Guidebook to Life – by G-d – the Torah

As a teenager – I was one of the popular crowd. I would crack jokes in class – but I was smart enough to make them sporadically to not get kicked out. Once a teacher took me out of class to explain that my behavior of cracking jokes was unacceptable – and if I continued I would be sent out of class. I listened. In my yearbook one teacher wrote something like – “one day when you become a bit more mature you will be a nice guy.” I was already a nice guy – I just liked to joke around.

In Hebrew school I would never study. I think I had a series of zeros on my tests. Then the teacher talked to me after class – saying that I was a smart kid and she knew I could do better. I heeded the words and started getting 100’s on the tests instead. I would try to figure out what my average was based upon the zeros and hundreds. I tried to fiure out how many 100’s I had to get in order to get a passing grade. I think I passed.

My drive to differ continued in college. I was the different one – everyone was preppy – I was the one wearing two watches on my wrist and multi-colored sneakers or sneakers – each a different color.

I don’t know if people got the message. I wasn’t trying do be different to get attention – I was trying to show the world – don’t just follow after society – be yourself – think and act – don’t just act after others – then think.

I guess I still have the same attitude today. I feel people should think more about things – before just blindly following the norms and mores of society.

I started becoming more Torah observant at around 15 years of age. It was a slow process. First I started keeping Kosher outside. Then I started observing Shabbat. Then I started learning Torah. I got my MBA and then I went off to Geneva, Switzerland to start a Marketing Director job. My travels – got me thinking. When I returned to the US I decided to enroll in a Yeshiva. I was about 25 when I started learning Torah seriously.

My high school friends and I became distanced due to the winds of life. It didn’t mean I liked them less – I just put my priorities on different things – like spiritual growth, Torah learning, introspection and following Torah way of life.

In my growth – I was never really tempted to follow another religion or cult. Firstly because I am Jewish – I guess it was proper for me to investigate my religion first before trying others. But another reason was – of the little that I knew I knew that the Torah was the only divine document given to man by G-d before witnesses of millions of people. G-d appeared only once to a nation in history – and that was the Jewish people at Mount Sinai – where He gave us the Torah.

Why should I seek spirituality from some guru – when G-d himself was telling me – in the Torah – what spirituality is. Spirituality is basically doing things that will make you closer to G-d. G-d already told me in the Torah – all other ways of life couldn’t beat that.

— To Be Continued —

Connecting with G-d, Man and Self – the Jewish Way

This week’s Parasha / Torah reading is Vayera / and He [G-d] Appeared.

G-d Visits Avraham

Hash-m / G-d appears to Avraham after the third day of his brit milah / circumcision to do bikur holim – visit the sick. Avraham – sees travelers and is so desirous to do the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim / inviting guests – he asks G-d to wait for him while he does the mitzvah.

Angelic Visitors

The 3 visitors are really angels. The angels ask – “Where is Sarah your wife?” Avraham answers “she in the tent.” (Bereshit / Genesis 18:9) The angels come and inform him that he will have a baby boy. Sarah laughs and wonders if she will birth children when her husband is so old. Avraham also laughs inside when he hears the news. G-d asks Avraham “Why did Sarah Laugh? Why did she say that she was old?”

Torah of Kindness

The Torah starts with Hesed / acts of loving kindness – Hash-m clothing Adam & Hava / eve – and ends with acts of loving kindness – Hash-m buries Moshe. Avraham is the Av / Forefather – that is exemplary in hesed / kindness.

Three Things upon which the World Stands

Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers contains teaching of qualities for a person to emulate to reach perfection. It says in pirkei avot Chapter 1 – mishna 2 “Shimon Ahatzadik says … Al shelosha devarim holam omed – al hatorah, al haavoda ve algemilut hasadim.” The worlds stands upon 3 things – on Torah, On Divine service – prayer & on acts of loving kindness.

Three Things for Spiritual Satisfaction in Your World

We usually understand this mishna on a macro level – as the reason that the entire world survives – is because of these three things. But we can also understand it on a personal level – that the reason why a person lives – meaning has meaning and fulfillment in life – is because of these three things.

Judaism – How to Connect

Judaism is the the ultimate teacher of making connections. There are three ways to connect in life – connecting to our fellow person, connecting to G-d and connecting to ourselves. The Torah is teaching in the mishna 3 ways to connect – Our world stands because of the Torah – that teaches us to connect and better ourselves, prayer allows us to connect with Hash-m and doing acts of kindness is our manner of connecting with others. Each of them giving us spiritual satisfaction.

The Source of Satisfaction

We are basically souls clothed in a body. What gives the soul satisfaction is what makes us happy. The Three things above give our soul satisfaction and make us happy. Things that are the opposite make us not happy.

Let’s take connecting with others. It is best done through doing kindness. A great thing that we learn that we gain satisfaction more from giving to others than from receiving.

To Have satisfaction – we develop our relationship with Hash-m. Thus prayer and learning Torah – helps us to develop that relationship. Someone said “When I Pray – I talk to G-d. When I learn Torah – G-d talks to me.”

Torah teaches us how to be a stable person. How to deal with situations. What attitudes are healthy in life. What is a healthy productive lifestyle. It affects our mentality to allow us to ultimately achieve more of our potential in life. It helps us to put our priorities in place. (See article on Torah teaches Marriage – Society teaches Divorce)

Why do the Angels Ask – to Help Increase Appreciation of Others

In the parasha  – the angels ask Avraham “where is Sarah?” Avraham answers “She is in the tent” Why do they ask that question? –

Rashi – the Torah Commentator – says they ask the question to endear Sarah to Avraham. Avraham will answer she is in the tent & it will help him to realize Sarah’s great modesty. He will thus appreciate her more.

It is a mitzvah to make a person love another person more. You are motivating Veahavta lereacha kamocha – you shall love your fellow like yourself. And we do not do the opposite – to speak badly of others – because it causes gratuitous hatred – sinat hinam.

Why did G-d not ask Why Avraham laughed? – to Help Avraham Connect with Himself

Hash-m asks “why did Sarah laugh?” he didn’t ask why did you Avraham laugh

One answer is – because Sarah was a bit skeptical. Avraham was not. If Sarah was a bit skeptical – it was a reflection on Avraham.

Avraham was possibly skeptical about another matter – like when he asked G-d “How will he know that his descendents will really inherit the land. Avraham should also look into correcting himself. Hashem was  teaching Avraham to be connected to himself – knowing what really is motivating him and to teach him to better himself as well.

Changing words for peace

Sarah was astounded that her old husband would have a child. Hashem told Avraham  says that Sarah said that she – not Avraham – was too old to have children. He did this to not ruin the peace between Avraham and Sarah.

I Didn’t Laugh – Know Your Messages

When Sarah hears she will have a baby by the angels at the age of 90 she laughs inside. She asks how old people like her and her husband Avraham will have children – at the age of 99 – him being so old.

G-d asks Avraham why did Sarah ask how will she have a child? – she being so old. Here we learn that people can change their words (ie, tell an untruth) for peace. G-d mentioned that she said that She was so old – but not mentioning Avraham being so old.

G-d asks – why did she laugh when she heard that she would have a baby. Sarah denies it – and Avraham says she did laugh.

Avraham also laughs when he hears the news. But G-d isn’t concerned about his laugh. But G-d seems upset at Sarah’s laugh.

Apparently Avraham was laughing for Joy that he would have a child after all these years. Sarah laughed because it seemed like the fact she would have a child seemed unlikely.

If G-d wanted to cause peace between the couple – why does He bring up this fact to Avraham that she laughed.

One reason is  because either G-d wanted Sarah to correct herself – to have the proper Torah perspective – that she laugh should have been a laugh of Joy – not a laugh of skepticism.

Perhaps also that G-d wanted Avraham to correct this Middah (character trait) of skepticism in himself as well that caused it to manifest itself in Sarah.

It’s good for us to understand why react in a particular way. It behooves us to improve.

 

 

 

Why Are You Sad? Be Happy

There is no Beit Midrash / Torah House of Study without a New Idea / Hidush.

I was in the Beit Midrash Today. I overheard a snippet of a conversation between a Rav and a Talmid / Student. He was explaining why people become sad when something bad happens.

He asked why does a person feel badly when something bad happens. A person gets a big dent in his car. He or She becomes upset.

But why? the car drives the same way as before? OK – you say – the price of the car goes down with a big dent. OK – let’s say it is a small dent – that is covered by your lease.

Possible answers why people are sad when bad things occur

One answer I thought – was that a person subconsciously wants to be perfect. Subconsciously he wants to emulate G-d. If his car is not perfect – he is deviating from being like G-d. Is that the right answer? I don’t know. Perhaps.

He answered why are people sad when bad occurs – he said that it is possible that deep down inside we realize that the bad that occurred was at least in part due to our failing.

For instance – let’s say we pray for an ill person to recover – and they do not. We may feel guilty that we did not pray enough for their recovery. Perhaps if we had prayed with all our hearts – the person would have been healed.

The concept of the Domino Effect – called Middah Keneged Middah / Measure for measure – exists in Judaism. Do good and get good. Do bad and bad is created.

Aside from the bad itself – we feel sad that perhaps we were the cause of the bad thing that happened.

Why Some are More Upset For a Car Dent than a Loss of Human Life

He explained that sometimes a person is more upset that he got a dent in his car than if an earthquake happened in a distant land. Shouldn’t it be the opposite – a person should be upset more for the loss of human life more than a car dent.

He attributed it to that reason – that a person can see that he was responsible for the dent. He feels badly for – either not obeying traffic rules, driving recklessly or that he dented someone else’s car and he didn’t make restitution.

But he can’t see why he is responsible for an earthquake that occurs in some country overseas.

It’s not that we are upset for just the loss – it is that we are also upset for being the cause of the loss.

I thought that that was a Hidush – perhaps I should ask him where are his Torah sources for this point.

Eavesdropping Again – the Real Repentance

A Rabbi at another table told a story. I believe it went something like – a woman was selling fruit. All of a sudden a gang of robbers came and started stealing her fruits. She was so upset she started crying while they were stealing. A friend said to her “Don’t cry – grab some of your own fruits for yourself!”

What do we do when we realize that we did wrong? At times we get depressed. How could I have done this bad thing? We become demoralized and become lackadaisical to continue performing good deeds. Our negative inclination says “You are such a lowly person for doing such a thing. You should be ashamed and sad and stay in that state of sadness.”

That is the trick of the negative inclination – to make you regret and resign from doing good. The point of feeling badly for a deed is to become better. So when someone feels badly for a bad thing – he or she should take a resolution to become better in the future.

If not – they are like the woman that cried and let the robbers take her fruits.

If a person sees that in their youth they wasted time from doing good – make a commitment that in the future they should put their time to better use.

Correct the thing that you think may have caused the bad thing (ie, the car dent) to occur. You’ll be happier in the future.

Say Thank G-d & Thank You

Avraham Avinu / Abraham Our Forefather defeated the 4 kings who defeated 5 kings in a war.

Malki Tzedek – who was Shem – the son of Noach – came to greet him from his battle return with bread & wine.

He said Blessed is Avraham and Blessed is Hash-m / G-d. (Genesis 14:19)

Since he acknowledged and gave thanks to Avraham before acknowledging Hash-m, the priesthood was removed from MalkiTzedek and given to Avraham.

Someone did good to you?

Say Thank G-d & Thank You

 

Go To Yourself

This Week’s Parasha / Weekly Torah Reading – Hash-m tells Avram (soon to become Avraham) – Lech Lecha … – Go For Yourself from your land from your birthplace from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. Avram goes.

Lech Lecha – can also mean “Go to Yourself”

People say “I want to be Me!” but they end up imitating friends, society, media characters and the like. Hash-m is telling Avram – Be Yourself. Develop the good you have in yourself and express it outside. Avram is well known for his kindness. He has guests. He defends the lives of wicked people – Sodom – from being destroyed.

When Defending Sodom – he asks G-d are there righteous people within the city. When G-d says no. Then Avram relents. Why – righteous people “within the city”? A righteous person is like a candle – they can bring light to a room full of darkness / evil. Avram asked this to assure that these people “within the city” – ie, influential people – would influence the others to become better.

Becoming Your Real Self

One way for a person to reach their real selves is to learn & observe Torah. This allows a person to become their true good self. It allows them to bring out the good in them. The Torah is like salt – it brings out a person’s true nature. Thus one should work on perfecting their nature – while learning Torah. For if one has a bad nature – it might bring that out as well.

One way for a person to more easily become their true selves is to move a way to a community that they can be positively influenced to the good. A community that has a good Orthodox Jewish congregation that encourages personal growth.

When I was younger – I moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a Job as a Marketing Director for a Private Banking Software Company. There – I was away from my old environment. I attended Shiurim / Torah lectures. I participated in community Shabbat gatherings. Being away from my home town helped me to reflect and to grow.

 

The Motorcycle of My Youth – Dreams Dashed for the Good

In my youth, our family took vacations with my cousins in Washington, DC. They really lived in Silver Spring – Maryland. But we called it Washington anyway.

I would hang out with my cousins. We would go on trips together. We roasted marshmallows by their fireplace. My older cousin would tell me spooky stories with a funny ending. On Shabbat I would take long walks and talks with my cousin. For some reason we would end up by some parking lot – when we would then return home.

My uncle – Jacques – married to my father’s sister – would welcome us. We were part of the family. At the Shabbat Table and in general – he would tell puns and jokes that required some thinking. We dubbed them “Tonton Jacques Jokes.” (“Tonton” is Uncle in French).

One of his classics was when we were walking on Rosh Hashana to do Tashlich on – when we go by a body of water to release our sins – like it says in the Pasuk / Verse in Micha 7:19 :

יָשׁ֣וּב יְרַֽחֲמֵ֔נוּ יִכְבֹּ֖שׁ עֲוֺֽנֹתֵ֑ינוּ וְתַשְׁלִ֛יךְ בִּמְצֻל֥וֹת יָ֖ם כָּל־חַטֹּאותָֽם׃

He will take us back in love;
He will cover up our iniquities,
You will hurl all our (iHeb. “their.”) sins
Into the depths of the sea.

Walking to Tashlich, Tonton Jacques turned back to us and said with a smile “Depeche Vous!” / Hurry Up You (pl).

Peche in French Means “Sin”. “De” as a prefix in French – like in English means to remove – like in Desalinate. His words had a double meaning – “Hurry Up” & “Remove Your Sins”. I guess the joke is funnier when you hear it in French.

Tonton Jacques loved to buy old stuff from the auctions. I remember walking into his office. He had all these neat machines. Once he took me to an auction. I eyed one of the items – it was a spiffy motorcycle. Although – I was around 10 at the time – I really wanted him to buy the Motorcycle for me. I imagined myself riding it. I hinted to him – wow – that motorcycle looks like a bargain. He didn’t get the hint. I think He ended up buying a box full of miscellaneous office items. I was upset – but I got over it.

Looking back I am grateful he didn’t buy that Motorcycle. I don’t think the police would have taken kindly to a 10-year old riding a Motorbike. Also – it is safer to drive a car. I also wanted a car in Washington. I was attracted by the Triumph TR7. But that faded as well.

I didn’t get the Motorcycle – but I did take some serious bicycle trips in Washington. I would take a bottle of water and some Moroccan cookies and went riding into the city. Once I ended up next to Walter Reed Veteran Hospital. I didn’t know how to get back. No GPS in those days. No Cell Phones either.

I was lost. I wasn’t so observant when I was young. But I did pray. I remember connecting to G-d. I spoke with Him in my own language. I remember praying once when walking to school “G-d – if You exist – make a lightening bolt strike next to where I am walking far enough for me not to get hurt.” Lightening never struck. I didn’t see the proof of G-d that way – but I saw it in other ways.

I needed help finding home base. Hash-m kept me – a young boy lost in the streets of Washington DC – without a helmet (it wasn’t required by law those days) – safe.

I knew my cousins lived by Second Avenue in Silver Spring and 16th street. I guess I asked some people and I found my way home, Barukh Hash-m.

Leadership – Eight Qualities that Made Moses a Great Leader

Moses or Moshe Rabbeinu / Our Teacher – was the ultimate leader. He was a king of Ethiopia. He confronted Pharaoh to let the Jews out of Egypt and initiated plagues against him. He led the Jews out of Egypt. He negotiated with G-d / Hash-m to save the Jewish People. He Fought wars against Amalek and other Enemies of the Jews. One of his most challenging tasks was to Judge and lead the people of Israel for 40 years in the desert.

I recently heard a Shiur / Lecture of Rabbi Meir Eliyahu. He said the secret of Moshe’s success is found in the words : Hazak VeEmatz / Be Strong and Resolute – (in Devarm / Deut 31:7) – when Moshe is transferring the Mantle of leadership to Yehoshua / Joshua:

Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with this people into the land that the HASH-M swore to their fathers to give them, and it is you who shall apportion it to them.

These are the qualities that successful leaders have:

H’et – H’ochma – Wisdom and Haritza – effectiveness. It is not just any wisdom – it is Torah wisdom. Torah gives a person wisdom to deal with people and all situations properly. Torah is the thought’s of G-d. Thus after thinking a situation out according to Torah Hashkafa and wisdom – a person makes more intelligent decisions. Effectiveness comes from getting things done – Moshe wasted no time to implement decisions.

Zayin – Zerizut – alacrity / quickness. When Moshe received the commandment to make refuge cities – he quickly established them – even though they were only to be used many ears later. He did not push off the war against the Midianites – even though he knew he would die after the war ended.

Kuf – Kedusha – holiness – When a person is holy – according to Torah – he is able to see things the average man will not.

Vav – Vatranut – yielding and overlooking slights – Moshe overlooked slights to his honor and opportunities for advancement to make peace.

Aleph – Amitzut – Strength / Resolute – Moshe was resolute to do something when he made a decsion to do it.

Mem – Metivat Ishit LaTzibur – Doing personal good for the congregation / Metinut – thought Out and deliberate – Moshe’s primary interest was the good of the congregation – not his personal popularity in the public’s eyes. His concern was to find favor in the eyes of G-d and man. He did not seek votes – seek the lowest common denominator of morality to get approval. He had and lived by the standards of Hash-m & His Torah – and sought to bring people up to those standards.

Tzadi – Tzadik – being righteous – Righteousness is a trait that helps a person keep their position. How many people have fallen because they took bribes, or worse holding a public office.

Moshe was the most humble of all men – yet he was the ultimate leader.

Seeing the Glass Full in Life – a Torah Concept

Everything is in the Torah

In Pirkei Avot (5:22) – one of the Tractates of the Talmud – it says:

Ben Bag Bag says: Delve in it [the Torah] & delve in it & learn it for everything is in it…

When G-d gave us the Torah – he gave two Torahs – the Written Law – the Five Books of Moses & the Oral Law – Now known as the Talmud – that explains the written Torah.

I was discussing last week’s parasha – Noach – on 7 couples of clean animals & 2 unclean animals that were to enter Noah’s ark. What are clean animals? What is an unclean animal?

Later in the Torah – the Torah says – the clean animals are the Kosher animals – those that chew their cud & have split hooves – like the cow, sheep, and goat. The unclean animals are the ones that are non-Kosher. The From here we learn that Noah knew the Torah before it was given – for he knew how to distinguish between Kosher and non-Kosher animals. The Talmud further explains – what is Kosher.

In the Talmud – Ben Zoma says (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

…Who is the rich person? The one who is content with his lot as it says: “When you eat the effort of handiwork – happy are you & it is good for you” (Tehillim / Psalms 128:2) “happy” — in this world; that “and it will be good for you” – in the next world…

It is not what you have. It is how you see what you have. One can have all the luxuries & want more & be dissatisfied. One can have happy with the little he or she has.

When we internalize that all is a gift from Hash-m / G-d, we live a life of appreciation. We turn our dissatisfaction to satisfaction.

It depends only upon how we look at things. Choose Happiness!

Getting a Sunny Personality – Accepting Insult with Grace

People insult.

The Giving End of Insults

We are sometimes on the giving end. I try not to insult people. I think – what do you gain? You make another person feel badly and you didn’t gain anything. Now that they are more angry at you because you insulted them – they are going to do what you want?

The concept of “Sticks and Stones may break my bones – but names will never harm me.” is not a true concept according to Torah. Words can hurt. Onaat Devarim / Pain With Words are a set of halachot / Jewish laws that Jews learn to not hurt others with words.

The Receiving End of Insults

We sometimes are on the receiving end of insults. I try not to get insulted by insults. I figure the other person had a bad day or something. Because the other person called me a donkey – did that make me into a donkey? No. It says in Torah – if someone calls you a donkey – prepare a saddle for your back. (Baba Kama 92b) Meaning – Don’t answer their insult – and acquiesce – rather than respond angrily – to their words.

The Healthy Sun

A French expression says “Sickness does not enter where the sun is.” So it is good to live in a place that has sunlight. Also – when a person has a sunny personality – he or she is less likely to become ill. People who let insults slide – do not hold grudges and feel anger or hatred. They avoid negative emotions & stress to have a negative physical effect on their bodies.

The Reward for Not Responding to Insults

The Torah says “Someone who is insulted but does not insult, One Who hears their degradation and answers not is like the Sun in it’s zenith” (Talmud: Tractate Shabbat 88b)

The atonement that does for all of his sins is greater than any other reparation he can make.

When One is Like the Sun

I was speaking with my friend Yossi. He explained to me why that kind of person is compared to the Sun. Why not say – he is like a lion?

Why is the Moon Smaller than the Sun

He answered – when Hash-m created the sun and the moon He created them the same size.

The moon complained – he said – “Hash-m there cannot be two rulers in the sky. G-d answered him – you are right. Make yourself smaller.”

When the sun was summoned to the discussion by Hash-m – Hash-m asked the sun – what does he have to say? The sun responded – with astonishment. He didn’t understand why he was summoned. He meant to say: “I don’t understand why I am summoned – It is You Hash-m who knows all. It is You who are the ruler of the world – what can I say?”

In that – the insulted who does not respond is like the sun. He accepts Hash-m’s judgement favorably, without complaint.

King David’s Reward

When Shimi ben Gera insulted David HaMelech / King David – His general said this man is rebellious against the King – let us kill him. David Hamelech replied – it is not he who insulted me – it is Hash-m who organized this.” His reward was so great – that his face was placed on the Throne of Glory.