Who Said Anyone Copes — Everyone Is Struggling

If we all would agree we can’t cope, we’d all be able to cope.  It is the fallacy of thinking we are the only ones struggling that makes us want to throw in the towel on the struggle.

Physicist Richard Feyman, writing about his MIT days in his autobiography, recalled one of his brilliant friends fiddling around with an industrial tape measure.  The guy would open it, then hit the retract button and have the tape snap back in.  The other guys watching wanted to know just one thing – ‘how did you do that without getting your knuckles hurt?”  After all, they knew that when they did the same fiddling with the industrial tape measure, inevitably when it would flip closed, it would snap against their knuckles and hurt like the bejeebers.  “How’s it possible to play around without hurting knuckles?’ they asked their friend.  He looked at them seriously and said, “figure it out,” then threw them the tape measure.  All day long students at MIT fiddled with that tape measure, trying to figure out how to hit the retract button without bloodying their knuckles.  By day’s end, many of them had black and blue knuckles with no progress made.  They went back to the guy and said, ‘We give up.  How did you keep snapping it closed without hurting your knuckles?’  The guy chuckled and asked, ‘And who said I didn’t hurt my knuckles?’

How do you live life effortlessly without pain and doubts?  You don’t.

In my designation of yenta and know-it-all doling out free advice, I’ve heard all kinds of issues and problems.  And I’ve heard many of the sufferers think only they struggle.

“You mean its normal to fight with your spouse?”  Ah, yes, marriage is hard for everyone.  My father reassures me that only the first fifty years are hard.  Yes, most women cry their first year of marriage.  Yes there will be disagreements about money, neatness, outgoing vs. stay-at-home time and even stupidities like toothpaste.  It is normal.

“You mean the rags-to-spectacular-riches stories usually don’t happen and most people run around stretching those ropes that make ends meet? ” Yup.  Most people struggle to get their bills paid, and some of those of the luxurious mansions and expensive tastes might just be struggling even more.  They might be up to their nostrils in debts, student loans, mortgages, lines of credit and credit card debt.  My father says, the rich just have bigger bills than you and me.  They have to worry and hustle just like us, but for larger amounts.

You mean that children don’t enter this world docile, brilliant and ready for Harvard?  They stick peas in their noses, put snot on your walls and throw tantrums in public.  The vast majority.  And that is normal.  That neighbor gloating about her perfect child is lying.  Children are perfectly children, messy, rowdy and deliciously obnoxious, for it is your job to help them take all that and use it to grow greater.

Life is a messy struggle.  Adam L’Amal Yagata – you were put here on earth to struggle, to work out the challenges, to rise above the problems.  No one has an easy street paved with diamonds in life.  So, yes, your struggles are normal.  Now enjoy them, for the struggle is what will give us reward in the long run, will give us the most pleasure once we’ve gotten past the obstacles.

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Mishpatim – Civilly Spiritual or is it Spiritually Civil

PARSHAS MISHPATIM

The Shoresh [root word] is שׁ פ ט   which means judge.  Shofeit is a judge; mishpat is a judgment or a law; and lishpot means to judge

There are different categories of Mitvos:  Mishpatim are civil laws – laws understandable according to human logic.  Eidos – laws set in place in commemoration of something or as a witness to something.  And Chukim – laws that are spiritual in nature and not something you and I would dream up (such as the Red Heifer).  This week’s Torah portion is entitled Civil Laws.

CHAPTER 21:  VERSE 1

“and these are the laws that you shall place before them.” Rashi asks, why does the verse begin the Parsha with the linking word “and”?  It would make sense to say, these are the laws.  The answer is that it is to link the laws that follow in this chapter with the Parsha beforehand which described the giving of the Torah on Sinai.  Jews don’t have civil law thought up by man.  Just as the ten commandments were given on Har Sinai, so too were these civil laws and torts.  You might think that we shouldn’t steal or cheat in business because it isn’t right civilly, for civilization.  And we Jews say, no, we don’t do it because G-d says it is wrong.

What would be wrong to have civil laws thought up by civilization?  When man dreams up a justice system and laws, there is no objective truth.  Each generation would then decide what is right and wrong and many times wrong will be done as a right.  There must be objective truth and that can only be G-d given.  That is why the two chapters are linked with the “and” that begins this chapter to tell us our sense of morality must be linked with Divine Revelation and guidance from G-d.

Now let us look at the last words of that verse, the words “before them” .  One explanation of these words is expounded by the Kol Simcha who says this teaches us that the laws come before us – that we suspend our desires and our logic when they are contradicted by Jewish law. Jewish law always gets precedence over what we want or think is right.  The I, the egotistical self-centeredness, gets put secondary to G-d’s will.

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Haftorah to Parshas Yisro: Isaiah 6

This week’s Haftorah begins with the prophetic revelation of Yeshayahu, and describes his vision of the manifestation of Hashem and of the angels singing praises to G-d.

Verse 3:  and one [Seraph/angel] would call out, this one to the other one, and say “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh Hashem Tziva-kos…Sanctified, Sanctified, Sanctified is G-d…”  Why must they call out one to the other?  RASHI explains “Notlin reshus zeh l’zeh…they give each other permission…sheloh yakdim ha’echad…that no one precedes the other in praising G-d, but rather they say G-d’s praises in unison.”

Think music or dance.  When the players know to wait for cues, to wait until all are in place and ready to play at the same time, that is when they can create a masterpiece musical symphony or breathtaking choreographed dance.

That is a parable to our world.  Many of us get so caught up in trying to express our own agenda and exhibitionism, we forget how to interact with the rest of our nation in a way that glorifies us and our Creator.  This Haftorah is read attached to the Parsha that recounts the giving of Torah on Sinai.  In the Parsha we read, [19:2] “Va’yeechan Sham Yisrael Neged Hahar…And Israel camped there facing the mountain”  RASHI:  “K’ish Echad B’lev EchadLike one man with one heart.”

Now, before you think this message means we cannot be unique, we go backwards a verse or two where it talks of these angels’ forms.  Yeshayahoo sees them as having six wings.  Two are used to cover their face so as not to gaze blatantly at their Creator.  Two are used to cover their feet out of a sense of modesty and out of love for the Jewish people so as not to highlight a resemblance to the Golden Calf.  Two of the wings are used to fly, soar about and get places.  And the last two wings of each angel, as expounds Rashi, are used to do its unique mission.  Each angel accomplishes great things, goes about and does G-d’s calling.  Each one has a separate mission.  (Ah, we go back to the feminist’s mistake – equal does not mean same.  It means equally valued but with different missions.)

Yet, each mission of each angel is centered around one central goal, to be a part and parcel of a comprehensive universal concerto for G-d.  I think we’ve discussed this in past posts, but it is worth understanding again.  Orchestras have many different instruments, but they ought to be playing the same tune, to the same tempo, to be at its best.  Or, better yet, let’s look at Rashi’s explanation of how unified we were at the giving of the Torah – like one body.  The body has toes and ears.  Different appendages.  Yet, in a healthy person, the body parts interact together, has one purpose and goal which allows the person functioning ability.  When one body part “disconnects” from the others, that is disease and breakdown.

Yah, we all have unique missions and unique aspects to us.  However, we have to figure out where our uniqueness blends in, melds and harmonizes with everyone else in our vast universe so that we can all be part of G-d’s symphony.  It is the matter of focus.   Achdus, Jewish unity, it is so necessary, my friends.

So let us call, one to the other, and ask our friends to join in TOGETHER, not a beat behind, not a beat in front, but in complete synchrony within our efforts to give G-d praise. 

But…but..I hear some people splutter…but others might not want to join in.  We, therefore, turn to the Haftorah again and see Yeshayahoo’s response to this vision he has seen.  He laments, [verse 5] “Oy lee…kee ish t’may sifasayim anochee oo’besoch ahm t’may sifasayim anochee yoh’shayv – woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips and in the midst of a nation of unclean lips I dwell…”  The prophet thinks the revelation he saw of heavenly angels serving G-d right could not apply to mankind, for there is no man who has not sinned, even the great prophet.  And, so he says, ‘how can I sing praises to G-d with my deficiencies and my being surrounded with deficient fellow Jews?’  The answer given to Isaiah is an act committed against him and not a word explanation.  An angel takes a coal from atop the Mizbayach [Altar] and touches his lips.  The angel then tells Yeshayhaoo [verse 6] “behold this has touched your lips and removed your sin…”

The coal, we are told, did not burn the prophet.  What then is being done here?  You gotta have a “bren” a burning desire to want to praise and exalt G-d.  You have to be so motivated that the words burst forth, with no holding back.  The glowing coal of the Altar – what was the Altar if not a place where all physicality was channeled and focused toward G-d.  When you get to that place emotionally and spirituality within yourself, the words and desire to serve G-d bubbles out somehow.  That burning desire is imprinted by the angel onto Yeshayahu’s mouth.  Which is why, just a verse later, when G-d asks for someone to do His calling, the prophet doesn’t hold back [verse 8] “Hinenee, Sh’luchaynee – here I am; send me [to talk to the Jews]…”

My blessing to all of us today is to merit to be “touched” with burning coals from the Altar, to get to that heightened sense of spirituality where we feel able to burst forth and call out to our fellow Jew, won’t you join me in singing praises to G-d!

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Music postcript on this post…There is a famous Chassidic story about the story of one ignoramus who felt that “bren” one Yom Kippur and wanted to be part of our nation’s prayers, and burst out with no holding back with simple words he was familiar with instead of the formal prayers.  In some versions of the story, you have a little boy playing his whistle as his contribution.  In another version, one man screamed out kukuriku.  And, with a twist on this story, 8th Day sings of that desire within each of us, trying to connect and say the kukuriku, trying to pray along with our nation but with the words we know:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ2IHqikU4E

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Parshas Yisro – The Ten Commandments

CHAPTER 20:

And G-d spoke all these “devorim” words.  The ten commandments are called the Asseres Hadibros.  RASHI:  G-d said all ten commandments in one utterance.

[side note, folks, just some food for thought:  ten sefirot, ten utterances to create the world, ten commandments, etc.  Synchronized world.  Why all ten commandments in one utterance?  Don’t try to tease apart your observance and decide which one is “relevant” to you — by doing so you are inherently destroying everything — one cannot be pulled out and ignored — it is “one utterance”]

 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

  • I AM THE LORD YOUR G-D WHO TOOK YOU OUT OF EGYPT FROM THE HOUSE OF SLAVERY.

Acceptance of G-d is the first commandment.

  • YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE ANY OTHER gods BEFORE ME. DON’T MAKE GRAVEN IMAGES AND DON’T BOW DOWN TO THEM OR SERVE THEM.

No worship of anything other than G-d.

  • DON’T TAKE THE NAME OF G-D IN VAIN

You can’t swear with G-d’s name for trifling matters and can’t swear falsely.  (that is why Jews who are in a court will say “I affirm” rather than “I swear”)

  • REMEMBER THE DAY OF SHABBOS TO SANCTIFY IT.  SIX WEEKS WORK AND ON THE SEVENTH DAY, IT IS A DAY FOR G-D AND YOU DON’T DO ANY WORK, NOT YOU, YOUR SON, DAUGHTER, SERVANTS, ANIMALS OR STRANGER WHO LIVES WITHIN YOUR GATES BECAUSE G-D MADE THE HEAVEN AND EARTH AND ALL THEREIN IN SIX DAYS AND ON THE SEVENTH HE RESTED – THEREFORE G-D BLESSED THIS DAY AND SANCTIFIED IT.

There are two places in the Bible where the ten commandments are written.  In one place it says, Watch the Shabbos and here it says Remember the Shabbos.  Watch the Shabbos means make sure you don’t transgress the negative commandments associated with Shabbos – such as lighting a fire, etc.   Remember the Shabbos means you need to keep the positive commandments of Shabbos – candle-lighting, Kiddush, Challos, serving delicious foods, wearing nicer clothing, etc.

Don’t do any work:  this means the work that was done to assemble the Tabernacle and is therefore classified as work according to the laws of Sabbath.  We don’t define what is work vis a vis Shabbos.  There are 39 categories of labor that are considered work.

Keeping Shabbos testifies that we know G-d created the world and is master of it.

  • HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.                                                                                     The obligation is to honor and respect.  Note it doesn’t command us to love them.  But honor and respect, take care of them, give them credit for bringing you into this world and nurturing you, that is a total must.
  • DON’T MURDER.
  • DON’T COMMIT ADULTERY.
  • DON’T STEAL (KIDNAP)

This commandment is only about stealing people, not about stealing possessions.  Stealing is wrong, but is not liable for the death penalty and is not one of the ten commandments.  Not stealing a soul is one of the ten commandments.

  • DON’T BE A FALSE WITNESS AGAINST YOUR PEER.
  • DON’T COVET THE HOUSE OF YOUR PEER, HIS WIFE, HIS SERVANTS, HIS CATTLE OR ANY OF HIS POSSESSIONS.

Any person transgressing the ten commandments is liable for the death penalty.

The ten commandments work five on each side, the first side is between man and G-d commandments and the second side is between man and man.  The two align.  For example, the first on the first side is “I am G-d.”  The first on the second side is “Don’t Murder.”  Each person is created in the image of G-d – when we murder we are destroying an image of G-d.

The second on side 1 is:  no idol worship – on side 2 the second one is no adultery.  G-d considers idol worship to be like an adulterous relationship.  We are supposed to be in an exclusive relationship with G-d, just as we are to do in our marriages.

Third on side 1 is:  Don’t swear falsely and on side 2 the third is don’t kidnap – a man once came to the rabbi and said “I’m a thief – that is the one thing I won’t change about myself, but I’ll take on any other commandment you tell me to do.”  So the rabbi said, ‘never say a lie’.  The man came back months later, a reformed person, no longer a robber.  When asked why, he said he realized that in order not to lie, he had to stop stealing, because if he were not to lie, if ever he was asked in court whether he robbed, he would have to admit to his crimes and he would be put away for life – so because he would not swear falsely, he knew he could no longer rob.

Side 1, the fourth commandment is the Sabbath – Side 2, the fourth commandment is not to testify falsely.  By keeping Shabbos we testify to the world that we know G-d created the world.  When we don’t keep Shabbos we testify falsely.

Side 1, the last commandment is honor your parents, Side 2 is not to covet – G-d gives each one of us the circumstances, down to the parents we need to have, down to the possessions we need for our own mission in life.   We cannot look at anyone else’s stuff – we have what we need for our own unique mission in life.

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Mt. Sinai a Head Covering for our nation – Parshas Yisro and Kisoy Rosh

In this upcoming week’s Torah portion [Parshat Yisro], we are told of the mountain held above the Jewish nation’s heads as we accepted the Torah at Sinai.  Kinda like a wedding canopy, G-d stretched out and suspended Mt. Sinai.    We are told G-d was trying to make us aware that when we try to base our whole beings around rational expectations, we often miss the spiritual experiences and don’t strive for all we can be in terms of soulful living.  Therefore, G-d suspended the mountain above us and told us we must learn to curb our limited rationalizations and expand our trust in Heaven.

In our individual lives, we do the same, have something above us, trying to remind us of a lesson learned long ago at the giving of the Torah at Sinai. We call this custom Kisoy Rosh – -the covering of one’s head.  For a man, we can learn of some of its significance of what they are doing when donning a Kippah through the word Yarmulka, which is a composition of two words:  Yaray M’elokah – Awed by G-d.   We put the head covering right over our skull which houses our brains to proclaim we know G-dliness and spirituality goes beyond the limits of our brain.  That is why you will see Jewish men proudly sporting all types of head coverings, from knitted kippot to big, furry shtraimels.  It is their tool to focus on G-d.

Yet, for a Jewish woman there is an additional reason to why she covers her head.  That second reason is through covering of the married Jewish woman’s hair she is proclaiming she will be focused on channeling her passion on building a healthy marriage.  Since there are two reasons to a woman’s head covering, there are many Jewish women [especially within the Sefardic and Chassidic groups] who are careful to cover their heads with TWO layers.  This can be accomplished by doing a fold in the scarf so that two layers of scarf covers.  Another way of doing this is by wearing one of the stylish head coverings and wearing either a band or a hat or some other layer right on top of it.  And then there are always those women who have a wig and perch atop of it a little hat or scarf.

Ah, now you know, why some folks have two layers.  And, yes, it is extremely pretty, too!  That, my friend is just the added benefit.

So, as we go through this week, remember that more than a cloth covers a Jewish head.  An awareness of G-dliness must always be there perched right atop our personalities.

 

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Parshas Yisro – Really Hearing Messages

Verse 1 of this week’s Torah Portion begins with these words, “And Yisro, the father-in-law and priest of Midian, heard all that G-d had done”.  RASHI:  What did he hear that made the impression on him that hecame to join the Jews and convert?    He heard of the splitting of the sea and of the war waged by Amalek.

Was Yisro the only one to hear of the miracles G-d wrought?  No.  All the world heard.  There are two Hebrew words for listening/hearing.  Shema and Haazin.  One, Haazin, is when one listens to something and the words one is hearing has no impact.  The other, Shema, is when one listens and the words sink inside and change the person.

The whole world heard of the miracles, but continued with their own ‘life as usual’.  Yisro heard and said, what does that mean for me – how must I change based on what I heard.  We have to be careful in life not to let the things we are supposed to take to heart just tickle our eardrums without changing us.    A story about this:

The founder of the Chassidic movement was the Baal Shem Tov.  One rabbi heard that the Baal Shem Tov was teaching wonderful new approaches to coming close to G-d so he traveled to him to learn.  When he was there, he was taught by the Baal Shem Tov that everything you hear, no matter where you hear it from, is a message for you from G-d.  The man got upset with this, saying, ‘Hocus pocus.  Don’t tell me G-d would use an ignorant wagon driver or drunk to send me a message.  Exalted messages can only come from exalted people.  This is hogwash what you are teaching. I can’t learn from you, Baal Shem Tov.’  The Baal Shem Tov merely smiled at the confrontational words and said softly, “You can.  You just don’t want to.”  The man replied, “I can’t.”  To which the Baal Shem Tov repeated, “You can, -you just don’t want to.”   The man stormed out of the house and headed down the road.  There on the road lay an upturne dcart and a peasant standing there trying to deal with the situation.  The peasant called out to the rabbi, “please help me right my cart.” Short-tempered and foul-mood snit that he was in, the rabbi was’t feeling very charitable and snapped, “I can’t.” To which the peasant replied, “You can.  You just don’t want to” – the exact same words the Baal Shem Tov had used a few moments earlier.  That stopped that rabbi in his tracks.  This was too close a coincidence for him to ignore that G-d was sending him a message.  He realized the Baal Shem Tov was correct, that G-d makes us hear the admonitions we need in our life, even through the mouths of peasants.   He helped that peasant and then ran right back into the Baal Shem Tov’s study hall to learn like he never learned before.

Yisro heard of the miracles and asked himself, “I’ve heard this, now what do I do practically about what I heard.”  And he answered, “I become a Jew.”

What are you going to do with the messages you hear today?  Will you let it change you and make you a better person?  Or will you ignore those G-dly messages?

If you don’t ignore the messages in life, you, like Yisro, can become a leader among people.

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The Parsha of the Manna — Segulah for Parnassah

There is a custom that has become increasingly wide-spread, due to the nature of what it is supposed to do for us.  That is to recite today, Tuesday, Parshas HaMann, the verses that relay the story of the Manna raining down from Heavens.  This is supposed to be an aid in bringing down the blessings of abundant Parnassah [livelihood].

Actually, in the Talmud it states that saying this every day is advisable to be helped with earning our daily bread.  The Levush explains that just as the Manna came in quantities exactly suited for the day, we are asking for the needs of our day-to-day existence.

So today, many people will be whipping out their siddurim and concentrating really hard on saying Parshas HaMann, hoping they will get enough of a bonanza to redo their house, buy their Mercedes van and go on that family vacation.

Yet, you begin to read…two verses in, and the tune changes.  For the Parshas HaMann recounts how G-d said that providence would rain down from the heavens, “Lma’an anasenoo” in order to test us,Ha’yaylaych B’Torasee Oh Lohwhether or not we will go in the ways of G-d’s Torah.

Was a time when our grandparents or great-grandparents knew the pangs of hunger and of want.  They prayed and said, “G-d, if only you would give us a place and time where there would be a plethora of foods to feed our children, how much more would we serve you.”  Then they came to the “Goldene Medina” to the great land of opportunity.  Out went their Tefillin and their Torah as they built their McMansions and chased the American dream.

By all means, say the Parshas HaMann today.  Yet realize you are being asked to show your loyalty to G-d with Parnassah.  What will you do with the increased money He will send your way?  Is it for your designer duds…or to help the Kollelim, Yeshivos and the widows and orphans?  Is it for your aged steak or to stock the local Bikur Cholim room with food?

The verses also talk about gathering “dvar yom b’yomo” each day’s need for each day.  Can we, as we say this, commit to learning that lesson too – be sure and secure in G-d’s munificence that we don’t give ourselves ulcers over next year’s issues.  Do the right thing with our money today, and know that tomorrow will be taken care of as well?

It is good that at least once a year we say these verses about the Manna, not only to give us the opportunity to beg for money, but also as a chance to realign ourselves with Torah values about that money.

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Parshas Haman can be found in most Siddurim after the Shacharis prayers.  If you want to access it in Hebrew online, here it is: http://www.tefillos.com/parshas_hamon.asp

 Here is the translated version from Artscroll http://artscroll.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/the-chapter-of-manna.pdf

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