Posts on the topic of "Spirituality"
Rosh Hashanah is a day when we take stock and re-evaluate our lives – priorities, goals, relationships, the whole shebang.
To me, it starts with defining our bottom-line necessities in life, and then building back up from there.
It's a bit of hard work... but doesn't everything valuable in life require investment and effort?
Wishing you all a sweet year, filled with peace in your heart, in your home, and in our precious world.
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We are now in the Jewish month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This is the year's biggest opportunity to get our act together, to look deep inside and make those changes that we all know are painful but necessary. (Do I sound like a presidential candidate?)
It all starts with some brutal self-analysis, and a plan of action. The first step in making a plan is to determine your goals:
• What do I want my life to look like five years from now?
• How will I implement these goals?
• Do I have a series of achievable, short-term goals?
• What system will I use to monitor my progress?
This is not about solving the Iranian threat or finding the cure for cancer. It's all about getting down to the real you.
It's two weeks till Rosh Hashanah. You deserve a better you. And now's the time to get started.
To get started, check out some of these great tools on Aish.com:
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Today is the Bar Mitzvah of my son Yaakov. This past Shabbat he read beautifully from the Torah and the prophets, followed by the requisite Bar Mitzvah speech. He asked the question:
If a Bar Mitzvah marks the obligation to observe the Torah's precepts, why is that cause for such a celebration? After all, isn't it greater to do things – such as keeping Shabbat, giving charity and praying – voluntarily, out of an inner emotional drive? Isn't it greater to do from the heart than from an imposed obligation?
He proceeded to describe how in two respects, there's a big advantage to giving out of obligation.
First, let's imagine a kid needing to wake up for school in the morning. If he would get up only when motivated, most kids would probably miss many days of school. So the obligation to go to school actually works to his advantage: Since he knows (or at least, his parents know) that going to school is what's best for him, the obligation creates a built-in motivation to ensure that he fulfills this important activity.
The lesson of all this? "Doing" is more important than "feeling." This is a great lesson for today's world which celebrates feelings. More than "How do you feel about it?", the Jewish question is: "What are you doing about it?" This is a core principle of the Torah's mitzvot: They guide and direct us in ways which refine our character through repetition and practice.
That's advantage number one to being obligated in good deeds. Here's number two:
Imagine a person who doesn't require that external motivation, for example a child so perfect (does one exist?) that he'd voluntarily go to school every morning. Judaism says that even for that person, acting out of obligation is regarded as a greater level. The point is subtle but deeply true:
Whenever we have an obligation, it increases the difficulty in getting the job done. That's because there's a natural resistance to "doing what we're told." That factor alone adds an additional challenge to doing the deed; hence an additional degree of achievement, satisfaction and reward.
My son expressed these ideas in his Bar Mitzvah speech, adding the relevant citations from the Talmud and commentaries. It was a great event and we're extremely proud of him.
Addendum: My son Yaakov was named after the great scholar, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, who was the older brother and the spiritual mentor of Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah. Our son was born a few days prior to Rav Yaakov Weinberg's passing, but the bris was a few days after. Our son thus became the very first of many children subsequently named after this great rabbi.
May our Yaakov merit to achieve such heights as his namesake.
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An old man dies and his curious descendants open the will to see whom he bequeathed his substantial wealth. The text was short and to the point:
"As a believer in reincarnation, I am bequeathing my entire estate to myself."
There are many Jewish sources dealing with what is popularly called "reincarnation." In Hebrew, it is called "gilgul ha'neshamot," literally the recycling or transmigration of souls.
The soul comes into this world in the first place to make a spiritual repair. If that is not fulfilled by the end of one's lifetime, then the soul will be sent down again. The return trip may only be needed for a short time or in a limited way. This in part explains why people are born with handicaps or may live a brief life.
In various conversations I have about Judaism, the discussion often gets stuck on one basic point: How do we know we have a soul?
The answer, I believe, is quite intuitive. Imagine a hungry wolf and a piece of meat. The wolf will do whatever he can ― even injure other wolves ― to get that meat. For an animal, there is no concept of altruism, of "Let's stand in line," or "Perhaps that other wolf is more hungry than I," or "Maybe there are handicapped wolves back at the camp." None of that.
Some people argue that we do see animals "doing kindness" ― e.g. taking care of their young. But that is just another survival instinct. Just as animals run from danger, so too survival instincts often manifest in protecting young and in forming social groups. But altruism will never override an animal's survival instincts.
Indeed, a study of chimpanzees showed that while chimps exhibit group cooperation, when it comes to helping those not in their group, they inevitably choose the selfish option. The experiment demonstrated that "chimps don't share the same concern for the welfare of others as do humans, who routinely donate blood... volunteer for military duty, and perform other acts that benefit perfect strangers," said Joan Silk, an anthropologist at UCLA.
A soul, on the other hand, has higher needs ― love, meaning, justice ― that often run contrary to survival instincts. For example: On a pure survival level, if I have a thousand dollars, it's in my best interest to keep it for myself. To go ahead and give that away to a stranger on the other side of the world is actually contrary to my survival instinct, since reducing my resources increases the chance of becoming destitute myself.
So what does all this have to do with a soul? It is the nature of all living beings ― both humans and animals ― to seek pleasure. If we decide to give charity or help a poor person who doesn't have food, even if that means going hungry ourselves, that's a form of pleasure. There are many stories from the Holocaust of people who gave their morsel of bread to somebody else. That's the human being going beyond the "bodily pleasure" of a wolf and connecting to the altruistic giving that characterizes God.
As Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt"l points out in his classic essay, "Five Levels of Pleasure," to maximize our pleasure in life, we need to make wise choices of what pleasures to seek. Pizza on the beach is nice, but it's not the ultimate. Caring for others, or making a difficult decision to do the right thing ― these are high-level pleasures, unique to the human being.
That, in a word, indicates a Divine soul.
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The day before Purim, in response to the many dangers threatening the Jewish people in Israel and around the world, a call has gone out to unite for a few shared minutes in the reciting of Psalms.
King David wrote the Psalms as he faced life’s many challenges, both personal and national. The beautiful poetry and emotions bound up in these Psalms have inspired Jews and Gentiles alike for over 3,000 years.
An effort is being organized for March 7, 2012 – the fast of Esther, one of the most important days of the year for Jewish prayer. Esther called for a fast, knowing that through soul-searching the Jews would forge a spiritual connection necessary to make their mission successful. And it paid off.
The idea is that at on Wednesday, at exactly 11 a.m. (in every time zone), people should recite chapters 28, 32, 79, 92 and 22.
This should be followed by the ancient affirmation of Jewish unity:
Our brethren, the entire family of Israel, who are in distress and captivity, whether on sea or dry land – may the Omnipresent have mercy on them and remove them from distress to relief, from darkness to light, from subjugation to redemption – now, speedily and soon. And let us say: Amen.
The great rabbis in Israel have endorsed this effort, including Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, and Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner.
The hour is late and the need is great. Join the effort and unite!
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Richard Dawkins, the worldwide Dean of Atheists and author of The God Delusion, is not sure about all this.
Last week in a public debate at Oxford University, Dawkins clarified that he prefers to call himself agnostic rather than atheist – i.e. he lacks total certainty over whether or not there is a creator.
Though Dawkins may indeed be a long-time agnostic, that's not how the world views him. His recent statement created a big tumult and raises the question: What difference does it make whether someone is an agnostic or an atheist?
A big difference.
An agnostic remains open to the idea that God exists and is willing to pursue the evidence, wherever it may lead.
Indeed, there are very few atheists (is it possible to prove that God doesn't exist?). Those who call themselves agnostic should, by definition, be actively examining the evidence and weighing both sides of the debate. In the absence of this, “ignorant” is a more accurate term than "agnostic."
This all reminds me of the true story that Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l loved to tell about a self-described atheist named Jeff whom he met at Aish in the Old City of Jerusalem.
"Fantastic! A real atheist!” said Rabbi Weinberg. “Tell me – what are you doing here speaking to a rabbi?"
Jeff said he had been in Europe, visiting his Norwegian fiance. And he decided it was now or never: either he would come to Israel or he'll never make it.
So he headed for Jerusalem and figured he would stop by the Western Wall to see some old stones. Yet upon his arrival he was amazed. He felt something heavy. He was moved.
Jeff stood before the Wall, and made up an atheist's prayer. He looked at the stones and said:
"God, I don't believe in You. As far as I know, You don't exist. But I do feel something. So if I'm making a mistake, I want You to know, God, I have no quarrel against You. It's just that I don't know that You exist. But God, just in case You're really there and I'm making a mistake, get me an introduction."
Jeff finished his prayer, and one of the yeshiva students who happened to be at the Wall, saw Jeff and thought, "Perhaps he'd be interested in learning some Torah."
He tapped Jeff on the shoulder, startling him so much that he jumped three feet in the air. Jeff whirled around: "What do you want?!"
"I'm sorry. I just want to know if you'd like to learn about God."
The question hit Jeff like a 2-by-4 right between the eyes. He had just finished asking God for an introduction, and immediately someone was offering to introduce him to God.
Jeff learned at Aish for the next six weeks. He was a very serious student, and went back to the States with a commitment to continue learning. A year later, Jeff came back to Israel and told Rabbi Weinberg the end of his story.
During that previous summer he had been meandering through the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City when he saw a pretty, sweet, religious girl walk by. He said to himself, "Look at the charm of this Jewish woman. May the Almighty help me meet someone like this."
One Shabbat morning during the next year, Jeff attended a synagogue in Boston. Standing there was the same young woman he had seen in the Old City. He made his way over to her and said: "Excuse me, but I believe I saw you last summer in Jerusalem."
She answered, "You're right. I saw you, too."
They’re now married and living in New Jersey.
King David said: "The Almighty is near to all those who call unto Him, to all those who call unto Him in truth." (Psalms 145:18)
The power of sincerity is so overwhelming that even an atheist can get God's attention. If you're in a genuine search for truth, remember Jeff's prayer.