” …and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26b
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.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness …” – Martin Luther King
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Arthur Baldwin
To be free, you have to let go of hate.
And I suspect, as the quote from James Arthur Baldwin argues, that letting go of hate does initially open your heart to pain.
Yet, to be free you need to forgive those who have persecuted you. This does mean you need to accept and acknowledge the pain, yet remembering the hurt and accepting the pain is a process and a journey. It is a journey of release; of letting it out and letting it go.
Forgiveness does not meant forgetfulness; it does not mean forgetting the injustice or persecution that you have endured, but it does often mean remembering it so that you don’t re-live it, and remembering it so that you can be more empathetic towards others who may suffer similarly to how you may have suffered.
Such remembering is then a positive memory, a memory that no longer has pain attached to it. This can take considerable time. It doesn’t happen over-night, but is a journey that is best taken in company.
While you still feel pain, you are still suffering injury and therefore you have not fully freed yourself of the past, you are still, to a degree at least, living in it.
When you let those who have hurt you define you (by placing you in this position of pain), you have clearly not achieved liberty.
Hatred and freedom cannot co-exist. Anger and bitterness are the fruit of unforgiveness – if you still feel these powerful emotions, then you are still harbouring some un-forgiveness.
In a world devoid of God there is no justice and hence no true hope for restitution, for fairness and ultimate redemption. When you have a relationship with God and you recognize that He will ultimately bring Justice tempered always with Grace, you can then release your pain to Him, and then truly find freedom.
True freedom though may not be what you think it is. True freedom is the liberty and choice to seek the best for you, for your family; for your community and for your nation & your world. This is also the essence of ‘tikkun olam’ (repairing the world).
The best is a deep and abiding relationship with your Creator. Such a relationship involves loving your heavenly Father with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and this in turn means loving your neighbor as yourself. If you love God you will love His commandments. When you love His commandments, His Torah (divine instructions), you will walk in the Way (Psalms 119).
Be free – let go of hate!
After a recent presentation, the former Chief Rabbi of London, Lord Jonathan Sacks responded to a question with these comments (excerpts only):
“Abraham sees a palace. That means that he sees the world has order. Therefore, it has a Creator. But the palace is in flames! – which means the world is full of disorder. It is full of evil, violence, injustice. Now nobody builds a building and then goes away and deserts it. Therefore, if there is a fire there must be somebody in charge to put it out. The building must have an owner. Where is he? And that is Abraham’s question. Where is God in this world?
That is the question that gives Abraham no peace. Here, if I am right, that is the starting point of Jewish faith.
In Judaism, faith does not begin with an answer. It begins with a question. It doesn’t begin in harmony. It begins in dissonance.
Here it is: if God created the world then God created man. Why then does God allow man to destroy the world? How can we reconcile the order of the world with the disorder of human society? Can God have made the world only to desert it? That is Abraham’s question. Can it be the world has no-one in charge, no owner? That is his question. …”
Rabbi Sacks goes on to explain that there are only two logical possibilities here and what they are and imply, but that Abraham rejects both of them!
“ … Either God exists, in which case there is no evil. Or evil exists, in which case there is no God. But supposing both exist? Supposing there are both God and evil? Supposing there are both the palace and the flames?
Now if that is so, if my interpretation is right, then Judaism begins not in the conventional place where faith is thought to begin, namely in wonder that the world is. Judaism begins in the opposite, in the protest against a world that is not as it ought to be.
At the very heart of reality, by which I mean reality as we see it, from our point of view, there is a contradiction between order and chaos: the order of creation and the chaos we make.
Now the question is: how we do we resolve that contradiction?
And the answer is that that contradiction between the palace and the flames, between the world that is and the world that ought to be, cannot be resolved at the level of thought. It doesn’t exist! You cannot resolve it! Logically, philosophically, in terms of theology or theodicy, you cannot do it!
The only way you can resolve that tension is by action; by making the world better than it is. That is the only way you can lessen the tension between the palace and the flames. When things are as they ought to be, when there is only a palace and no flames – then we have resolved the tension. Then we have reached our destination. But that is not yet.
It was not yet for Abraham and it is not yet for us. And from this initial contradiction, from this cognitive dissonance, are born the following … fundamental features (of Judaism):
Firstly, the primary thing (in Judaism) is ‘doing’, is action, is deed, is mitzvah. Because only the mitzvah makes the world a little less dissonant between what it is and what it ought to be.
Secondly: the whole programme of Judaism, the project of the Torah, is ‘tikkun olam’ in the precise sense ‘mending a fragmented, fractured, world’. …” <end quote>
This is, I believe, the perfect definition of the ‘grace’ we are called to exhibit, if we desire to receive the Grace of YHVH!
We are to act with grace, with ‘overflowing love’ toward our neighbour, and our fractured, hurting world.
The Christian world is big on grace, but perhaps they are a little confused about it. I discuss this in my article ‘Amazing Grace’ – see here
 Part of the answer is a sense in which evil is not evil after all – confused? Read Rabbi Sacks article and book.
 Or we could say, the message of the Tanakh, the message of YHVH and His Son, begins here
In this weeks Torah Portion (Exodus 6:2-9:35) we read about the story of Exodus and the great plagues of Egypt.
The Pharoah, the King of Egypt has for months and months hardened his heart against the Hebrew people despite all the increasingly miraculous events demonstrating the great power of he Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Then we read about the great plague of hail and finally, Pharoah recognizes the righteousness of YHVH and his and his peoples own sinfulness.
What was it that lead him to recognize YHVH at this time when he had already witnessed YHVH’s great power?
He already knew that the God of Israel was a mighty god who had great power over nature, but in the events surrounding this plague he saw the kindness of YHVH.
Just read this section of the story below:
Then the LORD said to Moses, Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.
14 For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.
15 For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.
16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
17 You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.
18 Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.
19 Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.
20 Then whoever feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses,
21 but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the LORD left his slaves and his livestock in the field.
22 Then the LORD said to Moses, Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, on man and beast and every plant of the field, in the land of Egypt.
23 Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.
24 There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.
25 The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.
26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail.
27 Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.
Read verse 19 again:
“Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.”
Remember, that the Pharaoh is a man of great power over his nation and people. Yet here, in the midst of this great display of Someone else with incredible power, the Pharaoh sees the Great Power offering a way out, offering a hand of kindness, to those who heed His warning from amongst the Egyptians.
Some of the Egyptians did hear and heed this call, this offer of kindness and brought their slaves and animals inside and saved them from the great hail.
Pharaoh recognizes the God of Israel, not just because of His great power, he had been witnessing this already for some time, but because of His grace, His offer of kindness extended even to the Pharaoh and his people.
Here is a great example that kindliness is Godliness; that extending ‘unmerited favour’ (grace), especially from a position of great power and authority, so powerfully demonstrates the truth and validity of God, and especially to those most resistant, most ‘hardened’ against Him.
When we reflect on this powerful message we might like to consider how, we being made in the image of God, might be effective in helping others to recognize Him.
Those of us who are parents can certainly use this approach in our interactions with our children, and quite probably almost all parents do to some degree. We might even reflect on how this kindness of our own parents helped us come to recognize the truth and righteous of the Almighty.
What about other situations where we have some power over others who we know, who have hardened hearts and don’t accept the God of Israel?
We might wish to try and teach them of all His awesome power and how He is manifest in this Creation of His. And yet, perhaps they already know this, even in their hardened hearts?
Perhaps what will most impact them is where we offer them a kindness, a hand of grace that is unexpected and even seemingly uncalled for. Surely this is how we can best demonstrate in our actions that truth that ‘God is righteous’ and that He loves us.
Thanks to Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier for sharing this insight – see http://www.aish.com/tp/i/shmuz/185780532.html
The Tanakh (OT) teaches that the ultimate Lover is He who combines in a perfect blend, justice and mercy (also called loving kindness or grace – unmerited favour).
In Hebrew the word transliterated as ‘elohim’ (often just as God), means ‘God of Justice’ and the word for God that can’t really be transliterated at all, YHVH means ‘God of Mercy’.
Thus in Exodus we see the Creator of the Universe being described by as the embodiment of both justice and mercy:
“And Elohim (God of Justice) spoke unto Moshe saying: I am YHVH (God of Mercy)” – Ex 6:2
Quoting Rabbi Jeff Kirshblum: “The verse (Exodus 6:2) seems to be contradictory. How can the God of Justice declare Himself to be the God of Mercy? Justice seems to be strict and unyielding. Mercy seems to be lenient and bending.
(This very challenge is addressed in the play, now just out as a movie, Les Miserables – more on this later).
The ancient pagans were confronted by that very problem. How could there be Justice and Mercy co-existing in the world. They concluded that there must be more than one god: gods who constantly struggled for supremacy. The Egyptians in the time of Pharaoh envisioned the great fight between Set, the god of justice, and Horus, the god of mercy.
G-d tells Moshe that there is only one G-d. He has both attributes and each one is constantly present. It is only our lack of perception that has difficulty uniting Justice with Mercy. This concept sums up the very basic philosophy of Judaism. “Hear O Israel! YHVH (the G-d of Mercy), our Elokim (the G-d of Justice), G-d is One” (Devarim 6:4)…
In our own families we play a G-d-like role. We too must temper our Justice with Mercy. Justice and punishment can never be inflicted in a state of anger. Such a punishment will convey the wrong message. Justice can only be served when the punishment is carried out in a state of love…
I once saw a small child run out into the street. A car was rushing by. The driver slammed on his brakes, screeching to a halt inches in front of the child. The mother, who had seen the whole incident from the porch, came running out to her child. She picked up her precious youngster. She hugged him dearly; then she slapped his hands hard. She had tears in her eyes. She screamed at him, “Don’t you ever run out in the street again.” She shook him hard. “Never, ever run out in the street. I love you, poor baby.”
That was Justice and Mercy.” – from http://www.torah.org/learning/outsidethebox/5764/vaera.html
Judaism understands that love is this perfect blend of justice and mercy. When those of us who are parents reflect on how we best deal with our children, perhaps this can teach us this fuller meaning of love. As a parent we learn to give, we learn to put our children’s needs before our own, to recognize that often, their needs must come first, but as they grow we also learn how vital it is to exercise fair judgment with them, to demonstrate and practice justice as well as grace/mercy if we are to raise well-balanced and capable children.
In his famous discourse on loving kindness, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler states that: ‘Giving leads to love’.
Gila Manolson writes:
“True giving, though, as Erich Fromm points out, is other-oriented, and requires four elements.
The first is care, demonstrating active concern for the recipient’s life and growth.
The second is responsibility, responding to his or her expressed and unexpressed needs (particularly, in an adult relationship, emotional needs).
The third is respect, “the ability to see a person as he [or she] is, to be aware of his [or her] unique individuality,” and, consequently, wanting that person to “grow and unfold as he [or she] is.”
These three components all depend upon the fourth, knowledge. You can care for, respond to, and respect another only as deeply as you know him or her.” – see http://www.aish.com/d/w/48952241.html
Consider how well these 4 attributes are actualized by our Father, the Creator of the Universe. He cared enough to create this world for us and to create us. He takes responsibility for it on a daily and moment by moment basis and yet is also able to delegate some of this responsibility to us, even giving us greater and greater responsibility as we grow and become more capable of handling it.
Also, no-one could possibly respect each and every one of us as our heavenly Father does! He knows oh so intimately how unique and gifted each of us are because He made us that way and gave us the environment to allow our potential to grow and unfold.
Finally His knowledge of us, is superior to our own. So superior in fact that He calls us to know Him, rather than seek to know ourselves, because it is through knowing Him that we may grow to fully be all the reflection and image of Him that he planted within us, and in doing so, come to know who He meant us to be.
In fact, Jeremiah summed up these attributes of the Almighty very well when he wrote:
‘Here is what Adonai says: “The wise man should not boast of his wisdom, the powerful should not boast of his power, the wealthy should not boast of his wealth; instead, let the boaster boast about this: that he understands and knows me — that I am Adonai, practicing grace, justice and righteousness in the land; for in these things I take pleasure,” says Adonai.’ – Jeremiah 9:22-23
If we strive to be like Adonai, then surely we will heed the call of Micah 6:8 and Matthew 23:23.
Which leads me back to Les Miserables. The brilliant teacher, Rabbi Benjamin Blech has written a great article on Victor Hugo’s examination of the challenge of justice and mercy in his play.
I heartily recommend a read of his article ‘Les Miserables and the Bible’ – see
Clearly, if we desire to gain the full mercy of our Father we need to learn to repent. I also recommend this article that I have quoted a little from:
“On Rosh Hashana (Yom Teruah), which is a day of judgment mitigated by mercy, a person must establish his right to be present in the next world by answering the objections of the prosecution. One must pass through the dark corridors of justice before he can bask in the sunshine of mercy. On Yom Kippur one is armed with the benefit of the decisions of mercy before he is subjected to the harsh scrutiny of justice.” – from http://www.aish.com/h/hh/yom-kippur/theme/48955531.html
I also love these words from a brother on Facebook recently:
“Repentance is the key, a return to God and His Torah (instructions) through Yeshua the Messiah. Repentance is not just a mantra, is not empty words recited by a preacher and repeated by the penitent. Repentance is not just a passive emotion and a resolve to do better. It is not a new year resolution. Repentance is an attitude change, a change of perspective and direction, an active work, a setting right of wrongs done to God and our fellow man, a hunger for justice to be done, a choice to live in obedience to Torah(instructions) given to us by God. Repentance bears fruit, works and deeds of kindness, it produces a gentleness and a zeal for God, a separated life. Repentance changes one personally and can change a society corporately. A person or people bearing the fruits of repentance will enjoy the blessings and protection of our heavenly Father.” – Leon Hargreaves (FB Post – 26/12/2012)
 “The aim of Hebrew religion was Da’ath Elohim (the Knowledge of God); the aim of Greek thought was Gnothi seauton (Know thyself). Between these two there is a great gulf fixed. We do not see that either admits of any compromise. They are fundamentally different in a priori assumption, in method of approach, and in final conclusion… The Hebrew system starts with God. The only true wisdom is Knowledge of God. ‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.’ The corollary is that man can never know himself, what he is and what is his relation the world, unless first he learn of God and be submissive to God’s sovereign will. The Greek system, on the contrary, starts from the knowledge of man, and seeks to rise to an understanding of the ways and Nature of God through the knowledge of what is called ‘man’s higher nature’. According to the Bible, man had no higher nature except he be born of the Spirit. We find this approach of the Greeks no where in the Bible. The whole Bible, the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, is based on the Hebrew attitude and approach… “ - Prof. Norman H. Snaith “Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament”
 “The ability to recognize our sin, to take responsibility for it and to repent is at the core of what is meant by the idea of a Messiah.… the courage to admit guilt, to take responsibility, to change. This is the lesson that the Messiah will one day teach the world. Man controls his destiny. No matter what mistakes he has made, man can fix them.” – Rabbi Ari Kahn – http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48914512.html