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. 🙂


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 drawing related to this idea:

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.