THE TRIAL OF GOD – by Elie Wiesel

For a Jew to believe in God is good. For a Jew to protest against God is still good. But simply to ignore God, that is not good. Anger, yes. Protest, yes. Affirmation, yes. But indifference? No. You can be a Jew with God. You can be a Jew against God. But not without God. [1]

 

the trial of godthe trial of god
Elie Wiesel

~ Review by Cindy

 

Men and women are being beaten, tortured, and killed – how can one not be afraid of God? True, they are victims of men. But the killers kill in God’s name. Not all? True, but numbers are unimportant. Let one killer kill for God’s glory, and God is guilty. Every person who suffers or causes suffering, every woman who is raped, every child who is tormented implicates Him. What, you need more? A hundred or a thousand? Listen: Either He is responsible or He is not. If He is, let’s judge Him; if He is not, let Him stop judging us. [2]

The trial of god is a Purimshpiel (Purim play) within a Purimshpiel – and is, as Wiesel himself says, “meant as a tragic farce.” The idea for this play came from an event that Elie Wiesel witnessed as a boy in Auschwitz:

Three rabbis – all erudite and pious men – decided one evening to indict God for allowing His children to be massacred. I remember I was there and I felt like crying, but nobody cried. [3]

Taking the story out of the Holocaust, Wiesel re-situates the story into 1648-49 just after the brutal Chmielnicki pogroms and on the eve of Purim. Wiesel’s own words best describe the plot of this story:

What is the story? Three minstrels, three Purim spielers, come to a city called Shamgorod in the Ukraine. It is Purim eve, and they want to perform a play in order to get food and drink.

The innkeeper says, “Are you crazy? Don’t you know where you are? You are in Shamgorod. There was a pogrom here last year. Everyone was killed. I and my daughter are the only Jews here. And you want to perform here?”

They insist on performing and finally he says, “All right. Under one condition – that I will give you the idea. The theme will be a ‘din torah’ with God, a trial of God. I want you to indict God for what he has done to my family, to my community, to all these Jews.”

The hungry performers accept.

In the first act the decision is made to hold a trial. In the second act there is a problem; nobody wants to play the role of God’s attorney. In the third act we have the trial itself. [4]

In most of Wiesel books he writes as a witness of the Holocaust. His voice reminds the world of the importance of remembering. This play by Wiesel is no different.

It is impossible not to become emotionally invested in this story. From Berish, the innkeeper who is tied to a table to be a witness to the murder of his family and friends and the repeated violation of his daughter Hanna, to the tortured fragile Hanna, to the bold gutsy Maria, to the priest who is not so much indifferent as ineffective, to the stranger Sam, and the three minstrels, this story forces one to ask the question, “Where am I?”

Wiesel shows us that it is fine to question God, fine to challenge, fine to even be angry. Anger and questions do not necessarily mean a lack of faith nor a crisis of faith, neither are they sacrilegious. In the face of tragedy, and so very much in face of the horrific hell that Wiesel and others experience in Auschwitz and Nazi Germany, it is understandably a part of mans wrestling with God.

What I so deeply love about Wiesel’s writing is not the answers he gives but the questions he raises – questions that have no pat answers, no easy resolution. I will be pondering this read for a good while to come.

You can purchase The Trial of God at amazon.com

wiesel - holocaust[5]

I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.

I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.

I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.

As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.

They are modest, my requests, and humble.

I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.

I ask you, G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.

I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

 

~ Elie Wiesel, One Generation After, Excerpts From A Diary

 

1. Elie Wiesel, quoted from a television interview about the trial of god in Andrea Carter and the Family Secret, Susan K. Marlow, pg. 130
2. Elie Wiesel, the trial of god, pg. 54
3. ibid, from the introduction
4. ibid
5. photo credit – Jewish Virtual Library – Weisel is in the second row of the bunks, seventh from the left.

Elie Weisel

Elie Wiesel is the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize, and is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University.

Listen to the podcast – The Tragedy Of The Believer, an intimate conversation between Elie Wiesel and Krista Tippett.  You can also listen on iTunes

CHRISTIAN ZIONISM – Navigating the Jewish-Christian Border by Dr. Faydra Shapiro

 

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Dr. Faydra Shapiro – an outstanding scholar and teacher, who is also a warm and wonderful woman I am honored to call friend – invited me to review her new book on Amazon. It is an honest and brave work and a true and refreshing challenge to one’s ingrained and established dogmas. This is the kind of scholarship we need – real and open – in order to recognize and constructively deal with the many ‘bugaboos’ both Judaism and Christianity have entrenched in their thinking. Thereby we can begin to move some of the man-made fences erected for protection or in hostility and can begin, finally and happily, to sit together as brothers and sisters.

Recognize the Bugaboos and Help to Move the Fences!

Keren’s Review on Amazon 

Dr. Faydra Shapiro has placed herself in the midst of the relatively modern struggle for understanding and partnership between the historically estranged camps of Judaism and Christianity. An estrangement that is the result of valid causes; the predominant of which has been Anti-Semitism, usually politely submerged but too often openly virulent and violent. Again, unbelievably, in our post-Shoah days, this curse is exposing itself in the form of Anti-Zionism.

An unprecedented factor in this fray is the emergence of Christian Zionism, whose members, although largely evangelical, are found across the Christian spectrum. A common element shared is shock at the knowledge of atrocities committed against the Jewish people at the hands of Christianity (the most recent being Hitler’s attempt at genocide and Anti-Israel political hostility), together with the determination to not stand idly by as Jews again come under unjustified and disproportionate attack.

Beyond politics, however, in the attempts at reconciliation something deeper is slowly emerging. The esteemed Rabbi Meister, of blessed memory, applied to the endeavour the term, “a sacred calling.” All who share a strong faith in the common ground of the Hebrew Scriptures are aware of the hand of G-d in the unfolding of history and in His plan for the redemption of mankind. It is in this vital and challenging arena, which demands interpretation of these very Scriptures, that significant problems arise to produce tensions in the complex Jewish-Christian relationship.

This sacred quest for mutual understanding can only be undertaken in a spirit of care and respect for the “other” who also is created in the image of G-d. And when we, “…stand on the sure foundation of the love of G-d,” as my husband of blessed memory Dr. Dwight Pryor expressed, Jews and Christians working together constructively and kindly, are able to recognize the bugaboos and can help to move the dividing fences.

Dr. Shapiro has risen to the challenge to navigate the Jewish-Christian border and, engaging in dialog as fairly and objectively as possible, she delves into the issue of Christian Zionism and its corollaries. She presents a masterful and refreshingly readable book that offers a clear view of the bigger picture. Both Jews and Christians need to be aware and informed as to the political and religious conflicts concerning Israel, as the implications and resulting effects, for both camps, are too serious to be apathetically avoided or ignored.

Challenge your thinking and read the book!

Keren Pryor

You can take a look and purchase at the link below, via Amazon.com

Christian Zionism: Navigating the Jewish-Christian Border

A GOD WHO HATES

America will never win the war [against terrorism] until Americans read about Islam from Arab sources, word for word, without distortion or falsification. Reading this material will enable them to draw their own personal conclusions and help them to understand what kind of enemy they are facing…

After the events of September 11th, I watched a press conference with an American general whose name I can no longer recall. In the course of the conference, he declared that he had read the Koran twice, and one of the reporters asked him, “What conclusions did you reach after you had read it?” He bowed his head for a moment before replying, “We have to defend ourselves.”

 

9780312538354_p0_v1_s192x300A GOD WHO HATES
The Courageous Woman
Who Inflamed The Muslim World
Speaks Out Against The Evils of Islam

by Dr. Wafa Sultan

~ review by Cindy

When I was a fourth-year medical student, at the bus stop one day near the hospital where I was doing my training, I saw two small boys aged about six and eight. Each boy had a small bird in his hand and was plucking out its feathers. The birds were cheeping with pain and struggling to escape. The sight upset me and I went over to the boys and said gently, “Boys, you mustn’t do that. Please stop it.”

The elder boy fixed me with a piercing stare that seemed to penetrate every cell of my body and said vehemently, “There’s nothing wrong with plucking a bird. What is wrong is that a woman like you should be walking around off the leash in mixed company without a head covering.
Go and bury yourself at home!”

Dr. Wafa Sultan saw Islam up close as she was born into a devote Muslim family in Baniyas, Syria. She has written her life story as witness to the nature of Islam’s god – Allah – a god who, Dr. Sultan says, hates women and she makes her point well by quoting both from the Quran and Hadiths.* She reveals Muhammad’s character, his deeds, and words and shares from first hand experiences his influence on Muslim men (and young boys) and how they treat women today.

The story of Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha has a further and more horrifying effect on the relationship between Muslim men and women. In the story of the marriage, Muhammad pounced upon the nine-year old Aisha the moment her mother placed her in his arms on a bed in her own home. Through the story of this “marriage,” Islam denies women the right to read the stage of physical, intellectual, and emotional maturity at which they are fully ready to marry. It denies Muslim women the right to marry as a rational human being. That a girl should jump from her swing and become within a few minutes a mature woman in the arms of a man – this is something the most basic law of morality cannot accept. The great misfortune is that his incident has been sanctioned by both religious and secular law and has become a way of life.

This is a difficult read as her first hand knowledge of unimaginable cruelty that woman suffer in Islamic society is inconceivable to most of us who live in the West. Dr. Sultan shares story upon story of young girls (her niece** among them) whose childhoods are violated in the Islamic world.

As well as her focus on the plight of women, Wafa Sultan touches on the broader scope of Muslim belief. If you have ever looked at ongoing events in the Middle East and thought, “I just don’t get it!”, this book will help you to better understand the mindset of Islamic society.

Dr. Sultan is a woman trying to get her message out – not just to the West – but the Muslim world also. Her message is one that needs to be heard – especially in a world that is so blinded by political correctness.

This is a raw and honest read, written by a very courageous woman.

Dr. Sultan said in an interview***:

I receive death threats on a daily basis. I’m a well-known writer in the Arab world. My writings expose me to millions of devout Muslims who have nothing positive to prove but the sheer cruelty of their teachings. Islam has deprived them of their intellectual ability to face criticism in an effective and acceptable way.

Being born and raised as a Muslim has helped me to realize how serious these threats are. While I try to not let the threats interfere with my mission, at the same time I don’t ignore them either. Prior to the release of my book, “A God Who Hates,” I was forced to go into hiding.

It hasn’t been easy, but since I believe in my mission, nothing will deter me from accomplishing my objective.

In a world that seems to be in a moral decline, A God Who Hates, is an important and much needed read.

You can purchase A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam from Amazon.com

Dr. Wafa Sultan shares about what women in Islam endure:

 

Footnotes:

* A collection of sayings of the prophet Muhammad that, with accounts of his daily practice, constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Quran.
** Dr. Sultan shares how her 10 year old niece was made to marry a man of 40. She ran away time and time again to her father’s house but under pressure from her family would return. Seeing no other way out, her niece committed suicide at age 26.
*** http://www.examiner.com

RETURN – DAILY INSPIRATION FOR THE DAYS OF AWE

Teshuvah, the belief and the mandate that we really can and must change… demands hard internal work because teshuvah requires good decision-making.
The poet Robert Browning once bemoaned the difficulty of making decisions: “Life’s business being just the terrible choice.” But choose we must: every word we say, every small gesture, every action is a decision that has a causal impact on the next decision.
…We repeatedly sin so we ask that God repeatedly forgive. But at this time of year, we ask that God give us the wisdom and strength to make good decisions so that our repeated pattern of moral weakness and apology will finally be broken.

~ from Preface

ReturnRETURN
Daily Inspiration For The Days Of Awe
by Erica Brown,

~ review by Cindy

I have longed for a inspiring read for The Days of Awe and found that longing met in Erica Brown’s book – Return.

Return is a day to day study and reflection for the Days of Awe. Each chapter is broken into three sections:

  1. Eric’s thoughts (and some great Erica Brown midrash making)
  2. Life Homework – practical ideas to apply what you read to your own life
  3. Additional Rabbinic passages taken from three works:
    – Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, The Laws of Repentance
    – Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzatto, Mesilat Yesharim, The Path of The Just
    – Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Orot Teshuvah, The Lights of Repentance.

Each chapter is based on a different verse of the Yom Kippur prayer Al-Het (for the sin that we have committed before you…).

Erica touches on ten topics as related to teshuvah:

  • Faith
  • Destiny
  • Discipline
  • Humility
  • Compassion
  • Gratitude
  • Anger
  • Joy
  • Honesty
  • Holiness

One – among many – favorite thoughts falls under day two – Destiny – “For the sin we committed before You with a confused heart.”

Erica shares:

How can confusion ever be a sin? It is not intentional. Confusion is not an act; it is a condition brought about by the ambiguities of a situation. But we can perpetuate confusion by not seeking clarity soon enough or not at all. And for that we confess…

So meaningful for the times we find ourselves in.

There are times I wish the chapter hadn’t finished quite as soon as it did but I realize that this books beauty is it’s brevity (just 149 pages) making it manageable to read in a ten day period.

Drawing from Scripture and Rabbinic sources, this book will enlarge your understanding of teshuvah. A precious and practical read for the Days of Awe, but full of wisdom for every day of the year.

THE PROPHETS – Abraham Joshua Heschel

The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world. There is no society to which Amos’ words [Amos 8:4-6] would not apply.

Indeed, the sort of crimes and even the amount of delinquency that fill the prophets of Israel with dismay do not go beyond that which we regard as normal, as typical ingredients of social dynamics. To us a single act of injustice–cheating in business, exploitation of the poor–is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world.

prophets

THE PROPHETS
by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

~ review by Cindy

This book is a masterpiece study of the Hebrew prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk. Mammoth in size, The Prophets was first published as a two volume set but is now sold as one.

In the first half of the book Herschel goes beyond just a commentary of the text and delves into the heart of the prophet — What manner of man is he? What are his thoughts, emotions, and challenges? He shows the anguish of the prophet’s heart – torn between compassion for man and sympathy with G-d.

In the second half of the book Hechel speaks to a number of different aspects of the prophets experience – understanding G-d, the self-sufficiency of G-d, the meaning and mystery of wrath, poetic inspiration, prophecy and psychosis… and he crowns all this with The Dialectic Of The Divine-Human Encounter:

In prophetic thinking, man is the object of God’s vision, concern, and understanding. It is man’s vision, concern, and understanding for God that is the goal…
In the prophetic type of experience, the object is not to be sought in the “I,” but the “I” in the object…
“Know thy God” (I Chronicle 28:9) rather than “Know Thyself” is the categorical imperative of the biblical man.
There is no self-understanding without God-understanding.

Rabbi Heschel writes in a way that is easy to read and can be well understood. However, at the same time, he challenges one’s thinking. His writing is so profound that, in order to absorb the fullness of his words, one needs to savor it word by word, sentence by sentence.

Beyond a study, this book is deeply moving.  Heschel succeeds in bringing the compassionate heart and love of G-d more clearly into the reader’s heart.

You can purchase The Prophets from Amazon.com
The Prophets (Perennial Classics)

prophets quote

I ASKED FOR WONDER – Abraham Joshua Heschel

Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame.
I asked for wonder, and He gave it to me.*

wonder

I ASKED FOR WONDER
A SPIRITUAL ANTHOLOGY
by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

~ Review by Cindy

Taken from the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel, this collection of short excerpts was complied by Rabbi Samuel Dresner.

In his introduction Rabbi Dresner writes:

– Heschel’s writing is an embarrassment of riches. So compelling are his sentences that a paragraph literally chokes from wealth.

– He [Rabbi Heschel] had the gift for combining profundity with simplicity… startling the mind and delighting the heart…

Covering a wide spectrum of Heschel’s writings, this anthology is oresented in themes:

  • God
  • Prayer
  • Humanity
  • Sabbath
  • Religion
  • Awe
  • Life and Death
  • Bible
  • Obedience
  • The Divine Image

Reading Rabbi Heschel’s books can at times overwhelm and I have found that most often I can only think on one phrase or sentence at a time. Rabbi Dresner takes the overwhelming richness of Rabbi Heschel’s words and presents them to us in bite size pieces that one can sit and dwell on.

I was delighted that one of my favorites of Heschel’s passages begins this remarkable collection:

The Search for reason ends at the known; on the immense expanse beyond it only the sense of the ineffable can glide.
It alone knows the route to that which is remote from experience and understanding.
Neither of them is amphibious: reason cannot go beyond the shore, and the sense of the ineffable is out of place where we measure, where we weigh.
We do not leave the shore of the known in search of adventure or suspense or because of the failure of reason to answer our questions.
We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell, and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore.
Citizens of two realms, we all must sustain a dual allegiance: we sense the ineffable in one realm, we name and exploit reality in another. Between the two we set up a system of references, but we can never fill the gap. They are as far and as close to each other as time and calendar, as violin and melody, as life and what lies beyond the last breath.

These words remind me of how much I will miss if I am unwilling to leave the shore.

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters;
They have seen the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.**

A short book, only 158 pages, but a very deep read and one that does stretch you to go beyond the shore.

cup - 1

* Preface in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book of Yiddish Poems
** Psalm 107:23-24 – and see also Yesuha’s words in Luke 5:4

THE SABBATH – Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Sabbath - Heschel

 THE SABBATH
ITS MEANING FOR MODERN MAN
by Rabbi Abraham Heschel

~ Review by Cindy

The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence.

The Sabbath is a short, poetic read that inspires one for celebrating this weekly feast. Deeply refreshing, purely delightful, and overflowing with joy – Rabbi Heschel gives one a greater understanding of Shabbat – a gift from G-d to all mankind.

Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to the holiness in time. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of Eternity planted in the soul.

You can purchase The Sabbath from Amazon.com The Sabbath (FSG Classics)

 

Heschel - Sabbath

 

WOW!! If you can set aside some time, the following two YouTube videos are a rare treat – a recording of a lecture that Rabbi Heschel gave in Ottawa, Canada, in May 1967.

 

MAN IS NOT ALONE – Abraham Joshua Heschel

GOD.
Not an emotion, a stir within us, but a power, a marvel beyond us, tearing the world apart.
The word that means more than universe, more than eternity, holy, holy, holy;

we cannot comprehend it.
We only know it means infinitely more than we are able to echo.
Staggered, embarrassed, we stammer and say: He, who is more than all there is,

who speaks through the ineffable, whose question is more than our minds can answer;

He to whom our life can be the spelling of an answer.

 

Man Is Not Alone

MAN IS NOT ALONE
A PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION
by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

In Man Is Not Alone, Rabbi Heschel expounds on man’s encounter with G-d and man’s response to that encounter. Peeling away the trivial, Rabbi Heschel’s words are a reminder that our Salvation is a who, not a what, and that the foundational reality of our faith is a relationship with G-d.

The pious man is possessed by his awareness of the presence and nearness of God. Everywhere and at all times he lives in His sight, whether he remains always heedful of His proximity or not. He feels embraced by God’s mercy as by a vast encircling space. Awareness of God is as close to him as the beating of his own heart, often deep and calm but at times, overwhelming, intoxicating, setting the soul afire.

Broken into two parts, 1 – The Problem of God and 2 – The Problem of Living, Man Is Not Alone is a colossal read, including topics such as: The Sense of the Ineffable, Radical Amazement, The Presence of G-d, Doubts, Faith, The Meaning of Existence, A Pattern for Living, The Problems of Needs, One G- d. It is far beyond the scope of a simple book review; but I do want to share a couple of nuggets.

In Man Is Not Alone, Rabbi Heschel equates the relationship of G-d and man to an English sentence. When you think of a sentence you think of a subject, a verb – that which the subject does – and an object – that which the subject acts upon. Often G-d is spoken of as if He is the object – the One we worship, the One we serve, the One we praise… but Rabbi Heschel turns us on our head. He says, G-d is not the object, man is. G-d always is the subject.

Thinking of God is made possible by His being the subject and by our being His object. To think of God is to expose ourselves to Him, to conceive ourselves as a reflection of His reality… To the philosopher God is an object, to men at prayer He is the subject. Their aim is not to possess Him, as a concept of knowledge… what they crave for is to be wholly possessed by Him, to be an object of His knowledge and to sense it. The task is not to know the unknown but to be penetrated with it; not to know but to be known to Him, to expose ourselves to Him rather than Him to us… His knowledge of man precedes man’s knowledge of Him, while man’s knowledge of Him comprehends only what God asks of man.

I love how Rabbi Heschel speaks of G-d as passionately in pursuit of a people. We don’t find G-d, G-d finds us. G-d is always the subject and we the object.

Even to the most basic, we love G-d because He first loved us.**

Rabbi Heschel speaks about death and of weaving the temporal into the fabric of eternity:

The greatest problem is not how to continue but how to exalt our existence. The cry for life beyond the grave is presumptuous, if there is not a cry for eternal life prior to our descending to the grave. Eternity is not perpetual future but perpetual presence. He has planted in us the seed of eternal life. The world to come is not only a hereafter but also a herenow.

Our greatest problem is not how to continue but how to return. “How can I repay unto the Lord all his bountiful dealings with me?” [Psalm 116:12]. When life is an answer, death is a home-coming. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” [Psalm 116:14].

…This is the meaning of existence: To reconcile liberty with service, the passing with the lasting, to weave the threads of temporality into the fabric of eternity.

The deepest wisdom man can attain is to know that his destiny is to aid, to serve…This is the meaning of death: the ultimate self-dedication to the Divine. Death so understood will not be distorted by the craving for immortality, for this act of giving away is reciprocity on man’s part for God’s gift of life. For the pious man it is a privilege to die.

What makes Rabbi Heschel’s writings so deeply meaningful is that he lived what he taught with integrity.

Man Is Not Alone is a deeply provocative book and a companion read to God In Search Of Man. Intensely earnest and warmingly sincere, Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s books – including Man Is Not Alone – are loving friends that one is drawn back to, time and time again.

~Review by Cindy

You can click on the link below to purchase Man Is Not Alone from Amazon.com
Man Is Not Alone : A Philosophy of Religion

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*1 John 4:19

IN KINDLING FLAME – The Story of Hannah Senesh

The Nazi regime showed the world the monstrous capacities within the human heart, realities about the human nature from which we are still recoiling in horror.
The men and women who defied them show us that love and honor, courage and compassion are real too. Most of them, like Hannah, were killed
but their spirit was never overcome.
Their love, their loyalty, their will to resist was neither destroyed nor diminished.
Their stories reach out to us and bear witness to the reality of goodness. They give us hope for our lives, the heart to struggle for one another’s sake, the will to leave our own good imprint on the world in which both the worst and the best are possible.*

In Kindling Flame

IN KINDLING FLAME
The Story of Hannah Senesh
1921-1944
by Linda Atkinson 

God – may there be no end
To sea, to sand,
Water’s splash,
Lightning’s flash,
The prayer of man.**

Linda Atkinson tells the story of Budapest born Hannah Senesh, a young woman whose short life and tragic death have inspired generations. Hannah’s story unfolds during the mid-1930’s and goes through WWII.

Hannah experiences anti-Semitism firsthand in high school and in her senior year her love for her homeland and understanding of its importance is ignited and she becomes a Zionist. From that point on Hannah purposely and determinately prepares for life in Israel, the only place she believed held a future for the Jewish people. After graduation Hannah made aliyah [which means ‘going up’ to Eretz Israel – the Land of Israel].

Hannah enrolled in the Nahalal Agricultural School. After a two year program she joined Kibbutz S’dot-Yam – the Fields of the Sea, a beautiful new kibbutz near the ruins of the ancient Roman port of Caesarea. As news of increased persecution of the Jews trickled in, Hannah longed to help the Jews of Hungary. When she heard of an opportunity to rescue Hungarian Jews, she volunteered for the mission.

We have shared more of Hannah’s story here at HIS-ISRAEL – Eli, Eli – My G-d, My G-d – Hannah Senesh

Don’t miss this powerful and absorbing story of a life whose brilliance continues to light the world.

Hannah's Grave

The grave of Hannah Senesh –
taken on the eve of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial day at Har Herzl,
the National Military Cemetery.

There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living.
These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark.
They light the way for humankind.**

Hannah Senesh

Hannah working at Nahalal

~ Review by Cindy

*Linda Atkinson, The Kindling Flame, pg 201
**Hannah Senesh, Walk to Caesarea, Hannah penned this at Caesarea in 1942
*** Hannah Senesh

SHORT STORIES BY JESUS – Amy Jill Levine

Short Stories by Jesus

SHORT STORIES BY JESUS
THE ENIGMATIC PARABLES OF A CONTROVERSIAL RABBI
by Amy-Jill Levine

Review ~ Cindy Elliott

Amy-Jill Levine is not only very active in Jewish Christian dialogue but she is an author who gathers a lot of exposure. Most reviewers either love or hate her books. For myself – I felt a bit of both. In honesty, I put the book down after the first chapter to pray about my attitude and to consider tossing the book or reading it to the end. After a much needed attitude adjustment I moved into the second chapter, The Good Samaritan, and how glad I am that I did!

In the introduction Amy-Jill Levine highlights some very important points, one being that Yeshua’s parables invite us to engage. The parables aren’t just nice stories but are meant to challenge us, to make us uncomfortable. Another important point – In listening to parables and appreciating them within their initial context, we do well to listen for echoes of Israel’s Scriptures since the parables evoke earlier stories and then comment on them. Take for instance Luke 15:11 when we read, “There was a man who had two sons…” To Yeshua’s Jewish listeners, this would bring to mind Abel and Cain, the sons of Adam; Ishmael and Isaac, the sons of Abraham; Jacob and Esau, the sons of Isaac… and reading the parables in light of the previous narratives creates both surprise and challenge.

One of the objectives of Amy-Jill Levine’s writing of this book was to unmask Anti-Semitism in parable interpretation. She offers up traditional Christian interpretations for each parable, most of which I have never heard of or, if I had, I would have quickly dismissed. It is important to note that Amy-Jill Levine often quotes [the questionable sources as regards Anti-Semitic and Anti-Torah attitudes, of] Robert Funk of The Jesus Seminar and the early Church fathers. If you do read this book, take time to read her footnotes to understand the voices she is listening to and responding to; because, at times, it seems that Amy-Jill Levine does a bit of stretching to tie in Anti-Semitism to each particular interpretation of a parable.

It saddened me to read some of Amy-Jill Levine’s characterizations of the Christian belief, but that only emphasizes the essential need for open and honest Jewish-Christian dialogue that will encourage clearer understanding of both spheres. It also acts as a stark reminder for those of us who have a deep and abiding love for Israel that not all who call themselves Christians have the same love for God’s chosen people, including major mainstream denominations.

Amy-Jill Levine states in the introduction that she is not writing the book to extrapolate on already well known interpretations. But at times she goes to great lengths to dismiss the clear meaning of text. For example – she dismisses repentance as a focus of Yeshua’s parables of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep, and The Good Father whereas He points out that the clear meaning is about repentance – “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

Amy-Jill Levine does ask provocative and profound questions. She brings in some very interesting explanations that help to better understand the first-century Judean context of the parables. If you, like me, have enjoyed and benefited from scholars such as Brad Young and Kenneth Bailey, you will find she does not always stand in accord with their conclusions. She can be a bit hard-hitting but, again, it is not a bad thing to have your understandings challenged.

Amy-Jill Levine does not believe in Yeshua as her risen Lord and Messiah but she speaks of Him with great respect. One of my favorite pictures she paints of Yeshua is when she tells the reader, “What is infectiously appealing about Jesus is that he likes to celebrate. He is constantly meeting people not at the altar but at the table…”

It is impossible to read this book and remain passive. The author will push you at times to examine what you believe. As I said at the beginning of this review – I both love – very much love – and dislike this book – but, maybe that’s not such a bad thing – to read Short Stories by Jesus with two hands. There were times I felt Scripture was misused or misrepresented,* which reminds me of a little story that Rabbi Sacks shared:

…In yeshiva the highest accolade is to ask a good question: Du fregst a gutte kashe. Rabbi Abraham Twersky, a deeply religious psychiatrist, tells of how when he was young, his teacher would relish challenges to his arguments. In his broken English, he would say, “You right! You 100 prozent right!  Now I show you where you wrong.”**

What a freedom indeed to be able to be right and wrong!

You, as I, may not agree with all of Amy-Jill Levine’s conclusions but I hazard to suggest that you will walk away from Short Stories by Jesus with much to ponder and, if read with a chaver, chances are you’ll have some amazing discussions!

Footnotes:

*I am giving just a couple of examples with the hope that anyone planning to read this book will read with discernment. At times Amy-Jill Levine is so very insightful, indeed I had moments when I read something and thought, “I would have bought the book for this one insight!” But as a good and wise friend reminded me — in Acts 17:11 the Bereans who listened to Paul (one who trained under Gamliel, was a rabbi of note, and a very significant leader in the early Messianic community) searched the Hebrew Scriptures (the only Scriptures at the time) to see whether or not what he said was true. We need to do likewise.

In the chapter on The Pearl of Great Price she pulls on James 4:13 to support her opinion of the negative view of high-end trade – doing business and making money:

“Even the doing of high-end business is suspect. James 4:13 condemns those “who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business (emporeuomai) and making money.”

To me the context of James 4:13 isn’t on a negative view of doing business but is a caution against an attitude that is prideful and independent from G-d.

In the chapter on The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like Yeast, Amy-Jill Levine writes:

“In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid” (Matt. 5.14). Whether the Gospel of John sought to correct this association of the disciples with light or to complement it by having Jesus claim, twice (John 8.12; 9.5), that he is the light of the world, remains an open question.”

I don’t see this as an open question at all. Yeshua is the light of the world and He calls us, His disciples, to be lights also – to illumine the darkness of the world with the knowledge of our Father G-d and the truth of His Kingdom. I believe this reflects a very Jewish understanding that G-d is the Source of all Light and He has chosen His people to be a light, His light to the nations.

** Rabbi Sacks, Judaism: The Need To Ask Questions

THE CONCEALED LIGHT – NAMES OF MESSIAH IN JEWISH SOURCES

 

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THE CONCEALED LIGHT
NAMES OF MESSIAH IN JEWISH SOURCES

By Tsvi Sadan

Review by Cindy Elliot

As the Festival of Lights draws near, I want to share with you a book that I will be rereading during this special season.

The Concealed Light – Names of Messiah in Jewish Sources* introduces us to more than 100 names of Messiah. Alphabetized, according to the Hebrew Alef-Bet, each name has a short, deeply rich midrash that leaves you pondering long after your initial read.

Though you may be familiar with some of the names — Stone, Light, Lion, Lamb, Branch… — there are many more less familiar — Fear, Dove, Orphan, Morning without Clouds, Vulture, Donkey, Vav…

Just a glimpse into The Concealed Light:

Glorious
In some English versions of Isaiah 4:2, the translators have capitalized the word “Branch.” This tells the reader that the branch here is not literal but someone unique, namely Messiah. So we read, “In that day the Branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious.” The Hebrew allows for that and more. Since “shall be beautiful and glorious” can also mean “shall become beautiful and glorious” it is possible to capitalize these two words as well. In this way, one should read Beautiful and Glorious as the transformation of Messiah from the ordinary to the magnificent. Glorious, therefore , becomes yet another name for Messiah: The Branch is Glorious.

That Messiah is called Glorious (kavod) is no small thing, since Jewish in thought, glory is one of the attributes of God. in the language of theologians, Jews see glory as a divine attribute. One can see why this is so from verses such as, “And the glory of the Lord appeared to them” (Numbers 20:6). Accordingly, what appeared before the people of Israel was no mere cloud, but rather Glory personified [given substance].

 

Orphan
The name Orphan (yatom) for Messiah appears in ‘Yeshu’ot Meshicho’ (The Salvations of His Messiah), a book written in 1498 by Rabbi Isaac Abravanel. Abravanel, advisor to the king of Spain, was expelled with the rest of the Jews from Spain in 1492. The event created despair and caused many to become vulnerable to the immense pressure to convert. The book’s purpose, accordingly, was to renew hope in the coming Messiah.

To enhance the significance of the Orphan Messiah, Abravanel brings the argument of a converted Jew who quotes a Jewish source to prove that Messiah has no father, i.e., he is an orphan, and the convert says, “‘We have become orphans without a father’ (Lamentations 5:3 NAS). … God said to Israel: ‘You have said to me, “We have become orphans without a father”; therefore the redeemer I will bring from among you has no father, for it is said … “Today I have begotten You””’ (Psalm 2:7). The convert “concluded from this that their Messiah … has no human father” (Sefer Yeshu’ot Meshicho).

Tsvi Sadan reveals Yeshua throughout the Tanakh and unveils to us not only as He was, as He is, but also as He will be.

A wonderful read for any season. Refreshing, easy to read, but one that is to be deeply pondered. The Concealed Light is available through First Fruits of Zion.

* Some of the Jewish Sources in which Tsvi Sadan digs deep are The Talmud, Midrash Rabbah, Zohar, Sifrei, and other less know resources — many of which are only available in Hebrew.

Comment by Keren Hannah:

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My read for Hanukkah last year, which was very special as it was my first Hanukkah after returning home to Jerusalem, was The Soul of Chanukah – Teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, compiled by Rabbi Shlomo Katz. Carlebach and Katz are both known for their gift of music. Many Carlebach songs are even sung in Christian congregations. You’d be surprised!

I took it from the shelf this morning, thinking to revisit it this year, and opened it randomly only to read, in Chapter 2 – Shining Souls, the sentence, “The light of Chanukah is the Ohr HaGanuz, the Concealed Light”! This was more than coincidence after reading Cindy’s review last night. Although, Hanukkah is a time of miracles.

A prayer said after the hanukkiah candle lighting blessings is: Ve’ein lanu reishut le’hishtamesh bahem. ‘We are not permitted to use their light for anything’ – only to behold their beauty. The fullness of the lights of Hanukkah is…as Shlomo Carlebach describes, “…completely beyond me. For a few minutes G-d shows me this great light. But not for too long. I can’t handle it.” Why? “This isn’t normal light.” It’s not light we use for normal, everyday things. Their light reminds us to remember and to deeply reflect upon the Source of Light.

“Who was the frst one to kindle a great light in the world? The Holy One, blessed is He.” G-d said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. Our souls long for “…that one light that G-d lit when He created the world. This is the light of Chanukah. …Most of the year, the light is not the full light G-d intended for us to have. We weren’t ready for it, so G-d hid the light. Once a year, for eight days, we get a taste of it, for just a few minutes each night.”

At Hanukkah, we draw close in a unique way to the Source of Light, to the Source of everything beautiful in the world, to the One who is Light…through the Concealed Light of Messiah. May His light shine brightly and be revealed more fully in and through our lives this year, that more and more may come to see.

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THE JEWISH GOSPELS – The Story of the Jewish Christ – Daniel Boyarin

  ‘THE JEWISH GOSPELS – The Story of the Jewish Christ’  by Daniel Boyarin

Review by Keren Hannah 

Some Contextual Background

We find ourselves in an unprecedented time in the arena of theology; of religious beliefs and their application – and even relevance – in the lives of modern man. Secular humanists and Communist regimes, of course, have discarded the notion of a Creator/God at all and physical man is exalted and worshipped in His place. As far as religionists go, on one hand we once again are facing the hatred and violent horrors of the fanatic followers of a god who has no appellation nor characteristic of Love, and the debasing and violation of other human beings is condoned and even celebrated. On the other hand, alongside but apart from peaceful Eastern religions, we have those who, in one form or another, believe that the Holy Bible indeed is holy and true and that the God of the Bible is the One who created the universe and all that is in it, including all human beings who are valued as they bear His image and likeness.

Hopefully, dear reader, you are among the latter and yet, even here, we find ourselves in a divided landscape. Besides the fractured divisions in each religious group; e.g. 35,000+ Christian denominations and multiple streams of Judaism, we face the huge, centuries old chasm of separation and violent history between the two faiths. However, for which we can offer praise with grateful hearts, in our present  generation we are witnessing an unprecedented coming together and mutual “seeing of the other with new eyes” between Jews and Christians. It takes a genuine willingness to hear and learn and real courage to think and step “outside the box” of one’s comfortable traditional doctrines and perceptions. In fact, I believe what is occurring, on a world-wide basis, is far beyond the efforts of man alone but is an integral outworking of God’s plan of Restoration and Redemption that began with the restoration of the Land of Israel and of the people of Israel to it and the miraculous survival thereof to this day.

Brave Rabbis, scholars, church leaders and seeking individuals are reaching out across the divide and barriers are falling, hurtful divisions are being broached in renewed respect, understanding and cooperation and, in the Spirit of the God of chessed, of love and kindness, veils of misunderstanding are being lifted and wounded hearts are being healed.

This ‘bridging of the gap’ is a small yet vital beginning that faces much contention amongst a large majority who remain shielded and unbudging in their doctrinal views. In the midst of the ‘fray,’ a highly respected Jewish professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley,  Daniel Boyarin, considered one of the world’s leading Tamudic scholars, has published an astounding, challenging, and readable book called: THE JEWISH GOSPELS – The Story of the Jewish Christ

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In what is largely accepted by Christian scholars today,  in the light of recent studies of the Scriptures from the Hebraic perspective, Boyarin also offers a brilliant rereading of the New Testament that presents the texts, and Jesus Himself, as thoroughly Jewish. In addition, he makes a highly unprecedented claim that a Divine messianic figure, even the Son of Man of Daniel 7, was already widely anticipated among ancient Jews. To quote the front cover blurb:

“[Boyarin] weaves a rich tapestry of new discoveries and ancient scriptures, showing how the coming of the Messiah had actually been fully imagined in the Jewish scriptures, and that Jesus’ core teachings were not at all a break from Jewish beliefs. Furthermore, Boyarin argues, that what came to be known as Christianity only took form much later, as religious and political leaders [in both camps] sought to impose a new orthodoxy that did not exist in Jesus’ lifetime.”

In this regard, Boyarin highlights that one of the keys in the development of the viewpoint that Christianity was originally a valid branch of Judaism is the example of Kashrut – keeping the dietary laws given in the Bible regarding which foods are allowed to be eaten and which are forbidden. The incident recorded in Mark’s gospel, chapter 7, underscores that, although Jesus disagreed with the way these particular Pharisees were interpreting and implementing the dietary laws, he and his disciples definitely adhered to kashrut and ate only kosher foods themselves. Jesus was, in fact, upholding the Torah and objecting to the added restrictions being made as a veering away from the written Word. In what later became Christianity, the abandonment altogether of the dietary laws, followed in rapid succession by the disregard of circumcision, Shabbat and the Feasts of the Lord, and other biblical injunctions, now considered too “Jewish,” resulted in the formation of a new religion with its own laws and calendar.

His views certainly are a challenge to traditional Christian thought.  His thesis, however, possibly presents an even greater challenge to Jewish conceptions and stances regarding the roots of Christianity and the identity of Jesus as the Christ/Divine Messiah. For example, Boyarin posits that..

Christianity hijacked not only the Old Testament but the New Testament as well by turning that thoroughly Jewish text away from its cultural origins among the Jewish communities of [Roman] Palestine in the first century and making it an attack on the traditions of the Jews, traditions that, I maintain, [Jesus and his followers] sought to uphold and not destroy, traditions that give the narrative its richest literary and hermeneutical context.

In the Epilogue, Boyarin suggests that, if his interpretations hold water,

…then the New Testament is much more deeply embedded within Second Temple Jewish life and thought than many have imagined, even – and this I emphasize again – in the very moments we take to be most characteristically Christian as opposed to Jewish: the notion of a dual godhead with a Father and a Son, the notion of a Redeemer who himself will be both God and man, and the notion that this Redeemer would suffer and die as part of the salvational process. At least some of these ideas have deep roots in the Hebrew Bible as well and may be among some of the most ancient ideas about God and the world that the Israelite people ever held.

In conclusion he writes,

Details of [Jesus’] life, his prerogatives, his powers, even his suffering and death before triumph are all developed out of close midrashic reading of the biblical materials and are fulfilled in his life and death. The exaltation and resurrection experiences of his followers are a product of the narrative, not a cause of it. [The Gospel narrative] is most richly and compellingly read within the Jewish contextual and intertextual world, the echo chamber of the Jewish soundscape of the first century.

 

THE FAMILY TREASURY OF JEWISH HOLIDAYS

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THE FAMILY TREASURY OF
JEWISH HOLIDAYS
by Malka Drucker
illustrated by Nancy Patz

Many years ago in a place that seems so very far away — in a place and time void of personal computers and the World Wide Web — my daughter and I spent afternoons exploring the shelves of our local library and looking up books by using the archaic card catalog. On one of our explores, we came across The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays — a treasure come across much like Ruth who happened to happen upon Boaz’s field.

The joyful illustrations made my heart smile and as I read about these celebrations set apart by G-d it really became more than my heart could take in. Not only did we have a G-d that loved to have a good time but, by all I was reading, He knew better than we do how to throw a party!

At the time, we had never heard of Jewish Roots or Biblical Feasts and the question, “Are these Feasts for us?” never came to mind. We were simply a family who loved to celebrate life and wanted to live in a way that honored our Father. What better way than to enter into the rhythm of His biblical calendar and set times!

It took a while of digging to get even a rough idea of where we were on G-d’s calendar of celebrations, but when we found out, we realized we were on the brink of Sukkot. It’s just like G-d to start us out in the Season of Joy!

We got our shopping list from “Building a Sukkahon page 37 of The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays, and jumped into the celebration with enthusiasm.

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The rest is rich memories!*

One particular point of delight is the fact that the last chapter of The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays is about Shabbat — the crown of creation, the first thing that G-d made holy, the first of all His Feasts. Malka Drucker calls Shabbat a “peaceful island” and without a doubt Shabbat truly is a sanctuary in time. This final chapter is definitely a crowning end to such a sweet book.

The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays is a gem filled with stories, prayers, songs, recipes, crafts, and an explanation of each Biblical Feast. It’s a book that engages the family, but even more so, it’s a book that holds a precious place in my heart as a resource that G-d used to stir us as a family into the rhythm of His calendar.

You can find The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays for purchase at amazon.com

* Biblical Hebrew has no word that means “history” (the closest equivalent is divrei hayamim, “chronicles”). Instead, it uses the root zakhor, meaning “memory.” – Rabbi Sacks, Ki Tavo (5774) – A Nation of Storyteller

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Celebrating with special friends in the Elliott family’s first Sukkah.

~ Cindy

TO HEAL A FRACTURED WORLD – THE ETHICS OF RESPONSIBILITY

“One of Judaism’s most distinctive and challenging ideas is its ethics of responsibility, the idea that  G-d invites us to become, in the rabbinic phrase, His ‘partners in the work of creation’.The G-d who created the world in love calls on us to create in love. The G-d who gave us the gift of freedom asks us to use it to honor and enhance the freedom of others. G-d, the ultimate Other, asks us to reach out to the human other.
More than G-d is a strategic intervener, He is a teacher. More than He does our will,
He teaches us how to do His.
Life is G-d’s call to responsibility. That is the theme of this book.”

To Heal A Fractured World

TO HEAL A FRACTURED WORLD – THE ETHICS OF RESPONSIBILITY
by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

We live in an all-too-broken world with broken hearts, broken lives, broken homes, brokenrelationships, broken promises… In a world so desperately in need of healing,can one person really make a difference?

This beautifully written, thought-provoking book sends out a clarion call in response to those who are willing to listen. Rabbi Sacks reminds us that G-d not only knows every need of the world, but He also knows intimately each person He calls to partner with Him in His healing work.

There is a task that only you can perform — a need that only you can fill — by using the unique gifts and opportunities that G-d gives you.

“There is no life without a task; no person without a talent; no place without a fragment of G-d’s light waiting to be discovered and redeemed; no situation without its possibility of sanctification; no moment without its call. It may take a lifetime to learn how to find these things, but once we learn, we realize in retrospect that all it ever took was the ability to listen. When G-d calls, He does not do so by way of universal imperatives. Instead, He whispers our name — and the greatest reply, the reply of Abraham, is simply hineni: “Here I am,” ready to heed your call, to mend a fragment of your all-too-broken world.”

Rabbi Sacks reminds us that all of us at one point or another in our own lives will find ourselves in need of healing.

To Heal a Fractured World is divided into three sections:

  1. The Call to Responsibility
  2. The Theology of Responsibility
  3. The Responsible Life

Each section is filled with stories that bring Rabbi Sacks’s message home.

To Heal a Fractured World is not a light read, but it is one that — if taken to heart — may change your world.

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“Someone else’s physical needs are my spiritual obligation.”

 Review by Cindy Lou Elliot

WORDS THAT HURT, WORDS THAT HEAL

An old Jewish teaching compares the tongue to an arrow. “Why not another weapon, a sword, for example?” one rabbi asks. “Because,” he is told, “if a man unsheathes his sword to kill his friend, and his friend pleads with him and begs for mercy, the man may be mollified and return the sword to its scabbard. But an arrow, once it is shot, cannot be returned, no matter how much one wants to.*

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WORDS THAT HURT WORDS THAT HEAL
How to Choose Words Wisely and Well

by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Telushkin begins his book with these challenging words:

Over the past decade, whenever I have lectured throughout the country on “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well,” I’ve asked my listeners if they can go for twenty-four hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody.

Invariably, a minority raise their hands signifying yes, some people laugh, while quite a large number call out, “No!”

“All of you who can’t answer yes,” I respond, “must recognize how serious a problem you have. Because if I asked you to go for twenty-four hours without drinking liquor, and you said, ‘I can’t do that,’ I’d tell you, ‘Then you must recognize that you’re an alcoholic.’ And if I asked you to go for twenty-four hours without smoking a cigarette, and you said, ‘That’ impossible,’ that would mean that you’re addicted to nicotine.’ Similarly, if you can’t go for twenty-four hours without saying unkind words about others, then you’ve lost control over your tongue…

At this point, I almost always encounter the same objection: “How can you compare the harm done by a bit of gossip or a few unpleasant words to the damage caused by alcohol and smoking?

Is my point overstated? Think about your own life: Unless you, or someone dear to you, has been the victim of terrible physical violence, chances are the worst pains you have suffered in life have come from words used cruelly–from
ego-destroying criticism, excessive anger, sarcasm, public and private humiliation, hurtful nicknames, betrayal of secrets, rumors, and malicious gossip.

Yet–wounded as many of us have been by unfairly spoken words–when you’re with friends and the conversation turns to people not present, what aspects of their lives are you and your companions most likely to explore? Is it not their character flaws and the intimate details of their social lives?

If you don’t participate in such talk, congratulations. But before you assert this as a definite fact, monitor yourself for the next two days. Note on a piece of paper every time you say something negative about someone who is not present. Also record when others do too, as well as your reactions to their words when that happens. Do you try to silence the speaker, or do you ask for more details?

To ensure the test’s accuracy, make no effort to change the content of your conversations throughout the two-day period, and don’t try to be kinder than usual in assessing others’ character and actions.**

Most of us who take this test are unpleasantly surprised.

For anyone who has read Rabbi Telushkin’s classic, The Book Of Jewish Values, A Day-by-Day Guide To Ethical Living, you already know that Rabbi Telushkin is one of the greatest teachers of Jewish Ethics today. In this book, Words that Hurt, Words That Heal, Rabbi Telushkin again writes a very practical read; one, that if taken to heart and applied to your life, can change your world. He discusses the damage and lure of gossip, the spreading of rumors or other’s secrets, fighting fair, excessive criticism, lying (is lying always wrong?), and of course words that heal.

Rabbi Telushkin discusses lashon ha-ra (bad tongue) :

As a rule, most people seem to think that there is nothing morally wrong in spreading negative information about others as long as the information is true. Jewish law takes a different view. Perhaps that is why the Hebrew term lashon ha-ra (literally, “bad language” or “bad tongue”) has no precise equivalent in English. For unlike slander, which is universally condemned as immoral because it’s false, lashon ha-ra is by definition true. It is the dissemination of accurate information that will lower the status of the person to whom it refers; I translate it as “negative truths.” Jewish law forbids spreading negative truths about anyone unless the person to whom you are speaking needs the information.  [Note — Rabbi Telushkin addresses when and to whom such information should be revealed later in the book.]

It is a very serious offense, one that has been addressed by many non-Jewish ethicists as well. Two centuries ago, Jonathan K. Lavater, a Swiss theologian and poet, offered a still apt guideline concerning the spreading of such news: “Never tell evil of a man if you do not know it for a certainty, and if you know it for a certainty, then ask yourself, ‘Why should I tell it?’”

He aso examines the “dust” of lashon ha-ra:

The injunction against lashon ha-ra doesn’t apply only to the use of words. Making a face when someone’s name is mentioned, rolling one’s eyes, winking, or saying sarcastically, “So-and-so is very smart” are all violations of the law. Since lashon ha-ra is considered anything that lowers another person’s status, it’s irrelevant whether one uses a nonverbal technique to commit it. Jewish law calls this behavior “avak lashon ha-ra” (the “dust of lashon ha-ra”).

Other examples of such “dust” include innuendo–“Don’t mention Paula’s name to me. I don’t want to say what I know about her.” It’s equally wrong to imply that there’s something derogatory about a person’s earlier life: “Who of us who knew Jonathan years ago would have guessed that he’d achieve the success he has now?”

The “dust of lashon ha-ra”encompasses a whole range of stratagems by which people sometimes damage reputations without saying anything explicitly critical. For example, it’s morally wrong to show someone a letter you’ve received that contains spelling mistakes if all you wish to do is cause the reader to have a diminished respect for the letter writer’s intelligence.

Contrary to the old adage, “Sticks and stones will break my bones But words will never harm me,” words do hurt and at times they have motivated people to literally pick up sticks and stones and inflict terrible hurt on others.

Rabbi Telushkin with great warmth and clarity, speaks to us about the power of words. He reminds us that we do well to remember that G-d created the world with words and we too create with ours. Every day we are faced with the important decision of what we say and what we don’t say. Our words have the power to destroy a person’s world or build it up.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.
Proverbs 18:21

Choose life!

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A timely read for this season of teshuvah. You can find Words that Hurt, Words that Heal at Amazon.com.

Footnotes

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, pg. xx
** ibid, pg. xvii – xviii
*** ibid, pg.21-22

~ Cindy