Responsibility in Youth

[based on a concept by Shlomo HaMelech who says Fortunate/Happy is the man who carried a burden in his youth.]

COSSETTED TREE

 Through the arched window I caught sight of you, sister tree,

Sitting catty-corner to a huge plasma TV

Shading the intricacies of a plush Persian rug

You stood tall in your planter, feeling sheltered and smug

And while you basked in warmth and I shivered from cold

It is hardships I’ve lived through which ensured I don’t fold.

Alas for pampering and for luxurious lives led

For it robs one of skills to survive challenges ahead.

Yes, I have suffered much sorrow on cold gritty streets

learning grace to bow under heavy winter sleets

I’ve had to conquer a gate, engulfing it with tough bark

Propagated a future by seeding Central Park

Whilst you, one day, had your owner jet off on vacation

Leaving a housekeeper to tend to your domestication

Who somehow, someway, slipped her mind, didn’t water you

Oops, your growth is now stunted, your life unable to continue

Next thing you know, you were placed out here next to me

Unable to survive and thrive out here, poor cosseted tree.

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Channeling the Physicality to Capture Blessings

In this week’s Parsha, one of thing we need to understand is why Yitzhok sent Eisav out to hunt for something – Yitzchok realized that Eisav was good with physicality, and he wanted to train Eisav how to harness that talent/hunger for physicality.  For we are able to “capture” or “earn” and use physicality for Mitzvos.  Think candle being burned, wax melting away, to create a flame that rises high.  Physicality can be “burned” to create a fire of spirituality.  Yitzchok therefore, says in Passuk Daled (verse 4):

“Make me a good-tasting food like I like it and bring it to me

and I will eat it so that my soul will bless you before I die.”

 First obvious question:  why is Yitzchok asking for tasty food that he likes?!

A mitzvah has to be done in the best way.  Yitzchok is not asking for “juicy steak” dripping with barbecue sauce because he wants the taste of food.  He wants Eisav to be  busy with Chesed [kind acts] and Kibbud Av [honor of parents].  How is that done properly?  Not by trying to do the minimum, but by putting in effort and thinking it through.  Questions of “what does my father really like?”  “How do I present food to guests in a really nice way?”

There was someone named Rebbetzin Newhouse, of blessed memory, who got a set of fine china, really expensive dishes, not because she wanted it for herself, but because she felt that when she had to host guests she wanted to do it regally, like a queen.  One day, a painter was hard at work painting her home, and she realized he’d been working that many hours he must be famished.  So she cooked him a gourmet lunch, put a tablecloth down, and served him, on her fine china.  She put the effort and thoughts and did the Mitzva FULLY beautifully.  That is what Yitzchok was trying to train Eisav to do – look at how he’s instructing him so we can learn how to do Chesed right – make sure the Chesed you are doing is one that the person will appreciate (food they will like), make sure you deliver it to the person you are doing it (bring it to them).  Do it regally like Rebbetzin Newhouse, a queen in how you present your deeds.

Next question we should be asking in this verse is what is this talk about “soul blessing”?  If Yitzchok wants to give a Bracha [blessing], give a Bracha.   Why does he need all these preparations?  If I want to bless you, all I have to do is open my mouth and say, “may you all merit to build beautiful Jewish homes”.  There, I blessed you.  Why did Yitzchok have to do all this charade of asking for steak in order to bless Eisav?  The answer, according to Rabbeinu Bachya, can be found in the word “my soul” – Yitzchok wants to have Ruach HaKodesh [divine inspiration] while giving the Bracha – he doesn’t want to just bless, he wants Heaven to agree to the blessing.

Ayn Hashchina Shruya Elah Meetoch Simchathere is no Ruach HaKodesh/divine inspiration unless a person is in a state of happiness (just an interesting point, you also cannot have Ruach HaKodesh while you are being lazy).  We know that the Nevi’im [prophets] often listened to music to get to a point of Simcha so they could get Ruach HaKodesh.  Why didn’t Yitzchok use music to try to get into that mode of happiness that would bring Ruach HaKodesh, and instead asks for food to do it?  Music can be a very spiritual thing.  Eisav, however, is lusting for a physical bracha.  He doesn’t want to inherit Nevu’ah – he wants to inherit Eretz Yisroel, the land, and wants a blessing to be a rich person.  So Yitzchok decides to use physical gifts (tasty food) rather than spiritual ones (like music) to get into a good frame of mind.

Okay, folks, there you have it.  The quick lessons from this verse:  we must train ourselves to do our utmost, perfect our kindness.  We must learn to channel physicality to create spiritual fire.  And we must remember to be in a state of happiness, whether using food or music or both, so that we can have a direct open line of communication to spirituality.  Only with Simcha, come what may.

—————-

An interesting note to those who had a hard path in life or are in current stress situations, therapists often talk about a coping box/book, whereby you figure out what can put you into a better mood and help you cope through pain.  Then use those things as tactics when stress is overwhelming.  It’ll be different from person to person.  Some girl I know, for her it is flowers that does it, smelling it and observing it.  For others, it might be sitting in a patch of sun like a contented cat.  For others, it might be massage.  This week’s parsha seems to tells us the same thing is within spiritual realms — to get to a place of happiness, figure out the physicality that might get you there, for it will help you get to a greater place in spiritual connections.  So, go ahead, if you need that herbal tea, or that dance around the room, or a good hearty humor chuckle — by all means, use it to pull out of any funk.  As I said before, Only With Simcha, Come What May!

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Eisav, Yaakov, Marshmallows and Eternal Gratification in Parshas Toldos

They were born, two boys, twins, Yaakov and Eisav; but they had vastly different natures.  Yet, as you learn the Torah Portion of Toldos and you see with what nature Eisav was blessed, it seems to you, perhaps, that the cards were stacked against Eisav – he had this burning desire for physicality and strength.  However, we are taught Eisav and King David looked alike and had the same personalities.  Both were passionate men.  Ah, passion, it could be used two ways.  Eisav pandered to it and gave in to his huge desires and Dovid didn’t.  Anyone born with a bigger desire for evil, has a bigger chance at being great.  Eisav could have been Moshiach if he worked on himself and fought his desires, if he harnessed his appetite for physicality and used it for spirituality, but Eisav liked instant gratification and refused to discipline himself for anything long-term.

“Eat, be merry, for tomorrow I die,” is Eisav’s motto.  This is what he says: what do I need spirituality, let me have instant pleasure. Soup down my throat.  Now.  In fact, did you ever wonder, why did Eisav have to ask Yaakov to pour the soup down his throat?  What was wrong with his own two hands?  Eisav was actually pleasuring himself as he conducted this whole transaction – he was so wrapped up in gratifying himself, he wouldn’t even stop to feed himself.  Gimme, gimme.  I deserve.  I want.  All nerve endings need pleasuring now.  That is the wrap-up of Eisav’s approach to life.

There was a psychological study, aptly titled the Stanford Marshmallow experiment, which involved, yup, delicious pillowy sweet marshmallows.  Oozing goodness.  And put right in front of some nosh-loving children.  The point of the study was to test the children’s ability to defer on pleasure and see whether there was any correlation with future success.  So, there sat the children and the marshmallows, in a room affording a view to researchers.  In front of each child that mmm-mmm-good marshmallow was plunked down, right there, tantalizingly sweet right under their nose.  The children were told that if they wait and don’t eat it, they would get another one in a while.   Think of that – control yourself and double your pleasure.

The researchers left the room.  Some children gobbled up the nosh right away.  Some kept poking at it, smelling it, nibbling off its corners.  And some children ignored the nosh and earned the reward of a second marshmallow.  The children were then tracked to see which ones finished high school, which went to college and which ended up with good lives.  It was found (is it surprising?) that children who controlled their desire for the instant nosh were the ones who ended up successful.  Wanting instant gratification is a weakness.

A person who lives in this world only thinking of the pleasures of Olam HaZeh [the temporal world here], like Eisav did, is a bigger idiot.  Good people know we ought at times to deny the instant pleasure because when it comes to Olam HaBah [the next world which is eternal], the pleasure there is greater and we would be idiots to trade a great thing for something stupid just because it’s instant.  An example often given by the late Rabbi Noach Weinberg, ZT”L:  eating ice cream is a pleasure.  Saving a life is a greater pleasure.  If you had to choose between the two, which would you do?  Give up the ice cream- that cool delicious instant feeling of coldness sliding down your throat?  Of course – cuz you know the pleasure of saving a life will last a lifetime.  Eisav refused to self-discipline in anything.  He wanted pleasure – he wanted it now – he wanted it physically, which is why he ended up with no spiritual or emotional pleasures.

Yaakov, his brother, on the other hand, knew how to defer, to wait things out, to channel and harness his passion and keep it in check.  In fact, he was able to wait for the love of his life, working toward his marriage, because he knew how to wait things out.  Those willing to harness passion, control their desires and trade instant gratification for greater things, those are the ones who end up with the ever-lasting pleasures.

After all, instant soup is quite bland.  Instant world is blander, yet.  Go for the real deal, the real lasting spiritual pleasure.

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Why G-d Loves Prayers of Righteous

In this coming Shabbos’ weekly Torah portion, we learn of the childlessness of Yitzchok and Rivka.  We are taught they did not have children right away, just as Sara, and later Rochel,  did not, because Hashem wanted to hear their prayers.

Why?  Is it cruelty – my child is so cute when he cries so I let him cry?!  No, that isn’t it.  It can’t be that with G-d.  He doesn’t let us suffer just to see how cute we are when we cry.  There must be something else of why He wants these prayers.

Prayer is a very powerful thing – it brings blessing to the world.  Therefore, when righteous people pour out sincere prayers, not only do they become a better person and merit getting what they are praying for, but also their prayers change the world and help others who aren’t as good as them.

Think of a faucet wedged closed.  A strong person strains against the tap, again and again, until finally it yields and turns.  The water gushes forth.  And those who were thirsty, but were too weak to maneuver that faucet on their own, they get to drink from the same waters as the tap turner.  The righteous open the spigots of blessings, bringing Heavenly bounty into this world.  Up to them is the heavy work of getting those faucets running.

That is why Hashem wanted to hear the prayers of the Tzaddikim, to bring good to the world.

When Yitzchok was born, we are taught that the whole world laughed.  Why?  Because the blessing of having children, once “turned on” for Sarah, helped many ladies who did not have children.  So Rivka’s prayers were not just for herself, but for the whole world.

And I sit here and hope that all those who are yearning for help like me are straining all their spiritual muscles to daven and cry, for who knows which one of us in our times is the Rivka who can turn on the spigot of blessings.  Pray and cry, for yourselves, for me, for the world.  We need the blessings in our lives, sorely need them.

 

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Prolifer – (and Sara was the epitome -she lived every day of her life)

When the alarm clock rang this morning

I glared out at the new day dawning

“Yuk,” said I, “what a botheration

“to endure a new day’s frustration.”

Pro-choice?  Shouldn’t I be the one to choose?

But, alas, life doesn’t allow for much muse

Reality dictates that one must awake

For if not, one’s livelihood is at stake

And though we might love covers over our head

Most of us can’t afford a day in bed

We cannot end our days before they begin

We’re forced to cope with its contractions

Carry the morning full term until eve

Suffer with its aches and petty peeves

At the end, though, you often can say

Thank G-d we hadn’t aborted our day.

—————–

Rabbi Akiva was once teaching his students when he noticed some of them drowsing off.  He banged on his shtender [lectern] and said, “chevrah, I want you to know something.  Because Sara lived 127 years, Esther many years later got to rule over 127 countries.”  His students perked up and stayed alert and awake.  What they had been told is that each day, each hour, each second has a potential that will be rewarded.  And they didn’t want to snooze through any of life’s opportunities.

 

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Mesorah: Transmission of Truth

Two stories – -one lesson.  The first one is about when G-d allowed Moshe Rabeinu a viewing of all coming generations.  As part of the viewing, Moshe Rabeinu got to “sit in” on a shiur [class] given by Rabbi Akiva.  Rabbi Akiva was “doresh al kol tag vetag – was finding Peirush [interpretations] in every little shtrechele [quill stroke] you find in the Torah.

Moshe Rabeinu didn’t understand how it was being interpreted and felt bad until he was comforted by hearing that all the teachings of Rabbi Akiva were really about  “halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai[Jewish Law as handed to Moshe on Sinai].  How do we understand this story when we know Moshe Rabeinu was anav mikol adam [more humble than any other man]?   Why was he upset, then, if he didn’t understand how to do something Rabbi Akiva was doing (to say drash on the shtrechelech) and why was he comforted when he realized they were all teachings from him?

Second story.  There was a Tanna named Rabbi Meir who used to give a shiur [class] which a lady in his town used to attend.  This lady’s husband was not the greatest of guys and didn’t like his wife growing in spirituality while he was lazy and stayed a boor.  So, one night, when he had a L’chayim too many and his wife was learning, he locked the door to his house.  When his wife came home, he stood by the door and shouted, “I swear I’m not letting you into this house until you spit into Rabbi Meir’s face!”  That was the depth of his hatred for her learning, that he wanted her to embarrass the rabbi who taught her.  The wife, because she realized it was his booze at work and not intrinsically him, wanted to get into the house and back to her marriage, but there was no way for her to be able to listen to his drunken request.  She stood outside, not knowing what to do.  The town was not too big, so within a few moments Rabbi Meir heard what had happened.  He called his students in and asked them to do him a favor.  They were to go to the street where the woman lived and make an announcement.  They were to say that Rabbi Meir had an eye infection which the doctors said could only be healed with saliva.  They then were to ask for a volunteer who would be willing to spit in Rabbi Meir’s eyes.  Sure enough, the lady volunteered, realizing it was her opportunity to do as her husband ordered…and thinking she was also saving Rabbi Meir’s eyes.  Amazing story.  Incredible Chesed [kindness].  Yet, the Gemorah poses a challenge and asks a question after writing the story.  The Kushya [query] is “Reb Meir meemee lamad”– from where did Rabbi Meir learn that you can do it?  And the sages then show how what Reb Meir did is part of the Mesorah [transmission of Torah] – stretching all the way back to Aron HaKohen.  How do we understand this story?!  Does even Chesed [kindness] need a Mesorah?

Rabeinu Yoel, ZTL would say “Chodosh Asur Min HaTorah”  – new things are forbidden by Torah.  Are we Amish, not to use electricity, because its “new” and our Babbe and Zaida didn’t have it?  Is that what was meant?  Obviously not, because Rabeinu Yoel was a pretty advanced rabbi, transplanting and understanding the new needs in America.  So what could have been meant, that Chodosh [new things] are Asur [forbidden]?  What Chodosh is Asur?

The tenets of Judaism has been accepted worldwide as truth and borrowed from by other religions because Judaism is unique in Ma’amad Har Sinai [giving of Torah at Sinai].

Whereas many folks can claim divinations and revelations, a massive witnessing of millions of people of a vision and an experiencing of that miracle is only claimed at the giving of Torah at Sinai.   Only Torah was given in view of millions of people who stood together at Sinai and heard Anochi Hashem [“I am G-d”].  Moshe Rabeinu, before he died, tells us this fact, to make sure that at all times, in all generations, we should remember, we know truth because millions of us witnessed the giving of truth.  We aren’t blind followers of someone who claims to have a vision.  We are the only belief system where there was “Hareisa Lada’as” open vision of G-dly revelation.  The basis of our belief then is the experience of three million people who witnessed the giving of Toras Emes.  That is why in Shema we are warned that we not forget that which our own eyes saw – our conviction in truth is based on a mass experience.

So now we go back to the concept of Mesorah [transmission of Torah through time].  If we know we are living our lives right because of the things our ancestors witnessed, we are safe in what we do as long as what we are doing is linked to that truth they saw.  Therefore, anything, Chesed, drash or daily life has to trace itself back to that moment of revelation of G-d.  Chadash Asur [new is forbidden], because then it is not linked to the experience we had with truth.  Moshe Rabeinu was not a Baal Ga’ava [arrogant person].  He was not worried about Rabbi Akiva being smart and teaching something he didn’t understand.  He was just worried about the next generation’s connection to the truth of Torah, of the fact that we know Torah is true because we all witnessed the giving of it, and anything new is, therefore, something like other religions (a claim that someone knows the truth, but not something we can verify).  Therefore, we can understand why Moshe Rabeinu was relieved to hear that all Rabbi Akiva was teaching was the actual Torah M’Sinai – Rabbi Akiva was just using various tools to point out how to remember the same Torah we all witnessed being given.

Mesorah – - it is our way of maintaining the open-eye experience of witnessing and knowing truth. And anything we do, anything we say, anything we teach, must be sourced back to Torah M’Sinai.

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Don’t Turn To Enemies for Protection — Shuvee, Shuvee Hashulamis

I don’t know why I don’t keep my own commitments to myself.  Numerous times I have stated emphatically, “I won’t let anyone touch my computer.”  Then along comes the next person who needs it for something and there goes my grand statements out the window as I say, “sure, use it.”  Most times I end up regretting it.   Controls and firewalls I put up, users take down.  The aftermath is usually an ailing computer.

I’m tech challenged.  Know not much about what makes this thing turn on and off and function.  But I do know that there are viruses that crop up.  And I do know I was told there is an insidious virus that creeps in, if you believe it and click to see if you have a virus.

There was a time where I loaned my computer again to someone.  After use, the computer claimed to that person that I might have a virus, and so she clicked to see if that were the case.  The computer then went into lock mode, blocking me from any program other than the Malware one which kept telling me I had Trojans, Worms, Backdoors and Child-Porn Proxies in multiple places in my computer.  It did not let me delete anything.  It did not let me reboot.  It held my computer hostage to its blinking virus roundup, trying to force me to click deeper into its web of destruction (‘to activate software, click here,’ was its only option).

Reminds me of two sources in our heritage.  One is the famous story of Rabbi Akiva’s teaching of Torah at a time when doing such would incur the death penalty.  Pappas, a relative of Rabbi Akiva, happened to stumble upon the scene of Rabbi Akiva teaching his students, and he protested, “but it is so dangerous, you can die for teaching Torah.”  Rabbi Akiva chose to answer him with a story, which is as follows:

One day, a fox strolling along the banks of a lake noticed fish swimming frantically from end to end.  He called out to the fish, “tell me, why do you rush and run so?  What is going on?”  One fish poked its head out of the water and spoke, “Oh, fox, we rush and swim to try to get away from the fishermen who come with their big nets and try to scoop us up.”  The fox put on a sympathetic face and said, “You poor dear fish.  I have an idea.  Why don’t you come out of the water here and I’ll protect you.”  The fish gurgled a laugh.  “We’re not that stupid, fox.  Here in the water, we might be in danger, but some of us might survive.  There is hope.  What you are suggesting, if we come out, hah, we surely would die as fish cannot live without water.”

Rabbi Akiva finished the story for Pappas and said, “see, that is the same with the Jews.  Sure, I might get caught and killed by the Romans for teaching Torah.  But Torah is the lifeline of the Jews, their very oxygen.  The minute we have no Torah, we are all dead.”

In Shir Hashirim, there is a verse that has the nations of the world calling out to the Jews, saying “Shoovee, Shoovee” turn to us, we’ll protect you and help you, if only you just assimilate.  And the response had been through the ages an unequivocal no for the vast majority of our people, which is why we still have a nation and a heritage, alive and flourishing.

 Gaspar da Gama sailed the seas

Eventually converting to Christianity

This Jew from Europe sought respect

And thought he’d find it if he’d defect

Time passed on, and leaves him no legacy

For Gaspar is not any Jew’s prided ancestry

In fact, Gaspar da Gama

Alas, is quite the goner.

 That annoying malware virus wanted me to click to be saved from viruses only to give me a more deadly one.  Aha, I know not to turn to those who seek my doom.  Unfortunately, my computer borrower did not.

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