Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Which side are you on?

When G-d just started creation before much happened, the Bible says “darkness was on the surface of the deep.” The commentators say this darkness refers to the seeds of darkness planted for believers to battle, generations later in the time of the Greek Hellenists.

The principles, ideals, and pursuits associated with classical Greek civilization and the conformity forced upon all to imitate the culture of ancient Greece threatened the survival of believers in an invisible G-d.

After the Bible tells us there was only darkness it immediately continues, “G-d said, Let there be light! – and there was light.” Darkness is temporary until we overcome the challenge and discover the light.

Darkness itself is a creation of G-d, “who forms light and creates darkness”. Anything and everything for it to exist must have a source, a place from which it came from.  Nevertheless the characteristic of darkness is that because there is no light a person’s reality can be obscured and fooled. In a state of darkness the truth many times will go unnoticed.

The Greek Hellenists decreed that it was forbidden to practice the Sabbath and the Circumcision. The practice of Sabbath reminds us there is a G-d who created this universe in six days and rested on the seventh day. The Sabbath is a day to reinforce our faith in a supreme being and our commitment to values that are more important than “six days you shall work.”

Circumcision brings a child on the eighth days of his life, long before it is possible for him to logically understand what is happening, into a covenant with G-d. “It will be a sign on your flesh of our eternal bond”.

The Greeks where a highly intelligent people. What they abhorred and stood violently against was the belief and acceptance that there is more to our lives than just the physical.

Recently I was reading an article written by a neurosurgeon who had a near death experience. He writes that while he was always under the impression that it was the brain that produces all that we think and feel, after his most recent experience he has come to a new realization. “We” exist apart from our bodies, and “we” merely operate through our bodies.

The physical world is not where it begins and ends. There is a reality that brought this world into existence and for the sun to rise every day and the winds to blow there is a soul and energy behind and inside that makes it all happen.

The Greeks had no problem with the practice of lighting the Menorah candelabra in the Temple. Their problem was doing it with “PURE” oil. To the Greeks purity and impurity was unreal. The concept of actually applying a belief, was an idiotic fantasy that would not be tolerated.

The small family of priests was determined to prove these Greeks wrong. “It is not in strength or in power, but only in my spirit says the Lord of Hosts”. The invisible and unseen carries with it way more strength than we can imagine.

The Maccabees as this small family of priests called themselves overcame miraculously beyond logic this great big army.  They entered the Temple to light the Menorah with pure oil because that is what “G-d” commanded. They demonstrated for everyone to see, a miracle. Life is way more than what meets the eyes. Don’t accept limitations and darkness as your reality.

They found one small pitcher of pure oil which could normally last for only one night and instead it lasted for eight nights until new pure oil could be produced.

The story of Chanukah reinforces our faith in G-d. Those who don’t accept the limitations of darkness, light surely follows.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tests and Hardships.

“For G-d your G-d is testing you to know whether you do in fact love G-d your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Tests are given to a person like everything else G-d creates, for the good of the person. When G-d wants to bring out the best in a person, when G-d wants to find an excuse to give a person reward he places him in a test. 

G-d said. “ Abraham will become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the world will be blessed through him. For I have known and cherished him because he instructs his sons and his household after him to keep the way of G-d.” Abraham had to prove himself by overcoming ten tests. 

The mere fact that G-d puts us in these situations and in today’s day and age when “darkness covers over the earth” tests are more than ever before, demonstrates, we have the strength to successfully overcome this tests and difficulties.

When a student in school or a soldier in the army successfully overcomes their test, they are promoted to the next higher class and rank and receive greater rewards. Life is an assignment from G-d, a mission up to the finishing line. The further we advance and grow in this mission the greater the recognition and reward in the phase when remuneration for all the sweat and tears is dispensed.

The bible speaks of five different categories and types of tests. 

There is the test of sacrificing the self. You are challenged to compromise your faith and association with G-d or else they will kill you. In communist Russia, people who taught religion and belief in G-d where severely punished.

There is the test of accepting difficulties with love. When a person hears they lost their job or G-d forbid have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Do they fall apart, complain, and protest the injustices of life and the world, or, do they reinforce and draw from their faith strength to accept in love that everything is always for the good.

Being rich and having the good life is a more challenging test than being poor and having it difficult. This is the third category of tests. Unfortunately the tendency is when things are good to become insensitive to the blessings that come from G-d and to forget the needs of the less fortunate.

The third test G-d presents is to see whether a person becomes more spiritually connected when life is good or does the person becomes more engrossed and absorbed in materiality.

The fourth test is to take control and break the lures of physical enticements. Mysticism explains we have a G-dly soul and an animal soul that dwells primarily in the flesh. Our free choice as human beings is to decide whether we will give in to the selfish drives of the animal within or elevate our lives to higher and nobler purposes than our self-indulgent desires.

The fifth test is that of faith itself. When we see or hear horrendous things happening in the world. When we hear of bad people seemingly having it easy. When we ourselves, G-d forbid have it tough, do we still believe there is an all knowing merciful G-d who is infinite, who created the world and is behind every detail of existence? Or, do we foolishly conclude there is no G-d. Or, if there ever was a G-d He has long ago left the scene.

Overcoming tests are a very difficult part of life. The price in physical and psychological energy is pretty high. In the end however, the satisfaction and pleasure of success and the reward outweighs by far any of the hardships getting there.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Working Hard or Easy?

Sarah passes on and her husband Abraham is looking for a burial site to fulfill his obligation to bury his wife. Abraham decides he would like to buy land in Hebron from Efron, and Efron offers to give the land for free, as a gift. Abraham would not hear of it and insisted he wanted to pay for the land. Efron offers to sell the land for its full value, 400 silver talents and Abraham purchases the property and buries his wife Sarah.

Abraham did not want that there should be in the future the slightest claim on the land from Efron or his people if he would accept the land as a gift, therefore he compensated Efron to the last penny that was requested for the land. In doing so, the land was totally acquired by Abraham for both Sarah and Abraham and all his children.

The bible says Efron referred to Abraham as “a G-dly prince in our midst”. Abraham was a special and important person amongst the people of that time. The law is, when an important person accepts a gift from someone, the honor and pleasure received as a result, is considered as a form of currency and exchange that the important person is giving, a sort of a barter, for the gift granted to him,

Abraham as an important person, had he accepted the land as a gift this would have been his form of payment for the land to Efron. Why did he still insist in paying the full price in cash?

Here we have a great secret and lesson in life.

It is true that had Abraham merely accepted the land from Efron this would have totally severed any claims to the land by Efron by virtue of the gift accepted by Abraham. However, Abraham would not have paid any money and this is something Abraham did not want to do.

True service to G-d and worthwhile accomplishments in life must come necessarily through hard labor. Anything that comes by itself or without sacrifice, remain external and superficial to our lives. Without working hard for something, what we acquire will not be permanent and doesn’t have any real inherent value and appreciation in our lives.

Abraham insisted to pay full price for the burial site because he understood, “a man (to be happy and fulfilled) is born to toil”, he must earn his keep.

Everything in this world has a spark of G-dliness, and therefore potential blessing waiting to be redeemed when it is used in the service of G-d. The more we utilize what G-d created, for the good, the more we free goodness in the world.

The way to involve our own lives and actual bodies in this process and bring the best of blessings and health in our own lives and thereby connect deeply with the act is when we toil in hard labor to bring about good. “With the sweat of your brow you will eat bread.” There is an inherent positive value in working hard and plugging away to accomplish results in life.
Mysticism teaches, “Free bread is shameful bread.” The great AriZal teaches the sweat one experiences when doing good deeds cleans the dirt of one’s soul.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

You pray? Do you deserve?

Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber was once sitting together with his followers when one of them decided to make a toast. “May the merit of the holy Rabbi Shnuer Zalman protect us.”

The Rebbe retorted, “Why?” The student was dumfounded.
The Rebbe explained. “When someone asks you for money, do you just dig into your pocket and give the person what he is asking for. Or, do you ask, “why”?
“You just requested and asked that all the good this great Rabbi stands for  and he accomplished in his lifetime , should bless and protect us. As you are requesting for something,  shouldn’t you be asking yourself, why?”  And the Rebbe continued.
“When the good angel created from your toast, goes up to heaven to request from the soul of this Holy man a favor for someone, the angel himself needs to come prepared with an answer when he is asked,why?  A person must always make himself worthy of the blessing.”
Prayer is many times compared to a ladder whose bottom is on the ground and its head is in the heaven.
The power of prayer, instituted by the men of the great assembly,  is such that it can elevate a person from the abyss of his soul experience to the highest of the high. The ladder of prayer has inherently built into it, this connection. It is up to the one who prays  to elevate and raise himself through proper meditation and dedication of his deeds and actions to what is higher and more noble than the coarse world we are living in, towards heaven, and the connection is done.
This connection with the spiritual when it is real and tangible, tranforms the person into a more refined person.  The person himself feels and knows he is not the same as he was before this spiritual experience.
Prayer is not just a time to ask for things, from the Almighty. Prayer is an opportunity to become more, by dedicating ourselves and connecting more of who we are with G-dliness. “The more one is connected above, the less chances a person has, to slip and fall, down below.”
That talmud tells us that the most powerful  prayer of the day comes in the afternoon. Elijah the prophet when he had his great face off against all the false prophets,  he was answered spectacularly  in the afternoon. Not because he was Elijah, but because the afternoon has this very special quality.
In the morning a person is fresh and in the mood. At the end of the day everything is already behind him. It’s smack in the middle of a person's busy day, all is worries and stress is at its highpoint, it is then that he connects his world, the deepest of  his world with the highest of the high.
The further back an elastic band is pulled the greater the momentum and force it has when let go.
Prayer is not just for those who” get it” and are already “up there”. Talking to G-d in prayer has the opportunity to connect one and all with the power above. Then, the above is able to influence and permeate our lives with blessings, down below.