Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Ponderings of the Perkei Avot 1:14

RaYBaSH’s Ponderings of the Perkei Avot
Chapter 1:14
By: Yehudah ben Shomeyr

“If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?” 1:14

Yes, God is Omnipotent, yes, God still performs miracles, but we shouldn’t depend on them. Many people use God as a magic genie in the lamp and they give Him a rub whenever they want out of a pinch. But it doesn’t work that way. God is not a maid who cleans up after our messes. God is not a dog who fetches us our slippers at our command. God is a loving parent who will let us sober up a night in jail if we get thrown in the slammer for DUI. He will let us get punched in the jaw by a bully for allowing our mouth to run while the brain is not engaged. Some scrapes He will not let us out of because there is a priceless lesson to be learned that we wouldn’t learn any other way. God is that loving parent that if we slip and fall into the deep end of the pull He will jump in after us without a second thought. He is the one who will jump in front of an on coming car we are oblivious to knock us out of the way.

However, many make the mistake in thinking God will drop a miracle from the sky into our lap and when He doesn’t we get mad and blame Him for our predicament.  This is an old saying that people often mistake for Scripture, but it is nonetheless true; “God helps those who help themselves.” If one reads the Torah carefully one will see how often God expects Israel to do things on their own before He will move. He made them build the Tabernacle before He promised to dwell in their midst. He told them to sanctify themselves before He would meet with them. He didn’t do those things for them as many expect God to do today. If we have a splitting headache and cry out to God for a healing, do you think He will do it when you have Advil sitting in your medicine cabinet? If our community is suddenly being persecuted as in the days of the pogroms, or even like unto the conflict between Tibet and China, are we to sit passively back and wait for Messiah to come down on a white horse and slay our oppressors? What if Israel did this instead of fought during the Six Day War, or the Yom Kippur War? If they didn’t fight, Israel may not be here today.

We must work with in the confines of our physical limitations, yet at the same time reach beyond and believe (have faith) through ADONAI that we can obtain it. A good verse to remember that accents this passage well is, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Sadly, the value of one’s word, a promise of a family member or a friend doesn’t mean what it once did; it isn’t as strong and dependable as it once was. In ministry I have learned the hard way to have a backup plan when someone fails to follow through. I have learned that people will break a commitment and to be prepared when it does happen. So few nowadays are truly dependable; I am just thankful that there are still a few left. The point being, “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” This is not saying we should be selfish and only look out for number one, but we shouldn’t confuse weakness for meekness either. We have to stand up for ourselves. The last half of the passage balances this out, “And if I am only for myself, what am I?”

While we stand up for ourselves we must never forget those who are helpless and have no voice of their own and be that voice for them. The unborn baby, the government oppressed minority, the abused wife or child, the mentally handicapped, the elderly, the orphan, etc. You see, Rav Sha’ul basically answers this question in I Corinthians 13. “If I am only for myself what am I?” Read it for yourself, but basically he answers, “You are nothing.”

-- Yehudah ben Shomeyr