Playing Games With Big Brother

Image

ב”ה

Late last week, on the eve of the Hebrew month of Tammuz the world was made aware of an uncomfortable fact: the government, via the NSA’s PRISM, is watching your every move!  Many are shocked by this revelation.  Conspiracy theorists are telling their detractors “we told you so”.  George Orwell’s 1984 is coming true in that even the totally innocent can be followed and have their thoughts twisted and turned to make them enemies of the state.

Seemingly this happened under the noses of an unsuspecting citizenry.  But how?  How could they pull this over our eyes?  Are we really so blind?  These are the questions of the bewildered.  Those who questioned to begin with will continue to point fingers at who is REALLY behind the information collection, be it the Freemasons, the Templars, the Jesuits, the Illuminati, (dare I say) the Elders of Zion, the Skull and Bones, maybe even Reptilians – yes, there are lots of people at whom the finger can be pointed.

There are many possible reactions to this news.  There is another group whom I have thus far failed to mention and that is the supporters of the government and those who support the information collection.  The government itself has said the information will only be used to identify those who pose a real danger to the security of the people.  Furthermore, it is clear there is not nearly enough man/machine power to actually examine and extract relevant information, making the bulk of this data collection mostly useless.

Between these groups there will inevitably arise a dialogue based on the following question:  how much personal freedom should individuals be willing to surrender in order to achieve a greater level of collective security?

This is not a new question.  Thomas Hobbes in 1651 had already asked the exact question.  Hobbes’ ideas on this question are found in his work Leviathan.  His primary point is that the natural state of human affairs necessary to achieve a stable society is one where a general populace will surrender various freedoms to a sovereign in exchange for living in a state of security.  This social contract has become the fundamental and foundational principle behind the governance of the modern nation-state.  Hobbes’ question is as relevant today as it was 350 years ago!  So, what’s the answer?  How do we deal with the question?  What is the balance?

I started this article saying that this information officially came to light on the eve of the new Hebrew month.  The reason is as follows:  At the conclusion of morning prayers, our sages enacted that a chapter of psalms be recited correlating to the day of the week.  On the new month there is an additional chapter recited, psalm 104.  This psalm, in verse 26 states “לויתן זה יצרת לשחק בו” – You created the Leviathan to play with it.

Our sages have taught that the Leviathan is some kind of “big fish”, G-d’s pet.  So, people love to say the Leviathan must be the Loch Ness Monster.  Other’s say it’s a blue whale.  Other’s say it is some sort of mythic creature that doesn’t actually exist in our physical world.  The one place in which I agree with all of these views is that the Leviathan is a hidden creature – something with a life of its own that “swims under the water”.  It moves, it is fluid and natural, but for the one looking at the surface of the water, it appears invisible.  That is, one can’t see it until, like a whale it surfaces only for a moment and one gets a brief glimpse of the “monster” before it submerges itself yet again.

From the first moment I learned of Hobbes’ Leviathan almost a decade ago, the connection with the biblical creature was not lost on me.   The Leviathan was created by HaShem as a pet, with which to play, but all the games are hidden away – under water, if you will.  That is to say, the modern nation-state and all its hidden, nefarious, behind-the-scenes, actors and director are merely a play-thing which HaShem is using to direct the affairs of the world until the day when HaShem’s unity will be revealed to all.

You know what that means?  It depends.

If you are of the group who is totally supportive of the government’s actions, then be aware that you are nothing but a toy, a pawn being directed by the higher hand.  You have given up your personal freedom for the illusion of a man-made security from other man-made problems that may or may not have any actual impact on your life.  But who cares because you have surrendered your life to the will of another.  God blessed you with freedom and you looked to God and said “no, thank you!”  Your faith in man above God is your downfall.

For the conspiracy theorists, please, STOP POINTING FINGERS!!!  The only thing one achieves by saying “group x is behind all the ills of the world” is give a bad name to group x (assuming they actually exist).  Here is the truth – it doesn’t matter who is behind it all.  If it is the government, or the president and executive orders, or if the president is a manchurian candidate of some sort of secret cabal, or if the secret cabal are satan worshippers, or if it is the devil, the dark side of the force, or the soul of the nation of Amalek – the biblically sworn enemies of God and Israel, it doesn’t matter!  The reason it does not matter in the least is because HaShem is One and there is no other than Him.  All that happens in this world, both spiritually and physically is by HaShem’s directive.  Ranting and raving about who is responsible for all the bad things achieves nothing in terms of directing the world to be a better place.  So what can one do to improve the world?  Improve yourself!  That’s right!  One only has control over one’s self!  If you want a better world, be a better individual and the world will be a better place, if only because of one person (i.e. you) who is now a better person!

If you are completely surprised by the amount of information the government is collecting about you, than take this as an opportunity to wake up.  YOU ARE BEING WATCHED!  It says in the Chapters of our Sages (Avot 2:1) “know what is above you and you will be free from the clutches of transgression – a watching eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds are written in a book”.  Well, this saying has now taken on a whole new meaning.

“Big Brother” is watching, right? “Big Brother” is listening, right?  “Big Brother” is recording every email, every internet search, every phone conversation, and probably even more than that, and they are storing it all on a massive supercomputer apparently zettabytes (1 trillion gigabytes) large, right?  Well, yeah, that too.  THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BIG BROTHER!  THIS HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH BIG FATHER!  Yes, even the dreaded Big Brother is subservient to HaShem.  Everything that “Big Brother” may know about you and you are debating whether or not that should bother you, HaShem knows more!  Is that scary?  That all depends on if you have something to hide.  If you do then that is between you and HaShem.  If not, that is also between you and HaShem!

HaShem took us out of Egypt, and out of the house of slavery.  HaShem made us free people!  What does it mean to be free?  It means to know that ONLY HaShem runs the world.  Yes, we have to each do our part!  Yes, we are put on this Earth to help perfect the world.  However, this perfection only comes about through the individual.  You are responsible for you!  Are you free?  Do you care if the government knows a bunch of stuff about you?  If you do, then you are a slave to what they know.

The Ba’al Shem Tov taught about the passuk in Psalms (16:8) שויתי ה’ לנגדי תמיד – that at all times I know HaShem is running the world and no matter what happens, my reaction will be the same.  Indeed, if someone tells me I am evil, I know the truth, that though I am not perfect, I’m definitely not evil.  Conversely, if someone tells me I am perfectly righteous, I know the truth, that though I am not evil, I’m definitely not perfectly righteous.  If one takes every situation as an opportunity from HaShem to introspect and examine one’s own actions, both the positive and the negative, one will truly come to know that there is HaShem and HaShem is One!

If one is only concerned about what HaShem knows, then one is free.  There is nothing that any man or spirit or anything can do, other than by the directive of HaShem.  “Big Brother” is real and he is watching.  But, “Big Brother” is nothing more than a hidden beast, swimming around, trying to control the flow of the world and whether “Big Brother” knows it or not, he too is being manipulated; he is being toyed with; he is a pawn in a game, and although it appears that the Leviathan is big enough that nothing can get in its way, its whole purpose and existence is part of a game and HaShem is the Only Player.  This game is being directed that HaShem’s Oneness will be revealed to all.

Each and every individual has a choice.  Each has the opportunity to say that one is a player and will play WITH the One playing the game.  Each has the opportunity to say that there are two players and one side is stronger than the other and one must work hard to fight against “them”.  Each has the opportunity to say that one is subjected to a particular situation and since “they” are so big and powerful and faceless, the only recourse is to throw up one’s hands and go on existing while hoping for the best.

I like games!  I like playing!  Sometimes I win and sometimes someone else wins.  I think sometimes losing is important.  It builds character and gives individuals opportunities for growth.  But, as the saying goes, “it doesn’t really matter if you win or lose, but how you play the game is important!”  I’m playing as best as I know how and I’m having a great time!  Games are meant to be fun.  Is “Big Brother” interfering with your fun?  There is only one solution: stop playing with “Big Brother” and realize “he” is no more of a player than you; realize that when you know the One who is directing all the moves, the fun never stops!  In fact, things only get more fun as they proceed!

So, how are you playing the game?  Are you having fun?

Parashat Korach – Say What You Mean; Mean What You Say; Hear, Listen, and Learn! A lesson in taking responsibility.

speaking

b”H

At times I am at a loss for how to communicate what I desire to be heard…

It seems like a clear statement, right?  Apparently it is not so clear.  I posted this as my facebook status, mostly not to forget the idea before writing this post.  The comments that I got were from some beautiful people who indeed wish the best for me but who did not understand the context of my words.  It seemed clear to the readers that I had tried to communicate something and upon being misunderstood, I wrote the above statement.  Truly I understand exactly how they came to that conclusion, but only stressed the point that at times it is very difficult to communicate what one desires to be heard.

The truth is that the above statement came after contemplating why I don’t express myself more often or in stronger terms.  It is not that I was misunderstood, but rather that I don’t want to be misunderstood.  There is a part of me that feels it better to be silent and live with my own truth than to have my own truth unnecessarily challenged by one with a different truth, or alternatively, it is better to be silent with my own truth than to be misunderstood and praised or criticized for something I never intended in the first place.

I heard a couple of years ago that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach taught that only 10 percent of what one intends, is actually said; and only 10 percent of what one says is understood.  To help with the math, that means that only 1 percent of what one intends to say is actually heard by the listener.  There has always been a part of me that desires to challenge this idea.  How can it be that we are so poor at communicating, from the perspectives of both the speaker and the listener?  That’s what I want to challenge, but I can’t.  We always misunderstand each other – it is one of the challenges of life.  One of the greatest challenges that we have as human beings is to develop real connections with others, on a soul to soul level!

We, as beings in the Divine image, are working toward something that goes so far beyond words to describe.  Indeed Reb Shlomo also taught that if you can describe why you love someone then you don’t really love them because someone else can describe to you everything that is unlovable about that same person.  When you really love someone, it is so far beyond description that no matter what happens, for better or for worse, you still love them as the day you first looked into their eyes, or more.  That’s right, or more!  Something as beautiful as love can only get more beautiful with time.  It is the same with other soul connections:  if you hear a fantastic piece of music that touches the essence of yourself, the more you listen, the deeper it penetrates.  When you gaze at a beautiful piece of art, or read the most profound writing, it changes you and makes you a deeper more profound individual.  This is a soul connection.

It would seem then that the only way to speak and be heard is heart to heart!  I can hear cynics now… “the heart can’t speak and the heart can’t hear; it is an organ that pumps blood”.  Well, to them I say “open your heart to hear what I’m saying”, or more simply put “YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!”  Everyone gets so caught up in the words they hear or read that they fail to be open to the intended meaning or the fact that they may not know the perspective of the one speaking.  We respond without understanding to what we are responding and we are all too arrogant to recognize that we should take that extra step to clarify what it is we think was said.

This is a famous concept in the Gemara where a situation is brought and two great sages’ opinions are brought.  One says “x”, the other says “y”.  Everyone argues about why a particular sage’s opinion is the right one and then finally another voice comes and “Lo Plug” – there is no disagreement.  This next voice challenges everyone else and says the two sages are not arguing at all – they are, in fact, talking about two different yet similar situations, one where the proper response is “x” and the other where the response is “y”.  For example, you are walking in the woods and see a dog – what should you do? One opinion says kill the dog while the other says keep walking.  Which is right?  Why not both?  One answer is coming from the perspective that this dog is rabid, angry and standing 2 feet away ready to pounce and tear its victim, you,  to shreds, and the other perspective has the dog wagging its tail and sitting a football field away.

However, it must be noted, that while one has the ability to shift how one listens and how one interprets what one hears, no one has the ability to make such changes in another.  Therefore, one cannot speak freely and hope, expect, demand of another to listen more carefully.  One MUST work to alter one’s speech and strive to communicate EXACTLY what one intends to be heard.  This is not easy and most will spend their entire lives learning how to express their thoughts and being mostly unsuccessful.  Why would I say such a thing?  Because I recognize it as true.  We are flawed beings living in a flawed world, and just as we have the potential to be better, and the world has the potential to be a Heaven on Earth, we as individuals and humanity as a whole has a long way to go.  Is that so bad? NO!  It is okay to be flawed.  It is okay to be human.  As long as we are working toward perfection and growing with every step, even the missed steps become catalysts to further growth.  As I’ve said previously, we were created as humans to live as humans – we are not Angels, nor are we expected to act as such.  And like Rav Kook said “the journey to perfection is more perfect than perfection itself”.  But just because we are on a journey, does not give us the permission to not try.  Inevitably, there will be moments we don’t try and those have to be part of the journey, but one should never use the excuse of such inevitability as a reason to give up – even if only for a moment.  I digress…

The truth is, in my opinion, the reason we are so often misunderstood is because we, ourselves, often don’t know exactly what it is we intend to say!  But we just feel, in the moment, like we HAVE to say something, right?  The truth is that unless we speak with proper and exacting intention, our words have the potential to make things much worse!

There is a progression of two Torah portions that express this point exactly: last week’s parasha, Shlach Lecha and this week’s parasha, Korach.  But in order to understand the point we have to look further back to the episode of the golden calf.  After the Children of Israel erred in the most grievous way, Moshe Rabbeinu intercedes on behalf of the nation and saves them from destruction by calling upon HaShem’s thirteen attributes of mercy.

In parashat Shlach Lecha, after spying out the Land of Israel, the spies return to the nation saying there are things that are great about the Land and things that are challenging.  Two spies were clear that the land is “very very good” and having already been promised the Land as an inheritance, had no fear that HaShem would help them overcome the challenges.  The other ten spies saw the challenges and got scared.  Now, there is nothing wrong with getting scared.  Some things are plain scary.  So what was the problem?  The problem is that instead of saying “things are scary and we’re shaking in our boots about what is to come”, they said “we can’t do it”.  That word “can’t” is devastating.  No one should ever use it.  “I don’t know how” is an option.  “I’m worried about the outcome” is better too!  They both express a desire to try – failure is an option.  Saying “can’t” says I’m so unwilling to fail that I won’t even try!  And that’s what happened.  These 10 spies got everyone to buy into thinking that they can’t, or alternatively that even if they can, even if it will take a miracle, they won’t even try.

The world, while we experience it in a limited fashion, is so much deeper than the limitations of our minds.  Indeed, just as the Baal Shem Tov taught “where one thinks is where one is at”, if one acknowledges the potential for success, success is on the horizon.  However, if one says I’m not going to try, then failure is inevitable.  So it was with the spies.  They had become so defeated from within, that even HaShem’s forgiving their lack of faith, could not save the nation from their own, self imposed punishment of failure.  Therefore, when Moshe Rabbeinu asked HaShem to forgive them, he still called upon HaShem’s attributes of mercy, but not all 13.  Therefore the people’s punishment was spread out over 40 years but not lifted completely.

Now, as I said, the reason the punishment was not lifted completely was because the inevitability of failure was already decreed by the nation itself.  However, that is not how the nation saw it.  All they saw was Moshe Rabbeinu not using all 13 attributes of mercy.  And this brings us to this weeks parasha, Korach.

Korach, in my opinion, made a mistake.  He said something which went far beyond what he meant to say.  He got emotional and angry and sloppy and was not careful with his words.  What he meant to say was “Moshe Rabbeinu, I am angry at you because I think you could have done more for the people to save them from their punishment!”  Regardless of the veracity of such a claim, there is nothing wrong with getting angry at bad situations and so there would have been nothing wrong with this statement.  But instead, Korach actually said “Moshe Rabbeinu, you are a terrible leader and are not actually the appointed one of HaShem and are a self-appointed leader and therefore I wish to appoint myself the new leader and challenge you to a duel of Holiness”, to which Moshe Rabbeinu responded “challenge accepted”.

Long story short, Korach and his entourage go down in flames, and Moshe is shown to be the true Heavenly appointed leader of Am Yisrael.  History is quick to repeat itself and just as the nation was quick to cling to the misspoken negativity of the spies, so to, even after his downfall, they clung to the misspoken claim of Korach that Moshe Rabbeinu was not a good leader.  The nation challenges Moshe saying that Moshe Rabbeinu was responsible for Korach’s fate.

Sometimes, the strongest language is silence.  Moshe Rabbeinu, without a word turns his back to the people and goes into Tent of Meeting to be close to HaShem, and indeed, HaShem also gets closer to Moshe.

One can only take responsibility for one’s self!  Whatever one speaks, one must be certain that one will be understood.  Whatever one hears, one must be certain that the intended message is received.  Indeed, if one has doubt that either of these two requirements has been met, one might be better off keeping one’s mouth shut!  If someone else does not like your silence, then that is their problem.  But, better someone else have a problem of their own making, then being the one who is causing problems.

Sometimes, we have things on our mind that we want to share with others.  Sometimes we want the best for everyone.  But sometimes, what we want is not what happens and what we share causes great damage to speaker and listener alike.  Strive to understand the outcome of your words and discover great wisdom.  Work to understand the intended meaning behind the words of others and bring peace to the world!

The Meaning of Mazal Tov

Following a late-night meditation years ago I awoke and wrote the following. This past Friday morning many ideas of the same nature, while infinitely deeper, made themselves known to me. In this light I share what I wrote all those years ago and only now am beginning to understand…

There is very much light and very much darkness that we can all seek out and experience. Mostly the light will occur in sporadic flashes that burst forth from out of the darkness. On occasion, the light will stand before us and almost beacon us to see what it offers; Most of the time, we reject what the light offers and say what we desire from the light. The more we seek to receive from the light the more we become burdened with darkness.

The more we seek to receive what Heaven has to offer the more we receive our desires. Many times we strive to achieve our desires without submitting to what we receive.  Often we are deceived by our desires that they are also the desires of Heaven.  Many times we become disgruntled that Heaven has not given us what we desire.  The truth is that Heaven gives us everything we need to overcome and surpass our desire.

There is much in these truths that we have to choose to either embrace or to fear.  Maybe the embrace and the fear are one-and-the-same and come together.  Or maybe we must separately embrace the fear and fear the embrace.  More than this is to know the proper things to embrace and those to fear.  Truths are to be embraced while untruths are to be feared and Heaven will be our guide.

Truth and Peace – Mutually Exclusive, Necessary Divide, One and the Same?

Image

This post is in response to a question someone asked on Facebook “which is better: truth or peace?”

Who said that one need choose between truth and peace?

One must remove one’s self to the place where truth and peace unite and only from that place can one confront evil. However, to be effective at communicating one’s message of freedom, peace must be the mouthpiece of truth, but it must also be clear that it is the truth that sets you free! (See Mei Hashiloach, parashat shemot, sv. Vayelech)

It must also be remembered that Emet, a Torah truth, is not necessarily the same as the traditional definition. There are places in halacha where the Emet is to lie (shu”a e.h. 65,1). The gemara is also full of examples where one lies, but is speaking the Emet (see Shu”t Rav Paalim Ch.M. part 3, siman 1). The midrash brings the famous story about Aharon using “sam hamavet” to achieve peace.

Shalom also is not “peace” as it is traditionally defined. The Torah expresses clearly that only one who is willing to stand up and act against evil can receive a blessing of Shalom (*nb. This sentence was altered due to a sensitivity within the original language while keeping the integrity of the original point).  Shalom comes only with strength – HaShem Oz L’Amo Yiten, and only after that HaShem Yivarech Et Amo Bashalom.

While Shalom is the Mouth for the freedom of Emet, it is Emet who gives Shalom the ability to speak!

Making All Your Dreams Come True

dreaming

סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה – What happens in end started as an initial thought! (From the Friday night prayer Lecha Dodi)

A couple of months ago I started writing this blog with the post Say Yes to Kedusha. I stated there that I had a vision, a dream. It was something I had known for some time that I wanted to write. I started writing with passion and intent. Every night I was writing, even if only a little and I came out with a new post weekly. Well, that lasted for 3 weeks – maybe. Stuff came up.

I was determined. I found one afternoon a week I could dedicate to writing and said that on that day I would write my full post so that I could dedicate the rest of the week to “stuff”. And then I didn’t finish my post in that one day. So, that post took two weeks to put out. And then the next week something came up…I didn’t write anything.

My dream, my vision was fading fast. Let me tell you, the feeling of wanting something and struggling to achieve it is painful. I’m sure most people who will read this know exactly to what I am referring. We’ve all struggled to achieve a goal and we’ve all struggled with it at one point or another.
Rav Kook, the Rabbi of pre-state Israel, stated that “the journey to perfection is more perfect than perfection itself”. This statement always keeps me motivated. Okay this week – these 3 weeks – I dropped the ball. That’s okay. I’m writing again now. I’m still trying. As the old saying by author W. E. Hickson goes “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

So, here I am trying to bring my will to fruition – manifest my desired reality, writing my thoughts on the world through the lens of Torah, or possibly even my thoughts on Torah through the lens of the world. Indeed it is written in the Zohar that God opened the Torah and created the world. Ultimately this means in a top-down way, the more Torah I learn the more I will understand the world, and conversely in a bottom-up way, the more I learn and experience the world, the more I can understand Torah. Neither of these ways is better or worse than the other. They are just different directions of understanding.

Indeed, the Talmud in masechet Chagiga discusses three kinds of hidden study, a level of learning that has come to be termed Kabbalah. The three are the ways of the Divine Chariot, the ways of creation, and the exposition of forbidden relationships.

The ways of the Divine Chariot, though in much of the literature it is often referred to as the decent before the Chariot, it is the bottom-up approach, as its intended objective is revelation of the Divine. The way this is accomplished is by delving into the depths of one’s own psyche and, after stripping away the many layers of confusion, bonding with the purity of one’s own soul, which in turn can bond with the Divine Unity. That is, by becoming truly aware of one’s highest self, one can come to have a relationship with that which is above. Or, more simply as I state previously, by learning more about the world, one can learn more about its Creator and can attain a deeper understanding of Torah.

The ways of Creation, on the other hand, works in a similar fashion but in the opposite direction. This is the top-down approach of learning Torah and coming to understand the world more deeply. By learning those parts of Torah that deal with HaShem’s creating the world, and not just what HaShem created, but the channels through which reality as we know it came to be manifest, one will have a greater perspective to understand the world one encounters daily, and indeed have a deeper insight for how to create change.

So, I want to write. So what? Unless I do anything about that desire, there is nothing to it. “One’s actions are the main thing” (Mishna Avot). How I am going to manifest a more productive writing future than the past? Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says “אין דבר עומד בפני הרצון – nothing can stand in the face of Will”. If I truly want to achieve something, than it is mine to be achieved. Even if I stumble a million times, since I truly desire it, I will do what is necessary to achieve it. So, I still haven’t answered my question. I’ve said why I know ultimately I will succeed in my writing, but not how I will bring it into being.

If you are reading this and have read previous things I’ve written, you will know that once I start typing I have a hard time stopping. I can go on tangent after tangent and may or may not get back to my point. Truly, I think there is great value in such “free flowing” writing. However, it can take a tremendous amount of time to actually have something ready for sharing. In short, my posts are long. I have so much to give over to whomever’s heart is open to receive. Part of me feels “as long as I keep typing, maybe one thing from the middle will be absorbed by the one reading.” This is a case of too much “chessed – abundance” on my part. I just want to give and give and give.
The way to counter “chessed” is with some added “gevurah – constraint”. With HaShem’s help this will take on a two-fold manifestation: first, it will make my posts shorter, quicker to write and easier to read and hopefully digest (and possibly even warrant more of a following) and secondly, it will give me the drive to post more often – if the post is short enough, it is possible to get something out daily!

That said, I think there is a balance to it all. Maybe one longer post during the week? Should the longer on a random Torah topic that comes to me as I’ve been doing or should it be based on the weekly Torah portion? Should I have series’ of posts or should each be stand alone? What do I share? How do I share depth in a concise way?

There are lots of questions to answer in terms of topics to write about, sources to translate and possibly explain, different kinds of Torah from many different perspectives, and so on and so on.

With HaShem’s help, these answers will come in time. The most important thing now is just to keep going. With this in mind I will end for now. Hopefully I will have more for you tomorrow; If not tomorrow than the next day or the next day. I will not give up. I will stumble and fall and even fail in the short term, but in the end, I will succeed. I will grow and I will overcome. It is hard work and it will probably not happen overnight, but it will happen. This is the way and power of Torah.

Connect yourself to the ways of Torah and create the world of your dreams. Use the power that HaShem has given you and all of your dreams WILL come true!

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!

What great advice.  This line said by Thumper from Disney’s Bambi shows that (at least) one of the writers truly had great insight into the inner workings of the human mind and the effect our words hold on both our unconscious mind and our conscious experience.
Torah and halacha have extensive laws against lashon harah – evil speech – and people are warned against even engaging in the permitted speech that can be interpreted as “close to lashon harah” or “the dust of lashon harah”.
What’s the big deal?  It’s only words, right?  Wrong.  Words are the furthest thing from “only”.  Words are almost everything!  Firstly, it must be noted that according to a number of kabbalistic texts, the duration of one’s life is not guided by Heaven based on the number of years, months, days or hours but by the number of words one speaks, so for a “long happy life” watch your words.
Why words?  Doesn’t Heaven have anything better to do than count the number of words out of my mouth?  Everyone knows that man was made in the image of God.  What that exactly means is up for much debate but one explanation which I will expand upon here is that, like God, man is a creative being.  So, does God build houses or paint pictures?  Is God a musician?  Let me tell you, God is all talk!
Yes, I know that expression has taken a very negative connotation meaning one who says much and does little, but indeed, this is the exact opposite of Godliness.  Firstly, everything that God says, God does.  For example, “God said ‘let there be light’ and there was light”.  Indeed the great sage Shammai said “say little and do much” (Avot 1:15).  Furthermore, it is stated by Rabbi Shimon the Son of Rabbi Gamliel “I have spent my whole life among the sages and have found silence to be the best thing for what one expounds is not the main thing rather what one does” (Avot 1:17).  The famous Rabbi Akiva expressed “a safeguard for wisdom is silence” (Avot 3:13).  What our sages here are teaching is not that speech is evil, but indeed if you are going to say anything at all, make sure you can “put your money where your mouth is”!
The truth is that as we are in the Divine image, our “money”, by definition, is “where our mouth is” which is why one must be so careful with one’s words.  Just like what God spoke, God created, when one speaks one is creating the manifest reality around one’s self.  Indeed, according to the Holy Zohar the power of speech is correlated to manifest reality.  The Sefer Yetzira begins (1:1) by saying the world was created with a book, a storyteller and a story.  When we speak, we are telling the story of our world.  What is your story?  What do you want it to be?  Have you ever told anyone?  Have you ever told yourself?
There is a relatively modern (and controversial) form of psychotherapy, the principles of which are often integrated into other, more accepted psychological practices, called NLP or neuro-linguistic programming.  The basic premise is that by selectively using particular language, one has the ability to program one’s subconscious mind and consciously manifest a more favourable reality based on one’s words.  Personally I understand this to be the “science of mantras”.
We all know the idea of a mantra:  by saying the same (positive) phrase over and over one manifests the new positive reality.  Indeed, this is the exact idea as mentioned above in the Sefer Yetzira: by telling one’s self a particular story, one enables one’s self to connect to that reality, to believe that such a reality can come about and ultimately trust that said reality WILL manifest.  When someone internalizes a particular truth to such an extent, their experiences will come to reflect said truth.  (Sadly, this same technique, while having its source in the holy texts, has been “hijacked” by forces of evil which is why we find these same concepts being used by the most damaging of cults and ideologies.)
It is interesting to note that, in my opinion, this is the whole essence of Jewish prayer.  The main prayer in Torah observant communities is the Amida.  It is recited three times every day, morning, afternoon and night, and following the first two of those recitations, it is repeated by an individual on behalf of the whole community.  People always ask “why so many times?”, “why always the same words?” and so on and so on.  Rabbi Akiva Tatz in his book “Living Inspired” says that one prays for the same words, written by our sages, over and over again because they are the things one should actually want, even if one is not aware of it.  To take it one step further, the reason we pray a seemingly repetitious prayer is that the words of the prayer should become a sort of mantra.  Indeed, the Hebrew word “to pray” is lehitpallel actually translates “to speak to one’s self”.  That is, after enough repetition of a concept, one will be accept one’s own words as truth and ultimately one’s words will be transformed into manifest reality.
In Jungian psychoanalysis there is a term “synchronicity”.  The underlying principle is that whatever is going on inside me will be reflected in my experiences and surroundings.  Approximately 200 years before Jung, Rabbi Israel son of Eliezer, the Ba’al Shem Tov taught where one thinks is where one is.  Namely, think good and it will be good.  (The opposite is also true.)  Think holy thoughts and one will live a holy life; think about mundane things and the mundane will over take one’s whole existence.  What is interesting is that the Ba’al Shem Tov was also considered a miracle worker.  So what were these miracles?  The truth is they were not miracles at all – they were manifestations of new reality.
It seems that the Ba’al Shem Tov and other sages before and after had such a strong faith, such a strong control over their mind that even contemplating a concept for a short time was enough to make it a manifest reality.  Once the blessing was spoken, or even thought, the effects were experienced.  While for the average person, it might takes months or years to trust in the ultimate outcome of their prayers, the Master Sage is one who has that trust immediately, or alternatively is one who can tell a story with total conviction that the story will come about, and therefore such a one can manifest the necessary reality in the same way that “God said ‘let there be light’ and there was light”.
The Torah commands one to be holy because God is Holy (Vayikra 19:2).  That is, just as we are created in the Divine image, we are to use the tools we have been granted to manifest a Godly reality.  Before one can do this, one must learn the nature of a Godly reality.  This is the pursuit of Torah, the pursuit of Truth, the pursuit of Life.  For now, enough “nice” has been said.  Now the time has come to stop with words and start to act and change the world!

The Great and Powerful OZ – The True Path of the Yellow Brick Road, Overcoming Pain, and Achieving True Peace

Image

The above subject will be recognized by all, I hope, as a reference to the classic “The Wizard of OZ”.  As we all know the “Great OZ” lived in the “EmeraldCity”, at the end of the “Yellow Brick Road” and could make all one’s dreams come true. 

Interestingly enough, the subject line was meant as a pun, but indeed, after my introduction I am realizing that, more than a pun leading to Torah ideas, it is much deeper and contains more Torah than I had initially imagined.

To meet the Great and Powerful OZ, one must know how to get there?  Easy!  Just follow the yellow brick road…follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the yellow brick road!  As I’m sure we all remember, the yellow brick road starts in a spiral, seemingly going in circles.  At a point it even comes to a fork where the direction to follow is unclear.  The great Rambam says that one must follow the “golden path” which is the middle path.  He says to all of us “Don’t be an extremist!”  As HaShem guides Avraham, “walk simply before Me”.  That is, follow the yellow brick road, be friendly to everyone you meet along the way and don’t stray from the path to run in the pretty flowers.  Before getting too lost in my metaphor, let us get back to the subject at hand.

Why does following the “yellow brick road”?  We are trying to get to the “Great and Powerful OZ”.  Oz עז in Hebrew means strength.  But the word Oz in Hebrew is עז which also spells Ez, meaning goat.  So, what do goats have anything to do with this discussion?  Have you ever seen goats fight?  Goats smash their foreheads together as hard as they can and try to knock the opposing goat unconscious.  So, does Torah recommend trying to knock each other out?  Are we supposed to behave as goats?  Clearly the answer is one hundred percent YES! 

There is a well known expression, that when two people engage in dialogue from different perspectives, they are “butting heads” – yes, like goats.  Indeed, in traditional yeshivot, when learning Torah, one learns with a chavruta, a learning partner who challenges one’s ideas and helps to shape one’s thoughts and refine them into a balanced form; into a middle, golden path.  There is a story in the Talmud of the great sage Rav Yochanan after his chavruta Reish Lakish passed away.  Everyone who came to be his new chavruta would tell Rav Yochanan how brilliant he was, and would then be rejected as a study partner.  After a number of failed trials Rabbi Yochanan cried out that Reish Lakish would challenge him with twenty four challenges for every point he made, and it was that challenge that made Reish Lakish a great study partner.  Again, to get to OZ, the yellow brick road must be followed and the path is never easy.  Butting heads can hurt.  Having your own thoughts and ideas rejected or challenged is difficult to suffer.  Indeed, along the way, one is bound to meet others whose entire intention is not to focus and refine but rather to cause one to stumble and fear the direction in which one is heading.  Indeed, one must have a great strength of character; one must have true Oz in order to achieve one’s mission.

Before one can meet the Wizard of OZ, one need recognize, in general, to where one is heading, namely, the EmeraldCity.  In reality, it should have been the SapphireCity, but I will leave those who understand my meaning to contemplate for themselves.  If you would like to know, feel free to contact me.  The EmeraldCity is the dwelling place where one can engage with the Wizard of OZ, even though the true essence of the Great and Powerful OZ remains concealed behind the curtain.  When one approaches the EmeraldCity, one is turned away.  One must persist – another display of Oz – to show not only one’s desire, but also that one’s intention is pure.  Once granted entry one must be cleansed and purified before meeting the Wizard of OZ.  Again, this process of purification is not necessarily pleasant.  In fact, it can be outright painful, but the purpose is refinement.  Indeed, if one challenges and fights against the cleansing process, one will encounter greater resistance to meeting the Wizard of OZ, and may actually be ejected from the EmeraldCity entirely.  Expect challenges and expect pain and struggle.  When it comes, don’t fight the pain.  Let it be painful.  Let it hurt.  “Everybody hurts, sometimes.”  The most refined metals get burned in the hottest furnaces to extract their greatest potential.  Know that once the process of refinement passes, one will meet the Wizard.

The Wizard of OZ appears big and scary and mean and after all that hardship, even dismissive.  But in truth, the Wizard of OZ is not why one made this journey.  One came here, not for the Wizard of OZ, but for the Great and Powerful OZ!  What is the difference?  The first, while appearing great and powerful, is truly only an illusive image.  The latter, while hiding behind the curtain is soft, even gentle, and has the real solution for all of us.  And what is that solution?  That the solution has been with us the whole time but the necessity of the journey is what allows one to believe it.  And this whole process has been to bring us to “home sweet home”. 

One last point, and possibly the most important one, one cannot forget that all this actually takes place in OZ.  Again, one can contemplate for one’s self.

All I have described, in this drawn out metaphor (that started as a pun) is the Kabbalistic path of self awareness and connecting to one’s inner self.  It is the way by which an individual learns to bond with one’s own soul and can even reach out beyond one’s self to unite with the collective.  It is the most natural path in the world, but it is a path which must be taken for its fruits to be tasted.

How did this all start?  What was I trying to be “pun-ny” about?

In Psalms (29, 11) it states ה’ עז לעמו יתן ה’ יברך את עמו בשלום HaShem oz l’amo yiten HaShem yevarech et amo baShalom  – HaShem gives strength to His people; HaShem blesses His people with Peace.  I translated the Hebrew “Oz” as strength, but Oz is much more than strength.  Indeed, our sages in Avot D’Rabi Natan teach there is no strength other than Torah and bring this same passage from psalms as their proof text.  HaShem gave us Torah and therefore, through Torah, we have strength.  That is, by living a Torah lifestyle we all find an inner strength, and inner ability to navigate our struggles and find success, in this case, the success of peace.  It should be known that peace – Shalom – according to many sources in the Tanakh and our sages is the ultimate achievement.  Shalom is what we are pursuing in life and is considered the ultimate success. 

Never forget – HaShem is the source of strength.  HaShem is the One who grants Peace.  But before one can merit such things, one must bond with one’s own self, and ultimately bond with one’s Creator.  Torah is the world and Torah is the way.  If one follows one’s path  and accomplishes such an achievement, one will be blessed with true Peace and indeed, one will feel that whatever one’s Place, one is truly home-sweet-home!

To Learn, To Experience, To Live

This year at the Pesach (Passover) seder, the special festive meal we eat to commemorate the exodus from Egypt, I recognized something fundamental to what it means to be free and what it means to live a Torah lifestyle.  There is a particular part of the meal called magid wherein which we retell the story of the Israelites emerging from Egypt by the power of God’s mighty hand and becoming a free nation under God.  This retelling takes the form of a discussion between sages, mentioning biblical verses and then breaking each verse down into phrases and using other verses to give deeper insight into each phrase and each of the initial biblical verses mentioned.

 

In the Babylonian Talmud, a discussion like this is often preceded by the phrase תא שמע Ta Shma, come and hear.  This implication of such and introduction is to alert the one learning that there will now be a digression of an academic sort to allow one to garner greater insight.  Thus hearing is a sense associate with academics.   As long as one can hear and understand the argument of his peer and respond in a manner that in turn is heard and understood, the discussion has commenced and intended lesson can be learned and extracted.

 

The Holy Zohar, the 13th century book of kabbalistic wisdom attributed to the 2nd century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, also contains discussions intending to pass on a particular lesson.  The great difference between the Babylonian Talmud and the Zohar is that the Zohar introduces these discussions with the phrase תא חזי Ta Hazay, come and see.  ‘Seeing is believing’ as the old adage goes.  That is, when the Zohar is trying to teach something, it implores of the reader to experience what the teacher has experienced. For example, one can tell another that there is unparalleled beauty in the Grand Canyon but unless the other has seen the Grand Canyon, the statement remains an academic argument as to whether or not its beauty is truly unparalleled.  Incidentally, I have never been to the Grand Canyon and no matter how many pictures or films I see, I will never have that sense of awe and amazement described by others until I see it for myself and EXPERIENCE it.  Similarly ask any teacher or doctor or any other professional if they learned more in their academic training or once they actually started to practice and gain their own experience.  I am pretty certain that everyone, without fail, will respond they learned more from their experience. (As a note, if they respond they learned more from their academic learning, you are probably best off to RUN!!!) 

 

Clearly these are two very different approaches to learning, each with its own merits and strengths.  But on Pesach, we are directed to learn in a different manner; a manner that truly enables us to be free and to live accordingly. 

 

To open the discussion of the pesach seder the hagadah (the traditional book used during the seder) uses the phrase צא ולמד Tzeh U’L’mahd, go out and learn.  There are a number of differences between this phrase and the phrases used in the Talmud and Zohar.

 

This first main difference is the word Tzeh, rather than Ta; go out as opposed to come in.  When we are at home, when we come in, we are staying where we feel most comfortable.  We are telling ourselves, as long as I am in my own comfort zone, then I can engage in an academic dialogue.  Sure, I might have a different opinion than my partner, but in the end our interests align so it is all okay.  Indeed, our sages teach in the Chapters of the Fathers “any argument for the sake of Heaven will ultimately endure”.  As long as the dialogue is Heaven ward, two opposing opinions will both have their merit. 

 

Going out, on the other hand is an entirely different level that reaches so much deeper into who we are as individuals and more, to the level of who we can be.  Have you ever engaged in a discussion with someone who had diametrically opposed opinions and beliefs as you?  The discussion can maybe last for a good five minutes if everyone is an exceptional communicator.  That is, words will be exchanged in a calm tone of voice, but with such differences, no opinions are to be changed and soon enough the discussion will digress to an outright argument.  For a great example, just look at any university campus event for or against the modern state of Israel and what happens when the two parties collide. 

 

Indeed, the first discussion following tze u’l’mahd is of the ultimate ‘going out’ when our forefather Ya’akov leaves his tents, where he always dwelt (went in) and learned, and upon going out began working for his father-in-law Lavan.  The Torah teaches that Ya’akov was a holy man, acting for the sake of Heaven, trying to be honest and hard working even when the situation was pushing against him.  Lavan, was the polar opposite, lying and cheating, and even using sorcery to achieve his goals.  This is what it means to go out; going out of one’s comfort zone to a place where, though one’s intention may be for the sake of Heaven, the other is trying to manifest pure negativity.  Indeed, it is by engaging in the struggles of the world, by taking challenges head on and knowing that as long as one has the proper intent and the will to persevere, even the harshest enemies will fall before you and before Heaven.

 

In the case of Ya’akov, a deeper level of self was achieved.   By engaging with the world from within Ya’akov found himself in a struggle with his own sense of self and emerged as Yisrael, one who accepts challenges gracefully and overcomes them and emerges victorious. 

 

It is by going out that we can really learn.  It is more than an academic knowledge which I know in my head, and another may or may not be able to convince me otherwise.  It is more than an experiential knowledge which, though I know the feeling I had at the moment of the experience, indeed the moment was fleeting and now I am only left to reflect on what was and how that can influence my present.  When one goes out to learn one achieves a deeper knowledge, so deep that it is impossible to express in words.  When one goes out and learns, one changes at the most fundamental level, so much so that what one learns becomes part of one’s entire state of being.

 

There is a line in the hagadah that in every generation we each have to experience the exodus personally, as though we were each there at the original exodus.  Can you imagine what it must have been like?  Four hundred years of slavery to the most powerful, wealthiest kingdom in the world and to watch that super power crumble to the ground by miracle after miracle all for the sake of becoming free – living that life, watching how the Hand of HaShem can break down even the most impossible barriers would certainly change a person down to the core.  That shift is what we call “from slavery to freedom”. 

 

Can you imagine what would happen if we each approached our day to day lives that way?  What if every challenge we faced, whether from paying bills to achieving peace in the home, we asked how can this change me?  What am I supposed to take away from this exact situation that I’m in to become a better person?

 

What is it to be free?  It is to say whatever challenges I face, I am free.  I am not restricted by anything except the feeling of being restricted.  I may have every argument in the world why not to do something.  It might feel like a hopeless lost cause, and indeed the experience is completely unpleasant.  But if I know, deep deep down, I can succeed, I will succeed, and I am acting towards that success, indeed, then I am free. 

 

Go out, live life, face challenges, and know that throughout it all, immediate success or further challenges, we are learning to be free and we are learning to change into our deepest, truest, highest selves, shining the light of Torah, and shining the light of HaShem.  Once we were slaves in Egypt but HaShem took us out of Egypt and the house of slavery and now we are free! 

The Ways of the World

I feel that I have to explain the name of this blog – TorahWays.  The truth is I came up with the name, or rather the name came to me, and only then did I discover an incredible depth therein which represent so deeply my feelings toward Torah and our individual relationships with Torah and HaShem.  This post may soon become a page of its own because it will likely represent a sort of mission statement for what I intend to impart through my writings.

The TaNaCh (bible) states דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום – משלי ג’:י”ז Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.- Mishlei 3:17.  Though I have translated the words דרך (derech) and נתיב (netiv) differently, as way and path, respectively, the truth is their general meaning is seemingly the same.  They represent a particular direction one follows.  And it is in this particularity that their meanings differ.

There is a turn of phrase in the Jewish world which I find completely repugnant – “off the derech”.  The general meaning of this phrase is to describe one who was raised in a “religious” home leading a “religious” lifestyle and for one reason or another have left the lifestyle in which they were raised and have gone “off the derech”.  The reason I put the word religious in quotations is the same reason I find the phrase in question so horrible: it all implies a single way to approach the Torah and the world.  The passuk above states clearly “Her WAYS are ways of pleasantness…”  There is no one derech.

The Torah and the sages of the Talmud clearly state that every tribe of Israel had its own particular way of Divine Service.  The Priestly class (Cohanim) had a different job than the Levites who had a different job than each of the other tribes, some as leaders, some as warriors, some as merchants, some as dedicated learners and transmitters of Torah law and so forth.  If any of the tribes tried to take on the task of the other, it was considered a rebellion against HaShem punishable by death.

Today we don’t have the biblical tribes of Israel, but we indeed have modern forms thereof.  For example, there are numerous groups of hassidim, each following its own Rebbe and direction, and there are those who outright oppose the hassidic movement and are far more engaged with the traditional texts.  This is not to say that hassidim don’t engage with the traditional texts but the general focus is different.  Similarly, there are Kabbalists whose focus is to draw down Divine “shefa”, abundance, into the world, while there are others whose main intention is to elevate their own consciousness that they can engage with the spiritual worlds.  Again, they are both Kabbalists but one looks upward and the other draws downward.  There are more modern Torah Jews who engage in their professions and obtain multiple degrees, while there are others who feel that modernity poses a threat to their way of life and choose to separate from it entirely.  There are those who are for the modern state of Israel and there are those who oppose it.  There are some who approach Torah according to a simple interpretation, some through intellectual discourse and some through a more metaphysical/spiritual/intuitive approach.  This list goes on and on and on.  Which is right?  Which is wrong?  The better question is which is right for you? That is not for me to decide.

These are all ways of Torah.  I will say however, anyone who believes that their way is right and the way of another is wrong is not following the ways of Torah.  As I just explained, there are numerous ways of Divine service, and one thing that bonds them all together is in realizing that we are all together in our service.  When we separate ourselves from others we manifest the old saying “united we stand; divided we fall!”  Indeed, one who says one’s way is right while the way of the other is wrong is the one who is wrong.

So is that to say that no one should ever find fault in the actions of others?  Live and let live, right?  Such an attitude is dangerous.  A terrorist murderer (especially if of political motives) truly believes his actions to be warranted and justified, and anyone who justifies his evil actions is equally responsible and in the wrong.  There is no room for murder or any other negative action within the framework of Torah!  As we said the ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness.  If someone finds your service unpleasant, you are not doing it right.

There are and must be boundaries to what is considered acceptable behaviour in one’s Divine service.  Lucky for us, there are!  These are the laws and precepts known as halacha, Jewish law.  The word halacha itself means “walking” or more accurately “the way to go”.  First I want to clarify, though halacha is Jewish law, there are indeed a set of laws within the halacha for non-Jews, more commonly referred to as the seven Noahide laws.  Anyone who wants more information on those should feel free to ask but I am not going to get into them further at this time.

Halacha – the way to go.  Wait a second…the way to go? I thought we were talking about WAYS to go!?  Well, yes.  All of the different ways I listed above follow halacha which is why they can be categorized as Torah ways.  Furthermore, any code of law that has been accepted by the Jewish people as a whole is all about the WAYS of Torah.  The Talmud is replete, on every singly page, with disagreements as to the proper halacha in a given situation.  Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch, the complete code of Jewish law brings a number of opinions as to how to behave in a given situation, and even includes within its main text the way certain communities would go about fulfilling their halachic obligations.  Furthermore, books that only bring a single opinion, while respected and looked toward for guidance, were never accepted other than in their respective communities.  This includes the Mishneh Torah of no less than Maimonides, the RaMBaM.

Now, for anyone reading who may not observe halacha to its last detail, do not worry.  Firstly, you probably do more than you think.  Secondly, there is a Torah commandment דן את כל אדם לכף זכות – judge every single person favourably.  If you are constantly engaged in personal growth, trying always to be a better person, I can assure you that Heaven is looking down upon you and smiling upon your good points, and indeed you should too!

Alas, we challenge and question that even if there are different opinions, I want to live my own life.  Why should I let anyone else tell me how to behave?  That’s what you are thinking, right?  Even if not, it’s a great question.  How can I express myself within the context of a particular path that is seemly set out before me?

There is a rather anecdotal and ironic reality when it comes to serving God:  Those who ‘conform to the halacha’ are ultimately the ones who express freedom in their service.  The more liberal Jewish movements, be they conservative, reform or any other, have used various arguments for why their practice is legitimate according to Jewish law.  Let me be clear: they are outside of the boundaries of Torah faithful Judaism.  (I intentionally am not using the term ‘orthodox’ because I believe it has as many if not more inherent issues than its above mentioned counterparts, but that is for another time.)  However, whether via a pseudo-halachic process that brings one to whatever conclusion one desires or by an outright denial of the authenticity and importance of halacha in general, these movements have claimed to free people from slavery to Rabbinic ordinance.  Believe what you want, behave how you will – it doesn’t really matter.

The great irony is that if you go into most conservative and reform congregations, the Rabbi says “turn to page x”, “we now read psalm y” and everyone does it; “all rise” – everyone stands, “you may be seated” – everyone sits.  When the Rabbi announces the cantor’s repetition of the Amida – the silent prayer which is the focal point of every Jewish prayer service – everyone turns to follow along.  However, when one goes into a Torah faithful congregation, one sees people standing and sitting, some along with the congregation, others at their own pace; some reading the prayers as words on a page, some according to a simple understanding and others according to deeper more profound understandings and interpretations.  Some people say their prayers swaying back and forth, others side to side, some moving quickly, some moving slowly, some standing perfectly still.  The point is there is a particular freedom in the ways that one can live if one is bound to halacha.  When one, for whatever reasons, limits one’s connection to Torah observance, one inevitably finds one’s self trapped and limited in one’s Divine service, the exact situation one was trying to escape.

Understand me well, I have a great respect for the positive work done, both in terms of out-reach and social action that these movements do.  As I said, though, as movements they are outside the bounds of Torah, their merits must be celebrated.  Every Jew, regardless of observance or belief is part of our national whole.  We all serve different roles and make up a body.  If my fingers and liver did the same thing, I would be in mortal danger.  We are not meant to be monolithic, but we are meant to be parts of a whole working toward a common goal.  When one’s goal becomes about one’s self and not about serving HaShem, one hinders one’s self from achieving one’s personal and even national potential.  The problem is when one’s personal behaviour becomes destructive toward the whole.  Just as in the human body, a cell that becomes destructive toward the whole is termed cancer and is fought and weeded out, so too must destructive behaviour be removed.

We are all part of a whole and must behave as such.  As psychoanalyst Carl Jung explains it, there is a collective subconscious and just as contradicting opinions within a single mind leads to psychosis, Heaven protect us from such things, so too on a national level, when there is an underlying consciousness and a part of the national consciousness starts acting against that consciousness it leads to a collective psychosis, no longer knowing the difference between societal good and evil, truth and falsehood.   This is why it is important that regardless of which why one chooses to serve in one’s life, one must make sure it is align with one of the ways of Torah.  Indeed in this will one find pleasantness.

From this point we can now come to understand the second kind of “way” mentioned above – netiv.  Up until now I have mostly been discussing issues dealing with

Derech – a general way.  What is nativ?  A nativ is the way an individual expresses one’s self within the communal derech.  The paradoxical idea to remember is that the more one connects one’s self to the collective, the more freedom one will achieve toward individual expression.

This is clearest in the introduction to one of the first Kabbalistic books, the Sefer Yetzirah, traditionally ascribed to Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) and penned by the great first century sage Rabbi Akiva.  It starts by saying that HaShem created his world “בל”ב נתיבות פלאות חכמה” – with 32 wonderous paths of wisdom.  These 32 paths of wisdom are explained to be the 10 supernal attributes (sefirot) and the 22 letters of the Torah.  But more to our point the meaning of this phrase is that by following the ways of Torah, as they are connected to our collective subconscious (wisdom – חכמה) one reveals the individual pathway (netiv) of one’s heart (the number 32 in gematria, Hebrew numerology, is the word heart, lev).  It is only when one follows the deepest path of their heart that one can truly find peace – וכל נתיבותיה שלום, all her paths are peace.

Again, I am not here to tell anyone how to live their lives, what to do or what to believe.  But, what I am here to say is that unless you are following the Ways of Torah, you will have great difficulty expressing your true heart, and manifesting your individuality.  And that is why I am writing in general; to show that by living according to Torah ways one learns the path to achieve one’s best and highest self, as an individual, as a member of one’s community, as a citizen of the world, and as a servant of HaShem.  Each of these realms strengthens the other, and indeed these are the Torah’s ways.

Say “YES” to Kedusha

ב”ה

When one person calls out to another, what do they say?  “Hey, You!” Or maybe even “Excuse me, I have something to say to you.”  If the one knows the other by name he or she may opt to call out to the other by name.  Maybe one will ask the other a question. Regardless, all of these various possibilities are of absolutely no consequence unless the one called upon agrees to be addressed.  Indeed, one can call upon another incessantly and if the one being called refuses to acknowledge the call, no connection has been made and little to nothing has been achieved.

Many people in this world find themselves looking for something:  Some for deeper meaning in life; others for a spouse; others for money.  Some people are trying to break a bad habit or character trait.  In almost all these situations the one who is looking is convinced that once their search ends they will have achieved a new level of happiness and/or fulfillment.  I can say for myself that I strive to achieve “holiness”, or kedusha.  The truth is, I’m not totally sure what that means.  There are many attempts to define kedusha, but I know it is much deeper than a dictionary definition.  It is a desire for growth – constant, incessant growth, hinted to and directed by every situation in life, every challenge, every success and especially every defeat.  

These situations, these challenges, life as we know it calls upon us every moment to be holy.  What is our response to the call?  Do we acknowledge it?  In all probability most of us completely ignore the call.  We wait for the call every moment, and when we get it, whether too oblivious, too wrapped up in our own day-to-day stuff, or too stubborn to be faced with the moment at hand, we fail to acknowledge the call.  We say “no thank you kedusha, not right now”.  

This week’s Torah reading is entitled Vayikra.  Vayikra is the first word of the section.  In fact, this week we start the third book of the Torah, also Vayikra, also after the first word.  Vayikra translates to “And He called”.  That is the start.  Not just of this section but of every moment of our lives.  We are being called!  We are being summoned!  Are we listening?  Are we hearing?  Are we responding?  Sometimes we hear the call but we fail to understand the language of the call.  We know something deeper is reaching out to us to include us in the push toward kedusha but we don’t know or don’t understand exactly what we are supposed to do.  We don’t even know how to say “yes”.  And even if we did, we don’t know to what we are agreeing.  And so, we don’t even acknowledge the call and sometimes we straight out deny it.

So, is that so terrible?  HaShem created us as human beings, not as angels, and indeed, we are looked at from above as human beings.  The fact is, sometimes I want to pursue kedusha with my whole heart and soul – I would give everything to have just a taste, and other times I’m just too lazy – maybe later, but not right now.  In the meantime I’m going to watch some television.  It seems to me, that HaShem and Torah not only understand such behaviour, but even expects it of us.  

One of the messages we learn from Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine Chariot (chaper 1) is that angels go back and forth, ratzo v’shov, run and return.  Human beings are created in the Divine image and therefore we must understand about our own nature that sometimes we will be better than others.  Sometimes we will be super calm and compassionate and other times minor things will infuriate us into an angry tirade.  The main thing is to never say that because of that less-than-ideal moment all is lost.  Nothing is lost.  One just has to acknowledge that at that particular moment, one didn’t hear the call to kedusha or, for whatever reason, good or bad, one said “no” to kedusha.

The truth is that I have wanted to write in this kind of forum for a while – like, a couple of years or so.  I knew so deeply that it was something that I had to do.  And then I said “no” a few thousand times.  Every time I had something to say, a chiddush (Torah insight), a nice thought, I learned something I wanted to share and even expand upon, I found myself a thousand excuses to say “no”.  

Well, to continue about the Torah reading, the continuation is a listing various sacrifices.  The Hebrew for sacrifices is Korban – coming from the root KaRoV, or to get closer.  To what are we being instructed to get closer?  Kedusha!  It lists that there are specific situations in which one tries to get closer because one wants to of one’s own desire and there are other cases one comes to get closer specifically because one made one’s self far away, that is, one said “no” to kedusha a lot of times.  In any event, if one has a lot or a little, both in terms of resources and personal strength, anyone can do it and anyone can have it.  There is only one prerequisite:  One must say “YES”!  I want it!  I want kedusha!  

With that message in mind, I sit here saying “yes” to what I know to be true.  I’m saying “yes” to facing my challenges.  I saying “yes” to hearing the call in every situation to the best of my abilities and I’m saying “yes” to personal growth.  I’m saying “yes” to kedusha!  What do you say?