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Make a Commitment!

Posted by admin on Jun 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

We read something very interesting in Proverbs 16:3,

“Commit your deeds to the Lord, and your thoughts shall be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)

What does this mean? How do I do this? Well, the Hebrew word that is translated as “commit” basically means to turn or roll. Consequently, there is a very nice English translation in the Amplified Bible that helps to reveal the shades of meaning of this passage.

“Roll your works upon the Lord. Commit and trust them wholly to Him. He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and so shall your plans be established and succeed.” (Proverbs 16:3)

So, the question I often ask myself is for whom and for what purpose am I engaging in a particular endeavor? Is it to satisfy and enlarge my own ego, or is it for the sake of a higher purpose? Also, don’t forget that since we are made in the image of God, when we give to others, we are giving to God. As it says in Proverbs,

“Kindness to the needy honors the Creator.” (Proverbs 14:31)

Thus, find your spiritual compass and turn your thoughts and deeds back to the service of the Source of Life. Then your thoughts will be established in the Divine Will, and your plans will unfold as they should.

 
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Listen to the Silence!

Posted by admin on Jun 23, 2009 in Uncategorized

The other day I was rereading Psalm 19 for the umpteenth time when I suddenly noticed something that had never struck me before.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day utters speech, and night to night expresses knowledge. There is no speech nor are there any words; their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:2-4)

Do you see it? The poem begins with statements on how nature speaks of God’s glory, and then it suddenly says, “There is no speech, there are no words.” What’s going on? Well, I can only conclude that the voice that is to be heard can only be heard in silence, and as usual, there is precedent for this in other places in rabbinic literature. For example, in Ezekiel 1:27 there is an ancient Hebrew word, hashmal, that is very difficult to translate, and various renderings are given in the many English translations of the Bible.

And I saw the color of hashmal, like the appearance of fire inside it all around, and downward I saw something like the appearance of fire, and a brilliance surrounding it.” (Ezekiel 1:27)

Some of the rabbis of the Talmud considered this word a contraction for the phrase hashot m’malot and they called it the “speaking silence.”

“It is taught that hashmal means at times they are silent and at times they speak.” (B. Chagigah 13b)

We also find a more familiar reference to this sound of silence in First Kings.

“And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” (I Kings 19:11-12)

So, what is this voice we should listen to? It’s a voice that is found in silence. It is a voice that is heard only when we quiet our own minds. It is a voice that appears only when we put aside our own egos and our own voice. And when we hear that voice, it will declare the glory of what is in front of our very own eyes.

 
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What is Good?

Posted by admin on Jun 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

The Torah and rabbinic literature are full of commandments and injunctions, but every now and then someone comes along and reduces them to their essence. In particular, it mentions in the Talmud (B. Makkoth 24a) that Michah reduced them to three. Below is my loose translation of MIchah 6:1 that I like to sing on my guitar in both English and the original Hebrew.

“It’s been told to you, my friend, what is good, and what the Source of Life requires of you. Only to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. And to walk humbly with yourGod.” (Michah 6:1)

So, do what is right and just, and remember that the Hebrew word for justice also means charity. Additionally, be filled with kindness and mercy, and have a spiritual connection as you walk through life. Do that, and the rest will probably take care of itself.

 
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Who is Wise?

Posted by admin on Jun 15, 2009 in Uncategorized

In the Talmud, we find this answer to that question,

“Who is wise? He who discerns what is about to come to pass.” (B. Tamid 32a)

On the other hand, in Chapters of the Fathers, we read this,

“Ben Zoma said, ‘Who is wise? He who learns from every man.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

Taken together it seems to me that a wise person is not the one who can do the most math problems or win the spelling bee (though those are both good things!), but rather the one who can understand what the consequences of his actions will be. Or as I like to say, the one who can time travel so that they can see where they and society are headed as a result of their actions. Additionally, a wise person is someone who keeps on learning and who learns from every person. This is a great achievement to realize that everyone has something to teach us. Some lessons are positive ones that we learn by emulating others, and other lessons are the lessons we learn from the mistakes and misfortunes of others. In either case, however, it is a great achievement simply to realize that every situation in life has something to teach us if we are but open to the learning.

And finally, I often think about this passage from the Torah regarding Bezalel, the chief craftsman for the sanctuary.

“Then, Bezalel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all kinds of work for the service of the sanctuary, did according to all that the Lord had commanded.” (Exodus 36:1)

The interesting phrase used in the text is wise-hearted, or in the Hebrew, chacham-lev. The question is why does the text say wise-hearted instead of just simply wise? The answer seems to be hinted at in Ecclesiastes.

“A wise man’s heart inclines him to his right hand; but a fool’s heart to his left.” (Ecclesiates 10:2)

Thus, wisdom is not enough. It has to be coupled with a good heart to guide us. And only if we have a good mind coupled with a good heart, will we be complete.

 
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Where is God?

Posted by admin on Jun 14, 2009 in Uncategorized

From time to time, people will ask, “Where is God?” Many that I know, however, never seem to ask, and others that I know attend their house of worship and do the things they believe they should do, and yet, they feel a great emptiness when it comes to an experience of God. So where is God? I can only give the answer that the Psalmist gives. God is everywhere at all times whether you realize it or not.

“Where shall I go from your spirit? Where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend up to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall your hand lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139:7-10)

In kabbalah there is this notion of the klippot, shells that cover sparks of divinity and obscure our perception of them. This, in turn, leads to the concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world by releasing those divine sparks and restoring beauty. However, the higher truth is that there is nothing but God and that even the shells that are obscuring God are nothing but God. It’s sort of like when we get ourselves all tied up in a knot over some problem. That knot is nothing but our own doing and made up of nothing but our own thoughts. Nonetheless, we often have to relax and let go before we can feel our thoughts connect with the Life of the Worlds again. So it is with everything else. It’s all God, but we often have to untie that knot before we can sense the presence of God again. Nevertheless, when we do, we’ll experience what the poets have hinted at.

“I will show that there is no imperfection in the present, and can be none in the future, and I will show that whatever happens to anybody it may be turned to beautiful results, and I will show that nothing can happen more beautiful than death, and I will thread a thread through my poems that time and events are compact, and that all the things of the universe are perfect miracles, each as profound as any.” (Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass)

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite.” (William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

So don’t be on the go twenty-four hours a day. Take time to meditate and relax, and let the inner knots untangle. When I do, I began to realize how extraordinarily beautiful the world is, and I sing the following poem.

“My God, my God, I pray that these things never end. The sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens, the prayer of the heart!” (paraphrased from the Hebrew lyrics by Hannah Senesh (1921-1944))

 
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Who is Rich?

Posted by admin on Jun 13, 2009 in Uncategorized

Who is rich? The short answer is, not me! The more profound answer, though, is that the rich person is the one who is perfectly satisfied with what he has as opposed to that person who always thinks he needs more. Consequently, we read the following in Chapters of the Fathers,

“Who is rich? He that rejoices in his lot.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

Chapters of the Fathers goes on to quote the following verse from Psalms for justification,

“You shall eat the labor of your hands, and happy shall you be.” (Psalm 128:2)

The Psalmist reminds us here that happiness is always to be found in the labor that we are doing in the present moment. An identical message is found, not surprisingly, in Ecclesiastes where it is noted that, whereas life is quite capricious, you should learn to find happiness in what is in front of you and not in what you think might be.

So I saw that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his work; for that is his portion; who can bring him to see what shall be after him?” (Ecclesiastes 3:22)

This capriciousness of life is also noted in Exodus Rabbah where we read,

“There is an ever rotating wheel in this world, and he who is rich today may not be so tomorrow, and he who is poor today may not be so tomorrow.” (Exodus Rabbah XXXI:3)

Thus, as many have seen in the current topsy-turvy financial world, we can’t depend on things always working out the way we expect, and for this reason, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we must always be able to find happiness right in our own backyard. Nonetheless, in spite of the uncertainty of the future, Ecclesiastes still recommends preparing for it.

“In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand, for you do not know which shall prosper.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

In summary, open yourself up to the beauty and perfection of the present, and be happy for what blessings you have, but do diversify your spiritual portfolio for the future!  You just never know what’s going to work!

 
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Sin 101

Posted by admin on Jun 12, 2009 in Uncategorized

There are actually at least three words used in the Bible to refer to sin. One of them is spelled peh-shin-ayin in Hebrew, and it comes from the verb to rebel. I think of this type of sin as that often premeditated badness that exists in the world such as purposely stealing from innocent people. This type of sin is a essentially a rebellion against both the the laws and conventions of society. A second type of sin, though, is spelled ayin-vav-nun in Hebrew, and it refers to something distorted or twisted. With regard to this one, I can easily think of several politicians and political commentators who have a remarkable ability to distort reality via their spin and interpretation. Additionally, I think Isaiah might have had this sin in mind when he wrote,

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

The last type of sin, however, is the one that is most important because it is also the most common. It is spelled chet-tet-aleph in Hebrew, and it basically means to “miss the mark.” In other words, it’s an unintentional error such as getting a problem wrong on a math test. I think this is the type of sin being discussed by God in Genesis when Cain brings an inappropriate sacrifice before the Almighty. In response to this, we read God saying,

“Why are you angry? and why is your countenance fallen? If you do well, shall you not be accepted? and if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And to you shall be his desire, and yet you may rule over him.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

In other words, we are all going to make mistakes from time to time. We are all going to unintentionally hurt someone or accidentally mess up something important. That’s just part of what it means to be human. However, when that happens, don’t get angry, don’t get mad, don’t even try to get even. Simply pick yourself up and try to do better next time. And someday, you won’t miss the mark, and that’s what it’ all about.

 
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Humane Treatment of Animals

Posted by admin on Jun 11, 2009 in Uncategorized

Animals need to be treated humanely and with dignity just as we should treat every human being with dignity. For instance, based upon a passage in Deuteronomy, one should even feed one’s animals before feeding oneself.

“Rav Judah said in the name of Rav: A man is forbidden to eat before he gives food to his beast, since it says, ‘And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle,’ and then, ‘You shall eat and be satisfied.’ (Deuteronomy 11:15)” (B. Berachot 40a)

Furthermore, according to the Talmud, a person is measured by how well he treats other living creatures.

“A calf was being led to the slaughter when it broke away and hid its head under Rabbi’s skirts in terror. ‘Go’, said Rabbi, ‘for this is the purpose for which you were created.’ Thereupon they said in Heaven, ‘Since Rabbi has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him.’ However, one day Rabbi’s maidservant was sweeping the house and, seeing some young weasels, she began to sweep them away. ‘Let them be,’ Rabbi said. ‘For it is written that his tender mercies are over all his works (Psalm 145:9).’ Thereupon they said in Heaven, ‘Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate with him.’” (B. Baba Metzia 85a)

However, as with all things, good intentions aren’t always enough. You also need the correct knowledge of how to provide for your critters. So, if you get a pet, learn how to properly care for it. It’s the humane thing to do!

 
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Creative Journeys

Posted by admin on Jun 10, 2009 in Uncategorized

The two best known forms of ancient Jewish mysticism are the work of the chariot and the work of creation. The former is about going on mystical journeys while the latter is involved with creative endeavors. However, what most people don’t realize is that the two processes are essentially same. They are simply deemed different because they are viewed from two different perspectives. Nonetheless, whenever we journey, we are effectively creating a new world for ourselves, and likewise, every time we create something new, we are making a journey from one state to another. Journeying is typically viewed through changes in spatial coordinates. Whether we are driving from home to the store or engaging in a flight of our dream body, it’s the change in the surrounding environment that causes us to refer to it as a journey. Creation, on the other hand, is associated more with temporal coordinates. At one point in time, something did not exist, and then suddenly it did. However, as noted above, whether we think of the change as being in space or in time, the overall space-time coordinates are altered, and our world is different. Every journey creates a different world and every creation is a journey, and it’s beneficial to be able to view each of these processes from the perspective of the other. Also, as I often like to point out, the most important journeys for us to master are often those which take us from a negative state to a more positive state of being, and the most important creations are those which create a better world for ourselves and others. Additionally, it is important to be able to participate in both processes as they are both necessary for our growth as human beings, and continued growth and the expansion of knowledge and wisdom should be a lifelong process. Thus, to paraphrase an old saying from the sixties in the context of safe and beneficial creative journeys and trips, “May you keep on trippin’!”

How greatly is it incumbent on a man to study the Torah day and night! For the Holy One, blessed be He, is attentive to the voice of those who occupy themselves with the Torah, and through each fresh discovery made by them in the Torah a new heaven is created.” (Zohar I:4b)

 
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God’s Antidepressant

Posted by admin on Jun 9, 2009 in Uncategorized

In Isaiah 61:3, one encounters an interesting phrase, “The garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness.” Part of the message here is that giving praise stands both in opposition to and as an antidote to depression, i.e. a spirit of heaviness, a troubled soul. For those whose depression is not yet so deep that other external medications or interventions are required, I have often found the above message to be precisely the case. In other words, when your spirit is heavy, your energy is likewise blocked and ceases to flow. The drumbeat of your troubles repeats itself over and over in your head, and it is hard to focus on anything else. And yet, focusing on something else is exactly what is needed to break through the barriers of heaviness so that your energy can flow again. Consequently, there is often no better remedy that I know of for ordinary depression than praising God. However, there is more than one way to give thanks and praise to God. Since we are made in God’s image, every time we give to someone else we are also giving to God. Therefore, whenever I am feeling blue, I often respond by giving some money to charity and by looking for ways in which I can be of service to those around me. As it says in Proverbs,

Whoever is kind to the poor is lending to God, and God will repay him for the

kindness done.” (Proverbs 19:27)

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