I don’t celebrate Christmas. I consider myself a serious Jew. On Christmas day, it is my tradition to take call in the hospital, so that my Christian colleagues can have that special time with their families. I also participate in the Daf Yomi, a seven year program studying one page each day of the Talmud, the ancient text of Jewish law and thought. I recently studied Tractate Sotah, page 47, which includes a lesson and a story that may refer to Jesus of Nazareth as a young student.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perahya was traveling with his student, Yeshu ha-Notzri. When they stopped at an inn and were treated well, the rabbi mentioned to Yeshu that it was beautiful. Yeshu responded that the innkeeper was unattractive. The rabbi took great offense and banned his student, Yeshu. Yeshu tried several times to return to the rabbi, but was rejected. The rabbi came to realize that he had overreacted, and decided to accept his student back. The final time that Yeshu approached, the rabbi was in the midst of the holy prayer, the “Shema.” The rabbi held up his hand to ask Yeshu to wait just a moment. Yeshu took the gesture as a final rejection and left, never to return.
The Talmud teaches to be “not like Yehoshua ben Perahya who pushed with both hands.” When criticizing or opposing, push away with the left hand, while bringing closer with the right, the stronger hand.
This is the Jewish message that I offer on this Christmas holiday. When we face those we oppose, whether Jew, Christian, Muslim, or atheist, whether pro-Choice or pro-Life, whether Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian, let us push away with the left hand of morality and justice, while we hold close with the right hand of tolerance, mutual respect, forgiveness and humanity. May we merit peace on Earth, and good will towards all men. Wishing you a joyous holiday and a happy new year.