Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Why is it So Hard for the Poor Man to Ask for Help?

There are some powerful lessons in this week's Parshah - Behar (/Bechukotai). One of the most powerful teachings of the Torah appears in this week's portion - speaking about the importance of charity to others. 

Those who have seen a "beggar" (a term which strips a human being from all his dignity) often wonder how it can come about that a person should "lower" themselves to such a state. How did they get there? - people ask. They see the man lying on the ground with an old blanket around him. In front of him lies a plastic cup or a dish - practically empty, save for a few kind donations of the smallest of coins. 

Here lies a human being, but he has lost hope in life. What ever brought him to this? He tries to sleep as much as he can - just to pass the time until perhaps he will die... He waits for enough money to collect in the dish with the hope that he will be able to afford a loaf of bread and a glass of water - if he is lucky. It may take the entire day for this to happen - as passersby visit the most expensive of clothing shops / cellphone shops / "collectables" shops - and other "necessary" stores near to the man lying on the ground - on the list for the day, where the most vital of things should be purchased.

Our Parshah tells us the story. It once happened that here was a man filled with dignity. He was clean, smelled good, had a smile - and even laughed at things in life. Believe it or not - a human being - just like us! He must have given something to society at some point in time. It is just inconceivable that he did not. That is just how life works. As Ben Azzai in Pirkei Avot (4:3) teaches: "Despise no man, for there is no man who does not have his hour and no man who does not have his place."

This dignified man got along with life - moving and trying to do whatever he could. As time went on, he was not supported by others in the work and effort that he did. People did not buy from him. People did not hire his service. People would bargain with the man to get the service and goods he provided at bargain prices - often smiling to their relatives when they left - remarking at the good deal they had got! He continued on. Not much later he was unable to purchase new garments for himself. He could not even afford a new pair of spectacles he was much in need of! 

He felt it better to try to get some business - even at a loss - rather than to beg and ask others for help. With time, he could not even have a shower - because he could not afford to rent an apartment. Owning one - was not even something that appeared in his dreams... His diet - though once healthy - progressed to buying the barest minimum - eventually settling for just one meal a day (perhaps.) People began to detest the man, feeling he did not look good (now), he smelled bad. Why should they support him?! He had become a liability to society now. Why - he didn't even pay his taxes!

And then it happened. He gave up. He gave up on himself. He gave up on society. He gave up on life. Right there and then, he took the only blanket he had left, together with his last plastic cup - and he sat himself down on a business thoroughfare road somewhere. There were thousands of people walking by every day. Maybe someone would help. Really help! Get him on his feet again! Get him out of the debt he now owed... But the people walk by. They can only see a "beggar" - someone who does not contribute to society in any way. Why should anybody really take an active interest in his life? After all, three are considered dead anyway, the poor, the childless and the blind (Nedarim 64b). The poor man (and anyone who is this - knows well this feeling) is literally the walking dead.

The Torah is sensitive. There should never be a situation of a person having to become a "beggar". Let him become a professional, a person who is able to take care of himself (See Rambam's hierarchy of laws of charity - with the highest level being to give in order to help the other to be able to support himself.) Here is a person with talents and skills - and a soul... A person who can make a difference to others. But today - he sits with a cup in front of him because he has given up, because he may well never have even been given a chance!

Here the Torah teaches us - when we see the other falling - even before he stretches out his hand to ask - step in, make the difference to him NOW(!) before it is too late. When we give when the other is still stable - but in need - we do far better than when we give when the other has already fallen. Then... then it becomes practically impossible to get him up again. His dignity has been destroyed. His life's possessions have been taken away from him. The banks have closed his accounts, never to allow him to open them again(!)... His name has been ruined! The donkey has fallen / the load has fallen. It has become impossible to ever get it up again...

So many people walk around saying they are "good people". Many say how much they can relate to the man-man commandments, though they don't believe in God's commandments. Here is one of the ultimate tests. Here - we are faced with a person who seems - in our eyes - to be someone who is worth nothing (God forbid). So much so, we feel it is *his* duty to take care of himself - to get a job (whatever line we want to use - to let us off the hook from helping the other.) But now - we must come to the rescue and help the other - no matter what. We just cannot let them fall - because then... then, it will be too late. Too little... too late...

For those who don't know, I personally support myself only through Torah teaching on this site and my main site www.lovingkindness.co. It is not easy to find people willing to pay the amounts I need in order to live(!) and really, I too rely upon those who value Torah teaching and outreach - to help me to continue my own path in life. I am also a professional photographer (some of my pictures - for sale - can be seen here). People can purchase those photos - or hire me as their photographer for photography in Jerusalem. If you have valued any of my posts - please consider helping me to progress in the path I have chosen for myself, so that I too may never collapse like the load of a donkey.

There are donate buttons on this page as well as my main website. Please let others know. Share this post with others who may be able to offer help in any way.

Eliyahu Shear
Rabbi, author and editor, photographer, graphic designer - so much to offer...

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Rabbi Who "Lusts" for Money

Having seen so much negative publicity about rabbis asking for financial assistance, and the apparent chillul Hashem (desecration of Hashem's Name,) I felt it important to bring out some vital information, so often neglected by the public. I'm not going in to the sources as to the permissibility of the action - rather, and more importantly, I felt another angle was necessary - one that leans towards the concept of "rabbi," his role, and how too often, he is simply taken for granted. Apparently, he is seen as a spiritual being who devotes his life completely to God, and with this, has no need to actually live a physical life. When he does choose to, he is so often condemned for his inappropriate behaviour. Perhaps, we need to seriously re-consider our thinking of who he is, his role, his availability for others, and in fact, his vital contribution to Jewish society, and in truth, the world in general.

So great has the "desecration" become, it is considered taboo for a rabbi - or a Torah scholar to dare to ask for money. He is looked down upon, frowned upon, and dismissed as someone who needs to go out and get a "proper job". Alternatively at the very least he should be prepared to offer himself to everyone at no cost, because he has indeed chosen a life of poverty - the life of the "rabbi", a spiritual being connected to God, with no need for a physical life.

Rabbis - are in fact just like other people - human beings who are composed of souls that live inside bodies. These bodies of their's require the exact same food to live, a home to live in, and maybe a car to get around in (they should be so lucky - so deserving!) They even wear garments to keep themselves warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and be of the types that are quality enough that they (the garments) bring enough respect to them, that the world may feel they are in fact dignified, honorable and clean in every respect. Surely wearing rags would do even more damage - than his apparent "lust" for wealth. 

It's not really the negative publicity that's as much of a problem - as is the sudden calling upon of the rabbi for some things he can actually give to the other - from that very person who once humiliated, insulted and degraded "the rabbis" for their apparent "lust of money", apparently contradicting everything they ever imagined about this spiritual being (they assume) they call a rabbi.

It's when suddenly at 12am they feel low about life and want someone to talk to who understands something about life - and they pick up the phone to call their "rabbi" for help. And he's actually there - prepared to talk and to listen... It's when there's a marriage and they suddenly need their "rabbi" to officiate - and he doesn't just do the ceremony as some might think - he spends years learning the laws to make sure it is done correctly. Subjects such as these require sharp, clear minds - and most of all the ability to be able to sit and learn for hours every day - without disturbance, in order to clarify that the final "show" will actually be in accordance with normative Jewish law.

It's when their baby boy turns 8 days and they need the "rabbi" (Mohel in this case - who could also be the rabbi) to take care of the commandment at that time. It's when suddenly they may need a Mezuzah checked - and call the "rabbi" (Sofer in this case - but could equally be the community rabbi) to check - or even to know just where to put the Mezuzah up. It's when they need a divorce (which can actually happen) and they need the "lustful" rabbi to have spent years learning the laws gratis as a gift to all and sundry - never to charge for his time spent in learning - to make sure he does what needs to - as it should be done.

It's when their relationship with a partner may be falling apart - and they feel the need to talk to their "rabbi" to help put things back together again - or when the father of a child dating someone of another religion feels it is not the right thing to do - and feels he must now speak to the "rabbi" to help. Now the rabbi must help - though just moments before (in their eyes at least) - he was greedy about money, bowing and kowtowing to the wealthy for help.

It's when the person realises suddenly that he needs to actually learn some Torah - he needs to grow, he needs some life, he needs some meaning which he feels suddenly that he might find in the Torah... and he calls - "heaven forbid" - the "rabbi" to help him get on track again - and return.

But God forbid that the rabbi should mention he needs any money to live - or God forbid he take a cent from anyone (especially if he has the chutzpah - the audacity - to ask from the wealthy) - lest he appear in their eyes as greedy or the like - bowing, kowtowing and lowering himself from his exalted level of spirituality - to make out as if he is a physical being of any kind.

Let us be clear, just like a doctor may study medicine for many years and then begin to charge huge sums for the work he does, as does the accountant or lawyer, the rabbi has involved himself in many years of study as well. What makes him different in the eyes of others, is the fact that they believe that by following God, by being spiritual, by living a more spiritual (apparently dignified) life, he should offer his service at no charge, or at minimum charge, or should at least compromise to everyone's wishes to what they can afford. He dare not ask for money when he is battling (note: to survive!) because this should be beneath the dignity of one who sets himself up in the eyes of others as a Godly person, a spiritual person engaged in spiritual pursuits.

The truth is - as any Jew should know, the rabbi performs many functions. Sometimes he talks to inspire a congregation. Sometimes he teaches children. Sometimes he teaches adults. Sometimes he acts as a friend. Other times he will help others with the rituals they are in need of performing. Sometimes he offers spiritual advice to assist others in their growth in life. He may be available all day and all night - being prepared to wake up whenever another is in need - in order to help them immediately. He has so many hats - even if it appears he only wears one (an old black one that seems to look like he really needs to replace it!) He does so much... (very often without any charge at all!) Yet, many do not realise just how much he gives... until of course, it is they who suddenly need his help...

It may seem "undignified" for the rabbi to have to ask for money to live, but in truth, it is not he who is at fault. It is we - the one's who will not pay him his fair due to live appropriately and be able to give of his time without the need to wonder how to make ends meet. When we give more, without his having to ask - he will be able to do more, and appear even more dignified in our eyes for the tremendous work and good that he does in fact do.

It just takes a little thought to ponder upon his role in life and how so many need it. When we see him asking for help, for financial assistance, it is not for us to judge how lowly he is and what a chillul Hashem (a desecration of God's Name) he has done. Rather, it is for us to remember, that he too is a person who needs to live, to eat, to wear garments, to have a house to live in and maybe even a car to drive! 

We must remember, that when we give without stinginess, then when the day comes that it is we who need the help from that rabbi - he will be there for us. For if not, then when one day we do need his help - for anything - he will not be there for us. He will be unable to learn. Perhaps, one day, instead of offering sage advice to make the difference in a life-or-death question that one has - he will find that "rabbi" checking his goods out at the supermarket.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Mikvah of the Arizal - Rabbi Yitzchak Luria - Mystic: Why I Took This Photo

The picture may look a little dreary for some, but that's only because many are not aware of what they are looking at. I guess that's a little like someone involved in mining who seems to only see dirt - and then all of a sudden realises that while it may look like a lot of dirt - when one looks and searches, one finds gold and diamonds all around one! It's about putting aside the outward appearance and instead, focusing on what the treasure in front of us actually is!

Here I was in the holy city of Safed in Israel. Nobody who values this pool of water can be in Safed and not immerse in it... 

Here lies the Mikvah of the Arizal - Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572). This is the very place that he would immerse in to purify his body every day. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria was one of the key rabbis involved in transmitting the authentic teachings of kabbalah to us - until today. His teacher was no less than Elijah the Prophet himself. While there will always be pessimists who consider that ridiculous, a sampling of his work is enough for anyone to realise that it is simply not possible for a person of flesh and blood to express himself in such a way - and in so doing, teach the most hidden secrets of Creation and life, unless of course there was someone from a far superior realm guiding him. Indeed - this was Eliyahu (Elijah) the Prophet! We may as well mention that when it came to teaching the Baal Shem Tov - Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem (1698-1760) - the secrets of Torah, it was Achiya HaShiloni - the teacher of Elijah the Prophet - who taught him! 

In the world of Torah, there is nothing strange about what lies hidden from the human eye. Just because a blind man cannot see, does not mean that physical human beings do not exist. There are certainly others who do see them. For those who purify themselves sufficiently, they too may be privy to the experiences of visions in seeing and learning from the Maggidim - the Angels from on High, from the souls of those who have already left this world, as well as from the great Prophets themselves...

The Mikvah is one the most mysterious of creations that God has blessed us with. Herein lies parts of the mysteries of birth. Just as the baby will find itself immersed in the womb, surrounded by water, so too is the Mikvah a womb for the "bigger" body to immerse itself in - in order to return to that womb, and to start life again, so to speak. Water has always carried with it that description, that property of purity. In fact the body itself is composed of some 73% water! Water is life! When feeling exhausted, it is to water that we will turn to refresh ourselves again! It is the most keen component in a healthy lifestyle. Drink water - and lots of it - every day! 8 glasses? Go for 12 - every single day! Our bodies love water, and it is the most basic of all healthy diets in order to keep the body working at its very very best! Without it, dehydration occurs, loss of energy, and simply an inability to do anything. One cannot survive in this physical for too long without re-hydrating ourselves!

Just as water absorbed into the internal part of the body has the effect of purifying one - so too does water when it is applied to the outside of the body. Yet again, after a hard day of work, after a workout, after just about any physical activity - a well earned shower and bath is taken by us all. The warm (or cool) water refreshes us yet again making us feel ready to start life again, or to just relax, feeling just wonderful!

The most mysterious of water is that that is completely natural - untouched by human hands! This is the water from the clouds - rain! It is God's own direct source of purity which He sends to us regularly - without which we would die! Once that water is handled by man, however, it does indeed lose something of its purity. So the Torah instructs us, that in the making of a system of water that will bring the highest levels of purity to us, we must make a Mikvah!

The Mikvah is a completely natural body of water made according to the strict laws as set down in the Shulchan Aruch - the Jewish work of law par excellence. After preparing a hole in the ground, one waits for the rain to fill it up. It is this water that will bring purity in the spiritual sense of the word - to the person who immerses inside it! Modern Mikvaot do not work in this exact way - but rather, they have a pool specially attached to the natural body of water, with an opening that connects the two. As long as the opening is open, then even the man-made pool connects to the holiness from the original water. If it is closed however, it is simply a man-made pool! That water is cleaned out regularly to keep the Mikvah clean and hygienic. The original rain-water however remains in the hole originally prepared.

Another type of Mikvah is a natural spring. After all, what can be more natural in terms of water than water which flows from a natural spring - with no human intervention at all?! While it is not always easy to get to a natural spring, there are indeed some around, and then there are those who use them! The Mikvah pictured in the image above is indeed from a natural spring. The water has flowed from the snow coming from the mountains - already for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Due to this, the water is absolutely freezing and immersing for even the most minimum of time is an experience one will never forget! Not all Mikvaot are like this however. Modern Mikvaot are warmed up through permissible means. Tradition has it that one who immerses in the Mikvah of the Ari will certainly do Teshuvah (he will repent from all his sins) before he dies - a very meritorious thing to do!

A story is told that when the Arizal died, as is the custom that a Jewish body be immersed in a Mikvah before burial - they took his body for immersion right here... When they placed the body inside, the body began to move on its own, and the Arizal immersed himself, by himself...

The Arizal would immerse in this Mikvah daily - even when he was very sick, suffering from a stomach problem, though his mother had constantly warned him not to immerse due to his bad health. He died at the young age of just 38! This is the very same Mikvah one can immerse in today! Not only the Arizal, but hundreds of thousands of people - some of them the greatest giants of the Torah world in every aspect of Torah - have immersed in that very pool! It is an awesome experience to immerse there - as one contemplates just how many people have stood in that exact spot - the greatest of giants of every generation! It must surely add to the holiness!

It is a Mitzvah for a woman to immerse in a Mikvah once a month i.e. when she has her menstrual cycle. This is the only time she needs to immerse. Men have the custom to immerse in a Mikvah before Rosh HaShanah - the New Year - and the day before Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. Yet others are careful to immerse once a week on the eve of the Sabbath day. Yet others - especially Chassidim and those who immerse themselves for their studies of kabbalah - will immerse themselves every single day, every morning before the morning prayers (Shacharit). 

There are other important times that a man should immerse as well (contact me for more details.)

In summary: The Mikvah is a pool of natural water. The water purifies a person spiritually from any type of spiritual impurity he may have - as he immerses himself, his entire body without any intervening substance whatsoever (including watches, jewlry or even dirty nails etc.) completely naked in one-go into the "womb" of life, emerging completely purified, to begin his service of serving God again, as if he were a new-born baby. When immersing, his body should be relaxed with his fingers opened slightly so that the water will reach every place of the body. His eyes may be closed gently and he should not hold on to anything inside the pool while immersing.

This picture is the Mikvah that was used by the Arizal himself, and it stands out as a reminder of how important it is for a man to immerse regularly. Those who wish to study the secrets of Torah (Kabbalah) should not do so under any circumstances if they do not immerse in a Mikvah regularly (every single day.) The experience is refreshing, rejuvenating, cleansing and purifying. Anyone doing so regularly will begin to feel like there is a whole different way of life, a newness to everything, and a clarity in one's way of thinking (even!)

Immersing in a Mikvah is for me - one of the most important parts of the day. It somehow gives a charged-start to all of my activities!

You can purchase this picture here, print it out and contemplate some of these thoughts whenever you look at it - or meditate on your own thoughts. If you have never been to a Mikvah before, do it today! If you have, but don't do so regularly - make a new start! And if you do go regularly - you are truly blessed!

By purchasing one of my pictures, or booking a time to learn with me online, or making a donation, you are not just taking a part in supporting a Torah scholar, but you are assisting a Jew to be able to live while giving him the opportunity to continue his own learning in Torah. Be a part of it - today!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Man in Purple - Praying at the Kotel - Why I Took This Photo

I'm constantly fascinated by the different types of people who come to pray at the Kotel - the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Here was someone who surely stood out from the crowd. It seems like most of us might think the "royal purple" garments worn by this man would not be the norm for the type of garments we would wear on a daily basis. However, here he is - standing at the holiest site in the world pouring his heart out to his Creator. It makes no difference if he is Jewish or not - here is a man in need of having his prayers answered. He too contains within himself a spark of Godliness in need of redemption.

You may have seen my previous post about a man who had come to pray at the Kotel, and wondered why I would post another such similar image. In truth, however, the images are completely different. The garments worn by the two men are certainly different - but more importantly, their prayers are different. Most of us would not consider this. We are too distracted by the physical... We would see two people standing at the same place and assume things to be the same. We would make judgments about their garments... but this is not what prayer is all about, this is not what a soul is all about. In fact, this is not what life is all about.

When God created His world, He filled it with an infinite array of creatures - many of which we have never seen in our lives before, and many which we never will. To the scuba-diver who finds himself deep below in the hidden waters concealed from the average person, life is quite different. There, he/she finds himself/herself amongst creatures which most will never come to see. With modern technology, the average person has been privy to worlds unseen... To the astronaut thousands of kilometres above the Earth's surface - he too sees worlds that most will never see. With modern technology, the average person has again been privy to seeing sights he would never see in his ordinary life.

Just as these people are privy to worlds unseen by the average person - so too are there other worlds which none of us might even be aware... but they are there.

Hidden, in the deepest resources of these worlds, is what goes on in the mind of a person. Here, one will find the deepest of thoughts that each of us has - which others will never see. Here, one will see the fear and the love one has for God too. While on the outside, we may all look the same - save for perhaps the different external garments we wear, on the inside, our worlds differ from each other as do the colours black and white. 

Indeed the Baal Shem Tov asks - Why is Kabbalah called the hidden wisdom? Those who wish to learn the mystical aspects of Torah are welcome to go into any well-shelved Jewish book store and purchase books on every subject of mysticism from the theory to the practical... Anyone with a good knowledge of Hebrew can read these books in the original and learn the apparent "hidden wisdom". The Baal Shem Tov answers that Kabbalah is based on two foundations which are hidden - the love of God and the fear of God. These emotions are hidden within every person and differ from one to the next. Whereas everyone may observe the Shabbat day, eat Kosher, wear Tefillin (for men) etc. everyone will do so with their own feelings... and it is this that is hidden. The mystic will achieve his closeness to the Creator not because of the books he reads, but because of his emotions as he cleaves to his Creator in ecstasy and trembling. To the outside observer however, none will know... because in Kabbalah, everything is hidden... The reader (only) of such books will never grasp the essence of the study, because without the "hidden," it really is all hidden. Much like the fool who picks a beautiful flower from the garden thinking that he does so because of how much love he has towards it - yet immediately brings it to a state of death(!) - so too the student of kabbalah and the "practitioner" who attempts to study it after having uprooted it from its Source, and his lacking all fear and love of the entire Torah.

Here - a man stands praying. He wears particular - unique external garments, and those watching may well make their own judgments. However, when it comes to God, it is not the outside which attracts His attention, it is the inner world of each of us. He has created it, but it is we who bring it out from potential into reality. 

Our obligation is to look beyond the facade - beyond the veneer of the other (and even of ourselves!) Our obligation is to see the beauty of the external - even if it appears so different to our own, and thereafter to penetrate to the inner and to realise just how different it is from the other.

Our two men praying may look similar - as far as ordinary appearances may go. After all, they both stand at the same place. They may seem to be praying and talking to their Creator. Inside, however, they are completely different. They are celebrating being themselves in their very own way. Their external garments are merely a sign of something they feel close to in terms of physical garments. They have chosen those garments because it makes them feel the way they'd like to - physically. The garments express something about their inner selves, much like a doctor wears particular garments, a soldier wears others and a policeman wears yet another type of uniform - each expressing who they are at that point in time. Their inner garments - of thought, speech and action - are however most different.

When we stand watching over others, no matter how different they may seem, we must be aware that there is something they all share. They all come from the Highest of Roots of Creation, their souls having traveled into their bodies to express themselves differently, to offer something unique to the world. They may show their uniqueness through their external garments, but for us, we must look deeper than the external. We must realise that they too have their own desires, wishes and mostly needs in life. We must value them for that. We must realise, they too pray for the things they need. 

We respect them for who they are, because no matter how different the external seems from what we might be used to, hidden inside all of that, rests a soul with its own struggles, its own pain and its own connection with its Creator. Its own love and its own fear.

Purple? Even Mordechai the Jew wore purple (Esther 8:15) at the end of the story of Purim. The Wall is the same for everyone. The Creator is the same Creator for all. Now, it is up to realise, that no matter how much the scene may look the same - everything is different. Everything is unique.

You can purchase this picture here, print it and consider the thoughts included here - or add your own - as you consider the beauty of life.


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