Tag Archives: nudnik

Learning Smallness

smallThe words of the wise are heard with pleasantness.

Ecclesiastes 9:17

The Talmud states that on Friday afternoon, a person must alert his household to prepare the necessities for Shabbos. However, he must do so in a soft voice, so that his words will be obeyed.

Many late Friday afternoons, people feel themselves under pressure while rushing to prepare for Shabbos. If one sees that some things have not yet been done, it is easy to lose composure and scream at other members of the household. The Talmud cautions against doing so and implies that shouted instructions are less likely to be carried out.

A politician who had concluded an address inadvertently left a copy of his speech on the lectern. In the margins were comments indicating manners of delivery, e.g. “gesture,” “clap hands,” “slow and emphatically,” etc. At one point he had written, “Argument awfully weak here. Scream loudly.”

If we have something of substance to say, the message will be adequately conveyed in a soft tone, because the content alone will carry it. Only when our words have little substance do we seek to make an impression by delivering them with many decibels.

Even in situations of great urgency, we have no need to lose our composure. I can attest that when life-threatening emergencies presented themselves in the hospital, greater efficiency and more rapid response ensued when everyone kept a cool head.

The words of Solomon are correct. The wise speak pleasantly, and those who shout may not be wise.

Today I shall…

…keep my voice soft and pleasant at all times, especially when I have something urgent to communicate.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tammuz 4”
Aish.com

That isn’t easy to do. A sudden surge of adrenalin as you see a small child run into traffic after a ball will make just about anyone yell, “Stop!” Of course, under that circumstance, a raised voice is perfectly understandable and justified, but most of the time when we raise our voices or otherwise try to push our weight around, it’s not.

Although we don’t generally have audible “voices” in the blogosphere, nevertheless, we tend to “yell” at each other. As Rabbi Twerski taught in the above-quoted paragraphs, human beings tend to yell the loudest when our positions are the weakest. We tend to attack others when we feel insecure about ourselves.

What should we do instead?

The Alter Rebbe writes in his Siddur: It is proper to say before prayer, I hereby take upon myself to fulfill the mitzva – “Love your fellowman as yourself.” This means that the precept of ahavat yisrael is the entry-gate through which man can pass to stand before G-d to daven. By merit of that love the worshipper’s prayer is accepted.

“Today’s Day”
Monday, Tammuz 2, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Sounds sort of like this:

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NRSV)

forgive-nudnikI’ve wasted a certain amount of time being unkind lately. I’d like to say that I’ll never make that mistake again but I probably will. It’s a mistake because what I say won’t change people unless they want to change. It’s a mistake because what I’ve said does nothing to make me a better person. It’s a mistake because what I’ve said has distanced me from people I truly love.

I struggle between leaving the others who are sometimes abrasive to walk their path and the desire to inject a word of justice into unkind conversations.

But it never works out well for me or for anyone and it is not a path to God.

What is?

Nothingness is the medium through which all energy moves, from above to below and from below to above.

Below, in the human heart, a sense of nothingness that transcends ego. Above, a Nothingness that transcends all boundaries and planes.

The nothingness below fuses with the Nothingness above, locking heaven and earth in an intimate embrace.

That is why G‑d is found amongst the truly humble.

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

Moses was considered the most humble man on earth (Numbers 12:3) and yet Israel considers him their greatest prophet. Most of the “loud voices” on the Internet today (including mine) aren’t particularly concerned with humility and in fact, humility frightens them because they (we, I) consider it equivalent to being “nothing.” However as we’ve seen, nothingness is a desirable trait. So is being small, as Rabbi Freeman also teaches:

“Rebbe!” the man cried. “Nobody gives me respect! Everybody steps all over me and my opinions!”

—“And who told you to fill the entire space with yourself, so that wherever anyone steps, they step on you?”

hero-largeI think part of my desire to inject justice into other online realms is related to the sense of smallness. I experience being stepped on or seeing others step on those who I care about and I become indignant, like the person who cried out, “Rebbe! Nobody gives me respect!” I need to relearn humility as a desirable trait and as a result, learn to stop being concerned with the opinions and petty slights of others.

I mean, it’s not like I’m unaware of the humility of our Fathers or of my own experiences learning humility. If I focus on those areas where I need to improve and strive to encounter God with more dedication, I won’t have time to be concerned about the thoughts and opinions of others who seem to continually feel offended. I also may avoid offending those people I consider friends who may be hurt by what I say and do.

I suppose that at some point, maybe even fairly soon, I’ll encounter someone saying something that I object to and the temptation to respond will overwhelm my good sense. I pray that God will guard me from such a time and such individuals and most of all, guard me from my own foolishness in thinking that I must engage such people or express my own small opinion. The only thing I must do is to diminish in the Presence of God, and allow Him to overflow into the spaces I create in me.

Make yourself small and you will be great.

Know you are nothing and you will be infinite.

At the very least, don’t make such a big deal of yourself
and you will be all that much closer to the truth.

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

May God turn my heart and mind to Him alone and accustom me to seek the company of righteous people who are uplifting and inspiring. By being the lowest, sitting at the bottom of the abyss, I can only pray that He will one day raise me up to see light again.

 

Advertisements

Finding My Exit

no-exitWhen you and the path you have chosen get along just great, it’s hard to know whether your motives are sincere.

But when you come across a path to do good, and this path goes against every sinew of your flesh and every cell in your brain, when you want only to flee and hide from it —do this.

Then you shall know your motives are sincere.

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

I hit what seemed to be a pretty significant wall this past weekend. Hopefully not too many people noticed, but I was turning myself into knots inside and very seriously doubting my current path for a day or two.

The first event that contributed to this mess was from divisiveness in the blogosphere. I should have known better, but a miscommunication between a friend and I and then another in a long series of online “nastygrams” caused me to question whether or not my friend was pulling away from me and pulling much of my current world view along with him (long story).

As personal as the first event was, the second event was far more intimate. On Sunday morning, my wife and I were having a small chat before I left for church. I happened to mention that Pastor Randy gave me a paper on the different arguments between Arminianism and Calvinism and my difficulties in they way the author of the article was expressing his viewpoint.

I didn’t think much of it, but my wife, who is Jewish, started touting how Judaism has received the Torah in an unbroken line between Sinai and the present and that in any response to changes of circumstances across time, the Rabbis always consult the core text and all applications are based on strict adherence to the Torah, thus avoiding the problems I was having with a Christian commentary.

I think it was her attempt to show me that Judaism has a better handle on the Bible and thus on God than Christianity, which I don’t mind, but in our conversation, she brought up how, if the Christian view of the Bible were true, then it totally invalidates Jews and Judaism.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that her perception of Christianity is not what I believe at all. And yet I was confronted with a dilemma. I could explain, thanks to all of the information I’ve captured within this blog, why I believe she’s wrong and why a Messianic interpretation of “Christianity” is wholly Jewish, but my being a “prophet without honor in my own land” (and needless to say, in my own family), how would she take it?

The worst that would happen if I were talking to any other Jewish person was that they’d tell me I was “full of it” and walk away (not that I desire to insult anyone). But what would be the worst that would happen if that transaction were to occur between me and my wife?

I didn’t want to find out so I let the conversation die.

But as I went to church, I was confronted with two highly significant relationships in my life being (apparently) damaged, all because of who I am and my faith in Christ.

I remembered part of a conversation I had with my Pastor. I told him I left the Hebrew Roots movement in part because I knew my participation was very embarrassing to my wife. He asked me, somewhat incredulously, if my being a Christian and going to church were any less embarrassing to a Jewish wife. I absolutely didn’t consider that before, but at that moment and again last Sunday morning, it hit me like a punch in the teeth from Mike Tyson.

I also couldn’t help but consider a few verses.

Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

Ezra 10:10-11 (NRSV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Matthew 10:34-38 (NRSV)

leavingThe Master doesn’t address husband and wife specifically, but it wasn’t hard for me to read between the lines. And in relation to Ezra, I guess I would be the “foreign wife.”

I wasn’t afraid this would dissolve my marriage, but I could see my friendship receding into the distance and, as damage control, what would be my only option to contain this conflict? If my wife was saying that my being a Christian made me “anti-Semitic” by definition, then how could I prove otherwise except to stop going to church? But how could I stop going to church and maintain my faith in Christ?

The conflict between my faith and my marriage came abruptly into sharp focus.

So last Sunday at church was miserable, not because of church, but because of me.

It’s actually pretty painful to see all of the other couples at church because they’re couples. There’s no conflict that I can see between husband and wife because of their faith. They sit together at church, they bring their children, they go to Sunday school together, they support each other’s views.

That’s also true of most people (but not all) I know in the Messianic movement. I sometimes feel like the only oddball.

So with a nudnik (and I know something about nudniks) trying to drive a wedge between my friend and me on the one side, and my most recent “religious conversation” with my wife on the other, who I am supposed to be at Christ was stuck soundly in the middle. All I could see were “no option options.” I was in a box with no way out, a room with no exit.

So what happened?

I did what I always try to do under similar circumstances…I didn’t do anything about it. The temptation was to act impulsively to reduce the discomfort, but that’s usually the wrong thing to do.

After church, there was plenty of gardening to do and that’s relatively mindless work, so I had a lot of time to think. After that, I was given the annual task of cleaning out my book closet (if left to my own devices, I’d keep everything I’ve ever owned). My wife and daughter tackled the equally daunting job of cleaning out and arranging the food pantry.

My son Michael came over by the by and cooked dinner for us while we were working. By the by, my wife and I interacted and I noticed that she was behaving, not as if I were an anti-Semite in the camp, but like I’m her husband and we’re doing typical Sunday evening family stuff together in our home.

The bubbling pot began to cool.

I got an email later that night allaying my other concern and reminding me that just because “bad attitude” people try to interfere with friendships doesn’t mean those friendships are any less established. The message couldn’t have come at a better time.

when-the-forest-beckonsThis whole episode reminded me that I have a duty to my wife to share the Good News of Messiah with her. The problem is, she’s already heard it, accepted it within the church, re-accepted it within a Hebrew Roots context, and, when transitioning first to the Reform-Conservative synagogue in town and then the Chabad, chosen to reject the Gospel of Jesus “because that’s not what Jews believe.”

I wish I could convince her otherwise, but that “Good News” might not be easy for her to hear coming from me, especially when I’m competing with the Chabad Rabbi, a lot of anti-missionary rhetoric, and two-thousand years of post-Jesus Jewish history.

That particular “adventure” is to be continued, but I do have a message for blogging nudniks who deliberately try to mess up friendships in order to further their own agendas:

There are people who believe they are doing good by swallowing others’ egos alive. The egos of those they cannot help, and of those who cannot help them, are inedible to them—and therefore intolerable. They cannot work with others—because their egos leave no space for “others”—only for those extensions of their own inflated selves that show they need them, or for those whom they need.

You don’t love your neighbor to glorify your own ego. When you come to your sister’s or brother’s aid, leave your own self behind. Love with self-sacrifice.

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

If you come to realize that what you do is not for the sake of Heaven but for the requirements of your own ego or emotions, then the need for you to attend to your own affairs is far, far greater than whatever temporary issues I may be experiencing.

I found the exit from my no-exit room and am continuing down the path that God has set before me.

26 Days: Are You Waiting For Me to Leave?

leavingHow many days you have left, and how many more article can you milk from the dry turnip?

-A comment to me on one of my recent blog posts

A person who is serious about self-improvement will be grateful to anyone who points out his faults! (Whereas a person who does not have a strong desire for self-improvement will deny that he has any faults – even those which are blatant.)

Utilize the criticism of others as an opportunity for introspection.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #1123, Accepting Criticism”
Aish.com

It’s just amazing how people will address you when the Internet stands between the two of you. I’ve written before about how rude people tend to be when communicating on the web, and how (in all likelihood) they’d be a tad bit more civil if they had to talk with you face-to-face.

I started the “Days” series in part because of my internal response to Internet “crankiness.” After all, who wants to put up with a collection of people who continually complain at you (me) because you won’t fully endorse their opinions on a topic you have in common? Not me. Of course, there are some folks who say that it’s not “crankiness” or complaining that motivates them, but rather the use of “challenging discourse” as a method of learning. I set aside that particular excuse for rudeness awhile ago.

But my critic hit the nail on the head. I have 26 days left in my self-imposed countdown. Do I disappear then to avoid the “challenges” of “crankiness” on the Internet?

On the one hand, life would be a little more calm without the continual “noise” of social networking, but amid the noise, there’s occasional “signal” that is beneficial. Should I put up with those who have a particularly low signal to noise ratio because I benefit from others who possess a much higher ratio? Is it worth it?

On the other hand, I don’t like being pushed around and I don’t like bullies. If someone doesn’t like the content I generate, they don’t have to visit my blog. I’ve stopped visiting the blogs and websites of nudniks because it was foolish of me to engage people who would only talk at me and never listen. Disagreement is fine and I can certainly live with it. Hostility for its own sake I can live without.

There are people who do gracefully criticize me when I get things wrong, and as stinging as it can be, I actually appreciate it. On the other hand, these are people who can bring such matters to my attention without behaving as if my error or ignorance has personally insulted them. I’m finding that’s a rare and special gift among human beings.

If someone is critical of you in a harsh tone of voice, try telling them the following:

“I appreciate your strong feelings about the matter, but I would appreciate the comments more if they were expressed more pleasantly.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #304, Soften Criticism”
Aish.com

I don’t like to “call out” individuals on my blog. It’s happened to me on numerous occasions on more than one blog and I find it ungracious and offensive. On the other hand, I couldn’t illustrate my point without quoting what one of my critics said to me earlier, so to my critic, I apologize if I caused you embarrassment. I really do just want to point out that if your criticism of me is out of a sincere desire to help me become a better person, there are more constructive ways to go about it.

I have to consider that there are some people out there who can’t just leave my blog alone and who really do want me to give up and pull the plug at the end of the month. Frankly, if I bother some folks that much then I suspect they may need to get another hobby or maybe even a life, since I’m not that significant in either the blogosphere or the human race.

But if there are people who want me to leave, that’s probably a good reason for me to stay. Remember, I don’t like bullies. If you don’t like me, don’t read my blog. I don’t read your blogs and I certainly don’t comment on them. I don’t need to hang around people who suck the joy out of life and living just because they can.

If you have a suggestion on how I can be better that is motivated by a sincere desire to help and you can express it without hostility, please let me know, either in a blog comment or via email. If you are complaining about me just because you can, I invite you to go elsewhere.

Thank you.

75 Days: A Little Help, Please

All over people are fighting. Religious fighting, national fighting, family fighting. Some are even ready to die because they think they’re right. How are we ever going to put this world back together?

Way #11 is dik’duk chaveirim – literally “cut if fine with friends.” See the importance of sitting down, of reasoning together. Don’t assume your viewpoint is correct. Open yourself to the ideas of others. “You don’t have to kill me. If you persuade me that you’re right, then I’ll join you.”

We need real friends – someone you can trust, to discuss plans, feelings, ambitions. With a friend, you don’t worry about scoring points or winning ego contests. A good friend will listen to the pros and cons and give you straight, honest feedback.

This is especially important with decisions like: Should I marry so-and-so? Should I accept this job offer? Should I move into this neighborhood? Everyone has different insights. Amongst many people you’ll find many solutions.

Some roads can be traveled alone, but the road of life shouldn’t be one of them. Go with a friend.

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“Way #11: Work It Through With Friends”
From the “48 Ways To Wisdom” series
Aish.com

So James, have you thought in terms that you’re robbing people of your fellowship? You have something that is vitally needed to be heard by the Christian community. Not to mention your sweet and gracious nature that is a great example.

I will also respectfully say you’re limiting God. I find that if I trust Him enough to obey and not focus on all the reasons I can’t, shouldn’t, it’s too hard too, then He is faithful to work out the details that I have no control over (the heart condition of others). After all, he doesn’t ask me to control others, only to obey Him.

-Lrw in a recent comment on my blog

What do I do when my love is away
Does it worry you to be alone?
How do I feel by the end of the day
Are you sad because you’re on your own

No, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends

-Lennon and McCartney
With a Little Help from My Friends

I suppose that’s how we all get through things…with a little help from friends. As you can see, it’s been suggested to me that not only might I benefit from fellowship with like-minded believers, but that they might benefit from fellowship with me. Sounds egotistical of me to say it like that, but I think I know what Lrw is saying. This is especially true when, as I’ve been describing in this series, there seems to be so much fighting and feuding and jockeying for position in the religious blogosphere and particularly within the Hebrew Roots movement.

But I must say that religious fighting and religious “haters” aren’t limited to the small corner of cyberspace I happen to occupy. Here’s two examples. First, from the Jewish side of things:

Question: I recently stumbled on an anti-Semitic website and they had a whole list of Talmud sayings that sound very non-PC. One example was: “It is permitted to marry a 3-year-old girl,” which they said means that Judaism condones sexual abuse of a young child. Another example was: “The best of the Gentiles, kill.” Does the Talmud really say this stuff?

The Aish Rabbi Replies: Misquoting Talmudic texts or taking them out of context is an age-old method used to incite anti-Semitism.

In the example that you cite, that a Jew may marry a 3-year-old girl, it simply means that under the age of 3, a “marriage” contract has no validity. Beyond that, any “marriage arrangement” made at above the age of 3 must be accepted and validated by the girl herself at such time that she attains maturity. The Talmud is discussing a technical legal point, not condoning abhorrent sexual activities.

As for: “The best of the gentiles, kill,” the context here is very crucial. The question was raised, how could there be any horses chasing after the Jews with chariots (in Exodus 14:7), when they were all killed in the plague of hail (Exodus 9:19). The Midrash (Tanchuma – Beshalach 8) answers that the horses were owned by those who heeded God’s warnings and locked his animals indoors (Exodus 9:20).

The Midrash concludes that these God-fearing Egyptians — the best Egyptians — turned out to be the ones that gave their horses to chase the Jewish people. In other words, in this particular instance, even the best Egyptians turned out to be oppressors, too. Yet even they – “the best of the gentiles” – were deserving of death.

The Torah states unequivocally that ALL men were created in the image of God (Genesis chapter 1). In fact, the Talmud emphasizes that Adam was created from the dust of all four corners of the earth (so to speak), so that no one nation could claim superiority. And of course, it is forbidden for a Jew to kill a Gentile. (source: Talmud Sanhedrin 57a; “Taz” Y.D. 158:1).

So you see, one can change the meaning of anything by taking it out of context. And better not to waste time refuting these points one by one. God’s Torah is morally perfect, and if something ever sounds otherwise, it is because it is not understood properly.

“Misquoting the Talmud”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series
Aish.com

Christianity in general has an issue with the Talmud and how it is used in Judaism, believing that it is of no value and that it is the “wisdom of the elders” being placed higher than the Word of God. The Hebrew Roots movement also tends to disdain the Talmud and thus, the last 2,000 years or so of Jewish culture and philosophy as well as Jewish art, literature, lifestyle, and just about anything else Jewish that isn’t, strictly speaking, “Biblical.” And yet, it’s impossible in virtually any sense, for anyone, Jew or Gentile alike, to observe the Torah mitzvot without referencing Talmud and granting the ancient Jewish sages the right and ability to render authoritative halakah. In fact, the very structure of the books, chapters, and verses in the Tanakh (Old Testament) was created by those self-same sages. Try to avoid that if you can.

However, this isn’t just a problem on the Jewish side of the equation:

If you want to see a good example of what be-devils any scholarly analysis of practically anything to do with Jesus and early Christianity, have a read of the postings of the Canadian TV self-promoter, Simcha Jacobovici here.

Jacobovici (who styles himself “the naked archaeologist” on his self-produced TV programmes, and offers no competence in anything relevant to the analysis of the fragment) notes that various scholars (particularly Coptologists and specialists in ancient Greek palaeography) have raised questions about the authenticity of the fragment (announced to the scholarly world in Prof. Karen King’s paper presented at a conference in Rome several weeks ago), and simply trashes all the scholars and queries as “sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy”.

He claims that they give no basis for their hesitations, which is patently incorrect and misleading. The several scholarly analyses that I’ve seen all in fact present in considerable detail reasons for wondering about this fragment. I’ve seen none, not a one of the scholarly analyses in question, that raises any issue about “Christian orthodoxy”.

-Larry Hurtado
from “The ‘Jesus’ Wife’ Fragment: Self-Promoting Personal Attacks”
Larry Hurtado’s Blog

I suppose I was being rather self-centered or myopic in believing this problem was confined to the wee online community in which I participate. As you can see (and I have discovered), these sorts of problems exist elsewhere and probably everywhere. The only way to avoid them is to be completely disengaged from community, even online community which is as easy to take or lose as opening and closing a web browser.

On the one hand, the thought of facing such vitriolic commentary either online or face-to-face isn’t appealing in the slightest. On the other hand, I have to remember that there are some “religious people” who don’t use God like a blunt instrument with which to beat others repeatedly about the head and shoulders:

Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev was known for his love and good will toward his fellow Jews always trying to assess the good in people rather than expose the bad.

Once on the Fast of Tish’a B’av he saw a Jew eating in a non-kosher restaurant. He tapped lightly on the window of the establishment and summoned the man outside.

“Perhaps you forgot that today is a fast day?” Rav Levi Yitzchok queried.

“No, Rebbe,” the man replied.

“Then perhaps you did not realize that this restaurant in not kosher.”

“No, Rebbe, I know it is a traife (non-kosher) eatery.”

Rav Levi Yitzchok softly placed his hands on the man’s shoulders and looked heavenward. “Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe,” he exclaimed. “Look at how wonderful your children are. They may be eating on a fast day. In a non-kosher restaurant to boot. Yet they refuse to emit a falsehood from their lips!”

-Rabbi M. Kamenetzky
“Eve of Life”
Commentary on Torah Portion Beresheet
Torah.org

As much as I lament the few rather vocal and hostile nudniks (pests) on the web, there are a lot more people who represent the spirit demonstrated by Rav Levi Yitzchok who continue to be an encouragement to me.

However, the next step, if I understand what is being asked of me correctly, will be a lot harder.

 

 

Blessing the Nudnik

:‫גדולה שמושה של תורה יותר מלמודה – ז‬
The service of Torah is greater than its study. – 7b

After R’ Reuven Grozovsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Beis Medrash Elyon, had a stroke he was left paralyzed on the right side of his body. The bochrim in the Yeshiva had a rotation to help the Rosh Yeshiva wash negel vasser, hold his siddur and wrap the Rosh Yeshiva’s tefilin around his arm and head. To make the task an even greater challenge, the Rosh Yeshiva’s left hand would occasionally shake uncontrollably.

On one particular occasion, a new bachur was assigned the task of helping R’ Reuven, and the bochur was very nervous. He had never really spoken with the Rosh Yeshiva before. When he heard R’ Reuven wake up, the nervous young man quickly walked over to help the Rosh Yeshiva wash negel vasser. Unfortunately, R’ Reuven’s hand suddenly shook and the water missed the Rosh Yeshiva’s hand entirely. The embarrassed bochur tried a second time, but this time he was so nervous that he ended up pouring the water all over the Rosh Yeshiva’s bed and clothing. The bochur now wanted to run, but R’ Reuven was relying upon him. The third time he carefully poured the water over R Grozovsky’s hands, held the siddur while R’ Reuven said birchos hashachar and helped put tefilin on the Rosh Yeshiva. As the bochur was ready to leave, R’ Reuven called him over and chatted with him for a few moments. The bochur left a few minutes later much calmer than before after this pleasant conversation with the Rosh Yeshiva.

When the bochur retold the story to his friends in the Beis Midrash they couldn’t believe it. As far as anyone knew no one could ever remember the Rosh Yeshiva speaking while he was wearing tefilin. It became clear to everyone that R’ Reuven had made an exception to the rule in order to be able to put the mind of this young bochur at ease.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Lessons learned when attending to Gedolim”
Berachos 7

This may be a little difficult to understand, but imagine that the esteemed Rosh Yeshiva, a man who had suffered a stroke and who struggled to perform his daily prayers, who never spoke with another person while wearing tefilin, actually took the time to make an exception for this extremely anxiety-ridden young person. Usually, we think of performing acts of kindness for the sick and the infirm, but here, the infirm R’ Reuven Grozovsky extended himself to perform an act of kindness for this new bachur.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think that this is the center of what it is to be a person of faith. We simply must put forth our efforts to help others in any way that we can when we see a need.

It certainly would have been within the Rosh Yeshiva’s rights to complain and to chastise the bochur for his numerous blunders. He didn’t have to speak to him at all and he could have told others afterwards what a blockhead this young fellow was. He could have shredded this person’s already (obviously) fragile ego and everyone in that community would have probably supported R’ Grozovsky in doing so.

But the Rosh Yeshiva was a true tzaddik and for such a man, performing a cruelty would have been unthinkable.

How do we treat people?

I know, we shouldn’t treat others with disrespect and insult them since, as people who are disciples of our Master, we have been taught to “turn the other cheek” when maligned and mistreated. But what about if the other person deserves a good (metaphorically speaking) slap in the face?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“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 5:38-48 (ESV)

Jesus isn’t directing us to be doormats or to let someone beat us to a pulp, but if we’re to err, it seems as if we should err on the side of compassion and humility, even if there’s a chance we could be cheated or misused in some other way. Loving your enemy isn’t giving a flower to the guy who’s trying to shoot you. It’s showing kindness to someone who is a nudnik (pest) or other annoying or unreliable person for their own sake and for God’s.

Hard as it is for us to imagine sometimes, God loves the person who annoys us the most just as much as He loves us.

Given that I’m a blogger and that I comment on the blogs of others, I occasionally run into such individuals and the temptation is to tell them what I really think of them and feel perfectly justified in doing so.

But as you can see, that would be wrong. Sometimes it’s important to forgive others, even if reconciliation isn’t going to work out between the two of you. No, forgiving doesn’t always mean it’s wise or practical to continue a relationship, particularly if the other person is unrepentant and unlikely to stop being abusive, verbally or otherwise. But God still loves that person a great deal. How can we return hostility for hostility knowing this?

The blessing of an ordinary man should not be considered lightly in your eyes.- 7a

Tur Shulchan Aruch rules (‫ )הל‘ נשיאת כפים‬that every Kohen has a mitzvah to participate in the blessing of the people. We do not discourage a person who is known to be a rasha from joining, for this would be causing him to add evil to his already tarnished reputation. Rather, we allow him to bless the people with the other Kohanim, and we look upon his involvement no less than “the blessings of a simpleton”, which we are not to treat lightly. Tur then adds: “The blessings are not dependent upon the Kohanim, but they are rather in the hands of God.”

This final comment of the Tur needs to be understood. He already justified including the Kohen rasha in the mitzvah, for even the blessing of a simpleton is important. What additional factor is provided by concluding that everything is in the hands of God? Tur apparently understood the Gemara as did the Rashba. A ‫ הדיוט‬is not referring to an evil person. Rather, it refers to someone who is at a lesser level or stature than the one being blessed. Even Dovid HaMelech was a ‫ הדיוט‬vis-à-vis the service which the Kohanim performed in the Beis HaMikdash, and all Kohanim were ‫ הדיוטות‬vis-à-vis the Kohen Gadol.

Gemara Gem
“The blessing of a ‫הדיוט‬”
Berachos 7

A rasha is considered someone who is wicked and even criminal. Nevertheless, there are provisions for a “rasha” Kohen to say the blessings so that they do not make their evil deeds even worse.

I’m not going to try to suggest that we make ourselves or our communities completely open to people who are prone to physical, sexual, or psychological violence, but within the confines of practicality and common sense, we can at least avoid verbally bashing and slandering people we don’t like, even if they’ve mistreated us and seem unable to realize their own faults and misbehaviors in how they treat others.

It’s called “taking the moral high road.”

Yes, it was an encounter with such a person (hardly a rasha but certainly a nudnik) that has inspired this “extra meditation” today, but it was also a “backchannel” discussion about how God loves even nudniks that sealed my decision to write it. Once the sting of having my “tail stepped on” dulled, I realized it’s the right thing to do because it’s what God does for us. Even though in God’s eyes, I’m sure we are often “nudniks,” too.

Yes, I think it’s possible to love someone you don’t always like. It’s even possible to love someone you know you may never be able to speak to again. God doesn’t need to be protected from our bad moods, attitudes, and unkind words and so, if we are willing, He not only forgives us but provides for reconciliation between us. On the human level, it isn’t so easy because we are vulnerable to harmful people and even to people who have not a clue that they are a toxic element in every conversation in which they participate.

But we must remember this:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

If God can allow a rasha Kohen to participate in the blessings, then we can try to remember to bless the occasional nudnik who crosses our path. May we be blessed even as we bless others.

Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.

-Maya Angelou