Little Big Things

I recently thanked someone for the little, unseen things that they do. Most people would never know that they were being done, except me. As those little things help me to make ministry and communal life better. The little things done that few notice, really says that we care.

I was meditating on one word recently: if. From the Torah portion of Ekev, meaning “because of,” or “on the heels of,” or “as a result of.” וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן, “And it shall come to pass, if you listen…” (Deut. 7:12).

One little word, עֵקֶב/Ekev, translated “if” or “because.” This word is often translated as “heel,” and is the root of the name Jacob, or יַעֲקֹב, so named because he grabbed the heel of his brother Esau.

Why translate עֵקֶב/Ekev as “if” in this instance? Just as the heel is a small, but important part of the human body, there are commands of God that seem small, but are also important. They can easily be overlooked, left out, not thought of, but as Moses explains:

“He, God, will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you” (Deut. 7:13).

As we walk along the way in life, using that seemingly insignificant heel to stabilize our steps, even as we do those seemingly insignificant acts along the way that few will notice, God will. In the doing of the small things, we demonstrate not only a love for God, but also our fellow: seeing, noticing, and helping.

“If,” “heel,” as you walk, do, even if it seems unimportant, if God commanded it: it is. If the community or your family needs it, do it. It’s not only the grand gestures that demonstrate our love, but those little things tended to that really say: love.

As Messiah Yeshua/Jesus taught us, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Lk. 16:10).

Be faithful with the little things, and they will add up to greater things than we could have imagined.

Be well. Shalom.

Vision of Repair Part 2

Every week when I bless the congregation I lead, and before every prayer I say for someone, I first remind myself of the love I am to have for them, I check it, is it still there regardless of how I am feeling at the moment; but I am also reminding myself of God’s love for them. The rabbis explain that when Aaron blessed Israel with the priestly benediction (Num. 6:24-26), he was to do so with love (Sota 39a).

Aaron was to look out over Israel, with all of their complications, and bless them in אהבת חינם/ahavat chinam, or causeless love. His love for them was not based upon their merit, but God’s grace working in and through him.

As I wrote in a previous post, the rabbis say that the second Temple was destroyed due to baseless hate, שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם/sinat chinam (Yoma 9b). While שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם, is often translated as baseless hate, it has a deeper meaning: hatred of grace. Kindness withheld.

If there is a baseless hatred, or hatred of grace, working in the nature of man, then there should be אהבת חינם/ahavat chinam, a causeless love, or love in grace working in the renewed man: a love and grace that is freely given, not earned. The grace between brethren, how we view others and how we love them, must be in keeping with His grace; as Paul writes:

“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:1-2).

Certainly, we did not earn this gift of grace, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8); but, once we receive it, we are to walk imitating Him.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, wrote that if sinat chinam, baseless hatred, caused the destruction of the second Temple, then to rebuild Israel and the third Temple, ahavat chinam, causeless grace/love, would need to be cultivated among the Jewish people.

We can read Scriptures about grace in love and its application: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18); “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34)l “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn. 13:34); “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (I Jn. 4:16). And the list can easily be expanded; but until we walk in His causeless love, or a love in grace, as difficult as that sometimes is, we will not capture, cultivate or taste its fruit.

Perhaps the most widely known verse of Scripture is found in John 3:16, and it speaks of the Lord’s love for the world/humanity, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Or, an alternate reading, “For this is how God loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

For God so loved, He gave. This is the supreme example of ahavat chinam, causeless love, or love in grace. The giving of Yeshua/Jesus, the Son of God. From this act of ahavat chinam, causeless love, a love we did not merit or deserve, is born a vision of renewal, repair and celebration: “Then all the survivors will do up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate Tabernacles (Zech. 14:16). Further, “After these things I looked, and behold, a vast multitude that no one could count – from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues – was standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9; specifically Tabernacles/Sukkot imagery).

Repair, renewal, and rebuilding in the human family requires grace, a grace that in fact has a cause: Him. His giving of causeless, unearned love to us, then flows out into the lives of others as His causeless love through us. If we view others with sinat chinam, a hatred of grace, then they will never merit receiving anything from us, as we will never lower ourselves to them. Yet, if we ourselves, as recipients of His ahavat chinam, causeless love, or love in grace, act as imitators of Him (Eph. 5:1-2), then we will freely give what has been freely given to us: His love, grace, mercy.

The action of ahavat chinam, causeless love, or love in grace, cares, as much as we are able, for the human being before us, made in the image of God. Remember, the love that we are to imitate and example: at times, love is nourishing the body of the unfortunate, or defending the life of those under attack, and in countless other circumstances.

Let us capture His חֲזוֹן/Hazon – vision of renewal, and join in His work of restoration, to His glory, and one day we will celebrate in exuberant praise before the Throne and the Lamb.

Be well. Shalom.

Vision of Repair

This Shabbat is called שבת חזון/Shabbat Hazon, the Sabbath of Vision; and it immediately precedes Tisha B’Av, or the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. Traditionally it is a fast day remembering many tragic events in Jewish history: the return and false testimony of the spies in the wilderness; the destructions of both Temples in Jerusalem; expulsions from England and Spain; and many other tragic events. It is a time of fasting, and mourning, but also hope.

The haftara, portion after the Torah, reading of Shabbat Hazon is from Isaiah 1:1-27. The name of this Shabbat is taken from the first word of this prophetic book: חֲזוֹן/Hazon – vision. Isaiah opens with an accounting of the waywardness of God’s people. The judgment that is to come, but also a plea of “come let us reason together, says the Lord …” (Isa. 1:18), the hope and vision of reconciliation.

Before one mourns destruction, we must have vision of repair.

Tisha b’Av, as a day of mourning, remembers many tragic events in Jewish history; all attributed to that day. I recall hearing a talk on Tisha b’Av some years ago where the rabbi explained that the reason one day was designated as the day of mourning is because if we were to mourn every event on the day it happened, we would be mourning every day.

The rabbis say that the second Temple was destroyed due to baseless hate, שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם/sinat chinam. While שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם, is often translated as baseless hate, it has a deeper meaning: hatred of grace. The grace that is to be between brethren, how we view others, and how we love them must be in keeping with His grace, as Paul writes, “See that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all” (I Thess. 5:15). Here, Paul is writing of grace through forgiveness, and grace in action (I Cor. 13).

In our moments of struggle with others, heaven forbid that they should come, we must see past the moment, even in the difficulty, to the reconciliation. Before the mourning, the vision. This is the vision of repair of brokenness. It is the vision of grace working, forming and conforming us to the image of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus (Ro. 8:28-29). It is a vision of repair of a broken society.

If שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם/sinat chinam, baseless hatred, a hatred of grace, destroyed the physical Temple in Jerusalem, how much more does does it destroy the Temple of God in us (I Cor. 3:16-17)? We love grace when we are on the receiving end, but we are prone to holding back grace when it is us needing to give.

Beloved friends: grace wasn’t ours in the first place. Give it. Love His grace! Freely give it, especially when the pain is so deep. Have a vision of repair even before the garment is rent. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, “If you believe you can break something, have faith that you can repair it.” Messiah Yeshua said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn. 13:34). Again Paul, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

The Body of Messiah is in need of loving repair. It is in need of the grace that saved it to be at work among us. May we return again the Lord who redeemed us, cleansed us, and who so deeply loves us. May we learn to kindly, and even lovingly disagree, not to separation, but Lord willing, ultimately restoration.

It’s hard; but with God, nothing is impossible.

Shabbat Shalom; and I pray He blesses you with a vision of repair, forgiveness, and renewal to His glory. Amen.

The Sadness That God Wills

Life has sadness. It’s unavoidable. In nearly twenty years of ordained ministry I’ve dealt with a lot of sadness. While some of that sadness belongs to others, some of it belongs to me. It’s not often that I get a call or a message celebrating a blessing in life, most often people reach me when trial has reached them.

I’ve been wrestling with a bout of sadness lately, thankfully not as severe or crippling as in times past, but present none the less. I cannot even put a finger on the cause, just a presence of sadness that brings tears rather freely.

Today I found myself sad for a man who lost his wife, an individual that I’ve targeted in years past during theological rants on points I am unable to remember. The moment humanized someone I admittedly, and to my shame, dehumanized.

The apostle Paul writes, “For the grief that God wills brings a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret. But the world’s grief leads to death” (II Cor. 7:10).

Translated slightly differently, yet pertinent to this thought, “For the sadness that God wills brings a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret. But the world’s sadness leads to death.”

The underlying Greek that I changed to sadness, λύπη, can mean grief, pain, sadness, or sorrow. While I do not diminish the experience of sorrow, grief, pain, or sadness, Paul’s words specific to godly grief, or “the sadness that God wills” changed my thinking.

It is surprising the number of famous preachers who suffered severe periods of depression, preachers referenced today with the greatest of respect. I was recently surprised to learn that a rabbi I’ve held in the highest regard experienced long periods of depression during his life. Yet, this has been sadness. I know depression, but I’ve recognized this recent period as one of sadness. Life changes. Things change. Circumstances change. On and on. But back to what Paul wrote: what God wills.

When you help others with sadness, let down, heartbreak, fear and trauma as often as I seem to, it can unintentionally numb the heart and soul. While you tend to the need, with the right actions or words, your heart can be unexpectedly calloused to the human, perhaps just not as feeling as one should be.

What Paul is saying in II Corinthians 7:10 is that God’s will in the sadness is that of salvation from it, as it leads one back to life, and in His will, life with feeling. Sadness that is of the world, or of ungodliness, leads to death – a helpless feeling of dread that one cannot escape from. Helplessness.

John Piper once wrote, “When sadness makes life heavy with tears, don’t stop doing your work. Take a deep breath. Own the sorrow. Trust God’s promises. Wash your face. And go to work.” Live. In the work, in the movement, you will find that you meet God’s will head on.

The God who has delivered me from so much is the same “yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8); and He has promised in His infinite goodness and grace to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). And since I am a work in progress, as you, dear reader are as well, I take hold and hold onto this: “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Yeshua/Jesus the Messiah” (Phil. 1:6).

Sadness pricks the heart; and in doing so, by God’s will, we turn in repentance to Him once again for renewal, comfort, and relief from what is beyond our control. Sadness, grief, pain, and sorrow is part of the human experience, for the redeemed and the unregenerate. For the redeemed, perhaps it humbles us before Him once again; and for the unregenerate, perhaps it will awaken a need for a Savior, Helper, and Friend.

I do not have the answers yet, but I can trust in the One who does to awaken my heart with inspiration to once again, save me from myself, and baptize me in the greatest depths of His love. There are many causes of sadness, some medical, others spiritual, or physical; but the important thing is to never give up, or give in to it. Pray, and then keep your eyes open for the answer to the moments before you. Keep fighting the good fight, stay in the race, and He will finish what He started in you. He will give you His heart.

Be well. Shalom.

A Donkey, an Ox, and the Bridge.

(An article anticipating ordinary life circumstances.)

Messiah Yeshua/Jesus taught, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45; cf. Lev. 19:18).

Messiah is referencing, not the Torah, but a folk teaching informed by human wisdom and experience. Yeshua, however, corrects this: “you have heard … but I tell you …”

Is it really so easy? Simply, that depends; but many of us would say, no, it’s not so simple.

As we approach all people, we need to remember that they too, no matter our differences with them, are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). We must approach them in faith, remembering the fallen nature of humanity, and that, at times, struggles we have with others may be used by the Lord to humble us, drawing us closer to Him.

Yeshua, further in Matthew 5:45, references what is called common grace, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Common grace provides for, and safeguards life. Here we find how we can begin to “love your enemies.”

The bridge.

“If you find your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you must surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of the one that hates you lying down under its burden, do not leave it. Rather, you are to release it with him” (Ex. 23:4-5).

The above is the biblical origin of “love your enemies.” Returning the lost animal to your enemy would likely preserve his life and that of his family; and keep them from potentially slipping into poverty. Helping him to unburden his animal brings two separated, oppositional parties together.

The Lord does not just tell us to “love your enemies because I said so!” He directs us to see their humanity, their life, and their value.

Yeshua references the provision and care of the Father to the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous: safeguarding life. The Torah earlier instructs us to see them, our enemy or the one who hates us, in their fragility. As Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

The act of love, by common grace described above, is the act of building a bridge, a גֶּשֶׁר/gesher in Hebrew, in faith strong enough to hold you and your enemy, the proverbial bridge over troubled waters.

In faith, He is the bridge. He is strong enough. His Word is able. Can you see Him in the life of your enemy, or those hating you?

It may not be an ox or a donkey that necessitates the interaction today, but any number of circumstances, tragic or simply inconvenient, may be the mitigating factor that brings you together.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Be well. Shalom.