Tag Archives: inspiration

Who Do We See In The Mirror?

Whenever you notice a fault in another person, check where you have that fault yourself. We have a strong tendency to notice our own faults in others. This awareness gives us many opportunities to learn about our own shortcomings -since it is easier to recognize a fault in someone else than in ourselves.”

What fault do you commonly notice in other people? In what ways do you have that fault yourself?

Use this awareness as a tool to stop yourself from speaking against others. Who would want to speak against others knowing that you are merely drawing attention to that same fault in yourself?!

Today, catch yourself in the act of criticizing others. Then think about the implications for yourself.

-see Talmud Kiddushin 70b; Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin – Ruach Chaim 2:1
quoted from Aish.com

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves…”

-William Shakespeare’s
“Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)”

According to Attribution Theory in the field of Social Psychology, we tend to think that a person’s behavior is attributed to something we believe about them. For instance, let’s say you don’t like “Fred” for whatever reason. You think Fred is a blockhead and a pain-in-the-neck. You see Fred at your local fast food place and just after picking up his order, he trips and spills his tray all over the floor. This just “proves” what you’ve known all along. Fred is a klutz and a moron. See how he spilled his tray?

On the other hand, you may really like Sally and think she’s a great person. She’s kind, gives to charity, and is nice to children and small animals. You see Sally at the same fast food joint and she spills her tray in an identical fashion to Fred. However, you feel sorry for Sally. Someone (like Fred) must have tripped her. Instead of gloating, you rush over to help Sally clean up the mess.

Why we like or don’t like other people may be just what we believe about them. It may also be what we see in them. If Fred has characteristics that are like those in ourselves that we don’t like, we probably aren’t going to like Fred. If, on the other hand, we see things about Sally that are the same as some of the characteristics we like in ourselves, we’ll probably like Sally.

That’s a gross oversimplification of a complex set of variables, but you get the idea.

But what does this have to do with the Internet?

Plenty.

I mentioned yesterday that we do a fair amount of complaining on the blogosphere about a lot of things and a lot of people. But is it really necessary?

I suppose wearing the “mask” of the web over our “faces,” and given the fact that you can create a functional blog in just a few minutes, we all suddenly have the ability to spew our thoughts and feelings out to whatever audience chooses to read them. Once we start interconnecting, we start seeing people we like and don’t like and naturally, since we don’t have to face any of these people in real life, we tell them what we think about them.

Or are we really revealing something about how we like or don’t like ourselves under the mask?

Interesting, isn’t it?

Of course, if all of our complaining is really telling the world how we see ourselves, maybe it would be a good idea to turn it down a notch before everyone notices that we’re airing out our dirty laundry on the most public clothes line in the universe.

Whenever you see that someone has made a mistake, view the situation as a learning experience to prevent yourself from making similar mistakes.

Moreover, utilize this experience to discover what knowledge you may be able to impart to others so they, too, can avoid making similar mistakes.

Today, think of three mistakes you have seen people make recently. In what way have you made similar mistakes?

-see Ralbag – Shaar hachochmah, no.11
quoted from Aish.com

Turning that piece of advice around, if we look at the “faults” of others as if they’re our own, maybe we are really just learning from our own mistakes as we project them outward.

That would make the blogosphere one really, really big mirror. That ugly, nasty troll or witch you see on someone else’s blog is actually just your own reflection.

Terrifying thought.

I’ve got a suggestion. Visit the blog or website of the one person who really gets under your skin and read through a significant portion of their content. Pay close attention to what it is about the stuff you’re reading that really sets you off. Make a list of suggestions you’d like to give the blog writer about how they could improve themselves as a writer and a person. Then stop and ask yourself if you tend to say things or hold attitudes that are equally irritating, annoying, and offensive.

If (being perfectly honest since this is all happening within the privacy of your own thoughts) you start seeing these rather ghastly connections between them and you, begin considering the advice you wanted to give to that other person. Would it be good advice for you to take as well?

For those of us who have faith, we’re supposed to live in a community of like-minded believers. Our ideal is to obey the “new commandment” of our Master and to love one another (John 13:34). It’s supposed to be the defining characteristic of disciples of Jesus. Yet, given the nature and tone of our conversations on the Internet, we do everything else except love.

One should daven together with the community – 8a

Someone asked R’ Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, would it be better if one davened without a minyan if he felt he could daven with more kavannah in a room by himself. Which was more important, davening with a tzibbur or increased kavannah?

R’ Moshe responded (Igros Moshe O.C. 3:7): If the person can concentrate even minimally while with a minyan, it is better to daven with the tzibbur, even at the expense of added kavannah. We find that a person must extend himself to daven with a minyan, and it is even an obligation to do so. In an earlier letter (O.C. 2:27) R’ Moshe contends that the obligation stems from the fact that the prayers of a person who is in a group are certain to be accepted, while the prayers of an individual are not necessarily accepted. A person has the responsibility to daven to the best of his abilities, so he must go to daven where his prayers are more readily desirable. Accordingly, the advantage of davening with a minyan is essential, for this can make the difference whether one’s prayers are accepted or not. Davening with a bit more kavannah is only a substantive advantage. Therefore, a person must daven with a minyan, even though his kavannah may be somewhat diminished.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Davening with a minyan or davening with more kavannah?”
Berachos 8

As we can see here, the sense of community and davening with a minyan is considered more important than experiencing greater kavannah in prayer by davening alone. God never really designed us, Jew, Christian, or anyone else, to relate to Him by ourselves. We know that loving God and loving other people are incredibly intertwined so perhaps that’s part of where this principle comes in. But whether we always like each other (or ourselves) or not, we are still all his disciples (I’m speaking of the community of faith now). We don’t get to escape from one another just because we sometimes fuss and bicker.

I recently issued a sort of challenge to Judah Gabriel Himango on his blog suggesting, starting next Sunday (or Saturday night after Shabbat) that “we spend a week posting only uplifting material and not announcing to the world why we think we’re right and the other guy or gal (it doesn’t matter who they are) is wrong.” For me, that means writing a minimum of six blog posts that don’t mention supersessionism, replacement theology, and my opinions on some of the major theological expressions in the Messianic Jewish/One Law community. I suppose it also means I can’t take the church to task for any of its perceived failings or take shots at atheists either.

All Judah has to do is not blog for a week and he’s covered, so I’m biasing this challenge in his favor just because I post “morning meditations” six-days a week. If anyone wanted to take a cheap shot at me in the comments section of my blog and not receive a pithy rebuttal, this coming week is the time to do it (I’m saying all this somewhat tongue-in-cheek).

Let’s see if I and anyone else, can choose to consistently take the moral high road and only offer uplifting, supportive, and encouraging words on the “intertubes.” I predict that the number of hits on my blog will plummet like a stone dropped in Lake Mead (I hope I’m wrong).

But I also hope that maybe the online community of faith will get something positive out of it, too.

We’ll see how it goes. Anyone else out there game?

Choosing a Storyteller

An illustration of a scientific use of prayer is the experience of two famous industrialists, whose names would be known to many readers were I permitted to mention them, who had a conference about a business and technical matter. One might think that these men would approach such a problem on a purely technical basis, and they did that and more; they also prayed about it. But they did not get a successful result. Therefore they called in a country preacher, an old friend of one of them, because, as they explained, the Bible prayer formula is, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) They also pointed to a further formula, namely, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19)

Being schooled in scientific practice, they believe that in dealing with prayer as a phenomenon they should scrupulously follow the formulas outlined in the Bible which they described as a textbook of spiritual science. The proper method for employing a science is to use the accepted formulas outlined in the textbook of that science. They reasoned that if the Bible provides that two or three should be gathered together, perhaps the reason they were not succeeding what the they needed a third party.

-Norman Vincent Peale
Chapter 4: Try Prayer Power
The Power of Positive Thinking

As some of you know who have been reading this blog for a while, I’ve been considering going back to a church. Of course, there are many barriers to this goal, if it is even an appropriate goal for me, so I don’t know if I will end up at that particular destination or not. However, if I ever find myself sitting in a church sanctuary, and the Pastor delivers a message that sounds anything like the quote from Peale’s book I posted above, I would immediately start looking for the nearest exit.

Why?

I’ve commented on Peale’s book before, and now that I’m almost a quarter of the way through, I remain dubious of how he treats the Bible and prayer. Can the Bible be reduced down to a “textbook” and can one pray by a formula?

Actually, in Judaism, prayer is a highly formal and routinized matter, so on this point, I guess I can’t complain, since I find Jewish prayer beautiful. But Peale’s presentation makes it sound like some sort of scam. I feel like I’m listening to some slick, phony prayer service headed up by the likes of Benny Hinn. I feel like I’m listening to someone trying to sell me the “name it, claim it” philosophy of God; as if God were Aladdin’s genie and had to do what I told Him to do because of some “magic prayer” in the Bible.

No, really, I’m trying to like this book, but I don’t think it speaks my language. Let’s try a different approach.

During tefillah, you must focus your heart on the meaning of the words your lips are uttering. You must imagine G-d’s presence right there before you. Dismiss whatever thoughts are bothering you until you are left with a clear mind to focus on your tefillah…

This was the practice of inspired and legendary people; they would seclude themselves and focus on their tefillah to the point that they transcended their physical senses, and their mental powers dominated bringing them close to prophecy.

If an extraneous thought comes into your mind during the tefillah, stay quiet until the thought disappears.

It’s necessary to think about matters that subdue the heart and focus it on your Father in heaven. Don’t think about empty matters.

—Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 98:1
as quoted from Chabad.org

Really, what’s the difference here? Peale characterizes prayer as a “scientific formula” while the quote from Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 98:1 presents mediation and prayer as a transcendental and mystical practice. Who is right? Neither? Both? Does it matter?

Maybe it doesn’t matter which approach you take as long as it works for you. I’m not sure that Peale works for me, and maybe my continuing attraction to the various Jewish sages and their opinions is telling me something about what does work for me.

When I started reading Peale’s book, I did a bit of research on the man and, according to Wikipedia, he’s not exactly without critics. Given the various doctors and scientists and scholars to whom Peale refers to in the book I’m reading, there are concerns that these so-called experts may have just been fabricated by Peale for the sake of telling a story. But then, I’m not above telling a tale and having it interpreted as fact if there’s a good reason for doing so, and some moral or lesson is imparted that way. Milton Erickson was the absolute master of the “therapeutic tale” and, when I used to be a practicing family therapist, he was one of my “heroes”. The use of metaphor and storytelling in promoting psychological change can be amazingly effective, so I can hardly criticize Peale if that’s the way he chose to transmit his lessons in his book. It’s the way the tales of the Baal Shem Tov have come to us from ages past, still full of power and wisdom.

I think Peale’s book really has worked out well for thousands and perhaps millions of people, but the reason it doesn’t work for me is that it doesn’t say that thing I need it to say in a language that makes sense to me. One can tell the same basic story in a Saturday morning cartoon or an erudite philosophical tome, and one method or the other will work out better depending on the audience. I know now that I’m an audience looking for the right storyteller. I don’t think Peale is that guy, so I need to find someone else saying the same thing in a different way.

So was the practice of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as they sat in perfect awe beneath the star-speckled sky of the still desert night; so too, the ancient prophets in the Judean hills, strumming musical instruments as they gazed upon the mysteries of heaven and earth, awaiting the vision of prophecy as the morning’s horizon awaits the rising sun; so did the sages of the Talmud, the Bahir and the Zohar lift their souls on mystic journeys through orchards and palaces, chambers and pathways of the spiritual realms, never sure that they could return to their earthly bounds; so too the chassidim were lost in contemplation and the ecstasy of their prayer from early morning until the hours of night.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Meditation’s Hallway”
Chabad.org

But if Peale, as the Christian storyteller seems too “phony” and (as I’ve been told) the Jewish storytellers are just for Jews, where is my storyteller?

A Small Light Against the Darkness

candleSome think life is all about doing good and keeping away from evil. To them, struggle has no purpose of its own — to have struggled is to have failed. Success, they imagine, is a sweet candy with no trace of bitterness.

They are wrong, very wrong. Struggle is an opportunity to reach the ultimate, when darkness itself becomes light. In the midst of struggle, an inner light is awakened. Light profound enough to overwhelm the darkness, encasing it and winning it over. But if darkness never fights back, how will it ever be conquered?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Perpetual Struggle”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I watched an interview quite sometime ago with Oprah and actor Will Smith. He shared his insight about dealing with negative people. He asks this profoundly important question to himself on a frequent basis: “Is there someone in your life who is not contributing to your life and not helping you move forward?” If your answer to this question is a resounding: Yes! Then: “Why do you insist on allowing them to remain in your life?” A big A-ha moment for me! There must be some payoff for you if you continue allowing these negative influences in your life. When you know better you do better. If you want to change your life you have to also change the folks you chose to surround yourself with.

-Debra Moser
“What Are Your Personal Boundaries?”
MorningCoach.com

Oddly enough, I do read the occasional “inspirational” blog, though I don’t put a lot of stock in them. I find the advice they offer is often superficial and overly optimistic. Of course, the writers of such blogs have to keep the content short in order to hold the attention of their readers. Most people won’t read web content beyond a certain length, so if you want to get your point across, you have to make it short and sweet.

I can live with the short part, though it comes with liabilities, but sometimes such blogs are just a little too “sweet” for a middle-age “curmudgeon” like me.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I like reading the Bible (I know this will probably sound irreverent). It doesn’t soften the blow and it doesn’t pull any punches. In fact, I’ve heard some people say they aren’t religious just because some of the “advice” offered in the Bible is too harsh (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10 for example). On the other hand, there are times when the ancient sages and today’s “life-coaches” seem to be saying the same thing.

Nitai the Arbelite would say: Distance yourself from a bad neighbor, and do not cleave to a wicked person. -Ethics of our Fathers, 1:7

Debra Moser said something quite similar and, unlike Nitai the Arbelite, provides methods for “weeding out the negative nellies in her life”. Actually, that’s not fair. The commentary for Pirkei Avot 1:7 is just as illuminating as Moser and probably more so.

On the surface, Nitai the Arbelite appears to be conveying a simple, if redundant, message: Stay away from bad people. In truth, however, a much deeper lesson is implicit in his words. In fact, a close examination of his phraseology yields an altogether different sentiment.

What is the difference between a “bad neighbor” and a “wicked person”? And why must one go so far as to “distance oneself” from the former, while, concerning the latter it is enough to avoid “cleaving” to him?

A “bad neighbor” means just that: not a bad person, but one whose proximity to yourself is detrimental to you. It may be that he is a righteous person, and that his path in life is, for him, most suitable and desirable; but if for you it is wrong and destructive, keep your distance.

On the other hand, a “wicked person” is not necessarily a bad neighbor if he is not in the position to influence you. From him you need not, and must not, distance yourself: on the contrary, befriend him, draw him close and help him improve himself, all the while taking care not to cleave to him and emulate his ways.

In other words: The evil in another is never cause for your rejection of him—only your susceptibility to what is evil for you. On the contrary, the “wickedness” of your fellow it is all the more a reason to become involved with him, and prevail upon him to cleave to the positive in yourself.

I am always amazed at how the sages provide teachings so like the Master.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” –Mark 2:15-17

By comparison, Moser’s advice is something of a mixed bag. Of course, her goal isn’t to help her audience help others, it’s to help her audience enhance their own lives.

When you value and love yourself those loving and thoughtful people will come into your life. They are a direct reflection of how you see yourself. Be your own person and don’t allow others to define you. These positive people have your interests at heart and celebrate you with the world. There is no animosity and jealousy; just love and acceptance for the unique person you are. The people in my personal and professional life add to my life and that is a wonderful feeling.

against the darkThat’s a little too “warm and fuzzy” for me. But while there’s nothing wrong with that advice as far as it goes, the goal starts and stops with the individual: you. It has little to do with anyone else unless those other people in your world are only there to support and augment your “personal and professional life”. This is Madison Avenue marketing meets personal life development meets New Age “all-about-me-ism”. It’s certainly not the message the Master or Nitai the Arbelite are sending. Pirkei Avot advices that we distance ourselves from a bad neighbor, not because they’re a bad person, but because they can be a bad influence on us (and Debra Moser would agree with this part). However, we are not to avoid a “wicked person” because, as long as we don’t cleave to them and adopt their ways, we may become a positive influence on them, turning them away from sin.

As the Master taught, it “is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Part of tikkun olam, repairing the world, isn’t keeping all of the “health” to yourself like some self-esteem King Midas, but giving it back to others and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:31).

To be fair, Moser did very briefly touch upon the matter of influencing others, but immediately returned to her primary subject.

You do make a positive difference in someone’s life. Believe in yourself. When you’re not in a good mood STOP and get back to your positive mindset and look with gratitude around you and see what an incredible life you have. Living with gratitude and coming from a loving heart space attracts loving positive people into your life.

Again, to be fair, I expect that if I could give Debra Moser an opportunity for rebuttal, she could expand upon her viewpoint and I suspect provide added dimension to what she writes, including how to be a better support and influence on others who need the help.

One of the 613 commandments in Judaism is to “rebuke the sinner”, based on Leviticus 19:17. The deeper meaning of the commandment has little to do with chiding someone for their faults but instead, it’s more like saving someone’s life. If you see someone in moral and spiritual trouble, and if you have the opportunity and ability to help, you are obligated to help. A Jew must become involved rather than let a fellow Jew fall into or remain within their sins. If they fail to do so, the penalty their fellow will suffer for his sins will also fall upon the person who didn’t help.

Jesus seems to be communicating the same thing to his audience in both Mark 2 and Mark 12 (as well as in other scriptures). Of course there is always a danger involved. Like a lifeguard swimming against hazardous ocean currents to save a drowning person, there’s always the risk that you’ll be pulled under yourself, but its a risk you’ve accepted. A lifeguard accepts the risk by virtue of accepting the position of being a lifeguard. As disciples of Christ, we accept the risk by virtue of virtue; by the fact that we accepted the man with the cross and the God of Heaven.

It’s not easy. That’s what most advice blogs leave out of their content. It’s not a walk in the park. Like any discipline, it takes time and practice. You’ll make mistakes. Sometimes you’ll get hurt. With perseverance, you’ll get better at it. You’ll probably never be perfect. There will be days when you are magnificent and other days when you’ll want to stay in bed and hide. There are even days when you will feel like it’s not worth it and want to give up. But even when we don’t like hearing it, we were created for a very simple reason, to help God help the world. Rabbi Freeman interprets the Rebbe’s teaching on this topic thus:

For all that is, physical or spiritual or Divine, was only created to be part of the repair of this world of action. And once that repair is done, all that will be true are those things that made it happen.

In every thought, look for the power to change the world.

It’s the struggle that creates the light that holds back the dark abyss. Without our struggle, we are only silhouettes fading into the night.

We were so close there was no room
We bled inside each others wounds
We all had caught the same disease
and we all sang the songs of peace
Some came to sing, some came to pray
Some came to keep the dark away
So raise the candles high
’cause if you don’t we could stay
black against the sky
Oh oh raise them higher again
and if you do we could stay dry against the rain

-Melanie Safka
Candles in the Rain (1970)

The road

If life is a strugle, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. You only drown when you stop struggling against the waves.