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Acting With Godliness

The Torah tells us in Parsha Mishpatim, that we are to “Distance yourself from falsehood.” (Ex. 23:7) No other transgression, said Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha, has this commandment. What it is about falsehood that God is so concerned about us falling into?

There is the obvious problems that lying can get one in trouble. Each lie becomes bigger and bigger, and then you have to create new lies to cover up the other lies. Before you know it, you have constructed a life of lies.

But lying, we learn from several places in the Talmud, is at times permitted – especially to save a life and to prevent various levels of embarrassment. So if lying is permitted in those cases, what is the Torah referring to here?

The majority of our sages teach us that Torah is giving specific advice to judges. As Rav Hirsch wrote, “It makes it the judge’s duty to meticulously avoid any and every thing by which there is the slightest possibility of the veracity of the judgement being affected.”

I want to add another layer onto this. The Torah is also telling us to distance ourselves from lying to ourselves, and specifically from lying in how we judge ourselves.

So much personal strife results when we are are not honest with ourselves, who we are and what we are doing. We can end up judging ourselves very harshly, and distancing ourselves from God. Or we can fail to judge our actions and think that we are always right, and it’s the other person who is in the wrong.

We must therefore keep ourselves far, far away from falsehood – from mock piety and self-importance, to self-defeating low self-esteem and not seeing all the wonderful and unique qualities that God gave to us.

Instead we need to judged ourselves and each other favorably, gently, and honestly. Then we will be acting with Godliness in our thoughts and actions, improve our performance of the mitzvot, and deepen our relationship with our friends, loved ones, and with God.
Shabbat Shalom!

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#JeSuisJuif

As we read this past Shabbat in synagogue from Parsha Shemot, God says to Moses, “I will be THAT I will be.” Rashi teaches that God wants Moshe to reassure the Jewish people that “I will be with you during this time of distress in Egypt and in future times of distress.” Moshe isn’t so happy with this. Why bother them with the news that there will be still other times of distress after this slavery!? “You’re right, says God, tell them…”

Moshe didn’t want us to hear the news then, and it is hard to hear the news now.

Our hearts grieve as one over the tragic deaths of our brothers and sisters, and a dozen others in Paris in the last two days.

You know what? God is also heartbroken. So heartbroken. Just as God promised to Moshe, God is with us in our distress now.

But we cannot afford to be silent, to sit in sorrow or fear in the darkness, because now is the time to turn on the light and bring blessing and goodness to the world.

Outpourings of kindness, mitzvoth, love for one another are needed. And prayer. Pray with all our hearts to God to protect our people around the world, in Israel, and bless us with peace.

God, you took us out of Egypt, to be your people. Don’t forsake us and don’t abandon us. Please comfort our mourners, and do not let their deaths be in vain.

#JeSuisJuif

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Podcast: 100 Blessings Brings us Closer to the Divine

By blessing Hashem 100 times daily, we are connecting in the deepest way. Mindfulness of our actions makes us more aware of the Divine. It also serves to prevail over the forces of negativity, by attaching ourselves more closely with Hashem.

King David instituted 100 blessings when there was a plague in Jerusalem killing 100 people a day. After people began saying 100 blessings, the plague subsided. The plague as explained by Kaballah is representative of the sitra achra, the “other side” or in our terms “the dark side”. The power of each blessing, which invokes the four-letter name of Hashem, protects against the power of the the sitra achra, and draws us into a closer connection with Hashem.

This class based is based primarily on the work of the Ben Ish Chai discussing 100 blessings in greater detail and also outlining the way to achieve saying 100 blessings a day according to Jewish tradition.

Forgiving God

 

In case you are not joining me for Yom Kippur Kol Nidrei tonight, here is my sermon/drasha/speech that I will be giving tonight at Hillel Harkam Academy. More info at Daysofawesome.com.

 

When I get hurt, what is my natural reaction?
When I am in a dispute, what is my gut reaction?
I cut off relations,
I speak badly about the person,
I harbor pain and hurt in my heart.
I get really mad.
I take it out on someone else.
I make hasty decisions, say regrettable emails and texts.

And then Yom Kippur arrives and I am somehow supposed to undo all that.
I am supposed to rise about nature to forgive, forget, let bygones be bygones.

Isn’t this a little bit impossible?

I mean when I get hurt, i take it so personally. Its as if this person really had it in for me.

It doesn’t matter that this person might have no idea at all what they did.
It doesnt matter that I was actually in the wrong.
It doesnt matter that I perceived something and was totally off base in my judgement.
It doesnt matter that I resolved myself last yom kippur to deal with these situations differenlty
It doesnt matter that I know in my heart that I am about to do the wrong thing – but I just cannot help myself.
It doesn’t matter that my tradition doesn’t permit me to hold a grudge. Big Deal!
It doesnt matter because I am right and they are wrong, and so be it.

I am not budging, not moving an inch.

So often, that is just the case.

Then some time passes. I am not as angry. I replay the incidents in my mind over and over again, and realize that maybe, just maybe I did not have the full picture.

Then I sit nursing my wounds, angry at myself, feeling like the lowest shlump in the world.

I beat myself up over this again and again.
But now I am embarrassed, I cannot possibly overcome this embarrassment. I am regretful.
I have severed a relationship with a good friend.
How am I supposed to fix all this?
How am I supposed to fix this mess in my life that I have created?

Forgiveness.

On Yom Kippur I need to forgive God.

Yeah, it’s God that I am mad at.

But how? How can I forgive that which I think is unforgivable?

It so happens that God built into Yom Kippur something unique – the ability to rise above my nature.

On Yom Kippur I don’t eat, I don’t drink, I don’t make love – I go beyond my human failings, desires and cravings and put myself in a different dimension.

And through this I am able to perceive that really, really, I have no idea what is going on in the big picture of life.

Maybe what God had in store for me this past year was really all the best.
Maybe, I got so much of this wrong.
Maybe, I was totally off-base.
Maybe, I needed an excuse for my behavior.
Maybe, I needed to blame someone because its just too much for me to bear responsibility for.
Maybe, I was quick to anger, quick to judgement.

Maybe, it is me who should be asking for forgiveness.

Yom Kippur was designed as a day where I can rise about human nature.
It is a day where I can return to God and ask forgiveness.
It is a time that I can acknowledge that what God has done for me is out of love, not malice.
It is a place where I can find refuge and relief.
It is a moment that if I am smart enough I can carry throughout the year.

This year, I am going to hold onto Yom Kippur and lift myself out of this self-pity.
This year, I am going to hold onto Yom Kippur and reflect on my reactions and responses to adversity.
This year, I am going to hold onto Yom Kippur and be joyous for every moment, whether it be how I want it or not.
This year, I am going to hold onto Yom Kippur and try to live above my nature.

This year I am going to forgive God Himself.

And you know what is the best part about forgiving?
What is the result of forgiving?
I have a chance repair everything
I am closer than ever before.
I see things differently.
I respond differently.
I act differently.

On Yom Kippur, I can transform an entire year in just one moment.
On Yom Kippur, I can put in motion a healthy relationship moving forward.
On Yom Kippur, I can start to get things back to the way they can be.
On Yom Kippur I forgive God, and know that God will forgive me.

Have a meaningful fast, and may we dance together in Jerusalem next year!