Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Law of Thank You.

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Our sages say, “The gates of tears were never closed.” Why then does there need to be any gates at all if they are never closed?  Every once in a while there are people who cry alligator tears, and for them the gates come useful.

When it comes to the entryway, the  entrance to G-d of thanks and song,  the books of mysticism tell us, there are no gates there at all , it’s always a way in.

When Adam the first human being was created on the first Sabbath of his life he said, “It is good to praise the Lord and to sing to Your Name, O Most High.” Our sages’ say, this Psalm which is said in our prayers on Sabbath, takes the place of the daily Psalm we say throughout the week, “Enter his gates with gratitude, his courtyards with praise.”

Thanking G-d, praising G-d, singing to G-d, besides giving the person who is praising and singing a sense of acceptance and focus on what is good, it puts a person in a state of serenity calmness and peacefulness. These activities are all sure ways of getting in with G-d and improving our lot in life.

Before I continue on let me explain what I mean by, the law of thank you.

The law of gravity states, that every particle in the universe attracts every other particle with the force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

It’s very simple and it will happen every time, because it’s a law of reality.  Something with more mass will weigh more and fall faster than something with less mass.

The same is with the laws in our G-dly given Torah. The laws that tell us to rest once a week and to follow the dietary laws are for our own good because, that’s just the way G-d sets things up. It’s unbreakable and must always work to give us a most healthy and happy life.

The same is with acknowledging and thanking G-d for everything even what appears to be bad!
Jewish Law states, we must bless and thank G-d for the bad just like we thank and acknowledge G-d for the good. G-d “takes pleasure (all the time)  in songs of praise.”

How exactly does this work? And how can a person say,” thank you G-d that I am poor, or single, or sick”? Aren’t these conditions negative and undesirable ways to live even according to the Bible?

The answer is. When G-d decides to dispense for reasons only He knows negative strictness and severity to a person, the truth is that this is only to the naked eye. On the inside the reason behind this must always be positive because G-d by his very nature is giving and loving. He withholds only because He sees at this moment and for this person a greater good acting in this harsh way. Only for the moment.

When a person has developed the kind of faith that he can with a full and sincere heart say, “even though G-d I may not understand, but thank you for the condition I am in now, that I am in today.”   The person is acknowledging the goodness and kindness in G-d at this moment and in this event. It is this approach and attitude that bypasses the element of bad to connect and draw out the good intended in this harshness.

The Holy Baal Shem Tov said. “A person with absolute faith in G-d can walk over water on his prayer sash just like I am able to. But he must have a genuine and truthful faith in G-d.” Thanking and praising G-d even in adverse situations, out of a firm sincere faith that it is all good, connects the person with the motivating force within the occurrence and then the event become good in an open and revealed way.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The psychology of pain


The Torah tells us the two most powerful and underlying emotions in a human being are pain and pleasure – fear and love. “Keep away from bad, do good, seek peace and pursue it.” Mysticism tells us, “Fear and love are two wings” that lift the bird. In any and every decision we make, these two values are at the root and foundation of our choices.

If any relationship is to fly, we must balance and find peace between these two emotions, fear and love. The things that bring pain to the relationship, we fear.  It is this fear that will keep us from doing those things that harm the relationship. The love in the relationship motivates to do those things that intensify and bring enjoyment to the relationship.

The story in the Bible of the evil Pharaoh and his bad behavior which was sabotaging himself, his people and his slaves is a classic lesson in human behavior and is therefore part of our eternal Torah. Learning the lesson helps us identify these traits in people. Knowing the pattern hopefully helps us avoid these problems to begin with.

First, Pharaoh refused to listen to Moses and his brother Aaron to let the Israelites free. He was in denial that G-d was not happy with him and therefore he was not behaving right.  Pharaoh was finally moved from that position to acknowledge there is a problem and these people should be let free.

Pharaoh kept on promising he would let his slaves free, with some conditions. His resolve to change was not yet total and complete and he retained some strings attached to his bad ways.  Although the actual shift from bad to good can be in an instant, it must be however a complete turnaround retaining no attachments to the old ways. If the person still entertains thoughts of pleasure and affection to his bad habits and is not fully disgusted by the “old ways” they retain their hold on him.

Therefore even when Pharaoh promised and said, he would let the people go, at the last minute he always had a change of heart.  He was full of remorse and regrets. His bad habits got the better of him and again and again he would relapse back to his old ways.

It was only after being afflicted by ten plagues the Egyptians finally got the message they needed to change.  They did have the chance to avoid all that strife and damage to themselves but unfortunately many people, unless they actually hit rock bottom they find it difficult to take charge and change course.

According to Mysticism, rewards and punishments in the Torah are a direct result of the choices we make. G-d commands us what to keep away from and what to do, “to improve the world - with the blessings and shine of G-dliness.’  “For our own sake.”  When we wash our hands coming out of the bathroom, or rest once a week on Sabbath, or start and end the day with a prayer, and all that we are commanded to do, the good that comes as a reward are direct outcomes and effects of the proper G-dly and goodly behavior.

G-d made man in His own image. In order for G-d to create the world G-d decided to create ten different tools with which to make a finite world out of His own G-dly infinity. Wisdom, understanding, love, kindness, severity, judgment, compassion, bonding and nurturing are some of the tools G-d used to make this world.

Because the Egyptians perverted the character of bonding and intimacy within the human existence this spiritual defect gave birth to one of the ten plagues. 

Every plague of the ten, is an outgrowth of the corrupted behavior that encompassed the entire spectrum of their existence. Only after suffering the results of their bad choices they finally came to terms with the need to change and that is when “the children of Israel went out with an outstretched arm.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Free At Last.

“In every generation and every day a person must see himself going out of Egypt.”   The souls of humans are expected to move from strength to strength on a daily basis. Every day we must be mindful to ask ourselves. “Today, in what area of my life will I expand my horizons and progress upward?”

We are granted life for one sole reason, to improve ourselves and the world around us. The problem is, it’s not so easy. G-d did say it would certainly be worth it, but like everything of value it comes with great toil.

G-d created a condition to offer us personal challenge in the above task. In Hebrew it is called, Mitzraim - Egypt, and it is ruled by a king Pharaoh.  Like the actual Egypt, Mitzraim is a constrained  limiting and constricting, psychological and emotional condition were a soul is held back and held down  not allowing it the freedom of expression and seriously limiting its potential.

The G-dly spark within, the true “I” of every person needs the chance to express itself spiritually. When it is not able to do so, a person feels stifled and unfulfilled. They will experiences a lack of full strength to succeed in their life mission. They will stumble a lot easier to the challenges and temptations of the inner “bad boy/girl.”

When Moses approached king Pharaoh to free the Israelites, pharaoh responded, “Who is G-d that I should listen to his voice.” King Pharaoh proclaimed, “The Nile is mine and I made it.” Pharaoh considered himself a god!

That is why we find in three different ways, G-d says regarding the Egyptians after they experience the plagues, they will finally know, “that I am G-d in the midst of the land.”

The staff of Moses was made of a very heavy and expensive stone and it had the ten plagues inscribed on it in a mnemonic of three words.

The sages tell us. The reason why the plagues were divided into three was to allude to the three types of people the plagues were coming to address.  Since the Bible is teaching all people for all times, in one form or the other all three types can be found in each one of us.

There was a group of people who denied G-d. There was a group who said, there may be a G-d but he is up in the heavens. Then, there was a third group who said, G-d who created the heavens and earth, certainly fills the entire universe. However once the rules of nature were set in pattern even G-d has no role to play in good and bad, it is all in the hands of humans.

For each group G-d showed them that they were dead wrong.

The root of all downfall and of all weakness and perversion is when a person forgets there is a G-d and becomes arrogant and haughty, “self-made.” This leads to anger, frustrations, conceit, self-centeredness, emptiness, and everything in life is always a matter of, “what’s in it for me.”  Even when being kind to another, it’s with an ulterior motive, because “if I am not to myself who else will be for me.”

Each one of the ten plagues address a different facet, another one of the ten dimensions in a soul that could use improvement to make it whole and perfect. The ten plagues divided into three categories completely liberated the souls from this mitzrayim - Egypt condition.

The plagues demonstrated not only is there a G-d, and he is very much here in this world with each one of us, but even more so, G-d always maintains the possibility of influence and control over everything  at the whim of His will.

Knowing and absorbing this knowledge and awareness inside our psyche and feeling it in our emotions becomes the impetus to eliminate mitzraim and free the soul. The results are acceptance, peace, tranquility, tolerance, self-confidence, and inner strength.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

G-D is Watching.

The holy Baal Shem Tov  (1698- 1760) – master of good name taught, that everything in this universe from the celestial beings to human beings, down to a kernel of sand is directed and orchestrated by the full knowledge and will of G-d. The Baal Shem Tov would say, “When the wind blows and turns a leaf over from one side to the other, this is by Divine intention. There is a specific reason for this.”

One of his students had difficulty grasping this concept. The Baal Shem Tov instructed this student to go to the forest and stand by any tree and follow the first leaf that is blown from the tree. The student did this and the leaf ended up between two stones. The student went a little closer and noticed a worm crawling out from between the stones and started to munch at the edge of the leaf. 

When the student went back to the Baal Shem Tov, even before he had a chance to say anything, the Baal Shem Tov said, “G-d who sustains the entire universe prepared the leaf so it should reach this hungry worm. Everything, which occurred to this leaf, was with G-d’s will.”

As a result, and by extension of this principle, the Baal Shem Tov taught that everything a person sees or hears he must view as a direct message from G-d to help in his specific mission in this world.

Once, the Baal Shem was sitting with his students and a wagon driver yelled into their room of study that he needed help to pull his horse and wagon out of the mud. The students not wanting to lose even a millisecond of learning from their master responded to this cry for help, “We are not able (to help you).”

The frustrated wagon driver yelled back, “you are able (to help) you just don’t want to.” With that the Baal Shem Tov addressed his students and said, this was a message from G-d that was needed at this moment. When we think we are not able to improve and do more, it’s simply not true. We just don’t want to. Every day we wake up, G-d has faith in us and is giving each one of us the opportunity to progress further than the day before.  Every person with enough resolve can reach the highest levels of personal improvement.

Once a great Rabbi came over to Rabbi Shnuer Zalman and told him he decided to move to another city. Rabbi Shnuer Zalman told him, “who told you that your soul came down to this world to be a Rabbi in the city you intend to move to.  By Divine providence G-d put you in the city that you are in, to illuminate it with the light of G-dliness. When you fulfill your mission in this city, the providence of above will direct you to someplace else.”

Chassidim would say. “There is nothing “by chance”, although sometimes things may happen that weren’t planned.”

Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe would almost always respond to people who were trained in certain fields and wanted to drop their training for something else, that is was not advisable. “If by Divine Providence this is what you have become proficient in, then this must be your mission.” Rabbi Schneerson would advise them to find ways that they could use their field to further goodness in the world, and that would bring greater happiness and success to the person.

Once a student of Rabbi Shmuel planned to be with his Rabbi for the High holidays. On his way he got delayed and was forced to remain for the Holiday in the city of Vitebsk. When he finally arrived to the city of Lubavitch he was granted a personal audience with the Rabbi. Rabbi Shmuel said to him, “you don’t even know yourself what you accomplished in the city of Vitebsk.”
Everything that transpires in our lives is meant to happen. To help us, in one way or the other, move along for the good, in our journey we call life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Resolutions. Are they worthwhile?

Even if one fails many times and we feel like a hypocrite, good resolutions have great value. Conflicting feelings we feel because of the choices we make or failed at, is normal. Sometimes we feel torn apart and guilty so we decide to do away with trying anymore and ignore the guilt. Guilt is good. If you don’t feel guilty that’s really when we need to start worrying. Good resolutions are always good. They come from a good place and ultimately will get us to an even better place.

Each one of us has two comprehensive and complete identities within ourselves, somewhat schizophrenic. We all have what’s mysticism calls, the animal and evil soul. This soul energy and identity pulls us to do bad and evil, all the time. It never changes its colors or stripes. Yes, it does come up with many ingenious ways to lure us into its trap, but basically it’s always in the direction opposite the way of true ultimate happiness and meaning.

We also have within ourselves a G-dly identity. Like the animal and evil soul, it’s an entire spectrum of self and character. It is always making every effort to influence and convince us to be a better human being by becoming more selfless and dedicated to the purpose we were created and the overall reason G-d created the world. This G-dly soul inspires us to think universally rather than selfishly and narcissistically.  This soul brings meaning and value to our lives and as a result it gives us true self esteem.

And then there is the “I” within, with the unadulterated free choice.

Up to the age of adulthood, 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy, the animal and bodily soul reigns and controls. From the age of maturity, the G-dly soul and the G-dly light within, comes on full blast and has the task of chasing away the darkness and tendencies of childhood so the person evolves into a developed mature person, advanced to the full potential a human being can reach.

Throughout all of life we always have within and can never escape in its many forms the lure of the animal soul. The desire, the temptations the cravings for those things self-destructive is always there to the last moment.

However, G-d says to Kayin at the beginning of creation .” Why are you angry and why is your face dejected? Surely, if you improve yourself you will be forgiven. If you do not improve yourself, however, then (your) sin is crouching (in wait) at the entrance (of your grave. The evil inclination) is longing (to entice you) but you can rule over it (if you want).”

G-d tells Kayin – it’s a choice, your choice.

Light by nature is stronger than darkness. The G-dly and good inclination that operates out of our mind is by nature stronger than the temptations of the heart. The will to do good can overpower the feelings to do bad.

Every time we make a sincere resolution to improve and be better we are giving strength to the good side and most importantly we suppress and weaken the left and bad side. G-d says, “In the direction a person wants to go, he is led.” In the eyes of G-d every time we make a good resolution we are reminding G-d in what direction we would like Him to help take us to.

When we fail and feel guilty this is the good side expressing its pain over this temporary fall. Ignoring the feelings of guilt is like ignoring the feelings of pain when one hurts themselves.

The feeling of hypocrisy and despondency is the trick and trap of the evil inclination doing its job hoping we will give up.

Maimonides says, a person must view every choice they are faced with as if, this were the only choice there is. That’s because the bad within always remains bad and the good always remain good, and every time we decide to do the right thing we have at this very moment succeeded to strengthen in a positive direction the overall good and light within.