The Hebrew name of the month of Av is spelled with an aleph and a bet. ( א ב )
Many question why the Torah begins with a bet, the second letter of the AlephBet, and not an aleph, which is the first. Many answers are offered but one I like is that the aleph is an ‘invisible’ letter in that it has no sound of its own; it helps to carry and emphasize the sound of the letter that precedes or follows it. Aleph is also the letter than begins the name of G-d, Elohim, as in El Elyon – אל אליון – the Almighty G-d in the highest. The Aluf -the One (the numerical value of aleph) eternal, omnipotent, and invisible G-d who spoke all things into being.
However, as well as being the invisible Creator and Master of the universe, the name Av also tells us that G-d is Avinu Sh’b’Shamaim, our Av – Father in Heaven.
The letters are also an acronym for emunah ( אמונה ) and bitachon ( ביטחון ) – faith and trust, or security. Truly in Him we can place all our faith and trust!
As a child of G-d, the aim of all our spiritual growth is to gain greater knowledge of our Father in Heaven in order to draw closer in intimate relationship with Him. Our physical growth, from childhood to adulthood, is a natural process; although we can do our part in maintaining bodily health. Our bodies are vessels that house our minds and souls and they are designed to be a temple for G-d’s Presence in the world. The more the body and soul can function together in harmony, the more the light of His Presence can shine in and through us.
In the annual, agricultural cycle, most growth of fruit and crops occurs during the hot summer months. Now, as in Israel and the northern hemisphere, the month of Av is in the throes of summer and it is, therefore, an opportune time to examine our personal growth. In reference to the Growth series on the His-Israel website, in our pursuit to spiral up in our spiritual growth, we first need to be clear in our understanding that:
- You are worthy. The essential ‘you’ is a radiant soul worthy of honor.
- It is G-d’s will that you grow.
- You are equipped, in His love and grace, with all you need to grow.
To help us consider the foundational elements, or building blocks, of growth we may consider it as an acronym:
G – Gratitude and Generosity
R – Repentance and Righteousness (Turn and Return)
O – Obedience
W – Worship and Warfare
T – Truth and Trust
H – Hope and HalleluYah!
A significant component in our growth as a person, and gaining more awareness and maturity spiritually, is our mind and our thought processes. The question is, “How do we grow our minds?” On the Home Page of His-Israel’s website I posted this picture of Einstein:
With regard to education, I heard an interesting teaching recently by Rabbi Simon Jacobson where he posed the question, “Looking back on your own schooling, were you taught how to think or what to think?” If you look back on your classes, teachers, lessons, what do you remember? How many “Wow!” moments were there? Times you were thrilled and inspired with a new understanding, something great you hadn’t considered before? Or was it mostly the receiving and memorising of facts – 5+5=10, the multiplication tables, grammar rules, historical and geographical facts, etc., etc.? Speaking for myself, school was predominantly the learning of facts. Cram them in before exams and spew them out as best I could! Of course, facts are important for general knowledge, and one needs to learn the information and data involved in one’s chosen profession or line of work, but this form of education is focussed on telling the student what to think and does not encourage the development of how to think.
Fortunately, Baruch HaShem, I had an English teacher in 9th Grade who brought the “Wow!” factor in her teaching of poetry and literature, and she awakened in me a love for words, books, and writing. In general, however, we weren’t encouraged to ask questions, to explore new approaches or different perspectives on any subject. Rabbi Jacobson also shared an observation made by Ken Robertson, who, in a TED talk, illustrated how the focus of the modern form of education, since the advent of the Industrial Age, is on efficiency and has virtually killed any creativity in children. Children naturally have a creative imagination, they see and explore things with wonder and curiosity. In school, this creativity and “free spiritedness” is usually dampened if not totally extinguished. Rather, they are wired to become almost like an efficient, mechanical machine.It works and is accepted because it’s easier to be told what to think. There’s a kind of security in not having to explore and figure things out for yourself!
So, with the education of a child, in “training up a child in the way it should go,” the issue is not the feeding of information but is rather empowerment. It’s not dictating what must be thought in every area of life without questioning, but rather empowering them to think for themselves. Rather than filling their minds with information – which they can always find on Google!, we should be asking them questions like, “What do you think about this? How would you solve this problem?” This not only encourages them to think for themselves but also inspires confidence in realizing they are being heard and that their ideas matter. We can also apply this same approach in other relationships in our lives.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
Have I been taught, in my schooling and religious experience, what to think or how to think? How has this affected my creativity? How do I teach, or share with, the children or others in my life?
WHAT IS A MIND?
In an effort to “grow” our minds, we need to ask, “What is my mind?” We can maybe describe it as our brain and thought processes. We know that we have a right brain and a left brain. The right brain is more the absorber, the dreamer, the creative side of our brain, and the left side is the processor, it organizes and gives structure. Often the right is described as the ‘feminine’ side and the left as the ‘masculine.’ The truth is we need a harmony of both in order to have a balanced mind. We need the calculating, logical, and practical capacity of the left brain, however, in order to recognize and to transcend the given reality, it must be balanced with the power to dream, to envision. The right brain is needed to ascend from the material to the spiritual. A truly balanced mind knows how to think; it is able to challenge itself, and to creatively challenge all assumptions and ideas that are fed into it.
Ideas should always be growing. We need to examine ideas from every angle. Most people don’t like their thoughts or ideas to be challenged, but, to challenge oneself and one’s ideas is part of the process of mental growth – of learning how to think. The Baal Shem Tov once said: “For every question I find an answer, and then for every answer I have a question.” Learning and discovering is an ongoing journey; one in which we should come to the understanding that, “The more I learn the more I realize I don’t know!” We should never reach a point where we think we know everything and there’s nothing more to learn. Our minds should always retain mobility and keep growing.
To challenge thoughts and ideas in a healthy way we need to have a strong foundation of solid principles. Our Creator knew this and provided us with His Word – the Rock of truth on which we can stand. However, we all have attitudes, perceptions, and biases, which are learned or inherent. If they become too rigid they can be barriers to keeping an open and growing mind. The key to prevent this blockage of our thinking is humility. With the attribute of true humility we can honor another’s perspective, even if it contradicts our own. Humility keeps communication open, respectful, and possible. Pride and ego cause polarisation and the awful discord we see in so many areas today – whether in politics, the media, religions, and even in families and friendships. If you dare to disagree with anyone you’re liable to be attacked! The saddest thing is to see children, from birth, and through their school curriculum, being programmed to hate, to violate truth, and to kill other human beings.
The beauty of a mind that is trained how to think is its flexibility – the ability to imagine a different reality, to think outside the box, and outside of one’s comfort zone. It has the ability to say, “I am not 100% sure about this issue. I will look and think again.” Then one can discover if one has any subjective bias or entrenched preconceived notions and gain even greater clarity and certainty on the issue at hand.
Bottom line – knowing how to think is a vital part of life itself. It affects how we interact with others, how we see ourselves, how we build true relationships. Are we prepared to be open minded and flexible in our thinking to openly and lovingly hear the perpective of another person and try to understand it? And then, also humbly and lovingly share the perspective we have? If so, then our communication will be “for the sake of Heaven” and not just to bolster our own ego.
May we aim to keep, in general, an open-mindedness, to not fall into a “herd mentality” or succumb to peer pressure on important issues.
May we stay humble and teachable, with assurance and confidence in our G-d given ability to think creatively and with godly imagination.
May we have joy in learning and in doing what our Father has called us to do.
May we allow our holy soul to shine the love and truth of our Creator through our minds into the world around us – for His glory.