Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thank You Rabbi Hillel!

by Kristen Filipic

So, now that we're about halfway through, I'm having a rough time with this Leviticus project. I'm tired and drained and it seems like every time I turn around there's some other hoop that I'm not jumping through correctly and God is glaring disapprovingly. Meanwhile, my attention is so focused on the hoops that I seem to lose focus on justice and mercy. This does not seem good.

I've been close to enough Jews to know that this is a profoundly un-Jewish attitude. Nobody follows the law perfectly -- and there's no expectation that you ever will. That's just not part of the human condition. When you screw up -- and you will -- you dust yourself off and try again. And you're a little closer today than you were yesterday, and with God's help you'll be a little closer tomorrow.

Several years ago, my Consultants were telling me about this series of debates between Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel. Rabbi Shammai took the Torah very seriously and was very strict. This is not something to play games with. This is the LAW of GOD. This MATTERS. One does not cut corners! Rabbi Hillel was much more gentle. Unfailingly patient, he would always take people where they are and if they were generally pointing in the right direction then that is to be celebrated.

There's quite a bit to be said for both. The story goes, God rendered a verdict. Shammai understands the law correctly -- but live like Hillel.

Recently, I was talking to my Consultants about this story again. You cut yourself some slack -- individually and collectively -- because that's what it is to be human. Humans are fragile -- this includes both "everybody else" and me. That often means you say "I know I'm supposed to be doing Y, but really, X is all I can handle right now." For most of us, that's an uncomfortable position to be in. And so we tend to redefine the standard. Really, X is all we're really supposed to do. The Law doesn't really demand Y.

No. We don't get to do that. The Law is Y. If X is all you can handle right now, that can be OK. Nobody does this perfectly, and nobody ever will. That's OK. You keep trying, you're a little closer than you were yesterday and tomorrow, with God's help, you'll be a little closer than you are today. But don't redefine the Law down to what you can handle -- keep the ideal intact.

I think I might have made quite a jumble of trying to explain all this. But it helped me understand this whole undertaking a lot better.

No comments: