Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Assimilation for Dummies

As Multiple White House Lies About the Iran Deal Emerge, the Regime Unleashes Bigoted Attacks on Chuck Schumer

"Senator Chuck Schumer is getting a taste of his own tactics. I mean, he's not a stranger to these tactics. He has used them himself. I just find it fascinating he's on the receiving end of them now. And, by the way, other Jewish members of Congress are also getting to one degree or another the same kind of treatment as Chuck-U Schumer is getting from the administration, from the Regime. Basically the attacks are all, "He's not a loyal American! He's a Jew first! He's an Israeli Jew and he's supporting the Jewish lobby." It's despicable. It really is." - Rush Limbaugh

What a surprise!  I am no prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I have been talking about this for years.  Expect more of the same in the days and months ahead.  Even a casual student of history should not be too surprised.  The so-called "Emancipation" of the Jews began in earnest in the early nineteenth century in Germany with the ascendancy of the so-called "Reform" movement and we haven't recovered since.

When will we learn how futile it is to cozy up to the nations, especially through the abandonment of the Torah and mitzvot, as the animosity of the nations is only increasing daily?  It is an incontrovertible fact of history that wherever Jews have declared themselves ready to exchange Torah-observance for "freedom and social justice," in the vain hope of achieving "equality" with and acceptance by the nations, they have inevitably waited in vain for the blessings of a "better time."

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote in 1860: "Enmity and oppression continue, not because we are too Jewish and too committed to Judaism, but because we meet our Jewish obligations deficiently, indifferently, and frivolously."  In R' Hirsch's 19th century Germany, the states tried as much as possible to blur ethnic distinctions, and to bring about the disappearance of the Jewish people as a distinct national entity.  In concert with this trend, the Reformers deliberately downplayed any national bond, choosing instead to reinvent themselves as "Germans of the Mosaic Faith."  The preference was not merely philosophical in nature, but largely informed their outlook on issues pertaining to the relationship of Jew and Gentile.

Foolishly, the Jew thinks that by changing his name and assimilating himself into oblivion that this will be his salvation when the nations become agitated.  As Chuck Schumer and others are perhaps just beginning to discover, their assimilation and abandonment of Torah-mitzvot will inexorably lead to their eventual downfall.  When the state extends "freedom" to Jews, elevates them, and draws them close, the entire objective of the Jew must now be to become friendly with the powers-that-be and tread carefully in their [i.e. the state's] ways, while renouncing their true calling as Jews.

What our people have so often forgotten is that that we are required to live in accordance with the Torah in whatever conditions we find ourselves in.  We forget that the eternal lessons of the Torah are not connected with nor limited to any specific form of life in exile.  In other words, just as a Jew must be prepared to serve G-d by seizing upon any opportunities afforded to him by society to accomplish the mission G-d has given him in this world, so too he must serve G-d and fulfill his mission under any adverse conditions he may encounter among the nations to which he has been exiled.

And our mission is to bring about the revelation of G-d which can only be accomplished through the fulfillment of the Torah:

If the dispersed of Israel were quietly to flourish as the priests of G-d and true humanity, . . . if only we lived up to what we are supposed to be, if only our lives were a perfect reflection of the Torah, what a mighty force this would be for reaching the ultimate goal of all human education!  During the years of misery and contempt, our ideal could be attained only imperfectly; but when milder times beckon us towards our goal - that every Jew and Jewess, through the example they provide in their own lives, should become priests of G-d and of genuine humanity - and this ideal and mission await us, can we still deplore our fate . . .? (R' S.R. Hirsch)

Chuck Schumer and his ilk worship any means to a comfortable life, which means a life that is free from the yoke of their calling; worship which, at the end of the day, only serves to engender renewed persecution and a deepening of the exile.  G-d will bring the exile to an end, one way or another, of that we can be certain.  But a good part of the blame can be fairly placed squarely on the shoulders of Chuck Schumer and others when oppressors stand ready to place the chains of Egypt on Israel once again.  Through their exaggerated glorification of assimilation, emancipation, and social justice they, rather than seeking the welfare of all the nations to which they have been scattered, will be found guilty of precipitating the ancient animosity of the nations instead.

Non-observance and assimilation are anything but a cure for the anti-Semitism which is so-often lamented in various parts of the world.  Far from being the cure, assimilation is really the cause.  The persecution of the Jews that is coming will not spare the Chuck Schumer's of the world and those who have labored so assiduously to live non-Jewish lives.  I am convinced that the only result of deviating from a life that is seriously committed to Torah observance and mitzvot, while embracing assimilation will only be continued suffering, persecution, and hatred, which is precisely what is guaranteed by the Torah and the Prophets in exchange for our stubborn insistence on rebelling against the Divine imperative.

What is despicable is not so much the way Chuck Schumer is being treated, (in fact, this is to be expected) but why he is being treated this way.  It is our rebellion and obsession to imitate the abhorrent practices of the nations around us which got us kicked out of our land in the first place.  What do we expect when we perpetuate more of the same everywhere else in the world?

What is remarkable, is that Hashem will use the subsequent persecution, of which we ourselves may be the authors, to cause many of us to return to the land where the Scriptures say He will remove our heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh to love Him and serve Him as we have been called to do.  G-d will have His way, draw us back to Himself, and not abandon His inheritance despite our best efforts to forfeit and forsake that gift which He has so graciously bestowed (cf. Psalm 94). 

In the meantime, we would do well to remember the example of Joseph, Daniel, Mordechai, Esther, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and others who all remained committed and faithful to the Divine imperative and were rewarded accordingly.  We should also remember that our reward may not entail being elevated to the highest political office in the land, but rather being afforded the greatest opportunity anyone can hope to enjoy in this world: al kiddush Hashem, sanctification of the Name.

Even if Chuck Schumer refuses to acknowledge it, disputes it, despises it, or downplays it, G-d will see to it that even the world, yes, even the very nation, whose interests he believes he has so dutifully served and is even now trying to serve, will remind him, one way or another, that "He's a Jew first."  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Power of Gratitude

In the early 1990s one of the great medical research exercises of modern times took place. It became known as the Nun Study. Some 700 American nuns, all members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in the United States, agreed to allow their records to be accessed by a research team investigating the process of aging and Alzheimer’s Disease. At the start of the study the participants were aged between 75 and 102.

What gave this study its unusual scope is that in 1930 the nuns, then in their twenties, had been asked by the Mother Superior to write a brief autobiographical account of their life and their reasons for entering the convent. These documents were now analyzed by the researchers using a specially devised coding system to register, among other things, positive and negative emotions.

By annually assessing the nuns’ current state of health, the researchers were able to test whether their emotional state in 1930 had an effect on their health some sixty years later. Because they had all lived a very similar lifestyle during these six decades, they formed an ideal group for testing hypotheses about the relationship between emotional attitudes and health.

The results, published in 2001, were amazing. The more positive emotions – contentment, gratitude, happiness, love, and hope – the nuns expressed in their autobiographical notes, the more likely they were to be alive and well sixty years later. The difference was as much as seven years in life expectancy. So remarkable was this finding that it has led, since then, to a new field of gratitude research, as well as a deepening understanding of the impact of emotions on physical health.

What this research revealed about individuals, Moses knew about nations. Gratitude – hakaras ha-tov (literally, 'recognizing the good') – is at the heart of what he has to say about the Israelites and their future in eretz Israel. Gratitude had not been our strong point in the desert. We complained about lack of food and water, about the manna and the lack of meat and vegetables, about the dangers we faced from the Egyptians as we were leaving, and about the inhabitants of the land we were about to enter. We lacked gratitude during the difficult times. A greater danger still, said Moses, would be a lack of gratitude during the good times. This is what he warned:

When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, do not exalt yourself, forgetting the L-rd your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery . . . Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ (Deut. 8:11-17)

The worst thing that could happen to us, warned Moses, would be that we would forget how we came to the land, how G-d had promised it to our ancestors, and had taken us from slavery to freedom, sustaining us during the forty years in the wilderness. This was a revolutionary idea: that the nation’s history be engraved on people’s souls, that it was to be re-enacted in the annual cycle of festivals, and that the nation, as a nation, should never attribute its achievements to itself – “my power and the might of my own hand” – but should always ascribe its victories, indeed its very existence, to something higher than itself: to G-d. This is a dominant theme of Deuteronomy, and it echoes throughout the book time and again.

Since the publication of the Nun Study and the flurry of further research it inspired, we now know of the multiple effects of developing an attitude of gratitude. It improves physical health and immunity against disease. Grateful people are more likely to take regular exercise and go for regular medical check-ups. Gratitude reduces toxic emotions such as resentment, frustration and regret, and makes depression less likely. Gratitude helps people avoid over-reacting to negative experiences by seeking revenge. Gratitude even tends to make people sleep better.

Gratitude enhances self-respect, making it less likely that we will envy others for their achievements or success. Grateful people tend to have better relationships. Saying “thank you” enhances friendships and elicits better performance from employees. Gratitude is also a major factor in strengthening resilience. One study of Vietnam War Veterans found that those with higher levels of gratitude suffered lower incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Remembering the many things we have to be thankful for helps us survive painful experiences, from losing a job to bereavement.

Jewish prayer is an ongoing seminar in gratitude. Birkat ha-Shachar, ‘the Morning Blessings’ said at the start of morning prayers each day, form a litany of thanksgiving for life itself: for the human body, the physical world, land to stand on, and eyes to see with. The first words we say each morning – Modeh/Modah ani, “I thank you” – mean that we begin each day by giving thanks.

Part of the essence of gratitude is that it recognizes that we are not the sole authors of what is good in our lives. The egoist, says Andre Comte-Sponville, “is ungrateful because he doesn’t like to acknowledge his debt to others and gratitude is this acknowledgement.” La Rochefoucald put it more bluntly: “Pride refuses to owe, self-love to pay.”

Gratitude has an inner connection with humility. It recognizes that what we are and what we have is due to others, and above all to G-d. Comte-Sponville adds: “Those who are incapable of gratitude live in vain; they can never be satisfied, fulfilled or happy: they do not live, they get ready to live, as Seneca puts it.”

Though you don’t have to be religious to be grateful, there is something about belief in G-d as Creator of the universe, the shaper of history, and author of the laws of life that directs and facilitates our gratitude. It is hard to feel grateful to a universe that came into existence for no reason and is blind to us and our fate. It is precisely our faith in a personal G-d that gives force and focus to our gratitude.

It is no coincidence that the United States, founded by Puritans – Calvinists steeped in the Hebrew Bible – should have a day known as Thanksgiving, recognizing the presence of G-d in American history. On 3 October 1863, at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving proclamation, thanking G-d that though the nation was at war with itself, there were still blessings for which both sides could express gratitude.

Thanksgiving is as important to societies as it is to individuals. It protects us from resentments and the arrogance of power. It reminds us of how dependent we are on others and on a Force greater than ourselves.

(Adapted from "Covenant and Conversation" by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Our Decadent Civilization

Sultan Knish offers an incisive critique:

The decadent civilization has a million laws which it applies selectively. Its universal laws, inherited from a vigorous civilization, are so mired in legalisms as to be meaningless. The laws do not mean what they say. Instead they must be interpreted by a specialized caste. Everyone is always in violation of some obscure laws. Life depends on a lawless dispensation from the law.

The crucial task of the law is interpretation that keeps everyone from constantly being punished. This task is accomplished by lawyers, lobbyists and the politicians who are constantly adding more laws to fix the interpretations in the old laws creating a complex mass of contradictory information.

This holds true in every other area of life . . .

People living in decadent civilization have a greater need for entertainment due to leisure time, extended adolescence and the breakup of the family. But their lack of meaningful work, family engagement and adult responsibilities leaves them increasingly less able to produce it. Instead they become children putting together pieces of stories that "Daddy" once told them while taking the credit.

Decadents confuse criticism and curation with creativity. They develop great sensitivity to everything from literary styles to foods. In a decadent society, everyone is a cultivated critic, but these critics value style over substance. Their criticism is a cultural signal rather than a mastery of technique. The decadent civilization is obsessed with taste as brand. It is sensitive to subtleties, but fails to see the large flaws in a work. Its creativity is microscopically innovative and macroscopically a failure. Its subtle refinements cannot compensate for the lack of vision.

In a decadent civilization, everyone can be a critic or a collector of something, even as no one actually produces anything new until there are more critics and collectors than creators.

The decadent civilization spends much of its time and effort in a battle against apathy. It is forever "raising awareness" about something or other. Its sophisticated messaging however creates apathy as quickly as it erases it. Its messaging becomes more short term and more hysterical. Everything is a crisis and every message is pitched at the highest possible level.

The outrage of today is quickly forgotten by the outrage of tomorrow. The organizers dream of sustaining awareness for real change only to dive into the next round of short-term messaging.

In a decadent civilization, everyone is always fighting a political battle, while the real changes are orchestrated by power groups behind the scenes and presented as fait accomplis to a bewildered public.  And most of what is debated is a distraction from what truly matters.

Barbaric and decadent civilizations are both so dishonest that they are incapable of seeing their own lies.

Read the rest here.  The entire article is a must read.

When asked about His return in the end of days, the Messiah responded in part in Matthew 24:

"And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold . . . But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be."

Though the precise hour is unknown to us, Y'shua was careful to provide us with a context: the days of Noah.  How could we describe the days of Noah?  Decadent.

And the earth was corrupt before G-d's countenance, and so the earth was filled with violence (Genesis 6:11).

The earth was shachet (corrupt) and filled with chamas (violence).  Shachet denotes "ruin" in the sense of "corruption," rather than "destruction."  Shachet impedes the progress of something that is meant to flourish, and transforms success into failure, thereby ruining a healthy, sound condition.  The basic meaning of shachet is "a pit."  But the person who digs such a pit does not do so for good - i.e. for preservation or storage; rather, his intention is to deliberately place an obstacle in someone's path, in order to prevent that someone from proceeding to his destination.  The intent is to bring others to ruin.

Shachet is related to shached (bribe).  The idea is that one who offers or gives a bribe digs a pit in the path of a judge who is on his way to deliver a just decision or verdict; a bribe serves to blind the eyes of the judge and stops him in his path, prevents him from reaching his objective, by placing a stumbling block before him.

Chamas, while often translated "violence," is not violence as we are used to understanding it.  Chamas is robbery (gezel) that cannot be recovered through legal means.  One who perpetrates chamas is not penalized by any human court; but if committed over and over again, chamas gradually leads to the ruin of one's fellowman:

Said R' Chanina: Chamas (violence) refers to what is worth a perutah; gezel (robbery), refers to what is of less value than a perutah (a perutah is the smallest coin).  And this is what the people of the age of the flood used to do: When a man brought out a basket full of lupines [for sale], one would come and seize less than a perutah's worth and then everyone would come and seize less than a perutah's worth, so that he had no redress at law . . . [Bereshit Rabbah 31:5]. 

Our Sages teach that if a vine sheds unripe grapes, it commits chamas against the fruit.  The chamas is not committed all at once; rather, the fruit's drawing of sustenance from the vine is slowly stopped, until the fruit drops off.  

The verse says: "And the earth was corrupt before the countenance of G-d, and so the earth was filled with wrongdoing."  First came moral corruption, sins about which society in general is not too concerned.  People seem to be of the notion that even if the young are rebellious and disrespectful and married and family life deteriorate, trade and commerce can still flourish and all of our business relations will still proceed honestly.  However, once the world is corrupt before G-d Himself, all the laws and institutions of a civilized society will be powerless to prevent society from going to utter ruin.

The world will never be filled with gezel, outright robbery and violence; society has penal codes and prison terms for such crimes.  But chamas - wrongdoing facilitated by cunning - destroys a society by a thousand cuts, as it were.  There is no protection or redress against chamas, so long as a man's conscience fails to admonish him before G-d.  Is it not moral corruption that deadens and eventually destroys the conscience, and thereby a society is destroyed as well?  

Chamas is also related to chometz, vinegar: Wine does not sour all at once, but gradually turns into vinegar.  Similarly, immorality undermines conscience, which admonishes the wicked with its rod.  Thus, society is ruined by chamas; because of chamas, society becomes chometz - and is therefore destined to sour and to decay.

Ezekiel 7:11  

Violence (chamas) has risen up into a rod of wickedness; none of them shall remain, none of their multitude, none of them; nor shall there be wailing for them.
Mr. Greenfield contends that the decadence can be reversed through a fundamental transformation and a "revolution of ideas."  I also believe it can be reversed and that a fundamental transformation is requisite.  The question that is begging to be asked, however, is what is the nature of the transformation?  

I truly believe (most especially at this late stage in the game) that anything short of a spiritual transformation, a putting off of the old man and a putting on of the new man, a complete return to the G-d Who made us, and an unapologetic commitment to His principles as revealed in His Word, will do nothing to slow this train down let alone reverse it.  

The transformation I have in mind and which answers to the problem raised my Mr. Greenfield and which encapsulates Mr. Greenfied's so-called "revolution of ideas," can be found here:

Romans 12:2  

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of G-d.

The Bible contains a narrative with a beginning and an end, which unfolds within history, the meaning of which G-d supplies.  "Biblical theology," writes G. Ernest Wright, "is first and foremost a theology of recital . . . [and] the realism of the Bible consists in its close attention to the facts of history and of tradition because these facts are the facts of God."  The Bible does not illustrate what we have already heard within ourselves, it is the discovery and revelation of what we cannot hear within ourselves.

The bottom line for much of the world we live in today, is that there is no such thing as objective truth.  In short, for the modern mind, there is no truth.  For the Biblical mind, the mind that has been renewed and transformed by the Truth, truth is objective and accepts G-d's pronouncements concerning the meaning and purpose of life as the only true measure in that respect.  

Today, we find ourselves living in a world where reality is so privatized and relativized that the truth is only understood in terms of what it means to each individual.  Therefore, I suppose my appeal for any hope of a reversal, or "revolution of ideas" would be an appeal to those who already profess a claim on a mind that has been renewed and transformed by the Truth.

G-d did not send us a politician, for the problems we face are not political, G-d did not send us an economist, for the problems we face are not financial, G-d did not send us a psychologist, for the problems we face are not psychological.  G-d sent us a Savior which was an answer to our greatest problem and which met our greatest need.  

The decadence that Mr. Greenfield speaks of has the capacity to engage us in ways that are relentless and intense.  The decadence in our modern world makes more demands on us than we can possibly respond to, which is how the deceptions are generated.  The decadence dazes and distracts us to the point where we are compelled to accept it as the true reality.  The question is not so much whether or not people believe, but what they believe.  People believe so little in G-d because they are enamored by and believe so much in what is decadent.  

But those of us who have had our minds renewed and transformed, we believe in G-d and His power to perpetuate the truth in our lives, the truth which sets a man free; we believe in His power to raise up and pull down entire civilizations; we believe in the final and complete collapse of all that is evil; we believe in His unmitigated and absolute control over the destiny of this world and all who inhabit it.

Revival is not what's needed.  Return is.  The habits, to which we have all grown accustomed in this modern world, need to be put to death and rooted out of our churches and synagogues.  Is that not where G-d promises judgment will begin?  It is not the plastering over of our old, decadent habits with the fresh, religious enthusiasm of a so-called "revival" that is needed.  Nothing less than a humble, broken, whole-hearted return to the Author and Perfector of our faith, a recovery of the truth, and a tenacious commitment to do as we have been commanded will suffice.

The irony is that those who tout themselves as the most relevant in this modern, decadent world are the most irrelevant to G-d's purposes, most especially as far as morality is concerned; but those of us who have had our minds and hearts renewed and transformed by the the Truth, and are thereby regarded as most irrelevant and marginalized by this decadent world, are the ones, who by virtue of our relevance to G-d, have the most to say to this world.

We are, in point of fact, the only ones who do.  Perhaps it's high time we find our voice, and speak up.     

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Compassionate Father and the Two Lost Sons - Part 3

The Compassionate Father

Comparing G-d to a compassionate father would not have been unusual to a first century audience.  Some people make decisions like the younger son, others like the elder.  The compassionate father is ready to accept his sons when they come to their senses and return home.  A father will receive his son even if the son has committed serious wrongs and broken all of the rules.  The parable contains strong links to Jewish thought and theology, reminding its listeners of the nature of G-d.

The theme is not revolutionary in its message, but it is very powerful in its mode of expression.  The parable's view of G-d as a compassionate father and His concern for every person is also seen in the context of rabbinic parables.

For example, consider Rabbi Meir in Deuteronomy Rabbah:

Another explanation: "You will return to the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 4:30)."  R' Samuel Pagrita said in the name of R' Meir: To what may this matter be compared?  To the son of a king who took to evil ways.  The king sent a tutor to him who appealed to him saying, "Repent, my son."  The son, however, sent him back to his father [with the message], "How can I have the effrontery to return?  I am ashamed to come before you."  Thereupon his father sent back word, "My son, is a son ever ashamed to return to his father?  And is it not to your father that you would be returning?"  Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, sent Jeremiah to Israel when they sinned, and said to him, "Go, say to My children, Return."  Where do we learn this?  It is said, "Go and proclaim these words . . ." (Jer. 3:12).  Israel asked Jeremiah, "How can we have the effrontery to return to G-d?"  How do we know this?  It is said, "Let us lie down in our shame, and let our confusion cover us . . ." (Jer. 3:25).  But G-d sent them word, "My children, if you return, will you not be returning to your Father?"  How do we know this? "For I am a Father to Israel . . ." (Jeremiah 31:9).  [Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:24]

R' Meir's parable is closely tied to the text of the prophet Jeremiah who calls the rebellious tribes of the north to return to their heavenly Father whom they had abandoned.  They have similarly suffered exile to a far country.  The rabbinic parable understands the transgression in light of individual action as well as corporate responsibility.  Each person hearing the parable can see himself in the son of the parable.  Rabbi Meir's parable of the lost son serves as one great example of centrality of repentance in Jewish thought.  A father, according to the parable, will be anxious to welcome his rebellious son who finally comes home.  The theme of repentance, reconciliation, and compassion characterizes much of R' Meir's teaching.  

The theme of repentance and G-d's willingness to accept the truly penitent is an integral part of Jewish faith and practice.  The homiletical midrash, Pesikta Rabbati, records a rabbinic parable dealing with the theme of teshuva, repentance, and the idea that once a person makes the first step in the direction towards G-d, G-d will help complete the return.  

Return O Israel, to the L-rd your G-d (Hosea 14:2).  The matter may be compared to the son of a king who was far away from his father - a hundred days' journey.  His friends said to him, "Return to your father!"  He replied, "I am not able."  His father sent him a message, "Come as far as you are able according to your own strength and I will come to you the rest of the way!"  This the Holy One, blessed be He, said, "Return to Me and I will return to you" (Malachi 3:7).  [Pesikta Rabbati 44]

The same theological themes are reflected in Y'shua's parable of the father and his two lost sons.  We find another parallel, once again in Deuteronomy Rabbah, where the parable stresses the friction between a father and son.  The compassionate father in this parable exhorts his son to remember that, no matter what happens to him because of his direct disobedience, a sinful son will be welcomed home by his father. 

Rabbi Abbahu in the name of Rabbi Jose ben Chalafta, it is written, "When you beget children . . . "  (Deut. 4:25) and it is written, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day . . ." (Deut. 4:26).  To what may Israel be compared?  To the son of a man who said to his father, "I intend to depart into a far country by way of the sea."  The father warned, "But the time for sailors to ship out to sea has already passed!"  He was vehement about the matter and argued, "You must understand that if you go to sea now, you face certain destruction!  In the end your ship will be wrecked and all that you own will be lost.  Listen, I am telling you that if you disobey my word and insist on going to sea, all these things will happen to you which I warned you about.  However, even if the ship is wrecked, you lose everything in it and all of your personal belongings  are swept away and only you yourself are delivered, remember one thing.  Do not be ashamed to return to me.  Do not say, 'How can I have the effrontery to return to my father.'  Now, I am telling you, even if you disobey and all of these terrible things happen to you - you must never be ashamed to return to me and I will surely receive you."  Thus the Holy One said to Israel, "I call heaven and earth to testify against you . . ." (Deut. 4:26).  Thus He called them, "But from there you will seek the L-rd your G-d, and you will find Him, if you search after Him with all your heart and with all your soul.  When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the L-rd your G-d and obey His voice, for the L-rd your G-d is a merciful G-d . . ." (Deut. 4:29-30).  And also He affirmed, "And when you beget children . . ." (Deut. 4:25) [Midrash Devarim Rabbah].  

The rabbinic parables, like Y'shua's parables, are filled with the imagery of Divine mercy and compassion, which is always granted to a person who truly repents.  G-d is compassionate and longs for the repentance of His people and we have a great need to return to Him.  The shame of our sin is so immense that we can't even begin to imagine how we could possibly return.  How can we return when the weight of our sin is so great?  

In Y'shua's parable, we do not see that the father is intent on calling his wayward sons, nor do we see the father arguing to convince his sons of their wrongs and poor choices.  He is, however, ready to receive them when they finally do repent.  His compassion is great, but it's not until the end of the parable that we see the father pleading with the elder brother to receive his brother, who was lost but now is found, who was dead, but now lives.  The father takes on a more prominent role in his dialogue with the older son who refuses to extend love and forgiveness to the younger.

Although, the similarities between Y'shua's parable and the others are striking, one of the interesting things about Y'shua's parable is that the conclusion of the exchange between the father and the older son remains uncertain.  The audience does not know what happened.  The story does not conclude.  I might suggest that the listener is invited to step into the story and act out the final scene, as it were.  The conflict can be resolved in two different ways.  


The them of repentance formed a critical pert of the liturgy of the synagogue.  In Avot 3:16, Akiva teaches: "All is foreseen, but freedom of will is given, the world is judged by grace and everything is not according to the excess of works [either good or evil]."  In other words, it is not according to wages earned, but Divine grace that people will be judged.  The compassionate father in Y'shua's parable had two wayward sons, and each of them had gone his own way and they both had a distorted view of their father, his love, and his concern.  

Both of the sons were sinners whose sins were remarkably similar.  Both viewed their father as a master who holds the purse strings and themselves as the laborers who only wanted more from the master.  They seem different and go about different ways of obtaining what they want, but they are both really quite similar.  The cause of their wrongdoing is rooted in a broken relationship and both sons need repentance and restoration.  Everyone who hears the parable must decide how he will respond to the love of the Father, and that decision determines the conclusion of the parable which is deliberately left open-ended.  

The call to action is urgent and time is of the essence.   People must seek G-d while He may be found; no matter what wrongs each of us has committed, we must recognize our need and seek His help to return to the Father Who is full of compassion and graciously receives the truly penitent.