Friday, 31 October 2014

Lech Lecha - Go To (For) Yourself - And The Not So Smart Smartphone (Powerful Video Included)

There's a famous teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that I often think about. He teaches that everything a person sees or hears is meant for a reason. The Alter Rebbe - the first Rebbe of Chabad also has a famous teaching. He says that one should live with the times. Living with the times means to connect one's life (and the life of the world in general) with the Parsha of the week. Encountering a particular video today and wondering what it had to do with the Parsha at the same time is by no means an easy task. Thinking it over though I realised a powerful message which I share today.

One should surely keep up with the times - because there really is no way to run away from them. Take a look around and compare the world of the "mighty" Internet and mobile technology of today, and Rome of two thousand years ago, and there is enough to realise, that one simply cannot attempt to live one's life as if one existed in that Roman period. 

At the same time, never forget the message of this week's Parsha. G-d tells Abraham - "Go to yourself", or even possibly, "Go FOR yourself." It all depends how one translates the word "Le". Either way the message is clear. Stand strong in following the path that is meant for you as a Jew. If not Jewish - the message can even indicate an importance in connecting with your soul along the path G-d indicates for you - to follow the 7 Mitzvot Bnei Noach. Connect with the real you - the soul as it exists in its essential form. Live with the times - yes. But don't forget not to get carried away with them - because in fact, one should be in a constant state of connecting with one's inner soul which surely goes back thousands of years into the essence of G-d Himself.

When I connect with my soul, I hold myself back from the whirlwind of the movement of the physical world because I focus on what is important for me as a soul. When I live with the times, I make sure I am a part of that whirlwind. My body wants a big part of the whirlwind of physical matter. Being a part of that whirlwind can be dangerous - and so when one feels that perhaps one is overstepping the normal nature of the soul - hold back...

The path of Torah is beautiful. While life moves on at speed, the Torah path allows one to keep moving in a far calmer manner. One knows to rest on Shabbat. One knows to eat only Kosher. One holds back from constant physical touch with one's wife by fulfilling the laws of Family Purity. There are always stops. Some people think it's too restrictive. But much like driving a car, and knowing that the "Stop" sign is there to keep you safe from danger, these restrictions calm the body and soul, allowing both to be healthy - and happy. When one begins to drive one's "car" (the body) in the slower lane of that apparent restrictive life - as one learns more Torah each day, practices more acts of kindness, and simply flows with the gentle breeze of life that Torah brings, one knows that one is living in as safe a lane as is possible. There is a beauty to such a lifestyle and a calmness that only one devoted to such a lifestyle can understand.

Nobody is ever exempt from life's activities and the bills that must be paid - but the Torah way of life puts life into perspective. It makes it meaningful and it allows one to live according to a set of laws which keeps one safe from the many dangers that exist outside.

In our fast paced world of technology (you know... "living with the times" and all that...) many refuse to ever learn the dangers of texting and reading their messages on their "smart"phones. It will never help - no matter how many times one asks others to respect the lives of others (at the very least!) and to be aware of the dangers involved in using their phone while driving. Liz Marks also thought she had it under control. Addicted to her smartphone she took the path of least resistance. A path that indicated something to the effect - that since everyone else does it - she could too. It could never happen to me - were surely words she had thought of - as so many others have too.

Her story (in the video below) is beyond tragic. The message brought by it is clear. Life is far too precious to get swept into the fast lane of keeping up with technology, keeping up with the social world, keeping up with the Joneses. Live with the times indeed. Just don't forget, even when the modern world is calling a phone "Smart", it does not mean it really is...

Go to yourself. Go for yourself. Keep in touch with who you really are as a person. You are great just being who you are. You never need to feel the need for everything else that everyone else has - or the need for keeping up with the lifestyle everyone else does - just because they do it. G-d tells Abraham that going to oneself is really a message of going for oneself. When one relates to who one is and pursues his path of growth, he really does himself a favour for himself. He keeps himself outside of additional dangers that can be avoided - and becomes a calmer person who can love life - even when it seems like there are restrictions. Mostly - those restrictions are not there to actually "Stop" you. They are there to warn you of oncoming traffic. Your pause - though seemingly a time-waster and frustrating - may one day be the very reason you are alive - and you may never even realise what should have happened - because it didn't!

"Celebrate" the Shabbat day. Enjoy its calmness. Enjoy the warmth it provides body and soul - even if it's freezing outside! Go to who you are - and pick up a book of the Torah and spend some time reading it - without the need to check your phone every few minutes. This is who you are.

If nothing else has any impact in this message - never text and drive nor use your cellphone in any way that is against the law - against your life (even if you think you can get away with it.) There may not be an officer to stop you, but there are other things that can...

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Are You Keeping Shabbat THIS Week (Parshat Noach 5775)?

There is still time to prepare to observe the Shabbat this week - uniting with all Jews around the world. See The Shabbos Project for more information on how to observe THIS Shabbat, and every Shabbat afterwards!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Doing Everything in its Correct Time - a Lesson from Sukkot

City Of Sukkas In Jerusalem
By Effi B. (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Torah teaches that "Zerizim makdimim le'mitzvos" - "The swift perform Mitzvot with alacrity". The moment a Mitzvah presents itself, one should do everything one can to fulfill the Mitzvah. Just as we must be quick to fulfill a Mitzvah that presents itself, we should also be careful to honor the Mitzvah for what it is, when it actually happens! For this reason, many have the custom of disassembling their Sukkot immediately after the festival. Such individuals indicate through this, that the Sukkah contains a holiness of the kind that we should really have it up only for the festival itself. By having it up longer, it is as if we say over that the truth is we can just leave it that way for as long as we wish. Those who value its intrinsic holiness make sure the Sukkah is ready for the festival - but also take it down immediately afterwards to show how much they have valued it - but for the festival itself only!

On the other side of this coin lie those who have not worn Tefillin for the entire festival of Sukkot, in accordance with the opinion that says that Chol HaMoed is really Moed and we don't wear Tefillin on a Moed (festival.) Those who delight in Mitzvot performance wake up early on the day after Sukkot in anticipation of putting on their Tefillin at the earliest possible time - to get back into the holiness of the lights of the Tefillin! Such individuals are really the two sides of the same coin as those who dismantle their Sukkot immediately after the festival.

Sukkot is that time when we begin asking for rain from G-d. Indeed, in the ideal world, G-d will answer very shortly thereafter. Our prayers are taken seriously. The festival is over and we are in urgent need of rain. That being the case, we simply open our mouths, ask G-d for the blessed rain, and the rain comes down!

If we are to get to grips with the way in which prayers and nature work, we should also do well to heed the advice of those who are swift in performing Mitzvot to prepare enthusiastically in advance - and to move on immediately afterwards into the Mitzvah that awaits us next. Mitzvah gorreret Mitzvah - one Mitzvah draws in another.

In Israel, the blessed rains have already come down, bringing new nourishment to all of creation. Yet there were some who still had not taken down their Sukkot. As a result, the rains begin to make their way into the metal of those metal Sukkot and the wood of those Sukkot made of wood. This causes those substances to wear out faster and require new purchases sooner than expected.

Let us take this beautiful lesson to heart. G-d is indeed ready to answer our prayers as we pray. Things must follow a correct process of blessing in the times that blessings should come. Our duty - now - should be to do everything in its correct time! Just as the sun rises and finds itself in the position it should be at each moment of the time, drifting across to the other side of the sky - and the moon and the night performing their duties in their own times, so too should we be careful to honour each moment of time in its most fitting period.

When its time to build (the Sukkah) we build. When it is time to dismantle - we dismantle. When it is time to put the Tefllin aside, we do so (if we follow that custom), and when it is time to put them on again - we do so immediately with enthusiasm. As we relate to the correct cycle of G-d's planned events in creation, so too will He bless us with abundance in those times as He so decrees as being just that right time (which is really always now!)

Everything has its time. This is the best path to blessing.


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