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November 26, 2014 / 4 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Yaakov Weiland’

Seeking The Divine Presence

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

We are now in the Three Weeks, a time of national mourning for the Jewish people. Of the numerous tragedies that occurred throughout history during this period, the central one we grieve is the destruction of both Temples; they were destroyed on Tisha B’Av, the culmination of the Three Weeks.

Many of us can compile a laundry list of what we feel is missing from our lives. However, the loss our souls most acutely feel is of a clear Divine Presence in our lives. The Divine Presence is the aspect of God when He manifests Himself in this world. When the Temple stood, God’s glory and providence were visible; we basked in the glow of His love. In exile, heavy clouds surround us; the guiding light of God’s presence is hidden.

According to Rashi (Sukkah 41a), the Third Temple already exists in Heaven. When the time comes, God will return it to us. This raises a question. The Torah teaches we are obligated to return a lost object. Is God not bound by His own law? Why has He not yet returned the Temple and the Divine Presence to us?

Perhaps the answer is alluded to in Deuteronomy (22:2), where God outlines a scenario when lost objects are not returned right away. “If your brother is not near you and you do not know him, then you shall bring it inside your house, and it shall remain with you until your brother’s seeking of it, then you shall return it to him.”

We can interpret this verse with God as the subject, the Jewish people as the brother who lost the item and the Temple as the lost object.

“If Your brother is not near You” – if our relationship with God is distant – “and You do not know him” – because we do not ask God in fervent prayer for all our needs – “then You shall bring it inside Your house and it shall remain with You” – the Temple will remain with God in Heaven – “until Your brother’s seeking of it” – until we realize how lost we are without the Temple and the Divine Presence that rested in it.

Then, we will tell God that we want to have a close relationship with Him. We will plead with Him to return the Temple and His Divine Presence to us. When we do that, then God, “shall return it to him.”

There are two ways of asking God for our needs. The first is formal prayer found in the prayer book. These holy and powerful words were composed by the Sages through divine inspiration. The second, said in addition to the written prayers we recite, is informal prayer, which emanates straight from the heart – in your own words, in your native language and preferably out loud.

This form of prayer – frequently called hitbodedut – was popularized by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Daily hitbodedut gives us an unparalleled opportunity: the chance to talk privately with the Almighty, sharing with Him whatever is on our minds.

The following are some suggestions for how to use these precious moments: Thank your Father for the blessings and help He gave you, both ongoing and recently. Share your problems and struggles, and ask for His assistance. Tell Him about the challenges you encounter in living up to your potential, confess when you stumble and ask Him to strengthen you to do His will. Plead with Him that you merit studying and living His Torah, that you merit coming close to Him and witnessing the redemption. Also include prayers for others in need, the Jewish people and the world.

With all of the above, be as specific and detailed as possible.

Keep asking God for help until you are answered. He may answer our prayers by changing the situation or by helping us accept the circumstance. Acceptance will enable us to focus on the blessings God has already given us and the many opportunities we have to come closer to Him, which is the purpose of life.

It can take time to get used to talking out loud to God. To help you open up to Him, imagine that the only blessings you will receive are those you ask Him for. In addition, make a list of the issues weighing on you. During hitbodedut, unburden yourself to your Father; express your concerns about each item on your list and ask for His guidance and assistance. For a fascinating exploration of the power and possibility of hitbodedut, read Where Earth and Heaven Kiss by Rabbi Ozer Bergman.

The Hidden Side Of The Ten Commandments

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

On Shavuot we celebrate God giving us the Torah, represented by the Ten Commandments. We will explore them here through a broad lens, showing how they apply to our daily lives. We will focus on the First Commandment, the foundation, and the seven commandments phrased in the negative, which tell us what not to do, discussing both sides: the negative (avoiding what God hates) and the hidden side, the positive (doing what He loves).

For a discussion on the Fourth and Fifth Commandments – keeping Shabbat and honoring our parents – which are already phrased in the positive, please see my blog, yaakovweiland.blogspot.com.

The Ten Commandments start off utilizing this pattern of polar opposites. The First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God “(Exodus 20:2) is the positive formulation and the converse of the Second Commandment, prohibiting idol worship.

In the First Commandment, God introduces Himself in order to have a relationship with us. Developing the relationship includes getting to know Him (Torah study), talking and listening to Him (prayer and observances), and helping His children (acts of kindness).

In excess, material goals and desires become modern day idols, compromising our relationship with God. Ask yourself, “Am I headed toward a closer relationship with God, or farther away? Which aspect of my connection with Him will I strengthen?”

The Talmud (Sotah 4b) teaches that arrogance is a form of idol worship – worshipping our egos. To counter this, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (Likkutei Maharan 10:5) advises drawing close to tzaddikim. Ask yourself, “Do I have a rabbi to whom I defer, listening to his instruction and reproof? If not, who are some possibilities, and how can I build a relationship with them?”

The Third Commandment: Prohibition of vain oaths with God’s name. This also includes any form of desecrating His name (chillul Hashem). The converse is sanctifying His name (kiddush Hashem). Ask yourself, “What can I do or refrain from doing to bring more esteem to my people and my God?”

The Sixth Commandment: Prohibition of murder. The Sages say that embarrassing a person is a form of murder. When we apologize after causing emotional pain, we invigorate a person, giving back the life we took. The converse of this commandment is to give life, and teach our children – especially by example – to care about God and His Torah.

In addition, did you ever notice that after giving someone a sincere compliment or encouragement, that person stands a little taller? You have just infused someone with life. Ask yourself, “Whom can I apologize to, or whom can I compliment? How can I be a better role model to my children?”

The Seventh Commandment: Prohibition of adultery. This also includes other forbidden relations. God calls us a holy nation (Exodus 19:6) and we maintain our purity by avoiding forbidden behavior and thoughts. By sanctifying the most intimate act – through the laws of family purity – we bring holiness to our very core. Ask yourself, “What can I do or refrain from doing, to bring more holiness to all areas of my life?”

The Eighth Commandment: Prohibition of stealing. Theft includes taking or damaging what is not ours, borrowing without permission, being late in agreed upon payments or holding on to something that does not belong to us. The converse is to be charitable and generous; not being petty and insisting on getting everything we might be entitled to.

There is tremendous satisfaction in being impeccably honest and knowing our integrity is not sullied by ill-gotten gains. When we do the right thing, as defined by Jewish law, regardless of whether anyone compels us to do so, we show God that His will is our primary focus. Ask yourself, “Did I acquire any of my possessions or financial gains through questionable means? Do I have anything I need to return, or payments to make, to restore my integrity?”

The Ninth Commandment: Prohibition of testifying falsely against each other. This also includes other forms of hurtful talk. The converse of this commandment is to be truthful and keep our word. The opposite of being against each other, is to avoid conflicts, when possible, by humbling ourselves; making the first gesture and giving in a little for the sake of peace.

Tapping Into Your Spiritual DNA

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

In my Nov. 26 op-ed article, “The Clarifying Truths of Chanukah,” I explored how clarity, purity and joy bring us close to God and to living a meaningful life. If they are so essential, their potential must exist within our spiritual DNA. I suggest it does; we inherited that potential from our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Abraham, the first person to independently discover God, embodied clarity. He also taught us the importance of kindness (Micah 7:20). Clarity together with kindness forms a potent synergy. For example, we are naturally more compassionate to those who we know went through tough times. With clarity comes the realization that we all have struggles; that we all deserve attention, consideration and love.

In addition, when we attain clarity, we focus our lives on fulfilling God’s reason for having created us – to come close to Him through Divine service and acts of kindness. Everything in life can be viewed in terms of whether or not it helps us reach our potential in these areas.

When confronted with a moral dilemma, ask yourself, “Which choice brings me closer to my Father and His children?”

Finally, when we perceive through the clear eyes of the Creator’s Torah, we view each person as one of His children (Deuteronomy 14:1). We are then filled with joy at every opportunity to show our love for God’s family.

Isaac embodied purity through his moral strength – his prime trait according to our sages. To live with purity is to live mindfully, making adjustments as needed. One lesson I’ve learned from writing is that unless you review your work multiple times and ask others for guidance, your writing is suboptimal.

Likewise, if you don’t review your life regularly and ask others for guidance, your life is suboptimal; no better than a rough draft.

Imagine the shame of handing in to your Creator a rough draft of your life, full of errors and omissions. Life’s goal is to hand in to God your masterpiece – the one you were meant to live.

Jacob embodied joy and distilled the essence of gratitude, which is not to take anything for granted (Genesis 32:11). Another one of his attributes was truth (Micah 7:20). Integrity is the foundation for lasting joy; a dishonest person’s happiness in this world is compromised by fear of being caught and pangs of guilt. In the world to come that person’s bliss will also be limited; ill-gotten gains, unless returned, create an eternal blemish. In contrast, honesty leads to joy, both in the world to come – eternal reward – and in this world – the contentment of enjoying the fruits of hard-earned work.

Underlying clarity, purity and joy is the recognition that we are children of the Almighty. When was the last time you felt, as a visceral experience, that God is your Father? To do that, try a technique I call Feeling Affirmations. Read out loud the following indented section. After each sentence, think – how does that feel? After accessing the feeling, as best you can, go on to the next sentence.

I am God’s child. He loves me. He only does what brings me goodness and wholeness. He is always by my side. I am a child of Royalty. My Father is the all powerful and infinitely wise King of the world. Nothing happens without His permission.

If you don’t feel like a billion bucks and your heart isn’t soaring, you’re not there yet; over time you will get better at tapping into the feeling. This practice will help give you the clarity to act with purity, befitting your Divine and Royal lineage. These thoughts will fill you with joy and lift you up when you need encouragement.

This exercise can also lead to feeling more calm and confident; to reaching a mindset where you know that come what may, you will be able to handle the situation and you will benefit from the challenge.

Next time you feel anxiety, reconnect with the empowering feeling that God is your Father. While you do what you can to address the issue causing anxiety, repeat the indented section in a soothing voice, using the Feeling Affirmations technique.

I’m doing my part. This is from my Father for my ultimate benefit. As His son/daughter, I can handle whatever He gives me. I rely on His infinite wisdom. I let go of insisting on a particular outcome. I let go of anxiety [on the exhale, feel anxiety draining out]. I relax into my Father’s embrace [on the exhale, feel any muscle tension draining out].

Even if our worst fears come true – death for example – we still can rest assured that the close of our physical life, whenever it occurs, will be for the highest good of our souls and something we can handle. “Even when I walk in a valley of the shadow of death, I do not fear evil, for You are with me ” (Psalms 23:4).

The Clarifying Truths Of Chanukah

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Ever wonder why the Jewish New Year begins with three back-to-back-to back holidays and then no biblical holidays for another six months?

At the onset of each New Year, God, out of His love for us, gives us tools to clear away any obstruction to coming close to Him. Three main stumbling blocks diminish our instinctual yearning for our Father in Heaven and each holiday addresses a different one.

Chanukah, the first rabbinic holiday following Sukkot, celebrates the rededication by the Maccabees of the Temple. The holiday incorporates the lessons of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot and illuminates the synergy between them.

The first obstacle to union with God is confusion. If we do not acknowledge who created us and why, what will become of our relationship with our Creator? Crowning God our King and Creator is a central theme of Rosh Hashanah. The holiday frames the question, “How can I live my life as God intended when He created me?”

On Chanukah, we thank God for saving us from a threat to our souls rather than to our bodies. The Greeks wanted the Jews to assimilate and, as the rampant assimilation of our own day makes painfully clear, identifying a spiritual menace is much more difficult than recognizing a physical one. The clarity of the Maccabees enabled them to understand what was worth standing up for. When we have clarity, everything in life is viewed in terms of whether it brings us closer to our Father and Creator or farther away.

The second obstacle is contamination. When a person sins, spiritual atherosclerosis sets in. Sometimes our connection to God becomes so clogged that we no longer feel His presence in our lives. Yom Kippur, through repentance, teaches us how to clear away accumulated impurities. Do not be discouraged; even initiating the process can kindle a longing for God.

Part of the Chanukah story is the discovery of one ritually pure jug of oil, still suitable for lighting the Menorah in the Temple. The oil – only enough for one day – miraculously lasted for eight. Each one of us is a miniature temple housing the holy of holies, our souls. By living with this awareness we will distance ourselves from contamination. When we search for purity, as the Maccabees did, and allow only that into our lives, we become vessels fit to receive God’s miracles.

The third obstacle is bitterness. When life does not materialize in the way we desire, we can get angry with God. Sukkot, the festival of joy, occurs during the harvest season, a time of abundance. Part of the holiday’s festivity comes from our appreciation of the many blessings God has given us. A person is unable to feel bitterness and gratitude at the same time; the choice is therefore ours. Sukkot calls out to us, “Choose joy!”

In a study, Dr. Robert A. Emmons found that gratitude can increase our happiness by 25 percent. A spiritual-based exercise is to ask yourself, “What has greatly enhanced the quality of my life?” General categories include: being Jewish, family, friends, emotional/physical health, money, possessions, food, shelter and clothing. Pick an example of one of these and think about how God gave this specifically to you out of His love for you. Talk to God, preferably out loud, and tell Him how you have benefited from it and how grateful you are to Him. Now, bring to mind again how your Father gave this specifically to you because He loves you. Preferably, repeat this process using three different quality of life enhancers.

One benefit of this practice is a deep warm feeling of being loved by your Father. In addition, this exercise can lead to the awareness that just as the overt blessings in our lives are given to us by God because He loves us, everything else is also given out of God’s love. Though we do not know how something specific is a manifestation of His love, the fact that God does love us is something we can see, feel and know.

Chanukah, a festival of thanksgiving, does not mark the end of the struggle against the Greeks; the fighting continued for another 22 years. Why didn’t the Jews wait until the end of the war to celebrate? Because they knew the secret of gratitude – to be grateful for every blessing, regardless of what else is going on in our lives. Each day, no matter how bleak, contains within it a kernel for which we can be appreciative; a portal to joy and feeling God’s love.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-clarifying-truths-of-chanukah/2010/11/24/

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