Friday, July 20th | 8 Av 5778

September 9, 2016 4:04 am

We Can Be Mother Teresa, Too — or Better

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

Email a copy of "We Can Be Mother Teresa, Too — or Better" to a friend
Mother Teresa receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Mother Teresa receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Mother Teresa has become Saint Teresa!

She was born in 1910, in what is now Macedonia. She joined a religious sisterhood in Ireland and then took vows as a nun in India. She taught at a girls’ school in Calcutta for many years; then, in 1946, she decided to devote herself to the poor and moved to the poorest part of the city, where she founded a religious order.

Over the years her devotion to the poor attracted worldwide attention. It became fashionable for the idle rich, aristocracy and movie stars to visit her for photo opportunities or to burnish their credentials. She became a celebrity, traveled the world, won the Nobel Prize. She expanded her order to become one of the most important in the Catholic Church. And she died in 1997. Not surprisingly, the Church fast tracked her “canonization,” as it is called.

It is a feature of saints in Catholicism that they must perform miracles to prove their supernatural power — something that went out of fashion in our tradition thousands of years ago. Our greatest Biblical and Talmudic figures were shown to be human and imperfect. We never had saints.

The Catholic Church is entitled to its own strange theologies, customs, and procedures. Unfortunately, we have borrowed the idea from them. Nowadays, any rabbi venerated by the Charedi world becomes the equivalent of a saint, in that the myths and stories of his absolute perfection in every possible area are enhanced and exaggerated. The appropriate term is hagiography (which originally meant writing the lives of Christian saints). It has now infected the nether reaches of our own tradition. Even the requirement of performing miracles to prove one’s supernatural powers has made a comeback in parts of our community. Going to a great one’s grave and pressing in a kvitel (a piece of paper with your Hebrew name and wish for the future) guarantees a miracle, apparently. And if not, no one ever mentions the failures.

Mother Teresa, of course, performed miracles. That’s what saints do! You have to if you want to get the title. Very often the evidence has been highly dubious. Several people have attested to the fact that she cured their cancers, while medical professionals on site claimed their treatment did it.

In the 1980s, when I indulged in a little interfaith activity, I heard her speak twice. Once in Oxford, together with the Dalai Lama (whom she considered a pagan), and another time with Chief Rabbi Jakobovits (whom she also thought would burn in hell because he had not seen the true light). Her theology was primitive, as was she.

She said that contraception was exactly the same as murder. She accepted money from some of the worst offenders against human rights (but so do some presidential candidates today). I have to say I was horrified by what she said about abortion and her opinions on poverty and how it was a godly state — to be borne with fortitude, based on the certainty that they would be rewarded in the World to Come. Although I must admit I have heard some rabbis say that, too.

There were voices that gave another perspective, from Christopher Hitchens to Yogi Adityanath. Many in India saw her as a figure of Western, white hypocrisy and a proselytizer for Christianity amongst the barbarians. There was criticism of her institutions for cruelty and inhumanity to children. Even her glorification of poverty was seen as inappropriate. She often said it was not her job to be a social worker. It is clear that there was another, harder, and crueler side to her.

As she grew older, her team began to address some of these issues and set about cleaning up her history and her persona. Yet she devoted her life to living simply and poorly herself, and continues to be an icon of dedication and commitment. I should say I was more impressed by Albert Schweitzer, who dedicated his life to the lepers of Lambarene in Gabon.

I have no patience for saints. All the more so since so many of them were rabid antisemites. Besides, I do not believe anyone is perfect. Even sinners can do good. I certainly do not believe in brushing dirt under the carpet. And I just laugh at hagiography. So many people are lauded nowadays, idolized, for selfish feats of sport, music and wealth-making. And yet the world, for all its selfishness, has gotten better. Global poverty has shrunk by half over the past 20 years. That’s an impressive figure. A new middle class is emerging, mainly in Asia, that is redressing the balance. Even so, one of the biggest challenges of our generation is the gap between rich and poor. Millions are without either drinkable water, shelter or sufficient food, and have nothing of the social welfare safety nets we have in the West.

In our own Jewish communities, there are many men and women who live lives devoted to good deeds and the welfare of others. We don’t call them saints. We don’t venerate them or expect miracles from them. But neither do we appreciate them sufficiently.

We, sadly, have sunk to the level where we venerate the people who make big bucks, flaunt their donations and lord it over their communities. I believe in the concept of the Tsaddik Nistar — the good person who is hidden from public view, who avoids the glare of publicity. Recognizing Mother Teresa as a person who did good deeds reminds us that we ordinary people, too, can do something for those less well off than we are. Such people are the real heroes and saints of all of our societies. There are not enough of them.

Share this Story: Share On Facebook Share On Twitter Email This Article

Let your voice be heard!

Join the Algemeiner
  • In King David time there were no newspapers or TVs shows or “ Batih”, in our time millions of people are made to become refugees in no time, and defenseless people are killed by hided cowards men without lifting a finger, making others to do the job of the killing hiding behind faces of organized “arrogant good will.”. Missing something is when millions of people worldwide were against the Vietnam war and yet the war did hold on, or the killing of defenseless Mr. Gaddafi of Libya, even the half brother of Obama Malik was against the killing of Mr. Gaddafi, and yet no body when out in streets to demonstrate against the killing of Mr. Gaddafi! Why? Because they missed something by been brain twisted into blindness, is the cause of the very problematic political situation of the refugees in Europe. Has nothing to do with King David! It has to do with something you are pretending to understand.

  • Mother Teresa was a targeted object to recruit people key enters weak countries having access to poor defenseless naïve people to stage them selves for political manipulating reasons. Was the reason for fake none profit humanitarians caring foundations to become a political trap method. Humanitarian caring is actually something which can never be a spoken political tool. I have seen millions of poor people who did rise out of poverty without any help from outside, is about time space collective awareness as a wave of integrity among men trough government well planning strategy, building beautiful spaces for the poor old and young generation to enjoy life as time do not exist. Countries which does donate a lot of money to humanitarian caring projects does actually screws people minds becoming greedy brought into political minds insecurity. The cause for terrorism to take shape, Give some political knowledge to a poor young man who has no job, because the countries he lives in, their government is corrupted by people who does give money for humanitarian caring, the young man who has no job will become restless easy to be recruited into a terror group! Or people been recruited to fight each other who are not aware of that! The people they fight against are actually recruited by the same people who did recruit them! killing each other for nothing at all by humanitarian activities criminal cover ups.

  • William C. McKee

    I draw from some of these words, that there is a desire to see an abundance of “heroic” people, but not necessarily “saintly” people. And why? Because in your examination of saints, you gesture generally that they, like yourselves, often seem to have feet of clay. And you are finding nothing wrong with having them given the same hurtle to hop over as yourselves. But you evade a truth. King David who killed thousands of foes was a hero. But the very same King David, who repented of sins and spent the rest of his days in the House of God, composing glorious songs to his Lord was a saint. If you don’t have a way to differ a hero from a saint (sometimes they are both) then you are seriously missing something.

  • Jay Lavine

    Trying to emulate the Tsaddik Nistar or, as I often say, the lamed-vavnik, is indeed the Jewish way — living simply, humbly, unpretentiously, and shunning recognition. Pirkei Avot 6:5 teaches, “Do not covet honor.” And from Proverbs 27:2, “Let your praise come from a stranger and not from your own mouth, from someone you don’t know and not from your own lips.” Moshe Rabbeinu, a role model for Jews, was described as the most humble of men.

    On the Jewish Medicine web site, it is pointed out that the Mishnaic dictum “The best of physicians are headed for Gehinnom” may well refer to those who deceptively use superlatives such as “best” in describing themselves. When someone says something often enough, he soon starts to believe it, and that’s when he becomes dangerous!

    Although Judaism does not consider poverty or suffering to be laudatory, the mussar movement did promote histapkut bamu’at — living simply and unpretentiously, being happy with the little one has — as a core and cardinal value. Symbolic of this idea, on Sukkot we assume a minimalist lifestyle for one week by living in the flimsiest of structures, the sukkah.

    In contrast to the materialism of much of the secular world, the Jewish viewpoint was beautifully expressed by the late Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein, editor of the first complete English translation of the Babylonian Talmud, in his 1962 introduction to Bava Metzia (Soncino Press): “With the Torah as supreme guide in communal life, the primary end and aim of communal organization had moral and religious purposes. This does not mean that the economic and social functions of organized society were ignored. But it does mean that all was looked upon as subordinate to the moral functions. In other words, morality was made the dominating factor of communal life, and the underlying principle of all legislation regulating social and economic relations.” Throwing money at a problem is not always the best solution, and rationalizing things for the sake of money is not kosher. Judaism is anything but consequentialist in its weltanschauung.