Don’t Listen

I’ve learned that its not a good idea to listen to what people say about you.  People, even people who love us, may say things that are not always complimentary.  Its part of human nature.   Even people we care about and who care about us, may say things that aren’t aways complimentary, and listening to what they may have said about us will only hurt our feelings and possibly damage a good relationship.  Ecclesiastes 10:20 says, “Do not curse the king, even in your thought;
Do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; For a bird of the air may carry your voice, And a bird in flight may tell the matter.”  We would all do better to keep our mouths shut, but its not our nature.  It can be just as bad to believe everything we hear, or everything that is said, as saying it.  

They truth is, everyone by nature is somewhat critical. Nobody leads such a life that they have no detractors ever. Wisdom is in realizing that  not everyone who says the wrong thing is our enemy, and even if they said the wrong thing, it doesn’t mean that they don’t love us.  I have dear friends who have said they thought I did something stupid behind my back.  Maybe it was stupid, and maybe it wasn’t.  They didn’t want to get into an argument with me, maybe because they cared about me and didn’t want to hurt my feelings. They didn’t want to get into a fight about it, but they still didn’t like it.  Thats part of what friendship does.  It knows we do dumb things, but accepts us anyway.

When I hear that someone said something that was uncomplimentary about me, I really don’t know the context or the intent. It would be wrong to act on what I heard, even if it was painful to me, because I didn’t hear it, and don’t know if what was reported was reported accurately, or their intent. It wouldn’t be fair to the person who allegedly made the comment. Being a friend means giving someone the benefit of the doubt. If I think it’s true that they said it, I’m supposed to go to them and discuss it with them.  When I assume they did say it without talking to them, I am presuming them to be guilty, when they may not be.  Doing the right thing is to give a friend the benefit of the doubt.  It also means recognizing the ones through whom we heard these things may have had good intentions.

I recently heard that someone I love and care about said some unkind things. I was deeply hurt, and the person who told me had only good intentions, but as I thought about it, because they are my valued friends, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t mean it. Sometimes we say things to be funny or to express an opinion without thinking our words may hurt people.  We can get upset and have an argument, or we can forgive. I choose to forgive, and I can only hope when I say things I don’t really mean, that people will forgive me.

The truth is, even though I love God, I offend Him every day of my life. I make stupid decisions and say foolish things that don’t reflect my greater values or how I really feel.  I try to do better, but I’m so far from perfect; yet God forgives me. I try to do the same for His children.  I learned to forgive because I have been forgiven of much.

 

Being Happy When It Hurts

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, “He who is happy inherits all the blessings of Torah. He who is not happy inherits none of them.”  By this, he meant that when we are not happy, we can not enjoy the blessings around us.

Recently, someone came to me and told me that someone very close to me made negative comments about Jews, and spoke badly about all the traditions and blessings I hold dear. They called my motives in question.  They had contempt for my heritage.  It made me feel great sadness and betrayal.  I knew God was with me, but I couldn’t help feeling badly about it.  The next morning, I spoke with a friend and told him how betrayed,  hurt, and saddened I felt about it.  Somehow, just expressing what I felt helped me to feel better and get over it.

The reality is, I don’t know the person actually said those things.  It was hearsay.  Until they say it to me directly, I can’t act as though they said it.  I am still left with the bad feelings of when I heard it, but I can’t hold people responsible for what they didn’t say to me, so as far as it goes, I can’t act as though it happened.

Its really hard to be happy when something like this is said to you.  I can’t just say the things were said out of ignorance.  The person who supposedly made the comments knows better.  In a way, my feelings were my own fault.  When you open  yourself up to people, you make yourself vulnerable.  I could be invulnerable if it don’t let anyone into my life, but that would make me unloving and uncaring.  Vulnerability is the price we pay to make a difference in other people’s lives, and sometimes we get hurt.

I was aware of God’s presence, and I prayed, but somehow I still hurt about it.  It was getting in my way of receiving the blessings of the Torah.  It made me question the value of my ministry, and I felt unappreciated for all I do.  What helped was talking with a friend who affirmed his appreciation for what I do, and shared my shock at a very bad attitude.  Its really important to surround ourselves with people who value us and care about us.  They are the ones who support us in difficult times.  Sometimes the ones who supported us in the past are the ones who attack us later. The scriptures say, “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.”  Psalm 41:9.

The important thing is that we do keep our eyes on God, and the purpose to which he called us.  When Moses led the people through the wilderness, they complained and didn’t appreciate him.  He continued on out of service to God, not out of some sense of appreciation or popularity from the people he led.

What matters to me is that some people do appreciate what I do.  What matters even more, is that I serve God, and I am content with that.  The Torah says, “… the word of the LORD came to Avram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Avram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.””  Our real reward is God, knowing Him, not popularity with others.  We may not have the smashing successes we thought we’d have.  We may not have things turn out the way we thought they would.  After all, when our expectations were “how could we fail with God on our side?”  Nevertheless, success is not measured in numbers.  It’s measured in obedience to His service.  People are more than willing to be “great” for God’s sake.  What if thats not what He intends?  Are we willing to be seemingly insignificant for his sake.  I am willing to be insignificant if thats what He wants, and I choose to be happy.

The New Bullying

There’s been a lot of emphasis in our society about trying to put an end to bullying. We’ve made it socially unacceptable, we’ve imposed embarrassing punishments on people who bully in an attempt to have a kinder and more decent society.  I am in favor of this.  A large part of my ethics are based on the kind treatment of other people.

The definition of bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual.

Everyone seems to have gotten on board with the anti-bullying campaigns. I don’t like to see anybody bullied and I am just the type person to speak out against it when I see someone doing it. The down side of the issue is that we only speak against socially unacceptable bullying.  I have the feeling that all the anti-bullying campaigns are little more then an opportunity to say that we don’t bully.  In my opinion it’s a lot of crap.
We kid ourselves if we don’t think bullying is going on every day and we are not active participants in it.  If someone smokes, its open season on bullying them, because our society has decided they don’t like smoking.  There is almost no where a person is allowed to smoke anymore, indoors or out.  Smokers rights seem to have been put aside, and they are treated like lepers if they smoke.
It is also socially acceptable to make fun of fat people and make disparaging remarks about them being gluttons or lazy because they are overweight.  Some airlines will charge overweight people for two seats and publicly embarrass them in the process.  We convince ourselves we are doing it for their own good, but all it does is hurt them.  Its open season on them, and its a hateful thing to do.

Apparently we only call it bullying if someone’s attacking one of our protected causes. If I don’t support transgender bathrooms, I’ve been told that holding a different view somehow makes me a bigot and I hate monger. No way.  I am not filled with hate for anybody just because I disagree about something. I am not a bigot because I don’t I think it’s right for men to be using the ladies room.

 

When it is not possible for someone to hold  a viewpoint other than yours without being called a bigot or a hate monger, or someone with a phobia, then you are bullying them to accept your views. Sorry folks but I believe the genitalia determines which restroom you use. Its common sense and society has functioned well with that view for countless generations.  That doesn’t make me a homophobe, it doesn’t make me a bigot, and it doesn’t make me uncaring. Sensitivity to the transgendered results in insensitivity to the many women who would be uncomfortable with their presence in ladies rooms. Holding that view does not make me a bigot, It means I don’t agree with you, a right I choose to exercise, and I’m not going to be bullied into acquiescing to someone else’s BS’ing.

 

It’s not just the transgender issue. The boycott Israel movement has been trying to paint Israel as an apartheid state. The facts show otherwise, but Arab students on college campuses have been bullying Jewish students and anybody who is pro-Israel. It is the new anti-semitism, and its somehow acceptable to be so.  Holding this view doesn’t make me anti Muslim.  It means I don’t agree with you.  I don’t eat bacon, but I don’t go around trying to make pork eaters feel bad.  Its called mutual respect.
If I don’t support “abortion rights,” I’m labeled as anti women.  Why can’t I hold a view different from yours and honestly disagree without being labeled as something terrible?

It’s time to realize that bullying goes two ways. I’m tired of people trying to bully me because I don’t agree with them. I don’t want to be hit with a barrage of accusations and labeled being a “hater” because I disagree.  If you can’t deal with the fact that people have an opinion other than yours and that it’s legitimate to do so, then you’re the one with the problem. You need to learn to respect people who disagree with you.  Get yourself some counseling, learn to cope, or do what people have been doing for time immemorial. Get over it. It is maturity to show respect for people in the midst of strongly held differing opinions.  If you can’t do that, then emotionally, you are still in the seventh grade.

Responses to Grief

Today is the first anniversary of my father’s death.  Its a very sad day for me.  I posted on social media, and I received many messages of comfort.  I do find that most of those expressions really do comfort.  I observed that they fall into several categories:

  1.  People giving traditional words of comfort: “May G-d comfort you along with all mourners in Zion and Jerusalem.”  Some people mean those words sincerely, and they use the traditional words, because they feel they want to comfort, and don’t know what else to say.  I’m okay with this, if the words are said sincerely, and they actually are active with the tradition that uses these words.  I do have a problem with people who are just saying it to express Jewishness.  Its like they hijacked my grief to express themselves.  That I don’t appreciate.
  2. Others who just say they are sorry.  I do appreciate this. The statement acknowledges my sorrow, and expresses concern.  Its appreciated.
  3. Some say “Sorry for your loss.”  While it is true that it is my loss and not theirs, the statement leaves me with the feeling that I am alone in my grief. It feels like they are not going through this with me, but are merely observing my grief.  Its true, but it doesn’t comfort.  On some level, comfort involves people being there with you and for you.
  4. People who give advice.  I’ve been told to give myself permission to express my sorrow, or to comfort my mom, or some other thing.  One person just said I’d get through it.  That bothered me, and I told them I didn’t need them to tell me that.  The reality is, some people giving advice have been there, and they were trying to share what comforted them.  I appreciated that. Others took the opportunity to just tell me what they thought I should do.  I don’t need people to think for me.  I found no comfort in this.
  5. Finally, some people just let me know they were sorry I was hurting, and they cared.  That meant a great deal to me.

The big problem is that very few people actually know how to be comforting.  Most do the best they can, but in the end, its really two things that actually bring comfort; food, and being there.  We all take comfort in food, and that is good.  What also comforts is people just being with you without giving advice or citing formal bumper sticker phrases.  If you let me know you care, its enough.  Hanging out with me and smoking a cigar with me is good too.  When my dad passed away, a dozen guys from my cigar club came over one evening and we sat and smoked cigars and talked.  It meant the world to me.  It comforted me and I will never forget it.

I may sound like I’m pissed off, and to some extent I am.  Not with those who really mean well, and really want to comfort, but with people who use my sorrow as an opportunity to highlight their experiences or show off what they know.  If you used one of those phrases to me, I am not necessarily talking about you.  You may very well fall into the genuinely caring group, but not everyone does.  The ones I’m really upset with are the heartless people who didn’t say anything.

I know this sounds awfully judgmental, which is not my regular thing, but perhaps is how I am expressing my own grief.     The important thing is that I know I’ll be better tomorrow and the day after that.

Why Be Kind?

Kindness is one of those things everyone admires in other people.  My mother used to say, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.”  The reality, is that kindness is very rare in our world.  People are self seeking and self centered.  They spend their time and efforts pursuing what benefits themselves.  In short, people tend to be selfish.

Doing someone a kindness means extending yourself to help out someone else.  Often times, we help people, or “do them a favor,” because down the road it may benefit us.  When you do something nice for someone, we feel like they owe us, because we did something for them.  If they don’t come through, we feel like they cheated us.  Doing this type of kindness is hollow, and related to the self-centeredness I mentioned earlier.

The type of kindness I speak of, is what is mentioned in Scripture. It talks about giving to the poor, the orphan, and the widow; in other words, people who could never possibly pay us back.  We can do this with money, or with time.  We can also do it with attitude.  There is nothing worse than someone helping you, and then being condescending about it.  I’d rather do without than receive help from such people.

When we help the poor in Eastern Europe, the one rule of thumb, is to never leave people feeling beholding to you.  When I give money to people we’ve visited, I pull them aside, and speak with them in Yiddish so no one standing around will understand us.  I tell them the money I give them is not mine (so they don’t feel beholding to me).  I tell them its from friends in America, which is true.  I slip it from my hand to theirs, without anyone seeing, so they shouldn’t feel embarrassed about having to receive charity.  They hug me and are grateful.

In a similar way, treating people with kindness means considering their feelings, even at the expense of our own.  Is being seen as “right” really so important?  Is it worth it at the expense of others?  I don’t need people to say I’m right.  I don’t need them to speak well of me.  I’d rather people say I was kind to them.

Its easy to be kind to people we are fond of.  People who thing we are great are the kind of people we like to be nice to.  Its like one hand washes the other.  The difficult thing is to be kind to people whom we feel really don’t deserve it.  There are times I have been nice to people who turned around and treated me badly.  They proved the adage, “no good deed goes unpunished.”Yet, these are the very ones we need to continue to be kind to.  Yeshua said in Matthew 5:46, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Kindness is not simply an attitude, or a smile, although it can be as simple as that.  Kindness is the way we treat people; not just the loveable, but the not so loveable.  When you come to a party or gathering, and you see someone sitting by themselves, its a kindness to go up to them and introduce yourself, sit with them, and try to make them feel welcome.  When someone is upset, you don’t have to take their side, but you can listen to them, and offer words of comfort. When someone is hurting and you don’t know what to say, just sit there with them.  Being there matters.

Forgive people who have wronged you.  Its an act of kindness.  Its easier said than done, but in the long run you will be better for it, and it may change them.  Even if it does nothing to change them or the situation, it can transform you.

I am around selfish people every day.  I am also around kind people every day.  They are the same people.  We have incredible potential.  We need to choose what kind of person we are going to be in each situation.

http://www.tikvatshalom.org

http://www.chevrahumanitarian.org

When Religion Turns Toxic

The idea of religion is a good thing.  Religion is how we worship God.  As a concept itself, I find it attacked by Atheists, who object to it on the basis that they do not believe in the existence of God.  I find their views disturbing, not because they disbelieve what I believe, but I wonder how they KNOW there is no god, as they claim.  Its one thing to say,”I don’t know, its another thing to say,  there is no god, as if its a fact.”  I asked several atheists why they oppose religion for others who don’t share their disbelief.  They claimed religion has been the source of all men’s sorrows throughout history and therefore, in their view, it is something evil.

I pointed out to them, that under communism, an absolutely atheistic model of society, more people were killed than under Western religious societies.  They said that communism was not a good example.  At that point, the discussion broke down to denying the validity of each other’s points and fruitful discussion was over.

It did give me pause to think about the role of religion itself.  Religion at it’s best, is a good thing.  It teaches us meaning of life and purpose.  If gives us a sense of faith heritage, connecting us to others who have worshipped the same God the same way.  It has been a canvas to express the best of humanity’s love for God.  I frequently find myself carried away by the majesty of God and am fully aware that He is so far beyond my ability to express what I believe and feel.  The worship service helps me express those feelings as I seek to know and glorify my creator.  In doing so, I find that I am changed, and transformed into a better version of myself.  It is a thing of beauty, and I am a better person for it.

It is for this reason that I find it incredibly ironic that so much evil has been done in the name of religion.  Religion, should have the effect of transforming people for good, and as a result, society should be better because it is populated by transformed citizens.  The fly in the ointment, of course, are the religious wars through the centuries.  While there are piles of beautiful liturgical, devotional materials produced, there were also piles of dead bodies, slain “for the love of God.”   This is not religion.  It is a murderous ideology cloaked in the garb of religion.  Killing people for the “love of God,” is like eating ham to be Kosher.   You can eat ham if you want, but whatever that is, it is NOT kosher.  Similarly, you can kill whoever you want, but if you do, its not an act of faith, and it is not religion.  It is murder, and your ideology is not to be confused with religion.  How can I say this?  I know what Kosher is, because I experience it, and Ham is not it.   I know what faith is, because I have it, and I encounter God through it, and belief in God does not engender or inspire murder or baseless hatred.  Whatever those things are, they are not religion.

True religion is not something toxic like a quart of milk gone bad.  In the book of Jacob 1:27, it says “Pure and undefiled religion before God … is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”  If religion makes us better people, it will result in us helping others in their times of need.  It should make the world a better place.  My focus is not to spend my time convincing people that religion is good.  My energies will be directed to helping others, and trying to be a blessing and have a positive impact in the lives of others.  My religion is not toxic.  This is not because “I found the right one,”  but because in my encounter with God, I have yielded to Him and let him transform me.  It is this transformation that is a work in progress, but makes me better than I would have been had I not encountered Him.

 

 

Messianic Judaism and Easter

This celebration of Easter rarely comes up in Messianic circles. There are people who criticize Easter in the same way they criticize Christmas. They carry on about pagan influences in these holidays and criticize those who celebrate Christmas or Easter and the need to get back to what is biblical. I do admit that I love Christmas music and the lights. They are beautiful. I don’t really find much appealing about Easter, but I do like chocolate bunnies and peeps.

Messianic Judaism doesn’t really celebrate Christmas or Easter. We respect our Christian friends who do, but Messianic Judaism is a Judaism, not Christianity with Jewish window dressing. We remember the birth of Yeshua either at Chanukah, or at Sukkot. We celebrate the death, burial and Resurrection of Yeshua in conjunction with Passover.

Normally this is not an issue, but this year, because it is a leap year on the Jewish calendar, Easter coincided with Purim, not Passover. Purim is a happy, joyous, festive occasion, but not as well suited to coincide with the Resurrection of Yeshua as is Passover. Because of the overlapping of the holidays, people found it strange that we were “partying” while they were being more somber.

The way to understand what is going on, is that we are working off of two different calendars. We mean no disrespect for the Christian Holy Days, but we are operating according to the Jewish calendar, and when the holy days fall according to that calendar.

The Gregorian calendar was devised based on the birth of Yeshua from the vantage point of the Church. The Jewish calendar was figured by Jewish reckoning from the day of creation. Both are probably not accurate, but they are the calendars their respective communities have elected to use. This is why Rosh Hashanah falls on different dates on the Gregorian calendar each year. For that matter, Chinese New Year falls on different dates from the Gregorian calendar for the same reason.

Recently, a Christian friend sent me a note, expressing his confusion because we were rejoicing and celebrating for Purim during Christian “Holy week,” which is more somber preceding the observance of the Resurrection. To Him, they were remembering Yeshua’s suffering and death, and we were throwing a party. I reminded him that for us, the commemoration of the Resurrection of the Messiah is not celebrated for another month, and it would be wrong to make an erroneous connection that we are either ignoring the resurrection, or partying on the eve of a somber day.   Messianic Jews and Christians are indeed brethren in the Messiah, but the way we worship and live out our faith may be different. The important thing is that we respect one another with our differences. Colossians 2:16 says, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,”

I respect and wish a blessed holy day to my Christian friends, and I know they wish the same for me on Jewish Holy Days.

http://www.tikvatshalom.org

http://www.chevrahumanitarian.org