Tag Archives: growth

Sacrificing Serenity for Spirituality

And Yaakov sat…

Braishis (Genesis) 37:1

Rashi cites the Sages who say that Yaakov wanted to live in peace and serenity. But this was not to be, and the troubles of his son Yosef began. The Almighty said, “Is it not sufficient for the righteous that they receive their reward in the world to come? Why do they need to live in serenity in this world?”

The question arises: why is it wrong to want to live in serenity? Yaakov desired serenity not so that he could devote his time to personal pleasures, but rather to be able to engage in spiritual pursuits.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Keep your focus on growth, not serenity,” p.102
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayeishev
Growth Through Torah

When I’m stressed, when things aren’t working out right, when relationships are strained, more than anything, I want peace and serenity. I want to relax. I sometimes want everyone just to get along, and at other times, I just want to be alone to follow both personal and spiritual pursuits without interruption and distraction.

So midrash aside, I can very much empathize with Jacob’s desire for peace and serenity.

But I think Rashi, as interpreted by Rabbi Pliskin, has a point. We weren’t put here by God to seek peace and serenity, we were put here to serve Him. Serving God is rarely very peaceful. Just look at lives such as Abraham’s, Jacob’s, Joseph’s, Moshe’s, David’s, Jeremiah’s, and of course, our Master Yeshua’s (Jesus’) life. Also consider the apostles, particularly Paul. Was their service in spreading the good news of the Moshiach to the Jews and to the nations particularly peaceful? Most of the time, it was ultimately fatal in a violent and premature sense.

May God not wish me to serve him in such a manner for I know my faith and trust pale in comparison to even the least of the Biblical tzaddikim (righteous ones or “saints”).

But R. Pliskin said “growth, not serenity,” which I take to mean that rather than seeking peace, we should be seeking to experience our lives as the platform upon which we strive to grow spiritually, to grow closer to God.

This, said Rav Yeruchem, is an attitude we should all internalize. Every occurrence in this world can make you a better person. When you have this awareness your attitude towards everything that happens to you in life will be very positive. Before, during, and after every incident that occurs reflect on your behavior and reactions. Ask yourself, “What type of person am I after this happened? How did I do on this test? Did I pass it in an elevated manner?” (Daas Torah: Barishis, pp.222-3)

-ibid

The Jewish PaulThis means that regardless of our circumstances, good or bad, we should approach the experience in the same manner, as a test or a “training session” designed to assist us in becoming more spiritually elevated. Of course, to be in a position to look at everything from ecstasy to agony in this way probably requires that we be in a fairly elevated state already. I don’t think I’m there yet, but maybe being aware that it’s possible will give me something to shoot for.

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:10-13 (NASB)

If the ancient and modern Rabbinic sages can apply this principle to Jacob, I think it’s reasonable to apply it to Paul as well. This gives it a more universal usage which means it comes right back to my front door, so to speak. The goal of trust and faith in God and living a holy life then, is not to find peace in our circumstances, but regardless of what is happening to us, to find peace in God as Paul did.

“And Yosef was brought down to Egypt.”

Braishis (Genesis) 39:1

Anyone viewing the scene of Yosef being brought down to Egypt as a slave would have considered it a major tragedy. His brothers sold him into slavery and he was being taken far away from his father and his homeland. But the reality was that this was the first step towards his being appointed the second in command of Egypt. He would eventually be in charge of the national economy of Egypt and would be the mastermind behind the complex program to prepare for the years of famine during the years of plenty.

-Rav Pliskin
“Realize that you can never tell how events will actually turn out in the end,” p.110

Being limited, temporal beings, our major focus is what is happening to us right now or what has just recently occurred. If it’s something unpleasant, then we tend to believe that it is also undesirable. Joseph probably felt that way when he was being sold into Potipher’s household and certainly would have that experience upon being sent to prison.

If only you would think of me with yourself when he benefits you, and you will do me a kindness, if you please, and mention me to Pharaoh, then you would get me out of this building. For indeed I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing for them to have put me in the pit.

Genesis 40:14-15 (Stone Edition Chumash)

After two years in prison, Joseph’s words give us no indication that he was viewing his continued incarceration as anything but a miscarriage of justice, and an unfair and unpleasant circumstance. He had not “learned to be content in whatever circumstances” he found himself in. With great respect to the Rabbis, I don’t think midrash sufficiently describes Joseph’s personality or spirituality. While he did indeed have great faith and trust in God, he really wanted to get out of prison and he was willing to ask for help from a potentially influential person, a bit of quid pro quo, as it were.

Joseph in prisonPerhaps Joseph realized what God had done in retrospect, but it doesn’t seem that he realized it when he was still locked up. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Joseph acted with utmost integrity and morality, both as a slave and as a prisoner. If he had given up hope and surrendered to despair, engaging in the baser behaviors of a prison inmate, then he certainly would not have been in position to take the next step in God’s plan.

The take away from this is that regardless of circumstances, even if you (or I) can’t possibly see how they can be beneficial at the time they’re happening, we must continue to behave (or start behaving) in a moral and upright manner for who knows how you can affect what happens next by what you decide to do now? And if you (or I) fail in this, there’s still time to repent, but that time is not limitless:

He took up a parable and said: A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came to seek fruit from it, but he did not find any. He said to the vinedresser, “Look, for three years I have come to seek fruit in the fig tree, but I have not found any. Cut it down; why should it waste the ground?” He answered and said to him, “My master, leave it alone for another year, until I have dug around it and given it some manure. Perhaps it will produce fruit. If it does not produce, then cut it down the following year.”

Luke 13:6-9 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

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Joy

Do you remember the thrill of hitting a home run? Getting out on the last day of school? Riding your new bicycle? You jump with joy. Fantastic!

Joy gives you energy and makes you feel great. You can achieve all kinds of things that otherwise may seem too difficult to attempt. With joy, you’re not afraid to talk to the guy sitting next to you on the plane. No problem! You’ve got energy, buoyancy. You’re alive!

True joy comes from the pleasure of growth and self-actualization – when we conquer a difficult challenge, or experience a moment of clarity.

When your team wins the World Series, or when you win the lottery, the joy is a delusion. Why? Because you did not change or grow.

Joy cannot result from events, from “good things happening to you.” Joy is solely the result of your reaction to life, your commitment to turning every moment into a growth experience. A new baby means you have to extend yourself at all hours of the day and night. That’s not easy. But if you focus – even at 3 a.m. – you’ll recognize this as real joy.

Do significant things and you will have more joy. If you are fighting for a cause, you are making an impact on the world. You are heavy. You are eternal.

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“Way #8, Constant Joy”
48 Ways to Wisdom
Aish.com

“Oh well,” he said after a moment. “Then I’ll dance, boss. Sit further away, so I don’t barge into you.”

He made a leap, rushed out of the hut, cast off his shoes, his coat, his vest, rolled his trousers up to his knees, and started dancing. His face was still black with coal. The whites of his eyes gleamed.

He threw himself into the dance, clapping his hands, leaping and pirouetting in the air, falling on to his knees, leaping again with his legs tucked up – it was as if he were made of rubber. He suddenly made tremendous bounds in to the air, as if he wished to conquer the laws of nature and fly away. One felt that in this old body of his there was a soul struggling to carry away this flesh and cast itself like a meteor into the darkness. It shook the body which fell back to earth, since it could not stay very long in the air; it shot it again pitilessly, this time a little higher, but the poor body fell again, breathless.

-Nikos Kazantzakis
Zorba the Greek (1946)

Joy is usually an occasional or even rare event in our lives, not a constant companion. But then, how many of us could endure a constant state of joy, as if we were old Zorba, pushing our bodies to the limit, dancing and leaping and trying to defy gravity until we finally collapse on the ground exhausted?

Actually, this sounds like another “unlikely sage” I described last spring; Moshe the Shepherd, who also expressed unbounded joy with almost limitless energy.

Then he got up and said, “Master of the world, I’m just a simple shepherd; I don’t know any Torah, and I don’t know how to pray. What can I do for You? The only thing I know is to sing shepherds’ songs!” He then began to sing loudly and fervently with all his strength until, again, he fell to the earth, exhausted, without an ounce of energy.

-Yitzchak Buxbaum
“The Shepherd”
from his book, Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov
quoted from Chabad.org

It’s the day after Yom Kippur. Either you feel elated or depressed. Like Elaina Cline said, “I used to hate Yom Kippur. Every year, as we blew the shofar and rushed home to eat, I would secretly breathe a huge sigh of relief. It was finally over – all the misery, the moroseness, the fear – until next year.”

You can hate Yom Kippur. You can dread confronting the darkest side of your soul. Or you can take joy in the opportunity to realize that what is worst about you is not who you really are. You are really a soul full of joy, singing, leaping, striving to reach your Creator, and to dance with God.

God does not desire that we remain in our pit of mud, sorrow, and regret. He didn’t create us to simply suffer and cry. We must have joy; we must take joy in Him, in all that He’s done for us, for creating our life, for giving us ambition and purpose, for granting us wings so that we can fly.

What is G‑d’s ultimate delight?

That a human soul will build portals of light so that the Creator’s presence may shine into His creation.

That a breath from His essence will pull herself out from the mud and turn to Him in love.

That a child of His being, exiled to the shadows of a physical world, will discover that the darkness is nothing more than Father hiding, waiting for His child to discover Him there.

But none of these can reach to the essence of all delights, the origin of all things, the hidden pleasure beyond all pleasures: The delight that this breath, this soul, this child did it all on its own.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Ultimate Delight”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Sukkah in the rainSukkot is coming soon; a time to build and decorate, a time to eat, drink, and celebrate. Who better to invite to the party than God. How shall we call out to Him and express our joy?

“And my tongue will express Your charity. Your praise all day long.”

Psalms 35:28

The charity that King David was referring to was the kindness and charity that the Almighty bestowed on him. Out of gratitude and appreciation for this, King David would praise Hashem all day long.

Fulfillment of this one verse would guarantee a person a life of happiness and gratitude – an elevated and spiritual life.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“A Guarantee of Happiness”
Daily Lift #587
Aish.com

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

Psalm 95:1-6 (ESV)

Although life is no bed of roses and we face our burdens and struggles every day, God is with us. He cares about us, and makes the way clear for us to approach Him, from the greatest to the smallest, all of His creatures. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. Even in the midst of your troubles, count it all joy.

Shavua Tov, chodesh tov, and shana tova!