The other morning, while listening to the radio on the way to work one of my favorite songs from the Rocky movies came on. As I sang along with the radio some of the words of the song took on a different meaning to me.
Coming from a background of studying for Orthodox Jewish conversion, one of the things I see lacking in the Noahide world is the discussion and literature on the subject in Hebrew is called ‘midah’; in English this word is better known as, character trait, virtue or value.
I think the Seven Commandments are so much in front of us that often times we forget the study of virtues and values. I think they need to be studied as much as the base Seven Commandments are. The example I share at the end shows how incorrect virtues or values can lead to violating a main prohibition.
Rabbi Alan Betsalel Friedlander in his article, The Role of Gentiles in Creation, made a comment that brought back to mind a particular passage in the book of Genesis. In his comparison of the roles between Jews and non-Jews he wrote, “Rather the Torah commandments were to make a special people, to be an example for regular humans, to compare notes with and then continue on their progression in spiritual self improvement.”
Now take a look at,
“Surely, if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, sin rests at the door. Its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it.”
From the beginning we learn how important self improvement is to us and the Creator.
With the above passage in mind, I would like to revisit the song I heard on the radio.
Below is a part of the lyrics from Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.
“It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the dream of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watchin’ us all with the eye of the tiger
Risin’ up, straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I’m not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive
It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the dream of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival”
When we work on our personal character traits, virtues and values, there can seem to be a fight within us at times. Changing who we are can come with its difficulties and sometimes feels impossible. Often times we read in the Hebrew Scriptures where the Creator is telling us to put away or throw off our transgressions and take hold of His ways. To be honest it can be one of those things that is easily read but hard to do. Like in the words of song above, we, in our own mind become, “just a man and his will to survive”.
I read a story last week that show the difficulties we have in obeying the Creator is in our minds. All we have to do is think things through and apply some logic to the command.
“A King once told his son to take a huge stone up to the first floor of the palace. The stone was enormous: neither men, nor horses, nor machines could move it. The prince was very perplexed. After trying in vain. He became discouraged and gave up.
When the King came and asked for an explanation, the prince sheepishly admitted his failure:
“It was impossible!” he apologized.
“Do you really think that I would have asked you to do something impossible?” explained the King. “You should have thought about it! Did I ask you to take the stone up in one piece? If you had taken a hammer and started hitting it, you could have lifted up the small pieces and accomplished your work little by little!”.
Whether it be the Seven Commandment, their sub-laws, character traits, or virtues. If we take the lesson in the story and apply it, little by little we can change ourselves and in doing so change the world around us. Again as the song above put it, “Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival”
There are many other stories told in Jewish tradition that has the same out come to accomplishing things the Creator has given us to do. He is King of the Universe and everything He has given man to do is not impossible and we are able to do them, if done a little at a time; just like eating a slice of cake, one small bite at a time. We can do anything the Creator gives us to do, if we do what Rabbi Friedlander mentions in his article, “Continue in the progression of self improvement.”
There are many books and CDs out there especially in the Orthodox Jewish traditions that deals with the subject of self improvement. There are materials on improving one use of speech, eyes, judging favorably, deceit, business and the list just goes on.
I will share an example that I learned that is needed in many forms in the world at large. It has its ties to the prohibition of theft. Many people do it with out thinking of the consequences.
I had a rabbi tell me one time, that we do not enter a store and ask for help in getting information on a particular article unless we had plans on buying it. If we had no plans on buying it then we are taking that persons time and robbing their employer of the money they are paying that employee to help you. Curious shopping can lead to theft. Even when we are browsing, we need to use our heads and make sure we do not violate any of the Creators ways.
To help us stay on the right path here is one last quote.
“Know what is above: an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and a book in which all is recorded” Pirkei Avot 2:1/ Ethic of the Fathers
then continue on their progression in spiritual self improvement
Terry W. Hayes
Terry w. Hayes