Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Do You Know Your Responsibility?

Sometimes the Bible is startlingly relevant. In a recent podcast, writer and blogger Michael Hyatt pointed out the practical wisdom shared in the 18th chapter of Exodus, where Moses receives instruction from his father-in-law Jethro.

Let us recall the context: Moses had led the people out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. Since then, he had been overwhelmed with his responsibilities. In particular, he acted as the judge and jury for the entire people.

He personally settled all the disagreements and disputes that arose 600,000 Israelites marching with him through the Sinai desert. It was draining him.

A New Plan

During a visit with his father-in-law Jethro, Moses shared his frustration.

Jethro responded to him with very specific instructions: 1) Recognize that this pattern of leadership is not sustainable, 2) Focus on the actions that only you are capable of doing, 3) Set up a system to delegate the rest, and 4) Help those to whom you delegate grow in wisdom and leadership.

Moses takes up Jethro’s advice. In fact, Jethro’s spirit seems to shape Moses through the rest of the bible. He becomes humble and empowering toward those around him.

God Delegates Care of the World

As I thought about this story, I realized that it also conveys a deeper spiritual truth. Delegation is not just something we do to others. It is something God does to us.

After creating the world, God delegated responsibilty for sustaining it to us. The Jewish sages made this clear in a story they told about Adam, the first human being.

In this story, God takes Adam on a walk through the Garden of Eden. God points out all the different fruits and trees and says to Adam,  “See how beautiful are My works. All that I have created I made for you. But be careful that you do not ruin my world, for if you do, there is no one else to put right what you have destroyed!”

In other words, God created the world. We have the responsibility to maintain it.

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

A Bar Mitzvah Boy Goes Viral

bar mitzvah video

A new video is causing a sensation in the Jewish community. Rather than send out a traditional save-the-date card for his Bar Mitzvah (Jewish coming of age ceremony), 12-year-old Daniel Blumen decided to create a rap video.

Weaving in various celebrities and political officials, the video highlights the meaning of his ceremony and his hometown of Atlanta. After a website wrote a story about the video, it went viral, receiving (as of this writing) 318,000 views.

Why the Fuss?

Reactions to the video have ranged from horror to shock to mild bemusement. The overwhelming attitude has been one of frustration.

Many have expressed concern about the focus on entertainment rather than spirituality. Is it appropriate for a religious ceremony to become fodder for a celebrity-laden rap video?

Rather than feel frustration, I watched the video with delight. It is cute, funny, and creative, and it is clear that Daniel is taking his religious studies seriously.

In this case, the medium is not the message. Rather, the message–the importance of his Jewish faith and studies–is enhanced by the medium.

Is There Too Much “Bar” and Not Enough “Mitzvah”?

The broader issue here is the relationship between religion and popular culture. Does engaging with pop culture somehow diminish the meaning of a spiritual message? Does religion’s association with pop stars somehow convey an endorsement of their values?

No and no. Faith does not need to be counter-cultural in order to exert a positive influence. It can use the tools of the larger culture to provide a meaningful critique and perspective on it.

Another broader issue is the meaning and purpose of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Some see it as an unfortunate focus of contemporary Jewish life.

One of my rabbinic precessors forbid Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies at the synagogue because he said they involved “too much bar (drinking alcohol)” and “not enough mitzvah (doing good deeds).”

Living Our Faith

While this is undoubtedly true in some cases, the vast majority of families find Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies to be among the most moving experiences of their lives.

I’ve seen parents break down in tears as they bless their children; grandparents beam with joy as their grandchildren stand before the congregation; children gain self-esteen and confidence as they read from the Bible with poise and insight.  

One of Daniel’s teachers put it best when he said, “The world changes. We’re trying to get kids to take leadership positions and create a new world and not be stuck in the past. We encourage critical thinking and creativity..and a kid who’s put himself out there regarding his faith,  good for him.”

To that all we can say is, “Amen.”

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

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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