Tag Archives: ungrateful

The Ungrateful Servant

In the Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem, there was an elderly native of the city who prayed with the Yeshiva each morning. On the morning following the presidential election in the United States, before prayers began, he went to one of the American boys and asked him who had won.

I don’t know if the young student knew the answer, but he was struck by the question. Why would an old man from Jerusalem care about the elections, so much so that he would go out of his way to ask about the results before prayers? Doesn’t G-d come first?

Asked for an explanation, the man replied that he was about to say a blessing thanking G-d for giving him the opportunity to be part of the Jewish People. Although everyone is created in the image of G-d and every righteous person has a share in the World to Come, to be called to serve G-d through all His Commandments is unique privilege. And when making that blessing, he wanted to think about the greatest and most powerful non-Jew in the world!

To give the story a bit of deeper insight, consider that this elderly gentleman lived in poverty in a small Jerusalem apartment. If I’m not mistaken, the protagonist used to sit in the back of the Bais Medrash (study hall), tying Tzitzis (fringes on the corners of garments) for a living while he reviewed the Babylonian Talmud by heart. He was quite poor, yet considered himself blessed beyond the most powerful man in the world.

Every one of us has our own individual set of challenges and opportunities placed before us. Our Sages tell us that we must say, “the entire world was created for me.” Whatever our situation, we have incredible blessings which we often take for granted. Most of us have legs to walk on, are able to breathe the air around us, and are able to marvel at a sunset. But even those who are not able to do all those things have many others for which to be thankful.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“A Moment of Thanks”

I didn’t really intend to write additional blog posts that related to my The Equality Puzzle series, but as with so many of my other “meditations,” this one just sort of “happened.”

We see here a perfect example of how all people are considered equal in that we are all created in the image of God, and yet we also find that an elderly and impoverished Jewish man in Jerusalem, someone who barely manages to make a living, sees himself as more privileged than the (non-Jewish) President of the United States who is arguably, the most powerful single person in the world. The old man lives without many things, but he is honored “to be called to serve G-d through all His Commandments.”

This says several things. First, in the sense of being able to “serve G-d through all His Commandments,” we are not all the same. A poor old Jewish man may have this unique privilege, but even the President of the United States, if he or she is not Jewish, does not share this special honor from God. However, though this may represent a gross inequality to some, it also illustrates that we all have something to be thankful for and a wonderful role to play out in God’s Kingdom that was crafted just for us.

You could be an old Jewish man in Jerusalem who earns a meager living by tying tzitzit, the President of the United States, or anyone else, but no matter who you are, you are special, and you are unique, and there is something in your life that God gave you that you can be thankful for.

But if all that is true, then why is it so common for each of us to “look over the fence,” so to speak, and to long for the “greener grass” in someone else’s field?

A young man asked a sage how to go about finding riches.

“Would you give a leg,” asked the sage, “for a bagful of diamonds?”

“Yes, I would,” said the young man. “The pleasures riches bring would easily compensate for my loss of a leg.”

“Come with me,” said the sage, and he led him into the marketplace where a one-legged man sat leaning against a wall.

“My good fellow,” said the sage, “would you give me a bagful of diamonds if I could restore your leg?”

“I would give two bagfuls,” he replied, “even if I had to spend years stealing them. I would do anything to be relieved of my legless misery.”

The sage turned to the young man. “Would you still make that deal?”

The young man shivered and shook his head.

“Go home,” said the sage. “You don’t have to seek riches. You have it already.”

-Rabbi Naftali Reich
“Open Your Eyes”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tavo

A young man in good health would give one of his legs in exchange for a bag of diamonds so he can be wealthy. A man with a missing leg would beg, borrow, or steal two bags full of diamonds and dedicate years of his life to the task if he could get his leg back. We want what we weren’t given by God for our lives but if we somehow acquire it, we find that we’d surrender our treasure in order to restore what we were naturally given by God.

Go figure. People are really peculiar. We will even squander what God gives us for our own benefit and to improve the quality of our lives.

There is a Midrash (a commentary on the Five Books of Moses in the form of a parable) about a successful businessman who meets a former colleague down on his luck. The colleague begs the successful business man for a substantial loan to turn around his circumstances. Eventually, the businessman agrees to a 6 month loan and gives his former colleague the money. At the end of the 6 months, the businessman goes to collect his loan. The former colleague gives him every last penny. However, the businessman notices that the money is the exact same coins he loaned the man. He was furious! “How dare you borrow such a huge amount and not even use it? I gave this to you to better your life!” The man was speechless.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Thoughts to Ponder before Rosh Hashana”
Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Torah Portion Nitzavim

How like the Parable of the Talents in which Jesus tells us something very much the same:

But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ –Matthew 25:26-30 (ESV)

God has given each of us so very much, and yet most of us are never satisfied with His providence. We always want more. We always want what God never intended to give us. Jews and Christians each possess many important and precious gifts from the Lover of our souls. Don’t be so quick to throw your’s away just because someone else’s looks more attractive. The consequences, as we have seen in abundance, can be disastrous.

Rosh Hashanah begins in less than a week. If you are a Christian whose heart is turned toward the Jewish traditions and the God of Israel, now more than ever, this is the time to appreciate who you are and what God has given you as a Christian. You are blessed. Give thanks.

The Serpent’s Tooth

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.

-Neil Postman

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.

-William Shakespeare
King Lear Act 1, scene 4

People react to different situations differently, based on their diverse personalities and experiences.

The obligation to love other people and do acts of kindness requires that we look at the specific individual we are dealing with. Try to understand what exactly will give this person pleasure. Be aware of his personality traits, in order to know what his needs are. Decide in which areas and to what degree to honor this specific person.

To do this properly requires much thought.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Please According to the Pleasure”
Daily Lift #553

Much of the time, it is impossible for us to know the outcome of an event as we commit it. The future remains shrouded in mystery until it becomes the present. At that point, it’s far too late to do anything to change what has happened. It’s like eating a cookie. Before you taste it, the cookie may look pleasing and delicious, but you can never really know until you eat it. Will it be sweet and satisfying or bitter, leaving you empty and ill? You can only find out by putting the cookie in your mouth, but once you do, it is too late.

Who we are, everything we do, the relationships we have with family and friends; they are all like that. You meet a girl, fall in love, get married, have children, time passes and what you imagined the “cookie” would taste like when you first looked at it, ultimately has no resemblance to your experience once you’ve bitten into it and swallowed.

Is life sweet for you? Is it bitter for someone else? Does it really matter and more importantly, is there anything you can do about it?

I don’t know. It’s one thing if the bitterness is just you. Then you are totally responsible for any outcome and totally in control of what happens. But we don’t live in isolation. We live in a world of people, their shifting moods, their hungers, their desires, their pain and poignancy.

As I’ve mentioned in a number of my blogs recently, the month of Elul on the Jewish religious calendar, is “a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.” According to Judaism 101:

Tradition teaches that the month of Elul is a particularly propitious time for repentance. This mood of repentance builds through the month of Elul to the period of Selichot, to Rosh Hashanah, and finally to Yom Kippur.

With an awareness of willful sin and the need to repent and make amends comes deep feelings of regret and remorse. A rebuke from any source, but particularly from one you are close to, can be especially painful. And yet the world, and particularly the world of religious people, is full of rebukes, judgments, and harsh words. Why wait for a judgment from God when human beings are more than willing to dole out their opinions on what makes them superior and what makes you a fool?

God. In the middle of a hostile humanity, strangers, friends, loved ones, it’s easy to almost forget God. I can’t forget God. And if we can set aside a month of preparing to encounter our Creator in the most imposing, awesome, and terrifying manner, how does God prepare for us?

People imagine that since G‑d is not physical, therefore He must be in heaven. But the heavens—and all things spiritual—are just as much creations as the earth. Less dissonant, more harmonious, more lucid—but finite realms nonetheless.

G‑d is not found in a place because it is big enough to contain Him or so magnificent that He belongs there. G‑d is found in whatever place He desires. And where does He desire most to be found? In the work of our hands, repairing His world.

The heavens are filled with spiritual light. In the work of our hands dwells G‑d Himself, the Source of All Light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Is G-d in Heaven?”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

What if god was one of us…

Lyrics by Eric Bazilian

God may not be one of us, but according to Rabbi Freeman, He can be found among us, even in the work of the hands of His saints. When we pray, we may not have to pray in the “direction” of Heaven. God could be standing at our very shoulder as we talk to Him, revealing our inner core, breaking down in shame or sorrow or anger or fear. What have I done? Could I have reacted any differently? Is there hope that we can be closer again? Is there hope at all? Where is God?

I have to force myself to remember that judgment is also an opportunity to dance with God on Yom Kippur. It never feels that way as I turn inward and stare into Nietzsche’s abyss. But what choice do I have?

“Women, slaves and children are obligated in prayer” – They are obligated in prayer because prayer is a request for Divine compassion, and everyone requires that. I may have thought that since it is written as regards prayer ‘evening and morning and afternoon’, possibly prayer has the status of a Mitzvah that is bound by time and thus they would be exempt. Therefore, the Mishnah comes to inform me that women are obligated.

-Berachos 20b

I’m not sure if the traditional Jewish sages would agree that a Gentile also is obligated to pray to God, but as a Christian, I understand that it is unavoidable. God is merciful and slow to anger, but that doesn’t mean He’s not a righteous Judge, too. According to Paul, no one is righteous (Romans 3:10) and the sooner we all get off our high horses and face that fact, the better off we’ll probably be. But it’s an ugly thing to face; all your mistakes, the horror of the people you’ve hurt, the willful sins and the pure ignorance of life that have resulted in the mess you and I find ourselves in as we delve into our personalities and personal experiences.

Will God forgive?

As a Christian, I must believe that through Jesus Christ, my sins are forgiven. With sincere confession and repentance before the King of Kings and the man of many sufferings, my burdens are lightened and my soul is free to soar the Heavens.

Oh really?

Would that it were so easy to shed the chains that I wrap around my spirit and to disregard the wound inflicted upon me by myself and everyone who says they are being “honest” with me for my own good.

The wounds are deep and the pool of blood is gathering at my feet. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth.

Some wounds may never heal and even if they do, the painful scars will always be there.

Or am I being the thankless child?

The road

The road is long and often, we travel in the dark.