Kindness, As We Are Now

Tradition says the actual Exodus didn’t happen until the 7th night of Passover, considering all the events that happened leading up to that final night.

In Rabbi Buchwald’s weekly Torah message, he shared from the Midrash (Shemot Rabba 23:5), about the conversation between God and Israel as Moses sang out while the Israelites crossed the Red Sea.  He said that Moses sang “Az ya-sheer Moshe… Ee’tee me’l’vah’nohn kallah, ee’tee me’l’vah’nohn tah’voh’ee”, or Come with Me from Lebanon, My bride, with Me from Lebanon.  He talks about how the word for Lebanon in Hebrew is very similar to the word for “brick” (L’vay’nah), and so this is another song that is a play on words.  He tells us the teaching about why this was the song Moses sang, and what it meant:

The custom of the world is that only after the bride is bedecked in her finest and bathed in perfumes, is she led to the bridal canopy. But the Al-mighty did not do so. Instead He beckoned the people of Israel, “Come with Me from Lebanon, My bride, with Me from Lebanon. I took you directly from the mortar and bricks, and made you into a bride.”

The Midrash emphasizes that G-d’s love for Israel is not dependent upon the people’s comeliness, their attractive vestments or sensuous perfumes. G-d took the Jewish people to Him directly from their enslavement, from the mortar and the bricks, before they were able to bathe or clean themselves, while they were still dirty and unkempt. And yet, G-d says to His people, “Come with Me, My bride, from the midst of the muck and the mud. My love for you is so profound, that I am oblivious of the foul odors and your ragged garments.”

This absolutely points to the Savior, who rescues us as we are.  We need not be finished, or perfected, or whole to be rescued.  Heavenly Father loves us because of who He is, and loves us because of who we are.  We are His children, and that just is.  Our bad behavior does has no bearing on our familial relationship with Him, though it does cause a separation between us.  But this is the whole point of the great atoning sacrifice the Savior has made, to bridge that gap again between us and Him.  He says to us:

You are still dirty and unkempt, unable to clean yourself, unable to heal what you have destroyed, unable to undo the bad choices you have made, unable to fix what has been broken, unable to find any good in the path of destruction you have caused.

If that is where He stopped, which is in all truth, we would be condemned.

If we were condemned, we would have no hope.  We would be lost.

But that is not where He stops.

By Heavenly Father’s great mercy, the atonement of the Savior paid the price justice demands, and by His great grace He reaches out to us right where we are, right now, in the very middle of our own mess.  So He speaks again to us, saying:

I cannot see your filth and shame, because it is covered by one who has mediated for you, advocated for you, paid your price and set you free.  Come to me, from the midst of the muck and the mud.  My love for you is so profound, that I am oblivious of the foul odors and your ragged garments.

Even then we are not abandoned.

He does wash us, and we are made clean, and we are given priestly garments for our rags.

There is an exchange of His righteousness for our sins, so that we are made worthy even though we are not – except each of us, by divine right as His children.

We are such young children, slow to soften and slow to listen and slow to receive all He has to offer.

But He is a patient Father, and an almighty God.

It makes me think also of Isaiah 54:4-10, some of my favorite verses that are also quoted later by the Savior himself in 3 Nephi 22:

4 Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

5 For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.

6 For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.

7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.

8 In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

9 For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.

10 For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.

There are a thousand layers there, but the one I see today is the focus on kindness.  In Hebrew, the word for kindness is a very intimate word, meaning mercy, courtship, favors, loyalty, cherishing, marital duty, and constant attention.  It is more than being nice, and more like an active doting on another with favor.

This is why we feel so abandoned when someone is not kind to us.  When someone is unkind, there is an absence of favored attention that is more than just what is mean or hurtful (directly or indirectly).  This is important to remember in our own sins and transgressions as well, that we cause far more damage when we are not kind than what is just seen or noticed on the surface.  Being unkind is not just an active hurting, but it is also a withholding of good.

In the same way, being kind is not just a nicety or giving of nice words or deeds.  It is attention.  It is service.  It is relational.  If you trace the etymology, it has to do with procreation.  Kindness is not just making nice or smoothing over or being polite, but a powerful giving birth to something spiritual.

This is what the Savior has done for us, in showing kindness, in being good to rescue us as we are and cleanse us and create us into something new that we were not before we encountered Him.

This is what we are called to do, at Passover, at Easter, as we follow His example.  We become more than the filthy rags we once were, and because we are changed, we behave and interact differently with those around us.  The challenge is that this change is significant and profound, not just an absence of bad behavior.  It is more than keeping the peace, and more than just being kind.  It is creating a spiritual renewal in those we encounter, accepting them as they are and finding a way to lift them in some small way.  This is edification, the giving of spiritual rebirth to another, through the sharing and living of testimony, whether you use words or not.

In His mercy, He has rescued us from the mess we were and gathered us into His place of holiness.  In this place, we are protected and loved and favored (in an active and participatory kindness kind of way).  From this place, we have the spiritual power to give the same love to others, in His name.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Comments

Kindness, As We Are Now — 1 Comment

  1. Emily, thanks for sharing such a beautiful message of hope regarding the Lord’s open invitation to come as we are now to Him so He can embrace us in His arms of love and wipe away our tears and sorrows.