The Importance of a Chavurah

I was at a congregation where a leader was explaining what a “Chavurah” was to a visitor.  He said its technically part of the congregation, but he doesn’t push it, and it is basically a get together of people, but not very important. I have to say that the leader doesn’t have much understanding about the value of a chavurah, or the needs of his people.  For him, everything is the “service,” on Shabbat morning.

The reality is, the service is about worship.  People don’t really get to know one another at a service, and the service may meet some needs, but it doesn’t create or build community. A chavurah provides the opportunity for people get together and enjoy one another’s company.  It also provides an opportunity to worship, as we have a torah service in our chavurah.  A chavurah also provides good teaching.  It provides an informal setting for people to get to know one another, and for new people to relax and enjoy themselves.

In short, a Chavurah builds a sense of community and belonging.  There is good food, and everyone has a great time. It is just as important as the congregational meeting, which is more formal, and has a potential of being boring.  While we may have an Oneg Shabbat at a congregational service, it just doesn’t compare.  No one who is part of a chavurah considers it boring.  It is a wonderful experience that I hope everyone gets to share.

Bumper Sticker Religion

It may be that I’m becoming more of a curmudgeon in my old age, but I am becoming increasingly impatient with people who quote popular religious saFeatured imageyings.  In the 70’s Campus Crusade for Christ came up with the “I Found It,” campaign, engaging in mass marketing approach to sharing the Gospel.  Before that, it was “Honk If You Love Jesus,” and “Jesus Loves You.”  In the 80’s I heard people saying. “Let Go and Let God.”  In the 90’s. they had the “What Would Jesus Do?” campaign.  All these popular slogans sort of turned my stomach.  I guess the real question is, why does it bother me?

The reason these slogans bother me is not what they are trying to say, but the idea of reducing the Message of Holy Scripture to a slogan cheapens it.  When I think of the Awe and Majesty of God, there is no way it can be expressed by a slogan or bumpersticker.

People don’t respect bumper sticker messages anymore.  Usually, if something is humorous, we don’t mind, but people don’t put bumperstickers on their cars anymore, or wear “message buttons.”  People who use them are perceived by our society as crackpots.  What was at one time a great way to share a message, now lacks credibility. Times have changed, and public perception has as well.  There was a time when people went door to door to share their religious messages, and it was somewhat successful.  Today it conveys a lack of credibility.

Another reason the slogan approach to faith bothers me, is that people stop thinking about the truths themselves, and just quote catchphrases mindlessly.  They cease to mean anything to anyone.  I’m not against these slogans themselves, but in the realm of faith expression, they are inadequate, and they cease to convey meaningful faith.

The underlying question is “How should we be expressing our faith?”  The bible is not a book of theology.  Its a book of the life stories of God’s people as they walk with God in the world.  We learn from their lives and their faith through their circumstances, and it encourages us to walk with God in our lives.  I guess for me, I want to express my faith, not by quoting popular watchwords, but by living my faith in the presence of others.  I want people to see my struggles, not just my blessings.  I want them to understand that even through trials, we need to draw near to God who strengthens us.  I want to give people the opportunity to see God in my life and be drawn to seeing Him in me.  That only happens by living my life, struggles and all, in a way that people can see and hear.  In a sense it’s living my faith out loud.

The practical question is, How do I express what I believe in a meaningful way? (The key word being Meaningful).  First, in our use of the rituals and customs.  If you do them in a meaningless, rote manner, there  is no life in them.  Doing them with a full heart, seeking to draw near to God through them, connects us to their meanings.

Secondly, the way I treat other people.  You can’t treat people like crap and claim to love God.  As one of the Hashivenu core values states, “Because man is created in the image of God, the way we treat others is a real reflection of how we feel about God.  Therefore, true piety can not exist apart from human decency.”  People think they will see God if they have visions and supernatural experiences, but one of the main places we encounter God is in the lives of people who walk with Him.  The question is, when people encounter us, are they encountering God in us, or are they encountering just us.  For sure, when people spend time with me, they do encounter the cranky person that I can be, but hopefully they see the God who is in my life.

The Importance Of Deference

Deference is defined as “respect and esteem due a superior or an elder.” Deference is important, because it conveys respect.  As an older, senior leader, I have been shown a great deal of deference by my friends and colleagues. I appreciate the kindness people show me, anFeatured imaged I in return have shown deference to them.  Its not that difficult to show deference to people you understand to know more than you do, or who have been through the experiences that they have weathered.

The picture of deference should be as the Japanese greeting where two people  bow towards one another, not like a slave with his face in the dirt bowing toward an oriental potentate.

No one likes being disrespected.  I honestly don’t think I’m that big a deal, but it bothers me when people treat me with disrespect.  As a result, I have sought to never treat other people that way, whether or not they are older than me or have more experience than me.  It goes along with the idea of treating people the way you wish to be treated.

I’ve met people in all circumstances, and regardless of their station in life, I have tried to show them respect, because they are people created in the Image of God.  Honoring others is how I honor the image of God in them.   Its a matter of kindness.

I have found that when I don’t show people respect, by being rude or unkind, it reflects badly on me.  People notice how you treat others, especially if you are a leader.  When you don’t treat people well, other people think, “When will he treat me that way?” and it makes them hesitant to be open and friendly with you.

Its not always easy to show people deference.  When we are aware of people’s flaws, we are aware of how human they are, and it makes it more difficult to show them any sort of deference.  The problem is, we are all human, and we all have flaws.  Some people’s flaws are more obvious than others, but we all have them.  It astounds me when people tell me about someone’s flaws and what they find unacceptable in others is the same flaws I see in them.  They are oblivious to their own issues, but they lash out at others with the same problems.  Psychologists would say that you see the things you don’t like about yourself in others, and condemn it in them to feel better about yourself.  Whatever the reason, its wrong.

There are people with whom I find it difficult or impossible to show deference.  When people treat other people badly, its hard for me to respect them.  I have broken off professional relationships over it.  I don’t want to be associated with people who are willing to crush other people’s spirits, or humiliate them publicly or privately.  The rabbis taught that embarrassing others is like killing them.  I tend to not be that confrontational.  Even when I do address an issue with someone, I tend to hold back, because I don’t want to hurt them.  If I actually told people exactly what I think, without holding back, it might be too much for them to handle, or they might not be able to receive it.  In either case, it would do no good.

Real deference needs to be mutual; not limited to people in high position or with many accomplishments.  We should treat people well because they are created in God’s image, because they have feelings, and because we ourselves wish to be treated with kindness and respect.

For me being a leader means I need not only to teach, but to encourage others and be kind to them.  I frequently wonder what kind of effect I have on other people.  I hope it is good, because I am answerable for this.  If we all treated one another with more kindness and understanding, and less critical intolerance, we would be more effective and less hurtful to those around us.

And The LORD Heard It

These should be the most terrifying words we have ever heard, “And the LORD heard it.”  It comes from the book of Numbers, chapter 12 where the sister of Moses grumbled against him.  “So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.”   Featured image

It makes you ask the question, how much of what we say does the Lord hear?  How much of what we do does the Lord see?  The answer of course, is EVERYTHING.  If you really fear God, with a Godly fear, that idea should be unsettling at best.  There are things we do that are not always good.  There are things we say that are not always good.  it makes me shudder that the Lord hears the things I say when I drive.  I’m a native New Yorker, and muttering expletives went hand in hand with getting a drivers license.  I don’t mean anything by them, its just a way to let out frustration.

The thing that would trouble me the most is the way I treat other people.  I’m far from being a perfect person.  I am well aware of my shortcomings; but one thing I do strive to do is treat other people with respect and honor even when I feel they don’t deserve it.  I try to be kind to people, because the world needs kind people.  I am well aware that God notices how I treat other people.  It would terrify me to know I treated someone badly, and even more, that God noticed it.

I am often amazed at how badly people treat one another.  They feel they are right, as if that is a valid excuse for treating other people badly.  I wonder how people would treat others if they were aware that God was watching them.  Either they are unaware, or the think God doesn’t notice, or that He doesn’t care.  It’s basically a lack of faith.  Treating someone in a condescending and demeaning manner is not a godly thing to do.  Lording our position over others is not a godly thing to do.   It betrays a lack of Yireh, Shamayim, a fear of heaven.  If we really believe that God watches us and notices, how differently would we treat others?

In Dicken’s story, “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge lives a life of selfishness partly because he felt no sense that God or anyone else watched him or cared.  His visitation by three ghosts brings home the realization that every act of his life had been noticed and he was on the verge of judgment for those actions.  The great reality of life, is that the way we treat people is a genuine reflection of how we feel about God.  if we live our lives in a way that says He doesn’t see or hear, we are denying Him.  We are to do our mitzvot in such a way that brings Honor to God, and reflects the reality of God in our lives.  Yeshua said, “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your mitzvot, and give glory to your Father in Heaven.”  This applies, not only to ritual commandments, but to the way we treat people as well,  Whatever we do or say, we need to realize that “The Lord Heard It.”

Sending Mixed Messages

Many years ago, I operated a store in the Hasidic cokosher pigmmunity.  I went to Hasidic minyans, and shared jokes, and socialized with them.  I was invited to weddings and Bar Mitzvot. On most days, I dressed in black and white, like everyone else. On formal occasions, I wore a long coat and a black fedora.  When I first got the Hasidic “formal ware,”  I showed up at my teacher’s apartment, and he said I looked fantastic.  Then he told me I can’t dress that way all the time unless I was willing to live the life that went with that appearance.  My existence in that community was at most, peripheral, so I chose to not dress that way all the time.

The reason my teacher told me that, was because it would be wrong to dress like a Hasid, and not live like a Hasid.  I had no desire or intention to live that life, so it made sense for me to not give the appearance that I was a Hasid who was doing something that was wrong for a Hasid, when in reality I’m not one.

Many years ago, I visited a Messianic community in another state.  Some of their people wore kipot all the time, and went around with blue and white tzitzit tied to their belt loops.  There was nothing wrong with the appearance, although the belt loops thing is not really the correct way to perform the mitzvah.  The problem was, they dressed this way everywhere.

One guy in particular was coming out of a Chinese restaurant, where pork was obviously being served.  He came out wearing his kipah and his tzitzit.  Jewish people walking by saw him coming out of the restaurant, and laughed hysterically.  He could have said that he didn’t eat any pork, which would have been fine, but the reality is, that someone who dresses Orthodox, needs to live orthodox, or he becomes a laughingstock.  Its never a good testimony when you crack people up by your actions.  That was what my teacher was trying to tell me.  Our appearance needs to match our beliefs and actions.  I’m not saying that a person can’t eat in a restaurant that isn’t Shomer Shabbat.  I’m saying that if you look like you are someone who is Shomer Shabbat, you shouldn’t be eating in a place that is not.

There is an easy way around this problem.  There are two solutions:  The first is to simply, remove your kipah and tuck in your tzitzit if you are eating in a non-kosher restaurant.  The other solution is to wear a cap over your kipah.  If you are wearing your kipah to honor God, you are not fulfilling the mitzvah if you are giving the appearance that you are a religious person doing something wrong.

Appearances are important.  They can alert people to who we are, and reflect on what we believe.  That can be good when we  are doing things that are positive, but not so good when we do things that send conflicting messages.  A friend of mine who wears a kipah and tzitzit all the time, went to dinner with his wife at a Red Lobster restaurant. Jewish people came up to him and said they were offended that he was there.  He responded that he was offended that they were eating unkosher food, but the damage was done.

I don’t tell people where to eat.  I don’t tell them what to do.  I will tell them that I don’t think its wise to send conflicting messages.  All that does is make people want to avoid you.  If I want people to avoid me, I’ll smoke a cigar.

Time to Move On

My grandparents lived in the same apartment in the Bronx since 1940.  As the got older, my parents wanted them to move to Florida to be closer to them and so they could hFeatured imageelp take care of them, but they refused, having lived in their apartment for 50 years.  The neighborhood had gotten worse, there were gangs of teens who were beating up old people, yet they didn’t want to leave the place they had become accustomed to for so long.  Finally, my dad bought a condo for my grandparents and moved them down to Florida.  My grandmother loved her new apartment and showed it off proudly to visitors, but complained every day about missing the Bronx. Change is difficult.

Over the decades, I’ve been part of several congregations, and have seen some people bounce from place to place, never finding a congregational home, while others move in and never leave.  Its a good thing to be around for the long term, but sometimes, we do need to move on.  As we live and grow in Yeshua, we have different needs at different times.  Sometimes a congregation that was fine for us for a long time is no longer meeting the real needs we have. Its not that the congregation has changed or is deficient, or that the leadership is not doing its job, but may just be that the time has come to move on.

When it is time to move, people feel funny about it because they have developed friendships, and their children have grown up in the congregation. Nevertheless, when its time to go, we can choose to leave well, or lead badly. Leaving badly is usually the path selected by people who can’t just admit that its time for a change, so they have to find some “spiritual” reason for leaving. They claim they are no longer being fed or they have a problem with the leadership, or there is some other short coming or deficiency in the congregation. The problem with this approach is that they sin by slandering the leadership or committing Lashon Harah against the congregation. It burns bridges and harms people. Its a negative and destructive way to go.

A more positive approach is to leave well. There is nothing wrong with moving on.  People simply need to acknowledge that they have different needs and its time to move on. They do no harm to others, and can go with the blessing of the congregation. No sin is committed, and friendships do not need to be sacrificed in the process. To me, its always better to leave well. I don’t want to leave badly, and I don’t want to have stayed too long. Over the years, when I see people who were part of communities I was part of in the past, its always a pleasant experience, and a blessing. When people have left badly, its awkward and uncomfortable. To this day, I have friends who left badly, and unfortunately affected our friendships.  Leaving badly is never a good thing.  Sha’ul wrote in Romans 12:8, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The wise thing is to realize when its time to move, and do it well.

Remedy for Hatred

In this season of love and good will, I’ve encountered a number of people who are consumed with hatred for others.  There is the obvious kind of hatred Featured imagethat manifests itself with bigotry, jealousy, and viciousness.  I’ve seen the hatred that exists between people who are either family or who at one time were good friends, and either an issue came up, or they took different sides or they didn’t approve of other people’s life choices.  In the faces of hate, are true ugliness.  I don’t like to be around it, and do everything I can to avoid being around such people.  At times this becomes difficult when you are a common friend to all the parties involved.

It makes me wonder, and ask the question, “At what point do we think its appropriate or acceptable to hurt another person, either physically or emotionally, and still think we are under the blessing of God?”  People can pretend that God does not see or care, or that God is on their side, but hateful actions are never God’s will. The real question is, are we His, or not? If we are his, we can not walk around hating and hurting others. Our lives need to reflect His life in us.  Its usually at this point that people point the finger at the other party and say, “yeah, but they did this or that….”   The real problem is not so much who did what.  The question in my mind, is “At what point did you stop valuing the other person more than the “thing” you are so upset about?  In a real sense you are selling out the other person for something or someone else.

People make choices all the time, and I get that.  People will value some people over others.  Everyone has their favorites.  The problem is how we treat people.  My mother taught me that common decency was not having to love everyone, but at least treating everyone with kindness.  To my great sadness, I am watching people abandon that idea, and instead will treat each other horribly, speaking evil of others, and engaging in character assassination, while feeling justified about it.  If we are supposed to be the people of God and our lives reflect His life in us, how can harboring hatred and acting on it reflect His love?

The sages tell us that the Holy Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred.  Baseless hatred turns even a holy place into a profanity.  Being religious, praying, following rituals and traditions, which are good in and of themselves, are transformed into a profanity when we walk in hatred.  No amount of prayers or rituals will cover the sin of hatred.   No one likes a phony.  Bullshit in the name of God is profane.  No one is fooled by it, and God does not accept it.

Malachi 2:2 says, “If you will not hear,
And if you will not take it to heart,
To give glory to My name,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“I will send a curse upon you,
And I will curse your blessings.
Yes, I have cursed them already,
Because you do not take it to heart.”

It takes unbelief to not fear God; to not care what He thinks.  The remedy for hatred is to stop it.  Lay down your arms.  Surrender.  Seek the good of others and show them love.  If you can’t get past the emotions, give them to God and ask Him to help you.  If you can’t get along with them, then forgive and move away.

There are people I have forgiven whom I still can not be around.  I just stay way from them.  Sometimes you just have to walk away.  The main thing is, to cease hostilities.  I will not act in hatred, even if they do, and even if they deserve it.  Its better to just keep my distance, and ask God to deal with them.  Sometimes, its all you can do.