Tag Archives: peace

Overcoming with Good

negativeThe Almighty’s perspective is the ultimate perspective. It is the basis of reality. The real question we need to ask ourselves is, “What does the Almighty consider my true value to be?”

From the Almighty’s viewpoint, the answer is, “You are My child and you are precious. You are created in My image. In essence you are a Divine Soul. I have created the world for you. Your entire being and your value is a gift from Me. When you see yourself from My perspective, you know that you have infinite value. Your intrinsic worth is greater than anything that can be measured materially.”

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #984
“Almighty’s Perspective on Your True Value”
Aish.com

Just to let you know, this has nothing to do with my recent commentary on John MacArthur and his Strange Fire conference.

However, I recently have become aware of a resurgence of poor attitudes among believers in the blogosphere and the wider realm of the Internet. I guess it’s easier for these sentiments to be expressed in a semi-anonymous environment where accountability doesn’t appear to be an issue.

I’m not here to add to that negativity. Believe me, resisting this temptation is difficult, but in the end, if I didn’t, I would be no better than those I find who have betrayed friendship and trust.

There is always injustice in the world. Just as the Master said to his disciples that “you always have the poor with you,” it’s sad to say that we always have the unjust with us as well. Jesus went on to say “and whenever you wish you can do good to them,” reminding his listeners (and us) that poverty is an opportunity for us to help others and to do the right thing in his name. What can we say of the unjust? What opportunity do they present?

I could say they offer us the opportunity to be just and humane as they are unjust and inhumane, but the mistake here would be in attempting to confront others who, in their own “wisdom” and self-service, see themselves as upholding the cause of right.

No, confrontation and the continuation of angry words profits no one and does not serve man or God.

But there is another opportunity here. The opportunity is to uplift and uphold those who have been trampled on under the muddy and self-righteous boot. The opportunity is to offer healing words, an olive branch of peace, friendship, and hope.

unpopularRabbi Pliskin wrote the words I quoted above probably with the idea that he was addressing a primarily Jewish audience, but his words are true for everyone. We were all made in the image of God. To denigrate any human being is to lower that Godly image and even to drag it into the gutter. When people do this in believing they are serving God, it is a sad and miserable thing. It’s especially poignant that the instigators are woefully unaware of what they are doing and who they are hurting.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46 (NASB)

…it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:6 (NASB)

I know that some in the Christian world feel they just have to “call out” people and behaviors, even to the point of betraying a trust to do so, but if you feel there is a conflict or you feel you have been hurt, there is a better way.

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21 (NASB)

I encourage you all and especially my brothers and sisters in the faith, if you feel anger within you for another, if they are within the faith or not, consider the words of Paul. And please, please, consider the consequences for failure as spoken by our Master.

So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 25:17 (NASB)

For those among the believing community who purport to observe the Torah, this verse is the basis for one of the 613 commandments to not wrong someone in speech, which I would extend to wronging someone in the blogosphere or other text-based environment.

Standing before GodA large number of the mitzvot that are specific to “love and brotherhood” are found in Leviticus 19, such as “not to carry tales” (Lev. 19:16), “not to cherish hatred in one’s heart” (Lev. 19:17), “not to take revenge” (Lev. 19:18), “not to put anyone to shame” (Lev. 19:17), and “not to curse any other person (implying Jewish person)” (Lev. 19:14).

The core of these commandments is that all human beings are created in the image of God. To deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to another person, regardless of the provocation, is to also deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to God’s image.

Saying that you love God while trying to hurt another person is kind of crazy-making.

And 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 great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NASB)

Love of God and love of your fellow human being, regardless of who they are, even if they are not like you, even if they have different beliefs, even if they have a different outlook, are two acts that are inseparable. A man who says he loves God but hates or denigrates another person, plunging their name into the mud publicly, is a liar.

The image posted at the top of this blog post was the inspiration for today’s “extra meditation.”

Any negativity that comes to you today should be returned to the sender.

That is my only response to the negativity I’ve been addressing. There is no one to fight. There is no one to hate. Anger solves nothing and only robs the person giving into anger of his peace. I choose peace.

Today, any negativity I discover in the blogosphere or any other environment I encounter will be promptly returned to the sender. My peace will be preserved. This is also my gift to any friends who have been victims of negativity, hostility, or any other ungodly attitude.

open-your-handAnd in the end, the real victims of negativity are those who nurture it in their own hearts and attempt to send it out to others.

It is said that Shabbos is a small foretaste of the peace of the Messianic Era. The Queen arrives within just a few short hours. In the tiny march of time left until we light the candles, I implore anyone reading these words to set your house in order, and by the time the sun dips below the western horizon, please be ready to invite peace into your home, and into your heart. But of course, you will need to repent and ask God for forgiveness. And if you’ve hurt another human being, before God will forgive, you must repent and ask forgiveness from those you have hurt.

He who conceals a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

Proverbs 17:9 (NASB)

Good Shabbos.

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Finishing Off Shabbat

extinguished_candleIn Judaism, Shabbos is a time to be especially careful not to become angry or to become involved in a quarrel. Quarrels spread like fire and destroy everything that is precious. The sanctity of Shabbos, if it is observed properly, enables people to feel a sense of unity. It promotes love and brotherhood. The sanctity of Shabbos can spread and enter the hearts of each individual and everyone can become as one.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“The Sanctity of Shabbos”
Aish.com

I’ve been trying to write a commentary for Torah Portion Re’eh (the reading for this coming Shabbat) but it’s not coming. I actually did write something, but I didn’t like it, so I deleted it (a rare thing for me). I know I’m forcing stuff into the text rather than just letting it flow. That’s not typical of how I write but then, it’s still Monday and maybe I’m just too far away from Shabbos mentally and spiritually.

Rabbi Pliskin says that we should not become angry or quarrel on Shabbos. It destroys peace. It’s destroys sanctity, not just the sanctity of the Shabbat, but the sanctity among God’s people (if we can call ourselves God’s people).

Here’s an example of Shabbos as described by Derek Leman in his blog post The Jewish Experience at UMJC 2013:

The highlight of the conference for me came in the Shabbat Shacharit service. While our crowd of 600 people that morning may not have been the largest crowd I have ever been in, it was the largest crowd of Jewishly knowledgeable and intensely spiritual people I have ever been in. I have worshipped in a stadium with 50,000 Christians before and found it to be powerful. But to be in ballroom meant for 474 people that has 600 Jews packed in with tallitot and kippot, all of whom know the calls and responses of the Hebrew liturgy, was something powerful on a level I can hardly explain.

Before reciting the Shema we sang a song about the Shema. It began with a haunting melody that we called out for several minutes just to the sound “oo.” Kavanah, they say, is the Hebrew word for inner intent, devotion and concentration upon an idea. I have never felt kavanah like that before.

When the Torah scrolls were being paraded around the ballroom, paraded throughout a dense crowd, standing room only, aisles packed, and being paraded slowly so all could touch their tallitot or books to it and bring the word to their lips, we recited the “Niggun Neshama,” by Neshama Carlebach. It must have taken at least ten minutes to complete the Torah parade, with the crowd facing it wherever it was in the room and a spirit of intensity of devotion on every face and joy that was overwhelming.

I truly experienced what God said about Shabbat, “It is a sign between you and me forever” (Exod 31:13).

I have to admit to being a little envious (sorry, Derek) at reading his description, but then again, even if I had the bucks to spend on going to a conference in Los Angeles, Derek did say it was “600 Jews packed in with tallitot and kippot,” so it’s not an experience that would be open to (Gentile) Christians.

no_kvetchingNo, I’m not kvetching. I understand and support worship venues that are specific to Jewish people in the Messiah. I realize I’m not part of the community of Messianic Jews (and I’ve calmed down since I wrote that last blog post). Last May, I expressed some concerns about worshiping in a Messianic Jewish context, based on my “transition” into a Christian religious space, but after about nine months in church, as much as I enjoy certain aspects of being in church, if I had my “druthers,” I’d probably worship at some place like Beth Immanuel.

But for lots and lots of reasons, I don’t have my “druthers” and probably never will. Frankly, I don’t think it’s about me getting my way. I think it’s about me being where I am and doing what God wants me to do. Anyway…

But as much as Derek enjoyed his time at the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) conference, there are others who didn’t think it was so hot. I was going to quote from a certain Hebrew Roots blogger or one of the commenters on his blog as an example of their criticism, but after reading through the material, I just didn’t have the heart. It’s not Shabbos, but really, the words have been put online once. I don’t need to repeat them. Suffice it to say, there are those who find that the UMJC is disingenuous, or non-Biblical, or too Talmudic, or not enough apostolic scriptures, or whatever.

I’ve complained about religious people on more than one occasion. Really, it takes a lot of effort sometimes to remain religious, at least publicly, given the way some people express themselves, supposedly for the sake of Heaven.

From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished.

Acts 14:26 (NASB)

Last Sunday, my Pastor preached on Acts 14:21-28 in his sermon, “What Makes a Good Missionary (Part 3)?” I’ll write more about it on Thursday, but as part of his description of the end of “Paul’s first missionary journey,” he said that Paul and Barnabas reported back to their “home church” at Syrian Antioch (I’m more inclined to believe it was a synagogue that included Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Messiah) about everything they had accomplished. Reminded me of this:

The essence of Shabbos is peace of mind. Our attitude on Shabbos should be as if all the work we need to do has already been completed. If you need to travel or do any kind of work, on Shabbos you should try to feel as if you have reached your destination and every single job you have to take care of has already been completed.

All the laws of Shabbos serve as a recipe for attaining peace of mind. Not only are we to refrain from doing any form of work, but we are enjoined not to even discuss anything that has a connection with work.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Let Shabbos Finish Your Work”
Aish.com

Absence of quarreling and peace of mind at the week’s work having been accomplished. Sounds good, but my view of the world of which I’m a part doesn’t provide for peace.

Derek ended his blog post this way:

I am encouraged. I am strengthened. I pray you, Jewish or non-Jewish reader, find your heart warmed as well. May God, as Solomon prayed, hear in heaven and forgive the sins of our people and bring them again to the land which was given to the Jewish people as an inheritance.

up_to_jerusalemThe Jewish people have a right to pray for the God of Israel to forgive their sins and to return them to their Land which was given to them as an eternal inheritance. If we Gentile believers can’t be a part of the solution, then we should at least get out of their way (and out of God’s way…not that we could ever inhibit His will). My generation used to have a saying: “If you aren’t part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.”

We Gentile believers, whether we call ourselves “Christians,” “Hebrew Roots,” or anything else, need or consider our position and make a few adjustments. The fact that we are disciples of the Jewish Messiah does not give us vast authority to run roughshod over those people who were uniquely chosen by God at Sinai. If there was no Israel, there would be no method of attaching a Gentile through covenant to God. We vilify the Jewish people at our own peril. We should be wise. A blessing and a curse lay before us as well.

I’ve been writing about the Shabbat which I currently have no way to enjoy. I suppose that’s my fault for a lot of reasons, but it is no longer in my control. However there is an eternal Shabbat promised to all the faithful, if we can just maintain our strength until it comes. But in denigrating the Jewish people including Jews in Messiah (no, we don’t have to agree with all Messianic Jewish organizations about everything) are we unknowingly throwing away our place within that Shabbat? Are we in the process of finishing our work as the crown jewels of the nations or are we simply ending our opportunity for the final Shabbat rest because of our hostility and disrespect?

Sorry for another in a long line of “why can’t we play nice together” blog posts. I really wish the lot of us would take the advice of Thumper’s father (brief video) and just hush up and worry about perfecting our own spirituality. Let other people including Derek Leman and the various attendees of the UMJC conference attend to their own relationship with the Almighty.

Overcoming Life

Malala-YousafzaiThe scene took place last week at the United Nations. In attendance were nearly 1000 young students from around the world at a specially convened Youth Assembly in the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well as Gordon Brown, Britain’s former Prime Minister.

The guest of honor was a young girl celebrating her 16th birthday. It was a day that the Taliban, many months ago, cruelly sought to prevent her from living to see. Her name is Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani whose crime was that she wanted to go to school to get an education. So, last October, when she was on a school bus in Pakistan, a man with a gun got on and said, “Where is Malala?” He shot her in the face at point-blank range. The bullet entered near an eye and ended up near her left shoulder, but miraculously she survived.

The Taliban proudly claimed responsibility. They called her efforts pro-Western. They feared she might set an example to other women. Education is their enemy. They desperately wanted Malala dead. But Malala refused to be intimidated.

-Rabbi Benjamin Blech
“Malala at the United Nations”
Aish.com

A great percentage of many people’s suffering is based on illusion. People feel they have problems and difficulties, when in reality the problem exists solely in their minds.

When you have a problem, ask yourself, “How would I view this problem if someone else were in this situation? Would I consider this a valid problem or not?” This can help you gain a more objective perspective.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Today’s Daily Lift #892 – Put Troubles in Perspective”
Aish.com

We’re used to thinking that our problems are the worst problems to have. We tend to believe that no one could really understand what we’re going through and how bad we can feel sometimes. Of course, when we actually try to explain to someone else what’s going on with us, we’re likely to get a response that others have it a lot worse. That usually doesn’t help, because then, on top of whatever emotional pain we’re experiencing, we also feel guilty for hurting our own hurts when other people are suffering so much more. Further, we’re liable to also feel shame when we realize that people with greater hurts are handling (at least in public) their problems so much more gracefully and courageously than we are.

There’s no way to win.

Well, that’s not true. Sometimes the trap is to compare who we are and where we are with others and naturally, we can’t ever measure up. Rabbi Pliskin has sage advice in that area, too. Don’t compare situations.

Waitaminute. What about all those motivational books and blogs pointing to people who suffer with grace and humility and keep on cranking along? Aren’t we supposed to be inspired by them? Why do those stories seem so depressing instead? Because we are violating Rabbi Pliskin’s advice not to compare our current situation with others?

It is said that you are what you think (no, I haven’t read that book) and that attitude is everything (no, I haven’t read that book, either). But I think it may be possible to stress if not overwhelm a “positive attitude.”

In 2001, an Arab terrorist detonated a guitar case filled with explosives in Sbarro’s pizzeria at the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road, the busiest area of downtown Jerusalem. The heinous attack killed 16 people and wounded 100. Among the dead were five members of the Schijveschuurder family, and Shoshana Greenbaum, an American who was pregnant with her first child. A few months later, Al-Najah University in Nablus opened a public exhibition, a gruesome reenactment of the Sbarro bombing, strewn with fake blood and body parts.

Day in Jewish History, Av 20
Aish.com

kerry-netanyahu-israelThere has been much ado about the so-called Israel-Palestine Peace Process lately, and for those of us who are Biblical, conservative, and pro-Israel, seems like just another round in a long list of futile and frustrating efforts to pander to the “two-state solution.”

Human beings struggle against injustice and many are willing to fight and even to die for our beliefs, and yet the soul that God created within us also desires peace. Watching the world around me, and especially Israel, it is difficult to imagine the Messiah’s return and his redemption and restoration of the Jewish homeland. There is so many people and nations against Israel and against what I consider to be justice.

Tishah B’av has passed, and we have now entered the seven weeks of consolation, seven weeks in which God is viewed as comforting us for our losses, both on the personal and the collective levels. People have different reactions and different ways to relate with calamity. Following the Torah’s inner dimension, we can identify four such ways, which in turn correspond to the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah (yud, hei, vav, and hei). We will consider them in reverse order (from the final hei, to the vav, to the higher hei, to the yud). Contemplating these will also give us deeper insight into the suffering that the Jewish people have endured throughout their history, up to and even including the Holocaust.

-Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
“The true meaning behind our sorrows”
Wonders from Your Torah

Rabbi Ginsburgh goes on in his article to describe the four different levels of how we can perceive difficult and even horrific events in our lives and in the world. We can get angry at God. We can believe that bad things happen because we sin. We can see God’s compassion in times of trouble.

And then there’s this:

The fourth and highest level (corresponding to the yud of Havayah) is to understand that God sends us woes in order to bring us to a higher level of consciousness. To better understand what it means that God seems to be absent for our own benefit, Rebbe Hillel of Paritsch offers an insightful parable involving a Rabbi and his beloved student. In the course of teaching his student Torah, the Rabbi suddenly falls silent. From the student’s point of view, it appears that his teacher is angry with him because of something he did wrong. The student’s point of view is reinforced when suddenly his teacher walks out of the room and does not return. However, Rebbe Hillel explains that the truth is that the teacher is not angry with his student but is preoccupied with a sudden spark of new insight he has received. Since the nature of such sparks of insight is to fade away back into the super-conscious and disappear altogether if they are not captured immediately and meditated upon, the teacher is forced to ignore his student for a time, forsake the current lesson, all in order to capture the insight. Actually, the Rabbi has his student in mind when doing so, since his ultimate intent is to pass the new teaching on to his beloved student. God too has acted in this way, says Rebbe Hillel. In those times when He seems to be absent from our lives, in truth, He is actually preparing a new light for us to enjoy.

sbarro_bombingYou say something to your spouse or loved one and he or she is silent in response. Are they angry? Did you say or do something wrong? If you respond from those assumptions by becoming defensive, angry, or sad, you may miss the point. Perhaps he or she didn’t hear you or was contemplating something else entirely. As the saying goes, “it’s not all about you.”

In 2001, a terrorist explodes a bomb in a popular pizza store and kills and maims innocent people. Later, the terrible scene is re-enacted as a tribute in a Palestinian controlled part of Israel.

One young, defiant, teenage girl is shot in the face by Taliban terrorists just because she wants what we take for granted in the United States: an education. She goes on to speak courageously in front of the United Nations about how education and not warfare, is our most powerful weapon.

One who is full of himself fills all the space around him. There is no room left for anyone else. Therefore, he despises another person by virtue of the space that other person consumes. He may give reasons for his disdain, but the reasons are secondary.

This is called wanton hatred. It is the reason given for our exile. It is the core of all evil. It is balanced and cured by wanton acts of love and kindness.

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

How do we combat our personal struggles when contrasted against the world-wide stage of tragedy? How do we fight our own small battles that always seem to beat us down, when even young girls rise with amazing courage after horrible trauma and injury?

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:12-13 (NASB)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3 (NASB)

looking-at-heavenThere is a place we can go. There is someone who loves our very soul. Even the strongest among us sometimes feels defeated. Look at a powerful warrior such as King David. Look at the immense sufferings of Paul the Apostle. Yes, they were extraordinary human beings, but they were human nonetheless. You and I may not be extraordinary, but we have the same source of strength. Even when depressed, injured, beaten down, crippled, wounded, dying, He is there. He comforts us. Surely goodness and kindness will follow us all the days of our lives.

And we can immerse ourselves in goodness and kindness, letting God restore our souls. Then we can share goodness in an evil world.

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21 (NASB)

You can sit in sorrow or you can make a difference in the world. You can become Partners in Kindness.

“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

Peace.

Shalom Aleichem

Shalom_AleichemShalom aleichem is a greeting version in Hebrew, meaning “peace be upon you” (literally: “peace to you”). The appropriate response is “aleikhem shalom” Yiddish: עליכם־שלום , or “upon you be peace”.

This form of greeting is traditional among Jews throughout the world. The greeting is more common amongst Ashkenazi Jewish. It first found in Bereishit (Genesis) 43:23 and occurs six times in the Jerusalem Talmud. Only the plural form is used even when addressing one person. A religious explanation for this is that one greets both the body and the soul, but Hebrew does occasionally use the plural as a sign of respect (e.g. a name of God is Elohim אלוהים literally gods).

-from Wikipedia.

I was sitting in my Sunday school class getting ready for the discussion and mentally dissecting the sermon given by one of the Associate Pastor’s half an hour before when I woman I’d never met before walked up to me and said, “Shalom aleichem.” I was momentarily taken aback, but I returned the same greeting and we struck up a conversation. I started talking about how “Jewish” the Messiah would be upon his return and that a lot of people would be surprised when he returned as the Jewish King, ruling with a rod of iron from Jerusalem. We discussed how “every knee will bow” in acknowledgement of the King, not because they reasoned it out or even because their hearts became soft to God, but because Messiah is King! He will rule the world. It will be obvious.

Strange conversation but it’s not the point of this missive.

We got back around to her interesting way of greeting me. I told her I had assumed that she said it because she knew my wife and kids were Jewish. That wasn’t it. She had no idea who I was and who my family is. She isn’t Jewish either and doesn’t speak Hebrew, so that’s not it. In fact, she’s a fairly traditional Christian. I’m not sure Kathy (that’s her name) really knew why she greeted me with “Shalom aleichem.” Understanding that, I assumed it was something God had to say to me in relation to my recent cultural and spiritual hollowness. I think it was God’s way of saying to me that I’m not as disconnected and isolated as I think.

That said, Sunday school class was “interesting” but sometimes in an almost dismaying way. That’s only because of something called Bible Study Fellowship and a fellow named John MacArthur, whose interpretation of the Bible is heavily leveraged by our Sunday school teacher Dean.

Dean’s a nice guy. I like him. He’s not always very flexible, though. He tends to take MacArthur and run with him, so to speak, forgetting that Bible interpretation isn’t the same thing as established and immutable fact. How Dean tied 1 Peter 3:18-20, Chapter 12 of Revelation and the “demon possessed humans” in Genesis 6:1-4 made me almost chew my tongue right off (metaphorically…my tongue is quite intact, thank you very much).

Shalom aleichem vs. the “culture” of Bible Study Fellowship. Oh my.

But I was reminded that a significant portion of our class time was spent praying for others. For people with cancer. For people who are out of work. For people who are old and slowly dying. And more than that, we talked and planned how we, as human beings, would be the answer to the prayers we could answer (we can’t cure cancer, but we can offer other assistance). Part of the lesson from 1 Peter 3 was all about being people designed to help others, how God would enable us to do what we thought we couldn’t do, how we should be eager to do good, how we would be blessed and yes, how we would be sometimes punished, just for doing good.

seeking-peaceOne guy gave a reasonable description of Tikkun Olam without ever having heard the term before. Really, he reminded me of a Rabbinic commentary I’d read recently. Something about how we are all created in the image of God and in His image, we are designed to do good. Only the “brokenness” of the world and our own “brokenness” get in the way.

At the end of class, Charlie, the guy sitting next to me, said he admired my ability to keep quiet when I obviously had something to say (good thing I don’t play poker). That helped to defuse some of my frustration at MacArthur and how he was being applied. Yes, there are other opinions besides MacArthur’s, but the flip side to some of these little puzzles we discuss is that what we are really supposed to be doing as children of God and disciples of the Master isn’t hard to figure out. Charlie also reminded me that we have this sign out in the foyer to the church:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

God is listening to me after all, He’s paying attention…and He responded to me today.

Shalom aleichem.

157 days.

Beckoning the God of Peace

in-the-face-of-the-stormPrepare yourself with this meditation, and when you feel anger overcoming you, run through it in your mind:

Know that all that befalls you comes from a single Source, that there is nothing outside of that Oneness to be blamed for any event in the universe.

And although this person who insulted you, or hurt you, or damaged your property, is granted free choice and is held culpable for his decision to do wrong — that is his problem. That it had to happen to you — that is between you and the One Above.

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

I’ve spent the past several days monitoring some disturbing and less than “Godly” attitudes on the Internet (No Judah, your not one of them). I suppose it’s obvious that hostile and critical people and organizations should express themselves in an environment as open as the World Wide Web, but it’s always disappointing when the sources of such poor behavior are those who claim the cause of Christ (though they may not call him by that title). I won’t give honor to either of the two specific sites/blogs to which I’m referring by linking to them on my blog, but suffice it to say that they both (apparently) desire to denigrate Jews and Judaism in general, and specific individuals in the Messianic Jewish movement in particular.

There’s more than a little irony happening here. First off, both of the sources I am speaking of advertise themselves as being educated and scholarly, in addition to being holy and honorable. And yet, how can what they say about themselves be true when the results of their “scholarship” and “reviews” are a widespread (relative to the scope of the Internet but perhaps not their readership) reiteration of classic hatred of Jews, a further expression Christian supersessionism, and a great outpouring of comments about individuals bordering on character assassination?

After Shabbat had ended on Saturday night, in a fit of pique, I wrote this on Facebook:

There’s so much injustice masquerading as scholarship and that reduces the history of Jewish people to a subject that’s examined under a microscope. How far do I go to challenge people who think they are defending the cause of Christ but who actually are walking in the footsteps of everyone who has authored a pogrom and constructed a holocaust?

I found myself sorely tempted to respond to the sources of my frustration via email, blog comments, and twitter, basically to (proverbially) give them a piece of my mind. Fortunately, I stopped myself. It’s hardly taking the moral high road when another can provoke you to descend to their level. On the other hand, is this blog post any better?

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

-Shabbos 118b

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

One of the best guidelines to decide what you should or should not say is to ask: “Does it make a difference who might overhear it?” If it is something that you would rather someone not overhear, it is best left unsaid.

Sometimes the information need not be derogatory. A secret may not be saying anything bad about anyone, but if someone has entrusted you with confidential information, and you have this tremendous urge to share the privileged communication with someone else, you should ask yourself: “Would I reveal this if the person who trusted me with this information were present?”

Sometimes people want to boast. They may even fabricate their story to those who have no way of knowing that it may not be true. Still, they would be ashamed to boast in the presence of someone who knew that their statement was false.

Volumes have been written about what is proper speech and about what constitutes an abuse of this unique capacity to verbalize with which man was endowed. But even if one does not have time to master all of the scholarly works on the subject, a reliable rule of thumb is to ask, “Do I need to look behind me before I say it?” If the answer is yes, do not say it.

Today I shall…

…monitor my speech carefully, and not say anything that I would not wish someone to overhear.

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

Let’s look at the first two sentences of Rabbi Twerski’s commentary on “lashon hara” again:

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

That’s very difficult for most of us to do, especially when we have free access to the Internet and the ability to create and edit websites and blogs we have created or to make comments on the blogs and discussion boards of others. The web is full of harsh criticisms aimed at others and yes, some of those criticisms are true. And yet, and this is especially focused at those folks who claim to observe the Torah of Moses whoever they may be…to publish comments regarding specific individuals for the express purpose of destroying their reputation or causing them personal and emotional harm, cannot be construed in any manner as actually serving God.

peace-of-mind1I’m not unmindful that such individuals are responding in anger, and that they even feel justified due to the belief that they are fighting against what they see as some sort of “injustice” they think was perpetrated against them or their own cause or tradition, but is such a response really the right thing to do? I know that I’m struggling with my own anger at such behavior, but in doing so and in writing this blog post, I’m walking the edge of the very abyss I believe they have already fallen into.

But what is Rabbi Freeman’s advice on anger? If anyone has insulted you or done you wrong, it is a problem that they possess. It’s only the problem of the person insulted (in this case, me) if they (I) allow the insult to affect them (me). Thus, the individuals who are behaving rather poorly on the web are only a problem to me if I let them affect me. That I’m even writing this “meditation” means I must confess that I have allowed this to happen. In that case, my conversation must not engage those who have behaved in an insulting matter, but to the degree that they have entered my life with their discordant behavior, I must take the matter to God. How I feel and how I must respond is between Him and me alone.

To apply Rabbi Twerski’s commentary on what I’ve been saying, in addition, I must monitor my own “speech,” which includes anything I post online. I’m glad I didn’t give in to temptation last Saturday, otherwise I would have failed in that area as well.

(Unfortunately, I did give in to temptation on Google+ Monday morning and I am now living with that regret. The resulting comments on my recent Return to Jerusalem blog post were actually stimulating, but the “comments storm” that occurred on my Why I Go to Church missive were troubling and disappointing for the most part..though thankfully only from a single individual.)

Where do I go from here?

We cannot think two thoughts at the same time. Consequently, when negative thoughts arise, you do not need to fight them. Make an effort to think positive thoughts, and the negative thoughts will disappear.

(see Rabbi Nachman of Breslov; Likutai Aitzos: machshovos, no.11)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #727
“Fill Your Mind with Positive Thoughts”
Aish.com

There is a much older “midrash” on this topic in which I can also take comfort.

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)

Not only think of what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable, but practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

candleIt is not unexpected that we in the body of faith at one time or another, will turn to God in our anguish and ask Him to quiet our minds and our lives, to shield us from the turmoil that comes from the world and from inside of ourselves. And yet, if we want the “God of peace” to reside with us, Paul says that we must choose to focus our thoughts on peace and then to practice peace.

As Rabbi Twerski might say:

Today I shall…

…strive to practice peace by embracing peace within my thoughts, so that the God of peace will be with me and guide me in His ways, and so that no other person may suffer for anything I say or do.

“The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. … The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”

-George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright

Toldot: Blessings Upon Israel

Isaac and Rebecca endure twenty childless years, until their prayers are answered and Rebecca conceives. She experiences a difficult pregnancy as the “children struggle inside her”; G-d tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder.

Esau emerges first; Jacob is born clutching Esau’s heel. Esau grows up to be “a cunning hunter, a man of the field”; Jacob is “a wholesome man,” a dweller in the tents of learning. Isaac favors Esau; Rebecca loves Jacob. Returning exhausted and hungry from the hunt one day, Esau sells his birthright (his rights as the firstborn) to Jacob for a pot of red lentil stew.

In Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, Isaac presents Rebecca as his sister, out of fear that he will be killed by someone coveting her beauty. He farms the land, reopens the wells dug by his father Abraham, and digs a series of his own wells: over the first two there is strife with the Philistines, but the waters of the third well are enjoyed in tranquility.

Esau marries two Hittite women. Isaac grows old and blind, and expresses his desire to bless Esau before he dies. While Esau goes off to hunt for his father’s favorite food, Rebecca dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, covers his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepares a similar dish, and sends Jacob to his father. Jacob receives his father’s blessings for “the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land” and mastery over his brother. When Esau returns and the deception is revealed, all Isaac can do for his weeping son is to predict that he will live by his sword, and that when Jacob falters, the younger brother will forfeit his supremacy over the elder.

from “Toldot in a Nutshell”
Commentary on Torah Portion Toldot
Chabad.org

As I write this, it’s early in the Thursday morning, just past 3:30 a.m. If most of you have been keeping up on the events in Israel, you’re aware of the terrorist attacks from Gaza and the response of the IDF.

My wife and children are Jewish. I believe the Jewish people have a right to Israel and a deep connection to the Land. These events may signal not just another round of terrorism and response but a prelude to another war. I can’t know that, of course, but it’s not as if it hasn’t happened before. That’s enough to keep me up at night or to wake me up too early in the morning, but then a friend of mine’s daughter is currently serving with the IDF, so it’s feels personal as well.

But that’s not all I have on my mind.

you realize that israel is the aggressor, right? they’ve been shelling women & children forever… after stealing their land

the US may be the second most evil country on earth, but Israel has 1st place locked up by a few miles.

where do you come up with that? can you show me any evidence? You’re either brainwashed or willfully ignorant.

is that really what you believe? seriously? where do you get your intel? ZionistPress? get real! Israel is the aggressor.

-from my twitter feed

As you can see, I try to follow a variety of opinions on twitter, but as someone on Facebook (ironically) said just recently about twitter, “the noise to signal ratio dropped to nothing but noise.” I want to be fair and give other opinions consideration, but it’s not worth my health or peace of mind, is it?

What does this have to do with Toldot and the story of Esau and Jacob?

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between two warring brothers (and only one becomes the patriarch of the Children of Israel and the Jewish people) and the events in Israel right now. Two related people struggling over what they believe are their rights but with only one, in my opinion and my understanding of the Bible, having the superior claim on the inheritance of the Land promised to Abraham.

The story we read in Toldot ends with Jacob leaving his home for an uncertain future:

So Isaac sent for Jacob and blessed him. He instructed him, saying, “You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women. Up, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother, May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples. May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham.”

Then Isaac sent Jacob off, and he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau.

Genesis 28:1-5 (JPS Tanakh)

The conclusion of Toldot is a little easier to take knowing what happens next and the ultimate outcome of the journeys of Jacob, but in a very real way, those journeys have not yet ended. The Jews have returned to the land of their inheritance but it is an uneasy return. They face strife from terrorism within their borders, the threat of war from outside, and the aggression of a world that does not believe that Israel has a right to exist, let alone defend itself from hostile people who use the weapons of rockets and public opinion to chip away at the Jewish land, taking the Land and the lives of the children of Jacob bit by bit.

It was decades before Jacob could return to Canaan and in the meantime, Esau was there, doing as he willed, and remaining a threat and a barrier to Jacob’s blessings in Israel. Jews believe that in the age of redemption, all Jews will live in Eretz Yisrael and motivate all mankind to seek God (see Inwardness: The Path to Posterity). But as the path for Jacob was not easy and required a great deal of suffering and searching, both in the material and the spiritual sense, so too is the future of Israel between now and the time of Messiah.

And the servants of Isaac dug in the valley, and they found a well of living water.

Genesis 26:19

If a person tells you “I have toiled but I have not found”—do not believe him.

-Talmud, Megillah 6b

Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch was deep in thought, struggling with some elusive idea deep in the recesses of his mighty mind. A bowl of soup had been set before him some time earlier, but the Rebbe was in another world; sharp lines of concentration plowed his forehead, as he sat gazing into the bowl and slowly stirring the soup with his spoon.

The Rebbe’s servant, who figured that the Rebbe must be searching for the egg noodles, exclaimed: “Rebbe, dig in further! The lokshen lies deeper down.”

A wave of contentment passed over the Rebbe’s tensed features. “Thank you,” he said to his servant, “You have revived my soul…”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Digging for Noodles”
from Once Upon a Chassid
Chabad.org

Nothing is final. That Israel exists today is no assurance that it will continue as it is between now and the Messiah’s return. The people who govern Israel today are human. Israel is not yet perfected as a nation. As they are today, Israel is not immune from making mistakes out of their humanity. But that doesn’t mean that Israel and the Jewish people deserve annihilation as the Palestinian terrorists (and the Arab nations) and their supporters in the western nations declare.

I have faith that God will not let the Jewish people perish, but what is to happen in the Land of Israel now, I cannot know. Modern Israel has faced crisis after crisis in its young history. There were many times it looked as if it would be destroyed, only to be sustained by the miracles of God. Just as Jacob and his family ultimately returned and established themselves in Canaan, so too have the Jews returned to Israel. Just as Moses lead his people through the desert, there have been desperate struggles for the Jews. Just as Joshua lead Israel over the Jordan and into their Land, the Land promised to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob, so too will Messiah, son of David, lead his people to take final possession of their Land and into their promised rest.

But there is still much to do between now and then. The first task is to reassure and to fortify ourselves, to lift up and strengthen our faith. Israel is from God. It shall not be destroyed. God urges Joshua, as he takes command of Israel, to be “strong and courageous” four times in the first chapter of the book of Joshua. So too must the inhabitants of Israel today be strong and courageous. So too must we, the supporters of Israel and we who have faith in God’s promises…we must be strong and courageous, though Israel and everyone who loves her will be dragged through the mud and maligned for faith and trust and for obeying God.

Only God knows when the time of “living water” will come. We must be ready.

If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it,
then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete.

But if you only see what is wrong and how ugly it is,
then it is you yourself that needs repair.

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

Blessings upon Israel and her people, the children of Abraham, and of Issac, and of Jacob.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.

Psalm 137:5-6 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Continue to keep informed on the events in Israel at IsraelNationalNews.com.

Good Shabbos.