Turn The Other Cheek

As part of the famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’, we read that Yeshua said to ‘turn the other check’:

“You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to stand up against someone who does you wrong. On the contrary, if someone hits you on the right cheek, let him hit you on the left cheek too! – Matthew 5:38-39 (CJB)

While the ‘eye for an eye’ passage in the Tanakh (see Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; and Deuteronomy 19:21) is well known, I believe it is seriously misunderstood, as I explain in my An Eye for an Eye or Measure for Measure[1].

However, I wish to focus on the ‘turn the other check’ teaching.

The brilliant Professor David Flusser, in my opinion, had perhaps the most intimate and accurate understanding of the Yeshua ben Yosef that anyone has had, since the First Century of the Common Era.

Flusser argued that all of Yeshua’s teaching could be found in the Tanakh or other earlier Jewish writings (while not trying in any way to diminish the power and authority of Yeshua’s words). For example he wrote: From ancient Jewish writings we could easily construct a whole Gospel without using a single word that originated with Jesus.”[2]

Yet, it is not always easy to verify Flusser’s argument.

Some are very subtle. For example Yeshua states in Mathew 23:23a: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. …”.

It may not be obvious to all but I believe he was quoting Micah 6:8 here which states that: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?[3]” – NKJV

But what of this ‘turn the other cheek’ teaching and effectively to bless those who curse you? Or as Yeshua added: “If someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well!”. That is, if someone is taking something precious from you, do not fight this, but bless them even more! Well the prophet Jeremiah shares a very similar message to the Babylonian exiles when they first arrive in Babylon.

I had not seen this message. At least I don’t recall it sinking in in the many, many times I have read Jeremiah 29. This may be because this chapter goes on to offer a couple of real gems that I have often focussed on.

It is in Jeremiah 29 that we read: For I know what plans I have in mind for you,’ says Adonai, ‘plans for well-being, not for bad things; so that you can have hope and a future.”Jer 29:11

And one of my all-time favourites: You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” – Jer 29:13

But recently I was listening to Prof. Cynthia Chapman narrate her book ‘The World of Biblical Israel’, when she alluded to this very chapter and portion:

1 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem.
The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.
Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,
for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
– Jeremiah 29:1-14

She explained that the God of Israel had, through His prophet Jeremiah told these people who had just wept bitterly beside the rivers of Babylon and even promised to bring evil upon their captors. We read of their pain and anger in Psalm 137: 1. By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion … 8 Daughter of Babylon, you will be destroyed! A blessing on anyone who pays you back for the way you treated us! 9 A blessing on anyone who seizes your babies and smashes them against a rock!”

Yet, here’s Jeremiah telling them to bless these sons and daughters of Babylon, their captors. To repeat, he turns the whole attitude around and calls them to “… seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” 

If this isn’t ‘turning the other cheek’; ‘going the extra mile’ and giving ‘not just your shirt but your coat as well’ then I don’t know what is!

And how did it all turn out? Just as prophesied they returned some 70 years later and were very much supported by the Babylonians to do so.

Not only this; but a great many stayed on in Babylonia, and it became a great centre for Jewish learning for centuries to come. It is in fact the Babylonian Talmud that has been the main source of Jewish jurisprudence for the entire Diaspora until the last century (rather than the Jerusalem Talmud[4]).

So this ‘turning the other cheek’ turned out to be a good thing for the exiled Jewish people, and helped to fulfil the promise that God had “… plans for (their) welfare and not for evil,” and to give them “… a future and a hope”. 

Update:

A friend and fellow Bible student directed me to Lamentations 3:28-30

“28 Let him sit alone in silence when he has laid it on him. 
29 Let him submit absolutely; there may yet be hope. 
30 Let him offer his (other) cheek to the one who strikes it and receive his fill of insults.” (CJB)

When Yeshua was confronted in the garden, arrested and taken before his accusers, he did indeed heed his own advice and remain silent, not reacting to their insults and aggression.

Yeshua’s ‘turn the other check’ teaching, is clearly a teaching from this very passage in Lamentations.
[1] http://circumcisedheart.info/measureformeasure.pdf

[2] For detail see http://circumcisedheart.info/The%20Times%20of%20Yeshua.pdf

[3] To ‘walk humbly with your God’ is to trust Him to provide, and therefore to walk with quiet assurance in His Instructions. This is true ‘faithfulness’.

[4] Dr. David Neiman explains this is fascinating detail in his ‘The Jews in History’.

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The New Testament: The Hebrew Behind the Greek

This book has just been extensively updated.

It presents the argument that much, if not most of the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew, not Greek, and that the quotes of the Tanakh (OT), which are almost all thought to be from the Septuagint (LXX) are much more likely to have been from a Hebrew version, very similar to the Masoretic Text (MT).

The book is available of Amazon as a Kindle download or free as a pdf at my circumcisedheart.info site

The link below is to an audio introduction to this book:
Audio Introduction

 

Finding Happy

I have 100 free registrations for my course ‘The Ten Happiness Principles’ to give away this week.

This course gives a presentation on the top 10 Principles which can lead you to a conscious, consistent and enduring sense of peace and joy as you go about your everyday life.

This is NOT a religious course pushing my doctrinal positions, but a very practical course involving 11 very short lectures followed by some practical activities to test out for yourself.

The Principles are Biblically-based, in that they can all find support in the Bible, but this course is all about what you do day to day, NOT what you may or may not believe about God, the World, Salvation, etc.

This course is primarily based on the research and wisdom of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and the writings of one of Harvard’s all-time most popular psychology lecturers, Tal Ben-Shahar. But it also has very solid support from Neurological Research – for example, I strongly recommend the work of Dr Jeffrey M Schwartz (see for example his great book ‘The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force’), along with a number of others such as Professor Michael Egnor and Dr Carol Dweck.

Give it a try – you have nothing to lose and possibly much to gain!

After a presentation on each principle some simple tasks are suggested to help exercise the principle and with repeated practice over a short period of time these tasks can become part of your daily routine.

Each Principle is presented in 5-10 minute segments with the whole course taking around 1 hour. While you may want to go through the whole course in one sitting, it is recommended that you address each Principle one at a time and spend a week working on the related tasks. With this recommended approach the course will take some 10 Weeks to complete.

By working through this course and doing the follow-up exercises you can expect to see your general sense of well-being and happiness improve in some tangible way. 

By appreciating the underlying concepts and learning the pro-active tasks that create new neural pathways to solidify the skills/thinking involved you will be able to make permanent and positive changes to your world. To repeat, this course gives a presentation on the top 10 Principles which can lead you to a conscious, consistent and enduring sense of peace and joy as you go about your everyday life.

Access the free coupon for the course here – https://www.udemy.com/the-ten-happiness-principles/?couponCode=Happy4Free

 

Hosea on Israel’s relationship with the Almighty

In an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks posted this week (April 16th 2015), he makes some references to the prophet Hosea. In reading this article I was again reminded of the many references in the Tanakh that declare that HaShem never really left His Chosen People, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but rather separated Himself from them at times, arguably as part of His loving discipline.

Hosea makes it very clear that the the ‘betrothal’, the marriage relationship between YHVH and Israel is an eternal one, that YHVH is and will always be the Husband of Israel.

Here are some excerpts from the article that help clarify this point:

“The inner history of humanity is in part the history of the idea of love. And at some stage a new idea makes its appearance in biblical Israel. We can trace it best in a highly suggestive passage in the book of one of the great prophets of the Bible, Hosea.

Hosea lived in the eighth century BCE. The kingdom had been divided since the death of Solomon.  The northern kingdom in particular, where Hosea lived, had lapsed after a period of peace and prosperity into lawlessness, idolatry and chaos. Between 747 and 732 BCE there were no less than five kings, the result of a series of intrigues and bloody struggles for power. The people, too, had become lax:
“There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder” (Hos. 4: 1-2).

Like other prophets, Hosea knew that Israel’s destiny depended on its sense of mission. Faithful to God, it was able to do extraordinary things: survive in the face of empires, and generate a society unique in the ancient world, of the equal dignity of all as fellow citizens under the sovereignty of the Creator of heaven and earth. Faithless, however, it was just one more minor power in the ancient Near East, whose chances of survival against larger political predators were minimal.

What makes the book of Hosea remarkable is the episode with which it begins.  God tells the prophet to marry a prostitute, and see what it feels like to have a love betrayed. Only then will Hosea have a glimpse into God’s sense of betrayal by the people of Israel.

Having liberated them from slavery and brought them into their land, God saw them forget the past, forsake the covenant, and worship strange gods.

Yet He cannot abandon them despite the fact that they have abandoned Him.

It is a powerful passage, conveying the astonishing assertion that more than the Jewish people love God, God loves the Jewish people.

The history of Israel is a love story between the faithful God and his often faithless people. Though God is sometimes angry, He cannot but forgive.

He will take them on a kind of second honeymoon, and they will renew their marriage vows:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her . . .
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will know the Lord.” (Hosea 2: 16-22)”

It is possible that that reference to ‘leading her (Israel) into the desert’ is a reference to the exiles that Israel has experienced. Yet, all these exiles were only temporary for those who were found faithful. The faithful returned from Assyria, they returned from Babylon, and they have in the last 60+ years returned, and are returning, from the final exile to the ‘four corners’ of the earth[1].

Rabbi Sacks goes on to say:

“… One verse in the midst of this prophecy deserves the closest scrutiny. It contains two complex metaphors that must be unraveled strand by strand:

“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call Me ‘my husband’ [ishi];
you will no longer call Me ‘my master’ [
baali]. (Hosea 2: 18)

This is a double pun. Baal, in biblical Hebrew, meant ‘a husband’, but in a highly specific sense – namely, ‘master, owner, possessor, controller.’ It signalled physical, legal and economic dominance.

It was also the name of the Canaanite god – whose prophets Elijah challenged in the famous confrontation at Mount Carmel. Baal (often portrayed as a bull) was the god of the storm, who defeated Mot, the god of sterility and death. Baal was the rain that impregnated the earth and made it fertile. The religion of Baal is the worship of god-as-power.

Hosea contrasts this kind of relationship with the other Hebrew word for husband, ish. Here he is recalling the words of the first man to the first woman:

“This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman [ishah], Because she was taken from Man [ish].” (Gen. 2: 23)

Here the male-female relationship is predicated on something quite other than power and dominance, ownership and control.

Man and woman confront one another in sameness and difference. Each is an image of the other, yet each is separate and distinct.

The only relationship able to bind them together without the use of force is marriage-as-covenant – a bond of mutual loyalty and love in which each makes a pledge to the other to serve one another.

Not only is this a radical way of reconceptualizing the relationship between man and woman. It is also, implies Hosea, the way we should think of the relationship between human beings and God.

God reaches out to humanity not as power – the storm, the thunder, the rain – but as love, and not an abstract, philosophical love but a deep and abiding passion that survives all the disappointments and betrayals.

Israel may not always behave lovingly toward God, says Hosea, but God loves Israel and will never cease to do so.”[2]

The Tanakh repeatedly states that Israel shall be restored to the Land, to Eretz Israel, not because they necessarily deserve to be, but because this return, and re-establishment of their ‘betrothal’ to their Husband, is for His Name’s sake. 

The Almighty declares His sovereignty and His eternal love by returning His People to the Land of Israel.

Today this understanding carries little favour in the Hellenistic Christian world which embraces Replacement Theology. I have a chapter on this issue in my book ‘Doctrinal Pitfalls of Hellensim’ – see http://www.amazon.com/Doctrinal-Pitfalls-Hellenism-Studies-Greek-ebook/dp/B00DO17CK8/

 

 

 

[1] see my article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ – http://goo.gl/hwBeoO

[2] – quoted from “http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/16788#.VTGfkGSqqkp

Love ‘loving-kindness’ – Micah 6:8

It is not only the Jewish people who love Micah 6:8 for it’s simple, yet extremely powerful message and instruction of how to live right before the Almighty.

This passage is also a favourite of many Christians (though it appears most of them have never looked very deeply at this verse in its broader context, and in particular at the truth shared in Micah 6:6).

But I do not wish that to detract from my recent, and fresh insight, on this passage that I have loved and very often meditated on over many years.

There are of course many English versions, and as is normal when trying to translate truth from the inspired Hebrew Scriptures into other languages, often something is lost in the translation.

Consider a few of these English versions:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” – KJV

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – NIV

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – ESV

Quite a few are very similar and appear (as usual) to copy the KJV.

The Complete Jewish Bible (David Stern) is a little different:

“Human being, you have already been told what is good, what Adonai demands of you — no more than to act justly, love grace and walk in purity with your God.” – CJB

The Hebrew word חֶסֶד (chesed) is the word being translated as ‘kindness’ (ESV) and ‘mercy’ (KJV & NIV), and as ‘loving-kindness’ in many other places.

In fact, the word ‘chesed’ which occurs hundreds of times in the Tanakh (The Hebrew Scriptures) is most commonly translated as ‘grace’ throughout the New Testament (for some depth and interesting analysis of this aspect see my article ‘Amazing Grace’ here http://goo.gl/L9HgQo).

But note that if we use the translation ‘loving-kindness’ in particular to help us see the full picture here, we have the injunction that we are called to ‘love loving-kindness’.

We are to love showing and giving grace; to love acting with mercy, to LOVE being kind. We are not to just BE kind, but to LOVE being kind!

Kindness, mercy, grace should be so much a part of our heart that we can’t help practicing this attribute of the Almighty whose image we are made in!

You may ask ‘How do we get this way if we are not already in this place?’ I think part of the answer is to act as if our heart already loves being kind and gracious and full of compassion, and therefore we must do acts of loving kindness. It’s almost like ‘fake it to you make it’.

The more we act this way, the more the neural pathways in our brains will be stimulated to create a new pathway of truth and a new mindset, and a new heart, where we increasingly become ‘lovers of loving-kindness’.

In other words, in living this call we in fact circumcise our own hearts! (Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 4:4).

 

Thanks to the Mussar teaching of Alan Morinis in ‘Everyday Holiness: The Spiritual Path of Mussar’ for this insight. 

 

You Shall Be Holy – Introduction

A series of commentaries on the soul:

Poetry, music, love, wonder – these things that have no survival value, but which speak to our deepest sense of being – all tell us that we are not mere animals, assemblages of selfish genes.

By bringing that which is animal within us close to God, we allow the material to be suffused with the spiritual and we become something else:

no longer slaves of nature but servants of the living God. – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (from a commentary on the Torah Portion Vayikra)

As ‘servants’ what does the living God ask of us? He asks that: ‘You shall be holy’.

This is your purpose for your life. This is your calling as a servant of the living God.

This is the advice from the Almighty. He has built into our very being, a desire to improve ourselves (and our surroundings). Yet, this urge can be mistaken as a drive for material possessions. It is instead, an innate drive to spiritual growth, to becoming holy.

In the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible – see in particular, Leviticus), the Hebrew word translated as ‘Holy’ is קָדוֹשׁ (qadosh) and  is an adjective, or an active verb and thus a state of being. The goal of holiness is an individual one, but it is also one which we are all, (and by ‘all’  I mean every single living human being), called to hear, even if that call is virtually deafened out by our chaotic lifestyles.

We were made incomplete. Deliberately so.

While we were made ‘very good’, and made in the image of the Almighty, He has deliberately made everyone of us less than complete, less than whole, so that part of our task in this life is to heal and complete ourselves, and in doing so, and as part and parcel of this task, we are called to heal or ‘repair the world’ (tikkun haOlam).

Full Holiness means wholeness.

In this sense then, all our weaknesses, our shortcomings and failings are deliberate, to the degree that we have been made with these less than perfect traits so that we do, in fact, have a job to do – the job of completing ourselves.

What is really challenging and almost unbelievable is that it is in fact possible to complete ourselves!

It is possible to gain that state of completeness, when a person becomes all that HaShem created him/her to be.

Sadly, most brought up in the Western tradition, and especially within the Christian community are taught to reject this fact, through the insidious and seriously harmful doctrine of ‘Original Sin’.

So how are we to become holy?

Firstly, we need to appreciate that we all have a life curriculum – the good, the bad and the ugly come our way to help mould us (if willing), to be the unique people G-d intended us to be and to be fully Holy. This ‘curriculum’ is daily before us whether we consciously choose to engage with it or not. It is impacting our lives, and hopefully in a positive manner whether we acknowledge it or not.

But learning of this ‘curriculum’ and being aware of its daily teachings can make the path to completing it, both smoother and quicker.

Surely, if we all realized we were in ‘school’ and working on a curriculum designed by the world’s best Educator (G-d Himself), to lead us to be the best person we could be and that we were designed to be, wouldn’t we want to complete the curriculum as quickly and effectively as possible!?

There is a spark of Holiness, a spark of divinity in every person. There is also every character trait in every person. As part of our “curriculum’ we each uniquely have some traits that we find more problematic than others, and that we need to work on more than others. We should not see these traits that we struggle with as bad or wrong or sinful, but as traits that need addressing so that ultimately they become under our control and in the proper balance.

The person who appears in general to be an extremely angry person, still has some moments of calm and some circumstances in which he/she has control over that anger. But also the calmest person has some degree of anger in him/her, some circumstances that really test his or her peace and serenity.

Anger can be bad, yet anger at injustice helps motivate us to try to correct that injustice.

A man with unbridled lusting for a women not his wife, is clearly acting in a sinful manner (it is breaking the 10th Commandment), yet this very Commandment implies that a man should lust after his own wife!

Lust (as in a ‘lust of life’) or desire is the true secret to a successful marriage. A marriage where that desire for each other is recognized and knowingly cultivated and maintained is a marriage that will survive.

All character traits can be shown to be beneficial if in the right balance and exercised to the right degree.

Imagine all the possible character traits on a continuum, such as anger and passivity being at opposite ends of a balance. Or humility and arrogance on a separate continuum. Imagine each and every character trait being on a continuum between the two extremes of that characteristic.

Inside us, in our inner-most soul is a light of divinity, a light made in the image and likeness of the Almighty that should shine out from us and brighten the world around us.

But also imagine the many character traits that are not in balance as ‘clouds’ that block that light or ‘sun’ that should be shining out from within.

As we mature and grow so that each trait moves towards being in the right balance, our inner ‘light’, our spark of divinity, shines out more strongly as the ‘clouds’ are removed.

As we work on ourselves and our traits, a trait’s balance then moves towards its proper centre, and the ‘black or dark cloud’ gets less and less opaque and more and more transparent.

With many traits to balance, the clouds can really block out the ‘sun’s rays’ (our inner light), the light that should be shining out from our core.

As we learn to improve ourselves and find the proper balance of our character traits and learn which are most problematic for each of us, and how we can learn to control and rectify/balance these traits, we should find that without any real and noticeable effort, our light shines brighter, and begins to impact those around us in positive and helpful ways.

So in seeking to complete ourselves, we quite naturally and effortlessly end up helping others to ‘see the light’ and in so doing perhaps help them to complete themselves.

Next: Dealing with the inner adversary, the Yetzer HaRa.

— to be continued —

This introduction and the articles to further and bring some depth to this overview are some reflections from Mussar instruction and other Rabbinic teachings.

The books that this series of short articles are primarily based on:

‘Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar’ by Alan Morinis.

10 Conversations You need to Have With Yourself’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Shalom in the Home’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

‘Kosher Lust: Love Is Not the Answer’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

‘God According to God: A Physicist Proves We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along’ by Dr Gerald L Schroeder