And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before our God to prepare the ways, to give knowledge of salvation to God's people by the forgiveness of sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."
I remembered the sermon Tiffany preached on that passage, on "go before out God to prepare the ways," which of course connects with the part in Molly's sermon this past Sunday on "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."
And I'm still singing Tracy Chapman to myself:
Don't be tempted by the shiny apple
Don't you eat of a bitter fruit
Hunger only for a taste of justice
Hunger only for a world of truth
'Cause all that you have is your soul
Recently I asked my mom (on behalf of a friend) for suggestions of a prayer to swap out for the Hail Mary when praying the rosary.
She suggested the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" -- or just, "Lord have mercy"). She said, "It serves the same purpose of distracting your cognitive brain so you experience the presence of God."
I'm really bad at just being in the presence (similarly: listening for God).
Catching up on the Velveteen Rabbi blog:
From Struggling with my yetzer [December 03, 2008]
In the Gemara (Brakhot 54a) we read that the commandment to "love Adonai your God with your whole heart (b'khol levavkha)" (Devarim 6:5) refers to "your two impulses: the good impulse and the evil impulse." What a radical idea: we're supposed to love God (whatever we understand that phrase to mean) with all of ourselves. Not just the "good" side.
Then again, if it were easy, if it were something we could do without thinking, it wouldn't mean as much to the Divine, would it? It's like taking time to go to a kid's school play, even though there are other things to do around the house. You HAVE to - it's part of being a good parent. But there's always that little voice that says you cannot possible sit through another off-tune rendition of "Raindrops On Roses" this season. LOL...
re loving God with your bad side: it reminds me of my lama saying that if you're about to do something bad, you should generate the aspiration that somehow it will benefit all sentient beings.
Seems like the most egregious of excuse-making and waffling, but it doesn't work that way. It changes a lot, makes the sin go soft around the edges.
From Dreams, vows, and changes (Radical Torah repost):
Jacob then made a vow, saying, "If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father's house -- Adonai shall be my God. And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, shall be God's abode; and of all that You give me, I will set aside a tithe for You.[....] It's a strangely conditional vow, which seems to articulate their bond as a kind of quid pro quo. Are we to infer, then, that Jacob's cleaving to God is conditional? Exactly what kind of vow is this that Jacob has made?
In his commentary on Vayetzei (published in The Torah Anthology: Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan; also available online), the Me'am Lo'ez notes that traditional commentary broadens Jacob's vow in the following ways:[I]f God will be with me, keeping all his promises, so that I will not lack anything. And if I return in peace, innocent of sin, not influenced by Laban. If I am protected from spreading malicious gossip, from gazing at strange women and listening to them sing (since this is tantamount to lewdness), from publicly embarrassing another (which is considered like murder), and from purposely ignoring the poor (which is also like bloodshed). If Your name is associated with me from the beginning to the end, that none of my offspring should be unworthy, then I accept upon myself that this stone which I have erected as a monument will become God's Temple. Of all that You give me, I will set aside a tithe to You.[...] Jacob makes his vow conditional not because he doubts God, but because he doubts himself -- he knows that he may fall into patterns of wrong or petty behavior, and he wants God's help in holding up his own side of the bargain.
Maybe what he's really saying is, "If I am able to remain conscious of God's presence with me; if I can awaken myself to God's protection as I journey...then I will be able to fully commit myself to connection with God." The vow, in other words, is a statement primarily about Jacob: his limitations, his hopes and fears, and the kind of covenantal partner he hopes, with God's help, to be.
I was reading Velveteen Rabbi's writeups of the Second North American Conference on Judaism and Human Rights (aka, Rabbis for Human Rights [RHR] 2008) earlier this week, and the idea that has really stuck in my mind is the idea of the importance of human dignity. [This also reminded me of Moi's post on lashon hara.]
Excerpts from the plenary session Zionism, Israel and Human Rights:
Avram Burg said:***
[...] The role of a people like ours is to say, if you go the wrong way, let's show you a different way. We shouldn't live under the paradigm that Never Again is Never Again for Jews only, and therefore let's live with walls around us, and who cares about the price. Never Again for a people who ere 60 years ago the victims of the universe has to mean never again for anyone... be it in Gaza, in Darfur, in the inner city of Detroit: wherever there is an outcry, the one who was the victim of indifference of nations so many years ago must turn to the nations now and say, "wake up!" That's the real never again.
[...] The very foundations of the kind of value system we're talking about here, the mitzvah of v'ahavta et ha-ger ["and you shall love the stranger"] is the most repeated mitzvah in the world; that we open the haggadah with avadim hayyinu ["once we were slaves"], not "masters we became" or "independent" we became but avadim hayinu! Our role within the Jewish discourse is to remind the people, listen, this is what Judaism is all about.
Professor Munther Darjani said:
[...] Remember the advice found in Talmud: a wicked inclination is at first a guest, but if you grant it hospitality, it will make itself master of the house. Similarly, if one grants human rights to be violated for a perceived pretxt, it will be easy to extend more violations in the name of the common good.
From her writeup of Rabbi Brian Walt from the plenary session Introduction to the vision and program of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America:
You can't build a world based only on relationship to people you love. You have to witness to God's presence in the universe even based on your relationship with people who are difficult for you. Even, or especially, if you don't love someone, you're challenged to see the dignity of God in them.***
From the session Human Dignity, Defense of Life, and "Ticking Bombs": Torture in Jewish Law and Values; Teaching the RHR Materials on Jewish Values and the Issue of Torture:
Jewish law doesn't explicitly mention torture, except in terms of torture being done to us. There's a lot of material of torture being perpetrated against Jews; we read some of this material during Yom Kippur afternoon services during the martyrology service. There are questions like, if one is being subjected to torture can one hasten one's own death? But what we don't have is the moral question of, in order to prevent massive loss of life, can we subject someone to force and violence if it's someone who we perceive has information we need in order to avert the attack.***
We read a text from Rambam, Mishnah Torah Hilkhot Kilayim 10:29:A Rabbinic prohibition is always and everywhere superseded for the sake of human dignity. And even though we are explicitly enjoined in the Torah not to depart from the Sages' teaching either to the right or to the left, this negative precept itself is set aside in the interests of human dignity.He's talking about rabbinic prohibitions; ideas which are d'rabanan, not d'oraita (From the rabbis, not from the Torah -- e.g. from Oral Torah, not Written Torah.) But he's saying that even though we're explicitly told not to depart from the Sages' teachings in either direction -- a phrase which anchors rabbinic authority in the Torah itself -- human dignity trumps rabbinic law, period.
We touched very briefly on a gorgeous text from Talmud (Bava Metzia 58b-59a) which likens shaming to snuffing out someone's soul, and which argues that shaming someone is worse than stealing from them or committing adultery. Human dignity is of paramount importance in the Jewish understanding.
And then we moved to a set of texts titled Self-defense and the ticking bomb. There are rabbis who argue that the lives of our families are more important than the dignity of those who might seek to do us harm. Life trumps dignity, in other words. It is a halakhic principle that saving a life trumps everything, even observance of Shabbat. So if life on a massive scale were threatened, and we believed that the person before us had information we needed which would enable us to save lives, couldn't we do everything at our disposal to torture them?
Rabbi Michael Broyde has written an op-ed which argues that yes, it is permissible to torture under these circumstances. (Published in The Jewish Week, July 7 2006, the essay is called "Jewish Law and Torture;" I couldn't find it online, though I found references/responses to it.) Rabbi Weintraub argues that no, torture is not permissible under Jewish law even under difficult circumstances.
We looked at a verse from Exodus (22:1-2) about a thief seized while tunneling into a place in order to steal something, and whether or not there is bloodguilt if he is seized and beaten to death under various circumstances. The text suggests interesting questions of intention and premeditation. We also looked at a Talmudic text which argues, "If he comes to kill you, kill him first." These are murky waters, giving permission to take life in order to save it; Rambam will argue that this is only permissible in instances of imminent danger, and that the statement does not and cannot stand alone.
We looked at a text found in Bava Kamma 196 about ongoing attack. If I punch you and then walk away and you're no longer in danger, you're not allowed to come back across the bar five minutes later and hit me with a chair. (Whereas if I hit you and you hit me right back while the altercation is still going on, then you're justified.) We are permitted to use force in a case of imminent, clear and spontaneous harm.
We looked also at a text from Sanhedrin which argues that if someone's going to do me harm and I can stop him by shooting him in the leg, it's not permissible to kill him instead. (In other words, the texts tell us that we need to use the minimum effective level of force.)
And there's a text from Pesachim which argues that one should sacrifice oneself rather than killing someone else. We're all human, all children of God, and no one has the right to presume that his own life is worth more than the other guy's. Remember, too, that these texts don't presume innocence; even if the person in question is known to be culpable of causing harm, the texts tell us that the minimum possible harm standard is necessary.
So what do the texts about imminence, minimum possible harm, and equality of innocent life tell us about what's permissible in terms of torture? As we answered that question, we also looked at the question of whether torture is effective and whether/how that matters to us.Evidence shows that people subjected to torture will say anything to get the pain to stop, which means that interrogations which use torture don't actually yield reliable information. (John McCain used to say this, before his about-face during his recent presidential campaign.) According to the minimum possible harm standard, we should use whatever means will cause least harm to get the information we need in order to keep our communities safe -- and torture is typically not that means.
It's also worth noting that the ticking bomb, as seen so often on 24 (full disclosure: I liked season one, before its politics got quite so appalling; it used to be narratively interesting, once upon a time) -- but that doesn't ever seem to have really happened. It's a philosopher's conundrum, but no government has ever been able to come up with a case when that actually happened. What we're given in Jewish law are principles from which to extrapolate our value system, and we're told that the foundation for an ethical human society is valuing human dignity and responding that we can only respond to violence with violence under very limited conditions.
Of the study session The Dignity of Work and the Indignity of Slavery, she writes:
After spending a moment with a text from Talmud Pesahim 118a (about God telling Adam that the ground will sprout thorns and thistles, etc), we moved to Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, Chapter 21. "Rabbi Eliezer also used to say, Great is work, for just as Israel was commanded with respect to [ceasing work on] Shabbat, so was it commanded with respect to doing work; for it is written: 'Six days shall you work, and on the seventh day shall you cease." We're commanded to work, just as we're commanded to rest. There's a way in which this sanctifies work, as it sanctifies rest.***
The session entitled Religious Jew, Secular Zionist: Thoughts on Jewish Theology and Israel featured Rabbi Arthur Green. Excerpt:
What does it mean to be Yisrael Amecha? That we seek always to erect a dwelling-place for God on earth. We are mishkan-builders. The midrash says the Shekhinah sought from the beginning to dwell on earth. Our job is to live in such a way that the divine presence will feel at home in our midst.Our dwelling-place for God looks different since the Temple was destroyed. Indeed, our mishkan needs to be changed and renewed in every generation, as the Hasidic masters said so boldly. But its contours are these: it is a community which loves every human being. It recognizes the image of God in every person and goes to great lengths to help him or her share in that recognition. It's a community that loves studying commenting on and teaching the texts we have received, seeking out God's presence in words and teachings. It cares a great deal about children, the elderly, the intergenerational process of seeing life as devoted to the proposition of each generation sharing its praise of God with the next. Our mishkan is a community which takes responsibility for the survival of God's world.I do not believe we are charged with the question of whether there are others who are doing this work. If they are, we should meet them and help them! But we are not God's gatekeepers and should not be in the business of giving out credentials.
Egypt and Sinai are the bedrock on which we stand. They may be augmented by later tales, but they should never be replaced by them. There are imperatives coming out of these experiences which still echo through us: welcoming the stranger, hearing the voice within the thunder, redeeming captives, resting and letting the soil rest. These are part of the collective priesthood to which I believe we, all Israel, are called.