Friendship is the nature of G-d. ~ John O’Donohue
Dibuk Chaverim / Close Friendships
Download Journal Jots for SHEVAT
JUDGMENT AND DARKNESS
For the commandment [mitzvah] is a lamp and the teaching [Torah] a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.
~ Proverbs 6:23
There always were two ways to live in a world that is often dark and full of tears. We can curse the darkness or we can light a light.
~ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The wisdom of Proverbs 6:23 is connected with the well known verse of Psalm 119:105, “Your Word [Torah – teaching] is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”The context of the verse from Proverbs is a warning against the seductive, tempting call of the ‘adulteress’ that will attempt to lure the unsuspecting into her web of darkness. The Sages of Israel compare this to the call of the nations of the world, enticing Israel to turn away from their God and His path and to join with their belief systems and cultures.
God spoke through the words of Balaam, the prophet from the nations who instead of cursing Israel as he intended spoke blessing:
“Behold [Israel] is a people that dwells alone; and shall not reckon itself among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9)
This truth is greatly highlighted in the Festival of Hanukkah. Words that share the same root as Hanukkah are ‘dedication,’ as in chanukat bayit – the dedication of a house to the presence of God, and chinuch – education or learning. At the time of the Maccabees – the small band of Jewish hero-priests that overcame the then greatest army on earth, that of the Greek empire – Israel was facing the great temptation of Hellenism. After the occupation of Israel, the emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes, had defiled the Temple in Jerusalem and set up a giant statue of Zeus in the Holy Place. Antiochus also ruled that any obedience to the central commandments of God’s Word, such as circumcision, the observance of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, and the teaching of Torah, was forbidden on pain of death. The alternative message of Hellenism was the beauty and strength of the physical body, the capriciousness of the distant gods, and the grandeur of man’s philosophical thought.
Many Jews succumbed to the seduction, but the call of the Maccabees was two-fold: 1. “Mi l’HaShem alai!” which echoed the cry of Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf – “Whoever is for HaShem, the God of Israel, come and stand with me.” And 2 – the acrostic for the name Maccabee, Mi Camocha B’elim Adonai? “Who is like Thee among the gods, YHVH, O Lord?” (Exodus 15:11). Those who would resist the temptation of the “gold” of the world and would exalt and cleave to the God of Israel would together become a force that would miraculously overcome the impossible natural odds and enable the victory of light over darkness.
One of the blessings we recite when lighting the Hanukkah candles is:
“Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who wrought miracles for our forefathers in those days at this season.”
The hidden and obvious miracles and wonders of God are always at work. Passover reveals how the supernatural and public miracles of God brought redemption and deliverance for His people. With the miracles of Hanukkah, He remains ‘hidden’ and requires the participation of those whose unwavering faith was in Him and who were determined to fight against the enemies of God and Israel.
Even while the Maccabees, a family of priests, rose up against the impossible odds of the world’s strongest army they knew that victory could only come through the help and power of God on their behalf. They saw that where they were weak He was strong. They refused to see the negatives stacked up against them and persevered in faith, for Kiddush HaShem – the sanctification of the Name of God. Just as the poet-warrior, King David, when he was victorious over his enemies, proclaimed: “YOU have girded me with strength for the battle; You have subdued my adversaries beneath me” (Psalm 18:40).
While recognzing the miracle of the military victory, the main focus of Hanukkah is the miracle of the oil, which occurred in the hidden-from-public sanctuary of the Holy Place and was witnessed by the faithful warrior-priests themselves.
LIGHT AND DARKNESS
It is interesting to note that Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the start of this the darkest of months, always falls during the final days of Hanukkah. The name Tevet shares a root with ha’Tavat ha’Nerot – the preparation of the candles, and with the word tov – good! The commentary Sfat Emet (The Language of Truth) says: “HaShem prepared the cure before the illness, so that the kindling of the Hanukkah lights will illuminate not only the eight days of Hanukkah but also all the darker days of Tevet.” The meaning of the Hanukkah candles lies in our “seeing” their light.
Another important “seeing” occurred in Tevet. During times when the world seems to be submerged in a flood of darkness and evil, the story of Noah reminds us that it was “…in the the tenth month, on the first day of the month (Rosh Chodesh Tevet), the tops of the mountains became visible” (Genesis 8:5). Hope was restored. Together with God’s covenant promise in the shining colors of the rainbow, a brighter future was in sight. Darkness and lies must give way to the power of light and truth. The lights of Hanukkah convey the message of the eternal glory of God, the victory of redemption, the remembrance of Olam HaBa, the eternal World to Come, and the heights of joy. Today we have the assurance of the promise that God is “watching over His word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12). We can keep our eyes on the “mountain top” and keep climbing!
GOOD AND EVIL – TOV VE’RAH
Other pairs of opposites that correspond to light and darkness are Ayin haTov ve’Ayin ha’Rah – the good eye and the evil eye, and Yetzer ha’Tov ve’Yetzer Ha’Rah – the good and evil inclinations. These concepts also tie in with our focus of the month on Judgment. How we see and perceive something will affect the judgment we make in connection with it. We can view it with an ayin tovah, a good and positive eye, or with an ayin rah, a bad and negative eye. Two people can interpret a situation in totally opposite ways.
“Two men looked through prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars.”
The hope inherent in the month, however, is that transformation can take place. In the light and power of God, blind eyes can be opened, prisoners can be set free, and hearts of stone can become hearts of flesh. Negative vision can be healed and transformed. Good can triumph over evil. Another Torah commentary, Ohr Yitzchak, The Light of Isaac, points out that the only body parts that can be adversely affected by a grain of sand are the eyes. The eyes are the windows of the soul. Our God-breathed soul is so pure and holy that, unless it has been totally numbed, it suffers pain and distress from the slightest interference of evil from the material world.
This understanding affects how we see and judge ourselves and others. How we see things and the judgments we make as a result, are influenced by our Good and Evil inclinations. We all have these and a constant tug-of-war goes on in our minds between the two. The yetzer ha’rah, evil inclination, can be summed up in one word – Ego – or selfishness. The yetzer ha’tov, good inclination, is expressed in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The sage Hillel captures the nuances of this well in his teaching: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself what am I?” (Pirkei Avot). Our good intentions towards others must be based on a healthy self-esteem, which does not result in pride, but is acquired only through genuine humility.
JUDGMENT IN BALANCE
Lack of compassion <———— Judgment —————> Excess of sentiment
No mercy Fairness No wisdom
Cruelty Love Foolishness
The large or small decisions we make every day are based on our judgment and analysis of each situation we face. Humans are the only created beings that can, to some extent, anticipate the results of our actions and foresee possible consequences. Therefore we are responsible for the consequences of our actions; whether voluntary or involuntary, deliberate or inadvertent. We are called to be responsible, as far as is possible, for what we do now that will affect what will happen later. An important factor involved is our grasp of the reality of Olam Ha’Zeh, this world, and Olam HaBa, the world to come.
Do we understand that our actions here, in this physical, material world, based on our thoughts and inclinations, affect what happens in the spiritual, eternal World to Come?
Central to this understanding is our relationship with, and judgment of, other people. Everything taught to us in the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, as Yeshua clarified, has the basic premise of, firstly, to love our Father in Heaven and then to love those He places in our path. The latter is not in an abstract sense but in every day practical ways. Our personal, spiritual growth takes place in the context of how we relate to those close to us or with whom we are in some way connected. We should always be asking questions such as: How do I act so as not to cause harm to another? How can I fix things if I do cause damage? Do I always consider the other person’s point of view?
Of course the question arises, “What if the other has deliberately done me harm?”
It is very difficult to try and understand the perspective of an enemy, and to forgive any harm done. Interestingly, in line with the mercy and compassion of God, Mussar teacher Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler comments:
No one is held accountable for the evil to which he is accustomed to from birth and as a result of his environment, never having learned any better. In this respect he is: “A child taken captive and brought up among idolaters.” He will be held responsible only for that which he could have and should have learnt.
In our judgment of others, how are we able to discern that? Only God knows the heart and is the only one to make judgment on any person. In any relationship situation we can remember the first brothers. In the first sin against “loving your neighbor,” Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Rather than confessing and repenting of his sin of jealousy and murder, he was condemned to suffer the punishment he incurred.
Cain’s problem lay in viewing the sacrifices he and Abel made to God as a competition. Abel won and he lost. The dictionary describes competition as :
1. The act of competing, rivalry.
2. A contest in which a winner is selected from any two or more entrants.
There is only one winner; one “first place.” Good parents or coaches may assure us: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” This carries some truth and can generate a sense of healthy and enjoyable competition. We soon discover, however, that in the material world that is rarely the case. The general worldly aim in the fields of sports, school, business, whatever, is to vanquish one’s rivals and come out “top of the heap!” This culturally inbred attitude of unhealthy competition can have a direct bearing on our judgment, both of ourselves and of others.
The lights of Hanukkah carry a different and precious truth. Jewish author, Shimon Apisdorf, describes it well:
To be a star, a brilliant source of light, you don’t have to be brighter than the other stars. To be good does not mean that you have to be better than anyone else. To be wise does not mean that you have to be the wisest of all people. To be kind does not mean that you have to be the kindest person anyone has ever met, and to be holy – to soar spiritually, does not mean that you have to be the holiest person of all.
Our Father sees each of His children as a beloved source of light. We need not evaluate our worth in term of anyone else’s light but our own. Happily, the more we learn to value ourselves the more we will value others. As Apisdorf concludes: “In the realm of spirituality and true human accomplishment, there is no room for competition, yet there is room for a world full of winners.”
This is a world sparkling with a myriad shining little flames. Let us make it our business this Tevet to recognise and encourage the other precious lights around us.
~ Keren Hannah
I form light and create darkness. I make shalom (peace) and create ra (evil).
I Adonai, do these things. (Isaiah 45:7) Woe unto him that strives with his Maker….
Shall the clay say to him that fashions it, “What are you making?” (Isaiah 45:9).
CHOSHECH – DARKNESS
Download – Journal Jots – TEVET
* Frank LaLou, Creation
UNITY AND VISION
“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
“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
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 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.
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
“The soul of man is the lamp of G-d,” the Book of Proverbs tell us (20:27). What this means is that ultimately, our task is not to light candles, but to be candles. We have the potential to be the bits of light that help bring G-d back into a world gone dark. As the Sefas Emes puts it in discussing Hanukkah, “A human being is created to light up this world.” Rabbi Shai Held, Hanukkah, 1874
Download – Journal Jots – KISLEV
Like a father who stoops to play with his toddler, laughing with the child, excited over those silly things that excite a small child, yet always remaining an adult who is beyond all these games–so, too, He creates within Himself a place where in love and laughter, in compassion and awe and beauty, Man and G-d could find one another, and neither would be alone. ~ Tzvi Freeman
RACHAMIM / Compassion
Download here: JOURNAL JOTS – CHESHVAN
* artwork by Cindy Lou Elliott
COMPASSION AND FLEXIBILITY
Verse: “When he cries out to Me, I will hear for I am compassionate.” ~ Exodus 22:26
“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!
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:
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.
ENTHUSIASM AND CONFIDENCE
“I hurried – did not delay – to keep your commandments.”
~ King David, Psalm 119:60
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.”
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.
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! “
~ Keren Hannah
REPENTANCE AND SILENCE
A person’s wisdom makes their face shine, and the hardness of their face is changed. (Ecclesiastes 8:1b)
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
Every person has both a body and a soul,” said the Rebbe. “It is like a bird and its wings. Imagine if a bird were unaware that its wings enabled it to fly, they would only add an extra burden of weight. But once it flaps its wings, it lifts itself skyward.
We all have wings – our souls – All we have to do is learn to use them.
~Rebbe Menachem Schneerson
EQUILIBRIUM AND MODERATION
Be perfected; be comforted; be of the same mind; live in peace: and the God of love and peace shall be with you. (2 Cor.13:11)
“To ignore the paradox is to miss the truth.”
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel, Israel: An Echo of Eternity
The three week period of semi-mourning, that began on the 17th of Tammuz, continues into the month of Av. In the Northern hemisphere it poses a paradox as this period of mourning coincides with summer vacations and family fun. Altogether, Av is a month riddled with paradoxical details and illustrates the tension that paradox creates.
This tension seems in contradiction to the trait of the month – equilibrium; which we associate with peace of mind and inner calm. As Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv noted: “A person who has mastered peace of mind has gained everything.” It is easy to stay peaceful when all is going well, but what happens when we are faced with the inevitable frustrations and “downs” of life? We can encounter situations on a daily basis that erode our equilibrium! Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin advises that to keep our hearts and minds on an even keel we must learn to …”rise above events that are inconsequential – both bad and good, for they are not worth disturbing your equanimity over.” In other words our reactions to both the good and bad things that happen should be calm and balanced.
Achieving equilibrium enables us to act with moderation in all things. Over-reaction to a negative situation can cause one to move from concern to becoming agitated, and even angry, or hysterical and out of control. The opposite, also undesirable, reaction is shutting down and becoming apathetic. Maintaining one’s equilibrium enables one to stay calm and balanced and to react with grace rather than with irritation or anger. In faith, one can view the challenge as a test and trust the Lord for wisdom and strength to deal with it. One can even find a positive aspect to it and focus on that.
The prophet Isaiah offers a key to achieving calmness of mind and spirit. “You will keep her in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You” (26:3). “Stayed” can be rendered as fixed, anchored, focussed, stuck-like-glue! Let nothing distract our minds off of our Father in Heaven. And, as the apostle Paul exhorts in Philippians 4:6-7:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Messiah Yeshua.
The mind is the battlefield. Keep in mind that every problem is mental and every solution spiritual. Turning our minds and hearts to our Father in prayer and gratitude results in Shalom!
SORROW TO JOY
The name of this fifth Hebrew month literally means ‘father’ – Abba. We see an example in Psalm 103:13, K’rachem av al banim… “As a father is merciful to his children, so has HaShem shown mercy to those who fear Him.” When our minds are stayed on Him we can rest in the knowledge that our lives are in the hands of a loving and faithful Father who has us securely in His care.
On the other hand, the 9th of Av – Tisha b’Av, a day of deep mourning and fasting, marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples as well as the tragic exile of the majority of G-d’s people from the Land. Tisha b’Av also commemorates the many persecutions and pogroms, Crusades and Inquisitions perpetrated against the Jewish people throughout the centuries that followed.
Interestingly, the actual date of death of only one person is recorded in the Torah; that of Aaron, the brother of Moses. We read that forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, G-d called Aaron to Mount Hor and he died there. When? “In the fifth month on the first of the month” (Numbers 33:38) – the first of Av. Aaron, the High Priest, is also known as Rodef Shalom – the Pursuer of Peace. As one who daily was bathed in the presence of G-d’s holy presence in the Tabernacle, he desired to reflect that to others and always sought unity and peace. He was deeply loved by the people and his death was an occasion of deep mourning. The sadness of Aaron’s death in the same month seems fused with the mourning of the destruction of the Dwelling places of G-d
So, here we have the paradox of the Father’s loving care and protection and yet the sadness and destruction faced by His people. Av indeed is a month split in two: the waxing moon is a time of mourning and sorrow and the waning moon is one of comfort, love and joy. Immediately after Tisha B’Av the weekly haftorahs (prophetic portion read together with the Torah portion) become portions of Consolation from the prophet Isaiah. Then, the central day of the month, the fifteenth of Av – Tu b’Av – marks the turning point for joy.
Tu b’Av was celebrated as a joyous festival hundreds of years before the First Temple was built. It was the celebration of the grape harvest, and the time the white squill blooms all over Israel. The tall tapered stems, covered with small white flowers, stand out brightly against the yellow and brown fields at the end of a long, hot summer. They are a clear season marker, for Tu b’Av signals the summer solstice and there is a subtle change as the days begin to shorten and clouds start to appear in the sky, announcing the approaching rains of winter. The virgin maidens, to reflect the blossoming lace-like white squills, would don white dresses and dance in the vineyards of Shiloh, and wedding matches were made. To this day the fifteenth of Av is celebrated in Israel as “Sweetheart’s Day”!
In rabbinic literature Tisha b’Av, the day of great mourning, is the date reckoned to be the birth date of the Messiah – the Savior-King who brings new life. We can indeed rejoice in the paradox of “the Lamb in the midst of the throne” who is our Shepherd and who guides us to “springs of living water” that bring mercy, grace, hope and truth (Revelation 7:17) and the King of kings, the Lion of Judah who will reign over all the earth (Revelation 5:5-6).
Thus, the last weeks of Av are marked by harvest and romance and act as a prelude to the month of Elul and to the Fall Feasts which prophetically herald the arrival of the “Lion of Judah” and the “Marriage supper of the Lamb.” Av, therefore, while acknowledging and mourning the sorrow, evil, and hardship to be found in the world, celebrates the constant truth of new life in the One who is the Source of all life. Our Father G-d is bringing us to full Redemption, when, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah, “death will be swallowed up forever and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth” (25:8). His Kingdom will be established in the earth and the dwelling of God will rest in Jerusalem and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
EQUILIBRIUM AND MODERATION
Here and now, what do we do when faced with painful loss, distressing circumstances, or illness? Living in the relative comfort of our modern Western culture we tend to ignore and deny the possibility of suffering as much as possible. We fear that it will undermine our happiness, which can seem so fragile and unstable. As a result, we face the sad fact that when our happiness is marred and our equilibrium is shaken we tend to lose the balance of moderation one way or the other. Western society is plagued by problems of extremes – excess consumerism, over-eating, leading to obesity or under-eating leading to anorexia,
too little exercise or an excessive focus on physical fitness, over-working, constant entertainment seeking, and a myriad other addictions. All in an attempt to drown our fears and avoid suffering. However, Erica Brown, in her book In the Narrow Places, observes: “Ignoring suffering dehumanizes us, while being attuned to suffering makes us more compassionate. We become more grateful and can more deeply appreciate the blessings in our lives.”
Sherri Mandel, who suffered the agonizing loss of her young teenaged son who was brutally murdered by terrorists, shares in her book The Road to Resilience:
“Doubt, pain, and brokenness will mould your character so that you are more compassionate and live in an enlarged context. Your process of healing may in fact exalt you and propel you toward a more intimate relationship with G-d, the Infinite and the Eternal.” She adds: “Paradoxically, loss can lead toward greater awareness of the everyday pleasure that surround us… Suffering can highlight the miracles in the mundane.” And finally, “In the face of adversity, the recreation of self may be our most creative act.”
When we know that our lives are in our Father’s hands, we can understand that whatever experience we are facing is the one He has allowed in order to to enable us to reach a higher level of spiritual awareness and personal maturity. That is a child of G-d’s great hope. In His grace, comfort, and powerful love He gives us the tools and means to “recreate ourselves” – to center ourselves on Him, clear our minds, settle our souls, and regain equilibrium. When, in faith we believe He is able, and turn to Him in prayer for guidance and help, He provides us with the courage and strength to press through any crisis. Even when there seems to be no clear way and “best choice,” His Spirit of Holiness can impart wisdom to enable us to make the decisions we need to make in order to begin moving through and beyond whatever obstruction we are facing.
Of course, we can’t always feel that we are effortlessly soaring higher or spiralling upward. Often we fail. Sometimes our progress feels like “three steps forward – two steps back,” Nevertheless, the baby steps are being made. We learn and are strengthened for the next stage of the upward climb!
The month of Av ultimately represents the balance of elements we deal with constantly on our journey through life – sadness and joy, justice and mercy, anger and grace, discord and unity, what is hidden and what is revealed. Undergirding it all is the knowledge that our Father, in His abundant love and mercy towards us, is in control and He is guiding us and preparing the way before us.
FaceBook Live – July 2019
PERSPECTIVE AND UNDERSTANDING
“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.
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.
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:
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
My heart overflows with a good theme;
I address my verses to the King;
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
To begin living a life of Mussar, you must start by developing an awareness of who you really are. [How?] Acquire a diary. ~ Rabbi Micha Berger
It can be a challenge to get into a rhythm of daily journaling – not just the setting apart of time, but the finding of words to write. Keren and I are offering 29 Journal Jots for Tammuz to get you started.
Each day rewrite each Journal Jot in your own hand. As these Journal Jots speak to you – speak back.
If you are already a staunch journaler, these Journal Jots are also for you.
Each will act as a reminder of why we are making this climb.
We are so excited to be on this journey with you!
Keren and Cindy