Tag Archives: Tikkun Olam

Light in the Darkness

Man in the DarknessAs impossible as it sounds, as absurd as it may seem: The mandate of darkness is to become light; the mandate of a busy, messy world is to find oneness.

We have proof: for the greater the darkness becomes and the greater the confusion of life, the deeper our souls reach inward to discover their own essence-core.

How could it be that darkness leads us to find a deeper light? That confusion leads us to find a deeper truth?

Only because the very act of existence was set from its beginning to know its own Author.

As it says, “In the beginning . . . G-d said, ‘It shall become light!’”

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory
“Mandate Unmasked”
Chabad.org

When God began to create heaven and earth – the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water — God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.Genesis 1:1-5 (JPS Tanakh)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Yesterday’s morning meditation borrowed from the daf for Chullin 29 in describing a person who has fallen far from the light of God. Yesterday, I also quoted from Rabbi Freeman’s interpretation of the Rebbe’s wisdom in which he says, among other things, that we “only fall down in order to bounce back even higher”. It is said that every descent we must make is for the sake of an ascent. Every fall brings us to the point where we will rise. Drop a heavy chunk of ice into a swimming pool. First, it will sink under the surface, but then it will rise back up.

The words of Rabbi Freeman quoted above are taken from a collection called Meditations on Moshiach (Messiah). Both Christians and Jews long for the coming (or return) of the Messiah and the day when he will heal our injured, bleeding world and us along with it. Put another way, lock anyone in utter and complete darkness and they will search, perhaps in vain, for even the tiniest glimmer of light.

That’s what we’re doing. We are people in the dark, straining our eyes and our spirits, seeking to glimpse a spark of the Moshiach and a sign of his Kingdom come.

Whenever things got worse, Jews would say, “This is a sign! Moshiach is coming!”

But in those days, a messianic era would have meant a radical change in the natural order of things.

Today, though the human soul sleeps a deep slumber of materialism, the material world itself is prepared.

Rabbi Freeman’s Good Signs commentary reminds me of many in the church or even some self-styled “Messianics”. There seems to be an obsession about the “end times” and “end time prophesy”, as if people are looking for secrets and conspiracies worthy of some sort of “spiritual X-Files”. Every earthquake, every flood, every war is “a sign” that vaguely and tenuously points to some scripture confirming that the Messiah’s coming is just around the corner. However, as we see from history, our world is replete with signs and with would-be Messiahs, and yet the world is still here and we’re still waiting in the dark.

Rabbi Freeman’s interpretations of the Rebbe continue:

The final war is not fought on battlefields, nor at sea, nor in the skies above. Neither is it a war between kings or nations. It is fought in the heart of each human being, with the armies of his or her deeds in this world.

Holding onto the lightIndeed, the final battle or in my point of view, our “daily battle”, is not one of great wars, terrible disasters, or supernatural and miraculous events taking place in the larger world or in cosmic realms, but rather, it is fought moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, in the heart and soul of each individual who professes trust and faith in God.

We are still in the dark, but it is a mistake to look to the future or to the outside, or to mystic prophecies of epic, panoramic events to see the Messiah. To find him, we must look to the light within and be mindful of where we are and what we are doing at this very moment:

At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time. –Matthew 24:23-25

While Christians sit passively, seeking signs of his coming in the world outside or in arcane interpretations of scripture, Jews understand that people, all people, have an active part in bringing the Messiah. Not that we can control the day or hour of his coming, but we can prepare the way, by ordering our lives, turning more fully to God, and helping to repair the world, fixing one small, broken piece at a time. The Rebbe knew this when he said:

There is no need to tell a Jew what he or she must do to bring Moshiach. Our job is only to wake them up. Once awake, every Jew knows what he or she must do.

If it is not evil, we must use it for good.
If it can be raised higher, we cannot leave it in the dirt.
For everything He made, He made for His glory.

Do not leave yourself in the dirt, pining for what may be coming outside of your senses. Stand up now. Act in God’s Name to make the world a better place, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant your efforts. Who knows? Even the most humble prayer of a sincere and righteous disciple could make the difference. Your actions may be modest, but the cause you join is magnificent:

When journeying upon the path of wisdom, do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought. –Matsuo Basho

A Jew never gives up. We’re here to bring Mashiach, we will settle for nothing less. –Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Gateway to Eden

Gateway to EdenNow the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”Genesis 3:1-4

We are all familiar with the story of Adam and Eve and their sin with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (Genesis 3). As the story goes, the Serpent, most “cunning” of all the animals, comes along and tempts Eve to taste of the fruit, promising that it would open the eyes of man, making her and Adam “as gods knowing good and evil” (v. 5). Eve decides that the Tree is tempting to behold and both eats of the fruit and gives her husband to eat.

This, however, presents a difficultly. If Adam and Eve themselves had no evil inclination, how could they have *wanted* to sin? How could they — entirely spiritual beings — desire anything other than goodness and closeness to G-d? Where could a desire to rebel against G-d stem from?

-Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
The Primordial Sin, Part I (2006)
Torah.org

Christianity and Judaism see “the Fall of Man” event in Genesis very differently, but there are obvious parallels. “In the beginning”, Adam and Eve are sinless beings, created by God and knowing an incredible intimacy with the Source as completely spiritual yet physical beings. In Judaism, people originally had no internal inclination toward evil but upon disobeying the one commandment given by God, the external temptation, represented by the Serpent, became internalized. Man separated himself from God and the nature of the world became broken.

Rabbi Rosenfeld goes on in Part III of the series to ask some difficult questions:

To this we explained that man sinned in order to make life more challenging. Before the Sin, man had only a single mitzvah (commandment) — not to partake of the fruit of the Tree. There was, it seemed, very little for him to accomplish. Now, as a physical being desiring evil, life would be so much more challenging. There would be so much more potential growth in store for man. Eventually mankind would require the rigorous and demanding 613 Commandments to curb the animal within and redirect him G-dward. Thus, man — *spiritual* man — *desired* the greater challenge that would now be in store for mankind.

This, however, still does not suffice. Why would man desire a greater challenge? So that he would have more opportunities for spiritual growth? But isn’t he basically just backing up in order to reach the same goal? The ultimate goal of life — self-evident to the spiritual person — is closeness to G-d. If man was created close to G-d, why not *stay* there — perform his single mitzvah and perfect himself? What was so enticing about making life more difficult?

From Christianity’s point of view, there was no justifiable reason for Adam and Eve to sin; to disobey God. It was a terrible, ghastly mistake that sent both humanity and the nature of Creation down a dark and dismal path, away from God and into the arms of darkness, requiring that God give “His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Judaism says that, amidst what Christians can only view as a total spiritual disaster, there is something salvageable and even perhaps desirable to be gleaned:

The deepest, most profound desire a human soul has is to feel it exists — to feel it is not just a passive entity, acted upon and taken care of by others. A person needs to feel he is an independent being — what the Serpent called a “god” (and our mishna calls a “king”) — who can accomplish, grow and make a difference in the world. There is nothing more painful — *spiritually* painful — than feeling that one’s life makes no difference to anyone or anything, that he exists only as a person acted upon by others or by natural forces, and that he has done nothing to express his own existence.

This was man’s dilemma in the Garden of Eden. Man at first, as lofty as he was, was an almost entirely passive, “created” being. He was given existence by G-d. He was placed in the Garden of Eden with all his wants and needs satisfied and with only a single mitzvah to perform. Man wanted to feel he truly existed — that he was not just a plaything of the Almighty. He wanted to be a god himself. How could he do it? By forcing upon himself greater challenges. Adam and Eve would no longer be passive beings, practically created in G-d’s presence. They would now have to earn it. Spirituality would come only through the greatest of efforts — *their* efforts. It would be the challenge they would have to face to achieve their purpose — and in order to exist.

From what Rabbi Rosenfeld presents, man faced two options: live life close to God, obeying the single commandment provided by the Almighty, but never having the opportunity to truly carve out his own path and the ability to rise spiritually, or deliberately distancing himself from God, lowering his spiritual status, and then struggling back up the ladder, rung by rung, to drive himself ever closer to God and Eden.

I suppose a challenge like that would tempt the spiritual Sir Edmund Hillarys of the world, but for the rest of us, we see the “downside” to such a decision in terms of the pain, suffering, and anguished death of billions upon billions of human beings across the long march of millennia between the dawn of man and the current age.

And yet, here we are. “Our physical flesh (is) now a confused mixture of good and evil. We know the passing of the seasons as we age, and we know decay and death. We are separated from the infinite Spirit. The struggle against evil and the abyss is no longer an external enemy, but rather, it is part of who we are inside. Judaism longs for the coming of the Messiah and Tikkun Olam. Christianity looks to the day when Jesus will return and mankind will be redeemed from a fallen world.

But what if we don’t have to wait? Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh says that we don’t:

After the primordial sin, Adam and Eve heard “the voice of God” walking through the garden. They heard God, He spoke to them, and they answered. This is the consciousness of “hearing,” the height of our consciousness of Godliness (God and His Divine Providence) is our lives subsequent to the primordial sin, the consciousness of the weekdays, the workdays (“By the sweat of your brow…”).

But on Shabbat we return to the pristine state of consciousness of God as it was prior to the primordial sin (and as it will be universally in the future). In the terminology of Kabbalah, during the weekdays our consciousness is at the level of understanding (“hearing” in Hebrew means also “understanding”) whereas on Shabbat our consciousness rises to the level of wisdom (direct insight into the mysteries of creation hidden within reality, and into the “mystery of mysteries,” the Creator of reality, the true and absolute Reality).

Throughout the week everything that happens around us, all that we see and hear, “tells” us about God and His Providence. On Shabbat we don’t have to be told about God, we experience Him directly.

ShabbatOne of the mistakes of the early (non-Jewish) Christian church was to casually discard the commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The church alternately says that Jesus did away with Sabbath observance with the rest of the Law or that the “Sabbath” was mysteriously moved over one day, to coincide with the “Day of the Lord” and the resurrection of the Master. I personally think that the 2nd and 3rd century church found it necessary to separate themselves from anything “too Jewish” and simply shifted the “Holy Day” over by 24 hours to achieve this, and then used specific points of Scripture to justify the decision.

Today, Christians miss out on an opportunity, however limited, to return to Eden. For contained in the Shabbat isn’t just a day to go to church or synagogue, but in fact, we discover an opportunity to remove oneself from the other six days of the week, of the toil, of the work, of the worries, of the laboring, and to totally devote ourselves as spiritual and physical beings to the God of the Universe and the King of Righteousness, as in days of old.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. –Exodus 20:9-11

Both Christians and Jews are going to disagree with me here, particularly since this mitzvot was directed at the Children of Israel, but I believe we Christians cheat ourselves terribly out of the experience to turn one-seventh of our lives into a time to walk personally with God. I think Rabbi Ginsburgh has a point to make, not only to Jews, but to Christians as well. But more gateways to Eden exist:

There are two exceptions to the above distinction between Shabbat and the weekdays, two times that we rise to the consciousness of Shabbat during the otherwise mundane time of the week. The Arizal teaches that our consciousness in the times of prayer, every day of the week three times a day, is at the level of Shabbat. The times of prayer, when we turn to God and address Him directly, are the Shabbat as its light shines into and permeates the week.

Also, a true Torah scholar is referred to in the Zohar as Shabbat. Continuously in communion with God through the means of His Torah (which ultimately in one with Himself) he experiences Shabbat-consciousness the entire week.

Whenever we immerse ourselves in the things of God, we are drawing closer. It happens when we pray, when we give to charity, when we help our neighbor with his yard work, when we hold a small child’s hand to cross the street, when we study the Bible, when we turn away from sin and turn, in obedience, to God.

While the mystic aspects of this process may be confusing or even a little frightening, it is clear that we are separated from God by the nature of humanity and the nature of the world, but we don’t have to be that way always. While waiting for the King of Kings to come to us, we do not have to wait helplessly. We can choose, whether commanded to or not, to observe a Shabbat where we are completely devoted to God. We can take one day of our week and separate it from the rest, separate it from the office, from phone calls, from the Internet, from worry, from work, from care. We can pray, study, speak of God and the Bible with others as we break bread together.

We can create isolated pockets of Eden in the Sabbath and even during the week when we pray and beg to come close to the Throne of Heaven. We can be like “little Messiahs”, helping to fix a broken world one dent and crack at a time by performing even one single act of kindness and humility.

Sin happened. Humanity fell. The world is a broken top spinning hopelessly off the table of existence. We can’t go back to fix it but we can choose to go forward toward God. We can choose to visit Eden on Shabbat. We can cross the threshold of the gates of Paradise every day, every time we pray. We can walk with God in the Garden every time we love our neighbor more than we love ourselves.

However you want to interpret these words, observe Shabbat, return to Eden, walk with God. You can never be lost as long as you are seeking God. You can never be lost as long as God wants you to find Him.

“Do not seek greatness for yourself and do not crave honor. Do more than you have studied and do not desire the ‘table’ of kings. For your table is greater than their table, and your crown is greater than their crown. And your Employer can be trusted to pay you the reward for your efforts.”
Pirkei Avot
Chapter 6, Mishna 5(a)

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

Two Sons

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is My first-born son”.Exodus 4:22 (JPS Tanakh )

All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.”Sanhedrin, 11:1

In what way is G-d our “father”? There are, of course, the obvious parallels. G-d creates us and provides us with sustenance and direction. He loves us with the boundless, all-forgiving love of a father.

Chassidic teaching delves further into the metaphor. It examines the biological and psychological dynamics of the father-child model, and employs them to better understand our relationship to each other and to our Father in Heaven.

Physically, what began in the father’s body and psyche is now a separate, distinct and (eventually) independent individual. Yet there is a good reason we say, “Like father like son.” On a deeper level, the child remains inseparable from his begetter.

In the words of the Talmud, “A son is a limb of his father.” At the very heart of his consciousness lies an inescapable truth: he is his father’s child, an extension of his being, a projection of his personality. In body, they have become two distinct entities; in essence they are one.

-from “The Awareness Factor”
Minding the Child: The Soul of a Metaphor commentary on
Ethics of Our Fathers (Avot Pirkei)
Chabad.org | Sivan 7, 5771 * June 9, 2011

Israel, the Jewish people, is the first-born son of God. The Father has lavished great love and blessings upon the son, and even when the son was disobedient and burdened with exile, persecution, and extreme hardships, God’s love never wavered. When Jacob and his family went down into Egypt, an act which ultimately would see the Children of Israel become slaves (Genesis 46:3-4), God went down with them. It is said that God went into exile with the Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of His people from Israel. It is said that when the Jews went into the camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Treblinka, and all the others, God went in with His people. God has “suffered” with his first-born son Israel for thousands of years because of His love of them and now He is bringing them back.

But what about the rest of us? Can the nations claim any “sonship” before God, and if so, under what circumstances?

It depends on who you ask.

The Seven Laws of Noah demonstrate that almighty G-d has rules and laws for all human beings …and that G-d loves us all. He does not leave anyone, Jew or non-Jew without guidance. To the non-Jew He has given the Seven Commandments.

-from noahide.org

To the Jewish people G-d gave the entire Torah [teaching] as their Law. They therefore have a special responsibility—with special commandments—to be the priesthood of the world, a “light unto the nations.”

What about the rest of the world? What is G-d’s will for them?

G-d gave Noah and all his descendants (B’nei Noach or “children of Noah”) seven commandments to obey. These seven universal laws (known as the “Seven Noahide Laws”) were reaffirmed with Moses and the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai in what is now known as the Oral Torah, establishing modern observance of these laws. These seven commandments (mitzvos), actually seven categories of hundreds of specific laws, are G-d’s will for all non-Jews.

-from noahide.com

The vast majority of the Jewish world believes that all of humanity is loved and cherished by God and may merit a place in the world to come if they obey God’s commandments to them. The Children of Israel have a very special covenant status in relation to God with equally special duties and responsibilities, but that doesn’t leave the rest of humanity out in the cold. While the Children of Israel were charged with being “a light to the nations”, we, the nations, were charged with being attracted to and learning from “the light” that our responsibilities to God (perhaps as “second-born sons”) are encompassed in the Seven Laws of Noah. The first-born son is “B’nei Yisrael” (the Children of Israel) and those of us who cling to God and conform to the Noahide commandments are considered “B’nei Noach” (Children of Noah).

The Christian viewpoint regarding non-Jewish “sonship” differs quite a bit. Judaism says that a non-Jew doesn’t have to convert to Judaism to be loved and cared for by God. Christianity requires that everyone, even Jews (who already have a covenant relationship with the Creator) must convert to Christianity and in the process, surrender the Mosaic covenant for a “better” one, abandoning all that it is to be a Jew. Only once you convert to Christianity, whether you’re a Jew or otherwise, are you truly included in God’s love.

I know. It doesn’t make much sense to me, either.

Yet, Jesus did bring the non-Jews something special and unique that we cannot possess otherwise, even as B’nei Noach.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… –Ephesians 1:3-5

I can’t read ancient Greek (or modern Greek for that matter), but I’ll accept the biblegateway.com commentary on Ephesians 1:5 that the “Greek word for adoption to sonship is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture”. Since Paul wouldn’t consider that the Jewish people needed to be “adopted” by God since they are His “first-born son”, then in this context, Paul must be writing to a non-Jewish group of Christian disciples.

Through the process of coming to faith in God by trusting in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, anyone can become an adopted child of the Most High as a full covenant member. This does not mean a full covenant member of the Mosaic covenant, the Torah and its 613 commandments, but it does grant us a special status to approach the throne, side-by-side, with our Jewish “older brother”.

Most Jews don’t see it that way, and given the heinous treatment of the Jews by the church over the last two thousand years or so, I don’t blame them. Nevertheless, as Christians, here we are, and by faith and God’s providence, here we stay. We can learn from our mistakes and repent, give glory to God, and remember that the Jews honored and cherished the Torah, the Shabbat, and God’s sovereignty for several millennium, while the non-Jewish nations were bowing to pieces of wood and stone and passing their children through sacrificial fires.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. –Luke 15:17-24

This parable is typically (and correctly) interpreted as Christ’s desire to redeem “the lost sheep of Israel” and not a commentary on the “unsaved” nations, but please permit me to add a personal understanding.

While the Children of Israel were close to God, the rest of us were far off if, for no other reason, than we had not even heard of the God of Israel. We see examples in the Apostolic scriptures (Acts 10:1-3 and Acts 17:10-12, for example) of those non-Jews who did hear of and come to faith in the God of Israel and who worshiped at synagogues as “God-fearers” (Noahides?) but we have every indication that though worshipers of God, they had no covenant status, no “sonship” relating to the Almighty. However, we were welcomed out of paganism and into “sonship” through the Jewish Messiah, who gives the true meaning of the Torah and redeems the lost of Israel and also grants the right to the Gentiles to become sons and daughters of God.

In my family, I am the oldest son. I have one younger brother who was born when I was ten. Because I am the first-born, my father doesn’t love my brother any less than he loves me. Sure, my brother and I are really different people, especially due to our age difference, and our father has a different sort of relationship with each of us based on our personalities and such, but the love is the love. We are sons. He is our father.

I won’t go into the dynamics of families who have “born” and “adopted” children but as you can imagine, it’s not uncommon for the adopted kids, especially if they were adopted at an older age, to wonder if they are just as loved as the “born” children. I can’t speak for all adopted families and what they experience, but I can say with confidence that, with God as our Father, we are all loved equally (Galatians 3:28); the first-born son and the adopted son.

There is no truth about G‑d.
Truth is G-d.

There is no one who learns Truth.
You become Truth.

There is no need to search for Truth.
You have inherited it and it is within you.

You need only learn quietness
to listen to that inheritance.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Become Truth”
Chabad.org

God loves both sons and all we have to do to realize it is to “learn quietness and to listen to that inheritance”. But given the long and difficult history between Christians and Jews, do we love each other?

The Otzar HaYir’ah, zt”l, explains why shekalim serve to unify every Jew with the community. “We give specifically half-shekels to teach an important lesson: that without the community we are nothing. Since every individual has a mission to fulfill which no one else can achieve, it is easy to feel uniquely different. We must never feel separated from our friends since, at the root, all Jews are one.

“To teach that we all need each other, each person gives half a shekel – which is only completed through another Jew’s half shekel. This shows that we are only complete when we are unified with our friend. This brings to great feelings of brotherhood and nullifies our natural tendency towards feeling uniquely alone.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“The Power of Community”
Menachos 93

While the Otzar HaYir’ah, zt”l is speaking of the Jewish community and the need one Jew has for his people, I would like to extend the metaphor to include how we “sons” need each other, the Jewish and the Christian sons. We may have a difficult time relating as “siblings” (not all that uncommon in some families), but we can try to learn to trust each other, to forgive the insults and injuries of the past, to turn to a common Father, and through His love for us, learn to love each other.

Starting to Walk

WalkingThe Torah is a living document, to be applied to all societies and all generations of history. Thus, the Almighty entrusted the sages and Torah authorities of each generation with the responsibility of interpreting the Torah and implementing it in the specific conditions and circumstances of their time and place.

-from the Chabad.org commentary for
Avot Pirkei (Ethics of our Fathers) Chapter 1
“Barrier and Gateway”

First put on your right shoe, then your left shoe, then bind your left shoe, and finally bind your right shoe. That’s the way Jews do it. The Torah was given to sanctify the mundane.

-Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Kabbalah and the Art of Tying Your Shoelaces

For the past several days, I’ve been blogging on topics related to the Torah and the meaning it has for not just the Jewish people, but for all of us. I’ve also been trying to describe that the Torah is more than just a document and in an almost mystic way, it transcends its own physical nature and becomes both the blueprint and container for Creation.

As the Chabad commentary I quoted above states, the Torah has an expansive mission to address all people everywhere and as Rabbi Ginsburgh suggests, part of that purpose is to help us understand that holiness and sanctity are infused in everything we encounter.

The Chabad.org commentary for Chapter 2 of Avot Pirkei introduces an additional mystery in how we are supposed to understand what the Torah, the book of instructions for living in a created world, is to be understood and lived out:

Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the correct path for man to choose? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind…
Ethics of the Fathers, 2:1

[Rabbon Gamliel the son of Rabbi Judah HaNassi] would say… Make that His will should be your will, so that He should make your will to be as His…
Ethics of the Fathers, 2:4

On the surface, Rabbi Judah HaNassi’s statement appears to go against the grain of the rest of the Ethics and, indeed, the essence of Judaism itself.

Simply stated, the basis of the Jewish faith is the belief that the Torah is G-d’s blueprint for existence. In the words of the Midrash, “An architect who builds a palace does not do so on his own. He has scrolls and notebooks which he consults how to place the rooms, where to set the doors. So it was with G-d: He looked into the Torah and created the world.”

So how can Rabbi Judah say that the “correct path” is defined by “whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind”? Imagine the worker who consults the original state of his materials rather than the architect’s plan. “The blueprint calls for a square plank,” he muses, “but the log I have is round. Perhaps we can edit the plans a little?” This is what man is doing when he refers to the “way things are” in his own nature, in society or in the world at large for guidance as to how to live his life. Indeed, why labor to change the world if we can conform our moral vision to reflect it?

To the Jew, the “correct path for man to choose” is determined by the Divine revelation at Sinai, not by what is comfortable or what goes down well in the prevailing moral climate. To be a partner in creation means that one must, at times, contest the opinion polls as well as one’s own nature.

This is why the Ethics, which is the Talmud’s summarization of the Jew’s moral philosophy, opens with the words “Moses received the Torah at Sinai.” Morality, for the Jew, is not the product of man’s subjective thinking but of Divine revelation.

However, if “the Torah will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3), then this teaching and the ethics attached cannot be limited to the Jewish people. All of humanity becomes God’s partner in Tikkun Olam; the repairing of a broken world, and in the mission to prepare existence itself, starting with our own lives, for the coming of the Messiah. This effort at once requires that we submit to the demands of the Torah but also to interweave the Torah’s fabric with our own, fusing its life with our soul, resulting in a life made holy by God.

Antignos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. He would say: Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of reward. And the fear of Heaven should be upon you. –Avot Pirkei 1:3

Paul, a servant (or slave) of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David… –Romans 1:1-3

Here is a painting of “slaves” of God but not slaves who serve out of a desire for self-gain or reward, but out of “fear of Heaven”. This doesn’t necessarily mean fear of punishment but rather an intense awe of God, His Holiness, His purposes, and the immense task of which we are a part. An observant Jewish man wears a yarmulke or kippah on his head to cause him to be always aware of the One who is constantly over him. The Word of God reminds us of the God we serve and who we are in Him.

It’s that awareness that gives us the drive to learn how to serve God and then to devote our lives to that service. The renowned Torah sages Hillel and Shammai both commented on this:

Hillel would say: Be of the disciples of Aaron—a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah. –Avot Pirkei 1:12

Shammai would say: Make your Torah study a permanent fixture of your life. Say little and do much. And receive every man with a pleasant countenance. –Avot Pirkei 1:15

Many of the opinions recorded in the Mishnah seem inconsistent about whether or not it is praiseworthy to devote an entire life to Torah study. Is it better to study Torah, forsaking all other pursuits or should a person both study and practice the Torah, balancing life between student and “doer”? Torah scholars are still subsidized in Israel today and exempted from military duty and other societal responsibilities, but there is this principle to consider:

Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Judah HaNassi would say: Beautiful is the study of Torah with the way of the world, for the toil of them both causes sin to be forgotten. Ultimately, all Torah study that is not accompanied with work is destined to cease and to cause sin. –Pirkei Avot 2:2

It is very similar to lessons we find in Christianity:

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” –2 Thessalonians 3:10

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. –1 Timothy 5:8

A desire to serve God and to immerse oneself in His Word does not excuse a person from the mundane chores in life or the requirements of his family. In fact, it actually becomes a sin to study the Torah to the exclusion of all other activities and supposed acts of holiness can become an excuse for disobeying God:

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 7:11-13

That brings us back to Rabbi Ginsburg and the art of tying our shoes.

Shoes allow us to walk the face of the earth, to contact physicality and move around as we wish freely. More than any other material artifact that we possess and utilize daily, shoes symbolize our involvement with the mundane. As we walk forward to achieve our goals in life they protect our feet from the stones and thorns that cover the ground upon which we tread.

But so long as we have not sanctified the earth in its entirety to be a sanctuary for God we need shoes to protect our feet, while continuously on the move, doing our utmost to make this world a better place – a meeting ground for us and our Creator.

Tying ShoesThe world is a work in progress and so are we. Everything we do is a transition from the mundane to the holy. We constantly are on a quest to see the holy in every ordinary object, act, and person. Even getting out of bed in the morning and getting dressed is both common and sacred. People often “get into a rut” by doing the same things in the same way day-in and day-out. We can become bored, numb, burned-out, and tired of life. As Rabbi Ginsburgh says though, the “Torah was given to sanctify the mundane.” Studying and living out God’s Word, God’s blueprint, God’s plan, opens our eyes so that we can see beyond the surface appearance of the world and people around us, and it enables us to see beyond the surface of the Torah itself.

In stripping off the outer layers or reality, we see the mystical substance which makes up the “truer reality” of everything. The world was created through more-than-natural processes in a manner that transcends human understanding and what we think of as “the laws of the universe”. In the Torah, is the lens by which we can take brief glimpses of that reality and from it, gain the strength to get out of bed for another day, get dressed, put on our shoes, and find holiness in tying our shoelaces.

Then we begin to walk on whatever road God sets before us.

“Which is exactly what he will not concede. As he sees it, the Jewish people possesses a unique religious truth, an unsurpassable morality of peace, mercy, justice and human equality-all indispensible to a man’s salvation-and, in addition, a Tradition or way of life in which they are embodied. It is for these and their communication to the nations of the world that we have been appointed. No sacrifice on our part can be too great for the fulfillment of so heroic a destiny. What is more, no power on earth can destroy us, provided always that we remain loyal to our purpose.”

-Pappas to Elisha
in Milton Steinberg’s book
As a Driven Leaf