I watch with curiosity the amount of interest my blog generates, and notice that when I write on issues regarding keeping Kosher, Gentiles in Messianic community, or conversion, I get ten times the readership that I get when I write on issues of ethical behavior, like honoring parents or acts of kindness. This tells me that people are more interested in issues that touch on their personal status in the Messianic Jewish world, or on particular religious requirements of that world. In a way this saddens me because issues of ethical behavior are where the rubber hits the road in Jewish life. Keeping Shabbat and Kashrut are great, and in fact, very important, but what good are they if I don’t honor my parents? How can I treat people like crap and claim to love God? Yeshua said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” We tend to go “yeah, yeah” when we hear instruction about loving one another, but I wonder how well we embrace the idea of loving one another.
It’s far easier to follow ritual regulations than it is to love other people. Ritual regulations are easy. We learn what to do and then do it.
Dealing with people is more complicated. Behavior is not just behavior, there are reasons to be taken into account. When there is more than one individual, there are different sides to a story. People need to be forgiven, challenged, understood and accepted.
When we have to deal with people, it’s harder if not sometimes impossible to measure the impact we have had. Human nature makes it difficult to gage our effect on humans, whose own interpretations of events change like the wind.
Another difficulty with dealing with people is that they are not always appreciative for our kindness. People take things for granted or do not always value things the same way we do, making our acts of kindness almost a thankless task. I once had someone who deeply offended me. I spent five years holding a grudge, and he sensed something wasn’t right because he kept asking me, year after year, if we were OK. After five years, I realized he was not that upset and it was only me who was suffering. I forgave him and let go of the anger and bitterness. I went to him and told him I forgive him and hold nothing against him. I expected him to be grateful for my forgiveness. Instead he said, “that’s good, but I didn’t do anything wrong.” I let it go, even though he didn’t appreciate what my forgiveness meant for me to give.
The question presents itself: Why bother dealing with ethical issues in a world where people don’t care much about them? In an existential world, where nothing really has meaning, it would not matter. If life were meaningless, there would be no value to ethical behavior. To be honest, from a practical viewpoint, the way ethical issues are ignored, existentialism is not out of the picture.
The existential view does not work for me, because I believe in God. I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and His existence and the values he gives in his Torah give value to my actions and to human ethical behavior. Because of the Torah, I know it is right and good to honor my parents and not put them out on an ice flow to die when they get old. Because of the Torah, I know that human life is more valuable than animal life, because mankind was created in the image of God, putting us above the level of other mammals. To kill another human, is to strike out against the image of God. In an existential world, killing a human should be no different from killing any mammal. Believing in God, informs my value system. God is not there for us to argue over minutia. His being there, should inform our ethics and values, and inspire us to embrace ethical behavior.
The sixth core value of Hashivenu says, “Because man is created in the image of God, the way we treat one another is a true reflection of how we value God. Therefore, true piety can not exist apart from human decency. Put another way, you can’t treat people like crap and say you love God. Ritual adherence is invalidated by bad behavior. Hating someone because their theology is different from yours doesn’t work in God’s value system. Yeshua’s teaching is clear. Love your enemies. But it’s easier to light Shabbat candles than love your enemies. Observing Kashrut is easier than loving our enemies. It’s hard to love people we don’t want to love. Yochanan wrote, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Walking in the light means we will have fellowship, i.e. relationship, with one another; it is a sign of our being cleansed. Walking in the light is not about how ritualistic we are or about whether or not or how to pronounce Divine names. It is about how we treat one another.
There is a story about a great rabbi, a sage, who was told by a voice from heaven, that he would spend eternity in the world to come with Itzik the saloon keeper. The rabbi, who had devoted his life to Torah and teaching was puzzled that he would be next to a saloon keeper in the world to come, so he went to the saloon to talk with him. Itzik was not a particularly religious man. He worked hard and eeked out a living. The rabbi told Itzik about his message and asked why they might be together in the world to come. Itzik had no idea. While they were talking, a widow and her children came to the door and he gave her money for food. Later, a poor man came to the door and Itzik let him sleep in his back room. Itzik returned to the rabbi and apologized for the interruptions. The rabbi got up and said it was not a problem. He said he would be honored to spend eternity in the world to come with Itzik.