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The Power of Word
Topic: The Power of Word (Read 66904 times)
Words have feelings
Reply #650 on:
December 12, 2012, 07:57:53 PM »
"Does the emotion in our voice have a lasting effect? According to Annett Schirmer and colleagues from the National University of Singapore, emotion helps us recognize words quicker and more accurately straight away. In the longer term however, we do not remember emotionally intoned speech as accurately as neutral speech."
Shutters and Blinds
Reply #651 on:
December 13, 2012, 10:00:09 AM »
Shutters and Blinds
By Jay Litvin
In these days of Chanukah, light is on everyone’s mind. We’re hearing a lot about the tiny little flames that can cast away immense darkness. And as we light the Chanukah candles, we are filled with hope that our efforts will indeed cast away darkness and bring light into our lives.
But what is this darkness? Is it truly evil? This light? Is it really good? We are told that darkness has no existence, but if so, how can one dispel something that does not exist?
Recently I had an experience that—pardon the pun—cast some light on this dilemma.
I took a medication that had psychotropic side effects. The result felt as if someone pulled the curtains on my awareness. All light was blocked, and only darkness remained. My vision was filtered by a gray film obscuring all detail of color and texture.
During this intolerable period of time, everything I encountered was irritating, depressing, dissatisfying and miserable . . . including me. I was no fun to be around. If I thought about my life, it seemed hopeless. When I remembered my childhood, I saw only unhappiness. If I looked at my present situation, it seemed lacking and insufficient. My children turned from lovely and loving to noisy and irritating. My car was falling apart. My house, dingy and drab.
There was literally no aspect of my life that escaped this oppressive fog, as the medicine eclipsed and obscured all light. Fortunately, I was able to keep some grasp on reality. The pharmaceutical worked so fast that I was able to connect the darkness and depression to its psychotropic effects. But my grasp was weak, and ultimately I surrendered.
Even though I knew that the medicine was causing my shift in perspective, still, everything I was seeing through its black filter was true. The house was dingy and drab. The children were irritating. The car was falling apart. And certainly, my present situation did not match my life’s hopes and expectations. The medication had not created anything bad in my life. It had not put bad thoughts in my head. It had not harmed my character, turning me into the grump I now seemed during this unpleasant state of awareness.
Everything I was seeing existed. Only, it was only partly true. It was what remained when the light was blocked. It was what I could see in the monotone shadow that survived.
Life without light is like looking at a beautiful park at night. The flowers and colors and texture are all hidden. All that remains are the large, scary outlines of bushes and trees, boulders and rocks, hills and stairways. In the dark, these daytime objects of beauty and delight become imposing forms and weird shapes that play on our imagination and conjure frightening scenarios.
Has the darkness created these forms and shapes? Has it caused our flights into fear and anxiety? Has it created our spontaneously arising scenes of theft and mugging?
No. It’s done none of those things. The sun has simply gone to the other side of earth, its light blocked from our awareness. And in doing so, it has caused our world to plunge into darkness. Ignorance. Illusion. Confusion. And fear.
I could no longer hear the laughter in my children’s voices, nor see the sparkle in their eyes. I could no longer see the clutter in my house as charming and familiar. I could no longer remember the happy moments of my childhood, nor see the countless blessings that filled my life. Even my accomplishments paled in the face of what I could have done, or what others have done better.
The darkness and depression became so overwhelming that I finally surrendered and stopped taking the medication. Thankfully, within one day the light returned, and with it my equilibrium, my happiness, even a twinge of optimism.
What had changed for the better? The details. The color. The texture. The fullness. And the goodness. There was enough light to illuminate a greater totality of my life, to reveal more of the goodness embedded therein. Enough light to balance the shadows and fill in the outlines. Enough light to allow any remaining darkness to add contrast, complexity and subtleness, to add beauty and interest to my world, to enhance its wholeness. In short, there was enough light to suggest the fullness of G‑d’s creation, to allow for the interplay and reconciliation of opposites and contrasts.
Light reveals G‑dliness. Darkness is inconsequential. Adding light—opening the shutters and blinds of awareness—remains our only concern. Kindling the lights on Chanukah, the only mitzvah. Revealing G‑dliness, the only goal.
And so, we light the Chanukah candles. The flame tenuously flickers for a few seconds, and we hold our breath till it catches and shines. The children begin to sing. Suddenly we feel a bit brighter within. The glow begins to spread. And we have a sense of optimism, hope and impending victory.
And if we’re lucky, in the few moments we take to contemplate the flames in silence, our shutters open, flooding our awareness with light. The shadows become illuminated. The beauty of life and the blessings of G‑d shine brightly. We are transported to a place where light reveals formerly hidden aspects of G‑d’s existence and our souls shine in joy.
We will add more light each day, illuminating more of the fullness of our life and of creation. And then, not on the eighth, but on the ninth day after the first day of Chanukah, when we no longer kindle the flame at night, we will carry this awareness with us into the days ahead. And, should you or I ever be cast into darkness again throughout the year—by a medication, or by the folly that sometimes overtakes us—we will carry this memory and awareness and seek the light, dispelling our fear and confusion, recognizing them as the illusions that they are.
The 5 Most Persuasive Words in the English Language
Reply #652 on:
December 14, 2012, 05:46:28 AM »
"When it comes to assembling persuasive copy, like any other construction job, you need to rely on your skills, experience, and toolbox.
The toolbox of the writer is filled with words."
Look for the Helpers/The festival of Lt that signifies an inextinguishable faith
Reply #653 on:
December 16, 2012, 09:05:37 AM »
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."
"Each time evil strikes it is a fresh wound to our spirit and an astonishment that people could so betray the image of God in each of us. We hope and pray that the wounded in Ct. heal, that the hearts of those who have lost be comforted, and that the souls of those innocents who were killed be gathered in love."
"Today is Rosh Chodesh, the new month, as well as Hanukkah and Shabbat is approaching. But no day is so sacred that human cruelty cannot mar its holiness. Yet no moment is so terrible that human kindness cannot contribute to its redemption. Yes, we can destroy; but we can also sanctify. We can also heal. And we must ever hope. Chodesh Tov, Hanukkah Sameach and Shabbat Shalom."
CREDO: The festival of light that signifies an inextinguishable faith
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs
What I find fascinating about Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights we celebrate at this time of the year, is the way its story was transformed by time.
It began as the simple story of a military victory, the success of Judah the Maccabee and his followers as they fought for religious freedom against the repressive rule of the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus IV. Antiochus, who modestly called himself Epiphanes, “God made manifest”, had resolved forcibly to hellenise the Jews.
He had a statue of Zeus erected in the precincts of the temple in Jerusalem, ordered sacrifices to be made to pagan gods, and banned Jewish rites on pain of death. The Maccabees fought back and within three years had reconquered Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple. That is how the story is told in the first and second books of Maccabees.
However, things did not go smoothly thereafter. The new Jewish monarchy known as the Hasmonean kings themselves became hellenised. They also incurred the wrath of the people by breaking one of the principles of Judaism: the separation between religion and political power. They became not just kings but also high priests, something earlier monarchs had never done.
Even militarily, the victory over the Greeks proved to be only a temporary respite. Within a century Pompey invaded Jerusalem and Israel came under Roman rule. Then came the disastrous rebellion against Rome (66-73), as a result of which Israel was defeated and the Temple destroyed. The work of the Maccabees now lay in ruins.
Some rabbis at the time believed that the festival of Chanukah should be abolished. Why celebrate a freedom that had been lost? Others disagreed, and their view prevailed. Freedom may have been lost but not hope.
That was when another story came to the fore, about how the Maccabees, in purifying the Temple, found a single cruse of oil, its seal still intact, from which they relit the Menorah, the great candelabrum in the Temple. Miraculously the light lasted eight days and that became the central narrative of Chanukah. It became a festival of light within the Jewish home symbolising a faith that could not be extinguished. Its message was captured in a phrase from the prophet Zekhariah: “Not by might nor by power but by My spirit, says the Lord Almighty.”
I have often wondered whether that is not the human story, not just the Jewish one. We celebrate military victories. We tell stories about the heroes of the past. We commemorate those who gave their lives in defence of freedom. That is as it should be. Yet the real victories that determine the fate of nations are not so much military as cultural, moral and spiritual.
In Rome the Arch of Titus was erected by Titus’s brother Domitian to commemorate the victorious Roman siege of Jerusalem in the year 70. It shows Roman soldiers carrying away the spoils of war, most famously the seven-branched Menorah. Rome won that military conflict. Yet its civilisation declined and fell, while Jews and Judaism survived.
They did so not least because of Chanukah itself. That simple act of families coming together to light the lights, tell the story and sing the songs, proved more powerful than armies and longer-lived than empires. What endured was not the historical narrative as told in the books of Maccabees but the simpler, stronger story that spoke of a single cruse of oil that survived the wreckage and desecration, and the light it shed that kept on burning.
Something in the human spirit survives even the worst of tragedies, allowing us to rebuild shattered lives, broken institutions and injured nations. That to me is the Jewish story. Jews survived all the defeats, expulsions, persecutions and pogroms, even the Holocaust itself, because they never gave up the faith that one day they would be free to live as Jews without fear. Whenever I visit a Jewish school today I see on the smiling faces of the children the ever-renewed power of that faith whose symbol is Chanukah and its light of inextinguishable hope.
The Maccabeats - Shine - Hanukkah
Talking to Our Children About the Tragedies
Reply #654 on:
December 17, 2012, 08:38:12 AM »
Talking to Our Children About the Tragedies
by Rabbi Dr. Jerry Lob
Our children look to us for their perceptions of the world. They look to us for guidance and understanding, to answer their questions, and to help them at times verbalize their questions. But mostly they look to us for reassurance -- reassurance that their world is okay, that they are safe, that while the stories they are hearing and the images they are seeing are terrible and incredibly sad, they are still safe.
When traumatic events occur, what we say to them is important. It is perhaps even more important how we say it. They watch our reactions; they look to see if we're frightened. Fear and panic is contagious even among adults; it is essential that we send out an aura of calm. Calm parents communicate reassurance.
As always, it is important to know your children and the different needs of each child. For younger children, under 8, focus less on details and more on general points. Older children need more information. For them, information is important in helping to process the trauma, and they may need to talk about it a lot. Be patient. We need to listen to them, and listen more. Children that are less verbal will still be listening though to the other conversations taking place in the family about the event. Include these children by talking near them. Give lots of love and gentleness, even with children who are difficult. Remember they are anxious and feeling stress.
It is our parental responsibility to ensure and protect the sensitive psyche of our child.
Parents though must filter the amount and the nature of the information. It is our parental responsibility to ensure and protect the sensitive psyche of our child. The less visual the images, the better. Young children should not see any images at all. No TV and no Internet images. They are detrimental and can be traumatic. It is not at all the same as watching a movie, even a horror movie. In movies there is always the underlying comfort that this isn't real, that it will end and have no effect on their lives. Watching actual tragedies may be moving, even compelling, but increase anxiety and are harmful for children. They are probably not particularly healthy for adults either.
Our children look to us and need to see that we are okay. They look for other reactions as well. They should see sadness and compassion on our faces for the victims and their families and friends. We can use this opportunity to talk to our children about the many heroes, the less dramatic stories and the more dramatic ones, the rescue workers, the small acts of kindness, the gentleness, and self-sacrifice of simple people. They need to hear about goodness as the way to counteract evil, and about reaching out to others and feeling their pain.
And they need to hear about God from you as well. Ideas that can include the following:
we don't know why G-d allowed this to happen
it's okay if you feel upset
that God wasn't absent even during the catastrophe, His hand could be seen in the countless miracle stories trickling out, as told by survivors and their families.
they need to hear about trusting in God's love even in the face of terrible tragedy.
about the power of prayer, to pray for more survivors, for the comfort and healing of the victims' families, of the injured, their families, and the American people.
To pray for wisdom for President Bush, for American and world leaders
and to pray for the safety and security of Israel as well
Our children are looking to us for calm, compassion, love, faith, and hope. Let's be sure we give it.
Asking why in the aftermath of tragedy.
Reply #655 on:
December 17, 2012, 08:43:27 AM »
The Connecticut School Shooting
by Sara Debbie Gutfreund
When I first heard the ambulances, I didn't even pause to think about what happened.
I was cooking for Shabbos as my boys ran in and out of the kitchen. When we lived in Israel, I was used to checking the news anytime I heard more than one or two ambulances, but here in quiet, suburban Connecticut, I had stopped doing that.
After the sixth echo of ambulance sirens, I began to wonder what was going on. I picked up my phone to check the news and just kept shaking my head in horror and disbelief as I read about the shooting in a nearby elementary school that left 20 small children and six teachers dead. I was so shocked that I didn't notice my six-year-old standing next to me and peering over my shoulder.
"What happened?" he asked me.
I closed the news story and tried to think how and if to explain the shooting. "Nothing, it's okay," I said, heading back to the kitchen as the helicopters and ambulances echoed in the distance. A couple of minutes later, I noticed that it was eerily quiet in the living room. I peeked through the doorway and saw both my sons with their noses pressed to the window, listening to the sirens rolling through the mid-morning winter light.
Then I heard my son say to his little brother, "Something bad happened, but I don't know what. Shhh, Ima (Mother) doesn't want to say." And as they stood there, stiller than I had seen them stand for a long time, the questions began to run through my mind.
Why did he do it? Minutes after the tragedy, everyone wanted to know what the killer's motive was. What could possibly be a reason for killing 20 children? Police still haven't figured it out, but people are trying to guess. He was angry. Depressed. Was he on drugs? Insane? People want to pinpoint a motive so that they can somehow understand what happened. But evil needs no motive. It randomly destroys. It fills the world with hatred. It is the opposite of light.
But I have seen senseless, random goodness too. Like the elderly woman who I used to see on my morning runs in the Judean hills, picking up each piece of garbage on the street at dawn and putting it into a huge, plastic bag that she dragged along with her. Each morning I wondered what she was doing. One day I finally asked her and she said, "I'm cleaning the world. One piece at a time." At first I thought she was a little crazy but gradually I began to admire her random goodness. She was making the world better even if no one else saw it. Even if no one thanked her. Even if no one understood why she was doing it.
Why did God let this happen? We ask this question after most tragedies. Why didn't God cause the gunman's car to break down? Or have the kids somehow not be in the classroom? Or have his guns get stuck? God could have saved those children so why didn't He?
I don't know any strong answers to this question, but something that Avivit Shaer said after she lost her husband and five children in a freak fire last year still stays with me whenever I hear myself ask this question. She said that she has many questions for God, but she has begun to understand that God does not give us answers in this world. "It's not that there are no answers. But we humans are not equipped to handle the complexity or wholeness of God's answers. He has eternal considerations."
When I hear someone who has lost her entire family in one night say these words, I can stop my own whys. I can accept that there are answers even though I don't know what they are.
Why is this story in my life? Sometimes we hear about an event and forget about it soon afterwards. Or we dismiss it as too far away to be relevant. But every news story that we read and every event that crosses our paths is meant to teach us something. So what is the message in the wake of this tragedy? Maybe it's that we should appreciate each day with our own children. Maybe it's that we should realize that human suffering is never far away, happening to someone else. It should and does impact everyone that hears about it. Or maybe the message is that we should be sending our kids off to school not only with a sandwich but with a prayer for their safety.
But for me, the most crucial message hit me when I explained to my son what happened.
The ambulances were still blaring when I walked back into the living room and found the boys racing matchbox cars on the floor. I sat down next to them and watched them play before telling my six year old vaguely what had happened in words that hopefully wouldn't terrify him. I asked him if he wanted to say a prayer for the children who were 'hurt' and their parents.
He nodded without looking up from his cars, and then he started singing a song he had recently learned in school. "Esau was coming with 400 men but Yaakov was davening to Hashem." I sat there confused for a moment until my son said, "This is my song for the mommies and daddies. I'm sending them Yaakov's prayer so they shouldn't be scared. So that they should know how to pray for their children. Should I sing it again?"
I nodded as I thought about the words my child was saying. Evil is loud and senseless and comes in an army of 400 men. It comes in the deafening gun shots in a kindergarten classroom. Goodness is quiet. It comes in a prayer that no one else can hear. It’s in the almost invisible steps of an elderly woman cleaning the streets at dawn. And goodness sits behind the scenes in a life like Avivit Shaer's who could have given up and crawled into a hole of grief after losing her family in the fire but instead continued teaching and inspiring her high school students with her rock solid faith and perseverance.
Even though goodness is quieter and humbler than evil, it is far more powerful. Perhaps this is the message we need to hear in the face of such a senseless tragedy: the power of goodness is far stronger than evil. We don't have complete answers to the whys that run through our minds in the aftermath of the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. But we have hope. If every single kind deed that we do is far more powerful than any evil act, then we can at least wake up each morning with determination like the elderly woman who cleans up the world, street by street.
My son's song soon drowned out the sirens in the distance, and I hoped somehow that it reached the parents a half hour away outside the school. I stood by the living room window as he sang and pressed my own face against the glass, remembering the words of Avivit Shaer: "It's about bringing light into the world even when it looks dark." Piece by piece. Song by song. Word by word. Let's rebuild.
Re: The Power of Word
Reply #656 on:
December 17, 2012, 09:13:08 AM »
It's nice to see some people still grasp there are things like good and evil.
Re: The Power of Word
Reply #657 on:
December 17, 2012, 11:19:33 AM »
That was wonderful Rachel. Thank you.
Am I Rude? How an Insult Led to Growth
Reply #658 on:
December 18, 2012, 08:20:28 AM »
Marc, You are welcome. I'm glad it was meaningful to you and GM.
Am I Rude?
How an Insult Led to Growth
By Miriam Hendeles
“You are the most despicable, disgraceful and rude person! I think you need to change your attitude, and I wish you luck!” And then she hung up the phone.
Ouch! Upon hearing this voicemail message from a woman whom I had never met, I felt misunderstood and unfairly blamed. I wanted desperately to explain myself and my position to her. I looked for her e‑mail address in order to respond.
Blinking away the tears, I thought of the teaching of the sages: Those who are embarrassed and do not embarrass, who hear their faults and don’t return the rebuke . . . are like the sun going forth in its glory (Talmud, Shabbat 88b). I took a deep breath.
IThe phone call was apparently triggered by a short conversation I’d had with this woman regarding a gemach (free loan service) that I organize for our community. Upon hearing about my service, the woman had contacted me, wishing to donate some items—strollers, cribs and car seats. I had told her during our 56-second conversation that at this time I could not accept any more stuff, as the bedroom where I store the items is completely full.
As part of that 56-second conversation, the woman assured me that her cribs and car seats were in impeccable condition, and said that she could not understand why I was not taking them. I began to explain to her again about the lack of space in the room, but the woman yelled, “Why are you screaming at me?” and then hung up the phone.
I didn’t think my tone had been raised, but I’d had the conversation on a cell phone, and you can never be sure of the volume when it comes to a cell phone. And yes, I do tend to have a loud voice. Still, her message seemed somewhat extreme—what with the name-calling and angry voice.
Well, there is a motto that “it’s better to be loved than to be right . . . apologize.” So I sat down at my computer (I’d found her e‑mail address) and, in a carefully composed e‑mail, I expressed my regrets at not being able to accept her donations at this time, and my appreciation to her for wanting to contribute. I also referred her to an acquaintance of mine who also has a gemach, and suggested that perhaps that person would take her items. I apologized for our miscommunication and my loud voice.
The reply: “Miriam, I am not impressed. You are trying to rationalize away your rudeness to me this morning. People are donating out of the kindness of their hearts, and you treated me disgracefully! I have a sour taste in my mouth for the Orthodox community in general right now! I will not deal with any of your friends or give any of you any business, but rather with others who have decent manners!”
I wrote another quick e‑mail to her, explaining that this gemach is a not-for-profit organization that I run out of my own home. But another fast and furious reply bounced into my inbox: “Please do not e‑mail me again. I really do not care about your business and how you run it. You were rude and disgraceful to me this morning . . .”
Those who are embarrassed and do not embarrass, who hear their faults and don’t return the rebuke . . .
Maybe I really could let her insults go in one ear and out the other.
But the woman’s words rang in my ears that entire day, and into the night.
Maybe she is right. That must be why I’m so bothered by this. Yes, I’m too abrupt. I need to tone down my voice. Maybe I should find out her home address and send her an apology note in the mail. Maybe I’m not running the gemach properly? Maybe I should give it up altogether? Maybe this is a message for me . . .
And so began my process of righting the wrong. No, I did not contact the woman again; however, I made a spiritual accounting within myself. I began the process by thinking back to why I’d started the gemach in the first place, several years ago.
A friend of mine, a wonderful, kind woman from the other side of town, had been running the gemach up until then. Now she was giving it up, and she’d asked me to take over her items. I was inspired by this woman and others like her; they always seemed to have enough time for everyone, and were always bringing joy to others. I, too, wanted to do that. And so, I told my friend yes.
I began storing, loaning out, and taking returns and donations of various categories of baby gear. People borrowed for long-term periods, as well as for the short term. My phone was constantly ringing with those in need of my gemach, and I felt gratified to be providing the service.
But maybe—just maybe—I was experiencing burnout now? Maybe I was overdoing the do-gooder behavior, and was therefore becoming tired and frustrated . . . and sounding like it, too, especially over the phone?
Since I believe nothing happens for naught, and events are orchestrated from Above, after this incident I set out to modify my “business” of helping others. I made some amendments to my gemach’s policies and parameters. The following steps helped to prevent further burnout and misunderstandings between myself and my “clients.”
Setting limits and boundaries: I made up to set (and stick to!) specific hours during the week (listed on my answering machine) when I’d be available to answer questions regarding the gemach. No more 24/6 availability.
Control the mode of communication: I set up my answering machine to refer people to a gemach e‑mail address and website, so that people could contact me easily for quick questions. I also made sure to put information about the gemach, such as its rules and policies, what the gemach carries and what it accepts for donations, etc., on the website, thus eliminating the necessity for phone calls.
After this incident I set out to modify my “business” of helping othersRemember—this is a side activity: To remind myself of this, I decided that messages left on my machine would be returned in the evening or by the next day, but not necessarily immediately. This would allow my gemach work to fit within the time schedule I could allot for it.
A Meaningful Name: I chose to add to the existing name, to bring even more meaning and purpose to what I was doing. The gemach, “LA Baby Gear,” was given an additional name of Yad Aliza (The Hand of Joy), in memory of my daughter, Aliza Leah, of blessed memory, bat Chaim Shlomo, who died in infancy more than 25 years ago, a few days before Yom Kippur. It seemed apt to give the gemach a meaningful name.
Mindfulness: I made up that when speaking to or emailing people who use the gemach, I would pay extra attention to being friendly and pleasant at all times, to the best of my ability.
When we spread ourselves too thin, we don’t help anyone. By taking care of our own needs, and giving ourselves adequate personal time, we will be full enough to not only provide for others, but to do so with joy as well. And that, for sure, is the best act of kindness.
BY MIRIAM HENDELES
Miriam Hendeles is a Los Angeles music therapist for hospice patients, and a writer whose topics include her experiences and growth as a grandmother. Reprinted from Mazel Tov! It’s a Bubby!, with permission from the publisher, Israel Bookshop Publications.
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Re: The Power of Word
Reply #659 on:
December 18, 2012, 11:57:31 AM »
Nice article Rachel.
Cindy "Pretty Kitty" Denny.
Dog Brothers, Inc.
Judaism and Dreams
Reply #660 on:
December 19, 2012, 03:07:40 PM »
I'm glad you liked it Cindy.
Judaism and Dreams
by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
The significance of dreams in Jewish thought.
In my dream I was in some sort of huge, endless mall. I was wandering aimlessly, searching in vain for someone I knew to be missing. It was supposedly one of my younger children – though it was never specified which. In my dream I knew it was hopeless, that the lost child would never be found. The dream repeated itself a second time. After each time, I woke up depressed, with a heavy sense of foreboding.
Shortly after, my 18-year-old nephew passed away.
At the time of my dreams I had no idea my nephew was at the time experiencing headaches on account of a not-yet-diagnosed brain tumor. Ever since, I have learned to take very seriously my dreams which I awake from depressed.
The concept of dreams has both fascinated and haunted mankind. We dream about our hopes, we dream about our fears and anxieties, and we dream about our fantasies. Most of the time we dream about the people and events which occupy our minds during the day, but at times our dreams catch us completely by surprise. Psychologists see dreams as one of the keys to understanding the human subconscious. What is the hidden significance behind our dreams?
Even the Jewish sources on the matter are not entirely clear. On the one hand, the Talmud states that dreams are one-sixtieth of prophecy (Brachot 57b). Yet at the same time the Talmud writes that no dreams are without nonsense (ibid., 55a), and that the interpretation of a dream depends on the explanation given by the interpreter (55b). As the Talmud makes clear, any dream can have either a good or a bad interpretation, and it is at the mercy of the one who interprets it. How could a prophecy, even a very minor one, be up for grabs, so to speak, and depend upon how people explain it?
The Biblical Joseph is described in the Torah as a dreamer. He both experienced prophetic dreams himself and interpreted them for others. Why did the young Joseph, who knew he had already aroused his brothers’ jealousy, further antagonize them by telling them his dreams? Wasn’t he just fanning the flames of animosity? Was he just showing off, immaturely attempting to show his brothers that God had greater things in mind for him than them?
My teacher Rabbi Yochanan Zweig noted a fundamental difference between prophecy and dreams. When a prophet is granted a vision or a message about the future, he knows that it is the future he is being shown. He knows that he is now in the present, viewing events which will occur on a future date.
A dream, by contrast, is an entirely different experience. The dreamer is not merely viewing the future. He is experiencing it right then. He feels that the events of his dream are occurring to him at that very moment. We often wake up from dreams with the thought “Thank goodness – it was only a dream!” Thus, unlike a prophecy in which a prophet today is being shown a vision of the future, the dreamer is actually transported to the future, to experience it right here and now.
Why is this distinction significant? Because of the critical role that time and free will play in Jewish philosophy. As Maimonides (Laws of Repentance, Ch. 5) explains, free will is one of the most fundamental principles of Judaism. Our actions are in our own hands. We can determine our future. There is no predestination in the eyes of the Torah. Our future is indeterminate. Every day of our lives we can wake up and decide if we want to be good or wicked. And as a result, God will reward or punish us for our every action and decision.
Prophecy can be viewed as an override of this principle. When a prophet comes and informs mankind what is in store for the future, it is no longer indeterminate. If a prophet would come along today and proclaim that the Chaldeans will attack tomorrow, presumably the Chaldeans have no choice but to attack. It has to happen; God already told us it would. Thus, free will would seem to be compromised. The future is no longer in the hands of man.
(At the same time, it should be mentioned that prophecies – especially ones which discuss distant events such as the End of Days, are often purposely vague. There are many ways in which they may come true. Such prophecies are vague specifically because they discuss events which are not yet entirely determined and may come true in many ways – generally depending upon how worthy we will be at the time. Likewise, Maimonides (Laws of Fundamentals of Torah 10:4) writes that negative prophecies may not actually occur. Such prophecies come as warnings to mankind; if we repent, we can avert them.)
Based on this, the distinction we made between prophecy and dreams becomes very significant. Prophecy means that a prophet is standing here today being told what will occur tomorrow. “Tomorrow” is thus no longer indeterminate. It has been established already today; free will has been compromised. Dreams, by contrast, are an experience in which the dreamer actually experiences the future. Dreams are a beyond-time experience. The future has not been announced and brought down to the present. It is still the inchoate future, and so by definition – since free will exists – it can happen in more than one way.
This is the intent of the Talmud when it states that dreams follow their interpretation. A dream by definition can come true in more than one way. It is still a “future” experience, not yet compromised by entering the world of time. Thus, until an interpretation is offered – whether good or bad – a dream by its very nature must have two possible outcomes.
Joseph recognized that he was a dreamer. He had the ability to relate to the universe beyond time, to future events not yet conceived. When he received his prophetic dreams, he realized he could not just sit back and wait for them to occur. These were not prophecies of the future brought down to the world of time – which would transpire whether we cooperate with them or not. They were dreams. Joseph was being informed of his potential future – what might be if he would only exercise his free will to make it happen. Thus, Joseph realized he had to act on his dreams, to concretize his potential future and make it his reality.
The Talmud writes that a dream which is not interpreted is akin to an unread letter (Brachot 55a). A dream which is relegated to the world of dreams has never left the future and so has no impact on the present. Joseph thus realized that he had to publicize his dreams, to begin actualizing his future potential. Far from immaturely boasting his dreams of grandeur to his brothers, Joseph recognized that his future would only be his if he himself would make the effort.
Our dreams today may be more or less prophetic, depending on how much nonsense we fill our heads with during our waking hours. To some degree, it is in our hands to latch on to our nobler dreams – both our sleeping and our waking ones – and to put in our own effort into making them come true.
Based primarily on thoughts heard from my teacher Rabbi Yochanan Zweig of the Talmudic University of Florida.
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I Am a Wall-The magic formula to giving others the support they need.
Reply #661 on:
December 20, 2012, 07:27:59 PM »
I Am a Wall
by Sara Yoheved Rigler
The magic formula to giving others the support they need.
I sat in the car, parked at the end of the trail, nervously waiting for my children. We usually did family hikes, but the Yehudiya, Israel’s most popular hike, is “for experienced hikers only,” with several steep ascents. That disqualified me. Our 19-year-old daughter Pliyah and 13-year-old son Yisrael were anxious to do the hike, so my husband and I decided to let them go by themselves. My husband had dropped the kids off at the trailhead at 10 that morning. Now, at 4 PM, allowing extra time for a hike that was supposed to take five hours, I started to worry.
I couldn’t phone them because they had purposely not taken their cell phones. The trail cuts off at the top of an 8-meter waterfall. The hiker has to jump into the large, deep pool below, swim across, and resume the trail on the other side. Only water-friendly devices survive.
I recited Psalms, trying to remain calm, but after 40 minutes of waiting, I left the car by the locked roadblock and started to walk along the trail from the end. I had been walking less than five minutes when I spotted a figure coming toward me. It was my son Yisrael. He was alone.
My heart clutched in fear. What had happened to Pliyah? I ran toward Yisrael, frantically shouting, “Where’s Pliyah? What happened to Pliyah!?”
Yisrael assured me that Pliyah was okay, then quickly amended his statement. “She’s not injured. She’s stuck on the trail. We were climbing the last, steep part of the trail, and we got to this place where you have to go straight up, even more than straight up, like the rock comes out toward you, and Pliyah was too scared to keep going. I tried to help her, I showed her exactly where to put her foot, I begged her to try, but she refused. We spent a long time on that narrow ledge. She finally told me to go ahead without her and get help.”
I raced back to the car and found the National Park brochure. At the bottom, in large print, was the EMERGENCY TELEPHONE NUMBER. I dialed and tried to explain to the park ranger, who was obviously used to panicked calls from desperate mothers, that my daughter was marooned on the side of a cliff. He noted our location and told us he would send help right away.
I sat there nervously trying to figure out how they were going to get a 5’10” girl weighing 135 pounds up the side of a rather sheer cliff. Five minutes later two uniformed men in a pickup truck pulled up. In the back of the pickup were a stretcher, a huge coil of thick rope, and some metal hooks. Apparently they were going to put my daughter into the stretcher and somehow pull it up the cliff, an operation fraught with its own dangers.
As one of the rangers unlocked the roadblock, he asked me if my daughter was injured.
“No, just scared.” I asked if I could go with them.
“No, you and your son stay here,” the ranger replied. “We’ll take care of your daughter. Don’t worry.” Then, looking at the Book of Psalms I was clutching, he added, “You just pray.”
Having the rescue personnel tell me to pray was less than reassuring, but pray I did. An eternity later, the pickup returned, with my daughter smiling in the back.
Amidst hugs, tears, and thanks to the rangers, I got my children into our car. On the way back to our Golan cabin, I asked Pliyah how they had managed to get her in the stretcher up the cliff.
“They didn’t use the stretcher,” she replied. “I climbed up myself.”
“Y-y-you climbed up yourself?” I was stunned. “But I thought you were too scared?”
“I was,” Pliyah explained. “But the two guys came to where I was, and the taller guy stood right behind me and said, ‘Ani homa. Ta'ali. I am a wall. Go up.’ And I realized that if I fell back, I would fall on him. So I wasn’t scared any more, and I just climbed up. No problem.”
“I am a wall. Go up.” What was this magic formula that had turned my daughter’s fear into confidence and propelled her upward?
Times of Paralysis
Life is a trail. When a person has undergone a devastating divorce, or given birth to a special-needs child, or received a dreaded diagnosis, or gone bankrupt, or suffered a death in the family, that person may be too paralyzed to move forward.
We, the friends or relatives, want to be helpful. But the person’s predicament is so complicated or the loss so severe, that pulling the person up the cliff would require far more rope and much more strength than we possess. So, despairing of our own ability to rescue him or her, we slither away.
I have a friend whose 21-year-old daughter was killed in a terror attack. In the wake of the murder, our community responded with an outpouring of love and support. Three months later, however, my friend mentioned to me that one of her oldest, dearest friends was avoiding her. This friend, who lives far away, visited every year on the holiday of Sukkot, but the past Sukkot she had neither come nor called. I was sure this bereaved mother was misreading the situation. Then she told me that as she walked through the narrow lanes of our Old City neighborhood, she often saw neighbors in the distance coming toward her, and then she’d see them abruptly duck into an intersecting lane in order to avoid meeting her.
This phenomenon is, in fact, widespread, and is discussed in the psychological literature. People are at a loss for what to say, or are so afraid of saying the wrong thing and making matters worse, that they avoid the victim of tragedy exactly when their support is most needed. They labor under the fallacy that their job is to pull the person up the cliff, and since this is humanly impossible, their sense of helplessness drives them to cruel avoidance.
From the Israeli Park Ranger I learned a different way: To stand firmly behind the person and say, in words or even with silence, "I am a wall. I’m here for you. You are capable of going up." That may give them the courage to take the next step whenever they are ready.
This means relinquishing the role of the Great Rescuer. It means not philosophizing, not offering unsolicited advice, and not questioning the choices they have made. (“Why did you choose chemo without even trying alternative therapy? “ “I wish you had seen Dr. Miracle the Marriage Counselor before going for a divorce.”) It means not patronizing with pity. (“I’m so sorry your baby is impaired.” “I’m so sorry your financial reverses mean you can’t send your son to the same school this year.”)
For those afraid of saying the wrong thing, here’s a four-word formula that never goes wrong: “I’m here for you.” And mean it.
My friend Shoshana Leibman is an exemplar of the I Am a Wall approach. When everyone in our community was reeling because a mother of many children had been diagnosed with a serious illness, Shoshana walked into their house and announced. “I’m here. Give me laundry to fold.”
Of course, to be a wall for another person, you yourself have to be strong, not in muscles but in faith. You must absolutely believe the foundations of Judaism:
That everything (including what is painful and challenging) comes from God.
That everything (including what is painful and challenging) is for our ultimate benefit.
That everything (especially what is painful or challenging) is an opportunity for spiritual growth.
In addition to faith in God, you must also have faith in the other person’s ability to go up. Tamar was 51 years old when her husband walked out on her and their four children. Suddenly, she had to support the family, but she had not worked in her field for the last 20 years that she was raising children. Recently she called her friend Cookie and told her, “You were the only one who had faith in me that I could go back to school and catch up with the changes in my profession. Now I’m almost ready to rejoin the workforce. I couldn’t have done it without your faith in me.”
Barbara and her husband Josh are baseball enthusiasts. After six years of fertility treatments, they gave birth to a baby with Down’s syndrome. Barbara was shattered with disappointment and, yes, embarrassment. The next day, her sister Hannah arrived at the hospital bearing a large bouquet with a note reading: “I thought you two were good Little League players, but apparently God thinks you’re ready for the Major Leagues.” Then Hannah sat next to Barbara’s bed for four hours. The first two hours, Barbara cried, while Hannah held the newborn and said nothing at all. Slowly, gradually, Barbara and Josh started to move forward, searching for websites of organizations that deal with babies with Down’s and talking about the bris.
When Hannah left, Josh said, “Thanks for coming. You helped us a lot.”
Hannah protested, “I barely said anything.”
Walls specialize in silent support.
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Vayigash – Choice and Change
Reply #662 on:
December 21, 2012, 01:46:07 PM »
Vayigash – Choice and Change
Chief Rabbi Lord Sachs
The sequence from Bereishit 37 to 50 is the longest unbroken narrative in the Torah, and there can be no doubt who its hero is: Joseph. The story begins and ends with him. We see him as a child, beloved – even spoiled – by his father; as an adolescent dreamer, resented by his brothers; as a slave, then a prisoner, in Egypt; then as the second most powerful figure in the greatest empire of the ancient world. At every stage, the narrative revolves around him and his impact on others. He dominates the last third of Bereishit, casting his shadow on everything else. From almost the beginning, he seems destined for greatness.
Yet history did not turn out that way. To the contrary, it is another brother who, in the fullness of time, leaves his mark on the Jewish people. Indeed, we bear his name. The covenantal family has been known by several names. One is Ivri, “Hebrew” (possibly related to the ancient apiru), meaning “outsider, stranger, nomad, one who wanders from place to place.” That is how Abraham and his children were known to others. The second is Yisrael, derived from Jacob’s new name after he “wrestled with G-d and with man and prevailed.” After the division of the kingdom and the conquest of the North by the Assyrians, however, they became known as Yehudim or Jews, for it was the tribe of Judah who dominated the kingdom of the South, and they who survived the Babylonian exile. So it was not Joseph but Judah who conferred his identity on the people, Judah who became the ancestor of Israel’s greatest king, David, Judah from whom the messiah will be born. Why Judah, not Joseph? The answer undoubtedly lies in the beginning of Vayigash, as the two brothers confront one another, and Judah pleads for Benjamin’s release.
The clue lies many chapters back, at the beginning of the Joseph story. It is there we find that it was Judah who proposed selling Joseph into slavery:
Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover his blood? Let’s sell him to the Arabs and not harm him with our own hands. After all – he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. (37: 26-27)
This is a speech of monstrous callousness. There is no word about the evil of murder, merely pragmatic calculation (“What will we gain”). At the very moment he calls Joseph “our own flesh and blood” he is proposing selling him as a slave. Judah has none of the tragic nobility of Reuben who, alone of the brothers, sees that what they are doing is wrong, and makes an attempt to save him (it fails). At this point, Judah is the last person from whom we expect great things.
However, Judah – more than anyone else in the Torah – changes. The man we see all these years later it not what he was then. Then he was prepared to see his brother sold into slavery. Now he is prepared to suffer that fate himself rather than see Benjamin held as a slave. As he says to Joseph:
“Now, my lord, let me remain in place of the boy as your lordship’s slave, and let him go with his brothers. How can I return to my father without the boy? I could not bear to see the misery which my father would suffer.” (44: 33-34)
It is a precise reversal of character. Callousness has been replaced with concern. Indifference to his brother’s fate has been transformed into courage on his behalf. He is willing to suffer what he once inflicted on Joseph so that the same fate should not befall Benjamin. At this point Joseph reveals his identity. We know why. Judah has passed the test that Joseph has carefully constructed for him. Joseph wants to know if Judah has changed. He has.
This is a highly significant moment in the history of the human spirit. Judah is the first penitent – the first baal teshuvah – in the Torah. Where did it come from, this change in his character? For that, we have to backtrack to chapter 38 – the story of Tamar. Tamar, we recall, had married Judah’s two elder sons, both of whom had died, leaving her a childless widow. Judah, fearing that his third son would share their fate, withheld him from her – thus leaving her unable to remarry and have children. Once she understands her situation, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute. Judah sleeps with her. She becomes pregnant. Judah, unaware of the disguise, concludes that she must have had a forbidden relationship and orders her to be put to death. At this point, Tamar – who, while disguised, had taken Judah’s seal, cord and staff as a pledge – send them to Judah with a message: “The father of my child is the man to whom these belong.” Judah now understands the whole story. Not only has he placed Tamar in an impossible situation of living widowhood, and not only is he the father of her child, but he also realises that she has behaved with extraordinary discretion in revealing the truth without shaming him (it is from this act of Tamar’s that we derive the rule that “one should rather throw oneself into a fiery furnace than shame someone else in public”). Tamar is the heroine of the story, but it has one significant consequence. Judah admits he was wrong. “She was more righteous than I,” he says. This is the first time in the Torah someone acknowledges their own guilt. It is also the turning point in Judah’s life. Here is born that ability to recognise one’s own wrongdoing, to feel remorse, and to change – the complex phenomenon known as teshuvah – that later leads to the great scene in Vayigash, where Judah is capable of turning his earlier behaviour on its head and doing the opposite of what he had once done before. Judah is ish teshuvah, penitential man.
We now understand the significance of his name. The verb lehodot means two things. It means “to thank,” which is what Leah has in mind when she gives Judah, her fourth son, his name: “this time I will thank the Lord.” However, it also means, “to admit, acknowledge.” The biblical term vidui, “confession,” – then and now part of the process of teshuvah, and according to Maimonides its key element – comes from the same root. Judah means “he who acknowledged his sin.”
We now also understand one of the fundamental axioms of teshuvah: “Rabbi Abbahu said: In the place where penitents stand, even the perfectly righteous cannot stand” (Berachot 34b). His prooftext is the verse from Isaiah (57: 19), “Peace, peace to him that was far and to him that is near.” The verse puts one who “was far” ahead of one who “is near.” As the Talmud makes clear, however, Rabbi Abbahu’s reading is by no means uncontroversial. Rabbi Jochanan interprets “far” as “far from sin” rather than “far from G-d.” The real proof is Judah. Judah is a penitent, the first in the Torah. Joseph is consistently known to tradition as ha-tzaddik, “the righteous.” Joseph became mishneh le-melekh, “second to the king.” Judah, however, became the father of Israel’s kings. Where the penitent Judah stands, even the perfectly righteous Joseph cannot stand. However great an individual may be in virtue of his or her natural character, greater still is one who is capable of growth and change. That is the power of penitence, and it began with Judah.
Re: The Power of Word - The Meaning of Christmas
Reply #663 on:
December 24, 2012, 10:39:27 AM »
A brief one minute clip that Charles Schultz slipped past the CBS censors in 1965:
The Human Story in Twelve Words
Reply #664 on:
December 25, 2012, 07:39:21 PM »
The Human Story in Twelve Words Tevet 12, 5773 • December 25, 2012
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
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The book of Genesis, the first of the five books of the Torah, chronicles the lives of the founding fathers and mothers of humanity in general, and of the Jewish nation in particular: Adam, Eve and Noah; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah; Joseph and his brothers. More than history, their lives are templates of our own, in which we find the precedents for our every challenge and experience.
The book of Genesis consists of twelve sections (“Parshahs”), the last of which, Vayechi, is this week’s Torah reading. The twelve sections of Genesis are: Bereishit, Noach, Lech Lecha, Vayeira, Chayei Sarah, Toldot, Vayeitzei, Vayishlach, Vayeishev, Mikeitz, Vayigash and Vayechi.
Our sages tell us that the name of a thing is the articulation of its essence. Each of these twelve names embodies an entire Torah section, encapsulating the common theme and quintessential import of the section’s many narratives. So if we take these twelve names and read them in succession as a sort of shorthand or code, we get a synoptic account of the human story: the purpose of our creation, the soul’s transformation from a wholly spiritual entity to a physical human being, the manner in which we develop our self and environment, and the ultimate realization of our mission in life.
The twelve-word version of the human story reads like this:
If there is one basic question that all isms and value systems must address, it is this: does the world exist for its own sake, or for the sake of some other, greater aim? Is there an axiomatic purpose upon which our existence turns, or is our existence its own axiom?
Bereishit is the Torah’s opening word and the name of its first section. The word means “in the beginning,” and it commences the Torah’s narrative of the world’s creation: “In the beginning G d created the heavens and the earth . . .” But in addition to its literal meaning,1 bereishit expresses the axiom that G d created the world to serve a purpose. Our sages note that the word bereishit begins with the letter beit, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The story of creation, the Torah is saying, does not begin with G d’s creation of the world; there is something that precedes it and upon which it is predicated.
Bereishit is also a compound of the words beit reishit (“two firsts”)—a reference to the two primary components of the purpose of creation, both of which are called reishit: the Torah (called reishit in Proverbs 8:22) and the people of Israel (Jeremiah 2:3). The Torah is the guidebook that outlines how this purpose is to be fulfilled, and the people of Israel are the principal actors in its realization.
Having established that creation has a purpose, we now proceed to the name of the second Torah section, Noach, which conveys what this purpose is: to transform a chaotic existence into a harmonious world.
“G d desired a dwelling in the lowly realms.” In these words our sages (Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 16; Tanya, ch. 36) describe G d’s motive for the creation of the world. The “lowly realm” is our physical world—a world whose coarseness and diversity belie the sublimity and singularity of its divine source. G d desired that this lowly realm be transformed into a “dwelling” for Him—a place that is receptive to His presence, a place in which He is “at home”; that this diverse and strife-torn environment be transformed into a tranquil world, a world at peace with itself and its Creator. In the words of our sages, “The Torah was given in order to make peace in the world” (Talmud, Gittin 59b; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Chanukah 4:14).
Noach (Noah)—the name means “tranquility”—achieved this on a microcosmic level when he created an island of tranquility amidst the raging waters of the Flood: a floating island which contained specimens of every animal, bird and plant, and in which for 365 days the lion lived in peace with the lamb. Of course, Noach’s messianic world was temporary, and embraced only a tiny corner of creation; the divine desire is that we transform the entire world into a “Noah’s ark” of tranquil perfection.
Noach also means “satisfaction”—a reference to the fact that this purpose has significance only because it satisfies the divine desire for “a dwelling in the lowly realms.” The creation of a tranquil world cannot be an end in itself: had the world not been created, there would have been no strifeful entity upon which tranquility need be imposed. The endeavor of making the world a home for G d is meaningful only because G d desires it.2
Journey, Vision and Invigoration
The created existence is purposeful, the purpose being the satisfaction of the divine desire for a tranquil home on earth. To fulfill this purpose, the human soul is dispatched to the physical world, imbued with a vision of this purpose, and granted the ability to integrate this vision into all components of its psyche and character.
Lech Lecha (“Go, you”), the third section of Genesis, derives its name from its opening verse, “And G d said to Abram: ‘Go, you, from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” This, say the chassidic masters, is the command issued to every soul before it enters this world: depart from your lofty origins, from your state of oneness with G d, to journey to an unknown, alien place. Descend from your spiritual birthplace to enter a physical body and world, for this is “the land that I will show you”—the arena in which your mission in life will be fulfilled.
The soul, however, does not go alone. It is fortified with a vision (vayeira—“and He revealed Himself,” from Vayeira’s opening verse, “And He (G d) revealed Himself to Abraham”) of the divine truth, a vision that will be its guiding light in its effort to make the world a place that is hospitable to the divine presence.
But a vision alone is not enough. Unless the vision saturates the soul, permeating its every nook and cranny, it will be little more than an abstract theory or a “religious belief,” with limited effect upon the person’s day-to-day life. If our vision of G d is to serve as the focus of our lives, it must become the object of our will, the vista of our mind and the yearning of our heart.
This is the message implicit in the name of the next Torah section, Chayei Sarah (“The Life of Sarah”). The fifth section of Genesis begins with the verse, “And the life of Sarah was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years.” In the language of Kabbalah, the number “one hundred” represents the faculty of will, “twenty” connotes the intellect, and “seven” refers to the emotions; the Torah is telling us that all aspects of Sarah’s psyche and personality were invigorated by her soul’s vision of G d.
Production, Self-Extension and Delegation
We know why we’re here, and that we have been supplied with the vision and spiritual resources to carry it out. Now it’s time to get to work.
The word toldot—the name of the sixth section of Genesis—means “progeny” and “products.” “The toldot of the righteous,” say our sages, “are their good deeds.” The bricks out of which the earthly “dwelling for G d” is constructed are the mitzvot, the deeds which transform a physical resource into an object of the divine will.3
Sanctifying one’s own life and surroundings through the performance of mitzvot is not enough: one must also extend oneself (vayeitzei—“and he went out”) to places and people that lie outside one’s immediate environment. The Torah section of Vayeitzei relates how Jacob left the holy environment of his father’s home and the study houses of Shem and Eber, where he had spent the first half of his life in “the tents of Torah,” to journey to pagan Charan and manipulative Laban, where he had to contend with a hostile and materialistic world for twenty toilsome years. But it was here that Jacob attained the peak of his personal growth, and where he founded the nation of Israel.
Vayishlach (“and he sent,” from that Parshah’s opening verse, “And Jacob sent angel-messengers to his brother Esau”) connotes the next step in our efforts to make the world a home for G d. What are we to do when we have extended ourselves to the utmost of our capacity? When we have reached out to those individuals and places that are at the very extremity of our communication skills and our ability to impact the world? We should then extend our reach even further by delegating and empowering others as our agents. Our influence upon others should not be limited to affecting their lives, but also should extend to transforming them into teachers and developers who will in turn affect people and places that we ourselves could never reach.
In Torah law, this concept is known as the principle of shelichut. In the words of the Talmud, “A person’s shaliach (agent) is like himself,” and the shaliach’s actions and accomplishments are attributed to the one who empowered him to act in his stead.
When a thief is breaking into your home, goes the chassidic saying, there are basically two things you can do. You can holler, “Thief! Thief!” and drive the thief away; or you can capture the thief and teach him an honest profession.
On the more elementary level, we can make the world a more G dly place by chasing the thief away. We can stimulate the positive in ourselves so that it overpowers our own negative instincts, and work to similarly bring out the good in others; we can seek to impose a divine harmony upon a basically divisive and belligerent world.
But like the banished thief, the world has not really changed. A better, holier, more peaceful world has been imposed upon it, but underneath this new order, the “old” world remains. It has been vanquished, not transformed; suppressed, not elevated.
After a person has gone through the “production,” “excursion” and “delegation” phases of his mission in life, the next step is to integrate these gains into the fabric of reality.
Vayeishev (“and he settled down in tranquility,” from Vayeishev’s first verse, “And Jacob settled down in tranquility in the land of his father’s dwelling”) is the “settling in” of our G dly deeds to become the permanent, intrinsic state of our world.
End, Union, Life
The completion of the “integration” phase marks “the end” (mikeitz, the name of the tenth section of Genesis)—the realization of the end goal of creation. The divine home is now complete; the world has become a harmonious abode for its Creator.
The “end” itself has three stages, as successively deeper dimensions of the world’s divine harmony come to light. In the first stage, the world is a perfect “vessel” or vehicle for G d. A further stage reveals its union (vayigash—“and he approached”—the name of the eleventh section) with its divine source: not only is the world completely receptive to its Creator, but it is revealed to be one with the divine reality, an expression of G d’s all-embracing truth.
The highest expression of creation’s fulfillment is the eternal life (vayechi—“and he lived”) that is the hallmark of the final phase of the messianic age. Death is a most natural phenomenon in the world in which we live today—an imperative of the finite and temporal nature of the physical. But the physical was not always mortal. The world, as G d created it, had the capacity for eternal life; death came only with the first sin of man, with the first breach between G d and His creation. In a world that is one with G d, a world that is in complete harmony with its source, there is nothing to disrupt the flow of vitality from the Creator to creation.
The Torah section of Vayechi describes Jacob’s demise: his parting words to his children, his passing and his funeral. Yet the section’s name—the one word that conveys its essence—means “And [Jacob] lived.” Vayechi expresses the axiom that, in truth, “Our father Jacob did not die.” Jacob’s life is immutable, because it is a life in the ultimate sense of the word: life as an exercise of harmony with the divine.
Bereishit to Vayechi, the Parshah names of Genesis chronicle the most basic truths of our existence: that life is purposeful, its purpose being to satisfy the divine desire for a home on earth; that the soul descends to earth furnished with a vision of G d and the capacity to integrate this vision into its self and character; that man must sanctify his life with acts of goodness, extend himself beyond his “natural” environment, further extend himself by delegating of his powers to others, and labor to not only command but also transform reality; that our efforts will invariably result in a world united with its G d; that life—pure and eternal—is the ultimate expression of the divine in man.
Indeed, according to the laws of Hebrew grammar, the word bereishit is not ideal usage; the more correct term for “in the beginning” is barishonah. This leads even a commentator such as Rashi, who always interprets the Torah according to its most elementary meaning, to offer the acronymic interpretation of beit reishit (“two firsts”) mentioned in the text.
The word for “desired” used by the Midrash in the statement “G d desired a dwelling in the lowly realms” is nit’aveh, from the root taavah, which connotes a supra-rational desire. There is no logical explanation as to why G d desired “a dwelling in the lowly realms”; we only know that He desired it, and that the satisfaction of this desire is the ultimate purpose of creation.
The Torah section of Toldot opens with the birth of Isaac’s two literal progeny—Jacob and Esau—representing the two basic categories of mitzvot: mitzvot whose object is to “do good,” and mitzvot whose objective is to “turn away from evil” (see Jacob and Esau).
Leadership and the People
Reply #665 on:
December 30, 2012, 08:35:01 PM »
Leadership and the People
By Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The sedra of Shemot, in a series of finely etched vignettes, paints a portrait of the life of Moses, culminating in the moment at which G‑d appears to him in the bush that burns without being consumed. It is a key text of the Torah view of leadership, and every detail is significant.
I want here to focus on just one passage in the long dialogue in which G‑d summons Moses to undertake the mission of leading the Israelites to freedom—a challenge which, no less than four times, Moses declines. I am unworthy, he says. I am not a man of words. Send someone else. It is the second refusal, however, which attracted special attention from the sages and led them to formulate one of their most radical interpretations. The Torah states:
Moses replied: “But they will not believe me. They will not listen to me. They will say, ‘G‑d did not appear to you.’”1
The sages, ultra-sensitive to nuances in the text, evidently noticed three strange features of this response. The first is that G‑d had already told Moses, “They will listen to you.”2 Moses’ reply seems to contradict G‑d’s prior assurance. To be sure, the commentators offered various harmonizing interpretations. Ibn Ezra suggests that G‑d had told Moses that the elders would listen to him, whereas Moses expressed doubts about the mass of the people. Ramban says that Moses did not doubt that they would believe initially, but he thought that they would lose faith as soon as they saw that Pharaoh would not let them go. There are other explanations, but the fact remains that Moses was not satisfied by G‑d’s assurance. His own experience of the fickleness of the people (one of them, years earlier, had already said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?”) made him doubt that they would be easy to lead.
The second anomaly is in the signs that G‑d gave Moses to authenticate his mission. The first (the staff that turns into a snake) and third (the water that turned into blood) reappear later in the story. They are signs that Moses and Aaron perform not only for the Israelites, but also for the Egyptians. The second, however, does not reappear. G‑d tells Moses to put his hand in his cloak. When he takes it out, he sees that it has become “leprous as snow.” What is the significance of this particular sign? The sages recalled that later, Miriam was punished with leprosy for speaking negatively about Moses.3 In general they understood leprosy as a punishment for lashon hara, derogatory speech. Had Moses, perhaps, been guilty of the same sin?
The third detail is that, whereas Moses’ other refusals focused on his own sense of inadequacy, here he speaks not about himself but about the people. They will not believe him. Putting these three points together, the sages arrived at the following comment:
Reish Lakish said: He who entertains a suspicion against the innocent will be bodily afflicted, as it is written, “Moses replied: ‘But they will not believe me.’” However, it was known to the Holy One, blessed be He, that Israel would believe. He said to Moses: They are believers, the children of believers, but you will ultimately disbelieve. They are believers, as it is written, “And the people believed.”4 The children of believers, [as it is written,] “And he [Abraham] believed in the L‑rd.”5 But you will ultimately disbelieve, as it is said, “[And the L‑rd said to Moses,] ‘Because you did not believe in Me . . .’”6 How do we know that he was afflicted? Because it is written,7 “And the L‑rd said to him, ‘Put your hand inside your cloak . . .’”8
This is an extraordinary passage. Moses, it now becomes clear, was entitled to have doubts about his own worthiness for the task. What he was not entitled to do was to have doubts about the people. In fact, his doubts were amply justified. The people were fractious. Moses calls them a “stiff-necked people.” Time and again during the wilderness years they complained, sinned, and wanted to return to Egypt. Moses was not wrong in his estimate of their character. Yet G‑d reprimanded him, indeed punished him by making his hand leprous. A fundamental principle of Jewish leadership is intimated here for the first time: a leader does not need faith in himself, but he must have faith in the people he is to lead.
This is an exceptionally important idea. The political philosopher Michael Walzer has written insightfully about social criticism, in particular about two stances the critic may take vis-à-vis those he criticizes. On the one hand there is the critic as outsider. At some stage, beginning in ancient Greece,
Detachment was added to defiance in the self-portrait of the hero. The impulse was Platonic; later on it was Stoic and Christian. Now the critical enterprise was said to require that one leave the city, imagined for the sake of the departure as a darkened cave, find one’s way, alone, outside, to the illumination of Truth, and only then return to examine and reprove the inhabitants. The critic-who-returns doesn’t engage the people as kin; he looks at them with a new objectivity; they are strangers to his new-found Truth.
This is the critic as detached intellectual. The prophets of Israel were quite different. Their message, writes Johannes Lindblom, was “characterized by the principle of solidarity.” “They are rooted, for all their anger, in their own societies,” writes Walzer. Like the Shunamite woman (II Kings 4:13), their home is “among their own people.” They speak, not from outside, but from within. That is what gives their words power. They identify with those to whom they speak. They share their history, their fate, their calling, their covenant.
Hence the peculiar pathos of the prophetic calling. They are the voice of G‑d to the people, but they are also the voice of the people to G‑d. That, according to the sages, was what G‑d was teaching Moses: What matters is not whether they believe in you, but whether you believe in them. Unless you believe in them, you cannot lead in the way a prophet must lead. You must identify with them and have faith in them, seeing not only their surface faults but also their underlying virtues. Otherwise, you will be no better than a detached intellectual—and that is the beginning of the end. If you do not believe in the people, eventually you will not even believe in G‑d. You will think yourself superior to them, and that is a corruption of the soul.
The classic text on this theme is Maimonides’ Epistle on Martyrdom. Written in 1165, when Maimonides was thirty years old, it was occasioned by a tragic period in medieval Jewish history, when an extremist Muslim sect, the Almohads, forced many Jews to convert to Islam under threat of death. One of the forced converts (they were called anusim; later they became known as marranos) asked a rabbi whether he might gain merit by practicing as many of the Torah’s commands as he could in secret. The rabbi sent back a dismissive reply. Now that he had forsaken his faith, he wrote, he would achieve nothing by living secretly as a Jew. Any Jewish act he performed would not be a merit, but an additional sin.
Maimonides’ Epistle is a work of surpassing spiritual beauty. He utterly rejects the rabbi’s reply. Those who keep Judaism in secret are to be praised, not blamed. He quotes a whole series of rabbinic passages in which G‑d rebukes prophets who criticized the people of Israel, including the one above about Moses. He then writes:
If this is the sort of punishment meted out to the pillars of the universe—Moses, Elijah, Isaiah and the ministering angels—because they briefly criticized the Jewish congregation, can one have an idea of the fate of the least among the worthless [i.e., the rabbi who criticized the forced converts] who let his tongue loose against Jewish communities of sages and their disciples, priests and Levites, and called them sinners, evildoers, gentiles, disqualified to testify, and heretics who deny the L‑rd G‑d of Israel?
The Epistle is a definitive expression of the prophetic task: to speak out of love for one’s people; to defend them, see the good in them, and raise them to higher achievements through praise, not condemnation.
Who is a leader? To this, the Jewish answer is: one who identifies with his or her people; mindful of their faults, to be sure, but convinced also of their potential greatness and their preciousness in the sight of G‑d. “Those people of whom you have doubts,” said G‑d to Moses, “are believers, the children of believers. They are My people, and they are your people. Just as you believe in Me, so you must believe in them.”
Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 97a.
BY RABBI JONATHAN SACKS
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth. To read more writings and teachings from the Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, please visit
More articles by Jonathan Sacks | RSS
Re: The Power of Word
Reply #666 on:
December 30, 2012, 09:55:36 PM »
Another gem Rachel.
IMHO a more recent manifestation of this was Romney's campaign. Ultimately in his heaert he condescended to we the people and his strategy showed it. At the deepest level, this is why he lost.
Contrast Reagan. In his heart he believed in we the people and that is why he won.
Of Lice and Men
Reply #667 on:
January 10, 2013, 08:01:06 PM »
I'm glad you enjoyed the previous piece
Of Lice and Men
Chief Rabbi Lord Sachs
Throughout all Egypt the dust turned into lice. But when the magicians tried to produce lice by their secret arts, they could not. The lice attacked men and animals alike. The magicians said to Pharaoh, 'This is the finger of God.' But Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not listen
Too little attention has been paid to the use of humour in the Torah. Its most important form is the use of satire to mock the pretensions of human beings who think they can emulate God. One thing makes God laugh - the sight of humanity attempting to defy heaven:
The kings of the earth take their stand,
And the rulers gather together
against the Lord and His anointed one.
"Let us break our chains," they say,
"and throw off their fetters."
He who sits in heaven laughs,
God scoffs at them. (Psalm 2:2-4)
There is a marvellous example in the story of the Tower of Babel. The people in the plain of Shinar decide to build a city with a tower that "will reach heaven." This is an act of defiance against the divinely given order of nature ("The heavens are the heavens of God: the earth He has given to the children of men"). The Torah then says, "But God came down to see the city and the tower ..." Down on earth, the builders thought their tower would reach heaven. From the vantage point of heaven, however, it was so miniscule that God had to "come down" to see it.
Satire is essential to understanding at least some of the plagues. The Egyptians worshipped a multiplicity of gods, most of whom represented forces of nature. By their "secret arts" the magicians believed that they could control these forces. Magic is the equivalent in an era of myth to technology in an age of science. A civilization that believes it can manipulate the gods, believes likewise that it can exercise coercion over human beings. In such a culture, the concept of freedom is unknown.
The plagues were not merely intended to punish Pharaoh and his people for their mistreatment of the Israelites, but also to show them the powerlessness of the gods in which they believed ("I will perform acts of judgement against all the gods of Egypt: I am God", Ex. 12:12). This explains the first and last of the nine plagues prior to the killing of the firstborn. The first involved the Nile. The ninth was the plague of darkness. The Nile was worshipped as the source of fertility in an otherwise desert region. The sun was seen as the greatest of the gods, Re, whose child Pharaoh was considered to be. Darkness meant the eclipse of the sun, showing that even the greatest of the Egyptian gods could do nothing in the face of the true God.
What is at stake in this confrontation is the difference between myth - in which the gods are mere powers, to be tamed, propitiated or manipulated - and biblical monotheism in which ethics (justice, compassion, human dignity) constitute the meeting-point of God and mankind. That is the key to the first two plagues, both of which refer back to the beginning of Egyptian persecution of the Israelites: the killing of male children at birth, first through the midwives (though, thanks to Shifra and Puah's moral sense, this was foiled) then by throwing them into the Nile to drown. That is why, in the first plague, the river waters turn to blood. The significance of the second, frogs, would have been immediately apparent to the Egyptians. Heqt, the frog-goddess, represented the midwife who assisted women in labour. Both plagues are coded messages meaning: "If you use the river and midwives - both normally associated with life - to bring about death, those same forces will turn against you." An immensely significant message is taking shape: Reality has an ethical structure. If used for evil ends, the powers of nature will turn against man, so that what he does will be done to him in turn. There is justice in history.
The response of the Egyptians to these first two plagues is to see them within their own frame of reference. Plagues, for them, are forms of magic, not miracles. To Pharaoh's "magicians", Moses and Aaron are people like themselves who practice "secret arts". So they replicate them: they show that they too can turn water into blood and generate a horde of frogs. The irony here is very close to the surface. So intent are the Egyptian magicians on proving that they can do what Moses and Aaron have done, that they entirely fail to realise that far from making matters better for the Egyptians, they are making them worse: more blood, more frogs.
This brings us to the third plague, lice. One of the purposes of this plague is to produce an effect which the magicians cannot replicate. They try. They fail. Immediately they conclude, "This is the finger of God".
This is the first appearance in the Torah of an idea, surprisingly persistent in religious thinking even today, called "the god of the gaps". This holds that a miracle is something for which we cannot yet find a scientific explanation. Science is natural; religion is supernatural. An "act of God" is something we cannot account for rationally. What magicians (or technocrats) cannot reproduce must be the result of Divine intervention. This leads inevitably to the conclusion that religion and science are opposed. The more we can explain scientifically or control technologically, the less need we have for faith. As the scope of science expands, the place of God progressively diminishes to vanishing point.
What the Torah is intimating is that this is a pagan mode of thought, not a Jewish one. The Egyptians admitted that Moses and Aaron were genuine prophets when they performed wonders beyond the scope of their own magic. But this is not why we believe in Moses and Aaron. On this, Maimonides is unequivocal:
Israel did not believe in Moses our teacher because of the signs he performed. When faith is predicated on signs, a lurking doubt always remains that these signs may have been performed with the aid of occult arts and witchcraft. All the signs Moses performed in the wilderness, he did because they were necessary, not to authenticate his status as a prophet ... When we needed food, he brought down manna. When the people were thirsty, he cleaved the rock. When Korach's supporters denied his authority, the earth swallowed them up. So too with all the other signs. What then were our grounds for believing in him? The revelation at Sinai, in which we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears ... (Hilkhot Yesodei haTorah 8:1).
The primary way in which we encounter God is not through miracles but through His word - the revelation - Torah - which is the Jewish people's constitution as a nation under the sovereignty of God. To be sure, God is in the events which, seeming to defy nature, we call miracles. But He is also in nature itself. Science does not displace God: it reveals, in ever more intricate and wondrous ways, the design within nature itself. Far from diminishing our religious sense, science (rightly understood) should enlarge it, teaching us to see "How great are Your works, O God; You have made them all with wisdom." Above all, God is to be found in the voice heard at Sinai, teaching us how to construct a society that will be the opposite of Egypt: in which the few do not enslave the many, nor are strangers mistreated.
The best argument against the world of ancient Egypt was Divine humor. The cultic priests and magicians who thought they could control the sun and the Nile discovered that they could not even produce a louse. Pharaohs like Ramses II demonstrated their godlike status by creating monumental architecture: the great temples, palaces and pyramids whose immensity seemed to betoken divine grandeur (the Gemara explains that Egyptian magic could not function on very small things). God mocks them by revealing His presence in the tiniest of creatures (T. S. Eliot: "I will show you fear in a handful of dust").
What the Egyptian magicians (and their latter-day successors) did not understand is that power over nature is not an end in itself but solely the means to ethical ends. The lice were God's joke at the expense of the magicians who believed that because they controlled the forces of nature, they were the masters of human destiny. They were wrong. Faith is not merely belief in the supernatural. It is the ability to hear the call of the Author of Being, to be free in such a way as to respect the freedom and dignity of others.
Ought and Is
Reply #668 on:
January 10, 2013, 08:23:52 PM »
Sticking to Your Resolutions
Reply #669 on:
January 13, 2013, 07:54:07 PM »
A majority of people report making resolutions each new calendar year. Unfortunately, your chances of making it through January with your resolution intact are slim. For while it’s easy to get fired up about starting the new calendar year off right, when everyone is making resolutions too and excitement about change is in the air, it’s harder to sustain that commitment as the weeks go by (the same phenomenon applies to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year).
Right now, during the depths of January when we’re most struggling to maintain our resolutions, is the real time to change. Studies show that those who make it through this month have a better chance of sticking to their resolutions for the rest of the year.
Jewish tradition gives us strategies for sticking with resolutions, even once the initial excitement has worn off. Even if you haven’t made any big resolutions yet this year, these behaviors can give you the tools to make this year your best yet.
1. Smart Planning
The famous Jewish poem “A Woman of Valor” describes the ideal woman. In addition to being a wife and mother, she’s selfless and busy: a tireless businesswoman. Many commentators have taken her description to be an allegory for the entire Jewish people. One of the most important qualities ascribed to her is foresight: “she considers a field, a buys it” (Proverbs 31:15). Amidst all her busy activities, she takes the time to stop, think, and plan ahead where it is she wants to be.
Jewish tradition encourages this type of preparing: set aside some time regularly – it can be annually, monthly or more often – to spend some time thinking about your goals and coming up with real life, detailed plans for tackling them. Brainstorm specific ways to replace old habits with new ones. When do you find it most difficult to implement your new behavior? What can you do when you feel yourself slipping back into old habits? Spending some time on this sort of exercise can transform resolutions from pipedreams to real, actionable plans.
Modern research echoes this wisdom. Scientists have found that this sort of regular, detailed planning is much more effective than more general, sweeping goals. Spend some time honestly thinking about your strengths and weaknesses: try to anticipate the challenges you face, and work on coming up with strategies that will help you towards your goals.
2. Seeing the Bigger Picture
While you’re brainstorming, spend some time also considering why you’ve chosen your goals and resolutions. What bigger picture are they part of? When the first excitement of new resolutions fades, having in mind what larger goals our resolutions are part of can help sustain us, giving us a larger reason for our behaviors. A person who wants to lose weight in the New Year, for instance, might ask herself why: does she want to be healthy? Does she want to have energy to be there for her family? What sort of person, ultimately, does she want to become?
When we reframe our resolutions as steps towards our ultimate goals, we gain the confidence that it’s possible to reach them. In modern psychological parlance, this is called self-efficacy: the belief that our goals are possible, which greatly enhances our self-control and ability to realize our ambitions.
This January, try asking yourself the big, heavy questions. What are you living for? What do you truly value? Thinking about these issues can help motivate us in keeping the resolutions that will bring us closer to our ultimate purpose.
3. New Habits
The Talmud relates the story of Rabbi Meir, who came to the aid of a couple who used to fight every Shabbat (Gittin 52a). Each Friday afternoon for three weeks, Rabbi Meir went to their house and acted as peacemaker, smoothing over their differences and helping them not to fight. By the end of the third week, the Talmud relates, the couple no longer had the habit of fighting: their problem was cured.
The Torah recognizes that after three weeks, new behaviors begin to become routine; if we can only make it through this difficult, early phase, our chance of changing our conduct permanently is much stronger.
Modern science also recognizes that forming new habits is crucial to changing the way we do things. Habit, which bypasses conscious thought, occurs when particular neural pathways in our brains are strengthened; brain activity along those lines is easier than other types of thought, and so becomes our default mode of behavior. It’s possible to “reprogram” our brains and create or strengthen new, different, neural connections.
“Reprogramming” the way we behave usually takes several weeks of conscious effort. Researchers have found that three weeks – the same length of time the Talmud mentioned – is roughly the length of time needed to change our brain structure. Recognizing this – and realizing that once our new behavior becomes habit it will be much easier to sustain – can help get us through the challenges of our first month or so when keeping new resolutions.
4. Healthy Environments
“Do not put a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14) the Torah enjoins. It can be hard enough to stick to a new regime without surrounding ourselves with temptations to lapse in our new resolutions. Whatever behavior we are trying to affect, it’s easier when we remove ourselves from challenging situations.
Conversely, the Torah also instructs us to find mentors for ourselves. “Provide for yourself a teacher and get yourself a friend” (Pirkei Avot 1:6). Attaching ourselves to people and communities whose behaviors model what we want for ourselves, can help move ourselves closer to our goals.
5. Connecting with God
Finally, even after taking all these steps, it can be difficult to get over the hump of January (or any time following the decision to turn over a new leaf, whatever the time of year or one’s stage in life). There are times when we’ve all felt completely helpless: that achieving our goals is beyond our grasp.
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Three thousand years ago, King David grasped this truth. He realized his only chance to succeed was appealing to God, and he penned words that have guided Jews ever since: “From the depths have I called to You, oh God” (Psalm 130:1).
In ancient times some synagogues even contained indentations in the floor where people could lead prayer “out of the depths”. Doing so – appealing to God when we realize we can’t succeed on our own – can bring us closer to the Divine, giving us both the strength and the resolution to succeed in our goals.
When the going gets tough, try opening a dialogue with God. This can be as formal or informal as you like. Get used the idea of asking God for help with your resolutions. This dialogue can help us clarify exactly what it is we’re trying to achieve and why, and it can also help give us the energy and spiritual sustenance to succeed in our goals.
Noonan: The Miracle of Technology
Reply #670 on:
January 18, 2013, 05:17:31 PM »
Here I will tell a story that I suppose is rather personal but what the heck, today’s not a bad day for the personal. Yesterday I went to St. Patrick’s for confession and mass, to start the year off on the right foot. Walking through the cathedral—it was jammed with tourists taking pictures of statues and architecture and also, and with some startling excitement, of the regular New Yorkers in the pews taking part in the noon mass—I remembered something I experienced there last summer, at confession.
I add here that I like going to confession; I always find it quenching or refreshing or inspiring. Usually I go at my local church. But sometimes if I’m walking by St. Pat’s and it’s confession time I’ll go right in, because the great thing about St. Pat’s is that in terms of priests you never know what you’ll get—a gruff old Irishman from Boston, a mystic from the Philippines, a young intellectual just out of seminary in Rome. Once I think I heard, through the screen, the jolly voice of New York’s cardinal. But whoever I get always seems to say something I need to hear.
Anyway, last summer I’m at St Patrick’s on a weekday afternoon and I go to the confessional area and stand on line. In the confessionals at St. Pat’s you kneel in a small, darkened booth and speak through a screen. You can sort of see the shadow of the priest on the other side.
The door opens and I enter and kneel. I outline my sins as I see them, share whatever confusion or turmoil or happiness I’m feeling. Then I was silent, waiting to see what bubbled up. What bubbled up was a persistent problem that was spiritual at its core. We talked about it, and then the priest—American accent, perhaps early middle age—said, “You wouldn’t struggle with this if you understand how fully God loves you.”
There was silence for a moment, and then I said, “Actually, Father, I always have trouble with that one.”
Here I thought the priest would gently explain how wrong I was to doubt. Instead he said, “Oh, we all do! All of us have trouble with that.”
I said, “Even you?”
“Yes, priests too, the love of God is something we all have trouble comprehending and believing.”
This struck me with force.
And then suddenly in the silence, through the screen, I saw a light. It grew and glowed in the darkness, it moved. A miracle? I cleared my throat.
“Father, did you just open up an iPad?”
Yes, he said, and we started to laugh. He keeps particular readings there that might be helpful with certain specific questions. He’d like me to read some verses when I get home.
I’m sorry, I said, I don’t have a pen and paper, I may not remember what you say. Wait—I’ve got my BlackBerry. “Tell me chapters and verse and I’ll email them to myself.”
And so he scrolled down and called out readings—the letters of St. Peter the fisherman, of St Paul—and I thumbed away sending emails to myself.
It was so modern and wonderful. Genius technology enters the confessional in a great cathedral in 2012.
“And God saw the light, and it was good.”
Dancing in the rain
Reply #671 on:
January 20, 2013, 11:37:02 AM »
It happened at a New York Airport.
Airlines gate agent in New York for being smart and funny, while
making her point, when confronted with a passenger who probably
deserved to fly as cargo. For all of you out there who have had to
deal with an irate customer, this one is for you.
A crowded United Airlines flight was canceled. A
single agent was re-booking a long line of inconvenienced travelers.
Suddenly, an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk. He slapped his ticket on the counter and said, "I HAVE to be on this flight and it has to be FIRST CLASS."
The agent replied, "I'm sorry, sir. I'll be happy to try
to help you, but I've got to help these folks first; and then I'm
sure we'll be able to work something out."
The passenger was unimpressed. He asked loudly, so that
the passengers behind him could hear, "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO I AM?"
Without hesitating, the agent smiled and grabbed her
public address microphone. "May I have your attention, please?", she began, her voice heard clearly throughout the terminal. "We have a passenger here at Gate 14 WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him with his identity, please come to Gate 14".
With the folks behind him in line laughing hysterically,
the man glared at the United Airlines agent, gritted his teeth, and said, "F*** You!"
Without flinching, she smiled and said, "I'm sorry sir,
you'll have to get in line for that, too."
Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to
dance in the rain.
Why Does Everything Always Go Wrong?
Reply #672 on:
January 20, 2013, 06:46:39 PM »
Why Does Everything Always Go Wrong?
To a mother who was kvetching about everything always going wrong, and that her life was “full of curses and troubles”
Oy . . . I’m getting the picture.
Let me tell you what the Rebbe very often told people: Many troubles come because they feel at home. That is, when a person’s mind is full of thoughts of how rotten things are and how bad they are going, the troubles say, “Hey, here’s a place for us with all our friends, where we can feel at home!”
So what do you need to do? Throw out the unwanted guests—meaning, all those lousy thoughts—and bring in some friendly ones. There’s always something good; all of us have many blessings in life. You are alive, you are a mother who cares, you are not starving in Africa. First and foremost, you are a Jew who can turn and speak to G‑d firsthand at any time and He will listen, because you are His firstborn son.
Once you start thinking those thoughts and banish all the lousy ones, the troubles don’t feel at home any more. Instead, all those blessings that have been standing out the door for years waiting to come in—but couldn’t, because it just wasn’t the right company inside—now they will all come to party and fill your house.
Granted, this is not an easy task, at least for the first week or so. But we know from much experience that it works, and it works wonders: Misery attracts misery; joy attracts blessings.
How about giving it two weeks and see what happens?
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Here is my new favorite gratitue journal
Reply #673 on:
January 22, 2013, 02:40:38 PM »
by Hannah Dreyfus
My quest for answers does not preclude a simple, emotional acceptance of God’s presence in the world.
When I was in kindergarten, I painted a picture of God. I was very proud of my artistic escapade into the non-corporeal. God had long white hair, a hot pink kippah, a technicolor tallit, no nose, and rather insufficient limbs (of the stick variety). God was deep in prayer, naturally, reciting the morning blessings to sing-song perfection.
I brought my modest masterpiece to the front of class, eager to show my teacher what I’d accomplished. The God who lived in the sky, probably somewhere near Marry Poppins – the God who Mommy cried to when she found out Grandpa died, and the God who smiled down at me when I didn’t pull my sister’s hair in synagogue – that God was now mine, a creation of crayon and colored paper.
But when I tugged on my teacher’s skirt to inform her of my theological milestone, she bit back a smile and gently reprimanded my efforts. “God isn’t a person or a thing, sweetie. We’re not supposed to paint pictures of God.”
I pinpoint my interest in Judaism and Jewish thought to that moment. Who was this God to whom I said good morning every sunrise and good night, right hand covering eyes tightly squeezed as I recited the Shema every night? Who was this God who demanded that we hide all our bread in cabinets marked with yellow warning tape once a year, and camp out in the backyard, in a tabernacle strung with Christmas lights and topped with sweetly smelling evergreen braches when the summer turned to fall? Who was this God who instructed us to put fixtures over the bathroom light switches on a Friday afternoon to ensure we don’t accidently desecrate the Sabbath? Who was this God, who gave me picture books filled with Abraham and Isaac and Sarah and Rebecca, in sweeping cloaks atop slender camels, but then told me not to draw Him a portrait?
Was this God camera shy, like Grandma, who always skirted to the edge of frame, muttering some excuse about age, before ducking out of finders view? Was God scared to be found?
The question, for me, never was “is He there?” If God was not there, who heard my mother’s whisper when she stood for several minutes, hands covering eyes, after lighting the Shabbat candles? During my summers in the years just shy of teenagehood, smelling of crisp mountain air, chlorine, and smoldering fire pits, I saw God too, in the stillness of the lake, mist rising silently, just before daybreak. In the song of the crickets as I meandered back to my tent, head thrown back to swallow the stars. If Abraham had found God traced in the sky, so could I.
When life introduced me to pain and death, I also found God. I screamed at Him on that still, October morning when my high school friend’s sister passed away without warning. And I cried to Him when I realized things wouldn’t change, no matter how much I screamed.
During my seminary year spent in Israel, I was told what I had heard before, but with newfound conviction and zeal, by people who didn’t just believe, but lived: God was everywhere. Nature was an illusion, only to test. I read of those precious few who had pushed past nature’s persuasive veil. Sitting cross-legged on the grassy hilltops of Jerusalem, it was easy enough to imagine how.
But skepticism and doubt crept between looming Manhattan skyscrapers, shadows obscuring the skyline from view. In the pages of Hume, Wittgenstein, and Spinoza, I found many of my fearful suspicions reflected. As I walked closer towards the simple, beautiful, portrait I had painted, I began to see flaws in the trusting, non-discriminatory strokes. I began to trace cracks, with trembling fingers. Disheartened, I fell back, disillusioned by the simple picture. I was angry with those who had confirmed and even encouraged my simple portrait, even while telling me, in gently reprimanding tones, that is not our place to paint pictures of God.
For a time, I hid that initial picture from view – the picture I had found among the stars, and in my mother’s whisper. I started on a new picture: a cold, analytical sketch. This picture was based upon thesis statements and comparative readings. The subject of this portrait would be built firmly upon books and articles, dissected and analyzed to avoid misstep. I wouldn’t be fooled again by beautiful simplicity, no matter how tempting. This portrait would be sketched in unforgiving, precise pencil, not crayon.
During my mid-semester break, I headed back to Israel, to Jerusalem. My head spun with questions. The canvas of my new picture had grown weary, streaked with eraser marks. I found myself growing weary. I missed the God I had resolutely left behind, as I wandered between the crowded skyscrapers of New York City.
The gap between my skeptical and emotional self did not close consciously. The serene, modest beauty of Jerusalem, hushed by rare snow, didn’t intellectually combat my neatly contested list of questions. Rather, she rendered them null and void. Like a mother, answering a tired child’s long list of bereavements with an embrace, rather than answers. The child is left hiccupping, still indignant perhaps, but with no breath left for complaints.
Watching the sunlight glint off the white, the questions that had built up, like a wall of stone, crumbled, as if by the sounding call of Joshua’s shofar, walls of Jericho sinking into the ground. The defenses, built up like a small army, melted like a child’s breath on a frosty pane. I stood at the Western Wall and cried to a God I had never lost. It was the same God who had inspired my childish fervor and creativity. The same God who winked at me from behind evergreen trees of childhood memories. The same God I trusted while sitting, cross-legged, atop Jerusalem’s blossoming hills.
I still have questions. I don’t regret asking, nor will I cease to do so. I am a more sophisticated thinker for the journey. The greatest Jewish thinkers of all time, after all, never desisted from intellectual inquiry.
But during my stay in Jerusalem, I realized my quest for answers does not preclude a simple, emotional acceptance of God’s presence in the world. I realized simplicity and truth never were at odds. There will always be questions, debates, and philosophical contentions enough for any willing skeptic. But they fall, like matchsticks in the wind, in those rare, privileged moments when we face a portrait so beautiful, we cannot explain.
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COVENANT & CONVERSATION: : Mishpatim and YITRO
Reply #674 on:
February 06, 2013, 01:57:30 PM »
I'm sorry for the delay in posting--I have been having an attitude problem.
COVENANT & CONVERSATION: Mishpatim – In The Details
Covenant & Conversation
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Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
On the opening phrase of Mishpatim – “And these are the laws you are to set before them” – Rashi comments: “And these are the laws” – Wherever uses the word “these” it signals a discontinuity with what has been stated previously. Wherever it uses the term “and these” it signals a continuity. Just as the former commands were given at Sinai, so these were given at Sinai. Why then are the civil laws placed in juxtaposition to the laws concerning the altar ? To tell you to place the Sanhedrin near to the Temple. “Which you shall set before them” – G-d said to Moses: You should not think, I will teach them a section or law two or three times until they know the words verbatim but I will not take the trouble to make them understand the reason and its significance. Therefore the Torah states “which you shall set before them” like a fully laid table with everything ready for eating. (Rashi on Shemot 23:1)
Three remarkable propositions are being set out here, which have shaped the contours of Judaism ever since.
The first is that just as the general principles of Judaism (aseret hadibrot means not “ten commandments” but “ten utterances” or overarching principles) are Divine, so are the details. In the 1960s the Danish architect Arne Jacobson designed a new college campus in Oxford. Not content with designing the building, he went on to design the cutlery and crockery to be used in the dining hall, and supervised the planting of every shrub in the college garden. When asked why, he replied in the words of another architect, Mies van der Rohe: “G-d is in the details”.
That is a Jewish sentiment. There are those who believe that what is holy in Judaism is its broad vision, never so compellingly expressed as in the Decalogue at Sinai. The truth however is that G-d is in the details: “Just as the former were given at Sinai, so these were given at Sinai.” The greatness of Judaism is not simply in its noble vision of a free, just and compassionate society, but in the way it brings this vision down to earth in detailed legislation. Freedom is more than an abstract idea. It means (in an age in which slavery was taken for granted – it was not abolished in Britain or the United States until the nineteenth century) letting a slave go free after seven years, or immediately if his master has injured him. It means granting slaves complete rest and freedom one day in seven. These laws do not abolish slavery, but they do create the conditions under which people will eventually learn to abolish it. Not less importantly, they turn slavery from an existential fate to a temporary condition. Slavery is not what you are or how you were born, but some thing that has happened to you for a while and from which you will one day be liberated. That is what these laws – especially the law of Shabbat – achieve, not in theory only, but in living practice. In this, as in virtually every other aspect of Judaism, G-d is in the details.
The second principle, no less fundamental, is that civil law is not secular law. We do not believe in the idea “render to Caesar what is Caeser’s and to G-d what belongs to G-d”. We believe in the separation of powers but not in the secularisation of law or the spiritualisation of faith. The Sanhedrin or Supreme Court must be placed near the Temple to teach that law itself must be driven by a religious vision. The greatest of these visions, stated in this week’s sedra, is: “Do not oppress a stranger, because you yourself know how it feels like to be a stranger: you were strangers in Egypt.” (Shemot 23:9)
The Jewish vision of justice, given its detailed articulation here for the first time, is based not on expediency or pragmatism, nor even on abstract philosophical principles, but on the concrete historical memories of the Jewish people as “one nation under G-d.” Centuries earlier, G-d has chosen Abraham so that he would “teach his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, by doing what is right and just.” (Bereishith 18:19) Justice in Judaism flows from the experience of injustice at the hands of the Egyptians, and the G-d-given challenge to create a radically different form of society in Israel.
This is already foreshadowed in the first chapter of the Torah with its statement of the equal and absolute dignity of the human person as the image of G-d. That is why society must be based on the rule of law, impartially administered, treating all alike – “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favouritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.” (Shemot 23:2-3)
To be sure, at the highest levels of mysticism, G-d is to be found in the innermost depths of the human soul, but G-d is equally to be found in the public square and in the structures of society: the marketplace, the corridors of power, and courts of law. There must be no gap, no dissociation of sensibilities, between the court of justice (the meeting-place of man and man) and the Temple (the meeting-place of man and G-d).
The third principle and the most remarkable of all is the idea that law does not belong to lawyers. It is the heritage of every Jew. “Do not think, I will teach them a section or law two or three times until they know the words verbatim but I will not take the trouble to make them understand the reason and significance of the law. The Torah states ‘which you shall set before them’ like a fully laid table with everything ready for eating.” This is the origin of the name of the most famous of all Jewish codes of law, R. Joseph Karo’s Shulkhan Arukh.
From earliest times, Judaism expected everyone to know and understand the law. Legal knowledge is not the closely guarded property of an elite. It is – in the famous phrase – “the heritage of the congregation of Jacob.” (Devarim 33:4) Already in the first century CE Josephus could write that “should any one of our nation be asked about our laws, he will repeat them as readily as his own name. The result of our thorough education in our laws from the very dawn of intelligence is that they are, as it were, engraved on our souls. Hence to break them is rare, and no one can evade punishment by the excuse of ignorance” (Contra Apionem, ii, 177-8). That is why there are so many Jewish lawyers. Judaism is a religion of law – not because it does not believe in love (“You shall love the Lord your G-d”, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”) but because, without justice, neither love nor liberty nor human life itself can flourish. Love alone does not free a slave from his or her chains.
The sedra of Mishpatim, with its detailed rules and regulations, can sometimes seem a let-down after the breathtaking grandeur of the revelation at Sinai. It should not be. Yitro contains the vision, but G-d is in the details. Without the vision, law is blind. But without the details, the vision floats in heaven. With them the divine presence is brought down to earth, where we need it most.
COVENANT & CONVERSATION: Yitro – The Politics of Revelation
The revelation at Mount Sinai – the central episode not only of the parshah of Yitro, but of Judaism as a whole – was unique in the religious history of mankind. Other faiths (Christianity and Islam) have claimed to be religions of revelation, but in both cases the revelation of which they spoke was to an individual (“the son of G-d”, “the prophet of G-d”). Only in Judaism was G-d’s self-disclosure not to an individual (a prophet) or a group (the elders) but to an entire nation, young and old, men, women and children, the righteous and not yet righteous alike.
From the very outset, the people of Israel knew something unprecedented had happened at Sinai. As Moses put it, forty years later:
Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day G-d created man on earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of G-d speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? (Deut. 4: 32-33).
For the great Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages, the significance was primarily epistemological. It created certainty and removed doubt. The authenticity of a revelation experienced by one person could be questioned. One witnessed by millions could not. G-d disclosed His presence in public to remove any possible suspicion that the presence felt, and the voice heard, were not genuine.
Looking however at the history of mankind since those days, it is clear that there was another significance also – one that had to do not with religious knowledge but with politics. At Sinai a new kind of nation was being formed and a new kind of society – one that would be an antithesis of Egypt in which the few had power and the many were enslaved. At Sinai, the children of Israel ceased to be a group of individuals and became, for the first time, a body politic: a nation of citizens under the sovereignty of G-d whose written constitution was the Torah and whose mission was to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Even today, standard works on the history of political thought trace it back, through Marx, Rousseau and Hobbes to Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics and the Greek city state (Athens in particular) of the fourth century BCE. This is a serious error. To be sure, words like “democracy” (rule by the people) are Greek in origin. The Greeks were gifted at abstract nouns and systematic thought. However, if we look at the “birth of the modern” – at figures like Milton, Hobbes and Locke in England, and the founding fathers of America – the book with which they were in dialogue was not Plato or Aristotle but the Hebrew Bible. Hobbes quotes it 657 times in The Leviathan alone. Long before the Greek philosophers, and far more profoundly, at Mount Sinai the concept of a free society was born.
Three things about that moment were to prove crucial. The first is that long before Israel entered the land and acquired their own system of government (first by judges, later by kings), they had entered into an overarching covenant with G-d. That covenant (brit Sinai) set moral limits to the exercise of power. The code we call Torah established for the first time the primacy of right over might. Any king who behaved contrarily to Torah was acting ultra vires, and could be challenged. This is the single most important fact about biblical politics.
Democracy on the Greek model always had one fatal weakness. Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill called it “the tyranny of the majority”. J. L. Talmon called it “totalitarian democracy.” The rule of the majority contains no guarantee of the rights of minorities. As Lord Acton rightly noted, it was this that led to the downfall of Athens: “There was no law superior to that of the state. The lawgiver was above the law.” In Judaism, by contrast, prophets were mandated to challenge the authority of the king if he acted against the terms of the Torah. Individuals were empowered to disobey illegal or immoral orders. For this alone, the covenant at Sinai deserves to be seen as the single greatest step in the long road to a free society.
The second key element lies in the prologue to the covenant. G-d tells Moses: “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and tell the people of Israel. ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. Now, if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, you will be My treasured possession, for the whole earth is Mine. You will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation . . .’” Moses tells this to the people, who reply: “We will do everything the Lord has said.”
What is the significance of this exchange? It means that until the people had signified their consent, the revelation could not proceed. There is no legitimate government without the consent of the governed, even if the governor is Creator of heaven and earth. I know of few more radical ideas anywhere. To be sure, there were sages in the Talmudic period who questioned whether the acceptance of the covenant at Sinai was completely free. However, at the heart of Judaism is the idea – way ahead of its time, and not always fully realised – that the free G-d desires the free worship of free human beings. G-d, said the rabbis, does not act tyrannically with His creatures.
The third, equally ahead of its time, was that the partners to the covenant were to be “all the people” – men, women and children. This fact is emphasised later on in the Torah in the mitzvah of Hakhel, the septennial covenant renewal ceremony. The Torah states specifically that the entire people is to be gathered together for this ceremony, “men, women and children.” A thousand years later, when Athens experimented with democracy, only a limited section of society had political rights. Women, children, slaves and foreigners were excluded. In Britain, women did not get the vote until the twentieth century. According to the sages, when G-d was about to give the Torah at Sinai, He told Moses to consult first with the women and only then with the men (“thus shall you say to the house of Jacob” – this means, the women ). The Torah, Israel’s “constitution of liberty”, includes everyone. It is the first moment, by thousands of years, that citizenship is conceived as being universal.
There is much else to be said about the political theory of the Torah (see my The Politics of Hope, The Dignity of Difference, and The Chief Rabbi’s Haggadah as well as the important works by Daniel Elazar and Michael Walzer). But one thing is clear. With the revelation at Sinai something unprecedented entered the human horizon. It would take centuries, millennia, before its full implications were understood. Abraham Lincoln said it best when he spoke of “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” At Sinai, the politics of freedom was born.
The Hidden G‑d
Reply #675 on:
February 14, 2013, 08:08:15 AM »
The Hidden G‑d
Where do you hide when you’re everywhere?
By Tzvi Freeman
It was one of those brutal winter mornings for this West Coast kid in Brooklyn, not so much for the stormy weather as for the struggle to sleep in a dormitory where the Israeli contingent had deemed that night party night. A small group of us had cut a deal with Rabbi Yoel Kahan, teacher supreme of Chassidut Chabad, to provide us a class three times a week at 7 AM. There were conditions: one of us had turn up at his home at 6:30 to wake him, drive him to our semi-authorized-but-not-really room outside the yeshivah, and brew him a strong coffee. Despite the vertigo and aching head, I wouldn’t miss that class for the world.
Reb Yoel, as all his students still call him (may he live for long and healthy years), recognized the torpor of that sleepless night on our faces. I don’t recall the passage we were studying—somewhere in the writings of Rabbi Sholom Dovber, from the year 5672 (1911–12). Deep stuff. Kinda too deep for a morning like this. But in the middle of some obscure passage, he leaped mischievously into a question so ridiculously simple, all of us were now bouncing off the edge of our chairs; so absurdly obvious, none of us could find an answer.
Reb Yoel wanted to know why we couldn’t see G‑d.
“He’s invisible!” came the first response.
That was certainly of no help. Yes, the class was in Yiddish, but Reb Yoel had the words for “tautology” nonetheless.
“G‑d is spiritual,” someone innocently suggested, “and we are physical.” Boy, was that a mistake.
Reb Yoel thundered back, “In the beginning, G‑d created the heavens and the earth!” G‑d created both the physical and the spiritual, he explained. He Himself is neither.
So we tried this: “Well, if we can’t see spiritual things, like emotions, ideas, angels and higher worlds, how can we expect to see that which is beyond even the spiritual?”
Now we were getting somewhere. Straight into the trap he had laid for us.
“Why can’t you see spiritual things?” he demanded. “There are entire worlds that are spiritual. Where are they hidden?”
“They’re not hidden,” someone responded. “They’re right here. Just that we can’t see them.”
Now Reb Yoel began to move objects around on the table at which we all were seated. “This here,” he pointed to a cassette tape recorder we had sneaked beneath the cover of a book, “is hidden. Why? Because it is not within my field of vision. My vision and this object are in two different places. Therefore, I cannot see it.”
Well, we thought it was hidden. Reb Yoel, at the time, never approved of us recording his classes.
“Now, what about radio waves? Are they hidden? Are they in the same place as we are?”
“Yes, they are,” I answered, eager to display my technological expertise. “This room, and everywhere around us, is full of them, broadcasting every station in New York City.”
“Then why can’t you see them?”
“Because,” I strained, grasping for some way to describe frequency spectrums in Yiddish, “radio waves are not . . .”
“They are not within the same space as your vision!”
“Okay.” Same difference, I figured.
“So, as far as your eyes are concerned, radio waves are not here. And the same with emotions, and ideas, and angels, and higher worlds—they are not here. They are not within the same world as your physical eyes. So, you can’t see them.”
This was starting to make sense. But I wasn’t prepared for the bomb that came next.
“So, why can’t you see G‑d?” he clamored. “Isn’t G‑d everywhere?”
The class exploded into yet more futile regurgitations of our earlier attempts, in yet more feeble forms.
“But G‑d is formless! How can you see something that is formless?”
Useless answer. He’s here, now, nonetheless. Here, in our world of form.
“G‑d is not something you see. Seeing and G‑d are way apart!”
He’s in ideas. He’s in emotions. He’s in the palpable, visceral world of the senses. Why isn’t He in your field of vision?
More useless. G‑d is everywhere. He’s in the heavens, and He’s here on earth. He’s in ideas. He’s in emotions. He’s in the palpable, visceral world of the senses. He’s in the cool earth of the ground you clump in your hand and squeeze out between your fingers. He’s in the ethereal world of the philosopher, and He’s in the pragmatic world of the trucker speeding down Interstate 86. He’s in the putrid world of the worker digging out the city sewers down the street, and He’s in the aroma of the garlic our cook was now sprinkling on the chickens for tonight’s dinner. None of this could exist if He were not there. He’s everywhere, in everything. So, He’s certainly in your field of vision. Why can’t you see Him?
We had visibly given up, but the tension of the lecture was like static electricity waiting for a lightning bolt.
“The spiritual worlds,” Reb Yoel continued, “the World of Formation, the World of Creation—realms of angels and souls—they are not in another place that you could travel to. Yet, neither are they here. You and they are in different spaces—even more than radio waves.”
“But the World of G‑dliness—that is here, now!”
Then the answer. As simple as was the question, so the answer. Far too simple for sophisticated students as ourselves.
Reb Yoel leaned forward. “The only reason you cannot see G‑d,” he whispered, “is because He doesn’t want you to.”
“This is why we call Him ‘the hidden G‑d.’ Achein atah Keil Mistater—‘Truly, You are the Hiding G‑d.’ Because He is the only one who is truly hidden. Everything else is not truly hidden—it’s simply not here. But He, He is hidden even when He is here. He is present in His absence, absent in His presence.”
“G‑d, you see, is not a something, not a presence. G‑d just is.”
The rest passed over my head. And the cassette recording turned out futile as well.
In that class, Reb Yoel provided us a key to unlock so many passages in the teachings of Chabad. Here’s the vital passage in Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s The Gate of Unity and Faith (both translation and italics are my own):
Now, just as no created being has the capacity to grasp G‑d’s mode of greatness—meaning, His capacity to create something from nothing and vitalize it . . .—just the same way, none has the capacity to fathom G‑d’s mode of might. This is the modality of constraining the spread of vital energy from His greatness, so that rather than an open descent, energizing and sustaining the creations overtly, the energy is masked so that it remains undetectable within the actual created being. The creation now appears as though it were an autonomous entity, and not simply the artifact of a breath-like current of energy. Rather than appearing as sunlight appears—as nothing more than the radiance of the sun—it is now a something all of its own.
Truthfully, it is not its own entity, but actually quite similar to the sun’s radiation. Yet, that itself is the awesome might of a wholly transcendent G‑d: He can do anything, and so He can constrain this breath-like vitalizing energy that flows from the breath of His mouth until it becomes undetectable, so as not to annihilate the identity of the created being.
This is the facet that no created mind can fathom: What kind of constraining process is this that renders a vital force undetectable—and yet, a creation emerges out of the void? This is not within the capacity of a created being to comprehend—just as no created being can fathom how something can be created out of nothing to begin with.
Years later, I found another expert to ask the same question—my three-year-old daughter. I asked her why we couldn’t see G‑d. Her eyes opened wide as she whispered, “He’s hiding!”
Only then did I feel as stupid as I should have felt back there with Reb Yoel. I guess, when it comes to G‑d, we’re all better off thinking like three-year-olds.
Prager: Behavior matters most
Reply #676 on:
February 19, 2013, 04:07:56 PM »
Judaism’s greatest lesson: Behavior matters most
By Dennis Prager
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If I were asked to identify the greatest Jewish teaching, the most important lesson to be learned from all of Judaism, I would argue that, aside from ethical monotheism, it is that behavior matters more than anything else, and certainly more than feelings.
As the Talmud tells us, “It is not the thought that counts, but the deed.”
This is truly a Jewish idea. I first realized this many years ago when a non-Jewish middle-aged caller to my radio show sorrowfully related to me that he thought he was a terrible son. He explained that for the previous 10 years he had been the sole financial and emotional support of his ailing mother — and sometimes, he confided to me, the burden was so heavy that he wished she would finally succumb to her illnesses.
When I told him that I thought he was one of the most wonderful sons I had ever had the honor of speaking to, he thought I was mocking him. He couldn’t believe that I was serious. But I was. I explained to him that it is completely irrelevant what he sometimes feels or wishes. What matters is how beautifully he has acted toward his mother all these years.
This should be the guiding principle of our views on virtually every subject.
The Torah commands us to tithe our income. Neither the Torah nor later Judaism ever cared whether our heart is in it. We are commanded to give whether or not we feel like giving. Tzedakah — which is translated as “charity,” but it is in fact the feminine form of “justice” — helps the needy. And people who are in need prefer to receive $100 from one who feels religiously obligated to give, rather than than $5 from one whose heart prompts him to give $5.
The self-esteem movement has largely been a moral and emotional disaster. It was produced by people who, among other mistaken ideas, believed that feelings were more important than actions. Thus, no matter how little children may accomplish, they are still to be rewarded with medals, trophies, lavish praise, etc. The result is that they deem how they feel about themselves as being of greater importance than how they act.
In a math competition with students from other industrialized democracies, American students came in last. But they came in first in self-esteem about their knowledge of math. And the prominent criminologist and professor of psychology, Roy Baumeister, has often noted that no group has higher self-esteem than violent criminals.
“Social justice” is a politically loaded term. Nevertheless, I will deal here only with the intent of those committed to “social justice” — to helping people who are less well-off than we are.
We have here another prime example of the relevance of the Jewish teaching that behavior is what matters: Making social policies that work is what matters. Too often, social justice policies are enacted because they make their proponents feel good because they think they are doing good, not because they actually do good. To give but one of many examples, everything I have read confirms what common sense suggests: Lowering standards for college admission for blacks has done far more harm than good for black students. But proponents don’t seem to care about that; what they care about is feeling that they are helping a historically persecuted group.
In decades of lecturing, writing and broadcasting on the subject of happiness, my two central premises have come from this Jewish teaching that behavior is what matters most. The first premise is that if we act happy, we are far more likely to feel happy. The second is that we all owe everyone in our lives not to inflict our unhappy feelings on them. With few exceptions, no matter how we feel, we have a moral obligation to act with a happy disposition.
The rule that one should not rely on feelings to determine one’s behavior even applies to sex with one’s spouse. That is why the Talmud actually lists the number of times per week/month/year a man owes his wife sex. The same holds true for wives. If a woman is married to a good man whom she loves, in general she shouldn’t allow her mood alone to be the sole determinant of whether she has sex with her husband. It is far better for her, for her husband and for their marriage to have sex even on some occasions when she is not in the mood. Of course, it is his obligation to then try to get her in the mood, but she should allow him to at least try to do so even on occasions when she is not in the mood.
Judaism itself is built on this behavioral paradigm. We don’t fast on Yom Kippur only if we are in the mood to do so. A Jew doesn’t observe Shabbat only if he is in the mood to do so at sunset on Friday. One simply does so, and if done well, religious feelings follow.
You want to raise good children? Communicate to them that how they feel is of no concern to almost anyone in the world. But how they act is of concern to everyone they will ever meet.
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 970 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Living with the past without being held captive by it
Reply #677 on:
February 22, 2013, 07:34:42 AM »
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Living with the past without being held captive by it
Chief Rabbi Sachs
If you’re driving through a Jewish area this Saturday night or Sunday, don’t be surprised if you see lots of children in the streets wearing fancy dress and masks, or people going from house to house delivering presents of food and drink. The reason is that we’ll be celebrating Purim, the most boisterous and exuberant of all Jewish festivals.
Which is actually very odd indeed, because Purim commemorates the story told in the book of Esther, when Haman, a senior official of the Persian Empire, persuaded the king to issue a decree to annihilate all Jews, young and old, men, women and children, on one day: a warrant for genocide. Thanks to the vigilance of Mordechai and the courage of Esther, the decree was not carried out, and ever since, we’ve celebrated by reading the story, having parties, giving to the poor and sharing gifts of food with friends.
I used to be very puzzled by this. Why such exhilaration at merely surviving a tragedy that was only narrowly averted? Relief, I can understand. But to turn the day into a carnival? Just because we’re still here to tell the story?
Slowly, though, I began to understand how much pain there has been in Jewish history, how many massacres and pogroms throughout the ages. Jews had to learn how to live with the past without being traumatised by it. So they turned the day when they faced and then escaped the greatest danger of all into a festival of unconfined joy, a day of dressing up and drinking a bit too much, to exorcise the fear, live through it and beyond it, and then come back to life, unhaunted by the ghosts of memory.
Purim is the Jewish answer to one of the great questions of history: how do you live with the past without being held captive by the past? Ours is a religion of memory, because if you forget the past, you’ll find yourself repeating it. Yet it’s also a future oriented faith. To be a Jew is to answer the question, Has the messiah come?, with the words, Not yet.
There are so many parts of the world today where ancient grievances are still being played out, as if history were a hamster wheel in which however fast we run we find ourselves back where we started. Purim is a way of saying, remember the past, but then look at the children, celebrate with them, and for their sake, put the past behind you and build a better future.
Groom’s Letter to Parents, Remembered After Fatal Hit and Run
Reply #678 on:
March 06, 2013, 03:13:04 PM »
Groom’s Letter to Parents, Remembered After Fatal Hit and Run
The young groom took some moments on his wedding day to write a letter thanking his parents for never sparing time or money if he needed, say, a tutor or an eye doctor, and for sending him to yeshiva “to learn your values, religious and worldly, until I reached to this current lucky moment.”
Children, Nathan Glauber wrote, often do not understand what parents do for them until they mature and have their own children, so he asked them to forgive him for any pain he may have caused them.
Marilyn Monroe's Personal Library
Reply #679 on:
March 13, 2013, 09:58:27 AM »
I have no idea where else to put this:
From the article:
According to OpenCulture, when Monroe died in 1962 she left around 400 books behind, "many of which were later catalogued and auctioned off by Christie’s in New York City." Now on LibraryThing you can get a look at 262 of those books—her collection included Ulysses by James Joyce, Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Bound For Glory by Woody Guthrie, The Roots Of American Communism by Theodore Draper (a risky title to keep around given that whole FBI thing), The Bible, How To Travel Incognito by Ludwig Bemelmans, The Little Engine That Could, and Jack Kerouac's On The Road. She also had a number of books that spoke to a more domestic life, including The Joy of Cooking, Baby & Child Care by Dr. Benjamin Spock, and one guide to flower arranging.
Our central purpose
Reply #680 on:
March 13, 2013, 10:43:38 AM »
Adam was the direct handiwork of God. No other human being could ever be as magnificent. Yet he had only one temptation to resist, and he gave in.
Which teaches us that the greatest challenges in life are those that are closest to your purpose of being. To the point that if you wish to know your central purpose in life, you need only look at where your greatest challenges lie.
Re: The Power of Word
Reply #681 on:
May 06, 2013, 08:39:16 AM »
Authentic Humility Iyar 26, 5773 • May 6, 2013
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
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Humility has to be real. Real humility means transcendence of the self.
Moses, it is written, was the most humble of all men.
Obviously, he knew who he was. He knew that of all men, he alone was chosen to accomplish the greatest tasks of history --to lead an entire nation out from bondage and bring them to the greatest revelation that would ever be. He was the loftiest of all prophets, who spoke directly to G-d whenever he wished.
He knew all this and yet he was humble.
Because Moses told himself, "This is not my own achievement. This is what I have done with the powers G-d has granted me. Perhaps had someone else been given these same powers, perhaps that someone else would have done a better job."
Reply #682 on:
May 07, 2013, 10:35:57 AM »
Ten months between betrothal and wedding?
Celestial Formations Iyar 27, 5773 • May 7, 2013
By Lazer Gurkow
Artist's conception of the Israelite camp in formation around the Tabernacle at the foot of Mount Sinai
They traveled together, a single mass of two million people moving slowly through the sands. Each tribe precisely positioned, each group in perfect formation, their footprints marking the desert.
At the center of this great mass was the Tabernacle, the holy house of G d. Immediately surrounding the Tabernacle was the tribe of Levi: Moses, Aaron, and their immediate families to the east; the Gershon family to the west; the Kehat family to the south; and the Merari family to the north.
Arrayed around these four families were the remaining twelve tribes of Israel. Three tribes to the east, three to the west, three to the north and three to the south.1
The Midrash relates that G d descended from the heavens at Sinai surrounded by a majestic entourage of 22,000 angels. The entourage, arrayed around the divine presence, was divided into four groups.2
The eastern group was led by the angel Gabriel. The western group was led by the angel Raphael. The northern group was led by the angel Uriel, and the southern group was led by the angel Michael.3
Arrayed around the first circle of angels was yet another circle of angels, also comprised of four groups. This outer circle numbered 600,000 angels.4
Witnessing this majestic array, our ancestors yearned for a similar formation. Being totally encircled by G d’s presence would ensure that their attention would be exclusively focused upon G d. They asked that they be positioned in similar formation when G d’s presence would become manifest in the Tabernacle.5
Thirty days after the Tabernacle was erected, G d commanded Moses to take a census of the Jewish people and to establish their formations in accordance with that of the angels. To his amazement, Moses found that the census matched the number of angels in G d’s entourage perfectly. There were 22,000 Levites, corresponding to the number of angels in G d’s inner circle, and 600,000 Jews in the other tribes, corresponding to the number of angels in G d’s outer circle.6
When Moses was instructed to establish the tribal formations, he worried that it would lead to friction among the tribes. Which tribe would lead, and which would follow? Who would lead to the east, and who to the west? Moses didn’t relish controversy.
“Don’t worry,” G d told him, “the patriarch Jacob has already arranged it. Before Jacob passed away, he instructed his sons to carry his coffin in the same formation that their children would later use in the desert.
“Judah would lead to the east, followed by Issachar and Zebulun. Reuben would lead to the south, followed by Simon and Gad. Ephraim would lead to the west, followed by Manasseh and Benjamin. Dan would lead to the north, followed by Asher and Naphtali.”7
Tribes and Angels: Might, Kindness, Healing, Light
The tribe of Judah led to the east, corresponding to the angelic camp led by Gabriel. Judah was a symbol of strength and firm discipline, as is Gabriel, the angel of divine strength. The tribe of Reuben led to the south, corresponding to the angelic camp led by Michael. Reuben was a symbol of kindness; he was the first to rush to Joseph’s rescue. This corresponds to Michael, the angel of divine benevolence. The tribe of Ephraim led to the west, corresponding to the angelic camp led by Raphael. Generations later, the tribe of Ephraim would prevent Jews from the north of Israel from visiting the Temple in Jerusalem. They never repented for this sin, and were never spiritually healed. They were therefore aligned with Raphael, the angel of divine healing. The tribe of Dan led to the north, corresponding to the angelic camp led by Uriel. The tribe of Dan actually implemented Ephraim’s ban on the pilgrimage, and denied themselves access to spiritual light. They were therefore aligned with Uriel, the angel of divine light.8
G d waited eleven full months before granting His children’s wish and agreeing to this celestial formation.9
The Midrash teaches that G d betrothed the Jews at Sinai, and married them on the day that the Tabernacle was erected.10 In ancient times it was customary to wait ten months between betrothal and marriage—and indeed, there was a ten-month interval between the day we received the Ten Commandments and the day the
Tabernacle was erected.11
According to the Talmud, wedding celebrations should last for thirty days;12 and indeed, G d waited one additional month. He wanted to conclude the celebrations and make certain that the bond was complete. Only then, when we were fully committed, our devotion beyond question, did He grant our desire for celestial formations.13
Our ancestors’ request reflected a desire to reach beyond their grasp. To perceive G d’s greatness the way the angels do, and to be affected by G d’s presence the way angels are. They knew that this was beyond them, but this did not prevent them from yearning for it.
G d waited till they reached the pinnacle of their own potential, and then granted their request. In doing so G d made it possible for us, even here today, to reach beyond ourselves and periodically gain a measure of angelic inspiration.14
Numbers 2:1–31 and 3:23–39. See also Rabbeinu Bechayei, Numbers 2:10.
Bamidbar Rabbah 2:3.
Rabbeinu Bechayei, Numbers 2:1–25. See Zohar 2:118b for a slightly different order.
Talmud, Shabbat 88a.
Bamidbar Rabbah 2:3; Keli Yakar, Numbers 2:2.
See also Alshich, Numbers 1:2, who explains that G d deliberately positioned the Levites between the Tabernacle and the tribes. It ensured that that the rays of G dly light emanating from the Tabernacle would not radiate in pure form as it did at Sinai and overwhelm the uninitiated, but be filtered through the prism of the righteous Levites. The Levites, bolstered by their proximity to Moses and Aaron, would learn to tolerate the intensity of the pure rays and pass them on to the other tribes in a dimmer, softer form than the original.
Numbers 1:46 and 2:39. Only the men between the age of twenty and sixty were counted in the general population, as this was a census of battle-worthy men; among the Levites, children from the age of one month and up were also counted. There were in fact 603,550 men; however, the additional three and a half thousand men were not considered in the larger number (see Alshich, Numbers 1:2).
Midrash Tanchuma, Bamidbar 12.
Rabbeinu Bechayei, Numbers 2:1–25. See also Keli Yakar and Nachmanides, Numbers 2:2–3, for alternative explanations.
Gabriel, Michael and Raphael are also the angels who came to visit Abraham and Sarah after Abraham’s circumcision. Raphael came to heal Abraham and to save Abraham’s nephew Lot. Michael came to inform them that a child would soon be born to them, and Gabriel came to destroy the city of Sodom. Each was sent on a mission that corresponded to its character. (See Bereishit Rabbah 50:2.)
The Ten Commandments were given on the sixth of Sivan, and the formations were established on the first of Iyar of the following year.
Many explanations are offered in addition to the one offered in the essay. Ohr Hachayim (Numbers 1:2) argues that G d was waiting for enough children to be born so that the census would match that of His angelic entourage; he brilliantly compares this census to the previous one (Exodus 38:26) and demonstrates an uncanny resemblance between them. Keli Yakar and Alshich suggest that G d wanted to firmly establish His presence in the Tabernacle for at least one month before He acquiesced to the request. Alshich further argues that this was in response to the sin of the Golden Calf. When Moses informed the people that G d had forgiven them, the people immediately set about building the Tabernacle. Upon its completion, G d made His presence manifest in it to demonstrate His forgiveness. After thirty days of such presence, it was time to align the people in the same formation as the angels, to allow for maximum exposure to, and benefit from, the divine presence among them.
Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Tisa 16 and Naso 20; see also Rashi, Numbers 7:1.
Genesis 24:55: “Let the girl stay with us a year or ten [months].” These are the ten months that we allow between betrothal and marriage, so that the bride might adorn herself with the twenty-four adornments mentioned in Isaiah 3:18–24 (Talmud, Ketubot 57b).
Talmud, Ketubot 8a.
Keli Yakar, Numbers 1:1.
Based on Sefat Emet (by Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur, 1847–1905), Bamidbar 5638.
Words that Change People's Lives.
Reply #683 on:
May 29, 2013, 09:18:32 AM »
Calvin & Hobbes
Reply #684 on:
May 30, 2013, 05:54:34 PM »
Wonderful to have you with us again Rachel!
Explaining Tragedy to Our Children
Reply #685 on:
June 03, 2013, 08:22:02 AM »
Explaining Tragedy to Our Children
Sara Esther Crispe
When I was a freshman in college, the little brother of my close friend was shot in the back and killed. For his beeper. Beepers were cool back then, and I guess the kid who murdered him really wanted it.
His loss affected me profoundly. It was so senseless, so unjust, so unnecessary. And I need things to make sense. I need to somehow understand and find a logical cause and affect. If someone is sick, he might die. If someone is old, he might die. But if someone has a beeper and someone else wants it, he might also die? I just didn't get it.
I still don't get it.
I am a mother now. I have four kids. And there are many things they don't get. Many things I can't explain.
Re: The Power of Word
Reply #686 on:
June 03, 2013, 08:31:00 AM »
God gives us free will. No celestial strings or guardrails, every act, good or evil, we own it.
Anything less would mean that were are automatons without responsibility.
Re: The Power of Word
Reply #687 on:
June 03, 2013, 08:21:42 PM »
I personally think free will and an omnipotent God are not mutually exclusive.
However, the free will problem has been argued about by Jewish scholars for at least 2,000 years and possible closer to 3,000 years and I don't have the time or inclination to give it justice.
"On many accounts, the idea of "Freedom of Choice" seems a self-evident truth. It seems indispensable not only to any "religion", but also to any world-vision that holds the human being responsible for his or her actions. It resonates with the most fundamental element of our self-knowledge: that life is something that we live ("live" being an active verb) and our actions are things that we do. The fact that our choices and decisions have consequence does not need to be proven to us -- we experience it first hand, 24 hours a day, 3,600 seconds an hour.
But no sooner do we attempt to scratch the surface of this self-evident truth, that a flood of questions, paradoxes, absurdities and dilemmas overwhelm us. For this self-evident truth clashes with other, seemingly no less immutable truths: the apparently mechanical nature of our reality, the laws of cause and effect, and -- from a theological standpoint -- G-d's absolute knowledge of the "future" and His omnipotence and Oneness"
The above links to lots of articles about Free Wlill and Aish has a bunch as well
Judaism and all good religions do a terrible job of explaining why bad things happen but hopefully they provide a good answer for what to do when bad things happen.
He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
Reply #688 on:
June 10, 2013, 05:33:57 PM »
"When Laura Munson's husband asked for a divorce, she ducked instead of fighting. He needed to learn, she says, that his unhappiness wasn’t really about her"
Why was Moses not destined to enter the Land?
Reply #689 on:
June 11, 2013, 09:23:47 AM »
Why was Moses not destined to enter the Land?
It is one of the most perplexing, even disturbing, passages in the Torah. Moses the faithful shepherd, who has led the Israelites for forty years, is told that he will not live to cross the Jordan and enter the promised land.
No one has cast a longer shadow over the history of the Jewish people than Moses – the man who confronted Pharaoh, announced the plagues, brought the people out of Egypt, led them through the sea and desert and suffered their serial ingratitudes; who brought the word of God to the people, and prayed for the people to God. The name Israel means “one who wrestles with God and with men and prevails.” That, supremely, was Moses, the man whose passion for justice and hyper-receptivity to the voice of God made him the greatest leader of all time. Yet he was not destined to enter the land to which he had spent his entire time as a leader travelling toward. Why?
Happy Father's Day! /Advice for Sick Friends
Reply #690 on:
June 16, 2013, 08:53:02 PM »
Advice for Sick Friends
Sometimes our advice is not only wrong, it’s hurtful.
by Emuna Braverman
In Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s new book, “How to be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick,” she says something very wise and very important. And she’s very blunt. It’s something that can actually be extrapolated to many of life’s challenges.
Under the heading, Ten Commandments for Conversing with a Sick Friend, she advises:
10. Don’t pressure them to “keep up the fight” or practice “positive thinking.” It’s cruel to imply that negative thoughts – that is, feeling discouraged, not battling hard enough, not having the “right attitude” – caused their illness in the first place or may have compounded their suffering. If your friend keeps getting sicker, the last thing they need is to blame themselves…Don’t say, “You’re gonna beat it!” when you know they probably won’t. Positive thinking can’t cure Huntington’s disease, ALS, or inoperable brain cancer. Telling a terminal patient to “Keep up the fight!” isn’t just futile; it’s mean. Don’t make a dying patient feel guilty for having lost the fight. Don’t make death into a personal failure.
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