Rabbi Avner: The Sinner
Moses ben Nachman, commonly known as Nachmanides, and also referred to by the acronym Ramban, was a leading medieval Jewish scholar in the 13th century, in Girona, Catalonia.
He had a disciple, Avner, who strayed from the path of observant Judaism, left his community and became an important government official.
One Yom Kippur, Avner sent guards to the synagogue, ordering the Ramban to appear before him. In his palace, before the eyes of his former teacher and master, Avner slaughtered a pig, roasted it and ate it on this holiest of fast days.
The Ramban couldn’t contain his anguish and cried, “What caused you to fall so low? What compelled you to abandon the holy teachings of your ancestors?”
“It was you, my master!” Avner roared derisively. “Your teachings completely disillusioned me and caused me to reject Judaism.”
“You were once teaching the Torah portion of Ha’azinu,” he explained. “You taught us that in this brief Torah portion of 52 verses, the Torah encodes all the details of the long history of the Jewish people until the coming of Moshiach. You claimed, too, that encoded in its verses are the names of every Jew to have ever lived.
“This is obviously preposterous!” thundered Avner. “How could 4,000 years of history and millions of names be compressed into 614 words?”
“What I said is absolutely true,” declared the Ramban.
“If so, then I must be found there, too. Where is my name, and where is my fate?”
The Ramban’s expression grew serious. He prayed silently to G‑d to reveal this secret.
“Your name, Avner, can be found in verse 26. Tell me, what is the third letter in these words: AmaRti (reish) AfEihem (aleph) AshBita (beit) Me’eNosh (nun) ZichRom (reish)?”
The verse reads: “I [G‑d] said in my heart, that I would scatter them, causing their memory to cease from mankind.”
Here, G‑d rebukes the Jewish people for turning away from the path of the Torah and becoming so evil that He wanted to destroy them.
Avner turned deathly white and began to wail bitterly.
“Is there any hope for me?” he begged. “Is there anything that I can do to rectify my terrible sins?”
The Ramban looked compassionately at his former student. “The verse itself has provided the rectification. It says that G‑d will scatter them till their memory is erased. You must run away, never to be heard from again.”
Avner boarded a ship and was never seen again.
Today it seems odd that we would look upon a story like this and find value in it. In fact, it looks more like a rejection of God than anything else. After all, who would want to be told that the love of anyone comes conditionally? Furthermore, who would want to read that a person made the decision to heed the punishment in order to win over such conditional love?
Though, I think what is really written into this story isn’t a matter of conditional love. I believe that we have really reduced our understanding of what love does to everyone involved. Love is the most wild emotion of all, it breeds the most incoherent reactions.
In Star Wars, it gave rise to a murderous Anakin. In the real world, it can do exactly the same. It’s not that a murder-suicide is evidence of someone who didn’t understand love, it’s that we don’t want to acknowledge the truth about love: much like the Force, it is both Light and Dark. There is healthy love, and there is unhealthy love.
What makes the story Rabbi Avner the Sinner so profound, though, is that one person can be interpreted as Unhealthy Love, while another say it Healthy Love, and another yet point out that it is a tale of two different people- one has healthy love and the another an unhealthy love.
In this story, it tells of how God is upset with Rabbi Avner because he cannot keep his laws. As much as it may pain a person to hear, it means that God set up boundaries for what is and isn’t acceptable in his home. We may not agree with those boundaries, but they are boundaries none-the-less. Just think on this for a moment in a more practical sense: If you had small children, you would hopefully not want someone in the same home with them cooking Meth. Not only does it put them in danger of effects from second-hand Meth, but it also places them in danger of losing their lives or home if an explosion occurs. This is a boundary that I think all of us can agree would be a good one, even if you might disagree with the boundaries of the Abrahamic God. None-the-less, he placed the boundaries in place for the good of his people after watching for millennia what happens if those rules are not obeyed. Remember, the law of Moses comes centuries after Abraham, and LONG after the flood, and even longer than Adam and Eve.
Rabbi Avner, on the other hand, demonstrates a different kind of love. One in which he recognizes that in order for him to be able to stand before the God he loves- he has to separate himself from everything he became and start over. In the article that is quoted above, the author goes on to say that encoded into Ramban’s message to Rabbi Avner, was that he would become a great Rabbi because of his separation.
Ramban’s love is one which wishes to see his student and God live in harmony with one another. It is not that his love is contingent upon Rabbi Avner’s love for God, but rather that he loves him so much that he does not wish to see him destroyed because of his actions against God. After all, there are numerous stories in the Jewish texts which spell out disaster if you get on the wrong side of God.
Love comes in so many different forms, it is beautiful and heartbreaking. It is transformative and catastrophic. And it is something we all need to become more aware of. Instead of asking whether we actually love a person, we need to be asking ourselves what our love looks like. Not in the sense of 5 love languages- but that there are thousands of love languages. Some are good, some are bad, some are dangerous and damaging. Some lead you to become Martin Luther King, Jr.; and others to become Hilter. And what’s worse, is that it is not uncommon for a person to have more than one kind of love (and I’m not talking about Romantic vs. Platonic). A person can give one kind of love to their God, another to their children, yet another to their best friend, and yet more a different kind of love to themselves.
To me, if a Jedi wishes to truly understand their emotions- so that they may overcome, they first must understand what kinds of love they have for people. They need to become aware of which love languages they have which are Healthy, and which forms of love languages they have which are Unhealthy. They have to contend with the fact that they need to root out love which is Unhealthy in order to become a Jedi that can be a beacon of light in their families, communities and the world at large.