioned previously that peace was as much a matter of practice as it is a thing of the spirit, but I think the two need to go together.

This brings up a curious discussion I had in a series of private messages on a Christian forum not too long ago. A person suggested that not all Christians possess the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” His evidence (or at least part of it) was that not all (and maybe not most) Christians experience speaking in tongues and the (temporary) gift of prophesy, as we see described in Acts 2 and Acts 10, when they declare Christ as Lord and Savior (that is, convert to Christianity). We also see (Matthew 7:23, Luke 13:27) that not everyone who believes they belong to Christ really have that relationship, and will be rejected by Jesus when he returns. Is it possible for me to “believe” and yet not “belong?” After all, there is a precedence illustrating that people can “confess Christ” and yet experience a delay between that confession and the actual receiving of the spirit. What if a person declares Jesus as Lord but never receives the Holy Spirit? Would there be no peace? Would there be no salvation? Is that person’s faith in vain?

On the other hand, the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized in water and rejoiced without any outward evidence of receiving the Spirit.

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. –Acts 8:34-39 (ESV)

Or am I making this harder than it really is?

In spite of Jewish exclusivity in relation to the Shabbat in general and a special peace with God in specific, perhaps pursuing tranquility is as simple as setting the rules and commentaries aside and simply opening up the heart and accepting God. Faith is knowing God exists. Trust is knowing that when you open the door and invite Him in, He enters. His Word is a “lamp unto my feet” (Psalm 119:105) not only on Shabbat, but always. Or it’s supposed to be.

True happiness is the highest form of self-sacrifice.
There, in that state, there is no sense of self
—not even awareness that you are happy.

True happiness is somewhere beyond “knowing.”
Beyond self.

All the more so when you bring joy to others.

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

Good Shabbos.