Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Return

"Hashem said to Moses, 'Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst; and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son's son that I made a mockery of Egypt and My signs that I placed among them - that you may know that I am Hashem,'" Exodus 10:1,2.

In our sophisticated world of daily expanding knowledge, sometimes we forget the simple basics and truths of life. The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt was a seminal event in world history. Besides the obvious of the Jews escape from slavery and the beginnings of their nationhood, the Exodus was a message to the world. The Exodus was a reminder that their is One and only One Being in control of everything, including nature. And that Being is who Moses and Aaron told Pharoah they were coming in behalf of - the God of the Jews.

Perhaps in 2012 we need a fresh perspective. A reminder that the God of the Universe, Who controls everything, is controlling world events with one main goal in mind. Psalms 105 reminds us of what that goal is. After giving a synopsis of all the events Hashem orchestrated through Joseph and Moses, He reminds us that He did everything so that He could give the Jews the Land of Israel where "they will safeguard and observe His teachings."

A theme runs throughout the Torah and the Prophets; a return. Hashem states repeatedly that the Jews will return to Him via returning to the Land of Israel and returning to the Torah. This return is literally what the world still revolves around.

Hashem is orchestrating every world event around His desire and "end game," so to speak, of the return of His people to Israel and to the Torah. When is the last time you viewed the world this way? Every world leader is in place to prod His people to return. Every weather pattern is in place to prod His people to return. Every economic upswing or downturn is in place to cause His people to return. Every election result is to cause His people to return. Everything is funneling His people to Him. And every person is their own Pharoah. Every person has a choice to aid and abet the return, or to resist and inhibit the return.

Everything is predestined, except for the fear of heaven (Tractate Berachos in the Gemara). Yes, every person has a free will. But the Great Mind of the Universe orchestrates every choice every person makes within His plans. He is the only reality. We live, and move, and have our being within the "confines" of Him. We exist in Him. We have no control, power, or existence outside of Him. We live in the illusion that we do. And those who believe that the illusion is reality literally are living a grand illusion.

World leaders who believe they are controlling the destiny of nations are living within the grand illusion. Business men who believe their decisions control the economy are living within the grand illusion. Groups or individuals who believe they can destroy the nation of Israel are living within the grand illusion. Even when you or I, God forbid, forget for a moment Who the world exists within, then we are living within the grand illusion.

Aaron and Moses had a clear message in Exodus 10 - even the most powerful leader and nation on earth was but a pawn in Hashem's hand. Hashem made a mockery of and brought down a kingdom so that the Jews could have a story to tell their children and grandchildren. And that story is "Psst, remember. Remember that everything I do is so that you will know that I am your God. And one day when your children forget that I am their God, the stage will be set for a return to Me."

If you are a Jew living outside of Israel and outside of the pages of Torah, the question is, "When will you return?" And as a non-Jew, the question is, "Are you aiding and abetting the return, or God forbid living as Pharaoh and trying to inhibit the return."

"He took us out of Egypt in order to bring us, to give us the Land that He swore to our forefathers. And He commanded us to perform all His decrees, to fear Hashem, our God, for the good, all the days, to give us life," Deuteronomy 6:23,24.

"And they will return from the enemy's land. There is hope for your future, the word of Hashem, and your children will return to their border," Jeremiah 31:15,16.

"Remember this and take it to heart, O evildoers: recall the early events of ancient times, see that I am God and there is no other, I am God and there is none like Me. From the beginning I foretell the outcome; and from earlier times, what has not yet been; but I say and My plan will stand, and I will carry out My every desire," Isaiah 46:8-10.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Have You Met the Torah Today With Fresh, Child-Like Wonder

After I recently posted a blog, a reader felt inclined to promptly inform me that I knew nothing about Torah. I'm as vulnerable as the next person, and can get defensive when criticized. This time though, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, "He's right."

In reality, what I know about the Torah doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. The Torah is like the universe; infinite. My knowledge of the Torah is like one grain of sand in the universe. But that grain of sand, that I hold so dear, has changed my world. Or as Blake so aptly penned, "To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour."

In the big scheme of things, I really hardly know anything about the Torah. But here is what I do know: The Torah is the blueprint for everything. The DNA of the universe. The revealed knowledge of Ein Sof. A glimpse into the mind and heart of Hashem. Instructions on how to make tikkun. Instructions on how to bring Heaven on earth. The Yud that connects the material to the spiritual. An endless resource. A map guiding us back to our true self. A gift.

The Torah, to say the least, has changed my life. And the real kicker is, I'm not Jewish. It remains a wonder to me that Hashem allowed my path to intersect with the truth of the Torah and in the midst of the Bible-Belt, no less. And as if becoming conscious of the wonders of the Torah wasn't enough, Hashem has put teachers in my life, who live and breathe the Torah and make it palpable to a soul like mine. I often think, "If Hashem drew me to Torah, imagine what can happen to a Jewish soul who needs to return to Torah."

As mentioned above, I live in the Bible-Belt. The town I live in has a very small Jewish population, very few with whom I am acquainted. I had the privilege, though, of meeting a Jewish lady from New York, who headed a charitable Jewish fund, who was visiting my town. I am not a talker. And I am peevishly annoyed by people who talk too much. That's why much too my surprise, when I met her, I couldn't stop talking. I jumped at the chance of having a conversation with a Jew. So I started talking Torah and couldn't stop. I found myself talking about learning to have the will to receive in order to bring Hashem pleasure and to benefit others. "Isn't it odd," I commented, "that we think, 'Of course I have the will to receive. I'm completely open to all that Hashem has for me and for all the right reasons,' but in reality we often close ourselves to what He wants to give us . . . " My voice faded as I saw the look on her face. She didn't say anything as she started shaking her head. Great! I had become the-person-who-doesn't-know-when-to-stop-talking and she couldn't hide her exasperation.

She surprised me, though and said, "My husband needs to meet someone like you. He's an orthodox Jewish non-believer." I gave her a strange look and laughed, and she said, "Exactly. How can such a thing exist? He grew up learning Judaism, but now it doesn't mean much to him. He needs to see someone like you who . . . " She couldn't find the word for it, so I finished her sentence with, "Someone who it is all new to and who can't get enough?"

Do you know why I can't get enough of Torah? Because Hashem brought teachers into my life that keep the Torah in a way that is pleasing unto Him, i.e., they keep it with their whole heart, mind, and soul. They convey that the Torah is a living entity that is relevant to every facet of our lives today. How I pray that Jews who aren't passionately in love with and committed to the Torah will find teachers like I've had and latch on to all the beautiful truths they have to offer.

You've heard of Torah Tots. Non-Jews like me are quick to realize we are like children when it comes to learning Torah. But if Jews, who perhaps study Torah out of obligation or rote, or who don't study it at all, could learn anything from "tots" like me, I hope it would be to come anew to the Torah with a child-like wonder.

For those of you who are parents and own a car, do you remember the first time you turned your child's rear-facing car seat towards the front? I have two children. And both times when I turned their car seats around, they had the same reaction when I started driving. Their mouths opened as wide as their eyes did and they said, "Ooohhhh!" as they looked at everything around them from a fresh vantage point.

I am still very much a child in a car seat when it comes to spiritual learning. I thought I knew something about G-d. Then I discovered the Torah. The Torah has been the vehicle of learning and the wise teachers Hashem placed in my life turned my car seat around and said, "Here. It's time to go forward and see G-d from a much better vantage point."

If you need a fresh vantage point or need a spark helping you return to Torah, I highly encourage you to listen to the teachings of the Universal Torah Network at Your heart will say, "Ooohhhh!" as you see the wonders of the Torah from Rabbi Richman, Rebbetzin Richman, Shmuel "Sam" Peak, and Rabbi Sutton.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

So Many Choices

On the Hebrew calender, today is the Tenth of Tevet. It is the day, long ago, that the walls of Jerusalem were breached, which ultimately lead to the destruction of the Holy Temple. As Rabbi Richman has taught, I ask myself, what does the Tenth of Tevet have to do with me? What can I learn from that dark day in history?

There are so many layers of meaning and function to the Holy Temple. One of those layers is that the Holy Temple represents us. At the heart of the Holy Temple is the Holy of Holies. That inner sanctum represents our inner sanctum; our heart.

Relatively speaking, the walls of Jerusalem were a distance away from the Holy of Holies. Yet the breach that began a distance away, led to the eventual defilement of the Holy of Holies.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking there are two categories of choices and/or of mitzvah. Big and small. The Tenth of Tevet reminds me that all choices and all mitzvah are big. Every choice I make has a ripple effect. Every choice I make impacts not only me, but my family, and others around me. And often unbeknownst to me, my choices impact people I don't even know.

On the Tenth of Tevet I ask myself, "Am I allowing any breaches (choices) in my life that will eventually lead to the defilement of my heart?" Do I get lazy with the "small" choices in life? Those "small" choices represent just one stone in the walls of my life. But am I allowing bad or lazy "small" choices to chip away at my wall one stone at a time, until there is a breach?

My choices are the wall that surrounds my life. Those choices either form a protection around all that I hold dear in life, or they, God forbid, lead to destruction. "Through wisdom a house is built, and it is established through understanding; and through knowledge, its chambers are filled with all dear and pleasant treasures."

The Holy of Holies was filled with the ultimate treasure; the Shekinah - the Divine Presence of God. So too in my life, I have the potential to house that very treasure. Every choice I make either invites the Shekinah in my life, or God forbid, drives the Shekinah away.

Ezekiel gives us the sad account of the Shekinah - the Divine Presence leaving the Temple in stages. The Jews did not make one bad choice that lead to the departing of the Shekinah. It was a succession of bad choices that individuals made and that the people made collectively. I can't help but think that early on the Shekinah would have stopped and turned on a dime to stay, if the Jews would have stopped long enough to return to their right frame of mind and repented. If they would have just started with everyday choices, the "small" choices, and done what was right according to the Torah. If they would have just stopped the breach in their own walls which eventually lead to the destruction of their hearts. The physical walls of Jerusalem mirrored the choices the people made. So too did the Holy of Holies mirror their hearts.

The Tenth of Tevet leads me to repentance. The energy of the day beckons me to examine my own life and to fortify my walls by hopefully infusing Torah consciousness into every decision I make. Throughout the Book of Proverbs there is a clear distinction made between the fool and the wise. The Tenth of Tevet reminds me to fortify my resolve to be counted among the wise. "The wise woman, each builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands," Proverbs 14.

May we all resolve to build our own walls wisely and set our sites to being a part of rebuilding the walls of the Holy Temple. "Blessed is the man who thus endeavours daily to give hospitality to the Holy One." The ultimate hospitality will be when we invite God back to His own rebuilt Home.