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

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Be Perfect

The chasidah, the anafah, according to its kind, the duchifas, and the atalef (Vayikrah 11:19).

The Torah lists the birds that we are prohibited from consuming.  Rashi explains that the chasidah is a stork.  Its name, chasidah, is derived from the root chesed, which means kindness.  What is the connection between stork and kindness?  Rashi answers that the stork performs kindness with its friends.

According to the Rambam, Maimonides, one of the reasons the Torah forbade us to eat non-kosher birds is because they possess cruel character traits.  If we were to eat such birds, these traits could become part of our personalities (ie. 'you are what you eat').  If so, asks the Chidushei HaRim, what would be wrong with eating a chasidah?  It appears to have a fine and giving character, as evidenced by the fact that its name is derived from the word chesed, kindness.

Chidushei HaRim answers that the stork performs kindness only with its friends.  This is a very negative trait, and the stork is not really a kind creature after all.  The Scriptures demand that we become creatures of true kindness, who are concerned for and help all people, whether they are known to us, such as our friends, or strangers.

The name chasidah indeed alludes to kindness, but the name is also concerned with the world of chassidus. The Sages tell us that chassidus means doing something above the letter of law, lifnim mishuras hadin.   The stork is kind to its friends, but it always feels that its kindness is going beyond the letter of the law, that it is doing something quintessentially generous.  The stork always looks at itself as being a chassid, a very pious being.   In reality, being kind to others is an obligation, and we must never feel that we are doing something 'above and beyond our duty' when practicing kindness.  This is a negative character trait the Scriptures want us to avoid.

As the Alter from Slabodka said: The Torah tells us in Leviticus 19:18 that we must love our fellow man as we love ourselves.  When we love ourselves, we do not feel that we are doing a mitzvah, for love is an emotion that is natural and deeply rooted; so too when we love our fellow man, we should not do it merely for the sake of a mitzvah, but as a natural tendency.

For example, we should never visit a sick person with the intention that the patient can become the object of our mitzvah.   Rather, we must sincerely care for the patient and demonstrate our concern.  The opposite is also true: we must not perform a kindness only because we think it is moral and 'the right thing to do.'  We must bear in mind as well the mitzvos of chesed and to walk in His ways.  It is difficult but critical to do, so that we become the complete person that G-d demands.

We are obligated to go out of our way to serve and be kind to others.  One way to accomplish this is very simple and basic, but often eludes us: greeting people properly.  How important is it to offer a friendly welcome to someone?  How vital is it to say hello to someone?  The Sages teach that when we greet someone we are giving them a blessing. 

In fact, there is an interesting halacha, rabbinic custom, that we are not allowed to interrupt and talk while reciting the Shema (Hear O Israel, the L-rd your G-d the L-rd is One cf. Dty. 6). However, if someone else greets you in the middle of your recitation of the Shema, you are allowed to respond.  How are we to understand this?

From this halacha we can begin to appreciate just how vital friendship is.  People are not meant to be alone, to be lonely.  Hashem wants us to relate to and help one another.  Perhaps the easiest way to help my fellow man is by greeting him.  When I greet him, I acknowledge that he is meaningful to me.   I am stating that he has touched my life, even if ever so slightly.

I tell him that it is good to see him and that I am happy that he is in the world and I am joyful that I am not alone.  I always try to make it a point to call the cashier or whoever is helping by their name.  It's amazing how much a person's face lights up or brightens, even if ever so slightly, when you remember to quickly glance at their name tag and say "Thank you so-and-so."

Y'shua taught us in Matthew 5:

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I have been thinking a lot about the commandments to love and to serve one another lately.  I have been meditating on the phenomenal example of Y'shua, G-d in the flesh, Who on the night He was betrayed, took a basin and filled it with water and washed the feet of every one of His disciples, even the one who was shortly to betray Him.  How the Son of Man came to serve and not to be served.  The command that we go and do likewise.  That people will know we are His disciples and belong to Him when we are careful to follow His profoundly moving example set before us on the night He was betrayed.

Lately, as I mediate disagreements that my children occasionally have with one another, I begin by asking them how they are serving one another and if their behavior is what G-d requires of them in the critical areas of love and service.  I am reminded that whoever claims to live in Him, must not ask himself "What would Jesus do?" but simply live as He did (cf. I John 2:6), since I have no idea what Y'shua would do in any given situation, but I do know what He did: that He laid down His life and poured it out on the tree on behalf of those who hated Him and who loved the darkness, only to take it up again, so that in Him we would have eternal life, and experience life to the fullest during our short sojourn here on earth.  

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from G-d.  Everyone who loves has been born of G-d and knows G-d.  Whoever does not love does not know G-d, because G-d is love.  This is how G-d showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 

This is love: not that we loved G-d, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.   Dear friends, since G-d so loved us, we also ought to love one another.   No one has ever seen G-d; but if we love one another, G-d lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  (I John 4:7-12).

Sunday, March 27, 2016

In the Beginning, G-d

In the beginning, it was G-d Who created.  The Hebrew word translated ‘in the beginning’ is ‘bereshit’ and proclaims that nothing existed prior to G-d’s act of creation, and that the heavens and the earth were created only through G-d’s Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d.  He was with G-d in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (cf. John 1).

The Scripture teaches us that the world was brought into existence from non-existence i.e. ex nihilo. The belief that the world is eternal, is not only a metaphysical falsehood and a misrepresentation of the origin of the universe, it is a belief which serves to undermine all of morality, while denying freedom in both G-d and man.

If matter existed before creation, then the Creator of the universe would have been able to fashion from the material given Him not a world that was absolutely good, but only the best possible world within the limitations of that material.  G-d would then not be master over the material of the world, and man would not be master over his body. Freedom would disappear, and the entire world would be subject to a blind immutable fate.

Everything was created by the free, Almighty Creator, a Creator Who still rules freely over matter and form of everything; over the forces that act upon matter; over the laws by which these forces operate; and over the resulting forms. The free and Almighty will of G-d created matter and caused these forces to act upon it, and His will set the laws by which forms are fashioned.

And so the world that has been created is not the best possible one that can be fashioned with the given material; rather it is the only good world and is a world which reflects the wise plan of the Creator.

The possibility of sinning is part of his moral perfection and a basic condition for his moral freedom. We see then that ‘bereshit’ is the foundation of our awareness of G-d, world, and man.  When man lost this awareness, it had to be reestablished.  This, then, was the purpose of the revealed miracles: to demonstrate G-d’s free and unbounded mastery over the world with all its elements forces and laws. According to our Sages, these miracles were intended to restore man’s faith in a free and unlimited G-d.

Paganism fragments the whole world into many groups and spheres (e.g. gods of Greece and Rome, the Hindus, et al).   At the head of each sphere stands a ruler who has been bestowed with certain powers. This misguided and erroneous notion lowers the concept of god and transforms the god into a natural power who is unfree in the act of creating.  Such a god is unable to create true contrasts and differing phenomena, therefore, the world would have to have been established by many gods – as many as there are groups of opposing phenomena.

The Scriptures (and Judaism) denies the existence of these numerous gods and ascribes the powers that are attributed to them to the one and only G-d.  He alone is called Elohim. All the attributes of power that were separated by paganism are united in Him.  The unification of these attributes raises the one G-d above any notion of a mere natural power. For only the free and omnipotent Will of a single Being can create a world of contrasts; only He can unite these contrasts into one great purpose.

Elohim is also a Name that signifies G-d’s relationship between G-d and the world.  G-d Who reveals Himself today as the Master of the universe is the One Who created the world through His Will and Almighty power.  The Scripture gives expression to the complete objectivity of the creation vis-a-vis its Creator, of the world vis-a-vis G-d.   Scripture thus discredits those who err and try to argue that G-d is immersed in the world – as though He were the world’s mind and soul, thus lowering G-d to the level of a force of nature, which has no existence beyond the world.

This is untrue, since after G-d created the world and all its parts, He looked at them again.  It follows, then, that the work is external to its Creator, and that G-d is outside the world. G-d ‘barah,’ created, His world giving it external existence and His thoughts physical objectivity.  The world is related to G-d, not as the body is related to the soul, not as the organism is related to the life-force, but as a work is related to its maker.

In other words, G-d transcends His world absolutely and His work remains forever dependent upon Him, whereas He is independent of His work. The Scripture testifies that G-d looks upon His work and finds it good, and only because He looks upon it and only for as long as He looks upon it does it continue to exist.

The Son is the image of the invisible G-d, the firstborn over all creation.   For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.   He is before all things, and in him all things hold together . . . (cf. Colossians 1).

Adapted from commentary on Parashas Bereshis, Rabbi S.R Hirsch.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

In Spirit and in Truth

When we encounter a trial, we usually await the deliverance from the trial.  And when the deliverance finally comes, we remember to thank the Almighty for delivering us.  But how often do we remember to also thank and show appreciation to the Almighty for the trial itself?

The 50th Psalm teaches us this lesson.  "He who offers confession honors Me; and he who orders his way I will show him the salvation of G-d" (v. 23).  Simply understood, the Almighty is extolling the virtues of those who present to Hashem an offering of thanks.

One of our revered Sages, the Ksav Sofer, based on a midrash in Vayikra Rabbah 9:2, finds a connotation to the word yechabdaneni, translated 'acknowledge', a connotation which he derives from the doubling of the letter nun in the word.  He explains that sometimes only after the salvation are we first able to perceive the kindness and inherent goodness hidden within the trial or tzarah.

Therefore, one nun is meant to thank the Almighty for saving us, while the other nun conveys gratitude for giving us the tzarah, the trial, to begin with.  The intensified double-nun ending in the word yechabdaneni indicates one who "truly honors Me."  And so David would have us understand, as he did, that to truly honor Hashem involves not only thanking Him for the yeshua, the salvation, but for the tzarah, the trial, as well.

I truly believe that everything the L-d does is always for the best - the very best. Sometimes we may not see it immediately, but if we keep our eyes open, I believe that we will be privileged to see His goodness and kindness, even within the difficulties and trials we sometimes experience.  If we take this path, as the psalm encourages us and remember to thank Hashem doubly for all that we have had to endure, then Hashem says: "I will show you how the salvation came through what was normally perceived as the attribute of justice, midat hadin, which comes along with the name Elohim."

The upshot of Psalm 50, then, is that it is critical for us to remember that it is not the person who merely brings offerings that does Him honor, but the one who does not restrict his love, devotion, and gratitude for the Holy One to any one time, or place, or ritual act; but such a man rather bases his entire way of life upon the worship of G-d, and who, by his G-d-fearing conduct outside the sanctuary translates the promises he made while in the Sanctuary into living reality, a reality that is expressed in genuineness and sincerity of a life lived before an audience of One.  It is just such a man who, as our sages relate, will be permitted to experience that true and genuine life which can be granted by G-d and no one else.

We would do well to remember Rav Sha'ul's (Paul's) exhortation in his epistle to the Romans:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of G-d’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to G-d—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what G-d’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (cf. Romans 12)