Friday, February 27, 2015

You, are nothing? Don’t get tricked.

Once the Great Rabbi Aaron of Karlin was asked, what he learned from his teacher, the preacher of Mezritch. He answered “nothing.” He was asked, what do you mean by , “Nothing”? He answered. "I learned by being with my teacher and mentor that, I am nothing.”

It is said of the Great Rabbi Aaron of Karlin, that when he would recite the “song of songs” (considered the Holy of Holies of all the books in the Bible) authored by King Solomon, on Friday afternoons, the Angels would stop their own singing and gather to hear Rabbi Aaron. One Friday evening, the preacher of Mezritch asked Rabbi Aaron to compose a song in honor of the Shabbat. Rabbi Aaron composed the very spiritual song, sung and recited on hundreds of thousands of tables every Shabbat, “G-d, I yearn to feel the pleasure, ecstasy and bliss of the Shabbat, harmonious and one with your charming nation……” A song and prayer, totally spirit and soul.

It is widely accepted that an atom is almost entirely 99.9999999999999999% empty space. Add to that, that we are approximately 70% water and the rest carbon, give or take a little here and there. `Anyone who contemplates just a little, about, who they are, like, Who am “I”? What, am “I”? Who, is it that thinks and experiences life? What, is actually and categorically the real “me”? Must be greatly perplexed and mystified by the question.

Especially if one is to consider quantum physics and the notion that everything is energy, all of it together, doesn’t really sound or look good to the one who can touch his body and the table in front of him, and believes in, what I see and what I touch, is all that is there.

So what are we? Who are we? And what’s it all about?

We are, the awareness and the experience of the self.

The physical world which is finite in time and space, has its beginning and has its end. We, existed before we come into this world, and we (the awareness of self) continue to exist after we leave this physical world.

The mystic Rabbi Yitzchak Luria taught. We are not physical bodies who experience spirituality. To the contrary. Who we are, is spiritual. Cannot be seen or touched or measured, but is there by the mere fact that we are aware of our existence, something that no other creature in the world is able to experience.

A stone and tree never knows it is alive. Animals, while they have emotional experiences never know of their existence in third person as a human knows of itself.

We (our G-dly souls) are sent down to this physical world to deal with this illusion and overcome the temptations and distractions this fooling world throws in our direction every time we want to compromise the spiritual for the physical. Every time we exercise this strength and victory, the soul is strengthened many many times so.

The great works of Chassidus explain that in truth there is nothing else but Him, in the heavens above and in the world below. It is all, energy. G-d gives us the gift of self-awareness, so we should use it to serve Him. Falling for the glitter of this world, is being trapped by a mere appearance, which is without substance.

Every time we use our G-d given free choice that comes as a package deal with self-awareness, to do what is right, we enhance our true and real selves. We enriched our real existence, for all eternity, since the soul is forever. The things we do for our bodies and everything related to this world is temporary. The nice things, the G-dly things we do for our souls, the G-dly wisdom we acquire and the improvement to our character, remain forever, as part of our accomplishments and identity, to reap its reward forever.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How hard must a person work to be rich. Really rich$$

There are lots of gurus out there that will sell you the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the desert of Arizona and promise you, if you only buy their secret to success, you will have great riches. Lots of people get taken, and when they follow the advice and don’t make the seven digits a year income, all types of explanations and excuses are offered. You didn’t do it right. You need to buy more…. Bottom line, it’s your fault, on and on.

G-d created the world and knows best how it operates, for ultimate success and happiness. If you are struggling to make it really big in your industry and just seem not to be able to crack that ceiling, let’s see what the Torah-G-ds wisdom has to say regarding the movement of money, how it flows.

Said Rabbi Yitzchak. “If someone tells you, ‘I labored but did not succeed’ do not believe him. ‘I have not labored, yet I have succeeded’ do not believe him. ‘I have labored and succeeded, you may believe him.”

This sound like a reasonable “self-made” capitalistic recipe to riches. Take full responsibility and get with it. There are no short cuts, and as the expression goes, “the harder I work the luckier I get.”

But before you get snug with this great advice, the Talmud continues.

“This (the above statement) is true of Torah study, but with regards to business, ones success is dependent not on one’s personal efforts but on assistance from heaven. And even with Torah Study, that was not said except to the understanding of Torah, but in regard to retaining one’s learning, one’s success is dependent on assistance from heaven.”

Now we are looking at an entirely new paradigm. Making money is not a matter of, “working hard to succeed” but rather, entirely in the hands of Heaven! As a matter of fact the Sages couldn’t be any clearer. “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven.”

In another place, the Talmud writes. “All the livelihood of a person is determined at the New Year, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, except for the expenses of Shabbat, the expenses of the Holidays, and the expenses of teaching his son Torah – in these, if a person subtracts, it is subtracted from him and if he adds, he is given more.”

This is not a fatalistic or a deterministic point of view no more or less than saying, no matter what you do, the weather is in the hands of G-d. Some people may try to convince you they have the exact recipe how to make it a sunny day and some of the times they are right. Another person is pitching his recipe how to make it rain, parallel to our first salesman selling the sun, and sometimes he will be right.

The truth is neither is right, since no one has a recipe on the weather. In Yiddish there is an expression, “when you’re rich they think you’re smart.”

Taking the entire burden of the weather on your shoulders would be an unreasonable responsibility that would undoubtedly bring disappointment, anxiety, depression, misplaced expectations etc. The illusion that the weather is in anyone’s daily control, would place the blame on people who didn’t produce during a drought, and the entire credit on those who got “lucky” with a good rain season. 

According to the Torah/Bible a person is obligated to “six days a week you shall work and on the seventh day you shall rest.” Working honestly, is another way to fulfill the wishes of G-d. When we approach work this way, it never comes at the expense of any other responsibilities we are expected to fulfill, by the same G-d.

Knowing that it is G-d that provides, eliminated the need to steal, to be jealous, to be anxious, and,  to be compassionate with those who need the help from those who G-d has granted with a better rain season.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Increasing Love and Being Truthful.

The holy Baal Shem Tov said. “In the book of Psalms compiled by King David it’s written, ‘G-d is your shadow’. In the same way a shadow acts exactly in line with the movements of the person, so too G-d acts according to the deeds of a person. If you bestow kindness and have mercy on the poor, G-d will impart kindness, and will have mercy on you.”

Rabbi Aryeh Levin once asked his grandson. “There are two types of people. Those who love truth, and those who despise falsehood. What’s the difference between them?”

The grandson thought for a moment and said, he didn’t see a difference.

Said Rabbi Aryeh. “The difference between the two, is like the distance between the opposite extremes, west to east. The one who loves truth (being real and genuine) finds the element of virtue, the kernel of real good, deep down in others, and can’t help but love him. And when he discovers the next day another element of truth and honesty, he will love him even more. His love for others, is always fortified.

On the other hand, the one who hates falsehood detects the lie in another and is put off from him. The next day he may find another element of falsehood and is distanced even more. At the end, he will totally hate that person. So in conclusion. The one who hates falsehood increases loathing and hatefulness. The one who loves truth, increases love.”

In the Midrash it is written. A person who is accustomed to lying in due course ends up under the guard of “the Angels of lies”. This Angel who accompanies this person doesn’t stop lying to this fellow. Fooling the person and being untruthful to him. Allowing the impression that good is bad and bad is good.

Rabbi YY Schneerson once said. “The problem with deceitfulness in this world is not so much that it exists. G-d created these elements of negativity so there could be choice for human beings to deserve and earn reward.

The frustration against untruthfulness, and the possibility of an appearance in this world which is untrue, is that it appears to be real and true, when in truth, it’s a thin covering over the real deal, which tricks and snares so many people.”

The Bible warns us to “distance ourselves” from falsehood, a cautionary statement not issued by any other indiscretion.   The signature of G-d is Truth. Falsehood is more ghastly than all other negative traits since it is a direct challenge against the truth of G-d Himself. One who speaks truth as difficult as it is, follows the path of G-d, and merits His blessings. One who chooses falsehood, invites upon himself conflict and pain, from the domain of, obscurity and ambiguity.

The Talmud related the following story. There was once a young man who, since his childhood, had always done as he pleased, no matter right or wrong. One day, feeling remorseful, he went to Rabbi Shimon and told him he wanted to take on a new and better path. Rabbi Shimon told him that all he had to do was watch himself from telling lies and he would be saved from transgression. "No problem," said the young man. Rabbi Shimon had him swear, and the young man went home.

Sometime later, the young man was in his neighbor's home and, not managing to control himself, stole some gold and silver. As he was leaving, he thought to himself, "What will I tell the neighbor when she asks about her possessions? If I deny taking them, it will be a lie, and what will be of my oath?" He then returned whatever he had stolen, and understood the wisdom of Rabbi Shimon.

Truth is the ultimate quality of the righteous.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Leadership skills. Learning from Moses.

Once Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Ger met with some of his community leaders who criticized him in certain areas of his leadership.

The Rabbi retorted. “One of the portions in the Bible is named after Jethro, the father in law of Moses, who offered advice to improve the life of Moses and his leadership skills of the Israelites. Now, Jethro was already offering his opinions to Moses even before the idea of delegating to others came up. Moses was cautioned that he would certainly wear himself out at the rate that he was going, and other things expressed to him by Jethro.

So why is acknowledgment associated only, with the piece of advice related to the idea of delegating?

But as long as only the negative was being pointed out there was no greatness in those words. Lots of people can criticize and point out weakness and shortcomings in others.

The greatness in Jethro was that he also was able to offer practical advice for improvement.  “You shall do …. To improve your lot”.  And it is for this reason, he was credited.”

“There was never another leader and a prophet like Moses .” Moses is referred to “our, master. Our, teacher” The leadership and conduct of Moses, is a lesson for us all, in all generations.

The position of leader isn’t just to share the information and let it fall where it may. The position of leadership and teacher is one that must intentionally extend to the furthest reaches, to the minutest of elements and details under the authority and influence of a leader.

The conduct and character of the followers and students is the responsibility of a teacher and a leader. The Mishnah says, “Sages must always be careful with their words, because they may fall in bad pools and students will drink from them.”

The leader carries accountability for how his/her words are understood and sometimes misconstrued by troublesome students and may end up hurting the public. A true leader doesn’t just revel in his position, but takes the responsibility of molding the character and personality of his followers.

The Mishnah asks, “What is the difference between the students of Abraham our forefather, and the students of the evil prophet Bilaam?”   The Mishnah could have very well discussed the difference between these two biblical giants? Why focus on their students?

Because, it is in the students, it is in those who are influenced and attached to the leader we see the true skills and qualities of the leader.

When the Israelites came out of Egypt and went through the Red Sea, the tribe of Amalek came and attacked them. Although there was a cloud miraculously protecting them, there were those who were spit out of those clouds of glory, who Amalek was able to reach.

These were the weaklings. The ones who were spiritually lacking. Nonetheless, Moses did not shirk his responsibility with excuses like, “anyway it’s their fault, it’s only the lowest elements, a small percentage, the dregs of society….”

The first thing Moses did, was summon his chief of staff Joshua, and commanded him to gather the best soldiers available, and Moses immediately started to fast and pray. Moses lifted his hands up to heaven to save, even these sinners.

Whether you’re a father or a mother, a CEO, or just trying to get a grip in your own life, you are a leader.

The Bible teaches us, we all have a little Moses within each one of us. If you live like a leader, there is never an acceptable excuse to ignore even what seems least significant in our lives. Down to the last element under our control and influence, our goal must be, not to leave out anything at all, from making it better.