Tag Archives: serenity

Search for God and Find Yourself

God called unto man [Adam] and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:9

We read in Genesis that after Adam sinned, he tried to hide in the Garden of Eden. Was Adam so foolish to think that he could hide from God? Certainly not! He was hiding from himself, because it was himself that he could no longer confront. God’s question to him was very pertinent: “I am here. I am always here, but where are you?”

Adam’s answer to God describes man’s most common defense: “I was afraid because I was exposed, and I therefore tried to hide” (Genesis 3:10). Since people cannot possibly conceal themselves from God, they try to hide from themselves. This effort results in a multitude of problems, some of which I described in Let Us Make Man (CIS, 1987).

We hear a great deal about people’s search for God, and much has been written about ways that we can “find” God. The above verse throws a different light on the subject. It is not necessary for people to find God, because He was never lost, but has been there all the time, everywhere. We are the ones who may be lost.

When an infant closes it eyes, it thinks that because it cannot see others, they cannot see it either. Adults may indulge in the same infantile notion – if they hide from themselves, they think they are hiding from God as well. If we find ourselves by getting to know who we are, we will have little difficulty in finding God, and in letting Him find us.

Today I shall…

…try to establish a closer relationship with God by coming out of hiding from myself.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Shevat 4
Aish.com

As human beings, we have the power to remake ourselves and to some degree, even those around us, just by how we behave and how we choose to think of ourselves and other people. A person who goes around chronically depressed or angry is likely to be pretty unhappy and be surrounded by other depressed or angry people.

OK, it’s more complex than that, but the idea is that if you continually involve yourself in doing good and behaving (and even thinking) as if you are constantly surrounded by good people, it is more likely that you will feel better about yourself, and other people will regard you well. At least it beats the alternative I outlined in the previous paragraph.

Rabbi Twerski brings up an interesting idea. People are always searching for God. I myself mentioned that I am continually pursuing God. Why? Is God running away from me? According to R’ Twerski, it’s the other way around. If I feel the need to pursue God, it’s because I’m the one running away from Him. If I need to search for God, it’s because I’m (futilely) trying to hide from Him. In the end, since no one can run and hide from God, all I accomplish is running and hiding from myself, and probably many other people in my life.

Serenity promotes peaceful and harmonious relationships with other people. We have often cited the verse, “As in water, face to face, so too is the heart of one person to another” (Proverbs 27:19). When you speak serenely to someone, the peaceful energy puts the other person in a better state, and usually that person will speak more pleasantly to you.

(From Rabbi Pliskin’s book, Serenity, p.17)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Serenity Promotes Harmonious Relationships”
from “Today’s Daily Lift #234”
Aish.com

SpeakObviously, this won’t work in every single case, but as a general rule, how you speak to someone (or address them in other ways including digital social media) is going to have an effect on how they respond to you.

But remember that all this starts with you and how you talk to yourself.

You are the person with whom you talk to most often. To become a serene person, consistently talk to yourself serenely.

Become aware of the tone of your voice when you speak to yourself. This often is so automatic that many people never consider it an issue. But it can be a major factor in whether or not you are usually serene.

(From Rabbi Pliskin’s book, Serenity, p.37)

-R’ Pliskin
“Speak to Yourself Serenely”
from “Today’s Daily Lift #98”
Aish.com

If you believe you are not a good person and that others don’t like you, chances are you’ll behave as if you’re not a good person and people really won’t like you. I’m not advocating that you become an egomaniac and think you’re the best thing God created since sliced bread, but God did create you (and me) for a reason, and He must have had a good reason for doing so.

I’ve heard it said (I can’t find the source right now) that each Jew should consider the world as having been created just for him or her. I know that sounds pretty bold, but expanding the idea to all human beings, we learn that each individual is precious to God and so we each have a very specific purpose in His design. God just didn’t create a “human herd” and relate to us only as “the masses,” God relates to us as individuals, just as He did with Adam when he tried to hide from God (or rather, from himself) in the Garden.

If each of us is that important to God, shouldn’t we treat ourselves with respect and speak to ourselves with serenity?

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:28-33 (NASB)

I know I’m stretching the interpretation of these verses a bit, but is it too much to consider ourselves as our own neighbor? If how we treat others flows out of how we speak to and treat ourselves, then shouldn’t we first treat ourselves with love and respect and allow that to direct how we speak to and treat others? After all, if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must first love ourselves.

But the first of these two greatest commandments is to love God. Why? Because He loves us in an unparalleled and unbounded manner. God’s capacity to love far exceeds any person’s capacity, so He loves each one of us far more than we could possibly love ourselves, each other, and much more than we are capable of loving Him.

Life isn’t easy. Even having the most positive attitude possible won’t prevent bad things from happening. It won’t always prevent you (or me) from sinning and letting that sin separate you (or me) from God and other people.

Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting.

Pirkei Avot 3:1

freeIf we keep God constantly before us and don’t attempt to hide from Him (which is impossible) and ourselves, then Akavia ben Mahalalel is right and we won’t (at least not as often) come into the hands of transgression and sin. And if we accustom ourselves to do more good deeds instead, then who we are will slowly change for the good and who we are with God and with others will change for the good as well.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

If we pursue God’s peace, then His peace will find us.

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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)

An Introduction to a Prayer

Skill testing question:

Which of these two will be better able to focus on tefillah, and thereby have a great day:

Activity

Goldstein

Goldberg

Retiring to bed Falls asleep watching a rerun of Brain Dead while washing down pizza with cola on the couch. Mentally reviews the day, says the Shema Yisrael, falls asleep in bed reading Baal Shem Tov stories.
Waking up Rudely awakened by e-mail alert. Checks more e-mail and stock report before falling back asleep. Repeats until resigning himself to getting off the couch. Wakes up by circadian rhythm. Says Modeh Ani as approaching consciousness. Smiles when recalling Baal Shem Tov dreams.
Washing up Jumps off the couch in frenzied panic. Grabs mug, car keys and cellphone charger. Runs frantically to the car. Gently slides out of bed to greet the sunrise. Washes, takes care of bodily necessities and gets dressed. Washes hands and says morning blessings.
Breakfast Stumbles into Starbucks on the way to shul to grab a hyper-caffeinated brew. Gets into a yelling match with the attendant over the bill / change / brew / temperature / politics / whatever. Sips a hot drink while engaged in a half-hour Tanya class with the rabbi.
Meditation Listens to news and traffic report on car radio while sipping coffee, texting clients and hurling imprecations at fellow drivers. Sits quietly, pondering the morning lesson. Visualizes the continuous act of creation unfolding about us.
Prayers Takes care of some business decisions by cellphone while the minyan “warms up.” Jumps in late but catches up in no time. Sticks around to chat, then runs out in yet another mad rush. Phone is on buzz. Starts with the minyan, saying each word out loud. Ignores the buzzes.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
from the article “Prepare for Takeoff”
as part of the A Multimedia Guide to Jewish Prayer
Chabad.org

I have to admit that my first thought upon reading this comparison was, “Does Goldberg have a job?” My next question was, “Is Goldberg married?” Frankly, the way he starts his day seems absolutely wonderful and it goes along with the “mission statement” for my own blog:

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.

But as pleasant and ideal as those thoughts happen to be, they aren’t always compatible with my lifestyle.

No, I’m not all that much like Goldstein. I don’t fall asleep watching TV, but by the time I’m ready for bed, my mind feels numb and it’s difficult to make it through even a truncated version of the Bedtime Shema. I hate alarm clocks, but I don’t have the luxury of waking up by circadian rhythm either, since I have a schedule to keep, usually even on the weekends. I do recite the Modeh Ani when I’m ready to get out of bed, but it’s short and easy to memorize (at least in English). I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about the Baal Shem Tov.

I do get out of bed and take care of “bodily necessities” but usually grab my first cup of coffee and read the funnies online as my initial entry into the day. Then, I’ll either eat breakfast in front of the computer or head for the gym to sweat for 45 minutes or so.

I hardly have the time for a half-hour Tanya class, even if I had access to such a resource, nor do I have the time to “sit quietly, pondering the morning lesson” and visualizing “the continuous act of creation unfolding about us.” It goes without saying that I don’t pray with a minyan.

I’m only sort of like Goldstein though, in that I’m not usually in such a hurry to get out of the house. I have my routine pretty well down, so I’m able to leave most mornings right on time at 7 a.m. I don’t stop for overpriced Starbucks swill, but I do listen to the radio, primarily for oldies rock and the traffic report. I’m not always happy with the other drivers I encounter on the morning commute.

And it looks like even Goldstein is able to pray with a minyan, although in his typical “rushed” fashion.

I know what Rabbi Freeman is saying and a lot of it is aimmed at Jews who live a religious Jewish lifestyle. There’s no reason why some of this couldn’t be adapted to a Christian morning routine, except I’d have to wake up at 3 a.m. instead of “by circadian rhythm” in order to have to time to meditate and pray in the measured and orderly fashion the Rabbi describes, and still have time for the gym and breakfast.

He’s right, though. If it were possible, the “Goldberg” style of going to bed and waking up is better for the body, the mind, and the spirit. If a person could establish and maintain such an evening and morning rhythm, they would be more likely to experience a sense of peace with themselves and with God.

But then, it would be much easier to accomplish if you lived alone and didn’t share the world with other people and other priorites. If you lived in a world that was ordered in complete consistency with such a spiritual lifestyle, it might work out. But for most of us, and particularly me, my world is not at all consistent with such a lifestyle, more’s the pity.

In the Mishna Berua Yomi Digest “Stories to Share” section for Shulchan Aruch Siman 447 Seif 8, the commentary “A Difficult Situation” describes such a person who is “out of sync” religiously with her husband, and much more than her peace of mind is at stake.

A woman who was a recent baalas teshuvah was approaching her first Pesach. Her husband absolutely refused to consider avoiding chometz, and she was at a loss as to how to proceed. Should she insist that she cannot live without him agreeing to no chometz in their home on Pesach, he was likely to divorce her, leaving her alone. She could try to convince him to let her leave for the holiday but was afraid he would refuse. She wondered if there was a halachic way to permit her to stay at home even if her husband had chometz there.

When she asked this question to her rabbi, he was baffled. “I have to admit that this is out of my league. I will take it to someone qualified to respond and see what he says…”

When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, he ruled that there was a halachic way for the woman to live at home even though her husband kept chometz—which he ate—in their house. “The best thing is if she can stay away from home on Pesach. But if this is impossible she can make a neder not to eat chometz. There is a precedent that even when we don’t believe that someone will avoid a prohibition for whatever reason, we are certain he or she will not forget if it is also prohibited for another reason like a vow. If she makes a neder, she can stay in their home if there is no choice.”

A woman who has committed to a greater religious lifestyle than her husband faced the horrible choice of keeping her commitment to Judaism and to God and losing her husband or preserving her marriage and forsaking God. In an interesting way, her story is not unlike that of another woman who is trying to make a similar commitment.

I am Jewish. It is how I identify myself. My father is Jewish. My mother is Christian.

My Judaism is a beautiful challenge; one I happily accept.

But the faith of my forefathers, of my peers, and of my family often frustrates me on a level that I cannot capture in words. Judaism cuts to the essence of who I am and challenges my identity. Judaism brings me a lot of joy; it also brings me pain…

In a letter to Ovadiah, Maimonides writes, “There is no difference whatever between you [the convert] and us… do not consider your origin as inferior.”

Maimonides’ words are a small part of a larger Jewish tradition that teaches to love the convert as oneself. Yet, the convert is also often reminded of his or her non-Jewish heritage. For example, he/she cannot make the declaration during the Bikkurim ceremony that “G-d swore to our forefathers, and to us” [Mishnah Bikkurim1:4].

I recently stopped dating someone, not because we were incompatible as people, but because he is a Kohen and I am a convert. If my origin is not supposed to be considered inferior, and if I am supposed to be loved as oneself, how am I supposed to feel when I am told that I cannot marry a Kohen because as a convert I am considered promiscuous? I grew up in a world surrounded by Jewish people. I am no more likely to have slept with a non-Jewish man than many of my fully Jewish counterparts.

-by “Ruth”
“A convert in a strange land”
Sunday, March 18, 2012/Adar 24, 5772
The Times of Israel

All I’m trying to do is “uncomplicate” my life and to find a sense of peace within myself and within my relationship with God. What complicates my plan is not only the struggles inside of myself but the world around me, starting with my immediate household and the practicalities of relationships, schedules, and priorities. I am religiously incompatible with my wife and daughter, but it’s not nearly as extreme as we see in the examples I quoted above. Both of those Jewish women find themselves at odds with either their spouse or with Judaism as a faith and as a people. They are both alike in their desire to “be more Jewish” and to have a closer relationship with the God of Israel.

In that very last part, I’m like them, too. But like them, I’m also facing the realities of the world and the people around me. The world will not become perfect this side of the Messiah, nor can I wait for that event to occur before attempting to climb the first rung of the ladder and lift myself from the bottom of the abyss.

According to Rabbi Freeman, the secret to being awake to God is how you fall asleep and even how you dream. I’m still sitting at the bottom of my dusty but not uncomfortable well. I’m still contemplating the first rung to the ladder God has set before me. But maybe this too is just a dream, and I am perpetually waiting to wake up.

It will be Monday morning when you read this and the rush of the beginning of the work week will have already begun. How did I sleep last night? What did I dream? When I woke up, where was my spirit, and where is God?