Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

From Tim Tebow to Chick-fil-A: A Plea for Civility

chick-fil-A tim tebow

On Wednesday Quarterback Tim Tebow cancelled an upcoming appearance at a Dallas Megachurch. The church’s controversial teachings and pastor Robert Jeffers seem to be the reason. Jeffers has spoken out vociferously against homosexuality, Islam and Mormonism.

Has Politics Taken Over

While I oppose Jeffers’ teachings, we all lose when religion becomes a political lightening rod. It happened when the media highlighted the conservative causes supported by the owner of Chick-fil-A. It happened when television stations played endless clips of President Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright.

We see it in the Jewish community as well. In Seattle, for example, a gay support group rescinded an invitation to an Israeli gay support group because some argued that having anyone from Israel speak would give unfair legitimacy to “Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

How did politics take over religious discourse? Faith is meant to bring people together, not drive them apart. It is about building bonds, not driving television ratings or newspaper sales. How can we shift the tone of the conversation?

1. Soften our language: “A soft answer turns away wrath,” says the Book of Proverbs, “but a harsh word stirs up anger.” “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Verbal violence, as Jonathan Sacks points out, is often a prelude to physical violence.

We need to be careful when we call someone or some teachings hateful. We need to be careful when we condemn groups or individuals or entire communities.

2. Reject censorship: Good people can disagree. Two of the early rabbis in Jewish history, Hillel and Shammai, disagreed on practically everything. And Hillel won most of their arugments.

Yet, they respected one another’s points of view, and a later rabbi concluded their disagreements aided Judaism’s search for truth and understanding of God’s will. Engagement and conversation works much better than muzzling and censorship.

3. Remember what unites us rather than divides us: It is human nature to focus on what differentiates us. We categorize people based on skin color, hair color, age, birthplace, religion, and so on. Each of these differences makes us who we are, and we should celebrate them.

Yet, when we define ourselves too narrowly, we limit our perspective. We limit our ability to engage with others. No matter how strongly we feel about an issue, we need to open ourselves up to the other side.

How To Disagree With Dignity

To listen is not to accept. To engage in conversation is not to give a stamp of approval. To show respect is not to give up your point of view.

Rather, Respecting others is a sign of strength, not weakness. It bespeaks courage, not cowardice. It lends itself to dignity and not division.

None of us have a monopoly on God’s truth. Let us learn to live with that wisdom and humility.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

Do You Believe in Miracles?

Do you believe in miracles?

I believe in miracles of hope and of change. Miracles of character and of action. Miracles of transformation when we discover something inside of us we did not know we had.

do you believe in miracles?

We witness this type of miracle in the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim. In a seminal scene, Queen Esther has to decide whether she will reveal to the King that she is Jewish and urge him to rescind his decree to destroy the Jews of his kingdom. 

Her uncle Mordecai urges her to do so. He say, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) 

In other words, this is your chance to perform a miracle. You can change the fate of a people. Esther does so, and she is remembered two thousand years later. 

How to Perform a Miracle

We all have these opportunities in life. They may not be as dramatic as Queen Esther’s, but they make a difference. 

Earlier this year a member of my synagogue told me a story. It happened during the early 1980s, when the former Soviet Union began to allow a tiny number of people to leave the country.

She and her family were fleeing from Romania. When they arrived in Germany, they had to pay an admittance tax. It was not an exorbitant amount, but they had absolutely no money. It had been confiscated. If they did not pay the tax, their papers would not get stamped. They would be turned back.

They talked with the customs official. They cried. They pleaded. Frustrated by the delay, people in line began to shout at them to move out of the way. 

God Has No Hands But Ours

Then something happened. The airport worker who had carried their bags to the customs office set them down. He took some money out of his pocket. He paid the clerk.

He turned around and walked back toward the airplane. He never said a word. They never saw him again. 

Would you say this was a miracle? A miracle does not have to violate the laws of science. A miracle happens when the veil behind which God is hidden is lifted and our perspective changes.

A miracle happens when God works through our hands and our hearts.  

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

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Is Purim the Jewish Halloween?

Purim is not the Jewish Halloween. This is a common misconception because Purim does involve dressing up. Yet, it is not only a fun-filled holiday. It actually teaches profound lesson. One of them can be found through an exercise in Jewish numerology.

A Secret Message in the Numbers

Numbers have great importance in Judaism. Seven is holy because God created the world in seven days. Three is holy because the world is sustained by three things: study, prayer and acts of lovingkindness.

Numbers used in the Bible can also teach important lessons. One lesson emerges in a description of  the central character of the Jewish holiday of Purim. Her name is Esther. At the beginning of the biblical Book of Esther, we learn that the area in which she and the King ruled included “127 provinces.”

esther purim hidden

On the surface, the number 127 does not seem important. Yet, the Jewish sages pointed out that this  is not the only time we see the number 127 in the Bible. Back in the book of Genesis, we learn that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, lived to age 127. Is there a connection between Sarah and Esther?

Absolutely. The connection is two-fold.

1. Sarah and Esther lived each day to their fullest: The sages arrived at this conclusion because of the way the Bible describes the end of Sarah’s life. When she dies, the text says “127 were the years of the life of Sarah.” The grammar is odd. It could have just said Sarah was 127 years old when she died.

The odd grammar, however, is meant to teach a lesson. The Bible uses the odd sentence structure “the years of the life of Sarah” to emphasize that every one of those years was full of life. She made each day count.

She knew the truth of words uttered by Steven Carr Reuben, “The most important challenge is not learning how to live after death, it’s learning how to live after birth.” Like Sarah and Esther, we try to make each day count.

2. God is ever-present: The Book of Esther is unique amongst the books of the Bible. God is never mentioned. Unlike every other book, where Goes plays an active role in the narrative, God does not appear. How is this possible?

The best clue to finding the answer is in Esther’s name. The Hebrew word Hester means hidden. God is never absent, but sometimes God feels hidden. God feels absent.

Yet, God is never truly absent. By linking Esther with Sarah, for whom God was frequently present, the text is revealing the Divine role. God is as present for Esther–and for us–as He was in the days of Abraham and Sarah. Sometimes what matters most is hidden in plain sight.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

Are We Busy Wasting Our Lives Away? A Lesson from the Jewish Holiday of Purim

wasting time, esther, purim
A story is told about a rabbi who always saw a member of his conregation running down the street. Every day, the man kept running without missing a beat.

One day, the rabbi stopped him and said, “Why are you always in a hurry?” The man replied, “I’m running to make a living.”

The rabbi paused and answered, “You say you’re running after your living. But how do you know your living is not running after you? Perhaps all you need to do is pause, and let it catch up.”

Are You Running Away From Your Gifts? 

Sometimes we lose ourselves in busyness. We let our gifts run right by us. We treat life as a game to be won rather than experience to savor.

This lesson emerges in the Jewish holiday that begins this weekend. Know as Purim, it celebrates the wisdom of Queen Esther and her boldness in saving the Jews of Persia from annihilation.

The story of Queen Esther is an enlightening one. She is born as a peasant and is plucked from obscurity to become Queen.

Why Esther Became Queen

According to the Jewish sages, part of the reason the King selected her was that her character was “soft and gentle, prudent and careful.” These traits stood out in contrast to many of her rivals for the throne, who were zealous and deceitful and self-centered.

The sages then connect Esther’s character with her faith. Her faith taught her right from wrong, what was real and what was fake, what was just and what was unjust. She was careful not to embarrass or deceive others. She knew she served a higher power than the king.

Her rivals, however, saw becoming queen as their right and sole purpose. It became their consuming passion, and they relentlessly pushed to attain even if it meant embarrassing or destroying their rivals. They knew no higher power other than themselves.

How Can We Learn from Her Example? 

Esther’s example can speak to us today. How often do we relentlessly pursue what is bigger and greater because we think it will make us happy? How often does our desire for rewards and recognition drive our actions? How often do our possessions start to possess us?

When we let this happen, we confuse what we think will make us feel good with what brings ultimate meaning and purpose in life. We keep chasing after what we think we want, when what we really need is standing right beside us.

By following the gentle and faithful example of Queen Esther, we can attain what makes life truly worthwhile.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

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