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daily contemplation: Acknowledgment

B”H

February 23, 2020

“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.”

– Psalm 103:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

The derech (path) I tread is imperfect, when I walk in fear, doubt, or lack of emunah (faith). Yet, this acknowledgment in and of itself, may very well be an honest assertion, capable of rendering a sense of truth about myself. Although my transgressions may be atoned for on a daily basis, this only clears the way for greater clarity, in regard to who I am as a human being. This does not make me perfect; rather, wiping the slate clean, permits me to see more clearly my imperfections.

Everyday, we must maintain the necessity of cleaning the window of the soul. There may be many smudge marks; however, every morning brings a new opportunity to gaze into the looking glass, in a new light. Each day, it is our responsibility to work on improving our character; if not, we may fall by the wayside.

A journey, from east to west, from morning to evening; and, at nighttime, we are reminded of our personal exile, the challenges we face, as we make our way closer to the person who G-d wants us to be. “The path of the righteous is as the light of the dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18, JPS 1917 Tanach).

daily contemplation: Silence

B”H

February 21, 2020

“Be still, and know that I am G-d.”

– Psalm 46:10

When we allow ourselves to rest in the silence, our minds may resist; we may become restless. Yet, persistence in the art of silent prayer, by setting aside a few minutes or more every day, will give way to a rich interior life.

Within that silence, there is an opportunity to rest, not only from our daily concerns, rather, also to rest from the compulsion to be active. This takes practice as well as patience; a helpful method might be to focus on a particular verse from scripture. Not as a mantra; rather, let the words sink into your bones. And, permit the meaning to flow into your mind and heart.

note: this is a repost of my answer to the question,

“Is G-d okay with us praying in silence?” at quora. com

daily contemplation: Equanimity

B”H

February 20, 2020

The depths of pain, the heights of joy; yet, there is an equanimity to be found somewhere within the presence of G-d. “Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in the nether-world, behold, Thou art there” (Psalm 139:7–8, JPS 1917 Tanach). “Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even weaned as a child” (Psalm 131:2, JPS 1917 Tanach).

A child weaned denotes an equanimity, wherein a person is content in this world with whatever G-d brings his way. The soul grows accustomed to whatever sustenance that G-d provides for spiritual growth. Suffering will often compel a person to reach out towards G-d; and, joy will draw out words of praise to Him. How much more so, when G-d has lifted a struggling soul, high above its personal pains and sufferings, will there indeed be reason to rejoice?

note – this is reposted from my answer to the question:

“Why is suffering just as important as joy?”

(see my profile, Tzvi Fievel at quora.com)

daily contemplation: Still Waters

B”H

February 19, 2020

Where can we find the “still waters” of our life? In our busyness, there is little room for reflection. “He leadeth me beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2). Our recompense for turning to G-d at times of disquietude is that we will eventually be shown a place within time to settle down, and reflect on what is important.

These opportunities are a necessary ingredient of a life focused on G-d. Perhaps, even moreso, for those who are not as focused on G-d in their lives, finding a quiet time to reflect is even more important. What is the rationale behind this statement? My point is only that without the nurturing presence of G-d in our lives, there is more turmoil. I speak from experience.

By neglecting to spend time with G-d during the day, we are deprived of the corresponding solace that only He can provide. For someone who has not made a sincere effort in his life to turn towards G-d, the need for solace will be greater, because of the tumult, stress, and hectic pace of a life where G-d is not part of the equation. Therefore, it is important to turn our hearts to G-d often enough to receive His invitation to immerse ourselves “beside the still waters,” lest we find ourselves swept away by the secular currents of the modern world.

daily contemplation: Fanning the Flames

B”H

February 18, 2020

“He that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.” – Exodus 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Torah instructs that if a fire, lit by a person burning off his own field, gets out of control, and consumes grain in storage, stalks of corn, or a neighbors field, the person who is responsible for tending the fire is held accountable. He must make restitution for the damage incurred to his neighbor’s property.

How much more so for the individual, who is not able to keep his anger in check? We need to make amends for harsh words spoken in times of disquietude. How so? One recommendation is to stop fanning the flames of discontent. Instead of permitting ourselves to get worked up over something, we should douse the flames of anger with understanding and compassion.

“Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.”

– Exodus 35:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

It is forbidden to kindle a fire on Shabbos. According to Abraham Heschel, this would include “the fire of righteous indignation” (Heschel, The Sabbath). On the Sabbath, there is a sense of acceptance of the provision of G-d. This is symbolized by the two portions of manna, that B’nei Yisrael received on Friday mornings, while in the desert for forty years. There is no room for being upset about perceived personal injustices, insults, or displeasures, on the day that symbolizes wholeness, completion, and rest.

daily contemplation: Chasing Shadows

“Surely His salvation is nigh them that fear Him.”

– Psalm 85:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

Looking forward in time, I have a vision for the near future. Yet, there is a certain derech (path), for me to arrive at the destination. There is a specific manner, that outlines how to get there. The road whereon I may accomplish my goals, step by step, in an incremental manner, is fraught with hazards. Even so, this has been provided for, that I may reach the heights of spiritual growth in my life in due time.

Only when I begin to consider sheker (falsity) as real, do I compromise the effort being made: chasing the shadows of my past, instead of following the dreams of my future, I may falter on the way. Wherein lies the reconciliation of my previous footsteps, along the road to freedom with my present-day life? Shall I let the sands of time drift, and cover over my footsteps? Or shall I retrace my steps, in order to analyze, learn, and grow through my introspection?

The ever-present risk is the potential to get sidetracked; yet, I can not move forward without knowing where I came from. If I do not recover my past, in a manner that gives me a foundation for the future, then the future that I envision for myself will crumble. My heritage, family roots, and future of my people, all play a role, that forms a necessary part of the overall equation. With G-d at the helm of the ship, so to speak, keeping everything on course, shall I falter?

daily contemplation: Shifting Values

B”H

February 16, 2020

“I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.”

– Exodus 6:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

There is a saying, concerning the departure from Egypt, that B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) had a much more challenging task ahead of them: removing Egypt from their hearts. They were brought out through the strength of G-d, Who redeemed them “with an out stretched arm.” Yet, the greater effort on their part, was incumbent upon themselves to make the changes in their new approach to life, effectively, leaving their past ways behind.

Although help from Above, through G-d’s intervention, may serve as a catalyst to change, our response is required, with the upmost discipline, to heed the call to freedom on a daily basis. Although B’nei Yisrael was freed from slavery, they became servants of G-d through matan Torah (the giving of the Commandments). True freedom is embracing the yoke of Heaven, so that we may be free from the burden of chet (sin).

weekly reading: The Doorway

B”H

parashas Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18)

It is notable that the parashas begins with the ordinance (mishpat) that a Jewish bondsman may serve his master for six years; however, in the seventh year he goes free.

The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt for 216 years. We received the Torah less than two months after leaving Egypt. After receiving the Ten Commandments, the mishpatim (ordinances) were given.

The first ordinance given is the designation of freedom a Jewish servant receives after only serving for a limited amount of time. It is as if the Torah is saying, that the Jewish people are not meant to remain in bondage again, not even as indentured servants.

The only exception is the servant, who after six years, would prefer to remain with his master. He declines his freedom; subsequently, his ear is pierced by an awl on a door to mark his perpetual servitude. This act serves as a reminder that the same ear that was pierced, should have heeded the call to freedom.

The door represents freedom, because of the blood of the Pesach offering that was placed on the doorposts in Egypt, right before B’nei Yisrael was freed. Our freedom is sustained through the following of the mitzvoth (commandments). As explained in the following manner:

The commandments were inscribed (cherut) on stone tablets; yet, the Hebrew word cherut, with a different vowelization, means “freedom.” What is the connection? When we observe the commandments of G-d, we are freed from slavery to our yetzer harah (evil inclination). Eventually, the commandments will be inscribed on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

weekly reading: Yisro’s Belief

B”H

Shiur for parashas Yisro 5780

(Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

Measure for measure, H’Shem enacted judgment upon Egypt. Turning the Nile River into blood, reminded Pharaoh of his guilt, concerning his decree against male infants, that they be drowned in the Nile. And, the perishing of Pharaoh and his army at the Sea of Reeds was an expression of H’Shem’s judgment against Pharaoh. As implied by Yisro’s words:

Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, “heard of all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel his people” (Exodus 18:1, JPS). “Now I know that the L-RD is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11, JPS). He continued, by making the implication that in the same manner that the Pharaoh conspired against the Children of Israel, so was his army destroyed. I.e., measure for measure, by means of water.

Although Yisro had worshipped many gods, according to Tanchuma, he had renounced idolatry. Yet, it was not until he heard of H’Shem’s plagues against Egypt – each one symbolizing H’Shem’s superiority over an Egyptian god – and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, that he recognized H’ Shem as “greater than all gods.”

Up until then, his belief was predicated upon rational inquiry; he had his doubts about the efficacy of the many deities that he used to worship. Yet, when he heard of H’Shem’s greatness being demonstrated in a tangible way through the plagues, and the splitting of the sea, his belief was upgraded to the level of da’as (actual knowledge). So strong was his belief in H’Shem, that he chose to align himself with truth. Only H’Shem is the One true G-d. All other so-called deities are no-things.

Meditation: Know Thyself

B”H

February 14, 2020

“And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the G-d of thy father, and serve Him with a whole heart and with a willing mind.” – 1 Chronicles 28:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Greek adage is to know thyself. Yet, King David told Solomon, his son, “Know thou the G-d of thy father.” Solomon was full of wisdom. He wrote the Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Yet, perhaps, King David was calling upon Solomon to stay focused on H’Shem.

Many people today would like to find themselves, and achieve their potential, otherwise stated as “self-actualization.” This is all well and good. Yet, to leave G-d out of the question will leave the aspirant short-sighted. There is so much more potential for us, when we acknowledge G-d in all our ways (Proverbs 3:6). He should be our goal: in finding Him, we find ourselves. By getting to know Him, we are better able to understand ourselves.