Thursday, December 18, 2014

Where’s the beef? In the potential or the actual?

Once, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchov was asked. Why was a holiday instituted for the victory of Chanukah over the Greek/Syrians  in 150 BCE, and the miracle having overcome Haman on Purim 400 BCE, and no holiday was instituted for the miracle of the war against Sisra 1350 BCE mentioned in the book of the prophets, or the defeat of Sancheriv 700 BCE?

The Rabbi explained. There are miracles that happened, and at that time they were truly huge supernatural revelations of G-dliness. However, those revelations and influences did not extend to future generations. Then, there are miracles where the G-dly light and energy shined not only for the people then. This miraculous energy that took place at that time, once infused in the day, is renewed every year, and such is the miracles of Chanukah and Purim.

This is the deeper meaning of the blessing, “(G-d)… who did miracles for our forefathers in those days (which are repeated) in these days “. The miracle of Chanukah that happened then, repeats itself and shines also today, for those who connect through the practices of the Holiday, and receive the blessings in these days.

In the Talmud there is a dispute between the house of Shamai, and the house of Hillel, how to light the eight candles that commemorates the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days.

Shamai says, the first night of Chanukah we light eight flames and reduce the number the following nights, to seven, six etc. The house of Hillel says, we begin on the first night with one flame and increase our count every night.

This legal disagreement has its roots in a much deeper divergence of world view perspectives, between the two. In life, is it the concrete, tangible, and actual that has greatest significance and value or, do we attribute equal value to potential and what’s hidden inside?

Shamai says, as we begin the Holiday and have all eight days before us, on the first night, there is the potential to enjoy and draw blessings from all eight days, so we proclaim and express that, in lighting the eight candles.  Hillel says, what matters is actuality. On the first night, we only have one day, we therefore can only light one candle.

Why and how can Shamai give any credence at all to the potential, when in actuality it’s not there.

If I have a seed, with the potential to grow into a fruit bearing tree, can I celebrate the harvest or eat any fruits before it has grown into anything?

Shamai and his followers were so elevated, they saw the world from G-ds perspective where the potential is always there and faces no obstacles in manifesting itself.  It’s only from a natural physical standpoint that events have a time delay, and a risk factor, between potential and actuality. From Shamai's perspective, potential is actuality. His faith was so deep, potential and actuality is a present moment reality.

Hillel was more pragmatic, in this world, from a more worldly down to earth point of view. Torah was not given to angels, but to humans living to a degree with the confines of natural rules. The objective of Torah, is not how it is in the Heavens, but its actual influence on people, and in this world.

In the Hebrew letters of Chanukah our sages point out, they represent the acronym, “eight days and the law follows the house of Hillel”.

The miracle of Chanukah came about because of the actual down to earth self-sacrifice of the Maccabees.  The response of the Jews in those days to the threat of Hellenization wasn’t Judaism in the heart or spirituality only in the Synagogue. The response was a practical rededication of the Temple down here in this world.

Action and more action today, is where the beef is.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The HUGE power of the Chanukah LIGHT.

The Baal Shem Tov was very fond of light, and said, "Or (light) is the numerical equivalent of raz ('secret'). Whoever knows the 'secret' in everything can bring illumination." It is also true, whoever has  light, will recognize the secret of each matter. “A candle is (the performance of) a mitzvah – spiritual good deed, and (the study of) Torah - G-ds wisdom, is light.”

We are coming up to the holiday and festival of lights, Chanukah. Chanukah begins December 16th until the December 24th 2014.

All Jewish holidays that commemorate miracles and super natural events are connected with light. The triumph of light over darkness. In Egypt, while the Egyptians were subject to darkness and an even denser form of darkness which immobilized them, the Bible tells us, “and for all the children of Israel there was light”.

Regarding the Holiday of Purim when the wicked Haman decreed annihilation of all the Jewish people, “nothing new under the sun”, the book of Purim the Megillah says, “And to the Jewish people there was light and Joy.” Where there is light and clarity, there is joy. “There is no greater joy, than the untangling from doubt.”

Add off course when it comes to our Holiday Chanukah , the entire holiday revolves around the miracle of a small jug of pure oil, discovered in the Holy Temple and  was meant to last one day, instead miraculously lasted for eight days.

To commemorate this fantastic miracle, our sages instructed us to light the candles every night for eight days, and publicize to the public, the great power in faith, and in light over darkness. For this reason, the proper time for lighting the candles is just when it begins getting dark and we might be tempted  to surrender to darkness,  we are reminded and through the lighting we are given the strength, never to submit  and capitulate to the darkness outside, that many times  seems irresistible and over powering.

It was a small group of dedicated people, unwavering and determined who waged war, with the motto, “who is like G-d amongst the strong” and were able to overcome the terrible decrees against the observance of their faith by a much larger and better organized army.

Our sages dedicated these days, for praise and gratitude.

It’s important to recognize the good in our lives, and say thank you. Thank you is an expression of acknowledgement and a type of passive surrender to the good granted to the individual many times way more than was deserved.

In addition to gratitude we are expected to, praise. Praise requires an individual effort to internalize personally and understand the reason, why praise is necessary. Our sages wanted, that during this holiday we shouldn’t just play dreidle, eat latkes and doughnuts, and sit back, but much more than just that kind of fun.

This holiday is a very auspicious time to put on the light and wisdom, internally, to see and discover new secrets about our own lives. By taking the time to intellectualize and understand the dynamics of the miracle, the power of faith on the one hand, and on the other hand, the reality of the constant threat against the Jewish people and light, by the forces of darkness, and the ultimate victory of light and good over darkness.  From this position, praise is genuine.

On Chanukah even those oils and wicks that are unacceptable to use for the lighting of the Shabbat candles are acceptable for this holiday.  Because, what Shabbat is not able to reach with its special strength of light, this holiday goes even further to impact and influence. Notwithstanding the very low standing of the Jewish people at that time, G-d kicked in with this huge miracle.

Chanukah is indeed a powerful opportunity to generate more light into our lives and into this world.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mystical secrets to a successful marriage

I recently read an article, on a major internet news outlet, written by a clinical psychologist, on the most overlooked threats to a marriage.

My purpose for sharing these vulnerabilities is to point out how the traditions and practices that comprise Jewish observance, have built in, the antidote for all these problems. Our Holy Torah tells us, “taste and see that G-d is good.”

Don’t marry someone for who they are, but because of who they are determined to become. Spend a lifetime joining each other in becoming.

One of the beautiful explanations why a groom and bride get married under a Chupah- canopy is because, by being enveloped by a spiritual higher purpose and common goal in their marriage, it is possible, to successfully keep two very opposite genders of male and female, together.

Don’t expect marriage to take away loneliness, marriage will not change this human condition. Marriage is intended to be a place where two humans, share and deepen the experience of loneliness.

The most important rules in marriage are the rules of family purity. This practice, is the golden hidden secret to the significantly lower numbers of divorce within the circles of families who observe these laws (properly).

Basically, every month, for a period of 12 days, physical intimacy is forbidden between the married couple. There are many benefits to this practice. Psychologically, emotionally, and physical well being.

Everyone needs time for themselves, individually. It is impossible and ultimately will wear out any person, who is constantly available for others. Time for oneself without the stress and anxiety placed by a partner, while still very much within the confines of a fall back, is the healthiest and most secure safe place, covering all bases.

Having time to be alone is the best occasion for both partners to pull back slightly, a chance for each to gain perspective of each other, and the relationship. A time to renew the novelty and interest, again, in each other.

Ego is a wall that separates. Mysticism teaches the most powerful tool for being receptive, is submission. Putting one’s own self aside, for the sake of the other in the relationship. It is no wonder the great codifier of Jewish law, Maimonides, teaches, “A husband must respect his wife even more than himself.” “A wife should see her husband like a king”. Both of them, committed to each other, and, to the relationship.

Marriage is more a matter of grace than of power, forgiveness than of vengeance, and vulnerability than of strength. Instead of pointing fingers we must start intertwining them. Blameless, a couple walks through life together.

The hope in marriage, is as is expressed in the blessings when getting married, that it becomes “an everlasting edifice”. It doesn’t matter who made the hole in the boat, if both are committed to keeping the boat from sinking.

Hidden power struggles, whether it’s a matter of who is more important, the children or the marriage, and/or the tough negotiations around the level of interconnectedness between husband and wife is settled by the ingenuity of Jewish law and the wedding contract entered between the two parties.

By law, there is a duty to fulfill marital intimacy. If he is respecting her, more than himself, and she is respecting his place and role in the home, and, they each have their own space within this relationship, the balance between the obligations to each other and the space for everything else is already there, by design. The only thing left, is a genuine interest and commitment to the program that has worked for thousands of years.

And one last, most important point.

“I am G-d your G-d. You shall have no other G-ds before me.” The first two commandments of the big ten. In a marriage, there is only room for a total interest and focus on the one person we are married to. If our thoughts and attention are distracted from this focus, we have undermined the very foundation of everything that follows.