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Rabbi Arthur Segal’s love of people, humanity, and Judaism has him sharing with others “The Wisdom of the Ages” that has been passed on to him. His writings for modern Jews offer Spiritual, Ethical, and eco-Judaic lessons in plain English and with relevance to contemporary lifestyles. He is the author of countless articles, editorials, letters, and blog posts, and he has recently published two books:

The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew

and

A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud

You can learn more about these books at:

www.JewishSpiritualRenewal.org
ALL ENTRIES ARE (C) AND PUBLISHED BY RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL JEWISH SPIRITUAL RENEWAL, INC, AND NOT BY ANY INDIVIDUAL EMPLOYEE OF SAID CORPORATION. THIS APPLIES TO 3 OTHER BLOGS (CHUMASH, ECO, SPIRITUALITY) AND WEB SITES PUBLISHED BY SAID CORPORATION.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

TALMUDIC JUDAISM IN THE GOSPELS :RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL: JEWISH SPIRITUAL RENEWAL

TALMUDIC JUDAISM IN THE GOSPELS
 

GREAT IS PEACE BOOK TALK for ST FRANCIS BY THE SEA, NOVEMBER 12, 2013, 8 PM:

 

 Shalom Aleichem , Salaam Alekem, Pax Vobiscum, and Peace be with you.

 

Good people: Thank you for inviting me here to be with you.  It is good to see old friends and new ones.

 

Before we begin this evening about ''Intersections of the Gospels and Talmud and the lessons of 'Great is Peace and Civility''', I invite all of us, to look inside of ourselves, for any discrepancies between our 'ought to be' and our 'way we are'.  This discrepancy, if we feel it, creates in us a space to be guided. The world needs to be guided, now, out of the dark place in which we are, and out of the pain.

 

Let us take a moment to ask for aid in becoming what we 'ought' to become, and to be able to help lead others to this peaceful, just, and civil place of light and radiance.

In March, my people will be celebrating the holiday of Purim, as related in the book of Esther, in the Bible. The story is about a Persian anti -Semite, named Haman, from the tribe of Amalek, who devised a plan to kill all the Jews of Persia and its territories. The tables got turned, Haman and his sons were hanged, and Jews all over Persia, were given permission by  the King, to go on a one day killing spree, killing 75 thousand of Haman's followers.

 

The rabbis of Talmudic Rabbinic Judaism were appalled by this part of the story, and needed to devise a way to celebrate this holiday without alluding to bloodshed. They devised a method of blotting out the name of Haman and his cohorts, following the commandment in the Torah of 'blotting out Amalek', but not with swords, but with noise makers.

 

So at Purim when Jews hear the Scroll of Esther being read, they will use noisemakers every time the name of Haman is mentioned.

There are some important spiritual aspects of Purim that tend to go untaught, when the theme seems to be: '' They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat.'' The spiritual aspects of Purim are many and much too numerous to fully explore tonight.  One spiritual aspect of Purim is that God's name is never mentioned in the entire Book of Esther, yet we can see God's Hand on almost every page.

 

God is never hidden from us, but God was hidden from Haman, the antagonist in the story  by his own choice. So Jews are to wear masks to remember this. If only all of mankind's self- made problems, with one another, could be solved with noise makers and costuming.

 

So what is the Hebrew word for civility, in other words: ethical, kind , loving, non- egotistical behaviors? It is Derek Eretz. 

Derek Eretz, which literally means the Path of the Land, is about conducting ourselves in proper loving ethical and spiritual behavior, leading to peace. All of our Jewish holidays are spiritually about   getting ourselves right with the Divine Source and right with our fellows. The Talmud teaches us that while our prayers atone for our sins against God, for our misdeeds to our fellows, we need to seek them out and make amends. The Christian Bible teaches the same.

 

Learning and practicing the spiritual and ethical principles of Civility, will allow us to live in peace with our fellows, including family and co-workers, so that we no longer step on the toes of others, and have to make amends to them.

 The Talmud teaches that: "Civility  comes before Torah" – one cannot personify Torah until one demonstrates Civility in everything that one does.

 

Our sages, as taught in my book, revealed the path for living at peace with others and taught us how to:

 

-cultivate mindfulness

 

-stay centered in times of stress

 

-let go of negativity

 

-increase self-esteem

 

-bring out the best in others

 

-maintain harmony in relationships

 

-deal with difficult people

 

- and live in serenity, knowing that above all else, ''Great is Peace and Civility."

 

Two of the many important maxims in the Talmud tractate about Derek Eretz  and civility are, which are echoed in the Gospels are:

 

 

"If others speak evil of you, let the greatest thing seem unimportant in your eyes; but if you have spoken evil of others, let the least word seem important."

 

"If you have done much good, let it seem little in your eyes, and say: 'Not on my own have I done this, but through the good which has come to me through others'; but let a small kindness done to you appear great."

 

 Chapter Ten, of this Tractate, is known as "the Chapter on Shalom." It was considered to be so important by our ancient rabbis that they wanted to make this chapter, it's own complete Tractate of Talmud. Derek Eretz teaches us that one of God's holy names is Shalom and we are to "love Shalom and pursue Shalom."

Let us discuss a wonderful example of the intersection of the Gospels and the Talmud by looking closely at the "Our Father" prayer found in both the Books of Matthew and Luke.

 

 Let us recite it together in English, and after I will recite it in Hebrew. If it is your custom to rise, please do so.

 ''Our Father, Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be Thy Name.

Thy Kingdom come.

Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever. Amen.

Please be seated.

A-vi-nu   she-ba   sha-ma-yim

yit-ka-dash   she-me-cha ,

Ta-vo   mal-chut-cha,

Ye-a-seh  re-tzon-cha,

ka-a-sher  ba-sha-may-im ,

gam  ba-a-retz.

Et le-chem  chu-kei-nu ,

 ten  la-nu  ha-yom.

U-me-chal   la-nu,

 al  cho-vo-tei-nu

ka-a-sher  mach-al-nu

 gam  a-nach-nu

 le-chay  ave-i-nu.

Ve-al ta-vie-nu,

 liy-dey nis-a-yon ,

ki im tech-al-ze-nu

min ha-ra .

ki le-cha  ha-mam-lach-a,

 ve-hag-vu-ra  ve-ha-ti-fer-et ,

Le-ol-mey  o-lam-im,  a-mein . 

 

The only thing unJewish about the prayer, is the title, the Lord's Prayer, which is not used in Luke nor Matthew.   

A quick word on the dating of the Talmud. It is 2500 years old, orally taught, and was put into writing in 500 CE.  From the Talmud  (Tosef.,Talmud Bavli Tractate Beracoth Mishna 3: 7; Beracoth Daf 16b-17a, 29b; Talmud Yerushalmi. Beracoth 4: 7d) it is  learned that it was customary for prominent masters (Rabbi is Aramaic for 'my master.')  to recite brief prayers of their own, in addition to the regular prayers. There is indeed a certain similarity noticeable between these prayers and that of Jesus.

 

The 'Our Father' prayer is 100% Jewish. Jews came to Rabbi Yeshua and asked him how to pray. Many of us may forget that at this time, circa 30 CE, there were two religions at play in Judea : Hebraism with its Temple, priests, sacrifices, and no prayer as we think of it today; and Rabbinic Talmudic Judaism, of which Yeshua was a part, which had no temple, no priests, nor sacrifices, but had prayer, study, rabbis, synagogues, good deeds and love.

 

So a Hebrew asking Jesus, how to pray, would not be unusual, in Judea, as the Talmudic Rabbinic tradition was strong in Babylon, where it began 500 years prior, and weaker in Judea being in competition with the Hebraic priests of the Temple.

 

It was not until 70 CE when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, that Hebraism died, and Judaism was allowed to grow. [Hebraism does exist today ironically in a sect surviving 2000 years called the Karaites.]

 

Further, Jesus wasn't a pagan, a Roman, nor a Greek. The prayer came from the Jewish tradition almost phrase by phrase . Nearly every phrase is paralleled in the Jewish Talmudic liturgy.

So let us begin:

''Our Father which art in heaven'',

''Our Father who art in heaven'' from Talmud's Yoma 85b, Sotah 49b, and Pirket Avot 5:20; and Midrash Vayikra Rabbah ch 32.

_____

 ''Hallowed be thy name,''

 ''May His great name be hallowed in the world which He created,''   from the Kaddish prayer said multiple times in every Jewish prayer service, which are 3 times a day.

___

''Thy kingdom come, ''

''May God's kingdom be established during the days of your life.'' From the same Kaddish prayer.

___

''Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. ''

 ''Do thy will above and give comfort to those below, and to everyone his need'' from Talmud Beracoth 29b.

''Give us this day our daily bread. '' from King Solomon in Proverbs (30: 8 ), "Give us our apportioned bread" ("le-cḥem  chu-kei-nu") that is, the bread we need daily.

___

''And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. ''

''One who is merciful toward others, God will be merciful toward them. '' in Talmud Shabbat 151b

___

''And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:''

''Bring me not into temptation, and lead me away from iniquity ... and save me from the evil one'' from Talmud Berachot 80b .

''For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.''

''For Thine, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty '' from First Chronicles 29:10.

__

This shows that Jesus brilliantly condensed important Jewish Talmudic ethical teachings into one prayer. The 'Our Father" gathers up all of life and brings it before God. Jesus brings the wide range of concerns the Jews would bring to prayer and combines them in these six petitions. Given its Jewish roots, the Our Father is so wonderfully inclusive that any religious orientation could pray this prayer.

 

The three sentences, "Hallowed be Thy name," "Thy Kingdom come," and "Thy will be done on earth as in heaven," originally expressed one idea only—the petition that the Messianic kingdom might appear speedily, yet always subject to God's will.

 

The hallowing of God's name in the world forms part of the ushering in of His kingdom , as read in Ezekiel,  (38: 23), while the words "Thy will be done," refer to the time of the Messianic coming, signifying that none but God Himself knows the time of his coming. ("raẓon"; Isa. 61: 2; Ps. 69: 14).

 

  "May Thy Kingdom come speedily"  and "Thy Kingdom come"; and  "Thy will be done" are submitting everything to God's will, in the manner of the prayer of Rabbi Eliezer in the Talmud: "Do Your will in heaven above, and give rest of spirit to those that love You on earth, and do what is good in Your eyes. Blessed be You who hears prayer!" (Talmud Tractate Beracoth 3: 7).

 

The rest of the prayer, also, stands in close relation to the Messianic expectation. Exactly as R. Eliezer  of Modin said in the Talmud: "He who created the day, created also its provision; wherefore he who, while having sufficient food for the day, says: 'What shall I eat to-morrow?' belongs to the men of little faith, such as were the Israelites at the giving of the manna" (Talmud Tractate Soṭah 48b), so Jesus said: "Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat or drink, O you of little faith.  Seek you first the Kingdom of God,   and all these things shall be added to you."    

 

Faith is a prerequisite of those that wait for the Messianic time, and it behooves us to pray, in the words of Solomon in Proverbs (30: 8 ), "Give us our apportioned bread" ("le-cḥem  chu-kei-nu") that is, the bread we need daily.

 

Repentance is another prerequisite of redemption (Pirḳei Rabbi. Elaezer. 43 ; Targum  Yerushalmi. and  Leḳah Ṭov to Deut. 30: 2; ), and a prayer for forgiveness of sin is also required in this connection. On this point, special stress was laid by the Talmudic Jewish sages of old. "Forgive your neighbor the hurt that he has done  to you, and therefore so shall your sins also be forgiven when you pray," says Rabbi Ben Sira (Eccles. [Sirach] 28: 2). "To whom is sin pardoned? To he who forgives injury" as is taught in this very book on civility, Great is Peace. (Zuṭa 8: 3; Talmud Tractate Rosh Ha Shana 17a)

 

Accordingly Jesus said: "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anger against any one; so that your Father,   who is in heaven, will forgive your trespasses." It was this precept which prompted the formula "And forgive us our sins   as we also forgive those that have sinned   against us."

 

Directly connected with this is the prayer "And lead us not into temptation." This also is found in the Talmudic Jewish morning prayer (Talmud Tractate Beracoth. 60b;  : "Never should a man bring himself into temptation.''   

 

As sin is the work of Satan, there comes the final prayer, "But deliver us from the evil one [Satan]." This, with variations, is the theme of many Jewish prayers (Beracoth. 10b-17a, 60b), "the evil one" being softened into "yet-ẓer ha-ra'", "evil desire," or "evil companionship", so likewise "the evil one" in the 'Our Father' becomes simply all things evil.

 

As mentioned, the doxology is a portion of First Chronicles, 24: 11.  It occurs in the Talmudic Jewish ritual also, the whole verse being chanted at the opening of the Ark of the Torah, which occurs in observant synagogues, 4 times a week and on holy days.

 

In any event, Judaism believes in pluralism and that Jews do not have the one true path to God for all people.  Judaism believes that for Jews, the path has been laid out by God, but that God has given directions to other prophets in other times for other groups, nations, and religions. Xenophobia in Jewish people comes from a history of persecution, but it is not part of the theology.

 

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic party,  wrote for the back cover of my text:

 

"People are hungry for civility. More than ever this is a time for civility. Love is the key to many of our problems. It is not what someone calls you, but what you answer to."

 

 Our great sages understood what many today have forgotten – that each of us can heal and repair the world - one person, one interaction at a time. Each of us can be a vessel of our prayers and hopes for shalom. Each of us can live happy, joyous and free, even when the world seems to be an upside-down place.

 

The Talmud teaches that the only container that can contain God's blessings for us is peace.

So let us allow ''Great is Peace'' to   do the talking for me. I have chosen just one section of the many wonderful verses in the text.

Chapter One, Verse 1 lists many qualities that one should develop. Let's look at:

'' bearing wrongs done to us''…. 

 Often we hear that Judaism is a legalistic religion, as opposed to a way of love. Although Judaism certainly has its rules, which stem from its Hebraic roots, all of Torah and Talmud are meant to teach loving kindness. The Talmud Tractate Berachot , Blessings, clearly states that any ritual positive commandment must be waived to preserve the honor and well-being of another.

Rabbi Hillel teaches: "What is hateful unto you, do not do to your fellows."    Rabbi Levi ben Yitz-chok said, "Whether a man really loves the Divine can be determined by the love he bears toward his fellow men." And we find similar statements in the Christian bible as well.

 

 How can we love the neighbor who mows his lawn at 6 AM on Sunday? Leviticus tells us not to hate, not to revenge, not to resent, but to love, and to gently instruct someone who is on the wrong path. The verse ends with "I am God." Only via God's love do we become able to love those who annoy us.

 

Micah instructs "He has told you, O man, what is good, and what God seeks of you—only to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with the Lord, your God."

 

If someone behaves improperly towards us, we must erase the matter from our hearts, and behave correctly in every way with that person, just as we would with anyone else, as if nothing negative had ever come between us.

 

To seek revenge or to carry a grudge is not Judaic, and shows we are spiritually disconnected. Why let someone who is not paying rent live in our heads? Why hold a grudge when it only harms us, like an acid eating away at its container?

 

 

There is an important prayer in Judaism, one that is in every prayer service. It is so important, that the first discussion in the first book of the Talmud, is about it. This prayer is called the Shema. It is from the Hebrew word 'to listen, to pay attention'. You know it from the Christian Bible. "Listen o' Israel, the Lord your God, is one God,' and then it continues with "You shall love the Lord your God, with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your might.''

 

I have been saying the bedtime Shema for years, and it has helped to change me. The first paragraph goes:

 

 ''I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me or who sinned against me, whether through speech, deed, thought, or notion. May no man be punished because of me.  ''

Only in the third paragraph of the Bed Time Shema do we say the actual Shema, the acknowledgment that God is One. The man-to-man behaviors, true civility, take precedence over the man-to-God commandments in Judaism.

 

Allow me to Conclude: Rebbe Nachman  stated: "If you believe that you can damage, then, believe that you can fix. If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal." 

 

The struggle to triumph over the yetzer ha ra, the evil inclination, is ongoing. It takes work to remain acutely self-aware, to avoid reflexive, unthinking action. It takes effort to turn our focus away from our own concerns and to direct our energies toward helping and uplifting others. Traditional Judaism says we can't win this inner battle without God's help—we are simply not strong enough. 

 

We may define 'God' as the best within ourselves.   If we believe in God, we might say that the Holy Spark within us has been given by God as a doorway to God. The more we empty ourselves of ego, the more room there is to allow the creative energy of the universe to flow through us. When we practice 'how can I help?' instead of 'what's in it for me?' we gain a sense of spiritual expansion. We free ourselves from our bondage of self, where we are our own Pharaohs in our own Mitzraim, the Hebrew word for Egypt, which literally means ''narrow places .''

 

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak with you, and I will try to answer some questions, as long as they are questions, and not statements and speeches. I will be available to meet and greet you individually at the book signing table.

Shalom uvracha, Peace and many blessings, an early Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas, and to my Jewish friends in the sanctuary, Happy Chanukah as well.

 

 

RABBI DR ARTHUR SEGAL
www.JewishSpiritualRenewal.com/books www.FaceBook.com/Arthur.L.Segal www.FaceBook.com/RabbiArthurSegalJewishSpiritualRenewal www.RabbiArthurSegal.blogspot.com
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