Archive for February, 2015

After the Snow Melts (Tefila tip #13)

February 24, 2015

Jerusalem ushered in the month of Adar (12th month on the Jewish calendar) with a snow storm.  The snow didn’t stick around for long, and now it is gone.  But snow is a parable for something that’s important, and since it is always good to look under the hood and find the spiritual meaning, let’s have a look under the “snow-hood.”  Ice is hard; when water freezes, it forms an impenetrable wall, through which nothing can pass.  Snow, on the other hand is soft – it forms a protective cover that melts easily and reveals whatever what was behind it or under it.  When it melts, it becomes water, which is a symbol of the Torah; just as water flows from a high place down to a low place, so Torah descends from a high spiritual place to influence our universe below.  So, when Jerusalem is visited by a snow storm, it suggests to us to look for signs of revealed spirituality in our lives.

Here’s another sign of the times.  According to the most ancient book of kaballah (the Sefer Yetzira), there is a sense, or personal quality that is associated with every month.  The sense of Adar is laughter – the ability to see what’s behind the veneer and “under the hood” and to be amazed by it (just like when snow melts).  The source of laughter in the Torah was our matriarch, Sarah, who “laughed” when she was told, at the age of 90, that she would have a child.  It was Sarah who “fixed the luminaries,” who enhanced the moon so that it felt equal to the sun.  How did she do that?  Here we have a nice “gematria,” or numerical value that gives us a hint – the word for “laughter” in Hebrew is tzchok, of gematria 204.  And the word for “you loved” is ahavta, of numerical value 408, or twice the gematria of tzchok (“laughter”).  That’s because there were two kind of laughter that went into the love that Sarah felt for her not yet born son.  There was the laughter of amazement, as when we laugh upon perceiving something new, and there is the laughter of satisfaction, as when we experience satiation and never felt so good before.  One laughter is “before,” the other is “after.”  But in both cases laughter brings healing and love to the world.  In fact, it is Sarah’s son Yitzhak (“he will laugh”) who will herald the arrival of meshiach (the Jewish messiah), hopefully soon.  Let us hope that is what we will experience this year, beginning this month.

To find out more about the love and prayer, go to our site at www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly  That may only whet your appetite, and if you want more, check out our books at www.jewishspiritualbooks.com  Finally, for a glimpse into Jewish life in Jerusalem, go to www.chabadjerusalem.org  And have a dry and warm day!

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Skipping Rope…

February 18, 2015

There is a well known parable from one of the most famous Chasidic masters, R’ Yisrael of Ruzhin. He was asked what it will be like to live in the era before the arrival of meshiach, the Jewish messiah.  He replied that just before meshiach arrives, God will tie a rope around the earth.  Those who have some emunah (“faith” in God) will grab hold of the rope with both hands.  God will then start to shake the rope, sending larger and larger shock waves around the globe.  It will be difficult to remain holding on, but those who do so will merit to see the meshiach.

Given current events, it is difficult to deny the shaking of the rope right now.  Whether in international affairs such as Iran and Ukraine, or in private matters that we are all aware of, we are living in “interesting times,” to say the least. But our shaking universe may also be a positive event.  For example, there is something incredibly good and positive about the ability of some people to uproot their lives from a secure environment and dedicate themselves to a higher cause.  I am thinking of the Israeli soldiers who come from the diaspora and enlist in the IDF virtually without prior knowledge of Israel or of the military or of the Hebrew language.  That is one example of the rope-shaking, but in a positive manner.

However, I am a rabbi, and my job is to call attention to something else, that R’ Yisrael of Ruzhin knew far more about than I do.  And that is, beyond the shaking rope there is an island of refuge, a sea of calm and a soothing balm for those who can access it – and all can access it.  When everything else is moving and shaking, there is and always has been a transcendent force that lifts us up and out of the inferno.  It takes us beyond the raging waters of the events preceding the arrival of meshiach.  I’m talking about learning Torah and practicing meditative prayer.. These activities lift us above the fray, and bring us into contact with a higher authority.  They are the true purpose of a Jew, whose real task in this world is to bring the spiritual down into mundane life.  So, while we may not be able to avoid the crazy events just before the arrival of meshiach, we can also raise ourselves beyond them.  For more advice on how to do so, check out our website at www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly  For a deeper dive into meditative prayer, go to www.jewishspiritualbooks.com.  And finally in order to be in touch with good stuff here in Jerusalem, go to www.chabadjerusalem.org  Have a great week and stay warm!

Entry Level Meditation

February 11, 2015

As one who teaches Jewish mystical texts as well as meditation based upon Jewish sources, I have to field some good questions from my students.  For example, “what am I supposed to feel when I meditate?”  Or, “I’m not feeling anything, what am I doing wrong?”  Or, “how do I know if I’m doing this correctly?”  The answers are very much dependent upon the individual, but in general, no one should expect to “feel anything” in the early stages of meditation.  We should just make sure that we are focused properly on the concepts and then the feelings, such as they are, will flow spontaneously.  It does not happen overnight.  Only with much practice and study do we become proficient enough to experience a little bit of love and fear of God during our meditation.  Moreover, it is a mistake to focus on what we are “feeling.”  Our goal should be to become as butel, or “nullified” to God as possible, and one who is nullified is not aware of his own feelings.  In fact, he is not aware of himself at all.  He only knows that he is not a worthy “vessel” for Godly illumination and therefore he focuses upon the techniques of improving himself and understanding Godly concepts as well as possible.  The rest will follow on its own.

Nevertheless, there is one “technique,” if it can be called that, which allows us to directly perceive the source.  In Chasidic literature, it is called, “gazing upon the glory of the King.”  The experienced meditator will occasionally find that he does not need to meditate in the morning, because on that particular occasion, he is directly in touch with something beyond himself.  In such a situation, he should not “fight it,” by forcing himself to meditate upon intellectual concepts of Godliness.  Rather, he should sit back and enjoy the gift that God has given him from above, and “gaze upon the glory of the King,” – that is, follow the experience to wherever it takes him.  At that point, it is possible that active intellectual meditation would get in the way of, rather than facilitate, his flow of divine emotion.  Nevertheless, for most of us, this kind of Godly epiphany is a rare occurrence.  On the vast majority of occasions, we will need to work hard and focus for long minutes in order to well understand and internalize Godly concepts that form the basis of our meditation.

There are some who ask, “Rabbi, what are you talking about?  I have no time for meditation, no time for thinking about spiritual concepts, and I’m lucky to get to synagogue, put on my tefillin, mumble a few words, and leave in time for work.”  Without doubt, such people are to be respected and encouraged, for they are honorably fulfilling their obligations and raising wonderful families.  Still, there is a halacha (Jewish law) to take into consideration, requiring us to “think about the greatness of God and the lowliness of man” before praying.  But, for others, the problem is that they are just plain skeptical, and they don’t think that us mortals can get closer to God and actually experience spirituality.  If that’s you, then let me make a suggestion:  Go out to the Israeli desert.  Make sure you arrive to the Judean desert or the Negev or the Sinai desert around 8 in the morning, when virtually nobody is around.  And just sit there and listen.  And listen some more.  And if you don’t hear anything, just wait another five or ten minutes.  The word for desert in Hebrew is midbar, spelt exactly the same as medaber, which means “speak.”  If after a half an hour you don’t hear the desert speaking to you, you may need hearing aids.  The desert is where the Jews heard and saw Godliness, and received the Torah.  It is the place where God first communicated with the Jewish people (individuals such as the forefathers found God in other environments).  It is the source of the Jewish spiritual experience, and it is where we can all return to in order to renew it and rejuvenate (some say re”Jew”venate) our experience.  Of course, there is something more you can do to examine Jewish prayers and meditation – go to our website, at www.jewishspiritualbooks.com  Or check out the latest blog at www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly   Finally, for a quick rundown on what Chabad in Jerusalem has to offer you, go to www.chabadjerusalem.org  And have a great week!

Pass the Fruit, Please!

February 5, 2015

You might think that a Jewish festival occurring in the middle of the winter would be a cold event.  Not here in Jerusalem.  Our Tu b’Shvat seder took place on a warm winter day, one of quite a few that we have experienced lately.  There’s something very uplifting about Tu b’Shvat.  The emphasis on renewal and regeneration, celebrated over four cups of wine and the fruits of Israel puts a positive spin on the entire winter.  Moreover, the idea that growth begins from “less than zero,” is a very powerful concept.  When the first shoots of the new year push their heads up from underground this month, they are not in a friendly environment.  The ground has not yet thawed and the sun is not generally shining; it’s the depth of winter.  The corollary in human experience is that real growth does not necessarily begin from a zero.  It may begin from adversity, from less than comfortable circumstances.  From the adversity is born greatness.  On another level, we experience renewal and rejuvenation not only every year, but every day.  That is the subject of our current Tefila Tip, that you can read at www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly  Getting up in the morning is not simple, and we need a high light from above to launch our daily routine.  For deeper analysis of Jewish prayer and meditation, check out www.jewishspiritualbooks.com and finally to get a perspective on spiritual life in Jerusalem, go to www.chabadjerusalem.org  Happy Tu b’Shvat!