Tag Archives: kindness

The Wild and Dangerous Jungle of Religious Blogging

In all my days I have never had to look behind me before saying anything.

-Shabbos 118b

Lashon hara (gossip or slander) is not necessarily untruthful. The Torah forbids saying something derogatory about a person even if it is completely true.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Shevat 30
Aish.com

The primary reason I was compelled to close comments on this blog was the startling amount and frequency of (sometimes) true but disturbing, harassing, and occasionally derogatory comments being made by others.

whisperIn reading Rabbi Twerski’s commentary on Lashon Hara, I was reminded of those times many years ago when my wife would say something truthful about me that nonetheless was painful to hear. On occasion, she’d make these statements in front of others, which was certainly embarrassing, and when I would complain about this, she’d say, “Well, it’s true, isn’t it?”

According to Rabbi Twerski and the Talmud, it doesn’t matter if the statement is true or not if it also causes pain.

Derek Leman, who describes himself as “a rabbi, and speaker at the intersection of Judaism and Christianity,” recently wrote a blog post called The Infamous Incident at Antioch. While I generally agree with Derek’s “take” on the topic at hand, a large number of the 80 plus (as I write this) comments different people have composed in response to Derek’s blog (and to the other people commenting) are disturbing.

Yes, each person is telling the “truth” from their point of view, but the debate for some has gotten quite personal. It seems in this case, as in many or most other cases in the religious blogosphere, that “truth” always trumps kindness.

More’s the pity, for we are also commanded to love one another:

I am giving you a new mitzvah: that you love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. With this all will know that you are my disciples: if love dwells among you.

John 13:34-35 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

From many of these blog commentaries, it would be very difficult for an outside observer to determine who the disciples of Messiah are based on this commandment.

Of course, at least one person commenting on the aforementioned article is Jewish and not Messianic, so I suppose this commandment does not apply to him, but to the degree that Shabbos 118b does apply to Jewish people, what does that say?

bullyingI should mention that the litmus test for Lashon Hara is whether or not you’d make such a statement in public. Since all these dialogs are incredibly public and available to anyone with an Internet connection, does that mean anything we’re willing to write on a person’s blog, regardless of the lack of kindness, cannot be considered gossip, slander, or hurtful just because we dare to press the “Post Comment” button? I hope the answer is abundantly apparent, but just in case it isn’t, the answer is “no”.

Targum Yonoson states that the center crossbar was made with wood that came from the trees that Avraham planted. I heard Rabbi Mordechai Mann of Bnai Brak comment on this that these trees were planted by Avraham for the purpose of doing kindness for travelers. The center crossbar was placed right in the middle of the tabernacle to remind us that even when we are devoting ourselves to serving the Almighty we should never forget to have compassion for our fellow men, who are created in the image of the Almighty.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Even when serving the Almighty remember to do acts of kindness for people,” pp 207-8
Commentary on Torah Portion Terumah
Growth Through Torah

I don’t doubt that each and every person commenting on Derek’s blog, or who have made problematic comments on mine in the past, sincerely believes they are serving God in what they say, trying to straighten me and many others out, so to speak, correcting the “error” of our ways.

However, in (from their points of view) serving God, they are forgetting that some of what they say and write is not kind at all nor acknowledging that the objects of their criticism are indeed made in the image of God.

Some are even a little smug about it:

You could be 90 years old, standing right in front of me and I’d still tell you to your face that you need to be more mature in your online interactions. It’s the truth.

“It’s the truth.” As if that is sufficient moral justification for tearing down another human being.

But I suppose this could also make me guilty of Lashon Hara for I’m also trying to tell the truth at the cost of the dignity of other people.

If I am guilty of this, I ask forgiveness, but it would have been even better had I never written and published this missive.

So what’s my point?

If you want to serve God, is the best way to go about it to charge into battle or to do kindness and show compassion?

This concept of the Chinuch is a basic one for becoming a better person. Even if you are not able to have elevated thoughts at first, force yourself to behave in the way in which you hope to eventually become. If you want to become a giving person, even though you are inwardly very selfish you will eventually succeed if you continue to behave in a giving manner.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“You create yourself by your behavior. This allows you to become the person you wish to be,” p.168
Commentary on Torah Portion Bo
Growth Through Torah

closedI suspect if this principle were applied to becoming kinder human beings while in the service of the Almighty, the comments made on various religious blogs would be quite a bit more gentle, or maybe these comment sections would become astonishingly quiet.

Since it is unlikely that such a principle will ever become a reality among many religious people who comment on blogs (see my rants on this topic here, here, and here), and given that there is a significant overlap between Derek’s readership and mine, I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing by continuing my “closed comments” policy.

Addendum: Sunday Morning I’ve gotten a number of encouraging emails this morning and also a link to the definition of Insult at Jewish Virtual Library. That definition re-enforces the idea that even if you feel responsible to rebuke someone, you are required to do so in a manner that causes no embarrassment or other emotional discomfort. That’s pretty rare in the religious blogosphere. I’ve also been reminded that in 170 comments on this blog post of mine, no one tried to turn it into the “wild west shootout” that has recently occurred on Derek’s aforementioned blog article. So I’ll try a little experiment and temporarily reverse my decision by opening up comments on this one blog post and “take the temperature,” so to speak, of this matter. Can we be civil and non-exploitive in dialog?

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Premeditated Acts of Kindness

One winter Friday evening after services, I happened to walk home in the company of a talkative Seminary student. As we made our way down Broadway, we passed a weary and emaciated man whispering for some spare change. On Shabbat I pay less heed to such heartrending pleas because I don’t have any money with me. Neither did my young companion. Yet he politely interrupted our animated conversation and asked the man whether he would like a sandwich. When he responded with evident joy that he would, the student pulled out a neatly wrapped sandwich from his plastic bag and gave it to him. Obviously, unlike me, the student did not allow Shabbat to prevent him from aiding the homeless who crowd the sidewalks of Broadway in the midst of the academic acropolis known as Morningside Heights. Though we met no more homeless before we parted company, for all I knew my companion still had another sandwich or two left in his bag to feed the hungry. His unobtrusive display of forethought and compassion stirred me deeply, as it filled me with pride.

-Ismar Schorsch
“A Stitch in Time” (pg 441, May 20, 1995)
Commentary on Torah Portion Behar
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

I read Schorsch’s commentaries on the weekly Parashat as a matter of devotion each Shabbat morning, but this time I was almost startled at the parallel between the incident he reported and the Gospel reading for Behar as recommended by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) (Each year near the beginning of the Torah cycle, FFOZ provides a list of the parashat readings for the coming year on PDF for anyone who cares to download it).

Here’s what I had read just minutes before:

On that day of Shabbat, he was teaching in a certain synagogue. A woman in whom there was a spirit of disease for eighteen years was bent over and unable to stand with a straight posture. Yeshua saw and called to her. He said to her, “Woman, be freed from your disease.” He placed his hands upon her, and instantly she arose and stood upright and praised God. The leader of the synagogue became upset that Yeshua had healed her on Shabbat, so he responded and said to the people, “There are six days on which you may do labor. Come and be healed on them, but not on the day of Shabbat!”

The Master answered and said to him, “Hypocrite! Will not any one of you untie his ox or donkey from the stable on Shabbat and lead him to get a drink? But here we have a daughter of Avraham whom the satan has bound for these eighteen years. Will she not be released from what binds her on the day of Shabbat?

When he said these words, all who were standing against him were ashamed, and all of the people rejoiced about all of the wonders there were performed by him.

Luke 13:10-17 (DHE Gospels)

I suppose you can’t compare the supernatural miracle of healing a woman who had suffered an affliction for eighteen years with simply giving a starving, homeless man a sandwich you are carrying with you, but they both speak of a willingness not only to feel compassion but to actively express it for the benefit of another, even (apparently) flying in the face of devoted Shabbat observance.

Teaching of the TzadikimYeshua (Jesus) was accused by the local synagogue leader of violating the prohibition of working on the Shabbat by healing the disabled woman. From the point of view of the leader of the synagogue, his interpretation of the laws of Shabbos was correct and obviously, based on the reaction of the rest of the people present, that opinion was the majority viewpoint in that stream (and probably all streams) of Judaism in that day.

Even today, while it is permissible in Orthodox Judaism to render medical treatment in the cause of saving a life, routine medical matters (this woman had survived her ailment for eighteen years, so Yeshua could have waited another day before healing her) are attended to on the other six days of the week.

For many Bible readers, this distinction may be too obscure, but if missed, the reader also misses the message of all the Sabbath stories in the Gospels. The essential message is not that Jesus has cancelled the Sabbath or that the rabbinic interpretation of Sabbath is illegitimate. The Sabbath-conflict stories instead communicate that acts of compassion and mercy performed to alleviate human suffering take precedence over the ritual taboo. The miraculous power by which Jesus performs the healings only serves to add God’s endorsement to Jesus’ halachic, legal rationale.

Did Jesus’ disciples break the Sabbath in the grain fields? Yes. But they were justified in doing so because their need took precedence over the Temple service, and the Temple service took precedence over the Sabbath. Therefore Jesus declared them guiltless and told the Pharisees, “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7).

Did the Master break the Sabbath when he healed on the Sabbath day? Yes. Would fixing a car break the Sabbath? Of course it would, and by the same standard so does fixing a human body. Nevertheless, the Master justified doing so because compassion for his fellow man took precedence over the Sabbath.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter Seven: At Dinner with the Sages,” pg 61
The Sabbath Breaker: Jesus of Nazareth and The Gospels’ Sabbath Conflicts

It is Lancaster’s opinion that Yeshua did indeed “break the Shabbat” as it is literally understood, and performed one of the types of work or melachah (plural: “melachot”) that is forbidden to do on the Sabbath. But Lancaster believes that the needs and dignity of human beings who are created in the image of God have a higher priority than mechanically performing a list of “dos” and “don’ts”.

I don’t mean to cast Shabbat observance or any performance of the other mitzvot in a negative light, far from it. I do want to point out something about human nature, though.

Ismar SchorschIsmar Schorsch, whose writings I greatly admire and who was the sixth Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) for nineteen years (he retired on June 30, 2006), wrote, on “Shabbat I pay less heed to such heartrending pleas because I don’t have any money with me.” It wasn’t that Schorsch lacked compassion or didn’t care about the dire needs of other people, but the traditional practice on Shabbat is not to handle any form of currency or to engage in any type of commerce. Naturally, he didn’t have any money on him, and neither did his sandwich-carrying companion.

But get this:

The Mishnah divides the landscape into “domains”: the private domains of individual houses, the public domains of streets and markets, and shared areas like alleys and courtyards that are not quite public and not quite private. The prohibition of carrying is violated when one removes an object from one domain to another [M. Shabbat 1:1, 2:1; M. Eruvin passim]. The Mishnah goes even further in eliminating the notion of “burden” from this prohibition. It declares that the prohibition is violated only if the object that has been carried is an object that people in general, or at least its carrier, value or use or keep; if it has no value or if it is too small to be used or if it is not worth keeping, then it does not qualify as an “object” for the purposes of this prohibition. A Torah-fearing Jew would not remove even such a nonobject from one domain to another on Sabbath, but incurs no liability for having done so [M. Shabbat 7:3-8:6, 9:5-10:1].

-Shaye J.D. Cohen
“Chapter 6: Judaean Legal Tradition and Halakhah of the Mishnah,” pg 136
The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature
Edited by Charlotte E. Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee

Since it appears a sandwich has value (especially to a hungry man) and is definitely big enough to use (eat), Schorsch’s companion could not be excused for carrying food items from one domain (presumably he made this sandwich before Shabbat and at his home, which is a different domain than the street) to another. Of course, the Mishnah may be more strictly observed by Orthodox Jews than Conservative Jews (Schorsch is affiliated with Conservative Judaism and presumably so are the students at the Jewish Theological Seminary, including the student in question), but I have to wonder.

shabbat walkI have to wonder if both Schorsch and the Seminary student were aware of the prohibition of “carrying,” which was another reason that they both had no money in their possession, since money obviously has value, but they saw a higher value requiring attention. The statement made by Schorsch from which I quoted above, indicates that it was quite common on Broadway to encounter homeless people who would typically ask for spare change or some other form of charity, even on Friday evening. Schorsch saw no way to assist them while observing the Shabbat but the student didn’t let that stop him.

Did the student violate Shabbat by carrying sandwiches from one domain to the next, even for the purpose of committing “a premeditated act of kindness” (Schorsch, pg 443)? Schorsch’s own reaction of pride, not even questioning the apparent violation of performing “work”, seems to answer from his point of view.

We can compare this to the reaction of the synagogue leader and the others attending Shabbat services after hearing Yeshua’s response to their criticism of his healing a non-life threatening disability on Shabbat:

When he said these words, all who were standing against him were ashamed…

Luke 13:17

The people who had initially criticized Yeshua’s act of kindness and compassion on Shabbat felt ashamed when they understood that it is common and permitted to relieve the suffering of another living being on Shabbat, whether a thirsty farm animal or a woman under a debilitating disability. Schorsch felt pride at recalling his student’s “unobtrusive display of forethought and compassion.”

I don’t believe that either Yeshua or the anonymous student violated the Shabbat. I believe they acted in the highest principle of Sabbath observance, even if it seems they “broke” the observance of the literal meaning of the melechot involved in each incident.

“The Sabbath does not ‘do away’ with sadness and sorrow,” writes Pinchas H. Peli in The Jewish Sabbath, “it merely requires that all sadness be ‘tabled’ for one day so that we may not forget that there is also joy and happiness in the world and acquire a more balanced and hopeful picture of life.”

-from “Keeping Sabbath – Ways to Practice”
Practicing Our Faith

“Oneg,” or the traditional meal eaten at the end of Shabbat services at synagogue, literally means “joy”. Regardless of the trials and difficulties we may encounter during the rest of the week, or no matter what else may be troubling us, Shabbat is a time to set all that aside and to live as if the Kingdom of God had already arrived, as if Messiah were already enthroned in Jerusalem, and as if he already reigns over a world filled with peace and the glory of God.

So to alleviate the suffering of even one person or any other living thing is to assist them in some small manner in entering Shabbat and a foretaste of the Kingdom.

MessiahIn any way we think we are obeying the will of God, let’s not forget that there is a higher principle involved that summons the future Messianic Age. What we say, think, and do now, on one level, is temporary and will not last, so we sometimes tend to dismiss this life in anticipating the next. But we must never forget for a single instant, and especially on Shabbat, that kindness, compassion, charity, and raising the level of the dignity of another person, even for a moment, are eternal principles and the loftier and weightier matters of Torah, and they speak more of loving God and loving others (for the two are inseparable) than the matter of committing a “forbidden” act of melachah here or there as the situation arises.

Yeshua rejects all those who do not give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked of even “the least” of his “brothers,” but welcomes those who are “blessed of his Father.”

Then the king will say to those standing on his right, “Come, those who are blessed of my Father, and possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was traveling, and you took me in; naked, and you covered me; sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.”

The righteous will answer and say, “Our master, when did we see you hungry and sustain you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you traveling and take you in, or naked and cover you? When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?”

Then the king will answer and say to them, “Amen, I say to you, what you have done for one of these young brothers of mine, you have done for me.”

Matthew 25:34-40

Getting Dressed One Mitzvah at a Time

helping-with-tefillinSo I walk into a random office and ask a guy to put on tefillin. Perhaps just to get rid of me, he agrees. I strap him up, help him read Shema, shake his hand and leave. In and out in 3 minutes.

I’m at a circumcision. During the inevitable ten-minute delay waiting for the baby to be sent down to the ceremony, I persuade the nervous father to put on tefillin. I explain to him the connection between circumcision and tefillin, which are both referred to in the Torah as a sign of our connection to G‑d, and he confides to me that this is the first time he’s worn tefillin since his bar mitzvah.

But what have we gained from guilt-tripping a guy into tefillin? It’s just a one off, with no guarantee of any followup. Is he any more religious, committed or switched on than before I started nudging him?

-Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum
“What’s the Point of a One-Time Mitzvah?”
Chabad.org

This sort of article makes a lot more sense to Jews than to Christians since we in the church focus more on faith than activity. This isn’t universally true, but it’s all too common.

I’ve been following the conversation over at Judah Himango’s blog and he has a point in echoing James the Just in saying “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17)

But can you approach a “lukewarm” Christian and inspire him or her by “guilting” them into a single act of Christian compassion? Even Rabbi Greenbaum asks if “guilting” a Jewish person into a “one-off mitzvah” is worth it. Would it do any good to twist a believer’s arm to donate a can of soup to the food bank or give ten dollars to help a kid go to summer camp? Once the “motivation” is gone, won’t any further “good deeds” go with it?

This question was once posed to the Lubavitcher Rebbe by a not-yet-religious individual. The Rebbe had compared adding extra mitzvahs into one’s daily routine to wearing a tie, which adds beauty and splendor to one’s whole ensemble. In response, the man asked what seems to be an ingenious question. He pointed out that the Rebbe’s analogy would hold true only for someone already wearing clothing; however, were a naked person to don a tie, rather than looking better, he’d look completely ridiculous.

The Rebbe agreed that a naked man wearing a tie might indeed look silly, but contended the very act of putting a tie would probably wake him up to the fact that he’s naked in the first place. Sometimes the incongruity of being simultaneously underdressed but over-accessorized can lead you to rush off to cover yourself up.

I can’t help but be reminded of this:

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked?

Genesis 3:6-11 (NASB)

tie-no-shirtWhat shows us that we are naked? We might never notice except when we put on an article of clothing, an accessory of some sort perhaps, and realize the rest of the outfit is missing. I think it’s that way for a lot of people who profess a sort of faith, both Christian and Jewish. We show up at our houses of worship, socialize, go to the obligatory classes, give charity, eat and drink together, but all that can be accomplished without the slightest awareness of God. Even if we are doing good deeds, are we performing such actions just because it’s expected in our social context? Are we doing so only because it makes us look like good people?

I agree that a life of faith as merely an internal state isn’t going to do much good to anyone, even ourselves. But faith and deeds must go together. Sometimes deeds happen without faith, even among religious people because we treat religion like a social club.

No, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the company of others, but in the end, if that’s the only reason you go to church or synagogue, and if the only reason you give to charity is to impress your friends, then you’re doing everything in vain. The primary reason to congregate among our fellows is to experience an encounter with God. Then out of that encounter, everything else we do including charity and good deeds makes a great deal more sense.

If we’re religious for poor reasons, then being compelled into a “one-off mitzvah,” even as a Christian, can expose our nakedness. We’re forced to look in the mirror and realize that all we are wearing are the Emperor’s New Clothes, which is to say, nothing at all.

Making this illustration may be somewhat easier for a Jewish population than a Christian one since the mitzvot that define Jewish identity are more documented and apparent. Christianity does not have a “Law” as such, since most church-goers have been taught by tradition that grace has replaced behavioral expectations.

But it can still be done because most of Torah actually applies to the church, too. Christians are all too familiar with Torah, we just don’t call it that.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Carry ten dollars in ones in your wallet. Give one dollar each to the next ten homeless people you see on the street (I’ve actually seen this done). If you don’t encounter many homeless people throughout the course of your week, it’s OK. Just keep giving until the money’s gone. Then repeat periodically.
  2. Go to your local supermarket and buy some canned goods, then drive to your local foodbank or where food is being collected for the poor (your church may even have a donation site). Deposit canned goods in donation bin. Then repeat periodically.
  3. Carry jumper cables in your car and, when you encounter someone who has a dead car battery, volunteer to help out. (if you pay attention to your environment, this opportunity happens more often than you might imagine).
  4. Google a phrase such as “how to do good deeds.” Click on one of the links returned such as 21 ways to do a good deed. Read and follow the instructions.

helping-the-poorAre you feeling more dressed yet?

Of course, as I said, none of this is as effective as it could be if you’re doing it for the right reasons. I don’t recommend that you tell anyone about your project. That way, you can avoid the temptation to brag about yourself. I do recommend that you tell God about it (not that He doesn’t know) by praying for your heart to be softened by your performance of these mitzvot. Although doing good deeds helps those you are helping, the person who really benefits is you, the good deed doer. For in giving to others, you are not only learning how to love your fellow human beings, but God as well, which is another mitzvah.

Aside for the intrinsic standalone value that each mitzvah has, mitzvah observance can also be contagious. Agreeing to opt in, even just once, can have far-reaching effects. There have been untold thousands of Jews who have made permanent changes in their lives for the better, just because they agreed to try it once.

Now that you’ve put on the tie, you might want to follow up with a pair of pants and a shirt.

From my father’s sichot: When Mashiach will come (speedily in our time, amein), then we shall really long for the days of the exile. Then we will truly feel distress at our having neglected working at avoda; then will we indeed feel the deep pain caused by our lack of avoda. These days of exile are the days of avoda, to prepare ourselves for the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our time, amein.

“Today’s Day”
Wednesday, Menachem Av 3, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Matot-Massei: Crossing the Street

bsa_cross_street1And Nobah went and captured Kenath and its dependencies, renaming it Nobah after himself.

Numbers 32:42 (JPS Tanakh)

Why did the Almighty include this verse in the Torah?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch elucidates: Throughout the world powerful leaders have wanted to leave monuments to themselves through statues and buildings named after them. Kings and conquerors have even named large cities after themselves. However, names can very easily be changed and then nothing is left, as happened to Novach. (Neither Novach nor the city he named after himself are remembered to history.) The good deeds of a person and his spiritual attainments are the only true everlasting monuments.

When you view the good that you do as your eternal monument, you will feel greater motivation to accomplish as much as you can. A life of spiritual attainments is everlasting. Feel joy in every positive act you do, for it gives greater splendor to your monument!

Dvar Torah for MatotMassei
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
as quoted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz in “Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Aish.com

Rabbi Packouz also tells a story about the consequences of doing good.

It reminds me of the story of the father asking his son, the Boy Scout, if he did his good deed for the day. The boy says, “Sure, I helped an old lady cross the street. It took 12 of us.” “Why did it take 12 boys to help her across the street?” asks the father. Answers the son, “Because she didn’t want to cross!”

Every act of kindness has the possibility of a personal benefit. We must work to divest ourselves from our personal interest and to do kindness just to help someone.

Often, we choose to do the good deed or act of kindness that we want done for us or that we define as “good.” This is like the small boy who chooses to buy a toy he’s always wanted for a Mother’s Day gift. It would certainly seem like a kindness if he received the toy, but his mother might have other ideas about what she wants.

Forcing a “kindness” on someone who doesn’t want it is not only failing in your attempt to do good to another person, but it’s actually causing them harm. Imagine how the poor elderly woman felt in Rabbi Packouz’s story, when she found herself forced by twelve well-meaning but misguided boys, across the street. She is now where she didn’t want to be and, if she has difficulty crossing the street unaided, may not be able to easily get back home or to some place safe. And what if, in attempting to re-cross the street (without the aid of twelve “helpful” Boy Scouts this time), she is hit and injured by a car? Is that kindness?

I sometimes feel this way about sharing the gospel or the “good news” of Jesus, particularly with people who haven’t asked for such “news”. I remember the conversation that eventually led me to accept that Jesus is Messiah and Savior. I’d heard the same spiel many times before, and each time it was unwelcome and uncomfortable. I never wanted to be rude, but I also didn’t want to have to listen to someone tell me that I needed to be saved from my sins.

Fortunately, it wasn’t the spiel all by itself that resulted in my decision. A series of highly unlikely “coincidences” occurred over a period of six or more months finally resulted in getting me inside a church and then it took months and months more before I felt uncontrollably drawn (dragged kicking and screaming, metaphorically speaking) toward a life of faith and across the threshold into that life.

Almost immediately afterward, my life fell apart in more ways than I want to describe. Then, every time I thought I was starting to get a handle on what I was doing and why, another roadblock or explosion occurred. In more recent days, I tend to experience fewer explosions and more detours and frustrations on my journey.

intermarriageWhen my wife and I first married, neither one of us were religious, so her being Jewish and me being a Gentile didn’t make it seem like we were “intermarried.” There really weren’t any Jewish members of her family on our side of the country, so I never experienced Jewish in-laws. Faith and religion wasn’t an issue then as it is today.

I’ve been a believer for over fifteen years now, and if I could find the youth pastor who first shared the “good news” of Jesus Christ with me and started this ball rolling, I don’t know if I’d shake his hand or hit him.

No, I wouldn’t hit him and I don’t regret my decision.

But if I were a secular Gentile instead of a Christian, who I am wouldn’t be such an issue for my wife as a religious Jew. There are plenty of intermarried couples who freely attend the local synagogues in my community. Certainly the Reform shul doesn’t have difficulties with intermarried Jewish members. There are even non-Jews on the synagogue’s board. And the Chabad’s mission is to bring secular or assimilated Jews back to the Torah. As part of that effort, their non-Jewish spouses are welcome within their walls.

I once told my Pastor that one of the reasons I stopped any sort of overt “Messianic” worship or lifestyle was that my wife found it embarrassing. He asked something like, “She isn’t embarrassed about you being a church-going Christian?”

Actually, I strongly suspect she is. She doesn’t invite Jewish friends over to our house. She doesn’t go to shul anymore. She hasn’t even volunteered at either synagogue in a quite a while. She and my daughter used to spend a lot of time helping the Chabad Rebbitzin with various projects.

Was it a kindness to my wife that I became a Christian? Does that seem like a good deed to her? Is it what she asked for in a husband, or is it the moral equivalent of twelve overly zealous Boy Scouts forcing a helpless old lady across a busy city street?

Someone recently said to me that love does not see religion but people do. Another person has said to me not to seek any religion but to seek an encounter with God.

I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: “The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.” It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.

from the Preface of A.W. Tozer’s book
The Pursuit of God

I would hope one thing my wife and I have in common is the pursuit of God. Our paths are quite different, but perhaps not as different as you might imagine. While I would not abandon my faith in Jesus as Messiah, I would enter into her world in a heartbeat. As awkward as it might be for me (I don’t know Hebrew and the liturgical service would present quite a learning curve), I know now that I would strive to be a good and productive member of her community for her sake. But she’s told me that she would never, ever enter mine and, for the life of her, she can’t imagine why I would want to enter hers.

So would it be a kindness to try to introduce her to my world? She wouldn’t experience it that way and in fact, quite the opposite. She would feel like I was trying to drag her kicking and screaming into a place she never wanted to go. And whenever I’ve tried to enter her world, she’s always seen me as an intruder.

Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein and many other Jewish people like him were not dragged kicking and screaming into faith in Yeshua as Messiah. They each followed the paths Hashem placed before them and by faith, they walked those paths, though it was always difficult and hazardous.

Rabbi-Isaac-LichtensteinNone of those Rabbis became Christians and none of them believed in “Jesus Christ.” They simply examined the Hebrew scriptures and what the church calls “the New Testament” and discovered the clues to the truth of Moshiach in their pages. If some missionary had tried to “convert” them, maybe some would have become “Christians” but Judaism would have lost great leaders and Messiah would have lost devoted Jewish disciples.

I don’t know that it is a kindness to cause a Jewish person to convert to Christianity. No, let me change that. I know it’s not a kindness. It’s not a kindness to destroy someone’s identity and purpose, especially if that identity and purpose was given to them directly by God. It is a kindness to help them on the next step on their journey, but they have to want to go. If they don’t want to start that part of the journey, you can’t force them to, even if you think it’s the best thing in the world for them. All you can do is open the door.

If they don’t go in, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. If they don’t go in, that doesn’t mean you stop loving them. Kindness, compassion, and love, like all other things, are expressed by you and by me, but they are always from God.

God sets the course, He provides the path, He charts the journey. He does all this in love and compassion and kindness.

We can ask the elderly woman if she wants to cross the street and if she says, “no,” then we must let the answer be “no.” If the answer is “yes,” then it is a kindness to help her. If she wants to cross the street and asks for our help, we have a responsibility to be available, receptive, and then to escort her.

Kindness consists of loving people more than they deserve

-Jacqueline Schiff

God creates the street, but it is up to each person to ask for help crossing it. Then we can start walking and continue our journey.

Good Shabbos.

82 days.

Fish Out Of Water

FishOutofWaterA true master of life never leaves this world—he transcends it, but he is still within it.

He is still there to assist those who are bonded with him with blessing and advice, just as before, and even more so.

Even those who did not know him in his corporeal lifetime can still create with him an essential bond.

The only difference is in us: Now we must work harder to connect.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Connecting”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

“The Son of David will not come till a fish is sought for an invalid and cannot be found.”

-Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a

The Son of David is a diminutive reference to the Messiah, who will be a descendent of the royal house of David, King of Israel. The diminutive reference is strange in itself, but even more strange is the contention that the coming of the Messiah is dependent on an invalid in search of an unfound fish. What did Rabbi Menachem Mendel see in this passage that could reflect on his present situation?

-Rabbi Eli Rubin
“Lisbon 1941: The Messiah, the Invalid, and the Fish:
The private journal of the Lubavitcher Rebbe reveals a dual vision for the future of humanity”
Chabad.org

My wife sent me the email version of Rabbi Rubin’s article about the Rebbe, the Messiah, the Invalid, and the Fish and I still can’t figure out why. Maybe she just thought I’d find it intellectually stimulating or maybe she was sending me a message about my faith in Jesus as Messiah.

I do find it stimulating, which is why I’m writing about it, but more than that, I think the Rebbe’s message about Messiah tells us something about ourselves.

But I’ll get to that in a moment. One of the things I found in the article and learned at some previous point in time is that at least within some streams of Judaism, there is no single scenario that is thought to bring the Messiah. As far as what the Rebbe was teaching he said that there were two different generations that could possibly see the Messiah come: one that was entirely worthy or one that was entirely unworthy.

Seems contradictory and unnecessarily complicated from a Christian point of view. We tend to think that the Messiah will come when he comes. It’s up to God, not us. We can’t do anything about it and we certainly can’t be “worthy” of his coming.

…as it is written:

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.”

Romans 3:10-11 (NRSV)

But then, as my wife has told me before, Christians and Jews think in fundamentally different ways. As I previously said, in certain areas of Judaism, it is thought that people have the ability to change the timing of Messiah’s arrival based on our collective behavior. That then lends itself to multiple circumstances by which Messiah could appear (or “return” from the Christian perspective):

Rabbi Menachem Mendel offers two explanations of the earlier passage, corresponding to these alternative scenarios. In the first, the redemption is well deserved due to the lofty station at which society has arrived; in the second, redemption is bestowed because the alternative is utter deterioration.

This brings us back to our invalid: The diminutive designation “Son of David” indicates that the redeemer is worthy of his messianic status only due to his lineage. Likewise, the generation to be redeemed is also deficient, suffering from the spiritual maladies of sin and moral degeneration.

At a time when the world was ailing, and the Holocaust was already underway, Rabbi Menachem Mendel confronted the paradoxical possibility of evil in the presence of G‑d. The cause of such spiritual illness, he wrote, is human forgetfulness. We can do evil only if we forget that we are in the presence of G‑d.

lisbon-to-new-yorkThe Rebbe’s commentary didn’t come out of a vacuum. The backdrop for all this was the Holocaust, World War Two, when the Rebbe and his wife were trying to leave Lisbon for the United States to escape Nazis in 1941. The time when the world went mad or as mad as anyone thought we could get up to that point.

“We can do evil only if we forget that we are in the presence of G‑d.”

Well, yes and no.

“Yes,” in the sense that when we believe we are doing “evil” or anything wrong, we cannot simultaneously be acutely conscious of the fact that God is watching over our shoulder, so to speak. It would be like a man cheating on his wife while his wife was in the same room. If we choose to sin, we must temporarily pretend that God isn’t watching in order not to be immediately seized with horrible guilt (of course if we are wired correctly in a moral and spiritual sense, we should experience guilt anyway, even without a direct awareness of the presence of God).

But it is also “no” in the sense that we do “evil” and do not recognize what we are doing is evil. People who operate within the bounds of what you might call “self-righteousness” are quite guilty of this and also quite unaware of their guilt. In fact, they might feel completely justified and even believe that God approves of their evil acts, calling their evil “good.”

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

2 Timothy 4:3-4

The Westboro Baptist Church is the most extreme example I can think of within “Christianity,” though I don’t count them as disciples of Christ. They perform heinous acts against grieving families of American military personnel who have died in the service of our country and believe it is somehow all for the glory of Jesus.

Of course, most believers commit such “evil” in far less spectacular ways but they are no more conscious of their wrongdoing than the aforementioned Westboro folks. Confront them if you will, but they’ll turn every argument you make against you (and that’s happened to me more than once) as if you, in attempting to uphold the Biblical principles of forgiveness, kindness, and compassion are making terrible Biblical errors and their own fire-breathing doctrine is the only way to please God.

That makes the following statement all the more ironic.

This is where the Talmudic fish comes in. Fish are a metaphor for the knowledge that we are ever submerged in the presence of G‑d. Just as a fish cannot live out of water, so the spiritual health of humanity can be preserved only if we are consciously aware of G‑d’s all-encompassing presence. It is at a moment that G‑d’s presence is utterly hidden—when no fish can be found for the invalid—that the redemption must arrive.

Ironic and true.

We live in a world where no fish can be found, when it seems as if the presence of God has completely left our world. Good literally is being called evil and evil is literally being called good in terms of the various social priorities and journalistic pronouncements we find daily in the popular media.

I keep expecting Jesus to come around the corner at any second, given what the Rebbe has said.

“Just as a fish cannot live out of water, so the spiritual health of humanity can be preserved only if we are consciously aware of G‑d’s all-encompassing presence.”

We are one sick and dying fish.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s second interpretation lays out the flip side of this vision. So long as the hand of G‑d has not yet been forced, and the redemption has not yet arrived, the burden of responsibility still lies on the shoulders of humanity. We can repair the world, so we must repair the world, ultimately bringing it to an era that is “entirely worthy” and ripe for redemption. In an era of human perfection, man will strive to lose all sense of ego, desiring to become utterly submerged within the divine self.

But maybe not completely dead (though I wouldn’t say we can possibly be “worthy”).

feeding_the_hungryAt least from a Jewish point of view, we can do something to help. Maybe we can’t actually summon the Messiah, which is what a Christian believes, but we can still be more “Messiah-like.” Some Christians used to wear those “WWJD” or “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets, but we can go one better and just do what Jesus would do in the world. What did he teach? Is the answer going to come as a big surprise?

Feed the hungry, visit the sick, comfort the grieving, help anyone hurting in whatever way they need help. Change someone’s flat tire. Volunteer to take “meals on wheels” to the elderly and the infirm. Pick a need and fulfill it. I don’t care which one. Just quit being a “sick fish” by going out of your way to hurt other people because that is your special or only way of “serving” God.

According to the Rebbe’s metaphor, the fish is “sick” for the love of God but as immersed as the fish is, the fish and the water aren’t ever going to be the same thing:

Similarly, the worthy invalid is “sick” with love for G‑d, desiring utter submergence but unable to cross the infinite divide separating man from G‑d.

The best we can do, and that’s only by the grace of God, is to imitate our Master in how we do good to others. Maybe that will bring the Messiah back sooner and maybe it won’t but it sure couldn’t hurt. In fact, it probably will do some good, if not in a cosmic sense, then at least in a down-to-earth human sense.

Four decades later, Rabbi Menachem Mendel delivered a public talk in which he explained that at every moment we face two very different visions of the future. On the one hand, we anticipate the imminent revelation of a new era of eternal good; on the other hand, we invest long-term commitment and energy into a more gradual transformational process, changing the world from the bottom up.

I don’t believe the world and the people in it are anywhere near “the imminent revelation of a new era of eternal good.” Looking at the news headlines for five minutes will tell you that humanity is no better now than at any time in the past, and some might argue that we’re getting worse all the time. That leaves the Rebbe’s “Plan B:” investing in a long-term commitment to gradually transform the world from the bottom up, one act of kindness at a time.

Multiple sources have been attributed to the famous quote, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” Whoever first said it knew what they were talking about. Sitting on your bottom and doing nothing isn’t actively “evil” but it does nothing to produce “good.”

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

-Edmund Burke

That’s pretty much it. How many “good men” did nothing while six-million Jews died? How many good men have done nothing while countless men, women, and children starved, or died in wars, or died in riots, or died due to political indifference to human rights?

Doing nothing won’t keep you safe and doing evil in the name of good is just as bad or worse.

If we are truly connected to God and truly love Him, then we have no choice but to also love human beings. God loves human beings…all of us, regardless of race, creed, color, nationality, language, and (gasp) religion. Like it or not, God loves the Muslim, the Taoist, the Buddhist, as well as God loves the Christian and the Jew. God loves us even though we screw up pretty much all the time, even the best of us.

If we restrict our love, then we are hardly being “Christ-like” and thus we’ve already tainted our response to God and our ability to do good in the world.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

Matthew 5:46

rocket-scienceThis isn’t rocket science. This isn’t esoteric and arcane knowledge hidden within the murky depths of some obscure part of the Bible. This is the “easy stuff.” Well, it’s easy in that it’s pretty easy to comprehend. Obviously given the state of certain areas of the religious blogosphere and various believing congregations, home groups, and families scattered across the landscape, it’s not really that easy to do, otherwise there’d be a power surge of constantly doing good in the world.

Take a look at the last time you talked to another person. Was it in kindness, indifference, or anger? If you’re a blogger (or you comment on blogs), what was the last topic you wrote or commented on? Were you encouraging and supportive? Were you insulting and accusatory? Given everything I’ve written so far, you should be able to quickly figure out if you’re doing the will of the Master in the world or the opposite.

Do not bring us into the power of error, nor the power of transgression and sin, nor into the power of challenge, nor into the power of scorn. Let not the Evil Inclination dominate us. Distance us from an evil person and an evil companion. Attach us to the Good Inclination and to good deeds and compel our Evil Inclination to be subservient to You. Grant us today and every day grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us.

-from the Siddur

You’re either a fish in the water immersed into the reality of God or you’re a fish out of water (Marco Polo). If you’re out, then you’re dying and you don’t even know it. You think you’re in a vast ocean when in fact, your tiny little puddle is evaporating like a raindrop in the Arizona desert sun in August. You don’t have much time.

I don’t believe people will ever be “worthy” enough for the age of Messiah to come. I think our world and the people in it will continue to degrade until he either comes or we destroy ourselves, eating each other alive. But those of us who are disciples of the Master can continue to strive to be a little more like him every day. In that way, maybe he will find at least a few people who have faith when he finally returns, may it be soon and in our day.

 

Shoshie’s Rules

im-aliveIn Parashat Emor we are commanded, “Do not desecrate My Holy Name, and I shall be sanctified within the Children of Israel.” These two mitzvot (commandments), desecrating God’s Name and sanctifying it, can be interpreted as very general principles that guide us to sanctify God’s Name in every action that we do and not to desecrate it. Nonetheless, the particular mitzvah of sanctifying God’s Name is specified regarding situations in which we are required to give up our lives in total self-sacrifice.

Jewish law holds that human life has supreme and fundamental value and the Almighty wants us to live in this world and not to die. This is why any life-threatening situation usually overrides all other mitzvot, as the verse states, “Observe My statutes and My laws that an individual does and he shall live by them” on which the sages expound, “but he should not die by them.” Yet, under certain circumstances we reveal that there is something beyond even the fundamental essence of life, as Rashi comments on the verse in Parashat Emor, “‘I shall be sanctified’―sacrifice yourself and sanctify My Name.”

-Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
“Sanctifying God’s Name”
Commentary on Torah Portion Emor
Wonders From Your Torah

Embracing the simple concept of sanctifying God’s Name as opposed to desecrating it seems comfortable and almost joyful. To say, “I bless Your Holy Name” in prayer to the Almighty strips away all of the conundrums, mysteries, puzzles, and blind arguments in which we engage every day when facing the enigma of the Bible and the infinitely greater enigma of the infinite, eternal, omnipresent, radically One, Ein Sof, God.

It’s also comforting to know that, regardless of how we perceive our responsibilities to God, that He considers (at least in Judaism) our lives so important, that in the vast majority of situations, we are free to take whatever extraordinary measures are required to preserve our lives and the lives of others. You don’t have to fret that the ambulance won’t come to take you to the hospital and that instead you’ll die of a heart attack just because it’s Shabbat. If you have had an accident and are bleeding profusely, you don’t have to be concerned that the paramedic won’t provide emergency treatment because coming in contact with your body fluids might make him ritualistically impure. And if you’re starving to death and the only food available is a slice of pork, God won’t send you to hell without an electric fan if you need to eat the pork to survive.

God says your life and mine are more important than “the rules…”

…in most cases, but then again, that’s Judaism, and how much of that applies to me anyway? All I’m trying to hang on to is the belief that God thinks my life is more important than someone else’s theology or doctrine or how they “obey the rules.”

Is just being alive sanctifying God’s Name? I don’t know. Probably not. Lots and lots of people are alive and they don’t give God a second thought, or if they do, they curse His Name, or laugh at Him, or certainly laugh at those who love Him, deeming them ignorant, superstitious, bigots, anti-progressive, or all of the above.

groucho-marxFor the past couple of weeks, I’ve posted a series of reviews on most of the essays that were published in David Rudolph’s and Joel Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations. A number of people registered their displeasure at my opinions, and the endless back-and-forth wrangling about religious concepts in the blogosphere and in other realms makes me despair for religion as an institution. Or as Groucho Marx famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

I find great comfort, wisdom, and illumination in God, I’m just not always sure about those who say they follow Him (including me). Actually, that reminds me of another famous quote.

“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

-Gandhi

The irony is that we have all of these Internet arguments because we say we’re trying to be more like Christ. Go figure.

Our teacher the Baal Shem Tov said: Every single thing one sees or hears is an instruction for his conduct in the service of G-d. This is the idea of avoda, service, to comprehend and discern in all things a way in which to serve G-d.

“Today’s Day”
Hayom Yom: Iyar 9, 24th day of the omer
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

So every single thing I see or hear, including in these blog conversations, is an instruction for how to serve God. It is also said:

The theme of Pesach Sheini is that it is never too late. It is always possible to put things right. Even if one was tamei (ritually impure), or one was far away, and even in a case of lachem, when this (impurity etc.) was deliberate – nonetheless he can correct it.

I suppose it’s unreasonable to expect that I can avoid hurting someone’s feelings by expressing my personal opinions, especially religious opinions. How do I simply sanctify God’s Name and experience the peace and joy at knowing, at least from God’s perspective, each and every one of our individual lives is exceptionally important to Him? The minute I stray away from “meditations” that are more suited to a greeting card and that involve looking at different perspectives on the Bible, life doesn’t seem so special anymore, and the sanctity of God’s Name comes into question, at least if that sanctity depends on the behavior of God’s followers (including me).

But what choice do I have?

“Against your will you live; against your will you die”

– Ethics of the Fathers 4:22

Woman in fireI have no control. Nadav and Avihu brought “strange fire” before God and were incinerated for their efforts, and theologians, saints and rabbis have been trying to figure out for centuries what that meant. What if Nadav and Avihu were the strange fire themselves? There’s a commentary on Pirkei Avot 4:22:

“The soul of man is a lamp of G-d.”

The flame knows no rest, for it lives in perpetual conflict between two opposite tendencies. On the one hand, it cleaves to its wick, drinking thirstily of the oil that fuels its existence. At the same time, it surges upward, seeking to tear free of its material tether. It knows that such disengagement would spell the end of its existence as a manifest, illuminating flame; nevertheless, such is its nature.

This is the paradox of the flame’s life: its attachment to wick and fuel sustains both its continued existence and its incessant striving for oblivion.

Man, too, is torn between these two contrasting drives. On the one hand, he tends towards self, towards life and existence. At the same time, he yearns for transcendence, to tear free from the confining involvements of physical life, to reach beyond his material self.

“Against your will you live; against your will you die” – the tension created by these conflicting drives is the essence of the human experience. The desire to escape the trappings of physical life is what separates the human from the merely animal; but the escapist nature of man is counterbalanced by the compulsion to be, a compulsion that binds him to the material reality. Back and forth, back and forth runs the cycle of life, from being to transcendence and back again.

God drives me crazy sometimes, but He doesn’t drive me as crazy as the people who follow Him (including me).

Rabbi Ginsburgh said:

True, sometimes for various reasons we are unable to observe the entire Torah; we cannot always reach out to every Jew; and there have been long periods in history when we have been unable to occupy the whole of the land. But we must realize that in essence, the Torah is complete, the Jewish people is complete, and the land of Israel is a complete entity.

While the esteemed Rabbi’s thoughts go in directions my brain cannot follow, he touches upon the difference between the doing and the being. Sometimes we can’t do everything God wants us to do and be everything God wants us to be. Heck, most of the time we can’t come anywhere close to the expectations of God, especially when we’re in contact with other people of faith. There are days…most days, when I imagine myself sitting at the bottom of the abyss. Light filters down so I can see. It’s dry and warm and really not so uncomfortable. Most of all, it’s quiet. There’s plenty of peace and plenty of time just to contemplate God. I talk to God and He listens. There are no other voices. Only the silence of God speaks to me.

i_give_upI know I’m not supposed to give up on people because God never gave up on people. I know, I know. There are those out there who say my life only matters if I consider myself “Israel,” otherwise I’m a “non-event.” But I can’t help but believe that God cares not only about His people Israel, but the rest of the world as well. Is God only the God of Israel? Didn’t He create the Gentile as well as the Jew? Does He not cause the rain to fall on the fields of the Gentile as well as the fields of the Jew, making the crops of each grow and flourish. Does He not put food on my table as well as on the table of the Jew?

Or am I just making all this up?

Rabbi Simcha Barnett wrote a tender and heartbreaking story about a 12-year-old girl named Shoshie Stern, who lost her life recently in a tragic accident.

Mike and I are best friends, and over the years I spent a lot of time at his Shabbat table, where he and his wife Denise took tremendously good care of their guests, making everyone feel extremely comfortable and well-fed. Denise would prepare a first course of incredible bounty and variety, and Mike would jokingly refer to the rules cited above to break the ice, making a connection with the many disparate people at the table (and also to get the food circulating). Mike and Denise are my chesed (kindness) mentors, and I keep them with me always at my Shabbat table through the Rules.

Tragically, Mike and Denise lost their 12-year-old daughter Shoshie a”h last week in a tragic accident, and though I didn’t really know Shoshie well, I feel that through the experience of the funeral and Shiva, I got a glimpse into the soul of a rare human being, one created in the Stern image, yet with her own unique spin. Through this experience I discovered a whole new set of rules – the Shoshie Stern Rules:

Give up your seat, make peace, and see the good in everyone.

A 12-year-old girl had the remarkable ability to teach a Rabbi something new, but she had to die to bring “Shoshie’s Rules” to the world. Of course, the rules are not unique and I’m sure you can find their origins in the Bible with little effort. However, in the midst of struggling over who has the “right” to wear tzitzit and whether or not Christians are equally “Israel” along with the Jewish people, these are the very rules we all forget.

As I write this, it’s Thursday morning and I know I have enough commentary on Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book in my “queue” to last through Monday. That means from today through Monday, I’ll have well-meaning and intelligent people telling me I don’t know which end is up and that my blogged opinions and commentaries aren’t worth the electrons they’re printed on. Like I’ve said in the past, I don’t mind being disagreed with, I just mind being told I have to do the moral equivalent of a home invasion on Israel and the Jewish people for the sake of someone else’s theology and doctrine.

ShoshieSternRulesIt’s less important to me to wear a kippah, don a tallit gadol, and lay tefillin before prayer than it is to just pray. It’s less important to me to take the seat at the head of the banquet table than to give up my seat for the sake of the ways of peace.

And I would really, really love to have the ability to see the good in everyone.

But even Jesus said, only God is good. I guess that’s why I’d like to just bury myself somewhere alone with Him.

He won’t let me, but it’s still fantastically appealing. But it’s also incredibly selfish. Rabbi Barnett finishes his tribute to Shoshie this way:

This past Shabbat, my thoughts turned to my dear friends the Sterns, who were amidst a heart-wrenching mourning period. But instead of the familiar Mike Stern Rules, I invoked a new set of rules at the Shabbat table: the Shoshie Stern Rules:

Give up your seat, make peace, and see the good in everyone.

I’m hoping to apply the Shoshie Stern Rules to my life. May it add merit to her soul for eternity.

I don’t think you can learn any of these lessons let alone live them out unless your heart is perpetually breaking.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

-George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright

153 days.