BS"D 
People often assume that ethical conduct is inherently unstrategic- that the two form disparate, often contradicting spheres of endeavor. For sure, they are often at odds with one another, and proper conduct requires a leap of faith in Hashem- that He would never give us laws that are impossible to follow. In contrast, when we work to  fulfill the mitzva of Ahavat Israel- helping another Jew physically and/or spiritually-there are many examples of how the right thing to do is also the most strategic. While everything comes from Hashem, there are rules by which He usually chooses to abode by- laws of nature and of human organizational behavior. As we work to strengthen our communities by welcoming other Jews to take a more visible role, it's all about relationships- this is the most powerful strategy that we have.

That’s why raw numbers at an event often don’t matter - its quality over quantity. The only way to help a Jew is by taking a genuine interest in their lives, and forming friendships without an ‘agenda’ of any sort. Instead, we fight our natural egocentrism by shifting the focus from ourselves to them, which means being attentive to their particular needs.  People sometimes forget about this, and focus on themselves- like the Lubavitcher Rebbe's example of a Jew who learns from his fellow that he/she is hungry, and they respond "I am a great Torah scholar! Let me teach you Torah."
It’s all about the kavanna, the motivating intention- for us to be effective, it can never be limited to the desire for people to be more like us, etc. etc. We all fall prey to this- our egos try to hijack our minds and make it all about us, particularly once we enjoy some sort of success. It’s really hard, but taking an agenda-less interest in another is the mitzva of loving your fellow Jew, and the key to true success. Although we are not able to measure our degree of accomplishment, it is a fact that people pick up on our degree of sincerity on conscious and subconscious levels. .
 
"As water reflects a face back to a face, so one's heart is reflected back to him by another." Mishlei (27:19)
Note that this quote from Kind Solomon talks of matters of the heart, as opposed to the ways in which we express our feelings. It’s really hard, but taking an agenda-less interest in another is the mitzva of loving your fellow Jew, and is the key to true, revealed success in outreach and community building.

May we soon merit to go to Jerusalem with Moshiach and the ENTIRE Jewish people!
PS for additional information on  the sorts of tactics needed in this spiritual war, check out chapter Lamed Beis of Tanya (Lamed Beis signifies the number thirty two, but spells the word for heart in Hebrew)
http://www.chabad.org/library/tanya/tanya_cdo/aid/7911/jewish/Chapter-32.htm
 
 
BS"D This week's parshah contains the famous words from G-d to the Jewish people: 
"see I have set before you...blessing and curse." In short, the Jewish people are about to enter the land of Israel after 40 yrs in the Desert, and Hashem is preparing them to conduct themselves properly in their new surroundings. If they act righteously, then they have the assurance of "blessing" and "life," with the converse if they do the opposite. 

On a really fascinating note, what is so special about the faculty of sight? Why did Hashem say, 'see'?? How about, 'contemplate,' or 'study'?? 

An interesting way of looking at it centers on the unique power of sight, which is a theme in Torah. Sight has a particular type of effect on the soul, for good and for the opposite. This is why it is so important to guard our eyes from negativity- recently my Professor, a trauma specialist, told our class never to look out the car window as we pass an accident on the highway. The same goes for watching coverage of natural disasters on television- especially when children are concerned. 

What is the big deal?? The point here is that it is possible, G-d forbid, to become traumatized without ever being directly involved in a tragedy. Similarly, scholars of the scientific method have bemoaned the ways in which the 'vividness effect' of personal testimony causes us to make bad decisions. Even if we have the results of three huge double-blind clinical trials in front of us, if our friend tells something different to our face, then we will believe this single person and ignore the thousands of others. 

Halacha (Jewish law) recognizes this by forbidding witnesses to a crime from acting as judges in the same trial. This is because there is a fundamental difference between hearing and vision. If a judge hears evidence from others, etc, then they can still remain pretty removed and objective. But if  they witness the event, then there is no way that they could impartially consider the two sides of the story. 

The Lubavitcher brings the above example to bear on this week's parshah. In relation to the two options presented to the people right before entering the Land, 'seeing' can be interpreted in at least two ways. 
1) "When a person sees the nature of the good that he can achieve through positive choice, and when he sees that the entire reason evil has been given existence is to allow him to make that choice, he will surely choose positively." 

2) "Alternatively..as a command...the objective of man's Divine serivce should be to labor to reach a state that he sees Divine purpose in his life. When this purpose is 'seen' and not merely comprehended intellectually, he will feel inspired to carry out his Divine service with increased vitality. Moreover, the word 'see' can be interpreted as a promise that we will in fact reach this level of awareness." 

So let's all become a little more aware of the power of sight, and harness it- avoiding violence and negativity, and only gazing at uplifting things!! 
Have a great Shabbos!!!!!!!!!!!!


the quotes are found in "In the Garden of the Torah," in the section subtitled "Re'ei 5754. 
 
 
BS"D
My dear readers- Shavuah Tov! 
A quick thought for you that expands on one of the halachic issues I noted two posts ago while discussing Jews who are halachic and Modern-bittul torah. 

While sone people may argue that there is enough independent value in studying secular knowledge "lishmah," I do not think that I agree. The only yardstick in my mind is whether or not it fulfills a mitzva. That is, the Baal Hatanya writes that secular knowledge is only worthwhile if it aids our Torah knowledge, or can be 'elevated'- ie used for a mitzva. This is of course an extremely broad category, ranging from making a living to helping another Jew, etc. 

While a lot of baalei teshuva who become Chassidishe find ways to 'elevate' their secular education b'dievad, this is not necessarily the way to go L' chatchila. Can I honestly tell myself that I can use my limited intellectual "steam" to study anthropology? (Given that I am not an anthropologist, and studying this subject would be enjoyable, but not necessarily readily used in the service of holiness. For me, although I am nowhere close to realizing this ideal, I feel as though this could easily veer towards bittul torah Chasv' shalom. 

I have certainly heard some alternative ways of looking at this, where one could study secular information without contradicting the Baal ha Tanya'a viewpoint. How about studying science in order to reach a greater level of awHow does one decide whether a given piece of info can be readily 'elevated'? Anyone have a different view on this?? 
Have a great week!!!
-Yaakov
 
 
Yaakov Menken recently reminded me of an AMAZING syndicated article I read by Joel Alperson. He quotes him approvingly on the renowned CrossCurrents blog http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2011/08/02/someone-finally-gets-it-again/ 

Basically, I agree with Menken- although Alperson is not "Frum," he expressed something that we can all agree with.  This is that the fact that many Jewish Congregations and Orgs spend most of their time working on "TIKKUN OLAM" is  extremely dangerous. 
Sure, there are Jewish sources on the importance of helping the wider world. Its certainly important, but these groups are distorting the proportional isignificance of the concept. There are many other Mitzvot that we need to teach our children about. Also, Tikkun Olam was not intended to serve as a catchphrase describing liberal humanitarianism repackaged to sound Jew-ey. It refers to a kabbalistic concept that is somewhat similar, but not at all identical in intent. 

A generation of liberal Jews have not been given a proper Torah education. Instead, their leaders have searched out what they would like to hear, and found (authentic) Torah sources to support it. Kind of like what the Talmud says about the time right before the coming of Moshiach- that

" the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog" (Sotah 9:15) 

How so? Just like a dog looks behind it to see where its master is heading in order to get there first, the ones in charge will neglect to lead. They will instead try to make reactionary decisions based upon what they think others would like.  But our community's first responsibility is to our selves. 

If your house was burning (G-d Forbid) then you would take care of that first before tending to a similar problem on the other side of town. Jewish activists rightly are involved in helping eliminate poverty and prevent damage to the environment. But the sources are clear that we have a primary responsibility to ourselves, as well as our families and communities. The current state of collective decay, with an over fifty percent intermarriage rate and tremendous assimilation and alienation, constitutes a "Pikuach nefesh" (threat to life) of the first order!! 

We can't rely on others to help us. There exist concentric circles of lessening responsibility, beginning with ourselves. Like the quote from the Gerrer Rebbe who tried to change the broader community, but met with no success. Then years later he tried a smaller area, and so on...finally, he concluded that he ought to focus on helping himself. Then he saw each of these broader areas of need becoming affected- the changes he made in himself radiated outward. 

Why is this the case? In part, the more "local" the focus of our energies, the more intimate our knowledge, and the greater our investment. We are more likely to know what is needed, and to stay until the job is done. Imagine a single parent who goes out to night clubs every night during the week. Why does the thought of this upset people so much?? Because they aren't doing what they are SUPPOSED TO DO. 

Instead of donating money to some place you will never visit, let's resolve to find a place within one mile of our homes that could use some help. Even better, find a person who spiritually is closer to you, like a member of your family. The requirement to donate ten percent of our income to charity has a priority list enshrined in Jewish Law that discusses who comes first. In general, close relatives come before more distant ones. Causes near our homes, and concerning our faith community take priority. 

In general, Judaism views the fulfillment of our basic responsibilities as more praiseworthy than going the extra mile and doing something we are not required to do. Also, I am starting to think that I see this in the structure of halacha. When we fulfill an interpersonal mitzva, then we are doing it because it is our G-d-given job to do so. Then, it is not about ourselves. As discussed in previous posts, the more our self-awareness enters the equation, the less likely we are to be effective. People sense that we are trying to change them for our benefit, and resist mightily. It has to be as self-less as possible. 

 Similarly, if we spend all of our time helping some cause across the world before discharging ourselves of our Torah- imposed duty, then its all about ourselves. Torah, I think, helps us to avoid this by requiring us to perform mitzvot that benefit others. We improve ourselves by connecting to G-d through the mitzva and discharging our obligation. In so doing, we aid others in a more effective manner by doing it in such a way that we know for sure that G-d wills it. This is the greatest blessing for successs. 
 
 
Much of my thinking nowadays relies on dissecting the social phenomenon of Modern Orthodoxy. I really don’t feel like I have a good understanding of it from either a secular or Jewish perspective. I mean by this that there are at least two ways to look at it; sociologically and halachically. By the former I mean looking at the lived reality of self-described MO people. One really insightful analyst is “Heshy Fried” at his infamous blog “Frum Satire.” By making fun of various Jewish identities, he teaches us about the experience of what it means to be “Modern Orthodox.”  Although I find issue with some of the language featured on the site, its brilliance can’t be denied. See, for example: 


http://www.frumsatire.net/2007/02/21/modern-orthodox-stereotyping-and-judging/ 

http://www.frumsatire.net/2010/03/22/you-know-youre-modern-orthodox-if/ 


Heshy’s hilarious commentary has informed some of my understanding *as someone who has not spent so much time on the inside of this social group. But I should note that I profoundly respect any institution that follows Shulchan Arukh, so i absolutely love experiencing different shuls and communities.  Kind of like Heshy, I sometimes try to think of the MO self-described community the way a sociologist would, loosely speaking- like how would one design an index to measure what MO-ness is? I know that there are whole philosophies behind MO, but on a day to day level, how do these people resolve the tension between two highly distinct civilizations? i believe that a study would find that self-described**MO people are traditional Jews who exhibit a range of beliefs and levels of observance. Also, that they maintain a worldview very similar to that of their more liberal brethren and of the surrounding society. MO is a reliable indicator that a person perceives themself as a member of both communities, and probably attends a synagogue with such a description on its web page. Also, its Rabbi is likely be from RIETS/YU, as would a certain percentage of its highly professional congregants. 


* I am highly wary of Jewish stereotyping but still see the site as valuable and insightful, but not to be taken too seriously 

** note: I make a point of saying “self-described” so as not to detract from the unity of the Jewish people. 

It is important to point out that the ‘Modern’ part of this identity is correlated with the adoption of both paradigms and concrete practices from contemporary non-Jewish society. This is a crucial dividing line between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidism. Although unfortunately modern ways of thinking have infiltrated Jews of all social affiliations, these two groups are marked by different responses. Jews who pay obeisance to both halacha (Shulchan Arukh) and more modern ways of thinking tend to come from societies that accept Jews to a greater degree. 

Now we move to the second lens for examining MO- that is, through halacha. (Jewish Law) I really feel that i need to learn more about the relationship between Jewish law and such an identity. Here are some of my thoughts/questions on the matter:  take the idea of Bittul Torah.(wasting time that could have been used studying Torah) In halacha, men are assigned the never-ending task of filling all of their “spare” time studying Torah. That is, they are only permitted to interrupt their study in order to perform a mitzva that must be performed by them specifically- for instance, pursuing a livelihood. I was told by a friend recently that R’ Soloveitchik based Torah U’ Maddah in part on the view that studying secular subjects does not count as Bittul Torah. 
This would seem to contrast with the view of the Tanya (ie a Chassidic opinion) that decries the damage that studying the wisdoms of the nations can do if it does not follow specific criteria. If it does not enhance our understanding of Torah (ie Astronomy, etc.), or cannot be elevated, then it is a waste of time. By ‘elevated,’ I mean if the knowledge can be used for a mitzva purpose, like making a living. I really need to do more research on this issue, since it seems like it holds the key to the MO versus Chareidism debate.

While sone people may argue that there is enough independent value in studying secular knowledge "lishmah," I do not think that I agree. The only yardstick in my mind is whether or not it fulfills a mitzva. While a lot of baalei teshuva who become Chassidishe find ways to 'elevate' their secular education, this is not necessarily the way to go L' chatchila. Can I really tell myself that I can use my limited intellectual "steam" to study anthropology without foreseeable benefit.? For me, although I am no where close to realizing this ideal, I feel as tho

Also, we have the prohibition of “and in their ways do not walk”- I know that some issues of distinctness from other nations are encoded in halachah. For instance, it says in Shulchan Arukh that we must be careful not to emulate the customs of non-Jews with regard to clothing or hairstyles. It famously goes as far as to say that if the non-Jews in a locale wear a certain color of shoelaces, and the Jews another, then it is forbidden for a Jew to switch. 

This leads into the incredibly complex issue of minhagim. First of all, what in the heck is a minhag??? In general, it is a practice not based upon a Torah or Rabbinic law that is nonetheless considered binding. Like in “Fiddler on the Room,” the answer as to why we do these things is “TRADITIOOON!” i really want to know what defines a minhag, and how long it takes for a practice to be accepted as a Jewish one that is considered holy and obligatory upon members of that community. For example, people are fond of pointing out that the clothes of Chassidim were taken from European nobleman. (not sure if this is actually factual) Also, I have a friend whose grandfather started wearing a certain set of clothing for presumably decades- his family asked a Rav who told them that his descendants have to dress this way in perpetuity. Now his hundreds of male grandchildren all dress in this distinctive fashion. So there are minhagim specific to both families and communities. Anything jumping out to anyone here? Can someone drop me a thought? I assume that this is part of the brilliance of the sages, who realized centuries ago how easy it can be for practices to shift too rapidly to ensure the continuity of Jewish culture. 

I also had an interesting discussion with my friend recently- he asked me about the idea of practices (minhagim) becoming incorporated by the Jewish people over time. If the practice among a community has been to be Modern for generations, then isn’t this now the accepted custom? I answered that I could not think of an example of an ideology being adopted in this way- only concrete practices. (Anyone have evidence to the contrary?) In terms of worldview, a Jew has only Torah. That is why I am so skeptical of the authenticity of MO, while adopting a pluralistic attitude towards it, since there are many great scholars who hold like this. MO holds that we can we can be members of two separate civilizations, that each has merit in its own right. I would like to share a story that has dictated much of my personal view on this. One day the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe saw two Jews arguing about various political systems. They were trying to figure out which one is endorsed by the Torah. The Rebbe corrected their initial assumption, that this is even possible. A Jew’s allegiance is only to Torah. Of course, each ideology has elements that meld with Torah, but Torah tells us what to agree with. There is no legitimate, separate set of criteria. 

This story is the chief reason why I am so critical of Modern Orthodoxy. I could easily see the potential legitimacy of the more liberal view on Bittul Torah. But to push for women Rabbis, or allowing Orthodox Gay Marriage, seems to me to be a consequence of Jews adopting alternative conceptions of justice. I also struggle on a constant basis with these topics- but that is because I am a modern. I don’t consciously raise this up as an ideal, but I am not in denial of the fact. One time one of my Rebbeim called it “the plague of our generation”- it may appear over-the-top at first, but on closer analysis, its worth serious contemplation. I can't shake the feeling that the beginnings of Reform and Conservative probably looked a lot like MO today. Picture a leader in the German Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah). They probably observed halacha, but believed in the value of secular knowledge. At the time, this was really revolutionary- the problem was that this led to an inexorable slide downwards towards assimilation and internarriage in a few generations. Like how none of Moses Mendelsohn's grandkids were Jewish. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think Judaism encourages living in the world, befriending non-Jews as long as it doesn’t cause assimilation, and using modern technology for in the service of holiness. The point is, doing these things has no intrinsic value. But often they can be a mitzva. For instance, going to High School/College enables us to join the workforce outside of the Jewish businesses of Brooklyn or Monsey. This means that we can make more money to afford yeshiva tuition, to take one example. 






 
 
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Maxwell’s Laws of Leadership and the Rebbe

Today I would like to talk about a really exciting topic- the jumping off point being a great book i downloaded for my phone by John C. Maxwell called the 21 Laws of Leadership- it even has an introduction by the author of the 7 habits of Eighly Effective People. When I was reading it, my thoughts drifted towards one of the greatest Jewish leaders of the modern era, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. For example, see.....

# 20 - The Law of Explosive Growth -(create leaders, not followers) 

This one is is very near and dear t my heart, as it was to the Rebbe. The Rebbe liked to view all Jews as soldiers in G-d’s army, Tzivos Hashem, on a campaign to improve the world. In other words, making it a place where G-d himself would feel at home. One worthy of receiving the Messianic Age. However, he didn’t view them as mere foot soldiers; on the contrary, they are all generals. Generalship connotes being in charge of strategy, of organizing campaigns based upon prevailing conditions . 

Combine this with #12- The Law of Empowerment. 

In his campaigns,(note: he actually used this term, and invoked the military metaphor all of the time) the Rebbe set the overall approach and guidelines, but knew the damage that micromanagement by a high ranking executive can be to an organization. As a result, he sent literally thousands of couples on life- long assignments around the world. They were tasked to love their fellow Jews, by providing free material and spiritual services. This is the essence of Maxwell’s observation about effective leaders; they inspire and cultivate others. As a result, they can multiply their organizations exponentially, as opposed to going the linear path of simply adding followers. Napoleon Bonaparte helped to innovate this approach by training his field marshals to make decisions based upon his strategic principles. In this way, the field generals could rapidly adapt to changing circumstances without the need to relay questions up and down the lines. An example brought by Maxwell of someone ignorant of this principle is Henry Ford, who undermined his the most talented executives, who he felt threatened by. As a result, over sixty years ago Ford was hemorrhaging one million dollars a day!!  The creation of leaders is a wonderful indicator of the Rebbe’s selfless commitment to the success of Judaism; he was not into self-aggrandizement. 

check out this illuminating quote from the Rebbe's secretary of fourty years, Rabbi Krinsky: 
"He was both. He insisted that everyone, especially Chasidim, become self-efficient in terms of their study, and their outreach activities. He did not want to be consulted on every detail. In fact, he often quoted the Talmudic statement that it is human nature for individuals to want to be blessed with the achievements of their own making, and for that, they need to use their own initiative and their own G-d given talents and capabilities. " 
(http://lubavitch.com/news/article/2026860/In-Conversation-Rabbi-Yehuda-Krinsky.html)

Law Number Four: The Law of Navigation 

This law is about guiding your organization, like a ship, through new trends and potential threats. Sun Tzu, and many other military thinkers, had a unique point of view with regard to challenges. As strategists, they viewed them as opportunities. Fellow leaders meeting the Rebbe were always shocked by his detailed knowledge of current events. I recently saw an interview with a former Israeli ministry official. He was shocked to discover that the Rebbe knew about Israelis’ lack of American currency in the 1970s, a serious liability and state secret. The Rebbe advised him not to worry about the lack of dollars; far more serious was the extraordinary high level of inflation, which was shifting on a daily basis. Soon afterwards, Israel began to develop into a leader in High-tech, and dollars poured in from abroad. 

#10 The Law of Connection-described by Maxwell as “asking for a heart before asking for a hand,” this one concerns choosing to rely on relationships, rather than on titles and formal power derived form one’s position. This necessarily entails knowing and caring about others’ hopes and dreams. Almost no one in history did this like the Rebbe, who answered a bag of (anecdotally) thousands of letters each day from his beloved followers. Although his answer sometimes took awhile if the question was not so pressing, each reply was personalized. In addition, the Rebbe validated people and showed that they mattered to him by never forgetting their names. There are a million stories about him recognizing someone he met fifty years earlier, and asking how their brother is doing, etc. What we remember is of course a consequence of that which is important to us. 

The last one for today is Law  21- the  Law of Legacy:

Today, we find four thousand couples officially representing the Rebbe, and countless others living his vision, residing throughout the world. Unlike other social movements with similar characteristics, most are committed to staying in their posts for as long as it takes to get the job done. Any great idea is ultimately measured by how long it lasts after the initial excitement wears off. Leaders must find people to carry on after their physical demise from this world. This, Maxwell points out has a lot to do with knowing who you are and why you are leading, with the explicit motivation of leaving the team better than you found it. This ideal can be seen from the very day that the Rebbe assumed the helm, when he taught a discourse by his predecessor, with additional commentary. The theme of the chassidic work, known as Basi le Gani, is refining the world to the point that G-d can realize His primordial desire, noted in the Midrash, of having a “dwelling place in the lower worlds.” What he was alluding to on this propitious day for agenda- setting was most ambitious; to realize the purpose of creation. A leader, according to Maxwell, is judged by their nerve in their goal -setting, and their can be no better example than to perfect the world and merit the coming of the Messiah. As the Arizal said, a generation that did not merit the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in its time, it is as if it was destroyed in their days. The previous temple was destroyed as a result of causeless intra-communal hatred among Jews. The phrase used to describe this is “causeless hatred,” but don’t let this imply that there is such a phenomenon as hatred that has a basis. Almost without exemption, hatred of one’s fellow Jew is ALWAYS baseless, and the way to reverse this collective blemish is through its precise opposite. “Baseless” love means loving a Jew merely by the fact that they are a part of your family, in the realization that a love based upon a “reason” is very shallow and selfishly oriented. May the Temple be rebuilt, speedily in our days!!! 

So in conclusion, successful organizations are a product of a dialogue between the head honcho and everyone else. The executive must have an intimate sense of timing, intuition, and people skills. But the success of the group always boils down to the conduct of everyone else, and in this regard the leader is critical by setting the tone and forming meaningful relationships. 




 
 
The Jewish roots of Mindfulness Meditation     BS"D 
By Yaakov Grossman      

(Acknowledgements: this post owes a great deal of gratitude to my teacher, Professor David Pelcovitz, an expert on the topic and Clinical Psychologist who taught ee the Jewish roots of Mindfulness meditation (see http://sites.google.com/site/dpelcovitz/) )

What comes to your mind when you hear the word "mindfulness"? How about "meditation" or "Mindful"? For my part, they conjure up images of shaven-head monks staring at blank walls. . 
Have you ever had an experience violently shake your conscious reality, uncovering a dearly held assumption? Opening it up to being questioned? The human brain is constantly overwhelmed by stimuli from our five senses. However, we do not consciously experience more than a slender fraction of a percent of this information. If we did, it would be impossible to function. Instead, our brain drives most of its processes, assumptions, and raw data into our unconscious. 

Mindfulness means retraining our minds to undo what cell phones, television, and the multiple tabbing feature pioneered by Mozilla firefox have done. In other words, being truly and completely in the moment. Its the opposite of multitasking, of setting our television or itunes to provide background noise, for example. 

This is a truly momentous concept, that has the potential to transform our lives. It made me reflect, that maybe the key to concentrating my mental forces and achieving my potential was to learn to focus. 

As the Lubavitcher Rebbe Z"L used to tell people, when you do something, just do that thing. Don't think about the next thing that needs doing. Somewhat paradoxically, ignoring that task will make us more efficient. One thing that people who met the Rebbe often reported was his intense level of focus. You got the impression that this great man, who knew many world leaders, had set aside everything to talk to you. That the only thing that existed for him were your struggles, problems, and potential. 
They also said this about Sigmund Freud- I wonder how much of his success in psychoanalyzing people was due to his tremendous listening ability. For sure, there have been many times when I have thought that I was listening, but did not know what true listening means. I was in reality still caught up in my inner monologue, wondering what witty or compelling thing I could think of to say next. This is the opposite of empathatic listening.  

The unifying theme of previous posts was learning to truly empathize with others by escaping ourselves. When we  listen mindfully, then we can experience others' inner worlds. One of the Lubavitcher Rebbes several generations ago used to sweat profusely when he met to counsel one of his followers. When he was asked why, he replied that giving advice meant first being able to escape his identity as the great Rabbi, and enter that of the person with the problem. Then, he had to return to himself, in order to know what the Rabbi would have to say about the problem. This process repeated itself enough times in the course of a single session, that he was utterly exhausted from the experience, and sweated from the immense amount of effort involved. As it says in Pirkei Avot 2:5 , we should not judge our fellow until we have entered their "place."* 

Similarly, let's all try to deal with one thing at a time, and bring all of our abilities to task. This is the reason behind the custom to meditate before prayer. The idea is to prepare us to be conscious of what we are doing from the beginning of the service. We can imagine that we are going before a powerful person, in order to be conscious of proper conduct when going before the King of Kings. Or, we can reflect on the infinite gap between ourselves and Hashem, in order to be aware of the Love aspect of our relationship- that despite our infinite lowness, he still pours kindness upon us. This which will lead us to pray or do a mitzva with joy, as it we were doing a favor for a dear friend. The goal here is to be aware of the relationship. 
In general, let's remember the mindblowing statement of the Tanya- כי המוח שליט על הלב כמו שכתוב ברעיא מהימנא פרשת פנחס בתולדתו וטבע יצירתו" 

because the brain rules over the heart (as it is written in Ra‘aya Mehemna, Parshat Pinchas2) by virtue of its innately created nature.**"

Our emotions can be shaped and created by our minds- conceived this way, meditation is an extremely Jewish practice. If we are entering a new social interaction that makes us anxious, then we can devise a meditation to calm down. If we experience difficulties, then we can meditate on the fact that G-d runs the world, and we are bound to encounter things that we don't understand. But He is good, and only does good to his creations- there are just different levels. There is a lower level of good, small enough that we can identify it as such. And there is a far greater level, which outstrips our ability to understand why it is in fact good. In other words, its all in our heads- happiness and depression, success and failure, egocentrism and empathy. Whatever our goal, never forget that the structure of creation(see the quote from Tanya above) is such that we are in control of our perception. That's pretty much the only thing we truly have dominion over. We were given it to learn to refine ourselves, to strive to always remain positive, and to learn to focus on the needs of others. Have a great Shabbat!!!!!




* see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirkei_Avot ** Lessons in Tanya translation complied by R' Wineberg  http://www.chabad.org/library/tanya/tanya_cdo/aid/7891/jewish/Chapter-12.htm





   
 
 
What is a Chassid? Tthe Talmud, askign this question over a thousand years before the Chassidic movement originated in Europe, defines a "Chossid" (Literally meaning pious person) as one who reviews his studies one hundred and one times. The implication being, that he/she is used to reviewing a teaching a certain number of times, and does one extra, going outside of their comfort zone. The Tanya, written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, which cites this teachng, brings in another chapter of the book a set of prescriptions for one who is suffering from spiritual insensitivity. That is, the person has experienced a sudden period of dullness and lack of feeling towards Judaism. The Rabbi prescribes a series of meditations which are not at all typical to Chassidic thought, which is ordinarily consumed with the importance of ALWAYS STRIVING TO BE HAPPY. 

However, the person who is spiritually dull needs a form of shock therapy to break their inner complacency. That is, he/she should think about how everyone is better than themselves in some way. These thoughts, though not good to think about often, have the effect of humbling oneself and causing us to reevaluate our inner self-image, to the point that the person is ready to begin anew. Where once they had been stuck in a certain view of themselves, which is connected with a stagnation and apathy, true spirituality means constantly trying to improve. So Rabbi Shneur Zalman tells us to look at the most lowly of individuals and question our assumption that we are at all better than they are. Whereas we don't have to work so hard to generally follow the unwritten moral rules of society, such a person constantly experiences an inner turmoil. While we are "coasting," they are trying their hardest not to steal or cheat someone. 

All of this points to the centrality of judging others favorably. Instead of looking at someone's most external characteristics- the actions that that we see them perform, etc., we need to remember that we dont know the whole picture. In fact, we know next to nothing of that person's inner life-world, what biological factor and early experiences set them on a trajectory for adulthood. Who says that someone who volunteers constantly, and is always smiling, is trying harder than a seemingly more average person? 

Learning to become less judgemental is key to the lifeview portrated by the Torah's interpersonal commandments, which are designed to create a peaceful society. We need to learn to cut off negative perceptions of others at their source- an initial bad judgement of their character based upon some incident or other. Which, upon furter reflection, can usually be perceived in a number of positive ways if we only give them the benefit of the doubt. In turn, we will be much more open to letting others into our life, and be much less likely to speak negatively about others.

This is a simple cause and effect-from a person's speech and actions, we can tell something about the character of their thoughts; this is the order in which G-d created the world, with thought preceding speech. In Genesis, we learn how G-d created the world with ten utternaces, "Let there be light," and so forth. When a person speaks, they emanate a force that is external to themselves; after it's out there, there is no way to get it back. And it has a chain reaction to the world around them. Similarly, Chassidic teachings show us how the reason that we perceive ourselves as seperate entities from G-d (thereby disguising His presence contantly animating creation), is because the world came about through speech, as opposed to thought, which is still contained within the intellect of the speaker. 

On this Shabbat, may we take a golden opportunity to perceive the truth, that the world is not separate from G-d- that there is nothing other than Him. Indeed, Kabbalistic sources tell us that on Shabbat, the world, brought into existence by G-d's "speech," ascends to its source in G-d's "thought," at a level where they cannot be thought of as separate. May we all take a small, realistic resolution to enhance our observance of the laws of Shabbat, so that we can tap into this reality and view the world as it truly is. This will give us rest from the tribulations of the  work week, when all of the stress and struggles of existence make the world seem to exist on its own, with our prosperity dependant upon our own prowess and a series of natural laws. These laws are not separate from G-d; he created them when he said "Let there be a firmament," and "created the..luminaries" (sun and moon), to shine and orbit. Let us return the world to a state of oneness, with the coming of the Messiah speedily in our days. 

Much Love and let me know what you think!
Yaakov 

 
 
BS"D 

In the book of Exodus, while Moses is living in the desert as a shephard, one of his sheep escapes. Moses chases it, and then a famus Midrash tells us that he finds it drinking at a watering hole. "I didn't know that you were thirsty," said Moses to the sheep. Then, he takes the tired sheep on his shoulders to carry it back to the rest of the flock. It is at that point that he sees the burning bush, and is told by G-d to take off his shoes. 

During the encounter of the burning bush, the first thing that G-d says to Moses is to take off his shoes. There is a famous teaching on this- Moses had been brought up in luxury, as a prince in the palace of pharoah, And now, we find him living in comfort in Midian working as a shephard for his father-in-law. 

What G-d was telling him was in effect, that He had chosen Moses because of his concern for even the shmallest sheep under his charge, and in the same vein, he asks him to expose his feet to the hot desert sand. This is because a true leader in the Jewish tradition isnt in their position because of flashy speeches, an Ivy league law degree, or even their perfect white smile. They are worthy of their position because they feel the pain of their people. 

 When one has true empathy and concern for another, then they have truly moved past their sense of self. We literally feel their pain within us. Contrast this with the relatively shallow, even trite expressions used to comfort mourners such as "She lived a good life," or "at least she wasn't in pain." 

When someone is truly suffering, we are not in a position to judge what it is they need to hear at that moment. Instead, let's be there for them, and they will pick up on this. This will be infinitely more powerful than any words. Words are very limited, precise creations. No two words have precisely the same connotation- that is why there are two. In contrast, we learn in the Tanya and in Chassidic literature that emotions are above words- the source of words- and thus can never be fully contained by such a precise instrument. Words are only effective if there is a sincere sentiment behind them, the "soul" of the words. So let's cut right to the soul- other people intuitively sense when we truly love and care for them. 

This week let's all try to all move a little outside of our own internal monologues, and shatter our static, habituated sense of who we are. Let's lose ourselves doing things that we don't "Get anything" out of. This is the only way to be truly free-  moving outside of our desires and limitations by truly feeling the pain and joy of another. 

Have a Shabbat Shalom!! 

Shabbat Activity: Try to listen to someone describe how their day went without spacing out. On the contrary, be completely in the moment, giving them the feeling that someone is truly listening. Avoid talking about yourself for at least two minutes. 

 

    Author

    Yaakov Grossman is a Jewish educator, author, private tutor/child care professional, and student in the Metro New York area. Professional inquiries should be addressed to jjgrossm@gmail.com

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