“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” — Sir Hillel the Great (or just Hillel, as he’s commonly known )
“When Tomorrow Comes”
When tomorrow comes,
Let it be for good.
No more hiding from the sun,
No more crying in the rain.
The seasons will pass,
The world will change,
And life will happen.
Be true to yourself,
Embrace the future.
Through the love and pain,
Listen to your heart,
Even when it aches.
Don’t stop moving, and
If you fall, get back up.
Even if it takes many tomorrows.
Life is like a budding love,
Fragile, unsure, yet with limitless potential.
Embrace it, for each day
Is a chance to live once more.
It may not always be easy,
But the sun is that much more beautiful
After a cloudy sky.
When tomorrow comes,
Time is a gift and each day, a blessing.
When once asked by a potential convert to explain the essence of Torah in a mere heartbeat, Hillel recited these famous words: “What is hateful to you do not do unto others. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Now go and study.” We would do well to remember this today:
Those who delight in pain
Have no place in this world.
The world of the pious, of the righteous,
This should not transcend that
Of the caring…or it means nothing.
A pious man, well-dressed, well-spoken,
Yet cruel in deed is not truly pious.
The external is important, the internal is essential.
Kindness and compassion towards a fellow human,
Refraining from harsh words,
Sharing love, not pain,
These are the ways of a tzaddik.
True righteousness is in the little things.
It is easy to play a part, to
Promenade for strangers and the many.
It is much harder to masquerade
Before a friend.
With piety comes responsibility, never the right
To bestow hurt,
To wound so deep
The soul of one who cares.
That is not piety,
That is not religion,
But only a broken shard of human weakness
That flies as an arrow
Straight to the heart.
1. ”It is not your job to finish the work, but neither are you free to neglect it.”-Pirkey Avos 2:16
2. “Ben Zoma said, who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: ‘From all those who taught me I gained understanding’ (Psalms 119:99). Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination, as it is said: ‘Better is one slow to anger than a strong man, and one who rules over his spirit than a conqueror of a city’ (Proverbs 16:32). Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot, as it is said: ‘When you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you’ (Psalms 128:2). ‘You are fortunate’ — in this world; ‘and it is good for you’ — in the World to Come. Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is said: ‘For those who honor Me will I honor, and those who scorn Me will be degraded’ (I Samuel2:30).” -Pirkey Avos 4:1
3. “If you build a wall to high it will fall and destroy that which it was meant to protect.” – Breishis Rabbah 19:3
Reading the beginning of Parshat Lech-Lecha, I was struck by its opening words. God’s command to Avraham to leave his home, his family, his country and move to a place that God will saw him is quite incredible! But it seems that God is demanding from Avraham more than the physical and emotional separation from his home and way of life to date. So, what does God want from Avraham?
A Chasidic commentary, the Mei Shiloach, explains that God commanded Avraham to go to himself (lech lecha) — in other words, to search deep inside himself and understand who he is. But why would God want or care for Avraham to take time for this kind of personal introspection? Doesn’t God want Avraham to dedicate himself to God’s work? I think the Mei Shiloach commentary was aware of this question (at least it seems to me that he did!) and recognized that in order for a person to truly dedicate him/herself to a particular project or idea (in this case, God), s/he needs to be fully aware of her/his abilities, values and shortcomings. This understanding of one’s self can be termed ‘self-awareness’.
And yet, God bids more than self awareness.
It would seem that the God is imploring Avraham–and us as well–not only to know himself–and ourselves, but do use this self-knowledge productively. But, how are we to do this?
God later says to Avraham hithalech lefanai v’heyeh tamim – walk to yourself in front of Me and you will be complete/pure. In other words, God is teaching Avraham NOT to get caught up in his own self reflection (possibly revel in his own greatness?). Rather Avraham must walk to himself while being cognisant of the fact that he is always standing before God. If Avraham can manage to channel his self-awareness to do God’s work (i.e. knowing that he must follow God’s path), he will be pure and complete.
To my mind, this is the greatest challenge: deeply reflecting on ourselves on every level and using that knowledge to reach our potential in order to actualize God’s vision of a world of righteousness and justice. (This refrain, righteousness and justice, is frequently used to describe Avraham’s understanding of his godly mission in the world).
Naturally, as we attempt this process of self-knowing, we will each discover different attributes, obstacles and abilities in ourselves and will thusly find different ways to channel them to do God’s work.
Therefore, once we’ve acquired this self-knowledge, we must ask: how do I actualize this potential in myself in a way that is in congruence with God’s will?
How do I use my self-knowledge to stand in front of God and become pure and complete?
This week I rediscovered the beauty and power of Shabbat.
I learned in greater detail how Shabbat is one of the most important, if not the most important,ritual expressions of Judaism. I already knew of its greatness, as it is listed fourth in the Ten Commandments. What is so important about keeping Shabbat?
The essential idea is that on Shabbat we acknowledge Gd as the sole Creator and the One, besides Whom there is no other. On the deepest level this means that on Shabbat we recognize the Truth of Unity through our deeds of abstinence. We remember that everything is One with Gd, including ourselves.
This abstinence, by the way, is hardly ascetic in nature. To the contrary, we typically celebrate Shabbat by praying beautiful songs together, eating delicious meals with plenty of drinking. L’chaim!
What we are prohibited from doing is altering the creation around us: changing the physical nature of materials (apart from eating and drinking food), lighting fires and working with electronics, writing; even making plans is technically forbidden, as it is a creation in the arena of ‘social material.’
Ultimately, we are supposed to step back and imbibe the entire world as it is, without trying to alter it or make it better; to step back and remember that the world is an excellent, beautiful place, because Gd is the place of the world. The Supreme Unity is the place; Gd is where it’s at. On Shabbat we step back and let it All wash over us.
This idea struck me with force as I stepped into my friend’s place for a Friday night meal after davening Kabbalat Shabbat. I was thinking about just observing, just appreciating, because I did not feel any pressure to change anything around me. Then I glanced at a book and had an epiphany.
On Shabbat we are certainly allowed to read. We are in fact strongly encouraged to explore the Torah, the liturgy, and Jewish/ spiritual philosophy in the high planes of our mental powers. Accessing these spiritual realities is encouraged on Shabbat because reading is not altering anything. Rather, peering into a holy book is a way to enter into a zone that always exists. In other words, the events of Torah and the high planes of spiritual existence and thought exist always behind the curtains of physical manifestation. Language is amazing!
And then the further idea: maybe on Shabbat, we are supposed to remember that the world is always like an open book for us to observe. Shabbat teaches us to simply watch the people and the plants and even the walls and the synthetic things pulsing with the light of life. When we stop trying to control things and just watch them be in unity with all Being, it is a special thing. Then, when it is time to step up to the plate in the other six days, we can remember the experience of total observance and imbibing of reality, in order to feel like we are participating in the story of Reality rather than fighting against it. Life becomes more epic this way.
Alan Watts says a similar thing about reading the world like a book: even when we are looking at simple paper cup, we are looking at the light of the cosmos reflected off of it. Everything reflects everything else; every manifestation reflects the All in its own way, like a mirror. This is undeniable.
If you had a mirror that was big enough, could you capture and reflect the light of the Unity of all existence? No, because nothing can be greater than the Unity of All in order to reflect it; but you can expand your mind especially on Shabbat to reflect a whole lot of Him. How special, then, is the light reflected off of the face of a human being, especially one who is enjoying Shabbat?
Friday night was probably the most beautiful Shabbat meal I’ve ever had. Around twenty people packed into my friend’s tiny apartment, stuffed from delicious home cooked food, buzzing off of a healthy amount of red wine, singing Shabbat songs with force and beauty and we completely lost track of time.
’על–כן, יעזב–איש, את–אביו, ואת–אמו; ודבק באשתו, והיו לבשר אחד’
“For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and he will cling to his wife and they will be for one flesh.”
How does one acquire a friend? Two boys may enjoy playing sports together.
The basketball court becomes their sacred place.
With each dribble they speak out loud, waiting for the other to respond.
They communicate by passing the ball and each sunken basket becomes a moment of accomplishment,
a moment of pleasure that is shared.
Two lovers greet each other with a kiss,
their hearts flutter, their pulses race, and a tingle runs through their spines.
They don’t say a word but truly they’ve said all they need to.
They listen to heart beats and respond with coos and sighs.
A dog nuzzles his shaggy hide into a nook in his master’s arms and goes to sleep.
He trusts, with utter loyalty, that no harm will befall him, and he enjoys the warmth.
He offers the protection of loud barking and slobbery kisses.
A teacher smiles, almost welling with tears as a student comes to realize exactly the point of it all, and the teacher is dumbfounded, unable to respond except for words of praise, sometimes lost on the student, but never on the teacher.
How many ways can the soul find comfort?
Must the soul’s natural disposition be discomfited?
Moshe the son of Maimon, a Rabbi of some repute, knew that men firstly seek warmth, shelter, companionship.
But he challenged man to seek further.
Next, if time and tide allow it, trust becomes implicit.
More than simple trust.
To know that you can say anything that is in your heart and that he will listen without question, without judgement, without harm.
Not even to respond, but to become a part of you that never leaves.
To trust that you need not perfect every word.
A simple “Good Morning” can be a mumble and not magnificent.
That your face doesn’t always need to be made up.
Your shape changes, but his image of you does not.
That your slightest imperfections are his to bare as well.
And he bares them with pride.
But for this young man, Moshe, this love has no movement.
It is, when achieved, an immovable foundation.
But once firmly planted it has no place to grow.
It stagnates and he seeks to plant roots elsewhere.
There must be something yielded by the branches.
For this tree to thrive it must bear fruit.
That is why bearing fruit is nothing less than a command.
Every tree forms differently.
A tree by a brick wall will grow crooked, grotesque.
But grotesque does not mean ugly.
Grotesque means that the sweetest essence is contained in a part where one least expects it.
A tree with little sun will grow tall to reach for warmth.
Too much sun and it hides.
The tree, firmly planted, is breathtaking.
She is strong, she is immovable.
She is proud and she will not bend.
But she can not deny she needs the rain.
Can not deny that with no nests in her branches she is lonely.
Each tree is perfect, ancient, a miracle.
A sapling will one day become a great redwood.
But who will look upon her.
She is firm, and she must bear against the wind.
But once she is sure of her standing she asks,
“Why do I stand?”
And she must seek her own answer.
She has time, she is a tree.
But before long her buds will bloom and her fruit will ripen.
Men will come to pluck of her bounty and bask in her shade.
But only one man will dare climb to her bough.
He will prune her, he will protect her.
He will eat of her fruit to gain strength and he will plant her seeds so that a forest can grow.
Moshe wishes for many forests to grow.
Forests that give us shade, give us air, give us life and home.
The tree is perfect, entirely.
And when she is ready he will be there.