Song of Peace
Yet again the month of Adar is upon which means that the holiday of Purim is not far behind. I will be reneging on my duty as your rabbi if I will not recite for you this year’s story of Purim , the greatest intrigue saga that has ever told by humans, especially the Jewish kind! It took place in the 4th century BCE, at least that’s what the historians say, go trust them…
Achashverosh, King of Persia ruled over a huge empire which included India and parts of Africa. Since he enjoyed the attention he was getting he maintained a very rigorous royal obligation of partying 24/7. Of course members of the media would park on his front royal lawn documenting and reporting all the details of who was who showing up for the on going celebrations.
All state matters were left for the secretary of state, the big Honcho, the big egomaniac fellow by the name of Haman. Haman had aspirations! He had dreams, ambition, hopes, desires, a purpose in life! He was a self made, proud man. The problem was he was a ruthless evil man. His agenda was very clear. Unseat Achasverosh the King and become the King of Persia.
In order to achieve his goal he needed to find a way to gain control of the military, both the army and the navy. (Forget the Air Force, that would not happen for another 2500 years.) What he really needed was a scapegoat in order to unite the Persians through common hatred, thus becoming their leader. (Sound familiar?)
One day as he was walking in the streets of Shushan, the capital of Persia, to get something to eat at a local pub, he enjoyed watching everyone bow down to him. Yes, he was quite pleased with the law he enacted, “On Your Knees” under the City of Shushan statues and regulations.
Then it happened! Much to his dismay, a man by the name of Mordecai, A Jew of course, refused to bow down to him! While being upset, a thought came to his evil mind, “This is exactly what I was looking for” he said to himself. “This is the window of opportunity I was praying for to the gods of Persia , may they live a long life and be blessed! I will unite my fellow countryman in the hatred of the Jews, kill them all, become the undisputed leader of the people and grab the kingdom from this Idiot Achashverosh!”
Meantime King Achashverosh had banished his wife, Queen Vashti, out of Persia!! Don’t ask. It was one of those stupid acts of his while being intoxicated. Something about asking her to dance in front of his drunken guests. She refused, he was insulted….. whatever. Bottom line: He needed a new queen.
So there was a royal competition between all the eligible women of the kingdom who competed for the title. The king was looking first and foremost for an intelligent, bright well educated woman (Yea, Sure…)
As the story goes, Esther the Jewess, won the competition fair and square and became the queen of Persia. The irony was that she was indeed smart and pretty(according to the Persian TV channel one and two, but go believe the media… )
At that point Haman had already convinced the king to let him organize a full pogrom against the Jews and to command the army for this event. The plan was to first hang Mordecai the Jew in downtown Shushan, right near the central horse station. This was to get Mordecai back after Haman had to take him around on the King’s horse proclaiming “This is the man the king wishes to honor.!” It seems that Mordecai had uncovered a plot to kill the king and this was his reward. But of course Mordecai did not really plan to be hanged. He needed to put a stop to this “Mishegaas” being perpetrated by Haman .
In a secret conference with Esther the queen, who also happened to be his niece, he demanded that due to this urgent matter, she swing into swift action. The queen was actually afraid to initiate contact with her husband since an unsolicited initiative could cause her own life. But considering the urgency of the matter, after all, the life of many Jews was on the line. plus the dirty politics of taking charge of the Army illegally by that evil man, Haman had to be stopped.
So she agreed to take the challenge. After not eating for three days and going into prayers and seclusion, she was now nice and trim. She could wear that dress which won her the queen competition. The rest is history. She successfully invited the king and Haman to a party where she revealed to her husband that she was in fact, Jewish and that Haman wanted to kill all the Jews including her.
Well, that was all the king needed to hear. He got so upset that he could not bring himself to party and drink for a week. He immediately order the execution of Haman, ordered his army to not to hurt the Jews and promoted Mordecai to be his secretary of state, chief negotiator with Iran on nuclear matters. And that is basically how the Jews were saved by Esther the Queen and Mordecai the secretary of state.
This is my story and I am sticking by it.
The Hidden Stuff: So why even tell this story which we do year after year after year? Of course like everything in Judaism there are many reasons – oy that again! But it seems that in addition to bringing Joy into our lives which comes with the holiday and actually the Hebrew month of Adar, Purim also has to do with revealing that which has been hidden. The hidden plot to kill the king is revealed by Mordecai, Queen Ester’s hidden identity as a Jewess is revealed, Haman’s hidden agenda is revealed with his plan to kill the Jews.
Purim asks us to look at that which is hidden deep within our own selves. The rabbis say that dressing up in costumes even allows us to experience our alter egos. Once the hidden is revealed we can identify our hidden aspirations and examine our lower natures. We can then take action if needed and indeed emerge triumphant!
So just in case you are wondering which costume I will be wearing this year for Purim….I have to look into my alter ego…
From Cantor Lee
Since I love to be outside working in my garden, Tu B’Shvat, a holiday when we honor trees and nature is one of my favorite times of the year! In our Hebrew School when our younger children plant seeds or other plants for Tu B’Shvat I always make sure they leave with the following instructions; “Keep your plant moist and in the sun and don’t forget to talk to it every day -send it Love and Light!”
I grew up in a house where my mother talked to her plants so for me communicating with plants comes naturally. And yes, it does help! When I lived up north people would bring me their sick houseplants and I would nurse them back to health. These days in beautiful Florida, most of my gardening is done outside where I spend time each day communicating with everything growing in my yard. Even when I take my daily walks I like to talk to the trees along my path and send them energy. “Do they answer me back?’ I can just imagine some people would laughingly ask! And the answer is yes! But not in our third dimensional way of speaking!
I do feel much more balanced when I commune with nature. In spiritual circles we are taught to put our bare feet on the earth for at least 15 minutes a day. The Earthing Movement has become quite popular over the past few years which explains that the earth does have energies that help to keep us healthy. http://www.earthinginstitute.net/
Well, enough time inside. I am off to talk to the trees and tell them Happy Tu B’Shvat!
From Rabbi David aka The Reb
One of the greatest strengths of Judaism is its ability to adapt to the different needs of the Jewish people in different times in our history. At times rules and traditions were modified in order to adapt to the needs of the people. What is even more important is the realization that our understanding of some holidays was augmented with the understanding that they serve a more global purpose. Chanukah and Passover are now portrayed not only in the context of a Jewish struggle, but as human beings struggling for freedom from oppression everywhere.
Tu B’Shvat is a Jewish holiday which has received global importance in the last few decades. Its original purpose was to mark the growth cycles of fruit trees in Israel. The Torah teaches that fruit of a young tree is not allowed to be used for the first three years of the life of the tree. The fruit of the fourth year is to be taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to be used by the priest, the Levites and the poor. Tu B’Shvat, (literally , the 15th day of the Hebrew early spring month of Sh’vat) was the cutoff day to calculate of the age of the trees. In the early years as a free nation in the land of Israel, the significance of the holiday was expanded to include traditions of planting trees everywhere in the country.
Our ancestors had a keen understanding of the vulnerability of the semi desert land of Israel. They realized that as custodians of the earth we had to preserve it as a fertile land, by planting trees as well as enacting restrictions on cutting trees in particular or abusing nature in any other way. So much so, that the rabbis declared that if a person is planting a tree and the messiah suddenly arrives, he must complete the planting before rushing to greet the messiah.
There are many biblical laws meant to preserve and protect nature including land, vegetation and animals. Over many years, as the land of Israel was exposed to many invaders and was constantly bruised by them, these laws became increasingly important to us.
When the Zionist pioneers returned to the land of Israel they were shocked at how two thousand years of neglect turned most of the land into a desert. Reclaiming the land back by planting became the most important act of national renewal in our land of Israel.
In the last few decades the Tu B’Shvat celebration was transformed from a minor Jewish holiday into a Jewish celebration of mother earth. It is now a day of reflection on the less then perfect job we human beings have been doing as custodians of the earth. We reflect on the damage that our modern lifestyle and our callousness have inflicted upon earth. Tu B’Shvat has become an arbor day with a Jewish context.
The connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel goes beyond global concern for earth and for nature. Judaism has several main principles which are very much intertwined and co dependent. Judaism is the belief in one G-D, in the Torah and in the Jewish people as a nation spreading the word of G-D from a very specific, sanctified and holy land call the land of Israel. These Jewish “components” work together to create Judaism. Removing any of these, such as taking away the land from the mix will severely hurt Judaism and will impede its existence. In the modern state of Israel, therefore, the holiday of Tu B’Shvat is a celebration of a nation reclaiming its holy land which was taken from us years ago , so that the Shechina, the spirit of G-D, will be able to dwell on earth and bring Peace and Brotherly Love onto earth.
At a recent congregation gathering some of our members were trying to answer a question posed by a guest, “Tell me, what is Congregation Shirat Shalom all about?” I don’t remember too much of the conversation except for one bit of information that caught my attention. One member explained, “There isn’t any judgment.” “Exactly….” the others confirmed and explained further.
Being nonjudgmental of others which includes myself is a part of my spiritual practice I have been working on for years. I am not saying this is easy, but practice really does help! It has become more of a natural state of being than in the past.
Being non-judgmental goes hand in hand with the Jewish spiritual practice of avoiding, “Lashon Harah” which translates as “Evil Tongue or as we know it, “Gossip.” We are asked to not speak about or criticize others. I like to take it a step further and not even think negative thoughts about others which includes myself. When I do, I try to catch myself and use an imaginary chalkboard eraser to erase the thoughts. Yes, I grew up with chalkboards in school!
One assignment I always give our older Hebrew School students is to spend 24 hours not saying anything negative about anyone else. I also ask them to just observe t how much time people spend talking about others but not to be judgmental about this. Just observe. The results and discussion are always pretty amazing.
I always feel that things are brought to my awareness for a reason and the original conversation about non-judgment within our congregation is no exception. For my New Year’s’ resolution, I am going to pay more attention to being non-judgmental. This is actually a beautiful gift I am giving myself for I have discovered that this practice brings with it a sense of Inner Peace. And I know that the more Peaceful I am, the more Peace I bring to the world. And yes, that includes you!
May we all be blessed with Peace in this new secular year of 2015.
Today is the first day of the secular new year, January 1st, 2015. This first day of the year is traditionally a day of resolutions and promises to one’s self and perhaps to others. Resolutions are a good thing as they are a way for us to improve ourselves to live a better, wholesome life.
But today is a special day in the Jewish calendar as well, the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tevet, a day of fasting when we remember the destruction of our Temple. It was 2603 years ago that the mighty army of the enormous Babylon empire led by Nebuchadnezzar arrived in Jerusalem and began laying a siege on its city walls. Despite its massive size the Babylonian army could not break into the city due to the amazing bravery of the Jewish defenders. It took three years to finally break into the city. Once inside it still took the Babylonian army about three weeks to force their way into the Temple and destroy it. It was a blood bath for the Jewish population. The Babylonians were furious because of the huge amount of their soldiers lost during the siege. Some 70 years later the Jews did return from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple with the permission of the Persian emperor. Almost 600 years later it was destroyed again by the Romans.
Despite the forced exile which the Babylonians and the Romans imposed on the Jews, Jerusalem remained Jewish. Over the centuries many empires conquered Jerusalem; Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Moslems , Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans and British, to name a few. They all came and went disappearing from the earth. They ruled for a while and vanished. On many occasions over the centuries the Jews were exiled from the city and were forbidden to live in it. Amazingly we always returned
The story of our Holy City is the story of its sons and daughter, we the Jewish people, who refused to surrender it to foreign hands despite the great effort of so many empires. We will never cave in to mass killings, forced conversion and exile as in past centuries or in these modern days, terrorist killings, UN threats or European pressure.
One can not have Jerusalem without the Jewish people. It has been proven time and time again over the centuries. For us the city itself, its stones, its walls, are a living soul and as such these stones will not tolerate being without their beloved sons and daughters. Ever.
It is not coincidence, you see, that this year the memorial day of the ancient Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem coincides with the first day of the secular year. Our sages explained that the only reason our ancestors were forced out of our eternal city and country only to return back over and over again is because we did not learn to live in harmony with each other. “Shalom”, as we all know, is about peace in our hearts and among ourselves. Our sages explained that our two Temples were destroyed because of “Sinaat Chinam,” senseless hatred among ourselves through hateful thoughts and hateful words of gossiping, jealousy, intolerance – you get the idea.
Therefore for the sake of my beloved eternal city of Jerusalem and on behalf of our third Holy Temple that is now being built within our hearts, I pledge to use Cantor Lee’s chalkboard eraser to erase all negative and derogatory thoughts about anyone from my mind and watch my words extremely closely in case gossip of any kind finds its way there.
I believe that this practice will bring “Ahavat Chinam” Love for its own sake among us. It will strengthen the ancient spirit of “Am Yisrael” the Jewish people, to overcome all the turmoil and anti-semitism around us here in the US, in Europe and in Israel.
May this civil year be a year of peace, health, prosperity and redemption for all of us.
It has been three weeks since my daughter’s wedding and I am still flying high! My daughter is happy and I adore my beautiful new daughter in law!For this joy alone, I am beyond grateful! But there is even more that is taking me into the higher realms! People are still trying to describe what happened during the wedding weekend. “It was Magical.” “I was transformed.” “There was the presence of an electrical charge.” Rabbi David and I can only say that the heavens opened up to allow the in-pouring of the Divine! And I am still feeling this in-pouring!
It was as though 170 people were taken to a magical fairy land and each given a spark of Love Energy to not only further open our hearts but to touch everyone that we meet. This can certainly make the mother of the bride continue to fly! With Thanksgiving tomorrow here I can only say, Thank you to my daughter, Rachel. Thank you to my new daughter, Marissa. Thank you G-d!!
Another Amen!! I agree with my beautiful wife!
Now on to my thoughts about Thanksgiving and The Power of Gratitude:
The American idea of setting aside a holiday for the sole purpose of showing appreciation for what we have is more than just noble. The classic explanation of its origin has to do with the Pilgrims’ appreciation of their life in the new land and the hope of surviving harsh winters to come.
This idea is not strange to us, the Jewish People, at all. Setting time aside to rejoice in life and our traditions is a central theme in Jewish life. Moreover, our tradition encourages expression of appreciation on a daily basis. We are given the opportunity to express gratitude many times during the course of the day. We use a special “spiritual instrument” to do exactly that. We call it, a blessing.
Jewish scholars in every generation are instructed us to say at least 100 blessings a day, every day of our life. Imagine that… Many of these “expressions” are in fact pretty routine and are embedded in our prayer book. There are blessings for almost every aspect of our life from waking up in the morning, washing, taking care of our hygiene needs, blessings over different foods, encountering different natural phenomenon – and these are just for starters.
To help us reach the 100 recommended blessings, the great rabbis of the past instituted a series of 91 blessings to be recited as part of the morning, afternoon and evening services. The other nine are recited at different occasions during the day as they present themselves.
But why? If I was G-D, I would be a little taken back by this barrage of constant blessings. (OK, I get it. You appreciate your life and everything in it. You don’t have to constantly thank me … I get it the first time… ) Maybe part of the reason for this constant appreciation for the marvels of life is to benefit us for our own well being.
Reciting a blessing, or for that matter any expression of appreciation regardless of its religious content, creates a powerful positive energy around us, helping us with our physical and psychological health. That is the reason why the Jewish tradition teaches that blessings or any expression of appreciation are like boomerangs; they leave our soul aiming for others and come back to benefit us many times over.
Never taking any part of our life for granted is not only a way for a healthy life, it is also a foundation to a healthy society which encourages nurturing relationships in all of our social circles, our immediate and extended family circles as well as our co- workers and acquaintance circles.
I am often amazed by the wisdom of the Jewish scholars of the past who instituted these expressions of constant appreciation as part of our Jewish fabric. The Jewish narrative regarding the holiday of Thanksgiving is that the Pilgrims took the idea from the Jewish holiday of Succot. The holiday of Succot which is celebrated at the end of the agricultural year is designated in the Torah specifically as a holiday for thanking G-D for a fruitful and rainy winter in our land of Israel. It is a holiday in which we are literally commanded to rejoice and appreciate our life and our environment. This of course is part of the “Jewish Boomerang” principle: the more we appreciate the rain and the crop of the previous year, the more rain and richer crop we will have next year.
May we all be blessed with a Happy Thanksgiving!
From Cantor Lee
Our daughter is getting married this weekend! Two and a half years ago, when we first shared in a congregation newsletter article (which is below) Rachel’s engagement to her partner, Marissa, we were amazed by the feedback we received. People seemed to come out of the woodwork, mostly thanking us for being so open about gay marriage which helped them deal with their own family issues in this area. As we explained in the article even Rabbi David and I had some conditioned beliefs which we needed to recognize so we could clear them. In spiritual teachings the more we as individuals clear our own issues, the more we help the collective. There must have been a lot of clearing over the past two and a half years as it is amazing at how many strides have been made in the acceptance and legalization of gay marriage. Of course Florida isn’t quite there yet. As Rachel said to me recently, “Mom, even Utah is ahead of Florida!”
Here is the article from two and a half years ago:
We have exciting news! Our daughter, Rachel is engaged!! In Judaism, when G-d, the ultimate matchmaker, brings two souls together in love, their happiness and joy spill out into the world, affecting everyone around them. Thus, the couple is essentially performing Tikun Olam, the repairing of the world.
No, we do not have a wedding date yet and Yes, we are calling the ceremony a wedding, even though if performed today, Rachel’s marriage to Marissa would not be recognized by the state of Florida. It is much easier to be a gay couple these days, but we still have a long way to go. Rachel and Marissa are aware that they may encounter some prejudice, perhaps even from people close to us. And there may be others who wish to be accepting but are struggling with their true inner feelings. It takes work and often courage to transform beliefs that have been instilled in us since childhood. But this is part of the work of Tikun Olam, repairing of the world, that we Jews have agreed to do. For as we transform ourselves and climb “Jacob’s Ladder” to the next level of consciousness, we affect the whole.
For both of us during our growing up years, we were programmed with the belief that being gay was something to be kept in the shadows and especially secret from the older generation! When Rachel shared her news, we looked deep within ourselves to root out any part of this belief that was still lingering. There is a beautiful saying in Judaism; “Who is Wise? He who learns from every man.” We are grateful that Rachel has been the catalyst for our own learning and spiritual growth, perhaps even helping us get to the next rung of the ladder!
We are looking forward to this next step of having a married child and to officially welcoming Marissa into our family.
May we all be blessed with the opportunity to learn from each other and may we all be blessed with Love!!
(The picture above is from their engagement party Dec. 2012. Yes, it was cold in Florida that day! Rachel is on the left and Marissa on the right.)
And my words of wisdom are: AMEN TO THAT! This father of the bride will be doing a lot of dancing this weekend!
An article was recently forwarded to me about a woman who joined a prayer group to pray for a child with cancer. Each night the woman participated in a conference call that included a leader reciting psalms. Although the woman felt quite transformed by this experience, in the end the child died leaving the prayers of the group unanswered.
This is a difficult topic to understand. Why pray if our prayers are not answered? In our Hebrew School we have a ritual each week where the children pray for people and animals they choose which sometimes includes an ill grandparent or other loved one. And yes, sometimes that loved one dies. Our children have learned that we might not always receive the answer to the prayer that we personally want but that prayer always helps.
Thirteen years ago, Rabbi David and I began praying for one of our neighbors, a sixteen year old named Sean who had been battling cancer for three years. I kept getting the spiritual message that I was to form a healing circle for Sean with our neighbors. This was quite out of my comfort zone at the time as I wasn’t sure how my neighbors, of all different religions, would react to such a request. However, my spiritual guides would not leave me alone so I finally approached one of my neighbors, a devout Christian. She loved the idea and offered to have the circle at her home. We began with five of us but word spread and at the peak of the healing circle we had over 100 people!
We were all very excited when after a few days of our healing circle Sean began to improve! In the end however, he too passed away. Sean’s mother and I often spoke afterwards of how the love and support of the circle helped Sean and the family with his transition. Those of us in the circle also understood that Sean’s soul had decided it was his time.
Rabbi David and I have a saying, “Not Everything is as it Seems,” for what often doesn’t make sense in the physical world makes sense in the spiritual world. To cover all bases we always pray for the “Highest Good.” As an evolved soul, Sean touched everyone he met and helped me in my own spiritual understanding. His mother and I both felt that Sean left when he did to help many souls cross over who died on 9-11, the day he was buried.
We know that evolved souls may take on extremely difficult assignments to help our world. Perhaps this is the case with Robin Williams who despite his illness brought such Joy to us all! Did he on a soul level choose to leave the planet through suicide to save many others from doing the same? His death has certainly raised awareness of mental illness, depression and suicide. Just the outpouring of compassion and love has to have helped raise the vibration of our planet.
In the end, we really don’t have the answers and no matter the Higher Plan, still we mourn when we lose our loved ones. For me it is a little easier knowing that not everything is as it seems, what often doesn’t make sense in the physical world makes sense in the spiritual world.
From Rabbi David aka The Reb
Most of us are familiar with the classic love triangle story with King David, Bat Sheva and her husband Uriah. The king and Bat Sheva have an affair, she becomes pregnant and King David has Uriah killed by sending him to the battlefront. After the baby is born, the king is told by Prophet Nathan that the baby will not live due to this transgression.
As the baby becomes sick, King David goes into seclusion and fasts for seven day begging G-D for forgiveness. “Why punish an innocent baby for his father’s sin?” he argues while intensely praying. After crying and pleading throughout the week, the baby still dies. To the astonishment of his servants, King David gets off the floor, washes his face and sits down to eat breakfast.
The death of the baby made no sense to the king. G-D was upset with him as he should be, but punishing the child went against G-D’s own words in the Torah, as it specifically and very clearly decreed that children should never die for the sins of their fathers (and vice versa).
Yet, while mourning the death of his innocent baby, he immediately accepts the divine verdict despite the obvious contradiction to G-D’s own pledge. What is it that King David knew that was unknown to his servants?
If we lived in a physical reality only, with nothing else but the here and now, then we would simply say that prayers are a way for us to manifest all of our wishes here on earth. But this is not the Jewish reality. In its basis, Jewish theology recognizes that the here and now is but a minute component of that which is around us. Our physical life on earth is a very small part of the spectrum of all that there is.
So where is the rest of this giant spectrum? The Hebrew term for it is “Nistar,” Hidden. We know for example that there is a designer, a maker of the universe with its laws and nature. We just don’t know who and what it is.
And of course on the human level we justify the idea of G-D and other spiritual matters by explaining that nature is too complex to randomly work in such perfect harmony. We also say that for every cause there is an effect, so that even the “big bang,” is still an effect, not a cause. The original “Cause,” (G-D?) is a concept which the human mind cannot truly understand.
When praying, we enter into a world which is not understood by the physical tools we possess in this physical world. It also is not necessarily a linear process where we have an issue, we pray, the issue is solved. It would be wonderful if prayers worked that way all the time but they don’t.
The world of prayer is a two way street. When we petition the Higher Power (AKA ” praying”) we are changed inside. It draws us closer to the “Nistar” the unknown. While King David prayers were not answered despite a night of intense prayer and fasting, this episode did draw him closer to that spiritual unknown. One can sense that the king went through a paradigm shift, a spiritual enhancement which changed him forever.
I believe that the world of the unknown is vast and complex and that when a human soul lives on earth it may be for reasons far greater than we in the physical world can comprehend. Yet, it is this understanding which helps us become the spiritual beings we all strive to be.
Prayer may not always achieve our intended desires in our physical world but they do open the gates of heaven deep within our hearts and minds.
This is a story I have told to many and also share with my seventh graders each year.
About eight years ago, a new couple moved into the house across the street from us and much to our shock had animosity towards us. This was also surprising to the rest of our neighbors as we live in a multicultural neighborhood and honor each other's beliefs, traditions and religions.
After the couple's baby was born, they began going to neighborhood meetings to complain about us, that we had too many visitors. What is so funny that people with teenagers had more visitors than we did! Although the neighborhood board stood behind us and suggested that we have people park in our driveway this whole situation got under my skin. In spiritual terms it means that this couple hooked into my energy field. I became nervous each time someone came to visit and uncomfortable when the couple was outside.
Rabbi David and I decided we would pray that they would move and had a special prayer/ceremony one evening in our front yard. They actually put up a for sale sign the next week!! But within two weeks the sign was gone. I then decided I would just change the energy by sending them blessings each time I would go outside. This wasn't easy especially in the beginning but I kept at it. Although my anger and discomfort lessened it kept getting triggered as the couple continued to display animosity towards us.
As my daily ritual progressed, I finally reached the place that no matter what they were sending me, my heart was truly full of blessings for them. Within a month of reaching this point, the family moved! The other strange thing is that two other families down the street that that were not so kind to their neighbors moved at the same time!
Today, four years since the family moved, I look back on this experience with much gratitude for it helped expand my spiritual understanding on many levels. I have continued the daily ritual of sending blessings to those who show animosity and hatred and right now that includes Hamas and ISIS. I honestly can't say that my heart is always totally open in doing this but I know that working on the energetic level as a partner with G-d is part of the plan. And so I will continue. Who knows, perhaps all those who decide not to align with love and peace will move to a different planet!!
As if we needed a reminder how awful, cruel and vicious war is, we have had a full dose of it in the last couple of weeks. The intention was to put a stop to several thousand rockets which have been falling on every corner of Israel threatening the life of every Israeli citizen, man woman and child.
We now know that the long and elaborate network of tunnels dug under many Israeli villages was in preparation for a monster terror operation which was to take place during the High Holy Days this year. Thousands of terrorists (yes, thousands!) were to emerge at the same time from these tunnels in the middle of many Israeli villages, shooting at anything and everyone. This would have been an extremely well coordinated operation which would have easily massacred at least 5,000 Israelis.
Israel estimates there would have been a 90% chance of success. Hamas has been practicing this operation for a year and a half now. So yes, this was a real plan!
In the last two weeks approximately 2500 rockets have fallen over Israel. To compare the percentage to the United States, multiply 2500 rockets by 450 (the USA is approximately 450 times the size of Israel.)
The answer is 1,125,000 rockets. Imagine if Mexico sent more than a million rockets all over the USA. How long would it take for the USA military to take action?...Get the picture?
But this is not to excuse the Israeli operation in Gaza. Israel does not need an excuse to do everything possible to survive a barbaric enemy which does not recognize any Jewish person's right to live and breathe anywhere in the world. Period. Speaking of a war of survival....
So what is the answer? Will we forever live under the shadow of complete annihilation?
The bible, a 3000 year old book, describes numerous incidents in which nations who intended to destroy Israel were completely destroyed. No doubt three millennium ago we had a very violent beginning. Yet one can easily understand that in these ancient times the rules of war were simple. Only one side survived, either Israel or their enemies. Nothing in between. (sound familiar?...)
But the difference was that we were never violent people. We simply faced violent circumstances. In fact, from the first day of our exodus from Egypt we were taught to love freedom and protect it with all our might. Freedom for all nations. Freedom also means peace for all.
What is amazing in our evolvement as a nation and as human beings is that despite all the violence perpetrated upon us over the years, we never developed violent tendencies. This is true throughout our history. Israel is fighting to survive, not to destroy anyone.
As our terrorist enemies admit, "The Jews love life ( L'chaim...)"
We also love Freedom and Justice - we always did.
But how is it that our spiritual development took such a different course than most of the ancient world? There are spiritual clues in the bible that provide the answer. On the surface the biblical "rules of engagement" are very clear, pragmatic and moral including do not rush to war, try to negotiate peace, fight only until your enemy surrenders, never engage non combatants in war activities.
Over the centuries these basic humanitarian rules have led to an amazing leap in Jewish consciousness. You see, we recognize the Power of the Light of G-D within us, the Light of Peace and Love which is desperately yearning to eliminate evil and war from the human mind and soul, to shift our spiritual DNA so no human being will ever worship wickedness and brutality.
Yes, Israel right now has to physically defend herself. But by us also spiritually sending the Light of Love and holding a vision of peace in our daily prayers we will trump evil! May the Light of our collective consciousness eliminate all darkness and suffering around the world!
Last year after my fourth graders learned through the story of Jacob and Esau that the Hebrew word, “Israel” means “to struggle with G-d” and that the Jewish people are called the “Children of Israel,” one of my students was quite perplexed. “Why would we want to have a name like that if it means we have to struggle? And why would G-d want us to struggle anyway?!” The brilliance of a fourth grader! This question is one that many adults have also asked me or Rabbi David over the years. With the fourth graders we had a lively discussion of what their daily struggles are such as bullies in school, sibling rivalry, too much homework etc. and they came to the conclusion that G-d doesn’t want us to struggle but actually helps us with our struggles.
When an adult asks this question or a related one such as “Why does G-d allow children or animals to suffer? ” I reply that the original plan did not include evil or suffering or struggles. However, the plan did include free will and that is where things went awry. G-d actually needs us to be co-creators with G-d and bring the world back to the original plan, a world of love and peace. Especially now with our beloved Israel having to defend herself, such a world seems to be a distant dream.
But the Jewish people are eternal optimists. As Rabbi David likes to say, we have been praying for peace for over two thousand years, three times a day. And in doing so, no matter what we have had to face, we have kept this notion of peace alive in our consciousness. This is actually where co-creation with G-d begins, in our consciousness. Each day I spend time in meditation and prayer sending waves of Love and Peace to the entire Middle East. There are many throughout the world doing the same, of all religions and cultures. There is much power with group prayer so I always set the intention that all our prayers will join together. Perhaps you will add your daily prayer as well. I hope so!
..so Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau who, he thinks, is about to act on some 20 years of harboring hatred and feelings of revenge. He is extremely worried about the safety of his large family, especially when he is told that his brother is coming to meet him with 400 soldiers. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man comes and starts wrestling with him. Since Jacob is not one to shy away from a fight, especially since he did not draw first blood, he fights with the stranger for hours.
After a whole night of wrestling with Jacob and seeing that he is unable to overcome him, the stranger uses a divine power to severely injure Jacob’s thigh. Any other WWF wrestler would have quit. Not Jacob! He pins the man to the ground and refuses to let go. The man is pleading: “Let me go the sun is up!” Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you bless me!” The strange man change Jacob’s name to “Israel” because, he tells Jacob, “You have fought with G-D and man and you prevailed.” We the Jews are the sons and daughters of Israel, or simply, “Israel”.
What a bizarre story! Why would G-D send an angle to wrestle with Jacob? Why wrestling at night, in the dark? Why was the angel afraid to continue wrestling with Jacob in broad daylight? Why did he use his divine power to try to win the fight – an unfair use of his powers? And what kind of blessing is changing one’s name because he is a good wrestler?
No doubt this story can only be understood as a symbolic occurrence. Jacob’s story is our story. The Torah chose to show Jacob’s spiritual turbulence and frustrations with his constant life struggles through a wrestling allegory. It is a straight forward message to Jacob and to us. Our spiritual greatness will be achieved through struggle. But why? Changing our imperfect world into a peaceful world for all its inhabitants means wrestling and overcoming our lower nature (testosterone, I suppose)
It is G-D’s world and man’s nature. It is a Jewish task which has been going on for millennia here on earth. It is a destiny which was thrust upon our Father Jacob and upon us. Jacob and we did not choose to wrestle (he with an angel – we with violence and hatred) We hate wars and killing but if war is what it takes to overcome evil then so be it.
Jacob’s wrestling in the dark of night is a symbol of us, the Jewish people, carrying the Light of Justice, Compassion and Peace into our imperfect world of darkness. The angel asking Jacob to release him since it was almost daylight is a clear message to us to hold onto our Light of Peace through the long night of turmoil around the world which is gaining strength but will be defeated. It cannot survive in the bright daylight of our hearts.
I pray that that Israel’s endless struggle for peace in the Middle East will overcome the sea of hatred around it . May this war in Gaza brings Jacob’s Morning Light to Israel and it’s neighbors. May all realize the futility of hatred and the pointlessness of killing. May all nations join us, the Jewish people, in our wrestling match to truly make our world heaven on earth for all mankind.
While waiting at Barnes and Noble for a meeting , I had chance to peruse through the spirituality section. Wow, there were quite a number of books!! Leafing through several brought up the topic of gratitude including tips on how to develop a gratitude practice.
I follow the Jewish tradition of reciting the Hebrew prayer, Modah Ani (Modeh Ani for a male) first thing in the morning. It is actually a prayer that gives thanks for having our soul returned to us. I love the way the Hebrew words sound and go throughout the day just singing the three words Modah Ani L’fanecha – “I give thanks before You,” as part of my personal gratitude practice. At night before I go to sleep I think of all the things that happened during the day for which I can say thank you. When I am in my journaling mood which is on and off, I write them down.
Of course it is much easier to be grateful when things are going well! But that is the whole point of a “practice.” We practice when things are going well so we when we really need it, it actually works! And yes, throughout the years, I have discovered that being grateful does make a difference especially when life seems to be throwing some curve balls.
For me a gratitude practice brings me to a Higher Place, the place of connection to the Divine, to G-d. In this place, I am uplifted and filled with Peace which then radiates out to world.
From Rabbi David aka “The Reb”
One of the most powerful Jewish paradigms is the ability to deeply appreciate the world around us. It is the understanding that nothing should be taken for granted, the simplest natural occurrence, the most basic bodily function, the smallest of creatures, the grass in the field, the trees, the flowers, anything we can think of is a marvel which deserves our appreciation and admiration. This kind of understanding is a gate to the highest spiritual discourse a human being can achieve. The first thought that should enter our mind when we first open our eyes in the morning is a prelude to a day blessed with expressions of appreciation.
Upon opening our eye we recite: Modeh Ani L’fanecha…”I thank you, Master of life and subsistence for returning my soul to me with much compassion”. One immediately washes the hands. This is a symbolic spiritual cleansing of the body so that it can receive back the soul which is being lent to us every morning for the day. What a powerful notion: Our soul is a gift which we receive every morning with much joy and appreciation to watch over, to love and cherish.
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