Tag Archives: shalom

First Seek Peace

There are three ways to bring unity between two opposites:

The first is by introducing a power that transcends both of them and to which they both utterly surrender their entire being. They are then at peace with each other because they are both under the influence of the same force.

But their being is not at peace—their being is simply ignored.

The second way is by finding a middle ground where the two beings meet. The two are at peace where they meet on that middle ground—but the rest of their territory remains apart and distant.

The third way is to reveal that the essence of every aspect of the two beings is one and the same.

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

All the possessions and pleasures of the world are only valuable to the extent they are accompanied by peace of mind. A person who has tremendous riches and can gratify all of his desires, will nevertheless suffer if he lacks peace of mind.

As a rule, the power-hungry and the status-seekers lack this obvious realization. Why work on obtaining power and status when you have the ability to work on something that is much more precious? A peaceful mental attitude and serenity of the soul are the most important factors for happiness.

It is related that when an ancient emperor was about to sail for Italy, an advisor asked him what his ultimate plans were. “To conquer Rome,” he replied. “What will be after that?” “To conquer Carthage, Macedonia, and Greece.” “And after you have conquered all that, what are your plans?” Then I will be able to spend my life in peace and comfort.” “But,” queried the wise advisor, “why not be in peace and comfort right now?”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #620”
Aish.com

What is it to be at peace? What is it to be at peace with others, especially those who seem to be the opposite as you? In Rabbi Freeman’s commentary, who or what is he talking about? Could it be reconciling between a man and a woman. Plenty of married people feel they are joined with an “opposite” who doesn’t understand the first thing about them? Then again, he could have been talking about man and God, but then, how could he suggest that a third and larger force be able to bring peace between them, when there is nothing larger than God? How about Christian and Jew, but certainly they are not the only “opposites,” for there are many different religious traditions that seemingly contradict each other.

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

-Paul Simon
from the song “Slip Slidin’ Away” (1977)

Like the ancient emperor in Rabbi Pliskin’s story, we too make all kinds of plans that, in the end, are designed to bring us pleasure and peace. Who knows if they’ll ever work, but we’ve got to try. Of course, that often means putting off pleasure and peace for a long time, maybe many years, until our “retirement,” if it ever comes. In the meantime, what do we do? Do we ever have peace? What is peace?

It seems like we are in a life that is constantly in conflict. The world is in conflict, people in different nations and within our own nation contend with each other. We ruin each other’s peace. Sometimes I think it would be better to be alone. Then at least, there would be peace and quiet. But is that what God intended when he said “be fruitful and multiply,” first to Adam and then to Noah? Probably not. We seem to be expected to make peace with our “opposite,” who in one sense is the mate God chose to correspond to us. But how is this done? Must we just plan and scheme and wait for peace to come like Rabbi Pliskin’s mythical emperor?

“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:16-21 (ESV)

That didn’t work, either.

What’s the secret? What must we do? Some believe that we must understand what God wants us to do; how God wants us to obey Him, right down to the slightest detail, in order to find peace. Peace is not a state of mind then, nor is it a relationship with an opposite, neither with a spouse, nor with another person such as Christian or Jew, nor with God. Peace is the perfect “doing” of things, like the mitzvot, not due to a desire to please, or as a means to express compassion, grace, or love, but for the sake of simply doing and simply knowing how to do. Is that what God intended, actions and things to be placed above people and particularly loved ones? Does that being peace within and peace with others?

Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman, zt”l, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisroel, reported a story which the Chofetz Chaim had told him.

The Chofetz Chaim used to visit the saintly Rabbi Nachum from Grodna. The Chofetz Chaim considered him to be his teacher and Rebbe, as he studied and learned from his holy actions and customs in all areas of Torah. Once, on one of the nights of Chanukah, the Chofetz Chaim was at his Rebbe’s home, and nightfall came and went. The hours passed, the street traffic thinned out, and still the candles of the menorah remained unlit. Much later, the wife of Rabbi Nachum returned home, and only then did his Rebbe kindle the Chanukah lights.

The Chofetz Chaim asked his Rebbe for an explanation of what had happened, for the halachah seems to say that the lighting should be done in an expedient fashion, and his Rebbe’s wife’s obligation could have been fulfilled with her husband’s lighting, even without her being home at the time.

Rabbi Nachum explained. The halachah tells us that if a person has only enough money for either Shabbos candles or Chanukah candles, the candles of Shabbos have priority, for the glow of the Shabbos candles ensures and guarantees tranquility in the house – Sh’lom Bayis. “My wife,” continued Rabbi Nachum, “is selfless and dedicated. It is to her credit that I am able to learn Torah and to be involved in the many Mitzvah activities which I handle. She enjoys being present when I light the Chanukah candles. It is for this reason that I decided that the consideration of “Sh’lom Bayis” takes priority, and I waited for her, rather than light earlier during the prime hour.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Sh’lom Bayis comes first”
Shabbos 23b

Obviously, study, learning, and understanding the mitzvot of God is not irrelevant, nor would I ever suggest such a thing, but as we see in this example, it’s not the doing of things that is the most important of the mitzvot, it’s the caring for others, including one’s beloved spouse.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

Peace is not the absence of conflict, noise, strife, or struggle, but the presence of the heart. Our “treasure;” our peace, both within ourselves and with others including with God, is where ever we place our heart and our love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (ESV)

How often is this simple lesson completely ignored or worse, reviled and ridiculed, in favor of “debate” and “argument” and “discussion” in order for people to jockey for position in the hopes of gaining some sort of superiority over their fellow disciples in Christ. Better that we just smile at and return our peace to those who continually seek to give us the gifts of strife and discord.

A caring person is an elevated person. It is a great act of kindness to express your caring for people who might not realize that you care about them.

Today, think of three people who would greatly appreciate your sincere caring. Be resolved to let them know that you care about them as soon as possible.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #619”
Aish.com

We see in examples from the Master, the Jewish Messiah King, from his emissary to the Gentiles, the Jewish “sage” Paul, and down to the Rabbis of the modern era, that love, peace, and caring are not something that we consider only after knowledge, study, and scholarship. They are the very goal for which we study. The Bible exists so that we may know God, not as a Professor knows history or as a Scientist knows chemistry or physics, but as a man knows a woman in total intimacy and love. It is from that love and intimacy with God that we can represent His Name and His grace to our fellow human beings, to our spouse, our children, our neighbors, and to even strangers. We are commanded to love. We are made to love, first God and then the world, just as God so loved the world (John 3:16).

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)

To those of you who have responded to me (for whatever reason) with anger and upset, I’ll have to take my lesson from Gandhi and refuse your “gift.” In seeking my peace, I desire to seek your peace as well. However, that is only available when we love God, for in loving Him and in loving our neighbor, can we be at peace with each other and within ourselves.

Shalom to you all.

Advertisements

The Chavruta Illusion

Study with a chavruta, or partner, is a hallmark of traditional Jewish learning. Together you break your heads on the texts. Two minds applied to a problem are almost always better than one.

Each checks and corrects the misconceptions of the other, questioning and sharpening the other’s ideas, while the necessity of articulating one’s thoughts to another person brings greater clarity than learning alone. Indeed, the Talmud goes so far as to say that one who learns Torah alone becomes stupid! (Berachot 63a)

Chavruta comes from the Hebrew word meaning, simply, “friend.” Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) states the fundamental importance of companionship in Jewish learning (and in general): “Make for yourself a teacher, find yourself a friend, and judge every person favourably.”

-Rabbi Julian Sinclair
“Chavruta”
TheJC.com

Periodically, I find myself on the receiving end of a certain amount of criticism because of my opinions, my beliefs, and sometimes “just because.” I’m willing to debate others, both in the comments section of my own blog and on the blogs of others, as long as I can see that there is an honest exchange of ideas without the personalization of conflict. When it becomes apparent to me that the other person is arguing just for the sake of arguing or only for the purpose of driving, forcing, or compelling me to acknowledge that they’re “right” without considering the possibility that their own viewpoint isn’t entirely valid, I tend to withdraw from the discussion. If this happens on my own blog, it’s incredibly easy since, after all, I’m the blog owner. On someone else’s blog, I just stop “talking.”

Debate, discussion, and a frank exchange of ideas is one thing, but I’ve got better things to do with my time than to either let myself be backed into a corner by a someone emulating a verbal “pit bull” or to endlessly explain what I’ve already explained fifteen different times, trying to find new and unique ways of expressing the same thought in the vain hope that I’ll be able to get my point through to someone who is never going to listen to my side of things.

OK, at this point, some of you reading this may be taking my descriptions personally. Please don’t. I am not describing a specific individual or collection of individuals here. I’m expressing “the worst of” experiences I’ve had in the blogosphere in the years I’ve been participating and then exaggerating it just a tad more to produce an impression. I’m trying to say that there are some otherwise well-meaning people on the web who are not really productive communicators.

Now, back to the topic at hand: Chavruta or rather, the Chavruta “illusion.”

I never get the “Chavruta illusion” from a Jewish person. I just wanted to let you know that. It’s always from a non-Jewish person involved in Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots, or a similar religious expression.

When I complain or draw attention to what I perceive as the “adversarial” or “hostile” tone of a person’s interactions with me (or with others), they accuse me of not understanding how learning takes place in a Yeshiva setting and invoke the concept of Chavruta. I also sometimes get “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) and something like “Take away the dross from the silver” (Proverbs 25:4). This supposedly is to show me that an unbridled lack of graciousness and common courtesy, along with an essential rudeness is required and even encouraged when discussing differences of opinion in the realm of religious beliefs and ideas…at least as far as the “Jewish ideal” goes.

But wait a minute.

I never went to a Yeshiva. As a non-Jew, I probably would never be accepted for formal Yeshiva study. End of story. My experience in the Chavruta process is non-existent but (and this is important), since my detractors are also non-Jews, their experience in Yeshiva is just as anemic.

So where does this argument come from and is it valid? Can a Gentile Christian adopt the Chavruta process for learning and is it properly applied to a blogosphere comments discussion?

Let’s look at the context:

Yeshiva (Hebrew: ישיבה‎, lit. “sitting”; pl. ישיבות, yeshivot) is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim (lectures or classes) and in study pairs called chavrutas (Aramaic for “friendship” or “companionship”). Chavruta-style learning is one of the unique features of the yeshiva.

Yeshiva page at wikipedia.org

“Friendship?” “Companionship?” Rabbi Sinclair talked about a Chavruta “judging every person favourably.” Hmmm. That hardly reflects many of the “challenging discussions” I’ve been describing.

Chavruta learning takes place in the formalized structure of the yeshiva or kollel, as well as in Talmudic study that an individual does on his own at any time of day. Although a man skilled in learning can study on his own, the challenge of developing, articulating, and defending his ideas to a study partner makes having chavruta a desirable relationship.

Chavruta page at wikipedia.org

Certainly wikipedia isn’t the foremost authority on Jewish educational studies, but I think a few brief quotes will provide sufficient context for the points I’m trying to get across. The discussions that occur within a Chavruta relationship are not a verbal, emotional, and intellectual free for all that allows each participant to behave anyway their feelings, biases, and personal priorities dictate. The partners are not randomly thrown together in an online venue where they can’t even see each other let alone develop any sort of meaningful relationship. There is a carefully organized and formalized structure to the entire process, supervised by experienced teachers in a time-honored tradition that goes back centuries.

Using the Chavruta model to explain why someone thinks they can verbally assault you on a blog is like using the model of a martial arts class at a respected Dojo established and led by an esteemed master as an excuse for starting a back-alley knife fight.

Even if the person’s intent in the blog comments is non-hostile at its core and the individual using the Chavruta example has a benign character, the comparison is still completely inappropriate. The comments section is practically uncontrolled compared to the environment constructed for Chavruta pairs to interact. The required relationships do not exist let alone approach the closeness of Chavruta, and only the blog owner really “supervises” any of the discussions on his/her blog, to varying degrees of effectiveness.

Bottom line is that comparing blogosphere discussions to the Chavruta relationship between two Yeshiva students is just an illusion and one situation has no connection to the other.

So is there any sort of model that we can consider more appropriate to guide us when disciples of the Master interact and particularly when we disagree?

I’ve quoted John 13:34 enough recently that my regular readers should know it by heart, but does “loving one another” mean we can’t disagree? Of course not. I’m sure even those closest to Jesus disagreed with each other. Disagreement isn’t a sign of lack of love, but maintaining love in disagreement can be challenging. 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes referred to as “the love chapter,” outlines the qualities of a disciple who truly experiences love of others. Even those with great spiritual and intellectual gifts who lack love seem to “gain nothing” and perhaps even fail to see the Master as clearly as those who possess love.

What happens when we do disagree?

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; –Philippians 4:2-5 (ESV)

I know this is an isolated set of verses, but Paul appears to be saying that he wants Euodia and Syntyche, who seem to be disagreeing, to be entreated to agree in the Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord and reasonableness seem to be connected to Paul’s request. Sadly, “reasonableness” isn’t always found on the Internet.

I suppose the following two quotes capture my feelings on the matter.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. –Romans 12:18 (ESV)

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. –Hebrews 12:14 (ESV)

So is my little “rant” encouraging peace? Probably not. Hardly in keeping with the spirit of Elul or this morning’s meditation, I must admit. I guess I could have kept all this to myself and just continued to post uplifting and supportive material, which isn’t a bad way to go. But as I’ve mentioned in the past, this blog is as much about what I’m thinking and feeling at any given point in time as it is a place where people can read a “morning meditation” (or afternoon or evening meditation for that matter). I suspect there are more than a few people who have similar feelings but are simply more gracious than I and thus, don’t express such feelings in a public arena.

And though you may consider me lacking in peace and grace by writing and posting this missive, it’s been on my mind for a while now and I think it’s important to dispel a sort of “Messianic blogosphere myth” about the justification some people have used to behave harshly toward others. Disagree if you will (I know I will from time to time). Argue, debate, discuss, and even harass and harangue if you must. Know that I will limit your outbursts on my blog if I deem necessary, not because I’m denying you “freedom of speech” or “censoring” you, but because I have the right to protect myself and the people who visit my blog. This is not tyranny, it’s responsibility.

With all that in mind, if you have the self-awareness to understand what you’re doing and even why you are doing it, please “come clean” and just say that you’re upset or offended or hurt or you just like to fuss and argue. Leave the Chavruta illusion out of it. It doesn’t apply.

Thanks.

 

Brilliant Light

BrillianceDescribing the joy of the Rebbe is something like describing the majesty of the Rocky Mountains to a prairie dweller. We think of happiness as all the outer trappings of smiley faces and the “having-a-good-time” look. But what we saw on the Rebbe was an inner joy – the sort you feel when a sudden, brilliant light bulb flashes inside – except continual and constant. Not a joy that dissipates and burns itself out, but a tightly contained joy of endless optimism, power and life, waiting the special moment when it would burst forth like an unexpected tsunami, sweeping up every soul in its path.

The Rebbe once confided that he himself was by nature a somber and introspective person. With hard work, he said, he was able to affect his spirit to be full of joy.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
from the wisdom of the Rebbe
Menachem M. Schreerson
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

Last March I wrote about Failing Joy 101, mainly because I don’t go around all smiley and happy all the time. I have my moods. I can be “down”. People who are perpetually perky and “up” kind of annoy me. But that’s not what joy is all about.

Yesterday’s “morning meditation” was in part, about the murder of 8-year old Leiby Kletzky and how his death affected his parents, his Borough Park (Brooklyn) community, and ultimately, everyone with a conscience. I lamented at one point that it will be a long time or never, before Leiby’s parents, an Orthodox Jewish couple, will ever experience joy again. After all, how can they?

The words I quoted from Rabbi Freeman’s book at the beginning of this blog post are from a chapter called “From Despair to Joy”. It’s easy, under the circumstances, to imagine the despair being experienced by Nachman and Itta Kletzky, but how can any reasonable and compassionate person expect them to go from “despair to joy”? Certainly it won’t happen very quickly and only a cad would suggest that people who are in severe emotional and spiritual pain should just “pull themselves up by their boot straps” and “get on with life”.

But what can you do when soul-numbing grief steals your last crumb of joy and all you’re left with is a life in the emotional shadows of depression and loss?

Depression is not a crime. But it plummets a person into an abyss deeper than any crime could reach. -The Rebbe

If you stare into the Abyss long enough the Abyss stares back at you. -Friedrich Nietzsche

The Rebbe could easily have been talking about little Leiby’s murder and Nietzsche could have well been describing the consequences of the crime, or at least, the consequences if we allow ourselves to stare too long into that deep, dark place. The Rebbe “responded” to Nietzsche thus:

Fight depression as a blood sworn enemy. Run from it as you would run from death itself.

I don’t think the Kletzkys can run from death just yet. Death is what surrounds them as they sit shiva for their son. And yet, they can’t sit there forever staring into the darkness, and neither can we, unless we want to be consumed.

The Rebbe anticipated our question, “how can I be happy if I am not?” and suggests an answer:

True, you can’t control the way you feel, but you do have control over your conscious thought, speech, and actions. Do something simple: Think good thoughts, speak good things, behave the way a joyful person behaves – even if you don’t fully feel it inside. Eventually, the inner joy of the soul will break through.

Sounds a lot like some of the things the Apostle Paul taught:

…and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. –2 Corinthians 10:5

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. –Philippians 4:8-9

Paul suggested thinking of wholesome things and putting them into practice and the Rebbe asks that we start with our thoughts, if necessarily, set our feelings to one side temporarily, and then behave as if we are experiencing joy. The antidote of both Paul and the Rebbe to despair is to do joy.

To be healthy, a person needs to be affecting his surroundings, uplifting those about him and bringing more light.

InfiniteI’ve heard this teaching of the Rebbe more than once. Even when everything has been taken from us and we feel completely empty inside, unable to fill the void in our very being, we still have something we can offer someone else. In bringing another person light, we may discover some of that light is being nurtured within us, dispelling the darkness of the abyss.

The Rebbe tells us that God created the natural state of human beings to be one of joy. That is hardly apparent as we look around us, watch the news, drive through traffic, and otherwise co-mingle with other people, but as his proof, he says, “look at children and you will see”. He also offers us this:

People imagine a place of G-dliness as serious, awesome and intrepidating. That fact is, where G-d is, there is joy. -The Rebbe

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore. –Psalm 133 (A song of ascents)

There are times when we feel very small, and afraid, and alone, even in the midst of our loved ones. You’ve probably felt this way in the middle of the night, when it’s quiet and dark and when everyone else is asleep, but your private pain and anguish will not give you up to rest. You may feel tormented by a world far larger than you are and you feel yourself shrinking into the night, into the abyss, and you fear in your tininess, that you will be swallowed alive and disappear altogether.

But even at that moment, when you feel as if you are about to vanish from God’s universe, there is something you own that no one can ever take away from you. It will anchor you and safeguard you. Here’s the secret:

A person is happy when he knows something worthwhile belongs to him. A person is very happy when he feels he is small and yet he owns something very great.

We are all finite owners of the Infinite.

We could argue with the Rebbe that we belong to the Infinite and not the other way around, but that’s the secret. He also belongs to us and as long as He does, we can never disappear. It’s not just that we are small and He is large. If God were only big, He would have limits, He could be eclipsed by something even bigger, God could be measured, God could be quantified. God wouldn’t be God.

But God is not big, He is Infinite. He has no limits. He cannot be measured. He does the eclipsing. In fact, being Infinite means God is not like anything or anyone we have experienced or can experience. That’s the secret. That’s the miracle. In our tininess, in our smallness, in our minuscule existence, we own something more than worthwhile, something very great, something Infinite! And belonging to Him and having Him belong to us, we can never truly be lost. Our breadcrumbs can never be consumed. We always know the way home, even in the darkest night.

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” –John 10:25-30

Waiting for the Dawn

Waiting for the dawn“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:25-27

Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, provides an incisive explanation of a statement on today’s daf. “On Menachos 103 we find that the curse in the verse (Devarim 28:66) – ‘And you will not believe in your life’—refers to one who must purchase bread daily from a baker.

“On the surface this seems very difficult to understand. Surely during our sojourn in the desert when the manna came down each day we were not in this category. Yet wouldn’t a person who had children wonder about his livelihood for the next day, since he was relying on another miracle for his family’s food? How can we understand this? Is it plausible to say that God told us about a punishment which will happen in terrible times if it was a curse we suffered daily for forty years?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“Daily Bread”
Menachos 103

Give us today our daily bread.Matthew 6:11

Despite the words quoted above, I still worry. Not all the time, but sometimes. To be fair, I don’t doubt that you worry, too.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with the realization that I now have no congregation with which to worship on Shabbat. For reasons too numerous to mention, I found it necessary to end my relationship with a congregation where I had fellowship and taught for many years (though I did mention something about it in the first post in this blog series). I do have a “plan” in mind for my future, but I am also acutely aware that my plans aren’t the deciding factor in what is going to actually happen:

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” –Luke 12:16-20

I find it somewhat ironic that after Jesus told this parable, he delivered a message to his audience saying not to worry (Luke 12:22-32, also related in Matthew 6:25-34). I suppose the irony goes away when you consider the overall message is that we should not trust in our own abilities and plans to take care of our needs but rather, we should rely on God. That said, I still invest in a 401K and other, similar plans with an eye on retiring someday.

For the past two years, and very specifically during the past year, I have been considering and pondering the decision I’ve just recently made. If you’ve been reading the other posts on this blog or any of my “essays” on my previous personal blog, you’ll realize that I don’t think “the church” would be a good fit for my worship and faith needs. My viewpoint on God, Jesus, the Bible, and Judaism is too out-of-step with Christianity’s perspective on such things. I don’t believe the Law is dead (for Jews, that is). I don’t believe God undid or took back all of the covenent promises He made to the Children of Israel and transferred them to “the church” (non-Jewish Christians). I certainly don’t believe that God now requires that all Jewish people who want to worship the Jewish Messiah and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must renounce their religious, ethnic, and cultural Jewish heritage.

I’m an oddball.

But where does that leave me?

I have not be able to worship with my wife for many years due to the gulf that exists between her faith context and mine. Part of the reason I recently left my former congregation was in an effort to reduce that gulf and hopefully even to fully bridge the gap. While I’m not giving up my faith, I would be content to worship with her in the same “house of study” since after all, God is One.

But that’s not entirely up to me.

WorryingIn turning myself over to God’s mercy in part, I am also turning myself over to my wife’s. In the latter case, “mercy” is probably not the right word, but she will have to want to worship with me in the same way I desire to share worship and prayer with her.

If she makes the decision not to, or just never considers the possibility that we can share time in worship as a married couple, then I will remain a man adrift at sea without motive power or even a rudder by which to steer. I can hardly believe that God would allow this to continue perpetually, but I’ve been wrong before.

Should I be worried?

“The answer is that it all depends on one’s attitude. As our sages say, one who has sustenance for today yet worries about tomorrow is a person of little faith. For such a person, lacking food for the future is surely a terrible curse since he spends his time worrying. But for one who has faith, this is not a curse at all. Since he trusts in God he does not worry. Instead of being a curse, this situation will be a blessing since it forces him to turn his heart to God.” -Rav Yisrael Salanter

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. –Matthew 6:28-34

It’s easy to feel insignificant in God’s vast universe and to wonder how or even if God hears our prayers, but as Rav Salanter says, it all depends on one’s attitude and how we have prepared and nurtured faith and trust in our hearts.

That’s where I am right now. I’m looking down the road at a future, looking for a light in the darkness, turning my heart to God, and waiting for the dawn.

We are said to be studying Mussar when we delve into the descriptions of the human condition as they appear in the blueprint for the world, the Torah -Rabbi Ephraim Becker

The important thing is not to stop questioning. -Albert Einstein

Damaged Peace

One FleshHonor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.Exodus 20:2

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”Ephesians 6:1-3

Some Rabbis were renowned for the remarkable respect they paid to their mothers. Of one it is told that ‘when he heard his mother’s footsteps he used to exclaim “I stand up before the Shechinah”‘ (Kid. 31b). Several stories are narrated of R. Tarphon. It was reported of him that ‘whenever his mother wanted to ascend her bed, he knelt down and she stepped on him; and she descended from the bed in the same way’ (ibid.).

As recorded in Everyman’s Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages
by Abraham Cohen

I love my parents. I’m not writing this blog post today to insult or denigrate them in any way. However as husband, adult son, parent of young adults, and a grandfather, it is “interesting” to find myself colliding with different commandments regarding being a son and being a husband.

I suppose in one sense, you could say that as a non-Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah (i.e. a Christian), the commandment to honor my parents does not apply to me. After all, the Mosaic covenant is specifically applied to the Children of Israel; the Jewish people. Yet we see the Apostle Paul teaching the same principle, doubtless from the same source, so I think the commandment crosses over from traditional Judaism to modern Christianity. The Master himself taught us to honor our parents and rebuked those who don’t:

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) – then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” –Mark 7:9-13

While Christianity pretty much leaves it up to the individual to interpret how to “honor your father and mother”, Judaism is a tad more specific, as Abraham Cohen writes in Everyman’s Talmud:

‘Scripture places the honouring of parents on an equality with the honouring of the Omnipresent’ –Peah I. I

Besides the quote from Cohen I posted above, there are many other references in the Talmud to making great sacrifices and even enduring insults from your parents for the sake of obeying the commandment to honor them. However, there’s another commandment that seems to “struggle” with the first:

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. –Genesis 2:24

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” –Matthew 19:4-6

There’s nothing in scripture that says once you leave your parents and become “one flesh” with your spouse, that your duty to honor your parents ceases to exist. That brings me to my “morning meditation”.

My wife, son, daughter, daughter-in-law, grandson, and I traveled to St. George, Utah to visit my parents over the long holiday. I know that my parents, though I love them very much, can occasionally be a bit trying. It’s usually pretty minor stuff, such as telling an embarrassing story about something I did in childhood for the thousandth time. They also have questionable taste in restaurants (all-you-can-eat buffets), but for the sake of my folks, I keep my mouth shut.

During our visit, the issue of eating out became a concern, particularly with my wife and daughter. They keep a form of kosher but it’s not so strict that it prevents us from eating at non-kosher restaurants, however we do like to eat at higher than “bargain basement” places. Unfortunately, my parents made one of their “questionable” eatery decisions. We were hoping they wouldn’t.

It wasn’t that big a deal or at least it shouldn’t have been. However, the evening after we ate out and periodically, during the drive home from Southern Utah to Boise, both my wife and daughter brought up how I should have pulled my parents aside and convinced them to pick another place.

I know, it sounds silly, but family arguments are often made of silly stuff.

My wife didn’t want to offend my folks by making the suggestion and neither did my kids. I honestly don’t remember anyone asking me to talk to my parents about it and in fact, until we arrived at the place (it was a Chuck-a-rama), I thought we had decided on eating at a completely different restaurant.

It didn’t occur to me to try to question my parents’ decision because this is what they wanted and, after all, they’re my parents. There’s a certain amount of tolerance that needs to be expressed. I’m sure my kids put up with some of my idiosyncracies and will do so more as I get older (my parents just turned 79). Unfortunately, my wife chose not to see it this way, and I got an earful of it more than once on the drive home…a ten hour drive home.

Between honoring your parents and cleaving to your wife, what’s the right thing to do? I don’t know. I chose to honor my parents and to keep my mouth shut when being criticized by my wife.

I know that it’s a small thing, but these small things can add up.

Men and women are different by God’s design, not only in our physical make up, but in who we are:

When the Infinite Light emanated a world, It did so with two minds, two states of consciousness. One mind sees from above to below—and so, all is insignificant before it. From above to below, there is no world, only One.

The other mind sees from below to above—and so all of creation is G-dly to it. From below to above, there is a world to point to the Oneness.

At the nexus of these two minds, at the crux of their paradox, there shines the very Essence of the Infinite Light.

The first mind descended into man; the second into woman.

That is why the man has the power to conquer and subdue, but he lacks a sense of the other.

That is why the woman feels the other. She does not conquer, she nurtures. But her light is tightly constrained and so she is full of harsh judgments.

As they bond together, the man sweetens the judgment of the woman and the woman teaches the man to feel the other. And in that union shines the very Essence of the Infinite.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Two Minds
Chabad.org

According to Rabbi Freeman, her mind is full of “harsh judgments” but at least in this case, I wasn’t successful in “sweetening” those judgments. Peace in the home is of high value in Judaism and probably in Christianity as well, yet there isn’t always peace. Sometimes two valued principles clash and you have to decide between one or the other. Honoring parents or cleaving to your spouse. I made a decision. It wasn’t a disaster. It’s not like my wife stopped speaking to me. But peace was damaged for a time.

Men and women are different. The difference between my wife and I is punctuated by the fact that I’m a Christian and she’s Jewish, but that isn’t the issue here. This sort of misunderstanding or disagreement could happen in any marriage. It happens in marriages a lot and it happens in my marriage a lot. It doesn’t always revolve around a “conflict” between the scriptures but from my point of view, this time it did. I have no idea how to resolve the difference except to let it blow over and move on. It was over a little thing. If it were a big thing, maybe I’d be more proactive. This time, I’ll let it be.

True peace is not a forced truce, not a homogenization of differences, not a common ground that abandons our home territories.

True peace is the oneness that sprouts from diversity, from a panorama of colors, strokes and textures. From the harmony of many instruments each playing a unique part, not one overlapping the other’s kingdom by even the breadth of a hair. There, in the most delightful beauty of this world, there shines G-d’s most profound oneness.

Those who attempt to blur those borders, they are unwittingly destroying the world. Beginning with the crucial border between man and woman—for this is the beginning of all diversity, the sharpest focus of G-d’s oneness, shining intensely upon His precious world.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
A Different Peace
Chabad.org

God’s unique Oneness is expressed in the unity of marriage. God cannot know discord in Himself but human beings can. We aren’t a perfect reflection of His perfect, infinite light. Where is peace in the home? Where is peace in the soul? Where is peace with God? I’m writing to try to find the answers. Pray that I do.