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.



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.

The Thin Veil Of Holiness

Some people are generous, and other people are not.  My grandfather was a very generous man.  He never turned away anyone who was asking for help.  They didn’t have to be part of his religion to help.  He gave to Nuns as quickly as he gave to Jewish charities.  He had an attitude of helping others, simply because he felt he was blessed and could give something.  It was a good characteristic I have tried to emulate in my own life.  When I lived in New York City, I made it a regular practice to give to those in need.

Recently, our congregation has undertaken the project of getting a haftorah scroll.  They are costly and rare.  I posted a campaign on facebook to try to raise some funds toward getting the scroll.  I figured that of my 1600+ friends, who say I’ve been a blessing to them, some might want to pitch in and help.  The reality is, most have not.  I am not pushing them, but I have to admit, I feel bad about it.  I don’t put a dollar sign on what I do, but some people are willing to be “blessed” by what I do, but don’t really care about helping when I ask for it.

That in itself is not so bad.  I do what I do because I serve God, not them.  If God uses me to be a blessing, I am happy about that.  I wasn’t feeling too bothered by it until someone decided to take me to task, sounding very “holy” about it.  They addressed me as “brother,” and instead of saying God or “The Lord,” they referred to him as “AdoShem,” apparently to reflect their level of holiness.  They said if I just trust AdoShem, if he wanted us to have the haftorah, He would provide it, and I wouldn’t have to come with my hand out.  In other words, he was objecting to me asking for help.  Perhaps he objected because he was being confronted with a request.  To dismiss it as begging is inaccurate and a slur.

For one thing, I wasn’t begging.  I pointed out that while yes, we do trust God, and thats why we even have the opportunity to get the scroll, there is nothing wrong with giving people the opportunity to help.  If people don’t know there’s a need, they don’t know they can help if they want to.  Secondly, when God told Moses to have the sons’s of Israel to build the Mishkan, the tabernacle, he asked them to give.  Moses was not coming with his hand out, and to characterize it as such would have been wrong.  The people had a spirit of generosity, and they gave so much, the Kohains had to ask them to stop giving, because they had all they needed.  Jewish values don’t stop at honoring God’s Name with words.  They include honoring His Name with our values.  Giving Tzedakah, charity, is a core value.  Another value is not to demean someone who is collecting Tzedakah.  The reason they collected for the Mishkan was purely for the glory of God, to make His worship beautiful.  Whenever you do a mitzvah, you should not do the bare minimum, but make it as nice as possible.  Getting the haftorah scroll is likewise for the glory of God; to make our service as nice as possible.

If this guy didn’t want to give, he didn’t have to.  He could have just scrolled on.  He didn’t need to imply there was something wrong with asking, or that the one asking “had his hand out.”  He implied he was holier than thou, and more likely, he was hiding behind a veil of superior holiness to mask his own cheapness.  I travel around the country, speaking in congregations to raise money for the poor Jews of Eastern Europe.  Most places I go are pretty generous.  Every once in a while, I go somewhere and they don’t cover my travel expenses or take up an offering for the poor.  That for me, is a problem.  If they don’t even cover my travel expenses, it means the funds come from what others gave to help the poor.  It rarely happens, but when it does, I wonder where the generosity is.  God is generous toward us.  He has given us so many good things.  The way we repay Him, is by helping others and being generous.  I hope and pray I will always be generous, and not be cheap toward others and hide behind a thin veil of holy words.

The Torah of Love

The Torah Of Love

By Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman

When people think about the Torah, they think of rituals and commandments; a system of “do’s” and “don’ts.” For them, the Torah is something negative and oppressive, especially in a society that tells us we should do whatever we want, or whatever comes naturally. I have always been fond of a line from the classic film, “African Queen.” Humphrey Bogart makes a romantic play for Katherine Hepburn. She rebuffs him. He says, “Sorry Ma’am, but it’s only natural.” Katherine Hepburn responds, with great indignation and tells him, “Nature … is what we were put in this world to rise above.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. Either we struggle with our inner natures, or we have given up and just follow it with the excuse that it’s just natural. The scriptures teach us we need to rise above our base natures, that everything we want is not necessarily right.

The world view of post-Modernism tells us that there really is no ultimate right or wrong, but that anything can be right or wrong for us in a given situation. The Holy Scriptures teach us that there is right and wrong, and that we need to choose the good and reject what is bad. This does not seem to be an attractive message to people today.  We want to do what we want, and will say whatever comes to mind to justify our actions.  The scriptures refer to this as “tickling” our ears, or in other words, we do what is right in our own eyes.  The problem is, when you do what is right in your own eyes, you can justify anything no matter how bad it may be.  The Nazis murdered millions of innocent people, but it was right in their eyes.  They rejected the standard set by Scripture.  What they had left was evil.

The reason the Torah seems to bring a negative message is not even the Torah itself. It’s the negative and oppressive views people read into it. The Torah teaches good, and offers a life of Godliness. The Torah says, … I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your seed; to love the LORD your God, to obey his voice, and to cleave to him; for he is your life, and the length of your days;…”   (Deuteronomy 30:19-20

I have observed people say that the Torah was given so Israel would have an impossible standard they could never keep. People say this to dismiss any obligation to do what it says. For them, they are free from God’s instruction and can do whatever they think best. The problem with this view is that it makes our lives subjective. It was the same situation that existed in the days of the Judges, when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Today many believers do what is right in their own eyes. Some try to find a bible verse to justify them selves, but others just claim they heard from God that whatever they want to do is justified. The result is that people are doing everything and anything in the Name of God’s leading. They justify doing some pretty bad things, and it results in God’s Name being profaned because we are his people, and what we do reflects on Him. When we do whatever we want, we are saying the God of the Bible, is not our God, but our own lusts and desires are our God. Why are we shocked then, when God does not bless it?

God gave His Torah for good and for life, and as He invited us to do, we need to choose life. By living the Torah in love, we can transform the world.  In a world that sells its fallen values to our children, the Torah gives us light and life.

Finding Yeshua

searching-300x225It’s been forty years since I became a follower of Yeshua.  I did not become His follower because of someone’s brilliant argument, or because of the literature people gave me to read, or because of the many prophecies people showed me in the Bible.  When people showed me their literature, or gave me their arguments, I simply shrugged it off and said, “so what?”

What made the difference for me was seeing Yeshua in the lives of my friends.  I encountered Him as he lived His life in the lives of His people. When I saw him through their actions, and their kindness, it made me want to know Him.  Introducing people to Yeshua is not about making the best intellectual argument, or presenting irrefutable proof, because arguments and proofs are only as good as they are until the next argument comes along.  People who accept Yeshua based on argument tend to treat Him as a philosophical concept, rather than as a living person.

An argument can be compelling, but not nearly as compelling as Yeshua Himself.  When I encountered Him, I wanted to know Him.  I wanted Him in my life.  I wanted people to see Yeshua when they see me.

I have met many people who are theological hacks.  They want to be the mouth of God, preaching to people, telling them what they should and shouldn’t do.  I think we have too many of those people around.  We need more people who show the love of God through their actions more than just their words.  They need to become the hands of God, showing kindness to a hurting world, not by flapping their jaws in an already too noisy world.

When I meet people, I observe their behavior; not just how they carry themselves ritually or religiously, but their interactions with others.  I long to see Yeshua in other people.  I find it difficult to see Yeshua in people who talk about God, but treat people like crap for the sake of “truth,” or right theology.  There is no excuse for bad behavior.

It’s true that everyone can have a bad day, or even a bad season, but even so, at some point, I should be able to see kindness in people.  When people are harsh, and judgmental for the sake of heaven, they are not representing Heaven.  Yeshua was kind and caring, not just to the people who agreed with him, but to people who were hurting and in need.  I find myself searching desperately in people who present themselves as Yeshua’s people for His presence, but sometimes all I see is their anger and opinions, and not His love.

When I consider hate groups, like the “Westboro Baptist Church,” that literally hate people in “Jesus’ Name,” I can’t help but think what a profanity they are.  There is nothing of Yeshua in them.  They spread hate while claiming to represent the truth.  This gross misrepresentation of God, or at least, God’s interests, is nothing new.  Throughout history, people have hidden behind religion as an excuse to make war and murder others in the Name of Yeshua.  The long dark history of so-called, “Christian” anti-Semitism is evidence of this.  It did not reflect the love of God, or the will of God.  You can’t kill people or hate people for the Love of God.  Its like having intercourse to protect virginity.

I want people to see Yeshua in me, just as I first encountered Him in others, and still do.   That will only happen as I treat people as He would treat them; with kindness, grace, and mercy.  When he looked at people, he had compassion on them.  The only ones he got angry with, were the people with religious axes to grind.  It is my hope to be a bearer of His kindness and mercy, that people may encounter Yeshua in me, that they might be blessed.

Dealing with Disappointment

disappointedWhy is nothing ever perfect?  I tend to be an optimist; I’m always hoping for things to get better, for things to be enjoyable and meaningful, yet sometimes it seems that every silver lining comes with a dark cloud.

I don’t know why, but it feels like every time I have something to look forward to, something that is especially important or meaningful in my life, it always has something attached that sours it for me.  Every holiday, every special event that makes life feel like its worth living for me is darkened by something sad.  Maybe it has to be that way to keep the universe in balance or some other cosmic reason I don’t understand, but in any case, I can’t seem to derive pure joy out of anything.  Usually, people close to me do or say something that ruins the moment for me.  It makes me feel trapped because if I say something, I could ruin the moment for them, and I don’t want to do that, so I usually keep quiet and let it bottle up inside me.

The real issue is how I deal with disappointment and rejection.  My first thoughts are to sit in a corner and feel sorry for myself, but that is not productive or helpful.  If I suppress my feelings, they come out in other ways.  I could demand my rights, but that doesn’t help either.  The reality is, I’m not sure what to do.

The prophet Malachi records God complaining of the same thing. In Malachi 1:6, He says,

“A son honors his father, And a servant his master.
If then I am the Father, Where is My honor?
And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence?
Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name.
Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’

It’s a hard thing when you are not respected, and the people who are not respecting you don’t even acknowledge that they are disrespecting you.  More than once I’ve confronted people, and they respond, “Who me?”    God responds by affirming who He is.  He says,

‘For from the rising of the sun, even to it’s going down,
My name shall be great among the Nations;
In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering;
For My name shall be great among the nations,” Says the LORD of hosts.’

Following His self-affirmation, he calls the people to correct their ways.  Some did, but some did not.  He blessed those who did, but not those who did not.  Unfortunately, this is not a blueprint for me.  First of all, I’m not God.  Secondly, people who disrespect you don’t take to heart the things you have to say.  Usually, they dismiss them, saying you are being too emotional, or claim you are making it all about you.

The only thing that really can be done is to acknowledge who and what you are; basically, affirm yourself.  This happens when you remind yourself of who and what you are, in words and actions.  I try to be a good, kind person to whoever I am with.  If you only love those who love you, what good is it?

The bottom line is the way I treat others is the only real affirmation of who and what I am.  If I am treated badly, it says more about the other person than about me.  It may be hurtful, but real compassion understands and moves forward.  There is more to me than the way I am treated; it is shown in how I treat others whether they value me or not.

Behaving Badly

I post Imagehonestly what I think about.  I make no apologies for the things I consider.  I’m entitled to think about what I want, and to post those ideas for the consideration of my readers.  People read some of my posts, and most reply graciously, even if they disagree with me.  That is fair, and not a problem for me.  I find it deplorable however, that some people read my posts and respond with nasty, venomous comments, cursing me because I rocked their perceptions of reality.  I usually don’t approve these vitriolic, hateful statements because I don’t want to respond in kind, and don’t really want to grace their bad behavior with an audience.

What I don’t understand, is why people feel that rules of good behavior are somehow suspended because they are responding on the internet.  The person in particular gave an amorphous Hebrew name so he could not be identified,  and went on to criticize Rabbinic Judaism, my motives, and intentions.  While he quoted scriptures, out of context, he apparently forgot about the scriptures that admonish us to admonish in love.  I wonder if he even knows how to do it.  I genuinely feel bad for the guy because not only is he deluded, but he will probably have the horrible things he wished on me come back on himself.  

Bitterness is a horrible thing, and I have found that if you want to convince someone of the rightness of your view, cursing them is not the way to do it.  He claimed to be speaking for Yeshua, but I never saw Yeshua spoke as he did.  The Yeshua I have known and walked with does not behave as this guy did.  If he wanted to disagree with me, he could have done it with kindness.  He could have been a decent human being.  I would not have taken offense.  

So why do people feel they can behave badly if its on the internet?  Is it the sense of anonymity the internet affords us?  Is it because we don’t perceive there are human beings with feelings we are communicating with?  Or is it that, deep down, some people really don’t care about others?

The reality is, people hide behind religion to justify bad behavior.  They feel like they have a free pass to act badly for a heavenly cause, which their cause is believed to be.  When God hates the same people you do, and hates the same things you hate, you have created an idol of your own views.  Submission to the will of God means you can’t always be right, and you have to recognize God loves the people you don’t.  It means you might possibly be wrong.  If that is possible, you can’t curse others and still claim to be loving God.  This is the problem with fanaticism.  It’s not restricted to religious people.  There are political fanatics, and sports fanatics, and fanatics about almost anything.  I don’t like when people blame fanaticism on religion.  Religion is how we express faith in God.  The problem comes when people want to kill each other for the love of God.  I can’t imagine anything that would bother God more.  May God keep us all from such things.