Tag Archives: life

On Choosing God

TrustNegate your own will in favor of God’s will.

-Ethics of the Fathers 2:4

If I surrender my will and turn my life over completely to the will of God, do I not thereby abrogate my power of free choice?

Certainly not. Take the example of a child who receives money for his birthday. An immature child may run off to the toy store or candy store and spend the money on everything his heart desires. He may indeed have several moments of merriment (although a stomach ache from indulging too heavily in confections is a possibility). Without doubt, however, after a short period of time those moments of enjoyment will be nothing but a memory, with the candy long since consumed and the broken toys lying on the junk heap.

A wiser child would give the money to a parent and ask that it be put into some type of savings account where it can increase in value and be available in the future for things of real importance.

Did the second child abrogate his prerogative of free choice by allowing the parent to decide how to invest the money? Of course not. In fact, this was a choice, and a wise choice as well as a free choice.

We can choose to follow our own whims or we can choose to adopt the will of an omniscient Father. We are wise when we make the second choice.

Today I shall…

…turn my will over to God, and seek to do only that which is His will for me.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Nisan 23”
Aish.com

How much is this like the choice Jesus made on that last night?

saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Luke 22:42

Last week, I started talking about free will and Divine Election and how that describes the nature of man and our relationship with God. I still don’t think that we are wind up toy soldiers, pre-programmed by God in all our responses, including the most important response, accepting or rejecting the Almighty.

I don’t think this issue comes up for Jewish people, but then, all Jews are born into a covenant relationship with God just by virtue of being Jewish. Still, the recognition and acceptance of Messiah is a vital task that remains hidden from most Jews, largely due to how Gentile Christianity has “morphed” the Jewish Messiah into a Goyishe King. Still, many Jews see God, not as a harsh overseer with a whip controlling the gates of life and death, but as a teacher, gently but firmly guiding us in the lessons of life as we walk the path with our companion.

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 23:13-27

Imagine having this conversation with the Master along the road, but imagine it being a picture of your entire life.

Jewish in JerusalemRabbi Twerski paints for us an image of giving our lives over to God by conscious choice. Even if a Jew is born into covenant, he or she can still completely reject God, and many Jews have done so. The majority of the Jewish population of Israel is secular, so even in the Holy Land, which contains Jerusalem and the Holy Temple Mount, most of the Jewish inhabitants choose not to connect to God.

Both Easter and the Week of Unleavened Bread are now done. Religious Jews continue to Count the Omer, but Christians just “coast” into April and for most of the church, Pentecost (Shavuot) is hardly a little blip on our radar. This is why it is so important for those few of us who are conscious of the season to remind everyone else.

The presence of Mashiach is revealed on Acharon Shel Pesach, and this revelation has relevance to all Israel: Pesach is medaleg, “skipping over” (rather than orderly progress), and leil shimurim, the “protected night.” In general the mood of Pesach is one of liberty. Then Pesach ends, and we find ourselves tumbling headlong into the outside world. This is where Mashiach’s revealed presence comes into play – imbuing us with a powerful resoluteness that enables us to maintain ourselves in the world.

“Today’s Day”
Wednesday, Nissan 23, Issru chag, 8th day of the omer, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

After the week of Matzot, we see that beyond the Omer count, some Chassidic Jews carry forward the revealed presence of the Mashiach into the outside world with them. How much more should we, who know for certain that Messiah is revealed in Jesus Christ, should carry him forward into the world with us?

Any Jew alive on the face of this planet today is a walking miracle. Our mere existence today is wondrous, plucked from the fire at the last moment again and again, with no natural explanation that will suffice.

Each of us alive today is a child of martyrs and miracles.

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

I can only imagine that just seeing a Jew walking the streets of the old city in Jerusalem, buying falafel for lunch, davening at the Kotel, must all be miraculous. Who would have thought such a thing possible a scant six decades before? Yes, of course it is a miracle of God that there are any Jewish people left alive today in our world and that they live in a Jewish nation.

But it is also a miracle that there are any Christians, for who of his own free will and in his nature of sin, would choose the Almighty, to come to Him through His Son, unless the Spirit of God were not whispering in our ear, urging us, pleading with us, exploring our heart?

And once Moshiach Rabbeinu has opened our eyes to God, and our minds and hearts to the scriptures, and we choose Him, and we learn of Him and who we are as His sons and servants, what would we not do, from the wisest among us to the most simple, to serve Him who is the author of our story and the lover of our soul?

Choose Love. Choose God. Choose Life.

On the 40th Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade

unborn-babyI was still an atheist and a liberal when my wife became pregnant with our twin sons (now 26 years old). That’s when I started questioning my assumptions about abortion. From the start, my wife and I started relating emotionally to our child (we didn’t know she was having twins until about twenty weeks gestation) as a personality. I started bonding and loving long, long before they were born. I just couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams ending their lives at any stage, including before birth. How could I do that?

I know that, in theory, the pro-abortion advocates are supporting “pro-choice.” That is, when a woman becomes pregnant, she can choose to go through being pregnant and give birth, or she can choose to have her unborn child medically “terminated.” But let’s look at this. My guess is that most people who are pro-choice are either parents or will be parents someday. They don’t hate children and they don’t hate people who love their own children. They see their position as one where they want to have control of when they become parents.

But let’s say that the first time a woman becomes pregnant, for whatever reason, she doesn’t want to have the child (financial difficulties, under-age, unmarried…) and has an abortion. In order to be able to successfully have an abortion, she cannot relate to her unborn child as a child. She has to relate to it as a “thing.” Otherwise, how could she go through with it?

So she has the abortion. A few years later, she purposefully becomes pregnant and begins bonding with her child from the first moment she discovers she’s pregnant, probably within just a few weeks of conception. How can she decide to love one child from the very beginning but totally emotionally and physically disregard the other child? The abortion industry has been very successful in selling this strange dichotomy and mindset, but to me, it is so completely alien.

What’s the difference between a precious unborn baby and a fetus (a term which is used as a synonym for “thing”)? The only difference is that the first is wanted and the second is not. No quality the unborn child possesses makes it more or less worthy of life in the mother’s eyes or in any pro-choice advocate’s eyes. More’s the pity.

I wrote the above commentary on Facebook after reading a New York Times blog post on the topic. In consulting the blog again, I ran across this comment:

We fought and (thought we had) won the war against compulsory childbearing decades ago, so that our daughters would have agency over their own bodies and the ability to make decisions about their health care without government interference. Just as we fought for our daughters’ right to apply to medical school, and law school, and to compete fairly for jobs in any number of professions. We fought for our own and our daughters’ right to own real estate, to buy and own stocks and have bank accounts and credit in their own name, to be free of groping and sexual demands on the job, or to keep a job.

These battles were won within my adult lifetime. And our daughters don’t know a time when they couldn’t not open a bank account, buy a home, attend the medical school of their choice, be a bartender or carpenter or police officer as well as a barmaid.

I think we who fought the battles got complacent, or just plain tired. Maybe the neanderthal right has done us a favor this past election season, reminding us and our daughters and granddaughters that freedom and liberty must be constantly nurtured and protected like a perfect rose.

The phrase “compulsory childbearing” in the above empassioned declaration caught my attention, as if people or organizations outside of the woman’s control were somehow forcing them to engage in sex, become pregnant, and have children against their will. I could go on and I know this is a complex subject, so I won’t say too much more. Some believers treat all this as black-and-white without seeing the anguish many women go through when facing the decision of whether or not to abort their children. A woman having an abortion isn’t a terrible or bad person, she’s someone facing a very difficult choice, and one that is not as simple and clear cut as either the pro-abortion or the pro-life movements make it out to be.

I used to work at a Suicide Prevention hotline in Berkeley in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I typically worked midnight until 8 a.m., so I spoke with many people who felt all alone in the night. Sometimes, I would end up talking to a woman who would be crying inconsolably (there were more than just a few of them) because she had just done the unthinkable sometime yesterday…killed her unborn child.

Nat'l Organization For Women Marks Roe V. Wade Anniversary At Supreme CourtThis is the side of Roe vs. Wade that the media, the abortion industry, and the “pro-choice” political advocates never talk about. What it does to a woman after the abortion is over. What is it like when you have exercised what you’ve been told are your “reproductive rights,” taken control of your own body and your own destiny, done what fifty plus years of modern feminism have told you that you must do when you are pregnant and you don’t want to be, and had an abortion? What is it like after it’s all over, the “medical procedure” was successfully performed, you’ve gone back to your home, and you have time to realize what just happened? You’re alone now. It’s the middle of the night, but you can’t sleep. You always imagined having children someday and you know someday you will. But there is one little cry in the night you’ll never hear, one voice you’ll never respond to, one baby you will never feed and comfort. There is one child you’ll never nurture, support, love, hug, kiss, cherish, and help grow and thrive.

What about him? What about her? Your baby wasn’t an “it.” Your baby was a little boy or a little girl. What would you have named him? What would you have called her?

“Happy Anniversary,” Roe vs. Wade. In forty years, how many mother’s hearts have you broken? How many babies never took their first breath because of you and because of the illusion that you’ve drawn over the eyes of all their mothers? How many? Why is this a good thing?

Why?

Addendum: The Woman Behind “Roe” and why she has dedicated her life to overturning Roe vs. Wade.

32 Days: The Rock Moved

One night, a man was sleeping in his cabin when suddenly his room was filled with the light and the Creator appeared.

The Creator told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Creator explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might.

The man did the same, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain…

Since the man was showing signs of discouragement, the Adversary decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the man’s weary mind:

“You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You can never move it,” thus, giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man. “Why kill myself over this?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort; and that will be good enough.” And that is what he planned to do, until one day he decided to make it a matter of prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Creator. “Creator,” he said, “I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

The Creator responded compassionately, “My friend, when I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push.” “Now you come to me with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But is that really so?

Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back is sinewy and brown, your hands are callused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much, and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith in My wisdom. This you have done. I, my friend, will now move the rock.” At times, when we hear a word from the Creator, we tend to use our own intellect to decipher what He wants, when actually what the Creator wants is just obedience and faith in Him…. By all means, exercise the faith that moves mountains, but know that it is still the Creator who moves the mountains.

“Push”
Story found at
Morning Story and Dilbert

The end of the story reminds everyone to “push” or to “pray-until-something-happens” as an act of faith, but frankly, that seemed a little too “cute” the way it was expressed, so I truncated the original text into the quote above.

That said, I know exactly how it feels like to push and push against an immovable object and see absolutely no result. I have often felt as if making a difference is impossible and that my life is a failure.

Just watching the latest situation in Israel and how the world press and most of the nations on our planet are castigating Israel for defending itself against bloodthirsty terrorists…um, excuse me, “courageous freedom fighters battling their oppressors,” is enormously frustrating. And yet there’s not one single thing I can do about it. Every time I speak out, usually in some social networking venue, in support of Israel, only a few like-minded “religious nuts” are supportive. The rest of the world is either strangely silent or venomously outspoken against Israel and against anyone who would support her and the Jewish people.

It’s the same in so many other areas of my life. As a self-avowed Christian, I’m used to taking plenty of “heat” from atheists who believe all manner of terrible things about me because of my faith. However, I also recently witnessed an online conversation taking Christians to task for our history of supersessionism against Jews. Granted, this is a valid observation, but to the speaker, it didn’t seem to make a difference who the Christian was or if they had renounced supersessionism. Further, the Jewish person in question is “Messianic” or a believer in Jesus (Yeshua) as the Messiah. While most Messianic Jews I know are friendly toward “Judaically-aware” Christians or “Post-supersessionistic” Christians, apparently there are some who aren’t particularly tolerant of anyone who is a non-Jewish believer.

There’s not a darn thing I can do about that, either.

I skipped going to church last Sunday for a number of reasons not the least of which was my concern over how I would be received again at Sunday school class given my being particularly outspoken (and embarrassing myself in the process) the previous week. It’s now Thursday and Sunday morning is just a few days away. In trying to project myself into the weeks and months ahead, unless something dramatic happens one way or the other, I don’t know that there’s anything I can do to “install” myself as an accepted participant in church, either.

The rock is the rock, after all. It’s big and it’s heavy, and in all the time I’ve been pushing against it…years and years and years, it hasn’t budged an inch.

But according to the anonymous storyteller, it doesn’t have to. My job is to push, or rather, to pray, without necessarily expecting or receiving a response or a result. The “push” acronym says “pray until something happens.” But what if nothing happens?

OK, clearly something recently happened but I wasn’t particularly praying about it or even thinking in that direction. It was just one of those “out of a clear blue sky” events. On the other hand, I’ve also recently said that there are miracles that only happen when we cooperate with God and actively participate in the miracle. That means do something. It also means that one day, I may push against the rock and feel it miraculously move!

Frankly, that kind of scares me. I live in a world of expectations. I expect the Sun to rise in the east and set in the west. I expect to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning. I expect a particular routine for my days. Pushing the rock and not having it move, frustrating as it may be, is also expected. If it moves, suddenly, I’m out of control and off-balance; likely to fall on my face (not like that hasn’t happened before). I don’t know what to pray for more, that the rock moves or that it doesn’t move.

Strange, I know, but remember, I don’t like change…even when it’s beneficial and necessary.

But God makes changes according to His will and not my will and my only job is to push against the rock. If it doesn’t move, I push at the start of the day and stop at the end. The rock is just the rock and it doesn’t move. If I push and it does move, then it moves, I lose my balance and fall on my face. Embarrassing to be sure, but assuming it doesn’t hurt too much, the worse that happens is that my face gets dirty and I have to get up again and figure out what happened. What did God change and why? What do I have to do with it and what should I do now? Once I figure out what I’m supposed to do, will I have the courage to do it?

Strange, I know, but remember, I don’t like change.

Even when I ask for it.

He is my God, my living redeemer.
Rock of my affliction in time of trouble…

-from Adon Olam

So the rock has moved. I need to move too.

 

Sukkot and Simchat Torah: Abundant Life

Without Torah it is impossible for an individual to say that his life is full of things that cause him to offer G-d thanks; even if he enjoys mostly good times, he still cannot consider himself to be vitally alive, as most of a person’s time is occupied with food, drink and sleep, earning a living, etc.

A Jew, however, is inextricably bound to the “Torah of life,” and is therefore able to imbue all that he does with life; even while engaged in mundane affairs he cleaves to G-d by remembering that “All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven,” and “In all your ways shall you know Him.” (Mishlei 3:6; Tur and Shulchan Aruch , Orach Chayim 231.)

The result? “And you who cleave to the L-rd your G-d are entirely alive ,” (Devarim 4:4.) every moment of every day. Thus a person can and must thank G-d for granting him life and enabling him to reach this occasion.

“Shehecheyanu for Torah”
from “The Chassidic Dimension” series
Lesson for Berachah and Simchas Torah
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I periodically encounter some Jewish teachings and commentaries that apparently elevate the Jewish people at the expense of everyone else in the world. That is, it seems as if, at least in some corners of Judaism, that Jews see themselves as more spiritually elevated than Gentiles, regardless of any particular Gentile’s religious tradition, including Christianity. At first blush, this seems to smack of elitism if not downright bigotry, but we should remember that through the vast majority of Jewish history, at one time or another, most of the non-Jewish nations have tried to evict, enslave, or exterminate the Jews, in part, because of their “choseness” by God as a people.

It is a fact that God did give the Torah to the Children of Israel and it has been passed down, generation by generation to their modern descendents, the Jewish people. Yes, there was a “mixed multitude” of Gentiles standing with the Israelites at Sinai who also agreed to the full conditions of the covenant, but within a few short generations, not one distinctly Gentile person remained among Israel according to the Biblical record. They had all been completely assimilated into larger Israel, and their descendants became indistinguishable from Israelites who were fully, genetically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So if we choose to believe that without the Torah, the full yoke of the 613 mitzvot, (or those two hundred and some that can be performed today, especially outside the Land of Israel) that life cannot be lived to the fullest, then are the Jews saying that we Gentiles do not truly live our lives full of all good things?

Perhaps, at least according to the Chassidic Dimension reading I quoted above. But that’s not the end of the story, particularly for Christians.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 14 (ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

John 5:24-29 (ESV)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:7-10 (ESV)

It appears that the Gospel of John, the most “mystic” of the Gospels, at least according to Paul Philip Levertoff, has a lot to say about the life we have in Jesus Christ. And if indeed the Master is “the Word made flesh” who lived among his people, and he thus commanded his Jewish disciples to pass on that Word and make disciples of the nations of the world, then although we do not possess the Torah as the Jews do; as the set of conditions they must fulfill as part of the Sinai covenant, we possess the essence; the life of “Torah” in our faith and our salvation. We possess life to the fullest and have it abundantly.

Can we not also consider ourselves now “vitally alive” as the Jewish people do? Does that life not cause us to cry out in thanks and joy to God for all of His love, gifts, and provisions, even at those moments when we may be suffering?

Yahrtzeit of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), founder of the Breslov chasidic movement. Rebbe Nachman lived in Poland and the Ukraine, where he inspired thousands of Jews to greater love of God. Though he suffered the loss of his son and wife, Rebbe Nachman said: “You may fall to the lowest depths, heaven forbid, but no matter how low you have fallen, it is still forbidden to give up hope.” A few of his most famous teachings are: “It’s a great mitzvah to always be happy,” and “All the world is a narrow bridge — but the main thing is not to be afraid” (now a popular Hebrew song, Kol Ha-Olam Kulo). Every year on Rosh Hashana, tens of thousands of Jews travel to Uman (Ukraine) to pray at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman.

Day in Jewish History, Tishei 18
Aish.com

A chassid once traveled to one of the Chabad rebbes. He related to the rebbe that his deceased teacher had appeared to him in a dream with a frightening message: it had been decreed in heaven that one of this chassid’s children would pass away that year.

The rebbe heard his words, sighed, and remained silent. A reaction that certainly did not bode well.

As it was shortly before the holiday of Sukkot, the chassid remained till after the holiday. When it was time for him to return home, he approached the rebbe for his blessing. The rebbe happily assured him that his family would be well.

“Besides,” the rebbe asked, “what special deed did you do on Simchat Torah?”

The chassid recounted how during the hakafot he was standing on the side crying when he remembered that, after all, it was Simchat Torah! He washed his face and joined the dancing, ignoring his dread.

“You should know,” the rebbe said, “this is what caused the change in your situation.”

-Rabbi Yossy Gordon
“The Power of Joy”
Commentary on Sukkot and Simchat Torah
Chabad.org

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”

Luke 20:37-38 (ESV)

We are called not just to abundant life but to joy through our salvation in Christ. The Jewish Messiah allows us to partake in the blessings of such a completely full life that even in our tears, when we allow ourselves to be completely aware of God and His Presence among us, within pain and grief, there is still the light of joy. We are alive, and even those who have passed on to the “long sleep” remain alive in Him.

the-joy-of-torahIt’s difficult to communicate to most Christians the sheer happiness and celebration that is attached to Sukkot and Simchat Torah unless they’ve actually participated in those events and let themselves be immersed in such joy. And yet, even if we don’t “get” these or any of the other Jewish festivals, we should get why they are celebrating. The reason they’re celebrating is the same reason we should be celebrating. God is with us. How can we not feel completely, intensely alive?

Before we came to God through Christ, we were dead in our sins, completely separated from our Creator and so numb spiritually, that we lacked the ability to even be aware of God. (see Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13) Now we are not only alive, but abundantly and exceedingly alive. We have life to the fullest. We have life that extends beyond the mere beating of our hearts. We are alive in God.

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

Good Shabbos and Chag Sameach.

I’m Younger Than That Now

When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen

“It Was a Very Good Year” (1961)
-composed by Ervin Drake

A self-ordained professor’s tongue, too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
Equality, I spoke the word as if a wedding vow
Ahh, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

My Back Pages” (1964)
-composed by Bob Dylan

This is a counterpoint to this morning’s meditation, which had a distinctively forlorn tone and pessimistic outlook. Life can be like that for me sometimes. I suppose it can be like that for some of you on occasion. But something LeVar Burton said on twitter about 1968 made me think back. I actually “misremembered” the famous chorus to Dylan’s tune as, “I was so much younger then, I’m older than that now.”

When I looked up My Back Pages (and I’m probably remembering The Byrds’s cover of the song), I realized my mistake. Then the Drake song, made famous by Frank Sinatra, popped into my head.

That’s more like it. That’s what I was thinking. That’s what I was feeling. I was so much younger then, and it was a very good year.

But this is supposed to be optimistic, isn’t it?

I’m utterly convinced that the key to lifelong success is the regular exercise of a single emotional muscle: gratitude.

People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.

By contrast, people who lack gratitude are never truly happy. If they succeed at a task, they don’t enjoy it. For them, a string of successes is like trying to fill a bucket with a huge leak in the bottom. And failure invariably makes them bitter, angry, and discouraged.

Therefore, if you want to be successful, you need to feel more gratitude. Fortunately, gratitude, like most emotions, is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger and more resilient it becomes.

-Geoffrey James
“True Secret to Success (It’s Not What You Think)”
Inc.com

That reminds me of the very first meditation I wrote for this blog, exactly 14 months ago today.

“I gratefully thank You, living and existing King
for restoring my soul to me with compassion.
Abundant is your faithfulness.”

Blessing Upon Arising in the Morning

It’s the one Jewish blessing I still allow myself to recite and virtually the first coherent thought I have upon awakening each morning.

I’m grateful to wake up alive.

In his article, Geoffrey James calls gratitude the “secret to success.” He talks about making a list of everything that happened to you during the day that makes you grateful and writing it all down before going to bed. He says that the more you practice gratitude, the more it will become part of your “reprogramming.”

It’s funny, but I think the Jewish sages had that idea long before James wrote his wee article for Inc.com.

Of course, that’s how we learn just about anything, by practicing. I suppose that’s true of being grateful. I suppose that’s true about having a relationship with God. Like any relationship, it takes practice, patience, and lots of attention. You reap the rewards of whatever you put into it. If you practice too little, the rewards are very few.

Both “It Was a Very Good Year” and “My Back Pages” are retrospectives on life. The former song expands the person’s vision across an entire human lifespan while the latter is Dylan’s personal presentation of his disillusionment with the folk protest movement of the early 1960s.

I periodically become aware that there are more days behind me than there are ahead, but I take some comfort in my family, the next generation I see in my children, and the generation beyond that in my grandson.

And I take some comfort in God.

But it’s difficult not to look back and ponder all the youthful wonder and immature anguish, the carefree nights and days and the painful and terrible mistakes. Was I a better person then, or now? What have I learned. Was being seventeen really better? Am I younger or older than that now?

But however it’s all worked out, I haven’t forgotten to be grateful to God. I’m alive. I have a wife and three children. I have a grandson (and I can still hardly believe I’m a grandpa). I’m working. I live comfortably. I’m able to give something back to my community, which is a blessing. Life isn’t perfect, but God has been generous.

And I’m grateful. I should practice that more.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt somehow
Ahh, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

-Dylan

But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

-Drake

How do I feel?

I feel older. But sometimes, when I’m grateful, I feel young.

 

Giving Life

The Jews of Vitebsk, if you want to know the truth, at the time were known not to be generous givers to charity. When money needed to be raised for a worthy cause, it was no simple matter to extract hard currency out of them without applying a good deal of pressure. To their credit, however, it must be said that the Vitebskers could always be counted on to provide food for the hungry; indeed, the Talmud states that giving ready-to-eat food is greater than giving money to charity because it provides immediate relief, while the benefit of money is indirect.

One day a chassid from Vitebsk came to see the Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the third Chabad Rebbe, 1789-1866). He told the Rebbe that his only son was about to be drafted into the Russian army. Previously, only-sons were exempted automatically, but this year there was a new, tough policy and their precious child was in danger. “Please, Rebbe,” he entreated, “help us, save us.”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel shook his head sadly: “I’m sorry, I cannot help you in this matter.”

-Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles
“A Plate of Food”
Tales from the Past
Chabad.org

What does stinginess with money, a willingness to feed the hungry, and an only son of a chassid being drafted into the Russian army have in common? On the surface, not very much, but Rabbi Tilles’ commentary tells the whole tale.

But not quite all of it as you’ll see.

The chassid, after much begging and pleading, could not change the Rebbe’s answer, so he turned to another option, the Rebbe’s youngest son, with whom the chassid was good friends. The chassid beseeched the Rebbe’s son (and his eventual successor, Rabbi Shmuel 1834-1882; known as the Maharash), and the young Shmuel promised he would do what he could to change the Rebbe’s response. But when Shmuel approached his father with the matter, he was given the same answer that the Rebbe gave the chassid: “I cannot help him at all.”

Shortly thereafter, the Rabbi Menachem Mendel summoned his son to his study and asked him to bring a Midrash Tanchuma. The Rebbe leafed through it to the week’s reading of Mishpatim, and showed his son section 15 there, concerning the verse, “If money you will lend” (Exodus 22:24):

Says the Holy One, blessed be He: “A poor person was struggling for his life, to escape starvation, and you gave him a coin and saved his life. I promise that I will pay you back ‘a life for a life’: If tomorrow your son or daughter will be seriously ill or in any life-threatening situation, I will remember the good deed that you did… and I will repay you ‘a life for a life.’ “

Rabbi Shmuel was perplexed. What did his father have in mind in showing him this passage?

A few days later, the news reached Lubavitch that the chassid’s son had been released, and for no apparent reason. The Rebbe was visibly delighted by the report.

But there was a reason, at least according to Chassidic midrash (remember, we have no way of telling if this story is even remotely factual…but that’s not the point). There was something important in the lesson the Rebbe taught his son a few days earlier. What had the family of the draftee done to merit that their son be released from service and the restoration of his life? When questioned, neither parent could think of anything special. Then the boy’s mother thought of something.

“That very day, a poor person came to the house and asked us to give him something to eat. At first we told him that we were so worried about our son who was going to be drafted that day that we really couldn’t deal with him. But then he pleaded with us: it had been a long time since he had eaten anything at all and he was starving, and how could it be that a Jew did not have time or food for another Jew who was so hungry! We realized our mistake and served him a huge meal, from what we had prepared to be a special farewell meal for our son. None of us had the appetite to eat anyway, because we were so upset. Then…”

While this is a very inspiring tale, why should we pay any special attention to it? The story is like a thousand other stories of the Chassidim. What can it teach a Christian about kindness, charity, and giving life?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” –Matthew 25:31-40 (ESV)

So consider the next time someone needs a helping hand from you, even when you are in distress yourself, even when you are distracted by your own problems, and even if your problems are serious, such as the impending loss of your only son. The gift of one small morsel of food (and if it’s a huge meal, so much the better) to a hungry man may make a tremendous difference, not only for the hungry man, but for you.

Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. –Psalm 34:14 (ESV)

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? There are two ways to express the answer:

You have to keep moving forward. As long as you’re holding on to where you were yesterday, you’re standing still.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Don’t Just Stand There”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.

Dory

Do good. Seek peace. Keep swimming.