Tag Archives: path

Encounter with Now

Moses at SinaiNow Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, and all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, and the Negev and the plain in the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day. Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated. So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.

Deuteronomy 34:1-8 (NASB)

The final verse of the final portion of the Torah refers to “the strong hand and all the great awe, which Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel.” According to the Talmud, the phrase “before the eyes of all Israel” alludes to the incident when Moses smashed the Tablets of the Covenant when he found the Jewish people worshiping the Golden Calf.

An odd conclusion for the Five Books of Moses! The whole Torah ends by recalling the destruction of the Ten Commandments by Moses! Another interesting point to consider is that after completing the reading of this portion in the Synagogue, we immediately begin reading from the first portion of the Torah (Gen. 1:1): “In the beginning, G-d created…”

The reason that the Torah ends as it does – by alluding to the breaking of the Tablets of the Covenant – is the same reason that we start over again once we’ve finished. Both ideas are rooted in the same principle; we never just finish up and move on. Just when we think we’ve reached the end – when we get to the very last line of the very last portion – we are reminded that the Tablets of the Covenant were once destroyed and had to be remade.

Rabbi Ben A.
“Starting Over”
Chabad.org

In many ways, the start of a new Torah cycle is about starting over. But like the Children of Israel at the death of Moses and being poised to cross the Jordan with Joshua as their leader and prophet, it’s also a continuation and even a radical change…or it can be. It probably should be, otherwise, you’re just recycling the Torah and spiritual learning year by year and as a result, not actually learning anything new.

As the Children of Israel discovered when Moses died (and Aaron and Miriam and an entire generation of Israelites before him), change inevitably means loss, sorrow, and grief, even as change can mean growth, progression, and fulfillment.

broken-tabletsWe know that after Moses destroyed the first set of tablets as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf, at the command of God, he made a second set. But it was God who made the first set and it was God who wrote on it. The second set was created by Moses and Moses wrote on it at the command of God. God gave the Israelites a “second chance” but it wasn’t the same situation as the “first chance.” Even if God grants you “do-overs,” you lose something, even if you don’t lose it all.

Rabbi Ben A. is the most famous anonymous rabbi. Using his pen name, Ben A. draws from his personal experience in recovery to incorporate unique Chassidic philosophy into the practice of the 12 Steps. He tells us that our spiritual journey is never complete and we are always starting over, but not quite with fresh start. There is not perfect “reset” button for our lives.

As newcomers looking at the Steps for the first time, many of us wondered what we were supposed to do once they were completed. The answer is that our recovery is never finished; it continues by beginning again. We remember that the life we now have was once in a state of apparent destruction, just as the Tablets containing the Word of G-d had been smashed. In our despair, we agreed to let go, and let G-d give us a new life. We learned to trust G-d. We cleaned house; and we repaired our relationships with others.

We remember that it is He who takes away our pain and gives us joy. It is He who takes away our sickness and gives us health. It is He who instills renewed energy into our desolate lives…it reminds us how the spiritual lives we now have began out of darkness, chaos and void. It is now our job to once again transform our lives with light, order and fulfillment.

Spiritual growth is like a 12-step program? A Spiritual recovery program? It seemed a strange thought when I first encountered it, but actually, it makes perfect sense. Who are we without God but human beings on a path to destruction. We repent, but repentance, forgiveness, and atonement are not accomplished in a single act. It takes time, perhaps a great deal of time…perhaps all of our lives, over and over, year by year, like the Torah cycle.

It is now as it was now a moment before. It grew no older. It was not touched, not moved nor darkened by the events that flickered upon its stage. They have vanished; it has remained. It perpetually transcends.

And it is immanently here. Tangible, experienced, real and known. For what can be more known than the moment in which you stand right now?

Yet, what can be so utterly unknown?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Now”
Chabad.org

Rolling the Torah ScrollLike the continual Torah reading cycle, we are constantly moving forward, continually experiencing and re-experiencing what we need and what God understands we need. But also, we only live inside of one instant in eternity at a time. It is always “Now.” We look to the future and remember the past, but it is always now. When you read Beresheet last Shabbos (if you follow the traditional Torah readings), it was “Now” and when you read Noah next Shabbos, it will also be “Now.”

It’s what we do inside of each instant of life that creates or inhibits the progression, the growth, the journey toward drawing closer to God. We may have done terrible damage to ourselves and to others in the past, but the past is just that. It’s gone, though the consequences can still be with us. It is now. It is always now. You are always in now. Living inside of now is like guiding a ship by working the tiller to move the rudder. Now you move it one way. Now you move it another. Now the tiller moves the rudder and now the ship moves in response. Moment by moment, every action you take in an endless progression of “now events” creates the sequence of our lives and results in consequences for us, for our loved ones, and in our relationship with God.

Rabbi Freeman concludes:

If you are here only now, what is the purpose?
And if all is transient, why be here now?

Grasp the now by both ends and every moment is divine,
every experience is precious.
For you have grasped G‑d Himself.

I will tell you a secret that can be told, and within it a secret that cannot be known: Take the Hebrew present tense of the verb to be, and prefix it with the letter yud to indicate a perpetual state of now-being—and you will have the name of G‑d.

G‑d is now.

Over two weeks ago, a friend of mine challenged me to experience God more fully. I felt backed into a corner knowing that I should want such an experience but dreading it as well. I didn’t want to change and I knew God would require it if I turned to Him. Now…yes, right now, God is also backing me into a corner. The choice of whether or not to turn to Him is still mine but God is limiting my options. The consequences for not accepting His challenge are becoming more dire, and I see that He has been allowing me enough rope and may yet let me swing if I continue in that direction.

ancient-sail-boatSo what do I do? I do what God wants, I do what God requires, not because I have no choice, but because God has made it abundantly plain what the result of my choices will be.

I know there is a future, a wonderful and terrible future. Where I’ll be standing when that future becomes “Now” depends on which direction I move the tiller, which direction I choose to turn the ship. The wood is in my hands, I can move right or left, the ship is traveling forward into the storm. Moving one way leads to disaster, with my ship and everyone on it being broken apart on jagged rocks, and moving the other way leads to safe haven. I may have seen this before but I chose to ignore it, believing I had time before I had to make the final decision. Now, what I once saw vaguely and disregarded has become a present reality viewed with absolute and crystal clarity.

Now I grasp the ship’s tiller, I apply pressure. I feel resistance. The tiller moves and with it, the rudder. Now the ship begins to change course and…

…and Moses dies. And the Children of Israel mourn. And the Ark goes ahead of the Assembly into the Jordan. And Joshua leads. And we read the last few lines in Deuteronomy. And we hastily re-roll the scroll. And we read, “When God began to create heaven and earth…”

O Hashem, You have scrutinized me and You know. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought from afar. You encompass my path and my repose, You are familiar with all my ways. For the word is not yet on my tongue, behold, Hashem, You knew it all. Back and front You have restricted me, and You have laid Your hand upon me.

Psalm 139:1-5 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

And now…

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Asking to Walk with God

father-son-walkingOn further reflection, a person might also become disheartened, G‑d forbid, wondering how is one to fulfill adequately one’s real purpose in life on this earth, which is, to quote our Sages, “I was created to serve my Creator” — seeing that most of one’s time is necessarily taken up with materialistic things, such as eating and drinking, sleeping, earning a livelihood, etc. What with the fact that the earliest years of a human being, before reaching maturity and knowledgeability, are spent in an entirely materialistic mode of living.

-Translation of a letter from the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
“Is Most of My Life a Waste?”
Chabad.org

Some people feel discouraged. They then assume that these feelings are facts: since they feel discouraged that is a “proof” there is no hope. But feelings only represent a person’s present state of mind, they cannot predict the future.

They can ask themselves: “Do my present feelings actually prove that there is no hope?” Of course not. There is never absolute proof that your situation will not improve. By believing you have no hope, you are causing yourself great harm. Adopt the attitude: “It is always possible that the future will turn out much brighter than I presently feel it will. What constructive action can I take for improvement?”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift 943: “Feelings Aren’t Facts”
Aish.com

Last Sunday afternoon, a friend challenged me. I hate these sorts of challenges because they always mean that I have to crawl out of my comfort zone. Yes, we all have one. The place where we spend most of our lives or want to, anyway. The place where we excel. The place where people see us as competent, and significant, and see all of the good things in us we want them to see.

And we see them in ourselves.

But…

…but there isn’t so much to actually achieve there. The comfort zone is where you exercise all of the skill sets you are already really good at. There’s nothing more to learn in the comfort zone. Oh, you may learn some stuff, but it’s stuff that never really surprises you. It never shocks you. It certainly never scares you.

That’s why when my friend suggested that I get out of my comfort zone and ask God to show me more of Himself…a real encounter with Him, I experienced true dread. I know that sounds horrible. After all, in the realm of religious people, who doesn’t ask, plead, beg to experience a closer walk with God?

Most of us. A closer walk with God means having to change, not just a little bit and not in the direction we feel comfortable changing (or not changing and just pretending to change). I mean real, unanticipated, unpredictable, uncomfortable, “I don’t wanna go there” change.

Yuck! Who wants that?

But what’s the alternative?

My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You.

Psalms 63:2

One Yom Kippur, after the Maariv (evening) services that ended the 25-hour fast, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev exclaimed, “I am thirsty! I am thirsty!” Quickly someone brought him water, but the Rabbi said, “No! I am thirsty!” Hastily they boiled water and brought him coffee, but again he said, “No! No! I am thirsty!” His attendant then asked, “Just what is it you desire?”

“A tractate Succah (the volume of the Talmud dealing with the laws of the festival of Succos).” They brought the desired volume, and the Rabbi began to study the Talmud with great enthusiasm, ignoring the food and drink that were placed before him.

Only after several hours of intense study did the Rabbi breathe a sigh of relief and break his fast. The approaching festival of Succos with its many commandments – only five days after Yom Kippur – had aroused so intense a craving that it obscured the hunger and thirst of the fast.

It is also related that at the end of Succos and Pesach, festivals during which one does not put on tefillin, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok sat at the window, waiting for the first glimmer of dawn which would allow him to fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin after a respite of eight or nine days.

Today I shall…

…try to realize that Torah and mitzvos are the nutrients of my life, so that I crave them just as I do food and water when I am hungry or thirsty.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 11”
Aish.com

plead1Particularly in Jewish thought, performing the mitzvot are the nutrients of life but what you do lacks meaning if you do not employ kavanah, otherwise known as “intention” or “direction of the heart.”

When asking for a closer connection with God, it’s always important to consider that time-honored caveat, “Be careful what you ask for.”

It’s sort of like dying of thirst but being afraid to drink because you might drown. It’s like dying of thirst, but the only source of water is at the bottom of a massive waterfall. You only need a few drops or a glassful, but your only option is a raging torrent.

How about just a little revelation, God…something I can handle, something not too scary or overwhelming. Let’s warm up with that and see where we should go from there.

Believing in God is easy. Trusting God is hard, and yet we have this.

Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.

Psalm 146:3-7 (NASB)

I have plenty of experience being disappointed in human beings, including me. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by God, but then again, have I ever given Him the chance?

Has this ever happened to you?

Finding the Path

Jewish_men_praying2That God is a redeeming God is a testament to God’s power, but that redemptive power is strangely ambiguous, for if God’s redemptive power will be manifest only at the end of days, then the inescapable implication is that in the here and now God’s power is not fully manifest. The final verse from the prophet Zechariah (14:9), with which we conclude every formal Jewish service of worship…has a significant implication here. The context is a vivid description of “the day of the Lord,” a common prophetic characterization for the age that will mark the culmination of history as we know it. The vision is apocalyptic: the familiar structures of nature will be overturned; there will be neither sunlight nor moonlight, just one continuous day; God will wage war against the evil nations and smite them with a plague. All who survive will make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. And then “the Lord will be king over all the earth; on that day there shall be one Lord with one name,” or as other translations would have it, on that day, “the Lord alone shall be worshiped and shall be invoked by His true name.”

-Rabbi Neil Gillman
“Chapter 9: God Redeems,” pg 139
The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance, which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…

Revelation 1:9-10 (NASB)

If you’re at all familiar with the imagery presented in John’s Revelation, you’ll notice a number of similarities to my quote from Rabbi Gillman above. Of course, this imagery is also available in several sections of the Tanakh (Old Testament), so it’s not unreasonable or unanticipated that Rabbi Gillman should sound as if he’s channeling the words of the apostle. What may seem strange to some Christians is the idea that Israel is not only involved in the apocalyptic future, but that it is (they are) the conduit by which the rest of the world approaches redemptive history.

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, this bit of news shouldn’t be completely unfamiliar. A number of my reviews of episodes of the FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come television show have touched on this history. These include the topics exile and redemption, the ingathering of Israel, the Gospel message, Jewish repentance and the Kingdom being now. If you put all of this information together, you come up with a startling picture….well, startling if you are traditionally Christian.

Most of the time, in the church, we are taught that if anyone, including Jewish people, want to be reconciled with God, they must convert to Christianity and start worshiping Jesus Christ. Almost no one is teaching that in order to be saved by God, we have to go through Israel.

What? Am I saying we all have to convert to Judaism? Not at all. But we have tended to reverse causality as Christians, believing that Israel has lost significance with God and that the Church (big “C”) has overshadowed if not replaced her in God’s covenant promises. But if you read this blog post and especially the comments section, you’ll see there’s a strong indication that the return of Messiah and the final acts of redemptive history will only occur when Israel corporately repents and returns to God and the Torah! To that end, we in the Church (big “C”, all of us) have a responsibility and a duty to encourage Jewish Torah observance and repentance.

Yom-KippurThere was nothing preventing me from observing Yom Kippur in a traditionally Jewish fashion, but I chose not to fast this year. I know some of you will think I’m terrible for abstaining from “the fast,” and others will think not a thing about it. I suppose I could have fasted in order to encourage my wife and daughter, but it’s like the reason I stopped lighting the Shabbos candles. There’s little point in the only Goy in the home acting more “Jewish” than the Jewish people in the home.

Fortunately, my wife has started lighting the candles again, so there’s hope that she is participating in the forward flow of Jewish history that will culminate in the return of the Jewish King.

I feel a little guilty anyway, but if I believe that it is Jewish Torah observance that is the key to the coming of Moshiach, then shouldn’t I draw the distinction in my family? After all, my wife always thinks it’s strange of me when I avoid a pork chop or a plate of hot, buttery shrimp (not that such food would ever be found in our home). She’d no doubt have wondered why I was fasting on Yom Kippur (and I’m encouraged because for the first time in years, she fasted on Yom Kippur).

I’m meeting with my Pastor this week for our usual Wednesday night talk. I noticed on my calendar that our 7:30 meeting will also be the candle lighting time for Erev Sukkot. I experienced momentary guilt at this, and then regret that I’d miss my wife lighting the candles again. Fortunately, I just finished building and decorating our sukkah, so it’s all ready for the festival.

I must admit, Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays. Am I being a hypocrite by not fasting on Yom Kippur but building a sukkah in my backyard? I hope not. My wife and daughter won’t be building anything very soon, so it’s one of those gender-specific activities that lands on my side of the fence. I also find that the image of the Word which became flesh and “sukkahed” among us (John 1:14) is eminently portrayed at this time of year, so building a sukkah is my way of participating in the commemoration of the first Advent.

I have to admit that as the Days of Awe draw to a close and the next Torah cycle is poised to launch, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. Old friends in the Messianic movement have pulled away from me. Maybe I should have repented to them before Yom Kippur. Maybe I’m becoming too “Christian”. Maybe I just don’t matter in that world anymore. Who knows?

If Judaism is accelerating toward its own redemptive history, what future should I, a Goyishe Christian, anticipate? I believe the Jewish people and Israel (and especially Israel’s firstborn son, Messiah) are the doorway into redemption for the rest of the human race, but is viewing the world of faith through a Jewish lens becoming a closed door for me ? I don’t know.

God’s choosing is beyond our ability to understand. The Hebrew prophet, Amos put it this way:

To Me, O Israelites, you are
Just like the Ethiopians, declares the Lord.

True, I brought Israel up
From the land of Egypt,
But also the Philistines from Caphtor
And the Arameans from Kir.

-Amos 9:7

To equate God’s redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage with God’s redemption of other nations — indeed, a nation such as the Philistines, one of ancient Israel’s enemies — is a striking acknowledgment that God loves all peoples equally.

-Gillman, “Chapter 8 God Reveals,” pg 119

Children of GodRabbi Gillman is observing Jewish “chosenness” from the point of view of Reform Judaism. I don’t think an Orthodox Rabbi would hold such an opinion. Nevertheless, Rabbi Gillman hits on something important, especially for Christians. God doesn’t just love Israel and He may not even bathe Israel with more love than any other nation. God may love all of humanity in exactly the same way, even as He has chosen Israel for a specific and special purpose that is separate from the nations of the world, including the people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11).

For Jews, what precisely was the “content,” the substance, of God’s revelation to our ancestors? Torah can be defined in many ways. It can be understood as (1) the first five books of the Bible (the Chumash, or Pentateuch, both referring to “five”); (2) the entirety of Hebrew Scripture, from Genesis to 2 Chronicles; (3) all of Scripture plus the body of rabbinic interpretation that emerged in the talmudic era (from the first to the seventh centuries C.E.); or, even more broadly, (4) the ongoing interpretation of that material through our very own day. However we define it, Torah is a complex body of doctrines, history, narratives, prayers, and legal codes. It constitutes the entire body of Judaism’s distinctive religious message.

What authority does this body of teaching have for us? Are we to accept the entire body of tradition as absolutely binding on all Jews for eternity? How free are we to depart from it, and how do we decide? The different answers to these questions account for the denominational structures that characterize the Jewish community today, from right-wing Orthodoxy to left-wing Reform and everything in between.

-Gillman, pg 120

If we are all loved and we are all invited by God to participate in His redemption through the history and future of Israel, what then is the Torah to the faithful among the nations? Of course, being loved identically and even having identical access to salvation through faith and grace does not make Jews and Christians functionally identical in terms of all the covenants. As we see from the above-quoted statement, even among collective Judaism, how Jewish authority, teaching, and obedience to God is understood is highly variable. How much more variable should it be when Gentiles are thrown into the mix by our faith in Jesus through a single condition in the Abrahamic covenant?

In addition, Israel’s “daughter religions” inherited the notion of redemptive history, which led them to believe that God’s choice had passed to another, different community. The first Christians understood that God’s revelation in and through Jesus of Nazareth superseded the Sinai covenant with “the old Israel.” (In this post-Holocaust age, however, many Christians have come to question the accuracy of this reading of Christian Scripture and to abandon it.) Islam claimed that God’s revelation to Mohammed in the Arabian desert in the seventh century C.E. constituted the seal of prophecy, God’s final revelation.

-Gillman, pg 118

path-to-godChristianity tends to believe it is the “lead dog” in the pack, so to speak, so being referred to as a “daughter religion” may be a little disconcerting. However, invoking the perspective of Messianic Judaism, at least as I understand the movement, it’s certainly an appropriate term, as it fixes us in place in terms of sequence, not only regarding where we’re coming from, but in some sense, where we have to return to in order to fulfill prophesy and take our place as the crown jewels of the nations.

Even had he remained a tzaddik, the descent would still have been worthwhile; all the more so now that he has sinned.

He was meant to have confined himself to the permissible; he would have enlightened that portion of the world, healed it and carried it upward. He was meant to remain there, for if he would break out, intending to return, who knows that he could ever succeed in his gambit?

But now that he has fallen, let him return, and in doing so he will transform to light that which the tzaddik could never have touched.

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

I know Rabbi Freeman never intended this, but I cannot help but be somewhat reminded of Messiah, of Yeshua (Jesus), the tzaddik who had fallen but who rose and who will return greater than ever. I’m also reminded that it is not me and it’s not Christianity or even Judaism that means anything to the future and to God. It’s the human desire to encounter God through the doorway of a broken and bleeding heart and spirit. From that encounter, we may not learn everything, but we learn where we are on the path He has placed before each of us.

I will educate you and enlighten you in which path to go…many are the agonies of the wicked, but as for one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.

Psalm 32:8, 10 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Whatever I end up doing in the coming year must conform to the path that God has designated for me, not the one being walked by anyone else.

Walking In Footsteps

The Midrash offers the following parable to illustrate the advantages of being holy. This can be compared to a simple businessman who was going along when he met a kohen gadol. Obviously, it would be a great honor for the businessman to travel with the kohen gadol. Not surprisingly, when he found out that they were both going in the same direction, he asked the kohen gadol permission to accompany him. “My son, I am a kohen. Therefore I am only permitted to travel on a pure path. To avoid impurity, I must make sure that my steps do not go over any graves. If you wish to be careful to only go in a path which is appropriate for me, I will gladly allow you to join me. But if not, in the end I will leave you and go on my own pathway.”

Similarly, when Moshe broached the subject of purity with Yisrael, he said, “Because God your Lord goes with you in your camp to save you.”

Reishis Chochmah explains this Midrash. “God is absolutely holy and separate from the material world. How are we to emulate Him and become holy even regarding material matters in which we must indulge? The answer is that we must sanctify our thoughts. Holy thoughts are the root of all sanctification. The more we think about holy things the easier it will be for us to sanctify the material. And the more sanctify the material the more we will be able to sanctify our thoughts!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Path of Purity”
Niddah 71

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

It isn’t easy. Walking a path of holiness, I mean. It isn’t easy to be human; to be mortal and try to walk in God’s footsteps. I suppose the task seems a little more approachable for Christians when we imagine we’re walking in the footsteps of Jesus. God is just so…so vast, so infinite, so…God. Jesus, at least, we can picture as a human being, as a mortal (though not really) as one whose path we can attempt to walk with some reasonable expectation of success.

And in fact, as disciples of the Master, walking the Master’s path is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.

Oh really?

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:48 (ESV)

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. –John 5:19 (ESV)

Oh well. Guess that didn’t work. Trying to follow Christ’s footsteps is, for all intents and purposes, trying to follow God’s footsteps. But can this be done? After all, most of us aren’t holy men or tzaddikim or saints, or “super-Christians.” Most of us are just…us, people, human.

Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the wise; rather seek what they sought.

Matsuo Bashō

Although Matsuo Bashō did not follow a Jewish or Christian religious tradition, I find his words to be most illuminating under the circumstances. As I continue to follow my own path, not only in life, but the “path” of writing this meditation, I can see there is only one goal: to seek God.

As the businessman who walked with the kohen gadol had to choose to walk a path of purity if he were to be with his holy companion, if we choose to follow God as disciples of the Master, we too must choose a path of purity. How can this be done when the world we live in is anything but sanctified and pure? As the midrash has already been explained to us, we must carry our purity with us by conforming our thoughts, emotions, and actions to those things we know are from God. We learn this path by reading the Bible, from studying the teachings it contains, by associating with others who also walk their own path as disciples of Jesus who are seeking God.

Like I said, it isn’t easy.

One of the reasons I write these meditations each day is to focus my day on following the path. I’m not always successful and both my internal states and my external environment often conspire to pull me off the trail or to stall me in one spot, sometimes for a rather lengthy sojourn. When I get distracted or even feel lost, I try to retreat to a point on the path I am sure of and one that I know contains a marker to point me in the right direction.

The Alter Rebbe repeated what the Mezritcher Maggid said quoting the Baal Shem Tov: “Love your fellow like yourself” is an interpretation of and commentary on “Love Hashem your G-d.” He who loves his fellow-Jew loves G-d, because the Jew has with in himself a “part of G-d Above.” Therefore, when one loves the Jew – i.e. his inner essence – one loves G-d.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Menachem Av 12, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

For the past few days, I’ve written a meditation or two on the topic of love, and particularly Christian and Jewish love. We see from the quote above that for many religious Jews, loving each other and even their “inner essence,” is deeply connected to loving God. This is also true for Christians:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” –John 13:34-35 (ESV)

But in expending our love to our family, our friends, to the fellowship of believers, and to the struggling and conflicted world around us, we must never forget that to give means we must also receive. It’s not selfish to want and even need to be loved. Certainly, we can’t expect the whole world to love us and being Christians, we can in fact, expect much of the world around us to show us anything else besides love.

It’s very draining.

But we do have our families, our friends, our companions in the faith to help sustain us as we walk a path in the footsteps of God, which seems like an impossible task. Our goal is equally impossible; to seek and find God, to be perfect as He is perfect. To focus only on the light and not be distracted by the encroaching shadows. But God so loved the world and that includes us, not just as a group, but as individuals. Each of us is precious to God.

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:26-31 (ESV)

This isn’t to say that our path will always be secure with no challenges or stress. Far from it. But it does mean that whatever we face and even when we feel that we can no longer see the next step on which to place our foot, God is there, too.

Not long ago, I wrote about fear and insecurity as a challenge to faith and urged all “secure” believers to be compassionate toward their weaker brothers and sisters. Today, while I can’t promise the easy path to anyone who is a disciple, I can promise a path, a definite direction, a concrete goal. The things of holiness and faith seem sometimes confusing and indistinct was we negotiate our way through a world built out of moral relativity and public opinion, but God is One and He is perfect and He is present and He will not abandon us…even in those times when we feel utterly alone.

You can choose to believe in a G‑d aloof from all things, a distant G‑d that leaves you in the hands of so many worldly troubles.

Or you can put your trust in a G‑d that carries you as a nursing mother carries her suckling infant by her bosom; as a father carries his child high upon his shoulders; as an eagle carries its fledgling young upon its wings.

Make room for Him and He will enter. As large as you allow your trust to be, so will be the space that He will fill.

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

The signs may not look the same on my path as they do on yours. The mile markers may appear completely different. Even the terrain, the scenery, the sky and the ground of my path may be totally dissimilar to your own. After all, we’re different people, at different points on the path, and with different paths to walk. And yet we have the same companion, we are following the same footprints, and we have the same goal.

We don’t follow the wise men or the sages because they are not the goal, but we take our cues from them. We seek what they sought. We seek to follow the path that leads to God. May He always walk with you and with me.