Thursday, December 29, 2011

Addressing High Anxiety Personality Traits

As we draw closer to the end of one chapter in life, and we can already anticipate the turning of the page, to year 2012, many of you are already feeling the anxiety of another year. Or, if you aren’t feeling it yet, it will creep up on you soon enough. In this new series of short articles (my New Years resolution), I will point out some tools and techniques, religion offers to deal with this and other very real life issues.

There is a strong connection between anxiety disorders and certain common personality traits. G-d created everyone with what’s called in mysticism, an animal soul. Everyone’s got it. This source of life energy, propels the negative feelings and anxieties in our lives. They must absolutely be addressed if you want long-term freedom from anxiety symptoms.

Excessive need for control. Perfectionism. Extreme cautiousness . Excessive need for approval. Insecurity and over-dependency and a tendency to suppress negative feelings. These are some of the traits that are common in people with high anxiety.

Our sages tell us, “Half the cure, is knowing the sickness.” Without recognizing the anxiety producing parts of your personality and learning to approach life from a different perspective, you may end up suffering with anxiety symptoms forever, locked up in a constricted world of your own doing, when freedom is possible.

There are a number of psychological and emotional personalities that are in common in the above list of onsets to anxiety, I will deal with one, and that is, an unrealistic and disproportionate sense of ego.

The world we live in dictates through the many forms of media, that a smart, strong human being, must have the answers to everything. There is a how to, and a six or maybe even seven or eight step solution to every difficulty. Whenever we are faced with problems, it’s either entirely our fault or we are totally responsible for fixing the total mess.

When people see themselves as “self made” and the dependency is entirely on ones self, it’s no wonder a person will buckle under such enormous pressure. We are told, “He is rich, and therefore he must be smart.” Or worse than that, “he is smart; therefore, he will certainly make it big in life.”

King Solomon, the smartest of all men tells us, “It is not to the wise bread.” Bread and success does not come because a person is wise. “Because it is HE who gives you strength to succeed” says the Bible.

Let’s take the first trait I mentioned above, that will lead to anxiety, excessive need for control. This notion that it is all up to me, and the results are all my doing, runs contrary to what we are told in the Ethics of our Fathers. A most powerful instruction and lesson to remember in life, “It is not upon you to conclude (and bring about the complete final results of any effort), and you are not free to desist from doing something.”

We certainly must give it all we got when discharging our responsibilities. Our obligation to make an effort, means to give it all we got, and to never, stop trying. However, there is a big world out there that doesn’t always match with our own personal agendas. As much as we try, someone bigger and better than us, G-d, may have some other plans for the entire universe, and those plans includes the best situation for each individual.

It is impossible for any one person or groups of people to control anything. We try our best and with a little help from Above we succeed. It is unrealistic to take it all on your shoulders. Give it up and leave a little room in your life for G-d in His immeasurable power to help you succeed. Please write to me with any comments

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Brain Rules the Heart The 'first step' of Spiritual Improvement.

The Holiday of Chanukah represents the victory of light over darkness.

The philosophy of the Hellenists at that time (things haven’t changed much) was to dilute the purity of faith in G-d, and the unadulterated message of the Bible, with current thinking. A small group of people, stood up to a large and fierce army, and proved a most powerful point. Miracles happen. Life, is not all logical and rational. Darkness, can be conquered, by a focused, smaller quantity, of light.

This is the reason why we must light the menorah at night, towards the outside. To take the ever increasing, small, but powerful flames, and enlighten and illuminate, those who live in darkness.

A person’s soul is compared to the candle of G-d. The Bible is compared to light, “The Torah - Bible is light”, and wisdom, is compared to light.

Rabbi Shnuer Zalman, was a significant supporter of the Czar, against Napoleon. One of Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s followers, Moshe who was fluent in Russian and French was able to learn many important military secrets, and he was able to transmit important information to the Russian generals on the battlefront.

Once, when Moshe happened to be in the French General Headquarters, the generals were making plans about their next attack. Moshe pretended not to hear or see what was going on, and the generals paid no attention to him.

Suddenly the door burst open and in came Napoleon.

"What is this stranger doing here?" he demanded, pointing to Moshe. Napoleon rushed up to him, exclaiming, "You are a spy!"

Moshe's heart was not pounding and his face did not pale, as he calmly replied in perfect French:

"Your Majesty, your generals appointed me to be their interpreter, and I await their orders."

His cool manner and calm voice completely disarmed Napoleon. Moshe was saved from certain death.

When Moshe would relate the episode of his encounter with Napoleon, he declared – it was the deeper dimensions of Torah – the Bible, that saved his life, and he explained:

"Rabbi Shnuer Zalman taught us, that a person should use his natural powers for the service of G-d. One of these natural powers, is that the brain rules the heart. In other words, according to the nature which G-d created in man, reason, is basically stronger than feeling; a person has the power to control his emotions. However, it is not enough for a man to know this; but he must persistently train himself to exercises this power in his daily life and conduct, until it becomes a natural habit with him. In actual practice this simply means that whenever one feels a strong desire for something, one should say to oneself, 'I can do without it.' The exercise of such self-control is the 'first step' of spiritual improvement, and having mastered this 'first step' one can steadily advance further.

"Thus I have schooled myself to achieve absolute self-control, so that in everything I think, speak, and do, I let my mind rule my heart. And where it is important for the heart to express its feelings, the mind, too, must have its say, to make sure that the feelings do not get out of control.

"And so I trained myself to control my feelings, not to get excited under any circumstances, and not to be overwhelmed by anyone or anybody.

"And this is what saved my life."

Chanukah is an opportune time for good resolutions. The Holiday of Chanukah is an auspicious time to use the light of our souls, the light of the Torah - Bible, and the light of our wisdom, to triumph over the internal, and external, darkness, which confounds our mission and purpose in this life.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The "Black Mary"

Thursday December 15, 2011 is the day on which the (Rebbe) Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi was freed from his severe imprisonment in Petersburg in the year 1798. False and libelous charges led to the accusations of treason against the Russian Empire, for sending funds to the Holy Land which at the time was under the Sultan of Turkey. His arrest imperiled not only his own life, but also the future of the Chasidic movement. Consequently, the day of his release was declared amongst the Chassidim as a day of celebration.

Chassidism was founded, to offer everyone a personal, spiritual fulfillment, by means of attachment to G-d, spontaneous enthusiasm in Divine worship, and a sanctified life imbued in joy.

Chassidism reveals, that while living in a corporeal world, it is possible, to live a spiritual life. Chassidus clarifies the essence and ultimate goal of all being, man’s raison d’etre, man’s purpose in life – a meaningful and illuminated life, deeply and profoundly based on the Bible, even in a world of shadows and darkness.

The Rabbi was whisked away in the “Black Mary”, a black carriage, reserved for the most serious infractions of the time. It was Friday, and the Rabbi asked the officer to stop their journey until the end of the Sabbath. The officer refused, and the axle of the carriage broke. The carriage was repaired and then, one of the horses collapsed. A new horse was brought, but strangely enough the horses where not able to move the carriage. This was sufficient for the officer to understand that he was transporting an unusual prisoner. The officer requested from the Rabbi that they travel to the next village, but the Rabbi refused and they spent the Sabbath in an adjacent field.

The Rabbi was incarcerated in one of the secret cells of the Fortress of Petropavlovsk. One of the high officials, a learned man, was very impressed by the Rabbis personality and said to him; “I have a question on the Bible, and would be most grateful for an answer.”

“Ask whatever you like,” said the Rabbi, ”and with G-ds help, I hope to be able to solve your problem.”

“What is the meaning of the verse, ‘and G-d called to Adam and said: Where are you?’ How is it possible that the Omniscient G-d did not know where Adam was?”

“Do you believe” the Rabbi asked, “that the Bible is timeless, and forever relevant to every individual?” “I sincerely believe that” was the reply. “I will give you an explanation,” said the Rabbi.

“And G-d called to “Ha-Adam,” to the ‘man.’ This means, that at all times G-d calls every individual and asks him, “Where do you stand in this world.” G-d allotted to each, a certain amount of days, each of which is to be utilized for the doing of good in relation to G-d, and in relation to mankind. Therefore contemplate: How many years have you lived already, and how much good have you done and accomplished during that time. You for instance have lived already ..…years (and here the Rabbi mentioned the exact age of the official) how are you using your time?” The official was amazed and thrilled by the fact that the Rabbi ‘guessed his age’ and exclaimed “Bravo!”

Czar Paul1 heard so much about this “prisoner” that he disguised himself as a clerk of the courts and went to see the Rabbi. As soon as he entered, the Rabbi rose and honored him. “You must be the Czar” said the Rabbi. “Our sages teach us, that ‘sovereignty on earth is similar to the sovereignty in heaven.’ As the fear before G-d is great, so too did I feel an unusual awe when you entered. Such a feeling I never experienced with any of the officials that have come here. Therefore I concluded that you must be the Czar.” The Czar left convinced that surely this man must be a saint.

A saint indeed. The Bible tells us, that “this world conceals and hides G-d.” Truly righteous & spiritual saints, they are the windows through which we are reminded that there is more to this world than what meets the eye. There is a G-d, we can pray to, and there are miracles, we can expect.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Divine Providence

The holy Baal Shem Tov was explaining the concept of Divine Providence to his students. Everything down to the smallest particle is under His watchful eye. “The whole world is filled with His glory.” “There is no place void of Him.” They where having a difficult time, comprehending, how such a great G-d could be concerned with the smallest speck in the universe.

The Baal Shem Tov decided to make a demonstration. They all went outside, and he instructed his students to follow the first leaf to get blown off the tree. As it fell to the ground, they followed it to the curb of the road. Lying underneath the leaf, was a worm being baked by the sun.

The Baal Shem Tov explained, that from the six days of creation, it was already designed and predestined for this leaf, from that tree, to fall off at this moment, and be blown by the wind to shield this worm.

If G-d where a finite being, little unimportant things would be less important than big and significant things. However, since G-d is infinite, whether something is big or small to us, to G-d, they both have the same impact and significance. Everything in the universe as far as their creation is concerned, has the same worth before G-d.

Therefore, when a person sees or hears something, no matter whether it seems significant or not, to G-d before whom all is the same, this is being specifically orchestrated, for this person to see or hear at this moment. Divine providence, i.e. divine influence, is the root and cause of this occurrence, so that in one way or the other, G-ds purpose for creating the world at large and this person in particular, should have the opportunity to come closer to the Divine purpose and perfection it was intended and created for.

In the book of proverbs, King Solomon says, “G-d prepares the footsteps of a person, and man, what does he understand of (G-ds) ways.” Every step a person takes, G-d is the one behind it, He, has prepared everything for this step to be taken, giving strength at this moment, to this person, to employ and exercise, in order to fulfill the divine purpose behind that moment. Imagine the huge responsibility!

And if a person claims, it’s too difficult – There are many questions to be asked regarding the times or the place, remember the end of the above quoted verse, “and man what does he (can he) understand of (the infinite ways) of G-d.” The facts remain. What G-d intentionally placed on your plate, this is precisely what is right for you at this moment.

In the book of Psalms King David says, “it is from G-d that a man's footsteps are established, and it is his (this person’s) path that (G-d) desires.” Every person is a messenger of Divine Providence, to utilize the strength and good health a person is granted, to promote the reason why we were granted the gift of life. The freedom of choice to use each moment appropriately is in the hands of every person. When he chooses to exercise his free choice and make use of the moment in the proper way, “G-d will select and desire the ways of this person.”

Although, everything inherently has equal importance before G-d, however because G-d proclaimed, I will favor those who follow my dictates, this person becomes more prominent in the eyes of G-d for blessings and favorable attention.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The five types of personal tests.

Rabbi Y. Yitzchak once said, “The mere fact that G-d places us in a situation, to face particular challenges, tells us, that He has given us the strength to overcome, all the obstacles that stand in our path”

The Midrash gives the following illustration. “When a producer of flax and linen strikes and pounds the flax, he does it carefully so as not to ruin the product. When he feels that the material is sturdier and he is secure that it will not break or splinter under the pressure, he hits it stronger to draw out the better quality fabric that lies within. The same is also in regards to G-d. He does not test and challenge the wicked because he knows, they can not withstand the pressure and they would crack. However the righteous, who have a stronger core, a superior and better essence to offer, these are the ones who are tested, as it is written in the book of Psalms, “G-d tests the righteous.”

We have here a very clear understanding. Challenges are presented to people for their, own good. When G-d wants to provide merit to a person and help him, reveal his inner better and superior core, that is when the person is put through a test.

If you where to go to a Doctor in whom you have full trust, and he where to put you through some procedure of pain and difficulty, knowing that it is all for your own good, to improve your current situation, you welcome the opportunity. You accept and you open your arms to the chance granted, to recover and become better off through this experience, than you are at this present moment.

According to the Bible, all of life, is a constant tug of war. On the one hand, to do what G-d expects of us, and enjoy life through His blessings, and on the other hand, the temptations and weaknesses, that pull us down, in the opposite direction. There are five tests the Bible speaks of.

There is the test of self sacrifice. No matter what happens, or what anyone says or threatens, to do to me, I am completely and totally dedicated to the proper G-dly morals and values, with all my body and soul.

The next type of challenge and test, is to accept all types of life happenings, even the difficult ones, in love. I don’t complain about my circumstances. My faith in G-d is so strong that I accept everything in love.

The third type of test. When life is abundant and I am feeling real good and healthy, I am successful financially, personally, do I still remember G-d, and not only keep up with my commitments, but increase them in gratitude to G-d, for entrusting me with all those blessings.

The fourth type of challenge is a most difficult one to overcome. Our sages tell us, “who is strong, the one who overcomes his inner temptations.” When faced with a strong desire in opposition to what’s right in life, the wishes of G-d, how often and how quick am I, to ignore the lure and enticement pulling me to do, what I know, is wrong.

The fifth type of test. When things go wrong, life is not as I would like and not as I expected, does it weaken my faith. Is my confidence and conviction, that all that happens is from G-d, and for my good, undermined and destabilized?

Life’s tests are very difficult. The Bible acknowledges that. They are thorny and not easy, not just mentally and emotionally, but as well physically. Many times, it will, exact a high price on us. However, once we draw the inner strength to overcome, and we look back, we see how much better we have truly become. Always. Not only that, the satisfaction, strength, confidence and self esteem that comes as a result, doesn't compare, to the fleeting and transitory hardship it took, to triumph over the challenge.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gratitude & Thanksgiving.

The tribe of Moab where descendants of Lot, whose benefactor and savior was his Uncle Abraham, father of the Israelites. In the wilderness, this tribe refused to even sell the Israelites food and water. For that reason, they are banned by the Bible, from joining the Jewish people in marriage. The lack of gratitude on their part, was indicative of an ingrained selfishness and mean spirited character that has no place in Israel.

Gratitude goes much further than just telling someone thank you for having done something nice for you. The Torah says, "Do not despise the Egyptian, because, you were a stranger in their land." Now, this is somewhat difficult to comprehend.

It was Joseph an Israelite, who saved the Egyptians from starvation during the years of famine. Shortly afterwards, the thank you granted by the Egyptians was to slaughter the Israelites. They threw the babies in the river and enslaved them for hundreds of years. According to the Midrash, Pharaoh had 200 children slaughtered over his bathtub each and every day so that he could bathe in their blood! How can anyone have gratitude for savages of this sort?

Granted they initially allowed the Israelites to dwell in their land, but surely the Israelites paid a price for all that, with the hundreds of years of slavery. And yet the Bible commands us to have a sense of gratitude and indebtedness for them. How does one make sense of this directive?

The answer is very important, very fundamental. Gratitude, is not only because someone intended and did something nice for you. If you merely benefited, that's the keyword, if you where in any way, shape or form helped, from somebody or even something, you are expected to note that kindness and have a real sense of appreciation for the good done.

That is why, for the first plague against the Egyptians, blood, Moses would not hit the Nile River, and turn it into blood. He asked his older brother Aaron to do the “dirty work.” Although water is inanimate and could care less whether Moses lived or died, however, since Moses benefited from the river, it saved his life when his mother placed him in a basket on the river, he felt a sense of indebtedness and gratitude to the river and could not strike it now.

The Talmud says, "The well you drank from, do not throw rocks into it". Even though the well has no feelings or thoughts, nevertheless, since you benefited from it, you must not act insensitively towards the water. You must show gratitude and not act ungratefully towards it.

A most important gratitude a person must have is towards his parents. They gave you life. You might say, "well, who cares, they didn't do it for me.” “They were obligated to raise me." It doesn't matter. If you benefited from them, you must demonstrate gratitude. Doesn't matter if they did it out of niceness, or they did it because they had to, you benefited - you must have gratitude. And if you don't ….well we already said …. It’s not good at all.

The Midrash says, "Every breath you take, you are obligated to thank G-d." The reason, is that you're benefiting from His air. He created it. You have to thank Him for every breath. And if you don't think it's important, try putting your head in a bucket of water and see how long you can last without air.

Every morning the first thing we do after opening our eyes, we place our hands together and “thank G-d for returning our souls to us.” What a wonderful, positive way, to start the day, by acknowledging the blessings and the good we have in life.

On this thanksgiving weekend, let us pay more attention to all the good we have been blessed with. This great Country of ours. A beacon of strength and light to the rest of the Universe.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The power of Shabbat.

A certain father had a family of children, who were forever quarreling. Then he fell ill. Days before he died, he asked one of them to bring him a bundle of sticks. Handing the bundle to each of his sons in turn, he told them to try to break it. Although each one tried his best, none was able to break the bundle.

The Father then untied the bundle and gave the sticks to his sons to break one by one. This, they did very easily.

"My sons," said the father, "do you see how certain it is, that if you are united with each other, it will be impossible for your enemies to injure you. But if you are divided among yourselves, you will be no stronger than a single stick in that bundle.

This is what Shabbat does for a family. It makes every member of the family feel loved, important, indispensable and part of an unbreakable unit.

When Shabbat comes, Jewish law dictates, you must live on this day as though all your work has been completed.

This is not denial, it is called, LIVING in the now. It means that one day a week, we don’t think about, “making” a living; we actually are, “living”. One day a week we remember that we are more than work. We have a soul. We were sent to earth on a mission. There is something infinitely valuable about our existence, irrelevant of our financial or worldly situation.

The Talmud described a fascinating exchange between the Roman Governor in Palestine during the second century CE and the great Jewish sage, Rabbi Akiva. The Romans, like the Greeks, could not appreciate the concept of Sabbath in which you would allow all of your slaves a “day off” of labor.
“What makes this day different than any other day?” the Roman Governor Turnusrufus asks Rabbi Akiva.

Rabbi Akiva responds: “What makes you, different than any other person?”

“The Emperor has so willed. He bestowed upon me special honor.”

“And the Emperor of the world, has chosen this day, as a unique and holy day, bestowing upon it special honor.”

“But perhaps you have confused the days? How are you sure that in all this time you have not misplaced the seventh day”?

“The river Sambatyon will prove it!” responded Rabbi Akiva.

Rabbi Akiva was referring to a legendary river, named Sambatyon, which means Sabbath in Greek, apparently located in Syria, Afghanistan or Ethiopia. This river was un-navigable on weekdays because it flowed with strong currents carrying along stones with tremendous force, but it rested on the Sabbath.

A Roman historian living earlier than Rabbi Akiva, Pliny the Elder (24–79 C.E.) described the river in his work “Natural History.” He writes that the river ran rapidly for six days in the week and rested on the Sabbath.

Rabbi Akiva was not only referring to a physical river, but also to a metaphoric river. Life may times, is a journey through a tumultuous river, hurling heavy stones on us. Then comes Sabbath, and the river rests. No rocks flying at you. On Shabbat, our river becomes tranquil and serene.

This is the power of the Shabbat. In a world which is changing by the week, or by the day, or by the minute, and sometimes by the second, on Shabbat, we focus on that which is eternal in our lives. Our aspirations to become better people, our love to our spouse and children, our relationship with our soul and with our G-d, our need for prayer and study, our yearning for reflection and transcendence.

Shabbat, when observed properly, is truly a spiritual oasis in time and space.

The Sabbath - G-ds' Day??

Some years back, Norman Mailer made a run for Mayor of New York. One of the more intriguing points of his platform was the idea that one day a week everybody should shut off their phones, TVs and radios, stay away from the malls and the movies, and just learn to meditate and to reacquaint themselves with nature, their families and their own feelings.

Doing just that, is in fact, one of only ten major principles G-d inscribed on tablets of stone as the bases for human survival. Almost 4,000 years ago, G-d called the plan Shabbat—the Sabbath—and those who take this divine advice seriously have been benefiting from its’ gifts ever since.

Joe Lieberman relates in his new book on Shabbat, that when he was nominated in 1988 as Connecticut Senator, Chris Dodd, long time Connecticut Senator and famous Democratic Party politician, and a Baptist, announced at the big party: Joe Lieberman is really a Baptist. However when he realized how many events he would have to attend on Saturdays, he became an Orthodox Jew!

Lieberman declares that the joke is not far from the truth. Because on this day he does not answer emails, telephones, texts, unless they are of concern to National Security. He does not shop, nor engage in home repairs. He does not even go to the movies or shopping. Rather, he spends real time, quality time, substantive time, with himself, with his loved ones, with his soul, with his G-d.

“It's been a life-saver to our family and our marriage and our home life because it's given us a moment to stop and break off from the nonsense we all deal with," Hadassah Lieberman says. "We can talk to each other without the Blackberries ringing in our faces."

For hundreds of generations of Jews, Shabbat is the epicenter of the Jewish week.

I am going to describe to you the home, of those who observe this very special day.

It’s late Friday afternoon after a very hectic week. All of a sudden everything stops. As the sun sets, a new energy enters the home. The mother and the daughters kindle a glowing flame, bringing a little light into the world. Mother covers her eyes by the burning flames and pours her heart out to G-d for all the blessings of health and happiness for her and the family.

The home is transformed into a palace. Father and boys go to synagogue to sing songs, pray to G-d and meet friends. When they return home, a beautiful white table cloth is spread over the table. Hot delicious Challah (bread made for the day of Sabbath), is on the table with bottles of wine and the aroma of lovely food coming from the kitchen. The father, became a king and the mother a queen; the son -- a prince and the daughter -- a princess. The father kisses his children “Shabbat Shalom, (May you be blessed with a peaceful Shabbat” and the mother embraces each of her precious diamonds with so much love. A Divine presence pervades the home on Shabbat.

The father makes Kiddush (the religious service to usher in the holy day). And then calls over each of his children, places his hands on their head, and blesses them. He tells them how much he loves them, how much they mean to him, how thankful he is to have them and how he would always be there for them, unconditionally, forever.

to be continued --more next week….

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Happiness & Growth

Once, there where three sons who wanted to honor their mother for her 90th birthday. They where all pretty wealthy and money wasn’t an issue. One decided to buy his mother a mansion, the other bought a brand new luxury car with a chauffeur.

The third son being a little more traditional, went looking for something unique and extraordinary. One day he was walking by a pet store and noticed a large sign, “Parrot who can recite the entire Bible, on sale.”

He thought, that would be perfect for his mother who was from the old country and loved the verses from the Bible. He paid the $150,000 for this astonishing bird and gave it to his mom for her birthday.

The following year, when all the boys where sitting around the table with mom for her 91st birthday, they asked her how she was enjoying their respective gifts. “Well you know, I appreciate the house but it’s way too big for an old little woman like me.” “And the car....I really don’t go many places and the chauffer just hangs around.” “But let me tell you about the bird..... It was the best chicken soup I ever tasted.”

Many times we have so many opportunities handed to us on a silver platter and instead of using it for its intended incredible purpose, we waste it on trivial matters. Whether it’s because we don’t know, or we don’t care we certainly don’t want to lose what’s already been granted and gifted to us.

Take the lessons from the Bible for example. We would rather read a fresh new article written in some trendy magazine, which is sure to change almost 180 degrees the following month, than benefit from the time tested, successful advice handed to us by G-d.

When Abraham started out on his first mission from G-d, he was no youngster, he was 75 years old. G-d tells him, “for your own enjoyment and good”, “go (discover) yourself (by leaving) from your land, from your place of birth from the house of your father.” Later on the bible tells us, G-d loved Abraham because, he would announce and make known that “G-d is the master of the world” and that Abraham would, “transmit the values of righteousness and justice to his children.”

We have here a phenomenal lesson on how one is able to reach, “enjoyment and good in life”.

Some people have this idea, that the more they indulge in their own self, and do things to satisfy their desires the more they will find happiness. This, only places them deeper, and further away from the happiness they yearn for.

G-d was telling Abraham and everyone who draws an eternal message from the Bible. If you want to find yourself, if you really want to experience the maximum life has to offer, it’s not by self-gratification and hedonism. You must leave your land, your world etc.

In Hebrew the word land, can be understood as, “your desires.” The word, your place of birth, can be understood as “your habits.” And the word, the house of your father, can be understood as, “your logic.”

The desires that come by itself and natural for most people, is usually connected to materialism and associated with the coarseness of this world. The habits and routines we have developed over the years, many of them if not most of them, support our desires. And, doing things ONLY because it makes sense to us, keeps us confined to our own self. No real growth there.

When a person decides that his desires, habits and thinking must include a greater benefit for society, to elevate the consciousness in the world to higher standards of morals and values and the awareness of G-d, he will truly reach his greatest potential. A person who dedicates his life not just to himself but to the world, to make it a better place, is a happier person with a more enjoyable life, for his, own good.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Whose Eyes Are Those.

Once upon a time, there lived a girl who was born blind which caused her great anguish.

She would always inquire about an eye transplant, with the hope that maybe some-day she could be given the gift of vision. She was told that she was on a 20 year waiting list.

One day a young man met her. He appreciated her on a deeper level. He saw beyond her closed eyes, and beyond her bitterness. Deep inside of her he found a very gentle, refined and deep soul, hurting badly. He took a very deep liking to her. He finally proposed. She said yes to the proposal

You can only imagine how she appreciated what he had done for her.

One day, he comes home and informs her, she would not have to wait 20 years for an eye transplant. In a few months she would be able to get a pair of eyes. She was overjoyed beyond words.

Before she went into the surgery, he told her something:

My dear wife, I don’t want you to be shocked when you wake up, so I am telling you now. “I am a blind man, too. I can’t see…”

She began weeping. The transplant ended with success, she opened her eyes and saw the world around her.

She saw the heavens, she saw sunrise, sunset. She saw children playing; she saw rain, snow, trees, streams, rivers, gardens, and animals. Her joy knew no bounds.

In the beginning she tended to him with tireless dedication and love. After all he was the man who chose to marry her, the blind woman, and she knew how much he loved her. After all, this man allowed her, to get the transplant.

As time went on she was feeling frustrated. She could finally travel and see the world; yet her husband’s impediment, would limit her every move and her every step. It was just unfair to her, she felt. She wanted to go live it up, but her blind husband just needed too much attention.

The woman decided to end the marriage.

“My dear,” she said; “I appreciate you and I love you. I feel our marriage is not allowing me to live a good life, a free life, an exciting life. I don’t see the point in being married to you while I resent it.”

The day of the divorce, she found a letter under her pillow. This is what it said:

My dear beloved wife,

As you know, I always loved you and cherished you. After your request for a divorce, I immediately complied with your request. Love can’t be forced. I will miss you dearly, and I wish you the most beautiful, exciting and fun life you wish for yourself…

I will just ask you one favor: Those eyes of yours, please treat them well. Take good care of them. For not too long ago, those eyes were mine…I loved you too much and could not bear to see you blind; so I gave you my eyes. That is why you did not have to wait twenty years…

When I heard this story, I thought, what a powerful story.

G-d created us, He designed our body, and He gave us a soul, sharing Himself with each one of us. G-d asks us to live a life filled with justice and compassion, to be loving and kind, to be charitable and giving, and to be holy and pure. He asks us to live a life dedicated to meaning and purpose, to follow His will.

But we often say: G-d, I got no time for You. I got to see the world… I need to work to pay my bills, I need some time for recreation, for leisure, for fun; G-d, I am not the religious type. G-d, I have to see the world…

Great! But who gave you those eyes, hands, feet to be able to see the world?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Positive Negative..

A Holiday for Sins?

We have a holiday for celebrating redemption and freedom, holidays for celebrating repentance and resolution, a holiday for celebrating the gift of Torah, holidays for celebrating our salvation from oppression and death...

But, wait we have one more holiday, Sukkot. For what? For celebrating the day we return to sin…

The Midrash is bothered by why the Bible calls Sukkot "the first day," when in truth it is the fifteenth of the month. The Midrash explains, Sukkot is a “first when it comes to our new account of sin.”

After our slate was wiped clean on the Day of Atonement, the first time we begin our new list of sins in the coming year is on the Holiday of Sukkot.

This is truly a strange way to describe a Holiday, in such negative terms.

The great Chassidic master, known as the defense advocate of the Jewish people, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (Ukraine, 1740-1809) offered a marvelous explanation to explain this enigmatic Midrash.

Once Rabbi Levi of Berdichev met an infamous sinner in the street. So this sinner, trying to mock at the good innocent rabbi, says to him: So Rabbi, you have any nice and kind words to say to a sinner like me?

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak told him: "You know something? I am jealous of you! After all, the Talmud says that after you do repentance, after you return to G-d with love, your deliberate sins will become merits! Imagine how many merits you will have!"

What’s the Logic?

How can a sin, a mistake, a betrayal itself become considered a merit?

When I repent out of love, not just out of fear, then what happens is that my very negative experience becomes part of my new relationship with G-d, with truth, with my soul. The very sin I have committed now becomes part of my love; it allows me to experience a far more mature, sober, deep love and appreciation for the truth.

Take an addict who undergoes real recovery and truly surrenders to the Higher Power. What happens in the process is that the very addiction, the very negative experience, confers upon the recovering addict a depth and a sensitivity that another person who has not endured the pain of deception and the pain of denial and the pain of addiction cannot experience. The addiction, the betrayal, and the depression itself become the starting point and springboard for a whole new depth and passion in living.

Our very downfalls then become springboards which prove to be sources of elevation for us.

There's a story told about the legendary head of IBM, Thomas Watson. On one occasion a senior manager made a serious business mistake that cost the company ten million dollars. Watson summoned him to his office. "I guess you want my resignation," the manager said. "Are you crazy?" Watson replied. "We've just spend ten million dollars educating you."

This is true concerning every negative experience in life. A missed flight cannot be unmissed; a harsh word uttered to a loved one cannot be unspoken. But the MEANING of these events can be changed. We can literally travel back in time to redefine the significance of what occurred.

And this is the meaning of the above quoted Midrash. By the time the Holiday of Sukkot comes about, the love and appreciation for doing things the proper way, for the right reasons, has reached such a crescendo, that included in all this euphoria, are all the sins of the past year that contribute to this feeling and they become counted as merits.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The secret to lasting change.

Let me begin with a story.

This fellow was not very good with directions. North, South, East and West, was all one big jumble. One day, he needed to go south, and asked what train he should take. Unfortunately he went on to the North train.

About a half hour into the trip it occurs to him the scenery looks very different, so he asks someone where the train is heading. He was told he was heading north when he needed to be going south. The fellow motioned to him, instead of where the train is heading, he needs to go the other way, in the opposite direction.

The lost fellow immediately picked up his belongings and started running in the train down the corridors to the back of the train. As he zoomed by the sitting passengers, they became alarmed and thought there was some threat at the front of the train. People asked him what’s happening? He explained that he was going in the wrong direction, so now he is running in the train, in the direction he was told he should be going.

Everyone of course laughed at him. They told him, he needed to get off this train and head in the opposite direction, on a totally different train going in the correct direction.

In life, there are times when we realize, we need to change the direction we are going in. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a global large-scale transformation of who we are, and what we are doing. It may be one specific area, like addressing our finances, health or our spiritual state of affairs.

Let’s say someone decides he needs more money in his house. So he tries to find a better paying job, or ways to augment his current income while at the same time he continues being a spend thrift and waste money on unimportant acquisitions.

This kind of behavior would be similar to our traveling fellow, who while making an effort to change where he is heading, he is still basically on the same path that is taking him not where he needs or wants to go.

The lose weight industry will forever be making money as long as they sell you the impossibility of eat as you please, and lose weight. If a person truly wants to loose weight, he must get off entirely the frame of mind he now has, regarding food and its’ consumption. It is not possible to eat and not be conscientious of calories, and lose weights at the same time.

If and when a person realizes the transitory nature of life, the superficiality of materialism and decides he wants to live a life that taps in to something that is timeless and reaches deeper than the culture of “skin deep”, a serious change of trains is in order.

As the saying goes, you can’t be a little pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t, and this takes a serious commitment. A person must be honest, totally honest with themselves, which to be very honest isn’t always that easy, where they find themselves at any given time that they decide it’s time for a self assessment, and where they would like to be.

If you don’t know where you’re going it’s unlikely you’ll ever get there, but that’s already another topic.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Jonah and the Whale

On the holiest day of the year, at the most auspicious time of the day, in the afternoon, we read “The Story of Jonah and the Whale.” Our sages tell us that every minute and every second of the day includes and affects many days of the coming year. What could be the reason we would take up so much precious time to read this story on the day of forgiveness?

The story comprises the entire Book of Jonah, which is one of the 24 Books of the Bible. The story has a fantastic life lesson and contributes to the experience of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.

Jonah, the son of Amitai is asked to go to Ninveh and tell the people there, “If they do not repent, G-d will destroy their city.” Jonah decides to run away to Tarshish. While in the boat, people realize they are being singled out for a storm and a tempest, so they try to find out who is the reason for this storm. Jonah declares he is to blame and suggests they throw him in the water.

In the water, a big fish swallows Jonah. Jonah finally accepts his mission and is delivered to Ninveh. Ninveh takes the message seriously and the city is spared. Although, Ninveh later on returns back to its old habits, at this moment, the regret is sincere and for the time being, they are spared.

Immediately, we have one of the fantastic lessons from this story. A person should never say,” I have sinned and regretted, and sinned again, there is no more hope for me." G-d who has infinite mercy never wears out of forgiving. If at this moment, with every fiber of our being, we are on the proper path dedicated to the proper ideals, and we have put the past behind us, that’s all that matters.

The power of repentance is one of G-d's greatest gifts and kindness to the human race. In G-d's eyes, in one moment, a person is able to turn 180 degrees and face the opposite direction. As long as his only focus is on the good, at this moment, that’s all that matters.

Jonah received his power of prophecy because of the special joy he exhibited when serving G-d. Jonah in Hebrew is a dove and represents the soul, the portion of G-d within which is always happy and blissful. The boat is the body in which G-d encloths our soul to go on a mission to Ninveh. The boat in which we travel to take us on our life’s journey, many times encounters storms.

This mission is on water which hides its’ world from the naked eye. The world we live in by its very nature, conceals and hides truth. It takes great effort to discover what is real and what is fake in the glittering blinking neon lights of this materialistic world.

On this, sometimes confusing journey, the soul wrongly decides to go to Tarshish which represents the desires of the body, and when encountering a storm throws itself further into the abyss by submerging and throwing itself into the very storm waters which is the original cause of all the problems.

That is when Jonah will get an epiphany that the answer has to be someplace else, there must be more to life, and finally decides to leave the water and go to the land where you can see things clearly as opposed to the water and fulfill the reason G-d has put his soul into this world which is in Ninveh.

Ninveh in Hebrew means (beautiful). To reveal and make known to everyone around the true beauty and opportunity, this life is for everyone notwithstanding the darkness, trial and tribulations. To discover the extra light that comes only through the challenges of existence.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rosh Hashanah - what does it mean??

While all Jewish Holidays commemorate something specific to the Jewish people i.e., Passover - the exodus for Egypt, Shavuot, the giving of the Ten Commandments etc. the High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah is commemorating the creation of man. This is not something specific to the Jewish people but for all of humanity.

On the sixth day of creation 5772 years ago, when G-d made man – and incidentally according to the Bible, this human being was a man and woman creation joined at the hips, the Bible describes this day as the beginning of G-ds accomplishments in the world. Six days already went by, the heavens, planets, animals, trees etc where created, and yet, only when the human being was made, did G-d consider, finally things are starting to happen.

The purpose of creation, and the reason for everything else, was only a prelude to the creation of the human race as the Bible says, when Adam proclaimed on that first Friday, “let us all bow and prostrate before G-d who made us” that is when “the Lord was king, he garbed himself in grandeur…… he (finally) established the world firmly”. The universe was complete, and the Sabbath was ushered in.

This is the central theme of Rosh Hashanah, coronating G-d as our King and we as His subjects.

The great mystics tell us that once a day is imbued with certain energies, this occurrence repeats itself and renews itself every year that this day is relived all over again.

On Rosh Hashanah we are contemplating on the very special role we human beings have in the scheme of what takes place in the Universe. Everything in our world was made to serve us human beings and depends on us. G-d waits for us to recognize his sovereignty, and with that permission, He works with us at our side, “G-d is your shadow.” This is our very special power and responsibility as the principle reason for creation.

When G-d made the world, He made all the planets in one command. All the animals in one gesture, all the vegetation at one time. When it came to making the human race, G-d made one person. The whole world, including G-d, is looking to each individual person as if there was no one else, to make that difference.

The only creatures endowed with a mind to think of themselves and of their lives in third person, something that a stone or a tree or an animal is not able to do, is the human being.

Rosh Hashanah is the time to consider, that we as human beings certainly did not make ourselves. The universe surely did not make itself. This is the time to think of our connection with the true source of all and re-establish our bonds with G-d. Have we done things to block and sever our ties, are there areas that can use improvement to strengthen our attachment with G-d? Have we invited the supreme sovereign of the Universe who certainly has all the powers to do as he pleases, into our lives? On a daily basis?? Not a second can go by, when we don’t need G-ds ever watchful eye over us.

“As we begin the year, so it goes.” May we all merit the awareness of G-d upon us all the time. That will be our blessing for a most elevated and blessed sweet New Year.