JBOM stands for Jewish Book of the Month Club. This is a book club that was started in March by Messianic Rabbi Derek Leman www.derek4messiah.wordpress.com. The motivation behind starting this book club was to get a group together within the greater Body of Messiah reading, getting educated and sharing our thoughts on Jewish works with those who might not normally come in contact with such (like myself :-)). Currently there are over a dozen bloggers participating along with a few congregations and a few more individuals on board as well. The JBOM selection for April was Visions of the Fathers by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. Rabbi Twerski is a Torah Scholar as well as a Psychiatrist who has treated and helped thousands of those with substance abuse problems. This will be my last post for Visions for the time being as I’m currently enthralled in May’s selection The Lost and plan to post on it soon.
It has been a little over a month since my first post on Visions of the Fathers and with Shavuot (Pentecost) being this past Wednesday or …………. today, depending on where you land in the calendrical issue of counting the Omer beginning on the day after the first Festival Shabbat of Pesach or the weekly Shabbat during Pesach week. Anyway the reason I bring up Shavuot is because Visions of the Fathers is a commentary on the classic Mishnah text Pirkei Avos, which is traditionally read on the weekly Sabbath afternoons between Passover and Pentecost, as well as continued by many on those so-called lazy days of summer.
I hadn’t ever read any Talmudic literature before being introduced to this book but I quickly found myself connecting parallels between Pirkei Avos and Rabbi Twerski’s commentary and the Apostolic writings of the NT (I hope to write on these at some point in the future :-), God willing). I had also heard and seen many of the texts quoted from Pirkie Avos over the last couple of years without specifically realizing where they were from. Visions of the Fathers is a heavy read and not something I would suggest reading through quickly but rather taking it slow and letting it simmer and set in to experience the depths and layers that on the surface are practical and ethical high standards of living and yet on another level can have far-reaching effects on the “neshamah” that part of your soul or being which is limitless and eternal and created in the image of God.
I had planned to read this book through in a month or so until I actually started reading the book and realized that this would be much better spaced out over a couple of years, maybe and re-read many times over. It’s advice and anecdotes are useful in practically any setting including: Spiritual Discipline, Physical Discipline, Parenting and Relationships to name a few. Here are some of my takeaways from Chapter 2:
Whatever [path] is a credit to himself and earns him the esteem of fellow men- Why should a person behave in a way to evoke praise from others? Is this not being motivated by vanity, by a quest for admiration? The intent of this mishnah is not that one should elicit glorification from others, but rather that one should act in a manner that will cause people to respect the principles which he represents. The Talmud clearly demands a higher standard from those who represent Torah observance.
Know what is above you; a watchful Eye, an attentive Ear and all your deeds are recorded in a Book- If you wish to avoid doing wrong, our mishnah tells us, consider the frailty of your perceptions. To see and hear correctly may be above and beyond you, because you perceptions are subject to distortion. Your eyes and ears are not as much under your control as you think. If you wish to do what is right, allow your actions to be guided by what is written in the Torah (and in fact all of Scripture). The Torah is the Manufacturer’s guide to proper and optimal operation of the apparatus He created.
Torah study is acceptable together with an occupation, for exertion of them both makes sin forgotten– Twerski relates this funny story to help illustrate this mishnah: A man once came over to a Rebbe complaining that his business was failing. He had inherited a store, but while his father had done a brisk business, the man’s fortunes were not good. Although nothing had changed in the business, there was dearth of customers. ” Nothing has changed, you say?” asked the Rebbe. “Tell me, what do you do when there is a lull in the store, and there are no customers?” “I read the newspaper and catch up on what is happening in the world.” the man said. “Aha!” said the Rebbe. “There is your problem. When things were quite, your father would pick up a Mishnayos and learn, or recite Psalms. This irritated Satan to no end. In order to distract your father from his Torah study and prayer, Satan would urge people to go to his store. This way, his brisk business would interrupt his study and prayer. “You, on the other hand, idle away your free time, which is just what Satan wishes. Why should he bother sending customers to distract you?”
Nullify your will in the face of His will– It is only necessary to recognize that our own will is unreliable, and to be wise enough to substitute God’s will for our own. We can then be certain that God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Do not separate yourself from the community– We must therefore be careful to avoid the separatism that will result from vanity and arrogance, of insisting that one is right, and not be willing to subject one’s position to critical analysis. Truth will stand up under scrutiny. It is only falsehood that must be protected against any challenge that will disprove it.
The more possessions, the more worry– Solomon was so right. “The sleep of the laborer is sweet, but the abundance of the wealthy does not let him sleep [peacefully]” Ecclesiastes 5:11
If you have studied much Torah, do not take credit for yourself, because that is what you were created to do– This mishnah cautions us not to allow our excellence in any field, even Torah study, to inflate our ego.
Let your fellow’s honor be as dear to you as your own– The Torah requires a person to be most respectful when disagreeing with a parent or a scholar. This is equally true when disagreeing with one’s spouse.
…..apply yourself to study of Torah– Hillel summed up the Torah by saying “Love your neighbor as yourself; that is the whole of Torah. As for the rest, now go and learn it”. Torah is much more in-depth and complex than just morality or humanism between mankind.
And let all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven– Rabbi Mendel says ” Let us not forget that all one’s actions, even the things that are done for the sake of Heaven, must be done for the sake of Heaven”.
Be meticulous in reading the Shema….– There are some concepts in Judaism that may appear to be logically contradictory, yet which must be accepted on the basis of faith. For example, we believe that God has infinite foresight, and knows everything that will occur until the end of time. We also believe that a person is totally free to make moral decisions. Whether he does right or wrong is not predetermined, but rather his free choice. Inasmuch as God knows what I am going to do, how can I be said to be free in deciding what to do? Can I do other than what God knows I will do? Does not Divine foreknowledge constitute predetermination? We believe that everything that God does is for the good, and that God never does anything that is wrong. Even those happenings which appear to us to be dreadful are fo an ultimate good.
Be diligent in the study of Torah, and know what to answer a heretic– All the necessary philosophic concepts of God and the universe can be found in Torah literature (and in fact the whole of Scripture).
The day is short, the task is abundant, the laborers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master of the house is insistent– There is much to do and relatively little time to get the work done. Although one is not expected to complete the entire task, one has no right to be indolent, and one is obligated to do as much as he can. While there is great reward for being diligent in the work, the full payment is not to be received in one’s earthly life.
“And know that reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come”.