Tag Archives: Tree of Life

The Side of Merit

Judge NotJudge every man to the side of merit.

Ethics of our Fathers 1:6

On the most elementary level, this means that if you discern a negative trait in your fellow or you see him commit a negative act, do not judge him guilty in your heart. “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place,” warns another of the Ethics’ sayings, and his place is one place where you will never be. You have no way of truly appreciating the manner in which his inborn nature, his background or the circumstances that hold sway over his life have influenced his character and behavior.

However, this only explains why you should not judge your fellow guilty. Yet our Mishnah goes further than this, enjoining us to “judge every man to the side of merit.” This implies that we should see our fellow’s deficiencies in a positive light. But what positive element is implied by a person’s shortcomings and misdeeds?

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
“Double Standard”
Tammuz 18, 5771 * July 20, 2011
Chabad.org

The character traits of strength and firmness evoke mixed responses. On one hand, everyone admires personal fortitude, and respects an individual who has the courage to persevere in his convictions despite challenges. And yet a strong person can also be thought of as rigid and insensitive, clinging stubbornly to his own views without bending in consideration of others. Counseling against this tendency, our Sages commented, (Taanis 20a) “A person should always be pliant like a reed, and not hard like a cedar.”

Commentary on Torah Portion Matot
“True Strength”
-Rabbi Eli Touger

The world of religion is terribly judgmental. To be fair, this is a human trait and not just one seen among people of faith. While secular people tend to blame religion for all the world’s ills (war, racism, poverty, and so forth) is it rather our human nature and our tendency toward selfishness and evil that lets us corrupt the values of God into something that harms people.

In Christianity we are taught, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 [KJV]), but that certainly hasn’t stopped many in the church from judging others, both within the congregation and in the non-believing world. Is this any way to show the world the love of Jesus Christ?

Despite what I’ve quoted above, Judaism is also populated by human beings and thus, Jewish people aren’t perfect. They have a capacity equal to any Christian to judge others and to assign unfair blame and ridicule. Asher at the Lev Echad blog is on something of a mission to try and turn the hearts of Jews toward each other and to heal the differences between them. Recently, he published a plea asking Jews to not judge each other for their differences in religious practices and lifestyle but rather to guide “others into a life of serving God and His children in a way that best matches their individual personality”.

Asher’s words can easily be applied to the rest of us, both in their practicality and in their need.

Returning to the example of the Ethics of Our Fathers from which I quoted above, we see in the commentary that we must not only treat our fellows fairly and as we want to be treated, but we should extend ourselves to give others the benefit of the doubt, while at the same time, looking at our own deeds without compromise:

So judge every man to the side of merit—every man, that is, except yourself. For the attitude detailed above, while appropriate to adopt towards other human beings, would be nothing less than disastrous if applied to oneself.

“True, I have done nothing with my life,” the potential-looking individual will argue. “But look at what I am capable of! Look at the quality of my mind, the sensitivity of my feelings, the tremendous talents I possess. It’s all there within me, regardless of the fact that I have never bothered to realize any of it. This is the real me. The extent to which I actualize it is only of secondary importance.”

In our judgement of human life and achievement, we must adapt a double standard. Our assessment of a fellow human being must always look beyond the actual to the potential reality within. On the other hand, we must measure our own worth in terms of our real and concrete achievements, and view the potential in ourselves as merely the means to this end.

FriendsChristianity has parallel teachings to these Talmudic gems:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. –Matthew 7:3-5

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. –Matthew 18:21-22

At the core of all these lessons is the Torah itself and the Master’s commentary on the “Torah” that both Jews and Christians can embrace:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” –Mark 12:28-31

I specifically say this is a “Torah”, because Jesus is quoting from both Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18, so the heart of Christianity was born in Judaism and if we are wise, we will not separate the branches from the vine (see John 15:5 and Romans 11:11-24).

Rabbi Touger’s commentary on Matos describes two symbols of leadership over the twelve tribes of Israel. The authority of a tribal head is symbolized by both a staff and a rod. They sound the same but are wholly different from one another:

What is the difference between these two terms? A rod is supple, able to be bent, while a staff is firm and unyielding. For a rod is freshly cut or still connected to the tree from which it grew and is therefore pliant. A staff, by contrast, has been detached from its tree long ago, and over time has become dry, hard, and firm.

Both terms serve as analogies for different levels in the expression of our souls’ potential. (See Sefer Maamarei Admur HaZakein 5562, Vol. I, p. 237ff.) The term “rod” refers to the soul as it exists in the spiritual realms, where its connection to G-dliness is palpably appreciated. It shares an active bond with the lifegiving, spiritual nurture it receives. “Staff,” by contrast, refers to the soul as it exists in our material world, enclothed in a physical body. On the conscious level, it has been severed from its spiritual source, and its connection to G-dliness is no longer felt.

In this setting, there is the possibility for both the positive and the negative types of strength and hardness. There is a tendency towards spiritual insensitivity, a brittle lack of responsiveness to the G-dliness invested within creation.

Tree of LifeTying this back to the analysis of Pirkei Avot 1:6, we see that we should be a “rod” when dealing with others but a “staff” when judging ourselves.

A rod and a staff have a common source and the difference is how long each one has been separated from the tree. It is said that the Torah is a “tree of life for those who hold fast to her” (Ethics of Our Fathers 6:7). Given the Torah source of both Jewish and Christian commentaries on compassion toward others, not the least of which is the teaching of the Master, how can we not take hold of that tree and cling fast to her in our relationships with others and with God?

Rabbi Chananiah the son of Akashiah would say: G-d desired to merit the people of Israel; therefore, He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundance. As is stated, “G-d desired, for sake of his righteousness, that Torah be magnified and made glorious.” –Makot, 3:16

Awaiting Dawn

Waiting for DawnPeople ask, “But how could you see so much good in the future when so much evil predominates now —-and it grows day by day?”

But such is the order of things: Darkness was only placed in the world to challenge light. As the light intensifies, the darkness thickens to defy it.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Defiant Darkness”
Chabad.org

Kletzky’s parents marked the end of their seven-day grieving period Wednesday morning with a religious tradition of walking outside their Brooklyn home. Nachman and Esty Kletzky, surrounded by relatives, walked around their block at 15th Ave. in Borough Park at about 6 a.m. “It’s a sign that your escorting the soul to its resting place,” said Jack Meyer, of Misaskim, an organization that provides services to grieving families.

Story from NYDailyNews.com

“In the midst of cruelty and horror, human beings can respond in such a warm and caring way it restores our faith in the world and mankind. That is the atmosphere I feel here right now,” said Rabbi Alvin Kass, describing public support for the Kletzy family.

Story from CBS New York News

This is the third “morning mediation” that has been prompted by the death of 8-year old Leiby Kletzky. Perhaps I’ve got this matter too much on my mind, but when something so horrible happens in the world, we should not disregard it after it has been discussed for only a week or so. Certainly Leiby’s parents will not be free of their mourning in so short a time, if at all. Yet the questions I pose here must also be at the forefront of their thoughts and feelings, only with far greater intensity and sharpness. I continue to search for answers within their own context and from the Rebbe, who knew their Brooklyn community and every soul in it so well.

They say the most profound darkness comes just before the dawn. The harshest oppression of our forefathers in Egypt came just before their liberation.

That was a coarse darkness of slavery of the body. Today it is a darkness of the soul, a deep slumber of the spirit of Man. There are sparks of light, glimmerings of a sun that never shone before —-but the darkness of night overwhelms all.

Prepare for dawn.

I woke up much earlier than I expected to this morning. It was still dark outside with no hint of dawn on the horizon. When you are the only one awake in your household, it can feel especially empty, no matter how many people are asleep in their beds. The first subtle bands of light in the east may be only minutes away, but they might as well be on the other side of midnight. Yet we wait for the light, not just out of expectation, but with enduring faith.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. –Isaiah 60:1-3

Tree of LifeThe Jewish people today exist in an unbroken line between the present and the ancient days when the words of the Prophet Isaiah were first spoken, so it is no surprise that in their darkest hours, they would turn to the light. Through Jesus Christ, the rest of the world can become attached; grafted in to these words and promises and become sharers of the light and indeed, disciples of the light of the world, who we all long to see come.

After 33 centuries, all that’s needed has been done. The table is set, the feast of Moshiach is being served with the Ancient Wine, the Leviathan and the Wild Ox —-and we are sitting at it. All that’s left is to open our eyes and see.

[Adapter’s Note: These words I write, but I do not understand. But then, if I understood them, I suppose I would not need to be told to open my eyes.] -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 8:11

Rabbi Freeman quotes from a letter written by the Rebbe:

Before I had even started school, a picture of liberation was already forming in my mind.
Such a liberation, and in such a way, that it would truly make sense of all the suffering, all the oppression and persecution we have undergone.

It is not that there will be no more darkness, no more suffering, that those things shall cease to exist.
It will be such an essence-light that darkness itself will become light
—even the darkness and suffering of the past.

While the Rebbe wouldn’t have considered the following, we who are the disciples of the Master cannot help but recall these words of prophecy and hope as we continue to wait for him to come:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. –Revelation 21:3-4

In the midst of pain, all we can do is cry and call out, “Abba! Father!”, endure the suffering, and look forward to the days when there indeed will be no more tears, pain, and death. When sorrow will be abolished from the earth and the King will reign in justice, mercy, and bringing joy and peace to the subjects of the Kingdom. May the Moshiach come soon and in our days. Amen.

“They (Mr. and Mrs. Kletzky) have had thousands of people who came to show them moral support,” he said. “Now the trying time starts. They’re all alone. … Now they’ve got to cope with it on their own.” -Jack Meyer of Misaskim

Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the LORD
our God for ever and ever. –Micah 4:4-5