Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Spark from Heaven?

On Passover, the Bible commands us to bring a sacrifice of barley which is the staple food of animals. On the next Holiday Shavuot, we are commanded to bring two loaves of bread made from wheat, the food of humans.
Between Passover, when we were just liberated from a condition of slavery in a despicable land, and the next holiday when we commemorate the giving of the Torah-Bible at Mt Sinai, there are seven weeks. The number seven corresponds to the seven dimensions of our emotions and character. It is during these seven weeks when we make a blessing over every day, through the Mitzvah-practice of counting the Omer, we receive strength to improve ourselves and progressively advance from the traits of an animal closer to the positive qualities and traits of a human.
According to the instructions in the Bible, the wheat for this offering must grow in the Land of Israel. The Talmud asks, what would happen if there was a miracle and wheat fell from heaven! Can we use this wheat? It did after all come from Israel, or perhaps since it’s not from the land it is excluded from being used. The conclusion is that it’s recommended not to use this wheat, however if he did use it, it’s acceptable.
When G-d does a miracle it is to serve a purpose. What lesson is there from this discussion for each one of us?
We are all born naturally, “a wild donkey, man is born.” If one isn’t trained and does not work on himself, he will grow, to think and act like an animal. Becoming an upright, moral, ethical, spiritual human being takes much effort and personal determination. Ultimately, the goal is to realize the limitations of our own intellect, so we can set it aside for something even greater that’s called faith; trust in G-d.
Without faith, a man can do nothing; with it, all things are possible. Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.  
The other day I was reading a comic strip which went in the following way.  “The longer I live, the less I know.” “Is there a name for that?” “Wiser.”
Generally this improvement and growth of the self needs to be accomplished necessarily, through our own efforts. In the same way a farmer sweats to toil the ground, plant the seeds, harvest the stalks, grind the kernels, make and bake the bread, a person must sweat and toil in a positive atmosphere so he will end with his own results, the two loaves that he will sacrifice to G-d.
There is an age old prayer that asks G-d, not that we shouldn’t have any struggles in life, but that we should have the strength to overcome any and all challenges in life, so that we become the greater and stronger person these hardships are meant to make of us.
Although hard work is the preferred path for deeper and greater enrichment, sometimes from heaven, out of the blue, G-d will  “help” a person in his journey and struggles, to improve and reach the purpose of life, by miraculously without any effort on the persons part, casually while driving home from work, with inspiration. A “coincidence”, or in some other unexpected way,” wheat from heaven”, instilling a feeling of spiritual inadequacy or a desire to be and do more with one’s life.
This may throw a person off, wondering what’s this all about? I haven’t worked on anything to deserve this spark from heaven. What am I to do with this unearned feeling?
Therefore the Talmud says, although you weren’t looking out for this, G-d in His kindness granted you this thought or inspiration for a reason, be careful not to ignore this gift because it has special powers. It comes from heaven!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The NEW 15 step program. There is value in struggle.

Passover is a tremendous uplifting and life transforming holiday. The Bible says we must experience Passover and the Exodus everyday of our lives. Passover Number 2, a one day commemoration, falls out on May 14, 2014. Here is a summary synopsis of the exodus/Passover journey, applicable in everyone’s life.

First and foremost a person must come to terms that he has a sickness-problem-addiction-bad habit/trait, call it what you want. “Knowledge of a sickness is already half the cure.”  If a person does not accept that there is problem, there is no chance he will address what’s holding him back from happiness and progressing. If a person doesn’t even acknowledge fully the problem, if you don’t even admit there is an enemy in the house, you aren’t going to protect yourself from further harm, and certainly you will not advance towards eliminating the issue.

The next step is to take full responsibility for this situation. One of the requirements for repentance is to verbalize the sin before G-d when asking for forgiveness.  As long as you have excuses you haven’t taken full responsibility. Everyone has influences of all sorts, in life. However, G-d gave every person the freedom to choose. What you choose to allow in your life is your choice. Period, end of story.   These two steps, where the first commandments from G-d in preparation for the Exodus. “Draw and take for yourselves the Passover sacrifice…”

The next step is working on one’s humility. As long as a person is arrogant and walks around with a bloated ego there is no chance for full self-improvement. Arrogance is the seed of all downfalls. Humility is the vessel for all blessings. No man can do life on their own, we need help. A never ending source of help is strengthening ones bond with the Creator of the world, G-d Himself. “G-d is my shepherd (and therefore) I shall not lack.” This is the thrust in making the flat poor man’s bread, the Matzah, as opposed to the bloated bread.

Then, there are the 15 steps of the Passover Seder that help address and shine the details of our characters. Dedicating ourselves fully and totally, to a new path (Kiddush) never to look back, cleansing any residue of the past (Urchatz). Going further to discover and identify past triggers (Karpas) working on the humility and self-effacement (yachatz) realizing all the incidents and experiences that brought us to where we were and where we want to go to. Being grateful for the good and identifying what’s bad (Magid) etc…

Understanding it is impossible to understand everything in this world. We must be more accepting of the unexpected curve balls life throws us. All things happen for a greater good to come. The world that we don’t see, is much greater than the world we do see. What’s hidden from our understanding, comes from a place which is much higher than fitting neatly in our brains.  The tip of the iceberg is precisely that, just the tip and what’s hidden in the water is even greater than what we can see with our eyes. The world in the ocean has many more life forms than on dry land and also takes up much more space.

There is more to life than what we see, and we have faith, because we know, G-d is good, that “this too is for the good.” This is the miracle of finally “going through the Reed Sea, while walking on dry land.”

We must always have faith in better things to come and know what our goals are. We must know that every good deed, word, and even thought, brings us closer to ultimate good, and nothing, even our every attempt to improve ourselves is ever in vain. There is value in struggle. This is the theme of the last day of Passover. Knowledge and faith, joy in the present, for the ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Experience real freedom

“In every generation and every day, one must consider himself as if he had just been liberated from Egypt. “

Our yearly celebration of Passover isn’t just a commemoration of an event that took place over 3300 years ago. We are expected to acknowledge in the present moment, our limitations and confinements that keep us from truly being what we should be, and liberate ourselves from them.

The great Rabbi Yitzchak Luria teaches, that segments of time are infused with different energies like objects in space. Every Holy day has its own special character and opportunities.

Passover is “the season of liberation.” If and when we relive the steps taken in the past to reach Exodus, we too can move to greater and bigger things, become transformed and elevated. We too can experience a personal freedom from what holds us and suppresses us down.

It is relatively easy for a person to move from one geographical location to another.  G-d did not want merely to take the Jews out of Egypt. The greater goal was to get the impure and debased mentality of Egypt out of the Jewish people.

This is the reason why they were commanded to “draw and take for yourselves sheep…” It wasn’t just the act of bringing the sacrifice alone and its very public spectacle. It was about boldly drawing themselves away from the atmosphere and practices of their neighbors’ and connecting with, taking, a new approach. In Hebrew the word for sheep is the same as exit, go out. G-d was saying you must leave your present mentality and behaviors totally and seek the new path if you are to be liberated from the current status quo.

King Pharaoh symbolized and embodied the culture of the Egyptians and the root of their problem. When Moses approached him to free the Israelites on behalf of their G-d, Pharaoh says, “Who is G-d that I should listen and consider his request.”

Pharaoh considered himself, a G-d. He thought of himself as self-made and everything was to his own credit. He didn’t need any other spiritual powers, because he was self-sustained by the Nile. That is the characteristic of spiritual slavery and confinement. This person is all by himself, limited by his finitude. For the most part, people take all of life on their own shoulders and carry a burden way more than they can handle. They blame themselves for circumstances that are way beyond their control. They expect of themselves, and for themselves, more than they could ever handle. We liberate ourselves from this thinking every year on Passover.

Moses responded to King Pharaoh, that although if G-d wanted he could take the Israelites out of Egypt in one moment, there would be a process of ten plagues that would accomplish a complete remolding and transformation of everyone in Egypt.

In the first three plagues everyone will come to the realization that, there is a G-d in the heavens. In the next three, they will know, that this G-d is not just up in the heavens somewhere. Everyone will realize that G-d has constant awareness, input and control over every small detail in the universe.

The last set of four plagues will accomplish the realization that there is no other force anywhere as the source for anything but this omniscient one G-d.

Moses had a speech impediment and yet when it came to announcing that the time of liberation was here he miraculously was able to speak perfectly. When the Egyptians saw that all the first born were killed even those who hid and even those who only afterwards it was discovered that they were actually firstborn a new realization and respect for the real G-d took hold.

The path to true strength in life is an internalized faith that we are never alone. There is a wise G-d who put us in the world knowing we can succeed and is always prepared to help us even miraculously if and when we make Him a part of our lives.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Leadership and humility in one person?

Our sages tell us, in the month of Nissan (this month), we were redeemed from Egypt, in this month will come the final redemption.”

From the time of creation,  G-d chose this month as the month for redemption from Egypt.  Jacob received his blessings on this month,  Isaac was born on this month and was bound on this month, and the future redemption will be in this month.

The way Moshiach-Messiah who ushers in the final redemption is characterized, seems to be a combination of two opposite extreme qualities. On the one hand, he is a leper, a poor man riding on a donkey. This is obviously a description of simplicity, lowliness and of great personal humbleness.

On the other hand, the prophet Zechariah calls him a King. “ A King will come to you”. A king describes exaltedness, an elevated head and shoulders over the common folk. A King is strong and firm in his position of leadership and majesty, as the Talmud says, “The kings’ command, uproots mountains.”

Although it’s written King Moshiach will teach the greatest of the great and everyone will learn from the mouth of Moshiach, he will have this spectacular inner humility and will relate to the simple people as well. More so, he will adore and relish especially, the unpretentious and straightforward complete dedication  of the simple people.

Everyone has inside themselves, a small Moshiach- supreme leader to lead them to peace and G-dly purpose.  This merging and combination of qualities is expected and necessary in every person if they are to reach closer to spiritual enlightenment and deep blessings of happiness.

The Torah and more specifically mysticism teaches, the vessel to receive blessings, wisdom and G-dliness is sublimation to G-d and G-dliness. A complete doing away of the ego, a placing of one’s selfish side aside,  so none of the bloated exaggerated self- image remains.

On the other hand, G-d expects a person to be totally dedicated and committed with singleness of purpose and absolute strength to the mission one was created to fulfill. A person must muster all his strength necessary, to push aside any obstacles and hurdles that stand in his way in achieving what he is expected to accomplish.

How does a person contain at the same time that he has no sense of self, the intense power and extraordinary fortitude to go up against anything that stands in his way of fulfilling what he knows he must accomplish?

There is no contraction at all, and both drives, flow from the same root and source.

The only place from which  a person can draw absolute and never ending strength in his service of G-d, is from the deep recognition, that G-d is the one and only existence in the world and therefore, nothing is real enough to ever stand in the way of what G-d desires and what is expected from each one of us. This person isn’t  a conduit for his own desires, which can be mistaken and finite in reach, with bigger and stronger things that will stand up against him.

The person who is saturated with  the certainty that we ourselves are extensions of G-ds plan in this universe, since “there is no place void of Him”  and we, can use our freedom of choice to either connect with this truth and channel G-d in the world, or, assert our perceived individuality, and be restricted to our own limited strengths, this person, takes his steps in life with strength with a complete tranquil sense of absolute confidence.

It is the nothingness of the self that makes room for the truth and power of G-d to reside inside the person.  As it says regarding Kind David, “His heart was elevated (and strong), (because it was) in the path of G-d.”

G-d says, “I and the conceited cannot dwell together.” Therefore ego is so destructive within a person. And therefore, Moshiach, because he will be the ultimate in humbleness before G-d, the ultimate vessel for G-dliness, he will be able to relate to the simple and at the same time be the King to lead mankind to its final great destination.