Thursday, October 2, 2014

King Solomon's Wise Formula

In the book of Proverbs (27:19), we find an amazing formula for peace. "As in water, face is to face, so too is the heart of one person to another."

When you look at your reflection in a pond or in a mirror, you will see the exact same expression that is on your face. If you frown and scowl, you will see a frown and scowl staring right back at you. And if you smile and wave, you will see a smile and a wave. This is a natural law of physics. To frown and expect to see a smile on the image of your face in a mirror isn't a wise expectation.

King Solomon teaches us that this natural law has a counterpoint in the laws of human nature. The inner feelings you experience towards someone will be reflected back to you from the heart of that person.

See the good in other people. See them as being souls who have high aspirations even if at present they are not yet using all of their potential. See people as they will be when they are at their best. Judge people favorably. See the positive intentions of what they say and do even when it would be preferable if they chose better ways to accomplish those positive intentions.

The way to influence people to feel better towards you is to radiate unconditional love and respect towards them. When someone likes and respects you first, it's easier to reciprocate those feelings. It is a step towards greatness to be the one to create unconditional love and respect when you need to sustain this in the face of challenges. Be willing to take this step.

Love Yehuda Lave

Puns for Educated Minds

 The fattest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.

 I thought I saw an eye-doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical aleutian .

3. She was only a whiskey-maker, but he loved her still.

 A rubber-band pistol was confiscated from an algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.

 No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

 A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

 A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

 Two silk worms had a race, they ended up in a tie.

 Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

 Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

12.Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: 'You stay here; I'll go on a head.'

 I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger, then it hit me

 A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: 'Keep off the Grass.'

 The midget fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

 The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

 A backward poet writes inverse.

 In a democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.

 When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.

 If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you'd be in Seine.

 A vulture carrying two dead raccoons boards an airplane. The stewardess looks at him and says,
'I'm sorry sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.'

 Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says, 'Dam!'

 Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

 Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, 'I've lost my electron.' The other says, 'Are you sure?' The first replies, 'Yes, I'm positive.'

 Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root-canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

26. A geologist exploring an earthquake fell to his death through no fault of his own.

27. There was the person who sent ten puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

The Book of Life After 75

The Book of Life After 75

Growing old is a blessing, not a curse.

by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Despite Ezekiel Emanuel’s recommendations in his lead article “Why I Hope to Die at 75” in the current Atlantic magazine, I will join Jews around the world this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in praying to continue to be inscribed in the heavenly book of life.
Emanuel does seem to have great credentials. He is Director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and heads the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. With a resume like that you might be tempted to take his views seriously. After all he offers some interesting reasons why he believes there’s no point in living beyond the age 75 when, as he puts it, “he will have lived a complete life – and it’s all downhill from there.”
Here’s how he explains why he will make no effort for longevity after his self-selected age for decrepitude:
But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.
In short, getting old should be avoided even if it means longing for its only alternative. Write me down in the book of death, is Emanuel’s plea to God, when I’m no longer the young man I used to be with all of its blessings. It is a prayer that runs counter to the most basic teachings of Judaism as well as the wisdom of the Torah and its rabbinic commentators.
Yes, getting old today is almost considered a sin. We are a youth-worshiping Botox generation who want above all to conceal the indicators of age and to camouflage the signs that betray the passage of years, an unrealistic denial of reality which sociologists Taves and Hansen have labeled “the Peter Pan syndrome.” And yes, we’ve achieved the ability to extend our years but not to ensure freedom from accompanying pain and infirmities. We often live beyond the gift of our full mental faculties and the health of our physical capabilities.
But if we ask whether in spite of all it’s still worth it, it might come as a shock to realize that the very things we consider our problems were considered by our rabbinic sages to be the key to significant blessings. In fact, in an incredible passage in the Midrash, three of the difficulties Ezekiel Emanuel posited as reasons for his desire not to live beyond 75 were divine responses to requests by our patriarchs, Abraham Isaac and Jacob!

Getting Old

The very first time the Bible makes reference to old age is with regard to Abraham. “And Abraham was old and well stricken in age; and God had blessed Abraham in all things.” (Genesis 24:1). Why had this never been mentioned previously in connection with anyone else? The Rabbinic answer is because this was the first time that noticeable aging had ever happened!
How remarkable to learn that Abraham pleaded with God to grant him as blessing that very sign we today consider a curse. "Master of the universe,” Abraham prayed, “if there is no such thing as old age, there would be no difference between an immature child and the mature man who has acquired a certain level of intelligence, experience and wisdom. That is not good. If you will be so kind, crown us with old age. Put a little white in the hair, make a person look a little bit older, more distinguished. Then others will know to whom to give greater respect."
The Midrash concludes that upon hearing this request, God said to Abraham: "A good thing have you asked for. And from you it shall begin." And that’s why “Abraham was old and well stricken in age; and God had blessed Abraham in all things.” What Abraham brought to the world was divine agreement with his desire that age deserves to be honored for those ways in which it is superior to youth.

Building Character

Isaac too had a wish. The Midrash infers it from the verse that tells us, "When Isaac grew old, his eyes became weak from seeing, and he became blind" (Genesis 27:1). Nowhere before in the Bible do we find any mention of physical affliction. It is a biblical first and seems to come out of nowhere. How can we account for his blindness? This too, remarkably enough, was the divine response to a prayer.
The Midrash fills in the blanks. "Master of the universe," Isaac said to God, "I am afraid to face you, never having suffered hardship on this earth. I know that the challenge of confronting difficulties as well as finding the faith to overcome them will make me a better person. I pray, therefore, let me endure some suffering now and make me more worthy." To this request, God again replied, "A good thing you have asked for. And from you, it shall begin."
For almost all of mankind, pain seems something to be avoided at all cost and disabilities to be detested. And yet there are those who came to understand that character, as Booker T. Washington put it, is the sum of all we struggle against. Helen Keller had the profound wisdom late in life to say, "I thank God for my handicaps, for, through them, I found myself, my work, and my God." There is great truth in the aphorism that "The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials." And Isaac was the first one to intuitively grasp this fact and have the courage to plead for it to play a role in his life.
Surely there is much about human suffering that we cannot understand or attempt to justify. But it is an important reminder for us to learn that there are ways in which suffering may at times achieve a truly noble purpose and we would be foolish to forsake life simply in order to avoid it.

Warning: Death

Which brings us to Jacob, the third of the patriarchs. He too made a wish that on the surface seems like curse rather than blessing. He also is described with a biblical first. Before him there is no record of anyone going to his death preceded by a final illness. The almost universal legend has it that in the very earliest days the way people died was with a sneeze. Man was created by way of God blowing His spirit into Adam’s nostrils. The moment of death therefore saw the final breath of life expelled from the same place it had originally entered.
Jacob wasn't afraid of dying but what he deeply feared was this kind of sudden death. He also turned to God with an appeal. "Master of the universe,” he prayed, “people are dying without warning. Their breath is taken from them, and they are gone in an instant. They sneeze and they are dead. They do not have a chance to settle their affairs, to make peace with those they have wronged, to ask forgiveness of God and fellow man. Please, God, give me the gift of a final illness before I am cut down by the Angel of death."
For yet a third time, God replied, "A good thing you have asked for. And from you, it shall begin." So in Genesis 48:1, we first find the word for serious illness, choleh, in Hebrew. A messenger comes to Joseph to tell him, "Behold, your father is ill." And shortly thereafter Jacob dies, but not before he has the opportunity to bid a final farewell to his family.
Imagine. Jacob could have departed from this world in the same way as all of his contemporaries. Not a moment of worry, no stress, no anxiety. Not even the sad scene of family sitting close to the deathbed, tearfully coming to terms with an obviously imminent tragedy. Yet Jacob chose the way of awareness. Even though throughout his entire life he knew what we all know and recognized his mortality he felt there was a great deal to be gained from the time that undeniably precedes a final parting.
I have witnessed many people making great use of their last moments. We speak of preparing to meet our maker. It is an opportunity that by definition can only come once in a lifetime. According to the Talmud, sincere repentance at the very end can undo years of transgression. I've seen how the dying have become transformed as they reflect upon their past with the much clearer vision of approaching eternity.
Knowing that one is imminently going to die also permits reconciliations that otherwise would never have been possible. I have seen enemies embracing at a deathbed, children estranged from parents apologizing, husbands and wives in the midst of divorce proceedings begging each other for forgiveness. What people say before death carries incredible weight.
Jacob knew why he wanted the gift of warning even though it came with suffering. His gain far exceeded his pain. That must be of comfort to all those who are granted time to prepare for their parting. Like Jacob, they must be grateful for the special opportunity granted to them to say their final goodbyes.
And that is why I urge Ezekiel Emanuel to reconsider. Those things he fears about aging are all part of a divine plan with purpose and meaning. Every moment of the gift of life has significance and great potential for fulfilling God’s will for the universe.
I find it serendipitous that Emanuel chose the year 75 for ideal death when it was the very age at which Abraham first began his momentous mission to transmit his monotheistic belief to the rest of the world. Achievements come when God wills them, oft times quite late in life. And as an octogenarian I will pray for additional time to continue to play whatever role God has in mind for me as the reason for my presence here on earth - at least until 120.

Yom Kippur(Leviticus ch. 16)

Eliminating the Spiritual Waste

Greetings from the Holy City of Jerusalem!
As we near the end of the Ten Days of Repentance, culminating with Yom Kippur, we review our behavior of the past year and repent for our erroneous actions. Each time we make a mistake and act, say or think something against God's will, a residue of impurity remains on the organs that were involved in the sin. Yom Kippur has the power not only to atone for the sins we committed in the past so that God waives any punishment owed to us, it also has the power to remove the spiritual contamination from the objects which participated in the misdeed, therefore cleansing us from any impurity.
This two-step process is hinted at in the portion which we read on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:30), which states, '"On this day [Yom Kippur], He [God] will atone for you to purify you from all your sins..." The verse refers specifically to atonement and purification in order to teach us that two distinct processes are involved on the Yom Kippur day. God, in his mercy, not only excuses our sins by lifting any punishments we deserved, but also purifies us by removing any residue of impurity caused by the sin.
Although Yom Kippur has the tremendous power to purify and cleanse us, there is yet one more step that we must take to complete the process, as the Netivot Shalom explains. Even after Kapara (atonement) and Tahara (purification/cleansing), the negative root which caused us to sin could still lie dormant inside. Failure to destroy this root puts us at risk of repeating transgressions, as the root cause of our inappropriate thought, speech or behavior still exists. (The Pri Ha'aretz comments that our holding onto the negative roots is as severe an offense as clinging to the transgression itself because it is the root which ultimately propels us to repeat the sin.)
This final step of the process is alluded to in Psalms 37:10, where we are told, in reference to Yom Kippur, "Just a little more, and there won't be a rasha (wicked person)." We could suggest that the word rasha, spelled reish, shin, ayin, refers to the evil root, as the letter shin at the center of the word stands for the word shoresh, meaning 'root', which also lies at the center of our being, leaving the remaining outer letters, reish and ayin, to form the word Ra, 'evil'. The service of Yom Kippur brings us to a level which enables us, after being excused of our sins and being cleansed, to work on delving into the inner cause, the root of our negative behavior, and eliminating it completely.
* * *
The level that we reach through Yom Kippur is comparable both to the level that Adam and Eve attained in Gan Eden prior to the sin, as well as to the level that we will reach in the Messianic era (see Nachmanides - Deut. 30:6). At that time, choosing the correct path, that is the will of God, will become a natural and automatic instinct. Nachmanides explains that with the destruction of the evil inclination, people will no longer desire to stray from the proper path, as it says in Ecclesiastes 12:1, "I have no [evil] desire during those [days - of the Messiah]," but we will instinctively yearn to fulfill God's wishes at all times (Talmud - Shabbat 151b).
We see that beyond overcoming our temptations to engage in negative behavior, we need to cultivate a nature within ourselves where the desire to act inappropriately does not exist in the first place! Once we destroy the root causes of the external negative behaviors, we automatically destroy the risk of erring, as the wish to transgress no longer exists.
The Yalkut Shimoni (Proverbs 9) tells us that, in the Messianic era, all the holidays besides Purim and, as some maintain, Yom Kippur too, will be nullified. We could suggest that the reason Yom Kippur will continue to remain a holiday is that it shares the same essence of the Messianic era. As Nachmanides explains, the Messianic era will be a time when all evil will be uprooted and Man no longer desires earthly temptations, but will automatically desire to follow God's will. This is exactly the essence of the Yom Kippur day as it prepares us, through atonement and purification, to take the extra step and uproot any sources of evil within us, so that ultimately, we naturally desire to pursue only the will of God.
Further proof as to why Yom Kippur shares this essence lies in the Talmud (Yoma 20a), which says that the numerical value of the word HaSatan (the Satan, or evil inclination) is 364, falling one number short of the amount of days in the solar year. This teaches that on one day only the Satan does not prosecute against us: Yom Kippur. In fact, the Midrash (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer, cited by the Rosh in Yoma 8:24) says that on Yom Kippur the Satan actually defends the Jewish people and speaks only of their praises! This highlights how the essence of Yom Kippur is about uprooting and destroying all negative sources which cause us to deviate from God's will and, therefore, allowing us to follow the path of God wholeheartedly.
* * *
The Chida (in Nachal Kedumim) explains how to achieve the ultimate goal of Yom Kippur. He quotes a verse from Psalms 89:16: "Fortunate is the nation that knows the Tru'ah [of the Shofar], God, in the light of Your countenance they walk." He divides the verse into two and explains that the first half of the verse, which talks of the tru'ah blast of the shofar, refers to Rosh Hashana, while the second half, which mentions the light of God, refers to Yom Kippur. Says the Chida, the intense spiritual light of God is revealed to us on the holy day of Yom Kippur. If we allow this Divine energy to enter and fill ourselves completely, there will no longer be room for negative energy - because we are over-filled with Godliness! By allowing God in, and releasing the barriers that prevent us cleaving to Him, we automatically destroy negativity, the 'Shoresh Ra', the antithesis of Godliness.
A person once asked Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, "Where is God?" He replied simply, "Wherever you let Him in." The task of Yom Kippur is to let go of ourselves, our inner spiritual barriers, and let God in. Once we open ourselves fully to receiving the light of God, and commit totally to a life where everything we do, from waking in the morning, to eating, sleeping, walking, and so on, is connected to God in our mind, heart and soul, we have achieved the ultimate goal. As we cultivate this foundation, and blossom into dedicated servants of God, we gradually reduce the space for any negative roots to grow, to the point where there is absolutely no room at all.
May we all be blessed this Yom Kippur to receive the Divine light, and let go of any negative barriers, in order to let God in and uproot any traces of evil, so that we merit to witness the Messianic era, returning to the level of Adam and Eve before the sin, desiring to fulfill God's will totally, with mind, heart and soul.