Wednesday, April 27, 2011

G-d is certainly with us.

In addition to the commandment, we must remember everyday the Exodus from Egypt, there is another commandment, to remember every day the splitting of the Reed Sea.

The fact that everyone is commanded to remember these two historical occurrences tells us, that the lessons gleaned from these episodes must be eternal and relevant to all people at all times.

When the Israelites were being pursued by the Egyptians after the Exodus, as they stood before the Reed Sea, there were four camps of thought what to do next. One group said we must jump in the water and commit suicide, another group said we should turn back to Egypt and surrender once again as slaves, another group said we should fight the Egyptians, and another group said we should pray to G-d.

Moses, told them however, you must march forward. Nachshon, the son of Aminadav from the tribe of Judah, did exactly that. He proved himself to be a leader with courage and advanced forward into the water. Only when the water reached his nostrils, and G-d saw his self sacrifice and commitment did the water split for all the Israelites to pass through on dry land.

What possible lesson can all of us derive from this story?

In life, many times we may feel cornered. We have the waters of confusion and difficulties in front of us, and the Egyptians are pursuing us from behind. We feel we are between a rock and a hard place. At that time, there may be four different ways that a person may respond to these circumstances.

You may feel like you just want to jump into the water of spirituality, or something else to bury your head in the sand, as long as you can separate yourself from dealing with reality. Another approach may be, where you come to your own conclusion, based on your own logic, that perhaps the best thing is to stand up for your rights and fight the enemy head on. Another approach may be, where you submit to your responsibilities in a manner where you feel forced like a slave to your duties, and another approach may be, to pray to G-d and leave it in his hands. After all, everything G-d does is for the good, so why not just sit back and wait for everything to work out for the good.

Moses, who received the word from G-d, tells us, that for most of us and for most of the times, all of these four approaches are incorrect. Hiding from reality and dodging the issues is certainly not going to make things happen. Nothing good happens without effort. Doing things entirely only because they make sense to us without using guidance from G-ds word, leaves a person exposed to the limitations of human logic. Doing things and feeling forced, will never bring the best out of person. Only when we find enjoyment in what we do, can we flourish, and simply praying to G-d is not what G-d wants. We are told to make an effort through natural means in all that we pray for.

The correct thing to do when faced with pressures, the way that will bring the best for ourselves and the world, is to proceed forward confidently in the complete knowledge, faith, and trust that we are moving ahead in compliance with G-ds directives, and therefore, we are not alone. G-d is certainly with us, and we are granted the strength to forge forward regardless of the difficulties that appear before us. This commitment to keep on moving, will always eventually split the sea if that’s necessary to reach our G-dly goals.

Freedom of the mind

Once, there was a beggar who would drag himself for apartment building to apartment building, climbing the stairs and knocking on all the doors, for a few pennies. Oh, how he wished there where elevators in those buildings, so life could be a little easier for him. One day, a friend sees him and asks him, “What would you do if you won the million dollar lottery?” To which he answered in the blink of an eye, “I would install elevators in all those buildings so life could be a little easier for me when I go begging.”

You see, this beggar had a poor man’s mentality, so even when he would win the money, and he was a millionaire, he could only think in terms of his begging.

Passover, is described as the season of our freedom. “In every generation and every day a person must see himself liberated from Egypt”. In Hebrew, the word for Egypt can be understood as constraints and limitations. This season, specifically by eating the special hand baked shmurah matza, and drawing lessons from the story of the exodus, we are granted the special opportunity to liberate ourselves from the many internal limitations and constraints imposed by the inner Pharaoh.

Inside each one of us there is a positive G-dly force, and an evil taskmaster, interested in controlling and directing us in self-destructive ways. Many times he succeeds to subdue the good, so it is suppressed and not allowed to flourish and express itself.

Comes the Hagadah-the Passover story, and tells us, there are three most important elements that must be considered in the process of liberation, and they are, Pesach Matza and Marror.

Pesach means, to Passover. To uplift oneself above the circumstances they find themselves in. We don’t always have to confront head on our challenges. Many times lifting ourselves above the situation, helps us see our problems from an overall, all-encompassing perspective.

Matza represent humility, since the matza is flat and not blown up like the ego of bread. As big as a person’s ego may be, in the end it is his own bubble, separate from anyone else. Humility, allows a person to connect to others, and it is only with the help of others a person is able to truly expand and move forward in life.

Marror is the bitter herbs. Recognizing, that difficulties are always part of the mix as an ingredient to grow, and is part of the freedom process. The only way a person can bring the best out of themselves is through hardships and challenges. Difficulties is G-ds way of telling a person, “I put you exactly where you are, because I know it is only through this experience and journey you will reach, a better destination in life.”

Passover, when practiced in the correct manner, by being careful not to come in contact with any leavened food, grants us this power of freedom for the rest of the year. A great mystic, the Arizal teaches, anyone who is careful not to have any leavened products around them for Passover, is guaranteed not to sin inadvertently for the entire coming year.

Best wishes to all for a Happy and Kosher Passover. May we all merit to absorb the tremendous strength granted during this Holiday.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Birthdays and Redemption

As we approach the Holiday and season of freedom, Passover, we recall the statement of our sages, G-d will yet show us even greater miracles with the coming of the ultimate redemption, Moshiach.

One of the 13 principles of faith, includes our yearning and hope, every day, that G-d will take us out of this current exile and redeem the world from its darkness and confusion.

In the books of our prophets, the final redemption is compared to a birth, and the time leading up to it, is likened to birth pangs. The anointed one Moshiach, on the day he comes, it is as if he where born on that day, because his spirit will be like that of a new person.

The question is asked. Why do we celebrate the birth of a child?? According to our sages, the child in its mother’s womb gets to study the whole Torah with a special angel and its soul is pure and unblemished. When it is born, it forgets all that it studied and now there is the possibility and it is almost inevitable, that it will make wrong choices and hurt itself. So why the celebration?

The celebration, is over the fact that the child now becomes an independent being. While it is true that everything was provided for the child without any effort of its own while in its mother womb, and it was taught concepts of G-ds wisdom, all this was granted to the soul without earning it.

When a person receives something for nothing this is not the ultimate good. Things that are free, are not truly cherished. They remain superficial and not truly connected to the person. Since the person did not work for it and did not earn it, he can not truly feel, appreciate and enjoy the real value of the object .It was handed to the person superficially from the outside, and is not the result of an effort that comes from the inside. Since G-d desires the ultimate best for a person, and this can only come through a person’s hard work, G-d made the possibility for independence, for choices and hard work, and the birth of an individual.

The celebration of a new child is not just for the parents. In truth, it is a celebration more for the child himself that this possibility of his own life, was granted to him.

The ultimate redemption for the world, and for each person individually, will come as a result of a persons preparation leading up to it. A person reaps that which he sows. The place and reward we receive, is in line with the toil and effort we invested for this very special time. That is why the redemption in our own lives, and that of the world, is compared to a birthday, because, just like a birthday represents the responsibility of the individual and the opportunities that come as a result, the same is also with the ultimate redemption and internal freedom. It comes only when we make wise choices and do what is right in the eyes of G-d.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Where is G-d???

One of the basic foundations to living as an “honorable and virtuous” person is pronounced to us by the prophet Chabakuk, “A righteous man lives with his faith”. Also, there is the true manifestation of faith and that is, trust in G-d. The difference between faith and trust is quite significant. While I may have faith, I prepare perhaps, for it not to happen. Having full trust means I know this is exactly what will happen. Trusting in G-d implies, I firmly believe without a shadow of doubt everything is in good hands, and therefore, all will be for the good.

A man's trust in G-d is the measuring stick of the extent to which his material affairs are bound and fused with the Creator. If this fusion is complete, it is certainly impossible for anything to be lacking, because in the words above, the concept of lacking is utterly non existent.

Our sages tell us, “It was in the merit of our faith that our ancestors where redeemed from Egypt.” Faith has the very special strength and power to liberate a person from internal slavery, from the bad inner master who sometimes controls and steers us in the wrong direction.

In the Talmud it says, “A person who meditates and prolongs his concentration on the oneness and unity of G-d, how the divine providence is over all creatures and all matters in the universe, he will have a long and productive life.”

Once a very big Rabbi, while he was still a child was approached and challenged. “I’ll give you a gold coin if you can tell me where G-d is found.” Without any hesitation the child answered, “I’ll give you two, if you can tell me where he is not found.”

When a person realizes that the world could not create itself and everything we see came out of G-d who was always there, since G-d has no beginning and no end, G-d is infinite in power and in time/space. Then the person realizes, that everywhere we turn, G-d is there. Matter itself is a manifestation of G-d and “There is no place void of Him.” This thought and reflection will lead a person to realize that there is always, an eye that sees, ears that hear, and all your deeds are recorded. Nothing goes unnoticed, and everything that takes place is always under G-ds watchful eye.

Students once asked their teacher, “Where is G-d?”. The teacher answered, “Wherever you let him in.” Although the students knew well that G-d is everywhere because nothing can exist without Him. Their question was, “but Rabbi, we don’t see him.” To that they received an answer, that’s because you must first let him into your minds and hearts for you to feel and see Him.

A person who knows G-d, never walks alone and is constantly tweaked to do the right thing, and stay far from doing those things that could distance him from G-d. This person not only has faith, but even further, this person trusts, that G-d who put him here in this world never makes mistakes, and everything has an intelligent reason for being exactly perfect, as it is.

Darkness that Glows.

We are soon approaching the Holiday of Passover. One of the miracles we commemorate during the holiday, is when the Jewish people miraculously, just before day break, crossed the reed sea. Before that, throughout the night, the Egyptians were pursuing the Jewish people, and the bible says, they could not reach them because “there was this pillar of clouds that separated them “and this “cloud of darkness, lit up the night”.

The commentators help us understand this verse. There was a cloud of darkness in front of the Egyptians, and the pillar of fire that the Bible makes reference to before “lit up the night” for the Jewish people.

Mysticism explains, the “cloud of darkness, lit up the night” in the following way. That night, there was this amazing miraculous situation, the clouds of darkness themselves, lit up the night.

When faced with darkness and confusing circumstances in life, people will do all that is possible to chase it away, or run in a different direction, so in its place they can have light and clarity. That night, mysticism is telling us something very special took place. The darkness itself became light for them.

This very special miracle was a preparation for what was coming next, the splitting of the reed sea. In the water, there is a world that is even greater than what we see on dry land. Mysticism tells us – that in the atmosphere and around us, there is more that is happening that we don’t see than what we do see. When they went through the water, what opened up for them was not only the physical water. The splitting of the water was only the tip of a phenomenal experience that was taking place.

Their worlds opened up before them, so “a maidservant was able to perceive G-dliness on a greater level than even the prophet Ezekiel”. The truth of the universe opened up for all to see. Everything became clear in their lives, everything was split open, so there were no more concealing waters in life.

To prepare them for this great revelation of the hidden, they had to go through a night before hand, where they trained themselves and reached a level where darkness in life wasn’t a stumbling block, but a different way that G-d was protecting and placing His watchful eye over them. By appreciating the light, the ever watchful eye in the darkness, and by training the eye of their mind to always see the deeper good even in obscurity, they where able to experience the next day an uncovering of the waters, so they could see the incredible beautiful world in its total clarity and clairvoyance.

In these days when there is so much concealment and confusion, moments before daybreak feels like the darkest moments, we must transform the darkness to light in preparation for the splitting of our own sea. We must realize that everything is sent for a purpose, all is good and must be used not to trip over it, but as a building block. This is how we can transform the dark, and many times the evil world is transformed into a positive and constructive place to live in. We train our eyes to harness everything we come across even a wild bull into an animal that helps plow the ground and grow a bounty of crop.