GOOD MORNING! Did you ever wonder, "Where is the spirituality in Judaism?" We want to transcend the mundane, to connect with G-d, to be transported in a feeling of spiritual ecstasy. Some flock to Kabbalah, but Kabbalah is the icing on the cake and while icing may be delicious, it is not nutritious and can make you feel really sick. So, where is spirituality in Judaism? Spirituality is IN the mundane. The trick is to raise the mundane and by doing so, you raise yourself. I'll illustrate with a story ...
Once, while riding in Israel on an Egged Bus (that is the name of the bus company), I noticed how grumpy the driver was and what misery he was spreading to everyone who boarded his bus. It was as if he saw each passenger as an intrusion and if there were no passengers, he could just drive his route in peace. Would it be possible to change his attitude?
I said to the driver, "you are doing a wonderful kindness!" "What do you mean?" grumbles the driver. "You are helping so many people -- a woman to take her son to the doctor, a man to visit his elderly father, a soldier to return to his base, a little boy to go to school; you have a wonderful job -- just by driving the bus you can do so many acts of kindness!" The bus driver said, "I never thought of it that way. You're right!"
Then I explained to the bus driver that in our Torah (In Israel most of the bus drivers are Jewish in the Israeli bus companies) The Almighty commands us to love our neighbor as oneself, to emulate the Almighty, to do acts of kindness. "You are already fulfilling these mitzvot through your actions, imagine the pleasure you will have if you focus on the fact that you are fulfilling the Almighty's will! With just a little bit of focus you can raise the mundane to ultimate spirituality -- doing the will of the Almighty!" The driver said, "You're right! Thank you!"
Most Jews are familiar with the blessing over bread "... hamotzie lechem min ha'aretz." It is surprising to many that there are blessings before and after every type of food. There is a blessing over fruits from the ground, fruits from a tree, flour products like cakes and cookies, and a general blessing "... shehakol nih'yeh b'dvaro" (that all things should be according to His word). Why do Jews make blessings before and after each type of food?
On one level, the blessing before the food is requesting permission from the Almighty to eat the food and the blessing after eating is to give thanks for the food. Any parent can relate to this -- if a child doesn't say "please" when asking for a food to be passed to him, he may be ignored until he remembers his manners. If the candy man in the synagogue gives a child a lollipop, the parent makes sure that the child says, "Thank you" to the man. On a basic human level, we realize the importance of manners, of showing respect and appreciation. This also applies on a spiritual level with regards to our relationship with the Almighty.
On a deeper level, the blessing itself raises the level of spirituality for the act of eating. Instead of responding to animal-like need to eat with an animal-like response of "wolfing" down food, we stop to focus that there is a G-d who created this world and everything in it for our pleasure. The blessing itself teaches us this every time we say it (if we focus on what we are saying). Every blessing starts out with the words "Blessed are you, Lord our G-d." In Hebrew each name of G-d is different and conveys a different meaning. We are commanded to focus on the meaning of the each name of G-d when we make the blessing. The first name "Ah-do-noy" means "He was, is and always will exist." The second name, "Eh-lo-hei-nu" means that "He is the Master of all creation and Master of all possibilities."
Every time a Jew makes this blessing, he is reminding himself that there is a G-d Who created the world, Who loves us, Who has the power to help us. The blessing connects one to G-d. It takes the mundane and makes it sublime. However, it takes focus. One can reduce a blessing to rote and not think of its meaning.
If you want spirituality, find out what the mitzvot, commandments of the Almighty are; purchase the book The Mitzvot by Rabbi Abraham Chill. There is every possibility that you are already doing many mitzvot! Also, if you would like to raise your level of spirituality through making blessings, get a copy of the Guide to Blessings by Rabbi Naftali Hoffner -- or look in the Artscroll prayerbook. (All of these are available at your local Jewish bookstore, at JudaicaEnterprises.com or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.)
Torah Portion of the Week
This week we have the trials and tribulations of Jacob (Ya'akov) living with and working for his father-in-law, Laban. Jacob agreed to work as a shepherd 7 years for Rachel only to have Laban switch daughters on him at the marriage ceremony. This is why we have the badekin ('covering' ceremony) where the groom sees the face of his bride to ensure he is marrying the right woman before he covers her with the veil.
As Jacob tries to build his equity, Laban changes their agreement time after time. After 20 years, the Almighty tells Jacob the time has come to return to the land of Canaan. Jacob and his household secretly leave only to be pursued by Laban who has claims to put forth. The story ends with peace and blessings between Jacob and Laban.
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"And Jacob worked for Rachel for seven years; and it was in his eyes as a few days in his love for her."
When someone loves another even a short time apart can seem like an eternity. How is it possible that the time appeared to be a short time for Jacob?
In his commentary, the Malbim gives two answers:
1) Jacob loved Rachel so much that he thought that she was worth working for many more than seven years. Therefore, to work only seven years for such a wonderful person was really a bargain.
2) Jacob's love for Rachel was not simple passion. When a person feels deep passion, a day can seem like a year. Jacob loved her because of her good qualities that would make her worthy of being the mother of the future Jewish people. A person whose love is based on passion really loves himself and not the object of his love. When a person loves the good in another, he truly loves the other person and not himself. (The Torah tells us Jacob's focus was "in his love for her.") Therefore, the time seemed short because it was not a selfish love.
The Alschich gives another approach: The seven years seemed like a few days in Jacob's eyes AFTER he was married to Rachel. (This is the order of the words and events in the Torah.) His love and his happiness overshadowed and all but erased the pain of the seven years of work.
Our lessons: Clarify whether it's a burning heart or heartburn -- are you in love or are you infatuated? Secondly, if you have a difficult situation -- like difficulty in finding a spouse -- know that your trials and tribulations will seem insignificant in light of your happiness. Therefore, don't suffer so much now; rather anticipate your future joy!
CANDLE LIGHTING - November 23
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Better the pain of growth
than the comfort of emptiness
-- Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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