Posts Tagged With: universalist

Paro’s (Pharaoh’s) Hard Heart–Giving–New Years

Picture it!  Egypt!  1200 (ish) BCE!  Moshe comes to Paro, repeatedly, demanding in the name of G-d to, “Let my people go, that they may worship me!”Ex 17:16 and further.  From the start, however, we are told that “I [G-d] will harden Paro’s heart.”  This would at first seem to be a violation of free will, for, how can a man choose if G-d has changed his heart to not choose?  The twelfth century torah scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Itzhak (Rashi), offers up an interpretation.  He tells us that at first, Paro was presented with the choice of letting b’nei yisroel (the children of Israel) go, lest Egypt suffer plagues.  He refused to do so, and even said at points that he would and then turned on such a declaration to retain them.  After he had chosen time and again to not make the choice proper for him and his people, as well as b’nei yisroel, he gave up his right to choose.

I think that we have all had moments in which we have done this.  I know that I have had arguments in which the point of the issue didn’t even matter anymore, rather, the only thing that mattered was to be right–or in some cases just that the other person wasn’t.  After a while of back and forth, its as if an external force takes over and there is no choice left, life just continues to happen with or without your input!  I have seen the same thing happen time and again in regard to many different quarrels or misunderstandings, and the outcome is almost always devastating, and usually for both parties involved.  Think of the bad divorce that you had, when you didn’t even want the house, car, or–G-d forbid this should be the case–kids, but you so wanted to show how badly you were hurting that you took the whole ship down with you, and didn’t even offer any lifeboats.

We must be very careful about hardening our hearts, in all circumstances.  Sometimes, perhaps, we must temper them though.  I once had a friend, who I would work for at times, we would work on cars, our families would hang out together; we had gotten pretty close.  He and his wife divorced, and he started seeing a friend of mine from high school.  Everything seemed great!  They had a wonderful time together–or so it seemed at least–and eventually moved in together.  We fell out of touch for a couple of years, as they had moved away from the area, but as far as we knew everything was fine with them.  Now, this friend had been called many things, by many different people over the years, and I had always defended him, even if passively.  My friend who he was seeing contacted us one day, after they had broken up.  As it turned out, this “friend” of mine who I had so steadfastly defended on so many occasions, actually was crazy.  Clinically crazy!  He was suicidal, manipulative, and perhaps even homicidal.  He ended up in prison, for something or other, and I have never heard from him again.  This is not the first case in which a tempered heart–one that is not closed in apathy, but one which heeds the input of others–would have been very healthy.

On the other hand, I have had people whom others derided often, who have ended up being very good and close friends, and nothing like what others would have led me to believe if I had listened.  So we see that this pendulum can swing either way.  IF we harden our hearts to everyone, we will have no one to care for, and no one who cares for us.  And even worse, doing something with frequency breeds habit in it.  Perhaps this is the real lesson of G-d hardening Paro’s heart.  If, for those of us who believe in G-d, we are to say that G-d bestows upon us the knowledge of right and wrong, we must say that it is by virtue of a relationship with the Creator that we are given this gift, after all, gifts aren’t given in any way shape or form without some kind of a relationship.  But if we deny the blessing of warning, time and again, we might as well resign ourselves to failure–or, insanity, as is often said, “repeating action in expectation of different outcome is the definition of insanity.”

By now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with “giving.”  It is simple: in order to exercise a non-hardened heart, we must give.  We must give of ourselves, our hearts, our souls, and our resources.  The Shema, the central jewish prayer declaring the oneness of G-d, says this almost exactly.  “And you shall love the Lord your G-d with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all the goodness that is to you.”  That last part is difficult to translate, but it has come to be taught by the rabbis that it refers to “all your monetary resources.”  Now, this does not mean that you should give away everything you have, for if you do that you will have nothing more to give.  We can give to others by supplying our own needs, so that we do not use the resources of those who need them more, and at the same time dedicate portions of “the goodness that is to us” to helping others.  If you see a person with a sign out, why not give them the change in your pocket?  Sure, they might use it to go and buy booze or drugs, this is always a possibility–then again, there is a possibility that you may do this with the majority of your paycheck!  There is also the possibility, however, that they will use it to buy food, medicine,  shelter, or even to help others.  Now, perhaps there is something to be said for not giving over and over again, to the same person with a sob story which never changes.  But one thing is almost certain: if you harden your heart and don’t give, before long you will find plenty of reasons not to give, even if your conscience is telling you you should.

And really, what is a few dollars anyway?  In fact, I firmly believe that EVERYONE should set aside ten percent of their income (and money gifted them) to give to those in need.  This needn’t be a homeless person, or even an official charity.  How about paying for somebody’s groceries?  When you are paying your utility bill and the person in front of you is trying to bargain with the company just to get the lights back on, put some money toward their account after they leave (so as not to embarrass them).  Give of your time too.  Take time out of your day to listen to that sob story, and don’t just offer a few coins, but give some kind words too.  Take it from one who has been in a lot of tough places, not all sob stories are untrue.  Life is hard sometimes!

So this is my request for world as we enter 2014 in the secular calendar:  Give!  I promise you, no matter how small the action seems, if we all do love G-d by loving our fellow man with “all your heart, and all your soul, and all the goodness that is to you,” we will make this world a better place.

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Universalism, Tolerance, Education

 coexist

A friend of mine goes to the local Unitarian Universalist Church here.  She’s one of the teachers in the teen group, and asked me if I would come in to talk to the kids about Judaism.  Now, she and the other teachers did tell me that Judaism is the one faith which they did not research very much before visiting the synagogue, and having a guest speaker, but I didn’t expect so few questions from the kids.  It really brought back for me, a general ethos of our society that if you have to ask questions, you are somehow inadequate as a person.  This may not be an actuality, but it sure seems as if it is, and it definitely seems to be more prevalent among teens.  As a quick aside, if you do not belong to a traditional religion, but you would like some kind of spiritual fellowship, they are all quite nice at these churches without you having to commit to a particular religion.

One of the kids in the class was very curious, and so, asked many questions.  I guess it could be that curiosity is just something that comes with maturity.  I remember when I was a kid, that those who were outspoken, and different-minded, were often those that were thought of as nerds or weirdos.  It is so amazing how much time changes that kind of thought for many of us!  Now, this kid is probably the type of kid who is thought of as a nerd, or a weirdo, but I am starting to thing that an attitude of curiosity shows two things: maturity (as I said above), and an individuality.  In fact, perhaps the true rebels of society aren’t the ones doing drugs, or dyeing their hair, or listening to “objectionable” music.  Perhaps the true rebels are those who will not simply be sheep, content to hang out, unquestioning.

The scientific method depends upon inquiry.  All knowledge, in fact, depends upon inquiry.  Since all knowledge depend upon inquiry, so too, does all education depend upon the willingness of people to step outside their comfort zone, and ask questions that need to be asked.  I used to ask my kids, when I picked them up from school, “what did you learn today?”  Increasingly, I am trying to change to asking, “what questions did you ask today?”  They are still kids, so there isn’t very much dialogue in such cases, but I am hoping to imprint upon their brains that questioning is a very important and positive thing.  Especially as our children grow older, and start understanding that mom and dad don’t actually know everything–as they assume when younger–it is even more important that we teach them first hand, the priority of curiosity, and diminish the importance of being correct.  We must question, without giving up who we are in the process.

One thing that I think we can definitely learn from the Unitarian church is the ability to step outside our comfort zone to ask questions.  It is good to learn about other people, and what is important to them–what makes them tick, if you will.  Ignorance is the biggest obstacle to acceptance and tolerance.  Tolerance, however, is not always what modern society seems to think it is.

Tolerance means accepting others for who they are, and not trying to change them, but it doesn’t mean that you have to diminish yourself, or join in with their particular beliefs.  My fourteen year old doesn’t seem to understand this simple point.  The other day, he thought it was ridiculous that I wouldn’t pray facing a christmas tree.  I told him that it was a pagan fertility symbol, and that I wouldn’t pray facing it.  He got all indignant and said, “I thought Jews were supposed to be tolerant of other’s beliefs.”  I simply responded that, “yes, we do not force anyone to be Jewish, so yes, we are tolerant of them.”  Ironically, it was his indignant attitude regarding what I would and wouldn’t do concerning my spiritual worship that was intolerance.

In this day of false “coexistence” we are less free to be the people we actually are.  When I see the bumper stickers with this credo on them, it makes me think that even the thought of coexistence is something that must be foisted upon people, as if it is simply another form of intolerance.  While I don’t think that people should be disrespected based upon race, creed, etc, I also don’t think that we should all be lumped into one pile of being.  To do so would deny the uniqueness that makes us, and the world, beautiful!  Some of us are short, tall, round, thin, strong, meek, fast, courageous, timid, extroverted, introverted, etc.  We are all human, and so there are “certain inalienable rights” that we all should give one another, but we must also understand that we are not all the same.  We are equal in that first category, but we are not equal in all ways.  IF we continue to operate under the false pretense of absolute equality, we will do great detriment to future generations, and a great disservice to ourselves.  IF we do this, we remove the opportunity for tolerance, and education, and replace it with a mask of universalism–while denying the universe.

so, Shalom, Salaam, Pax, Paz, and Namaste, to the universe…including all of you unique and beautiful creatures who make it the wonderful place to live.  I appreciate you not in spite of your differences, but because of them.

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