The Power of Vulnerability:

Brene Brown is a social researcher. She has a very powerful message to share that she has found through her research.

She argues that human “connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

From her research she divided people into two basic groups; those who have a strong sense of love and belonging (and thus feel connected), and those who really struggle for it (and thus feel disconnected).

And here’s the kicker, here’s her revelation from her research:

“The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.” 

She found that these people are “whole-hearted.”

That they had a sense of courage, where she uses the original definition of “tell(ing) the story of who you are with your whole heart.”, and thus having the courage to be imperfect.

They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others.

And “as a result of this authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.”

And they “fully embraced vulnerability.”

They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. This means that they have “the willingness to say, “I love you” first … the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees …”; the willingness “to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.”

Brene argues that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

Yet, as she also discovered from her research we all have a tendency to numb our vulnerability, but the problem is “that you cannot selectively numb emotion.”

“You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, …”

Instead she argues that we need to accept our feelings of vulnerability because it means we are really alive, and we need to “believe that we’re enough.”

I strongly recommend you listen to her TED talk here.

In reflecting on this I see many ways in which our upbringing can predispose us to being in one group or the other.

With an upbringing by wise and loving parents we should grow into adults who have this sense of belonging and being worthy.

Yet there are many factors that work against this, not just our natural tendency to question and second-guess ourselves, and perhaps lack the confidence to be authentic due to peer pressure, etc., but a whole media push to constantly tell us we are not good enough without buying into the latest fad or getting the latest toy or gadget, etc., or being part of some special group that ‘has it all’.

Also, I suspect for many brought up in recent decades within a Christian environment, the false ‘Original Sin’[1] doctrine has been far from helpful here as it tries to convince people that they are at their core, and from birth, sinful and depraved beings with little hope of redemption without miraculous external support.

Rather Brene’s research rings so true with foundational Biblical principles. Consider the Sh’ma (Deut 6:4 …) for example and the two greatest commandments according to Yeshua.

 Sh’ma, Yisra’el:
“Listen, O’ Israel: YHVH is our God, YHVH is one!
You must love YHVH your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength.
These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up…”


And Leviticus 19:18: …love your neighbour as yourself; I am YHVH.

You cannot truly love your neighbour unless you love yourself. True love and devotion to the Almighty should also being the revelation that you are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made, and you cannot hope to give your all in loving God if you find yourself unworthy.

But you can change!

You can grow in acceptance of yourself; in being more authentic; in being ‘whole-hearted’ so that you can give ‘whole-heartedly’ to God!

For more please see my article ‘You Shall be Holy’[2] and my ‘The Ten Happiness Principles’[3] on Udemy.

Note:  
The two groups of people that Brene refers to are not those who are very gregarious and love being around others, compared with those who prefer a more solitary life. This was not the distinction she was making.

I think in this respect, there is also a lot going for the ‘solitary life’ or at the very least for times of peace and quiet and times of reflection away from the ‘madding crowd’, including family, etc. But Brene was instead contrasting 1) those who believe they’re worthy of love and belonging with 2) those who don’t.

Her argument is that those who don’t feel worthy are more likely to fall for addictions; to feel dis-connected (which is not at all the same thing as enjoying solitude), to struggle to find joy and happiness. Someone who feels worthy is more easily able to be vulnerable, and in turn such people are more easily able to ‘hear’ the lessons that God gives us every day and grow from them.

A lack of a sense of worthiness in turn leads to placing barriers and walls which not only lead to disconnection but inhibit any openness to growth and learning.

[1] See this excellent article for more on this very damaging doctrine – https://goo.gl/HVrhiF

[2] https://globaltruthinternational.com/2015/03/21/you-shall-be-holy-introduction/

[3] https://www.udemy.com/the-ten-happiness-principles/

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’.

The Torah is God’s Song

Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deut. 29:9–31:30)

The last command of the Torah[1] reads:

“Now therefore write down for yourselves this song, and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be my witness within the people of Israel.” D’varim (Deut.) 31:19

Many Jewish scholars have asked ‘why a song?’ and was the song the next section of Deuteronomy or the whole of the 5 Books of Moses?

Rabbi Sacks refers to Rabbi Yechiel Michal Epstein who states that one of the reasons the Torah is called “a song” is because a song becomes more beautiful when scored for many voices interwoven in complex harmonies.

Rabbi Sacks goes on to write: “The Torah is God’s libretto, and we, the Jewish people, are His choir, the performers of His choral symphony. And though, when Jews speak they often argue, when they sing, they sing in harmony, as the Israelites did at the Red Sea, because music is the language of the soul, and at the level of the soul Jews enter the unity of the Divine which transcends the oppositions of lower worlds.

The Torah is God’s song, and ‘we’ collectively are its singers.”
He also argues that through the writing and singing of this Torah ‘song’, the Torah is renewed afresh with each generation and each individual.

The Torah Portion, Nitzavim includes some of the most fundamental principles of faith in The God of Israel.

It speaks of:

  • the unity of Israel;
  • the future redemption;
  • the practicality of Torah; – see http://goo.gl/m9Dz95 and
  • Freedom of choice.

The Torah Portion (Parshah) of Vayelech also speaks of how the Almighty will ‘hide His face’ – see https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/09/23/moses-and-the-king-who-hides/

(Thanks to Chabad.org & Rabbi Jonathan Sacks for the thoughts paraphrased above).

In considering this Torah Portion, and the concept that the Torah is God’s Song to be sung by all who love the Instructions of God (Torah), as well as considering how it can be renewed through the generations, I think it also worth reflecting on how the writer of Yochanan’s (John) Gospel in the Apostolic Writings (the NT) saw Torah.

You can get closer to the source of Yochanan’s understanding by going back to the original Hebrew of Proverbs 8:

“The L-RD purchased me at the very beginning of His way before any of his activities at that point. From before time began, I was poured out, even before there was “earth” … And I was BESIDE (or WITH) Him, a master artisan, And I was full of delights, daily playing before Him at every moment’ – Proverbs 8:22, 23, 30 translated by Uriel ben Mordechai

This ‘wisdom’ is TORAH. The Torah existed before the foundation of the universe.

Thus, it seems that it is the Torah, that Yochanan (John) refers to in John 1:1, which if we had the original autograph in Hebrew would more likely read in English something like this:

“In the beginning was the Torah, and (the) Torah was for the sake of (the) G-d, And godly was (the) Torah.”

Get Uriel ben Mordechai’s book for more details on the validity of this translation – see  ‪http://above-and-beyond-ltd.com/store/books/if.html

This translation is also very well presented and attested for in Jacobus Schoneveld’s scholarly article: ‘Torah in the Flesh

Further, when we consider that Yochanan was not writing in a vacuum, but actually quoting what other Jewish writers had written before him (and in Hebrew), we can be fairly sure of his intent, even if we only have poor Greek translations.

Yochanan, like Yeshua relied on the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh.

Yeshua when he repeatedly said ‘It is written …” were referring to the Tanakh. When Yochanan concluded his Gospel account by stating that these things were written so that you may trust, or have faith,  that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God (Jn 20:31), he was clearly endorsing and supporting the work of Yeshua and his own argument that in Yeshua. The Torah had put on (or wore) flesh.

To understand anything in the NT and to appreciate the intent of the NT authors such as Yochanan, we need to look not only into the Tanakh to understand their perspective and biblical reality, but also to documents from the inter-testamental time (perhaps as late as, late 3rd century BCE to early 2nd century BCE, through to around 40-50 CE) to appreciate common Jewish thinking, understanding and terminology. So this includes works like the ‘Wisdom of Sirach’.

In this respect even sectarian works from this period can be relevant.

So with this appreciation, it is worth asking if the concepts and ideas presented in Yochanan’s prologue were already existent or even prevalent in the Tanakh and in Jewish thought of his time.

What we find is that Yochanan’s prologue, for example John 1:3 “through ‘it’ (the Word or the Torah) everything came to be: no single thing was created without ‘it’ ” was a Jewish ‘commonplace’.

That is, it was already part of Jewish writings prior to Yochanan.

For example in the Book of Jubilees we read that God “has created everything by His word/Torah” (12:4), and so it is also said in Wisdom of Solomon 9:1.

Even more similar to Yochanan’s prologue is the wording of two sentences in the Dead Sea Scrolls: “By His (God’s) knowledge everything came to be, and everything which is happening — He establishes it by his design and without Him [nothing] is done” (1QS XI: 11).

And “By the wisdom of Thy knowledge Thou didst establish their destiny ere they came into being, and according [Thy will] everything came to be, and without Thee [nothing] is done” (1QH 1:19-20).

Thus, the concept that God created the world through his ‘word/Torah/wisdom’ is a Jewish concept.

In fact, the Tanakh informs us that Almighty created the entire universe through ‘fiats’; through His word. So not only does the ‘word’ of God have a creative function, it also has an analytical function.

Consider for example, Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit. …and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Here we see the ‘word’ or ‘logos’ having an analytical function. Interestingly, even the Hellenistic Jew Philo (20 BCE – 50 CE) took this position.

In Wikipedia we read: ‘Some scholars hold that his concept of the Logos as God’s creative principle influenced early Christology. Other scholars, however, deny direct influence but say both Philo and early Christianity borrow from a common source. For Philo, Logos was God’s “blueprint for the world”, a governing plan.’

So consider that Yochanan starts with: “In the beginning was the Torah, and (the) Torah was for the sake of (the) G-d, And godly was (the) Torah.” And then goes on to state (paraphrasing Yochanan 1:14):

“And the Torah dressed itself in human flesh and so dwelt amongst us, so that we could see its (the Torah’s) glory from the Father, a glory full of grace and truth.”

So God’s Song has dressed itself in humanity, so that all who love Torah, and see the perfect example (in Yeshua) of how to live Torah, can properly renew, and in unity, sing Torah daily.

Perhaps we can even sense the rising crescendo of this ‘Torah Song’, as we witness the great signs through the creation of State of Israel, and the dawning of the final Redemption!

Shalom!

[1] The word תּוֹרָה (Torah) means teaching or instructions. It is also used to refer to the 5 Books of Moses, as these contain the Torah. Normally when referring to the whole Hebrew Bible, the phrase Torah, Prophets and Writings is used, but at times this may also be shortened to ‘Torah’.

The Ten Happiness Principles #10

We are now up to Happiness Principle #10.

Before we go into any details on this 10th Principle, let us recap a little.

We have been working through Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s Ten Happiness Principles and for each one I have been adding some personal reflections. It should be obvious already that Rabbi Sack’s Principles are not just sweet sentiments, sugary illusions or even the power of positive thinking. There do not declare that we simply need to become beautiful, wealthy and successful. Rather, his principles are all based around a life of values, meaning and significance. These are eternal principles.

Psychologists who study happiness inform us that there are essentially three main types:

1)   Happiness from pleasurable pursuits that gratify the senses such as good food and wine, and of-course sexual gratification;

2)   Happiness that comes form being fully engaged in an enjoyable activity so that you lose sense of time. For some this may be fishing, or playing a sport or even just listening to your favourite music;

3)   Happiness that comes from giving, from altruistic behaviour. Being involved in altruistic actions has also been shown to change our brain chemistry. It actually changes who we are.

While the first two type are somewhat culturally dependent, the third is very much the same in its impact and effectiveness across all cultures, genders and ages.

The third type of happiness is also most often promoted by religious philosophies and groups. Thus religions generally add meaningful happiness (though clearly there are exceptions to this). Meaningful happiness appears to extend life as well.

So now we come to Happiness Principle #10: Transform suffering.

Quoting Rabbi Sacks:

“Perhaps the oldest question in religion is: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But there are two ways of asking this question. The first is, “Why has God done this to me?”

Never ask this question, because we may never know the answer. God cares for us, but He also cares for everyone and everything. We think of now; God thinks of eternity. We could never see the universe from God’s point of view. So we will probably never find the answer to the question: “Why me?”

But there is another way of asking the question.

“Given that this has happened, what does God want me to learn from it?
How is He challenging me to grow? How is He calling on me to respond?”

Asking it this way involves looking forward, not back. “Why did God do this?” is the wrong question.

The right one is: “How shall I live my life differently because this has happened?”

This is a huge change of emphasis and perspective. It is so great, it is almost a reformation!

It involves first an acceptance of life unhelpful or unwanted life events, and an acceptance that God is still God. Just because some event happened to me that I didn’t want, doesn’t mean that I should question the Creator or His role in my life. The practical and forward looking response is to accept that this unwanted event has occurred and how can I best move forward in light of this truth. It’s an approach that is living in the here and now while still eagerly awaiting the better age to come.

So from this attitude, we should recognize that an attitude of praise is the natural consequence of such an approach.”

Which of course brings us full circle back to Happiness Principle #1.

In my ‘Amazing Grace’ article I talk a little about ‘Tikkun HaOlam’ (repairing the world). This is clearly just another way of stating the principle of ‘Transforming Suffering’.

To quote Rabbi Sacks again:

“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’. …”

This is ‘transforming suffering’; this is the vital 10th Principle that ultimately and most powerfully impacts all the others.

This is the principle, if heeded and acted upon by a significant number, that will change the world and not just make it a happier place for the individual seeking happiness, but for all around them and ultimately, or at least potentially, for all the world.

Begin here. Begin with ‘transforming suffering’; begin by finding someone ‘near’ you in pain and work to ease or alleviate their pain.

This will not only help them; this will not only mean that you are truly ‘loving your neighbour’ (the 2nd Tablet of the Ten Commandments), but also this will improve your world and your happiness and help you to implement all the other 9 principles. When you do these, through them all, but perhaps most powerfully, through the ‘silence of your soul’, you will encounter the Almighty in a more powerful way and come to love Him so that you are ready to heed the call to  ‘love God’ (and so obey the 1st Tablet or the first five of the Ten Commandments, the Moral Code of the Universe!).

You will now find that you are indeed experiencing and obeying the two greatest commandments:

Mark 12:28-31

28 One of the Torah-teachers came up and heard them engaged in this discussion. Seeing that Yeshua answered them well, he asked him, “Which is the most important commandment of them all?” 29 Yeshua answered, “The most important is, ‘Sh’ma Yisra’el, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad [Hear, O Isra’el, the Lord our God, the Lord is one],
30 and you are to love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your understanding and with all your strength.’

31 The second is this: ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’

There is no other commandments greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31

So to recap, here are the Ten Happiness Principles as suggested by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that I have discussed and elaborated on, over the last few blog posts:

They are:

1. Give thanks;
2. Praise;
3. Spend time with your family;
4. Discover meaning;
5. Live your values;
6. Forgive;
7. Keep growing;
8. Learn to listen;
9. Create moments of silence in the soul; and,
10. Transform suffering.

Shalom!

The Ten Happiness Principles: #1

Finding Happiness and Finding God: 

One of the greatest minds of this era, and one of the greatest thinkers in Judaism is, in my opinion, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (the very recently retired, Chief Rabbi of London). He gives what he believes are the top ten most important things we can do to find happiness. I wish to give his top ten and expand a little on each one through the next 10 short blog posts.

Some research studies have shown the Westerners, despite years of improving economic conditions, are generally no more happy than they were, and continue to seek the answers to their lack of happiness, through the masses of pop psychology offerings.

Research does appear to suggest that the wealthier people are, the happier they are (to some degree at least) and yet, research also seems to suggest that when adults have children they end up being less happy!!?

Given all the significant challenges of trying to quantify such as elusive emotion, or state of being, as happiness, perhaps we shouldn’t rely to heavily on such research!

At the same time, we all can reflect on our own personal experiences and on anecdotal evidence from the life experiences of our closest family members and friends, and how their happiness has changed through various significant life events.

For example, I saw first-hand how someone, very close to me, overcame a life-time of severe depression by taking on a job which involved taking significant responsibility for the welfare of vulnerable members of society.

I believe that these 10 Happiness Principles are 10 action steps which are foundational to a good and happy life.

Happiness Principle #1:  Give thanks:

Being appreciate for what we have is always a good approach that demonstrates a good attitude. There seems no question that those who are appreciative for whatever good, no matter how small or great, that comes their way, are generally much more content with their lives, and hence less jealous of others and consequently happier.

Part of this appreciation is the recognition that we normally have no control over the circumstances, or country, or economic state we are born and grow up in, but as adults, we do have control over how we respond to our personal circumstances.

As Rabbi Sacks states it: “For it is not what happens to us on which our happiness depends.  It depends on how we respond to what happens to us.” 

Of-course, that’s easy for him to say!  In reality, the practice of a good attitude is never easy!

To awake and start the day by being thankful that you have the day, that you are alive is a great start. Even being thankful that your normal bodily functions are working helps to engender a sense of calm and serenity.

The first waking prayer of Judaism fits this mold. It states: “I thank You, living and eternal King, who has restored my soul in mercy. Thank You, God, for giving me back my life.”

Giving thanks to the Almighty is a very common refrain in the Psalms. Just a few examples are Ps 7:17. 9:1.18:49, 30:4, 33:2, 35:18. 44:8, 45:17, 53:9, 54:6. 57:9. 75:1, 79:13 and so on.

The wording of Psalm 107:1 is often repeated: Give thanks to YHVH, for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever.”

This attitude or thankfulness is also quite common in the Apostle Paul’s writings. For example see 1 Thessalonians 5: 14-18

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Messiah Yeshua for you.

If  you take the time to read through just some of the many Psalms that speak of giving thanks you will also see what Happiness Principle #2 is.

Next: Happiness Principle #2

Fighting Evil with Grace: We are called to put out the fire!

After a recent presentation, the former Chief Rabbi of London, Lord Jonathan Sacks responded to a question with these comments (excerpts only[1]):

“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[2]!

“ … 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[3] 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


[2] Part of the answer is a sense in which evil is not evil after all – confused? Read Rabbi Sacks article and book.

[3] Or we could say, the message of the Tanakh, the message of YHVH and His Son, begins here

Deeds matter more than creeds

Prof Paul Johnson:
“… another characteristic of Judaism: the relative absence of dogmatic theology. … Their view of God is very simple and clear (he’s comparing it with the huge problems of dogmas and innumerable heresies within Hellenistic Christianity). Some Jewish scholars argue that there is (also) in fact, a lot of dogma in Judaism.

That is true in the sense that there are many negative prohibitions – chiefly against idolatry. But the Jews usually avoided the positive dogmas which the vanity of theologians tends to create and which are the source of so much trouble.  They never adopted, for instance , the idea of Original Sin. Of all the ancient peoples, the Jews were perhaps the least interested in death, and this saved them from a host of problems. It is true that belief in the resurrection ansd the afterlife was the main distinguishing mark of Pharisaism, and thus a fundament of rabbinic Judaism. Indeed the first definite statement of dogma in the whole of Judaism, in the Mishnah, deals with this: ‘All Israel share in the world to come except the one who says resurrection has no origin in the Law’. But the Jews had a way of concentrating on life and pushing death – and its dogmas – intro the background.”

The first creed of Judaism (Gaon around 900 CE) did not come into acceptance until Judaism was some 2500 years old! Even Maimonides 13 articles of faith, which have given ‘little rise to controversy’ have not been ‘endorsed by any authoritative body’.

“Judaism is not so much about doctrine – that is taken for granted – as behaviour; the code matters more than the creed.”

Quote from Johnson, ‘A History of the Jews’, p 161 

Or as put in the Mishnah: “Deeds matter more than Creeds”.

While Prof. Paul Johnson is a Roman Catholic, I doubt that few, even Jewish historians (and I love the work of Rabbi Ken Spiro), have given as good a history of the Jewish people as Prof. Johnson – he clearly loves the Jewish people; he explains the rise of both anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred so well, and he shows how dependent the entire world really has been on the wisdom and endeavours of the Jewish people.

His book should be read by all Jews (to encourage and uplift them) and by all Gentiles to enlighten them!

It is a big book – it took me awhile to digest but it was so worth it. 

The only time he goes a little wrong in my opinion, is when he tries to explain certain Christian perspectives rather than any Jewish ones!

His personal website is: http://pauljohnsonarchives.org/