Keep Climbing! LIVE – KISLEV (9th Hebrew Month)

 

KISLEV

UNITY  AND  VISION

Verse:   

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! 

           …For there the Lord has commanded the blessing; life forevermore.”        

~  Psalm 133:1; 3

Quote: 

“If one pursues honor it will elude him., but if one flees from honor, it will pursue him.” 

    ~ Talmud, Eruvin 13b

As a reminder, the focus of this Rosh Chodesh series “Keep Climbing!” Is the practice of Mussar. The word mussar in modern Hebrew is simply translated as ‘ethics.’ However, current Mussar teacher, Alan Morinis, in his book Everyday Holiness, describes it more fully as “…a way of life. It shines light on the causes of suffering and shows us how to realize our highest potential, including an everyday experience infused with happiness, trust, and love.”  The practice of Mussar is basically an introspective one, undertaken by an individual seeking for more meaning, depth and vision in life. However, an early master of the revival of Mussar during the 1800’s, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, perceived that it could in fact be a very unifying practice among the Jewish communities in Europe who were being torn apart physically, mentally, and spiritually by the conflicting social tensions at the time. For example, the oppression of the Czar, the attraction of communism and socialism, the materialistic thrust of the ‘Enlightenment,’ etc. Morinis explains how Salanter taught that what could reconnect the fabric of the people that was being ripped asunder was to learn, through Mussar, how to “…strengthen the final and most important bulwark for the defense of spiritual life: the solitary human heart [and soul].” 

The basis for the strengthening and reinforcing of true unity and one-ness is the need for a “pure heart” and a soul that is growing ever brighter in the expression of its inherent holiness. This awareness and strengthening of the heart and soul are just as important in our confusing and fractured world today! External circumstances and pressures may have changed but our essential, deepest beings remain the same.

UNITY – ECHAD – ONE-NESS

The base of unity, and achieving of one-ness, is the giving of honor and respect to the other. This respect is based on the recognition of the key factor that each of us, every person, is given life by the Source of Life –  our Creator and Father in Heaven. In fact, respecting one’s fellow man, and especially those with whom our lives are bound up with one way or another, is considered such a central Biblical ethic that the Sages say that when the twelve thousand pairs of students of Rabbi Akiva started dying in a plague, during the thirty-two days between Passover and Shavuot, it was because they did not show respect toward each other! (Yevamot 62b)

Lack of respect undermines and destroys the potential unity, and the peace and harmony, in every form of relationship. A chief cause of not showing respect or honor to another is a critical and judgmental spirit. I would hate to think I was guilty of this, but recently a clear case arose when I misjudged someone simply by their appearance. It was nothing more than a slight remark that he looked “a bit  odd.” Later I discovered he was, although admittedly ‘colorful’, the owner of a unique and successful business, with a wonderful family, and was extremely gifted and creative. What a lesson I learnt! Even a  seemingly light, passing remark, is in fact making a negative judgment and not showing respect for the other.

This negative, judgmental attitude is called in Hebrew ayin ra’ah, an evil eye. One with a ‘good eye’ – ayin tovah, is one who sees others kindly and is quick to give the benefit of the doubt. We will be exploring this trait more deeply next month, but I would like to point out, in this context, that a major component in harboring a critical spirit is the Ego! An unhealthy ego constantly craves honour and attention for itself. It therefore resents any honor given to another under the mistaken impression that it is detracting from the honor due to itself. It thus operates with a critical mindset and can resort to shaming others in order to elevate itself. 

To the contrary, the sage Ben Zoma, to the question, “Who is worthy of honor? answers, “The one who treats others with honor.” (Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers 4:1)

UNITY  IN  BALANCE

                    Division      <——————— Unity ———————>       Forced conformity 

                 Lack of respect           Harmony in relationships                   Stifling of self

                   Strife                                  One-ness                                Superficiality

 

SELF RESPECT

Last month we learned that we need to develop self-compassion before we can extend true, healthy compassion to others. Similarly, in the pursuit of unity, we need to develop a healthy self-respect before we truly can respect others. We need to know and believe that we each are: “A radiant soul deserving of honor!” Not because we have no imperfections, and are perfect saints. No! But because we are, each one, an amazingly unique being, lovingly created in the image of God, and we have, at our very essence, a soul of incomparable beauty and majesty. When we truly grasp that truth, and pursue the means of allowing that soul to more and more reflect the light and holiness of its Creator, then we gradually attain the one-ness of Echad,  not only with our Source, but also with the other beautiful souls He has placed in our lives. 

BUILDING UNITY

Building unity is both a state of awareness and of action. There are many, almost uncountable, ways we can show honor and respect to others. Alan Morinis stresses that unity is built “…when we look beneath the surface differences to see the shared ground upon which all beings stand.” Also, “…honoring others requires that we make an effort to elevate people in our eyes.” We can always begin with the smaller, seemingly insignificant actions such as greeting others with a friendly smile. In Pirkei Avot, the sages urge us to “…take the initiative  in greeting every person you meet” (4:20). 

In reality, extending honor and respect to others is a form of  chessed – loving-kindness. When Yeshua was asked which was the greatest commandment in the Torah, he quoted Leviticus 19:18, and said, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). Our attitude and actions towards others are a reflection of our attitude and actions towards God. 

The fundamental, essential bond of unity is the relationship between a person and God – to discover the ‘one-ness’ we can share with Him as our loving Father in Heaven. Next, is the unity within ourselves – to bring a wholeness and harmony between the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of our being; which is the aim of Mussar and is a daily, life-long endeavor. As the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, said: “Everything we do must be directed toward discovering the underlying unity within.” 

Finally, then, comes the unity with others and all of Creation.

UNITY AND VISION

Lack of unity brings chaos and confusion, which often results in pain and suffering. There is a natural inclination and longing within a person for unity – for connection, order, and meaning. Everything is created by the one God and when we seek we can find His fingerprints, as it were, in every person, creature, and object.

Unity, or the lack of it, is seen most clearly in human relationships but it is reflected in other areas as well. Simon Jacobson makes a great observation:

 “Life itself is really a search for unity. A scientist searches to discover the unifying laws that govern the seemingly diverse forces of nature. A psychologist tries to trace the myriad elements of external human behavior back to a few underlying needs in the human psyche. An engineer combines thousands of individual parts to form one machine. But all these forms of searching for unity are actually a means to a higher end: the search for G-d and the ultimate unity.”

Once we receive the vision and awareness that all of life is comprised of innumerable threads that can be woven into one beautiful tapestry that is a reflection of the Source of Life, we can understand how our every day, and every thought and action, is deeply meaningful. Gaining this perspective provides the motivation to deepen our awareness and to strengthen our faith – to aim higher, and to keep climbing!  To quote Simon Jacobson again: “Leading a unified life means leading a life of harmony; a life in which we have brought God into our every moment.”

Unity is not sameness. We may think that if everyone looked the same, and thought and acted the same, that would result in unity and harmony. Wrong! That error was proven by the Communist ideology, when outward sameness was enforced. Rather, true unity is the harmony within diversity. We see this reflected, for example, in a marriage. First you have the independent, single person. Then, two people meet – two distinctly different entities, a man and a woman – and form a duality. Next, a third dimension is created that joins and combines the two, which, while recognizing and enjoying the unique qualities of each, produces a strong and dynamic whole that is greater than the individual parts. 

QUESTION?

The question we are left with, as finite and limited beings, is how do we actually become united with an infinite, transcendent and almighty God? Our Creator is not a dictator or tyrant that subjugates His people and demands unity. He is a loving Father that longs for us to love Him in return and to become intimately united with Him. Our souls, our spirits, also constantly yearn for this union and are the means whereby we can see His light and gain a vision of who He is and who we are, and how the formation of the third dimension of relationship between us is possible. 

We may make the comparison of God as a teacher: “Behold, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him?”  and see ourselves as His students. The teacher has a far greater intellect and understanding than the students. He, or she, therefore, simplifies the concepts in his, or her, mind and communicates them in a language that the students will comprehend. Such is the Word God gave us. It has a simple, surface meaning, but as we learn He guides us and teaches us the more profound and esoteric meanings of its multi-dimensional layers. Gradually, we receive deeper understanding and a clearer perspective of God Himself and we can draw closer and closer to Him. Similarly, when two people take the time and make the effort to get to know each other more intimately, so their love and unity will grow and deepen. 

As we grow in our relationship and unity with our Father in Heaven we realize that our purpose, as His beloved children, is to emulate Him and to reflect His light into the world. We are to love, be gracious and kind, as He is loving and gracious and kind. Our minds and words can share His wisdom and truth. All we do to “our neighbor” is a means to reveal His light and truth. We cannot afford to be cynical and selfish, and complacent in our own little world. Our thoughts and actions really matter, and other people really matter! Every life is vital and important in the eyes of God.  With that vision in mind we can discover true unity between body and soul, between one person and anther, and between ourselves and our Creator God. 

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

Keep Climbing! LIVE – CHESHVAN (8th Hebrew month)

CHESHVAN

COMPASSION AND  FLEXIBILITY

Verse:   “When he cries out to Me, I will hear for I am compassionate.” ~ Exodus 22:26

Quote:  

“It’s easy to judge. It’s more difficult to understand. Understanding requires compassion, patience, and a willingness to believe that good hearts sometimes choose poor methods. Through judging we separate.  Through understanding we grow.”

 ~ Doe Zantamata

The greatness and goodness of God are made evident in that He hears even the unheard cries and responds in compassion – rachamim. This is illustrated in how He heard the cry of the Israelite slaves in Egypt, which resulted in their deliverance. Also, in Genesis 21:17, we read how Hagar and Ishmael had been driven out into the wilderness. They had run out of water and the boy, Ishmael, cried as he was dying of thirst. Suddenly an angel messenger appeared and told Hagar, ‘Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying” and he then revealed a well of water to her.

In his commentary on this passage, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that hearing is the basis of both justice and compassion. When King Solomon was asked regarding the gift he would like to receive from God he answered: “Grant Your servant a listening heart to govern Your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (1 Kings 3:19).

Rabbi Sacks quotes a Hassidic leader of the 1800’s, Rabbi Jacob Leiner, who wrote: “Hearing has a greater power than seeing. Sight discloses the external aspect of things, but hearing reveals their inwardness.” 

On my first visit to Israel, in a group of five women friends, I remember our meeting with a woman in Jerusalem who was blind from birth. As we spent time with her, I was astounded at how she was able to discern inner aspects of each of us without any of us actually sharing any personal information! I understood that she didn’t need to work through the facade of the external layers of personality we all have. She could “see” straight into the inner person, simply by being able to discern so much more of the subtleties in what she heard.

The central prayer in Judaism is the Shema. We are told in Deuteronomy 27:9, “Be silent, Israel, and listen!” We traditionally cover our eyes when we say the Shema to restrict the sense of sight in order to Shema – hear more intently. In the West we gain “insight” and usually say, “I see!” to denote understanding. In Hebrew we say, “Ani shome’a!”  – “I hear you!”

Rabbi Sacks also points out that the word Shema occurs 92 times in the book of Deuteronomy alone and how there is no word in Hebrew for ‘obey.’ God is not a tyrant over His people but rather a loving Father and teacher of those who respond to His will because they love Him. The people of God are simply enjoined to “Shema” – to listen intently, to understand, to internalize, and to respond to His Word and will in thought, word, and deed. God does not want “blind” fear-based obedience but rather our voluntary love-based partnership and cooperation. In love we are called to imitate Him – to reflect His light of truth, love, and compassion into the world, as did our Master and Messiah Yeshua.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Messiah —by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Messiah Yeshua.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)

COMPASSION IN BALANCE

         Disinterest   <——————— Compassion ———————>      Sentimentality

          Injustice                         Healthy benevolence                            Unwise tolerance

          Cruelty                          Chessed / loving-kindness                          Suffering

    As we see, healthy compassion brings more fairness and flexibility to justice.

JONAH – An Illustration of Justice and Compassion

In her book Return – Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe, Erica Brown highlights how the true struggle in the book of Jonah, which is read on Yom Kippur, is “the battle between justice and compassion.” Jonah clearly depicts the one who has turned away from God’s command and is running from the calling on his life. In the Hebrew text the word yored – to ‘descend,’ is used repeatedly as Jonah sinks lower and lower in his attempt to run from God. First he leaves his home in the hills around Nazareth and goes down to the coastal port of Jaffa. There he boards a ship and descends to the lowest area where he falls into a deep sleep. A raging storm arises and even this does not wake the sleeping prophet. The captain wakes him and in amazement asks: “How can you be sleeping so soundly?” This sleep reflects the spiritual state of one who is far from God; one whom the blasts of the shofar during Elul and Rosh HaShana attempt to awaken.

As we know Jonah’s next descent is into the billows of the sea when he suggest the sailors throw him overboard and they reluctantly comply. Immediately the storm subsides and Erica Brown points out: “The sailors then offered sacrifices to Jonah’s God, fearing Him in a way that Jonah [absorbed in his self-pity] did not!”  Only now, facing the certainty of death as he sinks to the depths of the sea, does Jonah cry out to God, “Will I never gaze again upon Your Holy Temple?” (2:5). God exhibits His mercy and compassion and Jonah is swallowed by a “big fish” that spits him up on the shore in the vicinity of Nineveh! Jonah finally understands, albeit with great reluctance, that he must complete his mission and be the first prophet to prophesy outside of Israel, and to a nation that historically was and would be an enemy to Israel.

On hearing Jonah’s message of the impending destruction of Nineveh, the king expresses a hope in the compassion of God and declares a city-wide fast saying: “Who knows but that God may turn and relent?” (3:9). Jonah, on the other and, remains trapped in a black-and-white mindset of strict justice. He hopes that justice will prevail and that destruction will come! He sets ups a booth outside the city where he waits and watches. God causes a kikayon plant to spring up next to the booth that provides welcome shade for Jonah. For the first time he expresses happiness! To him it’s a sign of God’s care and provision for him. When it suddenly dies he is so distraught he wants to die. God, however, is wanting to teach him a vital lesson. 

And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (4:10-11)

Erica Brown concludes: “Jonah wanted pity, mercy, nurturing and protection – all aspects of the love and care we receive from others. Yet he could not extend that gift of mercy to others.” God wanted to show Jonah that true authority lies in balancing justice and compassion. The ideal prophet – one who speaks for the Lord, wants to care for and encourage  people more than to criticize them. 

The book ends with a question and we are left to surmise whether Jonah would learn and repent, or not. The question challenges us too!
Do we doubt God’s call on our lives and hesitate to do what we know we should?
* Do we judge and criticize others when we should be extending care and compassion?
* Are we filled with self-pity when facing tough challenges?
Jonah shows how there is no room for repentance – teshuvah – turning back to God, and to experience constructive, pro-active change, when we feel sorry for ourselves. 

As we press forward on our spiritual climb, and in an attempt to imitate our faithful and loving Father God and to reflect His image in the world, we need to have a deep well of compassion in our hearts. The Torah constantly emphasizes the importance of being compassionate to the poor, to widows and orphans, and to others in need. The Sages of Israel consider compassion for others as so vital that they say that anyone who is not compassionate is certainly not a descendant of our father Abraham!

FLEXIBILITY

Another lesson we can learn from Jonah is that compassion helps one remain flexible and adaptable. Healthy adaptability is the ability to accept change and unpredictability, while also knowing when to remain constant. It requires finding the balance between being unstable and too changeable, what Alan Mornings calls a “dizzy chameleon” and being rigid, unbending and frustrated. A healthy balance will help us deal with any situation requiring change positively and will lead to success. 

Five steps that help provide adaptability:

  1. Be flexible and realize that “My way is not the only way!”
  2. Focus on the big picture. Don’t get bogged down in the details.
  3. Keep a positive attitude.
  4. Pray for strength and wisdom. “Abba, please either lighten the load or strengthen my shoulders.”
  5. Ask for help! Don’t feel you need to “go it alone” if there are those who are in a position to give assistance.

ACTS OF COMPASSION

Exodus 34:6- lists the attributes of God, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness – rav chessed – ‘abundant in lovingkindness’ and truth.” In our desire to imitate His goodness, we can learn from this that God generously showers goodness on all, even those who may not deserve it. We need to aim to extend compassion and kindness even if we know we will receive nothing in return. 

Alan Morinis, in Everyday Holiness, describes true acts of compassionate kindness.

 * Don’t worry about loving the poor; your job is to feed and clothe them.

 * If people you know are ailing in any way, don’t only think about them or pray for   them – take your time to go and visit them [if possible. Or send them a tangible token of your care].

* Offer your comfort to the bereaved in a house of mourning.

He also points out that burying the dead is the greatest example of true chessed as a corpse is unable to do anything for itself and cannot reciprocate the kindness.

The best acts of kindness and compassion are done when we expect nothing in return. 

********************************

MAY WE…                        BE the person who cares
                                        BE the person who makes an effort,
                                        who loves without hesitation
                                        BE the person who makes others feel seen and heard.

              There is nothing stronger than someone who continues to stay soft
                                        in a hard and uncaring world.
 

Keep Climbing! LIVE – TISHREI (7th Hebrew Month)

TISHREI

ENTHUSIASM AND  CONFIDENCE

Verse:

“I hurried – did not delay – to keep your commandments.” 

~ King David, Psalm 119:60

Quote:

The fact that one is not lazy does not mean that he has acquired enthusiasm. 

          ~ Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky (1911 – 2000)

A characteristic of the trait of enthusiasm is energy – in Ezekiel’s vision the angels “darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning” (1:14) so quick were they to do the will of God. This is echoed in Psalm 103:20, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do His word, obeying the voice of His word!” Other characteristics are: positive action, a sense of urgency, zealousness, motivation, a passion fuelled by inspiration.  It can be described as an inspired zeal to take positive action for the purposes of doing the will of our Father in Heaven. 

In studying the lives of those who have been an inspiration in my life, mostly authors and artists, I have come across a consistent factor woven like a sparkling thread in the accounts of their lives. The common denominator is how their confidence, motivation, and enthusiasm to pursue their goals, was fuelled by encouragement. Whether it was from parents, teachers, peers, or a significant mentor, all express the influence that words of encouragement played in building their confidence and pressing them to persevere and make progress in their particular field and purpose. For example, prolific Jewish author and teacher, Chana Weisberg, expresses in the Acknowledgements of her great book on women, Tending the Garden: 

 “To the readers of my columns…to my students, and the participants at my lectures – for all your feedback, encouragement, questions, and challenges, which undoubtedly helped me to clarify these ideas and insights.  To my beloved father…for your constant encouragement through all of life’s ups and downs.”

This does not mean one must depend on this encouragement from others. Indeed, many artists faced much rejection from their audiences. We can think of the renowned Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, who struggled with acceptance by the public all his life. Yet his brother stood with him and never failed to give encouragement and support. Even one voice of sincere and well-intentioned encouragement helps fan the flame of enthusiasm and can boost one’s confidence to keep persevering.

ENTHUSIASTIC POSITIVE ACTION

The Hebrew word for enthusiasm, zerizut, usually is translated in the Scriptures as “alacrity.” The prime example of this is our forefather Abraham. We read how even when he faced his most difficult test of faith, when God told him to take his beloved son, Isaac, to “one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” and to offer him there as a sacrifice, Abraham, as always, hurried to obey – no questions asked. He responded with alacrity to make preparations, and then, “…Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac” (Genesis 22:2-3).  Abraham knew God had spoken and his faith in His character enabled him to bypass his natural thoughts and fears and to act with alacrity to obey. After Abraham passed the test, God reaffirms His promise to him: “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (22:18).

This account highlights the fact that one’s enthusiasm does not need to be fuelled by happy, pleasant feelings. At times “enthusiastic action” must be taken even if it’s a challenge and not comfortable to do so. It may entail moving out from one’s “comfort zone”! 

We may consider a further occasion in the story of Abraham. He has sent his servant Eliezer to his family’s home in Haran to find a wife for Isaac. When he stops with his camels at a well on the outskirts of town, Eliezer prays fervently that God will help him in this important task and to show favor and chessed  to Abraham after the death of his wife Sarah. No sooner had he stopped praying than Rebecca appeared with her water jar on her shoulder. But, he had prayed for a sign that she was of the character of Abraham. Sure enough, as he hurries to meet her with a request for water, she is quick to serve. She serves him water and hurries to water the camels too – she quickly lowers the jar, and quickly empties it and runs back to the well. She later offers accommodation and reveals that she is one of Abraham’s family. All Eliezer can do is to “…bow down and worship the Lord” (24:26).

THE DAY IS SHORT…

A well known verse from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) accredited to Rabbi Tarphon, says: “The day is short, the work formidable, the workers lazy, and the Boss impatient” (2:15). Mussar teacher, Alan Morinis, in his book Everyday Holiness, explains that there is a fire deep within us that powers our desire to take action. When the fire [enthusiasm] rages strong, we are productive, confident, bold, even zealous in living. But there are times when the flame can be dampened by confusion, exhaustion, or laziness. When we take time to reflect and and repent and clarify our goals and priorities and dedicate them to good, this will stoke the fire of enthusiasm in our hearts.

A danger however is hinted at in our quote for the month. “The fact that one is not lazy does not mean that he has acquired enthusiasm.”  A person can be very energetic but all his activity can be stirred by negative motivations and he can rush ahead in the wrong direction. Alan Morinis describes the “modern curse of frantic rushing” as a kind of “headless enthusiasm.” Proverbs 21:5 tells us, “The thoughts of the [mindlessly] zealous are superfluous and those who are [unduly] hasty reap only loss.” Frantic busyness and rash actions are just as detrimental to true productive enthusiasm as slothful laziness is. As Morinis sums up, “Proper, positive, balanced enthusiasm is action done with a full throttle once review, consideration, and decision have set you on the right course.”

ENTHUSIASM IN BALANCE

      Laziness <———————- Enthusiasm ———————->  Frantic busyness

      Disinterest                            Healthy Energy                               Recklessness

      Sluggishness                          Passion                                        Unhealthy zeal

      Inertia                                    Godly Motivation                            Heedlessness            

All we do is enhanced when done with awareness, liveliness, and enthusiasm. This applies in all facets of life and particularly in one’s spiritual walk. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe points out that a mitzvah – a good deed done in obedience to God’s commandments – “if delayed or done unenthusiastically is not a mitzvah that might go wrong, but one that has already gone wrong.” Of course we don’t please our Father’s heart by lazily drifting through life with no passion for living, but neither do we please Him by obeying His will and purposes unwillingly or half-heartedly, or by doing something just by rote with an attitude of boredom.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his classic work The Path of the Just agrees that the direct opposite of enthusiasm is laziness. Laziness deflates enthusiasm and keeps us stuck in circumstances like a bud with all its potential remaining frozen on a limb. Laziness makes us “heavy.”  He attributes an inclination to laziness to the fact that if we were pure, spiritual beings, we’d naturally be light and active, but because we live in bodies, we are tied to the physical world and the force of gravity pulls us down. He points out, however, that it is up to us to succumb to heaviness or not, “If you abandon yourself to this ‘heaviness’ you will not succeed in your quest.”

OTHER DANGERS!

Rationalization is a powerful deterrent to positive, enthusiastic action. The Alter Rabbi of Novaradok wrote a list of ambitions a person could have, followed by if only!    

I’d give so much to charity, if only I were wealthy.
I’d study and learn so much, if only I were smarter.
I’d be so helpful to my friends, if only I were stronger.

We can devise brilliant excuses for not accomplishing some task and doing some good! We can always find endless rationales that will prevent us from from making a final decision to take action. Then the opportunity passes by and, due to one’s hesitation and procrastination, the benefits are lost. 

Rabbi Moshe Luzzatto also makes a point that our lives and godly enthusiasm can become “dulled by the world.”  A flood of material goods, comforts and pleasures  is available to one today that could only have been dreamed about in years past. Luzzatto describes the danger: “The relentless, almost addictive, pursuit of nifty things, comfort, and relaxation is a mainstay of our civilisation [and cannot provide] a satisfying spiritual life.” Alan Morinis adds: “The pursuit of comforts and pleasures depletes spiritual energy simply because we have only so much energy in our lives.” 

A final danger listed by Rabbi Luzzatto is Anxiety. Worry and fretting also deplete spiritual energy. He says that, in fact, anxiety is often what underlies other things we do that sap our enthusiasm. There are, of course, certain issues we need to be concerned about, like the conditions in the world, and things we have responsibility for and have control over. Often, however, we can suffer from a generalized state of anxiety that can fill us with apprehension over things that we cannot control. It can be the weather, one’s general health, possible accidents, always asking “what if?” To one with a “worried mind” there is no shortage of real or imagined things to fret over! This way of seeing the world keeps us from the truth and freedom of faith and trust in the higher power of our Creator. 

GRATITUDE!

The answer to a state of anxiety or fear is gratitude! Recognizing God’s loving role in our lives helps us counter any anxiety and enables us to shelter under His Wings of protection and find true Shalom. With faith, and the help of God and the power of the Ruach HaKodesh to strengthen and encourage us in every righteous choice we make, we can be encouraged and filled with holy enthusiasm and go forward in full confidence! 

To conclude: Once again we are encouraged by Rabbi Luzzatto that the one soul trait that will deliver up more energy and fewer hindrances to our enthusiasm and moving in the direction of holiness is “…waking up to the the very many good things that the Holy One, Blessed be He does for you moment by moment” – in other words, to be constantly practicing gratitude.

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and HIs lovingkindness endures forever! “
(Psalm 16:34)

~ Keren Hannah

Keep Climbing! LIVE – ELUL (6th Hebrew Month)

ELUL

REPENTANCE AND SILENCE

Verse:

A person’s wisdom makes their face shine, and the hardness of their face is                  changed.  (Ecclesiastes 8:1b)

Quote:

Every sin obstructs the presence of mind required to attain illumination. Teshuvah opens the doorways of understanding, just as teshuvah comes about by means of understanding. 

~ Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook

Elul is a month of teshuvah – commonly translated as ‘repentance’ but the root of the word shuv means ‘return.’ So, I like to think of it as a month of ‘returning’ – a returning of our focus in greater awareness to the truth and promise of the Word of God; a returning of our hearts to a closer relationship with our Father in Heaven; a returning of our minds to the path of our Messiah Yeshua; a returning of our souls to a deeper understanding of our identity and purpose as sons and daughters in the family of God. 

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, as Chief Rabbi, witnessed the birthing of pre-state Israel and understood that the restoration of the Land, and of His people to it, was the work of God in unfolding His plan of Redemption both for Israel and for the whole world. A central theme of Rav Kook’s teaching was that of teshuvah. 

He emphasized that repentance was a major theme in the Torah and in life, and highlighted the paradox that, on one hand, repentance is very easy because, as the Sages say, “Even a fleeting thought of teshuvah is already considered teshuvah.” Even a flicker of genuine desire to repent of a sin or weakness is already a step of teshuvah. A turn in the right direction. On the other hand, repentance is very difficult because “…it is never completely materialized in this world.” No human being can reach the pinnacle of perfection and claim to be one-hundred-per-cent holy while still living in Olam HaZeh – this present and imperfect world. And yet, it is something we must constantly be aspiring towards. We need to be aware of the need and have a true desire to purify our character traits, our thoughts, and our actions.

This should not, however, be undertaken in a negative and self-critical way, but with a sincere longing to please and delight our Creator – our loving Father in Heaven. In fact, the more one understands and practices true teshuvah, the more one’s inner life becomes refined and reflects His light. One’s emunah, faith, becomes strengthened and a deeper level of joy and Shalom – true inner peace, is enjoyed.

As a result, all we do in our work, in creative endeavors, and in our relationships, can be approached, as Rav Kook beautifully describes, “…from one’s pure and powerful soul that is filled with a holy song.”  A song of gratitude and wonder at the splendid glory of God.

TIKKUN NEFESH AND TIKKUN OLAM

“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:6-8)

All our beliefs and actions lead us to a particular path and destination. God has laid out His holy and pleasant path in His Word. He has given us the directions, the living expression and example in His Son and Messiah, and the constant guidance of the Ruach HaKodesh – the Spirit of Holiness. It is only as we learn, through the the “washing of the Word,” that we gain a clearer and more enlightened understanding of the character fo God Himself and a greater knowledge of His ways. And, thereby, we begin to achieve spiritual purification – clarity of mind, ethical enlightenment, and purity of soul.

This purification of self is called Tikkun Nefesh – healing of the soul, and it is vital in order for us to partner with God in His great purpose of the healing of the world – Tikkun Olam. Full perfection in these areas, both personal and universal, will not be achieved in one’s lifetime or historically, until Messiah returns as King of kings and fully establishes the Father’s Kingdom on earth. This does not mean, however, that we should not be doing our part here and now in working towards the final goal. The essence of both – our selves and the universe, is the great potential of never-ending growth and becoming. If there was no imperfection, there would be no possibility of constant growth and increased blessing. Only the Creator of all Himself is infinite perfection and we and all Creation will need eternity, and the magnificent power of unfolding potential, to become more and more of who He created us to be as His those created in His image.

That is a glorious goal, but how does it affect our “here and now” daily life, while we are on the journey towards the goal? Sometimes we may get frustrated and feel we are not getting anywhere and will try to speed things up! A word of advice from the sages: “A person should not take rushed steps!” (Brachot 59a).”Baby steps” are important, and each and every small step has a profound effect in bringing us to a greater level of holiness and wholeness. 

The journey itself, of Tikkun Nefesh – the healing of our souls, is sacred and should be valued and treasured. With that understanding we can find satisfaction in each step we take. Then, even our physical movements will become relaxed and unrushed as we slowly but surely become a little more of our true self – the one our Abba Father created us to be.

TRUE SELF VS FALSE SELF

Only what is good and holy, on an individual and universal basis, has a connection with one’s soul, one’s inner spiritual being, and the source of true life. The unholy, particularly what is evil and impure, is only propelled by external means that prompt one to react physically or spiritually. The “true self” of the spirit is constantly yearning to connect with its Creator, and to taste the light of Love and Truth. Even immoral actions and bad habits are motivated by this desire. A case of “looking for love in all the wrong places!” When these means do not satisfy the thirst of the soul, it can cause anger and an increase in unhealthy behavior patterns in an attempt to numb the pain in one’s heart. How blessed is the one who, in seeking God, finds the true path and can lay down the heavy load of the “false self” and quench his/her spiritual thirst at the Source of living water!

Because we live in an imperfect world, as long as we’re alive we will endure an ongoing battle between our Good and Evil inclinations – called in Hebrew the Yetzer HaTov and Yetzer HaRa. The Yetzer HaRa attracts the eye to the attractions and distractions of the material world and fills the mind with negative thoughts and responses. For example, even after one turns to God and has a sincere desire to walk in His ways, discouraging thoughts can flood in of how far one has strayed from the path of holiness, causing one to feel ashamed and depressed. Condemnation and depression are not connected to the “true self” of the spirt and are an indication that the “false self” is being motivated to rise up. To counter the evil inclination one must set one’s heart on immersing oneself in the truth of God’s Word and in small actions of improvement. When we are passionate about growing little by little, while setting our face towards greater heights of holiness, the power of the Spirit will ignite a holy courage within – a light that will cause the evil inclination to flee, and will enable us to keep climbing to greater spiritual heights.

The ”ascent” is made surrounded by the Father’s love, following in the footsteps of our Shepherd-Messiah, and being constantly uplifted by the encouragement and enabling of the Ruach HaKodesh. It should be filled with times of quiet rest, allowing one’s soul to grow at its own pace on its sacred inner journey. When we fail and make mistakes we can understand that these are opportunities for learning and greater growth. Even being aware of our mistakes means we are growing. In fact, one can experience great joy in knowing that by doing teshuvah, which brings healing and transformation, one finds value and purpose in one’s mistakes, both present and past.

THE ROLE OF SILENCE

We pray that God may accept our call for help.

But we also pray that God, who knows what is hidden, 

may hear the silent cries of our souls.

~ Rabbi Uri of Strelisk (from In Speech and in Silence, by David J. Wolpe)

The ability to communicate through speech is the great gift that defines humans from animals and which reflects our being created in the image of God, who spoke the universe into being. Words, however, can be used to create and build up or to wound and break down.  David J. Wolpe describes the positive aspect of words:

There are words that soothe hurt, that help us understand loss. 

There are words to stir souls, capture and quicken imagination, 

words that give us wings.

Most words in everyday speech impart information. They can create empathy and closeness and they can also engender misunderstanding and distance. In many cases the wiser option is silence – a restraining of words. While silence cannot replace speech, it is the place from which speech emerges and to which it returns. Silence is the place of pondering and the formation of thoughts and concepts and the formulation of words in which to express them. After we exhaust ourselves with words, the silence abides, waiting for us to return to it; to still the cacophony of speech and sound in order to attune our ears to “the still small voice” of the spirit.

Once we appreciate the power of speech we can understand equally the power of silence. As with everything, the solution is in the balance, the golden paths of silence and of words when joined together in harmony will take us to the place of reflecting God’s Love and Truth in our words and in our silences.

~ Keren Hannah

DEUTERONOMY – A Bird’s Eye View

 

Enjoy an overview of the amazing final book of the Torah – Deuteronomy / Devarim – Words.

DEUTERONOMY – A BIRD’S EYE VIEW

Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Torah. It is a compilation of the last discourses given by Moses to the nation of Israel before his death, when they had reached the border of the Land of Israel.  The original Hebrew name of the book was Mishnei Torah, or Repetition of the Torah. Greek speaking Jews, in the Septuagint, translated it as Deuteronomian (literally meaning The Second Law), which then was adopted in Latin as Deuteronomium and into English as Deuteronomy. 

Later, the Hebrew name of a book, or Torah portion, was taken from words in the opening sentence of the book or parashah. In this case, the book begins, “Eleh ha’devarim”… These are the words.”

Moses’ first discourse summarizes the history of the nation during their 40 year journey through the wilderness on the way from Egypt to the Land G-d had promised their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the following two discourses, Moses predominantly presents the Israelites with guidance and instructions on how to live as the people of G-d after they were settled in the Land. Moshe knew, both rationally and through his wisdom and experience,  the many physical, cultural, and spiritual challenges the Israelites would be faced with while dwelling among the surrounding pagan nations. He also knew, prophetically, that they would be drawn into idolatry and fall away from God and His ways.

We can appreciate Moshe’s wisdom as a teacher. Repetition and revision are important tools in helping us to retain what we have learned. He also emphasizes the fact that the great, multi-dimensional truths of G-d’s Word constantly need to be learned anew, and that they always would yield deeper and richer insights. On closer inspection, while it is very practical and instructional for the daily life of the nation, we find that Devarim is the most prophetic of the 5 books of Torah. Much of Moses’ discourse is a distillation and a review of the previous teachings but 70% is new, because it applies to their future in the Land and highlights the bond between the people and the Land.  Interestingly, Devarim is the book most quoted by Yeshua.

JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

“First mention” is an important element in exegesis of the biblical text. The first subject Moses reviews is the appointment of judges. He explains the importance of instituting a legal system and the role of judges. He tells them, “And I commanded your judges at that time saying, ‘Hear disputes between your brothers and judge justly between a man and his brother…’ (1:16). The literal meaning of the word ‘justly’ is to make sure that the judgment is fair and honest.

In an article in the Jerusalem Post, entitled Compassion and Justice, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites in Jerusalem, points out an added interpretation of the word is “by compromise.” This added nuance is significant. It reveals that the judges should not base their decisions on absolute strict justice – the letter of the law set in stone, as it were. They should temper the argument, the case being presented, with rachamim – mercy, and attempt to encourage the litigants on both sides to give in a little – to soften their hearts and to compromise their demands.

Interestingly, particularly in the light of Tisha B’Av (9th Av), which is the fast day marking the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem, the Sages in the Talmud say that: “Jerusalem was destroyed because people there insisted on their rights based on the full letter of the law, and were not willing to be lenient.” (Tractate Baba Metzria, daf 30). Rabbi Rabinowitz highlights the fact that a person should rise above the natural position of demanding what he thinks he deserves. One’s attitude should be softer, more inclusive and compassionate. This trait of mercy is woven through the Word of G-d, because this is the correct way to live – the way that reflects our Father’s character and heart.  Justice is balanced with mercy. Thus we find the great themes of Devarim, just as through the whole Word of G-d, are justice, righteousness, and mercy. This is highlighted in the first haftarah (prophetic portion ) of Devarim. Isaiah 1:27, “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitent through righteousness.”

FINAL DAYS

Moses, at the time of  this delivery of his final series of teachings, was 120 years old. It took 36 days (from 1 Shevat to 6 Adar, the day of his death). The teachings and iteration of the Covenants G-d had made with His people fill the bulk of the book – chapters 1 – 30. The remainder of the book, chapters 31 -33, describe the last days of Moses, and his farewell address to the children of Israel. We are told that Moses’ “eyes were not dim” and his natural natural strength was unabated., but he says, “I am no longer able to go out and to come in” ( 31:32). He could no longer accompany them on their journey and enter the Land of Promise with them; but he encourages them and says; “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear nor be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your G-d who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you!” (31:6).

We hear a beautiful echo of this in the gospel of John (14:7) when Yeshua was addressing his disciples before going to his death, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. … Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” He was preparing them to go out into the gentile, pagan world to share his message of the Kingdom of G-d and the way of repentance and into relationship with the Father of all. He also adds, “I will never leave you nor forsake you but will be with you until the end of the age!” 

FAREWELL SONG OF PRAISE

Finally, in Devarim , the Lord exhorts Moses to write his farewell song and to teach it to the children of Israel. The song would be a testimony to the everlasting Presence and goodness of G-d and, when they went astray, it would remind them of His merciful gift of teshuvah – repentance, . They would always have the opportunity to repent of their ways and to return to their Father,  the G-d of Israel. In the penultimate parashah, Ha’azinu – Give Ear, (Ch. 32), Moses delivers his song to the Israelites on the last day of his life. It is an inspired poem of stirring beauty. His prophetic words describe the future destiny of G-d’s people. We realize that all history is the revelation and expression of our Father G-d’s love and care. The song opens with the appointment of heaven and earth as witnesses and guarantees of G-d’s everlasting covenant with Israel. “Give ear –ha’azinu, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear – tish’mah the word of my mouth.”

Next comes a glorious outburst of praise, describing the true character of G-d and His justice, faithfulness and pure righteousness.

“Ascribe greatness to our G-d the Rock; His work is perfect for all His ways are just. A   G-d of faithfulness, without iniquity; righteous and upright is He.” (32:3-4).

Sadly, the song also proclaims that the people would grow “fat and prosperous” and forsake and even scoff at G-d. They would become spiritually bent and corrupt and forsake the righteous ways of His Word. G-d, however, would remain faithful and the unchanging Rock of their Salvation. If they will return to Him in true repentance, He will always be there to lift them up and to straighten their crooked ways.  This truth of G-d’s unfailing love for His people is echoed by the prophet Hosea (14:1-2): “Return, O Israel, unto the Lord your G-d, for you have been stubborn because of your iniquity. Take with you WORDS (DEVARIM) and return to the Lord.”

Hosea points out that G-d does not want animal sacrifices, but longs to hear words of confession and repentance offered from sincere hearts. The prophet emphasizes the unbreakable 3-cord strand, the indelible connection, between the G-d of Israel and His Word, the children of Israel, and the land of Israel. Hosea confirms that when they turn from the idolatry of the work of their hands, the Lord promises to heal and restore the children of Israel. Then they will flourish in His love, and their Land will be healed. Once again it will produce grain and “blossom as the vine”. And Israel will become convinced that : “The ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them.” (14:9)

MOSES’ BLESSING

After the song, the Torah concludes in Ch. 33 with Moses’ blessing – in the final parashah Ve’zot Ha’bracha, which begins, “And this is the blessing with which Moses, the man of  G-d, blessed the people of Israel before his death.” Moses is about to set out on his final ascent. He goes alone to meet with his G-d, just as he did on Mount Sinai. He passes through the camp as a father taking leave of his children, and he blesses the various tribes. Finally, he raise his hands over the whole multitude for his last general blessing, one of great beauty, encouragement, and comfort. 

“There is none like G-d, O Israel, Who reads through the heavens to your help. The eternal G-d is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

As we conclude the Torah Cycle with the Festival of Simchat Torah, “The Joy of Torah,” we can celebrate Messiah Yeshua’s life as the Torah made flesh. The one who fulfilled all the just requirements of the Torah and was obedient to the Father’s will even unto the cursed death on a tree, so that all peoples of all the nations, through his, could have access to eternal and abundant life as children of the Father in the Kingdom of G-d. In his letter to believers in Rome, the apostle Paul highlights the mission of Yeshua to the world. In Romans 15:8-10, he describes how, Yeshua came as a suffering servant to Israel, those already in the covenant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: “To show G-d’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, AND in order that the gentiles might glorify G-d for His mercy.

As it is written: ‘Therefore I will praise You among the gentiles, and sing to Your Name.’ And again as it is said, ‘Rejoice, O gentiles, together with His people!” Amen! 

At the close of every book of Torah we proclaim: 

Chazak, Chazak, veNitchazek!

Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another!   

If you would like to  explore more in-depth commentary of Deuteronomy/Devarim,  you can order a copy of  A TASTE OF TORAH   at http://www.ffoz.org

INTERVIEW: Journey of the Soul – The Significance of the Biblical Calendar

In an interview with Karen Aviah Davis, who is co-founder with her husband Mike and the Chief Learning Officer, of The Centre for Christian Training and Development in California, Keren gives an overview and addresses the importance of getting in sync with the Hebrew-Bibilcal Calendar. 

In this pre-recorded webinar with Keren Hannah Golan – Pryor, you will learn about the Hebrew Biblical Calendar and it’s significance for us today.

https://vimeo.com/349513381

Keep Climbing! LIVE – TAMMUZ (4th Hebrew Month)

FaceBook Live – July 2019

TAMMUZ

PERSPECTIVE AND UNDERSTANDING

Verse:  

“Choose life, that you and your offspring may live,  loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days.”    (Deut. 30:19-20)

Quote:   Choose Life! 

“Choose action, not rest. Choose truth, not fantasy. Choose a smile, not a frown.”
~ Jim Rohn

One constant element in life is change! Change occurs in predictable patterns, e.g., sunrise and sunset, the seasons, birth – childhood – ageing – death. The patterns are there but the variables are different. No day is exactly the same, seasons vary, each life is unique and different. A life pattern is the same, but environments can be radically different and circumstances constantly change. What affects our responses to our life-circumstances  is our perspective and understanding of the circumstances, and even of life itself. The perspective we have of any particular issue or situation affects the choices we make, and our choices determine the outcomes and the results  we will have. Obviously, therefore, it is of vital importance to gain a clear and accurate perspective or view, and have a clear understanding of it, and of life in general! This is not always easy. 

Our initial perspective is shaped by the environment we are born into and the values and beliefs impressed upon us by our family, society, education system, and nation. Imagine a child born into an Ultra-Orthodox religious home, or into a godless Communist system, or a radical terror-based Islamic community, or a materialistic, hedonistic society, etc., etc., etc. That child is deeply affected by the view of life imparted to it. If the general perspective imparted is false, or dangerously distorted, what hope is there for that child? Sadly, humanly speaking, very little. A great lesson we learn from Nature is what we sow, that will we reap. If hatred, falsehood, and violence are sown – that will be reaped. If love, truth, and kindness are sown, that will be reaped. Man has the choice of the seed he will sow. The crops reaped will either be life or death. Our verse this month highlights the exhortation to “Choose Life!”  True life is found in the Giver of Life, our Creator, and He has outlined the way to life in the truth of His unchanging, eternal Word.

IN HIS IMAGE

What is the hope for every child? The one hope is found in its God-breathed soul – or spirit. In the deepest essence that is the true “being” of every person created by God in His image. Only humans have the deep inner capacity of free will and a spirit that yearns to be united with the Source of its existence. It is one’s spirit that cannot be satisfied with any worldly form or perspective of life other than that which its Creator God intended. That is a radiant life of truth, love, and joy in close relationship with Him, and which only can be found in Him!

When one’s spirit ones to be united with its Source, it prompts a person to seek for truth, to find the knowledge and understanding that feeds it and nourishes and refreshes it. God always, in His great love for each one, places ways and means for His truth to be found and grasped. The hungry soul knows and responds when it comes across this truth and can joyfully draw closer to its Father God. 

FAMILIARITY

What happens when we are blessed enough to find and know the One God and discover the good news that His Son and Messiah, Yeshua, has paid the price and made the way to the Father for all?  As we are told:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). And as Yeshua said, emphasizing the importance of the Word and will of God in an astonishing proclamation: “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50). 

There is an unfortunate, only too human, pattern we can fall into….one of familiarity. We start taking things for granted – including our relationship with Him. It, sadly, can happen in our human relationships too. Without the discipline of remembering the value inherent in the relationship and paying constant, daily, attention to our role in it, we start taking things for granted. We let things slide, we lose our curiosity and interest and stop learning and growing. Instead of choosing life, we let things become stale and slowly the relationship wilts away and can eventually die.  We can suffer the consequences of neglect, self-pity, distorted perceptions and lack of direction or we can allow the potential our Father has placed within each one of us to blossom through self-discipline and clarity of direction. 

What is of great importance, and influences the choices we make, is our perspective of Self. What could we be taking for granted about ourselves? Do we have a clear and true perspective of who we truly are? Often we may realise that we are not fulfilling our greatest potential, or developing our God-given gifts to their fullest extent. I don’t believe, in this lifetime, we are actually capable of doing that…so, that means we should be constantly growing, aiming higher, becoming more of the person God created us to be and reflecting more of His image, and life, and light into the world. We cannot become satisfied that we have “done it all” or, on the other hand, believe that “nothing can be done – this is how I am!” We need to be constantly aware of the great potential our Father has deposited into each of HIs children and be working with Him to realize that potential more and more. 

Why? Because this is in accord with His will and plan. In any area we need to, we can choose to bring positive change and growth. When we make a determined choice, and trust for His help and strength, it will be there and it will happen. We cannot do it in our own strength but understand, as a teacher of mine once said, in effect, that: “The power of the Holy Spirit is behind every righteous choice we make in order to help us perform it!” 

We have to play our part, however, and this requires self-discipline.

STRESS?

Growth is a natural God-ordained process and should, therefore, not be stressful. 

Stress is a huge “fall-out” of our Western, modern, fast-paced lifestyle that places increased focus on working the hardest, being the greatest, aiming to reach unattainable goals – to “crunch” every situation! As a result, American Health records show that:

  • 1 in 5 Americans experience a mental health problem every year.
  • 6.9% of adults suffer major debilitating depression
  • 18.1% have anxiety disorders
  • 64% of adults feel stressed by work and/or money
  • 74% said they had a physical and emotional problem and symptom due to stress in the previous month.
  • 91% !! of Generation Z’ers (ages 15 – 21) said they had experienced symptoms of stress-related problems the previous month!

In fact, across the world the leading cause of disability is depression! 

The more we become aware of the reality of who we are created to be, as a child of God, the more clear our perspective and understanding of life can become and the more we will achieve a balanced sense of well-being. We will be more able to cope with the normal stresses of life. We will begin to realise our potential and fulfilment in work more productively and fruitfully,  in whatever He has called us to do.

And, as a result, we will be more effective and make a greater contribution to Tikkun  Olam – the healing and restoration of the world. When we choose life – His life, we can, with His love and help, shine more of His light of truth and brightness into this beautiful but hurting and hungry world.

~ Keren Hannah

Keep Climbing! LIVE – SIVAN (3rd Hebrew Month)

FaceBook LIVE – 12 June 2019.  

SIVAN – PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE

Shalom dear fellow sojourner!

IF… you enjoy this study of Mussar, which is the practice, with the Lord’s help, of purifying one’s heart and strengthening one’s character in order to glorify God, by allowing more of His light and truth to shine through us in order to effect Tikkun Olam – a bringing of more healing and wholeness to the world…

THEN… you can join our ‘upward climbing’ community and receive more in-depth teachings and sharing in 3 easy steps:

(1) Sign up to receive Notes and Weekly and Monthly Pages directly into your Inbox at:

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Hope you will join us!

With love and humble thanks,

Keren Hannah

 

 

 

 

 

 

PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE

One of the first Hebrew words I needed to put into practice in Israel was savlanut – patience. There is much honking of horns in Israel (in fact whole conversations are engaged in by means of honking!), a trait that exhibits impatience on the roads. Also, boarding a bus can be a battle of elbows, and standing in line becomes a battle of wills, etc., etc! Certainly a good training ground for patience. 

As the saying goes, “Patience is a virtue,” and is one we should aspire to cultivate with all our hearts. Why? Because, it not only benefits those around us but we also reap the rewards of both inner and outer peace. Many frustrating and challenging situations can rise up and confront us day by day. Sometimes it’s in small things, e.g., you’re in a rush to get somewhere and suddenly you realize that your car keys are not in their usual place. Each minute you search for them seems like an hour. All the awful repercussions of not finding them fill your mind in a tsunami of anxiety! Or maybe you have your schedule neatly planned for the day and you find yourself waiting to complete a transaction at the bank, or Post Office, or supermarket, wherever, and you realize there’s a holdup in the long line ahead of you with a picky customer and you are facing an extended delay! 

Then there also are the bigger situations – for example, waiting at an airport to board a plane on your way to an important destination and an unexpected long delay is announced; or, maybe worse, you already are out on the runway and a technical hitch causes the plane to sit there for hours, sometimes with no service or air-conditioning.

When we find ourselves in difficult situations we did not choose and cannot control, our greatest tool for persevering through the challenge is patience. Another word for patience is long-suffering; meaning you are able to suffer the situation for an extended time and remain calm, peaceful, and level-headed. A good practice to remember if/when you find yourself in a testing situation and are forced to wait, is to avoid getting caught in negative reactivity and instead to fill the time with positive activity.  Don’t simply stew over the situation, stop and take a few deep breaths. Sometimes just remembering to slow down and focus on your breathing does wonders. Take the delay time as an opportunity to rest and simply observe the details around you. In the headlong rush through our days we often do not take time to stop and “smell the roses.” You can also take the time to think over something you have been learning; or to just hum a tune!

If we give in to impatience it usually does not resolve the situation any faster or better. On the contrary, extended impatience invariably leads to anger and even rage and, if you cannot control the anger it can spiral out of control and can cause real damage to others as well as to yourself. 

“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute.”
(Proverbs 15:18)

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin says: “Woe to the pampered one who has never been trained to be patient. Either today or in the future he/she is destined to sip from the cup of affliction.”  (from Cheshbon ha’Nefesh – Accounting of the Soul)

PATIENCE IN BALANCE

As usual, with every middah, we need to be very aware of balance. We know the negative effects of impatience and acting too hastily, but simply to wait passively and fail to take action can be just as great an obstacle – physically and spiritually. 

Frustration  <—————————Patience———————————>  Apathy

Aggravation                                   Peace                                               Indifference

Anger/rage                                     Calm                                                Passivity

Impatient people rationalize their reactions by blaming external causes. Those who fail to respond or take action call their passivity “patience”!      

True patience is about taking responsibility. Being responsible for our emotions, for our responses to a situation, and for the actions we take. Then we will be able to calmly assess the situation and decide on what action to take.  It always is a good opportunity to pray and to wait on the Lord for a solution. 

I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40:1)    

We find a great biblical example of patience in the prophets. Consider their plight: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zechariah, etc., etc., all had clear visions either regarding the present or future. They knew  they would never see their prophecies materialize in their lifetime.  Also, the exhortations they had  to deliver were, more often than not, rejected by the people and the corrupt leaders of the time. And yet they persevered, with long-suffering, knowing that the One who had called and spoken was faithful and true.

Consider other biblical figures – Jacob and Joseph, who could not act upon their visions and dreams but had to “store them in their heart” and not speak of them . Rather they patiently trusted HaShem to bring them to pass in His perfect way and timing. The same applies to Miriam, mother of Yeshua, and also to Joseph, who knew the truth and reality of the birth, calling, and purpose of Yeshua and yet they, too, needed to store the knowledge in their hearts and in faith wait upon God to unfold His eternal purposes.

PATIENCE AND HUMILITY

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

(Ephesians 4:2)

We see here a connection between patience and humility. Impatience and anger are a sign of pride;  A concern that one’s ‘Self’ is not getting what it wants or deserves.The Ego loudly insists: “I” am being delayed!  “My” plan is being interrupted!  “I” don’t need this!  The others concerned are not important. Instead, when all is not going your way, it helps to imagine yourself in the place of the other person – the store clerk, the other driver on the road, etc.. Steady yourself and stay calm, friendly, and encouraging. Persevere with your own burden and attempt to lighten theirs.

THE FRUIT OF GOOD MIDDOT / CHARACTER TRAITS

In the parable of the sower in Luke 8:15, Yeshua makes a connection with truly hearing the Word of God, then storing it in a heart that is honest and good from where, with patience and perseverance, the fruit of the spirit will grow. 

To produce the fruit of good character traits, middot, in our lives is the central aim of Mussar – the aim that spurs us on to Keep Climbing! To constantly be growing and learning and becoming more holy and more whole. For what purpose? In order that slowly but surely, baby step after baby step, we will be removing any blockages that have accumulated (such as bad habits, tendencies and imbalances) and prevent the radiance in our soul from shining forth into the world, in a reflection of our Father’s glory. 

Yeshua emphasised that this glory, this fruit, can only grow in an honest and good heart. A clean and pure heart is one that has been circumcised. 

“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn/stiffnecked.” (Deut. 10:16)

‘Heart’ is a word that is central to all Mussar teachings. In his book Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, Henry Morinis describes his Mussar teacher Rabbi Yechiel Perr’s definition of the ‘foreskin of the heart’: “Callousness we would call it today – not allowing feelings to penetrate, not allowing oneself to be soft, to have pity. The lev (heart) represents the deeper feelings where the intellect and emotions blend.”

When our intellect and emotions are in balance they can work and abide together harmoniously in our center – our heart. Hearts can get hardened, or blocked up, by layer after layer of reactions to negative experiences, in order to form a protective shell that surrounds and walls off a heart in order to prevent further hurt and pain. Then, as Morinis explains, the pure light of the soul cannot shine through. People who never succeed in peeling off those layers and opening their hearts “…leave their sweetest [and true] self imprisoned behind that wall.”

The Liminal Space of Gaining Perspective – Raynna Meyers

The Liminal Space of Seeking and Gaining Perspective

What is a day, a moment, a word, a detail, a singular person, thought, action? What if I permitted it weight in my mind, see it for what it is, rather than my own estimation? What if I look at it through another’s eyes, to see it new through my own—another step away in order to come nearer?

When I began this writing it was the 5th of Tevet, 5779, according to the Hebrew calendar, and December 12, 2018 according to the Gregorian calendar. Sometimes I have found I am able to get a better grasp on something when I come to it from an unfamiliar angle. Sometimes I have to walk away and then return to clearly see a thing in front of me.

Photo – Raynna Myers

Some time ago, in hope to hold and redeem days, with the help of teachers, I began to count days in a way that was beyond me – by the lunisolar year of the Biblical calendar. I did the same with the Hebrew Tanakh, more often called the Old Testament. I wanted to hear and see the words not only in English but also in Hebrew. It’s been a slow and long journey learning a new language, but I still can remember the first step. It was meaningful and so I kept taking the next step because it only became more meaningful. Every new step further away, became another step closer.

שיר השירים אשר לשלמה

The above Hebrew verse reads, Shir hashirim asher le Shlomo, “The song of songs, which is Solomon’s,” from Song of Songs 1:1.

It’s a short line and it keeps occurring to me lately how I want to minimize every short or small part of life to be even more minuscule than it already is. To stand in the tension of allowing a thing—a day, a moment, a word, a detail—to be what. it. is. small…but here and now, it can also become large, significant, worthy to be with. Something to be present to, to nurture, to look in the eyes of, to stop for.

In my productive and busy mind, “The song of songs, which is Solomon’s” did not at first seem worthy to be its own verse. Where is the rest of it, I wondered? But when my ears first heard only its beginnings in Hebrew, Shir HaShirim, (pronounced: sheer hasheereem) my attention was captivated. It became lovely in its own right. Then I realized …that is the gift.

We need meaning. Us, the ones quick to move through our days, our precious moments, searching for meaning, while all at the same time missing what stands before us.

What would happen if we started here, simply knowing the small matters? I matter, you matter, this moment matters. What if we released some old darlings we cling to – which we know we could only ever hold with one hand, in order to fully take hold, with two hands, now, the reality that is sweet and good, but that we can only know through the action of letting go?

Holding things with one hand lends the illusion of greater ability, wider reach. But a singular thing treasured, known, seen and recognized with two hands is a truer world at our fingertips. Hold loosely, hold faithfully, for the devotion we hold with imbues much worth.

Photograph – Raynna Myers

Perspective is key. Sometimes I have found I am able to get a better grasp of something when I come to it from an unfamiliar angle. Sometimes I have to walk away to see a thing in front of me. Over four months have passed since I began this writing and let it sit awhile in my drafts folder. What have I learned as I attempted to more gently practice these words rather than simply write them? Love is patient, even though sometimes that looks like a long fight in the same direction. 

May you know the Eternal One’s blessing and keeping, may You know Heaven’s smile upon you, and graciousness toward you.  As you traverse through the liminal space of seeking and gaining perspective, may you know the wholeness imbued upon you by Your Maker the day you were formed.

“For God is not always silent, and man is not always blind. His glory fills the world; His spirit hovers above the waters. There are moments in which, to use a Talmudic phrase, ‘heaven and earth kiss each other’; in which there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a vision of what is eternal in time.” 

-Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man, pg. 138

Hello! I’m Raynna, and I’m glad you’re here. Say hello in the comments and tell me something about you? For instance, have you experienced “heaven and earth kissing each other,” the lifting of the veil, birthing new perspective and understanding within you?

Have you minimized small steps (like I have) that feel like you may be going in the opposite direction, but later found brought greater perception?

You can read more of my writings at www.raynnamyers.com

Keep Climbing! Facebook LIVE- IYYAR

 

FACEBOOK LIVE – 9 MAY 2019        IYYAR – ORDER AND HEALING

In our new Hebrew month series, “Keep Climbing!” we are exploring the second Hebrew month of IYYAR.  This is a very significant month as it forms a bridge between the major Biblical Festivals of Pesach/Passover, which is celebrated in the first biblical month of NISSAN, and Shavuot/Pentecost, which always falls on the 50th day after Pesach during the month of SIVAN. This tells us that the whole second month of Iyyar  falls during those vital 49 days between the two. During these 7 weeks we count each day in a special “Counting of the Omer.” Why this counting?

Firstly, it’s to be aware and recognise the importance of these days that are the bridge between the Redemption at Passover and the Revelation at Shavuot. 

Secondly; after God redeemed HIs people from Egypt they were not immediately prepared to receive the great Revelation He had in store for them! They left Egypt as slaves, who need physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. This occurred during the 7 weeks from the Exodus until they stood prepared at Mount Sinai. There the former slaves would become God’s “holy nation” and “kingdom of priests”! 

The Hebrew letters that spell Iyyar are alephyodyodresh, an acronym for: “Ani YHVH Rofecha” – “I am the Lord your Healer!”

This is God’s proclamation when He makes the powerful promise to His children during this month, shortly after the redemption from Egypt:

“If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give heed to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases  upon you which I put upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord, your  healer”  (Exodus 15:26).

To effect the initial physical healing that would influence the mental, emotional, and spiritual healing, they needed the manna sent by God from heaven, a perfect and nourishing food, and the bitter waters of Marah that became sweet, healing water.

It was during this same month of Iyyar that Messiah Yeshua (as the living Word, a type of Bread of Life from heaven, and a source of Mayim Chaim – Living Water) appeared to his disciples after God had raised him from the dead in a body made perfect and filled with resurrection life. He broke bread, ate, and talked with them, and gave them deeper understanding and revelation of the will and heart of the Father.

To prepare ourselves for whatever revelation the Father wishes to impart to us at Pentecost, we also should be in a mode of preparation and anticipation as we count the days leading up to it. 

We know, only too well, that – just as the Israelite slaves redeemed from Egypt were not immediately perfect and holy after Sinai, it is a life-long process of learning the Word of God and walking it out in accord with His will, which includes receiving healing and restoration – physically, mentally, and spiritually. 

This process basically is a battle of wills! 

To be in the Kingdom of God means to have our will subject to the will of the King. In all we do we can ask: “Am I transgressing and moving out of the will of God, or am I remaining steadfastly in His will?” We know His will is perfect, and flows from the heart of a loving Father. It is in our own best interest to bring our will more and more in alignment with His. However, the wiles of the enemy of our souls are very powerful, enticing, and constant! 

The Hebrew word for transgression is averah (עברה), which means straying over a boundary. A word from the same root is avar (עבר), as in when Avraham heard G-d’s call and avar – physically crossed over, from his idolatrous society on a journey to a Land still to be revealed to him by God. It was a huge step of faith! It also entailed crossing over spiritually into the Kingdom of God. His will was surrendered and in harmony with God’s and he became the father of the family of God – those who would enter His household as children and know His love and serve Him in loving faithfulness, just as Abraham did. 

ORDER and HEALING.

This journey of faith requires constant growing in maturity  – mentally and spiritually. 

In this Being Holy Being Whole “Keep Climbing!” series, we are concentrating on the principle human characteristics and seeing where we need to establish balance or strengthen areas of weakness. The characteristics for IYYAR are ORDER and HEALING.

The characteristic of ‘order’ reflects the balance we are aiming to establish in our lives. Order is necessary to achieve, as Alan Morinis describes in Everyday Holiness, “…the inner alignment that results in filling our days with peace and preparedness.”

Any area of our lives that is in disorder gives rise to chaos. We see in the Word that God is a God of order. He is concerned with the “small” details, which often are crucial. Modern psychology has proven the rather obvious fact that eternal disorder reflects a person’s internal disarray. This reflects the connection between order and healing. How? 

We also need to be aware that the ideal is always in the balance. On the one extreme, too little order leads to chaos, confusion, and disarray and, on the other extreme, too much order leads to a compulsive perfectionism and rigidity. 

Our inner being – that ‘spark’ of God within our neshama (spirit) knows that our spiritual life needs order just as much as our physical life does. To the extent that we are living outside of the will of God (whether intentionally or not) and, as a result are separated from Him, our spirit (neshama ) will correspondingly be in pain and yearning for the separation to be healed and for closeness and intimacy with our Father to be restored. This restoration comes when we are in harmony with His will.

“STILL SMALL VOICE” and SPEECH!

How do we know the will of our Father? We find it in His Word, the foundation of which is the Torah – the blueprint of His will, spoken at Sinai to His redeemed people. There His voice thundered. The sages say it rippled and echoed out to all the world in the languages of the seventy nations. Thereafter it became a “still, small voice” and the noise of the world would need to be hushed in order to hear it. 

Interestingly enough, as we partner with God our most powerful tool in serving and working with Him in tikkun olam  (bringing rectification, order, and healing back into the world) is speech! We need to recognize the power there is in our gift of speech. In the Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) it is noted that ten measure of speech were given to the world and nine of these were allocated to women. We can just imagine the jokes that could spring from that observation! However, it was not meant to be derogatory. It also is noted that ten measures of beauty were given to the world and nine of them were allotted to Jerusalem. 

This highlights the fact that, as women, we face a greater challenge. We have the responsibility to use our words and communication skills in a positive and constructive manner, and not negatively and destructively. The most important way we use our gift of speech is in prayer, song, and blessing!

Both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, that housed the Shechinah Presence of God, were destroyed due to hateful and negative speech. With our words we either build up or break down – create or destroy. They either express God’s will or the enemy’s.The more we can bring our will into alignment and harmony with the will of God our Father’s the more clearly our speech will reflect His Kingship – His light and truth, and help us to more effectively partner with Him in tikkun olam, bringing healing and restoration and establishing His Kingdom on earth.

During this month of Iyyar, and the Counting of the Omer, may we strengthen our connection with God’s Word and grow richly in spirit. May we also trust our faithful Healer for physical health and increasing wholeness and holiness, for ourselves, for all Israel, and for the world!

JUBILEE – 50 – Revelation and Restoration

JUBILEE in Hebrew is YOVEL (יובל).

In biblical times, the special shofar used by shepherds to call the sheep together before they returned home to their sheep-pen was called a yovel. It was made from a gazelle horn and, unlike the curved shofars used for ritual purposes, it is straighter and dark in color.

 A Dorcas gazelle, Israel – Wikipedia

The concept of ‘return’ blends well with a central commandment of God concerning a jubilee year. We see in the book of Leviticus:  

It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan” (25:10) “In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property.” (25:13)

The reason God gives as to why no one could make a permanent claim to the land of Israel is: “The Land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the Land is Mine.” (25:23) In a Jubilee year things are restored to their original, God-intended place!

In this generation, we celebrate the restoration of the Land of Israel and of her people to their God-intended place.  We also celebrate the Jubilee of the restoration of Jerusalem – the reunified City of God to its rightful place. In 1967, during the Six Day War, when Israel was attacked by the armies of the surrounding Arab nations, a brigade of the Israel Defense Forces broke through the Lion’s Gate of the Old City, which had been held by Jordan since the War of Independence in 1948.  Against impossible odds they were victorious and the city, including the holiest place for the Jewish people – the Temple Mount with the Western Wall, was restored to Israel’s sovereignty. 

Jerusalem is a place to which one returns – a place of connection and meeting. Here, in this city, heaven meets earth; the past and the present meet with the future. This Holy City of God is where we will meet our soon-coming Messiah; a day when this fleeting life will meet eternity. Then God’s purpose for the city, the one envisioned from before the very Beginning, will be fulfilled in radiance —the establishing forever of the eternal Dwelling Place of the Holy One of Israel.

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for lo I come and will dwell in the midst of you,” says the Lord.

(Zechariah 2:10)

The Lord’s Sanctuary will be established with powerful praise and unshakable strength in His city, which is the heart of the universe—the City of the Great King. There, His throne will be set and the light of Zion will shine forth to the nations, bearing the vision of eternity in the spirit of kindness and truth.

A new song will flow forth, a pure haunting melody carrying luminous words of redemption and hope; and this Holy Place will finally become a House of Prayer for all nations.  King Solomon knew God’s purpose for His Dwelling Place on earth and the vision of promise it contained. When he dedicated the first beautiful Temple in Jerusalem – built as designed by his father King David in accord with God’s specific instructions and plan, Solomon proclaimed:

“… that all the peoples of the earth may know Your Name and fear Thee,  as do Thy people Israel, and that they may know that this House which I have built is called by Thy Name”  (I Kings 8:41– 43).

Also, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah, the Great Shepherd’s yovel is sounding and he is gathering his flock from the nations and leading them home where they belong, to be one flock with the family of God.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast My covenant—
these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer;
…for My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” (56:6-9)

May we soon all rejoice together in grateful praise, thanksgiving and joy in the City of the Great King – the eternal, golden, filled-with-His-glory, Jerusalem ~ YERUSHALAIM SHEL ZAHAV.

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

Artwork:

  1. Baruch Nachshon, Israel – www.nachshonart.com 
  2. Alex Levin, Jerusalem – https://artlevin.com

BHBW – KEEP CLIMBING! – INTRODUCTION

        INTRODUCTION:           KEEP CLIMBING!          NISSAN 5779 – ADAR 5780

Shalom and Welcome to our exciting and challenging new series. It presents an exhortation and encouragement to keep moving forward and growing – to Keep Climbing toward higher spiritual vistas.

A rabbi in the Old City of Jerusalem once claimed, “There are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who are moving forward and those who are not.” To move forward one needs a path, which, by definition, leads you somewhere. On a dynamic spiritual path you know that you are in the right direction and are “moving forward” if you are not the same person you were a year ago. You have grown in awareness; your view has widened andyour understanding of life has deepened.

A real spiritual path is steep; not a holiday stroll. It takes time, and as we climb the spiritual path, also compared to a ladder, we need to ascend one step or rung at a time. We often discern that our values, actions, and priorities need to undergo a radical shift. This can be challenging and even painful. It’s like shedding some aspect of our familiar selves and requires moving beyond our previous comfort zone. The effort to break habitual, ingrained patterns requires hard work and the desire to be different. To shed a familiar pattern in order to grow spiritually is challenging. However, when we accept the challenge, we discover that it also is exhilarating. The higher we climb the more beautiful and breathtaking the views become and the rewards and blessings are abundant!

 

PERSONAL JOURNAL

If you are wanting and intending to purposefully participate in this next Rosh Chodesh cycle I want to stress the importance and value of maintaining a Personal Journal. You need to invest in a special notebook or a binder and pages to insert. This will be your tool for gaining the maximum benefit from the “Keep Climbing” series.

It is the means whereby you do a daily, focussed ‘accounting of the soul’ – called in Hebrew ‘cheshbon nefesh’ – חשבון נפש. There are significant times in the Biblical Calendar when this exercise is emphasized, for example during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Awe. We know, however, that the way to grow consistently, and to ‘keep climbing’ with joy and strength, is to be aware and to learn from the lessons Avinu, our Father, presents us with every day. The best time to do your journal entry will be during either a morning or evening ‘quiet time.’ Even five or ten minutes will suffice! I will be supplying a weekly selection of thoughts, prayers, questions, etc., to use as an aid and, hopefully, as an inspiration.

The aims of keeping a Personal Journal are:

1. To achieve mental focus and a clarification of our inner, sometimes hidden, thoughts   and emotions.

2. To develop awareness of our reactions and instinctive behavior in the many situations that arise during any given day.

3. To take time to consider how we can improve and strengthen each positive character trait.

After a year of this practice we will all be strengthened in our walk and growth, and have a clearer awareness of our calling and service in the extension of God’s Kingdom on earth.

With His help, we then will shine His glory more brightly.

Looking forward to sharing the climb! 

For His Names’ sake, in Love,

Keren Hannah

IMPORTANT TO NOTE:

(1) If you are interested in joining us on this adventurous climb please sign up at this Mailchimp link in order to receive the weekly and monthly notes and material.  [If link does not open automatically, please copy and paste in your browser.] Many thanks! 

                                                 https://eepurl.com/glW751  

(2) To gain further in-depth teaching and sharing please consider offering some support and join our Being Holy Being Whole “climbing community” at our site here:

http://www.patreon.com/beingholybeingwhole

 

The CHARACTER TRAITS we will be exploring during the series are: 

1. NISSAN ( 6 April – 5 May )  COURAGE and HUMILITY  

2. IYYAR ( 6 May – 3 June )   ORDER and HEALING    

3. SIVAN ( 4 June – 5 July )   PATIENCE and PERSEVERANCE 

4. TAMMUZ ( 4 July – 1 August ) PERCEPTION and FOCUS 

5. AV ( 2 – 31 August )          EQUANIMITY and MODERATION 

6. ELUL ( 1 – 29 September ) REPENTANCE and SILENCE 

7. TISHREI ( 30 Sept. – 29 Oct. ) ENTHUSIASM and CONFIDENCE

8. CHESHVAN ( 30 Oct. – 28 Nov. ) KINDNESS and ADAPTABILITY 

9. KISLEV ( 29 Nov. – 28 Dec. )     UNITY and SILENCE

10. TEVET ( 29 Dec. – 26 Jan. 2020 ) JUDGMENT and CRITICISM

11. SHEVAT ( 27 Jan. – 25 Feb. )    OBEDIENCE and WISDOM 

12. ADAR (26 Feb. – 25 March )    GRATITUDE and GIVING 

(They may be subject to change as we progress.)

REFLECTIONS on PURIM

Every Festival of the Hebrew calendar year reminds us to take note, to be aware and to  be surprised by the newness that God continually offers us. We can look back to where we were the previous year and consider how far we have come spiritually. The  Festivals of the Bible do not measure chronological time, such as birthdays and anniversaries do, but serve to measure spiritual progress and growth.

Each festival we can ask ourselves, ‘Have I spiralled upward and drawn closer to God?  Or have I allowed myself to drift and, as a result, spiralled downward and further away from His Presence?’ Hopefully, the answer will be positive. If not, we have the opportunity to wake up, to repent, to reverse the downward spiral and to draw close to Him once again.

The happy festival of PURIM is celebrated this year on Thursday, 21st March. SO…

10401556_10153098422600396_1546700984751018294_nPURIM SAMEACH – HAPPY PURIM! 

Purim is renowned for its fun and games, dressing up, giving gifts of miscellaneous edible goodies such as cookies, candy, wine, etc.; in accord with Esther 10:21-22. The scroll of Esther, megillat Esther, is read aloud and it’s a great party! If we only celebrate it as a reason to party, however, we are in danger of missing the heart of the matter. 

THOUGHTS TO CONSIDER:

* The Unity of God’s People  

The key verse in the scroll of Esther is, “To the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor.” (8:16) Le’Yehudim haitah ohrah ve’simcha ve’sasson ve’ikar. Although we are told Mordechai was from the tribe of Benjamin, throughout the story he is referred to very specifically as Mordechai the Jew – ha’Yehudi. This is the first time in history that God’s people are referred to collectively as Yehudim – Jews.

When facing danger from an outside enemy,  people tend to stand together in a stronger bond of unity. Thus, the enemy’s evil intent actually serves to strengthen the unity of the targeted victims. In Persia, at the time of Esther and Mordechai, no matter from which tribe they may have originated, the people of the God of Israel all faced the same fate at the hands of a murderous foe. This caused them to rise up as one, to unite in fasting and prayer to God, and to defend themselves victoriously against the enemy’s threat of annihilation. Ever since, as it was written by Mordechai and Esther to do, the Jewish people, including all those who who would join them in praise of the One true God (9:27),  have celebrated these days together in joy and gladness.

shutterstock_248374564

Pic: Young Orthodox Jewish boy dressed as an IDF paratrooper
delivering a mishloach manot – ‘goody basket’ to friends.

* “But Mordechai would not bow…” (Esther 3:12)

The young, orphaned Jewish girl, Hadassah, who became Esther the Queen of Persia, is the heroine of the story. Although it meant risking her life, she responded to the call of her uncle Mordechai to act on behalf of her people as she had been placed in that position by God, “for a time such as this.”  If we look closer, we realize what caused the evil Haman to formulate his murderous plot – his resentment and jealousy of Mordechai, the Jew who would not bow to him.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin points out that historically there are only two ideologies regarding the nature of a human being.* He asks: ” Is the human created in the image of a loving God of compassionate righteousness and moral justice? Or, is the human merely a complex animal in a universe in which only the most powerful [the “fittest” – or smartest, or most technologicaly savvy!] survive and deserve to survive?” The latter being an existence in which “might makes right, the weak must submit to the strong, and the victor gets the spoils.”

1958112_637372619669116_1136030127_n

The Bible tells us clearly that God created us in His image; that our bodies are endowed with a spirit that connects us to Him. The great and central maxim of His Word, as highlighted by the Sages Hillel and Akiva, and taught by Yeshua himself, is to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “…to love your neighbor as yourself.”

He then underscores: “On these two commandments depend all the Torah and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

The image of God is expressed in the ability to communicate lovingly and by the uniquely formed faces, talents and characteristics of each of His children. Rabbi Riskin suggests that the hatred and opposition of the God of Israel and His people is evidenced in today’s Hamans and Hitlers when they publicly relish execution by beheading, for “…it bespeaks a denial of the image of God in man!”  Therefore Mordechai the Jew, in accord with God’s justice and morality, refuses to bow to totalitarian tyranny. On many levels, we cannot  bow to those who use their position and power and, lacking compassionate righteousness, choose to “lord it over” those who are weaker for their own selfish ends.

* There was Light and Gladness – Ohrah ve’Simcha 

What light is referred to here? There is only one major source of light in Jewish understanding – God Himself. So, although He is not specifically referred to in the scroll, we find clues as to His hidden Presence. God can perform wondrous miracles in an overt manner; such as the splitting of the Red Sea in the deliverance of His people from Egypt. Then, they were helpless and “newborn,” as it were, and needed His strong manifest intervention. However, just as we grow stronger physically and mature individually and, consequently, need our parents’ help less, so it is with His people. God, our Father, always assures us of His Presence and love, and His ‘hidden’ support is there, but He is gratified when we stand on our own feet and act as His mature sons and daughters. He has given us the Light of His Word – the Ohrah of His Torah! What Simcha, gladness it affords Him, as well as it does us, when we follow the Shepherd and walk in His light.

BLESSED are the people who know the joyful sound!
They walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance.
Psalm 89:15

 

 

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

* Jerusalem Post, Magazine article, March 6, 2015

ADAR – The Twelfth Hebrew Month

BLESSING OF THE NEW MONTH – BIRKAT HA’CHODESH 

May it be Your will, O Lord, our God and the God of our forefathers, that You inaugurate this month of Adar upon us for goodness and for blessing.

May You give us long life,
a life of peace – Shalom,
a life of goodness – Tovah
a life of blessing – Bracha
a life of sustenance – Parnassa
a life of physical health – Hilutz Atzamot
a life in which there is a fear of heaven and fear of sin – Yirat Shamayim ve’ Yirat Chet 
a life in which there is no humiliation – Ein Busha u’Chlimah  
a life of wealth and honor – Osher ve’Kavod 
a life in which we will have love of Torah and awe and reverence of God – Ahavat Torah ve’Yirat HaShem  
a life in which Adonai, the Lord, fulfils our heartfelt requests for good.
Amen. Selah.

Purim 1

“Be Happy – It’s Adar!” 

Adar is the twelfth and last month of the biblical year, which begins in Nissan, the month of liberation from Egyptian slavery. The happy holiday of Purim, when the scroll of Esther is read in commemoration of God’s salvation of the Jews of Persia, always falls on 14th Adar. [ In a leap year, when an extra month of Adar is added, and we have Adar Aleph and Adar Bet, it is celebrated in Adar Bet.] The story of Esther speaks of God’s people who are in exile and the defeat of the enemy who plots to destroy them. It illustrates the historical threat of Amalek, the archetypal enemy of the Jewish people; and the timeless promise of God’s salvation and ultimate victory. Esther’s cry echoes the cry of her matriarch Rachel, who “wept for her children who were in exile.” God again hears from Heaven and brings deliverance. Praise our faithful God and mighty Deliverer! A good reason to celebrate with a party, and to put up a sign to remind yourself, “Be Happy – it’s Adar!”

 

The month of Adar corresponds with the tribe of Naftali.* As recorded in Genesis 30:8, he was the second son born to Rachel’s maidservant, Bilhah. Why did Rachel name him Naftali? And what is his tribe’s connection with the month of Adar?

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The Blessings of Naftali 

When Jacob assembled his sons to his deathbed, he blessed Naftali as follows: “Naftali is a hind let loose, who delivers – imri shafer – beautiful sayings” (Genesis 49:21).
The Midrash explains that the word shafer alludes to the word m’shaper, to perfect or to beautify. It also shares a root with the word shofar. Interestingly, Proverbs 5:19 compares the Torah to a “beloved hind”. A possible reason for this is found in a verse in the Talmud, which states that just as a hind always remains beloved to her mate so too the Torah remains beloved to those who study it.*** The tribe of Naftali would obey and perfect, i.e., teach and clarify the words, or sayings, of the Torah that were given at Sinai with the sound of the shofar.

By comparing him to a hind, a female deer, let loose, we can surmise that a characteristic of the tribe would be alacrity – the ability to swiftly reach “high places” and to be fruitful in their undertakings. Indeed, once the Israelites were in the Land, the northern Galilee area allotted to Naftali proved to be extremely fertile and was the first to rapidly produce much fruit.

The Scriptures also describe how the tribe of Naftali were ready and able soldiers, quick to defend their nation. With alacrity this tribe, led by Barak ben Avinoam, joined the prophetess Deborah and fought to defeat Sisera and his mighty army (Judges 4:10).

When Moses blessed the tribe, he proclaimed, “Oh Naftali, satisfied with favor, and full of the blessing of the Lord…” (Deuteronomy 33:23). This was a blessed tribe indeed; those satisfied with their lot in life. They studied and shared Torah, produced an abundance of olives, fish, and fruits of the Land, and enjoyed the good favor of God and man.

It is not surprising to find that this is the area where Simon Peter and his brothers lived and which Yeshua loved. Here he performed many miracles and gave his discourse on blessings on the Mount of Beatitudes. The green, fruitful surrounding and the beauty of the fresh-water Lake Kinneret glimmering below could not have stood in greater contrast to the dry, barren wilderness landscape of Mount Sinai. However, a dark spiritual shadow covered the land and the people were suffering under harsh Roman domination. Their hearts yearned for Messiah and Redemption. Now, here in the Galilee stronghold of the Roman gentiles, they beheld the Light of the Torah Incarnate in their midst.

…And leaving Nazareth [Yeshua] went and dwelt in Kfar Nachum (Village of Comfort / Capernaum) by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naftali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “In the land of Zebulun and the land of Naftali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:13-16)

Then our mouth was filled with laughter And our tongue with joyful shouting. Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them” (Psalm 126:2).

The Fun of Adar

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IDF soldiers having fun!

Humor often puts things into perspective and in a world that sometimes makes no sense, often combines sorrow and laughter. In Adar we find a laughter which springs from joy.

As Rabbi Lubliner describes, in Sanctity of Laughter,  

Humor is also a path to God. For to laugh at something is to recognize its limits, its boundaries. Humor shatters a variety of idols — be they our leaders, our enemies, our own foibles. Only God is absolute. All Jewish humor points to the fact that nothing else in this universe even comes close [to Him].

The fun and joyful festival of Purim is celebrated during Adar. The message of Purim, however, is not to wear a mask of joy to cover up your true feelings. Pain and suffering touch every life, but this month of Adar reminds us that joy is our birthright.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)

In the face of the ongoing historical threat and violence of Amalek, we can trust in the timeless promise of God’s salvation and ultimate victory.

 As Queen Esther reminds us, even when we cannot see Him, God always is whispering to us: “I am with you, as I have been all along. I will always be here for you. Choose in faith to see Me in all circumstances, and let your heart be filled with joy and peace.”

Amen to that!

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

 Footnotes:

* Jeremiah 31:15-17

** Pri Tzaddik, Rosh Chodesh Adar, quoting Shaarei Orah  

*** Talmud Bavli, Eruvin 54b

The Liminal Space Between Christianity and Judaism – Raynna Myers

Introductory Comment by Keren Hannah:

We find ourselves in a very significant and prophetic period of history, in particular, of course, regarding God’s restoration of the Land of Israel and of His people to the Land and to Himself.

A significant factor in this process of restoration is the bridging of the once believed unbridgeable chasm that historically, and for good reason, has developed between Judaism and Christianity. With the reawakening in the Church to the vital need of reconnection with its severed Jewish roots and a reclaiming of the lost Hebraic heritage – of realigning once more with the Biblical calendar and the Hebraic perspective of the Word fo God, an astonishing alignment and connection is being made between those of sincere, God-fearing hearts from both “camps.” While still fragile and needing to stand the test of time, where there is sincere, genuine, heartfelt reaching out the bonds are proving strong.

Raynna, indeed one with a sincere heart and a spirit yearning for truth and the richness afforded by the Jewish roots of her faith, has beautifully expressed her perception of this “liminal space” between Christianity and Judaism…this space that is being bridged, with our Father’s help and according to His will.

The liminal space between Christianity and Judaism is like the space of separation, a hallway that begins at the front door of home and leads out into the wild world. A hallway a mother once walked through after she divorced her husband. She doesn’t know where she is going, but she leaves and finds a way out through this hallway. Twenty years later, her daughter, oblivious at the time of her mother’s reasoning or feelings for leaving, stumbles back into the hallway from the wild. She wants to return to the house she was born into, although it leads to the door her mother had slammed shut, angrily weeping as she went

Yet, it became clear that this was no ordinary hallway. The mother thought she would only have to walk it once, but many reasons required her to return again and again to this space. This space was sacred ground for the tears that had been spilt there, and because of the ties that bound and found a way outside of the grief and confusion to grow, but nothing could erase the knowledge that this is where the separation began—where bitter roots took hold and choked life.

 

So the daughter had returned, curious to explore her beginnings. No one blames her but some attempt to restrain her. With one step through the door she sees the beauty and feels the warmth of the home but then hears the “voices of reason.” She recalls the chasm of separation and what she knows of the pain involved. She leaves and does not return. Generations pass, the children marry, their children marry—family roots forgotten and forsaken. What could the history in this original house possibly mean for all the children so far removed? How could connections ever again be made? The years had made the hallway an unkempt and overgrown place. By all appearances it was long abandoned and, further than that, it seemed useless. 

Yet, this still was no ordinary hallway. 

“Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?
Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in labor with you; there she who bore you was in labor.”
Song of Songs 8:5

Liminal spaces come in varied forms: some physical, some spiritual, some emotional. Great grandsons and daughters who inherited or were adopted into the divided family of the People of the Book are now in large quantities entering the spiritual liminality between Christianity and Judaism from both ends of the hallway. In faith a path is being cleared, stumbling stones are being removed. We are meeting together, in accord with Psalm 85, 

“Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.”
Psalm 85:10

Although the space still carries deep memories of separation, of weeping, and wrong doing, it also is like the liminal space of a river, of water, mayim מים— a place to walk through and become new. It also is like the liminal space of the wilderness, midbar מדבּר — a place through which we wander and are made ready. It is here we all, every member of the family, can rediscover the heart of the the holy commandments, mitzvot מצוות— the way and wisdom of God, embodied in Messiah משׁיח. It is here, that we can hear and say and do together, 

“Shema, Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God,
the Lord is one.”
Deuteronomy 6:4

We can find a quiet place in this liminal space, a place to gather so that we can pray toward His house – a house of prayer for all nations,

“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,  for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.”
Psalm 85:8

And may we not turn back to folly. Rather, may we weep tears of wonder and realization and humility, that if the Lord is one, so are we. If Israel is a tree and those of the nations that revere the God of Israel, are wild branches grafted in, may we show our gratefulness. If Isaiah said to seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon him while He is near; let, “faithfulness spring up from the ground, and righteousness look down from the sky” (Psalm 85:11) and let those of us who live betwixt and between, here and now, know I AM.

For surely, his salvation, Yisho ישעו spoken of in Psalm 85 speaks to us of Yeshua…ישׁוע

 “Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.”
Psalm 85:9

Though a seemingly lost and forgotten hallway feels formidable and far away, nevertheless, the words of Isaiah resound, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.” (Isaiah 51:1)

We are encouraged in  Deuteronomy 30 and Romans 10 : “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” so that we can do it. “

“Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.”
Psalm 85:13

Christians are not the replacement of the Jewish people, they are part of their multiplication, their blessing, their comfort. Do we know who we are, where we are? Here in this hallway, we have been called to remember, and to return to the Source so that we may be renewed and restored, together. 

“…Christianity was not invented out of whole cloth, nor did it originate de novo; instead, it was a development from Judaism. To understand anything of the depth of biblical Christianity and its teachings one must understand Judaism.” -Marvin R. Wilson

Restore us again, O God of our salvation… Psalm 85:4

We travail the waters, the wilderness, the brokenness, the trivialities, the time and understanding, to discover our spiritual roots and the place of our birth between heaven and earth. These are not the problem, these are all part of the sacred calling in the liminal space between Christianity and Judaism. All for a time such as this… which is no ordinary time.