Trying to make the best of the moments, in retrospect, that was my intent while perusing the prayers in English, and remaining focused on the words, while the Hebrew was being sung, mostly by the Rabbi and chazan (cantor). So, on the one hand, the tunes are potent with emotion; on the other hand, even if I know the song, I prefer to read the English, since I can only pronounce the Hebrew, without knowing the meaning.
Only the jokes were distracting to me; even as I recognize their told for the bulk of the congregation, who need to be kept entertained. Yet, for anyone like myself, who is there in all sincerity, the jokes are irrelevant. Moreover, on Yom Kippur, especially during the part of the service, before the final al chet (penitent prayers), jokes seem entirely contradictory to the type of mind-set required at that point.
However, I somehow managed to stay aloof, in my own space, and continue to foster some sense of kavannah (intention) that reflected the appropriate mood. This was rewarding – thank G-d, because in the past I would only get frustrated. Yet, there are always tradeoffs in life; so, I decided to make the best of the situation, despite the style of service not meeting my selfish demands.
This evening begins the month of Av, as well as the last nine intensive days of the three week period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, leading up to the ninth of Av – the day when both Temples were destroyed about six hundred years apart from each other in history. The Rafael fire brought much consternation to the local residents of the many communities in Northern Arizona; and, seemed like a reminder to me of the tragic nature of the breach of the walls of Jerusalem, and its subsequent demise by fire about 1,900 years ago. As a result, even though the state of Israel has been reborn (see Isaiah 66:8), we are still in exile until the time that the third Temple is built. May that day arrive soon.
As erev Shabbos draws near, I take stock for the blessings in this life: tonight begins Rosh Chodesh. So, the coincidence of Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, simply means that there are extra blessings derived from the day. By way of explanation, although we already receive an extra portion of shefa (divine flow) on Shabbos in and of itself, Rosh Chodesh also brings additional shefa. Traditionally, it is actually explained that each individual receives an “extra soul” on Shabbos. Otherwise, figuratively speaking, as symbolic of a boost in spirit on the day. The neshama yetera is like an extra portion of the spiritual side of the soul, elevating one’s sense of ruchniyos (spirituality) on the day.
A more detailed explanation can be found elsewhere; what seems important to me, is the connection of one’s soul to the day, through prayer, study, and festive meals. A day to nourish the soul; for when the soul is edified, for example, by reading a book that has to do with higher aspirations, the body also benefits. This opportunity for a heightened spiritual experience should not be squandered. Rather, we should feel inspired to pursue spiritual activities on a day where we cease from work. The Shabbos connotes, as a day of rest, a slower pace, where we can appreciate the countless moments of our lives, as opposed to letting everything pass us by in a flurry of activity. The frenetic pace of the week is set aside, and we welcome the Shabbos in joy and expectation of the even Greater Shabbos, when we enter into Olam Haba (the World to Come).
Today is Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, the first day of the new month of Tammuz on the Hebrew calendar.
Aside from entering the auspicious month of Tammuz, wherein the 17th of Tammuz commemorates the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., the three weeks leading up to Tish b’Av begins on that day. On the ninth of Av, both the first Temple in 586 B.C.E., and the second Temple in 70 C.E. were destroyed. Yet, we look forward to the building of the Third Temple, in like manner that light always follows darkness at dawn. According to the natural cycle of seasonal changes, renewal also follows decay, like Spring follows Winter.
Tammuz is a month of reckoning, whereof we may focus on ourselves, in terms of our own progress and lack thereof, taking stock of our weaknesses, as well as our strengths. Our spiritual reserve, may only be dependent upon a dwindling sense of righteousness; perhaps, akin to the sins that lead to the destruction of the Temples amongst those two generations, especially sinas chinam, baseless enmity. Yet, I take hope, for our generation is the generation of return, both in the sense of teshuvah (repentance), and an actual return to Israel:
“And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt bethink thyself among all the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d, and hearken to His voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; that then the L-RD thy G-d will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath scattered thee.”
As Shabbos approaches, I have already said, “amein” after my mother lit candles, on Zoom according to halachic time on the East Coast. After welcoming Shabbat, I recited kiddush, we partook of motzei and ate our meals quietly, as if two thousand miles were condensed into two feet across the table. Now, back in my own time zone, so to speak, I am making the most of three hours until Shabbos begins. This would not have been possible, without the many circumstances that led to this new tradition. The Coronavirus is not without its blessings; although, I would not intend to diminish the overall tragic consequences for many people that have occurred in its wake.
Yet, for myself, I carry on, introvert that I am. For, my self-imposed shelter in place policy 24-7 provided much time for reflection. And, a prolific abundance of writings that I have mostly posted on my blogs. Overall, there is no way to measure these times, except within the framework of the big picture. As incident rates of Covid-19 decrease, we will not necessarily be entering the “new normal,” unless our minds are complacent. Rather we are already entering what is more akin to a brave new world, promoted by the technocracy, i.e., the means to manage the infrastructure, ideology, and economic system of the future. This will not lead to an utopia, rather, a dystopia; therefore, I will continue to cling to G-d, Torah, and acts of kindness, instead of the “new normal.”
The origin of the coronavirus has been shrouded in mystery, debate, and politics. Joshua Phillip, an investigative journalist with the Epoch Times, did expert research on the coronavirus, in order to present an excellent documentary, “Tracking Down the Origin of Wuhan Coronavirus.” His background for over ten years has been in investigative work, regarding Chinese espionage and unconventional warfare. In the documentary, he discloses the Chinese cover up, interviews scientists about the structure of the coronavirus, and presents credible documentation throughout the entire documentary. The evidence is compelling; I would especially recommend assiduously watching part two.
“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.”
“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.”
– Proverbs 3:6 , JPS 1917 Tanach
If the path of life seems broad to the individual, who deems that he is freely given the reins of his life, to think, feel, and choose as he would like, a second thought is required. In fact, are not most of us more likely to think that we are free, because there is such a vast array of choices to choose from in life? Yet, if we reflect on our choices, we may find that we are not free at all. Rather, we are subject to the influence of others in ways that we may not even recognise. It is often our peers, who influence us during our childhood years, perhaps, even more so than our family, depending on the circumstances. Even so, if we look closely at our own character, we will invariably have to admit the similarities to our parents.
In families where the reins were kept loose from an early age, the world may appear to be an amusement park; yet, there may be no rational basis in our early years, in regard to the formation of a worldview; hence, we are shaped by our peers, as well as our own rebellion from whatever family values, we feel may have been imposed upon us. If our teenage spirit is not reined in by a balanced perspective of life, regarding some amount of self discipline and self control, then we are subject to follow the unbridled dispositions of our heart.
Not that I mean to make a sweeping generalisation; yet, this seems be the norm, unless brought up in a more traditional home, wherein, religious, ethical, or academic standards were clearly demonstrated and inculcated. These are my thoughts, encapsulating my limited perspective, on the issue of personal identity, having to find my own, after partaking of the smorgasbord of life, without carefully considering the ramifications of my appetite.
My standard is now grounded in the wisdom of G-d, rather than the shifting sands of my emotions, inclinations, and worldly perspective. Rather than a leaf, being blown in the wind, I have grown roots into the rich heritage of my belief and practice. Reishis chochma yiras H’Shem – the beginning of wisdom is fear of the L-RD (Psalm 111:10). In what will continue to be a lifelong attempt to walk a fine line down the road of life, I try to foster a balanced perspective, based on the little that I understand, from gleaning the guidelines set before me, within the pages of the original blueprint of the world.
This blueprint is found within the pages of what may amount to the most popular self-improvement book, that surprisingly enough, can never be found on the shelf where all of the other self-help books are located. That is because, the book that I am referring to can not actually be categorized as a self-help book at all; rather, it is a book wherein one may improve his or her life with the help of G-d. With the inspiration of the words from this book, along with the authoritative words of those who have studied this book more than me, my roots continue to bring spiritual nourishment to my soul, strengthening my resolve to follow the derech (path) set before me.
“The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
– Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach
A greater vision, somewhere upon the horizon, waits for realisation to take hold in our hearts; in order to see beyond, reach past, and fly over this wilderness, hope must take root in our souls. Yet, even without hope, “Surely the L-RD’S mercies are not consumed, surely His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23, JPS 1917 Tanach). G-d’s faithfulness towards us, reveals the promise of a new day. “The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18, JPS).
We are welcome to board this ship to a brighter tomorrow; so, let’s prepare ourselves for the journey. Rambunctious disregard of G-d’s words will only lead us further astray; the aseret hadibrot (ten utterances) are meant to resonate within our being, in like manner that they were received at Sinai. “If the L-RD delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it unto us—a land which floweth with milk and honey” (Numbers 14:8). “For the L-RD taketh pleasure in His people; He adorneth the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4). “To-day, if ye would but hearken to His voice” (Psalm 95:7).
“Whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be; what prayer and supplication soever be made by any man of all Thy people Israel, who shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house; then hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and forgive.”
1 Kings 8:37-39, JPS 1917 Tanach
In the midst of our nisyanos (trials), we need to recognise the condition of our own hearts, and look within towards whatever may be likened to a plague that diminishes the moral quality of our thoughts, speech, and actions, from G-d’s perspective of our character. In His eyes, we need to make amends for our shortcomings, failures to heed doing what we know is right, and our negative character traits that may lead towards unrighteousness. Yet, He will be merciful towards us, and forgive us; and, then, H’Shem willing, healing of mind, body, and spirit will occur over time.
“And Aharon stood in the midst, between the dead and the living with the [incense] censer, and interceded in prayer; and the plague was restrained” (Numbers 17:13, Targum Yonaton, Sefaria.org). When we turn our hearts to H’Shem (the L-RD; literally, the Name), we may take advantage of a tried and true remedy: prayer. In Hebrew, tefillah, from the shoresh (root word), FLL, meaning to judge, implies the use of discernment to differentiate between what is essential and nonessential in one’s life. Sheltering in place brings the opportunity for introspection in regard to what is important in our lives. “Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee” (Psalm 141:2, JPS 1917 Tanach.
While spending a few hours writing at my desk, I noticed that the battery charge level on my electronic device was below 10 percent; so, I left my kasha on the kitchen countertop, that I had prepared, for a brief interval between writing endeavors, and went to my travel backpack, where I keep everything that is essential to me. My backpack is a top loading pack with a drawstring, and, when I was reaching inside to find my charger with its cord, I saw that my double layered cotton mask was about to drop out of the bag. So, I quickly reached with my left hand to grab the mask, accidentally jabbing my right hand with the only fingernail, that I hadn’t pared well on the previous Wednesday.
Now, even as I type out these letters on the keyboard, forming words in front of my eyes on the page, I have a hermetically sealed latex free bandaid, wrapped around the part of my hand below the thumb. A constant visible reminder of what would not have been a concern to me five months ago. Yet, I know from a scientific animation in a documentary produced by the Epoch Times, about the origins of the coronavirus, how the virus enters the human body, unlocking the entrance to a human cell by binding to its receptor sites; and, I am repulsed to think about how easy it could be, within my imagination, for one germ to get into my very small open wound and change my life forever (G-d forbid).
So, instead of venturing out to the health food store, along the sidewalks of this coronavirus laden town, like all other towns and cities across the States, I decided to stay right at my desk, behind my screen, where I usually am virtually twenty-four seven. Perhaps, I am one of the few people who chooses to remain sheltering in place, despite the lessening of restrictions several weeks ago; and, the percentage of positive cases is up from 5% at the time the restrictions were still in place, to 12% in the state, since that time. Incidentally, the statistical scenario is similar for other states as well. Need I attempt to defend my voluntary hermitage with any other statistic? I have remained adamant, knowing that I am Biblically mandated to stay right where I am:
Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, And shut thy doors about thee; Hide thyself for a little moment, Until the indignation be overpast.
Isaiah 26:20, JPS 1917 Tanach
If everyone in America could be impacted by the realisation that G-d is sovereign, then we could all chill out, knowing that G-d is in charge, even of something as catastrophic as a global pandemic. And, His recommendation to all of us is to relax, until the plague passes from this earth. The verse is likened by rabbinical commentary to the experience of the Children of Israel, during their last night in Egypt, when the Angel of Death was wreaking havoc in the streets of the metropolis. They stayed inside their homes, until the precise time of their redemption. And, who knows whether the above mentioned verse could be rendered as a prophetic statement, also reaching across the generations to this very time?
When our environs do not bring us peace and contentment, what is the proper course of action? Where is the remedy to be found? I believe that within the midst of our nisyanos (troubles), G-d must be sought out for solace; otherwise, our peace of mind would be relative – dependent upon ever changing circumstances. What other resource is as potent as the Omnipotent?
There is a maxim, expressed in various forms, that happiness is to be found within ourselves. Yet, I prefer to reframe this adage, “true contentment is found within our connection to G-d.” This becomes more apparent, considering the overall inability of anyone to remain completely stable, having a disposition of equanimity towards all things, in every situation.
At least, I can certainly speak for myself, inasmuch that it is not within my own power to be the cool, calm, and collected kind of person that I once used to be. Hence, I seek out G-d in every moment, in order to connect with His higher wisdom. I also seek out lesser means, such as good music to comfort the soul, journaling to express my emotions and inner feelings about this, that, and the other in life; and, additionally, I make sure to exercise, in order to work out the stress that manifests in my body.
My own personal discontent with certain circumstances in my life, may only be a reflection of my spiritual impoverishment. Perhaps, in the past, before my religious, aka, “spiritual journey” began, I may have been more content with worldly endeavors and creature comforts. Yet, as is demonstrated by Moshe’s own personal encounter with G-d, as well as other scriptural narratives, the way to ruchnius (spirituality) is opposed to gashmius (materiality), despite any attempt to reconcile the two; otherwise, the endeavor is compromised, and the soul remains in stasis, along with the status quo.
Case in point, if there is a constant struggle between the yetzer hara (literally, evil inclination) and the yetzer tov (good inclination), each inclined towards its corresponding realm of preference, then the soul is subject to one or the other at any given moment; those who are unaware of this battle, nor the presence of these two inclinations, are at a disadvantage, as dominance is given to the yetzer hara by default, otherwise known as the “animal soul.”
Chassidism teaches that there needs to be a balance between the “godly soul,” and the “animal soul;” yet, this seems like a compromise to me; besides, I have never been able to find that balance. Rather, I am compelled to make a sharper delineation between the two, than is often mentioned in certain chassidic sources.
The balance to be found is then relegated to the peace of mind that results, by staying focused on H’Shem; also, to look towards Olam Haba (the World to Come), instead of becoming entangled in Olam HaZeh (This World), to the extent that we can not see the forest for the trees.