A YOM HaSHOAH 2017 ESSAY: DOING vs. TALKING
© Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen: (Posted under Blog & State Of The ReUnion™ Menus)
“What does God require of you, oh human being? To do/make (לעשות) justice (משפט) …” Micah 6:8
“All action leads to benefit; but mere talk leads only to continued need.” – Proverbs 14:23
“It is not hearers of The Word who will be justified before God, but doers of The Word.” – Romans 2:13
“Prove yourselves doers of The Word, not mere hearers who delude themselves.” – James 1:22
WORDS OF GOOD INTENTION vs. DEEDS OF EFFECTIVE REMEDY
“Never again!” Is chanted throughout the Western world every Yom HaShoah.
Speeches are made, solemnities are observed in ceremonies and are posted on Facebook.
Collective hand-wringing in public shows the world the group or individual has rightful compassion for the slaughtered and abused.
Much of this activity is actually the kind of altruism motivated at its bedrock by the need for self-esteem: people prove to themselves and the world within their reach that they are “good” people who deplore atrocities.
Yet – in what I call the “Biblesphere” – the Scripture-embracing population – there is no more neglected value than what God puts first in His own list of what He requires of people to be human(e):
Not admiration of justice, or hope for justice, or any other purely internal mental or emotional vector regarding justice.
Rather, God’s own list of “bedrock humanity” is לעשות משפט – to do, or make justice.
JUSTICE AS A BOTHER
My own experience in the Biblesphere is that doing of justice is nearly non-existent.
And seekers of justice are hated. Literally hated.
They are seen as black holes, sucking all light, energy, and time into themselves, depleting the universe around them.
This exists in the face of clear teaching in Scripture on this point:
“‘Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she will wear me out.’ And the Master said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said.’” (Luke 18:3-4)
“You’re bothering me! Go away!”
For a legal authority to treat an unpowered, needy justice-seeker (like a widow) as a “bother” is unrighteous.
Yet – my experience across four decades in the Western faith-realm is that justice-seekers are treated exactly this way.
There are very specific reasons for this situation: and I seek to address and remedy those causes here, in hope of furthering justice on so sacred an occasion as “Yom HaShoah” – Holocaust Memorial Day.
UNQUALIFIED JUDGES FIND JUSTICE-WORK WEARISOME
Much of the absence of justice in the Biblesphere is due to heresy – meaning, inaccurate doctrine.
The doctrines seem in large part to be artifacts of avoidance behavior: no kid who has not studied for a test wants to take it. Does the student say so? Rarely. Excuses like “The dog ate my homework” or “the storage media got damaged” abound. Taking the test without knowing the material would definitely be stressful, and most likely, embarrassing.
In this manner, in the Biblesphere, many unqualified leaders offer bad doctrine as excuses to avoid the heavy-lifting of the judicial work Scripture demands of community spiritual leaders.
The reading of documents originally penned in foreign languages and foreign, ancient cultures, in order to form sound policy from them is hard work requiring specific skill-sets. People who lack the training, skills, and gifts needed for the task naturally make mistakes, the same way someone without gifts for numerical calculation and math training would be prone to make mistakes in accounting.
“Most people are unequipped to form ethical precepts,” wrote Professor Carol Delaney of Stanford in her analysis of fundamentalism entitled, Abraham on Trial: she concluded with the statement, “policy-making is very hard work.”
People in pastoral or elder positions for reasons other than demonstrated and confirmed gifts in analyzing foreign, ancient literatures often read a verse here and an idea there, and via simple mental association processes, form a policy idea such as, “Let the Lord bring you justice: don’t do anything yourself or seek remedy: trust God to make things right for you.”
This is an anti-Biblical idea.
Things are said in support of such ideas like, “The Bible says, ‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord, ‘I will repay.’” – and the justice-seeker is told his or her very desire for justice is proof of unspirituality. Victims of harm in arenas of influence like religious congregations or associations having defining legal documents like Corporate By-Laws expressly referring to judicial mechanisms meant to insure the safety of Members from abuse by power-holders or other Members – are told that using those mechanisms shows lack of faith. Other unrelated verses are recruited into service: they should “joyfully accept the spoiling of their reputations” and “suffer in silence” as the Lamb of God “suffered injustice without opening His mouth.”
The problem with ideas like the above is that, while they are supported with a patchwork of Bible quotes assembled by free-association in untrained minds, the quotes are not on-point: inexpert readers and thinkers simply mistakenly believe they have relevance; and, there are other passages of Scripture that are directly on-point, but those are ignored.
A CASE IN POINT, RELEVANT TO THE HOLOCAUST
Here is an analysis of the above erroneous position on “letting the Lord bring you justice.”
Vengeance (נקם – na-káym) is not the same thing as justice (משפט).
God does, indeed, reserve vengeance for Himself: and vengeance would be defined as acts of retribution outside human arenas of due process. A believer whose son is beaten and robbed is not to seek out the criminals and beat and rob them, himself; he is to work within the legal authority structure. He is to seek “justice” – not “vengeance.”
Justice is dispassionately and appropriately administered analysis of the deeds, and restorative and punitive acts or requirements visited upon the perpetrators of proven wrongful acts.
So – “vengeance” is something God reserves unto Himself.
Justice, God definitively put into human hands.
Foundational among the “Noachide Laws” (Genesis 9:4-6, Acts 15 & 21, TB Sanhedrin 56a,b 57 & Rambam Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M’lakhim 8:14) seen as the basic moral precepts binding upon all humankind is, “establish courts of justice.” Every era and arena requires judicial processes and arenas, or life decays into a nightmare for the less-empowered.
Judges within any given arena or era are commanded in Scripture, “to make diligent inquiry into any matter of false oath” and administer justice once the facts are ascertained.
For a judge to say to a victim, “Let the Lord bring you justice – and stop bothering us” – is a sin against the office of a judge or empowered corporate officer, as spoken by Yeshua the Messiah, Himself in Luke 18:3-4 as quoted above. An “unrighteous judge” treats a supplicant so.
After the Holocaust, much of Christian Europe demanded that Jews – like Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, and justice-seekers like the State of Israel’s intelligence unit sent to Argentina to bring Nazi mass-murderer Adolf Eichmann to Israel to face trial – forgive and forget. As soon as a decade after the final camp was liberated, Europe was sick of the whole affair, and Jews who insisted the criminals be hunted down, prosecuted, and punished were just not letting the world move on from a painful and embarrassing interlude in civilization’s development.
The victims were a bother.
The victims were made to feel they were the problem.
Imagine: a Jew who had been vivisected by a Nazi camp surgeon, and had organs removed from his still-living body without anesthetic by Nazi physicians who “wanted to see what would happen when this organ was removed” – is told, his pain, harm suffered, and aftermath of such treatment was of no interest to anyone in the judicial world. If he was not a “bad” person, but a “good” person, he would simply forgive, forget, and move on.A man who watched his wife caged in a barrel of freezing water to see how long it would take her to freeze to death; and the saw his daughter suffer the same fate, so the Nazi scientists like Dr. Joseph Mengele could see what the difference in time taken to freeze to death was between a mature mother and her young daughter – is told, his very rage at the deeds and desire the criminals be punished is the problem: nobody cares about the Holocaust anymore – it was more than ten years ago! When are you Jews just going to move on?
These desires appear grounded in centuries of quasi-Christian thinking in Europe. I say “quasi-Christian” because the desire to forget was justified among Europe’s Bible-flavored thought-systems by the idea that total forgiveness is the obligation of everyone who is wronged – which is not an accurate rendition of the Bible’s teaching on forgiveness.
More on that later.
THE PATTERN AMONG BIBLE-BELIEVING ASSOCIATIONS AND CONGREGATIONS
These Biblically-driven judicial structures and processes are often ignored for the following reasons:
Foremost among reasons is simply bad teaching.
The Biblical message is boiled down from its actual complexity to inaccurate simplicity.
- “God is love” is quoted by people living in sin Scripture teaches is hell-insuring (1Corinthians 6:9, Revelation 21:8) to affirm God would never do something as unloving as send them to hell.
- “Judge not, lest you be judged,” is quoted by people whom Scripture demands we judge diligently (Deuteronomy 19:18, Proverbs 18:17, 1Corinthians 5:2), as a requirement we not judge their actions or motives.
- “Forgive them as God has, in Messiah, forgiven you,” is misapplied – omitting the fact that without confession and repentance from sin, the sacrifice of Messiah does not do anyone any good. (Proverbs 28:13, Isaiah 59:20, Acts 2:38).
- “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)
1. The victim is sent the message, “Your complaining is the problem; not the crime committed against you. Everything would be peaceful if you would just shut up and go away.”
2. The fact you are seeking remedy is proof you are “unspiritual:” you should just forgive and forget, because Messiah Himself said on the cross, “Father forgive them, they do not understand what they are doing,” and “You should forgive, just as God has, in Messiah, forgiven you.” The inexpert reader misses that Messiah was praying specifically in regard to the Roman soldiers who were crucifying Him: they were simply soldiers following orders and the laws of their land, and literally did not know there was anything wrong with what they were doing: they were simply executing a duly-convicted capital criminal.
Yet – much of the Believing world relates to the message of the Bible as if the absence of conflict is God’s view of the highest good. There is no value higher at present in the Biblesphere, in this writer’s opinion, than “peace” – with peace defined in the Biblesphere mind as the absence of conflict, stress, tension, or controversy.
Therefore, Believers look first and foremost to avoid creating tension.
It is a major virus of heresy in the spiritual genetic code of many generation.
If British and American Christians had swallowed this heresy, the world would be empty of Jews, and the entire planet would be blond-haired, blue-eyed German-speakers.
There are times believers need to suit up.
There are times when conflict is the only moral course to choose.
Why then, do Biblesphere dwellers ostensibly driven by moral consciousness, choose to act so anti-morally in regard to the Biblical mandates for justice-making?
There are specific reasons for this.
UNDER-EQUIPPED AND OVERLOADED
One major reason is overloaded leadership.
Qualified leaders are few and far between, and they are largely understaffed and overburdened. “Burnout” among pastoral leaders is a constant topic in most professional clergy journals, and the published statistics are dismaying. Ten-thousands of spiritual leaders leave their profession every year in states of depletion and depression.
Underqualified leaders either burn out more quickly, or take up evasion strategies to survive. In my own vocational sphere of Two Testament Judaism, I have seen many leaders divert from leading congregations into para-congregational efforts like humanitarian aid. This frees them from having to handle the terrible complexities of people – and the reality of the age old adage, “The longer I work with people, the more I love my dog.” The Federalist Papers (Essay #50) observed, “The governing of other human beings is a sore and thankless task.” Many spiritual leaders segue as unnoticeably as possible into spiritual work other than actual community leadership.
The worst consequence of the above is that the value of “doing justice” is cast aside.
It is simply too hard.
A cornerstone of healthy Biblesphere life is found in Deuteronomy 19 – echoed many places in the New Testament:
“One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins: by the mouth of two witnesses, or by the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. If a false witness rises up against any man to testify against him that which is false, then both the men between whom the controversy exists shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve during those days; and the judges shall make diligent inquiry (דרשו היטב): and, determine if the witness is a false witness who has testified falsely against his brother. Then shall you do to the false swearer as he had thought to have done to his neighbor: this way you will expel evil from among you. And the people who remain shall hear, and fear, and shall in the future commit no more such evil among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:15-20)
These precepts are repeated by Messiah and by Paul in the words of the New Testament. Intra-Body justice is the New Testament parallel of Old Testament policy: two or three witnesses are required (2Corinthians 13:1, 1Timothy 5:19), absolute non-bias needs to be assured (Leviticus 19:15, 1Timothy 5:21), and so forth.
God does not ask us to admire justice- He requires of us “la’asoht mishpaht” – that we “do” or “make” justice.
I know from direct conversation that the people in the top tiers of the Two-Testament Jewish associations are often people absent the skill or the will to fulfill their required duties as officers designated by their Alliance, Union, or Congregational documents as “the judges of their era” required to “make diligent inquiry” and “render to the harm-doer” in accord with Biblical precept.
I was having a conversation with a top officer of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance (IMJA) in regard to a case before that association, and after some minutes, it became clear to me the man with whom I was speaking knew very little about Biblical judicial process. To avoid misjudging his level of expertise, I said the following to him: “I am sitting at my desk in my office, and directly across from me in my plain sight is a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf – and the entire top shelf, and a good portion of the shelf below it, are populated with books on correct judicial procedure – and I have read all of them in whole or in good part. May I ask you, how many such books are in your own library?” His sheepish, embarrassed answer was, “None.” That reply relieved me of the follow up question as to how many of them he had studied.
He said, “So – you’re saying I’m not up to my job.”
I told him, I would not have put it in exactly those words – but yes. He did not have the knowledge or the skills to judge anyone in due process – it was not an arena of study or experience to which he had devoted any effort of any substance at all.
THE COMMUNITY MUST CHOOSE TO RISE TO A BETTER STANDARD
In his magnum opus, Jewish Law, the Chief Justice of Israel, Menachem Elon explains in regard to judicial appointments, “If unqualified judges are allowed by the community to be raised into office, then the entire community bears responsibility for all the harms done by the decisions rendered by such unqualified judges.”
The wider Two-Testament community has a power I call “the rights of the sheep.”
I am, in fact, working on a book by that title, detailing these powers to the inhabitants of the Biblesphere.
The sheep can demand healthy process.
The cornerstone ideas are so very simple: qualification and non-bias.
The American Constitution provides that citizens can legally seek remedy for harms done to them by their government; and the legal apparatus of the nation and the states provide mechanisms for seeking remedy for harms done to them by their fellow citizens. These processes are derived mostly from the Biblical patterns and precepts for justice.
Both Testaments refer to physical harm, financial harm, and reputational harm – and how to address them to “make justice.”
Judges need to be qualified.
If no qualified judges exist in the local congregation or among the officers of an association, then outside sources for them need to be tapped and employed. No congregation or association is without reasonably accessible resources for qualified judges or mediators: the reasons they are not employed are primarily: (a) self-interest: empowered violators do not want to be found guilty of their violations, so they insure their matters are handled only by associates upon whose good will they can rely to protect them from consequence – which, of course, directly violates the non-bias commandments in Scripture; and (b) expense: the group simply does not consider getting justice for some rank-and-file member worth the expense and time required to access qualified, unbiased judges and allow them to do their jobs.
The Members of the Alliances, Unions, and Congregations have the power to change their circumstances.
Firstly – they can insist there be specific, written processes for handling sins, crimes, or harms – whether done by the smallest toddler in the pre-school, or the highest officer in the realm. Those written provisions can include penalties for refusal to comply with those mandatory processes: and no power-holder should be exempt from removal due to such refusal.
Secondly – they can vote with their feet.
If a congregation or association or leader in such will not submit to the Romans 12:17 command to “respect what is considered honorable among all humankind” in regard to civilized justice and remedy-seeking, then they should admit to themselves they are in a cult – and leave.
“What do you call ‘a leader’ with no one following him?” the old joke goes. “Just a guy out for a walk.”
A leader who fancies himself God’s gift to the faith-realm will be hard-put to posture himself as such if his flock walks away en masse for the stated reason that he considers himself “above the law.”
This is, of course, a different case than a leader standing alone for a precept of righteousness, despite lack of support. Moses and Aaron being threatened with stoning, Yeshua being left by all his supporters, Paul being abandoned at his first defense, Sir Thomas More being stripped of all office and reputation and executed on false testimony – all these are instances of righteous leaders being abandoned by their flocks because of their stand for righteousness. Leaders sometimes lose followers because they are standing for the right. However – a leader insisting he be excepted from all due process or accountability processes of any kind not populated by people whose livelihoods and reputations he directly controls – is a matter of tyranny which underlings can help remedy by removing the power-base giving the “leader” standing as a “leader.”
The old adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” holds true, even among “the faithful.”
It is significant to notice that the Framers of the American Constitution, all men of extremely high moral commitments, considered themselves “the dangerous ones” from whom the populace needed protection. Villains seldom consider themselves villains. The Mafiosi who steal and murder excuse their crimes as having the main motivation of “putting bread on our tables for our families.” This is a lie. They could put bread on their tables and not steal; but they cannot put Jaguars in their driveways and multi-carat rings on their wives’ fingers: those are the reasons they break the law; not for provision, but for luxury and pride above what their natural gifts would gain them lawfully.
A Congregational leader said to me many years ago, when I was researching the formation of my own synagogue’s by-laws, that he would never empower his congregation to form tribunals to examine accusations against himself; and his reason was, “I’ve heard of times when boards like that found against the leader and not the congregant!” I kid you not. His reason for keeping his world clear of accountability structures was, some of them have found leaders guilty, and not the underlings! This idea is deluded, evil – or some combination of the two.
For the record, between 1993 and 1995, I wrote, with the help of a Manhattan religious law-expert corporate attorney of high experience and reputation, the section of the by-laws of my Manhattan synagogue which specifically outline accountability processes for the leaders and rank-and-file, and the provisions by which the less-empowered can remove higher officers or leaders from their posts. I did so for reasons which should be painfully obvious: no one is above the law, and no one is incapable of impropriety. Therefore, no one is exempt from the need for a context of service containing rules for accountability for the use of power.
NEVER AGAIN, AGAIN
All victims or witnesses of atrocities, if in possession of any empathy at all, cry out in the aftermath, “Never again.”
Then – it happens again.
Talk is cheap. “From all action, there comes benefit; but mere talk leads only to continued need.”
Fine – fourteen days after Passover every year, let’s all post “Never Again” and “Remember” e-cards on our Facebook pages. Let us also see to it that in our communities and nations, we “do” justice, not merely admire it.
So as genuinely to honor Yom HaShoah, and all it represents, may I respectfully ask that you consider this question: ask yourself, “Of what seriously harmful injustices am I aware – in my congregation, my association, my workplace, my family? And – what actions have I done so as to impel the ‘making’ of justice for those harmed?” Prayerfully seek God about what action is incumbent upon you – in your particular situation as a citizen, as a member, as an officer of whatever level.
And – if you know “the Emperor has no clothes” – for Heaven’s sake – tell him.
Famed twenty-first century mathematician and philosopher Nissim Nicholas Taleb wrote, “If you see fraud, and do not say ‘fraud,’ then you are a fraud. The late American President John Kennedy’s speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, said his objection to normalizing trade with human-rights repressive regimes was, “You are what you permit.”
We are what we permit.
Y’hi ratzon – May it be God’s will – Never again.
Rabbi Bruce Cohen
New York City • 26 April 2017
Marketing Is Not Ministry
The Rise of The Quote-Card Industry
2 Corinthians 2:17 “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in 1921 “Die Philosophie soll die Gedanken, die sonst gleichsam trübe und verschwommen sind, klar machen und scharf abgrenzen.” (Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts that are otherwise opaque and blurred.” (TLP, 4.112)
This essay is an effort in that spirit to bring clarity to set of increasingly blurred lines regarding the role of social media in the spiritual life of God-followers and truth-seekers.
WEAPONS OF MASS INSTRUCTION
We now live in an unprecedented time. A private citizen can easily and quickly become a mass influence, because anyone with internet access and a computer can reach every other person on the entire planet with that access and some variety of that item. The New Testament precept in James 3:1, “Let not many among you become masters (spiritual leaders)” and the model of knowing one’s teachers personally and well (2Timothy 3:14) are now in mass abrogation through the internet’s presence in everyone’s personal space. The candidacy for the role of an influencer is open to anyone with the hardware and software tools, and the right “how-to” manuals. Having these tools, it can be rendered irrelevant that they might, as Alexander Pope said of his era’s critics, “lack only talent, taste, and sense (judgment).”
Web presence can also be fully automated, an author piling up postings to be published at given times by web-presence engines, creating the illusion the writer is faithfully putting out material relevant to the issues of the day – when a post on any given day may have been entered for web-publication months before the day it goes active.
The mini-video, sound-bite, and quote-card are the tools of the day.
As presence proliferates, and pressure to be up-to-speed mounts, time available for people to read in any kind of depth decreases, and people are naturally driven to be attracted to the most user-friendly, least time-demanding items. These are placebos for being genuinely informed or fed – and like all placebos, they leave the taker without the actual needed nourishment or repair-influence.
What is the result?
We face a webisphere filling up with “spiritual” presences acting like secular marketing efforts, and filling the web with competing aphorisms and market-share increasing media.
PAUL SEES “MANY” IN A SPECIFIC ERROR NEEDING CORRECTION
Paul proudly ( in the positive sense) asserted, “We are not like many, peddling the Word of God.”
“Peddling” is ancient language for sales.
Paul first clarified that his means and methods for ministry were not those of the people whose profession is sales.
Why did Paul feel this particular clarification was necessary?
They key is the word “many.” Paul saw an unacceptably large number in his era who were using what Paul considered sales practices to “market” their version of what they conceived spirituality to be; and create a “customer base” that ended up believing and living in a manner Paul considered an inaccurate version of Biblical life.
THE GOAL OF SALES IS THE SALE
Does anyone remember Arnold Schwarzenegger’s quote from Pumping Iron, saying “getting up a good pump” (working out so hard your muscles fill with an inordinate amount of your body’s blood supply) felt identical to romantic ecstasy? Well – most often, getting up a good pump makes you feel like you have a bad case of flu or vertigo, including vomiting.
Arnold’s sentence was simply not true.
When Arnold was confronted about his words, his response was, “Well – obviously, that was ‘sales language.’” There is a more compact word for Arnold’s description of how pumping iron makes you feel: it was a lie. It was a very successful lie – Arnold Strong (his 1970’s marketing name, since the overtly German moniker “Schwarzenegger” did not play well in a Western world only two decades past World War II) and his Pumping Iron marketing movie made young Arnold a star, and dramatically increased the bottom line of the body-building industry. His “sales language” worked – but it was manifestly dishonest. In Scripture, the goal for godly character is to be without “guile” (Ps. 32, John 1), and speak truth (Deut. 5:20*, Matt. 5:37) in an utterly unequivocal manner.
THE “BLESSED EQUALS SUCCESS” TEST
The test of sound God-following is not whether it is “successful” at making the sale.
The Isaiah 55:11 maxim, “The word of God will not return void, without accomplishing that for which I sent it.” does not mean we always “close the sale” for God.
As the old saying goes, the same sun that melts wax hardens clay. No one seeing clay harden in the sun would say the sunlight “isn’t working.” The hardening of the clay as a response to sunlight makes clear what the clay is: it says nothing about the sunlight that melts wax being different, or better, or more successful. A soft heart melts in the light – a hard heart gets harder. (John 3:20-21) There are times God specifically allows wrong to succeed for the specific purpose of allowing evil people to define themselves utterly and without unclarity as evil. (Psalm 92:7)
Some of the most “successful” God-following in history resulted in loss and death. See the example of Yochanon the Immerser (John The Baptist), whose preaching of the truth to Herod never “closed the sale” – and many other such examples. Even the “faith-chapter” of the New Testament – Hebrews 11 – goes out of its way to point out that worldly success is not the litmus test for accurate spirituality. Yeshua’s closest disciple, John, failed greatly during his lifetime, unable to successfully escape being tortured beyond imagination, and exiled to a desolate rock in the middle of the Aegean Sea. His impact – like that of Mozart in music – came mostly from his written works, and long after his death. Letters of Paul like his note to the Galatians are now seen as major theology influences, but in their original time were written to only a few dozen people in sparsely populated region.
Not to say there is anything endemically wrong with earning a living through religious work. The Scriptures say clearly that “the worker is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7, 1Timothy 5:18) and “just as in the Temple system, God has ordained that those who proclaim the news of Messiah (including all aspects of raising up believers and believing communities) should get their living from the work of it.” 1Corinthians 9:14) This Blog is not a diatribe against earning a living from religious work: I do so, myself.
This essay is an attempt to point out that marketing does not de facto equal ministry.
One can successfully market – and not successfully minister.
I know one quite sincere minister whose LinkedIn account publishes a verse of Scripture to the internet every day. This habit – either automated or him doing this posting daily – has created the “boy who cried wolf” situation: when I see his name, I simply ignore it. If someone is speaking all the time … it becomes the same as that person never speaking at all; with one additional complication: “In an abundance of words, sin is never lacking, but the tongue of the righteous is like choice silver.” (Proverbs 10:19-20)
QUANTITY VERSUS QUALITY
The core issue here is superabundance versus wise choice-making. Directly contrary to the old adage about photography, “If you want to take a great picture, take a million pictures” – the idea of speaking well is to speak little – and when one does, speaking should be well-chosen words. “Let your words be few” advised King Solomon, and “Be slow to speak” was the advice of the Messiah’s half-brother, Ya’acov (James).
We need to face the fact that spiritual leadership is taught by Scripture in the context of close and ongoing personal relationship. “The things you have been taught and learned, you should practice, knowing from whom you have learned them.” (2Timothy 3:14)
Yeshua modeled spiritual leadership to us by working closely with a small group and letting them get to know Him exceedingly well across time.
They learned from His instruction and His personal example.
They knew – truly knew – from whom they had learned what they had learned.
Quote card proliferation reduces pastoral ministry to the advertising craft.
It reduces truth-speaking to sales.
Truth needs as many words as truth needs.
Choice-making in regard to words is a spiritual discipline: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver, is the right word in the right circumstances” and “A wise person holds back his words, but a fool vents all his spirit.” is the advice of the wisest Israeli king in history.
Balancing the Bible virtue of verbal restraint, is the willingness to teach as much as is necessary, and in a manner not controlled by sales concerns or populist appeal.
Moses re-taught the entire Jewish nation at great length in Deuteronomy – the “second (telling of The) law” – before we crossed into the Promised Land, because a lengthy review in depth was necessary.
As Rav Saul (Paul) was departing from the city of Troas, he taught at such length that a teenager named Eutychus dozed off and fell out of the window on which he was sitting to listen. We note, he recovered after receiving prayer.
Simon Peter said he considered it no burden at all to be a consistent reminder to those he taught of those things most important they had learned. (2Peter 1:13)
Proliferating words in an unnecessary manner as a mere advertising “presence/footprint creation technique” runs the risk of drifting out of the pastoral profession and into the advertising industry.
Sales standards are not pastoral standards.
Sales goals are not pastoral goals.
We seek to “speak the truth in love,” not win the demographic or make the sale.
We seek new-births, not new members.
We seek turnings to God, not purchases of our materials.
We seek to foster mature spirituality, not customer loyalty.
These things are easy to confuse.
I end with my starting quote from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: “Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts that are otherwise opaque and blurred.”
Hopefully, these ideas help clarify an increasingly blurry field of spiritual habits proliferating in the sphere of social media.
May it all be for shalom.
Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
2 November 2016
In Manhattan Before, During, and After “Nine-Eleven”
Reflections On Our Generation’s Call To War
by Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
Congregation Beth El of Manhattan
Congregation Beth El of Manhattan is the only Messianic Jewish synagogue having been in Manhattan before, during, and after the “911” attacks of 2001. I have been its rabbi all that time, both living and working in Manhattan, and it seems now fifteen years past the moment, there might be some value in my offering some record of my experience for the heart and soul of our Movement to process as we move further into the third Millennium of the Messiah’s message.
FROM PEACETIME BACK INTO WARTIME
In 2001, our Messianic synagogue in New York City was enjoying its early eighth year of ministry in the capital of the Jewish world outside Israel. September 11th was like any other Tuesday. I was going to work early, to prepare for our weekly Tuesday evening Scripture study and prayer meeting we affectionately call, “T.n.T.” – an acronym for “Torah (Teaching) and T’filah (Prayer). Outside my bedroom window was an exceptionally beautiful blue sky. I was in my family’s home in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, getting ready to go to my synagogue’s office in The Empire State Building – a thirty minute commute of shuttle bus, subway, and walk to the southwest of our apartment – when our home phone rang. A member of our congregation’s Va’ad (Board of Elders & Deacons), said to my wife, Debi – “The rabbi’s not going to his office today. Turn on ‘New York One.’” New York One is the signature local television news channel for New York City.
I sat down on end of the bed with Debi and turned on the bedroom television as our congregant gave her more details: a jet had crashed into one tower of The World Trade Center. No one was sure yet if it was an accident or a deliberate act. My wife and I sat down to watch, when out of a corner of the television screen, another jet appeared – and we sat in stupefied silence as the second jet impacted the remaining tower in a mini-nova of flame, glass, metal, and ruined humanity.
My wife turned to me and asked, “What do you think is happening?”
My response was, “We are under attack.”
The atmosphere – literal and figurative – in Manhattan for the following day and days was unimaginable. Our apartment was north along the East River on Manhattan’s eastern coastline – and despite the fact the wind on 11 September was mercifully blowing to the South, carrying the bulk of the choking dust cloud into the harbor, we could for many days afterwards smell the burnt human flesh in any breezes drifting north, and in the fine sediment settling on windows, plants, and balcony furniture – making cleaning one’s home an implicit act of kever adam – burial of a person – because of the ashes of the victims mingled with the dust.
The responses of all sectors of humanity varied as greatly as humankind does, itself. Some people rushing in to help; others rushing in for brief “photo-ops” of themselves helping, and then flying back to from wherever they came, to publish the photos of themselves as boost-material for their ministry newsletters; skilled counselors offering their services gratis to the abyss of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder brewing with every passing minute; people of faith seeking to bring their faith messages to the affected; and some incomprehensibly planning to “take advantage of this great opportunity for the Gospel.” I actually received such a phone call, inviting me to recruit my synagogue members to aid in such an exploitive reaction to the “opportunity.” Hearing the words physically nauseated me. I declined.
All kinds of words spoken about the event: soberingly, the only two voices speaking often about the evil of the victims rather than the perpetrators were the Islamic groups sympathetic to the mass-murderers, and certain American evangelicals. I heard a lot of “New York is Babylon” speeches I had not heard since the heyday of Hal Lindsay’s The Late, Great Planet Earth back in the 1970’s. It was not American Christendom’s finest moment. One midwestern American interviewed on-camera actually said, “Good on ’em. Maybe now they (New Yorkers) won’t be so uppity, but be ‘just plain folks’ like the rest of us.” The image of the hijab-clad Arab woman in Ramallah dancing in the street with joy at the news of the Towers’ destruction mingles in my memory with the “good on ’em” intra-American response. Not the American Bread-Basket’s finest day, either.
I got phone calls from congregants ranging from faith-filled defiance to petrified fear. People afraid to go to their offices in Midtown: people determined to go to their offices, even in likely target-buildings like my own office in the Empire State Building. Kids like my two very young sons having nightmares, and asking the most heart-wrenching questions sitting on our balcony; and asking of any low-flying plane they saw, “Abba, is that plane going to hurt us?” I watched The Empire State Building turned into a fortress with entrance procedures like The White House, and for a season, visiting my office became for my congregants like trying to see The President of The United States. Barricades, metal detectors, bomb dogs, double photo ID checks, armed guards visibly on vigil everywhere – all to meet with your rabbi about your child’s Bat Mitzvah, participate in music rehearsal, get marriage counseling – or just chat.
A KADDISH TOO LARGE FOR ANY ONE SERVICE
Our Shabbat service on September 15, 2001 was surreal.
I handed over as much of the service as I could to the veterans in our congregation, among whom at the time were a general in the Air Force Reserves, an ex-Navy “Seal,” a former Army sniper, and a few other ex-servicemen. Since I had never been in uniform nor faced hostile fire, and since it seemed clear our Armed Forces and Intelligence Services were going to be facing a long season of danger-filled action in response to all this – it simply did not feel proper to me that I lead the post-911 service, when our congregation held men and women who had actually served. It felt so odd to feel so far out of the loop, and raised my appreciation for our veterans to a higher level than it already was – and I was already one of those Dad’s who made sure his sons heard me say “thank you” to any genuine veteran we met. I am honored now to see my eldest son serving in the Israel Defense Forces – he now wears a uniform and serves his country. This is the world we inhabit. There are people out there who want to erase us and our civilization: we need to take their open declaration of war seriously.
When we did Kaddish – I wept on the bima for the first time in the history of our synagogue – and my two sons, then aged 7 and 9 – saw me cry for the first time in their lives. After the service, my eldest asked me why I had cried. I told him part of the truth – so many people dying this way is so very, very sad.” I held back the second part of the answer from his too-young mind: I knew this was just the beginning – and many, many good men and women would be going go into harm’s way to keep us safe: and many would not return or return whole.
My synagogue looked to me as their rabbi for some sense of the future.
One lady called me in a panic, unable to stop crying and unable to work in her regular Manhattan office – hiding in a branch office in the northern suburbs. The questions came flying with staccato regularity: would we be staying in the city openly targeted for destruction? Would Beth El of Manhattan (New York) become Beth El of Manhattan (Kansas)?
It has always been my way, when any strong wind is blowing, to plant my feet and hunker down into stability until I know where the wind comes from, and where it is trying to push me. I have taught this discipline to my congregants.
After much prayer and consideration – it seemed clear: our calling had not changed.
Without a change of marching orders – you stand your post. (Isaiah 30:16, Philippians 3:15-16)
The House of Israel still lived massively in Manhattan, and needed and still needs to be reached. It seemed to me, my intrepid and courageous wife, and all in my shul, that we were to stand our ground, and be ourselves in this season as in any other. Our driving maxim – the engraved quote from George Washington on the south side of Manhattan’s Washington Square Arch echoing Isaiah 62:10 – “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest may repair,” seemed even more relevant in an age with religious madness and idiocy taking center stage.
My eldest son went to high school across the street from Ground Zero. While it was delightful to see our son admitted to Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan – “the Harvard of American public high schools” – the massive crater next door to his school was a sobering presence during his entire secondary education. My youngest son at this writing now goes to college right next door to the “9-11” site. We, as a family of Israelis since 1992, are perhaps more used to the idea of people wanting us dead than the average American might have been in 2001 – but it was nor is a light thing to send our son off to school in the direction of a site we knew was, and is the target of determined efforts of mass-murder. The newly-built skyscraper replacing the Twin Towers has been nicknamed the “Bomb-Me-First Tower” by cynics/realists who believe the Islamic Fundamentalist War against the iconic sites in our civilization will never be a one-event matter. It shortly became clear, we were living the reality every Israeli father, mother, and child lives every day – and has been living for a long time. After a while, having a target on you becomes part of a new normal, in New York, in Washington DC, in the State of Israel – and across the last few years, again for Jews anywhere Jews are clearly seen and known to be Jews. It is becoming increasingly clear in these years after “9-11” that all non-Islamic Westerners are now de facto Israelis. The fury Israel tasted first is now shared by all who will not submit to the radical jihadis agenda for hegemony. We are facing new Nazis. We are at war to preserve civilization from tyranny, no less than we were in 1942.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS
In the years since “911” our synagogue has survived – and has been reported upon in all the New York Television Media, The New York Times, The New York Post, The Jerusalem Post, The Jerusalem Report; and Israel’s largest Hebrew-language newspaper, Yediot Achronot did a two-full page article with photos because in 2002 our synagogue was directly the target of two Muslim terrorist threats: and until 2009, our congregation was the only synagogue in all five boroughs of New York City to receive such directly targeted threats. The owners of the building in which we met in 2002 were told, “Get rid of the Jews, or else.” Unfathomably, they said, “O.k.” and demanded that we leave. Happily, that closure led us to better and better sites: and our location has been for the last decade a miracle site on Park Avenue in the center of Manhattan’s cathedral district in the Upper East Side.
The aftermath of “911” is with us still. In Manhattan before, during, and after The Twin Towers fell, we all feel their absence whenever the southern Manhattan skyline is in view. In movies and tv shows made in New York before September 2001, we see them still. I took my son during his grade school years down for a tour of the The Towers when he had to do a report on them for his middle school history class. We went to the top floor, mere months before “9/11.” The memory is etched forever, and the report is still in our school years memory box. It still taxes my heart to imagine some poor father and son in the top floor observation deck for a school report on the day the two jets flew in – those who were by mere serendipity in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Why do we stay?
Why do Israelis stay in Israel?
This is where we are called.
There is a famous story about a messenger for a King who needed to take dispatches through a dangerous war zone. His wife pleaded with him not to go on the mission, saying, “There is little chance you will survive.” The messenger’s response is said to have been, “It is necessary that I go: it is not necessary that I live.” I am as loathe to lose my life as any sane soul – but I will not be moved off my place-of-calling by mere threats of harm. As Kevin Costner’s character said in Open Range, “There are things that tear at a man’s soul worse than dying.”
It is necessary (Isaiah 6:8, Romans 10:14) that Beth El of Manhattan be in Manhattan for the House of Israel still living and working in Manhattan.
The truths about the One God and His One Messiah do not lose their John 17:3 value or necessity because evil or insane people want literally to obliterate the city where the population still needs to be served by the message.
The Creator, as described in the prophetically affirmed (Deuteronomy 18:21-22) revelation of the Two Testaments of Scripture, is the One and Only God – and Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth is the One Messiah. These two truths are essentials in the path that leads to eternal life. (Psalm 2, John 17:3) Neither the God of the Scriptures, nor we as a faith community, have as our agenda that the whole world become Jewish or be conquered by a Jewish military force; or that we Jews to cease being Jews and convert to a different religion called, Christianity: it is His clearly-stated desire that men and women everywhere accept the government of truth over their individual hearts. (Luke 15:10) That is the core-agenda. Cultural issues are merely collateral. Truth is the heart. Love is the means. The sword is always and ever for defense only, never to advance an agenda.
And so – we stay.
As Beth El of Manhattan is just past its twenty-third anniversary of August 27, 2016, all of us who are part of it are mindful that there are no guarantees following truth will be either easy or safe – only right. And so around here, we say to one another, not only “Shalom!” (Peace!), but often we say, “Kadima!” (Forward!) It is a command given on the field of battle by Israeli unit commanders to their troops. It does not mean “There is safety or benefit before us.” It means, “The direction we must go is before us – so, let’s go there and do what needs to be done.” Someone with a penchant for quoting Scripture might put it this way: “Strength and courage, for the sake of our People, and the cities of our God. And may The Lord do as seems good to Him.” (1Chronicles 19:13)
Kadima – and may it all be for shalom. Shanah tovah.
Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
8 September 2016