Tag Archives: tzaddik

Vayeshev: The Blessing and the Curse of the Presence of God

Joseph in prison“And it happened after these things that the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and the baker transgressed against their master, the king of Egypt.”

Genesis 40:1

“I have set God before me always…”

Psalm 16:8

Rashi brings the Midrash that the cupbearer was imprisoned because a fly was found in Pharaoh’s goblet of wine; the baker was imprisoned because a small pebble was found in the king’s bread.

Our tzaddikim (righteous ones) never lost sight of being in God’s presence. Everything that transpired was contemplated as to how it applied to their service of God. The story is told of one such tzadik, the Alter (Elder) of Kelm who once found a small chip of wood in his bread. This immediately brought to mind the story of the king of Egypt’s baker who was imprisoned for allowing a pebble to be in the king’s bread. The Alter cogitated, “A defect in a person’s bread is hardly grounds for so severe a punishment. No one will be punished for this chip of wood in the bread, especially since it was totally accidental. Why, then, was the king’s baker punished so harshly?”

Dvar Torah on Vayeshev
based on Twerski on Chumash
by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
quoted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz at Aish.com

A tzaddik is a holy or righteous person who, as Rabbi Packouz states, does not lose sight of being in the presence of God. There’s a reason most of us aren’t tzaddikim or “righteous ones.” It is extremely difficult (forgive me for saying this) to keep our thoughts on being in the presence of God every waking hour. Even if it is our most heartfelt desire, sooner or later our concentration will waver, our mind will wander, and we’ll start thinking and then doing things without an awareness that God is also present with us.

This is what separates someone like Joseph from you and me. Even when he was alone and knew he would not be caught, he still refused to take advantage of very appealing opportunities. For even if his human master was away, he was always in the presence of the Master of the Universe.

After a time, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused. He said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master gives no thought to anything in this house, and all that he owns he has placed in my hands. He wields no more authority in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except yourself, since you are his wife. How then could I do this most wicked thing, and sin before God?” And much as she coaxed Joseph day after day, he did not yield to her request to lie beside her, to be with her.

One such day, he came into the house to do his work. None of the household being there inside, she caught hold of him by his garment and said, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand and got away and fled outside. When she saw that he had left it in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to her servants and said to them, “Look, he had to bring us a Hebrew to dally with us! This one came to lie with me; but I screamed loud. And when he heard me screaming at the top of my voice, he left his garment with me and got away and fled outside.” She kept his garment beside her, until his master came home. Then she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew slave whom you brought into our house came to me to dally with me; but when I screamed at the top of my voice, he left his garment with me and fled outside.”

Genesis 39:7-18 (JPS Tanakh)

Of course, Joseph wasn’t always a tzaddik.

At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a helper to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father.

Genesis 37:2 (JPS Tanakh)

DescendingAs his father’s favorite son, Joseph could get away with almost anything, so much so, that his brothers learned to hate him and finally conspired to kill him. Thus began the long descent of Joseph from favored son to slave and the finally to prisoner in Egypt.

It is said in some circles of Judaism:

Before a person experiences a miracle – נס – , he is given a trial – ניסיון. There is no ascent (aliyah) without a prior descent (yeridah). The lower the descent, the higher the potential ascent.

And so it was for Joseph.

But what about you and me? Remember, while we have more than a few Biblical examples of people who started out in difficult circumstances only to rise mightily by the hand of God, there is also a certain amount of midrash involved in the commentaries I’m using. Can we say that for every difficulty or misfortune we encounter, we will ultimately spring back with the same force or greater, ascending exalted heights for the glory of God?

Probably not. The apostle Paul, while a highly respected Rav and tzaddik in his own right, died a cruel and unrecorded death among pagan Gentiles in Rome at the hand of Caesar. How many righteous ones, both Jewish and Christian, have suffered and died with no reward in this world? How many never thought of a reward in this present life, but only looked to Heaven?

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NASB)

Paul too was a man who was always aware of being in the presence of God, standing before the Throne of the Master of the Universe. It was being in His Presence that was most rewarding to the apostle, much more than any reward he could ever receive in mortal life. His crowns are in Heaven.

Rabbi Packouz concludes his commentary like this:

The Alter concluded, “It was because when one serves or relates to the king, the standard of perfection is much greater than when relating to other people. One must exercise much greater caution to prevent any defects. In serving the king, even a small defect is a major offense!”

“I am in the service of the King of kings,” continued the Alter. “Is my behavior before Him without defect? Have I been cautious enough to avoid even accidental infractions?”

On the surface, we might wish always to be in the presence of God, but consider this. God watches every move and every mood. You cannot so much as twitch without God noticing. Then too, if you are always in His presence, that includes when you drive to work, when you discipline your children, when you talk to your neighbor, when you talk about your neighbor behind their back, and particularly when you are alone, for no one displays more of who they really are than when they’re alone and they think no one is watching.

The only difference between a tzaddik and the rest of us is that the tzaddik knows he or she is in the presence of God constantly. The rest of us are also constantly in God’s presence, but we aren’t always aware of that fact, or we don’t want to always be aware of it.

Joseph of EgyptJoseph became Prince of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh in power and majesty in that ancient land. But this was only after suffering great trials, and in those trials, always being aware he was in God’s presence. Only when he didn’t succumb to the temptations of lust, anger, and despair was he elevated to great heights, but even then, only for the glory of God and to serve the desperate and the starving…and only to ensure the continuation of Jacob and the Children of Israel.

Nearly two years ago, for Torah Portion Vayigash. I wrote something similar as related to our Master, to Messiah. Jesus also suffered many trials in his mortal lifetime as a humble teacher who could have risen to King, but in the presence of God, allowed himself to be degraded, crucified, and murdered.

But he rose to the most exalted place at the right hand of the Father, to be glorified and with the promise of one day returning as King to defeat Israel’s enemies, restore the Holy Land to glory, return the exiles to their nation, and to rule us all in justice and peace.

Any one of us may be called upon to serve the King at any moment, not in exalted glory, but as a humble and even humiliated servant. How we respond to suffering, hardship, and shame in the presence of God may determine how we will be allowed to continue to serve Him…or if we will be allowed to do so.

When you believe you are living inside of an unobserved and unguarded moment, that is the time to realize the truth. You are never alone. God is always there. You are always before the Throne. That can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you choose to use that moment.

Good Shabbos.

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Who is Righteous?

goodly-tents-of-jacobHow goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel. As for me, through Your abundant kindness, I will enter Your House. I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary in awe of You. O HASHEM, I love the house where you dwell and the place where your glory resides. I will prostrate myself and bow, I will kneel before HASHEM my Maker. As for me, may my prayer to You HASHEM come at an opportune time; O God, in Your abundant kindness, answer me with the truth of Your salvation.

“Mah Tovu (How Good)”
-from the Siddur

This is the beginning of the Shacharit or morning prayers, said by Jewish people around the world at the beginning of each day.

I have a sad confession to make. I don’t pray in the morning very often. The first hour or so after I get up is dedicated to a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and slowly waking up in front of my computer. Oh sure, I recite the Modeh Ani upon awakening, but that takes only a few seconds and I’m still in bed when I make the blessing.

However, this morning my son wasn’t feeling well and frankly, neither was I, so we decided to skip the 5 a.m. visit to the gym. I could have noodled around on the web or even read a book, but I decided to pray.

I began with extemporaneous prayer and my mind scattered all over the place. I kept trying to focus it back, but that would last only a few seconds. I can certainly see the benefits of hitbodeut since it actually encourages “talking” to God as one talks passionately to a close companion, but for that, I’d need to be completely alone (I don’t want to wake my wife and daughter).

Then I remembered my siddur. I opened it up to the Shacharis/Morning Services section and began to read. And I began to pray.

I know that I previously expressed some hesitation and even trepidation at attending the recent First Fruits of Zion Shavuot Conference. I wondered if I really belonged in a “Jewish” worship context anymore (or if I ever did). I wondered why it didn’t feel like “home” anymore.

But praying, even somewhat briefly, with the siddur this morning did feel like home. I limited my prayers, trying to avoid those that overtly identified the person praying as Jewish, but I feel as if the pattern and rhythm of the siddur is almost calling to me.

After Mah Tovu, I prayed Adon Olam (all this is in English and I’m softly reciting, not singing), skipped the blessings of the Torah, and continued with the liturgy up to the Akeidah portion.

It’s not very long, actually.

But why don’t I do this every morning? I can’t say I don’t have the time, because I can find the time.

Then I was reminded of something else that happened at the conference.

I won’t go into too many details, but one person giving a presentation referenced another individual present and called him a tzadik. This was because the person being referenced is scrupulous in all the prayers, rituals, and traditions of observant Judaism. He refrains from all inappropriate forms of work on the Shabbat and festivals, observes each time of prayer, davening in Hebrew, and otherwise is diligently mindful of his duty to Hashem…

…even though he’s not Jewish.

That last part’s important because it brings up the question of whether or not observing Jewish religious practices makes a non-Jew more holy, more righteous, more “tzadik-like.” Particularly as a non-Jewish person involved in the Messianic Jewish movement, however tangentially, do the Jews and Gentiles in that movement consider me a failure for not following Jewish religious observances?

After a wave of guilt passed over me, I realized that some of the most righteous men I know are Christians who probably don’t pray one word in Hebrew. I’ve come to develop a great admiration particularly for a few of the men at the church I attend. I’ve learned some things about one specific individual that he’d never tell me himself, but that are completely consistent with how I experience him.

israel_prayingIf he were Jewish, I’d probably call him a tzadik. But what makes him such isn’t his “Jewish” observance, because as far as I know, he has none. What makes him such is that he is devoted to God in all of his ways, not only in prayer and worship, but in everything that he does.

How a life of righteousness looks, at least superficially, may be different depending on whether or not you’re a Christian or a Jew, but at the core, living a life that is pleasing to God should be the same regardless of who you are.

Jews pray and Christians pray. I remember my Pastor said that there were times in Israel when he was traveling with Jewish men. They would daven shacharit in a minyan and he would sit off to one side and silently pray, not intruding on them, but observing the holy time nonetheless. They all honored God and each other with their prayers and their devotion.

Jews give to charity and Christians give to charity. Jews visit the sick and Christians visit the sick. Jews feed the hungry and Christians feed the hungry. Jews gather together regularly to worship God and Christians gather together regularly to worship God.

Do you see what I’m getting at?

A “tzadik” isn’t just a Jewish righteous person, it’s any righteous person. Granted, the term itself is Jewish, but the concept behind it can be applied to any individual who seeks the will of God and then does the will of God.

I guess a Christian would use the word “saint” but I’m not quite sure it is an equivalent term exactly.

But the words used matter less than the life that’s lived. While in the example I cited above from the conference, one person acknowledged that another was a tzadik, but the recognition matters less than the life that’s lived, even if it is lived in obscurity so that no one knows.

But God knows.

God knows everything about the righteous and the unrighteous.

…as it is written:

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.”

Romans 3:10-11 (NRSV)

There is no one who is righteous just because of who he is or what he does. Paul goes on in the same chapter to say that we are only righteous by faith. It is by faith that we seek God at all. It is by faith that we pray.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski writes an online “column” for Aish.com called Growing Each Day in which he begins with a quote from the Bible, Talmud, the Siddur, or some similar text. He then writes a brief commentary and finishes by applying the principle to his own life (and by inference, his readers are invited to apply it to their lives in order to “grow each day.”

Adapting his model to today’s “extra meditation:”

Today I shall…

…seek God each morning by turning to Him in prayer, so that my life will begin to conform to His will.

Good Shabbos.

110 days.

47 Days: Learning Humility

Dear Rabbi:

I have a problem. It’s my ego.

I have been duly chiding myself and ever reminding myself that my accomplishments are only possible by G‑d’s good grace, so I should not feel any more accomplished than the guy next door.

But then I start wondering: am I never allowed to feel good about myself? How can you accomplish anything in this world if you never take credit for anything you do?

Answer:

You are not alone in this struggle. This balance between letting go of ego and maintaining a healthy sense of self-confidence is an issue for all of us, simply because we are human.

We have G‑d given talents for a reason: So we can refine them, develop them and use them in our daily lives to serve our Maker. G‑d gives us the tools, but utilizing them to their full potential is up to us.

So we should be thankful and happy that G‑d has given us our unique talents, for it means that He thinks we can develop them and do good things with them. He believes in us. And as we develop an understanding about G‑d and who He is, we can deepen our appreciation for His belief in us.

G‑d’s belief in us is even more apparent when we look at our weaknesses, for that’s where the real challenge lies. G‑d gave us these major challenges because He knows we have the ability to overcome them and succeed. Contemplating this fact will certainly result in a happy and self-confident attitude about oneself.

-Rabbi Avi Davis
“Without Ego, How Can I Feel Good About Myself?”
from “Questions and Answers”
Aish.com

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

All this sounds a lot like what I wrote about yesterday in relation to God’s sovereignty vs. our own over the world. Humanity went from being taken care of in creation to be the caretakers of creation because we desired it. We desired it more than we desired obeying God. Now, on the other side of the equation, we (well, those of us who are aware of God and His nature) realize that we really do need God and that the world is often too big for us to manage alone.

Well, anyway that’s how I feel. The world is too big for me to manage alone. Heck, even my life sometimes is to big and too messy for me to manage on my own. When don’t I plead to God to lend a hand (or two or five) in sustaining me and my family?

And yet amazingly, there are those, even in the community of faith, who don’t seem (at least in public) to have any concerns about their personal abilities whatsoever.

Even if the entire world considers you a tzaddik (pious and righteous), you should nevertheless think of yourself as if you were sinful.

-Niddah 30b

In 1965, I visited the Steipler Gaon, a sage whom people often consulted for medical advice. Since he had heard that I was a psychiatrist, he wanted to find out new developments in medications for mental illnesses. I related to the Gaon whatever I knew about the most recent advances.

“Is anything available that can cure someone from delusions?” he asked. I told the Gaon that delusions were very resistant to treatment, and that while antipsychotic medications could subdue overt psychotic behavior, the delusional thinking itself was difficult to eradicate.

“But what if someone has the delusion that he is the greatest tzaddik in the generation?” the Gaon asked. I could not restrain myself and laughingly replied, “No medication can cure that.”

The Gaon shook his head sadly. “Too bad,” he said. “That malady is so widespread.”

Delusions of any kind are a sign of mental illness. How sick a person must be to consider oneself a tzaddik, and how wise the Talmud was to caution us against developing such delusions!

Today I shall…

try to be honest with myself, and even if my behavior is such that people may think I am a tzaddik, I must not allow myself to be deluded.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Cheshvan 28”
Aish.com

This is certainly one delusion I don’t harbor within myself. I have great admiration for the tzaddikim who I encounter in both the Jewish and Christian communities (although I suppose truly righteous Christians would be referred to as “saints”). And yet there are some people, who are fortunately few in number in my corner of the blogosphere (at least since I’ve decided to respond to them differently) who seem to behave as if they were the most righteous people in our generation, apart from anything resembling humility.

There’s an irony here. I have found that those who have achieved great things and who are truly righteous before God are often quite humble. We see in Rabbi Twerski’s story that a man who may well have been one of the most righteous in his generation, did not desire to experience that awareness (I suspect he was speaking of himself and not others) and wanted to be “cured” of his “delusion.” Even Moses, the greatest of the Prophets, who lead millions of people through the wilderness for forty years and spoke “face-to-face” with God, was called the most humble man on the earth (Numbers 12:3).

Most of the time, truly accomplished individuals don’t have to go around telling everyone they are truly accomplished individuals, at least if they are secure in who they are (and secure in God). As we saw from the “Ask the Rabbi” question I quoted at the beginning of this missive, most of us (I include myself in this group) struggle to achieve a balance between humility and a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. And whenever one is in danger of becoming a little too arrogant as a tzaddik, as we see in Paul’s example, God provides a “thorn” or other reminder that he is (and we are) constantly dependent on the Providence of Hashem.

When we are aware of God and we become aware that we have a definite part in His plans for the world around us, sometimes there’s a temptation to take pride in that. It’s difficult for most of us to separate what God is doing through us and what we are doing ourselves. How are we to take pride and boast of God while not boasting of our own achievements?

For a true tzaddik, this doesn’t present much of a problem because they have reached such a spiritual level that their eyes are constantly on God and they can see it is His power and His will that is working in the world. The tzaddik is the instrument of that will, and it is the tzaddik’s job to take the talents God has provided him and refine them in the world for the sake of Heaven.

For the rest of us, we continually strive to realize what the tzaddik has learned. We must bend our will, submit to God, and refine our gifts without succumbing to self-pity, or out of a sense of victimhood, depression, because we feel we aren’t good enough as just who we are. On some occasions, it is exactly those individuals who have succumbed to their identity of “victimization” who appear, on the surface, to be the most arrogant and confident in who they are. In reality, they struggle a great deal (but in a futile way) to achieve a type of signficance from external situations which can only truly be achieved internally, between the person and God. Like Paul, we can only achieve significance in humility.

I have found a new sense of humility in my recent return to church and the challenges it has presented. I am in no sense the conductor of my own destiny within the church’s walls or within its community of souls. I am the recipient of acts of kindness and friendliness among hundreds of strangers who are also my brothers and sisters in Christ.

And yet, I haven’t “talked Christian” as such in many years, so each encounter is like visiting a foreign country for three hours a week and wondering how I can accomplish the “immigration” process to become a “citizen,” not of the Kingdom of Heaven, but of this particular body of believers.

In writing these words, I realize that one of the reasons God has put me where I am right now is to learn this very lesson. Whenever you encounter feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, isolation, and even embarrassment, stop for a minute or two and look at where you are and why you are there. Maybe it isn’t just a tough social situation or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Maybe you are in the right place in God’s time. For me, I believe, at least for now, church is where God put me to listen, not just to Him, but to everyone else.

We learn humility and even some modicum of righteousness like we learn anything else…by the doing.

Vayera: Miraculous

abrahams visitorsThe Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot.

Genesis 18:1 (JPS Tanakh)

When Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch was a child of four or five, he entered into the room of his grandfather, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, and burst into tears. His teacher in cheder had taught the verse “And G-d revealed himself to Abraham…” “Why,” wept the child, “doesn’t G-d reveal Himself to me?!”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied: “When a Jew, a tzaddik, realizes at the age of 99 that he must circumcise himself, that he must continue to perfect himself, he is worthy that G-d should reveal Himself to him.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Tears of a Child”
Chabad.org

This is a well-known commentary on this week’s Torah Portion, Vayera and I’m hardly in a position to add to what a great many sages and spiritual luminaries have already stated regarding this portion of the Torah. But in studying the Torah Club commentary (volume 6) for this week on Acts 4:32-5:42, I discovered what could be a tangentially related issue.

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

Acts 5:12-16 (ESV)

D. Thomas Lancaster’s lesson on these verses, both in the written text of his commentary and in the Torah Club audio teaching, speaks about “the age of miracles” and whether or not we have miracles today. As we read passages such as the one I quoted above, we Christians may be hard pressed to explain why 2,000 years ago, severely ill and disabled people could be cured simply by having Peter’s shadow fall across them, while today our most fervent prayers and petitions to God fail to prevent a loved one from dying of cancer. Why don’t we see miraculous signs, wonders, and healings in today’s church?

Some say that we do, but because we live in the 21st century, many events that a person 2,000 years ago would have called a miracle, today might be explained as some other phenomena. Even in the church, we are sometimes hesitant to say something is a miracle for fear of appearing foolish. On other occasions, the claims of miraculous events from some seem to be so common that the credibility of witnesses is brought into question.

While I do believe that sometimes miracles do happen today, they don’t seem to be “predictable,” which I guess stands to reason, but they also don’t seem to be predictably produced by an identifiable individual or group of individuals, such as the apostles. When we read about Peter, John, and the other apostles in the early chapters of Acts, it’s as if they’re doing miracles all the time.

One explanation, as Lancaster points out, is that the book of Acts compresses 35 years of history into about two hours worth of reading. It’s easy to get the impression that Peter was healing the sick through miracles every day and several times a day. This is probably untrue and only the “highlights” of the “Acts of the Apostles” were recorded by Luke. All of the other more mundane occurrences in their lives over three and a half decades went unchronicled and passed away into the shadows of history.

But there’s another reason we may not see miracles today the way we see them in Acts.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)

This is the day when the apostles of Christ (and only the apostles of Christ) received the Holy Spirit. Most Christians think this event is identical to what happens to all people everywhere when they receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (although I’ve yet to hear a modern Christian tell me that they received the Spirit on tongues of fire). But what if this isn’t exactly true?

We know that in Acts 10:44-45 the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his entire household also received the Holy Spirit, but to the best of our knowledge, none of them went on, after the initial event, to perform miraculous healings, signs, and wonders. What’s the difference between Cornelius and Peter? Were the Jews the only ones with the Spirit able to perform miracles, or was something else going on?

It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 2:3-4 (ESV)

Take a closer look at this verse. According to Lancaster, “those who heard”, that is, those who were direct witnesses of the Messiah, were the apostles. Only the apostles were able to be witnesses of the validity of Jesus “by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his (God’s) will.”

The idea, in this particular explanation, is that during the so-called “age of miracles,” God did not use everyone to perform miracles, and miracles did not occur for just any old reason at all. The miracles were a witness that occurred through those who actually walked and talked with the Master, that he is the Messiah, the Son of God.

The apostles could be compared to Abraham as we re-examine the brief Chasidic tale recorded by Rabbi Tauber above. They were “tzaddikim” (Righteous Ones) who were assigned by God to fulfill a specific mission and purpose; to witness to the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. Their tools for doing so, in addition to what they taught, were signs and wonders.

I know this viewpoint could be questioned and disbelieved, but I think we should at least consider the possibility. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t do miracles today, and it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t use “ordinary Christians” to perform said-miracles today. It does mean however, that God does miracles “according to His will” and not our will. It also may mean, as we see in Rabbi Tauber’s tale, that when someone, a tzaddik, realizes he must perform the equivalent of “circumcising himself at the age of 99 years, he is worthy that G-d should reveal Himself to him.”

It’s an imperfect theory and it certainly could be wrong, but we’re an imperfect people and God, and His reasons for doing anything, are perfect. Whether we understand the nature of miracles happening in the past as opposed to happening the present or not, we can certainly acknowledge that miracles seem to occur in the world from time to time, at the will of God and for His own purposes, but we must not depend on them. Should God choose to intervene in our lives with a miracle, it is good, but if He chooses not to, it is good as well.

We depend, not on miracles to sustain us or to be a witness to the Messiah, but on our faith and trust in God. These are the stones with which God builds the path we walk upon as we journey each day, as we follow Him, reaching out to touch the hem of his garment, flourishing in the glow of His holiness, and then reflecting that light into the world. Perhaps that is miracle enough, for the light of God is His healing of the world.

It is a Divine kindness that His mercies are endless.

Lamentations 3:22

Another way to translate this verse is, “It is a Divine kindness that we are never finished.”

The Maggid of Koznitz was extremely frail and sickly as a child. It was not thought that he would survive to adulthood. Much of his life was spent sick in bed, and he was so weak that he was often unable to sit up to meet visitors. Still, he lived to an advanced age.

The Maggid once revealed the secret of his longevity. “I never allowed myself to be without an assignment or a task to perform,” he said. “People are taken from this world only when their missions here are completed. Whenever I was just about to finish one task, I would start another; hence, I could not be removed from this world if my assignment was not completed.”

Even from a purely physiological aspect, the Maggid’s concept is valid. Some think that the healthiest thing for us is rest and relaxation. Not so. In reality, unused muscles tend to atrophy, while muscles that are exercised and stimulated are strengthened.

The same principle applies to the entire person. If we constantly stimulate ourselves to achieve new goals, we avoid the apathy that leads to atrophy.

Today I shall…

try to take on a new spiritual goal, and stimulate myself to greater achievement in serving God and being of help to other people.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Cheshvan 16”
Aish.com

I’ll be away from the computer for the day and won’t be available to respond to or approve comments. If I am unable to attend to them before Shabbat begins, then I will do so on Saturday after sundown.

Good Shabbos.

The Elusive, Invisible, Tzaddik

The tzadik is one with G-d.

We recognize him because within each of us is also a tzadik who is one with G-d.

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

This is amazingly difficult for me to get my brain around, mostly because I can’t imagine it applying to me, not even a little. But there are only a few sentences here to try and understand Rabbi Freeman’s point. What about how others reacted to this blog post?

*Posted June 24, 2012 by Yaakov Branfman, Jerusalem, Israel
So, in other words, when he goes against the Tzaddik, he’s really going against that part in himself who is a Tzaddik. And, not even talking about going against, but when he simply doesn’t value the Tzaddik, he’s not valuing that part of himself.
When he values a “regular” person, he’s valuing that part in himself, and when not valuing that person, he’s not seeing the good parts in himself.

*Posted Aug 22, 2009 by Anonymous, New York, NY
Yosef is the only one in the Torah was called HaTzaddik. Yet we find that Yosef made mistakes, and struggled, yet overcame his inclination, but is not that he had _NO_ such impulses.

By the way this is a phenomenal pearl of wisdom by written by Tzvi Freeman… If we look at people, and look for the Tzaddik within them… we can _PULL_ the Tzaddik to the surface.

*Posted Aug 9, 2009 by mark alcock, Durban, SA
“Tzaddik, The: A wholly righteous person. In the context of Chabad literature, one who has conquered his animal impulses and is filled entirely with love and reverence for G-d.” One is either righteous or not, not sometimes without sin.

*Posted Aug 9, 2009 by Michal
When I look at it this way,
then even I am a Tzaddik.
Most of the time.
Unfortunately not always !!!

I think what Rabbi Freeman (or the Rebbe) is trying to say is that we should look for the best in other people and the best in ourselves. There is supposed to be some spark of wonder, divinity, and even perfection within each human being and, if we can try to relate to that part of another person rather than the other parts that are imperfect, then maybe they will aspire to be what we see in them, rather than what the rest of the world sees.

That has profound implications. If you know someone who is perpetually sad or angry or cynical or sarcastic, you tend to relate to them by their primary presentation. We all tend to believe that a person is the way we see them and the way they act. But what if we choose to look at and to treat each person as if they were a tzaddik, even if that is the farthest thing from who they actually appear to be?

No, it wouldn’t suddenly change them. Chances are, they’d think you were faking it when you treated them with respect, honor, and deference (how else should you treat someone who is one with God?). Chances are they’d think you were lying. But what if you always treated the other person with respect, honor, and deference, even though their behavior didn’t warrant such treatment and even though everything inside of you tells you that they don’t deserve it?

At the very least, you’d confuse the other person. At the very most, they might, just might be able to see something of a tzaddik in themselves and start behaving differently.

OK, it’s a long shot and most of the time, it wouldn’t work, but how could it hurt? And what if their life is somehow a message to us?

So even if one is your enemy, and justifiably so; even if his moral and spiritual downfall is one of his own making – it could have happened without your having been made aware of it. That you have witnessed it has nothing to do with him: it is a message to you, enjoining you to deal with a similar negative element – be it in subtlest of forms – within yourself.

-Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement

What if someone where to treat you like a tzaddik? How would you react?

Depends.

If you go around thinking you’re pretty cool stuff, you might think that it’s only what you deserve and you’d let it go to your head. That would be too bad, because if you go around all the time thinking you’re pretty cool stuff, chances are, you really aren’t. Chances are, things like humility, honoring God, and loving your neighbor as yourself might have escaped you. Yet none of these things would escape a tzaddik. If even one other person started treating you like a tzaddik and kept treating you that way, do you think those things that had escaped you before would begin to become noticeable?

And what if you look and look but you don’t see the tzaddik in yourself? What if you see a total screw up who, no matter how hard he tries, just can’t stop making mistakes, losing track of important details, and whose past is a ghost attached around his neck with heavy, iron chains, haunting not only his every waking moment but every minute of his dreams? And what if no one ever treated you like a tzaddik, not that you’d ever expect such a thing?

Can you look for and find the tzaddik in yourself or is there only your past, your mistakes, and how everyone else sees you in exactly the same way you see yourself?

Don’t be “this”. Don’t let them define you. If you catch yourself fitting into a definition, contradict it. Never travel a single road.

Be forever walking through the splitting of the sea.

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

If there is even a tiny spark of the tzaddik in you, then not only can God see it but He placed it there. When a person can see only his mistakes, he also believes that’s only what God sees. It’s not that God can’t see past our flaws, but when we are drowning in our own despair, it’s impossible for us to believe God can see in us what we can’t see. It’s impossible for us to believe that there is something more in us than our own self-definition or the way others see our behavior and choose to define us. It’s impossible for us to think that we can escape the definition and become the paradox. Rabbi Freeman’s commentary on the above statement tells us that only God is truly the paradox:

If we wish to touch G-d Himself, we cannot find Him in any defined, bounded form. He is entirely unbounded, free of any definition. and that can only be discovered in utter paradox.

That is why everything a Jew does according to Torah, is bound up with paradox–because it is divine.

A Jew enters that identity when He is bound up in the Torah. A Christian would have to be bound up in Christ, the living Torah, to transcend the definition as Rabbi Freeman suggests, and to find the tzaddik within.

It would be wonderful to suspend the definition and to find the tzaddik who is completely concealed inside of me. But most days, there’s just who I see when I look in the mirror, and who the world sees when it looks at me, and who knows what God sees? Some days are better, and some days are worse, and some days all there is to see in me is a rasha. Have you even seen the tzaddik in you, let alone met him or her? If so, what is it like?

One of the Alter Rebbe’s great and very close chassidim had yechidus, in the course of which the Rebbe inquired after his situation. The chassid complained bitterly that his financial situation had utterly deteriorated. The Rebbe responded: You are needed to illuminate your environment with Torah and avoda of the heart – (davening). Livelihood and what you need – that, G-d must provide for you. You do what you must, and G-d will do what He must.

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tamuz 5, 5703
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Repairing Life

R’Simlai notes that the posuk (Yeshayahu 45:23) teaches that everyone in the world takes an oath before God. What is this oath, and when is it administered? The oath is the one referred to in Tehillim (24:3-4), “Who shall ascend into the mountain of God, and who shall be able to stand in His holy place? He who is of clean hands and pure of heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.” The oath itself is that at the time of birth the soul is commanded, “Be righteous, and do not be evil!” It is given when the soul is sent to the world. We recite Tehillin 24 – the paragraph of “L’David Mizmor” – at Maariv immediately after the silent Amidah on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Chaim Hager, the Rebbe from Viznitz, was also known as the Imrei Chaim. When he would read this posuk on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur he would cry. A visitor to his community was taken aback to hear the Rebbe whimpering at the particular point where false oaths are mentioned. The visitor could not fathom how the Rebbe could be so moved about the possibility of having taken a false oath.

As the chassidim passed by the Rebbe after davening, this visitor followed along in the line. When he asked the Rebbe for an explanation, the Rebbe answered: The Gemara (Niddah 30b) tells us that before a soul is sent into this world it is administered an oath which states “You are to be a tzaddik! Do not be a rasha!”

The oath continues with the person being adjured that even if everyone in the world tells him that he is a tzaddik, he must never become complacent by believing their compliments. Rather, the person must always strive for perfection and consider himself to be a rasha.

“Now,” continued the Rebbe, “who can confirm that he has fulfilled this oath which his soul has taken and that he is a tzaddik? Who can insist that he has not taken a false
oath?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemera Gem
“Be a tzaddik! Do not be a rasha!”
Niddah 30

This is midrash and not (as far as I know) literal fact, so I don’t suppose that before we are physically born, our souls take an oath before God to be righteous and not to be evil. Still, what if you happen to feel obligated to do good but find yourself doing the opposite? Who are you accountable to and what are the consequences?

I commented in yesterday’s morning meditation about the ongoing debate between Atheists and Christians (and other religious people). I mentioned that atheism as a belief system, does not have a built-in moral or ethical structure. The only requirement to be an atheist is to not believe in God or that any supernatural being had anything to do with the creation of the universe, or is involved in the course of human events.

But if you choose to be a person of faith, you are agreeing to a certain set of moral and ethical standards. If you fail to meet those standards, even occasionally, you have not only reneged on your agreement with your religion and with God, but you have dragged the Name of God through the mud for all to see, especially those who disdain religion and religious people.

If you believe that you have taken an oath before God to be a “tzaddik” and not be a “rasha,” you’ve failed that, too.

The problem is, being human, sooner or later, you will fail. If a non-religious person fails, who is hurt? It depends on the failure. They may hurt themselves, people where they work, their friends, their family, and so forth. Of course none of that is good, but when we who claim faith in God fail, particularly in a moral or ethical area, we fail all those people and we fail God as well. We become a “rasha” and not a “tzaddik.”

I’m exaggerating here. Not all people in religion can be considered tzaddikim, since these are the most righteous, noble, and holy in the world of faith. Christianity would call them “saints.” How many Christians can truly be called “saints” (although some Christian denominations consider all Christians to be worthy of being saints because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ)?

Most of us are “mere mortals” who are doing our best to try to make it through one day at a time. Some days are better than others. Some days we’re better at honoring God and His desires than others. Some days seem pretty crummy, but we try to keep going because of our faith and our belief that God is with us, regardless of our circumstances and, in most cases, regardless of how badly we fail.

That’s why anti-Christian and anti-religious rhetoric on the Internet or in real life is so disturbing. Not because secular people don’t agree with my choosing to have faith, but because it means that I or someone like me has failed. We have failed to show that we are doing our best to follow a moral standard that was set for us by the Creator of the Universe and the lover of our souls. We have given the world the opportunity to believe that our faith is not only a lie, but an excuse to actually indulge in selfish, moral attacks on those we deem weaker or more vulnerable in the world.

I wish I could find the image I saw the other day on the web (thought it was on the atheism sub-reddit but I can’t find it). It was a “rant” on how a young atheist found himself in church (not sure how this happened) and listened to the Pastor preach on how young people don’t have values today. The person listening to the sermon reasoned that the Pastor meant that young people don’t have the church’s values, which the commenter described as repression, inequality, exclusivism and so forth. He defined atheist values as inclusiveness (except if you’re a person of faith, but that’s beside the point), equality, compassion and so forth (I really wish I could find the image because it was just brilliant).

The conclusion is that the church wasn’t particularly moral at all and that atheism, by comparison, was a much better belief system. Of course, the commenter wasn’t really describing atheism but rather western political and social progressivism which includes atheism as a core element. Nevertheless, there are times when Christians do not take the moral high road and liberal progressives do (and I should mention that there are more than a few Jewish people who have doubts about God, too).

But the argument against religion has to discount the times when Christian programs really do feed the hungry, send visitors to the sick, comforts the mourning, defends the widow, the orphan, and the disadvantaged, but those people and programs don’t make it on the news or, for the most part, in the popular social networking sites. It also isn’t generally advertised that the civil rights movement was started and supported by Christian and Jewish activists rather than atheists and scientists.

Whether you as a Christian like it or not, the world is watching and waiting for us to fail (they never expect us to succeed). Some of those watching are really anxious for us to fall face down in the sewer. When we do fail, we fall far, and we hit hard, and we take the reputation of God with us when we go over the edge.

Debating atheists on their own terms will not sanctify the Name of God. You will never elevate God’s reputation by trying to “prove” He exists and created the universe. Living a life of faith and devotion to your ideals by helping others and repairing our damaged world will. You may never convince even one atheist to consider a life of faith, but at your finest, you will be fulfilling your oath, doing your best to live as a “tzaddik,” and helping vulnerable and needy people in the process. But you should always question your own motives before criticizing someone else’s.

If you have not yet succeeded in fulfilling the criteria to be a critic, yet still feel a necessity to provide criticism, there is an alternative:

Sit and criticize yourself, very hard, from the bottom of your heart, until the other person hears.

If it comes from your heart, it will enter his as well.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Last Word on Criticizing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Repair the world one day at a time. And for Heaven’s sake, be a tzaddik! Do not be a rasha!