Thursday, February 27, 2014

REAL Joy & Unrestrained Frivolity.

One of the basic principles in Kabbalah – mysticism, is that we are made of a G-dly soul and an animal soul. There are two drives inside of us that constantly fight with each other to gain control over our lives.  The G-dly drive, and the one that pulls us down towards debased animalistic tendencies.

Another Bible mystical concept is that the entire universe comprises of four basic elements. The element of fire, air, water, and earth. These elements are found both in the spiritual and the physical, in the good and in the bad.

In his book on the basics of Chassidism, Rabbi Shnuer Zalman explains the roots of all the emotions that drive a person to the good and to the bad.  “…Frivolity and scoffing, boasting and idle talk [emanate] from the element of Air; like air, they lack substance…”

In experiencing joy and happiness one must be very careful, the line isn’t crossed where joy turns to silliness, and in the attempt to be happy one turns to frivolity and foolishness. The Baal Shem Tov once said, “Foolishness, sadness and a feeling of self-worth are considered by the pious, as terrible deeds. Acute (honest) perception, joy from finding the good in everything, controlled restrained swiftness and enthusiasm, is considered to be great positive deeds.”

Real true joy, the one that reaches deep down in the gut, is not an empty, pointless, baseless happiness, without substance. The joy that is considered a great level of conduct and is a receptacle for all that is even better in one’s life,  comes from discovering within oneself, within ones world, even the minutest amount of good and shining the light on it as brightly as possible. Real joy, either comes from something real, or is meant to lead to the realization that we are, and we have, something truly worthwhile.

In the book of Psalms, King David warns us not to associate and mingle with scoffers and those that ridicule everything. These people, in mysticism, are described by a very negative energy that describes an unrestrained irresponsible flow of energy. We all know, too much electricity, and the wrong amount of medicine, will harm an individual. When a person has no restraint in his behavior, even when on the surface it appears, and may very well make people laugh and be happy, in truth it is an expression of empty joy which will inevitably lead to more unhappiness and emptiness.

When a person develops within himself, “and my soul, may it be like dust before all …” a sense of humility before G-d, the Master of the Universe, and realizes that HE, is the source of all that is good, and HE bestows a person with way more than he really deserves, this will lead to a critical, wise and honest recognition of the self,  and bring a very deep and powerful sense of joy and happiness in existence and the opportunities life provides every person every second of his/her existence.

One of the virtues, our sages tell us, a trusted pious person must attain, is that he refrains from excessive lightheadedness and laughter which in itself is negative and leads to more of the negative.

When a person’s joy and happiness springs from, and is connected with, holiness and G-dliness , even at the most jubilant and ecstatic moments a person will never lose himself, and will always remember who he is, and what is expected of him.

Being clear and aware of the two types of joy, the wild, empty, unrestrained type, and the pre-meditated joy, sometimes, one may benefit by starting the process from a very materialistic and physical happiness, like for example, enjoying a good meal during the holidays, or some great music when celebrating the Mitzvah of the marriage of a bride and groom.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Joie de vivre - Drunk & Wild.

The great Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchok Luria once told his student Rabbi Chaim Vital the reason he merited Ruach Hakodesh – The Holy spirit and the revelations of Elijah the prophet, was his great JOY in fulfilling G-ds wishes and commandments.

Joy is the energy and spirit, in sync with G-dliness, strength, and the highest forms of goodness. This isn’t referring to any kind of joy that may come as a result of drunkenness and foolishness. Frivolity and silliness is precisely that. Not only a waste of time, and an undignified way to behave, but because it comes from an unclean source internally, it has the potential to lead even further down the spiraling staircase, to things much worse.

Maimonides writes that when a person eats and drinks on the holidays when it is considered a Mitzvah- good deed to do so, the person should not be drawn into frivolousness and claim that by doing so he is fulfilling the G-dly act of being joyous, for this is not simcha – joy, but just unbridled foolishness. Real joy, always involves the worship of G-d, contact with the G-dly spark within. This cannot be carried out when one is wild and drunk.

Once the Tzadik – righteous and spiritual Reb Naftali of Ropshitz noticed one of his students dancing after the morning prayers with great ecstasy and remarked. “He can dance, and it is not in vain. For he will grow into a mighty tree, under which many great men will find shelter.” Another time Reb Naftoli noticed a man dancing, and remarked to one of his students, “What a pity to wear out a good pair of shoes on dancing of that sort...”

There is delight, joy, singing, real happiness and gladness. Then, there is what appears like all that, but is at best a waste of time and a waste of a good pair of shoes.

Once a student came to Rabbi Shnuer Zalman and complained he was being assaulted by all kinds of crazy and foreign thoughts that disturbed him greatly. The Rabbi told him, “They gather in empty spaces.”  Fill your mind with upbeat, positive thoughts of faith and trust, and there will be no room for anything negative.

The same is with joy. If a person does not think, speak, and act in joy, knowing the opportunity G-d grants us every day to make a difference in our own lives and in the world around us, the thought processes of our souls are drawn to all the negative ends, to fulfill its very natural desire for joie de vivre.

This same Rabbi Shnuer Zalman would instruct people with troubles, to pray with melodious singing and joy, for doing so, “sweetens the energies of severity”. Any negative verdict that may be hanging over a person, and the adversaries from the heavenly courts is eliminated through joy and happiness especially when one grasps how fortunate we are every day, that G-d grants us life, to accumulate more good deeds and make more of ourselves.

In the book of the Zohar- the seminal book of mysticism it is written – when a person is happy in this world, he is dealt with from above, in happiness and abundance. When a person conducts himself in sadness, sluggishness and laziness, he will be dealt with in a similar vein from above. In restraint and restriction.

A very important principle in serving G-d is expressed in the last words of the code of Jewish Law. “A good heart is always festive.” This statement can be read as both a prediction and a statement of fact. A good heart will always lead to being festive. Or, this statement could be read. It is always good, no matter where, or how, a person finds himself, to live with a festive heart at all times.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Crazy Dreams and their interpretations.

Many of us have dreams and at times we wonder whether they deserve any of our serious attention. The subject is pretty involved. I will share with you however a story I heard recently from a Rabbi in Israel, and a note from Rabbi M.M Schneerson, recently publicized on this subject.

This lady in Israel took it upon herself to pay for the special Kaddish prayer to be recited for those who passed away, and had no descendants. After a while, her husband happened to pass away, and his business went bankrupt. She decided, come what may she would not abandon “her souls”.

As she made those arrangements, under new terms, since she wasn’t as wealthy anymore, and came out of the Talmud study center, a man came up to her and made small talk with her. She mentioned she had two daughters to marry, and he offered to help with their weddings.

He asked for two students to come out and witness him signing the check, “just in case”. The next day she went to the bank, and was sent to the manager since it was a large check. The manager saw the check and fainted.

When he came back to himself, the manager asked how she got the check, and she shared her story. The manager said he would show her an album and she should identify the man, which she did. The manager said, “That was my father who passed away some time ago.”

The manager continued. My father told me in a dream last night, that because this lady was doing what I as a son was neglecting (to say the prayer for a deceased parent), he would be sending a reward and that it should be honored, and, “you, walked in.”

The two boys who witnessed this story were, Rabbi YH Zonnenfeld and Rabbi Greenvald.

Someone wrote to Rabbi MM Schneerson that he has these recurring dreams (which is many times, a sign to take seriously) where he repeatedly gets angry over the injustices of the world and as a result, would like to in his dream, “get up and out”.

Rabbi Schneerson responds. “In general it is not necessary to look for guidance from dreams. For this, (guidance in life) G-d granted the Torah - Bible to the world, which is a Torah (an instruction) of light, and a Torah of life, which illuminates the way in one’s life.  At times, if a person does not follow these instructions from G-d in his Torah, (then, infrequently) messages can be suggested in dreams etc.

It is pretty obvious that there are no hints here regarding the crookedness and deception of the world at large, since it is not in your realm to improve. (the world). On the other hand, it is obvious that your dream is showing you that you should become angry over the fact that your own personal world, which is dependent ONLY on you, is being conducted with injustice, not according to the rules of G-d and you must ascend from this descent, by living daily, according to the instructions and rules of G-d, in actual practice.”

Rabbi Schneerson mostly told people to disregard any attention to dreams, and that they were a result of a person’s own thoughts of the day. A person should be careful who they share their dreams with, because, “all dreams follow their interpretations”. If a dream really bothered someone, giving charity to a G-dly cause was a remedy.

There were times when Rabbi Schneerson recommended the person be careful with the prayers said before going to sleep. There are stories when a deceased family member kept on coming in a dream, and Rabbi Schneerson recommended that the family review the procedures done at the funeral, and at the burial, and the follow up, that they were all done properly.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The joy in bitterness.

The Baal Shem Tov taught, worry and sadness are the sources and root for all that’s negative in a person’s life. One cannot go about their daily routine and serve G-d properly, without joy. The voice of the evil inclination inside everyone tries to persuade the person to be sad for having failed at the most insignificant and tiniest detail, exaggerating and magnifying the issue as if it were some huge transgression.

A person must give this little evil voice inside, a frank and candid retort, says the Baal Shem Tov. “This is just a trick of yours to disrupt my life and disturb my service of G-d!  For even if I have truly committed a sin of great proportion, at this moment, it is more important to G-d that I serve him in Joy.”

Once, a student came to Rabbi Menachem Mendel seeking advice how to address and deal with the uninvited extraneous thoughts that annoy him. The Rabbi said he should serve G-d in Joy. And the Rabbi explained.

A person’s soul is always seeking expression through enjoyment and pleasure. If it does not find this satisfaction and joy in the positive and spiritual service of G-d which is best for the person, it will always seek it elsewhere, since life can never accept a vacuum.

There is a positive blessing in every current situation. Noticing and celebrating this good becomes the thrust and momentum for even greater growth.

The irony of the matter is that life is compared to olives that are bitter. It is true that inside the olive there is oil that is used for warmth and light, however until then, we first encounter the bitterness of the outside. Oil when extracted from the olive gravitates to the top and always retains its unique characteristics even when in the company of other liquids. Oil will always remain separate and distinguished.

Our sages tell us this metaphor teaches a very important lesson.

Everyone has both a bitter side and deep down inside a spark of light. The bitter represents the temptations and distractions of the body, the shell, the puffed out ego, that is always trying to project itself, superficially and deceptively. I need this, I want this, I made myself, I am attracted and drawn by that, this will make me (my body immediate gratification) feel good.

Like the flesh of the olive which is bitter and from the realm of negativity, all these drives of the body ultimately thrusts a person towards the undesirable and the unhappy. And just like with the olive when it is crushed we draw the deep rooted good from inside. A person who takes control and subdues crushes and presses down on his impulses, this draws out and reveals the oil which represents the deep good, the wisdom and G-dly strength implanted in each and every person.

We would all like to have an easy and enjoyable life. There is a rule in the Bible, only those who sow in tears will reap in joy. To reach joy which is the ultimate in living one’s life in the most expressive manner, one has to welcome the challenges and difficulties G-d places in our way.

By embracing daily challenges with decisive trust, that it is all for the good, we generate the joy necessary to deal with the issues in the most potent fashion. Overcoming our battles, brings out the oil, deeper and greater wisdom, the light and true joy, that comes only as a result of succeeding over the difficulty and reaching the hidden good, G-d implanted inside, waiting, for us to discover.