Thursday, October 6, 2016

Second Baltimore Class

From top left: Nathaniel Davis, Rabbi Oliver, David Kinzer, Sonja Kinzer, NesChaya Davis, LaKeshia Davis
Second row: Batya Davis, Nina Kinzer, Nechamah Davis, Efrayim Davis

On September 20, we held our second class. In the most recent Noahide class, we discussed the three different forms of kindness that Avraham showed, and that we should emulate. 

-with one’s body—by doing favors for others using one’s body
-with one’s money (pretty straightforward)
-with one’s soul, by sharing spiritual guidance and personal advice to those with less wisdom and experience

Everyone should be kind with whatever they have to share, and not downplay the importance of their individual abilities to contribute to society. Some might imagine that since wisdom and advice are not tangible, sharing them does not constitute true kindness. However, in reality these intangibles can sometimes be of even greater assistance than money. Conversely, those who have money to share with the needy should surely not suffice with giving them advice. And sometimes people need neither money nor advice, but specifically physical assistance.

We also discussed the importance of integrity and fear of G–d when dispensing advice. When one person approaches another for advice, he is at that person’s mercy. He trusts him to give him advice that is in his own best interests. But if the giver of advice has a personal interest in the matter, he is unfit to give advice. His advice will be colored by his desire to derive personal gain, and he may even be tempted to knowingly give bad advice because he imagines that doing so is in his own best interest. (However, if the giver of advice makes a “full disclosure” of his personal stake in the matter, then there is no deception and so he may give advice.)

Thus, the challenge is to overcome the temptation to give bad advice and then claim that one “meant well,” knowing that no other mortal can know one’s thoughts. The key to withstanding this test is being G–d-fearing. In this connection, the Torah warns us “you shall fear your G–d,” for only when the person’s character is permeated with fear of G–d Who knows his hidden thoughts will he be protected from this temptation.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Our First Baltimore Noahide Class!

From top left: David Kinzer, Sonja Kinzer, NesChaya Davis,
LaKeshia Davis, Nathaniel Davis, Rabbi Y. Oliver
Second row: Sarah Henson, Nechamah Davis, Sarah's daughter Talia, Efrayim Davis
Bottom row: Nina Kinzer, Batya Davis

With great joy, I wish to announce a momentous occasion: The beginning of a new Noahide class in Baltimore. Our class met for the first time, thanks to gracious hosts Nathaniel and LaKeshia Davis. Also, it was another first for me in that I had the privilege of teaching children as part of a Noahide class (several of whom asked great questions and displayed their knowledge of the narratives in Genesis). Attending were Nathaniel and Lakeshia and their children; David and Sonja Kinzer and their daughter; and Sara and her daughter.

We concluded the meeting with a group prayer for G-d's guidance in general, for success in the continuation of the Noahide class in particular, and for His blessings for safety, good health, and material prosperity for all, after which everyone responded "amen".

Below is a summary of the class.

Testing our Hearts

After an overview of this week's Torah portion, Balak, we discussed G-d's words to the gentile prophet Bilam (Balaam), "Who are these men with you?"[1]

Why did G-d open His words in this way? Of course He knew who the men were!

G-d wanted to enter into conversation with Bilam in a gentle manner, so as not to overwhelm him. We find two earlier examples of this approach. First, G-d's "question" to Adam, "Where are you?"[2] and second, G-d's "question" to Kayin (Cain), asking him "where is your brother, Hevel (Abel)?"[3]

However, Rashi explains that in this instance, G-d's wording was also intended to test Bilam. Bilam's hatred of the Jewish people was so intense that he was willing to seize on any word of G-d that might indicate that his craving could be fulfilled. So G-d used purposely ambiguous language, and Bilam, who chose to follow his wicked heart, chose to interpret G-d's words literally. Bilam concluded that in fact, G-d didn't know who the messengers were, because He is sometimes fuzzy on what's going on in this world. And if G-d is sometimes not paying attention, then even though G-d would, in the following verses, forbid Bilam from cursing the Jewish people, Bilam concluded that he would find an opportunity to curse them anyway, when G-d would be "preoccupied" and hence fail to notice Bilam's actions.

Had Bilam chosen wisely, he would have realized that G-d only used that expression in order to enter into conversation with him in a gentle manner. Instead, Bilam chose to misinterpret G-d's words in a way that he imagined supported his sinful desires.

So in addition to the obvious lesson here about G-d's omnipotence, omniscience, and providence, this comment of Rashi also teaches us that G-d tests man in how he relates to G-d. Perhaps we can extrapolate this further and suggest that not only does G-d test man to see how he will approach G-d's Word, but also in how he will approach events in his life and events in the world, which are ultimately also from G-d. Will the person interpret all these things in a way that strengthens him in his faith and therefore leads him down a righteous path, or will he choose to follow the sinful desires of his heart and interpret all these things in a way that rationalizes his going down a path of sin?

The choice is his.

[1] Numbers 22:9.
[2] Genesis 3:9.
[3] Ibid. 4:9.