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July 28, 2016 / 22 Tammuz, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘person’

Madonna and Kabbalah Don’t Mix

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Today, we are going to examine the relationship between Torah and T’shuva. First, we must understand that Torah is not external, factual knowledge like the knowledge of science, mathematics, or linguistics. Torah is an inwardly-directed knowledge which has the power to influence and change a person, to refine a person’s sensitivities and to connect him to the holy, spiritual foundations of life.

The study of Torah is not a quantitative amassing of information and theories like other knowledges. It is a qualitative experience demanding both moral and intellectual involvement, and a desire to make Torah ideals an essential part of one’s character. When a person learns Torah and discovers the exalted harmony and goodness of Creation, his will is affected, stimulating a yearning for God. Because his will for goodness is enhanced, his desire for t’shuva is strengthened as well.

The Talmud teaches that God created the evil inclination and the Torah as its cure (Kiddushin 30B). Rabbi Kook explains this as meaning that a person’s will cannot be perfected except through the purifying influence of the Torah. The Torah strengthens the will and directs it towards holiness and goodness.

The more an individual learns Torah, especially the deeper wisdom of Torah, the more knowledgeable he becomes about his true spiritual nature and about the nature of his will. He comes to recognize that the entire world is Divinely inspired to attain a purer connection to God. This higher contemplation brings him to a higher level of t’shuva. Rabbi Kook writes:

“True, complete t’shuva demands lofty horizons of perception, in order to be raised to the resplendent world which abounds in holiness and truth. This can only be done by being immersed in the secrets of life found in Divine wisdom and the depths of the Torah. This necessitates physical cleansing and the purification of one’s traits as aids, so that the clouds of lust will not darken the intellect’s clarity. But the study of Torah must precede everything else, especially the study of the higher, supernal Torah, for it alone can shatter all of the iron barriers which separate the individual and the Nation from God” (Orot HaT’shuva, 10:1).

T’shuva and Torah go hand-in-hand. Like bees and honey, you can’t have one without the other. The more a person studies Torah, the more inspired he is to do t’shuva. Similarly, to the extent that a person purifies himself through t’shuva, his study of Torah is blessed and made more clear.

A person who is satisfied with a routine performance of the Torah’s commandments can get by with a minimum of t’shuva, but to enter into the deep, secret wellsprings of Torah, a person must be pure of all unholy influences. To reach this state of cleanliness, a great deal of t’shuva is required. The depth of a person’s t’shuva enables him to understand greater degrees of Torah, for the ability to understand Torah does not solely depend on one’s intellectual skills in clinically analyzing a passage of Talmud — the essence of Torah is when the person has internalized its profound moral concepts into his being, so much so that he yearns for them with all of his might. Only when a person has reached this level, when his will is so refined that it longs only for goodness, can he properly understand the deep secrets of Torah.

For this reason, people who profess to learn Kabbalah without doing t’shuva are not really learning at all. They study the formulas of mysticism, but the import of the teachings does not enter their hearts, for God only unravels the secrets of Torah to one who has prepared his soul to receive them. Rabbi Kook writes:

“It is obvious that it is impossible to learn the secrets of Torah without t’shuva. For in these great matters, the will and the intellect are united. When one understands these subjects with a mighty will for the good, one yearns for them and devises many general and specific strategies to obtain them. However, when sins form a barrier, the will is damaged, and since one cannot rise to the highest, innermost level of the will…wisdom cannot grow in him, and the channels of understanding the secrets of Torah are blocked” (Ibid, 10:8).

Simply put, if you want to understand the inner workings of existence, you have to clean up your act. Just like you cannot purify yourself in a ritual bath while holding a dead mouse in your hand, you cannot learn the secrets of Torah while you are living in sin.

Tzvi Fishman

Judgment And Reckoning

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Question: A basic Jewish belief is that everyone ultimately will be judged. This final judgment is called din v’cheshbon, judgment and reckoning – see Avot 3:1. What is the difference between these two terms? What is din and what is cheshbon?

Answer: The Gaon of Vilna is reputed to have defined din and cheshbon as follows: Din is the judgment for the sin committed. Cheshbon is the reckoning for the time lost while the sin was being committed – time that could have been used to perform mitzvot. Thus, cheshbon deals with loss of potential. The person who complains about the lack of sufficient time for performing mitzvot is reminded about the time he wasted while sinning.

Rav Shlomo Kluger (Magen Avot) maintains that din refers to judgment regarding mitzvot and aveirot while cheshbon is the reckoning for excess in matters that are permitted in principle, such as food and drink. The Torah does not provide maximum limits for permitted items. Yet, a person may be judged to be gross or crude for indulging too much.

Some note that the sequence in Avot 3:1 seems backwards. Presumably, a cheshbon, a reckoning of the merits and sins of a person, comes before a din, a judgment based on that assessment. Why, then, does the tanna in Avot place din before cheshbon?

The Baal Shem Tov is said to have contended that reckoning actually takes place second. It takes place in Heaven after a person is shown someone who committed a sin similar to his own and passes judgment on that person.

How so? The most notable example is that of King David and the prophet Nathan. After David sinned by taking Batsheba as a wife, Nathan told him the following story: There were two neighbors. One was very wealthy and owned thousands of sheep. The other was quite poor; his sole joy was a pet calf. He played with it, slept near it, and shared his meals with it. One day, a guest came to the wealthy neighbor. Instead of slaughtering one of his numerous sheep, the wealthy man stealthily entered the poor man’s home, took the pet calf, and slaughtered it.

When David heard this story, he became enraged at the immoral behavior of the wealthy man and declared that he deserved a very harsh punishment. Nathan then asked the king how his behavior differed from the wealthy sheep owner’s. David had, after all, taken Batsheba away from her husband Uriah even though he had thousands of women available to him.

The Baal Shem Tov said that all men, like David, are shown people who performed their own sin in different form. They are then asked to pass judgment on them. Whatever judgment they pronounce on their fellow man another is assigned to them.

And this is why din precedes cheshbon. First a man passes judgment on another person in this world. Later, in the world of true judgment, there is a cheshbon, a reckoning based on the very judgment that he issued. (See Iyyunim BePirkei Avot by Rabbi Heshel Ryzman.)

Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen

Rocket Ship of T’shuva

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

We have learned that t’shuva is the force which makes the world go round. Just as gravity keeps us here on earth, t’shuva keeps us longing for the heavens. For the individual, the source of this force lies in his or her willpower. The will is the battery of t’shuva. For a person to be healthy, happy, and in harmony with the universe, his will must be freed from the bondage of sin and directed toward goodness and God.

We are not accustomed to thinking in terms of the will. In school we learn about many different subjects, we learn about different professions, we learn how to get along in the world. But we don’t learn very much about being good. Rabbi Kook, however, teaches that education should focus not on professional training alone, but on finding ways to direct all of man’s endeavors, both material and spiritual, toward the world’s general aspiration for goodness. He writes:

Pure honesty demands that all of the labor of science should be directed toward the fundamental ideal of enhancing man’s will with the ultimate goodness fitting to it, to refine the will, to strengthen it, to sanctify it, to purify it, to habituate it through educational channels to always strive for what is lofty and noble (Orot HaT’shuva, 15:2).

When, however, mankind strays from the proper course, and instead of striving to elevate the will, leaves it wallowing in its baseness, wanting only to satisfy the will’s lower passions, then humanity plunges into darkness, degeneracy, and idolatry.

Out of its depths, (mankind) will cry out to the God of truth and return to the holy goal of making the foundation of every activity the uplifting of the will…. This is the entire basis of t’shuva, the elevation of the will, transforming it to good, to rise up from darkness to light, from a valley of tribulation to a gateway of hope (Ibid).

Previously, we saw that t’shuva can come about gradually, or in a sudden powerful flash. Gradual t’shuva resembles any developmental, step-by-step process whereby one thing leads to another in a natural fashion like the growth of a tree, which progresses from the seed to the fruit in a slow, predictable process.

Sudden t’shuva is different. It seems to come about all at once with superhuman energy and willpower. Where does this great thrust of life energy come from? If we had spiritual glasses to analyze the process, what catalysts and forces would we see?

The longing for goodness that makes up a person’s willpower has a resiliency like that of a spring. Sin causes the will for goodness to be contracted, like a spring which is being stepped on. The further a person is caught up in sin, the tighter the spring is compressed. When a person frees himself from the shackles of sin, he is freeing his willpower to return to cleaving to God. Since his willpower was in such a constricted state, when it is released, it explodes with a super momentum and force, far greater than the force of gradual t’shuva. The sudden baal t’shuva has a magnificent outburst of will which propels him into a frenzy of spiritual endeavor. From the depth of his darkness, he discovers an incredible light, an incredible good_ ness. All at once, BOOM, he is turned on by God. His prayer, his Torah study, his good deeds are all filled with a fiery intensity and fervor for universal good.

It is this revitalized energy which makes the newly religious seem “born again.” This occurs because his willpower has been rescued and recharged. This accounts for the teaching that a tzaddik cannot reach the level of a baal t’shuva (Berachot 34B), for a tzaddik is motivated by the normal, step-by-step will to do good, and not by the explosive, shot-out-of-a-cannon passion of the baal t’shuva.

Because of its great power, Rabbi Kook warns that t’shuva, if misused, can become a lethal weapon. Like a surgical knife, t’shuva can be the key to new healthy life, or to self-destruction.

blockquote>When one contracts the will, when one represses the life-force through an inner course of abstaining from life’s pleasures out of the desire to avoid all transgression, a contraction of the will for goodness also occurs. The power of the moral side of life is also lessened. A man engaged in purifying his life suffers a weakness like that of a sick person who was cured by electric shock therapy, which wiped out the disease, but also weakened his healthy life-force (Orot HaT’shuva, 9:10).

Tzvi Fishman

The Key to Success

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

As we continue on the t’shuva train toward Yom Kippur, I would like to take this opportunity to bless the readers of the Jewish Press, and my friends the world over, with a year of health, happiness, and success.

While the greatest success a Jew can achieve is to live a Torah life in the Land of Israel, success comes in many shapes and sizes. To make sure that your new year will be blessed with success, here’s a wonderful teaching of Rabbi Kook, condensed from our commentary, “The Art of T’shuva,” which has the power to make everyone a winner.

It is no secret that western society is success oriented. Everyone wants to be a success, whether it be a successful basketball player, a successful lawyer, a successful doctor, a successful housewife… the list goes on and on. Success is championed as one of life’s greatest values. Everyone loves success stories. Everyone envies successful people. From the earliest ages, children are taught to admire success. Parents push their kids to be successful. The drive to succeed is reinforced in schools. The competition is fierce to get into top colleges, because they are seen as the doors to success. Working your way up the ladder of success is the mainstay of capitalism. Accordingly, bookstores are filled with dozens of guides on how to succeed.

Accordingly, the poor soul who does not succeed is a loser. In western society, if you are not a success, you are probably very unhappy. Your self-image is bound to be low. The successful people are the winners, and you are nothing more than a bum.

Rabbi Kook has good news. If you are a loser, all is not lost. You too can be a winner. You too can succeed. How? Through t’shuva.

That’s right. The key to success is t’shuva. For when life is looked at through spiritual glasses, for what it really is, the most important thing is neither money, nor honor, nor power, nor fame. The most important thing is pursuing a life of goodness. True success lies in simply striving to be good. For real achievement is measured by what is important to God, not by what society flaunts. In God’s eyes, a woman can be successful without looking like Barbie. A man can be a success without having five or six credit cards and a six-figure salary. The real man, the real success, is the baal t’shuva, the man of Torah.

Rabbi Kook discusses this startling idea in his writings on ratzon, רצון. The Hebrew word ratzon is usually translated as will, or willpower, but the word has a deep connotation which requires some further explanation. He writes:

The will which is forged by t’shuva is the will which is imbedded in the depths of existence, and not the lesser will that concerns itself with the superficial and external facets of life. This (deeper) will is the most fundamental force in the foundation of life, and this is the genuine character of the soul (Orot HaT’shuva, 9:1. See the “Art of T’shuva,” Ch.12).

This fundamental force is the desire to get closer to God. This is the deepest expression of the will. For instance, the desire to eat ice cream is a relatively superficial desire, an offshoot of the desire to eat. On a deeper level, the desire to eat is an expression of the will to survive. While not every man has a desire to eat ice cream, every man does have a will to survive. This will, the will to live, is a deeper phase of ratzon, and something less dependent upon a man’s free choice. This can be seen in an old, dying person. Though racked with sufferings, he still clutches onto life with his last ounce of strength. Even if he lapses into a coma, the will to live in his soul continues to function.

On an even deeper level, buried in the will to live is man’s deepest, most basic will — the will to get close to God. The will to be connected to God finds expression in the will to do good and in the longing for goodness. Just as G-d is good, we should be good. Just as God is giving, we should be giving. Man is the only creature who possesses a free will. Our task is to align our will with the will of our Creator. For the Jewish people, living a life of goodness means living a life filled with Torah, which is God’s will for the Jews. This is our true happiness, as it says, “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Tehillim, 19:9).

Tzvi Fishman

Choosing an Accessible Vehicle

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Having mobility issues can be challenging in many ways, from obtaining a proper wheelchair to navigating your environment. One of the biggest challenges is getting from origin to destination. Whether you have your own vehicle or need to rely on public transportation, you need to do research on what is the most appropriate accommodation.

Many major cities now have public transportation that is handicapped accessible, from city buses to taxis. However, most people find it very difficult to get around relying on this. The only practical alternative is to purchase a specially accommodated vehicle.

When shopping for mobility options, don’t be overwhelmed! There is a wide variety of options available.

The requirements these vehicles must meet will vary depending on an individual’s needs. Someone who can drive themselves, or who has the ability to transfer out of their wheelchair into a regular car seat will need a very different vehicle than someone who will always be a passenger and must remain in their wheelchair at all times.

It’s important that you consider your needs, or the needs of the person you’re caring for, not only today, but for the service life of the new vehicle, five or even seven years down the road. Can the person transfer from a wheelchair to a vehicle seat now, but might not be able to in the future? Can you afford to buy one vehicle that’s appropriate now and another one in a few years when that person’s needs have changed?

There’s no such thing as, “one size fits all”. Usually, when people shop for a new car, 99% of the population will comfortably fit into just about every vehicle offered. But the needs of wheelchair and scooter users are much more specific and extremely diverse. Because of the complexity of the choices available and the relatively high cost of these vehicles, families should do their homework carefully to find the right balance between features and price.

A good mobility dealer will serve as your personal mobility expert. It’s their role and responsibility to find the best mobility option to fit your needs, your lifestyle, and your budget. In order to do this, you’ll need to meet with your local mobility dealer in person to find the best available option to fit your family and the wheelchair user. You can either stop by the local dealership or they can schedule a time to visit you at your home.

If you do a search online, you will find a multitude of dealers who can be contacted online and in person. If you visit a local dealer, you can see, touch, and try out the vehicles. And they provide full support after the sale, which is an important service that the online dealers do not offer.

There are many considerations to take into account when deciding which type of vehicle to buy:

Size of wheelchair and wheelchair user – if the wheelchair itself is very large this determines the minimum size of vehicle needed.

Parking availability – Is there a driveway available or only on-street parking? Do you go to school/doctor appointments where parking is limited?

Size of family – Do you have a lot of other family members that also need to fit in the vehicle?

Seating – If an adult is the wheelchair user, would they be driving or be able to sit up front in the regular car seat next to the driver? If it is a child, you will need to put them in the back of the vehicle. There are a variety of vehicles available. Some are adapted with a special lift or ramp for bringing the person into the vehicle in their wheelchair. Others have regular car seats that swing out, enabling someone to transfer or be transferred from their wheelchair to a regular seat.

Minivans-

According to Dan Bussani of Bussani Mobility Team, there are a few different brands of minivans that are available already converted for handicapped access. The main difference between them is the size of the vehicle.

Conversion companies take the basic minivan from the manufacturer and adapt them for wheelchair or scooter accessibility to meet an individual’s daily transportation needs. Approximately 12-15,000 units are done a year.

Elisheva Stein

Feel Frightened and Depressed? Be Happy!

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Should an individual choose a life of sin, God forbid, rather than a life of t’shuva, a terrible darkness envelopes his soul, and his thoughts, aspirations, and character become seeped in evil. These people are the wicked of the world, who see the world in the dark colors which mirror their soul. These are the cynics who find fault in everything, the irreverent who complain against God.

Lacking the will to escape his dungeon of sin, cut off from the world’s future of goodness, the wicked cower behind defensive masks of scorn. They are like the sour notes of a symphony, the coughs in the theater, the laughter in the balcony, the Nietzsches and Nazis of the world, who condemn the ideals which they cannot obtain. Too weak to escape the clutches of sin, they become its proponents.

The fear that accompanies the awakenings of t’shuva is what keeps people imprisoned in darkness. It is a fear that grips whole nations. Rather than acknowledge that their cultures are based on falsehood and evil, entire civilizations cling to their delusions and myths. Instead of embracing the light of God, the world pays mere lip service, hiding behind one brand of paganism or another.

Existential pain is not only experienced by those far from God, but also by the righteous. A tzaddik who dedicates his whole life to fostering goodness, can also fall out of harmony with existence. Because his soul is so sensitive to evil, he reacts to every small transgression with grief and despair. Perhaps his intention in doing a good deed was not on the proper level. Perhaps he failed to maintain concentration throughout all of his prayers. To the extent that he fails to be pure in all of his actions, emotions, and thoughts, his soul experiences and calls out for t’shuva. He longs to be closer to God, to be reunited with the harmony of existence.

Rabbi Kook explains that the pain of the righteous person stems not only from his own personal shortcomings. Even if he were to be sinless, he would still feel the pain of the universal soul as it longs for a higher connection to God. Because of the unity of all existence, as long as the world is darkened with sin, the tzaddik suffers too. He feels the absence of Divine light in the world, and the pain of the exiled Shekhinah. He carries the pain of the world in his soul, and he expresses, with all of his being, all of his organs, all of his strength, the world’s longing for God. Because he embodies the sufferings of the world, when he is forgiven, the world is forgiven with him.

Rabbi Kook has further good news. We all can be righteous!

Every person who deeply feels the remorse of t’shuva and the inner turmoil to redress his wrongdoings, both those which he can readily mend, and those which he hopes to address, with God’s help, in the future — he should include himself with the righteous whose thoughts of t’shuva renew the entire world with a new light” (Orot HaT’shuva, 8:6).

Rabbi Kook’s level after level exploration into the psychology of sin does not end in despair, but in peace and salvation. He explains that the despair a person feels when he confronts his sins is itself a source of hope. The fact that a person is in a state of pain and despair means that he senses his alienation from the positive forces of life. He realizes that sin is not the ideal. This means that the light of morality and holiness in his soul still flickers. In his innermost heart, he still longs for goodness. All is not lost. The important thing is not to fall prey to despair, and to remember that a great happiness is on the way.

When an individual contemplates embarking on a course of total t’shuva, of mending all of his feelings and deeds, even if this is only a thought, he must not be discouraged by the feelings of fear which arise when he faces his many sins, which now seem so pronounced. This is only natural, for as long as a person is seized by the baser side of his nature, and by the dark, negative traits which surround him, he does not feel the weight of his sins so strongly. Occasionally, he feels nothing, and fancies himself a tzaddik. But since his moral sense is awakening, the light of his soul immediately is revealed, and it probes all of his being and exposes all of his wrongs. Then his heart shudders with great fear over his lowliness and lack of perfection. But it is exactly at this instant that he should feel that this awareness, and the worry it causes, are the best signs, forecasting a complete salvation through self-perfection, and he should strengthen himself through this recognition in the Lord his God (Ibid, 8:16).

Tzvi Fishman

A Pathway To Teshuvah

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Yom Hadin is almost here and this time of year brings with it a range of emotions. Some people are excited – a new year, the start of school, new clothing. For others, Rosh Hashanah instills fear – the need to correct wrongdoings, to beg for forgiveness and make promises to be better. For still others, there is a feeling of being overwhelmed – either by the awe of the Yom Hadin or perhaps the reality of so many days of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Shabbos (that’s a lot of cooking and baking). We are often so busy taking care of all the “things” that need to be done, that we don’t have enough time for spiritual and emotional preparation. It feels like most years I come to Selichos feeling as if I haven’t done enough to prepare.

We are about to stand before Hashem and celebrate the creation of His world in which we are privileged to live. We are ready to honor Hashem’s Malchus and to ask for another year in which to do good and live in a proper way.

Aneivus (humbleness), self-dignity and teshuvah – three ideas that at first glance might not seem to belong together. In reality they are directly intertwined and each depends on the other. Think about this: A person cannot do teshuvah without first accepting and loving themselves and a person cannot accept and love themselves without turning to Hashem.

What is humbleness? Growing up many of us were taught to have aneivus. It was not considered fine to think highly of oneself – that was gaiva (haughtiness). It was not proper to give too much credit to one’s own accomplishments. Many people and especially women have learned these lessons all too well. I respectfully suggest that many have thought of as gaiva is actually what aneivus should be.

In order to understand what humbleness is it is important to know what is isn’t.

Humbleness isn’t:

1. Being self-deprecating in speech or thoughts.

2. Putting yourself last.

3. Denying your own needs (eating right, exercise, sleep).

4. Denying your own feelings, achievements, accomplishments.

5. Always doing for others and never doing for yourself.

6. Denying your hopes and dreams.

The above is actually the life of a slave. It is what we left behind in Mitzrayim, in order to be able to become Bnei Yisroel and be able to serve Hashem. Unfortunately, too many people think that slave mentality is the way to be humble. However, not only isn’t that not the way to serve Hashem, it also makes real teshuvah very difficult.

We are each created b’tzelem Elokim – with a responsibility to live our lives with dignity — to treat ourselves with dignity, to treat others with dignity and to expect others to treat us with dignity. Imagine a beautiful lake. Above the lake is clean, cool air. It is fresh and feels right. Below the lake is the slimy, muddy yuck that you don’t want to put your feet in to. It is dark and murky.

We need to live above the lake in the clean, cool air – serving Hashem b’simcha, knowing when we have given too much of ourselves and need to say no, living our lives with honesty and dignity. Living below the lake means living with sadness, negativity, martyrdom, machlokes, abuse, and a disconnect with Torah and Hashem.

We need to recognize when people are trying to pull us into the murky waters and learn how to pull ourselves back up. Teshuvah and closeness to Hashem is the most powerful way to do this.

Many of us may believe that it is not proper to think highly of ourselves – but if we do and we recognize our self-worth, we won’t look for kavod from others. We don’t need approval from others if we give it to ourselves. Too often we judge ourselves by how others see us; we think we have to measure up to another’s idea of success in order to be worth anything. However, if that is our recipe for self-respect – most of us will NEVER get there, and we risk losing a real relationship with Hashem in the process. With self-dignity we can be emotionally complete and truly serve Hashem.

Rachel Pill

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