Monday, July 25, 2011

YOUR life may depend on HIM

Here’s a story that demonstrates the importance of treating everyone with respect for no other reason than, your life may depend on it.

The saintly Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (founder of Chasidism, known also by the acronym "Besht") was sitting in his room. A light knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.

"I have heard of the fame of the saintly Rabbi. I wished to see the Rabbi's holy face and receive his blessing," said the visitor.

The Besht said, "It is written, 'G-d directs the steps of man.' This means that it is not possible to go anywhere without being directed by Divine Providence."

The gentleman looked puzzled, and the Besht began to tell a story:

"Once, there lived two boys who were best of friends. Soon the boys were married businessmen.

"At first, both did very well, later, however, one lost his entire fortune.

"The poor man arriving at his friend's house, was warmly welcomed. They chatted and the host asked his old buddy the reason for the visit. The visitor poured his heart out, saying he came to seek help.

"The host called his book-keeper and ordered half of his fortune transferred to his impoverished friend. 'My friend,' he said, 'we always shared everything. I am now going to share everything I have with you again!'

"The poor man returned home and once again became successful. The rich friend, his fortune, took a turn for the worse and he became poor.

"It was now his turn, to seek the aid of his friend, whom he had helped in his hour of need. He went to his friend's house and the servant came out to the visitor saying, his master was too busy to see him.

"The poor man could hardly believe his ears.” There was nothing for the poor man to do but return home.

He could not get over the humiliation and disappointment and soon died.

"On the very same day, the rich man in the other town had an accident and died too. The two souls ascended to heaven and appeared for judgment. The soul of the poor man who had treated his friend so generously was told of his great reward, but the other soul was condemned.

"The first soul said sadly, "How can I enjoy the happiness of Paradise knowing that my friend is being punished on my account?" The soul was given permission to pronounce judgment in this case. The soul said that both of them should again be sent into bodies, so that the other soul could make amends where it had failed. Selflessly, this soul accepted a life of poverty again, in order to help the other soul.

"Some time afterwards, two baby boys were born in two different towns, one rich and one poor. One day the poor one, arrived in the town where the rich man lived, and knocked at his door. 'You are a stranger in this town do you not know that I do not give alms to any beggar, not even local ones!'

"The beggar had not eaten for three days. He collapsed and died.

"Now what do you think of this rich man?" the saintly Baal Shem Tov concluded, his keen eyes piercing through the visitor.

The Baal Shem Tov's visitor grew pale and frightened, for he remembered the beggar who had knocked at his door only a few days before he made his way to the Baal Shem Tov. The pale and haggard face of the dead beggar which had made no impression on him then, now began to torment him.

Is there anything I can do to save my soul?" the visitor pleaded.

The Baal Shem Tov replied, "Yes, there is something you can do. You must try to find the survivors of the poor man and ask their forgiveness. You must provide them with all their needs for the rest of their lives and distribute the rest of your fortune to the poor and needy. Then, pray to G-d with all your heart, for He is near to all who call unto Him in truth."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Are you depressed or bitter?

The Torah underscores the importance of joy and pushes away depression. Even though inner pain, anguish, a heavy head, and a heavy heart are all considered unhelpful and harmful matters. There is a certain type of anguish and distress which is considered as positive, and this is bitterness.

There is a saying, that unkosher meat under all circumstances can not be changed and made kosher. However, meat, when prepared in a kosher and proper way, great benefit can be derived in the service of G-d.

Depression is not kosher, and there is no redeeming value that can be drawn from it. Bitterness, although in itself, in its current state, is not positive, if directed properly it can become and be used as a catalyst to trigger for something positive.

On the face of things, it’s not easy to distinguish between the two. On the surface, both depression and bitterness cause a person pain, agony, and constriction of sorts. The great Chassidim would say, “The distance between depression and bitterness is just a hair breadth, and yet the difference between the two is like the distance between heaven and earth, holiness and impurity.

How does one distinguish between the no good, depression, and what can lead to great good, bitterness?

When a person is depressed, he has no liveliness, he is steeped, and immersed. in his unhappiness, and he has no energy. He wants to go to sleep and feels despondent. Depression is a form of death in the sense that he feels disconnected from his own life.

On the other hand, when someone is experiencing bitterness, there is life and energy. Not the happy type to be sure, but the person feels a subtle anger, an urgency, and desire for things to be different. This, has the potential to trigger a change and improvement from the current state of affairs.

The difference between the two, depression and bitterness can be clearly seen in the way a person reacts to life events. If a person’s house should burn down, and let’s say there was no insurance to cover his loss, this is clearly not a happy event to dance and be joyful about. A depressed person puts his hands up in the air despondent and in hopelessness. It’s too overwhelming, and he gives up. While the person who is bitter about what’s happening, will start yelling for the fire extinguishers to take the fire out. Although, he is not happy with what’s happening, he is bitter; he is full of energy, life, and liveliness which gets him on the move to do something.

The underlying reason between the two is fundamental.

The reason for depression is an extreme and extra ordinary focus on one’s self. Everything revolves and is interpreted around the person himself. Any shortcoming, deficiencies, and mistakes somehow always comeback to the person. In depression, the focus on oneself ultimately makes the person only about themselves, small, and insignificant which leads to self implosion.

While someone who is outwardly focused on serving his G-dly purpose, his mission and purpose in life, when it’s all about what can I do to serve, and to be of some positive use in the world around me, this outward focus will always make the person a bigger individual and will bring to achievement, self worth and happiness.

It is impossible to overcome the evil inclination when one is lazy and heavy which comes from being depressed. Only when a person is filled with life, energy, and enthusiasm, joy from seeing all the good there is around them, will they have the energy to succeed over all internal battles.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

YOUR Difficulties & Challenges in life.

I officiated at a funeral the other day for an elderly lady who just a few years ago I officiated at the funeral of her own daughter who passed away from cancer. Besides all her other challenges in life, having to mourn the death of ones own child, has to be one of those real tough ones to handle

When G-d commanded to divide the land of Israel amongst the twelve tribes – The bible says, “With lots you shall separate the land.” The land was divided by relying on a suprarational method and was not divided according to rational thinking.

According to one opinion in Jewish law, when one depends on a raffle for an outcome, we say, the raffle is merely guiding the person in the direction of the raffle. Another opinion in Jewish law states that the raffle actually has the power to grant ownership to the winner of the lottery, so no other act is necessary to gain acquisition and ownership of the object.

In the same way, that the land for the tribes as a whole was granted by depending on Divine guidance, something that goes beyond rational thinking and explanation – every member of the tribe was awarded their own lot in life, to develop, grow, and thrive in the same way.

Our sages tell us, the same applies to each individual person and their own lot in life. We are all placed here in this world with a very specific and unique mission, our own lot to develop. The circumstances and place a person finds himself in, was granted to them similar to a lot by Divine providence, something that doesn’t always make rational sense.

Why was I born to these parents, or why was I born in this country, or why was I given this set of strengths and weaknesses? Some people might want to escape to what appears to be other more lush pastures. They say, someplace else or in other circumstances, things would be different or things would be better.

Once two souls came up to heaven, both did good. The rich one helped pull out people stuck in the mud, and the poor chariot driver invited the needy to his home. Both, where sent back again to this world. The rich one should have done what he is most suited to do, to invite the hungry to his abundant table, and the chariot guy should have pulled the stuck chariots out of the mud.

The things that are met with the greatest of internal hardships and difficulties is usually the reason we were sent down here to this world. Our mission and lot in life, our unique purpose in the world usually comes disguised at the most difficult time or set of circumstances.

The comfort is that not only does Divine providence steer us in the direction of what’s best and most compatible with our soul’s mission, it also grants us ownership over the hardship. The power to succeed is always implanted and imbued within us and in our surroundings, to achieve, to accomplish, and thrive in that portion of life that was granted to each one of us.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Body & soul - the balance.

Throughout the ages, philosophers have tried to figure out the balance, if any at all, between the spiritual the physical, the soul and body.

When the spies where sent by Moses to search out the Land of Israel, they returned back to the wilderness with the report, “It is a land that devours its inhabitants.” Now, these spies where leaders of their tribes, and not only where they spiritual people, they where wise men. What exactly did they mean by these words? Is it possible they would speak badly of the land, G-d had in mind to award the Jewish people?

Our sages explain the following, after all the miracles they had recently experienced coming out of Egypt, and most recently in the wilderness. Seeing the miraculous hand of G-d, they did not want to enter a place where they would have to deal with the physical land and waste their time seeding and plowing in order to earn their bread. They preferred the spiritual ascetic life of the wilderness, where they would be sustained directly by G-d, manna from heaven etc., and ALL their time could be dedicated to spirituality.

They claimed, if we enter the land of Israel, and then, we are commanded to plow the ground in order to perform the commandments of tithing, and keeping the sabbatical etc., it will swallow our spiritual aspirations. But of course, we all know what happened. G-d punished them, because the ultimate reason why we are placed in THIS physical world, is to address the reality of the corporeal and materialistic world, and transform the challenge they present into a positive.

Comes the next portion of the Bible. Korach rebelled against Moses and claimed, everyone is holy since we all stood in the same way when we received the Ten Commandments from G-d. Korach too was a smart man. Why would he rebel against the leadership of Moses when it was obvious to all the superior qualities of this man?

Korach went to the opposite extreme of the spies. If what matters argued Korach, is the practical deed in a physical world, and what happens spiritually is not the ultimate. Dwelling in a spiritual oasis doesn’t cut it, but what is necessarily expected is to deal with the physical. Korach took this to an extreme and claimed that by observing an act, everyone is the same!

When one places a Mezuzah on one’s door, it doesn’t matter whether they are a Moses, or a simple person. The act is always exactly the same. So, why the exalted position of leaders? Everyone who does is equal to each other?

G-d was not happy with this argument, and Korach was swallowed alive in the ground he revered. G-d was indicating, that while it’s true that it’s the deed that counts, the intent and concentration, the inspiration behind a deed is not the same in everyone, and a Moses will be very different in their act, in comparison to a simple person.

Then, comes the rules of the red heifer, where the holy water was mixed with the ashes of the red heifer, to bring the ultimate level of purity and holiness in a person.

Fire is a substance that is always going upwards. This symbolizes the constant yearning of the soul for its spiritual quest. Water is always flowing to its lowest point, and this symbolizes the point of direction and focus towards addressing the needs of the lowest, coarsest point of this materialistic world. Addressing the weakness of the body and infusing it with the wisdom of above.

So while it is true that what counts most is the physical down to earth good deed, and all the spirituality in the world can’t put food and nutrition in your body. The intent and spiritual motivation behind the deed represent the soul to the body of the good deed. It’s the combination of water and fire that brings the ultimate of blessings.