Jesus Christ was a Jew. Born of a Jewish mother in Galilee, he lived all his life in what we call today Israel. All of his friends, associates, colleagues, disciples, all of them were Jews.
Even the way he spoke and the rhetorical devices he employed betray this Jewish flavor. Obviously he was very familiar with the Scriptures. Just to take just one simple example, the great cedar of Lebanon from Ezekiel plays a role in his description of the mustard seed.
He obviously worshipped regularly in the synagogues and we know that he used to go on procession to Jerusalem for any number of festive religious holidays.
He was born, lived and died as a Jew. This why an acquaintance with the Jewish legacy is essential to understand our roots. As one Rabbi says, “no one person is alone when he can cling to a chain of tradition in which he is the latest link.”
“Where does God exist?” the Rabbi asked several of followers. “Everywhere”, the surprised disciples answered. “No,” the Rabbi insisted. “God exists only where man lets him in!” This is why Jewish spirituality is based on the blessing – to speak well always of God, to think well always of God… If a Jew breaks a leg, he says, “Blessed be God that I did not break both legs.” And if he breaks both legs, he says, “Blessed be God that I did not break my neck!”
There are eight things, the Talmud says, that taken in large quantities are bad but in small quantities are helpful: travel, sex, wealth, work, wine, sleep, hot baths and blood letting!!
But there is one thing that should be taken and given in colossal quantities, and that is love. The Talmud says that “the commandment to be charitable is in its weight as much as all the rest of the commandments in total… Those who give charity in secret are greater than Moses.”
Ann Frank is probably one of the most well know Jewish figures. She was a teenager in Holland during the Second World War who kept a diary while hidden in a closet. The family was eventually betrayed and she died in a concentration camp. “Give of yourself, she writes in her diary, “you can always give something, even if it is only kindness… no one has ever become poor from giving.”
There was a terrible famine sweeping the land and a good Jew decided to do something to relieve the suffering. So he went and knocked at the door of a rich man who was known for his disregard for others. Instead of money he was given a punch in his face!
Undeterred, he wiped his blood from his face, and his only answer was, “The punishment was obviously for me, but now how much will you give to the poor?”
The beginning and the end of the Torah, the Jews say, is the performance of loving kindness.
When the Tahnah The Pious was entering the city on Sabbath Eve at dusk, he came upon a man afflicted with boils. “Master, do an act of kindness for me and carry me into the city.” Tahnah was unsure what to do because he was carrying a bundle with necessary provisions for his family.
If he abandoned the bundle, he would have nothing for him and his family to support themselves. However “if I abandon an afflicted with boils, I shall forfeit my life.”
What did he do? He carried the afflicted man into the city and then returned for his bundle. However when he started entering the city, the last rays of the sun were coming down. Everybody was astonished to see this holy man disregarding the strict law of the Sabbath. He himself felt bad. But God is remarkable. At that point, the Holy One caused the sun to continue to shine, thus delaying the beginning of the Sabbath.
Yes, it is true, God looks at a man’s heart before He looks at his brains!
The Rabbis recount this powerful anecdote. When Moses was tending the flock of his father in law, Jethro, one young kid ran away. Moses followed it tenaciously until it reached a pool where it stopped to drink. However Moses did not get angry but instead said to the sheep, “I do not know why you ran away. Perhaps you were thirsty. But surely now you must be weary.” So he placed the sheep on his shoulders and carried it back.
God Almighty seeing all this, told Moses, “Because you showed mercy in leading this sheep back to the flock, you can lead my flock, Israel.” Compassion is always the key.
Rabbi Moshe of Lieb tells the story of two farmers who were chatting over a glass of wine. At a certain moment, one of the farmers asked the other whether he really loved him or not. The other emphatically answered in the affirmative. But the first farmer answered back. “You say you love me, but you do not know what I need. If you really loved me, you would know!”
And the Rabbi concludes. “To know the needs of men and to bear the burden of their sorrow – that is the true love of men.”
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.