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Home » 3 Faiths Together


21 December 2016 No Comment

Rabbi Michael Whitman

When I read John’s deep words, “what is man-made can be man-unmade,” I think of a Chassidic insight. Our rabbis teach the way to avoid sin is, “Da Mah L’Ma’aleh Mimchah – know What/Who is above you,” which means being conscious of God above us reminds us not to sin. A Chassidic master translated the words differently: know that what is above (your reputation and spiritual essence in heaven) is a result of what you do here.

Our rabbis warn us about anger: “One who becomes enraged is as if he worshipped idols.” The connection at first seems unclear. But when rage takes over, we lose control, we are consumed, there is no room inside us for logic, for self-preservation, no room even for God.

I remember, many years ago, losing my temper in anger. I was aware that my actions were not logical or helpful to the situation, but I could clearly sense I was unable to redirect this enormous energy inside me. While externally I appeared in control, and did not actually do anything I would later regret, after I calmed down I marveled at how strong that force was inside me.

Since then, when I start to feel anger inside me, or see it in others, I remember that experience. Though my motivation may be base, part of what drives me away from anger is the fear of making a fool of myself, of embarrassing myself – as that is what I see in others when they are consumed by anger. Sometimes I have higher, more spiritual motives. But if fear of shame works for me, I will continue to use it (though, sadly, it doesn’t always work).

Fire is an amazing religious symbol, for all of us. A fire can warm and nurture. A fire can destroy. And the line between them is so very thin. Staring at flames on a cold night, meditating on the different paths we can follow and the consequences of each, is at the essence of Chanukah, and the universal religious experience.

Wishing all of us, all God’s children, light, warmth, happiness, and peace.


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