Tag Archives: Rabbi tzvi freeman

The Non-existent Scar

Impeached witnesses are not considered guilty until they have impeached themselves.

-Makkos 5a, Rabbeinu Chananel

When someone says something uncomplimentary to us, we are of course displeased. The intensity of our reaction to an unkind remark, however, depends upon ourselves.

A former patient called me one day, sobbing hysterically because her husband had told her that she was a poor wife and a failure as a mother. When she finally calmed down, I asked her to listen carefully to me.

“I think that the scar on your face is very ugly,” I said. There was a moment of silence. “Pardon me?” she said.

“I spoke very distinctly, but I will repeat what I said. `The scar on your face is repulsive.’

“I don’t understand, doctor,” the woman said. “I don’t have a scar on my face.”

“Then what did you think of my remark?” I asked.

“I couldn’t understand what you were talking about,” she said.

“You see,” I pointed out, “when I say something insulting to you, and you know that it is not true, you do not become hysterical. You just wonder what in the world it is that I am talking about. That should also have been your reaction to your husband’s offensive remarks. Instead of losing your composure, you should have told him that he is delusional. The reason you reacted as extremely as you did is because you have doubts about yourself as to your adequacy as a wife and mother.”

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 30
Aish.com

Sorry to start of today’s “morning meditation” with such a long quote, but I think it was worth it. R. Twerski’s therapeutic intervention was absolutely brilliant (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling and formerly was a family therapist and Child Protective Services social worker). It’s so simple and yet so profound, and it speaks not only to this one woman’s situation but I think to all of us in our lives.

I couldn’t help but relate this article to recent events in my online life. After all, I’m human and I have doubts just like any other man. When someone calls me on my issues, real or imagined, I have to pause and consider whether they could be right about me, and if so, to ask if this is a “call to action” for me to make changes.

despairMany times, especially online, but also in “real life,” we are insulted, accused, harassed, and maligned, often by the people we love and care about, the people we’re most vulnerable to. As we see in R. Twerski’s example above, a woman was insulted by her husband about her poor performance as a wife and mother. Nothing could cut deeper to her heart than those statements and the person making them.

How we react should depend on whether or not the allegations are true, but that’s not how most of us typically respond. It’s like driving down the road and having someone suddenly cut us off in traffic, honk their horn, and then give us “the finger.” They’re not only being aggressive but behaving as if we’ve done something wrong.

How do we react to that? Either we get scared or angry…or both. Incidents of road rage start this way.

But what if, assuming we’ve done nothing wrong, we were to respond with bewilderment? “What the heck set that guy off,” we might ask ourselves.

And if someone blows up at us on the web or in person, again, assuming what they’re saying isn’t true about us (we don’t have a scar on our face), what prevents us from also simply becoming confused but not experiencing anger or pain?

Because we fear that there really is something wrong with us. I think that’s the result of sin and guilt.

Face it. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. Far from it in fact. We have sinned. Chances are we will sin against God and other people today. It is very likely that we will sin again tomorrow…or we fear that we will.

feverIf a person goes around always worried about who they are, their past failures, their fear of future failures, and whether or not their shortcomings are obvious to everyone around them, then it’s easy to respond with anger or pain when insulted. We’ve already primed ourselves to go off half-cocked when someone gives us a reason.

But for most people, most of the time, the issues they worry about are more imagined than real.

It’s like the woman in Rabbi Twerski’s commentary. She didn’t have an ugly scar on her face, and R. Twerski at least implies that she’s not a bad mother and wife either. She only reacted as if she were because she feared that this was the truth of her existence, even when it wasn’t.

All the elaborate proofs, all the philosophical machinations, none of that will ever stand you firmly on your feet. There’s only one thing that can give you that, and that’s your own inherent conviction.

For even as your own mind flounders, you yourself know that this is so, and know that you believe it to be so. It is a conviction all the winds of the earth cannot uproot that has carried us to this point in time, that has rendered us indestructible and timeless.

For it comes from within and from the heritage of your ancestors who believed as well, back to the invincible conviction of our father, Abraham, a man who took on the entire world.

The doubts, the hesitations, the vacillations, all these come to you from the outside. Your challenge is but to allow your inner knowledge to shine through and be your guide.

Inside is boundless power.

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

revenge-and-happinessKnowing yourself is very helpful for a number of reasons. If you know who you are and what you are about, then whenever someone accuses you of something that is untrue, you cannot be hurt. Even if the person who is upset with you is very dear to you, if they are wrong about you, it may injure you somewhat, but not in the same way as if what they said were the truth. If you are accused of being a failure, if you really aren’t, how does that affect you vs. how you react if you fear being a failure?

Also, knowing yourself helps you recognize when you have sinned and reveals to you your own faults. This is an opportunity to make corrections, to improve yourself, to repent, to return to God, to make right the wrongs you’ve committed against others, to make the person you will be tomorrow better than the person you were yesterday.

Stealing is abhorrent to most people. They would never think of taking something which does not belong to them. Still, they may not be bothered in the least by making an appointment and keeping the other person waiting for a few minutes. Rabbi Luzzato points out that this double standard is a fallacy, because stealing others’ time is no less a crime than stealing their possessions.

Moreover, stealing time is worse in one aspect: stolen objects can be returned, but stolen time can never be repaid.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 29
Aish.com

Worry, guilt, and self-recrimination are thieves. They steal your time and your peace of mind. If someone steals your money, that can always be returned, but once a moment in time has elapsed, you can never get it back. Also, even if you achieve peace of mind in the future, you have wasted time worrying in the past (and in the present) needlessly, when you could have been devoting that time to improving yourself, to helping others, to serving God.

Which is more important: five minutes or five cents? Everyone will say that “time” is more important. But still we throw it away more often than money. And in Jewish consciousness, killing time is suicide… on the installment plan.

“Relax”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” column
Aish.com

Rabbi Twerski also writes:

If someone has wrongfully infringed on our time, it is proper that we should call it to his or her attention. As with other offenses, we should try to sincerely forgive if the offender changes his or her ways. If we have infringed on someone else’s time, we must be sure to ask forgiveness and to remember that teshuvah consists of a sincere resolution not to repeat the same act again.

If someone points something out to you that needs correction, something you may have been unaware of or something you’ve been avoiding dealing with, they’re doing you a favor. Assuming their intent isn’t malicious and their attitude isn’t hostile or condescending, they are acting as an agent of change and providing you with the opportunity to improve.

soaring_hawkIf, however, a person’s intent is hostile or vindictive, and their desire is to injure you, perhaps because they feel you’ve injured them…if their allegations are wholly untrue, then you should ask yourself, “Why are they acting this way? What could have prompted this outburst?”

That’s certainly better than responding by feeling guilt or shame or by lashing out at the other person, perpetuating the cycle of “You hurt me, now I’ll hurt you.” Every time you give in to that temptation, you are stealing time from that other person and wasting your own. You’re also destroying your peace of mind and their’s and stealing our time and service from God.

“Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”

-Soren Kierkegaard

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Reviewing the Meaning of Midrash: Part 3

We’re used to considering the precise measurements of our world as the final arbiter of all truth. It might help to jump to an event in Mezhibuzh, Ukraine, a century or two after Maharal:

…One of the homeowners of Mezhibuzh was involved in a nasty dispute with another resident of the town. It happened that while in the Baal Shem Tov’s presence, in his shul, he yelled that he was going to rip the other guy apart like a fish.

The Baal Shem Tov told his pupils to hold one another’s hand, and to stand near him with their eyes tightly closed.

He then placed his holy hands on the shoulders of the two disciples next to him. Suddenly the disciples began shouting in great terror: They had seen how that fellow had actually ripped his disputant apart like a fish…

Now, what if I ask you, “Did a resident of Mezhibuzh tear apart his disputant like a fish?”

You might answer, “Well, not really.” Problem is, I have witnesses. Very reliable ones. And they all saw exactly the same thing.

But can the perpetrator be charged in court for bodily harm? Problem is, his disputant is still walking around without a scratch.

So, which world is real?

-Tzvi Freeman and Yehuda Shurpin
“Midrash and Reality:
Part 3 of ‘Is Midrash For Real?'”
Chabad.org

This one made my head hurt. In this article, the authors and their sources tell me that I’m not supposed to take midrash, even those telling fantastic and impossible tales, as if they are mere metaphors. They are also true and while fiction can contain truths, they are also real in a mystical sense.

Rabbi Yehuda Loewe of Prague (known as the “Maharal of Prague”) was adamant: Torah is not fiction. Jews consider the words of their sages that have been recorded in the Talmud and Midrash to be Torah, no less divine than the Five Books of Moses. Once they were accepted by the general community of observant Jews as works to be studied and revered as Torah, they attain a status of G‑d’s own thoughts, arguments He has with Himself and stories He tells Himself. And if the Creator of the universe is telling it, it’s real.

And further:

On the one hand, you have to know that every story told and recorded by the rabbis of the Talmud is true. They are Torah, just as much as a verse from scripture or a halachah kept by all Jews is Torah.

MidrashThis is the part that makes my head hurt. Titus destroys the Temple and God assigns a gnat to eat his brain so that seven years later, upon the death of Titus, it is discovered that the gnat with metal claws reduced the size of the man’s brain to that of a year-old pigeon’s brain.

Moses is ten cubits tall (about fifteen feet) but no where in the Torah, which I mean as the five books of Moses, is this noted nor does anyone, Pharaoh,  Moshe’s wife, his father-in-law, his brother, seem to notice.

And yet these things are not only “Torah” but they are real?

Now, reading the chronicles of Roman historians, you won’t find anything about this gnat. Titus, they tell you, died of a fever. At any rate, metal claws on a big bug is a tad outrageous.

So, one scholarly Italian Jew named Azariah dei Rossi explained, “This is just aggadah.” It didn’t really happen. It’s just that the sages wanted to impress on people that G‑d can always find a way to punish the wicked, so they told this story.

So this really is a metaphorical tale to illustrate a moral point. It contains a truth but it is not objectively real.

So, Maharal tells us that the real Moses truly was fifteen feet tall. Not the one that Pharaoh saw, or that the fleeing shepherds saw. They saw only the physical shell of Moses, as he is invested in a body within our physical world—a world that for several reasons can’t manage a ten-cubit human form. But Moses is a complete person, and ten is the number of completeness. He should have been ten cubits tall—would the physical world be capable of such a thing. Certainly, writes Maharal, whatever could be reflected in the physical world was reflected, and Moses was likely taller than the average human being. But not as tall as he really was.

Am I supposed to believe that in some supernal realm, the person of Moses is really fifteen feet tall, but that he only appeared to be of a normal human height in our world because that was not the “real” Moses, and our physical world could not contain all the Moses was and is?

That’s a lot to swallow. As I keep saying, I can accept the metaphorical nature of the midrashic stories, but I have a tough time making the conceptual leap into the world the Rabbi’s suggest I accept. Maybe, harkening back to last week’s review, I am a “bigger fool.” It’s not that I don’t “get” what Freeman and Shurpin are saying, I just don’t believe in the literal reality of these “deeper meanings” as having a truth and a life of their own in an objective sense.

Maharal takes the same approach to the gnat in Titus’ brain. The sages are not concerned with telling us a story for the medical annals. Their concern is to present to us the real Titus and his true destiny. Did a physical gnat enter his brain? Perhaps not, writes the Maharal. But the story is still true, because the gnat got in there anyways. Every living creature has its essential quality that makes it uniquely what it is—and the essential quality of the gnat made its way in. This essential quality, if it could be seen, would appear in its most intense state with a mouth of bronze and iron claws.

hidden-keeperUnless evidence to the contrary appears, I’m not inclined to believe on any level, essential or otherwise,  that a gnat with bronze or iron claws was involved in the death of Titus. I can believe that God metes out justice upon the wicked, though not always in this life.

But the view of midrash I’m asked to accept isn’t one in which the Rabbis parse out words of wisdom in mythical or fanciful form to illustrate a “truth” alluded to by the plain text of a story, either in the Bible our outside of it.

Maharal sums up his approach in one simple line: “The sages do not speak of the physical at all; they speak of a world stripped of physicality.” Every midrashic teaching is a peek behind the veil, dressing deep truths in language that is meant to reveal an inner world. If that language seems foolish to us, it is only because we have not yet cracked the code. We are grabbing the clothes, the words, as though they themselves were their own meaning.

This is an attractive way to think about the universe, with hidden corners, metaphysical alleyways, mystical portals through which the sages are able to peer and then relate what they’ve seen to the rest of us. I wish I could believe it. I know in some manner the sages were granted the ability to issue rulings equal to what we have in the inspired Bible. I know that in Judaism, canon is never quite closed and there is always another revelation concealed in the Bible’s “code.”

But I’m not going for it. I’m not jumping headlong into believing that the sages, wise and learned though they may be, actually see into a non-physical reality beyond our mortal plane and what they relate in their teachings and writings represents a divine truth equal to the Word of God.

It is true that Ezekiel, the apostle John, and even Paul, the letter writer, each had their own mystic experiences, either physically or through visions, where they literally saw and heard things that do not exist in our own universe, but to attribute this same ability, or some shadowy version of it, to each and every sage to has told a midrashic tale ultimately recorded in Talmud is too far for me to go.

Now a systematic approach to midrash had been laid out clearly by Maimonides and Maharal. But that raises a new question, perhaps a more difficult one: If the point of midrash is not the story itself, but that which it contains, not the foreground but the background, and if anyone who understands these stories literally is a fool—then how is it that we tell these stories to children and simple folk, who certainly take them at face value? Are we to hide all of these tales from them? Have we been doing things wrong all these centuries?

I still believe it’s important for Christians to have at least a slightly passing knowledge of midrash considering that this interpretative method may well have been in use during the Apostolic era. This understanding may help us pierce the veil traditional Christian exegesis has cast over the Bible for the past nearly two-thousand years, blinding ourselves to the way the New Testament scriptures were written and intended to be read.

But that’s still a far cry from the “reality” of Midrash as opposed to the metaphorical truths midrashic tales can contain. I guess I wouldn’t make a very good mystic or even a very good Jewish person.

I did take way something quite positive from this week’s article however:

Adult Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan): So which story do you prefer?
Writer (Rafe Spall): The one with the tiger. That’s the better story.
Adult Pi Patel: Thank you. And so it goes with God.
Writer: [smiles] It’s an amazing story.

-from the film Life of Pi (2012)

dimuI’ve never seen the film but I have read the book (which I highly recommend, by the way), and this bit of dialog is the key to understanding the author’s message. The book and the film speak of a fantastic tale of survival at sea of both a boy named Pi and an adult Bengal tiger named Richard Parker who share a small lifeboat together.

Toward the end of the story, after many adventures, Pi and Richard Parker, the only survivors of a shipwreck seven months before, land on the shores of Mexico. The tiger disappears into the jungle forever, and Pi is rescued and eventually tells his story. Although the story of Pi and the tiger commands most of the book, he does tell a much more believable if horrible story of murder, starvation, cannibalism, and near-insanity that could also account for Pi’s survival.

But Pi asks the writer who is chronicling his early life, “So which story do you prefer?” It’s as if the sages are asking the same question about midrash. We accept “truth” if not “fact” from the more interesting story. That’s what midrash means, at least to me.

Or maybe midrash is God telling “the better story.” And so it goes.

Don’t Argue

“What is the point of arguing with a Jew? Every Jew has a mitzvah with which he feels an affinity. Find that mitzvah and assist him with it.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Each One’s Mitzvah”
Chabad.org

I know that Rabbi Freeman was addressing a Jewish audience when he wrote this, encouraging one Jewish person to help other Jewish people with their special mitzvot, but consider this.

In her article for Messiah Journal, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) contributor and translator Jordan Levi referred to the Gentiles who help Jewish people find and assist with their mitzvot as “the Crowning Jewels of the Nations.” If I take the thoughts of Rabbi Freeman and Jordan Levi and put them together, then the Rabbi’s message is just as appropriately addressed to Gentile believers, that is, Christians, as it is to Jewish people.

Am I crazy? Christians helping Jews to find and perform their special mitzvot? Christians don’t even believe in mitzvot because the vast majority of them believe the “Law” is dead as a doornail, killed when the church was born in Acts 2

If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know I don’t believe that last part for even a second. I believe that we non-Jewish believers have a special duty, assigned to us by God, to be part of the restoration of Israel by helping Israel raise David’s fallen tent (Amos 9:11-12). We people of the nations are to be drawn to the Jewish people because they are close to God (Zechariah 8:23), and we desire to go up with them to the Temple of God in Jerusalem because we know it is the House of Prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7, Micah 4:2).

I recently posted two articles on my blog about the Gentile relationship to Messianic Judaism, specifically within the Messianic Jewish worship context, Twoness and Oneness: From the Sermons of David Rudolph and Oneness, Twoness, and Three Converts. This was an attempt on my part to describe what it is to be a member of the “crowning jewels of the nations” “on the ground,” so to speak, worshiping and associating among believing and observant Jews.

As you might imagine, my commentaries were not well received within certain venues, specifically some Hebrew Roots groups where the message of Gentiles having a critical role in uplifting and supporting a return to Torah for the Jewish people without usurping the Jewish role for ourselves is not well understood or perhaps simply considered unacceptable.

But then I read Rabbi Freeman’s brief missive from this morning and the message clicked into place again. “What is the point of arguing with a Jew?” That’s what I’d like to ask some of these folks. And yet they insist on arguing with Jewish people over ownership of the Torah of Sinai rather than getting on with the job we were assigned by Hashem. “Find that mitzvah a Jew feels an affinity for and assist him with it.”

Let me spell it out to you again in case you’ve missed this message in previous blog posts. We have a duty to provoke the Jewish people to Zealousness for the Torah (see the link I just provided for the details). By doing so, we bring the time of Messiah’s return that much closer, summoning the Messianic Age, which is the true gospel message of the Bible.

The FFOZ television series episode The Good News which I reviewed last summer, also illustrates that the gospel message of Jesus is far, far more than a simple plan of personal salvation.

Why are there non-Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua worshiping alongside Jewish believers in Messianic Jewish synagogues? Why are there individuals or small groups of Christians who self-identify as “Messianic Gentiles” in traditional churches attempting to softly, gently deliver an understanding that the greatest part of the gospel message is our role in assisting Israel to bring about the future Messianic Age?

Rabbi Tzvi FreemanRabbi Freeman answered the first question in the quote at the top of the page. Boaz Michael, in his book Tent of David, answered the second question by stating we must help the Church to realize its true role in Israel’s future redemptive history, pointing them to the small lesson that Rabbi Freeman presented so succinctly.

When men like Pastor John MacArthur say that “In the character of the book of Acts, the church is born, and Judaism in God’s eyes is a dead issue…,” he is not only saying something terribly wrong about God’s intent toward Israel, he’s directly denying the Church’s role to assist Israel in bringing the return of Jesus Christ through the process of the Church coming alongside Israel as a partner, standing ready to restore David’s fallen sukkah.

“What is the point of arguing with a Jew? Every Jew has a mitzvah with which he feels an affinity. Find that mitzvah and assist him with it.”

Until we, the people of the nations who are called by God’s Name, we Christians are willing to put our traditions, our egos, and our fear of change aside, and do what God commands us to do, the Church and any other groups of Christians, including Hebrew Roots groups, are going to be highly limited in our service to God.

Until we stop either dismissing the Torah as yesterday’s trash or coveting the Jewish role in Torah observance for ourselves, we may still “win souls for Christ,” but we will be stifling the fulfillment of the greatest revelation of God to the world, the return of the Messiah King, the establishment of his rule on the Throne of David in Jerusalem, and the establishment of a reign of peace for all the world, so that everyone “will sit under his vine And under his fig tree, With no one to make them afraid, For the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken,” (Micah 4:4).

The Chaotic Serene Garden

I have no problem-solving thoughts. I do not intend to suggest a new method of remedying the human situation which I am about to describe; neither do I believe that it can be remedied at all. The role of the man of faith, whose religious experience is fraught with inner conflicts and incongruities, who oscillates between ecstasy in God’s companionship and despair when he feels abandoned by God, and who is torn asunder by the heightened contrast between self-appreciation and abnegation, has been a difficult one since the times of Abraham and Moses. It would be presumptuous of me to attempt to convert the passional, antinomic faith-experience into a eudaemonic, harmonious one, while the Biblical knights of faith lived heroically with this very tragic and paradoxical experience.

All I want is to follow the advice given by Elihu, the son of Berachel of old, who said, “I will speak that I may find relief”; for there is a redemptive quality for an agitated mind in the spoken word, and a tormented soul finds peace in confessing.

-Joseph B. Soloveitchik
from the Foreword of his book
The Lonely Man of Faith

In many ways, reading the first part of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s book is like looking in a mirror. Well, not exactly. He was born over half a century before I was and after all, I’m not Jewish, let alone a Rabbi. Yet everything he says about his own experience and the experience of a man of faith completely reflects my own thoughts, feelings, and uneasy journey with God.

I’ve talked before about trying to find a storyteller who speaks in metaphors I can understand, and so far Rabbi Soloveitchik is one of those storytellers. I don’t think I’ll ever know why men like Rabbi Tzvi Freeman and even the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of righteous memory, use “my metaphors” so much more clearly than any Christian author I’ve ever read. It is true that Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk, spoke very well and clearly to some parts of me in his book The Seven Storey Mountain, but that’s something of a rarity.

I’m not going to presume a Jewish soul, and in so many ways, I’m such a Goy (at least according to my Jewish wife), so I really don’t have an answer. But at least as far as my reading up to the end of Chapter 1 is concerned, Rabbi Soloveitchik is speaking in a language that could apply to people of many different faiths, not just to the Jew.

And he’s talking about exactly what I experience.

I have a confession to make. There were times when I thought I was going crazy. There were times when I thought I was just a bad Christian, a person with a bad or weak faith, someone who just didn’t “get” what it was to walk on a path that leads to God. And yet just look at how Rabbi Soloveitchik starts the first chapter of his book:

The nature of the dilemma can be stated in a three-word sentence. I am lonely. Let me emphasize, however, that by stating “I am lonely” I do not intend to convey to you that impression that I am alone. I, thank God, do enjoy the love and friendship of many. I meet people, talk, preach, argue, reason; I am surrounded by comrades and acquaintances. And yet, companionship and friendship do not alleviate the passional experience of loneliness which trails me constantly. I am lonely because at times I feel rejected and thrust away by everybody, not excluding my own intimate friends, and the words of the Psalmist, “My father and my mother have forsaken me,” ring quite often in my ears like the plaintive cooing of the turtledove. It is a strange, alas, absurd experience engendering sharp, enervating pain as well as stimulating, cathartic feeling. I despair because I am lonely and, hence feel frustrated. On the other hand, I also feel invigorated because this very experience of loneliness presses everything in me into the service of God.

While Rabbi Soloveitchik’s writing style is very different from mine, what he’s actually saying is just what I’ve been trying to say for a long as I have been blogging. Actually, it’s been a lot longer than that, but blogging has provided me with a unique outlet for my frustration and my need to “follow the advice given by Elihu, the son of Berachel of old” and to “speak that I may find relief.”

Joseph Ber Soloeitchik was born over a century ago, was an American Orthodox rabbi, Talmudist and modern Jewish philosopher, and a descendant of the Lithuanian Jewish Soloveitchik rabbinic dynasty. The words of his book first appeared in print over fifty years ago, when I was still in elementary school. He died at the age of 90 nearly twenty years ago and a continent away from where I was living at the moment his soul ascended to God. I don’t imagine that we would have had a lot in common had we ever met.

Except for how we experience our faith.

Maybe I’m not crazy after all. Maybe faith is designed to be lonely, inconsistent, and chaotic, like riding a roller coaster that alternately travels through a beautiful and serene Japanese garden and the fresh hell of a radioactive Chernobyl.

If I can take the beginning words of the Rav’s book at face value, I guess my journey of faith will never get any easier, and my only solace is in “confessing” my “tortured soul” (in my case, as a blogger on the web). And yet, it’s nice to find out that I’m not alone in feeling alone in my faith.

I’ll let you know how the rest of the book turns out.

Restructuring Meaning

Praying with tefillinIf you ever hire an architect to design a synagogue, you will need to inform him of the two-door rule: The worshipper must first enter into a vestibule that precedes the sanctuary before walking through the doors of the sanctuary itself, as verse in Proverbs goes, “Fortunate is the man who listens to me to watch by my doors day by day, to watch the doorposts of my entrances.” (Talmud Berachot 8a. Tur, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Levush 90:2. Magen Avraham ibid. Shulchan Aruch Harav 90:19.)

The first door, explains Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch in his “Booklet on Tefillah,” (Kuntres Hatefillah, siman 11) is the door in from the street. You first need to leave the confusion of the world outside and empty your mind of all worldly concerns, power down your cellphone, spend a few moments to gain calm and focus. As Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel would say (Avot 1:17), “All my life, I grew up among the sages and I did not find anything better for a person than quietness.” That is the point of that first door, something particularly necessary in our modern, cacophonous world: You want your mind to settle down, like a bubbling brook might settle into a still pond. There, reflected in that still water, it may be possible to behold a clearer image of the universe.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Meditation’s Hallway”
from “A Guide to Jewish Prayer” series
Chabad.org

I wrote Choosing a Storyteller for yesterday’s “morning mediation” and then realized that I have more control over this whole process than I previously thought.

Here’s part of the quote I pulled yesterday from Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking from the “prayer” chapter:

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)

Now, let me back up in Rabbi’s Freeman’s Guide to Jewish Prayer series and quote from the first article, Is Prayer Normal:

With this passage and other similar such statements, Maimonides makes it clear that G-d could run the universe perfectly well without our prayers. The implication is that we are the ones who need prayer—in order to connect Him to our lives.

In fact, we may be using the wrong word altogether. The English word, prayer, means to beseech, to implore, to plead for something.

There is another word, bakashah, that certainly does mean all those things. But that’s not the word we use. We use tefillah. Does tefillah really mean “prayer”?

Tefillah is etymologically related to the root word tofel—meaning reconnect or bond.

While I’m not trying to appropriate any sort of “Jewish identity marker” or make myself a pain in the neck to Jewish people, on a fundamental level, prayer is prayer, regardless of who is doing the praying. If “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” then certainly He desires both the Jew and the non-Jew to pray and to “bond” or “reconnect” with Him. If the first century Roman centurion Cornelius (see Acts 10) learned to pray from his Jewish mentors, I don’t think it’s so out of line for me to take what I find valuable about the Jewish prayer and adapt it for my own use.

Chapter 4 in Peale’s book is called “Try Prayer Power.” I’m willing to admit that I’ve been looking for something I’ve had access to all along. Perhaps it just needs a bit of refreshing. I am not going to “pray as a Jew” as such, but since the Jewish people have been “bonding” to God a lot longer than we Christians, on the order of thousands of years longer, maybe they have a few ideas on the subject.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, then Attorney General Robert Kennedy ignored a threat made by Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and proceeded with negotiations to defuse the crisis as if he had never heard Dobrynin’s original. It was Kennedy’s setting aside of Dobrynin’s statement that allowed the Soviet Ambassador to safe face and continue to proceed to a peaceful conclusion that prevented a nuclear war (I know this is a strange metaphor, but please bear with me).

If I can somewhat apply the same principle and temporarily set aside the fact that Freeman’s series on Jewish prayer is intended only for Jews, I can imagine that it can apply to me too. Then maybe this particular series can be a story that I can use in seeking my own connection to God as a means of “cognitive restructuring.” A sort of “refactoring” of Peale’s ‘Chapter 4″ in a way that uses better metaphors.

It’s a matter of learning how to walk again.

WalkingLearning to walk involves taking the first step, and then another, and then another. I’ll probably never find the “perfect” inspirational book (excepting the Bible) out there, so I’ll have to construct one of my own. I guess that’s part of the reason I created this blog series in the first place. They’re “morning mediations” that are supposed to start a person’s day. I can start out by letting each one be a meditation for me again, and then, as Meditation’s Hallway suggests, move from my morning meditation, into prayer.

When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness.

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

I have always known the storyteller I have ears to listen to. I just need to restructure the meaning for a wider focus; one that includes me. I hope nobody minds.