A Need to be Negative

I’m starting to see a pattern here.
Recently I realized that my “constructive criticism” is missing on the constructive side. Please bear with the  kind of personal nature of this post – you’ll get your profound Torah wisdom at the end, I promise (hope). I guess you can skip if you want. 🙂

Meta-Criticism

Well, motzi Shabbos (Saturday night) my wife told me I was being negative. Ok, she told me that I’m very often negative, and pointed out some incidences during the day where I was focusing on what may have been missing, as opposed to all the things that went perfect and great.
To defend myself, I listed a number of complements that I had given (Mostly positive interactions with the kids, not to her :(, except I did complement the delicious cholent. 🙂 ) In any case it could be I have a negative streak. However this is how I explained the math to my wife:
“You only mentioned one particular negative comment over Shabbos, and I made several positive comments, and loads of neutral. So that at least cancels out – leaving me at least neutral.”
When you win, you lose. In certain circles they say “De-Nile ain’t just another river in Egypt.” So I wasn’t all the way there yet. But I’m working on it.

Kabbalistic Criticism

I’m taking a  spiritual coaching course. From the beginning I’ve been pointing out things that could improve with it. (It’s their first run.) The order and manner of presentation, the technology used, the description of the concepts, it’s too girly – too much information, too little information etc… I figured my Torah knowledge and technical expertise (I created this website and built, co-authored www.yiddishacademy.com by my lonesome.) could be of use there, you see.
I recently filled out their survey, making sure to complain about the survey itself. When I came to the section of particular things I gained from the course up to date, I listed with much satisfaction the awareness of whether or not an action is coming from a purely selfish motivation versus an altruistic one indicates whether or not you’re in line with your nefesh ha’bahamis (animal life force, from the Dark Side) or your nefesh Elokis (Divine soul). I really thought that was something extremely worthwhile that I had gained from the course. Then I hit send. (?!)
Don’t worry, I got the irony right afterwards… Maybe my feedback wasn’t so welcome because it wasn’t coming from exactly the right place. It wasn’t the most pleasant realization. And why did I have to do it again and again?

Random Criticism

And why  exactly do I go around judging people and what they do all the time? Why am I always criticizing people? Even people I barely know? Even people I don’t know at all, not where they’re coming from or what they’re about or anything? What do I accomplish with this? I’ve even criticized people I don’t know to their faces, not just in my head.
If one is not sure that the other will appreciate the input, and probably not act on it, criticism cannot be for the other person’s benefit can it? That would make it from the nefesh ha’behamis, an act out of line with our divine nature.
What is the payoff for our animal? It could be an inflation of ego, or a defense – an externalization and nullification of qualities that are too close to home. In my case with the coaching I have a strong desire to be seen as an expert in areas I’ve worked hard to learn about – I don’t feel seen and acknowledged. Hence the snowballing criticism after it wasn’t well received in the first place for the first reasons.
But where does the tendency for general negativity come from? Perhaps if one perceives oneself as negative and deficient, a convenient defensive is putting that on everyone and everything else. But the irony there is that it just self perpetuates… judgment, negativity, more judgment, and more negativity. The only answer is love and acceptance – to the self and the other, in any order. We’re all connected anyway.

The Light from the Darkness – Yisron Ha’Ohr Min HaChoshech

But how can we (We meaning me. But not the royal we. 🙂 ) get there? Besides expensive therapy and men’s groups with war paint and tribal chantings? The truth is, I used a technique called The Work: www.thework.com after I spoke with my wife (actually it was a different conversation, but that one was even more personal), and that’s how I was able to get to a place of serenity this weekend. But I also studied Michtav M’Eliyahu over Shabbos, and I think an idea I learned with my chavrusa could really be of benefit, to help maintain awareness.
Maybe it would help to see that even our negativity is ultimately good. It’s just being channeled the wrong way. Why? The Michtav M’Eliyahu explains (Vol. III, towards the end of Yediah V’Hasagah, Ohr K’salmah) that God is so beyond, that we can only perceive Him by what He isn’t. We can only come to know Him by seeing our own faults which He always helps us to perfect. By seeing our own imperfections and acknowledging them, we are able to know Him through what He isn’t!
It is profound and encouraging. Our faults were created by God so that we could choose to perfect them and own ourselves and our eternal joy in experiencing Hashem, and on top of that it is only through our faults and imperfections that we see God – just as we see objects in contrast to the light that did not penetrate them, we see God through that which we know is not Godly within us.
When we see that God don’t make no junk, we can accept and embrace our failings, acknowledge them and own them before we ask Hashem to help us improve… Then we can expand our awareness and realize that everyone else is deserving of that same love and acceptance.
May the Messiah come speedily in our days. Amen.
To lighten things up, here are some of my artsy, hopefully halichikly ok if not weird kabbalistic drawings:
Ohr scan 2 edit
Mashiach Painting (2)

 

Amazing Shiur – Not So Anonymous…

I almost wish I was a woman so I could listen to these:
The Author of Bilvavi, LIVE Phone Shiur for Women
Rabbi Itamar Schwartz, author of the life-transforming series Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, will be giving a ten-class women’s Rosh Chodesh phone chaburah on the energies of each month, once a month,  throughout the course of the year.
Join now.  Limited spaces available.   Begins this Rosh Chodesh Av.   For Women Only.
Please click on this link to receive more information www.G-dDirectTorah.com.
The Rav’s books are amazing, and are all published anonymously. But you can’t hide (a Tzaddik doesn’t remain nistar forever) for too long I guess.
Rebbetzin Devorah Yaffa Singer has put together an amazing website… a portal for all sorts of inspirational Torah and spirituality geared towards Jewish women. (And sometimes men too.) Take a look!

I Wish I Was Someone Else…

so I could be sameach b’chelki (happy with my lot/portion).

That’s what I quipped to my friend at the yeshivah while discussing jealousy, and its root in a lack of bitachon/faith. If you know God is totally on your side, than you realize everything you have is just right for you, just right for your mission and to help you get your ultimate, perfect reward. Thinking about the other guy’s stuff is like looking in his medicine cabinet and wishing you had his prescriptions, or being jealous of his glasses – you either don’t need it, or it’s not the right fit.
“I wish I was someone else so I could be sameach bchelki.” It’s absurd for a couple of reasons. First off, if I was someone else, I wouldn’t be me now would I? I wouldn’t be able to enjoy being someone else. If I stayed me while I was someone else, well, wherever you go, there you are. Who says I wouldn’t still be looking over the fence at someone else’s lawn?
My friend and I had a good laugh over the line, and I marveled at my cleverness. Ha ha! That was a good one! I passed a Rabbi in the hall and said over the line… Funny, funny.
I went to the bathroom and sobbed. I washed my hands, washed my face, and sobbed some more into the bacteria infested yeshiva hand towel.
Coming out of galus/exile is not so easy – it can be a gradual process. Like awakening suddenly from a horrible nightmare, you can be so scared you don’t want to get out of bed… it takes time to bring yourself back to living. “Shir HaMaa’los.. a song of ascensions… – hayinu k’cholmim… We were like dreamers. Oz yimaleh schok pinuh u’lshoneinu rinah. Then our mouths will be filled with laughter, and our tongues with joy.”
 

Weird Tatty and the Holy Tounge – and My New Glasses

So today my new glasses were delivered to my door from www.israeloptical.com . I do know the owner, but they deliver for non-friends also. Great service. 🙂
I asked my family what they thought of the glasses – I used to always wear round metal, and I went for black plastic. Everyone seemed to like them, except my son who says “Tatty (Daddy), you look like a weird person.” A weird person? What’s that supposed to mean, I thought to myself. On prodding he said “You know, someone we don’t know.”
The Hebrew word “muzar” can mean strange as in weird, and it can also connote a lack of familiarity. So he wasn’t insulting me, my seven-year old was just telling me that I looked radically different.
Remember this cute anecdote when you read a translation of a Hebrew or Aramaic text! There are a lot fewer words in Hebrew, and each word can have many nuances depending on the context. Hidden Torah in particular has its own code, with layers and layers of meaning. The Written
Torah was given on the mountain with an Oral explanation for good reason! You are putting a lot of trust in a translator when you read his translation.

Before
Before

 
 
After
After

 

A Happy Wife a Happy Life – Making it L'shmah

I wish I remembered how this came to me, but I recently had a great insight worth sharing. I think I was learning a Rambam from Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah for my MJI class. It’s about l’shmah, relationships, and growing up.
There is an interesting idea that a l’shmah (“for the sake of,” without any selfish intent) mitzvah has the ability to raise up and transform non-l’shmah acts into l’shmah ones. Rav Chaim Volozhin talks about the idea when it comes to Torah study, and in a similar vein the Baal HaTanya mentions it in terms of a persons prayers – prayers with intent raise up prayers with no intent.
The Rambam discusses another idea. He explains that one of the reasons we have so many mitzvahs is that in order to exist in Olam HaBa, the world to come, it is necessary to have performed at least one mitzvah l’shmah.
This is what I want to say:
Chazal (Our Sages. What you say when you don’t remember the source reference exactly) tell us that L’olam adam yasok b’torah u’v’mitzvos afilu sh’lo l’shmah. A person should always involve himself in mitzvahs and Torah study, even with selfish intent. There are other sources that contradict the idea. The idea is, when the purpose of the lo l’shmah (selfish) act is to get to l’shmah – than it is l’shmah.
We perform Mitzvahs and study Torah within the context of a loving relationship with Hashem. In such a relationship each member will act for the benefit of the other and for the sake of the relationship itself. Two people who are getting their needs met exclusively for their own reasons are using each other, even if it is consensual.
In a committed relationship, we don’t always want to give what our spouses want or need. Sometimes we have to do it for fear of repercussions, to keep on their good side, or maybe even bribe ourselves with the knowledge of a “reward” we will receive – like our favorite dinner etc..
But sometimes our higher self shines through, and we do something for the other just because we know it would make them happy. We reveal that everything else we may have done for selfish reasons was a part of the bigger picture – our true desire to benefit the other and form a unity greater than the sum of our parts.
So that one l’shmah act doesn’t just lift up the other tainted acts, that one sincere prayer doesn’t just give wings or a soul to the others…they reveal what was really there all along…

Attitude of Gratitude

I’m still in the middle of writing my first post. I hope this doesn’t die before it gets off the ground. The whole point of this is so that I’ll write my ideas while they are fresh, and I won’t forget them. This would definitely help me, and maybe others too.
So, just so that this looks busy, I’m going to post a podcast type thing. It’s my little speech on gratitude I gave when I finished Bava Metziah.. after 10 years of working on it! (Not straight, piecemeal.) Yes, I laugh when I’m nervous. Be patient with the first few minutes, my casual banter turns into a deeper understanding of what gratitude is all about.
Attitude of Gratitude

Chapter Three – The Bad Stuff

Chapter Three – The Bad Stuff

Not Good

Why did God make bad stuff? (How can evil even exist when God is good?) As explained before, the best way to understand anything is to understand its purpose.
We just explained that all souls were implanted with a strong desire to receive. This desire is in direct contrast to God’s infinite desire to give. What gives? We explained that in the spiritual realm, not bound by time and space, anything dissimilar is distant.
So how will the souls ever cling to God, the source of all goodness? How will they ever get close?

A Place to Rectify

So that’s the point of all the worlds, above and below. They give a soul a chance to rectify this separation, to bring the soul close to God. Now we have a lesson on basic metaphysical geography.
There are two opposing systems of universes, the holy system, based on the desire to give, and the unholy system which is based on the desire to receive. When an aspect of this system runs wild, only interested in itself, it sees itself as totally separate and wrapped in its own shell. It is evil.
This is why the Sages say that the wicked are considered dead, even in life. They are cut off from the source of life itself, because they are spiritually the opposite of God. He is the ultimate giver, and they are the ultimate takers. As different as night and day, East and West.
The two systems of worlds each form their own chains, world below world, until they end right here in this physical universe. Here is where the body and soul come together. Both the soul and the body have their roots in the intention of creation – to give pleasure to the souls.
But the body has its root in the aspect of the soul which is the desire to receive, and this is channeled down through the system of unholy worlds, manifesting as a physical body. It is totally under the control of that system until the age of thirteen (twelve for a girl). Despite his innocence a child is a total taker, and in that sense is extremely distant from his maker.

Learning to Give

When the child reaches adolescence he gains meta-consciousness, what can be called a conscience or a yetzer tov in Hebrew. If a person is involved in performing mitzvahs, studying Torah and doing good deeds, he starts to change.
A person must receive, our very existence is a gift from God, but gradually we transform the desire to receive into a desire to receive in order that we may give. That we may give to others, and that we may give back to God.
As we purify and rectify our bodies below, we get access to our higher self above, our aspect of giving – our soul’s light from God. This helps us even more to transform our desire to receive, in a type of snowball effect.
Even our very act of receiving God’s goodness, just enjoying it, can become an act of giving. In halachah, there is a concept that “adam chashuv shani,”[1] the pleasure someone has when another receives his gift has real monetary value. When a loved one graciously accepts and appreciates the gift we give them, it feels good. The receiver can give by receiving.
When we work on ourselves here in this world, we can transform our need and want to receive into an act of giving. With our pure intentions we align ourselves with God. We cleave to him, and become capable of receiving all the infinite good we were intended to get.

That’s all I have for now… please give me your feedback for the continuing chapters!!



[1] See Kedushin 7a. The phrase literally means “an important person is different.” Normally a man must give something to a woman to effect a marriage transaction, but in the case of a prominent individual his act of acceptance counts as a gift to the woman, and the marriage can take effect.

Part Two of Chapter One, and the Beginning of Chapt. Two

The End Goal

The end goal of creation is simple. Our Sages have told us that God created the universe so that He can bestow pleasure upon His creations.[1] That’s just what He wanted to do. He did not have to, as He lacks nothing, not even the need to actualize His goodness. He is complete perfection.
This type of will and desire is something that we cannot comprehend. All of our desires and wants are based on a lack that we want to fill. We want food because we are hungry, we need energy. We want money because when we don’t have it. And we even want to do good because we miss doing good, or we feel good when we do good. That’s not it for God. He created the very concept of desire.[2]
And it follows that if the purpose of creation was the pleasure of His creations, then He must have created the concept of a desire to receive. He created souls with an amazingly intense desire to receive.
This had to be, because pleasure and desire have a proportional relationship. The greater the desire for something, the more pleasure is involved. It’s true that there’s always room for dessert, but we like saving room for dessert just so it will taste better, if not to keep our figures slim.
If you receive a gift that you don’t really want or need, you aren’t so excited. If you just ate a large hamburger, the experience of eating an entrecote steak is just not the same.
The more the desire, the greater the pleasure. This is why God created His souls with an intense desire to receive, so they would fully enjoy the good that He wished to give them. This desire is the source of our problems, as well as  the source of our answers.

Chapter Two – Self Knowledge

 Something New

With the knowledge of our necessity for having a  desire to receive, we can get a grasp on how it is that the creation can be considered new. The desire to receive cannot be something that came from God’s “essence”[1] before the creation of souls, because from whom would He receive? He was everything, lacking nothing, as He is now.
The desire to receive must introduce  a new type of consciousness, a perception of separation from the whole. Only when there is perceived otherness there can be a concept of lack, and a desire to receive. God’s indivisible unity leaves no “room” for a desire to get from the other. He is everything, and all He could want is to give to the other, if He so chose. And He did. He generated the concept of a lower level consciousness, something that could be a part of Him without fully realizing it.[2]
The whole universe is essentially comprised of this lower consciousness, this desire to receive. The gift of good, the ultimate pleasure, the gift of Himself, it comes straight from God’s “essence,” and is nothing “new.”

Spiritual Distance

We can see just how far creation is from its creator, despite being a part of Him. From our perspective of duality, with our desire to receive we are polar opposites with the Creator. He has the purest desire to give and bestow goodness, whereas we were created to receive. In the realm of the spiritual, being dissimilar causes distance.[3]
This idea can be understood in the case of two friends. When two people love each other, they are said to be close – even if they are each on the other side of the planet. When people have feelings of animosity, we say there is distance between them – even if they are sitting at the same table.
And it works the other way as well. Bob and Frank are very close friends, but Bob is a Republican and Frank is a  liberal Democrat. Sometimes this can cause distance. But they have many other things they have in common, like a love of chess, nature, and many core values.
Certainly it would be very difficult for them to maintain a “close” relationship if their core value system was completely at odds. How about if whatever Frank loved Bob despised and vice versa! What if Frank was a mafia hitman, and Bob was a pacifist cult member? With absolutely nothing in common it would be like they are “from different planets,” and “as far as the East is from the West.”

Like A Rock

It is clear that when referring to the abstract and the spiritual, the less similar one thing is to the other, the farther away they can be considered. Incongruence, being dissimilar, is like the minor’s pickax, hewing the stone from a mountain. To the degree that two things are unlike, to that degree their distance increases.
God has no desire to receive whatsoever – as far as He is concerned, and in true reality, there is no one to give Him anything. We were created for the purpose of receiving the ultimate good, and therefore must have a desire to receive it. This definitely causes some distance.  This is what makes us “a part” or an “aspect,” whereas he is the greater whole of everything.
All of God’s light which the soul receives comes directly from God, straight from His essence. So the only difference that exists between God and a soul is the fact that the light is contained within the vessel of the desire to receive. It is thus an “aspect” of the greater whole. A rock from the mountain. It has the perception of separateness, the desire to receive, and this makes it only a part, but on a higher plane it is no different than the whole.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I have tried to present these concepts as simply as possible. They are very deep, and have many ramifications. I hope that they serve to open your mind, to see that there are answers, but that nothing worth knowing is simple at first.
Stay tuned for Chapt. 3: The Bad Stuff!!
 
 
 
 

 


[1] When we talk of God’s essence, we mean the truth of His existence that we cannot possibly understand. Even the noun “essence” can’t be applied as anything that can be conceived of, any linguistic description, was created by Him. So we use the word for convenience sake.
[2] See Nefesh HaChaim, Sha’ar Gimmel for an explanation of the concept “Mitzido u’mitzideinu, from our perspective vs. His perspective.” Also, See Shiurei Da’aas ? and his amazing candle in the mirror analogy. The analogy is basically this: If you lived in a universe with no sense of  touch, only sight, if you saw a candle in a mirror there to you there would actually be two candles according to the rules of that dimension.
But if a person who had other senses saw it, his reality would see only one real candle. The analogue: There are different levels of reality, and to God they are all illusory, it is all Him, He is One, and nothing has ever changed in any way. But in our level of perception lower levels of reality are existant.
[3] On an abstract level this can be understood in this way:. When something is beyond the physical, there is no space or time. If something is identical to something else, then it is the same thing, which is obviously like being in the same place. Being dissimilar,  so that one concept is separate from the other, takes it out of the same “space” so that it can be something else.

 

 


[1] See introduction to Mesilas Yesharim.
[2] This understanding discerns Jewish mysticism from that of any religion I have come across. The fact that God had absolutely no need of any kind to actualize His goodness makes creation an act of pure altruism – even His desire to give was created. When we perform His commands, even when we do not understand them, or even want to comply, then we complete a circuit of real relationship and unity. This is opposed to a partnership of self interest, or co-dependence – even when the other’s benefit is also in mind.  See chapter four.

 

Chapter One, Part One

The Power of a Question

Why do Jews always answer a question with a question? Why not?
Questioning has always been a very important part of being Jewish. All of the Talmud, the combined Oral Law as transmitted by the Sages, is written in a question and answer style. Most of us have heard of the four questions asked by Jewish children on Passover night.
Questions create a void in us that needs to be filled. It sets us up to understand the answer on a deep level – to experience higher consciousness.[1] If we do not have the question, we will never really appreciate the answer. In Judaism questioning is a good thing.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The Talmud says that all beginnings are difficult, and the word for the Talmud uses when describing a question is “kushya,” a difficulty. It’s not easy to be in a state of questioning, and many questions are very difficult.

Central Issues

In the introduction I mentioned some particularly difficult questions that we all have at some point: What am I? Why am I here? Why does God allow us to suffer? These questions are beginnings as well.
But let’s take a little turn. Let’s ask some even more basic philosophical questions. To understand God’s purpose for the world and our role in it, it’s worth questioning some of the fundamental premises we have concerning the nature of reality. This will help prepare us for a shift in consciousness.
Jews believe that God, who is one, infinite, and totally indivisible, created a world out of nothing. A brand new world.
The Jewish God is not a giant old man without a white beard sitting on his thrown in heaven like Zeus. He created the very concept of a physical and spiritual universe, and to this end He must be beyond all those things. He is beyond everything, yet is capable of anything.
This is what we mean when we say “Hear Israel Hashem our God, Hashem is one.” He is totally one and singular, lacking nothing and possessing everything, with no division whatsoever – a concept beyond our universe of perceived duality and separation.
How is this possible if He is one and indivisible? Everything is included within Him… How can anything be new? And if we grant that He can do the impossible, still what would be the nature of this new creation?
Kabbalah teaches that every soul is a piece of God, analogous to a rock hewn from a mountain. Well how can that be? How does one split God into pieces, so to speak? It’s against the basic principle of God’s indivisible unity!
How can the perfect, good God create and constantly sustain evil, His complete opposite?
What’s the deal with resurrection of the dead? Why is that an important belief? Let our souls stay in heaven, happy as can be. Why is the body necessary at all?
These questions may or may not bother you all the time – but they cut to the core of the reality of who and what we are, what is the nature of our world and what our purpose in it is. When we shed light on these questions, we can shed light on to all of our painful questions as well. Perhaps we will find that the darkness of our questions contains light that was originally to blinding for us to see.

What’s the Point of it All?

This question – sometimes voiced with frustration, depression, or desperation – is actually the beginning of its own answer. What’s the point indeed? Any action, unless it is being performed by a person lacking any sanity or intelligence, has some sort of purpose.
Let us assume that God is not so evil, lowly and despicable (God forbid), that He would create myriad pathetic beings that would their lives out in all sorts of pain, for no real purpose, and just turn His back and walk away. If He is a good and loving God, than perhaps there is an end goal to this, maybe it’s a process?
To understand any process, or any object, one must understand its purpose. If you think a cell phone is a door stop, you might complain it’s too light. If you are watching an artist sketch the first details of an oil painting, you could say he doesn’t know how to draw too well. “Never show a fool unfinished work,” is the old folk saying.
The reality is, the human nature that could lead to evil was God’s creation. He knew what could and would happen. There are some who would say that God was “powerless” to prevent evil. This is heresy of the highest degree. There is nothing out of God’s control.
The answer lies in understanding what the end goal of creation is.



[1] I received this idea from Rabbi Yochanan Becchofer when editing his yet unpublished book on the holidays. See the chapter on the Passover seder.

Introduction – The Purpose of the Book, Part Two

So What is the Purpose of the Book?

The truth is, most people who have problems with belief in God have them for emotional reasons, and not because of intellectual difficulties. They are in pain. They’ve suffered either emotionally or physically, or they empathize with the great pain of others, as in the classic question: “What about the Holocaust?”
This pain must be acknowledged and respected – it cannot be ignored or batted away with platitudes. It is real, and a part of life. But why the pain? Would a kind and just God put us through all of this? To what purpose? What are we here for anyway? Why?
No one can free a person of his pain, he must do that himself. Working on bitachon in God is as personal as the development of any other relationship. But in this work I hope to answer some of these questions, providing a framework where trust can begin to grow. There are answers. He does have His reasons, and some I can understand.
New revelation and understanding can give us the strength to turn to God to help us get in touch with our inner strength.
For me the material in this book is exciting. It is abstract. It is deep, and it is life changing. For many of you it will be the first time you have ever contemplated these issues, but others will be overjoyed to know that these issues are addressed by the Torah, with a blazing light that illuminates all the dark places.
Read this book slowly and carefully, or fast and then again. Share the material verbally with others. Discuss it. Bring it to life. Awareness brings higher consciousness, and the ability to make higher level, better choices in our lives. Without awareness it is impossible to have healthy, happy relationships, with our friends, our spouses, our children, ourselves or with God.