Tag Archives: lovingkindness

Learning to Love from God

“And Moshe said to his father-in-law, the people come to me to seek the Almighty.”

Exodus 18:15

Moshe had arranged for the people to come to him when they had questions. The prophet Shmuel, on the other hand, went to the people to deal with their needs. What can we learn from Shmuel about coming close to the Almighty?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz comments that one’s closeness to the Almighty is dependent upon one’s love for other people. Shmuel’s going to the people showed that he had great love and concern for them.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from the Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Yitro
Published in Growth Through Torah
quoted at Aish.com

To what can this be compared?

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:28-34 (NASB)

Rabbi Pliskin’s commentary continues:

Where did Shmuel get this great love other people? The Midrash says that the garment that his mother made for him when he was a child was with him his entire life. This garment, say Rabbi Shmuelevitz, was made with the profound love his mother had for him. This love became such a part of Shmuel that it manifested itself in his entire way of dealing with other people.

The love a mother shows her infants and young children by getting up in the middle of the night to take care of them implants in them a deep feeling of being loved. When such a child grows older he will have love for others. Any small thing a parent does with love for his children will pay off great dividends. The greater the child becomes the more many people will benefit from that love.

We learn to love other people because of the love shown to us by our Heavenly Father and by learning to love and draw close to Him. We also learn to love God by showing love to your spouses, our children, and anyone else around us, because God loves all those people, too.

Love is the fire in which Sinai burned and the fire in which Moses was with God. Love is the Spirit that dwells in each of us that comes from God.

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Waking Up New

The Talmudic Sages ask: “Who is the wise man?”

The answer: “One who sees (i.e., thinks about) the outcome of his actions.”

Keep asking yourself, “What is the goal of my present behavior?” and “What are the potential harmful consequences?” These two questions will enable you to have greater control over your behavior.

(Talmud – Tamid 32a; Rabbi Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, p.258)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #222: “Outcome Thinking”
Aish.com

I would be wonderful if we all did this, especially when faced with a morally questionable decision or one that otherwise has the potential to hurt another person, but human nature seems to dictate that we consider the outcome of our actions only after we have acted.

The value of this principle is greatest when a person is in the process of making teshuvah and attempting to repair the damage his or her sins have already done. No, repentance doesn’t change the past, though we often wish it would, but considering the outcome of our actions can work to prevent us from repeating our mistakes.

In other words, we can’t “undo” previous sins, but we can consider the impact of present and future actions and keep ourselves from sinning again.

Our problem is how to live what we pray, how to make our lives a daily commentary on our prayer book, how to live in consonance with what we promise, how to keep faith with the vision we pronounce.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “The Goal and the Way,” p.94
Man’s Quest for God

However, a sort of strange paradox can occur. As I said, we can’t change the past but we can change the future, so to speak, by considering our actions in the present. But what about all the damage we’ve done up to this point? What about all of the hurt we’ve caused, all the disappointment that’s already a result of what we’ve done? How can we possibly lift that kind of weight off our backs in order to even begin to move toward the future?

The very first prayer of the day is Modeh Ani, which is recited immediately upon awakening. The prayer ends with the words, “great is Your faithfulness.” This praise underscores the fundamental importance of our trust in Hashem’s faithfulness in watching over us. Iyun Tefillah relates this phrase to the verse in Eichah (3:23): “They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness…

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.63
Commentary for Sunday on Parashas Va’eira
A Daily Dose of Torah

Or, in other words…

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities

Psalm 51:2-9 (NASB)

In terms of cause and effect in the present world, what we’ve done in the past is done and cannot be undone. But once a person has repented sincerely of his or her sins, God does not simply put them in the past, but it is as if the person had never sinned at all. Each new morning you wake up a completely new person with no debts to be repaid as far as God is concerned. God is faithful to forgive and to treat us as if we had never sinned, as if we were pure, faultless, and blameless.

And on that basis, we can wake up and consider ourselves a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a brand new life waiting to be lived. Then, as we proceed throughout our day, at the point where we are making decisions, we can feel free to stop and consider the consequences of each action. Since we have a brand new life to live, using our experience with past failures as a guide, we can choose to avoid certain decisions in favor of others that will have a better outcome.

Going back to the Modei Ani, it’s not just that God is faithful in returning our souls each morning, and it’s not just that we put our faith in Him, but God has faith in us:

Chasam Sofer, commenting on this phrase, translates it to mean, “great is your faith in us.”

Though we are careless and abusive in the treatment of our souls, which Hashem has entrusted to us, He returns them to us again and again, confident that we will use them properly in His service.

-“A Daily Dose of Torah,” ibid

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100

No matter what sort of past we’ve led, we can still have a bright future with God in His service. Only God can untie us from the tyranny of guilt and shame and free us to serve Him in joy and boundless gratitude, for great is His faith in us.

In the Matter of True Teshuvah

Chovos HaLevavos lists seven things of which a sinner must be cognizant if he is to attain true teshuvah.

  1. He must be regretful and ashamed of his evil behavior.
  2. He must know that the deed was wrong, and recognize the wickedness of his act.
  3. He must know that Hashem is aware of his misdeed and that punishment (without forgiveness) is inevitable.
  4. He must understand that teshuvah is the cure that he requires.
  5. He should make an accounting of all the good that Hashem has done for him.
  6. He must contrast this with his own disobedience, and use it as a spur to his resolve not to sin further.
  7. He must take concrete steps to avoid sinning again.

One who undertakes to satisfy these requirements can attain true teshuvah.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.192
Tuesday’s commentary on Parashas Vayechi
A Daily Dose of Torah

“One who undertakes to satisfy these requirements can attain true teshuvah.”

True teshuvah.

I’ve written a lot about repentance, both in the past and more recently. But it’s something that’s difficult to maintain and easy to neglect, thus my mind and heart have drifted off into other topics lately.

But it’s as if God were “programming” my study materials to remind me and bring me back on course:

No enslavement and no tyranny are as ruthless and as demanding as slavery to physical desires and passions. Someone who is unable to resist a craving, and who must, like a brute beast, do whatever the body demands, is more profoundly enslaved than someone subject to a human tyrant. Addicted people are an extreme example of those who have become slaves to their bodies.

Dignity comes from freedom, in the capacity to make free choices, and hence, in our ability to refuse to submit to physical desires when our judgment indicates that doing so is wrong. Freedom from domination by the body is the first step toward spiritual growth.”

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
from “Growing Each Day” for Tevet 8
Aish.com

PrisonAs Rabbi Twersky suggests, we each choose our own prison, but often, when attempting to make teshuvah and overcome a lifetime of error and disobedience, it seems as if you’re perpetually making a prison break. It can be very discouraging.

But then again…

In our Yom Kippur prayers, we say, “until the day of [a person’s] death, He waits for him; if he repents, He will accept him immediately.” This prayer reveals the tremendous mercy that Hashem shows toward his creations. A person may have been a sinner his entire life, doing evil constantly without regard for Hashem or His Torah. As his life is coming to an end, when he does not even have strength left to sin, he contemplates his future, and repents of his past. Surely this is a less than perfect teshuvah! Yet Hashem not only will accept it, He does so immediately, without reservation. As we say elsewhere in the Yom Kippur prayers, “we are filled with iniquity, but You are filled with mercy.”

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.195
Tuesday’s commentary on Parashas Vayechi
A Daily Dose of Torah

This isn’t an excuse to wait for the last moment to repent, but rather is it encouragement and hope that no matter how long you have been buried in habitual sin, and no matter how far you have fallen, and no matter how distant you are from God, you can return and He will accept true teshuvah immediately.

But as we saw above, “true teshuvah” is no small thing. As I’ve said previously, it is hardly a matter of just saying “I’m sorry” and then it’s all good. Teshuvah is a life-changing event, and well it should be. It is turning your life around completely and starting off in a brand new direction, the polar opposite of the path you previously trod.

But we can’t do it alone. Without God, no one of us has the will to completely subdue our evil inclination and to make true teshuvah.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12 (NASB)

I’m sure you recognize this as part of David’s sincere plea to God for forgiveness for the multiple and heinous willful sins he committed in the matter of Bathsheba. There is no sacrifice in the Temple for willful sin, and the only sacrifice that is acceptable before God for such sins is “a broken spirit and a broken and a contrite heart” (verse 17).

And this is exactly what God is waiting for from each of us:

As we pray each day, the knowledge that Hashem is not wrathful or vengeful, but is rather a merciful God Who desires our sincere repentance, should act as a powerful stimulant, giving us the fortitude to mend our ways and live our lives as servants of Hashem.

-“A Closer Look at the Siddur,” ibid

But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever.
I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it,
And I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.

Psalm 52:8-9

PrayerIn the Days of Awe surrounding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the shofar blast is meant to be something of a “wake up call” from God to the Jewish people to repent, for time is short. But actually we can repent at an moment, and God will listen and be merciful. However, this happens only if we’re diligent and serious about teshuvah, about turning around and returning to Him. We all must answer the call and answer today and everyday.

Amen.

A Psalm for My Dad

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
The Lord performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
To those who keep His covenant
And remember His precepts to do them.
The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Psalm 103

I love you, Dad. Get better soon.

Shemini: Chesed to the Stranger

acts-of-kindnessThe following you shall abominate among the birds — they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, and the black vulture; the stork; herons of every variety; the hoopoe, and the bat.

Leviticus 11:13,19 (JPS Tanakh)

The Talmud (Chulin 63a) states that the Hebrew name for the white stork is chasida, because it acts with kindness, chesed, towards its friends.

The Ramban, Moshe Nachmanides, a great Torah scholar, writes that the birds enumerated in this portion are forbidden for consumption because of their cruelty. Why, then, should the stork be considered “detestable” and an “abomination”? It should be permissible since it does kindness!

The Chidushai Ha-Rim answers: The stork does favors only for its friends. Since it doesn’t do chesed for strangers, it is considered not kosher. Chesed, kindness, must be done for everyone, not only one’s friends!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemini
Aish.com

It seems strange that we could learn lessons about treating others with charity and lovingkindness from the Laws of Kashrut, but the esteemed sages have illustrated this passage thus. Perhaps you would like something more familiar.

Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18 (JPS Tanakh)

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:39

But as the famous question goes, who is our neighbor?

The Torah teaches us, “Love your fellow human being as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). It is often translated as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” However, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter taught that while the words “neighbor” and “fellow human being” are often used synonymously, in everyday speech the word “neighbor” is used to denote someone living or located nearby, while the obligation of this commandment includes a complete stranger who lives far away.

The general rule for this commandment is that anything you would want others to do for you, you should do for others (Rambam, Hilchos Aivel 14:1). The great Hillel once taught a convert, “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. That is the basis of the Torah.” (Shabbos 31a). The Baal Shem Tov used to say, “Love your fellow man as yourself — though you have many faults, nevertheless, you still love yourself. That is how you should feel toward your friend. Despite his faults, love him.”

-Rabbi Packouz

Not just your neighbor who is close to you, and not just your fellow who is like you, but even people who are far away and who you do not know…even people you may not like.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

What is Chesed? What is truly giving kindness if not showing love and concern for another human being, even when they’re a stranger, or even when there has been bitterness and enmity between you?

One thing I can attest for is his integrity. He was one of the few who called me after my last surgery to find how I am despite our bitter feud. None of you did. Give the guy a break, we must not take love out of the equation.

Chesed is calling up a sick person and showing compassion, even though at all other times you bitterly argue with that person. Chesed is a love note placed in a bottle and tossed into the sea for anyone who may need love to find, no matter how far away they may be. Chesed is a can of soup donated to a food bank for any hungry person to eat. Chesed is smiling at a stranger you pass on the street.

More about chesed on The Transcendent Path.

Good Shabbos.

Bo: I Will Betroth You to Me Forever

Laying Tefillin “And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand the Lord freed us from Egypt.”

Exodus 13:16 (JPS Tanakh)

The Children of Israel are commanded to consecrate all firstborn, and to observe the anniversary of the Exodus each year by removing all leaven from their possession for seven days, eating matzah, and telling the story of their redemption to their children. They are also commanded to wear tefillin on the arm and head as a reminder of the Exodus and their resultant commitment to G‑d.

“Bo in a Nutshell”
Summary of Torah Portion Bo
Chabad.org

It isn’t easy for most Christians to understand many aspects of Jewish religious and ritual life. We can comprehend the need to pray, to gather together in worship, and to acknowledge God as King over all, but the way that Jews express their faith is often alien to Christians, especially Protestants, since we don’t have a strong ritual component (relative to Judaism) in our private and corporate worship lives.

Take Tefillin (phylacteries) for example. Why should a man have to wrap straps around one arm and the forehead with little boxes attached in order to pray to God? In this case, modern Jews are obeying a very ancient commandment from God as quoted above.

Here’s the commandment again as expressed in scripture that is also a part of the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this is also part of what Jesus referenced when asked about the two greatest commandments.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31 (ESV)

If you put the commandment of tefillin within the context of loving God and loving your neighbor, then obeying this mitzvot is a sign of that love and adoration, not only of the Creator above, but of your fellow human being, because you cannot say you are performing the former if you do not perform the latter.

daven-tefillin-siddurOne of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) commentaries for Torah Portion Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) specifically addresses the commandment of tefillin.

There is some argument over whether the commandment of tefillin was meant to be taken literally, or if it is just a figurative language. In the Near East, it was once common for blood covenant partners to exchange amulet-like pouches which contained tokens, or even full copies, of their covenant obligations to one another. These were worn as bracelets or necklaces. The commandment of tefillin is consistent with that ancient ritual, especially when one considers the rabbinic tradition that God Himself wears tefillin with Israel’s name on them. In that sense, the tefillin are similar to wedding rings. In fact, while a Jew winds the black leather straps for tefillin of the hand about his middle finger like a ring, he recites the betrothal passage from the book of Hosea:

“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD.” (Hosea 2:19–20)

The binding on of tefillin is a tangible, ritual reminder of our obligation to bind God’s commandments on our very lives. God’s Word is to be between our eyes, filtering all that we see and think. It is to be bound on our hands, weighing all that we set our hands to do.

As you can see, the love and marital symbolism is unmistakable and in reciting the blessings for donning tefillin, the Jewish heart is drawn in affection and adoration toward God…

…and toward each other.

As we were saying goodbye, I said to the man who had been asking the questions: “I suppose that you have a special interest in tefillin; is that was why you were asking those questions about them?”

“I haven’t put on tefillin for over 20 years!” was his reply.

“But you should!” I responded.

He then said: “Everyone here is now going home to sleep, but I am going to work. I own a bakery, and we work all through the night. If you want me to put on tefillin, you can come to my bakery at about 6:30 AM. At that time we are between bakes, and I’ll put on tefillin.”

I must admit that this was not my style, but I could not refuse, so at 6:30 Wednesday morning I arrived at his bakery with tefillin, prayerbook and skullcap, and amongst the sacks of flour he put on tefillin. What surprised me was that he needed no help—he knew exactly what to do and what to say.

After he finished, I said to him: “You obviously know how to put on tefillin, and you know the blessings and the prayers. Why don’t you do it regularly?” He told me that he didn’t own a pair of tefillin, and it was not one of his priorities to buy a pair—but if someone gave him a pair of tefillin, he would put them on regularly. I answered that I was returning to England via New York, but I expected to be back in Detroit in about six weeks, and that I would bring him a pair of tefillin.

-Benzion Rader
“Another Day Without Tefillin?”
Chabad.org

This is part of a rather lengthy story about one Jew going well out of his way (much more than the segment above indicates) to make sure another Jew could fulfill the commandment of tefillin. You might ask yourself if it was so important to the baker to daven with tefillin, why didn’t he just purchase some for himself?

jews-praying-in-the-snowI don’t know. Regardless of his reasons or circumstances, once the other man became aware of the situation, he became obligated to help his fellow Jew. You can click the link I provided to read the entire article, but in short, here’s the rest of the story. The transaction between the businessman and the baker happened in Detroit. The businessman stopped in New York on his way back home to London to consult with the Rebbe in Crown Heights (Brooklyn), and the Rebbe convinced the businessman to make sure the baker had acquired tefillin immediately, before going back home rather than waiting six weeks. With great difficulty due to limited time and finances, the businessman was finally able to purchase tefillin and had them shipped to Detroit so that the baker would not go one more day without being able to pray with tefillin.

I left for London only after advising the Rebbe what had been arranged, and after waiting to hear that they had been collected and delivered in Detroit.

A few months later, I met this person again in Detroit, and asked him how he was doing with the tefillin. He told me that he had not missed a day—even walking home in the snow one day when his car broke down so that he put on the tefillin before sundown. He said: “Because of the trouble you went to in order that I should receive the tefillin the very next day, they are especially important to me.”

Again, this might seem rather a strange thing to a Christian since we do not experience any circumstance or situation that would inhibit or diminish our prayers, and certainly nothing like a physical object or device used in prayer.

Nevertheless, from a Jewish point of view, everything that happened was the performance of a single act of love in order to help one Jewish man perform another act of love…by davening with tefillin.

The results are obvious.

Good Shabbos.