Tag Archives: life

Locking Up Meditation

There are three forms of hitbon’nut (contemplation, meditation):

  1. Study-meditation: After mastering the concept thoroughly, one meditates on its profundity, until the intellectual element shines forth for him.
  2. Meditation before davening: This is directed toward sensing the vitality of the concept learned, in contrast to sensing the intellectual element emphasized in study-meditation.
  3. Meditation in davening: To sense the “G-dly element” in the concept learned.

These three are rungs on the ladder of sensitivity. It is only by G-d’s kindness towards us that we may occasionally sense G-dhood spontaneously, without any avoda at all. This comes about by virtue of the quality of Ultimate Essential G-dhood within the soul. For avoda by one’s own efforts, however, these three forms of meditation are essential.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Tamuz 20, 5703
Torah lessons: Chumash: Pinchas, Shishi with Rashi.
Tehillim: 97-103.
Tanya: Precisely so (p. 357) …or articulation. (p. 357).
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.

-Author unknown

I always consider meditation to be a quiet, contemplative state. As such, I never enter into it. I know that seems completely contrary to the basic premise of this blog, but I find it very difficult to quiet my mind. About the closest I come to a conscious, meditative state is the four minutes I’m cooling down after an aerobic workout on the elliptical machine. I can close my eyes and imagine my breath going in and out as a frosty, illuminated vapor in the darkness. All I’m trying to achieve though, is to slow my heart rate down as much as I can so that when I get off the machine, it’s not still pounding away at 150+ beats per minute.

I’m not contemplating God.

Even when I do contemplate God, it’s in a sea of static and chaos. It’s difficult or impossible to enter into a space where it’s just Him and me. Frankly, I don’t know if I even want to enter into that space. God is big and scary and I’m not even sure how guys like Abraham and Moses could stand being in His presence for even one split second. The God that created the Universe and everything in it isn’t some comfortable cosmic teddy bear that you can just walk up to and then sit in His lap.

Most days, I have a really good idea what I want to blog about, but not today. I pretty much burned off all my passion in yesterday’s meditation. Today, I’m emotionally drained. Wiped out. I know it probably doesn’t look this way from the outside, but some of these mediations take a lot of energy to write.

I just saw a photo of me (thankfully, I’m way in the background) in some promotional material for where I work. Everyone else looks fresh and young and happy. I look really old and fat and worn out. While I’ve got all this dynamic energy that sparks up in most of my “morning mediations,” today I feel like that picture (believe me, you don’t want to see it). I have this horrible feeling that’s how I look all the time.

I’m kind of reminded of the character Happy Hogan who first appeared in the comic book Tales of Suspense #45 (September 1963) with Iron Man. Marvel comics has “handsomed him up” quite a bit since those days, but back then, he was created for comic relief (along with Tony Stark’s then “mousy” secretary Pepper Potts). Happy rescued Tony from a race car crash and as a reward, Tony gave the out-of-work boxer a job as his chauffeur and personal assistant. Happy was always looking completely glum and “hang-dog”. Tony commented on it early in their relationship and asked if he was depressed. Happy’s response was something like, “Nah, I look like this all the time.”

I think I look like this all the time. OK, so I’ve never been a really attractive person, but I think this is more than age and carrying around a bunch of extra tonnage. I think I get tired of fighting God or fighting life or are they both the same thing? Problem is, that sort of fight is unavoidable. You only stop fighting when you die. Until then, it seems like it’s one battle after another, hammering away at something or being hammered at by something.

I try to imagine what it would be like to not fight. To relax. To set aside responsibility and duty, not just for a few minutes, or an hour, or when I’m asleep, but to really relax. Don’t say “vacation” because vacations are anything but relaxing. In fact, they’re harder work than going to work. Besides, even the most relaxing vacation in the world has to end sometime.

Paul spoke of “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) but I haven’t found it yet. I suspect I never will.

My “morning meditations” are really more like “morning encounters” or “morning contemplations” or even “morning conflicts”. I sleep. Wake up. Drink coffee. Go to the gym with my son. Eat breakfast. Take a shower. Go to work. Somewhere in the rest of the day, the next morning’s meditation gets written depending on my available time and what I’m thinking about. I eat dinner. Go to sleep. And the cycle starts all over again.

If someone has this lovey-dovey, floating on clouds, easy-peasy relationship with God and faith that keeps them in a semi-divine state as they slowly sail through each day, I’d like to know about it. I’m probably not a good candidate for such a state, even if it exists, but sometimes, as fluffy as it all sounds, I think I’d like a piece of it.

We are representatives of Above. And as such, live two lives at once:

We are free-thinking, independent beings.

And we are no more than messengers of Above.

It is a play of opposites in a single being. An impossibility realized in true-life drama. Just the sort of thing in which the Impossible One Above delights.

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

Rabbi Freeman presents an idealized view of the thoughts and expressions of the Rebbe and thus of the Chabad, but I know there’s a reality behind Crown Heights in Brooklyn that isn’t anywhere near as pretty. That’s not to say anything against the Chabad as such, but to acknowledge that humans are humans and we can make a mess of things on the inside, even if the outside looks good.

My insides and my outsides seem to look the same, that is rather threadbare and lumpy. All the religious and motivational stuff on the web often seems empty to me because all of that “feel good” material seems so phony and unrealistic. Life is a struggle. You fight hard every day. You can only hope that food and sleep will rejuvenate you enough to face another day just like the one that came before. Somewhere in there, God is present, but who knows exactly where or when or if He’ll make Himself known or intervene in any meaningful way?

Between the “free-thinking, independent being” and the “messenger of Above,” there’s an ordinary (or sometimes I feel, sub-standard) human being who is just trying to stay alive and make sense the events of each passing moment. Making sense of life and contemplating the nature of God doesn’t happen as much as you’d think.

I get tired. Sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing all this. I’ve also just been reminded again of how many Jews see Christians so…gee whiz.

Time for another cup of coffee and then back to work…

..and to try to find that last key that will open the lock to…who knows what?

God Have Mercy!

PleadIsn’t this strange, that a created being should take part in its own creation? Can a caricature hold the pencil in his artist’s hand? Can the characters of your own story edit your words? Can the figments of your own imagination tell you what to imagine?

Yet here we are, created beings pleading with our Creator, “Grant us life! Good life! Nice things! Be out there, in the open! Get more involved with your world!” Here we are, in the inner chamber of the Cosmic Mind, where it is determined whether we should be or not be, participating in that decision.

We are created beings, yet there is something of us that lies beyond creation.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Pleading to Exist”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Earlier this week, I talked about how we are like plants in a garden that must cooperate with the gardener for our existence and well-being. Yesterday, I commented that we act as co-creators with God of the “rebooted” universe on Rosh Hashanah. In the words quoted from Rabbi Freeman above, we see that we are indeed unique created beings in that we participate in our own creation and continued development. We are the painting and God is the artist, but both God and man have their hands on the paints and brush. Yet, do we dare contend with God?

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? –Romans 9:20-21

Of course, God has the final say, as one of these men understood:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” –Luke 18:9-14

Apparently, this is a lesson that the tax-collector knew all too well, but not so the Pharisee. The tax-collector wasn’t just asking God for goodness and favors, he was pleading for his very life. By comparison, the Pharisee was very confident in the status of his life and his relationship with God, but according to the Master, his confidence was very foolish. The Pharisee was depending only on his outward appearance and behaviors and assumed that if other people were impressed, God would be impressed, too. Not so.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. –Matthew 23:25-28

PrayingI’m not inditing all of the Pharisees and I don’t believe Jesus was either (consider Nicodemus), but he was declaring that many people in positions of religious authority were being hypocritical by behaving as if they were obeying God and harboring “hypocrisy and wickedness” inside.

It’s the same with us. Not only should we take the opportunity afforded by Rosh Hashanah to examine what we are doing, but what we have inside our hearts. Do we say we love our fellow man but curse him behind his back? Do we claim devotion to God but still deliberately sin in secret?

At sundown tonight, Rosh Hashanah begins and continues for two days. Like a certain tax collector, let us beg for God’s forgiveness, let us plead for a life with great dedication to God in the New Year ahead.

For the holiday, I won’t be submitting meditations on Thursday and Friday and because Shabbat begins when Rosh Hashanah ends, my next blog will be on Sunday morning.

L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem. May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Awaiting Dawn

Waiting for DawnPeople ask, “But how could you see so much good in the future when so much evil predominates now —-and it grows day by day?”

But such is the order of things: Darkness was only placed in the world to challenge light. As the light intensifies, the darkness thickens to defy it.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Defiant Darkness”
Chabad.org

Kletzky’s parents marked the end of their seven-day grieving period Wednesday morning with a religious tradition of walking outside their Brooklyn home. Nachman and Esty Kletzky, surrounded by relatives, walked around their block at 15th Ave. in Borough Park at about 6 a.m. “It’s a sign that your escorting the soul to its resting place,” said Jack Meyer, of Misaskim, an organization that provides services to grieving families.

Story from NYDailyNews.com

“In the midst of cruelty and horror, human beings can respond in such a warm and caring way it restores our faith in the world and mankind. That is the atmosphere I feel here right now,” said Rabbi Alvin Kass, describing public support for the Kletzy family.

Story from CBS New York News

This is the third “morning mediation” that has been prompted by the death of 8-year old Leiby Kletzky. Perhaps I’ve got this matter too much on my mind, but when something so horrible happens in the world, we should not disregard it after it has been discussed for only a week or so. Certainly Leiby’s parents will not be free of their mourning in so short a time, if at all. Yet the questions I pose here must also be at the forefront of their thoughts and feelings, only with far greater intensity and sharpness. I continue to search for answers within their own context and from the Rebbe, who knew their Brooklyn community and every soul in it so well.

They say the most profound darkness comes just before the dawn. The harshest oppression of our forefathers in Egypt came just before their liberation.

That was a coarse darkness of slavery of the body. Today it is a darkness of the soul, a deep slumber of the spirit of Man. There are sparks of light, glimmerings of a sun that never shone before —-but the darkness of night overwhelms all.

Prepare for dawn.

I woke up much earlier than I expected to this morning. It was still dark outside with no hint of dawn on the horizon. When you are the only one awake in your household, it can feel especially empty, no matter how many people are asleep in their beds. The first subtle bands of light in the east may be only minutes away, but they might as well be on the other side of midnight. Yet we wait for the light, not just out of expectation, but with enduring faith.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. –Isaiah 60:1-3

Tree of LifeThe Jewish people today exist in an unbroken line between the present and the ancient days when the words of the Prophet Isaiah were first spoken, so it is no surprise that in their darkest hours, they would turn to the light. Through Jesus Christ, the rest of the world can become attached; grafted in to these words and promises and become sharers of the light and indeed, disciples of the light of the world, who we all long to see come.

After 33 centuries, all that’s needed has been done. The table is set, the feast of Moshiach is being served with the Ancient Wine, the Leviathan and the Wild Ox —-and we are sitting at it. All that’s left is to open our eyes and see.

[Adapter’s Note: These words I write, but I do not understand. But then, if I understood them, I suppose I would not need to be told to open my eyes.] -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 8:11

Rabbi Freeman quotes from a letter written by the Rebbe:

Before I had even started school, a picture of liberation was already forming in my mind.
Such a liberation, and in such a way, that it would truly make sense of all the suffering, all the oppression and persecution we have undergone.

It is not that there will be no more darkness, no more suffering, that those things shall cease to exist.
It will be such an essence-light that darkness itself will become light
—even the darkness and suffering of the past.

While the Rebbe wouldn’t have considered the following, we who are the disciples of the Master cannot help but recall these words of prophecy and hope as we continue to wait for him to come:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. –Revelation 21:3-4

In the midst of pain, all we can do is cry and call out, “Abba! Father!”, endure the suffering, and look forward to the days when there indeed will be no more tears, pain, and death. When sorrow will be abolished from the earth and the King will reign in justice, mercy, and bringing joy and peace to the subjects of the Kingdom. May the Moshiach come soon and in our days. Amen.

“They (Mr. and Mrs. Kletzky) have had thousands of people who came to show them moral support,” he said. “Now the trying time starts. They’re all alone. … Now they’ve got to cope with it on their own.” -Jack Meyer of Misaskim

Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the LORD
our God for ever and ever. –Micah 4:4-5