Tag Archives: Rabbi Abraham Twerski

Identity and Diversity

I just read a blog post written by Dr. Larry Hurtado called Early Christian Diversity as well as a brief commentary by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski on Pirkei Avot 1:14. Interestingly enough, I think they both speak to me personally as well as to the wider body of modern Yeshua (Jesus) believers.

Part of what Rabbi Twerski wrote was:

What Hillel really meant can be better understood with a statement by the Rabbi of Kotzk, who said, “If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am and you are. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not and you are not.”

William Shakespeare said the same thing with the words “To thine own self be true,” and I think that’s what I’m attempting in creating my own definition of a life of holiness (not that it’s so easy to follow such a definition).

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

In reading Dr. Hurtado’s blog post, I am once again reminded that what I’m going through, what we are all going through, is not new at all:

But it isn’t as though we didn’t know that before Bauer wrote. From our earliest Christian texts (e.g., Paul’s letters and other writings) we have candid references to diversity in the young Jesus-movement, even sharp conflicts and mutual condemnation. Maybe Eusebius could convince himself that everything was sweet agreement initially and that diversity and division only came later, but that’s not what the earliest sources actually show.

This early Christian diversity, however, was not a number of totally separate communities or forms (hence, my dissatisfaction with “early Christianities”). As I contend in a recent article, the diverse expressions of early Christianity seem to have been in vibrant contact with one another, sometimes conflicting, at other times seeming to agree to overlook differences, at other times seeking to persuade others of their own views/emphases…

I’ve tended to think of the differences between “early Christian” communities as being divided largely across the lines of Gentile believers and Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua, but I believe Dr. Hurtado is making finer distinctions. There may have been numerous branches of “Christianity” in the latter part of the first century and into the second that had other points of separation or distinction. In fact, there was likely no real effort to “form a broadly connected and cooperative trans-local religious movement” until Eusebius or Constantine, according to Dr. Hurtado.

That makes me wonder what the Apostle Paul was up to if not attempting to create unified and uniform communities of Yeshua followers among the Gentiles (certainly Jewish praxis and community was already well established for Jewish disciples of the Rav).

Now let’s look at the Christian and Jewish religious landscapes today. There’s a wide variety of denominations and branches in both faith movements. There are thousands of separate or overlapping Christian denominations, and a number of different branches to Judaism including various subsets.

We could spend a lot of time debating who is right and who is wrong, but that’s not why I’m writing this blog post. Each early “Christianity” (I keep writing that word in quotes because until the Gentiles forcefully separated themselves from their Jewish mentors and teachers and reinterpreted the Bible as a Gentile religious document which excluded Jews, there was no such thing as “Christianity” … it was just another Jewish sect, albeit with an unusually liberal policy about admitting Gentiles) was the result of a separate understanding of the teachings of Rav Yeshua, sometimes interpreted by Paul, sometimes interpreted by other Jewish or Gentile teachers.

church?In modern times too, we are separate by differences in theology and doctrine, but I believe some of these separations are also the result of efforts to define identity. This is a key issue for Messianic Judaism certainly, but I believe we “Judaicly aware” non-Jewish disciples of the Rav are also worshipers in search of an identity.

Some are comfortable identifying as “Messianic Gentiles” and operating within the confines of a Messianic Jewish community (or primarily Messianic Gentile community in some cases), while others, though appreciating the Jewish perspective on the Bible, feel a need to not necessarily emulate Jewish praxis, even to a minor degree.

In a number of ways, I think that Gentile involvement in Messianic Judaism, while it works for some, can lead other non-Jews to attempt to ingrain Jewish practice and Jewish identity into themselves, either via the “one law” theology promoted in areas of the Hebrew Roots movement, or in extreme cases, by these Gentiles abandoning Yeshua altogether and converting to (usually Orthodox) Judaism.

For some of these non-Jews, there is a justification for conversion, either to the aforementioned Orthodox Judaism (or some other traditional branch) or even within certain streams of Messianic Judaism.

However, there are a plethora of Biblical prophesies stating that both Israel and the people of the nations of the world will acknowledge God and bow to the King in Messianic Days. For that to happen, there have to be some Gentiles around. We can’t all convert to Judaism.

And we can’t all practice Judaism as such. There have to be people around who are devoted to God who nonetheless are recognizably Gentile.

And there are tons of us, but we are mostly in Christian churches of one sort or another. Lots of diversity even within “the Church”. And then there are outliers like me who don’t really fit anyone’s mold, system, or structure, who are seeking an identity that fits our personalities, educations, perceptions, and circumstances.

Rabbi Twerski summed up his small missive with:

Today I shall…

…try to achieve my own identity. Whereas I will listen to the advice of those who are wiser than me, I will nonetheless never hold others responsible for what I do.

Of course, he is describing his personal identity. His identity as a Jew in Jewish community is well-defined largely by the community. Anyone who belongs to any community is, in some fashion, defined by the norms of that community.

aloneAnd for those of us who don’t belong, we struggle to define ourselves or at least, search the Bible for a way to understand how God defines us.

One mistake we often make is to take offense at how an individual defines themselves relative to the Bible, Rav Yeshua, and God. In writing Isaiah 56 and the Gentile, I started a bit of a “conversation” that was the result of my self-definition spilling over onto how other non-Jews define themselves.

Really, I’m hardly in a position to tell other people who they are and how to live when I’m struggling with those very issues myself. I believe I have a self-identity that’s fairly well-formed but a life of faith remains vital only when it is constantly under scrutiny.

Dr. Hurtado wrote of an early Christianity that was highly diverse as well as interconnected, finding different local and ethnic expressions. Rabbi Twerski spoke of consulting other individuals and the community and ultimately allowing self-identity to emerge from the “self”.

Whoever we are as human beings and people of faith, in community or not, the final responsibility to grasp an understanding of who we are, who God made us to be, and how God defines our identity, remains with each of us.

No one can threaten that unless you let them.

Advertisements

The Non-existent Scar

Impeached witnesses are not considered guilty until they have impeached themselves.

-Makkos 5a, Rabbeinu Chananel

When someone says something uncomplimentary to us, we are of course displeased. The intensity of our reaction to an unkind remark, however, depends upon ourselves.

A former patient called me one day, sobbing hysterically because her husband had told her that she was a poor wife and a failure as a mother. When she finally calmed down, I asked her to listen carefully to me.

“I think that the scar on your face is very ugly,” I said. There was a moment of silence. “Pardon me?” she said.

“I spoke very distinctly, but I will repeat what I said. `The scar on your face is repulsive.’

“I don’t understand, doctor,” the woman said. “I don’t have a scar on my face.”

“Then what did you think of my remark?” I asked.

“I couldn’t understand what you were talking about,” she said.

“You see,” I pointed out, “when I say something insulting to you, and you know that it is not true, you do not become hysterical. You just wonder what in the world it is that I am talking about. That should also have been your reaction to your husband’s offensive remarks. Instead of losing your composure, you should have told him that he is delusional. The reason you reacted as extremely as you did is because you have doubts about yourself as to your adequacy as a wife and mother.”

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 30
Aish.com

Sorry to start of today’s “morning meditation” with such a long quote, but I think it was worth it. R. Twerski’s therapeutic intervention was absolutely brilliant (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling and formerly was a family therapist and Child Protective Services social worker). It’s so simple and yet so profound, and it speaks not only to this one woman’s situation but I think to all of us in our lives.

I couldn’t help but relate this article to recent events in my online life. After all, I’m human and I have doubts just like any other man. When someone calls me on my issues, real or imagined, I have to pause and consider whether they could be right about me, and if so, to ask if this is a “call to action” for me to make changes.

despairMany times, especially online, but also in “real life,” we are insulted, accused, harassed, and maligned, often by the people we love and care about, the people we’re most vulnerable to. As we see in R. Twerski’s example above, a woman was insulted by her husband about her poor performance as a wife and mother. Nothing could cut deeper to her heart than those statements and the person making them.

How we react should depend on whether or not the allegations are true, but that’s not how most of us typically respond. It’s like driving down the road and having someone suddenly cut us off in traffic, honk their horn, and then give us “the finger.” They’re not only being aggressive but behaving as if we’ve done something wrong.

How do we react to that? Either we get scared or angry…or both. Incidents of road rage start this way.

But what if, assuming we’ve done nothing wrong, we were to respond with bewilderment? “What the heck set that guy off,” we might ask ourselves.

And if someone blows up at us on the web or in person, again, assuming what they’re saying isn’t true about us (we don’t have a scar on our face), what prevents us from also simply becoming confused but not experiencing anger or pain?

Because we fear that there really is something wrong with us. I think that’s the result of sin and guilt.

Face it. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. Far from it in fact. We have sinned. Chances are we will sin against God and other people today. It is very likely that we will sin again tomorrow…or we fear that we will.

feverIf a person goes around always worried about who they are, their past failures, their fear of future failures, and whether or not their shortcomings are obvious to everyone around them, then it’s easy to respond with anger or pain when insulted. We’ve already primed ourselves to go off half-cocked when someone gives us a reason.

But for most people, most of the time, the issues they worry about are more imagined than real.

It’s like the woman in Rabbi Twerski’s commentary. She didn’t have an ugly scar on her face, and R. Twerski at least implies that she’s not a bad mother and wife either. She only reacted as if she were because she feared that this was the truth of her existence, even when it wasn’t.

All the elaborate proofs, all the philosophical machinations, none of that will ever stand you firmly on your feet. There’s only one thing that can give you that, and that’s your own inherent conviction.

For even as your own mind flounders, you yourself know that this is so, and know that you believe it to be so. It is a conviction all the winds of the earth cannot uproot that has carried us to this point in time, that has rendered us indestructible and timeless.

For it comes from within and from the heritage of your ancestors who believed as well, back to the invincible conviction of our father, Abraham, a man who took on the entire world.

The doubts, the hesitations, the vacillations, all these come to you from the outside. Your challenge is but to allow your inner knowledge to shine through and be your guide.

Inside is boundless power.

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

revenge-and-happinessKnowing yourself is very helpful for a number of reasons. If you know who you are and what you are about, then whenever someone accuses you of something that is untrue, you cannot be hurt. Even if the person who is upset with you is very dear to you, if they are wrong about you, it may injure you somewhat, but not in the same way as if what they said were the truth. If you are accused of being a failure, if you really aren’t, how does that affect you vs. how you react if you fear being a failure?

Also, knowing yourself helps you recognize when you have sinned and reveals to you your own faults. This is an opportunity to make corrections, to improve yourself, to repent, to return to God, to make right the wrongs you’ve committed against others, to make the person you will be tomorrow better than the person you were yesterday.

Stealing is abhorrent to most people. They would never think of taking something which does not belong to them. Still, they may not be bothered in the least by making an appointment and keeping the other person waiting for a few minutes. Rabbi Luzzato points out that this double standard is a fallacy, because stealing others’ time is no less a crime than stealing their possessions.

Moreover, stealing time is worse in one aspect: stolen objects can be returned, but stolen time can never be repaid.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 29
Aish.com

Worry, guilt, and self-recrimination are thieves. They steal your time and your peace of mind. If someone steals your money, that can always be returned, but once a moment in time has elapsed, you can never get it back. Also, even if you achieve peace of mind in the future, you have wasted time worrying in the past (and in the present) needlessly, when you could have been devoting that time to improving yourself, to helping others, to serving God.

Which is more important: five minutes or five cents? Everyone will say that “time” is more important. But still we throw it away more often than money. And in Jewish consciousness, killing time is suicide… on the installment plan.

“Relax”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” column
Aish.com

Rabbi Twerski also writes:

If someone has wrongfully infringed on our time, it is proper that we should call it to his or her attention. As with other offenses, we should try to sincerely forgive if the offender changes his or her ways. If we have infringed on someone else’s time, we must be sure to ask forgiveness and to remember that teshuvah consists of a sincere resolution not to repeat the same act again.

If someone points something out to you that needs correction, something you may have been unaware of or something you’ve been avoiding dealing with, they’re doing you a favor. Assuming their intent isn’t malicious and their attitude isn’t hostile or condescending, they are acting as an agent of change and providing you with the opportunity to improve.

soaring_hawkIf, however, a person’s intent is hostile or vindictive, and their desire is to injure you, perhaps because they feel you’ve injured them…if their allegations are wholly untrue, then you should ask yourself, “Why are they acting this way? What could have prompted this outburst?”

That’s certainly better than responding by feeling guilt or shame or by lashing out at the other person, perpetuating the cycle of “You hurt me, now I’ll hurt you.” Every time you give in to that temptation, you are stealing time from that other person and wasting your own. You’re also destroying your peace of mind and their’s and stealing our time and service from God.

“Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”

-Soren Kierkegaard